Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Peoplehood Project 4

Today I travel to Israel to join a cohort of Americans that I have been teaching with a parallel cohort of Israeof Israelis over the next week!  Stay tuned as we form lasting relationships between our region and our sister communities in Arad and Ofakim.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Obama Draws a Final Conclusion Against Israeli Settlements

The United Nations Security Council, in evident haste before the change of administrations in Washington, passed resolution 2334 (2016) affirming that the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is an ongoing violation of International Law and a primary threat to a two-state solution for peace.

The Obama administration allowed the resolution to pass 14-0-1 by abstaining, only after securing language condemning all violence, terrorism and incitement, which is considered by most to be the "other side's" primary threat to a two-state solution.

There has been a hue and cry within our community against the Obama administration's inaction, with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President-Elect Donald Trump, and others calling the U.S. permissive stature on the resolution to be a betrayal at the very least. Critics declare the resolution to be a repudiation of long standing U.S. policy to refer the matters to the disputants directly, rather than to have the U.N. force its own decisions onto Israel and the Palestinians.  In light of long-standing U.N. bias on human rights issues, these accusations have become easily inflamed.

So what really happened here?  I urge you to spend about 15 minutes reading the original documents, without the filter of a news source, editorial, or political organization.  Here is the text of the resolution, with brief statements from each nation explaining their reasoning for their vote.

The text of the U.N.S.C. resolution 2334 (2016) can be found here.

Voting in favor were China, Russia, Great Britain, France, Angola (2016), Malaysia (2016), New Zealand (2016), Spain (2016), Venezuela (2016), Egypt (2017), Japan (2017), Senegal (2017), Ukraine (2107), and Uruguay (2017). The first four, with the U.S. are permanent members of the Security Council, the others have been given the year that their term ends.

False And True Reactions from Israel

Prime Minister Netanyahu, and others, have accused the resolution of claiming that the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall are declared to be "Occupied Territory" in the resolution.  This is false.   He has declared that the resolution is a shameful disgrace and represents a rejection of long standing U.S. determination that the U.N. should not make specific judgments that control the peace process.  That is true.

Here is the video of PM Netanyahu's reactions, with English subtitles.

The resolution speaks of land occupied after the 1967 war, and does not speak at all of the "Green Line" from the 1948 armistice agreement.  After the 1967 war, Israel had complete control of the old city of Jerusalem, but the eastern side of the city outside of the old city, and its various large villages remained in question.  By invoking "Eastern Jerusalem," the resolution tries to draw a line.  PM Netanyahu and most of the pro-Israel community rejects any line in or around Jerusalem, so he raised the holiest of Jewish sites as a rhetorical tool with great impact.  He is, however, not correct.  That doesn't make the actual resolution any more friendly to Israel, but it unfortunately fans the flames of the current debate inappropriately.

International Law


The resolution affirms all previous resolutions, which should be read and known by anyone venturing an opinion on this topic.  It also references an important ruling of the International Court, which affirms the illegality of much of the settlement activity according to International Law. Arguments against the resolution have to deliberately ignore the ruling of the court, and declare all the previous resolutions to be biased and wrong.  But the fact is that the international community is correct, as a matter of International Law, and is citing fact not opinion.  We may chose to ignore those facts, and perhaps we should, but we can not say they are not facts.


The Only New Item is the Most Troubling:  Boycott is Encouraged.

Reading the text, there really is only one new item, and it has gotten virtually no press:

5.   Calls upon all States, bearing in mind paragraph 1 of this resolution, to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;

This is permission to boycott any Israeli product or activity that takes place in territory beyond the 1967 armistice lines.  That would include any Israeli product, service or activity that has any aspect occurring beyond the 1967 cease fire line.  To understand the Palestinian point of view, populations within that border, and the effect of the security barrier which has effectively ended large scale terrorism coming from there, please read a 2014 Washington Post article and map by clicking here.:

Article 5 of the resolution permits any form of boycott coming from that area. The fact that this is not being discussed is because of the inflamed rhetoric of PM Netanyahu, and the attraction of the media to the coming Presidency of Donald Trump.

Israel's Response and the Coming of President Trump.

Israel has begun a flurry of diplomatic reactions against the countries that voted in favor of the resolution, from formal statements to ambassadors to the cancelling of state visits.  The most troubling is the cancelling of the Ukrainian Prime Minister's visit this coming Tuesday.  PM Volodymyr Groysman was just elected as Ukraine's first Jewish Prime Minister.  Really?  With everything the Ukraine is facing, and the possibility of an historic meeting of that type, the visit is cancelled?  

Everyone needs to calm down.  The boycott issue is real.  The two-state issue is real.  Settlements are real.  The U.N. is real.  All of this is not new, and flaming the topic will not advance any cause of peace.  Those who think the resolution is correct have simply played into the hands of those who are opposed to two states as a solution.  It was done now as a parting summary of the Obama administration's view on the topic - a view which has not changed in 8 years, and which has not produced any progress on the topic.

