Friday, May 7, 2010

Proximity talks and satellite photos

The inability to see a bigger picture or a broader perspective is often termed as “looking at the forest from the trees.” What I have found is that in addition to this truism, the opposite is also true. One cannot see the reality on the ground when looking at the forest from thousands of miles away. While the former affords the perspective of the limited view by sitting on a soft patch of moss while leaning against the trunk of a tree, far below the leaves and far too deep inside the forest than to be able to see more than a few trees away until it all becomes a blur, the later perspective yields a view where all one can see is a green speck. When looking at the forest from thousands of miles away, but looking up close with the aid of satellite photos, one can't see the leaves of the trees and their distinctive shapes or colors. One can't see the fauna in its natural habitat. One can't see growth or rejuvenation of life from season to season. One can't see how the flora and fauna are interdependent. One can't see when there are challenges and threats to the delicate ecosystem. With the impending beginning of new “proximity talks” to try to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I can’t help but feel that President Obama is attempting to initiate something, albeit well intentioned, while simultaneously being in the forest looking at the trees, and from looking at the forest from thousands of miles away. There’s every reason to question whether Obama really gets it. I can’t help but feel that at every turn, he’s tripping on his good intentions and in the process, making matters worse. Sitting in the forest, after the first 20-30 feet, it seems that all Obama sees is a blur of leaves and trees. Trees and leaves. At a glance, one might think that because the leaves high up, and the trees are rooted in the ground, they are separate and can be dealt with separately. One might think while sitting under a vast green umbrella of foliage that the two don’t relate to one another. One might find an occasional branch on the ground or bed of rotting leaves from the previous fall as being an irritation to the perspective of the two being separate. With all of the intricacies of this ecosystem literally at arm’s length, one might be forgiven for not being able to have the full perspective on life in the forest. Stepping outside the forest may help provide that perspective. However, when looking at the forest from thousands of miles away as Obama also does, he is far too distant and removed to be able to appreciate the things that make the forest unique, or threats to the forest itself, much less how to relate to these. For instance, when Obama started to raise the bar on expectations from Israel as more than those the Palestinians ever demanded just to consider renewing peace talks – total freeze of construction in Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), terming major Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods as “settlements,” and calling upon Israel to freeze construction in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods, by setting such high and unprecedented demands he helped push Palestinian leader Abbas so far up a tree that he got stuck in the leaves. Obama has yet to build a ladder that can reach Abbas, much less help coax him down. Proximity talks are the current best effort, but there’s no sense that this will even bring Abbas down from the tree to the table, much less persuade him to negotiate sincerely if all he sees is Obama relentlessly holding Israel’s feet to the fire while giving the Palestinians a free pass in a way that would make even Yasser Arafat blush. Another reason Obama may be driving Israel and the Palestinians further apart is the Administration’s use of trial balloons to threaten imposing a solution if one cannot be negotiated on Obama’s timetable. Not only does this not bring a solution, it encourages the Palestinians to dig in deeper. Why should Abbas make any concessions if Obama’s position is more extreme than the best offers they have already received, or can expect to get? How does threatening to impose a solution give either party more confidence in the role of the US, or any motivation to proceed and progress in peace talks? It lends one to think that someone is inhaling a little too much of the helium needed to keep these trial balloons afloat. Independently, there is a wide enough gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions and expectations. We don’t need Obama to drive us further apart. But on the ground, in this delicate ecosystem that Obama can’t seem to see, not everything is all bad, and pushing too hard without paying attention to the outcome may yield far worse results. Last fall, shortly after the imposition of the building freeze, I had the privilege to host a group of American Christians in my home. They were greeted by the mayor and who hosted them on a tour of our community and surrounding area. Overlooking an adjacent Arab village, he spoke about the positive relations, partnership and even a new water pipe being built in our community to service the Arab village next door. As we were standing there, two young Arab men from the village approached and greeted the mayor warmly, in fluent Hebrew. They complained to the mayor that the building freeze was hurting them, and that we should continue to build anyway, despite the restriction to do so! Lack of building in our communities is bad for the Arabs financially and, as a result, has the ability to create social problems in their communities and even open the door for Islamist extremists to make headway brainwashing and corrupting them and their kids. More recently, a