Forward Thinking

Why Was Alan Gross Anyone's Guest of Honor?

By John Stoehr

Alan Gross basks in applause at the State of the Union address./Getty Images

If you didn’t know anything about Alan Gross other than what you saw on television, you probably thought it was right for him to sit next to first lady Michelle Obama as guest of honor at this year’s State of the Union address. His presence marked the dramatic shifts taking place in U.S.-Cuba relations, shifts that Fidel Castro said Tuesday were good for both countries.

“We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries,” he wrote in a letter to a student group in Cuba.

In December, television news reporting told the story of Gross as a humanitarian unjustly jailed in 2009 by a repressive Communist regime for the crime of bringing Internet access to Cuba’s small Jewish community. His release from prison in December was part of President Obama’s plan to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba after half a century of regime-change policy in the United States.

This TV news narrative had bipartisan support. In announcing his administration’s shift in Cuba policy, Obama said Gross “was arrested by Cuban authorities for simply helping ordinary Cubans.” Marco Rubio, the anti-communist Republican senator from Florida, said Gross was innocent of all charges against him and that he’d been “taken hostage” for “helping the Jewish community in Cuba have access to the internet.”

Neither was the case. He wasn’t “simply” helping ordinary Cubans. He wasn’t “taken hostage” and he wasn’t “innocent” of breaking Cuban law. I don’t mean to falsely equate Obama’s and Rubio’s statements. One points to the failed policies of the past while the other points to a more pragmatic, hopeful and unknowable future. But the facts behind Gross’s escapades have been largely known since at least 2012 thanks to the dogged reporting of the Associated Press’s Desmond Butler. At the time of his release, any cub reporter could have searched newspaper archives to learn more about Gross. That his presence at the State of the Union address did not raise an eyebrow in Washington, that he was recognized as a kind of hero in the fight for democracy and justice around the world, speaks volumes to the impotence of our national media and the lengths to which Obama is willing to go to end the still-lingering absurdities of the Cold War.

In 2009, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) paid Gross, through a third party, almost $600,000 to go to the island nation to install military-grade Internet equipment in Jewish synagogues that could not be detected by the government in Havana. Gross’s company specialized in installing computer electronics in remote areas and had worked in developing countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

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Are 45% of Brits Really Anti-Semitic? Not So Fast.

By Liam Hoare

British Jewish demand “Zero Tolerance for Anti-Semitism” at a London rally / Getty Images

There it was on Wednesday, on the front page of The Independent. “The new anti-Semitism,” the headline read, and beneath it: “Majority of British Jews feel they have no future in the UK.”

My interest was immediately piqued, not least because the idea that a majority of British Jews are without hope bears no relation to my own experience of Jewish life in this country.

It turned out that the source of this headline statistic was a poll conducted by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, a pressure group which, tapping into communal discontent with established institutions, staged a very successful, cross-communal rally promoting zero-tolerance of anti-Semitism last summer in London. Their report did indeed conclude that, from a sample of 2,230 British Jews, 45% are concerned that Jews may not have a long-term future in Britain.

Not to dismiss the concerns of those respondents, but there’s good reason to question the findings of the specific section of the poll that surveyed members of the Jewish community in Britain. Mostly, that’s because of the methodology used by the CAA, which conducted the poll independently without help from a recognized polling organization:

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Tefillin Stand Near Paris Siege Draws Mixed Response

By Cnaan Liphshiz

A Lubavitch Jew had passersby put on tefillin yards from the besieged kosher market / Twitter

(JTA) — Standing for hours behind that yellow police line Friday, many of us could feel our patience running out as we waited idly near the Porte de Vincennes metro station for news from the hostage situation that was going on just 100 yards away, at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket.

The journalists among us were on the phone, setting up quality interviews for the next day about the drama we were prevented from approaching. An Islamist had taken more than 20 people hostage at a kosher supermarket, where five people died, including the assailant, before police secured the building.

The police officers preventing us from crossing were chatting among themselves, ignoring the crowd of curious passersby who paused to take pictures of the boulevard — normally a vibrant market which suddenly looked eerily empty because police had closed it to vehicular traffic.

