A Joe Biden Presidency – What Can Israel Expect?

As of this writing, despite the ongoing/unresolved challenges in a handful of States, certain media outlets have declared Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. The way things look right now, the declarations are expressions of a very likely reality soon to be confirmed, subject to legal challenges from President Donald Trump. If the nation is not divided enough now, it will become even more divided if the courts overturn Biden victories in different States and Trump manages to remain in office.

What is behind us and what may be in front of us? The answers to the questions place the years of the Trump presidency against the potential years of the Biden presidency – vis-a-vis Israel. This cannot be a prognosis, because a diagnosis of the “new reality” still needs to be made. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to consider some facts:

The Trump administration promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (2017) and followed through six months later (May, 2018). The following year, during a visit to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. During the four years of the Trump administration, there was an intention to accomplish the ultimate business deal, a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, via a peace agreement between Israel and the “Palestinians”, which did not come to pass. The proposed Deal of the Century was offered this year (2020), but not accepted by the  “Palestinians”, who viewed the U.S. as a dishonest broker. The U.S. cut off aid to the “Palestinians” and ties between the Trump administration and the leadership of the “Palestinian” Authority came to an end. This year, the Trump administration was also instrumental in brokering the Abraham Accords, that resulted in three Arab countries signing normalization agreements with Israel. Unfortunately, the signing of those agreement came in exchange for Israel not following through with its plans to annex about a third of the area of Judea and Samaria, as well as the sale of stealth fighter planes to the United Arab Emirates (that still voted against Israel in the U.N.), which could compromise Israeli air supremacy in the Middle East and, as a consequence, create a security risk to the country. We need to see whether Trump’s “lame duck” presidency will generate other pro-Israel measures, or whether plans that were on the drawing board will be put on hold. An attempt to continue trying to convince Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel would be in everyone’s interest, but much will depend on how much time and effort the Biden administration wants to put into the Middle East arena and whether the continuation of such efforts will require Israel to make “concessions” to the “Palestinians”, which was required by most American administrations prior to Trump.

What can we expect from an American administration under the presidency of Joe Biden? We cannot ignore the fact that he was the Vice-President under the Obama administration, which was one of the most, if not the most, anti-Israel administration in U.S. history. That’s eight years of influence that he would bring with him to the White House.

In all likelihood, an attempt will be made to resurrect the so-called “two-state solution” to the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict, which many political pundits considered to be a dead policy. Of necessity, that would mean that the U.S. would oppose any increased settlement activity in Judea and Samaria. Without question, unilateral annexation of territory in those areas is no longer viable – an opportunity missed by the Netanyahu government in favor of normalization agreements with certain Arab countries. Notwithstanding that Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for over 30 years, it is doubtful that such acquaintance would develop into such a friendship that the Biden administration would continue relations with Israel where the Trump administration leaves off. In all likelihood, it would revert to the perspective of the Obama administration and try to dictate to Israel how things should be worked out, namely, through a “two-state” resolution. This would also entail re-establishing diplomatic ties with the “Palestinians” that seriously deteriorated under the Trump administration. This would also fulfil a Biden campaign promise to renew relationships with the “Palestinians”, which could well mean that Biden would direct the reopening of the “Palestinian” mission in Washington that was closed by Trump. Things could be somewhat different, as Biden is not Obama. This remains to be seen. Much will depend upon the politicos in the Senate and House of Representatives. 

A potentially serious area of conflict is the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu fought against, diplomatically, at every opportunity. That deal, of course, was brokered by the Obama administration and eventually cancelled by the Trump administration – a move strongly criticized by Biden. Will Biden, as President, seek to reinstate that deal? It won’t take long before this question is answered.

There are, of course, other issues that a Biden administration would need to deal with, such as financial and military aid to Israel, the sale of highly sophisticated military equipment to enemies of Israel, as well as growing anti-Semitism in the U.S. All this while trying to deal with a nationwide health crisis, as well as the rifts that have occurred in American society during the last few years and, particularly, during the most recent campaign for the presidency.

It doesn’t really matter which side of the political divide we are on right now, whether we voted for this one or that one. We should be in prayer for all of our governments and leaders, local, state and national. Their welfare is our welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

We should always remember that God is still sovereign and in charge. His ways are perfect and often beyond our understanding. He is also able to change the hearts of our leaders and turn them in whatever direction He chooses. (Proverbs 21:1)

Leaders come and go and nations rise and fall. The eyes of the world may be on the United States right now. But, God’s eyes are on the nations of the world to see how they will relate to Israel – the apple of His eye. No nation is exempt. (Gen. 12:3)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Have a great week.

Marvin

Yom HaKippurim (The Day of Atonements) 2020 – A Double Lockdown

Three years ago, I published a post about Yom HaKipurrim, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It was a sort of primer regarding this holiday, which is also the sixth of the prophetic holidays mentioned in the 23rd chapter of the Book of Leviticus.

As is the case every year, the country comes to a standstill. With the exception of exclusively Arab areas, all traffic stops, businesses are closed, synagogues are filled with the observant, who attend religious services regularly and consistently, and with the less observant, who attend services sporadically and sometimes, only on this day. There is a sense of reverence, of awe, congregations lifting up genuine and heartfelt prayers before the Throne of God, the King of the Universe, prayers of thanksgiving, of apology, of repentance. Ancient melodies are sung in unison, some with tears of sorrow, others with joy. The congregation rises when the closet containing the Holy Scriptures (Aron HaKodesh) is opened and they sit when it is closed. Particularly portions of the Bible are read that are significant to the them of the day: judgment. Multitudes try to fast for 25 hours, in an effort to atone for the sins of the past year. The long blast of the Shofar, the ram’s horn, signifying the end of this special day and the breaking of the fast with family members and often, with guests. The following day, the country returns to its normal pace,

This year was different. The country came to a standstill again, but it was at a 90% standstill for a week preceding Yom HaKippurim. Synagogues were not full, but practically empty. People were allowed to attend services, but only outside and in small groups (capsules). Even the Prime Minister suggested that people pray outside of the synagogue or at home. Those who chose to participate in the special services held on this day had to maintain a distance of two meters (just over 6 feet) from each other. It was a hot day and the worshippers needed to be outside for hours on end, rather than inside an air-conditioned facility. Not everyone heeded those instructions. Still, the special atmosphere that usually attends this solemn day was missing. 

Israel has been in a modified, national lockdown since just before Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, which began on Friday, September 18th. We are the first country to have a second, national lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. After successfully tackling the first wave of the virus from February through mid-May, the rapid relaxation of the restrictions resulted in a rapid re-emergence of the virus. This small country has been experiencing between between 7,000-8,400 new cases per day for the past week. Hospitals are over-loaded and understaffed. Over 1,500 deaths have occurred since the beginning of the pandemic. I personally know people who have tested positive and others, including myself, who have had to be in isolation for up to two weeks because of exposure to someone who tested positive. Lockdown appeared to be the only reasonable measure to take in an effort to curtail the growing numbers of those infected. But, should it have been?

Throughout the past week, the out-of-control coronavirus shared the headlines with the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Some tried to compare the failures that led up to that war with the failures that led to the present health crisis, a crisis which gained Israel the reputation of having the highest infection rate per capita than any other country in the world. And, as of today, we even surpassed the United States in having the most coronavirus deaths per capita

Can we really compare the failures that brought about the military crisis in the Yom Kippur War and the health crisis of Yom Kippur 2020? I don’t think so. From a practical point of view, the present crisis is far worse. During and after the was of 1973, that took place on the most sacred day of the year, there were individuals who were held accountable for the intelligence and tactical failures. It took a little while, but the country assessed the tactical issues and dealt with them as they needed to do and the tide of the war turned. Despite the heavy loss of life, the nation recognized that the war needed to be fought effectively in order to win. There was no other option. It pulled together, worked together, fought together, mourned together and overcame together. Everyone recognized that they needed to cooperate and do their part in order to be victorious.

Not so with the war against the coronavirus of 2020. Leadership is lacking, responsibility is being blamed on “the other guy”. The numbers of dead and wounded are continually on the rise. But, the population is not behind the effort to win the war against the virus. From the leaders in the government to the people on the street, there is a lack of unity and a lack of clear direction how to fight. As a result, they end up fighting each other, rather than their common enemy. We see divisions and old polarizations, particularly between the religious and the secular segments of society, between those who blindly support the government and those who blindly oppose it, between those on the “right” and those on the “left”. Each faction claims to know best. But, no single segment of our society has exclusive rights to define how democracy should function or how one can exercise his faith. There are demonstrations that regularly take place against Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government’s handing of the health crisis. But, in doing do, they congregate together, most often without facial masks as a form of protest against the government, adding to the likelihood of widespread infection. Then, there are the religious factions, who largely ignore the rules of wearing a mask and social distancing. Not all, but enough.

