May 21, 2019

GOP Has Little Hope of Gaining Jewish Majority

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

The ghost of President Warren G. Harding was in Las Vegas the first weekend of April. So was President Donald Trump. Both were at the annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), where 2,000 attendees heard Trump make the case that the GOP’s strong support for Israel should lead to increased support from Jewish voters. 

Harding was the last Republican presidential nominee to win the Jewish vote, when he captured a 43% plurality of Jewish support in a three-way race in his 1920 election. It’s now been more than 30 years since a Republican nominee has attracted even one-third of the Jewish vote.

Trump and his supporters believe they can reverse this trend, based partially on Trump’s actions but mostly on the growing anti-Israel sentiment among a young generation of Democratic leaders. That belief is based on two faulty premises, both of which will make the Republicans’ effort to coax Jews away from the party of Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) difficult to achieve.

The first false assumption is that the choice between the two parties is a choice between absolutes. Even American Jews who oppose the Iran nuclear agreement and support moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem do not see one party as completely bad for Israel and the other as absolutely good. Rather, they see their choice as between one party that is very, very good for Israel, and another that is very, very, very good. 

That one extra Republican “very” is not sufficient to balance off the advantages that Democrats hold with most Jewish voters on abortion rights, climate change, immigration reform and many other domestic policy priorities. While most American Jews see individual lawmakers like Tlaib and Omar as unacceptable, the continued support for Israel among most Democratic leaders still leads to overall positive feelings toward the party among large majorities of Jewish voters. The challenge for Democrats is to prevent the spread of Tlaib’s and Omar’s attitudes in the party’s ranks. But barring the emergence a Jeremy Corbyn-esque presidential nominee, the Democrats have more than enough influential leaders whose strong support for Israel makes this a decidedly uphill fight for the GOP.  

[Netanyahu’s] focus on evangelical supporters of Israel reflects his realization that Jewish voters in the U.S. alone do not provide him with a sufficient base of support.

The second problem with this argument is that it assumes the majority of American Jewish voters make Israel their top priority at the ballot box. But American Jews have shifted their focus to domestic policy. A 2016 Ruderman Family Foundation study found that Israel was no longer among the top five issues influencing American Jewish voters, continuing a long-term trend. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not understand many things about American politics, but his focus on evangelical supporters of Israel reflects his realization that Jewish voters in the U.S. alone do not provide him with a sufficient base of support. Netanyahu’s approach has polarized American Jews, further blurring the definition of support for Israel among many left-leaning Jewish voters, even while evangelical voters have become more motivated. 

At the RJC meeting, some wealthy Trump supporters shared their plans to spend more than $10 million next year to persuade Jewish voters to support the president’s reelection. While they almost certainly understand that winning the Jewish vote in 2020 is impossible, a targeted effort aimed at sizable Jewish populations in swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada could affect the razor-thin margins that will determine how those states cast their electoral votes.

As anti-Israel sentiment hardens among young progressives, leaders such as Tlaib and Omar can be expected to frequently cross the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. But until those attitudes become more pervasive in Democratic circles — and until Republicans distance themselves from equally intolerant voices of nationalism and xenophobia — a sea change in Jewish partisan voting is not in the offing anytime soon.


Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and Pepperdine University.

Jewish, Christian and Muslim Panelists Discuss the Role of Religion in American Politics

From left: Reinhard Krauss, Rabbi Adam Greenwald, Rev. Jonathan Chute and Aziza Hasan discussed religion and politics at American Jewish University. Photo by Laura-Beth Sholkoff, American Jewish University's Whizin Center for Continuing Education

“We are here to learn something about the distinctive insights and perhaps the helpful wisdom that Judaism, Christianity and Islam can bring to this crucial conversation of religion and politics based on the long history of each of these religious traditions.”

This is how Reinhard Krauss, executive director of the Academy for Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies, introduced a panel discussion on March 27 held at the American Jewish University campus.

The event was part of the speaker series, “Let’s Talk About Religion,” which features interreligious conversations that highlight the similarities and differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Krauss served as the moderator on a panel titled “God in the Voting Booth? The Role of Religion in American Politics.” The event drew around 40 people and the panel featured Rabbi Adam Greenwald, director of AJU’s Miller Introduction to Judaism Program; Jonathan Chute, senior pastor at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change. 

 Hasan said religion and politics have always intermingled, noting how America’s first president, George Washington, addressed a synagogue about religious freedom and how former Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) was sworn in to the U.S. House on Thomas Jefferson’s Koran.

Greenwald said the sacred texts of the three monotheistic faiths do not prescribe policy positions. “So I believe one can be motivated by good religion and be a Democrat and one can be motivated by good religion and be a Republican,” he said. “The question is, are they both responding to the call of religion to be aware of the social ills?”

While religion has been used as a tool to oppress, Chute said the most sustainable religions are those that ask people to look inward. 

“I believe one can be motivated by good religion and be a Democrat and one can be motivated by good religion and be a Republican. The question is, are they both responding to the call of religion to be aware of the social ills?” — Rabbi Adam Greenwald

“I tend to feel that a healthy religious impulse is one that is more critical and actually more specifically self-critical and one of the differences between what I think of as a healthy religious expression and something that is more reflective of a cult is its capacity for self-criticism,” Chute said. 

Each speaker spoke about the importance of people of various political beliefs listening to one another. Hassan said she was struck by a recent article in USA Today that said an increasing amount of people feel like their way of life is being threatened by America becoming more diverse.

“If people are feeling like their values, their way of life is going to be threatened because minorities are taking over, we better start listening really quickly,” she said. 

She added she was heartened that following the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, people of diverse political beliefs came together for a vigil at the Federal Building in Westwood.“We all got to grieve that night,” she said.

Similarly, Greenwald said that the same groups that turned out to support each other after the Tree of Life shooting came out to express solidarity following the recent shootings at the mosques in New Zealand.

Greenwald connected ideas about religion and civic life to the Passover story, including how Egypt is a place of constriction. The journey to the Promised Land is a “tough one and the only way to make it is together,” he said.

Chute spoke about the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the U.S. tax code that prohibits nonprofit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. 

“I’m comfortable working not to violate that,” he said.

While Greenwald said it is inappropriate for a rabbi to advise others on how to vote, he is comfortable sharing his opinions on the issues of the day. He added it is natural for elected officials to share how their religious beliefs inform their political positions, noting religion is how they bring their “full selves” to their work.

While the speakers said religion is a force for good in political and civil life, Krauss said religion was not always aligned with causes including the Civil Rights movement and figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the Q-and-A, an audience member asked about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has made anti-Israel statements on Twitter. Hasan, who was raised in Jordan by a Christian-American mother and a Muslim-Palestinian father, denounced the rise of “anti-Jewish sentiment.” She said the controversy surrounding Omar’s anti-Israel statements has furthered her education about the many forms of anti-Semitism.

“I can see tropes I was blind to before and it’s been a journey,” Hasan Said.

When an audience member said that clergy who use their pulpits to express political positions bothered him, Chute agreed. “I try to preach in a way that invites people to ask their own questions and to wrestle with things that I think are substantive and important,” Chute said, “but I really seek to avoid proscription and partisan pronouncement.”

Can Israel Win Back the Democratic Party?

Photo from Flickr.

In June 1972, Israel’s ambassador to the United States was criticized by The Washington Post for being an “undiplomatic diplomat.” The ambassador was Yitzhak Rabin. The occasion was the presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern. Rabin’s supposed offense was expressing Israel’s preference that Nixon would come out on top. “While we appreciate support in the form of words we are getting from one camp,” Rabin told an interviewer, “we must prefer support in the form of deeds we are getting from the other camp.” 

Words — from the Democratic camp. Deeds — from the Republican camp.

Nearly 47 years later, a majority of Israelis feel the same as Rabin did then. Support for Israel is bipartisan in words mostly, in practice it is highly partisan — and not because of what Israel does or does not do. 

It is well-established fact that Democratic voters look less favorably on Israel than their Republican counterparts and fewer see it as a strong ally. Survey after survey, including a recent survey by Gallup, shows the gap. And as The New York Times reported a few months ago, the party itself is also changing, as “a cluster of activist Democrats … has dared to breach … strong support for Israel….” It’s true that mainstream Democrats call these Democratic Party leaders “fringe,” but the surveys indicate that this fringe might now reflect the perspectives of the party’s elected officials. 

For Israel, this is a highly troubling development, a matter of national security. Striving to have “bipartisan support” was always the policy of Israel and its allies. And while bipartisanship was always somewhat overhyped, it mostly worked well from the late 1970s until recent times. Rabin, the ambassador to the Nixon administration, had a close relationship with Democratic President Bill Clinton. 

The change in tone and attitude has been gradual. As Israel moved rightward, following the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Democratic Party moved leftward, from Clintonian triangulation to Barack Obama, and then even further to the left. Israelis feel at ease when Republican presidents — George W. Bush, Donald Trump — are at the helm. They felt much less comfortable with Obama, whom a majority of Israeli Jews considers the “worst president” for Israel in the past 30 years. 

While bipartisanship was always somewhat overhyped, it mostly worked well from the late 1970s until recent times. 

What can Israel do to mitigate the erosion of Democratic support? For many liberal Americans, and also some Israelis, the answer is simple: Israel must change its policies to win back the Democratic Party’s support. American liberals point their fingers at various Israeli policies — from not ending the West Bank occupation to bombing Gaza and passing “illiberal” legislation — that they say underlie the growing alienation. Opposition leaders in Israel blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for aligning his government with conservative Americans and thus creating a “serious problem” for Israel when the Democratic Party comes back into power. 

Undoubtedly, some of Israel’s policies contribute to making liberal Americans less enamored with the country they once adored. But a serious look at the trends must end with a disappointing conclusion from an Israeli viewpoint: There is not much that Israel can do to bring Democrats back into its corner, other than wait for the tide to reverse.

It goes without saying that Israel must invest in bipartisan support to the highest extent possible. No sane Israeli leader is going to forgo the support of half of Americans because of laziness or carelessness. On the other hand, U.S. bipartisan support is just one item on the list of many that Israel must worry about. First and foremost, it must worry about survival in a dangerous neighborhood. Thus, any discussion of Israel’s ability to impact the views of Democratic voters must begin with a straightforward question: What would be the cost of regaining their support? 

The answer — again, sadly — is that the cost seems to be too high. Here is one example: Democratic voters and legislators overwhelmingly supported the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. Israeli voters and their government believed this deal was dangerous for Israel. So, in 2015, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak in Congress against the deal.

This was a highly partisan move, a “risky gambit” as professor Daniel Drezner called it. Back then I opposed it, believing that Netanyahu “has turned Israel into a political football.” Indeed, he had. Republicans cheered his speech; Democrats were furious with it. In retrospect, I was wrong. Had Netanyahu not decided that the benefit (making the case, refusing to surrender) outweighed the risk (further alienating Democrats), it would have been much harder to imagine Trump taking the bold step of withdrawing from the deal. 

Israel’s dilemma is not hard to understand: Losing bipartisan support is strategically dangerous; accepting a reality of an emboldened Iran is strategically dangerous. Sometimes a choice must be made. Which of these two is more dangerous? More urgent? More susceptible to influence?

While for Israel to assuage its policies on Iran, or on Gaza, is certainly dangerous, its ability to influence Democratic tendencies at a reasonable cost is far from clear. Rabin understood this in the 1970s, when he was looking at a Democratic Party smitten with McGovernites — “the kind of liberal he had learned to dislike,” as professor Ephraim Inbar wrote in his book, “Rabin and Israel’s National Security.”

Netanyahu probably sees a similar picture as he looks at a Democratic Party highly influenced by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and highly attentive to activists whose philosophy is intersectionality. He looks at the party whose leaders not long ago vowed to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed in the Senate by a 93-5 majority, with only one opposing Democrat) but recently, vehemently, opposed this move. 

Israel and the Democratic Party have changed since 1995. Democrats became less tolerant of hardnosed realistic policies — the exact types of policies that Israel gradually adopted. 

Can Israel make moves that would mitigate the trend of it becoming unfashionable among Democrats? Sure. It needs to make such goal a priority whenever possible. But it is important to acknowledge a frustrating reality: Since Israel is not going to completely alter its security policy, only little mitigation is possible.

Democratic support for Israel is weakening as a result of internal American dynamics. When Democrats turn to moderate centrism — as in the days of Presidents Lyndon Johnson or Clinton — relations with Israel are solid. When Democrats move leftward — as in the days of McGovern or Obama — relations with Israel become rockier. This is basically true whether Israel is led by a Labor government headed by a Rabin or a Likud government headed by a Netanyahu.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Ode to My Country

Photo from Pinterest

I turned 65 recently. Certainly not old by today’s standards but a good time for reflection. Particularly when I realize that I am now about 25 years older than Teddy Roosevelt when he charged up San Juan Hill, 40 years older than George Gershwin when he composed “Rhapsody in Blue,” and about twice as old as Thomas Jefferson when he proclaimed that “all men are created equal.”

What can I proclaim about America at a time when our political climate gets more interesting every day? And by “interesting,” you can interpret that word however you want.

It is a curious society we live in and a curious time to be part of the electorate. People habitually complain about Congress, yet historically vote for incumbents. Candidates receive their party’s nomination for president because it is “their turn” (Bob Dole, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton) yet nobody really feels that’s a good enough reason to be chosen. And on Election Day, many people often find themselves voting more out of civic duty than out of true passion for an individual candidate. I know. I’m one of these folks.

As the son of a World War II Silver Star recipient, I’ve always considered myself as patriotic as they come. I honor the flag, wish more performers would sing the national anthem as it was intended and hold out hope that more politicians will speak to us like adults. I’ve had the thrill of seeing the sunrise over Mount Rushmore, feeling the chill of true heroism at the Alamo, and shaking my head in disbelief at the bridge at Antietam. 

In his final speech a half century ago, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy called the United States “a great county and a compassionate country.” I still believe that to be true, yet like many Americans, I find myself deeply troubled by what I see around me. That includes these nine realities I sadly know to be true:

1. In Washington, D.C., no bad idea stays dead for long. 

2. Today’s political talk shows contain everything except civility.

3. Whatever the United States does for its veterans isn’t enough. 

4. Finding a way to get out of jury duty has become almost as American as serving on a jury. 

5. The problem with politics today is that not enough good people care. 

6. The demise of daily newspapers makes us a sadder country. 

7. The decline of funding for art and music in our public schools makes us a much sadder country.

8. Our judicial system is too concerned with winning and losing and should be more concerned with truth and justice.

9. Elected officials are called “public servants” but many seldom act that way. 

There are other things about this country that I know to be true as well. I know that corporate mergers seldom benefit the average person. I know that health care belongs on the bottom shelf, where everyone can reach it. I know that all Americans should visit Gettysburg, Pa. 

“I know that our country is not perfect, but imperfection is part of the arc of America.”

I know that I don’t like the idea of people burning the American flag, but I like a law prohibiting it even less. I know there’s a reason the First Amendment is first. And I know that there are times I wished that the Electoral College gave honorary degrees. Most troubling of all, I know that our flag is at half-staff far too often for a civilized society. 

I also know that our country is not perfect, but imperfection is part of the arc of America. That makes it the responsibility of each generation to leave a better county than we inherited from the generation before. Perhaps that is why the framers of our Constitution talked about establishing “justice” but gave no definition of the word. Instead, they left it to each of us to define what justice means and just what it means to be “just.” 

Yes, I’ve turned 65. I was too young for the Freedom Riders and early space exploration but today am not too old to still believe, as Tennyson wrote, that some work of noble note may yet be done. I still believe that America is a shining city on the hill. But there are miles to go and promises to keep.


