Since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, fighting around the Israel-Gaza border has been intense. The death toll stands at three on the Israeli side and 13 on the Palestinian side. A few minutes a rocket wounded ago three Israeli soldiers.
In the last 24 hours, 138 rockets from Gaza has struck Israel and Israel has targeted 156 sites in Gaza. Israel appears to have achieved some of its significant aims, in assassinating Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari and eliminating large stocks of Hamas’ long-range rockets which it feared could be used to retaliate deep in to Israel.
And so the question is: What does Israel want now? How long will it continue with its offensive?
Israel’s security cabinet is being vague in the information put out to journalists today. It decided “to continue vigorous action against the terrorist infrastructures operating from the Gaza Strip against the civilian population in Israel in order to bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel.”
Unless the aim is to end Hamas rule in Gaza which seems highly unlikely, there’s no single moment when a light flashes in Israel announcing “Game Over” or “Misssion Complete.” The various comments of Defense Minister Ehud Barak don’t give any better insight in to what is planned. Naturally, the concern isn’t that this information isn’t being made public, but rather that it stands undecided.
After Operation Cast Lead, it was widely said that Israel didn’t know when to stop and try to calm the situation. This time around, Hamas, having been humiliated with the killing of such a high-profile leader will need to appear vengeful to its followers, and will be hesitant to stop firing. The ball is in Israel’s court, but is a firm game plan there too?
When the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission was founded in 1990, sodomy laws were prevalent. Amnesty International’s platform didn’t include LGBT rights. The United States wouldn’t grant asylum to refugees on the basis of sexual orientation.
The world’s changed since then, and so has IGLHRC. Since earning consultative status at the United Nations in 2010, the organization has been a powerful voice for sexual rights at the international body, often taking on governments with less-than-friendly policies toward LGBT citizens. It’s also become a ferocious watchdog on abuse on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, shining a spotlight on serial human-rights violators across the world.
IGLHRC was founded by a Jewish woman, Julie Dorf. This month, another Jewish woman takes over as executive director. Jessica Stern, 36, had been the organization’s program director, and played a pivotal role in its U.N. accreditation. A native of Setauket, Long Island, Stern lives in Brooklyn with her partner, CUNY Law School clinical-law professor Lisa Davis, whose mother “desperately hopes we’ll get married by a lesbian rabbi.”
The Forward caught up with Stern from her office up the street from the Forward’s still-flooded building on Maiden Lane in Manhattan.
IGLHRC’s been around for 22 years. Now that you’re executive director, what do you plan to change? What do you want to continue?
Calling on the federation system to join synagogues in a fight against religious discrimination in Israel, Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs aimed to engage the broader Jewish community in the struggle for equality of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in Israel.
Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, described Israel as “the only democracy that legally discriminates against the majority of Jews who are in the non-Orthodox streams.”
He also spoke out against Israel’s decision not to allow women full access to the Western Wall, its refusal to recognize marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis and the discrimination against religious institutions affiliated with the Reform and Conservative movements.
“It is time to end this discrimination once and for all,” Jacobs declared.
While this call for arms is not new in the Reform discourse with Israel, his effort to enlist the federation system in the struggle does represent a new phase in the battle against the Orthodox denomination’s hold on Israel Jewish institutions.
It was hardly surprising that Israeli diplomat Barukh Binah refused several times to discuss the nitty-gritty of plans to confront Iran over its nuclear program at a public forum at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.
Neither was the lack of optimism voiced by any of the three panelists that increased sanctions against and diplomatic efforts toward Iran will cause a change of heart on the part of Tehran.
Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat, who served in three U.S. administrations, was the most hopeful of the speakers about the chances for diplomacy and sanctions. He believes Iran will stop short of making a nuclear bomb, but will be nuclear capable and will thereafter be able to put together a bomb within three months. Eizenstat laid out the possibilities for what will happen following the upcoming six months, which he said “will be one of intensive diplomacy and sanctions that are the most severe ever enacted against a country during peace time.”
“2013 is truly the decisive year,” he told the audience. “You and I will know before the next GA (what) will happen.”
With President Barack Obama’s reelection only a few days in the rear view mirror, the topic of the Jewish role in American politics is still brewing — and we learned some tantalizing details about Mitt Romney’s summer trip to Israel.
Democratic and Republican operatives sparred over the importance of the Jewish vote in the just-completed election at the only session devoted to discussing the results at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.