What will Donald Trump do?  His ambassador to Israel is opposed to the two-state solution.  That's about all you need to know. 


What does it all mean?

Four weeks from now, this resolution will be the rallying cry for the divestment movement in Europe, for labelling products from the West Bank, and enforcing boycotts against Israel.  That is what this resolution will achieve, and most everyone seems to be missing it.








Friday, December 16, 2016

Saber Rattling

As diplomatic lines get redrawn under a Trump administration, certain constants will occur:

1) Trump does not care about the Asian concept of "face," as was indicated by the Bob Dole - Brokered call with the President of Taiwan.  China, which has been attempting to provoke U.S. responses to various Pacific Ocean "war game" maneuvers for years, needs to respond.  This article today is a good example of the kind of saber rattling that will occur.  The problem with saber rattling is that there are sabers involved. Our attack will be through copyright enforcement and trade.  Theirs will be with military threat and provocation.  Which will blink or blow up first?

2) Trump has nominated David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel, and (as predicted here in this blog in November), they will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.  The main offices and secure infrastructure is in Tel Aviv, of course, so this will be a symbolic move.  It will, however, give the Palestinians a wedge issue to declare at the least that the US is not "an honest broker" between them and the Israelis.  At the most, it will give the extremists an excuse to declare US citizens in Israel legitimate targets. That said, Jerusalem is and has been the capital of Israel for quite some time, and that would be a legitimate reason to put an embassy there.

3) Russia.  With the nomination of a multi-billion dollar oil tycoon CEO as Secretary of State, it is clear that Russia will have a free ride so long as the business deals flow.  It is probably convenient for Trump that Russia has crushed Aleppo on Obama's watch, so his inevitable support of Putin won't be attached to that humanitarian disaster.  Putin and Trump get to reset the relationship without any pressing conflicts - except, in theory the Ukraine, which Trump won't care about as long as the oil and gas pipelines there stay open.  Russian taking them over would guarantee that, so good luck to the Ukraine.

4) Iran.  It is not clear that Trump has analyzed the Russia-Iran-China connections.  His anti-China, anti-Iran, pro-Russia tendencies will not be compatible with his "end the Iran nuclear deal" policy goal.  By the US pulling out of the deal, the deal is cancelled by all parties.  They may choose to remain in the deal, in which case it is the US banking infrastructure that would be handcuffed by embargo, not Iran.  Russia and China would be more than happy to fill in the void.  With Bankers and Billionaires running the government, that would be bad for business.  It is hard to imagine it coming to that, so Iran will likely be allowed to continue as under Obama and the current deal.


The realpolitik of International Politics will be in flux, and its developments will be interesting to watch, to be sure.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Emergency Support Needed after Massive Arson Attacks in Israel

The Conservative Synagogue in Haifa's prayerbooks after the fire
View this email in your browser
The burned prayer books in the Conservative Synagogue "Moriah" in Haifa, Israel this week.

Dear Friends,
I write regarding the recent destruction in Israel, and to offer you three opportunities to give financial assistance to alleviate their suffering and provide for their security.  As we have watched the forest fires in Israel, we are aware that a new front has been opened by terrorist elements against the civilian populations there, and our response is sorely needed.
Here is what we know.  Starting two weeks ago, about a dozen small forest fires were set in the north of Israel by arsonists.  These were small, isolated, and quickly dealt with.  On Wednesday, a major fire was started in Zikhron Ya’akov with the loss of over 30 houses and widespread damage.  On Thursday morning, arsonists set the forest on fire near the Haifa fire station and then in several neighborhoods in the Carmel nearby. Firefighters where overwhelmed as over 500 homes were soon engulfed or endangered.  Over the next day or two, firefighters from around the country, with support from the Palestinian Authority and the international community, found themselves not only fighting in the Carmel, but facing new arsonist attacks outside of Jerusalem as well. In all, over 600 fires were set in 6 days.  More than 10,000 acres of land burned in that week.  2,500 firefighters were operating for 6 days.

At this time massive damage to neighborhoods, transportation infrastructure and firefighting equiptment has been incurred.  Estimates of 5,000,000 NIS have been assessed for the fire fighting equiptment alone.  Due to the amazing dedication and training of the emergency responders, over 75,000 civilians were relocated during the fire and not a single life was lost.  

As Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his comments to the fire fighting community, the terrorists seek to burn trees while we seek to plant trees.  They burn bridged, while we build bridges.

Please consider supporting one or more of the following emergency response efforts:

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest has opened an emergency fund for disaster relief: click here
The Jewish National Fund has lead the way in purchasing fire and emergency equipment and planting trees for decades.  Their emergency response with a matching gift challenge today “Giving Tuesday” can be found by clicking here.   
The Conservative Movement’s “Moriah” community in Haifa was badly hit, and the building needs to be completely rebuilt and siddurim replace (see picture above): Help raise the $500,000 needed for rebuilding one of our congregations by clicking here.

As always, I thank you for your love of Israel and your compassion and generosity for those in need.

