In summation

Last night, I heard Prof. Jonathan Sarna give a lecture on Democratization in American Jewry in the years following the Revolutionary War. He explained, using a couple of fascinating examples, that in that period of time you start to see the waning of the authority of the synagogue, and the Jewish community more generally: break-away shuls, a Kohein marrying a widowed convert against the wishes of the shul leadership, and a learned individual finding halachic solution to issues involving the excommunication of intermarried Jews, against the wishes of the kahal.

During Q&A, someone asked about the relationships of the break-away shuls to the organizations from which they departed. Prof. Sarna explained that, in time, exterior threats would cause these groups to come together. I’ve heard a similar explanation about the relationship of the Hasidim to the Mitnagdim after the haskalah. The modern example given was an Orthodox Rabbi sitting on the bimah of a Conservative shul in Boston during Cast Lead, claiming that differences between them needed to be put aside when Israel was threatened.

I understood his point, but the example made me cringe. I remember there being some level of objection from within the Jewish community, even during Cast Lead, and it pains me that the best example for the uniting of Jewish community is around a mythic threat to Israel (which is not to say that I approve of rockets, either). It being erev Yom Yerushalayim, I’m also reminded of the mythic existential threat from ’67, but I digress.

We’ve done an OK job of covering a number of recent cases of civil rights problems in Israel (here, here, here). Over at Zeek, Moshe Yaroni sums things up beautifully:

Israeli democracy is under siege, and it’s no less stark than that. For years, the peace groups in Israel have been warning that occupation cannot co-exist with democracy without one eventually strangling the other. It is no longer a theoretical argument.

Sure, in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa bubble, life feels as free as in any Western country. But the rising nationalism represented by fanatical groups like Im Tirzu and the moves by the government to unleash its own power from the watchful gaze of Israeli human rights groups are changing the very nature of the country. The idealism of Zionism has long since been surpassed by the cynicism of conflict and that makes the ground fertile for the continuing erosion of civil and human rights.

This is not just about how Israel treats the Palestinians, or even its own Arab citizens. Coupled with the ongoing problem of the disproportionate and anti-democratic influence of ultra-orthodox segments of Israeli society, the erosion of rights is a dynamic that threatens every Israeli.

And a call to action, related back to my inital point:

In the 21st century, if Israel is to survive, it will only be because the new meaning of pro-Israel is not trumpeting Israel’s shaky democracy, but defending and strengthening that democracy, making it the strong fabric Israel’s founders thought it would be. That requires ending the occupation and allowing Palestinians their freedom, but it also requires true equality – in practice not just on paper—for all of Israel’s citizens, freeing Israel from the grip of the rabbinate, and strengthening its courts and NGO communities.

Are there Jewish leaders willing to be truly pro-Israel?

Full story.

Yaroni hits exactly on what bothers me about the example of unity during cast lead. As demonstrated, I think, by ta’anit tzedek, the Jewish community is not in fact united around Israel’s treatment of the people in Gaza. As a matter of fact, I view those promoting the fast as “truly pro-Israel,” according to Yaroni’s definition, and those of whom Prof. Sarna made mention as clinging to the old model, and defending Israel’s government, no matter how troubling or unjust their actions. Yaroni articulates the point I was trying to make at the end of my last post much more eloquently. I come back to the same question – how to we educate and inspire more American Jews to live up to Yaroni’s challenge?

23 Responses to “In summation”

  1. It’ not the point of your post, but

    It being erev Yom Yerushalayim, I’m also reminded of the mythic existential threat from ‘67, but I digress.

    Really? You really don’t think there was an existential threat in ’67?


    Jonathan1 · May 11th, 2010 at 10:43 am
  2. I echo Jonathan1′s question above… how can it be credibly stated that there was not an existential threat to Israel in 1967? Armies massed on Israel’s borders, the heads of state of the responsible countries talking throughout the spring of wiping Israel off the map. What needs to be added to this to make it an existential threat?


    Yair · May 11th, 2010 at 12:07 pm
  3. “and it pains me that the best example for the uniting of Jewish community is around a mythic threat to Israel (which is not to say that I approve of rockets, either). It being erev Yom Yerushalayim, I’m also reminded of the mythic existential threat from ‘67, but I digress.”

    Pontificated with the easy comfort of one whose country is bordered by Mexico, Canada and fish.


    Eric · May 11th, 2010 at 12:09 pm
  4. 1. I don’t have the citation handy, but I believe it was in Gershom Gorenberg’s book, The Accidental Empire, where I read that the Israeli Army commanders knew before the ’67 war that none of the other countries in area had an army that was capable of defeating Israel. I’ll try to track down the quote.