Ross K. Goldberg is the author of “I Only Know What I Know.” ionlyknow.com

Annexation Is a Pernicious Issue for Israel

Houses in Shvut Rachel, a West Bank Jewish settlement. Photo by Baz Ratner/Reuters

Modern Israel has been a remarkable unifying force for American Jewry. Sadly, the subject of Israel and most discussions about Israeli policies today have become deeply divisive. In some instances, these debates have cost friendships and silenced organizations and Jewish leaders from engaging in conversations around Israel.

There is an issue, however, around which most Jews can coalesce — the potential annexation of portions or all of Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. This poses a threat to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, which should concern all Jews.

Various proposals for annexation of portions or all of the territory are currently on the Israeli political agenda. Advocates of these proposals are not bashful about their intent to pass such legislation during the next government. This is a result of Israeli coalition politics whereby a minority political party can demand support of a policy as a condition for its participation in the governing coalition. 

Yet, contrary to common understanding, a just-released poll by The Institute for National Security Studies shows that only 25 percent of Israelis support some form of annexation. However, the majority opposing annexation do not view this issue as a priority, while its passionate advocates do.

The ideological controversy over borders mirrors historic debates about “Greater Israel.” For over 100 years, there have been passionate debates within the Zionist movement about the required borders of the Jewish state — the entirety of biblical Israel or only those areas with majority Jewish population. In debates over whether to support the United Nations partition resolution in 1947, the consensus position favoring a Jewish state separate from an Arab state prevailed over advocates who embraced the Greater Israel position, enabling the Zionist enterprise to succeed dramatically with the formation of modern Israel. Similarly, the agreement to cede territory to Egypt at Camp David prevailed over fierce opposition, leading to four decades of peace, which continues to be maintained.

Defeat of current annexation proposals is essential to preventing a cascade of extremely serious political, security and economic consequences. Many of the proposals seem deceptively innocuous, promising to annex unpopulated territory,  not Palestinians. The consequences of these proposals would likely produce dire long-term and short-term consequences. Advocates of this “luxurious” (no cost) annexation proposal pretend this action will not trigger reactions. They are wrong.

There is a strong consensus among security experts that annexation, even on a small scale, would upset the fragile balance with the Palestinians. For example, territory annexed in all the proposals would eliminate contiguity for areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which is essential for transit from one area to another. This arrangement would likely lead to the termination of security cooperation and/or the collapse of the PA. As a result, the Israel Defense Forces would be required to re-enter and take over all of Judea/Samaria and assume responsibility for its millions of Palestinians.

This would have a severe impact on Israel’s security and economy, while also burying any possibility of an ultimate resolution separating the parties to the conflict. The multiple billions of dollars in security and public services expenditures for control of the territories alone would cripple the Israeli economy, and international sanctions or loss of investment would add to the blow.

Israel has made tremendous strides in its relations with many of its Arab neighbors, creating the opportunity for a different Middle East, which might eventually include a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Proposed annexation moves would give potentially friendly powers in the region little choice but to abandon this hopeful path. Public outrage in the Arab countries would very likely result in termination of existing limited cooperation. Iran would have a potent public weapon against its Sunni enemies. American groups opposing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) would be severely disadvantaged. While annexation consequences would far exceed BDS as a threat, they also would make its success substantially more likely.

Internationally, severe diplomatic, financial and legal problems would likely result. Although the current U.S. government might not initially object, reaction from the European Union might well include concrete measures, including political, economic and arms supply sanctions. Russia and China might well join in opposing Israel’s actions. The international community, assuming abandonment of any possibility of an eventual two-state solution, would increase pressure on Israel to grant equal rights to all Palestinians. Thus, Israel would be faced with a tragic dilemma — either the loss of its dominant Jewish character and becoming a secular, democratic state; or denying Palestinians equal rights and losing its standing and character as a democratic nation.

Annexation initiatives have galvanized a strong nonpartisan effort to defeat these measures. Notable among them is the Commanders for Israel’s Security, a network of almost 300 former senior leaders of the IDF, Mossad, Shin Bet and police that has conducted extensive research on the subject, illustrating the immediate and existential threat. Each political party campaigning for election should be encouraged to publicly commit not to enter a government unless the coalition agreement opposes annexation or permits it a veto. In this way, the consensus opposing annexation can prevail in a nonpartisan way.

Only by preventing annexation can Israel retain its strategic security, flexibility and future options while insuring against a required choice between being a Jewish or democratic state.


Ed Robin is a board member of the Israel Policy Forum. Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

What Happened to America? How We Became a Divided Nation and How We Can Move Forward

We Americans are furious. We are fed up. We are enraged and outraged. We vent our wrath on Facebook and Twitter against those who have the nerve to disagree with us, and we avoid even the most casual of social encounters with people who voted for the other candidate.

But we also know that underneath almost every angry person is a frightened person. If we move past the anger to instead consider the frightened American voter and where their fears come from, we can move closer to addressing the unhappiness and divisiveness that has roiled our politics, our public discourse and even our personal relationships.

Politics does not exist in a vacuum. It is a reflection — and often an exaggeration — of society. Shrewd campaign strategists in both major parties have watched us for years as we have become more wary and more suspicious of each other. They have learned how to exploit our tribal instincts and to leverage our alienation for their partisan advantage. But in 2016, the politics of fear broke through to a new level.

The Politics of Fear
In the last presidential election, two unusual candidates — Donald Trump from the right and Bernie Sanders from the left — decided that they could benefit from stoking the fears of voters rather than calming them. Both understood something that more traditional candidates like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton did not: A significant number of Americans no longer trusted the reassurances politicians had always offered. Instead, many of us wanted our leaders to indulge our passions and help us identify scapegoats who we could then blame for our problems.

“What’s wrong with America? Nothing that less fearmongering and more confidence and courage can’t solve.”

Trump and Sanders both obliged, targeting their messages at two different groups of frightened voters. But both men recognized the same source of these fears: a society that was struggling with the most dramatic economic and technological upheaval since the Industrial Revolution. Just as the transition from agriculture to industry in the early 20th century roiled the American psyche at that time, the current transformation from an economy heavily reliant on manufacturing to one dependent on rapidly changing technology was having a similar impact. Both shifts were profoundly disruptive to a workforce that had been trained to succeed under the former system but was left deeply disoriented by changes for which it was unprepared. Both shifts exposed the worst fears of workers who felt left behind.

Working-Class White Men
Trump focused his efforts on an older generation of blue-collar workers. Many female and minority voters were put off by Trump’s messaging on social and cultural matters, but white working-class men made up the core of his support base from the first days of his candidacy. These men were told many years ago that they did not need a college education to achieve professional success and economic stability. They learned that working on an assembly line or a factory floor or a construction site might not allow them to get rich, but they could certainly purchase their own home, provide for their children and save enough for a comfortable retirement.

Millions of working-class Americans did everything they thought they were supposed to do to hold up their end of the bargain. They went to work each day, became active in their communities, and provided the structure and support for their children’s future achievements. What they did not foresee was how the world’s economy was preparing to abandon them. 

One hundred years earlier, workers whose livelihoods had depended on agriculture understood how to navigate the Industrial Revolution. They moved from their family farms to cities where they could get jobs in factories. It might have been a difficult transition but at least it was a straightforward one. In 2019, however, laid-off factory workers know they are not going to move to Silicon Valley and acquire venture-fund financing for a social-networking startup. The very best they can hope for is a short-term job-training program that teaches the most rudimentary skills of computer repair or data entry. The worst is represented by growing rates of opioid dependency, homelessness and suicide in the nation’s Rust Belt. Not surprisingly, workers are frightened by a future that doesn’t seem to have room for them — a fear Trump masterfully exploited.

Disaffected Millennials
On the other end of the political spectrum, Sanders reached out to another, equally frightened voter group — disaffected young people.

Like working-class white men, young people of the millennial generation have been struggling to do everything asked of them. In the 21st century, getting into increasingly expensive colleges doesn’t just require good high-school grades and strong test scores, but an array of extracurricular and volunteer activities, as well. As they rise through the educational system, the pressure intensifies. Most successful college students know that succeeding academically is no longer sufficient to guarantee them a well-paying job, so they pursue internships, externships and fellowships with preternatural focus and determination. 

Unfortunately, they happened to graduate from college during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, or during its uneven and unsatisfying aftermath.

Sanders appealed to their fears with tremendous effectiveness, convincing these young people that he was the one candidate who was willing to pay attention to them. Most of his young supporters understood that his promise of free college was unlikely to happen, just as most of the working-class Trump voters knew that his pledge to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border would never be fulfilled. But unlike the establishment politicians of both parties, at least these two men were responding to their fears and worries. 

The unemployed 50-something factory worker and the underemployed 20-something barista may have expressed their fears in different ways, but both felt cheated by an economic system that shortchanged them and a political system that ignored them. Both groups felt like they were being denied their piece of the American dream and didn’t understand why no one seemed to care. Trump and Sanders not only validated their fears but provided handy targets to blame. Demonizing someone — whether immigrants or bankers — was cathartic and energizing for them. And it was good politics for the two candidates.

Fear on the World Stage
Just as children and voters run away from things that frighten them, countries also retreat from scary things. America’s current retreat into isolationism is in line with a century of historical trends. After both World Wars and the wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, our exhausted and depleted nation turned inward. After every significant economic downturn, American voters decided to prioritize domestic concerns over foreign engagements. It should be no surprise that after more than a decade in Afghanistan and in the years since the economic meltdown of 2008, Americans simply want the rest of the world to leave us alone for a while. We never seem to learn the consequences of that disengagement, a lesson that is again becoming painfully apparent.

For many years, the Republican and Democratic parties’ attitudes toward international disengagement have manifested themselves in markedly different ways. Republicans expressed their concerns through a reluctance to promote a more welcoming immigration policy, while the Democrats’ wariness could be seen in their antipathy toward expanded free trade. Trump demonstrated his political savvy by being the first major political figure in recent history to strenuously oppose this country’s bridge-building efforts on both policy fronts rather than one or the other. Regardless of the outcome of his current debate with Congress over border security, he became our nation’s Wallbuilder in Chief long ago.

The fears that motivated such nationalism and isolationism are not unique to this country. The recent “Yellow Vest” protests in France, the rise of reactionary populist movements throughout Europe and the ongoing debate over Brexit in Great Britain provide ample evidence of the global nature of this challenge. But for the last several decades, the United States has played a unique role in maintaining and strengthening the international architecture on which the varying interests of individual countries could be balanced. 

For more than 40 years after the end of World War II, the world’s security, economic and diplomatic landscape was shaped by a bipolar leadership structure headed by the United States and the Soviet Union. After the end of the Cold War, the United States stood as the unchallenged organizer of an international infrastructure. But the current multipolar setup, with a growing number of aggressive global players, is an arrangement that has historically led to precarious provocations, chaos or widespread violence. Concerns of increasingly tense Middle East discord, of a resurgent Russia and an increasingly aggressive China continue to fester. Fears of international economic, military or environmental catastrophe will not be diminished without a more assertive and consistent U.S. presence on the world stage. But taking on such scary international demands requires that we as a nation present a more unified front to a global audience. Which means we must first confront our fears here at home. 

How Fear Spreads
Fear is contagious. Over the last two years, the ranks of frightened Americans have continued to grow. The two specific demographic groups that animated the 2016 campaign have been joined by much larger numbers of voters on both sides of the aisle. On one side are those who fear that — because of their gender, race, ethnicity or immigration status — they are being deprived of their rightful opportunity to share in the American dream. On the other side are those, just as frightened, who worry that they are having their share of that same American dream taken from them as the nation’s economy and culture change in ways they do not understand. The resulting animosity between those who hate Trump and those who hate those who hate Trump causes the surface anger and the fear underneath it to cascade. 

The challenge for our country’s political leaders is to explain to both groups of frightened people that the American dream is not a zero-sum game, that when some among us realize that dream, they do not prevent others from that same achievement. Rather, they increase its likelihood for all. But bringing people to understand such a reality requires a unifying message that is more challenging and complicated to communicate than it is to create bogeymen and stoke fears of the unknown.

“The percentage of Americans who would refuse to marry someone of a different race or religion is at an all-time low. On the other hand, the percentage of Americans who would refuse to date someone of the opposing political party is at an all-time high.”

How Fear Stops
Throughout history, our best leaders have made that extra effort. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously outlined the “Four Freedoms” to which we are all entitled: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Unstated but implied in his speech was that each of those freedoms is most secure when we rally together to protect them on behalf of others who are the most vulnerable to losing them. Such a view puts an added obligation on those of us who are most able: We must stand with those who are most fearful.

What frightened people fear most are people different than them. Our society has made tremendous progress on this front, as public-opinion research has shown that the percentage of Americans who would refuse to marry someone of a different race or religion is at an all-time low. On the other hand, the percentage of Americans who would refuse to date someone of the opposing political party is at an all-time high.

Certainly, we have a long way to go. We’re getting better at overcoming our fears of people who don’t look like us or talk like us, but we’re becoming much less accepting of people who don’t think like us or vote like us. We are trading one form of intolerance — and fear — for another.

Looking Harder for Common Ground
Ronald Reagan preached the value of cooperation by saying, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally.” The next step forward from Reagan’s quote would be to consider that someone who disagrees with you 80 percent of the time is still someone you can work with 20 percent of the time. But it requires a lot more work to find that 20 percent. It’s much easier to simply vilify them for those matters on which you disagree and add to the animosity and anger.

Tribalization is tempting, but rising above it is often worth the trouble. The time and effort expended in finding common ground not only may lead to substantive agreement and forward progress, but it may make the other person a little less frightening. Recognizing the humanity of someone who wants the same things for their children that you want for yours — even if they disagree with you on which political party is better equipped to deliver those things — is a small step toward tolerance and away from fear. Maybe we can remember that the person with whom we disagree isn’t someone to be hated, but rather someone with whom we can try to find even some small agreement.

The most important part of communication, of course, is listening. As a first step, exposing ourselves to the writing and thinking of smart people on the other side of the divide can help us understand that not everyone with whom we disagree is stupid or evil. Our goal should be to find intelligent thinkers who have different ideas than ours about how to take on our community’s most pressing challenges, listen to them rather than lecture them, and ask them questions rather than hurl insults at them.

And no fair seeking out the screamers and the polemicists on the other side. Pretending to engage with an avowed hate-monger is just an excuse to reinforce our own beliefs, congratulate ourselves for being so much more enlightened that our adversaries, and build the ideological and partisan walls even higher. There are smart people who come to different conclusions than we do. We owe it to ourselves to find them — and to hear them. Then after we have listened to them, the most productive response is to ask questions rather than hurl insults.

(Be warned: This approach requires a high level of intellectual courage, as well as plenty of self-confidence to defend our ideas and entertain the possibility that others might have good ideas, too. It’s also good to have ample quantities of humility.)

On the last day of every semester in the college classes I teach, I give my students one final assignment. Although I cannot grade it, I tell them the assignment will be the most important they receive over the entire course. I ask every conservative in the class to watch Rachel Maddow once a week and I encourage every liberal to read George Will or Bret Stephens with the same frequency. The goal isn’t to change anyone’s mind, just to open it.

“Maybe we can remember that the person with whom we disagree isn’t someone to be hated, but rather someone with whom we can try to find even some small agreement.”

What’s Right With America
In his first inaugural address, Bill Clinton offered a thought that can still help us with this current challenge. “There is nothing wrong with America,” he said, “that cannot be cured with what is right in America.” 

What’s right with America has always been collaboration and cooperation and the extra effort needed to overcome disagreements to work toward common goals. What’s right with America are Americans who understand that fearing those who are different just gets in the way of recognizing that the diversity of those differences is what has always allowed our country to succeed.

