Stumbling Towards Shalom

In our circles we often discuss the issue of community building.   And the issue is important. But I am convinced we have failed to think deeply enough about what the letter to the Ephesians calls us to: that if we love the Messiah with whom and in whom we are united in His death and resurrection, we must “be eager to maintain the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3).  I am speaking then not of community building, but of community maintenance.

Our Ephesians text reminds those united with Yeshua in His death and resurrection that we participate in seven indissoluble unities established by the Spirit of God:

  • One Body
  • One Spirit
  • One hope of our calling
  • One Lord
  • One Faith
  • One Immersion
  • One God and Father of us all who is over all, and through all, and in all

About Unity

The term for unity used here in Ephesians 4:3, this “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” is henoteis, and it is a term used nowhere else in the B’rith Chadasha but this chapter in Ephesians where it is used twice—in this verse, and again in verse 13, speaking there of when “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah.” And henoteis is the Greek word which gives us the English word, “unity.” Paul’s two uses of the term, in verses 3 and 13 remind us that this unity is both a God-created reality in which we find ourselves now, which we are called to eagerly, even aggressively maintain, and also simultaneously a goal toward which we are to be progressing, with the help of God. It is both a divinely established condition of life (the unity of the Spirit which we are called to maintain) and a divinely mandated goal of action (tthe unity of the faith toward which we are moving).  We are to both maintain and attain.

About Being Eager to Maintain This Unity

Ephesians 4 reminds us to be “eager to maintain (this) unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The verb underlying this eagerness is spoudazo, a term used eleven times in the B’rith Chadasha, seven times in the Pauline writings. How is it used? Paul uses it in 2 Ti 4:9 where it is translated as “Do you best” — Do your best to come to me soon,” and in verse 21, “Do your best to come before winter.” It is also translated the same way in Titus 3:12, where we read, “When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.”  In Gal 2:10, as here in Ephesians, it has the connotation of being eager, “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”

This eager doing of one’s best is more than an emotional state, but also embraces the will to act, so that we read in 1 Th 2:17, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.”

Hebrews underscores this element of effort when it uses the term to say, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.2 Peter 1:10 hovers in the same semantic field, translating the term as in the category of diligence.  “ Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”  And we are told in 1 Timothy 3:15 to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

Therefore in our Ephesians text, the recipients, and we by extension, are called be diligent, eager, to make every effort, to do our best, that is to make it a top priority to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

On Being God’s Maintenance Workers

We’ve looked at unity, and have looked a bit at this eagerness, this readiness, this diligence in pursuing and maintaining this unity as a top priority.  But what does it mean to maintain? Oh, that’s the best saved for last. The term used here is tereo. Both the Delitzsch Hebrew translation and the newer IBS (Israel Bible Society) Hebrew translation use the word shikdu, the third person qal plural imperative of shakad, a term used twelve times in the OT. In modern Hebrew it is used of being diligent or industrious. Biblically, the term overlaps with shamar, “to guard or to watch over.” In this semantic field, the term shakad is used by our Hebrew translators to emphasize the element of wakefulness. And William Mounce reminds us that that tereo “conveys the idea of watching over something closely or guarding—‘to keep, obey, guard, protect.’” It is even used in parallel with shamar in a well known verse from Psalm 127 – Unless the Lord watches (yishmar, 3rd person singular kal imperfect of shamar) over the city, the watchman stays awake  (shakad, 3rd person singular perfect ) in vain.

So here this term, related in Hebrew to our Greek word tereo, is being used of the attentive watchman staying awake on his watch. It is also a term used in the Septuagint and in the B’rith Chadasha of keeping the commandments:  “If you love me you will obey what I command,” and also passages like the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you,” and in James 2:10, “ For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”  It is the term used by Paul when he says, “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Clearly then the text is calling the recipients, and by extension, us, to be alert, watchful, to be shomrei achdut—people who maintain, who guard, who stand watch over the unity of the people of God as a religious duty. This admonition to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace has the thrust of being wakefully watchful to guard and protect the unity which God has created through our communal bond with Messiah. As Eph 2:14 puts it, “He is our peace” he is the living link through whom, in whom, by whose death and resurrection, and for whom we should endeavor to maintain this seven-fold Holy Spirit unity.

On Not Popping a Ligament

Let’s look a moment longer at this bond of peace—Franz Delitzsch calls it an agudah, and the IBS translation calls it a kesher—the Greek term is sundesmos. It is used four times in the B’rith Chadasha. In Colossians, it is used in apposition to the term joints to mean ligaments, because it means that which holds things together.

So what does it mean in our context?  It means there is a God-ordained, unity that can and does disintegrate when we fail to maintain a state of shalom with all others who are united to us by the same Spirit through Yeshua and His resurrection.  This shalom has been established by Messiah, who has broken down dividing walls of hostility that would otherwise separate us into warring and exclusionary factions. Without ligaments to hold things together we cannot walk. Our joints and limbs will not work. And without maintaining this “shalom,” the Messianic Movement is doomed to stumble in its walk and ultimately fall apart.

Bringing It All Home

William S. Campbell writes compellingly about the unity and diversity of the people of God as outlined in the letter to the Ephesians in a marvelous article, “Unity and Diversity in the Church: Transformed Identities and the Peace of Christ in Ephesians.”  In his final paragraph, he applies the lessons of Ephesians to the situation in Northern Ireland. We in the Messianic Jewish world would do well to consider how we ought to apply his application of Ephesians to our own context.  Here is what he says.

