Analysis from Israel

As Omri noted yesterday, Washington is backing Beirut against Jerusalem in their dispute over the Israel-Lebanon maritime border. But by doing so, it isn’t merely cozying up to Hezbollah. It’s actively rewarding aggression – and encouraging war.

Israel and Lebanon never had an agreed upon maritime border. But Lebanon did reach an as-yet unratified agreement with Cyprus in 2007, and Jerusalem and Nicosia later negotiated their own maritime border based on this Lebanon-Cyprus agreement. Last year, however, after Israel announced lucrative gas finds in the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon gave the UN a new map asserting a border well south of the line demarcated in its agreement with Cyprus. By moving the border south, Lebanon also intruded into territory that Israel claims as its Exclusive Economic Zone.

This sequence of events makes it clear Lebanon is trying to grab territory it never previously considered its own solely to horn in on Israel’s newly discovered gas reserves. As such, the U.S. should have rejected it out of hand. Instead, it reportedly endorsed the new Lebanese map without  even seeking Israel’s response, then told Israel it should either accept the fait accompli or agree to mediation by the notoriously anti-Israel UN, in order to avoid creating an “underwater Shaba Farms.”

Shaba Farms is the territory Hezbollah claimed as Lebanese following Israel’s pullout from Lebanon in order to create a pretext for its continued attacks on Israel. The UN Security Council certified that withdrawal as complete to the last inch in 2000, as UN mapping experts concluded Shaba wasn’t Lebanese.

But after Hezbollah proved in 2006 it was willing to go to war to back its claim, the Security Council rewarded its aggression: Instead of upholding its previous decision, it adopted Resolution 1701, which ordered the UN to demarcate Lebanon’s border wherever it is “disputed or uncertain,” including in Shaba, and created a new mapping commission to do so. The Bush administration subsequently pressured Israel (unsuccessfully) to cede Shaba, bizarrely arguing that rewarding Hezbollah’s aggression would weaken the organization rather than strengthen it.

Beirut clearly learned the lesson: Aggression pays. So now, it’s repeating the tactic. And the Obama administration has adopted its predecessor’s bizarre theory that appeasement will end Lebanon’s aggression rather than encouraging it.

This is particularly irresponsible given the flammable regional context. Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon, has already threatened to go to war with Israel to relieve Western pressure on the Assad regime; Washington has now given it the ideal pretext by assuring it of America’s  backing on this issue.

Moreover, terrorists have just blown up the Egyptian-Israeli gas pipeline for the fourth time in six months. With only 20 percent to 30 percent of the contracted gas from Egypt actually arriving, Israel has had to purchase much more expensive substitutes and now faces an economically brutal 20 percent hike in electricity rates to cover these costs. Israel’s own maritime gas reserves have therefore become critical to its economy, meaning it will presumably fight to defend them.

Thus, by rewarding Lebanon’s aggression, Washington has made war more likely. Can anyone say “smart diplomacy”?

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Physicians, Heal Thyselves

It’s no secret that many liberal Jews today view tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase for “repairing the world,” as the essence of Judaism. In To Heal the World?, Jonathan Neumann begs to differ, emphatically. He views liberal Judaism’s love affair with tikkun olam as the story of “How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel.” In fact, he believes tikkun olam endangers Judaism itself. Anyone who considers such notions wildly over the top should make sure to read Neumann’s book—because one needn’t agree with everything he says to realize that his major concerns are disturbingly well-founded.

Neumann begins by explaining what he considers the modern liberal Jewish understanding of tikkun olam. It is taken, he says, not just as a general obligation to make the world a better place, but as a specific obligation to promote specific “universal” values and even specific policies—usually, the values and policies of progressive Democrats.

He then raises three major objections to this view. The first is that the only way to interpret Judaism as a universalist religion with values indistinguishable from those of secular progressives is by ignoring the vast majority of key Jewish texts, including the Bible and the Talmud, and millennia of Jewish tradition. After all, most of these texts deal with the history, laws, and culture of one specific nation—the Jews. The Bible’s history isn’t world history, nor are its laws (with a few exceptions) meant to govern any nation but the Jews. Judaism undeniably has universalist elements. But to ignore its particularist aspects is to ignore much of what makes it Judaism, which therefore corrupts our understanding of Judaism.

The second problem is that if Judaism has no purpose other than promoting the same values and policies touted by non-Jewish progressives, there’s no reason for Judaism to exist at all. Consequently, the tikkun olam version of Judaism really does threaten Judaism’s continued existence, and it’s no accident that the liberal Jewish movements that have embraced it are rapidly dwindling due to intermarriage and assimilation. After all, why should young American Jews remain Jewish when they can do everything they think Judaism requires of them even without being Jewish?

This also explains why, in Neumann’s view, tikkun olam Judaism endangers Israel. If there’s no reason for Judaism to exist, there’s certainly no reason for a Jewish state. Indeed, Israel is anathema to the tikkun olam worldview because it’s the embodiment of Jewish particularism—the view that Jews are a distinct nation and have their own history, culture, and laws rather than being merely promulgators of universal values. Thus it’s easy to understand why tikkun olam Jews increasingly abhor the Jewish state.

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