Obama says GOP ‘tough talk’ doesn’t help Israel; Transcript of speech


DENVER (JTA) — Barack Obama said Republican “tough talk” was not protecting Israel.

In his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) derided the Bush administration and his Republican rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for failing to contain terrorism.

“You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq,” he said, in a speech to an estimated 75,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver. “You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.”

Obama has accused Bush and McCain of undermining alliances through unilateralism. He favors intensifying diplomacy as well as sanctions in a bid to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Earlier in the evening, Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Reform movement’s Washington public policy office, the Religious Action Center, delivered the invocation at the opening of the Thursday session of the convention. Saperstein asked for God’s blessing “on all the leaders of our nation,” but he singled out by name Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, as well as Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

“May your name be invoked only to inspire and unify our nation, but never to divide it,” Saperstein said.



Following is prepared text of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest – a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours — Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia – I love you so much, and I’m so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story – of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women – students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments – a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he’s worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: “Eight is enough.”

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives – on health care and education and the economy – Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made “great progress” under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors – the man who wrote his economic plan – was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a “mental recession,” and that we’ve become, and I quote, “a nation of whiners.”

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Well it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job – an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great – a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves – protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

That’s the promise of America – the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our “intellectual and moral strength.” Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that’s the essence of America’s promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America’s promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we’re wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That’s not the judgment we need. That won’t keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose – our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what – it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us – that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it – because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I’ve seen it. Because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I’ve seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I’ve seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they’d pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I’ve seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Holy Moly! Robertson Apologizes


The Rev. Pat Robertson has long preached as though God is on his side — including when he recently cast the stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as God’s punishment for “dividing” the Holy Land by pulling Israel out of Gaza.

But last week, Robertson apparently decided that he’d better have the government of Israel on his side, too, especially if he wants to build a sprawling evangelical center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

In a letter to Sharon’s sons, Robertson asked forgiveness for his comments.

“My zeal, my love of Israel, and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father’s illness,” Robertson wrote.

He also mentioned his concern over the danger to Israel posed by two terrorist groups — Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as by Iran and international anti-Semitism.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said he believed that Robertson had taken to heart the outrage over his comments.

“I felt he was very sincere. He is a great friend of Israel,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon added that he expected that Robertson will again be allowed to participate in the evangelical project. Plans for the site include an auditorium, a broadcast center and a chapel, as well as paths to connect holy sites, according to the Associated Press.

Robertson’s contrition did not arrive in time to head off a rebuke by David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

“Robertson’s comment,” he said, “reflects the height of insensitivity and is also a perfect example of what happens when theological fanaticism clouds good judgment.”

And there was this from fellow evangelical Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: “I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God.”

On the other hand, the episode does suggest a name for Robertson’s proposed theme park: Holier-Than-Thou Land.

 

Army Chief Doubts Survival of Israel


It’s not every day that Israel’s No. 1 soldier expresses doubts about the country’s long-term survival. But that was part of a bleak message from Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon that has shaken the country’s political establishment.

In a wide-reaching, early June interview in the daily newspaper, Ha’aretz, the retiring Israeli army chief of staff pulled no punches. He put key existential issues on the table, questioned the wisdom of Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank, debunked the notion of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said it could lead to a “situation in which there will be no Israel here in the end.”

Left-wing and centrist critics are appalled at Ya’alon’s pessimism and accuse him of failing to understand the rationale behind Israel’s withdrawal plan. Some, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, suggest Ya’alon’s comments stem from bitterness at not having his term as chief of staff extended for another year.

But right-wingers, including the rebels in Sharon’s own Likud Party, have welcomed Ya’alon’s critique. They intend to use it and similar reservations from Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet security service, as central pillars of a new, last-ditch campaign against the planned withdrawal.

In the interview, Ya’alon said his doubts about the peace process with the Palestinians began a decade ago, when as chief of military intelligence, he saw troubling signs on the ground, began asking questions and “did not get convincing answers.”

The core problem in his view is that the Palestinians, even under new leader Mahmoud Abbas, are unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of its borders.

“The State of Israel is ready to give the Palestinians an independent Palestinian state, but the Palestinians are not ready to give us an independent Jewish state,” he said.

Therefore, he believes Palestinian violence against Israel will continue, even if the Palestinians get a state of their own. In fact, Ya’alon rejected the two-state solution as “an illusory and dangerous paradigm” that will not bring stability, but will become a platform for future war.