    2. No, I live in Jerusalem (and I was here during Cast Lead, as well).


    LastTrumpet · May 12th, 2010 at 12:15 am
  5. I don’t have the citation handy, but I believe it was in Gershom Gorenberg’s book, The Accidental Empire, where I read that the Israeli Army commanders knew before the ‘67 war that none of the other countries in area had an army that was capable of defeating Israel. I’ll try to track down the quote.

    Does that include the IDF’s chief-of-staff (Rabin,) who literally suffered from a nervous breakdown in the days before the war?


    Jonathan1 · May 12th, 2010 at 12:30 am
  6. from wikipedia:

    Major General Mattityahu Peled, the Chief of Logistics for the Armed Forces during the war, said the survival argument was “a bluff which was born and developed only after the war… …”When we spoke of the war in the General Staff, we talked of the political ramifications if we didn’t go to war —what would happen to Israel in the next 25 years. Never of survival today.” Peled also stated that “To pretend that the Egyptian forces massed on our frontiers were in a position to threaten the existence of Israel constitutes an insult not only to the intelligence of anyone capable of analyzing this sort of situation, but above all an insult to Zahal (Israeli military)”


    LastTrumpet · May 12th, 2010 at 12:53 am
  7. Ok. That was Peled’s assessment. Fair enough. But, to be fair, we should mention that Peled–by the time of this quote–had become a far-Leftist (on the Israeli spectrum,) who was a political ally of Uri Avnery.

    What’s more, do you not think it’s a bit strange that Peled’s boss–Rabin–had a nervous breakdown in the days before the War began? Was it because Rabin was overcome with joy at the certainty that he would be visiting the Kotel in the hours to come?

    And, we should also mention that Israel–through diplomatic channels–made it very clear to Jordan’s kind that Israel had no interest in initiating war to its east.

    And, we should also mention that Nasser (1) did in fact expel the U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai, and (2) he did in fact impose a blockade on the Straits of Tiran (which was more or less a declaration of war under those circumstance,) (3) and Egypt did in fact place massive amounts of troops and armor on the Israeli border, and (4) various Arab states did in fact put their military on high alert and (5)Jordanian forces were in fact put under Nasser’s command and (6) France did in fact impose a weapons embargo before the war and (7) Israel within those borders was a tiny country, with a population of a little more than 3 million people.

    Just another Zionist plot, I guess.


    Jonathan1 · May 12th, 2010 at 1:10 am
  8. And, btw., I’ll stipulate that LT will be able to find other quotes of IDF officers who were supremely confident in military victory before June 5, 1967. Because that’s a function of being a military officer.

    Bear in mind, though, that many of these same officers were extremely confident that the Arab regimes had learned their lesson after ’67, and that in any future conflict Israeli forces would have little trouble with their Arab foes–this was before October 1973, of course.


    Jonathan1 · May 12th, 2010 at 1:18 am
  9. again, from the same wikipedia article:

    Yitzhak Rabin, who served as the Chief of the General Staff for Israel during the war stated: “I do not believe that Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent into Sinai on May 14 would not have been enough to unleash an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”

    and

    Menachem Begin stated that “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.

    emphasis mine


    LastTrumpet · May 12th, 2010 at 1:20 am
  10. Rabin didn’t say that Israel wasn’t in mortal danger. He said that Nasser really didn’t want war. History suggests that indeed he probably was sucked into that situation by a variety of factors; but that doesn’t mean that Israel wasn’t in existential danger.

    And, you’re still not explaining why Rabin had a nervous breakdown during that time period.

    Or, all of those other things mentioned above.

    Was it also an Israeli plot to have Nasser close the Straits of Tiran? Was the Mossad behind Huessien’s decision to enter the war, against Israel’ assurance that his kingdom wouldn’t be attacked?

    Should Israel not have struck the first blow, due to such supreme confidence? . . . like it didn’t strike the first blow in October 1973 (because the Arab armies were no match for Tzahal?, or at least many of those exact same officers claimed at the time)


    Jonathan1 · May 12th, 2010 at 1:32 am
  11. Menachem Begin stated that “The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.

    Ok. I’m not a military general. Maybe it was all a complete Eygptian bluff–or maybe all of those things I’ve mentioned were part of a Zionist plot.

    On the other hand, you are relying on the assurances of many of the exact same military people who were so tragically wrong in 1973. What if Israel had taken the first blow in ’67, how can we be certain how things would have played out?

    Menachem Begin, btw., was the prime minister who approved of the 1982 Lebanon invasion, to bring a generational peace to Israel’s northern residents (his defense minister was Ariel Sharon, who was also very confident about victory in 1967.)