For those of us who were born or reside in Northern Ireland, the vision of Christ as peace-maker between divided communities, as the one who truly can remove the enmity and hostility associated with abiding differences-whether in religious, political or cultural affiliation, the letter to the Ephesians has something significant to say. Christ does not merely bring peace of mind, psychological well-being, but shalom , the total health and well-being of being right with God and finding peace even with enemies. To depict the peace that Christ enables merely as a sentimental, internalized emotion experienced only in worship, is to deny the gospel of Christ and its power to transform even the most depraved societies or individuals. ‘He is our peace’ can be a real political challenge, as dedicated groups and individuals of differing persuasions have already demonstrated in the last three decades without concern for their own welfare. It is a real political and social peace that Christ enables and, moreover, demands of those who truly belong to His kingdom. This cannot be a one-sided peace, favoring one group over another, but must take account of the ethnic/cultural differences that cause hostility and end in death and destruction. As Eph 1-2 indicates, through the power of Christ hostility arising from difference can be turned into a cause of celebration of the blessings of God in Christ.

Have hostilities arising from difference have torn, stretched, or severed the ligament of shalom for the Messianic movement so that we cannot walk well with one another and therefore, with God?

Are we exemplifying that lifestyle of shalom among those who are and who remain different as we walk with other Messianic leaders and Messianic Jewish groups other than our own, with the Church, with the Jewish community and the world around us?  In other words, are we taking seriously Paul’s word elsewhere “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18).

I remember years ago helping at a wedding of a friend. This bride, at her rehearsal, was standing on the platform when her bad knee (with an untended to bad ligament) went out of its socket. I still remember seeing that. It meant she had to hobble in order to meet her bridegroom.

Will the same be true for all of us, as we prepare to meet our Bridegroom? Will we be stumbling and falling because of matters untended to?

How are we doing? And what are the prospects for our movement if we do not do better than we are?  The author of the letter to the Hebrews leaves us with a final word about our ligament of peace and how we are walking. . . or not walking well together:

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:12-14).


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On Keeping Your Mouth Shut and Saving a Life

Recently I ran across an article, actually a blog posting, published in a popular Christian venue, in which the author, a Messianic leader in Israel, proceeded to discount the validity of the Jewish claim of a divinely authoritative Oral Law. (To read the article, see here).

Now, I am not going to argue point by point with the author of the article. Nor do I wish to stigmatize or attack him in any way. He is probably a very good man, and a better man than I. His article is most valuable as case in point of a kind of literature and an adversarial posture which I have witnessed since Day One of my coming to Yeshua-faith over fifty years ago. This is that kind of literature which tries to build a case for the superiority and advisability of a certain brand of Yeshua faith, of a Christian religious and social milieu, at the expense of discrediting the Torah way of life to which and for which countless Jews gave their lives, and also at the expense of discrediting “the rabbis” and “the religion of the rabbis.”  Anyone who wants to find such attacks need look no further than the Internet and the back copies of most missionary-to-the-Jews newsletters. However, these kinds of attitudes and statements are to be found not only in the missions culture,  but also sprinkled throughout and around the Messianic Jewish congregational movement.

In this blog post, I simply want to point out why I find this posture and this kind of literature to be grievous and damaging to the cause of representing a credible Yeshua-faith to our fellow Jews.

First, when you read such literature, there are three questions which I believe should be asked and answered. I supply both the questions and my brief answers below.

(1) What do you surmise is the author’s implied audience? In other words, from your vantage point as a reader of the article, what would you postulate is the audience he had in mind when he wrote it? Who was he seeking to inform, motivate, convince, please? 

For this kind of literature, the primary implied audience is the mailing list—the Christian public from which one is seeking support, chiefly financial, but also seeking psychological support, what I term “attaboys.”

The secondary audience is one’s colleagues and coworkers—one’s “crowd.”

The Jews as a people for whom we are responsible before God, to be a comfort to Zion, to commend to them the good news with which we have been entrusted, and the Messiah whom we serve—this people is only peripherally  the audience of such statements and materials.

I know these seem to be harsh words, but I am convinced this is so—even if unconsciously the case.

It does not really matter who the authors of such statements or publications believe themselves to be addressing. The rhetoric indicates that audience better than they may know. Besides, readers are entitled and expected to discern the intended audience from what they  read. The text, not the mind or emotions of the author, is the evidence before us.

(2) Closely related, what  is your best guess as to what the average (NOT exceptional) non-Yeshua-believing Jewish person would be apt to assume about the author?

The average Jew reading material of this sort is most likely to assume that the author is religiously a post-Judaism Jew, or even may consider him to be a self-hating Jew, a paid lackey of the Christian world, somone ignorant of and/or antagonistic to Jewish religion—someone whose person and views are to be avoided by self-respecting Jews.

This is so even when such materials speak of “how much we love our people,” etc. The signals this kind of literature and these kinds of public statements make are so negative, they overwhelm any protestations of “love” and “Jewish loyalty” the authors may make.

(3) On the basis of your best consideration against your answers to the previous two questions, would you judge this article to contribute or to detract from the cause of drawing people to embrace Yeshua faith as an option for average (not exceptional!) self-respecting Jews?

There can be no reasonable doubt that such statements and materials greatly damage the credibility of our cause, and in fact erode our communal bond with our people.  Sure, there will be some Jews who are antagonistic to Judaism and observance who will agree . . . but these Jews are exceptional. And even most of those who will agree will feel decidedly uncomfortable with some missionary type making these statements to a Christian audience: and rightly so!

I will close with a request. In Jewish life there is a principle of “pikuach nefesh” which states that short of idolatry, murder, and adultery, one may do anything to save a life, including breaking any of the mitzvot. As an example, both the Torah and the Newer Testament commend Rahab the Harlot who lied to the representatives of the King of Jericho when he came looking for the Jewish spies. Saving lives was more important than “telling the truth” as if the truth were merely related to delivering accurate data, being devoid of relational components.

Rahab lied: and she is honored for it. (By the way, so did the Jewish midwives at the beginning of the Book of Exodus, and by doing so, they saved countless babies from death, including a fellow named Moses. This is why my grandmother Shifra, was named after one of them!)

