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The Day After: ‘Every Day Is Oct. 8’

The Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, in Hamadan, Iran. Photo: Philippe Chavin via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgEvery ending is a new beginning.

When we conclude each of the five books of the Torah (as we did last week) the reader leads the congregation in the refrain “chazak chazak v’nitchazek,” meaning “be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened.”

This custom began in the 1100s, and is one of a group of customs related to finishing a Torah reading. According to Sephardic custom, after one receives an aliyah, congregants greet them with “chazak u’baruch,” “may you be strong and blessed”; Ashkenazi Jews say instead, “yiyasher kochacha,” “may your strength be renewed.” After finishing an entire book of the Talmud, we read the siyum declaration which begins with the words “Hadran Alach,” “I will return to you,” expressing a commitment to return to that just studied. These customs declare that one can never retire from responsibility, even after extraordinary success. Endings are never the end.

For the same reason, on Simchat Torah, when we read the final Torah reading of the year, we go a step further and actually start reading the Torah again from the beginning. We want to make it clear we are not going to abandon the Torah, once completed. (Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik suggests that this may be why we say “Adon Olam” at the end of the Musaf prayer on Shabbat morning; even after lengthy service, we go right back to the very first prayer, indicating we are ready to start all over again!)

Every victory brings with it the possibility of defeat. Overconfidence can turn strong armies into weak ones. It is precisely after achieving success, after concluding the task, that we have to remember to “be strong, be strong, and be strengthened.”

One of the major British victories in World War II was the second Battle of El-Alamein, which ended on Nov. 11, 1942. That day, Winston Churchill spoke to Parliament to report on the victory. Then he added the following:

“We are entitled to rejoice only upon the condition that we do not relax. I always liked those lines by the American poet, Walt Whitman. I have several times repeated them. They apply to-day most aptly. He said: ‘Now understand me well—it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.’ The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult. … We shall need to use the stimulus of victory to increase our exertions, to perfect our systems, and to refine our processes.”

This is an eloquent restatement of “chazak chazak v’nitchazek.” Unlike the tagline of the beer ads, once a job is done, it is not “Miller Time.” Victory brings with it a multitude of problems, and the greatest of them all is being spoiled by success.

Every new chapter requires an even greater struggle.

The catastrophe of Oct. 7 occurred due to the sin of overconfidence. Multiple warnings were ignored, while the political and military leadership clung to the assumption that the enemy simply would not attack despite clear evidence to the contrary. No one remembered the lesson of “chazak chazak v’nitchazek.”

In retrospect, this war will probably be seen as a defeat and victory mashed up together, much like the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago. What happens the “day after” has been discussed almost from the very beginning. Pundits, politicians and polemicists all offer their visions. They are planning for a very different political and social landscape.

While a new blueprint is probably necessary, even more important than that is a new mindset.

History is considered by Judaism to be a form of revelation. In a recent seminar, I made mention of Emil Fackenheim’s “614th commandment.” Fackenheim was a prolific writer on the theology of the Holocaust, and believed that history is a form of revelation. The Holocaust, he argued, despite its horrors, carries the commanding voice of history. To Fackenheim, this voice declared: “Thou shalt not hand Hitler posthumous victories.” That is a new commandment, the 614th commandment. One of his students paraphrased Fackenhiem’s four-fold view of this commandment as meaning: “Jews must remain Jews, they must remember the Shoah victims, they must not despair of man, and they must not despair of God.”

History as revelation is the very lesson of Purim. The Book of Esther meticulously excludes mention of God’s name. Instead, it urges us to hear God through the commanding voice of history. Much like Fackenheim’s understanding, the practical commandments in the Book of Esther offer a series of lessons as well, which I would summarize this way: Evil exists. Celebrate salvation, and celebrate with friends. Care for the vulnerable. Connect to your community. Read aloud these lessons every year so you don’t forget them.