Tevi Troy, a former George W. Bush adviser who consulted the Romney campaign on Jewish issues, said the big headline coming out of the election had nothing to do with Jews.
Insteaed, it concerned the fast-growing Latino vote, which went strongly for Obama, prompting much hand-wringing about the future of the GOP.
“People are going to wonder going forward,” Troy said, “how much the Jewish vote really matters.”
Reminiscing on the golden days of Jewish American activism, two heroes of the Soviet Jewry movement took to the stage at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in its main plenary session on Monday.
Natan Sharansky, the former refusnik who is now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Nobel peace prize laureate Eli Wiesel, shared the stage as the Jewish community marked the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington, a seminal moment in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry and a high point in Jewish mobilization for a national cause.
The idea for the march on Washington, planned to coincide with a meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, came from both sides of the Iron Curtain, with activists on both ends sharing the vision of a massive call for opening immigration doors to Soviet Jews. Sharansky was released from the Russian prison several months before the December 6 protest, which brought more than 250,000 Jewish activists to the nation’s capital.
“We showed how strong we are as a people,” Sharansky said. “When we feel this power, as one people and one family, we can change the world.”
I learn a lot about leadership by overseeing the painstaking but ultimately rewarding process of compiling the Forward 50 each year, of trying to identify the American Jews who have had the greatest impact on our lives in a variety of fields, from politics to culture to sports. And I learn even more about leadership by analyzing how these 50 profiles are read.
One of the astonishing aspects of doing journalism online is that we can ascertain how many people click on a given story down to the person. In print, you can only make educated guesses about what stories are read, whether a snappy headline or a compelling photograph will entice the reader to delve deeper, or to turn the page. But online we know precisely how much traffic every item that we post receives, and this can help us understand what touches readers.
For this year’s Forward 50, readers have been touched by the heartfelt, the unusual, the unexpected. As of Monday evening, Nov. 12, the first day all 50 profiles were posted online, the most read was not about the largest political donor in the land, or the superstar singer, or the second ranking leader in the House of Representatives, or even the King of Comedy Central.
No, the most read profile was of Hindy Poupko Galena, a New York City mother who chronicled her baby daughter’s struggle against a fatal disease and galvanized an outpouring of support through cyberspace.
And the surprises continue.
Center-right commentator Shalom Yerushalmi at Maariv argues that the rockets from Gaza seem likely to turn the upcoming Israeli elections once again into a referendum on who has bigger guns, meaning a Likud reelection. Sadly, he says, that would again bury the election that seemed to be shaping up, the one that Israel deserves, the one that’s typical in normal democracies, over the country’s intolerable social and economic inequities.
This assumes, at least in part, that Israel launches a serious attack into Gaza to stop the rockets, in some sort of reprise of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Military correspondents Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff at Haaretz think that’s unlikely and will have to settle for less aggressive action, like resuming aerial targeted assassinations of Hamas leadership. They say Bibi’s freedom of action is limited because
…the diplomatic reality now is far different than it was when that offensive was launched in 2008: Israel fears a direct confrontation with the new regime in Egypt and it knows that neither the United States nor Europe will be as tolerant of a large-scale military operation this time around.
Here’s my question: Is it possible that Hamas has heated up the border, after close to three years of relative quiet (broken mainly by jihadi groups) because it wants the Likud to win – that it fears a possible victory by an Olmert- or Livni-led center-left leading to renewed negotiations with Abu Mazen? Is this Hamas’s bid to ward off a two-state solution and keep Palestine indivisible? I’m just saying …
Dozens of rockets launched by militants in Gaza have pounded down on southern Israel today, wounding three Israeli civilians. The round of violence began last night when Gazans launched an anti-tank missile which scored a direct hit, wounding four Israeli soldiers — an act that was followed by Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian targets in Gaza.
This escalation has a clear human cost. Aside from the wouned Israelis, thousands of residents of southern Israel have stopped their daily routines and sit in bomb shelters listening for “code red” announcements. On the Palestinian side, several people were killed in retaliatory strikes by Israel.
But it also has an important political impact.
Will the campaign for the coming January 22 Israeli election tackle pressing social issues head-on, as several parties hope, or will security dominate the agenda? The answer seems to change every day. For a day at least, politics in Israel seems to be a competition for who can talk tougher, who can apply more no-nonsense rhetoric about the Hamas regime in Gaza and what is coming to it.
