Israeli left seeks to regain appeal with focus on economy


In decline since the peace it sought with the Palestinians unraveled into violence, Israel's Labor Party looks set to regain some lost ground in next week's election after waging an economy-focused campaign.

Opinion polls forecast an easy victory for conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tuesday's vote, which may push Israel further to the right, if as widely expected, he then enlists pro-settler and religious allies to his coalition.

But center-left Labor, bolstered by public discontent with high living costs and the flagging political fortunes of the once-governing centrist Kadima party, seems poised for its strongest parliamentary showing in years.

Netanyahu has made Israel's security the main campaign issue of his right-wing Likud party, fielding a joint list of candidates with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party.

He has cited Iran's nuclear ambitions, civil war in Syria and a new Islamist government in Egypt as reasons why, as Likud's campaign posters say, Israel needs a “strong” leader.

While Netanyahu plays his security card, a revamped Labor Party is using economic and social issues to try to claw its way back, focusing on Israeli concerns about rising living costs.

Opinion polls forecast a respectable second-place finish for the center-left party, now focused on pocketbook rather than peace issues, with talks on Palestinian statehood frozen since 2010 in a dispute over Israel's settlement-building policies.

Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said Labor was also benefiting from a steep decline in support for Kadima, which won the most assembly seats at the last election in 2009, but failed to retain power.

Kadima was outmaneuvered by Netanyahu, who became prime minister after drawing a clutch of right-wing and religious parties into a coalition with a big parliamentary majority.

Diskin attributed much of Kadima's election success in 2009 to former Labor voters. “They are now returning to the Labor Party,” he said.

Some opinion polls predict that Kadima, now led by Shaul Mofaz, a dour ex-defense minister, will win no seats next week.

The party, a relative newcomer to politics and lacking a historical power base, was founded in 2005 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who quit the Likud after a rebellion in its ranks over Israel's unilateral pullout from Gaza that year.

DOMINATION

Labor, now led by a former journalist, Shelly Yachimovich, dominated the first three decades of Israel's statehood and forged interim peace deals with the Palestinians in the 1990s.

But an ultranationalist assassin killed its leader, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995, Netanyahu won an election the following year after Palestinian suicide bombings, and a Labor return to power in 1999 was cut short when Ehud Barak failed to clinch a final peace accord and a Palestinian uprising erupted.

“Over years, the left was challenged by realities, not only by right-wing Israeli forces but by Middle East realities, and it never rose to the challenge,” said political commentator Ari Shavit, who writes for the left-wing Haaretz daily.

“It is perceived by most Israelis as being totally irrelevant,” he told Reuters.

However, unprecedented social protests in Israel in mid-2011 when hundreds of thousands took to the streets angered by high housing costs and soaring prices, gave Labor an opportunity.

Its election campaign has homed in on a struggling middle class. Under a photo of Yachimovich and the slogan “It can be better here”, the party's website features a link to an economic plan it promises will narrow the gap between rich and poor.

It proposes higher taxes for the rich and for corporations and faster construction of affordable public housing.

Opinion polls show Labor taking up to 20 of parliament's 120 seats compared with about 34 for Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu. Labor won just 13 in 2009, a tally reduced to eight when Barak, now defense minister, and four others left the party in 2011.

DEFICIT

Labor latched onto some bad financial news on Monday to contest Netanyahu's claim to be a skilful economic manager.

“Tell me how much longer he can keep calling himself Mr Economy,” Yachimovich said after figures showed Israel's budget deficit had risen to 4.2 percent of gross domestic product last year, double the original estimate.

Labor candidate Erel Margalit, referring to Israel's high-tech prowess, also hammered home the economic message, saying: “Netanyahu turned the start-up nation into a stagnant nation.”

Unlike other center-left leaders, Yachimovich has pledged not to join a Netanyahu-led coalition.

Factions to Netanyahu's left also include two new centrist parties – Hatnua, led by Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and ex-Kadima chief, and Yesh Atid, headed by TV talk show host Yair Lapid.

Opinion polls predict eight seats for Hatnua and 11 for Yesh Atid. Livni's attempts to entice Yachimovich and Yesh Atid into a center-left alliance failed, perhaps due to clashing egos.

Taking his own swipe at Netanyahu's economic policies, Lapid provided a bright moment in a generally lackluster campaign when he publicly drew a red line through a cartoon depiction of a bomb listing price rises that have hit the middle class.

The stunt mimicked Netanyahu's own sketching of a red line through a cartoon bomb at the United Nations in September, when he said Iran was moving closer to a nuclear weapons capability.

While Labor, Yesh Atid and Hatnua compete for the political center, the small Meretz party carries a torch for the left.

“We're not ashamed, we are a left-wing social democratic party, we are proud to be called left-wing,” Nitzan Horowitz, a Meretz legislator, told Reuters.

The party, led by Zahava Gal-On, has three parliamentary seats and opinion polls show it may double that total next week.

Horowitz outlined the “three pillars” of Meretz's platform as separating religion and state, ensuring social justice and promoting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Meretz opposes settlement activity and says Israel should immediately recognize a Palestinian state along the lines that existed before the Jewish state captured the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

Additional reporting by Rinat Harash, Lianne Gross and Rami Amichai; Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Opinion: How the contemporary left can reclaim its moral authority


After the 1967 Six-Day War, much of the radical left in the West predicated its militant anti-Zionism on the illusory notion that the Palestinians represented a revolutionary and “progressive” vanguard that could one day mobilize the Arab masses in the cause of social revolution.

But in 2011, when revolution really spread to the Middle East, Palestine was scarcely on the agenda. Not only that, but the Palestinian national movement, far from representing social revolution, has been increasingly dominated by religious fundamentalist terrorism, whose values are completely antithetical in all respects to those of Western liberalism.

Yet, the Palestinian “myth” of liberation still lives on as if nothing has changed.

Significantly, Israeli society continues to move forward as an increasingly successful, economically liberalized and modern “start-up” nation. Yet, its very tangible achievements are simply shrugged off by those left-liberals who either ignore the moral and political bankruptcy of Palestinian nationalism or blame its abject failure on Israel and the United States.

In my recent book “From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, The Jews and Israel,” I addressed this Manichean stance at some length, examining the refusal of the left to engage in any substantive critique of radical Islam even as it indulges in the most hyperbolic clichés about Israel.

Moreover, whenever the subject of contemporary anti-Semitism also is thrown into this boiling pot, an infantile counter-accusation is usually evoked—that one is cynically “stifling criticism” of Israel or dishonestly playing the “Zionist card.” In other words, any critic who detects even a hint of anti-Jewish bias in the venomous demonization of Israel as “Nazi,” “fascist” or a “racist apartheid state” par excellence is assumed to be protesting in bad faith or acting as a venal apologist for Israel.

If anything can stifle genuine debate, it is surely such unjust accusations. They invariably shut down any serious discussion of the very real anti-Semitic legacies, the stigmatizing vocabulary and paranoid conspiracy theories so widely prevalent today among many Islamists, Marxists and supposedly “liberal” adversaries of modern Zionism.

There is something profoundly dishonest about reducing anti-Semitism to a discourse about “immunizing” Israel from legitimate criticism. Among other things, it assumes that Jews actually have the power to silence critics of Israel. Yet, it should be obvious that such “criticism,” far from being silenced, is in fact rampant in the Western media. The appalling fact is that obvious falsehoods such as branding Israel as an “apartheid state” or trying to demonize it through the “Nazi” analogy have become rather fashionable in much contemporary Western discourse.

Equally, when self-proclaimed “progressives” work overtime to turn Israel into a pariah state or to dismantle it, they are hardly being “progressive,” let alone original. Worse still, they echo in a sometimes ominous manner the brutal language of the Nazi campaign in the 1930s to make Europe judenrein (Jew-free).

As for the Islamists (whether in Iran or those currently riding high in the Arab world), they have never disguised their relentless pursuit of the “eliminationist” option—to “cleanse” the Middle East definitively of the “Jewish cancer”—which is exactly how Israel is currently described by the ayatollahs in Tehran.