Actually, the lessons of history cannot offer a simple blueprint for the future; circumstances change all the time. Instead, they are meant to transform our perspective.

After Oct. 7, a commanding voice calls out to us again, asking us to see the world differently. Bret Stephens, in a brilliant column, writes:

“There used to be a sign somewhere in the C.I.A.’s headquarters that read, ‘Every day is Sept. 12.’ It was placed there to remind the agency’s staffers that what they felt right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—the sense of outrage and purpose, of favoring initiative over caution, of taking nothing for granted—had to be the mind-set with which they arrived to work every day.

“There ought to be a similar sign in every Jewish organization, synagogue and day school, and on the desks of anyone—Jewish or not—for whom the security and well-being of the Jews is a sacred calling: ‘Every day is Oct. 8.’”

This is a powerful point. Jews must nevermore be naive. Our destiny can no longer depend on here today, gone tomorrow “allies,” and our security must depend on something more than a high-tech fence.

But the voice of history has much more to say about Oct. 7. One day a “Book of Oct. 7” will be composed, with all the stories of unity, heroism and optimism. And through these stories, we will hear God’s commanding voice, and learn lessons about the mindset we need in order to move forward into the future.

Allow me to share one such story. This past week I met a young woman from Kfar Aza, Or Tzuk, who spoke at an AIPAC conference.

On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists murdered her parents. Her 25-year-old brother was able to survive by hiding under a bed; he stayed there for seven hours just inches from his mother’s body, soaked in her blood. (Or and her husband had gone away on vacation.)

Or told us how she promised her brother that whatever happens in the future, she will always care for him; he can come any day and move right into her house. And she told everyone that she was three months pregnant and had thrown up just before she got on stage.

When I spoke to her afterward, I asked Or why she decided to get pregnant just two months after her parents were brutally murdered. Her response was simple: Jews know they must choose life. Jews must always be optimistic, even in the worst of times.

Or said she drew inspiration from the Jewish holidays. Unlike many other cultures and religions, Jewish holidays are not unvarnished stories of joy; rather, they tell stories about how resilient heroes like Esther, Moses and the Maccabees overcame extreme challenges.

When speaking to Or, I realized that I was talking to a modern-day Esther. She has heard a voice calling out, telling her to choose life, to choose family, to choose community.

And that voice speaks to us too. This is the only way forward for the day after.

Originally published by The Jewish Journal.

The post The Day After: ‘Every Day Is Oct. 8’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group

Israel is at a crucial juncture after Iran fired more than 350 ballistic and cruise missiles at the Jewish state overnight on April 13, according to Israel’s ambassador to Canada. “We are facing one of the most critical moments in the history of the State of Israel when a country like Iran starts an attack […]

The post Israel’s ambassador to Canada says his country faces critical decisions after a night of Iranian missile attacks—and urges Canada to list the IRGC as a terrorist group appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ

General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

JNS.orgThe solemnly named International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has become an arena for the world’s despots and authoritarians to strut and grandstand, projecting their own abuses—torture, censorship, genocide—onto the world’s democracies.

The anti-democratic crusade waged in the name of human rights has impacted Israel more than any other state. The Jewish state is subjected to insulting and, frankly, frivolous lawsuits every time it tries to discharge its basic duty of protecting its citizens—whether that was the security fence constructed along the West Bank border more than a decade ago or the war against Hamas in Gaza right now.

Since the onset of the latest war in the Gaza Strip, triggered by the monstrous Hamas pogrom of Oct. 7, Israel has been the focus of a baseless charge of genocide brought about by South Africa, which largely failed in its bid to make the accusation stick. Many observers pointed out that South Africa’s worsening domestic record—marked by corruption, horrific xenophobia towards migrants from other countries in southern Africa and an inability to deliver basic services like electricity and clean water to those who need them most—hardly qualifies its African National Congress (ANC)-led government to sit in judgment over Israel. Yet Pretoria has continued undeterred, at the same time that it welcomes Hamas leaders for state visits and treats its Jewish community—and anyone else who dares utter understanding for Israel—with unvarnished antisemitism.