If you really believe that the Oral tradition is worthless, that it is founded on spurious foundations, and if, as some do, you are leery of “the religion of the rabbis,” fine. But for the sake of saving Jewish lives, of commending our Messiah to our people, I encourage you to become followers of Rahab: lie. Tell people that the Oral Torah and the religious legacy of our people is honorable, beautiful and holy (which I view it to be), even if that is not your view.

You just may save a life or many lives.

I consider this a far better outcome than discrediting our Messiah and our claim to being a Messianic Judaism because doing such may be popular with one’s fellows or reassuring to some mailing list.

My friends . . .  if we are doing well representing the cause of Messiah to our people, and  if our communities are credible Jewish communities honoring Yeshua the Messiah in the midst of Jewish life, as signs, demonstrations and catalysts of God’s consummating purposes for our people, ignore my appeal. But if you recognize the truth of what I am saying, please pray about and discuss what we are going to do about it.

And if you have real objections to Jewish religious culture, practice pikuach nefesh. For God’s sake, and to save lives, lie.

I am certain that some reading this will become fixated on that last bit of advice I just gave, while ignoring the horrific results that follow upon this tradition of contempt which reeks like deadly black mold from the floorboards of our institutions. It’s all a matter of focus, and a matter of what’s more important to you: defending the party line and ignoring its effect on the cause you claim to serve, or catching someone like me in a communal no-no.

Think about it.



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When Yeshua/Jesus Was Born and What Not To Do About It

When I was a kid, and there were still knights in shining armor,  Maid Marian was kid Marian, Robin hadn’t gotten his hood, and the Sheriff of Nottingham was just learning to think scurrilous thoughts, no one ever said, “It’s just not biblical to celebrate Christmas, and Jesus wasn’t born in December anyway! He was born on Sukkot!”  At that time, pretty much everyone realized that December 25 was just a time when it was traditional for many to celebrate the birth of Jesus, although the Eastern Church does so on January 6.

Nowadays, though, I occasionally run into people for whom this is a BIG deal. Not only is celebrating His birth on “the right day” considered important, and not only are arguments about Sukkot being for sure the right time zealously championed, but celebrating  Christmas according to the church calendar is rejected as if rooted in the Whore of Babylon, something from which we must all come out.

This kind of discussion appeals to some people, and is even of interest academically. That is fine. The problem is when we find people for whom a pet date for Yeshua’s birth is a non-negotiable article of faith, obliging the enlightened to correct or reject those who don’t hold to that date, while judging them to be, if not simply misinformed, then surely deceived, and indifferent to the contaminating effects of grieving God with their unbiblical calendar.

To which I say, HOLD IT!

Now for starters, I am not big on Christmas. I don’t have a tree, don’t wear a Santa Claus suit, don’t have a creche, and don’t conduct an inquisition about over who does and does not do these things.  But I will say this: whenever people get nostril-flaringly adamant about this day, that day, or the other, I get the creeps.

And of course we all know that Paul reminds us not to get all steamed up over such things (see Romans 14:5, for example), but that is not my line of argument here. My concern is over what kinds of communities we are forming.

Here’s the problem.

When we form communities that get hot and bothered over the right day to celebrate the birth of Messiah, especially when they view those who disagree with them to be defectors from the True Faith, or to be defective in some manner; when we have people who pride themselves on being “more biblical than thou” on such matters; when we form communities fixated on such issues, we are very much in danger of creating sectarian looney bins, marginal groups for marginal people, which will attract no one but the religiously fixated. But don’t believe me: ask yourself: What kinds of people are such hyper-intense religiously preoccupied groups likely to attract?  Will such groups attract normal Jewish people who see modeled for them sane and balanced Jewish community that honors Yeshua as Messiah? Will these groups attract healthy everyday people? Or won’t they rather attract the religiously fixated looking for an elite religion?

The answers are not only obvious: they should concern us greatly because they point to reasons why our movement fails to win the respect, interest, and faith of many Jews.  Am I wrong? I wish I were!

Here is how I would quickly refute this date-preoccupied mentality. Those who feel that it is crucial that we not celebrate Christmas because it is a pagan-rooted holiday should immediately forsake the common calendar, because  the names of the months are all modeled after pagan gods, like January, which is named after the Roman god, Janus. Furthermore, such people must as soon as possible also forsake using the names of the days, because all of them are pagan too. No more Monday because that is Moonday, etc.  Are any of you prepared to live this way? And will people flock to your gates because you are so compellingly “biblical?”

This whole preoccupation with avoiding “the pagan roots of Christmas” is based on what is termed the genetic fallacy–that something should and may be fairly evaluated on the basis of its origin.  This is FALSE.  Things should be evaluated on the basis of their use, not their origin.  The Star Spangled Banner’s melody was taken from a pagan themed song which said “entwined (is) the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’ vine.” And Wikipedia reminds us that “the song (titled ‘To Anacreon in Heaven’), through its bawdy lyrics, gained popularity in London and elsewhere.”  Now obviously we can’t continue to sing the Star Spangled Banner because of its pagan roots.  Then, if we practice the genetic fallacy, we should, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, cease having birthday parties, because the only birthdays celebrated in the Bible are those of pagan kings, Pharaoh and Herod.

The ultimate disproof of the genetic fallacy is Solomon’s Temple,  which was built on the floor plan of Phoenician temples where children were sacrificed to idols to the sound of pipes and drums (remember Solomon had the aid of Phoenician builders).  Yet the Temple was a place where God was pleased to manifest His presence over the Mercy Seat because it is use rather than origin which determines something’s sanctity or lack of it.

And here’s another refutation. Most of us are big on celebrating the seventh day sabbath. But suppose we ran across scholarly arguments “proving” that the world began on a Tuesday, and that therefore the seventh day would be a Monday.  Would that rightly result in people bailing out on Saturday as shabbat because it wasn’t biblical?  Would that rightly result in groups splitting off and beginning to celebrate the true and biblical seventh day sabbath, from midnight Sunday to midnight Monday?  I sure hope not. I hope we all agree that the key here is that the sabbath should be celebrated, NOT that if you’ve got the day wrong nothing else counts.

