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September 21, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 PAGE 5A By Lawrence Grossman NEW YORK (JTA]--When world leaders converge on New York this month. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahma- dinejad will again be present. The occasion is the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session. This time. though, Ahmadinejad comes with enhanced diplomatic credentials. He is no longer justhead of Iran; he also chairs the 120-member strong Non- Aligned Movement. Countries in the Non- Aligned Movement constitute nearly two-thirds of the U.N. membership. The last time they gathered was in Tehran in late August for the move- ment's summit. It wasn't just lower-level diplomats who were present but also 24 presidents, three kings, eight vice presidents and 50 foreign ministers. They unanimously endorsed Iranian policies. many of which are acts of defiance against international norms, One would have to go back to the 1936 Nazi Olympics to find a more blatant interna- tional whitewash of a rogue regime. Adolf Hitler by then had ruled Germany for three years. PUblicly committed to overturning the results of World War I. making Germany the supreme power in Europe and combating what it deemed the menace of world Jewry, his regime had outlawed dissent: imprisoned, tortured and killed thousands of political opponents: begun a rearma- ment program: occupied the Rhineland in violation of treaty obligations: and enacted the Nuremberg Laws depriving Jews of citizenship. Nevertheless. no nation boy- cotted the Berlin Olympics. and Hitler used the spectacle to cement his intern~itional legitimacy. Fast forward to the pres- ent. Iran's leadership, intent on becoming the leading regional power, has denied the Holocaust and publicly committed itself to wipe Israel off the map. It has outlawed dissent; imprisoned, tortured and killed political opponents, religious minorities and gays; and is developing the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in defiance of the United Nations and in the teeth of economic sanctions leveled by the United States. the Eu- ropean Union and others. This record is crystal clear. Yet. no Non-Aligned Movement member boycotted the Tehran summit, which the Iranian leadership used to cement its international legitimacy. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon participated, against the advice of many who felt that his presence would lend undue credibility to a regime that repeatedly had demonstrated contempt for the world body. To his credit, the secretary-general in his address criticized Iran for human-rights abuses and threats against Israel. and urged it to comply with U.N. resolutions. But his was a lone voice and it was ignored. The assembled delegates sat quietly as Iranian speak- ers reiterated the old charges against the United States and Israel. And the 120-member summit rubber-stamped a 680-point document that seems likely to sow the seeds of further trouble. Three points in the text are particularly menacing. First. Israel was condemned for its nuclear program. whereas Iran's nuclear pro- gram, falsely described as being for peaceful uses only, was pronounced to be Teh- ran's "inalienable right." Thus a healthy majority of U.N. General Assembly na- tions have undermined the sanctions regime backed by the U.N. Security Council and encouraged the Iranian nuclear gambit, which the International Atomic Energy Agency reports is close to fruition. Legitimacy on page 17A By Andrew Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News Following the flap over the Democratic NatiOnal Com- mittee's bone-headed treat- ment of its Jerusalem plank, it's instructive to look at the Republicans' version and how it has morphed in recent years. The comparison suggests why the Jerusalem issue is a bipartisan booby trap. In 2004. the Republican platform had this fairly straightforward position on Jerusalem: "Republicans con- tinue to support moving the U.S, Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital. Jerusalem." OK. very little ambiguity in the phrase "Israel's capital. Jerusalem." or in the refer- ence tO moving the embassy (although why the embassy had not yet been moved, de- spite a Republican president in the White House. hints at the complexities to come). The 2008 platform intro- duces a new massaging of the message, little noted at the time. The section on Israel includes these two sentences. separated by a call on the Palestinians. to reject terror and embrace democracy: "We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel. with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine .... We support Jerusalem "as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel." Two changes are obvious. The first is that the blunt "Israel's capital. Jerusalem" has been replaced by a"vision" of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. The phrase defers the issue to a future that includes a "Palestine." If that could have been perceived as a slight weakening of Repubffcan re- solve, the double references to an "undivided capital" appear to return the issue to the pres- ent tense. Now we come to the 2012 platform, which tweaks the 2008 version: "We support Is- rael's right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states~srael with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine living in peace and security." Gone. however, are references to an "undivided capital" and any reference to moving the embassy. Columnist Douglas Bloomfield was one of the few to notice the change, suggesting the "Republicans also softened their language." If so. there's a big difference. politics-wise, between soften~ ing the Jerusalem message and leaving it out altogether. as the Democrats seem to have done. And yet platform-crafters in both parties appear to be wrestling with the same dilemma: the gap between what candidates pledge on Jerusalem and official United States policy on its status. Since 1967. every administra- tion has maintained that the status of Jerusalem should be subject to negotiated settle- ment. Despite lawsuits and legislation. Republican and Democratic administrations have clung to the waivers that defer action on moving the embassy or acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Nevertheless, every candi- date, Democrat and Repub- lican, pledges to do so. Both parties have indulged in this hypocrisy since at least 1972. That led to the recent awkward exchange between reporters and acting State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell. Following up on DNC claims that the president himself asked for the return of platform language stating, "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel." reporters tried various ways to get Ven- trell to say his bosses agreed. Instead. he kept returning to the boilerplate: Jerusalem is an issue "that should be resolved in final-status ne- gotiations." If history is any guide. the question is not what a candidate will do once in of- rice but how and how much he is willing to pander--and how much we're willing to pretend that these semantic games matter. We know that Jerusalem is