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June 8, 2012

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PAGE 4A ° HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 8, 2012 r Putting 'Tikkun Olam'to the ultimate test By Gary Rosenblatt Editor And Publisher, The New York Jewish Week A century after the publication of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the anti- Semitic Russian hoax claiming Jews were seeking to take over the world, a small group of Israeli and American Jews--think of them as The Youngers of Zion--has spent the last 18 months formulating what it calls "an auda- cious plan" to repair the world. The proposal, framed by the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank, and the Alliance for Global Good,, an American nonprofit organization, is called "21st Century Tikkun Olam." It's nothing less than a global engage- ment strategy for the State of Israel and the Jewish'diaspora--a total of about 14 million people--to dramatically improve the lives of at least 250 million people in the next decade. The primary purpose, the planners say, is simply to fulfill the core Jewish value of improv- ing the world by adessing human suffering. But its other benefits include strengthening the bonds between Israel and the diaspora, and enhancing Israel's standing in the inter- national community. the last year and a half, the planners convened a roundtable discussion last month in New York. The goal was to present their ideas to two dozen Jewish professional and lay leaders, some of whose organizations were potential partners, and to elicit their reactions and gauge their responses. As one of the participants, I would say we were, as a group, very much impressed with the concept, and excited by its bold reach. But over the course of the two-hour session, a number of people sitting around the table questioned the practicality of the proposal, which calls on the government of Israel and American Jewish organizations and founda- tions to collaborate closely in providing funds and expertise in addressing a few key areas of global need, like water, food, energy security and natal health. "No one here would argue with your vision," one Jewish professional said before noting how difficult it is to get American Jewish organiza- tions to work together, much less to coordinate a major sustained effort thatwould include the government of Israel, and American Jewish organizations, philanthropies, businesses and entrepreneurs. Indeed, much talk focused on "the devil in (:0mmon goals to leveraging the participating partners' resources and skills. Several emphasized the need for strong leadership to make it happen. Other suggested starting small and expanding over time rather than tying to achieve large-scale consensus first. One skeptic said the plan was too ambi- tious. "It sounds like you're trying to mobilize the entire world on these projects," she said. Yes, it will be very difficult to accomplish, acknowledged David Brand, president and CEO of the Alliance for Global Good. But, he noted, "no pressure, no diamonds." Making A Huge Difference Daphna Kaufman of Reut, who served as team leader of the project, offered a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation, describing the vision • and strategy of the Tikkun Olam plan, begin- ning with the key question: how can Israel and the Jewish people make a global contribution to humanity? She asserted that in addition to the ethi- cal imperative of helping humanity, the plan could address three important issues. First, Israel's security amid increasing attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state. The project would counterbalance efforts to marginalize and isolate Israel by involving it in areas of international development cooperation, serv- ing "as a platform for strategic relationships with nations, organizations, communities and inflffentiai individuals." Second, the project would strengthen the bond between the State of Israel and Jews around the world, adding to their sense of "shared history, destiny and peoplehood in a time of growing gaps.,' It was noted that the Tikkun Olam project could resonate strongly and positively with people on the left or right of the political spectrum. Itwould heighten Israel's relevance to young people on the left by demonstrating that the Jewish state is playing a key role to improve the lives of millions of people around the world, It would also be popular with Jews on the right who recognize the benefits of combating the delegitimization campaign; the project would give Israel a leadership role in humani- tarian efforts on an international scale. And third, the project would bolster Israel's economy, providing the state with new export Test on page 19A After meeting with and interviewing more the details" of implementing the enormous a 0 ou esn ciitsoe y-- Oemocr00c, s obi • is mocc t sk an tom eei o e emien no s m o l in m I 00rom Israe, I00r00eli 00oli00ics I JointMedia News Service Muslim countries where America's secular AsEgyptian voters recently went to the polls in what was their first-ever opportunity to choose a president in a free election, one element was missing from most of the media coverage. There was no gloss of optimism about the way embracing freedom could transform the country or the region. The reason is obvious. More than ayear after the "Arab Spring" protests brought down the regime ofHosni Mubarak as well as dictators in Tunisia and Libya, it's clear that the collapse of authoritarian regimes is not to be followed by a golden age of democracy. That is especially true in Egypt where election results are lead- ing not to greater freedom but to the ise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a party dedicated to imposing an Islamist worldview on the country. The prospects for the preservation of democracy under such a government are slim. Even if, in the best-case scenario, the Brotherhood follows the same party as Tur- key's Islamist government, that is a formula for the gradual erosion of democratic values and secular rights. All this calls into question a lot of the starry- eyed talk about the transformation of the region that not only followed the Arab Spring but also was heard during the Bush adminis- tration when hopes for bringing democracy to the Muslim world burned the brightest. Those in the United States and Israel that predicted nothing goodwould come of the fall of Mubarak are entitled to say, "I told you so." The change in Cairo will have a tremendous impact on the Jewish state not only because it could lead to the junking of the historic treaty with Egypt but because an empowered Brotherhood gives the Hamas terrorist movement a powerfulally on Israel's southern border. The lesson to be learned here is that while it is a canard to claim, as some do, thatArabs and Muslims do not value freedom, underestimat- ing the power of political Islam and its hold on the culture of the Muslim world is always a mistake. The particular circumstances that led to the rise of liberal democracy in the West have nol: been duplicated in the Middle East outside of Israel. That's why Western political faith is no match for belief in the sovereignty of Islam. As is the case with a lot of those who are hopeless optimists about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, part of the fault lies in the way many in the West assume others share our beliefs. Giving up the war to wipe out Israel and accepting a generous territorial compromise makes so much sense to believers in the peace process that they refuse to believe that most Palestinians still won't say yes and irstead blame Israel for the continuation of the conflict. In that same manner, many Americans simply assumed that the Arab Spring would naturally lead to Arab democracy. Much as we would wish it otherwise, Israel is fated to remain a lonely Jewish outpost of democracy in a hostile region where religion dictates the continuance of the war against Zionism. It's future will be secured not by false hopes for peace or concessions but by the but- tressing of its economic and military strength. We should also disabuse ourselves of the myth that either Israel or the United States can control events ira the Arab world. Much as the Obama administ:ration fumbled the end of the Mubarak regime, it cannot be blamed for the dictator's fall. Once the Egyptian Army had • decjded it would not slaughter protesters on his behalf (as Bashar Assad's security forces continue to do in Syria), he was beyond help. Nor is there much the West can do to influ- ence Egypt now though more support fo the marginal forces promoting genuine democracy there and elsewhere in the Arab world would be a goodidea. Merely holding elections isn't democracy. Perhaps, as Natan Sharansky prophesied, peace will be possible once there Fs genuine democratic change in the Arab world. But it looks like the wait for that happy outcome may be as long as that for the Messiah. JArS Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARy magazine and chief political blogger at www.commen- He can be reached via e-mail at: jt°bin@c°mmentaryrnagazine" com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter. com/#.t/TobinCommentary; ]THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT.   CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE   ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 40 Press Awards Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Stare Mike Etzkin Kim Fischer HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- Society Editor Bookkeeping dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. PeriOdicals postage Accoun Executives paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. Barbara do Calmo Marci Gaeser POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Contributing Columnists Fern Park, FL 32730. Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Tim Boxer MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER David Bornstein Terri Fine Ed Ziegler P.O. Box 3(10742 (407) 834-8787 Production Department Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 David Lehman * David Gaudio * Teri Marks email: Elaine Schooping * Gil Dombrosky • Caroline Pope I By Ira Sharkansky Almost 28 years ago, our youngest chrid'was born. Due to our advanced age, we gave him the name Mattan. The English translation of mattan is "gift." Some time later, when in a U.S. college book store, I happened on a Bible Dictionary, looked up the name, and found a listing in the Book of Jeremiah. Back in my motel room, I opened the Gide- ons Bible and found that Mattan was a minor character. Perhaps for the first tirne in my life, I started reading the Book of Jeremiah. I expe- rienced the beginning of an epiphany which heightened eventually as I read elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, and eventually through the whole thing. Christian travelling salesmen in Wisconsin began the Gideons movement at the end of the 19th century, to convert colleagues who when away from home were likely to spend their evenings in small town bars and brothels. My experience is that just about every hotel room in the U.S. has a copy of what Christians call the "Old Testament" along with the New Testa- ment. Outside the U.S, I havegenerally found a New Testament only, usually in English as • well as the local language. My epiphany was not about God but politics. I found that the Hebrew Bible is a political book, and that a central component of Juda- ism is an affirmation of politics as central to the survival of.the nation. The Bible describes how prominent figures, at least from Joseph onward, and sometimes the Almighty, used political tactics to establish themselves and " to do what they could to preserve or enhance the status of the people who began as Hebrews, andwent through the stages of being Israelites, Judeans, and eventually Jews. If you want to see the weakness of God, read the Book of Job. For the challenge of all abso- lutes, see Ecclesiastes. For the shrill criticism of economic and political elites, there are the Books of Amos, Hosea, and especially Jeremiah. Those interested in seeing the evolution of my epiphany can lookatThe Politics of Religion and the Religion of Politics (2000). Israel is explicitly a Jewish country that offers full legal rights but is somewhat short on their delivery to the non-Jewish minorities. Most of il(s.Jews are secular, but religious issues are usually O n the agenda. Currently near the top is the perennial issue of ultra-Orthodox men, es- pecially their exemption from military service and lifetime financial support while they study in religious academies. The Supreme Court ruled that the military exemption violates the equal rights of non-ultra-Orthodox men. Israelis wanting reform have focused on the day in August when the existing law on exemp- tions is schedtded to expire, but the chances of legislation by then are minimal. There are too many options on the table and too much maneuvering by various activists who want great reform and ultra-Orthodox politicians who want no action. Also upsetting the Orthodox and ultra- Orthodox are more recent rulings that grant limited recognition to non-Orthodox rabbis. Currently this means that those rabbis may receive salaries from state funds. Activists are hoping to extend the recognition to a capacity of non-Orthodox rabbis to perform marriage and conversions to Judaism in Israel, and to receive greater support for schools adminis- tered by their congregations. No surprise that established religious leaders are up in arms, with some of them shocked into momentary silence by the surprising audacity of judicial officials to act against their monopoly. Ortho- dox Jews may concede that individuals who consider themselves Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist may be Jews according to halacha, but they are likely to say that they are pursuing a religion other than Judaism, and that their leaders have no right to the title of Rabbi. With the issue of peace with the Palestinians probably dormant until the Palestinians sort out the differences between Fatah, Hamas, and others even more extreme in their animosity to Israel Israeli politics is concentrating on Iran and these problems among the Jews. The governing coalition seems strong enough to deal with those topicL but no one should expect anything close to an ideal solution to any of them. In the meantime, the epiphany that began with my reading ofa Gideons' Bible has brought forth several Hebrew University dissertations. Most recently we celebrated Rabbi Hadar Lip- shitz's "Influences on Budgeting for Religious Education in Israel"at his home in Aton Shvut. In contrast to the conventional wisdom that the ultra-Orthodox have great sway over Israel's budget and other governmental actions, he found that political competition, as well as the powers of the courts and the Finance Ministry are significant counter-weights to the alleged power of the Haredim. Ttrere has also been Michal Neubauer- Shani's " Agenda setting in the Israeli con- text: religion and state issues," the Reverend Kangkeun Lee's "Religion and Politics in Israel during the Intifada," and Cnerret Rubin- Shostak's "Fundamentalism in Israel: Shas and Social Change in 1990's." Readers can find electronic editions of those dissertations via the Hebrew University Library web site. The Reverend Lee's dissertation is in English. The others are in Hebrew, but with extensive summaries in English. Religious squabbles among the Jews are not all we argue about in the Promised Land. At times, however, they outshine other problems. As these and other studies have found, Jews' wariness about one another--along with the powers of the courts and the money-guardi'ng Finance Ministry, canbe counted on to limit what any one cluster is able to achieve: Ira Sharkansky is professor emeritus, Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He may be reached at