Critics of the Iran nuclear pact wanted US prisoners to be part of the deal


You know the old joke about the definition of chutzpah? Well, critics of the nuclear deal with Iran are offering up a new punchline.

First they vilify President Obama for agreeing to a deal that neglected U.S. prisoners being held by Iran.

Then they cry ransom once the administration brings them home.

On Thursday State Department spokesman John Kirby made news by conceding that there was in fact a connection between the release of American citizens and a $400 million payment to Iran made as part of a settlement awarded to the Islamic Republic by a court in The Hague.

“We deliberately leveraged that moment to finalize these outstanding issues nearly simultaneously,” he said. “With concerns that Iran may renege on the prisoner release, given unnecessary delays regarding persons in Iran who could not be located as well as, to be quite honest, mutual mistrust between Iran and the United States, we of course sought to retain maximum leverage until after American citizens were released. That was our top priority.”

Immediately Donald Trump and other Republicans pounced, claiming they had been vindicated in their campaign to paint the Obama administration as having paid a $400 million ransom in exchange for the release of three American prisoners.

President Obama and his lieutenants clearly have egg on their faces — and rightfully so after testing our collective intelligence by insisting that there was absolutely no connection between the sequence of events.

But the way Obama’s critics are talking, you would think that we offered cash in exchange for the release of the U.S. prisoners. But by most accounts, including the excellent investigative reporting by The Wall Street Journal, that is not what happened. It would be more accurate to describe both the prisoner release and the settlement payment as add-ons to the central deal — sanctions relief and the release of frozen Iranian monies in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program. As in the main deal, the Iranians were told they’d get the money owed them if they cleaned up their act. 

In fact, for years, one of the main arguments put forth by Obama’s critics was that in his zeal to strike a nuclear deal the president was ignoring Iranian bad behavior — including the imprisonment of U.S. citizens. And as it became clear that a deal was going to happen, opponents reamed Obama for failing to get the prisoners back.

Take, for example, The Israel Project, one of the loudest Jewish opponents of the Iran deal. In recent weeks the organization has been pushing the ransom payment line. But last summer, in its efforts to fight the deal, one of its talking points was that the agreement included no provisions for the release of the prisoners.

None of this is to let Obama and his aides off the hook. Instead of obfuscating, they should have unapologetically acknowledged that they refused to go through with the legal settlement payment until Iran made good on its commitment to release the prisoners.

Of course, from there Obama’s critics might have seized on a new, and maybe stickier, point: If we can’t trust the Iranians to release a handful of prisoners, why do we think they’ll live up to the key parts of the nuclear deal?

At the center, battling left and right extremism


It’s not going to end. 

I’m talking about the increasing demonization of Israel by progressive organizations and individuals. This month it was Black Lives Matter’s platform, and the vulgar cold shoulder given the Israeli Olympic athletes by some Lebanese and Egyptian athletes. 

Next month it will be the BDSers waiting to greet your college kids back to a new school year with mock Israeli checkpoints, divestment drives and protests against Israeli speakers.  

More and more progressive voices are falling prey to the simpleminded and extreme formulations of the radical anti-Israel crowd. These are not people who want a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — they see Israel’s existence itself as unjust. 

The Black Lives Matter platform is the perfect example. It took legitimate concerns over the amount of United States aid to Israel and turned it into hate speech. The platform accused Israel of “genocide” against the Palestinian people — something that should come as a shock to the 4.1 million more Palestinians alive today in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza than in 1948, when Israel came into being. 

Black lives do matter. But when it comes to Israel, so do facts. The only genocide in the Middle East is being perpetrated by Syrians against Syrians. On that, the BLM platform is unconscionably silent.

But BLM’s seemingly out-of-the-blue illogical attack on Israel should come as no surprise to people watching what’s happening everywhere from college campuses to the Bernie Sanders campaign — pro-Israel progressive voices are playing defense. 

“So-called intersectionality and identity politics,” Omer Benjakob writes in Haaretz, have been “conflating progressivism with blind support for BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions], creating an impossible dilemma for liberal Jews who want to be supportive of Israel.”

The fringes have bought the arguments of the Israel haters, and the extremes are eating toward the center.

And who are their greatest enablers? The extremists on the other side. 

In their persistent defense of the occupation, their cynical attempt to paint every act of Palestinian resistance as a stalking horse for Islamic fundamentalism, and their constant support for — or silence in the face of — the settlement project and its attendant injustices, the pro-Israel extremes continue to undermine the strategic and ethical standing of the Jewish state. 

These are the people who keep telling us that Israel is nothing but a victim, that the problem is only anti-Semitism, that if Israel could just do a better job of telling its story, of teaching our children to defend its actions, then the world would understand. 

What they don’t get is you can’t change the narrative without changing the reality. You can’t fix the image without fixing the facts. And the fact is that a democracy cannot deprive millions of people of their democratic rights and remain viable, much less popular. 

Occupation and the settlement project behind it undermine Israel’s security, its morality, its very existence. That’s why the strongest voices against the occupation have always been pro-Israel and pro-security. That’s why people who put Israel’s security first, like Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin, stood up to their extremists. 

Whether you are Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Arab, the center is an increasingly lonely place these days. In the center are those of us who understand that the occupation does not justify anti-Semitism, and anti-Semitism does not justify the occupation. 

In the center are those who choose to fight BDS as if there is no occupation, and fight occupation as if there is no BDS. In the center are those who believe neither Israel nor the Palestinians need to justify their existence to anyone. In the center are those who believe the happiness and security of both peoples are inextricably linked to one another. 

The center might not be dead, but it is shrinking. From the left and the right, extremism shows no sign of ending. And if that continues, none of this is going to end well.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

The real meaning of Tikkun Olam


There’s nothing like studying the Talmud to learn more about Judaism.  I’m not referring to long hours in a Jerusalem yeshiva with one’s head buried in the text, but rather to the study program called Daf Yomi.  Reading a page a day, one can get through the entire Talmud in seven and a half years.  In the current Daf Yomi cycle, followed throughout the world, I along with my Talmudic haburah are now four years into it, with another three and a half years to go.

As anyone who has cracked open one of the many volumes knows, the Talmud offers extensive discussions on just about every conceivable moral issue imaginable.  It’s undoubtedly archaic in context, but it’s no less relevant in concept today than it was thousands of years ago.  The analyses that the ancient rabbis bring to bear in debating the various issues is beyond impressive.  It’s no wonder yeshiva buchers end up being among the very best law school students.  For novices like myself, it’s a challenge just to keep up.

A few months ago, while studying tractate Gittin, the volume dealing with divorce law, we came across the well-known concept of tikkun olam.  According to everything I had learned growing up as a typical reform Jew, tikkun olam means “repair of the world” — sometimes referred to as “social justice” — often entailing government programs to make the world a better place.  However, delving into the Gemara, the Talmudic commentary, I was in for a little surprise.

According to the translation in the ArtScroll publication, tikkun olam means “benefit of society.”  In the Koren publication, it means “betterment of the world.”  Either way, the meaning is very different from the popularized one often used today.  As Adam Kirsch, head of the graduate program in Jewish studies at Columbia University, observed in his recent Tablet article, “We have interpreted ‘the betterment of the world’ to mean the improvement of society in the name of social justice … I don’t mean to disparage this idea … but there is no doubt that this is not what our ancestors meant when they used the words tikkun olam.”

As discussed throughout Gittin, tikkun olam relates to traditional rules of morality and justice in a limited number of situations, and to certain adjustments in isolated instances when the rules could lead to perverse results.  Like with the popularized version of the term, the goal is to improve the general Jewish society.  However, its use as explained in the Talmud is not intended to expand what’s done to create a better society but rather to adjust how certain rules are applied.  The Gemara cites several situations where tikkun olam applies.  Three examples will help to clarify the idea.

Under traditional divorce rules, a husband (assumed to be living separately from his wife) could employ a scribe to draft a get (the traditional document that effectuates the divorce) and could use an agent to deliver the get to his wife.  If the husband changed his mind, he could declare the get nullified in court.  This may seem reasonable, but the rabbis pondered a potential problem.  What if, after the get is drafted and the agent sent on his way, but before the agent delivers the get to the wife, the husband changes his mind and nullifies the get in court?  What if he then sends a second agent to meet up with the first agent, but the first agent delivers the get to his wife before the second agent arrives?  Would the wife think that she’s divorced, even though the husband nullified the get in court?  Presumably so.  What if the wife, believing she’s divorced, remarries and has a child?  Would the child be illegitimate — a mamzer?  The rabbis were not comfortable with this possibility.

For the benefit of society — mi’pnei tikkun ha-olam — Rabban Gamliel the Elder, head of the Sanhedrin for many years during the Second Temple period, changed the rules.  In Gittin 32A, “The mishna relates that initially, a husband who wished to render the bill of divorce void would convene a court elsewhere and render the bill of divorce void in the presence of the court before it reached his wife.  Rabat Gamliel instituted an ordinance that one should not do this, mi’pnei tikkun ha-olam.”  He concluded that, under these circumstances, a husband could not nullify a get in court.  Rather, the husband would have to deliver the message directly to his wife or directly to the first agent before the get is delivered to the wife.  Otherwise, even if the husband changes his mind, the divorce would be effective once the wife receives the get.  In this way, the normal rules for nullifying a get were adjusted so as to prevent the wife from thinking that she was divorced when she was not, and thereby to avoid the potential birth of mamzerim.  As Kirsch notes, “It is to avoid this kind of uncertainty that the rabbis instituted a reform in the divorce process — the kind of reform they refer to as mi’pnei tikkun olam.”

A second example, also in Gittin, involves kidnappers and ransoms,.  Kidnappings were evidently not uncommon in ancient days.  In the case of a kidnapping, one would think that a family would have the freedom to redeem a captive for whatever price they could negotiate — even a very high price if the family could afford it.  But the rabbis were concerned about two major consequences.  First, they were concerned that a high ransom would incentivize kidnappers to kidnap more people, which would obviously not be good for the community.  Second, they were concerned that a high ransom would also incentivize kidnappers to demand a high ransom for other captives, thereby putting an additional financial burden on the community.  For these reasons, in the Mishna in Gittin 45A, the rabbis decided that “captives are not redeemed for more than their actual monetary value, mi’pnei tikkun ha-olam.”  In this way, the rabbis restrained the freedom of affluent families to negotiate high ransoms. 

Here is a third example from Gittin, this one of an economic nature.  Under the ancient rules of the Sabbatical Year, debtors were to be relieved of their obligations in the seventh year — i.e., their debt at the time was to be forgiven.  This certainly sounds like a compassionate approach for those unable to get out from under the burden of debt.  At the same time, the rule had a perverse effect.  As the Sabbatical Year drew near, lenders, concerned that debtors would not repay the debt, would be unwilling to lend.  As author Hillel Halkin notes in his 2008 Commentary article on the subject, “the regulation was having the paradoxical consequence of only making life for the poor harder by preventing them from borrowing at all.”  Initiated by Hillel the Elder, a new rule was put in place.  As it says in the Mishna in Gittin 34B, “Hillel instituted a document (a prosbol) that prevents the Sabbatical Year from abrogating an outstanding debt mi’pnei tikkun ha-olam.”  With the prosbol in place, lenders would continue to lend, even as the time of the Sabbatical Year approached.

As one can see, the idea of tikkun olam was utilized in very specific situations in order to avert particular unintended consequences.  Traditional rules were adjusted so as to prevent certain undesirable outcomes.  This has nothing to do with the popular notion of tikkun olam — “social justice” to “repair” the world.  Rather, tikkun olam as discussed in the Talmud relates to individual actions in selected circumstances — and adjustments in the rules to avoid potentially perverse results for the community. 

This raises the inevitable question — how did the idea of tikkun olam take on its current connotation?  The Aleinu prayer, which likely dates back to the Second Temple period, includes a similar term — l’taken olam b’malkhut Shaddai — but this has an altogether different meaning.  Based on the common translation, the prayer expresses the hope that the world will be “perfected” under the Kingdom of the Almighty.  In the 16th century, tikkun olam became part of Lurianic Kabbalah, but this was a very different idea, as well.  As Halkin explains, while the Lurianic tikkun “calls for mending the entire cosmos …  these efforts … are strictly spiritual, involving prayer, religious ritual, and meditation.”

The current connotation can be traced back to the beginning of the post-War period.  Brandeis University professor Jonathan Krasner, in his 2014 article “The Place of Tikkun Olam in American Jewish Life,” identifies three distinct groups that transformed tikkun olam over the past 75 years.  The first were theologians who, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, looked for ways to re-imagine the covenantal relationship between humans and God.  They included Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine, and various Reform and Conservative rabbis, including Rabbi Leo Baeck and Rabbi Harold Schulweis.  Under tikkun olam, as used by these Jewish leaders, “the Jews were not merely partners with God but ‘senior partners in action,’ entirely responsible for the execution of the covenant.”

The second group were educators — including Shlomo Bardin, founder of the Brandeis Camp, and Rabbi Raphael Artz, director of Camp Ramah in New England — many of whom sought to reinvigorate Jewish education, including social action and tzedakah, under the rubric of tikkun olam.  For example, as Krasner notes, in speaking to a group of campers in 1960, “Bardin insisted that it was their ‘task’ as Jews to ‘fix the world.’”  Similarly, Rabbi Artz, in a 1967 address to Jewish educators, proclaimed, “The ultimate goal of man’s partnership with God is Tikkun olam.”

The third group was political.  Beginning in the 1970’s, a number of progressive rabbis and community leaders began appropriating tikkun olam for their publications and programs.  As Krasner notes, at the New Jewish Agenda’s founding conference in 1982, “The platform asserted that ‘many of us base our convictions on the Jewish religious concept of tikun olam (the just ordering of human society and the world) and the prophetic traditions of social justice.’”  In the early ’90’s, says Krasner, “others took up the effort to shape a progressive Jewish politics around tikkun olam.”  Among these was Michael Lerner, who founded Tikkun, a left-wing alternative to Commentary magazine.  “Lerner hoped to energize alienated Jews with a model of Judaism that rejected the crass materialism and hypocrisy of middle class suburban Jewish life in favor of a Jewishly grounded ethic of social justice.”

Today, tikkun olam is part of modern, liberal discourse, even though its popularized connotation has little to do with its traditional meaning.  In discussing the term in his 2014 article “The Assimilation of Tikkun Olam,” Levi Cooper, a faculty member at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, notes that “It has become a watchword for any value, even if a particular value — worthwhile as it may be — is not rooted in Jewish tradition.”  This brings us back to the tradition — the Talmud — in which tikkun olam served a very important, but specific, role when applying rules of morality and justice in certain circumstances.

The Talmud, I’ve learned, is more than amazing — parsing in minute detail the many moral and judicial issues that inevitably come up in the normal course of life.  The focus is primarily on what’s right and just for those directly involved.  In several limited instances, the rabbis had a wider perspective to keep an eye on the effects on the community as a whole and to adjust specific rules as needed — mi’pnei tikkun ha-olam.  The idea of “social justice” may, for many, still be worthwhile, but, according to the Talmud, tikkun olam it is not.

Is kosher all or nothing?


Because of the many objections, most of them from Orthodox Jews, to my last column (“If You Don’t Eat Bacon, You Keep Kosher,” Aug. 5), and because the column was widely disseminated, I feel I owe readers a response to some of those objections.

Before I begin, I should point out that many Orthodox Jews agreed with what I wrote. But, as is well known, people who disagree are far more likely to express their opinions publicly than people who agree.

My primary argument, in a nutshell, was that even if a Jew only desists from eating the prohibited animals of the Torah, this Jew should be regarded as “keeping kosher” — just as one who gives less charity than Jewish law commands is usually regarded as a charitable Jew.

The most often made objection to this argument was that my charity comparison is invalid since halachah (Jewish law) does not require that a Jew give, as I had (apparently erroneously) written, a tenth of his income to charity. In fact, many noted, halachah doesn’t really require that a Jew give almost anything. As one responder wrote, “The law merely requires 1/3 shekel to tzedakah a year. Thus someone who donated $10 to tzedakah has fulfilled his legal obligation.”

This, I embarrassedly admit, was news to me. That on a moral issue as important as helping the poor and the sick, Judaism demands essentially nothing came as a surprise. On the other hand, it demonstrates that halachah is not the only way to achieve what God wants, given how charitable Jews have traditionally been.

But whether or not Judaism specifies the amount a Jew should give to tzedakah, my argument was this: We call a Jew “charitable” if he gives just about any tzedakah, but we do not say a Jew “keeps kosher” unless he keeps kosher in every detail.

This led one responder to write:

“I found the idea of the all or nothing in ritual but not in ethics really interesting!”

That is the issue I most wanted to raise: It is not good for Judaism that we view ritual law as all or nothing. That is why I wrote the column — not to have Jews “feel good about themselves,” as some wrote, or, even more amazingly, in order “to lead Jews to sin.”

I wrote it because “all or nothing” is intellectually and Jewishly counterproductive — it almost always leads to people doing nothing rather than doing all.

Think about it. In what areas of life would we really want to advocate all or nothing? 

If you were a passenger in a car going 10 miles per hour above the speed limit, would you say to the driver: “You know you are deliberately violating the traffic law; you are a lawbreaker, no different from someone driving 40 miles an hour above the speed limit”? 

Probably not.

Would you say to the driver: “You are entirely wrong to consider yourself a person who observes traffic laws”?

Again, probably not. 

And why not?

Because most of us recognize that in life “all or nothing” is usually absurd.

Over the course of 40 years, I have brought innumerable Jews to keeping kosher (including Orthodox levels of kashrut). And one of my most persuasive arguments has been that the moment a Jew declines to eat any food because he is a Jew, he is keeping kosher.

I never wrote that a Jew who only refrains from eating Torah-prohibited animals keeps “fully” kosher. I don’t use the word “fully” with regard to kashrut, or Shabbat, or any other Jewish law, including ethical laws. The term is worse than useless; it is damaging.

