By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Israel continues to be pushed into a corner, and the corner keeps on getting smaller. Its enemies and friends who force them there keep on getting stronger. Last week, the noose around its tiny, though stiffened, neck tightened a little more.
It is an eis tzarah leYaakov, a very dangerous time for Jews. Ever since the announcement of the founding of Israel, Jews there have been in danger. Ever since Israel came into being, its neighbors have been determined to wipe it off the face of the map. Prime ministers come and go. They plot and plan, negotiate and speak in rising oratory. They pledge fidelity to Western culture and democracy. They are drawn to battle and fight heroically. They seek peace in every way possible. They wonder why it proves elusive.
Being a Yid is a two-sided coin. The lamb that dwells amongst seventy wolves benefits from the remarkable love of her Shepherd, but has to deal with the open animosity and blood-lust of the wild beasts that encircle it.
The posuk at the beginning of Parshas Yisro states that Yisro heard and decided to join the Jewish people. What, asks Rashi, did he hear? Rashi answers that Yisro heard of two confrontations. It was his comprehension of the current events that drew him close. When he heard what transpired at Krias Yam Suf and milchemes Amaleik, he decided that he had to change the trajectory of his life.
Yisro heard about the extraordinary fashion in which Hakadosh Boruch Hu showed that His beloved children were above the laws of nature. He heard that Hashem had demonstrated that the most powerful force in creation, the raging sea, was there to serve His children. But Yisro also heard something else. He heard about the passionate hate and the hostility the nations of the world unleashed toward Klal Yisroel and the inexplicable campaign mounted against them when they were at their strongest.
Yisro understood that there are two indications of truth: the love from the Source of all truth and, inevitably, the hatred by people of deceit. They go hand in hand. They always have and they always will.
Given the historical context, we should never be surprised when the world’s superpowers foist upon tiny Eretz Yisroel illogical and totally unreasonable demands. This has been the historical, oft-repeated pattern.
Now, in 2011, the American president has reminded us of this timeless lesson. Israel should give up its buffer areas, such as the Golan Heights, he says loftily, speaking of compromise when, in fact, what he is asking for is a form of political suicide. It’s puzzling how the president, a supposed man of eloquence and depth, can say the words with a straight face, when the Palestinians and each and every country that surrounds Eretz Yisroel are committed to its destruction. What responsible world leader would urge a country to expose itself to potential genocide?
The wave of anti-Israel sentiment spreading across the new Middle East is a force that the president is well aware of, yet he seems to be facilitating it, rather than fighting it. He pledges, with his sweeping rhetoric, to help the poor Arabs in their quest for democracy and to assist them in their so-called “Arab Spring,” which will supposedly result in a more Western-friendly flow. In fact, what is raging through the Arab world is not a tsunami of democracy, but Islamic radicalism. Instead of fostering the cause of liberty throughout the Arab world, what has been accomplished is the strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood, the parents of Hamas. Every government in the new Middle East is anti-Israel. It may not be conspirational and strange to conclude that the president is attempting to placate and reassure Muslims in an attempt to over-compensate for the killing of Osama bin Laden.
In his response to the president’s speech on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sounded like a teacher chiding a hot-shot student, informing him of some basic facts that he seems to be ignoring. The well-educated president seems blind to the reality that Israel’s neighbors aren’t interested in peace, but in the subjugation of Israel. His grasp of history seems weak. Doesn’t he know that Israel has already been there and done that, exchanged land in the hope of genuine peace, only to be disappointed? Doesn’t he know that all they’ve gotten in exchange for their good intentions is more danger?
In his remarks at the White House Friday, Netanyahu really said nothing new. He simply laid out the facts as they are. One could be forgiven for having believed that the president would have known those oft-repeated and studied facts without having to be lectured about them by the visiting prime minister. Netanyahu summed it up stating succinctly, “Mr. President, it’s not going to happen.”
In his remarks, President Obama created a moral equivalence between Israel and its neighbors, though Israel is a democracy which has repeatedly demonstrated that it desires peace. At the same time, the Palestinians have repeatedly shown in every way they can that they are not interested in peace. Their goal remains what it has been since 1948, namely to erase Israel from the map. They say so in their manifests and in their charters. They say so in their speeches. They say so in their school textbooks and they say so at every opportunity, yet the world chooses to ignore the obvious.
