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Military might is not enough for Israel




But we should not be too smug about their illusions regarding Middle East reality. We suffer from our own illusions, as no less a person than Israeli President Reuven Rivlin pointed out last week at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, during a ceremony marking 42 years since the Yom Kippur War.

Referring to the attitude of Israelis prior to the war, he pointedly warned against being seduced by a false sense of security based on Israel’s military might. Military might may hold its enemies at bay for a time, but without creative and bold steps to achieve genuine peace, the Israeli bubble of stability will eventually puncture.

On October 6, 1973, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack on Israel as the Jewish state marked Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement observed with a full-day fast. Reserve soldiers were summoned urgently from their synagogues to join their units at the front lines. The IDF was ultimately victorious in repelling the Arab armies after initial major setbacks, but over 2,500 Israeli soldiers were killed and hundreds taken captive.

A public outcry ensued against the government and army for failing to predict the attack, for their complacency in believing Israel’s much-vaunted military strength was a sufficient deterrent and guarantee of its security. IDF chief of staff David Elazar resigned after a commission of inquiry recommended his dismissal; Prime Minister Golda Meir and her cabinet – including defense minister Moshe Dayan – also resigned.

That war, said Rivlin, was still an “open wound”. He urged the Israeli public to learn the lesson, and to be bold in questioning its leaders about what they are doing creatively to ensure Israel’s long-term security and stability.  

It is essential for Israel to be militarily strong, or it would be wiped out in a moment by its enemies. But it has to be careful not to fall into the trap that occurred prior to the Yom Kippur war – the belief that military might is enough to bring security. More creative initiatives are desperately needed for genuine peace.

Developments in the region are frightening. Not just the flood of Syrian refugees – the numbers are staggering – but in the past couple of weeks also the growing buildup of Russian forces in Syria, sent there by Russian President Vladimir Putin to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. The United States, which believes Assad should step down and allow a different leadership to try to end the carnage in Syria, is deeply concerned about Russia’s true intentions in the region. The sheer complexity of exactly who is fighting who, and what is at stake, is enormous. Analysts agree that the Syrian state itself is unlikely to survive. What will come in the wake of its disintegration is unknown.

In the meantime, Israel sits right next door as a militarily strong island of stability. But it has its own internal explosion waiting to happen – the 3 million Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation. Sadly, many Jews and Israelis today have virtually given up on the possibility of achieving peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world. The mayhem in the region provides, for some, an excuse to give up trying to resolve that question. They have reconciled themselves to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and the increasing improbability that the two state solution will ever be implemented.

Said Rivlin: “On that Yom Kippur [in 1973], we were addicted to the illusion of stability that was imagined in the status quo of being the regional superpower… Israel in 2015 must not become addicted to that same false stability; it must dare and initiate. Even under conditions of uncertainty we must shape the diplomatic and strategic horizon with our own hands. Israeli society must be critical of its leadership, to bravely ask questions.”

Are we asking enough questions of Israel’s leaders? When the Palestinian question explodes – as it will one day – will we accuse them of complacency, of living under the illusion that our military might could forever hold them in check?

Geoff Sifrin is former editor of the SAJR. He writes this column in his personal capacity.


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  1. Choni

    Sep 25, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    ‘Mr. Sifrin.
    \nHave you not heard of the God of Israel? If we follow His commandments concerning the presence of millions of hostile Arabs on Israeli land, it is absolutely certain  that peace will endure. \”….and you shall drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you…But if you do not drive out the inhabitants the those whom you allow to remain will torment you in the land in which you dwell\” (Num.33 52-55).