Yet one of the people hanging around the barricade was having no downtime at all.

Holding his tefillin kit at the ready, a bearded follower of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement was soliciting Jews who passed by to put on the leathery straps and pray for the safety of the Jews who were being held hostage less than 100 yards away at the Hyper Cacher kosher store.

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Why We Mourn the Loss of Streit’s Matzo

By Amy Stein-Milford

A worker at Streit’s Matzo Factory on the Lower East Side / Getty Images

This week brought news of the closing of Streit’s Matzo Factory on the Lower East Side, a landmark that has been there since 1925.

For the past fifteen years, on the Sunday before Passover, on behalf of the Museum at Eldridge Street, I have led a walking tour of the Lower East Side with my colleague Hanna Griff-Sleven, a folklorist. Billed as a “journey into the kishkes of the old Jewish Lower East Side,” it is an annual ritual I love.

We visit sites established by the Jewish immigrant community of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, places like the Forward Newspaper Building on East Broadway, Jarmulowsky’s Bank, Loew’s Theatre and Seward Park Library. On our walk, we also stop at kosher eateries that were established by Jewish immigrants, their descendants and new entrepreneurs — places like The Pickle Guys and Kossar’s Bialys.

Streit’s, on Rivington and Suffolk, was our ultimate destination. There the group would sample the warm matzo fresh off the conveyor belt, and purchase kosher for Passover products, old favorites as well as recent innovations like muesli and garlic aioli with dill.

Every year, the tour gets harder and harder to lead. The buildings still stand but only a few serve their original function. The Forward Building, once a bastion of socialism with relief portraits of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on its façade, today offers luxury housing. Jarmulowsky’s Bank, dressed in scaffolding, is being converted into a boutique hotel. The beautiful library and settlement houses still do a brisk business albeit for a different, predominantly Chinese, immigrant community.

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1 Billion Chinese. 1 Jew. So Many Questions.

By Steven Windmueller

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

One month ago, I returned from China, where I was the guest of the Guilford and Diane Glazer Center for Jewish and Israeli Studies at Nanjing University. The Glazers are not the only Jewish philanthropic connection — many American Jews have made commitments in support of China’s ten academic centers of Jewish study. Yes, you read that right — there are no less than ten centers for studying Judaism in China.

The Chinese have a fascination with Jews, you see. It’s partly because of mythologies related to perceived notions of “Jewish political influence” in America, but it’s also connected to the significance of Jews in Western history and culture. As the “other” great ancient civilization, Jews enjoy a level of respect and admiration among the Chinese.

My hosts at Nanjing made a conscious effort to expose me to scholars and students not only at that university but also at two other higher educational centers. Over a 12-day visit, I was invited to offer presentations on everything from the Israel-Diaspora partnership to the uniqueness of the American Jewish experience. My audiences included Jewish studies majors, academic officials and students from an array of disciplines, as well as ordinary Chinese citizens simply interested in the material.

So what did the Chinese want to learn about Jews in the United States? They were mostly focused on these questions: Why did such a community within the U.S. feel it important, even essential, to be politically engaged? Why did American Jews have a particular connection to Jews worldwide and especially to the State of Israel? What did Jewish peoplehood represent, and how did Jews maintain their connections across continents?

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Let's Make 2015 the Year of the Arab Jew

By Sigal Samuel

Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam / Courtesy of Neta Elkayam

Call it a confirmation bias. Everywhere I turned this year, I saw a new expression of Arab Jewish identity. The revival seems to be happening across all fields — literature, food, music — yet somehow nobody’s talking about it.

As an Arab Jewish writer (my family hails from Morocco, India and Iraq), I couldn’t be happier about this flurry of cultural expression. I’m often dismayed by how “Ashkenazi” becomes a stand-in for “Jewish,” while Sephardic and Mizrachi voices fall by the wayside.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered Eduardo Halfon’s new novel, “Monastery,” in which the conflicted, tragicomic protagonist denies his Arab identity when talking to certain Jews, and his Jewish identity when talking to certain Arabs.

