Community leaders reflect on the challenges ahead for Israel, the Palestinians and the United States.
To coincide with the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the end of Israel’s recent war in Gaza, The Jewish Chronicle solicited views from a diverse sampling of leaders of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. Representing viewpoints and organizations from across the political and religious spectrums, they reflected on the challenges ahead for Israel, the Palestinians and the United States.
They just don’t get it!
Stuart V. Pavilack
Just over 20 years ago, I was caught up in the euphoria of the handshake on the White House lawn and I thought real peace was achievable. Forgive me if I sound callous, but now I have an entirely different outlook. Just today I saw that Secretary of State John Kerry is intent on starting another round of peace talks. Our American leadership just doesn’t get it! Gaza has been a de facto Palestinian state since 2005, but what have they built? Not a modern society, but one of underground bunkers and tunnels, with military hardware hidden in civilian infrastructure. They chose war instead of peace.
Mahmaud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are no different. Jibril Rajoub, a senior P.A. official and deputy secretary of the Fatah Central Committee — often called a moderate — said on April 20, 2013, “We as yet don’t have a nuke, but I swear that if we had a nuke, we’d have used it this very morning.” Mahmoud Abbas himself has also said on several occasions that if the Arab nations would begin a war against Israel, “Palestine” would join them. The P.A. has not lived up to any of its obligations under Oslo and its charter still calls for armed conflict with the elimination of the Zionist entity.
During the last few years, our beloved United States has not treated many of its allies respectfully and diplomatically; and Israel is no different. Israeli cities in Judea and Samaria, often referred to as “settlements,” are not illegal under Oslo and have never been an issue in negotiations until the U.S. made them an issue. And previously, the U.S. never disputed Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
My outlook: For the next couple of years the U.S./Israel relationship will continue to be rocky at best. And, for a much longer period of time, the P.A. will keep talking conflict resolution in English and continue to call for Israel’s destruction in Arabic. It’s a part of what really is happening, the Arab war against Israel.
Stuart V. Pavilack is executive director of ZOA-Pittsburgh District.
Israel, Gaza and Hamas — an insoluble conflict
Dr. Cyril H. Wecht
I have a recommendation for every member of our community who is puzzled, dismayed and angered by all the anti-Israel public protest rallies, official statements and policy decisions of numerous countries and the U.N. Spend a few hours to study the history of the Muslim world. What we are experiencing now is the contemporary manifestation of what has transpired many times in the centuries that have followed the campaigns of Mohammed and the advent of Islam.
We confront an aggressive, militant effort to spread the realm of Islam and establish a caliphate, an Islamic-dominated geopolitical empire in which all non-Muslims who do not convert will either be put to the sword, or possibly in a more benign scenario, be permitted to survive as dhimmi, second-class residents with essentially no legal rights and subject to heavy taxes.
The displacement and brutal executions of Christians, Yazidis and Kurds by the Islamic State presents dramatic, incontrovertible evidence that Islamic terrorism is completely unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian-Gaza conflict. Hamas is equally barbaric with its own people, as was demonstrated by its public execution of some 38 Palestinians, who were summarily convicted of being Israeli spies. These executioners are the same “brave soldiers” who fired thousands of rockets at civilians in Israel, who used their own families as human shields and who prevented Gaza residents from leaving buildings that Israel warned many hours in advance were to be targeted as a necessary part of Israel’s need to combat Hamas terror.
Anyone who believes that Hamas would cease its terrorist acts against
Israel if only the Jewish nation would accede to their demands is naïve and totally ignorant of Middle East history and the present-day quest of radical Islam to establish hegemony and suzerainty from Asia to Africa.
The underlying factor in all this is the international rise of anti-Semitism, to a great extent masqueraded as anti-Zionism (or even more disingenuously, simply disagreement with Israel’s sociopolitical policies.) Jews throughout the world, especially in the United States and Western democracies, must do everything they can to aggressively combat this virulent, never-ending hatred of our people.
Every nation has an unquestioned right to defend its citizens form terrorist attacks. Only Israel is condemned for doing so.
Can there be any doubt regarding the underlying, unspoken etiology of this blatant hypocrisy?
Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D., is a former Allegheny County medical examiner and county commissioner.
Israel in Elul
Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler
The Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey, “A Portrait of American Jews,” demands our attention, especially its findings regarding what it means to be Jewish.
First at 73 percent is “remembering the Holocaust.” Fifth at 43 percent is “caring about Israel.” Just below “caring about Israel” at 42 percent is “having a good sense of humor.” This portrait is not laughable; it is lamentable. Especially if “remembering the Holocaust” is first among what it means to be Jewish.
How can we remember the Holocaust, yet forget about Israel? They are the central sagas of contemporary Jewish history. Both are tales of Jewish vulnerability, one was in the past, the other in the present, one in reality and the other in possibility, one a steady march into the jaws of death that we now can only remember, the other an unsteady journey toward an uncertain future that is now in our hands to secure.
In response to the Holocaust, Emil Fackenheim coined the 614th Commandment: “Thou shalt not hand Hitler posthumous victories.” Hitler sought to destroy not only the Jewish people but Judaism altogether. Therefore we are commanded not merely to survive, but to survive as Jews so that Judaism will live.
Think of all who would destroy Israel today: Hamas, Hezbollah, radical militant Islam and, most worrisome, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. Think of the battles that rage beyond the battlefield: the diplomatic subterfuge to delegitimize Israel’s existence in the U.N. or the Presbyterian Church USA, or the manipulation of the news media. Think of the spike in anti-Semitic incidents across Europe, all in protest against Israel.
In response, we now must add a 615th Commandment: “Thou shalt make the survival of Israel the equal of any other mitzvah in thy life.”
Rabbi Mark Joel Mahler is senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel of South Hills.
Jewish future hinges on notion of peoplehood
Having no prophetic voice or vision that enables me to predict the future for Israel, I will do what many Jews do: turn to thoughtful voices from our past. In 1916, the “Great Conflict” (later renamed World War I) was underway. Zionism had not yet birthed a state in Palestine and we could not conceive of the evil of the Holocaust. Rabbi J. Leonard Levy delivered a sermon, “The Next Step in Judaism,” in which he declared: “The work of Israel is not over. It has scarcely begun.”
Citing Zionism as a possible next step, Levy noted he would choose the Zionist over “the Jew who is lost to all Jewishness and is animated only by the gospel of money and pleasure. If Zionism means the extension among our people of a broader culture and a deeper reverence for things in spiritual harmony with Judaism, who among us can find himself in opposition?” However, Levy like many early Reform rabbis, felt that “Israel’s function is far greater and grander than to return to the land in which these ideals took form.”
Today, thankfully Israel stands as a nation and a people. In America, we have established the greatest Jewish Diaspora and contributed greatly to our democracy. Many American Jews connect to Judaism through their support of the State of Israel. Others worry we are losing our Jewishness and are seeking ways to redefine and expand the definition of peoplehood. The passionate debate continues about the place of the Jews and the mission of Israel.
Levy’s words resonate today: “The world needs democracy. Ours is the task to discover how the principles of our sacred books may be applied to the conditions of modern life everywhere.” As Jews, Americans and supporters of Israel we must hold fast to the Jewish ideals of justice and equity. Our next step is to continue to wrestle with our texts and courageously discuss Israel’s role as a people and a nation.
Karen Hochberg is executive director of the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee.
American policy should reflect American ideals
Rabbi Danny Schiff
It is 9/11 again. Our minds go back to that horrific day, 13 years ago, when the world changed so drastically. We remember the nearly 3,000 victims from more than 90 countries murdered by hatred on a sunny morning.
Nobody predicted 9/11. Nobody foresaw the years of conflict that would follow. Predicting the future is a fool’s errand, most especially when it comes to a region in such great foment as the Middle East.