    \nSorry, user, but your closing remarks have been deleted for legal and/or ethical reasons.   -MODERATOR


  2. David Abel

    Sep 27, 2015 at 9:32 am

    ‘Every time Israel has exercised \”daring and initiative\” (e.g unilateral withdrawal from Gaza; and major \”West Bank\” concessions by Barak & Olmert) the results have been negative in the extreme.
    \nThe inescapable problem is the fact that Israel has to deal with a [racism expunged  -MODERATOR] culture that simply will not countenance a Jewish state within its midst, no matter how many times it \”dares and initiates\”.
    \nGeoff Sifrin, whose writing I have long appreciated, finally needs to come to terms with the fact the Israel is not \”occupying\” the biblical Jewish heartland of Judea & Samaria.
    \nWhen he does, his entire perspective will alter dramatically and he will be able to reconcile himself to the idea that Israel’s current leadership is on track in fulfilling the Abrahamic Covenant, despite all the intense internal and external pressures – no matter how long that takes.
    \nAnd, moreover, a strong case could be made that – as Israel has demonstrated time and again – through resilience and strength of purpose the Jewish state is fulfilling its destiny.
    \nPresident Rivlin (interestingly also a Likudnik) has confused the need to be constantly alert to danger with the promotion of strategies which, in today’s circumstances, are symptoms of wishful thinking rather than the recognition of reality.   ‘

  3. Choni

    Sep 27, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    ‘Great comment David. Pity our editor deletes some of your comment as he often does.’

  4. David Abel

    Sep 27, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    ‘Is the use of the word \”Palestinian\” racist…?
    \nWe have elected not to publish your full question, David, but to offer you a complete answer.
    \nas the moderator-in-chief of comments placed on this website, I personally – and I require it of anyone else acting in a moderating capacity – not to allow the words that were expunged from your previous comment – to be published. 
    \nIn answer to your question above, words like Palestinian, Israeli, Jew, or any other terminology is, of course, not racist. It is the context in which it is used that can render it as being  a whole number of things such as: racist, hate-speech, gender-inequality,etc.
    \nTherefore, if you were to call me \”Jewish,\” for example, it would not hurt or slander me in any way. if, on the other hand, you were not Jewish and referred to me as a \”Jew\” or \”Yid\” I would consider you to either be uninformed or abusive. In either event it would make me uncomfortable but would not stand up to the test of an attack on my human rights. If, however, you were to say: \”All Jews make me sick because they all blah, di blah, blah…\” – this would indeed be something that would be considered abusive, dangerous, and hurtful. It could, thus, be actionable.
    \nA simple test I always ask people to take, is to replace the race, group, nation, religion, practice, etc with Judaism or Israel (which ever the case may be) and then to ask oneself: \”Would this offend me?\” 

    \ ‘


    Sep 30, 2015 at 8:43 am

    ‘Just trying to keep ourselves and our users out of the the clutches of the SA Human Rights Council and the Equality Court, Choni, nothing else…
    \nPeople all have a tendency on social media to unfairly slander and/or racially abuse an entire group of people.
    \nWe as Jews are (and rightly so) particularly sensitive to this type of unfair stereotyping and our SA communal organisations are no stranger to laying charges at the SAHRC on behalf of our community and/or Israel.
    \nIt is so easy to slip on social media, even for seasoned journalists like David (or myself, for that matter), Imagine the possible ramifications for our community, were we to wake up one morning and read a headline along the lines of \”Complaint of racism laid against Jewish leader!\”
    \ ‘

  6. Josh

    Sep 30, 2015 at 8:58 am

    ‘Mr Sifrin excellent article and very true. 
    \nMilitary might is a very short sighted and very unsustainable peace method. This has nothing to do with Religion it has everything to do with politics. What is going on in the Middle East is a very human, very political agenda and we simply have people using religion as the excuse and method to drive an agenda. The point is that a peace needs to be brokered. Its not a question of if but rather when. 
    \nCan we be adult enough to admit that we need a two state solution where people are safe within secure borders, Israelis and Palestinians alike. Instead of resorting to racist or vitriolic sentiment towards a man like Mr Sifrin who has the right idea.

  7. Choni

    Sep 30, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    ‘The \”minute\” you have another Arab state (two-state solution) you will have millions of Syrian refugees in your ‘back-yard’.

  8. Josh

    Oct 1, 2015 at 7:44 am

    ‘Those refugees Choni are human being who are being hunted and persecuted by ISIS and are not the problem here. Dont turn the victims into the problem thats a very World War 2 mentality. 

    A two state solution is the ONLY solution. Whats the alternative? A one state solution? Then youll lose Israel democratically. Please do not be short sighted enough to think it wont happen. 

