Friday, August 12, 2016

Beyond a Two-State Solution

I attended a very interesting even last night organized by Inon of البيت הבית HOME

There were a variety of speakers from very different backgrounds, both Israeli and Palestinian, trying to think out of the box to try to find solutions to the Arab-Israeli situation.

Interesting that there was a lot of common ground between most of the speakers. I think that most of the participants would agree that any solution would need to include the following points as non-negotiable:

  1. The "2 state solution" as it is currently being discussed is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It is used by the Israeli government as an excuse not to invest in the Palestinian territories (why would you invest in territory that will not be under your control in the future), and is used as an excuse by the Palestinian Authority to restrict development as all problems can be blamed on "The Occupation" which absolves the PA of taking responsibility.
  2. Any solution must guarantee full and equal rights for Palestinians, especially the right to travel and unrestricted access to work, schools, and medical facilities.
  3. Any solution must guarantee security for both Israelis and Palestinians, so that Israelis and Palestinians can visit each other, work together, as well as ride buses or go to sleep at night without fear of terrorism or unnecessarily violent military action.
    There should be zero tolerance for terrorism, or support for terrorism (such as paying families of terrorists or glorifying their actions), or for vigilantism (such as "Tag Machir")
  4. The refugee camps must be replaced with respectable housing for all descendants of the Palestinian refugees. 2 generations after what Palestinians refer to as "the Nakba", all people are entitled to a proper home with proper infrastructure.
  5. People should be free to live and travel wherever they want. That means that Jews should have rights to live in Chevron, Beit Lechem, or Ramalla, and Palestinians should have rights to live in Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Modi'in.
  6. Jews and Palestinians need to learn to listen to each other's narrative, and respect the fact that we may not perceive history or the current reality in the same light.
I'm sure that not everyone will agree with all the points above, and some of them seem to be contradictory (can we have unrestricted freedom of movement yet maintain complete security?) And I'm sure that there are other non-negotiable points that would be acceptable to both Israelis and Palestinians that could be added to this list. Feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Hillary Clinton - would she be that bad for Israel

As some people may have noticed, the United States is holding some type of reality show where the winner gets to be the leader of the free world.
Unfortunately, due to a glitch in the democratic process, one of the candidates may turn out to be a Flesh Eating Lizard. This would leave rational voters with only 2 choices, stay home on election day or vote for former First Lady Hilary Clinton.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no big fan of Mrs Clinton (or the Democratic Party in general) and I can't comment on her (lack of) honesty or political scandals. As I am not American, my opinion on the US economy or health care or gun rights are not relevant, however as an Israeli who will be directly effected by the foreign policy of the US Government, I think I have the right to share my 2 cents on Mrs Clinton's attitude to the conflict in our little corner of the world.

(As an aside, I believe that all the Republican Candidates other than Trump would be better for Israel and better for America than Hillary or Bernie, and I still don't believe that Trump will win the nomination, so the odds are come November we will see the election of a President Cruz or President Rubio - however on the off chance that Trump does win the nomination, we will almost certainly see President Clinton with Bill as First Lady, these thoughts are on Hillary's policy towards Israel, not whether she has any chance of winning the election)

Firstly, let me say that I don't really trust any politicians, especially not Hillary, so whatever she says may have little bearing on her policies. That said, I was surprisingly impressed with her policy outline described by Arutz 7 (Arutz 7 was highly critical of her plans).
According to Arutz 7, in leaked emails Hillary has an outline of a plan which includes concrete steps for Israel and the PA. This is a massive departure from other world leaders who repeat slogans like "Israel must stop construction in the West Bank and work towards a 2 state solution"

Almost everyone knows that in the current climate the chance of a peaceful 2 state solution is below zero. More chance of the Chinese accepting the Pope as their next leader than a peaceful Palestinian State alongside Israel.
However, Hillary's emails outlined steps that could be taken by both sides to increase normalization and trust between Israel and the PA, which may slowly point us in the direction of a future peace agreement (there are a lot of big "if"s in there)

According to Arutz 7, Clinton is expected to make the following demands of the PA:
  • The PA would be asked to stop incitement against Israel
  • The PA and Israel [are] to organize classroom forums bringing together Israeli and PA students to help nurture mutual understanding.
  • The PA would be required to put Israel on government-issued maps, and the historical Jewish connection with Jerusalem “acknowledged”.
  • The PA [must undertake] more permanent housing for refugee camps
  • Anti-corruption efforts in the PA legal justice system.