All that we can do is try, with humility, to learn a little from the past, and to apply the enduring principles that we know to be true.
A wrenching and tragic summer is drawing to a close. An inconclusive war with Hamas led to terrible losses. As Jews, we mourn the death and suffering of all the innocents.
But there is a bigger picture: The Arab spring, once so heralded, is over.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and other “moderates” (imagine, Saudi Arabia is “moderate”), fearing ascending Islamism, also want Hamas defeated. And, all the while, a new ghastly cult of death gains traction as the Islamic State (IS) manages what was once thought impossible: to eclipse al Qaeda in gruesome barbarism.
Israel wants to live in peace with the Palestinians. The majority of Israelis want to see a Palestinian state emerge alongside Israel. But what will that Palestinian state be? A state of those who cheered as the planes smashed into the twin towers? A Hamas state? An IS state? Or will it be a Middle East rarity: a truly constructive Arab democracy?
We don’t know. But American policy should reflect American ideals. It should continue to strengthen the region’s only bulwark of freedom, Israel. And it should now condition the emergence of a Palestinian state upon reasonably credible guarantees that the state will enhance regional stability in the long term, not blight it. To ask for anything less would disregard the very values we champion.
Rabbi Danny Schiff is the founder and president of the Museum of Jewish Ideas.
Give peace a chance
While the latest Israel-Gaza crisis has concluded with a ceasefire, the likely trajectory is that there will be another escalation in a few years. Is a future with continual war Israel’s fate? I don’t accept this future as inevitable. There are choices to be made.
Israel’s current path leads to more suffering, death and destruction, with little gain in addressing the real threat to Israel’s security. These escalations also inflame hatred and destroy hope on both sides. This war witnessed anti-Arab incitement and racism inside of Israel among Israel’s leaders as well as its people. Expressions of compassion for Palestinian suffering were seen as traitorous. As an American Jew who grew up honoring the values of compassion, justice and equality, these developments are deeply troubling.
The loss of lives and physical
destruction during war and the sense of despair it sows is tragic enough. But it is especially tragic because there are viable options to move forward differently, to move towards the creation of two states for two people. In a recent op-ed, Shin Bet leader Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher and Orni Petruschka note that “the lack of vigorous activity to create such a reality is the main failure of the state’s leadership in the past decade. This failure is bigger than any military, civilian or diplomatic move during the fighting.”
With U.S. support, Israel can take the path of political resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians. If not, Israel’s long-term security, its democratic and Jewish character will remain at stake and its international isolation will deepen. Ironically, now is the time for Israel to partner not only with Mahmoud Abbas and the current moderate leadership of the Palestinian people, but also with other Arab countries to fight the Islamic fundamentalism that threatens them all. Please, Israel, give peace a chance.
Nancy Bernstein is co-chair of J Street Pittsburgh.
Seizing the moment
Israelis have changed since the latest round of warfare in Gaza. They are no longer willing to accept the status quo of continuous threats from rockets, tunnels and other terrorist acts. Many Israelis want to see Palestinians assume full responsibility for their economic and social wellbeing and there are those that believe that Palestinians are entitled to a homeland, albeit demilitarized and seriously monitored, on portions of the West Bank and Gaza.
Many Palestinians now recognize that the dream of taking the land of Israel from the Jewish people is pure fantasy. Israelis are showing remarkable fortitude while awaiting the next sprint to the bomb shelter or safe room. They are not going anywhere and their skill in arms will prevent their enemies from vanquishing them in the foreseeable future.
A significant number of both peoples now recognize that if peace with security is to be achieved, serious discussions, with both parties rethinking their positions, must occur. Before the next battle, while people remember the futility of combat to achieve their dreams, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. must seize the moment and courageously confront the issues that have prevented Israelis and Palestinians from treating each other with the respect and humanity that characterize civilized human interaction.
None of us can accurately predict the results of such negotiations, but virtually everyone can foresee the continuous horror of war without such a process occurring.
David Ainsman is the president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of AIPAC.