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September 4, 2013- A Reflection on the Year Past

It’s the day before the end of the new Jewish Year. I guess one advantage of being Jewish is that you get to sum up each year twice.

Like most years in Israel, 5773 has been an interesting year– happily not too interesting (at least in Israel proper.) This was an election year (even though those elections seem like they took place a century ago.) 5773 was going to be the decisive year relating to Iran, and then it was not. For a while it seemed that talk of Iran was just an excuse to change the discussion from domestic matters that had received small drift in the past few years. It was a year during which (except for descrete moments... this being one of them– more about that in a minute) "the matzav" has been far from most people’s mind. Needless to say, it helps to be living in Tel Aviv, far from any hot spots in the country.

Of course it's fine to keep your head in the sand, and not pay any attention to the situation. Like I said before, most of the country seems to be doing this very well. For individuals, this is the only way to live. However, that does not mean this behavior is a smart way of living – for a country.

There is no way to think about the year in Israel without first looking around at the neighborhood. We clearly live in a new Middle East. This new Middle East is infinitely more complicated than most observers imagined. If as recently as a year or two ago there were still people out there who thought the root of all the problems of the Middle East was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is now clear that we are just the focus of one of many disputes racking the region. There are clearly two main disputes convulsing the Middle East– Sunnis vs. Shiites, and fundamentalists vs. those who hold a more modern view of Islam. Thrown into that mix are those who believe in democracy vs. those to whom that does not represent a significant value.

Last Rosh Hashana no one could have imagined the events that occurred this past year in Egypt. First, the Muslim Brotherhood consolidated their control over the government. However, just as quickly, the Brotherhood overreached and found themselves not just out of power, but seemingly powerless. The Brotherhood lost not only power, but support from many Egyptians. For Israel, there can be no question that this recent turn of events is a net gain. Though, the shunning of the Muslim Brotherhood does not mean that anyone in Egypt suddenly loves us. I was shocked this past week when an Egyptian liberal, who I follow in Twitter and have communicated with for some time, posted several tweets claiming it was Israel who is manipulating the United States. This deluded attitude comes from someone who strongly opposed the Muslim Brotherhood from the start. Still, he opposes the United States attacking Assad in Syria. On the other hand, another person I have been following closely these past few months, (a Palestinian living in one of the Gulf states and actively against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt), yet, he is just as strongly against Assad. He is in favor of a U.S. strike. So, the situation is very confusing– to say the least.

However, as a Jew I believe we can only have one position. We cannot bemoan how no one helped us during the Holocaust, and then be against anyone taking action in Syria. As an Israeli, I feel guilty that we cannot do more than we are doing alleviate the suffering there. Geopolitics do not give us a free ride. Of course the discussion on an American strike on Syria, and Syrian threat to attack us, has once again brought home that, however much we want to hide in our coccoon the world surronding us will not allow us to. At the height of the tension last week, I moved the gas masks that we had received last year, so they would be a little more accessible if we need them quickly- nothing else can focus your attention like doing that.

As I have written recently, I am very worried about the lack of leadership coming from Washington-- particularly regarding Syria and Egypt. First, the President has not done enough to use his bully pulpit to fight the new isolationism that seems to be spreading throughout the United States. An argument can clearly be made that President Obama has helped spread it. Now, thanks to his hapless decision to turn and ask Congress to approve an attack on Syria, he may reap what he has helped sow. His Presidency and the power of the United States will be terribly impacted should Congress fail to approve. Yet, to date at least, he has done such a poor job of convincing the American people of the need to act in Syria that it is almost embarrassing. For me, I am disappointed by Obama's weakness all the more so– since I have been deep in throws of finishing work on a multimedia biography of F.D.R. As a result, I have listened again to many of his speeches over the last few weeks. Obama is clearly no FDR. From an Israeli perspective, it looks like Obama has taken a tremendous risk. If he does not get Congressional approval to move on Syria, Israel will glean the appropriate understanding– doubting whether it can rely on this President in the future.

Domestically in Israel (like I mentioned at the beginning) we just had an election year. The big surprise was the turbo-rocketing into power received by Yesh Atid, under the leadership of Yair Lapid. As a result, there have been some significant changes made in the area of funding for the Haredi sector. However, any other changes in the balance between religious and non-religious in this country have been tempered by his close relationship and co-dependency with Naftali Bennet, and his Nationalist Religious Party. How long that will relationship will last depends on whether you are optimistic or pessimistic that some agreement can be reached with the Palestinians. At the moment, I am neither. Based on an interview that Bennet gave yesterday to Yediot Haachranot, that relationship is clearly fraying not over issues relating to the Palestinians but issues of religion. Lapid today, in a Maariv poll had the distinction of being the politician that people are most dissapointed in. No surprise there, he took the unpopular job of being Finance Minister, and his lack of experience has made him unable to take any bold actions in the area that people care most about- the cost of living and housing.

Finally... Since we are beginning a new year. I heard a wonderful story this week. A friend's friend was ill and needed a special treatment; a treatment that required a large number of blood transfusions. The treatment was set to take place in a city far from where they lived. The husband, who served in an elite unit of the IDF, called his former commander– who was still serving, and lived in the city where the treatment was to take place. The husband told his former commander what was happening and asked if there was a chance he knew people who might be able to donate blood. The very next morning, the commanding general of the unit, the commander of the local base, and all of the adminstrtive personnel appeared at the hospital ready to donate on his wife's behalf. The couple was very moved. They were utterly overwhelmed when he was informed that another 400 soldiers were ready to donate blood, as soon as the hospital could accommodate them.

Shana Tova!


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