Meet the ‘lifelong Zionists’ who called for an Israel boycott in the Washington Post

An Op-Ed co-written last Friday by two American Jewish professors has stirred Internet controversy, with the focus largely on their use of four words: “We are lifelong Zionists.”

Professors Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl began their Washington Post Op-Ed with those words before launching into a nuanced call for an economic boycott of Israel.

Some of their points, such as their accusation that Israel “permanently denies basic rights” to Palestinians, are well-worn mantras of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (although Weyl later stated that he and Levitsky are not fans of the BDS model). Others, such as their idea of consciously applying a double standard to Israel to induce change, are more original.

But most of the responses in the Post and beyond addressed the professors’ Zionist disclaimer. Many people challenged the idea that the status of Levitsky, of Harvard University, and Weyl, of the University of Chicago, as “progressive” Zionist Jews lent weight to their critique of Israel.

“The Post … and even more so the New York Times feel the need every so often to publish an ‘I’m a left-wing Jewish academic and I’m disgusted and fed up with Israel’ article, even by people who have no particular expertise in the subject beyond what you might find from any interested American Jew you picked at random,” David Bernstein wrote in the Post on Monday.

So who exactly are these two lifelong Zionists?

Glen Weyl

– Weyl is an academic prodigy who was the valedictorian of his Princeton University class in 2007. He completed nearly all the coursework and exams necessary for a doctorate in economics as an undergraduate student. After three years of post-doctoral work in the prestigious Harvard Society of Fellows, Weyl became an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago in 2011. This year, he announced he will resign to become a researcher at Microsoft. He is a member of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies.

– In defense of his Zionist credentials, Weyl explained on Twitter that he has contributed to a book on the economic life of American Jewry, participated in a Birthright trip and stayed at Israeli universities multiple times.

– Weyl is known for advancing a model of “quadratic voting,” which would allow people to vote on an issue with varying levels of influence. For example, under Weyl’s system the votes of LGBTQ people would have more weight than those of straight people in a referendum on same-sex marriage.

– He respects but disagrees with Jewish economics legend Milton Friedman. “While I have come to disagree with him on many if not most issues of social policy, he is probably the thinker that has most shaped me,” hesaid last year.

– In response to one Twitter user noting that Microsoft, his future employer, maintains a strong presence in Israel, Weyl said: “I oppose Microsoft’s investments in Israel, but do not consider this sufficient reason to resign in such an interconnected world.”

Steven Levitsky

– Levitsky is a prominent political scientist at Harvard University, where he is a favorite among undergraduate students. His academic focus is Latin American politics, and he serves on the executive committees of the university’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Politics.

– He missed the initial call from the university offering him tenure, and he blames latkes. “I had gone home early to make latkes for a Hanukkah party, and couldn’t be reached,” he told the Harvard Crimson in 2007.

– He is known for his work on “competitive authoritarianism,” or faux-democracies controlled by an incumbent party that quashes any attempts at power by opposition parties.

Zionist Camp Economics 101: Out with the New, In with the Old

Forget Hezbollah, Hamas, Abbas and Iran: the primary driver in Israel's upcoming elections is the high cost of living. Recent polls have consistently shown that domestic policy and economics, rather than security and Palestinian peacemaking, are what most Israelis will be thinking about when they cast their votes on March 17.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bedrock issue, national security, no longer the focus of many voters, the Zionist Camp smells blood. The left-center bloc led by opposition Labor leader Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni is campaigning hard to persuade stressed out Israelis that the era of sky-high rents, stagnant salaries and limited job opportunities will end once Netanyahu is sent packing.

Beyond the populist blather that passes for political discourse, it’s the staleness of the Zionist Camp's ideas on how to fix Israel that voters should be wary of.

For example, outraged members of the Zionist Camp recently lashed out when it was revealed that the Netanyahu government has pumped one-third of the country’s funding for subsidized housing into settlements: 35% of the funds for less than 5% of Israel’s population, while engaging in a campaign of diplomatic suicide.

Blame Israel's economic troubles on the settlements. It's an old leftist canard that delegitimizes the very real trials and tribulations of over 400,000 Jewish men, women and children – Israelis – who happen to be living over the Green Line.

In addition, the Zionist Camp believes that the current government's policies Vis a Vis West Bank settlement activity has unleashed a potent anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that is growing stronger by the day.

If Benjamin Netanyahu is re-elected, we are warned, Israel will inevitably find itself economically and politically isolated.

In fact, it's the Israeli left's socialist and statist heritage that bred an inefficient economic system that is only now beginning to reform.

Hertzog and Livni claim to be the heirs to Herzl and Ben-Gurion. Hilik Bar, the Secretary General of the Israeli Labor Party recently wrote, “The Labor Party, which together with Hatnuah is running as the Zionist Camp, founded and built the State of Israel.”

 As such, a quick history lesson is in order. Israel's Zionist founders, on whose ideological shoulders today's Zionist Camp stands, asserted that World War I was caused by the failures of capitalism.

After Israel's independence in 1948, Socialist Zionism established a highly centralized economic system dominated by political cronyism. While the statist policies of Israel's successive labor governments failed to create a socialist paradise, they did succeed in building monolithic, unresponsive bureaucratic institutions that retarded the country's economic growth for decades. Israelis learned to live in a perpetual state of impoverishment.

However, Labor economic policies do much more harm than merely restrict competition and stifle productivity. A recent Jerusalem Post piece by Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies Director Corinne Sauer noted that a series of studies drew one conclusion: countries considered anti-business are also the most corrupt.  

This grim economic landscape began to be overhauled in 2003, when Benjamin Netanyahu was appointed Israel's Finance Minister. Netanyahu initiated a series of pro-market economic reforms that Israelis are only now beginning to benefit from.

Don't look now, but Israel's economy is actually showing signs of robust growth. Exports to Europe are on the rise, with nearly 10 percent growth in the past year alone; Israel's Hi-Tech industry is having a record year, with a number of Israeli companies going public and a record amount is being invested in Israeli companies.

But surely, these successes are few and far between. Certainly, 'ordinary' Israelis are worse off today, no?

Truth is, Israel has enjoyed virtually uninterrupted growth for over a decade. The worldwide Great Recession has largely bypassed the Start Up Nation. While debt crises and bank bailouts have hobbled European economies to this day, Israel hasn't just persevered, but prospered.

And while the cost of living has undeniably increased, household income has also grown since the percentage of homes with two wage earners has risen from just 30% a decade ago to 44% today. Wages growth has been slow, but it has grown faster than in Europe.

For these positive trends to continue, Israel needs to improve its labor productivity to ensure sustained and higher levels of economic growth.

Does the Zionist Camp's platform encourage a climate of freedom, competition and entrepreneurship critical to helping Israel realize its full economic potential?

According to Secretary General Hilik Bar, Israel's ongoing challenge of developing an economy in which the country's wealth stimulates domestic innovation and prosperity can best be addressed if the government does not “pump your taxes into wealthy settlements in the West Bank while ordinary Israelis are suffering.”

Oh Labor, there you go again…










Netanyahu says Iran closer to nuclear ‘red line’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Iran was getting closer to the “red line” he set for its nuclear program and warned the international community not to be distracted by the crises in Syria and Egypt.

Tehran was continuing enrichment activities and building inter-continental ballistic missiles, which could give it a military nuclear capability, he said on CBS' “Face the Nation.”

At the United Nations in September, Netanyahu drew a red line across a cartoon bomb to illustrate the point at which Iran will have amassed enough uranium to fuel one nuclear bomb. He said Iran could reach that threshold by mid-2013.

“They haven't yet reached it but they're getting closer to it and they have to be stopped,” Netanyahu told CBS. He said the West's sanctions against Tehran needed to be intensified and backed up with the threat of a credible military option.

Netanyahu also said Iran was building faster centrifuges that could allow it to speed up its enrichment activities.

Israel, widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power, has issued veiled warnings for years that it might attack Iran if international sanctions and diplomacy fail to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Israel has long insisted on the need for a convincing military threat and setting clear lines beyond which Iran's nuclear activity should not advance.

“I think it's important to note that we (Israel) can't allow it to happen. Our clocks are ticking at a different pace. We're closer than the United States, we're more vulnerable, and therefore we'll have to address this question of whether to stop Iran before the United States does,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli prime minister said he was concerned that the military conflict in Syria and the political crisis in Egypt had pushed the Iran nuclear issue lower on the international agenda.

“There are many important issues that we have to deal with and I have a sense that there is no sense of urgency on Iran and yet Iran is the most important and the most urgent matter of all,” he said.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Doina Chiacu

Khameini: U.S. elections controlled by ‘Zionists’

On the eve of Iranian elections, the country’s religious leader said on his Facebook page that American elections are controlled by the “Zionist regime.”

“U.S. president is being elected only from two parties while Zionist regime is controlling everything behind the scenes,” said a cartoon posted Thursday on the English language Facebook page of Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the country’s supreme leader.