The two-state solution, he argued, “is a story that the Western world tells through Western eyes. And that story fails to understand the enormity of the gap between Israelis and Palestinians, and the scale of the problem.”

If a Palestinian state is established, it will “try to undermine Israel,” he declared. “As long as there is no internalization of our right to exist as a Jewish state, and as long as there is insistence on concrete elements of the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees, any such agreement will be like the construction of a house in which you plant a bomb. At some stage, the bomb will explode.”

In Ya’alon’s view, the ongoing conflict eventually could pose an existential threat to Israel.

“I see a combination of terrorism and demagoguery, with question marks among us about the justice of our cause, as a recipe for a situation in which there will not be a Jewish state here in the end,” he maintained.

As for the withdrawal scheduled to begin in August, Ya’alon predicted that sooner or later it will be followed by a new outbreak of terrorism, worse than any Israel has experienced before.

In his view, if Israel stays put on the new, post-withdrawal lines, the eruption will be immediate. Further withdrawals, he said, will win it a bit of breathing space, but the reprieve will be temporary: Eventually, Israel’s capacity to meet Palestinian demands will be exhausted.

“It’s as clear as day to me,” he continued. “If we get into a confrontation at the political level, if we do not give the Palestinians more and more, there will be a violent outburst. It will begin in the West Bank.”

He added that it will include Kassam rockets across the border and suicide bombers all over the country.

The issues raised by Ya’alon are at the cutting edge of today’s political debate in Israel. The fundamental question is how best to consolidate Israel’s existence.

The main argument against Ya’alon is that if his outlook results in continued occupation of land the Palestinians covet, it will lead to Israel’s delegitimization in the international community and to Palestinian demands for a binational state, with a Palestinian majority, threatening the Zionist idea of a Jewish state with a Jewish majority.

Proponents of the two-state solution say it will ensure a Jewish majority in Israel, be endorsed by the international community and be underpinned by international law and give Israel, no longer seen as an occupier, the moral high ground.

In a best-case scenario, the two-state solution is seen as a paradigm for reconciliation and cooperation that could lead to the end of the conflict.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz rejected Ya’alon’s prediction of violence after this summer’s withdrawal.

“There are several possible scenarios, and we don’t have to embrace the most pessimistic one,” he told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday.

Sharon professed surprise at Ya’alon’s analysis, saying he had never heard anything like it while Ya’alon was still on the job.

Ha’aretz said in an editorial that the implication was clear: Ya’alon was attacking the withdrawal plan, because of Sharon’s decision not to extend his term.

Others on the left were less dismissive. In an article titled the “Bogey Horror Show,” Ha’aretz satirist Doron Rosenblum wrote, “Ya’alon’s bleak prophecies should worry us. Most of them make sense. But at least we can take some consolation from the fact that Ya’alon won’t be around to help make them come true.”

Ya’alon’s parting remarks were perfectly timed for the withdrawal’s right-wing opponents. Ehud Yatom, a Likud Party legislator who opposes withdrawal, confirmed Sunday that both Ya’alon and Dichter would be featured prominently in a final campaign to stop the withdrawal.

A booklet on the “security dangers of withdrawal,” citing both former security bosses, will be distributed to households across the country. The campaign slogan seems to paraphrase Ya’alon. It reads: “The withdrawal will bring terror; we need to rethink things.”

The demonstrations, protests and high-profile statements against the withdrawal seem to be having an effect. A poll published in the Ma’ariv newspaper last Friday showed that public support for the plan now stands at 50 percent, a fall of 9 percent in just two weeks.

The Likud rebels hope their new campaign will bring that figure down further and influence key Likud ministers to come out openly against the plan. Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu already has, and others could follow suit.

For Ya’alon, the reaction to his views can hardly be surprising. As chief of staff, he said, he grew accustomed to the fact that many Israelis were so desperate for quick peace that they would reject all evidence and arguments to the contrary.

Leslie Susser is the diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Report.

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Prolific Neusner Takes on Mishnah


 

“Making God’s Word Work: A Guide to the Mishnah,” by Jacob Neusner (Continuum, $29.95).

I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a conversation with a Christian who suddenly out of nowhere asked, “What do you think of Neusner?” They don’t even feel a need to mention the man’s first name, which is Jacob, assuming that as a Jew I would obviously be familiar with the rabbi and scholar who, for non-Jews interested in Judaism, is the No. 1 go-to guy.

