Thursday, March 24, 2005

Column: About the Trip to Gush Katif

How do you heap enough praise on the good and brave people of Gush Katif? That is the question I ask myself after returning from the trip I made last week with Dov Hikind and more than 40 Jews from the NY Metropolitan area to that besieged part of the Land of Israel.

The trip was such a success that Assemblyman Hikind, at a closing dinner at the Ramada Renaissance hotel, promised to bring a group of 1,000 supporters from the United States back to Gush Katif in the next month or so. That promise brought a long and heartfelt standing ovation.

What made the trip so important and successful to merit such a follow up? It turns on the issue of the isolation and demonization of the residents of Gush Katif by the Israeli Government and the Israeli and world press on the one hand and the breaking of that isolation and a debunking of that demonization on the other – thereby exposing not only the immorality of the plan but the immorality of the underlying slander that is its foundation.

How else can you explain the detainment and questioning of members of half the group at Ben Gurion by the police –- including my own mother, whose orange shirt of protest against the “disengagement” was enough not only to detain her but to get her picture very visibly into the Jerusalem Post above an article which started, “It was her shirt that did it.”

How could an orange shirt be so threatening? It is threatening because there is a fear of being found out in a big lie about who the people of Gush Katif really are. That fear is a road map for us to follow, revealing a serious weak spot that Sharon needs to protect – a place where pressure, if applied continuously and forcefully will leave him alone with his “plan” and the Jews of Gush Katif free of him and his evil decree. The more the truth is revealed and known about these good people and the more the demonization of them is debunked, the harder it will be to implement a tyrannical expulsion.

Not only did the trip give strength and encouragement to the residents that the evil decree will be nullified with the help of important allies at their side but it was extremely educational, uplifting and enjoyable.

One of the most important things the group learned, or was reminded of, was the beauty of this part of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah and the one time home of Avraham. Slandered continuously by a hostile press who would make it seem a worthless, dangerous and horrible place, the slander has been used to paint the residents as crazy fanatics who, if they had any sense at all, would leave immediately of their own free will.

Go there and you will see a completely different picture, one that takes you well beyond the true madness of Arab Gaza that you see on TV.

You will see pleasant, crime free Jewish communities near the Mediterranean Sea sitting on beautiful sand dunes that stretch for miles. You will see hot houses with their flowers and vegetables growing out of the sand and a seaside resort, now empty and neglected, but soon again, hopefully, a thriving vacation spot. You will see local Jewish surfers ride the waves even today – youth who really do love their seaside home. You will see smiling children and proud parents – torah scholars and devoted and brave wives and mothers.

You will meet with many residents who will share the most amazing stories of the miracles of Gush Katif during the past few years as thousands of mortars and rockets have left almost everyone there with the clearest faith that they and their family and neighbors and friends are being protected through Devine Providence day and night.

You will also hear inspiring words from community and spiritual leaders like Rabbi of the Gaza Coast Regional Council Community, Yigal Kaminetzky and Avner Shimoni, Mayor of the Gaza Coast Regional Council.

David Hatuel, whose wife and all of his children were murdered along the Kissufim road in Gush Katif almost a year ago now, also spoke with the group in a way that makes you not only painfully and personally aware of the great tragedy that has befallen himself and others but of the great moral strength and goodness of heart of the community as a whole.

David Hatuel’s face showed and his words confirmed the great love and appreciation that he has for the people in his community that have not only seen him through his horrible tragedy so that he can survive, but have given him the strength that has renewed his countenance with light and his words with the power to inspire others – like our group – with hope and faith in life in general and in the immediate and long term future of Gush Katif.

I urge you to contact Charni Sochet in Dov Hikind’s office and learn more about the next trip. The phone number is 718-853-3981.

In May, another great trip to Gush Katif is planned with Americans for a Safe Israel and they are currently taking reservations. Call them at 1-800-235-3658 for all the details.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Column: Gaza Bound

I am writing this column as I prepare to join Assemblyman Dov Hikind and a group of 50 American Jews who will arrive in Israel on March 14 and head straight to Gush Katif in Gaza to make a show of support for the Jews there and to protest the "disengagement" plan of Ariel Sharon. Joining the three day mission will be Rabbis, a Supreme Court Judge, a Civil Court Judge, an Administrative Law Judge, a psychologist, a gastroenterologist, builders, businessmen, industry leaders, mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers -- including my own mother, Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel.

First elected to office in 1982, Dov Hikind is now serving his 9th term as the representative for the 48th Assembly District. The district includes Boro Park, Dyker Heights, Kensington and a portion of Flatbush.

Hikind’s activism on behalf of the Jewish community includes his 1992 public denouncement of Jerry Brown's choice of Jesse Jackson as running mate for the presidency of the United States, saying that Jackson’s connections with anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan made him completely objectionable to Jewish voters. Media coverage of Hikind’s remarks was followed by a loss for Brown in the New York primary, contributing significantly to his withdrawal.

