President Donald Trump displays an Executive Order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty on May 4. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump acts on politics in the pulpit with executive order


President Donald Trump’s executive order to weaken a prohibition against religious and other nonprofit organizations from endorsing political candidates has driven a wedge between Jewish religious leaders. Some cite it as a victory for First Amendment rights while others view it as a threat to the separation of church and state.

The prohibition is a 1954 provision to the federal tax code known as the Johnson Amendment, which bars nonprofit organizations from certain political activities.

On one side of Trump’s action are clergy, such as Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, who argue that religious leaders should speak out on issues they support. Hier once was censured by the Federal Elections Commission for violating the prohibition.

“We should fully honor the separation of church and state, but that has nothing to do with giving a sermon,” said Hier, who led the prayer at the White House ceremony on May 4 when Trump signed the order and who spoke at the president’s inauguration. “When you’re a rabbi or a priest, and you feel strongly about an issue, you can name names! And you can say don’t vote for him! It wouldn’t be such an aveira,” he said, using the biblical Hebrew word for sin.

Other Jewish leaders and institutions, however, expressed dismay at the order, saying it sanctioned oppressive behavior and undermined the role of clergy as unifying figures. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), a social justice advocacy group representing 900 Reform congregations across the United States, called the order “dangerously broad.”

Rabbi Joel Simonds, the RAC’s West Coast director of policy and associate rabbi at University Synagogue, said that while the pulpit should be used to rally against injustice, “justice isn’t partisan.”

“There are plenty of organizations and communities that can be partisan and that can speak out,” Simonds said. “But we have a unique place in our society and in our community to not dehumanize the other … and to preserve that safeguard [between church and state].”

The Johnson Amendment is named for then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas), who later became vice president and president. It forbids nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates, contributing to election campaigns or otherwise influencing legislation with public statements. Violating organizations may see their tax-exempt status revoked — although the Internal Revenue Service has seldom enforced the rule.

It does not prevent religious organizations from expressing views intended to support one side of an issue.

The president’s executive order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” instructed the Treasury Department not to single out religious organizations for speaking “about moral or political issues from a religious perspective” when similar activity would not be considered a violation by a secular nonprofit.

The language used in the order was a relief for those concerned that Trump favored granting religious institutions even wider latitude. In February, he had vowed to “get rid of and totally destroy” the amendment at the National Prayer Breakfast. (Only Congress can fully repeal it.)

For those who had anticipated a more drastic measure, there still was plenty to dislike about the president’s action.

“I’m concerned about what drove this executive order,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous, founder and senior rabbi of the synagogue IKAR. “I believe that if this administration were really concerned about religious freedom, that this would not be the step that one would see.”

Brous pointed to the rising tides of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia as issues of religious freedom that demanded action from the White House.

“There are actual vulnerable religious minorities in the country right now that need protection, and this executive order is a bit of a dance with the players who created the ‘War on Christmas’ in order to play to the [conservative] base, and to create the sense that we are getting the back of those religious figures,” she said.

The order also directs federal agencies to consider amending the mandatory inclusion of birth control in health insurance policies offered by private employers, a change widely sought by the religious right.

The Orthodox Union (OU), a national organization that supports the Orthodox Jewish community, applauded the order for giving people the right to incorporate personal religious views into workplace policy.

Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for policy, said supporting religious freedom had been a White House priority until Barack Obama took office in 2009.

“[President Trump] is reasserting religious liberty as a primary consideration for how the executive branch implements law and policy,” Diament said. “We don’t have as Jews the same view [as Christian groups regarding contraceptive coverage]. But we do believe religious freedom needs to be protected — and the Obama administration could have but chose not to.”

Diament added that the OU supported the Johnson Amendment and likely would not have supported the executive order had its language been more aggressive. “We’re concerned about rabbis in synagogues being pressured into taking political stances that they may not want to take and may divide their community,” he said.

Hier pointed out that clergy making political statements is already a fact of life, an assertion that Brous agreed with. Moreover, Hier said, if someone came along who really was threatening — a candidate who was anti-Israel or a supporter of Louis Farrakhan, leadero of the Nation of Islam, were his examples — there would be an obligation to speak out.

When Jesse Jackson ran for president in 1984, Hier found himself in such a scenario. Jackson had referred to New York City as a “Hymietown,” using a derogatory term toward Jews.

“We condemned it and basically said that nobody should vote for him because it indicated to me the commitment to anti-Semitism,” Hier said.

Shortly thereafter, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a nonprofit organization, received a warning letter stating that it had breached the Johnson Amendment. That encounter informs Hier’s opinion of the law today.

Brous agreed with Hier that clergy should not shy away from bad political actors. But she disputed the need to oppose them at the pulpit. “There’s a candidate that’s been trafficking in racism and bigotry and misogyny of all forms, and I did not need to stand up ever and say vote for this person or vote for the other person.

“It’s enough to say, this is about democracy versus authoritarianism, this is about decency versus indecency, this is about moral right versus moral wrong, without having to hold people’s hands and pull the lever in the voting booth.”

Still, Hier conceded, if Congress repealed the amendment, he doubted that a rabbi would have much influence over his congregants: “People don’t adopt policies based on what the rabbi says. That we have to leave for the time of the Messiah.”

He said that he would not weigh in on future elections from his station. But for those who don’t want to hear about politics when they go to pray, Hier joked “they shouldn’t join a shul.”

Politics and seders don’t always mix well. Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Worried about Trump talk ruining your seder? Here’s how to get through it.


After Donald Trump won the presidential election, Sheila Katz wasn’t sure she wanted to come home for Thanksgiving.

As the politically liberal member of a conservative family, she had been comfortable sparring with her relatives during the Obama administration. But as Thanksgiving approached, she found it hard to get over the fact that her parents had voted for Trump. During one particularly painful phone call, a tearful Katz told her mother she wasn’t sure she would ever look at her the same way again.

The problem was particularly pointed for Katz, who co-founded Ask Big Questions, a Hillel International initiative that teaches  how to have productive conversations about tough issues. She applied the organization’s lessons to her own family, which has gradually returned to talking politics after avoiding the topic over Thanksgiving dinner, which Katz attended.

Next week, Katz will be back for her family’s Passover seder — but this time she’s excited.

“I expect politics to come up at some point, even when people are choosing what to put on television, which news station,” she said. “But I’m excited to have the seder. If we can each take a deep breath before we go into this and be ready to be open enough to really fully accept the viewpoints at the table without trying to change them right away, I think we can have a really wonderful Passover seder.”

Katz isn’t the only one whose family is riven by politics.

A Reuters/IPSOS poll in January showed that more than one-third of Americans have argued with a family member or close friend about the 2016 election, while one in six have stopped talking to a friend or family member entirely. With Passover among the most widely observed Jewish holidays, the seders will be rife with the risk of a political conflagration.

“We didn’t usually have campaigns that were so openly about putting the other candidate in jail or where hate talk, either open or veiled, was such a continuous thing,” said Andra Medea, author of “Conflict Unraveled: Fixing Problems at Work and in Families.” “It isn’t just the usual cast of winners and losers. For the first time that I’ve seen in awhile, you have whole blocs of the population that actually feel afraid.”

Seders traditionally embrace disputation. The meal’s most known segment is the Four Questions, and several of the Haggadah’s anecdotes retell rabbinic debates. Haggadah commentaries likewise nudge attendees to challenge the details of the hours-long Exodus narrative.

Noam Zion, co-author with his son Mishael of “A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices,” says the original seder was not meant to be a rote reading of the Haggadah but a free-willing symposium on themes of freedom and slavery.

But debating the merits of Rabbi Yosi vs. Rabbi Eliezer is one thing; debating current events is another.

Rabbi Josh Feigelson, the executive director of Ask Big Questions and a co-founder, said the Haggadah can also encourage healthy conversation, structuring the discussion and giving everyone a chance to participate. Worst case, a tense exchange can be ended by moving to the next page.

“The idea of having a shared text, that’s an incredible thing,” Feigelson said. “It makes it democratic. It means everyone has access.”

Medea, who has written extensively about conflict, suggested avoiding political conversation at the seder, using the text as an opportunity to recall moments of family resilience instead of debating the contemporary political implications of slavery and plagues.

“Having the adults get together and fight amongst themselves is a dreadful thing for kids,” Medea said. “Adults can at least agree on, ‘Grandma really had it together.’”

For Jeremy Saltan, an American-Israeli political operative and commentator associated with Israel’s Jewish Home party, Passover is one time he hopes not to ply his trade. His seder will feature someone on the rightward fringe of Israeli politics as well as an activist who has gone to Gaza to support the Palestinian cause.

Saltan would prefer Jewish religious discussion to politics, but he quipped that he might take refuge in another component of the seder.

“Four cups of wine — that seems like the best way to get through that,” he said. “One of the things people need to understand is, when at the seder table or anything else, family is family. You’re still going to have to see these people. You have to have your own coping mechanism in terms of getting through.”

Feigelson said the best way to ensure a healthy conversation is to agree on topics and rules ahead of time — and to stick to them when things get awkward. His organization suggests avoiding conversations on complex topics that are likely to be dominated by one or two people. Instead, true to its name, the group advocates asking big questions everyone can answer, such as “When have you been free?”

“Being able to set some kind of ground rules or intentions about what we want for the seder and what kind of discussion we want there” is crucial, Feigelson said. “If discussion does move to places where there’s not a whole lot of room to maneuver and it’s not reflecting a spirit of wonder and curiosity and generosity, the No. 1 rule is to acknowledge it and name it.”

That’s going to be Katz’s tactic as she sits down at the seder table. She thinks it will work out. But even if it doesn’t, she knows she has no choice but to keep trying.

“I’m going to listen now and I’m going to be open enough this year to what my family has to say,” she said. “I won’t interrupt. It’s either to remove yourself from your family or continuing to engage.”

Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Blamer-in-chief


“I blame myself — it was my fault, and I take full responsibility for it,” Donald Trump said, not once, ever, in his entire life.

Here’s what else the president didn’t say about the rout and ruin of repeal and replace: “I was clueless about health care policy. Instead of reading my briefing books or even my own bill, I played golf. I bullshitted my way through every meeting and phone call. And when it was explained to me that this dumpster fire of a bill would break my promise that everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they are now, which was a huge applause line, by the way, I threw my own voters under the bus.”  

In the wake of his Waterloo, instead of manning up, Trump blamed Democrats for not voting to strip health insurance from 24 million people, not voting to cut Medicaid by $880 billion in order to cut taxes by $883 billion and not voting to obliterate the signature legislative accomplishment of the Barack Obama years. “Look,” he complained with crocodile bafflement to The New York Times, “we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero.” Yet not once had Trump or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asked a single Democrat what it would take to get them to support a health care bill. “The good news,” Trump said, seeing the sunny side of the catastrophe he predicts is coming, is that the Democrats “now own Obamacare.” Don’t blame me — it’ll be their fault when it explodes, not mine.

Trump blamed Republicans, too. The morning of Friday, March 24, when the bill was still in play, he tweeted that if the Freedom Caucus stops his plan, they would be allowing Planned Parenthood to continue. That afternoon, amid the wreckage, Trump told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa that he was just an innocent bystander. “There are years of problems, great hatred and distrust” in the Republican Party, “and, you know, I came into the middle of it.”

White House aides, bravely speaking without attribution, blamed Ryan for snookering the rookie-in-chief into tackling Obamacare before tax reform. Trump himself told Costa, “I don’t blame Paul.” He repeated it: “I don’t blame Paul.” Then again: “I don’t blame Paul at all.” The laddie doth protest too much, methinks. By tweet time Saturday morning, clairvoyantly touting Jeanine Pirro’s Saturday night Fox News show, Trump had found a surrogate to stick the knife in Ryan without his fingerprints on it. “This is not on President Trump,” Pirro said, avowing that “no one expected a businessman,” “a complete outsider,” to understand “the complicated ins and outs of Washington.” No, it’s on Ryan, she said. Ryan must step down.

Blame precedes politics. In Western civilization’s genesis story, Adam blamed Eve for tempting him, and he blamed God for Eve. But America’s genesis story contains a noble, if apocryphal, counter-narrative: When George Washington’s father asked him who chopped down the cherry tree, the future father of his country didn’t blame someone else — he copped to it. That’s the legacy Harry Truman claimed when put “The buck stops here” sign on his Oval Office desk.

But Trump is the consummate blame artist, a buck-passer on a sociopathic scale. He kicked off his campaign by blaming Mexico for sending us rapists and stealing our jobs. He blamed Hillary Clinton for founding the birther movement. He blamed Obama for founding ISIS. He blamed Obama’s Labor Department for publishing a “phony” unemployment rate. He blamed 3 million illegal voters for his losing the popular vote to Clinton. He blamed the botched raid on Yemen on U.S. generals. When U.S. District Judge James Robart ruled against his Muslim travel ban, he blamed Robart for future terrorism: “If something happens, blame him and the court system.” He blamed “fake news” for treating Michael Flynn, “a wonderful man” whom he fired as his national security adviser, “very, very unfairly.” He blamed Obama for wiretapping Trump Tower. He made his spokesman blame British intelligence for carrying that out. When GCHQ called that a crock, Trump played artful dodger: “All we did was quote … a very talented lawyer on Fox. And so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.”

Obamacare is imperfect but fixable. But Trump wants to bomb it, not improve it. He wants to light the fuse and then blame Democrats for exploding it. Trump could shore up the insurance exchanges that cover 10 million Americans by marketing them when enrollment opens again in November — but I bet he won’t. He could instruct government lawyers to appeal a lawsuit halting federal subsidies for co-payments and deductibles of low-income enrollees that House Republicans won last year — but I bet he won’t. On the other hand, he has the power to narrow the essential benefits Obamacare requires insurers to provide by, say, limiting prescription drug coverage and lowering the number of visits allowed for mental health treatment or physical therapy — and I bet he will.

Will Trump get away with it? He’s spent a lifetime banging his highchair and blaming the dog for his mess. No wonder he calls the free press fake news; no wonder he calls citizen activists paid protesters. You call someone who gets away with blaming others “unaccountable.” You know what the antonym of that is? Impeachable.

Nevada Congresswoman Jacky Rosen. Photo courtesy of Jacky Rosen for Congress.

From synagogue president to member of Congress


WASHINGTON – As President of the Reform Synagogue Ner Tamid, Representative Jacky Rosen (D-NV) was largely unknown outside of the Jewish community in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District. However, this changed when veteran Democratic Senator Harry Reid approached Rosen and encouraged her to run in the 2016 election. While Rosen had no previous political experience, she believes that her background running the largest Nevada Synagogue helped her during the transition to Capitol Hill.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

“When you are the head of any philanthropy organization, what you learn is empathy, how to listen and be responsive to people’s needs,” Rosen told Jewish Insider off the floor between votes. “What you realize when you work in the philanthropic world is that people aren’t just numbers: they are families with real needs and you need to make your judgments with kindness and thoughtfulness in order to serve those needs.”

Born in Chicago, Rosen’s parents moved to Las Vegas when she attended the University of Minnesota. The Nevada lawmaker began her career working as a computer programmer and joined her family after finishing college. She draws from her professional experience while in Congress. “I’m a common sense person who tries to analyze and I have to look at all sides of the issue because you don’t want software that only does something but doesn’t fix the other errors.”

Controversy arose in the Democratic primary with alleged religious discrimination playing a defining role. One of Rosen’s competitors, Jesse Sbaih — a Jordanian-American lawyer — charged that Reid informed him that ‘Let me be blunt, you can’t win this race because you’re a Muslim.” (Reid vehemently denied the accusation). Rosen tried distancing herself from this disagreement and handily won the race.

Israel remains a critical issue for the Congresswoman. The former Synagogue President emphasized that she co-sponsored House Resolution 11, a measure criticizing the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Israeli settlements last December. “It was my first floor speech. I was very proud to come out against that abstention because of course an abstention is really a vote because you just let happen whatever happened,” Rosen asserted.

Declining to describe herself as progressive or liberal, Rosen commended the President for assailing the recent wave of anti-Semitism. The Nevada lawmaker also appreciated Trump “shining a spotlight on our crumbling bridges roads, and dams.” Rosen, married with one daughter, feels passionately about importance of protecting Social Security and Medicare since she used to be a caregiver for her aging parents and in-laws. She currently serves on the Armed Forces Committee where she was surprised by the magnitude of the military. “Just the scope and size is so much larger than you can imagine,” she added.

For Rosen, after working many years in computer programming, technology still drives her. “People forget that the Hoover Dam was one of the greatest inventions or creations of the last century, still pumping out hydroelectric power today, and I hope that we can bring that kind of — some people say “innevation,” “Nev” for Nevada.

Jewish Insider: Why did you run for Congress? 

Rep. Jacky Rosen: “I decided to run for Congress because when I was approached as a community leader, I felt that one of the things that spoke to me most was the constituent services. I was the immediate past president of the largest Synagogue in Nevada Congregation Ner Tamid and through my 20 plus years of volunteering not just in Jewish philanthropy but philanthropy all around southern Nevada, serving Nevada and serving people was really important to me. When they said that was the most important thing I could do in my job as a Congresswoman, that’s what spoke to me and that is why I’m here.”

JI: What are your legislative goals?

Rosen: “I’m on the Armed Services Committee and I’m on the Space, Science and Technology Committee. I’m a computer programmer and systems analyst by trade so I’m very concerned about cyber security. I’m also making sure that we want to protect Social Security and Medicare. I was a caregiver to my aging parents and my in-laws. That’s very important. In Nevada, people forget that the Hoover Dam was one of the greatest inventions or creations of the last century, still pumping out hydroelectric power today, and I hope that we can bring that kind of — some people say “innevation,” “Nev” for Nevada, bring that kind of innovation and businesses to Nevada in solar and water, renewable resources and creating new kinds of energies.”

JI: What most surprised you during your brief time on the Armed Services Committee?

Rosen: “The scope of what’s in the Armed Services. I sit on military personnel and on tactical land and air. Just the infrastructure that it takes for the bases, the commissaries, with the benefits, with moving people around. Just the scope and size is so much larger than you can imagine. And it’s so very important because the reason I chose to be on that committee is those are the people who give up maybe their freedom, their life, their home life for sure to protect all of us.”

JI: Did your experience serving as President of Ner Tamid Synagogue assist you while in Congress?

Rosen: “Absolutely. When you are the head of any philanthropy organization. What you learn is empathy, how to listen and be responsive to people’s needs. What you realize when you volunteer or work in the philanthropy world is that people aren’t just numbers they are families with real needs and real issues and you need to make your judgments with kindness and thoughtfulness in order to serve those needs.”

JI: What are some elements of your personality outside of politics that others may not know about you in Washington?

Rosen: “I think that I have a great sense of humor. My staff laughs at my jokes, maybe they have to. I love to laugh. I enjoy life. As a commuter programmer, I was socialized to be a team player. I love being part of the brainstorming, part of the process, I think that makes us better so I’m in on all those brainstorming meetings as we are considering and debating and that’s what really makes me a better Congress person. We try to do it with a little laughter too.”

JI: How would assess the debate about Israel since you arrived on Capitol Hill?

Rosen: “I was proud to be a cosponsor of House Resolution 11. It was my first floor speech. I was very proud to come out against that abstention because of course an abstention is really a vote because you just let happen whatever happened. We need to, as America, support a two state solution. We have to be the best facilitators we can because ultimately they have to live with it so if it is not something they have buy into and they can live with, we can talk all we want, but it’s not our neighborhood. Israel – our strongest ally – needs our support and needs our wisdom, so do the Palestinians, but we need to do everything we can to facilitate and come to the table to find that two state solution that they have buy into and they can live with. So I’m hoping that the current Administration stands by that longstanding policy and we can help bring people to the table.”

JI: Did you connect the recent spike of anti-Semitism with President Trump’s campaign?

Rosen: “I was pleased to see he came out against anti-Semitism. I thought that was a good thing. I think what he is trying to do about infrastructure, that is one of the places where we can really agree, shining a spotlight on our crumbling bridges roads and dams. They haven’t been funded well enough for the last so many years and that’s a real problem with our infrastructure. I’m really pleased that he shined a spotlight on that.”

“Whatever happened during this election cycle, people felt empowered. I will let the pundits decide what the reasons were. People felt empowered to bring up a lot of rhetoric and a lot of hate speech. I signed up for the bipartisan task force against anti-Semitism. I’m very proud of that. We can’t support hate no matter who it is against: Jewish people, Muslims, Blacks, Latinos. It doesn’t make a difference. Hate is always wrong. We are not a country that was built on hate.”

JI: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Rosen: “I’m a common sense person. I’m actually a dinosaur. I went into computers in the 1970s when we had the card deck and they’re in a museum now. When you write software, you have to build those teams and do the kinds of things that move the mission forward. I’m a common sense person who tries to analyze and I have to look at all sides of the issue because you don’t want software that only does something but doesn’t fix the other errors. I’m really a centrist. I want the data and analytics to guide me with my empathy and heart to make good policy.”

"On Tyranny" author Timothy Snyder. Photo from Wikipedia

‘Tyranny’ historian warns Americans: Don’t forget lessons learned


Yale historian Timothy Snyder has spent the better part of his career studying 20th- century authoritarian regimes, from fascist Germany to the communist Soviet Union. Educated at Oxford, Snyder has written extensively about the rise and fall of modern political systems and the catastrophes that ensue when civil society breaks down.

His latest work, “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century,” is addressed to Americans who are disturbed by the radical new politics introduced into American democracy by the Trump administration. It is both a warning and how-to manual, urging citizens who cherish American democracy to defend democratic institutions and their own independent minds.

Snyder will appear in conversation with Jewish Journal Book Editor Jonathan Kirsch on March 21 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills through Writers Bloc.

DANIELLE BERRIN: At what point did you start to consider the threat of tyranny — a serious charge — a legitimate critique of the current administration?

TIMOTHY SNYDER: I’m trying to adopt the perspective of the Founding Fathers, [who thought] that we need to be very thoughtful about [democratic] institutions, because if you’re not thoughtful about the institutions, the system can fall apart at any time. What I’m trying to do is look back at recent examples of modern tyranny — Nazi Germany, fascism, communist regimes — to see how democratic republics tend to break down. I have to point out, if the book seems relevant now, I wrote the “Twenty Lessons” in November, and had [finished] the book by Christmas. So I couldn’t even judge the present administration. What I was judging were the tendencies of a [president-elect] who seemed to be entirely indifferent to the foundations of our political system.

DB: What did you find most alarming about him?

TS: In Donald Trump’s campaign, there was an absence of support for democracy and an absence of support for human rights. He never talked about those things, whereas other American politicians do. The second thing that concerned me was the Russia connection; I don’t think American politicians should be seeing foreign tyrants as models of leadership. The third thing was the war on truth — not just lying at the margins the way all politicians lie — but the broad-gauge full-on attack on the truth. [Trump] was using language to build up a kind of counter-world, an alternative reality, a myth in which his supporters could live … that’s fascist.

DB: In the book, it’s clear you’re trying to address a wide audience — both left and right. But do you really think the same people reading Breitbart are going to read a work of scholarship?

TS: Look, this book is written from the position of an American citizen who thinks that the American republic is in danger. And the various kinds of moral and intellectual commitments I have don’t line up perfectly with one party or the other. In a lot of ways, I’m sympathetic to conservatism — when it’s actually conservative.

DB: You talk a lot in the book about truth and lies. How do you combat propaganda when truth itself has been politicized?

TS: Without the enlightenment — without the belief that there is truth on earth, and that we can discover that truth — there will not be democracy. There will not be rule of law. If we let truth go, we’re not going to have the system that we have. Journalists are now in a position where you get to be pioneers; you get to be the stars. Because the mainstream is now all this junk. People still say “mainstream media” but the mainstream [has changed]. You guys are now edgy. You guys have a chance to be heroes in 2017.

DB: In order for Hitler to be successful, you write that he needed the complicity of ordinary citizens to carry out his policies. That puts a lot of responsibility on citizens. How much power does the populace actually have to make or break a dictatorship?

TS: Citizens have a huge amount of power and usually what they do is give it away without thinking about it. We [learn] the rules and we adapt. That’s how we survive. But sometimes things change so drastically, we have to check our social impulses and be an individual. We have to stop and say, “This situation is different. I’m not going to automatically adjust.” The smartest analysts of authoritarianism, they all make the point that it depends upon consent. That the little choices you make matter. Just going along is a choice; and when you go along, you’re making regime change happen.

DB: Some people are deeply disturbed by what is happening within our government, but others argue that democracy remains intact — the press is still functioning, we still have rule of law. Even you could write a book “On Tyranny” without fear of repercussions. How close do you think we are to fascism? 

TS: There are things that are short of fascism that are absolutely terrible: If America becomes a kleptocratic, authoritarian regime where we have ritualized elections in which everybody knows who will win in advance; where you can’t become prosperous or wealthy without the support of the people in power; where you think about what you’re going to say before you say it — we’re not very far away from that. It won’t take too many pushes to get into a situation where it’s normal for us to think that the president is the richest person in the country and that the next several presidents need to be named Trump. Fascism would be something more. Fascism would be [White House chief strategist Stephen] Bannon succeeding in creating a sense of white nationalism in the U.S. [with] lots of internal violence deliberately directed toward creating a national identity. That’s a higher bar for evil.

DB: Trump has targeted and maligned many minority groups. Why is it important for an authoritarian leader to have scapegoats?

TS: If you want to change the regime, you take a group and say, “This group is not your neighbors, it’s not your fellow citizens; this group is an element of an international plot.” For Hitler, it was Jews, but it can be anybody. The mechanism is the same. So with American Muslims, you’re taking a group that is basically assimilated, basically small, and you’re saying, “Don’t think of them as individuals. Don’t think of them as citizens or as customers. Think of them as part of some larger threat.” That is politically important because it changes domestic politics [to become] about fighting the larger global threat — whether it’s terrorism or the Jewish international conspiracy. And that means that the normal things of domestic politics — like prosperity, group interest or freedom — those things are suddenly less important.

DB: The president hasn’t targeted Jews the way he has Muslims and immigrants, but the political climate has enabled an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. As a historian of the most anti-Semitic period in history, is the current surge of anti-Semitism here significant?

TS: Those who are saying that anti-Semitism isn’t as bad as it seems is what the Orthodox community in Poland did in the second half of the 1930s; it’s exactly what the German Jews did in 1933. If Jews are going to remember the Holocaust, they have to remember the whole thing — including that normalization burst right after Hitler was elected. That impulse to rationalize — you have to check yourself: What do I think it means as an American Jew that the [headstones in] cemeteries are going down? What do I think it means that there’s all this hate speech? That there are now swastikas in places where there weren’t swastikas before? It sounds crazy and obvious, but this is a time for American Jews to be thinking about the Holocaust — not so much from 1944 in Auschwitz, but from early 1933 and the transition. Because if you only think about the end, you forget about the beginning. And if you only look at the end, nothing is ever as bad as the end — until the end.

Timothy Snyder will be in conversation with Jonathan Kirsch, book editor of The Jewish Journal, 7:30 p.m. on March 21 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Tickets are $20.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz fends off primary challenger


Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., fended off a primary challenger and is likely to return to Congress, salvaging her political career after her ouster as leader of the Democratic Party.

CNN projected Wasserman Schultz’s win Tuesday over Tim Canova, a lawyer who had sought to use her political woes on the national stage against her in the primary. Canova had the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who last month conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Sanders had for months accused Wasserman Schultz, as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, of favoring Clinton. Hacked emails released last month on the eve of the Democratic National Convention showed that she and her staff were antagonistic toward the Sanders campaign, leading to her resignation.

Canova capitalized on anger with Wasserman Schultz, and at one point was out-fund-raising her. Wasserman Schultz was well known in her south Florida district since her 2004 election, and pundits predicted longstanding goodwill among her constituents would carry her. Her district, encompassing Miami Beach, leans Democratic and she is likely to win in the Nov. 8 general election.

Wassrman Schultz is one of the best known Jewish Democrats in Congress, and Canova, who is not Jewish but who lived for a time in Israel, tried to use her vote for last year’s Iran nuclear deal – unpopular in the pro-Israel community – against her.

She countered by pointing to Canova’s calls for disarming the Middle East (he denied this included Israel) and his tough criticisms of Israeli settlement policy, which reflected the policies of Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests.

Also in Florida on Tuesday:

Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat, modeled his campaign on Bernie Sanders’ bid for the White House. (Wikimedia Commons)

–Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., backed by the establishment, handily defeated Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., for the Democratic nomination for the Senate. Grayson, who is Jewish, was a firebrand on the party’s left and modeled his bid for the Senate on Sanders’ insurgent campaign. Grayson was afflicted in part by an ethicscomplaint that he continued to run a hedge fund while in office, and also of allegations of spousal abuse leveled by his ex-wife. The race was bitter, and Grayson said Tuesday night that he would not vote for Murphy in November. Grayson’s wife, Dena, failed in her bid to replace him in his central Florida district.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaking at a press conference at Temple Beth El in West Palm Beach, Fla., March 11, 2016. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

–Murphy will face Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who won the Republican primary on Tuesday. Rubio had run for the presidency but was defeated by Donald Trump. He had said he was quitting politics but Republican Party leaders, fearing a loss of the Senate seat on the coattails of Trump’s unpopularity, talked him into running. Rubio, an outspoken Iran deal opponent, had been a favorite of pro-Israel Republicans for a period during the primaries.

–Also handily fending off a rival on Tuesday was another south Florida congresswoman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who is the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Middle East subcommittee. Ros-Lehtinen is one of the leading pro-Israel voices in the House, and has a good relationship with Wasserman Schultz. They joined to advocate for expanding benefits for aging Holocaust survivors.

Florida State Senator Dwight Bullard, attending the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. (Ben Sales)

–Dwight Bullard, a Democratic state senator who prompted a pro-Israel protest over the weekend because of his tour of the West Bank earlier this year sponsored by a pro-BDS group, handily defeated a challenger who had sought to make an issue of the controversy. Bullard, a Black Lives Matter activist whose district is in Miami-Dade County, told JTA recently he is “agnostic” about the boycott, divestment and sanction Israel movement. Andrew Korge, his rival, had told a local CBS affiliate that Bullard’s participation in the trip was “disturbing.”

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.

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.

Trump says Ginsburg’s mind is ‘shot,’ calls on her to resign from Supreme Court


Donald Trump called for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to resign, saying her “mind is shot” after she called him a “faker.”

