Right off the bat, let’s get one thing straight: It’s pronounced something like “gutter,” with the stress on the first syllable and the “g” a bit harder than the one in that English word, though not as hard as the “c” in “cutter.”
When it comes to Qatar’s current geopolitical situation, though, things are more complicated.
The small country, which juts out like a sore thumb from the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf, has been effectively put into cherem by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a consortium of nearby countries consisting of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is widely seen as the force that spearheaded that economic excommunication, making the accusation that Qatar is aiding terrorist groups.
The GCC made 13 demands on its neighbor, including ending its relations with Iran and closing down the Al-Jazeera broadcasting station, all of which conditions, as was expected, Qatar ignored. Neither side is expected to back down any time soon.
In an Arabian example of the law of unintended consequences, the boycott of Qatar has only driven it further into an economic alliance with Iran, to the benefit of the latter.
The U.S. position on the intra-Arab crisis has been somewhat less than consistent. President Trump, perhaps with visions of his festive reception in Saudi Arabia back in May still dancing in his head, quickly tweeted his backing for the Saudi-led effort: “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”
Well, the Departments of State and Defense did, and, surprised at not having been consulted by the Commander in Chief, seem to have explained to him that Qatar is the (relatively) good guy in the fight. The President subsequently phoned the Qatari emir to offer his help in resolving the crisis, even proposing that a summit of leaders of the blockading countries and Qatar be held at the White House. This month, in fact, culminating year-long negotiations with Qatar by the State and Defense Departments, the U.S. and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the fight against terrorism.
Qatar’s no angel, to be sure. It maintains a cozy relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which, despite its renunciation of violence several years ago, remains a force for promoting Islamist extremism. And Qatar hosts the leadership of Hamas, implicating the country in the terror group’s murderous attacks on Israelis.
But the Saudis’ claim to be the regional bulwark against terrorism is itself something of a bad joke.
As Senator Bob Corker, who serves as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said recently: “The amount of support for terrorism by Saudi Arabia dwarfs what Qatar is doing.”
While there is no evidence that the Saudis directly fund terrorist groups, Saudi Arabia is the “foremost” foreign funder of Islamist extremism in the U.K., according to a just released report from a British think tank, The Henry Jackson Society.
It estimates that the Saudi government and charities spent an estimated $4 billion exporting Saudi Arabia’s harsh interpretation of Islam, known as Wahhabism, worldwide in 2015, up from $2 billion in 2007. In 2015, there were 110 mosques in the U.K. practicing Wahhabism, compared to 68 in 2007. The money is primarily funneled through mosques and Islamic schools in Britain, according to the report.
“Influence has also been exerted through the training of British Muslim religious leaders in Saudi Arabia,” the report noted, “as well as the use of Saudi textbooks in a number of the U.K.’s independent Islamic schools.”
The Saudi embassy said that the claims made by the report were “categorically false,” which should reassure no one at all.
The Saudis, moreover, have been funding mosques throughout Europe that have become hotbeds of extremism, according to former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir William Patey.
According to people in the know like Sir William, terrorism isn’t really a concern of the Saudis. The royal family simply fears a scenario where the Muslim Brotherhood could foment political upheaval in the kingdom. If Islamists want to blow up Western targets, well, that’s unfortunate, but it’s not what keeps the princes up at night.
And so, we have Qatar with its Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas connections; and Saudi Arabia with its global Wahhabi “outreach.”
It’s an ugly, ugly neighborhood.
But there’s some solace to be taken here, in the fact that the bellicose neighbors are being kept nice and busy fighting only among themselves.
© 2017 Hamodia
The italics in the following seven paragraphs’ phrases are mine.
Haaretz column headline, in the wake of the Israeli cabinet’s decision to not upend the status quo at the Kosel: “Netanyanu to American Jews: Drop Dead.” An article headline in the same paper: “Israel Preps Diplomats for Backlash From U.S. Jewish Community Over Kotel Crisis.”