Now I am not ridiculing or minimizing the right of people to have convictions on which day is best for the celebration of Messiah’s birth. Each should be persuaded in his/her own mind, and is more than entitled to his/her own convictions. In fact, some of the arguments about the Sukkot date sound pretty convincing, and the shepherds certainly weren’t tending their flocks by night in the fields in December! That is a good point!

But when we become nostril-flaringly adamant about such things, when we patronize or denounce others whom we deem to be “less biblical” or less pure than ourselves, when we derive a sense of the rightness of our group because of our championing of such issues; when we become distressed over whether we’ve got the absolutely “right” position on these things, then we are very much in danger of becoming sectarian and even borderline cultic. Under such influences, the Messianic Movement would become an even more marginal movement, to be judged the lunatic fringe by most balanced people, including the Jewish people who are supposedly of special concern to us.

So have your convictions. But please don’t major in the minors, because doing so brings no health or blessing to anyone.

But more to the point, it looks downright strange.  Even to God.

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Toward Making Christmas Once Again A Jewish Holiday

I grew up over a Brooklyn storefront exactly like these.  The weather is familiar too!

I remember when I was a kid growing up in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, New York. I like to say that the Protestant Reformation hadn’t happened yet where I grew up. You were either Jewish, Italian or Irish, and if you weren’t a Jew, you were Catholic. Period. Oh, there were Protestants around, I guess, but they were invisible compared to the others of us—Catholics and Jews all.

Of course, Christmas made its freezing entrance every year, and snow was a yearly phenomenon. So were Christmas carols. And without anyone explaining anything to me, I just knew that when they sang, “Born is the King of Israel,” that somehow the Christians didn’t mean Israel the way I thought of Israel.  When I thought of Israel, I thought of Jews, people like my Yeshiva attending cousins, and my grandmother, uncle and aunt in Boro Park. For them, and for me, somehow this infant born in a manger was a stranger, and the good news wrapped up in those swaddling clothes was good news for the other guy. Somehow we Jews were still out in the cold, along with Frosty the Snowman, Suzie Snowflake, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph and Mr. and Mrs. Ho Ho Ho.

Somehow, in both Jewish and Christian thought, the coming of Jesus is seen as good news for Christians, but not for Jews, although some would say it was good news for the Jews once upon and a time and will be again in the sweet bye and bye. But meanwhile, the Israel of Christmas is not really Israel, and the coming of Jesus is somebody else’s good news.

For those interested in seeing Jesus rewrapped so Jews might gladly open the present as if it were really for them, read on.

Jesus has become a stranger to Jews just as he has become the property of Christians.  What needs to happen is for many Christians to examine whether the Jesus of their faith has replaced Judaism or whether he is Judaism-friendly. It won’t be enough to say that Jesus was raised a Jew and that He kept Torah. The problem is that much Christian theologizing . . . and hymnody . . . enshrines a Jesus who outgrew or replaced Judaism. And as long as Christians think that way, don’t be surprised if Jews think of Jesus as at best a former Jew. And that is a concept as cold as a Brooklyn December.

Besides conceiving of Jesus as Judaism-friendly, there is a second challenge for those Christians who would have their Jewish friends see him as not only good news for the Jews, but also Jewish good news. And that challenge is for fine and aware Christians to reconnect with how the Christ who was born in Bethlehem, died at Calvary, and rose from the dead, remains the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Son of David, the King of the Jews who one day will return to bring to fruition all the promises God made to that chosen nation. The many Christians who deny that this is how the story ends should not be surprised when there is no room for their Jesus in the Jewish inn.

For the rest of you, who are more adventurous, read still further.

  1. Learn to talk about Jesus in biblical terms, as being good news for Israel and the nations. The Bible consistently speaks in these terms, rather than seeing the gospel as good news for an undifferentiated humanity. This is why Paul will speak in Romans chapter eleven of the fullness of Israel and the fullness of the nations—TWO fullnesses corresponding to this rhetorical rhythm of the Bible’s theological grammar. Jesus was, is, and will in the future be good news for the Jews first, and only therefore good news for the Gentiles.
  2. Whenever you discuss Jesus with Jewish people, stress the truth—that this is something Jewish which changed your people’s destiny. Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger, formerly Archbishop of Paris, whose Jewish mother died at Auschwitz, consistently reminded Gentiles that they were from pagan stock. He wanted them never to lose track of the Jewishness of the salvation message, and of how they were by nature wild shoots grafted into a Jewish olive tree. Follow his lead: get reacquainted with the fact that once your people were without hope and without God in the world because you were separated from the Commonwealth of Israel (see Ephesians, chapter two).  The Jewish people remain natural branches even apart from belief in Jesus—so there is no need to create a commonality between Him and them. You just need to rediscover and reemphasize it.
  3. I guess what I am saying is this: it is time to rewrap Jesus.  Let’s return Him to being the kind of package about whom the angels sang, “Unto you (the Jews, in this context) is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Messiah, the Lord.”  Good news for the Jews first . . . and also for the Gentiles. Ho ho ho.
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Davvening with Thirteen Dwarves and a Hobbit

I recently had the great pleasure of seeing the new Hobbit movie, accompanying my daughter and also my wife, who spent a considerable part of her youth rambling about in Middle Earth. The movie was, of course, fantastic. Peter Jackson is a wizard, no less so than Gandalf, and the visual aspects of the film alone are bewitching.

There is a scene early in the film where the young Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, first meets thirteen dwarves, led by their king, Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain.  These dwarves are leaders of a refugee community, living in exile from their home from which they had been driven by the dragon Smaug.

