Many people, including myself, have often wondered about the Russian strategy in Syria, now that the war is for the most part over.
We all know that Assad is no boy scout; we also know that the ISIS fighters, who swelled the ranks of the rebels—are genocidal maniacs driven by an evil vision of Jihad. Such people do not merely kill, they kill with chemical weapons, they burn people alive, crucify non-Muslim children, feed their kids to their captured parents—the list of atrocities almost makes Assad look like a human being.
It reminds me of the old story—perhaps you heard of it.
Once an outlaw lost his brother who died after trying to rob a bank in a gunfight. The outlaw’s surviving brother tells a minister, “You had better say some nice things about my brother, or else I’ll kill ya!” The minister asked, “What should I say about him?” The outlaw said, “Make him sound like a saint!” At the funeral, the minister said, “Clive was a bank-robber, a cattle-rustler, a rapist, a thief, a murderer—he was someone who would even steal candy from a baby. But, compared to his brother, Clive was a saint!”
While Assad has plenty of blood on his hands, his relationship with Israel has for the most part been relatively good. Israel prefers Assad to the leaders of ISIS or other Muslim fanatics. There are many Red-Army veterans living in Israel (see the picture)–in fact many Russians citizens.
The moral of the story is simply this: the devil you know is better than the one who is worse. The fact that the Russians are in Syria is not necessarily a bad thing. Putin can bring considerable stability in Syria—maybe in time even put in someone who is better than Assad.
But what about the Iranians? Assad had no problem using Hezbollah and the Iranian military to help defeat the rebels. But Hezbollah’s motivation had little to do with their love of Assad or the Russians. Their ambitions are much more regional-minded. Sure, they hope to use Syria as a platform to attack Israel, but they also wish to surround the Saudis in their effort to take over Muslim holy sites—especially the city of Mecca, the Crown-Jewels of the Muslim world.
Iran’s bellicose ambitions are hardly subtle. Their tolerance for the Russians—a temporary inconvenience.
Israel, as you know, will not let Iran realize their ambitions. Already, the Israelis have destroyed billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian weaponry. Have you notice that the Russians, for the most part, have been relatively silent. Netanyahu has, from what it appears, a reasonably good relationship with Putin.
Of course, appearances are deceptive—, especially in the Middle East.
However, Putin does not want to see an Iranian-Israeli war in Syria. It simply is not in Russia’s interest. And the reason for this is because of a political principle that the Midrash has long taught: “Two kings cannot share the same crown.”
It’s sort of like, “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
And that is the situation brewing in Syria today between the Iranians and the Russians. Just last night, Putin made the statement, “Foreign troops—including Iran and Hezbollah should depart Syria when the civil war ends.”
Of course, he might have included the Turkish troops, for as Erdogan is really the “third king” of our Midrash, whose ambition is to reestablish the Ottoman Empire.
Put in different terms, “Three kings cannot share the same crown.”
And how did the Iranians take Putin’s remark? The Islamic Republic responds, “no one can force Iran to do anything. Those who should leave Syria are the ones who entered it without consent. We will remain and keep supporting Syria so long as it needs our help,” he added, according to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV.
And with this revelation—something that I have personally observed for months—it ought to be clear that the Putin is prepared to give Netanyahu free reign to get rid of the Iranians as an occupying power.
Eventually, though, the political entropy between the Russians and the Iranians will manifest itself—sort of like spurned lovers.
As far as Assad goes, the Russians had better guard him closely, for eventually, the Iranians will try to replace him with a person of their own choosing.
I am betting the Russians and the Israelis will send the Iranians packing–especially as President keeps the pressure on the Iranians, who are rapidly becoming the pariah everyone hates.
Erich Fromm wondered: How can we account for humankind’s capacity for cruelty and violence? Fromm, like the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, believed that violence is something we share with the animal world—especially when it comes to directing our anger against members of our own species. On the other hand, the behaviorist B. F. Skinner believed that there are no innate human traits toward violence; rather it is all a part of human conditioning. Fromm believed that malignant aggression, or destructiveness, in which man kills without biological or social purpose, is peculiarly human and not instinctive. He also argued that there is exist within the psyche of man two polar forces: biophilia, which teaches one to show reverence and love for life. Its opposite is necrophilia—, which does not mean having sex with corpses, but it means an unhealthy love for death.
