Liberal groups condemn religion bill as ‘government-sanctioned discrimination’


Some 22 liberal groups, most of them Jewish, condemned a bill that would protect individuals and nonprofits that oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds from government sanction.

The First Amendment Defense Act would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license or certification to an individual, association or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For example, the bill would prohibit a federal contractor from losing its funding if it refused to serve same-sex couples.

The bill was introduced last month by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Ind.).

 

Hearings on the bill will take place Wednesday in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In a letter to the committee about what they call the “unjust legislation,” the groups said that: “Although our beliefs and faith traditions hold different views about the nature of human sexuality and marriage, we all share a common teaching that all human beings deserve to live in dignity and with respect, and that we must treat all people fairly and equally. The ‘First Amendment Defense Act’ directly contradicts these principles and reflects a profoundly misguided understanding of religious freedom.”

“This bill falsely suggests that the protections of the First Amendment are certainly inadequate to ensure robust religious freedom,” the letter continued, saying that it “authorizes government-sanctioned discrimination against married same sex couples and persons having sexual relations outside of marriage.”

The legislation “violates the core constitutional principle that the federal government will not prefer a faith tradition or religious tenet over another by endorsing and privileging certain religious perspectives on marriage and sexuality,”according to the letter.

Among the groups that signed on to the letter are the Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, Jewish Women International, Keshet, National Council of Jewish Women, and Union for Reform Judaism.

The moral and intellectual state of the Jewish left


There is at least one thing about which my critics and I can agree: The very many responses — published in the Jewish Journal and elsewhere (The Forward, Huffington Post and various blogs) — to my Dec. 4 column titled “The Torah and the Transgendered” are an excellent measure of the moral and intellectual state of the American-Jewish left.

My critics and I recognize that all these rabbis, including the head of the Reform rabbinate, all these Jewish professors and all the Jewish laypeople who attacked me and my column represent the American-Jewish left, and are therefore a fine indicator of the moral and intellectual state of the American-Jewish left.

Let’s see what that state is.

Before doing so, however, one important caveat. Although many may call themselves liberals, I am discussing the left, not traditional liberals. It is vital to recall that there was a very long period when “liberal” and “left” were not only not synonymous, they were frequently at odds with each other. For example, liberals were fiercely anti-communist, and the left wasn’t (it was anti-anti-communist). Similarly, the left regarded America — as it does today — as essentially a racist, sexist, xenophobic and imperialistic country, while liberals thought America, though not perfect, was and is the greatest country ever created.

[RELATED: A response to Dennis Prager]

Here then are some of the characteristics of the American-Jewish left that stand out from the responses:

First, the low intellectual state.

Jews and the left generally pride themselves in valuing the life of the mind. But the left (with, of course, some individual exceptions) is actually anti-intellectual. The proof is the contemporary university where ideology has replaced intellectual inquiry. As Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens (a secular Jew with a graduate degree from the London School of Economics) succinctly put it recently in his Wall Street Journal column, “American academia is, by and large, idiotic.”

Why? Because leftists, not traditional liberals, have taken over the universities. 

There are few intellectual arguments in the scores of responses to my column. The vast majority of the rhetoric is about how bigoted a person I am.

In fact, nearly all the responses actually betrayed an unwillingness (or perhaps even an inability) to dialogue intellectually. When not condemning me as an individual, they discussed accepting transgender individuals in Jewish life — which I happen to support, believe it or not. But my column had nothing to do with accepting transgender individuals either as people or as Jews. It was about the blurring of male-female distinction in society, and how much the Torah (and later Judaism) values distinctions, including the male-female distinction.

This blurring of the male-female distinction has me very worried about the future because I do not believe that the abolition of “he” and “she,” as more and more universities now recommend, is a healthy thing. I do not believe that it is good that boys are elected high school homecoming queens — because queens are female and kings are male; or that anatomical males should be naked in high school girls’ locker rooms. I do not believe it is healthy for children when parents raise them with no gender, leaving it to the children to determine their gender as they grow up. And I do not believe that the widespread progressive dismissal of the need for both a father and a mother — given how little the sexes differ, who needs a parent of each sex? — is good for society.

This societal denial of the significance of male and female, this blurring of genders, and Judaism’s opposition to such blurring was the subject of my column. Yet that subject was either missed or ignored by virtually every responder, who wrote as if in preprogrammed mode, “bigot,” “non-inclusive,” “intolerant,” “transphobic,” “hateful” and, one after another, described the Torah as saying essentially anything a person (on the left) wants it to say.

Which brings us to characteristic No. 2:

Instead of intellectual discourse, what we have is the dismissal of the decency of the left’s opponents. If you oppose the left, you are rarely debated. Instead you are dismissed as sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted and spewing hatred. And that’s only a partial list. Instead of debating us, the left morally dismisses us as unworthy of debate.

For example, Rabbi Sharon Brous wrote that “Prager is a self-appointed community provocateur — a role he seems to enjoy.” 

The idea that I deeply and sincerely care about people (including the transgendered), about Jews and Judaism, about children and about their future is one that Rabbi Brous cannot entertain. Because then my ideas would have to be responded to, whereas if I am just “a self-appointed community provocateur,” I don’t merit a reasoned response to a reasonable column.

FYI to Rabbi Brous: I was a leader in the fight to save Soviet Jewry, and I wrote, with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, one of the most widely read English-language introductions to Judaism ever published, before you were born. I have lectured to more Jews than almost any living Jew. I have brought innumerable Jews to Judaism, and innumerable non-Jews to an appreciation of Jews. And you demean these 40 years of service to Jews as those of “a self-appointed community provocateur.”

By dismissing opponents’ decency, those on the left feel no need to confront our arguments. At the end of my second column responding to my critics, I invited any or all of the responders to a public dialogue organized by the Jewish Journal with proceeds divided among the charities of our choice. No one thus far has accepted the invitation. The reason is that the left lives in an intellectual bubble, and therefore isn’t used to being intellectually challenged.

Third, and finally, there is a willingness to make up falsehoods in the service of progressive ideals. Thus, the head of the Reform rabbinate (the Central Conference of American Rabbis) wrote, “Sadly the Jewish Journal has a long history of publishing Prager’s vitriol and personal attacks on hard-working and devoted rabbis.” 

That is, as I wrote in my response column, a lie. There is no such history, let alone long history. My call for her to back up her charge or retract it has thus far been met with silence.

And yet another rabbi wrote:

“The first thing we learn about ourselves in Bereshit/Genesis is that we are created in the image of God and that zachar u’nikeva bara otam (male and female God created it (the human).”

To make her point, this rabbi simply decided to mistranslate one of the two words she cited from the Torah. Bara otam means “created them,” not “created it.” 

I have devoted all this time and effort to this subject for many reasons. One is, as I wrote above, my fears for the next generation. 

Another is that pre-adolescent children are now encouraged to adopt a transgender identity when in most cases, gender dysphoria is only a passing phase. 

As sex researcher Debra W. Soh wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal:

“Research has shown that most gender dysphoric children outgrow their dysphoria, and do so by adolescence: Most will grow up to be happy, gay adults, and some, like myself, to be happy, straight adults.

“Waiting until a child has reached cognitive maturity before making these sorts of decisions would make the most sense. But this is an unpopular stance, and scientists and clinicians who support it are vilified, not because science — which should be our guiding beacon — disproves it, but because it has been deemed insensitive and at odds with the current ideology.”

And my other reason for all this writing is to provide Jewish historians of the future a picture of the moral and intellectual state of progressive Judaism in the early 21st century — in the progressives’ own words.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

At Politicon, diversity and polarity make for entertaining (and loud) political fare


Partisan, political theater was on full display mid-afternoon on Oct. 10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, as two of the panels at the inaugural Politicon conference overlapped.

In “Independence Hall,” a panel included Democratic strategists David Axelrod, James Carville and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, while next door in “Freedom Hall,” right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter debated Cenk Uyger, a left-wing activist and commentator.

Some of the louder Democrats in the crowd chortled as Gingrich talked economics, and whooped when Axelrod defended President Obama’s economic record. Meanwhile it seemed Uyger and the standing-room only crowd next door couldn’t quite tell whether Coulter was serious when she said it would have been better had the United States dropped a nuclear weapon on Iraq instead of toppling Saddam Hussein and then withdrawing.

“ISIS, when they put somebody in a cage and burned him alive, we thought they were the worst monsters on earth. You say you’d like to do that on a grand scale, because that’s what a nuclear weapon does,” Uyger said to Coulter, to large applause. 

“In response to 9/11, yes,” Colter responded, “we should not have sent ground troops. We should have dropped…in retrospect, now that we know we’re in a country that can elect Barack Obama, instead of bothering to create a democracy in Iraq, which we did, and which was working beautifully,” she said, to boos. “Are we getting back to immigration, the topic of my book, and technically the topic of this panel?”

The two-day conference, which ran Oct. 9-10, attracted about 9,000 attendees, according to event organizers, and brought together some of the nation’s most recognizable figures in politics, media and entertainment, including “The Daily Show” host, Trevor Noah, who performed a stand-up routine followed up by a conversation with Carville, the political commentator who helped Bill Clinton win the presidency, as well as Paul Begala, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), John Avlon, editor in chief of the Daily Beast, with Edward Snowden, who became famous for leaking classified information from the NSA, appearing via live video from Russia.

Modeled after the wildly popular Comic-Con, Politicon’s first run was a sort of cholent for the political mind. There was the good – former Obama speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and Jay Leno-monologue writer and Democratic political consultant, Jon Macks on speechwriting; conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, broadcasting his show live and interviewing, via telephone, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. There was the bad – a woman who screamed out “bulls**t!” to one of Gingrich’s points and then bragged about it after the panel. And there was the weird – ranging from the “Beats, Rhymes and Justice” slam poetry session to the cleverly and thematically cosplay-dressed attendees who got in for free.

In “Democracy Village,” the physical proximity of booths from different organizations, despite their stark ideological contrasts, created a bit of a compromising, kumbaya feel. Local conservative radio station KRLA, for example, bumped shoulders with the LGBT Republican Log Cabin Republicans, while just a few feet away were a Teamsters Local Union booth, and one for the Los Angeles County Young Democrats.

“This is really the intersection of politics and entertainment,” said Macks, who, in addition to his comedy writing, has also done debate preparation sessions with Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and has done speechwriting for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others. “When politics is entertainment, when 24 million people are watching Donald Trump debate, this is a chance for everyone from your political junkies to political nerds to your issue-oriented people to everyday citizens who are just interested in finding out and having some fun.”

Did Politicon, with its variety and diversity, change minds or create some ground for compromise? Probably not, but that wasn’t really its purpose. Like any convention – whether for comic books, fashion, politics or entertainment – many, maybe even most of the attendees, were those already passionate about, and probably set in, their political and ideological beliefs. But with commentators on opposite sides of the spectrum sharing a stage, and with activists from the left and the right schmoozing and working only a few feet apart, Politicon did deliver on its slogan, “Entertain Democracy.”

Netanyahu facing challenges, criticism from Jewish liberals


With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing escalating criticism and pressure from the White House, he could use some help from Israel’s erstwhile allies in the American Jewish community — especially those with sway in liberal and Democratic circles.

But several leading Jewish liberal critics of Netanyahu are working to rally American Jewish opinion against him by stepping up their condemnations of the prime minister and calling on the United States to ratchet up the pressure on Israel.

The epicenter of this liberal Jewish push is the annual J Street conference in Washington, where in a speech on Saturday night to 3,000 attendees, the group’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, accused Netanyahu of harming the U.S.-Israel relationship through “partisan gamesmanship” and called on the Obama administration to put forth the parameters for a resolution to the conflict at the U.N. Security Council.

Ben Ami’s remarks came days after another harsh Netanyahu critic, Peter Beinart, called for the Obama administration to “punish” Israel on several fronts — including by backing Palestinian “bids” at the United Nations and denying visas to and freezing the assets of Israeli settler leaders. Beinart also urged American Jews to ensure that Netanyahu and members of his Cabinet are met with protesters at Jewish events.

While more establishment liberal and centrist Jewish organizations show no signs of writing off the prime minister or endorsing such aggressive steps, some have expressed concerns about Netanyahu’s 11th-hour campaign tactics — specifically his vow that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch and his urging supporters to counter the “droves” of Arabs coming out to vote.

Leaders of the two largest religious streams in American Judaism, the Reform and Conservative movements, both issued statements last week condemning Netanyahu’s comments about Arab-Israeli voters.

“Because we proudly and unreservedly continue our unflagging support for the State of Israel, its citizens and its values, we must condemn the prime minister’s statement, singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote,” the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement Thursday. “It is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the prime minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement and we do so here.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called the statement “disheartening” and a “naked appeal to his hard-right base’s fears rather than their hopes.”