In this scene, having eaten a sumptuous meal courtesy of Bilbo’s reluctant hospitality, the dwarves are gathered around their king, in sober contemplation, as he leads them in a dirge about their longed for home, and how they were driven from it. It is an iconic, penetrating scene.  And as I watched it, I realized it is a perfect representation of a major aspect of what davvening, group liturgical prayer, is for Jews.

When Jews gather to pray, we too sing of our history, of departed glories, of communal tragedies, of supernatural intervention, and of a longing for a home and glorious condition from which we know ourselves to be exiled. This practice is no odious duty, but expresses our recognition of and participation in a trans-generational communal drama which goes back to the roots of our people, and forward to the prophesied glorious consummation.

See the movie, and if you are Jewish, get reacquainted or more deeply acquainted, or even for the first time acquainted with Jewish liturgical prayer.  The story, the tragedies, the glories to come are our legacy. And as was true for Bilbo, Thorin, and their group, there are fearsome battles and dangers to be faced. This is no passive waiting, but rather battling toward a consummation that is sure, yet hangs in the balance.

This tension between suffering and glory, recurring over and over again in Scripture is perhaps best expressed in this verse from the Psalms:  “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19), and by this word from the Risen Messiah speaking to a couple of clueless disciples after the resurrection, “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26).

Sufferings first, glories later, but meanwhile, communal struggle and remembrance in song: davvening with dwarves, and sometimes with giants.

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Sympathy for Esau and The Arab/Israel Conflict

With all the rhetoric flying about the Arabs and Israeli Jews these days, it is easy, perhaps guaranteed, that we will lose our perspective in one direction or another. Some view the Arabs as entirely at fault, others view Israel to be entirely at fault. Proponents on each side have narratives which both generate and justify their positions on the matter. Such outlooks are always flawed and biased to one degree or another because of our human natures, both personal and social. We tend to justify positions already taken and discount those previously rejected. Thus we become more and more entrenched in positions that are as much reactionary as anything else.

The Torah reading this past Shabbat brings to mind a factor which I would like to throw into the mix. I do so as a committed Zionist. Nevertheless, in keeping with hints in Scripture, I want to speak today about sympathy for Esau. The Arabs of today are not descended from him, but they seem to find themselves in an analogous position.  I think there is something to learn here.

Although Scripture records Esau’s/Edom’s later descendants becoming implacable enemies of the Jewish people (before they were eventually absorbed into the Jewish people, in fact. as Idumeans), we do well to look at the formative events of Esau’s psyche. He was the first-born twin, who came out of the birth canal before his brother Jacob, who was grasping Esau’s heel as he came out. This became something of a family story, as such births are apt to be, and here from the get-go, we find him being on the short end of what might regarded as the ambitious energies of his brother.

This ambition becomes apparent later when, one day after a hard day of hunting, Esau comes in out of the field famished. His brother is preparing a pot of red lentil stew. Esau is appetite-driven, and, smelling the stew, asks that Jacob give him “some of that red stuff.” Jacob, aware and proactive like his mother Rebekkah, bargains, saying. “First, give me your birthright in exchange for the stew.”  Esau foolishly comments, “Look. I’d dying from hunger here!  What do I need a birthright for? I need that stew!  So here, the birthright is yours, but give me the stew.” The transaction is completed, but Esau will spend the rest of his days regretting it.

Jacob is the more contemplative of the two, and his mother’s favorite, while Esau grows up as his father’s favorite, which the text attributes not simply to Esau’s status as the first-born but also to Isaac’s attachment to the venison he ate, which had been brought to the table by Esau, his outdoorsy, huntsman son.  Isaac his father is an old man, and his wife, Rebekkah seems the more energetic and savvy of the two. As the old man nears his death, she contrives with Jacob to usurp the patriarchal blessing that the old man will be giving from bed as his days are winding to an end. Posing as Esau, Jacob brings his father some meat such as he loves, and the old man, quite blind, is fooled into thinking that it is Esau who stands before him. So he gives to this son before him a huge blessing, wealth and superiority of position and honor over his brother.

When Esau finds out about this, he is devastated and what follows is a poignant scene:

As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully, and he has taken away your blessing.” 36 Esau said, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” 37 Isaac answered and said to Esau, “Behold, I have made him lord over you, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” 38 Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.

39 Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:

“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high.

40 By your sword you shall live,

and you shall serve your brother;

but when you grow restless

you shall break his yoke from your neck.”

41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

We can see that this is at best a consolation prize. All he can expect is that some day he will get out from under his brother’s thumb.  Not much to hope for, and quite a blow to Esau’s honor. But it is too easy to blame Jacob for all of this, as do Isaac and Esau. Remember that Rebekkah had been told by God when the twins were still in her womb, “The elder shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23).  In her plans with Jacob to get the patriarchal blessing, she and he were following the will of God as she knew it. And let’s remember too that Esau may just be reaping here what his carelessness has sown: it was he who discarded his birthright at a time when he was hungry after a fruitless day of hunting, at a time when he said in effect. “What need to I have of a birthright? I’m famished!”  His foolishness caught up with him, and as the Book of Proverbs will later remind us, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD” (19:3),  or in this case, against his brother.

But we need to reserve some sympathy for Esau. His brother was Mom’s favorite, and whereas Jacob seemingly can do nothing wrong, Esau can do nothing right. First he marries Canaanite women, which greatly displeases his mother especially. Then, after he sees her sending Jacob off to Paddan Aram to instead marry a relative, he goes and marries women who are daughters of his uncle Ishmael, but again, these are not quite what Rebekkah had in mind, and again, for Esau, it is “Close, but no cigar.”

While today’s Arabs are not descendants of Esau, still Arabs today feel skunked by the descendants of Jacob. They feel themselves to be unfavored in some way, craving the blessing that seems to have fallen upon Jacob’s side of the family. They feel their honor to be besmirched, and many are murderous in intent.

