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The Aughts and Us

The End of the Peace Process

By Elliott Abrams

The Palestinian rejection of two Israeli prime ministers’ peace offers, one more generous than the other, transformed the Israeli view of relations with the Palestinians. These rejections — by Yasser Arafat of Ehud Barak’s offer and by Mahmoud Abbas of Ehud Olmert’s — plus the terrorist violence perpetrated by the PLO after the 2000 Camp David summit, persuaded Israelis that no amount of concessions will ever be enough and permanently weakened the Israeli left. The Palestinian rejections killed the old “peace process,” leaving the building of a Palestinian state from the bottom up — institution by institution — as the only alternative.

Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was deputy national security adviser in charge of Middle Eastern affairs in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Israeli Ingenuity

By Bernard Avishai

In May 2006, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway ponied up a cool $4.5 billion to buy an 80% stake in Iscar, Israel’s brilliant maker of cutting tools, founded by the legendary Stef Wertheimer. The company — which blends cutting-edge robotics, metallurgy and advanced business culture — is as profitable as any global software maker, and it anchors a lovely new town in an entrepreneurial region in the north of the country: Israel’s best future in microcosm. The partnership with Buffet exposed Israel’s inevitable globalization. The missiles raining down on Iscar just two months later exposed a country in need of regional collective security agreements, not just deterrence.

Bernard Avishai, an adjunct professor of business at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the author of “The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel Peace at Last” (Harcourt, 2008).

The Day Life Changed

By Abraham H. Foxman

September 11, 2001. The events of that day changed life as we knew it for all Americans. It had special significance for Jews in the United States and throughout the world. Not one day after the terrorist attacks, word spread that Jews and Israel were responsible. The “Big Lie” took root around the globe and remains alive and well, especially in Arab and Muslim countries. Meanwhile, Jews, Israelis and their institutions have become targets from Mombasa to Mumbai, Casablanca to Istanbul, LAX to Seattle. The threat of terrorism, long a problem for Israelis, now touches us all.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

1938 All Over Again?

By Jonathan Freedland

For a Jew living in London, a depressing change these past 10 years has come in the assumptions other Jews make about you. One visiting American Jewish organizational official greeted a British counterpart (a friend of mine) with a tearful hug, “You’re going through what my grandmother survived with the pogroms.” This is the view that in Europe it’s 1938 all over again, with “Islamofascists” standing in for Hitler. Nonsense. Sure, there are moments of strain, but Jewish life is flowering in Britain — from the rise of our Jewish schools to the globally admired Limmud festival. Still, the perception otherwise has become an irritating fact of our collective lives.

Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for The Guardian and The Jewish Chronicle.

The Power of Prayer

By Dara Horn

Until very recently, the American Jewish public prayer experience was, for lack of a better word, pathetic. Prayer in many Reform and Conservative synagogues was a spectator sport, while Orthodox davening was a gossip-fest, especially for women seated behind bars. But the explosion of independent minyanim has radically changed the possibilities in American Jewish prayer. Most discussions of these minyanim focus on their youth, their traditional liturgical choices, their impressive growth and the challenge they present to established synagogues. But for the person who grew up amid pathetic davening, the most astounding aspect of these communities is the simple fact that nearly everyone in them is actually praying.

Dara Horn is the author, most recently, of the novel “All Other Nights” (Norton).

Self-Defense in Gaza

By Edward I. Koch

When Israel attacked the Hamas forces controlling Gaza in December 2008, it was seeking to end the daily firing of rockets into southern Israel. The Hamas terrorists responded by hiding among Palestinian civilians, resulting in collateral injuries. As a result of Israel’s war against terror, Israeli civilians today walk in relative safety. Israel did what every country seeks to do in war — break the will of the enemy so it stops its attacks. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned from the world’s response — reflected in the Goldstone report — Israel isn’t judged by the same standards as every other country.

Edward I. Koch, a partner in the law firm Bryan Cave, served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989.