  9. Choni

    Oct 2, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Israel did not regain sovereignty of its land after 2000 years of exile for its inhabitants to die in the name of democracy, and to live in a country with hordes of psychotic murderers.

    But according to Josh these are also human beings (and so are ISIS).

    \”He will drive the enemy before you and will proclaim, Expel! Israel will then dwell securely alone\” (Deuteronomy 33; 27-28 Parsha this week).

    \”When you drive out the inhabitants of the Land then you shall be privileged to inherit the Land and pass down to your children. But if you do not drive them out,even though you will conquer the land you will not be able to pass it on to your children (Sforno on the above Parsha).

    Torah Judaism and Western democracy are diametric opposites. They cannot co-exist.

  10. Josh

    Oct 9, 2015 at 11:12 am

    ‘So whats your alternative Choni?

    Abolish democracy? Establish a religious dictatorship? 

    Yes ISIS are humans. What would you suggest they are? They are humans who are evil, disgusting, brutal and the lowest of the low but they are human do not make out like they are not using religion for a very human goal. Greed, money, and power.

    What Israel is is a democracy, is democracy flawed 100% it is but freedom is better then subjugation. I had no idea we were competing with perfection?  

    The current system is flawed because religious extremists will not be content to be equal with others. They have to feel high and mighty in order to be happy. 

    That is why democracy is not 100% working. 

    The reality is you cannot displace people who are legally entitled to be in a country Choni that is not the way fairness and equality work.

    You cannot remove the humanity and compassion from religion or you get tyranny. I may not be able to parrot out religious text like you but I do know for a fact it says in the Torah to treat the foreigner in your land with dignity and that there is a concept of treating all people as equals as we are all created in the image of G-d. When you hate people you hate G-d as we are all created in His image. 

    Lets no use Religion to advance our personal agendas and hates’

  11. Choni

    Oct 11, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    ‘My alternative Josh is to wait and see when Israel becomes an authentic Torah state which , Baruch Hashem, is well underway.

    Religious schools and Yeshivas are thriving and growing at unprecedented levels, and over 50% of army officers are religious. Over half of world Jewry now lives in their own.

    People can discuss and debate all day long about the only Jewish country we have. Bottom line is that Israel is the country God has given to His people to live according to the Torah, and that is what is every Jew knows in his heart, even you, Josh.

    Only belief and faith in the God of Israel will allow the Jewish state of Israel to survive. Without God and Torah there can be no Israel. And , yes, Josh there is nothing wrong in hating those who hate Israel as a Jewish state, as do millions of Arabs both inside and outside of the Holy Land.


  12. Josh

    Oct 13, 2015 at 6:59 am

    ‘To paraphrase the great reverend Martin Luther King, Jr \”Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love… Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate, but to win friendship and understanding. 

    This is the way peace will be achieved Choni. As I have said I have no doubt in G-d. I have however a very uneasy alliance with his fan club. I find too often religion gets used to promote personal agendas. 

