The man once known as the intellectual godfather of the Iraq war opposes a military strike on Iran.
Bernard Lewis, 96, the British-born expert on the Middle East who enjoyed exceptionally close ties to the Bush administration, told the Forward at a gala dinner held in his honor last night that he didn’t support military action against Iran.
“I don’t think it’s the right answer,” he said.
Lewis said that he supported regime change in Iran, but that it should be achieved through U.S. support of an internal Iranian opposition.
“We should do what we can to help the Iranian opposition,” Lewis said. “We could do a lot to help them and we’re not doing a damn thing, as far as I know.”
Lewis, an emeritus professor in Princeton’s Near Eastern Studies program and a highly controversial figure in his field, has been characterized as having provided the intellectual framework for the justification of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.
While I was researching my Forward story about circumcision and pain, I realized that I didn’t know what a circumcision actually looks like. I’ve only attended one bris — apart from my own — and there I didn’t have a good line of sight to the baby.
I was particularly interested to know more about the circumcision procedure because one of the more interesting aspects of the reporting for this week’s story was that circumcision opponents are not the only people who describe the process as cruel.
Many Orthodox mohels perceive medicalized circumcision — a longer, more involved procedure than traditional circumcision — as particularly uncomfortable for babies. Even injecting anesthetic into infants is seen as painful.
Meanwhile, more liberal Jewish mohels, most of whom are doctors, think the idea of using sugar water or grape juice as the only form of anesthetic before and after removing the foreskin, as most Orthodox mohels do, is unfair to the child. Why avoid pain medication when research shows that babies feel pain and when analgesics are so prevalent today?
More than 100 American business executives descended on Cairo to discuss new investments in Egypt’s beleaguered economy. The four-day mission, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt and the U.S.-Egypt Business Council, contains representatives from some of the United States’ largest corporations, including Boeing, Citigroup, ExxonMobil, and Microsoft, along with officials from the Obama administration.
On Sunday, delegates met with Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and more meetings are scheduled with members of Morsi’s cabinet, leaders of Egyptian political parties, and Egyptian business executives.
Talks have centered on reviving an Egyptian economy left moribund by last winter’s revolution and the ensuing political turmoil. Foreign currency reserves have dwindled to less than half of their pre-revolution levels, and the country’s critical tourism industry has shrunk by at least a third.
Nevertheless, leaders of the delegation sounded an optimistic tone. According to economic analysts, Morsi’s assumption of office after over 16 months of military rule has restored a measure of stability to the Egyptian financial landscape.
While some efforts to get younger Americans involved in the political process may be fretting over the so-called “enthusiasm gap” between four years ago and today, Alan Van Capelle, isn’t worried. And he’s got the bus tour to prove it.
“There’s no gap in the community to make the world better,” Van Capelle said at a reception for the “If I Were A Rich Man Tour,” on Thursday. “We don’t sit on the sidelines.”
The “If I Were A Rich Man Tour” is a project of Bend the Arc, a liberal Jewish group that advocates for domestic social justice. The trip began on August 22 and took a diverse group of Jewish activists on the road to raise awareness about “tax fairness” in congressional districts around the country, to “stop talking about tikkun olam and start doing,” according to Van Capelle.
Doing, in this case, means asking some of the wealthiest members of Congress from both parties why they continue to support Bush-era tax cuts for those earning over $250,000 a year. It also means starting conversations with ordinary people about why they feel it’s important to pay their “fair share” of taxes.
When Rabbi Everett Gendler was released from jail in Albany, Ga., in 1962 he and the 11 other rabbis jailed with him for “public prayer without a license” each found a Western Union telegram waiting. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, sent to them a message with a verse from Isaiah 5:16 “And the Lord of Hosts is exalted by judgment, the Holy God proved holy by justice.” Rabbi Gendler said in a phone interview with the Forward that “it is clear that what he was saying is that this stance and this witnessing is what religion is about.”
At this moment when rabbis gave an invocation and a benediction at each of the major American political party conventions, the question remains what the role for religion should be in public life. Rabbi David Wolpe’s benediction at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte immediately after the roll call to nominate Barack Obama as the party candidate and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s invocation at the start of the Republican National convention in Tampa last week were very different addresses, both steeped in tradition.
