Forward Thinking

Shelly Silver's Evil 'Twin'

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Evil twins make frequent appearances in the cheesier sorts of movies and television shows, yet tend to be less common in state politics. But not according New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Silver has never lacked for chutzpah, but he appears to have taken it to Olympian heights with his most recent dodge. In March, the New York Times published a long article documenting the decades-long efforts by Silver and his now-disgraced former ally William Rapfogel, through a group called the United Jewish Council, to keep slum-cleared blocks of the Lower East Side empty for decades, rather than have them be rebuilt and repopulated by non-Jews who might dilute the political strength of Silver’s Jewish base. It didn’t paint a pretty picture of Silver, who came across as scheming, duplicitous and self-interested.

But wait! said Silver’s office. It was all just a misunderstanding. According Silver and his allies, the United Jewish Council was represented by another Sheldon Silver, and it was he who took all of these dastardly actions that just happened to prop up the power base of this Sheldon Silver.

And, in fact, there was another Sheldon Silver — Sheldon E. Silver — and he did work as an attorney for the UJC. It was the evil twin! (Perhaps the E stands for evil!)

Only Sheldon E. Silver — a transplant from Minneapolis who eventually joined Chabad, moved out to Brooklyn and passed away in 2001 — only worked for UJC for a few months. And reporter Russ Buettner dug back through the documents, made a few phone calls, and found that Sheldon E. Silver directed precisely none of the many actions taken by the UJC to block the redevelopment of the Lower East Side. Those were taken by, you know, the other Sheldon Silver. The Speaker of the Assembly. The guy who was lying.

Anyway, read the whole thing.

Unless…it was the other other Shelly Silver! Stay tuned…

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Alan Webber Wants To Be Governor of New Mexico

By Michael Kaminer

In 1996, Alan Webber launched Fast Company magazine as a hybrid of “Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal.” The same energy hovers around his recently announced run for Governor of New Mexico. A Tweet kicked off the campaign; a few days later, Webber confirmed the run with a simple “Yeah” in a Santa Fe newspaper. But Webber’s laid-back style is grounded in heavyweight credentials. Along with his leadership roles at the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, Webber’s authored four bestselling business books, and he’s been vocal about public policy on opinion pages. His own government experience includes multiple roles in Portland’s city government in the 1970s, and he served under the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Neil Goldschmidt later that decade. A Boston transplant who settled in New Mexico in 2003, Webber caught up with the Forward from Santa Fe about his campaign.

You sold Fast Company magazine for a record sum in 2000. Why shake things up now with a very demanding run for Governor?

We’re all called upon to make a contribution in our lives. New Mexico has so many riches and possibilities. We are one of the most culturally diverse states in America. We have the oldest state capitol in America. We have some of the most talented artists and craftspeople in America. Our land is spectacular, our climate is unsurpassed, our natural resources are bountiful. But without leadership, we’re not making life better for our people. I can’t stand idly by and watch New Mexico’s way of life be destroyed by Susana Martinez. I believe that we all should do what we can to make the world a better place. And there’s no better place to start than here at home.

You’re running as a self-proclaimed progressive Democrat. New Mexico’s wavered between Democrats and Republicans in recent years. How do you think a progressive platform will play?

Being a progressive means that I believe that everyone should get a fair chance, everyone should get an equal opportunity, everyone should play by the same rules, and everyone should have a place at the table. When people hear that those are my core values, then more often than not, they say that they share those same views. The values are more important than any label.

What kind of Jewish upbringing did you have?

My father was raised in a Conservative-Orthodox home and my mother came from a Reform home. They compromised and my brother and I were raised in a Reform home. I went to religious school in St. Louis at a Reform synagogue where the emphasis was more on Jewish history, values, and traditions than on learning Hebrew. At home we observed the Sabbath, and my father, in particular, imparted the lessons of the Torah through family discussions and regular attendance at the synagogue.

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Is Yair Lapid's Honeymoon Over?

By Nathan Jeffay

The Israeli election in January was widely lauded as a testament to the revival of Israel centrism. Coming out of nowhere the brand new Yesh Atid party won 19 seats — almost a sixth of the Knesset’s mandates. Is this revival now over?

A poll just conducted for the Globes financial newspaper found that if elections were held now, Yesh Atid would poll at just 12 seats, down by 7.

The two main parties to the right of Yesh Atid have, between them, increased their support by the equivalent of 6 seats, which would appear to indicate that Yesh Atid voters have shifted their support rightwards. Yesh Atid’s loss is the gain of Likud and the religious-Zionist Bayit Hayehudi.

But how much is this shift about ideology, and how much is it about the honeymoon period of celebrity-turned politician Yair Lapid ending, hitting Yesh Atid support hard? Has the ideological direction of Israel changed, or have Israelis just lost their love of Lapid and looked around at which other parties are options for their support?

And if the shift is ideological, is it as simple as it seems? With the Likud-led government participating in peace talks with the Palestinians, many Yesh Atid voters may have turned to Likud but remained avowedly centrist on the peace process. Their logic most likely goes: why support a centrist party when the stronger Likud party is following the centrist policy of negotiating?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went a long time to neutralizing Lapid’s appeal on social issues, which had been strong, by cornering him in to the role of Finance Minister. Now he could be stealing his thunder as a centrist.

The Knesset returns to work this week after a long summer break. Whether Yesh Atid’s woes stem from personality factors or Likud bursting its bubble, if is to survive as an electoral force, it desperately needs to prove its relevance.

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Third Time Lucky for Bibi?

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

Any hopes that Avigdor Liberman had for a quick trial in time to become part of Israel’s new government were dashed today, when his trial opened in Jerusalem and looked set to become a slow affair.

Yisrael Beytenu party head Liberman, who was Foreign Minister until he resigned to face his charges shortly before the election, is accused of fraud and breach of trust. He allegedly promoted an Israeli diplomat in gratitude for information in to a police investigation against him.

He pleaded not guilty and denied all charges against him. But Liberman will pay a heavy price for the trial whatever its outcome, as the timescale under discussion is lengthy, to May and beyond — long after the new government is in place. This means that there’s no way he’s going to be cleared and ready to take up his old job in the Foreign Ministry by the time the new government takes office later this month or next month.

For Liberman this is the ultimate frustration. His party was at an historic juncture — it ran the election on a joint ticket with the ruling Likud party bringing it closer than ever to the real power it has longed for since he set it up in 1999. He had taken Beytenu from a niche Russian speakers’ party to a mainstream party of the right, and this was his big break. Plus, ironically the investigation that had dogged him for years — the one about which the diplomat allegedly gave him information — has been dropped.

As if things can’t get worse for Liberman, his former right hand man in the party and the Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon is expected to be one of the key witnesses and seems to have lots to say even before he appears in court. The Jerusalem Post reports that he has said that Liberman shouldn’t go back to the Foreign Ministry even if cleared, that the “world treated him like a leper,” and that while the diplomatic appointment in question was appropriate, he “put pressure [on the selection committee] to appoint certain people to the Foreign Service, which I succeeded in blocking, because I convinced him that they were not worthy.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: israel, election, corruption, benjamin netanyahu, avigdor lieberman, likud, politics

Hamas Gains Popularity After Gaza

By Nathan Jeffay

Hours after Operation Pillar of Defense came to an end last month, here at the Forward we published an article suggesting that the campaign could boost Hamas. It was early days, but new polling seems to indicate that this scenario is panning out.

The independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) has just published a survey conducted in the West Bank and Gaza which shows a “dramatic change in public attitude favoring Hamas.”

The more moderate Fatah party, the dominant faction in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, normally leads in polls, but this one shows that if elections were held now in the West Bank and Gaza, voters would be pretty much evenly split between Fatah and Hamas.

The most remarkable finding of the poll is that if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) went up against Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, Haniyeh would win. He would get 48% compared to Abbas’ 45%. Haniyeh would also win if jailed Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti, long considered the most popular person in Palestinian politics, entered the race.

Interestingly, even though it doesn’t translate to support for Abbas, satisfaction with his performance has increased following the successful bid at the United Nations. Three months ago satisfaction with Abbas stood at 46%; it now stands at 54%. What does this show? That while the Palestinian public has been impressed by the UN bid, the perceived victory in Operation Pillar of Defense has impacted political consciousness more.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: fatah, gaza, hamas, israel, mahmoud abbas, marwan barghouti, palestinian, politics

Shining Light on 'Dark Money'

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced plans to shed light on the so-called “dark money” groups that spent millions during the 2012 election cycle.

The move follows demands for regulation by good government groups - and by this newspaper.

A proposed rule change that could go into effect by the 2013 elections would force not-for-profit groups that spend more than $10,000 on local and state elections in New York to disclose their donors to the state’s Attorney General.

“There are proposals in Congress to deal with this, they haven’t gone anywhere,” said Viveca Novak, the editorial and communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics. “This is a significant step by a state attorney general to try to address it. New York is just one state, but it’s an important state.”

As was widely noted during the 2012 election cycle, certain nonprofits fall into a quirky regulatory loophole that allows them to make almost unlimited political donations without disclosing where they are getting their money. The phenomenon was the subject of a blockbuster expose by the investigative journalism shop ProPublica, which used the Republican Jewish Coalition as an example of one tax exempt group spending money on the presidential election and not revealing its donors.

In an editorial in the Forward calling for closing the “dark money” loopholes, Jane Eisner highlighted other Jewish groups taking advantage of the loose regulations, including the Emergency Committee for Israel.

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The 'If Only' Man

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images
Ehud Olmert

Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former Prime Minister and the center left’s “if only” man, is expected to confirm any moment that he won’t be running for Knesset.

Soon after the January 22 election was announced, speculation has abounded that if Olmert made a comeback and pulled together a broad center-left alliance he could actually win and once again become Prime Minister. From there, it was said, the Middle East would be his oyster — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently said that he was close to a deal with Olmert in 2008, intimating that the two could return to this point if Olmert returned.

There was some polling to back up this dream. In fact, it appeared that when Likud decided a month ago to run on a joint ticket with Yisrael Beytenu it was a case of Netanyahu trying to ensure that he would have the most Knesset mandates behind him even if Olmert entered the race.

But then came Operation Pillar of Defense, knocking the issues championed by the center-left — Israeli-Palestinian peace and socio-economic issues — off the public agenda and putting security at the forefront. Even if it was right a couple of weeks ago, the national mood in Israel isn’t right for Olmert now.

And so, for the second time in his career, Olmert leaves us all wondering what could’ve been. What could’ve been on the Israeli-Palestinian front had scandal not forced him out of office when it did? Was he planning on running in the coming elections? If so, what could’ve been during and after the election has it not been for Pillar of Defense?

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: israel, gaza, election, ehud olmert, benjamin netanyahu, politics

'The Era of the So-Called Jewish Vote Is Over'

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

A new survey of New York’s Jews out today suggests the advent of a much more politically conservative Jewish community that could shift the balance of local New York politics.

The study, conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, knocks down old conceptions of what it means to be a New York Jew. The Jewish community is increasingly Orthodox and poor, with significant numbers of Russian-speaking members and decreasing levels of educational attainment.

“The Russians are not Democrats, and the Hasidim are not necessarily Democrats,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a conservative Democratic political strategist. “When somebody figures out how to put the Russians and the ultra-Orthodox together they’re going to come up with an atomic bomb in Democratic politics in New York State.”

The UJA survey was the largest of its kind ever conducted. As we reported earlier this morning, 32% of Jews in the five boroughs of New York City plus three suburban counties identify as Orthodox, up from 27% a decade ago.

Orthodox Jews are generally more political conservative, and are in greater need of social services than non-Orthodox Jews. Their numbers appear to be concentrated in Brooklyn, where the study found that 22% of Brooklynites are Jewish, up from 18% just ten years ago.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Bob turner, anthony weiner, brooklyn, david storobin, democratic, jewish, orthodox, politics, republican, russian




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