German lawmaker accused of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial


A right-wing lawmaker in Germany accused of anti-Semitism in his writings has avoided being expelled from his party, at least for now.

Dr. Wolfgang Gedeon will remain a voting member of the Baden-Württemberg state parliament with no party affiliation after temporarily waiving his rights on Tuesday to represent the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany following a lengthy meeting with party leaders.

The leaders decided to postpone a decision on removing the lawmaker until after Gedeone produces an expert opinion on writings over the years in which he referred to the Holocaust as a “civil religion of the West,” called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin “a memorial to certain crimes,” and referred to Holocaust deniers as “dissidents.”

 

The party reportedly will reconsider the matter in September.

Gedeon, a medical doctor by profession and member of the state parliament since March, also has admired “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” calling the 19th-century anti-Semitic hoax a “brilliant concept of domination,” according to the Die Welt newspaper.

Minimizing or denying the Holocaust is illegal in Germany.

A spokeswoman for the state parliament, Bettina Schreitmueller, told JTA that Gedeon remains in the legislature and can attend all meetings as well as present queries in writing. He cannot speak in a plenary session unless his faction asks him to do so, which is unlikely, according to Schreitmueller.

Speaking to the German media on Tuesday, Baden-Württemberg Gov. Winfried Kretschmann of the Green Party called Gedeon an “obvious anti-Semite” and said he expected the lawmaker would be ostracized.

Gedeon told reporters that he had acted in order to avoid splitting the party. The head of his faction, Jörg Meuthen, had warned he would step down if Gedeon were not expelled and said no expert opinion would likely change his mind.

Transparency bill for NGOs advances in Israel


An Israeli bill requiring nongovernmental organizations to state publicly that they receive funding from foreign countries has advanced to the full Knesset.

On Sunday, the so-called Transparency Bill unanimously passed the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Jewish Home party sponsored the measure, which would disproportionately affect left-wing human rights organizations.

Under the bill, NGOs that receive more than half their funding from foreign governments must declare it publicly, including noting it on official documents. NGO representatives also would be required to wear identification badges when they attend Knesset sessions, as required of lobbyists.

“It is a black day for civil liberties, associations, and Israeli thought,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog tweeted. “The government decision to approve the twisted NGO bill is a bullet between the eyes for Israel’s standing in the world.”

Peace Now in a statement following the vote called the bill a “hate crime against democracy” and called on Shaked to “promote legislation requiring right-wing organizations to expose the millions they receive from private donors abroad and from the state budget.”

Cruz ‘n Jews


If senators got report cards they way children do in school, Ted Cruz's would say “does not play well with others” every time.

He's been called the Senate's “most reviled members,” and that's just among his fellow Republicans.

But the junior senator from Texas seems to like it that way.  His failures inside the Beltway are successes outside, where he points to them to show he is the only one standing up to what he likes to call the “Washington cartel.”

The more Washington hates him the more those who hate Washington love him. That's his operating assumption, and it's finally beginning to show up in poll numbers.  He catapulted to the lead in Iowa this week less than 50 days before that state's first-in-the-nation voting.

His surge is attributed to the collapse of Ben Carson, an Evangelical favorite who was embarrassingly out of his league when the debate turned to national security and foreign policy, and a lot of time spent courting the state's religious right.

Cruz's campaign strategy is tailored for a state like Iowa with its large and influential base of Evangelical and conservative Republican voters.  It will be the key to winning the Iowa Caucus February 1 and early southern primaries in states with a strong Evangelical and conservative presence.

His message may appeal to a disaffected element of the party's base but it is unlikely to go over well with non-Orthodox Jewish Republicans and Independent voters.

Cruz has spent a lot of time courting Orthodox and very conservative Jews, and it appears to be paying off, but they are a minority of a minority.

For most Jews his hardline anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-gay marriage, anti-Muslim views are repellent.

Cruz has suggested that if elected his interpretation of the Bible would take precedence over the Constitution or anything the Supreme Court says.

Cruz seems to go out of his way to antagonize people particularly his fellow Republicans.  He has called his party leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) a liar, and former President George W. Bush, in whose administration he served, said, “I just don't like that guy.”  And it had nothing to do with running against brother Jeb.

A growing number of political pros and observers in both parties see Cruz as the most likely to dump Trump and become the GOP nominee — something that has the party establishment worried. That is pushing the party leaders toward Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been focusing most of his fire and ire at his colleague from Texas lately.

