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The Foundation of Judaism

July 31, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Mt. SinaiThe Torah tells us in this week’s reading that we must always remember what happened at Sinai. “Just guard yourselves, and guard your souls very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, lest it leave your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make it known to your children and grandchildren, the day that you stood before HaShem your G-d at Chorev” [Dev. 4:9-10].

The Rambam [Maimonides] says (in his Igeres Teiman, his letter to Yemenite Jewry) that this isn’t simply something we believe, but the foundation of Jewish belief. But… isn’t that circular reasoning? How can something be its own foundation? It’s something we believe, therefore we believe it and everything else also. Right?

Actually, no, it’s not circular. Maimonides says that this is the foundation because every Jew knows that his or her own great-great-grandparents believed that his or her own great-great-(great-great-great etc.)-grandparents were there. As in, Jews have traditionally believed that their own forebears were actually at the foot of Mount Sinai and saw it happen.

Maimonides asserts that there is only one way for that belief to take root, and that by the same standards that we know most anything, we are able to analyze this event and reach the conclusion that we know it happened. It’s not just a belief, it’s knowledge.

Why is it so common to dismiss this as just another story? The answer is simple: because of the ramifications. Under most circumstances, no one would believe that a community of millions of people believe that their own ancestors witnessed an event, yet it’s all mythology. If Brazilians were holding an annual feast to commemorate a massive flood that nearly destroyed the community, the impartial observer would tend to believe that the flood must have actually happened — and that’s true even if the flood was reported to have taken place hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Because everyone knows that floods can happen, and it’s possible for communities to escape them by the narrowest of margins.

But knowing that this particular story may be difficult to believe, Maimonides points to this week’s reading: “when you will ask about the first days that happened before you, from the day G-d Created man on the earth and from one end of the heavens to the other, has this ever been, or has [a story] like this ever been heard — has a nation heard the Voice of G-d speaking from inside the fire, as you heard, and lived?” [4:32-33] The Torah says bluntly that, as Maimonides put it, “there never was such a thing before, and there will never be anything like it.”

This is an amazing prediction, especially considering how world history has played out over the past 3300 years. It’s not just that there are other religions, it’s that today over fifty percent of the world’s population derives their beliefs from our Bible. Today’s dominant religions begin here — that G-d revealed Himself to the Jewish Nation. And they all also believe that at some point, the Jews got it wrong.

All of them believe that they know the Jews got it wrong, because someone told them so. Either that someone was a prophet, or that someone was an angel, or that someone was even divinity in human form — but someone told them. No one believes that G-d publicly revealed Himself once again to say so. Today, there are more Americans who believe an angel talked to a man in a cave in upstate New York and showed him the new path, than there are Jews in the world who [try to] follow the rules laid out in the Torah!

What is it about this story, that no one tried to duplicate it? Doesn’t it make more sense to start a new religion by saying that G-d came back to tell us the new way? And for that matter… how did the Torah know and declare with full confidence that although the Jews came to believe the story as told in our Torah, no one would ever get a group of people to believe a new version of this story, ever again?

Maimonides may have been on to something.

Bigotry Watch

July 30, 2015 at 2:40 pm

First things first: I learned while preparing this that one of the victims of today’s stabbing in Jerusalem is unstable and in critical condition. Whoever he or she may be, and I hope we’ll get his or her name for our Tefilos — please say a kepital (chapter) of Tehilim (Psalms) for his or her speedy recovery.

I hope I’m wrong. But I expect open displays of bigotry in the days ahead, after the “gay pride” parade in Jerusalem was disrupted by a terrorist stabbing.

I am, of course, referring to open displays of bigotry against the Orthodox community. Because if someone uses the actions of a single deranged individual to slander an entire community, to imply that the community somehow supported or abetted the crime via action or attitude, that isn’t fighting bigotry — it’s showing it.

And in this case, the terrorist who ran through Jerusalem’s parade stabbing people, though clearly mentally ill, (probably) grew up in our community and was dressed in the garb of an Orthodox Jew. That he thought this was somehow an appropriate act is evidence prima facie of his evil insanity. The idea that he represented any haredi opinion or school of thought is risible.

Yet sadly, I expect some newscasters, journalists and opinion writers to ignore the fact that there were no similar attacks since 2005, when this very same individual did precisely the same thing — clearly demonstrating that he does not represent any school of thought in the haredi community, as there was no one else to take his place while he rotted in jail.