The graphic depicts the star of David logo of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee over an arrow pointing at three fat oligarchs with money bags for heads, hovering over a line of voters.

From Khameini’s Facebook page.

Iranian presidents, by contrast, the cartoon said, come from “ordinary people” and some are not affiliated with parties. In another graphic, an arrow ascends from a line of voters to a single presidential candidate.

The page shows also Khameini voting on Friday and quotes him as saying to “hell with recognition” from the United States.

Western governments say Iranian elections are not fully free because their candidates are subject to approval by a council appointed by the theocracy. Six candidates are running this year, and the council has rejected the candidacy of a number of moderates.

Even within such constrictions, there are allegations the elections are rigged.

The 2009 elections returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency by wide margins, although polling before the elections suggested that a last-minute bid by moderates would be successful. Allegations of vote stealing sparked demonstrations that turned deadly when forces sympathetic to the regime were unleashed on the protesters.

Ahmadinejad is not eligible to run this year.

The Ant-Defamation League called Khameini’s statement “unadulterated” anti-Semitism.

“As Iranians head to the polls to choose from a roster of presidential candidates that were hand-selected and approved by the Supreme Leader and his cohorts, the notion that the American system is driven by Jewish control not only shows their ignorance of the true nature of democracy but exposes the bigotry and utter hypocrisy of this regime and its leaders,” ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement.

Ahmadinejad seeks strategic axis with Egypt

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the first visit to Cairo by an Iranian leader in more than three decades, called for a strategic alliance with Egypt and said he had offered the cash-strapped Arab state a loan, but drew a cool response.

Ahmadinejad said outside forces were trying to prevent a rapprochement between the Middle East's two most populous nations, at odds since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and Egypt's signing of a peace treaty with Israel in the same year.

“We must all understand that the only option is to set up this alliance because it is in the interests of the Egyptian and Iranian peoples and other nations of the region,” the official MENA news agency quoted him in remarks to Egyptian journalists published on Wednesday.

The two countries have not restored diplomatic ties since Egypt overthrew its long term leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but its first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, gave Ahmadinejad a red-carpet welcome on Tuesday to a summit of Islamic nations.

“There are those striving to prevent these two great countries from coming together despite the fact that the region's problems require this meeting, especially the Palestinian question,” Ahmadinejad said.

Egypt's foreign minister played down the significance of the visit, telling Reuters the Iranian leader, one of several heads of state to get the red-carpet treatment, was in Cairo chiefly for the Islamic summit beginning on Wednesday, “so it's just a normal procedure. That's all.”

He had earlier reassured Gulf Arab countries that Egypt would not sacrifice their security.

Egypt's leading Sunni Muslim scholar scolded Ahmadinejad on Tuesday when he visited the historic al-Azhar mosque and university over Tehran's attitude to its Gulf Arab neighbors and attempts to spread Shi'ite influence in Sunni countries.

In his meeting with Egyptian reporters, MENA said Ahmadinejad denied accusations Iran was interfering in Bahrain, where a Shi'ite majority lives under minority Sunni rule.

Three Egyptians and a Syrian were detained on suspicion of trying to attack the Iranian president at another mosque, security sources said. They were held overnight but released on bail of 500 Egyptian pounds ($75) each on Wednesday.

Video footage shot by a Turkish cameraman appeared to show a bearded man trying twice to throw a shoe at Ahmadinejad as he was mobbed by well-wishers on leaving the Hussein mosque.

The president was not hit but was hustled to his car by security men, stopping to wave before he was driven away.

The security sources said the three Egyptians held were all members of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a hardline Islamist group that took up arms against the state in the 1990s but has moved into mainstream politics since Mubarak was toppled.

In the Arab world, throwing a shoe is a serious insult. An Iraqi journalist hurled a shoe at then-U.S. President George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008, forcing Bush to duck to avoid being hit.

Al-Ahram daily quoted Ahmadinejad as saying in an interview that Iran had offered to lend money to Egypt despite being under international economic sanctions over its nuclear program.

“I have said previously that we can offer a big credit line to the Egyptian brothers, and many services,” he said. He did not say if there had been any response.

The president said the Iranian economy had been affected by sanctions but it is a “great economy” that was witnessing “positive matters”, saying exports were increasing gradually.

The United States and its Western allies have sought to choke off Iran's vital oil exports by embargoing imports from the Islamic republic and cutting its access to shipping, insurance and finance.

Egypt disclosed on Tuesday that its foreign reserves had fallen below the $15 billion level that covers three months' imports despite recent deposits by Qatar to support it.

Tourism has been badly hit by unrest since the uprising that toppled authoritarian Mubarak, and investment has stalled due to the ensuing political and economic uncertainty.

Ahmadinejad said there had been scant progress on restoring ties between the two countries.

“No change happened in the last two years, but discussions between us developed and grew, and His Excellency President Mohamed Morsi visited Iran and met us, as he met the Iranian foreign minister. And we previously contacted Egypt to know about what is happening with Syrian affairs,” he said.

One persistent obstacle to ties in Cairo's eyes was the naming of a street in Tehran after an Egyptian Islamist militant who led the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, who signed the treaty with Israel.

“On the question of the street name or its removal, these are matters that will be dealt with gradually,” Ahmadinejad said.

Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Philippa Fletcher

Flotilla sponsor tweets that Zionists helped perpetrate the Holocaust

The founder of the Free Gaza Movement, which uses flotillas in trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, tweeted that Zionists were responsible for the Holocaust, then apologized.

Greta Berlin tweeted that she meant to post the tweet to her private Facebook account rather than the organization’s Twitter account.

The original tweet, sent Sept. 30 from @freegazaorg, read that “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” It linked to a video of Eustace Mullins, a conspiracy theorist, claiming that the word “Nazi” combines the words “National Socialist” and “Zionist.” Mullins died in 2010.

“I posted it from Facebook, not realizing that my private account was connected to the FG account. I apologise,” Berlin tweeted.

Although the Free Gaza Movement deleted the tweet, Avi Mayer of the Jewish Agency for Israel posted a screenshot of it on Monday, according to the National Post.

Iran under military threat from ‘uncivilized Zionists,’ Ahmadinejad tells U.N.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the U.N. General Assembly that his country is under military threat from “uncivilized Zionists.”

Ahmadinejad spoke to the assembly Wednesday at the United Nations in New York. The delegations from Israel, the United States and Canada were not in the hall for the address, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, The Jerusalem Post reported.

In his eighth and final address as president of the Islamic Republic, Ahmadinejad decried the “arms race and intimidation by nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction by the hegemonic powers.”

“Continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality,” he said. “A state of mistrust has cast its shadow on the international relations, while there is no trusted or just authority to help resolve world conflicts.”

Ahmadinejad is in the final year of his second term as president of Iran and is barred by term limits from seeking another stint.

His speech came a day after President Obama told the assembly that “containment” of a nuclear Iran is not an option and it would pose an existential threat to Israel.

“Make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained,” Obama said in his address to the General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. “It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear arms race in the region and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday night as he left for New York to address the assembly in a statement addressed to the citizens of Israel that he is working to ensure that Iran does not achieve nuclear weapons.

“On the day when we pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life, a platform was given to a dictatorial regime that strives, at every opportunity, to sentence us to death. On the eve of Yom Kippur, which is sacred to the Jewish People, the Iranian tyrant — before the whole world — chose to publicly call for our disappearance,” Netanyahu said in his statement.

“In my remarks to the U.N. General Assembly, they will hear my response. As the prime minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish People, I am working in every way so that Iran will not have nuclear weapons. History has proven that those who have wanted to wipe us off the map have failed, as the Jewish People have overcome all obstacles.”

Benzion Netanyahu: In life and death

Two momentous events occurred recently in the life of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last week, he dropped a bombshell on the Israeli public by forging, under the cloak of night, a coalition with Kadima, his party’s leading rival in the Knesset. This move, which forestalled early elections expected in September, demonstrated yet again Netanyahu’s formidable political skills, in this case by co-opting his most dangerous parliamentary foe.

The second event came a week earlier, on April 30, with the death at 102 of Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister’s father. Netanyahu père was an erudite scholar of Jewish history who exerted an outsized influence on his tight-knit family. The elder Netanyahu held to what the greatest of 20th century Jewish historians, Salo Baron, called the “lachrymose” — or tearful — conception of Jewish history. This view can be readily summarized in a line uttered by Benzion Netanyahu to David Remnick for a 1998 profile of Bibi in The New Yorker: “Jewish history is in large measure a history of holocausts.”

We might call this the Amalekite view of Jewish history, referring to the hated biblical foes of the Israelites whose existence — and even memory — should be blotted out (Exodus 17:14). The historian’s belief that the Jews have been subjected to constant genocidal threats did not lead him to a passive fatalism, as if there were nothing that the Jews could do in the face of Amalek. Rather, it inspired his own militant Zionism, which demanded a persistent willingness to wage war against one’s enemies.

