August 2007 Archives

Always wrong


The Israeli left. It's like the Energizer Bunny. No, it's like a Timex watch. It takes licking after licking and just keeps on ticking. How long has this flight from reality been going on? A very long time.

Cleaning out a drawer today, I came across a faded old copy of a Jerusalem Post op-ed by Shlomo Avineri. It was sent to me around the time of its publication by a very left-leaning friend on the faculty of Hebrew University, and it has the date November 28, 1978, hand written at the top. Entitled "Of Doves and Hawks," it's a victory piece, an "I told you so" to the Israeli right. The Camp David Accords are proof positive, said Avineri, that the hawks were dead wrong about the Arabs' aspirations for peace with Israel. And the doves were right.

(There is no link to this essay. If it was ever on line, it has long since disappeared. I copied the following out by hand. Hopefully, I've caught all of my mistakes.)

[ ... ]

Let's try to formulate some of the points of dispute between hawks and doves and then compare them with the present policies of the Begin government.

One of the basic tenets of the hawks was a firm conviction that the Arabs would never make peace with Israel. The Arabs, all of them, are united in one goal (according to the hawkish position): the destruction of Israel. They will not and cannot make peace with Israel. Unremitting enmity towards Israel is basic to their political philosophy, being deeply embedded in Islam, and therefore Israelis should not waste their time and effort speculating on what our policies should be if peace comes. Peace, said the hawks, will not be offered to us, and consequently we have to carry out our own policies, geared to our own national aims, unilaterally.

The doves, on the other hand, never said they knew there would be peace. Their position was slightly different from a merely idealistic hope for peace. They argued as follows: Despite the deep Arab hatred for Israel, let us not exclude the possibility that one day, one Arab leader, or one Arab country, will be ready for peace. And by not excluding that possibility, let us not in the meantime do things that will make it difficult for us to negotiate peace if and when such an Arab country or such an Arab leader is ready for peace.

The doves were proved right. An Arab leader ready for peace did eventually emerge, and some of the difficulties in the negotiations with Sadat stem from positions taken or acts committed by Israel in the meantime, which were premised on the hawkish position that there could never be peace.

Almost twenty-nine years later, who was "proved right?" The Arab leader who was ready for peace (Sadat) was assassinated less than three years later. The country that was supposedly ready for peace turned its back on his accomplishment and froze the struggling "peace" in its tracks. Since then, the thaws have been brief and unconsequential.

The only other Arab leader who has shown any inclination toward peace with Israeli, King Hussein of Jordan, did not so much "negotiate" the peace as abdicate almost all of the territorial impediments standing in the way. In other words, those positions or acts committed by Israel in the West Bank "in the meantime" did nothing to postpone or prevent the peace (such as it is) with Jordan. Rather, they sufficed to convince Jordan to give up its territorial claims in favor of the palestinian arabs, which Jordan would not likely have done in the absence of those positions and acts. But back to Avineri, who so far is batting 0 for 1.

Secondly, the hawks argued that even if one day there should emerge an Arab leader ready for peace, he would be promptly assassinated: Look, they said, at what happened to King Abdullah. Consequently, the policies of such a leader would not be carried out; hence we go back to square one, i.e., there is not going to be peace.

The doves, on the other hand, never denied the dangers that would have to be faced by such an Arab leader. But they argued: Let us not exclude the possibility that if an Arab leader is one day ready for peace, such a shift in policy will not be just the whim of an individual potentate, but will represent some very substantial changes in the structure of politics in that particular Arab country. Therefore, let us not exclude the possibility that the idea of peace will gather quite a lot of support in that Arab country and that the leader adopting such a policy will be able to carry it out.

Again, the doves were proved right. Not only has Sadat not been assassinated or deposed, but the move has added to his stature. He appears to be, despite all of the difficulties he is undoubtedly facing, firmly in control of Egypt, and he has managed to survive both internal and external Arab opposition to his move.

Ooops. Overtaken by events. It's to be noted that Sadat was not assassinated because of his economic policies or his attempts at rapprochment with the West. He was assassinated for making peace with Israel, and in many parts of the Arab world, his death was celebrated. As the BBC noted,

Nabil Ramlawi, a PLO official, said: "We were expecting this end of President Sadat because we are sure he was against the interests of his people, the Arab nations and the Palestinian people."

Avineri: 0 for 2. One more point to go.

Thirdly (and this is the most important issue), despite the hawks' deep scepticism about the possibility of ultimate peace with the Arabs, the basic hawkish position has been that in the long run, Israel will get Arab acceptance of its existence and be able to keep most of the territories that came under its control in 1967.

The doves, on the other hand, never believed that we would be able to have our cake and eat it. One should add that despite distortions and misrepresentations, the Israeli dovish position never maintained that Israel should return the territories to Arab control unilaterally, without peace. The doves said something different: If and when an Arab country or an Arab leader will be ready for peace, then and only then, will Israel be faced with the agonizing dilemma of choosing between peace and territories. Then and only then, in the context of peace negotiations, will Israel have to make that choice, and then, and only then, will this be a real choice -- but Israel will have to make it.

The hawks, on the other hand, denied that such a choice would have to be made. As Menahem Begin said again and again, before and after he became prime minister, we shall have peace as well as much of the territories, especially Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The doves never thought we could have it both ways and tried to educate the Israeli public in anticipation of the day when this agonizing choice would have to be made.

Again, the doves were proved right. For one whole year the government under Begin tried to negotiate a peace treaty in which Israel would both get peace and keep much of the territories. This is not going to be the outcome of the peace treaty with Egypt. But it is not through lack of trying. Inch after inch, item after item, Begin and the govenment had to give up their position concerning Israeli control of the territories once peace is signed.

This assessment sounds bizarre in retrospect and, as we'll see in a minute, it gets even more bizarre -- and wrong. But it's interesting to note that Avineri, one of the leading lights of the Israeli left for decades, here disavows any support for unilateral withdrawal from any part of the disputed territories. Only in exchange for true peace, "then and only then," would the doves consider advocating the "agonizing choice" of territorial surrender. But that was in the flush of what he thought was a resounding victory for the "land for peace" concept. What a difference a few decades and a harsh dose of reality can make.

And now on to the (near) conclusion of this very odd essay. (Yes, there's more, but I'm stopping here.)

Take Sinai. After trying to keep Rafiah and the airfields, Israel has now agreed to a full withdrawal from all Egyptian territories. There could not be a more dovish Israeli policy on the bilateral Egyptian-Israeli front, and some doves even thought that one did not have to go that far. Be that as it may, Begin has given up all the settlements in Sinai, as well as Sharm e-Sheikh, and the airfields. Not one Israeli settlement, not one Isareli soldier, not one Israeli aircraft, not one grain of sand will remain in Israeli hands there.

