Everything is easier than doing good


Some thoughts for Rosh Hashanah:

If we took a vote on what trait we human beings most value, goodness would undoubtedly win. Certainly goodness is the trait that we most want everyone else to possess.

But if we say we value goodness above everything else — and surely Judaism does — why aren’t there more good people?

A big reason is that it is easier to value other things — including, and especially, positive things — more than goodness. So it’s much easier to be just about anything rather than good.

It’s easier to be religious than to be good.

The history of all religions is replete with examples of individuals who seem religious, yet who are not good and are sometimes downright evil. The most obvious examples today are found within Islam. But Judaism, Christianity and all other religions have provided examples. It was mean-spirited observant Jews (observant of laws between man and God) whom the Prophets most severely criticized. God doesn’t want your ritual observances, Isaiah said in God’s name, if you don’t treat people properly. And too much of European Christian history produced people who valued faith over goodness.

It’s easier to be progressive than to be good.

Just as it is easier to be religious than to be good, it is easier to hold progressive positions than to be good. Too many religious people have equated religious piety with goodness, and too many believers in today’s dominant religion, progressivism, equate left-wing positions with goodness. I saw this as a graduate student in the 1970s, when the most progressive students were so often personally mean and dishonest. They seemed to believe that protesting against war and racism defined the good human being — so how they treated actual people didn’t really matter. Defining goodness as having progressive social positions has helped produce a lot of mean-spirited and narcissistic individuals with the “right” social positions.

It’s easier to be brilliant (and successful) than to be good.

Ask your children — whether they are 5 or 45 — what they think you most want them to be: happy, good, successful or smart.

Parents have told me for decades how surprised they were that their children did not answer “good.” One reason is that so many parents have stressed brilliance (and the success that brilliance should lead to) over goodness. Thus, many parents brag about their child’s brilliance rather than about their goodness. How closely do parents monitor their children’s character as compared to how closely they monitor their children’s grades?

Brilliance is probably the most overrated human attribute. And there is absolutely no connection between it and goodness. 

It’s easier to care about the earth than to be good.

Everyone who cares about the next generation of human beings cares about the earth. But we live at a time when many care about the earth more than they care about human beings. That is why, for example, the environmentalist movement in the West persisted in banning DDT, despite the fact that not using DDT to destroy the Anopheles mosquito has resulted in millions of Africans dying of malaria.

Similarly, it is a lot easier to fight carbon emissions than to fight evil.

It’s easier to love animals than to love people.

The secular West has produced many people who love animals more than human beings. Ask people who love their pet if they would first try to save a beloved dog or cat that was drowning or a human being they did not know who was also drowning. If my asking this question for over 30 years is any indication, a significant percentage would answer that they would first try to save their dog or cat. Why? Because, they say, they love their pet and they don’t love the stranger.

Contrary to what is widely believed, love of animals does not translate into love of people. While those who are cruel to animals will likely be cruel to people, the converse is not true. Love of animals has little to do with, and can often substitute for, love of people. 

It’s easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.

The greatest moral teaching of the Torah is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not “Love humanity [or “all people”] as yourself.” Why? Because it’s easy to love humanity; it’s much tougher to love our neighbor.

It’s easier to be intellectual and cultured than to be good.

The most cultured nation in the world created the Holocaust. The nation that produced Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Wagner also produced the Nazis and Auschwitz. For those of us whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by the art and culture produced by Germans, that is a sobering fact.

It’s easier to intend to do good than to do good.

It is a truism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Nearly all the evils of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in history, were committed not by sadists, but by people with good intentions.

That is why, when it comes to how we treat our fellow human beings, only our behavior — not our intention, and not how much we feel for others — matters. 

The primacy of behavior over feelings may well be Judaism’s greatest message. 

A happy and healthy new year to all my readers.


Dennis Prager will once again be conducting High Holy Day services in Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.pragerhighholidays.net

Left-Leaning Jewish Groups Out-of-Touch Now


It is time that we American Jewish liberals who have been left leaning about our politics regarding Israel begin to review the support we give to the organizations that have
been leading us.

They are proving themselves obsolete, outdated and out-of-touch. Since the beginning of the intifada they have been making mistakes. But a week ago Tuesday night I believe they committed public suicide at a Town Hall meeting at Westside JCC sponsored by Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom.

At a time when the vast majority of Israelis and Diaspora Jews are united about supporting Israeli actions in Lebanon, the two organizations believed they were assuming a courageous left voice manifesting Jewish values as they echoed the critics’ disproportionate force argument. Then they moved on to call for a truce. Next, they suggested that we begin a Jewish fund for the Lebanese victims of Israeli bombings. This creative proposal received much head nodding followed by a promise of initial funding from a member of the audience.

A former American born Knesset member who now lives in San Francisco, droned on in academic monotone for nearly half an hour, presenting future disastrous scenarios that are certain to result from Israel’s present actions.

Through lamentations more profound than reciting Echa on Tisha B’Av, the two organizations innocently forgot to delve into the real threats of the Syria/Iran axis; the difference between the war in Lebanon and the one in Gaza; Hezbollah’s aim to destroy Israel; the kidnapping of IDF soldiers on sovereign Israeli soil; the unprovoked attacks on Haifa as well as cities, towns and settlements throughout the North; Israel’s unilateral moves to hand back Southern Lebanon and Gaza; and a host of other insignificant events and actions.