I also geeked out over two academic books this year: Lital Levy’s “Poetic Trespass” and Liora Halperin’s “Babel in Zion” argue that Arabic is every bit as Jewish as Hebrew is. Early Zionists may have tried to separate Palestinians and Jews by marking Arabic as “their” language and Hebrew as “ours,” but that doesn’t erase the fact that families like mine spoke, studied and sang in Arabic for centuries.

Neta Elkayam sings “Ta’ali” / YouTube

Young Jewish musicians are reclaiming Arabic as they explore their roots. Some of them focus on preserving rare video and audio clips. Regine Basha, for example, collects Iraqi Jewish music in her archival project, “Tuning Baghdad.” Others, like Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam, remix their grandparents’ musical traditions and bring them into the 21st century. Elkayam speaks perfect Hebrew, but she chooses to sing in Marocayit, the Arabic dialect of her grandparents (and mine).

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Why I Hate the Christmas Version of ‘Hallelujah’

By Sigal Samuel

Leonard Cohen / Getty Images

Have you heard the Christmas version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a recently released YouTube sensation by Kansas-based band Cloverton? Well, I have, and I hate it. But not for the reasons you might think.

Am I pissed off — as many Jews appear to be — on Cohen’s behalf, because he’s Jewish and these musicians have “converted” his lyrics, turning the song into the Christian story of Jesus’ birth? Of course not. Anyone who knows Cohen knows that his Judaism is not the tribalist sort. For him, music transcends religion. It’s spiritual, but only in the sublime sense; he couldn’t care less about thou-shalt-and-shalt-not Judaism, and he couldn’t care less about members of another religion making a spin-off of his song. That’s why he and his record company, Sony Columbia, gave Cloverton permission to do just that.

Am I offended, then, because the remake replaces Cohen’s references to the “Jewish” Old Testament with references to the New? Of course not. The Old Testament isn’t just a Jewish text; it’s a core part of the Christian canon, too. So if Christian musicians want to swap out allusions to one of their texts for allusions to another, spinning them into a new song, I have zero problem with that.

Unless, of course, the new song sucks. Which this one does.


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Why All Jews Should Listen to ‘Serial’

By Lior Zaltzman

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Hello, my name is Lior and I’m a podcast addict. I’ve been streaming “This American Life” for years. I’ve turned podcasts into verbs. No, I can’t answer the phone right now, I’m “Savage Love”-ing. Whenever my husband says “Ok. Alright?” I want to scream “This is Radiolab!” Once I even used “Ira Glass” as my bowling pseudonym (I lost, sorry Ira). For the longest time I’ve felt that listening to podcasts was a niche. But not anymore.

Every Thursday since October 3 has been a battle of the wills for me. I try to hold off as much as I can, giving myself tasks to do before I can listen to the newest episode of “Serial.” Which in turn has made Thursday, arguably, my most productive day of the week.

“Serial” is ending today. The “This American Life” spin-off is the highest-rated, most-listened-to podcast ever. And there’s a reason for that. “Serial” is a melange of “This American Life”’-style candid, heartfelt reportage, the breadth and continuity of an audio book and the edge-of-your-seat suspense of true crime drama. It is everything.

Sarah Koenig, who got her start with “This American Life,” is the Jewish host and executive producer of “Serial.” She depicts an “everyday crime,” one that never got much media attention before the podcast aired: the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school senior at Baltimore’s Woodlawn High, who went missing on January 13, 1999 and was found dead on February 9 of that year. Adnan Syed, her ex-boyfriend, also a Woodlawn senior at the time, was convicted of her murder. The main evidence came from eyewitness testimony: Jay, Adnan’s “ex-friend” and pot dealer, claims he helped Adnan bury the body.

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Why Jews Should Ride With Muslims in Sydney

By Leah Bieler

People run with hands up from the Lindt Cafe during a hostage standoff in Sydney, Australia / Getty Images

My ears perked up when I heard the news about a potential terror attack at the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney. “Potential” terror attack, because for a while the nature of the situation was unclear. And then came the now-familiar black flag with white Arabic lettering, and what was murky became just a tiny bit clearer.