What’s right with America is building bridges, but the whole point of a bridge is to connect things that otherwise would be separated. This type of construction requires reaching out across obvious demographic and ideological dividing lines to overcome fears and work toward achievable, admirable goals. 

What’s wrong with America? Nothing that less fearmongering and more confidence and courage can’t solve. The question is whether we sit around waiting and hoping for the politicians to make that transformation, or whether we take the lead and show them that while fear may be an effective short-term political strategy for them, it is going to get in our way as we work toward putting our country back on track.

Talking to those with whom we disagree — and listening to them — may seem like an outdated concept. Certainly, advances in communications technology make it easier than ever to avoid them. But maybe it’s worth the effort, if only to replace fear with trust.


Dan Schnur teaches political communications and leadership at USC, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Hulu Axes Silverman’s ‘I Love You America’

Sarah Silverman is the creator of “I Love You, America.”

Hulu has no more love for “I Love You America.” The streaming service has canceled Sarah Silverman’s variety-talk series after one 21-episode season.

“Well, Hulu canceled ‘I LOVE YOU AMERICA’ and we’re all pretty damn heartbroken. … So in traditional twitter funeral style, I’ll be RTing the love,” Silverman tweeted the news.

The comedian co-produced the series with Adam McKay, Amy Zvi and Gavin Purcell, for Funny or Die, which released a statement in reaction.

“We are so proud of ‘I Love You, America’ and congratulate Sarah, the producers and the entire team for engaging thoughtful conversation and showcasing such diverse points of view every week,” it read. “Whether it was connecting with firemen in Mineola, Texas, over ‘pooping their pants’ stories, or going on a blind date with a conservative lobbyist in D.C., Sarah’s commitment was boundless and there is nothing more to say.”

An Illiberal Lament?

Writing in the wake of the slaughter of Jews at worship in their Pittsburgh synagogue, Gal Beckerman, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, quickly pivoted from anti-Semitism to a more potent threat facing American Jews: the thinness of their religious culture, especially within the precincts of the non-Orthodox. (New York Times, Nov. 18).

The headline on Beckerman’s essay, a Book Review cover piece for all to see, speaks loudly and sadly: “Lamentations.” For historically sensitive Jews, that word conveys destruction and disintegration. Put in the contemporary context, America, its unprecedented freedom and beckoning arms, has been wonderful for the Jews — and something far less: a dissolvent of a once vibrant religious culture.

Recently came a different lamentation, one likewise in regard to liberal Judaism, particularly Reform. This expression, though, was, in essence, the reverse of Beckerman’s keening.

Its author, Judith Taylor, wrote ruefully in the Forward of a Canadian Reform movement “sorely behind” its American counterparts, most of all, on matters of inclusion.

“Canada’s Jews will sustain their religious culture more successfully than will our confreres south of the border.”

By her telling, Taylor arrived in Toronto 15 years ago from the U.S., only to be badly disappointed by the behind-the-times Canadian Reform movement (read: rabbis). Having assessed her new country as laudably socially progressive — especially compared with her former one — Taylor laments, what for her is, an exclusivist, almost retrograde, Canadian Reform Rabbinate. All the more so in relation to our (apparently, far more liberal) American rabbinic counterparts.

The bill of particulars? Canadian Reform rabbis betray “narrow mindedness” about who is a Jew; inexcusably, they refuse non-Jews the recital of brachot at the Torah reading; and, all together, are found inexplicably lagging on “inclusion” issues.

If that weren’t indictment enough, Canadian rabbis “buffer” local Jews from the progressive ways south of the border. (Really? Are Canadian Jews so unable to see what happens elsewhere, as to be incapable of figuring out whom to pay regard?)  In case the message isn’t sufficiently clear, the writer asserts that Canada’s liberal rabbis are on the “wrong side of history.”

With respect: Nonsense. I fear the writer, no doubt with all good intentions, flirts with what (at least in her Forward story) she charges the rabbis: being illiberal. She judges Canadian Reform rabbis harshly: stuck in a time warp, resistant to change, dividing Jews from one another. The writer’s judgmental stance, given her professed liberal loyalties, is jarring.

A personal note: it’s, at best, careless to say of me (as does the writer) that I changed my mind about officiating at same-sex weddings, in effect, because “he could no longer ignore the gay people in his community.”

Hardly the case. Mine (as with Barack Obama’s virtually the same week), was an honest change of heart about an important issue. It’s a shame the writer distorts my intent so casually — so much so, one wonders if she read the sermon. Canadian Jewish News readers can do so for themselves and make their own judgment. Read “Rabbis at Gay and Lesbian Weddings: How I Changed My Mind” (found in my 2015 book, “Evolution of an Unorthodox Rabbi.”)

More important, read the thoughtful response by the Reform rabbis of Canada to the Forward story. Authored by several rabbis across the country, signed onto by the vast majority, the response roots itself in Jewish tradition no less than the contemporary experience, in communal norms as well as real lives. It’s an impressive articulation of why Canadian Reform differs from its American counterpart. (I had no part in the writing, and back it wholeheartedly.)

A final personal note: After three decades in Canada, I remain enthusiastic about America. It’s “my home and native land,” as I’ve also learned to say and feel. But Canada’s virtues, though more understated, are no less compelling than those of its neighbor. And I’d venture to guess that, in the long run (as in the short), Canada’s Jews will sustain their religious culture more successfully than will our confreres south of the border.


John Moscowitz is rabbi emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.

Challah and Sufganiyot in the Clouds

Winston Churchill was so impressed by Uganda during his 1907 safari that he wrote a book about it titled “My African Journey.” Published in 1908, Churchill wrote of the then-British Protectorate: “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.” 

Churchill’s arduous journey took him from Mombasa and Kisumu in Kenya, across Lake Victoria and into Entebbe and Jinja in Uganda. 

Upon reaching Ripon Falls, he left “modernity” behind, walking, bicycling and canoeing until he reached Murchison Falls, the world’s most powerful waterfall. Although he continued by boat along the Nile through Uganda into Sudan to Khartoum, it was Uganda that he fell in love with. Most visitors to Uganda still do, only now, much more comfortably than Churchill did and enjoying much better food than was available in 1907.

Indeed, after living in Uganda for over a decade and having traversed the continent, I’m left breathless every time I venture outside its lively cities. A two-hour drive outside the capital Kampala’s perimeter delivers nature’s full bounty with plentiful wildlife and endless swamps of papyrus, forests and vast African plains. As a chef and founder of two of Kampala’s first Western restaurants, I’m often asked to train to various lodge staffs around the country, some with remote bush kitchens, little more than tin shacks without running water or sometimes even electricity. 

Last week, I was elated to have a four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend free and an invitation to southwest Uganda to a remarkable award-winning lodge called Clouds, part of a five-star franchise of safari lodges in isolated locations around the country. Wildplaces camps are remote, luxurious throwbacks to a more glamorous era with personal butler service, spas, gourmet food and some of the world’s most stunning views. The brainchild of Montreal-born Pamela Kertland and her British husband, Jonathan Wright, I’d been to some other of their properties, and they never disappointed in a single detail. 

Clouds, Uganda’s highest-elevation lodge, is located near the Nkuringo trailhead, ideal for gorilla tracking. It sits on a mountaintop at an elevation of 7,000 feet overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is ringed by active volcanoes that glow red in the night sky. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to almost half of the remaining endangered mountain gorilla populations, making it a “bucket list” destination for international tourists who buy tracking permits for a few hours of up close and personal time with these mesmerizing behemoths.

I left Kampala at daybreak on Thanksgiving and was driven seven hours until the fully paved roads gave way to gravel trails that hugged the side of the steep mountain for another two hours until I reached Clouds. 

We arrive in the afternoon under heavy black clouds hanging above the volcanoes into a breathtaking, warehouse-sized reception hall with a ceiling rimmed in Swiss chalet-style beams of wood. There is no mistake, though, that this is Africa in between the wooden sculptures and masks, I recognize the works of the most famous Ugandan painters and photographers in frames on the walls. 

I’m greeted by the young resident manager, chef Annabelle Wright, daughter of the lodge owners and a graduate of the London’s Michelin-starred Hambleton Hall and the revered Bocca di Lupo. My job is to teach her staff some American favorites in the form of bagels and doughnuts, challah for French toast and New York-style pizza dough recipe. 

That evening, dinner is eaten by candlelight and we all inhale Wright’s fresh butternut squash ravioli dressed simply in browned butter and sage from the vast garden behind the property.

The next morning, I spend the day in the kitchen with Wright hand mixing challah dough, teaching her the blessing as I braid it, and then how I turn it into sufganiyot or Hanukkah doughnuts. We decide to make a crème patisserie and, while it’s chilling in the refrigerator, I shape the remaining half of the challah dough into balls for sufganiyot. While they are rising, I paint the now-risen challah with egg wash and place it into a charcoal stove for baking (there is no thermometer-regulated oven in the kitchen). I push in the loaf and hope for the best.

After frying the sufganiyot, letting them cool and filling them with pastry cream, we garnish them with fresh borage flowers from the garden. We present them on a bed of coarse sugar to an American couple drinking champagne in the lodge. I explain the meaning of Hanukkah and the eight-day tradition of eating food fried in oil, and they proceed to taste them.

Their eyes widen at first bite. “We can’t believe we came to Uganda to eat the best doughnut we’ve ever tasted!” they exclaim. 

I bet that’s exactly what Winston Churchill would have said.

CHALLAH SUFGANIYOT
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus 4 1/4 cups for frying
4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup seedless jam or jelly, any flavor or pastry cream
Powdered sugar for garnish

To make the dough, put lukewarm water in the bowl of stand mixer. Add yeast and sugar, and stir to combine. Let the yeast mixture rest for 5 minutes.

Add the beaten eggs and egg yolk, along with 1/4 cup of oil, to the bowl and stir to combine.

While the mixer is running slowly, add the flour, salt and nutmeg, and mix until the dough comes together. Mix for 5 minutes to knead the dough well. Turn off mixer and let the dough sit in the bowl of the mixer for 15 minutes.

After the rest period, turn the dough out into a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 8 hours — preferably overnight.

When ready to form sufganiyot, remove dough from the fridge and portion into about 1 1/2- to 2-ounce balls, resting each on a baking paper-lined sheet tray.

Cover the doughnuts with lightly greased cling film or a cloth kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm part of the kitchen until doubled in size, or about one hour. 

To fry the doughnuts, heat the remaining vegetable oil in a pot or wok until the oil reaches 360 F on a thermometer. Carefully add a few doughnuts to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Use a slotted spoon to remove the doughnuts from the hot oil and place them on paper towels to absorb extra oil. 

Let the doughnuts cool completely. To fill, place filling of your choice in a plastic bag or piping bag. Using a chopstick, make a hole in the top or side of doughnut. Remove chopstick and insert the tip of the piping bag. Pipe in 2 or 3 teaspoons of jam or cream into the center of each doughnut. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Makes about 20 sufganiyot.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef
at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Tipping Point: Israel and the ‘Community of Nations’

News of the surprise two-years-in-the-making visit to Israel by the president of Muslim-majority Chad broke on the same day that the Czech head of state announced in Jerusalem his nation’s intention to move Prague’s embassy to the holy city. This came on the backdrop of reports that the Jewish state is seeking to establish full diplomatic ties with Mali, Niger and even Sudan. Jerusalem also purportedly is eyeing Bahrain and Oman, the latter of which just reiterated that “the Arab states need to come to terms with the reality that Israel is a fact of life in the region.”

For its entire history, the State of Israel has been widely viewed as a pariah, a status quo many assumed would persist for as long as its conflict with the Palestinians — and perhaps thereafter. According to conventional wisdom, it would languish forever in a sort of diplomatic purgatory with only the Americans in its corner.

Yet, a simple glance at the world map reveals a growing landscape dotted with countries clamoring for Israeli expertise in fields ranging from defense and counterterrorism to agriculture and medicine. It seems that the Jewish state is on the precipice of a major, overarching and perhaps redefining diplomatic breakthrough.

After 70 years, Israel may be on the verge of joining the so-called “community of nations.”

To this end, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed he would soon travel to other Arab countries; this, after his October trip to Oman, which immediately preceded Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev’s visit to the United Arab Emirates. Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz this month likewise attended a conference in Oman, while Economy Minister Eli Cohen reportedly received an invitation to visit Bahrain in early 2019 to participate in a high-tech summit organized by the World Bank.

All of this follows Netanyahu’s alleged secret trip to Cairo in May, which came on the heels of his high-profile public meeting last year with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Despite Jordanian King Abdullah’s often-harsh rhetoric, Amman maintains close security and economic ties with Israel and recognizes the important role Jerusalem plays in ensuring continued Hashemite rule of Jordan.

”It is abundantly clear that Arab and Muslim nations would love to establish bilateral relations,” said Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel and currently a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center. “The reasoning is threefold: a common interest in curbing Iran; fatigue with the Palestinian issue; and the knowledge that Israel is the only dynamic and high-tech economy, especially in the cyber field, in the region.

“It seems that the Jewish state is on the precipice of a major, overarching and perhaps redefining diplomatic breakthrough.”

“Despite this, the cup-half-empty side of the story is that Israel’s international image is at a nadir, as the overall level of delegitimization is increasing. Even in many countries with which Israel has good working relations, public opinion is horrible. This is most apparent in Europe and is making inroads into the United States. To offset the potential severe consequences, Israel will need to change its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. It is unclear if anything can be done to end the conflict — and people forget the Palestinians previously were offered comprehensive peace proposals — but Jerusalem could halt settlement activity and publicly reiterate support for the two-state solution. This might not fully solve the problem, but it would help.”

While the stalemated peace process continues to cause friction with Western European countries, Netanyahu nevertheless has over the past six months received German Chancellor Angela Merkel and was welcomed in both London and Paris. Moreover, to counter what the prime minister has described as the European Union’s “hostile” attitude toward the Jewish state, efforts have been made to strengthen ties with lesser powers on the continent.

For example, Netanyahu recently was the first-ever foreign leader to partake in a summit of the Craiova Forum, consisting of Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Greece. In August, he met in Vilnius with the heads of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Before that, he attended a meeting of the Visegrad Group, made up of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Over the summer, Netanyahu hosted Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

A further examination of the West shows relations with the United States — which, along with Israel’s technological and military prowess, forms the bedrock of its global standing — have never been better than under President Donald Trump. 

Moving forward, Netanyahu is expected to travel to Brazil for the inauguration of president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who vowed to make the Jewish state the destination of his first trip abroad. Last year, the prime minister became the first sitting Israeli leader to visit Latin America, making stops in Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia and Mexico. Israel’s ties to Honduras and Guatemala also appear to be at all-time high levels.

Concurrently, Israel has focused on deepening its connection to many states in Africa, to which Netanyahu has traveled three times in the past two years. Ghana’s foreign minister recently announced that her government is assisting Jerusalem in its bid to gain observer status at the African Union, a potentiality publicly backed by Kenya and Ethiopia. Representatives from Angola, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Rwanda and Zambia reportedly attended the opening in May of the American embassy in Jerusalem. Ties have been re-established with the Republic of Guinea and Tanzania.

“Netanyahu during the past half-decade has made an effort to reach out to governments that in the past have not been approached,” said Ofer Israeli, a lecturer and senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya. “These are smaller countries in the international arena but when it comes to the United Nations, every vote is equal. So Israel has tried to make as many ‘friends’ as possible.

“This policy is partially the product of ‘liberal’ states like Britain, France and Germany not supporting Israel because of the Palestinian issue. Jerusalem has no other option but to look elsewhere, including to those less democratic in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Gulf. Israel also is trying to create ties with nations such as Brazil, where the leadership [has shifted to the right]. Another main objective is to target whoever might move their embassy to Jerusalem.”

This more-the-merrier attitude has not inhibited Israel from attracting the attention of traditional and emerging powers, including Russia, as evidenced by ongoing military coordination in Syria despite the recent crisis over the accidental downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane. Meanwhile, bilateral relations are budding with China The bond between Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, is well-documented.

Overall, this expanding network of government-government relationships is reshaping Israel’s geopolitical standing, albeit this success has not fully extended to the level of populations. While that is a concern that needs to be addressed, a country that has a lot to offer will invariably be courted, respected and, by extension, accepted. Israel has become a model for this type of modern diplomacy, which has opened up to it potentialities once thought unimaginable.

Is America a Racist Country?

There’s a powerful story in the Nov. 26 issue of Time magazine titled, “I Love America. That’s Why I Have to Tell the Truth About It.” It’s written by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen.

In his piece, Nguyen addresses the criticisms of America and other countries that he included in other writings, which prompted protests from a few U.S. military veterans. Nguyen explained that those criticisms were really a sign of love.

“I made such criticisms not because I hated all the countries that I have known but because I love them,” he writes. “My love for my countries is difficult because their histories, like those of all countries, are complicated.”

I understand Nguyen’s way of expressing a “difficult” love through criticism. Love is a complicated emotion. And criticism can spur improvement and help make things better. 

What I would suggest is that if we don’t complement criticism with progress, we can create a distorted view of reality. Take, for example, the issue of racism in America.

In recent years, there’s been a popular meme contending that America is an inherently racist country. As The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson declared in 2015, “America will only end racism when it stops being racist.” Even President Barack Obama said at the time that “racism remains a blight that we have to combat together.”

Since President Donald Trump entered the White House two years ago, the racism meme has only gotten louder. From the continued expansion of Black Lives Matter to professional football players protesting police violence against Blacks to white supremacists making more noise, the implication has been that racism is alive and thriving in America.

But is it? Let’s pull back and look at the bigger picture.

According to a 2017 report in The Economist, “Americans appear far less racist than in the past. Only 4 percent of Americans supported interracial marriage in 1958. By 1997 that was 50 percent; today it is 87 percent.”

Also, according to The Economist, “racially and ethnically motivated hate crimes reported to the FBI fell 48 percent between 1994 and 2015.”

How about racist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan? According to a 2012 report in Slate, the KKK is “clearly contracting, since its rolls have shrunk from millions in the 1920s to between 3,000 and 5,000 today.” 

“While we must always stay vigilant and pounce any time racism rears its ugly head, we also have an obligation to show the full picture.”

In a recent podcast interview on City Journal, Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Shelby Steele, who specializes in the study of race relations, multiculturalism and affirmative action, also touched on the theme of racial progress:

“The impulse of racism is something that all human beings, I think, have to come to terms with, struggle against, learn all sorts of moral lessons from. But it is not, I don’t believe at any rate … the problem that Black America faces today. And I think one of the most unrecognized features of American life is the enormous moral progress America has made since the ’60s.”

Steele, who is Black, added: “I grew up in segregation. I know what that was like. And when I look at my life today in America, everything is wide open. I can do anything I want. … I don’t detect any will in the society, in American society, to oppress Blacks anymore. Any hint of wanting something like that would be utterly ruinous to a person, to their reputation. They would pay a terrible price for it.” 

None of this is to suggest that racism is dead, or even dying, in America. As Steele reminds us, the “impulse of racism,” however shameful, is something that may never be eradicated. 

What the new reality does suggest, however, is that the long arc of racial justice in America is going in the right direction.

You probably wouldn’t know about this progress from watching the evening news, for the simple reason that good news doesn’t sell. It’s hard to imagine a special report on CNN on how “Americans appear far less racist than in the past.” How sensational would that be? 

And yet, we need those reports. While we must always stay vigilant and pounce any time racism rears its ugly head, we also have an obligation to show the full picture. Bad news may be more lucrative than good news, but good news can often give us a more balanced view of reality.  

That’s why I wrote this column. Just like Viet Thanh Nguyen, I love America, and I have to tell the truth about it.

And part of that truth is: Just as Jews light a candle for every night of Hanukkah, America has fought its own darkness by lighting a candle of justice for every generation.

For me, it is those inexorable candles of hope, however hazy they may appear at times, that are the real drama of this country.

Happy Hanukkah. 

Diaspora Jews’ Role in Shaping Israel’s Future

When many of us enter our synagogues, we see two flags framing the Aron Kodesh: the flag of the United States and the flag of Israel. 

Looking at the American flag, we may think about how much this country has changed over the past two years and how deeply concerned we are about its direction. Nevertheless, as disheartened as we may feel, we are empowered by the knowledge that we have the right, responsibility and ability to fight for what we believe.

Our thoughts about the Israeli flag are more complicated. Many of us think about how much Israel has changed and how concerned we are about some of its policies, whether they relate to the coercive role of state religion or to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

We know that the Star of David at the center of the Israeli flag is a Jewish star. What Israel does helps define us; what we do helps define Israel. Yet many American Jews still believe we must constrain our words and actions when it comes to the policies that are shaping the very future of the Jewish state.

To be sure, there is a growing recognition of Israel-Diaspora interdependency, as Dennis Ross wrote in The New Republic: “The Israeli government must pay more attention to the sensitivities in the outside Jewish world, particularly when the state declares itself to be the nation-state of the Jewish people. That requires its leaders to see themselves as representing the Jewish communities outside of Israel as well.”

At the same time, Ross continues, “Diaspora Jewry should also acknowledge a basic reality: When it comes to security, it is Israelis who live in a region where threats are commonplace and peace is not. … When it comes to security issues, the Diaspora’s considerations must be secondary to Israel’s.”

Ross’ distinction may be familiar but it is no longer functional. The conventional wisdom, that American Jews can be involved in “who is a Jew” or helping victims of terror, but not in matters related to West Bank settlements or attacks on Israel’s democratic institutions, is outdated.

Indeed, perhaps the most generous American donor to Israeli causes, Sheldon Adelson, doesn’t abide by this distinction. Yes, he supports Israelis who are researching how to cure cancer and strengthening Jewish identity. And, although he is not an Israeli citizen and cannot vote in an Israeli election, Adelson also gives tens of millions of dollars to Israeli institutions that advocate foreign and defense policies reflecting his own perspective on what is best for Israel. Indeed, his funding also enables these same organizations to thwart the efforts of Israelis who think differently.

“We know that the Star of David at the center of the Israeli flag is a Jewish star. What Israel does helps define us; what we do helps define Israel. “

I believe that Adelson, who certainly sees the Jewish star at the center of the Israeli flag, presents us with a challenge: Will those of us who are troubled by policies we believe put the future of a Jewish, democratic state at risk, embrace our right and the responsibility as Jews to support the causes, organizations, and policies that reflect our values and our convictions?

I hope we will. I hope we will assert the right and duty of all American Jews to do the same:

Whether they are bat mitzvah girls denied an aliyah at the Kotel …

or college students who feel isolated on campus — attacked for their support of Israel but ostracized for speaking out against Israeli settlements …

or community leaders concerned about the rise on anti-Semitism …

or pro-Israel activists who, like hundreds of Israeli generals, believe that annexing the West Bank would weaken Israel’s security and eventually jeopardize American support for Israel …

We must do so, for the sake of Israel, for the sake of what we hold dear at home, and for the sake of our children, many of whom are turning away from Israel because they don’t hear us sharing their concerns about the direction the country is heading.

If we believe the Jewish star to be ours, each one of us must live by our values, and thereby help shape the future of the Jewish state.


Jonathan Jacoby is the recipient of this year’s Career Achievement Award from the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California.

Rethinking Jews’ Place in America

Photo from Twitter.

Unlike any other anti-Semitic incident, the Tree of Life Congregation tragedy has destroyed American Jews’ assumptions about our place in American society. We believed that deadly acts of anti-Semitism had been relegated to another era, only to see the rebirth of violent hate in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood and beyond. Now, caught up in a suddenly tense and hostile political climate, America’s Jewish community is struggling to find its political voice. 

As a community, we hold to a series of core beliefs. We envision our Judaism and our Americanism to be in consort with each other. We believe each generation builds upon the last. And we see the pursuit of these value propositions advancing the perfectibility of humankind. 

Following World War II, globalism would redefine America’s place in the world. As a central player in promoting regional models of collective action, the United States would form military alliances and economic trade arrangements designed to connect this nation with the world. The genius of the Marshall Plan and the success of NATO had symbolized the post-war American model of global engagement. Many of us also became globalists. We asserted our role in advocating for human rights on the world stage, beginning with Soviet Jewry and extending to endangered communities well beyond the Jewish world.

Because of our economic and social standing, and the individual and collective achievements of Jews, we have taken pride that Jewish Americans disproportionately contribute to this nation’s cultural messaging, imprinting its social behaviors and helping to frame its political conversations.

The Trump presidency has brought about a fundamentally disruptive moment in this nation’s political culture. Not only are we experiencing strikingly different policy options and directions, but the current cultural artifacts of politics — namely how this president operates — dramatically challenge the existing norms of political behavior and action. As our society is shifting from a period of American liberalism to political populism, deep fissures are dividing Americans in general and Jews in particular. Jewish political differences may never have been more pronounced than they are today, as Jews debate and disagree over how to define their vision for America and their own self-interests.

Amid this fundamental political sea change that appears to be underway, with new strains of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism emerging to test America’s social fabric, America’s Jews are experiencing a new type of angst. After decades of being seen as political outsiders, Jews in recent times have become defined as part of the United States’ power class — or, within some circles, the “oppressor class.” On the left, political forces embrace the “intersectionality” movement and interject their anti-Zionist convictions as they dismiss Jews as privileged white political actors. By embracing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, the political left has targeted Israel as a strategic gateway to its war on the Jews. On the political right, we see patterns of both blatant and subtle anti-Semitism. The liberal Jewish establishment is blamed for promoting “anti-white policies” such as immigration and diversity. The alt-right and others see egalitarianism, globalism and multiculturalism as Jewish-inspired, liberal initiatives that run counter to American nationalist norms and values. 

“With new strains of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism emerging to test America’s social fabric, America’s Jews are experiencing a new type of angst.”

A debate has arisen within the Jewish community over which of these political assaults, from the right or the left, should be considered more potentially damaging to America’s Jews and our interests. In arguing such questions, advocates seek to minimize the impact of one side over the other, suggesting that there are degrees to the new politics of hate, as if anti-Jewish behavior is somehow less threatening or damaging from one political extreme than another.

Are the political climate and social fabric of this society coming undone, and in the process are Jews finding themselves increasingly disconnected from the changing mores and values that define the changing American character? What are the contributing ingredients to this new condition?

Pittsburgh may have awakened us to this new and uncomfortable reality. The loss of historic memory and a devaluing of the past give credence to our opponents. The radicalization of our nation’s politics and the invention of political myths are contributing to this new political order. In an age when the rhetoric of hate has taken center stage, this must be seen as problematic to the Jewish condition. 

Today, there is a growing political uncertainty among some of us. The impact of the Pittsburgh attack represented more than an assault on individual Jews. It brought to light the question of our collective well-being. Many Jewish voters entered their voting booths on Nov. 6 still dealing with the aftermath of the most deadly anti-Semitic shooting in American history.

We need to remind ourselves that, historically, Jews have not fared well in political regimes built around extreme nationalism and hate rhetoric. Identity politics, which has become the mantra for some, may produce some short-term victories; but ultimately it must be seen as highly problematic for the Jewish community. 

The biggest potential story of 2018 may still be unfolding. In the aftermath of Trump’s remake of the Republican Party, where will prominent conservative thought leaders and writers such as Bret Stephens and Max Boot find a political home? Unhappy with their party’s white nationalistic rhetoric and anti-immigrant focus, what political pathways are ahead for Jewish Republicans who differ with the president? 

One needs to ask a similar question to Jewish Democrats who, in some cases, are increasingly concerned about the progressive wing of their party and, more pointedly, its anti-Israel, pro-BDS sentiments.

 Over time, are we likely to see a fundamental, political realignment involving disillusioned Jewish Republicans and Democrats? Where do American Jewish activists find a new political base in this uncertain climate?

In both real and symbolic ways, has Pittsburgh distorted and destroyed our assumptions about ourselves and our beliefs about America? We had understood this nation to represent a different proposition: here, anti-Semitism would have no space and we envisioned our Judaism in consort with our Americanism.

At this moment, we are a people in search of our political identity.

There is a heightened awareness among Jews of the growth of extremist expressions challenging not only the existing democratic norms of the nation but also how minority communities, including Jewish Americans, are being categorized and threatened. As we have seen, the fallout from this type of politics has also invaded today’s Jewish public space, where Jews are battling against one another.

Who today can speak to the collective priorities of American Jewry? A new and dangerous divide seems to have replaced the once robust voices of an energized polity. As this American Jewish journey unfolds, how we manage this moment represents a critical test about our character and credibility and our future roles as Americans.


Steven Windmueller is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at HUC-JIR, Los Angeles. 

Why We’re So Spooked by the Bomb Threats

It’s not as if our country isn’t used to violence. We lose thousands every year to gun shootings alone. In an open society, some people will, all too often, resort to violence to settle their differences. That’s a given.

So why are we so spooked by the threat of violence against politicians and media outlets which has been all over the news this week? So far, thankfully no one has been hurt by the pipe bombs which were discovered in mail directed against President and Mrs. Obama, President and Secretary Clinton, CNN and others.

And yet, it feels like a disaster, because it crosses a sacred line. It harkens back to those rare and dark times in our history when violence has poisoned politics; when even presidents like Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy were not immune.

Our republic lives or dies on our ability to resolve our political differences without resorting to violence. Without that, we might as well close shop.

Everything about the American political tradition — our Constitution, our system of laws, our rules of Congressional decorum, our tradition of checks and balances, our elections, etc.– revolves around managing power and politics peacefully, without physical violence.

How we react when the threat of political violence rears its ugly head — as it did this week — is crucial. We fail royally when we blame one side more than the other. All that does is reinforce the extreme partisanship that got us in this mess in the first place.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. Both sides have used language that can lead to violence. Both sides have violated basic rules of political discourse. Both sides are guilty.

Even if you’re certain that “the other side” is more to blame, this is not the time. When it comes to keeping violence out of politics, we must all be fanatically bipartisan.

“While we have yet to learn all the facts behind the attempted mail-bombings reported Wednesday, I fear the disturbing frequency of politically motivated threats and violence is a sign that too many Americans are becoming isolated and obsessed by what divides us, putting political disagreements front and center in how we relate to one another,” writes Republican Steve Scalise, who survived a politically motivated assassination attempt while practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game last year.

We should heed Scalise’s words. We should not allow politics to rule our lives. We should condemn violence equally regardless of where it originates. And the media must do its part, even if alarmism and partisanship are good for business. What is at stake is more than the future of a political party or a media company—but the future of our republic.

As Scalise writes, “America is better than these acts of threats, intimidation and violence against people based on their political beliefs. We are better than this, and we will move beyond this.”

Let’s make sure he’s right.

Why Trump Is Good for Israel

I know the risk I take when I say anything positive about President Donald Trump in today’s climate of self-congratulatory partisan idiocy. My friends in Washington, D.C., who dared weigh things on their merits, who wrote things like “regardless of what you think about him in general, on this one issue he may be right,” have been assaulted like a bad implant swarmed by antibodies. 

As an Israeli, I will be forgiven for caring less about newly minted Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, dog whistles, white supremacists and what happens at the U.S.-Mexico border than I do about foreign policy and, especially, Israel policy. 