man just outside the entrance to my community paved over an empty lot and opened a car wash. Had this been an Israeli Jew, no doubt the army would have been there to bulldoze and uproot the crude foundation, the same way Israeli army entered our community to destroy the foundation for a new synagogue they say was poured after the building freeze started. But the entrepreneur was not an Israeli Jew but a Palestinian Arab. Making his new business all the more interesting is that both the printed sign and spray painted graffiti announcing his business are written in Hebrew. Why? It shows that Arabs and Jews are inter reliant. Arabs are living from our business at the car wash, and an adjacent hardware store. Further up the road, more Hebrew signs for “Marble World,” and in other areas Arab doctors advertising in Hebrew as well. We rely on Arab labor to build our communities. In fact, looking outside the main entrance of many Israeli communities in this area one sees a scene reminiscent of a parking lot at a commuter bus or train station. Except the cars are all those of Palestinian Arabs, with the distinctive white and green license plates. Rather than commuting to “Downtown” anywhere, USA, they are parking their cars outside and entering our communities where they are as free to work as they are in their own communities. I don’t have a problem with this at all. In fact, it underscores a thesis of the Netanyahu government to help create economic infrastructures and stability within the Palestinian Authority and help make the quality of life better in little ways that can make a big difference in the long run. I am all for peaceful coexistence and interdependence as long as nobody is trying to kill me, my family or my neighbors, or deny our right to live here. I don’t mean to pick on President Obama, though he’s a big boy and can take care of himself. I want him to succeed. I want there to be peace. A real peace, not one imposed from Washington. But Obama’s efforts are na├»ve and misguided. By trying to make peace by looking at satellite photos of Jewish construction in the West Bank, while sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, he does not comprehend the reality on the ground, and that’s bad for us all. In making sweeping statements and raising the bar higher on Israel, he only lowers the possibility of proximity talks leading to face to face negotiations and a peaceful anything.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Something's Not Kosher With the Rubashkin Case

i received the note below from a friend with a huge trail of people to whom it had been sent. i am always suspect of quotes such as the one stated below, or the notion that watching a clip on YouTube can affect social change, public policy or the outcome of the trial of anyone. I took the liberty of contacting Nathan Lewin to ask if the quote below was attributed to him. if it was, in my mind it would have a lot more weight. But it seemed suspect to me. Mr. Lewin replied that he had never said this and had not see the video until someone told him he was being quoted. he concurred with me, however, that It is an interesting video. the merits of the case are not clear to me personally though the video is compelling. As a former Soviet Jewry activist (you can watch my own YouTube clip from ABC News in 1988 though i make no representation that it will affect any social change and Israel activist, among other things, i do believe in the value of grassroots activism even as simple as letter writing and phone calls. As the video suggests, it's probably worth writing such letters. it even occurred to me to go as high as the White House because politically, if Obama wants to prove he's not anti-Israel or anti-Jewish, while its unthinkable that he might release Jonathan Pollard, perhaps he'd intercede with clemency or a pardon for Rubashkin. but I am not a fan of spreading rumors and myths, even with what may be a valuable and compelling social objective. Lets evaluate the Rubashkin case on the merits, not on a made up quote of a prominent attorney and respected leader in the American Jewish community. to those compelled to write, pass this along with the endorsement of an American Israeli who has seen his days of public protests and quiet activism, and encourage people to write to elected officials as the video suggests. Write letters of support and encouragement to Mr. Rubashkin in jail as well. But lets do so with full integrity and not base it on a myth made up to appeal to the masses. if the case does not have the merits, even though the video has been seen by well more than 100,000 people, no amount of smoke and mirrors will make the cause righteous or the outcome just. Jonathan Feldstein Watch five of my fifteen minutes of fame at BS"D Natt Lewin said if this video on youtube about rubashkin gets 100,000 views it will help sholom mordechai rubashkin very much. Send it to all your contacts. Within less than an hour of sending the prior message about the Rubashkin YouTube piece and that Nat Lewin did not make the statement which was attributed to him, i received several e-mails back, all with the same theme. One from the west coast, someone up late, and several others locally. (see below for a sample) Allow me to clarify for the record and not respond to each individually. it seems that my previous message suggested that I supported the case against the Rubashkin sentencing. i certainly did not mean to suggest that i supported the case. rather i was trying to rebuke those who made up this story about Nat Lewin making such a statement and give them a constructive direction for their efforts that did not offend integrity of the readers, regardless of the merits of the case. One friend asked