As one Orthodox rabbi, Ephraim Epstein, the senior rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel in New Jersey, commented on the Jewish Journal website: “We would do much better if we threw away our FRUMometers and did away with the urges to assess levels of other people’s religiosity. …”

Let me end with a story that illustrates how powerful not using “all or nothing” is to bringing Jews to observance of kashrut (and other Jewish laws).

One day, many years ago, I was eating in Factor’s deli in the Pico-Robertson section of Los Angeles, when out of nowhere a woman approached me and said: “You have no idea how important it is for me to see you eating here. I heard you make the case for keeping kosher, and you persuaded me. But I still didn’t think I could do it because I knew I wouldn’t restrict myself to eating only in kosher restaurants. Now that I see that you can eat in a regular restaurant and still keep kosher, I will start keeping kosher.”

Did I cause that woman to sin? Or to keep kosher?

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).

Luther’s ghosts


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) recently and overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on the US government to end all aid to Israel and “enable an independent Palestinian state.” In addition the ELCA adopted a resolution calling for divestment in Israel so as not to “profit from human rights abuses.”

ELCA has some 4 million members spread over 10 000 congregations. Many members have German, Danish and Norwegian roots which is where Luther’s teachings took hold.

Martin Luther who founded what became the Lutheran Church, is considered to be one of Germany’s greatest icons and of course famous for the Reformation. He had disagreed with various teachings of the Roman Catholic Church which resulted in his excommunication in 1521. He taught that salvation is not obtained through good deeds but through belief in Jesus Christ who had the sole power to redeem sin. This message together with Evangelicalism whereby “the good news” was to be taught to others through activism and conversion became the creed in large parts of Europe.  

As an Augustinian monk, Luther greatly admired Augustine who inter alia, promoted the pariah status of Jews who were to be loathed, rendered unwelcome and to be impoverished. During his time, Luther’s writings acquired Scripture status and political concessions to Jews were consequently revoked. Augustinian policies, reinforced by Luther, thus became part of European culture, even extending beyond the Enlightenment.

Luther was not only a monk and university professor, but also a politician and a German nationalist. Despite the poverty of the farmers, ruthlessly exploited by the princes, Luther expediently took the latter’s side in the 1525 Peasants War. Up to 300 000 peasants were killed by the nobility during their uprising. The nobility became the ideal basis of much German folklore and was entrenched and manifested in its culture, such as with Wagner’s operas. Writers such as Erich Fromm and Karl Barth ascribe blind German obedience to authority as originating with Luther.

Being unsuccessful in converting Jews to Christianity, Luther vindictively urged the destruction of Jews. He outlined his ideas in his book On the Jews and Their Lies which included setting fire to synagogues and schools, the confiscation of Jewish books, razing homes, rabbis banned from teaching on pain of death, cash and jewellery confiscated and expulsion of Jews from German lands.

Dr Luther’s wishes would eventually materialise four hundred years later in 1938, which became known as Kristallnacht or the Night of the Broken Glass. This state sponsored pogrom occurred on Luther’s birthday. At that time Lutheran Bishop Martin Sasse gleefully quoted Luther in a pamphlet inciting the people against the Jews. His views conformed with those of Goebbels—similar to what Luther preached in his penultimate sermon. Many of Sasse’s church colleagues claimed that the swastika on church altars was a source of inspiration. Bishop Ludwig Mueller called Sasse a martyr at his funeral in 1942. Lutheran clergy were given the task to complete Luther’s mission against “world enemy”, the Jews.

The Holocaust was therefore not some incomprehensible mad event in the land of Enlightenment, philosophers, writers, artists and composers. It was a deeply embedded cultural structure.

After the war, Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials, invoked Luther as a defense in mitigation of sentencing.

The Lutheran Church today of course does not condone the murder of Jews. It does however continue to be hostile in various ways. The German Lutheran Church organization, Brot fuer die Welt, donates large sums to radical anti-Israel NGOs as do other Lutheran churches, such as the Church of Sweden and the Danish National Evangelical Lutheran Church which for example, donates through DanChurchAid  to NGO BADIL. This NGO is a leader in BDS, denies Israel’s legitimacy and displays crude anti-Jewish cartoons reminiscent of Nazi era publications, on its website. NGO Monitor has described these in detail.

ELCA therefore has maintained its tradition of discrimination against the Jewish State. It does not advocate boycotts against China, Turkey, Morocco, or other countries with border disputes, including the current border disputes between Canada and the USA, to name but a few.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, together with its sister Lutheran churches elsewhere, carries a long history of antisemitic baggage, underpinned by its membership of the World Council of Churches which supports the BDS and condemns Christian Zionists who are sympathetic to the Jewish state.

In 2017, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Reformation will be celebrated with festivals, exhibitions, concerts, church services and theatre.  Some seventy years after the Shoah, the Jewish community in Germany has requested that Luther’s demonization of Jews which strongly influenced the Nazis, be formally repudiated.

Rather than making belated attempts to right wrongs, the ELCA prefers to perpetuate its traditional antisemitism, hypocrisy and misguided “concern” for those whose agenda is the destruction of Israel. The ELCA has much soul searching to do.  Instead, it is determined to maintain a disgraceful platform that has no place in civilized society today.

This is especially pertinent, considering its founder Martin Luther became one of Hitler’s icons whom he praised in Mein Kampf. Luther’s antisemitic  ghost has no place in today’s America.

Can ELCA embark on honest self -examination, unfetter itself from its antisemitic history and finally in this turbulent 21st century, get its priorities right?

Ron Jontof-Hutter is a writer and Fellow, at the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. He is the author of the recent satirical novel,”The trombone man: tales of a misogynist,”available on Amazon, Lulu.com, and others.

Letters to the editor: Immigrants, Trump, kosher rules and more


Immigrants and America

Rob Eshman’s analysis of the world situation that Stephen Miller’s great-grandfather faced as an immigrant versus that presently addressed by Donald Trump regarding immigrants from Muslim countries is fatally flawed in at least three ways (“Stephen Miller, Meet Your Immigrant Great-Grandfather,” Aug. 12).

First, those immigrants who arrived in New York at the turn of the century were not laced with potential terrorists among them. Presently, ISIS boasts of placing members of their community in with present-day immigrants to serve as potential cells in the country they infect. What Mr. Trump said was that he wanted a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States until we can figure out, “What the hell is going on.”

Secondly, your concern about how a Trump administration will handle Israel, where “far more terrorist acts are committed than in Morocco,” is a bit myopic. It avoids the issue of who is committing these acts —  Muslims in Israel or Jews? I’m sure you would agree that it is the former, and hence Mr. Trump’s policies still apply and there would be no anti-Israeli bias (unlike that which exists in our present administration).

Third, if there was no illegal immigration at the turn of the century, then isn’t it obvious and indeed true that Mr. Miller’s family came to the U.S. legally, since all immigration was indeed legal? This is not a ruse but rather the facts.

Michael A. Kamins, Professor and chair of marketing at Stony Brook University

Eshman responds:

1) Immigrants to the United States go through a rigorous multiyear vetting system. Politifact rated Trump’s claim to the contrary as “false.” At the turn of the century, immigration opponents stirred up fears against Jews and Italians, just as Trump and Miller are doing now.

 2) When asked to clarify Trump’s remarks on the ban on immigration from terrorism-infected countries, Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence indicated the ban would apply as well to Christians and Jews. You can’t make this stuff up. 

3) Yes, Jewish immigration was legal, but only because cooler heads prevailed over the drumbeat of prejudice. Our failure to acknowledge the arbitrary and often racist nature of immigration policy should inform our policy choices today — and our compassion.

Rob Eshman displays the all-too-familiar traits of the sheepish and ignorant Jewish left. What is omitted from his diatribe on Donald Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller reveals the fundamental lack of understanding of the risks involved in an open-border policy, which Eshman and others promote. One needs only to look to Western Europe, whose lax immigration policies have led to constant terrorist attacks, rape and abuse of women, and high crime rates. Immigration of French Jews to Israel is at an all-time high. Many neighborhoods within France, Belgium and even England are unsafe for police to enter, all telling evidence the U.S. electorate should ponder come November.

Ultimately, it is liberals like Eshman who will suffer alongside the rest of us from hordes of immigrants whose religious affiliations do not allow them to integrate into an American way of life. Criticizing Miller, given his immigrant ancestors, is as tragically shortsighted as it gets. 

Gabe Vorobiof, Los Angeles

Eshman responds: I don’t advocate for open borders, just for sensible, compassionate ones.

Excellent article about Stephen Miller, son of my cousin Miriam. I guess every good family must have a mutant strain from time to time. This was incredible to read! I grew up in Johnstown and am part of the extended Glosser clan. Had Mr. Miller actually grown up in Johnstown, he probably would have experienced for himself the animus felt by many against the Jewish residents in Johnstown. 

Lawrence S. Glosser, Seattle

The Truth About Trump

It is futile to expect Donald Trump to change his speaking strategy as he promotes domestic discord in his American presidential campaign (“Managing Trump’s Anger — and the Enablers,” Aug. 12). It is foolhardy to believe that he will ever change from being a discord promoter on both the domestic and international scene.

It will mainly be up to Hillary Clinton to expose Trump’s negatives, which are many, in the forthcoming presidential debates. To rely mainly on journalists to do the job for her and her supporters is wishful thinking.

Marc Jacobson, Los Angeles

Scrutinizing Clinton

Raphael J. Sonenshein wrote that Trump’s “behavior and attitudes alienate these [college-educated white] voters” (“A Choice Between Two Stark Visions of America,” Aug. 5). As a college-educated white, Hillary Clinton’s behavior and attitudes alienate me.

First, she is immature. When the FBI director said she was “extremely reckless” in her email handling, she immediately discounted his comment and refused to take responsibility for her own actions.

Second, she bragged how she wanted coal miners out of work, then she denied she said that.

Third: “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Guess who was within earshot of Clinton at her campaign stop on Aug. 9? The father of the Orlando nightclub Pulse shooter.

Wake up, people, and vote for Donald Trump. And you can bet that Trump would be a greater supporter of Israel than President Barack Obama and, by extension, former Secretary of State Clinton ever was!

David Tulanian, Los Angeles

Jews and Kilts

Your article by Danny Lobell says the Scottish Register of Tartans just registered its first Jewish tartan (“Freedom! (From Pants)” Aug. 5). It is my understanding that there are no traditional clan tartans. The tartans were invented by the Manchester woolen mills as a way to increase sales in Scotland in the early 19th century. They distributed them to kilt-makers in Scotland at random. There probably weren’t enough Jews to make them a unique tartan.

Myron Kayton via email

Letter of the Law

I have great respect for Dennis Prager but, with all due respect, find his arguments about keeping kosher logically flawed (“If You Don’t Eat Bacon, You Keep Kosher,” Aug. 5). Even with man-made laws, one cannot claim to be a law-abiding citizen and violate the majority of laws! I doubt that a traffic court would dismiss Mr. Prager’s speeding ticket because he never runs red lights.

Contrary to his assertion, we are not stricter about observance of ritual laws than the laws between man and man. A thief who steals only from the rich because in his opinion they do not pay their fair share is still called a ganav (thief).

Why, then, do we characterize one as baal tzedakah for giving 5 percent of his income, when “the Torah commands us to give 10 percent of our income to charity”? In fact, neither the negative commandment not to “close your hand against your destitute brother,” nor the positive commandment to “open your hand to him” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) includes a provision to give 10 percent of one’s income. Therefore we praise a Jew for giving any amount.

According to many rabbinical authorities, a custom of giving 10 to 20 percent of one’s income to tzedakah is not one of the biblical or rabbinical commandments. If it were, then a person who gives less would be criticized for not observing applicable laws of maaser — tithes, which are similar to taxes. Indeed, when the laws of maaser are applicable, separating even 9.9 percent of the produce would not make the remainder kosher for consumption until it is properly tithed. The secular law is the same in this respect — despite paying millions in taxes, a philanthropist may be still prosecuted for tax evasion while being praised for his generosity. 

I want to end my letter on a positive note. I am sure that Mr. Prager recognized the logical flaws of his argument. Nevertheless, he decided to use his poetic license to emphasize that instead of looking with disdain at a Jew who refrains from only pork, we should judge him favorably and say that it is a praiseworthy step toward keeping kosher.

Alexander Freylicher, Sherman Oaks

Editor’s note: Prager responds to his critics on p. 10.

Another Owens Story

I would like to add to recollections of Jesse Owens (“Letters: Jesse Owens’ Winning Ways,” Aug. 5). In 1936, my father, Harry Lipser, and my uncle traveled to Europe on the Queen Mary. Also on that same voyage was Jesse Owens, on his way to compete in the Olympics. Fortunately, they were assigned to the same dining table, which also included Marshall Field from Chicago.

The maitre d’ privately told Mr. Field that there were those at the table who had requested that Jesse Owens be assigned to another table. Mr. Field consulted with my father and some of the others, and suggested that those that were unhappy with the seating arrangements might want to make a change, but Jesse Owens would remain seated.

Years later, my sister, Sally Lipser Korobkin, a teacher in Potomac, Md., had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Owens when she visited their school. Sally said, “You probably would not remember my father’s name.” Mrs. Owens replied, “How could I ever forget?”

Pauline Witkin Polansky, Arcadia

Left Is Losing Its Religion

I am stunned that so many Jewish liberals are apparently buying the exaggerations, lies and double standards of Jew-hating anti-Zionists and turning their backs on Israel, even while our French and Ukrainian cousins, among others, are escaping persecution by making aliyah (“Outlier or Reflecting Anti-Zionist Trend?” Aug. 5). For 4,000 years, we’ve been a covenant-based religion, and God’s promise to us is Israel. Every year for two millennia, seders worldwide have ended with “Next year in Jerusalem!” — will liberal Jewish seders no longer end this way?  

I think Dennis Prager has it right: Liberal Jews are no longer really Jews; their religion is leftism, so they hate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israelis who elected him. I believe this is a stunning, irreversible mistake, and I predict their children will either cease to be Jews or worse, become anti-Semites — historically many of our worst enemies have been apostates — or will bitterly resent their parents for their unforgivably poor judgment.

Rueben Gordon, Calabasas

3 roles that could define Hillary Clinton’s relations with the Jews


Hillary Clinton is a chameleon, her critics say, ready to adopt the colors of her environment: dove, hawk, social conservative, social justice warrior, friend, backstabber.

Hillary Clinton is a Rorschach test, her supporters say, a projection of her haters’ deepest fears and insecurities: the strong woman distorted into a witch, the progressive distorted into a radical, the pragmatist distorted into an empty vessel.

Hillary Clinton, in her first autobiography, “Living History,” embraces another label: “policy maker,” one she embraced after a particularly painful evolution in her political life. She describes her estrangement from her mentors Peter and Marian Wright Edelman, children’s rights advocates, in 1996, when she backed her husband President Bill Clinton’s enactment of welfare reforms.

“They genuinely believed the legislation was shameful, impractical and harmful to children,” Clinton wrote. “In the painful aftermath, I realized I had crossed the line from advocate to policy maker,” one who was “bound to compromise.” (Clinton has since reconciled with the Edelmans, who have also been deeply involved in liberal pro-Israel causes, including the New Israel Fund.)

Examining what Clinton says and does, and how she makes policy, helps make clear her relationship to Israel and to Jewish Americans.

The diplomat, twisting arms

Clinton’s campaign describes her role in eventually bringing about the Iran nuclear deal while serving as secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s first term as one of “arm twisting.”

“As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton twisted a lot of arms to build a global coalition to impose crippling sanctions and apply unprecedented pressure on Iran,” the campaign’s fact sheet says while quoting the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page as crediting her with persuading Russia and China to join the sanctions regime that brought Iran to the table.

Among the six major powers that negotiated the Iran deal, which trades sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback, Russia and China were the most recalcitrant. When Brazil and Turkey joined in 2010 to propose a more conciliatory deal than the Obama administration would have countenanced, Clinton scrambled to head them off, pressing China and Russia to endorse a much tougher U.N. Security Council resolution.

“Mrs. Clinton surely pulled out every stop to get Russia and particularly China — which initially welcomed the Turkish-Brazilian proposal — on board,” the Journal said at the time.

Of course, the deal was wildly unpopular with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and much of the pro-Israel establishment.

In a subtle bid to distinguish herself from her successor as secretary of state, John Kerry, and from Obama — and head off the deal’s critics — Democratic candidate Clinton has pledged to police the deal with increased vigilance.

“We can’t take our eye off the ball,” she said in January when the deal was formally implemented. “As president, my approach will be to distrust and verify. I will vigorously enforce the nuclear deal as part of a comprehensive strategy that confronts all of Iran’s negative actions in the region and stand side by side with our ally Israel and our Arab partners.”

Clinton extends that tough posture to defending Israel in a number of other arenas, saying she will stand up to the boycott Israel movement and will cut off any attempts at the United Nations to jump-start the process of recognizing a Palestinian state without Israel’s agreement.

Yet Clinton has also acknowledged that her facility for arm twisting can extend to Israel as well. In her second autobiography, “Hard Choices,” she recalls taking Netanyahu to the woodshed in 2010 after Israel embarrassed Vice President Joe Biden during a visit by announcing new building in a disputed part of Jerusalem.

“I told the prime minister that President Obama viewed the news about East Jerusalem as a ‘personal insult to him, the vice president and the United States,’” she recalls in the book, which was published in 2014. “Strong stuff for a diplomatic conversation, I didn’t enjoy playing the bad cop, but it was part of the job.”

It left its mark. Israel’s then-ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, in his 2015 account of the U.S.-Israel relationship, “Ally,” recounts how “Clinton had excoriated Netanyahu for 45 minutes over the phone, rebuking him for humiliating the president and undermining America’s ability to deal with pressing Middle East issues.” Oren went on to warn a Clinton underling, “Israelis, then, will see this as nothing but a pretext to arm-twist us and beat up on us.”

The friend, sometimes loyal to a fault

Clinton’s closest relationships are with those who stood by her through hard times, particularly the scandals and political battles that plagued her husband’s presidency.

That extends not just to her Jewish friends but to her Jewish family. Rep. Marjorie Margolies, D-Pa., cast the deciding vote in 1994 passing President Clinton’s unpopular budget, even though she knew Republicans would use it against her in the midterm elections. They did and she lost after serving a single term.

