November 14, 2018

Where ‘Social Justice’ and #MeToo Fall Short

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

We live in an era of “social justice.”

By “social justice,” people typically mean a panoply of left-leaning policy priorities. But the phrase itself is pernicious and anti-morality — justice requires no modifier. Justice is by nature individual — we punish those who are guilty, not those who are innocent; we don’t punish children for the sins of their parents. But social justice suggests that we should allow societal context to inform whether a result is just. Thus, a guilty man from a historically victimized group ought to be let off the hook; an innocent from a historically powerful group ought to be punished in order to provide restitution for historical injustices. 

Judaism fundamentally rejects this notion. In Leviticus, the Torah states, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” We naturally assume that the rich are more likely to get away with perverting justice, but the Torah reminds us that our natural sympathies may be just as likely to pervert justice on behalf of someone unfortunate. As the old legal aphorism goes, hard cases make bad law — if we follow our hearts, we almost invariably pursue injustice.

All of this comes up this week thanks to the controversy surrounding Asia Argento, one of the leading #MeToo icons. Argento publicly accused megaproducer Harvey Weinstein of rape just a few months ago; now it turns out that Argento, who touted “women everywhere” having the “courage to share their most painful private traumas in public,” allegedly sexually assaulted a 17-year-old boy back in 2013. According to The New York Times, former child actor Jimmy Bennett alleges that Argento invited him to a hotel room and sexually assaulted him when he was 17 and she was 37. The age of consent in California is 18. The documents reviewed by the Times included a selfie of the two in bed together dated May 9, 2013. 

Argento’s alleged gross misconduct doesn’t undermine her claims against Weinstein, of course. As it turns out in Hollywood, more than one person can be disgusting at one time. But it’s the reaction that’s been telling. Rose McGowan, another face of the #MeToo movement, tweeted, “None of us know the truth of the situation and I’m sure more will be revealed. Be gentle.” All of which would be fine, except that McGowan, along with many others in the #MeToo movement, have suggested that an allegation is tantamount to a conviction. Back in January, she tweeted, “Believe women,” and in November, she tweeted, “It’s quite simple, all who have worked with known predators should do 3 simple things. 1) Believe survivors 2) Apologize for putting your careers and wallets before what was right. 3) Grab a spine and denounce. If you do not do these things you are still moral cowards. #ROSEARMY.”

We all tend to lend credibility to those we like and to disparage the credibility of those we don’t. In reality, we ought to hold the same standards for everyone.

Now, this is a problem. There must be one standard by which we can adjudicate public accusations of sexual abuse. That standard should require some evidence, regardless of the alleged victim; it should at least require a careful weighing of the allegations themselves. Instead, we’ve been told for nearly a year that we must believe all allegations at face value, mainly because so many women have been wrongly ignored in the past. But past sins do not excuse current ones, nor do current virtues absolve past sins. McGowan should be holding Argento to the same standard she’d hold others, whether or not Argento is a woman or a #MeToo icon.

Unfortunately, we tend not to do this. We all tend to lend credibility to those we like and to disparage the credibility of those we don’t. If we’re Donald Trump fans, we defend him against allegations of abuse of women; if we’re Democrats, we defend Keith Ellison against the same. In reality, we ought to hold the same standards for everyone. That’s what morality demands. And it’s what justice demands, even if social justice suggests otherwise.


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

Winners and Losers – What You Need to Know About the Aug. 14 Primaries

Screenshot from Twitter.

August 14 featured a slew of primaries involving candidates who have either issued Jew-hating statements or made statements critical of Israel, and most of them won.

Among the most notable of these candidates is Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who has been criticized for his past associations with Louis Farrakhan and is currently facing allegations of abuse. He won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) primary for Minnesota attorney general on August 14; Ellison will square off against former state Rep. Doug Wardlow (R) in November.

Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American congressional candidate who has stated that she believes in withholding aid from Israel “if it has something to do with inequality and not access to people having justice,” won the Democratic primary on Michigan’s 13th District on August 14. She will not be facing a Republican opponent in the general election.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) said in response to Tlaib, “Threatening to cut military assistance to Israel is inconsistent with the values of the Democratic Party and the American people.”

J Street also told Jewish Telegraphic Agency that they’re reaching out to Tlaib to clarify her recent comments stating, “This whole idea of a two-state solution, it doesn’t work.” JStreetPAC has endorsed Tlaib.

Similarly, Ilhan Omar, who once tweeted that “Israel is hypnotizing the world,” won the Democratic primary in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District, another heavily Democratic district.

On the other hand, Paul Nehlen, who once stated that “Jews control the media” that Jews “are never to be trusted,” lost handily in the Republican primary in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District, receiving only 10 percent of the vote.

Congressman With Ties to Farrakhan Faces Allegations of Abuse

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who has previously come under fire for his past associations with Louis Farrakhan, is now facing allegations of abuse.

The allegation first came to light from Austin Monahan, the son of Karen Monahan, Ellison’s ex-girlfriend and an organizer for the Sierra Club. Austin wrote on Facebook that he and his brother “knew that something wasn’t right” with their mother after she and Ellison ended a lengthy relationship. Their mother insisted she was fine and was merely stressed.

But Austin claims he found a video on his mother’s computer that shows Ellison “dragging my mama off the bed by her feet, screaming calling her a ‘f*cking b*tch.’” Subsequent texts from Ellison to his mother “were mixed with him telling my mom he wanted her back, he missed her, he knew he f*cked up and we wished he could do things different” while other times he would “bully her and threaten her if she went public.”

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reviewed text messages between Karen Monahan and Ellison; while none of them showed any abuse from Ellison, Monahan did send him a text in December 2017 about “the video I have of you trying to drag me off the bed,” which Ellison never responded to. Monahan also texted Ellison about her writing about their relationship, prompting Ellison to respond, “Horrible attack on my privacy, unreal.”

CNN was able to find three friends of Monahan who claim she told them about he alleged incident. However, Monahan told CNN that she couldn’t find the video of the alleged incident; she also told MPR that she wouldn’t the release the video at all.

“It sets the expectation for survivors of all kinds of forms of abuse, whether it be abuse toward women, abuse from police officers, abuse from other people in power, to have to be the ones, like I’m doing right now, to show and prove their stories,” Monahan said. “It’s feeding into that.”

Ellison has denied Monahan’s allegation.

“Karen and I were in a long-term relationship which ended in 2016, and I still care deeply for her well-being,” Ellison said. “This video does not exist because I never behaved in this way, and any characterization otherwise is false.”

Ellison’s ex-wife, Kim Ellison, is defending Ellison.

“I want members of our community to know that the behavior described does not match the character of the Keith I know,” Kim wrote in an emailed statement to reporters.

But Karen Monahan isn’t the only former girlfriend of Ellison’s to have alleged abuse. Amy L. Alexander, who said she a “hot and cold romance” with Ellison while he was married, wrote in The Wright County Republican in 2006 that Ellison “belittled me about my weight and constantly criticized my every word and action.”

A couple years later, Alexander thought she and Ellison had smoothed things over when Ellison refused to give her a job at an environmental activist group, calling her a “b*tch” and lamenting that he couldn’t “control you anymore.”