As a former board member of both local and national Americans for Peace Now, an organization that at one time defined my heart, my soul and my passionate cause, I can no longer support the organization. When the last intifada began, I suggested to its leaders in Israel that perhaps the Peace Now’s logic had been flawed. They always claimed and we enthusiastically supported their belief that their dialogues between Jews and Arabs and the relationships that resulted were to be the pylons that held up the bridges if there was ever too much weight upon them. “Well,” I remember saying, “those bridges have collapsed and the pylons became insignificant as braces.” They were horrified at my blasphemous thinking.

Yet, for me that realization was the beginning of a journey away from those with whom I had traveled the deep and challenging roads of liberal Israeli politics for over 25 years. I no longer believed that there were real negotiating partners. Through work I had done for the Ford Foundation in Israel, meeting both their Jewish and Arab grantees, I realized that while the Jews talked of creating peace, the Palestinians talked of establishing a state.

For Jews, creating peace and establishing a Palestinian state, was one and the same. The Palestinians I interviewed never talked about peace. For them establishing their state was not in the same breath as creating peace. Further, there was not one Arab, when I asked him or her about suicide bombers, who could ever outright condemn the action. But they could all tell me, “You need to understand why this happens.”

So now, does this mean I am no longer liberal/left? Regarding Israeli politics, I don’t know what those labels mean today. Given current realities, do they have any relevance?

The entire Israeli political spectrum and the ways American Jews demonstrate their support is redefining itself. It would be best right now if along with action, we study and watch the situation, so we can reform, regroup and rethink what the thinking and the infrastructures should be. If we hold on to old knee-jerk reactions and the way everything has been, we will be left totally ineffective.

Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek V’Shalom have to stop what they are now doing and be part of this redefinition. Until they do the hard work of critical thinking and ask themselves the unsettling questions that may possibly crumble cracked foundations upon which they stand, they will be like the Pied Piper leading their liberal/left children into the drowning sea.

Gary Wexler is the founder and president of L.A.-based Passion Marketing and a former board member of the local and Americans for Peace Now,

Letters to the Editor


Mideast Situation

I write to you out of deep concern regarding the Bush administration’s failure to meet the challenge of dealing with the violence in the Middle East (Cover Story, July 21).

Secretary of State [Condoleeza] Rice went to Rome with violence raging in southern Lebanon and Gaza, and missiles raining on northern Israel. She left Rome without any plan for improving the situation or preventing further escalation.

The United States held off intervening in this conflict for far too long, with the administration arguing that it would not engage until the moment was right for success. But having decided that the moment had come, and with so much at stake for America, Israel, Lebanon and the entire region, Secretary Rice should have left Rome with something in hand.

We expect more from American diplomacy.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
Los Angeles

Standing With Israel

I urge that you seek to maintain Jewish unity in these days of crisis. Deference to the Jewish Left is divisive. Ignore it. You have a job to do to maintain Jewish morale. I’m an octogenerian and I don’t expect to be here too long. Israel must be victorious. I’m expecting to see it. Am Ysroel Chai.

Jerry Green
Los Angeles

Torah Portion

While Rabbi Lisa Edwards is free to reinterpret Leviticus to advocate that which the Bible specifically forbids, it is specious of her to argue that it is “causeless hatred” for Torah-true Jerusalemites to protest the deliberate provocation that her colleagues attempted to foist on the Holy City (“Commemorating Sorrows,” July 28).

One could contend it is “causeless hatred” to foist ones agenda on others.

S. Newman
Los Angeles

Response to Michael Steinhardt

Michael Steinhardt (“It May Be Time to Change Goals, Ideas on Philanthropy,” July 28) suggested that the decline in Jewish philanthropy during that past 20 years is due to a “loss of connection to Jewish roots.”

When I consider this problem and its cause, I think of an address by Dr. Jacob Neusner given at Yale in 2000 (“If Ideas Mattered: The Intellectual Crisis of Jewish-American Life”).

Regarding the problem, Neusner states:

“Having used up the intellectual capital of a half-century ago, American Jewry has run out of ideas. It debates matters of practicality, issues of mere continuity. It argues about how to persuade the coming generation to continue the received enterprise of Jewry, not how to assess the worth and truth of that enterprise.”

Regarding the cause, Neusner states:

“Where does the blame lie? It lies with the rabbinical seminaries that have produced a rabbinate without Torah. The rabbinical schools are somnolent; not much happens in them. The rabbinical seminaries are backwaters, out of the mainstream of contemporary Judaic debate.”

Jews will reconnect to the community if and when our institutions and leaders offer relevant and compelling reasons to do so.

Marsha Plafkin Hurwitz
Los Angeles

Make a Match

I read with interest the July 28 article “Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make Me a Donation Match” regarding Joseph Hyman’s new Center for Entrepreneurial Philanthropy and its description as both “revolutionary” and charting “a new course.”

Knowing The Jewish Journal endeavors to be a resource to its readers, I was certain you’d want to know that while Hyman’s initiative may be novel or the first of its kind on the East Coast, that’s certainly not the case here on the West Coast. A similar resource has existed locally since 2001 in the form of the Family Foundation Center within the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles.Our organization created the center, directed by Susan Grinel, specifically to assist funders — whether they are a donor at the Jewish Community Foundation or not — with maximizing the impact of their philanthropic endeavors.

The center offers comprehensive services and programs that enable funders to identify their charitable passions and prioritize their grantmaking, selecting causes and issues that resonate with them at a personal level. Its educational offerings, provided by national philanthropic experts particularly in the highly topical area of intergenerational giving, enlighten families on how to effectively stimulate and involve their children and grandchildren in charitable pursuits.

