Barbara Sofer

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The Human Spirit: Who’s speaking for whom?

By BARBARA SOFER

February 20, 2015

In one of those strange juxtapositions, no one finds it odd that the Palestinian Authority is demanding a role in the investigation of the murder of the three pacifist Muslim students in North Carolina, and a Jewish organization is gathering signatures to make it known that if on March 3 Israel’s prime minister speaks 435 km. away in Washington, he won’t be speaking in their names.

First, the Chapel Hill tragedy. A medium- sized city in North Carolina, Chapel Hill is home to a campus of the University of North Carolina. It was the first municipality in the South to elect an African-American mayor. Buses there are free.

On February 10, Razan Muhammad Abu-Salha, 19, an architecture and environmental design student at North Carolina State, came to visit her newlywed sister Yusor, 21, and brother-in-law Deah Saddy Barakat, 23, in their apartment in the pretty Finley Forest complex. Deah was studying dentistry and Yusor, who had a degree in biology, was going to start dental school in the fall; the couple’s dream was to open a dental practice together. The two sisters were wearing the traditional Muslim head covering.

Their downstairs neighbor Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, has been charged with their murder. Speculation is that he was annoyed about their parking in the complex lot. A look at his Facebook page makes it clear that he despised religion, which he blamed for the troubles of the world. A proclaimed atheist, he flaunted a .38 revolver and allegedly shot the three young people in the head. He later turned himself in to police.

Yusor, Deah and Razan reportedly cooked and delivered food on weekends to the homeless in Raleigh. Yusor was born in Jordan, where her parents had lived before moving to the US. Her husband was the son of Syrian Americans; they had a strong emotional attachment to refugees of the Syrian civil war. Their way of showing their identification wasn’t to join a military group – just the opposite. Deah was fund-raising to bring them dental care; the three victims were planning to go to Turkey this summer to distribute brushes and treat toothaches. “They were devoted to peace and reconciliation,” said Dr.

Muhammad Abu-Salha, father of the two sisters. “It was all about making this country that they loved, where they lived and died, peaceful for everybody else.”

The PA has asserted that Yusor, Razan and Deah are of “Palestinian descent,” and they want to make sure the people of Chapel Hill properly investigate this incident. After all, if the prime minister of Israel is vocal about the murder of Jews in France and Denmark, then the PA claims the right to speak for Muslims murdered in the US, to ensure Americans are according them full civil rights.

Does Abu Mazen speak for the students in North Carolina? Ironically, the J Street organization feels the democratically elected prime minister of the State of Israel does not speak for the Jewish people at large. The target of the conflict is, of course, the prime minister’s upcoming speech in the US Congress about the existential threat presented by a nuclear Iran. A petition and social media campaign urge Jews to stand up and say that Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t speak for them; a quote on the Facebook page brings David Ben-Gurion saying, 65 years ago, that he only represented the then-1.3 million citizens of Israel. Of course, we don’t know what Ben-Gurion would say today.

Whether or not Netanyahu made a wise move or a blunder in accepting the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner to speak before Congress so close to Israeli elections, whether you agree with him or hate his politics, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t represent the voice of the Jewish people.

First, the average American doesn’t care about our elections. They don’t know Buji from Bogie, Livni from Livnat, Kahlon from Cabel. Many Americans can’t pronounce the prime minister’s last name. But they do know that when the prime minister of Israel is speaking, he represents a nation that has already faced possible annihilation in the last century, and that his message is aimed at waking up what we used to call “the free world.”

I’m reminded of an American friend with a long Jewish name and a typical Jewish appearance who shared with us his worry about putting up a mezuza on the front door of his home in upstate New York, in a town with a small Jewish community. He didn’t realize that mezuza or no mezuza, everyone already knew he was a Jew.

The prime minister gets to speak for the Jewish people. That’s the privilege of the head of the Jewish state. There’s no more exilarch, the head of the Diaspora.

Vociferous Jewish critics of Israel from abroad will always believe they are saving us Israelis from our worst selves.

But Democrat or Republican; red state or blue state; Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, hassidic or non-affiliated – Jews will be identified with Israel’s prime minister.

Election pundits predict that the speech in Washington will boost the incumbent’s election stock, while others claim just the opposite. While an election campaign is going on, we’re entitled to engage in name-calling, to insinuate and defame, and to make grandiose promises. Gloves are off.

But after the votes are counted, we’ll be left to face the real dangers and challenges that remain. That an Israeli head of state can be invited to share his vision with members of the Congress of the world’s most powerful country, should underline how important deciding who the prime minister is – and despite all the hype, how important these elections are.

So why are we dealing with narishkeit, foolish trivialities, when our future is at stake? Am I the only Israeli who thinks the prime minister, whoever he or she is, should serve foreign heads nothing but our finest Israeli wine, especially while negotiating? Am I the only one who thinks that anyone who commits to the long hours, sleepless nights and worries is entitled to whatever ice cream their family likes? I’ve eaten plenty of ice cream at midnight myself.

Why is the news focusing on campaign videos instead of campaign ideas? I can’t remember when an election campaign had so little message and so much massage.

As a voter, I’d like to hear straight talk and new ideas. I don’t know about you, but only a few weeks before elections, I’m wondering when the serious discussion of these life-and-death issues will commence.

We didn’t want this election, but as long as we have it, let’s use it as an opportunity to tackle critical matters.

This isn’t a reality show, it’s the reality of the only show in town – the State of Israel.

 

 

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