A little before midnight on Monday, July 5, the New York Times posted on its website its lengthy, deeply reported investigative piece on U.S. tax-exempt donations that go to fund settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the right-wing American charities that channel those donations, including some that seemed in the Times piece to flirt with or outright violate IRS rules.
At 7:55 a.m. Eastern time, an action alert was e-mailed out by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project, the Washington-based non-profit that helps clarify Israel’s dilemmas to the world media, supposedly without taking sides in Israel’s internal politics. She complained that if the Times wants “to do a story on groups that use tax status to do work in Israel, they should show BOTH sides.” And she offered a list of “just SOME of the Anti-Israel groups that use the same tax status” but “were not mentioned in the NYT piece.” In a place of honor at the bottom of the list: the New Israel Fund.
I don’t recall Laszlo complaining when Maariv gave front page coverage to Im Tirtzu’s sliming of the New Israel Fund and other “anti-Israel” NGOs that they should have included Irving Moskowitz or the friends of Ateret Cohanim in order to give both sides.
In her memo Laszlo urged her network to contact “the expert on this topic,” Gerald Steinberg of the Israel-based NGO Monitor.
And sure enough, Gerald Steinberg put out a release at 10:28 a.m., reproducing Laszlo’s list of Anti-Israel NGOs but moving the New Israel Fund from the bottom of the list to a prominent place at the top.
Here’s Laszlo’s memo, followed by Steinberg’s release:
Bibi Netanyahu’s visit to the Obama White House this week gives us an opportunity to watch history unfold. Or unravel. It’s hard to tell. Maybe it’s like that old Palmach song said, Rabotai, ha-historia hozeret (“Folks, history repeats itself”).
On the eve of the summit, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs is beating up on President Obama for failing to reaffirm George W. Bush’s April 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon. Bush had written that it was “unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” The president was endorsing Israel’s goal of keeping the major West Bank settlement blocs as part of the outcome of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In reality, Bush wasn’t saying anything the Palestinians themselves hadn’t said. Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas said as much just the other day in an on-the-record interview with Israeli reporters. As the Jerusalem Post put it in its version of the interview, “Abbas said that in principle, the Palestinians have agreed to alterations in the 1967 border, as long as it was done on a one-to-one ratio.” Incidentally, Abbas has embraced that position as far back as his 1995 talks with Israel’s then-deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin.
Bush’s letter endorsed the idea of redrawing the border as a likely outcome of negotiations. The assumption was that the Palestinians could be expected to give Israel that reasonably desired outcome — as part of an agreement in which Israel gives the Palestinians an equally reasonably desired outcome.
So what’s JINSA’s beef?
In broad terms, JINSA is taking up a line that’s being touted by various voices on the Israeli right as the back-and-forth heats up: that Israel should receive its key demand on settlements before the actual negotiations begin. That way Israel can sit down and start negotiating from there. In other words, give me what I want in advance, and then we can sit down and discuss who’s willing to give up what.
In effect, the Israeli right doesn’t want Israel to have negotiate its relations with its neighbors on its own. It wants America to impose a solution. Of course JINSA wouldn’t put it that way.
The other day I was blogging about Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer, Israeli trade minister, crusty old general and Labor Party senior statesman, who told Yediot Ahronot last weekend that the world is getting tired of Israel and its “explanations” for failing to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that time is running out on Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to take the plunge. Fuad would like to see Bibi get rid of his embarrassing foreign minister, Avigdor “Yvet” (his Russian birth name. which his friends still use) Lieberman, and bring Tzipi Livni into the coalition so they can talk peace with Mahmoud “Abu Mazen” Abbas. Fuad would rather Israel negotiated with Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti, a dedicated two-stater who could make a deal and make it stick, but he’s still in prison. Fuad figures, to paraphrase Crosby, Stills and Nash, that if you can’t talk to the negotiating partner you want, you negotiate with the partner you’re talking to.
Well, Fuad is back in the news again this week, big time. It seems he met secretly today in Switzerland with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to explore ways of patching up relations between the two onetime allies. Now Yvet Lieberman is hopping mad at Bibi for cutting him out of the loop and sending Fuad to sneak behind his back.
Lieberman’s office, according to Ynetnews.com, issued a statement saying that he
“considers it a serious matter that the meeting took place without the Foreign Ministry being informed. It is a violation of all normal procedures. It undermines the trust between the foreign minister and the prime minister. The foreign minister intends to clarify the incident.”
It’s hard to see what he needs to clarify. Trust? Yvet is a loose cannon and everybody knows it. As the Forward’s Nathan Guttman writes, his reputation and performance are so toxic that Bibi has to work around him and use Defense Minister Ehud Barak as his de facto foreign minister in Israeli-American contacts. As for Israeli-Turkish contacts, Yvet is hardly the go-to guy; he and his deputy Danny Ayalon played an impressive role in helping drive Israeli-Turkish relations down to their current nadir in the first place, notably in Ayalon’s goofy-couch stunt in January.
And just this week Yvet managed to shoot off his mouth and embarrass his prime minister yet again.
Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer, Israeli minister of trade, industry and labor, is the senior leader of the Labor Party’s hawkish wing, a tough-as-nails ex-general and currently the party’s grand old man. Born and raised in Iraq, he was a career soldier from 1954 until 1984, the first Israeli liaison to the South Lebanese Christian militias, military governor of the West Bank from 1978 to 81 and of the territories 1983-84. Retiring as a brigadier general, he entered politics in 1984 as a follower of Likud breakaway Ezer Weizman. He’s been a cabinet minister almost continuously since 1992, including a stint as Ariel Sharon’s first defense minister. Last week he gave a lengthy interview to Ariella Ringel-Hoffman in the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement.
He’s 74, the oldest Knesset member, the oldest cabinet member, 26 years in Israeli politics, minister in seven governments including defense minister at the height of the second intifada. He’s long been considered the strongman of the Labor Party, confidante of party chairman Ehud Barak, close to Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres’s favorite traveling partner on overseas visits.
“And never,” he says, “has Israel been in as difficult situation as it is in today.” And never has he himself been “so worried, and yes, so pessimistic.” …
We’re not the ones maintaining a blockade. We’re blockaded, utterly isolated. We’re in a situation where the world is tired of us. They’re tired of hearing our explanations, of showing empathy for our troubles, even if they’re real troubles. Tired of understanding us. This business just isn’t working anymore. After 43 years, nobody wants to hear any more explanations about why this occupation is continuing and how we have nobody to talk to. Get to an agreement already.
It’s true that we have a partner problem. That’s why I’ve been supporting the release of Marwan Barghouti for the last few years. He may be a murderer, but he’s a strong partner who can make an agreement with us and make it stick.
If we don’t release him, then we’ve got to talk with the partners we’ve got. We can’t choose their leaders, and we can’t constantly whine about how they’re shooting at us, they’re arming against us, they’re threatening us.
The corruption trial of former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert took an unexpected turn today (Thursday, 6/24) when the chief judge of the Jerusalem district court assailed the prosecution for submitting what appeared to be misleading and possibly false documentation.
Olmert’s defense team had written to Israel’s attorney general the day before and called for a criminal investigation into what they alleged was witness tampering and obstruction of justice by the prosecution. The accusation is based on a document that the prosecution had described as a transcript of pretrial preparatory interviews with a witness, Hadar Saltzman of Rishontours. Olmert is accused of using the travel agency as a conduit for double-billing overseas travel expenses when addressing Jewish groups. The trial judge had dismissed the defense’s complaint, but the chief judge, Musia Arad, stepped in this afternoon and slammed the prosecution for paraphrasing and in some cases apparently omitting what was supposed to be Saltzman’s actual testimony. The defense says what she told prosecutors during her extensive pretrial preparation did not match what she initially told police investigators. The prosecutors basically say the dog ate their homework.
So what? Here’s so what: This could turn out to be the latest in a string of cases that have been brought against Olmert in the past decade and fallen apart under scrutiny. The accumulation of allegations forced him to resign as prime minister in August 2008, in the midst of what were described as serious negotiations with the Palestinian leadership to reach a final peace agreement. The negotiations continued while then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni tried to form an alternative coalition to replace Olmert but keep his Kadima in power. But according to Livni, when she gave up her coalition talks in late October 2008 and called for new elections, she and the Palestinians agreed to suspend the talks until a new government was formed. What they got was Bibi. Unless Livni is lying, it’s quite plausible that if Olmert hadn’t been forced from office, the talks could have been brought to completion.
Here’s a 2008 British news report on the suspension of the peace talks following the failure of Livni’s coalition talks. Here’s a Wall Street Journal interview with Livni from this past January describing the progress she and the Palestinians were making before they suspended the talks. Here’s another one in Foreign Policy this past March. She said the same thing more explicitly in an op-ed piece that appeared in the Yediot Ahronot Friday supplement a couple of months ago (it wasn’t on line, and I can’t find my copy) — namely that the talks did not fall apart, but were merely suspended until Israel got a stable government that could negotiate authoritatively.
This article took up the front page of the main section of Friday’s Yediot Ahronot, bordered by photos of the two opposing events described. It’s by Sima Kadmon, Yediot’s lead political commentator.
The mention of “the parents of Emmanuel” refers to 23 couples living an urban settlement in the West Bank, populated entirely by Haredim, who were ordered to prison Thursday by Israel’s Supreme Court on contempt of court charges, after refusing to let their young daughters sit in the same classrooms as Mizrahi/Sephardi students.
Between Two Nations
About 100,000 people dressed in black gathered last night [Thursday] in a space of several square kilometers. Half of them in Bnei Brak, in black kapotas [Hasidic frock coats], demonstrating support for the parents of Emmanuel, and half of them in Ramat Gan Stadium, demonstrating support for British rocker Elton John.
It would be hard to dream up a reality as polarized as what took place yesterday in such a small geographical space. This was not some little country with a moustache. This was a little country with a beard, high-fashion sunglasses, a streimel [Hasidic fur hat] and miniskirts.
The simplest thing would be to describe the intersection of the two sectors of society yesterday along the Bnei Brak/Ramat Gan city line as a struggle between the free, liberal, rational, democratic Israel on one side and the benighted, ingrown, racist and chauvinist Israel on the other. The other side sees it as a struggle of an Israel of ideology, faith, Torah and values against an Israel that is decadent, hedonistic, ignorant and devoid of values.
The way it looked yesterday, it seemed there is no connecting thread, no hope for understanding, for a shared life. How did Elton John sing it yesterday? Like a candle in the wind. That’s our country.
But let us not be confused: The rational Israel was in Ramat Gan Stadium yesterday, not headed for prison by order of the Supreme Court. And when Elton John said: “Nobody will stop me from coming here,” the entire crowd rose to its feet and roared out its thanks. Because we are so much in need of recognition. Of love. Of a gentle touch from the outside world.
Of just a little bit of normalcy.
The Emmanuel story was the number-one news event in Israel last week, at times knocking the flotilla fallout off the front pages. The case involves a small girls’ elementary school, operated by the Slonim Hasidic sect, that was ordered to take in a population of Sephardic Haredi girls. The school first refused on orders from the Slonimer rebbe, then walled the school building into Sephardic and Ashkenazic sections with no passage between. Even the playground is divided in two by a high wall.
Commentary magazine has come out with a star-studded symposium, titled “Obama, Israel & American Jews: The Challenge,” in which no fewer than 31 prominent American Jews were invited to comment on the tensions between the Obama administration and the Israeli government — tensions “of a kind not seen since the days of the administration of the first President Bush,” the magazine observes — and to assess the response of American Jews.
Kicking off the discussion with some objective facts as a focal point, the magazine notes that the current bilateral tensions present “an unprecedented political challenge” to American Jews,
who voted for Barack Obama by a margin of nearly 4-to-1 in 2008 after being assured by Obama himself and by his supporters in the Jewish community that he was a friend and an ally of the State of Israel despite his long association with, among others, the unabashedly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
The challenge, therefore: whether “Obama’s Jewish supporters” can do anything “to change the unmistakable direction of current American policy emanating from the White House,” or whether American Jews will “accept Barack Obama’s view that the state of Israel bears some responsibility for the loss of American ‘blood and treasure’ in the Middle East” — and will continue to support Obama and the Democrats.
The 31 respondents span a broad, representative spectrum of American Jewish opinion, at least as Commentary measures it. Here’s how the responses break down, by my count:
Don’t count on those American Jewish blockheads to stand up for Israel: 11.
Well, they’d better / Hey, they just might: 7.
I’m hoping Obama will see the light and we won’t have to choose sides: 7.
Obama isn’t Israel’s enemy / This symposium is a right-wing set-up: 4.
Miscellaneous (Both sides are nuts / We haven’t properly taught Israel to our young’uns): 2.
See if you can match the participants to their respective positions:
The genetics blog at DiscoverMagazine.com, Gene Expression, has an eye-opening post peeling away some of the more intriguing layers in the big new study of Jewish genetic patterns that was published June 3 in the American Journal of Human Genetics and reported the next day in the Forward’s own Shmooze blog.
The Journal study confirms something that Jews have been saying for centuries, both to themselves and to an increasingly skeptical world: “Jews across the world by and large share unexpected genetic affinity which one would not predict from geography, but only from their common religious-ethnic identity as Jews.“
More specifically, Jews are defined in large part by a “shared Middle Eastern ancestry.” The genes show that they aren’t Poles or Moroccans or Khazars who stumbled across Second Avenue pastrami and stayed for dessert. They come from a single tribe. That fact alone raises a knotty question, as our Forward editorial asked: What will happen to the age-old Jewish sense of “tribal connection, of peoplehood,” as the Jews’ “similar genetic structure” meets the “free-for-all that is America?”
Well, the Discover blogger, Razib Khan, dug into the data in the journal study (jauntily titled “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry”) and found some unexpected nuggets that should shake up our views on that and a lot of other questions. For one thing, Khan reminds us that stirring up the gene pool with neighboring stock is nothing new in Jewish life. For another thing, the famously self-protective Syrian Jews of Brooklyn may be shocked to discover that they are more closely related to the Ashkenazic Jews of Poland and the Upper West Side — the Oshkies, as they’re spoken of on Ocean Parkway — than they are to their former Sephardic Jewish neighbors in Iraq and Iran.
It is notable that the distinction in terms of genetic distances maps onto that between the Roman and Persian Empires, where two Jewish communities emerged with different loci, Mesopotamia and the Palestine-Alexandria axis, respectively. Syrian Jews, who were within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, are more similar to European Jews than Iraqi Jews to their east…
During Greco-Roman times, recorded mass conversions led to 6 million people practicing Judaism in Roman times or up to 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. Thus, the genetic proximity of these European/Syrian Jewish populations, including Ashkenazi Jews, to each other and to French, Northern Italian, and Sardinian populations favors the idea of non-Semitic Mediterranean ancestry in the formation of the European/ Syrian Jewish groups and is incompatible with theories that Ashkenazi Jews are for the most part the direct lineal descendants of converted Khazars or Slavs.
The news this week is chock-full of outrage over the Israeli naval action that Turkey and others are calling an act of naked piracy on the high seas. And in the week’s other top story, by incredible coincidence, the oil slick oozing across the Gulf of Mexico made its first major landfall Thursday at, of all places, Grand Isle in Barataria Bay at the mouth of the Mississippi, 15 miles south of New Orleans. Barataria and its three islets are probably best known as the place where a private kingdom was established around 1800 by the greatest Jewish pirate of them all, Jean Lafitte.
Lafitte, as alert readers recall, was born around 1776 and won fame as a pirate and sometime privateer who specialized in attacking Spanish merchant ships. He played a critical, well-documented role in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, bringing his men and arms through the swamps to help Andrew Jackson stop the British.
It’s widely believed that Lafitte was born in France or the French Caribbean (various theories as to which island) and was raised by his maternal grandmother, Zora Nadrimal, a secret Jew who fled Spain as a little girl, one step ahead of the Inquisition. As commonly told, Bubbe Zora raised Lafitte and his three brothers, Pierre, Rene and Dominique You (who was portrayed by Charles Boyer in the 1958 Yul Brynner swashbuckler about Lafitte, “The Buccaneer”) to hate Spain for what it did to their people and to take to the sea for revenge.
Lafitte’s hatred of Spain is well-documented; he was close to Simon Bolivar and may have helped finance the Bolivar and San Martin revolutions that kicked Spain out of South America. His Jewishness, on the other hand, is a matter of furious debate among historians. Debunkers say the evidence of Lafitte’s Jewishness is thin and suspect, though they don’t offer much evidence to the contrary and they often sound like those grumpy old men who get all huffy when you talk about Jewish athletes and other ruffians, like it lowers their standards. (It turns out that some don’t like being associated with ruffians and others don’t like being associated with Jews.) I would have thought the debate would end four years ago when this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post, in which a scholarly writer relates his recent encounter with Melvyn Lafitte, a direct descendant who lives in Switzerland and is a practicing Orthodox Jew. But no.
It’s also said, with shakier documentation, that Lafitte’s death off Galveston in 1823 was faked and that he lived off his wealth into the 1850s, probably in St. Louis. In some accounts he got involved in labor organizing, met Marx in London and tried to introduce him to Abraham Lincoln. Here’s a vitriolic online back-and-forth about this theory. Here’s the Amazon page for The Journal of Jean Lafitte, purportedly written in the 1840s, describing his youth with his grandmother and much more, widely seen as phony but a fun read anyway. And here is Marx’s actual letter to Lincoln.
Where were we? Oh yes — the Big Spill meets the Flotilla…
Haaretz reporter Anshel Pfeffer has a very important piece in the Friday paper that looks at the Gaza Flotilla incident and the yawning gap between Israeli and international perceptions of the affair — and then connects it to Peter Beinart’s “breathtaking” New York Review of Books essay, “The failure of the American Jewish establishment.”
In Israeli commentary on the raid, Pfeffer writes,
One sentence that was repeated over and over to justify the final outcome was: “And what if they had succeeded in killing one of our soldiers?” This is a rhetorical argument that is unanswerable in any discussion held in Israel. No matter how many combatants we have lost in all the wars, operations, accidents and other foul-ups, every time the radio announces the death of yet another an IDF soldier, something dies within every one of us.
That is a noble sentiment, a feeling of a society with a shared responsibility and destiny, but we have lost any other perspectives and are incapable of realizing that it is only we Israelis who feel this. We have hunkered down deep inside our collective bunker and have lost sight of any suffering or loss on the other side…
One of the debates simmering just below the surface this week is the question of whether Israel is a strategic asset or burden to the United States. Pro-Israel advocates have maintained for decades that it is an asset, and a darned valuable one. This view has been emphatically restated in the past few days by, among others, the Anti-Defamation League (here), AIPAC and 334 members of the House of Representatives in (a letter) to President Obama.
The view of Israel as a burden is usually identified with folks like “Israel Lobby” authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and others who would like to see America cut Israel loose.
This week the Israel-as-burden crowd was joined by none other than Meir Dagan, the ur-hawkish director of Israel’s crack Mossad intelligence agency. He explained it on Tuesday in a fraught appearance before the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee. It’s no less than a bombshell, though it got only minor coverage in the Israeli papers (here’s how Haaretz, Ynet and the Jerusalem Post covered it) and was almost entirely ignored over here.
This is from Amnon Abramovitch, a popular commentator on Israel’s Channel 2 Television News, writing for the Yediot Ahronot opinion page (Hebrew, print only), Tuesday, June 1.
Wherever he touches military and security affairs, Benjamin Netanyahu has bad luck. An evil eye, a sort of un-naches. That’s how it’s been since way back when, and that’s how it is today. In his last term as prime minister [1996-99] there was the opening of the Temple Mount Tunnel that ended with 17 Israelis killed, tens wounded and hundreds of Arab casualties; the failed attempt to assassinate [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshaal in Jordan; the capture of Mossad agents in Cyprus; the failed Mossad effort to plant listening devices in Switzerland and the arrest of a fighter. In his current term, the Mossad fiasco in Dubai and now the flotilla fiasco whose varied and mounting repercussions have yet to be estimated.
There’s a point at which bum luck rises to the level of a system. A certain critical mass is reached when bad luck becomes a basic characteristic.
Israel got suckered, the same way it gets suckered over and over. It walks into situations where it will inevitably come out looking like a bully, arouses worldwide anger and then gets indignant when it’s condemned. It’s like watching Charlie Brown charge the football, knowing that Lucy will snatch it away as she always does.
Here’s how Haaretz intelligence maven Yossi Melman summed it up:
Time and again, Israel tries to prove that what can’t be solved by force can be solved by more force. Over and over, the policies of force fail. The problem is that with each failure, the part of the world in which we would like to belong is losing patience with us.
As for the bloodshed at sea, the verdict isn’t so clear cut, and it’s important to draw a clear line between the boneheaded thinking of the Israeli government that walked into this situation and the actions of the Israeli troops who were sent into action. Israel had made it plain that it intended to stop the convoy by force if necessary, which is how naval blockades work for better or (mostly) worse, so the passengers had a pretty good idea of what to expect. On the other hand, the convoy had presented itself as a humanitarian mission of peace activists, suggesting that the Israeli boarding party could expect to find the passengers holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome.” Opening fire would be senseless. That, of course, is the scenario that’s captured the world’s imagination and ire.
But that’s not how it turned out. The Israeli commandos came rappelling down from a helicopter one by one and were greeted with knives and iron bars. In case you’ve missed it, here’s what it looked like:
You could call that lots of things, but nonviolent resistance and peace activism don’t spring to mind. Gandhi and King taught that you take the blows of the oppressor and never fight back, and by your moral example you awaken the humanity of the other side. They never said anything about whacking the crap out of them.
Yediot Ahronot military columnist Ron Ben-Yishai wrote a blow-by-blow from the troops’ perspective.
Jeremiah Riemer writes to suggest that if Elena Kagan is indeed set to become the first Reconstructionist on the Supreme Court since the Civil War, as I joked in a May 10 blog post (playing off her late parents’ reported membership in a Reconstructionist congregation), then it’s time to take a fresh look at the famous dictum by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Jewish Reconstructionism, that tradition should have “a voice but not a veto” in our current moral decision-making. If that is indeed how the nominee sees things, what does it portend for the legal principle of stare decisis, the common-law rule that judges are bound by precedent, as set by previous court rulings? Would Justice Kagan give Roe v. Wade or Brown v. Board of Education a “voice but not a veto”?
Theoretically a good question, but it turns out that Kagan actually does not consider herself a Reconstructionist Jew. Her parents got involved in the Reconstructionist congregation, the West End Synagogue, after the nominee had already grown up and moved out. According to recent reports, she calls herself a Conservative Jew. This should come as pleasing news to the court’s Scalia-Thomas wing, at least until someone clues them in that Conservative Jews and conservative Jews are two completely different things.
If you haven’t yet read Peter Beinart’s new piece in the New York Review of Books, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” check it out here. It’s must reading.
It’s a long argument, but here’s the heart of it:
Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster — indeed, have actively opposed — a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.
Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States — so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel — is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students [participants in a Frank Luntz-led focus group — JJG] wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.
Beinart is an assistant professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a fellow at the New America Foundation. Alert readers may remember him as a former editor of The New Republic. He’s come a long way since his Marty Peretz days.
I’m thinking more and more that the president should have nominated a Protestant to the court. Think about it: Liberals have been arguing for decades in favor of diversity as a fundamental value in schooling, hiring and choosing governing/decision-making bodies. How can a Democratic president take the step that renders the Supreme Court devoid of a single member of America’s majority? Even from a purely political point of view, how can a Democrat facing a tough midterm election send the message (however unintended) to the country’s majority demographic group, which happens to be the demographic that’s most wary of Democrats, that they’re not valued?
There are a variety of reasons why liberals have insisted on diversity as an essential factor in these matters. For one, to ensure that all groups’ values and interests are represented at the table. For another, to give all segments of society an equal sense of ownership. Then there’s the simple matter of guaranteeing equal opportunity and opening doors that were previously closed. No, a black or a woman or a Hispanic on the high court doesn’t do much to change the lives of ordinary people, but it makes a big difference in their sense of themselves and how they understand their place in society.
Conservatives have complained since the 1960s that deliberately advancing minorities will effectively reduce opportunities for members of the majority. Liberals dismiss this as a dodge to defend the status quo. The purpose of diversity is to bring the excluded up to a level of equality, not to elevate one group above another. Defending majority rights has always smacked of David Duke and the White Citizens’ Councils: preserving privilege. Besides, the idea that the majority could ever become excluded seemed impossible.
Well, here we are. No Protestants on the Supreme Court. A group that feels itself, with some justice, to be the core, founding majority of America, and has been feeling itself under siege, now looks at the highest court in the land and doesn’t see itself there.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, co-president of CLAL, argues in a piece on Huffington Post that religion shouldn’t be a factor in choosing Supreme Court justices, but this case is different — if for no other reason, then because diversity and inclusion are the Democrats’ own principles, and there’s something to be said for consistency in adhering to core principles.
Generally speaking, the religious background and/or affiliation of Supreme Court Justices ought to be completely irrelevant, but in this case it may be otherwise. In this case, the decision to create a Protestant-free Supreme Court may violate the President’s own principles. And if it doesn’t, then it sends a clear message about the relative unimportance of religion, at least when compared to gender identity.
President Obama has made it clear that personal life experience and the awareness it creates should be factors in determining who is best suited to serve as a Justice. Comments made by Justice Sotomayor about the value of her experiences as a Latina, comments defended by the President, made that abundantly clear.
… Why is it that gender experience is relevant, but religious experience is not? Why is it that a court with which more Americans can identify in terms of gender is important, but one with which they can identify in terms of faith is not?
Pat Buchanan, in a blog post at The American Conservative, does a wicked number on the Democrats’ record in choosing justices. But the numbers are surprising:
Does anybody care if there are three Jewish justices on the Supreme Court? We’re about to find out. The first few hours since Elena Kagan’s nomination have seen a low-grade but steady buzz about the court’s religious balance that sort of dances around the topic. This Washington Post blog leads off with the absence of Protestants on court and solicits the opinions of three talking heads, including Arthur Waskow as the Jewish voice. Of the three panelists, only Protestant theologian Martin Marty reluctantly concludes that religion matters, not on its merits but because that’s how Americans are.
Nina Totenberg raised the topic gingerly in a National Public Radio piece a month ago, when John Paul Stevens first announced his retirement.
Let’s face it: This is a radioactive subject. As Jeff Shesol, author of the critically acclaimed new book Supreme Power, puts it, “religion is the third rail of Supreme Court politics. It’s not something that’s talked about in polite company.” And although Shesol notes that privately a lot of people remark about the surprising fact that there are so many Catholics on the Supreme Court, this is not a subject that people openly discuss.
Note that Totenberg is willing at least to discuss the fact that people don’t discuss the Catholic issue, which is sort of like discussing it. Jews get mentioned as a statistic — three out of nine — but without follow-up discussion about what it would mean to discuss it, if you follow me. If religion is radioactive, Jews are weapons-grade plutonium.
Here’s a delightful little clip that examines the meaning and roots of Hava Nagila as mythic folk tune, originally a wordless nigun of the Sadagora Hasidim, and reality as an artful 20th century pop-composition by seminal musicologist Avraham Zvi Idelson that somehow crept under our skin and into our consciousness until hardly anybody remembers anymore that it really is a 20th century composition. Which, alert readers recall, is what we call the Folk Process.
Want more? This website takes you on an exploration of everything you wanted to know about Hava Nagila and a whole lot you didn’t know to ask.
Voters in the Long Island village of Lawrence go to the polls on Tuesday, March 12, in highly-charged school board election that pits a slate of three Orthodox Jewish incumbents against a slate of challengers including a non-Orthodox Jew and two non-Jews.
The seven-member board currently includes six Orthodox Jews.
The village of Lawrence had a population of 6,522 people in 2,113 households in the 2000 Census. The Lawrence school district, which includes the village of Lawrence and parts of neighboring Atlantic Beach, Cedarhurst and Long Beach, has 3,190 students in its public schools. Another 4,000 children in the district attend private schools, mostly Orthodox day schools and yeshivas.
A federal lawsuit filed against the school district by a group of parents in August 2009 (read about it here), alleged that the board had violated the First Amendment rights of parents and children, having “unlawfully made laws and public policies regarding the establishment of religion.” The plaintiff’s attorney, Rob Agostisi, told Newsday last year that the six Orthodox members of the board all send their children to Jewish day schools.
Richard Clarke, the counter-terrorism chief of the Clinton-era National Security Council, has been more right more times about the nature of upcoming terrorist threats than just about anyone else. He’s got an important op-ed essay about the failed Times Square and Detroit-bound underwear bombers and what they should tell us about the next phase of terrorist threats.
To begin with, he notes,
The unfortunate fact is that such cases represent a kind of terrorism that is virtually impossible to disrupt. These attempts will continue, and from time to time one of them will succeed, with many dead and injured. The more relevant question, therefore, is: How will we respond when that car bomb does go off?
Interestingly, most of his advice has to do with what should not happen. Don’t overreact, proceed rationally, don’t run around like chickens without heads. Specifically, he makes seven points. First,
we must anticipate that someday another terrorist may succeed. If that happens, we will refine our tactics and procedures, but we will not overreact.
We will reject politicians and commentators who automatically make counterterrorism officials the whipping boy after an attack.
Third, pay attention to the fact that