Israel's capital, and will remain so no matter what kind of deal is struck with the Palestinians. What's strange is that neither party has come up with anything as famously equivocal as Henry Kissinger's formula- tion in the 1972 Shanghai Communique: "The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China. and that Taiwan is part of China." The Republican platform's position on Jerusalem-- "envisioning" a future with Jerusalem as Israel's capi- tal -comes clQse, in that it assuages Jewish voters with- out committing a candidate to anything. Of course, circumstances on the ground make a mock- ery of our communal debates over language and floor votes and which Democrat deserves blame for the platform de- bacle. As veteran Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller wrote in reference to the subject, the debate over Jerusalem has never seemed less relevant. "There are no prospects for reviving seri- ous Israeti-Palestinian nego- tiations." he writes. "Taking positions on Jerusalem is a thought experiment now. And most smart politicians understand this." As if to underline Miller's .despair. news came two weeks ago that web site founded by Israelis and Palestinians that was devoted to tough dialogue between both sides was shutting down. Its Israeli coeditor. Yossi Alpher, explained it was done in by "fati ,ue" on the part of donors and contributors. "There is no peace process and no prospect ofone."writes Alpher. "Here and there, writ- ers from the region who used to favor us with their ideas and articles are now begging off, undoubtedly deterred by the revolutionary rise of intoler- ant political forces in their countries or neighborhood." Perhaps smart politicians- understand this completely, which is why they prefer to talk about thought experiments. Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Between columns you can read his writing at the JustASC blog. By Yoel Finkelman Shaul Stampfero one of Isra- el,s foremost experts on East- ern European Jewry, is the most unlikely oficonoclasts.A thin, quiet, unassuming man, he gives the impression-that he would have been happy as a simple melamed (elementary school teacher) in the shtetls he describes. He seems to revel in challenging com- mon assumptions, tweaking conventional wisdom and making Eastern European Jewry look very different from what everyone seems to think. He does all these things in "Lithuanian Yeshivas of the 19th Century: Creating a Tradition of Learning," an expanded translation of his masterful 1995 Hebrew book on the subject. Its publica- tion should change the way English-speaking Jews think about what a yeshiva is and ought to be. In the collective contem- porary imagination, yeshivas were bastions of uninter- rupted Torah study, respectful awe of great rabbis and blissful isolation from outside con- cerns. Stampfer's meticulous research paints a much more complicated picture. In the early modern period, European yeshivas were local, semi-formal operations. Stu- dents would gather to study with a local rabbi, eating daily meals with some homeowner and sleeping on benches in the synagogue. In 1803, R' Hayyim of Volozhin started a new kind of institution, sepa- rating the yeshiva from the local rabbi. He gathered elite students from the furthest lo- cations, raised funds from an international network of do- nors, constructed a separate bt ilding, offered stipends t'o cover the young men's living costs and provided more com- fort in which to study Torah. His model spread rapidly and, albeit with many changes, still dominates yeshiva study worldwide. But this model had unin- tended consequences. By con- centrating young, energetic, gifted, spiritually intense young men in one place, yeshivas created intellectual and cultural tensions. Even as students learned Torah 12 and 14 hours a day, they ac- tively participated in the great intellectual and ideological battles then engaging East- ern European Jews, arraying traditionalists, assimilation- ists, Zionists, socialists, and maskilim against each other. And the students were not universally on the side of piety and tradition. Memoirs abound of young men who arrived innocently in yeshiva only to encounter nontraditional literature and ideas for the first time. In the famed Volozhin yeshiva and elsewhere, some of the boldest students organized underground Haskalah so- cieties, Zionist groups, even student newspapers. Staff members tried to shut them down but had limited success. Some students ignored these dangerous influences, piously continuing their uninter- rupted Torah study. But for some, the exposure helped foster Other things, like the diverse and complicated intel- lectual and mystical legacy of a figure like R' Avraham Isaac Kook. Time spent in Volozhin also set the stage for creative rebellion against religion by some of Zionism's most influential secularists, such as Hayyim Nahman Bialik. Yeshivas also bred power .struggles between students and staff members. The sti- pend paid to students for living expenses was not a fixed sum: The rosh yeshiva could dimin- ish it if a student broke rules and acted in ways deemed in- appropriate or raise it for good behavior. This discretion gave the administration enormous power over the students--and created resentment. Students were not shy about expressing their frustrationswithyeshiva life, at times in creative and even violent ways. One year, when students thought that the rosh yeshiva, R' Naf- tali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the famed Netziv). had insulted a student, they refused to offer the rabbi the usual Shavuot greetings after prayers. The Netziv was forced to apolo- gize. When students in the Telz yeshiva were unhappy with staff appointments, they staged a strike. Much of this was not much more than the usual power struggle between self-im- portant teenagers and their educators. But some of it also stemmed, ironically, from the students' enormous respect for the institution of yeshiva. Students were taught an ideal of what yeshiva and Jewish life should be, and that ideal was too cosmically important to be left to the whims and human foibles Of the flesh- and-blood rabbis who led the institutions. Modern yeshivas imagine, nostalgically, that the great Lithuanian yeshivas were just like today's, but they were not. Today's yeshivas work to create an atmosphere of submission, not only to Torah but to human rabbis, conven- tional dress, formulaic social habits and predigested ideas. Good yeshiva students don't rock the boat. After reading Stampfer, I feel nostalgic for something else, something like the stormy nature of the 19th-century yeshivas. I could skip the ar- rogance and violence, but I'm impressed with these young" Torah scholars' sense of group mission and pride. They wanted a yeshiva not only for followers but for leaders. They studied not only to preserve what was but to envision what would be. Yoel Finkelman lives with his wife and five children in Beit Shemesh, Israel. He is the author of"Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Con- temporary Orthodoxy." This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily and is reprinted with permission. -'rH YOM KIPPUR