This distinction is exactly what differentiates most Palestinians from the Israelis. While Israel is always trying to improve the world with its medical advances and technology, using its agricultural technology to improve life for peoples all over the world, the Palestinian mentality—particularly in Gaza—is hellishly determined to destroy life—especially Jewish life.
We have seen this obsession for death and the glorification violence before with the Nazis, who took great pride in eliminating Jews wherever and whenever possible. Make no mistake about it: today’s successor of Nazism is the Jihadi philosophy of Islam—political Islam. When a Palestinian murders a Jewish family, his family receives a million dollars for each person he kills. This practice has gone on since the Oslo Peace Accords first started. Mahmud Abbas, in particular, has given millions of dollars—blood money to the destroyers of human life.
AS Israel celebrates the U.S. recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the mad Mullahs of Iran have offered $100,000 for anyone who blows up the new American Embassy.
As Fromm taught, such behavior reveals a love for death. Only a sick and disturbed religion teaches its people to behave this way. That is why peaceful Muslims need to initiate an Islamic Revolution; one that will save Islam from destroying itself and the civilized world.
At the fence separating Gaza from Israel, Palestinian terrorists would love nothing more to go on a killing rampage in Israel. For the State of Israel, such wanton violence must not be tolerated. Gold Meir once offered profound wisdom that I wish the Gazans would seriously take to heart:
“When peace comes we will, perhaps in time, be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”
Every country has the right to define its own capital. Israel must not be inferior to any other country in this regard. Jewish history is etched on every stone of Jerusalem—whether Muslim fanatics accept this reality or not. For over 3000 years, Jerusalem has been the spiritual capital of our people. The vision of Jerusalem rebuilt and restored has remained embedded in virtually every page of our daily Siddur.
At the end of the Passover Seder, or at the end of the Yom Kippur services, what have Jews loudly proclaimed? “Next year in Jerusalem!”
In 1948, the Jordanians captured the Jewish section of Jerusalem, banning Jews from worshiping at the Western Wall. They used Jewish tombstones as urinals as they literally defecated Jewish memory. Since 1968, Israel has proven to be a peaceful custodian of her ancestral city. It has, for the most part, remained a city of peace.
So why has it been so obvious for the world to accept the obvious? One reason—anti-Semitism. The European countries in particular long for the days when the Jew will be under their bootstrap and depend upon their benevolence to live.
While liberal Jews cannot stand Trump, some because of his boorish manners; others because he is brash and politically incorrect, most of us today as Jews ought to appreciate what President Trump has done for the Jewish people. It took political courage and conviction for him to do what he did. I can remember Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and Obama promise to recognize Jerusalem as its capital—but they all lied.
Yes, even Obama.
Obama went on record saying at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on June 4, 2008, in his first foreign policy speech after capturing the Democratic nomination the day before:
“Let me be clear… Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided. I have no illusions that this will be easy.”
Bill Clinton also made a similar promise in 1993, where he said after he took office that he supported “the principle’ of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.” In 2000 he said once again, “I have always wanted to move our embassy to West Jerusalem. We have a designated site there. I have not done so because I didn’t want to do anything to undermine our ability to help to broker a secure and fair and lasting peace for Israel.”
Yes, Trump’s brashness makes him different from the politicians who offered us nothing but hoya hoya and lots of ungawa.
The world is full of surprises. I was stunned to read about a New York Times condemnation of the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. The name of the Article was, “Let Abbas’s Vile Words Be His Last as Palestinian Leader.”
Abbas went on record saying that the Nazi genocide of European Jews in the Holocaust was “the result of the victims’ financial activities, not their religious identity and anti-Semitism.” We should not be surprised that Abbas made such an outlandish claim. After all, did he not write his Ph.D. thesis on this topic back in the 1980s? Abbas has been a Holocaust denier for several decades and it is interesting to see him at age 82, admit, that there was a Holocaust—but that the Jews brought it all upon themselves! Yet, in 2003, Abbas admitted, “The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind.”
The New York Times seemed to be genuinely surprised by Abbas’ offhand remark.
But for most of us who have studied Abbas’ modus operandi, this was not a great revelation. It has been staring at us in the face for decades–even the NY Times, but they chose to ignore it.
Abbas merely took off his persona.