In this vein, the center organizes the annual Community Youth Foundation, through which selected high-school students learn how to identify and research worthy charitable programs, conduct field studies and then, as a committee, dispense $10,000 in grants funded by The Foundation.

Perhaps most importantly, since its inception, the center has helped to facilitate the distribution of millions of charitable dollars to causes locally, as well as in Israel, through its advisory work with funders.

I applaud Hyman’s good work. We are only on the forward edge of enlightening, educating and spurring passionate, committed philanthropists to sustain Jewish causes at home and in Israel. Much work still lies ahead.

Marvin I. Schotland
President & CEO
Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles

Dodger Dog

Tell Robert Jaffee that his article on Jamie McCourt had an error (“Jamie McCourt Proves She’s an Artful Dodger President,” July 21): Cesar Izturis has been with the Dodgers for more than three years. Remember, it’s “speed and accuracy.”

By the way, does Izturis mean “I have problems” in Yiddish?

Mark Troy
Via e-mail

Mideast Fighting

We are all deeply saddened by the tragic loss of 4 UN Observers in South Lebanon, and in Ireland we think of the 48 men we lost there in our long commitment from 1978 to 2001, one of whom, Pvt. Kevin Joyce, has never been returned for burial by his Hezbollah kidnappers.

Two points are worth recalling at this point.

Firstly, Canada lost four men in 2002 in Afghanistan due to mistaken fire by a U.S. pilot, and the Israelis have also lost men [in both Gaza and Lebanon] recently at the hands of their own forces. In Ireland, our Gardai in their crack SWAT “Emergency Response Unit” have also known such mishaps, and in Northern Ireland, many such tragic incidents happened, with RUC killing one RUC officer and two army; while the British Army accidentally killed one each from the RUC, RUC Reserve and UDR — and seven of their own. That is 13 such deaths.

These incidents, like many involving civilian losses close to military targets, occur either due to the unavoidable “fog of war,” or to human or equipment failure. However tragic, they are not malicious.

Secondly, the distinguished, recently retired Canadian Maj-Gen Lewis W. Mac Kenzie, 66, a veteran of nine U.N. tours, and U.N. chief of staff in 1992 in Yugoslavia at the time of the Siege of Sarajevo, wrote a book in 1993, “Peacekeeper,” about his experience. He was a friend and former Battalion colleague of the Canadian U.N. Observer who lost his life, and received a recent e-mail from this colleague that Hezbollah were firing from close to that UN post. Such an experienced and senior witness as MacKenzie is indeed credible. That information explains how this tragedy could happen, and also recalls the recent comment of Jan Egeland of the UN about Hezbollah’s “cowardly blending” with the civilians population.

Such abusing of unarmed U.N. Observers, women and children by Hezbollah is not new, and their primary responsibility needs to be fully recognized.

Tom Carew
Dublin, Ireland

I know that some children in Lebanon have been killed and others wounded and for that I am truly sorry. However, I am very tired of hearing about innocent Lebanese civilians. Let’s face the facts. The Lebanese are in violation of U.N. Resolution 1559, which says that the Lebanese government is to dismantle terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Not only was this not done but Hezbollah members were voted into government offices by the “innocent” people.

Even now, when they are having their lives disrupted by the conflict, they support Hezbollah. I have not heard one person being interviewed in Lebanon condemn Hezbollah for starting the conflict. They blame Israel: Israel should have released 1,000 prisoners for the two kidnapped soldiers. Israel should forget about the soldiers and the 17-year-old boy who were murdered by Hezbollah. Israel should not have responded to the rockets being fired into major cities forcing innocent Israelis into bomb shelters and killing and wounding others. Not a word about the fact that Hezbollah started the conflict and is hiding out in populated areas using the Lebanese civilians as shields. How innocent are people who support terrorists?

Tobi Ruth Love
Thousand Oaks

Thank you for the very powerful cover photo of the Israeli soldiers and “moment of truth. (Cover story, July 20). we have copies up in our offices and have made copies for many people. Please God this picture will inspire people to say tehilim (our secret weapon) to help Israel. And, we hope that this cover photo begins a time of more substantive, positive Jewish content in your paper.

Joshua Spiegelman
Sylmar

The dismantling of the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, would be a major blow against global terrorism, rogue states Syria and Iran and possibly even Iran’s nuclear plans. But, if Hezbollah emerges intact as a fighting force, Israel and the global war on terrorism would suffer significantly. Saudi Arabia (and other moderate Arab states) issued a rare condemnation of Hezbollah as they fear the ramifications of it’s strength. Much of the Middle East has been engulfed by Islamic radicalism. Israel must remain strong as Democracy’s bulwark against the tide.

Harry Grunstein
Quebec

Rabbi Grater

I enjoy your weekly Torah reading and particularly the various interpretations of the text that are given by rabbis of differing denominations. I was very disappointed in last week’s column by Rabbi Joshua Grater who essentially used the Torah as a political attack on the president and his policies (“Power of Vows,” July 21). I feel that this is not appropriate.

The Journal provides many articles about politics from various points of view. For many of your readers, I am certain that this weekly column provides the only, or at least one of few, Torah education opportunities. People who are not knowledgeable are left with the impression that the Torah has given its imprimatur to this rabbi’s politics.

“How can we trust a leader who lies in regard to the highest level of commitment, war and Peace?”

