Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Sign of Desperation

Many Israeli's are feeling more and more isolated. And in fact many of them are isolated: isolated from reality and from mainstream western thinking.

And it can only be seen as a sign of desperation, of isolation, and of narcissism when an Israeli university affiliated think tank, The Begin-Sadat Center For Strategic Studies, publishes this peon to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In part, it reads:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The Canadian Prime Minister has emerged as a modern Abraham, a prophetic voice of principle in a world that is in danger of losing its conscience about Jews and Israel.
Our Biblical patriarch Abraham pleaded with God to rescind the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, arguing that the virtues of just a few righteous people could suffice to save that world.
At this point I thought that perhaps they were implicitly casting Israel in the role of Sodom and Gommorah, and that Harper was arguing that since not all Israelis were settlers, chauvinists, and militarists, Israel deserved to be spared the wrath of the nations. But of course that is not their point at all. The article continues:
In our modern world, that righteous person – whose voice of conscience, critique and courage may be the saving grace – is surely Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In his speech before a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism in Ottawa last week, Harper sounded the clearest and most courageous call of this century against modern anti-Semitism and hatred of the Jewish state. In fact, Harper’s entire political career has been punctuated by steadfast support for Israel and the Jewish People, with clarity of vision and intensity unparalleled in recent times.
We, like many other Israelis bewildered by the growing intensity of hatred against Jews, were comforted by Harper’s remarks. His bold words give us hope that there are indeed many decent people, some of them in positions of power, who will not bow to demonization, Orwellian twisting of history and language, and pure evil. It is reassuring to hear loudly from such righteous gentiles. Harper deserves our gratitude for still believing in true humanism and the redemption of mankind.
... The morally bankrupt UN and a plethora of additional international forums single out democratic Israel for imagined and exaggerated human rights abuses, ... Major human rights organizations have joined the anti-Israeli chorus, shocking us even more. But Harper is adamant in pointing out this perverse behavior ... helping us here in Israel to maintain our sanity and belief in the goodness of man.
... Judge Goldstone and much of the international community want to neuter Israel to the point that it can’t defend itself. His committee and its many pernicious international legal collaborators seek to restrain, inhibit, fetter and otherwise prevent Israel’s defense forces from defending itself ... Not the Right Honorable Stephen Harper. He has consistently backed Israel’s defensive actions against Palestinian and other terrorists, and stood up to the French, the Russians and others in international fora at the most critical moments. Over the past three years, Harper’s Canada stood alone in defense of Israel – eight times casting the only “no” vote against unfair
condemnations of Israel – during votes at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Harper speaks of the “persistence of the Jewish homeland as a sign of hope…,” as a symbol of “our faith in humanity’s future, in the power of good over evil.”
... Mr. Harper ... has emerged as the finest global spokesman for a more virtuous world. Thank you, Prime Minister Harper, for not despairing of the world nor abandoning us.
Suffice it to say that Stephen Harper is not considered a fine global spokesman by anyone else in the world. Canada recently lost (for the first time ever) its bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. In Canada itself, Harper has never won a majority of the votes (he is Prime Minister only because the opposition is divided) and his current standing in the polls is about 35%. Within his own Conservative Party he is considered an autocrat, silencing or forcing out all who challenge him or begin to garner too much attention to themselves. He is a Christian conservative and plays to the social conservatives more than the fiscal conservatives. Despite Harpers considerable effort to woo Canada's Jewish voters, most of them still vote for his more liberal opponents.

That this is the man on whom the Begin-Sadat Center hangs the "hope of the world" is a sign of both how out-of-touch and how paranoid/desperate many of Israel's right leaning intellectual class have become.


Anonymous Eric said...

Now if this Abraham will only leave Ur and go to Canaan TX and take his cabinet with him. He can let ex Pharaoh GWB have a go a his wife too for all I care.

3:34 pm  
Anonymous David said...

For a second there I was wondering why Tom Mix would be anyone's modern Abraham?

4:25 pm  
Anonymous Shmuel said...

It's good to see that the political science department at Bar Ilan University (with which BESA is affiliated)has managed to find an exception to Rashbi's famous "psak" that Esau will always hate Jacob. Next thing they will discover is that Harper is really the descendent of crypto-Jews, because no true gentile could possibly behave so honourably (or if you're of a chassidishe bent, that his neshomeh has a Jewish source).

It's also great to hear that despite over a century of Zionist endeavour and 62 years of Israeli independence, Jewish history remains as passive as it was in the ghetto and the shtetl, with no responsibility or correlation between Jewish action and non-Jewish reaction.

Ah, nothing like being a member of a nation that will dwell alone and will not consider the nations.

Mamesh a mechayeh.

8:32 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


Not all the classical commentators thought that being a "nation that dwells alone" was such a good thing, nor that it was out of our control.

I recall a commentary on Genesis 33:12-17. Esau begs Jacob to travel together to his home and for Jacob to come live/visit with him. Jacob begs off, by saying his camp is too slow, but promises to catch up and meet Esau at his home camp. Esau sets off ahead. But Jacob, reneges, and goes elsewhere, never seeing his brother again.

The commentator (and I regret I can't recall who it was) remarks: "Maybe if Jacob had gone with Esau, we would not have had all that trouble with Rome."

If you recall that in the Rabbinic imagination Esau is the father of - and often synonymous with - Rome, this is a remarkable statement. It implies that the Roman prosecution is (at least in part) the result of Jewish stand-offishness. If the Jews had taken more heed of non-Jewish sensibilities then perhaps there would be more good will between Jews and non-Jews and a lot of tzuris could have been avoided.

A remarkable - and too often overlooked - piece of Rabbinic wisdom.

11:53 am  
Anonymous Shmuel said...

I agree, Syd. As a matter of fact, most of the Rabbinic interpretations concerning the biblical Esau are not really about Esau at all, but about Rome and subsequently Christianity.

I had never heard that comment on Gen. 33 before. I will look for it.


And Hannukah sameah while I'm at it :-)

(Hmm. Jewish attitudes to Greek culture - a fascinating topic in its own right)

(And another aside: I was just reading Elliott Horowitz' Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence - fascinating take on Jewish attitudes to non-Jews of various kinds.)

1:54 pm  
Anonymous Shmuel said...

Were you thinking of the midrash (Gen. Rabbah) about what might have happened if Jacob had allowed Esau to marry Dinah (rather than locking her in a box)?

2:19 pm  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


Happy Channukah to you too.

For an interesting take on Rabbinic attitudes to Greek culture, see Emanuel Levinas essay "The Translation of Scripture" in the collection "In The Time Of The Nations", where he comments on Megillah 8b,9a, and 9b. This section ends with Rav Yohanan arguing that the verse (Gen 9:27) "God enlarged Yafet, may he dwell in house of Shem" means that Greek culture should be imported into Jewish culture, and Jewish culture exported to Greek culture. At least thats Levinas understanding of the passage. (Both R Yohanan and Levinas might have been executed by the Macabbees had they voiced these opinions in their day.)

As for Purim

1) according the same gemara, the Book of Esther is the only book of the bible that is forbidden to be translated into Greek (or any other language.) Maybe the Rabbis felt that discussions of antisemitism and the Jewish response to it are best kept "in the family"

2) See Levinas essay "For a Place in the Bible" in the same collection.

3) See my own dvar Torah (based on Levinas essay) on Purim violence (and other lessons) at:

3:23 pm  

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