Look at the report on today’s cabinet discussions. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Likud) remarked that the “rules of the game in the south are about to change.” Water and Energy Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) asked rhetorically if the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is “able to stop the firing from Gaza?” Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beytenu) said that “Hamas is accountable and will pay dearly.” And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he is “ready to step up our response.”
Today, politicians like these on the Israeli right can give their strategists a vacation day — the script writes itself, and trumps the centrist and left-wing parties who want a more varied pre-election discussion. But all their talk doesn’t help the residents of the south who are stuck in their shelters.
Florida’s Tea Party-backed Gov. Rick Scott announced that he will refuse to implement the Affordable Healthcare Act, despite President Barack Obama’s reelection. Refusing to set up a state exchange doesn’t necessarily matter that much, since the law empowers the federal government to set up an exchange for states that fail to do so on their own. But more than half the expanded coverage in the law is supposed to come from a federally-subsidized expansion of Medicaid. So if Scott refuses to permit his state’s Medicaid to be expanded despite the federal subsidy (the feds cover 100% of the cost of expansion through 2016, dropping to 90% by 2020 – not a big burden on the states), then the impact of the law is crippled.
Conservative groups are urging other governors to refuse.
This raises an interesting question. State nullification of federal law was supposed to have been settled by the Civil War, but it’s suddenly become a big issue again. And not just on the right. The legalization of marijuana in a growing (get it?) number of states is setting up a serious confrontation with Washington, which still classifies weed as a Class I illegal narcotic, right alongside heroin, and is still raiding growers even in states where they’re acting legally.
After President Barack Obama won reelection, controversial Florida time-share mogul David Siegel backed down from threats to fire workers who backed the president.
Siegel, who famously built the biggest private home in America, told thousands of workers their jobs were safe and even gave them an average raise of 5 percent, according to the International Business Times.
That was a big climbdown for the Jewish owner of Westgate Resorts, who blasted Obama as a job-killing disaster for the nation.
In an email to 7,000 employees, Siegel wrote in October: “When you make your decision to vote, ask yourself, which candidate understands the economics of business ownership and who doesn’t? Whose policies will endanger your job? Answer those questions and you should know who might be the one capable of protecting and saving your job.”
Fans of London’s Tottenham Hotspur soccer team have long referred to their club) as the “Yid Army”, seizing and transforming a nasty pejorative into a peculiar badge of honour, as a way of pushing back against their abusers and detractors.
Not the first time, however, this modern tradition is being called into question, with London’s Society of Black Lawyers threatening legal action against Tottenham if their supporters do not retire their chants. Chair Peter Herbert told The Daily Mail, “In discussions with members of the Jewish community, we were made aware that this practice is still continuing and it has to come to an end. If neither Tottenham FC nor the FA are willing to take a stand then we will report the matter to the Metropolitan Police for investigation and, if necessary, prosecution.”
A deadline of November 20 has been set.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reeling from not one but two disappointments on Tuesday. It is widely believed that he was desperate for Mitt Romney to win the American presidential election. But he also had an eye on another election at home.
The main religious-Zionist party Jewish Home was holding its primaries to choose a new leader, and the winner was none other than his former right-hand man who he wanted to lose.
High tech millionaire Naftali Bennett became Netanyahu’s chief of staff from 2006, and was responsible for the campaign that got him elected as Likud leader. But the two didn’t see eye to eye, and in 2008 Bennett left. Bibi was so keen for him not to be elected that his wife Sara Netanyahu was reportedly canvassing against him.
So what is it that made Netanyahu want one of Bennett’s rival primary candidates to lead Jewish Home? It’s not a subject he’s discussed but one can suppose that it’s in large part the very same things he liked about Bennett back in 2006.
Forward columnist Philologos recently took the Israeli daily Ha’aretz to task for using the term “apartheid” in its reporting on a poll that showed most Israelis support discrimination against Arab citizens. “Apartheid” and mere discrimination are two very different things, Philologos claimed. He suggested that Ha’aretz should be censured for using such a damning epithet.
Philologos went on to define what he sees the critical difference between “apartheid” and “discrimination.” The former refers to “the systematic segregation of one people, race or group from another,” while the latter means “the systematic favoring of one people, race or group over another, such as exists in numerous countries around the world today.” And while Israel may practice regrettable discrimination against its Arab citizens, he claimed it was a “lie” to suggest that it is in any way an apartheid state.