A Guardian headline: “Jewish diaspora angry as Netanyahu scraps Western Wall mixed prayer plan.”
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky: “We’re fighting all efforts to weaken the Israel-Diaspora relations.”
Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett: “The representatives of U.S. Jewry feel they were slapped in the face.”
And, speaking of slaps, Former Jewish Agency head and ambassador to the U.S. Salai Meridor: “[The Kosel decision is] a slap in the face to world Jewry.”
American Jewish Committee chief executive David Harris: [The decision is] “a setback for the essential ties that bind Israel and American Jews.”
Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America: “We urge all [executives] to communicate with their local Israel consul-general and share with them the community’s disappointment… [and how] disastrous conversion legislation would be for global Jewry.”
My list is much longer, but space is limited. If you haven’t divined the italics’ intention, they are meant to call attention to the implication that phrases like “American Jews” or “Diaspora Jewry” are synonymous with members of the Reform and Conservative movements.
It’s an implication that, at least for the uninformed and simpleminded, makes some sense. After all, Orthodox Jews in the largest Diaspora community, our own, comprise only about 10% of the Jewish population.
But government officials and Jewish thinkers might be expected to be both informed and intelligent. And, thus, to know that 1) most American Jews have no interest in the Kosel (according to the 2013 Pew report on American Jewry, a mere 43% of even Reform members say being Jewish is very important to them – and that doesn’t include the 30% of American Jews who are unaffiliated with any movement); and that, 2) the great majority of Jewishly engaged American Jews, those who actually live their Judaism (not to mention, support Israel) are… the Orthodox.
Reform lays claim to being the largest Jewish religious movement in North America. Its official magazine, “Reform Judaism,” claimed a quarterly circulation of “nearly 300,000 households, synagogues, and other Jewish institutions.” But very few (maybe only me, who inherited a subscription from Rabbi Sherer, z”l) actually ever read it, and the periodical folded in 2014.
And its final issue’s cover story, tellingly, celebrated Jews who sport tattoos, an issur d’Oraisa.
Which leads to the unpleasant but undeniable truth that the non-Orthodox Jewish movements have, by effectively abandoning Jewish observance, diminished much of American Jewry’s connection to its religious heritage.
Even more tragically, by “rewriting” the halachic concept of conversion, they have effectively created a multiplicity of “Jewish Peoples” in the Diaspora. Once upon a time, an American baal teshuvah’s halachic status as a Jew could be all but assumed. Today, unfortunately, that is no longer the case. The majority of many a Reform temple’s members are simply not Jewish.
And what segment of the American Jewish community produces large circulation, well-read newspapers (like this one, the only Jewish daily in the country) and magazines? One guess.
According to sociologist Steven M. Cohen, in fact, within two generations, the Orthodox fraction of the American Jewish population has more than quintupled. More than a quarter of American Jews 17 years of age or younger, moreover, are Orthodox. Public policy experts Eric Cohen and Aylana Meisel estimate that, by 2050, the American Jewish community will be majority Orthodox.
With the growth, baruch Hashem, of the American Orthodox community has come increased communal and political standing as well. My colleague Rabbi Abba Cohen, who has headed Agudath Israel of America’s Washington Office for decades, notes that the Orthodox community has clearly moved “beyond mere ‘access’ to” public officials, “which it has had for some time,” to a point, today, where “Orthodox advocates not only find open doors but are sought out and invited into the process.”
When realities like those are delivered, however, the messengers are verbally assaulted, accused of “triumphalism.”
But it’s not “triumphalism,” it’s triumph. Not of any population but rather of Yiddishkeit, of the Jewish convictions and practices that defined the lives of all Jews’ forebears until, historically speaking, fairly recently.
It’s really time that media, politicians and the pundits faced that fact, and began to qualify their use of “American Jews” and “Diaspora Jewry” accordingly.
© 2017 Hamodia
What are we, chopped liver?