“Justice Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court has embarrassed all by making very dumb political statements about me,” Trump said in a tweet posted late Tuesday night. “Her mind is shot – resign!”

Ginsburg, 83, has told several interviewers in recent days that Trump, a billionaire real estate magnate and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is unfit for office.

“He is a faker,” she told CNN on Monday. “He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego.”

She also wondered, “How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns?”

Over the weekend Ginsburg told The New York Times that she did “not even want to contemplate” a Trump presidency.

Direct criticism of a nominee by a Supreme Court justice is rare, if not unprecedented, although there have been tensions between justices and sitting presidents over the years.

Ginsburg’s attacks on Trump have has drawn criticism not just from conservatives, but from liberals who say she might be violating American Bar Association ethical guidelines, which ban expressions of support or opposition to a candidate.

Letters to the editor: Political balance, anti-Semitism, Harris Newmark and more


Orthodox Survey Needs Context

Shmuel Rosner’s column this past week is very troubling (“The Formerly Orthodox American Jews,” June 24). Rather than coming off as a news story, it comes off as very negative toward observant Jews. For example, there are statistics on relationships with parents, and there is nothing to compare it to, such as relationships with parents for the general population. Perhaps the percentage of people with a negative relationship with their father or mother in the general population is higher than that of the formerly Orthodox. 

Also, as someone coming from the other way (grew up non-observant and now observant), I know many people who are like me and do not have a good relationship with their parents. Some of their parents do not accept them being religious. Is Rosner going to write another column detailing the other side and how many non-observant Jewish parents are not accepting? So while I understand the column is based on this survey that was taken, the article could have at least been written in a less negative demeanor toward Orthodox Jews.

Alexander Wold via email

Statistics Don’t Reflect Rise in Anti-Semitism

According to the Anti-Defamation League audit issued last week, there was an increase in recorded incidents of anti-Semitism nationwide (“Anti-Semitism Stable in 2015, ADL Says, but Cause for Worry Remains,” June 24). While episodes in California declined marginally, the most violent incidents were up by 50 percent last year from 2014, incidents on college campuses nearly doubled nationally and assaults on Jews have risen every year since 2012. These figures do not include an explosion of hateful anti-Semitic rhetoric online and in social media. Though your headline reflects a cause for concern, I do not understand how you expressly imply the situation is stable when it most certainly is not. 

Pauline Regev, Santa Monica

Blast From the Past

Thank you for the article about an amazing man and family (“Harris Newmark Saw Our Future,” June 24). He was my great-great-grandfather: My father was Stephen Newmark Loew Jr. His father was Stephen Newmark Loew, his mother was Emily Newmark Loew, daughter of Sarah and Harris Newmark, married to Jacob Loew.

Susan Loew Greenberg via email

Dump Trump, but Then What?

I fully agree with David Suissa’s criticisms of Donald Trump (“Republicans Must Dump Trump,” June 24). In addition, and based on Trump’s track record, Trump (as president) would be a terrible role model for all American children, adolescents and adults. In fact, a worse role model than Trump would be hard to find.

However, Republicans dumping Trump at their convention would not guarantee that a gentler Republican presidential nominee would emerge to lead America down a path to achieve goals that many Americans (including myself and possibly even Trump) would support. In any event, the Republican delegates at the national convention will be between a rock and a hard place during their process of selecting their candidate for the November presidential election.

Marc Jacobson, Los Angeles

More Balance on Politics. Please 

The publication of two anti-Trump diatribes, without publishing a single rebuttal, leaves the false impression that American Jews are dead set against Trump. It is also poor journalism, since the public is entitled to both sides of the story.

Philip Springer, Pacific Palisades

Nothing Judaic About ‘Progressivism’

David Myers’ linking of “progressivism” and Judaism is opposed by common sense and facts (“Sanders Reignites Potent Strain of Progressivism,” June 17). First, progressivism is a terrible misnomer for the anti-freedom belief system some call “socialism” or “democratic socialism” but I call “welfare-state fascism.” It is not at all progressive, but regressive, even reactionary. It is, in fact, closer to feudalism than to modernity.

Bernie Sanders is touting a system that should be seen as anathematic to Judaism (and to Christianity). Judaism and Christianity have among their basics four rules: Thou shalt have no other god before me; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not covet; thou shalt not commit murder.

Yet the big-government approach preached by Sanders is based on covetousness and envy. And naturally on stealing. (Sanders will take from A to give to B. He calls it “taxation”; many of us call it, bluntly, “theft”!) Anyone who objects to being robbed stands a good chance of being killed, even if “legally.”

And God? He is shunted aside as Sandersistas prefer to worship the state. I see nothing Jewish in this form of collectivism and statism. I see a great disservice to Judaism in making such a link.

Michael Morrison, Encino

Correction

An article about the recent Israel-German Congress (“Israel-German Congress Aims to Ensure Support for Jewish State,” June 24) incorrectly identified the affiliation of Deidre Berger. She is director of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee.

Forget Brexit. Remember rain.


I was startled to see Laura Haim’s face on TV. It made sense that she’d be on cable news last week; as White House correspondent for the French network Canal Plus, she was well placed to tell Americans the French reaction to Brexit. What brought me up short was that I’d forgotten about her.

Without consciously deciding to, I’d filed away my recollection of watching her night after night on MSNBC, reporting what her sources were telling her about the ISIS attacks in Paris.  I’d been obsessed with that story, and fearful for my safety and my kids’, just as I’d been even more acutely after the killings in nearby San Bernardino. But at some point in the six months since then my memory of Paris and of Haim had submerged, like the alligator at Disney World, until the terrorist murders in Orlando. 

Sometimes I forget to be afraid of things. Right now I’m plenty worried about the financial and political aftermath of Brexit. I’m panicky about its impact on my nest egg, and I’m scared that the xenophobia that fueled it could also fuel a Trump win. But if the past is any guide, those fears will be displaced by future reasons for insomnia. You can’t worry about everything all the time. For weeks or months on end, I can forget to worry about earthquakes in Los Angeles, but then a serious shaker somewhere in the world will remind me that living here is licking the razor.  I often forget to worry about climate change, until a heat wave in India or a forest fire in California reminds me that most people now alive will live to see its far worse consequences.

Something similar to forgetting fears happens to me, and maybe to you, with outrage. It’s as though my bandwidth for fury has a limit. There’s only so much I can be actively, currently pissed off about; in order to get my anger pumping, new injustices need to push previous affronts off my radar. 

So I’m irate with John McCain for saying that Barack Obama is directly responsible for the slaying of 49 people in Orlando, then I’m enraged at Paul Ryan for refusing to bring gun safety to a vote, until I’m once again livid at Mitch McConnell’s refusal to bring Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination for a vote that resulted in the 4-4 tie that doomed Obama’s immigration plan. I’m boiling at CNN for hiring Trump stooge Corey Lewandowski, until I’m more maddened at the way they cover Trump’s Scottish golf resort infomercial: with a wry, What-an-inveterate-salesman tone, instead of a pitiless, What-a-corrupt-embarrassment.

All the while that fear and outrage are running zero-sum games for dominance of my headspace, even as I forget to be afraid or outraged by anything but the most immediate ugly news, there’s something else I forget unless it forces itself on my attention. But when the breaking news is the sound that rain makes, or the shape of a leaf, or the fact that there is something rather than nothing: that’s when I recall that noticing what is is not a finite human faculty.

We have a limitless capacity for amazement.  Mindfulness is not a zero-sum game. If you pay attention to the crackle of a strawberry seed in your mouth, that wonderment does not displace a prior alertness to existence; it adds to it. Ordinary mysticism — the experience of being right here, right now, whether you’re by the ocean or by the washing machine — is cumulative. The more you have, the more you have. It’s a mercy that we can’t keep in mind all the reasons the world forces on us to be frightened or furious; if we did, our heads would explode, and our spirits would be suicidal. It’s something of a miracle that when it comes to awe, we can contain multitudes.

Right now, any sign that Donald Trump could be our next president has a good shot at owning my mind. I see that the Brexit vote is disproportionately powered by elderly Britons, and I see in that a mirror of Trump’s base. I see “Leave” campaign leader Nigel Farrage promise that if the U.K. exits the E.U., the National Health Service will get the 350 million pounds per week that Britain gives Europe; I see the British press try in vain to debunk that claim; the morning after the vote, I see Farrage admit it was a “mistake” (i.e., lie) — and I think of another liar’s immune-to-fact-checking promise: “Who will pay for the wall?” “Mexico!” I see that within hours of the Brexit outcome, more than a million establishment-kicking, remorseful British voters have signed a petition for a re-vote, and I imagine the American hangover the morning after the send-them-a-message victory of President-elect Trump.

Minds are funny. A North Korean nuke would take mine off Trump. So would a news fast. I’m just glad that no one needs a nightmare or a digital detox to surrender to a starry night.   

Jewish Journal columnist and USC Annenberg professor Marty Kaplan won 1st Place for Commentary at the Los Angeles Press Club's 58th Annual Southern California Journalism Awards on June 26. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Fear as a Campaigning Platform


Today the people of the United Kingdom will vote to decide if they wish their country to remain a member the European Union or not – the subject of a domestic debate possibly more heated and vitriolic than any seen in British politics in recent decades. Both halves of the campaign, dubbed Leave and Remain, have been accused of using fear to scare voters into siding with their argument. 

The venom with which both sides campaigned was suddenly, and temporarily, halted last week following the killing of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party, by a suspected British nationalist. 

Cox died after being attacked in the street in the middle of the day in her local constituency. Her alleged attacker is 52-year-old Thomas Mair who when asked to identify himself in court said, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

Should this incident be a warning to all of the cost that using fear as a tool to win an argument might exact? If so, then this is valid for a wider audience than just the UK.

Across the Atlantic Ocean billionaire-businessman Donald Trump is accused of continuously using fear to whip up support for his bid to become the next President of the United States. Elsewhere, in Israel last year incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was mocked when in response to a critical domestic report into housing he evoked the existential threat posed to the country by Iran. 

Are politicians leaning on our fears more heavily than in the past in order to sway our attitudes and if so what are the consequences?

“As a kid growing up in the States during the Cold War I remember being told by Republicans, ‘don’t vote Democrats (because) if you don’t vote for us the Communists are going to benefit,’” Scott Lucas, a professor of politics at Birmingham University in the UK, told The Media Line. Playing to our fears has routinely been a tactic used by politicians, Lucas said. 

However, with Trump’s campaign to capture the White House or the ‘Brexit’ (shorthand for British Exit from the EU) debate the prevalence of this rhetoric has increased, the professor suggested. 

Campaigning by, “projecting all kinds of anxieties without having to spell them out or having any empirical evidence is an old trick,” being employed by the populist right in Europe, Ruth Wodak, a professor of linguistics at Lancaster University and author of The Politics of Fear, told The Media Line. The difference is now these groups are attracting attention and, increasingly, voters. 

An accompanying tactic to fearmongering is to find somebody to blame for these now enflamed fears. “It is a simplistic solution to say that if we get rid of the scapegoat then that problem will be solved,” Wodak said, arguing that this is a central campaigning method of the populist right. 

The problem with pouring this sort of rhetoric into your debate is eventually it can lead to somebody getting hurt. “Mobilizing fear and appealing to emotions of such a negative kind is a step towards aggression against others. It implies envy, aggression and eventually violence,” Wodak said.

In order to be scared people need to have someone to be fearful of. By painting a group in this light politicians then begin to represent them as enemies, Scott Lucas said, opining that both the Trump campaign and the Leave faction in the UK referendum are guilty of this. 

“This language of enemy and threat, it means that by extension if you support the rights of immigrants or refugees, it may be possible that you are an enemy,” Lucas suggested. Though this language did not directly lead to the death of Jo Cox, “a person could have certainly drawn from that environment of fear and hate to reinforce his own deluded views that she represented a traitor.”

To lay all the blame at right-wing politicians might be missing the point however. After all, the Leave campaign in the UK debate is viewed as representing the right-wing argument and yet it is the Leave camp that has been dubbed (admittedly by its opponents) “Project Fear.” While Leave politicians have been warning of the dangers posed by European bureaucrats, immigrants and Turkish absorption into the EU their rivals have countered with concerns over a second recession and European devolution into a Third World War.

It is accepted wisdom that when people become scared they shift to more conservative modes of thinking – however what might be more accurate is that people on the left and right are alarmed by different threats, Gilad Hirschberger, a professor of social and political psychology at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, told The Media Line.

 Physical threats, such as terrorism or immigration, the chief concerns of the right are more attention grabbing as they are immediate and psychologically closer, Hirschberger explained. By contrast, symbolic threats like racial profiling, government attitudes to human rights or climate change, those more likely to scare people on the left, are “vague and somewhere in the future,” he argued. 

The reason fearmongering is an effective tactic is that there is always a grain of truth behind it, the psychologist suggested, citing the wave of stabbings that have taken place in Israel in the last year. 

Statistically speaking an individual walking down the street is extremely unlikely to be attacked, “but if you are a smart and cynical politician and you can focus people’s attention on (this) threat, which is minor, then you can get a lot of political power.” People scared about being stabbed are less likely to complain that the cost of housing is exorbitant. 

Jewish PAC to press Republicans to call West Bank ‘Jewish homeland’


A Jewish political action committee is seeking to get the Republican Party platform to recognize the West Bank as an “indigenous” part of the Jewish homeland.

“The Land of Israel is the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people by right and by law and we oppose any measures to force, coerce or otherwise impose a security ‘solution’ or artificial borders on the Jewish state,” says the language proposed by Iron Dome Alliance. “We recognize an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Judea and Samaria as integral parts of the indigenous Jewish homeland.”

The “Land of Israel” generally refers to the State of Israel and territories it controls. Judea and Samaria are the biblical names commonly used in Israel to designate the West Bank, an area where Israel has expanded Jewish settlement over the decades but which it has never formally annexed. Israel has annexed Jerusalem and, unlike in the West Bank, has extended some rights conferred on Israelis to its Palestinian residents.

The Iron Dome Alliance released the language on June 16, offering it for incorporation into both major parties’ platforms. Its chairman, Jeff Ballabon, told the Forward Wednesday that its emphasis would be on the Republican Party, in part because the party is more attuned to conservative pro-Israel positions and in part because the presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump, is an iconoclast.

“Someone who likes to succeed won’t agree to go down the road of something that has failed and failed again and again,” said Ballabon, a longtime Republican activist in the Orthodox Jewish community, told the newspaper. “The idea of taking a new look at this is very important.”

The Republican Party currently favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit in terms – like those in the current Democratic Party platform – that frame it as key to Israel’s security and well-being.

The Democratic Party’s platform drafting committee is grappling with proposals, backed by appointees named by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to make the language more sympathetic to Palestinian concerns.

Middle East poised for impact of UK withdrawal from EU vote



In the run up to Thursday's vote in Britain on whether to exit the European Union, Israeli policymakers have studiously avoided comment, desiring not to be seen as interfering in the UK's internal affairs.

Israeli analysts nevertheless stress that Israel has a definite stake in the outcome, though they differ on whether a British exit (Brexit) would be good or bad for its interests.

Polls show that the race is too close to call, with the latest surveys pointing to a resurgence in support for remaining in the EU. An opinion poll for the Mail on Sunday taken June 17-18 showed 45 percent in favor of remaining and 42 percent in favor of leaving.

