Wednesday night and Thursday we celebrate Purim (with the celebration a day later in Jerusalem, a walled city). As we read the Megillat Esther, we relate the story of the machinations of Haman, in the Persian court, whose goal it was to eradicate the Jews. And we celebrate the victory over Haman by Mordechai and Queen Esther.
Center City Kehillah
Implicit in this story is the hidden hand of the Almighty, which provides us with a lesson today, as we face threats that seem existential. We must do our absolute best to defend and protect our people, and, at the same time, trust that we will have guidance and salvation from Heaven.
Shubert Spero provides yet another perspective: The Jews in Shushan (the capital) “went on the offensive in a preemptive strike, rooting out the terrorists in their home bases and the hate-peddlers in their downtown headquarters…
“It is for this reason that the day celebrated as a holiday is…the day ‘when the Jews had rest from their enemies.’” (Emphasis added)
Our tradition tells us that Haman was Amalek – of the line of those of ultimate evil who seek to destroy the Jewish People. This past Shabbat was Shabbat Zahor, during which we read from the Torah about the way in which the Amalekites attacked the Children of Israel as they were on their way – going after the weak and the old from behind in cowardly fashion:
“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt…you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.” Devorim (Deuteronomy) 25:17-19
When the Children of Israel were brought out of Egypt, the nations of the world saw them as invincible. But then the Amalekites sought to weaken that image.
From this we learn the importance of deterrence when facing those who would destroy us. They must fear us, and only then can we proceed in peace (have rest from our enemies).
Much to share here. Please, read through…
Of all the problems we face – problems that require our strength and endurance – the greatest are to our north, with regard both to Lebanon and Syria.
The situation in Lebanon is a farce, and has been for a long time. In 2006, at the end of Israel’s second war with Lebanon, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1701. It was supposed to set in place a multi-national UN peace keeping force, UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), to operate in southern Lebanon (south of the Litani River). No armed forces were to be permitted in that part of Lebanon except the Lebanese army and the UNIFIL forces. That meant no Hezbollah.
Israel was to withdraw to the international line. This did happen. Hezbollah was to be disarmed. We all know how well that went.
This was hailed as a great diplomatic achievement (including, shamefully, by then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni). But it was an incredibly abysmal failure – as is obvious with Hezbollah’s 150,000 rockets starring down at us. The impotent UNIFIL was required to take its direction from the Lebanese army.
Now the facts are being made public (emphasis added):
“The UN force in Lebanon has accused Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army of hampering their work…in a report to appear on the website of French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, on Friday.
“The report quotes a chief warrant officer for the French contingent as saying during an interview: ‘In the evening we never leave the barracks because the Lebanese forces are not friendly.’
“A former liaison officer with UNIFIL…told the newspaper, ‘When we would detect military activities in our area, especially near the Blue Line [border with Israel], the Lebanese Army would prevent us from posting observers…Everyone knows that Hezbollah is using the area for the next war…’
“There are some 10,500 peacekeepers deployed in southern Lebanon – including some from countries that do not recognize Israel…
“A Finnish commander suggested…that some forces associated with UNIFIL might also be assisting Hezbollah.
“’I can assure you that Indonesian peacekeepers are constantly reporting Israeli movements to various Lebanese actors,’ the commander is quoted as saying.”
In Syria, the situation is horrendous as the forces of Assad hammer at anti-government forces without regard for how many civilians are hit. In the past week, over 500 civilians, including more than 120 children, have been killed as war planes pound the last remaining rebel enclave, which is situated in eastern Ghouta, not far from Damascus.
People are hiding in cellars, without sufficient food or medicine. Rescue workers say that under the current circumstances they cannot even count the dead. The UN Security Council is calling for a humanitarian ceasefire, but it is being ignored.
Assad would have been finished a long time ago if it were not for the intervention of the Russians. Their presence in Syria has been problematic.
To prevent accidental confrontations, Netanyahu has gone to Russia several times to meet with Putin: An agreement was reached, which is refined or updated every so often, that has allowed Israel to operate in Syria to take out weapons intended for transfer to Hezbollah, and, most recently, even to take out the Iranian site from which the drone was launched, without inadvertently hitting Russian equipment or installations. Russia has, more or less, looked the other way.
Israeli satellite images taken just days ago reveal the presence of two Russian Sukhoi Su-57 fighter jets at the Khmeimim Air Base, a Syrian base operated by Russia southeast of the city of Latakia.
Alex Beltyukov via Wikimedia Commons
I have read several reports indicating that these planes are not fully operational, and so it must be asked why they are in Syria. It had been suggested that their presence is intended to send a message to Israel regarding entry into Syrian airspace. But I am doubtful that this is correct.