One day, Ellison allegedly stormed into Alexander’s house in order to “quiet” her.

“He berated me,” Alexander wrote. “He grabbed me and pushed me out of the way. I was terrified. I called the police. As he fled he broke my screen door. I have never been so scared.”

Ellison proceeded to launch “a smear campaign” against her, Alexander alleged, even going as far as obtaining a restraining order against her.

Deputy DNC Chair Says Questions About Ties to Farrakhan ‘Offends Me’

Photo from Flickr.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the deputy chair Democratic National Committee (DNC), said he was offended when he was confronted about his prior ties to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.

Ellison was asked by a Jewish student about the matter at an April event hosted by the Harvard Institute for Politics. Ellison responded to the question by downplaying the Nation of Islam’s influence.

“They don’t have any influence,” Ellison said. “Nobody listens to them. They don’t have any answers for anyone. Nobody’s paying any attention to them. I’m telling you, they’re not.”

Ellison proceeded to claim that efforts to tie him and others to Farrakhan are nothing more than “a smear.”

“It is frustrating to be pulled out and be in and it’s like it’s your daily moment to denounce anti-Semitism,” Ellison said. “We denounce it. We absolutely denounce it. We think it is reprehensible, murderous, and genocidal. And it offends me that anyone would insist that I do it one more time.”

Ellison also cited criticisms against the Congressional Black Caucus for their connections to Farrakhan as “offensive.”

“The Black Caucus has fought for justice more than any other caucus in the United States Congress, period, and that’s who is being questioned about whether we really stand against hatred,” Ellison said. “It’s offensive.”

Ellison was involved with the Nation of Islam for at least a decade – contradicting his claims that he was only involved with them for 18 months – and repeatedly defended Farrakhan from accusations of anti-Semitism under the bylines of “Keith Hakim” and “Keith X.” When Ellison ran for office in 2006, he claimed that he had renounced his past associations with Farrakhan, but he reportedly met with Farrakhan at least three times since he has been in Congress.

Scores of other congressional Democrats have ties to Farrakhan as well, including Reps. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and James Clyburn (D-SC), as well three Women’s March leaders.

In addition to his ties to Farrakhan, Ellison has allegedly claimed that “Jews were themselves oppressors”, said that the 9/11 terror attacks were analogous to the Reichstag fire and defended Kwame Ture, also known as Stokely Carmichael, who once wrote, “The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.” A donor to Ellison also reportedly called for Israelis to be bombed.

H/T: Daily Wire

Ranking House Democrat Stood On Stage With Farrakhan in 2011

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Yet another congressional Democrat has been found to have past association with virulent anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, as Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, reportedly stood onstage with Farrakhan in 2011.

The Daily Caller highlighted an article from the Final Call, which is a news outlet promulgated by Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, stating that Clyburn attended a town hall featuring Farrakhan despite being urged by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wisenthal not to go. Clyburn even stood onstage with Farrakhan and thanked the anti-Semite “for offering up a number of precepts that we ought to adhere to.”

Clyburn issued a statement to The Daily Caller that read, “I have fought all my life to advance the cause of social justice and equality, and I have always opposed bigotry in all its forms.” His statement did not mention Farrakhan and didn’t respond to The Daily Caller’s request to condemn Farrakhan.

Clyburn is the latest Democrat to face questions over previous ties to Farrakhan. Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) has twice told The Daily Caller himself that he is personally fond of Farrakhan despite his anti-Semitism while Davis’ office keeps trying to downplay his warmth toward Farrakhan. On Mar. 8, Davis issued a statement denouncing Farrakhan, stating: “Let me be clear: I reject, condemn and oppose Minister Farrakhan’s views and remarks regarding the Jewish people and the Jewish religion.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, received a “four Pinocchios” rating from The Washington Post for claiming that his ties to Farrakhan ended before he ran for Congress. Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel called on DNC Chair Tom Perez to address Ellison’s ties to Farrakhan.

“Keith Ellison’s long pattern of lies about his ongoing relationship with Louis Farrakhan, who the Anti-Defamation League calls ‘America’s leading anti-Semite,’ has put a stain on the Democrat Party,” McDaniel said. “Anti-Semitism has no place in American politics, Tom Perez must address this issue.

Another Democrat who is under fire for his past ties to Farrakhan, Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), responded to such questions by attacking the Republican Jewish Coalition for calling on him and six other Democrats with ties to Farrakhan to resign and tried to claim the RJC was hypocritical for not condemning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ADL Criticizes Three Congressional Democrats for Dining with Iranian President and Louis Farrakhan

Photo from Flickr/Lorie Shaull

Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt issued a statement on Twitter denouncing three congressional Democrats for attending a dinner hosted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in 2013 that Louis Farrakhan was at.

Greenblatt called it “extremely disturbing” that the three members, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is also the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Andre Carson (D-IN) dined with “hatemongers.”

“Yes, it may have been an ‘official’ event org by Iran govt,” Greenblatt tweeted. “However, this is one of the most repressive & aggressive regimes in world, a govt that specializes in state-sponsored #antisemitism, regularly commits #humanrights violations and actively engages in #terror.”

Greenblatt then lambasted Farrakhan for being “an unrepentant anti-Semite who has said Jews are Satanic & responsible for 9/11.”

“Some of those who attended have repudiated Farrakhan & his intolerance in the past. They should do so again,” Greenblatt wrote. “They owe it to their constituents + Jewish community to explain their rationale and remind the world that there is no statue [sic] of limitations on standing up to hate.”

A spokesperson for Ellison told National Journal editor Josh Kraushaar that Ellison and Farrakhan didn’t talk to each other at the event.

The reported 2013 dinner and 2016 visit with Farrakhan is the latest Farrakhan-related controversy for Ellison, who has been plagued with questions about his prior ties to Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam (NOI) ever since he first ran for Congress in 2006. Ellison has repudiated the organization on multiple occasions; his defense is that he was only involved with NOI for 18 months although there is evidence to suggest his involvement with NOI and ardent defense of Farrakhan lasted for 10 years.

“Which is the real Ellison: The one who drafts earnest letters of apology to Jewish groups? Or the one who, as recently as 2013, saw it fit to dine with Farrakhan under Iranian auspices?” Commentary’s Sohrab Ahmari wrote.

H/T: Daily Caller

Republican Jews, Jewish Republicans differ on DNC race

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The race for the new Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair is highlighting a split among Jews who support the Republican Party. In many instances, the differences stem from a matter of two identities and whether ‘Republican’ or ‘Jewish’ is the adjective or noun.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

For Jewish Republicans, who are more likely to actively support the Republican National Committee over bipartisan groups like AIPAC, the idea of Rep. Keith Ellison, a candidate who has attracted controversy over past remarks, winning Saturday’s election to become the face of the Democratic Party is a welcome one.

“To my friends at the DNC please please elect this man [Ellison] Chair,” RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks tweeted on Thursday, in reaction to comments Ellison made on Wednesday night defending his Israel record.

However, given Ellison’s record and controversial past comments, some Republican Jews worry that his election would allow more extreme views and policy positions into the mainstream, in a way that could be harmful to any remaining bipartisan consensus on the U.S. – Israel relationship.

“Politically, Republicans love the idea of Ellison at DNC; Jews, however, should be frightened over the further mainstreaming of a hater,” Jeff Ballabon, a Conservative-Republican activist, wrote on Twitter.

“I do not prefer to see Ellison elected,” Tevi Troy, former Jewish Liaison for President George W. Bush, told Jewish Insider. ” I think that both Israel and America are better off if we operate under the bipartisan consensus in favor of strong ties between the U.S. and Israel.”

At the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], Jewish attendees had divergent opinions. Yitchok (Ian) Cummings, 24, a first-time CPAC attendee from Linwood, NJ, told Jewish Insider that as a Republican Jew his partisanship doesn’t seep through when it comes to hoping Ellison wins the DNC Chairmanship. “I do think Keith Ellison’s anti-Israel views are dangerous. I think the fact that he’s such a powerful frontrunner for the DNC, is just indicative of the fact that the Democratic Party has moved to the far left and shifted on Israel,” Cummings said. “So even as a partisan, while there’s some advantage to see Ellison leading the Democrats, it makes me sad as a Jew that we may not have a loyal opposition that we respect and can work with.”

Eric Golub, a Trump supporter from LA, favored a more partisan approach. “Obviously as a Jew, I don’t want to see a Jew-hater get anywhere near the levers of power. As a Republican, I want the Democrats to have a complete whack job running their party,” Golub, a conservative comedian, explained while waiting for Vice President Mike Pence to take the stage at the annual gathering. “Now, my Judaism always comes first but here is why I am going to make an exception in this case: the heads of the parties are not significant. It’s not like he’s the presidential or vice presidential candidate. The DNC and RNC chairs are symbolic figureheads. So if the Democrats want to have the worst of all worlds for them, that’s a win-win situation for Republicans.”

During a televised debate on Wednesday, Ellison addressed the past comments and views that have caused many establishment Jewish Democrats to oppose his candidacy. “These are smears and we’re fighting back every day, he said. Adding, “I believe that the U.S.-Israel relationship is special and important. I’ve stood for that principle my whole service and my whole career. And you can trust when I’m the DNC chair that that relationship will continue. We will maintain the bipartisan consensus of U.S. support for Israel if I’m the DNC chair.”

The race between leading candidates Ellison and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, an establishment favorite, remains tight, according to media reports and internal pollingamong the 447 electors. Regardless of who wins the DNC race on Saturday, Tevi Troy says he is worried “about the direction of the Democratic party on the Israel issue.”

Keith Ellison, in run-up to DNC chair election, calls for party to fight anti-Semitism

Rep. Keith Ellison speaking at a news conference in front of the Capitol, Feb. 1, 2017. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Rep. Keith Ellison called for Democrats to speak out against anti-Semitism and reject hatred of refugees during a debate for candidates to head the Democratic Party.

The Minnesota Democrat also made clear during the CNN debate Wednesday evening that he supports Israel and has strong backing from the Jewish community. He is vying with seven others to chair the Democratic National Committee; Ellison is considered among the front-runners with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

Ellison noted his “long, strong history of interfaith dialogue, interfaith communication.” He called suggestions that he is anti-Semitic – based on his involvement with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam while he was in college – “smears.”

“I just want to say, it is critical that we speak up against this anti-Semitism because right now, you have Jewish cemeteries being defaced and desecrated,” he said. “Right now, you have Jewish institutions getting bomb threats. We have to stand with the Jewish community right here, right now, four square, and that’s what the Democratic Party is all about.”

Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, added that he spoke at a HIAS event last week to support the right of refugees to enter the United States.

“They’re saying, we were once refugees, and they stood out in New York and demanded that we have respect for refugees now,” he said of the Jewish organization that assists refugees.

Ellison was asked about aid to Israel, noting that at a private 2010 fundraiser, he said that American foreign policy is seen through the eyes of the 7 million citizens of Israel. He responded that he believes the U.S.-Israel relationship is “special and important,” and noted that he has “voted for $27 billion in bilateral aid to Israel over the course of about six or seven votes. I have been to the region many times and sat down with members of the Knesset and worked with them.”

Some 447 electors made up mostly of  state party officials and officials in state government, among others, will vote for DNC chair on Saturday in Atlanta.

Israel and the Middle East likely will not figure highly in their considerations. The electors are concerned much more with rebuilding a party devastated by its across-the-board losses in November’s elections, including for president.

WATCH: Ellison calls past praise of Farrakhan a ‘distraction’

This story originally appeared on

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The ADL director and the war against hate in Trump’s America

When Jonathan Greenblatt took the top job at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in July 2015, Donald Trump was an outside candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and a favorite punch line of TV pundits.

Today, Trump is weeks away from the world’s most powerful office, and the ADL’s frequent criticism of the reality-TV-star-turned-leader-of-the-free-world has become arguably the defining aspect of Greenblatt’s freshman year.

Even in a more normal year, Greenblatt, a nontraditional choice for the job, would have had his hands full stepping in for Abraham Foxman, his predecessor as ADL national director.

“I’m learning as I go,” Greenblatt told the Journal in a phone interview last month. “I don’t have the long history that my predecessor had. He worked in this organization for 50 years. Many of my peers, if you look at counterpart organizations, have also worked there for decades. Not me.”

Greenblatt’s early days at the helm of the 103-year-old civil rights watchdog have not been easy ones. The unexpected twists of the recent election season turned the young leader’s first year into a test not only for him, but also for the ADL and the Jewish establishment more broadly.


EVENT: Hear Jonathan Greenblatt speak Dec. 13 at the Journal’s
Crucial Conversation, “The New Reality: Jews in Trump’s America.” RSVP here.


The ADL’s selection of Greenblatt in late 2014 was seen as a broadening of its reach, enabling it to connect with young people who grew up in a world where anti-Semitism seemed a less pressing problem than other forms of ethnic and racial hatred. Unlike Foxman, Greenblatt wasn’t a longtime operator in the Jewish world.

The 46-year-old was born and raised in New England and earned his master’s in business administration at Northwestern University before moving to Los Angeles. There, in 2001, he married Marjan Keypour, then associate director of the ADL for the Pacific Southwest Region. The next year, he co-founded Ethos Water, a bottled water line that donates part of its profits to clean water programs in the developing world. Ethos pioneered a model later followed by brands such as Toms Shoes and Warby Parker, linking consumption to a cause. In 2005, Starbucks purchased Ethos for $8 million.

Greenblatt and Keypour put began to put down roots in Los Angeles, preparing to raise their children there.

“I felt pretty blessed to be there, my kids were happy,” he said.

Then, in 2011, President Barack Obama selected him to be the director the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, and he took the opportunity.

“The president basically said to me, ‘I’ve got this office, it’s too much like a think tank. I want somebody who’s run businesses to run it,’ ” he recalled.

Greenblatt’s background made him an unusual choice for ADL director; his ties to the White House have been used to paint him as a partisan actor, a charge he dismisses. Though he attends a Conservative synagogue and keeps a kosher home on Long Island, and served on the board of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, he didn’t have the long resume in the Jewish establishment many expected of a potential ADL chief.

In any case, he certainly wasn’t another Foxman, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor long seen as a top authority on Jew hatred in media and politics.

