Netanyahu launches Africa tour with Entebbe commemoration

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a tour of East Africa by marking the 40th anniversary of the raid at Entebbe that killed his brother.

“We were powerless no more,” Netanyahu said Monday of the July 4, 1976 Israeli commando raid on the Ugandan airport where German and Palestinian terrorists were holding more than 100 Israelis hostage after having hijacked a plane.

His older brother, Yoni, who commanded the rescue unit, was killed in the raid.

Netanyahu laid a wreath at a plaque marking the rescue. Also speaking at the commemoration was Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

On his tour traveling with 80 businessmen in order to cultivate trade ties in Africa, Netanyahu will also visit Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia; he will address the Ethiopian parliament. In Uganda, the prime minister will meet with leaders from countries as well as Zambia, Tanzania and South Sudan.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit sub-Saharan Africa since 1987.

Jewish ignorance is a disease, you are the cure

“Whoever does not visit the sick is as if he spilled blood.” — Rabbi Akiva (Nedarim 40a, B. Talmud)

Our fellow Jews are sick. They don’t admit it. They don’t even know it. Yet the malady is grave. “The most destructive, painful, most contagious disease of all,” Rabbi Noah Weinberg said, “is ignorance. Ignorance perverts people and leads to wasted, counterproductive lives. Ignorance causes untold suffering — mistreatment of children, marital strife and suffering in a dead-end job.”

Who are these ignorant Jews? The highly educated, socially conscious, comedy-loving, Holocaust-honoring 1.2 million American Jews who identify themselves as Jews of no religion, according to the Pew survey. This group has been steadily growing for four decades and now includes one-third of all adult Jews born after 1980. Four-fifths of this group marry non-Jews. Only 8 percent raise their kids to be Jewish. The majority of them feel little or no attachment to Israel.

I call them ignorant because they’ve turned their back on something they don’t even know. Many have never been exposed to Judaism at all; others have experienced a diluted, dumbed-down version, and understandably found it uninspiring. I don’t blame them for consequently writing off the whole religion, but it’s like writing off sushi after trying a rubbery tuna roll from 7-Eleven.

I know about this because I was one of them. For years, I was proud to be Jewish, but I thought Judaism had nothing to offer me. I had received two messages from my parents:

1) Be Jewish to preserve the Jewish people.

2) Be Jewish because your grandfather died in the Holocaust. My mother is a child survivor of Theresienstadt, with lifelong health problems occasioned by her treatment there. Her father was murdered at Dachau, and most of her extended family were killed at Auschwitz. My father is a Chilean Jew who had to fight his way out of several scrapes with anti-Semites. We never owned a German car. We rejoiced when Israeli commandos rescued the hostages at Entebbe on July 4, 1976.

And yet, Judaism was understood to be a chore. Temple was boring but obligatory a few times a year. My bar mitzvah was more of a performance than a meaningful experience. As I grew older, I sought spirituality in Eastern philosophy, meditation, endurance sports, jam bands, transcendental poetry and science fiction — everywhere but my own backyard.

Eventually I found my way back, thanks to a confluence of events. My grandmother died. I stumbled into the right shul. I got a taste of deep Judaism, and a constellation of secular myths exploded around me. I found that our ancient tradition spoke to me in innumerable ways, even while I remained scientifically oriented and modern. More to the point, I became a better husband, father, son, brother, friend and citizen when I became a practicing Jew.

As I learned from Arthur Kurzweil, there is a rope that connects every Jew to God. Sometimes these ropes break. When a broken rope gets retied, however, the distance between the Jew and God becomes shorter. Interestingly, I often feel I have more in common with practitioners of other faiths than I do with devoutly secular Jews who cringe at “God talk.” Among the former, there exist an amazing 1.2 million American non-Jews who identify themselves as people with Jewish affinity. They do so mostly because they share religious values with us, and because Jesus was Jewish. I find this support comforting — evidence of the great freedom we enjoy in America to practice our own religion. Ironically, it may be this very lack of persecution that leads so many of our brothers and sisters to devalue their own religious heritage, and eventually to abandon it altogether.

“Whoever does not visit the sick is as if he spilled blood,” said Rabbi Akiva. He spoke these words after visiting a sick man whom no other Sage would visit. He saw that the man lacked basic necessities, attended to him personally and saved his life. We bear the same obligation toward those who are spiritually sick today.