Her sacrifice helped spur a fast friendship between Margolies and the Clintons, and their kids became close, too: Chelsea Clinton married Margolies’ son, Marc Mezvinsky, in 2010.

Sidney Blumenthal, the one-time journalist turned trusted political adviser during Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings, is another close Jewish friend that Clinton has said she will never abandon – notable because of how polarizing he is.

The White House nixed Clinton’s bid in 2009 to hire Blumenthal when she was secretary of state, in part because he was believed to be behind some of the most toxic opposition research when Clinton and Obama squared off for the presidential nomination just months earlier.

Nevertheless, she continued to solicit advice from Blumenthal, particularly on the Middle East, where his consultancy had clients. His views on Israel jibed with those of J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group. According to emails released as part of a probe into her use of a private server, Blumenthal in 2010 advised her to favorably mention the group at the annual conference of its arch-nemesis, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as a signal to AIPAC that it was no longer a monolith when it came to Israel policy.

She did not take his advice, nor did she in the same year when he urged her to heed a Financial Times op-ed that called for the United States to “demand” Israel end the occupation.

Clinton also praised articles by Blumenthal’s son, the anti-Israel journalist Max Blumenthal, according to the emails, and refused calls to repudiate the younger Blumenthal — until July, when Max Blumenthal derided Elie Wiesel upon the death of the Holocaust memoirist and Nobel Peace laureate.

That was a bridge too far for Clinton.

“Secretary Clinton emphatically rejects these offensive, hateful, and patently absurd statements about Elie Wiesel,” her senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, told JTA at the time.

Wiesel, as Clinton recalled in “Living History,” had offered her his support during her darkest hour, her husband’s impeachment for lying under oath about an affair he had with a one-time White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

“He greeted me with a long hug and asked, ‘What is wrong with America? Why are they doing this?’” she wrote.

Wiesel and his wife, Marion, offered their support.

“Their understanding was the greatest give they could give,” Clinton wrote.

The politician, forging available alliances

The first scandal to hit Hillary Clinton’s political career involved Hasidic Jews.

In 2001, prosecutors investigated commutations her husband gave to four residents of the Hasidic community in New Square, New York, who had been convicted of defrauding the government after the profoundly conservative community voted overwhelmingly for Clinton in her successful 2000 bid for the U.S. Senate. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan wanted to know if the pardons were a quid pro quo for community support, although the Justice Department, under George W. Bush, ultimately declined to file charges against Bill Clinton.

Those charges of horse trading, however, seemed an emblem of Clinton’s evolution from the purist whose bid as first lady to reform health care fell flat on its face to the senator with a reputation for reaching across all aisles to all comers — or doing and saying anything to win a vote or policy battle, as her critics charge.

It’s a posture that extends to donors to the charitable foundation that she, her husband and daughter head. Pro-Israel critics fret about major donations from the Saudi Arabian government and its billionaires. Other funders are well known in the pro-Israel community, including diet magnate Daniel Abraham and entertainment mogul Haim Saban.

Accusations of Clintonian cronyism were a hallmark of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., campaign against Clinton until he endorsed her last month as the nominee. Sanders singled out Clinton during the debates for her praise for Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state to the Nixon and Ford administrations seen as responsible in part for massive bombings in Southeast Asia and for backing Latin American fascists.

Clinton, in her defense, said Kissinger could not be defined only by his bad deeds, noting his work in defusing tensions with China.

“It’s a big complicated world out there,” she told Sanders.

Why Tim Kaine, Clinton’s VP pick, is good for Israel and Jewish values


American Jewish voters have naturally voted for Democratic candidates because it has meant voting to support strong social justice and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Hillary Clinton and her vice presidential choice, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, will continue Democratic action on economic and educational opportunities, retirement security and quality, affordable health care, and especially Israel’s security and Middle East peace.

The Clinton-Kaine ticket promises to build upon a strong tradition of Democratic leadership, while the Republicans’ ticket of Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence offers a reckless and dangerous blend of empty rhetoric and inconsistent positions that should alarm all Americans, particularly American Jews.

Clinton has deep knowledge of the history of the Middle East and a proven record of engaging with the leaders and peoples of this complex region. She also has a record advocating for U.S.-Israel ties in the Senate and hands-on experience managing the relationship as secretary of state.

In contrast, Trump’s shocking inexperience and wild pronouncements, including suggestions that he would abandon commitments to key U.S. allies, has earned unprecedented repudiation by foreign policy experts across the political spectrum.

The distinction between the two parties’ vice presidential nominees is just as stark.

Take social justice issues. Pence’s long-held positions on issues such as reproductive freedom, fair and balanced immigration reform, environmental protection, civil rights and LGBT rights place him far to the right of the American Jewish mainstream — and to Kaine, a lifelong progressive who has fought for equality and justice throughout his career in public service.

On Israel, Pence is quick to profess his support for the Jewish state. But stated support alone is not sufficient.

What matters in these dangerous times is a mature, deep understanding of the challenges facing Israel as it seeks avenues for peace with security. And what matters are ongoing, real-world ties to the Jewish community in this country and the leadership in Jerusalem. Kaine, who proudly identifies as a “strongly pro-Israel Democrat,” has demonstrated both throughout his career.

Kaine serves on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, its subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian affairs, and the Armed Services Committee, positions that give him a leadership role and a comprehensive understanding of fast-changing conditions across the region.

As the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I have a front row seat to Kaine’s thoughtfulness, inquisitiveness and mastery of the complex issues facing the United States, Israel and our allies and partners.

He has had meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, traveled to Israel and visited an Iron Dome battery on the border with Gaza. He has stood up time and again for Israel in Congress, from emergency funding for its successful anti-rocket system to the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2015.

Kaine was vocal in condemning the United Nations Human Rights Council for its decision to launch a one-sided investigation into Israel’s actions during the 2014 conflict in Gaza while ignoring the unprovoked rocket attacks against Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists that touched off the conflict.

Kaine knows that protecting Israel’s security also means ensuring that Israel has a healthy economy. As governor of Virginia, he worked closely with the Israeli Ambassador to the United States at the time, Sallai Meridor, resulting in a 2008 agreement to strengthen bilateral cooperation between Virginia and Israel on private sector industrial research and development. For Israel, the agreement was only the second it had ever entered into with a state government, and both parties have seen tangible benefits.

A nuclear-armed Iran would represent an existential threat to Israel, and Kaine has been a key leader in bipartisan efforts to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. He negotiated the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that ensured Congress could review the nuclear accord and advocated for a resilient and fully resourced U.S. military so that “all options are on the table.”

Kaine knows that the threats emanating from Iran are about more than its nuclear program. Iran’s continued ballistic missile testing and state sponsorship of terrorism are equally troubling and threatening to Israel. He worked on a bill with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to extend sanctions on Iran until President Barack Obama and the IAEA can guarantee that Iran’s nuclear material is for peaceful purposes.

Finally, Kaine understands that support for a safe, secure Jewish state goes far beyond easy slogans and reflexive criticism of its many foes. Farsighted U.S. diplomacy is critical in helping Israel reach its goal of a sustainable, secure peace. Like a strong majority of American Jews, Kaine remains committed to a two-state solution that has been the stated policy of Prime Minister Netanyahu and every recent Israeli government before his, and which is the critical prerequisite to the kind of peace that Israel’s citizens deserve and want.

Kaine understands that tough talk about Israel’s security is just that – talk – if not built on a foundation of active support for U.S. peacemaking efforts in the troubled region.

Close to home, it was Kaine who held the first Passover seder in the Virginia governor’s mansion. He has a long record of working closely with Virginia’s small but active Jewish community – unlike Pence, who as a member of Congress in 2009 told an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, “I know of no synagogues in my district.”

For the record, there are two synagogues in Pence’s former congressional district. Surely he would have benefited from knowing them better.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, is the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Managing Trump’s anger


Donald Trump needs help with anger management. So do I.

At a Saturday rally in a hot New Hampshire gym, Trump “>a very little guy” – bigger billionaire Mike Bloomberg – questioned his sanity: “I was going to hit this guy so hard his head would spin, he wouldn’t know what the hell happened.”

Of course that’s what Trump wants me to do: Descend to his level.

In theory, I know how to manage that. Take deep breaths.  Remind myself it’s Trump who’s unhinged. A marker of his disorder is projective identification – splitting off his own derangement and attributing it to other people. The “horrible, horrible human being” is the Donald nailing the Donald. 

Sometimes this works. My fury subsides, along with my fear he’ll be elected. If I see what a sociopath he is, surely enough other Americans see it to fire him in November. 

No wonder Trump is pre-emptively depicting himself not as a loser, but as the victim of a rigged election. You know he won’t go away quietly. Nor will his base, whose fire he has recklessly stoked. I can’t believe he’d give a gracious concession speech, a call to come together and support the one president our nation has. He’s more likely to summon a retributive movement – a fifth column of Trumpistas.

This is the obligatory moment for me to say something empathic about his supporters. Their anger, as even Clinton has said, is understandable. They’ve been left behind by an economy that hasn’t worked for them; they don’t recognize the America they once knew; they’re fearful of what the future holds for their families. 

Those are legitimate fears, and their anger at how Washington has stiffed them, like the anger of Bernie Sanders’ supporters at the corrupt campaign finance system, is warranted.  What’s not warranted is the scapegoating, racism, misogyny, xenophobia and violence that Trump ignites in them. What’s indefensible is the permission that the nicest, least rabid of Trump’s rally-goers give to the rabble whose rage Trump has uncorked.

Until last week, when the New York Times ran an uncensored ” target=”_blank”>you have to watch it.

Critics say the reporters edited unrepresentative footage into a hit job. The reporters dispute that; they've seen this behavior at Trump rallies throughout the campaign and around the country. Critics say this happens at Democratic rallies, too, but that’s false; it’s not an everyone-does-it thing. Vicious catcalling from the crowd, the reporters note, is “inextricably bound up with the Trump show itself.”

Also unique to the Trump show is the complicity of the “polite, well mannered” people in the crowd, who “seldom express disapproval” of the ugly. At the video’s end Trump says, “This is a movement like people have never seen before.” But the safe space he’s made for haters and their fellow travellers reminded many online commenters of another movement, born in Berlin in the 1930s, and of the Good Germans who failed to fight it. 

Virtually every day brings a fresh horror.  On Tuesday, Trump incited “the Second Amendment people” to put Clinton in the crosshairs if she’s elected. What next will come from his mouth — pyres for the dishonest media? Pitchforks for lyin' Ted Cruz?

Anger can be righteous, not sick. On Sunday, CNN media reporter Brian Stelter ended his show with an martyk@jewishjournal.com.

What is the thinking when supporting Trump?


One can argue back and forth, Trump or Hillary, but in the Jewish Journal post “10 reasons Persian Jews support Trump,” by Afshine Emrani, what is most alarming is the willful ignorance of events that accompanies much of this list.  Susan Esther Barnes attempts a point by point rebuttal, but she sinks too often into politically convenient arguments that miss the sorry state of the lack of underlying evidence or historical proof behind much of the original message. 

Obviously, Emrani does not claim to speak for all Persian Jews, and he readily admits that his sampling is anything but scientific.  But apparently he’s questioned some Trump supporters in his community and the list is the result of that investigation. 

Let’s begin with his Number Three, the gist of which is that Trump will deal more forcefully with radical jihadists, that he’s strong where Clinton is weak.  Then he recounts:  “Clinton’s policies led to the rise of ISIS. She led the invasion of Libya.” 

What?  Which policies of Clinton’s?  First of all, Hillary Clinton never made policy.  She was a Senator when the Iraq War was begun by President George W. Bush, and a Secretary of State under Obama, five years later.  Not only is it pretty clear now that it was the breakup of the Iraq Army, the banning of all Ba’ath Party members from military service – Bush policy – that gave rise to ISIS, but…wait for it……there was no invasion of Libya.  Actually, the first person I heard to allude to this was Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, and a graduate of Harvard and its Medical School (so supposedly fairly informed), who spoke of Hillary Clinton’s getting us into “the war in Libya.”  There was no invasion of Libya.  No American soldiers entered Libya.  There was a limited amount of air cover and support given to the breakaway government in the East to prevent a massacre of them by Khaddafi.  But no invasion. 

Moving on to Number Four.  “Clinton owes Arab countries so much that she can’t be trusted.”  Since there is not one sentence of reputable reporting that indicates or intimates that any Arab government has given money to Hillary Clinton or her campaign, I’m assuming this refers to the Clinton Foundation, which, is not Hillary Clinton.  However, sooner or later, I suspect Hillary Clinton is going to stand up and say, hey everyone, part of the mission of the Clinton Foundation is to get sovereign states to participate in worldwide philanthropy:  (“We convene businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals to improve global health and wellness, increase opportunity for women and girls, reduce childhood obesity, create economic opportunity and growth, and help communities address the effects of climate change.”)  Golly, Clinton Foundation.  Nice.    

Number Five.  After 2,500 years of apparently fairly benign and tranquil living, it was Carter’s policies that forced Jews to leave Iran, and “Carter directly caused Iran to become an extremist Islamist country…”  By this I suppose that Carter directly influenced Shia doctrine, but more specifically, was so great a religious and philosophical influence on Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, that the poor Imam had no choice but to institute a draconian Islamic State once he returned from exile in Paris to power in Iran.  It’s a shame that the Ayatollah never publically credited Carter with this influence.  His successor could at least have edited Carter’s Wikipedia entry to reflect this guidance. 

Number Eight.  “Lower taxes mean more economic stimulus.”  You kinda want to put this one in 24 point type and make it bold and add some color.  You wonder how many times this has to be historically discredited before it will finally die the ignominious death it deserves.  Does the phrase “trickle down” ring a bell, anyone?  Bill Clinton and Obama, collectively created 36 million jobs.  As Stan Lee might opine, “Nuff said.” 

Number Nine.  Number Three was really my favorite until I got here. `”Trump knows how to manage groups and will build teams of excellence.” Trump is independent and will not be bought by any special interest groups. Trump started with some $300 million and turned it into $4.5 billion. He understands capitalism and business.’ 

In fact, if there’s a go it alone guy in the big business world, not only is it Trump, but Trump quite obviously wants it to be Trump.  I’ve always wondered by his plane doesn’t say, “I, Trump” instead of just “Trump.”  But the real meat is in the big numbers. 

I’m sure there are scions who inherited huge fortunes and blew it all to hell.  But just to put some perspective on it, if you take $300 million and put it away at 6% compounded for 40 years, you wind up with a bit more than $3 billion.  And you don’t have to know crap about business.  But the real point is nobody, not me, not you, dear readers, and certainly not the Persian Jewish community has any idea what Trump is really worth.  He says billions.  Mark Cuban, another billionaire who found himself interested enough to run some numbers on his own, says less than $200 million.  “Talking Points Memo” says he may in fact be in debt to the tune of $600 million and is being propped up by Russian oligarch investment, which means, in effect, Vladimir Putin.  The point is, we don’t know; we have only Trump’s word for it, the same word that said he got a letter from the NFL decrying the conflicting scheduling of the debates with NFL games, a letter the NFL said doesn’t exist and was never sent. 

Now I know personally, in varying degrees, a number of Persian Jews, and I’ve had a number of them in class.  Frankly, they’ve always seemed to me to be as smart or not as any other Jew.  I’d be the last person to malign them as a group, and maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for Emrani to post an editorial headlined as it is.  And it is most definitely true that there are lots of Jews, from all walks of life and backgrounds, that are supporting Trump.  In fact, a close rabbi friend tells me, regarding the Orthodox, in his best Brooklynese: fuhgedaboudit, they’ll never support Hillary.  Do they agree with Emrani’s chosen sampling.  Who knows.  What I do know, is in many ways it just makes no sense.  It seems to be all about what they wish and hope was and is true.  And to me, that’s scary, because we’re talking about electing the most powerful person in the world, and these opinions, one hopes, would have some basis in fact and knowledge. 

Mitch Paradise is a writer, producer, and teacher living in Los Angeles.  

The case against Jewish tough love


Jill Stein from the green party made it clear, she supports BDS as a form of “tough love” for Israel. She is not alone. A growing number of American Jews, see their main relationship with Israel as a loving, yet punishing parent. They call it “tough love”. They claim they pursue and punish Israel because of their Judaism– not despite it. Seeing one's punishing abilities as redemptive and constructive, is a dangerous one, that has difficult precedents.

For me personally, punitive progressivism, strikes a powerful family memory. It was a cold morning in the late 1920s in the town of Velizh, a small town in the newly formed Soviet Union. My great grandfather, rabbi Eliezer Poupko–the rabbi of the town, who had insisted on serving his community despite the official ban on religion—was walking down the street. Suddenly, he heard a woman crying and shrieking in despair. Several of his own Jewish congregants, were dragging a widow from the community with a guns in their hands. “Where are you taking her?” my grandfather demanded to know. “Rabbi, we are taking her to be executed”, the response came. When my grandfather asked what her crime is and why she is going to be executed, the response was:” we found in this woman's home 8 kilos of salt and the permitted ration under communist law is only 4 kilos of salt.”

My grandfather was appalled. “This woman is a widow with has several children at home-you cannot kill her”, he said, thinking his own congregants would his command seriously. “rabbi” they responded, ” we have a bullet for you too.” They dragged her on until a gunshot was heard in the distance and the widow's fate was sealed.

These were not people who got up in the morning and decided to be evil. These were not people who had gotten up in the morning and decided to make this world a worse place. They had a deep conviction that they are making this world a better place (“tikkun olam“, if you so wish). And yet, they were committing the greatest moral atrocities one can imagine. They saw their role as “punitive progressives” and felt they were clearing the way for a more fair, decent, and honest world; one that is free of greed and inequality. They had clearly meant no wrong as they were committing the one of the greatest wrongs in human history.

How should the Jewish section of the communist have known that what they are criminals and not the moral champions they thought they are? Where did they go wrong?