For some reason, my thoughts went to what this moment must feel like for the average Muslim living in Australia. Or in London. Or in my own New England city. Because that is an emotion I recognize. Though they had nothing to do with the crime, I imagine that these Muslims experienced that all-too-familiar feeling, that gnawing fear deep in the stomach, that in my house is called, “Oy. Not good for the Jews.”

No Jew who has even a passing connection to community can credibly deny it. When something bad happens, you sit and wait, listening to the radio, watching the news, refreshing the screen. And then, they say, we can identify the attacker, name the criminal. And the name flashes across the screen. You read it and think, “Thank God that’s not a Jewish name. Could that be a Jewish name? Oh man, that’s a Jewish name.”

On one level, of course it’s utterly ridiculous that the actions of a complete stranger could reflect on me as a person. But the truth is complicated. Because no matter who I am or what I do, there will always be people who associate me with the bad apples. And maybe, in some small way, they have a point.

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Why Tunisian Jews Can't Wait To Vote in an Arab Election

By Yael Even Or

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Jaco Halfon spent the last week of November glued to his computer at home in L.A. Presidential election results were coming in from his homeland of Tunisia. Halfon, a Tunisian citizen, wanted to make sure that he was up-to-date and that readers of his popular Jewish website Harissa got the relevant commentaries.

Tunisian citizens voted in a free and direct presidential election for the first time on November 23. It had been three years since the Jasmin revolution that overthrew ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Following an interim government and October’s parliamentary elections, it was time to for Tunisian citizens to vote on who would lead the new democracy.

Jaco Halfon

Among the 11 million citizens living in Tunisia, there is still a tiny Jewish community; it has shrunk from more than 100,000 in 1948 to about 1,800 Jews today, mostly in Tunis and in the southeastern island of Djerba. Most Tunisian Jews have emigrated to Israel and France over the years, while a few thousand have moved to North America.

The new Tunisian election law determines that Tunisian citizens overseas are allowed to vote. Halfon decided not to vote, even though he is entitled to. “I feel a bit [far] away from over there,” he said. “We do not intend to go back there so I think it is a Tunisian issue and it’s for the people who live there to decide.”

Leaving the decision to Tunisia’s residents doesn’t mean that Halfon doesn’t have strong opinions about the elections. Out of the 25 candidates, the two who emerged as the leading candidates were Beji Caid Essebsi and Moncef Marzouki. If Halfon were to vote, he would vote without hesitation for Essebsi — or as he put it, “for democracy.”

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Tunisians Turn ‘Ashkenormative’ Judaism Upside Down

By Jonathan Paul Katz

A Tunisian Jewish family on the island of Djerba / Getty Images

The Tunisian Ambassador to the United Kingdom recently came to the Chabad here in Oxford to give a Shabbat dinner talk. Needless to say, this event was not an ordinary Shabbat dinner by any means. After a meal of traditional Tunisian foods, the ambassador spoke about the need for co-existence, the importance of listening to other narratives, and — most interestingly for me — the status of Tunisian Jewry today. Though only about 1,500-strong today, the community leads a vibrant life — and many of the 80,000 Tunisian Jews across France, Canada and Israel regularly return to Tunisia for visits, even buying property there.

The ambassador painted a very inspiring picture. Yet one lady present was not quite in favor of this interpretation: She continuously interrupted him to claim that Jews were either struggling for survival after being forced to leave Tunisia, complete victims, or that the Israeli side of the story was being completely ignored. What’s more, she implied that Jews would only buy property in Tunisia if it were cheap — that there was nothing to see and the country was “dirty” and “barren.” As for one Tunisian Jewish community’s endorsement of the Islamist Ennahda party, she was completely dismissive.