The question, from my Orthodox corner of the American Jewish world, is born of the recent onslaught of outrage aimed at the Israeli government by representatives of “American Jewry.”…
To read more of this piece at Forward, click here.
Leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America and local federations have spoken out loudly about their disappointment in the Israeli government’s decision to suspend the Kotel resolution and about a contentious conversion bill that was recently put on hold.
A self-described Jewish state, of course, must maintain some Jewish standard, both with regard to its holy places and its definitions of personal status. The only reasonable standard in all such matters is that of the mutual Jewish past, the Jewish religious tradition, or halacha.
There are those, unfortunately, who agitate for different standards in Israel. That is their prerogative as individuals. But the historic role of Jewish federations has been to provide support and solace for disadvantaged or endangered Jews and to mobilize the community to come to Israel’s aid when it is threatened. Taking sides in religious controversies anywhere, and certainly in Israel, egregiously breaches the boundaries of that role.
It also entirely ignores the American Orthodox community, which harbors quite different sentiments.
The most conservative estimates are that 10% of American Jewry is Orthodox. The Orthodox community, moreover, is poised to become a much more prominent sector of American Jewry. More than a quarter of all American Jews 17 years of age or younger are Orthodox. And even at present, the great majority of Jewishly engaged American Jews, those whose lives are infused with Judaism (and, not to mention, who are among the most strongly involved with Israel) are the Orthodox.
Any American Jew can, again, hold and promote a personal position on any issue, including the current ones in Israel. But federations are communal entities, not private ones. By proclaiming positions on religious controversies and ignoring the convictions of American Orthodox Jewry, federation leaders do grave damage to the very Jewish unity they profess as a goal.
The Israeli Cabinet’s recent decision to not upend the public prayer status quo at the Kotel Maaravi, or Western Wall, was met with howls of outrage from a broad cross-section of non-Orthodox leaders and representatives.
The decision, however, viewed objectively and reasonably (rare perspectives these days, unfortunately, about most everything), was prudent and proper.
When it was liberated by Israel in 1967, the Kotel became a place of peace and Jewish devotion. Anyone who wished to worship there, traditional and nontraditional, Jew and non-Jew alike, did so. Since the great majority of those who flocked to the site over the years were, as remains the case, Orthodox Jews, a mechitza, or separation-structure, between men and women was erected; and the standards for public, vocal prayer were in accordance with Jewish religious tradition over millennia. (The Holy Temple that stood on the Temple Mount in ancient times – the source of the Kotel’s holiness – had a mechitza as well, as the Talmud recounts. And women did not serve there as cantors, as halacha considers it a breach of modesty for men to hear women singing.)
Those standards were, even if they may not have been the personal ones of all visitors to the Kotel, respected by them for decades, and the Kotel plaza remained a place of amity – a Jewish societal oasis of sorts, probably the only place on earth where Jews of different religious beliefs prayed side-by-side.
That peace was shattered, and the holy place turned into a place of strife, by a self-described feminist group, led by firebrand Reform activist Anat Hoffman. She has made no secret of her desire to force a change to the status quo, and to import the American model of a “multi-winged Judaism” to Israel.
As a step toward that end, she organized monthly protests in the guise of prayer services. The response from some haredi hooligans was predictable – anger and attempts to quash the services, where women were chanting – and the feminist group seized upon that ugly reaction by having it captured by the camera crews it made sure to have in tow. The vast majority of Orthodox Jews at the site did not act on the anguish they felt. But feel it they did.
Anyone, of course, including Ms. Hoffman and her supporters, is entitled to his or her own views. But there are limits, at least among civil people, to what one may do to promote one’s views. And seeking to be “in the face” of people interested only in the introspection that is Jewish prayer crosses that line.
Those determined to “liberalize” Jewish practice are free to do what they wish in their own synagogues, and to promote their visions as much as they wish in the media and the public square. But the Kotel, while it is a public place, is not a public square. It is not a place for political or social or religious crusades to be waged.
Ms. Hoffman and her supporters have made clear, moreover, that the current Kotel controversy is only a part of a larger plan to bring American-style “religious pluralism” to Israel. That goal might sound wonderful to many American Jews, but what it would in fact do is, by creating multiple standards for marriage, divorce and conversion, create a multiplicity of “Jewish peoples” in the Jewish state. That would not be wonderful at all.
Regarding the Kotel, as it happens, in 2004, the Israeli government set aside an area along the Wall to the south for “nontraditional” prayer. But the activists, with their “pluralism” goal firmly in mind, insist on having their vocal “egalitarian” services more prominently alongside the regular, overwhelmingly Orthodox, visitors to the Kotel, who, they know, are deeply pained by attempts to utilize the Kotel to effect social or religious change.
Rather than balkanize the Kotel so that feminist groups today – and, in the future, to be sure, other groups with their own social agendas – can promote their causes, and “pluralism” proponents can advance theirs, the Kotel should be preserved as a place of Jewish unity, as it has been for half a century. And that means maintaining the Jewish religious standards at the root of all Jews’ histories for public prayer there.
Some can howl with outrage at that suggestion. But, if they are caring Jews, they can choose instead to regard it as reasonable, and thereby help restore peace among all Jews at the Kotel Maaravi.
Agudath Israel of America released the following statement today:
The Israeli Cabinet’s decision to not upend the status quo of normative, traditional Jewish religious worship at the Kotel Maaravi, or Western Wall, is a prudent and proper one.
The Kotel was a place of peace and Jewish devotion for decades after its liberation in 1967. That peace was shattered, and the holy place turned into a place of protest in the guise of prayer, by Women of the Wall and its allies overseas. That has been a tragedy.
Every man and woman can, as always, pray privately and with genuine emotion at the site. But maintaining a standard for vocal public prayer is only sensible and proper. That standard, since 1967, has been halacha, codified Jewish religious law. Those determined to “liberalize” Jewish practice are free to do what they wish in their own synagogues. To cause anguish and anger to the thousands of traditional Jews who regularly pray at the Kotel, however, is not what any Jew should ever wish to do.
Rather than balkanize the Kotel so that feminist groups today – and, in the future, other groups with their own social agendas – can promote their causes, the Kotel should be preserved as a place of Jewish unity. As it has been for half a century.
Click on the link below to access a PDF of a letter from Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, to Ambassador Haley.
June 13, 2017
Honorable Nikki R. Haley
United States Ambassador to the United Nations
United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Dear Madam Ambassador:
On behalf of the leadership and constituents of Agudath Israel of America, the national Orthodox Jewish organization that I serve as executive vice president, I wish to commend you for your courageous and principled stance on Israel.
Your recognition of the adversarial attitude of elements of the United Nations toward Israel, and your repeated calling out of the same, constitute a refreshing breath of fresh air in the long polluted geopolitical atmosphere of Turtle Bay.
Your recent strong and pointed address to the Human Rights Council, in which you straightforwardly denounced the Council’s indefensibly negative focus on Israel, and the indiscriminate blacklisting of Israeli companies, is particularly appreciated.
Also appreciated is your demand that “Agenda Item Seven,” which you accurately characterized as “the scandalous provision that singles out Israel for automatic criticism,” be dropped from the Human Rights Council’s list of priorities.
Your well-deserved reputation as a person of character and principle has only been enhanced by your words and actions in your current role representing our country in the United Nations.
May G-d give you continued strength and wisdom, and may you forge on to help foster a world where ugly hatreds will be mere embarrassing relics of an ancient past.
Rabbi David Zwiebel
Reza Aslan, the host of the modestly named “Believer With Reza Aslan” on CNN, has rendered his verdict: “Ultra-Orthodox” Jews in Israel are to the Jewish State what the mullahs were to Iran in 1979.
To read my comments on that verdict, please visit:
Mere days after senior Hamas operative Muhammad Hemada Walid al-Quqa blew himself up preparing a bomb, The New York Times noted, in a recent front page story about the Muslim Brotherhood, that “some of [its] offshoots – most notably Hamas – have been tied to attacks.”