For his part, Netanyahu moved quickly post-election to contain the damage from his pre-election remarks, holding interviews with several U.S. media outlets in which he insisted that he remains committed to a two-state solution but circumstances do not allow for one because of Palestinian intransigence and ongoing turmoil across the region.

Netanyahu said his Election Day appeal was meant not to suppress Arab voters, who he claimed were being mobilized by a “foreign funded” get-out-the-vote operation, but only to inspire his own supporters.

In a sign that Netanyahu was seeking to send the word out beyond his conservative base, the prime minister not only did an interview with Fox News, but talked with two leading liberal media outlets, MSNBC and NPR.

Several mainstream centrist organizations — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League — were quick to embrace Netanyahu’s post-election insistence. AIPAC criticized the Obama administration for having “rebuffed” the prime minister’s efforts to put relations with the United States back on track.

“Unfortunately, administration spokespersons rebuffed the prime minister’s efforts to improve the understandings between Israel and the U.S.,” AIPAC said. “In contrast to their comments, we urge the administration to further strengthen ties with America’s most reliable and only truly democratic ally in the Middle East.”

Such statements signaled strong support for the prime minister, but they also underscored the extent to which influential American Jewish groups see support for a two-state solution as a key strategy for calming U.S.-Israeli tensions. Israel’s support for two states has served as a central rhetorical point for mainstream pro-Israel groups that have long argued that Israel is more willing to sacrifice for peace than its Arab counterparts.

Yet even as Netanyahu sought to defuse the controversy over his remarks, reports suggested that the makeup of his emerging coalition could keep U.S.-Israeli tensions boiling on several fronts.

The first party he invited into the government was Jewish Home, which rejects a Palestinian state. Another likely coalition partner, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, who recently said that disloyal Arab-Israelis should be beheaded. The coalition government is also likely to include include haredi Orthodox parties, whose rejection of non-Orthodox streams has been a cause of tension with U.S. Jews for decades.

Netanyahu’s outgoing government, in place since January 2013, was the first in decades to keep haredi parties in the opposition. Tensions had been higher between Israel and the U.S. Jewish leadership during Netanyahu’s previous term, from 2009 to 2013, due to concerns over treatment of women by haredi government officials and the non-recognition of non-Orthodox movements.

Unless Netanyahu attempts to forge a national unity government — something both he and the opposition Zionist Union have already counted out — he will need the 14 seats of two haredi parties to secure a safe majority. If history is any indication, the haredi parties will vigorously oppose the introduction of civil marriage and increased recognition of and funding for the Reform and Conservative streams.

Leonard Fein, liberal activist and scholar, dies


Leonard Fein, a veteran Jewish activist and writer, has died at 80.

Fein died Thursday morning, announced the Forward newspaper, where he was a longtime columnist.

A prominent voice of Jewish liberalism and left-wing Zionism, Fein was the author of numerous books on Jewish issues and politics.

Fein was the founder of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and of the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy.

He also was a founder and board member of Americans for Peace Now, the American affiliate of Israel’s Peace Now movement.

In 1975, he co-founded Moment Magazine with Elie Wiesel. Fein was a former professor of political science and social policy and of Jewish studies at Brandeis University.

How liberal critics failed Israel


If you listen to some prominent liberal critics of Israel, you might think that liberalism in Israel is in a deep coma. For many years now, these critics have been single-mindedly obsessed with one liberal cause: Israel’s failure to make peace with the Palestinians.

It’s a great cause, of course. How can anyone argue with someone who wants to “secure the future of a Jewish democratic state” and who is doing it out of love and concern for Israel?

But in their obsession with the Palestinian conflict, these critics have sucked the soul out of Israel’s liberal image.

According to this distorted calculus, as long as peace with the Palestinians is failing, Israeli liberalism is failing.

Liberal critics like Peter Beinart see Israel’s failure to make peace as a “crisis” signifying a betrayal of Israel’s liberal character. As the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has become more intractable, these critics have doubled down and continued to focus on Israel’s inability to make peace.

As a result, unwittingly or not, they have contributed to the libelous view of Israel as an oppressive regime that shuns liberal values and is worthy of the worst global condemnations.

Why is that a tragedy? Because Israel is hardly a country that shuns liberal values.

It is astonishing to think that a tiny nation surrounded by 150,000 enemy rockets could harbor more than 36,000 nonprofit organizations working to make the country a better place.

These diverse groups are spread throughout the country and fight for the rights of Arabs, Bedouins, refugees, the poor, the handicapped, a cleaner environment, women, gays, terror victims, Ethiopians, animals and so on.  

What does it say about Israel that it would spawn, nurture and support such an immense network of social activists?

It says that Israel is an island of decency in a sea of horror.

But God forbid anyone should ever find that out. Liberal critics are constantly pointing out Israel’s dirty laundry, but they rarely talk about the thousands of Israelis actually doing the laundry — what my friend Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, calls “democracy in action.”

It is this work in progress that distinguishes Israel, not the fact that it often fails to please its critics. Yes, Israel’s full of problems and social ills, just like any Western country, including America. But here’s the point: Turn over any problem, any failure, any injustice, and you’ll find a long list of Israeli social activists fighting to make things better.

Why are there so many of these activists in Israel? Because Israel allows it. In that part of the world, that kind of liberal freedom is not something you take for granted.

Sometimes I wonder if the Palestinians have so opposed a Jewish state because they’re afraid that if peace ever happens, the world will see the liberal, multicultural face of Israel that has for so long been hidden by the conflict. And who’d want to boycott that?

With the medieval violence now sweeping the Middle East, it’s doubly tragic that Israel’s liberal critics have kept Israel trapped in its little box of “failure with the Palestinians.”

“The new Middle East is now raising penetrating questions that must generate an upheaval in liberal thought,” Ari Shavit wrote last week in Haaretz. “Liberals can no longer ignore the awful plague of Middle East brutality and the fact that millions of Arabs live with no rights and no future.” 

Instead of focusing on how the Middle East (not to mention a future Palestine) must emulate the democratic and multicultural ways of Israel in order to save itself, critics like Beinart continue to harp on the unraveling of Israel’s democracy.

Talk about tunnel vision.

None of this means that liberals should stop criticizing Israel or abandon their search for peace. But if they continue to define Israel’s liberalism solely through the prism of its failure to make peace, they will continue to contribute to the global lie that Israel is an oppressive regime devoid of liberal virtues.

That may be fine if you’re anti-Israel, but not if you’re pro-Israel.

It is outrageous that liberal critics who love Israel have failed to show the tikkun olam side of Israel to the millions of liberal Jews who have been poisoned by the vicious anti-Israel propaganda routinely seen on college campuses and elsewhere.

Instead of putting Israel’s flaws and failures in the proper context of a democratic work in progress, we have allowed Israel’s enemies to take those failures and turn Israel into an illiberal demon. How that is “good” for Israel mystifies me.

Here is the simple truth that many liberal critics of Israel, and all the Jew-haters of the world, seem to easily forget: The Middle East would be a lot better place today if it were more like Israel.


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

David Suissa: Why won’t liberals defend Israel?


As I was reading about “engagement” — the new buzzword regarding Israel that came out of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial this past weekend in San Diego — I wondered: Did anyone at the convention notice the other hot word circulating regarding the Jewish state?

This one would be the all-too familiar “B” word: Boycott.

While America’s largest Jewish denomination was discussing its engagement with Israel, the American Studies Association (ASA) became the country’s largest academic group to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. This comes on the heels of a similar boycott last April, by the Association for Asian American Studies.

These nasty assaults on Israel don’t just violate the spirit of academia; more importantly, they discriminate against the Jewish state. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the ASA president himself, Curtis Marez, who admitted to The New York Times that there are plenty of nations in the world with a worse human rights record than Israel’s.

So, he was asked, why pick on Israel?

In a statement that might well enter the anti-Semitic Hall of Fame, Marez replied, “One has to start somewhere.”

Forget about starting with nations where women are stoned to death, gays are lynched and children are murdered. 

No, Marez has to start somewhere — so why not start with the Jews?

Activist lawyer Alan Dershowitz issued a clever challenge to Marez’s group while they were considering the boycott: “I asked them to name a single country in the history of the world faced with threats comparable to those Israel faces that has had a better record of human rights, a higher degree of compliance with the rule of law, a more demanding judiciary, more concern for the lives of enemy civilians, or more freedom to criticize the government than the State of Israel.”

As Dershowitz writes in Haaretz, “Not a single member of the association came up with a name of a single country. That is because there are none. Israel is not perfect, but neither is any other country, and Israel is far better than most.”

Here’s the point: You can be the biggest peacenik in the world and criticize Israeli settlements all day long and still be completely justified in expressing revulsion at the blatant discrimination routinely inflicted on Israel.

Which brings me to the new buzzword on Israel for the URJ — engagement — which Allison Kaplan Sommer describes in Haaretz as “the trendy umbrella term that both acknowledges the existence of disagreement in the relationship, and endorses using any avenue of interest to get Reform Jews more involved with Israel.”

These disagreements, which include the need for greater respect within Israel for non-Orthodox streams, are genuine and should not be downplayed.

But here’s my question for URJ head Rabbi Rick Jacobs: You spoke eloquently at the biennial about your deep love for Israel and the need to engage Israel, but why did you not speak about the need to defend Israel against unfair and discriminatory attacks?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the global lies that have soiled the name of Israel?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the hypocrisy of the United Nations, where Israel gets condemned more than the top 16 violators of human rights combined?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the anti-Zionist BDS movement that aims only to delegitimize the Jewish state you so love? 

I get that the focus of your movement’s relationship with Israel is based around a healthy and honest engagement of issues, with some “tough love” thrown in, just as one would do with family.

But there’s something else one does with family: One defends it when it is unfairly attacked.

One thing I admire about Rabbi Jacobs is how he jumps over the walls that often divide the Jewish family, as when he recently attended the annual gathering of the Chabad movement. I’ve heard him talk of how we can all learn from one another.

So, next time the rabbi is in Tel Aviv, I have an idea for another wall he can jump: Visit the offices of Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center), and hear from legal expert Nitsana Darshan-Leitner how the ASA boycott violates international, federal and state law in the United States, and how her group plans to defend Israel against this illegal and unconscionable assault.

Also, hear about the group’s track record of bringing lawyers from across the world to prosecute institutions, governments and private companies that discriminate against Israel. If you like what you hear, find out how your movement can help.

Fighting discrimination — whether against Israel or any other country — should be a proud liberal cause. One can engage and even criticize Israel and also fight to defend it against unfair attacks. Liberal icon Dershowitz, who criticizes Israeli settlements, is a rare case of a liberal lover of Israel who’s not afraid to take the gloves off to defend the Jewish state.

He should be the keynote speaker at the next Reform convention.


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

Pew finds Jews mostly liberal


One of the most interesting findings of the respected Pew Research Center’s poll of American Jews was the continuing theme of Jewish liberalism and approval of Barack Obama’s performance — a vote of confidence in the president exceeded only by that of African-American Protestants and Hispanic Catholics.

“Jews are among the most strongly liberal, Democratic groups in U.S. politics,” the Pew report said. “There are more than twice as many self-identified Jewish liberals as conservatives, while among the general public, this balance is nearly reversed. In addition, about seven-in-ten Jews identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. Jews are more supportive of President Barack Obama than are most other religious groups. And about eight-in-ten Jews say homosexuality should be accepted by society.”

The survey is a landmark in research on the Jewish states of mind, the first such major survey since the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001. It digs deeply into religious practice, participation in community activities, educational and economic attainment, demographics, and social and political views. It will help shape writing, commentary and research on Jewish American life for years to come.

It was taken between Feb. 20 and June 13 of this year, including a diverse sampling of 3,475 Jews, who are representative of the 6 million-plus American Jews. 

The pollsters were aware of the difficulty of defining who is a Jew. “This is an ancient question with no single, timeless answer,” they said. They divided Jews in two ways. One was by religion — those who “say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion).” The other was “Jews of no religion — people who describe themselves … as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way.” Interestingly, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of Jews considered themselves Jewish by religion.

The findings on Jewish attitudes toward Obama come at a significant time. While the Pew pollsters were in the field, the president was under fire for his policies on Syria, Iran and Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly didn’t like the way he was going.

In addition, he was headed toward yet another brutal confrontation with Republicans, especially the GOP in the House of Representatives. His approval ratings in national polls had dropped sharply since his 2012 re-election.

That drop wasn’t the case among Jews. A total of 65 percent of those surveyed by Pew said they approved of the way Obama was doing his job. Both women and men felt the same way, by just about the same percentage — a contrast to surveys of the general population, which show Obama more popular among women. The same is also true among age groups — with 64 percent of Jews over 50 approving of him and 66 percent of those under 50 agreeing.