Bibi Netanyahu dismisses talk of his father’s deep imprint on him as “psychobabble.” But it is hard to avoid seeing traces of the father’s vision of the past in his own thinking and policies. It is hard, for example, to disconnect his bellicose stance on Iran from his father’s Amalekite worldview. Netanyahu the son does not merely see Iran as a grave threat; he regards it as comparable to the most terrifying of Jewish persecutors, the Nazis — a point he made explicitly at the March 2012 AIPAC convention and during his recent Yom HaShoah remarks. There is a broader historical perspective that anchors this analogy. Like his father, the prime minister sees the long history of the Jews as marked by “powerlessness,” “utter defenselessness” and “the atrophy of Jewish resistance,” the antidote to which is the unapologetic and ever-ready assertion of Jewish force.

To be sure, Bibi Netanyahu is more than a mere replica of his father. Indeed, there is another facet to his personality alongside the Amalekite — that of the political pragmatist educated at MIT and trained in the art of deal making at the Boston Consulting Group. That is what makes him such an intriguing figure in the history of Israeli political life. Still, it is worth reflecting on the father, both because he deserves our attention in his own right and because of his strong cultural and historical transmission to his son.

Benzion Netanyahu was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1910 and emigrated to Palestine in 1920. While studying in Jerusalem, he became involved with the upstart Revisionist Zionists, who organized themselves in the mid 1920s as an alternative to the European-based World Zionist Organization, as well as to the Labor Zionists of David Ben-Gurion in Palestine. The goal of the Revisionists was not to build up the ancestral homeland through cooperative communities and an egalitarian spirit, but rather to insist on the creation of a political state to be located on both sides of the Jordan River. The fledgling movement’s charismatic prophet, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), was a brilliant Russian-Jewish journalist who laid out his distinctive political perspective in a 1923 essay titled “Iron Wall.” Jabotinsky was willing to accord full rights to Arabs in Palestine, but only as a function of Jewish beneficence, not as a result of power sharing or negotiation between equals.

Benzion Netanyahu was nurtured on the principles of Jabotinsky’s Revisionism. He also inherited the movement’s sense of persecution and marginalization within Jewish Palestine. Not only was the movement a minority party within Zionism, its militant stance toward both the local Arab population and British Mandatory authorities made its existence somewhat precarious. It is no surprise that Jabotinsky’s chief disciple, the future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, titled a history of the Revisionist paramilitary group Etse”l (National Military Organization), which he commanded, “In the Underground” (“Ba-mahteret”). Begin and his fellow Revisionists felt the need to hide in the underground, where they faced a multitude of enemies (Arab, British, even Jewish) while seeking to redeem the Jewish people through armed struggle.

Benzion Netanyahu deeply internalized this bunker mentality, bringing it with him from Palestine to the United States, where he moved in 1940, initially to serve as secretary to Jabotinsky (until his hero’s death later that year). For the next eight years, he ran the Revisionist-affiliated New Zionist Organization of America. Simultaneously, he undertook doctoral studies in Jewish history at Dropsie College in Philadelphia, earning his degree in 1947 with a dissertation on the great Iberian Jewish thinker and statesman, Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508).

This study, published as a book in 1953, launched Netanyahu’s career as a historian of Spanish Jewry. One might assume that his path into academia signaled his exit from the world of Zionist politics. Not so. Netanyahu’s historical views undergirded and were intricately entwined with his political outlook. Thus, he evinced considerable empathy for Abravanel, not only owing to his communal leadership but to his deep antipathy for the hostile Christian world that surrounded him. At the same time, he took Abravanel to task for his flights of messianic fancy, wondering what might have been had the Jewish leader instead “propagated a realistic course, a plan of regaining the Promised Land by settlement and colonization.” In other words, he held Abravanel, rather ahistorically, to the standards of 20th century Zionism.

Perhaps more significantly, Netanyahu began to develop in this book his iconoclastic, controversial and conspiratorial outlook on one of the most notorious institutions in the history of the West, the Inquisition. Netanyahu was continually drawn to the phenomenon of conversos, those Jews who had been forcibly converted in Spain beginning in 1391 and whose presence proved to be a major irritant to Spanish Old Christian society. Now that the stigma of Judaism had been removed, the conversos were free to gain entry to any and every position of power in Spain. Netanyahu, among other scholars, argued that the Inquisition was introduced between 1478 and 1481 in order to retard the advance of the “New Christians” into the heart of Spanish society. This, in itself, was not particularly original.

What did set Netanyahu apart from other scholars, however, was his claim that the Inquisition, which was not directed against Jews per se, but against perceived heretics among the conversos, engaged in wholesale and malicious fabrication. Its long recitation of the “Judaizing” crimes of the conversos — observance of the Sabbath, abstinence from pork, Torah study, etc. — was but a lie. Almost no converso, Netanyahu strenuously argued, continued to adhere to Jewish ritual practice; all had assimilated into Spanish society.

Netanyahu first detailed this assertion in “The Marranos of Spain” (1966), relying on contemporaneous Hebrew sources. At the end of that book, he posed a vexing question: If the conversos were not in fact engaged in secret Jewish practices, what then motivated the Inquisition to persecute them? It was this question that occupied his attention for 30 years — and that stood at the center of his monumental, nearly 1,400-page book, “The Origins of the Inquisition” (1995). Relying on Christian sources now, Netanyahu argued that the Inquisition was propelled into action not by religious zeal, but by a mix of socio-economic and racial factors. On one hand, the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, sought to prevent the ascent of conversos into the uppermost echelons of the Spanish economy. On the other, the Spanish Inquisition was rooted in a pernicious racial enmity toward all those possessed of Jewish blood. Indicative of this enmity were the “purity of blood” statutes introduced in mid-15th century Spain to exclude New Christians from public office. Herein lay the true motivations of the Inquisition. And herein lay a stunning adumbration of modern, racial anti-Semitism, as it would take form in Nazism.

Others have noted this link between early modern Spanish and modern German racialism, most notably Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi. But few scholars argued that there were virtually no secret Jews among the conversos and, therefore, that the Inquisition was founded on a vast lie. In fact, while Netanyahu canvassed a wide range of sources, he was frequently criticized for ignoring the veracity of the largest trove of documentary material relating to the conversos: the detailed accounts of Judaizing activity in Inquisitorial records themselves.

Benzion Netanyahu’s provocative methods and findings are inseparable from his deeply ingrained Amalekite worldview, according to which Jews face unrelenting hostility from the Gentile world — even when those Jews abandon their very adherence to Judaism. His perspective was nurtured not only in the archive, but also in the underground, where suspicion and paranoia tend to fester. And, via his powerful son, it is a perspective that will survive Professor Netanyahu’s death, informing Israeli political culture at a most crucial juncture.

David N. Myers teaches Jewish history and chairs the History Department at UCLA.

David Suissa: Fair-weather Zionists

What do you do if an annoying and exasperating friend gets in trouble and really needs your help? And what do you do if that friend is also a blood relative, like Israel? I often ask myself that question about progressive, pro-Israel Jews who are furious at the direction in which their beloved Israel is going.

Is there a point when they will just decide to “dump” Israel?

I got a sobering answer last week when I read in Haaretz about a Jew whose “resume reads like a love poem to the world of Jewish activism.” According to the article by Adam Chandler, this Jew has been “an extremely visible advocate for progressive Israeli and Jewish causes as well as an outspoken watchdog against anti-Semitism.”

It turns out that a few weeks ago, this progressive, pro-Israel Jewish activist, Daniel Sieradski, announced to his 2,400 followers on Twitter that he had had enough.

“I’ve decided that after 10 years of fighting for a progressive Israeli course correction, that our efforts are futile,” he wrote in June. “I officially give up. As the Jewish nation proceeds to march off a cliff, I will now go back to caring about everything else I cared about before Israel.”

Sayonara, Israel. I’m done with you, and I will make sure all my followers know that I’m done with you.

As Chandler warns us: “Considering Sieradski’s large following and his pioneer status, one might expect his declaration to precipitate a similar wave of emotional and ideological disengagement from Israel by other young, like-minded American Jews.”

But in Chandler’s view, Israel had it coming: “It’s no surprise that progressives are disillusioned. The continuing expansion of settlements and the Boycott Law are manifestations of trends in Israel that make it increasingly difficult for many of us to speak in its favor in public forums abroad, on college campuses, even at kitchen tables.”

Well, what do you readers think? Does Israel really have it coming? Has it screwed up so badly that it deserves to be “dumped” by disappointed Jewish progressives?

I took that question to my friend Gerald Bubis’ house last week, where he was hosting a salon in honor of Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund.

After hearing Sokatch rattle off a long list of progressive projects that his organization supports in Israel — programs dealing with civil and human rights, social and economic justice, religious pluralism and tolerance, Israeli Arabs and Bedouin citizens, the environment and women’s rights — the only question on my mind was: Is Sieradski out of his mind? Has he not seen the progressive activity happening all over Israel?

Sokatch didn’t try to hide his dismay with some recent decisions by the Israeli government. But the extraordinary effect of his presentation was this: Government policy notwithstanding, there’s a whole lot of democratic action going on in Israel.

