Sunday, August 24, 2014

Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel

Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel by Joshua Muravchik
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Encounter Books (July 8, 2014)

Making David into Goliath could not have been released at a better time as Israel is in the new for defending herself, once again, from Hamas.

Israel, one of the lone democracies in the Middle East and America's strongest ally, is also one of the most criticized and most despised nations in the international community because people such as Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former UN chief Kofi Annan take the time to lambaste Israel every time that they act to defend herself against terror.  During the recent campaign, Carter took the time to pen an op-ed saying that Hamas is a legitimate political government.  Yeah, right...and pigs can fly, too.

At a time when Iran is seen as a major threat with the capability to make nuclear weapons, Europeans are telling pollsters that they feel that Israel is a bigger threat.  At the same time, about a quarter of all votes in the United Nations are directed toward Israel while an increasing number of college campuses are adopting policies of BDS.

As hard as it is to believe with the current climate right now, it was only forty years ago that Israel was attracting admiration and widespread sympathy from people around the word.  Progressives and intellectuals were praising Israel.  They aren't doing that all that much these days and Muravchik goes into detail as to why.

Muravchik explores just how and why this transformation, as wrong as it is, has taken place.  He goes into detail on who is behind it, too, in detail.  A fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Muravchik is one of the nation's leading scholars when it comes to socialism and the Middle East.

He shows how the pressure of terrorism, oil, and demographics have led to Israel being treated as a pariah.  In the 1970s, the Arab League threatened to raise oil prices to those countries that voted in favor of Israel at the United Nations!  These were the same leadeers that bowed to Palestinian pressure to release those suspected by terrorism so as not to have another bombing or hijacking on their soil.

One of the chief culprits in the transformation was the rise of a intellectual paradigm that saw the replacement of workers against capitalists to the "people-of-color" struggling against the "white man."  This was the new moral drama for progressive thinking.  No matter what Israel did to defend her borders, she was attacked as being on the wrong side.

The UN, as things stand now, is one of the biggest anti-Israel groups out there.  This is mainly due to the Non-Aligned Movement reshaping the the UN to be one that is anti-American, anti-Western, and most of all, anti-Israel.  They created three special bodies that, no matter the name, were exclusive to denigrating Israel and serving as a pro-Palestinian body.  Not a single such body has ever existed for any other people, cause, or country!

Human Rights Watch cannot be described as humanitarian when they are anti-Israel to an infinite degree.

Edward Said, the godfather of modern scholarship on the "Third World" was one of the most widely assigned authors on campuses in America and Europe.  His anti-Israel bias has poisoned a countless number of generations in Western academics just through sheer intellectual charlatanism.

Bruno Kreisky, the self-hating Jewish socialist Chancellor of Austria, was the leading figure in the hate-Israel movement.  This was a guy who filled his cabinet with former Nazis even though a number of his family had died in the Shoah.  He was ashamed to be Jewish and used that to persuade socialists in Europe to embrace Yasser Arafat and disavow Israel.  This was at a time when the PLO believed in terrorism and strongly opposed to Israel's right to exist.

Before the Six Day War of 1967, not a single person in the world cared for the human rights of those living in Gaza or the West Bank.  After Israel gained land in a war that was started by her Arab neighbors nonetheless, all of a sudden people cared for their human rights.  It was this war that redefined the Israeli-Arab conflict as one between Israel and the Palestinians.  Before this point in time, there had never been a Palestinian nation.  The PLO's Palestinian National Covenant did not call for a Palestinian state.  Instead, it called for Jews to be ejected so that the Palestinian Arabs could be able to take their place in the "Arab nation."

Evangelical support, for now, remains strong when it comes to Israel.  However, a number of U.S. churchs, mainly the Presbyterian Church, have been targeted by anti-Israel activists to cut ties with and boycott Israel.  Notably, the anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace, has endorsed BDS.

The home-grown "adversary culture" in Israel does her no favors.  This includes Haaretz, revisionist historians, and "post-Zionist intellectuals."  In their behavior, they provide an never-ending supply of grist for the Israel haters.

The Middle East is more tumultuous now then ever before with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq being a threat in one way or another.  Groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda are violent and a threat to mankind.  Israel is and will continue to be on the front lines against the terror from radical Islam.