In Jungian psychology, the word “persona” was originally a mask worn by actors in the ancient Greek plays that indicated the specific role they played. But Jung added that the persona can sometimes function as a protective covering when dealing with other people. As with any mask, however, once the mask comes off—only then can you see the real person. In the case of Abbas, he has always known—as have many of us—that projecting a “civilized” persona is the only way to get what one wants in terms of money, power, influence, and prestige.
The duplicitous Abbas exposed himself to the world. Unmasked, we can now recognize him for the Jew hater he has always been.
I suspect that Abbas’ casual way of deceiving others has a deep psychological component that has been a part of his religious upbringing and personal history.
When I think of Abbas and Arafat reminds me of an old story I once heard from a Catholic friend of mine while I was working on my doctoral degree at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Once a famous missionary spent decades spreading God’s Word to a tribe of cannibals. After he retired, they made a large banquet in his honor. Someone asked him, “Did the cannibals under your influence really give up eating human beings?” The old missionary said, “Well before I arrived the savages used to eat with their hands; after I worked with them, they would wear suits and ties, and eat with forks and knives instead!”
The only difference between Abbas and Arafat is that Abbas has mastered the niceties of appearing “civilized,” whereas Arafat could care less what people thought about his demeanor. Both of these men deserve to be remembered as savages.
In the final analysis, Abbas has still failed to grasp that the Holocaust did not occur ex nihilo; it was the result of a poisonous pedagogy that began with the inception of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in Late Antiquity. This is why attempts to rewrite or sanitize the villains responsible for producing the Holocaust, or any kind of downplaying, or flat-out denying it are dangerous. Civilized leaders in our 21st century and beyond have a moral duty to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate conspiracy theories that wish to deny it.
Natalie Portman lately has developed a penchant for creating headlines about the Jews. This past week, she went on record saying, “The Shoah is no more tragic than other genocides, and that she questioned its prominence in Jewish education.”
When I first read her comment, I had to dig deeper into the story. In a country where over a third of the people no longer know about the Holocaust, I think it is important that Jews especially never forget what happened to our people.
She recalls that in her education in Israel, she was shocked to learn about the Rwandan Genocide.
“I was shocked that that [genocide] was going on while I was in school. We were learning only about the Holocaust and it was never mentioned and it was happening while I was in school. That is exactly the type of problem with the way it’s taught. I think it needs to be taught, and I can’t speak for everyone because this was my personal education,” she told The Independent.
In a way, I cannot blame Ms. Portman for expressing herself the way she did. As a child of a Holocaust survivor, and being from a large family of Holocaust we often heard growing up hearing about international tragedies, “What’s in it for the Jews?” Or, “What does it mean for the Jews?” As Jews, we tend to see the outside world only as it relates to the Jewish people. Some of my Orthodox and Hassidic friends acted at times that they could care less if something bad happens to someone else—only if it doesn’t happen to the Jews.
But is this behavior really unique to Jews? Do we see Armenians complaining about the Holocaust of the Jews? Or American Indians complain about the deaths of black African slaves? Do we hear any protest from certain Democratic black leaders about the black slave practice that is taking place in over 22 Arab and African countries today?
Nada. Zip. Not a whimper.
Perhaps it is natural for ethnic groups who have experienced great suffering to stay focused on their own experiences, rather than speak out about other people’s experiences. This, of course, does not make it right, but perhaps the Jews are no different from the other peoples of our world.
Or are we really the same? Not all wars of genocide are necessarily the same.
WHY IS THE HOLOCAUST DIFFERENT?
Actually, in many ways, the Holocaust of the Jews was different because Germany was not some backward third-world country we see in the world today. Germany was one of the leading technologically advanced nations in the world—yet their technology yielded to an animus that was savage—even atavistic. Germany was also the leader in culture, the arts, the sciences, philosophy—even in biblical studies! Rudolph Kittel’s brilliant NT Greek lexicon of the New Testament remains one of my favorite reference texts, but Kittel was an avowed supporter of Hitler. Even Carl Jung, one of the most brilliant psychologists who had numerous Jewish disciples endorsed the Hitlerian view that the Jew is a parasite that subsists upon European culture to survive.
The systematic and bureaucratic management of the Holocaust, employing the newly minted IBM computer technology to quickly but efficiently identify and round up Jews and other minorities, used them as slave laborers and ultimately exterminating them. Therefore, Ms. Portman, the Holocaust is different from that perspective.