I do not anticipate a solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict. I feel it is two primal to be resolved by diplomacy, no matter how skilled. But any attempt to bring peace, even temporary peace between the warring parties ought to keep in mind how the Arabs feel perennially one down to the Jewish people, who in their view, have stolen what rightly belongs to others.

To forget this is a worse blindness than that of Isaac: to forget this is to be willfully blind.


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The West Bank: Why Some Are So Hot and Bothered

Recently I have been in dialogue with friends both from the Right and from the Left about all kinds of subjects pertaining to the upcoming Presidential Election.  It has been impassioned, informative, intelligent and I for one have certainly learned a thing or two . . . or more.

A couple of days ago our discussion turned to Israel, and one very intelligent participant (they are ALL very intelligent, by the way) discussed what she viewed to be Israel’s intransigence concerning the West Bank, which Israelis term “Judea and Samaria.”  Since this dovetails with my recent blogging, I thought I would address that issue today: What is the West Bank and why do many Israelis, especially from the Right, feel so strongly about it?

Wikipedia tell us that the West Bank is

a landlocked geographical area, located in Western Asia. To the west, north, and south, the West Bank shares borders with the state of Israel. To the east, across the Jordan River, lies the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The West Bank also contains a significant coastline along the western bank of the Dead Sea.

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has a land area of 5,640 km2 and 220 km2 water, the northwest quarter of the Dead Sea. It has an estimated population of 2,622,544 (June 2012). More than 80 percent, about 2,000,000, are Palestinian Arabs, approximately 500,000 are Jewish Israelis living in the West Bank,[3] including about 192,000 in East Jerusalem,in Israeli settlements. The international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Many Israeli Jews and American Jews, and others as well, feel very strongly that this territory belongs to the Jews by Divine grant. This area is almost identical with that area known as “the mountains of Israel,” an area at the heart of the Land promised by God to the children of Israel. The area is commonly called “Judea and Samaria,” the inheritance of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim and Manasseh. To its credit, even a Palestinian website admits this (because the Bible cannot be dismissed). Here is what they say:

Zionists and their supporters have used history as a weapon and eyewash stating that Jews are indigenous people of Judea and Samaria, that this was the region given to them thousands of years ago by the “Divine”, only to entitle themselves to the land. They further claim that the name Palestine was given to the region after Arabs came here which has been proved wrong as this was always “the land of Philistines”.

Jews zealously assert that Palestine was given to them by the God and they did not snatch it, they have only come back to the land which was rightfully theirs. As far as the roots of these names concern, Samaria is the Biblical name for the area now known as northern West Bank, while Judea is the Biblical name for the Southern region whose capital is Palestine. In keeping with this, both Judea and Samaria refer to the territory which is now known as West Bank.

These ancient titles are purposely taken up by the Zionists to justify their claim on the West Bank on religious grounds. History reveals that these two territories were once a united kingdom under the rule of kings David and Solomon which later split into two separate kingdoms who were often at war with each other. Judea, which was also known as the Kingdom of Judah, was a monarchy which included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin alone over which the House of David enjoyed a continued primacy until the fall of Jerusalem. After its fall, the southern kingdom of Judea continued being ruled by the kings of Judah while northern Samaria went under the rule of the Israeli kings.

The name “West Bank” was given to the region after the war of independence in 1948 by Jordan when Arab armies took over these areas. This is the area which is spread on the west of the Jordan River and east of Jerusalem, covering a land space of about 5,900 square kilometers. Its most populated areas include Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron and Nablus. (See

The mountains of Israel are a very significant area to all who are familiar with the biblical text because so many locations central to the Bible’s story are found there. Here are some others of them, besides those mentioned on the Palestinian website:

  • Bethel – this is where Jacob had his ladder dream, where his name was changed to Israel, etc.
  • Ai – Abram at one point pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai. And Joshua and the children of Israel fought to capture it twice, the first time unsuccessfully (Josh 7),
  • Shiloh – where the Tabernacle was pitched prior to building the First Temple; where Samuel served as a boy with Eli the priest; a center of Israelite worship.
  • Shechem – are where the bones of Joseph are buried (Josh 24:30, 32)
  • Bethany – home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus
  • Jerusalem

Thinking geo-politically with the Bible in hand, we see that God is the true owner of the Land (Lev 25:23) and he gives it to whomever he chooses.  Biblical language repeatedly underscores this, such as in the Book of the Prophet Joel 3:2 – “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land.”  We ought not to miss these terms of special intimacy: “my people an my heritage Israel . . . . my land.”  These realities are foundational to any fair dealing with the biblical text as invoked to address contemporary realities in the Middle East.

It is common in some circles to protest that the Jewish state falls short of the righteousness that God requires, and that therefore any Land promises cannot rightly be applied to them.  It is true that in 2 Chron 7:20 and elsewhere we see that God can remove his people from the Land when it suits him – “Then I will pluck you up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.” However this does not cancel Israel’s inheritance rights: it merely prevents them from enjoying that inheritance for a given time.

But of course God can and does restore the Jewish people to the Land when he deems it appropriate to do so.  Psalm 85 reflects on this dynamic –

Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.

You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah

You withdrew all your wrath;

It is most instructive to read Ezekiel 35, where God pronounces harsh judgments upon nations around Israel who preseume that this land is up for grabs and that is no longer the patrimony of the Jewish people. In the next chapter,  God stresses that he will bring the Jewish people back to the area despite their spiritual failures, not because of their righteousness; “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. . . . It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel” (Ezek 36:22, 32).

Of course such passages conflict with current political realities, as the Palestinian website material at the top of this study illustrates. Here is a sampling of some other texts from the Ezekiel context concerning God, Israel, and this region.  Notice how for the prophet the mountains of Israel, Judea and Samaria, the West Bank are at the center of God’s final plans.

Ezekiel 34:13-14 – And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

Ezekiel 35:12  I have heard all the revilings that you uttered against the mountains of Israel, saying, ‘They are laid desolate; they are given us to devour.