In fact, I think a great PR idea to engage young liberal Jews would be to have Sokatch go on college campuses and talk about how his group is helping advance progressive efforts in Israel: helping disadvantaged children of immigrants integrate into Israeli society; promoting empowerment activities for women and youth in Arab villages; providing legal help to establish and protect civil and human rights throughout the country; advancing the status of Jewish women whose rights have been violated by religious laws; helping protect the environment in the Galilee; and so on.

Sure, critics on the right have accused the New Israel Fund of supporting groups with anti-Israel views — but that kind of extreme liberalism is even more of a reason for progressives like Sieradski not to jump the Zionist ship.

Even a paper like the Los Angeles Times, while reporting on the Boycott Law, tried to keep things in perspective: “Examples of free speech in Israel are easy to find. Arab-Israeli lawmakers frequently attack the government as ‘racist’ on the Knesset floor … newspaper pundits don’t hesitate to launch character attacks against the prime minister.”

So, here’s my question. You’re a progressive supporter of Israel and you see the government doing things that really upset you. What do you look at — the government’s mistakes or the “corrective mechanism” that’s working on the ground to correct these mistakes? Do you get demoralized by the faults or rejuvenated by the freedom to fight these faults?

When you look at the thousands of people protesting right now throughout Israel, many of them sleeping in tents, do you think only of criticizing the government or do you also think of helping the protesters?

Someone like Sokatch looks at Israel’s faults and says, “What can I do to help?” Someone like Sieradski, after years of helping, now looks at Israel’s faults and says, “What can I do but bail?”

The truth is, Israel is a mess in progress. It is a country surrounded by enemies that has nevertheless created a civil society like no other in the Middle East. For all its many faults, there is a restless energy to make things better — what Sokatch calls “democracy in action.”

Progressive Zionists who don’t appreciate this duality, and who end up bailing on Israel, are like friends who only love you when you’re not around.

Talking with progressives about Israel

For years, liberal Zionists have been writing about the need to renew the traditional progressive-Zionist alliance, inspired by the civil rights and labor movements, and the importance of using these partnerships to maintain left-leaning allies for Israel.

Getting allies on the right has been easier because supporting Israel fits in neatly with the various goals of groups on the right, such as religious conservatives, the neoconservatives who deeply distrust the Muslim community, or economic conservatives who admire Israel’s thriving capital market. So much so, that political conservatives choose to overlook the “socialistic” policies of Israel, including protectionism, universal health care, education, and equal rights statutes for minorities and women.

The left is trickier. While most on the left side of the political spectrum support Israel, some progressives do not. The irony is that they probably agree with Israel’s domestic social welfare and civil rights policies more than conservatives do, but nevertheless a small element of the progressive movement has taken the “underdog vs. colonizer” model and oversimplified it in the context of a far more complex Middle East than some are willing to admit exists.

However, abandonment of our traditional alliances is only part of the problem. The other problem is how we explain Israel to the left. To paraphrase pollster Frank Luntz, we don’t “frame” Israel in language that resonates with the left.

Groups such as Democrats for Israel, the only Democratic club solely focused on supporting Israel and the Jewish community, made strides in the progressive community by explaining Israel in a way that many in the Democratic Party have embraced, beating back attempts by extremists to get the party to condemn Israel for merely defending itself from Hamas and Hezbollah.

How did we do it? In addition to keeping up partnerships, we learned to frame Israel in a way that resonated with our allies.

Israel is an island of progressivism

Universal education, universal health care, equal rights, minority rights protections, strong activist courts, and gays and lesbians openly serving in the military: Israel sounds like a progressive’s dream. Until I brought this up to several Democratic clubs, they had no idea that Israel was founded by a bunch of socialists on kibbutzim. No other single country in the Middle East has the complete set of social and civil rights that Israel does. 

If Israel was a “creation” of colonialist powers, why is the country so liberal when it comes to activist courts and civil rights?
Israel has limited security choices due to geography and culture

Israel is about the size of New Jersey. At its narrowest point, Israel is about nine miles wide, about the distance from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles. This gives Israel very little room for error and sometimes requires it to overcompensate in its security choices.

Also, in the past when the United States publicly backed off its support for Israel, Israel’s enemies have interpreted it as a sign that Israel is weak and can be attacked (some have theorized that Nixon’s weak support for Israel in 1973 led to the Yom Kippur War). Therefore, the United States needs to be careful in how it chooses to resolve differences of opinion with its strongest ally, lest there then become no ally there at all.  

However, every president has had his differences with Israel, just like there have been disagreements with every other ally, and no military aid was cut off to Great Britain or Canada.

Also, the region has more than 60 years of ethnic division building on thousands of years of history. Some Palestinian schools still refuse to teach children that Israel exists, and Hamas’ children’s TV openly preaches anti-Semitism. While Fatah’s leadership may profess to the West supporting peace, their own internal messaging has been more mixed — such as recently naming a town square after a terrorist whose only achievement was killing an innocent Israeli family.
Democracies are not perfect, and neither is Israel

We have heard it repeatedly: “Criticizing Israel publicly is not pro-Israel.” Whether you agree or not, picking on Israel is not what I am advocating here.

We just have to stop acting like we are infallible when we all know that no one, and no nation, is perfect.

We live in a sound-bite age, where pundits are expected to say, “We are right and they are wrong.” Pro-Israel activists are trained to say that Israel takes measures it deems necessary to defend itself and not acknowledge those measures’ collateral effects. It may work for news opinion shows, but the real world is not that way. 

Democratic countries are made of human beings with flaws that extend to their governments, but that does not mean we should get rid of the country. If we got rid of a country just because of mistakes the government made, the United States might have perished numerous times.    

Going into specific faults is unnecessary. Just admitting that our side is not perfect goes a long way toward establishing credibility with skeptics and further acknowledges that Israel at least has the democratic checks and balances that the surrounding countries don’t. 

Nothing in the Middle East is simple

People, especially ideologues, like to see things in the stark contrasts of right and wrong. Just as conservatives value “freedom,” progressives value “justice” and are wary of the use of corporate or military means to oppress or deny any group access to its basic needs and rights, such as food, shelter and freedom of expression.

Progressives distrust state use of military-industrial power, so when they see the Israel Defense Forces in uniforms and Palestinian militiamen in plain clothes, the reflexive reaction is to sympathize with the side that does not appear to be an extension of organized military might (even if both are actually organized armies).

Of course, the situation is not that simple. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very complex, involving land, water, peace and a multitude of groups, some of which have a vested interest in opposing peace. The governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are, for the most part, trying to move to the middle despite the pressures, years of distrust and the fact that neither side has been very good at keeping its word to the other (resulting in many lost opportunities on both sides).

Even the issues of borders and settlements are complex, with the borders changing in 1948, 1967 and even 1973, and with Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin both using the issue of settlements as a negotiating chip during peace negotiations (how easily we have forgotten that Begin invested heavily in settlements in the Sinai).

The more we openly discuss how complex the situation is, the more we can shift the argument from blaming one party to a broader discussion of the complexities of the region and how the parties can come together. Other conflicts based on deep and long-lasting religious and ethnic divisions (such as Northern Ireland) were not settled by blaming a single party, but by acknowledging that everyone shares responsibility.

Andrew Lachman is the past president of Democrats for Israel — Los Angeles and is a current member of the Democratic National Committee and a Truman National Security Project Partner.

O.C. demonstrators protest Muslim activists

Several hundred people demonstrated outside the Yorba Linda Community Center in Orange County on Feb. 12, where two controversial Muslim activists addressed a fundraiser held by the Queens, N.Y.-based Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).

Waving American flags and signs that read “No Islamic terrorists” and “Don’t tread on me,” demonstrators lined Imperial Highway and filled the grassy areas outside the public building to protest what they called the group’s agenda to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on American society.  They were particularly upset with the event’s keynote speakers, New York cleric Imam Siraj Wahhaj and Amir Abdel Malik Ali, whom they said hold anti-American, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views.

Ali is a frequent guest of Muslim student organizations on U.S. campuses, including the University of California, Irvine (UCI), where he has spoken several times at the Muslim Student Union’s Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual program of Israel-bashing and anti-Zionist sentiment that often wades into anti-Semitism. In May 2010, the Oakland cleric told a UCI audience that he supports Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad as well as jihad on the UCI campus, and accused Jews of causing the world’s financial troubles. UCI Chancellor Michael Drake condemned Ali’s endorsement of terrorism, without mentioning the cleric by name, as a breach of the university’s commitment to values and civility.

Wahhaj, who leads the Brooklyn al-Taqwa Mosque, became the first Muslim to give an invocation at Congress in 1991. He was named as a co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He was never charged and has denied involvement.

ICNA spokesperson Syed Waqas said the $25-a-plate event was meant to raise funds for the organization’s ICNA Relief program, money that will be used for local social services, such as women’s housing, disaster response, and burial and funeral assistance. He said Ali and Wahhaj were chosen to speak because they were available on the day of the event and because of their strong backgrounds in social services. Ali was said to be speaking about the Islamic perspective of relief efforts in Southern California, according to ICNA’s Web site.