Despite the fact that the Palestinians don’t disguise their agenda with nice platitudes, the world hides behind a blanket of blissful unawareness. It is morally repugnant for an American president to allow the ones engaging in this travesty the comforting notion that they have a friend in the White House.
What our president did, was invite his only real ally in the Middle East for dinner and effectively make sure that there was no place-card for him when he arrived. While Netanyahu was en route to America, the president very ungraciously undermined his position, making it ever more difficult for the prime minister to make serious diplomatic progress during his visit.
Instead of doing the proper thing and first discussing his position with the leader of an ally country, the president rushed to announce and deliver the speech which robbed Israel of its negotiating position, while equating their legitimate positions with those of a fictitious people bent on their destruction.
The lamb is all alone, again.
Now Israel is faced with danger from Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and Barack Obama. Egypt is about to be taken over by radical Islamists. Hezbollah has 50,000 rockets pointed at Israel from land Israel abandoned in Lebanon, because the world promised to send peacekeepers to the area and keep it weapons-rein. Bashar Assad of Syria is murdering protesters. Iran is going nuclear, locking up opposition figures, and hanging people.
The Gaza Strip, which Israel left at the urging of the United States and the rest of the world, and upon receiving written promises from the United States government that this would be their final sacrifice for peace, was supposed to be a test to demonstrate what would happen if the Palestinians got what they were asking for. Would the Palestinians prove worthy peace partners and create a democratic, peace-loving, productive, industrious area, which could lead to a successful state? Any objective observer would have to conclude that the experiment failed. Gaza has become an autocratic terrorist launching pad.
The big winner in all this positioning is the Muslim Brotherhood, who are committed not just to Israel’s destruction, but to the genocide of Jews. They are prepared to inherit Egypt and are active throughout the Middle East. If they are not stopped, they will take over the Arab world, and radicalism will flow, unchecked.
Stability in the Mideast does not begin by squeezing Israel into untenable borders and creating a new beachhead in that space. Stability will come when Iran and all its radical followers are stopped. Peace will arrive when reciprocity becomes the norm. Peace can only come when and if the Arab nations get used to the idea of a non-Islamic state on a small piece of property abutting theirs. It will only come when they recognize that they will not gain by constantly moving the goal posts without offering any concessions in return. Regrettably though, their strategy seems to be working as their tactics continue to bring them closer to their ultimate goal. Without any compromising, they have advanced from being exiled international pariahs to their current position on the precipice of receiving a recognized state.
Obama, on Sunday, tried to dial back what happened on Thursday and Friday. He said, “When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the Children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland.”
To the cheers of the receptive AIPAC crowd, who wanted to believe that Obama really is the friend of Israel they hope he is, the president went on to describe himself as an unshakeable, dependable friend, just asserting friendly candor, telling a friend the necessary, though bitter, truth.
Obama said some nice and important things, among them that “While we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.
“A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of the United States not simply because we share strategic interests… simply because we face common dangers.”
America has “a profound commitment to Israel’s survival as a strong, secure homeland of the Jewish people,” said Obama. “We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood.
“Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority… Make no mistake; we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge… Let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
“You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, ‘Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,’ and ‘efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.
“I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict… The United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate… the US will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.”
Obama reassured Israel and its American friends by saying, “No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and rejecting violence and adhering to all existing agreements.”
He didn’t speak about land Israel has given up unilaterally since 1967 for which they have received nothing in return. He didn’t apologize for pulling the rug out from one of their last negotiating points, now that they are left with less to bargain with. He didn’t say that the Arab dream of dumping all the offspring of the Arabs who ran from Israel in 1948 into the Jewish country is an unrealistic demand which he cannot give credence.
He didn’t say that there is nothing at all sacrosanct about the pre-1967 borders, which were armistice lines never recognized as legal borders. He didn’t slam the proposed Palestinian peace partners for not abiding by the terms of the vaunted Oslo accords, which returned the murderous Arafat from exile and put him in charge of the West Bank and Gaza. He didn’t condemn the PA for indoctrinating its young and old to hate Israel and Jews, instead of preparing them for peace.