Following the Crown Heights riots in1991, Hikind called for an independent investigation into the breakdown of the chain of command at City Hall and a federal civil rights investigation into the murder Yankel Rosenbaum. Hikind’s perseverance paid off in 1997, when a federal court found two individuals guilty of violating Yankel Rosenbaum's civil rights.

In a previous act of solidarity with Israeli’s in danger, Hikind arrived in Israel at the onset of the Gulf War, where wearing a gas-mask he witnessed the first SCUD bombardments.

Now, when Israelis face the imminent danger of being evacuated from their homes, Hikind is on his way to Israel.

Upon arrival there will be a press conference in the airport. Hikind will most likely have to deal with some very unfriendly questions.

Knesset member Yossi Sarid (Meretz/Yahad) has already said the following about the mission:

"We have enough crazy people in Israel ... We don't need any more crazies, even if they are Congressmen." Additionaly, Eitan Cabel (Labor) called the project "chutzpah" and said that the Americans come to Israel to live instead of "interfering" in internal Israeli decisions.

These comments from the Left surely define the tone that will make up the vast majority of the questions from the Israeli press -- and all of the questions asked by the state controlled television and radio stations. I think it will likely be the most distasteful part of the trip -- but one that will hopefully be sweetened by a warm and large reception at the airport and the very, very, warm welcome of the residents of Gush Katif will be incredibly uplifting upon arriving in their communities.

From the soldiers serving in Gaza that the group encounters, I would expect a mixed response but one where the positive overwhelms the negative. If police are present I would expect that they will be distant and cold -- reflecting the government’s fear that literally thousands of Jews and Christians will be coming on similar missions in the coming weeks and months.

Arutz 7 reports that as this trip begins, "a Norwegian organization called Friends of Gaza in Norway is concluding a two-day campaign to distribute flowers to each and every Jewish family in Gush Katif. Attached to each bouquet is a letter reading, "Having come from Norway which, together with an irresponsible Israeli leadership, brought upon you the catastrophe of the Oslo Accords, we pray that the Israeli Government will not err once again."

The support that the Jews of Gaza receive over the course of the near future -- if it swells to great numbers -- could potentially make a great difference. Ariel Sharon talks tough and the polls boast of support for his plan but his government stands on shaky ground ahead of the March 31 deadline for the approval of his budget -- where he does not yet have a majority -- and these missions could help to bring him and his plans down.

Next week I will share with you my observations from the trip. See you then.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Column: Democracy and the Noahide Laws

I have been meaning for some time to write about why I think, for spiritual reasons, President Bush and MK Natan Sharansky are right about the power of democracy. Even before events quickly sweeping the Middle East started making reluctant cynics rethink their positions, I have been wanting to address the spiritual question as to why democracy resonates in the hearts of all men -- a presupposition of the founding fathers and the basis of American democracy.

The answer that I have is perhaps a surprisingly Jewish one.

Constitutional Democracy is simply the best available vehicle for the fulfillment of the Noahide Law -- given to all the nations by the Almighty -- to set up fair courts of law, this being the only of the 7 Noahide Laws that touches on questions of government and the governed. From this Law it can be understood that in the hearts of all men there is indeed a built in disdain for tyranny and injustice -- and so I argue an innate attraction to a form of government designed to undermine tyranny and promote justice -- the very purpose of the American Constitution.

I don't want to dwell on this subject here because it is a long one and one article is not sufficient to deal with it completely but I wanted to look quickly upon that subject as the world stands surprised and bewildered at the successes of George W. Bush and say that I think there is a sound Jewish basis for the plan and an overlooked, as far as I have been able to find, spiritual argument for its success.

Perhaps, I have also thought, this argument provides the positive spiritual element for American democracy that is lacking in its Hobbes and Locke based defensive posture against tyranny -- a lack that has sent many a youth searching for meaning in the false promises of charlatans and tyrants who promise all good things in return for great powers to rule -- but enough of all this for now.

Last week, as the revolution in Lebanon was just hitting the press, and I was writing my column, I found an early reaction posted by Michael Ledeen on National Review Online's blog "The Corner" and quoted liberally from it. I also mentioned that his post would, he promised, be followed up by a column on the subject of the "Cedar Revolution" and that I was not going to miss it for the insight it might provide into what direction the Bush administration would chart after the surprise.