So, it was almost inevitable that a nation-wide lockdown would be re-imposed, except for what is deemed to be an essential service. In the process, everyone is affected, men and women, young and old, school children (who may not be able to return to school until the end of the year), small businesses and many others. Unemployment remains extremely high. The economy is faltering and it may not be able to regain its strength for at least two years. Somebody needs to yell out “Stop. You’re fighting the wrong enemy. We can’t continue to fight against ourselves.” The divisions are being fuelled by the media, as usual, each with its own political perspective and agenda. Some want to bring down the government. Others want the protests and demonstrations to stop and give the government an opportunity to act like a government should. After all, they have their partisan interests at stake in causing the government to remain in power.

Yom HaKippurim is a day of introspection and soul-searching. It is a time to reflect on our sins, individual and national. It is a time to repent and to try to make things right. As long as we continue to fight against each other, the microscopic, silent killer that has invaded our land will continue to claim victims. The first lockdown was successful because the population saw that the danger was real and everyone was afraid of contracting the disease. Now, with theories debunking the seriousness of the coronavirus and the perspective that there are other, political issues that are more important than our health, people are doing what each considers to be right in his own sight.

We can make “peace agreements” with other countries in the Middle East. But, what good is it, if we can’t visit each other for fear of getting sick? Flights out of the country have been cancelled. The tourism industry here is at a standstill. Many businesses that rely on tourism during the holiday season (Passover through the Feast of Tabernacles – April to October) to make it through the year, are on the verge of collapse.

Less than a week ago, the Prime Minister stated: “We are at war – the Corona War . . . Only if we work together can we deal the virus – and we will defeat it.”

Those are not empty words. Israel knows how to fight a war. It requires, among other things, cooperation and determination on a national scale. We are a small family and cannot afford internal disunity. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Yom Kippur is a time of that is particularly appropriate to forgiveness, seeking it from God and from one another and granting it to others. Asking for forgiveness is a humbling experience. But, a little humility, when genuine, can go a long way. 

“[If] My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Knowing who we are; humbling ourselves; praying; seeking God; turning away from evil. Sounds like it fits perfectly with Yom HaKippurim. That shouldn’t be too hard. Or, maybe we don’t believe it because it sounds too easy. 

Why is it that the lessons we learn the best in life are the ones that hurt us the most or cost us the most. 

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

The Israel-United Arab Emirates and Bahrain Deals

Shalom all,

It’s been quite a week. What began with an announcement on 13th August, 2020, came to realization last Tuesday (15th September) with the signing of what has been designated as the “Abraham Accords” on the lawn of the White House. Israel signed two agreements – one with the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) and another with Bahrain. All three countries signed The Abraham Accords Declaration. Israel and the UAE also signed “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between The United Arab Emirates and The State of Israel”. Israel and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords: “Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations”. The full text of all three documents can be seen here.  While the document signed with the UAE is designated as a Treaty of Peace, the one signed with Bahrain is designated as a Declaration of Peace. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is probably the first international agreement negotiated and concluded, prior to signing, via Zoom.

A peace agreement was signed with Egypt in 1979 and another was signed with Jordan in 1994. Since then and until a week ago, no other “peace agreement” was signed with any Arab country in the region. There is no question that after a lapse of 27 years, the signing of two “peace agreements” on the same day, between Israel and two Arab Moslem countries, is certainly an historic event. There is no doubt that all three countries will benefit from the agreements that were signed. Even my daughter, who makes natural soaps and candles, received an online order from someone in the UAE only a few days following the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the agreements, stating that they “[bring] hope to all of the children of Abraham” and usher in a “new era of peace.” He added that the deal with the UAE was for “full, formal peace” [with] one of the strongest countries in the world.” The interesting thing to note is that “peace agreements” were signed with two countries who were never at war with Israel, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. In a practical sense, the agreements that were signed were normalization agreements that allow for the signatory countries to estabish diplomatic relations with one another and all that flows from well-intentioned, good faith agreements signed between sovereign nations.

For Israel, it is a major accomplishment. It crushed the long-standing, Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by the Arab League in 2002. That “initiative” calls for full diplomatic ties to be established between Israel and the entire Arab and Muslim world, conditioned on: the “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967,” the establishment of a “Palestinian” state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the “Palestinian” refugee question. That initiative, which never had a realistic possibility of being implemented, at least not under Netanyahu’s watch, is a cloud without water and will, hopefully, die a rapid death, as other countries in the region line up to follow the lead set by the UAE and Bahrain and as other countries decide to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem. But, the Middle East being the Middle East, it is also possible that those Arab and Muslim countries who are, or will be, in the process of normalizing relations with Israel could form a coalition of “friendly countries” and make a coordinated effort to pressure Israel to make peace with the “Palestinians” along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative, although it would be a somewhat modified initiative. When that peace doesn’t happen, the “normalization of relations” will be tested to the limit.

Still, normalization with the UAE and Bahrain is also a wake-up call to the “Palestinians”, in that they can no longer control the establishment of “peaceful relations” between Israel and sovereign Arab states that share security and other interests. It should also send a message to the entire Arab bloc that the cause of the “Palestinians” is of less importance to some Arab countries than the issue of containing the threat posed by Iran. Another factor to take into account is that the longer the “Palestinians” remain adamant in refusing to recognize Israel as an independent, sovereign country, the more it will become isolated from the more moderate-thinking Arab countries, who recognize that peace canbe made with a right-wing, Israeli government.

The agreement with UAE and Bahrain was made without Israel having to actively give away any territory, which had always been a pre-requisite for entering into any agreement with the “Palestinians”. Netanyahu was convinced that “this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.”

As an optimist, I would want to agree with Netanyahu’s statement. But, I am not a politician, so I don’t have to make broad, sweeping statements that are unrealistic. It is encouraging that there are countries in this region whose leadership have enough common sense to realize that Israel is here to stay, that Israel is not a threat to them, that establishing normalization with Israel will have practical, and even spiritual, benefits that flow from the outworking of the Abrahamic Covenant: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen. 12:3).

Almost immediately after the announcement was made in August that the UAE and Israel were going to establish normalization, or call it whatever you want, the major question that arose was “What is this going to cost Israel?” It didn’t take long for the question to be answered. 

First:it generated a freeze to the plans of annexation. Netanyahu claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump asked him to put a “temporary halt” to annexation of portions of Judea and Samaria, as part of the deal to be concluded with the UAE and potentially with other Arab countries. Nevertheless, Netanyahu claims to remain committed to applying sovereignty in Judea and Samara, which will be coordinated with the U.S. President Trump, who on the other hand, emphatically stated that annexation was no longer a matter for discussion. “Israel has agreed not to do it. More than off the table, they have agreed not to do it…I think that very important. I think it was a great concession by Israel, I think it was a smart concession.” Trump’s Ambassador to Israel then stepped in and said that annexation was off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently. Add to that the statement of Senior White House official, Jared Kushner, that President Trump would not allow Israel to go back on its pledge to defer  plans for establishing sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria in exchange for normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates: “President Trump is committed to holding them accountable to it, and Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent…[and] we do not plan to give our consent for some time, as right now the focus has to be on getting this new peace agreement implemented.” 

From the UAE side, there is the statement by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the UAE, made on the same day of the announcement of the upcoming process of normalization, that an agreement was reached “to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” adding afterwards, that the two sides “also  agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.” The order of his comments is important: stopping the planned annexation and then establishing a bilateral relationship. To this, we need to add and reflect on the statement of the Director of Strategic Communications at the Foreign Ministry of the UAE, Hend al-Otaiba, that Abu Dhabi remains committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative. Or, as stated by another UAE spokesperson: “A two-state solution is at the heart of the Arab Peace Initiative. In the absence of a freeze on annexation, a two-state solution will quickly cease to be a possibility.” So, who are we going to believe? There are probably pieces of truth from all of them. The question is: What pieces?