Waqas denied that his group was anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, adding that ICNA may or may not endorse everything Ali and Wahhaj, who are not ICNA members, stand for.

“We don’t know for sure where the money will go, but when you bring a guest speaker who supports Hamas, and when you bring a co-conspirator of 9/11, you must ask who these people are and what they support,” said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of the North County Chabad Center.  Eliezrie worked with local community leaders to coordinate the protest.

Opposition to the fundraiser coalesced into a major grass-roots demonstration in the weeks leading up to the event after several community groups learned about it and alerted others through Facebook and e-mails, Eliezrie said. Participants included a diverse mix of Jewish and Christian groups from as far away as the Inland Empire and the San Fernando Valley with representation from the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, local chapters of Act! for America and Bikers for Christ and other organizations.

Yorba Linda Mayor Nancy Rikel said she received about 75 e-mails demanding that the city not allow the event to take place, according to a report in the Orange County Register. Rikel said ICNA representatives declined her request to bring in alternative speakers. City attorneys have said that the city cannot block ICNA from using the building.

Speaking at the demonstration, Rikel said the day would live in infamy in Yorba Linda and warned that the country was under threat by those who seek to take away our freedoms.

“This is not about hate,” said Karen Lugo, Chapman University adjunct professor of law, who led the crowd several times in chanting “No Shariah, not here, not now, not ever.”

“We are not hatemongers,” she said. “The world Islamophobia is an effort to chill us. The Constitution was never meant to allow a tyranny of a minority.”

Other speakers included Eliezrie, Rabbi Dov Fischer of Young Israel of Orange County, Irvine Jewish activist Dee Sterling and U.S. Congressmen Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Gary Miller (R-Calif.).

Royce, who chairs the international terrorism subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was impressed and inspired by the demonstration but that more awareness of the threat of radical Islam was needed.

“Many people in the community feel strongly about the rights of individuals and are here to express their free speech rights as well as to point out to others the history of the adoption of this brutal, primitive and barbaric interpretation of Islam.”

Royce said he welcomed plans by Homeland Security Chair Peter King to launch hearings on radical Islam in the United States, which he said will begin soon.

“We must remain vigilant against those who would take away our liberties,” he said.

“We need to make a stand against this hatred,” said Yorba Linda resident Ron Shamas, who said at least 50 members of his synagogue came out to support the demonstration. “We see what has happened in Europe, and nobody did anything, and now they have so much trouble.”

Ahmadinejad comes within shouting distance of Israel

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged rhetorical jabs as Ahmadinejad’s Lebanon tour came within shouting distance of Israel’s border.

“The entire world should know that the Zionists will disappear,” Ahmadinejad said Thursday in the town of Bint Jbeil, a town within two miles of Israel, in a speech that was audible to Israelis along the northern border. “Today the Zionist occupiers have no choice but to surrender to reality and return to their homes and countries of origin.”

Ahmadinejad, whose government is the principal backer of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group, has repeatedly expressed his desire to see Israel disappear.

Netanyahu chose to respond in the hall in Tel Aviv where David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, declared independence in 1948.

“We heard today the cursing and the language of contempt from the Lebanon border,” Netanyahu said, Ha’aretz reported.“We will continue to build our country and we will know very well how to defend it.”

Book review: Are Christian Zionists good for the Jews?

“A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance” by Zev Chafets. (HarperCollins, $24.95)

A book about the serious matters of religion and nationalism and politics and war is not usually laugh-out-loud funny. “A Match Made in Heaven” shatters that stereotype.

The author, Zev Chafets, shatters stereotypes with his life choices, not just his prose. Reared in Pontiac, Mich., Chafets moved to Israel after graduating from the University of Michigan. By then, he had gotten over the idea held by so many Jews that evangelical Christians are devils in disguise. In fact, Chavets exhibited outright curiosity about Christians, so he asked questions of his acquaintances uninhibitedly, the way children often do.

He remained in Israel for 33 years, becoming a well-known journalist as well as communications director for Prime Minister Menachem Begin and then, eventually, moved back to the United States.

Without his expert grounding in American and Middle Eastern culture, combined with his irreverence, Chafets would lack the credibility, the raw material and the attitude to write such a mind-shattering book.

First, the serious message: War in the Middle East could wipe out the nation of Israel any time, and its Jewish-hating enemies are unlikely to relent.

That means Israel needs all the assistance it can get, Chafets says, including the support of American evangelical Christians who otherwise seem incompatible with Jewish values.

Jews doubt the sincerity of evangelical Christians’ support for Israeli survival, Chafets contends, worriedly. “Many believe that evangelicals want to convert them, or use them as cannon fodder in some End of Days Armageddon battle. They suspect that behind the warm, toothy smiles of the evangelicals is a cold-hearted desire to establish a Christian theocracy in the United States.”

Jews who care about the survival of Israel should welcome the faith, the influence with Republican White House occupants, and the money supplied by the likes of preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, rather than turn it away, Chafets says.

He is not hopeful, though, because Jewish history is filled with misjudgments. “The Jewish impulse to deny danger, misread political reality, and choose the wrong enemies isn’t unique to this generation. The ancient Hebrews were out of Egyptian bondage for about 10 minutes before they began clamoring to go back. Jews wandered around the world homeless for two thousand years while every other nation got itself a state (even the Belgians figured out nationalism faster).”

“In Eastern Europe, Jews defended themselves by praying to a God who didn’t listen or building grandiose political theories about the brotherhood of man that pissed everyone off.”

As for today, Chafets worries that American Jews too easily conclude “it is more satisfying to fight the Falwells than to join them.”
That attitude is perhaps easy to understand intellectually, but difficult for Chafets to grasp emotionally when a war to the death is a daily reality.

In Israel, Chafets learned during his 33 years living there, Jews see nothing unusual about evangelical Christians supporting their right to exist in Ground Zero of multiple world faiths. It is the American Jews who find the match strange. So what if Pat Robertson exhibits a skewed view of kingdom come from a Jewish viewpoint?: “The simple fact is that, nuts or not, Robertson is a man with his own university, an army of lawyers, and a million viewers a day. In short, he’s a good man to have on your side.”

Chafets shows the warmth exhibited by Israeli leaders toward visiting Christian Zionists: “One day [celebrity American singer-songwriters] Johnny Cash and June Carter came by for a photo op” with Begin.

“Cash was a lover of biblical history and came to see Begin directly from a visit to Masada, the mountain fortress where Jewish zealots had, 2,000 years earlier, staged a sort of kosher Alamo in their futile rebellion against the Roman conquerors of Palestine. The early Zionists adopted Masada as a symbol of steadfastness and courage.

When Cash told Begin he had been there, the prime minister slammed his hand down on his desk and proclaimed, ‘Masada will never fall again!’ The Man in Black was so startled he nearly jumped out of his cowboy boots.”

The phrase “kosher Alamo” is a classic example of Chafets’ irreverence and humor.

There is nothing irreverent or humorous about Chafets’ final message, though: “I looked hard for evidence that the evangelicals are insincere, cynical, or devious in their attitude toward Israel and the Jews, and I didn’t find it. They may love Jews too much. They may love Jews for the wrong reasons. They may, in the future, not love Jews at all. But for now, the evangelical Christians of America are not the enemy. They are the enemy of the enemy and they want to be accepted and appreciated. In return they are offering a wartime alliance and free partnerhip in a Judeo-Christian America. It is an offer the Jews of America should accept while it is still on the table.”


Katrina Response

Thank you so much for Robin Podolsky’s thoughtful analysis, “Response a Disgrace — Not a Tragedy” (Sept. 9).

Her insightful distinction between the natural disaster of hurricane and flooding, and the “human disaster” — the abandonment of the Gulf Coast’s poor, immigrant, elderly and most particularly people of color — reminds us once again of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s admonition: While we are not all guilty, we are all indeed responsible for the well-being of our neighbors, whether they be friends or strangers. And as Rob Eshman helps us see, we would be far better served if our present government shared that sense of responsibility.

Claire Gorfinkel

Armed and President

I applaud the courage of the NRA in its appointment of a Jewish woman as their new president (“She’s Armed and President,” Sept. 2). After serving in the Israel Defense Forces, it became clear to me that the modern State of Israel was essentially founded upon two things: God and guns. It is unlikely that we would be seeing rioting in New Orleans if more weapons were placed in the hands of law-abiding citizens. Let us distinguish between guns in the wrong hands and guns in the right hands.

Rabbi Ari Hier
Armory Volunteer
L.A. County Sheriff’s Department

You will, no doubt, receive much mail about Joshua Runyan and Idan Irvi’s article about Sandra Froman.

She is clearly wrong. I was a rifleman in the 70th Division during World War II and qualified with the M-1, the carbine and the .45-caliber pistol.