Nazi Germany proves that technological evolution and moral evolution are not conjoined, as we would wish it to be. This is a valuable lesson—especially today.
ISRAEL IS NOT PERFECT
Now, as far as Israel goes, Israel has always tried to live by this ethical principle; it has gone out of its way to help any people who have suffered catastrophic loses, whether through natural disasters or disasters that are man-made. We could expect no less from a people who suffered from the Holocaust.
Is Israel perfect? Of course not. No country is.
But I suspect Natalie Portman believes that as Jews, we ought to act better. Moreover, on this point, I think she is correct. Israeli education has not always lived up to its potential—and it ought to teach its citizens about the history of genocide in high school history classes.
THE MATTER OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
Natalie Portman might have made a much stronger point, was she more familiar with 21st-century history. In fact, most of Israel would have applauded her had she made the following point.
For decades, the State of Israel has refused to recognize the Armenian genocide in 1915-1917—at least officially. Although over 85 % of Israelis recognize this historical reality as having taken place, Israel—because of its tepid relationship with Turkey—rejected a bill sponsored by Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid to have Israel recognize the Armenian Genocide, in a preliminary vote on February 14th, 2018. Lapid said, “There is no reason that the Knesset, which represents a nation that went through the Holocaust, shouldn’t recognize the Armenian Genocide and have a remembrance day for it.” For the record, neither did US President Barack Obama ever use the word “genocide” in connection with what happened to the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
My father Leo Israel Samuel, who lost five brothers, sisters, and parents, worked in several concentration camps as a tailor. Some of you may recall the movie about Oscar Schindler, where he said, “Where can I find a good tailor?” Well, my father’s tailoring skills saved his life. For a short time toward the end of the war, my father worked for Amon Leopold Göth was an Austrian SS commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp in Płaszów, (better known to you as the villain of Schindler’s List) located in German-occupied Poland. Göth was once boasting, “We Germans showed the Turks how to kill the Armenians.” My father sheepishly asked, “Who were the Armenians?” He snarled, “they were a type of Jew.”
All genocides are interrelated. Had Hitler seen a true war crime tribunal carry out justice, perhaps he might have reconsidered his plans to destroy the Jews. Then again, maybe not.
Regarding the Armenian genocide, the world refused to do anything to the Ottoman Turks responsible for committing the genocide; nor did they stand trial. Political pressure stymied all Allied forces to establish an international tribunal in Malta from 1919-1920, where Ottoman war criminals held in detention. No justice was ever given to the poor Armenian people. I am convinced Israel will eventually do the right thing and acknowledge this terrible genocide; but to do so, it must risk deteriorating its relationship with Turkey.
On a personal note, I have often co-written Yom HaShoah programs with my rabbinic and non-Jewish ministers at Yom Hashoah events in Iowa and Illinois, which sometimes drew about 700 people! We dedicated an entire week to exploring the different historical, ethical, and theological aspects of the Shoah. Every year, we crafted a mission statement for the program that addressed the various genocides taking place along with the traditional enemies of the Jewish people who still dream of destroying our people in a second Holocaust.
In all the years I attended the Yom HaShoah events here in San Diego, I do not recall ever hearing local Jews address the kind of moral issues Natalie Portman brought up. That needs to change.
The real question we must ask ourselves is, are we willing to act as our “brothers’ and sisters’” keepers? Perhaps the most profound Christian interpretation of this question comes from the early 19th-century Baptist preacher, C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892), where he writes about Cain’s question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
I put it to the consciences of many silent Christians, who have never yet made known to others what God has made known to them—How can you be clear from guilt in this matter? Do not say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” for I shall have to give you a horrible answer if you do. I shall have to say, “No, Cain, you are not your brother’s keeper, but you are your brother’s killer.” If, by your effort, you have not sought his good, by your neglect you have destroyed him.”
I would just like to give Natalie Portman one reason why Jews today should never forget the Holocaust. As recently as April 21, 2018, some Gazans sent large swastika kite bombs over Israel, some of which caused considerable damage, in honor of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. Practically on the day of Yom HaShoah itself, the Iranian general Seyyed Abdolrahim Mousavi, who is currently acting as the Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, issued a threatening statement against Israel. He said, “We will destroy the Zionist entity at lightning speed, and thus shorten the 25 years it still has left . . .”