Second:Behind the scenes and the rhetoric of the politicians was the “business deal” whereby the U.S. would sell F-35 fighters to the UAE. It is to be understood that Israel and the UAE have been in a normalization mode for years, the formalization of which was enabled through the intermediary of the U.S. The UAE is a very close neighbor of Iran, physically, a fact that undoubtedly weighed heavily in Abu Dhabi’s thinking of the risk involved in normalization with Israel versus the benefits, including the security benefit, to be derived by it, the most immediate of which is the sale of F-35 advanced, stealth-fighter planes to the Emirates. Warming up to Jerusalem was a warming up also to Washington.

The sale of F-35s to the UAE has prompted inquiry and concern in Israel. The primary concern is the potential loss of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East, a qualitative edge to which the U.S. was legally committed. Those who oppose the sale point to the instability of the region and that if the U.S. sells the F-35s stealth fighters, the U.S. would be hard-pressed to sell them to other countries in the Middle East with whom the U.S. maintains strong ties, such as Saudi Arabia, which is strongly committed to the Arab Initiative. Those who don’t object to the sale see it as a trust-building measure with Israel’s “new partner” that could strengthen the normalization process with the UAE. With this reasoning, those who are supportive of the sale believe that the fledgling normalization agreement would run into difficulties at the outset, endangering the newly-established relationship. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu denied that he consented to the sale of F-35s to the UAE. But, the failure to actively consent does not eliminate the strong possibility, or even probability, that there was passive acceptance of the sale, in order to conclude the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE. It should be clear that the QME that Israel has is not dependent solely upon its supremacy in the air, but on its overall tactical, military edge over its neighbors. Still, from a strictly human perspective, air superiority has always been a prominent factor in Israel’s military achievements.

President Trump is still a businessman and he sees almost all things from a business perspective. So, only a week after the announcement of the “peace/normalization” agreements, he expressed a willingness to move forward with the sale to the UAE. After all, it’s all about money: “They’d like to buy the F-35, it’s under review, we’ll see what happens. They have the money to pay.”According to reports in the U.S. media, Jared Kushnir, Trump’s son-in-law, brokered the deal for the UAE to buy F-35s, inasmuch as his father-in-law has no problem with it and even sees it as an asset, not as a liability. So, despite objections from Israel, the deal for selling F-35s to the UAE is moving forward and may be concluded before the end of this year.  

Would the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE have taken place without Israel’s agreement not to move forward with annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria? Would last week’s event have taken place without the understanding that the U.S. would sell advanced, stealth fighters to the UAE, without the tacit consent of Israel’s Prime Minister? I strongly doubt it. Both Trump and Netanyahu needed a public-relations shot in the arm for different reasons. In politics, the timing of events is often a key factor in swaying voter opinion. It is the rare politician whose “yes” means “yes” and whose “no” means “no”. Foreign policy success can never be an adequate substitute for domestic failure. A good, international business deal should never be the basis for compromising on Israel’s security. 

Lockdown on Rosh Hashana. One more thing. A partial lockdown was imposed immediately before the start of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). It will last for 3 weeks and then a decision will be made whether it should be continued or not, and if so, how. In the meantime, there is considerable opposition to the lockdown. Numbers of those who tested positive for Covid-19 continue to climb, while large segments of the population continue to ignore the guidelines of the Health Department. The politics of the pandemic!

Yes, it’s been quite a week. 

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth…Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121: 1-2 4)

May the Lord bless you from Zion (Psalm 128:5; 134:3)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

The Terror Of “The Bug”!

It’s the 11th of September, a date colloquially referred to as 9/11. The United States remembers! Israel remembers! The world remembers! The families of the victims of the terrorist destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, of the attack on the Pentagon and of the hijacked planes, will never forget! The events of that day, 19 years ago, changed the world. The photos of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers are etched in our collective sub-conscience. Thousands died because of the acts of those whose hatred had gone amuck and exceeded all bounds of reason, who held to a warped ideology and a supremacist worldview. Every airline passenger became an object of suspicion, particularly if one came from a certain region. Metal detectors and body scanners sprung up seemingly overnight. Personal searches were said to be justified because of national security. We began to live with a “new normal”, as uncomfortable as that may have been.

All of that, and more, are the out-workings of human, terrorist activity. They are people, visible, who can communicate – intelligently or not – who use weapons large and small, who can be fought … and beaten and eliminated. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence known in Israel, the government related to it like an invading enemy. It took appropriate measures, sought expert advice from various fields and went to war against a “bug”, a “microbe” that attacks silently, but whose presence is expressed publicly, wreaking health havoc in its wake. Many refused to accept that Covid-19 was a matter to be taken seriously and they laughed at the government’s concerns, claiming that it was part of one conspiracy or another. But, this virus crossed national borders with ease and without a passport, making a laughing stock out of the entire world. So, when Israel was under attack by the “bug”, we initiated stern measures, including extended lockdown, with severe restrictions on movement and assembly. 

People complained of the discomfort, of the harm being done to families (who needed to learn how to live together throughout the day), to the school system, to the religious communities, to the business sector, including every aspect of the tourism industry. And then, after push came to shove, the curve began to flatten, there were more who were healed of the virus than those who were sick and anticipation of a return to a degree of normalcy spread rapidly throughout the country. People wanted to go back to work, they wanted to be able to earn a living and provide for their families. They wanted to open the doors to their businesses and to travel more than 500 meters (1,640 feet = 546 yards) from their homes. They wanted to return to their religious assemblies and to gather freely, without wearing masks or social distancing. And the government cow-towed to the wishes of the people. Restrictions were eased, children went back to school, limited indoor and outdoor gatherings were allowed. And the people thought the health war was behind them and they could now deal with the consequences of the fallout that devastated the economy. If there was ever a miscalculation on the part of government, this nation has experienced, and is still experiencing, it.

The lockdown, complained about by so many across the board, accomplished its purpose. When Israelis emerged from the lockdown, the national attitude became lackadaisical. Instructions of the health ministry were largely ignored. Gatherings took place without social distancing. People wore masks, but more as a decoration, keeping them below their chins, exposing nose and mouth that were to be protected by the masks. They, like the rest of the world, waited for the development of a vaccine, many of whom expected that it would come from Israel. After all, we are the “start-up nation”. 

Then, reality set it. The unemployment rate soared, going from around 4% of the workforce, before the pandemic, to over 20% and it remains at 21% to this date. People took to the streets in demonstrations that started small and ended up with multitudes, some of which became violent. They blamed it all on the government and, particularly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They called and continue to call for his resignation, not just because of the way that the protesters say he mishandled the health crisis, but because he is under indictment on separate charges of corruption. The truth or falsity of the indictments against him will be decided by the court, not in this blog post. 

The protesters gathered in multitudes, in close proximity to one another, many without masks. Within a short period of time, the “bug”, whose deadly impact was denied by so many, made a comeback with a passion. The renewed attack on our national health was experienced by schools, many of which closed down shortly after reopening, sending thousands into a two-week period of isolation. Employees of a multitude of businesses were sent into isolation because of exposure to one person, who tested positive to Covid-19. Thousands of businesses were again affected with many releasing their employees on “vacation without pay”. The numbers began to soar, the lowered curve began to rise again. 

This tiny stretch of desert sand, developed as it may be technologically, continued to ignore the warnings of failure to abide by the guidelines of the health department. Double-digit infections climbed to over a hundred, then two hundred, then a thousand and, as of yesterday, over 4,000 new cases a day. Almost 1,100 people have died so far from the virus. Those who laughed before are not laughing now. Some continue to deny the reality of a national health crisis. Hospitals are bursting at the seams with patients and may soon reach the point of super-saturation, where they can’t handle any more patients, whether coronavirus or otherwise. Health professionals are over-burdened and exhausted and there is concern that the senior population will again become the primary victims of the second wave, as they were during the first wave. Almost no concern is being expressed over a possible third wave that could come in during the approaching Fall and Winter seasons, with the tens of thousands who are affected annually by the flu.

Those who pooh-poohed the government’s efforts to contain and defeat Covid-19 during the first wave are now the most vocal in condemning the government for listening to the voice of the people and easing the restrictions that kept the virus under control. And now, instead of being at the head of the list of countries dealing with the pandemic, we are at the tail. Israel has garnered accolades for its innovations in medicine, science, industry and agriculture, among many other areas. It has gained the reputation of being the “start-up nation”, because of the initiatives and inventiveness of a small percentage of the population. But now, because of lack of initiative, inventiveness and decisiveness, the present government went from hero to zero in its failing to effectively deal with the health crisis and the resulting economic crisis. Israel has recently gained the dubious distinction of having the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate, per capita. This small country is facing the inevitable – a total shut-down for at least two weeks, beginning next Friday, before the start of the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The ultra-orthodox have vowed to disobey lockdown rules during those holidays. Another lockdown could result in an economic collapse from which it will not quickly recover.