I expect them to ignore the role of police in protecting the community from terrorists both foreign and domestic, who were clearly aware of this individual and his previous history, knew he had been released just weeks ago, yet apparently did nothing whatsoever to prevent this individual from repeating his terrorist violence:

Several weeks ago, an ultra-Orthodox radio station, Kav HaNeues, interviewed Schlissel after his release from prison, referring to him as a “Haredi terrorist.” Schlissel told the station, “If a single person comes and wants to hold the [gay pride] parade, then therefore in order to do something, something extreme is necessary.” Referring to members of the LGBT community, Schlissel also said that “these impure people want to defile Jerusalem,” and “the objective — I need to stop this parade.”…

Jerusalem District police chief Moshe Adri says police knew Schlissel was released from prison, but didn’t have any concrete intel he was in the area or planning an attack. He says the investigation is in its early stages. A reporter for Channel 2 says Schlissel didn’t hide his intention, and that he had written on the Internet that he would continue his efforts against the LGBT community. When asked whether the police had been aware of rumors on WhatsApp claiming Schlissel was planning an attack, Adri says the police weren’t aware of such rumors.

Don’t get me wrong. I do want to know what the broadcasters and listeners of Kav HaNeues thought he was saying. Usually, when a person says “I’m gonna kill him” we know it’s just words — but here was a guy who did this before. Did anyone think to report him? Did they ignore it? But failing to act without an explicit threat isn’t surprising, though one would hope we would do better.

Terrorism — including terrorism against those trying to promote to’eva in Jerusalem — must be stopped. It is the obligation of the police to stop terrorism, and they clearly failed in their duties in this case.

And we must stand against terrorism, bigotry and hate, in all their many forms.

Da’as Torah and the Holocaust

July 27, 2015 at 7:26 am

This is a topic that comes up frequently, and when it appeared on a friend’s Facebook discussion I put these thoughts together.

(A) A big part of Judaism is learning to nullify our will to Hashem’s will. The leaders of our nation have always been the people who did this best — who learned Torah and let it guide them, rather than trying to superimpose their own values on the Torah. A person who goes to a Rav with an important matter almost always has an opinion, he (or she) is just asking for guidance from a person who has learned to do this better than he himself has.

(B) Obviously Rabbonim can err. Why obviously? Because the Torah makes it explicit. Moshe made mistakes. The Sanhedrin will make mistakes and bring a Korban for it. And we follow them anyways — for two reasons. 1) The Torah tells us to. 2) They still know better than we do. They still get it right more often than we do. The Torah still says that Israel without its Sages is like a dove without wings.

One thing that certainly cannot be done is to try to second-guess them based upon an alternate reality that never happened — e.g. saying that “the Holocaust” somehow proves Rabbonim were wrong telling people not to leave Europe.

If we look at Jewish history, it happens repeatedly: appearances are deceiving. What appears to be is not the reality — which is really about where we stand with HaShem. See Megillas Esther, for example. No one looked more wrong than Mordechai did when he refused to bow to Haman, which appeared to have caused the decree to wipe out the Jews. The reality is precisely the opposite; Mordechai’s actions saved us from that same deadly decree.

It is well-known that people who left Europe before the war had tremendous difficulty keeping their level of observance. It was only truly unique people who came over to America or Eretz Yisrael and built without compromise. We simply cannot say that had hundreds of thousands more fled Europe (making the invalid assumption that the Americans or Brits would let them in to the US or EY) and sacrificed their dedication to Hashem U’Toraso, that everything else would have stayed equal. Rommel did not invade EY because he lost one battle to the British after having won a series of others. What would have happened if, to the contrary, he had won that battle as well?

Criticizing Israel

July 24, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Domino TheoryThe last book of the Torah, Book of Devarim, is called “Deuteronomy” in English — an Old English translation of Deuteronomium, Latin for “Second Law.” G-d tells Moshe to record what Moshe himself said to Israel, which includes further discussion and elaboration of the Commandments.

Moshe begins, however, by giving Israel Tochacha, rebuke. In modern English we might call it a “stern lecture,” but that fails to capture its full meaning. Moshe lived his entire life as a servant of the Nation. G-d testifies that Moshe was “more humble than anyone” [Num. 12:3]. He was their leader because he was called upon to lead — and showed leadership by demonstrating, as a shepherd, concern for a small lost sheep in his flock. He cared about every person. So if he was criticizing them, it was because he truly desired the very best for them.