“They were looking for a guy who would energize young Jews broadly against hatred and for many of the causes that [Greenblatt] endorsed earlier,” said Jonathan Sarna, a history professor at Brandeis University who studies the American Jewish community. “And then, irony of ironies, anti-Semitism seems to be roaring back and his role has shifted.”

The truism that Donald Trump’s election changed everything about American politics is more apt for Greenblatt than most people.

If he had hoped for a honeymoon period of waiting and watching in his new role, those hopes were dashed when Trump descended the gilded escalator in Trump Tower and kicked off his run for the presidency by pronouncing that rapists and criminals were pouring over the border with Mexico.

“It is time for Trump to stop spreading misinformation and hatred against immigrants, legal and undocumented,” Foxman said in a statement shortly after Trump’s presidential announcement, and just weeks before handing the reins over to Greenblatt.

Foxman’s statement set the tone for the coming election. But as Trump moved from an outside candidate to Republican nominee, Greenblatt doubled down.

Soon, under Greenblatt’s leadership, the ADL became the loudest of the nonpartisan Jewish organizations criticizing Trump. When Jewish journalists faced harassment by Twitter trolls using Nazi imagery, the ADL was among the only Jewish organizations to point out that these trolls seemed energized by and aligned with Trump. Within a week of the election, it slammed the Trump campaign for a television ad it said evoked anti-Semitic imagery.

Greenblatt’s outspokenness put him in something of an awkward position in a community where, after all, almost a third of Jews who voted cast a ballot for Trump. After Trump clinched an Electoral College victory on Nov. 8, Greenblatt’s position became even more prickly.

Although that day was a sobering one for many in the Jewish community, it can be seen as a turning point for Greenblatt and the ADL.

“They’re certainly not going to be at the very top of the list of people to be invited to the White House,” said Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a professor of Jewish studies at Indiana University and a widely recognized expert on historical anti-Semitism. “On the other hand, politics tends to work pragmatically after a certain point.”

It remains to be seen whether the ADL’s relationship with the Trump White House is permanently soured. But in any case, it now must balance criticism of the next president with its commitment to working with government agencies at all levels (nationally, it trains more police officers in reacting to hate crimes than any other organization).

Greenblatt has made it clear that he won’t refrain from criticizing Trump now that he’s won the election. Less than a week after Election Day, he released a statement opposing the appointment of Steve Bannon, formerly the CEO of Breitbart News, as White House chief strategist and senior adviser, citing Breitbart as “the premier website of the alt-right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists.”

The blowback was immediate. Morton A. Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who’d clashed publicly with Greenblatt in August, released a statement urging the ADL to “withdraw and apologize for their inappropriate character assassination of Mr. Bannon.”

Some professional observers of the organized Jewish community wondered if Greenblatt had jumped the gun. Sarna said he was surprised the ADL chose to criticize Bannon without first seeking a meeting with him. Still, he saw it is an understandable choice.

“You’re afraid that you’re going to lose your brand unless you speak out at a certain moment,” Sarna said. “But the risk is there’s a penalty for speaking out too early and without all the information.”

Rosenfeld was less ambivalent: “To denounce [Trump] and his people right from the get-go is not in the interest of the American Jewish community,” he said. “Following Abe Foxman is bound to be difficult, but [Greenblatt] needs to take his time and think carefully about what he’s saying.”

Rosenfeld said he looks to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), as a model of how to combat anti-Semitism without overextending political capital.

Harris, in an interview with the Jewish Broadcasting Service shortly after the election, urged patience in the wake of Trump’s upset victory, saying “Let’s take a deep breath.”

As for Bannon’s appointment, Harris said, “There may be many issues to worry about or to wonder about. This is not near the top of my list.”

By Greenblatt’s telling, his decision to come out against Bannon was a natural one.

“I don’t make my decisions based on ‘Hmm, let’s make a tradeoff here. What works and doesn’t work?’ ” he said. “I focus on not what feels good but rather, when we see hate, how do we deal with it? And we know under Steve Bannon’s leadership, it was his stated attempt and then his successful goal to position Breitbart as the platform for the alt-right.”

Nonetheless, he said, the ADL is already in touch with Trump’s transition team to see how they can work together.

“We’re engaging with them,” he said.

He declined to provide specifics or elaborate further. But he maintained the ADL can work with the administration while acting as a watchdog when its rhetoric veers into intolerance or bigotry.

He pointed to immigration, for instance, as a place where the ADL could prove a nuanced and responsible partner for Trump.

“There’s good reason to be very careful and to use very rigorous screening to make sure that, in particular, refugees fleeing the catastrophe that is Syria, the Syrian civil war, [are] very carefully vetted,” he said. “We are not naïve about that. It’s really important, extremely important. It’s urgent. But at the same time, we think there are opportunities to be as humane as we always have been, as the Statue of Liberty required of us as Americans.”

The question remains whether the seemingly thin-skinned Trump will consent to work with his loudest critic within the Jewish mainstream establishment.

“There is a price to be paid for too many attacks on the president of the United States,” said Steven M. Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York.

“There hasn’t been a time in American history where liberal values were seemingly as challenged as they are right now in 20th-century history,” he went on. “It’s not that the ADL’s actions are unprecedented. It’s that the context is unprecedented.”

Sarna agreed that the ADL’s actions during the election constitute a historical watershed that future generations of Jewish leaders will look back on for insight. He framed the choice facing Greenblatt during the election as “silence, outrage, instruction or obstruction.”

“Those are always your choices,” he said. “The ADL elected to go with outrage. Some other organizations, I think, decided that maybe silence was the right way to go. … The problem with outrage is that you can’t be outraged all the time. You only have a certain capital of outrage.

“It’s hard being a Jewish leader,” he added. “I don’t envy Mr. Greenblatt.”

Greenblatt said he never saw much of a choice in the way he approached the situation, but he doesn’t blame other Jewish organizations, like the AJC, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and The Jewish Federations of North America for taking a less confrontational approach: “I just don’t think that way,” he said.

“I said what I said and we did what we did because it was consistent with ADL’s historic role,” he told the Journal. “As I said, for us it was a matter of our mission. Others need to do what they need to do. I don’t begrudge them.”

But there are Jewish leaders and organizations that have felt the need to question Greenblatt’s leadership.

“It seems to me at critical times [in the] course of this campaign, a pattern emerged that the ADL put their thumb on the scale in a way that hadn’t been done by Greenblatt’s predecessor,” Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), told reporters on a conference call the day after the election.

By attacking Trump, Brooks said, “The ADL has put itself in a potentially compromising position going forward.”

Greenblatt rejects the criticism that the ADL singled out Trump.

“We did not call out the Trump campaign per se,” he said. “What we did was call out particular ideas when we found them to be problematic.”

He pointed out that the ADL criticized Republican candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee and Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders when they made comments that were untoward or inflammatory. When Trump was criticized for making comments to the RJC in December 2015 that some perceived as anti-Semitic (“I’m a negotiator like you folks,” the candidate said), Greenblatt came to his defense: “We do not believe that it was Donald Trump’s intention to evoke anti-Semitic stereotypes,” Greenblatt said in a statement at the time.

In the weeks since the election, Greenblatt proved once again that he’s willing to go after Democrats and to change his position when new information arises.

Early in Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison’s bid to become chair of the Democratic National Committee, Greenblatt released a statement where he raised concerns about his record on Israel, but also described him as “a man of good character” and “an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism.” Yet after a recording came to light of Ellison questioning the United States’ relationship with Israel, Greenblatt changed course in a Dec. 1 statement, calling the remarks “both deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”

To the idea that he singled out Trump for censure, Greenblatt told the Journal, “It doesn’t map to the facts.” Instead, he said, the ADL spoke up each time somebody in the national spotlight ran afoul of its core values of equality, pluralism and tolerance.

“We speak out, not because someone is of a particular political persuasion, but because when ideas are in violation of those core American values, that’s when we think — that’s when the ADL has a role to play,” he said.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which combats hate and anti-Semitism, found himself in a similar position to Greenblatt during the election, and he echoed the need to pick moments and battles carefully.

“This is not going to be an easy road to go down,” Cooper said. “We have to engage with the people with the keys to the car.”

Greenblatt said his organization wants to collaborate positively with the new administration whenever possible, without yielding any ground on ADL’s commitment to its core mission.

“We’re going to hold them relentlessly accountable to the issues we care about,” he said, “and do what we can to make sure we continue to be a fierce advocate.”

Ellison would be a ‘disaster’ as DNC’s leader, Saban says

Haim Saban, a major Democratic Party funder, said Rep. Keith Ellison’s election as chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) would be a “disaster” for the relationship between Jews and the party, signaling a looming crisis between the party’s progressives and the centrist pro-Israel community.

The scathing broadside delivered Dec. 2 by the Israeli-American entertainment mogul from the floor of the annual Saban Forum, an event he funds bringing together U.S. and Israeli leaders and influencers, underscores the degree to which the Minnesota congressman’s campaign for DNC chief could erode relations between establishment Jewish groups and the party.

Additionally, the release Friday of the full transcript of remarks Ellison delivered in 2010 at a fundraiser organized by Muslim backers, in which he derides Israel as seeing the United States as an ATM, was likely to exacerbate establishment Jewish concerns about Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.

“If you listen to Keith Ellison today, and you see his statements, he’s more of a Zionist than Herzl and Ben-Gurion and Begin combined,” Saban said during the gala dinner for the event, which is organized by the Brookings Institution. “It’s amazing, it’s a beautiful thing. If you go back to his positions, his statements, his speeches, the ways he voted, he’s clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual.”

Saban seemed eager to get his thoughts on Ellison off his chest. He was given the courtesy of posing the first question to the evening’s speaker, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, but instead delivered his statement lambasting Ellison.

“Words matter, actions matter more,” Saban said, a baffled Lieberman looking on. “Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party. Now I’ve said what I’ve had to say.”

Saban’s broadside — further reaching, in calling him an “anti-Semite,” than even some of Ellison’s conservative critics — is significant because of the mogul’s relationship to the DNC.

Saban is better known as a leading backer of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee defeated last month by Donald Trump, but he also has been a major donor to the party. In 2002, he paid $7 million toward the building of the then-new DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ellison, who is Black, has rallied progressive groups to his defense, including within the Jewish community.

“It is time to retire the playbook that aims to silence any American official seeking high office who has dared to criticize certain Israeli government policies,” said a statement Friday from J Street, which noted it was not endorsing Ellison for the DNC spot.

The liberal Jewish Middle East policy group’s statement came out before Saban’s outcry.

Even before the results are known, the DNC contest is fraying ties between the Jewish organizational establishment and the party that were thinned already by last year’s contentious battle between the Israeli and American governments over the Iran deal and years of tensions under President Barack Obama over Israel’s settlement policies. Ellison said this weekend that he may leave Congress if he wins, a key demand of some of the grass-roots officials who vote for the chairman, and a sign of how serious his bid is.

Ellison has come under fire in part because of his youth, which was spent as an activist with the Nation of Islam, and defending some Black nationalists who had hostile relationships with the Jewish community.

Running for Congress in 2006, he wrote a letter apologizing for those associations to the Minneapolis Jewish community. He has since enjoyed friendly relations with his state’s Jews.

Ellison went further Friday in an op-ed for The Washington Post in berating his younger self for those ties.

“These men organize by sowing hatred and division, including anti-Semitism, homophobia and a chauvinistic model of manhood,” he said. “I should have listened more and talked less.”

Since his election to Congress, however, he also has become a sharp critic of some Israeli actions that have earned him alliances among liberal Jewish groups such as J Street, but the wariness of mainstream pro-Israel groups. He spearheaded a letter in 2009 urging the Obama administration to press Israel to loosen restrictions on the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas terrorist group governs.

Ellison led an effort to have Congress consider parts of the U.N. Goldstone Report, which said Israel may have committed war crimes in the 2009 Gaza War. Much of Congress, as well as the centrist and right-wing pro-Israel community, said the report was biased beyond redemption.

In 2014, he was one of just eight Congress members who refused to vote for additional funding for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system during that summer’s Gaza War, saying he preferred to agitate for a cease-fire.

Ellison also has led efforts to promote recognition of Israel and rejection of Holocaust denial among Muslims, and is eager to take into account all points of view on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has reliably supported defense assistance for Israel.

In 2009, Ellison traveled with a colleague to review postwar destruction in Gaza. Unlike the colleague, Ellison made the complicated travel arrangements necessary to review the destruction on Israel’s side as well. Last month, in a statement to JTA, he explicitly rejected the boycott Israel movement.

Right-wing groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) have said since Ellison announced his candidacy that he is unfit. The RJC has even fundraised off the matter: A Dec. 1 email pitched with the subject line “An anti-Semite running the Democrat Party?” listed Ellison’s youthful associations without noting his multiple disavowals of them.

But his complex record also has meant that centrist Jewish groups have agonized over just how to treat his candidacy. The Anti-Defamation League at first said his past raised questions that needed answering. Then, in the past week, a snippet from the 2010 fundraiser was released by the Investigative Project on Terrorism, in which Ellison said, “United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people.” The ADL said that disqualified him.

The National Jewish Democratic Council said in a statement Friday — before Saban’s comments — that “the accusations that [Ellison] is somehow anti-Semitic are false, reprehensible and shameful.” It also said his record on Israel was “mixed,” notable for a group with a mission of lauding Democratic incumbents, and said it “strongly disagreed” with his 2014 vote on Iron Dome.

Ellison countered that his 2010 remark had been taken out of context and noted that the Investigative Project’s founder is Steven Emerson, who was featured in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recently released guide to anti-Muslim extremists.

Ellison displayed in his talk to the fundraisers a degree of nuance in his views on Israel and the Jewish community. He held up Jewish lobbying for Israel as a model that Muslims should emulate and admonished his audience when it apparently recoiled after Ellison said he had met with activists at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

The lawmaker said he has a “moral and legal” obligation to meet with all his constituents.

“I want to hear what everybody has to say. Right?” he told the group. “And I want you to know that the level of organization that they display is considerable.” Ellison also said that “this is not to say that I don’t want the U.S. to be friends with Israel.”