While Philologos may be a fine linguist, his knowledge of international human rights law is sorely lacking.
Contrary to Philologos’ characterization, the term “apartheid” does not refer simply to segregation, although the term comes from a word in the South African Afrikaans language that means separate-ness or segregation. In legal terms, apartheid applies to a wide range of acts in which a dominant racial regime commits institutionalized oppression against another ethnic group.
Now that the serious stuff is out of the way, let’s list the best (or worst) Jewish viral videos of the 2012 election cycle.
Silverman on Adelson
Comedian Sarah Silverman offered sexual favors to billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson in this video from the group behind 2008’s Great Schlep. Silverman’s deal: Donate to Democrats instead and, well… watch the video. Turns out she didn’t have to worry so much - nearly all of the candidates Adelson backed were defeated last night.
“Tank you Mister Obama!”
Unlike the Jewish Democrats, Jewish Republicans didn’t have a dedicated super PAC churning out Jewish-themed viral videos aimed at making Jewish Democrats look ridiculous online. That’s okay, because the Jewish Democrats did a fine job making themselves look ridiculous online on their own.
American liberals are deservingly jubilant. Our standard-bearer has been reelected, liberal heroes such as Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren have won their elections, and marriage equality triumphed in all four states where it was on the ballot. And while Congress remains divided much as it was in the previous term, important trend lines show the fragility of right-wing coalitions between white men, Christian conservatives, and other minority groups. As America grows less white and less rooted in the previous century’s values, this election bodes well for 21st century liberalism.
Statistically speaking, most Jews are likewise rejoicing. According to our best data, the Jewish political needle barely moved in 2012. Most Jews remain socially liberal, and either believe that President Obama is a strong supporter of Israel, or don’t rank that issue atop their personal-political agendas.
Meanwhile, hawkish-on-Israel candidates lost across the country: Josh Mandel to Sherrod Brown and Joe Walsh to Tammy Duckworth. That dog just don’t hunt anymore. It’s not that these elections were referenda on Israel, of course. There are other, more important, issues – and in some cases, the purported differences between the candidates were illusory. But then, that’s part of the point.
For some establishment Jews, this may feel like a rude awakening. The many professional Jews who regard “Barack Hussein Obama” as some kind of existential threat to Israel may be scratching their yarmulked heads. Likewise those Americans living in Israel who voted disproportionately for Romney. Why are American Jews so obstinate? Why can’t we see? Have we lost our love of Israel?
Israelis professed great interest in the U.S. election — but evidently not enough to lose sleep over it.
The US-Israel time difference meant that by getting up just a few minutes early, Israelis could watch the moment of truth. The Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, with the support of the Jerusalem Post, offered people the chance to take advantage of this, with a breakfast election results party at its central Jerusalem offices. There was a light breakfast, a television stream, analysis from pundits, and so that the religiously observant didn¹t need to choose between polls and praying, space was set aside for the morning service.
But despite the thousands of American voters in and around Jerusalem, there were only 20 to 50 people there at any given time. There wasn¹t a minyan or quorum of ten men for the morning service.
Those who did go along got on well, without differences in party affiliation causing any tensions. The pundits provided some worthwhile insights.
Pollster Mitchell Barak, CEO of Keevoon Research spoke of the inevitable impact on the January 22 Israeli election, saying that ³part of the campaign here now will be who will be able to get along better with the American President.
Mindy Meyer won plenty of attention for her splashy pink-themed campaign for a Brooklyn state Senate seat.
The young Orthodox law student dubbed the ‘Magenta Yenta’ did less well at the ballot box.
She was crushed by incumbent Democrat Kevin Parker by a 97%-to-3% margin. According to the Daily News, Meyer garnered just 2,553 votes in the Flatbush-based district compared to 86,697 for Parker.
Meyer burst onto the scene in the summer when politicos noticed her unusual campaign. Her website, pink and flashy, incorporated glitter and leopard print. Her slogan was: “I’m Senator and I know it.”
“I’m trying to appeal to the younger population,” explained Meyer.
The bitter fight to represent the newly redrawn 30th congressional district in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley is finally over.
Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman swamped fellow Democrat Howard Berman to win the seat. With 83% of precincts counted, he held a gaping 60%-40% lead.
The contest between the two incumbents, pitted against one another as a result of the constitutionally required redrawing of congressional districts that takes place once a decade after the completion of the national census, was bitterly fought at one of the highest costs for any congressional race.