Character Assassination

By Elisa New

In books growing shorter as the decade wore on, Philip Roth, our Tolstoy, our Melville, our precious Jeremiah, picked off his alter egos, one by one, and dispatched them to the cemetery. As they fell into their graves — Zuckerman and Kepesh, artist-perverts and soldier-boys, naive stamp collectors and reclusive nymphet-collectors — Roth shoveled the illusions of humankind’s most deadly century after them. Sexual liberation and race blindness, the pastoral bliss of suburbs and the safety of American exceptionalism, Mom, the shiksa goddess and the promise of higher education: all so many clods on the coffin.

Elisa New, a professor of English at Harvard University, is the author of “Jacob’s Cane: A Jewish Family’s Journey from the Four Lands of Lithuania to the Ports of London and Baltimore — A Memoir in Five Generations” (Basic Books).

American Jewry in Second Place

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Amid ongoing, year-long commemorations of 350 years of American Jewish life, a news item of immense historical significance passed practically unnoticed. On May 10, 2005, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics announced that the country’s population of self-identifying Jews had reached a grand total of 5,550,000. The closest parallel number for Jews in the United States (where the figures are admittedly less precise and more controversial) is 5,290,000. With this news, an era that began following the Holocaust, when America emerged as the undisputed center of world Jewry, came with little fanfare to a close. Israel overtook the United States as the largest Jewish population center in the world.

Jonathan D. Sarna, the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, is serving this year as senior scholar at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem.

Diaspora Online

By Rachel Sklar

Has it ever been easier for Jews to tell the world what we’re thinking? Never shy about expressing opinions, we now have social media for sharing, posting and kvetching. But social media is also a powerful agent of community, allowing members of our Diaspora to seek each other out — across the world or down the block (and, yes, maybe go for that old cyber-shidduch). Social media has made it easy to kibbitz (remember that Moses Facebook page on Passover, or the “Twitteleh” video?) and has become a critical tool for fundraising, help sorely needed in these tough times. P.S. Elie Wiesel is on Twitter.

Rachel Sklar is editor-at-large for

A Boycott Builds

By Alisa Solomon

After years of building slowly, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has gained real traction. The BDS conference at Hampshire College in November — which drew students from 40 campuses — marked a watershed in anti-occupation activism in the United States. BDS proponents — many of them Jewish — are picking up a time-honored, non-violent protest tool as they seek meaningful action against the 42-year-old occupation. Charges that these are “antisemitic” efforts to “delegitimize Israel” mischaracterize a multifaceted movement for human and civil rights. As BDS keeps growing, the Jewish community is going to have to grapple seriously with the issues this movement raises.

Alisa Solomon is an associate professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School and a contributing editor to WBAI’s weekly radio program “Beyond the Pale.”

Goodbye, Greater Israel

By A.B. Yehoshua

During the past decade, a broad Israeli political consensus finally emerged recognizing that the vision of a “Greater Israel,” which had been nurtured since the 1967 Six Day War, has no chance of becoming a reality. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, along with his followers who left Likud to form Kadima, embraced this realization. Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly acknowledged the need for the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. It is understood that a Palestinian state, living in peace with Israel, not only would serve Palestinian interests and the demands of the international community; it would serve the essential, existential interests of Israel.

A.B. Yehoshua, a novelist, is a recipient of the Israel Prize for Hebrew literature and a founder of the Peace Now movement.

Realizing a Birthright

By Eric Yoffie

When Birthright Israel was launched 10 years ago to provide free trips to Israel for Jewish young adults, there were many skeptics, myself included. But we were wrong. Birthright has changed our perceptions in fundamental ways. It has demonstrated that at a time when commitment to Israel is supposedly withering, even the most disengaged young Jews have a yearning for connection to the Jewish state. And it has proven that despair over the future of our young people is unwarranted: We can, if we are serious, offer them experiences that change their life, foster Jewish identity and draw them into the Jewish people.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is president of the Union for Reform Judaism.


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