Both men are 44, sons of Cuban immigrants, serving their first term and elected as Tea Party favorites and have very similar views on domestic and social issues.  By style and design Cruz has positioned himself so far to the right that Rubio comes off looking – unfairly – like a moderate.  The party establishment, never enamored of Cruz, is looking at Rubio as its candidate unless one of the also-rans makes a sudden dash for the roses.

Cruz tries to paint Rubio as a liberal who supports the Clinton-Obama foreign policy and is too anxious to start another war, while Rubio calls Cruz an isolationist who is weak on national security.

The choice between Cruz and Rubio seems to have split the GOP's wealthiest Jewish power couple.  The word from Republican sources is that billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who spent upwards of $100 million in 2012 campaign, is impressed with the young Floridian, who has been calling him frequently to kibbitz about issues.

Dr. Miriam Adelson is reportedly impressed by Cruz's hardline pro-Israel rhetoric. 

The selection – possibly a split decision – could be made in Las Vegas this week following Tuesday's GOP presidential debate at the Adelson's' Venetian Casino Hotel.

Unlike Ben Carson, who could not even pronounce Hamas, Cruz goes well prepared when he meets Jewish groups, even to the point of knowing the month on the Hebrew calendar. No one has courted Jewish support, especially Orthodox, more assiduously and effectively.

He walked out on a group of Christian Arabs who booed when he praised Israel, telling his audience, “If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you.”

He may have planned that encounter in advance, but the retelling wins him great applause from Jewish audiences.

One secret of his success with a small segment of Jewish audiences is his senior advisor, Mick Muzin, who is Orthodox and has close ties to that community, which he uses to boost Cruz's campaign.

“I share a great many values with the Jewish community and the Orthodox community,” Cruz told Politico. Chief among them is support for Israel, he added.

Cruz has little interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, unlike recent presidents, would not try to revive peace negotiations unless requested by Israel.

He shares Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's position that “unless and until the Palestinians can agree” to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and renounce terror “no lasting peace solution is likely,” Cruz said.  Settlements, he adds, are an Israeli matter and none of our business.

He refused to endorse the two-state solution when asked about it in an appearance before the Evangelical Christians United for Israel.  “I don't think it is the role of the United States, or any other foreign nation, to try to impose a specific solution on the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.”

That view – which is more rigid than Netanyahu's – may reflect Adelson's strident opposition to Palestinian statehood. The Prime Minister, however, has endorsed the two-state approach, at least nominally, and it has been the policy of recent American presidents of both parties.

Cruz, like just about every other candidate with the possible exception of Donald Trump, has promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  And, like all the others, he won't.  It's just an empty promise they all make but it won't happen until both sides make peace, and Cruz has shown scant interest in bringing that about.

Cruz's outreach to Jews, like that of the GOP, focuses on Israel, particularly support for the hardline Likud and Netanyahu approach.  For Cruz and others in the GOP that includes strident opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, excoriating President Obama for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” and, while not going to Trumpian extremes, engaging in Islamophobia.

There's sound reasoning behind that approach.  Republicans know they have no chance with the overwhelming majority of Jewish voters, but the hardline rhetoric appeals to many Orthodox and the very conservative elite of pro-Israel mega-givers.

In Cruz's mission to become the most conservative president in history, and the most right wing when it comes to Israel, he may win the big pro-Israel campaign bucks.  But if nominated, both his positions on Israel and his focus on the most conservative Evangelical voters are almost certain to guarantee a record low Jewish GOP vote next November.

©2015 Douglas M. Bloomfield bloomfieldcolumn@gmail.com

Likud Party primary yields more right-wing Knesset list


Members of the Likud Party voted out moderate party stalwarts and elected more right-wing candidates to fill the realistic spots on its Knesset list.

The primary election results were announced late Monday night after two days of voting marred by malfunctions at computerized voting booths in polling stations throughout the country. The primaries extended into a second day Monday to allow all voters an opportunity to cast their ballots. Some 59 percent of party members turned out to vote over the two days.

Current Education Minister Gideon Saar garnered the most votes, but current government ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, who are party moderates, failed to get elected to the first 20 spots on the party list, considered to be places that will be seated in the next government. Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter and Minister Without Portfolio Michael Eitan also missed getting realistic spots on the list.