The country is now divided into zones of red (worst), orange (second worst, which includes Haifa), yellow (not severe) and green (best). Restrictions will be determined according to zone color. But, the nationwide lockdown will affect everyone. And, political consequences will certainly follow. If another election were to take place today, it is highly doubtful that P.M. Netanyahu will be able to pull another rabbit out his non-existing hat.

We are not a high-tech nation. We are a mixed population from a wide variety of different backgrounds and ideologies, goals and world views. A solid ninety percent of the population works hard to earn their daily bread and to live honorably and with respect. Many are the victims of the economic crisis engendered by the inconsistent handling of the health crisis. What will happen as a result of another nationwide lockdown? I don’t want to think the worst, even though we could end up with full-scale, violent riots and even uprisings along the religious and secular divide.

But, with all that said, I would be remiss if I failed to remember and remind that this is Israel, a nation called by God, established by His promise and not forgotten by Him. He remains faithful, even when those whom He has called have turned their hearts to the things of this world. We have endured much, in afflictions, hardships, distresses and deprivations, pogroms and genocidal attempts to destroy us as a people. Yet, God has kept His remnant and allowed us to be restored to the land of our fathers. When we will be tested in the furnace of affliction, we will be refined and come forth like silver and gold. Despite the unceasing efforts by many throughout the millenia to kill us, yet we live. We experience sorrow, yet we rejoice. We have little, but possess all things.

This is a tough time for Israel. Despite recent political achievements with some of our neighbors, some as recent as today, still, we are going through a national, socio-political time of crisis. For those of you who read this and believe in prayer, I would appeal to you to pray for wisdom for the national leadership. It is time to take serious care of things at home. Also please pray for those who are afflicted with Covid-19 and their families, as well as for those who lost their livelihoods because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. “The value of consistent prayer is not that God will hear us but that we will hear him.” (William J. McGill). Knowing God’s will enable our prayers to become more effective and that, in turn, will help to give permanence to the work of our hands. It’s a win-win situation. Prayer doesn’t change things, it changes us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

The Beirut Explosion – When Weapons of Hatred Backfired

Shalom all,

“Misery is now palpable across the country, in the rows of shuttered shops, in the garbage piling up in different neighborhoods as basic services are disrupted, and in the darkness of the nighttime streets of Beirut as electricity cuts soar to 20 hours a day.” One would think that this is a reasonable aftermath of the explosions that rocked Beirut only one short week ago. But, it isn’t. This was written by Lina Mounzer, a Lebanese writer and translator, in an article in the New York Times only one day before the explosion in Beirut. She continues: “[It] has become clear that there is nothing truly resilient about Lebanon except its politicians and ancient warlords, who refuse to step down, even after their profiteering has bankrupted the country and its people.” 

The day after that article was published, Beirut, once dubbed the Paris of the Middle East, suffered a devastating series of explosions, with the last one looking much like an atomic blast. It needs to be seen.

Before the smoke settled, speculation about the blast was rampant. What happened, what caused it, why, who is responsible? Accusations of local causation and responsibility, as well as foreign intervention were quick to surface. And, of course, along with the finger-pointing were the denials and counter accusations.

When the dust did settle, the extent of the devastation became clear, but the consequences of the blast are still being discovered. At least 160 people died as a direct result of the massive explosion. Over 6,000 people were wounded and over 300,000 have been made homeless. As the numbers grew, so did the wave of public outrage at the government, along with massive demonstrations and clashes with government security forces. Now, one week after the crippling explosions and contrary to the claim in the NYTimes article that the Lebanese politicians “refuse to step down”, the harsh realities following the explosion in Beirut, the entire Lebanese government resigned.

Israel offered, through intermediaries, to provide humanitarian aid to Lebanon, but the offer was rejected. Lebanon’s antagonism towards Israel is greater than its desire to help its suffering population. Israel’s extended hand of help to save life was slapped away by political considerations motivated by hatred. Has the leadership of Lebanon forgotten the help that Israel has extended even to her enemies? What kind of heart and mind rejects an offer to help locate missing persons under the rubble of collapsed buildings, an offer of medical assistance, an offer of humanitarian aid for multitudes of injured and homeless? It boggles the mind to think that a government would rather see its people suffer and die than accept assistance from a country they want to keep as an enemy, even though that country could ease their suffering and help to keep them alive. An act of kindness could go a long way to help turn enemyship into friendship.

Are there answers to some of the questions about the explosion? In a reasoned article entitled What Really Happened at the Port of Beirut?, Lt. Col. (reserves) Dr. Mordechai Kedar, of The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA), concludes: 

“What probably happened on August 4 was an explosion of volatile and flammable materials that were incorrectly stored by Hezbollah for at least a day in a metal, non-airconditioned warehouse. As it is midsummer, temperatures are very high. I believe missile-fuel fumes evaporated from a container and touched the hot wall or ceiling, where they ignited and caused a chain reaction of explosions. 

“Less than an hour after the explosions, Hezbollah announced that the exploded material was ammonium nitrate. Hezbollah was the first to report it. The reason: Hezbollah was looking for a way to cover up its own negligence and establish an official version that deflected attention away from itself, because no one in the government would dare contradict them.

Since when do we take Nasrallah to be truthful?

The finger against Hezbollah finds widespread support, including an analysis by Zvi Yehezkeli, one of Israel’s top investigative reporters. Yehezkeli is fluent in Arabic and has reported from “behind the scenes”, having twice infiltrated Islamic groups in Europe to report on how the Islamic State and Muslim Brotherhood operate there. In a radio interview that took place four days after the massive blast, he stated: “I see Nasrallah (the General Secretary of the Hezbollah terrorist organization) as the main culprit and the main person responsible for holding and bringing this material, the ammonium nitrate to the port warehouses. As the person in charge of the port and the border crossings, that is what he is currently trying to evade.”  When asked in the interview whether the ammonium nitrate was intended for use against Israel, Yehezkeli’s response was: “Certainly. This material is the most available material for semi-military and terrorist organizations to obtain top-level explosions. It is material that was supposed to be used against us in the Third Lebanon War.” 

There is good reason for Yehezkeli’s comments. In a televised speech given on 16 February, 2016, Nasrallah threatened the Israeli ammonia storage facility in Haifa, claiming that a missile attack on the ammonia tanks would have the impact of a nuclear bomb, adding that this means that Lebanon has a nuclear bomb “this is no exaggeration” and such an attack on the Haifa ammonia facilities would potentially cause tens of thousands of deaths.

Israel’s Minister of Defense and Prime Minister in waiting, Benny Gantz, said that the Hezbollah was Lebanon’s biggest problem, as well as Israel’s biggest enemy to the north. He noted: “In Lebanon, in a house, there is a guest room and a missile room — in the same house! When that missile explodes, the guest room doesn’t stay whole, and the Lebanese civilian society will pay dearly. As a security network, we are fighting enemies that keep weapons and operate in civilian surroundings. If we don’t have a choice but to fight, it will have dire consequences”. Stated differently, the next war with Hezbollah will be a mess and will, in all likelihood, include our neighbor to the northeast, Syria. 

With the resignation of the Lebanese government, the chaos generated by last week’s catastrophic explosions leaves the country in a crisis situation, significantly more severe than that which existed immediately prior to the devastation. This provides an opportunity for the Hezbollah to step in and pave the way for its patron, Iran, to exercise its influence over the country in ways that few have imagined. Lebanon may rise from the ashes, but what form will it take? The answer to this question is presently an unknown that Israel needs to prepare for – not an easy task when dealing with an enemy who has no morals and is sworn to our destruction. May God grant abundant wisdom to the leadership of our country and strengthen the arms of those who stand on the walls day and night to protect us from those who would seek to do us harm.

Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD, and whose deeds are done in a dark place and they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:15)

No weapon that is formed against you will prosper. (Isaiah 54:17)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Amalek, 2020

Shalom all.

