Who Is Right?

Your comprehensive coverage of the U.N. Resolution reminded me of an old anecdote I heard in my childhood.

A Rabbi and his Rebbetzin, who were trying to make peace between a quarreling couple, listened carefully as the wife set forth at great length all her arguments as to why it was all the husband’s fault.

“You are right,” the Rabbi told her when she finally concluded.

It was the husband’s turn to speak, and at great length, he threw all the blame on his spouse.

“You are right,” the Rabbi told him.

“They can’t possibly both be right,” the Rabbi’s wife whispered to her husband.

The Rabbi turned to his wife and declared, “You know, you too are right.”

Although they argued opposite sides of a very contentious debate, I found myself agreeing with some of the arguments put forth by Mr. Rebibo and Rabbi Shafran respectively, and disagreeing with other parts of their positions.

Mr. Rebibo is right when he states that the U.N. Resolution will actually harm prospects for peace and is bad for the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Frankly, I am baffled why someone of the stature of Rabbi Shafran — whom I greatly respect and admire — would go to such great lengths to defend President Obama on this one. There is no mitzvah of being dan l’chaf zechus an American president who clearly has a personal grudge and knew full well that this biased resolution will do nothing besides infuriate the Israeli government, give moral support to Palestinian terrorists, and help fuel the international BDS movement.

But at the same time, I must disagree with Mr. Rebibo when it comes to Netanyahu’s culpability. He did bring this debacle on himself — not by his refusal to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians, but by the way he treated President Obama over the years.

Yes, Netanyahu has valid reason to complain that he was mistreated by Obama as well, but that gives no excuse for the leader of a country that is on the receiving end of billions of dollars in annual U.S. aid to treat the leader of the sole surviving superpower in a condescending, childish way.

Netanyahu’s ill-advised speech to Congress, a fiasco that accomplished nothing besides managing to infuriate Obama, is the best-known example. But it was hardly the only time Netanyahu acted impudently. Last March, Netanyahu abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting with the president at the White House, and didn’t even bother giving an explanation or notifying the administration directly.

“We would have preferred to have heard about that in person before reading about it in media reports,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at the time. “I think that’s just good manners.”

Netanyahu’s reaction to the resolution was indicative of the role he played in causing it to pass in the first place.

As Rabbi Shafran pointed out, Netanyahu summoned ambassadors of countries who voted for the resolution, and the American ambassador as well, to reprimand them, on the day that Christians consider the holiest on their calendar.

“What would they have said in Jerusalem,” an unnamed Western diplomat later fumed, “if we summoned the Israeli ambassador on Yom Kippur?”

With all due respect to Rabbi Shafran, President Obama didn’t have Israel’s best interest in mind when he allowed this resolution to pass; he was simply sending a final salvo in a longstanding personal fight with the Israeli prime minister.

However, as Torah Jews, our primary obligation to protest is not against Obama, an outgoing president who is being faithful to the dictum of Esav sonei L’Yaakov, but against Netanyahu, a Jew whose hashkafos are the polar opposite of what the Torah teaches us.

Netanyahu’s remarks calling for an end to the “Galus mentality” are far more dangerous than any U.N. resolution, for invariably, inadvertently, we are influenced by such statements of the Israeli prime minister and actions that convey such messages — and tragically, we don’t even realize it.

Instead of rallying against the U.N. resolution, we should be stressing the teaching of the Seforno in Parashas Vayishlach. He points out that it was the fact that Yaakov Avinu humiliated himself by bowing before Esav that turned his archenemy — albeit temporarily — into a peaceful brother. He adds that if this approach would have been adopted by the Biryonim instead of fighting against the Romans, the second Beis Hamikdash would not have been destroyed.

The path of the Torah has been — whenever possible and practical — of humility and appeasement rather than war and public fury. This approach was successful for the Yid of the shtetl as he dealt with the local landowner, and remains the most appropriate approach today.

If only the Israeli government would adopt this Seforno as their official policy….

Shia Eilen

Rabbi Shafran responds:

Dear Mr. Eilen,

Thank you for your kind words, and please know that appreciating someone does not preclude disagreeing with him! Each of us is entitled to his opinion — and it is to this paper’s great credit that it has hosted different points of view here.

I’m not qualified to claim to know whether, when it comes to diyun l’chaf zechus, “kol haadam” means to include all human beings. But it’s another Talmudic statement that impelled me here: “Ein l’dayan ela mah she’einav ro’os— A judge can only judge based on the evidence before him.” I assure you that my judgment of Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry is based only and entirely on the actions they have taken over many years.

I don’t know how you square your own judgment of Mr. Obama as an embodiment of Esav with his having publicly told the Arab world that America’s “strong bond” with Israel is “unbreakable”; his firm denunciation of Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic stereotyping; his condemnation of anyone who would threaten Israel’s destruction; his withdrawal from the Durban Conference; his rejection of the Goldstone report; his refusal to participate in joint military exercises with Turkey unless Israel was included; his pushing of Iron Dome; his statement before the U.N. General Assembly that “Israel is a sovereign state and the historic homeland of the Jewish people;” his threat in September 2011 of severe consequences if Egyptian auhorities didn’t act to protect Israeli embassy guards besieged by a mob (which they did); his strengthening, alongside Israel, of Stuxnet; his declaration that “Palestinians must abandon violence;” that it is “a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus;” his providing more security assistance to Israel than any American administration; his State Department’s condemnation of the Palestinian Authority’s “factually incorrect” denial of the Kosel’s connection to the Jewish people; and more.

But, as I noted above, each of us is entitled to judge things as he sees fit.

Needless to say, your final, cogent point is fully shared by me. Thank you for eloquently reiterating it.

Joel Rebibo responds:

Thank you for your thoughtful, well-written comments.

You argue that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is to blame for the U.S. failure to veto the U.N. Security Council resolution calling the Kosel ‘Palestinian’ property because he was uppity to President Obama.

Netanyahu wasn’t just mistreated by Obama, as you note; he was manhandled. There was the famous picture of the president with his feet on the desk while talking on the phone to the prime minister — an attempt to show his utter disregard for the Israeli leader — and the time he left Netanyahu in a meeting room at the White House to have dinner with his family.

World leaders don’t treat other leaders that way.

As far as addressing Congress, you’re right that it was chutzpah and proved to be ineffective in stopping the Iran deal. But when facing a dangerous agreement that puts nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands in a matter of 10–15 years, a blink in historical terms, you can’t sit back and do nothing.

I agree that Netanyahu is arrogant and may have acted inappropriately to the leader of a country that is also a great benefactor. But that doesn’t justify the United States’ signing off on a big lie regarding the legal rights to Eretz Yisrael that flies in the face of historical fact and undermines any chance of peace.