Now the baton has passed to Nicaragua, which last week sent its lawyers to the ICJ to charge Germany with aiding and abetting Israel’s supposed “genocide.” The bitter irony is that it is Nicaragua’s far-left leadership, aligned with the dictatorships in Venezuela and Cuba, that should be in the dock.

Daniel Ortega has been in power in Nicaragua since 2007, and he’s not going anywhere—at least, not voluntarily. Some readers will remember Ortega’s name from the Sandinista revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and the Iran-Contra scandal that followed during the subsequent decade. But you don’t have to dig deep into that history to get a sense of the kind of regime that he runs. As Freedom House—an NGO that monitors the state of liberty around the world—explains it, the latest period of Ortega’s rule has been “a period of democratic deterioration marked by the consolidation of all branches of government under his party’s control, the limitation of fundamental freedoms and unchecked corruption in government.”

In the last year alone, the Nicaraguan regime has expelled more than 200 opposition leaders into exile in the United States. It has passed new legislation to strip those deemed “traitors to the homeland” of their citizenship. It has turned the police into an arm of the executive, trampling over the separation of powers that democracies hold so dear. In many ways, this new wave of repression is an outgrowth of the regime’s brutal clampdown on anti-government protests in 2018. Abroad, meanwhile, its authoritarian domestic policy is matched by unflinching support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine and a close bond with the Iranian regime, North Korea and other rogue states.

This, in short, is the character of the regime that has brought charges of “genocide” against Israel by targeting Germany’s supply of arms to the Jewish state—as if a serial sex offender was to opportunistically cry out, “rape!”

Why is Nicaragua embarking on this path at the ICJ? Some insight was provided by a German journalist who specializes in Latin American affairs, Toni Keppeler, during an interview last week with Swiss radio. Noting that Nicaragua is quite isolated among the world’s states, Keppeler suggested that the ICJ lawsuit was seen by Ortega as a means of boosting his international image. And Germany, he added, was a much safer bet than the United States, which supplies far more weapons to Israel, because America can punish Nicaragua in ways that Germany couldn’t or wouldn’t. He also noted that Ortega wants to be embraced by left-wing groups around the world. And so the Nicaraguan caudillo figures, not unreasonably, that bandwagoning on the Palestinian cause they are obsessed with is the way he will achieve that.

But there is another, more sinister reason behind Nicaragua’s action. Ultimately, these cases against Israel at the ICJ are aimed at shifting public perceptions of Israel and its history, and in particular, the influence of the Holocaust upon support for Israel in the democratic world. One of the reasons why Germany supports Israel is simply because it was the country that initiated the mass slaughter of Jews during World War II. Since 1945, democratic Germany has been guided by entirely different principles, elevating its backing for Israel into a staatsrason—“reason of state.” Indeed, as I noted recently, one of the several questions about Jews and Israel on the newly reformulated naturalization test for prospective immigrants to Germany asks, “What is the basis of Germany’s special responsibility to Israel?” with the correct answer being “The crimes of national socialism.”

That is how it should be, but for the international left, such a stance is intolerable. In their jaundiced eyes, Germany has atoned for the Holocaust by backing the nakba—the Arabic word for “catastrophe” used by many Palestinians to describe the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948. Germany’s position irritatingly reminds the world that Jews were once victims of nightmarish genocide themselves—hardly the sort of fact you’d want to highlight if your purpose is to turn them into victims once again. And so, Nicaragua’s lawyers (including, disgracefully, a German citizen named Daniel Muller) have trooped into the ICJ to argue that supporting the Jewish state is the wrong way to express solidarity with Jews.

The goal here, make no mistake, is to separate the Holocaust from Israel and to argue that the one entity in the world capable of preventing another Holocaust is actually sowing its seeds! It’s topsy-turvy logic, but if it works effectively as propaganda, generating meme after meme on social media, why worry about that?