The stakes for Israel became greater on Monday when all 28 EU foreign ministers decided to endorse the French peace initiative, which began with a meeting in Paris earlier this month and which, according to French President Francois Hollande’s plan, will culminate in an international peace conference dedicated to relaunching Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to be held before the end of the year.

Israel adamantly opposes the French initiative, seeing it as a bid to impose a solution on it against its security and interests. ''International conferences like those that the EU's foreign ministers welcomed push peace further away because they enable the Palestinians to continue to avoid direct talks and compromise,'' the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement Monday.

Israel's hopes of staving off the initiative and its standing vis-à-vis the EU could be set back if Britain exits the body, according to Oded Eran, former Israeli ambassador to the EU and now a senior analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. ''It is preferable for Israel that Britain remain in the EU, where it is a voice of moderation'' in favor of Israel, Eran told The Media Line.

Because of Britain's close relationship with the United States, London tends to be more sympathetic to Israel than many other EU countries, Eran says. Economically, the EU is Israel's largest trading partner ''and it is important that it remain robust'' he says. In the security sphere, Britain is one of the most active members of the EU and NATO, he notes. ''We prefer to see a stronger Europe in its battle against terror and other threats,'' he says.

But it is in the coming diplomacy over the French initiative that Eran believes Britain's presence in the EU is acutely needed by Israel. In the run up to the planned conference, ''Britain's role is still very important for Israel,'' he said.

In Eran's view, the United States is not very enthusiastic about the French initiative and is likely to seek to foil it, possibly in favor of an American initiative, provided Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu facilitates this by showing some flexibility on peace issues. In this case, he believes, Britain would assist the US in trying to convince the French and other Europeans to make way for American moves. ''Britain would play the role of facilitator of the American efforts to enable Netanyahu to take a different track than the French initiative.'' However, if London exits the EU, ''Israel will lose a moderating factor, a voice that could help it avoid the French initiative if necessary.''

British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose political future depends on a vote to remain, is seen in Israel as a reliable friend. Defense and intelligence ties have reportedly been quietly but considerably strengthened under Cameron. During the Gaza conflict in 2014, his Conservative party for weeks withstood pressure from its Liberal Democrat coalition partners to condemn Israel's military campaign.

The international conference push is far from the first time that Israel finds itself at loggerheads with the European Union. The EU considers Israeli communities built on the territories captured by Israel during the 1967 war – commonly referred to as “settlements” — to be illegal while Israel disputes this. The EU says the settlements are an obstacle to peace, something Israel denies. Last November, the differences came to a head as the EU required goods emanating from the post-1967 areas to be labelled to that effect, rather than being marked ''product of Israel.'' The Israeli foreign ministry blasted the decision, terming it in a statement ''an exceptional and discriminatory step inspired by the boycott movement.''

Israel and the EU are also at odds over Israeli demolition of Palestinian structures, some of them EU-funded, in the Oslo Accords-designated “Area C” part of the West Bank, meaning under full – administrative and security – control by the Israelis. Israel maintains it is merely acting against illegal construction while the EU views the same building as vital to the Palestinian presence in an area it sees as crucial to Palestinian statehood.

In the view of Efraim Inbar, head of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, the EU stances on these issues reflect an ''anti-Israel'' orientation emanating from Brussels.

''If Britain leaves and the EU becomes weaker, it will impact positively on Israel,'' he told The Media Line. ''The EU as a whole is much more anti-Israel than its individual countries so if it is weakened that will be good.'' Inbar adds that a British exit, in so much as it can be seen to reflect heightened nationalism of individual European nations, could help boost sympathy for Israel. ''The EU is basically a post nationalist phenomenon while Israel is a nationalist phenomenon, so with each country being nationalist there will be a greater understanding of Israeli behavior,'' he says.

In contrast to Inbar, Alon Liel, the dovish former director-general of the Israeli foreign ministry, says that Britain exiting the EU would be a negative development. ''The EU as an aggregate is much more pro-peace than its individual members. To have such a major country depart is weakening the Brussels machine,'' Liel told The Media Line.

The Palestinians for their part do not expect the British decision to have a significant impact on them, according to Ghassan Khatib, Vice President of Birzeit University in the West Bank. Regardless of what happens with the vote, there is a trend in European and within British public opinion of greater sympathy with the Palestinian cause, he says. The French initiative’s acceptance reflects this, he adds.

''These trends will continue in the EU and Britain whether Britain is in or out because there are objective reasons for them,'' Khatib tells The Media Line, citing Israeli behavior as being  foremost among them. ''Israel is doing the kind of thing that even friendly countries like Germany and Britain don't want Israel to do such as expanding the settlements and this is effecting negatively their support for Israel.''

In Amman, Sabri Rbeihat, the former minister for political development, says that supporters of the Jordanian monarchy want Britain to stay in the EU.

''There is a long historic relationship and a feeling that the British have an understanding of the area and its geography and history. Many feel the Jordanian regime was created and maintained by Britain,'' he told The Media Line. The EU without Britain ''would be an unknown, a question mark, there is a sense of uncertainty over what would happen and who would steer the EU.''

Trump and Weiner


This week, as the firestorm was building over Donald Trump’s racist comments about the “Mexican” judge presiding over lawsuits against Trump University  — you know, the judge who was born and raised just outside that great Mexican city of South Bend, Ind. — I went to see the new documentary “Weiner.” And I had a feeling I never thought I’d have: Poor Anthony Weiner.

It wasn’t that I felt sympathy for the seven-term congressman. He resigned from Congress in 2011 after pictures he texted of his private parts became public, then made a remarkable second-act comeback, leading by 10 points in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary — until he was caught lying about new texts he’d sent of those same private parts, to a different woman. Weiner’s second round of apologies and promises went nowhere. He got 4 percent of the vote. His political career, for the foreseeable future, was finished.

Make no mistake: The man got what was coming to him, and then some. The superb documentary reveals that not only did he lie to the voters and his wife, Huma Abedin, he also treats her, in several onscreen private and public moments, with withering rudeness and contempt. The creepy underwear pics turn out to be his most forgivable behavior.

But I felt sorry for him nonetheless, because, when the movie ended, I realized that Weiner was simply a victim of bad timing. You see, he was running in 2013 B.T.— Before Trump. In the world of politics before Trump, politicians who got caught doing awful things had to be contrite. They got a second chance to get their act together, but not a third. Before Trump, there was such a thing as shame in the public square.

Trump has shown politicians there is a way to rewrite that old script: Throw it out. 

Here are the rules in 2016 A.T. — After Trump: You make a blunder, you blame others. You say something awful, you attack the people reporting it. You don’t criticize your opponent, you call them names.  Whatever asinine thing you say or do, you never take it back; never apologize. In fact, you double down.

So when Trump demeaned all veterans by calling Sen. John McCain “not a hero” for being captured by the North Vietnamese, he explained, “I like people that weren’t captured.” And his poll numbers went up.

When he called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” he didn’t apologize — he doubled down. He declared he’d build a wall to keep immigrants out. His poll numbers grew.  When the media tried to hold him to his word about his boast that he’d raised $6 million for veteran causes, he blasted the media. After he mocked a disabled reporter, he never apologized.   

When he faced a firestorm of criticism for saying he would ban people from entering the United States because of their religion, he clinched the nomination.  

When U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel ordered that documents revealing the predatory sales tactics of Trump “University” be unsealed, Trump attacked Curiel’s integrity and accused him of being biased because he’s “Mexican,” even though Curiel was born and raised in Indiana. Trump’s response to the backlash: Everyone else “misconstrued.” He went on TV and continued the accusation, simply adding “heritage” to the word “Mexican.”

Even Trump’s most high-profile American-Jewish supporters, such as Sheldon Adelson and Ari Fleischer, have given him a pass on that — unbelievably. What if Trump had said an American-Jewish judge couldn’t be fair on a case involving anti-Semitism, or that a Jewish diplomat couldn’t be fair dealing with Israel?  It is the height of hypocrisy for a Jewish American to pretend he or she wouldn’t be outraged if the same accusation were directed at a fellow Jew. I suppose the silence of these supporters means they think Trump has a good excuse: He’s Trump.     

That’s politics in 2016 A.T. — you say or do something awful, you get caught, you do it more. 

Trump’s supporters not only don’t care, they enjoy the perception of “toughness” all of this gives their man. The media shower him with more free attention. He rides it until the media move on or the next outrage hits. Remember the outcry over Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns? Trump didn’t bend. And then the “Mexican judge” storm came along and seemed to wash away all discussion of those tax returns. 

Anthony Weiner has got to be thinking: If only I were running now.  What Weiner actually did is a flea on the elephant of Trump’s flaws. Weiner didn’t harass or assault a woman. He didn’t even come close to breaking a law. He just made a jackass out of himself. Sure, he misled voters about the extent of his texting, but Trump’s entire candidacy, from his hair weave to his wall, is lie after lie after lie.  

In politics 2016 A.T., Weiner could simply follow Trump’s script: You don’t like my texts? Don’t look at them. You think I’m a jerk? You’re a jerk. You call me a perv? I call you an imbecile.

This will be Trump’s real contribution to our Republic. Taking accountability out of politics, along with every last shred of honor. 

There’s a scene in “Weiner” in which an outraged constituent tells the congressman, “Shame on you.” That’s a phrase we won’t be hearing any more.  

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.

How the 2016 election is upending pro-Israel orthodoxies


When it comes to Israel, Democrats and Republicans simply do not see eye to eye, and for all their love of Zion, evangelicals will turn out for a candidate who is less than 100 percent on the issue.

Welcome to the 2016 presidential election, when the conventional pro-Israel wisdom has been turned upside down.

For years it was sacrosanct that whatever else divides the parties, backing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s line on Israel unites them. And Republicans who want to be elected better count on evangelicals and their rock-solid support for Israel.

This year, the presumptive Republican nominee is an unknowable provocateur who has said he couldn’t care less about pandering to pro-Israel donors. Democrats who bucked pro-Israel orthodoxies over the last year are confident they can reclaim the Senate and are setting their sights on the once-unthinkable — regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he would approach Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking with neutrality and for weeks would not commit to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He also told a roomful of Jewish Republicans that he did not want their money.

Trump seems unwilling to consistently pander — on Israel or anything else — to a constituency whose turnout many deem essential to a Republican victory in presidential elections.

Yet while much of the evangelical establishment loathes Trump, the real estate magnate’s support among evangelicals, at 36 percent, was commensurate with his support among Republicans overall, the Washington Post reported in March. And some leaders in the movement back him, most prominently Jerry Falwell Jr., who heads Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Pro-Israel insiders, attempting to explain evangelical support for Trump, point to disquisitions like one in the Washington Post by Jennifer Rubin and Peter Wehner, neoconservative commentators who distinguish between evangelicals who self-identify because of “broad cultural identification” (and are likelier to vote Trump) and those who do because of a “creedal faith” (less likely to vote Trump.)

It’s an old argument, but it explodes the conventional wisdom. David Brog, the one-time director of Christians United for Israel, would tell reporters year in and year out at CUFI’s conferences that the group had as one of its missions reminding Republicans that to win they needed evangelicals, and to win evangelicals they needed to be pro-Israel.

CUFI declined to comment, as did Brog, who now heads a Sheldon Adelson-funded initiative to advance pro-Israel activism on campus.

The end of the third rail 

Rabbi Steve Gutow also embodies the new normal: He helped set up AIPAC’s Southwest operation in the 1980s, helped found the National Jewish Democratic Council – for years the pro-Israel voice in the party — in the 1990s and for 10 years starting in 2005 directed the consensus-driven Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Last week, Gutow began working for J Street helping candidates who once may have been isolated for their criticism of Israel tap into what J Street calls “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American Jewish voters. Its affiliated JStreetPAC is raising money to support candidates who backed the Iran deal over AIPAC’s objections.

“Most of the folks who led for the Iran deal will have won reelection and those who opposed will have lost” come November, predicted Ben Shnider, J Street’s political director. “It’s not the single factor, but if you look at the calculus, supporting diplomacy was added value, and that will go even further in changing the dynamics.”

In an interview, Gutow said the willingness of incumbents to openly challenge pro-Israel orthodoxies came not just because of differences over the Iran deal, but had evolved as Democrats sought to salvage the two-state solution. He said the collapse of the U.S.-driven Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2014 meant that sentiments once uttered privately were coming out into the open.

“Why are people feeling more free to speak out?” Gutow asked. “It’s the length of the problem and the seeming insolubleness of the problem.”

AIPAC recognizes the challenges and this month named Jonathan Kessler, who set up the Israel lobby’s campus operation — one of its signal successes in recent decades — as a “director of strategic initiatives.” Kessler will identify new “outside the box” approaches, according to a release that cited “upheaval in the Middle East and real changes in Washington, D.C.” as reasons for the new position.

AIPAC remains steadfastly nonpartisan. A hallway at its annual conference in March was lined with posters profiling a diverse array of activists — black, white, Latino, Christian, Jewish, liberal, conservative.

“AIPAC is strongly committed to further strengthening the bipartisan pro-Israel movement in America both in its size and diversity,” Marshall Wittmann, its spokesman, said in an email.

But bipartisanship has its limits. For eight years, from 2007 to 2014, AIPAC hosted the Steny and Eric show. The titles varied – some years one was the majority leader, the other the minority whip and vice versa — but the script for Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Eric Cantor, R-Va., didn’t vary by much: It was a demonstration of bipartisan solidarity on Israel despite political differences.

“Although we’re on opposite sides of the political aisle, we are absolutely united when it comes to the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Cantor said in 2008.

This year’s installment was very different. Cantor, booted from Congress in 2014 by a Tea Party challenger in the Republican primaries, was replaced by Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. All seemed good when he and Hoyer paired up in March at the AIPAC conference.

But McCarthy said the Obama administration sowed “doubt” about Israel, and Hoyer, his voice tense, interrupted the moderator to say the U.S. and Israeli security establishments “are cooperating as closely today as they have in the past.”

If the seams began to show, it was because it had been a rough year or so for unanimity. A year earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress, blasting President Barack Obama’s talks with Iran to achieve a nuclear deal. The speech and its fallout rallied the Democratic Party’s leadership to keep the deal alive, even as AIPAC led the charge against it.

The deal went through. AIPAC has profited from the perception, however mythical, that it can kill political careers. But with a new perception looming — of a lobby that no longer gets its way — the folks who would supplant AIPAC and its allies are ready to seize the day.

By April, when Hillary Clinton faced off against Bernie Sanders ahead of the New York Democratic presidential primary, the Vermont senator chided Clinton in the debate for her well-received speech to AIPAC.

“You barely mentioned the Palestinians,” he said, and the Brooklyn audience cheered.

Sanders did not win the primary, but his willingness to take on Clinton over an issue once seen as the third rail was the sign that the new normal had arrived.

Within days of the debate, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry — representing twice the administration firepower AIPAC had drawn just weeks earlier — were preaching tough love at J Street’s annual gala. Biden made headlines at the event, saying Netanyahu was taking Israel in the “wrong direction.”

Don’t like Trump’s wiews on immigration? Blame California


Three out of every four Californians have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president. In a poll taken before his opponents dropped out, four of 10 California Republicans would be “upset” if he won the nomination.