Yet, incredibly, there are leftists—including so-called Jewish “progressives”—who either remain silent about the enormity of this genocidal language or malevolently suggest that Israel is deliberately exaggerating the Iranian threat to justify future aggressions of its own.

As I showed in my recent book, the prevailing defamation of Zionism has its roots in the campaign of the Soviet Union and its Third World allies that cynically manipulated “anti-racist” catchwords to stigmatize and morally discredit Zionism in the international arena.

It was the totalitarian Soviet propaganda apparatus that first invented the myth of an essential ideological unity between Zionism and racism—a canard eagerly embraced in the 1970s by Yasser Arafat, many Arab states, nonaligned Third World countries, black radicals and much of the Western New Left. Already at that time, Zionist Jews came to be seen by communists, leftists and Islamists as embodying an immensely powerful, intangible, occult form of global power threatening to dominate the whole world. This pseudo-Marxist and anti-American variation on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” produced a particularly vicious mutation of fascist conspiracy theories, which during the past decade have experienced a spectacular revival on the anti-Zionist left.

Such mythologizing of Jewish power lies at the heart of the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” which is ultimately not so different from the old. Already in the mid-19th century, socialists as diverse as Karl Marx, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Mikhail Bakunin had postulated the existence of a universal, anti-social Jewish mercantile “essence” that had supposedly seized control of the capitalist world and would therefore have to be destroyed. Their heirs today have embraced the phantasmagoric view that humanity can be redeemed (and peace finally achieved in the Middle East) only if the world is physically liberated from the new “Jewish” yoke—that of a demonic American-Zionist-Israeli conspiracy.

If the contemporary left seriously wishes to reclaim its own moral credibility and political relevance, it will have to engage in some serious soul-searching and definitively free itself from the incubus of such perverse fantasies. Only in this way can it hope to reconnect to an authentic emancipatory vision of human liberation.

(Robert S. Wistrich is the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of the newly published “From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, The Jews and Israel,” University of Nebraska Press, 2012.)

How Hollywood’s biggest politicos leaned right, not left


Ronald Reagan, Shirley Temple, Sony Bono, George Murphy and Arnold Schwarzenegger are all entertainers who launched their political careers in California, and they are all Republicans. Indeed, aside from Al Franken, no prominent Democratic officeholder on the scene today started out in the entertainment industry. Yet, ironically, a myth that began in the McCarthy era — and persists today — holds that Hollywood celebrities on the left play a powerful role in American politics.

“Quite candidly, when Hollywood speaks, the world listens,” Sen. Arlen Specter once observed. “Sometimes when Washington speaks, the world snoozes.”

The myth is misbegotten, or so argues film historian and USC professor Steven J. Ross in “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics” (Oxford University Press, $29.95), a benchmark study of the role that Hollywood stars and moguls have played in American politics. Like Neal Gabler’s classic “An Empire of Their Own,” Ross’ book allows us look behind the curtain and to glimpse the inner workings of the entertainment industry.

Hollywood began to figure in politics as early as 1918, when federal agents reported that movie stars were playing “an active part in the Red movement.” But, from the start and throughout its history, activists on the left have always been less successful than those on the right. “It was the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, that established the first political beachhead in Hollywood,” Ross explains. “The Hollywood left has the political glitz, but the Hollywood right sought, won, and exercised electoral power.”

Ross surveys nearly a century of Hollywood history through the lens of politics. Of necessity, he drills down into the nuance and detail of corporate and union politics in the movie business. But he also comes into tight focus on a few of the more famous faces. Charlie Chaplin, for example, is singled out as the first star to strike a political stance — an explicitly anti-fascist stance. “No silent star,” Ross writes, “brought political messages to the mass public more effectively than the man millions of moviegoers affectionately called ‘Charlie.’ ”

But Ross also reminds us that Chaplin was hounded by right-wing activists, both in Hollywood and in federal law enforcement, throughout his long career, and he was ultimately driven into exile as much for his politics as for his supposed promiscuity. “You are the one artist of the theatre,” observed the writer Lion Feuchtwanger, a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, “who will go down in American history as having aroused the political antagonism of a whole nation.”

By contrast, studio mogul Louis B. Mayer, one of the founders of MGM, is singled out as the archetype of Hollywood Republicanism. He was hailed by Rabbi Edgar Magnin as “an ardent enemy of pseudo-liberals, Reds, and pinks,” and Ross himself credits Mayer with teaching the Republican Party “how to use radio, film, and movie stars to sell candidates and ideas to a mass public.” At a time when Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel were campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith, for example, Mayer served as executive director of the Southern California campaign committee for Herbert Hoover.

“Hollywood Right and Left” does not overlook the McCarthy era, although it is only one episode in a much grander saga. But Ross approaches the subject from a new and illuminating angle by focusing on the plight of Edward G. Robinson, an early and committed anti-fascist at a time when Irving Thalberg was comforting his boss, Louis B. Mayer, with a rosy report from Nazi Germany: “Hitler and Hitlerism will pass,” Thalberg said. “[T]he Jews will still be there.” Robinson, by contrast, worked with other stars to organize a boycott of Nazi Germany in 1938, an effort that was not popular among isolationists in America.

“[The] movie colony may root for the Jews all they wish, but don’t think that the people of the United States are going to fall in with your plans,” one estranged movie fan wrote. “Those of us who know World History and the Bible know that the Jews have always been in trouble up to their ears.”

Robinson, who was condemned as “Yiddish riff raff” by another letter writer, was repaid for his activism with surveillance by the FBI during the war, a place on the blacklist, and repeated appearances before the House Un-American Activities Committee when it targeted Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “Outraged by the smear campaign against him,” Ross writes, “Robinson spent the next three years of his life, and over $100,000 of his own money, trying to clear his name and resume his career.” Ultimately, he was reduced to abasing himself as “an unsuspecting agent of the Communist conspiracy,” although he refused to name names. Ironically, he was “restored to semi-respectability” only when Cecil B. DeMille, “one of Hollywood’s most prominent anti-communists,” cast Robinson in “The Ten Commandments” in 1956.

The excesses of the McCarthy era eventually subsided, but Ross makes the point that the balance of power in Hollywood remained on the right as Murphy and Reagan used the denunciation of supposed “Red Menace” in Hollywood to launch their own political careers. Reagan, of course, has been credited with nothing less than a revolution in American politics, while Jane Fonda, an activist on the left in the same era, crashed and burned. Her counterpart on the right, at least in terms of the visibility and intensity of his role in politics, is Charlton Heston, whom Ross describes as “the first prominent practitioner of image politics,” if only because Heston played not only Moses, but also “three saints, three presidents, and two geniuses.”

Fonda “demonstrated that celebrities could use their star power to draw attention to controversial political issues,” Ross explains. “Her subsequent vilification revealed how the public often view such activism, especially left activism, with suspicion and cynicism.” The woman who came to be known as “Hanoi Jane,” Ross points out, “paid a high price for her activism.”

The bottom line, according to Ross, is that one wing of the entertainment industry seems to have connected with the hearts and minds of the American electorate, and the other has not. “From Louis B. Mayer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Hollywood right has told a simple but compelling story of American triumphalism: America is the greatest nation in the world. What else do you need to know?” The Hollywood left, by contrast, has been undercut by its willingness to look behind the façade. “Few citizens want to hear a Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty, or Sean Penn point out what is wrong with the United States.” In that sense, Ross’s even-handed but eye-opening book serves as a corrective to some very famous entertainers who simply failed to understand how they come across to their audience.

Wild Wild Left Coast


California is defined, both geographically and psychologically, by the fact that the state sits on the ragged edge of the continent — “an ambiguous portion of the whole state,” as Philip L. Fradkin puts it in “The Left Coast: California on the Edge” (University of California Press: $29.95), a superb work of art and text that seeks to understand what we really mean when we casually refer to “the Coast.”