When a Christian wants to know something about Judaism, which lately more and more do, a typical first course of action is a visit to Barnes & Noble, to the Jacob Neusner section of the Judaica shelves. His singularity is worth pondering.

As the book of Exodus puts it, Jews are meant to be a “kingdom of priests,” educating and uplifting other nations. It hasn’t always worked out that way, particularly when you consider the teachings of Judaic scholars, which tend to be known only to other Jews. In our time, the late theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a favorite with Christians, was an exception. Of rabbinic scholars still living and working, Neusner is pretty much the only other.

When I say he’s still “working,” I mean working. Author or editor of 909 books — yes, 909, that’s not a misprint — Neusner was one of my professors at Brown, before he got thoroughly disgusted with the place and left. A 71-year-old whose critical, owlish expression hasn’t changed in the 20 years since I last saw him, he greets me at the train station in Rhinecliff, N.Y., where he now lives and teaches at nearby Bard College.

He warns, “When you get past asking how I can write so many books, then we can discuss something substantive.”

Prolific, controversial and relevant, he was sometimes alarmingly forthright when I knew him back then. Since then he’s mellowed only somewhat. So let’s get past the matter of the books, mostly dealing with the period of about 500 years following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

He has translated the encyclopedia-length Babylonian Talmud — twice — plus the Jerusalem Talmud, the Mishnah and every midrashic work you can think of. His own works of scholarly investigation, many for a popular audience and many not, include “Judaism: An Introduction,” “Introduction to Rabbinic Literature,” “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus,” “Judaisms and Their Messiahs at the Turn of the Christian Era,” “The Classics of Judaism: A Textbook and Reader,” “Judaism: The Evidence of the Mishnah,” “Rabbinic Political Theory,” and so on and on. His latest, “Making God’s Word Work,” illuminates the philosophy he finds coded in the Mishnah’s seemingly dry and abstract rendering of Jewish law.

Neusner would seem to embody the Mishnah’s injunction to “say little and do much” — except that he somehow finds ample time, apart from doing much, to say much as well in a variety of media. Sometimes his sayings are in acidic tones that haven’t always won him the affection of other scholars, whose denunciations of him can depart sharply from the sleep-inducing norms of professorial discourse.

Perhaps the only other Judaic scholar with a semifamiliar name outside academia, NYU’s Lawrence Schiffman, explains that this partly stems from the fact that Neusner seriously shook up the field early on, defining the major questions that other professors would have to deal with for the rest of their careers.

“I had to invent what the field would look like,” Neusner says.

Schiffman doesn’t deny the credit-taking. In American university religion departments before Neusner, Schiffman says, “The missing element was Talmud, the real core of Judaism. You went right from the Bible to the Middle Ages.”

Neusner upset Israeli academics, among others, by arguing that the teachings given in the name of individual rabbis in the Talmud couldn’t, as a rule, be attributed to those individual rabbis. Schiffman, best known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, also speculates that “there are some who disdain him because he’s not a philologist,” an expert on the technical aspects of the definition and history of words.

Maybe so, although hating Neusner because he’s not a philologist calls to mind Lenny Bruce’s explanation of why the Jews killed Jesus: “We killed him because he didn’t want to become a doctor.”

One suspects it wasn’t anything to do with philology that made his years at Brown such a frustration. Over lunch with his wife, Suzanne, she remembers how faculty wives were always saying, “Oh, your husband said something controversial!” Neusner recalls finding certain faculty colleagues to be neither “cordial nor welcoming,” nor productive in their scholarship: “They were not book writers or continuing book writers. There was a sense that if you published a book you had to apologize.”

Probably, however, it wasn’t simply jealousy either that caused Neusner to be trailed for years by acrimony.

Whatever the case, there remains the man’s relevance, both to non-Jews and to Jews. Of his popularity with Christians, Neusner thinks “That’s because I work in the first couple of centuries. Their interest in Judaism ends about the year 33 A.D. [when Jesus died], but I’ve been able to persuade people that they should also take an interest in Judaism through its classical period. They respect me because, while I’m not asking them to stop being Christians, I do so say ‘I think you’re wrong. When your religion reaches its fulfillment, you’re going to adopt Judaism.'”

What he has to say specifically to Jews is crystallized in “Making God’s Word Work.” He recounts how in 1953, having graduated Harvard, he was a 21-year-old grad student at Oxford University. There he came across Gerald Reitlinger’s book “The Final Solution,” which brought the full extent of the Holocaust, with the resulting urgent need to recover and rebuild, into Neusner’s consciousness.