    Jonathan1 · May 12th, 2010 at 1:39 am
  12. I’m not talking about ’73 or ’82. All I’m saying is that based on the quotes I’ve seen from the folks who were leading the Israeli military in ’67, it doesn’t seem like they were of the opinion then that there was an existential threat. Rabin said that both sides knew that the Egyptian forces weren’t capable of victory. It’s also useless to play the “what if?” game with history.

    I’m sure Rabin’s job was very stressful, but his psychological well-being or lack thereof is in no way definitive proof that he thought the country would be destroyed.

    I also think that you addressed the issue of rhetoric that Yair brought up – the “talking throughout the spring of wiping Israel off the map.” As you said, confidence in military victory is a function of being a military officer.

    Furthermore, I’m not claiming that the war itself was some kind of evil Zionist plot. I do, however, have questions about the way the story of ’67 has been used (hence my initial reference to the myth), especially in terms of the relationship of US Jewry to Israel, and in terms of the conversation about the ongoing occupation.


    LastTrumpet · May 12th, 2010 at 2:12 am
  13. Ok. How about this:

    None of us can know for sure whether or not Israel was in existential danger or not in 1967.

    I bring up the Rabin breakdown to try to show that there was not a clear consensus among the military leadership about the Arab threat (and I do think the fact that the IDF chief-of-staff had a nervous breakdown, with Israel facing those circumstance, is telling.)

    The evidence seems to show that Israel was in grave danger in ’67. The only counter to that are military assessments that Israel wasn’t in grave danger in ’67. That could be the case, we’ll never know for sure.

    But, I bring up ’73 and ’82 because many of those very same people who later claimed that Israel wasn’t actually in grave danger in ’67 (ie, perhaps the Israeli first-strike wasn’t necessary) were the ones who were so tragically wrong in ’73 and ’82–although we’ll never no for sure if they were wrong about ’67 as well.

    I do, however, have questions about the way the story of ‘67 has been used (hence my initial reference to the myth), especially in terms of the relationship of US Jewry to Israel, and in terms of the conversation about the ongoing occupation.

    Ok. I don’t know about that subject really, and frankly, at this point, I’d be just as happy if US Jewry didn’t have anything more to do with the “pro-Israel” world.


    Jonathan1 · May 12th, 2010 at 2:28 am
  14. >>“I do, however, have questions about the way the story of ‘67 has been used (hence my initial reference to the myth), especially in terms of the relationship of US Jewry to Israel, and in terms of the conversation about the ongoing occupation.”

    Of course you “have questions” about it. Otherwise it would start to look like Israel’s victory in 1967 was justified. And we can’t have that.


    Eric · May 12th, 2010 at 11:42 pm
  15. >>“I’m not talking about ‘73 or ‘82. All I’m saying is that based on the quotes I’ve seen from the folks who were leading the Israeli military in ‘67, it doesn’t seem like they were of the opinion then that there was an existential threat. Rabin said that both sides knew that the Egyptian forces weren’t capable of victory. It’s also useless to play the “what if?” game with history.”

    Really? You’ve quoted one guy who became a far leftist politician. Meanwhile the entire country, from the political leadership down to the ‘man in the street’ perceived a severe threat.

    What’s your alternative hypothesis? Sure, Nasser threw out the UN peacekeepers and blockaded the Straits of Tiran; sure, Syria, Egypt and Jordan all moved their militaries into place and expressed the rhetoric of genocide. But…. really they didn’t want to threaten Israel’s existence, they just wanted to kill a few thousand people?

    Well, heck — what kind of overreacting country would fight back against that? Certainly not the US, or Taiwan, or South Korea, or Singapore, or France, or Finland, or anybody else. No doubt Egypt would be happy to sacrifice a few thousand of its citizens to an invading army, so long as it wasn’t “existentially” threatened.

    But speaking of Egypt and existentialism, in 1967 Egypt had just spent 4 years gassing its enemies to death with chemical weapons in Yemen. Maybe Israeli leaders were a bit….ahem….concerned at the realization that Egypt, armed with 4 years of lessons learned, might be ready to use its weapons of mass destruction again?

    Nah…. nothin’ to worry ’bout. Poison gas? Dangerous??? Please. What a “myth”…

    According to these reports, Egypt today is still finding its old habits of gassing people hard to kick…. Sure sucks for Gazans.


    Eric · May 13th, 2010 at 12:26 am
  16. There is a difference between rhetoric and actual military capabilities. Whether or not Israel was actually under an existential threat is not about what was said, but rather whether or not those saying it could be reasonably thought to accomplish what they were threatening.

