The closing of 19 diplomatic missions by the United States in the Middle East and north Africa.


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Yes, we cannot know precisely what the intelligence threat was; and surely it would have been appropriate to close a few missions and to dramatically step up security elsewhere.  But shutting down embassies across an entire region sends a message of weakness and fear, and is nothing less than an embarrassment for an America that remains indispensable to hope for stability and eventual peace in the troubled Middle East.




The release of any Palestinian prisoners convicted of murder beyond those already agreed to by the Government of Israel.




When a peace agreement is signed by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it will include provisions for a general release of prisoners held by Israel.  Even then, Israelis—and Jews everywhere—will wince, but the need will be obvious and the benefit clear.  But absent an overall agreement, releasing convicted killers weakens Israel’s strategic position and undermines her case in the war against terror.  Peace talks are critical and concessions will be necessary, but prisoner releases work against Israel’s political goals by generating despair among the families of the victims and angering and demoralizing all of Israel’s citizens.




The issuing of permits for settlements beyond the settlement blocks.




With the world focused on the Israeli-Palestinian talks and with the United States committed to moving the process forward, it was, to say the least, politically unwise for the Government of Israel to approve housing starts in the territories just before the talks were to begin.  Still, there are distinctions to be made here.  Settlement in the major settlement blocks is controversial now because of the special sensitivities surrounding the recently renewed negotiations, but the case can be made that such settlement will not be an obstacle to an eventual agreement.  But approving permits to build in the isolated settlements outside of the blocks—which Israel also did recently—is especially infuriating to America; such construction will be an obstacle to the possibility of peace, and it violates specific commitments given to President Bush in 2004 in which Israel promised to refrain from such activity.




The toleration of offensive, racist, or anti-Arab statements by religious leaders employed by the State of Israel.




Rabbis Lau and Joseph have taken office as Chief Rabbis of Israel.  Most Israelis—and most Jews everywhere—have given up on any possibility that the Chief Rabbinate will be a force for enlightenment and understanding in Israel and throughout the world.  My own hope is that they will simply remain silent and cause no more distress to a Jewish world that has been profoundly embarrassed by the endless stream of outrageous statements issuing from Israel’s religious establishment.  But if they and others in Israel’s massive religious bureaucracy—municipal rabbis, rabbinical court judges, kashrut officials—cannot conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the accepted norms of a democratic society, their ties to the government apparatus must be terminated.  An individual rabbi, of course, is free to say anything that he wishes, but a religious official who takes a salary from the government is not.  The next time such an utterance is made, the statements should be condemned and the official should be fired.  The time has come for zero tolerance of those who abuse their public positions to bring Judaism, a tradition of compassion and respect for difference, into disrepute.


 
 





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