January 24: So foolish, Oxford U!

I wonder whether Oxford University's debating society understands the diplomatic and even strategic consequences that may arise should its students vote against the right of Israel to exist.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
So foolish... Sir, - I wonder whether Oxford University's debating society understands the dire diplomatic and even strategic consequences that may arise should its students vote against the right of the State of Israel to exist, in its Middle East debate today. Perhaps Oxford University Union President Emily Partington should be reminded of Winston Churchill's scathing comments about a predecessor of hers, a Mr. Joad, who in 1933 inspired the resolution declaring that "This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country." In his history The Second World War, Churchill writes, Hitler took that resolution seriously, leading him to assume that England was "a frightened, flabby old woman, who at the worst would only bluster and was, anyhow, incapable of making war" (Vol.1. The Gathering Storm, Bantam Books, 1948. pp. 77 & 150). That Britain exists today is because Churchill proved Hitler wrong; and I have no doubt that Israel too will continue to exist. Nevertheless, Oxford U. ought not to arouse false expectations in the hearts of Israel's adversaries, for to encourage warfare is not only foolish, it is shameful ('Farcical' Oxford debate invites Israel-bashers to defend the state," January 23). ROSE SINGER Jerusalem ...Oxford U! Sir, - The idea of inviting such fiercely anti-Israel personalities as Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe to defend Israel's right to exist brings to mind one of medieval Christian Europe's most favorite pastimes: sponsoring so-called "debates" between Jewish leaders and fiercely anti-Jewish apostates in order to denigrate, delegitimatize, condemn and even destroy Judaism. These men's near-pathological hate of Israel and Zionism can be compared to two of Judaism's most infamous apostates: Nicholas Donin, who debated French rabbinical leaders in Paris in 1240 in the presence of queen mother Blanche, and Paulo Christiani, who debated Nachmanides in 1263 in Barcelona in the presence of King James I of Aragon. Like their predecessors, both Finkelstein and Pappe, as well as others, only use the facade of open debate to promote their vicious hate of Israel, Zionism and the very idea of a Jewish people. And, like the medieval debates, the results are known in advance: Even the most convincing arguments against Finkelstein and Pappe will not change their preconceived hate and condemnation of anything Israeli, Zionist, and perhaps even Jewish. And though they may not have formally converted to Christianity, like their predecessors, they can compete with some of the worst self-hating Jews and apostates in history. GERSHON HARRIS Hatzor Haglilit Day the UN died Sir, - When Roosevelt and Churchill met in August 1941 aboard warships in Newfoundland and signed the Atlantic Charter, the document that was one of the first steps toward forming the United Nations, they could not predict that 66 years later, all their efforts would have been for nothing. This week the United Nations died. With Israel standing accused in front of the Security Council while the 1,500 rockets launched from Gaza into Israeli towns are ignored, the principles on which the UN was founded have been turned on their head. The UN has become an organization that supports naked aggression, not prevents it. Any further membership in the organization by Israel and the US is pointless ("PR battle over Gaza moves to the UN," January 23). MLADEN ANDRIJASEVIC Beersheba Sir, - The world stands idle and silent when Sderot babies and innocents have missiles rained down daily on their heads. That same world is so sickened by the sight of Palestinians having to work by candlelight from a resulting fuel embargo that within 24 hours it rallies against Israel with reprisals. Israel needs to fire its PR staff and rethink how the world still views Israel not as a country, but as a land abound with disposable Jews. WILLIAM LEVY Montreal Evocative images Sir, - Underneath your headline "Olmert receives endorsements from leaders of the extreme left" (January 23) appeared photos of Avraham Burg, Shulamit Aloni and Peace Now's Yariv Oppenheimer. Among the images that sprang to mind, given the harsh reality of Israel's current situation, we had a hard time choosing between the Three Blind Mice and "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." JERRY & SYLVIA DORTZ Ariel Selective human rights? Sir, - It is commendable that David J. Forman is concerned about human rights, but a reading of "Israel's fifth column" (UpFront, January 18) would suggest that only Arabs have them. Shooting in the air is not the same as shooting to kill. The slow inspection of Arabs at our borders is not to be equated with death at the hands of suicide bombers. Our early pioneers carried weapons and