July in Israel is usually a hot month, at least from a weather and temperature point of view. But, this is not an ordinary July. The coronavirus is in its second wave here, with alarming increases in the number of those who tested positive to the virus. The present, coronavirus-economic crisis has affected multitudes of individuals and businesses, which, in turn, has generated 11 days of demonstrations and protests in front of the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in other locations throughout Israel. The north of Israel is heating up militarily, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is prepping for a possible confrontation with the Hezbollah, an extremist Shiite Muslim terrorist group supported by Iran, whose existence necessitates that the IDF is informed, determined and decisive in its actions. And, of course, Israel continues to deal with the disease of anti-semitism, sometimes disguised as anti-zionism or anti-Israel (collectively “anti-Israelism). It is a disease that cannot be studied in a medical laboratory under an electron microscope, nor is there a vaccine that will neutralize it and protect against it. Yet, it is pandemic and has been with us since we were freed from slavery to Egypt and were called as a nation.

The subject is too broad and pervasive to be dealt with in a short blog post. Still, my thoughts are to focus on one aspect of anti-Israelism that is not part of daily discourse, namely: Amalek, who reared his ugly head throughout the millenia and is doing so still today.

Many of those who subscribe to this blog may not be familiar with Amalek. A brief explanation is warranted. Amalek was the first enemy nation that the Israelites encountered after they crossed the Red Sea following their release from slavery under Pharaoh. According to the Book of Exodus (Exo. 17:6-16; 18:5), the Amalekites attacked the Israelites, but were defeated, although not totally destroyed. Moses was then instructed by the LORD to memorialize in writing that the LORD would utterly blot out memory of Amalek from under heaven. To commemorate the victory, Moses built an altar to the LORD and proclaimed that “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” As Israel was about to enter the land after its wilderness wanderings, she was again instructed regarding Amalek (Deut. 25:17-19):

“Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall come about when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget.” (emphasis mine)

The passages quoted or referred to point out several things: (1) war with Amalek continues from generation to generation; (2) Amalek attacks from the rear: (3) Amalek attacks when we are faint and weary; (4) Amalek attacks “stragglers”; (5) Amalek has no fear of God and (6) the memory of Amalek needs to be blotted out. This is not intended as a Bible study, so I won’t undertake an exegesis of the above passages. Still, some historical data is important to grasp the reason why we need to remember what Amalek did when the Israelites came out from Egypt and the final instruction: “you must not forget”.

The grandfather of Amalek was Esau, who sold his birthright to Jacob for bread and a bowl of lentil soup (Gen. 25:34). Esau determined to kill Jacob, who was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but only after the death of their father, Isaac. He didn’t take into account that Jacob could have children before Isaac died and, therefore, nothing would be gained if he succeeded in accomplishing his goal to kill his brother, if Jacob was survived by at least one son. Centuries later, Pharaoh tried to kill every Jewish male at birth, but God intervened and allowed the life of Moses (and other Israelite male children) to be spared. Further along in our history reveals Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews (Esther 3:6), so that none survive. The Romans did their part in destroying the nation. They were followed by religious persecution over the centuries and mass murder of Jews by the Crusaders, followed ultimately by pogroms and ultimately Hitler’s attempt at the “final solution” to rid the world of Jews. 

The goal of Amalek is the annihilation of the Jews (Psalm 83:7). A major theme in the Passover Hagaddah (the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt) is: “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands.” This is the collective outcry of the Jewish people, whose history has been one long anti-semitic, anti-Jewish progrom. In every generation, there is an Amalek who rises up against the Jewish people. Even though he has been called by different names and titles, his modus operandi is always the same: Get the masses stirred up over a particular event and then blame the Jews for causing it or being behind it. Don’t confuse the masses with facts, just present the situation as being true. Hatred, prejudice, jealousy and ignorance will take over. Amalek continues to war against the Jewish people.

By whatever name he is called now, Amalek definitely exists. It is evident in the anti-semitic events taking place daily throughout the world. The mass media, politicians, anti-Israel organizations, academicians, sports personnel, news reporters, performers of all kinds, and lay people from every walk of life, rally around the call to condemn the Jew, remove any influence he may have and then eliminate him from involvement in society. Israel’s very existence is hard pill for them to swallow, so they seek ways to delegimitize Israel and accuse it of whatever wrongs they can think of. It is a very sad commentary of the times in which we live when claims of anti-semitism are being whitewashed and ignored. One scholar recently questioned: Racism is recognized as intrinsic to Western societies. Why isn’t Antisemitism?

In today’s emotionally-charged demonstrations and protests against authority and history, we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the hatred that is swallowing up societies around the world. Conspiracy theories abound that foster anti-semitism. There is no paucity of conspiracy theories today or the people behind them who consciously or subconsciously compete with each other to come up with the best conspiracy to lay at the feet of the Jewish people.

We are told to remember what Amalek did. This is reinforced by the command: “you must not forget”. The reason is simple: If we forget, we won’t do anything to prevent it from happening again. We won’t act against Amalek’s efforts. We won’t “love our “Jewish” neighbor as ourselves”. We’ll excuse our non-action with a statement that “The Jew’s life doesn’t matter. His situation doesn’t affect my citadel of self: I, me, mine, myself, my life, my family or my possessions.” Hatred is color blind. It is a disease that affects people of every color and language and every belief and particularly, throughout the millennia, the Jew. Amalek is the manifestation of a spiritual disease, which the eternal Word of Truth describes as a hatred for God and Israel (Psalm 83:1-5). Amalek’s end is sure. It will be destruction (Number 24:20). 

It’s the beginning of a new week. With a little help, it can turn out better than last week.

He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. (Psalm 91:15)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

“I Take Responsibility!”

It’s hard to believe. With all that has been going on here … and there, these pages remained silent. Sometimes, we just need to take a break from the pressures of the tyranny of the urgent. The pandemic came, gave the appearance that it was leaving and then changed its mind and is now flexing its muscles again. The economic crisis that appeared to get a measure of encouragement, but was floundering at best, is again threatening to cause severe financial hardship to multitudes here. The plan of annexation that was supposed to go into effect at the beginning of July has been delayed and there is no determinative date for its implication. Anti-semitism has found new avenues of expression. Dissatisfaction with politicians, demonstrators and even riots and the diminution of respect for governmental authority and decisions have all continued during the past two months. And, for the most part, they have only gotten worse. 

During this time, the media hasn’t learned the lesson that those behind the headlines who condemn government, politics and “the left” or “the right”, “the liberals” or “the conservatives” are, for the most part, affected by the consequences of the same venomous rhetoric that they spew forth in both the public media and social media in an attempt to convince the mass multitudes that their ideology is the correct one. We’ve been inundated with reports of demonstrations against police brutality in various countries and have seen the consequences of some the riots that have broken out as a result – a phenomenon that expanded nationally and internationally. And, with all that has been said and done, more has been said than has been done and very little forward progress has been made.

It’s been four months since the coronavirus became a serious issue in Israel and was quickly categorized as a pandemic. The economic consequences that followed of dealing with the pandemic quickly became a financial crisis. During this time, there was no shortage of doomsday prognosticators who voiced their opinions, both in Israel and abroad, that were, and still are, designed to sway the multitudes to accepting that authority needs to be challenged and governments need to be toppled and replaced by those whose worldview is more in tune with the movers and the shakers. It’s easy to criticize and condemn, particularly when no viable alternative is offered with a plan to “make right the things that are wrong”. So, we are often left with accusations against local, regional and national leaders made with a desire to replace them with so-and-so. But, there are no guarantees. Political promises made before elections are intended to garner votes at election time. They are not unconditional commitments to carry out a particular plan for the good of society as a whole. They are more like expressions “I would hope to be able to do this that and the other” when you, the voter, elect me to office because you want to believe that I might actually be able to do what I am telling you I would like to do.” Countries that consider themselves to be democracies tend to have balance-of-power systems that help to prevent them from becoming autocratic and dictatorial. As a result, political opposition often prevents the fulfilment of campaign promises.

So, in the midst of a multitude of crises, great and small, it is actually refreshing that a national leader publicly acknowledges that he accepts responsibility for mistakes that were made, as well as the responsibility to remedy them.

Case in point: When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Israel faced it head-on and went to war against it. It took major steps to deal with a serious problem and we saw the flattening of the curve. Severe health restrictions and limitations on social gathering went into effect. Lockdown was widespread. The distance that one could walk from home was limited to 100 meters. The country was divided between following the government’s guidelines and wanting to resist them.