They each began their address with “Ribbono shel olam” the Hebrew invocation “master of the universe.” After that, they differed, with Soloveichik taking as his Biblical text Leviticus 25:10, the verse inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, “you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitants thereof.” His emphasis was on liberty and on rights that are God-given not from government. Wolpe, by contrast, chose a prophetic teaching from Isaiah 1:17 about the sacred commitment of “defending the orphan and fighting for the widow.”
Wolpe invoked the Jewish ideals of creating a “kinder sweeter world than we have known” and requested leaders to have ”strength of soul” but never mentioned a candidate or a party by name.
The speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin, told Israeli reporters that the controversy over the mention of Jerusalem in the Democratic National Committee platform had “far-reaching significance” in harming the relationship between the Obama administration and Israel.
The deputy speaker of the Knesset disagrees.
In a conversation this morning in my office, Shlomo Molla, a member of the centrist Kadima party, argued that Israeli politicians should stay out of the American political fray.
“It is in the Israeli interest to be outside the American election, outside both sides’ propaganda. The president is the American people’s choice. It is not the Israeli people’s choice,” he told me.
Furthermore, he said it really doesn’t matter what American parties think about what is first and foremost a question for Israelis.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” Molla said. “We decided that. I don’t mind if Democrats or Republicans say what they will. It is our decision.”
When I raised Rivlin’s remarks, Molla acknowledged their differences. “Rivlin is seventh-generation Jerusalemite,” he said of the speaker. “That’s his view. That’s okay.”
Needless to say, the highlight of last night’s Democratic National Convention session was Michelle Obama’s speech.
The nationally televised speech won an ecstatic reaction from delegates in Charlotte and garnered 28,003 tweets per minute, according to USA Today.
Comments in the Jewish Twitter-sphere ranged from the First Lady’s wardrobe (love the pink) to the possibility of her launching a presidential bid of her own in 2016 (Run Michelle, run!).
What a difference four years makes. In 2008, the Democratic Party’s platform vowed “an active role” in aiding the procurement of “a lasting settlement” in the region. That accord would provide closure for Palestinian refugees via “an international compensation mechanism” and the creation of a democratic and viable homeland. The platform made reference to “the armistice lines of 1949” and favoured Jerusalem remaining the capital of Israel.
Intransigence in Israel, unilateral manoeuvres by the Palestinian Authority, and the aftershocks of the Arab Spring meant the first four years of Barack Obama’s presidency was mostly a bust for Middle East peace. And most if not all of these fairly bold pronouncements have been erased in the Democrats’ freshly-published 2012 party platform. Even though the party still supports “a just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples”, the United States’ active role has been substituted for “continuing to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace”.
The focus instead has shifted to the “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security”. The platform’s authors note that, despite budgetary constraints, “the President has worked with Congress to increase security assistance to Israel every single year since taking office, providing nearly $10 billion in the past three years” including for the Iron Dome missile defence shield. “The President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage” – including the push for Palestinian statehood at the United Nations – “are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security.”
The brother of Yitzhak Rabin’s killer has said that the assassin gets along fine with jailed Hamas terrorists and sees “no difference” between himself and the sworn enemies of Israel.
Hagai Amir made the comment in his first interview since his release in May. His brother Yigal Amir, Rabin’s killer, is still in prison.
For Hagai Amir, being in the same bracket as terrorists isn’t troubling. Asked if he feels remorse for the killing, which was intended to derail the Oslo peace process and is widely thought to have succeeded, he replied: “Of course not. It didn’t just happen out of the blue. We thought about it for two years, we acted according to the Jewish halacha, and one must not regret doing a mitzvah.”
He and his brother “did the only single act that could have been done at that particular point in time and in the conditions that were present.” He insisted: “We did not do it for us but for the Jewish people, simple as that, and behind the act was a good intention. At the end of the day, a good intention does not go to waste and it will bear fruits.” Asked is he is proud of his brother he replied “of course.”
Eight years after Israel promised America to start removing outposts and six years since the activist group Peace Now petitioned the courts to compel the government to evacuate the oldest outposts, it looks set to actually happen.
Settlers have tried to save the outpost and the government has tried to give it a stay of execution, but this week the High Court said that there’s no longer any wiggle room, and it must be evacuated by Tuesday.
Migron is the iconic outpost, meaning a settlement that is viewed as illegal by Israeli law as well as international law (which regards all settlements as illegal). Migron was build without the necessary government permits and licenses, and according to an official Israeli report stands on privately-owned Palestinian land. Its evacuation is a major victory to Peace Now and the Israeli left, and a huge blow to the settler right.
