May 17: Too late for apologies

What is the endgame the US government has in mind? Does it know? And if it is unclear, how is any state supposed to act and respond?

May 17, 2010 09:22

letters 88. (photo credit: )

Too late for apologies

Sir, – Rahm Emanuel’s confession (“US ‘screwed up’ message on Israel, Emanuel tells rabbis,” May 16) is too little, too late. The kids in the White House seem to think they are taking courses and are entitled to another chance. For us in Israel, this is a real and dangerous world, where risks have increased dramatically as the White House takes and fails Freshman Diplomacy in the Middle East.

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The naiveté and ignorance shown by the Obama administration has been preposterous. Iran is a greater danger. Israel is more fearful and less willing to take chances. The Palestinians have been driven further from having a state and are unwilling to accept pre-Obama terms. The less militant Arab states have less respect for the US. Hizbullah and Hamas are more daring. What is the endgame the US government has in mind? Does it know? And if it is unclear, how is any state supposed to act and respond?

Many of the steps taken and dangers enhanced cannot be easily be eradicated by trying over. Iran is closer to the bomb, and we and the Palestinians are further away from peace. And too many commentators speak of a potential war this summer.

We can only hope that performance improves elsewhere, because in this part of the world, grades are written in indelible ink. It will take more than apologies to make up for the damage caused during the last 16 months.


Needed: Leader on the Right

Sir, – Most Israelis who identify themselves as being somewhere to the right of the Kadima party are anxiously looking for someone to lead Israel out of the mess we are in. It is not a lack of political parties to choose from, because we have enough of those. And even though each party has its own leader, nothing has changed in the last 20-plus years.

The political Right has a serious problem. All of the leaders in this group know what to say. They have the sound-bites down pat. They know all the issues that concern us. Some add God to the equation, others leave God out. Some refuse to give up one inch, others will give up kilometers.

Unfortunately, all they ever do is talk. From Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, to Avigdor Lieberman, Daniel Herschkowitz, Ya’acov Katz and Arye Eldad, they all know exactly what we want to hear (“Lieberman: North Korea forging new ‘axis of evil’ with Syria, Iran,” May 13). But none of them is willing to act in any way on their positions. None of them will do any more than talk. Even the Likud’s Moshe Feiglin, who may be the biggest talker of them all, is also the one least likely to act in any way.

Israel needs a real leader, one who is more than hot air. One who has a red line, any red line. One who knows that when the red line is crossed, the time to talk is over, and the time to act is crucial. In short, a leader who can state what his or her red line is and be ready to back it up.

Until someone like this appears on the political stage, we might as well step away from politics altogether and just pray for the messiah. The alternative will be repeated disappointment and frustrations. We know that feeling all too well.


The Rambam’s Torah

Sir, – Thank you, Dan Izenberg, for enlightening us in your piece “2 petitions challenge haredi refusal to teach students core curriculum” (May 14).

Maimonides states in The Guide for the Perplexed: “Let man master sciences, philosophy and practical skills, mathematics, engineering... and what have you in order to sharpen his intellect and improve his logical faculties so as to attain the true knowledge of God’s existence.”

Many of our yeshivot do not allow their students to go to university to sharpen their intellect. The Rambam specifically states that one cannot appreciate the Torah without the help of one’s scientific knowledge. By not teaching the core curriculum, not only are haredi schools making their students depend on other people’s handouts, they are even not getting the benefit of what they supposedly desire: the love and understanding of the Torah.


Academic freedom and tenure

 Sir, – The true meaning of academic freedom has been lost in the rumpus surrounding Mark Tanenbaum’s courageous resignation as a governor of TAU because of the university president’s undemocratic refusal to allow a vote about professors who advocate Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and the university (“TAU board member to quit after failed effort to spur investigation of professors’ anti-Israel activity,” May 12). It highlights the necessity to distinguish between the democratic concept of free speech and academic freedom.

While general free speech permits the advocacy of opinions and ideologies, academic freedom is intended only to encourage academic research in a professor’s field of expertise with the objective of always attempting to establish truth and understanding, without promoting one side or the other of a contentious matter.

In Save the World on Your Own Time, Prof. Stanley Fish argues that there is but one proper role for academe in society: to advance bodies of knowledge and to equip students for doing the same. When teachers offer themselves as moralists, political activists, or agents of social change rather than as credentialed experts in a particular subject, they abdicate their true purpose.

From an academic point of view, the growing phenomenon of academics who preach rather than teach and who advocate BDS is objectionable; not because they criticize Israel, but because the unbalanced irrational arguments they use are completely irreconcilable with intellectual honesty.

Moreover the blatant prejudice in their public utterances reflect badly on the universities they openly represent, where rigorous standards of unbiased scholarship should be expected. Evidently, when some professors turn to politics, they fail to distinguish between facts and their beliefs or assumptions. Relying on the security of their tenure, they often bolster prejudiced opinions with arguments so shoddy in scholarship, they would have precluded the attainment of tenure had they been expressed in their junior years.

In blocking Mr. Tanenbaum’s attempts to deal with this matter, the TAU president is suppressing the very free speech that he grants to the academics who advocate BDS.


The eternal optimist

Sir, – Alan Dershowitz’s claim that Salam Fayyad is “the best peace partner that Israel has and probably the best Israel has ever had” (“Dershowitz hails Fayyad as Israel’s best-ever peace partner,” May 13) is a cue for a new spin on an old joke.

The irrepressible optimist smiles and says, “Fayyad is the best peace partner that Israel has and probably the best Israel has ever had.” The eternal pessimist nods gloomily and says, “Yup, you’re right.”

Kfar Tapuah

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