Since the Likud is running on the same list as Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party, every two Likud Party names will be followed by a Yisrael Beiteinu name on the list.
Moshe Feiglin, who heads the right-wing Manhigut Yehudit – or Jewish Leadership –  faction of the Likud party, placed 15th in the primaries. Feiglin has previously run for the party leadership against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and also has failed to garner a realistic spot on party lists in previous primaries.

The top ten include Netanyahu, Saar, Gilad Erdan, Silvan Shalom, Yisrael Katz, Danny Danon, Reuven Rivlin, Moshe Yaalon, Zeev Elkin, and Tzipi Hotovely. Four women were among the top 20 vote getters.

“I respect all the people who found themselves off the list, but it's a generational thing. There is new blood in Likud's leadership,” Danon told Ynet after the final tally.

By merging with Liberman, Netanyahu knocks out the left and casts his lot with the right


Political pundits long have debated who is the real Benjamin Netanyahu.

Is he a pragmatist handcuffed by his right-wing support base and, until his father’s recent death, fealty to his father’s nationalist vision?

Or is he a true right-wing ideologue whose apparent concessions, like a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he accepted the principle of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are but feints?

Or is he merely a political survivor willing to do whatever it takes to stay in office, ideology be damned?

This week’s surprise announcement that Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Avigdor Liberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party would merge their candidate slates in the upcoming election — under the name HaLikud Beiteinu — offers some signs that the smart money is on the right-wingers.

The move dealt a potential knockout blow to Netanyahu’s left-wing rivals and makes it more likely than ever that the prime minister will win a third term.

It also make it more likely that Liberman’s nationalist agenda will gain further traction in the next government, not less. The agenda has included legislation requiring loyalty oaths for new non-Jewish Israeli citizens and a ban on settlement boycotts — moves that many Israeli and American Jewish critics have slammed as undemocratic.

“The real government reform starts now,” Liberman said at a news conference Thursday night. “We advance to finish the work.”

Critics worry that with the merger, Netanyahu has unambiguously embraced Liberman’s hard-line domestic agenda.

“The prime minister is essentially signaling that he has chosen the extremist, pro-settlement right, that he has chosen to walk in place, not to make progress in the diplomatic process,” Zehava Gal-On, head of the liberal Meretz party, told Israel's Army Radio, according to Reuters.

Not that the Orthodox parties will be happy with the deal.

Liberman, a secular immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, is one of Israel’s most prominent anti-haredi politicians. He wants Israel to allow civil marriage in addition to religious marriage, and he has railed against government privileges granted to the haredi Orthodox. The current coalition’s tensest moments came this summer when Liberman and the haredi Orthodox parties battled over whether to require army service for haredi Orthodox youths, who previously had received exemptions to study Torah.

In that battle, Netanyahu sided with the haredim, breaking up the committee assigned to draft a new military service law.

The HaLikud Beiteinu merger represents a real triumph for Liberman. He founded Yisrael Beiteinu in 1999 as a right-wing party for Russian constituents, then quickly broadened its appeal. In 2009, when Israel last held elections, Yisrael Beiteinu won 15 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, becoming the nation’s third-largest party. Liberman was awarded the coveted post of foreign minister.

In the elections scheduled for Jan. 22, Netanyahu’s party was expected to win a plurality of votes, but there has been talk among Israel’s left and center-left parties of creating an alliance to challenge Likud. Since the elections were announced, rumors have swirled about former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or former opposition leader Tzipi Livni, both of the Kadima Party, returning to politics and uniting the Knesset’s centrist and left-wing factions. A recent poll by Haaretz showed such a party potentially edging Likud.

HaLikud Beiteinu, however, is expected to win more votes than any center-left alliance. Polls before the merger showed Likud winning 29 seats and Yisrael Beiteinu winning close to its current 15 seats. If those numbers hold, the united party could win more Knesset seats than any since Labor won 44 seats in 1992 under Yitzhak Rabin.

“The time has come to unite for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said in Thursday’s news conference announcing the merger. “We ask for a mandate to lead Israel with strength.”

He said the beefed-up party would allow him to more effectively combat Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, fight terrorism, and make domestic social and economic changes. Netanyahu said reducing the cost of living in Israel is one of his top priorities.

If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism


1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.

The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.

Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.

2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.

3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.

If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.

4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.

A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.

On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.

Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues. 

5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel. 

One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.

In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.

Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.


Mark Paredes writes the Jews and Mormons blog for the Jewish Journal and is a member of the LDS church's Jewish Relations Committee for Southern California. Read the Jews and Mormons blog at

French extreme-right leader has strong showing in presidential vote


French Socialist Francois Hollande edged President Nicolas Sarkozy in the initial round of presidential elections, with Marine LePen finishing with the highest total ever for her extreme-right-wing party.