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After two and a half months, officialdom believed that the virus packed its bags and was ready to leave. But, because  of travel restrictions, the virus couldn’t find a flight out, so it decided to stay as an unwelcomed guest.

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And now, we are facing round two, which has begun with a vengeance.

Towards the end of May, beginning of June, the numbers who were testing positive were decreasing and the restrictions on gatherings imposed on the population began to be lifted. Large segments of the population disregarded almost all of the instructions of the Ministry of Health, thinking that the worst in behind us, the summer arrived, the sun is shining, time to return to the old normal and move on. During the past week, Israel saw a steady increase in those who tested positive to alarming numbers. 

Only two days ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised, press conference, publicly admitted that the government re-opened parts of the economy too quickly. He took responsibility for the decision to ease the severe restrictions that were imposed early to halt the spread of Covid-19. 

“Looking back, as part of the trial and error, we can say that the last step was too early… We are in the midst of a global storm, which is growing… The second virus wave won’t skip almost any country… It requires fateful decisions every day, balancing between trial and error. You try, err and fix. That’s how all leaders are operating… In the first wave we had amazing success. The death toll was and remains very low. But the lockdown exacted a heavy toll on the economy.”

Netanyahu took responsibility for the decision to reopen the country a month ago after severe, early restrictions were put in place to halt its spread. I take responsibility for this step, and I take responsibility for fixing it“.  As of 1:00 p.m. yesterday (Friday), parts of 5 communities, including Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, became “restricted zones” for a week

We may not have the same numbers as other countries, but for a country with a relatively small population, having 5,000 people who tested positive during the past week is significant and the complications resulting from those who caught the virus are serious. Everyone who came in contact with someone who tested positive had to self-quarantine for a full two weeks. After being in extended lockdown (including Passover, Feast of Weeks [Pentecost] and Independence Day) for the better part of two months, an additional period of quarantine was almost too much to bear. The major concern, of course, was and continues to be the health crisis. But, the economic crisis that followed in its wake is still ongoing, with almost no end in sight. Travel and tourism have taken the biggest hit, but unemployment went from around 4% to over 25% and is now still around 21% of the work force. Multitudes were laid off on forced vacations without pay and needed to apply for unemployment benefits. Many may not be able to return to theirs former jobs. Businesses of all kinds have been affected and many have closed their doors, with no intention, or ability, to reopen. The coronavirus health crisis generated a coronavirus economic crisis. So, in the same “I take responsibility” speech, P.M. Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz revealed an economic aid program that is to go into effect immediately this coming week. Parts of the plan will remain in effect for a year – a move that reflects a reality that the economic crisis could continue to last that long. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu has become the bulls-eye on the target of condemnation. In a short period of time, he went from hero to zero, as he failed to undergird the successes that were achieved during the first wave of the coronavirus. The public did its part in failing to adhere to health department regulations, thinking that because the numbers were down, the danger of becoming infected was no longer a matter of concern. When push came to shove, the public looked to blame someone – other than itself, of course, for the re-emergence of the pandemic, this time even more forcefully that during the months of March through May. The finger pointing was directed at Netanyahu and the cabinet ministers dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Justifiable? Yes and no.

During the first wave, Netanyahu and his cabinet fought against the virus as though fighting a war – a health war, and it achieved a significant and commendable degree of success. A war should be fought to defeat the enemy, not to wound it and give it time to regroup and become another health or security risk. In this regard, Israel claimed premature victory, only to find itself in the midst of a second wave of fighting against a microbe that is disabling and, in some situations, crippling parts of our socio-economic infrastructure. Now, it is faced with the formidable task of increasing its efforts to combat – and this time, defeat – the health crisis, while insuring that the economic crisis does not become worse. 

We live in an age when the usual response to being accused of failure or wrongdoing is to try to pass the buck and accuse someone else. This type of response finds its origin in antiquity, back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:12-13). Thus, it is commendable that the Prime Minister of Israel acknowledges that the ultimate responsibility lies with him. It is regrettable, however, that such an acknowledgment followed the decrease in the public trust of the government’s handling of the health and economic crises. Such an admission is not without its consequences and the public can express its approval or dissatisfaction at the polls at the next election, whenever it takes place, soon or not so soon. It also places the consequences of failure to combat the health and economic crises squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders. 

Victory in war requires a combined effort of government and population. Both need to fulfil their respective obligations. May God hear our prayer and grant that we will press on to victory and that, in the process, a spirit of unity would control our actions and our behavior. 

And He said, “If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD , am your healer.” (Exodus 15:26)

So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chronicles 30:20)

Heal me, O LORD , and I will be healed; Save me and I will be saved, For You are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

With prayers for your good health and for a great week,

Marvin

 

When Justice Collides with Politics

“Now the LORD saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.” (Isaiah 59:15)

Pre-meditated murder. Rape. Aggravated Assault. We’re all familiar with the terms, some from a distance and some, to their great sorrow, from personal experience or up close. As we listen or read of the stories, we are all too often left with a sense of injustice. The perpetrator was found “not guilty” and afterwards proudly confessed to having committed the crime. A criminal was found guilty, but the punishment was too lenient  and in a short period of time, the criminal was permitted to go free. Or, the criminal is released early, or doesn’t spend time in jail at all, because of executive pardon. Or, because of legal maneuvering, the perpetrator doesn’t even stand trial for his crimes. 

We’re not talking about someone who was innocent, who was wrongly accused, legally tried, found guilty and even executed for a crime that he didn’t commit. Such a situation truly generates a gnawing anger that an irreversible wrong has been done. Indeed, according to what has come to be known as “Blackstone’s ratio”, expressed by the famous English jurist William Blackstone, is the idea that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”  This is also in line with the centuries earlier perspective of the renowned Jewish legal theorist referred to as “The Rambam” (Moses Maimonides), who wrote that “it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” 

On the contrary. The focus of attention is on one who openly, wilfully and wantonly plans and carries out, directly and/or through one or more accomplices, murder. We are a very diverse people and we have very different perspectives on punishment of criminal behavior. Some emphasize that the primary goal is rehabilitation, while others advocate that the best deterrent to criminal activity is the ultimate punishment of the convicted criminal, namely: capital punishment. In this regard, the oft-repeated line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” finds necessary application: “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

The question of the day is: What is the appropriate punishment for a terrorist, who plotted, together with others, to carry out the murder of innocent men, women and children, and, particularly, religious people, and who rejoiced without any regrets at the success of her efforts? Most people would answer that the “system” should throw the book at the terrorist and impose the death penalty or life imprison. The last thought to enter our minds would be to allow the terrorist to be released on a prisoner-exchange deal, allowing that terrorist to be cheered as a hero, be admired by, and be an exemple for, children, be blessed and praised by ruler and commoner alike, and be given freedom to move about and spout hatred and generate incitement of others to follow and commit similar acts of terrorism.

We personally know people who suffered through a personal act of terrorism that included child rape, others who lost a child in the prime of life and who didn’t even make it to high school, another who survived a stabbing incident, as well as a colleague who was killed when a terrorist blew himself up on a bus. My family was only five minutes away from a restaurant that was blown up by a female terrorist, destroying families and maiming others for life. Of course, there are other incidents. Some of the terrorists died while carrying out their acts of terrorism. Others survived. Some were captured, tried and convicted and put in jail, with the surviving victims and/or their families hoping that after the terrorists are locked away, the key to their prison cell would be thrown away.

On the morning of August 9, 2001, Ahlam Tamimi, a 21-year-old Jordanian journalism student at a university located in the region of Judea and Samaria, worked as a newsreader at an Islamist TV station. She was a former Fatah (PLO) activist, who later joined Hamas.

Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri, 22, was the son of a successful “Palestinian” restaurateur. The two met up in Ramallah, traveled by taxi to a military checkpoint north of Jerusalem, then walked across into Israel. Their dress and appearance gave the impression that they were just some young Israelis or tourists and they did not arouse the suspicion of the border soldiers, even though al-Masri was carrying a guitar case that was not examined. They took another taxi to a busy center of Jerusalem and separated just before 2 p.m. Tamimi took a bus back to Ramallah. Al-Masri walked into a crowded Sbarro pizza restaurant and detonated the bomb that was hidden in his guitar case. The devastation was not easily described – 15 dead, another 130 injured, one of whom remains hospitalized to this day in a permanent vegetative state. Al-Masri died along with his victims.

Tamimi was captured by Israeli security forces within weeks,  was tried and sentenced to 16 life terms for murder, with the recommendation of the trial judges that she “should never be eligible for pardon, for early parole or any other release.”