Anyone waking up to find an armed intruder in the house is at a disadvantage. The intruder, if armed, is alert and dangerous. The sleeper wakes up groggy.

And to be armed with a revolver? Nonsense. I was on the firing range often enough to see how inept most people are with a handgun.

Froman is offering dangerous advice. The fact that she had been aggressive and ambitious enough to get herself elected as president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) gives her away. Take the time to meet and become acquainted with NRA members and you will not want many of them as friends.

What Froman needs is not a gun, but a good psychiatrist. Or, if she cannot master her fear of intruders (how many are there?) she would be better advised to buy a shotgun.

Paul Gropman
Woodland Hills

Christian Zionists

What James Besser misses in his article is that there are many Christians who support Israel and have serious concerns about Israel’s security, yet who are neither Pat Roberston nor Jerry Falwell (“Links to Christian Zionists Pose Perils,” Sept. 2). Because one questions the wisdom of the disengagement, should not mean that the questioner himself represents an obstacle to peace. A very sizable percentage of the Israeli population itself has been asking the same questions out of pure desire to protect Israel from further attack.

While Christian Zionists may have their own reasons to oppose further unilateral withdrawals, Christian theology varies from group to group and should not be the concern of the Jewish community. Support for the secure future of the State of Israel is our concern. Contrarily, the divestment campaigns of the Presbyterians, Anglicans and Lutherans have been built on latent anti-Semitism and it is simply ludicrous to suggest that they have emerged because some Christian Zionists happen to be anti-abortion and the Jewish community has not condemned their views.

Daryl Temkin
Via e-mail

Inner Sanctum

I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s impressions of his recent visit to the Latter-day Saints Temple in Newport Beach (“Inner Sanctum,” Sept. 2).

Contrary to the opinion expressed in a recent letter to this forum, Latter-day Saints most definitely believe in literal, inerrant truth. If we did not, we could not justify listening to modern-day prophets or sending tens of thousands of missionaries throughout the world.

One obvious inerrant truth is that God lives. Other inerrant Latter-day revelations of interest to Jews include the belief that Elijah did return to earth again during Passover (in 1836), that Moses received two revelations on Mt. Sinai (only one of which is contained in the written Torah), that priesthood authority must be received through the laying on of hands (smicha) and that God has honored and will continue to honor the covenant that He made anciently with the House of Israel.

While I have never claimed inerrancy, it is an axiom in my mind that there is no Christian church as doctrinally linked to Judaism as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This would not be so if we believed that divine revelation to prophets is inherently flawed. Many thanks to The Jewish Journal for allowing me to clarify this important principle. Shanah tovah to the local Jewish community from your Latter-day Saints friends.

Mark Paredes
Jewish Relations Committee
Southern California Public Relations Council
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The ‘Other’

Bracha Malkin states with admirable clarity and forthrightness the logic motivating the empathy manifested by many Jews in Israel and America for the Gaza settlers (Letters, Sept. 2). She makes a far more compelling case for commiserating with the settlers than any other I have heard.

At the same time, by bringing to light its underlying psychology, she shows exactly what is wrong with it. Malkin explains that self-love and exclusive concern with one’s own legitimate interests constitute a necessary stage on the road to moral development.

I completely agree. But what in a child is a case of normal development is, in grown people, a case of arrested development. It is heartening that members of the Jewish community can demonstrate concern and respect for their Jewish neighbors, even those with whom they strongly disagree.

Malkin, who happens to be our next door neighbor, exhibited just such respect in her response to David Myers — the author of the original Aug. 26 article and my husband — and I feel the same respect for her.

But if Jews cannot extend beyond concern for their own legitimate collective interests and show respect and concern for others, it is hard to escape the implications of Malkin’s analysis. A history of victimization is no excuse for failing to advance beyond a state of moral childhood. After more than 50 years of statehood, and thousands of years of peoplehood, if not now, when?

Nomi M. Stolzenberg
Los Angeles



Inner Sanctum

Being a Mormon, I really liked your article “The Inner Sanctum” (Sept. 2), however, there is some information you received, that I am not sure you understood correctly. It’s the question of “literal truth.” While we do believe that the Book of Mormon is historically true (that is, it talks about events that really took place and people who really lived — we don’t take it as mythopoeia), we don’t think that it is inerrant true.

The title page of the Book itself says that there could be errors of men in it.

As Mormons, we do not believe that man can be infallible, and therefore we cannot understand something inerrant. As soon as God communicates with us, he has to speak in a way we understand. Hence, the church’s second prophet, Brigham Young, said that he doesn’t know of an inerrant revelation, nor does he believe that such could be possible.

René A. Krywult
Vienna, Austria

Armed and President

Let’s see … you rarely feature a woman in a Jewish Journal cover story, but this week you managed to do so and you pick one who is an NRA president (“She’s Armed and President,” Sept. 2). I presume none of the women in the community who work for positive, socially responsible, peaceful, meaningful and enriching causes were available for an interview. (The exception being, Roberta Schiller, quoted in the article in opposition to Sandra Froman’s advocacy of private gun ownership.) Maybe it’s just me; perhaps there just aren’t enough firearms lying around out there — or armed individuals, with or without a permit to carry.

J. Levitt
North Hollywood

Sandra Froman opposes restrictions on gun sales and makes a strong case for women’s need to have guns for protection against predatory men. OK, let’s require gun shops to demand every customer present an ID, plus a doctor’s certification that the applicant is female.

Macy Baum
via e-mail

In your cover story about Sandra Froman, your writers quote Roberta Shiller saying, “The idea that just because you have a gun, it will make you safe is just untrue.” Runyan and Ivri should check the validity of statements before allowing someone to use their story to misrepresent the truth.

According to The Department of Justice’s own National Institute of Justice study, titled “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” it is estimated that 1.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes every year.

The article cites further misstatements by “gun control” advocates and presents a totally different perspective than Schiller.

Phil Blum
Los Angeles

Christian Zionists

In the Sept. 2 issue of The Jewish Journal, James D. Besser wrote a very negatively biased and short-sighted article regarding Christian Zionists (“Links to Christian Zionists Pose Peril”). Besser’s polarized commentary, replete with many unfounded statements, sought to influence the readers to view Christian Zionists as an element that threatens the life blood of Israel.

Christians who believe in a Jewish Israel have, many times, sacrificed their own livelihoods in the communities in which they lived/live and given of their own life blood to help Jews escape certain annihilation not only during the Holocaust, but during the times in which we now live, waiting the coming of Moshiach.

Chana Leah Mendelsohn
Los Angeles

The ‘Other’

David Myers exhorts us to have sympathy for various other people besides those whom we saw evicted from their homes in Gaza (“Show Gaza Sympathies to the Other,” Aug. 26).

Unfortunately, at this point in time, this goal is entirely unreachable and totally unrealistic. Judaism does not teach us to “Love your enemy” and until proven otherwise, the Arabs must be considered our enemies.

A neighbor is someone with whom you live, if not in harmony, then at least in civility. When will we be able to consider the possibility that that we can engage the “other” in the manner Myers would like?

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

Honest Reporting

I was intrigued by the remark made by Walid Al-Saqaf in the Aug. 26 Jewish Journal editorial by Rob Eshman (“Honest Reporting”). The Yemeni journalist said that journalists can pressure Arab and Muslim leaders to “level with their people” and confront the region’s real problems — the lack of development and the dearth of democracy and accountability. What interested me was the idea that journalists had the power to influence leaders.

But journalism is no longer the proud profession that it was, dedicated to the truth. Just as in Nazi Germany, it has become the tool of a country’s leaders, whether the leader be a sheik or a Texas rancher, and I doubt any journalists today are ever going to try to pressure any leaders or even to devote themselves to the truth again.

Mal Cohen
Woodland Hills

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Workers’ Comp Woes

I am appalled by Jill Stewart’s self serving and misleading missives about the so-called reform (in reality, deform) of workers’ compensation (“It’s Time to Heal Worker’s Comp,” May 6).

During the past approximately 25 years I have been representing injured workers. I am proud to say I am an Orthodox Jew and a registered Republican. As you can imagine, I am not a starry-eyed liberal and I certainly do not support the very rare and sometimes understandable (but not excusable) desire to take advantage of the system. But, the new regulations and legislation violate the very spirit and substance of the workers’ compensation system, which is to adequately compensate those who put their life and limb at risk working for others. As an Orthodox Jew, I have felt comfortable seeking compensation for my laboring clients, especially as such compensation does not differ radically from the damages available to an injured worker under traditional Jewish law. As a good American, follower of halacha and an employer myself, I recognize we all have a duty to go as far as possible to aid and make whole those who are truly injured through no fault of their own, but this is exactly what the new laws do not do.

Any fair-minded insurance defense attorney will admit that the new laws are shamefully and extremely draconian. Every attorney who represents injured workers already has several horrible-but-true tales of what has happened to their clients over the past few months. I hope the many Democrat legislators who signed on to this plan did not realize the actual impact of what they were creating in this monstrous Senate bill by giving the benefit of doubt to the governor. No one can honestly tell you that there has never been fraud and abuse in the system, but it has not been endemic or systemic either. Let politicians and insurers chase the treatment mills and other scavengers away by enforcing the law as it stood, but the solution is not starvation wages and denial of bare minimum medical treatment for injured workers.