Only African-American Protestants, with 88 percent, and Hispanic Catholics, 76 percent, give the president higher approval ratings.

However, the same percentages of Orthodox Jews do not share these beliefs, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, the survey found. For example, 82 percent of Jews overall feel that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 58 percent of the Orthodox Jews felt it should be discouraged, with that sentiment reaching 70 percent among the ultra-Orthodox. And just 33 percent of Orthodox Jews gave Obama a favorable job-performance rating, with the number even lower among the ultra-Orthodox, 28 percent.

This minority is growing. The Orthodox Jewish community has double the birthrate of the rest of the Jews, and it is substantially younger. Those trends add up to increased Orthodox influence in the political world if they chose to use it. 

Jewish Republicans have tried to mobilize them in past presidential elections, but, so far, each time the Democratic candidate has received a solid majority, the numbers hardly wavering from one election to the next. 

But in recent weeks, their efforts have been damaged by the cadre of radical Republicans in the House, and by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who closed down the federal government in their effort to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

You might think the Republicans are on the right track after the Obamacare Web sites’ troubled introduction, and after months of conservative attacks on the ACA, with polls showing that, while negative sentiment is declining, the Affordable Care Act is still unpopular.

But that’s not the case with Jews. They back Obamacare. The American Jewish Committee’s Web site noted that most public opinion polls show a majority of Jews favor the ACA. The Pew survey explains why. 

The poll shows that even among the irreligious, Jewish identity is intertwined with feelings of obligation to society and remembrance of how Jews have been persecuted. Jews worry about the underdogs, who are on the difficult road that they, their parents or grandparents traveled.

The Holocaust is deep in Jewish consciousness. Pew reported that roughly seven in 10 U.S. Jews (73 percent) say remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. Nearly as many say leading an ethical and moral life is essential to what it means to be Jewish. And a majority of U.S. Jews say working for justice and equality in society is essential to being Jewish.

The hard-hearted Republican conduct of the past weeks, plus the House Republicans’ willingness to shut down badly needed government services run counter to those feelings. That will likely shape how a majority of Jews vote in the 2014 midterm election, as well as in 2016, when the country picks a successor to Barack Obama.


Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

California: the left’s laboratory


Our state of California has become a laboratory. The progressive party, the Democrats, holds every statewide office, from governor on down, and they hold super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Even if every Republican legislator in Sacramento votes against a bill, the bill will pass. Therefore the left has a state in which it can do anything it wants. 

In light of that, here are three laws recently passed by progressives in California. 

The first law makes California, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “the first state to require that school textbooks and history lessons include the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

Throughout American and Western history, there has been one overriding purpose to history textbooks: to relate as truthfully as possible what has occurred in the past.

For progressives, however, that is not the overriding purpose of history textbooks. Rather, it is to enable students of various racial, national, ethnic, sexual and gender groups to feel good about themselves. California Democrats have therefore passed laws dictating that textbooks include the contributions of, among others, women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, European-Americans and American Indians. 

With regard to social policies, conservatives are more concerned with standards, liberals are more concerned with feelings. The standard here is historical truth. But historical truth matters less to those who are more concerned with feelings.

The historical truth, of course, is that white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) males were overwhelmingly the most active participants in founding America. Of course women, Catholics, Jews, Latinos, blacks, Asians, atheists and gays made contributions, and when they merited mention in history texts, they were mentioned. 

Imagine if we applied the California law to musical history. German/Austrian males — such as Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner — were disproportionately the greatest composers of classical music. What would progressives say about a law that demanded that histories of classical music must include composers of a dozen nationalities and not devote most of their discussions to those of German/Austrian lineage?

Actually, we have an answer. A few years ago the chief New York Times music critic, Anthony Tommasini, a progressive, published his list of the top 10 composers. He didn’t include Haydn, who, among other achievements, was the father of both the symphony and the string quartet. Why? Because, he wrote, he wanted a diverse list. Diversity, too, is a greater progressive value than historical truth. So Debussy (French), Bartok (Hungarian) and Stravinsky (Russian) made the list, but not Haydn or Handel. 

With this California law we have truly entered a Twilight Zone of the absurd. Have transgendered Americans who have made significant contributions to American history been heretofore left out of history textbooks? Have American Indians? Or bisexuals? Can you name one who has been deliberately omitted because of ethnicity or sexuality?

A second example took place this month when the California State Assembly passed a new bill. 

As described by the progressive Huffington Post: “A bill that would provide transgender students equal access to facilities and programs based on their gender identity cleared California’s state assembly. … The bill would explicitly allow students to use public restrooms and join sports teams that correspond with how they identify, regardless of their biological gender.”

In other words, if this bill passes the California State Senate — as it presumably will, given the progressive majority — students — even first-graders — will choose the restroom (or sports team) not according to their sex, but according to how they feel about their gender. No longer will a student’s biological sex determine whether he/she enters a men’s or women’s bathroom or joins a men’s or women’s team. 

And third, California has already passed laws prohibiting any business in the state from refusing to hire or firing an employee based on how one expresses his/her gender identity. That means that if one of your salesmen decides to wear a dress to work — as a man, not as a transsexual woman — no employer may demand that he show up at work in men’s clothing.

I have described only three of California’s progressive laws — those regarding sexuality. There are equally radical laws in all other realms of our lives. To cite but one, the California legislature is now considering passing what it calls the Homeless Bill of Rights. This bill, introduced by Tom Ammiano, the same San Francisco assemblyman who introduced the Transgender Bill of Rights, will allow anyone to sit, sleep, eat and otherwise live in any public place, including in front of stores and homes. It includes “the right to panhandle, the right to occupy public spaces, the right to fish through trash receptacles in search of recyclables … and the right to taxpayer-funded legal counsel if a municipality issues a citation to a homeless person for any of the protected activities.” 

This is what happens when the left does what it can. 

Welcome to California. Once the Golden State, now the Left’s Laboratory.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

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

So, how many Jews will vote for Mitt Romney?


Here is a truism we all already know: Jews are news. The fact is, no matter how tiny the American Jewish community might be — between 1.5 and 2 percent of the population — the battle for Jewish votes will be extensively reported and analyzed.

Over the last several decades, Democratic identification overall has fluctuated both up and down, from 36 percent at the high points, in 1988 and 2008 (according to Gallup poll tracking), to lows of 31 percent in 2010. Among many traditionally Democratic groups, such as white Southerners, Catholics and others, the trend has been fairly consistently downward, even as other groups, mainly Hispanics,  became more reliable supporters of the party. However, while others were changing affiliations, Jews’ political leanings remained largely the same.

There are many explanations for the unique political behavior of the Jewish voter, most focusing on the relatively liberal views of Jews on almost all social issues, while others suggesting that the “rural, overwhelmingly Christian and Southern” nature of the GOP is a turn-off for Jewish voters. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin framed it thus: “They don’t sound like us, they don’t talk like us, and they don’t understand us.”

Whatever the reason, in almost every election cycle of recent years, Republicans have attempted to make a new case for the “this time, it is really coming” argument — namely, that a new wave of Jewish Republican voters is about to appear. However, as I outlined in 2009 in a long piece in Commentary Magazine, “The story remained what it has been over the course of the past seven national elections, with Jews voting for Democratic candidates by colossal margins.”

Will 2012 prove any different? Last August, New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow made a case somewhat reminiscent of the Republican claims of 2004 and 2008: Relying on data from the Pew Research Center in 2010, Blow argued that “the number of Jews who identify as Republican or as independents who lean Republican has increased by more than half since the year [Barack Obama] was elected. At 33 percent, it now stands at the highest level since the data have been kept. In 2008, the ratio of Democratic Jews to Republican Jews was far more than three to one. Now it’s less than two to one.”

In response to criticism from some quarters, Blow nevertheless repeated his claim a few weeks later in another column, in which he argued that “Obama’s approval rating among Jews in 2010 averaged 58 percent. This percentage was the lowest of all those representing his enthusiastic supporter groups except one, the religious unaffiliated.” Blow’s claim that Obama’s loss of support among Jews should be attributed to the president’s positions on Israel was furiously debated (many of Blow’s critics were associated with the dovish J Street lobby, and relied on many polls in which Jews rank the topic of “Israel” as fairly low in their voting priorities). Nevertheless, the question remains: Do Jews — as one might conclude from the Pew numbers — now trend Republican more than they have in the past?

To help make all this a numbers-based type of discussion, we gathered data available from four sources: the American Jewish Committee (AJC) annual surveys of Jewish opinion, Gallup surveys, the study on Jewish Distinctiveness in America by Tom W. Smith (from 2005 — we needed those to get a glimpse of previous decades) and the Pew Research Center studies. The result was quite revealing: While Pew studies suggest that the GOP is gaining somewhat among Jewish voters (that’s the basis for the Blow post), the other data seem to suggest that Jews don’t really trend Republican, but rather independent — like the rest of the electorate. In other words, the Democratic Party is losing, while the Republican Party is not necessarily gaining.

Even if Jews aren’t yet moving in droves over to the GOP camp, the data might still be considered bad news for the Democratic Party. When a Republican candidate for the presidency is getting more votes from Jewish voters, it is not usually Jewish Republican voters. As one study showed, “The average non-Jewish Bush voter identifies as a weak Republican, while the mean Jewish Bush voter is an independent-leaning Republican.” Another study, this one of the 2008 election, found that “among Independents, we see even more of a pronounced split, with Obama garnering just over 36 percent, McCain close to 30 percent and undecided at 30 percent.” Clearly, the more independent the Jewish voter, the more likely he is to choose a Republican over a Democratic nominee.

To better understand this, one must consider a follow-up on the “leanings” of independent Jewish voters. Back in 2004, a study found that “after asking independents which party they ‘leaned’ toward, 64 percent of all Jewish voters identified as Democrats, 16 percent as Republicans and 20 percent as independents.” If that is still the case, then Democrats have less to worry about, as most “leaners” tend to behave in a way similar to that of party partisans. But Republicans can hope that the Pew 2010 study is a sign that Jewish independents now trend Republican.

This is exactly what the most recent AJC study also suggests. This survey posed two questions relevant to the question of Jewish party identification. The first question is the one the AJC people included in previous polls: “In politics TODAY, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent?” The second one is a new one for AJC polls: “[IF INDEPENDENT/OTHER] As of TODAY, do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party/Democratic Party?”

The second question is the one that’s making the difference. Of the 26 percent Independents responding to this poll, 15 percent, when pressured to “lean” toward one of the parties, chose to lean GOP. Taken together, GOP voters plus those leaning toward the GOP amount in this poll to 27 percent, not far from the 29 percent registered by Pew — and a reflection of a possible rightward trend. 

Having said that, not one serious pollster or political operative expects the Jewish vote to be divided in favor of the 2012 Republican candidate or to be equally distributed. The question is not about who will be winning the Jewish vote, but rather, whether the GOP can outperform its past performances with Jewish voters. Pollster Jim Gerstein answered this question last November by saying the following: “Our latest poll of American Jews simulated an election between Obama and Romney, and perhaps presents the clearest picture of where the Jewish vote may be headed. The initial vote shows Obama leading 63 to 24 [percent]. When we allocated the undecided voters by party identification — a common practice among political pollsters when trying to map out the outcome of a race — the vote was 70 to 27 [percent].”

So what does this mean for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney?

It is important to note at this point that in reality, for Jewish votes to be of any significance come Election Day, the margin between candidates has to be very small — very, very small — and in very specific areas.

Take Ohio. Jews in this state comprise 3 percent of the vote; in 2004 George W. Bush took the election by 2.1 percent of the entire Ohio electorate. This means that even in the closest of elections, you need every single Jew to vote as one bloc to make a difference. That is never going to happen, as even the most optimistic (among Republican operatives) and the most pessimistic (among Democratic operatives) put the percentage of Jewish voters in play no higher than 15 to 18 percent, which could potentially be added to the 22 to 26 percent who voted for John McCain in 2008.

In February 2012, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published a new analysis of party identification by religion. The bottom line, as far as Jewish voters go, was pretty clear: “Even Jewish voters, who have traditionally been and remain one of the strongest Democratic constituencies, have moved noticeably in the Republican direction; Jewish voters favored the Democrats by a 52-point margin in 2008 but now prefer the Democratic Party by a significantly smaller 36-point margin.”

Yet a May 2012 AJC survey of American Jewish opinion (which actually contained nothing Earth-shattering) found support for Obama among American Jews to be slightly higher than it had been half a year earlier, but still not very high. As Ron Kampeas of the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) reported at the time: “The AJC’s new findings are similar to those of the Public Religion Research Institute in March. That poll showed Obama scoring 62 percent of the Jewish vote, as opposed to 30 percent for a GOP candidate.”