The lives of the families that suffered the loss of their loved ones in the terrorist bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria were never the same. Yet, they held on to the hope that the terrorist who remained alive would never see the light of day outside of the prison.

Still, even as the families of the victims remember the events of that day with sorrow, anguish and pain and have not recovered, the opposite is true for the terrorist who caused their irreparable loss. While in jail, Tamimi was interviewed by the media, expressed joy over the number of deaths that resulted from the bombing that she referred to as “my operation” and thrived, becoming a celebrity in the Islamic world. 

She was released as part of the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in 2006. He was released five years later, in exchange for 1,027 prisoners held by Israel, 280 of whom had “blood on their hands”. One of them was Ahlam Tamimi. Much as I usually agree with Israel’s policy not to leave any of its sons behind, I parted company with that policy when this “deal” was announced. It was a political disaster and laid the groundwork for future negotiations, including the present ones for the return of bodies of Israeli soldiers taken into Gaza by Hamas during the war of 2014. Hamas is looking for another public relations success with the release of a large number of prisoners, many of whom, like in the Shalit “deal”, have blood on their hands.

Since being released from prison, Tamimi’s life has been on the upswing. She has been able to marry, is planning on starting a family. She is revered and praised in Islamic circles and has no regrets, other than that more people were not killed through her efforts. 

I read an article today about one of the teenage victims of the Sbarro terrorist  attack, Malki Roth, and her family’s ongoing efforts to bring Ahlam Tamimi to back before the bar of justice. Now, there is a ray of hope that Tamimi will have to stand trial for her crime in, of all places, the United States. This is because U.S. law allows for the prosecution of criminals who kill American citizens. irrespective of where the crime was committed. Some of the victims of the Sbarro explosion were American citizens. Tamimi is in Jordan. The U.S. and Jordan have an extradition agreement in force. The U.S. asked Jordan to extradite Tamimi. Jordan refused. Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. will succeed to remove the smile off of her face. But, it is easier said than done. Politics allowed Tamimi to be released and now politics, at home and abroad, have again entered into the picture to try to keep her from being extradited to the U.S. The article can be read here.

Paraphrasing Prime Minister’s 1997 book, “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists”, the writer of the article contends:

“[Malki’s father]  would argue that governments that seek to defeat terrorism must refuse to release convicted terrorists from prisons since this emboldens them and their colleagues. By nurturing the belief that their demands are likely to be met in the future, he would argue, you encourage terrorist blackmail of the very kind that you want to stop. Only the most unrelenting refusal to ever give in to such blackmail can prevent this.” 

The article is not an easy read, but a necessary one and I would recommend it. Terrorism affects every one of us. We need to properly understand it in order to properly deal with it. No one can say anymore, “It can’t happen here.” Israel doesn’t have the death penalty, except for Nazi war criminals. Taking into consideration the number of Israeli lives lost as a result of terrorism, it is quite possible, as one of my close friends wrote, “A judicious use of the death penalty may have prevented this mess and others similar to it.” Would you agree?

May God watch over each of you and set His protection around you to keep you safe from all harm of all kinds at all times.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice….” (Micah 6:8)

“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue….” (Deuteronomy 16:20).

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Three Thousand Five Hundred Years Old … Seventy Two Years Young

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ISRAEL! You are the oldest youngster among the nations. It is celebration time, but so incredibly different from all the birthday celebrations that have taken place since you returned to your ancestral homeland, after two thousand years of dispersion in the diaspora. Independence Day 2- 2020-04-29.jpeg.

The sky was blue this morning with white clouds interspersed, very symbolic of our national colors. We are a sovereign nation, whose inhabitants live in a free and democratic society. We don’t always agree on things that occur here or on how things are done, but we have the right and the freedom to express our differences, to be heard and to make a difference. Our freedom and the restoration of our national identity came at a price, a price that we continue to pay year after year. 

The day immediately preceding Israel’s Independence Day is a Memorial Day set aside to commemorate Israel’s fallen – those who were killed in the defense of the country, as well as those who died as a result of terrorist activity. Since the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, we fought six wars, dealt with two full-blown and extended intifadas and a multitude of terrorist attacks. From the date of our establishment, we have not had a single decade without a war. Yesterday, we honored 23,816 fallen soldiers and over 3,100 people killed in acts of terror. 

There is hardly a family in Israel today who does not personally know someone, or who does not know a family or neighbor or co-worker of someone, who was killed or injured in a war or as the result of a terrorist incident. It is a small country and every loss is treated as a family loss. I’ve attended funerals of people I knew personally, as well as funerals of people whom I didn’t know, such as the young lone soldier (who had no family in Israel), who was killed in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. I still remember with vividness the throngs that turned out to honor someone who gave his life for this country. Year after year, we become riveted to the stories, the videos, the documentaries of the fallen, which are broadcast, so that all can see, so that all can remember. Everyone is referred to by name, often accompanied by photos from the time of birth, through school, to enlistment in the IDF, to the time and circumstances of their death. Even the most hardened, combat veterans cannot hold back tears, when they speak of their comrades, many of whom put themselves in harm’s way to protect others in their units. Truly, these stories never fail to pull tears from eyes that were dry, like a faucet that cannot be closed. Despite our many differences, we are truly a nation that unites in our losses, that mourns with those who mourn, that makes every effort to comfort those who are bereaved of  spouse, parent, child, brother or sister. 

This year, more than at any time before, when travel restrictions and lockdowns because of the Coronavirus pandemic keep us at home, we become, in a practical sense, a captive audience, sharing collective pain and suffering, as we remember not only the fallen, but the nation that they died for. 

This year, however, military cemeteries were closed to the public, as part of the ongoing efforts to minimize the health risks that would accompany the usual multitude of visitors to those cemeteries. Still, notwithstanding the government restrictions, there were a fair number of instances where family members went to the military cemeteries, only to be reminded by police units that they were in violation of the restrictions imposed on the country. Notwithstanding the blatant violation of “stay-at-home” regulations, the Israeli Police were instructed not to prevent immediate family members from visiting the graves of their loved ones, provided that they wore protective facial masks and kept a distance of two-meters between them. There was an unstated, but widespread, recognition of the importance of such visits by family members, particularly after a prolonged lockdown, the likes of which the nation has never experienced.

At then, with the going down of the sun and the beginning of the new day according to the Hebrew calendar, the nation began its celebration of our seventy-second year of national independence. If ever the country needed a break from the prolonged lockdown and restrictions on movement and contact, Independence Day was the ideal day for it to take place.

But, the yearly celebrations that normally take place throughout the country were cancelled. A portion of the special, Independence Day ceremony that takes place on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem was pre-recorded, while other aspects of it were broadcast live, such as the lighting of twelve celebration torches, symbolic of the nation’s origins from the twelve tribes of Israel. 

The official opening of the ceremony, with speeches by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by Benny Gantz, who signed a unity government agreement with Netanyahu last week, were both pre-recorded and shown in video messages. Despite the words of encouragement by both of them, the fact remained that the feelings of celebration were somewhat muted, due to the lockdown and travel restrictions, which will remain in effect until the end of Independence Day.

With the elections behind him and the challenges of a national unity government in front of him, Benny Gantz spoke as a former IDF General, who was prepared to work with Netanyahu to guide the country to overcome the challenges and to press forward to “form a new ethos, a story of solidarity”: “We are going through difficult times, and we must prepare for even harder times. We will win this war, and form a new ethos, a story of solidarity; a story that would not be defined by strangers or enemies, but by ourselves. This should be our main mission in the national leadership.”

His speech also included reference to the fallen soldiers, whose memories were the focus of the day that had just concluded: “Nothing separates them – not where they were born, not their sexual identity and not their political stance. Under the deafening silence of death, they are all equal here. We have the responsibility to ensure we are all equal in life, too.”

There is an indomitable spirit among the people of Israel. The pandemic that has paralyzed most of the world for a season, has affected Israel as well. No enemy, national or microscopic, will succeed in diminishing that spirit. On the contrary, they spur us on to overcome the challenges and to press on to accomplishments even greater than what we were able to do until now. It is in a very real sense “built in” as part and parcel of our national being. It is “who we are and how we respond to challenges”. 