Ezekiel 36:4,6,8   – therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God: Thus says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the ravines and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted cities, which have become a prey and derision to the rest of the nations all around . . .Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I have spoken in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the reproach of the nations. . . “But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home.

Ezekiel 37:22   – And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms.

And Ezekiel 38:8, and 39:2, 4 speak of how he deals with final enemy forces, Gog and Magog, cryptic names mentioned toward the end of the book —  “After many days you will be mustered. In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste. Its people were brought out from the peoples and now dwell securely, all of them. . . . And I will turn you about and drive you forward, and bring you up from the uttermost parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. . . . You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured.”

Of course there are other issues that must be discussed in dealing with the current Middle East conflict. If it was all a matter of who has the best Bible verses, it might have been settled long ago!  But my intention here has been to clarify some of the textual reasons that many in Israel and beyond feel so impassioned about the region, that it must be in Jewish hands.

These texts won’t go away, and whoever deals with the disposition of these territories will have to answer to those people who take them very seriously.

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The Perfect Follow Up to the Previous Posting: A Cogent Arab Analysis of the Situation in the Middle East

I don’t expect I will ever do this again, but my friend Dr. Michael Rydelnik just posted this on his Facebook page, saying it was “amazing.”  And it is.  Here is an Arab journalist speaking with a level of courage and integrity such as leave me breathless. What say you? Please leave comments here on this blog, or on my Facebook page.

Now, pause to marvel.


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The Reversal of Causality: The Great Middle Eastern Flip Flop

It is almost embarrassing to offer this post because the facts seem so obvious, at least to me. And yet, there are many out there too young to have gained a reliable historical perspective on the Middle East,  and others out there who have so drunk the Kool-Aid of propaganda that they cannot see what is so obvious, something that must be seen clearly if one would rightly assess the Middle Eastern situation.

And what is that obvious matter? Just this: since 1967, the Palestinians and the Arabs allied with them have succeeded in devictimizing Israel in the public eye, while increasingly presenting the Arab peoples as the true victims. This is not so much a matter of facts as of perspective: it is what we might call “The Great Middle Eastern Flip Flop.” 

Explaining requires that we first consider a pattern of events from 1948 to 1967, as mapped by Benjamin Netanyahu in A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations:

  • 1948 – When it declared statehood, Israel was attacked by the armed forces of  Egypt, Syria, Transjordan (now called Jordan), Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which were successfully repelled;
  • 1950’s – Succession of cross-border attacks against Israel;
  • 1956 – Israel appeals to the United States to keep its written pledge to keep the Straits of Tiran open.  America claims they cannot find the document!
  • Israel captures the Sinai in response to these attacks, and unilaterally returns territory to Egypt;
  • 1960’s – Succession of cross-border attacks from the Golan Heights (in the north, Syrians shelling Israel from above), and from the PLO in Jordan;
  • April 1967 – Syrians seek to divert head waters of the Jordan River, thus jeopardizing Israel’s agriculture and existence;
  • May 1967 –  Egypt, Syria and Jordan publicly pledge to attack Israel;
  • May 25, 1967 – Gamal Abdul Nasser declares intent “to exterminate Israel for all time.” Troops begin to amass on the border;
  • May 30, 1967 – Jordan’s King Hussein goes on radio urging the Arab peoples to “kill the Jews wherever you find them.”
  • Leading up to the 6-Day War, Arab military superiority is 5:1 in artillery; 2.4:1 in planes, and 2.3:1 in tanks.
  • Israel delivers a pre-emptive strike and wipes out Egypt’s Air Force on the ground, as well as that of Jordan and Syria, giving Israel  superior air cover.  While Egypt had provoked this action, Israel did not fire on Jordan or Syria until they themselves attacked;
  • In the 6-Day War, Israel loses 777 soldiers, while Hussein of Jordan loses control of the territories his grandfather seized courtesy of Britain in 1948, Syria loses the Golan Heights, and Egypt loses the Sinai and Gaza;
  • The United Nations responds with fierce denunciations of Israel (!!!)

As a consequence of all of this, of the counterproductive futility of Arab acts of aggression against Israel, the Arab world realized they had to pursue their war on a different front. That front was to undermine Western, and especially United States, support of Israel. And the way to do this was to win a propaganda war wherein the Palestinians would be cast as victims, and Israel as fascist aggressors.

This propaganda war is conscious and easily demonstrable if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Dr Michael Rydelnik tells me of once hearing Palestinian spokesperson, and protegé of Yassir Arafat, Hanan Aswari, being interviewed. During the interview, she 16 times referred to the Palestinians, but in each case substituted the word, “the victims.”  This word choice was no accident, and this analysis is no mirage!

This is what Netanyahu terms “the reversal of causality,” whereby it is Israel who is the cause of misery in the region, the foreign element that is unjustly occupying territories stolen from the Arabs, and through its fight to prevent its own extermination, is viewed to be the cause behind “the Palestinian problem.” What is forgotten is 65 years of unrelenting Arab aggression, and the fact that what has disrupted Arab life in the region more than anything else is the failure of Arab militarist initiatives, the refusal of Arab leaders to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and what have come to be known as “The Three No’s” – “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” And at the heart of the reversal of causality, which I term the Great Middle Eastern Flip-Flop, is the media-driven denial to Israel of the underdog status she once held, substituting instead the Palestinians as underdogs and suffering victims.

The best response I know of to all of this was penned by the non-Jewish populist philosopher Eric Hoffer,  who perceptively and authoritatively exposed the absurdity of this reversal of causality. His words are as true today, and will be as true tomorrow, as they were when penned in the Los Angeles Times in May, 1968, almost 45 years ago:

The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews.

Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem. Russia did it, Poland and Czechoslovakia did it, Turkey threw out a million Greeks, and Algeria a million Frenchman. Indonesia threw out heaven knows how many Chinese — and no one says a word about refugees.