California has been making national headlines with bold liberal policies in the past few weeks, so the state’s coolness to Trump—and the antipathy on display when he visited the state two weeks ago—might seem unsurprising. After all, on Trump’s signature issues–demonizing Latino immigrants and building a wall to keep them out—he is far outside the state’s mainstream; a recent poll shows that less than a quarter of Californians agree with his stances on “illegal” and Muslim immigration, and just 16 percent of Californians support widespread deportations.

But Californians who might be tempted to pat themselves on the back for their state’s open-mindedness should make no mistake. When it comes to insulting immigrants and building walls to keep them out, the Golden State started it.

Today’s anti-immigrant campaigns began not with New York billionaires or white conservatives in rural America, but with middle-class professionals, both Democrats and Republicans, in California. For most of U.S. history, fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment was a project of labor unions and working people who feared job competition from newcomers. In these movements—particularly those directed at Chinese people in the 19th century—California was a national leader. 

Trump draws votes mostly from a 21st-century version of that working-class demographic. But his rhetoric on immigration is much newer—it comes straight from an anti-immigrant movement begun 25 years ago by educated, mostly white California suburbanites from across the political spectrum. 

Trump has famously said he will force Mexico to pay for a new wall on the entire southern border through a variety of pressure tactics, among them increasing fees on all Mexican border crossers. While this idea may sound very Republican today, my University of Oregon colleague, the political scientist Dan Hosang, has shown that it originated with our own Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of liberal San Francisco.

In 1993, the newly elected Feinstein became the first California senator in decades to make immigration control a major political issue. She wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “illegal” immigrants cost the state billions and filled its jails with criminals; she brought that same message to talk shows and the U.S. Senate. How to crack down? Feinstein’s proposal: Charge a $1 toll on anyone entering the country and use the money to increase funding for the Border Patrol. 

Trump also wants to end the birthright citizenship that is currently guaranteed by the Constitution. That idea first picked up steam in California, too. It was proposed in the early 1990s by Simi Valley’s Republican Congressman, Elton Gallegly, and soon gained the support of a neighboring congressman, Democrat Anthony Beilenson.

I was in high school in Los Angeles in 1994 when California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 187, a ballot initiative to deny public services, including education and health care, to undocumented immigrants. In hindsight, most remember this as the signature issue of Republican Governor Pete Wilson. Yet observers at the time noted that Wilson had previously focused on ensuring that the state’s agricultural interests had as many immigrant workers as they needed. It was actually the stand of the liberal Feinstein, a fierce political rival of Wilson’s, that “inspired” the conservative governor’s turn to a strongly anti-immigrant agenda.

Furthermore, the grassroots energy for the proposition did not come from the working-class white folks that support Trump today. Rather, both Hosang and another scholar, Robin Dale Jacobson, found that Proposition 187 activists were middle-class professionals: accountants and engineers, secretaries and educators. Their rhetoric did not focus on job competition as earlier anti-immigrant movements in the United States had. Rather, they decried “billions of tax dollars” spent on public services for immigrants and accused them of importing “rape, robbery, assault”—the same allegations Trump is making today.

California’s politics may have changed since those days, but many Californian people and ideas of that time, having relocated to Trump country, are part of today’s anti-immigrant campaigns. Trump swept Georgia and Alabama, two states that passed high-profile anti-immigrant laws in recent years, and whose immigration histories I have spent a decade researching. Those laws bear the fingerprints of California. In Alabama, the anti-immigrant law was pushed by the Alabama Federation of Republican Women—whose president, Elois Zeanah, was a longtime city councilwoman and mayor in her 25-year home, the L.A. suburb of Thousand Oaks. 

As for Georgia, its grassroots anti-immigrant movement began just a few months after Proposition 187’s passage, in the fast-growing Atlanta suburb of Cobb County. Members of a local neighborhood group borrowed the pro-187 campaign’s language in a letter-writing campaign to elected officials: Immigrants “drain our economy,” “crowd our school system,” and are responsible for “criminal activity.”

Most of Cobb’s residents at that time were interstate transplants, including thousands of ex-Californians. One of them, a former resident of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, wrote to his mayor: “At one time The Valley was 90+% white. The streets were very clean. Crime was very low. All of that has changed. During the last 10 years the Valley has been invaded by people from Mexico and all points south. … It is happening right here in Georgia. We need to stop it before it gets out of hand.” 

Cobb remains the hub of the state’s anti-immigrant movement: one of the first Georgia counties to pass a local anti-immigrant ordinance, and home to the state’s most prominent anti-immigrant group, the Dustin Inman Society. The society’s mission? To prevent the coming of “Georgiafornia”—“the chaos that has befallen the once wealthy and desirable state of California,” thanks to “illegal” immigration.

Californians can be proud that, as a whole, they no longer support the anti-immigrant agenda. But before they smugly dismiss nativism as a faraway phenomenon in which they are not implicated, Californians should remember their own recent history. Anti-immigrant sentiment has been present throughout U.S. history. But it was Californians who renewed it at the end of the 20th century, giving it the legs Trump has commandeered on his run into the 21st. 


Julie M. Weise is assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon and author of Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910. She was previously an assistant professor at Cal State Long Beach.

This article first appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

I can no longer consider myself a Republican


I have been a member of the Republican Party since I turned 18.  And well before that, I considered myself a rational, moderate conservative.

For all that time, living in Jewish communities in West LA, Berkeley, Northwest DC and other less-than-conservative places, I have openly and proudly identified myself as a conservative and a Republican. In my community, identifying as anything other than a liberal Democrat makes you at the very least a curiosity. More commonly, it places you into the perceived category of maybe-racist/surely-sexist. In that context, I served as an executive officer of the Republican clubs at Berkeley and Georgetown; I worked for several GOP campaigns at the federal, state and local levels; and I attended numerous Republican Party conventions.

I certainly have not identified as a conservative and a Republican because it was fun or a helpful way to ensure that I was the most popular person in the room. I remained a proud Republican in spite of asinine, indefensible positions my party advocated or articulated over the years… Prop 187, a nuance-free pro-life stance, “f**k-the-Jews-they-don’t-vote-for-us-anyway,” a foolish, dangerous, destructive and counterproductive approach to drug laws and their enforcement, a flat rejection of LGBT rights, an aversion to tax increases of any kind regardless of the state of the treasury, and financing off the books and on credit the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – wars I believe were just and necessary, though poorly managed and executed – all come to mind in this context. None of these were great ideas. None of them were easy to defend to my family and friends. But, through all of that, and more, I remained a member of the party.

I have remained a Republican, because I came to the conclusion, when I first considered political ideas more than two decades ago, that I prioritized my policy preferences in a very clear hierarchy.

At the top of this hierarchy I prioritized foreign policy, because foreign policy mistakes will almost certainly get people (and likely a significant number of people) killed.

On the second rung of this ladder, I prioritized economic policy.  Poor economic policies will prevent people from putting food on their table.  When people can’t put food on their tables, that also causes suffering and death, though in significantly smaller numbers than result from foreign policy blunders.

Finally, behind both foreign and economic policy, I prioritized social policy. Flawed social policy can result in serious harm to people. In extreme cases, it can even result in deaths.  Suicides of ostracized and unsupported LGBT youth provide an obvious example.  However, social policy errors are not likely to result in nearly as much harm or death as mistakes in foreign policy or economic policy.

With that prioritization of policies, since the early 1990s until this year’s primaries, while I have disagreed with almost everything the GOP has come to stand for in the social policy arena, I could still vote Republican with a clear conscience. During that time, I have come to disagree with almost everything “mainstream” Democrats have come to stand for in the foreign policy arena: a weak, retreating, almost isolationist, appeasing approach to foreign policy that must have Scoop Jackson rolling in his grave. I still think the GOP is right more often than Democrats on economic policy, although the GOP’s lack of fiscal discipline and uncompromising approach to tax policy have diminished the Republican advantage in that area. And, even in the area of social policy, I have been troubled by the tendency of Democrats to try to push social policy initiatives through courts untethered to originalist (or any other) limiting principles instead of via the elected branches of government.

But, with Trump at the top of the ticket, and with many in the GOP now seeming to fall in line behind him, that calculus has changed. I (and I suspect many others like me) am now saddened to conclude that I can no longer consider myself a Republican.

On social policy, Trump actually, ironically, may improve the GOP in certain respects. Though he has been pretending over the past few months that he’s a social conservative, we all know (and Trump knows that we all know) that he is putting on an act to get the nomination.  I think it would be great to have a pro-choice nominee in the GOP. While I know this would be heresy within some quarters of the GOP, I think the party’s failure to embrace equal rights – including the right to marry the person they love – for gay people is a stain on the party.

But Mr. Trump's blatant sexism, his failure to disavow racists and his demagoguery against Muslim Americans as well as against foreign nationals outweigh even significant social policy progress on other issues. So, on social policy, Trump is effectively like having all the good policies of the Democrats, but with sexism, racism and bigotry mixed in. The result: the Democrats are still better for our country on social policy.

On economic policy, Trump hasn’t said much of substance. While economic policy is really about cutting deals, and while Trump claims to be good at cutting deals, the one bit of economic policy Trump has emphasized is a more nativist/mercantilist trade policy, which has never worked in the past… and there is no indication it will work now. On balance, while it’s hard to tell what his policies might actually be, Trump is likely a net negative on economic policy.

This brings me to foreign policy, the one place where there is no question in my mind that the GOP has had for the past half century a clear advantage over the Democrats. Trump threatens a clear break with everything the GOP has stood for in the realm of foreign policy since I became a Republican.

With the country reeling from the September 11 attacks and a nativist sentiment available to be unleashed, President Bush visited a mosque six days after the attacks to make clear to all Americans that we are not at war with Islam. That, I believe, may go down as one of the most important moments of the 21st century. At what could have been an historic turning point towards a true clash of civilizations, Bush instead placed us firmly on the side of moderate Islam in its internal clash with radical Islam. Trump now threatens to upend that strategy. His thoughtless, reactionary, counterproductive and morally repugnant call to ban all Muslims from entering our country is, quite possibly, the most dangerous statement made by a politician running for office in my lifetime.

We live in a very dangerous time. President Obama has virtually abandoned the field in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and left Libya and Yemen exposed. He has left our allies in the Middle East and Africa scrambling for alternatives to an America that has decided to follow events from the rear and that establishes “red lines” that have no meaning when they are crossed. Daesh has taken advantage of our absence to take over large swaths of territory, massacring and terrorizing civilians, many of whom counted on the U.S. for support.

Threats abound throughout the world. In Eastern Europe, Putin is leading a resurgent, irredentist, territorially aggressive Russia, challenging our allies in the Black Sea region, the Baltic and now the Middle East.

China constitutes an increasingly aggressive rival in Asia and the Pacific, while maintaining a monumental investment in our national economy (including, ominously, in our now massive government debt). With the consolidation of its military leadership, with its development of a Blue Water navy that can project power and interdict sea lanes, with its power grab and militarization of the South China Sea and with its bellicose sword-rattling towards many of its neighbors, including many of our longtime allies, China is on its way to becoming a strategic military threat.

The combination of challenges presented by Russia and China stand poised to undo the great strides towards democracy and democratization that have been achieved around the world ever since President Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear down that Wall.

Our inability or unwillingness to check Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions compound these threats.

At this moment of great peril, the GOP appears poised to nominate to the Presidency of the United States, the holder of the nuclear launch codes, the commander-in-chief of the most powerful armed forces in human history, an unstable man with no military experience and even less foreign policy expertise.

Mr. Trump threatens our alliances with our neighbors, as well. He has made blatantly racist attacks on Mexican immigrants as “rapists and killers” and he has foolishly (and quite regularly) attempted to publicly shame Mexico into paying for a border wall that would not solve our border security challenges even if it were built.

Mr. Trump and his supporters do not represent the GOP I believe in. They do not represent the GOP I have supported for two decades.

I believe in supporting small business and entrepreneurs.

I believe in helping kids struggling in inner city schools to find a way out of those schools instead of helping the teachers’ union bosses with their fight to keep those kids in failing schools.

I believe that a strong US military, judiciously used, has often (if not always) been, and can continue to be, an indispensable force for immense good in this world.

I believe that the free market is, and always has been, much more effective than government programs at lifting people out of poverty.

I believe that the more centralized the government, the further that government is from the governed, and the less effective it is at accomplishing key goals: fighting poverty, running schools, and performing the many other functions it is crucially important for government to perform.

I believe that, though it certainly creates winners and losers, the aggregate benefits of free trade are irrefutably more valuable than the isolated and temporary benefits of a mercantilist anti-trade policy.

I believe in building bridges to people of goodwill in other countries and cultures. I believe in tearing down, not building up, walls.

I believe in welcoming immigrants, recognizing that we are a nation of immigrants, and striving to be the shining city on the hill spoken of by Reagan, that city “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity; and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

The GOP used to believe in all these things, too.  That GOP, I am sad to say, may soon be a relic of the past. That GOP will not survive Donald Trump being nominated as its candidate for President of the United States.

I’ve watched with increasing dismay as many Republican leaders have gone from clearly (if not vocally) opposing Trump’s candidacy, to wishy-washy on his candidacy, to openness to his candidacy, and now, apparently, to full-throated support for his candidacy.

I do not write this out of anger or resentment or fear. I write this out of sorrow: sorrow that a party I have spent more than half my life supporting is soon to be no more; sorrow that a party that has done so much good for this country has been hijacked by a racist, sexist, xenophobic demagogue willing to say anything necessary in order to get into office; sorrow that the GOP’s leadership, when it had the opportunity to stop this from happening, failed to do so.

I just hope that this failure to save the Republican Party from Trump does not presage a failure by our country as a whole to stop Trump in the general election. But, because I cannot support a Trump candidacy, and because I cannot believe in, and do not believe I belong in, a party that would nominate a man like Mr. Trump, in the event Mr. Trump receives the Republican nomination, I will resign from the party and re-register as an independent. I urge all other Republicans of good will to do the same.

Yoni Fife is an attorney living in Los Angeles.

Four ways Jews and Arabs live apart in Israeli society


Betzalel Smotrich, perhaps the most right-wing member of the current Knesset, caused a storm when he endorsed the idea that Arabs and Jew should be segregated in Israel’s maternity rooms.

Smotrich was responding to a report on the Israel Broadcast Authority that several hospitals practice de facto segregation of maternity rooms — placing Jews with Jews and Arabs with Arabs. Such segregation is prohibited by law.

“There are mental gaps, and it’s more comfortable for both sides to be with themselves,” Smotrich, a member of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party, tweeted on April 5. “It’s really not racism.”

In a subsequent tweet he wrote that it’s “natural that my wife wouldn’t want to lie next to someone who just gave birth to a baby, who may want to kill her baby 20 years from now.”

Smotrich’s remarks were panned by lawmakers from left and right, including Naftali Bennett, the leader of Jewish Home. Responding to Smotrich, Bennett tweeted a rabbinic passage about man being created in God’s image, adding, “Every man. Jew or Arab.”

Jews and Arabs are afforded equal rights under Israeli law. But in many ways, the two sectors live in separate societies — attending different schools, living in different cities, reading different newspapers and espousing different political ideals.

Unlike the prescribed, top-down segregation supported by Smotrich, much of this separation stems from longstanding structural factors like language, culture and religion.  

“In most places, there’s no problem. The Arab population lives in totally Arab villages,” said Nachum Blass, a senior researcher at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies.