These are all excellent suggestions, although they could all be expanded on.
Incitement must be stopped at all levels including schools, mosques and the media. Classroom forums would help to bring Israelis and PA students together, but in addition there could be many other forums including sports, music, science, where Israelis and Palestinians work together on a common goal which is not related to the conflict.
The PA recognizing Israel as a Jewish country is essential for negotiations, just as Israel has (and needs to continue to) recognize the rights of the Palestinian People to self determination.
Permanent housing for refugees and anti-corruption measures are also essential steps needed by the PA.

The Arutz 7 article was very vague about what Israel would have to do in return according to Hillary's Plan. According to the article:

Israel, on the other hand, would, in the framework of some larger agreement, be expected to make a number of serious concessions, including the creation of a voluntary compensation fund to encourage Jews to leave Judea and Samaria. The plan notes does note that housing construction would be tolerated within the major settlement blocs, but not beyond.
Israel would also be pressured to open up Area C, which is under full Israeli control, to Arab economic interests, in particular giving them greater access to rock quarries.
The outlined plan also included transferring greater security control of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority police, giving them full control of Area B and working to minimize IDF operations in Area A.
None of these seem like unreasonable concessions for Israel to make. If the US administration would "tolerate" construction within settlement blocks, it would indicate that they are more realistic about the situation here.
Offering economic opportunities to  Palestinians is also a positive step that is in line with Bibi's "Economic Peace"

So the bottom line is that I really hope that America wakes up and elects Rubio or even Cruz this November, but if we end up with Mrs Clinton back in the White House, it may not be as bad for Israel as some people may think.

Friday, September 4, 2015

My thoughts on the Rabbanut

Lately a lot of opinion writers have asked why be need a chief Rabbi or government recognized Rabbanut in Israel. For example, earlier this week, Isi Leibler wrote in the Jerusalem Post that the State Endorsed Rabbinical Leadership should be disbanded.

(Full disclosure: I live in Modi'in,  and regularly attend shiurim from Chief Rabbi Lau, and a lot of my opinion is based on comments or observations I have heard from him)

One of the common misnomers is that the Rabbanut doesn't represent anybody, not the Charedim, not the secular, and not even the National Religious community.
This is simply not true. It is true that most Charedim do not respect the institution of the Chief Rabbanut, in much the same way they don't respect many Zionist institutions, however in the Religious Zionist world, there is a strong segment which not only respects the institution of the Chief Rabbanut, but regards it as a critical corner stone of Zionism and the redemptive process.
Rabbi Gil Student has an excellent article on the topic, here is a key quote:
Religious Zionists, particularly among the Chardal, see the Chief Rabbinate in messianic terms. We pray three times a day in the Amidah for the return of the centralized religious judicial system. The Chief Rabbinate is not the fulfillment of that prayer but its precursor. It represents a step in the flowering of the Redemption. Seen in those terms, undermining the Chief Rabbinate is forestalling Mashiach. 
In other words, while it is true that in Galut, each shtetle, community, or congregation appointed its own rabbi (although many cities and countries also had a Government-recognized Chief Rabbi), now that we are building a Jewish nation, just like we have a centralized, government-recognized Jewish army, police force, court system, education system, medical system, postal system etc, we should have a recognized Rabbanut. This was the vision of Rav Kook when he established the Rabbanut before the state.

None of these government institutions are perfect, many need restructuring or fixing, however there is a difference between fixing a poorly run government institution, and calling for it to be disbanded.

In addition to the ideological principle of having a single uniting rabbanut, there are practical advantages.

Having a centralized record of marriage and divorce is of enormous benefit. If you have ever met a Ba'al Tshuva from Chutz L'Aretz trying to determine whether he is Jewish according to Halacha you would understand why.
If the person comes from England, or any other country with a centralized Rabbanut, provided that their parents or grandparents had a Jewish wedding registered through the Rabbanut (and the vast majority of UK Jews do, even today), it is very easy to get a copy of the Ketuba and details of the Rabbi who conducted the wedding and verify their halachic status.
In contrast, with a Jews from the US, unless they know exactly where and when their grandparents got married, and the Rabbi or community where the grandparents got married is still around and maintains accurate records, it is extremely difficult, and some times even impossible to confirm their halachic status 2 generations later.

There are many other areas where we benefit from a government recognized and funded rabbanut.
In Chutz La'retz Jewish services such as burial, eruv, mikva, marriage registration, and beit din, if they exist at all are privately funded by a congregation, and often individuals who are not members of a congregation are denied these services; many Jews belong to a congregation just so they are entitled to a Jewsih Burial.