  13. Baruch

    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    ‘Josh, Geoff and others that support or worse, demand, a two state solution. I have a number of comments.
    \n 1) You need to learn more. Before you can push for a two state solution you have to answer the following questions
    \na) if it never worked before why would it work now.
    \nb) if it went so badly with Gaza what will prevent Judea and Samaria from being any different – the stakes are much high with the proximity to the center of the country.
    \nc) if the Palestians have rejected the two state solution (on at least two occassions explicit offers but many many more declerations of principle) then how do you force them to?
    \nd) As Choni alluded to – how do you prevent Judea and Samaria from becomming a conduit for millions of ISIS fighters
    \n2) You need to learn more about the demographic data. I would urge you both to step out of your echo chamber and read the other side. Caroline Glick’s book has a thorough and comprehensive debunking of the demographic bomb myth. But in case your echo chambers are a little too cozy, I’ll goive you the spoiler: If Israel were to Annex Judea and Samaria and give every single Arab there Israeli citizenship Jews would still retain a 66% majority in the whole of Israel. And with current fertility and immigration rates, we would return to 80% within 20 years.
    \nLastly, and I say this knowing millions of Jews in the diaspora love Israel and only mean for the best, and I am sure you fall into this category.
    \nHowever. I believe that when commenting on Israe lyou need to have the understanding that risks you advocate Israel take do not affect you. If you were one pushing for the disengagement from Gaza from the comfort of your Cape Town living room, you might have had good intentions then but you weren’t running to your bomb shelter a couple times a day last summer suffering the consequences of your good intentions. Even if you believe strongly in the two state solution it is beyond niave,
    \nIt is absurd, to suggest that it is not risky. To give Arabs a State within mortar range of 70% of the population is a risk. I believe that if it is not a risk you and your family will be exposed to then you have no right to demand others take that risk. Its offensive.
    \n\”You must take risks for peace\” is offensive. If it is the lives of me and my family on the line then let me make the risk assessment – which is the greater risk – the status quo, your two state solution, or another solution you may not have entertained. If Israel chooses to forgo democracy in the name of survival (not that that is necessary) then unless you are willing to put your children on a bus in Jerusalem every day, then its Israel’s choice to make.
    \nThere is a reason that Israel is overwhelmingly against a two state solution. The polls that show Israelis would accept a Palestinian State always ask the following question: Assuming it would bring a secure and lasting peace would you accept it? But when asked do they think its at all possible that it could they answer differently. And when election time comes the county is so overwhelmingly against it that the left wing parties that support it had to ignore the whole idea for the campaign and focus only on economic issues. They even had to avoid calling themslves left because the country is so angry with the left for Oslo and the havock it has reigned since.
    \nThe reason is we live with risks, we understand what it means if your suggestion doesn’t quite work out.
    \nTo the moderator: I don’t know exactly what your censored from Choni’s post but from your response it seems that it was not a derogatory word just a cntext that would be insulting. Ok, thats fine but remember that freedom of speech is there to protect speech we don’t like, not speech we like – that doesn’t need protection. So in the non-Stalinist world the bar is usually – Is this speech calling for violence or hate speech. Not is it offensive. But I can see why you did what you did – Orwell meant 1984 as a warning, the Left took is a guidebook.

    \nNice post and a well-made argument, Baruch. The moderation was for both for Choni’s and our own protection as it represented racism under SA law. It is okay to say something like \”The Palestinians who carry out stabbing attacks…\” but not okay to say \”The Palestinians…\” as a race. I always advise our posters to imagine whether, if they were to replace the terms ‘Palestinians’ or ‘Arabs’ with ‘Israelis’ – would it feel like racism? Similarly, a comment about all Muslims is as racist as a comment about all Jews.


  14. Choni

    Oct 23, 2015 at 7:35 am

    ‘Thanks Baruch! Where have you been all this time?

    Your comment and analysis is spot on, and is closest to solution of this religious conflict as can be found in the Tanach.

    It is high time that the only Jewish newspaper in S.Africa gives an alternative opinion to Geoff Sifrin’s weekly column which purports to give a neutral perspective on the Israeli/Arab conflict.

    There can be no neutrality on this issue.

    The solution to the conflict is clearly stated in the Torah, and as our editor has said \”nobody should question our Torah\”‘

  15. Baruch

    Oct 29, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    \nI wouldn’t suggest that you do anything illegal. But if it really is illegal to say offensive things then SA does not have freedom of speech because as I said, speech we like is not the speech that needs protection. Your \”replace yourself\” analogy is meaningless – if I replace Jew or Israeli and find it offensive or racist then the concept of freedom of speech is no less applicable. Essentially what you said is that  you don’t beleive people should be allowed to say these things and you evidence is that you don’t want them said about you. OK. But then there is no freedom of speech. The only legitimate sensorship is for hate speech, as defined as calling for violence. Anything less is pure sensorship of what I don’t like. A generalization to a population group is not a call to violence. But the law is the law, and you must follow the law.
    \n Thank you. Where have I been. I generally don’t read the SAJR as it is usually leftist dribble with little understanding of what is really going on. But I like to not remain in an echo chamber and so try to read leftist material and although I try to keep it to more educated sources every now and then wander over here, probably due to some unhealthy desire to be annoyed but maybe because I still feel connected to the SA Jewish community. The saddest thing is that Geoff really does think he is neutral and he really does love Israel. Many Jews, not just in SA, have been corrupted by the pervasive mantra of a two state solution such that I have met people who love Israel so much they world lay down their lives to protect her but believe in a two state solution, that risks destroying her – because since 1993 they have heard nothing but two state solution is the only solution and everything else means an end to Israel. And sadly these people have never had the need to invest time and energy in analyzing this premise.
    \n I agree that there can be no neutrality. In the fight against evil, neutrality is itself the greatest evil. And before the moderator gets his delete button warmed up, when I say evil here I refer to those that state, by word or by action, they want to destroy Israel and/or kill Jews.
    \n Regarding the solution being clearly stated in the Torah – as a shomrei mitzvos poerson I will not question the Torah. But we need to be very careful with our analysis of it, particularly when we biased (noge’ah bedavar) and when there is no clear consensus among those who know much more Torah than we do. The situation is nuanced. There are local, regional and global geopolitical consequences for any action we may take. The Torah can definitely guide us in terms of what not to do but I see nowhere that it tells us what the solution is.


