Archive for December, 2008

A light unto the nations

jerusalem_sunset2

… and two nice ladies at a

felafel stand

By RALPH DOBRIN

Ralph Dobrin is the author of “How to Avoid Armageddon”
To order the book click: www.amazon.com  type: how to avoid Armageddon

I was feeling great and it probably showed. I had just ridden eight kilometers into Jerusalem’s city center on my bicycle, so I felt that surge of energy and joy that can come from physcial exertion. I went into my favorite felafel stand near the top of Ben Yehuda Mall, where the felafel is especially deep-fried on an individual basis. There’s always a crowd of people waiting to be served but it’s worth it.

So I’m standing there waiting. Two nice-looking middle-aged women are standing next to me. One of them says to me: “Hello, I sometimes see you here.” Now, I’m at that age where in my eyes a middle-aged women is really a youngster. I don’t recognise this particular lady, but we begin to chat. She tells me that she’s from Fort Worth, Texas. She introduces her companion to me. She’s from a small town in Western Australia. They’ve been in Israel for about a year and they love being here.

I try to sum them up. New immigrants, I wonder. Naah, they’re too enthusiastic about Israel! Ordinary tourists, maybe? But ordinary tourists don’t stay for a whole year. They ask me about myself. I joke a bit and ask them about themselves. “Oh we are here to help people,” says the lady from Fort Worth.

Immediately I have them pegged as part of those misinformed contingents that come to help the downtrodden Arabs in Gaza or Judea and Samaria. They look the type – kind-hearted, concerned, middle-class westerners. I enjoy verbal sparring with people like these – apologists for the Palestine cause. Most of them have a one-sided view of the Israel-Arab conflict and its background, and for me personally, meeting such folks is always a good opportunity to help set the record straight.

So, I prepare the stage for an interesting conversation while we wait to be served. I ask how they help people. “We give food parcels and clothes,” is the smiling answer. “Yeah, that figures,” my mind registers.

“Do you work for some organization?” I ask.

They hesitate. I can imagine their minds wondering who I am. Can they trust me, they ponder? Am I in the Secret Service, perhaps? Their permanent smiles freeze somewhat.

I take another tack. I talk about the Arabic language and how similar it is to Hebrew. I talk about the Arab skills as stone masons and builders. I talk sincerely because I have always admired Arabic as well as the hardy diligence of Arabs engaged in building construction. But the two ladies just listen politely and there’s no smile on their faces.

So, what are they doing in Israel, I wonder, and with which organization are they connected.

So I ask them outright. “Do you distribute food and clothes to people living in Gaza or the West Bank?”

“No!” they both blurt loudly. Then quietly, the Fort Worth lady says, “We help mostly new immigrants.”

“Gotcha!” I say to myself. Obviously they are missionaries. Not that I care. What counts for me is common decency and national loyalty of my fellow-Jewish Israelis and not whether they have two separate sets of dishes for meat and milk or whether they believe in the divinity of Jesus or whether they are agnostics.

Anyway, I say: “That’s interesting. So, you help new immigrants? Who else do you help?”

I can see on their faces that they are wary of me. They know about Israel’s concern regarding the erosion in Jewish loyalty that missionary work might cause.

The Aussie says in a low voice, “We are not missionaries. We are connected with a group that has no interest in missionary work. We just love the Jewish people and want to help Israel.”

“That’s great,” I say sincerely. “Which group are you connected with?”

They tell me. It’s a very pro-Zionist Christian group that takes great care not to spread the Gospel among Jews. I won’t mention their name because there are people who mistakenly lump all Christians in the same missionizing mold. I have known this particular group for about twenty years now. As a writer I have occasionally met the founders and some of their associates over the years; I have also met other Christians who care about Israel, who come here for a few months or years and who work in one of the splendid Christian associations that supports Israel in whatever way they can. I know these people and I have no doubt that they are among the finest people who walk God’s earth.

And I expressed these sentiments to the two ladies. They looked relieved and I could feel that we were striking up a fine rapport. Meanwhile, the three of us were served and sat on the bar stools, munching away at our felafel with informal gusto and a nascent sense of camaradie.

They told me about their families and their respective professions. They were educated, intelligent, charming people and they had twinkling eyes that beamed at me and made my heart do a little jig. That’s one of the great things about being a guy – no matter how many years you’ve rambled on this planet, the attention of fine looking women always makes your heart do that little jig.

AN EMBARRASSING BIBLICAL QUOTE

But then the Texan said something that broke the mood for me. We had been talking about the readiness of the international community to condemn Israel exclusively for the plight of the Arabs of this region and she paraphrased, “People must realize that Israel is actually the light unto the nations.”

My heart stopped doing that little jig. I find it hard to contend with praise or positive remarks directed at me, especially when unwarranted. So personally, this light unto the nations thing regarding Israel sounds unbecoming and inappropriate. Furthermore, lots of nations have been a beacon in some field or other. These same nations also have a lot in their pasts that is pretty shameful. Actually I don’t think that the Jews have much reason for any deep national shame – not like the British, Spaniards or French with their exploitative imperialism or the Germans with the Nazi era. Although each of these nations, in common with the ancient Greeks, Romans and Chinese, as well as the Mohammedans, also gave immensely to humanity in the fields of philosophy, science, technology and the arts.

Nowadays people in Israel have centered their lives on becoming an independent nation again, against demonic odds. But much of the present effort is fraught by stupidity at all levels and selfishness and conceit at the higher levels. Nationally, at this point, I feel there’s not much justification to reckon that we are a light unto anyone. Actually, in many ways some of the nations can be a light unto us. After, we are still learning basic moral stuff like how to stand in a queue or get into a bus or an elevator without a scuffle. And at any given time about a dozen Israeli parliamentarians are being investigated for corruption, embezzelment or sexual offences. Also, moral wrongdoing is not limited to secular people. Our religious public officials have proven just as prone as anyone else to stray morally.

So please don’t give me any of  that “Light unto the nations stuff.”

Apart from which, anyone who claims to be a “Light unto the nations” reveals a huge conceit. That alone negates any claim to luminariness. 

The Texan must have noticed a frown on my face, so she repeated her quotation about Israel being a light unto the nations and added, “That’s what the Prophet Isaiah said. Chapter 42, verse 6.”

“Yes, I know,” I said, taking a bite of my felafel. She bit into hers and some tehina dripped off her chin. The Aussie lady noticed and dabbed it clean. Embarrassed smiles.

“Actually there are many interpretations to this quotation,” I said. “Just like in many other parts of the Bible.”

They nodded.

“Personally, I just cannot accept that Isaiah meant that the Jews are such a fine people that they will teach the rest of the world morality. 

“What about monotheism?” the Texan interjected.

“You’ve got a point there,” I admitted. “Nevertheless, half the world has no idea who Abraham or Moses were or what they really represent, or even Jesus for that matter. Take all the Buddhists and other eastern religions, for instance. When I visited Thailand and Singapore, I swear I had never seen such common decency and patience anywhere else in the world. I had never seen such deep respect and consideration for others, as well as kindness and gentleness. Certainly not in this land of the chosen people.”

“Yes, but the Jews brought monotheism to humanity – the idea of one God, as opposed to the dozens of deities in eastern religions,” the Texan emphasized.

“So what?” I responded.

They both looked shocked.

“One God or a hundred gods – what difference does it make?” I asked. “No one really knows anything about what you call God.”

One of them said to me, “Don’t worry. I can see that you are a good man and one day you will see the light.”

“The light that I am supposed to spread among humanity?”

We all laughed.

I continued, “Look, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about me. While I might be embarrassed when people say that the Jews are a light unto the nations, I can entertain the notion that what Isaiah meant was that the existence and sovereignty of God will be proved to all the nations through the Jewish people.”

“A very apt sentiment,” said the Texan.

“That’s not my idea,” I said. “A French guy called David Kimhi who was also known as the Radak, came up with this idea. He lived in the twelfth or thirteenth century.”

I took another bite of the felafel and continued. “Many serious Jews accept this interpretation, together with the call for a high standard of personal morality. They understand that what the Radak meant was that all those prophecies regarding Israel’s redemption would come true, including the wars of Gog and Magog, and thus the nations of the world would recognize God and repent.”

The two ladies nodded enthusiastically. One of them said, “And then we will see the advent of the Messiah.”

“Yours or mine?” I laughed.

“Both of ours,” they chorused.

BELITTLING THE ALMIGHTY

“Well, I don’t like it,” I said. “I think this is a terrible indictment on what you call God and what I am for a lack of better word, prepared to call the ‘Creator of the universe’.”