Hollande garnered 28 percent of the vote to 26 percent for Sarkozy, the conservative leader, in Sunday’s polling. Hollande and Sarkozy will face off in the second round of the election on May 6. According to the latest polls, Hollande could defeat Sarkozy by a comfortable margin.

Le Pen, head of the National Front, the country’s largest extreme-right party, won 18.5 percent of the vote, the highest percentage reportedly ever achieved by the movement. Her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, won nearly 17 percent of the voter in 2002 in reaching the second round against Jacques Chirac.

The National Front vote tally is alarming, the French Union of Jewish Students said.

“Today, more than 7.2 million French citizens have voted for an extreme-right candidate, who openly preaches hatred,” the union’s president, Jonathan Hayoun, said in a statement. “They already were 5.4 million in 2002. We are very worried, especially because Marine Le Pen seems to be very popular among young voters.”

The results of the first round were disappointing for far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and centrist Francois Bayrou. Melenchon earned slightly more than 11 percent of the first- round votes, falling short of his expectations, Bayrou, who finished third during the last presidential race, did not reach 9 percent this time.

Approximately 80 percent of the 44.5 million registered voters went to the polls, a high turnout rate but lower than in 2007, when 84 percent of the electorate participated.

Hackers disable German right-wing websites


The websites of several right-wing extremists in Germany have been attacked by hackers.

The international hacker group known as “Anonymous” disabled several neo-Nazi websites in an “Operation Blitzkrieg” on Jan. 1, with a “Happy New Year” wish to their targets, according to the German news agency DAPD.

The German-language website nazi-leaks.net published data about donors to the country’s biggest far-right political party – the National Democratic Party of Germany, with an estimated 7,000 members – and about customers of a right-wing mail-order company.

Neo-Nazi groups reacted with alarm to the publishing of client data, which in some cases included e-mail addresses and phone numbers; Spiegel Online reported that the National Democratic Party has threatened to sue, while the publishers of a far-right paper, Junge Freiheit, have already filed charges.

The attack comes as Germany grapples with news about a violent neo-Nazi ring that operated unchecked for more than ten years, and is allegedly responsible for at least ten murders of immigrants in Germany. Recently, it was revealed that German authorities knew about the cell’s activities and proclivities at least a decade ago.

While German politicians and religious leaders debate whether to ban the far-right National Democratic Party, groups like “Anonymous” are taking the law into their own hands, testing legal boundaries with their cyber attacks. “Anonymous” has dealt similar blows to the Scientology organization, organized crime and drug cartels, among others.

The creators of the Nazi-Leaks website reportedly are planning to publish additional material. So far, there has been no confirmation that the lists published this week are authentic.

According to news reports, some of the information had already been hacked and published early last year and has now been assembled at one website.

Left and right clash at Tel Aviv rally to support Palestinian state


Leading left-wing cultural leaders, including several Israel Prize laureates, were verbally accosted on Thursday during a rally in support of an independent Palestinian state.

The rally, taking place outside Tel Aviv’s Independence Hall, was reportedly disrupted by right-wing activists equipped with bullhorns, who called out: “leftist professors, it will all blow up in your face,” “Kahane was right,” and “traitors.”

Rally organizers and participants, who included 21Israel Prize laureates, said present police forces did not separate rally goers from objectors, as they usually do during right-wing events.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Iran policy reveals split between U.S. Jewish and Israeli left


Israel’s highest-ranking female soldier, Brig. Gen. Yisraela Oron, was sounding all the right notes for her J Street hosts.

At the tail end of a U.S. tour for the left-wing pro-Israel lobby, Oron was lending her considerable security credentials to its platform: a two-state solution, territorial concessions by Israel and a robust U.S. peacemaking role.

The conversation with a group of reporters then turned to Iran and its nuclear potential, and Oron was unequivocal: yes to engagement, but on a timetable that would be tied to punishing sanctions.

“The thing that worries me and that worries other Israelis is that it is not limited in time,” Oron said as the faces of her J Street hosts turned anxious, adding that “I’m not sure I’m expressing the J Street opinion.”

She was not. J Street explicitly opposes a timetable and has reservations about proposed additional sanctions.

The awkward moment pointed to a potential split between left-wing pro-Israel groups and the Israeli constituents for whom they claim to speak. Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian issue, little dissent exists among Israeli politicians over how to deal with Iran.