All in all, this is a book that shows how Western opinion, shaped by progressives, abandoned Israel and chose to embrace its enemies despite the fact that they were enemies of the West.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review - The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur

The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur by Mark Perry
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (April 1, 2014)

Douglas MacArthur was an interesting character.  To put it differently would be an understatement.  Those admiring MacArthur were outranked nevertheless by those that, to put it simply, were not fans.  MacArthur could be described as headstrong, vain, he had a rebellious streak, and a massive ego.

Mark Perry examines the general and sees that his actions have been misunderstood and overshadowed by his faults--thus the general's significant contributions to become marginalized, unfortunately.

In this new biography, Perry sets the record straight.  What we have is a new reconsideration of the American hero.  It was MacArthur's combined-arms operation in the Pacific (a first of its kind during war) that enabled America's triumph during World War 2.  During World War 2, MacArthur had to overcome both personal and professional challenges to lead his troops.

But this isn't just MacArthur's story.  No.  It's also the story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the men that acted behind the scenes.  It was MacArthur's subordinates who had to tame the general, make him useful, and help him achieve victory on the battlefield.

The title of this book comes from a phrase that FDR once uttered about the general even though he also described him as an intelligent and brilliant soldier.  FDR was not alone in having polarizing feelings.  MacArthur, depending on who one talks to, is a gifted general or the most reviled military figure in history.

As time passes on from MacArthur's death, his hazardous faults have eclipsed his incredible genius.  With this new biography, perhaps the time has come to reconsider MacArthur's character, both controversial and equally brilliance.

Perry traces the general's path from the Great Depression to the end of World War 2.  The author shows how the general's military genius was matched by a massive ego and sense of decorum.  This was a guy that commanded a great deal of respect from the Republican Party and the American public.  There's no mistaking how powerful a figure that he was and FDR was right to fear him.

After the Great War, MacArthur was sidelined with a ceremonial position in the Philippines but faced with the threat from Japan in the lead-up to WW2, FDR promoted MacArthur to Commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East.

His capricious personality led to more casualties than any other general during WW2.  His success in the Pacific, Perry notes, can be attributed to combat commander Robert Eichelberger and aide Dwight Eisenhower.  Without them helping to sideline his faults and draw on his strengths, he would not have been able to fight one of the most visionary campaigns of all time.  It was the first combined-arms operation in the history of warfare.  It was this bold innovation that paved the way for Japan to be defeated.

What Perry has done is revisit MacArthur's legacy, as unfairly skewed as it was, and rehabilitates his image by displaying how the general not only led the United States to victory in the Pacific but reshaped modern warfare while doing so.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: Rebbe

Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History by Rabbi Joseph Teluskin
Hardcover: 640 pages
Publisher: HarperWave (June 10, 2014)

Rabbi Teluskin has written a brilliant biography of one of the greatest influential Jewish leaders of probably the last few centuries.  It's been 20 years since the death of the Rebbe and this biography is highly insightful and really tells how Chabad went from being a small war-torn group into the most dynamic and geographically diverse religious movement in Jewish history.  The Rebbe's legacy is felt on college campus and at Chabad Houses throughout the globe.

Telushkin was afforded extraordinary access to the Rebbe's intimate circle and guarded documents.  This biography, five years in the making, examines the Rebbe's personal side while exploring his achievements, philosophy, and pioneering initiatives.  Telushkin also analyzes the Rebbe's stories and speeches.

While I don't consider myself to be a Chasidic Jew (I am Modern Orthdox), I found it fascinating to learn about the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.  No matter what denomination of Judaism they were, many people sought out his guidance be it via a private meeting or by letter.

From his perch in Brooklyn, the Rebbe taught transcendant words that were able to resonate with many people, no matter what faith they were.  Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, then-Newark mayor Cory Booker went to the Rebbe's Ohel to pray.  The Rebbe's Ohel is the first major Jewish holy site in the United States without a doubt.  Thousands of Jews visit his Ohel on his yahrtzeit of 3 Tammuz.

The Rebbe had some radical ideas--refusing to judge others based on their level of observance and a belief in the brotherhood of all mankind.  It's because of ideas such as these that Chabad was able to grow into a worldwide movement.  His emissaries across the globe continue to spread his teachings of love, unity, and righteousness.  Despite his being the leading figure of Chabad, he was a very humble person at heart.  He was accessible to just about anyone that wanted to meet him!

