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Jewish Values



Recently, a friend of mine told me a story: A rabbi in a large Jewish congregation – say, somewhere in the great state of California – was asked by a permanent member of the congregation for the rabbi’s opinion and thoughts regarding a panel discussion to be centered around the issue of “Jewish values in relation to Israel, and the important role that the American Jewish community has in engaging in such a discussion.” The member of that congregation was happy to learn that the rabbi thought it was a great idea, and furthermore proceeded to suggest some important topics for discussion, and esteemed candidates to participate in that panel. The member was disappointed, however – though by no means surprised – that the rabbi, for “obvious reasons,” did not feel comfortable participating as a panelist. Even more so, the rabbi thought that other rabbis in town will react in a similar fashion.

My immediate reaction to that story was surprise, and indeed disappointed at the rabbi’s stance on the matter, in particular the rabbi’s refusal to participate in such a panel discussion. My friend, while knowing I was born in a kibbutz in Israel, and that to date I still carry with me certain naiveté, nonetheless asked me why I was so surprised by that. Here’s my response:

What was the rabbi afraid of? And why was that rabbi so afraid? Was the rabbi afraid to discuss, and expose the community to the problematic issue of Israel’s occupation and rule over other people for the last 48 years? Was the issue of ruling, by military means, over other people, depriving them in many cases of basic human rights and national aspirations, inconsistent with Jewish values? And if so, what to do about it? And if not so, if it’s not an occupation, what is it? If it’s an annexation, de facto – by the settlers, in cahoots with the various governments since the Six-Day War of 67 – then what about the rights of the Arabs, the Palestinians there to vote? Isn’t that, well… an apartheid, to deprive them of these basic citizen rights? And if the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria – call it what you will – is part of greater Israel, what about the danger of the Jewish people becoming a minority in the not-so-distant future, losing the characteristic of being a Jewish, democratic state?

Was that particular rabbi – be it a he or a she – afraid to touch, and open all these wounds? Even though, the rabbi is the spiritual and religious leader of the congregation? And as such, isn’t the rabbi supposed to discuss these issues? Was the rabbi further afraid of talking and debating the question of the Israeli Arabs, citizens of the state, some 20 percent of the population, and their status as “second-class” citizens? Especially in regard, and in connection to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s perceived racist remarks about them before the last elections. Furthermore, was the rabbi afraid to discuss the ethnic question? The great divide, the “ethnic demon” as it is called in Israel, which is still so prominent in its society, and separate – in income, education and position of power – Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews?

Too hot to handle, for that rabbi. But what about the Jewish-State Law? What about losing the democratic values to a stricter, more orthodox, religious regime? And what, if we are at it, of the danger of Israel – due to the foreseen makeup of the new government – becoming even more theocratic in nature? Do away with pluralism, religious pluralism in particular, maybe? Put forward more objections and changes to equality between the sexes, for instance, in marriage and in divorce. And to go along with that, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. What so difficult, what so frightening in talking about, and discussing these issues in the open, here in America. Maybe we should tell the Israelis what we think about these matters, and maybe we shouldn’t. But why not talk about it here, among ourselves? Jews in America engaging in conversation about the future of Israel? And with it, the future of the Jewish people as a whole? What can be more natural, essential even, than that?

Perhaps that rabbi didn’t want to ruffle any feathers, or was simply afraid of losing the congregation rabbi’s job. What’s not in doubt in my mind, as I told my friend, is that the rabbi, like other rabbis in that California town, and indeed throughout the land, was afraid. Period. Exclamation point. You name it. Which reminds me that when it comes to Jewish values, none is better than Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and his famous saying, to remind us all what our world, and us Jews within it, are all about: “A person walks in life on a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid.”

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”

** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

Transcript of Obama-Netanyahu Phone call



Full disclosure: A team of Russian hackers, “Brotherhood of Men,” has made this transcript available to me. I cannot verify its authenticity, though it reads pretty close to the truth.