That puts left-wing U.S. Jewish groups at odds with Israeli left-wingers.

“There is a more hawkish perception among virtually all circles in Israel” than there is in the United States, said Yossi Alpher, a consultant who has worked with Americans for Peace Now. “It’s very natural. Iran doesn’t say the U.S. has no right to exist and doesn’t do the equivalent of denying the Holocaust. It doesn’t deploy proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah against the United States and on its borders.”

Right now, the differences are not pronounced—the administrations of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are virtually on the same page on the need to confront Iran, and soon. That could change, however, if Iran makes a serious counter offer to Obama’s proposal to engage.

Last week, the Iranians said they had made such an offer. Its details are not known, but it will be part of the “reassessment” Obama has pledged to complete by the end of September, when the major world powers meet at the U.N. General Assembly.

“If Iran engages and the Obama administration argues that a deal has been made, the Israeli government will be very wary,” Alpher said. “This could immediately create a whole world of suspicions.”

Under those circumstances, the vast majority of American Jewish voters who backed Obama last year would be faced with the first either-or U.S. vs. Israel issue in decades, and groups that describe themselves as pro-Israel and pro-peace will find themselves for the first time speaking for virtually no one in Israel on a critical issue.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will lobby in Washington on Sept. 10 and rally outside the General Assembly on Sept. 24 for sanctions that would end the export of refined petroleum to Iran, which imports 40 percent of its refined oil.

On Israel’s left, the Labor Party, currently part of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, aggressively backs sanctions. Its leader and the current defense minister, Ehud Barak, makes Iran’s isolation the centerpiece of his exchanges with his counterparts in the West.

The smaller Meretz Party, to Labor’s left, also backs Iran’s isolation. It routinely frames its arguments for robust peacemaking in terms of the need to contain Iran’s ambitions.

Former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin tells audiences that Yitzhak Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister who launched the Oslo process in 1993, did so principally because of his fears of Iran. Beilin told a German audience last year that he “advocates increased sanctions towards Iran in order to stop centrifugal uranium programs.”

Avshalom Vilan, a Meretz Knesset member until March, was a forceful advocate of reaching out to the nations most able to wound Iran’s economy, including Germany and India.

Across the ocean, however, left-wing U.S. Jewish groups—not to mention non-Jewish left-wing groups—are against more sanctions.

Americans for Peace Now has the most pronounced opposition.

“We don’t think crippling sanctions are right if the meaning of that is that the sanctions will not be targeted against Iran’s governments and leaders but will target Iranian people,” spokesman Ori Nir said. “We think that’s not only morally wrong but is also strategically perilous.”

Other left-wing groups also hedge on the prospect of sanctions.

The Israel Policy Forum, in a July 15 paper, encouraged engagement and said threats of enhanced sanctions were “not necessary” because Iran’s leadership knew they were forthcoming.

The most recent statement from Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, dated July 2008, rejects “diplomatic isolation or veiled threats of military action” and advocates “utilizing diplomatic and economic incentives and sanctions together.”

In a policy statement, J Street says it does not oppose further sanctions “in principle,” but “under the current circumstances, it is our view that ever harsher sanctions at this time are unlikely to cause the Iranian regime to cease weapons development.” Engagement should “not be conducted with a stopwatch,” it said.

The Reform movement, which often aligns with the left-wing groups on Israel-Palestinian matters, is a bit closer to the Israeli position when it comes to Iran.

Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform’s Religious Action Center, disputes Americans for Peace Now’s contention that the proposed enhanced sanctions are immoral.

“These were chosen as a much more targeted way to put the maximum pressure on the power structure in Iran,” he said.

The other left-wing pro-Israel groups arrived at their Iran policies partly because of their alliance with an array of liberal Democrats wary of engaging Iran in the wake of the Iraq War and its resultant quagmire. Behind the scenes, these groups have sought sanctions that would not harm ordinary Iranians.

Supporters of tougher sanctions argue that sanctions targeting the regime have been in place for years and have had little effect.

Shai Franklin, a senior fellow for U.N. affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said that gravitating away from deference to Israeli constituencies may be healthy for some U.S. Jewish groups.

“It makes the conversation more interesting, and once that happens you’ll find more people getting involved, from the right and left,” he said.

Steven Spiegel of the Israel Policy Forum said differences might emerge next month over the pacing and intensity of sanctions.

