President Obama delivers remarks on the fiscal cliff [LIVE]


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LIVE BROADCAST: Nashuva Shabbat Services – July 6, 2012


Majority of Israeli Arabs prefer to live in Israel


The vast majority of Israeli Arabs are reconciled with the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and even exhibit a degree of patriotism, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey by Haifa University found that nearly one in seven (68.3%) preferred to live in Israel than anywhere else, even a future Palestinian state. It found that 57.7% are reconciled with Israel as a Jewish democratic state whose day of rest is the Sabbath on Saturday and Hebrew is the main language.

“I wouldn’t say that the Arabs are Israeli patriots. What we found was that they said that Israel was a good place to live in. They have benefits in Israel. They have the rule of law. They have democracy. They have a modern way of life. And all this they appreciate and this is their pragmatism,” Sammy Smooha, the University of Haifa professor who conducted the survey, told The Media Line.”

“When they say they reconcile themselves with the Jewish state this doesn’t mean that they prefer a Jewish state. They prefer to have a bi-national state. This also doesn’t mean they justify a Jewish state,” Smooha added.

The poll of 715 Israeli Arabs released Thursday found that 80% blame the Jews for the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of the expulsion of most (over 700,000) of the Palestinians from Israel during the 1948 war. It also found that 38% participate in events marking the Nakba.

Smooha, who has been monitoring attitudes among Israeli Arabs for more than 30 years, told The Media line that there has been a steady erosion of faith in Israel’s democracy over the years.

Still, it found that the Israeli Arab public-at-large was less extremist than its leadership, he said.

“Their leaders reject Israel as a Jewish democratic state, whereas our studies over the years have found that the Arab public say that while they prefer a bi-national state, they are reconciled with reality and say they have to deal with it,” Smooha explained.

Extremism was not absent from the survey. Nineteen percent of Israeli Arabs denied Israel’s right to exist, as opposed to 11% who expressed a similar view in 2003. Fifty-seven percent of Israeli Arabs said that they would support a referendum that defined Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state that promised full civil rights to Arabs,” compared to the 70.9% who said they would support such a referendum in 2006.

“This poll confirms the continued trend of the hardening of Arab attitudes and the worsening of Arab Jewish relations, but also shows that there is a lot of pragmatism among the Arabs and the framework for Arab-Jewish relations is still in existence and still solid,” Smooha said.

He defined the framework as the acceptance of the state of Israel and the Palestinian state alongside.

Ali Haider, co-director of Sikkuy, an organization pushing for civic equality in Israel, was more skeptical. He said it was important to have surveys to examine trends, but he disliked terms like “co-existence,” “pragmatism” and “alienation.”

“We talk about equality and shared public space and respect of identities,” Haider told The Media Line. “The Palestinian minority in Israel from 2000 until now feels some kind of frustration from the government and Jewish society, especially after the last election,” which highlighted a right-wing agenda.

“Israeli Arabs feel that the government in Israel is working against them. Current trends reflect to the Arabs that they are not welcomed and their citizenship is threatened,” Haider said.

He was referring to the so-called “Nakba Law” which imposes financial damages on any state-funded institution sponsoring a Nakba-related event; imposed civil service; incitement against Arab leadership; and increasing racism by right-wing Israeli leaders.

“I don’t know to which national group we are patriotic, but we want to be citizens of Israel; but on the other hand, we want to keep our Palestinian identity and feel part of the Palestinian people and also citizens of Israel,” Haider said.

“This combination is very complicated. I think that identity is not something static. This is dynamic and people can have at the same time more than one identity and this is the issue.”

LIVE BROADCAST: Nashuva Shabbat Services – June 1, 2012


Video courtesy of The White House

Taxes are the most divisive issue at the heart of this year’s election campaign. Obama, seeking a second term despite a slow economic recovery and a high jobless rate, hopes to tap into middle-class voters’ resentment against Wall Street while their families are hurting.

Democrats have hammered Republicans in Congress for supporting tax breaks that favor the wealthy while Republicans staunchly oppose tax hikes, even on the richest Americans, arguing they would hurt a fragile economic recovery.

Obama was set to revive his call to rewrite the tax code to adopt the so-called “Buffett rule,” named after the billionaire Warren Buffett, who supports the president and says it is unfair that he, Buffett, pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.

Obama is also expected to roll out new initiatives on easing the nation’s home-mortgage crisis and reforming the corporate tax system.

Most of Obama’s proposals will face stiff Republican resistance, limiting the chance of any headway in a divided Congress before the Nov. 6 election.

Although Obama is fully aware of the legislative obstacles, his aides see this approach scoring political points by turning up the heat on Republicans he accuses of obstructing economic recovery.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” Obama will say. “Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.”

