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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

Israel’s Success Has Surprised Everyone

April 20 2018

On the eve of Israel’s decision to declare statehood, 70 years ago, the CIA estimated that a Jewish state couldn’t hold off its Arab enemies for more than two years, while the famed Haganah commander Yigael Yadin told David Ben-Gurion that their chances of victory were fifty-fifty. Daniel Gordis describes just how wildly the country has managed to outpace expectations:

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. . . .

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power, but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. . . . Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like Fauda, while others (like Homeland and The A-Word) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious—and deeply proud—of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli literature, Israeli society