One of the most interesting paragraphs in that article that appeared the following day and which can be found in the archives at NRO, is the following:
"Our most lethal weapon against the tyrants is freedom, and it is now spreading on the wings of democratic revolution. It would be tragic if we backed off now, when revolution is gathering momentum for a glorious victory. We must be unyielding in our demand that the peoples of the Middle East design their own polities, and elect their own leaders. The first step, as it has been in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is a national referendum to choose the form of government. In Iran, the people should be asked if they want an Islamic republic. In Syria, if they want a Baathist state. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Libya, if they want more of the same. We should not be deterred by the cynics who warn that freedom will make things worse, because the ignorant masses will opt for the fantasmagorical caliphate of the increasingly irrelevant Osama bin Laden. Mubarak and Qadaffi and Assad and Khamenei are arresting democrats, not Islamists, and the women of Saudi Arabia are not likely to demand to remain shrouded for the rest of their lives."

This is the essence of Ledeen's call for not quitting and pushing forward until the whole region has been changed and terror has been wiped out. I would expect that that is the course that Bush will take, giving Europe and the Left all the time they need to adjust after the fact.

Going back to the spiritual element that I covered earlier, I guess it is my hope that it adds something to the argument for pursuing the War on Terror until it is completely and totally won -- in a way that Clausewitz would appreciate.

It is also my hope, and my growing belief, that the antidemocratic Sharon will see his government fall when the budget comes to vote in two weeks. His tyrannical bulldozing ahead with his "disengagement" plan has put him clearly on the wrong side of history and I would be surprised if the courage that is spreading in this region with the spread of democracy doesn't dethrone him very soon.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Column: Looking Forward

When I read the story last night about the fall of the pro-Syrian regime in Lebanon all I could say is wow! -- I said it a few times. If things were moving fast in this region, I thought to myself, they had just shifted into a much higher gear.

The fall of the puppet regime in Lebanon threatens Bashar Assad's leadership in Syria. Not only is Syria dependent economically to a great extent on the fruits of its Lebanese occupation, one ostensibly made to prevent a civil war, but Assad has essentially admitted his role in international terror -- one that he has long been denying -- by surrendering to Iraq Saddam Hussein's half brother on the same day (Sunday) as the regime resigned.

Along with Saddam Hussein's half brother, Assad surrendered 29 other former Iraqi Baathists leaders of the Iraqi "insurgency." This move can really mean only one thing. Assad is trying to wash his hands of his terror connections in fear of the approaching tide of democratic reform that is sweeping the area and threatens to bring down upon him the full scrutiny of America as it pursues the War on Terror.

Surely knowing that the release would draw American attention to his involvement with Iraqi "insurgents," Assad may have been calculating that if he surrendered these Saddam loyalists he would deflect further attention away from himself and the full extent of his terrorist activities. This calculation was desperate and mistaken and will backfire in a painful way for Assad.

Already, instead of softening up, America is mounting the pressure on Assad in light of both the fall of the regime in Lebanon and the harboring of Saddam loyalist leaders.

Republican Senator from Kansas, Sam Brownback, said in a telephone interview with the Wichita Eagle during a flight home from a visit to Iraq; "We really have to confront Syria on allowing these groups to operate out of Syria ... The ties to command-and-control of these operations go back onto Syrian soil."
Knight Ridder reported:

"The Bush administration made clear Monday that it has no intention of easing up on Assad, saying it was closely following developments in Lebanon. It also announced that President Bush plans to meet next month at the White House with the patriarch of the country's Maronite Christians, one of the main anti-Syrian factions."
"Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel need to leave the country," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said."

Meanwhile, on Monday, the day following the fall of the pro-Syrian regime and the surrender of the Baathists, Assad said in an interview that he thought the United States might attack his country, but did not believe a strike was imminent, revealing the extent of his concern over his new situation and his desire to win sympathy and protection. But while that might gain him some support and sympathy in certain corners it will do little to veer the Bush administration off course from bringing him down.

Miichael Ledeen, posting on National Review Online's blog, "The Corner," in an early to press commentary on the developments in Lebanon had this to say:

"Today Beirut, tomorrow Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran. And then we will see what is left of the terror network.

War is waged in many ways, and we possess the most lethal weapon in the world: the desire for freedom. President Bush ha--uniquely among world leaders--understood the nature of this moment and given it voice. We should be celebrating the fall of the Lebanese puppet regime, and we should be demanding referenda and free elections in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Sometimes tyrants can be brought down without firing a shot. It is happening every month. The so-called "realists" (actually reactionaries, as my pal Roger Simon never tires of reminding us) are now talking about making deals with the tyrants. This would be a terrible mistake. This is our moment, and the tyrants know it (I'm preparing a longer explication for tomorrow) let's win the whole thing.

Come on, guys, get with the program. Join the call for a referendum in Iran: "do you want an Islamic republic, yes or no?" That is the death knell of the mullahs, and the downfall of the world's greatest sponsor of terrorism."

Ledeen's piece should be interesting and instructive as to how the Bush administration will move forward on this news. I'm not going to miss it.