The writer, a 25-year veteran of the I.D.F., served as a field mental health officer and Commander of the Central Psychiatric Military Clinic for Reserve Soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty, he provides consultancy services to NGO’s implementing Psycho trauma and Psychoeducation programs to communities in the North and South of Israel. Ron is a former strategic advisor at the Office of the Chief Foreign Envoy of Judea and Samaria.
Bezalel Smotrich’s Arrogance will weaken Netanyahu in the coming elections
In today’s media generated public discourse, perception is everything. The last thing that Prime Minster Netanyahu needed ahead of the Sept 17 snap elections is the outrage of middle of the road non-religious voters over the remarks of MK Smotrich this week. In case you have been on the moon for the past two days and missed how the media relished at this unexpected media freebie to attack and politically weaken Netanyahu and the Likud party. Smotrich stated in his own words, without “stuttering”, and without “remorse”; speaking Sunday at the Jerusalem Day celebration at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Smotrich said, "We want the justice portfolio, because we want to return the Torah to its foundation." On Monday, he told Reshet Bet radio in an interview, “My long-term desires are for the State of Israel to operate according to the Torah. This is how it should be. This is a Jewish state. The state of the Jewish people will return to being conducted as it was during the days of King David and King Solomon - according to Torah law.”
Only 10 days ago we witnessed the political results of right wing arrogance due to the breakaway New Right party failing to cross the threshold and enter the Knesset weakening the ability of the Likud party to form a coalition and sending the country to snap elections. If there is something that frightens away the secular middle of the road voting bloc is talk of religious coercion in the public sphere and transforming Israel into a Halachic state. Arrogance tends to be protective, of itself and of other ills, says a Chinese proverb, ”It hates humility, and justifies the sin.” Since the recent elections Bezalel Smotrich has become more confident in his self-righteousness, showing a blatant disregard for the political reality that Israel is experiencing. In our era of partisan politics when new technologies spread and facilitate the laser-speed proliferation of inaccurate or out of context information, the damage can be extensive and at times even irreversible. Avigdor Leiberman, the politician solely responsible for preventing the formation of a right wing coalition by Netanyahu, didn’t lose a second running from studio to studio using the statements of Smotrich as evidence that only he and not Netanyahu can safeguard the secular rights of Israelis.
Smotrich seems to have made a decision to transform the National Union party to the party of “know-it-all-ism” elevating it to the party of arrogance and blind conviction. In one major swoop he has branded himself and his party as the party of unrepentant religious extremism and intolerance. On his climb up the political ladder he has evidently decided that rather than being capable of uniting he is reaching out for the leadership of Israel’s most uncompromisingly divisive politician. The upcoming elections may very well be about religion and the State of Modern Israel. The simmering tension in Israeli society between secular-religious-ultra orthodox will resurface and create the politically charged atmosphere that can only benefit the left and the sworn political enemies of Netanyahu and the Likud.
For most of the Israeli public, Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians is more or less over and it’s only a question of time before the Palestinians get it and move on. Israel’s economy is booming and prosperity has trickled down to all segments of society with virtually no unemployment and the level of poverty receding throughout the years of Netanyahu’s terms as Prime Minister. Millions of Israeli’s are flying out abroad to vacation and Israel’s standard of living is reaching heights unseen during the 71 years since Israel’s inception.
The opposition parties and the biased media against Netanyahu and the Likud’s re-election have really nothing left to campaign on or market to the Israeli public. Nothing better than re-branding the Likud as the party that will bring on a Halachic State. Let the public believe that Netanyahu’s re-election will empower Smotrich and the unltra-Orthodox parties to impose their lifestyle on the secular majority in Israel. They will claim that if the Likud is re-elected and Netanyahu is Prime Minister then women will be forced to sit at the back of the bus, culture and leisure venues will be shut down on Shabbat, and so forth. The politics of fear will be deafening and amplified by the biased media who smell an opportunity rarely given to opposition political parties who would otherwise have nothing to offer to the general public other than the threat of religious coercion.
The internal struggle within the right wing bloc has become the single most major obstacle in getting the needed voting majority and forming Israel’s next governing coalition. This divisiveness may very well force a realignment of Israel’s political map forcing political compromises from center-left parties that would be willing to enter Netanyahu’s ruling coalition. It would be ironic that in response to unnecessary political remarks from right wing politicians, center left political parties who had nowhere to go have suddenly become empowered by the very politicians who oppose their political agenda.
Later this month, Netanyahu will be hosting US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolay Patrushev who will be meeting in Jerusalem to discuss regional security issues. “I proposed to [US President Donald] Trump and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to form a US-Russia-Israel trilateral committee that would meet in Jerusalem to discuss the security situation in the Middle East and both of them agreed,” Netanyahu said. “This is unprecedented. A meeting like that has never taken place before in Israel. Never.”
Sadly, the important strategic work still needed to ensure Israel’s military and defense policies, meticulously planned and executed by Prime Minister Netanyahu may very well be a victim of the recent gutter talk of religious coercion, and the politics of fear.
Democratic Party and Progressive activism empower Anti-Semitism
The daily reports of anti-Semitic rhetoric and actual physical attacks on American Jews has become a common occurrence in many American Jewish communities throughout the United States. Despite the denial of most American Jews that I run into during my visits to the tristate area including my current visit; Anti-Semitic rhetoric and physical violence is blatantly condoned and publicly tolerated not only by a small select group of political representatives who have become media darlings and celebrities, but more importantly by mainstream Democratic Party and Progressive political organizational leaders, many of whom are Jewish themselves. This relatively minor and small group of highly visible media personalities are becoming disproportionally tolerant of expressing Anti-Semitic rhetoric empowering Jew haters to act uninhibitedly against Jews anywhere and everywhere. These select and vocal groups of Jew haters have become more brazen, creating a climate that has made anti-Semitism far more permissible and lowers the threshold for Jew haters who take the rhetoric one step further.
Polls show that Americans have a very positive views toward Israel, ranking it among the 10 countries they most favor, above many longtime allies. The greater majority of Americans do not hold anti-Semitic beliefs and do not condone acts of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism just doesn’t turn on most Americans. Polls over the years have shown consistently that only a relatively small minority of Americans held anti-Semitic attitudes and that the scope of the problem has remained just that, a marginal challenge. This being the case, how can we explain headline after headline and Democratic political tolerance and complicity in light of anti-Semitic rhetoric broadcasted and printed daily among America’s leading media outlets; the anti-Semitic cartoon this past week in the New York Times being only the latest example of this alarming trend.
Should our conclusion be that anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence is a result of a hate industry operated by small and highly active individuals and groups who are disproportionately affecting and influencing the public discourse and media dialogue. How long can we continue to blame Muslim Congressional freshmen who express a pervasive revulsion of Jews and Israel condoned only because of a pervasive bigotry of low expectations in regard to their behavior and abilities? Can a process of inoculation to Anti-Semitism become a counter balance to the ever increasing mainstreaming of Anti-Semitism by a disproportional small cadre of Democratic Party politicians, veteran Democratic Jewish politicians and progressive leaders?
Last week’s remarks by Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib on the Holocaust and the shameless media blitz and public support she received from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, encapsulates the problem with today’s Democratic Party and the empowerment they give to blatant Jew haters and enemies of the State of Israel. Last week. Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, made remarks during a Yahoo News podcast interview, stating that the WWII genocide of six million Jews gave her a "calming feeling". Tlaib began by explaining to "Late Night" host Seth Meyers how many of her ancestors "died" or "gave up their livelihood" to provide that safe haven for Jews, which she wanted to "recognize and honor." Tliab unapologetically offered her false anti-Semitic version of history and falsely claimed that the Palestinian Arabs welcomed Jews to the Middle East when Palestinian leader Grand Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini was actually an ally of Adolph Hitler, and coordinated attacks that killed tens of thousands of Jews many of which were recent Holocaust survivors. Tlaib was widely condemned by GOP lawmakers such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz, as well as President Trump, who accused her of "tremendous hatred.” The Democratic support and the support of Progressive allies for stating the notion that she was "calmed" by the Holocaust, is at the heart of the mainstreaming and the legitimizing of the rampant anti-Semitism that is spreading across America.
When social media spreads the word of hating Jews and hating the State of Israel, believers from both the extreme left and the extreme right are inundated with messages and narratives within their world of social media that makes it OK to hate Jews. Individuals and groups who constantly seek affirmation for these hated related beliefs and find their redemption through elected political leaders and a major political leader such as Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, then it’s a relatively small step to go one step further and fulfill anti-Semitic ideation into acts, crossing the emotional threshold and walk into a Synagogue and shoot up Jews praying.
America has joined many parts of the world in which Jews are increasingly unwelcome. Being a Jew now means risking physical violence. Both Jews and Jewish institutions are being targeted with extraordinary cruelty and viciousness. We hear Israel being compared to Nazi Germany and that the Jews control the world, being the source of the world’s maladies. Jews are seen as carriers of a uniquely trans-generational evil. The return of rampant Jew hatred and violence against Jews has made a huge comeback only because major Democratic politicians and progressive opinion makers such as the New York Times are creating a pervasive atmosphere that empowers both the extreme left and the extreme right to rejoice in their hatred and believe that they are on the same wave length, that their hatred is worthy and meaningful.
Jewish Survival after the Holocaust
This week, as Israel will be commemorating the most pivotal event in the history of the world during the last millennium; the Holocaust, and the annihilation of the Six million Jews who perished during this dark period, one cannot escape the sense of “deja vu” as we witness these days Jews being shot in Synagogues, bullied and physically attacked as they walk the streets of major American and European cities; to the daily demarcation and defacing of Jewish stores, Jewish cemeteries, and Jewish institutions. This “new normal” are familiar if not identical to acts during the years of the Holocaust and reminiscent of how the world stood silently by as Jews were singled out, as has been the case throughout the generations.
Seven decades after the end of World War II, most American Jews say remembering the Holocaust is essential to what being Jewish means to them, personally. In a Pew Research Poll “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” in response to the question “What’s Essential to Being Jewish?” the No. 1 “essential” was “remembering the Holocaust.” Seventy-three percent of respondents listed the Holocaust as the primary essential of Jewish identity as opposed to, for example, “Leading an Ethical and Moral Life” (69 percent), “Caring about Israel” (43 percent) and “Observing Jewish law” (19 percent). In other words, most American Jews, living in an incredibly tolerant, open, and accepting society in which they are free to practice their faith, still identify with something that did not happen to them nor did it happen in the country in which they live (and in many cases, did not happen to any members of their family).
Yet despite this overwhelming admission by American Jews, and despite the daily Anti-Semitic events occurring throughout America, more and more voices can be heard stating that it’s time for Jews to get over the Holocaust and suggest that now is the time for Jews to move on and stop making the Holocaust the most pivotal event in Jewish history. These same voices have even suggested that Jews should stop obsessing over the Holocaust. Some Jewish academicians have taken this one step further and are claiming that the modern tradition of commemorating the Holocaust, an event founded on the oppression and persecution of Jews, is actually inhibiting the emergence of a new type of Jew that trusts the world enough to view themselves as an integral part of an open society. They advocate the normalization of the Holocaust and too viewing it in its proper perspective and suggest that the Holocaust is unnecessarily singled out as if it’s more special than other historical events. They claim that although the Holocaust was on a much greater scale and horrifically well-organized, it was far from the first incident of a dominant power killing those deemed “inferior” on trumped up charges, and essentially not that different from what’s going on in recent years in the Middle East.
For many of these liberal Jewish academicians, mankind has been perpetrating horrible atrocities on other human beings for centuries. They seem genuinely puzzled as to why Holocaust denial is even considered a crime in over a dozen countries. Surely, as far as they are concerned, this is an overreaction. Do we arrest those that believe and express the opinion that the world is flat? Why should denial of a historical event even be considered a crime, something detrimental to society?
Historical events, as earth-shattering and history-ending as they seem at the time, eventually fade from the forefront of public consciousness and become memory. When Holocaust survivors will no longer be around, and when there is no more opportunity to let children and educators hear firsthand testimony of the Holocaust, will the Holocaust be just another event studied in world history classes? With all of the effort that has gone into recording testimonies of the Holocaust be enough to preserve historical memory in terms of the magnitude and uniqueness of the Holocaust?
There are few historical events that have undergone greater scrutiny and preservation. Perhaps we can even acknowledge that we’ve done enough to ensure that the Holocaust can never be forgotten. In a moral world, in a world that differentiates between good and evil, right and wrong, this kind of preservation of historical memory would probably suffice. However, today in the age of globalization in which everything is viewed through the prism of cultural relativism, facts and evidence are not enough, the enemies of the Jews and of Israel not only claim that the Jews exaggerate and that the Holocaust was made up so as to justify the establishment of the State of Israel, but they take this one step further and falsely claim that Israel itself is implementing a Holocaust on the Palestinian Arabs living in Judea and Samaria.
Sadly yet not surprising, many Jews are not immune from the politically correct trivialization of the Holocaust and acceptance of universalism as the intellectual context of interpreting world events. Yet, Jewish identity that ignores or belittles or moves beyond the systematic attempt to exterminate the Jewish race seventy-five years ago cannot possibly fathom the significance and importance of the establishment of the State of Israel. The Jewish people made a conscience effort to rebuild out of the ashes of the Holocaust. Those that regard the Holocaust as just another unfortunate event cannot be depended on to understand that for modern Israel, in order to deal with existential threats, Israel must do whatever is necessary to ensure that "never again" will not remain an empty slogan.
Those that depict the Holocaust as just another historical event should be reminded of what the Holocaust was all about. In Daniel Mendelsohn's recent The Lost, A Search for Six of Six Million, he describes in detail the core horror of Nazi action in collaboration with locals in Bolechow, Poland, September 1942:
The story of Mrs. Grynberg was a horrible episode. The Ukrainians and Germans, who had broken into her house, found her giving birth. The weeping entreaties of bystanders didn't help and she was taken from her home in a nightshirt and dragged into the square in front of the town hall. There, she was dragged onto a dumpster in the yard of the town hall with a crowd of Ukrainians present, who cracked jokes and jeered and watched the pain of childbirth as she gave birth to a child. The child was immediately torn from her arms along with its umbilical cord and thrown - It was trampled by the crowd and she was stood on her feet as blood poured out of her. She stood that way for a few hours by the wall of the town hall, afterwards she went with all the others to the train station where they loaded her into a carriage in a train to Belzec.
In every generation, the Jewish people have had to deal with the threat of annihilation. In ancient Egypt, it seemed that the Jews would be gone. In ancient Persia, it looked like Haman would have his way and annihilate the Jewish nation. Yet, all of those so-called great and powerful empires have disappeared never to return and against all odds, we, the Jewish nation are still around. Not just surviving, but thriving not only in Israel but throughout the Jewish world.
The enormity of the Holocaust, however, with the majority of European Jewry being systematically murdered, is a singular event that defies comparison in the last millennium. In retrospect, the Holocaust compels Jews to confront their own Jewishness. After such unspeakable events such as the one described above, every Jew must look inside themselves and consider: Hitler tried to exterminate my people and the world stood by in silence. Will I, through apathy and indifference, become a partner to Hitler? Or will my life convey a testimony to the glory of the Jewish people and its resurrection from the ashes? That is the real reason that it's not the time for Jews to "get over and move beyond" the Holocaust nor agree to rebrand the Holocaust as just another sad episode in world history.
The implications of Netanyahu’s re-election
Benjamin Netanyahu has been declared the winner of an unprecedented fifth term as Israel's prime minister, refusing to be beaten by the combined political force of three former IDF army chiefs; pending bribery and fraud allegations hanging over him; and the combined forces of a hostile broadcast, printed, and digital news media who spent the latter part of the past three years hounding and tarnishing Netanyahu day and night. All have failed to end his political career. Netanyahu, a seasoned conservative politician and a brilliant political tactician, proved once again his ability to lead and overturn what seemed to be a foregone conclusion that he would be ousted.
Throughout the night, initial exit polls had shown that the Likud Party, led by Netanyahu, had lost to the Blue and White Party, led by Benny Gantz. Updated results accounting for the final hours of voting showed Likud leading 35 to 34. The actual number of Knesset mandates will likely change once all votes are tallied and the votes of parties that did not cross the threshold are redistributed. Irrespective of the tight race between the two major parties, the right-wing bloc has won a clear and undisputed majority in the 120-seat Knesset, being swept back into power and forming Israel's new government in the coming days and weeks. Benjamin Netanyahu's path to becoming once again Israel's prime minister will withstand any last-minute surprises as the tallying of votes is completed.
Surprising casualties of the election results were two of the more popular and outspoken right-wing politicians: education minister Naftali Bennett and justice minister Ayelet Shaked, the joint heads of the New Right Party, who appear to have lost their bid to be in the 21st Knesset. At a gathering of his supporters in Bnei Brak, Bennett said he believed that once the soldiers' votes were counted, the party would have enough support to enter the Knesset. "We have always taken care of the soldiers and now they will take care of us," Bennett said. "The New Right will pass, and it will pass very nicely, we just need to be patient. We believe in our path and we will succeed."On the opposing side of the political map, a result of this election is that the Israeli public has chosen to end the historical role and political significance of the Israeli political left, for many of Israel’s voting public, “peace has become a dirty word”. The Likud led platform of Jewish solidarity and support of modern Jewish nationalism based on Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people coupled with unprecedented economic prosperity, has convinced the Israeli public that the Left’s vision of peace, liberal social values, and socialist economic policies belong to the past and have been deemed either as unrealistic at best, or a denial of reality at worst. The never ending conflict with the Palestinians, based on the “land for peace” model is no longer a viable political process due to the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to accept Israel’s existence and the continuing terror raising its ugly head all too frequently.
"The Peace Process”, once the dividing line between left and right in Israeli politics has ceased to be an issue. As the realization that a solution with the Palestinians is unattainable in the near future, so too have the fortunes of left-wing parties leading to their apparent electoral demise. The Leftist version of Israeli society has been effectively ended with the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu to a Fifth term.
An astute observation of the Israeli election results can also have wider implications for the American elections in 2020 and the re-election prospects of President Trump. The results of last nights election show that the Likud’s political strength actually rose despite Netanyahu’s widely media bias espousing politicized accusations and alleged transgressions. The veteran political commentator Yossi Klein has asked in the past “How is it possible that after all the investigations, the suspects, the cases and earthquakes, after everything is out in the open, the Likud gets more than two additional Knesset seats in the polls?” His answer, “It’s been there since the ’50s. It’s no good, it says on the wall. You screwed us then and now we’re getting back at you. Who are ‘we’ and who are ‘you’? ‘We’ are what you once called ‘the second Israel’ and today the ‘periphery.’ ‘We’ are the children of those you threw into all kinds of holes. And who are ‘you’? You are Mapai, you are the police, you are the media, you are the state but we’re punishing you.” Both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu share a loyal base, which feels cheated, deprived, ignored, swindled and oppressed. As a result, both political leaders have in the past and can in the future give so many disenfranchised voters hope and that their struggles are important and can no longer be ignored.
Only this past week, the month of Nisan has arrived and we celebrated Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Our sages teach us that “In Nisan we were redeemed and in Nisan we will be redeemed in the future.” Many in Israel have no doubt that the elections results have a much greater significance for Israel’s future than just another election.