“The Iran difference is part of a differentiation that has got to be addressed,” he said. “At some point there has to be a serious dialogue between American Jews and Israel and the Obama administration and Israel.”

One tactic might be to remind Israel that Obama’s policy of engagement with Iran appears to have rallied support in Europe in recent weeks for tougher sanctions.

“The doves,” Spiegel said, “accomplished what the hawks could not.”

Why don’t U.S. groups condemn Jewish terrorists in Israel?


Imagine the scene: It involves a renowned Hebrew University professor, 72 years old, a Holocaust survivor, who earlier in 2008 was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in Political Science. Late one night in his quiet suburban neighborhood in Jerusalem, he opens the front door to lock the exterior gate. At that moment, a pipe bomb detonates. The bomb was planted for a clear purpose: to injure or kill. Fortunately, the professor survived the attack.

An investigation begins. Leaflets are found throughout this Jerusalem neighborhood, and they confirm that the attack was an assassination attempt. The leaflets are signed by a fundamentalist religious group that advocates replacing the State of Israel with a religious state.

They make an attractive offer: more than $250,000 bounty to anyone who kills a member of the well-established Israeli Zionist group to which the professor and tens of thousands of other Israelis belong. It becomes clear that the assassination attempt was the work of a new terrorist group that has both the will and ability to infiltrate into Israel’s capital and use terror to achieve its goals.

Nobody who follows news from Israel would be surprised to learn that this is a true story. But many of us might be surprised — and shocked — to learn that those responsible for this terrorist act are not Palestinians nor Muslims. They are Israeli Jews.

Professor Ze’ev Sternhell (photo) was the targeted victim of the bombing, due to his beliefs and connection to the Israeli-Zionist organization, Peace Now, the largest grass-roots movement in Israeli history. The group responsible for the leaflet, and most likely the bombing, ALTTEXTcalls itself The Kingdom of Samaria.

The leaflet calls for the deaths of Israelis who belong to Peace Now and offers a quarter of a million dollars for the killing of each and every one. And threats against Peace Now are proliferating. Three weeks after the Sternhell bombing, police were investigating graffiti found in Tel Aviv threatening the life of Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now’s director general.

There can be no equivocation about the need to condemn this attack against an Israeli civilian and the call to murder more Israelis. Unfortunately, strong condemnation was not the response of many organizations within the American Jewish community. More common was a profound silence of most organizations that have a deep connection to Israel and actively support it, often claiming to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community.

We heard widespread condemnation of extremist actions of Jewish settlers in the West bank and Israel proper from members of the Israeli government, from the Israeli press and from many Israeli Jewish organizations, but leading Pro-Israel American organizations are practicing a carefully sustained silence.

This silence is troubling. Also troubling is the fact that the few condemnations issued failed to identify Sternhell as a peace advocate or his would-be killers as Jewish terrorists. The failure to describe accurately the political nature of these acts of terrorism prevents American Jews from understanding the threat posed by right-wing Israeli terrorists to Israeli security, democracy and the fabric of society.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist when an environment of incitement within Israel was tolerated and even condoned by senior Israeli officials. Perhaps, they believed naively that the incitement would not lead to violence. That excuse is no longer available. Israel’s senior political leadership — Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu among others — wasted no time in condemning not only the attack against Sternhell but also the environment that is giving rise to it.

Israeli settler vigilantism and violence is increasing. Their assaults on Palestinian civilians reached a point where Prime Minister Olmert recently called their actions “pogroms.” Violent settlers have also targeted Israeli soldiers and police officers. In one such incident last month, the rioters broke the hand of an Israel Defense Forces deputy battalion commander.

And now, another line has been crossed: a violent attack against an Israeli civilian in Israel’s capital. Yet there have been scant, if any, discussions in the meetings or on the Web sites of many organizations in the pro-Israel American Jewish community about the threat this poses to Israel. Compared with the Israeli press that exposed and condemned violent actions by extremist settlers, coverage in American Jewish newspapers has been anemic.

Pro-Israel American groups may disagree about the Israeli government’s policies or about how best to support Israel’s quest to achieve security and peace with its neighbors, however, these differences should not prevent us all from coming together when a threat arises to Israel’s democracy and the larger Zionist vision that we share.

Arthur Stern was the founding chairman of the California-Israel Chamber of Commerce, past president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and is currently a national executive committee member and regional chair of Americans for Peace Now.

Just Joking Around


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

But are they funny? You decide:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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