Philip L. Fradkin is a veteran newspaperman and a distinguished historian.  His son, Alex L. Fradkin, is a gifted photographer. Together, they trekked along the eleven-hundred miles of California coast that stretches from the Oregon state line to the Mexican border — “or, to put it in terms more expressive of its great latitudinal reach, from a dense, dripping rain forest to an open, scratchy desert” — and together they describe their journey in words and text in “The Left Coast.”  It is, at once, a memoir, a work of investigative journalism, and a portfolio of fine art, all of which is sharply focused on the California shoreline.

The eyes of the father and the son, the historian and the photographer, fall on scenes of raw natural beauty as well as industrial exploitation, and they ponder “the occupations and constructs” of the human beings who live and work within sight of water. Fradkin père provides the narrative, which is mostly reportorial, often nostalgic, and sometimes rhapsodic, and Fradkin fils contributes the images, which are rich in color and detail but also candid and sometimes brutal in their depiction of coastal California.

Thus, for example, an artfully-composed photograph taken at Gaviota State Park shows the diagonal slash of the rock face as it slices into the turbulent waves — a scene of violent beauty — but another kind of violence is also on display: the tattoo-colored graffiti that has been applied to the naked rock in the right-hand corner, a red heart and a single taunting word in blue: “Relax.”

Indeed, the young Fradkin wants to remind us that the coastal experience in California means much more than postcard shots.  Thus, for example, the photograph he has chosen to symbolize Venice Beach is an interior shot of a tattoo parlor, where a shirtless young man is adorning his body.  He ventured into the netherworld under the Great Highway that crosses Ocean Beach in San Francisco and found a man named Eli who is sheltering underneath the brutal concrete beams. And when he consents to show us the Golden Gate Bridge — surely among the most photographed sights in the world — he chooses a photograph taken on a foggy day when only the steelwork, iron-frame staircases and electrical cables at ground level are visible.

The older Fradkin strikes some of the same notes.  He reminds us that Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived briefly in Monterey in 1879, remarked on “the haunting presence of the ocean” but also noticed the diversity of the local populace, including “the straight-laced Methodists in Pacific Grove,” as Fradkin puts it, “the pungent Chinese fishing settlement next door, the ‘mere bankrupt village’ of Monterey just to the east, the predominance of Spanish being spoken in the streets, an economy based on credit advanced by ‘Jew storekeepers,’ ‘greedy [Anglo] land-thieves,’ the ruined Carmel mission, and the forest fires, one of which Steven accidentally set when he ignited the lichen hanging on a street to see if it burned.”

Philip Fradkin’s text is organized and presented according to a series of themes: “The Wild Coast,” “the Tourist Coast,” “The Industrial Coast,” “The Military Coast,” and so on.  Alex Fradkin’s photographs complement his father’s topical approach, but he has a distinctive and sometimes idiosyncratic vision of his own. Thus, for example, he chooses to include comely young women in several of the photographs — a bass-player in a punk surf band with Half Moon Bay behind her, a female sailor in fatigues on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, a reporter for a celebrity TV news show amid the ruins of a church in fire-ravaged Malibu — but they are always presented with certain dark irony and certainly not as cheesecake.

Alex contributes a short afterword that illuminates his approach to illustrating his father’s text: “I was subject to the capriciousness of the coast and what it intended,” he explains. “And what I found was beauty and tranquility, death and danger, which occur close together on the coastal edge.”  Philip acknowledges that each element of the book stands on its own, but the ambition of the father-and-son team was to capture “the shadings and extremes of coastal complexities.”

This ambition has been achieved in the pages of “The Left Coast.”  At some moments, and in many ways, the Fradkins’ beautiful book reminds me of a great and enduring masterpiece, “California and the West,” which combines the photographs of Edward Weston and the prose of his young wife, Charis Wilson.  Indeed, the two books belong on the same shelf as the alpha and omega of the ongoing effort of writers and artists to capture the California experience. And I can bestow no greater praise than that.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal.

Was Judaism a color on Rothko’s palette?


Like many people of my generation, I first grooved on Mark Rothko’s paintings at Washington, D.C.’s Phillips Collection in the 1960s. The museum’s founder, Duncan Phillips, an early Rothko patron, had assembled four sublime paintings in a small room (approximately 13-by-24 feet) — what the artist said was “in a scale of normal living” — enabling the viewer to be saturated by the luminous colors of the paintings. The reverential mood of that very special room (recently reinstalled) presaged later assemblages of Rothko paintings, most notably the artist’s late work for Houston’s eponymous Rothko Chapel. At Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, Chief Curator Paul Schimmel has just brought out eight of the museum’s 10 Rothko paintings in an “intimate” installation. Here’s your chance to ponder the layered meanings of all that reverence with which many of us have addressed the artist’s work. And it’s also an opportunity to consider whether there’s anything especially Jewish about the majestic works of the artist, who was born in 1903 as Marcus Rothkovich in Dvinsk (now Latvia), Russia.

Despite my long interest in those points at which “art” and “Jewish” intersect, and plenty of immersion in the meditative qualities of Rothko’s work, I considered my admiration for Rothko’s art to be at some distance from my Jewish sensibilities. True, Rothko’s 1930s associations were with various New York — mostly Jewish — artists (such as the unjustly ignored Ben-Zion), many of whom he gradually outgrew. In line with the political commitments of so many of his cultural colleagues, Rothko was engaged by the generally leftist political issues of the 1930s and ’40s. But it’s evident from both his writings and his work that his major involvement was with his painting. If we are to believe his various comments and those of collectors and critics who knew him well, Rothko really cared about the way in which viewers saw his work. That’s different from the assertive and even macho image that we associate with so many of his fellow abstract expressionists, with their strong sense of a public-be-damned arrogance, leaving museum curators, collectors and critics as the powerful intermediaries who tried to make this crazy — “my child could do it” — art palatable to a skeptical public.

It’s interesting, therefore, to consider Rothko, writing to critic Katherine Kuh in 1954, arguing that he put his trust in the psyche of the sensitive viewer who is free from conventional patterns of thought. He didn’t know how a viewer would use his pictures to meet the needs of his spirit, but he was certain that when the viewer had both needs and a spirit, there could be a true exchange.

It’s in this unusual concern for his audience — looking for “a consummated experience between picture and onlooker” — that I find Rothko most persuasively Jewish, as well as oddly apart from his contemporaries. Having been subjected to a rigorous Orthodox Jewish education prior to his immigration to the United States at the age of 10, Rothko was probably the best Jewishly-educated of his painter colleagues, while avoiding the pretentious pseudo-intellectual Jewish pronouncements of Barnett Newman.

But whatever Rothko’s Jewish commitments, they weren’t clearly evident in his paintings. As (Jewish) critic, Dore Ashton, has written, he was “no stranger to the history of the world in which suffering predominates,” but somehow sublimated the specificity of his reaction to the events of his day into something more universal, using themes from ancient Greek tragedy. This reflects a concern with the validation of painting itself — in that sense very much attuned to the then-new “triumph of American painting” (critic Irving Sandler’s term) — rather than with meaning in or of painting. Art, Rothko wrote, is “an adventure into an unknown world.” He worried about telling the public “how the pictures should be looked at and what to look for. While on the surface this may seem an obliging and helpful thing to do, the real result is the paralysis of the mind and the imagination.”

And yet, inevitably, there are interpretations that have worked in contradiction to the artist’s assertions. After all, who’s to say that we need to believe the artist, or that he ought to have the last word. I first encountered this years ago while reading that Rothko’s 1950’s vast layered pools of indescribable, sometimes murky, colors might be “brooding Hebraic” paintings without recognizing the potentially anti-Semitic thrust of such critical comments, perhaps meant positively. More recently, Matthew Baigell, probably the most astute (and most Jewishly educated) scholar currently writing about contemporary artists and their Jewishness, argues that, having come of age in “an era of rampant anti-Semitism in America and because of his desire to appear as a modern artist without parochial attachments, Rothko simply could not proclaim connections with ancient Israelite memories or archetypes, but could do with ancient Greek ones, instead. It was an old Jewish habit, but for Rothko the trials of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon substituted for the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem.”