He didn’t say that the Arab states occupy land 650 times the size of Israel. He didn’t say that Israel requires the mountain ridges along the Jordan Valley to protect it against nations on the east who have invaded it in the past. He didn’t say that the country is entitled to borders with which to defend itself against its many enemies.
He didn’t speak about the repeated changes of his Thursday speech, and its timing, as Netanyahu was about to depart for a Friday meeting with him to discuss the very touchy topics between friends. Why did the president feel the need to rush out to the State Department and deliver that speech? Israel fought mightily with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to modify the president’s remarks. If this is essentially a dispute between friends, why the resistance to temper the affronting comments?
The real question for us should be: Where does all this leave us, Torah Jews?
By now, it should be painfully obvious that we do not have a friend in the White House. Additionally, the Jewish politicians, those liberal Democrats who seem so proud of their Jewishness and smilingly accept the awards bestowed upon them by fawning Jewish organizations, will do nothing to help the situation. Sure, they will fire off a ceremonial letter and maybe issue a quote to the media to placate their Jewish donors, but that’s it. They will never jeopardize their relationship with the president or dare challenge him behind closed doors. It is “al tivtechu binedivim“ time all over again.
So that leaves us back where we started. Ein lanu al mi lehisha’ein…
The hate has no logical basis and is not grounded in reason, so reasoning with it will get us nowhere. We are alone, with neither friends nor allies. But we are not G-dless. With our eyes raised heavenward, we know what path to take. We know how to make Eretz Yisroel stronger – by strengthening the real Eretz Yisroel.
We know that this is done by seeing past the infrastructure, the shell of political Israel, and investing its inner core, Eretz Yisroel, with meaning and power. We accomplish that by injecting the spiritual nerves which run under the façade of the physical levush with new life. We achieve that by focusing on the tzurah of the holiest of lands and seeing past the chomer.
In Rav Shlomo Wolbe’s classic work, Bein Sheishes Le’asor, he relates a conversation he had with the great Telshe gaon, Rav Mottel Pogromansky.
“I shared with him one of the last sichos I heard from admor Rav Yeruchem, the mashgiach of Mir, who had a deep love for Eretz Yisroel and would follow developments from there with great interest. In 1936, the mashgiach said that sinners would never succeed in building Eretz Yisroel [and] that Eretz Yisroel can only be built in a spirit of kedushah and with commitment to halacha,” writes Rav Wolbe.
“Rav Mottel responded, ‘It’s true. ‘Oiffboi’en kennen zei nisht,’ they cannot build it up, ‘ubber boi’en, kennen zei,’ but they are still able to erect its physical shell. Now Hashgacha must sustain it.'”
These are remarkable words. Eretz Yisroel isn’t the United Nations’ to negotiate, and not even Obama’s to dictate to from the security of his fortress. It’s ours oifftzuboi’en; no one else has that ability.
The lesson of Parshas Bechukosai which we read this past Shabbos rings in our ears. True peace, “Vehishbati chaya ra’ah… ushechavtem ve’ein macharid,“ and true serenity occur as a result of “Bechukosai teileichu.“ The blessings of peace are ours to earn.
So even while we daven for the success of those charged with representing political Israel, the shluchim for the ‘boi’en’, we focus inward, reaffirming our own commitment to strengthening the Torah infrastructure in that country, helping yeshivos, kollelim and organizations dedicated to spreading Yiddishkeit.
It is up to us and our maasim tovim to bring about change in the Middle East. Peace in the city we turn to thrice daily as we pray Shemoneh Esrei depends upon us and our dedication to Torah and its ideals.
No president, prime minister or terrorist, nor any of their trusted confidantes, has the power to effect change in Eretz Yisroel. They cannot impact the lives of anyone within any of borders of Artzeinu Hakedoshah by themselves. They might stand at podiums and nod sagely at press conferences, but the real Eretz Yisroel is only in their reach if we allow it to be by shirking our responsibilities as laid out in the Torah.
It’s up to us. Yerushalayim is the light of the world, and the light of Yerushalayim is Hakadosh Boruch Hu. And we know where and how to find Him.
It is He Who has always been our only true friend in a lonely world; then and now.
Eis tzarah hee leYaakov, umimenah yivashei’ah… Ki Elokim yoshia Tzion.