Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Just one comment on the fighting ongoing in Israel's south.

It's all over the news that France proposed a 48-hour cease-fire, and the Israeli government considered the proposal, but then rejected it.

This seem to me to be a mistake. In fact, it was more than one mistake, since the offer should never have been considered at face value, and then should never have been rejected outright.

In my opinion you should never, ever just say no to a cease-fire. Rather, you always say that you want a cease-fire, under conditions of your own choice.

Hamas understands this principle. Right now they are saying that they want a cease-fire, with the condition that the border is opened. We can't accept this because it will allow them to freely import weapons. But when we reject the proposal, the condition is mostly forgotten, and it comes off like Hamas wants peace and Israel wants to keep killing people.

Instead, we need to offer a cease-fire under the conditions that rocket fire is totally ended (during the previous "cease-fire" it continued at a lower rate), and that certain Hamas leaders responsible for past terrorist attacks are extradited to Israel for trial, and perhaps that Gilad Shalit is returned... and so on, the exact list does not matter.

On the off chance that such conditions are met, then we will have got what we want without fighting. And even if they aren't, just making the offer public will have a dual benefit. One one hand, it makes clear that we want peace and Hamas is rejecting it, not the other way around. And on the other hand, it puts the spotlight on the various ways in which we are are being wronged. Whenever we are asked "Why haven't you agreed to a cease-fire", we can answer with "We offered a cease-fire, but Hamas is still 'firing' by doing X, Y, and Z" - thus shifting the focus to X, Y, and Z and the necessity of ending them.

Perhaps it is Israeli leaders' moral innocence and naivete (relative to their enemies) that prevents them from engaging in the kind of cynical analysis I performed above. Indeed I doubt any Israeli politician has the evil genius of a Nasrallah or Mashaal, who manipulate Israeli parents for years with televised suggestions that their kidnapped sons are alive or dead, healthy or unhealthy, in order to mock and humiliate Israel. It's a credit to our society that it produces leaders who do not know how to manipulate people so cruelly.

But practically speaking, such innocence is not a desirable trait for those in power. Just like soldiers must on occasion overcome their natural instincts and kill people, politicians must be ready to cynically manipulate diplomatic processes to advance their national interests. In war, not to do so means to risk your citizens' lives through your incompetence. We saw the consequences of incompetent leadership two years ago. Right now the military/political situation is very similar, the leaders only slight different, and remains to be seen if they have learned anything.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thoughts on Vayeshev

What does this week's haftarah have to do with the parsha?

It is accepted to say that the connection is in the haftarah's first line. Here the prophet Amos begins a list of the sins Israel commits, and the first is "selling the righteous for silver". This may not be literally be referring to the selling of Yosef, but it certainly brings that sale to mind.

Less well known is that an equally good connection exists in the next verse. Here Amos lists another sin the people committed: "a man and his father would go to [the same] girl, thereby desecrating My holy name". And indeed, in the middle of parshat Vayeshev we see Yehudah hiring a prostitute who turns out to be his son's widow. Thus he sleeps with the same woman his son did, and of course, the whole episode turns into a big "hilul hashem". Amos is presumably talking about a different form of licentiousness, but still, the similarity with what Yehudah did is striking.

We therefore see that the haftarah contains apparent allusions to both of the stories in our parshah (those of Yosef and Yehudah). No wonder it was chosen for this week in particular.