But the divisions between Israeli Jews and Arabs, who represent 20 percent of the population, have also contributed to economic disparities between them. And despite laws meant to prevent discrimination, Arabs point to studies showing persistent disparities in education, social services, income and political participation.

“There’s definitely discrimination in every aspect” of Israel’s education system, Taub said.

Nongovernmental organizations and government bodies have worked to promote a “shared society” in economic development, higher education and the labor market.

Here are four ways Jews and Arabs live apart in Israeli society.

Jews and Arabs attend separate schools.

Israel’s schools are separated by both religion and race. Jewish students attend either secular, religious or haredi Orthodox schools, while the Arabs attend separate Muslim, Christian and Druze systems taught in Arabic. Of the 1.6 million total students in grades 1 through 12 last year, fewer than 2,000 attended the handful of joint Jewish-Arab schools.

The split education system, where students are taught in their own language and according to their own cultural norms, according to Blass, “answers the [Arab] community’s needs.” But it has also led to lower educational achievement among Arab Israelis.

In 2012, two-thirds of non-haredi Jews qualified for university, as opposed to less than half of Arab students. Israel’s universities are more integrated, but Arabs make up a low proportion of students. In 2012, Arabs made up only 12 percent of bachelor’s degree students, and 4 percent of doctoral students, according to Sikkuy, an organization that aims to foster Jewish-Arab coexistence.

Jews and Arabs live in separate towns.

In addition to studying separately, Israeli Jews and Arabs mostly live in separate cities. Two of the country’s largest cities, Jerusalem and Haifa, have substantial Arab populations, but even those cities are often separated by neighborhood. Nearly all of Jerusalem’s Arab residents live in the eastern half of the city.

Aside from a handful of other mixed Israeli towns, most of the country’s cities are more than 90 percent Jewish or Arab. Though Arabs make up nearly 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, Israel’s largest, is nearly 95 percent Jewish.

The Jewish-Arab division is also marked by economic gaps. Arab cities have higher poverty rates and, in general, worse municipal services than their Jewish counterparts. Eight of Israel’s 10 poorest towns are Arab. The richest 30 are Jewish.

“It’s not a problem in principle to live in different places,” said Rawnak Natour, co-director of Sikkuy. “There needs to be a possibility to live together, that there will be [cultural] symbols and the ability to encompass the different cultures.”

Their political leaders rarely work together.

Israel often points to its Arab-Israeli lawmakers as proof of the country’s democratic chops. Arabs hold 16 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, and the body’s third-largest party, the Joint List, is Arab. Arabs have also risen to the top of other branches of government, including sitting on Israel’s Supreme Court.

But Israeli Arabs’ political leadership perpetually sits in the Knesset’s opposition, and few politicians in the government are Arab, such that the two communities’ agendas rarely align. The only Arab in Israel’s political leadership is the deputy minister of regional cooperation, Ayoub Kara, who is part of the Druze minority.

Arabs are barely present in Israel’s mainstream media.

Lucy Aharish, the young Arab co-host of a morning show on a leading Israeli TV station, speaks accent-less Hebrew, has gained admirers for her forthrightness and was even honored with a role at the country’s official torch-lighting ceremony on Independence Day.

But she’s one of the few Arab faces and voices Israelis will see and hear on their TVs and radios. Israeli Arabs have their own active press, but they are vastly underrepresented in mainstream Israeli media, comprising fewer than 3 percent of total interviews on leading Israel stations in January and February, according to a study by Sikkuy and the Seventh Eye, a media watchdog.

The number drops even lower when it comes to news segments not directly related to Israeli Arabs. Aharish’s Channel 2, for example, spoke to only 11 Arabs out of more than 5,500 total such interviews in January.

“You have low representation, and the moment you have it, it’s about specific topics and a very specific framing, which is crime and the conflict,” Natour said. “The way they’re interviewed is a negative framework that perpetuates the stigmas about the Arab population in the state.”

Hoenlein cautions against ‘obsession’ with presidential election


Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, cautioned against becoming obsessed with the 2016 presidential election on Monday.

“The obsession, I have to say, with the presidential election is, to me, one of the most dangerous things that is happening,” Hoenlein remarked during a forum hosted by JP Updates and moderated by New York City Councilman David Greenfield in Brooklyn. “We have nine months still to go where these issues are going to be in play. People are not talking about it. They’re not thinking about it. All they are thinking about is watching the circus of the political realm.”

Instead, Hoenlien suggested, the American Jewish community should keep an eye on President Barack Obama as he may refocus his attention, during the final year of his presidency, on the failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

According to Hoenlein, Obama is not going to end his presidency as a lame duck, rather as an activist president “who has made clear that he has a legacy agenda that he wants to implement.” In addition to improving relations with Cuba, Hoenlein sees the president aiming to “create the predicates” for the creation of a future Palestinian state.

“I’m telling you, we’re going to all look back in a few months and say, ‘How did all of these things happen?’ The government in Washington is not stopping. They’re going ahead, and on critical issues to our future,” he alerted the crowd of 40, consisting of many local Orthodox Jewish leaders. “These issues are not going to be decisions for years. They’re going to be things that will affect your grandchildren and their grandchildren. These are decisions of generations.”

Hoenlein also addressed the U.S.-Israel relationship over the past seven years, recalling comments he had made to President Obama about creating daylight in the relationship with Israel. (According to Hoenlein, the comments published in the NY Times were leaked by the White House). “There is an important message that when the relationship with Israel is bad, the Arabs look at this and take this as a measure of the confidence they can have in their relationship,” Hoenlein explained. ”They say if Israel, with the Jewish lobby and all the Jewish support, can’t rely on America, what chance do we have?”

Comparing Obama to previous Republican presidents, Hoenlein said that while Ronald Reagan, George H. and George W.  Bush had their moments of tension with the Israeli government and the American pro-Israel community, “nobody doubted where they stood.” Whereas with Obama, “It’s just that there’s a lack of confidence; that people aren’t sure.”

On the Iran nuclear deal, Hoenlein maintained that the campaign against the deal did not go to waste despite the outcome. “The image is created that somehow we lost on the Iran deal. It’s a lie. We won,” he said. “In the Senate, 58 voted against it. What was the vote in the House? Overwhelmingly against it. Because the president was able to pull a parliamentary maneuver, it wasn’t because he won. A majority of Americans still say this is a bad deal. So the educational efforts and all the work that people put in, one should not think that it was in vain. It accomplished something.”

Hoenlein said the next president will have to push for tougher policies and sanctions on non-nuclear areas while enforcing the nuclear deal. He also advised the Israeli government and the administration to finalize negotiations and sign the 10-year “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) security package. “I think it’s much better to do it now than wait because you never know what will come next,” he said. “But I think it has to be on the right terms. Hopefully, the United States and Israel will work together, get it done, and be able to enact it.”

Hoenlein revealed that the Conference of Presidents had invited all of the 2016 presidential candidates to a forum focused on foreign affairs. He joked that if the presidential candidates were to follow through on their promises once they’re in office, “we would have had 47 embassies in Jerusalem.”

Jewish Insider hosts wine-tasting event in D.C.


SCENE LAST WEEK: On Monday March 21st, Jewish Insider hosted a late night wine tasting with Congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (D-California) at Rep. Turner’s condo building in downtown D.C. The 150 attendees, many of whom were in town for AIPAC's Policy Conference, enjoyed upscale Israeli wine courtesy of our weekly wine columnist Yitz Applbaum, along with kosher short ribs from LambBaacon.

SPOTTED: Sen. Norm Coleman, Hillary's foreign policy advisor Laura Rosenberger, Rep. Jeff Denham, State's Ira Forman and Chanan Weissman, Majida Mourad, Rabbi Jack Moline, Cruz National Finance Co-Chair Edward & Elissa Czuker, former AIPAC President Howard Friedman, CSPAN’s Howard Mortman, Adam Howard, Ari Mittleman, Singer Foundation’s Daniel Bonner, Jordan Hirsch, AIPAC’s Tara Brown, OU’s Nathan Diament, JFNA’s William Daroff, Hudson Institute CEO Ken Weinstein, Senior Advisor to Israeli Amb. Yarden Golan, former Bush 43 staffer Scott Arogeti, Tribe Media’s David Suissa, Leora Levy, Kahal's Alex Jakubowski, Rep. Bob Dold, Miranda May, Nathaniel Rosen, CoP’s Sam Schear, Rabbi Steve Wernick, Noah Pollak, Rep. Kevin Yoder, Aaron Keyak, Steve Rabinowitz, Jacob Kornbluh, Jared Sichel, Josh Lauder, Glass-U’s Daniel Fine, Homrun Group's Dan Smith, United Hatzalah founder Eli Beer, IAC’s Miri Belsky, Arab-Christian Israeli diplomat George Deek, NEA’s Andrew Schoen, Suzy Appelbaum, B’nai B’rith’s Dan Mariaschin, Loop88’s Dave Weinberg, Rachel Glazer, Laura Adkins, and Alex Friedman.

All photos by Ron Sachs from CNP

Why the Republican Party is dying


Last Sunday, 2016 Republican presidential nominee front-runner Donald Trump appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper. Tapper — in the mold of many journalists of leftist persuasion — attempted to smear Trump with those who support him by asking Trump about former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump had repeatedly disavowed support from Duke, once in August 2015 and then again on Feb. 26. In 2000, Trump explicitly predicated his abandonment of the Reform Party on Duke joining it; he wrote, “So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. [Patrick] Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. [Lenora] Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.”

So when Tapper asked Trump about Duke and the KKK, Trump’s answer should have been simple: He should have said that he had already repeatedly disavowed any support from Duke and the KKK and told Tapper that he should have asked Barack Obama about support from anti-Semite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the Communist Party.

Trump didn’t.

Instead, he equivocated, and pretended ignorance. He said, “I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. … I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to take a look.”

Trump’s followers defended him — defended the indefensible — vociferously.

All of which raises the question: Why is Donald Trump winning? What is driving millions of Americans into the arms of a personally authoritarian ignoramus, a blustering bully, a policy dilettante, a parodic mashup of Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Joe Pesci’s Tommy from “Goodfellas”; a reality television star most famous for his tacky hair, tackier taste in women and tackiest taste in hotel adornments?

It certainly isn’t conservatism.

The left couldn’t be more excited about Trump’s rise — he provides them an easy club with which to beat the conservative movement. But the conservative movement opposes Trump wholesale. Fox News has made clear its disdain for Trump: In the first Republican debate, Megyn Kelly hit him with everything but the kitchen sink for his sexism and corruption. National Review ran an entire issue titled “Against Trump.” I’ve personally cut a video viewed more than a million times in just one day titled “Donald Trump Is a Liar.” This week, the hashtag #NeverTrump took over conservative Twitter, with thousands upon thousands of conservatives vowing never to pull the lever for The Donald. For months, Trump has had the highest negatives in the Republican field.

Conservatism stands for small government, individual liberty, constitutional checks and balances, strong national defense, and social institutions such as churches and synagogues promoting responsibility and virtue. Trump stands for large government (he’s in favor of heavy tariffs as well as government seizures of private property for private use, and he says he’ll maintain all unsustainable entitlement programs), executive authority (he has never spoken of the constitutional limitations of presidential power), and foreign and domestic policy based on personal predilection (he’s friendly to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin because Putin praised him; won’t take sides between democratic Israel and the terrorist Palestinian unity government out of his pathetic, egotistic desire to make a “deal”; and has never held a consistent conservative policy position in his life).

So what the hell is going on? What is driving the Donald Trump phenomenon? Why is it set to destroy the Republican Party?

Anger at ‘the Establishment’

Americans on all sides of the political aisle are angry with the way Washington, D.C., operates. That anger isn’t well defined — it’s not merely a specific anger over failure to negotiate by Republicans and Democrats, or anger over bureaucratic incompetence. It’s a generalized anger that the entire system has failed to operate properly — a feeling that they’ve been lied to about the supposedly booming economy, about the supposedly non-rigged game. A year-end CNN/ORC poll showed that fully three-quarters of Americans said they were dissatisfied “with the way the nation is being governed,” with 69 percent “at least somewhat angry with the way things are going in the U.S.”

Americans on the left believe that Washington, D.C., has climbed into bed with Wall Street and corrupted the political process to the benefit of the few; Americans on the right believe that Washington, D.C., has become a cesspool of government avarice in which those elected to stop the government from usurping power turn on their own constituencies in favor of promoting their personal political interests. In both cases, Americans have turned against the “establishment” — people whom they imagine defend the status quo in Washington, D.C., as not all that bad. If this seems vague, that’s because it is: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are widely perceived to be members of the “establishment,” but they disagree about virtually everything. Everything, that is, except for a generalized belief that it’s better to go along to get along than to stand strong against determined opposition.

On the left, this has resulted in the surprising rise of a 74-year-old socialist senator from Vermont who strongly resembles Larry David. On the right, it has resulted in Trump. Sanders will lose to Clinton on the left — the anger against the Democratic Party isn’t strong enough on the left to destroy the party wholesale for an openly socialist temper tantrum. 

On the right, however, the anger against the Republican Party is palpable. That CNN/ORC poll showed a whopping 90 percent of Republicans dissatisfied with national governance, and 82 percent angry with the way things are going in the country. Among Trump supporters, that number was 97 percent dissatisfied and 91 percent angry. Republicans look at their leadership and see people who lied to them over and over again: lied about how “mainstream” candidates such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would earn the love of the media and sweep to victory; lied about how if Republicans took over Congress in 2010, they’d stop Obamacare dead; lied about how if Republicans took over the Senate in 2014, they’d kill President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty.

If this is the best the professionals in the establishment could do, many Republicans believed, then it is time for an outsider — someone who can take an ax to the system. Poll after poll for the past year has demonstrated that Republicans prefer an outsider to a candidate with experience in Washington.

Anger at political correctness

That generalized anger at the establishment alone wouldn’t have skyrocketed Trump to the top of the polls. After all, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has spent his entire career in the Senate ticking off the Republican establishment, to the point of calling McConnell a liar on the floor of the chamber. Republican establishment types hate Cruz with the fiery passion of a thousand flaming suns; they despise Cruz so much that former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said he’d prefer Trump to Cruz, a perspective mirrored by much of the GOP establishment.

So why not Cruz instead of Trump? Because Trump channels a second type of anger better than anyone else in the race: full-scale rage at political correctness. Political correctness is seen — correctly — by non-leftists as a way of silencing debate about vital issues. Political correctness quashes serious discussions with charges of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia, and in doing so, destroys the possibility of political honesty as well as better solutions. The Obama administration has brought political correctness back from the brink of extinction to place it in the central halls of power: The White House and its media lackeys have suggested that legitimate criticism of Obama’s policies represents bigotry, that serious concerns about radical Islam represent Islamophobia, that real worries about encroachment upon religious liberty represent homophobia, and that honest questions about individual responsibility for crime represent racism. And establishment Republicans, eager to be seen as civil, have acquiesced in the newfound reign of political correctness.

Trump entered the race vowing to bring that reign to an end. Because of his celebrity, he’s been able to say politically incorrect things many Republicans believe must be said: that Muslim refugees to the United States must be treated with more care than non-Muslim refugees thanks to the influence of radical Islam, for example, or that illegal immigration brings with it elevated levels of criminality. He’s slapped the leftist media repeatedly, something that thrills frustrated conservatives.