When Howard Dean says this sort of thing, people expect it of him. When a rabbi publicly calls someone a liar in the name of the Torah, this only demeans the status of the rabbinate and the Torah itself in many eyes.

The Sages write that there are 70 “faces” to the Torah, implying that there are many ways to interpret the written word. I would not like to see your usually excellent column be lowered to the level of “dueling rabbis.” Your readers are, for the most part, well-educated and intelligent. The rabbi should make his point and let the reader draw his own conclusions. Let’s try to use the Torah as a unifying force in our community rather than a divisive one and save the politics for columns that are labeled “Political Commentary” rather than “Torah Portion.”

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

It seems that Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater should take his own counsel. In his article he writes that he and his wife are trying to teach their children the power of words, both positive and negative, and “the power of the word is what matters here.” Yet just a few paragraphs later he libels our public leaders.

As a rabbi, he is undoubtedly aware of the Jewish prohibition against lashon hara, including the injunction against speaking negatively about someone, even when true. When I reflected back on his article after having read it the first time, I thought that he had made the statement, “Bush lied.” It was only after rereading that I discovered that those words were not part of what he had written, though the message was so clear that my memory told me otherwise.

He continued by stating that the federal government made false promises during the Katrina Crisis, and bragged about the local Board of Rabbis of Southern California. So what’s so wrong with people taking care of people? We certainly can’t expect the federal government to do it all. That is the beauty of communities, with people helping people.

  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a Jew.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, even more inappropriate for a leader.
  • Lashon hara is inappropriate for anyone, and especially inappropriate for a Jewish leader.

Rebecca J. Evers
North Long Beach

Jewish Voters to Play Key Primary Role


In Democratic districts on Los Angeles’ Westside and in the Valley, next week’s primary will not only determine the Democratic winner but also the person who will almost certainly win in the fall’s general election. And Jewish voters, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, will play a key role in the outcome.

The local Jewish community has a relatively small percentage of genuine right-wingers. But otherwise, there’s a wide spectrum of opinion, from pro-labor liberals, such as Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), to moderate, pro-business Democrats like Bob Hertzberg and moderate Republicans like Steve Soboroff and Assemblyman Keith Richman of Granada Hills. Both Soboroff and Hertzberg did very well with Jewish voters when they ran for mayor in the 2001 and 2005 mayoral primaries.

Ideological division among Jews also plays out geographically, with Valley Jews generally more moderate than Westside Jews. The Daily News tends to reflect the moderate-to-conservative side, while the L.A. Weekly holds to the liberal corner, with the L.A. Times in the middle of this broad swath.

At the federal level, the ideological diversity among Jews and Jewish politicians is less overtly apparent much of the time. That’s because opposition to the highly partisan Bush administration has created unprecedented unity among Democrats. It is politically unsafe within the party to be too accommodating or friendly to this White House.

This has created problems for Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. No Democrat has been more worshipful of the Bush Iraq strategy, nor a more useful tool to the White House’s foreign policy propaganda. As a result, Lieberman, who is Jewish, now faces a strong primary challenge from Iraq War critic Ned Lamont.

An echo of Lieberman’s struggle has emerged here, in the 36th Congressional District, which includes Venice, Manhattan Beach and San Pedro. It’s represented by Jane Harman, another Jewish Democrat perceived as a foreign policy hawk. By no means as pro-Bush as Lieberman, Harman nonetheless outraged many Democrats by seeming to back the Bush domestic spying program. Now, she has a liberal Jewish opponent, Marci Winograd, in her heavily Democratic district.

The 36th once was a swing district, and Harman’s moderation was essential to her survival. Redistricting in 2002 has since made the 36th safely Democratic, making her liberal critics less forgiving.

As a result of these primary challenges, both Lieberman and Harman have been at pains to highlight their disagreements with Bush. Harman recently referred to the Bush administration as “lawless.” Adding to Harman’s woes is Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is considering bumping Harman from her senior post on the Intelligence Committee.

It helps both Harman and Lieberman that their challengers are underfunded and that the party establishment has rallied to each of these incumbents. For that matter, Jews are likely to understand better than other Democrats the cross-pressures on foreign policy, such as support for Israel, that frequently make Jewish Democrats more hawkish than might otherwise be true. Yet Lieberman’s egregious Fox News attacks on Democrats — as insufficiently supportive of Bush — seem likely to alienate even many natural backers, while Harman’s affinity for the viewpoints of the intelligence agencies also has introduced some doubt.

At the state level, Jewish voters will choose in the Democratic primary for governor between Steve Westly and Phil Angelides, neither of whom is Jewish. The more traditionally liberal Angelides, backed by most of the union and liberal blocs in the party, presents himself as the one leading Democrat who was opposed to Arnold Schwarzenegger when the governor was popular. He also defines himself as the person willing to call for higher taxes on the rich. The L.A. Times has endorsed Angelides. The L.A. Weekly’s endorsement has not been announced as of this writing.

Westly, endorsed by the Valley’s Daily News, says he is the moderate alternative on taxes and other issues and that he can best defeat the governor. Both are well regarded in the Jewish community as friends and as supporters of Israel. But, of course, so is Schwarzenegger.

Had this election been held last year, when Schwarzenegger seemed bent on destroying his own governorship with his turn to the right, any decent Democrat could have prevailed. This year, Schwarzenegger has begun to substantially rehabilitate himself with the center and even parts of the left.