But he also indulged tropes about Israel and Jews that would likely irk many in the pro-Israel community and has not raised in his meetings with Jews. In the recorded remarks, he said Israel treats the United States as a cash machine, demanding funding without being responsive to American needs.

“We’re Americans, right? We can’t allow another country to treat us like we’re their ATM. Right? And so we ought to stand up as Americans,” Ellison said.

He also depicted Jews as uncritical, saying that Israel “has mobilized its Diaspora in America to do its bidding.” Ellison depicted himself as putting Israel supporters who questioned Obama’s anti-settlement policies on the spot.

“That is the policy of my president,” he said, “and I want to know if you’re with the president.”

A letter to Keith Ellison: How Jews will love you

Dear Mr. Ellison,

I share many of the concerns expressed by your critics who are opposed to your candidacy to head the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Among other things, your past associations with some nasty anti-Semitic forces, such as the Nation of Islam, and your vote against special Iron Dome funding for Israel, were a major turnoff. 

Even the liberal-leaning head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, came out against you last week after the release of a 2010 audio clip, in which you go on about how a tiny country like Israel can have such an inordinate influence on American foreign policy. Greenblatt called your words “deeply disturbing and disqualifying.”

So, when I put on my pro-Israel hat, my view is that the Democrats can do better. After all, we want Israel to be a bipartisan issue in Congress, so why pick someone with a controversial record on that very issue? Why not have someone who might help us heal the growing rift between the two parties on the hot potato subject of Israel?

But let’s assume, for now, that you will win. What happens then? Can you become an ally in the fight against anti-Semitism? Can you bridge the gaps between the two parties on Israel? 

If the past is any guide, the politics will intrude. My comrades on the right will use your victory as further evidence that the Democrats are moving away from their support of Israel, while my friends on the left will get defensive and accuse the right of trying to make Israel a partisan issue. We’ve seen that movie before.

The movie we don’t often see is when the Jewish community puts politics aside for the sake of unity and the common good.

This is where you come in. You can help change the dynamics. You have huge credibility with the people we most need to reach — the multicultural new generation that has been unfairly poisoned on Israel. You can tell them what’s in your heart and what’s in your mind, such as what you said last month:

“I support Israel. And I have long supported a two-state solution and a democratic and secure state for the Jewish people, with a democratic and viable Palestinian state side-by-side in peace and dignity.”

You can also tell them that you are opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which only aims to delegitimize the Jewish state.

But if you want to really endear yourself to the whole community, there’s something else you can do, something more proactive.

In that 2010 audio clip, you seemed to express a grudging admiration and respect for what the Jews and Israel have accomplished. It’s as if you were saying: “Yes, the Jews are powerful, the Jews are successful, the Jews have accomplished a lot, but instead of complaining about it, why don’t we learn from them?”

Am I right in noticing that?

Because if I am, this could be a compelling new trope that would be good for everyone. Some of my Jewish friends may be uncomfortable with that trope, because anything that smacks of stereotypes brings back dark memories. But the way I see it, I’d rather people learn from the Jews and engage with them rather than hate them or boycott them.

It’s the same principle with regard to Israel. You can tell your followers that demonizing and boycotting Israel won’t bring peace, and that the best way to oppose Israel’s policies is to do what the Jews in America have done so well — engage, engage, engage. Work with the system. Get creative, not destructive.

You can also remind your followers of the Jewish people’s indigenous connection to the land of Israel, and that Arab citizens of Israel have more rights and freedoms in the Jewish state than in any Arab country in the Middle East. And if you’re up to it, you can invite the Palestinian leadership to put a peace offer on the table, so we can see how serious they are about making a deal.

Fight anti-Semitism, fight BDS, encourage your followers to engage rather than boycott Israel, and many (if not all) Jews will love you. 


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Bernie Sanders gets endorsement from first Muslim US congressman

Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, has endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“This is not a ‘no you can’t’ campaign. This is not a diminish your dreams kind of campaign. This is a ‘believe in the possibilities we can do together’ kind of campaign,” Ellison, D-Minn., said of the Sanders bid for presidency in introducing the candidate Sunday at the Black America Forum in Minneapolis.

“This is the right campaign if you believe this country can be better than it was,” he added while also praising Barack Obama as “a great president.”  He called Sanders, I-Vt., his “dear friend.”

Ellison asserted that Sanders “believes in true racial justice and equality.”

In endorsing Sanders over Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and senator, for the 2016 Democratic nomination, Ellison went against the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and prominent caucus member Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Son of George Soros launches Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC…and it’s not about Israel

A Jewish political action committee  (PAC) devoted solely to promoting progressive stances on domestic issues in the United States was launched April 21 by the nonprofit Bend the Arc. The new PAC is the first of its kind among this country’s more than 30 Jewish PACs, most of which focus on Israel and the Middle East. Serving as the chair of the PAC’s board is Alexander Soros, son of billionaire financier and Democratic mega-donor George Soros.

The Bend the Arc Jewish Action PAC launched with $200,000 in commitments, its director, Hadar Susskind, told the Journal; it has already thrown its support behind four Democratic congressional candidates in the November 2016 election — Yvette Clarke of New York, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Rep. Xavier Becerra of California and Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. 

Susskind said that the four congressional members were interviewed by Bend the Arc PAC before the group decided to support them. He added that Bend the Arc PAC plans to add more House candidates to its slate, as well as a few Senate candidates — but for now will stay out of the presidential race. “[That’s] not a reflection on [Hillary] Clinton or any other candidates,” Susskind said.

On the day of the launch, an opinion piece by Alexander Soros was published in Politico saying Bend the Arc PAC represents the political views of most American Jews, who, according to polling, are not concerned primarily with Israel and are among the most liberal groups in the United States.

“There are people, including lots of Jews, who are politically involved, who work through Emily’s List or Sierra Club or Move On, but none of them bring the Jewish community’s voice to the political table,” Susskind said, amplifying Soros’ piece on Politico. “People who are involved in the Jewish voice have, until now, only had the opportunity to do that on Israel and in Middle East policy.” Another Jewish PAC, the Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs (known as JACPAC), is based in Chicago and focuses on Israel as well as on domestic abortion rights and separation of church and state.

Even while polls show an increase in the number of Jews who have moved toward Republican Party identification since 2008, 61 percent of American Jews currently identify with the Democrats, while 29 percent identify with Republicans, and Susskind said he is confident the overwhelming support for Democratic politicians and policies will continue.

“You can go back every four years and, frankly, off-cycle years too, and see the same quotes from the same people who say, ‘Oh yeah, Jews are abandoning the Democrats, Jews are abandoning the Democrats.' It’s never proven to be true, and I don’t expect it to be any different this time,” Susskind said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate when anybody says, ‘Oh, I speak for the Jewish community.’ What we are representing, though, as demonstrated by poll after poll after poll, are the political views of the majority of the community.”

PACs have existed since the early 1940s, when supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Congress of Industrial Organizations. PACs are allowed to collect up to $5,000 from any single donor and may donate up to $5,000 to any single candidate, or $15,000 to any single party. Thousands of PACs exist today, and they’ve long drawn ire from many Democrats who say they play a corrosive role in American politics by flooding elections with money. 

Andrew Weinstein, a prominent Florida trial lawyer and Democratic fundraiser,

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Briefs: Muslim Congressman joins anti-Semitism panel; Kol tov at Kol Tikvah; Married rabbi and canto

The only Muslim member of Congress has joined its anti-Semitism task force, founded earlier this summer by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“I am honored to join the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force because it embodies the ideals and principles that have guided and shaped my life,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).

Congressional task forces, which conduct informational hearings, have no legislative role. The anti-Semitism task force is co-chaired by Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Ron Klein (D-Fla.)

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

SUV — Not Terrorists — Caused Hole at Kol Tikvah

A large hole in the sanctuary wall of Temple Kol Tikvah was not the result of a terrorist attack, as some members of the Woodland Hills congregation feared after the damage appeared last Thursday night.

It occurred when an SUV jumped the curb while heading east on Ventura Boulevard and careened into the northeast corner of the Reform synagogue sanctuary at 6:50 p.m. on Aug. 23.

“Our choir practice was starting at 7 p.m., but no one was in the sanctuary at the time,” Rabbi Jan Offel said.

The driver was taken to the hospital with unconfirmed injuries; the passenger exhibited minor wounds, was treated on scene and released.

Kol Tikvah is now working with Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine’s office to mitigate speeding on that portion of Ventura Boulevard (between De Soto Avenue and Winnetka Avenue), which has a posted limit of 40 mph.

Services will be held during the next few weeks, starting Friday night at 7 p.m., in the temple’s social hall. Offel expects the sanctuary to be repaired in time for High Holy Days, when Congregation Shir Ami meets there.

“We’re just really thankful that no one was killed or badly injured and that our insurance will be able to take care of things so that the sanctuary will look better than it was before,” Offel said.

— Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer

Israeli Children Heal at Camp Ramah

Nearly 100 Israeli children who have lost parents or siblings in the Israeli army spent two weeks at Camp Ramah this summer through Moreshet, a program piloted last year by the local chapter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Last summer, 30 kids spent time at Camp Ramah in Ojai, and this summer 48 kids came to Ojai, and another 50 spent time at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires in Massachusetts.

The program offers bar/bat mitzvah-aged kids from bereaved families a respite from the trauma at home by giving them a trip to remember. The California group bonded with their American peers at Ramah, and took a few days off from camp to go to Universal Studios, the Santa Monica Pier, the Third Street Promenade and Hollywood.

“These children and their families have paid the ultimate price for Eretz Yisrael,” said Marci Spitzer, Moreshet chair.

More than $400,000 was donated to support the program, including large donations from Nessah Synagogue of Beverly Hills and the Lodzer Organization, as well as single sponsorships from bar or bat mitzvah kids. Cheryl and Haim Saban fully sponsored the group in the Berkshires.

Spitzer says that more than 100 kids from bereaved military families have already approached FIDF about participating next year.

For more information, call (310) 305-4063, or visit http://www.fidf.org or http://www.ramah.org.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Schools Plan Kindergarten Fair

A kindergarten fair will introduce families to more than 40 private elementary schools in the Los Angeles area. Several Jewish schools will be among those represented: Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Emanuel Academy of Beverly Hills, Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am, Sinai Akiba Academy and Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School.

The fair will be held Wednesday, Sept. 19, from 6:30 — 8:30 p.m. at Oakwood School, 11230 Moorpark St., North Hollywood.

For more information, call (818) 752-4444.

— Derek Schlom, Contributing Writer

Federation Funds Increase Shul Safety

While Jews flock en masse to the gates of prayer during the High Holy Days, security personnel will be guarding the physical gates to many area synagogues. On Aug. 14, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles announced it will disburse $150,000 in grants to small synagogues (those with up to 250 member families) in order to help them ensure the safety of their congregants.

For more information on applying for a grant, call The Federation’s Planning and Allocations Department at (323) 761-8320.

— Danielle Berrin, Contributing Writer

Husband and Wife to Be Installed as Rabbi and Cantor

It’s rare that a synagogue needs both a rabbi and cantor at the same time. It’s even more rare that two people who share the same bed would fill the two positions.

Enter Ira Rosenfeld and his wife, Beth Wasserman Rosenfeld, who on Friday night will be installed as rabbi and cantor, respectively, at Congregation Beth Shalom of Santa Clarita Valley.

“We have a good chemistry,” Ira said. “It’s like in the ‘Rocky’ movie when Paulie asks Rocky why he likes his sister. ‘I don’t know. We fill in gaps.’ I’m a little more of the improv person, and she’s a little more organized.”

Before their calling to ministry, both dreamed of being entertainers. He tried his hand at acting; she at singing. They have served in Jewish ministry and education for the past 10 and 15 years, and they started their new jobs July 1 at the Conservative synagogue, which has about 220 families.

— BG

Prager’s presence no longer benefits Holocaust Museum

“Wise men be cautious with your words” is the admonition of the Talmud.

Even a wise man can say foolish things. Dennis Prager is no fool, but
he certainly made a foolish remark in insisting that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) take the oath of office on a Christian Bible.

Permit me to tell you why.

First of all, his point is undemocratic. Ellison was elected by his constituents who clearly knew that he was a Muslim and chose him despite his religion or regardless of it. Whom they elect is their constitutional right. Who is Prager to impose an extra democratic requirement for one to serve in Congress?

Can one call it chutzpah?

Secondly, Prager’s statement goes against more than 200 years of efforts by American Jews to eliminate a religious requirement for office. From the earliest days of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, American Jews have pushed that there be no religious requirement for office. George Washington’s letter to a Newport Rhode Island synagogue, which only repeats its letter to him, said it best: “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”

In the 19th century, a few states required that officeholders be practicing Protestants; New Hampshire did not repeal its test for religious office until 1877. The march of rights for Jews entailed that there be no religious test for office. Why impose one now?

Thirdly, while American values owe much to the values of the Hebrew Bible, the notion of Judeo-Christian tradition is a contemporary American invention, with the most limited of historical roots. Jewish theologian Arthur A. Cohen, of blessed memory, wrote an entire book titled, “The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition,” and any scholar of religion understands that the invention of this tradition was a generous effort by Christians to find a way to include Jews and Judaism to minimize their dissent from Christianity and to advocate their inclusion graciously.

Fourthly, his principle would disqualify many Jews from Congress. I know that I would not swear on a Christian Bible. It is not an American symbol for me. It is a religious symbol. I remember the howls of protest and disappointment that followed Henry Kissinger’s swearing in ceremony on a Christian Bible as the first secretary of state of “Jewish origin,” to use his term of the time.
Fifthly, Prager leaves us unprepared for the American future.

Jews, who constitute 3 percent of the American people, were considered for most of the past half century 33.3 percent of the American religious experience, and this reflected itself in civic ceremonies, such as presidential inaugurations, when priests, pastors and rabbis were invited to participate.

Those times have passed.

The United States has become more diverse; Jews are a diminishing percentage of the American population, and American religion will have to reflect changing demographic realities and include Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as Islam and many other religions, including many so-called new religions. Americans have a stake in including these more recent immigrants in the American family.

It would be unwise of us to replicate the European condition, where Muslims are in France but not of France, not shaped by French values, not integrated into French society. This is a considerable source of tension throughout Europe, where Muslims constitute a significant percentage of the population and where they are maintained as a nonassimilated, nonacculturated part of the society.

As to his membership on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, appointment to the council is by the president of the United States and not the council or its chairman. The president alone has the power to remove a member of the council.

The value of a presidential appointment board is the prestige of such an appointment. The cost is that allegiance is owed to the president and not necessarily to the museum.

It is not incumbent on any member of the council to adhere to the museum’s mission nor to participate in its meetings or contribute to its work. The best of the appointees embrace the museum’s worthy mission and seek the appointment because they value its work.

Prager does not speak in the name of the council. He speaks in his own name and for the causes he embraces.

Nevertheless, the criticism Prager has provoked poses an important challenge for the Holocaust Council.

On the one hand, there is a fundamental problem in presuming that any member of the council speaks in the name of the council or in the name of the museum, and that the Holocaust Museum is responsible or should be responsible for his or her words. Such an assumption would preclude scholars and poets, playwrights and writers from serving on the council, because no one of stature would want to clear their writings with the museum.

On the other hand, Prager has clearly embarrassed himself. He misrepresented the oath of office for Congress. He displayed unbridled audacity. He was wrong.

Prager has also embarrassed the museum. He may wonder whether he can be of any future service to the museum and hence consider resigning from its governing council. Ironically, he has yet to attend even one meeting.

I for one would not ask for his resignation. I would defend the principle that no member be presumed to speak for the museum unless they are truly speaking in the name of the museum by its authorized processes.

Without this protection, men and women of talent and dedication, of provocative views and innovative scholarship would not contemplate membership on the council, for it would silence their voices and that would truly be shameful.

And yet, Prager can no longer do the museum any good. Having someone on the council who was so foolishly intolerant and stubbornly unapologetic will undermine the museum’s message and mission. So if he has embraced the museum’s mission and not just the prestige of a presidential appointment, he should leave.

Michael Berenbaum was a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council from 1998-2003. He is the author of the “Report to the President of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust,” which initiated the Holocaust Museum. A professor of theology, he is also director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust, at the University of Judaism, where he will appear in dialogue with Dennis Prager on March 5.

Prager shouldn’t lose his museum post

For decrying a Muslim congressman who wished to take a ceremonial oath of office on a Quran instead of a Bible, should KRLA-AM radio host Dennis Prager be punished?

Specifically, should he be kicked off the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council?
That is what a diverse range of Prager critics — from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to former New York Mayor Ed Koch — have demanded.

Someone outside the Jewish community might not grasp what serious business this is. In our crazy, mixed-up Jewish world, with the Holocaust being the object of veneration that it unfortunately has become, to be elevated to the U.S.

Holocaust Memorial Council is the equivalent of honorary knighthood.

However absurd the symbolism, revoking Prager’s Holocaust credentials would be a way of revoking his status as a communal leader. Which would be a sad mistake.

For Prager is one of a handful of America’s most valuable Jews. Why? Because of the role he has taken as a foremost Jewish spokesman for the Bible. I don’t mean he’s some sort of radio preacher. But when appropriate, in his daily discussions with callers on political and cultural subjects, he often brings in a scriptural perspective — without apology, always with a light touch, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

That is what it means to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), as God commanded us to be. However, it’s rare indeed to hear a Jew on the radio or on TV invoking actual Jewish values before the world.

This explains the Quran controversy, in which Prager has objected less to Rep Keith Ellison’s (D-Minn.) photo-op swearing-in on the Muslim holy book than to his not swearing on the Bible.

Admittedly, Prager’s emphasis on the Bible has a downside. For one thing, strangely, he argued that even a Jewish officeholder should swear on the holy Bible, including the Christian Bible. But while Muslims revere the personalities in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, Jews do not revere the principle figure in the Christian Bible, Jesus.

Equally eccentric, Prager’s personal biblical theology holds the five books of Moses to be God’s word, while relegating the ancient oral Torah that explains Scripture to the status of mere rabbinic opinion.

Recently, at the Orthodox Union’s West Coast convention in Los Angeles, he participated in an amiable debate with a local Orthodox rabbi. Prager detailed those Jewish laws deriving from oral tradition that he finds irrational or irrelevant. The rabbi responded graciously but, alas, in piecemeal rather than philosophical terms. I’d love to debate Prager on this myself. I would show that the very essence of Judaism is not the written but the oral Torah.

And yet, Prager’s emphasis on Scripture may work to his advantage as a Jewish “priest.” It helps him clarify and simplify the important debate going on in American culture about the authority of biblical teaching.

Another highly valuable Jewish radio commentator, Michael Medved (who likewise may be heard on KRLA), has admirably summarized that debate. It turns upon the question of whether secular culture should be the gauge by which biblical religion is judged or the other way around.

Apart from these general considerations, Prager also makes a defensible point about the Quran. Again, we come back to the Bible. Prager, in effect, asked if the Quran deserves positive recognition of the kind it would receive in a swearing-in ceremony, the same way the Bible does. The answer is no. The Muslim scriptures do not deserve that recognition.

That is because what has made America so special, so attractive to immigrants of all faiths and nationalities, may be traced back to a unique blending of Christian and Jewish beliefs. In one’s personal spiritual life, combining traditions may be suspect. It certainly is in Jewish theology.

But in American history, it resulted in something wonderful. For about 12 centuries, from the time Christianity entered into political power with the rule of Emperor Constantine until the founding of the British colonies in North America, Christianity was not notable as a force for moral good in the world.

That changed with the coming of American democracy, a most enthusiastically Christian country with a secular government. Goodness seemed to reenter the history of Christianity on the public stage. Since then, morally speaking, Christianity has been getting better and better.

What changed in the religion to produce the miracle of the American founding?

Answer: American history has consistently highlighted Christianity’s Hebrew heritage. As historian Robert Royal writes in his excellent book, “The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West” (Encounter, 2006):
“The Puritans who fled the king’s persecution in 17th century England arrived in America and consciously compared their freedom in the New World to the [Jews’ in] the Promised Land…. When the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the first modern democratic constitution, were written in 1638, they did not refer to Greece, Rome, John Locke’s works (he was only 6 years old at the time), the Enlightenment (a century in the future) or any of the other commonly cited sources for the idea.

“They were inspired by Thomas Hooker, a preacher, who pointed out to the Hartford General Assembly God’s commandment in Deuteronomy that having left Egypt and now being about to enter the Promised Land, the Israelites choose their own judges…. References to the Jewish Exodus as parallel to the American situation were frequent in the writings of the American founders over the next two centuries.”

The precious gift of America was determined by a fusion of Christian and Jewish ideals, the Christian Bible with the Hebrew Bible. The Quran played no role whatsoever.

No one — including Prager, as he has since clarified his position — would want to see a congressman legally forbidden from swearing on any holy book he may choose.

However, the spectacle of Ellison with his Quran is at best confusing, at worst an affront. It should be recognized as such.

Prager merely reminded of us these truths. In the almost total absence of other prominent Jewish voices of any denomination defending the relevance of the Hebrew Bible to our public and private lives, I’m proud of and grateful for him.


David Klinghoffer is a senior fellow at the Herzog Wine Cellars