But Trump has gone further than fighting political correctness: He has engaged in pure boorishness. His fans have lumped that boorishness in with being politically incorrect. That’s foolishness. It’s politically incorrect — and valuable — to point out that single motherhood rates in the Black community contribute to problems of poverty and crime, and that such rates are not the result of white racism but of the problematic values of those involved. It’s simply rude and gauche to mock the disabled, as Trump has, or mock prisoners of war, as Trump has, or mock Megyn Kelly’s period, as Trump has. The list goes on and on.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 25. Photo by Mike Stone/Reuters

The distinction between being a pig and being politically incorrect is a real one. But Trump and his supporters have obliterated the distinction — and that’s in large part thanks to the pendulum swinging wildly against political correctness.

Anger at anti-Americanism

Even the revolt against political correctness wouldn’t be enough to put Trump in position to break apart the Republican Party, however. Republicans have railed against political correctness for years — Trump isn’t anything new in that, although he’s certainly more vulgar and blunt than others. No, what truly separates Trump from the rest of the Republican crowd is that he’s a European-style nationalist.

Republicans are American exceptionalists. We believe that America is a unique place in human history, founded upon a unique philosophy of government and liberty. That’s why we’re special and why we have succeeded. In his own way, Trump believes in American exceptionalism much like Barack Obama does — as a term to describe parochial patriotism. Obama infamously remarked in 2009, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Obama meant that dismissively — American exceptionalism is just something we do because we’re American, not because we’re actually special. But Trump means it proudly. His nationalism is a reaction to Obama’s anti-nationalism. It says: “Barack Obama may think America isn’t worthy of special protection because we’re not special. Well, we’re America, damn it, even if we don’t know what makes us special.” According to Trump, we ought to operate off of the assumption that Americans deserve better lives not because they live out better principles or represent a better system, but because they’re here.

This sort of nationalism resembles far more the right-wing parties of Europe than the historical Republican Party. The Republican Party has stood for embrace of anyone who will embrace American values; extreme European right-wing parties tend to embrace people out of ethnic allegiance rather than ideological allegiance. Trump uncomfortably straddles that divide. His talk about limiting immigration has little to do with embrace of American values and much more to do with “protecting” Americans from foreigners — even highly educated foreigners willing to work in the United States without taking benefits from the tax system. It’s one thing to object to an influx of people who disagree with basic constitutional values. But Trump doesn’t care about basic constitutional values. He simply opposes people coming in who aren’t us. There’s a reason so many of his supporters occupy the #altright portion of the Internet, which traffics in anti-Semitism and racism.

The rise of ‘The Great Man’

Trump poisons the brew of justified anger at the establishment, justified anger at the political correctness and justified anger at anti-Americanism from the left. People feel victimized by a government that centralizes all power in the back corridors of D.C., a media dedicated to upholding nonsensical sloganeering as opposed to honest discussion, and a president who sees America as a global bully and an international pariah in need of re-education. Trump has channeled that sense of victimization into support. 

But there’s one more spice he adds to that toxic concoction: worship of “The Great Man.”

Republicans have typically been wary of The Great Man. Democrats have not. Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1906, “The president is at liberty both in law and conscience to be as big a man as he can. His capacity will set the limit.” Franklin D. Roosevelt came as close to dictatorship in America as anyone in history. Barack Obama obviously sees little limit to executive authority; he chafes at constitutional restrictions on his power. The presidency, according to Democrats, is a position of elected dictatorship — at least when Democrats run the show.

Conservatives have always believed in the constitutional checks and balances. Republicans have not; there were Republicans who cheered the Bush administration’s abuses of executive power, for example. But as the proxy for the conservative movement, the GOP at least paid lip service to the idea that power resided in the people, then local government, then the states, and last and weakest, the federal government. Republicans supposedly stood for the proposition that the government was the greatest obstacle to freedom.

Trump overthrows all of that. Thanks to Obama’s usurpation of power, many Americans are ready for a Reverse Obama — someone who will use the power of the presidency to “win” for them, as opposed to using a powerful presidency to weaken the country. And that’s what Trump pledges to do. He pledges to singlehandedly make deals — great deals! He promises to make America great again, not through the application of constitutional liberties, but through the power of his persona. He’ll be strong, his supporters believe. When he expresses sympathy for Vladimir Putin and says at least Saddam Hussein killed terrorists and admires the strength of the Chinese government in quashing protest at Tiananmen Square (in a 1990 interview with Playboy), his supporters thrill. Because Trump is a strong leader. He’s no wimp. Give him control, and watch him roll!

Like Obama, Trump has built a cult following on worship of power. Big government has prepared Americans for tyrannical central government for a century. Republicans resisted that call.

Trump does not. 

Is this the end of the Republican Party?

If Trump is nominated, there will be a split in the national GOP. There will be those who hold their noses and vote for him, but who see him as a horrible historical aberration; there will be those who stay home altogether. There may be a third party conservative who decides to provide an alternative to the evils of Trumpism. The Republican Party will remain a major force at the local and state levels regardless; national elections do not reshape parties at these lower levels immediately.

But over time, they can. Is Trumpism temporary, or is it here to stay? The answer to that question may lie with the establishment Republicans, who will have to make peace with actual conservatives if they hope to stanch the rise of populism. Establishment Republicans got behind Jeb Bush in this election cycle, and they stayed behind him even as he flailed; they made clear they’d prefer Trumpism to hard-core conservatism. Now we’re seeing the result. 

The Republican Party can come back, but only if it recognizes that decades of standing for nothing breed reactionary, power-addicted, nationalist populism. That’s a hard realization, but it will have to be made. Otherwise, the Republican Party will, indeed, become the party of Trump rather than the party of Lincoln and Reagan.


Benjamin Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, senior editor-at-large of Breitbart News, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and co-host of “The Morning Answer” on KRLA-AM in Los Angeles and KTIE-AM in the Inland Empire. He is also the author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America,” Simon *& Schuster (2013).

Sanders opens up on Jewish pride, Trump hit on Israel ‘neutrality,’


In a stinging debate exchange, Donald Trump’s professions of neutrality in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict became a front-and-center campaign issue.

All four of the real estate magnate’s rivals for the Republican presidential nod took him to task Thursday night on the debate stage in Houston for his position on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, which he says requires being an honest broker.

Separately, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., vying with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nod, in a Chicago town hall gave one of his most expansive answers so far during the presidential campaign on his Jewish identity.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the topic of Trump’s neutrality early in the debate, in arguing that Trump, who has won three of the four early nominating contests, was closer to Democrats than Republicans. “He says he’s not going to take sides in the Palestinians versus Israel,” Rubio said.

Trump at an MSNBC town hall last week said, pressed on his positions on the conflict, “Let me sort of be a neutral guy, I don’t want to say whose fault is it, I don’t think it helps.”

The CNN moderators asked Trump about Israel, and he listed what he said were pro-Israel credentials, including once acting as grand marshal of the Salute to Israel parade in New York, giving to unspecified Israeli causes, and being awarded the Jewish National Fund “Tree of Life” award.

Trump also continued to insist that it would be unwise to reveal his hand before attempting to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace. “It doesn’t do any good to start demeaning the neighbors,” he said. “With that being said, I am totally pro-Israel.”

The other candidates pounced. Palestinian terrorists “are not equivalent to the IDF officers protecting Israel,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“The position you’ve taken is an anti-Israel position,” Rubio said, claiming that while Israel has sacrificed for peace, “the Palestinian Authority has walked away from multiple generous offers.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich noted his pro-Israel record dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, when he was a congressman. “I’ve been a strong supporter of Israel longer than anyone on this stage,” he said.

Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, recalled his own visit to Israel last year, and said while it “doesn’t mean we can’t be fair to other people,” the United States should treat Israel like its favored child.

Trump countered by claiming stronger negotiating deals as a longtime businessman, and Rubio interjected: “The Palestinians are not a real estate deal … a deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists, have you negotiated with terrorists?”

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has also taken aim at Trump for his professions of neutrality. Speaking on CNN on Sunday, she said U.S. policy should take into account both the close U.S.-Israel relationship and the need for a two-state solution. Trump had “missed the mark” by claiming neutrality, she said.

“First of all, Israel is our partner, our ally,” Clinton said. “We have longstanding and important ties with Israelis going back to the formation of the state of Israel.

“I will defend and do everything I can to support Israel, particularly as the neighborhood around it seems to become more dangerous and difficult,” Clinton said.

That position and shepherding the sides toward peace “are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “I happen to think that moving toward a two-state solution, trying to provide more support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people is in the long-term best interest of Israel as well as the region and the people themselves,” she said.

Trump several times in recent days has said that he would be a “great friend” of Israel and has slammed the Obama administration for last year’s Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed.

In an interview this week with Israel Hayom, a mass circulation Israeli daily owned by Sheldon Adelson, a major Republican giver, Trump said he was Israel’s “best friend.”

Sanders, at a University of Chicago town hall on Thursday broadcast by MSNBC, was asked by a Jewish student to speak about his faith. The student noted that Sanders had been reticent about discussing his Judaism.

“Obviously, being Jewish is very, very important to me,” Sanders said. “I am very proud of my heritage. And what comes to my mind so strongly as a kid growing up in Brooklyn and seeing people with numbers on their wrists — you probably have not seen that — but those were the people who came out of the concentration camps. And knowing that, my — a good part of my father’s family was killed by the Nazis. And that lesson that I learned as a very young person is politics is a serious business. And when you have a lunatic like Hitler gaining power — 50 million people died in World War 2. So I am very, very proud to be Jewish and I’m proud of my heritage.”

Separately, the Anti-Defamation League called on Trump to distance himself from white supremacists who have intensified their call for his election in recent weeks.

“Mr. Trump may have distanced himself from white supremacists, but he must do so unequivocally,” said a statement issued Thursday in the name of Marvin Nathan, ADL National Chair, and Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “It is time for him to come out firmly against these bigoted views and the people that espouse them.”

David Duke, a white supremacist, said this week that voting against Trump was tantamount to treason. Additionally, a supremacist political action committee has been making recorded calls urging people to vote for Trump.

 

Bloomberg confirms he is considering 2016 presidential run


Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed he is considering entering the 2016 presidential race.

Bloomberg, a billionaire media magnate who served three terms in New York, for the first time said he was seriously thinking about throwing his hat in the ring, he told the Financial Times in an interview published on its website Monday evening, hours before the first U.S. primary election in New Hampshire.

Bloomberg, who is Jewish, criticized the quality of the debate in the race and said he was “looking into all options” when asked about entering the race. He said the U.S. public deserves “a lot better.”

“I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters,” he told the Financial Times.

Bloomberg, 73, was mayor of New York from 2002 to 2013. He was a Democrat until his first run, in 2001, when unable to secure the party’s nomination, he became a Republican. He became an independent in 2007.

Early last month it was revealed that Bloomberg commissioned a poll to test how he would fare in a presidential run. Bloomberg previously considered presidential runs, but had concluded then that an independent’s chances are near zero.

Bloomberg would consider spending up to $1 billion of his own money on a run, The New York Times reported last month in an article in which anonymously quoted aides and associates of Bloomberg said he saw an opening in case Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., won the Republican and Democratic nominations, respectively.

Bloomberg has maintained close ties to Israel, making a last-minute visit to the country during its 2014 war with Hamas to show that travel was safe in the face of a brief Federal Aviation Authority ban.

He won the inaugural $1 million Genesis Generation Challenge in 2014, a prize awarded for “engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.” His charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has provided $1.5 million to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in urban innovation grants.

Bloomberg made his fortune, now valued at approximately $40 billion, from the media and financial data company he founded, Bloomberg L.P.

Could Donald Trump happen in Israel?


Months ahead of Israel’s elections, a rich celebrity who’s never held elected office announces he will run for prime minister. He attacks the current leadership as weak and ineffective. He vows to wield a stronger hand against terror, to shut out Israel’s enemies and to realize the country’s untapped potential.

His poll numbers shoot up, shocking the political establishment. Thousands mass to cheer for his charismatic speeches, and he’s adept at social media. Critics lambast his campaign as one of image, not substance. They predict he’ll fade as fast as he’s risen.

Sound familiar? It should.

Something similar happened in 2012, when two political neophytes — Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid — shook up Israel’s politics in a raucous election campaign. Lapid, a popular news anchor and author, founded a new party claiming to represent Israel’s political center. Bennett, a high-tech mogul, became chair of the religious Zionist Jewish Home party and attracted throngs of new supporters, focusing on hawkish politics and housing reform.

If Donald Trump were to run for office in Israel, he’d probably follow in their footsteps.

In the U.S., the open primaries give celebrities like Trump an opportunity to gain a following and (possibly) capture the mantle of a major party. Winning the nomination, in turn, would give Trump a reasonable shot at winning the presidency.

But in Israel, voters cast ballots for a party, not a person. And only three Israeli parties — Likud, Labor and Jewish Home — have open, American-style primaries where ordinary Israelis can vote directly for candidates. You can vote in the primaries only if you’re a card-carrying member of one of those parties. Out of nearly 6 million eligible Israeli voters in 2015, just 125,000 voted in primaries.

And primaries in Israel aren’t the free-for-all they are in the U.S. In Israel’s political culture, career politicians like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Issac Herzog tend to stick around, win or lose.

Unlike Mitt Romney or John Kerry, there’s no expectation that party leaders will step aside following a loss. Shimon Peres stayed atop Labor for 15 years despite failing to win four straight elections. When Herzog lost the election in March, he remained Labor chairman and hoped for a better result next time.

That’s why Israeli Trump would have a hard time becoming prime minister. No one has ever captured a major party’s top spot without prior political experience.

Instead, he might turn to another venerated Israeli tradition: founding your own party. Israel’s parliamentary system means that third, fourth, and even 10th parties can make it into Knesset. Just like leaders from David Ben-Gurion to current Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Israeli Trump could announce the creation of his own faction.

The Trump party — let’s call it “Make Israel Great Again” — could be formed without primaries. But he’d almost definitely not win the prime ministership.

In America, commanding 30 percent of Republican primary voters can catapult you to winning the nomination and having the support of nearly half the country. In Israel, leaders of new parties rarely gain more than 15 percent of voters. If Trump were polling in Israel like he is in America, he’d expect to win 18 seats — good enough to make his party the third-largest in Knesset.

Would Trump be satisfied with winning third place? Or would that make him, dare we say, a loser?

The enemy of my enemy is my candidate


“End this notion that the enemy is the other party. End this notion that it is naïve to think we can speak well of the other party. What is naïve is to think it is remotely possible to govern this country unless we can.”

The speaker was Joe Biden. Along with other Jimmy Carter administration alumni, I was listening to him at a “>announce that he wouldn’t run for president. But that night, I bet few of us doubted that his paean to speaking well of the other party was a zinger aimed at Hillary Clinton.

The week before, at the debate in Las Vegas, she was asked which enemies she was proudest of making. “Well,” she said, “in addition to the NRA, the health insurance companies, the drug companies, the Iranians … probably the Republicans.” Biden’s reproof: “I don’t think my chief enemy is the Republican Party. This is a matter of making things work.” He later said on “60 Minutes” that he was talking about all of Washington, not singling out Clinton. You decide.