Rabbi Robert L Tobin
The Conservative Synagogue in Haifa's prayerbooks after the fire
View this email in your browser
Dear Friends,
I write regarding the recent destruction in Israel, and to offer you three opportunities to give financial assistance to alleviate their suffering and provide for their security.  As we have watched the forest fires in Israel, we are aware that a new front has been opened by terrorist elements against the civilian populations there, and our response is sorely needed.
Here is what we know.  Starting two weeks ago, about a dozen small forest fires were set in the north of Israel by arsonists.  These were small, isolated, and quickly dealt with.  On Wednesday, a major fire was started in Zikhron Ya’akov with the loss of over 30 houses and widespread damage.  On Thursday morning, arsonists set the forest on fire near the Haifa fire station and then in several neighborhoods in the Carmel nearby. Firefighters where overwhelmed as over 500 homes were soon engulfed or endangered.  Over the next day or two, firefighters from around the country, with support from the Palestinian Authority and the international community, found themselves not only fighting in the Carmel, but facing new arsonist attacks outside of Jerusalem as well. In all, over 600 fires were set in 6 days.  More than 10,000 acres of land burned in that week.  2,500 firefighters were operating for 6 days.

At this time massive damage to neighborhoods, transportation infrastructure and firefighting equiptment has been incurred.  Estimates of 5,000,000 NIS have been assessed for the fire fighting equiptment alone.  Due to the amazing dedication and training of the emergency responders, over 75,000 civilians were relocated during the fire and not a single life was lost.  

As Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his comments to the fire fighting community, the terrorists seek to burn trees while we seek to plant trees.  They burn bridged, while we build bridges.

Please consider supporting one or more of the following emergency response efforts:

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest has opened an emergency fund for disaster relief: click here
The Jewish National Fund has lead the way in purchasing fire and emergency equipment and planting trees for decades.  Their emergency response with a matching gift challenge today “Giving Tuesday” can be found by clicking here.   
The Conservative Movement’s “Moriah” community in Haifa was badly hit, and the building needs to be completely rebuilt and siddurim replace (see picture above): Help raise the $500,000 needed for rebuilding one of our congregations by clicking here.

As always, I thank you for your love of Israel and your compassion and generosity for those in need.

Rabbi Robert L Tobin

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Symposium on "Love they Neighbor as Thyself"

The Jewish Times has published an article about "Love thy Neighbor," a symposium I participated in last Sunday in Baltimore, MD.  It was great being back in Pikesville, where I have such fond memories as an Assistant Rabbi at Chizuk Amuno Congregation.  This time I was with my friend, colleague and m'sader kiddushin, Rabbi Steve Schwartz of Beth El Congregation.  As always, Torah study made for a wonderful day.  Click here for the article about the event.





FROM LEFT: RABBI SHMUEL SILBER OF SUBURBAN ORTHODOX CONGREGATION TORAS CHAIM; RABBI ROBERT TOBIN OF TEMPLE B’NAI SHALOM IN WEST ORANGE, N.J.; RABBI GILA RUSKIN OF TEMPLE ADAS SHALOM; RABBI GEOFF BASIK OF KOL HALEV SYNAGOGUE; AND RABBI STEVEN SCHWARTZ OF BETH EL CONGREGATION, WHO MODERATED THE DISCUSSION. (PHOTO BY GAIL LIPSITZ)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Go on a Journey - Parshat Lekh Lekha and the Election

The Following Message will be Published in the Golda Och Academy this week:

As we all turn from the national election to the future in America, we realize that we are on a sudden and unexpected journey.  How can the Torah help us to find our way?

In this week’s parshah, lekh-lekha, God tells Avram that it is time to leave the land of his birth, his father’s house, and go to a land that He will show him, and that He will bless him.  It must have seemed like an impossible journey, yet he goes with no complaint.

Why did Avram go?  God commands him two ways. 

First, Lekh lekha, “Go for you.” Avram needed to face the unknown, and to remove himself from an environment of idolatry in order to achieve his own potential. When he is true to his own beliefs and actions he will be transformed and fulfilled, though the journey may be difficult and the challenges seem insurmountable.  Avram will face threat against his family in Egypt, a hostage crisis with his nephew, war with his neighbors, family turmoil between Sarah and Hagar, and the proposed sacrifice of his son Isaac. His life is not promised to be easy, but if he follows his faith, it will be meaningful and impactful.

Second, he is promised that God will make of him a great nation and that he will be a blessing.  Avram, the individual will be renamed Avraham, “The Avram of a multitude.”  By being Avraham, a socially and politically engaged individual, he can help set his family, his people, and his nation on the right path.

So each of us must find our path.  It must be grounded in faith, hope and commitment to our highest ideals. And we must be willing to face and engage the challenges and tests in a complex and often difficult world.  We must be involved in the society and the politics of our age, while protecting our families and neighbors in dignity. We must be our best selves, for the many.


Lekhu Lakhem, Go on your journey and be a blessing.