Romney, according to the AJC survey, could get as much as 33 percent of the Jewish vote. That’s nice compared to Republican performances in previous election cycles, but not the meltdown of Jewish support for Obama that some Republican operatives predicted about a year ago. Forty percent of Jewish Americans do not approve of Obama’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations. But this is a significant improvement compared to the September 2011 survey in which 53 percent registered in the “disapprove” column. 

A June 2012 Gallup poll on the current tendencies of Jewish voters (and accompanying analysis by Jeffrey Jones) makes clear that “Obama remains the favorite of Jewish voters but appears to be running a bit weaker among them than he did in 2008, given the 10-point drop in Jewish support for him compared with a five-point drop among all voters. Nonetheless, for those who have a short memory, maybe it is worth pointing out that 10 months ago, Gallup was saying the exact opposite — that Obama’s numbers are down among Jews proportionally to the president’s decline among other groups:

“There is little sign that President Obama is suffering disproportionately in support among Jews; 54 percent approved of his job performance from Aug. 1-Sept. 15, 13 percentage points higher than his overall 41 percent approval rating during that time, and similar to the average 14-point gap seen throughout Obama’s term.”

True, comparisons can be tricky. A year ago, the question was about presidential approval, and this time it is about voting preference. Even trickier is that Gallup compares Obama of June 2012 to Obama of October 2008. What happens if one compares June 2012 to June 2008? Suddenly, Obama doesn’t look like a loser: Back in 2008, Jewish voters hesitated during the summer, and it was only in the fall that they made up their minds to support Obama in far greater numbers than previously registered. This might — or might not — happen again this coming November. Time will tell.

Assuming that around 75 percent of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008 (very few knowledgeable observers still believe the 78 percent exit poll number of 2008), how high can Romney climb? If the Jewish swing votes in play are no more than 18 percent — the most ambitious estimate I’ve heard from American sources in the know — Romney’s ceiling is 43 percent. But for him to get to that number, one needs to give him the votes of every single undecided Jewish voter. Realistic? Not quite.

If Romney gets half the votes of undecided Jews, he’ll be at 34 percent. That is, if you agree with the estimated 25 percent Jewish Republican voters, and the estimated 18 percent of Jewish votes in play. If you go by the exit poll (22 percent of Jews voted McCain in 2008) and add to it the lowest estimate of votes in play (I heard 12 percent), the Romney ceiling is a much lower 34 percent, and the likely Romney achievement (if he gets half of the Jewish votes in play) will be at around 28 percent of the Jewish vote. When was the last time that any Republican nominee got 30 percent or more of the Jewish vote? Reagan in 1984. It would be no mean feat if Romney were able to get more votes than McCain, George W. Bush (twice), Dole, George H. W. Bush and repeat the 1984 Reagan vote.

Writer Sara Miller contributed to this report.

Jewish groups condemn effort to ban circumcision


San Francisco-area Jewish organizations condemned a proposed ballot measure to outlaw Jewish ritual circumcision in the city.

The Anti-Defamation League, the local Jewish Community Relations Council, the Board of Rabbis of Northern California and the American Jewish Committee together issued a statement expressing “great concern” about the proposed measure, which would make the practice of brit milah, or ritual circumcision, on anyone under age 18 a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine.

“For thousands of years, Jews around the world have engaged in this important religious ritual, which is of fundamental importance in the Jewish tradition,” the statement said. “The organized Jewish community is deeply troubled by this initiative, which would interfere with the rights of parents to make religious decisions for their own families.”

San Francisco resident Lloyd Schofield is spearheading the effort to collect enough signatures to get the anti-bris measure on the ballot next year. At least 7,100 signatures are needed to qualify. Schofield wants to ban the practice of male circumcision, including for Jewish religious purposes; female circumcision is already illegal. Likewise, Schofield argues, male circumcision on boys under the age of consent should be illegal, too.

“People can practice whatever religion they want, but your religious practice ends with someone else’s body,” Schofield said in a recent interview with CBS. “His body doesn’t belong to his culture, his government, his religion or even his parents. It’s his decision.”

While the proposed measure has drawn international media attention, the Jewish agencies who condemned the effort said they believed any such measure would be defeated at the ballot box.

“San Francisco has a tradition of embracing the diversity and respecting the religious customs of its citizens,” the joint statement said. “We trust that the voters of San Francisco will see this proposed initiative as an affront to that tradition and to their freedom.”

Will Congress listen to liberal pro-Israel groups’ criticism of Gaza operation?


WASHINGTON (JTA)—In the first sign of a post-election struggle to set the American Jewish community’s Middle East agenda, a quartet of liberal pro-Israel groups is criticizing Jerusalem’s decision to launch retaliatory attacks against Gaza.

J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum all issued statements defending Israel’s right to strike Hamas installations in Gaza but saying, with varying degrees of forcefulness, that such actions will be counterproductive and damage Israel’s security in the long run. In their statements, they called for intervention by the United States and the international community to restore a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

In addition to issuing a statement, J Street organized a petition that calls for “immediate and strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza.” The organization’s online director, Isaac Luria, sent out a message Tuesday saying that J Street was already citing the 14,000 signatures collected as of Tuesday in conversations with President-elect Obama’s transition team and Congress.

Despite such efforts, representatives of J Street and the other three groups say it is difficult to gauge how much resonance their message is having in Washington circles, because Congress is in recess and the new administration is still three weeks away from taking office . But, according to J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, even if the groups fail to influence U.S. decision-making this time around, speaking out is a “really important first step” in sparking a discussion in the Jewish community and the wider political world.

“Part of our role in this is to create that space” and “say right up front this is an action we’re going to stand up and question,” Ben-Ami told JTA. “We’re going to question whether this is the right strategy.”

“This is a test to see whether there is a need and support” for that viewpoint, he added.

In his statement over the weekend, Ben-Ami said that ” real friends of Israel recognize that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability.”

Ben-Ami will have a chance to take his message directly to Jewish communal activists from across the country when they gather in Baltimore at the end of February for the annual policy plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The JCPA, an umbrella organization that brings together national Jewish organizations, the synagogue movements and dozens of local Jewish communities to formulate policy positions, has invited Ben-Ami to participate in a panel discussion on Israel advocacy.

The JCPA and the community’s other main umbrella organization, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as well as several other groups, issued statements offering unabashed support for Israel’s Gaza operation.

Brit Tzedek’s executive director, Diane Balser, said that she saw the statements as a “step” in forging “greater momentum” for a stronger alternative Jewish voice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My hope would be to coordinate more and more,” she said, particularly with an Obama administration that is seen as more sympathetic to their viewpoint than the Bush administration was.

Ben-Ami, though, said he didn’t think J Street and other like-minded groups would have much impact on any kind of congressional reaction to the Hamas operation when the House and Senate return to work next week. “I would be shocked if what came out of Congress was anything but a ringing endorsement of Israel,” he said, noting that in the immediate early days of a military operation the typical and understandable reaction is strong backing of the Jewish state.

Indeed, one of the most prominent of the 41 candidates endorsed this fall by J Street’s political action committee, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), released a statement strongly backing Israel’s decision and making no mention of American intervention.

“It is unconscionable for anyone to expect that the Israeli government or any other government for that matter, to sit idly as thousands of deadly rockets rain down on their cities and threaten the well-being and security of their citizens,” Wexler said. “I urge the international community to join the United States in denouncing the daily terrorist acts carried out by Hamas and support Israel’s right to self-defense and security.”

Instead, Ben-Ami said, J Street hopes to have an impact on the Middle East debate six to 12 months down the road, via congressional and administration action that focuses on achieving a political settlement.

The director of the Israel Policy Forum’s Washington office, M.J. Rosenberg, said the emergence of J Street could add a new dynamic to the work of dovish pro-Israel groups.

“Because they raised money for people’s campaigns, they have a different position vis-a-vis members of Congress,” he said, compared to a organization like IPF, which focuses on providing information and lobbying.

But Rosenberg said that while seeing four groups issue somewhat similar statements draws additional attention to their viewpoint, he downplayed a suggestion that it represented the first salvo of a more forceful effort to spread that message. “What we’ve been doing is the same,” he said. “The difference is the situation is worse” and “efforts might intensify because this is so bad.”

Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir agreed with Rosenberg that the recent statements did not mark the launch of a formal campaign, adding that the Gaza operation was not a particularly good vehicle to start such an effort. “We don’t view the issue of the Israeli operation as a black-and-white, clear-cut issue,” Nir said. “It wouldn’t serve as a strong rallying cause because it is so nuanced.”

But Nir said that Americans for Peace Now was strategizing with like-minded organizations on possible joint congressional action; he added that the group sent out an action alert to more than 10,000 activists urging them to write to President Bush and President-elect Obama on the issue. “We’re reminding people that since the objective here is political, military force alone cannot achieve” the desired outcome, Nir said. “There needs to be a diplomatic component.”

A top communal Jewish leader questioned the dovish groups’ positions. The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, wondered why IPF’s statement first called for an end to hostilities before commenting on the situation and defending Israel’s right to strike. “I find that skewed,” he said, because Hamas didn’t listen to calls to halt its rocket fire in recent weeks.

Foxman rejected J Street’s statement that “there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict,” saying it “does a disservice” by lumping Hamas into the general Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“They’re not interested in negotiating,” Foxman said. “They’re a terrorist organization. Why should they be treated by our community as a legitimate partner to negotiations?”

Henry Waxman: In his own words


What makes Waxman run?  

Earlier today, Rep. Henry Waxman defeated Congressman John Dingell for Chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The Westside Democrat, who is 69, now assumes a key role in pushing for greater government action on environmental issues like global warming. 

Two years ago in The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Waxman reflected on the values and traditions that shaped his political career:

This piece is excerpted from remarks Rep. Henry Waxman gave at Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture delivered at USC April 23.

What drew me to politics was the esteem I had always felt for public service and the commitment of our religious values to justice, human and civil rights, peace and the importance of helping all people be able to realize their full potential. And, of course, the essential task for our nation to be engaged in the world as a force for good.

As a Jewish congressman, I have been mindful that even in America, there have only been 157 Jews who have ever served in the House of Representatives; that I was the first Jew ever to have been elected from Southern California and the first in California in 40 years when I was elected in 1974. Today, we have 24 Jewish members, many from districts with very few Jewish constituents and seven from Southern California.

I am proud to have played a role as a congressman in events that impacted the Jewish people. My wife, Janet and I were in Egypt and Israel when, after meeting with both President [Anwar] Sadat and Prime Minister [Menachem] Begin, Sadat came to Jerusalem. We sat is amazement as we heard his speech in the Knesset. We fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews, visited Refuseniks, pressured Soviet leaders, and saw the doors open to allow them to leave. Janet was an instrumental player in the efforts to help Syrian Jews leave. We were in Israel as the airlift of Ethiopians arrived in Israel. I was able to attend the White House ceremonies for the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, the signings of the ill-fated Oslo agreement between Arafat and Rabin; the dinner in honor of diplomatic relations between Israel and Jordan. Last August, we were in Israel as it undertook the difficult disengagement from the Gaza.

While I have always had a strong Jewish identity, only as an adult have I explored more deeply the Jewish religion. The Jewish way is to have us elevate ourselves and refine our character through the observance of mitzvot. Judaism is much more about acting and doing the right thing, rather than believing the right things. Ethics is at Judaism’s core. God’s primary concern is not that we mindlessly follow ritual, but act decently. Ritual is to help us do that.

Actions and how we live our lives and treat others is at the heart of the matter. To aid us along these lines, we have specific obligations. Tzedakah, which means righteousness, not charity, helps bring justice to others and sanctity to ourselves. The discipline of kashrut raises the most mundane of routine acts into a religious reminder that we are distinctive and the mere physical satisfaction of our appetite can be a spiritual act. Shabbat gives sanctity to time to refresh our body and our soul. It has great meaning for me primarily to remind me, no matter how important I may or am supposed to be, the world can get along without me quite well for one day. It puts a lot of things into perspective.

Jewish observance is a check on our arrogance, self-importance, rationalizations to do what we want. We are required to fulfill the ethical commands and to choose to overcome our natural inclinations that are not worthy.

I have looked at the issue of governmental power in a similar way. Our U.S. Constitution tries to put in place a mechanism for checks and balances because our founders did not trust the concentration of power and the arrogance and corruption that can come with it. By the way, Jewish sources also resist an absolute power structure. Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik referred to a well-known axiom that power tends to corrupt the one who wields it. The noblest, best-intentioned ruler is affected by the glory, tribute, and power of his office. This may cause him to step over the boundary of legitimate authority. The human ego is likely to be distorted and intoxicated by a status, which has no external limits.

For the last six years, we’ve essentially had one-party rule in Washington. And for the last decade, the Republican congressional leadership has governed with the idea that the most important job for them was to keep the Republicans together instead of trying to seek bipartisanship.

Next week, the Republicans will put forth a bill in the House for lobbying reform, in response to the convictions of Duke Cunningham, and the indictments and convictions of a number of staff people around Tom Delay, who also has been indicted. The problem runs far deeper than can be cured by superficial reform. The problem starts not with lobbyists, but with Congress itself.

Look at the Medicare prescription drug bill. Negotiations were behind closed doors; Democrats excluded. Key estimates about the bill’s costs were withheld by a government official who was told he would be fired if he disclosed the information. Two key negotiators ended up working for the drug companies after the bill passed. And when the bill was short of votes on the House floor, the 15-minute roll call was extended to three hours. A Republican member was offered a bribe to vote for it. Now, seniors are trying to make sense of the law and how it affects them, while the drug and insurance companies are coming out the big winners, as the legislation is projected to cost billions more than originally thought.

What about our checks and balances? What about self restraint and ethical guidelines? It is as if recklessness is invited because some leaders do not think they will be held accountable.

Oversight is important, and if done right it can find the truth and bring real change.

At the same time the Congress is refusing to do oversight, the Bush administration acted, even before Sept. 11, 200l, with greater secrecy than any other in history, exceeding even Richard Nixon’s.

Last year, Congressional Quarterly, the nonpartisan magazine reported that:

“Administration secrecy has become the rule rather than the exception, a phenomenon that lawmakers, journalists, public interest groups and even ordinary Americans say has interfered with their ability to participate in government and to hold it accountable for its actions.”

Congressional Quarterly went on to note that some of the documents the administration has withheld seem to have little to do with the war on terrorism and a lot to do with keeping embarrassing information from the public.

There’s no doubt that some things must be kept secret. Our national security demands some information must be kept secret for the good of all. But what we have here is an obsession for secrecy.

Think about the secrets that we now know about: the wiretapping of Americans; a network of foreign prisons; information about detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Sept. 11 documents proving that the White House had been warned abut the use of hijacked airplanes as weapons

I do not intend to be partisan. But I do believe that the leadership of our government in both Congress and the Executive Branch has turned away from core values we have as Americans and as Jews.

The Journal’s Raphael J. Sonenshein profiled Waxman — ‘the Democrats’ Elliot Ness’ — last year:

The sweeping Democratic congressional victories in 2006 have not translated into the kind of oversight many voters had hoped for. In particular, the SenateJudiciary Committee has been notably unable to penetrate the Iron Curtain of Justice Department resistance.

The Bush administration has figured out it can derail the traditional hearing process by simply refusing to cooperate at all, by withholding all relevant documents or either not showing up at hearings, and if there, having nothing interesting to say. White-maned senators, who look like they were sent from Central Casting to play the part of “outraged representatives,” are reduced to rolling their eyes when witnesses “do not recall.”

Without the facts being handed to them on a silver platter, the senators seem inclined to weakly extend deadlines for cooperation or just give up. How can we do oversight, they ask, if the White House won’t help us?

There is another path to oversight, though, and its model has been developed by a 68-year-old Jewish congressman from the Westside of Los Angeles named Henry Waxman. But it takes a lot more work than the standard model.

With a hostile president, even a Democratic majority in Congress cannot legislate. But it can do oversight, and in the long run, oversight creates a constituency for legislation. Oversight is about information and public education.

In fact, Waxman already did more oversight while in the minority than many Democrats have been able to accomplish with the majority. Back in 2005, David Corn wrote in the Nation magazine that Democrats considered Waxman to be their “Eliot Ness,” and that many members wished the rest of the party would adopt his approach.

The standard oversight model is the congressional hearing. But hearings are not good vehicles to gather information, and they do not work as public education without some effort and creativity. Senators who think they are one great question away from breaking the case wide open and getting their names into the history books instead find themselves drawn into obscure debates with uncooperative witnesses, which leave the public baffled or indifferent. It’s doubtful that anyone will repeat Sen. Howard Baker’s memorable Watergate line: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” So why bother trying?

A hallmark of Waxman’s work as chairman of the incomparable House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (which, Waxman notes, allows him to poke into “everything”) is that his staff does the legwork before hearings are held. Before the 2006 elections brought him into the majority, Waxman used his minority position on the committee to establish an investigative staff. He has used his staff even more effectively in the majority.

Majority staff reports on a wide array of topics are made available to the media in an accessible format. There is usually a “hook” that fosters active media coverage. For instance, in 2004 he issued a staff report listing “237 misleading statements” by Bush administration officials about Iraq.

The groundwork for the issue is defined by Waxman, and the baseline information does not depend on cooperative witnesses. These reports, covering a vast array of urgent topics, make for good reading on his committee Website. The Web site also includes a “whistleblower hotline.” The hearings then add to the data and even add some drama.

Once the report is issued, hostile witnesses have an incentive to appear before the committee to do damage control. That is why Blackwater’s founder had to testify following a blistering and well-publicized staff report that investigated the company’s activities in Iraq. Waxman knows how to run a dramatic hearing, as shown by the famous day in 1994 when he got tobacco executives to raise their hands and commit perjury about the effects of smoking.

Waxman’s latest foray into Blackwater suggests that if he keeps pulling that thread, he may bring home to the public the scope and impact of the private war the taxpayers have been financing in Iraq. That’s what congressional investigations are supposed to do.

He is worrisome enough to Republicans that one California congressman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), issued a veiled threat: “If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?”

Waxman is easy to underestimate. He is obviously not a member of the Washington society A list. He is known for never having attended the Academy Awards in his hometown. After the 2006 elections, he told Time magazine, “It’s such a long night. When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack.”

Those who know Waxman’s political history, however, are not surprised that he is tenacious and effective. While Waxman is very idealistic about how government should work and is not a Beltway shmoozer, he is a sophisticated political practitioner.

Before he won a seat in Congress in 1974, Waxman was a young Democratic activist during the heyday of Democrats in California politics. He upset an incumbent to win election to the state Assembly in 1968. He and his close ally (and, after 1982, fellow congressman) Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) pieced together one of the few successful political organizations in Los Angeles political history.

Labeled the Waxman-Berman “machine” (which was undoubtedly an overstatement encouraged by the lack of such organizations in California), their combine backed numerous candidates for the state Legislature and other offices. They nurtured the early career of Zev Yaroslavsky.

Waxman and Berman were effective campaign organizers and team builders. They were at the center of a loyal group of elected officials, many of whom were Jewish politicians on the Westside; others were African Americans and Latinos.

So as Democrats struggle to define their role of congressional majority facing a hostile White House, they would do well to consider that neither the White House nor the mass media will do their work for them. If they want to see how it is done, they would be well served to ask the West Los Angeles expert.

Can new pro-Israel group J Street generate political clout?


Can fundraising success translate into Capitol Hill clout?

That’s the question facing J Street, the new liberal pro-Israel political action committee, which raised nearly $570,000 for 41 U.S. House and Senate candidates — a total far surpassing most other pro-Israel political action committees.

Even some of the group’s critics called J Street’s fundraising prowess impressive for an organization that officially launched just last April. But with an election just completed in the United States and one on the horizon in Israel, many said it is still too early to judge exactly how and whether J Street can also make a mark in the halls of the U.S. Congress. For now, the organization is pointing to its fundraising success as progress.

“Our hope is what we did in this cycle will demonstrate there is political support for a broad range of views of what it means to be pro-Israel,” said J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, whose organization calls itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and advocates for an increased U.S. role in finding diplomatic solutions to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its political action committee (PAC) operates independently from its advocacy and lobbying organization.

J Street has marketed itself as an alternative to the more hawkish views that it claims dominate many organizations. Ben-Ami said its success proved “there isn’t a stranglehold” or “monopoly” on “where political support” for Israel comes from.

Ben-Ami said he hoped to see less support for measures “critical” of the peace process, such as efforts to curb U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, as well as less “hawkish language” in letters and resolutions that regularly circulate in the House and Senate dealing with Israel and the Palestinians.

Over the summer, J Street protested an appearance by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) at a pro-Israel gathering organized by the Rev. John Hagee and the decision, ultimately reversed, by Jewish organizations to invite Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to an anti-Iran rally.

More important than any of these efforts, or the candidates J Street helped elect to Congress, may be the new president at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, pro-Israel legislators and activists said.

With President-elect Barack Obama having pledged to step up U.S. involvement and the Bush administration already in the midst of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian talks, J Street’s desire for robust American engagement is likely to be a centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy in the coming months and years.

Many liberals have hailed J Street as a much-needed alternative and corrective to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), even though the influential pro-Israel lobby was advocating a two-state solution and U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority.

At the same time, some veteran voices have been quick to slam J Street.

“They’re willing to take a very dovish view,” and, “of course, there’s some support out there,” said Morris Amitay, founder and treasurer of the political action committee, Washington PAC, and a former AIPAC executive director. However, he said, “the proof will be in the pudding” — whether the pro-Israel resolutions dealing with the peace process, like the ones to which Ben-Ami referred, receive anything less than the 400 votes they customarily get in the House. Amitay said he was glad to be on the 400-vote side.

One concrete measure of J Street’s success, some observers said, was its ability to convince candidates, including incumbents, to accept its endorsement.

“Receiving J Street’s endorsement is akin to a declaration of independence on Mideast policy. It means foregoing the financial support of the big, right-leaning PACs, and that requires real courage,” a pro-Israel organization official said.

Amitay, a critic of J Street from its birth — he called the group part of the “blame Israel first” crowd — announced that his organization would not back any candidate that took J Street’s endorsement. Along those lines, he told J Street endorsee Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) that he would no longer benefit from Washington PAC donations.

Amitay said he was planning to speak with two other Washington PAC beneficiaries who also received the J Street hechsher. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) is one of them.

Thirty-two of the 41 candidates J Street backed won election, with 24 of the winners being incumbents. Two of those endorsed — Democrats Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio and Ethan Berkowitz of Alaska — are in races that had yet to be called as of press time.

J Street employed a less traditional fundraising approach in outraising dozens of other pro-Israel PACs that, in some cases, have been around for decades. At nearly all other pro-Israel PACs, money is donated to the PAC, whose leadership takes that pool and decides which candidates should receive funds. There is a limit of $5,000 per candidate per election — the primary and the general election — for a total of $10,000 per cycle.

J Street did raise a small amount using the conventional method, but most of its donations came with the organization acting as a “conduit,” Ben-Ami explained. For example, a donor would pledge to give J Street $1,000, and J Street would “recommend” certain candidates to support. The donor then would decide where to direct his or her dollars and write a check to J Street, which would subsequently cut a check to those candidates, accompanied by information outlining specifically who the money came from.

Utilizing this method allowed J Street to raise unlimited amounts for its endorsees, because contributions counted against the $4,600 limit on donations that an individual can give to a specific candidate during an election cycle, not the $10,000-per-candidate restriction on political action committees.

So, for example, J Street managed to send $91,000 to Democrat Jeff Merkley in his race against incumbent Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), while PACs using the more traditional method would only have been able to distribute $10,000 to a candidate in the race.

Jews looked past worries to embrace Obama


For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream: unsettling and then settling in, and then, suddenly, revelatory.

Ari Wallach described breaking through to elderly Jews in Florida who had resisted voting for the son of the man from Kenya, the tall black man with the middle name “Hussein.”

“It wasn’t only his policy on Israel and Iran, on health care,” said Wallach, whose ” target=”_blank”>Great Shlep,” an effort to prod young adults to get their Jewish grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama. “His biography feels so Jewish, it feels like an Ellis Island archetype. People felt more comfortable when I talked about where he came from, it resonated so deeply surprisingly among older Jews.”

For months, polls showed Obama languishing at about 60 percent of the Jewish vote, a critical chunk short of the 75 percent or so Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) garnered in 2004. But exit polls from the Tuesday election showed Obama matching those results, garnering about 78 percent of the Jewish vote against 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his Republican rival.

Wallach credited the campaign’s late-campaign blitz of Jewish communities, joined by groups like his own, for converting the candidate from stranger to standard bearer for a Jewish ethos.

It was an uphill battle, starting with rumors that Obama was a hidden Muslim, that he wasn’t a genuine, born American. The subterranean campaign soon burst through semi-legitimate and then legitimate forums; Obama was not a Muslim, these conservatives and Republicans said, but he might have been raised a Muslim and later had radical associations.

The ” target=”_blank”>reject the RJC ads, said it was vindicated.

“Tonight, American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multimillion dollar campaign of baseless smears and fear waged against him by the right wing of our community,” J-Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in a statement. “Surrogates and right-wing political operatives in our community stopped at nothing in their efforts to sway Jewish voters against Obama. With exit polls showing Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote equal to 2004 levels, it is absolutely clear that their efforts failed.”

Some Democrats said McCain, once popular among Jews because of his willingness to reach across the aisle, hurt himself in the community by choosing the deeply conservative and relatively inexperienced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

An American Jewish Committee poll commissioned in September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin pick, compared to just 15 percent who disapproved of Obama’s decision to tap Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

But Obama’s appeal to Jews might have been most deeply rooted in shared values, said Mik Moore, Wallach’s partner in JewsVote.org.

“Folks just wanted to be with us, with the more progressive candidate; it’s where their heart is,” he said.

Jewish vote not a sure bet in swing state Nevada


Support for presidential candidate Barack Obama remains strong among Nevada’s Jewish population, but Jews can no longer be counted on as a bloc vote for the Democrats.

It is a startling revelation to many Jewish leaders in the state, including Rabbi Felipe Goodman of Conservative Temple Beth Shalom, one of the largest congregations in Las Vegas, whose members include Mayor Oscar Goodman and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley.

When it was announced that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would speak at the temple in September, Goodman saw a divisive split among his members.

“Before we announced a Democrat was coming, people were up in arms,” Goodman said of a subsequent visit by former California Congressman Mel Levine. “And then, of course, there were those who were delighted” at Lieberman’s visit. “You could really see that the group was divided. The same amount of calls came in telling me it was wonderful as came in saying they were upset.

“People usually think the Jewish vote is a Democratic vote,” he said. “In this day and age, it’s very much split.”

“I see a divide, but I see it as a divide that’s been within them,” said Rabbi Hershel Brooks of Temple Bet Knesset Bamidbar, a Reform Las Vegas congregation. “There’s a divide about who will be a little more for the State of Israel. The divide isn’t like they’re all choking each other. It’s still respectful; they’re still friends. I don’t think there will be this divide after the election. Not at all.”

Goodman sees the change as longer term: “I think more and more Jews are shifting toward the right ideals, at least in Las Vegas,” he said.

There are two main causes for the shift, all agree: First, many Nevada Jews supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and have been hesitant to put their full backing behind Obama. But also, the support of Israel by the Bush administration — and by the McCain camp — has many questioning their allegiances.

“There’s no question that Hillary Clinton was more popular than Obama,” said Rabbi Kenneth Segel of Las Vegas’ Temple Sinai. “She had very strong standing here. She had the support of the muscled insiders. She would have been for many Democrats in this state a more logical choice than voting Republican.”

Added Goodman: “There are certain issues that affect people in Nevada, specifically. The taxation issue is near and dear to their hearts. People don’t accept it or admit it, but I think it’s there. Yes, the support of Israel is a big part of it. The same is true on the other side of the coin. I’ve seen a lot of people who have turned. It’s not only about Israel.”

Many view the state as still up for grabs, even now. And because of Nevada’s role as a swing state, many Jews on both sides of the ticket in surrounding states are flocking to Las Vegas to help stump for their cause, including Democrats from the blue state of California and Republicans from the red state of Arizona, McCain’s home state.

“We do have a tremendous number of volunteers from California,” said Paul Kincaid, spokesman for Nevada State Democratic Party. “They see that their state really isn’t going to be a swing state, but Nevada might be one. A lot of folks are coming from all around —California, Arizona, even Utah.”

Leo Bletnitsky, co-chair of the Southern Nevada chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said California Republicans also are devoting their efforts to Nevada. “We’ve had a lot of people come here from California, because they know it’s a lost cause [at home]. They understand how important it is to knock on doors and do some phone-banking. And it’s been nice this year to make calls and not have people hang up the phone on me. People are at least listening now.”

All this attention puts Nevada in an unfamiliar place.

For the first time in recent memory, major candidates are treating the state as a battleground, despite the fact that it offers the winner just five electoral college votes.

“Nevada in the past has largely been neglected by the major candidates, simply because of the five electoral votes,” Segel said. “Nevada was sort of left behind. Because of the closeness and because of the division in the state — the competitive aspect of it — everyone is scrounging around.”

California Jewish Voters Guide: Views on state and local issues split on party lines


The presidential race is garnering most of the headlines, but there’s plenty of emotional energy — and money — left to lavish on the 12 statewide propositions on the California ballot, plus various city and county initiatives.

As in the top of the ballot contest between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, the Jewish community is sharply split between the Democratic/liberal majority and the Republican/conservative minority.

For views on the left side, The Journal checked out the recommendations of the statewide Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), with comments by its president, Douglas Mirell.

On the right side, the Republican Jewish Coalition of California is not taking an official stand on the propositions, with a single, notable exception, but the organization’s founder, Bruce Bialosky, filled in the gap. Bialosky made clear that he was speaking for himself but indicated that most Jewish Republicans of his acquaintance share his preferences.

Five of the propositions would obligate the state to issue new bonds or borrow money, largely for health, transportation and environmental projects, and here the philosophical differences between the two sides emerge clearly. PJA supports three of the five measures, while Bialosky opposes them all.

“There may be many worthy projects, but I’m voting against every measure that requires new bonds or raises taxes,” Bialosky said. “Like any family, the state has to live within its means. If any problem is really so pressing, it should be funded through the regular budget.”

Six of the seven remaining propositions are linked to social attitudes toward family values, the environment and the criminal justice system, and again they show distinct ideological differences.

Even when both sides agree in their vote on the same measure, they come to their conclusions from different perspectives.

California Statewide

Proposition 1A — Authorizes $9.95 billion in state bonds to help fund a bullet train between Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Progressive Jewish Alliance: Yes.
The high-speed rail system will assure that our state can meet the challenges of future growth. Mirell expressed concern about increasing state indebtedness, but in this case, as for Propositions 3 and 12, the benefits trumped his reservations.
Bruce Bialosky: No.
California cannot afford any new bonds. Other opponents say that the money would be better spent upgrading existing rail and highway systems or to fund more urgent needs.

Proposition 2 — Bars tight confinement of egg-laying hens and other farm animals as of 2015.
PJA: Yes.
Healthier for human consumers and shows respect for all forms of life.
BB: No.
Generally opposes unnecessary state interference. Other critics say that passage would give out-of-state egg exporters an advantage over California farmers.

Proposition 3 — Authorizes $980 million in bonds to upgrade and expand 13 University of California and nonprofit children’s hospitals.
PJA: Yes.
Critical for ensuring adequate future care for children, regardless of family’s ability to pay.
BB: No.
State cannot afford new bonds and, in any case, should not finance large projects through the initiative process.

Proposition 4 — Requires waiting period and doctor’s notification to parents before terminating a minor’s pregnancy through abortion.
PJA: No.
Would endanger teenagers’ health by limiting access to safe, legal health care.
BB: Yes.
While many of us are pro-choice, we believe that parents have a right to know if their minor daughters are seeking abortions, Bialosky said.
(For a more extensive discussion, see “Abortion Notification Measure Draws Opposition” in The Journal’s Oct. 24 issue.)

Proposition 5 — Allocates $460 million a year in state funds for the treatment of those convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes as an alternative to incarceration.
PJA: Yes.
“We support policies that focus on treatment and education, rather than punishment, as part of our commitment to teshuvah (repentance).”
BB: No.
Critics argue that Proposition 5 would decriminalize drugs and cost taxpayers too much.

Proposition 6 — Increases state funding for criminal justice programs by $365 million to $965 million, boosts penalties for gang activities and extends satellite tracking of sex offenders.
PJA: No.
Money would go mainly to law enforcement agencies and too little for treatment, education and rehabilitation programs.
BB: No.
Requires more state spending with little accountability.

Proposition 7 — Requires public and private utilities to increase the proportion of their electricity derived from renewable sources by certain dates.
PJA: No.
Sounds good but would actually retard the growth of solar and other forms of renewable energies.
BB: No.
Would be unworkable.

Proposition 8 — Amends the state Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman and thus bar same-sex marriages.
This hot-button issue has drawn national attention and donations, with the two sides raising a total of more than $60 million, a record for any ballot measure in the United States this year.
PJA: No.
Defeat of this initiative is PJA’s top priority, because “it would further institutionalize discrimination…. As a people of faith, we are obligated to oppose bigotry and hatred.”
BB: Yes.
This is a particularly hard call, with Jewish Republicans lining up on both sides of the issue, Bialosky said. “It’s horribly unfair to label supporters as bigoted and anti-gay.”

Proposition 9 — Enhances the rights of crime victims and restricts early release of prison inmates.
PJA: No.
Violates the rights of criminal defendants, “including the centrality of the assumption of innocence. Victims’ rights are already protected by California law.”
BB: Yes.

Proposition 10 — Borrows $5 billion, mainly to give rebates to buyers of vehicles fueled by natural gas, hydrogen and other alternative fuels.
PJA: No.
Unnecessary expenditure, which would duplicate government and private efforts already underway.
BB: No.
Digs an even deeper deficit hole.

Proposition 11 — Strips Legislature of decennial task of redrawing districts for elective state offices and gives the job to a bipartisan 14-member commission. Most analysts believe that passage of Proposition 11 would raise the number of Republicans elected to the state Senate and Assembly and lower the number of Democrats.
PJA: Neutral.
Committee members split on this issue and made no official recommendation. However, Mirell, speaking for himself, urged a no vote. He argued that the measure would not prevent the regular legislative gridlock in Sacramento. “The root of the problem lies in term limits for legislators and the requirement for a two-thirds majority to pass the budget,” he said.
Republican Jewish Coalition: Yes.
In a rare exception to its policy of no endorsement, the coalition is backing Proposition 11.
For Bialosky, this measure is the most important one on the ballot and would unclog the logjam in Sacramento. “I’m not saying this for partisan advantage,” he declared. “I believe every state in the union should adopt the same system, regardless of which party is in power.”

Proposition 12 — Issue $900 million in bonds for low-cost loans to California veterans to buy homes or farms.
PJA: Yes.
Veterans would benefit and mortgage payments would cover bond costs.
BB: No.
Reaffirms his opposition to all bond measures or tax increases.
In addition to the statewide propositions, what follows are positions on selected county, municipal and school issues.
PJA did not take a stand on these local measures, but Mirell said he supports all — with two exceptions — on the grounds that they are needed to upgrade our quality of life, education and transportation.
Without exception, Bialosky opposes all but one, reasoning that they cost too much money, are not needed or represent unwarranted government intrusion.




No on Prop. 8 Video: Following the landmark California Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex couples to legally marry, members of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s original lesbian & gay synagogue, took them up on it… in droves. Rabbi Lisa Edwards of BCC officiated at most of these ceremonies, an approximate total of 42 couples between June 17 and Election Day. The song is Since Youve Asked, written by Judy Collins, sung by Dan Fogelberg.


City of Los Angeles

Proposition A — Adds $36 in taxes annually for each property for after-school and anti-gang programs.

Proposition B — Permits city to use money from previously passed propositions to authorize the construction of 52,500 new affordable housing units, many of them for the elderly.

Los Angeles County

Measure R — Increases the sales tax by 0.5 percent to 8.75 percent to raise $30 billion to $40 billion for road improvements and mass transit.

Los Angeles Community College District

J — Authorizes $35 billion in bonds to upgrade facilities and expand educational programs.

Los Angeles Unified School District

Q — Authorizes $7 billion in bonds to upgrade facilities, including earthquake safety, and improve job and college preparation.
PJA’s Mirell, who endorses all the preceding measures, said he was undecided on Q because the school district had not made a complete case on how the money would be used.

Beverly Hills

Measure H — Allows the Beverly Hilton Hotel and its owner, Beny Alagem, to build a 12-story Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and two luxury condo towers at its Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards site.
The measure has agitated residents for months, with Alagem wining and dining the citizenry amid charges of voter-buying.
Proponents say the ambitious construction projects would revitalize Beverly Hills and bring more money into the city’s coffers. Opponents, among them bona fide celebrities, foresee traffic jams on an apocalyptic scale.
Although neither are Beverly Hills residents, Bialosky and Mirell have followed the struggle with some interest.
Bialosky supports H on the grounds that a man has a right to build what he wants on his own property.
Mirell said he doesn’t have enough facts for a fair call, but he sees some virtue in high-density development along the city’s main travel routes to encourage construction of a rational transportation system.

Santa Monica
Measure T — Would cap commercial development in the city at about half the current level. Mirell is for the measure and Bialosky against it.

Fiscal conservative ISO tax and spend liberal


Democratic platform sticks close to Jewish positions


DENVER (JTA) — When it comes to the Middle East and Sen. Barack Obama’s Democratic Party platform, things are staying pretty much the same — which, in this case, is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in.

The platform committee appears to have heeded recommendations by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) advising the party not to veer too far from previous platforms when it comes to the Mideast.

“The Middle East planks of previous platforms have been carefully crafted and have served us well as a party and a country,” Ira Forman, the NJDC’s executive director, advised the committee in July. “We urge the platform committee to stick closely to the 2004 platform language.”

It was advice that hews to the overall strategy of the campaign to elect the Illinois senator as president: Reassure Americans that this young, relatively unknown quantity will bring “change we can believe in” — but not too much of it.

The strategy is informing this week’s convention in Denver, with former military officers and party elders — chief among them former President Bill Clinton — lining up to vouch for Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

Notably, the preamble to the platform’s foreign policy section emphasizes security and defense. Five of its seven points focus on building up the military and combating terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, the platform hews closely to traditional language.

“Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy,” the platform says in an unusually long passage titled, “Stand With Allies and Pursue Democracy in the Middle East.”

“That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region — a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah,” it says.

The rest of the passage repeats talking points that would not be out of place on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee prep sheet: a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no return to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

The intensification of concerns that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability post-dates the 2004 platform, but here, too, the Democratic Party platform sticks closely to the pro-Israel lobby’s line.

The platform emphasizes Obama’s preference for tough diplomacy: “We will present Iran with a clear choice: If you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Even as it plays up the possibilities of sanctions, the platform also includes the magic words: “keeping all options on the table” — continuing the Bush administration’s implicit threat of military action should Iran get to the nuclear brink.

The sharpest foreign policy departure from the Bush administration and from the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in Obama’s pledge to end the war in Iraq — an area where polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews agree with Democrats.

On domestic issues, the platform also stays close to positions favored by the Jewish community, a predominately moderate to liberal demographic. It advocates abortion rights, environmental protections, energy independence, expanded health care and poverty relief.

In one area, however, the platform diverges from traditional liberal orthodoxies on church-state separation: Obama advocates keeping Bush’s faith-based initiatives, albeit with First Amendment protections.

“We will empower grass-roots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy,” it says. “At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections — because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate.”

Illegal aliens; Dems and Reps; Shocked, just shocked!


Illegal Aliens
 
Roberto Loiederman’s article, “Living and Working [Il]legally in America” (Sept. 8), achieved its desired results. The Jewish guilt arose in me with each passing word like hot gases about to blow off the top of a volcano.How can I deny illegal Mexicans and others illegal entry into this country, when some of my own people have done the same thing? It was a very clever way of making me see my own racist tendencies that apparently Loiederman and the editorial staff at The Journal wanted me and other Jews who think like me to see.
 
It doesn’t matter how you try to explain it, some thickheads just will never get it. This is not about race; it is about sovereignty.
 
This issue is about the giving up of America and all its values and culture. It is about the transformation of that culture into something else, into something foreign.
 
We have millions of illegals who are draining our resources in this country. Public schools, emergency rooms, city services, to say nothing of the more hazardous conditions on public roads because nonlicensed and noninsured drivers are big problems, especially here in Southern California.
 
Loiederman must understand that America cannot support Mexico’s poor. It is estimated that 15 percent of Mexico’s workforce is now living in the United States.
 
For Loiederman to point to his own background to try and cloud the all-important issue of open borders is a travesty as an American and as a Jew. Once again, I shake my finger at The Jewish Journal and tell you that you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for supporting such positions.
 
Larry Hart
West Hills

 
Republicans and Democrats
 
Shame on the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) for making the outrageous and ridiculous assertion that Democrats are “turning their backs on Israel.” (Republican Jewish Coalition ads in Jewish Journal, Sept. 8)It is bad enough for them to deliberately distort the facts. But it is even worse when it is done as part of a reckless strategy to politicize support for Israel — a strategy that will have negative, long-term consequences for the vital U.S.-Israel relationship.
 
I readily acknowledge that President George W. Bush, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and many other Republicans have been reliable friends of Israel. But they have been no better friends than the vast majority of Democratic leaders — including President Bill Clinton, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi — all of whom are unwavering supporters of the Jewish state.
 
The RJC chose to feature former President Jimmy Carter in their political ads, but notwithstanding his comments to the contrary, he is an outlier on this issue and does not represent the mainstream of Democrats. Even more ludicrous is the notion that Cindy Sheehan speaks for any meaningful number of Democrats on the subject of Israel.
 
If Democrats wanted to sink to the RJC’s level, we could just as easily trot out statements made by a number of prominent Republicans and claim that the GOP, therefore, is hostile to Israel.
 
In the increasingly polarized American political system, support for Israel is one of the few issues that remains truly bipartisan. This gives Israel confidence that no matter which party occupies the White House or controls the House and Senate, America will always be committed to Israel’s security and right to exist free from terror.
 
The RJC is making a conscious effort to destroy that bipartisan consensus in the pursuit of illusory, short-term political gains. But they are not acting on behalf of Israel when they set one party against the other. This cheap ploy will inject uncertainty into the U.S.-Israel relationship and ultimately make Israel less secure.
 
If Republican leaders really care about Israel’s well-being, then they should renounce the RJC’s dangerous campaign and devote their energies to strengthening the longstanding, bipartisan consensus on supporting Israel.
 
Rep. Howard L. Berman
D-Van Nuys

 
Does the outrageous ad from the Republican Jewish Coalition (“The Democratic Party Just Abandoned Joe Lieberman,” Sept. 15) imply that Larry Greenfield and his compatriots would’ve supported Lieberman had he won the Democratic primary?As a liberal who strongly supports Israel and equally strongly opposes the war in Iraq, I resent the portrayal of me and others like me as Democrats, who by voting against Lieberman, would abandon Israel. Can partisan politics in our country get much uglier?
 
Sally Weber
Via e-mail

 
When I was growing up, the term “Jewish Republicans” was an oxymoron. They did not exist.
 
Now I see in The Journal advertisements for the Republican Jewish Coalition, wherein they castigate Neville Chamberlain as the great appeaser, which he no doubt was. However, they fail to mention that he was the leader of the British Conservative Party, and together with his Foreign Minister, Lord Halifax, were extremely friendly with Hitler.
 
This party, the Conservatives, was of the same ilk as America’s Republican Party, which was adamant in keeping America out of “Europe’s War,” as they were wont to call it. Well, they can’t change history, no matter how they try.
 
Syd H. Hershfield
Los Angeles

 
It is time for thoughtful Jews who want to preserve Western civilization and Jewish culture and learning for their children and grandchildren to realize that appeasement emboldens our Islamofascist enemies. Appeasement was interpreted as weakness by the Nazis and millions died.
 
We are fighting a pernicious global enemy that wants to destroy America, Israel, democracy and freedom. We will win this battle only if we understand that our vicious enemy has declared war on us.
 
We need to understand that the Islamofascists will only respond to strength and commitment. The RJC’s Neville Chamberlain advertisement appropriately speaks to this issue. The choice is clear. Either support candidates of either party who condemn Islamofascism and reject appeasement or be prepared to answer to the words of Edmond Burke that evil triumphs only when good men do nothing.

Radio Host Barry Gordon: It’s All Right to Be Left


“I don’t come in until the sax solo,” Barry Gordon says to the technician in the cramped, second-floor studio in the North Hollywood area.

Gordon takes off his glasses, places them on a pile of books, and, light-green highlighter in hand, he begins marking up another text, this one by Noam Chomsky, Gordon’s first radio interview on this Sunday. Gordon has been host of “Barry Gordon From Left Field,” a political talk show on KCAA 1050 AM, since earlier this year, and as he tilts forward in his swivel chair, he studies the tome 15 minutes before his 1 p.m. show begins. With his gentle rocking motion, salt-and-pepper beard, and Talmudic concentration on the prose, Gordon suggests an Orthodox Jew davening during prayer, a fitting image for a man who may be most famous of late for his portrayal of the rabbi on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

But Gordon has played many roles over his long, multifarious career, which started when he was a 3-year-old singer on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour.” He has morphed from child singer to recording artist (his rendition of “Nuttin’ for Christmas” remains one of the top-selling Christmas records), child actor on Golden Age TV shows like “Leave It To Beaver” and “Dennis the Menace,” Tony-nominated performer for his role in Herb Gardner’s “A Thousand Clowns” and president of the Screen Actors Guild.

He also graduated Summa Cum Laude from Cal State L.A. in his 30s; got a law degree in 1991, when he was in his 40s; ran as the Democratic candidate for Congress in the late 1990s; recently co-wrote the musical, “Dorian Gray”; and now, in his late-50s, has become a radio personality.

In working in radio as a political commentator, Gordon is returning to his roots in many ways. In addition to his own radio and TV performances as a child singer, his father was a DJ in Albany, N.Y., before the family moved to Southern California, when Gordon was about 7. A few years later, the young Gordon became entranced by the Kennedy phenomenon and read “Profiles in Courage.”

On this day, though, he is reading Chomsky as the technician cues Supertramp’s “The Magical Song,” a hit from the late 1970s. We hear the lyrics, “They’d be calling you a radical, a liberal…,” before segueing to Gordon, who says, “We’re here to cut through the white noise of the right wing.”

Dressed casually in gray corduroys and faded-pink floral shirt, Gordon speaks in animated fashion, and unlike many actors, he can do so off the cuff with great elocution and diction.

After telling listeners about his “packed” show, whose interviewees in the later segments include Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Gordon introduces in almost hushed tones his opening guest, “one of the most extraordinary minds of the 20th century, Noam Chomsky.”

In an era of talk radio, where political discourse is often reduced to shouting, Gordon conducts his program with much civility. The morning after the show, he will say over the phone, “The biggest mistake liberal talk radio can make is to copy conservative talk radio. I think you can have a passionate program without trashing people. There can be respectful disagreement, but it’s disagreement.”

There is no doubting Gordon’s political perspective, and not just because of the baseball metaphor used in the title of his eponymous program. Gordon ran for Congress in 1998 against James Rogan, the Republican representative from Glendale, best remembered for his role in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Gordon lost a close race but paved the way for Adam Schiff, a Democrat, who won two years later.

Yes, Gordon is on the left. On his blog, BarryTalk.com, he has criticized the Israeli reprisals against Hezbollah that resulted in the killing of civilians, even if many were used as shields by terrorists. Now, as he interviews Chomsky, Gordon says, “As you’re a professor of linguistics, let me ask you a question about language. ‘How would you define a terrorist?'”

Chomsky, who has written many books on the Middle East and has voiced his disapproval of U.S. foreign policy and Israeli military activity, responds that a terrorist engages in “the calculated use of violence against civilians.”
Gordon, who is extremely well-informed, holds forth about the Israeli media and Middle East politics. He mentions that he has joined the organization, L.A. Jews for Peace, which he regrets does not have a large membership.

He and Chomsky discuss the failed peace talks at Taba. According to the MIT professor, the Palestinians and even the Iranians had signed on to a two-state solution in Israel and the Palestinian territories, but the Israelis backed out of an agreement.

If Gordon seems to be one of the lone liberal voices on the radio (he jokes that listeners are as likely to hear Gordon Liddy as him on KCAA), he follows in a tradition that goes back to FDR, whose “fireside chats” showed his mastery of the then-new medium, and has included everyone from Orson Welles to Robert Scheer to Al Franken.

“The trend in the medium is not to take a position,” he says. “I’m not interested in playing devil’s advocate. ‘On the one hand, this; on the other hand, that.’ I’m interested in taking a position.”

As the first of his many interviews today ends, Gordon relaxes in his swivel chair. He says he is reaching as many as 3.5 million listeners on KCAA but is hoping to go national. That will take a lot of resourcefulness, but Gordon is great at improvising, and he’s a quick study. He once filled in for the cantor at the Synagogue for the Performing Arts (“I was the temple’s Ruby Keeler”), he learned how to write and read music without any formal training, and he returned to college and law school in middle age.

So, how will he take his radio show national?

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he chuckles.


“Barry Gordon From Left Field” is broadcast live Sundays from 1-4 p.m., on KCAA 1050 AM, webcast live on ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.BarryGordonFromLeftField.com and the blog,

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

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

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

Don’t Discard Liberal Jewish Groups


Gary Wexler levels the charges that Americans for Peace Now (APN), along with other organizations associated with American Jewish liberals, are obsolete. He writes that
we are ignoring the “real” threats facing Israel such as those emanating from Syria and Iran, that we are out of touch with the mainstream for questioning the efficacy of Israel’s current military actions in Lebanon and Gaza, that we are wrong to believe a peace partner exists on the other side and that our “knee-jerk” reactions and inability to recognize and react to the redefining of American Jewish support for Israel will prove to be our ultimate downfall.

While Wexler may be ready to discard Peace Now and APN at this difficult juncture, that choice is not so for a great many others, as indicated by the 250 people who attended the program on July 24 in Los Angeles to discuss the current situation (causing a venue change from a private home to a large auditorium).
Based on his comments, it seems that Wexler has lost sight of the vision and values of Peace Now — which itself arose from the security establishment — and Americans for Peace Now (APN).

Both are Jewish, Zionist organizations that recognize that real security for Israel is a function of not only a strong military, but also a commitment to achieving peace with her neighbors. Neither are pacifist organizations, impatient to criticize any and every military action undertaken by the state of Israel.

On the contrary, Peace Now and APN, like all supporters of Israel, recognize Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself against terrorism and regional existential threats. We support the maintenance of a strong IDF with real deterrent capability. At the same time, we believe that we have the right and the obligation to raise questions and even protest when we believe Israeli actions are destructive to Israel’s own security interests.

The second intifada put a violent exclamation point on the ultimate failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve a comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It forced much soul-searching within the Israeli peace camp and its supporters in the United States.

However, through it all, a broad consensus within Israel, and supported by the American Jewish community, emerged around some basic points: Resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict is vital to Israel’s security and national interests, and to do so requires a “two-state solution;” and, ultimately, it is in Israel’s best interests to forge peace agreements with all of her neighbors, in addition to Egypt and Jordan.

In essence, the once revolutionary Peace Now agenda — supporting negotiations with the Palestinians, arguing that Israel’s security and long-term viability as a Jewish, democratic state are a function of both a strong military and of determined efforts to achieve peace, supporting the relinquishing of some territory and accepting the establishment of a Palestinian state — has now become largely mainstream.

A given Israeli on the street in Tel Aviv or American Jew in a synagogue in Los Angeles may not self-identify as a supporter of Peace Now, but odds are that if one were to probe his views, they would find that this is in fact more or less what he believes. This is not a coincidence or chance occurrence, and illustrates the fact that as Wexler said, the liberal/left label regarding Israeli politics does not have the same meaning as it might have in the past.

The current Israeli drive for “realignment” and “separation” is organically linked to the idea of a two-state solution, which requires a physical separation between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. Last year’s painful “disengagement” from Gaza and part of the West Bank — involving the long-overdue evacuation of settlements — was widely supported by Israelis, who recognize that settlements are an obstacle to achieving this goal of separation.

Once again, a core Peace Now position long viewed as revolutionary has quietly entered the mainstream in Israel and among American Jews. Over time, we expect that mainstream Israel and American Jews will also catch up with us regarding two related issues: unilateralism, which we view as an insufficient policy for achieving long-term security since it leaves Israel without a negotiated agreement and accompanying security guarantees and undermines potential moderate Palestinian partners for such agreements; and continued expansion of settlements, which is antithetical to achieving real separation and the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.

In facing the most serious existential threats to Israel, Peace Now and APN believe that Israel is best able to face these threats — most notably Iran — when it is not forced to divert precious military resources to resolvable and avoidable conflict, and when its actions in these conflicts are not unnecessarily galvanizing widespread hatred and resentment of Israel.

Serious, productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would do more than any IDF intervention to promote stability — as was clearly evident during the heyday of the Oslo process in the mid-1990s. Similarly, progress on the Israel-Palestinian track would go a long way to promoting better relations with states throughout the region and would deny extremists a potent rallying point.

As to the question of whether there are partners for peace, APN and Peace Now believe that Israel does not have the luxury of waiting for the perfect partners to appear and in the meantime refusing to talk to anyone else. As Moshe Dayan famously stated, “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” History has shown that partners emerge when conditions are ripe and the interests of each side coincide enough that partnerships which seemed improbable at best a short while before are forged, as happened in 1978 between Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

What will become of the current status of relations or lack thereof between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership depends upon a great many factors, but to rule out negotiations is to give up on a political process and leave only use of force.

And this brings us to the current day and the discussion of Israel’s military campaigns against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

As the moderator of the July 2 event, reading Wexler’s recollection of the evening makes me feel as if we were not in the same room. All the speakers at the forum affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and pursue those that plan and participate in doing it harm.

All agreed that the by crossing into sovereign Israeli territory and killing and capturing Israeli soldiers, Hezbollah and Hamas committed gross provocations to which Israel had every right to respond. However, there were legitimate differences of opinion over whether Israel’s military response has been appropriate, with particular concern that the response has reached the point of diminishing returns. This was a Zionist, pro-Israel discussion, undertaken by individuals who are deeply committed to Israel’s existence and security.

For decades, the Zionist peace camp in Israel and the United States has bravely taken the lead in asking the hard questions and shouldering the burden of positions based on what we know is true, rather than what is easy or popular. We weathered criticism in the past for our convictions, and no doubt we will weather the criticism now. We do so for the sake of Israel.

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.

Spectator – Spin-Doctors of the Revolution


Rachel Boynton, director of the documentary “Our Brand Is Crisis,” was excited when she first learned that American political consultants export their work globally.

While a student at Columbia School of Journalism, she saw a film about the history of 20th century nonviolent conflict that included a segment on how American consultants had gone to Chile in 1990 to produce TV ads for a successful campaign to end Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s long autocratic presidency.

“I thought to myself, ‘There’s my movie. I want to follow an American who is trying to run an ad campaign to oust a dictator,'” Boynton said in a telephone interview. “It seemed to epitomize a lot of things I think of as being fundamentally American — optimism, hubris, political idealism and the profit motive all wrapped up in one event.”

Raised by her Jewish lawyer mother, Esther, after her parents divorced when she was 9 months old, Boynton had already lived in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Denver, Ann Arbor and Paris by the time she was in graduate school. Her film’s subject also dovetailed with her undergraduate degree in international relations from Brown University.

After five years of work on “Crisis,” Boynton, 32, has finally completed her movie, which opens in Los Angeles on April 14. But it didn’t turn out as originally planned.

She documents the campaign waged by the liberal firm of Greenberg Carville (as in James Carville) Shrum (GCS) on behalf of the unpopular but reformist millionaire, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (a.k.a. “Goni”), who was attempting to return to office as president of Bolivia.

“I liked GCS because they were very idealistic about what they did,” Boynton said. “Most people expect to see political consultants being very mercenary. This firm professed to be idealistic about their work.”

Essentially the firm’s strategies for advertising, focus groups, polling and image-shaping worked in Bolivia. “Goni” won in 2002. But the rifts caused by the spirited election set in motion a bloody uprising that forced him to flee from office in 2004.

The turn of events left the firm’s Jeremy Rosner and Stan Greenberg — captured by Boynton in post-revolt interviews — feeling melancholy and disappointed. A revolution was not part of their plans.

“They had this American attitude because we live in a place that’s stable,” Boynton said. “That is not necessarily the normal course of things all across the world. We need to recognize our perspective is not universally shared.”

“Our Brand Is Crisis” opens April 14 at the Laemmle Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. For showtimes, call (323) 848-3500.

 

Jewish Groups Take Pro-Immigrant Stand


You didn’t see many Jews amid the sea of Mexican and American flags during the recent pro-immigrant rallies that filled city streets, but Jews and Jewish groups, in largely liberal Los Angeles, have been advocating on behalf of immigrants, mostly outside the view of television cameras.

Among local Jewish organizations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been leading the way: Its regional branch has been developing and disseminating a pro-immigrant resolution for roughly six months. The resulting declaration, recently approved by the Pacific Southwest Region of the ADL, calls for humane treatment of illegal immigrants, while also accepting the need for “security precautions … necessary to protect the integrity of the United States border and the well-being of the American people.”

Sixteen local civil rights organizations and the Catholic church have signed on to the declaration, said Amanda Susskind, regional director of ADL. The declaration has been forwarded to L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, with the hope that the City Council, too, will endorse the nonbinding resolution. Signatories hope the declaration will work its way to other cities and to the state Legislature as well.

The ADL declaration is intentionally short on specifics. It does not get into details about the number of years or days per year an undocumented immigrant should work to get resident status or whether or not illegal immigrants should be required to learn English or submit to a criminal background check. Instead, the declaration condemns in broad terms “xenophobia and anti-immigrant bias as having no place in United States’ immigration policy” and also proposes the monitoring of extremist groups.

Other local Jewish organizations also have taken a pro-immigration stance, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA). Two rabbis affiliated with the organization were part of a delegation of clergy who recently spoke to congressmen in Washington to “present a moral agenda,” PJA Executive Director Daniel Sokatch said.

A signatory to the ADL declaration, the alliance “takes the position further,” said Sokatch, urging community leaders “to take a stand substantially similar to Cardinal [Roger] Mahony’s.”

Mahony has spoken out adamantly against House and Senate bills that would define illegal immigration as a felony and would also criminalize the actions of those organizations and people who help these immigrants.

Sokatch says that the PJA would advocate civil disobedience against such provisions, which are part of legislation proposed by Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

“Any law that would cater to the worst, xenophobic elements,” Sokatch saus, “would require us to civilly disobey the law.”

Sokatch said that he did not attend the March 25 “Gran Marcha” because it was Shabbat, but he and his two daughters did attend another rally at UCLA, which included many non-Latinos, some Jews presumably among them.

The local branch of the American Jewish Congress also signed the ADL declaration. The national organization was expected to consider its own resolution on immigration at its national board meeting this week. Executive Director Neil Goldstein said that his organization is “strongly in favor of border controls,” but prefers the more pro-immigrant approach of legislation developed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The historic position of Jews is that we are an immigrant people,” Goldstein says. “We support the idea of immigrants coming to America balanced with respect for the law and our border.”

Another local signatory to the ADL declaration is the legal aid group Bet Tzedek, which represents Latino immigrants through its employment-rights project. The organization aims to prevent discrimination against immigrants “whether they’re documented or not,” Bet Tzedek Executive Director Mitchell Kamin said.

An individual on the frontlines of a walkout was teacher Steve Zimmer, who runs intervention programs at Marshall High School. Zimmer, who is Jewish, marched with students to act as a “buffer” between the police and students. At the beginning of the day, he had no idea that he would end up walking with the students all the way from Silver Lake to City Hall, adding that he wore “wing tips much to my chagrin.”

Once the Marshall marchers, the vast majority of them Latino, reached the crest on Spring Street, they saw thousands of other students — estimates put the total at 40,000 — some from as far away as the San Gabriel Valley. Zimmer characterized the moment when his students spotted their peers as “jubilant.” Zimmer, who knows City Council President Garcetti, prevailed upon Garcetti to talk to the teens. Later, as widely reported, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke to them as well.

The leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. Unified teachers union, has passed a motion calling on teachers to have conversations with their students on immigration and to support students’ constitutional rights. The motion was proposed by Andy Griggs, who is Jewish, and it passed overwhelmingly, UTLA Treasurer David Goldberg said.

“We want to make sure students are safe and don’t get beat up,” Goldberg said.

Just Joking Around


Being a right-winger nowadays may seem like no laughing matter, but there really are conservatives with a sense of humor. Even ones who tell jokes professionally. Even Jewish ones. And some of them appear at “Right to Laugh,” a comic showcase staged most recently at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills earlier this month.

But are they funny? You decide:

“If God had known all his chosen people were gonna turnout socialist, he would have left all our [rear ends] in Egypt…. Jews may have been the Chosen People once, but somewhere between Monica Lewinsky and Chandra Levy, I think God gave up. At this point, it’s between Christians and Muslims….” — Julia Gorin

“How do I understand a liberal? I take a conservative, then I take away reason and accountability.”

“I’m a Jew and an American, so I have so many reasons to dislike the French…. We bail this country out every 30 years…. They helped us during the Revolutionary War, and they’ve been milking that … but wasn’t that right after the French and Indian Wars…? The last war France won was led by a 12-year-old girl.” — Keith Barany

“I heard that ‘Republicans are the daddy party’ and ‘Democrats are the mommy party….’ Well, folks … mommy is no longer with us. We Republicans are now single parents. There is now only the grown-up party and the kiddy party…. Once you understand Democrats are children, you understand everything you need to know about them…. Why Democrats are children: Children and Democrats have a very rich fantasy life … a hard time differentiating between fantasy and truth…. When you don’t believe in truth … your job becomes to indoctrinate others, to undermine other people’s belief in truth…. That’s why they don’t like intelligent design — they don’t like intelligent anything.” — Evan Sayet, presenter of “Right to Laugh”

Fans include Jim Gilchrist, founder of The Minutemen. “Jack Benny … and Jackie Gleason were conservatives,” he asserted. “I don’t really have an appreciation for the irresponsible liberal [comedians] because they tend to be risqué, insulting and offensive.”

Another enthusiast is David Horowitz: “Howard Dean is an unintentional laugh riot…. The stance of conservatism is to see irony…. So of course, the conservative viewpoint is compatible with comedy.”

He added: “Comedy is often the compensation of the victimized, excluded and oppressed…. Who’s more persecuted in the laugh culture and literary culture than conservatives?”

For more information, visit