Sunday Reads: Obama’s letter to Khamenei, Jerusalem’s burning fuse, The unification of Jewish Berlin

November 9, 2014


Brookings' Suzanne Maloney believes President Obama shouldn’t be sending missives to Khamenei:

With a deadline for the Iranian nuclear negotiations set to expire in a few weeks and significant differences still outstanding, President Barack Obama reportedly penned a personal appeal to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last month. The move betrays a profound misunderstanding of the Iranian leadership, and is likely to hinder rather than help achieve a durable resolution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as other U.S. objectives on Iran.

James Traub thinks that Obama might still be able to do something in the Middle East (and possibly only in the Middle East) –

Just before taking office, Woodrow Wilson told a friend: “It would be the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.” Fate, of course, so decreed. Barack Obama must feel similarly ill-starred to find himself enmeshed in a war against terrorism from which he had hoped to extricate the United States. More than that: With the drubbing the Democrats endured on Tuesday and paralysis likely to descend on Washington, it's a reasonable guess that his only opportunity to do something really important in his second term in office will be in Iran, Iraq, and Syria.


Alan Dershowitz writes about how Amnesty disinvited him from a talk at Columbia University:

Last month, the Columbia University chapter of Amnesty International invited me to deliver a talk on human rights in the Middle East. I accepted the invitation, anxious to present a balanced view on the topic.

As a supporter of the two-state solution and an opponent of many of Israel’s settlement decisions, I regard myself as a moderate on these issues. That was apparently too much for the national office of Amnesty International to tolerate. They wrote to the Columbia chapter of Amnesty demanding that it disinvite me.

And here is my recent piece about Jerusalem from the New York Times:

For now, Jews are forced to channel religious expressions to the Western Wall — namely, they are barred from the site where the Temple stood and are relegated to a secondary remnant of a supporting wall of the Mount. The Jewish state prevents Jews from expressing deep Jewish sentiments in the holiest place of Judaism — all this in a site that it purportedly controls.

This policy doesn’t make sense — and yet, maintaining it, as Mr. Netanyahu has pledged to do, is the only reasonable course for a responsible Israeli government to pursue. In the Middle East, this is true for a variety of contentious issues, including the Israeli occupation of the West Bank: maintaining a problematic status quo is often the lesser evil that saves many lives. Attempts to rapidly change longstanding realities often end in disaster.

Middle East

Lee Smith describes the US’ Middle East policy as “diching Israel and embracing Iran“:

In other words, the White House is openly boasting that it bought the Iranians enough time to get across the finish line. Obama has insisted for five years that his policy is to prevent a nuclear Iran from emerging. In reality, his policy all along was to deter Israel from striking Iranian nuclear facilities. The way Obama sees it, an Iranian bomb may not be desirable, but it’s clearly preferable to an Israeli attack. Not only would an Israeli strike unleash a wave of Iranian terror throughout the region—and perhaps across Europe and the United States as well—it would also alienate what the White House sees as a potential partner.

Bilal Saab discusses a the growing significance of Oman in the Middle East:

Oman tends to feature far less in international discussions about the Middle East than other countries in the region. But that is mostly a reflection of its deliberate preference for avoiding the spotlight. Indeed, Oman has long had tremendous strategic significance for Washington—although, unusually for the region, not because of its oil. Rather, it provides a rare regional example of domestic tranquility, cosmopolitanism, religious tolerance, and skillful diplomacy.

Jewish World

Adam Kirsch explores the Talmud’s unenthusiastic attitude to conversion for love:

 The most common reason why people convert to Judaism today, I would guess, is because they want to marry a Jewish spouse. Such conversions are a sign of the amazing acceptance that Judaism enjoys in America, compared to the stigma it labored under for most of Western history. For a Christian to marry a Jew in medieval Europe meant stigmatization, isolation, perhaps even violence, as it does in many parts of the Muslim world today. For us, it is simply a personal choice, even a laudable demonstration of spousal loyalty. It was surprising to learn in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, then, that according to the Talmud, converting out of love is actually forbidden. “Both a man who converted for the sake of a woman and a woman who converted for the sake of a man,” we read in Yevamot 24b, “they are not converts.”

Professor Lilianne Weissberg recounts how the unification of Germany instantly changed Berlin’s Jewish life:

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, and German unification, Germany was forced to institute a quota for Jews emigrating from the former Soviet Union; 100,00 arrived. The Berlin Jewish community had to integrate an influx several times its original size. Today, most of the members of Berlin’s Jewish community have no personal relationship to the Holocaust, or to a prewar German-Jewish past. The old West Berlin community and the old East Berlin one are gone. Berlin’s new Jews speak Russian.

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