Even before he begins to speak, Rashi explains, the Torah describes the People of Israel’s location in a way that reminds us of places where we, Israel, angered the A-lmighty through our misbehavior. And the Torah knows a thing or two about rebuke — why does it say that he spoke “to all of Israel?” Because if only part of them were there, those out in the marketplace at the time would come back and say, “you didn’t respond when he said that? If we had been there, we would’ve answered him!” So Moshe assembled everyone, so that no one could say afterwards that they could have justified themselves but didn’t have the opportunity. And why did Moshe only do this shortly before his death? Otherwise he would have had to rebuke Israel constantly, and we would have been ashamed.

Perhaps the strongest criticism is when the Torah points out that they found themselves eleven days away from Horeb, Mt. Sinai [see 1:2]. Forty years later, they were all of eleven days from where they received the Torah.

And there is a deeper message, Rashi tells us, behind mentioning “eleven days from Horeb.” — to get from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea takes eleven days, but excluding the days when Israel stopped (due to its own actions), they traveled there in only three. That is how anxious G-d was to bring us to our land! And then at Kadesh Barnea the spies went out… and as a result, Israel traveled in a circuit around Mt. Seir for forty years.

This is a good message to be reading on the eve of Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, the day both Temples were destroyed. Even the bad things that happen to us are for our own benefit — and usually because we, Israel, did something wrong. We live in a time when people refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, and we are taught to take responsibility beyond what even seems logical: “every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as if it was destroyed during their time” [Yerushalmi Yoma 1:1].

Today there is a terrible disconnect between cause and effect — by which I mean spiritual cause. 78% of Jews in America told the Pew report that “remembering the Holocaust” is an important part of being Jewish. But where are they on the ninth of Av? On Tisha B’Av, we remember terrible things that befell the Jewish People, and remind ourselves that it is ultimately up to us to do better, to honor the memory of the holy martyrs of our nation by coming closer to G-d and being truly deserving of peace in our land.

A Maddening Decision

July 23, 2015 at 9:41 am

During the Holocaust, the Nazis continued to divert trains and soldiers from the front lines in order to take more Jews to the ovens.

During intense sanctions, the Iranians continued to divert funds from basic necessities in order to support Hamas, Hezbollah, and other organizations devoted to the murder of infidels, but especially Jews.

It is obvious to everyone, including the Administration, that Hamas and Hezbollah will be major beneficiaries of sanctions relief. The Administration acknowledges this, and says that since the Iranians are doing that anyway, it can’t be worse.

This seems to this observer to be beyond any defensible logic — and a path to the murder of innocents.

Iran continues to call for “Death to Israel” and invests money in the murder of Jews. Netanyahu opposes any form of sanctions relief when that money will be spent upon murdering Jews.

The President has decided that it is Netanyahu who is being unreasonable.

[OK, updated. It has been called to my attention that for assorted reasons (a double-standard high among them), we have to speak more respectfully of this particular President than of all previous presidents (and I, for one, would have still less complimentary things to say about Past President Jimmy Carter). So despite “hail to the thief” and far worse hurled at George W. Bush, we have to bypass the town crier test and play nicely. If this turns out to be not a double standard, but rather an impartial new standard, that would be for the best — but should a Republican be elected, I for one won’t be holding my breath waiting to see this new standard maintained. And no, btw, Rabbi Adlerstein was not the one who enabled me to see the error of my ways.]

Clearly, the President is not evil. But the idea that Netanyahu is the unreasonable one sounds crazy to me! We hope that he and all his colleagues in our national government will see the Israelis as indeed not unreasonable, and very justified in their approach… and that they will, in the end, reject a “deal” that enables Iran to fund terror and sidestep inspections.

Reaching for the Truth

July 5, 2015 at 7:38 pm

All of us can, at most, “Strive for Truth” [It’s a borrowed title], and so I appreciate Rabbi Shafran’s clarification of his position. And to the best of my recollection, there hasn’t been a back & forth discussion/argument of this nature on Cross-Currents in over a decade, much as different authors often disagree. The more one reads Cross-Currents, the more the reader recognizes that the Orthodox are hardly the monolith they are often portrayed to be; a debate of this nature just makes this as explicit as possible, and thus where Rabbi Shafran and I emphatically agree is that this is a positive dialog for several reasons.