The key question today is, presuming that neither settlers nor the government manages to avert the evacuation at the last minute, what the West Bank look like on Wednesday.
Clint Eastwood’s surprise speech last night at the Republican National Convention has been described as “surreal,” “rambling,” and “sad.”
The Dirty Harry actor stole the spotlight from Mitt Romney’s nominating speech (a big no-no in the spin room) with the speech that took aim at President Barack Obama and featured an empty chair and (how could it not?) a “make my day” quote.
But what effect did Eastwood’s speech have on Jewish voters? The jury is out.
Republican political strategist Frank Luntz, talking to Charlie Rose on CBS, said the speech wouldn’t have a lasting impact, but that it may have overshadowed an important moment for Romney.
“The fact that we are talking about it now means that we’re not talking about the language and presentation that Mitt Romney put forward,” Luntz said. “It was so essential to introduce himself, his personality, his family, what he thinks, who he is.”
Sheldon Adelson is famously publicity shy, but his daughter may have taken things a bit too far at the Republican National Convention.
Shelley Adelson confronted a producer for the liberal Democracy Now show after he tried to question the casino billionaire dad about his massive donations to GOP causes.
The younger Adelson allegedly grabbed producer Eric Burke’s camera and tossed it to the ground during a heated dispute outside Adelson’s private suite at the convention.
Burke told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that Sheldon Adelson was in a wheelchair, being taken to his suite, followed by GOP kingmaker Karl Rove. Burke approached Adelson and asked his thoughts on the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket, to which Adelson replied, “No comment.”
Burke’s follow-up question, “How much money are you going to spend on this election?” was met with resistance by Adelson’s daughter and a handler, who tried to stop Burke from walking any further next to Adelson.
Video on Democracy Now’s web site shows a camera being thrown to the ground shortly after this exchange. Adelson’s daughter later apologized to Burke, according to the show.
For a convention focused on the economy and taxes at a time when foreign policy is hardly considered an issue, any mention of Israel at the GOP gathering is worth noticing.
It may not amount to 15 minutes of fame, but a 95-second video in a tight convention schedule is also something. The video, titled Israel: Cherished Memories, summarizes Mitt Romney’s July visit to Jerusalem with highlights from his speech and the obligatory photo ops at the Western Wall and with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Israel also got brief shout outs in the foreign policy speeches Wednesday of John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
But behind the scenes, Israel is a major issue for all those involved in Jewish politics and Middle East advocacy. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee held receptions for Republican lawmakers and delegates and the Republican Jewish Coalition hosted a salute for pro-Israel elected officials. Taking the stage at the event, the Senators and members of Congress made the case for voting Republican, because of Israel.
“I don’t know how there are any Jewish Democrats,” said Missouri Republican Billy Long, “With what Obama did to Bibi Netanayahu, I don’t know how there are any Jewish Democrats.”
Of all of the tough sells in this election year, you have to hand it to former George Bush speechwriter Noam Neusner for coming up with one of the toughest. In an op-ed timed to coincide with the Republican National Convention, Neusner exhorts the largely Democratic, largely Jewish readership of the Forward :
“Vote Mitt Romney. He’s the real tikkun olam candidate.”
No one knows better than Neusner, who also served the Bush White House as liaison to the American Jewish community, the level of chutzpah embodied in his call. In fact, he himself cops to it from the very beginning:
“Regular readers of these pages are most likely strong supporters in the safety net programs set up in the New Deal, Great Society, and now Obamacare legislative eras,” referencing the Democratic administrations of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon Johnson in the mid-’60s.”
“They hold these programs to be good examples of America’s capacity to care for the ill, the poor, the destitute and the aged. And they find in these programs America’s expression of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world as it is, in the service of God and Torah.”
By the end of the piece, though, Neusner suggests that it is time that American Jews - 85 percent of whom voted for Roosevelt in 1936 and 1940, 90 percent for Johnson in 1964, and nearly 80 percent for Obama in ‘08 – made a historic turn.
The Republican Jewish Coalition flexed its political muscle Wednesday evening when it attracted some 20 members of Congress and more than 100 supporters to a pro-Israel reception on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Tampa.
It was an opportunity for sitting and aspiring lawmakers to tout their pro-Israel credentials and for the RJC to demonstrate its ability to draw a nice crowd of top tier politicians in a highly competitive convention environment. Dozens of interest groups hold receptions, parties and dinners all at the same time slot, just before the prime time speeches from the main convention stage.
