The Limits of Reason


A life of Jewish faith brings with it the need to defend propositions that many of the supposedly best minds of the era deny or reject.

Read more at Torah Musings


Israel Should Be Concerned, but Not Overly Concerned, about Greece’s New Government


The anti-capitalist Syriza party, which emerged victorious from Greece’s recent elections, has strong pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist leanings, which do not bode well for Greek-Israeli relations. However, writes Arye Mekel, Greece is unlikely to make any substantive changes in its relations with the Jewish state any time soon:

Since 2010, Greek-Israeli cooperation has significantly improved during the tenure of both the Socialist and the Conservative governments of Greece. Nowadays, the two countries enjoy a close and intimate relationship in several areas including defense, with air-force and navy joint maneuvers leading the way.

By contrast, Syriza has been very critical of Israel. The party is not made of one cloth, but many of its leaders are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Some party leaders were involved in organizing anti-Israeli demonstrations in Athens during Operation Protective Edge last summer, and at least one of its leaders, Thodoris Dritsas, participated in one of the flotillas to Gaza. . . .

Syriza always takes pains to stress that while it is critical of Israel, it is by no means anti-Semitic, and that it is a staunch critic of the Greek neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn. Syriza leaders have regularly attended commemorative events for the Holocaust in Greece. . . .

The new Greek government is unlikely to change its policy toward Israel in the near future. Its main challenge is to find a compromise with the EU [over economic issues] in a manner that will satisfy the Greek public. . . . If they succeed, they will be free to consider other foreign-policy issues.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Anti-Zionism, Europe and Israel, Greece, Israel & ZIonism, Israel diplomacy

Germany Commemorates the Holocaust by Ignoring Anti-Semitism


Last Tuesday, German politicians issued noble-sounding statements to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But there has been a spate of recent meetings between prominent German politicians and high-ranking Iranian officials, some well-known for their denials of the Holocaust. Benjamin Weinthal writes:

“The Jews, if they’re not dead, should please suffer, admonish, and warn, but not fight back,” Eike Geisel (1945-1997), a critic of [Germany’s] post-Shoah remembrance culture, wrote.

His insight was reflected in a study the Bertelsmann Foundation released on Monday, showing that 68 percent of Germans want their members of parliament to pull the plug on weapons deliveries to Israel. Eighty-one percent of Germans want to close the chapter of the Holocaust so their lawmakers can focus on “contemporary problems,” the survey revealed. . . .

Days before Tuesday’s Holocaust remembrance, Green Party deputy Claudia Roth and Christian Social Union politician Dagmar Wöhrl, a former Miss Germany, met with Ali Larijani, the president of Iran’s parliament, in Tehran. Larijani infamously defended the regime of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying Iran had “different perspectives on the Holocaust.” . . .

In December, Niels Annen, a Social Democratic deputy and foreign-policy spokesman in the Bundestag, met with former Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati to discuss the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and the situation in the Middle East. Velayati was implicated in the assassination of Kurdish dissidents at the Mykonos restaurant in West Berlin in 1992 and the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in which 85 were killed and hundreds wounded in 1994. Interpol seeks the arrest of Velayati for his involvement in the terrorist attack at the Jewish center. . . .

In the cases of Roth, Annen, and Wöhrl, Germany’s remembrance culture represents, to quote Geisel, “the highest form of forgetting.” In short, efforts to combat modern anti-Semitism are divorced from the crimes of the Holocaust.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Anti-Semitism, Germany, Holocaust, Iran, Israeli-German relations, Politics & Current Affairs

What Draws People to Radical Islam?


Western analysts often seem at a loss to explain why volunteers are flocking to join the Islamic State (IS). The answer, writes Paul Berman, lies not in sociology but in ideology—an ideology that IS shares with al-Qaeda and Hamas:

Why do people who are not clinically crazy throw themselves into campaigns of murder and suicide? The sociological answer to this question assumes a pettiness in human nature, such that even the slightest of humiliations and misfortunes may be regarded as sufficiently devastating, under certain conditions, as to sweep aside the gravest of moral considerations. I prefer to invoke the history of ideas. People throw themselves into campaigns of murder and suicide because they have come under the influence of malign doctrinal systems, which appear to address the most profound and pressing of human problems—and do so by openly rebelling against the gravest of moral considerations. Doctrines of this sort render their adepts mad, not in a clinical sense but in an everyday sense. And the power to drive people mad comes precisely from the profundity, or the seeming profundity—which is what everyone else fails to see.

Berman also notes similarities between jihadism and other violent totalitarian ideologies:

The Islamist mania about diabolical Jewish conspiracies, as defined by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, represents merely one more influence from Europe. It is odd to observe that, in the Islamist literature, the Protocols figure just as prominently as they did among the Nazis, not just in the writings of semi-literates. [Martin] Heidegger took the Protocols seriously as an expression of the diabolical conspiracy, and so did [Muslim Brotherhood theoretician] Sayyid Qutb, who was the Heidegger of the Islamists. Sayyid Qutb’s brother Muhammad was the professor of [Osama] bin-Laden, who himself was the leader in Afghanistan of an Algerian jihadi named Djamel Beghal, who became the guru of Chérif Kouachi, one of the Paris jihadis just now, during Kouachi’s time in a French prison.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Al Qaeda, History & Ideas, ISIS, Martin Heidegger, Muslim Brotherhood, Radical Islam

“Who Is a Jew?,” Fifteenth-Century Style


In 1391, a wave of violence against Jews swept through Christian Spain. In its wake, thousands of Jews converted to Christianity. The following century saw more conversions as Spain became increasingly hostile toward its Jews. Some of these conversos—as they were called—quickly returned to Judaism after the violence abated; others lived outwardly as Christians while practicing Judaism in secret; others sought to assimilate completely into Christian society; and still others followed intermediate courses of action. The status of the conversos in Jewish law produced a substantial body of rabbinic scholarship, which is the subject of a recent book by Dora Zsom. Andrew Apostolou writes:

The question of how we deal with estranged Jews turns out to be an enduring one. Similar groups to the conversos emerged in the 19th and 20th centuries in such different societies as Germany, the Soviet Union, and now the United States. The debate over how to define Jewish identity in the new state of Israel, for example, led Ben-Gurion in 1958 to write to rabbis across the world to seek their opinion on “who is a Jew?” . . .

These contemporary concerns bring us back to the question of how much impact the rabbis had. [Dora] Zsom’s narrow focus means that she cannot draw out the effect of their decisions. What we know, according to Arthur Hertzberg in his classic entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica on “Jewish Identity,” is that those conversos who wanted to become Jews often forced the gates open: “the determining act was their willingness to become part of the Jewish community, and all the halakhic doubts of rabbinic authorities remained theoretical in the face of acts of return.”

Read more at Sephardic Horizons

More about: Conversos, Halakhah, History & Ideas, Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet, Sephardim, Spain

Netanyahu’s Decision to Speak to Congress Is Not an Insult to the U.S. Political System


Benjamin Netanyahu recently accepted an invitation from speaker of the House John Boehner to address the U.S. Congress in March. Netanyahu is now being criticized by American and Israeli pundits, as well as White House officials, for allowing himself to be drawn into a U.S. political spat. The fuss over the invitation, writes Elliott Abrams, amounts to sheer pettiness:

Obama administration officials who are trying to argue that Netanyahu’s invitation from Speaker Boehner is outrageous and political (just a few days after the president got British prime minister Cameron to lobby Congress directly) will lose the argument. Iran’s nuclear program is one of the most significant national-security issues we face and an even larger issue for Israel, and Israel is one of this country’s closest allies. The bad blood between Obama and Netanyahu, which has included personal attacks on Netanyahu by the White House staff, should not be allowed to color what the speaker does. . . .

But the White House’s whining about Boehner’s invitation is [also] amateurish, and . . . will persuade few Americans beyond the Beltway.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Congress, Iranian nuclear program, Politics & Current Affairs, US-Israel relations