    What the political leadership actually perceived and what they said they perceived aren’t necessarily the same – politicians have been known to be motivated by things other than the truth. What the man on the street perceived may have more to do with what the political leadership was telling them than the reality of the situation.

    The claim of existential threat is still used by the Israeli government and its defenders to justify all kinds of things. If Israel’s military power is such that they are more than capable of defending themselves (what’s that thing they’re keeping in Dimona, again?), then they should stop using the claim of an existential threat to legitimize violations of human rights and international law.


    LastTrumpet · May 13th, 2010 at 1:21 am
  17. If Israel’s military power is such that they are more than capable of defending themselves (what’s that thing they’re keeping in Dimona, again?), then they should stop using the claim of an existential threat to legitimize violations of human rights and international law.

    Ok. Fair enough.

    But, I think you’ve just put yourself in a bind, with this analogy between Israel’s security situation today, vis-a-vis the Palestinians . . . and the situation Israel faced in May/June 1967.

    I’m just looking at Israel’s situation in 1967, and I still can’t wrap my head around this theory that Israel wasn’t in mortal danger in 1967 (and, hence was not justified in striking first) . . . because–despite all of the (vast) evidence to the contrary–a few Israeli military officers, after the fact, bragged that they knew Israel would emerge victorious the whole time???? Come on.


    Jonathan1 · May 13th, 2010 at 1:49 am
  18. LT,

    Alrighty, so Egypt, Syria and Jordan were putting on a theatrical show of preparing to commit genocide, simply appearing to move their forces into attack posture, playing their dramatic part as the fictional attacker. And Israel, knowing (by ESP?) that the surrounding countries were just putting on a show (along with a show of using poison gas for the previous 4 years…?) wantonly assaulted its peaceful neighbors?

    Ah-HA! The expansionist Israeli master plot revealed by LastTrumpet!

    The dictatorships of Egypt, Syria and Jordan were the victims of a Zionist ruse. And again: the conniving Zionists, with their “claim of existential threat,” foil the best intentions. Oh, the humanity.

    What’s so interesting is the degree to which you’ve twisted facts into pretzels, to the point of echoing really bizarro conspiracy theories, to avoid facing the idea that history actually occurred as documented and that Israel’s victory in 1967 was the only available moral outcome to that war. Israel? Victory? Moral? That’s just a bridge too far for some. Avoid at all costs.


    Eric · May 13th, 2010 at 2:00 am
  19. Eric writes:
    You’ve quoted one guy who became a far leftist politician.

    If you’ve used up the term “far leftist” to describe a prime minister who advanced the peace process but also significantly expanded the settlements, what language do you have left to describe someone who actually opposes settlement expansion?


    BZ · May 13th, 2010 at 7:50 am
  20. On the other topic, This “putting things aside while we’re under threat” isn’t exactly something new. It’s been used to bludgeon feminists (in Israel and the Jewish community specifically, but more generally around the world. The earliest known instance being suffrage just post civil war in the USA) over and over again. YOu need to put aside your selfish needs beasue there’s something bigger going on. This sweetie version of it is just slightly sidestepped- just see what happens to the person who steps out of line. And don’t forget how the Orthodox rabbinate, the Muslim and Christian clergy all got together to spit on the GLBT parade in Israel last year. See, there’s plenty of room for togetherness!
    All we have to do is find someone we hate more than (fill in the blank)


    KRG · May 13th, 2010 at 9:24 am
  21. Eric: And Israel, knowing (by ESP?) that the surrounding countries were just putting on a show (along with a show of using poison gas for the previous 4 years…?) wantonly assaulted its peaceful neighbors?
    It looks to me like that’s not really what LT is saying. I’m hesitant to pick a side based on the facts, because those of you already in this conversation definitely have a better grasp of Israeli history than me, but it really seems like LT is questioning the invocation of ’67 and the related concept of a perpetual existential threat to justify military action. J1 said it best: None of us can know for sure whether or not Israel was in existential danger or not in 1967. Not that we can’t discuss it, but LT seems more to be speculating on the implications of such a discussion.


    renaissanceboy · May 13th, 2010 at 11:12 am
  22. BZ,

    I think you missed LT’s reference above to Gen. Mattityahu Peled, regarding which I commented.


    Eric · May 14th, 2010 at 5:21 pm
  23. [...] Here’s him minimizing the danger posed by that Flotilla, which would have detonated Israel’s last chance [...]


    J Street’s Israel Campus Organizer Drew Cohen – Israel Is “Unjust And Even Criminal,” Uncomfortable With “People Who Espouse Zionism” | Mere Rhetoric · November 28th, 2010 at 5:11 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik