Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chutzpah of Pres. Obama

I'm still reeling at the chutzpah of President Obama to make a major statement about Israel, putting out his own determination of what Israel should do, just hours before the Prime Minister of that land was due for an official visit.  Apparently Hilary Clinton let Benjamin Netanyau know about Obama's verbal bombshells shortly before they were dropped, and the prime minister's efforts to soften and modify Obama's declarations were ignored.

Seems like major disrespect to me.  And yet, when he got to the White House, Netanyahu behaved graciously, with measured and logical response.  No, Israel can't scale its borders back to the "the 1967 lines" to give away whole cities--400,000 residents' homes--to a new Palestinian state.  What was Obama thinking?

Why would Obama usurp the content and purpose of Netanyahu's planned state visit by creating something so controversial and unexpected that it had to be mopped up?  It's certainly audacious to just propose on TV "that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

Chutzpah to impose his own "should." In his speech, Obama said he understood the difficulty in resolving what has been a stalemate for decades. Then why start negotiating on TV?

Remember in 2005 when Israel turned over Gaza to the Palestinians?  What did they get for that?  Daily rockets showered upon nearby towns.  What Israel got was the destruction of Gush Katif, a successful hydroponic vegetable growing center from which Israel had received perhaps the majority of its fruits and vegetables.  The greenhouses were immediately destroyed by their new caretakers, replaced by rubble and launching pads--that were now closer than they'd ever been.  Nice trade.

I fear the "two state solution" would be, for Palestinians, and certainly Hamas (which won't officially come to the negotiating table, but retains its presence) simply Step One in an ongoing press to eliminate Israel.  Once again, the launching pads will come closer.

I'll be visiting Israel soon, and I'll find out if my viewpoint from afar is validated by people living there. And I'll be eager to see if our president back-pedals or continues his chutzpah in the face of the international community's reaction.

I was very impressed by Prime Minister Netanyahu's response to his meeting with Pres. Obama, but after reminding him of the 4,000-year history of the Jewish people in Israel, enduring "expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions," he said he undertook his role in "fashioning a peace" with humility and little "margin for error...because history will not give the Jewish people another chance."

Every time I visit Israel, as I will over the next few days, I have been impressed that history has not measured the Jewish people by "chances."  In fact, the survival and thriving of the Jews despite repeated attempts at genocide could not be by chance.  Seeing the high-tech cities, innovations in medicine, computer science, communications, and the stylish, cosmopolitan rush of that tiny nation shows the energetic productivity of people whose basis remains their religious heritage--one that values women, and encourages questioning and exploration.  Israel's success reminds us that God is an active party in its determination, and that a president's chutzpah won't do much more than provide fodder for a few days' columns and blogs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Juxtaposing Limitations: "Common" vs. Hawking

I've got so much I'm working on, but just now experienced one of those bizarre juxtapositions that sometimes God sends to flummox us into humility and gratitude.

My fave radio host was discussing Michelle Obama's upcoming White House celebration of poets, one of whom, Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.), is an actor known for his cop-hating, President Bush-indicting raps.  Just so listeners could be appropriately revolted, Fave Host played a particularly noxious excerpt.  I happened to be multi-tasking at the time.

My second task was reading today's New York Times Science section while sipping hot chocolate.  The lead story is an "interview" with scientist Stephen Hawking--painstakingly conducted via his daughter's days-long transmission of questions, and his difficult responses enabled only through computer miracles.  As the world well knows, especially since his mega-best-seller A Brief History of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes, Dr. Hawking is severely physically disabled as a result of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's Disease, which usually kills its victims in a period of a few years.

In the background, with the familiar rap inflection that distorts final syllables to enable rhyme, Common intones, "Tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton; I walk like a warrior, from them I won’t run.  Use your mind and nine-power, get the government touch.  Them boys chat-chat on how him pop gun, I got the black strap to make the cops run..."

Meanwhile, my brain is processing this response from Dr. Hawking to the question, "Given all you've experienced, what words would you offer someone who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, perhaps A.L.S.?"

Here's what Dr. Hawking answered, by, according to The Times, flinching his cheek muscle to "signal an electronic sensor in his eye glasses to transmit instructions to the computer": "My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit, as well as physically."