We who are connected to God through the rope of Judaism have a sacred duty to help the unconnected retie the knot. If they get a taste of quality Judaism, and still leave it behind, OK, they’ve made an informed choice. The vast majority of these folks, however, have no idea what they’re missing.

Our fellow Jews suffer from tragic levels of ignorance. They’ve never experienced a Carlebach service, they’ve never excavated layers of text with a great teacher, and they’ve never seen a relationship improve through mussar work. They simply don’t know that inspiring Judaism exists.

I think it’s fantastic that Jewish institutions are creating fun, welcoming, inspiring events to greet the curious when they show up. The group I’m talking about, however, will not show up. Chocolate fountain Shabbats, comedy club Yom Kippurs, and even halachah-bending compromises will not get them through the door.

So we need to knock on their doors. Call it crowd-sourced outreach. The connected have to do the connecting, starting with our closest friends. We have to invite our secular pals to our Shabbat dinners. When they come, we have to make it warm and festive, modeling the benefits we’ve gained from Torah Judaism. I’d like to give special props to my dear friends Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz and his wife, Olivia, who have hosted such Shabbats for 60 people at a time for 30 years.

If you’ve got a special ability to connect the unconnected, please use it. My own plan is ambitious, but God blessed me with a little miracle in 2005 when I became the Accidental Talmudist. As a result of that miracle, I have a huge opportunity to visit the sick, and I am seizing it. I post morsels of Jewish wisdom on ” target=”_blank”>

Entebbe and bin Laden raids underscore U.S.-Israel alliance

Nearly 35 years ago, on July 4, 1976, the streets of America were aglow. The nation was celebrating the bicentennial—the 200th anniversary of its independence. In Israel, too, the streets were radiant. Israel Defense Forces commandos had rescued some 100 hostages held captive by Palestinian terrorists at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport.

This was one of history’s most audacious raids, combining precision intelligence and operations well inside hostile territory. The commandos had only minutes to penetrate a heavily guarded building, complete their mission and return safely to base.

Entebbe revolutionized the very concept of special forces operations. The raid is studied at U.S. service academies and command colleges. It deeply influenced the thinking of American commanders such as Vice Adm. William McRaven.

A veteran Navy SEAL and head of Joint Special Operations command, McRaven is a longtime friend of Israel who visited our country many times and worked closely with our special forces. His classic book, “Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare,” contains an entire chapter on the Entebbe raid. It was Bill McRaven who commanded the stunning raid against Osama bin Laden.

Israelis exuberantly praised the operation. We shared the pain that Americans had suffered at bin Laden’s hands. We, too, have known that pain. America’s success in ridding the world of bin Laden’s scourge was our victory, too.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, however, the reaction was radically different. The Iranian regime claimed that America had exploited bin Laden as a pretext for invading Afghanistan and had eliminated him in order to prevent him from leaking valuable intelligence.

Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, condemned the operation as “another example of America’s desire to spill Arab blood” and hailed bin Laden as a “holy warrior” and a “martyr.”

The contrast between Israel’s response to the operation and that of many of our neighbors underscores the essence of the U.S.-Israeli alliance. Your enemies are our enemies. Those who seek to kill Americans also threaten us. Your security is our security, just as our security is yours.

Just as American commanders once studied Entebbe, Israeli officers will now study the raid on bin Laden. We will learn from the similarities between the two operations, but also from their differences. Israel sought to rescue the victims of terrorism, while America sought justice for past victims and security against further terrorism in the future.

Thankfully, no American troops were killed in bin Laden’s compound. But at Entebbe one Israeli soldier did fall—the commander, Yoni Netanyahu.

Yoni was the older brother of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In a recent CNN interview, the prime minister said that Yoni’s death profoundly impacted him.

“I think of my brother,” he said, “I think of our children; I think of the Palestinian children. We could have a better world … a world of peace.“

The vision of a better world was in the minds of both Americans and Israelis on that Fourth of July in 1976. Not surprisingly, Israelis immediately associated Entebbe with the bicentennial. Cartoons appeared in the Israeli press showing a battle-soiled Israeli soldier standing beside the Statue of Liberty. Together they held aloft the torch of freedom.

Beyond their conceptual and tactical similarities, further even than the ways both will influence future special ops, the Entebbe and bin Laden raids reveal the fundamental bonds between Israel and America.