Here in the Jewish State almost every city has an eruv, every Jew is entitled to be buried according to Halacha, and there is a Beit Din or Possek available to everyone. Who would be responsible for maintaining these services if we did not have a recognized Beit Din.

With regard to marriage. Personally I am in favour of recognizing civil marriage, in the same way that the government recognizes civil marriage performed abroad. However if individuals want a Jewish wedding, not a civil wedding, weddings should be under the auspices of the Rabbanut and the Rabbanbut should maintain records. I believe that like in England, the vast majority of Israelis would prefer a Halachic wedding, and would want to be able to prove that their future children and grandchildren a Jewish without any question.

With regard to kashrut, there is also a benefit to the kosher consumer knowing that legally an institution can only call itself kosher if it meets a minimum recognized standard of kashrut.
There are big problems in the kashrut industry now, and different Rabbanuts do have different policies or levels of efficiency, and this should be standardized - but removing any level of control and letting anyone advertise themselves as kosher without any supervision at all, is a step in the wrong direction.

In recent years there were real problems with Charedim who did not recognize the Rabbanut taking over key positions, and that was to the detriment of the entire institution, however since Rabbi Lau took over, there has been a definite move to reform  the Batei Din, Kashrut supervsion, city eruvin, and other institutions under the umbrella of the Rabbanut.
May these changes continue, and may the office of the chief rabbanut return to the respected position that it deserves, and may the individuals involved be worthy of their office and turn the institution into a Kiddush Hashem.



Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Response from Mr McCully

Yesterday I received a response from the Right Honourable Mr McCully.

Nothing new or surprising in his response, he just repeats that instead of looking for new or creative approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (such as promoting peaceful interaction between Israelis and Palestinians), he will repeat the tried and failed method of meaningless gestures in the UN Security Council.

Given that there was zero chance that New Zealand would have advanced the cause of peace, the fact that he is only going through the motions and not attempting to come up with new or creative solutions to the issue can't further increase New Zealand's irrelevancy to the situation.

Anyway, in the interests of full disclosure, here is the full text of the letter from the right honourable minister:
6 JUL 2015
Michael Sedley

Dear Michael Sedley
Thank you for your email of 3 June 2015 regarding the current position of the New Zealand government in relation to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
New Zealand pursues a balanced and constructive approach to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. New Zealand supports a negotiated two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side, in peace and security.
Given the threat the conflict poses to international peace and security, we believe the Security Council has a role to play in the Middle East Peace Process. We are assessing the best approach for its next steps, including the possibility of working on a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Yours sincerely


Han Murray McCully
Minister of Foreign Affairs


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Welcome Mr McCully

As New Zealand gets ready to sit at the head of the head of the UN Security Council next month, Foreign Minister Murray McCully is visiting this part of the world.

Following is a letter that I sent to the Right Honourable Minister:

Hon Murray McCully,
Minister of Foreign Affairs


Dear Minister,

Haere mai, Bruchim Haba’im, and welcome to Israel

As a New Zealand citizen currently residing in Israel, I was initially pleased to read that the New Zealand Government is taking an active interest in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian authority.

However, according to media reports, instead of encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to work together towards living in peace, the New Zealand may back or even draft a UN resolution which will try to impose a solution from outside.

As a relatively new player to the Israel-Palestinian negotiations, New Zealand has the unique opportunity to propose or suggest new approaches, instead of rehashing proposals that have been repeatedly tried and failed over the past 20 years.

Since the Oslo Accords in 1993, all proposals have focused on borders, refugees, and security concerns. What has been overlooked is actual peaceful relations between citizens of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Although Chapter 4 of the Oslo Accords did discuss cooperation, including educating children towards peace, there has been almost no effort to enforce or encourage this. 
If you look at changes to the Palestinian textbooks since 1993, you would be hard-pressed to find any effort to encourage Palestinian children to live in peace with their Israeli neighbours.

In fact, as governments have spent 20 years discussing possible borders and security arrangements, personal peaceful interaction between Israelis and Palestinians has become more and more difficult. 
Tragically the negotiating process is actually discouraging normalization between Palestinians and Israelis. The result is that we have a whole generation of children on both sides of the conflict who have never met people on the other side, and have grown up in an environment of fear and violence.

In this environment, even if the representatives of both people could come to an agreement, or the UN or other world body could impose a solution, the chances that the agreement would lead to peace between people or a reduction in fear, hatred, and violence is almost zero.

If New Zealand wants to bring new ideas to the table, and really advance the cause of peace, could I suggest that instead of focusing on government-level negotiations or external proposals that are sure to fail, and may lead to another escalation in violence, maybe the New Zealand Government could use its influence to encourage interaction between individuals, particularly children.