Hence we arrive at a situation where the 15 ICJ judges debate a phantom genocide while turning a blind eye to genuine examples of this phenomenon, along with other related crimes. “The government of Nicaragua is perpetrating widespread violations and abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity,” the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect Project noted in a briefing back in February, but you won’t hear a peep about that in the ICJ’s corridors. Ditto for Turkey’s racist treatment of its Kurdish minority, and indeed, for the myriad other examples of government-sponsored cruelty on every continent.

This is yet another demonstration of antisemitism, insofar as antisemitism applies to standards for Jews that no other nation has to contend with. That is the ugly reality behind these fanciful appeals to “international law” that plague Israel. Germany is now receiving a glimpse of what that feels like but only because of its relationship with Israel—otherwise, this case would never have been brought to court.

The post Nicaragua’s Charade at the ICJ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties

Former US President Barack Obama. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org“Israel has taken more steps to avoid harming civilians than any other military in history. … Steps that Israel has taken to prevent casualties [are] historic in comparison to all these other wars.” — John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies, West Point, Feb. 17, 2024

“[Immediately after taking office] Obama authorized two Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, which, combined, killed an estimated one militant and 10 civilians, including between four and five children.” — Obama’s Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2016

In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes … in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured … with little accountability.” — Amnesty International at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Council hearing, Feb. 9, 2022

The recent accidental deaths of seven foreign aid workers with World Central Kitchen in the Gaza Strip have sparked an eruption of anti-Israel vitriol that highlights the vicious Judeophobic prejudice that is sweeping much of the globe today. This is something that defies all and any tenets of morality and reason. Indeed, by any conceivable criterion of human decency, there is no conflict in recent history in which the gulf between good and evil, wanton barbarism and humanitarian restraint, has been so clearly delineated as that between the protagonists in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Painstaking Israeli restraint

The tragedy of collateral damage has been a lamentable aspect of warfare ever since nation-states began to displace dynastic monarchies as the dominant structural element in the international system and perhaps even before that.

Rarely if ever has one of the belligerent parties—let alone the victim of a brutal unprovoked attack on its civilians—demonstrated such painstaking care to avoid harm befalling enemy civilians as Israel. This is reflected in the unequivocal declaration of the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp: “I have fought in combat zones around the world including Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Macedonia and Iraq. I was also present throughout the conflict in Gaza in 2014. Based on my experience and on my observations, the Israel Defense Forces … does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

In Gaza, the vulnerability of non-combatants is greatly exacerbated by the malicious actions of their leaders, who cynically exploit them by deliberately placing them in harm’s way and coercively preventing them from seeking safe havens. Thus, as a Wall Street Journal piece underscores, “Israel seeks to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties and use them as a propaganda tool.”

Israel setting ‘gold standard’ for avoiding civilian casualties

The chairman of urban warfare studies at West Point, John Spencer, described Israel’s achievements in avoiding collateral damage as “unprecedented,” particularly given the complex combat conditions in Gaza above and below ground. According to Spencer, Israel is setting the “gold standard” for avoiding civilian casualties.

Likewise, Kemp praised the IDF for its record of avoiding civilian casualties during its operations in Gaza and pointed out that the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in Gaza is about 1:1.5, while according to the United Nations, the average combatant-to-civilian death ratio in urban warfare in general is 1:9—six times higher.

The issue of civilian casualties in Gaza is hugely complicated by Hamas’s heinous practice of exploiting medical facilities as a cover for its terror activities. This includes the copiously documented abuse of ambulances for the transportation of terror-related personnel and materiel.

Israeli moderation is underscored by comparison to non-combatant fatalities in other military encounters involving democracies at war. In World War II, nearly 600,000 European civilians were killed by Allied aerial bombardment of German cities that were reduced to rubble and ashes. Moreover, cities in other countries in Nazi-occupied Europe were bombarded—including their non-combatant civilian residents. One of the most grisly and tragic of these events occurred in Copenhagen in March 1945, when the RAF was sent to bomb the Gestapo headquarters in the city. It inadvertently hit a nearby school, killing 123 Danish civilians, including 87 schoolchildren.

