Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Hanukkah Celebrations Canceled in German City Over Safety Issues

Hanukkah celebrations in the German city of Mülheim have been canceled over safety issues.

According to German media, a Hanukkah event at Mülheim’s city hall was nixed at the Central Council of Jews because the building was not considered to be secure enough and a safer location couldn’t be found in such a short period of time.

“We feel grief, because Hanukkah is a festival of joy. We have canceled all outdoor events,” local Jewish community leader Alexander Drehmann told the Bild Zeitung newspaper. “We are going to our community hall with secured entrance checkpoint, instead of being at the municipal theater. There were warnings, even from the non-Jewish sources, which I cannot name.”

Drehmann added, “It is a bad feeling. Surely one of the lowest points in our post-war history.”

Over the weekend, protests erupted in front of the United States embassy in Berlin in response to President Trump declaring that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The protests featured Arabic chants of “Death of the Jews!” and “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is coming again,” a reference to the tale of the Prophet Muhammad conquering the Jewish populace in the oasis of Khaybar. Israeli flags were also torched at the protests.

German government spokesperson Steffen Seibert condemned the anti-Semitic protests.

“One has to be ashamed when hatred of Jews is put on display so openly on the streets of German cities,” said Seibert.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany, as evident by the fact that anti-Semitic incidents tripled from 2014 (691) to 2015 (2,083). The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won almost 13% of the vote in the country’s most recent elections, and a recent report found that anti-Semitism is rampant among the mass influx of Muslim migrants that have entered Germany.

Overall, around 16% of German adults harbor anti-Semitic views, according to a 2015 profile by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Photo from Pixabay.

City of Peace

“This sacred city,” declared President Donald Trump last week, “should call forth the best in humanity.”

It was somewhat of a Nixon-in-China moment, as Trump is not exactly known as a beacon of moral clarity. And yet it was very much a moment of essential truth. Not just that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, but that Jerusalem — Israel — can arouse the best within us.

In the days that followed, despite fervent calls for mass hysteria, mass hysteria did not ensue. Could some Arabs and Muslims actually have been inspired by Trump’s words, which were notably translated into Arabic on the White House’s website? Are they finally beginning to see that they’ve been exploited by their leaders for nearly a century?

The fact is, no one is born with hate in their soul.

Perhaps this moment of truth will ignite a new beginning for the Arab world — a time to move beyond hate, to get their own houses in order, to begin creating magnificence again.

As we know in our own politics, the loudest voices don’t necessarily represent the majority, and the extremes are rarely sane. My three closest Muslim friends — two Egyptian, one American — are more than ready to get beyond this achingly difficult place. They scoff at the left’s bigotry of low expectations: They don’t want to be seen as victims or conquerors.

In stark contrast to the fanatical statements from Turkish, Iranian and Palestinian leaders, Muslim reformer Zuhdi Jasser had this to say about Jerusalem: “The path to peace will always be through treating Arabs and Muslims as adults, without appeasing the militant Islamist hectoring veto.”

On a micro level, I have been watching this play out on the Facebook page of my book and exhibition “Passage to Israel.” Nearly one-third and sometimes one-half of the “likes” on the photos I post are from people with Arabic names. Even when I explicitly write “Jerusalem, Israel,” or “Hebron, Israel.” Even when I post photos of the Israel Defense Forces.

Beautiful imagery, of course, can bypass ideology and make a beeline for the soul. I carefully chose photos that are emotionally captivating. But my primary intent had been for Jews in the Diaspora to reconnect with Israel, for everyone to see the inherent beauty and diversity of the country that the mainstream media rarely shows.

At some point, enough Muslims will say to their leaders: “Stop treating us like children. Stop teaching us to hate.”

I have been surprised that Arab Israelis are responding so positively, but maybe I shouldn’t have been. We are all human. Just as I am moved by Islamic art and design — even after a terrorist attack — so, too, the layered beauty of Israel cannot easily be ignored, no matter how much hate you’ve ingested since birth.

We each rise and fall to the expectations of others. When you treat a group of adults like toddlers, unable to control themselves, they will act like toddlers. At some point, enough Muslims will say to their leaders: “Stop treating us like children. Stop teaching us to hate.” That will be the day the Muslim world begins to blossom again.

The night of Trump’s speech, I posted on Facebook a beautiful rendition of “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu.” A spiritual song of peace and hope, its soulful melody brilliantly tears down all defenses, clears out negativity and anger. One of my Egyptian friends was the first to “heart” it.

In my book, I wrote that Israel is a mirror to one’s soul. Despite the anti-Semitism that permeates the Arab and Muslim world, I do believe there is a familial love underneath the anger and frustration. A love that can be tapped through personal connections, shared experiences and raised expectations. A love that could flourish through rational compassion — a compassion that’s not self-denigrating.

In the Talmud it is written: “Ten measures of beauty descended upon the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.”

Can an undivided Jerusalem — a city that’s been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times — ever be the City of Peace, as it was once called, ever be our true connector to God, one another and the best within us?

Perhaps the better question is: How can it not be?

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author. Her writings have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

Peace Through Raising Expectations

I support the plan to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I acknowledge this is a controversial topic, and I will observe the talmudic principle of stating the primary, opposing viewpoint before my own:

“The American Embassy in Israel shouldn’t be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem at this time because it will result in violence, impair the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and further destabilize a region already beset with violence and chaos.”

I disagree with this view because it expects the worst from Palestinian Arabs and Arabs in general. I believe it is racist to assume that these groups will become violent merely because something happens that displeases them.

It is true that actions by Israel and the United States have met with violence in the past. If we dig deeper, however, we find that the real obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that benefits financially from the ongoing cycle of violence. One need look only at the personal fortune of Yasser Arafat at the time of his death — a stash worth more than $1 billion — to grasp the profound impact of the leadership’s corruption on the Palestinian people.

Fourteen years later, Arafat’s successors continue to hire protesters for suicide missions by offering lifetime payments of $3,000 a month to their families, distributed through the Palestinian Authority Martyrs Fund. Thousands of families receive these payments, funded entirely by foreign aid. Needless to say, the politicians take a huge cut for themselves.

The real obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that benefits financially from the ongoing cycle of violence.

It’s a simple cycle: incite violence against Israelis, exploit the predictable military response for publicity, receive payments from sympathetic nations and skim for personal gain.

The leaders of this operation are not motivated to imagine peace with Israel because it would take money out of their pockets. Bypassing such leaders is the key to forging the elusive peace.

In announcing the intention to move the embassy, President Donald Trump noted that 1) the modern State of Israel declared Jerusalem its capital decades ago and has thus governed itself ever since; 2) the American pretense that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital has not contributed to peace in the region; and 3) most importantly, Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

This truth has never been taught in Palestinian schools. The fact that Jerusalem is mentioned by name 622 times in the Torah and has been the focus of Jewish prayer for 2,000 years, and has never been the capital of any other nation, doesn’t matter if such facts are not communicated to the population that is being manipulated into violence.

The proposed embassy move, which carries tremendous symbolic weight, bypasses the Palestinian Authority gatekeepers and communicates to the Palestinian-Arab people that Israel and Jerusalem will never be parted. It brings us closer to peace by respecting them enough to assume that violence is neither their only form of communication nor negotiation, when presented with actual facts.

In its coverage of the embassy story, however, the Los Angeles Times noted on its front page that the president’s announcement sent “a sense of anger and apprehension coursing through the Arab world.”

This is the racism of low expectations. How can relocating the diplomatic office to reflect a historical and practical reality create apprehension for Arabs? Who is threatening them? It’s as if the L.A. Times already is justifying the violence it expects from the Arab world.

If more violence comes, and I pray it does not, it will not be because the United States respects Israel’s right to determine its own capital like every other nation. Such violence would arise from the same corrupt leadership that has always benefited from it. If we recognize these leaders and hate peddlers for what they are, we may well hasten the day when new leadership arises that seeks to build a genuine peace and more hopeful future for Palestinians.

This kind of revolution can’t happen if we don’t engage with the people directly. Let’s assume they want peace and they’re open to new ideas. Let’s raise our expectations.

Such assumptions won’t make the road to peace a smooth one,  but at least there will be a road.

Salvador Litvak shares his love of Judaism every day  at

Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel

Rabbi Uziel’s Jerusalem: A Yearning to Return Home

It was April 1949, and the residents of Jerusalem were in the midst of the first Passover being celebrated in the still young State of Israel. Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel, Israel’s first modern-day Sephardic Chief Rabbi, addressed a gathering of Jews, reminding them what life was like during Passover of 1948: “Just a year ago on Passover,” he told them, “under extreme conditions, we prepared and celebrated the seder. By the same merit that our ancestors were redeemed in Egypt, we, the people of Jerusalem, were also redeemed. So here we are today, one year later, celebrating Passover in Jerusalem, this time with joy and happiness.”

A native-born child of the Old City of Jerusalem, Rabbi Uziel was well aware of the paradox of his celebratory words. He knew that he was addressing a crowd of people who, just a year earlier, were living in Jerusalem’s Old City, a place where his family and Sephardic community had lived for centuries. He knew that the crowd he was speaking to — a multitude of families, rabbis and Jewish leaders — were forced out of their homes by the Jordanians and forced to abandon their belongings and holy sites.

So, Rabbi Uziel knew that his celebratory words were bittersweet: “Our joy is tempered by the fact that Jerusalem ‘within the walls’ (the Old City) lies in ruins, emptied of her Jewish people, with the Kotel standing alone. This breaks our hearts, and we will never feel comforted until the day comes when we merit to return to the sacred Old City, which is the eternal capital of the State of Israel.”

I have read Rabbi Uziel’s moving words several times around my Passover tables, but last week, as the president of the United States formally declared Jerusalem as the State of Israel’s official capital, I found myself re-reading Rabbi Uziel’s remarks away from my seder, in a totally new light. As I heard President Donald Trump say, “I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” it brought me back to Rabbi Uziel’s speech, when, standing in a physically divided Jerusalem, he nonetheless declared Jerusalem’s Old City “the eternal capital of the State of Israel.”

I re-read Rabbi Uziel’s entire address, wondering what was going through his mind as he made this declaration. Was it politics? Knowing Rabbi Uziel’s illustrious career as a public leader, one might be tempted to think so. Born in 1880 in Jerusalem, Rabbi Uziel is the only chief rabbi — Sephardic or Ashkenazic — to have held official positions of rabbinic leadership under three political administrations in the Land of Israel. In 1911, he left his native Jerusalem to become the Chief Rabbi (Haham Bashi) of Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, under the Ottoman Empire. In 1939, he returned home to Jerusalem, where he was unanimously appointed the Sephardic Chief Rabbi (Rishon L’Zion) under British Rule. On May 14, 1948, he stood behind David Ben-Gurion and heard him declare the State of Israel, then serving as Chief Rabbi of Israel until his death in 1953.

Embedded within Rabbi Uziel’s words were his childhood memories from “within the walls,” when the languages spoken in the Jewish Quarter included Ladino and Arabic.

As an official leader under three distinctly different governments, he probably had more political experience than most politicians.

And yet, from studying Rabbi Uziel’s life story, I have no doubt that that his remarks went far deeper than politics. Embedded within Rabbi Uziel’s words were his childhood memories from “within the walls,” when the languages spoken in the Jewish Quarter included Ladino and Arabic. He spoke as the descendant of the Hazan and Uziel families, two Sephardic families who, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, made their way to Jerusalem and settled in the Old City.