Maybe the New Zealand Government could look for ways to encourage joint educational, cultural, sports, economic, or other interaction between Israeli and Palestinians. 
New Zealand is a sports-loving nation, and knows the impact that sports can have on a child’s development. If the New Zealand Government was to sponsor sporting events, concerts, or cultural events that bring Israeli and Palestinian children together in a peaceful, non-threatening environment, this would help to plant seeds of peace.
If the New Zealand government found a way to encourage joint economic ventures between Israelis and Palestinians, the entrepreneurs in these ventures would have a personal interest in maintaining peaceful relationship and free access between business partners on the other side of a future border.

These personal relationships would do more for the cause of peace than a discussion over which neighbourhoods in Jerusalem should be banned for Jews, or how many guns the Palestinian police force should be allowed, or who should control the border check-points in a future Palestinian state.

Thank you for your time,

Shalom and Haere rā

Michael Sedley
Modi’in,
Israel


Monday, November 10, 2014

Death of Innocence

The third Intifada has claimed another victim, a few minutes ago, the 20 year old soldier who was attacked in Tel Aviv earlier today succumbed to his injuries and returned his soul to his Maker, ה' יקום דמו

This young soldier was the son of one of my daughter's teachers.

When Yael went to bed a few hours ago, she asked whether her teacher Michal would be in school tomorrow, whether her son would be OK, how he was so badly hurt, and why did someone want to hurt him. She also said that she is afraid - maybe it could happen to her.

As a father, she thinks that I am supposed to have answers, that I should know why a young soldier was murdered today for being Jewish, or why a young woman from Tekoa was murdered, or families waiting at a train station, or passengers on a train or a bus, or teenagers on their way home from school are being murdered - all for the same crime - of being Jewish.

Instead of answers, I only have questions - how could we allow terrorists to walk freely in our county? How is it that our police and security forces can't restore security to the streets of Israel? Why is it that after all these years Eisav (and Yishma'el) still hates Ya'akov.

Now I need to decide how to break this news to my daughter, whether to take her to her teacher's Shiva, whether to tell her about the dozens of other attacks that are occurring on a daily basis. How do you explain that to a 11 year old girl?

May Hashem grant the courage and wisdom to our leaders and armed forces to find the way to stop this Intifada before it continues to grow, and to bring peace and quiet to this tiny beautiful land of ours.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reflections on Bicycles, Yom Kippur, and Religious Coercion

One of the uniquely Israeli aspects of Yom Kippur is the association of bicycles with Yom Kippur.
While in other parts of the world, Jews associate Yom Kippur with prayer, fasting, long prayer services, and maybe repentance and atonement, in Israel many Israelis associate the day with bicycles.
(If you don't know what I'm talking about, go to YouTube and search for "bicycles Yom kippur").
There are several religious practices observed by almost all Jewish Israelis, for example, I would estimate that over 90% of Jewish Israelis do the following:
  • Place a Mezuza on their front door
  • Give their sons a Brit Mila
  • Attend some type of Passover Seder
  • Refrain from driving on Yom Kippur
There are probably rituals with almost universal observance in Israel, but the above sprung to mind. If you can think of others, please leave a comment.
Interesting that if you made a similar list of ritual practiced by Jews outside Israel, the first 3 items would probably be in the list, but not the last
One of the interesting things about these observances is that none of them are required by law - there is no law in Israel that you must place a mezuza on your door, or circumcise you son, or not drive on Yom Kippur - yet almost all Israelis do this for cultural, historic, or religious reasons.
In spite of regular complaints about "religious coercion", there is very little ritual that is mandated by law in Israel, the only examples I could think of are:
  • No public transport on Shabbat
  • Forbidden to display Chametz for sale during Pessach
  • All Jewish weddings must be conducted through the Rabbanut
(Again, if you can think of areas where religious observance is mandated by law, leave a comment).
What is interesting is that the legally-mandated ritual is less widely observed than the first list above. There are more Jewish Israelis that get married outside the Rabbanut than there are who drive on Yom Kippur.
To me, this is evidence that you cannot legislate religion. Israel is a Jewish country, and all Jewish Israelis will observe mitzvot that are meaningful or culturally significant to them; but you cannot force people to keep mitzvot. In fact, I would imagine that if the Knesset passed a law making it illegal to drive on Yom Kippur, the following year a number of people would make a point of driving, just to show that knesset has no business telling them how to be Jewish - and they would be right, miztva observance is between you and your Maker, not between you and your legislator.

G'mar Chatima Tova and Chag Sameach to all my readers