The most intriguing things that Telushkin addresses about the Rebbe, his ideology, and his actions include:
--The hope of a small sect of his followers who believed that he was the Moshiach.  Had his wife not preceded him in death, she would have put a stop to this really quick.  The Rebbe even rejected such claims!
--The innovation and advocacy of taking Judaism out into the world, be it through the wearing of Tefillin, offering Shabbas candles to women of all ages, public Chanukah lightings, etc.
--Israeli and American elected officials, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Moshe Sharrett, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Bejamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon, to name a few.
--His willingness to oppose non-denominational prayer in public schools.

I highly recommend this book.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Quote of the Day

“The bigger issue is not whether the Obama administration imposes a cease-fire on Israel or not,” said Noam Neusner, who worked for the administration of President George W. Bush as a liaison to the Jewish community.

“The bigger issue is with the Democratic Party electorate, namely academic elites, African-Americans and younger voters. As those blocs of voters become more skeptical of Israel’s right to defend itself — and that seems to be happening — that is going to make American Jews who are Democratic Party voters less comfortable in their own party.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism

Politics, Faith, and the Making of American Judaism by Peter Adams
Paperback: 230 pages
Publisher: University of Michigan Press (March 25, 2014)

Adams explores how politics and faith played a role in the evolution of Judaism in America. While there is a small amount over overlap with When Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan Sarna, this is very much Adams' book.

There's a lot in here on how Reform Judaism came to be, much thanks to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise.  The book briefly touches on how the Conservative Judaism movement came out of those that thought the Reform movement went too far but didn't feel completely comfortable with the Orthodox movement either.  A middle ground, if you will.

I am one of those that finds it very uncomfortable with walking into a Reform shul and this goes back to the Bar Mitzvah circuit from when I grew up in a Conservative shul before slowly becoming Orthodox in college.  It feels too much like a church with the organs and lack of tallit and kippot.  This book explains just how that came to be.

I knew that Conservative Judaism had started in America but I didn't realize just how liberal Reform Judaism was at the time.  After reading the book, I wonder how Rabbi Wise would feel about the current conflict seeing as how much of an anti-Zionist he was and how he was so opposed to Herzl at the time.

After the infamous order by Grant during the Civil War, many Jews felt that it was best to assimilate with their fellow Americans.  For some, this meant working on Shabbas since it was illegal in many places to open shop on Sunday.

In the post-Civil War of America, American Jews paid attention to what was happening elsewhere with fellow Jews around the world.  President Grant took notice of what was happening in Romania and Russia and did his best to help the situation.

Back in the day, the Board of Delegates served as the predecessor to the the modern-Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.  Wise was not a fan of this board and he made his feelings very much known to those involved.

American Jewry played a role in helping as many of the Russian Jews as possible given the pogroms that they were suffering from in Russia.

All of this, of course, happened in a world without social media.  I can't help but think just how mobilized the Jewish community would have been in the 1800s--especially judging from my Facebook feed in the last few weeks.

I highly recommend this book, especially to those Jewish history buffs out there!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prayer for Members of the Israel Defense Forces


He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our G-d from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, on the sea and wherever they may be.

May Hashem cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighters from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.

May He lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant our soldiers salvation and crown them with victory. And may it be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is Hashem, your G-d, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you.

Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book Review: Shrink Thyself by Bill Scheft

Shrink Thyself: A Novel by Bill Scheft
Hardcover: 289 pages
Publisher: Rare Bird Books, A Vireo Book (June 24, 2014)

It is very rare when an author combines fiction with non-fiction.  This is what Scheft accomplishes in Shrink Thyself as he tells the story of Boston Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro.  But really, this coming-of-middle-age story is about Charlie Traub, who will likely need therapy as he recovers from therapy.

Early on Charlie Traub decides that he's done having sessions with his psychologist, Travis Waldman, and decides that he wants to live the unexamined life.  This goal is noble and all but Waldman decides he wants to stalk Bonnie Dressler, a constitutional lawyer that Traub nearly had an affair with during the Clinton years.

And Traub's mother?  She died while having sex with Sy Siegel, who was friendly with her while living at the assisted living facility.  Siegel and Charlie become good friends in the time thereafter and even work on writing a book about the circumstances surrounding Tony C's injury.  This, in part, turns out to be a look at what many Vietnam veterans are going through in the years after coming back.

It was amazing how Scheft is able to incorporate such a huge amount of non-fiction into a fiction book.  It's not historic fiction at all, not in the least.  He talks with someone that knew Tony C and this project then becomes talking to vets about their PTSD.