As he spoke about Jerusalem, he could still hear the prayers from the complex known as the “Four Sephardic Synagogues,” where the tunes included the sounds of Istanbul, Holland, Iraq, Syria and Morocco, blending together to become “Yerushalmi.” As he looked out into his audience, he must have seen some of the widows and orphans he visited every day in the Spanish courtyard building, the same ancient building where he studied in the famous Sephardic Talmud Torah as a child. He could probably hear the echoes of his teacher’s soft-spoken voice teaching him Torah with love, much like he could hear the sweet voices of mothers singing Ladino lullabies to their children, all in the Old City.

Just one year before his speech, when the Old City was under siege in 1948, a group of yeshiva students approached Rabbi Uziel to ask for exemptions from military service so they could continue to study Torah. He denied their requests and told them that were it not for his age, he would proudly pick up a rifle and defend the Old City of Jerusalem where he was born and raised. Indeed, Rabbi Uziel volunteered for the Civil Guard in Jerusalem, and when he issued halachic permission to dig trenches on Shabbat for safety purposes, he himself participated in the digging.

Rabbi Uziel lived with the pain of having lost his home and community in the Old City, but he nonetheless remained an optimist:

“Despite this,” he said, “we nevertheless rejoice in the establishment of the ‘New Jerusalem’ that we currently live in by the good grace of God, secure from the threat of the enemy.”

He never lived to see the reunified Jerusalem, but on that Passover day in Jerusalem in 1949, after declaring Jerusalem’s Old City “the eternal capital of the State of Israel,” he concluded his speech with this prayer: “As we celebrate Passover this year in our newly liberated City of Jerusalem, next year, and for many years to come, may we merit celebrating Passover in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, with great joy, happiness and songs of praise to God. Amen.”

A prayer from a Chief Rabbi of Israel, but, more than that, a prayer from a child who yearned to return home.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center, an international educational and cultural organization with its own campus in the Old City of Jerusalem and executive offices in Los Angeles. He also is an instructor of Talmud at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles.

Skyline of the Old City and Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

Community Reacts to Jerusalem News

At face value, President Donald Trump’s declaration last week that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel had many in the community wondering, “So, nu? Of course, it’s the capital!”

For Jews, the ancient city has been considered the capital of Israel — and by extension, the Jewish people — at least since the time of King David, some 3,000 years ago.

But modern geopolitics have complicated the claim to Jerusalem, which was designated a special international zone at the time Israel became a state in 1948. Indeed, Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim holy sites and history in Jerusalem, which has made political jurisdiction over the city a controversial issue for more than half a century.

Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6 upended the status quo, sending shockwaves throughout the global political establishment, which generally criticized the move. In Los Angeles, community leaders and others expressed a range of opinions. Some view Trump’s announcement as a blow to the peace process, ignoring Palestinian claims to the city and thus further entrenching both sides in the current stalemate. But many others are elated, seeing a long overdue reckoning in Trump’s bold announcement. Here they are in their own words, edited for length and clarity.

For the Jews, it is never the right time.

In March of 1948, as President Harry Truman was grappling with the issue of whether to recognize a Jewish state, his secretary of state, George Marshall, threatened to resign over the matter. Marshall warned the president that such a precipitous move would engulf America in a war and enrage the Arab world, thereby handing over the oil-rich Middle East to the Soviets on a silver platter. Eventually, Truman ignored Marshall’s advice and recognized the Jewish state when it was declared. And Marshall decided not to resign. Israel, which will soon celebrate her 70th birthday, went on, despite Arab hostility and conflict, to be one of the great achievements in the whole history of nation building.

The catchphrase, “This is not the right time,” has been used often in Jewish history. It was used against Moses by the “elders” who refused to accompany him to confront the Pharaoh. They were wrong! The leaders of both the Orthodox and Reform movements used it when Theodor Herzl came to them with the idea of establishing a Jewish state, and they were wrong, too!

So, kudos to Trump for seizing the moment and righting a historic wrong by becoming the first president to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance

While the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a high priority in the Arab world today with all the other turmoil engulfing the region, not even the Trump administration’s closest allies support this move. Jerusalem is an issue that still resonates strongly across the Arab and Islamic world. If the president only recognizes Israel’s claim to the city, and does not distinguish between West and East Jerusalem, his decision will be universally condemned in the region and globally. Close allies like Jordan will be vulnerable to blowback domestically.

Once again, the United States is isolated globally with no clear strategic gain. And it risks inflaming regional tension and increasing anti-American sentiment. The result is a boon for extremist forces and countries like Iran, unfortunately.

Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and senior political scientist at Rand Corp.

If one declared Athens the capital of Greece or Rome the capital of Italy, the reaction would be, “No kidding — we’ve known that for thousands of years.” Well, Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since King David, who flourished around 1,000 B.C.E. To say it out loud should evoke yawns, not yells. But there are political realities, of course, and an unfortunate interruption in Jewish sovereignty. (As the great Shai Agnon put it, “Like all Jews, I was really born in Jerusalem, but the Romans stole my cradle.”)

So, yes, I acknowledge that the timing and tactics could have been improved. And some who are genuinely pro-Israel (along with many who are not) wish it had not been done for prudential reasons. But American presidents, including the current president’s predecessor, have been saying an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of Israel for a long time. Now it has been made official. Somewhere under the earth of that ancient, sacred city, King David sleeps a little more soundly tonight.

Rabbi David Wolpe, Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple

In essence, the U.S. politically recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He left the status of East Jerusalem open. Did this hurt the peace process?

I am not aware of a current peace process. During the past 20 or so years of a sporadic “peace process,” Israel has suffered incessant terrorism and intermittent wars with Hamas and Hezbollah, even without Jerusalem being politically recognized. Hamas now has announced that the gates of hell are open. I have lost count of how many times Hamas has announced the opening of the gates of hell. Palestinians are demonstrating, and things may get violent.

Sadly, the Palestinians have gone on rampages over far less serious issues. In reality, they are militating for a nation of their own on the 1949 armistice lines, not over the symbolic status of Jerusalem. Every perceived offense is an opportunity to continue that struggle. Israelis are somewhat inured to Palestinian threats.

For sure, the Palestinians have lost political ground. The president has messaged the Palestinians: Time is not on your side. If you want your own capital in Al Quds, you had best move quickly into a real process for peace.

Jerusalem, even if only West Jerusalem, is the capital city of Israel. That is a fact. Admitting the reality of things often  cuts through neurotic obsessions and moves people through grieving and into resolution.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley, co-founder and co-CEO, Ohr Hatorah

All Jews who love Israel recognize that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state. For me this has never been a question.

Our people’s yearning for international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is as old as the state itself. Our yearning at last has been addressed by President Donald Trump’s proclamation.

As satisfying as this is, there was something significantly missing in Trump’s address — recognition that Jerusalem also is the capital of a future Palestinian state. Had the president said that, world reaction would be magnanimous and I believe positive, and there would be less risk of violence against Jews, Americans and Palestinians.

Now that Jerusalem has been so recognized, I would hope the United States and Israel would be able to say publicly that East Jerusalem can one day be the capital of a Palestinian state in an end-of-conflict negotiated two-state solution. Only a two-state solution can address the long-term security needs of the State of Israel, preserve its Jewish character and sustain its democratic system of government.

I hope the needle has been moved in a positive direction as a consequence of Trump’s proclamation. I also hope there is a secret strategic plan that the United States has developed to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Rabbi John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, national chair of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and past co-chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street.

The president’s strong statement made America’s position clear for the world, acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel since the country’s declaration of independence nearly 70 years ago. From Israel’s founding, Jerusalem has been the location of the country’s parliament, the Supreme Court, and the residence of both its president and prime minister.

Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for some 3,000 years. We have been praying “Next year in Jerusalem” for many centuries, and Israel’s national anthem ends with the word Jerusalem. It is at the heart of our past, present and future.

We praise the president’s statement that this action is a step to advance the peace process and that Jerusalem will remain the heart of three religions, which will continue to worship their religion freely.

Shoham Nicolet, CEO, and Adam Milstein, chairman, Israeli American Council

For decades, the Anti-Defamation League has called on the United States — and the entire international community — to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And yet this important and long overdue step should not preclude the imperative of peace negotiations, including discussions over the final status of Jerusalem. We urge the U.S., Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community to work together to reduce tensions and create conditions conducive for the rapid resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations leading to a two-state solution.

We recognize that this is an enormously sensitive and volatile issue, and we call on the Trump administration to implement this new policy in a careful and thoughtful manner in consultation with regional leaders.

We also hope that all parties emphasize the fact that this announcement does not diminish the recognition of, and respect for, the Muslim and Christian connections to the holy city.

Amanda Susskind, regional director Pacific Southwest Region, Anti-Defamation League

Given that the current U.S. consulate, built in the early 21st century, is a literal fortress overlooking East Jerusalem, the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who was paying attention. That being said, I believe that we are living in historic times. What is perceived as a tunnel of darkness can also be a birth canal. And, like the twins Jacob and Esau, we are battling inside the womb. Israel and Palestine are shadow characters of each other. But what if, instead of perceiving the shadow as an enemy, we view each other as mutual vehicles for redemption? What if this stunning announcement regarding Jerusalem ends up breaking the waters of reconciliation?

Prayers and blessings have a place, even in the midst of politics. May the U.S. and Israel find peace in their special relationship, and may our sisters and brothers of Palestine find statehood speedily in our time.  May all three elevate their nations to the true ideals of democracy and self-determination. And may the shared holy ground of Jerusalem become the inspiration for a rebirth of freedom for all.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro, rabbi and founder of the Open Temple

This is a historic moment for the State of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. Recognizing Jerusalem as our capital is a reflection of reality that dates back to the time of King David. Although we don’t need anyone to endorse our history, the fact that the United States government finally has stated its recognition of Jerusalem as our capital is the support that Israel deserves. There is no other country in the world that has had its capital challenged, except the State of Israel.

President Donald Trump’s recent statement supports what we all know is true: Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people. The recognition by the U.S. government of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should not in any way affect the peace process if, indeed, the other side really is interested in peace. The American government is not proposing to move its embassy into East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem, where the U.S. Embassy will be built, always has been acknowledged as Israel’s territory.

May we all pray that Jerusalem will be the city of peace that our biblical prophets envisioned.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin, senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City and president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Yes, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel; it always has been the capital, whether it was recognized by the United States or not.

President Donald Trump’s announcement would have been more significant had he used it to strategically advance his stated goal of an “ultimate deal” leading to peace between Israel and the Palestinians by, for instance, also recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. This was a missed opportunity to advance a comprehensive peace plan rather than just make a largely symbolic gesture that benefits only one of the parties.

Rabbi Laura Geller

Skyline of the Old City and Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Power of Recognition

One of the people around the table couldn’t control herself and erupted in laughter. I couldn’t blame her. The story I was telling the group of mostly Americans earlier this week seemed to compare President Donald Trump with Alexander the Great — a comparison worthy of a good chuckle.

Still, the point was made. And it was made because of my need to explain to this group of non-Israelis why Israelis would care that a faraway foreign leader is recognizing Jerusalem as the nation’s capital.

The story is from the Talmud, and whether it actually happened is unclear. It appears in several sources, among them Josephus, the first-century Jewish scholar. But the details aren’t always the same, and in fact, many historians believe that Alexander the Great never set foot in the Holy Land.

‎But according to the Talmud in tractate Yoma (69a), Alexander gave permission for the Samaritans to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem, and the high priest, Shimon HaTzaddik, was informed. “What did he do? He donned the priestly vestments and wrapped himself in the priestly vestments. And the nobles of the Jewish People were with him, with torches of fire in their hands.”