Jeffrey Nurik

Cover Girl

Is The Jewish Journal so starstruck that the best you could do for a cover story the week of Yom HaAtzmaut was an article including a profile of a “beautiful young” Israeli expat actress who has fulfilled her life’s ambition by standing on a soundstage with Scarlett Johansson (“Shalom Hollywood,” May 13)? I wish her all the best in her endeavors — but I may be old fashioned. I would have preferred a cover story for Israeli Independence Day following up on some ex-Angelenos pursuing the Zionist dream by making aliyah.

Aaron Davidson
Los Angeles

Reform’s Rep

My first visit to a Reform congregation was truly exciting (“Reform’s Reforms,” May 20). Although some of the ritual and prayers were foreign to me, the majority of the readings were in English and relevant to the issues that I face in the modern world. The sermon called upon us as individuals to make a difference in the world. This was a call to action, not a request for belief!

I am 62-years-old and preparing for my bar mitzvah 13 years after my conversion. I struggle with Hebrew. I am more comfortable worshipping in English. I am a Reform Jew. I do not consider Reform Judaism to be less religious than traditional Judaism. In fact, I assert the opposite. Traditional ritual and following a faith-based list of rules has the very real danger of seeming religious without challenging the worshipers to truly search their hearts and their minds for ways to repair our world. Judaism is an action religion. We are challenged to do. We are challenged to repair the world. We are challenged to be better than we are. We are not challenged to accept kashrut, tefillin, tzeniut or tzitzit.

Robert Ingrum

As a freelance book editor who has worked with the Reform movement and continues to do so, I read with great interest Micha Odenheimer’s cover story. To the many noteworthy facets of change that the article reported, let me add one more: the publication three months ago of a revised edition of its bestselling Torah with commentary. Of the new edition’s many features, three in particular manifest that Reform Jews study Torah more seriously than before:

1. It provides a Hebrew text that is among the most historically accurate and visually precise ever published.

2. It places the translation right next to the Hebrew original, paragraph by paragraph, so that the translation better serves as a stepping-stone to the real text.

3. It is backed by more than 350 pages of online documentation that list and explain changes made to the Hebrew text and to the translation (relative to the first edition), because the publisher believes that its readers care about those details.

Such changes are achieved only with a considerable investment of time and expense.

This and other recent publications of the URJ Press ( speak volumes about the direction of the Reform movement.

David E. S. Stein
Redondo Beach

Honorary Jew

There is a factual error in Tom Tugend’s piece “Stamp of Approval.” Yip Harburg, the prolific lyricist of such Ammerican pop standards as “Over the Rainbow,” was not, in fact, Jewish (“Stamp of Approval,” May 20). His co-writer, composer Harold Arlen, who created the gorgeous melody for “Over the Rainbow,” was very Jewish (his father was the venerated cantor Samuel Arlen). The talented Harburg joked about feeling like an honorary Jew in that he worked with various Jewish composers of the golden era of American song, and because his name sounded Jewish — but he was Christian.

Jacqueline Bassan
“From Shul To Cool: The Romantic Jewish Roots of American Popular Music”

Healing Workers’ Comp

Jill Stewart is well-known for her anti-worker and anti-workers’ comp sentiments. She has repeatedly misstated the facts and attacked the wrong parties (“It’s Time to Heal Worker’s Comp,” May 6). She continues to have a distorted view of what is going on in workers’ comp. We did not get reform of the workers’ compensation systems — we got an outright assault, a mutilation of injured workers’ rights. How dare she attack the one group of people who have fought long and hard to protect the injured workers’ of this state, the lawyers who represent them?

Stewart claims that the money spent on workers’ comp went to the middlemen, like lawyers who were milking the system. Wrong again, Ms. Stewart. Nothing could be further from the truth. No. 1, the insurance company does not pay the attorney fees. Attorneys only get 15 percent attorney fees, paid by the injured workers from their award or settlement. Compare that to all other areas of law where fees are much more substantial. The insurance companies, who padded Gov. Schwarzegger’s with exorbitant amount of money, got the reforms they wanted. How’s that for taking special interest money and the governor doing favors for those who did? Now the insurance companies are laughing all the way to the bank at the expense of the injured worker. Employer rates have not dropped as promised and, as her article states, permanent disability benefits are now the bottom in the nation. That is not something this state should be proud of.

Injured workers’ rights to medical control have been taken away. Do we take that away from any other segment of society? No. Injured workers’ rights to obtain treatment that is necessary has been taken away. We have limited their benefits while they cannot work and reduced their compensation for permanent disabilities. We have taken away their right to be retrained if they cannot return to their usual and customary work as a result of their permanent injuries. This is a travesty, Ms. Stewart. You should be ashamed of yourself for distorting the truth. Try living in the shoes of an injured worker.

I am outraged by what the governor has done to hurt the working men and women of this state and I am outraged by the special interest money he has taken from the insurance companies. The injured workers of this state deserve better.

Susan Fields

In response to Jill Stewart’s scathing attack on attorneys representing workers, it revealed more about her ignorance of the subject matter than anything else. Senate Bill 899 is the most vicious attack on the basic rights of the injured worker in California history. Instead of focusing on the rights of injured workers, she goes off on a tirade against their attorneys who instead of “milking the system” earn a mere 15 percent fee. The recent Rand Study confirms that benefits paid to injured workers are woefully inadequate. The new legislation even cuts that amount by at least 50 percent. As an attorney who has represented injured workers for more than 25 years, I can tell you unequivocally that the California applicant attorneys are the most dedicated group of lawyers on behalf of their clients that I have ever had the pleasure to associate with. Of all the reasons for the workers compensation crisis, Stewart is misinformed in blaming the attorneys. She should do more research before she spouts off about a subject of which she certainly has little knowledge.

Ronald M. Canter
Los Angeles

I read with dismay another of Jill Stewart’s articles about workers’ compensation. I can only say, “Jill, you’ve got it wrong.” She falsely hints that the truly injured will be helped by the Schwarzenegger sellout of injured workers. Nothing is further from the truth. Under the new AMA guides, the near dead, such as Terri Schiavo in her final days, would only be considered 90 percent disabled according to one of the editors of the AMA Guides.

Stewart has declined an invitation to meet with injured workers or an attorney representing them to hear directly from them how the changes have hurt truly injured people.

She needs to expand her sources beyond the Chamber of Commerce.

Robert Blum
El Dorado Hills

Battle of Faith

James D. Besser’s article shows a moral blindness to seven glaring realities (“The Faith Wars Heat Up, ” May 20):

1) For the past 37 years, the forces of political correctness have poisoned, corrupted and degraded every institution of American life.

2) Those who are “faith revolutionaries” are average, decent people who were not very political. They were focused on raising their families, making a living and supporting their houses of worship. Pushed too far, they are angry and radicalized.

3) There are serious changes in American Jewry. A decade ago, you could not find enough Jewish Republicans for a living room meeting. Today, they are packing large auditoriums to capacity.

4) During the days of Harry Truman, Democrats represented “average Joes” who played softball at the public park while the Republicans represented those who played golf and tennis at posh country clubs. Today, the opposite is true.

5) Too many Jews, including numerous rabbis, are lukewarm Zionists. The Christian right loves Israel unconditionally.

6) Bigotry against Jews and Christians is socially acceptable. Islam is sacrosanct!

7) The real dangerous hate mongers, whom we need to fear, are on the left — not the right!

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys


Muslim Hate Is Self-Inflicted Harm

The Arab and Iranian complaint that they are threatened and victimized by the Zionists is fascinatingly twisted. In fact, they do themselves considerable damage through their own anti-Semitism. Two recent examples come to mind.

United States taxpayers paid for the liberation of Iraq, and are footing the bill to rebuild the country. Anyone from a rather large list of eligible countries can bid on the billion-dollar U.S.-funded rebuilding contracts. But while the list is large, it is not comprehensive. Nations that hindered our efforts to liberate Iraq failed to make the cut. France and Germany, for example, are conspicuously ineligible.

But there is a more newsworthy, yet less-noticed story about the eligibility list: Israel is not on it. Why?

The two major purposes of our foray into Iraq were to fight terrorism and to make Iraq a democracy. In the volatile and strategically important Middle East, Israel is the most democratic nation. One would think that if Iraq is to become a stable, liberal democracy, we should foster a good relationship between it and Israel, from which it could learn so much about free expression, multiparty politics, minority rights, an independent judiciary, religious freedom and all the other ingredients of a healthy, free society.