On the West Bank, the issue is of course more complex and the exact outcome more dubious. Because of the Likud's unwillingness to negotiate with Jordan (as a result of its ideological hang-up about "foreign sovereignty" over parts of Eretz Yisrael, we may now be saddled with an ambiguous situation that could lead to an independent Palestinian state and profound dangers for Israeli society.

This, however, requires a separate discussion; what is clear is that despite its hopes and illusions, the Begin government has abandoned its initial plan of holding on to the West Bank. Whatever happens in Judea, Samaria and Gaza after the transitional period of five years, Israeli control of the area will not continue.

[ ... ]

It's interesting to be reminded that, back in 1978, even the far Israeli left considered the notion of "an independent Palestinian state" to pose "profound dangers for Israeli society." Even as Avineri confidently predicted the impending withdrawal of the Begin government from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, he clearly envisioned the "return" of those territories to the gentle stewardship of Egypt and Jordan. And he clearly never dreamed that Jordan would one day sign a peace treaty with Israel without the concession of one inch of that land (but rather only a small piece of the Arava together with some water rights).

And so the doves come out 0 for 3. Twenty-nine years later, their response is to advocate more of the same, more and more concessions, withdrawals, restraints and, above all, forebearance still from those programs and acts that might make it more difficult when that elusive Arab leader in search of peace, actually backed by an Arab country in search of peace, appears. Oslo, Camp David II, Taba, the Road Map, on and on and on.

Even a broken Timex is right twice a day. For the Israeli left, it's been a very, very long day.

Shabbat Shalom.

Splutter #@^&!


I'm at a loss for a coherent response to this at the moment. But I knew I could count on Omri.

Olmert to Abbas: This Peace Thing Is Working Out Great! Here, Take Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus, the Temple Mount, and East Jerusalem.

Hey, Guess What Happened Right Before Olmert Offered Abbas Security Concessions? Do You Think It Was A Successful, High Tech Fatah Rocket Attack?

Hey, Guess What Happened Right Before Olmert Offered Abbas The Temple Mount? Do You Think It Was Open Muslim Destruction Of Jewish Artifacts On The Temple Mount?

Except that that last one's been going on for weeks now. But, yeah.

Still, no matter how hard Olmert tries to throw Israel under the train, I have confidence in the inability of the palestinian arabs to take "yes" for an answer. So I'm not too worried. Yet.

An almost abduction


An Israeli soldier drives into Jenin. Either he got lost (according to the PA) or he was lured there as part of an intended ambush (according to Islamic Jihad, who are enraged over the loss of their "hostage.")

A mob of peaceful palestinian arabs drag him from the car, torch it, and start to beat him senseless.

Using their weapons, PA Preventative Security police manage to rescue the soldier from the mob and take him into protective custody. He's later released to the IDF, which reports that he was not in need of medical attention. Thank God.

Fact, not fiction.

Meanwhile, Israeli politicians react.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni praised Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad for the actions of the PA security forces.

"This kind of action proves that the Palestinian government and its forces are growing stronger against terrorism, which is continuing to try and derail the efforts of moderates in Israel and the PA to better the security situation," Livni said.

Meanwhile, MK Ahmed Tibi (UAL) criticized the IDF, saying the events in Jenin only serve to highlight IDF abuses against Palestinians.

"IDF is shooting and wounding Palestinian citizens and the PA risks lives to save a soldier. This is food for thought for the general public." Tibi was quoted as saying.

So. Is it peace yet?

Deadly silence


What the heck is wrong with us?

Turkey expects Israel to "deliver" American Jewish organizations and ensure that the US Congress does not pass a resolution characterizing as genocide the massacre of Armenians during World War I, Turkish Ambassador to Israel Namik Tan told The Jerusalem Post Sunday.

Tan cut short a vacation and rushed back to Israel Thursday to deal with the Anti-Defamation League's reversal last week of its long-standing position on the issue.

Tan said he understood that Israel's position had not changed, but "Israel should not let the [US] Jewish community change its position. This is our expectation and this is highly important, highly important."

Turkey's concern is that last week's decision by ADL national director Abe Foxman would open the dikes and enable the passage in Congress of a nonbinding resolution calling Ottoman Turkey's actions against the Armenians "genocide."

I sure hope so. It's long overdue. The power of Abe Foxman and "The Lobby" to open those dikes, however, is vastly overrated. I guess Walt & Mearsheimer are the new gospel in Turkey.

I'm not a big fan of Foxman, but I applaud what seems to be the unclouding of his vision on this issue. If the massacre of Armenians during WWI wasn't attempted genocide, what was it? Yes, I've read the conflicting reports. I've also spoken with children of survivors.

Did you know that 39 of the 50 United States have officially recognized the Armenian genocide? So have a number of nations. But, so far, the US government has not nor, obviously, has Israel.

Here's a small excerpt from Andrew Bostom's analysis at The American Thinker (it's long but well worth the time):

But ninety-two years after the events of April 24, 1915, the Turkish government persists in its denials of the Armenian genocide, abetted by a well-endowed network of unsavory political and pseudo-academic lobbyists operating with the imprimatur of morphing geo-strategic rationales. Until the Soviet Union imploded, "Turkey as a bulwark against Communism," was the justifying mantra; now, "Turkey as a bulwark against radical Islam," is constantly invoked

This leeway afforded Turkey is both morally indefensible, and increasingly, devoid of any geo-strategic value. West Germany was arguably a much more direct and important ally against the Soviet Communist bloc, while each successive post-World War II West German administration, from Konrad Adenauer through Helmut Kohl, made Holocaust denial a punishable crime. Moreover, there is burgeoning evidence, available almost daily, that Turkey's government under the Muslim ideologue Erdogan, and large swaths of the Turkish media, intelligentsia, and general public, are stridently anti-American, and hardly qualify as "bulwarks against radical Islam." Indeed, Turkey's contemporary Islamic "revival" is of particular relevance to the tragic events that transpired between 1894 and the end of World War I, precisely because the Armenian genocide was in large measure a jihad genocide.

And here's what I say: How indignant can we get about Holocaust denial when, due to political expediency, we're afraid to stand behind the Armenian people in this fight for recognition of their own national tragedy? Turkey would benefit by finally coming to grips with its culpability in this matter. And rather than allowing Israel to pressure the American Jewish community into trying to bury the issue, the American Jewish community ought to be encouraging Israel to stop equivocating on it. If Turkey's friendship (such as it is these days) depends on our complicity in denying genocide, we need to find a way to do without Turkey's friendship. To paraphrase an overused quote from the sage Hillel:

-- If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us? And if we are only for ourselves, what are we? And if not now, when?

And yet more


Here's an exchange of letters between David Wilder, who has for some time acted as spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, and Jonathan Klein, President of CNN, USA. It took place back in January and February, as CNN was looking for "settler" patsies for its Jewish "God's Warriors" slimecast. It's also posted here and here (with some extra commentary), among other places.

It's an interesting read, especially in light of how the show turned out. Unsurprisingly, misrepresentations (by CNN) abound. Like this one:

Our goal is not to find fault or fix blame -- but to simply understand. To that end, I believe that you are missing a prime opportunity to be heard, not only in the United States, but in 180 countries around the world, and I would ask you to reconsider.

Yeah. Prime opportunity to be vilified in 180 countries around the world. How could he pass that up?

Wilder was on to CNN's gambit as soon as he discovered Amanpour was involved. But, having already opened the door to the wolf (CNN) in sheep's clothing (Andy Segal), he was ultimately in the position of trying to do damage control. The odds were against him.

Back home


Haveil Havalim #131 is back "home." Nobody does JBlog roundups better than Soccer Dad.

So what are you waiting for? Click!

Lavender light



Our other crepe (or crape) myrtle. This one's only two years old, so it doesn't bloom as much yet and the rain brought down some of what was there last week. We do need to take those suckers off the bottom.

We've had almost no sun all week. Lavender blooms, lavender light. One more week of August to go, and I'm really hoping for some blue sky.

Shabbat Shalom.

More "Warriors"


Stupid mistakes are often innocent and even oftener overlooked. But in this instance, I think it's safe to say that they're evidence of the broad contempt for the truth that permeated CNN's Tuesday night broadcast. So they deserve attention. Many of them have already been exposed. As far as I can tell, this one has not.

From CNN's transcript of "God's (Jewish) Warriors":

AMANPOUR: Israel banned Kahane's political movement as a terrorist organization, after one of his followers murdered at least 29 Muslim worshipers in Hebron.

Kahane himself was later gunned down in New York by a Muslim extremist. But his heated mix of right-wing politics and religious fundamentalism lived on. During the Second Intifada, as Israeli buses, restaurants and markets were being attacked, a poll showed 25 percent of Israelis saying Meir Kahane could be a good leader for the Jewish people.

Which poll would that be, I wonder. Conducted by whom using what methods and among what segment of the population? And when, exactly, "during the Second Intifada [sic]"? The day after the Passover massacre at the Park Hotel perhaps? Or in the immediate aftermath of some other horrific attack? Or, contrary to all evidence, such as elections, is this alleged poll supposed to "show" how "Israelis" (I take it she means Israeli Jews) feel in general? Was there ever any such poll at all?

And how much effort do you suppose it would have taken Ms. Amanpour or CNN's crack research team to discover that Meir Kahane was gunned down in New York by a Muslim extremist more than three years before Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 worshipers (why "at least?" -- the number is known) at the Machpela in Hebron? Not "later," implying that Goldstein was acting under Kahane's direct influence or orders at the time, but more than three years before.

Finally, this question. Should and can America's first cable news network be held accountable for spreading provably false and misleading propaganda over the airwaves that defames countless American and Israeli Jews? Or is this supposed to be some sort of object lesson in the dangers of extrapolating from a small minority of extremist zealots to the sentiments of the majority? Is CNN trying to cleverly turn the tables on those who would tar all Muslims with the jihadi brush?

Unlikely. And, if so, they've done a piss poor job. Lacking any actual evidence that would support their thesis, they've cobbled together footage of a few rare and almost univerally condemned incidents, overlaid them with bits of dialogue completely removed from any context, and created a "reality" that doesn't exist. Ah! In other words, they've taken a page (or a whole chapter) from Michael Moore's Manual of Deceptive Documentary Practices. Perhaps he'll sue.



There are a lot of really good blog (and non-blog) posts out there about CNN's travesty "God's Warriors," and specifically Tuesday night's "Jewish Warriors" segment. There is also a lot of dreck. I don't know what to say about it right now, so I'll speak through a few of the others who have so eloquently captured the deception, the insult, the sheer ludicrous gall of this show. The dreck, I'll leave alone. For the nonce.

Hugh Fitzgerald does a marvelous job of explaining the fallacies, not only of the whole series, but of the mindset of its celebrity narrator, as well, at Dhimmi Watch. (His post is also magnicificent in its literary style, IMO.)

CAMERA tackles the tough questions and literally rips Tuesday's show apart piece by piece. As a vigilant media watchdog, this is what they do best.

Anne Lieberman has some interesting questions that you probably won't see elsewhere.

Rick Richman doesn't say a lot, but what he does say is penetrating and to the point, as usual. Mostly, he lets the show's promotional materials speak for themselves.

Elder of Ziyon finds enough in the first few pages of the transcript to take up a lengthy post, in which he eviscerates it nicely.

And Richard Baehr does a nice job at The American Thinker. You'd think there would be a limit to the factual and historical frauds to be discovered in one 2-hour TV show, but this one's apparently a bottomless pit.

Finally, here's a gratuitous link to Omri, who (I'm asssuming) is too busy with real life to blog about "Warriors" right now, but who has come around on the subject of Walt & Meirsheimer's likely antisemitic motivations and is full of compelling commentary on their new book. Since Christiane Amanpour deemed John Mearsheimer (along with Jimmy Carter) an appropriate expert to interview (extensively) for the show on the subject of pernicious Jewish terrorists, I think it fits.



Oh, my! Judith celebrated her 5th last week. She forgot, and I forgot to send congratulations.

Which suddenly reminds me that I forgot my own 5th, which was, let's see ... oy! over a month ago. I guess we're all getting pretty blasé about these things by now.



This falls under the "Where's the Outrage" category. 4,500 seedlings and hundreds of grapevines uprooted. A pipeline set on fire and farm equipment destroyed. Where's Rabbis for Human Rights? Where' B'tselem?

Oh. Wrong victim.

Police launched an investigation Wednesday into the uprooting of hundreds of vines in the West Bank settlements of Nachliel and Narya.

The vines were supposedly destroyed by left-wing activists and Palestinians, who are also under investigation for damaging farm equipment at the site.

Shlomi Cohen, the vineyard’s owner, told Ynet, “A group of Palestinians and left-wing activists arrived in the afternoon hours. They uprooted and trampled over 4,500 seedlings and destroyed everything.

"They carried out a pogrom here, but no one was arrested. They set the pipeline on fire and destroyed farm equipment,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ISM thugs are proud of their work. They even have photos.


Eff the "elites"


Ok, I'm expecting that the anonymous 14% of "experts" who came up with this answer will outed in short order. Hoping, anyway. Let's get a look at their faces.

A survey by a respected journal showing that 15 of 108 foreign policy elites in the US believe Israel does not serve US national security interests has raised eyebrows in Jerusalem. It precedes the publication in early September of a book by two US professors slamming the Israel-US alliance.

The journal, Foreign Policy, on Monday published its "terrorism index," asking a bipartisan group of former "secretaries of state, national security advisors, senior White House aides, top commanders in the US military, seasoned intelligence professionals, and distinguished academics" a variety of questions having to do with US national security issues.

And so the Walt&Mearsheimer contagion spreads. The thing about this disease is that, like other irrational, baseless beliefs that are founded in prejudice and laziness, it finds comfort and safety in numbers. Well, good. Let's break down those PC barriers and find out what our "elites" are really thinking. No masks, no pretense, just brutal honesty. But, again, let's see their faces.

When given a list of US allies and asked to choose the one country that least serves US national security interests, 14 percent of the respondents picked Israel. Russia led the list, with 34% saying it least served US interests, followed by 22% who said Pakistan, 17% who selected Saudi Arabia, and 5% each for Egypt and Mexico.

The journal billed the respondents, whose names were not supplied, as America's "top foreign-policy experts." Forty-five of the respondents described themselves as Democrats, 24 as Republicans, and the rest as Independents.

Interesting mix. 42% Democrats, 22% Republicans, 36% Independents. And still, only 14% came up with this ridiculous conclusion. I'd say that's pretty good news. Not good enough.

One diplomatic official in Jerusalem, while acknowledging that 14% is a considerable minority, said he was still worried by the trend.

"Considering the closeness and importance of our ties with Washington, this is something we need to watch," he said.

The official said that while in the past the notion that the US alliance with Israel harmed US interests was a belief relegated to individuals on the far right, such as Pat Buchanan, and the far left, like Noam Chomsky, this survey indicated that the idea was gaining prominence among the elites.

Yes, I'd say that's cause for concern. Concern for Israel, but concern for America, too. The country needs to understand who its real allies are. Confusion on that score does not bode well for our success in the war that, like it or not, is being waged against us.

And there's more.

Regarding Hamas, a majority of the respondents came out against the current US policy of isolating Hamas, with 53% saying that engaging moderates inside Hams would be in the US's best interests, and only 17% backing the current Bush administration policy of isolation.

The respondents' replies to a question about what Iran would do with a nuclear capability were also somewhat surprising. Sixty-seven percent said it was either "somewhat unlikely" or "very unlikely" that Iran would build weapons to "wipe Israel off the map."

Clueless elites, guiding our foreign policy. Just what this country needs. Not.

Pretty in pink


Crepe Myrtle.jpg

Our crepe myrtle. And the buds aren't even all out yet.

Shabbat Shalom.

Brit mila


This story has some very troubling aspects, and a quick survey of various discussions about it and related matters shows just how deep the trouble goes.

The highest-level case in American history involving the right to circumcision is slated to be heard this fall, when the Oregon Supreme Court rules on whether a father can have his 12-year-old son undergo the procedure.

The case — which could affect the ability of parents to make religiously motivated decisions for their children — is bound up with a bitter custody dispute between a divorced Oregon couple. It pits James Boldt, the custodial parent and a recent convert to Judaism, against Lia Boldt, who argues that the boy is afraid to tell her ex-husband that he does not want to be circumcised. She says that the boy would be physically and psychologically harmed by the procedure.

My first instinct reading this was to side with the father. But wait a minute. There are a few facts missing here. The marriage dissolved in 1999, when the boy was four. The father converted to Judaism a few years later. The mother did not. The father now wants to convert his child to Judaism. The mother's position on that, in itself, is unclear, and apparently not at issue here. But the courts are all over the place on the basic question of whether and under what circumstances a divorced parent, custodial or non-custodial, has the right to convert his or her child against the wishes of the other parent. Understandably. So take the continuation of the Forward article with a small grain of salt.

The acceptance of the case by Oregon’s highest court is surprising, because judges generally grant a wide degree of latitude to custodial parents — so much so, in fact, that the state’s Court of Appeals rejected the mother’s case without issuing an opinion. If the Oregon Supreme Court decides to review the merits of the father’s plan for circumcision, it will almost inevitably weigh in on two related issues: the right of custodial parents to guide their children’s religious upbringings, and the weight that religious considerations should be given when considering the welfare of a child.

“Are parents only authorized to make decisions that a secular decision-maker would make?” asked Marc Stern, general counsel for the American Jewish Congress, which is filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of James Boldt. “We have to win this case, and win it big, in my view” Stern said.

“Our position is that the custodial parent can take into account religious interests in determining what’s in the interest of the child,” Stern added.

The AJC is coming down hard on the side of the father. The ADL, on the other hand, is (wisely, I think) staying out of this. What if we were talking about female genital mutilation here rather than male circumcision? I realize that FGM is not, in fact, mandated by any major religion, but some people continue to believe that it is. At least we're clear on the difference there.


Apparently not. As I browsed around looking to see how and whether this story was being addressed on the blogs, I came across some very disturbing chatter. A virtual epidemic of ignorance, in fact. The comments here are predictable. I'd like to assume that the latent antisemitism implicit in many of them is inadvertent. But then I came across this thread at what purports to be a Reform Judaism "help desk." A 17-year boy from Mexico wants to convert to Judaism but is scared to death of even the thought of circumcision. Can he convert without it? One commenter who holds himself out as a bit of an expert replies:

You don't have to wack off part of your business to be a Jew. YOU DON'T! Being a Jew is much more than circumcision. Circumcision isn't required anyway. It's more of a tradition. So's getting bar-mitzved at 13. I didn't get bar-mitzved, and I'm still a Jew. And, a bar-mitzvah is a much bigger event in a Jews life than circumcision.

Well, it's true that "getting bar-mitzved" is a tradition, not a requirement, although there's really no such thing as "getting bar-mitzved." (A Jewish boy becomes a bar mitzvah on his 13th birthday, with or without a ceremony, a party or gifts. The ceremony itself is a tradition and a relatively recent one. It's not required, and has nothing to do with whether or not a man is considered a Jew.) On every other count, "excon" (nice) is just plain wrong.

Judaism 101:

The commandment to circumcise is given at Gen. 17:10-14 and Lev. 12:3. The covenant was originally made with Abraham. It is the first commandment specific to the Jews.

And what, exactly, does Genesis 17:10-24 say about this "tradition?"

Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days. As for the homeborn slave and the one bought from an outsider who is not of your offspring, they must be circumcised, homeborn, and purchased alike. Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact. And if any male who is uncircumcised fails to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his kin; he has broken My covenant."

I understand that it's becoming very PC these days to be revolted by the idea of circumcision and that lots of hip young Jewish parents are electing forego the nasty deed and allow their boys to grow up "whole." The stories here are enough to make me despair about the future of the non-Orthodox Jewish community.

Though Rachel decided against a bris without the influence of statistics or the recommendations of medical organizations, she had no idea if her husband would agree with her.

"I left the decision up to him," Rachel says. "It was difficult for me, but he appreciated it."

Rachel's husband never told her what his decision was. It became clear to Rachel only after he phoned his mother to announce the boy's birth.

"I knew the question was coming, right after my husband told her it was a boy," Rachel says.

It was a question that's been asked by Jewish grandmothers for 2,800 years: When's the bris?

There wouldn't be a bris, Rachel's husband told his mother. And when his mother asked him why, Rachel's husband answered, "It's not for us."

"I'm delighted," Rachel says. "I always go back to the idea that in this generation, a loving father can make a decision he wasn't allowed to make for himself."

A decision to cut his son off from his people, to ensure his rejection by most of the Jewish community, or to have to undergo the procedure in adulthood. Such a loving father. "It's not for us." Such an informed, enlightened attitude.

So, with all due respect to the AJC, I think we have more pressing issues to worry about than whether the courts allow James Boldt to circumcise his 12-year-old son against the wishes of his non-Jewish ex-wife. But neither is the outcome of that case lacking implications that could have an impact on those issues. Let's pay attention.

Truer words


From David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post:

Here we are, after the first intifada and the failure of Camp David, and the second intifada and the detonation of unilateralism, patently short of wisdom and understanding, and stubbornly deaf to warnings both internal and external. Here we are, defiantly none the wiser, with one government minister expressing gentle, thoroughly unsupported optimism about a possible shift in the Palestinian mindset, and her colleague, a man with prime ministerial aspirations at that, just plain wishing Gaza away.

The sadly proven fact that should have long since been internalized is that Mahmoud Abbas has neither fought the terrorism that has blighted our day-to-day life here, nor even been moved to stave off his own political demise by reforming the governance his rotten Fatah apparatus offers his disillusioned people. His Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, the new great white Palestinian hope of the world diplomatic community, meanwhile, is paying the salaries of the very Hamas politicians who seek his humiliation and ouster, and even funding some of Hamas's murderous gunmen, albeit apparently because of some nefarious machinations in the PA's computer room.

Rewarding all this failure with an attempt at substantive diplomacy smacks of desperation - by the Bush administration, by the Quartet, and by Israel's government. It smacks of wishful thinking, of the pursuit of false ideas. And it won't work, because it can't work.

The whole editorial is chock full of quiet, common sense. It's a rare and refreshing read. And it ought to be force fed to Olmert, Bush and the entire Israeli Knesset, along with those Brutish MPs (sic) and a host of other people who, for some reason, just don't get it.

Academia, seriously


The battle over Columbia University's consideration of tenure for Nadia Abu El-Haj made headlines again today in the wake of Barnard College's decision in favor and an online alumni petition organized by Barnard alum Paula Stern. The petition calls for tenure to be denied, and for very good reason. El-Haj's sole claim to fame is, as Ms. Stern suggests, "a single profoundly flawed book" -- one which can best be described in the very terms El-Haj abuses to characterize most of ancient Jewish and Israeli history: a pure political fabrication.

The outrage here is not that Abu El-Haj, whose work is reported to be riddled with factual inaccuracies, seriously shoddy scholarship and unsubstantiated libel against professional archeologists (she is not one), might actually be granted tenure. The outrage is that an institution of Columbia's reputation and vaunted high standards would even be considering such a thing.

Now a lot of excellent commentary has been written on this subject (e.g., here and here), and I highly recommend that you follow the links if you haven't followed the story to date. What I want to emphasize here is that this is not a struggle to deny a platform to someone with odious ideas (although it would have that effect), nor to silence criticism of Israel (to the contrary, these battles always tend to bring it out more vehemently), nor to interfere in what ought to be an internal academic decision made in accordance with the rules of the university and the professional judgment of peers (because that's not how this process is playing out). It is, rather, a struggle to salvage the integrity of one of this country's great institutions of higher learning (if not academia in general) and to restore confidence in its ability to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for all of its students.

It's one thing to publish a volume of political propaganda thinly disguised as scholarship in an effort to delegitimize an entire religion, an entire people and an entire nation. This is a free country and Nadia Abu El-Haj is entitled to promote her version of revisionist history and pseudo- social science as she pleases. It's quite another thing when our esteemed academic institutions ignore their own standards in honoring such perversion. And it's beyond the pale to ask parents and alumni to stand idly by while those entrusted with the education (not indoctrination) of our young people demonstrate their inability to distinguish fact from fiction.

It's time that academia started to take its role seriously again. It's time for consequences to ensue if it does not.

This so totally sucks


Discovery Channel Cycling Team Disbands

The Associated Press
Saturday, August 11, 2007; 4:06 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Lance Armstrong era in cycling is over. Citing fractious leadership in the sport, constant doping allegations and the struggles of finding a new sponsor, Armstrong and the owners of his former Discovery Channel team said Friday the squad will disband after this season.

Armstrong said it was the perfect time to go out on top: Discovery's Alberto Contador of Spain won the team's eighth Tour de France title in nine years last month.

"It's a sad day for cycling. Certainly a sad day for American cycling," Armstrong said. "We're proud of our record."

The decision shuts down the sport's only elite professional team based in the United States. Armstrong retired from riding in 2005 but remained a visible co-owner of the team operated by Tailwind Sports.

Discovery announced in February it would not sponsor the team beyond this year. Team General Manager Bill Stapleton acknowledged difficulty securing new sponsorship with the sport under the constant pressure of doping allegations.

"It's not an environment right now that's conducive to a lot of investment," Stapleton said, adding the team was in talks with several potential sponsors. "This was a difficult decision, not made any easier by our recent Tour de France success."

Armstrong said he believes a sponsor could have been found, but the ownership group decided now was the time to quit.

There are several different versions of this story that have come out over the past few days. The team couldn't find a sponsor. No, they had a sponsor in the wings but decided the timing wasn't right. The doping allegations scared sponsors away. No, but the climate isn't right for trying to launch a new identity just now. Bruyneel was going to retire anyway. Lance wants to spend more time with his family ... just kidding on that one.

That gust of wind from the east over the weekend was the French heaving a giant sigh of relief. "The Lance Armstrong era in cycling is over." No more American teams in the Tour? What about American riders on the podium? Leipheimer and Hincapie won't have any trouble finding a new home, but with what status? My fear is that, with the demise of the USPS/Discovery Channel team, America's brief love affair with international cycling will wane. What a shame.

Real news


Omri's back! I'm not even going to try to link to all the posts he's put up today. But he's obviously been saving up some quality snark over his hiatus. So you really don't want to miss it.

Just click on over and scroll down.

(oh, and, ignore the blank column over there on the right. i'm happy if you're not looking at a blank screen. i've given up on trying to stabilize this website. changes are a'comin'...)

Adding insult to injury


Back in February, when Eric Hunt was arrested for assaulting Elie Wiesel, the SF Chronicle painted a pretty nasty picture.

Hunt is a Holocaust denier who in recent weeks traveled to Florida in an unsuccessful attempt to confront Wiesel at a conference there, said Lt. Dan Mahoney, head of special investigations for San Francisco police. Hunt began following Holocaust denial organizations after graduating from college, and although he used the Internet to spread his beliefs, authorities believe Hunt acted alone.

"He appears to be what we call a lone wolf,'' Mahoney said.

Five days after Wiesel was attacked, a man identifying himself as Hunt posted a detailed account of the crime on several anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Web sites. That account matched a description of the attack police provided a few days later. In the online post, Hunt said he cornered Wiesel, the author of more than 40 books based on his Holocaust experiences, to force him into admitting that the Holocaust never occurred.

So AP's puff piece on Hunt's "apology" today during his preliminary hearing came as quite a shock.

Hunt raised a shaking hand and spoke up suddenly from his seat next to his lawyer just as Wiesel had finished describing his ordeal in Nazi death camps, where his parents and sister died.

"Mr. Wiesel, I'm sorry for scaring you and I'm sorry you experienced the Holocaust," Hunt said. "My grandfather fought the Nazis and I'm sorry about what happened."

Wiesel did not respond but went on to describe the Feb. 1 incident in which he said Hunt grabbed him from the elevator and demanded that the 78-year-old professor come to his room for an interview. Wiesel said he feared he was being kidnapped and began shouting for help in the empty hallway on the hotel's sixth floor.

"The shock to me was so great I lost a sense of time and of space," said Wiesel, who was not injured.

Hunt, of Vernon, New Jersey, has been in a San Francisco jail psychiatric ward since May, when he was flown to California to face the charges.

His lawyer, San Francisco defense attorney John Runfola, said in an interview Monday that prosecutors had "overcharged" his client.

Runfola said Hunt was not an anti-Semitic stalker, but a man suffering from mental illness. When he confronted Wiesel, he was in the grip of a "manic episode" triggered by his grandfather's death, he said.

The defense has sent the results of a psychiatrist's evaluation to Wiesel along with 20 letters from Hunt's family, friends and teachers describing the incident as deeply out of character for the high school honor student and college graduate, Runfola said.

"I'm hoping that in (Wiesel's) lifelong struggle to help oppressed people, he reaches out to one of them, and that's Eric Hunt," Runfola said.

Period. End of article. Compare and contrast to today's SF Chronicle account. Let's hope the judge has sufficient access to the facts to see through this BS.

Motivation update


Let's review what's developed over the past two days.

The Jerusalem shooter's family publicly announces that he was "incapable of doing such a thing," that he was a nice, quiet guy with no axes to grind and that he was "killed for nothing." They call it "first degree murder" and claim there is no evidence, it's the word of the security guards against a dead man. Apparently no one has clued them in that there is a security videotape.


Meanwhile, let's see,

... the military wings of Fatah, the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – claimed responsibility for the attempted terror attack which they referred to as "a military operation" in Jerusalem.

A joint statement issued by Martyr Abu-Ali Mustafa Brigades (PFLP's military wing), the al-Quds Brigades (the Islamic Jihad's military wing) and Fatah's al-Aqsa Brigades, said that a photo of the "shahid" (martyr) would be presented shortly. On Saturday evening, a poster showing Khatib above the Dome of the Rock and the Koran was released, hailing him as "the martyr of al-Aqsa".

So. No claims that this was a troubled kid with delusions of grandeur and no less than three separate terrorist organizations proudly proclaim him a "shahid" and their poster boy of the week. Any questions?

Well, yes, his motivation still isn't clear, but his intent certainly is. The video clearly shows him stalking the security guards for quite a distance before he grabbed the gun. An investigation is in progress. Who knows? Maybe it was just a practical joke gone bad? Doubtful.

Update to the update: Ah. The shooter/thief/terrorist's father says the video was faked. But of course. This part is especially interesting.

According to Mahmoud Khatib, it is significant that the incident took place next to the Ateret Kohanim yeshiva which he said is housed by "extreme people who try to take over Muslim Jerusalem by buying houses."

I understand there's still some confusion about where this attack took place. But most of the reports are pretty clear. It was in the Christian Quarter, near the Latin Patriarchate, by the Jaffa Gate, which is the equivalent of at least a few blocks' distance from the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva where the security guards worked. Leaving aside the ludicrous description of the yeshiva, someone needs to get his facts straight.

Blaming the victims


It's nothing new. Par for the course, I guess. But still unbearably disgusting.

The Popular Resistance Committees blames captive IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit's family for keeping him in jail, PRC spokesman Abu Mujad said Sunday.

According to Abu Mujad, Schalit's parents have not put enough pressure on the diplomatic echelon in Jerusalem to secure their son's release, Army Radio reported.

Abu Mujad appealed to the Schalit family, saying, "You are neglecting your duty to your son, and your government has left him in the field - not freed him."

Every time I start to think these scum have hit bottom, they manage to dig a little deeper.

DEBKA's bomb


Oh, brother!

DEBKAfile, a Web site founded in 2000 by Shamis and his wife, Diane Shalem, deals with security issues and is run out of Jerusalem. Security sources have sometimes questioned its credibility, saying some of its stories are conspiratorial and over-exaggerated.

DEBKAfile refused to reveal the source of the dirty bomb report, but in response to a query from The Jerusalem Post as to whether the recent "chatter" constituted a genuine threat, an editor at DEBKAfile said that "DEBKAfile has been exposing al-Qaida's activities for eight years."

"We have our sources, and [you can see] that the NYPD acted on our report," the editor said.

Well, yeah, they did. And now they know what many bloggers (and, apparently, "security sources") have known for quite some time now. To add to the mess, don't you just love the AP/JPost headline on this one?

Israeli web site sparks terror alert

The NY Times was much more kind.

The police learned of the threat report from, a Jerusalem-based counterterrorism news site that reported a surge in worrisome electronic chatter on Al Qaeda sites Thursday. The messages, according to, detailed planned attacks against New York, Los Angeles and Miami using trucks carrying radioactive bombs.

Paul J. Browne, the city’s chief police spokesman, said the department began tightening security on Friday evening around bridge and tunnels in Lower Manhattan as a precaution, while checking with intelligence agencies to determine if there was any veracity to the threat. Trucks and sport utility vehicles were stopped and searched in Lower Manhattan, and extra radiological sensors were sent out in police cars, helicopters and boats.

The deployment had been scaled back by midday yesterday after the department determined that no other agency could confirm the threat, Mr. Browne said.

“When intelligence agencies found this was uncorroborated, we backed down,” he said.

Credibility? What's that?



A typical Friday in Jerusalem. Not.

Arab attacker killed in J'lem Old City

A security guard shot and killed an Arab attacker in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday after the man shot and moderately wounded another security guard, police said.

Ten bystanders were lightly to moderately wounded in the shootout - apparently from the guard's gunfire - including six Jews, two Armenians and two Muslims.

Police and rescue officials were on the scene, and a police source told Israel Radio that the "situation was under control."

The late-morning incident occurred near the Latin Patriarchate by the Jaffa Gate, when the assailant grabbed the guard's gun and shot him twice in the chest, Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. The second guard killed the man as he tried to flee the scene.

It's quite remarkable that no one (thank God) was killed other than the attacker. So far, his identity appears to be a mystery. Another mystery, perhaps, is the connection between this incident and the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva. I'm pretty sure the only connection is that the secuity guard who shot the attacker happened to work there. As noted in the JPost report above, the incident took place near the Jaffa Gate. The Yeshiva is down by the Kotel (Western Wall). That's a bit of a hike.

Finally, I'm going to take a page from Meryl's book and point to the Reuters version of this story.

Gun fight in Jerusalem kills one

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A man grabbed a gun from an Israeli security guard and shot him in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, sparking a gun battle in which the attacker was killed and at least 10 others injured, police and medics said.

Israeli police identified the assailant as an "Arab man" between 18 and 20 years old. An Israeli police commander described the man as a "terrorist", though he did not say what may have motivated the shooting.

For Reuters, when a man grabs a gun and starts shooting at people in a crowded market, the effort to stop him is characterized as a "gun fight" and you need to clarify his motivation before you call him a "terrorist." While I agree about the "terrorist" part, I just wish Reuters (among others) would apply a consistent standard for such things. (... not holding my breath ... )

Shabbat Shalom.

Shredding the veil


Kudos to Elder of Ziyon for bringing this issue out into the light. A lot of us talk about how the media and the world-at-large tend to home in like vultures on the death of each of every palestinian arab (or sympathizer therewith) at the hands of an Israeli (whether the Israeli be Jewish or Beduin or Druze) while mostly yawning at the murders of Israeli civilians perpetrated by Arab terrorists. But much of the evidence, while overwhelming, is anecdotal, comparing various news stories and NGO press releases, sound bites and political speeches.

Elder of Ziyon has numbers, and they're very telling numbers, indeed. They're the numbers that are all but ignored by the politicians, pundits and newspapers -- the numbers of palestinian arabs killed by other palestinian arabs. According to his records, 705 in the past 13 months, 504 this year. These are statistics that you'll rarely see. And why? If the world is so terribly wrought up about the "plight of the palestinians" why is it only when Israel can be blamed directly that they bother to notice?

For a round-up of blogs that have been linking this post, many with their own excellent commentary, see this essay by Soccer Dad (a don't miss itself). Read as many as you can. Pass the information along. And Elder of Ziyon updates the count regularly so check back with him (upper right-hand corner) for current numbers.

Now excuse me. I realize I have a long overdue link to add to my blogroll.

God speed, Shoaib


As I mentioned Friday, Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has spent the past week in the U.S. on a brief whirlwind visit to a number of east coast cities, trying to drum up support for his cause. His cause, believe it or not, really isn't the preservation of his life, which is in considerable joepardy at the moment. Not that he would object to that result as well, but his primary concern right now is communicating his message of religious tolerance, interfaith dialogue and encouragement of other truly moderate Muslims.

Shoaib wrapped up his tour this afternoon at the home of a friend of mine in the Philadelphia suburbs, speaking to a small but highly energetic group of supporters and one journalist from a suburban newspaper (the rest of the local media declined the invitation). This was his first visit to America since his arrest in November, 2003, for the crime of planning to attend a writers' peace conference in Israel (a/k/a, in Bangladesh, being an Israeli spy). He has spent 17 months in prison, where he was tortured and denied medical care and prevented from attending his mother's funeral. He has been beaten, bombed and threatened (he showed us some of the scars). Released on bail due largely to the intervention of two Americans, one a workers' comp analyst and community activist, the other a U.S. Congressman, he can't walk the streets of Dhaka, his home, in any degree of safety. When asked what he enjoyed most about his trip here, he said it was his ability to walk. He even thinks he may have lost a few pounds.

One thing Choudhury hasn't lost is his sense of humor. Where he gets it, I can't imagine. He says he finds strength in his anger, his outrage over his own mistreatment, over the threats to his family, over the criminals, as he calls them, who have twisted the teachings of the Koran into a message of hate.

Yes, there were several skeptics (myself included) and a few outright challenges today as he proclaimed that the radical extremist Muslims and those who support them are only a tiny minority. But he appears to believe this sincerely, and would not be shaken, no matter how many times he was asked about it. Muslims are speaking out, he said. We just don't know about it because the media isn't reporting it or, in some cases, is actively blocking it. But I had the sense that much of the time he was speaking more about his experience in Bangladesh than his perception of the rest of the Muslim world.

Dr. Richard Benkin, Shoaib's "brother" (he wouldn't like the scare quotes but in the interest of clarity...), his champion and his host/companion on this tour, clarified that there is a vast difference between Muslim perceptions in the Arab world and those of the Muslim communities in Indonesia and Asia. Choudhury, for example, noted in response to one question about the prevalence of Muslim extremism that the election of Hamas indicates a sickness, that people who vote for terrorists are “rotten.” By contrast, he assures us that Bangladesh is not rotten. Yet. The radicals are still a very small minority there. But they are louder than the moderates and so the government is afraid of them. He says that all governments are afraid of the radicals. But the radicals, he says, are afraid of him.

So where, in Shoaib Choudhury's view, can we find more of these elusive creatures, the "moderate Muslims?" In Mahmoud Abbas, for instance? Hardly, says Choudhury. "If Mahmoud Abbas is a 'moderate Muslim,' then I'm ashamed to be called a 'moderate Muslim.' " He says it's an insult to moderate Muslims, an insult to all Muslims, to call a terrorist like Abbas a "moderate Muslim."

Choudhury notes the vast amounts of money that Saudi Arabia, especially, is pouring into Bangladesh to establish madrassas that teach hatred without restriction. 64,000 madrassas. 3,780 kindergarten madrassas. While other schools require licenses to operate in his country, he says, the madrassas do not and are not subject to supervision. With the high incidence of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy in Bangladesh, these incubators of what he calls criminal ideas have a captive audience. But he believes he can combat their influence with good information and good ideas. He's here to ask us to help in whatever way we can.

One way we can help is by publicizing his situation and his quest. No one has worked harder toward this end than Richard Benkin and U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) who, earlier this year, along with Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) sponsored a House Resolution calling for the trumped up charges against Choudhury to be dropped. The Resolution passed by a resounding vote of 409-1 (Ron Paul being the lone vote against).

So far, our local media hasn't been much help. Neither the Philadelphia Inquirer nor any of our various television and radio outlets could spare anyone to cover Shoaib's appearance today. With all their focus on the imaginary massive "moderate Muslim" presence, they appear uninterested in speaking with a real, live representative of that elusive group, with a Muslim who believes that it's a basic human responsibility to say "no" to jihad, who calls Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his ilk a "disease" and who implores the West to reach out to the victims of that disease. He has gotten coverage, though, in The Wall Street Journal, The NY Sun and The Chicago Tribune. Locally, we have an op-ed in at least one major college paper and now, a story at Main Line Life (pending). Of course, several blogs have been all over this for quite some time. (I first read about Choudury's arrest more than three years ago at

Again, to be clear, Shoaib Choudhury was not in this country to raise money or other support for himself. He was here to help people understand, first hand, his own agenda for Bangladesh: demanding recognition of Israel; eliminating religious hatred; putting an end to the influence of the radical Islamist parties. I would think that’s an agenda worth supporting.

In a more informal session later, outside on the back porch, Choudhury pulls out a pack of Bangladeshi cigarettes and begins chain smoking. He asks if our hosts have anything a little stronger than orange juice. Whiskey or vodka would be fine, thank you. Shoaib is not by any means orthodox in his practice or his interpretation of Islam. The Koran, he had earlier insisted repeatedly and with heat, contains no injunctions to kill or shun Jews and Christians. To the contrary. The hadiths, on the other hand, are largely corrupted, falsified stories by people who didn't even know Muhammed. They are all fake, he says, and a criminal misinterpretation of the message of the Koran.

When asked about his livelihood (his newspaper receives no advertising and always operates in the red), Shoaib reveals that he has his own printing firm and a music business as well. In fact, he composes music himself and has had some of his songs used in Bangladeshi films. Amazingly, he begins to sing one of them for us. We can't understand the words but the melody is quite beautiful and as he taps and clicks out an accompanying beat with his fingers we are all transported. My friend's daughter catches this performance on her digital camera. Someone makes a wry joke that the film will be a real treasure if he's killed. Somehow, this comment fails to dampen the mood even slightly. No one laughs louder than Shoaib Choudhury.



I know of few people who embody it more than this man.

August 3, 2007 – New York – Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, on a rare visit to the United States, personally thanked the American Jewish Committee for supporting his efforts to combat radical Islam and promote Muslim-Jewish relations.

“I cannot afford to let my country fall into the grips of the radicals,” Choudhury declared before a large luncheon at AJC headquarters in New York.

Choudhury, editor of the Weekly Blitz, a major English-language weekly in Bangladesh, has been on trial in Bangladesh for sedition because of his writings on radical Islam and his attempt to visit Israel. His newspaper offices have been bombed, and he has been physically assaulted. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

“We are in the presence of someone unafraid to stand up in a world which needs more people to follow his example and stand together shoulder to shoulder against the forces of hatred, and incitement, who would divide us in the name of religion, in the name of other ideologies,” said AJC Executive Director David A. Harris.

Yes, Choudhury is wrapping up a rare trip to the U.S. In a few days he'll be flying back to Bangladesh to continue his fight, in spite of the mortal danger he faces there. And yet he still maintains his sense of humor about it all.

"When members of the government saw me leave, I bet they said, 'Good, one less headache,'" Mr. Choudhury told members of the American Jewish Committee Thursday. "But when I go back on Sunday, they are going to have twice the headache."

"I am proud to be a Muslim Zionist," Mr. Choudhury said. "My family raised me to be tolerant of other religions."

You can find previous InContext posts about Shoaib Choudhury here, here, here and here.

Meanwhile, his visit isn't over yet. Watch this space.

Shabbat Shalom.



Are we really this far gone?

Rabbis issued an edict on Wednesday barring men and women from attending mixed theaters even though most facilities have segregated entrances and seating.

The edict took effect as early as Thursday when a concert in honor of 82-year-old cantor Ben-Zion Shenker at the Wohl Center in Ramat Gan was canceled.

Organizer David Zaira told Ynet that he had planned to sell over 200 tickets for religious women for whom a separate section was designated. The edict drove Zaira, after consultations with rabbis and other organizers, to cancel the show for fear that making it a men-only event would insult religious women.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amr backed the edict, saying that although men and women were seated separately, there was a danger that they mixed outside theaters.

"Since evenings like these allowed for easy debaucheries if not inside then outside theaters, confusion is easy. Therefore music shows, although segregated, are strictly forbidden," Amr said.

Some religious publications threatened that those who ignore the edict and attend mixed shows would be dismissed from religious educational institutions.

This is a serious threat. It may not sound like much, but it can mean total ostracism from the community. It's like threatening to toss a fish onto dry land. A few days ago, we had this from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel and current "spiritual leader" of Shas

Many prominent Ashkenazi rabbis, along with a few Sephardic sources, have ruled that women should say the blessing after lighting the candles. However, according to Yosef, the blessings should be said before the candles have been kindled, similar to other blessings.

Yosef blasted the opposing view, saying it was based on the opinion of "a few stupid women. A woman's knowledge is only in sewing," he ridiculed. "Women should find other jobs and make hamin (cholent) but not deal with matters of Torah."

In addition, he admonished women for following in the steps of their mothers in the order of the recitation of the blessing instead of adhering to his opinion.

No one contests the depth of Rav Yosef's scholarship or piety but he is, and always has been, a buffoon. His loyal followers excuse, explain and spin but it's out there in plain view.

So is Judaism doomed to the same benighted status as Islam? Or, should I ask, is ultra-Orthodox Judaism doomed to the same benighted status as radical Islam? The simple and obvious answer, of course, is no. The vast majority of Jews in this world aren't even aware that such idiocy exists let alone subscribe to it themselves. In Israel, most people still consider it the lunatic fringe, though they can't help but be aware of it.

But the real answer is more complex, because some believe that it's these extremists who will bear the torch of Judaism into the future. By virtue of their isolation and their high birth rate, the ultra-Orthodox claim that in short order they will be the only true remnant of Israel.

So I suggest that the rest of us take this challenge seriously. Very seriously. Are we ready to abandon the future of Judaism to those who believe that men can't be permitted to attend a public event at which women are present? Or that women are too "silly" or "stupid" to understand the rules that govern their lives? Or will we be able to build a sustainable Jewish culture that allows for equality and tolerance while preserving our identity? This has always been our challenge. So far, I think, we've done pretty well. So far...

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