Some Arab conspiracy theorists seeing WikiLeaks-Israel link

Unless you’re a reader of Islamist websites, you’d probably be surprised to learn that the WikiLeaks trove of U.S. diplomatic cables is an Israeli conspiracy.

Wonder why there was so much material about Arab regimes petitioning the United States to contain Iran’s nuclear program? How about why there was conspicuously little in the trove of data that was embarrassing to Israel?

It’s because WikiLeaks founder and director Julian Assange struck a deal with Israel and the “Israel lobby” to withhold documents that might embarrass the Jewish state—at least that’s what Al Manar, the Hezbollah-run media outlet, and Al Haqiqa, which is affiliated with a Syrian opposition group, are writing. The conspiracy theories are percolating as well on far-left and far-right websites.

“Why [did] the hundreds of thousands of American classified documents leaked … not contain anything that may embarrass the Israeli government?” asked a Dec. 8 story on Indymedia UK, an independent online news organization. “The answer appears to be a secret deal struck between Wikileaks … [and] Israeli officials, which ensured that all such documents were ‘removed’ before the rest were made public.”

Israeli officials haven’t even bothered to respond to the allegations.

“We don’t comment on such ludicrous claims” was how Yoni Peled, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, put it. But the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement last week detailing some of the rumors and denouncing them as conspiracy theories cooked up by Israel’s enemies.

Comparing it to persistent rumors that Israel was behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman called the theories “yet another manifestation of the Big Lie against Jews and Israel.”

The “WikiLeaks affair has given new life to the old conspiracy theories of underhanded Jewish and Israeli involvement in an event with significant repercussions for the U.S. and many nations around the world,” Foxman said.

Ben Cohen, associate communications director for the American Jewish Committee and an expert on anti-Semitism, said the conspiracy theorists haven’t gotten far, even in the Arab world.

“I’ve seen them, but not in any mainstream outlets,” Cohen told JTA. “Nor do I get the sense they have picked up huge traction.”

The story, however, also has surfaced in the United States, at the Arab Times and the Arab Voice, Arab-American community papers in Texas and New Jersey.

Cohen says it’s unlikely that Assange would strike any deal with Israel. WikiLeaks’ representative in Russia is a well-known Holocaust denier who spews anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli diatribes from his home in Sweden, often under aliases. His real name is Israel Shamir, a convert to Orthodox Christianity who claims to have been born Jewish.

“The idea that WikiLeaks is in league with the Israelis is hugely undermined by their relationship with Shamir,” Cohen said.

Sharif Nashashibi, chairman of Arab Media Watch, a London-based nonprofit that monitors the British media for its coverage of the Arab and Muslim world, says the articles he’s seen are all reprinting the same Indymedia story.

“This claim certainly isn’t prevalent in the Arab and Muslims worlds, and that’s most likely because it has no solid basis,” Nashashibi wrote JTA in an e-mail. He noted that Israel indeed has been mentioned in the cables leaked by WikiLeaks, contrary to what the conspiracy theorists claimed.

“Without any credible supporting evidence, this claim is merely a baseless conspiracy theory that doesn’t warrant serious attention from any concerned parties, including the ADL,” Nashashibi wrote.

Foxman says the reports do merit concern, irrespective of their veracity or number.

“These things feed on themselves and circulate and recirculate,” Foxman said, citing the persistence of the 9/11 conspiracy theory even a decade later and despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. “It’s not rational; it has political expediency. That’s what fuels it.”

Happiness Happens

Behind every meaningful practice stands its theory. This Shabbat we begin Sukkot, our eight-day festival of booths and thanksgiving during which we celebrate the wandering and journey of our ancestors from slavery to freedom.

Sukkot’s bounty includes ecological sensitivities as we honor the interdependence of humanity and nature. Following Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Sukkot represents the laboratory of our best intentions and goals for the coming year. It offers a vision we can see more clearly from outside the walls of our homes. We dwell in temporary booths instead of in the midst of our hectic and disheveled living rooms. We see our lives from a different perspective. This festival week is a time of peace and compassion, a holiday of hospitality as we welcome family and friends into our sukkot and as we give of our own harvests to others in need.

There is another image of Sukkot that I appreciate in theory, but this is the one I find a challenge to put into practice.

“And you shall be completely happy,” declares the Book of Deuteronomy in its reference to Sukkot. Sukkot is subtitled z’man simchateinu (the season of our joy). The Zohar, Judaism’s mystical interpretation of the Torah, states, “It is necessary for you to rejoice within the sukkah and to show a cheerful countenance to guests. It is forbidden to harbor thoughts of gloom, and how much more so feelings of anger within the Sukkah, the symbol of joy.”