This band of Jewish leaders walked all that night until it reached the armies of Alexander and the Samaritans. When dawn arrived, Alexander asked the Samaritans: Who are these people? The Samaritans said to him: These are Jews who rebelled against you. The sun shone and the two camps met each other. And then, when Alexander saw Shimon HaTzaddik, he “descended from his chariot and bowed before him.”

His escorts, no doubt puzzled, asked him: “Should an important king such as you bow to this Jew?” His answer: I do so because “the image of this man’s face is victorious before me on my battlefields.” That is to say: In past battles, he has seen Shimon’s face and only now does he realize that this is the face of a real person, the high priest of the Jews. Naturally, Alexander, after this encounter, did not destroy the Temple. In some versions — but not this one — he even came to Jerusalem to bring an offering in the Temple.

How is this story relevant to modern Israel and modern Jerusalem? In fact, it is relevant. The Jews were always a relatively minor people who lived in the shadows of great empires. Thus, they craved recognition. They needed the great rulers of the great empires to accept or even embrace them as a worthy people.

Trump’s recognition was a psychological re-enactment of something the Jewish people always seek: the approval of the great empire.

Cyrus of Persia was one such ruler of an empire — and he let the Jews go back to their land and rebuild their Temple. With Alexander, the historical facts are not as clear, yet the myth is in place. Here is another great king, the leader of another great empire, recognizing the uniqueness of Jewish Jerusalem.

Hence the burst of laughter. President Trump — the great Donald — is no Alexander. Not even close. And yet, he is the leader of the great empire of this era. In this sense, his recognition of Jerusalem echoes Alexander’s true — or imaginary — moment of realization.

We can explain why Trump’s recognition is an important political move, and we see that it has repercussions and consequences, and we follow the chain of events ignited by his speech. But first and foremost, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was a psychological re-enactment of something the Jewish people always have sought: the approval of the great empire.

This is especially worth mentioning during the week of Hanukkah, a holiday marking the clash between the Jews and an empire. When Hellenistic culture threatened to erase the culture of the Jews, when that empire showed little respect to the ways of the Jews, the inevitable result was war. In the Hasmonean dynasty’s case, a triumphant war. But there have been many wars that the Jews haven’t won. So for them, the best war is often the one that can be avoided.

Indeed, the essence of America’s friendship with Israel is war prevention. When the U.S. is on Israel’s side, Israel’s enemies know that battling Israel is going to be difficult and costly. They know that their initial goal — to eradicate the Zionist project — cannot be successful.

A recognition of Israel’s capital is also a reaffirmation of the alliance. It is a signal to the countries around Israel that we still have the American shield above our heads. Contrary to what some pundits would have you believe, this shield — including Trump’s manifestation of it by his Jerusalem declaration — is a receipt for reducing violence.

The U.S. stands with Israel. The U.S. is mighty. Hence, there is no point in making war with Israel over, say, Jerusalem.

Thus, we are left with little wars. Demonstrations by frustrated Palestinians or Arab Israelis, whose leadership again failed to restrain the Arab public. The occasional terror attack — on Dec. 11, a security guard was stabbed and badly hurt by a Palestinian. But by the time this story went to press on Dec. 12, the response to Trump’s speech was less than overwhelming.

There was verbal hostility, especially from the autocratic bully ruling Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Erdogan’s threats and complaints, stating: “I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from the leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions.” Netanyahu has information about attempts by Turkey to strengthen Islamic institutions in Jerusalem, and hence, his denouncing Turkey is not only about words.

Beyond the expected and tired words of condemnation, there was not much of a dramatic response to report. The fact that Israel’s prime minister traveled to Europe as scheduled this week — to receive the usual lectures from the leaders of France and other nations — is telling: Had he thought that Israel is under grave threat of severe retaliation because of Trump’s announcement, he probably would have canceled the trip. Had he thought that the visit would be intolerably hostile, he easily could have found an excuse to postpone the trip.

There was no need to do that. To anyone worried about how Jerusalem’s new status might affect the stalled peace process, Netanyahu had his answer ready: “The sooner the Palestinians come to grips with this reality, the sooner we will move toward peace.”

Will they come to grips with reality? The Palestinians have a history of rejectionist sentiments, but their options are limited. A great desire for violence does seem to exist among the masses, and the leadership is stuck. The threat to boycott a peace process led by the U.S. is hollow. There are not many alternatives to such a process. The threat exists of the Palestinian Authority moving toward a Hamas-like approach —  but Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas knows better than anyone that when Hamas takes over, there is no room left for other Palestinian factions.

In fact, Trump’s decision to detach his statement from an active peace process has its own logic. Israel conducted many rounds of the peace process of the past under the assumption that a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem is part of the ultimate deal. Some Israeli leaders, such as Ehud Barak at the Camp David Summit in 2000 and Ehud Olmert after the Annapolis (Md.) Conference in 2007, were more prone to acknowledge this intention publicly. Other prime ministers, such as Netanyahu, would deny such an assumption, because they believe Israel shouldn’t tip its hand before all issues are resolved. But even in the last round of negotiations, initiated and run by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, all three parties understood that a compromise involving Jerusalem was on the table. They understood that the Palestinians also will have a capital called Jerusalem.

Consider the main components of the pragmatic political debate over the future of Jerusalem. There are two main issues to be resolved: One is where the border separating Israel from a Palestinian entity (a state, or a semi-state) will be located. The second is what’s going to happen with the holy sites, the Western Wall, Temple Mount, the Old City, Mount of Olives, etc.

The essence of America’s friendship with Israel is war prevention. When the U.S. is on Israel’s side, Israel’s enemies know that battling Israel is going to be difficult and costly.

Trump didn’t resolve these two issues. He didn’t even hint at how these two issues are to be resolved. He kept the door open for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem; he kept the door open for all arrangements that preserve the rights of adherents to all faiths to practice their religion in Jerusalem.

But he did provoke the Palestinians. The Palestinians invested a lot of effort in recent years in their attempt to undercut the historic claim of the Jewish people on Israel and Jerusalem. Trump provoked them to accept reality, to accept the underlying assumption according to which Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s capital. He provoked them in a way that might expose the futility of any peace process.

Trump, by making his statement, sent them more than a hint that the nonsense of rejecting the Jewish connection to the Holy Land wouldn’t fly. If they are willing to deal with Israel — the state of the Jewish people that was established on a historically Jewish homeland — maybe a compromise can be reached. If their intention is to negotiate with Israel while still denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the Jewish homeland — and that is the underlying meaning of rejecting Israel’s right to have its capital in Jerusalem — then there’s no point in putting a peace plan on the table.

Either way, the recognition of the Jewish capital of Jerusalem is a truth that will endure, in war or in peace.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, at the White House in Washington D.C., U.S. December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump Spars with Dem Senators on Twitter

President Trump’s tweeting is in the news yet again, this time involving a Twitter feud between the president and a couple of female Democratic senators.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) drew the ire of Trump after she called for an investigation into the sexual harassment claims against the president. Trump retaliated by tweeting that Gillibrand is a “lightweight” who “would do anything for” campaign contributions:

The Left pounced on Trump’s tweet by claiming it was sexist and implied that Gillibrand was willing to perform sexual favors for campaign contributions:

In the last tweet by Warren, some took notice of Warren’s use of the term “slut-shaming.”

Gillibrand responded to Trump’s tweet by stating, “It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue. Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday.”

Others dispute the notion that there was any sexism in Trump’s tweet, pointing to how Trump has used similar rhetoric toward the likes of Mitt Romney and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

In the wake of Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) resignation announcement, the Democrats are rallying behind the notion that Trump should resign given that he is accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. Gillibrand told CNN on Monday, “President Trump has committed assault, according to these women, and those are very credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity, and he should be fully investigated and he should resign. These allegations are credible; they are numerous. I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”

Trump has denied the accusations.

Photo from Flickr/Olivier Pacteau.

Abbas Won’t Meet with Pence After Trump’s Jerusalem Move

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has declined to meet with Vice President Mike Pence as a result of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Pence was hoping to meet with Abbas on December 19 during his trip to the Middle East, but Trump’s Jerusalem move “crossed red lines,” according to Majdi Khaldi, the diplomatic adviser to Abbas.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region, but the Administration remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan,” Alyssa Farah, Pence’s press secretary, told Fox News.

Pence plans on meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, according to Farah.

Shortly after Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, a high-ranking member of Fatah declared that Pence would not be allowed in their territory.

“In the name of Fatah, I say that we will not welcome Trump’s deputy in the Palestinian territories,” said Jibril Rajoub.

In 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas most of the West Bank, a bridge to the Gaza Strip and to put Jerusalem under international control. Abbas declined the offer and has since doubled down on the notion that he will never recognize Israel’s right to exist. Under Abbas, the PA provides financial incentives for Palestinians to commit acts of terror against Jews.

Abbas’ background also consists of him writing a book that denies the Holocaust and funding the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes.

Jerusalem has long been viewed as the eternal capital of Jewish people.

Police is seen at the site of an attack near a synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden December 9, 2017. Picture taken December 9, 2017. TT News Agency/Adam Ihse/via REUTERS

Two Jewish Buildings Firebombed in Sweden

Two Jewish buildings in Sweden were subjected to firebombs over the past couple of days in the aftermath of President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The first building that was firebombed was a synagogue in Gothenberg, where at least 10 masked people threw Molotov cocktails at the building shortly after 10 pm local time on Saturday, where a party for Jewish youths was being held.

The cocktails lit the courtyard on fire, but the fire was extinguished shortly after it was lit due to rainfall. No one was wounded from the fire.

Three men have been arrested for the suspected arson; Swedish authorities are looking for other suspects.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loven issued a statement denouncing the firebombing.

“There is no place for anti-Semitism in our Swedish society,” said Loven. “The perpetrators will answer for their crimes.”

The second firebombed building was a Jewish chapel in Malmo, where a Jewish cemetery is located. Like the synagogue, the chapel was also subjected to Molotov cocktails but didn’t suffer any significant damage. Law enforcement is labeling the incident as suspected arson.

The Jewish assembly of Malmo issued a statement that read, “We strongly emphasize that we can never accept being subjected to threats and attacks.”

Prior to the firebombings, protests engulfed Sweden and other European countries in response to Trump’s Jerusalem, which featured protesters chanting “in Arabic about shooting Jews, an ancient massacre of Jews, and freedom for Palestinian terrorists,” according to Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Sweden has seen a recent uptick in anti-Semitism, as anti-Semitic hate crimes increased by 38% from 2014 to 2015 as a result of “anti-Israel rhetoric” becoming “violently anti-Semitic, according to the Times of Israel. Swedish journalist Johanna Schreiber, who is Jewish, told the Times of Israel in 2015 that she knew of many Jews in Sweden who were “scared” about making their Judaism known due to the rising climate of anti-Semitism.

“People of all ages are scared of going to synagogue, there are many people who are taking off their Stars of David because they are too scared to wear it,” said Schreiber.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addresses a news conference during a meeting of OSCE Foreign Ministers in Vienna, Austria, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

State Department Continues to Not Recognize Jerusalem As Capital of Israel On Government Documents

The State Department has long refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on their government documents and they are still refusing to do so even after President Trump’s Jerusalem announcement on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reports that the State Department will continue its policy of not listing Jerusalem-born American citizens as being born in Israel on passports. However, the policy does recognize Palestine as the birthplace of those who were born in Jerusalem before the establishment of Israel in 1948.

“At this time, there are no changes to our current practices regarding place of birth on Consular Reports of Birth Abroad and U.S. Passports,” the State Department told the AP.

Additionally, the department won’t redraw their maps, but they will use some sort of marker to demarcate the city as Israel’s capital.