    It is really very simple: If you say \”The Arab terrorists who stab Jews in Israel are blah blah blah…\” then it is offensive and allowed. If, however, you say \”All Arabs are blah blah blah…\” then it is considered hate speech and racism in SA and, for that matter, in Israel. Sadly, in the US, people are allowed to use hate-speech and racism against anyone, including Jews. I would rather live without being insulted for my race or religion, but for what I do. Wouldn’t you?







  16. Choni

    Oct 29, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    ‘Shalom Baruch, It is really a pleasure to read your analysis.

    Rabbi Meir Kahana zt’l ,in all his writings clearly states his solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict. All his solutions are from the Tanach and Talmud, and have been proven to be correct since the reconquest of Eretz Yisrael.

    With faith in Hashem all local global and geopolitical consequences become irrelevant if His commandments are followed.

    Please remain on this site. Your imput is much needed in this \”exile\” community. I certainly need an ally.

    Choni Davidowitz (83)’

  17. Baruch

    Oct 29, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    ‘I know it is simple. But its not free. Thats fine. I wasn’t debating the merits of truth freedom of expression vs limits and censorship. I was simply stating a fact – Either there is free speech, or there isn’t. Maybe its better to not have. Thats a long discussion.
    \nBut where you wrong, I beleive, is that if a person says \”the Arab terrorists that stab Jews are….\” that is not offensive. If you believe that it is then you are giving moral legitimacy to the terrorists. Once you have defined the group you are speaking about as people trying to kill innocent Jews, there is nothing you can say about them that should be considered offensive by any person with a minimal sense of morality.
    \nNow regarding your preference to live without free speech. It might be nice but here is the problem – who decides what to enforce? Well, thats even more simple – the people in charge. But who guards the guards? Meaning – you are entriely dependent on the moral integrity of the politicians in power to equally enforce the rules against those they agree with and those they do not. Needless to say, moral integrity and politician are not words commonly found together in the same sentence. Beyond that, it is human nature to be biased, not just politicians nature. So you run the risk of ending up very censored whilst your oppostion runs a muck. This is the case in Israel right now. The left dominated courts and justice system have come down very hard on people for everything from facebook jokes to Torah commentaries yet have absolutely ignored explicit calls for civil war and other violence by people on the left. Now I’m not suggesting the right would be any different if they were in power, as I said, it is human nature to be biased. But as soon as you have a system dependent on the discretion of those in power – you will be abused.
    \nIs this worse than a society where hate speech is allowed. Maybe.


    Hi again Baruch. I don’t mean to continue this endles.sly, nor to pick every word too carefully. Freedom should always be linked to responsibilities – something that led our Chief Rabbi, a lawyer by education, to draft a charter of responsibilities studied by all SA pupils today.
    \nMy reference to \”not offensive\” that you refer to in par #2, means not offensive in the eyes of the law – i.e. Legal. It doesn’t seek to legitimise or deligitimise anything. To say \”All Arabs\” is illegal, even though I can use it here by way of explaining. To say define a specific sub-group does not constitute racism. Would you be happy if the law allowed people to say publically that \”all Jews are savages\” because a specific Jew or group of Jews always behave like savages?
    \nI agree with you 100% that these matters cannot be left to politicians. That is why I like the fact that they are governed both as rights and as responsibilities in our constitution, and Israel’s Basic Law.
    \nOf course, incitement to violence such as talk of civil war should not be published in any public domain, anywhere, anyhow. Where democracy exists, surely such decisions should be discussed in the ballot boxes.
    \nOthers, of course, are welcome to express their opinions and chat  -ANT


  18. Baruch

    Oct 30, 2015 at 4:52 pm


    At first I read the end of your comment and thought that writing \”this discussion has run its course\” in capital letters was a not so subtle way of getting the last word in and then shutting me up. Then I realized t cannot possibly be that – you only support censorship where there is hate speech and I certainly am not engaging in that. So it must be your sense of humour

    I did not deny the virtues of censorship but rather I said two things

    1) If you have censorship you don’t have full freedom of expression

    2) There is no such thing as a free lunch, or in this case a free right. The right to not be offended will limit your right to freedom of expression. Each country should choose the balance for themselves at the ballot box.

    \”I agree with you 100% that these matters cannot be left to politicians. That is why I like the fact that they are governed both as rights and as responsibilities in our constitution, and Israel’s Basic Law

    The presence is the constitution does not protect the laws from abuse by politicians, it only means the only line of the defense is the courts. If you have an ideologically motivated court, as we do in Israel (see Aahron Barak’s term judicial activism), then there will be biased application of the law.

    I agree this argument has run its course – because we are discussing different points. You are extolling the virtues of limits on free speech and I am saying, you are right there are many virtues, but that comes with a price and it is juvenile to deny that. Each society must decide for themsleves where they want the balance to lie.

    But back to Israel and the two-staters

    Two marvelous articles this week for anyone interested in actually understanding the history

    The first was in Haaretz. Now I don’t know how it got in there and I’m sure someone has been fired but authorizing such non leftist thinking to be printed in the holy shrine of leftist media. But nevertheless the appeared an article discussing how all the polls and the data pointed to the fact that had Rabin not been murdered in 1995 he would still have lost the next election to Netanyahu. This is tremendous because without the claim the the peace process only failed because Rabin was killed, the left don’t have much to go on. If the darling of the left would not have succeeded then no-one would have.

    The second is by Caroline Glick. She takes it one step further. She brings a lot of evidence, including testimony of senior Rabin politicans and even his own daughter, that had Rabin not been murdered he would have cancelled the peace process himself and in fact was on the verge of doing exactly that. The most amusing part is where she points out that his plan look almost the same as the current Jewish Home plan, nothing like the current left’s vision.

    Good Shabbos’

  19. Ant Katz, online editor

    Nov 1, 2015 at 10:05 am

    ‘Hi Baruch. I quite explicitly said that \”I\” had said my say and invited yourself and others to continue the conversation. I in no way suggested that the discussion in general had run its course. After all, we’re Jews, no discussion is ever over!!

    🙂 Ant’

  20. Baruch

    Nov 2, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    ‘Ant, Well said


    Rav Kahane Z\”tl gave guidelines but he nor the Torah give specifics. Moreover he was murdered aroubd 20 years ago. To illustrate how local factors change ideological solutions – as Caroline says in the above mentioned article, Bayit Hayehudi’s current plan most closley resembles Rabin’s plan more than any other (food for thought for current leftists). Meaning 20 years of Oslo disaster has created \”facts on the ground\” that make it unrealistic to simply revert to pre-1993 days. Even the person whom I consider to be the most ideiologogical, honest and realistic politician in Israel, Moshe feiglin, does not advocate for reverting to a pre-Oslo state nor for Rav Kahane’s solutions. It is true that there is not a single thing that Rav Kahane predicted that has not come true. People can take issue with his rhetoric (his language deliberately harsh) but factually he has been shown to be prophetic. That does not mean that his solution (annexation and transfer) is applicable today. It does mean however that when formulating a solution, one should heed his warnings and make sure that whatever solution is found, it is able to protect against that which he warned of.

    One can be true the Torah and to visionaries such as Rav Kahane whilst still being tactical and realistic.


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