Highlighting the event were Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who amused the audience with a story of his joint pheasant hunting trip with RJC director Matt Brooks during which Brooks, according to Senator Thune, got shot. Texas U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz, who delivered a much noticed speech at the convention a day earlier, and Florida Congressman Alan West, a pro-Israel hawk who Democrats hope to unseat in November were also there.
“Being the number one target for liberal progressives, for J Street — I wear that as a badge of honor,” West said.
Another star guest was former presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, who demonstrated a remarkable ability to stick to her speech while protestors from the anti-war group CodePink shouted slogans and waved banners.
New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver is under fire over what the local tabloids are calling a “coverup” of sex allegations against a Brooklyn political boss.
The Orthodox Jewish speaker of the State Assembly doesn’t usually get front-page play, despite being one of the two or three most powerful people in Albany. It’s likely he would rather been left out of this story, too.
Last Friday, Silver censured Assemblyman Vito Lopez over charges that he had sexually harassed two Assembly employees. Following reocmendations of the Assembly’s ethics committee, Silver removed Lopez from the chairmanships of two committees and barred him from employed interns or people under 21.
Lopez has since said that he will relinquish his role as Brooklyn Democratic leader.
But Lopez is not the only longtime politico bruised by the scandal. Following the Friday announcement, the New York Times reported that in June, Silver had authorized a $100,000 payment to settle an earlier set of harassment charges against Lopez.
Arizona congressional hopeful Krysten Sinema prevailed last night in a closely-watched Democratic primary against two Jewish opponents.
With all precincts reporting, Sinema had 12,329 votes, or 42%, compared to 9,043, or 31% for David Schapira and 7,978, or 27% for Andrei Cherny.
As the Forward reported last month, Sinema battled claims from opponent Andrei Cherny throughout the primary race that she was anti-Israel.
“It’s this weird story that one of my opponents has decided he wants to tell,” Sinema said at the time. “So I had to spend a lot of time telling folks… the truth.”
When it comes to Israel, the Republican Party platform is noteworthy for being more of the same.
The key changes are in style and emphasis as the GOP (along with the Democrats) seek to woo pro-Israel voters. For example, the 2008 platform asserted Israel to be “a vigorous democracy, unique in the Middle East.” But this year’s edition goes much further, arguing that Israel and the United States “are part of the great fellowship of democracies who speak the same language of freedom and justice, and the right of every person to live in peace.”
Just as the 2008 Democratic Party platform asserted that the United States’ “special relationship with Israel [is] grounded in shared interests and shared values,” the Republicans now say they believe that “our alliance is based not only on shared interests, but also shared values.”
This evolution in the perception of the relationship between Israel and the United States has not necessarily altered Republican policy stances. In 2012 as in 2008, the GOP supports “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders”, maintaining “a qualitative edge in military technology over any potential adversaries”.
There’s an early entry in the category political pin of the year. Not sure how everyone missed this pun for the first eight months of the political year, but finally someone realized that Mitt Romney’s first name can be turned into a Jewish good deed without too much trying.
As the Republican National Convention officially begins today, a bit of intrigue consumed the Twitter-verse this morning.
The schedule now includes a “To be announced” speaker on Thursday night, before Sen. Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney take the podium.
So who’s the mystery man (or woman)? Your Tweet’s as good as our’s.
@RosieGray, covering the convention for BuzzFeed, was at the Florida delegation breakfast this morning. No word on what was served, but she did have a breakdown of protestors interrupting Rubio’s speech. One yelled, about the GOP supposedly “whoring itself out” to corporations, while an elderly woman said, “Mr. Rubio, I want you to pay your fair share!”
Jewish Republicans closed Monday night at a fancy Cuban-style restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City district. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson entered the Columbia restaurant accompanied by RJC director Matt Brooks and what appeared to be a bodyguard.
Adelson, sporting a short sleeved shirt in an otherwise jacket and tie crowd, seemed at home with the many Republican delegates and operatives filling the restaurant, where a strip steak costs $33 and ‘La Reina Isabella’ veal chop goes for $29.95.
Noticing the interest from journalists in the restaurant, the Adelson party quickly moved to another part of the restaurant, where they were later joined by another Jewish Republican, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach who is running for Congress in New Jersey’s 9th congressional district and has recently received Adelson’s endorsement.
Also speaking to the Adelson’s was CBS Radio reporter Dan Raviv, author of books on Israel’s Mossad spy agency.