On a wet and windy night in Manhattan, hundreds flocked into the beautiful main sanctuary of Kehillat Jeshurun to hear Nobel Laureate economist and Israeli citizen Robert (Yisrael) Aumann preach the word. Unpretentiously, in an open shirt and a very long white flowing beard, Professor Aumann stood on the bema and addressed us in perfect English. Here was a man who fled Nazi Germany when he was a teenager, found refuge and an education in America, then moved to Israel fifty years ago.
Dr. Aumann is a plain-talker, slow, deliberate, occasionally funny, but easy to understand. He is also profound. While the audience was respectful, attentive, they did not, could not, “warm” to his truth. They no doubt agreed with him, knew he was right--but their applause was reserved.
Dr. Aumann said what needed to be said and he did so with gravity and clarity. His listeners were not as young as they once were, the hour was late, and these last six years have been very hard for Am Yisrael. And here, this great man confirmed that the longed-for peace will not come quickly and that our children, grand-children and great-grand children will still be fighting for it in the Middle East for generations to come.
Dr. Aumann suggested that we study war as a general phenomenon, not just as a special isolated case in one part of the world. He asked: “Can war be rational?” His answer: “Yes. It is a mistake to say that war is irrational.” In his view, “our Arab cousins and enemies” and their “shahids” are very “rational.” They know what they want; they are “patient”—they have all the time in the world. They are also “highly idealistic.” Treating them as “irrational madmen” is wrong. They are motivated. “They want the Jews out. They believe they can accomplish this through violence and the cultivation of patience.”
Dr. Aumann said that the expulsion of Jews from Gaza—by Jews—was due to the anxious Jewish need for “peace now,” but that such anxiety and impatience led directly to the war in Lebanon, a war he believes Israel lost and lost badly. “If you want peace now you won’t get it. If you have a sense of the future, if you can cultivate patience, you will get peace.” He characterized Jews as being in “such a hurry, we don’t wait, we want peace right away. We run around in a frenzy. We expel people from their homes—an unprecedented act of barbarism, self-hatred and stupidity.” Here he grew emphatic. He said that this last war has set the cause of peace back 10-15 years.
He did not pause for effect. Steadily he continued. “There is only one way to achieve peace in the Middle East and that is to convince our Arab cousins that we are not the Crusaders. We are here to stay. They must be convinced that we will not move, that we also have time. And, if we want peace in 10-20 years we have to change our policy now. Our people, not just our government, were all responsible for the expulsion and for each and every act of capitulation. They see that violence pays, that it pays off. They are not punished, they are rewarded. Gaza today, the West Bank tomorrow, Haifa, Yaffo, Tel Aviv thereafter.”
Dr. Aumann again stressed that the shahids are not madmen. They do have a vision of the future, and they are both determined and persistent. These are qualities that Aumann respects, even “envies” and he urges Jews and Israelis to adopt just such qualities. “Persistence and determination are omnipotent.” And here he also quoted Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison—and Susan Wexner’s mother Bella, all of whom believed that persistence was everything. As Dr. Aumann sees it, the matter lies in our hands. “If we wish to live in peace with them then no amount of violence will budge us but we cannot continue to appease or to capitulate to them.”
He closed quickly. “The Jewish nation will survive, no matter what. But I am not sure about the state of Israel.” He barely paused—then reminded us: “But it is in our hands.”
People were invited to join Dr. Aumann for refreshments. I came home instead and found myself compelled to share his words with you.
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