“The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations,” the State Department told the AP. “The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

The State Department also has yet to be specify if other documents will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The AP report does highlight how the State Department could be a potential roadblock toward Trump establishing an embassy in Jerusalem. The department is already stating that it could take at least “three to four years” to make the move, even though the mayor of Jerusalem has stated it could theoretically only take a couple of minutes by turning the U.S. consulate into an embassy.

Additionally, the State Department under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has repeatedly pointed the finger at Israel as the culprit for Palestinian terrorism and has previously denied that Israel has any claim on the city.

There have been prior reports of tension between Trump and Tillerson, although Tillerson has denied such reports and Trump hasn’t publicly stated that Tillerson’s job is in danger.

A Palestinian protester prepares to burn a U.S. flag during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Over 108 People Injured in “Day of Rage” Protests

Over 108 people have been injured in what’s known as “Day of Rage” protests in response to President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to start the process of moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Palestine Red Crescent Society claimed they had treated over 108 people who were injured in various protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Here is a snapshot of what the protests have looked like:

Additionally, a man in Beit Jalal drove his car into several other cars, wounding seven people and damaging 22 cars.

Israeli soldiers deployed rubber bullets and tear gas to clamp down on the protests.

More riots are expected to occur on Friday, as Hamas is calling for the “Intifada of Jerusalem and the West Bank’s Freedom” to occur on that day.

Hamas’ call for an intifada comes after three rockets were launched into Israel on Thursday from the Gaza Strip. Israel responded by bombing six Islamic Jihad and Hamas locations. The al-Qaeda affiliate Tawhid al-Jihad is saying that they’re the ones who fired the rockets into Israel.

Despite the violence and threats of further violence, the Trump administration is confident that the violence will subside and that the Palestinian Authority will realize that the only way they can achieve statehood is through a U.S.-facilitated peace deal.

“We know there will be short term pain, but in the long term, this action will help with those conversations,” a White House official told the Jerusalem Post.

Times of Israel Middle East analyst Avi Issachoroff noted that the Palestinian Authority is behind the protests.

“The Palestinian Authority and Fatah are organizing the rallies in the city centers, but a key question is whether the Palestinian security services will stop demonstrators from reaching the potential flashpoints,” wrote Issachoroff. “In light of the Palestinian-Arab-Muslim consensus against US President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem, PA security may receive orders not to step in to block protesters on their way to the checkpoints, except, perhaps, to prevent the use of firearms.”

The violence and threats of further violence is why some people have been critical of Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. Others argue that the move will eventually cause violence to decline because the Palestinians won’t be able to use violence as a means to extract Jerusalem from the Israelis in future negotiations.

U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) arrives at the U.S. Senate to announce his resignation over allegatons of sexual misconduct on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Al Franken Announces His Intent to Resign

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced on Thursday that he plans on resigning from his Senate seat in wake of the multiple sexual harassment allegations against him.

On the floor of the Senate, Franken said he was “shocked” and “upset” by the allegations.

“Some of the allegations against me are simply not true,” said Franken. “Others, I remember very differently.”

Despite the allegations, Franken declared that he is “a champion of women.”

“I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside everyday,” said Franken. “I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks, but I know who I really am.”

And yet, Franken said he would resign “in the coming weeks.”

“I of all people am aware there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Franken said in a clear jab toward President Trump and Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. “But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota.”

Franken added, “It has become clear that I can’t both pursue the ethics committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them.”

The Minnesota senator concluded by stating that he would be an advocate for progressivism outside of the Senate and that he took pride in his record as a senator.

“I know that the work I’ve been able to do has improved people’s lives,” said Franken. “I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.”

One of Franken’s accusers, U.S. Army veteran Stephanie Kemplin, told MSNBC that she was “sad and appalled” that Franken didn’t apologize and take responsibility for his actions.

“He just keeps passing the buck and making it out to be… that we took his behavior the wrong way, or we misconstrued something, or just flat-out lied about what happened to us,” said Kemplin. “Justice to me would be him owning up to what he did and him to stop trying to pass the buck to individuals who possibly committed the same things, possibly more heinous, than what he’s done.”

Kemplin is one of eight women who have leveled sexual harassment allegations against Franken, which include groping and forcing a kiss onto various women.

As the accusations have mounted against Franken, Senate Democrats eventually called on him to step down. Some believe that it was a political tactic by the Democrats to corner the GOP on their support of Trump and Moore.

IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous speaks at an interfaith press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Photo by Ryan Torok

Rabbis Denounce Trump Tweets at Interfaith Event

Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders used a Dec. 1 press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California to denounce President Donald Trump for tweeting videos purporting to show Muslims engaging in acts of violence and breaking a statue of the Virgin Mary.

“I speak to you today as a rabbi and as a Jew,” said IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous. “My people know all too well the dangers of fascist regimes that rise to power through stigmatization and the scapegoating of vulnerable minority populations. We will not shrug this off as yet another reckless act from a reckless administration.”

Brous was one of three Jewish clergy members to participate in the press conference. Beth Shir Shalom Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels and Wilshire Boulevard Temple Rabbi Susan Goldberg — who said she was representing herself and not her congregation — also were among the 10 interfaith leaders at the event. The conference took place as a handful of Muslim worshippers were busy with prayer on the first floor of the mosque.

“The hatred that was spewed out by the president earlier this week can only be combated with this kind of love,” Comess-Daniels said.

On Nov. 29, Trump retweeted three videos that had been shared by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right group Britain First. A day later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the president’s tweets to reporters who questioned the legitimacy of the videos.

“I think his [Trump’s] goal is to promote strong borders and strong national security. … Whether it is a real video, the threat is real, and that is what the president is talking about, that is what the president is focused on, dealing with those real threats, and those are real no matter how you look at it,” she said.

Critics of the tweets have said Trump was sharing the videos without offering any context for the content in the videos, fomenting hate against Muslims and spreading propaganda of a hate organization.

“And now, just like after Charlottesville here in the United States, a hate group that has operated on the fringes of society has been promoted and given credibility by the president of the United States of America,” Brous said. “We must not downplay the recklessness and the danger of this act.”

At the Islamic Center, Goldberg expressed the importance of the Jewish community standing with the Muslim community at this time.

“As a Jewish person, there is no question where we need to be right now. We need to be standing with our Muslim sisters and brothers, and comforting you and letting you know that there is so much care and love and protection for you,” she said.

Also participating in the Los Angeles press conference were Bishop Steve Gilliland, director of Muslim relations at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; Daniel Tamm, the Westside area representative of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Islamic Center of Southern California chairwoman Hedab Tarifi; and Islamic Center spokesman Omar Ricci.

“We will not shrug this off as yet another reckless act from a reckless administration.” — Rabbi Sharon Brous

“It is a sad day when European leaders are teaching the American president about tolerance,” Al-Marayati said, referring to British Prime Minster Theresa May, who criticized Trump for sharing content tweeted by Britain Frist.

Tarifi said she was let down by the president’s polarizing leadership.

“For us to get together to condemn our own president is really very painful,” she said.

Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, pushed back against critics of Trump’s tweets.

“The president’s critics seem more concerned about Trump than they do the biggest danger the world is facing: the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism,” Klein said in an email. “Pew polls show that one-third of Muslims under 35 support violence to defend Islam. That frightening ideology must be fought — not Trump’s tweets.”

Israel’s Capital. Duh!

Give President Donald Trump credit for doing the right thing. Give him credit for once using his blunt-mannered approach to do something good. Give him credit for stating the obvious: Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

Nothing can change this, nothing is supposed to change this. Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital does not infringe on anyone’s rights, it does not preclude a settlement over Jerusalem in the future, it does not mean that the Palestinians can’t have a claim for parts of Jerusalem. It is correcting a wrong — the wrong notion that Israel should be the only country in the world deprived of the right to establish a capital where it wants it to be.

I know, for some people, giving Trump credit for anything is painful. These people will come up with a pile of excuses as to why the recognition of Jerusalem is wrong, or why it was done at the wrong time, or why it was done in the wrong way, or by the wrong person.

For some people, giving Trump credit for anything is painful.

They would want a Barack Obama or a Hillary Clinton to be the one. They would want a peace deal to be the occasion. They would want Palestinians to accept it, to give their blessing before it is done. They would want it done only under very specific terms that currently seem remote, almost unreachable.

I can easily come up with a similar list and explain why and how such things should be done. But it’s a futile exercise: First, because Trump already made his decision — The New York Times reported that the president told Israeli and Arab leaders of it on Dec. 5, before a planned announcement the following day. Second, because for many of these people, no time would be the right time, and no person would be the right person.

Recognition is important, a moment to celebrate, but we ought to remember that Jerusalem will not change as a result of it. It is still a very poor city. It is unappealing to most Israelis — being too religious, too gloomy, too dirty.

And Jerusalem’s demographic reality is also something to consider. About a third of its residents are Arab. They could potentially elect an Arab mayor and have great impact on Jerusalem’s future. Only they choose to live in denial and pretend that Jerusalem is not Israel’s to keep.

Maybe Israel will not keep all of it forever. As is well documented, previous Israeli prime ministers agreed to compromise in Jerusalem. They agreed to let the Palestinians have their capital in parts of the city. They will have their Jerusalem; Israel will have its Jerusalem. Trump will have an opportunity to twice recognize a capital called Jerusalem.

But truthfully, it is not very likely that he will have such opportunity. The Arab world, predictably, responded to Trump’s decision in its habitual way: rejection, anger, threats, the usual mix of bombast and self-pity that characterizes many of its interactions with all things Israel.

That anger will subside and recognition will be a new reality. It is hard to envision a future American president taking recognition back, or moving an embassy back to Tel Aviv. Not even the Democratic legislators who currently criticize the President’s decision — wrong time, wrong way, wrong person — will take it back. Maybe in a few days, some of them will even come to their senses and agree that cutting this Gordian knot had to be done by a sword.

The Palestinians, if or when their anger subsides, will ask for compensation. They will expect compensation. They will tell their American counterparts that their peace plan must reflect the fact that Israel already got its reward from the administration, and that now it is time for Israel to pay a price for U.S. recognition. Who knows — maybe that’s the plan. Maybe all Trump is doing now is meant to buy credit and goodwill before serving the bitter pill of a controversial peace plan.

But until this happens, give the president the credit he deserves. Give him credit for being a man of his word on this issue. Give him credit for ignoring the threats of the Turks, the French and the Jordanians.

Give him credit for understanding that some bandages should be removed without much hesitation of negotiation or fear of temporary pain. And give him credit for being one of a few number of foreign leaders who throughout history recognized the connection of Jews to Jerusalem.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at

Who Will Protect Children From The Morally Bankrupt Palestinian Children Protection Act?

Killing children, no matter the number, is the ultimate crime against the present and future. The Jewish people having suffered the unfathomable blow of having a generation of their children—1.5 million futures wiped out by the Nazis during the Holocaust—are acutely sensitive to this issue.

But how to react when adults entomb children to dig tunnels on a mission-to-murder other children? What to do when those in power groom youngsters to be the next generation of human shields, or axe wielders, or suicide bombers?

US Representative Barbara McCollum’s (DFL-Minn.) answer is to blame Israelis when they have no choice but to do what they did  a few weeks ago with the shooting of a 17 year-old Palestinian after he nearly murdered a 35-year-old father, injured a 70-year-old Jew standing at a curb and tried to stab other Jews near the community of Efrat.

Just before Thanksgiving, Representative McCollum introduced a House bill 4391, to restrict U.S. aid to Israel if “Israeli military forces or police” engage in “physical violence” or use “military detention” against Palestinians under the age of 18. In other words, should it become law, the next terrorist attack, just like the one in Efrat, would likely trigger a U.S. aid cutoff against Israel, our only reliable Mideast ally, for the crime of defending its citizens every time a Palestinian kid, indoctrinated with hate tries to murder or maim an Israeli.

The use of Palestinian children to carry out terrorist attacks against Jews in the Holy Land actually predates the 1948 Israel War of Independence. In Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism, David M. Rosen shows how during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem modeled his lethal child soldiers after the Nazis’ Hitler Youth.

Last year, Representative McCollum was silent when on January 17, 2016, 16-year-old Morad Abdullah Adais broke into the home of Dafna Meir, mother of six children 4 to 17, in the town of Otniel, armed with an 8-inch knife. Later he bragged, “I plunged the knife into her so deeply that most of it was inside her body. She started screaming, the children saw me and also started screaming, then I stabbed her in her upper body another three or four times. She tried to fight me and tried to take the knife from me. The two children who were there were still screaming, but she continued to resist, so I pushed her, and overpowered her.”

Under McCollum’s bill the Israeli army’s arrest of Adais would likely also be deemed “illegal and abusive.”

Hamas doesn’t even try very hard to hide its criminal and systematic abuse of Palestinian children. A televised video is available for anyone to see children from ages of 3 to 5 dressed like suicide bombers, 10 to 13 year-olds embracing a collective death wish, while 14-year-olds prepare for suicide attacks, sometimes wishing farewell to their beaming parents.

The UN-backed Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers tries to redress such human rights abuse that spans the globe from Africa to Southeast Asia. Indeed, even the UN Security Council designated a “Red Hand Day” to highlight such ultimate serial abuse of children. Yet Hamas openly commits war crimes, not only by targeting Israeli toddlers with rockets, but against Palestinian children who are sacrificed as “human shields.” Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, leverage control of the school curricula, the mosques, and TV to promote a culture that reveres death over life, that prepares youngsters for the next war.

Already in 2012, journalist Nicolas Pelham, no friend of Israel, wrote in The Journal of Palestinian Studies, condemning a “cavalier approach to child labor and tunnel fatalities [that has] damaged the [Palestinian] movement’s standing with human-rights groups, despite government assurances dating back to 2008 that it was considering curbs”. During a police patrol that the author was permitted to accompany in December 2011, nothing was done to impede the use of children in the tunnels, where, much as in Victorian coal mines, they are prized for their nimble bodies. At least 160 individuals have been killed in the tunnels, according to Hamas officials.

Far from imitating the song lyric about constructing a “stairway to paradise,” Hamas prefers to build tunnels to hell.

Embarrassed by revelations, such as Pelham’s about high casualties against child suicide tunnel builders, Hamas decided that the best defense is a good Big Lie offense. It launched a new PR campaign to coincide with Israel’s upcoming 70th anniversary- accusing the Israel Army for “crimes” of killing innocent Palestinian children. No mention of Hamas’ child recruits for violence and terrorism.

Whatever her motivation, McCollum and her nine co-sponsors unfortunately are serving as willing instruments of Hamas’  inversion of this awful truth.

And now, the promised Palestinian “days of rage” over President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To be sure, it will be young Palestinians that the “brave” leaders of Hamas and Fatah will use as cannon fodder for their bloody photo ops. So the real question remains: Who will finally stand up and demand that Palestinian youth really be protected– from their corrupt and cynical leaders and from the morally bankrupt “Protection Act”?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Report: Trump to delay embassy move for six months

A new report states that President Trump will sign a waiver to delay moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months, but he does plan on eventually moving it.

According to Bloomberg, Trump told various Arab leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, that the embassy move will eventually happen, although he hasn’t specified when. Trump is expected to declare Jerusalem as the capital on Wednesday, which would presumably be the first step toward the eventual embassy move.

Various world leaders have already begun criticizing the potential embassy move. Abbas is warning of “dangerous consequences”; Al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia King Salman have issued similar warnings. Abdullah is claiming that the move would prospects of a peace agreement. Turkish President Recep Tayipp Erdogan has warned that Turkey will sever diplomatic ties with Israel if the move occurs. The European Union (EU) is calling on Jerusalem to be the joint capital of both Israel and Palestine.

Additionally, Palestinian factions are preparing for three “days of rage” from Wednesday through Friday in response to Trump’s actions. As a result, the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem is banning government employees from personal travel to the Old City, West Bank and Gaza and is urging U.S. citizens to avoid areas with large crowds and police presence.

Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday that Israel would be able “to deal with all the ramifications” of Trump’s Jerusalem actions. Liberman supports the idea of Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the embassy to Jerusalem, calling the moves a “step in the right direction” and “very, very important to all Jewish people.” He also called it an “injustice” that Jerusalem isn’t recognized worldwide as the capital of Israel.

Under the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act, the president has to make a decision every six months on whether or not to issue a waiver that delays the embassy from being moved to Jerusalem. That waiver has been issued every since six months since the law’s passage.

If Trump does eventually move the embassy to Jerusalem, it could be done quickly by converting the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem into an embassy.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Supreme Court Allows Trump’s Travel Ban to be Fully Enforced

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Trump administration’s travel ban from select countries can be fully enforced while it undergoes legal challenges.

The court issued two stays toward two lower court injunctions in Hawaii and Maryland that hamstrung the administration’s efforts to restrict travel from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen into the United States. The Hawaii judge, Derrick Watson, ruled in October that the travel ban was a discriminatory Muslim ban and that the administration was unable to provide compelling evidence that justified the ban. The Maryland judge, Theodure Chuang, ruled that those from traveling from the listed countries could enter the United States if they had “a bona fide relationship with person or entity in the United States.”

The administration argued that they needed the ban to go into full effect in order to prevent “irreparable harm to the government and the public,” and by a margin of 7-2 the Supreme Court agreed. The dissenting justices were Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

The court’s ruling comes as legal arguments regarding the ban will be held in the coming week in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Rulings from these appeals courts are expected to come relatively quickly so the Supreme Court will be able to resolve the issue in June.

This is the third iteration of the travel ban, which initially extended to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen. After various protests and court rulings against the ban, the administration revised the ban to Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It remains to be seen if this version of the ban will survive the legal proceedings, but Monday’s ruling from the Supreme Court would seem to bode well for the ban.

Critics of the ban argue that because the ban focuses on Muslim majority countries, it’s rooted in religious intolerance toward Muslims and is therefore antithetical to the Constitution. Others argue that the ban doesn’t affect most Muslims worldwide and that it’s a necessary national security move.

The US Embassy building in Tel Aviv, (Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The Jerusalem Embassy Minefield

Trump ponders his moves—moving the US embassy, recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—or neither

United States President Donald Trump will decide Monday whether to sign a waiver to delay relocating the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While Candidate Trump pledged to make the move during the 2016 election campaign, reports suggest that he might put off doing so for the moment—to not torpedo his prospective peace plan—and instead this week formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In either eventuality, however, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has threatened to derail any negotiating process with Israel. A PA delegation in Washington, including former chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, reportedly told Jared Kushner—Trump’s point man on the conflict—that any such steps would “kill any potential” for talks and effectively end America’s longstanding role as “honest broker.” A close associate of PA President Mahmoud Abbas further warned that “the world will pay the price” for any changes to Jerusalem’s status.

“Jerusalem does not exclusively belong to Israel,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Legislative Council (PLC), asserted to The Media Line. “This is very provocative, not only to Palestinians but to all Arab nations. There is no international recognition of Jerusalem as part of Israel.”

She warned that moving the US embassy would threaten the security of the region by fostering violence and extremism. “I hope the American administration is not so irresponsible as to drag the region into severe circumstances,” Ashrawi said.

Abbas launched a diplomatic campaign over the weekend, calling leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Tunisia and France to lobby them to block any prospective change in the status of Jerusalem, the eastern part of which is claimed by Palestinians as the capital of a future state.

The Jordanian Embassy in Washington issued a statement likewise warning that “relocating the US embassy at this particular stage will [have] repercussions [among] Palestinians [and] Arab and Islamic [countries] and would jeopardize the two-state solution.” The statement stressed that any transfer of the embassy would allow terrorist organizations to spread anger and violence and should thus only happen in the context of a comprehensive peace deal leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir also weighed in, saying “the solution to the conflict cannot be envisioned without the establishment of two states living side by side.”

A 1995 US law calls for the American embassy to be relocated to what Israel considers its undivided capital unless the president deems doing so a threat to national security. Trump’s three predecessors—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—all repeatedly postponed the move.

Abdallah Abdallah, Chairman of the PLC’s Political Committee told The Media Line that relocating the embassy would constitute a major shift in the US’ policy since Israel’s establishment in 1948. “This act would [break] the international consensus relating to the special status of Jerusalem. Israel has no sovereignty over Jerusalem,” he contended.

By contrast, a number of Palestinians privately told The Media Line that they do not object to the initiative so long as it does not prevent the eventual formation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital.

But Abdallah stressed that this could only potentially be tolerated by the Palestinian leadership if Washington at the same time recognized east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. “They can’t partially solve the issue of Jerusalem,” he added, “as there is no way we would accept that the whole of [the city] is solely for Israel.”

Many Palestinians are concerned that an impulsive decision by Trump on such an emotionally charged issue could lead to an impasse in the peace process, which, in turn, could cause the U.S. president to lose interest in achieving “the ultimate deal.”

After so many decades of on-again off-again negotiations, many Palestinians are wary of American involvement in the long-stalled peace process. This position is influenced by two converging realities; namely, the strength of the US-Israeli strategic relationship and Washington’s past failed attempts to viable solutions for both sides of the conflict.

This article was originally published at The Media Line.

Rabbi Sharon Brous speaks at an interfaith press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Photo by Ryan Torok

Rabbis speak out against Trump tweets at interfaith event

Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders used a Dec. 1 press conference at the Islamic Center of Southern California to denounce President Donald Trump for tweeting videos this week purporting to show Muslims engaging in acts of violence and breaking a statue of the Virgin Mary.

“I speak to you today as a rabbi and as a Jew,” said IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous. “My people know all too well the dangers of fascists regimes that rise to power through stigmatization and the scapegoating of vulnerable minority populations. We will not shrug this off as yet another reckless act from a reckless administration.”

Brous was one of three Jewish clergy members to participate in the press conference. Beth Shir Shalom Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels and Wilshire Boulevard Temple Rabbi Susan Goldberg —who said she was representing herself and not her congregation — also were among the interfaith leaders at the event.

“The hatred that was spewed out by the president earlier this week can only be combated with this kind of love,” Comess-Daniels said.

This past Wednesday, Trump retweeted three videos that had been shared by Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of the far-right group Britain First.

Critics of the tweets have said Trump was sharing the videos without offering any context for the content in the videos, fomenting hate against Muslims and spreading propaganda of a hate organization.

“And now, just like after Charlottesville here in the United States, a hate group that has operated on the fringes of society has now been promoted and given credibility by the president of the United States of America,” Brous said. “We must not downplay the recklessness and the danger of this act.”

Goldberg expressed the importance of the Jewish community standing with the Muslim community at this time.

“As a Jewish person there is no question where we need to be right now. We need to be standing with our Muslim sisters and brothers and comforting you and letting you know that though there is so much care and love and protection for you,” she said.

Bishop Steve Gilliland, director of Muslim relations at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; Daniel Tamm, the Westside area representative of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti; Islamic Center of Southern California chairwoman Hedab Tarifi and Islamic Center spokesperson Omar Ricci also participated.

“It is a sad day when European leaders are teaching the American president about tolerance,” Al-Marayati said, referring to British Prime Minster Theresa May, who criticized Trump for sharing content tweeted by Britain Frist.

Tarifi expressed disappointment in the president for the tweets.

“For us to get together to condemn our own president is really very painful.”

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying to FBI About Discussions With Russian Ambassador

Retired Lt. General Mike Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, is pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and is willing to testify against Trump in the Russia investigation.

Flynn faced charges of lying to the FBI that he didn’t tell Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak to vote against a United Nations resolution in December declaring all Israeli settlements in Jerusalem to be illegal. He also faced charges of lying about telling Kislyak to hold off any retaliation against sanctions and that he didn’t remember Kislyak telling him that Russia would indeed “moderate its response.”

Flynn refused to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller at first due to his loyalty to Trump, but eventually acquiesced due to increasing legal bills and the feeling that Trump was leaving him out to dry.

The former national security adviser issued a statement that read, “It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of ‘treason’ and other outrageous acts. Such false accusations are contrary to everything I have ever done and stood for. But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

The charges Flynn plead guilty to have a maximum sentence of five years in prison, however given Flynn’s cooperation with Mueller it’s unlikely that he’ll receive significant jail time.

Flynn is expected to testify that Trump told him to talk to the Russians about cooperation between the two countries on Syria and ISIS. It is also being reported that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, was the one who ordered Flynn to contact every foreign representative and lobby against the anti-Israel U.N. resolution.

Ty Cobb, Trump’s lawyer, claimed that Flynn’s plea is of no significance.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn,” said Cobb. “The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

However, the White House was reportedly “caught off guard” at the news of Flynn’s guilty plea.

“What they’re freaked out about is that there are no leaks,” a source told Politico. “[George] Papadopoulos didn’t leak. Flynn didn’t leak. They feel like they can’t trust anyone. Their own counsel didn’t know.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Report: Trump Will Recognize Jerusalem As the Capital of Israel

A new report is stating that President Trump will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a speech on Wednesday.

According to Axios, two sources have confirmed that Trump will be issuing this statement, although the White House did not directly confirm it to Axios.

“The President has always said it is a matter of when, not if,” a spokesperson told Axios. “The President is still considering options and we have nothing to announce.”

Earlier in the week, it was reported that Trump is leaning toward moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. White House officials are indicating that the president won’t be moving the embassy yet out of concern that the move would inhibit a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, however, according to the Los Angeles Times, Trump will be ordering “a review of the best way to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv.”

If Trump does eventually move the embassy to Jerusalem, it would fulfill a campaign pledge and be a victory for Israel.

In 1949, Jerusalem was divided under the armistice lines follow the war for independence, but was eventually reunited after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. The United Nations has made every effort to try and prevent Jerusalem from being recognized as the undivided capital of Israel, even going as far as passing a resolution in 1980 that Israel declaring Jerusalem as the capital was in violation of international law.

In 1996, Congress passed a law recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and that the embassy would be moved to Jerusalem. The law requires that the president either conduct the move or issue a waiver every six months; every president since the law’s passage has issued the waiver.

Jerusalem is considered to be the ancestral capital of the Jewish people, which is substantiated by archaeological evidence. Ever since King David conquered the city, Jerusalem has been the hub of Jewish life. The Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the city itself has had a Jewish majority dating back to the 1840s.

“Jerusalem was only ever the capital of the Jewish people, not of any other people,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in 2015. “Here our path as a nation began, this is our home and here we shall stay.”

‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels

“Who is it that I aspire to be?” asks Mr. Browne in the new film “Wonder.” “That is the question we should be asking ourselves all the time.”

Mr. Browne is August “Auggie” Pullman’s fifth-grade teacher. Auggie was born with severe facial deformities. By age 10, he has had 27 surgeries, enabling him to breathe, see and hear without an aid.

Still, he continues to look different, or, as Auggie puts it, “not ordinary.” Nevertheless, his mother, having home-schooled him until now, feels he’s ready to enter a mainstream school.

The genius of the story is that it starts out being about Auggie’s resilience in facing the real world without his astronaut helmet to shield him, but evolves into a test of another kind — the other kids’ ability to accept difference.

Not surprisingly, most of the kids don’t do well when first coming into contact with Auggie. They stare, mock him and bully him. They are afraid to touch him, thinking he has “the plague.”

Fortunately, they are surrounded by adults who guide them and teach them that each of us can choose on an hourly basis to reach for our best selves. “When given the choice between being right or kind,” says Mr. Browne, “choose kind.”

A couple of the kids begin to look beneath the surface, to see Auggie’s character — his heart and soul. They discover that he’s not just smart, funny and fun, but he’s a really good friend. Interracial friendships and relationships also blossom.

While Auggie continues to grow stronger, the adults stay on message: Every moment is a choice. No one is born ugly on the inside. We are continually making the choice to live lives of kindness and compassion.

The kids backtrack. Auggie loses confidence. “You are not ugly, Auggie,” reassures his mom, played beautifully by Julia Roberts. “You have to say that because you’re my mom,” Auggie cries.

“Because I’m your mom it counts the most, because I know you the most,” she responds.

True beauty can be found only well beneath the surface.

“Wonder” even teaches compassion for bullies. After hearing about one of the bullies, Auggie’s mom says: “He probably feels badly about himself. When someone acts small, you just have to be the bigger person.”

One can see the movie, based on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, as one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate. And, sadly, it is. Watching the movie, one can’t help thinking about Trump mocking a disabled reporter, his bullying of anyone who criticizes him, his repeated attacks on women as “fat” and “ugly.”

But the movie is just as much a rebuke of the fashionable politics of victimhood and conformity. Auggie has no interest in either one. “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out,” says his sister.

The immaturity and cynicism of both political extremes has led to divisiveness worse than in any schoolyard, a space where we now look for the worst in each other. “Wonder” shows the ugliness of people, but more important it shows the beauty — our profound capacity for empathy.

Unfortunately, in our country today the responsible adults seem to have left the room. Who is guiding us to reach for the better angels of our nature, as President Lincoln put it in his first inaugural address? Can a children’s movie become the moral leader the country so desperately needs right now?

One can see the movie … as one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate.

“Auggie can’t change the way he looks,” says Principal Tushman to the parents of the lead bully, who had Photoshopped Auggie out of the class photo so they wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of their friends. “Maybe we can change the way we see.”

We needed “Wonder Woman” to show us how a strong female leader acts. Perhaps we need “Wonder” to teach us that we — each of us — can be the superheroes of our lives.

Or, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it: “There is a difference between righteousness and self-righteousness. The righteous are humble, the self-righteous are proud. The righteous understand doubt, the self-righteous only certainty. The righteous see the good in people, the self-righteous only the bad. The righteous leave you feeling enlarged, the self-righteous make you feel small.”

The true wonder is that this movie came out just when our country needed it most.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic living in New York City.

FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un inspects artillery launchers ahead of a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) on April 25, 2017. KCNA/File Photo via REUTERS

North Korea Fires Another Missile

North Korea has fired yet another missile, indicating that the hermit kingdom’s pause in missile provocation has now ended.

The missile was fired from Sain Ni at around 3:17 am local time and stayed in the air for around 50 minutes and traveled 620 miles before landing in water that Japan claims exclusive economic rights.

The missile that North Korea fired is believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and reportedly went as high as 2,800 miles, 10 times higher than the NASA international space station. It’s reportedly capable of striking any location in the United States.

South Korea responded to the missile launch with their own “precision missile strike drill,” where they launched a missile that traveled the same distance as North Korea’s ICBM.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the launch by calling in his national security council for a meeting.

“We strongly urge North Korea to change their policy as there will be no bright future for North Korea unless they resolve such issues as the abductions, nuclear program and missiles,” said Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary.

President Trump simply said in a press conference, “We will take care of it. It is a situation we will handle.” Defense Secretary James Mattis called North Korea’s actions as a danger to “world peace, regional peace and certainly the United States.”

Tuesday’s missile launch was the seventh time this year North Korea has conducted such tests, with the previous test occurring in September. The United States believes that North Korea could develop a missile capable of holding a nuclear warhead by 2018, and South Korea is warning that the hermit kingdom is “developing its nuclear weapons at a faster-than-expected pace.”

“We cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea could announce its completion of a clear force within one year,” said South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon.

Photo courtesy of AJWS

AJWS Leader Talks Global Aid Under a Nationalist President

From the viewpoint of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), President Donald Trump’s “America First” slogan has the wrong emphasis. Rather than seeking to maximize American interests, AJWS’ goal is to use American resources — specifically, American-Jewish resources — to support human rights and anti-poverty initiatives abroad.

That mission put Robert Bank in a tough spot when, five months into his job as president and CEO of AJWS, Trump was elected on a platform of economic nationalism. Besides its work in the developing world — AJWS distributed more than $40 million in 2016 — the organization lobbies Washington decision-makers for policies and foreign aid to help vulnerable populations, which Trump has promised to cut.

Bank, 58, the grandson of Lithuanian Jews who grew up in South Africa, came to New York in the 1970s as an aspiring musician, earning degrees from the Juilliard School. Later, he earned a law degree and worked in city government and public interest law before joining AJWS as executive vice president in 2009. When longtime CEO Ruth Messinger stepped down in 2016, Bank took charge.

During a visit to Los Angeles on Nov. 15 he spoke with the Journal about the challenges presented by the shifting global landscape.

Jewish Journal: What’s been keeping you busy since you took your current position?

Robert Bank: I became the president and CEO of AJWS in July 2016, and in November there was a huge change in American politics as we have never seen before. We work in the areas of advancing the rights of women, girls and LGBT people all over the world. We work on climate change and climate justice. We also work on civil political rights and response to disasters. The Trump administration has had huge fundamental impacts on those areas.

JJ: Could you give me a specific example of how Trump administration policies have affected a project that AJWS is involved in?

RB: Let’s take women and girls. The Trump administration within its first few weeks instituted what’s called the global gag rule, which gags the potential of women to receive family planning services in organizations funded by the U.S. government. This is huge. It’s going to cause the death of millions of women.

JJ: It seems AJWS’ focus on global citizenship runs counter to the “America First” mentality.

RB: Totally. I don’t think it’s just AJWS that thinks that way, but I like to think that we all understand that we are all interdependent and there’s no way that the world can just live with “America First.” It’s a very Jewish value to believe in sisterhood, brotherhood and partnership, and that we can only be successful together.

JJ: Does it put you in a challenging position as the new director of a nonpartisan organization to challenge the new administration? Are you worried about alienating conservative donors?

RB: Most of AJWS’ donors really stand for the principle of b’tselem Elohim [humanity created in the image of God] — the idea that women should have access to determining their own future; that people should have food to eat; that we should build democracies, not close them. So when President Trump uses rhetoric about hatred and bigotry and meets with dictators and doesn’t criticize their human rights record, we will absolutely speak out against it.

JJ: AJWS is working to forestall cuts to American foreign aid in the upcoming budget cycle. How do you convince lawmakers to spend money on people who can’t vote in the United States, let alone in their districts?

RB: When we’re talking to senators and members of Congress about why you should care about Rohingya Muslims being slaughtered, babies being thrown into fire, women being gang-raped, people living in the most squalid conditions in refugee camps, whether it be in Bangladesh or Uganda — any part of the world — it is not about the near and the far, it is about human dignity. Many politicians understand the importance of America as a leader. And ultimately, we’re not an island. There are enormous risks to our security if there’s political unrest in other parts of the world. So it’s not only about human dignity, it’s about peace and security for the United States.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA in an undated photo. Photo from KCNA/via Reuters

How to Avoid a Nuclear War with North Korea

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border between North and South Korea is often described as the most dangerous place in the world. It’s a no man’s land 160 miles long and 2 1/2-miles wide, wrapped with electrical fencing and laced with antipersonnel mines.

At the so-called Joint Security Area, North and South Korean soldiers stare holes through each other, with the South Koreans behind reflective sunglasses. Almost 30,000 American troops are stationed there as a tripwire. If the North invades the South — as it has in the past and for more than five decades has sworn to do again — its soldiers will have to go through ours. You can go there today as a tourist from the South Korean side, a mere 35 miles from the capital Seoul, and nothing is likely to happen to you; but if war breaks out, this place will explode so catastrophically it will make the Iraq War look and feel like a lazy afternoon nap.

In mountainsides just north of the DMZ, the North has buried thousands of artillery pieces that can pound Seoul’s urban area, home to more than 25 million people, with as many as half a million shells in an hour. More than a million people could be killed, practically in an instant, even if nobody on either side uses nuclear weapons.

We haven’t been this close to total war with North Korea since the 1950s.

The North’s tyrant leader, Kim Jong Un, has dozens of atomic bombs (no one is entirely sure of how many) and claims he’s ready to test an exponentially more destructive hydrogen bomb. And for the first time ever, his intercontinental ballistic missiles may be capable of striking mainland United States.

The North Korean missile crisis, which these days feels like the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion, already has taken us well beyond the most dangerous threshold. North Korea isn’t an aspiring nuclear power. It already has arrived. Kim can kill as many American civilians in cities from Seattle to Chicago as he can in Seoul. It is too late to stop him. During a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in late September, retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis, NATO’s former supreme allied commander in Europe, said he believes there is a 10 percent chance of a nuclear war breaking out between the United States and North Korea, and a 20-30 percent chance of them engaging in a conventional war.

Kim also has a massive stockpile of chemical weapons and has proven that he’s willing to use them. In February, two young women — one from Vietnam, the other from Indonesia — assassinated his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in the international airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with the ultratoxic VX nerve agent.

South Korea and Malaysia have accused North Korea of being behind the killing. If that was the case, Kim removed a potential rival, reminded the entire world that he has chemical as well as nuclear weapons, and demonstrated to all that he’s willing to use them. And if he’s willing to use them against his own family, what’s stopping him from using them to kill complete strangers in the United States, Japan and South Korea?

In 1994, North Korea committed itself on paper to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the so-called Agreed Framework between Pyongyang and Washington, agreeing to replace its nuclear power infrastructure with light-water reactors that couldn’t be used to produce nuclear weapons. In exchange, President Bill Clinton’s administration agreed to deliver half a million tons of heavy oil each year. The purpose was to prevent North Korea from building nuclear weapons without going to war. It failed.

A Gallup poll released in September found that 58 percent of Americans favor military action against North Korea if diplomatic options continue to fail, including 37 percent of Democrats. The United States absolutely could mount a preventive war against North Korea and would certainly win. Let there be no doubt about that. Let there be no doubt also that the cost would amount to a textbook example of a Pyrrhic victory, where the price of victory would be so high that it would be indistinguishable from outright losing.

Millions could die in South Korea alone, mostly in and around Seoul. Hundreds of thousands could die in Japan, too, if Kim, in a fit of malicious pique, nuked the Japanese. There’s no telling how many would die on the northern side of the Korean border. That would depend, in part, on whether the United States used nuclear weapons. And we might as well write off most of the 30,000 American troops stationed near the DMZ as potentially lost right at the outset.

North Korea’s conventional military power is no match for that of the United States and South Korea, but the early hours of a war would be so spectacularly destructive that using nuclear weapons might be on the table. President Donald Trump has made serious threats twice already.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” the president said in August in front of the news cameras. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

He did it again in September. “The United States has great strength and patience,” he said in a prepared speech at the United Nations, “but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

Kim, for his part, called Trump a mentally deranged “dotard,” said the Korean War was back on, and was moving military assets into place to shoot down American planes over the Korean Peninsula — even if they don’t fly over his airspace.

We haven’t been this close to total war with North Korea since the 1950s. Blame President Trump’s bellicosity if you want, or blame Trump and Kim equally, but the truth is that we’d be in crisis mode now even if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had won the election last year. Between 1984 and 2014, North Korea tested 53 missiles. Since 2014, it has tested more than 100 more, an increase from an average of two per year to more than 30 per year since Kim Jong Un assumed power from his late father, Kim Jong Il.

It’s not America’s fault that we are where we are. It is, however, up to Americans to decide what to do about it.

But what to do? None other than Trump’s hyperbelligerent former chief strategist Steve Bannon seemed to take the nuclear option off the table earlier this year. “There is no military option,” he said to Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect magazine shortly before the president fired him. “Forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here. … They got us.”

Indeed, they “got” us. But we’ve also “got” them. The United States can’t possibly lose a war with North Korea — not today, and not in the future, not even if we get nuked, and not even if we get nuked first. North Korea can wreak an unspeakable amount of havoc, but only at the price of total annihilation. We can choose Pyrrhic victory. Kim can only choose suicide.

Blame Trump and Kim equally, but the truth is we’d be in crisis mode now even if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had won the election.

He doesn’t want to kill himself and his country. He is not a suicide bomber. ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in all likelihood would ignite an apocalyptic war if he could, but Kim just wants to survive and lord it over his totalitarian prison-state until he dies in his bed at the age of 90. And therein lies the least terrible option in a range of terrible options.

There is only one thing in the entire world that the North Korean and American peoples and governments agree on. We all want to survive, and to do so without perpetual angst.

Contrary to what most Americans believe, the Korean War never officially ended. It merely paused in 1953 with an armistice agreement. From the American point of view, the war has been over since before most of us were born. From the Korean point of view, though, it always has been a pyre doused with gasoline, awaiting a match.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un visits the Mangyongdae Revolutionary Academy on its 70th anniversary, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang October 13, 2017.

The Korean War was fought far from our shores, but it was fought inside Korea, often in the backyards of those old enough to remember it. Most citizens of the North have been living with a feeling of existential dread that Americans could surge over the horizon at any moment and resume the bombing and killing. They have been brainwashed to believe this. The regime has spent decades unifying its people with a diet of deranged anti-American, anti-Japanese and anti-Seoul propaganda. It’s not just a big put-on, however. The Kim family watched as Americans demolished the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein’s Arab Socialist Baath Party in Iraq, and Muammar Gaddafi’s lunacracy in Libya. North Korea’s people feel, deep in their bones, that they might be “next,” just as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad did before the Russians flew in to save him.

They are almost certainly wrong about this. A war with North Korea would be so utterly devastating that there’s virtually no chance any American president would mount an Iraq-style regime-change operation in Pyongyang, even if Kim had no nuclear or chemical weapons, unless he invaded South Korea or hit us with missiles. The United States and its allies in Asia already are completely deterred by the thousands of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul.

Kim doesn’t need nukes. He just doesn’t know it or doesn’t believe it. The Mexican standoff between him and Donald Trump isn’t doing anything to settle his nerves.

Kim has erected a doomsday machine, and there’s no way we can destroy it without setting it off. Washington needs to think and behave like a hostage negotiator, which starts by managing and calming the emotional state of the hostage-taker.

The least terrible choice out of a range of terrible choices isn’t regime-change, which would set off Kim’s doomsday device; nor is it brinkmanship and gunboat diplomacy, which could inadvertently convince him that we’re coming for him and frighten him into setting it off prematurely. The least terrible choice is negotiating an end to the Korean War once and for all and guaranteeing the survival of his regime in perpetuity. Nobody who cares a whit about human rights wants to underwrite the indefinite existence of a totalitarian gulag state, but we’re not going to shoot Kim out of his palace anyway unless he starts a war. So, at the end of the day, what difference does it make?

Don’t count on the Chinese to save us. Yes, they can pressure Kim to the negotiating table, but the notion that Beijing can convince him to give up the nuclear weapons and missiles he already has is a fantasy. North Korea won’t give up its nukes for the exact same reason the United States won’t — there is no better deterrent on Earth. Even if Kim were to hand over or destroy the weapons he already has, his regime already has acquired the knowledge to build them and can always build more at any time. There is no rewind button, and toothpaste doesn’t go back in the tube.

Pressuring Pyongyang with threats of war and economic sanctions always had to be part of the picture. Kim would have far less incentive to negotiate if he did not feel compelled. But cooler heads need to prevail here, and sooner rather than later. The odds that Kim and his circle will be the first to act like the adults in the room are vanishingly close to zero. That’s our job, and Washington needs to snap to it.

Michael J. Totten is a contributing editor at World Affairs and City Journal, a Middle East Forum writing fellow, and the author of eight books, including “Tower of the Sun” and “Where the West Ends.” 

President Donald Trump on Sept. 7. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The President of Stranger Things

A full moon ambushed me the other morning.

It was pasted on the sky like a crafts project, too flat and too burnt orange, and too close to Beverly and La Brea, to be real.

I wasn’t, How beautiful! I was, How strange.

How strange there’s a four-and-a-half billion-year-old rock rotating around me; how strange that this disc rising from Blick Art’s roof gets its crayoned glow from nuclear fusion 93 million miles away; how strange that its whole Juney moony existence is indifferent to, and makes irrelevant, the satellite radio voices in my car channeling my anxieties about Donald Trump firing special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump goading himself into nuking North Korea, Trump giving Vladimir Putin a pass on gaming the election Trump won.

I don’t usually live on cable news time and in geologic time at the same time.  When I drive to Trader Joe’s, the Big Bang typically gets no attention from me. But the other morning I was blown away by the strangeness of being simultaneously in Newton’s solar system, where space is space and time is time; in Einstein’s universe, where everything is spacetime, and it’s warped; and in the TJ parking lot, where a ridiculously narrow space takes forever to find.

“Your happiness,” behavioral scientist Paul Dolan writes in “Happiness by Design,” “is determined by how you allocate your attention…. If you are not as happy as you could be, then you must be misallocating your attention.”

If I allocated more attention to the sound of rain than to the sound of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, I’m sure I’d be happier. But I don’t allocate my attention to her. She steals it. Like her boss, she’s contemptuous of a free press, and she gets away with it. I have to watch – it’s disaster porn, and its victim is American democracy.

I’m not the only boss of my attention. I run the conscious, intentional executive function of my brain, but attention is involuntary, too, vulnerable to hijacking and noticing whatever it wants, whether our judgment intends it or not.

“We’re hooked on the dopamine squirts we get from likes, shares and comments.”

Daniel Kahneman, the behavioral psychologist who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, describes two kinds of thinking, fast and slow. System 1 is fast, automatic, emotional, subconscious. System 2 is slow, effortful, logical, conscious.

System 2 behaves as though our free will allocates our attention, but actually it’s System 1, bombarded by inputs, that impulsively calls the shots and gets System 2 to reverse-engineer reasons for what we notice.

What pitches does System 1 fall for? Danger, sex, play, novelty and stories are especially good at grabbing attention. They’re what entertainment uses, and news, politics, commerce and culture, too. Social media platforms are all that in one, and we gladly carry them around on our phones. They captivate us; we’re their attention slaves. It’s not our fault if we Instagram a total eclipse or live-tweet a string quartet: We’re hooked on the dopamine squirts we get from likes, shares and comments. #MozartIsDaBomb

Industries are built on this. When we practice meditation and mindfulness, the distractedness of our monkey minds isn’t attributable to human nature alone; it’s also a casualty of the battle to sell our eyeballs and data to advertisers.  We may want to infuse our days with reverence and gratitude, but some random commercial sighting – a picture of a beautiful body, beach or burger – can kidnap our attention and brainwash us with a yearning we can slake solely by spending money.

Paying attention to Trump is inevitable. Well before he became a candidate, he was an accomplished tale-teller, which is catnip for System 1. His tallest tale is the story of himself. He has one subject, Trump, and one object, our attention. Now that our Little Caesar bestrides the world like a colossus, we may persuade ourselves that being rapt by his awfulness is civic vigilance, not rubbernecking at the apocalypse. But that’s just System 2 rationalizing the prurience of System 1.

I love a good media detox, and there are times I’ve been able to unplug for a week. But day-to-day, Trump’s mastery of the horror genre makes getting my attention a cheap date.

I can’t stop Trump from stealing my attention, but I can try to switch where it takes me. Not, How scary. No — I want that burnt orange face to make me mindful of my Crayola moon. How strange.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for
Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Judge Rules Bergdahl Won’t Face Prison Time

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, 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.”

Photo by Tess Cutler.

Feuer Blames Trump for Spike in L.A. Hate Crimes

Los Angeles has seen a threefold spike in hate crimes this year, according to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who places significant blame for the increase on President Donald Trump.

The jump “underscores what all of us know by now, which is that the atmosphere of our nation — the way President Trump has led from the White House — has given license to these groups,” he said. Feuer’s comments came during an Oct. 18 discussion with the Journal’s editorial staff.

Feuer has been a vocal critic of Trump. Following August’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., he held a news conference to express anger at the president’s response to the actions of the neo-Nazis.

Feuer said the recent increase in hate crimes is connected to white supremacist activity throughout Los Angeles. His office, which is charged with prosecuting criminal misdemeanors, has been working with law enforcement in pursuing gangs such as the San Fernando Valley-based group known as the Peckerwoods.

During the wide-ranging, hourlong conversation with the Journal, Feuer also discussed his efforts to reach out to L.A. Muslims, and said fighting homelessness should be a top city priority.

Feuer, who is Jewish, has made building relationships with the Muslim community a central part of his work for the city. Amid protests against Trump’s January executive order to block immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, Feuer headed to Los Angeles International Airport to see how he could help. He recalled a woman who pleaded with him to help her get vital medication to her husband, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and had been detained by immigration authorities.

“That’s a very personalized way to encapsulate the consequences of what is happening” across the nation, he said.

Feuer is most concerned about homelessness, he said. Since he left the City Council, where he served from 1995 to 2001, he has seen homelessness spread from an issue affecting a few areas such as Skid Row and Venice to a citywide crisis.

Noting that people are sleeping on the sidewalk in his Fairfax neighborhood, he said disgrace “is not a strong enough word to characterize how I feel about the fact that there are people … on the street — not even with a blanket, but on the street.”

He hopes to expand a county program to convert motels into homeless housing and to make it safe and lawful for people who have cars but not housing to sleep in their vehicles.

“It is not a good thing for people to sleep in their cars. However, it beats the heck out of sleeping on the street,” he said. He added that until more facilities can be built to support people who are homeless, the city should designate locations where, under regulated conditions, people can sleep legally in their automobiles.

Raised in a Jewish household in San Bernardino, Feuer, 59, is married and the father of two. He said he thought of his daughter, a law student, after the recent accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein became public. In the wake of the scandal, Feuer publicly encouraged victims of sexual harassment and abuse to come forward, promising to pursue prosecution against offenders.

“Some of what we have seen in the nation has exposed how fragile our democracy can be.” – Mike Feuer

Before seeking elected office, Feuer spent eight years as executive director of Bet Tzedek, the legal aid agency, where his work included assisting Holocaust survivors in obtaining reparations. He served in the state Assembly from 2006-2012 following two terms on the City Council. He was elected in March to his second and final term as L.A. city attorney. His term will last 5 1/2 years — longer than usual because of a change in election schedules.

Feuer said democratic institutions need to stand up for what is right during trying times, and that people too often take democracy for granted.

“I think that’s a big mistake,” he said, “and I think some of what we have seen in the nation has exposed how fragile our democracy can be and how important it is for the institutions that keep it together to speak loudly and clearly in a unifying way.”

As for his future career ambitions, Feuer left open the possibility he could seek higher office.

“For me, life is about having a sense of purpose and expressing it in everyday ways,” he said, adding that “at the end of my term, I hope there are opportunities for me — if I’ve earned them — to continue to serve the public.”

Pro-life and pro-choice activists gather at the Supreme Court for the National March for Life rally in Washington January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Trump Tramples on Rights and Religious Liberty

I’m worried about our right to religious liberty; about it being used as an excuse for discrimination; about conservative, Christian beliefs being given special treatment by our government; and about our right to religious liberty suffering long-term damage because it’s been cheapened and made partisan by extreme claims.

Some may be surprised to hear that from me. Conservatives have painted me as a secular warrior against religious liberty fighting only for reproductive justice, but I’m a person of faith and the daughter of a pastor. I’m active in the Jewish community and recently traveled to Israel to tour holy sights. Back in 2012, I did testify before members of Congress and took on Rush Limbaugh over insurance covering birth control for women at religiously affiliated organizations. Those who wished to deny insurance coverage claimed that religious liberty required they be allowed to interfere in women’s access to reproductive health care.

I don’t agree. Their interpretation of religious liberty goes much further than the constitutional framers intended, upsetting a balance between competing individual liberties: the right to practice one’s religion and the right to be free of another’s religion. That balance has been a defining characteristic of our democracy, and one that we should hold dear. It also is particularly important to the Jewish community, Muslims, Buddhists and others who don’t practice the dominant Christian religion.

That’s why it’s especially upsetting to see the damage being done by the Trump administration. Not only is this administration using religious liberty for conservative Christian beliefs as a justification to trample the rights of women and LGBTQ persons, but in the process it is undermining our nation’s long respect for religious liberty. Allowing claims of religious liberty that are so extreme has made it a partisan issue for our country, which is a sad day indeed.

Recently, the Trump administration issued regulations that allow any company, including for-profit, publicly traded Fortune 500 corporations, to exclude birth control from health-care plans if the company has a religious objection. Surely, we can agree that we have lost our appropriate balance when we’re more concerned with the religious beliefs of Chevron than with the woman who works there and can’t get the medical coverage she needs.

Allowing claims of religious liberty that are so extreme has made it a partisan issue for our country, which is a sad  day indeed.

The Justice Department also directed that federal agencies should accommodate religious objections. A homophobic federal employee need only say that religion is why he won’t process the Social Security benefits of a same-sex spouse. This policy indicates a striking lack of understanding of this country’s history of discrimination. For decades, racists claimed God’s will required segregation and criminalization of interracial marriage. We are not so far from that past.

The Trump administration continues down the slippery slope and now has argued that not only do Fortune 500 companies have a religion, but the federal government has a religiously informed “conscience,” which should supersede the constitutionally protected right of a detained immigrant to access an abortion. Thankfully, the D.C. Court of Appeals put a stop to that argument. There is nothing more personal than a woman’s decisions about her own body. She must be able to make those in accord with her own beliefs, not a different religious belief imposed on her by her government.

This concern about a government-sponsored religion being imposed on those of a minority faith is the exact reason that our forebears fled their homelands to establish a country with freedom of, and from, religion. Whether women, LGBTQ persons or people of color are being discriminated against in the name of religion or having religious doctrine imposed on their life choices by their boss or by the government, we all must stand together for our tradition of religious liberty, not the Trump administration’s vision of religious domination.

For the other side of the debate, read Dave Andrusko’s column here.

Sandra Fluke is a Los Angeles social justice attorney and the state director for an advocacy nonprofit. She is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center and a former candidate for California State Senate.

Director Rob Reiner participates in a discussion following a screening of the film LBJ at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas on Saturday October 22, 2016 On Saturday evening October 22, 2016, the LBJ Presidential Library held a sneak peek of Rob Reiner's new filmÊLBJ, starring Woody Harrelson as the 36th president. The film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, chronicles the life and times of Lyndon Johnson who would inherit the presidency at one of the most fraught moments in American history. Following the screening, director Rob Reiner, actor Woody Harrelson, and writer Joey Hartstone joined LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove on stage for a conversation about the film. LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin 10/22/2016

Q&A with Rob Reiner on LBJ, Trump and Meg Ryan’s Famous Scene

Director and political activist Rob Reiner, 70, is perhaps best known for his iconic films “When Harry Met Sally” and “The Princess Bride.” Before he made a name for himself as a director, he won an Emmy for his role as Archie Bunker’s liberal son-in-law, Michael (aka “Meathead”), on the classic 1970s sitcom “All in the Family.”

While Meathead raged against the Vietnam War, Reiner’s new film, “LBJ” — which opens Nov. 3 — spotlights the president who escalated that conflict in Southeast Asia. But the drama doesn’t cover Lyndon B. Johnson’s war efforts; rather, it focuses on the period when the then vice president was thrust into the highest office in the land after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Jewish Journal: Your father is renowned actor-director-writer Carl Reiner. Did you ever feel competitive with him?

Rob Reiner: I did. As a teenager, I would go with him every day during the summer to where they were shooting “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” One day, I looked at a script he was working on. And I was going, “I can’t do this.” I felt so inadequate. But then when I was 19, I directed a production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit,” starring Richard Dreyfuss, at a small theater in Beverly Hills. My dad came backstage after the show and said, “That was good. No bulls—.”  That was the first time he had ever basically approved of what I was doing.

JJ: What did you think of LBJ back in the day?

RR: I hated him. I was of draft age during the Vietnam War, which I thought was immoral and illegal. Johnson was my enemy, because he could send me to my death. He was a bully and a browbeat; he cussed and held meetings while going to the bathroom. But later I realized that if it weren’t for Vietnam, he’d be considered one of the greatest presidents of all time. He pushed through the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicaid, Medicare and more. But people generally don’t know that.

JJ: What else did you find compelling about LBJ?

RR: He could be rough and tough, but in reading about him, I realized he was also tremendously insecure. He felt like he wasn’t loved because his own mother had been withholding of her love. And he felt that he was ugly compared to the Kennedys, who were handsome, witty, charming and had sex appeal.

JJ: Speaking of controversial presidents, what would the character of Archie Bunker have thought of Donald Trump?

RR: He’d be saying, “Trump is for guys like me.” They’re both from Queens, and they’re both racist and anti-Semitic. As for Meathead, his head would have exploded by now.

JJ: You’ve said that Jared Kushner has turned his back on Judaism.

RR: How do you not speak out when people with swastikas and Nazi signs are walking around and saying, “Jews will not replace us?” How do you stand by and call yourself an Orthodox Jew? He’s like the Jewish police in the Warsaw ghetto.

JJ: Would you ever consider making a movie about Trump?

RR: I couldn’t do it. I’d have to take a shower every other minute.

JJ: You originally had a different ending for “When Harry Met Sally,” when the characters, played by Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, didn’t end up getting together.

RR: I had been single for 10 years and I just couldn’t figure out how do you ever get with a woman again? I had questions I bring up in the film, like can you be friends with a woman or does sex always get in the way? But then I met Michele, my [wife-to-be], and I changed the ending.

JJ: There’s that famous scene where Sally fakes an orgasm for Harry in a deli. Your own mother plays the deli customer who hilariously says to a waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”

RR: When we shot the scene, Meg didn’t do the orgasm full out in the first few takes. So, I said, “Meg, if this is going to work, you’re going to have to really go for it.” But she was embarrassed. So, I sat down across from Billy and I showed her what I wanted her to do. It was, “Oh, yes! Yes!” I’m pounding on the table, and I realized I was having an orgasm in front of my mother. And that was so mortifying.