The US appears unconcerned, although these jets might rival the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which American forces use in patrols over Syria. Eric Pahon, Defense Department spokesman, said: “We do not consider these jets to be a threat to our operations in Syria…”
Today I picked this up: “The state-of-the-art Su-57s are in the region to test their electronic warfare and radar capabilities, an insider has said.”
And to the positive news here at home: I write frequently about the fact that I believe the country is moving to the right, but that progress is uneven. In recent days, we have seen some significant evidence of that movement.
One of the problems we have had in this country in recent years is a left-wing interventionist Supreme Court that tends to overturn Knesset legislation.
In response to this situation, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) took upon herself the task of establishing a more balanced – a more diversified – Court and began by affecting a change in the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee, which she chairs. Prior to her involvement, the Supreme Court representatives on the Selection Committee were able to veto choices of justices. Shaked managed to establish a situation that required compromise among the various blocs on the Committee.
She then took on the fight to bring in some justices of a more conservative bent to replace retiring justices. (Fifteen justices sit on the Court, retirement is mandatory at age 70.)
Last February, four new justices were appointed, beginning a shift in the balance of the Court with two conservative justices. This week, two more appointments were made. After a deadlock between Shaked and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, the other power on the Committee, a compromise was reached:
Shaked was able to place Professor Alex Stein, a conservative and an academic, on the Court, in spite of Hayut’s objection. It is expected that because of his considerable reputation he will have an influence on the Court’s deliberations. The other appointee, Ofer Groskopf, Hayut’s choice, was also an academic before being appointed to the District Court. Shaked says both are “legal luminaries.”|
Now Shaked says the process of changing the Supreme Court is complete:
“The new Supreme Court is good news for Israeli democracy. It restores the judiciary to its so important role: Interpreting the norms set by the legislative branch and not replacing it.
“The new Supreme Court is more diverse. It faithfully reflects the population of Israel. The new Supreme Court echoes legal concepts that have not been heard for a long time.”
This news has garnered less attention than a good many other items. But I happen to think it is of major importance for the future of Israel. And I believe the nation owes a debt of gratitude to Ayelet Shaked.
In addition, we are seeing other movement forward:
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill, sponsored by Minister Shaked, which would require property lawsuits in Judea and Samaria to be adjudicated by the Jerusalem District Court.
This would represent a huge change, as such property disputes are currently heard by the High Court, which does not do adjudication of the sort that the lower court would do: it does not do a detailed investigation of documents and claims. It merely hears petitions. Thus are there rulings that address a challenge to property ownership, without determining the authenticity of the challenge.
This is quite different from the situation that prevails for Israelis within pre-1967 Israel.
I will have more on this as the bill proceeds through the system– may it become legislation. Shaked sees it as important so that all Israeli citizens would be provided with the same legal process no matter where they live.
There is possible movement on some other settlement issues as well that I will return to.
As many of my readers are undoubtedly already aware, the State Department has officially announced that an American embassy office will open in Jerusalem in May. This will be timed to coincide with Yom Ha’atzmaut – our 70th Independence Day.
This news was greeted here in Israel most enthusiastically. And yes, the impressive speed with which the US is acting on its commitment is a positive.
What will actually happen in May is that a few offices will open within the current US Consulate in Talpiot, to allow the presence of Ambassador Friedman (who must be delighted) and a small staff.
This will be a highly significant symbolic act. The move of the entire staff of the embassy in Tel Aviv is still scheduled for the end of 2019. Not only is space required – which means preparation of an additional building, much attention must be paid to security issues, and very legitimately so.
There are as many as 10 other countries speaking to our government about moving their embassies to Jerusalem. But they want to follow the US, and so the accelerated date of opening the US embassy here may bring others sooner as well. This is a very positive prospect.
Having shared this good news, I wish to raise a question:
In recent days, Prime Minister Netanyahu has both warned that “disproportionate” (whatever that means) settlement growth would anger the president, and removed discussion on a “Settlement bill” from the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. This would not be discussed, he declared, until the summer session of the Knesset.
Those who know the prime minister understand that it is his style to try to please. And it is possible that he was simply so delighted with the announcement about the embassy that he wanted to please President Trump by curtailing certain legislation, especially as the US “peace plan” may be unveiled soon.
But I find myself wondering whether there was a quid pro quo. Why did Trump advance the date for the move? Could it have been advanced with an understanding that our prime minister would pull back a bit on certain potentially controversial issues?
Here, it is merely a question: The answer may become more evident in time.
And one final thought on the subject. I do not know if the president will accept, but Netanyahu has proposed that he come here for the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem. Sounds lovely, but I hope Trump does not accept. Yom Ha’atzmaut is our day, an Israeli celebration. The focus will shift if the president is here for an American event. That should not be at the heart of the day.
Correction: I think I was punchy with fatigue when I did my last posting, which in the main was a very solid one. When I alluded to Ben Gurion’s declaration of Israel’s independence, I wrote in “1918.” It is, of course, 1948.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.