They looked perplexed. The Aussie said, “I am sure that you can see what is happening in the world today. You can see how the nations are arraying themselves around Israel. Can’t you?”

“I can’t ignore it,” I said.

“Well that’s been predicted in the Bible,” she said.

I nodded. “I know and it’s absolutely amazing to see stuff that was written thousands of years ago unfolding before our very eyes. It’s uncanny.”

“It’s prophesy coming true,” said the Texan. “It’s God manifesting Himself.”

The Aussie looked at me and shook her head. “How can you deny it?”

“I don’t,” I said. “But I just find it hard to accept that the Creator of all this inexpressively incredible and wonderful world has to go to such lengths just to get some attention from the beings He himself created … in his own image.”

They both sighed and shook their heads. One of them said, “Don’t be such a skeptic! You yourself said it’s amazing to see what was written in the Bible unfolding before our very eyes.”

“A lot is coincidence and a lot is grist for contention.”

“It’s all the Truth!”

“If it’s all the Truth, then surely Truth should unite people rather than drive them to war against each other, as religion has done over and over again, up to the present day.”

“That’s so as to tally with prophesy,” one of them said.

“I told you what I think of that idea,” I said. Then I repeated: “I can’t accept that the Almighty, the unfathomable, ineffable Creator of this wonderful world, has to go to such lengths just to get some attention from the foolish creatures He himself created … in his own image.”

They didn’t have an answer. So I continued. “The fact that I am an agnostic doesn’t make me a complete non-believer in the existence of what you call God,” I said. “Billions of people all over the world believe in God and nobody knows what the hell they are talking about.”

“Oh yes, we do,” said the Aussie.

I lowered my voice because I didn’t want to sound too offensive. I said slowly, “What you know is what you’ve read or heard from other people who had read or heard going back in time to what was probably the rantings of some overly imaginative or opinionated recluse, village dreamer or lunatic.”

They both shook their heads. By now we had all finished our felafel. I didn’t feel comfortable that our conversation, which had started off so pleasantly, had taken this confrontational turn. These were two very good people and I had no right to upset them. So, I said, “Look, I’m sorry to have been so outspoken about belief and religion.”

“Oh that’s all right,” they said. “We found talking to you very stimulating.”

I replied: “Well I found talking to you very stimulating too. But I would like to add just one thing to what I had said, and maybe we can part having agreed with each other.”

“Go on,” they said.

I continued. “Whether what’s happened in the last seventy years with Israel and what is happening now, is the result of some divine hand or purpose, I am not prepared to accept or reject. But what I can see is that we in Israel, and in fact the whole world, are facing a very perilous future. Muslim fundamentalism, pollution, weather change, economic havoc. And here in Israel, we face a dreadful line-up of nations preparing to annihilate us. What all this means is that firstly we in Israel have to face the truth of the situation. In order to survive, we have to gather all our resources and work wisely together. This means, for Israel, the highest possible level of integrity and a strong personal dedication on the part of every Jew to the cause of national survival. It means respecting each other and accepting our differences of opinion without forcing ours on others. It means honest pragmatisim. On the individual level it means being a thoroughly good person, with or without the trappings of religion. Can you accept that?”

They thought for a moment. The Aussie shrugged her shoulders and said, “You could be a good diplomat.”

Her colleague added, “After Gog and Magog, if we meet again, we can compare notes.”

“It’s a deal!” I said.

We shook hands and parted. I got on my bicycle and pedalled up Ben-Yehuda Street towards Bezalel Street. A car behind me brought me back to reality as it honked loudly and the driver glared at me as he passed, while his exhaust fumes momentarily constricted my breathing. A few minutes later another car almost knocked me off the road and I was actually forced to stop so as to avoid crashing into the pavement. Fairly typical on Israel’s roads and not a good harbinger for the future. Why on earth should the Lord of the Universe want to help this obtuse, self-centered people? Why were we given this incredible opportunity to renew our sovereignty in our ancient Land once again? A crucial question we should all be asking ourselves if we want to survive – whether one is religiously observant or not.

Actually, Israel has a cosmic opportunity to show that good can prevail over lies and evil. We are living in an age when Israel faces impossible, diabolical odds, compounded by a global blood libel that supports her many mortal enemies. The only way that tiny Israel can prevail will be by forging a lifestyle for all its people that could really be a light for others to see. But we ourselves should allude to it very, very rarely – so as to avoid the pitfall of conceit.

Riding a bicycle in the center of Jerusalem is a good way to gauge where we stand at the moment. 

For more see: www.israelandtruth.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 24, 2008 at 4:45 pm 5 comments

A bungling election system …

Who should choose the

best system?

Definitely not the politicians!

ballotOne way of arriving at the most suitable electoral system for Israel’s government and Knesset, would be to create a public forum consisting of a dozen trustworthy individuals – large enough to form broad, workable and intelligent proposals while not becoming too cumbersome. Members should meet certain professional criteria and be chosen for intelligence, general knowledge, honesty and concern for Israel and the Jewish people. These people will be from disciplines that will have enabled them to gain wide knowledge of political systems. They will be political scientists, sociologists, historians, journalists and people who had once been politicians. There will be certain personality requirements such as the ability to work calmly and respectfully with others; they cannot be immovably stubborn or conceited. An additional important requirement for membership in this forum must be a complete absence of any active or passive political affiliation in the last few years.

Furthermore, none of them should have held positions of top leadership in any government or public office, or in any large commercial enterprise. The reason for this is that a large proportion of the nation’s wealth is in the hands of a few dozen families, who are able to influence decision-making at the more prominent levels of society. There might be a better chance of preventing undue pressure by these sources of capital if we restrict the decision-making regarding the entire process of electoral change to ordinary people – because they should be less prone to pressure from vested interests. There is a limitless source of brilliant, untapped potential among people who have never reached positions of prominence. We must find them. Also, the amount of bungling among those who have reached executive positions, is clear in every aspect of life in Israel. That is not to say that all directors are bunglers.

But the whole subject of finding the most suitable electoral system is far too important an issue to be allowed to flounder because of the inability of people in high positions who are invariably used to dictating issues or riding roughshod over others. While there are many marvelous people connected presently or in the past with the political system, and many brilliant, world-class academics and astute captains of industry in Israel’s society, it is of cardinal importance to select a team of people who will be able to work together.

The forum should also be closed to any high-ranking ex-army personnel. Despite the fact that many of these people are of the very highest calibre in every way, the reason for their omission would have to do with habits drawn from a lifetime in the military. Having given orders from a position of high command is not a suitable preparation for teamwork, careful, objective deliberation and consideration of ordinary people’s opinions.

But who chooses the forum?

This is yet another vital question. Again, not the politicians, nor anyone officially part of the religious, academic or business hierarchy, although some of the members of the forum and the group selecting the forum could come from these sectors.

The group that is to nominate candidates for the forum could be called the “Selection Committee” could be made up of seven or eight retired people with excellent records of accomplishment and integrity. They will have worked in general occupations such as farming, teaching, accountancy, medicine and journalism, business, or a trade such as building, carpentary, etc. They will be people known as the”salt of the earth.” This group should be given twelve to sixteen weeks, searching relevant sources and scouting the country and society, in order to select a dozen of the most suitable people who will form the forum.

And how do we choose the Selection Committee

We mentioned earlier that a number of groups have been working over the last few years to promote electoral reform. I suggest that a small committee (not more than seven people) made up from the various groups, will do this preliminary work. It can be called “The Council. It will lay down ground rules for it’s own mode of functioning and for the criteria in choosing the Selection Committee and making sure that it functions according to the principles of good team work and honest deliberation. The Council will also make sure that the Forum, when it is chosen, will function according to these same principles.

The process of choosing a Selection Committee will be done in a number of ways. Firstly, through personal contacts if members of the Council know any really suitable potential nominations. Secondly, by placing announcements in the newspapers inviting people to suggest themselves or others for the purpose of being part of a procedure leading to the application of a new electoral system.

What gives us the right to determine these procedures?

The wonderful thing about democracy is that an ordinary citizen can make suggestions and actions as long as he or she doesn’t cause any harm or unjustified defamation. We strongly belief that electoral reform is one of the most vital needs for the survival of Israel. Since nothing sufficiently effective has been done by the government or any other public or private body, we are taking it upon ourselves to do whatever it takes to apply electoral change in this country.

We invite everyone who is interested to join us and to suggest any changes you might deem necessary to our effort. Meanwhile, we have taken it upon ourselves to make the changes, and this also means establishing the framework and procedures that will eventually lead to electoral change.

Groundrules for success

To facilitate optimum cooperation among the various groups, there must be strict groundrules for harmonious deliberation at every stage. These groundrules (which could be applicable to any unit, group or organization) must include qualities such as truthfulness, objectivity and sincere consideration for the opinion of others. All discussions must be made with courtesy and friendliness. Dictatorial attitudes or modes of behaviour must be banned. People who are easily insulted, frustrated, or conversely, who readily insult others, cannot be part of any of the selection groups. It must be remembered that this is not supposed to be a great ego trip, therefore participants must aspire for totally mature deliberation. They should even be able to argue against their own proposals.

Once a forum is formed, it should commit itself to come up with an ideal proposal or proposals in less than 72 days. These proposals will be announced publicly and should lead to a public discussion, conducted with the help of various media channels and public forums, and culminating in a national referendum organized by an official body such as the Jewish Agency or a movement or a group of movements involved in proper governance such as the Movement of Quality Government.

We cannot allow the government to procrastinate

As mentioned earlier, because of its unsatisfactory record in establishing proper governance, the government itself should not be involved in the process of proposing a suitable electoral system. But once the proposal is voted for in a public referendum, it will eventually be up to the Knesset to vote on it so as to make the new electoral system binding by law.

The public will demand that the set procedures of the proposal being presented as a bill to the Knesset, followed by Knesset Committee readings and the subsequent votes, be done without any undue delay. A reasonable time limit of three months should be suggested to the Knesset.

All contact with the Knesset should be conducted politely, amiably and respectfully. It is quite possible that the Knesset will vote against any change in the electoral system, or only for partial change. The proposal might not even reach the first stage of a preliminary vote. In the event of any of these reactions by the Knesset, the public will have to continue its pressure on the politicians and if necessary to wage a general strike. The issue is so crucial that all legitimate means must be employed to bring about suitable electoral reform with a minimum of delay.

The urgent need for personal involvement

Clearly, the ordinary citizens must join in the protest demonstrations with alacrity. At the moment we comprise a few dozen folks, but our numbers will grow exponentially. We are talking about a struggle that might take a few years, but it must be done.

There will be three kinds of demonstrations:

(A) Small demonstrations comprising groups of up to five six participants, which will be seen every day all over the country, at intersections and city squares. The purpose of these demonstrations will be mainly to inform the public of the need for direct-regional elections and a call to join the protest. Apart from the slogans on the placards and banners, the demonstrators will hand out promotional material to passersby.

(B) Larger demonstrations comprising more than ten demonstrators, staged outside the homes of political figures. The purpose will be to prod those who oppose electoral change with appropriately-worded placards. These will also be loud so that there will be no ignoring them. They will take place less frequently than the first kind, but often enough to be felt by the targeted politicians.

(C) The third kind of protest will be the mass demonstration taking place opposite the Knesset, government buildings and other appropriate venues. These will take place every few weeks and be loud media events. They must comprise at least a thousand participants each time and eventually reach tens and even hundreds of thousands of noisy citizens expressing their anger, disgust and absolute determination to see the system changed as soon as possible.

We must discard the insular, apathetic, negative and defeatist attitudes that have taken root in society during the last decade or so. Personal priorities must be changed. We have to be willing to devote as much time as possible in participating in some kind of activity connected with the demonstrations. There are many things we can all do. Those who might find that standing in a demonstration for an hour or two is overly strenuous, can participate in other ways such as help in making placards, thinking up slogans, calling on friends and relatives to join the demos, help organize, or drive participants to meeting places. Centers launching demonstrations will have to be set up in various parts of the country. Each center will need all the above-mentioned activities. There should also be contact and corroboration with other groups that are working for electoral change ? as long as they are not politically initiated and eschew nastiness as a policy.

People who really care about Israel

We are a quickly-growing group of people of all ages and from all walks of life, from all over Israel − who care about Israel. So far we have not set ourselves up as an official organization and we are not affiliated to any other ideological, political or religious group or party. Some of us do have personal loyalties to some particular political or religious line, but these loyalties do not clash with our commitment to electoral change.

Our funding has come from our own pockets or from private donations. To contact us call Rafi Dobrin 054-4334051.

For more on electoral reform and the effectiveness of protest demonstrations: www.israelandtruth.org/demo.htm

 

December 3, 2008 at 3:27 pm 1 comment


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