But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab. Arnold Toynbee calls the displacement of the Arabs an atrocity greater than any committed by the Nazis.

Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.

Other nations when they are defeated survive and recover, but should Israel be defeated it would be destroyed. Had Nasser triumphed last June he would have wiped Israel off the map, and no one would have lifted a finger to save the Jews.

No commitment to the Jews by any government, including our own, is worth the paper it is written on. There is a cry of outrage all over the world when people die in Vietnam or when two Negroes are executed in Rhodesia. But when Hitler slaughtered Jews no one remonstrated with him.

The Swedes, who are ready to break off diplomatic relations with America because of what we do in Vietnam, did not let out a peep when Hitler was slaughtering Jews. They sent Hitler choice iron ore, and ball bearings, and serviced his troop trains to Norway.

The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts. And Jewish resources.

Yet at this moment Israel is our only reliable and unconditional ally. We can rely more on Israel than Israel can rely on us. And one has only to imagine what would have happened last summer had the Arabs and their Russian backers won the war, to realize how vital the survival of Israel is to America and the West in general.

I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.

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The Theory of Palestinian Centrality: Of Sacred Cows and Scapegoats

I am happy to say I am back in the saddle with this blog, having been disrupted, if I can call it that, by the death of a very good friend.  Such events have a way of putting one “off one’s game,” and rightly so. But having regained my rhythm, I am happy to return to discussing here all kinds of issue which I hope you will agree are both interesting and important. And herewith, I return to my recent series on discussing the nature and roots of Anti-Zionism, and seeking to question and refute at least some of the contentions of those who oppose Christian Zionism.

I return quite refueled, having provided special music at something called “The Woodstock Forum” in Woodstock, Connecticut, where my long-time friend Dr. Michael Rydelnik taught ably on these matters.

Today’s post, like many that preceded it, is informed and inspired by Benjamin Netanyahu’s well-written “A Durable Peace: Israel and its Place Among the Nations.” And the subject under consideration today is his concept, “The Theory of Palestinian Centrality.”  This is a real game changer, for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. Read on.

A sacred cow has been mortally wounded by the facts on the ground–but you can still hear it mooing. The sacred cow is the conviction that all turbulence in the Middle East is somehow the consequence of what has come to be known as ‘The Palestinian Problem.'” As Ahmadinejad reminds us, it is “the Zionist entity” that has destabilized and troubled the region. Get rid of the intrusive Zionist incursion, the Palestinian Problem will be solved, and peace and tranquility will return to an Arab world equipped and disposed to live in peace with one another. MOO!

Just one of the wounds of this sacred cow is the current situation in Syria, where the misery and instability cannot be traced to “the Zionist entity.” The same is true in Egypt, in Libya, and just about everywhere you look in the region. The examples are so numerous as to overwhelm this blog posting!  A Facebook friend directed me to this article the other day, which includes this statement about what is going on in the Palestinian Territories:

HRWatch (Human Rights Watch) accused Hamas of failing to investigate alleged cases of torture and abuse, and of granting impunity from prosecution to security service officials.

It said “intra-Palestinian political rivalry [between Hamas and Fatah] remains a significant factor behind many Hamas abuses against detainees in Gaza”.

The Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in the West Bank also “arrests and detains Palestinians arbitrarily, including Hamas members or sympathisers, and similarly subjects detainees to torture and abuse”, the report said.

None of this should surprise anyone prepared to pay attention to the flow of history. In his third chapter, Netanyahu provides a list of such examples that buries us in evidence. A mere sample follows:

  • 1920’s – Syrian gov’t massacres Christians
  • 1933 – Iraqui gov’t massacred Assyrian Christians.
  • 1944 – Iraqui gov’t massacres Kurds, and again in the 1970’s
  • 1950’s – Nasser persecutes Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox communities
  • 1949 – Assassination –  President Zaim of Syria executed by military court after being overthrown
  • 1958 – King Feisal of Iraq murdered, along with the regent, Nuri Said, during the revolution that ends the monarchy in Iraq.
  • 1971 – Prime Minister Wasfi al Tal of Jordan is assassinated in Cairo by the PLO in revenge for the massacre of Palestinian Arabs in Jordan a year earlier
  • 1990 – The Persian Gulf War was triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990; Iraq then annexed Kuwait, which it had long claimed.

Netanyahu provides page after page of examples that amply demonstrate what all of us should already know: that the instability in the Middle East is endemic to the region, and not a Zionist plot.

Part of the cause is that Arab rulers tend to regard state boundaries as arbitrary Western intrusions. Netanyahu comments. “Ever since the independent Arab states emerged in the first half of [the twentieth] century, virtually every one of them has been involved in wars, attempts at subversion and assassination, and unending intrigue against one or more of its Arab neighbors–and against its non-Arab neighbors, too.” Just consider the relationship between Syria and Lebanon as a case in point.

And the father of the current Dictator-President of Syria, Haffez Assad once said this to Yassir Arafat.

You do not represent Palestine as much as we do. Never forget this one point. There is no such thing as a Palestinian people, there is no Palestinian entity; there is only Syria. You are an integral part of the Syrian people. Palestine is an integral part of Syria. Therefore it is we, the Syrian authorities, who are the true representatives of the Palestinian people (quoted in Kamal Jumblatt, I Speak for Lebanon. London: Zed, 1982), 78

This leaves us with one question: in an environment like this, where national boundaries are looked upon as intrusive nuisances, and where a wide variety of megalomaniacal figures vie with one another for the status of the True Leader of all the Arab peoples (consider Nasser, Gaddhafi, Saddam Hussein, who all had such pretensions), can there be any doubt that Israel serves one supreme function in Arab politics, that of being the scapegoat?

Read chapter three of Netanyahu’s book and you will come to the same conclusion as I have–that Israel is indeed being scapegoated. However, this is nothing new.

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