The U.S. unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in December. No president in the modern era has won re-election with the rate that high.

Editing by David Storey

Obama Speaks on the Middle East and North Africa, and U.S. Policy in the Region


Roger Cohen’s Dialogue with the Iran Jewish Community


For video footage of the dialogue, click here.

There was no clean knockout when New York Times columnist Roger Cohen faced off against some 400 members of the local Iranian Jewish and Bahai communities last week, but spectators were treated to some vigorous rhetorical sparring and nimble footwork.

Last month, Cohen, a British-born Jewish journalist, returned from a reportorial visit to Iran and wrote a column for the Times headlined “What Iran’s Jews Say.”

In the city of Esfahan, in central Iran, Cohen talked to a handful of Jews, who are among the 25,000 remaining in Iran out of a one-time community of 100,000. Cohen reported that the Jews were “living, working and worshipping in relative tranquility.”

Despite the Holocaust denials and rants by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel off the map, “as a Jew, I have seldom been treated with such consistent warmth as in Iran,” Cohen wrote.

To some 30,000 Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles who had uprooted themselves from their ancient homeland, Cohen’s evaluation was dangerously naïve at best and a mockery of their own experiences at worst.

They inundated Cohen and the New York Times with letters and e-mails, and the columnist agreed to fly to Los Angeles to address his critics at Sinai Temple, which has a large proportion of Iranian congregants.

What could have been a highly emotional face-off went well, thanks largely to the audience’s restraint during Cohen’s lengthy presentation and Rabbi David Wolpe’s insistence on decorum during the more emotional question-and-answer period.

Cohen started by expanding on the main points of his earlier column:

* Labeling Iran a totalitarian regime ready to destroy Israel and then the West’s infidels is a “grotesque caricature.”
* Iranians are a proud people, but pay little attention to the regime’s propaganda and incitements. To compare the situation in Iran to an impending holocaust “dishonors the memory of six million victims.”
* Iran’s leadership is mainly pragmatic and primarily concerned with assuring its own survival.
* Iran is the most democratic state in the Middle East, outside Israel, and is against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
* An attack on Iran by Israel or the United States would be a global disaster. “Force is the unthinkable option,” Cohen said, and mutually respectful negotiations are the only answer.
* Although he counts himself as “a strong supporter of Israel,” Cohen believes that Israel “overplayed its hand in Lebanon and Gaza” and that Hamas and Hizbollah are “established political forces,” that cannot be eliminated by military means.

The audience politely applauded Cohen at the end of the talk, but when Wolpe opened the dialogue, some sparks – leavened by humor – were ignited.

Wolpe to Cohen: “You draw a distinction between the Iranian people and their rulers, but Iran has a long history of anti-Semitism…the Iranian government has republished the notorious anti-Semitic forgery ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and your New York Times column ran in the Teheran Post.

Cohen: “Then they stole my column.”

Wolpe: “That shows that it was worth stealing.”

Finally, it was the audience’s turn to confront Cohen directly, and the questions ranged from thoughtful to bitter.

“Were you paid by the Iranian government for your trip?” asked one audience member. “No,” said Cohen, though he paid an Iranian “agency” $150 a day for the services of a translator, who acknowledged that he would have to file a report on Cohen’s doings with the authorities.

Wolpe interjected that Cohen had paid for his own trip to speak at Sinai Temple.

Several questioners wondered how Cohen could take the answers of fearful Iranian Jews at face value, especially with a government translator at his side.

Cohen responded that he recognized the possibility of self-censorship by those he talked to, “but that doesn’t mean that nothing they said is of any value.”

Some of the sharpest questions came from the Bahai community, seven of whose leaders in Iran were recently imprisoned as alleged Israeli spies.

Cohen said he had not spoken to the Bahais, but was aware of their plight.

Despite his stout defense, it became obvious that Cohen was affected by the direct or implied criticism of his views by a knowledgeable audience.

“I feel your anger, indignation and pain,” he said. “I think that at some level you retain a love of country [Iran]. But I hope you will give some thought to what I have said.”

A sampling of audience reactions after the talk revealed little indication that Cohen’s request was acceptable.

“He didn’t understand the geopolitical situation, and he doesn’t know what he is talking about,” commented Jasmin Niku, a 22-year old law student.

Two veteran community leaders, who rarely see eye-to-eye but have excellent contacts inside Iran, also expressed strong reservations.

“In Iran, Jews are pawns of the regime, which will go to great lengths to persuade outsiders, like Cohen, who know little about the history of the Jewish community, that everything is just fine,” said George Haroonian.

Sam Kermanian was particularly disappointed, after spending two hours one-on-one with Cohen earlier in the day, trying to explain the real situation in Iran.

Kermanian, who is active in the Center for the Promotion of Democracy, based in Iran, said that the Teheran government is adamantly anti-American, whatever the sentiments of its people.

“If Cohen has come to a different conclusion, after talking to four or five Jews through an interpreter,” added Kermanian, “then he has been deceived.”

Related Stories:
Video from the Dialogue
Roger and Me
Roger Cohen speaks with Iranian Jews at Sinai Temple
Roger Cohen’s Reaction

LIVE VIDEO: Diversity and LGBT Inclusion in the Jewish World


UPDATE: This a recording of a live broadcast which aired Sunday night, March 1, 2009.

On Sunday night, March 1, JewishJournal.com will broadcast LIVE from the American Jewish University. Tune in at 7 p.m. to watch a panel discussion from the “Welcoming Synagogues Project: Strategic Convening.” 

Introductions by Dr. Joel L. Kushner, Director, Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Gregg Drinkwater, Executive Director, Jewish Mosaic. 

Moderated by Dr. Caryn Aviv, Research Director, Jewish Mosaic; Posen Lecturer in Secular Jewish Culture, Center for Judaic Studies, University of Denver.  The panel will discuss diversity and LGBT inclusion in the Jewish community, emphasizing success stories, challenges, and lessons learned.

If you are having difficulties viewing the feed, try refreshing the page.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The evening’s panelists will include:

Rabbi Denise Eger – Congregation Kol Ami
Dr. Bernard Schlager – Interim Deputy Director and Development Director for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CGLS)
Rabbi Harold Schulweis – Congregation Valley Beth Shalom
Rev. Rebecca Voelkel – Program Director for the Institute for Welcoming Resources

This program is co-sponsored by the ” title=”Jewish Mosaic”>Jewish Mosaic.

 

For updates on more JewishJournal.com live broadcasts, sign up

Public Reactions Are Strong to A Personal Journey


Los Angeles photographer Naomi Solomon capped off her informal summer presentation series “Settlers: A Photographic Journey of the Life and Disengagement of the Jews Living in Gaza” at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills last week, drawing more than 150 people.

Her evocative slide-show was a culmination of her personal explorations of life in Judea, Samaria and Gaza that began with her initial visit in 2002 to the mixed secular-religious Judean outpost, Ma’aleh Rechavam, and continued through the Gaza disengagement of August 2005.

After months of post-production since her return to Los Angeles, Solomon created a show of 100 select photos, which she has presented largely to Orthodox synagogues in the L.A. area. However, she says her mission to portray the diversity, humanity and culture of settlers and settlement life through her photographs is far from complete.

“My focus now is to branch out of local synagogues,” Solomon told the Jewish Journal in a telephone interview.

Predicting a particularly strong anti-Zionist sentiment on campuses this year, she plans to secure speaking engagements at universities, as well as at Reform and Conservative synagogues. Synagogues of all streams, however, have sometimes been reluctant to host her, as they fear that her presentation is too “political,” a fear that Solomon attributes, in part, to her provocative title.

While in her presentation Solomon makes clear her stance against unilateral withdrawals, she asserts that her aim is to “share her experience” rather than her political opinions.

“My goal is to unravel a human story within a political tornado,” she said.
Her photographs range from romantic scenes of settlers building homes, tilling land, playing guitar and surfing on the Gaza coast, to the more emotion-packed scenes of settlers protesting and soldiers evacuating settlers and demolishing their homes.

Solomon cannot say with any certainty that the recent war in Lebanon has drawn more interest in her work, although she believes her presentation is already changing perceptions. At the end of the recent show at Nessah, which climaxed with the image of the gates of Gaza closing, many congregants were tearful and the hall was silent. She related that on several occasions audience members came up to her afterward and retracted their support for the disengagement.

Teleconferencing With Tel Aviv


The classroom looks like any other — Formica tiles on the floor, florescent lights on the ceiling and rows and rows of desks. But what happens in this utilitarian space located on the second floor of UCLA’s Public Policy building is anything but ordinary.

Every few weeks the regularly scheduled class, which meets in this room on Monday mornings, forgoes its usual routine to participate in a live teleconference with its sister class at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

At a recent co-meeting of the classes, a huge projection screen at the front of the U.S. classroom acted as a virtual window into the Israeli classroom. Not only could the students on both sides see one another, but each student also had a microphone. The idea behind this high-tech set-up is to have a transatlantic conversation about politics, religion and social dynamics.

"It is quite incredible for two classes to talk to each other," said Dr. Fredelle Spiegel, the director of UCLA’s Israel-Diaspora Programs and professor of the American class. "Sometimes it goes better, sometimes it goes worse, but there is always something interesting."

The teleconference always begins with a set list of questions submitted by the students, Spiegel said, but usually the conversation quickly veers away from the predetermined outline. This time the teleconference’s opening question was submitted by the Israeli students: "How can American Jews be Jewish living in a non-Jewish state?"

A UCLA student promptly raised her hand to tackle this question. "I like being in a diverse culture," she said, with a defensive tone in her voice. But, as soon as she made this statement, one of her classmates added, "I also think it is a lot more challenging to be Jewish here. You really have to make a conscious effort to remember your identity here. It is very easy to blend into American culture."

Spiegel explained that questions dealing with issues of Jewish identity are common coming from the Israeli students. She said this is because of a fundamental difference between the two cultures, which is that America is a multicultural country with an emphasis on individuality, while Israel is a Jewish state that practices what Spiegel referred to as "communitarianism."

When not delving into identity issues, the two classes usually talk politics and this teleconference was no exception. In fact, the students on both sides of the Atlantic were surprised when Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), walked into the classroom.

Both the American students and the Israelis regarded the congressman’s impromptu visit as the perfect opportunity to voice their opinions.

Avi, one of the Israeli students, said, "I don’t know if you know what we do to politicians here, but we put them in the crossfire. This is a good opportunity for us and we are not going to miss it." Both classes erupted with laughter, but then got serious when Avi asked, "What are the interests behind the connection between Israel and the United States?"

After Berman responded that the connection is based on "democracy and some sense of shared values," the Israeli students continued to fire questions at him. Dina, a soft-spoken Israeli girl asked, "What makes Congressman B. pro-Israel?" And after Berman called himself a Zionist, Irit, another Israeli student, asked, "What does it mean to you to be a Zionist?"

These questions are characteristic of the issues explored during every teleconference. While there is not always a U.S. congressman on hand to provide answers, the students on both sides of the camera’s lens passionately express their opinions in a dialogue, where no topic is taboo.

And this political forum has definitely hosted its share of disagreements.

"There is tremendous disagreement both in Israel and here about what Israel should do," Spiegel said. "I always have the few lefties who are appalled with everything and then I have the right-wingers, who are appalled with the lefties, so you’ll have arguments internationally, but also within each group. So that is kind of fun."

Spiegel said that debate and dialogue is precisely the point of the teleconference.

Spiegel came up with the teleconference format after participating in a similar discussion between older Israeli and American Jews. Spiegel and her Tel Aviv counterpart, Eyal Navel, submitted a grant to The Jewish Federation, the organization that originally funded the program. Now in its second year, UCLA has both picked up the class as a regular course and also covers the cost.

American junior Matt Tseng said the most rewarding part of the class was learning about a new culture. "I learned a lot about the American Jews and the Israeli Jews, they’re interconnected, but there is also a lot of difference." Tseng added, "I have a lot of conflict within this room myself by not being Jewish, by taking this class."

Tseng said he wished the classes could have discussed issues besides religion and politics, he said, he always wanted to ask the Israelis questions like, "What kind of music do you like?" But, he acknowledged, that was beside the point.

One of the UCLA students actually was an Israeli studying in the United States. He asked to remain anonymous because he also is an employee of the Israeli government. In this Israeli’s opinion, only the Jews in the class understood the issues at hand, while the non-Jews were, "completely off."

"They don’t know what it is to fear," he said. "They don’t know what it is to hear a bomb explosion and read the newspaper hoping not to find your friend. They do not know how this feels."

The goal of the class, Spiegel said, is to foster a greater understanding between the two cultures. "They really got a sense of the difficulties that the Israelis are going through in a way that they don’t get from a newspaper," she said. "A lot of them every quarter will say, ‘Gee, I know we read this in the books, but I didn’t understand it until I talked to the Israelis.’ And that is what teleconferencing is supposed to be."

A Portion of Parshat Vayakel-Pekuday


Bezalel helps the Israelites build the mishkan (tabernacle). They are returning a favor that God did for them many years earlier. God built the world so that humans would have a place to live. Now the Israelites are building a mishkan so that God will have a place to “live” on earth. The word mishkan comes from the Hebrew word shachen (neighbor). God and the Israelites are like good neighbors. Have you ever moved to a new neighborhood?

I hope that your new neighbors came to greet you, maybe bringing an apple pie, cookies or a toy. Now it is your turn — if a new neighbor moves in, or if a new kid comes to your school, you can also be a good neighbor. Greet them and make them welcome in your home. And one more thing: Bezalel (whose name means “in the shadow of God”) was chosen as master designer because he knew his stuff. So when you give your new neighbor a present, think first of what you are really good at: Baking? Building bird houses? Use your talents to make your present.