Israel’s exclusion becomes particularly galling in light of the fact that Saudi Arabia — the nation most responsible for Sept. 11, Al Qaeda, Hamas and Moslem Brotherhood terrorism — is allowed to bid on Iraq reconstruction contracts. We ousted Saddam, in part, because he was getting cozy with Bin Laden. Now that we ousted him, the Binladen Group, a huge Saudi Arabian engineering concern, can bid on a taxpayer-funded contract to rebuild Iraq, but an Itzik of Tel Aviv cannot — even though Itzik of Tel Aviv is more likely to bring humane values (as well as Western building standards) to a Baghdad construction site than the Binladen Group.

President Bush is considered by many a friend of the Jewish State, so the fact that he has stiffed Israel requires explanation. The likeliest reason is simply that he believes the Arabs, including Iraqis, would object. Substituting a short-sighted pragmatism for principle, Bush lets the most unreasonable voices in the Middle East dominate, to the detriment of Iraq. Congress should look into this.

The second example of anti-Semitism becoming a self-inflicted wound comes from the terrible earthquake in Bam, Iran. The losses in life and property are virtually beyond imagination. Iran, overwhelmed, has welcomed aid from the four corners of the earth, including from the United States, without reservation. Oops, one reservation: help from the "Zionist entity" was rejected.

Israel is the most technologically advanced country in the Middle East, and the most prepared to deal with large-scale disaster (let’s not discuss why). There is no possible doubt that Israel’s participation in the rescue efforts would have saved lives.

The government of Iran preferred that its citizens die, rather than accept the hand of the Jewish State stretched out in compassion. In view of the fact that Israel has never done any harm to Iran, this is insane.

Peace will come to the Middle East if, and only if, the Arabs and Muslims end their pathological hatred of Israel. Everything else is a side issue. The United States must use its newly enhanced stature in the region to insist on an Arab/Muslim change of heart, and help it along.

On Sun., Jan. 25, at 3 p.m., DFI-LA will sponsor a program titled, "Iranian Reformers and Israel." For more information, call (310) 285-8542.

Joe Ribakoff is a member and Paul Kujawsky is the president of Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles. The views expressed are theirs and do not necessarily represent the views of DFI-L.A.

Palestinian Supporters Gift-Wrap Message

In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States is considered Israel’s last remaining key ally. Aiming to change that, the anti-Israel movement on college campuses has adopted a message rooted in bedrock American ideals.

The second National Student Conference on the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, held at the University of Michigan last weekend, framed its anti-Israel arguments in the language of civil liberties and human rights. The new, slicker message showed the challenge Jewish groups will face after a conference that both sides considered a pivotal moment for anti-Israel activism on U.S. campuses.

It’s still unclear whether the Oct. 12-14 pro-Palestinian conference, sponsored by a Michigan group called, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, will give the anti-Israel movement a lasting boost or, instead, show that the tide has turned against it.

The movement has come under increasing scrutiny in the past month, after Harvard’s president said the anti-Israel activism bordered on anti-Semitism. Approximately 300 university presidents then signed an American Jewish Committee (AJC) ad criticizing the anti-Israel movement for allegedly intimidating its opponents. The developments drew publicity to a movement that, until then, primarily had attracted campus radicals, but they also put the anti-Israel forces on the defensive.

The weekend conference showed that the pro-Palestinian groups are reacting to the spotlight by crafting an increasingly sophisticated message. Jewish activists are split on the proper strategy to confront it.

Mainstream groups, such as Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, sought to avoid direct confrontation so as not to give the conference more publicity. Hillel planned pro-Israel programming to highlight Israel’s democratic values, placing ads in campus newspapers, bringing pro-Israel lecturers to campus and sponsoring a pro-Israel rally on Oct. 10 with speakers from mainstream organizations.

A new group, Michigan Student Zionists, worked with Aish HaTorah, the Zionist Organization of America and Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA, in crafting a more confrontational approach. The student activists flanked the doors of the conference building, chanting that the pro-Palestinian movement was "justifying suicide bombing" and was anti-Semitic.

The Student Zionists group also staged a prayer service, counterconference, rally and a "street theater" demonstration in which students scattered on the ground to simulate the aftermath of a suicide bombing. Leaders of the student group also filed a lawsuit trying to force the university to cancel the conference.

The basis of the suit was that guest speakers — including Sami Al-Arian, a University of South Florida professor under federal investigation for alleged links to terrorist groups — would incite violence. A judge denied a hearing on the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs didn’t have legal standing.

Many of the 400 people at the pro-Palestinian conference represented extreme elements from 70 universities across the country. Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, a coordinating body for Israel advocacy, said he wasn’t impressed by the Palestinian supporters’ new message.

"I believe they’re very much on the defensive, and they’re essentially failing," he said. "They had almost no buy-in from the local Michigan population. And most of the participants were fly-ins. To the extent that the advance publicity succeeded in bringing this to the public’s attention, it galvanized the administration’s opposition."

The university’s president, Mary Sue Coleman, on Sept. 26 denounced one of the conference’s key planks, that universities should divest their holdings in companies that deal with Israel.

However, the anti-Israel message could find fertile ground among impressionable and often-uninformed college students. Participants at the pro-Palestinian conference argued that university divestment would pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which they say is the first step toward making peace. Those who oppose divestment really want to squelch pro-Arab organizations’ free speech, the pro-Palestinian group claims.

In response to charges that the anti-Israel movement is anti-Semitic, conference organizers made sure to feature Jewish participants prominently.

"We categorically reject" the accusations of "anti-Semitism being tossed around," said Ora Wise, an Israeli-born junior at Ohio State University, who is on leave to work for the New York-based Jews Against the Occupation. "We need to go to the origins of the conflict" — in Wise’s view, Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — to remove the barrier to peace. She said ending the occupation will also bring "Jewish emancipation."

At a news conference, pro-Palestinian conference leaders responded to the charge that they endorse terrorism by condemning suicide bombings — along with "state-sponsored terrorism" against civilians. Palestinian supporters use such formulas to equate Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli counterterror operations, both of which may result in civilian deaths.

In trying to undermine a key Israeli argument — that Israel is a democracy like America — Palestinian supporters say America’s historic subjugation of blacks and allegedly of women shows that democracies can be oppressive, too.

The Israel on Campus Coalition released a resource guide last week that offers tools to counter pro-Palestinian arguments, and describes different approaches favored by various organizations. Other groups also have produced materials countering pro-Palestinian arguments, including divestment.

But if attitudes at Michigan are representative, the pro-Israel forces are having a difficult time courting some of the 6,000 Jews on campus on such a highly polarized issue. Israel and American Jewish groups have "failed to contextualize how remarkable the Zionist enterprise is for this generation of Jews," said Michael Brooks, executive director of the University of Michigan’s Hillel.

While many Jewish students are instinctively pro-Israel, even some of the most ardent defenders of Israel are at a loss as to how to refute the pro-Palestinian arguments. Others doubt their pro-Israel education, assuming it was biased.

The competing approaches among pro-Israel activists — confrontation or low visibility — complicates things for many Jews on campus, who feel misrepresented by both. "Most Jewish students are very confused," Brooks said. "They don’t really understand the stuff they hear well enough" to respond to it, and — unlike the Palestinian supporters — they’re "very suspicious of absolutist positions."

Stacie Ain, for example, was turned off by T-shirts at the Oct. 10 Hillel rally that read, "Wherever We Stand, We Stand With Israel." Many of the 1,000 people in attendance wore the shirts.

It’s "almost passively-aggressively attacking another side," said Ain, a junior studying psychology. Ain said a lack of impartial information has made it hard for her to assess the conflict.

Ain said the information she received in her youth, when she attended a Jewish day school in Rockville, Md, was biased toward Israel. "If I had to choose, I would support Israel," she said, adding, "I still have to be somewhat skeptical about what I hear."

The fear of wholeheartedly embracing either side has given rise to a new Jewish group on campus, the Progressive Israel Alliance.

"You can’t just pick one side," said sophomore Becky Eisen, an activist with the group. "You need to look at the whole picture" and recognize that "both sides have valid points."

But most Jewish students remain reflexively pro-Israel, even if they don’t understand the conflict. Freshman Shelby Kaufman from West Bloomfield, Mich., said she supports Israel because Jews are a minority, and "we gotta stick together in the world."

Jonathan Dick, a 23-year-old law student, said he attended the Palestinian conference to hear the other side’s position. Yet he complained to one speaker about how one-sided the conference was. Discussion was "too much about what the atrocities have been" and "not enough about the context they’ve existed in," Dick explained.

Conference speakers focused exclusively on the Palestinians’ suffering, without mentioning their aggression. A key tactic to rouse the audience was to discredit their opponents.

In a lecture at the conference, Hussein Ibish, communications director for the American-Arab Anti- Discrimination Committee, jeered at pro-Israel efforts: the "beshawled jokers" protesting outside, the "crackpot" lawyer who tried to sue the university, the AJC ad against intimidation on campus and the controversial new Campus Watch Web site that lists professors deemed anti-Israel.

Jewish opponents of the conference are a "desperate, desperate group of people," Ibish said. "It’s like being showered in tissue paper," he said of the opposition from pro-Israel forces. "If you treat it as rubbish, it will blow in the breeze and disintegrate."