Then there were the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—neither of which was ever designated as a military target—of whom between 100,000 to 200,000 were incinerated and irradiated by the U.S. atomic bombings in early August 1945.

“There is always a cost to defeat an evil.”

Half a century later, after hundreds of thousands were killed by American bombing in the Vietnam War, NATO launched a war against Serbia. The NATO campaign consisted of high altitude—and hence far from accurate—bombing raids that regularly hit civilian targets. These targets included residential neighborhoods, old-age homes, hospitals, open-air markets, columns of fleeing refugees, civilian buses, trains on bridges and even a foreign embassy.

When then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was pressed on the issue of the significant numbers of civilian casualties, he responded, “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” This is exactly how Israelis feel about the war against Hamas.

These were not the only post-World War II instances of pervasive human suffering caused by large-scale U.S.-led military operations.

More babies died in Iraq than in Hiroshima

After Saddam Hussein’s 1991 takeover of Kuwait, the United States and its allies imposed sanctions on Iraq and dispatched forces to repel the invasion. Even after Hussein was evicted from Kuwait, sanctions and military operations continued. These measures resulted in tremendous suffering for the civilian population. The scale of it can be gauged by a 1996 60 Minutes interview with the late Madeleine Albright, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and secretary of state under Bill Clinton. Albright was quizzed by the interviewer Leslie Stahl about the ravages the U.S.-led measures wrought on the Iraqi population.

Stahl asked,We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

Of course, it should be underscored that—unlike Israel’s post-Oct. 7 response to a massacre of its citizens on its sovereign territory—at this (pre-9/11) time, neither the U.S. homeland nor any U.S. resident had been harmed by the Iraqi regime.

‘A tremendous human toll … ’

In 2001, in response to the 9/11 attacks in which almost 3,000 people died, a U.S.-led military coalition (in which the U.K. played a prominent role) invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government and uproot Al-Qaeda. The Oct. 7 massacre was—in proportion to Israel’s population—almost 35 times the toll of the 9/11 atrocity; the equivalent of almost 50,000 U.S. fatalities.

Although reliable figures regarding the toll the war inflicted on the civilian population of Afghanistan and neighboring countries are not easy to obtain, an estimate published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs states, “The U.S. post-9/11 wars … have taken a tremendous human toll on those countries.” It presents a 2021 assessment that almost 47,000 Afghani civilians were killed, but adds a proviso that “several times … more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars,” including through “water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and war-related disease.”

Thousands of civilians hit ‘with little accountability’

U.S. strikes in which indisputably civilian targets were hit are a matter of record. During the 20-year war in Afghanistan, several weddings, parties and processions were struck by drones—inflicting hundreds of fatalities, including women and children. Such strikes took place not only in Afghanistan but in other countries, including neighboring Pakistan and more distant Iraq, Yemen, Libya and even Somalia.

Summing up the consequences of the U.S. strikes, Amnesty International USA stated: “In recent years, we have investigated civilian harm from U.S. air strikes and U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia, and found that thousands of civilians have been killed or seriously injured by U.S. air strikes (both using drones and manned aircraft) with little accountability.”

Finally. the 2003 invasion of Iraq by a U.S.-led coalition—launched on the dubious or at least unsubstantiated allegations that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was producing weapons of mass destruction—wrought untold misery on millions of Iraqi civilians and a death toll upwards of 300,000 non-combatants.

Closing caveat

The current vogue of berating Israel is both unfounded and unfair. Lending this abuse support or sympathy will only serve to fan the flames of today’s smoldering embers of hatred that will eventually engulf those who propagate it.

The post Misplaced Moral Outrage on Civilian Casualties first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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