Hitler’s ghost lives on—whether American Jews want to admit it or not.
Once again, I want to extend kudos to Natalie Portman for bringing up a topic that Jews ought to discuss. Because each of us is our brother’s and sister’s keeper, we must remember the wise aphorism of George Santayana who taught, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
 Turkey’s EU Minister, Judge Giovanni Bonello And the Armenian Genocide – ‘Claim about Malta Trials is nonsense’. The Malta Independent. 19 April 2012. Retrieved 10 August 2013
 C.H. Spurgeon and T. Carter, 2,200 Quotations: From the writings of Charles H. Spurgeon: Arranged topically or textually and indexed by subject, Scripture, and people (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1995), 228. Vol. 33. 672.
CHULA VISTA, California — Lately, it seems as though Natalie Portman has transformed herself into a human lightning rod. She created a storm of controversy and gave the Palestinians in Gaza far more respectability than they deserved by canceling plans to receive a prestigious Genesis Award in Jerusalem. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this award, the Genesis Prize was originally established in 2012 as a US $1 million award given annually to Jewish people who have attained recognition and excellence in their fields. Initially, she said she did not feel comfortable about participating in public events in Israel. Soon she added that it was because of her disdain of the Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu.
The Genesis Prize Foundation does a tremendous amount of good in the world; this organization promotes women’s rights and other worthy charitable causes. In December, a Jewish philanthropist named Morris Khan donated another million dollars so that Portman could distribute the money as she saw fit. If Portman hedged about whether she wanted to be a recipient or not, she should have responded much earlier when they originally contacted her—and not at the last minute just prior to the award ceremony.
As Jews, we often like to talk about “Tikkun Olam” improving the world. Do we not say every day in our daily prayers, “litakaneolamb’malchut Shaddai,” loosely translated as “when the world will be fixed (or “perfected”) under Your rule.” These lofty words call for a thoughtful implementation and engagement with society.
I think Portman had an opportunity to make a substantive difference in the world envisioned by this particular prayer. But by choosing to accentuate her political thoughts, she not only diminished Israel in the eyes of the world—and especially its enemies — she failed to perform an act of goodness for many worthy people.
More seriously, she disrespected the country that raised her. She forgets a valuable Jewish value: “All Jews are guarantors for one another.” Portman disrespected the people, which only wanted an opportunity to take pride in Portman’s many fine cinematic accomplishments.
Jews, who sit in the comfort of this country, do not have to face the daily threats of terror that common Israeli citizens experience whenever they go on a bus or drive a car, or simply walk down the streets. The average American Jew does not have to worry about terrorists firing bombs or missiles at large population centers. Because of this displacement, many of us lack a genuine empathy for the courage that everyday Israelis demonstrate in their daily lives.
Israeli technology has proven that security fences around a country provides important security that literally saves lives. I remember the days when Israel didn’t have the security fences in the West Bank; suicide shadim (“martyrs”) blowing themselves up in buses or pizza shops seemed like a monthly occurrence. Whether you agree with the political leaders of Israel or not, a fence around the rabid State of Gaza is necessary. Instead of bettering their people’s lives, the Palestinian leaders in Gaza pilfer billions, while keeping their people wallowing in poverty. Western countries are largely responsible for enabling and abetting this criminal phenomenon. With proper stewardship, Gaza has the potential of becoming a Middle Eastern Singapore—a country that is roughly the same size as Gaza. If any place in the world was ready for a modern French-styled Revolution Redux, it would be Gaza. Can you imagine the possibilities?
Had Portman donated the monies to Israeli hospitals trying to find cures for cancers and other diseases, she would have truly made a difference—and she would have certainly won our respect, despite her personal disdain of the Israeli PM.
But in a way, I cannot blame Portman per se; she has succumbed to the neurosis that is a permanent part of the Hollywood political and psychological landscape. Actors in Hollywood often think that because they are “celebrities” they have the right to “enlighten” our fellow citizens about the righteousness of their political views. For those who live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, preaching about the political issues such as the refugee crisis sounds hypocritical while they drink wine and have festive parties behind their gated homes that have ample police protection 24/7. Save the preaching to the ministers and rabbis, and just continue doing what you do best–acting.