It’s true that Rothko spoke and wrote of “tragedy” and the “tragic” — suggesting that “perhaps the artist is a prophet.” Like most Jews of his generation, he was also deeply affected by the sense of helplessness at watching the unfolding of events in Europe during the 1930s and the abyss of the Holocaust. Professor Baigell contends that “if we assume the Holocaust was a devastating experience for Rothko both while it was happening and in retrospect, then his paintings, certainly those of the early and middle 1940s, when there were still suggestions of legible imagery, can be read as his profoundly tragic responses — as a Jewish artist — to the Holocaust.

Those earlier works aren’t the ones before which we reverentially melt in the various installations that, since 1960, have sought to give us more Phillips Collection experiences. Perhaps the artist instinctively understood that he could reach us more directly via the simply visual, rather than through majestic traditional classical themes reminding us that our familiarity with Edith Hamilton’s mythological is sketchy, at best. It’s too bad that those earlier Rothko paintings are less familiar to the general public, because they serve as important, perhaps more readable, touchstones for understanding the artist’s early sense of responsibility.

MOCA is taking on a gutsy task in suggesting that a handful of paintings from the permanent collection can be worthy of a special exhibition. The installation re-exposes us to the familiar Rothko of lush and deeply saturated, endlessly-layered, colors. These meditative, luminous, and numinous works, spanning the years 1947 to 1960, suggest movement toward a post-Holocaust Jewishness, one that the artist may have instinctively felt, prior to his death in 1970.
Rothko’s late work isn’t so much about some dark and mysterious Jewish sensibility as about a kind of freedom from dogma and cant: the mystery of clarity.

Letters to the Editor


The Left

Gary Wexler (“Left-Leaning Jewish Groups Out-of-Touch Now,” Aug. 4) ought not to be surprised by the wrath of his former compatriots in last week’s Letters to the Editor. It is the standard fury against an apostate.

Instead, he is to be commended for doing what too few of us are ready to do: bravely changing his views as a result of new facts. What Wexler’s new critics miss is what is obvious to the vast majority of Israel’s supporters: Those who attack the Jewish state are not doing it for land or to redress some grievance. Rather, they simply wish to destroy Israel and all of its inhabitants.

If the Jewish left in this country chooses to continue to live in a fantasy world, insisting that it knows better than the Israeli public and its elected leaders on how to respond to its foes, it will simply remain of no interest to the rest of us.

Mel Aranoff
Valley Glen

Although I appreciate and value Gary Wexler’s commitment to Israel, I was astounded by his lack of understanding of the situation, especially his comments on the left and the supposed lack of dialogue partners.

I have no fantasies about the horrors of suicide bombers and real terrorists on the Palestinian and Arab side. But I am also harboring no illusions about our part in the scenario.

Again, sadly, and with a few exceptions, there has been a true lack of leadership and vision of the future on all fronts. History has shown that a guerilla war cannot be won.

I can see no good at all coming out of the current situation. Perhaps the problem of the left is not their vision but rather that they have not spoken loud enough for us to hear.

David Greenfield
Los Angeles

Who Is a Jew?

We mourn Michael Levin (“Who Is a Jew?” Aug. 11), an American Jew who understood like thousands of volunteers before him that Jews will no longer go quietly to the gas chambers and the crematoria or the other places of extinction which the terrorists have planned for us.

I was 19 on June 6, 1967. And I instantly understood that if Israel lost that war, there could be another Holocaust. So I volunteered. But not for myself — for the 6 million who could not and for the Jewish children not yet born.And so I consider the sacrifice of Michael Levin. And I contrast it with those Jews who blindly protect every last civil liberty of our enemies (Skokie, Guantanamo, NSA phone eavesdropping, etc.). And it makes me wonder if they have forgotten the 6 million and the suffering.

Michael I. Brooks
West Hills

Take Chance

My son, David Landau, is about to join Nativ 26. He and four other former Far West Region United Synagogue Youth Regional Board members will join the almost 100 USYers nationally for the largest group from Far West in the history of this College Leadership Program in Israel. Thanks to J.J. Jonah who is our USY Israel shaliach this and next year!

I told my children since they were young that as Ms. Frizzle said on the “Magic School Bus”: “take chances and make mistakes.” Going to Israel is always a chance but so is flying on an airplane as we have been reminded last week.

A victory to terrorists is to live in fear. A victory for us who love freedom and Israel is to choose to travel, live and learn in Israel, is to participate on programs. I look forward to the drive to the airport with tears of joy sending my son David off with his friends and exclaiming a n’siah tovah, a wonderful and safe trip and year in Israel. And also maybe l’shana habaa B’Yerushalayim.

Diane Roosth
Venice

Mel Gibson

We all regress. We all have regions inside of us, ugly, sometimes barely repressed aspects of us that contain the worst kinds of thinking, some taught to us from our environment, some we teach ourselves. Those ugly regions, however, do not define who we are. When they come up, they are not our “true self.” (Hush Falls Over Jewish Hollywood Post-‘Mad Mel,” Aug. 4)

We are defined, rather, in how we struggle against those destructive aspects of the self. No person lives without brokenness and the shadow self, but not every person gives in to that abyss and lives according to it.

The good people among us are ashamed of ourselves when it erupts. The true self –religiously speaking, the self most aware of the soul and the Divine within us — works hard to contain those destructive aspects, to neutralize them, to sublimate them.

I know that when people drink, when they are angry, when they are frightened and ashamed, they regress. Spouses, when they argue viciously, do this. Basically good people who learned hateful things, or teach themselves hateful things about others, say things that do not define who they are but rather tell us about destructive parts of the self they are trying to control.

Mel Gibson has apologized for his remarks and says he did not mean them. I take that to mean that the conscious man conducting his life does not operate according to those prejudices that erupted from a deep and disturbing region of his being. They are buried deep within, and in an atavistic, regressive, drunken and frightened moment, they burst out.

He should introspect and apologize, as he has done, but he should not be reviled or banned. Jewish ethics teach us that he should be helped to repent and repair.As a great Jew once taught, the one who has never sinned, let him throw the first stone. Another great Jew said what you don’t want done to you don’t do other others.

Imagine your worst, most regressive moment caught on tape, posted on the Internet. Would you want that moment to define who you are? I would think not. You would want the help of others in finding a way to repentance and repair. Mel Gibson deserves the same.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Los Angeles

Bush and Israel

Bravo to Rabbi Steven Z. Leder for his superb and courageous letter of thanks to President Bush (“Mr. President, Thank You for Standing by Israel,” Aug. 11). Superb, because Rabbi Leder acknowledges the president’s supportive stance toward Israel and places it knowingly within the context of Jewish history, and courageous because he commended the president eloquently in a public forum, despite the fact that the majority of Jews identify as liberal Democrats, and many of them bear tremendous animosity toward Bush.

Rising above partisan politics, Rabbi Leder has the clarity of vision to recognize support for Israel where it exists and the good will, despite disagreements with the president on other issues, to render thanks where they are critically due. My thanks, in turn, go to Rabbi Leder for his shining example of righteous gratitude and moral strength.

Susan Ehrlich
Beverly Hills

Carvel Ice Cream

Your article about kosher Carvel ice cream (“Carvel Ice Cream Sprinkling More Outlets in Southland,” Aug. 11) is certainly welcome during these hot summer days. Thanks for the information and keeping it accurate is very important.The photo caption states that the new Carvel store is “certified glatt kosher.”

This statement is, in and of itself, ludicrous, since the term glatt is a reference to the smoothness (i.e., free of lesions) of a cow’s lung, not applicable to anything other than beef products.

Even if the term was meant in is colloquial and erroneous usage, as meeting the highest standards of kosher, it is still wrong, since, as stated in the article, the ice cream is not chalav Yisrael. It may be kosher, even acceptably kosher by many, but it is not strictly kosher.

