Sunday, January 21, 2024

Why Hamas Ideology Cannot Be Erased

There’s a reason Hamas and other extremist Muslim groups will never accept Israel’s existence: To do so would violate their version of Islam. 

Simply put: They believe any land once controlled by Islamic leaders can never be ceded to infidels; it is the duty of true believers to retake it. 

Their dedication to extreme Islam not only is a threat to Israel but also endangers all lands previously controlled by Muslims, such as all or parts of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Moldavia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria and Russia. 

Religious zealotry has been a motivating factor in warfare for millennia after millennia, distinct from the crass land and resource grabs of expansionist entities like the Roman and Mongolian empires, as well as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. 

The Bible informs that God decreed the conquest of Canaan to provide a home to the Israelites. Orthodox Jewish extremists in Israel rely on biblical texts to assert Jewish sovereignty over the West Bank. Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas had the blessing of popes to mine riches and convert the indigenous. Mohammed forged Arabia into a proselytizing religious force across northern Africa and eastward into Persia, modern day Iran. His successors expanded Islam’s reach into the Iberian Peninsula to the west, the Caspian Sea to the east and, under the Ottomans, to the very gates of Vienna to the north with the (unsuccessful) siege of the Hapsburg capital in 1683. 

All that domination by Islamic forces has left a modern day conundrum. While predominantly all Muslims have tolerant relations with Western nations, extremist offshoots do not. They even battle other non extremist Muslim factions.

Islam often is proclaimed as a religion of peace, but to Islam’s extremists it is peace on its terms, not the peace of Western Enlightenment civilization.  

Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are noteworthy examples of militant extremism. In Hamas’ case, the rejection of Israel is centered on an Islamic Waqf, a form of permanent endowment that cannot be repealed. Land once under control by Muslims cannot be considered lost, but rather is forever to be reclaimed.

Article 11 of Hamas’ charter states, “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [endowment] consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that.”

Ceasefires may come and go. The struggle by Hamas to eradicate Israel is permanent. 

Can extremists be defeated in battle? Probably. Can their ideology be erased? Doubtful. Witness the resurgence of Isis, al-Qaeda and the Taliban after losing battles with Western forces. 

Hamas. Hezbollah. Houthis. Modern day Hamans from biblical times and Hitlers from the not too distant past who want to kill Jews.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Answers, Not Bromides, Wanted: How to Stop Hamas?

Perhaps you saw Megan K. Stack’s guest opinion piece in Sunday’s New York Times headlined, “The Case Against Israel Is Strong.” Under a different headline (“Don’t Turn Away from the Charges of Genocide Against Israel”) her thoughts appeared in The Times online edition a few days earlier (

I have no guarantee The Times will publish my reaction to Stack in print or online (interestingly, there is no online mechanism to comment on her piece as there is for Times staff-written articles), so here’s what I sent as a Letter to the Editor: 

Ms. Stack writes passionately about Gaza. Anyone with any degree of humanity and compassion must share her depression about the death of thousands of innocents.

But I wonder what her answer would be to the question of Hamas? Since 2007 Hamas has ruled Gaza. Despite blockades from Israel and Egypt, billions upon billions of dollars in aid and material have poured into Gaza, enough to have turned it into a “Dubai on the Mediterranean,” enough to feed and clothe and employ Gaza’s two million residents.

Instead, Hamas turned Gaza into a launching pad for violence and terror, both above ground and in tunnels underneath schools, homes and hospitals. Hamas could have built a democratic entity. Instead it ruled by terror directed against Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis.

Cease fires after past battles between Hamas and Israel simply allowed Hamas to regroup and rearm and build more tunnels. And then fire more rockets into Israel. A cease fire existed on October 6. Hamas broke it October 7.

Israel suffered the equivalent loss of some 40,000 American lives on its 9/11 tragedy October 7.

How would she defang Hamas? Would she believe Hamas would abide by a cease fire, much less peace, when its charter advocates Israel’s destruction and the killing of Jews?  

Her arguments for excessive force by Israel are compelling but do not address the root cause of the conflict, the rejection by Hamas of Israel’s and Jews’ right to exist. Over and over Palestinian leadership rejected proposals for a separate Palestinian state.

If the neighbor next to your home repeatedly fired bullets and tossed grenades into your home, if your family members were injured or if one or more were killed, what would you do if the police wouldn’t or couldn’t stop them? And you wouldn’t or couldn’t move. What would you do?

Answers, not bromides, please.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Smiles From My Facebook Feed

My Facebook feed contains lots of personal updates of the comings and goings of friends and family and, for some unknown reason, several daily missives about the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, The Far Side and other comic panels including Dennis the Menace, lots of product promos, examples of Jewish Humor, and the musings/rantings of political commentator wannabes (like me). 

Among the more entertaining postings, many shared by my sister Lee, are aphorisms, several of which I have included here with, I hope, proper attribution: 

“Bread is like the sun. 

It rises in the yeast 

and sets in the waist.” 

—Asty Hany

Under a picture of Donald Trump

“Who does not know the truth 

is simply a fool …

Yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie

 is a criminal.” 

—Bertolt Brecht

Under a portrait of a voluptuous woman, circa 1860

“Got my DNA and turns out 

I’m 86% Danish Butter Cookie 

from the Costco region.” 

—La Vie en Rose Arts

“If there’s a hell, it should probably

be filled with people who claimed

faith in Jesus 

while trying to strip the sick of care, 

the terrified of refuge, 

and the vulnerable of protection, 

and reveling as if this was a righteous victory.”

—John Pavlovitz

“Happiness is when you realize 

your children have turned out 

to be good people.” 

—Still Moments

“Everyone needs a friend 

who they probably shouldn’t be allowed 

to sit next to at a serious function.” 

—Margaret Quica Alarcon 

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Am I a Bad Jew for Having Doubts?

Am I a bad Jew? Am I bad because I do not spend virtually every waking hour monitoring news on TV, cable, the Internet, or reading newspapers and magazines devoting countless column inches to stories on the Israel-Gaza war? 

I have friends and acquaintances who are obsessed with being in the news loop. Obsessed, not in a derogatory way. Just more engrossed than I. Not more dedicated to Israel’s survival. Just more all-consumed than I allow myself to be. Maybe I’m just more optimistic that in the end all will work out. For the better. As it has in the past. 

During my first trip to Israel in 1966, when I was 17, I was impressed by the devotion Israelis had to the news. Riding on an Egged bus everyone would stifle any noise when the hourly chimes rang on the bus’ radio and the news began. I shortly learned it was not just news they were listening to. The radio broadcast in code military call-ups for reservists. A perceptible exhale could be heard when the news concluded. 

A year later, June 1967, with my sister in Israel packing crackers for the military, I could not stay away from radio reports, especially when early communiques came from Egyptian media proclaiming a successful drive up the Mediterranean coast toward Tel Aviv. When the truth surfaced, euphoria and relief energized my listening and viewing time.

For years since then, whenever in my car or at home, I made a point of tuning the radio to an all news AM station at the start of each hour, anxiety stoking my act, fearful of news of another Mideast war that could presage Israel’s destruction.

Fast forward through the Yom Kippur War, wars in Lebanon, actions in Gaza and the West Bank. Through years of Israel’s invincibility I became inured to its vulnerability. October 7 changed the canvas.

This war is different from all others. It is being fought by an army with a strict military code of honor against a terrorist organization with no scruples, no shame, no restraint on inflicting casualties on civilians including its own people, the very people it purports to be representing and protecting. Indeed, those very ordinary Palestinians now subjected to intense bombing and shelling reveled in the murder of Jews young and old and in the destruction of settlements that employed thousands of Gazans and whose residents were among the most liberal favoring peace with Gaza.

Am I a bad Jew because I see humanity destroyed on both sides of the battle? 

In any war, any armed confrontation, accidents, unintentional casualties, may occur. No weapon is 100% precise. No one who pulls the trigger or releases a rocket or bomb is infallible. 

The morality of a regime and its armed forces is on display in the manner in which they address mistakes. A breakout blurb under a headline in last Tuesday’s front page New York Times provided stark counterpoint between a democracy with Western liberal values and a regressive, repressive, oppressive regime waging a war: 

“Israel says an episode that killed dozens is under review,” it said. 

Hamas, on the other hand, and its Muslim state and terrorist supporters, have applauded the barbaric atrocities of October 7. No regrets. 

Today, Sunday January 14, marks 100 days since the assault and the abduction of near 250 hostages. More than half remain hidden in Gaza. The release of all the hostages is but one of Israel’s objectives. The others include finding and killing Hamas leaders and destroying its ability to threaten Israel again. 

Am I a bad Jew because I never thought it was possible that any of the hostages would be returned alive? 

Let’s be honest. Destroying Hamas was never a realistic goal. Dismantling its ability to launch rocket attacks on Israel, yes, that was possible, though even after seven weeks of intense bombing and on the ground action, missiles still rain down from Gaza.


To anyone with even just a speck of humanity in their heart and soul the loss of life and devastation in Gaza must be excruciating. It is no exaggeration to say thousands of innocents have been killed by Israel’s justified response to the inhumane attack.   

The destruction of an evil force to no one’s surprise requires extraordinary action. Eight decades later we still debate the morality and efficacy of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We ponder the fire bombing of Tokyo that killed more people than either atomic bombing did. The destruction of Dresden is hardly criticized. 

The collateral damage inside Gaza could not easily be avoided given the vast underground tunnel network Hamas built with funds and supplies that could have, that should have, been used to make living in Gaza more tolerable. 

Can Gaza be rebuilt? Look to history for an answer. From the destruction of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan modern economies emerged with democratic values. It required the population to jettison past beliefs and the acceptance of new philosophies. 

All those who opine Israel should cease military operations have yet to advance a plausible scenario in which Hamas renounces its charter to destroy Israel and kill Jews. Until those bent on Israel’s destruction are silenced, rehabilitated, eliminated, no amount of external and internal pressure can be expected to stop Israel’s mission of revenge and liberation. 

Am I a bad Jew for voicing my doubts?


Friday, January 12, 2024

Let's Be Honest: Sex Sells. Biden Is Right to Support Woman's Reproductive Freedom

The conservative, some might say regressive, news site American Greatness recently headlined the following: “Biden to Make Abortion a Top Priority in Second Term.” 

I don’t find that repulsive. In fact, I think the following:

Scream it from the rooftops, for after all, sex sells. 

Joe Biden is said to favor hinging his reelection to a theme of saving democracy at home and abroad. New York Times opinion writer Frank Bruni quoted Biden saying last Friday, “Democracy is on the ballot. Your freedom is on the ballot.”

Yeah, that’s important. But not a turn on to younger voters. 

Let’s be honest and practical. If you want to motivate younger voters and women of all ages you must appeal to their emotions, to their sense of independence, to their investment in personal health. 

In short, to their right to guilt-free sex and the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy. Men, as well, are affected by a woman’s right to choose for herself matters of healthcare. 

So, say yes to abortion. Abortion. Abortion. 

Yes, some voters are passionate about saving the environment. And voting rights. And … oh, anything else that turns someone on. But nothing can compare to their passion, their interest in sex. 

As Madison Avenue has long known, sex sells. Biden and all Democrats need to pound away at this issue, particularly to younger, sexually active voters, not just on the right to clinical abortions but also on the right to secure pill-based abortion medications, a right that will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court before next November’s election.

These are lifestyle issues. Yes, democracy, immigration and Trump’s embrace of despots are significant issues but SEX issues directly impact voters. Run ads saying “Biden accepts a woman’s right to choose. Trump does not!”

In a variation of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller’s 1946 poem about intellectual and clergy silence surrounding Nazi ascension and persecutions (“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist …”, may I suggest that under the conservative Christian religious zealotry of House Speaker Michael Johnson a cascading flow of repressive, regressive legislation will pour forth from a right wing Congress, president and Supreme Court. 

In my version, First they came for reproductive rights, then they will come for contraceptive rights, then for LGBTQ+ rights, then for same sex marriage rights, then for same sex relations, then for interracial unions, then for equal opportunities for women and minorities in the workplace, then for removing barriers to the separation of church and state, then for social welfare programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, and then for free public education. 

Let’s hope I am being hyperbolic.

Six weeks ago I wrote about the choices voters of all ages and interests have in the coming election. Like advertising, it is worth repeating the themes over and over again. Ads and speeches should, individually and collectively, include the following themes:

*Are you concerned about the future of reproductive rights?

*Should privacy and lifestyle rights be protected? 

*Is the separation of church and state important?

*Do you favor tighter gun control laws? 

*Should we do more to protect the earth’s environment? 

*Is saving democracy, the rule of law and free elections, at home and abroad, worthwhile? 

*Should Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) be protected?

Joe Biden has championed these causes. His likely opponent has not. 

Over and over it must be stressed that a vote for Joe Biden, no matter how unenthusiastic it might be registered, would help sustain a positive future. 

The MAGA alternative would produce a mega disaster. 


Friday, January 5, 2024

Giving Israel a Helping Hand

 Aside from the heavy loss of life from the October 7 attack by Hamas inside Israel, the country has endured economIc hardship, especially in the agricultural segment. Crops need to be harvested, seeds for next harvest need to be planted. But farm workers from Thailand and from Gaza no longer are available.

Volunteers from America and other countries have flown to Israel, though the numbers in no way equal the required manpower. Several of my friends, including Ken Friedland, Richard and Janet Greenfield, and Michael and Barbara Picheny undertook five day missions to Israel. Benny Cohen, along with Harold and June Hochberger, spent six weeks in the fields and in makeshift kitchens near Gaza feeding soldiers on their way to battle. 

What follows is Ken’s (edited) report on his mission:

I went to Israel the second week of December on a JNF (Jewish National Fund) volunteer mission for the primary purpose of helping perform needed manual tasks that weren’t and still aren’t getting done because of the worker shortage. It was an extraordinary experience. 


Some background:


  • As a result of the October 7th Hamas attack and the ensuing Gaza war, most if not all of the 80,000 Thai agricultural workers left the country, Israel suspended its program that allowed 100,000 Palestinian workers to enter the country daily, and some 350,000 IDF reservists were called up for active duty.  The net effect has been a critical shortage of workers across the economy but the agricultural industry has been hit the hardest.


  • The prime harvest season is well underway and will be quickly followed by the planting season for next year and there just aren’t enough workers to harvest or plant crops and the farming industry is facing an economic catastrophe.  Many farms have already gone under with their owners unable to hold on.  The government has no official program to assist but there’s a functioning organization, HaShomer HaChadash, that works to identify the worst hit farms and the agricultural products most needed, and organizes Israeli volunteers to help.  Some 80,000 Israelis have responded and have spent days and even weeks on the farms doing what they can, but the crisis is still acute.  Just not enough hands.  This same organization has partnered with JNF to send volunteers and several thousand Americans have signed up.  Ours was the first volunteer mission to go.  We were comprised of some 60 people from all over the U.S. and were together on the mission for four days, not including the arrival day.  A quick in and out for most.  Our roundtrip travel was each person’s responsibility. 


  • There are several hundred thousand evacuees across the country as the Israeli populations of the Gaza Envelope and the towns and cities along the Lebanon border were required to evacuate.  These evacuees are living in hotels indefinitely and support for them (food, clothing, schooling, supplies, etc.) is coming mostly from non-governmental organizations.  


  • Israel has been traumatized by recent events but the entire country is functioning as one and in concert as they mourn their losses, fight a war, and care for each other.  Amazing to actually be a witness to a society working together toward a common goal.  I’d never experienced anything like it. 




The highlights of our experience which was entirely focused on the Negev and the farms, communities and institutions that were and continue to be directly affected by October 7th and its aftermath:


  • We stayed at the beautiful Kedma Hotel in Sde Boker.  There were no guests.  Just us and the evacuees. 


  • We were given daily and multi-daily instructions (as our venues changed) about sheltering should the sirens go off.  None did.


  • We were on the buses each day by 7:30 a.m. and returned after dark, totally exhausted.  On the third day, Richard and I and some others decided we needed a well- deserved alcohol experience (Richard is a devoted single malt guy and I love my vodka) and so I asked the bus captain if we could stop at a liquor store.  She looked at me as though I was crazy and asked why we didn’t just get some drinks at the hotel bar. Yup. There it was. A beautiful bar located just off the lobby.  Seems that we were all too tired to notice it as we dragged our bodies off the bus and into the hotel, ate our dinner, and collapsed in our beds. 


  • Day 1: We were driven to a farm on the Egyptian border where we spent 4-5 hours on our hands and knees weeding a scallion field.  For me, it was the most difficult physical task I experienced on the mission but we all went about it with extraordinary energy.  Then back on the bus heading to Beer Sheva with a stop at a cemetery where we visited a newly- created area of graves accommodating 29 victims murdered at Kibbutz Beeri.  Families, children -- just awful. Kaddish. We then drove north where we worked at the campus of The Alexander Muss High School putting together hundreds of Hanukkah gift packages for wounded soldiers and their families, and the staff at Soroka Hospital.    


  • Day 2:  Another 4-5 hours of farm labor, picking lemons and oranges on a farm not far from Sderot and not far from Gaza where we could easily hear the sounds of war.  We were by then used to the roar of jet fighters and the distant noise of explosions but the moment we heard something obviously different, we looked up and saw something new.  There were several white puffs in the sky, apparently the tell-tale signs of successful interceptions by Iron Dome missiles of Hamas rockets.  The rockets had been heading north towards Ashdod where sirens had gone off.  No rockets got through that day.  We were a few miles east and had a perfect view of the event.


The four tons of oranges and lemons we picked were just a small fraction of what was available in the grove where we worked; nevertheless, a smiling farmer thanked us profusely. 


We then drove to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva, the medical epicenter of the horrors of October 7th.  After meeting with hospital administrators, we split into small groups and went room to room to deliver the Hanukkah gift packages we’d put together the previous day.  One’s experience depended entirely on what took place in an individual room.  For Richard, Janet and me, we’ll never forget those moments. 


  • Day 3:  We spent the entire day at an army warehouse and distribution center putting together (assembly line fashion) snack packages for IDF soldiers in Gaza.  We were told the packages would be on site in Gaza for the soldiers as soon as the next day.   It was a labor of love and by day’s end, we were exhausted but so very content with our small contribution. 


  • Day 4:  The buses again headed toward the direction of Gaza to take us to ADI Negev, a special medical facility which is home to several hundred in-patients including children with special needs and soldiers and others in rehab recovering from surgeries, traffic accidents, etc. It is the only facility of its type in the Negev and is the creation of an extraordinary man named Doron Almog.  Doron was the first soldier off the plane at Entebbe, served as a member of the small group of men assigned to hunt down and “eliminate” the Munich Olympic terrorists who’d murdered Israeli athletes, was the IDF head of Operation Moses (the rescue of the Ethiopian Jewish population) and rose through the ranks to become the head of the IDF Southern Command.  He was chairman of the Jewish Agency and he’s the person responsible for the creation of ADI Negev.  He spoke to us for about 20 minutes and related an incredibly compelling story about the essence of being a Jew in Israel and the kind of country Israel should be.  You can access his talk via this link (Download Attachment).  I believe it’s worth your time to hear what he has to say.     


If you recall some of the videos seen on world news outlets showing the initial fighting on October 7th, you’ll certainly remember many scenes of cars being attacked by Hamas on various roads in the Negev.  The entrance to ADI Negev is on one of those roads and, for whatever reason, the terrorists drove past the facility and went on a killing spree just a mile or two further into Israel.  There were no casualties at ADI Negev. 


  • In the many talks we heard and interactions we had with a wide variety of Israelis, there was zero talk of politics.  The country is entirely focused on winning the war and having the captives returned.




In sum:


Unique, extraordinary, incredible, fulfilling, satisfying, inspiring and so much more.  An experience to remember for the rest of my life.  We made a very small tangible contribution but just as important, we gave every Israeli we came into contact with a sense that they are not alone.  Am Yisrael Chai.