As Biden appealed for bipartisanship, I thought about the journey taken by his boss, President Barack Obama. He came to national attention summoning us to transcend the Red State-Blue State divide. He built on Republican policies — Romneycare and cap-and-trade — to frame his own health care and climate change proposals. He gave Republicans leading roles in his cabinet and at his White House summit on health care, and he traveled to Baltimore to be grilled by the GOP House Issues Conference. He negotiated a grand bargain on entitlement cuts with John Boehner. And in return for extending an open hand across the partisan divide, he was played, betrayed, rolled, stiffed, stymied and stung.

At best, he was seen as a bad poker player; at worst, he was revealed as a political naïf singing “Kumbaya” to a nest of vipers. It is arguable that after the Democrats’ stunning loss of the House in 2010, it was Obama’s late realization that Republicans really were his enemy, and that anything he wanted to do would need to be done without them, that has accounted for virtually all his subsequent accomplishments.

If Hillary Clinton is elected president, there is a very slim chance that Democrats will win the Senate, but it would require a miracle to also take back the House. Don’t get me wrong: “>Pew Research Center poll last year. Ninety-two percent of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat, and 94 percent of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican. Highly negative views of the opposing party have more than doubled since 1994, when the House and Senate were wrested from Bill Clinton’s party.

Two-thirds of consistently Republican Americans, and half of consistently Democratic Americans, think that the other party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Though half the country believes that elected Republicans and Democrats should compromise in the middle, that half is “off the edges of the playing field, distant and disengaged.”

Active citizens — primary voters, letter writers, volunteers, donors — are the people least willing to see the parties meet halfway. More than half of consistent conservatives think Republican leaders should get two-thirds of what they want when they negotiate with Democrats, and nearly a quarter of them think Republicans should get 90 percent or more.   Almost two-thirds of consistent liberals say Obama should get two-thirds of what he wants, and 16 percent of them think he should get 90 percent or more.

That’s the message that will be ringing in the ears of the new speaker of the House, and it will also be the message that the next president, of either party, will hear most loudly. I’m not sure that’s so wrong.

Unlike half the country, I don’t think there’s any particular virtue in 50-50 compromises.

What’s the middle ground with Donald Trump on immigration — deporting half of the nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants? Building half a wall? What’s 50-50 with Ben Carson on “>wrote in reply, “do not torture, nor do they encourage others to do so, nor do they defend the practice by lying about what it really is. Decent men do not oversee the outing of covert CIA agents. Decent men do not help deceive their country into a war and then walk away with the profits. Decent men do not shoot their friends in the face and go for the Scotch bottle before they go for the cops.”

I say this with great respect and admiration for our vice president: Dick Cheney is indeed my enemy. And the enemy of my enemy is, I hope, my next president.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Meet the Islamic Movement, Netanyahu’s newest public enemy


In assigning blame for the recent wave of violence in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned to the usual suspects – Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

But he has also accused a lesser-known group that operates within Israel’s borders: the Islamic Movement, a religious political group and social service organization.

Netanyahu has seized on the inflammatory rhetoric of the movement’s northern branch, which claims the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem is “in danger” and has funded protest groups that harass Jewish visitors to the site. Netanyahu has blamed the movement’s rhetoric for inciting the attacks and is seeking to formally ban its activity.Here’s what the movement does, what it believes about the Temple Mount and why it might be difficult to ban.

What is the Islamic Movement?

The Islamic Movement is a political organization, religious outreach group and social service provider rolled into one. Formed in the 1970s, the movement’s overarching goal is to make Israeli Muslims more religious and owes much of its popularity to providing services often lacking in Israel’s Arab communities. Today the group runs kindergartens, colleges, health clinics, mosques and even a sports league – sometimes under the same roof.

“Their popularity stems from the fact that they had, in every place, changed the face of the local village or town,” said Eli Rekhess, the Crown Chair in Middle East Studies at Northwestern University. “It’s this combination that underlies the Islamic Movement’s formula.”

The movement split two decades ago. One faction, known as the southern branch, began fielding candidates for Israel’s Knesset in 1996 and now is part of the Joint List, an alliance of several Arab-Israeli political parties. Three of the Joint List’s 13 current Knesset members are part of the movement.

The more hardline northern branch rejects any legitimization of Israel’s government and has called on its adherents to boycott elections. The branches now operate essentially as two separate organizations.

The ‘Al-Aqsa is in danger’ conference

The movement’s northern branch is in Netanyahu’s sights now for its aggressive advocacy for Islamic control over the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem shrine known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The branch’s leader, Raed Salah, has called on his followers to “redeem” the mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, from purported Israeli aggression.

Every year, Salah hosts a conference titled “Al-Aqsa is in danger,” and has promoted the idea — hotly disputed by Israeli officials — that Israel seeks to change the status quo at the site.

The movement also funds a group called the Mourabitoun, whose protests against Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount have occasionally turned violent. On Sept. 9, Israel banned the group from the mount, sparking the riots that preceded the current wave of attacks. Salah has accused Netanyahu of declaring war on the mosque.

An offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

Netanyahu also sees the group as something of an Islamist fifth column within Israel. The movement, according to Haifa University’s Nohad Ali, is an ideological offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, as is Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.

Though they all share the same principles and operate similarly — Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood also operate educational and social service programs in addition to their political activities — the Islamic Movement has no organizational relation to the others. Rekhess says remaining separate gives the movement a niche within Israel. And Ali says keeping its distance from Hamas helps the movement avoid prosecution. Which is why …

There’s not much Netanyahu can do to ban it

Salah has served prison time for assaulting an Israeli police officer and is appealing a conviction for incitement, but several experts say Netanyahu will be hard-pressed to outlaw the whole group for incitement to violence. Its official pronouncements are too ambiguous to qualify as illegal, they say.

“They don’t call for violence,” Ali said. “They know that use of violence will cause the destruction of the movement. I’m not saying they’re angels or that they oppose violence, [but] they’re using vague concepts.”

Outlawing the group could also spark a broad backlash in Israel’s Arab sector. Knesset member Talab Abu Arar, a member of the movement’s southern branch, said he could view any ban on the group as an attack on Arab-Israelis as a whole.

“The Islamic Movement includes most of the Arab public in Israel,” Abu Arar told JTA. “Outlawing it, you could say, is outlawing the entire public from the land.”

Make it happen: Stop the gun violence


Jeb Bush, meet Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

In the immediate aftermath of the Umpqua Community College mass shooting that left 10 people dead, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said something pretty dumb.

“We’re in a difficult time in our country, and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this,” the Republican presidential candidate told the Conservative Leadership Project Presidential Forum in Greenville, S.C. “I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. I had this challenge as governor. Look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

“Stuff happens” stuck. Bush meant to say that, in addressing society’s deepest problems, we shouldn’t simply be reactive, but think carefully and act judiciously. But in the wake of a brutal human tragedy, his words came off as a verbal shrug.

Taking time to act deliberately is a sensible position — if we are talking about anything other than mass shootings. The reason Twitter and the media creamed Bush isn’t because we’re all opposed to thinking before we act, but because one more incidence of gun violence in America cannot possibly have come as a surprise.

Guns kill 12,612 people each year in this country — through homicides, suicides and accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns claim 35 lives each day in this country. Guns kill Americans at rates far above those in every other developed country. Stuff happens? It happens, it’s been happening, and it will continue to happen day after day, week after week, to our loved ones and our neighbors.

Bush’s response put him in the same category as the Saudi officials who dismissed the stampede deaths of more than 800 pilgrims at the hajj in Mecca as inshallah — “God’s will.”

But if you crowd millions of people in a narrow space without adequate safety regulations, you can expect someone to get trampled. And if you continue to do nothing about guns in America, guess what? Count on more pain, more suffering and more deaths. It’s not in-shallah, it’s in-evitable.

Acting to stop gun violence would be about the least impulsive thing our Congress could do to take on a problem that has festered for decades. But even if officials did act precipitously, that would be an improvement.

In 1996, in the aftermath of Australia’s worst mass shooting, the country’s Conservative Party Prime Minister John Howard pushed through a series of gun laws that critics called draconian, but which had wide popular support. 

A buyback program took 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles off the streets — about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation. New gun laws prohibited person-to-person sales, all weapons had to be registered to their owners and gun buyers needed a “genuine reason” beyond self-defense to own a gun. (In the U.S., self-defense accounts for 259 justifiable shootings each year — in a country of 300 million guns.)

The result? Australia’s homicide rates declined more than 50 percent, according to the Washington Post, and suicides by guns dropped 65 percent.

For a column I wrote after an earlier mass shooting (this is my third such column), I interviewed Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA and an expert on the Second Amendment. Through sensible gun laws, new technology and other long-proposed measures, he said, we could cut the gun death rate by thousands each year, saving tens of thousands of lives over time.

“You could say you’re just addressing the margins,” Winkler told me, “but those margins are human lives.”

Bush cares as deeply about those lives as you and I do. But he won’t walk back his statement for two reasons: the NRA and Donald Trump. In Election 2016, apologies are for losers.

When I heard Bush’s “stuff happens,” my mind immediately went to Rabbi Heschel. The great theologian’s entire life was a rebuke to the idea that we humans should remain silent in the face of injustice or immobile in the face of suffering. If a single phrase could sum up the opposite of Heschel’s view of our role in this world, it is, “Stuff happens.”

“Who is a Jew?” Rabbi Heschel once asked. “A person whose integrity decays when unmoved by the knowledge of wrong done to other people.” 

Guns are not in themselves wrong, but our policies surrounding them surely are. We need to treat them as we would any other threat to public health and safety. Every day that we don’t act, precipitously or otherwise, we are countenancing a great wrong and ensuring immeasurable pain.

“We have to be able to surpass ourselves,” Heschel wrote, “to outdo the low expectations we have for society, for reality.”

Our Republican and Democratic representatives have sold off their integrity to the gun lobby. We live with low expectations for their ability to change the reality. Isn’t it time we teach them to surpass themselves?

This is not Syria, where there are no good solutions, or climate change, where there are only expensive and uncertain ones. We understand gun control. Australia did it. States with stricter gun laws have fewer gun deaths.

What’s complicated is getting people like me and you off our butts and into the faces of politicians and gun makers, so that we can finally stop this madness. 

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of Tribe Media Corp./Jewish Journal. 

Cock-and-bull candidates


Did you make it through Sunday’s lunar eclipse OK?

When the moon turned blood red, I bet you didn’t shake spears at it, or beat your dogs to make them bark, as the Incas did to scare away the jaguar that had swallowed the moon. I also bet you didn’t shoot off cannons, or bang your pots and drums, as the Chinese did, to frighten the dragon that had swallowed the moon. I’m pretty sure you didn’t offer your utensils, rice and weapons to the demon Dhanko, as India’s Munda tribesmen do, to bail the moon out of debtor’s prison, where Dhanko had thrown it for failing to repay his loan.  And it’s dollars to donuts you didn’t believe that the eclipse announced the end of the world, or buy Pastor John Hagee’s best-selling “Four Blood Moons,” let alone the “Four Blood Moons Companion Study Guide and Journal” (Includes Full-Color Foldout Timeline, $11.69 on Amazon). 

The reason you didn’t swallow any of those stories is that you know the truth about a lunar eclipse: It happens because the earth comes between the sun and the moon. If truth can protect us from jaguars, dragons, demons and preachers, why can’t it protect us from presidential candidates whose cock-and-bull stories rank right up there with the Incas’ and the Mundas’? 

Consider Carly Fiorina.  She effortlessly reels off the benchmarks of her success as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, including doubling revenues.  But HP’s revenues rose largely because of her disastrous acquisition of Compaq. What counts isn’t revenues, but net earnings, which “>lost half of its value over the same period, while the stock price of its competitors, “>bogus.”

Facts turn out not to matter much in American politics.  It’s as if the Dhanko myth were to have the same standing as an astronomer’s explanation of a lunar eclipse. Journalists can fact check Fiorina all they want, and political rivals can ding her from dawn to dusk. The public’s trust goes not to the best truth-teller, but to the best storyteller. As Brad Whitworth, an 18-year HP veteran and former senior communications and marketing manager, “>hedge fund bro jacks up the price of a life-saving drug; no matter how cravenly General Motors covered up defective and sometimes deadly ignition switches in 2 million vehicles – the story remains the same: Overreach by government regulators is the root of all evil.  

That’s the story Mitt Romney told. If he hadn’t been caught on video writing off 47 percent of the country as freeloading rabble addicted to government handouts, he might have become president.  Instead, the Obama counter-narrative gained power. Its heroes are people of modest means who are still paying for the moral hazard of the billionaire class.  This is also the story that Bernie Sanders is telling to huge and enthusiastic crowds. Perhaps because of that, Hillary Clinton has been telling it, too, though her effectiveness as its messenger may be compromised by her dependence on Wall Street money.

This counter-narrative has the facts going for it. Practically every

AJC shows U.S. Jews split on Iran deal, back Clinton more than other candidates


An American Jewish Committee poll found U.S. Jews virtually split on the Iran nuclear deal and showed Hillary Rodham Clinton well ahead of the pack among preferred presidential candidates.

The annual AJC poll published Friday showed 50.6 percent of respondents approved of the sanctions relief for nuclear restrictions deal reached in July between Iran and six major powers, and 47.2 percent disagreed with it.

That’s a virtual tie, based on the 4.7 percent margin of error. The poll of 1,035 Jews was conducted by GfK between Aug. 7 and Aug. 22. Recent general population polling has showed support for the deal plummeting to the 20s.

Asked about presidential candidates, 39.7 percent of respondents listed Clinton as their first choice, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, who is vying with Clinton for the presidential nod, came in as a second choice, with 17.8 percent. Among Republicans, billionaire Donald Trump was in the lead, with 10.2 percent, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, with 8.7 percent.

The poll suggested gains for Republicans, who have struggled for years to top 30 percent among Jewish voters: Overall, Democratic candidates garnered 58.5 percent of support while Republicans added up to 37.4 percent.

On the Iran deal, the AJC pollsters went for a straightforward question: “Recently, the U.S., along with five other countries, reached a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Do you approve or disapprove of this agreement?”

A range of other polls of U.S. Jews on the Iran issue have been accused of bias because of questions that attempted to contextualize or explain the deal.

In a follow-up question, the AJC respondents showed a lack of confidence in the ability of the deal to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Those who replied “very confident” numbered just 4.9 percent, while “somewhat confident” were at 30.7 percent; The “not so confident” came in at 30.1 percent and the “not at all confident” were at 33.2 percent. Overall, that showed 35.6 percent expressing confidence in the deal and 64.3 percent expressing a lack of confidence.

The White House and other backers of the deal have lobbied the Jewish community hard for its support, as have the deal’s opponents, including congressional Republicans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Respondents were slightly likelier than not to believe that ties between the United States and Israel were strained. Asked if U.S.-Israel ties were getting better or worse, 4.7 percent said “better” and 42.2 percent said they were the same, while 51.9 percent said they were worse.

Respondents were culled from a pool of 55,000 people who had been asked through a system of random selection to participate in such surveys. They responded via email.

Traditional pollsters prefer cold-calling, saying that self-selection — in this case, by agreeing to be part of a survey pool —inevitably skews results, leaving out respondents who might otherwise not have prepared themselves for polling. However, with the advent of cell phones, cold-call surveys have become for some groups prohibitively expensive, and an increasing number of polls are conducted through email among respondents who have expressed a willingness to be surveyed.