Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

Lincoln, Bibi and Facts on the Ground

I saw the film “Lincoln” last week and see parallels between the Palestinian and American Civil Wars.  Lincoln understood that reunification with the South could never happen on the South’s terms: i.e., with the continued legitimization of slavery.  His great fear was that the war would end before slavery was constitutionally abolished; he knew that that change could only occur before the return of those southern states – and their votes – to Congress.

The thirteenth amendment was passed while those slave states were still on the outs, and by the time the southern states returned, abolition was a fait accompli, or as Israelis like to say, a “fact on the ground.” There was nothing they could do about it.

So where is the parallel?

The Palestinian Civil War is a microcosm of what’s going on in Egypt and the entire Middle East.  The role of the West here, and that includes Israel, is to make sure that those who eschew terror are the ones who win.  The model for success cannot be Gaza, where rockets reign, but the West Bank, where economic growth has brought a better life for the people, despite a recent slump.  In his war against Hamas, Abbas has to win.  (Significantly, Israel is assisting the P.A. to overcome its current economic challenges.)

Most Israelis agree that it is incumbent to make a thriving West Bank a fact on the ground. But it would be even better to make a thriving, terror-free West Bank-based Palestinian state a fact on the ground too.  That can only happen while Hamas is on the outside, a non player in the diplomatic arena.  Hamas is the “South” in this civil war, the entity that wants to continue existing with their version of the “Peculiar Institution,” in this case terrorism rather than slavery. If moderation wins, Hamas will ultimately have to capitulate, because the Gazan people will see the advantages gained by their West Bank brethren and will force them to.  Egypt’s President Morsi is now seeing first-hand that moderate forces can be very powerful when they speak with a clear voice.

Back in the early days of Oslo, the cry was “Gaza first,” meaning that Jericho and Gaza would gain a modicum of autonomy, and we would see how that goes before moving to the next stage of the peace process.  Now the cry needs to be “Gaza last,”  as we work toward the establishment of a West Bank-only Palestine living alongside Israel. Gaza would be the odd state out in this two state solution.

Like Lincoln, Netanyahu and Abbas need to put facts of moderation on the ground.  Unfortunately, this week, neither has done that.  At the U.N and in the E1 area near Ma’aleh Adumim, first Abbas and then Netanyahu have elected to litter the ground with the wrong facts.

Why the Israeli government chose now to announce it’s E1 building plan is hard to fathom.  For a government that has been saying all along that the only thing that matters is to keep Iran from building nuclear facts in the ground, this move makes no sense.  Just two weeks ago, while missiles flew from Gaza, an extraordinary effort was made not to upset the growing international coalition that is supporting tough sanctions and could later be called upon to support military action against Iran.

But now, with the Iranian clock running out, possibly only weeks away from zero hour, Bibi starts quacking like a settlement-driven duck. Was his need to punish Abbas so great that he would risk taking his eyes off the Iranian prize at so crucial a moment?

Perhaps we all need to send Netanyahu a little message, in the spirit of the old Clintonian refrain:

Dear Prime Minister:

It’s Iran, stupid!

Iran. Iran. Iran. Iran. Iran. Iran. Iran.  Iran. Iran. Iran. Iran.  Iran. Iran. Iran.

And in case you don’t get the message:


Sincerely,  World Jewry

P.S.  And the best way to keep that international coalition of support together would be to, ahem, put some moderate facts on the ground. And do it now, while you have a Palestinian leader to deal with who doesn’t spend his days seeking ways to blow up your people, but rather spends them trying to improve the lives of his own.

Abe Lincoln could have told you that.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and the upcoming book, "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Chloe, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307