Phone Ringing.
Netanyahu: Hello
Obama: Mister Prime Minister?
Netanyahu: Mister President?
Obama: Congratulations.
Netanyahu: Thanks. I sure appreciate your call, even if late.
Obama: Better late than never. How’s your lovely wife Sara doing?
Netanyahu: A bit tired, but fine now. She’s right here beside me.
Obama: Tell her I said hi, and both of you have a nice evening.
Netanyahu: Wait, Mister Obama, don’t be like that. We have a lot to talk about.
Obama: Some other time, maybe. John Kerry is on the other line, Mister Netanyahu, and–
Netanyahu: Please call me Bibi, why don’t you?
Obama: This is an official call. I–
Netanyahu: I know you’re upset about my win, but I hope you can get over it soon. This is how our democracy works, after all.
Obama: You mean by scare tactics? Something about “Arab on buses,” citizens of your country going to the polling stations and “voting in droves.” This reminds of other buses, you know, and of other dark times in our racist history, here in America.
Netanyahu: This was taken totally out of context, Mister Obama, I promise you.
Obama: Words matter, you know.
Netanyahu: I know. But actions matter more.
Obama: How do you mean?
Netanyahu: You know very well what I mean. But let’s be friends now, and open a new page in our relationship. May I call you Bama? It has a nice ring to it, you know, Bibi and Bama. Don’t you think?
Obama: I don’t. But you can call me whatever you want, it won’t change one bit the nature of those semi-racist remarks you’ve made. Including, by the way, referring to me in your party campaign phone messages only as “Hussein Obama.”
Netanyahu: Look, Bama, I can’t be responsible for everything my American campaign managers did. And as to the Arab citizens, you know, now they have the third largest party in our Knesset. Where else can you find such a democracy in the Middle East?
Obama: Your democracy in Israel is a source of pride to us all here, especially to me. But misleading the public in order to win an election makes me sick. And it may lead only to more troubles.
Netanyahu: Listen, my friend, I actually took it out of your playbook.
Obama: Excuse me?
Netanyahu: Remember how you said “Yes we can,” during your campaign. That’s how you won, right?
Obama: In part, yes.
Netanyahu: Well, you knew of course that there was no chance in hell that we’d work with you in Washington, hand in hand, but still–
Obama: What do you mean, “we”?
Netanyahu: I mean the Republicans and the Democrats on the hill. You know they consider me practically one of them, the Republicans, if not…
Obama: Go ahead, spell it out.
Netanyahu: If not their leader. They wouldn’t mind if I ran in 2016 for your office.
Obama: Be my guest. Were you born in America?
Netanyahu: No, Bama. Were you?
Obama: Sure did, Bibi.
Netanyahu: Well, my Republican friends say otherwise, you know.
Obama: That’s why they are your friends, not mine.
Netanyahu: You got that right. Which reminds me, by the way: Agent Orange is coming to pay me a visit in two weeks.
Obama: I beg your pardon?
Netanyahu: Mister Boehner, I mean.
Obama: I see, I didn’t know that.
Netanyahu: It’s still a secret, but I let you in on it ahead of time. That’s how my boys here in the Mossad refer to him, Agent Orange.
Obama: I wonder how they refer to me, your boys in the Mossad?
Netanyahu: Oh… I don’t know. I actually have no idea.
Obama: Really?
Netanyahu: Really. I’ll have to ask them. But never mind that, I…
Obama: You what, get to the point.
Netanyahu: I have to return the favor to him, you see, the speaker of the house. He’ll probably speak to our Knesset here, we’ll give him the Full Monty.
Obama: And you reckon that this will improve our own relationship, as in “opening a new page”?
Netanyahu: I don’t see why not. I’ll be taking him to visit our newest settlement, see for himself what a beautiful country we are building here with your money.
Obama: Our money?
Netanyahu: Of course, don’t pretend you don’t know that. And don’t forget to increase the annual three billion dollars next year. I’ll be sure to raise it with the leader of the Congress when he’s here.
Obama: Remind him also about the Palestinians, while you’re at it.
Netanyahu: What about them?
Obama: I heard you said you no longer see a two-state solution as a viable option.
Netanyahu: I never did see it as a viable option, Bama. You know what I mean, don’t you?
Obama: Probably so.
Netanyahu: There you are then. I was just being truthful. The phantom of the two-state illusion is gone forever. Kaput. You know what it means in Yiddish, kaput?
Obama: Actually I do. I also know now what “gevalt campaign” means. But it won’t prevent us from reassessing our policy in regard to the Palestinian issue. We might–
Netanyahu: Don’t threaten me, please, not to veto that phantom state resolution in the UN Security Council.
Obama: I’m not threatening you. I’m telling you.
Netanyahu: Don’t lecture me, either. I’m not one of your…
Obama: Go ahead, my what?
Netanyahu: You know… all your Jewish intellectual friends from the New York Times and CNN, who hate me so much.
Obama: They are not in the business of hate, Mister Netanyahu, that’s your business. They just report the truth, the way they see it of course.
Netanyahu: Well, let me ask you something about the truth: You know who really calls the shots in Washington when it comes to Israel, don’t you?
Obama: Enlighten me, Mister Netanyahu.
Netanyahu: I do. You must know that by now. I will launch our AIPAC boys at you, and they will bark at your phones and at the congressmen and senators’ phones off the hooks like a pack of Dobermans. And of course, my friend Sheldon Adelson will take care of business money wise. So get ready, together they will make your life hell there in D.C.
Obama: Be my guest, Prime Minister. There is nothing much I can lose in two years.
Netanyahu: Oh yes, you can. Your legacy.
Obama: Let me worry about that.
Netanyahu: Of course. And by the way, you know the Adelsons are coming to town tomorrow. We’ll have a celebratory dinner in Tel Aviv.
Obama: I’m not surprised. Who’s paying for dinner?
Netanyahu: Ha-ha, that’s a good one, Bama. I didn’t know you have such a good sense of humor.
Obama: Now you know.
Netanyahu: Good. I’ll be your guest there at the White House before you know it, and we can tell jokes to each other for a change, over dinner.
Obama: I have no doubt you’ll be coming soon. Have a safe trip, then, and good–
Netanyahu: Wait, it reminds me. What about the Passover Seder this year?
Obama: What about it?
Netanyahu: It would be nice, you know, if you’ll invite our ambassador there over to the White House for–
Obama: Seriously?
Netanyahu: Why not. In return, Ron will gladly invite you over to his house for the second Seder night. It will give you two an opportunity to get to know each other better. I think that’s just fair.
Obama: What fair is that you’ll call him home for good. Though I’m not sure I know where his home really is.
Netanyahu: Here, when we need him; there, when we need him.
Obama: Fine, that’s sum up both of you pretty well. I never considered you a man of principles, Mister Netanyahu, even before these elections. But now–
Netanyahu: Now what? I’m very practical, Mister President, you must give me that. And I’ll still be in office long after you’re gone.
Obama: So?
Netanyahu: So I suggest you remember that. Don’t go ahead signing up on any bad deal
with devils from Iran that won’t worth the paper it’s written on, if there will be any paper to sign. That’s my advice to you.
Obama: And if I won’t take your advice, what then?
Netanyahu: Then all hell will break loose before you know it.
Obama: We shall see about that.
Netanyahu: Indeed we shall.
Obama: Good bye.
Netanyahu: Wait, one more thing… damn, I need some ice cream, Sara!
Phone blipped.

* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”

** The “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.


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