In the midst of travel restrictions and social distancing, communities join together and sing on our balconies. Modern technologies, such as Zoom, allow multitudes to encourage multitudes of others. Physicians use the media to diagnose and provide needed treatment to multitudes of senior citizens, who are unable to leave their apartments. Young people have volunteered during this recent health crisis to deliver food packages, medical supplies and other necessary items to people all over the country. People knock on the doors of their senior-citizen neighbors, to inquire if they are well and if they need anything. Telecommunications flourish, teaching “online” came into its own, multi-person “online” meetings may well re-arrange our schedules, without having to face traffic jams, and there is a major push to develop vaccines and medications to deal with Covid-19, as well as a wide variety of other illnesses. In the midst of difficulties, we look for ways that our lives would be improved when the difficulties are over. 

We are three thousand five hundred years old and, by God’s grace, we still yield fruit despite our age. (Psalm 92:14). We have learned a few things during that time that enable us to live amid difficulties and enjoy being seventy-two years young. Some of them are “to sing for joy to the LORD [to] shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation” (Psalm 91:1), “for the joy of the LORD is [our] strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) and a “joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 15;13 – loose translation), particularly when facing the microscopic giant.

Happy Birthday, Israel. L’Chaim! To Life!

Independence Day 1- 2020-04-29

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,

Marvin

We WILL remember and WILL NOT forget!

Shalom all,

There are dates and events in history that become etched in our memory banks. They are brought forth from time to time to remind us to remember them. Some events are international in their scope, such as September 11, 2001 (i.e., 9/11) and the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. Some are national, such as the Exodus from Egypt on Passover and the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai; December 7, 1941 – the bombing of the U.S. Naval Base in Pearl Harbor, “… a day that will live in infimy forever”. Some events are regional, such as 70 A.D. – the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman General Titus. Some relate to individuals – the death of Messiah Yeshua as the Passover Lamb and His resurrection, both according to the Scriptures. But, there are other events that relate to a specific people, and the attempts to eliminate them from the face of the earth – Psalm 83:4 – “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.” This is actually a series of events and attempts by those who hate God, who have exalted themselves and who made and make shrewd plans against “Your people” (Psalm 83:2-3; Deuteronomy 7:7; see the Scroll of Esther).

The Passover Haggadah (the telling of the Passover story at the annual Seder meal, the night of the Passover) contains the following statement (translation from Hebrew): “In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.” A reading of Biblical history confirms this – Pharaoh’s command to kill all newborn, Jewish males and Herod’s command to kill all Jewish males under the age of two years old. Persecution under the Romans – You cannot live here as a Jew; convert or die. The slaughter of over a million Jews during the time of the Crusades; the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal – You cannot live here. The pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe and, eventually, to the Holocaust, the planned “final solution” to rid the world of the Jewish people – You cannot live!

But, WE DO LIVE. God has declared that He would always leave a remnant to Himself (Genesis 45:7; 50:20; 1 Kings 19:18; 2 Kings 19:4; Isaiah 37:4; 2 Chronicles 34:9; Jeremiah 42:2; 43:5; Ezra 9:8, 13, and many others, among them Isaiah 10:22 – “For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined , overflowing with righteousness.” Those who receive this blog are of many different nations, peoples, languages and beliefs. Some believe in the God of the Bible and what is written in its pages and others who do not. The fact remains: What was intended for bad, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20).

Today is a national day of remembrance. A short while ago, sirens sounded throughout the land, piercing the relative silence and reminding people to stop whatever they are doing, wherever they are – at home, on the street, in the office and even on the highway. We paused for two-minutes in silent remembrance of the satanic, systematic plot designed to destroy us as a people, “so that the name of Israel would be no more.” Some remember the loss of family and friends, who were victims of the Nazi regime, even as some of them remember their personal experiences of having lived through the nightmare of the Holocaust. They don’t forget and we cannot allow ourselves to forget. 

Each year at this time, emotions well up within me that are difficult to suppress. Stories told by survivors of a dark night in the history of mankind that will always remain as a cancerous wart on the hide of society. As one survivor, now 92 years of age and living in Israel, said; “I cannot forget. I live with it year after year, month after month, day after day.” Tears flow freely, with no attempt on my part to stop them. A few months ago, I wrote of some of the events of the trip to Poland that my wife and I made back in September, 2019, and my hope to find traces of my family, who had lived in a small village north of Warsaw, whose entire Jewish population, with the exception of about two dozen, were murdered in the Holocaust. I remember our visit to the site of the one and only Jewish cemetery that had existed for hundreds of years, with tens of thousands of graves, that was entirely destroyed by the Nazis within a few weeks following their invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. A portion of my family’s history has been wiped out, as if it never existed.” How would you feel, if this was your family?

It is difficult to express, in words, the sense of loss of knowing that I had aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and generations of family who preceded them, who lived and raised families, who worked, who died and were buried there. Yet their names, once etched on concrete gravestones, were erased in a moment by a tank and/or bulldozer that swept through the centuries-old cemetery. My parents are both gone, the last generation of our family from that village to leave and never to return. “There is something that is built into the fabric of our being that longs for permanence, for an existence that continues beyond our days.”

By God’s abundant grace, I found life in Israel, where my wife and children were born. They all served in the I.D.F. and our youngest son continues to do so, as an officer. He  visited Poland two months after we returned, as part of a special program of the I.D.F.  and wrote, as part of his experience there: “It is my privilege as a Messianic Jewish Officer, a free man and one who belongs to the Messiah, to be a representative here, not only on behalf of the army but as the representative of our whole family!

Attached is a moving, 2-minute video, with translation, but no link, of a special meeting between an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor and her grandson, that speaks for itself. For Hebrew speakers, the link to the same video from the IDF website, but without translation, can be seen here.

The spirit of freedom – to live, to protect and defend are part of the warp and woof of those who are the remnant of the Jewish people today. In a directive issued yesterday by Lt. General Aviv Kochavi, to all I.D.F. personnel, he wrote, in part: 

“When the soldiers of the Jewish Brigade went into the concentration camps with the Allies, the survivors couldn’t believe their eyes – soldiers were wearing the Star of David. They saw a Jewish solider as a contradiction in terms … something that could not be.”

Time after time, Kochavi wrote: “We remember. . . . They all shared the hope that one day, a generation would arise out of the blood and ashes that would have the privilege of living in its own nation – the State of Israel. That is what came to pass. . . . The Star of David is no longer a badge of shame, but the symbol of the IDF which expresses the power to defend, time after time, the people and the nation. . . . At this time, our mission is to protect them. We will always remember them . . . We will follow in their path and remain vigilant, so that we need never depend on someone else’s kindness. We will continue to tell their stories and ensure that their testimonies continue to echo forever, and we will keep in our hearts those who fell victim to the Nazi evil. Memory is a source of strength, of spirit, and of values. (my emphasis)

But memories will fade, particularly as the generation that survived the Holocaust slowly passes from the scene. More and more voices are heard denying the fact of the Nazi Holocaust and, sadly, the degree of historical ignorance concerning it among millennials is appalling. The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin wanted all Jews to imagine themselves as having gone through the horror of the Holocaust, to make it a collective experience, similar to the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the destruction of the Second Temple and even the expulsion to the diaspora. But, the memory of the Holocaust does not need to be confined to Jewish people.

The number of Holocaust survivors in Israel is 189,500. Almost 15,000 survivors passed away in Israel in 2019, prior to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. If this rate continues, in the short space of 14 years, there will be no survivors left. Who will continue to speak and keep the memory of it alive, if not you and me?

If you’ve read this far, then this post speaks to your heart. Please remember not only the victims and their families, but those who put their lives on the line to save Jewish people from the Nazi scourge. The Israeli non-profit organization, “From the Depths” (“Me’ma’amakim”), is assisting those whose actions during the Holocaust saved the lives of Jewish people in Poland, who were recognized as “Righteous Among the the Nations” and were awarded a Certificate of Honor by the State of Israel. During this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic, they are locked away in their homes and only this organization is reaching out to assist them. They helped us in our time of need and they will not be forgotten at this time of their need.

We ALL have a responsibility to remember, to relate and to repeat for generations to come that an evil so incomprehensible was allowed to exist and that, in the midst of what was claimed to be an enlightened society. Even more so, we need to remember that God will preserve the remnant of His people and what was and is meant for evil, God will use for good, even as out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the nation of Israel was re-established in our ancestral land.

A remnant is alive. Some have returned to Israel! Others are still in the Diaspora. Wherever we are, we WILL remember and WILL NOT forget!

Remember also: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin