More and more frequently, I am confronted with alarming examples of the growing chasm between Israeli Jews and American Jews. Sometimes it is the Israeli misperception of American Jewish life that rankles me. On other occasions, I am dumbfounded by the lack of understanding of Israeli realities and sensibilities on the part of American Jews.
I would put an opinion piece by Joshua Bloom, Director of Israel Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America published Tuesday in the Huffington Post into the latter category. In his article, Blum criticizes Gadna experiences for North American teens visiting Israel. Gadna (an acronym for g’dudei noar ivri, which means “the Hebrew youth battalion”), is the Israel Defense Force’s pre-military program for pre-army age teens. Gadna is staffed by IDF soldiers, and a minimum week-long Gadna stint has, in recent years, become a typical component (sometimes optional, sometimes mandatory) of many youth group Israel adventures.
Bloom seems to think that there is no justifiable reason for a week of Gadna on these trips. For him, American Jewish youth learning about life in the army, visiting different kinds of military bases, engaging in physical challenges, learning orienteering and survival skills, getting briefed on IDF history, and training to shoot a weapon amount to “the promotion of violent institutions.”
I beg to differ. I personally did Gadna for three summers in a row when I was a teenager back in the mid-1980’s, well before it was a common thing to do. And I didn’t just do one-week stints — I toughed it out for six weeks at a time. Those 18 weeks were probably the most formative ones of my life. Looking back nearly 30 years later, I can say unequivocally that I emerged from those summers not only more physically fit, but also a different, more aware person. And let me assure you, I did not turn out to be a promoter of violent institutions.
Is Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on his way out? Jonathan Tobin certainly seems to think so. In a blog post for Commentary, where he is the editor, he posits that Fayyad’s approach to governance and to foreign affairs places him outside the Palestinian mainstream.
Citing Fayyad’s comments in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle of London, Tobin writes, “With this sort of a platform, he’d probably have an easier time getting elected to the Knesset than to the Palestinian parliament.”
Trouble is, Tobin offers no evidence of Fayyad’s unpopularity among his people and in fact, recent polling shows the opposite.
Fred Karger, the gay Jewish Republican presidential candidate the Forward profiled last week, had a bit of a rough time in the New Hampshire primaries last night.
Karger, whose slogan is “Fred Who?”, garnered 346 votes, good for about .1% of the GOP vote.
He did have a dogfight with former candidate Michele Bachmann, whose name remained on the ballot even though she quit the race last week.
After swapping positions with Bachmann all night long, he wound up just three votes behind her, with all 301 precincts reporting.
For a little perspective, Karger trailed the last place top-tier candidate Rick Santorum, who won 23,085 votes.
Karger did beat onetime frontrunner Herman Cain, who earned only 155 votes.
Karger also earned fewer than half as many votes as Vermin Supreme, a candidate in New Hampshire for the Democratic presidential nomination, who appeared at a recent local debate wearing a boot hat.
Attempts to reach Karger on Wednesday morning were unsuccessful.
So if there was one overwhelming message out of New Hampshire tonight — after watching the 2nd and 3rd and 4th and 5th runners up pathetically grasping to put a positive spin on their losses (Huntsman: “Third place is a ticket to ride!”) — it was that Mitt Romney is looking pretty inevitable.
You’ll hear that from everyone this evening. And I don’t really have anything new to add to this blindingly obvious reality.
That being said, it looks like South Carolina is set to play the role it has in primaries past — as the very last stand. Gingrich is going to continue his Sheldon Adelson-fueled attacks on Romney over his years at Bain Capital; Santorum will try to stick a fork in Perry and become the social conservative candidate going forward; Paul will continues collecting his delegates so that he can imprint his message on the party’s platform.
But from the vantage point of tonight, Romney looks set to keep rolling along. And from our narrowly parochial view of things here, that means one thing for the Jews: By Florida, your grandparents’ vote won’t really matter.
By the time Jews get to weigh in as a community — though, admittedly, that elderly, reflexively pro-Israel part of the community that is assumed to be mad at Obama — it looks like it will all be wrapped up for Mr. Inevitability.
Republicans talked tough on Iran in the lead-up to today’s New Hampshire primary, but it wasn’t Jewish voters they were hoping to impress.
At the January 7 Republican presidential debate, Rick Santorum called Iran “the most pressing issue we deal with today.” Frontrunner Mitt Romney accused President Obama of failing to demonstrate to the Iranians a willingness to use military force to prevent them from building a nuclear arsenal.
Their strong words may appeal to some Jewish Republicans, but Republican Jews aren’t their main targets. That’s because there aren’t many Jews in New Hampshire at all, let alone Jewish Republicans.
And the candidates don’t seem to be going out of their way to appeal to the few Jewish voters as they campaign for the January 10 New Hampshire primaries, the first actual traditional secret ballot votes in the 2012 cycle.
“I haven’t heard of one [Republican campaign] event in New Hampshire that was specifically geared to the Jewish community,” said Jeff Fladen, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire. “Not one.”
Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has donated $5 million to a super political action committee that supports Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, the Washington Post reported.
The donation to the Super PAC Winning Our Future could be part of a conservative effort to level the playing field as the GOP campaign moves to South Carolina and Florida later this month. Pro-Mitt Romney Super PACs flooded the airwaves with ads in Iowa, helping the former Massachusetts governor eke out a narrow win.
As the Forward reported in December, Adelson has been a major Gingrich supporter for decades. Best known as a donor to Jewish and conservative causes, Adelson ranked eighth on Forbes’s 2011 list of the wealthiest Americans.
The pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future has yet to report the Adelson donation. The $5 million donation, which the New York Times also reported came from Adelson, could have a significant impact on the Super PAC’s role in upcoming primaries. Winning our Future spent only $1.2 million in support of Gingrich as of January 2, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, whereas the pro-Romney Restore our Future has spent $4.4 million opposing Gingrich.
Never heard of Fred Karger? He doesn’t mind. Most people haven’t — so few, in fact, that the slogan of his unlikely Republican presidential campaign, and the title of his campaign biography, is, “Fred Who?”
As a GOP presidential candidate, Karger is an anomaly. Not only does he have zero name recognition, Karger is Jewish. Plus, he says he is the first openly gay person to ever run for president as a Republican.
“The younger people are complete social moderates and resent Rick Santorum and that type of politics,” Karger said, referring to the former Pennsylvania senator who is known for his social conservatism, particularly on issues of homosexuality.
Karger, who calls himself a Rockefeller Republican, is pro-choice, supports gay marriage, and wants American troops out of Afghanistan. His family has roots in Chicago, where his great grandfather founded the local Jewish federation. Karger lives in Laguna Beach, Calif. and is a member of a Reform synagogue there called Kol Ami.
So where are we now that the decidedly low-tech process known as the Iowa caucuses is completed, all the little slips of paper have been counted and Mitt Romney was ahead by just eight votes?
I can think of three basic takeaways and they coincide with the three candidates who have emerged last night as the frontrunners in this race.
1) Mitt Romney: He still seems like Mr. Inevitable. But despite eking out the narrowest win in U.S. political history, the results actually seem to have exposed his weakness. He can’t seem to break a ceiling of around 25%, which is pretty much what he got last go around in Iowa when he didn’t have the frontrunner aura about him. What this means going past New Hampshire (a state he is sure to win) is hard yet to tell. On the face of it it reinforces the idea that the Republican Party might have a nominee that it’s base just isn’t that excited about.
2) Rick Santorum: We are going to be seeing more of the sweater vest, it seems. Seemingly out nowhere, Santorum has surged and came within a whisker of winning. He is really the biggest winner of the night, if only because expectations for him were so much lower. And he also gets to claim the mantel of the social conservative candidate, possibly soaking up the support that was spread between him, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.
3) Ron Paul: He didn’t win the caucuses, which would have really caused Republicans to have to stop and take stock of what his popularity means for the state of the party. But he’s not going away either, nor is the problematic nature of his views. Will he continue to have enough support that the other candidates have to adopt some of his isolationism?
All of this should force Republican Jews to ask themselves three questions:
I used to see them fairly often in airports, nicer hotels or restaurants. Living in Eastern Europe, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and later working for a non-profit in Russia, I’d become adept at spotting other Americans in public.
I sized them up, taking into account the color and style of their clothing, their footwear, and the snatches of conversation I overheard: Businessman? NGO worker? Diplomat? Missionary?
There was one group of Americans whose reason for being in Russia was much easier to guess. With strollers in tow, they were on the final leg of an international adoption journey, preparing to bring a Russian child home.
When I read about Russia’s recent ban on adoptions by U.S. citizens, I couldn’t help but think of these families, as well as the children I’ve met in Russian orphanages, and the little Tatianas, Sergeys and Svetlanas I got to know, on paper at least, during my brief stint processing post-adoption reports at a U.S. child assistance foundation.
The reports showed pictures of Russian kids, sometimes with new names like Jessica or Jacob, celebrating the Fourth of July, playing soccer and blowing out birthday candles with their American siblings. But as these adoptive families build new traditions together, most do want their Russian children to know where they came from.
Eric Cantor on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, grilled by Leslie Stahl on why most Jews are Democrats, unthinkingly digs himself into a hole and then tries pathetically to get out of it. He starts by saying it’s been “the bane of my existence for a long time,” being a serious, devoted member of a community that’s basically Democratic.
But what is it that makes most Jews Democrats, Stahl asks again. Now Cantor steps in it: It’s because Judaism places a high priority on concern for the less fortunate, which leads them to…um, never mind.
“It’s Tikun Olam. That is a concept in Judaism which means repair the world – and it’s a very charitable concept. And it’s that way in the Christian faith and others as well, that you give back. And clearly there is the ability to characterize all the social programs that exist at the federal level as reflecting that need to repair the world and to help those who can’t help themselves.”
Whoops, says Cantor’s facial expression, did I just say that? Can I leave yet? Stahl, meanwhile, is pouncing. “I know,” she says, “but you’ve taken a lot of criticism from American Jews for being a Republican. I mean, you go out and look at what’s said about you…”
Cantor comes back with a quick recitation of America’s fine charitable tradition and the right of middle class people to keep what they earn, but he’s toast. Watch:
Here is the full “60 Minutes” segment.
“All the people who live in the West Bank are Israelis. They are not Palestinians. There are no Palestinians.”
— Rick Santorum
Marching in the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s Day, the Pulaski High School “Red Raiders” Marching Band, honoring their home-state University of Wisconsin Badgers. They proceed smartly through the streets of Pasadena, California, playing “On Wisconsin.” Then they stop in front of the reviewing stand—apparently an unplanned stop, as the announcers seem surprised—and while marching in place, play a round of a newer state anthem. It starts at 1:09. See if you recognize the song. (Answer after the jump.)
With Iowa’s caucuses set for tonight, Republican hopefuls are doubling down on their rhetoric on the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions in an apparent effort to distance themselves from GOP candidate Ron Paul.
Front-runner Mitt Romney, dark horse Michele Bachmann, and the late-surging Rick Santorum all promised a readiness to launch military strikes on Iran if sanctions failed to stifle the country’s alleged nuclear program.
Their threats are in stark contrast to the position of Paul, who is close to the lead in most Iowa polls. Paul opposes a military strike on Iran, telling voters January 30 that the Iranians “don’t threaten our national security.”
“The reason that they’re talking about it now is that the vast majority of Republican primary voters and caucus voters are very passionate about this issue,” Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project told the Forward. “It’s become a real litmus test and a real values tests, and there is real difference between the candidates.”
Jewish Democrats don’t have a say in who wins tonight’s Iowa’s Republican caucuses. But they do have opinions about which candidate President Obama should be pulling for.
Most hope an arch-conservative like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry takes the key contest, beating frontrunner Mitt Romney and dark horse Ron Paul.
If one of the right-wingers go on to win the nomination, he or she would presumably repel independents in the general election, leading to an easier path to reelection for Obama.
“The Jews want Obama, so presumably we want whoever Obama could most easily beat,” said Steve Rabinowitz, president of Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications and a Democratic publicist. “Unless that person could actually get elected.”
Even if one of the longshots does well enough to force Romney into a tough primary fight, it might soften him up for a contest with Obama in the fall, analysts say.
“Obama supporters will be praying for [an] extreme right conservative victory in Iowa,” centrist Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf wrote in an email.
The ongoing protests against the exclusion of women from the public sphere by some Haredim, and counter-protests by Haredi activists who say they are maligned by critics, have everyone in Israel talking. The subject was quite provocative enough.
And then came the Holocaust reference to make it even more so. On New Year’s Eve night, 1,500 Haredim protested in Jerusalem against what they termed “incitement” of secular Israelis against them. Some of them also donned mock outfits from Nazi death camps and yellow stars.
The Jerusalem Post publishes a picture of some protestors kitted out in stars.
It quotes one of the protesters saying: “What’s happening is exactly like what happened in Germany.” He elaborated: “It started with incitement and continued to different types of oppression. Is it insulting that we wear these stars? Absolutely, and it hurts people to see this, but this is how we feel at the moment, we feel we are being prevented from observing the Torah in the manner in which we wish.”
Two very important articles in Haaretz this week that shed light on the violent extremism emerging from the two main streams of Israeli Orthodoxy.
One, a feature article in today’s weekend section by senior correspondent Yair Ettinger, focuses on the growing furor over Haredi extremism, assaults on women’s rights and the violence in the Haredi sections of Bet Shemesh. He cites a open letter published this week by the top leader of the “Lithuanian” (non-Hasidic Haredi) wing, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, urging Haredim to resist vocational education, military service and other efforts to integrate them into general society. Ettinger’s main point, though, is that Elyashiv’s letter, and the violent extremism of a few hundred fanatics, reflect the desperation of the losing side as pragmatism and economics drive more Haredim toward integration in the job market and the army.
Equally important is this news article from Wednesday’s paper, reporting that police have “discovered” the right-wing militants who attacked the Ephraim army base on the West Bank December 12 were mostly students at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, brought up to the base by chartered bus following careful surveillance of the base by activist leaders. This punches a big hole in all the hand-wringing and whining by settler leaders and their apologists (see here, here and here) about the rioters being a rabble of alienated, out-of-control hilltop youth and “violent youth gangs” beyond the reach of the rabbis and responsible Religious Zionist leadership. Mercaz Harav is the Harvard of Religious Zionism and the birthplace of the settler movement. What happens there isn’t outside the mainstream. It is the mainstream.