And in that arena, Trump, in his brash style, his flouting of norms, his calling allies to order and enemies by name, his willingness to use power unpredictably to advance clearly defined interests, his intuitive and accurate grasp of regional and global power maps, and his rebuilding of American military might and sovereign will — he has not made America weak, and certainly has not made Israel weak. 

Very much the opposite.

When I was in high school in Boston in the 1980s, I was surrounded by teachers and friends who were convinced that Ronald Reagan was the worst president in American history, and that words and actions toward the mighty Soviet Union were “crazy” and going to result in “everybody dying in a thermonuclear war.” 

Nothing drove them more nuts than American victory in the Cold War. To this day, they scramble to attribute the fall of the Soviet Union to anything other than Reagan.

So write it on the balloons at your next gala dinner: Donald Trump is, so far at least, very good for Israel.

What does Israel really need? 

Well, what does any small country need when it’s trying to succeed in a volatile neighborhood? It needs geostrategic tailwinds from powerful allies. It needs enemies and friends alike to think the country should not be messed with. It needs help carving out a strategic “safe space” so it can navigate complicated and changing power constellations, and the room to let its economy grow. 

Yes, advanced weapons and money help. But more important is the clarity: the consistent, unambiguous public backing, in words and deeds, from the most powerful country on Earth. 

“What does Israel really need? Yes, advanced weapons and money help. But more important is the clarity: the consistent, unambiguous public backing, in words and deeds, from the most powerful country on Earth. In this, Trump is helping Israel more than his predecessor did.”

In this, Trump is helping Israel more than his predecessor did, and maybe even more than the ones before did. 

Former President Barack Obama was, at best, an unreliable ally. He never failed to remind Israelis that he kept up the aid money. But he knew and we knew that the actual importance of that $4 billion has shrunk dramatically when seen as a percentage of Israel’s budget or its GDP (now around 3 percent and 1 percent, respectively). Today the money is the least important component of the United States’ strategic support. The U.S. could cut it off tomorrow without much of a blip on Israel’s balance sheet, much less the instant holocaust that American Jews usually assume would follow.

Yet on the things that counted, Obama worked against Israel’s strategic needs. He cut a deal with Israel’s most dangerous enemy, Iran, that delayed its nuclear program (which it didn’t really need), but gave the regime instead what it desperately did need — billions of dollars and a U.S. commitment to turn them into a “very successful regional power” (Obama’s words). Obama waffled on Syria, fueling its instability and expanding Iran’s reach. And let’s not forget his unprecedented slam-the-door-behind-you abstention on the anti-Israel U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016, after the moving vans had arrived on the White House lawn. These were not the acts of a friend. 

Trump’s support has, by contrast, been unambiguous where it counts: The words and actions that tell everybody which way the winds are blowing. 

This is why moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem was so valuable, as were closing the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, restoring sanctions on Iran, and main-taining intolerance for U.N. hostility and Palestinian pay-to-slay policies. Taken together, these actions have sent a clear signal to the world, one that makes my children safer. 

And we have seen the results. Did anybody notice how Russia entered into an uncomfortable alliance with Iran to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad, and yet has been forced by the new reality to tolerate Israeli air strikes against Iranian military assets across the country? Did anybody notice that these airstrikes ramped up immediately after Trump’s cancellation of the Iran deal? I’d love to be in that room where the Russians are trying to explain to the Iranians why they keep letting Israel do that. 

That’s why I’m a lot less worried about a Trump peace plan than I was about the Oslo Accords and the other very bad ideas American diplomats have tried in the past. 

Things have changed. The Palestinians, whose cause went global in the 1960s because the Arab states and the Soviet Union needed a propaganda weapon against the West, now have lost both of their backers: The Soviets are gone, while Egypt and the Gulf States have understood the power of the Israel-U.S. alliance. For them, the Palestinian cause has outlived its usefulness.

Yes, you still have hordes of hung-over students shouting, “Apartheid!” and cheering on while Hamas sends fire balloons across the border. But in terms of real power, the Palestinians are today isolated, flat-footed, flailing for money, internally torn, rudderless, with leaders who do nothing to advance either their economic or national aspirations, who only perpetuate their misery. 

In such a context, we can imagine the impasse being broken. For in most conflicts, peace happens only when one side loses, or senses it’s about to. Most peace deals are little more than a resignation to prevent the indignity of a checkmate. It’s not likely in this case, but it’s far from impossible.

So, as much as you want to incorporate Israel into your narrative about how horrible Trump is for everything, in the case of Israel, it just sounds like a silly, desperate talking point. And it surely doesn’t help the prospects of peace.

READ MORE: “WHY TRUMP IS BAD FOR ISRAEL”


David Hazony is an author and executive director of The Israel Innovation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting Israeli culture in the world.

Why Trump Is Bad for Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump displays a presidential memorandum after announcing his intent to withdraw from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

There are few policy arenas in which President Donald Trump has been more successful in his misdirection of the nation’s attention than the Middle East. For many in the Jewish community — including many in its leadership — there is a reticence to speak up about the outrages of the Trump administration, in large measure because of the president’s perceived “support” for Israel.

After all, he recognized Jerusalem as the nation’s capital, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he has been a staunch advocate for Israel in international bodies, and he embraces Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while making virtually no demands on him. It looks so appealing.

But the reality is that much of what Trump has done vis-a-vis Israel is, in fact, a superficial performance — rhetorically, diplomatically and symbolically — that is at odds with the very policies that will help the Jewish state in the long term. In fact, his policies put the nation, and what exists of an international order striving for calm, in greater peril than it has been in many years.

Community Advocates, in partnership with Jews United for Democracy and Justice (“JUDJ”), four major synagogues (Valley Beth Shalom, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Stephen Wise Temple, Leo Baeck Temple), and the Jewish Center for Justice recently hosted an event at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino featuring Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and special adviser for Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia in several administrations.

Ross is among the most knowledgeable experts in the world on the diplomacy of the Middle East. He has served as the point man in negotiations between the Arab states, Israel and the United States in every administration since President George H.W. Bush (under Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama). He facilitated the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty; he brokered the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 1997 Hebron accord, and intensively worked to bring together Israel and Syria in a peace deal. He is also the author of several authoritative books on the region and the peace process.

If one wants a thoughtful, fact-based, nonpartisan analysis of what is transpiring in the Middle East, what the future portends and what the real-world implications of policy decisions are, there is no one who knows more and has more experience in the region than Dennis Ross. He is the best of the Middle East mavens.

In describing Trump administration policies toward the region’s issues, Ross spoke of a “crisis of values” and “a real Russia problem.” Trump has made the situation far worse than it has been in decades.

“Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — in its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts is dangerous to everyone involved. “

For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced plans to provide Syria with S300 surface-to-air missiles as well as sophisticated electronic counter measures, which the Trump administration has not objected to. Those moves, combined with “malign Iranian activities,” has put Israel in a nearly impossible, precarious and potentially existentially dangerous position. Ross observed that until now, “the Russians have given the Israelis a free hand to carry out operations (in Syria) and they (the Israelis) have carried out more than 200 operations in Syria against Iranian and Shia militia targets. They no longer have a free hand and the Iranians have been given a free hand. … The Israelis won’t allow themselves to be put in a position where they are threatened in almost an existential way by what the Iranians are introducing into Lebanon and Syria. … so far, they have had to manage the Russians entirely on their own. Do you think it’s an accident that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made nine visits to Moscow to see Putin?” (emphasis added)

Ross made clear how the Trump response to Russia’s actions in Syria, to essentially absent himself from the conflict, differs from his predecessors and places Israel in peril. “Historically, there was a relationship that we had where we kind of said to the Israelis ‘OK, you are responsible for dealing with the threats in the region, we will provide the material support, but when it comes to the Soviets and others outside the region that might threaten or inhibit you, that’s on us.’ That was the historic posture of Republican and Democratic presidents alike — and I know that since I served in most of those administrations. That has not been the case now.” (emphasis added)

Ross laid out the steps that the administration should take to counter Russia, Iran and the Shia militias — none of which is happening. Rather, Trump has offered a vague pledge, “‘I’ll call Putin at some point.’” Ross sarcastically observed, “well, that’s reassuring.” The way to deal with Putin, Ross advised, is not to follow the Trump playbook. “He (Putin) is a transactionalist … you have to speak his language, you don’t tout him with incredible offers.”

Trump’s missteps aren’t just related to Russia and the Middle East:

We have walked away from a ‘rules-based international order. … [Trump sees] no value in multilateral institutions. … the essence of what Trump said to the U.N. is that national sovereignty trumps everything else. Well, we’ve seen what that means — that means that governments can do whatever they want to their own people and national sovereignty precludes anyone from the outside being able to intervene and do anything about it.

The whole import of ‘Never Again’ was that it wasn’t supposed to be a slogan, it was supposed to be a principle. But when the principle is national sovereignty, you can forget ‘Never Again.’ ”

Ross couldn’t have been clearer. He sees Trump as a huge threat to whatever equilibrium might exist in the Middle East by his inexplicable inaction vis-a-vis Russia. That failure of will increases the likelihood of escalation as the Israelis defend their interests against the Iranians, the Shia militias and the Syrians; all without the United States neutralizing the Russians.

In its simplicity and absence of grounding in facts, Trump’s world view — much like his domestic agenda — is dangerous to everyone involved. As Ross observed, “what we are contending with now is really an assault on our values; by the way, it’s not just an assault on our democratic values, it’s an assault on our Jewish values.”

Last week saw further confirmation of the Trump administration’s denigration of the values that are intrinsic to the survival of the Jewish state: American moral leadership.

In his dismissal of taking action against the Saudis in the Oct. 2 disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump betrayed a disdain for America’s leadership role in the world if it might exact a price on our economy — “they’re [the Saudis] are spending $110 billion purchasing military equipment … that doesn’t help us” — he responded when asked about Khashoggi.

A far cry from President Harry Truman recognizing Israel in 1948 despite threats of retaliation from the Arab states, or President Richard Nixon sending arms to Israel in 1973 notwithstanding the Saudis’ imposing a painful and costly oil embargo on us. 

President John Kennedy once urged Americans “to bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Trump is brazenly rewriting our 60-year-old American creed.

Symbolic gestures, such as moving the embassy to Jerusalem, might bring momentary satisfaction, but too much is at stake to think in such short-sighted terms. Looking at the big picture, as Ross so eloquently stated, leads to the inevitable conclusion that Trump’s failure of will with the Russians isn’t good for Israel, for the international order, or for the prospects for a moderately peaceful world.

READ MORE: “WHY TRUMP IS GOOD FOR ISRAEL”


David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates, Inc. Janice Kamenir-Reznik is a longtime community leader in Los Angeles.

Who Owns the Truth?

There is something rotten in America. We all feel it in our bones. There is a deep sense of unease. A disturbing sense of anxiety. A gnawing feeling that something is desperately wrong. But we can’t quite put our finger on it. We think it’s the deep partisanship that has gripped our nation and the abominable hatred between left and right.

But these are merely symptoms of a much more serious disease.

First, we Americans bore witness to the death of decency, as public political life became about both parties bludgeoning each other with embarrassing insults and degrading put-downs.

But what has died in America is truth itself. Not, as some writers have argued, because President Donald Trump believes in “alternative facts” or because the Democrats hate him so much that they will never give him his due. No, the death of truth has come about because we have forgotten that no one party or individual ever owns the truth.

Truth is not monolithic but complex. It is not singular but multifaceted. It is not masculine or feminine but it is created through the synergy of both. Truth is comprised of right and left joining together and enriching one another to create a higher, more colorful whole.

China has no truth because it is controlled by one party who makes it up. Russia has no truth because it is determined by the whims of a dictator’s daily distortions. But America has truth because it has two parties representing differing views which — even when they disagree — coalesce into the vibrant harmony of democracy. I am shocked that we have reached the stage where we wish the other party would simply disappear.

Jews have known this verity — that no one party or person has the absolute truth and that truth is comprised of different pieces that cohere — better than any nation on earth, which is why we have never been a proselytizing faith. We have always known that Judaism is a truth, but not the truth.

We have never sought to impose our views upon the rest of the world, save one: The belief that God created every human equally in His image and, therefore, every human’s input and viewpoint matters. Jews hate totalitarianism because it imposes one viewpoint on all mankind. Find a dictator — from the extreme right, like Hitler, or the extreme left, like Stalin — and you will see that they identified the Jews as their foremost enemies.

We Jews know, as Maimonides said 900 years ago, that while we categorically reject Jesus as the Messiah, we accept that his followers have brought the knowledge of God and the Bible to people around the world; and that while we reject the prophecy of Muhammad we embrace Islam’s emphasis on the one true God. We do not seek to have Christians or Muslims become Jewish but rather to practice their own faiths peacefully and harmoniously.

Perhaps the greatest proof of modern American soullessness is the right’s and left’s insistence that they alone have the truth and their wish that the other side would be swallowed by the earth like Korach. That there is nothing to be gained by political opposition. That conservatives are brain-dead, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals and that liberals are smug, arrogant, out-of-touch elitists.

Underlying the conflict in America is something much more profound and of far greater consequence than political partisanship. America is facing a crisis of barren intellectual complexity and a void of spiritual depth.

“In our partisanship we fail to see the humanity in one another. In our self-absorption we fail to see the blessing of otherness. And in our hatred for views that differ from our own, we are becoming intellectually impoverished and emotionally warped.”

In our partisanship, we fail to see the humanity in one another. In our self-absorption, we fail to see the blessing of otherness. And in our hatred for views that differ from our own, we are becoming intellectually impoverished and emotionally warped. Our anger and our need to demonize one another betrays a stunning lack of vision. We can no longer see God’s countenance in a Republican or the spark of God in a Democrat. What we see instead is a demon.

Is this the America that Democrats and Republicans wish to inhabit? Will we be uplifted by the blessings of the world’s greatest economy or corrupted with a feeling that 50 percent of America is superfluous?

I will not take sides on the Brett Kavanaugh battle, not only because he has been confirmed and the matter decided, but because it would immediately put me into a box where I would lose half my readership when my essential message of American unity is critical to both right and left. Republicans see a good man wrongfully accused without evidence. Democrats see someone accused of sexual assault who displayed behavior unbecoming a federal judge elevated to the nation’s highest court.

But one side’s need to demonize the other is an affront to decency and ethics. To understand just how far we’ve taken our political differences, one need only scan the titles of the op-eds being written in America’s most prestigious news publications. Editorials covering the affair seemed to show little interest in offering a cool-headed, holistic take on the topic, opting instead to breathe fire into the minds of their readers. The New York Times ran columns calling Kavanaugh’s confirmation “A Complete National Disgrace,” along with another asserting that “The Jocks Will Inherit the Earth.” Another column was given the all-too telling headline: “Liberals, This Is War.” The commentator who wrote that piece summed up Kavanaugh’s confirmation with the simple, if not a bit hyperbolic, instruction to readers to “rend your garments.”

“America has truth because it has two parties representing differing views which — even when they disagree — coalesce into the vibrant harmony of democracy. I am shocked that we have reached the stage where we wish the other party would simply disappear.”

When Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, my friend of 25 years and now my senator from New Jersey, called Kavanaugh evil and said that it did not much matter whether he was innocent or guilty, he was not trampling on due process or the presumption of innocence alone. Rather, he was trespassing on his own stellar resume as a Stanford — and Yale-educated Rhodes scholar (who served as my student president at Oxford University), and on the Torah we’ve studied together and love.

For surely it is a man’s innocence or guilt that will determine his righteousness before God and fellow man.