An example is how he has mended fences with much of the education establishment. He had originally provoked the ire of educators and their unions when he reneged on an agreement to repay school funds he’d borrowed during an earlier budget cycle. But the harsh political fallout and the state’s improved tax revenues have prompted him to start redeeming his original promise.

This year’s budget includes a down payment on the school funds he had used for other purposes. He also has appointed Democrats to high posts. And he has fought with the Bush administration on some issues. He’s even started to work effectively with the Democratic Legislature, whose leaders will campaign at his side this fall for a bond measure to improve the state’s infrastructure. And he has stopped running his mouth as though his primary mission were to appease right-wing talk radio.

These are the kinds of moves that will appeal to moderate Jewish voters, who have long been willing to vote for moderate, pro-choice Republicans. This is troubling news for the winner of the Democratic primary.

What could still beat Schwarzenegger in the fall is a massive Democratic turnout in the congressional races that is aimed at crushing the Bush national agenda. Then, too, Schwarzenegger’s past attacks on Democrats and their values may have left some lingering animosity. The “governator” dug himself a deep hole last year, and he has not necessarily climbed all the way out.

The moderate-liberal split also plays a role in the campaign to replace Fran Pavley in the coastal 41st Assembly district. Barry Groveman, Julia Bromley, Lelly Hayes-Raitt, and Jonathan Levey are the main contenders. All are touting their progressive environmental credentials.

Groveman, the mayor of Calabasas, is the only one of the four who does not live in liberal Santa Monica. He has the backing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and centrist Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver.

Groveman and Levey have dominated in fundraising, while Bromley, president of the Santa Monica school board, boasts endorsements from Pavley and popular state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles). Levey has won both the Times and the L.A. Weekly endoresements. Groveman received the Daily News endorsement.

Another race of local interest is the one to replace Paul Koretz in the 42nd Assembly District, which cuts across from Los Feliz through West Hollywood to the Westside and includes part of the Valley. One candidate, former L.A. City Councilman Mike Feuer, lost a close race to Rocky Delgadillo for city attorney in 2001. He’d previously served as executive director of Bet Tzedek. His rival, Abbe Land, is a former member of the West Hollywood City Council and former co-chief executive of the L.A. Free Clinic.

These two progressive and very formidable Jewish candidates cannot be easily separated by the liberal-moderate rubric. Feuer has won the backing of outgoing incumbent Koretz, as well as from both The Times and the L.A. Weekly. Land has endorsements from L.A. Councilwoman Wendy Greuel and from Goldberg and Hertzberg. Both Feuer and Land have a host of labor endorsements. (In the interests of transparency, I should note that Feuer is a friend whose campaign I support.)

Then there are the Jewish incumbents who face no serious challenge. Preeminent among them are county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).

Yaroslavsky continues to work effectively, if often invisibly, in the mixture of power and obscurity that marks the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Waxman has been an outspoken and highly effective critic of the Bush administration and may become a central player in national government should the Democrats win back control of the House. The vision of Waxman with subpoena power must keep White House aides up at night.

One Jewish Republican deserves comment. Assemblyman Richman is running for state treasurer in the primary. Richman, endorsed by the Daily News, has been a force in building bipartisan alliances in Sacramento and was popular enough in the Valley to lead the field in the campaign to become the Valley’s “mayor.” In that same 2002 election, Los Angeles’ voters defeated Valley secession.

Finally, it will be interesting to see how Jews respond to Proposition 82, the initiative to provide free preschool to all California children through a tax on the wealthiest Californians. Generally, Jewish voters are extremely supportive of any education measure, especially school bonds. Many progressive groups support Proposition 82. While the L.A. Chamber of Commerce also supports it, most of business is against it.

The Times has called for a “no” vote, arguing that there are more cost-effective ways to cover those who do not have access to preschool. The Daily News also is opposed. The L.A. Weekly favors Proposition 82.

Supporters contend that Proposition 82 may be the last best opportunity to reach the goal of universal preschool with standards. While Schwarzenegger opposes it, his ally and friend, former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, is a big supporter. The measure is very close in the polls, and Jewish voters may play a key role in determining the result.

Once these primaries are over, the internal dynamics of the Jewish community’s politics will become less visible, at least until the next set of primaries. Of course, as November approaches, there will be talk about how many Jews might vote Republican. But given the unifying Democratic hostility to Bush, don’t bet on it.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

Truthbusters


In the checkout line of any Whole Foods Market, you can pick up a copy of a magazine called Adbusters. It’s a 120,00-circulation leftist journal, published in Vancouver, with a corresponding Web site that prides itself on deconstructing the commercial forces its editors believe erode “our physical and cultural environments.”

The current March/April issue features a lead-in piece by editor Kalle Lasn titled, “Why won’t anyone say they are Jewish?” In it, Lasn points out the fact that of the 50 or so neocons influencing United States diplomatic and defense policy either within government or in media and think tanks, about half are Jewish.

“Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the U.S. is a benevolent hyper-power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of the them are Jewish.”

The last sentence wasn’t an aside, it was the point. To prove it, Lasn thoughtfully listed alphabetically every neocon he could think of (he missed some) and put a black dot next to the Jews (he missed some). The design department may have flirted with the idea of a yellow star, but decided to go for understated. The fact that many of these post-Cold War warriors are Jewish has been remarked upon and written about quite a bit since the lead up to the second Gulf War, especially in the European and Arab press. Pat Buchanan has been hyperventilating about it for years.

Lasn presented his point not in the spirit of revelation, but of social inquiry. “But the point is not that Jews (who make up less than 2 percent of the American population) have a monolithic perspective,” he wrote. “Indeed, American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat and many of them disagree strongly with Ariel Sharon’s policies and Bush’s aggression in Iraq. The point is simply that the neocons seem to have a special affinity for Israel that influences their political thinking and consequently American foreign policy in the Middle East.”

And the point of “The Passion of the Christ” was not to prove that heinous Jews dressed as medieval Shylocks killed Christ, just that the Temple priests had an affinity for power and money that led to the death of the Christian savior. Hey, as Mel Gibson says, the facts are the facts.

At the end of his piece, Lasn posed the question, “Does the Jewishness of the neocons influence American foreign policy in the Middle East? Or is this analysis just more anti-Semitism?”

I think on “Law and Order” they call that leading the witness. On the eve of Gulf War II, I wrote that if it were to turn into Vietnam II, fingers may very well start pointing at these Jewish neocons. After all, as David Brooks wrote in that Jewish neocon redoubt, The New York Times, in the code language of conspiracy mongers, “con is short for ‘conservative’ and neo is short for ‘Jewish.'” The hard left and hard right converge, as humorist Tom Lehrer always knew they would, in their suspicion of “The Jews.”

A policy maker’s religion can be relevant, whether you are Jewish, Muslim or born-again Christian.

Adbusters is free to single out Jewish names on a list, but to do so without a deeper, considered analysis of what that so-called phenomenon means is an invitation to anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering. It’s incitement under the guise of insightfulness.

We are on the cusp of Purim, a joyous, joke-filled holiday (see cover) that recalls a time Jews found themselves in the corridors of power yet faced with an existential threat. Then, as now, Jews were powerful and weak, poor and rich, assimilated and separate, liberal and conservative; yet the Hamans of the world were all too happy to scapegoat them all and be done with it.

“If you can give your foes a collective name – liberals, fundamentalists or neocons – you can rob them of their individual humanity,” Brooks wrote. “All inhibitions are removed. You can say anything about them. You get to feed off their villainy and luxuriate in your own contrasting virtue. … Improvements in information technology have not made public debate more realistic. On the contrary, anti-Semitism is resurgent. Conspiracy theories are prevalent. Partisanship has left many people unhinged.”

Happy Purim.

Recall Quandaries


How will California’s Jews vote in the Gray Davis recall? Will this long-standing Democratic community stay with the incumbent, support a Democratic alternative or be drawn to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger? What are the political orientations of California’s Jews?

The Jewish political stance in America has long been distinctive. Jews are significantly more Democratic and liberal than other whites. Two recent polls, by Ipsos/Cook and Gallup, confirmed this long-standing situation, showing a very large edge for Democrats over Republicans among Jews. Jews have also had an outsized impact on politics through remarkably high levels of participation. With 6 percent of the Los Angeles city population, for example, Jews cast 18 percent of the vote in mayoral elections. With 3 percent of California’s population, Jews represent an estimated 5 percent of the state’s registered voters.

The foundation of Jewish political participation was laid in New York City a century ago. New York’s Jewish precincts generated a left-of-center politics that flowed easily into the mayoralty of Fiorello LaGuardia and the New Deal presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1930, nearly half of all American Jews lived in New York state. New York City was the cultural and political center of the American Jewish community. It was here that American liberalism was born, and almost died in the interracial conflicts of the 1960s.

During and after World War II, Jews began to migrate in significant numbers to the growing Sunbelt. Florida and California were the most favored destinations, as the Jewish population of New York steadily fell. According to the American Jewish Yearbook, there were only 123,000 Jews in all of California in 1930; by 2002, there were 999,000. In 1930, only 13,402 Jews lived in Florida; by 2002, there were 620,000. By 2002, there were almost as many Jews in Florida and California combined as in New York state.

Now, instead of occupying one corner of America, Jewish voters have become a major bloc in three critical states with large numbers of electoral votes. In the 2000 election, these three states cast 112 electoral votes; in 2004, they will have 113. Only 270 electoral votes are required to win the White House. Bill Clinton won all three states in 1996. In 2000, Jewish voters in Palm Beach County essentially elected Al Gore president, only to find their votes recorded for Patrick Buchanan because of the notorious "butterfly ballot."

In California, most Jews have retained their Democratic loyalty. Los Angeles Jews became a critical element of the Tom Bradley biracial coalition, and majorities of California’s Jewish voters supported Democratic candidates at city, county, state, and national levels. With pro-Israel centrists Bill Clinton and Gore at the top of the Democratic ticket, this connection blossomed into massive support. Today, no Democratic presidential candidate can afford to ignore the fundraising base of Los Angeles Jews.

But this loyalty is not absolute. There are plenty of Jewish Republicans and even some Democrats who are drawn to what they see as George W. Bush’s pro-Israel stance. Jewish voters, East and West, have always been willing to support truly moderate and socially liberal Republicans (not the pretend, rhetorical moderation of Bush) against specific Democrat candidates who are more to the left and whose affinity for Israel’s survival and opposition to anti-Semitism is not firm and clear.

When times are tough, when there are threats like street crime or terrorism, and when the Democrats are seen as moving too far out of the mainstream, the party can lose too many Jews to be seriously competitive. Or, as Earl Raab, co-author of "Jews and the New American Scene" (Harvard University Press, 1995), once put it, "If you scratch an American Jew, you will find a Democratic voter. The complicating news today is that if you scratch somewhat deeper, you will not always find a liberal."

Democrats cannot take Jewish voters for granted.

What does this mean for the recall of the beleaguered Davis? If Davis cannot hold Jewish voters, he will have a hard time staying in office. Based on his ideological centrism, and the right-wing roots of the recall, Davis should have a chance to hold the support of many Jewish voters. The two potential candidates who could threaten Davis among Jews, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, have stayed out of the race. But Davis has the complex task of dealing with a growing Democratic leadership shift toward Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante as the Democratic alternative if the recall passes. And then there is Schwarzenegger. If he captures the hearts and minds of Jewish voters, he will be formidable.

Riordan, though, would have been more likely than Schwarzenegger to win over Jews. Riordan won half of Jewish votes when he ran against liberal Democrat Mike Woo for mayor in 1993 in a time of post-riot despair and economic downturn. In 1997, running against the even more liberal Tom Hayden, Riordan won more than 60 percent of Jewish voters. Riordan is a resident of the Westside, pro-choice on abortion, the sort of "Rockefeller Republican" with whom Jews have been comfortable.

Arnold has some of that Riordan appeal. Jewish voters are not immune to the huge unpopularity of Governor Davis. Like Riordan, Schwarzenegger is a comfortable, socially active Westsider. Both are married to strong and active Democratic women. Schwarzenegger appears to be a social liberal, although many of his views remain to be clarified.

But the same persona that appeals to many alienated voters — the glamorous outsider with vague ideas and catchy phrases — is not particularly well suited for reaching highly attentive, extraordinarily well-informed Jewish voters. Schwarzenegger’s cavalier mistreatment of Riordan in the announcement of his own candidacy may not go unnoticed among active Jews. If Schwarzenegger’s media buzz begins to trail off in coming weeks because of an inability or unwillingness by the candidate to address tough policy issues, watch for it to happen first among Jewish voters.

Getting Jewish voters to support a shift in party control of the governor’s office less than a year after an election will be no easy task. Schwarzenegger may have all the excitement right now, but if he relies on his celebrity status to make his case, Jewish voters may ultimately stick with Davis, vote for a Democratic alternative, or both.


Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton, is the author of “Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles” (Princeton University Press, 1993). His column for The Journal will appear monthly in this space.

Making Marriage Work


Like marijuana?

Believe in men’s rights?

Want a secular state?

If you happen to have an offbeat or nonmainstream platform
for Israel, now is the time to run in the Jan. 28 parliamentary elections. One
lesson to be learned from the list of the 30 parties vying for Knesset is that
Israelis are disenfranchised, and looking for alternatives to the major
National Security issue. 

And while Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf) — the party promoting
marijuana legalization — always seems to hit the headlines a week or two before
elections (despite publicity before the last elections in 1999, the party
mustered 34,029 votes, representing slightly more than 1 percent of the
electorate — 15,000 votes short of the 1.5 percent threshold for Knesset
membership), other parties with less headline-grabbing platforms are really set
to win big.

Take Tommy Lapid’s Shinui (change) Party. Their two-page
campaign booklet doesn’t get to their political leanings until the second page.
The self-described “democratic, secular, liberal, Zionist, peace-seeking party”
platform includes creating “a secular state, a free-market economy,
[obligatory] military service.”

Does 2 percent of the country really believe legalizing pot
is the most important issue? Are 12 percent really going to vote for Lapid, a
former in-your-face talk-show host whose primary goal is to secularize the
country? (Incidentally, Shinui is attempting to do for the secular what the
religious parties — and in particular, Shas — have done for years: exchange its
vote on security for social benefits such as money for schools.)

“I’ve covered a lot of Israeli elections, but I have never
seen one like this. I’ve never seen the Israeli public less interested in the
two major parties — indeed, in the whole event,” Thomas Friedman wrote in The
New York Times on Jan. 19.

What this means for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is an even
bigger headache on Jan. 29 than he had on Nov. 5, 2002, when he called for new
elections (can anyone actually remember why?). But it also means that the major
parties had better start looking at secondary campaign positions if they want
to be relevant to the Israeli people.

Israelis, in answer to the question, “How is everything?”
might reply: “Hakol B’seder, chutz mimah she’lo b’seder” (Everything is all
right, except for what isn’t all right). The situation with the Palestinians is
so not all right, and the Israelis feel so powerless, that everything else just
seems so much more important.

 

Meanwhile, in Orange County and Los Angeles, the tide seems
to be turning the other way vis-à-vis involvement. Last month, the Israel Merchant
Faire at Tarbut V’Torah in Irvine attracted some 4,000 people and took in
$10,000 — enough to make a sizeable donation to the Israel Emergency Fund,
according to Charlene Zuckerman of Laguna Niguel, who chaired the event; one
vendor reportedly made $40,000 on the day.

And on Feb. 9, MERIT and the JCC will present a public
lecture, “An Update from the Front” with Mark Paredes, press attache of the
Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles and Dr. Yaron Brook, executive
director of the Ayn Rand Institute.

In Los Angeles, this month saw the University of Judaism’s
lecture series featuring Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger, attended by almost 6,000 people. Peres also gave an
informal talk to some 100 of Hollywood’s glitterati (including Barbra
Streisand, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Annette Benning and Warren Beatty),
hosted by fellow countryman and producer Arnon Milchen (“L.A. Confidential”).

A similar group of impressive Hollywood stars turned up at
the home of DeVito and Perlman to hear out another set of visitors, Mohammed
Darawshe and Daniel Lubetsky, of One Voice: Silent No Longer, a grassroots
petition effort seeking more than 1 million Arab and Israeli signatures urging
an end to the violence and a commitment to peace.

And finally, on Sunday, Jan. 19, some 400 people from
throughout Southern California attended a full-day workshop at Temple Beth Am
in Los Angeles, “Learning How to Defend Israel: On Campus, In the Media, To the
White House, At your Office.” The StandWithUs Advocacy Conference actually had
to turn away more than 100 people from the intense and practical seminar.

Among those who turned out were students from UC Irvine and
other local universities. These students, said StandWithUs organizers, often
face virulent anti-Israel speakers and protests on their campuses.

What does all the activity on this side of the Atlantic mean? While the Israelis are deciding between indifference and apathy, the
American Jews are finally beginning to wake up from their 30-year slumber. When I lived in Israel I remember screaming at my friends in America how
important some issue was, and how can they not know about it, and why do they
want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie?

Now, I find it’s the reverse: from Los Angeles, I’m calling
them for their opinions on the upcoming elections, the latest diplomatic effort
and no, I don’t want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie.

It might take two to make a marriage work — but usually it’s
one party’s commitment that balances a lack of it on the disinterested one’s
part. American Jews’ increasing involvement in a process that Israelis are
ready to throw the towel at — well, that’s just what the marriage counselor
ordered. That, maybe, instead of a toke of the green stuff.

Increasing Political Isolation for Jews


If all those statistics are true about Jews still being one of the most liberal voting blocs in the nation, why are they increasingly estranged from the American left?

Easy: The left, ranging from the anti-globalism fringes to the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to some segments of the mainstream liberal community, has adopted policies and perspectives that even many progressive Jews regard as offensive and dangerous.

Good causes have been rendered marginal by activists looking for easy-to-grasp heroes and villains; political correctness has turned Israel from a noble experiment into the ultimate example of vicious colonialism.

And a political culture that can’t say no to extremists has turned the concept of civil rights on its head. It’s no longer unusual to see activists peddling the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" at anti-war and anti-globalism rallies — and for organizers, for all their talk of human rights, to remain silent in the face of this overt anti-Semitism.

That’s producing a kind of political disenfranchisement for Jewish voters who remain strongly liberal, but increasingly lack partners with whom to pursue those political interests.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is in sync with mainstream Jewish voters on a host of important domestic issues. But there is also no other group that is as tolerant of some of the most anti-Israel and

anti-Jewish voices.

Many have been highly critical of Israel in recent years. That’s no sin, since many American Jews and Israelis openly criticize Israeli policies.

But many of these lawmakers go further by giving legitimacy to those who criticize the very idea of Israel, and whose criticism veers off into outright anti-Semitism.

When a United Nations conference

on racism was hijacked by anti-Israel forces and turned into a lynch mob of open anti-Semitism, administration officials boycotted the conference — but leading CBC members, including Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) demanded full U.S. participation.

When McKinney and Rep. Earl Hilliard (D-Ala.) lost their reelection bids, some CBC members complained about excessive Jewish influence in American democracy. McKinney’s father, a defeated state legislator, was blunter: when asked about why she lost, he angrily spelled out the reason: "J-E-W-S."

Overt expressions of racial intolerance are no longer acceptable in American life, but if the targets are Jews or Jewish influence, many who rally under the civil rights banner are surprisingly tolerant of intolerance.

Other CBC members have provided a Capitol Hill platform for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. When Farrakhan returned from a recent Mideast "peace mission," it was CBC founder Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who provided him a forum, as if he was a legitimate statesman, not a garden-variety bigot.

It’s not just the CBC.

When anti-globalism, anti-International Monetary Fund forces come to Washington to demonstrate, a wide range of left-wing groups rally under a banner that also includes nutty anarchists and aggressive pro-Palestinian forces.

Collectively, they depict Israel as the last colonial power and the ultimate example of institutional human rights abuses, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein as misunderstood freedom fighters, Zionism as inherently racist.

That same process is at work in the nascent anti-war movement focused on the expected U.S. strike against Iraq.

Many Jews probably share the aversion to a unilateral, preemptive U.S. strike, but don’t expect to see lots of Jews joining anti-war demonstrations; the movement is already linked to the same pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli forces that produced so much overt anti-Semitism at the U.N. racism conference.

Even Tikkun Magazine Editor Michael Lerner, in a letter to supporters, expressed concern about "vulgarity and anti-Semitism" in the new anti-war movement. The left just can’t say no to groups, however extreme and however intolerant, as long as their intolerance is wrapped in the proper Third World, anti-colonialist argot.

Another example: the divestment campaign on American college campuses, which reached an absurdist crescendo with the recent divestment conference at the University of Michigan.

Many Israelis agree that their country has a human rights problem. But to say that Israel is in the same league as Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Syria or an endless list of others reflects a breathtaking lack of balance that looks more like political correctness run amok and a pathological hatred of Israel than compassion for victims.

Overwhelmingly, the left chooses to ignore genocide by Third World countries, while relentlessly criticizing Israel for an occupation most recent governments have tried to end.

The result: Jews who remain liberal, which means a majority are becoming politically isolated.

Their views on a host of domestic issues remain progressive and they continue to be turned off, not only by the Republican Party’s positions on those issues, but by the iron grip of the religious right on the GOP.

But increasingly, they feel uncomfortable in coalitions with groups that tolerate or even encourage the viscerally anti-Israel, Third World rhetoric and misguidedly accepts anti-Semitism in the name of human rights.