And by the way, chalav Yisrael does not mean coming from kosher cows, as all cows are kosher. It does mean, as stated further in the article, as having a mashgiach (supervisor) at the milking process.

Nitpicking? Perhaps. But for those who take their words and their kashrut seriously, the angel is in the details.

Gershon Schusterman
via e-mail

‘Borrowing’

Beth Levine offers some sound tips on throwing an affordable bar mitzvah party, while teaching good values like tikkun olam (heal the world) and tzedakah (charitable giving. (“Personal Touch Can Tame Parties, Trim Expenses,” Aug. 11).I’m not familiar with the study preparation software she borrowed from a friend, but it might be worth checking its license. Most software is limited to a single user, so “borrowing” it might actually be computer piracy. Tikkun olam is a lofty goal but not at the expense of the Eighth Commandment.Jay Falk
Playa del Rey

Tisha B’Av Dilemma

I’m writing to express my disappointment with Jane Ulman’s article about Tisha B’Av observance (“Tisha B’Av Dilemma: Day of Solemnity or Celebration?” July 20).

Ulman suggests that Reform Jews don’t celebrate Tisha B’Av, relating an anecdote about a synagogue in Cincinnati, that held a rummage sale last year on the fast day. Her only source for the story is an unnamed “spokesperson” for the temple’s sisterhood.

The story serves little purpose to the article. Who cares if she can find some congregation somewhere (in this case, suburban Cincinnati) which doesn’t celebrate TishaB’Av? It is inappropriate that she infers generalizations about Reform Jews from this one example.

Furthermore, I challenge the factual accuracy of her assertion that Tisha B’Av is “a nonevent in some, usually Reform, congregations.”

What evidence does the author have to support such a claim? Has Ulman done a statistical survey of holiday practice at synagogues in America?

Since she failed to cite such research, I gather that her statement was based on her own assumption, a reflection of popular stereotypes about Reform Jews. What is the value of a newspaper article in which the author simply shares her own assumptions, reinforcing stereotypes?

It is particularly strange that Ulman reported on last year’s activities in Cincinnati, instead of reporting on Tisha B’Av observances at local Reform congregations. For example, Temple Judea in Tarzana planned an event titled, “Lunch Without Lunch — Does Tisha B’Av Have Meaning for Us Today?”

I wonder why Ulman chose to discuss a congregation thousands of miles away that didn’t commemorate the holiday, when a congregation right on her doorstep did indeed mark the occasion.

Later in the article, Ulman writes, “Some Reform Jews, as did 19th century Rabbi David Einhorn, actually see the holiday as celebratory.” While the author’s understanding of Jewish history is not incorrect, her inference that modern Reform Jews celebrate on Tisha B’Av is ridiculous.

She mentions “some Reform Jews” who “actually see” (present tense), but then fails to cite any examples or quote anyone born after 1809. As an active Reform Jew, I can say that I’ve never met anyone who celebrated on Tisha B’Av, and I would challenge Ulman to find a normative Reform Jew who does.

Einhorn, it should be noted, believed a lot of things that today’s Reform Jews would find ridiculous. Citing Einhorn in a discussion of modern practice is like a political writer reporting that “some members of the Democratic Party, as did 18th century President Thomas Jefferson, actually believe in owning slaves.” Like Ulman’s mention of Einhorn, such a statement is an oversimplification of Jefferson’s complex views and, more importantly, has nothing to do with today’s Democratic Party.

Unlike Einhorn, today’s Reform movement is outwardly Zionist, chants “Kol Nidrei” on Yom Kippur and believes that the Jewish textual tradition is important. And many of us commemorate Tisha B’Av. Ulman’s attempt to discuss Reform practice in historical context is sloppy at best and inflammatory at worst.

Ulman’s reporting was irresponsible, inflammatory and contrary to norms of journalistic standards. In the future, I urge you to give her writing the much closer editorial supervision it deserves.

Joshua Barkin
Los Angeles

Israel’s Iraq?

I am passionately angry over your cover headline, “Israel May Come to Regret ‘A Quagmire of Its Qwn Making'” (Aug. 4). I didn’t need to look further. For some reason, The Jewish Journal seems to feel that Hezbollah should be free to continue to come into Israel and kidnap and murder as they wish. If that’s not what the article says, I’m sorry that you felt the headline on the front page should join the world in berating Israel.

Lora Colaffi
via e-mail

I’m truly sorry that Jack Miles holds the views he does regarding Israel’s incursion into Lebanon, and I’m truly thrilled that you are not part of Israel’s current leadership (“Is Lebanon Israel’s Iraq?” Aug. 4).

Israel pulled out of Lebanon six years ago. The U.N. passed a resolution two years ago, asking the Lebanese army to take over the southern part of the country. By its inaction over these many years, whether because of weakness or collusion with Hezbollah, the Lebanese government has forfeited it’s right to complain about the results.

As you can readily see, Hezbollah has dug itself in very well in south Lebanon, created bunkers and supply depots, accumulated thousands of missiles supplied by Iran and Syria and has created it’s own ministate. It has become the forward phalanx of an Iranian and Syrian initiative to attack Israel’s northern areas with the aim of eventually attacking Israel as a whole.

Hezbollah’s killing of the soldiers and the kidnapping of two of them needed an incredibly strong response, not a weak “let’s negotiate” answer. This is exactly the time for Israel to do it’s best to weaken Hezbollah and by extension, Syria and Iran.

Bill Bender
Granada Hills

Lebanese Casualties

In this era, unlike World War II, with GPS, laser, high-speed data transmission, unmanned aerial vehicles and high-resolution aircraft photo reconnaissance, in addition to radio, communications are better than ever, and the tragic incidents of civilian dead in Lebanon are not due to inaccurate Israeli weapons, carelessness or malice but to the genocidal Hezbollah freely engaging in the war crimes of firing and concealing their weapons among civilians.

It is quite clear in international law that Israel is entitled to attack the rocket-firing and storage areas, even if in civilian locations. Some of your correspondents show no recognition of these considerations.

If the Israelis really wanted to cause civilian deaths, with more than 1,000 artillery and 14 fighter squadrons, they have the capability to do so on a massive scale comparable to World War II, where Hamburg saw 45,000 dead in one week from July 22 1943. Israel clearly does not do so.

In addition to this issue of discriminate force, the issue of proportionality has been mentioned by many people. Even if you use the much higher recent Lebanese government claim of 925 dead in Lebanon, quoted on Sky News, which gives no breakdown whatever for the Hezbollah element, which must be a significant part of any such total, that still equals: one dead for every 9.3 Israeli air force sorties, one dead for every five targets hit and one dead for every 14 Hezbollah-held Iranian-Syrian rockets.

Is that either in discriminate or disproportionate?

Tom Carew
Dublin, Ireland

I find it astounding, yet unfortunately predictable, that tiny Israel is for not the first time in a battle that bigger, more powerful nations should be fighting right along with her.

How can we not judge the European countries (with the exception of England) in this current conflict as an international performance rated right around dismal?How can the citizens of these European countries, who stand to gain so much if and when Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic extremists are crushed, not feel belittled and shamed seeing their countries stand by, watching the small army of Israel fight and die in what’s supposed to be the global war on terror.

What makes matters worse is the French and several other European nations take every opportunity to want Israel to cease fighting Hezbollah, forgetting, apparently, that this is a terrorist organization and destroying them is exactly the idea of a war on terror.

The French military should be launching attacks against Hezbollah right alongside the Israelis, as well as the Italians, the Spanish and, for that matter, the former East Bloc countries, as well – they’re supposed to be against terrorists groups and supposed to be allies of America and Israel.

You would be very hard pressed to actually believe the European countries truly are allies and with us in this war on terror, when it seems if they aren’t outright siding with terrorists groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, then they are standing by letting tiny Israel fight their battles for them.