We share the commitment to defending our citizens from dangers both near and far. We share the determination to defend our democracies from those who seek to destroy them. We know that freedom is not inherently free, that it comes at a cost and must always be protected, sometimes at considerable risk.

Shortly before his death, Yoni Netanyahu wrote of his belief in “the eternity of the striving for freedom and the idea of freedom in Israel.” That same belief permeates the American people.

Israel and America: We stand together against common threats, we strive together for common ideals, for security and peace. Together we uphold the biblical injunction “justice, justice, you shall pursue.”

(Michael B. Oren is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.)

Entebbe’s Message Resonates 30 Years Later

Last month, we airmen and veterans of Squadron 103, one of the oldest units of the Israeli air force, bid farewell to a comrade, Lt. Col. Moshe Naveh. His untimely death shocked us all, and as I drove to his funeral memories of our joint service came to mind.

It was on the third day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Since families were evacuated from the airbases, Moshe invited me to stay with him at his home. I returned from a long night flight, and when he opened the door his eyes were filled with tears: Just hours earlier, his elder brother Issachar, an F-4 Phantom pilot, was killed while trying to land his badly damaged aircraft.

Less than three years later, Moshe was part of one of the C-130 Hercules aircrews who flew to Entebbe, Uganda, to rescue the hijacked passengers of Air France flight No. 139. He never talked about it, but I felt that in his own silent way, he was proudly carrying on in the footsteps of his fallen brother.

Now Moshe is gone too. As I entered the graveyard, I saw his mother. I started to mumble my condolences when this old woman, a survivor of Auschwitz, gave me a stern look.

“Spare your words,” she said dryly. “It’s between me and God.”

What could I possibly say to this woman, who had lost all her family in the Holocaust, who married another Holocaust survivor, started a new chapter in Israel and gave birth to two sons — only to lose them as well as her husband, who died heartbroken after Issachar was killed?

Nevertheless, when my turn came to give a eulogy, I addressed Moshe’s mother directly.

“When you were in the death camp,” I said, “there were Allied bombers flying over your head, yet their navigators didn’t mark on their maps a target called Auschwitz. Jews were murdered, while no one cared enough to drop even one single bomb on the gas chambers to stop their massacre. However, less than 30 years later, Jews were in danger again, but this time there was a Jewish state, and there were Jewish airmen flying to save their brothers and sisters. And your son, Moshe, was one of them, with Entebbe boldly marked on his map.”

She took my hand and her eyes softened.

Indeed, the Entebbe raid, carried out 30 years ago on July 4, 1976, touched the raw nerves of every Jew.

When the Air France plane landed in Entebbe and the hijackers started to separate the Jewish passengers from the others, it brought back dark memories of the selection in Auschwitz, where Joseph Mengele singled out Moshe’s mother for life while sending hundreds of thousands to their death.

But times have changed, and Jews are not helpless anymore. With the creation of the State of Israel, they regained not only their sovereignty but also the capability to defend themselves.

In December 1942, Dolek Liebeskind, one of the leaders of the Jewish resistance in the Krakow Ghetto, led an attack on a German cafe.

“We are fighting a lost battle,” he told his comrades. “All we are fighting for is three lines in the annals of history.”

The Entebbe raid won its much-deserved lines in the history books, but it wasn’t a lost battle at all: It was the daring act of a self-confident Jewish state, determined to rescue Jews whenever and wherever they’re in trouble.

As these lines are being written, Israel has unleashed its army again to bring home a soldier — Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, who was taken captive when Palestinian gunmen stormed an Israeli army base just outside the Gaza Strip.

The Entebbe raid, however, did more than just fill the heart of every Jew with pride — or, to use the saying after the 1967 Six-Day War, “make every Jew an inch taller.” It also highlighted the sensitivity embedded in the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.

When enemies of Israel are incapable of hurting her, they pick more vulnerable targets — Jewish targets abroad. Indeed, in 1994, after an Israeli attack in Lebanon, the Hezbollah terrorist group — likely with the assistance of Iranian intelligence services — took its revenge on the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people in a bombing.

In other words, all of us Jews are in this together.

The Entebbe raid also set a high moral standard, and reminded us that military means should be used first and foremost for saving lives. Now that Jews are armed again, they should be very cautious in using their power. The means should never become ends in themselves.

Finally, the planes returning the freed hostages from Entebbe to safety carried a sad message as well: Liberty can’t be won without paying a price. In one of the aircraft lay the body of Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, commander of the elite unit, who was killed in the raid.

The best of us go while serving the Jewish cause: Yoni Netanyahu during the Entebbe raid; my friend Moshe Naveh 30 years later.

Uri Dromi flew in the Israeli air force between 1966-2003. Today he is director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute.


Entebbe Teaches Israel to Dare

Ephraim Sneh, a stocky, taciturn soldier-turned-politician, doesn’t scare easily. Entebbe, the most daring rescue operation in Israel’s military history, wasn’t his first taste of combat. The Yom Kippur War, he shrugged, was worse. But he shudders at how easily it could have gone disastrously wrong.

As the giant Hercules transport plane lumbered through the night sky out of the Ugandan airport on July 4, 1976, one of the 98 hostages beckoned to Col. Sneh, who headed the medical team. "Excuse me, sir," the plump woman said, "I’m afraid I’m sitting on something military."

Before Sneh, who is now Israel’s minister of transportation, could check, the woman groped on the floor, where she and all the other hostages were sprawling, and handed him a grenade.

"It was a kind of grenade that the IDF doesn’t regularly use," he recalled in a 25th anniversary interview, "because it’s not very safe. It’s highly volatile. The commandos took it specially for the Entebbe operation because it’s very small, the size of a tennis ball. So they could carry more of them."

Sneh suspects it fell off the gear of Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed while leading the force that struck at the disused terminal where the hostages were held. "Yoni was rushed first onto the plane," he said. "The grenade probably fell from the stretcher, and then a hundred hostages trod on it. And this heavy lady was sitting on it. If it had gone off, that would have been the end of all of us."

Entebbe was an elaborate, ingenious mission, 2,500 miles from home. Yet, inevitably, it was planned in a hurry. The Air France Airbus was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists on June 27 and flown first to Benghazi in Libya, then to Entebbe on the humid shore of Lake Uganda, where the non-Jewish passengers were separated from the Jews and Israelis, then released. The politicians — Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres — wrangled over whether and how to attempt a rescue. Deadlines were running out.

The task force, as Sneh recalled, had barely 24 hours for preparation. It left them no time for life-and-death reflection on the flight out from Israel. "We were preoccupied, thinking what to do if this happened, or that happened," Sneh explained. "I had full confidence that we were going to succeed. Our team was invincible. They were world champions."

Two of them — Dan Shomron, overall commander of the rescue operation, and Shaul Mofaz — went on to become chief of staff. Five more of the Entebbe veterans rose to major general. One of these, Matan Vilnai, is now a minister in Ariel Sharon’s government. Sneh rode in the same pick-up truck as Effie Eitam, an outspokenly aggressive brigadier who recently retired into far-right politics.

The greatest risk, Sneh said, was to be too late. "If you are late, even by a few seconds, and the terrorists understand who you are and why you came, their immediate reaction is to open fire and kill the hostages. Fortunately, the attack on the terminal was so swift that after 40 seconds, the fighting with those who guarded the hostages was over."

Netanyahu, older brother of the future Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was shot dead by a Ugandan sentry in the dash to the target. Muki Betser, a legendary commando who was in Netanyahu’s jeep and took over after he was hit, complained later that Netanyahu had jeopardized the whole operation by shooting first at the Ugandan and thus forfeiting the advantage of surprise.

"The only one who could argue with him," Sneh said, "is Yoni, who cannot argue with him. I respect Muki Betser. He’s one of the greatest Israeli warriors I ever knew. He planned the attack on the terminal and carried it through. But I don’t want to discuss whether Yoni was wrong to open fire."

In any event, the operation triumphed, with the loss of only three Israelis: Netanyahu and two civilian hostages. Dora Bloch, an elderly hostage who was taken ill before the rescue, was murdered in a Ugandan hospital.

Sneh said that the lesson Israelis should learn from Entebbe is "that we have to dare to do more. We have to know that there are no limits to our operative imagination."

And what lesson should Israel’s enemies learn 25 years on? "That we shall reach them, no matter where they are," he said.

Could this still work in the messy, low-intensity warfare now confronting Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip? Sneh, who served as deputy defense minister in the first five months of the current intifada, scorned such skepticism.

"Our successful operations are based on the same way of thinking," he insisted. "Being smart, using technology. If you made a list of the archterrorists who were alive a year ago and are not alive now, you would understand that the ingenuity is still with us."