Conversely, those Republicans who could not hear the aggrieved dignity and sense of violated humanity in Christine Blasey Ford’s soul-searing and heart-wrenching testimony have allowed partisanship to stifle their souls.

And how do the two co-exist? How could Kavanaugh and Ford both be telling the truth when one had to be wrong? How can we embrace competing narratives that contradict? How can antagonistic stories cohere?

Sometimes we frail and mortal human beings must admit, we just don’t know. Unlike God, we are not all-knowing. Unlike our Creator, we are not all-seeing. We just don’t know. And at such times we must fall back on the rules, law, and customs — some God-given, others mandated by the framers of our Constitution — that govern our democracy and move forward. And, for the love of God, stop abusing and hating each other.

Some readers may remember that I ran for Congress in 2012. I loved campaigning and meeting people of different ethnicities and faiths. I loved the heated debates with my opponent. And I wished that I had won. If you were to ask me, what was the most pivotal part of the campaign, it was, ironically, the night I lost. I remember how glorious it was to surrender to the majesty of the democratic system. I was living in a country that decided results by the will of the people. I had been allowed to passionately express my opinions. But when the people chose a different candidate, I felt not dejected but liberated. My God, my God, America the beautiful. A country that trusts its people enough to be able to govern themselves.

For 11 years I lived in the United Kingdom, and this November will mark 30 years since the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent me to serve as Rabbi to the students at Oxford University.

When I first arrived I knew I would have many challenges, but I never expected that one of the greatest would be bringing together liberal and conservative political views. Oxford, like most bastions of academia, was very liberal. But there were many conservative students. How would I bridge the divide between people that were rent asunder by the politics of left and right?

This was especially acute in light of the fact that a lot of the liberal students felt that Orthodox Judaism was too conservative in many areas, like the public position of women in a synagogue or the fact that women couldn’t be rabbis. Then there was Israel, where there was a deep divide between those on the left who believed that Israel should trade land for peace and those on the right who believed the left’s position showed irreversible weakness and invited further aggression.

So, I searched for an understanding and a metaphor that would capture the idea of the need for two opposing, even conflicting, perspectives in our search for a higher unity. How we all had to go beyond tolerance. Not just stomaching one another’s differences on some humanitarian or First Amendment basis, but understanding that we can be who we are only by including those who have opposing views.

I listened to Rev. Jesse Jackson’s eloquent Rainbow Coalition speech — delivered at the 1984 Democratic Convention — in which he famously coined the metaphor of America being a land of many colors that hew into one spectrum. But, that wasn’t good enough, since it didn’t explain why orange needed purple in order to be orange.

Then, I saw how David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York, used the example of an American quilt, which couldn’t be called such without the varying patchwork of different threads and fabrics. But that too fell short. Why, we might ask, do we need a multi-colored quilt, and not a simple uniform blanket?

It was then that I alighted on the brilliant metaphor of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, founder of Chabad, in his Chassidic masterpiece, “Tanya.” There, he uses the metaphor of the two wings of a bird.

It’s not enough for the bird to have two wings. For if the wings were on the same side of its body, it would just flop around endlessly and never fly. The emphasis is not on the number of wings, but on their placement. They have to be positioned on opposite sides and against each other. There has to be antithetical propulsion. In other words, you can’t be right-wing without a left-wing, nor left-wing without the right-wing. Two sides pushing against each other is what gives the bird flight.

America today is guilty of believing in tolerance — that you have to endure someone else’s opinion because it is their human right to express it. And what’s happening is, because we believe in tolerance, we now are becoming intolerant since we believe the other side is damaging democracy. If we believe in the other side only for the sake of democracy, then when we believe the other side threatens democracy, we will seek to silence it. That’s why we see these large gatherings trying to silence members of Congress, or right-wing bloggers calling liberals “devils.” We have to go beyond tolerance to actually understand that truth is comprised of different parts that cohere, even when they conflict.

We have to go beyond tolerance to actually understand that truth is comprised of different parts — that I cannot hold my position or be complete in my viewpoint unless there is someone who pushes up against the bulwark of my understanding and challenges me.

Isn’t this the idea of marriage? In last week’s Torah reading, God creates Eve to serve as Adam’s “helpmate who is against him.” It is a fascinating phrase. Eve is not meant to be Adam’s doppelganger. She is not meant to be subservient. Being so is said to be cursed. Rather, she is his equal who sometimes works together with him and sometimes opposes him — even when doing so is always as his helpmate.

Which is more correct, being a man or being a woman? It’s a stupid question, isn’t it, predicated on the fraudulent belief that one is complete without the other.

And this does not apply only to marriage but to the entirety of the masculine and feminine energies in our world, competing dualities that ultimately cohere. They are essential for one another, one balances the other, softens the other. A man does not tolerate a woman, nor a woman a man. Rather, they look forward to joining together with each other to create a greater whole, all in the belief that each side has its virtues and through togetherness they are enriched.

“It’s not enough for the bird to have two wings… The emphasis is not on the number of wings, but on their placement. They have to be placed on opposite sides and against each other.”

The pain we are now witnessing in the explosion of the #MeToo movement was created, ultimately, by the practice of the masculine having insufficient appreciation for, or respect toward, the feminine; the masculine seeing the feminine not as something equal to be acknowledged but as something less — to be used, exploited, and objectified, as opposed to respected, admired, and appreciated.

In the realm of politics, liberals’ demonization of conservatives and vice versa comes from the fake belief that one is superfluous, even damaging, to democracy. Conservatives might be right that when it comes to immigration, in an age of terrorism we need to be a bit more circumspect, due to potential infiltration by terrorists, as we saw tragically in San Bernardino and across the European continent. But if they didn’t have the voice of liberals saying that America must always be open to asylum-seekers and refugees, is it not possible that America might cease to be the “land of the free and the home of brave”?

Conversely, if Democrats were to practice the policies that were embraced by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel — a complete open-door policy that lets anybody in — it might lead to the backlash against immigration that is shoring up the extreme right in Europe. Both voices are necessary to have balance. (And this is aside from the fact that Merkel’s policy, which is in response to the Holocaust, is ironically now backfiring against German Jews who are now experiencing a rising wave of anti-Semitic attacks. Still, being a sanctuary to refugees is vital to a nation’s values and balance is what is key.)

For an appreciation of the other side to happen, you need each side to appreciate not only that the other must be tolerant, but that truth comes not in one form, but broken into parts. Truth is not a singularity but is rather multifaceted and complex.

Democrats are convinced that they have the whole truth and that there’s nothing to learn from Republicans. Republicans feel the same way about Democrats. Each condemns and demonizes the other, holding on to their ultimate copyright to truth.

I don’t accept the doomsayers who believe there might be a second American civil war, God forbid.

I do believe, however, that if there were a plebiscite today where Democrats and Republicans could agree to divide the country, and we could somehow peacefully rid ourselves of political rivals, most people would vote in the affirmative.

In a similar vein, we’re seeing the balkanization of media, where CNN, MSNBC and Fox News viewers wouldn’t dare to cross sides, each believing that the other lacks even a modicum of truth. Sure, they’ll tolerate one another being on the air. There won’t be calls for a ban. But, how often will someone of one viewpoint watch a rival station for any other reason than to be fired up with anger, even hate?

This week’s Torah reading is about Parshas Noach and the destiny of the world.

God says that every species lends itself to a more complete whole. God doesn’t just choose the larger, more robust animals in Noah’s time. He says that they must all come along in the ark, for each and every one of them is, in its own way, essential.

The same is true of why Moses was chosen to lead the Jewish people. The midrash relates that he was a shepherd who took his flock out to pasture. A small sheep went missing. Moses would not return without finding the little critter. Not because he believed in the individual sheep, but because the flock would have been imperfect without it.

The Bible says that every man and woman is a tree in the field. It’s a telling metaphor. A tree is rooted in its own soil but grows out and helps oxygenate the air. It represents the individual who is passionate about their culture and identity, but is not limited by it, participating instead in a wider multi-ethnic society. Together, these healthy individuals comprise a colorful orchard, each contributing its own shade. The orchard is a garden of all different plants, flowers, shrubs and trees. Each plant draws upon its own root, but comprises an essential part of a larger garden.

There’s nothing wrong with political parties. George Washington, for all his greatness, was wrong when he counseled against them. We don’t want to live in a one- party state. There is, rather, a problem with partisanship and the hatred and demonization of the other that comprises modern-day America.

“I don’t expect the political differences between us Americans to disappear overnight. I am realistic about the depth of the chasm. I do wish, however, that we wake up to how bad it has gotten and begin discussing remedies.”

To be sure, not everything fits into the garden and not everything would be accepted in Noah’s Ark. If there is a predator that wants to devour, then you fence it out of the garden. You leave it off the ship. It has no positive contribution to make. If one seeks to discriminate against or silence another, they should be kept out.

In the same way that I am arguing that we must go beyond tolerance toward mutual enrichment, I also believe that we must have no tolerance for intolerance. There are some issues where it’s black and white. No one disputes that terrorism is black and white, or that Iranian threats against the Jewish state are evil, just as no one disputes that white supremacists and neo-Nazis are vile and wretched and must be condemned outright.

While I absolutely believe we must be enriched by the legitimate contribution of all who practice decency, I also believe that tolerating the intolerable is the liberalism of fools. And if stoning women to death and hanging gays from cranes is not evil, then the word has no meaning.

I don’t expect the political differences between us Americans to disappear overnight. I am realistic about the depth of the chasm. I do wish, however, that we wake up to how bad it has gotten and begin discussing remedies.

This week, synagogues across the world will recount the story of Noah. They will read of a man who watched his world crumble amid the corruption that had infected the hearts of its inhabitants. Rather than guide his brethren toward a kinder future, however, Noah chose instead to seal himself off behind the tar that girded his wooden ark. And with none to tell them better, humankind’s fate would also be sealed — not behind the walls of a boat but beneath the waves of an all-destroying flood.

The holy Zohar, the most fundamental book of Jewish mysticism, recounts how God, upon the completion of the rains, sharply chastises Noah for his unwillingness to better his contemporaries. “As soon as you heard that you would be safe in the ark,” God tells Noah, “the evil of the world did not touch your heart. You built the ark and saved only yourself.”

As we read this story, we ought to take from it this vital lesson: As bad as things may be, we cannot just seclude ourselves within our own temperate and peaceful homes. Rather, we must raise our own voices, not to divide but to unite, not to assail but to heal, highlighting not our political differences but our shared American dreams and our shared human truths.

This is our country. It is the greatest country. We must act now to heal our beloved home and finally draw its warring factions together as one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of The World Values Network. His latest book is “Lust for Love,” co-authored with Pamela Anderson. He is on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Matt Fink on Prince’s Legacy, The Revolution Tour, and Minneapolis

The Revolution. Photo by Kevin Estrada

While Prince is universally recognized as a genius by music fans of all ages and backgrounds, not everyone realizes the importance of his backing band The Revolution. Often referred to by Prince as “the baddest band in the universe,” The Revolution was part of many essential Prince recordings, including songs on “Purple Rain,” “1999,” “Sign O’ The Times” and “Around The World in the Day.” While Prince would eventually disband The Revolution in favor of The New Power Generation, many of the players of The Revolution have continued to find success as musicians, including Bobby Z, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, Brownmark and Matt Fink.

While 2016 saw the untimely death of Prince, this tragedy led to the regrouping of The Revolution for a series of sold-out shows in 2017 as part of a tribute to the collective’s mentor. Proper touring resumed last summer, including major festival appearances at North Carolina’s Hopscotch Music Festival and San Francisco’s Phillips Backyard Weekender. The Revolution is currently touring the States — including upcoming dates at Austin’s ACL Festival, New York City’s Sony Hall and Boston’s Wilbur Theatre with a European tour slated for February 2019.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Minnesota-based keyboardist Matt Fink, who notably co-wrote the Prince songs “Dirty Mind,” “Computer Blue,” “17 Days,” “America” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night.”

While I did not get to ask the man known as Doctor Fink about his Jewish roots – he is notably not the only Jewish member of The Revolution – I did learn about Prince’s comedic chops and that there is still plenty of great unreleased material to come from Prince’s vault.

Jewish Journal: How long was this tour in the planning stages for?

Matt “Dr.” Fink: It’s been pretty much since February-ish

JJ: How long of that time has been spent on coming up with the setlist and rehearsing?

MF: Not too long, maybe less than a month, going back forth on that.

JJ: Did you have to relearn a lot of songs? Or was everything fresh in your mind?

MF: A little bit of relearning, not too bad. There was still things that are still ingrained inside and I don’t really have to do that very much. For me it wasn’t too difficult to get back in the saddle.

JJ: Who’s acting as the music director of the band this time around?

MF: Primarily Mark Brown [also known as Brownmark], our bass player, but everyone has been pulling their weight and all that. He’s kind of been the designated director.

JJ: For people who are coming to the shows, what should be expected? Is it a tribute show? Are you playing the songs straight as they were on the recordings?

MF: Yeah, we play them pretty close to the album versions. We play a lot of the Revolution-era hit songs, along with some deeper album cuts. A little bit of unreleased material that you won’t hear directly hear live.

JJ: Were you always onboard since day one? Or did you have to be talked into the tour?

MF: I was onboard from the beginning.

JJ: You obviously have always been known for your work with The Revolution, of course, but you haven’t always put that as your primary credit. In other words, you have worked on other projects and stayed in the background a little bit…

MF: Well, I don’t know if I’d say that, but once The Revolution disbanded, I was with the first version of the New Power Generation for the first four years, 1986 through the end of 1990…

JJ: But you did reinvent yourself as a composer for other projects. Was that always the plan? Or had you been looking for another band?

MF: I was primarily just looking to become a producer rather than being on the road after leaving Prince. I wanted to do studio work and raise a family, not be on the road so much.

JJ: Back to Prince for a second, is there anything that you wish more people knew about Prince? I ask because he’s sort of an urban legend in many ways in that there are all these fantastic stories, yet no one every confirms if they’re true or not.

MF: Just that he was a very fun-loving guy, fun to hang out with, a great sense of humor. People kind of got to see that in Under The Cherry Moon, not so much in Purple Rain. He was doing more comedic things in that film. He didn’t always get to show off his comedy chops. I always thought he should have done some collaborative films with other comedic characters, but he never did.

JJ: Is it true that he was an excellent basketball player like that “Chappelle’s Show” skit showed?

MF: Yeah, that’s true.

JJ: Were you there for that evening? If I recall correctly, they had a person in doctor’s scrubs showing in the background in that skit.

MF: Yeah, that’s true, I was on-hand for that.

JJ: What is it that keeps you based in Minnesota?

MF: Primarily the fact that it’s my hometown makes life easier. It’s not as crowded as the West Coast or the East Coast. I just like it here because I have family here.

JJ: So, besides The Revolution tour, are there any other projects of yours that you are allowed to talk about?

MF: Yeah, I just finished working on a local artist here in Minneapolis. I produced her at my recording studio here, her name is Michelle Rose. She’s enrolled at the Berklee College Of Music there in Boston. She started her first year at the age of 19. She’s gonna be a contender, I think, going forward, once she graduates from Berklee. I’ll continue working with her, there’s plans to do more material when she comes back to Minneapolis at various times… I continue to do session work for projects that come my way from time to time.

I’m currently working for a company that has developed a new music streaming service, and it’s dedicated to hip-hop and R&B artists, primarily independent artists, it’s called MyMy Music. It’s also available for your iPhone or Android phone. It launched last month and it’s doing pretty well right out of the box, getting a lot of artists onboard. It’s interesting because it’s curated by the listener primarily.

JJ: Is most of your recording still doing out of your StarVu studio?

MF: Yes, but that’s just my home studio, it’s built into my house.

JJ: Ultimately it sounds like you’re keeping busy. So in closing, any last words for the kids?

MF: Keep discovering that Prince music. If you’re already Prince fans, bring your kids. It’s a wonderful legacy that Prince has left for us. We all know what a genius he was, and the amount of material they will continue to release out of his works and his storage vault at Paisley Park — which has now been transferred out to Los Angeles for full archival storage, and also certain recordings are being restored to their full glory at this point — there’s gonna be a lot of release over the next… Who knows? 20 to 30 to 50 to 100, I don’t know how many years. (laughs) I’m sure his estate will continue to bless us with everything he’s got in that vault. Anything they feel is worthy I’m sure will come out at some point at another.

Oh, and I forgot to ask: Are you wearing the scrubs on this tour? Or is that a thing of the past?

MF: Absolutely, I’m always The Doctor.


Tour dates and other information related to The Revolution can be found on Twitter via @TheRevolution and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/therevolutionmusic.

Using the Bully Pulpit on High Holy Days

Editor’s note: Over Rosh Hashanah, local rabbis spoke on a variety of topics, but three in particular took aim at the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration. Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica made national and international headlines when he excoriated his former congregant, Stephen Miller, now Trump’s senior adviser. IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous received a thunderous standing ovation after her 30-minute sermon pointing out how unwell our country is but that it’s not too late to build a new America. And Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple spoke about the “daily cocktail of anxiety” we see in the news and how the Unetane Tokef prayer can help guide us in these troubled times. Below are edited excerpts from their Rosh Hashanah sermons.   

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels: An Open Letter to Stephen Miller
I was once your rabbi. When you were about 9 or 10 years old, your family belonged to Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica. You attended our religious school.

The actions that you now encourage President Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my/our Jewish message. I understand that you were a major contributor to the zero-tolerance policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions initiated to punish and deter desperate families from coming to the United States by separating children from their parents at the border. That notion is completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.

Mr. Miller, the policy that you helped to conceive and put into practice is cruel. What you would have learned from me is that ours is a spiritual path that is focused on one task: bringing the shattered pieces of the vessel in which the universe was born back together in both a literal and spiritual repair — a healing of transcendent influence and impact. Mr. Miller, Judaism is a way of responding to the mundane and the unexpected, always seeking the response that is at once the most just and the most merciful. We Jews have chosen our history to be our mandate. We choose to recall and emphasize our most ancient ancestor, Abraham, as a “wandering Aramean,” i.e., a refugee, an immigrant. We choose to remember and underscore that the quintessential experience of the Jewish people is both the slavery in and the exodus from ancient Egypt. We are all refugees, Mr. Miller.  

Honestly, Mr. Miller, you’ve set back the Jewish contribution to making the world spiritually whole through your arbitrary division of these desperate families at our southern border. It’s not that we can’t reverse what you’ve done. We can, we are, and we will. 

We’re not going away, Mr. Miller, and whether you identify now as Jew is not really my concern. What is troublesome is that some of my colleagues and others are concerned about what I might have taught you when you were a member of our community. I can assure you, as I can assure them, that what I taught is a Judaism that cherishes wisdom, values honed over four millennia, wide horizons and an even wider embrace. 

Is there still time, is there still a chance that you might change your attitude? That’s up to you, Mr. Miller. I will never give up hope that you can open your heart.

In the meantime, I will act in accordance with the values that our tradition conveys, values that go beyond the superficial and time-limited expediencies of your allegiance to party and a temporal leader, and I will engage against you in a machloket l’shem shamayim, a struggle for the sake of all that is righteous, not merely what you may deem as right.

Know this: Regardless of whether the Trump administration decides to be accountable, we are choosing to be accountable. We believe, as Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us so precisely, “In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.” Because we want this society to remain free, we will continue to act. Someone needs to clean up this mess and, in concert with many others, it will be your long-suffering, uncomfortable Jewish people.

Do you know the Yiddish word mensch, Mr. Miller? In Yiddish, a mensch is a fully-constituted, human and humane being. In Hebrew it parallels to the word ish. Hillel the Elder taught us: “B’makom she-ein anashim, hishtadeil l’hiyot ish”. (Avot 2:5) In other words, “In a place where no one is acting like a mensch, be one!” That’s what we will be doing, Mr. Miller, because that’s who we are. We can only hope you will decide to join us.

Read more of his sermon’s here. 


Rabbi Sharon Brous: Building A New America
We are not well when racist dog whistles today sound more like bullhorns, when Black athletes are scorned and penalized for engaging in nonviolent protests against police violence. When the Justice Department actively works to roll back civil rights achievements of previous administrations

Yes, it’s a victory that only a dozen pathetic Nazis showed up to march in [Washington,] D.C. on the anniversary of Charlottesville, but friends — they’ve moved from the streets to the ballots! There are now several avowed white nationalists, Holocaust deniers and Nazis on the ballot in state and federal races this fall. Organizations that monitor hate groups say it’s clear that white nationalists feel emboldened when the president himself advances their agenda every time he discharges an insult about Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans. No, we are not well.

We are not well when there are one or two shooting incidents in American schools every single week. When middle schoolers report being afraid to return to the classroom because they’re scared they might get shot. And when the Secretary of Education toys with the idea of allowing states to siphon federal funding intended for the arts and music, mental health and technology programs instead to the purchase of guns for teachers. We are not well.

“Oh, keep your politics off the pulpit!” they say. 

As if our Torah is not an inherently political document. As if the story of slaves rising up before the most powerful ruler of the ancient world to demand freedom and dignity is not a political message. 

This I know: Our Torah did not survive thousands of years only to be muted precisely the moment its eternal message matters most. We make a mockery of our tradition when we suggest that the way we live in human society, the way we treat one another, the way we care for — or neglect to care for — the least among us is outside the scope of religion.

What we need is not to return to a time of mythical greatness. We need to build America anew, equipped to hold us in all our diversity and complexity. 

Yes, we are unwell, but we can — and we must — build a new America.

And it’s already happening. This year, we witnessed the beginning of a nonviolent revolution, as a million students walked out of their classrooms and took to the streets. This army is led by 16-year-olds who, while hiding under desks and behind file cabinets, saw their friends shot. Who saw the sickening inaction, the hypocrisy and complacency of our elected officials, and stood up to insist that if the grown-ups wouldn’t do it, they would bend the arc of history themselves.

Our children are in the streets shouting, Pasul! Pasul! It’s not kosher! This is old America, the America of greed, corruption and hatred, of systems built to protect and sustain white supremacy, to entrench power in the hands of the few and keep guns in the hands of the many. It is foul and corrupted. And unlike us, the grown-ups, these kids won’t even consider that change is impossible.

It is their passion that will lead the way to a new America. It’s their moral clarity. Their fidelity to the truth. Their chemical allergy to hypocrisy. They are leading, and we need to stand behind them now, with the full force of our political, spiritual, intellectual and material resources. To do anything less would be a gross abdication of moral responsibility.

There may be a time when it really is too late to redeem America. Thank God, we are not there yet. 

The new America won’t come easily; we’re going to have to fight for it. 

We will rebuild this nation with love. There is a new America being born, and it is fierce, gorgeous and fair. It is built on justice and mercy, and it makes room for everyone. 

To usher this new America into the world, we — every one of us — will need to be brave, brave, brave. 

Read, listen or watch the full sermon here.


Rabbi Steven Z. Leder: Double Down on Your Relationships
I suffer from anxiety. It is very real and sometimes very frightening. It can ruin parts of days, weeks, months and years. As a rabbi, I see so much dysfunction, so much hurtful gossip, so much cancer and death that it is hard not to feel like I’m next.

And, of course, there is the news. That daily toxic cocktail of mind-boggling instability, criminality and drama in Washington, tweeting and testing the very fabric of democracy itself — wildfires, Putin, Assad, Iran, North Korea, global warming, Mueller, racism, corruption, sex scandals, immigration cruelty, floods, homelessness — over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And tonight we’re supposed to wish each other a shanah tovah? Really? Yes. Really.  

Our ancestors put celebrating on Rosh Hashanah ahead of the past remorse we face on Yom Kippur. First comes hope in the future, then the muck of our past. And believe me, the sages knew a lot more about anxiety than we do. Consider the Unetane Tokef prayer we say on Rosh Hashanah. The one that asks, “Who by water? Who by fire? Who will be troubled? Who will be needy? Who shall live and who shall die?” That prayer was written at least 13 centuries ago.  

Life 13 centuries ago was nothing but anxiety. Rape, murder, muggings, death by fire or flood or plague or starvation or war were regular, daily occurrences. But our ancestors had a different, more powerful prescription for managing their anxiety and fear. I try to use it every day. Remember how that prayer ends; what comes after that long list of terrible things to worry about in the coming year? It ends with three simple things that can get us all through. “But teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (generosity),” says that wise prayer, “Ma-a-virin et roah ha-gezarah (will make whatever comes next year easier to live with and through).” 

This was the ancient rabbis’ simple, three-part formula for surviving in their time, and it can be ours, too. First, teshuvah — repentance. And what is repentance really, other than trying to make things right with others? Our ancestors lived in small villages, where the key to survival was the quality of relationships with a handful of people who really mattered. Are we any different? Do any of us have more than a small handful of people in our lives who really matter?    

So double down, says the Unetane Tokef. When you are in pain, when you are lost, when you are afraid — double down on your relationships. Cherish them. Nurture them. Whoever you came here with tonight or called to wish a shanah tovah, that person by your side right now, he loves you, she loves you, he will shelter you when the rain falls, she will hold you when the darkness is too dark to see. No one endures suffering better alone. Tend to your relationships with teshuvah. Do not let the centrifuge of life’s stresses whirl your family and your friendships apart.

Double down. Make things right with the people you love. For only love can lift us from our suffering and our fear. Click here to read the entire sermon. 

Richard Greene: How One or Two Words Can Change Your Life

One of the world’s leading experts on public speaking, Richard Greene, explains why people fear public speaking more than death, and discusses the abuse of language in the era of Trump. Visit his website.

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Howard Rosenman: Award-Winning Producer Opens Up

What’s it like to be a gay Israel lover in Hollywood? To act with Sean Penn? To be on top of your game at 74? Hollywood wunderkind Howard Rosenman shares his life’s scoops.

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Rob Long: Hollywood Writer Talks Trump

Award-winning Hollywood showrunner Rob Long talks about happiness, craziness and, of course, Donald Trump.

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Salvador Litvak: Can Talmud change your life?

Hollywood filmmaker and Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak recounts his journey of how one moment of learning Talmud led to a million followers on Facebook.

“What we learn from the students of Hillel is that you should be able to state the opinion of your opponent in a way your opponent will say, ‘yes, that is my opinion.’ When you do that, you are opening a door for him to say ‘I feel heard. Now I am willing to hear what you have to say.” -Salvador Litvak

Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak

From left: David Suissa and Salvador Litvak

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Homeland vs. Homeland

Photo from Flickr.

How does an Iranian-American Jew who was born in post-revolutionary Iran, granted refugee asylum in the United States at the age of 7, and now remains unabashedly supportive of Israel, process the possibility of a hideous war between her former homeland and her eternal homeland?

She has a stiff drink every time Israel strikes an Iranian military base or arms shipment in Syria (to celebrate Israel’s miraculous might), and a stiffer drink every time an Iranian leader vows to “level Tel Aviv to the ground” (to aid with sleep).

Anxiety over Iran-Israel tensions is nothing new to Iranian-American Jews, many of whom struggle with the complexity of their triple identity as Iranians who lost their homeland, Jews who embrace Israel as their beloved, and fiercely patriotic Americans who can watch the horrible conflict between Iran and Israel unfold from the comfort of their patio chairs.

My final goodbyes — to my family, home, school and, basically, to everything — when we escaped Iran in the late 1980s have left me traumatized, and I am often confused over my own feelings toward Iran.

I was born after the revolution, into the murderous country we’ve known for 39 years as the Islamic Republic of Iran. I also was born into the mandatory headscarf, the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the heinous air raids of the Iran-Iraq War. It was truly a special time to be alive.

Even my grandmother’s first name was Iran. The irony was not lost on us when she escaped to Israel.

I should hate Iran, but like many who fled there, I compartmentalize the country. There’s the regime, which evokes my hateful repulsion; the people, most of whom are just looking to live free, normal lives filled with family, work and reasonable inflation rates. And then, there are my memories and my heritage; the fact that nearly every one of my ancestors was born and buried in the land; the romanticizing of the space that held my childhood flights and fears. Even my grandmother’s first name was Iran. The irony was not lost on us when Iran escaped to Israel.

It makes me sick to my stomach that the land of my birth poses the most violent threat to the land of my soul.

Do I miss Iran? Sometimes, although it often feels like missing your first tattoo (if your first tattoo ended up being a horrible disaster). The nostalgia that stems from the fact that it was your first always will remain, but so will the seemingly irreparable emotional pain and physical damage that it caused you, especially if you got your first tattoo on your posterior. Then, it forever remains … a pain in the ass. I guess that about sums up my relationship with Iran.

For me, Israel encompasses unparalleled pride over its might and morality, and palpable despair over anyone attacking the Jewish state. As an Iranian-American Jew, I also experience my share of guilt over Israel, because the closest that my community comes to sending its children into a war zone is when we drop them off at a kosher Persian market on a Friday morning.

For Iranian Jews in America, Israel is also tied to our past trauma, when we consider whether our safety in the U.S. would ever deteriorate so much that we would have to flee to Israel. We know exactly what it was like to have fled home because home was no longer habitable. The possibility that we would again have to flee (if the U.S. took a turn for the worse) after several decades here makes us cringe with pain as we wonder: How many times can one person flee “home” in a lifetime?! Cashing in on our miraculous insurance policy through Israel’s exquisite promise of protection for global Jewry isn’t something most Iranian-American Jews might want to do, because it means that America will have failed us. I hope that if I ever make aliyah, it will be through a joyful choice, and not persecution or war. I can’t take that again.

Of course, America’s miraculous embrace comes at a price: My community has everything it needs here, whether in Beverly Hills or Baltimore, which makes me wonder when exactly former homeland and eternal homeland will be replaced in our hearts and memories with the glorious country that took us in and gave us everything, including the Bill of Rights, UCLA and Costco.

I’m giving it two more generations.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer.

The Day My Mother Fell in Love With America

Anne, circa 1942.

As a child, whenever I asked my mother to tell me about her escape from the Nazis, she always had the same answer: “Let me tell you about my arrival in America.”

It was April 19, 1940, when the SS Nova Scotia, a freighter re-outfitted to carry passengers across the Atlantic, steamed into Boston Harbor after a 14-day passage from Liverpool, England. It carried several crates of Irish whiskey and 130 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria. One of them was 12-year-old Anne Forchheimer, my mother.

She would describe that day in almost epic terms: “There were red, white and blue balloons — bundles of them — tied to the docks and some floating up into the sky. I had never seen balloons before. There was a band on the docks playing music. And there were United States flags waving everywhere I looked. And bunting. And streamers.”

What she didn’t know at the time was that April 19 was a holiday in Massachusetts, Paul Revere Day.

In Boston, Paul Revere has long been a local hero. His famous midnight horseback ride on April 18-19, 1775 — to alert the colonial militia of the approaching British forces — was critical to launching the American Revolution. The state made Paul Revere Day, also called Patriots’ Day, a holiday in 1896. It was observed on April 19 until the state legislature moved it in 1969 to the third Monday in April. The Boston Marathon is run on this day.

In 1940, my German-born mother had never heard of Paul Revere, since she hadn’t yet studied U.S. history. “I had no idea,” she always told us, “that the party was for anyone other than us.”

