J.J. Goldberg

Racist Trash Talk, From Top Court to Hardwood

By J.J. Goldberg

Those racist remarks attributed to Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, reveal something very important about the state of race relations in America today. Everybody seems to agree about that. Just what they reveal, though, is anybody’s guess.

On one hand you have the anxious observation of the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, that “60 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, and 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, there is still work to be done.” Hard to argue with that one.

On the other hand, the publisher of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, David Suissa, sees a silver lining in the “immediate, widespread condemnation” from across the country and across the political spectrum, “including even a reprimand from President Obama.” (Who woulda guessed he’d come out against racism?) This makes Suissa “realize how far we’ve come. It’s not simply that bigotry of any kind has become so frowned upon. It’s also the new media environment we live in.” Privacy is dead. Anything you say, even in a telephone lovers’ spat, can and will be held against you.

So which is it? Is the glass half-empty, as Harris says, or half-full, as per Suissa?

Actually, they both miss the point. While the nation argues over how to measure the metaphorical liquid in the glass, we’ve got water coming through the roof and flooding the basement. We get all stirred up over obnoxious comments by a billionaire philanderer — as we did a week earlier over even cruder comments by Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy — but we sleep through the latest action by the Supreme Court to halt racial healing and protect our society’s structural racism.

Here’s the timeline:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Supreme Court, Shelby County v. Holder, Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, David Suissa, David Harris, Chief Justice John Roberts, American Jewish Committee, Brown v. Board of Education

Holocaust Lesson: Don't Just Mourn — Fight Back

By J.J. Goldberg

This is a talk I delivered yesterday afternoon at the Holocaust commemoration ceremony of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park. My theme could probably best be summed up by quoting Joe Hill’s final message to Big Bill Haywood: “Don’t waste time mourning. Organize!

The Talmud teaches us that from the day that the Second Temple was destroyed, prophecy was taken away from the prophets and given to the wise. But the great Rabbi Yochanan disagreed. He said prophecy was taken from the prophets and given to fools and children. And his is the lesson we most remember.

He told stories to show how wisdom can come from the most unlikely mouths, from infants and the mad. But what he meant to say was that prophecy was destroyed when the Romans destroyed the Jewish commonwealth and scattered the Jews to the four winds. Human wisdom remained, but there was no longer prophecy, no longer the living voice of God dwelling in His holy house.

So we learn: In the First Destruction, the royal line of King David was destroyed but prophecy remained. In the Second Destruction prophecy was destroyed but wisdom remained.

Now we stand in the shadow of the Third Destruction, when wisdom was destroyed. Nothing makes sense anymore. What remains is memory. Now we struggle in darkness to unravel the senseless contradictions of this new world, to understand what is beyond understanding. We are all children, and we are all fools. And still we struggle.

We come together every year on this day, Yom HaShoah, to remember the six millions of our people who were murdered by the Nazi butchers. We gather to tell their stories. To stand in solidarity with their memory and to promise, each year anew, that we will never forget them. We gather to join hands with those who survived, who came through that greatest of all human hells and lived to teach us their wisdom. We stand with them, and listen, and together we seek to gain some understanding of the past, for the sake of our future.

But why now? Why in April? Today is the 27th of Nissan on the traditional Hebrew calendar. What does this date signify?

Why not January 30th, the day Hitler came to power in 1933 and set the wheels of destruction in motion? Why not November 9th, when the violence exploded on the Night of Broken Glass in 1938? Or September First, the day the Germans invaded Poland in 1939 and began the mass extermination of Jews? Why not January 20th, the day the Final Solution was adopted as official policy at Wannsee in 1942?

Then again, why not choose January 27th, the date Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945? That’s the date the United Nations voted in 2005 to establish as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Why not come together with the nations of the world on a note of hope and human solidarity?

No, we do not gather on any of those dates. Not the days that mark the crimes done to us. Not even the date when our rescuers arrived. We gather now, in April, to remember the day that the Jews fought back.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zionism, Yom HaShoah, World Zionist Organization, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Talmud. Rabbi Yochanan, Socialism, Second Temple, Jewish Labor Bund, Holocaust Remembrance, Babi Yar

How a French Economics Prof Became U.S. Pop Idol

By J.J. Goldberg

Author-economist Thomas Piketty speaking at University of California-Berkeley, April 23, 2014 / Getty Images

If you haven’t yet gotten your copy of Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, you might as well relax. First of all, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are sold out, so if you haven’t picked one up already, there’s no pointing in rushing out. Second, I’m about to give you a quick summary and point you toward some short readings that give you a taste while you wait. And then there’s always Kindle.

Piketty’s Capital is a publishing phenomenon. It’s a densely-written, 685-page analysis by a professor of modern economic history and theory, translated from French, that’s become a runaway international best-seller in the six short weeks since its publication in English March 10. The topic is inequality and the ability of free-market capitalism to mitigate it through growth and job creation. Piketty argues that it doesn’t work.

Unlike many popular books on the economy that spout opinion and toss in anecdotes, Piketty’s book is based on analysis of an unprecedented trove of data. He and a posse of colleagues collected hard numbers on income and wealth by digging through national tax records in the United States, Japan and a half-dozen European countries, going back to the beginnings of such record-keeping — in some cases more than two centuries. A lot of scholars and journalists are calling the result a game-changer that will prove as significant in redefining the terms of economic policy debate as Karl Marx in the 19th century, John Maynard Keynes between the world wars and Simon Kuznets and Milton Friedman in the postwar era.

Two new review-essays sum up Piketty’s findings and arguments in a few easily readable paragraphs. One is this Harvard Business Review blog post by Justin Fox, the executive editor of Harvard Business Review Group. The other, longer one is this essay by Jeff Faux, founder and currently distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank in Washington. You can read them to save yourself the trouble of reading the entire book. A warning, though: They’ll probably make you want to read the whole thing.

But if you’re impatient, here’s the quick version:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Timothy Noah, Thomas Piketty, Simon Kuznets, Milton Friedman, Paul Krugman, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, David Brooks

Bibi's Peace-Talk Halt: Bad Tactic — or Bad Faith?

By J.J. Goldberg

Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Mahmoud Abbas in 2010/Getty Images

Israel’s decision today to suspend peace talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, in response to yesterday’s Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement, is really three distinct decisions. One is sensible. The second is understandable if questionable. The third is inexcusable.

The first decision is the actual suspension of talks, pending formation of the new Palestinian Authority government. The second is to suspend transfer of tax revenues that Israel collects on the Palestinians’ behalf, in retaliation for Palestinian actions. The third is to launch an international media campaign to “blacken the name” of PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas in international public opinion.

The first, suspending talks, sensibly reflects the gravity of the Palestinian step and the delicacy of Israeli domestic politics. Israel isn’t alone in viewing Hamas as a rejectionist, irridentist and terrorist organization; that’s the assessment of the international community.

The Middle East Quartet — the diplomatic partnership of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — laid out three conditions back in 2006 for Hamas participation in the diplomatic process: recognizing Israel, swearing off terrorism and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. To date it has met none of them. There have been unofficial trial balloons, never formally confirmed, about Hamas possibly accepting peaceful coexistence on some basis. And Hamas has largely observed a cease-fire across the Gaza border since taking a whipping in Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012. But it has flatly refused to give up terror in principle, and the only thing preventing Hamas attacks in the West Bank, where no cease-fire exists, has been Israeli-PLO security cooperation.

Under the circumstances, then, it’s reasonable for Israel to suspend negotiations until it sees whether the new Palestinian unity government meets minimal international norms — in effect, whether unity means Hamas following Fatah toward coexistence or Fatah following Hamas toward endless war. It’s not merely reasonable — it’s the least Jerusalem can do to show its voting public that it’s doing its job.

The second Israeli decision, to suspend the monthly transfer of Palestinian tax revenues, is a longstanding tactic for retaliating over Palestinian provocations. It does seem to be useful as a political safety valve, to let the Israeli public know that their government is on its toes and not giving away the store. Like Palestinian-led boycotts of Israel, it’s a way to pressure (read: beat up on) the other side without actual bloodshed. Like those boycotts, its usefulness in encouraging Palestinian good-faith adherence is a lot less clear. Still more unclear is whether or not it’s legal under Israel’s signed agreements.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: United Nations, State Department, Russia, Palestinian Authority, Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO, Osama bin Laden, Nana10, Naftali Bennet, Middle East Quartet, Mahmoud Abbas, Jewish Home, Jen Psaki, Hamas, Fatah, Gaza-Jericho Agreement, European Union, Bibi, Ynet, al Qaeda, Benjamin Netanyahu, Bayit Yehudi, Abu Mazen

Palestinian Unity and the Beggar of Chelm

By J.J. Goldberg

Palestinians in Gaza City on Wednesday celebrating Hamas-Fatah unity pact. / Getty Images

Old Jewish joke: The beggar of Chelm goes to the rabbi’s house and pleads in a most pitiful tone: “Please rabbi, I haven’t eaten in days. Won’t you please give me a ruble to buy some food?”

The rabbi is touched and gives the beggar a ruble.

Getty Images
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (left) and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, February 2012, announcing what they thought was successful completion of unity pact.

An hour later the rabbi is walking downtown when he sees the beggar sitting in a café, eating a thick slice of cake. Incensed, he rushes across the square and accosts the beggar: “Scoundrel! I gave you a ruble to buy food because you were in need, and now I see you’ve wasted it on cake. How dare you?!”

“Excuse me,” the beggar replies indignantly. “Yesterday I had no money and I couldn’t eat cake. Today I have money and you say I shouldn’t eat cake. Tell me, rabbi, when can I eat cake?”

So it is with Hamas, Fatah and Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Last week there was no point in Israel closing a deal with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority because it could only speak for the West Bank half of the Palestinians, given that Gaza is controlled by Hamas. Today there’s no point in closing a deal because the Palestinian Authority is finalizing an agreement for joint rule with Hamas, which will put it in partnership with a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction. So tell me, rabbi, when will there be a point in closing a deal?

Conventional wisdom offers two possible answers to the question. One is that the economic blockade of Gaza is intended to weaken and eventually topple the Hamas government so that the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority can regain full control. That would allow it to speak for all Palestinians and become a viable negotiating partner—assuming, that is, that you believe Fatah could ever be a viable negotiating partner.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The New Republic, West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Khaled Meshaal, Hamas, Gaza, Fatah, Efraim Halevy

Passover Concert Part 2: Exile, Redemption & Math

By J.J. Goldberg

Wikimedia Commons

I was hoping to post Part 2 of the Passover concert before the first Seder and then log off for yomtov, but cleaning the oven took longer than I expected (don’t ask). So here it is. We’ve got some Psalms, some spirituals, some memories of Jerusalem and some visions of the Messianic Era.

This time we’ve got selections by Paul Simon, Arlo Guthrie, Phish, the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, Dylan & Baez, Chava Alberstein, The Melodians, Matisyahu, Meir Ariel, Blind Reverend Gary Davis and Abbott & Costello, plus a few more.

As you’ll recall, Part 1 took us through Magid, the Seder narrative, and up to the meal. Part 2 opens with Jon Stewart hosting Jason Bateman, a self-described “goy” who attended his first Seder and describes it to Stewart with a sense of wonder.

(It should be noted that Jon Stewart acknowledged after the break that he’d been wrong about the word chazerai, which has nothing to do with chazir and does indeed mean, as Bateman said, Tchotchkes, flotsam or junk.)

After the meal, of course, comes Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. Here are two of them.

The first picks up the spirit of the traditional Birkat Hamazon, giving thanks for the land and its bounty, inch by inch and row by row. Some people think the best way to hear “The Garden Song” is from the guy who wrote it, David Mallett. It’s fine, but I don’t think anyone will ever match Arlo Guthrie’s madcap rendition:

The second way to give thanks is in the spirit of the Israeli pioneers, via Chaim Nachman Bialik’s Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha, “The Song of Work and Labor” (“Who will save us from hunger? Who will feed us bread and pour us a glass of milk? O, who gets our thanks, our blessing? Work and labor!”) Sung here by the 1980s supergroup Kolot Shluvim, featuring (front row and top left) Gidi Gov, Yitzhak Klapter and Alon Oleartchik, all of Poogy fame; plus Shlomo Gronich, Yehudit Ravitz and Ariel Zilber. Also worth watching: a wonderful clip from 1937 of the song’s composer, Nachum Nardi, accompanying his first wife Bracha Tsfira as she sings “Shir Ha’avoda Vehamelacha.”

After drinking the third cup of wine, we open the door for Elijah the Prophet, hoping he’ll come this year to herald the messianic era. Here’s the Vienna Jewish Choir, conducted by Roman Grinberg, with a fine version of the prophet’s traditional song.

Here’s a very different take on Elijah, from a very different Jewish tradition, performed by the Moroccan-Jewish singing legend Cheikh Mwijo (Moshe Attias).

Bob Dylan laid out his messianic vision of the time of liberation: “The Hour That the Ship Comes In,” with Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. (I’ve uploaded this before. I’ll keep doing it until it hits No. 1.)

Next comes the holiday cycle of readings from Psalms, known as Hallel. Since it’s getting late, we’ll run through it with a single song that captures all the main themes of the Hallel in just a few lines. It’s the 1942 pop tune “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” words and music by Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls,” “How to Succeed in Business”), who donated all the royalties to the war effort. This 1943 version, by Kay Kyser (of College of Musical Knowledge Fame) and His Orchestra, hit No. 1.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Vienna Jewish Choir, Tractors Revenge, Southern Sons, The Melodians, Roman Grinberg, Rev. Gary Davis, Phish, Paul Simon, Meir Ariel, Matisyahu, Kolot Shluvim, Kay Kyser, Jon Stewart, Joan Baez, Jason Bateman, Garden Song, James Taylor, David Mallett, Bob Dylan, Chava Alberstein, Birkat Hamazon, Abbott and Costello, Arlo Guthrie

A Passover Concert: Songs of Liberation and Longing

By J.J. Goldberg

To get us in the spirit of the Seder, here are a few songs of exodus, freedom, rebellion and an only kid. We’ve got selections by Bruce Springsteen, Chava Alberstein, Pete Seeger, Moishe Oysher, Bob Dylan, Shuli Nathan, Paul Robeson, Paul Simon, Lahakat HaNachal, the Maccabeats and many more, including two late and very much lamented friends, Debbie Friedman and Meir Ariel. Also Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

There’s a lot to tell. Tradition teaches that the Exodus was a long night, and so is the Seder. So I’m putting it up in two parts.

First up: a quick recap of the Passover story, as retold in this unusual version of the gospel classic “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep (‘coz Pharaoh’s Army got drownded).” It’s performed by the Soul Stirrers, gospel group where Sam Cooke got his start:

Next, of course, comes “Go Down Moses.” This song has many, many unforgettable versions, but for my money there are none as powerful as this one from Preston Sturges’s 1941 film, “Sullivan’s Travels.”

It was a tough choice: I was strongly tempted to go with the unparalled classic version by Paul Robeson. I lovethis up-tempo one by the great Golden Gate Quartet. And this swinging version by Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong is a gem. All well worth a listen. But for sheer emotional power, none brings you to tears like the one below.

Background: Sullivan, a Hollywood film mogul who’s gone bumming to see the real America, gets arrested and put on a Southern chain gang. In this scene the prisoners brought to see a movie in a nearby black church. The pastor and lead singer is Jess Lee Brooks.

The Haggadah tells of four rabbis who were sitting all night in Bnei Brak recalling the events of the Passover, until their students came and said, Masters, it’s time for the morning prayers. Some commentators suggest that they were actually plotting their own liberation—the Bar Kochba rebellion against the Romans—and the students’ message was code for “make like you’re praying, the Romans are coming.” If so, here’s what that all-nighter might have looked like, from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

The Magid — the portion of the Seder that retells the events of the Exodus — reaches an early emotional climax with the passage “Vehi she’amda la’avoteinu velanu” (“And that which stood firm for our ancestors and for us — for not just one enemy rose against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise up to destroy us, and the Holy One, praised be He, saves us from their hand.”)

Here’s “Vehi She’amda” and the paragraphs that follow, sung by the great Cantor Moishe Oysher and choir. Even if it’s not your style, take a taste. There’s none better.

The exodus isn’t just an ancient story. In living memory the Jewish people were brought from a house of bondage to redemption in the land of Israel. Most didn’t make it, and those who did had to sneak across a much wider sea than Moses crossed, in an operation that would have tested Joshua. I speak of the pre-state Aliya Bet. Here’s their song (and one of my all-time favorites), “Bein Gvulot” (Between Borders) sung by Hillel Raveh. “Between borders, over impassable mountains, on dark, starless nights, we bring convoys of our brethren to the homeland. For the young and tender we will open the gates. For the old and the weak we are a protecting wall.”

And of course, the climactic moment when Moses stood on the Red Sea shore, “smotin’ that water with a two-by-four,” in the words of the old spiritual sung here by Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sullivan's Travels, Solomon Mikhoels, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Paul Robeson, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Moishe Oysher, Maccabeats, Louis Armstrong, Lahakat HaNachal, Jess Lee Brooks, Itzik Fefer, Golden Gate Quartet, Golda Meir, Florence Reece, Debbie Friedman, Bruce Springsteen, Almanac Singers

Obamacare Adds 9 Million Newly Insured: Study

By J.J. Goldberg

Last minute Obamacare signup, Miami, March 31 / Getty Images

About 9.3 million more Americans had health insurance in late March 2014 than in September 2013, according to a survey released Tuesday by the RAND Corporation, the respected centrist think tank. Nearly all the new enrollments are a direct result of Obamacare. As a result, the percentage of Americans without coverage dropped from 20.5% to 15.8%.

The survey was first reported April 1 by the L.A. Times’ Noam Levey, who got an advance peek. Ezra Klein’s new Vox.com news site has what looks like the clearest overall summary of the study.

The figure of 9.3 million is a net total, after subtracting the 5.2 million people who lost coverage during that period. (That is, 14.5 million people gained coverage, but 5.2 million lost it, for a net gain of 9.3 million.) Less than 1 million people who had individual policies before September are now uninsured.

At the same time, the total doesn’t include the last-minute surge of 3.2 million signups through government marketplaces at the end of March and beginning of April, since the survey was completed on March 28, before the surge began. The net total of surge signups that resulted in completed enrollment is still unknown.

The most surprising finding in the study is that most of the new coverage doesn’t come from Obamacare’s signature marketplaces, but from people gaining coverage at their workplace. Of the 14.5 million who gained coverage, some 7.2 million people gained it through employer-sponsored insurance; 3.6 million through Medicaid expansion; 1.4 million through Obamacare marketplaces, and 1.8 million through unspecified “other” sources.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Weekly Standard, Wall Street journal, Vox.com, RAND Corporation, Michael Hiltzik, Medicaid, John McCormack, James Taranto, Ezra Klein

Palestinians Seen Easing Terms for Renewing Talks

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Mahmoud Abbas: dialing back?

The Palestinian daily Al Quds reported on its website Monday afternoon, quoting a “knowledgeable source,” that the Palestinian leadership had decided to return to the negotiating table for two more months, with the aim of laying out the borders between Israel and a potential Palestinian state, according to Walla! News reporter Amir Tibon.

The source “ruled out the possibility” that the Palestinians would reverse their decision to sign 15 United Nations conventions, but added that the Palestinians have “no intention” of joining any more international bodies “in the near future.”

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Cairo with Arab League foreign ministers to seek their backing for the Palestinian position. In advance of that meeting, the Jerusalem Post reports, the Arab League’s deputy secretary general said in a statement issued Monday that the United States still “has a role to play in pushing the peace process forward.”

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: United Nations, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian Authority, Marwan Barghouti, International Criminal Court, Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, Arab League, Amir Tibon, Al Quds, Ahmed Saadat

Rightist Foils Bid to Open Books of Settlement Unit

By J.J. Goldberg

Tzufim settlement outpost, western Samaria, October 2012 / Getty Images

The chairman of the Knesset’s law and legislation committee on Thursday postponed, for the second time in two weeks, a scheduled vote on a bill requiring transparency in government funding of West Bank settlements.

The bill has majority support in the committee, whose membership mirrors the overall Knesset party breakdown. The chairman, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, asked by opposition lawmaker Ahmed Tibi “what you’re trying to hide,” said — according to an official Knesset record — that he didn’t want to give settlement opponents “information that you can use to bring a Supreme Court lawsuit and prevent construction in Judea and Samaria.”

The postponement came three days after the Knesset’s finance committee approved an allocation of $51 million (177 million shekels) requested by the government for the private organization that conducts most settlement development, the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization.

Getty Images
‘Brothers’ Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett

The allocation passed with the support of three committee members from the center-left Yesh Atid party, part of the Netanyahu coalition, after they received a promise from coalition leaders that the transparency bill would be brought to a vote on Thursday. On Thursday, however, a committee member from the pro-settler Jewish Home party, Orit Struck, asked for a postponement for “consultation within her party.” Rotem promptly granted the request.

The transparency bill was submitted last year by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. It would subject the WZO Settlement Division to Israel’s freedom of information law, which currently applies to government bodies. The WZO is a private nonprofit controlled by coalitions of Diaspora Jewish organizations and Israeli political parties. Its Settlement Division has been run for years as a semi-autonomous unit, funded entirely by the government but nominally owned by the WZO.

The arrangement allows the government a measure of deniability in settlement activity and frees the settlement body from the public scrutiny required of government bodies, including the freedom of information law.

The Diaspora organizations that share control of the WZO, including B’nai B’rith, the Reform and Conservative movements and others, have acquiesced in the arrangement out of a professed respect for Israeli democracy, and have been repeatedly assured that the Settlement Division operates under close government scrutiny.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, WZO, World Zionist Organization, Tzipi Livni, Reform Judaism, Eleazar Stern, Hatnuah, David Rotem, Conservative Judaism, B'nai B'rith, Ahmed Tibi

On Yarzeit, Recall King's Last Battle: Labor Rights

By J.J. Goldberg

Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, 1968. Left: April 3. Right: April 4.

Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University
Martin Luther King Jr. and AFSCME president Jerry Wurf strategize during Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, March 1968.

Today is the 46th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Below is the editorial I wrote for the Forward seven years ago, on what would have been his 78th birthday — the moment when the years since his death equaled the years he’d been alive.

It seemed important to recall the near-forgotten lessons of his death: First, his last-minute, aborted turn from the particularist crusade for black rights to a broader, still-barely-begun crusade for economic justice and labor rights. Second, the complex, critical role played by the Jewish community in the dramatic events of those final days and weeks leading up to his death in Memphis. At a time when the first rumblings of black-Jewish schism were echoing in the New York teachers’ strike, King’s partnership with a Jewish union president and a Reform rabbi in Memphis could have laid the seeds for a renewed black-Jewish alliance. That hope ended on April 4, 1968.

It’s worth remembering, too, with our own memories of Wisconsin still fresh, that the labor struggle in which King died was the struggle of a public employees’ union for the rights of municipal employees.

King’s Last Message

Forward editorial, January 19, 2007

The birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. that Americans observed this week was the 39th since he died in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968 at age 39. He has now been dead for as many years as he lived. In a profound sense, he now belongs to history.

Over the years, our nation has made it a tradition to mark King’s birthday by celebrating his life and work. This year, as if by silent consensus, there was a turning toward re-examination of his death — the events leading up to his murder, the new mission he had taken up just before he died, the bitterness of his last struggle.

King had spent 12 years battling for the civil rights of black Americans, trying to awaken the country’s conscience to the stain of racism. In his final months, he decided to broaden his focus toward empowering poor people, black or white. He hoped to awaken the nation to share its wealth more fairly.

He went to Memphis as part of that new quest, to support a strike by sanitation workers, most of them black, who were seeking to form a union. Their main demands were a 40-cent hourly raise, to $2.00, and a clean place to eat lunch. It became one of the fiercest labor struggles of the postwar era, opposed with iron determination by the all-white city establishment. It was in this struggle that King was cut down.

Americans have worked mightily over the years to absorb the lessons of King’s 12-year struggle for black rights. We have yet to begin exploring the lessons of his last struggle, the one for which he gave his life. It is time we began.

Jewish Americans have a special lesson to explore. We remember the death of King and the violent breakdown of the civil rights crusade as a watershed. For a decade and more, Jews and blacks had marched side by side. Now, as we remember it, the black community turned inward — and away from us. But the Memphis strike teaches us something more complicated.

(Continues after the jump / below the video.)

Watch: Final moments of King’s last speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” delivered the night before he died, April 3, 1968:

(full speech, 43-minutes, audio only, plus link to text, after the jump)

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rabbi James Wax, Martin Luther King Jr., Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, Jerry Wurf, Henry Loeb

Bash-J Street Audience Turns on Dershowitz

By J.J. Goldberg

The Philadelphia screening of the anti-J Street film “The J Street Challenge” by the Jewish federation and the regional Hillel council reportedly turned into a rowdy right-wing roast in which the audience turned its fury on Alan Dershowitz.

So reports Matthew Berkman, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. candidate writing a doctoral thesis on American Jewish politics, in an account in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, published by the American University in Cairo. Dershowitz, a critic of J Street who is featured in the film, was present at the screening. After the film ended he joined the film’s producer, Boston gadfly Charles Jacobs, for a question-and-answer session with the audience. According to Berkman,

Speaker after speaker stepped to the mic to lambaste Dershowitz, often in the most abusive terms, for a wide variety of crimes: for referring to the “West Bank” instead of “Judea and Samaria”; for Dershowitz’s anti-Semitic denial of the right of Jews to colonize the Palestinian city of Hebron; for encouraging his followers to vote for the Jew-hater Barack Obama; and, of course, for his failure to comprehend the savage, homicidal nature of Islam. Dershowitz attempted to defend himself, comparing his assailants to Meir Kahane and denouncing their racism. But his appeals were barely audible over the shouted cross talk and frenzied cheers of the audience. “If you don’t want people like me defending Israel,” he told them, “then you’re in serious trouble.”

Dershowitz went through a similar roasting in New York from some folks in the audience at the Jerusalem Post Conference in April 2012 and again, much more fiercely, in April 2013. This one sounds even worse. It might be time for him to consider finding a new bunch of friends to hang out with.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Philadelphia Jewish Federation, Philadelphia Hillel, Matthew Berkman, J Street Challenge, Charles jacobs, Cairo Review of Global Affairs, American University in Cairo, Alan Dershowitz

Jon Stewart Twits 'Zionist Billionaire' Adelson. Ouch

By J.J. Goldberg

Getty Images
Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart took on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s self-commissioned and miraculously self-exonerating investigative report into the Bridgegate scandal last night, and led from there into a viciously funny takedown of Christie’s apology to Sheldon Adelson for referring to the territories as “occupied” during a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition.

In Part 2 (after the jump) we go for details to Samantha Bee, “the Daily Show’s senior Zionist billionaire correspondent,” who discusses proper terminology for “occupied territories” and other (alleged) Adelson nomenclaturical quirks.

Parental Warning: some folks might find the segment offensive. It sort of follows the theme that I tossed out the other day in my post about the Sheldon Primary and the Jewish Republicans’ apparent plan to save the Jews by buying the White House. People found that offensive, too. My point was, you can’t do this sort of thing — throwing your weight around (no disrespect to Gov. Christie) — and expect people not to notice. Stewart’s point, I’m thinking, is this could get me a lot of laughs. We’re probably both right.

The Adelson segment starts at 3:24, though the Bridgegate stuff is worth watching.

Part 1:

Part 2:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sheldon Adelson, Samantha Bee, Jon Stewart, Chris Christie

GOP House Bill Tells Feds To Cut Climate Research

By J.J. Goldberg

Today, Tuesday, April 1, a day after the United Nations released its latest and most disturbing climate change report (text), the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is due to vote on a bill ordering the federal government’s top weather and climate research organization to spend more time on forecasting weather and storms and less studying climate change.

The bill, the Weather Forecasting Improvement Act, H.R. 2413, was introduced last June by GOP Representative Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma. It’s aimed at changing the priorities of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

As reported by The Hill, Bridenstine

introduced his bill last year after tornadoes hit his home state. Those storms led him to argue on the House floor the government spends too much on climate change research and not enough on developing weather forecasting tools to predict tornadoes and other events.

His bill does not explicitly kick the government out of the business of studying climate change. But it does say NOAA must “prioritize weather-related activities, including the provision of improved weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy, in all relevant line offices.”

The bill drew several Democratic cosponsors (list) after some compromise language was negotiated in committee.

Bridenstine, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, introduced a second climate-related bill last week, together with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, in which they call for an “embrace” of “the Great American Energy Renaissance.” They’re saying it will “empower the private sector to create good-paying, American jobs and spur economic growth by harnessing our nation’s energy resources and removing federal impediments to energy exploration, development and trade.” It’s a doozy.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: fracking, Ted Cruz, Paul Broun, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, Jim Bridenstine, Lamar Smith, NOAA, ANWR

When Is BDS Not BDS? A Vassar Passover Tale

By J.J. Goldberg

Several alert readers are unhappy with my post last week on the nasty BDS debate at Vassar College. Among other things, I referred readers to a post by the conservative legal scholar William Jacobson on his LegalInsurrection.com blog, providing extensive documentation on the background to the clash. Critics claim I wrongly soft-pedaled the behavior of Vassar history prof Joshua Schreier, director of the college’s Jewish Studies program, who Jacobson claimed supports the boycotting of Israel.

I had highlighted Schreier’s position because it seemed startling to see the director of a college Jewish Studies Program “leaning toward sympathy with the BDS movement” (my words). That struck me as a sign of the times, and an ominous one if you oppose ostracizing Israel. But I cautioned that Jacobson “exaggerates the case” by claiming that Schreier “supports the academic boycott of Israel,” when in fact, the source Jacobson linked to, a feature story in the Vassar student paper, quotes Schreier as “rethinking” BDS, as finding his “opinion evolving,” as “leaning in favor” — everything but endorsing the boycott. It’s all about the direction his thinking is taking. He’s moving toward support, but that’s not the same as arriving there. There’s a difference.

Jacobson replied in the Comments section that Schreier “signed the academic boycott letter, something specifically noted in my post. It’s not an exaggeration to say he supports BDS.” He’s referring to a February 28 open letter in which 39 Vassar faculty members including Schreier “voice our dissent” from a January 2 statement by Vassar’s president and faculty dean condemning a boycott of Israeli colleges. The president and dean were responding to the December 13 vote by the American Studies Association, or ASA, endorsing a boycott of Israeli higher education institutions.

Got that? 39 Vassar profs dissent from the statement by their president and faculty dean condemning the ASA call to boycott Israeli academic institutions, which my father bought for two zuzim. Chad Gadya and all that.

Incidentally, all of them claim they’re acting to preserve academic freedom and free speech from the chilling effects threatened by the next party down the line.

Yesterday a new post appeared on LegalInsurrection, by blog contributor David Gerstman, a Maryland computer programmer, provocatively titled “The anti-Israel Campaign at Vassar Goes Through the Looking Glass,” that purports to back up Jacobson’s characterization of Schreier.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yisrael Medad, William Jacobson, Vassar College, LegalInsurrection, Joshua Schreier, David Gerstman, Chad Gadya, American Studies Association, BDS

Groveling Season, Las Vegas to Jerusalem to D.C.

By J.J. Goldberg

Las Vegas, March 29: Chris Christie addresses Republican Jewish Coalition. Sheldon Adelson listens. / Getty Images

With all the apologies flying back and forth these days, you might almost think Yom Kippur came early this year. In fact, tradition teaches that there’s a deep spiritual bond between Yom Kippur, which is six months from now, and Purim, which just passed on March 16. So it shouldn’t surprise to see mockery and farce flying back and forth across the Atlantic, masquerading as regret and atonement.

In Las Vegas on Saturday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie apologizes to Sheldon Adelson for thoughtlessly referring to Israel’s military rule in Judea and Samaria as an occupation. In Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon meets Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey and apologizes, yet again, for trashing Washington’s efforts to end, in the words of the Bush roadmap that Israel signed in 2003, “the occupation that began in 1967.” And in Washington, Secretary of State Kerry receives a letter from a deniable Netanyahu cutout, former ambassador Alan Baker, rephrasing the insults in only slightly more decorous terms.

Christie’s apology to Sheldon Adelson was for referring to Judea and Samaria, a.k.a. the West Bank, as “the occupied territories” during his speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. He made the reference in the context of acknowledging how vulnerable Israel would be without them, but still. Sheldon and Co. hate to hear the territories under Israeli military rule referred to as “occupied” (you known, those “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” in the words of U.N. Security Resolution 242, which Israel continuously refers to as the legal basis for negotiations).

Getty Images
General apologies: ex-Gen. Moshe Yaalon (left), Gen. Martin Dempsey

Over in Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe “Bogey” Yaalon continued his grand apology-and-groveling tour today with an elaborately florid embrace of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whom he thanked for being a “true friend of the state of Israel and the IDF.” Yaalon is still trying to clean up the mess he’s created with his serial insults of Secretary of State John Kerry in January and the entire Obama foreign policy in March, both of which prompted furious protests from Washington, including a personal phone call from Kerry to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Yaalon semi-apologized in January with a Defense Ministry press release saying the minister “had no intention to cause any offense” (by calling Kerry “obsessive” and “messianic”). Then on March 20 he semi-apologized in a phone call to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, saying there was “no antagonism or criticism or intent to harm the United States” (when he said the administration was broadcasting weakness throughout the world and got bamboozled by Iran).

This time Yaalon went all out, delivering his message in person to Dempsey, out loud, in front the media. Here’s how the Jerusalem Post reported it:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Moshe Bogey Yaalon, Sheldon Adelson, Moshe Yaalon, Martin Dempsey, Likud, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, John Kerry, Dore Gold, Chuck Hagel, Chris Christie, Benjamin Netanyahu, Alan Baker

Lesson of Chris Christie and Ehud Olmert Scandals

By J.J. Goldberg

The state of New Jersey prides itself on its “long and strong relationship” with the state of Israel. The feeling is often mutual. But this is getting ridiculous.

Both states are sweating through major political corruption scandals reaching to the very highest ranks of government. In both cases, the central figure in the scandal saw his prospects take a dive this weekend when a former top aide, a woman confidante he’d thrown under bus, turned around and decided to testify against him. Both are erstwhile moderate white knights whose dreams of top office are probably now crushed because they forgot the oldest rule in the book — the one about a women scorned. Especially when she was your chief of staff.

One of them is former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. The other is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Olmert is awaiting the judge’s verdict next Monday in a real estate bribery case, the so-called Holyland Affair, dating back to his years as Jerusalem mayor in the 1990s. Acquittal, which seemed likely, would have cleared the way for him to try to regain the prime minister’s office, from which he resigned under a cloud of investigations in 2008. On Thursday, though, prosecutors reached a plea deal with Shula Zaken, Olmert’s longtime bureau chief and close confidante for 35 years, who was indicted with him. She agreed to testify against Olmert in return for a reduced sentence if the judge agrees to reopen proceedings.

Zaken had stood by Olmert through a string of bribery and corruption investigations and trials, refusing to testify against him and even claiming responsibility for bribes prosecutors blamed on Olmert. That all changed last October, though, when Olmert, during testimony, was asked if he thought Zaken was corrupt and suggested prosecutors ask her.

The other is New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Shula Zaken, Holyland Affair, George Washington Bridge, Ehud Olmert, Chris Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly, Bridgegate

Vassar's Israel Debate Takes 'Raw' Racial Turn

By J.J. Goldberg

Portlock / Natsummit.org
Philip Weiss

An ugly confrontation took place at Vassar College March 3 between pro-BDS activists and a group of students and professors who were about to embark on a college-sponsored trip to study water issues in Israel and Palestine. A college forum convened to discuss the tensions surrounding the trip - and more specifically, the protests against it - brought out what one pro-Palestinian blogger, Philip Weiss, called a “raw” and “unsettling” display of rage tinged with racial resentment directed against the Jewish students.

The shouting and name-calling session, formally known as an “Open Forum on the Ethics of Student Activism and Protest at Vassar,” is getting some passionate scrutiny on the right. Commentary’s Jonathan Marks has weighed in, as has Caroline Glick in her Jerusalem Post column.

What’s particularly interesting is that they both rely for the facts on a gripping eye-witness account by Philip Weiss, whose MondoWeiss.net blog is a platform for pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel Jews whose vehemence sometimes makes even Weiss himself uncomfortable.

Weiss takes a very dim view of Israel’s role in the conflict and sees no place for an independent Jewish state, but he also brings a tone of thoughtfulness, civility and, well, regret to his writing that are rare in the anti-Israel camp. In his blog post about the Vassar forum he gets into some apocalyptic predictions about where campus discourse on Israel is headed and how the mounting “belligerence may be necessary to the resolution.” But he also manages to separate his reporting of the events from his philosophizing about the rights and wrongs.

Weiss had been asked to come and watch the Vassar proceedings by the two professors who led the Israel trip, earth sciences prof Jill Schneiderman and Greek and Roman studies prof Rachel Friedman. The event seems to be another instance where the venom of the anti-Israel side left Weiss feeling shaken. He calls it “unsettling.”

He also discusses an aspect of the confrontation that nobody else seems to have wanted to touch on: a raw, angry racial divide. Students of color displaying rage toward supporters of Israel. It seems pretty one-sided, at least on the surface: rage on one side, hurt and fear on the other. Weiss writes:

The clash felt too raw, and there was a racial element to the division (privileged Jews versus students of color).

The trip had been in the works since last year, Weiss writes, and “drew the attention of a new chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.” On February 6, “nine members of SJP, all but one a person of color, picketed the class” that was preparing for the trip. Weiss continues:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: William Jacobson, Vassar College, Students for Justice in Palestine, Rachel Friedman, Philip Weiss, MondoWeiss, LegalInsurrection, Kiese Laymon, Joshua Schreier, Jonathan Marks, Jill Schneiderman, Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick, Commentary, BDS

A GOP Plan to Save the Jews: Buy White House

By J.J. Goldberg

Miriam and Sheldon Adelson address Shimon Peres’s Israel Presidential Conference, Jerusalem, May 2008 / Getty Images

Amid mounting alarm that anti-Semitism is on the rise in key spots around the globe — and fears that Israel could be a prime target — a prominent Republican group has come up with a unique approach to fighting back: gather a bunch of Jewish zillionaires at a casino in Las Vegas, announce plans to buy the White House in 2016 and invite leading politicians to come, hat in hand, and beg for permission to be the candidate.

That, roughly speaking, is the picture that emerges from today’s Washington Post report on next weekend’s spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, or as insiders reportedly, call it, in deference to the lead role played by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, “the Sheldon Primary.”

Here’s how the Post describes it:

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Venetian Hotel, Sheldon Adelson, Scott Walker, Sam Fox, Republican Jewish Coalition, Paul Singer, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Miriam Adelson, Mel Sembler, Las Vegas, Lewis Eisenberg, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Ken Mehlman, Chris Christie, Wayne Berman

Knesset Liberals Block New Settlement Funding

By J.J. Goldberg

New outpost goes up at Eli, Judea-West Bank, February 2008, courtesy of the World Zionist Organization / Getty Images

The settler movement and its right-wing Knesset allies are finding they’ve got their hands full swatting back demands from the center and left — an unusual alliance of Labor, Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah — for transparency in the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division budgets. Committee chairmen from the right, meaning Likud Beiteinu and Jewish Home-Bayit Yehudi, have been forced to resort to a series of slimy parliamentary moves to keep the Settlement Division’s budget and operations under wraps.

Among other things, the maneuvering shows that the center-left that opposes new settlements has a voting majority in the Knesset and its committees. The only reason there’s a right-wing government under Bibi Netanyahu is because of Yair Lapid’s decision to join with Jewish Home and Naftali Bennett on domestic issues rather than form a center-left peace coalition.

The latest maneuver was a decision by the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, Nissan Slomiansky of the settler-dominated Jewish Home-Bayit Yehudi party, to cancel a planned vote on a requested 177 million shekel ($51 million) allocation to the Settlement Division, after Slomiansky figured out the allocation was headed for rejection, Haaretz reported.

Lawmakers from two coalition factions, Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, had indicated that they were going to join with the opposition parties to oppose the allocation, which totaled 177 million shekels ($51 million). Stav Shafir of the opposition Labor Party had demanded before the vote that the Settlement Division be required to report to lawmakers on its budget and activities before receiving further funding.

Justice Minister Livni has been pressing in recent months for legislation bringing the settlement division under the authority of Israel’s freedom of information law. The division is currently exempt. A bill that would have given her the authority to require disclosure — in compliance with a Supreme Court ruling — was defeated in the Knesset’s constitution, law and legislation committee after committee chair David Rotem of the Yisrael Beiteinu faction brought it to surprise vote with only one other committee member present, Shuli Muallem Refaeli of Jewish Home-Bayit Yehudi.

The Settlement Division, nominally a department of the nonprofit, Diaspora-controlled World Zionist Organization, is the Israeli government’s designated subcontractor for construction and infrastructure in new communities, mostly in the West Bank. The WZO’s governing bodies, which represent a range of Israeli and Diaspora organizations from Likud and Shas to the American Reform movement and B’nai B’rith International, have no control over the budgets or activities of the Settlement Division, despite their nominal ownership of the body. At the same time, because the division is technically owned by a private, Diaspora-led organization, it is not bound by the rules of transparency that apply to government institutions.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, World Zionist Organization, Talia Sasson, Tzipi Livni, Stav Shafir, Reconstituted Jewish Agency, Six-Day War, Shuli Muallem Refaeli, Settlement Division, Sasson Report, Reform Judaism, Naftali Bennett, Nissan Slomiansky, Jewish Home, Jewish Agency, Israeli Freedom of Information Law, Expanded Jewish Agency, Hatnuah, David Rotem, Avigdor Lieberman, Bayit Yehudi, Avigdor Liberman



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