The ambassador responded eloquently to her claims and kept the discussion from being derailed. And another Moroccan gentleman pointed out the ex-Vichy French and Israeli state roles in the deportation of Jews to Israel. But this lady’s outburst made me think: How might the Tunisian Jewish experience shake up some of our (Ashkenazi) assumptions about Mizrahim and Israel?

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Compare Your Salary to These Jewish CEOs

By Maia Efrem

Our annual Salary Survey shows that being a Jewish nonprofit CEO can be pretty darn lucrative. It sure puts to shame the median U.S. salary, which the 2013 Census calculates is $51,939.

Type in your income and see how it stacks up against the median salaries of Jewish CEOs of advocacy and public service, federations, and religious and education organizations. You can also sort by gender, and by individual categories.

You may read it and weep. Or not.

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4 Stories from Zochrot Truth Commission On 1948

By Naomi Zeveloff

Palestinians mark the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba or ‘Day of Catastrophe’ / Getty Images

Is Israeli society ready to reckon with 1948? On Wednesday, Zochrot, an Israeli organization devoted to raising awareness about the Nakba — when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled by Jewish forces during Israel’s founding war — held its first public “truth commission” featuring the testimonies of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian Bedouins who lived through the events of 1948 and beyond.

The commission, held in a hotel in Beersheba, focused on the Negev from 1948 to 1960. Zochrot was specifically looking at the David Ben Gurion-ordered conquest of the area to oust Egyptian forces in 1948 and the subsequent Israeli army deportation of Negev Bedouin through the 1950s. While Zochrot has taken hours of testimony on the topic in the past, yesterday’s event was the first of its kind open to the public, and a rare opportunity to hear from what the organization described as “witnesses.”

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Eric Garner and Moshe Twersky Bound by History

By Phil Getz

Getty Images

As I sit at my desk in a modern office building in lower Manhattan, the chants of angry protestors below grow louder. “I — can’t — breathe,” they shout, echoing the haunting final words of Eric Garner, whose death by asphyxiation I saw on video the day it occurred.

It was in that very spot, just over two weeks ago, in front of the same computer screen, that I learned of the horrific massacre in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood. The same spot where, also on the day of attack, I saw the photographs of men in blood-drenched prayer shawls sprawled across the reddened floor of a synagogue.

And as the shouts grow stronger, I realize just how similar we are. It has become a cliché in this country to note the disintegration of black-Jewish relations, not to mention its causes, and perhaps even more so to lament it. Gone are the days when Jews and black folks suffer the same discrimination, prohibited from entry to the same restaurants and public pools. But the images of recent weeks trigger the most terrifying episodes in our respective histories, reminding us that it is in the imagery of our past that we have often found commonality.

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In Berlin, Jews and Muslims Fight for Each Other

By Yermi Brenner

Salaam-Schalom organizes a Jewish-Muslim human chain event in Neukollen / Ömer Sefa Baysal

This past summer, Armin Langer, a 24-year-old rabbinical student in Berlin, came to speak at the Sehitlik mosque in Neukoelln, a district of the German capital with a large Muslim population. Langer is the co-founder of the Salaam-Schalom Initiative, a Neukoelln-based intercultural dialogue group. His pre-scheduled presentation at the mosque, to announce Salaam-Schalom’s new campaign, took place on June 26, just as the violence between Israelis and Palestinians was escalating.

“I thought it was very courageous on his part to go on the stage and introduce himself as a Jewish person,” says Denis Mert Mercan, 26, a devout Muslim who lives in Berlin and was at Sehitlik mosque that day. “And I thought it was an amazing idea that the Jews would defend Muslims and Muslims would defend Jews in terms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”

The campaign Langer was introducing was a series of posters against anti-Muslim prejudice, to be displayed on the streets of Neukoelln. He explained that the goal of Salaam-Schalom is for Jewish and Muslim Berliners to collaborate, battling all forms of racism at once.

Salaam-Schalom’s grassroots attempt to bridge the gap between Jews and Muslims is happening at a time when Germany is experiencing a wave of anti-Semitism that’s partly rooted in Muslim communities. This summer, during the Israel-Hamas war, a Palestinian immigrant threw a petrol bomb on a synagogue in the town of Wuppertal, and hate speech against Jews appeared in Berlin demonstrations against Israel’s operation in Gaza.

“We are not soldiers standing against each other on the front. We are average people living in the same city,” said Langer, a Hungarian Jew who attended a yeshiva in Jerusalem and moved to Berlin to continue his religious studies. “Of course we all feel sorry for what’s going on there and we have relatives and friends in Gaza and in Israel and in the West Bank. But maybe we can build up something more peaceful here in Berlin.”

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Why Did Israel’s President Just Oppose Bibi's Bill?

By Ben Sales

Getty Images

(JTA) Reuven Rivlin just did the one thing Israel’s president — a largely ceremonial post — doesn’t usually do: He publicly, and vehemently, opposed a specific bill endorsed by the government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Addressing a conference in Eilat, Rivlin lambasted the controversial Nation-State Law, advanced this week by Israel’s Cabinet and which seeks to enshrine Israel’s Jewish character in law.

Supporters of the law say it merely places the two sides of Israel’s “Jewish and democratic” character on equal footing and reinforces the state’s Jewishness against its enemies. But the law’s opponents say it gives primacy to Israel’s Jewish side. They point to the absence of the word “equality” in the bill and note that the bill fails to guarantee collective rights to Israel’s minorities.

Rivlin made clear which side of the debate he’s on.

“Ladies and gentlemen, such a hierarchical approach, which places Jewishness before democracy, misses the great significance of the [Israeli] Declaration of Independence, which combined the two elements together without separating them,” he said. “This is the beating heart of the State of Israel, a state established on two solid foundations: nationhood on the one hand and democracy on the other. The removal of one will bring the whole building down.”

It’s not surprising that Rivlin opposes the bill; he’s long been a crusader for democratic and minority rights. But it is surprising that he came out against the government so publicly. The president’s job is to welcome dignitaries, represent the state at such functions as funerals, and guide the formation of a new government following elections.

The president is not a political position, per se, and he’s not supposed to get involved in legislative battles. Rivlin himself stressed that point in an interview with the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz before he was elected in June. He was responding to a question about his opposition to a Palestinian state.

“I won’t intervene in Knesset decisions,” he told Horovitz.”The president is a bridge to enable debate, to reduce tensions, to alleviate frictions.”

So why did he intervene here? A source in the president’s office, who wished to remain anonymous, said Rivlin sees this bill as not just any piece of proposed legislation but fears it will affect the core nature of Israel’s democracy.

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If America Had Laws Like Israel

By Avital Burg

Thinkstock

A new proposed bill, supported by senators on both sides of the aisle, will finally define and determine the United States of America as the land of the Protestant People, the largest religious constituency in the U.S. and the group out of which America’s founding fathers and ruling leadership emerged.

The new law aims to anchor Protestant values in the laws of the land, inspired by the spirit of the American Constitution. Furthermore, the bill proceeds to state that the U.S. will continue to uphold a fundamentally democratic character. According to the new law, the United States will be fully committed to the foundations of Freedom, Justice, and Peace, in light of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the same time, the bill suggests, the right to implement a national self-definition will be exclusively reserved for the Protestant People. According to the new bill, Protestant values will serve as inspiration to lawmakers and judges at the different levels of the United States’ legislative and judicial branches. In cases where a court of justice encounters difficulties in ruling over issues that have no readily available answers in the Law, in the Christian Canon, or in logical reasoning, it will then rule according to the principles of freedom, justice, integrity and peace stemming from the Protestant heritage.

In addition, the national emblems of the United States, such as its flag and national anthem, will be drawn directly from the tradition of the Protestant Church, and the official calendar of the U.S. will follow the Protestant liturgical year. Finally, the United States will further act to preserve and entrench the Protestant historical and cultural tradition and to cultivate it in the U.S. and abroad.

Any reader who has gotten this far would probably note that such a law could not be passed or even seriously proposed by the United States legislature. In Israel, however, it could become a fundamental law, on a level equivalent to a constitutional amendment in the United States.