Easier said than done. In routine times, we can’t always control our mood, or feel as we might wish to. These days, for sure, we carry with us a variety of necessary and very mixed emotions. How wonderful is the premise of this holiday, the imperative of happiness? A theory we can truly understand and, at the same time, find difficult to put into practice.

We are all exposed to moments of sadness, trouble, anger or upset. We are all distressed by the illness or struggle of dear ones and friends. We are all concerned about events in the world around us. Even at moments of complete joy in our lives, how can we not be sensitive to the different experiences of others? At end of a Jewish wedding ceremony, the groom breaks glass demonstrating this important awareness and perspective.

“And you shall be completely happy.” Really? As individuals who know the full variety of life’s blessing and burden, this can be a difficult mitzvah to fulfill. And yet, it might also be among the most important of our tradition’s imperatives for living.

Happiness, at least as Judaism understands it, is a state of mind. It doesn’t come from pleasure, wealth or even health. Happiness reflects satisfaction. It results from gratitude and appreciation for the gift and mystery of our lives. Even when we hurt, we can impose onto our day a moment of contentment, or maybe delight. All we have to do is see it either around us or within us. I always counsel those who face a personal challenge to look for such moments. It’s a better way to cope.

The Talmud speaks about this type of happiness. Since the Torah teaches that everyone should rejoice, the rabbis wonder, “How can someone be made to be happy?” Their answer: “With what is suitable for them.” For some, it may be a physical comfort. For others, happiness might derive from the people with whom they are spending time. For those of us who are comfortable today, happiness may be the result of our achievements. For those of us who are in need or who know pain, our happiness may simply lie in the memory of — and hope for — better times.

The Psalms also seek this frame of mind. “I am ever mindful of God’s presence … so my heart rejoices, my whole being exults…. In Your presence is perfect happiness.” (In traditional Jewish practice, most often we recite these words during the Yizkor service.)

Rashi explained that the happiness spoken of is timeless, not bound to any season or particular situation. “It is the happiness now before you, closest to you,” he taught.

That’s the answer to my Sukkot problem. We don’t have to find happiness in all that happens — it’s just not possible or even right. But during this beautiful festival of Sukkot, we can gather with those closest to us and celebrate the goodness and dignity of our lives. We can find happiness by giving thanks for all that sustains us: shelter and food, faith and morality, the caring of our friends and the love of our families. In these most basic of joys, even if we struggle some, we can be satisfied. They are the reasons we can consider ourselves “completely happy.”

Shabbat shalom! Chag sameach!

Who Wrote the Torah?

If two Jews equal three opinions, what do you get when you mix five rabbis of various denominations to answer a topic as important as the origins of the Torah?

Answer: A rather heated discussion, to say the least.

Five Los Angeles rabbis dove into the topic "Who Wrote the Torah?" at a panel discussion held March 20 at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino. The event, sponsored by KOCHAV: The L.A. Jewish Living Network, drew an audience of about 300 people, and was based on readings from the similarly titled book "Who Wrote the Bible," by Richard Elliot Friedman.

The issue of biblical criticism has been hotly debated over the past few years, marked by archeological findings which question if and when events described in the Torah occurred. The discussion, raised in a very public way last year in a series of provocative sermonds by Rabbi David Wolpe, also comes at Passover time, when Jews are asked to remember events from the Torah and live as if we are experiencing them ourselves. For many in the community, it is a pleasant, if awkward, fiction; for others it is a reenactment of a literal truth. This divide in philosophy was one of the driving forces in the debate at VBS.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City took the most offense at Friedman’s book, which analyzes the Torah as the product of various authors over time, rather than a divinely inspired holy text. Muskin argued passionately against Friedman’s theories, railing against what he called his "sloppy methodology."

The panel discussion quickly moved from a critique of Friedman’s work to a debate between the rabbis of what each believed about the divinity of the Torah. Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple clearly stated that to accept the Torah as written directly by God via Moses is to accept many unacceptable practices. "If all the theology I had to believe in was Deuteronomy, which basically says that suffering comes from sin, I could not be a believing Jew," he said. "To me it is incredibly clear that it, the Torah, was written over time by various people."

Rabbi Mimi Wiesel, assistant dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism and moderator Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, senior rabbi of Kehillat Israel and president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, tended to agree with Leder. But Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel tried to strike a balance: "I do believe there was a divine experience at Mt. Sinai; I do not believe the full five books were given at Sinai but in stages over the 40 years in the desert." Like Leder and Wiesel, Bouskila said the most important thing for every generation was "to seek out the divine" within the Torah.

"Who wrote the Bible is an essential question," Muskin said later in his concluding remarks. "If it was humans, that has one ramification, and if it is divine than it has another ramification. It becomes the definition of what you believe your Judaism is and what kind of Judaism you are going to observe."