That phrase would seem to imply some tenuousness or doubt. In reality (which, despite “alternate facts,” still exists), Hamas has been openly attacking and murdering Israeli civilians and soldiers since 1987, demonically celebrating its every “success.”
A study published in 2007 by the Journal of Economic Perspectives, an apolitical academic publication, found that, of the scores of Palestinian suicide bombings that took place from September 2000 through August 2005, 39.9 percent were carried out by Hamas. (The repugnant runner-up was Fatah, at 25.7 percent.) And then there are the rockets that have rained down on Israel from Gaza in more recent years.
As to the Muslim Brotherhood, which, as the paper of record records, hatched Hamas, while it has been trying to present a more pleasant face of late, one of its mottos is more telling: “Jihad is our way; death for the sake of Allah is our wish!”
Several days after The Times referred to the Brotherhood’s spawn as merely “tied to” attacks on Jews, Hamas chose a new leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar.
Mr. Sinwar was sentenced decades ago in Israel to four life terms for the murder of Palestinians he suspected of collaboration with Israel. According to Israeli security experts, he also played a pivotal role in the planning and execution of attacks against Israeli soldiers.
The new Hamas leader was also one of the founders of Al Majd (“Glory”), a precursor of Hamas’s military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
After serving more than 20 years in jail, Sinwar was released in 2011, one of the 1,000 Arab prisoners exchanged for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Times, along with many media (the BBC, CNN, the Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Guardian and ABC News, among others) referred to Sinwar as “hardline” or a “hardliner.” While that description isn’t inaccurate (“hardliner” meaning “a person who adheres rigidly to a dogma, theory, or plan”), some other adjective might have been more informative, something, perhaps, like “convicted murderer.”
Interestingly, as it happened, another “hardliner” was in the news, too, last week: David Friedman, President Trump’s designate for ambassador to Israel. That was the word used by many of the very same media noted above to describe Mr. Friedman.
Mr. Friedman has not, to anyone’s knowledge, ordered the murder of anyone, or founded a terrorist group. His hardliner-ness consists of his past skepticism about a two-state solution to the Israel-Arab conflict and various intemperate statements he made about Jews and others who he feels have advocated for Palestinians to the detriment of Israel.
Last Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled the nominee. In light of some of Mr. Friedman’s earlier statements, I was prepared to be uninspired. But the give-and-take between Mr. Friedman and his Senatorial inquisitors left me, instead, impressed. Deeply so.
Mr. Friedman was composed (even when pro-Palestinian activists obnoxiously interrupted the hearing, shouting slogans – one, righteously blowing a shofar – before being escorted out of the room by security personnel), eloquent, thoughtful, fair-minded and – most impressively – willing, under oath, to publicly and without reservations, renounce the extreme things he had said or written as a private citizen.
“While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics,” he said, “I regret the use of [harshly insulting] language.”
Asked by New Jersey Senator Cory Booker if he believes, as he had once seemed to say, that former president Obama is in fact an anti-Semite, Mr. Friedman, without hesitation, replied: “Not at all. I don’t believe that for a second.” (Halevai other erstwhile Obama-defamers would own up to their own excesses.)
Pressed repeatedly (and disturbingly – just how many apologies were required?) by various senators to address the issue of his past statements, Mr. Friedman didn’t get upset. Nor did he offer the typical politician’s “non-apology apology.” He stated clearly and forthrightly: “There is no excuse. If you want me to rationalize or justify [the words I used], I cannot. I regret [them].”
Mr. Friedman proudly and convincingly expressed his desire to fortify the American-Israel relationship, and demonstrated that he has no animus for Arabs and wants to see peace between Israel and the Arabs in her midst.
Of course, and unfortunately, many obstacles stand in the way of that goal. Prime among them, his “fellow” hardliner in Gaza and the all-too-many others like him.
© 2017 Hamodia