Peter Shulman
Playa del Rey

Best Friend

I strongly doubt you will post this suggestion, but if we Jews were intellectually honest, we would support Israel by supporting George W. Bush, the best friend Israel has ever had. Beyond that, vote for Republicans who far and away more strongly support Israel than do the Democrats.

Bobbi Leigh Zito

‘Greenberg’s View’

Steve Greenberg’s political cartoon from the Aug. 4 Journal portrays a woman asking, “So why can’t Israel and Hezbollah just have an immediate cease-fire and go back to how things were before all this fighting?” and shows how things were before all this fighting to be clandestine warriors climbing over a border wall with a barrage of missiles overhead flying in the same direction.

We know that the fighters are coming from Lebanon and into Israel because we see the flags of the two countries on opposing sides of the border.

I only wish that “Greenberg’s View” had been the real one, but unfortunately there were no Lebanese flags visible on the border with Israel when I visited — only yellow Hezbollah flags flying boldly and brazenly.

Jacob A. Hall
Beverly Hills

Red Crescent Ad

I was shocked to see the ad inviting Jews to donate to Palestine Red Crescent Society (Aug. 11).

Just to remind you that their ambulances carried terrorists and arms with the intention of killing Israelis.

As for the Lebanese Red Cross, let Hezbollah, who is responsible for their suffering, take care of them.

Israel is in dire need for money. Donate to your family (the Jews in Israel), to Magen David Adom or other nonprofit organizations whose volunteers are risking their lives to help the people in the shelters.

Lilly Gottlieb
via e-mail

With all the destruction of lives and property in Israel and all the money needed to rebuild Israeli lives and cities, there are still soft-headed Jews who spend money on an ad in The Jewish Journal urging its readers to donate to the people who have vowed to destroy us.

I’m ready to send a check to the Palestinian Red Crescent as soon as one of the ad signers can show me an ad in an Arab/Muslim newspaper urging its readers to donate to an Israeli relief organization.

William Azerrad
Los Angeles

Aliyah

It seems to be that every time Diaspora Jewry wants to comprise a list of ways to help Israel, they manage to skirt the one thing which would be the most impacting and the most helpful: making aliyah.

This is something that I did 11 years ago, and countless Israelis, especially the soldiers that I served with, were very grateful and felt supported to a great degree. Perhaps it isn’t mentioned, because you may feel that it is unrealistic to ask that of comfy and cozy L.A. Jewry, but it is not a dream if you would but will it, and Judaism at its core asks always to overextend in your service of God and man.

Who knows, maybe if we say it enough as an ideal, then people will take it more seriously. But if we don’t mention it at all, then surely, Diaspora Jewry will never actualize this great and ancient Jewish dream.

Ariel Shalem
Bat Ayin, Israel

Liberal Jewish Left

I applaud Gary Wexler’s ability to see the reality of today’s liberal left and to have the courage to admit that he was wrong (Left-Leaning Jewish Groups Out of Touch Now,” Aug. 4). It is time for American Jews to look at today’s liberal movement and today’s Democratic Party and to be clear about what their vote supports.

A recent Los Angeles Times Poll on Israel found not surprising but very troubling partisan differences, considering most Jews vote Democrat. The poll results suggested a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States.

Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel, while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.

“Overall, 50 percent of the survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to align with Israel, compared with 44 percent who backed a more neutral posture. But the partisan gap was clear: Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54 percent to 39 percent, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64 percent to 29 percent.”

Jews need to open their eyes and stop this irrational blind faith in a party that long ago left them and our Jewish values.

We live in an age of stupidity, where moral relativism has rendered so many incapable of making moral judgments of good vs. evil (just take a look at our colleges, and that includes the professors). This is even true when it is as clear as Hezbollah initiating the attack on Israel and openly pledged to Israel’s destruction vs. Israel fighting in self-defense for its existence.

This is not a cycle of violence and never has been. If Hezbollah and the Arabs stopped their aggression against Israel tomorrow, there would be peace. If Israel stopped defending itself, the Arab attacks would continue, and Israel would cease to exist.

President Bush has had the strength of character, integrity and courage to stand firmly on Israel’s side. Thank God that President Bush does not have a broken moral compass as so many of our politicians, in particular Democrats, do.

Dr. Sabi Israel
West Hills

Mel Gibson Fiasco

I’m not a Jewish Hollywood mogul, a political writer, religious leader, etc. I’m a disgusted human being who happens to be Jewish, and I have what I feel is a very simple solution when it comes to Mel Gibson: Forget about him. He doesn’t like us, so be it.

Let’s just rip our lapels, and then he will no longer exist in our world. We don’t talk about him, write about him, acknowledge him like in the old days. He’s dead to us, and those who run after him for interviews, repentance, speaking engagements, etc., should be dead to us also.

We owe him nothing, especially acknowledgement of his existence.

Batiya Anna Kugler
Palm Desert

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U.S. Left May Be Turning Against Israel


For years, American Jews, including liberals, have watched in astonishment as Europe’s left-wing media, academic and political elites have turned decisively against Israel and, to some extent, Jews, as well.

Now it may well be America’s turn, at least according to a recent survey by pollster Frank Luntz for the Washington-based Israel Project. In a shocking review of the largely left-leaning opinion leaders from America’s top colleges, Luntz found that Israel was clearly “losing the battle for the hearts and minds of America’s future leaders.”

For the most part, Luntz found the bulk of these young people — 150 randomly selected products of elite Ivy League colleges, as well as such West Coast wannabes as UCLA — viewed Israel as the unquestioned aggressor and villain of the Mideast crisis. In contrast, Palestinians were seen sympathetically as victims.

Luntz goes even further, suggesting that anti-Israel feelings are “also having a negative impact on attitudes to Jews right here in America.” Such sentiments also tend to spill over into negative views about Jewish Americans, in part due to their sympathy for the Zionist cause.

Overall, Luntz concludes, Jews are being categorized as a wealthy minority unsympathetic to the needs of poor people, particularly those of nonwhite and Third World backgrounds. The Ivy League-level graduate students surveyed also considered Jews to be overly politically powerful, “over-represented” on their campuses and a clannish people, many of whom inexplicably insist on associating with and marrying each other.

As one surveyed grad student put it: “Jewish people have lots of influence on the finances of our entire political systems … Palestinians are poor, thus they have less value to American politicians.”

The problem stems in large part, Luntz believes, with the information these students are getting from the mainstream media about Israel. But much more of it has to do with what they learn from their professors.

“Someone is educating these kids, and it is not the pro-Israel community,” he notes.

A studied ignorance certainly helps. Most of those surveyed by Luntz knew nothing about the circumstances of pre-1948 Palestine, including the original U.N. plan for a two-state solution, the run-up to the 1967 Six Day War or the fact that Israel, virtually alone in the region, is a functioning democracy with considerable, albeit not perfect, safeguards for civil liberties.

Fred Siegel, who teaches history at Cooper Union in New York, sees this in his own classes, and the culprit, he says, is the current left-liberal perspective shared by most academics.

“Liberalism is increasingly the politics of ignorance — it’s amazing what these kids don’t know about the Middle East or about Jewish history,” he suggests. “This is real trouble for Israel.”

It is also means “real trouble” for those Jewish liberals who still support Israel. Luntz found that while pro-Bush students backed Israel almost unanimously, the vast majority of Kerry backers tilted toward the Palestinians.

Where this leads already can be seen in Europe, where traditionally anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiments have shifted from traditionally right-wing moorings. Today it is the left-wing academics, media and political leaders who tend to be the most vehement in their hatred of Israel.

This increasingly, one could almost say inexorably, tilts into anti-Jewish sensibility. Take, for example, the French establishment mouthpiece, Le Monde, whose publisher was recently fined by a French court for defaming the Jewish people as “a contemptuous people taking satisfaction in humiliating others.” Similar damning anti-Jewish sentiments are commonplace in other media outlets like Madrid’s left-wing daily, El Pais.

Even in Britain, our closest ally in the war on terror, many of those on the left are ferociously anti-Israel, and increasingly anti-Jewish as well. The left-leaning British Guardian famously ran a cartoon of Ariel Sharon eating a Palestinian child — it won first prize in the Political Cartoon Society’s contest for 2003.

“In Britain,” observed Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips, “it is open season on both Israel and Jews.”

As in France, anti-Semitic crime is on the rise in Britain, the majority taking place in greater London. Arguably the greatest world city, suggests Hebrew University history professor Robert Wistrich, has also become the center for “the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism and demonization of Israel.”

London leftist Mayor Ken Livingstone has welcomed vicious anti-Jewish jihadis to his town, while denouncing Sharon as “a war criminal” who should be in jail. To Livingstone, Israel has conducted “crimes against humanity” and has “indiscriminately slaughtered men, women and children in the West Bank and Gaza for decades.” Even after the recent Islamic terrorist bombings in his city, Livingstone continued to express his understanding for Palestinian suicide bombers since “they only have their bodies to use as weapons.”

Such attitudes are seeping into America’s liberal community. Indeed, respected left-wing observers like Todd Gitlin are troubled by a growing anti-Semitic tendency on U.S. campuses — not only at elite colleges, but also places like San Francisco State. Gitlin fears what was once described by early 20th century German socialist August Bebel as, “the socialism of fools” is now “the progressivism of fools.”

To be fair, so far this “progressivism of fools” has only infected the fringe of mainstream liberal politics. But the early signs are there. By backing divestment schemes against Israel, liberal churches and academics have managed to find moral equivalence among Israel and some of the most repressive, totalitarian regimes in the world. And in the liberal bastion of Seattle’s King County, local Democrats have endorsed a proposal to withhold U.S. tax dollars from Israel.

Yet, over time, such expressions of openly anti-Israel sentiments will likely become more a part of liberal dogma. Many in the current generation of left-leaning politicians retain emotional links to Jews and to Israel. They were brought up in a time when, for most liberals, support for Israel was automatic and anti-Semitism was something reserved for fascists, nativists and extreme Christian fundamentalists. Their successors, brought up in the for more permissive current academic and media climate, are less likely to keep a soft spot for a people viewed as on the wrong side of the “progressive” agenda.

Over time, this means it may become increasingly difficult for self-identified Jews — as opposed to those totally assimilated — to be both pro-Israel and Jewish, as well as left-leaning. Such a result would be a tragic limitation on our ability to function fully both as Jews and Americans.

Joel Kotkin is an Irvine senior fellow with the New America Foundation. He is the author of “The City: A Global History” (Modern Library 2005).

 

Beyond Left and Right in Israel


When it comes to politics in Israel, left and right rarely agree. In a country where even sports teams are aligned with political parties, there is

one issue that should unite Israelis and their American supporters from across the political spectrum: the need to foster opportunity and equality for Israel’s 1.2 million Arab citizens.

At a time when Israel faces profound external and internal challenges, some may question whether this issue belongs at the forefront of the nation’s agenda. For a growing number of Israeli leaders on both sides of the political divide, however, Jewish-Arab coexistence and equality is beginning to get the attention it deserves. Improving living conditions in the Arab sector and reversing the growing alienation between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens are necessary steps towards building a more cohesive and stable society.

Although living standards for Arab Israelis have increased steadily over the past 15 years, disturbing socio-economic gaps still exist between the Jewish and Arab communities. By all measures, Arab Israelis lag far behind their Jewish peers. Infant mortality, for example, is twice as high for Arab citizens, while average wages are 40 percent lower. When it comes to education, Arabs also fare poorly, with larger classes and fewer resources. Although Arabs comprise 18 percent of the population, only 5 percent of Israeli college graduates are Arab. The picture is equally grim in terms of housing; since 1975, Israel’s government has built nearly 340,000 public housing units for Jews and only 1,000 for Arabs.

Conditions like these, coupled with a string of broken promises from governments on both the left and the right, are fueling alienation and anger within the Arab community. In October 2000, sparked by the resurgence of the Palestinian intifada, violence between Israeli Arabs and the police erupted in the Galilee. When it was over, 13 Israeli citizens — 12 Arabs and one Jew — were dead. The riots, along with the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism in Israel and the involvement of a small number of Arab Israelis in terrorist acts, have created a new level of fear, mistrust and anxiety among Israeli Jews. On the other side, provocative public rhetoric and calls by some Jewish political figures for the transfer of Arab citizens from Israel have added to the tension.

As the government’s Or Commission noted in its report investigating the riots, the status of the Arab sector “is the most sensitive and important domestic issue facing Israel today.”

Israelis and their American friends must tackle these issues head-on to halt the further fragmentation of Israeli society and build a culture of co-existence based on the values of mutual respect, equality and shared citizenship.

Education will play a major role in achieving these objectives. Israel’s few experimental bilingual schools have been a success among students and parents. So successful, in fact, that a large group of Jewish and Arab parents in the often-contentious Wadi Ara area, eager to create stronger bonds between their communities, are preparing to open a bicultural school in the Arab town of Kafr Kara.

Next January, an important pilot project in Haifa will mandate the study of conversational Arabic and Arab culture in 25 percent of the city’s Jewish elementary schools. This breakthrough program will give Jewish children a window into their neighbor’s culture and will send a much-needed signal of respect and inclusion to Arab Israelis throughout the country.

Schools are only one institution in Israel that must undergo fundamental change.

More than three years after the Galilee riots, relations between Arab Israelis and the police remain strained. Problems in Arab neighborhoods and villages are often improperly handled or unaddressed. Many Jewish police officers lack sufficient knowledge to serve Arab or ethnically mixed communities effectively.

To counter this, the Israel Police and The Abraham Fund Initiatives, with the support of the UJA-Federation of New York, have implemented a project to transform relations between Arab Israelis and the police. Through education and training, the recruitment of Arab Israeli officers and volunteers, and improved communication, the project is raising awareness among police working in the region and reducing the chance of violence.

Major institutional changes such as these must be accompanied by tangible government efforts to improve infrastructure, close spending gaps and expand opportunities for Arab Israelis in education and employment.

The goal of creating a more just and equitable society is a Jewish value that transcends traditional notions of left and right. That is why former President Yitzhak Navon and other leaders from all of Israel’s major political parties are advocating for change. They recognize that social security is as important as physical security, and that Israel’s future will rest in part on a more complete integration of the Arab minority into the economic, social and cultural mainstream of Israeli life. Although they may differ on many other issues, securing Israel’s future is one objective on which all should agree.

Ami Nahshon is president and CEO of The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a New York- and Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing coexistence and equality among Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.

Do We Have Anything Left to Give?


Do the Jews have anything left to give to America?

This question was on my mind recently, after I was on a panel at Brandeis-Bardin Institute to discuss the Jewish influence on American culture. The popular view on this subject is invariably, "Just look at all the Jews who run Hollywood and the media; look at the humor, the attitude, the Yiddish terms, etc. Jews are everywhere."

This is true, but when you start to look beneath the surface, you see a more complicated picture, one that suggests the waning influence of Judaism and the need to re-examine the Jews’ role in America as we begin the 21st century.

Culture is easy to steal. What was clearly "Jewish" at the turn of the century is now just as likely to be called American. Of course, America didn’t just steal it, we gave it away, with the gusto of a grateful people desperate to fit in.

And who can blame us? After 2,000 years of getting beat up everywhere we went, we discover this all-you-can-eat freedom buffet called America, and what do we do? We eat, and we cook and we have lots of people over.

Culture was the perfect Jewish thank-you gift to America. Movies, music, humor and literature are entertaining, relatively harmless and easily appreciated. They’re also easy to co-opt. That’s why the Gershwins, Bellows, Berles, Spielbergs and Streisands are at least as American as they are Jewish.

That’s not to say culture was all we gave; we’re not that homogeneous or disciplined. For every Woody Allen directing a film, there was an Abbie Hoffman directing a civil rights march.

But in the explosive areas of morality and politics, there was always a collective care in the Jewish community not to offend our gracious hosts. We may have planted the seeds of Jewish morality, but in the field of culture, we grew a forest.

This 100-year cultural love fest between the Jews and America has been a source of rightful pride, but it has left us with a nagging question that many Jews have difficulty answering: Do we have anything "Jewish" left to give?

We have trouble answering this question, because we’ve developed an instinct to equate everything Jewish with everything American. In other words, if our cultures are now so intertwined, then everything else — including our values — must be as well.

The American values of freedom, tolerance and diversity? They’re Jewish. The Jewish values of freedom, tolerance and diversity? They’re American.

It’s a simple, convenient formula that lets us feel Jewish and American without offending either side (even in our activism to defend Israel against terrorism, we never miss the chance to equate it with America’s war).

But there is a catch. In our zeal to equate America and Judaism, we have lost sight of some important differences. If we can learn how to internalize and share these differences without feeling like disloyal or ungrateful Americans, we will deepen both our Jewish identities and our contribution to our adopted country.

There are three areas where Judaism differs with America. As the historian Stephen Whitfield explains in his book, "In Search of American Jewish Culture" (University Press, 1999), America focuses on the individual, the here and now and the pursuit of pleasure, while Judaism focuses on the community, the past and the pursuit of meaning. In a nutshell, America is about freedom, while Judaism is more about what to do with that freedom.

Judaism respects the individual, but it places a higher value on connecting the individual to the community. Judaism is active in the present, but it elevates the lessons of history, the beauty of tradition and the power of considered thought (read one paragraph of Talmud and you’ll see that Judaism does not promote a short attention span). And while Judaism certainly doesn’t shy away from pleasure, it puts a higher priority on the value of leading a meaningful life.

In a litigious society that reveres the legal loophole, Judaism goes beyond the letter of the law to its spirit. It’s not enough to be right, we must also be good. Our Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) picks up where the U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights leave off. Judaism is not obsessed with rights; it’s obsessed with obligations.

All this to say that yes, Judaism still has plenty to share with America. The good news is that America is ready to hear the Jewish message — we live in an open, multicultural, emotional country that doesn’t mind being moved and challenged. And after being such wonderful guests for so long, we’ve certainly earned the right to make a bolder contribution.

The not-so-good news is that Jews have become so American that all we’re giving back to America, it seems, is more of itself. This is a shame.

If more Jews had the chutzpah to assert and live up to our differences, we might add an exciting new dynamic to our relationship with America (and isn’t asserting one’s difference part of the American way?). Ironically, the Jews and America are now in the same boat: We both could use a little more Judaism.

For our Jewish leaders worried about "Jewish continuity" and "Jewish pride," they ought to educate and encourage Jews to become the unapologetic messengers of Judaism and its distinctive values. Instead of spending $6 million to count the Jews, they could spend that money to make Jews count.

And they ought to realize that a Jewish identity shaped by a negative, crisis mindset — against assimilation, against intermarriage, against anti-Semitism — is not as nourishing and lasting as one driven by the empowering questions: What values am I for and what values can I share?

In the 20th century, we were geniuses at sharing the value of our culture. In the 21st century, we can be geniuses at sharing the culture of our values. That would be good for America, and it certainly would be good for the Jews.

David Suissa is founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising and founder/editor of OLAM magazine. He can be reached at editor@OLAM.org.

Exit Strategy


After 10 extremely passionate months together, Amanda decided to end our relationship. She thought it through very carefully and took the steps she felt were necessary to break things off. There was just one small step she overlooked — telling me.

So here’s how I found out: Coming home after work one night, I noticed that the clothes Amanda usually kept hanging in my closet were gone; just the empty hangers remained. The stuff she kept in the bathroom — also gone. I was expecting her that night and she never appeared.

My phone message to her was not returned. No word from her for the next two days. Had she been kidnapped? Been in an accident? Spoken to one of my old girlfriends about me? I called her sister and left a message, but never heard back from her either.

Finally, after two days, there was a message from Amanda on my answering machine: “I’m out of town for a few days. I needed to get away to think about our relationship.”

Which, as it turns out, is woman-speak for: “You’ll see me naked again when Osama bin Laden becomes a rabbi.”

I finally reached her by phone. What followed was a half-hour conversation, in which Amanda told me she was leaving because, basically, she wanted a different kind of guy.

“But you seemed so happy with the guy you had during our 10 extremely passionate months together,” I reminded her. And I pointed out things she had said to me frequently; little things like, “I love you,” “You’re the man I’ve been waiting for all my life,” and “This is the most incredible relationship I’ve ever had.”

But none of that mattered now. Her mind was made up, her heart was closed down, the security systems were activated and that was the last time we communicated.

As psychiatrists are fond of saying, “And how did that make you feel?” Well, Dr. Melfi, I felt shocked, depressed, angry, abused, mislead, hurt and abandoned — which, incidentally, were the actual names of the Seven Dwarves before Disney started fiddling with them.

But then I got to wondering why Amanda chose to dump me in such a cold fashion when what preceded it was 10 months of passion. And the only thing I could come up with was that Amanda chose to take the easy way out — for her. She didn’t want a confrontation, an argument or the pain of raw, exposed emotion; she simply left — and left me holding the big, unopened Pandora’s box of sudden loss.

But painful experiences are invariably learning experiences, and what I learned from Amanda’s emotional cowardice is that there is an art, if you will, to breaking off a relationship. That is assuming, of course, that your intention is to behave like a human being, to honor the relationship and to be considerate and respectful of your partner’s feelings. Think of it as a farewell gift to your partner. Or think of it simply as the right thing to do.

For the love of God, don’t just suddenly vanish. Nor should you do it via phone, e-mail, letter or through a third-party intervention. All of those techniques are simply wimping out, hurtful and just plain wrong. You know it, I know it, Dr. Phil knows it.

The only way to end a relationship is face to face. Raise the issues. See if there’s a chance to work them out or get help to do so. If not, tell him or her the honest reasons, and acknowledge all the good in the relationship. If you sense there’s a mutual desire to stay friends, discuss that. If not, wish your partner happiness and good luck, give him or her a hug and leave.

Remember how kind and gentle, thoughtful and respectful you were going into the relationship? Well, your exit strategy should involve those identical qualities. But be forewarned — if you don’t use those qualities, I sincerely hope that the giant, angry Karma Monster tracks you down and torments you in the Extreme Punishment Room for all eternity. Oh, by the way, if you see Amanda there, give her my regards, won’t you?


Mark Miller is a comedy writer who has written for TV,
movies and many celebrities, been a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times
Syndicate, contributed to numerous national publications and produced a weekly
comedic relationships feature for America Online. He can be reached at markmiller2000@attbi.com

.

What You Leave Behind


Can you think of someone who used to live in your neighborhood or went to your school but moved away? How did you feel when they moved? Was the person who left someone who did nice things for people? Was he or she helpful?

Inventive? Was it fun to play with that person? Then you probably miss him or her a little bit. Now think: What if you moved away? What kind of impression would you leave behind? Would people miss you?

Answer that question to yourself — and be honest. It might be time to say: “I should be a little more helpful” or “Yeah, I’m a good kid.”


Riddle Me This!
Here’s a Riddle.
E-mail the answer

Charan is the name of the town that
Abraham left and Jacob returns to in order to find a wife. Mount Ararat is where Noah’s Ark landed. In which country can we find both of these biblical sites?

Hint: The answer has something to do with an upcoming holiday.

The Jewish
Joke Box

Moishe was
walking in the woods.
Suddenly, a bear appeared
and chased him. When the
bear cornered him, Moishe
thought his life is over until he
saw the bear take out a yarmulke
and put it on his head.
“Oh, good,” he thought,
“he’s a Jewish bear.
He won’t eat me.”
Then the bear said:
“Hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.”
(The blessing before eating a meal.)

Submitted by:
Camille Fagan, 10
Oak Park