He realized that the “the age closest in its principal issues to the one in which I would make my life, an age of reconstruction and renewal, was late antiquity, when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed and Jewry reconstructed its life on the foundations of hope.”

Lucky the person who discovers at age 21 the single “question that would define my life,” as Neusner puts it. In his case it was, “What next? Can there be another chapter in the biography of God’s people?” Starting with rabbinic school at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a doctorate at Columbia, Neusner has been working on the question ever since.

What’s his answer? The overarching theme of the Mishnah — a book edited at a time (200 C.E.) when the Temple was long ago demolished but describing a system of laws for a time when the Temple stands again — is an almost defiant insistence that Jews can be masters of their own fate.

But not only Jews, “the human being, through will and deed, is master of this world…. But the world in which the human being is the measure of all things is within: in intellect, imagination, sentient experience.”

At a time like ours when some Americans assert that human beings are morally free and thus responsible for our actions, while others deny it — which is the culture war in a nutshell — those are fighting words.

Neusner writes, “In the aftermath of the two world wars and defeats of millennial proportions, the message of the Mishnah cannot have proved more pertinent.”

Of his own message, you could say the same thing.

David Klinghoffer’s new book, “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History,” will be published in March by Doubleday.

 

Jew Jokes Not a Joke


A Jewish teenager in Ventura County has filed a federal lawsuit against the Conejo Valley Unified School District (CVUSD), alleging that his high school coach and teammates repeatedly made anti-Semitic remarks to him and that school officials were indifferent to his complaints.

In U.S. District Court papers filed May 26 in Los Angeles on behalf of Samuel Goldstein, 16, the former Newbury Park High School (NPHS) student alleges that for the past two school years his teammates made repeated anti-Semitic jokes and taunts around him.

The lawsuit states that teammates made jokes to Goldstein such as, "What’s the difference between a Jew and a canoe? A canoe tips," and, "How do you fit 500,000 Jews in a car? Two in front, three in the back, and the rest in the ashtray."

The lawsuit also states that Newbury Park High baseball and football coach John Marsden in March 2003 allegedly, "told Sam that ‘God didn’t like him, because he was a Jew.’"

At a January 2003 birthday party with other athletes, Goldstein had to endure a "concentration camp" game in which, the lawsuit alleges, "his teammates from baseball and football pressed him against a fence and told jokes about how, unlike pizza, Jews scream when placed in an oven."

"In or about June 2003, Sam saw a group of students on the school campus saluting Hitler and drawing swastikas," the lawsuit said. "Altercations between this group and other students resulted."

Last fall, the Anti-Defamation League wrote to and met with the high school’s principal. "In meetings with NPHS, the ADL offered to arrange for Holocaust survivors to speak at a school assembly," the lawsuit stated. "NPHS rejected the offer on the asserted basis that the students’ curriculum was already too full."

ADL Pacific Southwest Region spokeswoman Allison Mayerson confirmed this week the ADL’s involvement, but told The Journal that there would no further ADL comment since the incidents now involve litigation.

After he complained to school officials about Marsden, Goldstein alleges that his teammates called him "kike," "faggot Jew" and "dirty Jew," according to the lawsuit, which names the school district and Marsden as defendants. It claims the defendants violated Goldstein’s civil rights, were negligent and intentionally inflicted emotional duress.

Along with seeking an end to further harassment, the lawsuit asks the federal court "to require defendant CVUSD to implement religious tolerance education for faculty and students and a civil penalty of $25,000 and attorneys fees."

Goldstein had played on the school’s basketball, football and baseball teams, but he quit the baseball team in February. His parents have taken him and his younger brother out of the school district and moved. The high school is in an unincorporated part of Thousand Oaks.

Conejo Valley School District Superintendent Robert Fraisse did not return calls for comment, and the district has declined to discuss the case’s specifics, because it involves personnel matters.

Marsden had been a part-time baseball and football coach at the high school since 1987. He was not involved in teaching classes. His last day at the school was Jan. 22, according to a school district official.

Asked if Marsden would be returning this fall, the official said, "I don’t believe so."

In April 2003, the lawsuit states, the coach asked Jewish students on the basketball team who would not be at practice because of Passover. Although Goldstein arranged to attend practice and also observe the holiday, another Jewish player did not, and the coach allegedly stated, "Next year, I won’t have to worry about the boys missing practice, as I’ll cut all the Jewish players from the team."