used them to secure this land. Perhaps Rabbi Forman would have called them "gun-toting hooligans" as well. I am also concerned about human rights, but first I care about the rights and safety of my family, my people and my land. I fear that I can't count on Rabbi Forman to watch out for them. R. EHRLICH Jerusalem Sir, - David Forman claimed that "Many settlers maintain their own mini-army. They are well organized, with an elaborate communications system and ample weapons." Forman, who has lived in Israel for almost 40 years, knows full well that these security services and their weaponry in the 140 Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the Golan have always been, and remain, under the direct and strict supervision of the IDF. DAVID BEDEIN Israel Resource News Agency Jerusalem Parental obligation Sir, - Perhaps Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Solberg was right to insist on the release of the last of the seven girls who refused to identify themselves to the police for three weeks ("Judge releases 'anonymous' settler girls," January 22). Perhaps their public defender, Nochi Politis, was correct in claiming that the police treated the girls with a lack of sensitivity. But what of their parents? Should not all seven girls' parents or guardians, who have legal responsibility for their children's actions and civil obligations as Israeli citizens, be held accountable for their failure to identify their daughters to the authorities? What defense can they offer for not doing this? How can they justify their failure to ensure that their children attend school, as required by law? Go easy on the girls? Maybe. But the police should investigate and, I submit, recommend bringing charges against their negligent and recalcitrant parents. PERETZ RODMAN Jerusalem Close to the abyss... Sir, - Re Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg's "True idol worship" (January 23): There is plenty of aggadic or mythic support for the Jewish holy man or rabbi who can, by his blessings or curses, directly affect the fate of others. Yet these children's stories, and that is all they are, cannot be applied to the real world. No Jew - not the Baba Sali, not the Lubavitcher Rebbe, not even Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, however learned or moral he may be - has magical or super-spiritual powers, his followers' beliefs notwithstanding. And if a Jew believes he has, then that Jew is skating awfully close to the abyss of idol worship. The Torah scroll is a holy object in and of itself. Since the time of Bar Yochai and Vespasian it has been our substitute for the Holy Temple and must be treated with great honor and respect. Yet many Orthodox and haredi Jews treat the Torah as if it were the sum total of Judaism and, even worse, a replacement for the Temple sacrifices and order of prayer and worship. I have seen such Jews stand directly in front of the Holy Ark to recite Kaddish, apparently believing this will have a positive impact on their prayer. To me, this comes perilously close to idol worship. KENNETH BESIG Kiryat Arba ...but certainly no deification Sir, - While Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg's indictment of Orthodoxy for idolatry was attention-grabbing, I found his research a bit wanting. He criticizes "the personality cult" of certain medieval rabbis, ignoring the fact that Rashi is studied alongside the Tosafists, who challenge their grandfather's interpretations regularly; the Rambam is studied alongside the Ra'avad, who often has harsh words for his younger colleague's rulings; and the halachic masterwork Shulhan Aruch, written by the Sephardi Rav Yosef Karo, contains the critical glosses of the Ashkenazi Rav Moshe Isserles. Furthermore, Rosenberg targets the supposedly fetishistic kissing of the Torah scroll and the resistance to touching it, but the latter springs from the scroll's ability to ritually defile one's hands (Mishna, Yadayim 3:5), while the former is the biblical form of greeting a loved one (see Exodus 4:27, 18:7, et al.). There is no deification here, but an expression of emotion and intimacy. Jews are a nation of laws, and the Torah is our founding document. Considering the reverence that Americans show for the text and body of their Constitution, which is barely two centuries old, is it wrong for Jews to demonstrate their respect and love for the Torah? RABBI JOSEPH BLOCH Jerusalem Sir, - Misplaced emphasis, perhaps - but "coming close to idol worship"? Absolutely not! No Jew worships his rebbe, and no Jew worships the Scroll of the Law as a 'little god' (Oliver Sacks). No Israeli worshipped Yitzhak Rabin or Menachem Begin. And no Catholic worships the pope of Rome. If personality cult and veneration for the Torah Scroll come close to idol worship, then liberal-egalitarianism is no less close to idol worship, and perhaps even more so. Steven Gabriel Rosenberg has flattened the meaning of the word "worship," and the very meaning of idolatry. JOSEPH DAVID Jerusalem