July 18, 2019

Letters: Mideast Nuclear Technology, Defending Israel

Mideast Nuclear Technology
The Feb. 21 Daily Roundtable (online) asked a curious question: Was the current administration planning to give the Saudis nuclear technology?

The Pandora’s box of Middle Eastern nuclear technology was opened many years ago. Iraq’s nuclear reactor was destroyed in 1981.

According to The New York Times, Pakistan supplied nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for missiles. North Korea then “gave” Syria’s Bashar Assad a nuclear facility almost identical to the Nyongbyon nuclear complex, which produced plutonium for nuclear bombs, as reported by media citing Israeli intelligence.

What history suggests is that if the Saudis want nuclear technology, they will get it, and they will not need an unmarked plane loaded with pallets of cash ($400 million) to help them realize any such ambitions.
Julia Lutch, Davis, Calif.

Defending Israel
Dan Schnur is right that the legislation sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) is constitutional and necessary (“The Right to Punish Free Speech,” Feb. 15).

The Rubio-Manchin bill enables local and state governments to withhold money from those who advocate the destruction of Israel and shields such governments from retaliation from would-be boycotters. Contrary to the argument proffered by proponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, this in no way inhibits freedom of speech and accordingly does not merit opposition on such grounds.

The BDS movement, as admitted by its originators like Omar Barghouti, seeks the eventual elimination of Israel, not mere change of any particular government policy. It seeks to achieve this by harming the Israeli economy and producing the ostracism and diplomatic isolation of Israel.

To this end, BDS activists are free to defame Israel as much as they choose; Their First Amendment rights aren’t endangered. However, BDS activists seem to believe that freedom of speech equals immunity from criticism or consequences, one of which via this legislation would be the withholding of government contracts from them or their associates.

As Schnur correctly observes, “elected officials who disagree with their animosity for Israel are just as entitled [as BDS activists] to express their disagreement — in writing, in speeches, and in votes for anti-BDS legislation. Which is what courageous pro-Israel leaders will continue to do.”
Morton A. Klein, National President Zionist Organization of America

Your story on modern Conservative Judaism says that Rabbi Julie Schonfeld is the first woman to serve as the chief executive of any major rabbinical organization. Schonfeld served in 2009; however, in 2003, my daughter Rabbi Janet Marder served as the first female president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform movement).

Except as noted, your story was excellent.
Alan Ross, Encino 

Netanyahu and Politics
Shmuel Rosner argues that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allies with Kach supporters to prevent a repeat from 1992, when his right-wing government lost power in favor of the Yitzhak Rabin government, which led to the Israel-Palestinian Oslo Accord, “a turnaround Netanyahu and most Israeli voters came to regret and reject.” (“Why Would Bibi Make a Deal With Kahanists?” March 1)

I submit that even if most Israelis oppose the Oslo Accords, they have greatly enhanced Israeli security. The reasoning is clear and obvious: Without the accord, Israel would be in the position of directly governing the Palestinians, rather than the Palestinian Authority. It would have a far more difficult challenge to deal with Palestinian needs in the absence of a Palestinian governing authority. And Israel would not be able to blame the Palestinian authority, as it does today, for the absence of a peace agreement. 

While Netanyahu speaks of the dangers of the Oslo Accord to satisfy his constituents, I believe he would agree with this supporting argument.
Barry H. Steiner, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Cal State Long Beach

There is a story about our sage, Rabbi Hillel, that goes like this: He was approached on the street by a nonbeliever who said to him, “Rabbi, I’ll become observant if you can explain all of Torah to me while standing on one foot.” Hillel raised one foot and said, “What is abhorrent to you, do not inflict upon others. The rest is commentary.” 

Of the many ways there are to analyze the Torah, one valid approach is as a blueprint for a successful society — how to live together to achieve harmony and success as an organized people. Doing the right thing is difficult, but hardly beyond our reach, Hillel tells us. If the State of Israel is going to stand for anything, its leaders ought to at least stand for that. In choosing to align himself with Jewish Power, Netanyahu has not only fallen dismally short, but trampled and spit on a cherished, foundational idea. Shame on him for putting power above principle and not caring about how a Jewish state is perceived in the world.
Mitch Paradise, Los Angeles

Yes, Netanyahu has gone too far. By embracing the Jewish Power party he has highlighted these vile, malicious and immoral beliefs to the world. How can we now defend Israel as an egalitarian, democratic and non-apartheid country on our college campuses, in Congress, at the United Nations, and most importantly, to ourselves? It is a slap in the face to Jews who still believe that values matter. Or does none of that matter to Netanyahu and his cohorts as long as they stay in power? That is the road to fascism, not pluralistic democracy. I hope that the good people of Israel see it that way when they go to the polls.
John F. Beckmann, Sherman Oaks 

One Column, Two Sides
I thank Rabbi Robin Podolsky for her important column (“Bibbi’s Disgraceful Act Tarnishes All Jews,” March 1). It is a sad day when a rabbi takes a moral position against supporters of racist murders and is subject to personal online attack for that position. I am heartened by another story in the same issue of the Journal: Deborah Danan’s Humans of Israel story (“The Teenage Peacemaker”) about Joel Pinkovitch at the Eastern Mediterranean International Boarding School in Kfar Hayarok. I recently heard a talk by Israeli Nurit Gery speaking about a similar enterprise, the Givat Haviva International School, a high school focused on conflict resolution with a student population of one-quarter Israeli Jews, one-quarter Israeli Palestinians, and half  international students from Armenia, Kosovo, South Sudan, Liberia, Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and other countries. Gery’s presentation and Danan’s story highlighted youth who know that all humans share a common humanity and a common future; these youth are determined to find pathways for us all to live together. They know there will be no future for any of us otherwise.
Michelle Gubbay, via email

I suggest Podolsky has joined that club of tarnishing all Jews as well. In the second paragraph of her column, she throws in the phrase “much like President Donald Trump” without as much as one word to explain why she wrote that.

Gratuitously putting Trump’s name in a column that has nothing to do with Trump is clearly a way of using emotion to create a negative impression of Trump. Defaming the president, without a word of justification, would certainly be considered “lashon harah.” A rabbi should know better.

She may not be aware of this but there was another person who used emotional words and speech for creating a negative image of people: Adolf Hitler. He said, “I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”
Paul Vann, Orange County

History of ‘Social Justice’
In discussing Jonathan Neumann’s book “To Heal the World? How the Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel,” Rabbi David Seidenberg claims that “any fair-minded reader of tradition would agree that social justice is a deep Jewish value.” (March 1) This is misleading. First, the origins of the term “social justice” are Catholic, not Jewish, dating back to Italian Jesuit writer Luigi Taparelli in 1840. Second, while justice and charity are undoubtedly Jewish values — both are discussed in meticulous detail in the Talmud — the idea of social justice is another matter. It’s nowhere in our canon. Moreover, those who advocate for it never define it, raising more questions than answers. Are our traditional Jewish notions of justice and charity inadequate in some way? With the adjective “social” in front of the word “justice,” does the Jewish concept of justice now need to be altered in some way? Did the great sages of the Talmud miss something? How does social justice differ from justice and from charity?
Curt Biren, via email


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