The lawsuit filed by Goldstein’s parents claims that for two years, his mother and father repeatedly contacted school district officials about Marsden.

"Sam and/or his parents wrote letters to, sent e-mails to, made telephone calls to, and/or had in-person meetings with CVUSD personnel," the lawsuit states. "Despite its knowledge of the facts, CVUSD did little or nothing to remedy the discrimination experienced by Sam."

The lawsuit claims that Goldstein was a leadoff hitter and played first-string outfield on the baseball team, plus was a first-string defensive player in football. In spring 2003, the lawsuit states, Goldstein’s mother met with Marsden, who allegedly, "retaliated against Sam by benching him for most of the remaining baseball season…. Marsden then proceeded to tease Sam in front of his peers about the fact that Sam’s mother came to speak to him."

Reduce Oil Demand


The following are remarks and an amendment introduced by
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on March 19 to the House Energy Subcommittee that
propose an alternative energy strategy for the United States.

Mr. Chairman, I’d like to offer the “Keeping Faith With Our
American Soldiers” Amendment, which is at the desk.

In the next few days, more than 200,000 young American men
and women are stepping forward to defend freedom. They stand ready, if they
have to, to put their lives on the line and make the ultimate sacrifice for our
country.

None of us in this room or in Washington are standing in
their shoes. We don’t face a fraction of the risks they do. So it is our
responsibility — in fact, our obligation — to make sure we are standing behind
them in every way possible.

Of course, our most basic duty is making sure we do all we
can to keep them out of harm’s way. They are ready to sacrifice everything; our
job is to do everything we can to make that sacrifice unnecessary.

That’s why I’m offering this amendment today. A few weeks
ago [Louisiana Republican] Rep. Tauzin noted that it was “insane” that we were
sending $20 million a day to Iraq even as the United States prepares to attack.

Well, it is obscene that we’ve been sending over $5 billion
per year to Iraq, and it’s dangerous that so many people in our country believe
this war is about oil.

My amendment helps make sure that war in the Middle East
will not be about oil. It says to our young men and women that they will not
have to risk their lives for oil. And it makes sure that American dollars
aren’t financing repressive, anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East.

Our nation produces 3 percent of the world’s oil, but we
consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. That dependence on foreign oil is bad
for us and also stifling to political and economic progress in the
oil-exporting nations. The oil nations in the Mideast are the richest countries
in the world, with the poorest, most disenfranchised people.

Today, more than 70 percent of all exports and investment in
the Arab world are tied to the oil industry. Those governments have had no
incentive to invest in other industrial sectors, in education, or to diversify
their workforce with women. Their unwillingness to modernize is a driving force
behind the unemployment, unrest and resentment feeding Islamic extremism.

My amendment is a small but important step in changing that
reality. It requires the federal government to propose, finalize and implement
a plan to reduce U.S. demand for oil by 600,000 barrels a day. This is the
average amount of oil we have imported every day from Iraq over the past five
years.

The amendment focuses on oil consumption by all sectors of
the economy. This allows the administration to seek the oil reductions in the
smartest ways possible. Improving CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy]
standards is one option, but vehicles subject to CAFE only represent 40 percent
of our oil consumption. This amendment will allow the agencies to focus on all
sources and come up with the best plan possible to increase efficiencies and
reduce demand.

And if the agencies’ existing authorities are inadequate, it
expressly allows the agencies to request new authorities from Congress.

A couple of years ago, Vice President Cheney told California
that we couldn’t conserve our way out of the energy crisis. But here’s what
happened in California: Energy companies manipulated supply and prices went
through the roof. Gov. Davis challenged Californians to reduce demand by 10
percent. And with no lead time to make and execute plans, Californians reduced
demand by more than 10 percent. Despite widespread criminal conduct by energy
executives, we were able to conserve our way out of that crisis.

It was a remarkable effort that for reasons I don’t
understand, almost no one in Washington wants to acknowledge.

My amendment requires far less of all Americans. It
translates to a 2.5 percent reduction in oil demand, and we allow for a year to
finalize a plan and six years to implement it.

In absolute terms, this is a modest amendment. It asks
almost nothing from those of us who remain safe at home while our troops risk
their lives. But in symbolic terms for the young men and women preparing to
fight in Iraq, the significance of this amendment is incalculable.

If this subcommittee isn’t ready for this small step, I
don’t know how we can look our brave men and women in the eye when they come
home.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

Democrat Henry Waxman represents the 30th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives.