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A Pharaoh’s-Eye View of the Exodus

April 20 2017

Nowadays one is constantly urged to see things through the eyes of the “other.” Liel Leibovitz, applying this logic to the Passover story, draws an unusual lesson from the holiday. At the outset of the Exodus story, he notes, Pharaoh’s efforts to subdue the Israelites prove successful: so demoralized are they by slavery and infanticide that they initially reject Moses’ mission to set them free. Only God’s most awesome miracles render them willing to leave Egypt—a point lost on many who wish to draw analogies from the Haggadah to contemporary politics:

Talk to any enlightened soul, and you’ll soon hear [that] Israel’s struggle against Palestinian terrorism is futile; America’s war on the marauders of Islamic State is a waste of time; Europe’s attempt to identify and arrest its homegrown Islamist fanatics is doomed. Why? Because our understanding of the world is weirdly Haggadic [in that] we believe that each oppressed people, whether afflicted by real burdens or by imagined slights, is destined to pull itself forth and march itself out of its own private Egypt. In this reading, any use of might is useless because the mighty, just like Pharaoh, can never really win: just as the Egyptians failed to crush the Israelites, so is the collective will of indigenous peoples and divergent religious groups bound to persist.

[But] if Pharaoh is any example, you can comfortably wage a gradually escalating war against your perceived foes and achieve a victory so crushing that the Lord of the Universe himself would have to emerge and speak and perform strange miracles in order to undermine your efforts.

If this possibility troubles you, try to imagine [its application]. What, for example, if our endlessly erratic president followed up his missile strike on Syria’s Shayrat airbase with increasingly robust measures aimed not only at the murderous Bashar al-Assad but at his enablers and financiers in Tehran? What if, after a decade of trying to appease the homicidal mullahs [of Iran] largely because we didn’t believe a military option could lead to concrete victory, we gave the Pharaoh Doctrine a go? What if we set out to eliminate those foes who endangered our strategic interests and inflicted untold pain and suffering on millions of innocent human beings? To read the Passover story literally, it’s quite possible that, crushed by might, our enemies would do what all humans do under similar circumstances and abandon hope for any resolution save for that which arrives from the heavens. And if might can be used for good, hallelujah!

Read more at Tablet

More about: Exodus, Passover, Pharaoh, Religion & Holidays, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

The Threats Posed to Israel by a Palestinian State

Oct. 23 2017

To the IDF reserve general Gershon Hacohen, the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank would, given the current circumstances of the Middle East, create a graver danger for the Jewish state than either Iran or Hizballah. More damaging still, he argues, is the attitude among many Israelis that the two-state solution is a necessity for Israel. He writes:

Since the Oslo process began in the fall of 1993, dramatic changes have occurred in the international arena. . . . For then-Prime Minister Yitzḥak Rabin, Oslo was based on the superpower status of the U.S. . . . At the time, the Arabs were in a state of crisis and aware of their weakness—all the more so after the U.S. vanquished Iraq in the First Gulf War in the winter of 1991. . . . It was that awareness of weakness, along with the PLO leadership’s state of strategic inadequacy, that paved the way for the Oslo process.

[But] over the [intervening] years, the America’s hegemonic power has declined while Russia has returned to play an active and very influential role. . . .

Something essential has changed, too, with regard to expectations in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere. At first, in the early days of Oslo, the expectations were of mutual goodwill and reconciliation. Over the years, however, as the cycle of blood has continued, the belief in Palestinian acceptance of Israel in return for Israeli concessions has been transformed in the Israeli discourse into nothing more than the need to separate from the Palestinians—“They’re there, we’re here”—solely on our own behalf.

The more the proponents of separation have honed their efforts to explain to Israeli society that separation is mandated by reality, enabling Israel to preserve its identity as Jewish and democratic, the more the Palestinians’ bargaining power has grown. If a withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state is a clear-cut Israeli interest, if the Israelis must retreat in any case for the sake of their own future, why should the Palestinians give something in return? . . . Hence the risk is increasing that a withdrawal from the West Bank will not only fail to end the conflict but will in fact lead to its intensification.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Oslo Accords, Russia, Two-State Solution