I burst into tears.  Look what this man has accomplished.  And by comparison, I look at the angry complaining in the "poetry" of the White House honoree.

I'm not commenting on who Mrs. Obama chooses as her poetic role models, or even whether or not she should laud Common as the apex of our nation's artistry.  This isn't about politics, despite Common's lyrical diss of the former president and Dr. Hawking's entry into the health care debate. Or even about religion, despite Common's status as one of Rev. Wright's Chicago church flock, or Dr. Hawking's recent book that attempts to explain our existence without reference to a Creator.

It's just contrast in vision, plain and simple. We can choose to play the victim, even when able-bodied, televised and honored.  Or we can talk about the great pleasures and exciting questions yet to pursue, even when confined to a wheel chair, in a voice created by a machine.  Perhaps it's just the worlds each chooses to explore--a sad microcosm of limitations, or the possibilities of the cosmos.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Death of bin Laden; Death of Hitler

 "Hitler Dead!" "Bin Laden Dead!"  Exactly sixty-six years elapsed between the two headlines, both splashed across newspapers on May 2.

Another "coincidence:"  The day Jews around the world mourn and remember the enormous evil of Hitler's genocide, Yom haShoa, was the very same day Osama bin Laden was eliminated.  Eerie how these two clear reminders of evil--and death--occurred together. 

Jews around the world presently have heightened awareness of days, as we're in the midst of a special period that links the Passover exodus from Egypt to its purpose, receiving the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  Each day we "count the omer," saying aloud the number of days and weeks in this transition.  As part of this, we're ideally preparing ourselves with attention to specific character traits, in order to emulate our biblical ancestors who in unity and lofty spirit replaced their bondage to Pharoah with voluntary service to God.

I've been reading that some well-meaning, soft-hearted people, while glad the threat Osama bin Laden's continued existence posed is gone, refuse to "celebrate" the fact he's dead.  I find this inappropriate.

Yes, I, too, remember the sickening videos of Muslims whooping and jumping for joy when they heard about the 9-11 attacks.  That was particularly heinous and offensive, because the American civilians killed were just going about their daily lives.  They were indiscriminately murdered for the sole purpose of terrorizing and humiliating our nation.

Osama Bin Laden, on the other hand, considered himself a holy warrior.  He not only planned and facilitated the deaths of those 3,000 innocents on 9-11 but masterminded or enabled attacks dating to 1992. In 1998 he signed a fatwa or commanding decree, which includes the following: "We -- with God’s help -- call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it."

Three reasons were offered in the fatwa, the first two rooted in alleged American crusades against Muslims, with a supposed toll (as of Feb. 1998) of a million dead.  The third justification for the fatwa is decidedly anti-Semitic: "...if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there."

Ironically, a 2009 Pew poll found that Arabs in middle eastern countries hold overwhelmingly negative views of Jews--except those who live in Israel.  Only 35% of Israeli Arabs expressed a negative opinion of Jews, while 56% had a positive response.

What we must consider, given the confluence of Yom ha Shoa and the killing of Osama bin Laden is the similarity of target between the Nazis and militant Islamic jihadists.  It all seems to come back to the Jews, a religious group too tiny in number to effect any real rulership or oppression of Muslims, even if it were permitted or desired.  Yom ha Shoa, the remembrance of the unspeakable annihilation of Jews on no basis except heritage, is whispered in Osama's fatwa, and broadened to include an entire nation, or more accurately, western civilization and culture.

America is not only hospitable to Muslims, but even now, officially tiptoes to assure them they are respected and not held responsible for the faction who would destroy us.  Pres. Obama was careful to say in his announcement that Osama "Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries including our own."

I don't think al Queda was aiming for Muslims when it took down the Twin Towers, but I also don't think killing Muslims who defend America would be seen as more than collateral damage to the jihadists who have such low regard for human life, even their own.

Jewish tradition teaches that certain individuals and groups are imbued with a proclivity toward evil, and we remember these destructive forces ("Amalek") yearly before Passover.  As we offer thanks to the courageous American security and military personnel who sought and destroyed Osama--for eight years under President Bush, and for two more under President Obama--we need to remain vigilant and cautious.  On an individual, spiritual level, the timing is right to pursue personal elevation as a means to replace the world's evil with good.

The headlines are just a reminder that little in this world is truly coincidence.