Trump, Jewish values not consistent

As a member of the Young Israel of Staten Island for nearly 50 years before making aliyah in 2016, I am appalled at reading “An Orthodox organization’s dinner gala is mostly a tribute to Donald Trump” (April 5).

A main reason is that Trump’s policies are inconsistent with basic Jewish values. Please consider:

Trump is in denial about climate change, an existential threat to Israel and, indeed, humanity, and is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken efforts to reduce greenhouse gases while climate threats are becoming increasingly apparent.

Trump supported legislation that would cause as many as 32 million Americans to lose their health insurance;

Trump signed a tax bill that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans and highly profitable corporations, which will result in annual deficits of at least a trillion dollars for many years, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut programs that the vast majority of Americans depend on;

In addition, most American Jews see Trump alienating American allies and adopting policies that make a peaceful resolution of the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians less likely and increased terrorism more likely.

Finally, there is the question of character. New York Times’ conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, wrote in a recent article that Trump’s character involves “lying, narcissism, bullying, bigotry, crassness, name-calling, ignorance, paranoia, incompetence and pettiness.”

Richard H. Schwartz
Moshav Shoresh, Israel

Vaccinate your children!

Regarding the recent article “Resistance to the measles vaccine” and the opinion piece “This is why we should immunize our children,” both in the April 5 issue:

When I need spiritual or halachich advice I go to a rabbi, and when I need medical advice I go to a physician, but I would never expect a rabbi to offer advice on medical matters with which he or she was unfamiliar. I was therefore shocked that Rabbi Mordechai Shain had the temerity to give his opinion regarding the efficacy and need for vaccinations. His remarks reveal a breathtaking lack of even the basic understanding of the function and importance of vaccines.

It all boils down to one basic concept: Vaccines protect our children and community from severe illness and possible death. The science is readily available proving this basic fact. I would suggest that Rabbi Shain do some research, perhaps starting with the excellent opinion piece by Rabbi Dr. Jill Hackell, before he goes spouting off his opinion on a subject about which he knows nothing and which could cause danger to both our community and the community at large.

Susan Fishbein MD

Annexation and the Geneva Convention

I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Cohn’s March 29 letter (“Reality of facts”) because it blatantly misrepresents both what I said (“Don’t speculate about annexation,” Letters, March 15) as well as the facts that it claims to hold dear. Mr. Cohn says in his letter that “Mr. Nelkin also wrote that Israel has taken over ‘the majority of the West Bank’s natural resources and development potential.’ Is this his desired fact or a factual reality?” This is a sentence in the perfect tense.

However, my letter actually said “Since the majority of the West Bank’s natural resources and development potential lie in area C, while the majority of Palestinians live in areas A and B, cleaving them apart would be a massive theft of wealth,” which is clearly a sentence in the conditional tense. He also accuses me of only reading what I want to hear, and then either does exactly that, or intentionally misleads the reader so he can argue with a straw man. That kind of shoddy approach to the truth tells one everything they need to know about the veracity of his claims, but it is worth responding in full because they are easily disproven.

Mr. Cohn claims that the Geneva conventions do not apply to the occupied territories because they don’t apply to defensive wars. This is blatantly false, as anyone who reads past GCIV Article One will discover. Article Two states “the present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict.” The Geneva conventions are intentionally broad, and apply to civil wars, wars against non-state actors, and yes, defensive wars too. This is obviously the case because if one country invaded another, one of the two countries would be free to ignore human rights under any other reading.

It’s somewhat humorous that in the same letter Mr. Cohn accuses me and anyone who agrees with me of not researching facts beyond the “headlines promoted by those they ideologically agree with,” he shows that he has never bothered reading past Dore Gold paraphrasing Stephen Schwebel in his book “The Fight for Jerusalem,” which is one of the few sources that tries to claim the same thing as Mr. Cohn with a straight face. By all means, it is not necessary to trust me on the matter of whether the Geneva conventions apply. The fact that they do has been confirmed by the Red Cross, the International Court of Justice, the states that are parties to the Geneva conventions, the high contracting parties to the Geneva conventions, the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, and the Israeli Supreme Court, among others.

Mr. Cohn also misleads the reader on what resolution 242 says. He claims that it says Israel must only withdraw from some territory. He is wrong. There are two equally valid versions of 242, one in French and one in English. The French version unambiguously says Israel must withdraw from all the territories it occupied, whereas the English one is more ambiguous in part because it drops the definite articles, as is common in English. If you have two valid versions and one is unambiguous while the other is more vague, then it’s clear that they should be read together as what the unambiguous one said, as is codified in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. You can’t just wish away or ignore half the text like Mr. Cohn did. It’s also worth pointing out that even though the English one could have been better written, it was clearly intended to be read in the same way as the French version. For example, the Indian representative said to the Security Council, “It is our understanding that the draft resolution, if approved by the Council, will commit it to the application of the principle of total withdrawal of Israel forces from all the territories — I repeat, all the territories — occupied by Israel as a result of the conflict which began on 5 June 1967.”

One could go on debunking what Mr. Cohn said for a long time, but there’s little point because at the end of the day, the real source of disagreement is moral, not legal. Where he stands morally is clear: he speaks of Arabs and Palestinians as undifferentiated masses and accuses them of being collectively guilty of anti-Semitism. He haughtily calls for the world to abandon them and engages in victim blaming to accompany his demonization. He claims that Palestinians in the West Bank, rather than the occupying government, are responsible for their economic situation in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To give one example, the World Bank conservatively assessed that Israel’s governance of area C costs Palestinians more than a third of their GDP every single year and that less than 1 percent of the land area was available for Palestinians’ use. The majority of my letter concerned why annexing area C would be morally wrong, and Mr. Cohn has not disputed in any way my ethical point of view. What he has not contested is what I consider to be the crux of my argument; annexing area C would have tragic consequences for millions of people in the occupied territories, it would be an undemocratic action that did not have the consent of the people effected, and it would be a massive and unjust transfer of wealth.

Zachary Nelkin

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