Their mistake was, among many other mistakes, that pursuing and trying to punish other people, claiming that you are doing it of their own good, is a morally depraved and lethally dangerous one. It is OK to be for something. It is also OK to be against something, but a moral doctrine that includes on penalizing others-for their own good- is lethally dangerous, morally depraved, and illegitimate.

Sociologists have pointed out, that the reason communists and other radical progressive revolutions have been so violent, is because of their self-image as the messengers of progress. Once a person has such a compelling belief that all that is needed for world to emerge, is that others drop their resistance, targeting others is no longer seen as an act of violence, it is an act of promoting progress.

History remembers. The Jewish people remember. The Jewish people have a shared heritage of thousands of years. Together, we have survived the most astonishing persecution, the cruelest treatments, and the most severe discrimination. Much of our survival has been possible because of those who stood and supported one another. History remembers those who made kind and brave moral decisions. It also remembers those who didn't.

Morality counts. As the challenges we face continue to grow, let's take the right side of history. Let's choose do the right thing and stand with one another-not against each other. If there is something good we think we can do for each other, let it be genuinely good-not a punishingly good-not patronizing, penalizing, or condescending good. Rarely–if ever–is tough love or a punishing favor, really good. This way we can tell our children with pride, we did good that was objectively good- we stood on the right side of history.

Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City.

Nazis at the Olympic Village Gate


For 40 years we were told that the relatively new, unorganized and underfunded PLO/Black September group somehow managed to pull off the first terrorist attack on a worldwide stage at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

It made history.

However, in 2012, a whistle blower leaked a small portion of secret German documents that opened Pandora’s Box. In those documents it was revealed that the PLO and their group, Black September were aided by a group of Nazis in West Germany in their plot to attack the Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich. It was also revealed that Germany had a tip-off from a Palestinian informant in Beirut three weeks before the 1972 Munich Olympics. The informant revealed that the Palestinians were planing an “incident” at the games.

The Foreign Ministry in Bonn took the tip-off seriously enough to pass it on to the Secret Service in Munich and urge that “all possible security measures” be taken. Also on September 2, 1972, just 72 hours prior to the kidnappings and murders, the Italian publication GENTE reported that Black September terrorists were plotting a “sensational act” during the Olympic Games. But neither the Munich authorities nor the IOC acted on all this information. In fact, they covered it up for forty years.

Why?

Because the truth is that the PLO/Black September had plenty of assistance from people in the German Secret Service, German police force, Interpol and the IOC. The common threads of those people that assisted Black September were their influence, positions of power and their affiliation with the openly defeated but still secretly thriving Nazi party.

Here are the facts:

The Cover Up

What the German authorities and the IOC have attempted to cover up till today is the vast amount of help the terrorists had to pull off such a sophisticated attack in such a small period of time. In only six weeks, and after a few warnings to the German government and the IOC, the terrorists were able to get the housing location of the Israeli athletes, get fake IDs, weapons, their own housing and roam around Germany without interference from Interpol or the German Secret Service.

The IOC and the Nazi Connection

The “father” of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin (IOC president from 1896 – 1925) and his successor, Count Baillet-Latour (IOC president from 1925 – 1942) were not only Nazi supporters, they were good friends with Hitler himself. They had an ally in the president of the American Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage, who was himself a Nazi supporter, to help end America’s protest of the Berlin games and to stop the Jewish athletes from competing at the Nazi games in 1936. After the 1936 Olympics, as a reward, Brundage’s construction company was awarded a building contract to build the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. Brundage was notified in a letter from Nazi authorities acknowledging Brundage’s pro-Nazi sympathies. Avery Brundage then became the leader of the post-war Olympic movement and official President of the IOC from 1952 to 1972. Brundage introduced Juan Antonio Samaranch to the IOC in 1966 as a man “whom he trusted and loved”.

 

Above is the last known picture of Samaranch (pictured center) saluting with his fascist comrades. The photo was taken in Barcelona in July, 1974 two years after the Munich Massacre. He was a member and loyal friend of Spain’s fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. At the time of the photo, Samaranch was a vice-president of the IOC. Six years later, the IOC elected him President.

German Police, German Secret Service, Interpol and the Nazi Connection

Paul Dickopf was a Nazi member of the NSDAP and SS. After WWII, Dickopf rose quickly through the ranks of the Federal Police of West Germany and became head of the BKA (similar to the American FBI) in 1965, bringing many former Nazi agents with him. He was the President of Interpol from 1968 until 1972.  While his former Nazi connections were well known, Dickopf was still able to make the Federal Criminal Police a safe haven for former Nazis and SS officials during his time as president of the BKA and then Interpol.

The PLO, Black September and the Nazi Connection

Hajj Amin al-Husseini the Fatah founder and the political administrator of Arab Palestine was a close ally of Nazi Germany and helped form the Muslim SS-brigade in Bosnia. After WWll, he escaped to Egypt, where some ex-Nazi officers found refuge as well. There, he was introduced to Yasser Arafat, the founder of the PLO by the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nassar to work together to destroy Israel. Yasser Arafat became Al-Husseini’s protégé and was introduced to ex-Nazi commandos to learn gorilla fighting tactics. In 1970 Fatah and the PLO merged.

The Story from Black September

As a commander of Black September and co founder of Fatah, Abu Daoud was the mastermind behind the Munich Massacre. According to Daoud, the plot was hatched only six weeks before the Massacre on July 15 1972 and funded by current PA president Mahmoud Abass. In July, Abu Daoud and Abu Iyad joined another Black September leader, Abu Mohammed, at a café in Rome’s Piazza della Rotonda. Reading a newspaper, they saw a report that the IOC had failed to respond to two requests from Palestinians to be permitted to take their team to the 1972 Olympic Games. “If they refuse to let us participate, why shouldn’t we penetrate the Games in our own way?” Abu Mohammed asked.

The Israelis’ Fear

Israel had learned of the plot for the Munich Games and subsequently asked the authorities in Germany and the IOC to allow them to send extra security for their athletes – that request was rejected. In fact, the team was housed in a relatively isolated part of the Olympic Village, in a small building close to a gate, which Israeli delegation head Shmuel Lalkin felt made his team particularly vulnerable to an outside assault. The West German authorities and IOC assured Lalkin that extra security would be provided for the Israeli team. However, the Israeli athletes did not have extra security and were left completely vulnerable.

The Munich Massacre was the perfect Nazi plot to kill more Jews on West German soil just 27 years after the Holocaust while making the world believe that this was just another Israeli and Palestinian “conflict”, thus erasing all fingerprints of the IOC, German Law Enforcement, German Secret Service and Interpol.

I am calling on the German government to release all secret documents regarding the Munich Massacre. It’s time to stop the charade and let the families of the fallen athletes find justice and let the world know the whole truth.

I am also calling on the world body to lift the IOC’s immunity against lawsuits, which has been their safeguard. History tells us that the IOC may to this day be filled with Nazi and Fascist sympathizers, as power positions have been ‘inherited’ from people strongly and intimately connected with the Nazi party. If the IOC insist on more silence or deflection of their role in this tragedy, the world must assume that previous Nazi sympathizers in the IOC have indeed “passed the torch” to those in power today. The IOC needs to face justice for their role in this massacre. For a non-profit organization worth over 50 billion dollars, second only to Apple, their legal immunity protects them from their role in the tragic loss of Olympians at the Olympic Games, where politics should play no part. Owning up to this sordid history is their responsibility to the families of the Olympians that were brutally slain.

My name is Guri Weinberg and I am the son of Moshe Weinberg, the Israeli wrestling coach murdered at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. And I repeat the message I sent the IOC four years ago – I am not going away.

Jews, to the Parapets!


Thus said the Lord, have you [Ahab] killed, and also taken possession?  And you shall speak to him, saying, Thus said the Lord, in the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your blood, even yours.

-1 Kings 21:19

According to the Hebrew Bible, Ahab was a tyrannical King of the Israelites who stole the land of a peaceful vintner, Naboth, and then had him killed.  For his tyranny, Ahab was torn to death by dogs.  The story of Ahab illustrates the eternal opposition in Judaism to demagoguery and dictatorship.  As Moses said in Leviticus 215:10, “Go, proclaim liberty throughout the land, and to all the inhabitants thereof.”  This declaration of freedom and equality appears on our Liberty Bell, and is as much a part of our secular ethos as Americans as it is our religious belief as Jews. 

I truly believe that this principle of the Jewish and American experience is in danger from Donald Trump and those who support his platform of religious bigotry, political paranoia, a mocking contempt for the disabled, women, Muslims of all stripes, prisoners of war, anyone who opposes him in any degree.  Trump and his minions march to the music of the Strongman as Savior, the Duce who asserts with unbridled and anti-democratic arrogance that, “I alone can make things right.”  The truth, however, is that Trump is a snake-oil salesman who promises safety and greater economic prosperity if we just “trust” him, notwithstanding his refusal to provide proposed policies for his presidency, except for the walling off of our country from brown-skinned people, the barring from our country of Muslims as Muslims (a promise that should raise the hairs on the necks of all Jews who recall our own history as scapegoats in times of crisis), and the undermining of NATO, the alliance of democracies that however imperfect, saved the West from communism, provided air cover and intelligence support to the U.S. immediately after 9/11, and serves as a bulwark against Russian expansionism. 

As a con man, Trump is superb:  He has exploited the longtime and festering anger and bigotry of white Americans, especially those most unsettled by our post-industrial economy, and has granted them permission to ignore the so-called political correctness of our time with salvos against any group they fear however irrationally are undermining the society they once knew – the one of a more racially and culturally adhesive nation represented not by the history books (which paint a far more complicated picture of the past) but by reruns of The Donna Reed Show, where men in suits worked outside the home, women in dresses (never slacks or shorts) stayed in the house and cleaned and cooked, children were all well-behaved little drones, and everyone – everyone – was as white as snow.  Jews should be wary of sipping the Kool-Aid Trump has served to his minions, thirsty for a leader who will solve all their problems.  American Jews are a polyglot of shades, of Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Iranian immigrants and their families.  We are not as white as some of us would like to think.  And Jews should be very wary of Trump’s allegedly pro-Israel views:  His stated intention, that as President he would assist in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks by treating both sides as morally equivalent, should cause queasiness in the gut of every Zionist.

In the Jewish faith, the true Messiah will “include and attract people from all culture and nations” (Isaiah 11:10).  Trump styles himself a political prophet, but he is a false Messiah, one committed to a closed society of angry and vengeful white people, who dream of returning to an era that never was.  Trump stands against every hope we Jews have for the Mashiach, or even for a leader who represents the strength of character and not of a neo-fascist, neo-isolationist, and full-blown nativist who, like the catfish, is a bottom-feeder.  And bottom feeders are not kosher. 

Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate:  Her arrogance shows in the way she campaigned for the Democratic nomination in both 2008 and 2012, and more importantly, by her misuse of a private and personal server for official emails sent and received while she was Secretary of State.  She was not my first choice for President.  However, she is not a megalomaniac willing to exploit every political, racial, and religious prejudice that still presents itself, sometimes dormant, sometimes not, in the American conscience.  Unlike Trump, she is not a petulant Prince of Darkness who claims that the political system is “rigged” against him whenever he suffers a setback (which, so far, has been sadly rare) and who treats everyone with whom he disagrees as criminal, crooked, or dangerous to the Republic.  Unlike Trump, Clinton proposes – sometimes in mind-numbing, wonkish detail – specific policies for her possible presidency.  Her views are within the mainstream of the Democratic Party and the center-left, whereas Trump holds to an authoritarian ideology heavy on self-adulation but light on details that strays greatly from the limited government, rule-of-law philosophy of modern-day Republicanism.  Hillary Clinton leaves me ambivalent but still hopeful for our future.  Donald Trump leaves me deeply troubled by a candidate who would reshape G-d in his own, vile image. 

Jews have fared much, much better in modern democracies than in dictatorships.  Like the rest of our countrymen and women, we have our constitutional guarantees of liberty and equality, and need no modern Ahab to save us with his strength while stealing from us what he wants for himself – in Trump’s case, our democratic soul.  Fear of Islamist terrorism and economic insecurity does not justify turning over the Presidency to a tyrant in waiting.  As Benjamin Franklin warned, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Bruce J. Einhorn is a retired federal judge, a human rights activist, and a professor of law at Pepperdine University.

Overtime for farm workers: Can we finally get it right?


It is not often that one gets a “do-over” in life. Even rarer is the opportunity to get a do-over in a situation which not only impacts you, but also thousands of people—and also undoes one part of the legacy of Jim Crow racism. And yet, that very opportunity presents itself.

At this moment the California State Assembly is considering a bill which will mandate overtime pay for agricultural workers. These are workers who do some of the hardest jobs, in the worst conditions in this country. The work of picking the fruits and vegetables which end up in our grocery stores, and on our tables, is back-breaking and dangerous. Working in the heat of the sun for hours on end does leads to sickness and sometimes death. Yet, these workers are not paid extra for the overtime hours they put in.

Why, you might ask yourself, do agricultural workers not get the same rights in the workplace that the rest of the workforce does? When FDR began to amass the coalition which would pass the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, Southern Senators, Senators from the Jim Crow, slave-owning former Confederacy, refused to sign on unless worker protections for domestic workers, and agricultural workers were not included. It was no coincidence that these workers were almost all African-Americans.

The country, and our state, has begun to address these injustices. There is now a domestic workers’ bill of rights, and agricultural workers are now paid minimum wage (which will gradually increase to $15 an hour). The final hill is overtime wages. This is the last vestige of this racist holdover.

Our tradition teaches us that a “complete repentance”—a tshuvah gemurah—occurs when a person returns to the place where they sinned, and they retain the same mental and physical strength that they had when they sinned, and they are interacting with the same people they did when the original sin occurred—and yet they act differently. Assembly Member Richard Bloom is ripe for complete repentance.

When this bill (then numbered AB 2757) came up for a vote on June 2, Bloom did not vote. The bill failed 38 votes to 35. Three votes stood between rectifying a century of injustice and letting it continue. However, the bill was reintroduced (now known as: AB 1066 – Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016) and will be voted on by the end of August.

We have the opportunity to undo a historic wrong, and to allow farm workers the ability to earn enough money to support themselves and their families with dignity. It is incumbent upon us to make sure that Richard Bloom knows that we are counting on him to walk in the path of the righteous, to undo his scandalous abstention of two months ago, and to vote in favor of AB 1066).

Rabbi Aryeh Cohen PhD is the Rabbi in Residence for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice in Southern California

The EU, Terror and the Transparency Bill


On the 7 December 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt solemnly before the Warsaw Ghetto in contrition. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel faced annihilation, the same Willy Brandt denied German landing rights to US planes carrying emergency supplies to Israel. 

Chancellor Merkel occasionally says that Israel’s “right to exist” is Germany’s raison d’etre.

Like Willy Brandt, Germany appears to be two tongued when it comes to antisemitism. Like the EU,  Germany makes a distinction between antisemitism and objecting to Israel’s policies, which on paper seems to be fair. Thus, giving the Hitler salute and denying the Holocaust are illegal. On the other hand, the annual Iran sponsored Al Quds March through downtown Berlin, calling for the destruction of Israel is legal. Berlin constantly turns a deaf ear to appeals to ban that march.

The JCPOA (Iran Deal) was enthusiastically supported by Germany enabling Iran to fully develop its nuclear program after a decade, whilst currently testing “Death to Israel” marked missiles. However, the same Germany decided that nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes were too risky for Germans. They are to be phased out by 2022.

Germany maintains it has a “special relationship” with Israel while the EU ambassador to Israel explained that Israel is singled out because “you are one of us.”

The EU countries support various NGOs despite being termed “non-government.” Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) provides funding to NGOs as part of its foreign aid programs. Recently Prof Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor exposed the doublespeak of Germany yet further. The German government annually pays 4 million Euros to NGOs in Israel, of which 42% goes to organizations that support BDS and worse, like The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee which advocates violent riots in Judea/Samaria. The German Embassy in Tel Aviv does not deny the funding, but blandly states that Germany does not support boycotts of Israel. They donate to “organizations supporting peace.”

Some of the NGOs funded by the EU are Zochrot, Grassroots Jerusalem and Baladna Arab Youth Association, all of which are committed to getting  Palestinian refugees and their third and fourth generation descendants to “return” even though most have never been to Israel.  I have met some of these “refugees” who lead comfortable middle class lives, in Australia. They certainly do not fit the image of a refugee we see on TV. In my recent satire, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist,” the story depicts one such comfortable refugee who, like his parents, has never been to Israel. Despite these anomalies, the EU generously funds these organizations that are dedicated to Israel’s disappearance as the Jewish State.

The EU therefore supports some organizations dedicated to Israel’s demise, while paying lip service to its “right to exist,” whatever that means. The EU, led by countries such as Germany, also supports labelling people and products from beyond the Green Line or “Auschwitz Lines” as former dovish foreign minister Abba Eban called it. Thus, while officially declining to support BDS, the same EU countries fund NGOs that do—all with a straight face.

Unlike the vicious murder of Hallel Ariel (z”l) and countless others before and after her, the EU, committed to democracy and human rights, has been “deeply concerned” about the recent transparency law passed by the Knesset, even though there is no suggestion these NGOs would be banned from practising their dubious activities. The State Department termed it “chilling,” despite its funds being surreptitiously used to help influence the outcome of Israel’s last election. In the meantime, Europe is reeling with regular terror attacks, for which Europeans cannot find an answer—except to insultingly compare Israel to Putin’s Russia and be “deeply concerned” with their fellow democracy that struggles to maintain some balance in civil rights while upholding its citizens right to life.

Israel remains a vibrant democracy despite the underhand tactics of the EU. As Europe grapples with increasing terror, their exaggerated concern with an ally threatened daily by internal and external terror is misplaced and misguided.

NGO Monitor has shown in great detail the doublespeak of the EU countries which mouth unconvincing platitudes regarding Israel’s “right to exist,” but simultaneously fund many NGOs that promote exactly the opposite.

At the end of the day, it should be remembered that the hidden agendas of many of these NGOs have little to do with “human rights” per se but more to do with providing conditions that would end  the State of Israel, by stressing the Nakba, hope, resilience and the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants.

That is why it is always worth remembering Willy Brandt 1970 and Willy Brandt 1973. It sums up Europe perfectly.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He recently authored of the satire “The trombone man: Tales of a misogynist.”

Caroline Glick and me


You know you’ve made it in the Jewish world when you get to speak to 1,000 Hadassah women at their national convention. 

For its annual convention in Atlanta last week, Hadassah asked me to converse onstage with columnist and author Caroline Glick, a discussion moderated by journalist Linda Scherzer. In addition to the live audience, a video camera would livestream and archive it for web viewers. 

The women’s Zionist organization has been sponsoring conversations on the subject of Zionism: What is it? How’s it doing? Where is it going?  

“It’s not a debate,” an organizer warned me the week before. “It’s a dialogue.”

Really, a dialogue? I have been reading and virulently disagreeing with Glick’s writing for years. I’ve printed her columns — inclusion is what we do here at the Journal — but I’d never spoken to her. I imagined we’d jump down each other’s throats in about 30 seconds.

Then we met. She is diminutive, with short auburn hair, a tightly drawn mouth and dark eyes. We shook hands and made small talk about mutual friends. I knew she had asked some of them how to score points off me, and I’d asked them the same about her.

After just a minute of fake nicey-nice chit-chat, there was an awkward pause. Glick said, “Your, um, pants.” She blushed.

I looked down at my black wool suit slacks and — the horror, the horror! About half of the toothpaste I’d spit out of my mouth that morning had ended up as a series of large white splatters covering my crotch. It was bad. It was Jackson Pollock-meets-“There’s Something About Mary” bad.  We were two minutes from showtime. 

I ran backstage, grabbed a water bottle from a tech guy, poured it on a nearby rag, gave my pants a few wipes, and, presto, Crest-free.

The lights were already dimming when I raced back into the convention hall. And when I thanked Glick, I realized I could no longer possibly see her as just a ferocious kneejerk right-winger. The lion had pulled the thorn from Androcles. I had nothing but gratitude for this woman who saved me from total embarrassment.

So when Glick launched into a long indictment of the Democratic Party as being overrun with the anti-Israel sentiments of the “left,” I pushed back firmly — but gently. If “left” means Democrat, I pointed out, the standard-bearer of that party is Hillary Clinton, who is hardly anti-Israel, nor is the party’s platform. Even their new progressive hero, Bernie Sanders, made clear his support for Israel. 

I agreed with her that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is anti-peace and a stalking horse for straight-up Israel bashing. But I did point out that the best way to deprive it of more mainstream support is to fight the status quo of the occupation. Most people cannot abide by a situation in which millions of Palestinians are deprived of their democratic rights by a democratic nation. They support Israel but cannot support Israel-as-oppressor. Simple.

The solution, I admitted, is not so simple. And that’s where things got a little heated.

Last year, Glick published a book, “The Israeli Solution,” which advocates for a so-called one-state solution to the conflict. That is, Israel would annex the West Bank and Palestinians would have the option of becoming Israeli citizens. 

After she outlined her idea, I took a deep breath. I started by praising Glick for the effort. Mainstream Jews once thought Theodor Herzl was nuts when he proposed political Zionism, and now he is seen as a Jewish savior. Who knows, I said, maybe Caroline Glick is the new Herzl. The important thing is that a moribund peace process needs new ideas, for better or worse.

But, I added, the one-state solution is the worst possible idea. My reasons? One, why would Israel want to make people whom Glick describes as born and bred Israel- and Jew-haters citizens of a Jewish state? Two, Israel is already struggling to incorporate Charedim and Arab Israelis into its economy and educational systems. How could it possibly absorb 2 or 3 million Palestinians? 

“There are way too many Arabs and Jews who are uneducated and unemployed, before even one Palestinian receives Israeli citizenship,” I said, quoting Dan Ben-David of the Shoresh Institution.

Three, experts disagree on the actual population numbers — wouldn’t it be smart to have a census we can all rely on before even arguing such an idea?

And finally, the only one-state solution I can think of in the Middle East is Syria — and that hasn’t worked out so well. If states with Shiite and Sunni Muslims implode, imagine a state of Arabs and Jews.

What was my solution? Actress Gwyneth Paltrow had just been honored at Hadassah’s gala the night before. She’d once famously described her separation from husband Chris Martin as “a conscious uncoupling.” That, I said, is what the Israelis and Palestinians need — a conscious uncoupling. 

Before I could finish, Glick interrupted me. Then I jumped in on her. I wouldn’t say it got heated, just spirited. The debate style these days is to attack not just the ideas, but the person. That didn’t happen this time. Because you never know when that person will be for one critical moment maybe not Israel’s savior, but your own.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

If you don’t eat bacon, you keep kosher


If you are a Jew who doesn’t eat bacon or shellfish because Judaism prohibits eating pork products and shellfish — but you do eat chicken and beef that have not been slaughtered according to halachah (Jewish law) — do you keep kosher?

Nearly every Jew who keeps kosher — and probably most who don’t — will answer that you do not.

[MORE FROM PRAGER: Is kosher all or nothing?]

Among Jews who keep kosher, in order to be considered a Jew who “keeps kosher,” one must eat only kosher food. That means refraining from eating not only the animals prohibited by the Torah — pork, shellfish, birds of prey and nearly all insects — but also any land animal not slaughtered halachically, not eating in a non-kosher restaurant and avoiding any foods not certified kosher.

I would like to make the argument that this attitude is both logically and Jewishly flawed — that a Jew who only refrains from pork and shellfish should in fact be considered a Jew who “keeps kosher.” 

To understand why, let’s take the example of tzedakah (charity). The Torah commands us to give 10 percent of our income to tzedakah. Now, if a Jew gives 5 percent, do we say that he gives tzedakah? Of course we do. In fact, we might even characterize such a Jew as baal tzedakah, a charitable man. 

But if we applied the same criterion to tzedakah that we do to keeping kosher, we would never call such a person — one who only gives half of what Judaism demands — a baal tzedakah. In fact, we wouldn’t even say that he gives tzedakah. If a Jew who only keeps half of what Judaism demands regarding kashrut doesn’t “keep kosher,” why would we say that a Jew who only observes half of what Judaism demands regarding tzedakah “gives tzedakah”?

This attitude tells us a lot of what has gone wrong in Judaism.

It tells us, for example, that we are far stricter in assessing Jews’ observance in ritual laws (the laws between man and God) than in ethical laws (laws between man and man). Partial observance of ethical laws doesn’t disqualify a Jew from being regarded as observant of those laws or as ethical, but any deviation from what is considered complete observance of ritual laws means the Jew simply doesn’t observe those laws.

It has gotten to the point where even a Jew who refrains from eating any non-kosher foods, even those that do not have an Orthodox Union certification, but who will eat off dishes that may have touched nonkosher food prior to being washed, or eats fruit in a nonkosher restaurant, will not be considered by many Orthodox Jews as keeping kosher.

The same holds true for Shabbat observance.

The prevailing definition of a shomer Shabbat — one who keeps Shabbat — is one who keeps all the laws of Shabbat. If a Jew refrains (even at the sacrifice of income) from working on Shabbat, he is not a shomer Shabbos if he so much as turns on lights in his house on Shabbat, let alone if he drives to shul or to a Shabbat meal. 

In other words, when it comes to ritual, it’s all or nothing when we describe a Jew. But in the realm of ethics, we never apply all or nothing.

There is a very negative consequence to this attitude: We expend far more religious energy in disqualifying Jews from considering themselves religious than in trying to have more Jews consider themselves religious. As a result, the Jew who refrains from eating only Torah-prohibited animals is deemed to be — and deems himself to be — a Jew who doesn’t keep kosher, which is one of the defining rituals of a Jewish life

Why is that good for Judaism? Why would Jewish life want to exclude as many Jews as possible from being considered or considering themselves religious instead of wanting as many Jews as possible to be considered or to consider themselves religious?

It makes no sense logically or Jewishly to say that a Jew who doesn’t eat Torah-prohibited animals doesn’t keep kosher, or that a Jew who doesn’t work on Shabbat but drives to Shabbat-related events on Shabbat is a mechalel Shabbat (Shabbat desecrator). Does any religious Jew label a Jew who only gives 5 percent of his income to charity a mechalel tzedakah (tzedakah desecrator)? And if not, why not?

The bottom line is that a Jew who doesn’t eat any non-kosher foods for Jewish reasons keeps kosher. He simply doesn’t keep kosher to the same extent as more observant Jews do. 

So, if you don’t eat bacon or shellfish because you are a Jew, you can, and should, proudly say that you keep kosher. 

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).

Terrorism in Israel: U.S. actions speak louder than words


In late June of this year, I returned from an enlightening journey to Israel after embarking on a trip sponsored by Birthright Israel, a program that sends thousands of Jewish teens and young adults to tour Israel. I traveled with my sister, Lauren, and we were amazed by the Jewish culture and history we were immediately immersed in as soon as we stepped on our El AL flight to Tel Aviv from JFK. As soon as the “fasten seat-belt” sign went off, an orthodox Jewish man went around the flight to bless some of the Birthright participants with Tiffilin (a set of two black boxes containing verses from the Torah) and I was one of the lucky ones. From that point onward, my travels in Israel—ranging from a spiritual stop at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to a fun visit at the Dead Sea—were incredible experiences that opened up the floodgates to my family’s history and customs. During my travels in Israel, signs of the precarious and ominous state of geopolitical security of the small Jewish state were ever-present. After traveling to Israel and experiencing firsthand the vibrant culture of the only true democracy in the Middle East, I was frustrated and angered more than ever by the media and our current President’s unjust treatment of a nation surrounded by enemies and danger on all borders. Nothing was more enraging to me, however, than to observe the Obama administration’s handling of the barbaric murder of a thirteen-year-old American-Israeli girl in the West Bank only three days after I returned from Israel.

Hallel Ariel was brutally murdered in her sleep by a seventeen-year-old Palestinian terrorist in a West Bank settlement, where her family lived. Photos of the scene released by the Israeli government showed sickening pools of blood in a brightly decorated child’s room. Security forces killed the assailant shortly after the murder and the Israeli government reacted immediately, canceling work visas previously granted to the killer’s family and establishing more security at the settlement. Our government’s response, however, was far less impressive; Jon Kirby, a State Department spokesman, condemned “in the strongest terms” the horrific terrorist attack.

This type of mechanical, unemotional statement from the Obama administration has only become the new norm from our country when responding to Palestinian terrorism. In fact, on June 8th, only a few weeks before I arrived in Israel, Hamas militants killed four Israelis at a Tel Aviv shopping district, an attack which the Obama administration condemned “in the strongest possible terms”. On November 19, 2015, another American-Israeli, Eric Schwartz was killed as he was gunned down by a Palestinian terrorist in the West Bank. President Obama, at a press conference that Sunday, three days later, delivered kind remarks regarding the deaths of two American citizens killed in terrorist attacks in Mali and France earlier that same week. Curiously, Eric Schwartz was never mentioned by President Obama during that press conference in which he mourned two other American citizens also killed abroad. After over 50,000 Americans signed a petition calling for the White House to acknowledge and condemn the murder of Schwartz, the Obama administration yet again condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms”, a statement that carries less and less weight with every monotonous recitation by members of the Obama administration.

Following the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris in October of 2015, the State Department rightfully declared the act as “evil, heinous, and vile” in a powerful statement calling on the world “to fight back against what can only be considered an assault on our common humanity”. The White House is clearly concerned with the barbarity of terrorism, so I’d like to ask the State Department why this clear display of emotional outrage has consistently been missing when Israeli-Americans are murdered in cold blood. Perhaps the death of half-Israelis—or Jews—is far less concerning to President Obama than the deaths of others. I have been to Israel and I have spoken at length with its people. Our President’s continuously passive and reluctant words of “strong condemnation” do nothing to stop Palestinian terrorism or show solidarity with the Israeli people.

President Obama’s lethargic approach to speaking out against Palestinian terrorism is far less detrimental than his deliberate actions to strengthen Hamas, the terrorist organization governing the Gaza Strip, or diplomatically weaken Israel. In his famous address to the Arab world in Cairo, the President remarked “…Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society…the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security.” The United States has a famous policy never to negotiate with terrorists, yet urges Israel to dutifully complete its “obligation” to ensure the development of Palestinian society in the Gaza Strip, an area governed by a group the United States lists as a terrorist organization. This screaming hypocrisy is seemingly ignored by President Obama’s administration.

Because of security concerns, Israel has maintained an embargo of potentially dangerous goods into the Gaza Strip, including building materials such as cement, from 2007 to the present. The Israeli government loosened the ban on building materials—after being pressured by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—to allow for the reconstruction of Palestinian infrastructure damaged in past wars. Cement flooded into the Gaza strip and the reconstruction was finally set to begin. However, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry Director, roughly 95% of all cement bags that entered the Gaza strip for humanitarian purposes were stolen by Hamas to build the infamous underground tunnel network used to conduct terrorism against innocent Israeli civilians in the Gaza War of 2014. To blame Israel for not attempting to alleviate the concerning humanitarian situation in Gaza is not only factually erroneous but also diplomatically dangerous to Israel; rather than focus on the heinous acts committed by Hamas, a group that calls for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people in its charter, the international community, with President Obama at the helm, instead points to Israel’s settlement expansion in the West Bank as a justification for terrorism originating in Gaza.

Since becoming politically active, I’ve always been a staunch supporter of Israel on cultural, ideological and logical grounds. My trip to Israel only reinforced those beliefs and once again reminded me of the double standard President Obama has practiced when it comes to Israel and the deaths of American Jews in Israel. While I never felt endangered in Israel, a small news story that barely garnered a few minutes on major news channels shocked me deeply: an El AL flight out of JFK to Tel Aviv, the same kind of flight I had taken to Israel, was escorted by French and Swiss jets to Israel following a bomb threat. Luckily there was no bomb and therefore no casualities. I was immediately thankful for my own safe return to my home in America, and then somberly considered for a moment that I could have been on that plane if my trip had been only two weeks later. But then I thought of the people actually on that plane. Surely there were other Jewish kids my age traveling to Israel as part of some Birthright program. I wondered, if that plane had been bombed and the passengers murdered simply because they were Israelis or Jews, how would President Obama have responded? Based on his past actions? Another “strong condemnation” from a monotonous, disinterested state department spokesperson.

Letters to the editor: Jesse Owens, Donald Trump, Dennis Prager and more


Jesse Owens’ Winning Ways

I had the pleasure of attending a dinner where Jesse Owens spoke about his experience in the 1936 Olympics in Germany (“This Week in Jewish History, July 29). He said, “Hitler died on a Jewish holiday.” Throughout the predominately Jewish audience, you could hear, “Huh?” “What holiday?” “It wasn’t a Jewish holiday.”

Mr. Owens heard this, and waited. Then, with impeccable timing, he explained, “Any day that Hitler died is a Jewish holiday.” Laughter resounded in the room. He had us in his pocket with his wit and gentle charm and grace.

Susan Cohen via email

Taking Rape Seriously

I recognized that Danielle Berrin was poking fun at Donald Trump’s bigotry in her most recent article when she remarked about how she and her sister saw no rapists when they traveled to Mexico (“Where Are the Mexican Rapists?” July 29). However, I was disappointed that, in her attempt at humor, Ms. Berrin perpetuated some common misconceptions about rape. She reported, “[M]y sister and I were so utterly ignored by the country’s infamous rapists that my sister remarked early in our journey, ‘Nobody’s even hitting on us!’ ” Ms. Berrin then facetiously admitted to “the possibility that we have an inflated sense of our own attractiveness,” but that she expected more attention from the Mexican men with whom she came in contact. This pairing of a woman’s attractiveness and the likelihood that she will be raped is a fallacy. Rape is a crime committed not out of sexual desire, but out of a lust for power. Furthermore, rape is not on an extreme end of a continuum that begins with flirtation. This fact makes Trump’s accusation all the more repugnant.

Guy Handelman, Sherman Oaks

Berrin responds: Thank you, Mr. Handelman, for making this important point. I intended to suggest that, far below rape, even harassment, which is common, wasn’t something that my sister or I experienced.

Trump Supporter Speaks Out

I read Rob Eshman’s screed and I am a Jew (“All Together Now,” July 29). You will be surprised the morning after the election when the Chicago Tribune repeats its monumental bold headline blunder, the one that read “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Remember to email me.

What bias makes your head so thick? Did you get paid to write that? If yes, who paid you?

Martin Kessler via email

Hold the Movie ‘Kreplach’

As much as I admire David Kipen and his wonderful Libros Schmibros bookstore, I take major exception to his calling “Tiempo de Murir” a “kreplach Western” simply because its director and studio heads were Jewish (“ ‘Kreplach Western’ Screening a New Frontier for Boyle Heights Lending Library,” July 29). By this skewed, ethnocentric logic, American Westerns by the likes of William Wyler and Anthony Mann or any other Jewish director working for a Jewish-headed studio would have to be so designated, as well. In keeping with the “spaghetti Western” geo-culinary template, I suggest “arroz con pollo” Western instead.

Vincent Brook, Los Angeles

Prager and the Police

The propaganda penned by Dennis Prager is the type of rhetoric that divides the country. The idea that only the people on the left side of the political stratum are responsible for police brutality and the deaths of police officers is absurd, to say the least (“The Left Has Cops’ Blood on Its Hands,” July 22). 

Prager’s attack on Michael Eric Dyson, an esteemed professor of sociology, is typical stereotyping, suggesting that if a Black man projects an opinion that is contrary to his own beliefs, then he must be a Black radical. Prager quoted a paragraph of Dyson’s article and used it out of context. One should read the entire article to fully understand the positive message of Mr. Dyson. 

Prager’s position on having the police vigorously patrol Black areas to reduce the murder rate is unreasonable and lacks meaningful solutions. To that, I quote Michael Eric Dyson: “Black people protest, to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen, that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope — emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets.” I fear that the only person who is filled with “anti-isms” is Prager himself.

Bervick J. Deculus, Tarzana

Prager responds: Any response to Mr. Deculus would simply involve restating the facts and studies I cited in my original column. Therefore, I will respond only with a heartfelt suggestion — that Mr. Deculus read Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Jason Riley, Larry Elder, Jesse Peterson and other Black writers and scholars who, unlike Michael Eric Dyson, do not blame whites for most problems afflicting Black life, and who feel immensely blessed to be American.

Going in two directions at once: The struggle for the soul of religious Zionism


Six years ago, I led a demonstration against the segregation of women on public buses in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. I stood there, wearing a long skirt and with my head covered with a bright red hat, an Orthodox religious woman demonstrating against the Orthodox religious establishment.

I’m not unique. If you look at all the recent battles over religion and state — access to mikvaot (ritual baths) for all denominations, the struggle over Shabbat commerce laws, and the fight against the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut certification — in all of these struggles against the orthodox religious establishment, it’s Orthodox religious women and men who are leading them.

What does this mean? What’s going on in the Israeli Orthodox religious community?

This is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, battles over religion and state in Israel were largely between the secular and the religious. One side wanted to prevent the state from funding or legally enforcing anything religious, and wanted public space to be neutral, with a minimum of religious symbols. On the other side were those who wanted a religious-cultural uniqueness that would make Israel a “Jewish state” rather than “a state of all its citizens.” The secular side spoke the language of the liberal West, and the religious spoke the language of religion and halachah. Things were relatively simple back then: We all knew which side we were on.

Today, things are different. Much of the argument now takes place within the Orthodox community. It’s an internal argument about the meaning of a Jewish state and perhaps about the meaning of Judaism in general.

There are two foci of this argument: one about modernity and one about Zionism.

With regard to modernity, the Orthodox community is asking the questions that Jews have asked since the Enlightenment, and that, in one way or another, all Jews still ask today. What is the relationship between modernity and tradition? How do we grapple with the rapid changes taking place in the world and the challenges posed by those changes to traditional values? Should we respond to change with withdrawal and fear, or with openness and adaptability? Should we emphasize the humanist values of Jewish tradition — equality, freedom and individual autonomy — or the values that are in tension with Western liberalism: collectivism, obedience and gender essentialism? How should we relate to changes in the place of women in family structure and in the workplace? Do we need to adjust the Torah to reality or reality to the Torah?

The battlefields of this debate are the place of women in society, and questions about changing the traditional structures of the synagogue, halachic leadership and public life, in order to make room for them. Another battleground is linked to treatment of the LGBT community. Another relates to the role of secular education.

The other focus of the split within Israeli orthodoxy is over Zionism. Here the argument is about the meaning of a Jewish secular state. Is it an earthquake that requires radical halachic change, or merely a new situation that is devoid of religious or halachic significance?

Here the arguments are about the attitude toward non-observant Jews (do we have a mutual responsibility to anyone who is part of the Jewish people, and to what extent does this responsibility demand tolerance or pluralism on our part?). We also argue about the relationship between the adjectives “Jewish” and “democratic” in Israel’s definition. What happens to halachah when the “Jewish state” does not see it as authoritative? Or, conversely, when the “democratic state” enforces halachah on those who do not accept it? And what happens to Jewish culture when it becomes the culture of the majority, not the minority?

The battlefields of the Zionism debate include conversion, the relationship with Israel’s Arab minority, public space on Shabbat, our attitude toward secular Jews, the refusal to obey an order in the military when the order contradicts halachah, and more. There is a deep connection between these two foci — Zionism and modernity — but they don’t always overlap cleanly. Someone can be very conservative when it comes to the place of women, but radical in the way he perceives the meaning and implications of the State of Israel. Or someone can be very open toward the LGBT community, but very strict about public space on Shabbat.

So who’s winning? “Whither religious Zionism?” It’s hard to say, because it’s going in two directions at once. It’s getting both more extreme and more open than ever before. Religious feminism is growing, but so is the phenomenon of excluding women from public space, which never existed before. Private conversion courts are being founded by Orthodox rabbis as an alternative to the Chief Rabbinate, but at the same time, more and more religious Zionist families are sending their children to schools that do not teach secular studies. Attitudes toward LGBT Israelis are becoming more open, while attitudes toward Arab Israelis become more suspicious and alienating. We’re going in opposite directions at the same time, all the time.

My description of this cultural struggle is obviously not neutral. It’s my struggle and I care about its outcome, both as a religious Zionist and as an Israeli citizen. Religious Zionists are raised to believe in the importance of contributing to society; perhaps it’s no coincidence that you’ll find religious Zionists in many of the key roles in the public sector: the head of the Shin Bet, the attorney general, the head of the Mossad, and the police commissioner. And so the question of where this community will go is critical to Israel’s future. Isolation or integration? Religious extremism or finding a balance between traditional values ​​and modern values? Fundamentalism and fanaticism or democracy?

My own position is that we can and must build a humanistic, Zionist, democratic, socially involved Judaism. I also believe that we, the religious Zionists who believe in these values, must build alliances and collaborations with all those who believe in these values, even if we don’t agree 100 percent. We need an alliance with secular Zionists, with the modern ultra-Orthodox, and with Israeli Arabs who are willing to live in a Jewish state. The Shaharit Institute is one of the few places in Israeli society that enables me to make such alliances, and I believe it’s no exaggeration to say that the future of the State of Israel depends on our success.

This is the second in a series of essays by writers who are leaders and activists in the Shaharit Institute (shaharit.org.il), an Israeli nonprofit that brings together people to re-imagine local and national politics. Shaharit’s leaders come from across the religious, political and ethnic spectrum of Israeli society, and work together to create policy and strategy built on open hearts, forward thinking and a politics of the common good

Tehila Friedman-Nachalon is the director of Kolot’s Center for Jewish Leadership and a fellow at the Shaharit Institute. She was a fellow in the Mandel Leadership Institute, former chair of Ne’emanei Torah ve’Avodah, a modern Orthodox movement promoting pluralism and democracy, and board member of the Yerushalmit Movement, a nonprofit for a pluralistic Jerusalem. She lives in Jerusalem and is the mother of five children.

With gratitude toward Donald Trump


No one compares to Adolf Hitler. He was incomparably evil.  Nothing in American politics compares to Nazism. Nothing, not now – and hopefully never!

And yet, I am grateful to Donald Trump because he has made my job of explaining the rise of Nazism and political support for Hitler so much easier.

Permit me to explain:

When I would tell my students that many of Hitler’s supporters did not regard themselves as antisemites or racists, they would look at me quizzically. “How could they not?” After all, Hitler made secret of his antisemitism. He spoke of it openly, directly and repeatedly. He did not use dog whistles but said what he meant and meant what he said.

When I would mention that many did not believe that he would carry out what he had been saying, they were skeptical. After all, he had repeated his threats against the Jews time and again, how could they believe that once in office he would not follow through?

When we would learn that some of his voters were put off by his antisemitism but liked other parts of his platform such as his strong nationalism, his return to national pride, his attacks on the ineffective Weimar Republic and their leaders, his anger at German humiliation with the defeat of World War I and the foreign imposition of the Versailles Treaty. They craved his projection of strength and decisiveness after what many had viewed as ineffective leadership from the German political class, My students would protest. “But he was antisemitic and racist. And you are telling me that his supporters did not regard that as disqualifying? “They would roll their eyes when I tell them that had he not been an antisemite he might have gotten even more support.

When I would mention that Hitler came to power with a minority of seats in a coalition Cabinet and his political partners assured one another and the President that once in office he would be forced to moderate and move toward the center. They would whisper: “he knows nothing and we are men of experience, seasoned, reasoned, disciplined and informed, we can control the man and force him to bend to our will.” They would look skeptically at me. Given what they know happened shortly after Hitler took office, they wondered: how could they be so sure, how could they be misguided?

When I would then describe the reasoning of Germany’s Conservative political leadership: better to bring this angry man and his angry hordes inside the tent looking outward that outside the tent continually raging, they would throw up their hands in frustration: “how could they be so naïve as to imagine that the rage would not continue and once in power become institutionalized, bureaucratized, legalized? Couldn’t they understand that power would only embolden them and that such power would only entice them to use it effectively and cruelly?”

And finally, when I would say that no one in his inner circle could stand up to Hitler, could tell him to stop and cut it out, change direction or that Germany did not have, at least not after the Emergency Decrees of March 1933 have the checks and balances and the separation of powers that restrained the exercise of power. I would show them two pictures, one of Hitler receiving a briefing from his Generals in 1939 — when the wars were proceeding well for Germany he listened attentively to what they were telling him — and another in 1942 when Hitler was making decision after decision that would bring them to defeat, the Generals listened obediently to what he was instructing them. My students would ask timidly, “did the man have no friends, could no one tell him the truth?”

Again Hitler was Hitler and Trump is Trump. No equivalence is possible. Trump does not have a coherent vision positive or negative to implement. He only has himself and his sense of self-aggrandizement.

And yet now my students now will have much easier time understanding that while everyone hears Trumps tirades against Muslims and Hispanics, Mexicans in particular, his promises of exclusion and deportation, for many that simply is not disqualifying.

They do not regard themselves as racists and could not imagine themselves to be and are uncomfortable if not distraught by his racism but other aspects of his program appeals to them: America First, the “lousy” trade deals, the reversal of globalization, the restoration of American greatness, the hatred of the political class – Washington that evil, awful place – and the promise of American jobs. Some Jews will offer an excuse: Trump will be better on Israel. 

My students will now be able to see first-hand how the wise men of Germany could be so mistaken. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan condemned the Republican nominee’s statements about an Indiana born Federal Judge as racist and speaks with rightful respect about Gold Star mothers and fathers who children died in the service of our nation. He is not in favor of excluding Muslims or deporting Mexicans and yet supports his party’s nominee because Trump will advance Conservative causes and appoint a Conservative Supreme Court. I do not know what he is feeling in his heart of hearts but if I judge by his actions, I presume that he believes he and not Trump can set the agenda, the Republican controlled House of Representatives and the Senate can moderate Trump and negate the racist and un-American aspects of his agenda.

I have no such confidence. I suspect that the Presidential nominee of the Republican Party believes that he will bend the Ryans and McConnells to his will just as he broke 15 other candidates for President and made the toughest of them Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey appear like a lap dog, taking scraps off the master’s table.

While I have no confidence in Republican leadership who are deluding themselves and the nation with the notion that they will triumph in a contest of ideas; and while I am appalled by the so-called  “religious leaders” who want to make the nation more Christian – Jesus preached a gospel of compassion and human dignity, gratitude and grace, he reached out to the widow and the orphan, the stranger and the dispossessed — while they support a man who is the embodiment of values antithetical to religiosity. ,

I do have confidence in the American people who, no matter how angry, will reject the politics of exclusion and bigotry and vote for inclusion and decency. I pray that I am not deceiving myself,

Let me conclude with a story: many years ago Steven Spielberg and I met with a man who spent the meeting telling Spielberg how important he was. When the meeting concluded and we stepped outside Spielberg turned to me and said:

“What was that about?” “

“He wanted to tell you how important he was,” I answered.

He said: “I know he was important, otherwise I could not have met with him.”

I said: “he has a big ego.”

Steven corrected me immediately. “No, he has a small ego in need of enlargement. I have a big ego and need not enlarge it at another’s expense.”

I keep remembering that story whenever I hear Trump speak of size of hands, of private parts, of height and or fortune. Only a man with a small ego in need of enlargement would become obsessed by size.

Beware of such man and most especially so such man preaching such a philosophy.

ZOA opposes AIPAC giving platform to anti-Israel group “Breaking the Silence”


It is appalling that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) organized and conducted a panel discussion event for visiting rabbis in Jerusalem last month that gave a platform to the vicious anti-Israel propaganda group “Breaking the Silence” (“BtS”).

Breaking the Silence is notorious for inventing and publishing throughout the world (and providing to the already biased-against-Israel UN investigators) false, unverifiable, anonymous “testimonies” defaming and demonizing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as war criminals who deliberately target, shoot, and beat up Palestinian and Gazan civilians (See NGO Monitor report).  BtS also defames Jews living in Judea and Samaria with blood libels (that are then propagated throughout the world), such as falsely accusing Jews living in Judea/Samaria of “poisoning the entire water supply” of a Palestinian Arab village” and causing the “entire village being evacuated for a period of several years” – neither of which ever happened.

BtS also lectures and displays its false “photo exhibits” and “testimonies” demonizing Israel, and participates in anti-Israel, pro-BDS events in Scotland, Switzerland, the EU Parliament, South Africa, U.S. college campuses and numerous other international locales.   

The UN Report of the “Independent” Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza War quoted extensively from BtS’s false, anonymous “testimonies.” A Hamas press release complained that even more BtS falsehoods should have been included – namely, “explicit confessions” by “many soldiers affiliated to the Israeli organization of ‘Breaking the Silence’’’ of Israeli soldiers’ and officers’ “war crimes” and “direct instructions to target civilians.”

An Israeli Channel 10 study found that in a sample of ten Breaking the Silence testimonies, two claims of beating detainees and shooting innocents were complete lies, two were exaggerated and four were impossible to verify.  Mr. Admit Deri, the head of Israeli Reservists on the Front, said that the study affirmed what Reservists on the Front had been saying for months, and noted: “This is very serious research that was conducted by journalists who previously stated their support for Breaking the Silence, like Raviv Drucker. In the end it came out that the group does lie. . . . We need to exclude this organization [Breaking the Silence] from all forums and not invite them to speak.” (“More proof of Breaking the Silence’s lies,” Israel National News, July 15, 2016).

NGO Monitor estimates that Breaking the Silence receives 65% of its funding from anti-Israel European groups. BtS also receives funding from the extremist left-wing New Israel Fund (which has funded several groups that malign Israel and promote anti-Israel boycotts) and George Soros’s Open Society Institute (Soros is a notorious self-avowed anti-Zionist.)

Moreover, documents obtained by NGO Monitor (from the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits) show that several BtS funders (including the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, ICCO (primarily funded by the Dutch government), and Oxfam Great Britain) conditioned their grants to BtS on BtS obtaining a minimum number of negative (anti-Israel, anti-IDF) “testimonies.”  See “Europe to Breaking the Silence: Bring Us As Many Incriminating Testimonies As Possible,” NGO Monitor,May 04, 2015.

The Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky (who was a prisoner of conscience in the ex-USSR) wrote: “Breaking the Silence Is No Human Rights Organization – and I Should Know.”

Interestingly, a video clip from the AIPAC/BtS event reveals that BtS knows full well that it is maligning the IDF to promote BtS’s political agenda.  In other words, their “human rights” label is a cover to hide BtS’s true purpose.  In the video clip, founding BtS member Yehuda Shaul admitted:  “Very deep inside, at Breaking the Silence, we don’t believe the IDF is the problem.  We believe the political mission the IDF was sent to carry out is the problem.”    (BtS Facebook page, July 14, 2016 10:37 a.m.) 

Breaking the Silence may also be engaging in anti-Israel espionage.  Israel’sChannel 2 news recently broadcast a video showing Breaking the Silence questioning ex-IDF soldiers (who were undercover agents) to obtain sensitive intelligence information about IDF security operations, equipment, tactical maneuvers, special forces deployed, and tunnel detection methods used along the border with Gaza – all of which had nothing to do with BtS’s supposed interest in exposing immoral IDF activities.   After the video was aired, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated: “Breaking the Silence has crossed another red line.  The investigative security forces are looking into the matter.” See Are Breaking the Silence Traitors?, Israel National News, Mar. 23, 2016.  Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin denounced and accused BtS of treason and espionage after the video aired.  See Breaking the Silence guilty of ‘treason, espionage,’ Likud minister says,” Jerusalem Post, Mar. 18, 2016.

BtS’s Facebook posting (July 14, 2016, 10:37 a.m.) boasted that “we [Breaking the Silence] took part in a panel discussion organized by AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Jerusalem, conducted by the director of AIPAC in Israel.”

By organizing and conducting this event, AIPAC gave unwarranted aid, comfort, legitimacy and credibility to a vicious immoral group that invents and purveys lies that damage Israel and weaken the IDF’s ability to protect Israel and the Jewish people.  

Both personally and on behalf of the Zionist Organization of America, I thus urge AIPAC to publicly apologize and disassociate itself from “Breaking the Silence” and to publicly resolve not to organize and conduct events with BtS in the future. 

Morton Klein is the President of the Zionist Organization of America.

Voters will choose prescription for health care


Surprisingly, one issue that affects most of us — the high cost of health care — has remained in the background of the presidential campaign so far, even though large numbers of Americans will soon face insurance premium increases for plans purchased from the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

One reason may be that the program is so complicated. Navigating through Obamacare makes shopping for a new car seem easy.

Still, Chris Jacobs, CEO of the Juniper Research Group and a Republican consultant in the presidential primaries, thinks the matter will emerge from the background at some point during the campaign. Jacobs wondered in The Wall Street Journal whether rate increases could become “an October” surprise, helping the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, to win. I doubt it. Health care is too complex for Trump, who seems intent on winning by using the raw emotion generated by his diatribes on crime, terror in the streets and immigrants.

Still, Trump is the candidate of discontent. Anything that makes the electorate mad is fuel for his outrage.

In a close election, every percentage point counts, especially in the 10 or so states considered battlegrounds. One of them is Iowa. There, the big insurance company Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield is telling about 30,000 of its customers buying policies on the exchanges — marketplaces available on the internet — that their premium rates will go up by 38 percent to 43 percent next year, The Des Moines Register reported. There will be smaller increases for another 90,000 people.

The same thing is happening elsewhere in the country, although not to such an extent. Avelare Health, a consulting firm, told Kaiser Health News that insurance companies are seeking rate increases for the exchanges’ popular silver plan by an average of 11 percent in 14 states. In California, Obamacare premiums will increase an average of 13.1 percent next year.  

The exchanges currently are used by 13.7 million Americans not covered by employer plans, according to the authoritative website ACASignups.net. In California, this amounts to 1.57 million. Those who are insured through their employer are not affected, nor are those who avoid the exchanges and shop for insurance on their own.

The big advantage to buying through an exchange is that policies may be cheaper than those on the open market. And those with lower incomes are eligible for federal subsidies that can greatly reduce the cost of insurance.

To help understand the system, I ran examples through the rate chart on the website of California Covered, which runs the California insurance exchange.  I created a mythical family of four — husband, wife and two children with an annual family income of $60,000. I picked the most popular of the Obamacare offerings, the silver plan, which provides a wide range of care but includes deductibles. Benefits vary according to the price of the plan.

The monthly premium for the most expensive silver plan is $1,285. But the family’s income would make it eligible for a federal subsidy, bringing the premium down to $513 a month. For the cheapest silver plan, the monthly premium would be $1,087, reduced to $316 by the subsidy.

In addition, the two children might be eligible for free care through Medi-Cal, the state program heavily subsidized by federal Obamacare funds. Medi-Cal has been a big help — in many cases, a life saver — for children like the ones in my example and to the poor and working poor.

Medi-Cal was created decades ago for the very poor. Obamacare extended it to the growing ranks of the working poor. Medi-Cal offers free or low-cost health coverage with most recipients receiving care through managed health plans or HMOs.

As a result of the Obamacare exchanges and Medi-Cal, the number of uninsured Californians has dropped from 17 percent of the population to 8.1 percent.

These numbers are evidence of a great improvement in health care accessibility.  

The Republicans, however, including Trump, don’t think so. They want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that would turn medical care for the poor over to the states, many of which are hostile to helping their impoverished residents. Federal subsidies would disappear. 

At the heart of the GOP plan is something that has been floating out of conservative think tanks for years — health savings accounts. The GOP wants most Americans to finance their own health insurance by putting aside money and depositing it in health savings accounts. These are like regular savings accounts, except that your money is not taxed when deposited. But it’s a question of whether there would be enough money in the family health savings account if cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental illness or any number of long-term debilitating illnesses were to strike.

Moreover, the Republican plan would make it easier for insurance companies to refuse to issue policies to people with pre-existing conditions.  Before Obamacare, such refusals were a familiar story, often driving uninsured families into bankruptcy and poverty. 

The Republicans also advocate giving parents the right to refuse immunization for their children. And, of course, as an important part of its health care agenda, the party “stands firmly” against abortion.

The Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has proposed a number of changes in Obamacare. While keeping its current structure, she would create a government-financed insurance operation in addition to private companies on the exchanges. Theoretically, this would provide competition for the insurance companies and force them to lower rates.

Another change would greatly increase federal aid for community health clinics, which provide medical care for the very poor. And she would make everyone 55 and older eligible for Medicare, which now dispenses health care to those 65 and older. 

Her opponent in the primaries, Sen. Bernie Sanders, wanted to put everyone on Medicare, thereby assuring that all Americans would have the same decent medical coverage now available to the 65-plus set. But he has said he believes Clinton’s proposals would be a big step forward in providing health care to all Americans.

Both Clinton and Sanders have been addressing the complexities and challenges of improving America’s health care, a crucial step in creating a more equal society.

Trump and the Republicans offer a simpler prescription to the sick: You should have saved for a rainy day. 

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).

Letters to the editor: Ringling Bros. Circus, Dennis Prager, Jerusalem Syndrome and more


The Cruelest Show on Earth

I am an avid reader of the Jewish Journal who found the recent article “Ringling Bros. Circus Has Been a Feld Family Affair for Three Generations” very disturbing (July 22).

No one will dispute the fact that the Jewish people have been subjected to cruelty and suffering throughout our history. At the same time, anyone who researches the suffering inflicted on animals connected with the Ringling Bros. Circus at the direction of their Jewish owners soon realizes that there is another cruel side to that circus. I saw that side once in the past when, during a show, I witnessed innocent animals being prodded, poked, mistreated and forced to do inhumane tricks. 

I hope that one day the Ringling Bros. Circus will eliminate all animals from every performance. Until that day arrives, I am staying home.

Deborah Weinrauch, Culver City

Prager, Right and Wrong

In “The Left Has Cops’ Blood on Its Hands” (July 22), Dennis Prager maligned The New York Times for race-baiting yet supports and will vote for Donald Trump, someone he describes as bigoted, mean, insecure and lacking intelligence. Mr. Prager’s entire professional life has become devoted to bashing the left. There is a profoundly dysfunctional element to the American right and the political party it controls (the Republicans).

The party that nominated Sarah Palin (“I can see Russia from my window”) and now Donald Trump is the laughingstock of the entire world. It would be far more intellectually honest and persuasive if Mr. Prager were more balanced in his commentary.

Aaron Rubin, Los Angeles

Prager responds: I accused The New York Times and the left of breeding an anti-cop hysteria that has helped lead to the murder of police officers. The Times itself just reported on a study by a Black Harvard professor that showed that Blacks are proportionately less likely to be killed by white policemen. And Mr. Rubin responds by writing about Donald Trump and Sarah Palin — even repeating the lie that Sarah Palin said, “I can see Russia from my window.” Tina Fey said it. If Mr. Rubin loved truth as much as he loathes Republicans, he wouldn’t have written this letter.

As for “bashing the Left,” if all I will have achieved in my life is to awaken people to the destructive nature of the Left, it will have been a life well spent. With Prager University garnering 150 million views a year, most of which are people under 35, I feel I am having some success doing so. Just about everything the Left (not classic liberalism, with which I identify) touches it ultimately destroys. Just look at what it has done to our universities and to American and Western support for Israel.

Liberals and Israel

Jonathan Kirsch in his July 22 column reviews Dov Waxman’s book, “Trouble in the Tribe” (“Signs of ‘Trouble’ Seen in American Support for Israel”). He quotes many statements from the book, which essentially say that American Jews, and especially younger ones, are increasingly not supportive of Israel because of their idealistic secular liberal view of the state; that Israel has changed in disturbing ways; that the era of Israel, right or wrong, is over; and most disturbingly, Israel should recommit to the goal of establishing a Palestinian state.

Waxman’s opinions, shared by many liberals (Amos Oz, among others), are hardly surprising. Perhaps Norman Podhoretz said it best: “Liberal Jews don’t believe in the Torah of Moses, rather they believe in the Torah of liberalism.” 

No one believes that Israel is perfect. If you want perfection, you will have to wait for the world to come. But all rational people should understand that Israel is surrounded by countries and terrorists who seek to destroy it. 

It is also not surprising that young Jews are increasingly alienated from Israel. After generations of secular liberal parents and teachers, many of whom have instilled negative images of Israel, what would one expect? No, Israel has not changed — Waxman and his cohorts have.

C.P. Lefkowitz, Rancho Palos Verdes

The Enemy Within

I am not sure I agree with the “prophecy” of Rob Eshman in “Jerusalem Syndrome” (July 22). He tries to make us believe that as soon as we easily defeat militant, jihadist Islam, and filter out the mentally unstable from the reach of those who could turn them into terrorists, the world would become a safe haven for all of us.

The problem is that inside we are all driven by a self-serving, self-justifying nature that views anybody different as a threat. We are all driven toward ruthless, exclusive competition, we all enjoy succeeding at the expense of others. How this nature is expressed outwardly depends on personal, national, cultural or religious characteristics, but at the end of the day we all serve only self-interest at all cost.

Unless we actually address this inner problem, unless we find a way to rise above our instinctive inclination toward other humans, history will remain a recurring chain of vicious cycles until we exterminate ourselves.

It is the Jews who have the only practical method, “Instruction Guide,” that could facilitate people building the necessary, true, mutually complementing collaboration above that instinctive human nature. We are the ones who have to show the shining positive example of unity and mutual responsibility above diversity, argumentative nature and despite unfounded hatred.

S.H. Kardener via email

Correction

In a review of Dov Waxman’s “Trouble in the Tribe” (“Signs of ‘Trouble’ Seen in American Support for Israel,” July 22), the author’s university affiliation was misidentified. It is Northeastern University.

Politicians will never make us happy


According to a 2015 Pew report, just 19 percent of Americans say they can trust their government “always or most of the time,” while only 20 percent would describe government programs as “being well run.”

This is not a shocking statistic — we’ve been hearing about the declining faith in government for a long time.

What is surprising, though, is another finding in the same report: Americans still expect a lot from that same government they don’t trust, with majorities saying they “want the federal government to have a major role in addressing issues.”

This dissonance reflects the dysfunctional nature of the political process: To get elected, politicians feel they must promise the moon, and when that moon never shows up, well, we are disappointed. So, on the one hand we’re conditioned to expect a lot, but on the other we’re resigned to feeling let down.

It’s like ordering one of those miracle workout machines that promise you the perfect body in 30 days and then seeing it end up in your bedroom as a piece of furniture to hang your clothes on. In the advertising business, we call that “antisappointment”— you anticipate, and you’re disappointed.

But promises are intoxicating. We want to believe. We know deep down we’ll get burned, but we’re eternally seduced by the drug of hope.

Politicians never stop feeding us that drug. The more cynical we are, the more hope they promise. It’s a race to the bottom, with antisappointment becoming a permanent American condition.

If you watched the Republican and Democratic conventions, you may have noticed that very few speakers, if any, demanded something back from the voters. In addition to the usual maligning of the other party, it was the same classic playbook: “We promise you the moon, and in return you vote for us.” Never mind that voters will probably get burned again.

A friend of mine used to ask waiters in restaurants, “What’s not good here?” If they answered honestly with an item, he would trust them when they told him something was good.

If Hillary Clinton wants to beat Donald Trump this year, she might want to try that approach. Don’t just tell us that Trump is horrible, and don’t just tell us what you can do. Be straight with us: Tell us what the government cannot do, what the government is not good at.

Here’s a presidential stump speech I’d love to hear:

“Look, I can stand here and promise you that my policies will transform our country and improve your lives, but I’d be lying. That’s not how it works. I can promise you I’ll work really hard to generate more jobs, level the playing field, upgrade our education, care for the downtrodden, make the world safer and cleaner and so forth, but that doesn’t ensure I will succeed or that your lives will improve.

“The truth is, no politician can make you happy. That’s something only you can achieve. You can work harder and smarter. You can take better care of your health. You can control your anger and be more forgiving. You can spend more time with your family. You can get more involved with social and civic causes and your local communities. You can enjoy the arts and the beauty of nature. None of those actions has anything to do with whom you will vote for.

“Of course, I will do my best to make sure the odds are on your side. But, at the end of the day, your well-being is mostly on your shoulders. It’s about what you can do for yourself, your family, your neighborhood, your city, your country, your world.

“My platform is to bring out the best in Americans by reminding you how needed you are and how much potential you have. I will do my share, but I expect you to do yours. My campaign slogan is, ‘Bringing out the best in America,’ because the best of each American is what our great nation deserves.

“If you can handle that truth, I will accept your vote.”

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

Why Jews don’t want Trump


Donald Trump must be very powerful because he’s done something no one has managed to do since Moses: He’s united the Jews.

The problem for him: He’s united them against Donald Trump.

Just before Trump decided to run for president, the American Jewish world was clawing at itself like two cats in a bag. The debate over the Iran nuclear deal didn’t exactly divide American Jews — most were for it — but the arguments it created went deep. The rhetoric was apocalyptic.

There have been rifts, too, over President Barack Obama’s policies toward Israel and the Middle East. In the 2012 election, Obama’s Jewish vote dropped by almost 10 percent, from 78 percent to 69 percent, and Republican Jews were looking forward to putting the Jewish vote even more in play in 2016.

Then came Trump. In a sense, he’s the anti-Moses: He speaks, and American Jews run the hell away. But how nice that we have finally found something to do all together.

Almost all together. There are a few in the American Jewish community who will still support Trump, beyond those on his payroll or directly related to him. They either like him or they hate Hillary Clinton even more than Trump.

For eight years of Obama’s presidency, these same people gilded their Facebook pages with the essays and opinions of the very same conservative thought leaders who are now, largely, #NeverTrump. 

During the Iran debate, one reader constantly sent me anti-deal columns by Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens (just in case I hadn’t read them, which I always had). Now that Stephens is leading the charge against Trump, I get to send that reader Bret Stephens’ tweets and columns.

“Tim Kaine is normal, decent, intelligent. Quick, let’s demonize him,” Stephens tweeted last week. And when Klansman David Duke weighed in on Trump’s convention speech, saying, “Couldn’t have said it better,” Stephens retweeted it with the message, “Need we say more?”

When you follow the reactions to Stephens’ anti-Trump tweets, you find they quickly become a cesspool of anti-Semitism. This was the case with conservative Jewish columnist Bethany Mandel, who received so many anti-Semitic threats that she went out and bought a gun for personal protection. (When New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote a piece on Trump’s racist past, he received the same anti-Semitic attacks. The fact that he’s not Jewish didn’t inhibit the zealous Trump-ites a bit.)

After years of right-versus-left fighting in the Jewish world, this moment has the ring of prophecy. The lion shall lie down with the lamb, and Peter Beinart with Bret Stephens, and Jeffrey Goldberg with Bill Kristol, and Jennifer Rubin with Laura Rozen. All these Jewish columnists, not long ago at each other’s throats, are in each other’s corners.

The rallying cry went out from Jennifer Rubin, before turning her firepower full force against Trump.

“The dividing line is now crystal clear,” she wrote in The Washington Post in May. “To one side stands an angry nativist mob and to the other men and women of decent character and honorable purpose. Choose sides. You cannot be in both camps. And if you claim to be bound by ‘party loyalty’ to support Trump, there will be scores who will refuse to be in the same party.”

Who else? Ben Shapiro; David Frum; Jamie Weinstein, senior editor for the conservative Daily Caller website; John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine; nationally syndicated talk show host Mark Levin; Elliott Abrams, a former George W. Bush adviser and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist for the Boston Globe, who told the Jewish Journal that Trump “undermines basically everything that conservatives especially, and Republicans generally, have said they stand for.”

It’s one thing for liberals and Democrats to oppose Trump. But the conservatives above are going against their natural constituencies and readerships. They are doing tweet-to-tweet combat with people who revered them, bought subscriptions to read them, tuned in to their shows. But when considering the alternative — the consequences of not speaking up before it is too late — they are willing to pay the price.

There are a lot of reasons they cite for taking a tough stand: Trump’s coarseness, xenophobia, the way his campaign gives cover to anti-Semites and racists, not to mention his utter lack of seriousness when it comes to policy, and — let’s not kid ourselves — the fact that Trump is not conservative enough. 

But if you want to find an even deeper reason, it was fully on display in Trump’s convention acceptance speech: pessimism. For Trump, pessimism is policy. America is a dark, dangerous place, he was saying, and “leave it to me” to fix it. 

The vast majority of American Jews aren’t buying the pitch. Not just because we’ve heard it from a long line of dangerous delusional demagogues throughout history, but because we are essentially a hopeful people. I know that might sound strange considering our comedy is rooted in a neurotic sense of imminent disaster, but it’s true. The secret to our survival is that we are able to move beyond panic to pragmatism, from fear to hope. 

It’s why Ronald Reagan got the largest percentage of the Jewish vote of any Republican in modern history. And it’s why Trump — mark my words — will get the lowest.

ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.

Where are the Mexican rapists?


After two weeks of traveling through Mexico, I feel a duty to report that I did not encounter a single rapist. 

Potential Zika? Maybe. By my second day on the coast of Tulum, I counted 75 bug bites — despite the Deet and mosquito nets. But rapists? Not one. The elephant absent from the circus.

According to what we hear about Mexico, it would be reasonable to worry that American sisters traveling unescorted through the country might be placing themselves in peril. But let the record show that my sister and I were so utterly ignored by the country’s infamous rapists that my sister remarked early in our journey, “Nobody’s even hitting on us!” 

I will allow, of course, for the possibility that we have an inflated sense of our own attractiveness — but still: We were two flesh-and-blood-females traveling alone and wearing lipstick and we didn’t even get so much as a whistle. Frankly, I did better in Burma.   

What is most disorienting about Mexico is how contrary the experience of being there is to the perception many Americans (including one presidential candidate) have of it. There is persistent hysteria about Mexico’s dark underbelly — a place of lawlessness, corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking and dangerous cartels. And while it’s true that some of these issues present real challenges to Mexico’s striving democratic republic, the country also deserves a reputation more expansive than that it consists of marauding wannabe immigrants, on the one hand, and spring breakers drinking in Cancun, on the other. 

I’ve traveled to Mexico twice in recent years — first in 2013, with the international development organization American Jewish World Service (AJWS), and again as a tourist this summer. This does not qualify me as an expert on Mexican society, but my visits have given me an authentic and meaningful glimpse into Mexico’s history, treasures, struggles and dreams. I visited Mayan ruins, walked the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, washed dishes with an indigenous community in the Sierra Madre, swam in a fresh-water lagoon, dined in Michelin-worthy restaurants and slept in a bedbug-infested cabana on the beach. So I’ll let you in on an open secret: Mexico is awesome. It is cosmopolitan, diverse, culturally rich, gastronomically inspired and breathtakingly beautiful. The people — and sometimes, especially the men — are kind and thoughtful and helpful in ways that would shock me to experience in the U.S. 

My sister began our recent trip with moderate concern. After I phoned her, ecstatic that The New York Times’ top destination for 2016 would be the best choice for our annual trip together, the first thing she did was visit the U.S. State Department website to search for travel advisories. There was nothing very alarming, though: Mexico, according to the State Department site, is mostly safe, except for some rural areas it suggests Americans avoid. Still, colleagues and friends warned my sister of kidnappings and violent crime. I tried to comfort her with the fact that we are neither important enough nor rich enough to be worthy victims.

What we found, instead of menace, were signs of a growing, world-class economy. During our first dinner in Mexico City, in the hip, bourgeois neighborhood of Roma Norte, we found ourselves engrossed in conversation with two worldly locals at the adjacent table: the Argentine-born head of Google Mexico and a French-born executive at Nestlé. They presented a portrait of Mexico fast on the rise, a place of golden opportunity. 

Others agree: Last April’s Milken Global Conference included the panel “Mexico as a Global Powerhouse,” one of a very few Michael Milken chose to moderate. And yet, those are not the stories of Mexico that make headlines.

None of this is to say that Mexico is a flawless country. About half its population lives below Mexico’s national poverty line (about $158 per month in cities, less in rural areas) and one man, Carlos Slim, among the world’s richest people, possesses personal wealth equivalent to about 6 percent of Mexico’s GDP. Like all countries run by human beings, Mexico has a long way to go before it realizes a truly just, equal and free society. 

On the AJWS trip in 2013, I met with communities and NGOs on the hopeful side of this struggle: Naaxwiin, for example, is a collective devoted to women’s health, reproductive and political rights; Ser Mixe is an indigenous community committed to sustainable living; ProDESC, a legal defense organization, takes on great risk in order to represent underserved communities in the fight to protect their social, cultural and political rights — especially in the face of growing multinational mining interests. But this is the good news! Instead of fleeing to the United States, plenty of hardworking, talented Mexicans are staying put to help build their country into something better.

Mexico is so appealing, I met more than a few Israelis who have decamped to the dreamy Yucatan Peninsula, with its turquoise sea and silken powder sand, in order to build hotels, condos and beach resorts. 

But the most memorable moments of my travels came in quiet acts of kindness: like when Marvin, a cab driver, waited for over two hours (at no additional cost) while I dealt with flight delays and other mishegoss; or when a nameless boy and his 5-year-old sister stopped in the sweltering heat to help me untangle my jacket from my bike chain. 

To some, peril. To others, paradise. 

Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

The most overlooked resource in fighting violent extremism? Moms.


This article originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

When 19-year-old Akhor Saidakhmetov started hanging out with two older men and talking about waging jihad in Syria, his mother took away his passport. Later, when he begged to get it back—admitting that he wanted to join the Islamic State—she hung up the phone. Mothers like her may be the first, last, and best approach to stopping militant recruiters, but law enforcement often leaves them out of their counterterrorism efforts in the U.S. and Europe. 

There are three different approaches a country can take against violent extremism and terrorism: prevention, repression, and intervention. Mostly, Western countries rely on prevention and repression. They focus on containing the active extremist movement through law enforcement operations or they finance large-scale educational and advocacy programs directed at those deemed to be at risk of violent radicalization. However, Western governments often overlook more targeted deradicalization programs (sometimes called “off-ramps”) that engage the families and the immediate communities of individuals deemed to be falling under the sway of extremist narratives. 

Two years ago I founded GIRDS, the German Institute for Radicalization and Deradicalization Studies, which works worldwide to figure out how to intervene when people become radicalized. I first became interested in the topic growing up in a small suburb of Berlin where neo-Nazi skinheads were an accepted part of the youth culture. I went away to university and then on a Fulbright to study violent extremism and counterterrorism. Since then, I have been working as a family counsellor to develop deradicalization programs, including specially designed family counselling programs for relatives of Jihadi fighters.

As governments increase the pressure on extremist groups through sting operations and raids, some members begin to crack, facing a choice to withdraw from the group (which they might want to do, if given a path to do so) or escalate their commitment by doing something violent. Intervention programs aim to provide that first path, allowing wavering members of an extremist cell a way out. A key ingredient of such programs is the debunking of appealing extremist narratives. We strive to destroy the “jihadi cool” by having someone say, “I’ve been there… And it sucks.” In the end prevention and repression are much more effective when complemented by such targeted intervention programs.

If we want to prevent future attacks, we need to recruit family and close friends of potential attackers into the counterterrorism effort and provide them with specially trained experts. In almost all previous attacks by lone actors or members of small terror cells, someone in the attackers’ close social environment recognized a disturbing change in their behavior. Sometimes this close relative or friend even knew about the attack plans.

Frequently these families or friends are desperate to get help and advice on what to do, despite their mixed feelings about betraying a loved one, but law enforcement rarely offers a strategy for making this seem possible.

In every country that has introduced a dedicated family counselling hotline and support program against violent radicalization to date, these programs were almost instantly overwhelmed with calls and requests for help from families of individuals from all different stages of radicalization. This indicates the high demand and the success in reaching out to the affected families once they are offered specially designed programs and neutral third party counsellors.

Designed and conducted correctly, these programs empower families and communities to counter the appeal of violent extremism. We work by reaching out to the gatekeepers—family and close friends. Because these gatekeepers know their friends and relatives best, they also know what might have motivated them to join the radical group and what drives them. These gatekeepers also have the legitimacy to suggest alternatives and bring in other solutions. But for that they need help and strong support networks. 

Mothers are essential gatekeepers. Most of the mothers I have worked with who have lost their children to ISIS or other terrorist groups have noticed something changing about their child, but were mostly alone without any outside help. When these families contact me from around the world what I hear almost every time is the urge to understand what is happening and how to do something about it. Many parents act on their own, take away passports, lock their children up, or move with them into another town. These reactions are understandable but are counterproductive and can further push the radicalization process.

There is a common saying amongst Jihadis: “Allah tests the ones he loves,” meaning that any obstacle on the path to martyrdom will be seen as a proof that one is the chosen one. In addition, recruiters and the Salafi-Jihadi ideology explain to those drawn to terrorism that these signs of rejection by their own family are a natural consequence of the perfect truth they have found. The biological family is superseded by the spiritual one—the ummah— and in this way even your own mother can be labelled as “infidel” and part of the enemy.

When a mother comes to us she is assigned a trained case manager. Together they will analyze the child’s situation and try to identify the “radicalization recipe.” What is driving the son or daughter towards ISIL? Together they will design a step-by-step plan, identify external partners, and build support networks around the family. The counselor will teach the family de-escalation techniques to reduce frustration, fights in the family, and bullying in school. They will bring in positive alternatives addressing the motives of the son/daughter. Does he or she want to help women and children in Syria? The mother might suggest that the youth work with a Muslim charity, or do a fundraising campaign with a legitimate organization. Also, the mother will get constant risk analysis from the counselor so that they will be able to decide if and when to bring the matter to law enforcement. The counselor is a bridge between the family and all relevant external partners.

To connect mothers to one another, we’ve built a community called Mothers For Life, which exists mainly online but also has met a couple of times in person When we wrote an open letter to ISIL in the summer 2015 and the group responded the same day on Twitter, we knew that they were afraid of the parents’ power to block their recruitment efforts. This letter contained the feelings and questions mothers around the world had when their beloved ones were taken away against their will—in stark contrast to the fundamental values of Islam. We wanted to pose questions designed to dissolve parts of the ISIS narrative. After receiving letters from imprisoned fighters saying they have realized what they did to their own mothers and want to leave jihadism behind, we knew it worked. 

Mobilizing mothers fixes another hole in the law-enforcement strategy. Parents in the Mothers for Life network have told me that they do not have a problem in principle with cooperating with law enforcement agencies, but that they have lost trust in them. Sometimes intelligence and police surveilled their children and did nothing to stop them from leaving. Sometimes the mothers were treated as terrorists themselves during house searches. At other times they have even been charged by courts with providing material support to terrorist organizations despite doing everything they could to get their children back. Sometimes I have to explain to the authorities what the role of the families is, that they are allies and want to help, that they should be respected and seen as partners, not suspects. 

Mothers for Life is currently active in 11 countries (U.S.A., Canada, France, U.K., Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Norway). Most of the parents involved have their own national organizations to support other families. GIRDS experts are based in six countries (Germany, France, England, U.S.A., Canada, and Denmark) and have trained experts and advised governments around the globe on how to counter violent extremism. Most recently I was asked to train probation officers in Minneapolis on deradicalization interventions and to conduct risk and radicalization evaluation studies for a number of defendants.

ISIS itself has announced that taking away its territory in Syria and Iraq will not defeat its brand and core ideas. It will continue to recruit and shift its tactics and strategy to overseas terror attacks. That makes it all the more important for Western societies to counter ISIS’s appeal and that of other violent extremist and terrorist organizations, and there can be no more effective fighters in that cause than the families and immediate communities of those disaffected youths tempted by the perverted promise of martyrdom. 

Daniel Koehler is the founder of GIRDS. As a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism he trains experts and advise governments around the world helping families to turn away their beloved ones from violent extremism. 

Report from Jerusalem: The continuing struggle for Holocaust justice


Seventy-one years after the end of World War II, the struggle for Holocaust justice continues. Germany still prosecutes aging Nazi perpetrators, though they are now in their 90s. In just a few years, however, this part of Holocaust justice will end. The last of the perpetrators living today will be gone – and children do not inherit the guilt of their parents.

But there is another aspect of Holocaust justice that can and must continue. The genocide of the Jews of Europe involved not only mass murder but also mass theft. And though the beneficiaries of such theft may soon be gone, the continuing injustice of their children and grandchildren holding on to former Jewish property can still be remedied.

Late this spring in the United States, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Florida), Senator Chuck Shumer (D-New York) and other senators introduced bi-partisan legislation to address the recovery of stolen art. Actress Dame Helen Mirren – who portrayed Maria Altmann, the claimant of five Nazi-looted Klimt paintings in the 2015 film Woman in Gold – testified at a Senate committee hearing this month in support of the law. If passed, the Holocaust Expropriated Art Recovery (HEAR) Act would set a six-year statute of limitations on claims for Nazi-era stolen art, which would begin upon actual discovery of the art. This is a major step for art restitution efforts and the most significant the US has seen so far. It is this kind of progressive policy that leads to true justice for victims, but sadly we do not see these initiatives across the.

The latest efforts to reaffirm commitments to Holocaust justice worldwide saw ambassadors and special envoys, non-profit organizations, interested observers and other stakeholders convene at an International Forum on Holocaust Restitution in Jerusalem in June. Organized by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Social Equality, the Forum focused on the commitments made exactly seven years ago through the Terezin Declaration, a directive issued by 46 states at the conclusion of the Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague and Terezin in June 2009. Issued on the site of the Terezin concentration camp, the international community agreed in the Terezin Declaration to continue efforts to right the financial wrongs committed against the European Jews and other minority groups during World War II.

The 1990s brought a slew of conferences on how to deal with unresolved issues from the Nazi era, beginning with the 1996 London conference on disposition of the remaining reserves of recovered Nazi gold held since 1946 by the Tripartite Gold Commission. Nazi Germany looted approximately $580 million of gold from the central banks of 15 countries (equivalent to approximately $7.62 billion in today's funds). In London, 41 nations agreed to use the gold not yet restituted to help needy Holocaust survivors.

What made Prague Conference unique was that the convening nations also created a body, the Prague-based European Shoah Legacy Institute (ESLI), to monitor how faithfully were nations honoring the solemn commitments made at Terezin in 2009. The Jerusalem Forum offered a preview of the Immovable Property Restitution Study, to be issued by ESLI later in the year and presented to the EU in Brussels. The Study will be the first-ever comprehensive repository of all legislation passed by 46 states over the last seven decades to deal with the return of land and businesses stolen from the Jews of Europe and other persecuted minorities during the war.

An unfortunate fact that the Study has already revealed is that immovable property restitution and a quest for restorative justice as a tool for promoting cultural tolerance and combatting racism and intolerance in Europe still has a long way to go. It also revealed that ordinary laws dealing with restitution of garden-variety stolen property in ordinary times simply cannot adequately deal with the extraordinary thievery of Jewish property that took place upon the Nazis coming to power in 1933 and continued to the last days of World War II in 1945. Ordinary property laws are written for ordinary experiences, not for the extraordinary times when the largest theft in history took place during the Holocaust.

The inadequacy of ordinary legislation is best illustrated by the case of Poland, home to the largest pre-war Jewish community in Europe. Jews in pre-war Poland constituted a significant segment of the commercial class in the country. Jews were owners of factories, shops and land – both large and small. With the murder of 90% of the 3.3 million Polish Jews, formerly Jewish-owned property came into the hands of both private citizens and the state – and has remained so ever since. The end of Communism in 1989 led to privatization of the Polish economy, with the consequence that former Jewish property nationalized by the state now returned to private hands. But not to the hands of the pre-war Jewish owners or their heirs. Everywhere in Poland, land and businesses owned by the Jews before the war is now owned by others.

Poland is the only country in the European Union that has yet to enact laws dealing with restitution of private property, both taken by the Nazis and later the Communists. Some restitution has taken place, both of the actual properties and through monetary compensation. Successful claimants have relied on a patchwork of Polish laws enacted since 1945 and long-standing provisions of the Polish Civil Code and of the Polish Administrative Procedure Code. Even then, successful claimants have been only those who have demonstrated that their property was nationalized contrary to the letter of the Communist legislation, meaning there is currently no recourse for property “legally” nationalized under then-existing laws.

One-half of pre-war Jewish communal property, where once synagogues and Jewish cemeteries stood, has yet to be restituted. And since such a significant portion of Polish Jewry perished, there remains the issue of heirless property: private Jewish property for which there are no heirs. Under legislation enacted by Poland right after the war, such “abandoned” properties simply became property of the Polish state.

Restitution is not just about the repairing the injustices of the past. Restorative justice that addresses the wrongs of yesterday creates tolerance and affirms civil society. This is what progressive policies like the bi-partisan HEAR Act meaningfully sets out to do, and is an example that others should follow. Restitution supports reconciliation. Holocaust justice by means of restitution of what was stolen from the Jews of Europe can still be accomplished today. Jewish property can be returned to Jewish families and to the Jewish communities from whom such property was taken.

Attorney Kathryn Lee Boyd is Project Co-Director, ESLI Immovable Property Restitution Study. Attorney Kristen Nelson is Project Manager of the Study. Both just returned from Jerusalem where they participated in the International Forum on Holocaust Restitution.

The aftermath of the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s ruling


In the aftermath of the Supreme Rabbinical Court’s ruling that refused to certify as Jewish a convert of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a number of misconceptions or inaccuracies have made their way into the press. Though this is to be expected, I am appalled by the multiple rabbis who have cynically used the tragic story of Nicole (the convert who was forced to “reaccept” the commandments last week) to advance other agendas. Thus, I want to address three misappropriations of Nicole’s story in order to set the record straight.

In many press reports, the two chief rabbis said they supported Rabbi Lookstein’s conversions.  They even wrote letters that said they supported these conversions though they said they couldn’t be responsible for the decisions of the rabbinical courts.

The facts are that the chief rabbinate is directly responsible for the behavior of the rabbinical court. For more than two years, ITIM, the organization I direct, has petitioned the chief rabbinate to publish a list of rabbis or institutions whose conversions would be recognized. In my first meeting with Rabbi Lau, more than two years ago, we discussed the fact that Jewishness certification – particularly from North America- was in a state of chaos.

Last year, ITIM took the unusual step of suing the chief rabbinate to provide such a list. The judge in the case stated clearly that the behavior of the rabbinate was” unJewish and inhuman.”  And yet, nothing was done about rectifying the situation from the chief rabbinate.  The chief rabbis have consistently attempted to avoid this issue, rather than address it frontally.

Another misconception, ancillary to the first one and propagated by the Chief rabbis, is that once a rabbinical court got involved, there “was nothing” to do. This is unfortunately an attempt to spin the issue.  The case was originally heard in front of only one judge in the Petach Tikva regional rabbinic court.  Had the chief rabbis chosen to intervene, they could have fixed the situation by demanding that three judges hear the case on the municipal level.  Worse than that is that once ITIM filed an appeal in the Supreme Rabbinical court, the chief rabbis could have accepted the case into their docket as they both sit on that court.  Instead of spending time writing useless letters, they could have issued a ruling on the spot that would have protected Nicole from the entire ordeal. Instead, the case was directed to three temporary judges, who had no knowledge at all of the American Jewish community or the individual case.

If anything, the actions of the Chief Rabbis were wholly irresponsible. For the record, the same week that Nicole was forced to undergo a humiliating hearing, Rabbi Lau himself sat on another case of a convert who had been rejected by a regional court because the “rabbi was not on the list” and in that case, he certified the conversion without any brouhaha.

Finally, some orthodox rabbis in America have used the travesty to try to consolidate power for the GPS system – a set of regional rabbinical courts in the US that was created in 2007 by a faction of the orthodox community – to “protect” converts. According to these rabbis, Nicole's story proves that the GPS is the only way to guarantee that no one will question the authenticity of one's conversion.

These rabbis are either unaware of the facts or simply lying. First, their argument suggests that there is a “deal” between the GPS and the rabbinate that allows all converts through this national system to be recognized in Israel.  This is patently false. There is no deal.

Though it is true that many of the GPS converts are recognized, they are only recognized because the converts themselves don't approach the rabbinical courts: they approach the rabbinate who certifies them. The rabbinate has an understanding with many rabbis – including those of the GPS- that conversions will be certified.  But this understanding does not apply to the rabbinical courts, where judges are not bound to anything.

Were someone to go through the GPS for conversion, they would appear before the rabbinical court with the exact same documentation that Nicole brought with her.  Nicole had a letter from a clerk in the Chief Rabbi's office – Rabbi Itamar Tubul – and anyone with a letter from the GPS would have the same letter.  The rabbinical court in Petach Tikva, and ultimately the Supreme Rabbinical Court, didn't say they wouldn't certify Rabbi Lookstein because it wasn't a GPS conversion. In fact, in the context of the hearing, it became clear that none of the judges had ever heard of the GPS. They spoke derogatorily of American Judaism, and because of that, their tendency was not to trust anyone.

This story was never about Rabbi Lookstein: It is about the American Jewish community in general and the fact that the Israeli government is allowing its rabbinate to dismiss American rabbis.  Even if Nicole's conversion had been done through GPS, it would have been rejected. My sense is that the rabbis who are promulgating the GPS are cynically using a downtrodden convert – something that is prohibited in the Torah – and are  simply engaged in Orthodox triumphalism– something that has characterized too many segments of our community recently – rather than acknowledging the real problems facing the Jewish community in America: assimilation , intermarriage and disaffection with Israel. This is not a time to build bigger walls in an attempt to please the rabbinate, but a time to speak out and say, once and for all, that American Jews are part of the fabric of the Jewish people and have rights (and responsibilities) in Israel.

Rabbi Seth Farber is the director of ITIM: The Jewish Advocacy Center (www.itim.org.il) . He represented Nicole in the Supreme Rabbiincal Court last week.