In the Face of Persecution, Jews’ Greatest Obligation Is to Keep Living as Jews

Nov. 27 2018

On November 3—just one week after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh—John Podhoretz’s younger daughter celebrated her bat mitzvah. He addressed the following reflections to her on the occasion:

The haftarah you read today, from the book of Kings, is about a struggle over King David’s inheritance. It concludes with [his wife] Bathsheba speaking the words “May my Lord King David live forever.” What Bathsheba meant was that David’s line should live forever, that the Jewish people should live forever. After the unspeakable event . . . at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, it is an obligation upon you and upon us to do what we can, every one of us, to make sure Bathsheba’s wish is fulfilled.

The theologian Emil Fackenheim said Auschwitz had required this of us—that we were not allowed to grant Hitler any posthumous victories. He called it the Commandment of Auschwitz. It is also the Commandment of the Tree of Life. The monster who slaughtered and wounded all those people wanted to kill Jews for being Jews. “All Jews must die,” he shouted as he murdered them.

The parashah from the Torah you read today is about the very first Jews. It begins with the death of Sarah and proceeds to tell of the death of her husband, Abraham. So here is my charge to you: if you want to make [the Pittsburg shooter’s] words turn to ash, follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah. Live as a Jew. Have Jewish children. Try as your mother and I have with you and your sister and your brother to teach those children how to live as Jews so that they can teach their children, and their children can teach theirs, and theirs and theirs and theirs and theirs—until it is 3,600 years from now and there are still Jews on this earth just as there were 3,600 years ago when Abraham and Sarah breathed their last.

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More about: Abraham, Anti-Semitism, Emile Fackenheim, Hebrew Bible, King David, Religion & Holidays, Sarah

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela