September 21, 2018

Richard Greene: How One or Two Words Can Change Your Life

One of the world’s leading experts on public speaking, Richard Greene, explains why people fear public speaking more than death, and discusses the abuse of language in the era of Trump. Visit his website.

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Howard Rosenman: Award-Winning Producer Opens Up

What’s it like to be a gay Israel lover in Hollywood? To act with Sean Penn? To be on top of your game at 74? Hollywood wunderkind Howard Rosenman shares his life’s scoops.

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Rob Long: Hollywood Writer Talks Trump

Award-winning Hollywood showrunner Rob Long talks about happiness, craziness and, of course, Donald Trump.

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The ‘Reality’ of the Jewish State

We all live with dichotomies, but possibly none is more powerful than our differing views about the idea of nationhood. In the 19th century, the emancipated Jew emerges with a profound belief in the power of modernity and the capacity to dream about and act upon the idea of forming a national homeland for the Jewish people. For the first time in 2,000 years Jews would be able to affirm their national pride and gain their own political identity.

Indeed, the unfolding events of the 20th century would embolden the Jewish people, both as Zionists reclaiming their dream of statehood and as political actors operating within the modern world. The Zionist case was built in part around the illusion that once the Jewish people obtained their homeland, anti-Semitism would dissipate, as Jews would no longer be treated as a marginalized community. To the contrary, as Jews were claiming their political legitimacy, the forces that have historically haunted our people, the enemies of our community and the emerging opponents of the Jewish state, were reinventing their case against Judaism and Zionism. The seeds of modern anti-Semitism would be established.

At each turn of this experiment in nation-building, there would exist “the idea,” with its various proponents offering definitions of the perfect Jewish national model; and then there would be the haunting realities of constructing and defending a new state amid an array of political and religious threats.

Just as the saga of Jewish nation-building culminated with the establishment of the State of Israel 70 years ago, the very political powers that endorsed the creation of Israel began to move beyond their own historic commitment to the nation-state system. In the post-World War II era, governments began constructing military, political and economic alliances, in part leaving Israel in an isolated and vulnerable position, bereft of any immediate partners. Jews had been given a state, absent any assurances that it could be sustained as a viable enterprise.

At the same moment, Jews would come to terms with their uneasy historic encounter with Christianity, as the Roman Catholic Church charted a new pathway forward in advancing Christian-Jewish understanding. These extraordinary events would be offset by the rise of radical Islam with its commitment to the destruction of Israel and the marginalization of the Jewish people. If Christianity defined much of Western Jewish history, Islam would emerge as the significant religious player in these times.

Over the course of its history, Israel’s relationship with its Jewish world partners has undergone a series of transitions. Against the backdrop of the Holocaust during the middle years of the 20th century, we would be reminded that Israel’s “survivability” would be seen as critical to the welfare of the Jewish enterprise. “One people, one destiny” would be the dominant motif during the first 20 years of statehood. In that era, Israel would enjoy a broad degree of Diaspora support.

“Sustainability” would be the defining element for the next quarter of a century. Here, the nature of the Jewish partnership, symbolized by the United Jewish Appeal campaign theme of the time, “We are One,” would rest on garnering and maintaining the political, economic and military support vital to Israel’s standing. This period would profoundly change Israel’s partners as much as it transformed the State of Israel.

As a result of the Six-Day War of 1967, we all became Israelis, as our pride and confidence soared. This transformative moment fundamentally changed a particular generation from being identified as “Jewish Americans” to becoming “American Jews,” as we no longer defined ourselves only through our religious standing but now saw our Jewishness as core to our identity.

Jews had been given a state, absent any assurances that it could be sustained as a viable enterprise.

Jews would be reborn as a new class of people, empowered to reconstruct its identity as well as the image of what Israel represented. For those of us who recall the extraordinary week of June 6, 1967, it would be transformative to our Jewish consciousness. There existed a unique sense of awe at what had happened and what it would mean. Over time, we romanticized these events, creating new images of the war while allowing its memories to forever shape our lives. That moment, however, also represented a distortion of the coming realities.

That time frame would also lay the foundation for the fundamental divisions over Israel’s definition of its character. It would generate the seeds defining the great political divide. Again, the idea of Jewish nationalism would be set against its core realities. The divisive issues of settlements, Palestinian rights, the divisions between religion and state, and a conversation around the character and substance of what it may mean to be a “democratic, Jewish state” would emerge over the succeeding decades.

Over these past 25 years, Israel would move away from those themes that reflected its earlier vulnerable position to one that might be seen as “symbolic” or even as an exemplar of political and social ingenuity as the Jewish state emerged as a technologically accomplished “startup” nation with a sophisticated economy and an advanced military. In this third phase, Israel transformed itself from its dependency role to being the dominant player in global Jewish matters. But this moment in time also created a fundamental disruption in its historic partnership with its Diaspora as a widening divide unfolded.

One can find deep divisions today between the liberal-orientated attitudes of a majority of American Jews and the center-right views of the government in Jerusalem and its supporters over such complex issues as settlements and human rights. More particularly, some Jewish Americans are uncomfortable with recent Israeli initiatives and proposals that seek to curb the free speech rights of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement supporters and legislation denying admission into the Jewish state of individuals associated with specific anti-Israel movements. Just as American-Jewish liberals defended the Obama administration’s record on Israel, supporters of President Donald Trump embrace his policies in connection with the Jewish state, creating a significant political conflict among Israel’s historic partners.

Israel defenders have argued on what basis should Diaspora communities have the right to publicly critique Israel over its policies and actions? Ought that “right” be left to the citizens of the Jewish nation? Responders from the Diaspora push back, challenging that assumption, noting that Israel was created as the collective expression of the Jewish people, and as such, all Jews not only have the right to express their views but have an obligation to assert their ideas. Once again, the idea of Israel would come up against the realities of its politics.

Beyond these internecine battles, the question of how the international community ought to engage Iran or the issue of what constitutes anti-Semitic behavior in connection with dissent around Israel remind us of other elements contributing to this deep crevice that today defines these conversations.

In place of creative dialogue, one finds only disagreement and discord. Some American-Jewish critics’ arguments are framed in moral terms, suggesting that Israel “ought” to be held to a higher standard. In their minds, Israel is failing at this point to live up to the Jewish values that have informed and shaped the state’s Zionist heritage. For Jewish Americans who express their disappointment or despair over Israel’s move to the political right, the state has lost their trust. Israel’s political establishment is seen as either politically corrupt or operating around a set of deeply flawed assumptions. Adding to these divisions, as demonstrated by the most recent population studies, the declining levels of Jewish engagement with Israel, especially on the part of younger Jews, present another challenge to Israeli authorities and to American-Jewish leaders. The image of a perfect Jewish society is yet again challenged by its political realities.

As these debates unfold, the Jewish opponents of Israel’s politics are dismissed as misguided or worse, undermining the Jewish state by their betrayal to defend and protect this historic experiment in nation-building. Each side offers descriptions of the other seeking to minimize the political standing of their opponents, while reasserting their own definition of the state’s meaning. To advance our various perspectives, we have introduced terms such as naïve, foolish, destructive and disingenuous, which we employ to define the “other.”

Israelis and American Jews have their respective visions or images of the Jewish state. Some of these fixed notions today have become labels that we place on one another. Israel’s “romantics” are identified as individuals still holding onto an earlier image of the state’s Zionist origins. Others might be described as “political realists” because they focus on the multiple military and security threats that have defined the state’s history and remain its core challenges. Possibly, a third constituency could be defined as “bound by history,” in which specific events, such as the Oslo Accord and its promise of peace, resonate as the pivotal moment in Israel’s diplomatic journey. For this cohort, particular personalities or events have ultimately defined their vision of how the state ought to act and what it must become.

Upon reflection, with its enthusiastic endorsement of Donald Trump, Israel symbolically might serve as an ideal “red state” base for this president; contrastingly, many American Jews might metaphorically represent a “blue state” constituency, with their overriding opposition to this White House along with their current discomfort, even disillusionment, with Israeli policies. Again, labels and images are employed to establish our credentials as “realists” or “idealists” in constructing our expectations for Israel.

The internal disagreements among Israelis represent a different type of contest over the Jewish state’s political destiny. Inside the land, these wars around national perspectives take on a geopolitical battleground engaging “the state of Tel Aviv,” with its secular, liberal orientation, against “the state of Jerusalem,” with its traditional religious, politically conservative orientation.

With the rise of the “intersectionality” debate in this nation, many American Jews are being forced to choose between their social justice priorities and their Zionist passions. Maybe for the first time in American history, Jews are engaging with allies on specific issues of discrimination and victimhood where they find common ground, yet knowing that these “friends” espouse views that may be perceived as anti-Israel because this movement seeks to incorporate Israel as a purveyor of racism.

On this anniversary of Israeli statehood, how can we find common ground as our various images and expectations of Israel come up against its political realities? We are dramatically reminded that this experiment in state-building is a relatively new venture in the annals of Jewish history, hardly a significant period of time to develop a mature, sophisticated understanding of how a nation, its citizens or its Diaspora partners “ought” to behave and operate. Jewish history readily informs us that where our people remain in discord between our historic expectations and the realities of nation-building, the political outcomes have been unsettling and even problematic.


Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. Windmueller’s writings can be found on thewindreport.com. A version of this article originally appeared on eJewishphilanthropy.com.

ADL Tears Into Women’s March Leaders for Attending Louis Farrakhan Speech

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), ripped into leaders of the Women’s March for attending a Louis Farrakhan speech the prior weekend.

Greenblatt prefaced his Medium post by noting that Farrakhan’s speech during last weekend’s Nation of Islam convention was laced with anti-Semitism, which included statements about how “Jews are part of ‘the Synagogue of Satan;’ that the white people running Mexico are Mexican-Jews; that Jews control various countries including Ukraine, France, Poland and Germany where they take advantage of the money, the culture and the business; that Jesus called Jews ‘the children of the devil’; and ‘when you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door.’” Farrakhan also promoted the anti-Semitic slander “that Jews control the government and the FBI and use marijuana to feminize black men.”

“The NOI uses its programs, institutions, publications, and social media to disseminate its message of hate,” Greenblatt wrote. “At last weekend’s convention they were heavily promoting, ‘The Secret History Between Blacks and Jews,’ a multivolume tract that blames Jews for orchestrating the transatlantic slave trade. It deserves a place on the shelf of every bigot alongside ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ another work of libelous fiction used to foment little more than intolerance.”

Greenblatt also pointed to Farrakhan’s bigoted statements toward whites and gays and then noted that too many public figures “have a blind spot” and specifically called out a couple of leaders of the Women’s March.

“Consider that in the audience at last weekend’s conference was Tamika Mallory, one of the leaders of the Women’s March, who got a special shout-out from Farrakhan and who regularly posts laudatory pictures of him on her Instagram account — as does Carmen Perez, another leader of the March,” Greenblatt wrote. “Linda Sarsour, another March organizer, spoke and participated at a Nation of Islam event in 2015. Her most notable response to his incendiary remarks this year was a glowing post on Perez’s Facebook page to praise Farrakhan’s youthful demeanor.”

Perez simply dismissed Farrakhan’s bigotry by stating that no one’s “perfect,” according to Greenblatt. Mallory touted a tweet from rapper called Mysonne to show that she isn’t anti-Semitic, although the Washington Free Beacon noted that Mysonne once tweeted that Jews were responsible for the oppression of blacks.

Zioness Movement President Amanda Berman called on the Women’s March leaders to condemn Farrakhan.

“It is hypocritical beyond words that they continue to align themselves with Louis Farrakhan, who is an unapologetic bigot that spews hate targeting the Jewish community, LGBTQ community and others,” Berman said in a statement. “There is no ambiguity on this issue. Either the Women’s March leaders endorse the vilification of the Jewish people or they don’t. It’s that simple.”

Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) was also mentioned in Greenblatt’s post for recently praising Farrakhan, and when pressed on it Davis attempted to walk it back but has yet to publicly condemn Farrakhan.

CNN’s Jake Tapper launched a tweetstorm on Feb. 28 about Farrakhan’s speech:

The ADL has also recently criticized three Democrats, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), for attending a 2013 dinner hosted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Farrakhan was also an attendee at the dinner.

In addition to his bigoted statements, Farrakhan’s record includes lavishing praise on the Iranian regime and deposed dictators Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi. Farrakhan also established a partnership between the NOI and the Church of Scientology and believes that an unidentified flying object (UFO) known as the “Mother Wheel” that “will rain destruction upon white America, but save those who embrace the Nation of Islam.”

Dem Congressman: Louis Farrakhan Is ‘An Outstanding Human Being’

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A Democratic congressman recently praised Louis Farrakhan as “an outstanding human being” despite Farrakhan’s record of rabidly anti-Semitic statements.

Rep. Danny Duffy (D-IL) told The Daily Caller that it was perfectly fine that Barack Obama took a photo with Farrakhan in 2005.

“I regard him as an outstanding human being who commands a following of individuals who are learned and articulate and he plays a big role in the lives of thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of people,” Duffy said.

When asked about Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, Duffy claimed “that many people in politics have a history of inflammatory comments.”

Here are some of the many anti-Semitic statements spewed by Farrakhan:

· “It is now becoming apparent that there were many Israelis and Zionist Jews in key roles in the 9/11 attacks. Israelis had foreknowledge of the attacks…we know that many Jews received a text message not to come to work on September 11.”

· “These false Jews promote the filth of Hollywood that is seeding the American people and the people of the world and bringing you down in moral strength. It’s the wicked Jews, the false Jews, that are promoting lesbianism, homosexuality. It’s the wicked Jews, false Jews, that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic.”

· “Jews who owned the homes, the apartments and stores in the black community, we considered them bloodsuckers because they took from our community and built their community but didn’t offer anything back to our community.”

· “I believe that for the small numbers of Jewish people in the United States, they exercise a tremendous amount of influence on the affairs of government…yes, they exercise extraordinary control, and black people will never be free in this country until they are free of that kind of control.”

Farrakhan has also praised Adolf Hitler as “a very great man,” railed against whites as “the race of devils” and formed a partnership with the Church of Scientology cult.

Duffy’s comments come after the release of a 2005 photo showing Obama smiling with Farrakhan at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting; the photographer claimed that he hid the photo in order to improve Obama’s chances at the presidency. There are also photos from 2006 showing Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), among others, embracing Farrakhan.

Additionally, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), was a member of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam and defended him for years before cutting ties from the Nation of Islam in 2002. However, according to the Wall Street Journal Ellison attended a dinner with Farrakhan that was hosted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and visited Farrakhan in 2016.

In 2015, progressive icon Linda Sarsour attended Farrakhan’s #JusticeOrElse rally and then gushed about Farrakhan afterward.

“The brother does not age,” Sarsour said. “God bless him.”

Tablet’s Yair Rosenberg noted that “Republican elected officials from Donald Trump on down have rightly faced heavy criticism from Democrats over their ties to and defenses of bigoted hate groups and individuals.”

“Whether Democrats will hold their own official, Rep. Davis, to the same standard remains to be seen,” Rosenberg wrote. “Thus far, all 20 other members of the Congressional Black Caucus who served in Congress at the time of the Farrakhan meeting have declined to comment on it or condemn the man himself.”

Episode 73 – Obama Friend or Foe: a Recap with MK Dr. Michael Oren

“Unshakable and unbreakable.” Those two words were used by the Obama administration to describe the special, intimate relationship between Israel and the United States. When Michael Oren found himself, almost against all odds, serving as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. in 2009, he found out sooner rather than later the these relations were, in fact, very shakable, and maybe even breakable. His impossible job was to prevent that from happening.

Promising change and peace, Obama entered the white house with a burst of optimism, and some might argue, arrogance. To Michael Oren, the Obama administration and its relations with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, shaped to be the greatest challenge of his life.

In his book titled “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide” Oren depicts the almost unimaginable chain of events that took place during his 4.5 year term as an ambassador.

Since this January marks one year to the end of the Obama era, we thought it was a good opportunity to recap, look at the Obama years from a distance, and discuss his legacy.

Michael Oren is a Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s office, Member of Knesset in the Kulanu Party and he served as the Israeli ambassador to the United States in the years 2009-2013. In a previous life, Oren also taught history at the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University and was a visiting professor at Harvard, Yale and Georgetown. He is the author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction.

Deputy Minister Michael Oren joins us today for the second time to talk about the Obama years from an Israeli perspective.

Michael Oren’s books on Amazon, his Facebook and Twitter

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Report: Obama Admin Refused to Crack Down on Hezbollah

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaks via a screen during a protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

A new report has unearthed the fact that the Obama administration refused to crack down on Hezbollah out of fear that doing so would ruin their chances at forging an agreement with Iran.

According to Politico, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) established a program called Project Cassandra to gather evidence on Hezbollah’s criminal activity, which included drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering. The DEA was even able to link the illegal activity “to the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.”

But when the DEA attempted to nail key Hezbollah members with criminal charges, the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury all “undermined” the DEA’s efforts, allowing these terrorists to walk free. Among them include Ali Fayad, who “reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a key supplier of weapons to Syria and Iraq,” as well as a mysterious operative known as “Ghost,” who is “one of the world’s biggest cocaine traffickers” and “a major supplier of conventional and chemical weapons for use by Syrian President Bashar Assad against his people,” per the report.

The administration’s reluctance to crack down on Hezbollah may have had broader repercussions, as the terror group’s criminal activities can be traced to Assad, Putin and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Some former Obama officials defended the administration’s actions as ways to avoid compromising counterintelligence efforts conducted by the U.S. allies, but others were skeptical that the DEA would have been in the dark about it. Those worked on Project Cassandra believe that the administration undermined their work in order to ensure a nuclear deal could be reached with Iran, noting that Iran requested the administration lay off Hezbollah, and the administration seemed more than willing to grant their request in order to get their deal.

“The closer we got to the [Iran deal], the more these activities went away,” Project Cassandra member David Asher told Politico. “So much of the capability, whether it was special operations, whether it was law enforcement, whether it was [Treasury] designations — even the capacity, the personnel assigned to this mission — it was assiduously drained, almost to the last drop, by the end of the Obama administration.”

Read the full report here.

What’s Happening in Jewish L.A. Dec. 2-7: Holiday Music Mashup, Theater Classic With a Twist

The "Wish You Weren't Here" documentary focusing on anti-Israel activist Roger Waters will be screened on December 5.

SAT DEC 2
“A NEW HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS”

The Angel City Chorale (ACC) performs its 24th annual holiday concert and singalong. The concert will feature the world premiere of “Hanukkah Lullaby,” an original piece by ACC founder and artistic director Sue Fink and ACC choir member and songwriter Denny Wynbrandt. The work explores what it means to remain resilient during difficult times. Enjoy seasonal compositions and fully orchestrated holiday classics set to contemporary pop, R&B and a cappella music. 7 p.m. Also Dec. 3. at 7 p.m. $35 (adults), $32 (seniors 60 and older), $27 (children 5–12). Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 3300 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 943-9231. angelcitychorale.org.

HADAG NAHASH

Funky hip-hop grooves combined with flavors of rock, reggae and Middle Eastern music  separate  Hadag Nahash from the crowded Israeli music scene. The group features a full electric band, turntables, samples and lyrics about ending corruption and racism in Israeli society. It performs at American Jewish University with Mizrahi artist Hanan Ben Ari. 8 p.m. $45-$75. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (818) 483-8818. teevtix.com.

“THE MUSIC MAN”

The Jewish Women’s Repertory Company, musical theater performed exclusively by women and for women, presents Meredith Willson’s Tony-winning musical, “The Music Man.”   ,   For women only. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles’ Family Violence Project. 8 p.m. Also Dec. 3 at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Presale: $25 (mezzanine), $30 (orchestra), $35 (center orchestra). Door: $30 (mezzanine), $35 (orchestra), $40 (center orchestra). Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, 4718 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 997-0598. jewishwomenstheater.com.

SUN DEC 3
LEARN LA

Rabbi Hershel Schachter

Rabbi Shay Schachter

Join Rabbis Hershel Schachter, Shay Schachter, Moshe Hauer, Zev Wiener, David Fohrman, Steven Pruzansky and Shlomo Einhorn as they discuss the role that Torah plays in our lives at the Orthodox Union’s West Coast Torah Convention. Also scheduled to speak at the conference are Michal Horowitz, Lou Shapiro, Charlie Harary, Geri Wiener and Racheli Luftglass. Free. 8:45 a.m. breakfast; Sessions run from 9:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Baby-sitting available for children ages 1-4. Sponsored by Orthodox Union West Coast. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 229-9000, ext. 201. ou.org.

“THE GRADUATE” SCREENING AND DISCUSSION  WITH AUTHOR

American Jewish University celebrates 50 years since the release of Mike Nichols’ groundbreaking 1967 comedy, starring Dustin Hoffman as a disillusioned college graduate who is seduced by Mrs. Robinson and falls for her daughter, all to the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel. Beverly Gray, author of “Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How ‘The Graduate’ Became the Touchstone of a Generation,” participates in a post-screening discussion. Gray’s book places the movie in a historical context, offers a look into the making of the iconic film and explains why it has had an impact on popular culture. 3 p.m. $12 (reserved), $18 (premium). American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-9777. wcce.aju.edu.

“1917: A TURNING POINT IN AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY”

Hasia Diner, a professor of American-Jewish history at New York University, discusses the impact America’s entry into World War I had on American Jews, most of whom rallied to the nation’s cause. Organized by the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County. 1:30 p.m. Free. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101. adatelohim.org.

“A NIGHT OF MIRACLES”

The Los Angeles Jewish Symphony performs a musical mashup of old and new Hanukkah music at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Koreatown campus. Actors Philip Casnoff and Roxanne Hart deliver readings of stories of modern Jewish miracles. Artist Karen Hart performs her acclaimed “Judah and His Maccabees: A Hanukkah Gospel Story.” A jelly doughnut reception follows. Suitable for all ages. 4 p.m. Free (RSVP appreciated). Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Glazer Campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401. wbtla.org/miracles

WORLD KINDERTRANSPORT DAY

The event marks the anniversary of the first Kindertransport arrival in England carrying children fleeing the Holocaust. Speakers will honor those who worked to make the Kindertransport possible, including Holocaust rescuer Varian Fry, as well ats volunteers who work today in refugee camps in Turkey and Greece. Light refreshments will be served. 7 p.m. Free. Colony Theater, 555 . Third St., Burbank. kindertransport.org/events.aspx.

MON DEC 4
AUTHOR LAURA ROSENZWEIG

Laura Rosenzweig will talk at Stephen Wise Temple about her book, “Hollywood’s Spies: The Undercover Surveillance of Nazis in Los Angeles,” which tells the long-untold story of American-Jewish resistance to Nazism during the 1930s and the role that Jewish Hollywood played in combatting this threat to democracy. From 1934 to 1941, Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner and the other Jewish executives of Hollywood secretly paid private investigators to infiltrate Nazi groups operating in Los Angeles. For seven years, Hollywood’s spies infiltrated the German-American Bund and its nativist, Nazi-influenced allies, reporting on seditious plots and collusion with the German government. 7:30 p.m. $15 for Stephen Wise members, $20 nonmembers. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (888) 380-9473. wisela.org.

YIDDISH ZING ALONG

Yiddish folksinger Cindy Paley turns Encino into the old country as she performs old and new Yiddish folk songs at Valley Beth Shalom. Clarinetist Zinovy Soro, violinist Miamon Miller, accordionist Isaac Sadigursky and guitarist and vocalist Menachem Mirski accompany Paley. Song sheets and refreshments provided.  7 p.m. $18. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (213) 389-8880. cindy-vbs.brownpapertickets.com.

TUE DEC 5
“WISH YOU WEREN’T HERE”

In a new documentary, investigative journalist Ian Halperin examines former Pink Floyd member and anti-Israel activist Roger Waters, a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. Waters has called on artists from Radiohead to Nick Cave to participate in a cultural boycott against Israel. Borrowing its title from the Pink Floyd classic “Wish You Were Here,” the film places Waters’ actions in the context of the rise of global anti-Semitism. The filmmaker participates in a post-screening discussion and Q-and-A with entertainment industry community members, including Spirit Music Group CEO and Creative Community for Peace co-founder David Renzer, Electronic Arts Music Group executive Steve Schnur and attorney David Lande. Film producer Richard Trank moderates the panel. 7 p.m. $10. Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. creativecommunityforpeace.com/wish-you-werent-here.

WED DEC 6
DIPLOMAT RON PROSOR

Ron Prosor, one of Israel’s most distinguished diplomats, talks with Rabbi David Woznica on a wide range of topics of interest to Israel and Jewish people outside of Israel: the United States and the international community; the inner workings of the world of diplomacy; and some of his most memorable moments on the world stage. Prosor served as vice president of the United Nations’ General Assembly, chair of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, and director-general  of Israel’s foreign ministry. Free. Registration required. 6:45 p.m. reception, 7:15 p.m. program. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (888) 380-9473. wisela.org.

“HOW DID BARACK OBAMA CREATE HIMSELF?”

Barack Obama was president of the United States for eight years, and the broad outlines of his story — his Hawaiian birth, his fatherless childhood, his education at elite institutions, his work as a community organizer and politician in Chicago — are now familiar elements of American history. David J. Garrow, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama,” discusses with Warren Olney how Obama retains a remarkable mystique and can seem unknowable. Free (RSVP required). 6:30 p.m. (check-in). 7:30 p.m. National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, 111 N. Central Ave., Los Angeles. zocalopublicsquare.org.

THU DEC 7
“THE SUPREME COURT: WHAT’S NEXT? AN INSIDER’S VIEW”

George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and a regular commentator on National Public Radio, will discuss the U.S. Supreme Court, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, then-President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, and the recent nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. Presented by One Day University. Registration required. $69. 7 p.m. Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. (800) 300-3438. onedayu.com.

RITA RUDNER AT PEPPERDINE

Rita Rudner. Photo courtesy of Jeff Abraham

Stand-up comedian and best-selling author Rita Rudner often alludes to her Jewish upbringing in her act. Don’t miss an evening with the funny lady who claims to have the longest-running solo comedy show in Las Vegas history. 8 p.m. $40-$75. Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 506-4522. arts.pepperdine.edu/events/rita-rudner.htm.

Judge Rules Bergdahl Won’t Face Prison Time

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A military judge ruled on Friday that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will not be facing any prison time after pleading guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

The judge, Army Col. Jeffrey Nance, instead slapped Bergdahl with a dishonorable discharge, a demotion to private ranking and revoked Bergdahl’s military benefits. Nance reportedly issued his ruling without much elaboration.

The opposition to Nance’s ruling has been swift:

President Trump slammed the ruling as well:

Others defended the ruling:

Bergdahl was held in captivity by the Taliban for five years after walking off from his post in Afghanistan. He had reportedly grown disillusioned with the war, telling his parents in an email, “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid.” Bergdahl later said he left his post in order to raise awareness of concerns he had about the Army leaders.

Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served in the same battalion as Bergdahl, wrote in the Daily Beast in June 2014 that six members in his battalion died during the search for Bergdahl. According to Military.com, three other military members are permanently damaged as a result of the search for Bergdahl, including Army National Guard Master Sgt. Mark Allen, who was shot in the head and is currently confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak as a result of the injury.

Bergdahl returned to the United States in the summer of 2014 after the Obama administration agreed to free five prisoners from Guatanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom. The administration claimed that it was a necessary deal due to Bergdahl’s deteriorating health.

Bergdahl claimed that the Taliban held him in a cage, where they tortured him by repeatedly cutting his chest with a razor. And yet, he told The Sunday Times that he appreciated the Taliban’s honesty about their intentions over the court proceedings he had to endure.

“Here, it could be the guy I pass in the corridor who’s going to sign the paper that sends me away for life,’’ said Bergdahl, referring to U.S. courts. “We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs.”

Bergdahl’s defense team claimed that Bergdahl suffered from a myriad of mental health problems, a claim that has been disputed by some Army doctors. The defense also claimed that a dishonorable discharge was a worthy punishment after enduring five years of harsh treatment from the Taliban. Some witnesses also testified that Bergdahl’s experience in the Taliban’s captivity provided a treasure trove of intelligence information.

On Monday, Nance stated that Trump’s comments about Bergdahl being a “dirty, rotten traitor” would be considered “as mitigation evidence as I arrive at an appropriate sentence.”

Toward a Radical Middle

People take part in the 51st annual Israel parade in Manhattan, New York May 31, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

I never thought I’d be writing a column for a publication that had the word “Jewish” in its name. Trained as a reporter, I moved fairly quickly into the realm of opinion journalism, mostly at The New Republic. Owned by Marty Peretz at the time, the magazine often covered Israel, but my deeply personal relationship to Judaism was never a part of my writing or professional identity.

That changed abruptly in June 2014 when the Gaza War broke out. I had been pushed to have a “social media presence” to help promote a book on design. Facebook seemed the least objectionable option, so I had built up a mélange of artist and designer friends. Much to my shock, many of those friends — smart, sophisticated people — took Hamas’ side in the conflict. And then they began to spread lies about Israel.

For the first time in my life I went from being a private Jew to a public Jew.

Even before I began, this caused problems. A friend of nearly 25 years said to me: “If you’re going to defend Israel publicly, I’m not sure we can still be friends.” And so began a rather rude awakening about where Israel stood in elite, leftist circles. When I started to defend Israel, to provide facts, the spouses of two of my closest friends blocked me. Two close friends took me out for dinner for an intervention — they thought something must be horribly wrong in my personal life for me to oppose leftist doctrine so blatantly.

I quickly learned that the banning of free speech didn’t involve just Israel. One wasn’t allowed to criticize President Barack Obama — not a word or you would be called racist. Strange ideas had pervaded the discussion: Truth and reality apparently no longer existed. Identity politics reigned, and if you were at the top of the Victim Olympics — the Arab/Muslim world — criticism was verboten.

Jews, of course, were at the bottom. Why? Because, to the left, we were “white colonialists” who were — worst sin of all — successful. Despite the expulsions, pogroms, the Holocaust. Despite the fact that our grandparents had arrived in this country with nothing, did menial work and never complained (OK, they complained, but not publicly). Despite the fact that we aren’t white.

Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz also had a problem with what the left had become. He had dared to denounce terrorism, to link it to a radical, politicized version of Islam — and leftists went nuts. Nawaz coined the term “regressive left” to describe the illiberal takeover of the left, the slow chipping away of every liberal value.

I eagerly awaited the 2016 election. I saw it as a moment that would begin to turn around things, to bring the left back to its senses. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Donald Trump — inexperienced, impetuous, a bull in a china shop — was elected. There was little self-reflection on the left as to its part in his election. And then the Trump right began to mirror the left: hyperpartisan, unable to criticize Trump, demanding adherence to a very specific agenda — or you would be publicly shamed.

How do we get out of this mess? For one, we need to return to real — classical — liberalism. But what does that mean?

The easiest way to describe real liberalism is that there are certain principles — freedom of speech; freedom of religion; a dedication to liberty, justice and individuality — that are nonnegotiable.

But — and here’s a very big but: Liberalism allows for policy differences. You and I don’t have to agree on immigration, tax reform, even abortion — but our arguments must be rooted in liberal principles. Freedom of speech, for instance, involves defending the right of others to express their opinions, even if we disagree with them.

But No. 2: Politics need not color our culture or our lives. You can watch a movie or see an art show and — get this — just enjoy them, even if they have no connection whatsoever to social concerns.

Finally, But No. 3: Along with rights come responsibilities. There is a set of values attached to liberalism, what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the content of your character.”

Because of how skewed the political spectrum is, classical liberalism now sits in the center. That’s OK. It is precisely this ideology that can create common ground between the right and the left and nurture a saner society.

Call it the rebellion of the radical middle.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and curator. Author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday), her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

 

Interview with David Litt: Obama’s go-to speechwriter for kishke speeches

Photo by Pete Souza/White House

In advance of the publication of “Thanks, Obama. My Hopey, Changey White House Years,” we conducted an iMessage interview with former White House speechwriter David Litt on Monday. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

[This interview originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

JI: In the book, you write “if something kishke-related came up (at the White House), I was the go-to guy.” How did you become that guy?

Litt: In 2011, President Obama delivered a speech at the Union of Reform Judaism’s annual meeting. I had this moment where I was like “As a kid, I did eight years of Hebrew school and never knew why. This is why!” After that speech if something was going to be delivered to the American Jewish community, I generally handled it.

JI: How was teaching Hebrew to the President?

Litt: It was great, except for the hard ‘CH’ sounds. Those didn’t go so well. People could be pretty hard on him if he didn’t get a “Chag Sameach” right, but I write in the book about how he gave it plenty of tries. And it’s not like he grew up with that sound. As we all know, it’s a tough one!

JI: In 2012, you were in the storm path of one Harvey Weinstein. How did that happen? 

Litt: Maybe it’s best to let people read the whole story in the book!

JI: You mention your great-grandparents from Eastern Europe several times in the book. If they were still with us, what do you think they would be most surprised to read?

Litt: Honestly, I think they’d be stunned that I ended up in the White House just a few generations after they arrived here with almost nothing, in many cases not even speaking English. That’s such a typical American story, but we shouldn’t lose sight of how remarkable that typical-ness is. And I like to think they’d understand that in it’s own way, the fact that I got serve under America’s first black president is part of that story too. This is a country that at its best is always expanding its definition of what’s possible, and my family got to be part of that.

JI: Not to spoil the ending to a chapter about the legendary Correspondents’ Dinner speeches, but what did you have to tell the President after he asked what happened to using a photoshopped picture he liked of him and Bibi Netanyahu in 2013?

Litt: “I’m sorry, Mr. President, we just couldn’t use that picture. You kind of looked like Hitler in it.” Like you said, it’s a long story.

The book is available now on Amazon for $18.29 (hardcover) 

Why Trump is right on DACA

President Donald Trump on Aug. 22. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s decision on “Dreamers” actually reflects a broadly held, nuanced consensus regarding the status of immigrants brought into this country as children of parents who entered illegally.

First, legal immigration is good for the United States, and the U.S. takes in more legal immigrants than any other nation. But there must be reasonable, debatable and annual limits.

[TRACY ESCOBEDO: When will Dreamers be seen as Americans?]

We are a nation of immigrants, and all Americans, born here or not, are equal citizens entitled to the full protection of the law and every opportunity to enjoy the American Dream. 

The administration has proposed prioritizing immigrants for our nation’s economic benefit and limiting the scope of family reunification to leverage the economic merit of applicants.

Silicon Valley, for instance, suggests we not deport tech graduates here on student visas once they have computer science degrees in hand. We invested in them, now they can invest in the U.S.

Next, illegal immigration is unlawful, as are sanctuary cities that violate federal law. No country allows illegal immigration, and many countries are much tougher than the U.S.

Illegal immigration results in human rights abuses by coyotes against suffering poor people and invites countries to dump their poor into the U.S. It’s corrupt and nefarious.

Businesses must not be allowed to hire illegals. This distorts the economy and drives down wages in the economy.

And Mexico, one way or another, should reimburse the United States for the decades-long purposeful strategy of exporting Mexican workers in return for importing hundreds of billions of dollars of remittances back to Mexico.

Third, our country will not round up 10 to 20 million unlawful residents and deport them. Our country will also not deport 800,000 Dreamers who work, pay taxes and go to school.

And fourth, Congress must reassert its constitutional authority and obligation to protect our borders and set immigration policy, denying federal aid to “sanctuary” states and cities.

Congress must clarify if Birthright Citizenship — which meant Black slaves and their progeny in the 19th century were full Americans — should continue to reward “birth tourism;” whether illegal immigrants may earn a path to citizenship, voting rights or the ability to run for office; and, finally, the federal penalty for employers hiring illegal workers.

States must decide on the welfare, educational and health benefits to be afforded undocumented workers and their families.

The Dreamers have already won. They have made it to America, built lives of generally good citizenship and are unlikely to be deported in big numbers due to the compassion and common sense of the American people, who respect the rule of law, with fair and reasonable policies regarding immigrants here illegally via border crossing or by over-staying visas.

But the critics of illegal immigration have also won the debate: No blanket amnesty or citizenship status for illegal entrants, except perhaps enlistees of the armed forces; and no patience for violent criminals, many of whom are repeat border violators who must be deported (along with a bill to the countries of origin for our troubles).

Advocates for resolute border security make economic, rule-of-law and national-security arguments for tougher standards and controls of both legal and illegal immigration.

Americans support both a border wall and advanced technologies to increase security in a world of jihadism and weapons of mass destruction.

President Trump, who has asserted his “love” for the Dreamers, is balancing his “America First” / “The Business of America Is Business” policies with the facts on the ground and his knowledge that legal immigration is American.

President Barack Obama repeatedly asserted he lacked unilateral authority to keep the Dreamers, but he did so anyway. President Trump has been well advised to return the policy issues to Congress.


Larry Greenfield has been a Fellow of the Claremont Institute, the Tikvah Advanced Institute, and the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He is former executive director of the California Republican Jewish Coalition, the Reagan Legacy Foundation, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

American Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump, poll finds

President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

American Jews overwhelmingly disapprove of President Donald Trump in just about every area, scoring him lower than his predecessor even on topics like Israel, where Jewish approval of Barack Obama was relatively low, according to an American Jewish Committee poll.

The survey also shows a sharp uptick in concerns about anti-Semitism in the United States, which may be a reflection of the increased influence of the “alt-right” since Trump’s election.

Of respondents in the poll posted Wednesday by the AJC, 77 percent said they viewed Trump’s job performance unfavorably and 21 percent said they viewed him favorably. Those are considerably worse numbers for the president than in the general population at around the same time, mid- to late August, when Gallup consistently showed Trump scoring favorable ratings in the high 30s and unfavorable marks in the high 50s.

Asked for specifics, respondents scored Trump negatively across the board: 73 to 27 unfavorable to favorable on national security; 69-30 on terrorism; 75-23 on U.S.-Russia relations; 71-25 on handling the relationship with NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance; 77-20 on race relations; 76-23 on immigration; and 68-26 on the Iran nuclear issue. He came out best on U.S.-Israel relations, though still unfavorable: 54-40.

That contrasted with Obama, who scored a dead heat on the U.S.-Israel relations the last time it was asked in this poll, two years ago: 49 percent disapproving and 48 approving, well within the margin of error of 4.7 percent. That survey was conducted after 18 months of tensions in the U.S.-Israel relationship, with the collapse of Israel-Palestinian talks in the spring of 2014. The month the poll was taken, in August 2015, Obama was pressing hard for the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel’s government and the centrist pro-Israel community vigorously opposed.

Trump has striven to make good relations with Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly prefers his presidency to that of Obama.

Jewish approval of the Iran deal in the 2015 poll was in a statistical dead heat, with 50 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. Trump wants to scrap the deal, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. He may do so as soon as next month, when according to law, he must recertify Iranian adherence to the deal.

Jews continue to identify more as liberal and as Democrat than not. Among respondents, 54 percent said they were liberal, 22 percent classified themselves as moderate, and 22 percent said they were conservative. Party wise, 54 percent said they were Democrats, 15 percent said they were Republicans and 20 percent Independent. Asked whether they voted in November for Trump or Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, the numbers were statistically commensurate with how respondents in the AJC poll from a year ago — focusing almost exclusively on the election — said they would vote: 64 percent said they voted for Clinton and 18 percent for Trump. Last year the numbers were 61-19.

Republicans who believe a candidate more conventional than Trump could score better may take comfort in what this year’s poll reported regarding Vice President Mike Pence, who has a longstanding relationship with the organized pro-Israel community: His unfavorable-favorable rating, 62-30, was more in line with how Jews have voted in recent years than Trump’s negatives.

The poll shows a further erosion of U.S. Jewish approval of Netanyahu, who once polled consistently favorably among American Jews. In 2015, the last time the question was asked, U.S. Jews approved of Netanyahu’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, 57-42. This year, it’s a statistical dead heat, with respondents disapproving 47 percent to 45 percent approving. Netanyahu has come under fire in recent months from major U.S. Jewish groups for reneging on pledges to loosen restrictions on the practice in Israel of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

Asked as in years past how respondents perceive anti-Semitism in the United States, the numbers on the surface show consistency: 84 percent see it as a problem this year, while 16 percent do not. That jibes with 85 percent in 2015 who saw it as a problem, higher than the 73 percent scored last year.

There is a notable spike, however, on closer examination: The number who classified the anti-Semitism problem in the United States as “very serious” soared to 41 percent this year from the 21 percent of the past two polls. That may result from associations between Trump and the “alt-right,” a grouping of anti-establishment conservatives who include within their ranks anti-Semites, as well as Trump’s equivocation on condemning anti-Semitism and bigotry, most recently last month when a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended in deadly violence.

The other notable increase was in which nation posed the “single greatest danger” to the United States. North Korea, which has intensified its nuclear testing as tensions ratchet up with the Trump administration, was by far the leader this year at 57 percent. Next was Russia at 22 percent — a result perhaps of intensified coverage of Russia’s attempts to interfere in last year’s election.

In 2015, the last time a similar question was asked, the highest scorer was the Islamic State, the terrorist group, at 51 percent. Also known as ISIS, it did not appear as an option this year. The order behind the Islamic State that year was China (13 percent), Russia (10 percent), Iran (9.5 percent) and North Korea (6 percent), the last of five listed.

The telephone poll of 1,000 respondents was conducted by SSRS, a research firm, from Aug. 10 to 28. It has a margin of error of 3.71 percent.

Who are the Jewish ‘Dreamers’?

Immigrants and DACA supporters rallying across the street from the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas on Sept. 10. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Our email inboxes were stuffed last week with statements from Jewish organizations urging continued protection for “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

Last Monday, President Donald Trump said he was giving six months notice to end the DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, launched by his predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2011. Trump has signaled a willingness to sign congressional legislation that would codify its provisions.

One statement, though, from Agudath Israel of America, stood out in its concern not just about Dreamers, but Jewish Dreamers.

“It affects hundreds of thousands of young people, including many in the Jewish community, who have grown up and been educated in the United States, the only home they have known,” the haredi Orthodox organization said in its statement issued Thursday.

We covered one such Dreamer who has become an activist, Elias Rosenfeld of Boston, but I was curious about the “many in the Jewish community” in the release. Agudah put me in touch with David Grunblatt, the lay chairman of its immigration task force and the co-head of the immigration department at Proskauer, a major law firm.

Grunblatt told me that he started hearing from Jewish Dreamers almost as soon as Agudah put out a release offering to assist them, soon after DACA was launched in 2012.

He said the number of Jewish Dreamers among the 800,000 known to have applied for protections under DACA was “not huge but not negligible,” and there were a variety of reasons for their illegal status among the cases he has handled.

“They tried to apply for a green card or for employment sponsorship, and it went wrong and they’ve been here five or six or seven years and they’re not going anywhere,” Grunblatt said. “Or a family comes here because someone in the family needs medical treatment, they stay six months, another six months, another six months and the situation is resolved one way or the other — but the family is here.”

In some cases, he said, parents successfully obtain green cards but fail to obtain them for their children.

The case of Rosenfeld, a Venezuelan native, involved an illness: His mother, a media executive, traveled to the United States on an L1 visa, which allows specialized, managerial employees to work for the U.S. office of a parent company. When he was in the fifth grade, his mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She died two years later.

Grunblatt said that in one case, he was contacted by an all-girls school.

“They discovered one of the girls in the school was undocumented because they were going on a school trip to Canada and the kid didn’t even know [if] she was documented,” he said.

That’s fairly common, said Melanie Nezer, a vice president at HIAS, the lead Jewish organization handling immigration advocacy.

“If a child is brought over when they’re a baby or a very young child, they just grow up American,” she said. “They speak English — why would they think they’re different from anyone else?”

While support for the Dreamers has been fairly bipartisan, and Jewish organizational consensus is for a solution that lets them stay in the country, some Jews have major qualms about the program — especially with the way it was created by executive order under Obama.

“If the Obama administration wanted to implement the DACA program, it should have made the case to Congress and try to pass its proposal into law,” Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, said in a statement. “The administration absolutely did not have the authority to write its own ‘laws.’

“If the proposal did not have the support to pass, then it should not go into effect. That is how our process is designed and must be respected.”

Zeldin said he is “open” to debating the issue with his colleagues, but “[m]y priority will always unapologetically remain with fighting for the people following the laws rather than the ones breaking them.”

Nezer said her impression was that the majority of Dreamers fit the profile that gets the most prominent play in the media: those who arrive here as babies or toddlers with their parents from Mexico or Central America.

But, she said, that the population is more diverse than that template — and includes Jews — should not surprise members of the Jewish community.

“Our parents and grandparents took these risks not for themselves but for us,” Nezer said. “And that’s exactly what the Dreamers’ parents did.”

Few lives track an easy trajectory, Grunblatt said, and Dreamers are no different.

“It’s life,” he said. “Things happen in life, plans go awry, ambitions fail and people end up here.”

A Jewish ‘Dreamer’ is scared, but refuses to despair

Elias Rosenfeld, a sophomore at Brandeis University, speaking at a rally at Boston’s Faneuil Hall hours after President Trump announced he was rescinding DACA protections for some 800,000 young people on Sept. 5. Photo by Jeremy Burton/JCRC of Greater Boston

At 15, Elias Rosenfeld became a “Dreamer.”

At the time, the Venezuela native was attending Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in Miami, where he had lived since he was 6 years old, when his Jewish family moved to South Florida from Caracas. His mother was a media executive and they traveled to the United States on an L1 visa, which allows specialized, managerial employees to work for the U.S. office of a parent company.

But tragedy struck the family: When Rosenfeld was in the fifth grade, his mother was diagnosed with kidney cancer. She died two years later.

In high school, Rosenfeld applied for a driver’s permit, only to find out that he lacked the required legal papers. He discovered that his mother’s death  voided her visa. He and his older sister were undocumented.

“It was an embarrassing moment for me,” Rosenfeld recalled more than five years later.

Within five months, in June 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, granting temporary, renewable legal status to young unauthorized immigrants who had been brought to America by their parents as children.

Known as DACA, the order opened up a world of opportunities for some 800,000 young people who were now able to apply for driver’s licenses, temporary work permits and college. “Dreamers” refers to a bipartisan bill, known as the Dream Act, that would have offered them a path to legal residency.

“It was the power of one order that can so directly change one’s life,” Rosenfeld said. “That launched me. I became an advocate.”

He launched United Student Immigrants, a nonprofit to assist undocumented students that has been credited with raising tens of thousands of dollars for help with scholarships and applications.

Rosenfeld, now a 20-year-old sophomore at Brandeis University on a full scholarship, spoke with JTA at a rally Tuesday outside of this city’s Faneuil Hall, just hours after President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced they would rescind DACA. The president gave Congress a six-month window to preserve the program through legislation. Or not.

The Boston protest was organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, where Rosenfeld is an intern. He shared his story with several hundred people at the quickly organized rally.

He explained that DACA enabled him to drive, buy his first car, and apply for internships, jobs and scholarships.

“Today’s news was cruel and devastating. Now is not the time of despair, however, but to put our energy towards effective action,” he said, urging the crowd to work for protective legislation at the federal and state levels. There are some 8,000 DACA residents in Massachusetts.

Several Jewish communal leaders attended the rally, including Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, and Jerry Rubin, president of Jewish Vocational Services. Representatives from the New England Jewish Labor Committee, which helped spread the word of the rally, held signs in the crowd.

Another Dreamer, Filipe Zamborlini, who came to the U.S. from Brazil when he was 12 and now works as a career coach at Jewish Vocational Services, also spoke.

“We’re going to mourn today,” Zamborlini, 28, told the assembly.

The New England Jewish Labor Committee helped spread the word about a rally in Boston in support of DACA, Sept. 5, 2017. (Marion Davis/Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition)

Rosenfeld said the Trump administration’s decision was disturbing and unsettling.

“There’s a high level of fear and anxiety in DACA communities,” he told JTA.

Rosenfeld recalls too well the sting and uncertainty of being undocumented.

“It means you can’t do everything your peers and your friends are doing. You feel American, but you are suffering these consequences from choices you didn’t make,” he said.

But he also sounded a note of optimism, pointing out that Trump called on Congress to act.

“We hope Congress follows their president’s word now and does the job of passing one of the many pieces of legislation” before them, Rosenfeld said.

He readily admits to feeling scared and anxious.

“But I’m also feeling empowered and motivated from seeing the outpouring of support,” locally and across the country, he said.

To DACA opponents, including Jewish supporters of Trump, Rosenfeld asks them to look at the facts and the stories of people like himself.

“I don’t think it aligns with our values, with Jewish values and the Jewish community,” he said of a policy that would essentially strip a generation of people raised here of official recognition.

Rosenfeld cited the activism of a group called Torah Trumps Hate, which opposes policies that it considers anathema to values contained in Jewish teachings.

Growing up, his family attended synagogue often and celebrated Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Despite the hardships he faced following his mother’s death, Rosenfeld excelled in high school. He completed 13 Advanced Placement courses and ranked among the top 10 percent of his graduating class, according to a Miami-Dade County school bulletin. Rosenfeld was widely recognized as a student leader, receiving several awards and honors. During the presidential campaign, he volunteered for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Many students who were undocumented live in constant fear, even after receiving temporary legal status under DACA, Rosenfeld said.

“There is fear behind the shadows,” he said. “We are always behind the shadows.”

Earlier in the day, before the president’s announcement, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz sent a letter to Trump urging him not to undo DACA.

“Here at Brandeis University, we value our DACA students, who enrich our campus in many ways and are integral to our community,” the letter said. “Reversing DACA inflicts harsh punishment on the innocent. As a nation founded by immigrants, we can, should, and must do better.”

Rosenfeld was attracted to Brandeis both for its academics and its commitment to social justice. He is studying political science, sociology and law, with plans to continue his advocacy work on behalf of immigrants. He hopes one day to attend law school and work in politics or practice law.

With a full schedule of courses and volunteer work, Rosenfeld gets by without much sleep, he acknowledged with an easy laugh.

The Brandeis administration has been supportive, he said, and there is a meeting later this week on campus to discuss school policy on the issue.

Asked what America means to him, Rosenfeld does not hesitate.

“It means my country. It’s my home. There’s a connection. I want to contribute,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s valuable to want to kick out people that want to contribute to this country.”

The lie at the heart of the DACA repeal

Protesters gather to show support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in Los Angeles on Sept. 1. Photo by Kyle Grillot/Reuters

President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind DACA only makes sense if you remember Charlottesville.

You have to recall what the white supremacists who marched in that Virginia town chanted: “You will not replace us! You will not replace us!”

Sure, they lapsed into, “Jews will not replace us,” but DACA isn’t about being anti-Semitic, it’s about being anti-Them.

Trump’s order to phase out Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in six months would affect some 800,000 young people who were brought to this country as children when their parents crossed the border illegally. They had no more complicity in that action than a toddler strapped inside a getaway car is guilty of bank robbery. They’ve known no other country but the United States, where they went to school, found jobs (some 91 percent are employed) and made lives.

By canceling DACA, Trump would be uprooting these people and sending them back to countries they do not know, whose languages some of them do not even speak. And for what?

Despite what Trump’s ever-dwindling number of defenders claim, repealing DACA has nothing to do with whether President Barack Obama’s executive order was constitutional.

As others have pointed out, a guy concerned with our nation’s highest laws doesn’t pardon a guy like Joe Arpaio, indicted for subverting it. And if he really wanted Congress to exercise its rightful power in passing a law for the Dreamers, why give them a six-month deadline before phasing out DACA? Why not a year? Kicking it to Congress demonstrates Trump’s essential cowardice.

No, what Trump wants to do is make good on an applause line from his campaign rallies, promising his die-hard supporters that he would put an end to DACA. They’re not interested in a go-slow approach that would put the measure on more solid constitutional footing. They’re not interested in a compromise that would maximize the potential good these hundreds of thousands of Dreamers can bestow on America. They’re not interested in fairness, because how is it fair to punish someone for something they didn’t do?

So, what are they interested in? One clue can be found in the Breitbart story announcing Trump’s decision. Its headline is, “Open Borders, Corporate Interests Brace for End of DACA.” In other words, the only people who these Trump supporters think care about making sure these Americans stay in America are the “globalists.”

The story’s writer, John Binder, claims that with the Dreamers out, some 30,000 jobs will open up each month.

“Ending DACA could be a major stimulus for the 4.4 percent of unemployed Americans who will see more than 700,000 new job openings across the United States,” Binder writes.

That’s ludicrous, of course. It assumes none of the Dreamers are self-employed, that their roles can easily be filled by the ranks of the remaining unemployed — many of whom are far less well-educated, less well-trained, less motivated, far older or not even living in areas where the Dreamers work. Some 250 work for Apple — in what fantasy world are those jobs just ripe for the picking? But Breitbart knows that.

Shafting the Dreamers is not about the promise that an eager army of neglected (white) Americans will magically slip into the work shoes of the 700,000 gainfully employed Dreamers. It’s about the fear that these Americans are no longer needed at all. “You will not replace us!” The Charlottesville chant echoes in Trump’s shortsighted and cruel new action. See, he is saying, I won’t let them — these brown, line-hopping hordes — replace you.

It doesn’t matter that setting these Dreamers loose on America boosts the economy and will improve the future for us all, as every highly motivated group of immigrants, from Irish to Italians to Jews to Latinos, has done throughout American history. It’s not about reality, it’s about revenge. If you think you’re going to replace us, take this.

There’s a tragic coda to Breitbart’s gloating story. On the very same website is a story about Alonso Guillen, 31, a disc jockey in Lufkin, Texas. Four days after Hurricane Harvey submerged Houston, Guillen volunteered to pilot a rescue boat. He and two friends were en route to the boat when their truck struck a bridge and overturned, throwing the men into the raging current of Cypress Creek. Guillen drowned. According to his family, Guillen was a recipient of the DACA program — his parents brought him from Piedras Negras, Mexico, when he was a child. His father became a legal permanent resident. His mother, Rita Ruiz de Guillen, was in Mexico awaiting approval of her immigration application when she heard of her son’s death. When she tried to enter the United States to attend the funeral, immigration officials turned her back.

“I’ve lost a great son, you have no idea,” his mother told reporters. “I’m asking God to give me strength.”

There’s a word for Americans like Alonso Guillen.

Irreplaceable.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Jewish groups attack Trump’s DACA decision as immoral

Demonstrators protest in front of the White House after the Trump administration scrapped the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on Sept. 5. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

An array of Jewish groups and lawmakers attacked as immoral President Donald Trump’s move to end an Obama-era program granting protections to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

The Trump administration said Sept. 5 that it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in six months. President Barack Obama had launched DACA in 2011 after multiple attempts failed in Congress to pass an immigration bill that would settle the status of 11 million undocumented immigrants. The program protected those who arrived as children from deportation and granted them limited legal status.

In statements, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the principal objection to Obama’s so-called Dreamers program was that it was unconstitutional because it was established by an executive order, and indicated that Trump was ready to sign any congressional legislation that would accommodate the “Dreamers.” It was unclear what would happen in the meantime or, should Congress not pass legislation, what would happen to the 800,000 people who have sought and received DACA’s protections.

Trump, in a statement, said his hand was forced by attorneys general from conservative states who plan to sue to kill DACA.

“The attorney general of the United States, the attorneys general of many states and virtually all other top legal experts have advised that the program is unlawful and unconstitutional and cannot be successfully defended in court,” he said.

Republican leaders in Congress have expressed a willingness to pass the legislation necessary to protect the affected immigrants, but Jewish groups and lawmakers said ending the program presented immoral perils, given the failures of Congress in the past to agree on comprehensive immigration reform.

“DACA recognized these individuals for who they are: Americans in everything but paperwork,” Melanie Nezer, the vice president for public affairs of HIAS, a major Jewish immigrant advocacy group. “Their hopes and dreams are no different from kids who are born here, and there is no legitimate reason for inflicting this needless suffering on them and their families.”

The Reform movement called the action “morally misguided” and demanded that Congress act to redress the rescission.

“It is imperative that Congress step up in support of these young people who grew up in the United States and who want to give back to the only country they know as home,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. “We call on Congress to protect DACA recipients from deportation by immediately passing a clean bipartisan Dream Act of 2017 — and on the president to support it.”

Richard Foltin, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government affairs, called the decision “devastating,” and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said it was one of “a long list of actions and policies by this administration that have deeply hurt immigrants and their families.” The ADL noted the pardoning last month of Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who had been convicted of discriminatory practices against Latinos, and the threat to withdraw funding from cities offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Other Jewish organizations condemning the decision included Bend the Arc, J Street, the National Council of Jewish Women, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, the Shalom Center and the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. Bend the Arc listed rallies across the country it would join to oppose the decision.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for public policy, said it “strongly opposed” the decision and called on Congress to act to protect the “Dreamers.”

“The Jewish community has a long history of active engagement in the struggles of new immigrants and in development of our nation’s immigration policy,” it said. “We believe that Congress must enact a permanent solution and we call on lawmakers to act immediately to protect immigrant youth by passing the ‘Dream Act of 2017,’ bipartisan legislation that would replace fear and uncertainty with permanent protection.”

Jewish Democrats also slammed the decision.

“Terminating #DACA now puts 800,000 talented young #DREAMers who love, contribute to, and live in America officially at risk of deportation,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Twitter.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Engel’s counterpart on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the decision was “clearly written with little thought of the human consequences.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called the decision “cruel and arbitrary.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, in a long and anguished statement, said he supported Trump’s decision but added that he would work to pass legislation to protect the undocumented immigrants.

“I am very much willing to work with any of my colleagues on either side of the aisle on this issue and others to find common ground however possible,” he said. “Working together productively and substantively, I am hugely confident that long overdue progress can absolutely be achieved at least in part to move the needle more in the right direction.”

Dreamers and their supporters on the night of Sept. 4 held a candlelight vigil outside the home of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the daughter and son-in-law of the president. The couple, who both serve as advisers to the president, reportedly advocated for continuing DACA.

Hillary Clinton says Bernie Sanders’ attacks on her led to Trump victory

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at the CNN Presidential Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York on April 14, 2016. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton blamed attacks against her by Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary for president on her eventual loss in the general election to Donald Trump.

In excerpts from Clinton’s forthcoming book “What Happened,” the former secretary of state wrote that the attacks by Sanders, a Vermont senator, caused “lasting damage” and were instrumental in “paving the way for Trump’s Crooked Hillary campaign.”

The book is scheduled to be released on Sept. 12, but Clinton supporters have posted photos of pages from the book on social media.

Clinton also said that she appreciated that Sanders campaigned for her in the general election.

“But he isn’t a Democrat – that’s not a smear, that’s what he says,” she wrote of the Independent. “He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.”

Clinton praised Sanders, a long shot for the nomination, for engaging “a lot of young people in the political process for the first time, which is extremely important.”

Clinton also wrote that President Barack Obama counseled her to “grit my teeth and lay off Bernie as much as I could,” according to the excerpts. She said that following that advice made her feel she was “in a straitjacket.”

Sanders, who will turn 76 this week, has not said whether or not he will run in the 2020 race, but did say in July that “I am not taking it off the table.”

Trump retweets eclipse meme posted by anti-Semitic Twitter user

Screenshot from Twitter

President Donald Trump retweeted a meme of himself “eclipsing” Barack Obama that was posted originally by a Twitter user who had made an anti-Semitic post.

The meme, which the president retweeted Thursday morning, features images of Trump and and his Oval Office predecessor. By the fourth image, Trump’s photo completely covers one of Obama with a caption reading “The best eclipse ever!”

Trump was retweeting Jerry Travone, who had posted an anti-Semitic tweet four days ago. Travone told NBC News that he found the meme elsewhere on social media.

We have enough of these jews where I live lol someone else take them . They just can’t drive https://t.co/vEUrFgMKCc

— Jerry Travone 🎦 (@JerryTravone) August 20, 2017

In the anti-Semitic tweet, Travone was responding to a Sky News article titled “One in three Jews thinking of quitting UK” that analyzed a study done by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism group. The study also found that one in six British Jews felt unwelcome in their home country.

Travone wrote: “We have enough of these jews where I live lol someone else take them. They just can’t drive.”

Trump has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism on Twitter before. During the presidential campaign, he tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton on a background of dollar bills. The tweet also included a six-pointed star with the words “Most corrupt candidate ever!” The tweet was later deleted.

In July, Trump tweeted a video of himself beating up a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head. The video was traced back to someone who had made anti-Semitic comments on Reddit.

A double standard for Trump on Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, U.S. July 25, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernest/REUTERS.

The double standard that too many Jewish supporters of Donald Trump apply to this president was on sad display last week.

A young Palestinian man entered the home of a Jewish family in the village of Halamish on July 21 and stabbed Yosef, Chaya and Elad Salomon to death. No justification. No mercy. No humanity. 

Our hearts cried out for universal condemnation. Our president needed to set the example of moral leadership. As of this writing, he has said nothing. 

Well, not nothing. Immediately following news of the butchery, President Donald J. Trump did tweet. This is what he said: “It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.”

Trump was so focused on the perceived treachery of Republicans who refuse to go along with some half-baked Obamacare repeal that he passed on the opportunity to call out terrorists, fanatics and their enablers.

My reaction to Trump’s bizarre tweet was, What if President Obama had done this?

What if Barack Obama had said nothing about the indescribably awful photos of the Salomon family murder scene? His Jewish detractors would have pilloried him — and rightly so.

The contrast points to something more and more apparent: a double standard applied by the pro-Israel community to Trump and his predecessor.

Three weeks ago, Trump recertified Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. I believe this was the right thing to do, but then again, I supported the deal originally.  Trump didn’t. But when he reversed himself, did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fly to Washington and speak to Congress to publicly condemn Trump? Did Trump’s Jewish supporters call him a traitor to Israel and an Iranian puppet? Nope. Double standard.

One week ago, the Trump administration cut a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a Syrian ceasefire that leaves Hezbollah troops close to Israel’s northern border.  Israel vehemently opposed the idea. But Trump sided with Putin. “The Americans completely conceded to the Russians,” a senior Israeli military official told Al-Monitor. “The very names of Iran or Hezbollah do not appear in the agreement, and there is no expression of Israeli concerns at all. Our security needs are completely ignored.”

I’m not sure the ceasefire wasn’t the right move. But I do know what holy hell the pro-Israel right would have raised if Obama had signed that deal. In this case, they said nothing. Double standard.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised he would move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem  “on Day One.” Jewish and Christian audiences leapt to their feet at Trump’s promise.

Two months ago, Trump declined to move the embassy. The protest from those who applauded him? Barely a word. Double standard.

Keep in mind these all are examples from the past couple of months. Want to go back further? Imagine what the Republican outcry would have been if Obama refused to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day? Or if Obama had said he “doesn’t know anything about” Louis Farrakhan, as candidate Trump said of KKK Grand Nincompoop David Duke.   

A healthy swath of the Jewish community, and the larger Republican crowd, reviled Obama. But time and again they grade Trump on a curve. Obama signed a $38 billion aid deal with Israel, helped fund its Iron Dome program, stood by Israel during the Gaza War and firmly declared anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism — two years before French President Emmanuel Macron did. Did it matter? Nope. Double standard.

With one notable exception — the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein — the president’s Jewish supporters give him a pass on issues, statements and actions they would have slammed Obama for.

Obama could do no right, Trump can do no wrong. Can you even imagine the derision if Obama’s State Department had blamed Israel for Palestinian terror, as Trump’s State Department did in a report released this week?

Here’s what I wonder: Why does Trump get a pass? Maybe United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley buys Trump all the indulgences he will ever need. Maybe Obama haters simply used Israel as a wedge issue to gain Jewish votes when their real concern was other Democratic policies. Or maybe these supporters cut Trump slack because they believe he supports Israel deep down in his kishkas, or guts, and — so they like to say– Obama just didn’t.

If it’s the last reason, then I have one question that Jewish supporters of the president must consider: Does it matter if you have Israel in your kishkas if you are otherwise incompetent, unprepared, uniformed and relentlessly self-concerned?

In July 2014, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found murdered by Palestinian terrorists — a horror no less shocking and unjustifiable than the Salomon murders last week. Almost immediately, then-President Barack Obama sent his condolences to the families of the teenagers and condemned the “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”

It’s not asking too much of a president to respond with humanity to inhuman acts. And it’s not expecting too much of his supporters to call him out when he falls short.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

How the Dems can lose 2018

Activist Linda Sarsour in New York City on June 29. Photo by Joe Penney/Reuters

Last week, the Democrats released a new bumper sticker for their 2018 Congressional campaign: “I mean, have you seen the other guys?”

It’s not a bad political notion so far as it goes — opposition in politics is an effective tool, as Democrats learned from Republicans, who campaigned against Obamacare and Democratic spending policies to the tune of 1,000 state legislature seats, 12 governorships (including in states such as Michigan and Massachusetts), 10 Senate seats and 63 House seats. Now Democrats hope to reverse the math.

But there’s something else going on here, too. Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings. That’s because for all the talk by Democrats about Republican extremism, Republicans actually have moved closer to the center on policy, while Democrats have embraced an ugly combination of Bernie Sanders-style socialism and college campus-style intersectionality.

Leave aside the boorish antics of President Donald Trump and the incompetence of Congressional Republicans. Here is the fact: Trump is the most moderate Republican president since Richard Nixon. He has successfully passed almost no major policy in seven months. His foreign policy on North Korea and Syria is barely distinguishable from former President Barack Obama’s. His approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been praised by Palestinians and former Obama officials. He’s the most pro-LGBT Republican in presidential history; his stance on abortion has been vague; his White House chief strategist has openly embraced higher taxes on upper-income earners, as well as a massive infrastructure spending program; he has embraced the central premises of Obamacare. Trump may act in ridiculous ways that defy rationality — his Twitter feed is littered with stupidity and aggression, of course — but on policy, Trump is closer to Bill Clinton of 1997 than President Obama was.

Democrats, meanwhile, are moving hard to the left. When former Clinton adviser Mark Penn wrote an op-ed for The New York Times calling for Democrats to move back to the center, he was roundly excoriated by the leading thinkers in the Democratic Party. He was an emissary of the past; he had to embrace the new vision of the leftist future. That leftist future involved radical tax increases, fully nationalized health care, and — most of all — the divisive politics of intersectionality. Sens. Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) may own the policy side of the Democratic coalition, but the heart of the Democratic coalition lies in polarization by race, sex and sexual orientation. Forget a cohesive national message that appeals to Americans regardless of tribal identity: The new Democratic Party cares only about uniting disparate identity factions under the banner of opposing Republicanism.

The clearest evidence for that alliance of convenience came earlier this month, when Democratic darling and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour was caught on tape promoting “jihad” against Trump. Sarsour said that the sort of “jihad” she liked was “a word of truth in front of a tyrant or leader.” But she deliberately used the word “jihad” because of its ambiguity, not in spite of it: Sarsour has stated that pro-Israel women cannot be feminists; she supports the imposition of “Shariah law” in Muslim countries; she has stated of dissident and female genital mutilation victim Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she wishes she could take her “vagina away”; she has long associated with the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood; she opened her “jihad” speech by thanking Siraj Wajjah, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who has repeatedly advocated for a violent form of “jihad.”

Democrats hope that campaigning as #TheResistance will suffice to prevent voters from looking too hard at their own moral and political shortcomings.

Democrats rushed to her defense nonetheless, hoping to preserve the intersectional concerns that animate their base. Never mind that Sarsour is no ally to LGBT rights, or that she blames “Zionists” for her problems. She represents an important constituency for Democrats, and so she must be protected. More than that, she speaks anti-Trumpese fluently, and thus is an important figure for Democrats.

This isn’t rare on the left anymore. Much of the Democratic establishment supported Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a longtime Nation of Islam acolyte who spent years defending that group’s most extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric — a man so radical that he openly associated with the Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which recently labeled Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) an “Israel Firster.”

Even as the Democratic Party embraced Sarsour and defended her ambiguous use of the word “jihad” — after all, she was opposing Trump the Impaler — leftist spokespeople rushed to microphones to denounce President Trump’s speech in Poland, in which he called for a defense of “the West” and “our civilization.” Leftist columnist Peter Beinart labeled the speech racist. As Jonah Goldberg of National Review points out, we now have a Democratic Party that spends its time defending the use of the word “jihad” against the president but labeling the phrase “the West” a problem.

Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see how it works out.

And so Democrats must focus on President Trump. They must hope that he smacks himself in the face with a frying pan. They must bank on some sort of Trump-Russia collusion revelation. They must pray that the focus stays on Republicans rather than turning back to Democrats. After all, Sanders-Sarsour doesn’t sound like a winning combination.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Hopeful rhetoric, vague vision for peace after Trump’s Middle East visit

President Donald Trump touches the Western Wall on May 22. Photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

President Donald Trump has come and gone from his trip to the Middle East, his first foreign excursion since taking office earlier this year. He arrived — first in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, then Jerusalem and Bethlehem in Israel — with strong words about Iran as the neighborhood bully and, like so many American presidents before him, buoyant words for the Israeli and Palestinian people.

Optimistic words. Hopeful words. They all conveyed a vision and new possibility for peace in the region, a prospect “I’ve heard,” he said, that is “one of the toughest deals of all. But I have a feeling we will get there eventually, I hope.”

Good for Trump. A new American president. A new chance for a solution. A new team to get it done.

But where were the new ideas Israeli leaders are so certain he has? What is the new approach? How does he propose to untangle the thorny issues on the ground — boundaries, settlers, Jerusalem, etc. — that have left so many presidents before him bloody with failure?

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians was a topic of much discussion when Trump visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was front and center, but not necessarily the first item on the agenda. In his speech to the Arab world in Riyadh days before, in his unscripted photo-op with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his later remarks in the prime minister’s house, Trump was more focused on Iran as the source of menace in the region. He and Netanyahu suggested that there are new opportunities in the region. Countries must unite against a common threat — Iran. That’s an opening that can be explored.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chat as White House senior advisor Jared Kushner is seen in between them. Photo by Kobi Gideon/Courtesy of Government Press Office

Michael Oren, historian, former Israeli ambassador to the United States and currently Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, said he believes that this new reality is a conduit of a “tremendous” shift. If once it was assumed that a peace with the Palestinians could lead to reconciliation of Israel with the rest of the Arab world — the situations is now reversed: A peace with the Arab world could lead to a deal with the Palestinians. If the Saudis come on board, if other Gulf states come on board, if the Arab world realizes that fighting against Israel makes no sense in this era of radicalism, the Palestinians might realize that the train of peace is leaving the station and that they’d better hurry so they don’t miss it.

Maybe this is what Israeli leaders mean when they constantly talk about “new ideas.” Trump is a devotee of “new” ideas, “bold” ideas, “different” ideas. For Israel, to resist his push for a deal would be a mistake. But it might be able to convince him that his predecessors failed because of their conventional thinking — and that he, a man bold enough, ought to reformulate the meaning of the ultimate deal. The “two-state solution” is old, tired — and it is so Clinton and Obama. Trump could make his mark by thinking outside of the box, that is, by dropping old ideas and replacing them with new ideas.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sang the praises of new ideas after his meeting with Trump: “Our destiny — Palestinians and Jews — is to live together in this land,” he said. “In order to achieve this, we need new ideas, new energy that will help us move forward, together.”

But move where? Rivlin has his new ideas; he supports one state, or a confederation of Israelis and Palestinians. Naftali Bennett, the head of the Jewish Home Party and the leader most forthright in attempting to directly tell Trump what needs to be done (“We expect you to be the first president to recognize a united Jerusalem,” he said, to which Trump responded, “That’s an idea!”), has different new ideas. He supports an autonomy for Palestinians and annexation of the rest. Other leaders also have new ideas, including the oldest “new” idea of sticking to an improved status quo.

Does Trump have new ideas? If he does, we were still waiting to hear what they are as he departed for Europe. It was worth noting that Trump refrained from using the term “two-state solution” during his visit. It is possible that he is more open than his predecessors to considering alternative ideas, assuming he has them. In Saudi Arabia, in Jerusalem and in Bethlehem, he kept hinting that his deal is partially built on the goodwill of the conservative Arab regimes of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Former President Bill Clinton failed to get them on board at Camp David. He was disappointed by their refusal to help him push the late Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, toward accepting the deal that was offered to him. Trump and some of his top advisers believe circumstances have changed in a way that could make such a push more realistic today.

His brief trip was barely a beginning of a long process of exploration of these assumptions and ideas. Although it sent a symbolic message of involvement and new energy, it did little to advance a detailed vision of a peace process. And of course, involvement is crucial, as both Arab and Israeli leaders made clear in their remarks, taking a swipe at the Barack Obama administration.

“We are happy to see that America is back,” said Rivlin, usually not the type to bash the former president. Netanyahu, not surprisingly, was more direct: “I want to tell you also how much we appreciate the reassertion of American leadership in the Middle East.”

President Donald Trump with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on May 22. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The new American president ought to know that there is no correlation between the number of visits to the Middle East and the level of success in handling Middle East affairs. Yes, Trump made “history” — a word used much too often to describe routine events — in going to Israel and Saudi Arabia earlier in his term than any other president. He made “history” again by being the first sitting American president to visit the Western Wall. So what? Nixon made history by being the first president to travel to Israel. Shortly afterward, he was forced out of office. Clinton made history by coming to Israel more than all other presidents, four times. It did not guarantee his success.

The only presidential visit that really made a change was Jimmy Carter’s in 1979. That was a dramatic visit, with ups, downs and crises. It was a make-or-break visit: Carter traveled to Egypt, then to Israel, and forced the hand of the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to accept the peace deal that was proposed to him. A few years ago, Israel’s state archives released documents from that visit, including a cable that was sent from Zvi Rafiah, Israel’s then-liaison to the U.S. Congress. Carter briefed congressional leaders when he was back in Washington, D.C., and Rafiah reported to his superiors in Jerusalem that during this meeting, Carter described his meeting with the Israeli cabinet as “terrible.”

“Terrible” and “horrible” are two of Trump’s favorite words. So maybe he will also describe parts of his visit as terrible. Maybe he did not appreciate the food, or the heat, or the forced selfie with Knesset Member Oren Hazan. But as far as we know, by the end of his visit on May 23, nothing truly “terrible” happened. Everybody was nice to him. Everybody agreed with him. Everybody encouraged him to keep doing what he is doing, whatever that is.

A time for confrontation might still come, when a more detailed plan emerges, and a real price is demanded of the parties. Already, Israel and the Palestinians got a taste of the future. Israel watched reluctantly, yet silently, as the Saudis bought weapons in quantities that might put Israel’s military edge at risk. The Palestinians witnessed an American president visiting the Kotel. They heard an American president, not for the first time, raise the issue of terrorism as an obstacle they need to overcome to achieve their objectives. They heard him say “peace” but not “a Palestinian state.”

And so. There was a visit and it went smoothly. For Trump, that is certainly an achievement. Everybody was trying to convince everybody that the visit was successful and that Trump is exactly what they expected him to be.

But there was reason for caution. On the evening of May 22, about an hour before Trump and Netanyahu made their joint statement in Jerusalem, I was sitting in a radio studio in the city of Modi’in. The interviewee on the line was Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi, an Arab legislator, an articulate critic of Israel’s policies, and a frequent visitor at the offices of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

He was cautious. Very cautious. Wisely cautious. Tibi has hopes, but he isn’t letting them get too high. He knows Trump changes his mind, he said. He knows it is not yet clear what Trump wants, beyond the generalities of having a “deal” and brokering “peace.” He knows Trump won’t always have the patience necessary to see a bumpy peace process through. And so Tibi’s message was simple: I’ll believe him about his Israeli-Palestinian peace effort when I see it.

When I asked Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s communications minister, about Trump reportedly walking back on his campaign promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, Hanegbi didn’t even blink before explaining that a visit to the Western Wall is much more important than moving the embassy. And when Tibi was asked if he was annoyed by Trump’s visit to the Kotel, Tibi didn’t even blink before explaining that it was an insignificant event that reinforced the fact that the U.S. does not recognize the site as Israeli.

Despite what did and didn’t happen, give Trump credit for this: He was polite, almost gaffe free and vague enough to keep the valuable posture of a Rorschach test: for now, all interpretation of his actions and intentions are still in the eye of the beholder.

Trump blew it, big-league

President Donald Trump is flanked by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office of the White House on May 10. Photo by Russia Foreign Minister Press Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The New York Times has a new feature called “Say Something Nice About Trump.”

Last week, I was all set to do so. As President Donald Trump was preparing to embark on his first official trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, I found myself thinking nice things. It occurred to me that on the Israel-Palestinian issue, Trump had come out of the gate in a far more effective way than his predecessors.

On May 8, for instance, I was on a phone call with Dennis Ross, the former United States ambassador who served four American presidents as a Middle East envoy and negotiator. And this is what Ross said: Donald Trump has a better chance than President Barack Obama did at making peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite Trump’s support from the anti-two-state-solution crowd, despite the fact Trump’s own ambassador to Israel called pro-two-state groups “worse than kapos,” Ross said Trump has handled the Middle East diplomatic dance better than Obama so far. He said Trump has impressed the Palestinian leadership, gained their trust. And he had the Israelis in his pocket.

For someone who has seen Trump as dangerous to Israel’s future and ill-informed on Middle East affairs, it was surreal —but heartening.

“What is going on,” Ross said of the president, “is he continues to emphasize that this is a deal he really wants to do. Only last week, he said he couldn’t think of a single reason why he can’t reach agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. I think what he meant by that, not that there weren’t differences, but that ultimately those differences shouldn’t prevent a deal. In any case, this is one of those challenges that is deeply rooted [for Trump]. What the president has done is make [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] more relevant, which is important at a time when he does not have a lot of popularity.”

Ross’ call, arranged by The Israel Project, came on the eve of Trump’s visit in Washington with Abbas. The remarkable part was that Ross outlined a clear way forward toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, out of the long and dangerous impasse between the sides. And the Moses who could lead them? Donald J. Trump.

Trump has leverage, Ross said. He is seen as someone who can deliver and, beyond that, someone who, unlike Obama, will exact a cost if he’s rejected. So Trump can make tough demands of Abbas, including ending payments to the families of terrorists, and — in private — can ask for difficult sacrifices from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I was listening, shaking my head, wondering if I had completely misjudged Trump when it comes to Middle East policy. Perhaps I had overestimated the hard-line attitude of his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Perhaps I hadn’t taken into account the moderating forces of Trump’s childhood friend, Ron Lauder.

But more likely, I had forgotten my cardinal rule for understanding Donald J. Trump: The man will say anything in a room to make a sale. Alec Baldwin is not Trump. Trump is Alec Baldwin — in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

“Because only one thing counts in this life!” Baldwin’s real estate huckster character says. “Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!”

To get elected, Trump had to appeal to evangelicals and pro-Israel hard-liners like Sheldon Adelson. But to sell a bigger deal as president, he has new constituencies. The Saudi vote isn’t big in Florida or Wisconsin, but it sure matters in the Middle East.

“The more the administration, the president and his representatives are dealing with the Arab leaders, the more what they’re hearing from them is they’re prepared to work with them,” Ross said. “But on [the Palestinian-Israeli] issue, they’re asking for a two-state outcome.”

So in the spirit of saying something nice about Trump, I was all set to assert that he would continue to confound the very people who trusted him to do exactly what hard-liners in Israel, and their American armchair Golanis, want him to do.

But then, Trump happened. That is, shortly before his trip abroad, the president gave sensitive intelligence information to the Russians, intelligence that was revealed to have come via Israel.

Here’s how bad this is: Israeli intelligence had somehow penetrated ISIS command well enough to get detailed knowledge of its upcoming terror attacks. Now those methods and sources are burned, thanks to the president of the United States. The fact that Russia can now discern the methods and sources for that intelligence and pass it on to their allies the Iranians, who can funnel it to Hezbollah, is a criminal act against Israel.

This disaster will shadow Trump’s trip, shuffle the equation in ways that are now impossible to imagine — even if no other shoes drop between now and when he touches down in Israel.

The evidence was building that Trump was not going to be the hand puppet Sheldon Adelson thought he bought Bibi for Chanukah. Now, flying across the Atlantic with a self-inflicted puncture to his competence and credibility, Trump needs Bibi more than ever to keep his credibility afloat.

A week ago, Trump was positioned perfectly to land in Israel and shake things up. Now he will arrive, shaken, weakened, vulnerable, neutered.

I tried so hard to say something nice. It’s still not the time. And there’s no one to blame but Donald Trump.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

What to expect from the Trump-Abbas meeting

Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo by Reuters

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s high-profile visit to the White House in February, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will have his turn to forge a relationship with the new US President this week. However, with few detailed statements by Washington or Ramallah regarding the upcoming meeting, Middle East analysts emphasize the importance of holding the meeting itself so early in Trump’s presidency.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“I think a reaffirmation of the Trump administration’s intention of re-engaging seriously with an issue that the Obama administration gave up on and that few people expected the Trump administration to engage seriously with. This is all surprising and good,” Hussein Ibish, Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington told Jewish Insider. “During the campaign, many people thought it would be difficult for this administration to form a mutually respectful relationship with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. I think they have done that in short order in a very pragmatic and impressive way. On the other hand, going beyond that to the stage to find some sort of workable formula to move the parties forward, that is a whole other story.”

Aaron David Miller, former Middle East peace negotiator during the Clinton and Bush administrations, noted the mutual interests of the U.S. and Palestinian leaders this week. “Both Trump and Abbas need — and will have — a successful meeting — Abbas to maintain his relevance and Trump to at least maintain the illusion that he’ll broker the “‘ultimate deal” between Israel and Palestinians,” he said. Given the President’s upcoming visit to Israel next month, the Abbas visit takes on extra importance to prepare for a possible trilateral meeting with Netanyahu, Miller added.

At the same time, some experts caution about a possible clash between the US and Palestinian leaders. “If you go back to the Presidential primary campaign where he talked about some of his opponents as weak. That’s the question he’s going to need to decide after he meets Abbas,” explained Elliott Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor during the George W. Bush administration. “Is he a person strong enough to actually deliver a comprehensive peace agreement? I think the personal aspect of this is going to be significant.“

In an interview with Reuters last week, Trump expressed his strong desire to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump stated. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.”

Grant Rumley, an expert in Palestinian politics at the Foundation of Defense for Democracies, argued that there is a disconnect for what the Palestinian Authority and the Trump administration envision out of this new relationship. “Trump wants the deal. Abbas wants peace talks and the process of peace talks: photo opps in the White House, in large part out of domestic consideration. Nobody can challenge Abbas’ relevancy at home if he is in the White House with Trump and Kushner, meeting with Tillerson in Europe,” Rumley noted. “Both sides are destined for a collision at some point unless something changes because they want different things.”

Ibish emphasized that without addressing the core political disputes between Palestinians and Israelis, the Trump administration will have a difficult time making genuine progress. “(Jason) Greenblatt by all accounts has been pursuing economic initiatives that would bring short term relief to the Palestinians on the West Bank. That is a very good place to start, but eventually it only goes so far,” he asserted.

Eyes in Jerusalem will certainly be focused on Trump’s meeting with Abbas. “If there are public statements by the President that are very complimentary of Abbas, it will annoy the Israelis,” said Abrams. “Because, what is the record here? He said no to a generous offer by Olmert. He said no to Kerry and Obama, So, there is no particular reason why he should get lots of compliments without his commitment to a peace agreement. And if there is a lot of flowery language, the Israelis are going to ask, what is going on?”

The issue of Palestinian payment of stipends to families of terrorists will be on the top of the wish list of many in the pro-Israel community, Rumley noted, “They will want the administration to really hammer Abbas with that (payment of terrorist families). The question will be how will Abbas respond. When I bring that up in conversation with folks, they usually defer to: ‘if we don’t pay the prisoners, Hamas will or maybe even Iran.’ That is their defense but that dog ain’t going to hunt with this administration and Congress.”

Meet Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the NSC aide who reportedly leaked intel to back Trump tapping claims

A New York City Police Department security camera hanging across the street from Trump Tower on March 7. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Ezra Cohen-Watnick has been in the spotlight recently following reports that he was the aide behind a White House leak to help back up President Donald Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped him.

The New York Times reported last month that the Jewish senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council was one of two White House aides who leaked the information to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The White House apparently hoped the intel, which suggested Trump campaign officials were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies, would vindicate Trump’s claim that Obama had eavesdropped on him. The Times article followed a Politico report that Trump had overruled a decision by his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster,  in order to keep Cohen-Watnick in his current position.

Trump made the wiretapping claim, without citing evidence, on Twitter earlier last month. Intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, responded by saying there was no evidence to show that Obama had wiretapped Trump.

According to the Times, Cohen-Watnick started to review highly classified information after Trump posted his tweet in a bid to substantiate it. He and a colleague, Michael Ellis – formerly a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee – then contacted Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team.

A Newsweek article published Thursday looked at Cohen-Watnick’s rise in the White House. Here are some of the interesting findings from that article as well as other recent reports.

Cohen-Watnick was involved in Republican groups from an early age.

Though Cohen-Watnick grew up in the liberal neighborhood of Chevy Chase, Md., he seems to have developed conservative political beliefs at an early age. In high school, he joined the Young Republicans Club, and during his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he was a member of the Union League of Philadelphia, which a pro-Trump columnist for Philly.com described as the city’s “iconic bastion of GOP conservatism.” Cohen-Watnick also joined a Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps course, although he later dropped out.

Some of his family friends were bothered by his “growing anti-Muslim fervor.”

As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Cohen-Watnick helped plan a “Terrorism Awareness Week,” originally named “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” together with the conservative writer David Horowitz. Such “awareness week” events on other campuses, also sponsored by Horowitz, have promoted “anti-Muslim views” and featured “events with anti-Muslim activists,” according to a 2013 report by the Anti-Defamation League. Some of Cohen-Watnick’s progressive family friends “were disturbed by his growing anti-Muslim fervor, especially when they heard him express sympathy for illegal Israeli settlements and other hard-line views. Another family friend tried to persuade the young man that the Middle East was far more complicated than he thought,” according to Newsweek.

His service at the Defense Intelligence Agency was less-than-stellar, according to classmates.

Cohen-Watnick didn’t earn high praises from those DIA training program classmates who spoke to Newsweek. One source said his reputation“was poor. He was allegedly not a team player and would also ‘leak’ denigrating information about his fellow trainees” to their instructors. “While we expect each student to do their own work,” the source adds, “we also demand they develop positive and healthy partnering skills.” After a training program in Virginia, Cohen-Watnick was assigned to serve in Afghanistan. Cohen-Watnick did apparently manage to impress one important person: Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who resigned in February after acknowledging that he had misled other administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about a phone call he had with the Russian ambassador before Trump assumed office.

Cohen-Watnick and Flynn were also connected through Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of a think tank that promulgates the theory that the Muslim Brotherhood has established a “Sharia-supremacist infrastructure” in the United States in the form of mosques, cultural centers and Muslim organizations. His daughter and Cohen-Watnick were close in high school, according to Newsweek. Gaffney reportedly offered Cohen-Watnick an internship at his think tank, the Center for Security Policy, although he told Newsweek that he had not spoken to Cohen-Watnick since he was in high school. Flynn, a friend of Gaffney, later brought Cohen-Watnick to the NSC.

Cohen-Watnick’s wife did PR work for Russia.

At the D.C.-office for the PR firm Ketchum, Rebecca Miller worked with Russia. In a 2014 interview brought to light last month by Los Angeles-based lawyer and genealogist E. Randol Schoenberg, Miller’s mother said her daughter was “responsible for providing PR and marketing to try to make Russia look better.” A Ketchum representative told Newsweek that Miller stopped working on the Russia account in 2012, but the revelations of her work may raise alarm bells due to Cohen-Watnick’s ties to Flynn, whose failure to disclose a conversation with a Russian ambassador led to his resignation. Newsweek found little other information about Cohen-Watnick and Miller’s relationship. A synagogue newsletter for Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue outside Washington, D.C.,  listed the two as having celebrated their engagement in November.

From Republican governor to Democratic congressman: Charlie Crist’s journey

When the 2008 economic downturn struck America, Florida was hit especially hard. Charlie Crist — who was then serving as the state’s Governor — received a call from President Barack Obama inviting him to a Fort Myers rally backing the White House’s plan to inject $12 billion in recovery assistance to the Sunshine state. Crist’s staff hesitated. As a Republican, Crist publicly accepting an invitation from Obama could wreak a devastating political blow. But, the Florida Governor agreed and introduced the President since Crist felt the state desperately required economic support and he believed in the importance of honoring the office of the Presidency.

[This profile originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

After his speech, Obama approached Crist and hugged the Florida governor. The moment was caught on camera. The Florida lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “That was the hug that killed me as a Republican. Because some in my party still couldn’t quite get their head around the fact that we had this new first African American President.”

After deciding to run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010, Crist was collapsing in the polls. Given his ongoing discomfort with what he perceived as a rightward shift among the Republican Party, Crist reached out to Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) for advice. The two became friendly in the 2008 Presidential race; Crist asked the 2000 Democratic Vice Presidential candidate if he should make the switch to Independent and Lieberman responded, “Charlie, if you do it, you’ll feel so liberated.” That same week, the Florida governor left his longtime party and registered as an independent. While he ended up losing the Senate race to Marco Rubio (R-FL), Crist emphasized, “It worked out the way it’s supposed to. Beshert.”

Despite switching parties, Crist has maintained strong support for Israel. He was the first governor to sign a bill that divested Florida’s retirement funds away from Iran collaborating with then-State Senator Ted Deutch (D-FL). He selected the Jewish state as his first trade mission with former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) joining the trip. “We went to Tel Aviv, which reminded me of Florida because you are right on the coast,” Crist noted. “I love Israel. The food is amazing.”

An avid swimmer, the Congressman heads to the pool every day before work. The former governor’s first call each morning is to his father who Crist describes as “his best friend” and role model. Crist has a unique heritage as his grandmother was born in Lebanon before leaving the Middle East while his grandfather arrived in America when he was only 14 from Cyprus. “I’m 60 and I can’t think about going on a boat by myself around the world. But, he did it,” Crist noted. The Florida lawmaker does not allow Washington’s partisan clashes to constrain him. On the Congressman’s office wall, hangs pictures of both Obama and former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney, who coincidentally served in the exact same office when in the legislative branch.

After completing his term as governor, Crist surprised many when he expressed interest in running for the House of Representatives. “People would say to me – friends – ‘my gosh, you were governor of Florida now the third largest state in the country, why would you want to be 1 of 435?’” Crist said. The Florida lawmaker stressed his passion for public service that has kept him involved in politics and his love for engaging with constituents. “I believe in the same things I always have: not wasting money, a strong defense, a great education, and protecting the environment,” he noted. “My former party changed – just like what I think happened to Ronald Reagan.”

Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress?

Representative Charlie Crist: “Well, I have run for Congress before, I ran for the Senate twice and lost. Then you learn a lot. You learn more from losses than you do from victories. It’s good to have both. Basically, it’s because I love to serve, literally. It’s like a calling; it may sound a little weird, but it’s true. It started when I was a junior in high school. My first exposure to politics was through my father. My dad was a family doctor in my hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida. I had the privilege to represent St. Petersburg and Clearwater because of the Florida Supreme Court, they redrew the district lines. I was recruited by the DCCC to run and then a friend Kathy Castor, who is a member here. We had a conversation, and she encouraged me to run because I had no intention of running to be honest. I had recently been defeated for the governorship by Governor Scott by about one point. I thought maybe it was done and then out of nowhere I was reading the paper in July following that November defeat and it said that the districts had been redrawn and it included where I lived.”

“What’s funny is people would say to me – friends – ‘my gosh, you were governor of Florida now the third largest state in the country, why would you want to be 1 of 435? I said it’s because I love to serve. I want to help. It’s what I do. And by the grace of God, we won. I’m very humbled and happy. My father ran for the school board when I was nine and I remember it was a Saturday morning and a fish fry because he really hadn’t campaigned much so the local Republican Party chairman told my Dad, you need to go out and campaign if you want to win. My dad came up to me, he called me arlie because my older sister – God rest her soul – couldn’t pronounce the “Ch” in Charlie so arlie kind of stuck when I was a kid. He goes: Arlie, you want to come to this fish fry with me? I said, yeah. Let’s go see what’s going on. He and I went. There were all these picnic tables around the lake. He gave me a stack of his cards and said Why don’t you go table to table and introduce yourself? We have the same name. I’m junior. And ask them to vote for Pop and I did. And I loved it. I just love talking to people and here where are they from and what they care about.”

JI: When changing political parties, have your views also shifted?

Crist: “Not for me. I haven’t changed at all. I believe in the same things I always have. I believe in being decent to other people, not wasting money, a strong defense, law and order, a great education, protecting the environment: the same things that I always have. I am what I am. My former party changed – just like what I think happened to Ronald Reagan. He was a Democrat and became a Republican. His former party, I assume, changed.”

JI: Why did you change parties?

Crist: “I saw it beginning when I was governor (picture of Obama on his wall, Cheney). It was January 2009 and I met with my economic advisor, Jeremy McDaniel. I said, Jeremy, what’s going on with the economy? And he said terrible. Virtually, money is not coming in. I said, what’s the plan Jeremy? He said the plan is that the President Obama wants to give you $12 billion. I said, I like that plan. We need it badly. He (Obama) said he needs to get it through Congress. I guess a few weeks later, early February, my office in Tallahassee got a call from the White House. The purpose of the call was to let us know that he was going to come to Fort Myers soon and was inviting me to be there with him, if I wanted to be. I said sure. And my staff said, are you sure? I said, yeah. They said, you know he’s a Democrat. I said he’s the President of the United States of America and I am in honor of the office and him, particularly because what he is trying to do for our Florida and our country with the Recovery Act so I went. The President motions to me and says, please have a seat. So, I sit next to him in the back of the big car. And he said, before you go in, I wanted to say something to you. He said: first, thank you. I want to thank you for coming. You are going to pay a political price just for being here today. Since you are here, would you mind introducing me? And I said, that would be an honor too. So, we went up there and I go to the podium and it was loud. I said, please give a welcome to our President? It’s great to have him here. He is here to talk about something that can be very good for Florida and America: The Recovery Act. I said we need to do it in a bipartisan way because it is right for all of America. So, please give a warm welcome to President Barack Obama. Then he comes to the podium and I wait to greet him. When he gets there, he shakes my hand. And then he did it. He pulled me in and hugged me. And somebody took a picture of it. And that was the hug that killed me as a Republican. Because some in my party still couldn’t quite get their head around the fact that we had this new first African American President. I will just call a thing a thing. And that’s sad. Now, not all Republicans, mind you. But there was an element that didn’t like it at all. I heard about it. “

JI: So, you think that race played a significant factor in those opposing President Obama?

Crist: “I would rather characterize it as unfairness. Unfairness and arrogance are the two things that get under my skin. It’s why as Attorney General I fought for civil rights. It’s why as Education Commissioner I fought for higher pay for teachers. It’s why as state senator I wanted to protect the environment and sponsor the net ban to save our fisheries. I was at a rally when I ran for the Senate a second time, 2010. I go up and give my speech and it was politely received until the very end of my speech, there were 500 people there – I’m guessing – towards the back this white guy stands up and he goes, “Go hug Obama again!” I just kind of looked at him and I’m like, “I’m detecting something here that isn’t Kosher. It’s not right.” I continued to see it in little incidents like that. More frequently after a while. It broke my heart. I was seeing elements in my former party that didn’t reflect that to the point that finally I couldn’t tolerate it personally anymore so I became an independent, after talking to Joe Lieberman. I love him to death. He’s been very nice to me. I came close to being picked to run for Vice President with his friend John McCain and I got to know him during this time of my life. I felt comfortable reaching out to Senator Lieberman. I asked him, you’ve been where I think I’m about to go. And I just wanted to seek your advice. So I said, how was it going independent? He said, “Charlie, if you do it, you’ll feel so liberated. I’m paraphrasing, he said if you’re even thinking about it, then you should do it. So, I did. That week. It was April 2010. I was horribly collapsing in the poll anyways so it was kind of convenient being honest. But, it was consistent with my soul and my heart. Partially (it was politically) of course. But, primarily my heart couldn’t take it anymore. Of course, I lost. It worked out the way it’s supposed to. Beshert. Is that the right word?”

JI: Do you believe support for Israel is declining in the Democratic Party?

Crist: “I don’t think it’s dis-unifying. There are always differences of opinion. That’s fine and healthy. I love Israel. I committed in the race for governor, the one I won, that if I won that my first trade mission would be to go to Israel. And so I did that in May, 2007 with Robert Wexler. We went to Tel Aviv, which reminded me of Florida because you are right on the coast. The food is amazing. The people are amazing. Afterwards, we went to Jerusalem. There is no place like it. I love to go there. I think Democrats, and many Republicans, are so strongly aligned and care about the State of Israel. As Floridians, we do particularly. We have an enormous Jewish population in my state and I’m very proud of that. When I became governor, with Ted Deutch, he was Senator Deutch, in the Florida State Senate, a wonderful man, we had a divestment bill that would not have our retirement funds invest anything that would somehow favor Iran. I was the first governor who did that. The State of Florida and the State of Israel have a unique bond. Probably the most moving thing I did on the trade mission to Jerusalem was visit Yad Vashem. I love Judaism, anything that I can do to strengthen, protect and help. It’s a democracy surrounded by a lot of people who may not be all that friendly to Israel.”

JI: In addition to your political views, is there an element to your personality or schedule that many in Washington or your constituents may not know?

Crist: “I swim every morning. Everybody knows that my hair is white. My father’s parents name was Cristodoles. He immigrated from Cyprus. My father’s mother Mary Khoury immigrated from Lebanon from a village north of Beirut around 1912. They met in Pennsylvania. When my grandfather came in, he was only 14. 14. I’m 60 and I can’t think about going on a boat by myself around the world. But, he did it.”

JI: Who is your role model?

Crist: “First and foremost, my father. My best friend. My first call every morning. I love him with all of my heart.”

Trump and the cry of Syria’s children

Salah Skaff, 25, showing a picture of his daughter Amira Skaff, 1.5 years old, who died after an airstrike in Douma, Syria, on April 7. Photo by Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies,” poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote.

Tell that to the children of Syria, the kingdom where everybody dies.

The once beautiful country, full of history and antiquity, culture and cuisine, is now a cemetery. Six years into a bloody civil war that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents, the world is once again faced with the images of dead and suffering children. 

This week, we saw horrifying scenes of children screaming for their dead parents and parents screaming for their dying children. We saw dozens of children lying dead on the floor. Babies, infants poisoned. We saw their bloodied faces, their foaming mouths, their desperate, disconsolate eyes and learned that they died choking on gas, and we couldn’t look away.

There’s something about helpless, powerless children that inspires even the most puerile grownups to act like adults. 

“That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact,” President Donald Trump said after the chemical attack on the Syrian village Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens. “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies … that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.”

For the children of Syria, “red line” has become synonymous with empty promise. President Barack Obama had his “red line” but he may as well have drawn it in pencil; our spineless Congress eventually erased it. Who would have thought, then, that RealDonaldTrump, king of inconsistencies and erraticism, would draw his own red line? 

Trump isn’t exactly known for his political fidelities or his values — but if there’s anything that matters to him besides himself and his business empire, it’s his family. The images of devastated children struck a chord with the father-in-chief and inspired him to act like the commander-in-chief.

We were warned Trump would be unpredictable — and is he ever. 

After prodding Obama not to act in Syria, then blaming him for not acting enough, Trump defied his critics and even some of his friends on April 6 by launching a targeted airstrike on the Syrian airfield from where the chemical attack was launched.

He did not hesitate to name and blame Syria’s Mad King, President Bashar al-Assad, for the attack, much to the dismay of his reputed bestie Vladimir Putin. While Assad’s Russian enabler tried to obfuscate the facts, deflecting his own bloodguilt and calling for an “investigation,” President Trump, for once, told the truth.

“Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said during a White House announcement. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” 

Across the world, another playground bully was horrified by the attack and joined Trump in unequivocal condemnation.

“There’s no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially, with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu said. His statement earned a swift rebuke from Putin, who called his accusations “groundless.”

In risking the wrath of the Russian leader, Trump was so grateful for Netanyahu’s support of the first military action of his presidency that his vice president, Mike Pence, called Netanyahu to thank him. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin declared the United States “an example for the entire free world.”

At a time when Trump’s approval ratings are dismal and he doesn’t have the success of “The Apprentice” to tuck him in at night, the praise must feel delicious. In launching a strike, Trump also risked alienating his base — and chief adviser Steve Bannon — whose anti-globalist motto “America First” means that even dying children must come a distant second. War is expensive, they argue, but so is protecting the first lady in absentia from the White House and the president’s $3 million trips to Mar-a-Lago to play golf.

Perhaps the president feels just a little bit guilty that the children choking on sarin gas are the same children he tried to block from seeking refuge in the U.S. with his incendiary travel ban. 

Now that his paternal instincts are kicking in and Trump must balance the needs of the world’s children with the needs of his own children, he might look to Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers — he can easily borrow it from his son-in-law, Jared Kushner (who famously kept a copy in his real estate office).

Im ein ani li, mi li? If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

U’kh’she’ani le’atzmi, mah ani? If I am only for myself, what am I?

The children of Syria don’t care about Trump’s promise of “America First.” They don’t care about the world’s tightrope walk around Russia. Or about Iran’s malevolent intentions toward Sunnis and the State of Israel. They don’t care who are their allies and who are their enemies, or even whose plane it was that dropped the poisonous gas that burned up their lives. 

The children of Syria care only about one thing: that this conflict ends.

V’im lo ’akhshav, eimatai? And, if not now, when?


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

NSC aide Cohen-Watnick said to have leaked intel to back Trump eavesdropping claims

White House aide Ezra Cohen-Watnick reportedly leaked sensitive information to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), above. Cohen-Watnick's wife worked on behalf of Russia. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

A National Security Council aide is reportedly behind a White House leak that is roiling Congress and the Trump administration.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council, was one of two White House aides who leaked information to Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that Nunes and the White House apparently hoped would vindicate President Donald Trump’s claim that his predecessor, Barack Obama, had eavesdropped on him.

Trump made the claim, without citing evidence, on Twitter earlier this month. Intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, responded by saying there was no evidence to show that Obama had wiretapped Trump.

Nunes, who until then enjoyed a cooperative relationship on the committee with his Democratic counterpart, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., initially was part of the no-evidence chorus. But after making a sudden visit to the White House last week, Nunes emerged with a claim that he suggested partially vindicated Trump’s assertion. But the evidence – that U.S. persons were caught up in routine intelligence sweeps of foreign officials – did not implicate Obama personally.

According to the Times, Watnick-Cohen started to review highly classified information after Trump posted his tweet in a bid to substantiate it. He and a colleague, Michael Ellis – formerly a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee – then contacted Nunes, who was on Trump’s transition team.

The affair has opened a rift between Schiff, who is Jewish, and Nunes and halted their committee’s review of allegations that Russia interfered in last year’s election. Top Democrats have called on Nunes to recuse himself from the inquiry, which may implicate Trump campaign officials. He has refused.

Earlier this month, Politico reported that Trump overruled a decision by his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, in order to keep Cohen-Watnick in his position.

McMaster saw Cohen-Watnick as tainted because he had been brought to the NSC by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who quit after revelations that he had obscured the truth about his conversations with a Russian official. The CIA also perceived Cohen-Watnick as a threat because he shared Flynn’s distrust of the national intelligence community.

Cohen-Watnick appealed to two Trump administration officials with whom he was close, Politico said – Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Stephen Bannon, his top strategic adviser. Trump sided with them over McMaster.

Cohen-Watnick celebrated his engagement to Rebecca Miller in November at Ohr Kodesh Congregation, a Conservative synagogue outside Washington, D.C., according to a synagogue newsletter.

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Maintaining Iran sanctions, crushing BDS and ensuring aid to Israel are high on the agenda, of course.

But the overarching message at this year’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is, if you want a break from polarization, come join us.

“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told JTA about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”

That might seem a stretch following two tense years in which AIPAC faced off against the Obama administration – and by extension much of the Democratic congressional delegation – over the Iran nuclear deal.

But check out the roster of conference speakers and you can see the lobby is trying hard.

Among Congress members, for instance, there are the usual suspects, including stalwarts of the U.S.-Israel relationship like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking, and so are the leaders of each party in both chambers.

But also featured is Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a freshman who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who had his request for a satellite feed at last year’s conference turned down. Also present this year and absent last year, for the most part: Democrats who backed the Iran deal.

Among the other speakers are Obama administration architects and defenders of the nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

One striking example is Rob Malley, a National Security Council official who didn’t join President Barack Obama’s team until his second term in part because pro-Israel objections kept him out in the first four years. (Malley, a peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton, had committed the heresy of insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians were to blame for the collapse of talks in 2000.)

If there’s a let-bygones-be-bygones flavor to all this, it results in part from anxieties pervading the Jewish organizational world about polarization in the era of Trump. Jewish groups get their most consequential policy work done lining up backers from both parties.

“We continue to very much believe in the bipartisan model because it is the only way to get things done,” said the official, who like AIPAC officials are wont to do, requested anonymity. “This is the one gathering where D’s and R’s come together for high purpose.”

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, demonstrated at its own policy conference last month that it was only too happy to lead the resistance to President Donald Trump, who has appalled the liberal Jewish majority with his broadsides against minorities and his isolationism. J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explicitly said he was ready to step in now where AIPAC would not.

AIPAC is also under fire from the right. Republican Jews who consider the lobby’s bipartisanship a bane rather than a boon were behind the party platform’s retreat last year from explicit endorsement of the two-state solution. More recently, Trump has also marked such a retreat, at least rhetorically.

The Israeli American Council, principally backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who in 2007 fell out with AIPAC in part over its embrace of the two-state outcome, has attempted to position itself as the more conservative-friendly Israel lobby. The right-leaning Christians United for Israel is similarly assuming a higher profile on the Hill.

And so, in forging its legislative agenda, AIPAC is doing its best to find items both parties can get behind. There are three areas:

* Iran: Democrats are still resisting legislation that would undo the nuclear deal, but are ready to countenance more narrowly targeted sanctions. AIPAC is helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region.

* Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: AIPAC will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

* Foreign assistance: AIPAC activists will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion). Support for such aid is a given, despite deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs in  Trump’s budget proposal.

Also a given will be the activists’ insistence that aid to Israel should not exist in a vacuum and should be accompanied by a robust continuation of U.S. aid to other countries. With a Trump administration pledged to slashing foreign assistance by a third and wiping out whole programs, AIPAC is returning to a posture unfamiliar since the early 1990s, when it stood up to a central plank of a Republican president.

Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.