On the second day of Rosh Hashana, the Haftora (prophetic reading following the Torah reading) is from Jeremiah 31.
So said Hashem…’I have loved you with an eternal love, therefore have I extended kindness to you. I shall yet rebuild you and you will be rebuilt…You will yet plant vineyards in the mountains of Samaria…
Behold, I will…gather them from the ends of the earth…a great congregation will return here.
For so said Hashem to Jacob: sing with gladness…and say, ‘Oh Hashem, save Your people…the remnant of Israel.’
They shall come and sing joyously on the heights of Zion…
Jeremiah prophesied more than 2,500 years ago, to a different time. And yet, his vision is stunning as we watch its unfolding now: Our people are coming from the ends of the earth, and Israel is being rebuilt.
Thus do I want to focus today on events of recent days that evoke a sense of hope for our future.
Last Tuesday, right before Rosh Hashana, Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered an excellent speech before the UN (emphasis added).
“We’re in the midst of a great revolution, a revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations,” he declared. “After 70 years, the world is embracing Israel, and Israel is embracing the world…”
Not only did Israel receive hundreds of leaders from nations around the world this past year, Netanyahu himself, as he told us, has visited six continents.
The prime minister referred to the multiple ways in which Israel reaches out (emphasis added):
“Israel is the innovation nation — the place for cutting-edge technology in agriculture, in water, in cyber security, in medicine, in autonomous vehicles…”
Israel also has “exceptional capabilities in fighting terrorism. In recent years, Israel has provided intelligence that has prevented dozens of major terrorist attacks around the world. We have saved countless lives.”
“In Africa, Israeli innovators are “increasing crop yields, turning air into water, fighting AIDS…**
“You see it [Israeli contributions] in the smile of an African mother in a remote village…who no longer must walk eight hours a day to bring water to her children.
“You see it in the eyes of an Arab child, who was flown to Israel to undergo a life-saving heart operation.
“And you see it in the faces of the people in earthquake-stricken Haiti and Nepal who were rescued from the rubble and given new life by Israeli doctors.” (Israeli troops had not yet been sent to help Mexico when he spoke.)
Little Israel, with an astonishing reach in the world.
Netanyahu referred to the prophecy of Isaiah, who spoke of Israel as a
“light unto the nations, bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.”
A source of great pride, of course. But more, awe: What Israel has become, rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, is a miracle. If we remember this during the hard times, and the frightening times, we will find strength and hope.
Our prime minister also talked tough during that speech, which is exceedingly important. His focus, as in previous talks, was Iran (emphasis added):
“Iran vows to destroy my country every day…Iran is conducting a campaign of conquest across the Middle East and Iran is developing ballistic missiles to threaten the entire world.
“…an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East. Iran spreads this curtain of tyranny and terror over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, and it pledges to extinguish the light of Israel.
“Today, I have a simple message for Ayatollah Khamenei, the dictator of Iran: The light of Israel will never be extinguished.
“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril. Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions…
“As long as Iran’s regime seeks the destruction of Israel, Iran will face no fiercer enemy than Israel.”
Good that he said this. More important: good that he means it.
Netanyahu’s take on the Iran deal (emphasis added):
“Change it or cancel it, fix it or nix it.
“Nixing the deal means restoring massive pressure on Iran, including crippling sanctions, until Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons capability. Fixing the deal requires many things, among them inspecting military and any other site that is suspect, and penalizing Iran for every violation. But above all, fixing the deal means getting rid of the sunset clause.”
(Minister Naftali Bennett has just described that sunset clause thusly: It “gave Iran the ability to develop everything necessary for rapid breakaway to nuclearization. It allowed Iran to develop faster centrifuges and improve its technology. There is a false sense of security now because the breakaway has been postponed by the deal, but they’re using the deal to race towards a bomb.”)
During the Obama years, when Netanyahu spoke out about Iran, no one was listening. Now with Trump this is no longer be the case. As I indicated in my last post, Netanyahu met with Trump on the sidelines at the UN. A White House statement after that meeting indicated they had discussed the mutual aim, non-specific as it is here, of “countering Iran’s malign influence in the region.”
President Trump gave his exceedingly fine talk at the General Assembly just hours prior to Netanyahu’s speech. Netanyahu subsequently said
he had never heard a “bolder or more courageous speech” at the UN.
Donald Trump is coming into his own.
He spoke proudly about American values and determination.
He stood on the UN podium and critiqued the UN, speaking truth to an institution that makes a practice of hiding from truth (emphasis added):
“Too often the focus of this organization has not been on results, but on bureaucracy and process. In some cases, states that seek to subvert this institution’s noble end have hijacked the very systems that are supposed to advance them. For example, it is a massive source of embarrassment to the United Nations that some governments with egregious human rights records sit on the UN Human Rights Council.”
He cautioned that,
“If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph. When decent people and nations become bystanders to history, the forces of destruction only gather power and strength.”
He had exceedingly strong words for North Korea, while putting the world on notice (emphasis added):
“No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the well-being of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea…
“…North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life. It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing, and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary…That’s what the United Nations is for. Let’s see how they do.
“It is time for North Korea to realize that denuclearization is its only acceptable future.”
He then turned his attention to Iran (emphasis added):
“The Iranian government…has turned a wealthy country, with a rich history and culture, into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos…its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbors.
‘We cannot let a murderous regime continue these destabilizing activities while building dangerous missiles, and we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program. The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it. Believe me.”
Now, I know full well that words are easy compared to taking appropriate action. But Trump has thrown down the gauntlet, with regard to both North Korea and Iran. He has taken a most public position against the Iran deal as it stands. This is light years away from what we were seeing with the previous administration, and gives us cause for hope.
I alluded above to a statement by Naftali Bennett. What he said more fully was that while we should hope that the US and others will be with us, we must always be prepared to act on our own behalf. Israel needs unflagging determination to do so, and I believe that this determination exists.
I will return to many other matters in my next posting (and, from time to time, do monitoring on the Iranian deal).
Now I want to end with more evidence that the world is changing, and, as our prime minister has indicated, that we are not alone.
It is understood that increasingly Israel has established working relationships with the more moderate Arab states. But these have been closed door relationships, which Arab leaders have been reluctant to acknowledge publicly.
First came an announcement that:
“Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa has condemned the Arab world’s boycott of Israel, saying its citizens are free to visit the Jewish state, in a declaration of worldwide religious tolerance facilitated by the Los-Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.”
And then, astonishingly, we have the first public meeting between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, on the sidelines of the UN. That Israel and Egypt cooperate on a number of issues is well understood, but al-Sisi’s readiness to make it public brings it forward a notch.
See the warmth of the handshake:
As Aussie Dave of Israellycool commented, “They even look like they like each other.”