I see no reason to depart from Rabbi Shafran’s enumeration of my points, and I’ll let people respond to both articles in the comments below.

1) My point was that there seemed no need for Rabbi Shafran to wander down this road, especially considering the tenuous ground upon which his arguments stand. What is the purpose of demonizing Oren? Instead of being a brilliant historian and dedicated public servant, all of a sudden he’s a right-wing nut job attacking Obama just to sell books, and Kafui Tov for not recognizing how wonderful Obama really is. Really?

Oren’s not a right-winger, he’s not a Netanyahu crony, and he only confirmed what those of us who have followed the news reports carefully have seen for years. As Rabbi Shafran conceded, the egregious omission of Israel in the countries rushing to provide aid to Haiti — that and that alone — disturbed him greatly, and “seemed to contradict” his “positive judgment of Mr. Obama’s regard for Israel.”

As described by Oren’s close friend, Yossi Klein Halevi, Oren had a good reason to release this book now:

Michael Oren is one of the most selfless public servants of the Jewish people I’ve been privileged to know. And he wrote “Ally” for one overriding reason: to challenge Obama on Iran. That’s why he timed its release just before the deadline for concluding the Iranian negotiations. His explicit intention was to call into question the credibility of the President of the United States when he repeatedly declares that he has Israel’s back. Not because Michael believes that President Obama hates Israel or wishes us harm, but because Michael believes – as do I – that the President’s Iranian policy is placing Israel under existential threat. “Ally” is Michael’s cry of alarm – the culmination of a commitment that we began together in 2006, when we co-authored an article for the New Republic warning against American complacency toward a nuclearizing Iran.

2) It’s clear that Rabbi Shafran did not understand what Oren said. The quote, in context, reads “The first principle was ‘no daylight.’ The U.S. and Israel always could disagree but never openly. Doing so would encourage common enemies and render Israel vulnerable.” It is extremely well-known that the United States disapproved of the expansion of settlements, and said so. Could Michael Oren, familiar as he was with the history of the US-Israel relationship, have intended to say that all of Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II had never publicly disagreed with Israel at all? No.

What was Oren actually saying? That Obama made it a policy. Instead of highlighting the firm partnership between the US and Israel, he highlighted the disagreements — as he said he would do in his 2009 speech. That is what Oren was talking about, and it remains unrebutted.

3) I do not understand Rabbi Shafran’s claim that the change and tenor “is Mr. Oren’s judgment only.” The Bush letter acknowledged that Israel would not leave the entirety of the West Bank: “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” The unwritten subtext approved Israel building in existing Jewish neighborhoods and settlements. Having been approved by both the House and Senate (including the votes of Sen. H. Clinton and Rep. R. Emanuel), it was a firm pledge from the United States to Israel.

Sorry, but Rabbi Shafran can’t have it both ways. If he wants to claim that there was no shift, then why did Obama need to disavow the letter? Why was an assurance from the House, Senate and previous President null and void, if nothing had changed? The very fact that the letter was set aside is clear proof otherwise. And if this had precedent, neither Rabbi Shafran nor any of Oren’s other critics have shown us where. [What Obama did was set a precedent, relevant to its relationships with all other countries: the commitment of one administration, though backed by both houses of Congress, can be dropped by the next without a backwards glance. The United States feels no obligation to keep its word.]

Further, Rabbi Shafran claims that “Mr. Obama has never addressed his position on the ultimate status of any settlements, opting instead to leave all such things to any negotiations between Israel and the PA.” But this, too, is incorrect. What Obama did was adopt the Palestinian negotiating position as US policy.

From page 208 of the book: “the capstone [of Obama’s new plan] would be recognition of the 1967 lines as the basis for peace. This, the president would likely say, would merely express the obvious and reiterate long-standing US policy. In reality, though, America’s embrace of the 1967 lines would undermine the Terms of Reference so fastidiously forged by Hillary Clinton. That TOR talked of ‘the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines’ – that is, not the Israeli or American goal. Endorsing those borders, even with mutually agreed land swaps, meant granting an immense concession to the Palestinians while they refused to even enter peace talks. It meant tying those talks to lines that, in broad areas in and around Jerusalem and along the Jordan Valley, no longer existed… Instead of taking Abbas to task for not negotiating and for opposing construction in neighborhoods Israel would ultimately retain, the administration rewarded him.”

There is an account earlier in the book which shows how Obama’s new attitude played out in real life — both towards Israel, and towards the Bush promise.

Ramat Shlomo is a (charedi) neighborhood on the northern edge of Jerusalem, and unquestionably one of those neighborhoods included in Bush’s letter as part of Israel. It is slightly to the northwest of Ramat Eshkol, and as much a part of Jerusalem. In 2010, as Joe Biden came to Israel, the Interior Ministry approved a plan to build 1600 new housing units. The plot of land being developed lies in between Ramat Shlomo and the green line, between HaRav Rephael Toledano Street and Yigal Yadin (Route 1). An you can see from the map, this simply develops a small tract of land that links Ramat Shlomo to the rest of Jerusalem.

In “Ally,” Oren describes how he and everyone else in the administration was as surprised as the Americans, when a Ministry bureaucrat approved the permits for these new units. From pp 137-139:

Finally, close to two a.m., Ron Dermer and I ran with a handwritten draft to the hotel lobby where [US Ambassador to Israel] Dan Shapiro waited peevishly. He visibly brightened, though, when he read our assurances. We typed them up in the business center and went upstairs for a few hours sleep.

The air itself felt supercharged the following day as the vice president rose to the Tel Aviv University podium. He spoke about feeling at home in the Jewish state, about the “unbreakable bond… impervious to any shifts,” between it and the United States… But then he turned to the Ramat Shlomo plan, which, he said, undermines the trust required for productive negotiations. ‘At the request of President Obama, I condemn it immediately and unequivocally.’

Some left-wing students clapped at this as well, but other Israelis seethed. Diplomacy provides a word-scale for expressing levels of displeasure, beginning with regret and disapprove and escalating to denounce and deplore. But the harshest of all is condemn. “the administration never condemned Iran for killing its own people,” Ron muttered, “but Israel gets condemned for building homes in a Jewish neighborhood in our capital city.”…

I… boarded a plane and arrived in the United States at five o’clock Friday morning to learn that Secretary of State Clinton had excoriated Netanyahu for forty-five minutes over the phone, rebuking him for humiliating the president and undermining America’s ability to deal with pressing Middle East issues… And then I heard that the State Department, protesting “the deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship,” had summoned me to an immediate meeting.

As in the case of the word condemn, diplomacy provides a calibrated lexicon to describe requests for high-level meetings. The scale descends from the amicable “respectfully invited” to the more neutral “asked to come.” The lowest, by far, is “summoned.”

So all of a sudden, building within Jerusalem meant the Israelis were not interested in peace. During the freeze insisted upon by Obama, people in Ramat Eshkol could not repair their porch — and Rabbi Shafran calls this consistent with previous US policy!

4) Whether or not the US has an obligation to inform Israel was never under discussion. The question to be asked is, did Obama value the historically tight collaboration with Israel on critical issues of national security (to both countries)? By deliberately shutting out Israel, and consciously acting to limit Israel’s options, he showed an entirely different attitude than previous Presidents. Oren, as the Ambassador of Israel to the United States, certainly knew the history of communication between the two countries, and found Obama’s refusal to communicate with Israel an ongoing concern — especially when it came to a nuclear Iran.

From p. 334: “Administration sources meanwhile continued leaking reports of IDF air strikes in Syria. One of these, a May 3 bombing of a Damascus warehouse purportedly containing yet another shipment of advanced missiles for Hezbollah, was said to have killed forty-two Syrian soldiers. Israel again withheld comment on the action, but the American leak spurred Assad to threaten counterattacks. At the embassy, I asked my staff what would impel some U.S. official to risk triggering bloodshed between Israel and Syria. Perhaps, one diplomat suggested, the White House wanted to distract Israel’s attention from efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.”

5) Note that the Dominican Republic is connected to Haiti; they share a common island. According to Oren’s account — and the JTA’s revised version — the Israel ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Amos Radian, was the first official to come to Haiti following the quake on Wednesday the 13th, and was joined by an advance team to find a site for Israel’s hospital on the 14th.

But here, again from the book, is Oren’s fuller description of what happened, from pp. 131-133:

It began on January 14, forty-eight hours after a massive earthquake devastated Haiti. Vast swaths of the impoverished Caribbean country lay in ruins, with at least 150,000 dead. With its war-born experience in dealing with casualties, its expert medical teams, and its biblical traditions of caring for the week, Israel responded. More than 200 Israelis, many of them volunteers from the IsraAID relief organization, immediately took off for Haiti and set up the first completely equipped hospital unit. Yet the operation could not have been mounted without the logistical assistance of the United States. Some of the Israelis even slept in chairs at the US Embassy. Throughout, I was on the phone around the clock with the State Department, coordinating our joint efforts.

So again, Oren knew what the real situation was, because he was intimately involved. He knew that the Americans were quite well aware that what Israel was doing was on an entirely different level than that of any of the countries that made Obama’s list, up to and including the US itself — in the words of one American doctor, “it’s something that almost makes you embarrassed to be an American” when he compared Israel’s hospital effort to their own.

None of the critics have successfully challenged any of Oren’s facts, because they cannot. This is classic mudslinging and character assassination — throw anything you can at Oren and hope that something sticks. When proven wrong, just go try a different angle. This isn’t our way. Ally is not only precise in its descriptions of events, it is backed up by the record — and as such, it stands on its merits.

Say It Isn’t So, Rabbi Shafran

July 3, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Rabbi Shafran is someone I have admired for decades. His witty, moving, and inspirational biography of the journey of a Jewish convert, Migrant Soul, emerged when I was still a yeshiva student, and when he became Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel, I knew the organization was in good hands, and it has been so. I agree with what he writes most of the time, certainly on issues affecting the charedi community.

One of the few things I can neither agree with — nor even comprehend — is Rabbi Shafran’s service to the Obama Administration as its chief charedi apologist. Time and again, his arguments in this one area seem, to me, to stretch the limits of credulity in search of a way to show that Obama is actually much more pro-Israel, pro-religion, and/or simply pro-common-sense than he so consistently appears to be.

This week has proven no exception, and it is, for me, a bridge too far. As many have already pointed out, Michael Oren is brilliant, dedicated, loves both Israel and the United States, is an historian with an impeccable record of attention to detail, and, finally, is no “Ally” of Netanyahu — on the contrary, he is now a Member of Knesset from the centrist Kulanu party. He is not one who would be anxious to falsify the record, neither deliberately nor even through error. And, despite Rabbi Shafran’s protestations to the contrary, there is no evidence that he did.

As Bret Stephens and the Wall Street Journal put it, “Michael Oren’s candid account of Obama’s Mideast policy has won him the right enemies.” Stephens means the Obama administration, which he describes as “in an epic snit” over the book. But this could also refer to Jane Eisner of The Forward, and the Past President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie, both of whom resented Oren’s depiction of liberal American Jews as, in Yoffie’s words, “unreliable in their support of Israel… forever babbling about Tikkun Olam, and more inclined to help others than their own.” As Stephens put it, “Truth hurts.”

I do not understand Rabbi Shafran’s need to add to the din of the Obama-adulating masses, so eager to spin reality until it vanishes in a blur. This is especially true because his three critiques of Oren’s work can best be described as “wrong, wrong, and wrong.”

The three of Michael Oren’s claims with which Rabbi Shafran takes issue begin with two published in Hamodia:

Sin #1, according to Mr. Oren, consisted of Mr. Obama’s telling American Jewish leaders in 2009 that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lack of movement toward a peace process “erodes our credibility with the Arabs.” And the president’s “void[ing of] George W. Bush’s commitment to include the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem within Israel’s borders in any peace agreement.” And Mr. Obama’s call for a temporary “freeze of Israeli construction” in contested areas.

Sin #2? President Obama didn’t share a copy of his Cairo speech with Israel ahead of time, even though it contained “unprecedented support for the Palestinians” and “recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear power.”

To which he later added a third:

Mr. Oren’s description of how President Obama left Israel off a list of countries the president lauded for aiding Haiti after its devastating earthquake in 2010.

MK Oren did not, in actuality, claim that no previous President had publicly disagreed with Israeli policies. What he referred to, rather, was “no daylight.” Regardless of disagreements, brothers are brothers — there is no “distance” between members of a loving family. In his Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, aptly titled “How Obama Abandoned Israel,” Oren described how Obama changed things as follows:

“When there is no daylight,” the president told American Jewish leaders in 2009, “Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our credibility with the Arabs.” The explanation ignored Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and its two previous offers of Palestinian statehood in Gaza, almost the entire West Bank and half of Jerusalem—both offers rejected by the Palestinians.

Obama did not merely “call for a temporary freeze of Israeli construction.” What he did was dramatically shift the tenor of the American position from that of every American President since Reagan, all of whom disagreed with the expansion of settlements, the “settlement enterprise,” the building of outposts and roads through territory certain to become Palestinian.

Oren writes that Obama, by contrast, “insisted on a total freeze of Israeli construction in those areas — ‘not a single brick,’ I later heard he ordered Mr. Netanyahu — while making no substantive demands of the Palestinians.” Indeed, Obama said at a 2009 press conference, with Netanyahu standing beside him, that “Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward.” Oren is hardly the first person to point out that Obama thus turned a Palestinian demand into US policy.

Attempting to defend Obama against the claim that he abandoned George W. Bush’s “promise to include the major settlement blocs and Jewish Jerusalem within Israel’s borders in any peace agreement,” Rabbi Shafran points to Obama’s statement that the return to the 1967 borders “would include land swaps.”

This is insufficient for three reasons: Obama explicitly broke Bush’s promise, Obama demanded no further construction even inside the major settlement blocks certain to remain part of Israel, and Obama expected Israel to withdraw from the equivalent of the full territory of the West Bank, which was demanded neither by George W. Bush nor, in fact, UN Security Council Resolution 242. In his letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004, as Sharon contemplated unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, President George W. Bush wrote the following:

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

As documented by Oren in his book:

The letter… endorsed by both houses of Congress… persuaded the Israeli public that ceding territory could yield concrete commitments from the United States. It safeguarded secure borders for the Jewish State. And it created diplomatic space for Israelis and Palestinians alike. The letter enabled Israeli governments to ease pressure from right-wing groups by building in those “major population centers” without precluding the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Though they officially opposed any Israeli presence beyond the 1967 lines, Palestinian leaders understood that the areas suggested by the Bush-Sharon letter were nonnegotiable.

Shockingly, then, shortly after taking office, the Obama administration disavowed the letter. Denying the existence of any “informal or oral agreement” on Israeli construction in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs, the State Department further asserted that the letter “did not become part of the official position of the United States.”

As seen above, Obama demanded a complete building freeze, explicitly including the very regions that Bush promised could now be considered part of Israel proper. The fact that Netanyahu was forced to institute such a freeze for ten months, the Palestinians did absolutely nothing during that time, and afterwards Obama continued to blame both parties equally for failing to negotiate, simply reassured Abbas that he had no reason to negotiate at all, as Obama was making Israelis miserable for him. Or, as Oren puts it in his op-ed:

Consequently, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas boycotted negotiations, reconciled with Hamas and sought statehood in the U.N.—all in violation of his commitments to the U.S.—but he never paid a price. By contrast, the White House routinely condemned Mr. Netanyahu for building in areas that even Palestinian negotiators had agreed would remain part of Israel.

We must then turn to what Rabbi Shafran describes as “Sin #2″ — namely, that Obama failed to share an advance copy of his Cairo speech with Israel. This characterization of Oren’s second accusation, however, is entirely inadequate. What Oren refers to is an ongoing pattern of “surprising” Israel with radical changes in policy, the Cairo speech, “with its unprecedented support for the Palestinians and its recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear power,” being merely the first of many.

Oren asserts that these surprises were unprecedented, and indeed no one is able to provide a counter-example — perhaps explaining why Rabbi Shafran substituted such a facile strawman argument in place of what Oren actually said. For example, requiring that Israel return to the 1967 borders “with land swaps” reversed forty years of US policy, as mentioned above.

All of these build to Oren’s most timely example of an Obama surprise: “Finally, in 2014, Israel discovered that its primary ally had for months been secretly negotiating with its deadliest enemy.” Oren put this op-ed out now because he believes that Obama’s coddling of Iran is putting Israeli and Jewish lives in grave danger. For this, Rabbi Shafran has no rebuttal.

And then finally, in a new contribution, Rabbi Shafran focuses upon Oren’s pointed reference to President Obama’s public statement about the Haiti Earthquake, which entirely omitted the disproportionate, massive contribution of the State of Israel to the relief effort.

Rabbi Shafran relies upon Ron Kampeas of the JTA to rebut Oren; the only problem is that Kampeas was wrong. First of all, Oren feeling like he “had been kicked in the chest” clearly indicates that “he knew what they knew” — unless Oren is, today, simply delusional, suffering from False Memory Syndrome. According to Oren’s account, he knew with certainty that the Obama administration knew Israel was sending a team quite large enough to deserve mention, and this was why Obama’s failure to do so caused him acute pain. In their anxiousness to discredit Oren, Kampeas and Rabbi Shafran are happy to assert that he fabricated this personally traumatic recollection from whole cloth.

Oren’s version, though, is substantiated by contemporaneous documentation. On Thursday, January 14, a day before the President’s speech, Israel 21c reported the following:

On Thursday afternoon, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued this announcement: “Israel is doing all in its power to help the people of Haiti cope with the disaster in their country. A 220-person delegation, headed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, will leave this evening for Port-Au-Prince on two Boeing 747 jets leased from El Al by the IDF.

“The relief package includes a Home Front Command field hospital and rescue unit, as well as teams from Magen David Adom and Israel Police.”…

Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy in the US has been called on to coordinate Israeli efforts with American aid offices, so the Israelis will be ready to provide medical aid where it is most needed.

So not only did Israel announce to the global press that they were sending two 747’s full of people and equipment the day before the speech, Oren’s office was intimately involved in coordinating with the Americans. If anyone knew what the Americans knew at the time, it was Michael Oren — which, again, explains why he was personally hurt by the President’s omission.

Additional documentation is provided by The Tower. First, they dispense with Kampeas’ assertion that Israel was not the first country to arrive in Haiti after the disaster. All the other countries listed, those used by Kampeas to “disprove” Oren’s statement, turn out to have “already had a presence in Haiti in January 2010 through their participation in MINUSTAH—the United Nations Stabilisation Force in Haiti.” In addition:

Obama’s remarks on January 15 referred to those countries both present as part of the UN force and those countries that announced they were sending aid in the earthquake’s aftermath: hence his phrasing (“Help continues to flow in“) and his namechecking of Mexico and the Dominican Republic…

As Kampeas’ JTA colleague Uriel Heilmann reported: “Within hours of the quake, officials from Israel’s consulates in New York and Miami were on civilian planes heading toward the Dominican Republic, where they were to rendezvous with the local Israeli ambassador before heading overland into neighboring Haiti. Their goal: rent vehicles, find a site to establish a field hospital, and take care of all the necessary logistics so the 240-person IDF-organized aid team could hit the ground running”…

The CNN timeline which Kampeas relies on contains the following entry made nearly seven hours before Obama delivered his speech [Note that this is off by a day. That CNN report, having been posted at 6:45 a.m. on the 14th rather than 15th, precedes the President’s speech by 31 hours. –YM]: 6:45 a.m. — A four-member rescue team from Israel was scheduled to arrive Thursday morning [the 14th], followed by two more jets carrying a field hospital and 220 rescue and hospital workers.

Awareness of the Israeli aid effort was being reported in major media as early as January 13. On that day, Fox News reported that ‘Israel and Ireland also had disaster aid teams on the way.’ On January 14, The Christian Science Monitor published a piece entitled ‘The nations that are stepping up to help’ which noted the following: ‘Israel: Two plane loads of aid and rescue staff of 240, including 40 doctors and nurses to set up a field hospital capable of serving 500 people a day.’

So not only was Israel’s very substantial contribution to the effort publicized by its Foreign Ministry, it was also reported by (at least) three major national US news outlets well before the speech. There is simply no way that anyone well-informed about the aid effort could have been unaware that Israel’s field hospital team, which was, according to CNN, “like another world compared to the [American] hospital,” was already inbound while the President was speaking. The President simply chose to leave Israel out in the cold.

It remains true that the US government remains light-years ahead of any other in its support for Israel — as the EU proved just today, by supporting a resolution equating Israeli self-defense with bloodthirsty terrorism. But it is perhaps time for Rabbi Shafran to give Michael Oren credit where credit is due, and indeed, to revise his “positive judgment of Mr. Obama’s regard for Israel.” It would be nice to go back to reading his articles with admiration not merely for his talents as a wordsmith, but with how excellently he has expressed my own sentiments.