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4 Problems With Israel’s ‘Jewish Nation-State’ Law

By Brent Sasley

Getty Images

Members of the Israeli government have renewed a push to create a Basic Law enshrining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.” This time, the effort is being spearheaded by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Although his is meant to be a “softer” version of previous similar bills, it’s still highly problematic for a number of reasons.

Israel’s Basic Laws are meant to serve as the basis for an eventual constitution. In the years immediately after the establishment of the state, Israeli leaders could not agree on whether to write one up, much less what it should look like. In 1950, the Harari proposal was adopted. The Knesset would pass a series of “Basic Laws” as necessary, and each would be issued as a separate chapter, to be combined into a single constitutional document whenever the time came. In 1995, the Supreme Court gave the Basic Laws constitutional status — which means they’re higher than regular laws and are meant to guide the adoption of further laws and practices in the country.

The most obvious problem is that enshrining Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people makes constitutional the second-class status of Arab citizens. Netanyahu’s bill does mention democracy and individual rights, but (unlike the Declaration of Independence) it does not refer to the equality of all Israel’s citizens. By tying Israel’s identity only to one people, it gives them constitutional privileges no other community can have access to.

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The New 'War on Christmas' (Or Is It Islam)?

By Julie Wiener


(JTA) — Looks like there’s another so-called War on Christmas, and this time it’s the Muslims, not the Jews, who are being blamed.

The decision by a suburban Washington school district to continue closing for Jewish and Christian holidays — but not label them as such on the school calendar — has ignited a firestorm from right-wing bloggers and commentators.

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to remove the religious designations after local Muslims had complained that the district observes Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, but does not offer vacation on any Muslim holidays.

“School Dumps Christmas to Appease Muslims” was how Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio framed the headline.

Describing the issue as “a new battleground in the war on Christmas” and “bad news for you Jews and gentiles out there,” Starnes implied that the holidays will be eliminated rather than just not identified on the school calendar. (“That means no more Christmas, no more Easter and no more Yom Kippur,” he claimed, later noting that the school board “opted to eliminate all religious holidays.”)

In a similar vein, The Blaze wrote “School District Bans Christmas, Easter and Jewish Holidays From Calendar Following Debate Over Muslim Request.”

The Examiner, which accompanied its article with a still from the film “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” headlined it “Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur stricken from school calendar.”

While the outraged headlines may indicate otherwise, the decision seems to have pleased no one, least of all the local Muslim activists. One activist, Zainab Chaudry, told the Washington Post that the school board was willing to ““go so far as to paint themselves as the Grinch who stole Christmas” to avoid granting equal treatment for the Muslim holiday.

“They would remove the Christian holidays and they would remove the Jewish holidays from the calendar before they would consider adding the Muslim holiday to the calendar,” she said.

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Using Ex-Nazis as Spies? I Saw It Happen.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Hubertus Strughold worked for Hitler’s Luftwaffe throughout World War II — and was later recruited by the U.S. / U.S. Air Force

I got an email the other day from a Jewish man who saw something in Germany 60 years ago that he can’t forget. The man reached out to me after reading my story on Eric Lichtblau’s new book about the U.S. government’s coverup of its use of former Nazis as spies.

The man has asked that I not use his name, in consideration of promises he made in the 1950s to keep quiet on pain of court martial. Today he is a retired attorney. We’ll call him Robert.

Robert was inducted into the U.S. Army in the summer of 1954. Already a law school graduate and a member of the bar, he turned down a commission as an officer and enlisted as a private.

In January of 1955, after completing basic training, Robert boarded a troop ship in Staten Island bound for Germany, where the Army maintained a massive postwar presence. He landed in Bremerhaven and was sent on to a replacement depot to be assigned to a unit.

Robert’s assignment was unusual. Of all of the soldiers on his ship, he was the only one sent to a group called the 7807 USAREUR Liaison Detachment.

The name was a cover.

“It was really run by the CIA,” Robert said. “I reported to a civilian. A CIA civilian… He never said he was CIA, but he obviously was.”

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