why would it make a difference what Nat Lewin thinks. My answer is that he is a noted and respected attorney who does take on cases that are generally rooted not only in upholding the law but things that are good for the Jewish community. If he had made such a statement, it would force me to look at the case in a different light. the opposite is also true and it was important to clarify the point. I generally agree that, as some suggested, unless there are extenuating circumstances if you do the crime you do the time. as a former (or more passive) activist, i always weighed how, when, where and under what circumstances it might be worth my being arrested for breaking a law or in a case of civil disobedience, but never thought of breaking the law and running or hiding from the legal outcome, or jail. In one case, knowing full well that a law I was considering violating carried with it a severe jail sentence and fine, i still decided to do it. (aren't you curious? you'll have to wait for the book.) I think the statute of limitations has passed so i can freely own up to it now because to be arrested for this twenty five years later, married with six kids, would definitely be an inconvenience. I have not followed the Rubashkin case. If he violated the law, he should pay the penalty according to the crime he committed. If a sentence is unjust, the US courts provide ways to appeal that. A Jew is obliged by Torah law to uphold the law of the land. if he did not do that, he's also guilty according to Jewish law. Either way, his actions are a brazen chilul hashem, a desecration of God's name. As compelling as the You Tube video was, looking at him in handcuffs, part of my response was embarrassment. the You Tube video is compelling, but i assume does not represent the merits of the case. I was taken however by the part about the sentence being not just a sentence against him, but also against his wife and kids. that may be true ultimately, but it reminds me of how i felt after my father died, wondering (inappropriately) what I HAD DONE to deserve the punishment of my father's death. its a shame that his family will have to go on without him, but this pulling of the heartstrings does not strengthen the case, it weakens it. Rubashkin should have considered the outcome of his actions before doing them, or even corrected the actions after he was engaged in them. as a neighbor of mine said, we should spend much more time trying to get Gilad Shalit home. Rubashkin in jail still gets to exercise and go outdoors, he gets three square (kosher) meals a day, and heat in the winter and a/c in the summer. He has the chance to do tshuva (repentance) for his actions against God and the Jewish community, and rehabilitate himself and have his sentence or incarceration shortened. His family will be able to visit him as well. he can even write a book or sell his story as a TV movie. I dont think that we should be heartless toward him and his family, but i am not convinced that the arrest and imprisonment of a Jew under all circumstances calls for our playing the pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captives) card. this case is weakened in my mind by the falsehood that is being spread that Nat Lewin made a statement he never made. I still do want the hot dogs however. And a package of soft and fluffy kosher hot dog rolls. Oh, and a jar or two of real deli mustard. Not the "spicy brown" fare that passes as the next best thing. that's like drinking blended whiskey, or putting CATSUP on a hot dog. Jonathan Feldstein Watch five of my fifteen minutes of fame at some of the immediate responses i received are: You need to read Postville. Rubashkin is devil spawn. The entire Rubashkin affair has been a terrible chilul hashem and and absolute travisty. The fact that youtube support of any kind containing falsly atrtributed quotes is justthe tip of the iceberg. Thanks for sending the message out. I prefer this type of mail to those who claim thatthe US government is anti-semitic and a bunch of nazis in their treatment of this guy; who has done terrible things that no-one should be allowed to get away... Mr. Rubashkin has been convicted of multiple extremely serious crimes including bank fraud and money laundering, and has been charged with violations of child labor laws and more! Who supports this criminal? And why should we? If we, as the Orthodox community, do not stand up and scream that this sort of behavior is anti-Torah, unethical and immoral, then what right do we have to set ourselves up as G-d - fearing Jews? Rather than make efforts to help people like this, we ought to evict him and declare that he is not a true representative of the holy Jewish people. It is about time that we stop sheltering the crud, clean our cupboards and return to be honest, ethical and moral. not by reading the biased jewish media, but the mainstream one....& then, i beg u, think abt writing another email to yr lg email list, telling them that every time a jew is convicted of a crime, do we jews need to play the pidyon shvuin card or maybe, just maybe, there r jews who r real criminals & deserve the punishment that is meted out & we, the bystanders, shud uphold & respect the law of the land that dealt out the sentence? u touched on this theme a bit in yr email, but not strongly enuf imho. stop with the rubashkin case already! you do the crime, you serve the time. yes, life term is excessive. but rubaskin is a total CHILLUL and he deserves rot. i have gotten many emails this week - mostly from israelis. here, we are sick and tired of this. it has made the entire american jewish community ashamed. we are more angry than anything else. the best part of your email was the hotdogs...yes, i sorely miss them, too!