“I had no idea, that the party was for anyone other
than us.” — Anne Rubin (nee Forchheimer)

Aboard the ship, she and my grandmother, grandfather and uncle, along with the other passengers, waited on the deck for their turns to meet with immigration officers and marveled at the festive tumult around them.

The S.S. Nova Scotia, the ship that carried Anne across the Atlantic. Photo from cruiselinehistory.com.

My mother, Anne Rubin, would always conclude her story the same way: “I saw the flags, the streamers, the balloons, the band, all of it. I tugged on my mother’s sleeve and said to her, ‘What a wonderful country, Mother! Look how they welcome the refugees.’”

Most refugees have fond recollections of arriving in the United States, but I can’t imagine many experienced the awe, wonder and deep affection that inspired my mother that day. She remained a patriotic American from that moment until she died nearly seven decades later.

And every year on April 19 she would remind us how many years she had been in the United States, what a wonderful country it was and how lucky she was — and we were — to be here.

She knew she had done nothing special to merit an entrance visa. She simply was lucky to be born into a family with a relative in the U.S. willing and able to navigate the ever-increasing mountains of paperwork the government required before issuing entrance visas to Jewish refugees.

Although I had heard that story my entire life, it was only a couple of years ago, in the summer of 2016, that I had the chance to visit Boston. My husband and I wanted to get a small taste of what my mother experienced that day, so we took a boat tour of the harbor.

When I told the tour guide my story, she pointed out the now-empty pier where the immigration offices had been in 1940. At the time my mother arrived, the tour guide  explained, Boston had been the nation’s second-busiest point of entry for European immigrants. (I learned from my family-history research that at least one other ship carrying immigrants docked in Boston Harbor on the same day.)

“If this is where the ship docked,” I asked the tour guide, “then where was the party?”

“Everywhere!” she answered. “A new arrival to Boston on April 19 could not have missed the party. It was just too big.”

I love the vision of America that my mother saw that day in 1940, an America that celebrated its history and also welcomed refugees with streamers and balloons and flags and music, an America filled with welcome and hope and promise.

That is the America I want to live in.


Rachel Rubin-Green is a writer, mother, grandmother and retired teacher living in Los Angeles. She writes about her mother’s experiences at moreluckthanbrains.com.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin: curiosity and other values

Prolific author Joseph Telushkin discusses some of the most pressing issues in the Jewish world, including a need for more curiosity.

“If people are only going to read things that reinforce what they believe… they’re going to end up demonizing the people that disagree with them.” -Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

From left: David Suissa and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Check out this episode!

Poll: Pro-Israel Sentiment Near Record Highs Among Americans, But Partisan Gap Widens

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

A newly released Gallup poll shows that pro-Israel sentiment among Americans are currently near records high levels, yet there is a widening gap among the two major political parties on the issue.

The poll, conducted from Feb. 1-10, found that 74% of Americans have a favorable view of Israel; the highest level since 79% of Americans felt that way in 1991. Only 21% currently have a favorable view of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the same level in 2000.

Additionally, 64% of Americans said they were sympathetic to Israel over the PA, equaling prior record highs in 1991 and 2013. Only 19% said they were sympathetic to the PA and another 16% said they weren’t sure.

The poll also found that half of Americans believe that the onus needs to be on Palestinians to make peace while only 27% felt that way about Israel.

Among partisan lines, the highest support for Israel registered among Republicans, as 87% said they were more sympathetic toward the Israelis over Palestinians. Fifty-nine percent of Independents and 49% of Democrats answered the same way.

Lydia Saad, who presented and analyzed the polls’ findings at Gallup, noted that while the 49% figure for Democrats was an increase from 42% in 2001, there is a sizable gap between Democrats and Republicans on support for Israel.

“Republicans have consistently shown greater support than Democrats for Israel, partly because of conservative Christians’ beliefs about the biblical significance of Israel,” Saad wrote. “Another key factor in the especially wide gap since 2002 is likely Israel’s strong backing of the United States at the start of the Iraq War in 2003 and the strong support that Republican President George W. Bush showed for the Jewish state.”

While the gap in Gallup poll isn’t quite as stark as the gap in the Jan. 23 Pew Research Center poll, it’s still large and it is growing, as the gap between Republicans and Democrats on sympathy to Israel grew from a 34-point gap in 2017 to a 38-point gap in 2018 in the Gallup poll. Journal columnist Ben Shapiro has written on how the divide stems from Republicans’ embrace of the West and Democrats viewing the West “as the provocative agent.”

“Republicans live in a post-9/11 world; Democrats live in a pre-9/11 world,” Shapiro wrote. “That has dramatic, unfortunate implications for Israel: In a polarized political environment, the historic bipartisan support for the Jewish state is quickly eroding.”

As much as the overall findings of the Gallup poll are encouraging for the pro-Israel community, the widening gap between both the political parties on the matter needs to be kept in mind.

We Are All Sh*tholers

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an interview with Reuters at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

I spend most of my time on Facebook criticizing the left. Pointing out all of the ways it has become illiberal. For this, I have been called all sorts of names and blocked by friends of 20 years.

During the 2016 election, I switched to the more urgent task of arguing why Donald Trump shouldn’t be president. After the election, I went back to criticizing the left.

I rarely mention Trump, although I have praised him when deserved: his appointment of Nikki Haley; his recognition of Jerusalem; his support for the Iranian protesters.

So, I was quite surprised by the response I received when I wrote that the president of the United States should not have said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” referring to Africa. “Why do we need more Haitians? Why don’t we take more immigrants from places like Norway?”

That evening, I actually thought that all of Trump’s hardcore supporters would disappear from Facebook for a bit. I was quite wrong. They wrote endless defenses of his use of the word.  Defenses — complete with vile imagery — that left little doubt of the commentator’s prejudices.

What was most astonishing is that these were not his alt-right supporters. I’m not friends with alt-righters. These were otherwise rational conservatives who had befriended me because of a shared desire to defend Israel.

Aside from vile jokes about the countries, the word that kept coming up was “refreshing.” How refreshing it was to finally have a president that spoke “the truth.”

After unfriending the worst commentators, I asked a simple question: “Would you find it refreshing if he called Israel a shithole?” But Israel is not a shithole, they replied, missing my point.

I tried another tactic: “Well, my family comes from that sh*thole country Russia. I look forward to hearing Trump talk about it that way.” No response from the president’s defenders.

That night, I wrote: “Here’s the sad irony of Trump supporters who are unable to even say, ‘he shouldn’t have said that.’ For years, we all begged Obama peeps to admit when he made a mistake. To just say it, and move on. But they couldn’t do it, no matter how bad it was. And now many of those same peeps are doing the very same thing.”

But the fact that Trump supporters had become a mirror image of President Barack Obama supporters, who they loathe, also had no effect.

Instead, for the crime of saying Trump shouldn’t have used that word, I was called: a leftist; a virtue signaler; a traitor; a snowflake; and, perhaps most interestingly, a “so-called columnist at the Jewish Journal.”

There were some Trump supporters who had no problem criticizing his language. And I was happy to see that Commentary quickly posted a beautiful “Letter from a Shitholer,” by Iranian American Sohrab Ahmari: “The toxic discharge flows daily from your office and Twitter account into the stream of national affairs — and the homes of Americans struggling to raise children amid an already-vulgar culture. … It is a new moral low point for the American presidency.”

It doesn’t matter that the leftist media get hysterical over everything he says and does. It doesn’t matter that President Barack Obama ended up doing far worse things to African countries, most notably by helping to create a slave trade in Libya.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America.

It matters even less that we have a president who uses language not fit for a bar in Queens.

What matters is that we now have a president who doesn’t understand the essential promise of America: that people come from all sorts of countries to live in freedom and dignity. That the idea of taking white Europeans over nonwhites from poor countries is the same sort of bigotry that was used a hundred years ago against Eastern European Jews.

Jews were thought to be “undesirable,” “of low physical and mental standards,” “filthy” and “un-American.” And now we have Jewish Americans saying the same things about Africans and Haitians.

The left has many problems. But this problem on the right is truly ugly. Perhaps it’s time for some Jews to look in the mirror.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author living in New York.

Words—Historic and Current—To Be Heeded

In November, 1953, less than a year into his first term in office, during the height of the McCarthy era, President Eisenhower received an award from and delivered the keynote address at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual board meeting in Washington, D.C. As the story was recounted to me by someone who was there (I worked for the ADL for 27 years), those in attendance thought it would be a routine address by the new president making nice to one of the country’s leading civil rights/Jewish organizations, kind of a pro forma “you are nice and do good work”.

Shortly before the speech, ADL leaders learned that the national press and the then novel TV cameras would be observing and what was going to be routine was now a “major policy address.”

It turned out that the speech was among the, if not the, first times that Ike spoke out and distanced himself from Sen. Joe McCarthy. But it was by indirection, he never mentioned McCarthy’s name (to that point Ike was still trying to ignore McCarthy, as if the senator didn’t matter).

To those in attendance, it wasn’t clear what the news was, but by the next morning the message had gone out. Eisenhower had spoken about the right of every American to meet “your accuser face to face”, the “right to speak your mind and be protected in it.” He extolled the values of the “soul and the spirit” that make us proud to be Americans; who the threat to those values was became apparent:

Why are we proud? We are proud, first of all, because from the beginning of this Nation, a man can walk upright, no matter who he is, or who she is. He can walk upright and meet his friend–or his enemy; and he does not fear that because that enemy may be in a position of great power that he can be suddenly thrown in jail to rot there without charges and with no recourse to justice. We have the habeas corpus act, and we respect it.

And today, although none of you has the great fortune, I think, of being from Abilene, Kansas, you live after all by that same code in your ideals and in the respect you give to certain qualities. In this country, if someone dislikes you, or accuses you, he must come up in front. He cannot hide behind the shadow. He cannot assassinate you or your character from behind, without suffering the penalties an outraged citizenry will impose.

                                                                   ****

….I would not want to sit down this evening without urging one thing: if we are going to continue to be proud that we are Americans, there must be no weakening of the code by which we have lived; by the right to meet your accuser face to face, if you have one; by your right to go to the church or the synagogue or even the mosque of your own choosing; by your right to speak your mind and be protected in it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the things that make us proud to be Americans are of the soul and of the spirit. They are not the jewels we wear, or the furs we buy, the houses we live in, the standard of living, even, that we have. All these things are wonderful to the esthetic and to the physical senses. [Emphasis added]

I was reminded of this historic statement by two speeches this week from leading Republicans, who, like Eisenhower, bravely took on one of their own and made clear what others fear, or lack the courage, to say. They laid down markers as to what is acceptable conduct in American politics and, without being explicit, who was engaging in conduct that was beyond the pale.

On Monday night, Sen. John McCain spoke at the National Constitution Center as he received its Liberty Medal. It’s a passionate statement about what’s important and unique about America.

During the course of the speech he offered the following:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to. [Emphasis Added]

Like Eisenhower, without mentioning the name of his antagonist, the senior senator from Arizona got his message across loudly and clearly.

Then on Thursday, former President George W. Bush delivered a speech in which he never mentioned Trump, but the sinner he was referring to was transparently clear:

Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication…. We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.

We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America. We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade – forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism.

We have seen the return of isolationist sentiments – forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge.

                                                                 ***

This means that people of every race, religion, and ethnicity can be fully and equally AmericanIt means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed. And it means that the very identity of our nation depends on the passing of civic ideals to the next generation.

We need a renewed emphasis on civic learning in schools. And our young people need positive role models. Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.

In short, it is time for American institutions to step up and provide cultural and moral leadership for this nation. [Emphasis Added]

The McCain and Bush speeches are historic moments; perhaps the beginning of a wave of revulsion at the lies, distortions, hate and awful policies that emerge from the Trump White House. When two pillars of a party, much like Eisenhower in 1953, say enough is enough and that it is time to “step up”—perhaps people will listen.

Why Hasn’t Israel Had Mass Shootings?

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth holds a toy gun near a man holding a chicken during the Kaparot ritual, where white chickens are slaughtered as a symbolic gesture of atonement, ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Rob Portnoe, a Jewish educator from Minneapolis, is visiting family in Israel. He thinks it’s his 10th visit, and one of his sons served as an infantry soldier in the Israeli army. He is accustomed to seeing guns in Israel, from those toted by soldiers on leave to those carried by security guards. But, he says, the gun culture in Israel is different than in the United States.

“Israelis view guns as a necessity while Americans see them as a right,” Portnoe said. “There is a sense in Israel that if people didn’t feel they needed those guns, they wouldn’t carry them. In the U.S., people feel entitled to carry a gun.”

“Israelis view guns as a necessity while Americans see them as a right. There is a sense in Israel that if people didn’t feel they needed those guns, they wouldn’t carry them. In the U.S., people feel entitled to carry a gun.” – Rob Portnoe, a frequent American visitor to Israel.

Israel has compulsory military service and many citizens continue to do reserve duty well into adulthood. They are trained to view guns as potentially dangerous and are drilled in their safety.

What is regarded in Israel as a mass shooting occurs when a gunman kills at least four people, and outside of terrorist attacks, this has happened only once in recent years. In 2013, a disaffected man killed four Israelis in a bank in the southern town of Beersheva before committing suicide when police arrived.

In the U.S. during the same period, there have been some 1,500 mass shootings, which killed more than 1,700 people and wounded 6,000 more, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The Congressional Research Service estimates Americans own more than 300 million guns.

Israel limits the approval of gun permits, with 40 percent of applications denied. Permits are granted only if the government believes the person in question has a specific need for a gun — for example, if an individual lives in the West Bank, where there have been many Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. Permits must be renewed yearly, and every six years, gun owners must undergo a psychological evaluation.

Gun owners in Israel are allowed to own only one handgun and 50 rounds of ammunition. Supporters of these restrictive laws say they are the reason Israel has not been plagued by mass shootings.

Robby Berman, the head of an organ donation society in Israel, applied for a gun permit in 1991 when he was living in Jerusalem’s Old City. His application was approved, and he purchased a pistol and went to a shooting range, where he learned to use the gun.

Several years later, he says, he went through a period of depression and began seeing a therapist. She insisted that he give up the gun, fearing he could harm himself, and he agreed.

“Two years ago, when all of the stabbing attacks happened in Jerusalem, I wished I had the gun,” Berman said. “So I started carrying a switchblade and Mace with me. Once at a mall in Jerusalem, the knife set off the metal detector at the entrance. When I asked the security guard if he wanted me to leave it with him while I shopped, he said, ‘No, everyone here has a knife. Go ahead.’ ”

The Israeli army has grown increasingly concerned about guns being used by soldiers to commit suicide. About 15 soldiers each year do so with military-issued guns. The army recently changed its regulations, with soldiers going home on extended leave told to leave their weapons on base rather than bring them home with them.

Some in Israel, however, believe the country should be more like the U.S. when it comes to owning guns.

“The right to defend oneself and carry a gun is a basic human right, not a right that the government gives you,” said Moshe Feiglin, a former Israeli parliamentarian who recently formed his own political party called Zehut. “I am not talking about an AK-47 or an M-16 but a pistol for self-defense.”

As a first step, he said, anyone who has served in the Israeli army and knows how to use a gun should be given a gun permit automatically. He said that in the 1990s, Jerusalem made a mistake by allowing Palestinian policemen to carry AK-47s, and these guns have been used to kill many Israelis in the years since then.

In the U.S., the cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Washington and Detroit are responsible for 25 percent of gun deaths, and all four have restrictive gun laws. Accordingly, Feiglin says the idea that more restrictive gun laws will protect people is a fallacy. By contrast, he says that if more people in Las Vegas were trained to use guns properly, perhaps they could have stopped the recent mass shooting earlier.