“Jewish Tech” blogger Rabbi Jason Miller asks a useful and important question in his Jewish Week column this week, namely: How do you spell Hanukkah? Unfortunately, he starts off with an incorrect premise, then looks for an answer in the wrong place and leads his readers on a bit of a goose chase. He ends up, strangely enough, in the right place.
Let’s start by acknowledging that the question looks odd in print, since in the course of asking, we have to spell it. Having said that, Miller gamely leads in the wrong direction and makes up an answer by asserting that there’s no correct spelling. “Since it’s a Hebrew word that is transliterated into English, there are several acceptable spellings,” he writes, quoting his own column from last year. He’s writing about it again this year, it seems, because “people still want to know if there is a consensus.”
He goes on to note the myriad ways of spelling “Gaddafi” (“or is it Kadhafi or Qaddafi?”) and concludes that our December Spelling Dilemma is the same chartless jungle. His solution: Go to Google, and see which spelling gets the most hits. Answers: Number 1 is Hanukkah, with 8,470,000 hits, followed by Chanukah with 3,390,000.
Well, those are the right answers, but the way we got there does the reader a disservice. Spelling isn’t a popularity contest. It follows rules. It may evolve over time, but it will still reflect a language’s historical evolution. As for transliteration, it’s a system of spelling with defined rules. There are right and wrong ways to render words from one alphabet into another. The fact that many people don’t know them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
The tough part about transliteration is that there are two different systems. Not three or four or many—just two. But that’s enough to make many people think there’s no system at all. So let’s look at the rules.
Yet another embarrassment to Israel’s prime minister in his effort to drum up support for a military attack on Iran: Haaretz reports that the newly appointed director of the Mossad intelligence agency, Tamir Pardo, downplayed the severity of the Iranian nuclear project, telling a closed gathering of senior Israeli diplomats that an Iranian nuclear weapon is not necessarily the “existential threat” it’s often described as being.
“What is the significance of the term existential threat?” the ambassadors quoted Pardo as asking. “Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.”
Remember, Pardo was appointed a year ago to replace the legendary, long-serving Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who has since called a military attack on Iran “the stupidest idea I ever heard” and worried aloud that his successor wouldn’t be able to stand up against a trigger happy prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak. Dagan has said he fought for years, together with the Shin Bet director and military chief of staff, to restrain the two from “adventurism.” All three security chiefs were replaced this year with newcomers who were supposed to be more compliant.
Nothing like good news to ruin an Israeli prime minister’s day. And that’s not the end of it:
Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev scores an interview (via email) with Ron Paul, who seems to think he’s the only true Zionist in the race. How’s that? Well, Paul says,
Two of the tenets of a true Zionist are “self-determination” and “self-reliance.” I do not believe we should be Israel’s master but, rather, her friend. We should not be dictating her policies and announcing her negotiating positions before talks with her neighbors have even begun.
Paul also tells Chemi that American support for Israel was “a major factor” in causing the September 11 attacks (though he adds: “That in itself does not make our policies right or wrong”). Also of note: He has “no intention or interest in running as a third party candidate.”
Also worth a read: Chemi’s previous blog post, laying out the most cogent case I’ve seen yet that Obama may be preparing an attack on Iran’s nuclear installations as an October surprise.
And speaking of vital interviews on contemporary Jewish affairs, don’t miss this clip in which Scarlett Johansson aces (almost) MTV host Josh Horowitz’s Jewish literacy quiz. Key moments: Johansson defending gefilte fish, singing “I Have a Little Dreidel” (watch her non-Jewish co-star Matt Damon squirm as he tries to keep up with the rapid-fire questioning):
A brief addendum to Gal’s earlier post on Ron Paul.
The New York Times published a thorough piece this weekend examining Paul’s much-discussed relationship with the racist fringe of the libertarian spectrum. The story, which reported that Paul doesn’t agree with his most extreme followers but that he won’t reject their support, is well worth reading.
But two lines near the top of the article — both of which appeared on the front page of the edition of the Times I read on Sunday — struck me as odd. My questions are more or less semantic quibbles relating to the line between a fierce rejection of Israel and a hatred of the Jewish people, but both bear mention due to the story’s front page play.
In the fifth paragraph, the Paul story reads:
“The white supremacists, survivalists and anti-Zionists who have rallied behind his candidacy have not exactly been warmly welcomed. ‘I wouldn’t be happy with that,’ Mr. Paul said in an interview Friday when asked about getting help from volunteers with anti-Jewish or antiblack views.”