December 17, 2018

The Supreme Court Needs Urgent Reform

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s Supreme Court is the most powerful court in the free world. Its supporters say that it looks out for the little guy, but the court’s rulings belie this argument. The court has seized legislative and executive powers to advance two agendas: populism and post-Zionism.

On the populist side, the court in August abrogated a law levying a new tax on owners of more than two apartments. For taxpayers shouldering one of the highest tax burdens in the world, the popularity of the court’s move is self-evident. But popularity isn’t a legal argument, and indeed, the justices gave no legal grounds for their ruling.

The justices asserted that the law must be overturned because, in their view, lawmakers didn’t deliberate it sufficiently before it passed the first of three readings required to be made into law. Through their ruling, the justices arrogated the right to strike down any law.  Who can argue with the inherently debatable allegation that a bill wasn’t deliberated sufficiently?

Supporters of the court assert that its judgments are geared toward ensuring that all citizens and noncitizen petitioners receive equal treatment. But again, court rulings contradict this notion.

For instance, in 2002, the court overturned the so-called Arutz 7 law. The law regulated the operation of private radio stations and gave a license to Arutz 7, a popular religious Zionist station that had been broadcasting illegally.

The court struck down the law, finding that it harmed the principle of equality. According to the justices, because someone else in the future might want to broadcast on Arutz 7’s frequencies, the station couldn’t use them in 2002.

Far from ensuring equality, the court’s ruling was deliberately prejudicial. It denied broadcast rights to a specific minority group that was underrepresented in the radio industry because the group — the religious Zionist sector — is despised by the justices.

In subsequent rulings, the court has cultivated inequality in the name of “equality.” It has provided extra-legal rights to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians while denying civil rights to religious Zionists, ultra-Orthodox Israelis, working-class Israeli Jews and Israeli Jewish farmers. It has struck down manifestly legal government policies in spheres as diverse as annual budgets and national security.

For instance, the court has issued a series of rulings that prevent the government from destroying buildings built illegally on state lands by Bedouins while ordering the destruction of Israeli-Jewish homes and communities in Judea and Samaria without receiving proof the land was settled illegally.

Despite the government’s legal right to order the destruction of the homes of terrorists, the court has issued injunction after injunction to stall and limit the government’s use of its power, to the point of diminishing the effectiveness of this key counterterrorism tool.

To the detriment of working-class Israelis, the court seized the power of the government and Knesset to determine immigration policies. Working-class Israelis in south Tel Aviv have seen their neighborhoods transformed into crime-plagued no-go zones by illegal immigrants from Eritrea and Sudan. Every law the Knesset has passed and policy the government has approved to lawfully remove the illegal immigrants has been abrogated by the court.

Far from ensuring equality, the court’s ruling was deliberately prejudicial.

The premise that the court’s actions protect the country from the “tyranny of the majority” is manifestly absurd. Under Israel’s multiparty system, there is no way for such a majority to ever form.

The court has exploited this state of affairs. It has seized tyrannical powers with the full knowledge that a divided government is hard-pressed to limit its actions.

It is hard to know how long this judicial tyranny will expand unchecked. Last month, the court’s recently installed Esther Hayut (sworn in Oct. 26) intimated that her goal as chief justice is formally to empower justices to issue rulings without even paying lip service to laws.

But the political will to rein in the court is building. Support for the court is now a political liability for major and minor parties alike as sector after sector in Israeli society sees its rights to security, property and equality trampled by the court.

Caroline Glick has a master’s in public policy from Harvard. Her stories have been published in The Jerusalem Post and other publications.

The Supreme Court Is Not a Pressing Problem

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s Supreme Court is a problematic institution whose problem begins with denial: It denies the obvious fact that many of its decisions are ideologically driven. That is, the background, beliefs and emotions of the justices play a significant role in their rulings.

In late October, for example, the court ruled that the Tel Aviv municipality can keep mini markets open on Shabbat. Expectedly, the ruling was hailed by secular liberal leaders and derided by conservative religious leaders. Was it the right decision? The case is complicated. Was it ideologically driven? Consider the following fact: Five justices supported the decision — all secular; two justices were in the minority opposition to the ruling — the two religious justices on the court.

Israel’s Supreme Court is a strange breed. It functions as a professional court of appeals and as an arbiter of highly politicized motions against the government. It often is called upon to decide what the political class can and cannot do — even though Israel has no full constitution on which to rely in making such assessments.

The court displays, in some cases, interventionist tendencies. It is suspected, in some cases, of having ideological tendencies. And it is guided less by a clear law, and more by a vaguer set of values. If one wants to make a case against the court, one has a long list of dubious decisions on which to rely.

The question remains: Why make a case against the court?

It is not even clear that the government has an interest in changing the court.

Every country has many institutions, and in most countries, not one of them is free of deficiencies. Still, priorities must be applied as a country goes about improving its institutions. The urgent comes before the not urgent. The highly corrupt comes before the slightly inefficient.

The main problem with the many Israelis, most of them in conservative circles, who complain about the Supreme Court is not that they don’t have a case. They do have a case. The problem is that they make it seem as if the Supreme Court is Israel’s most pressing problem or close to being that. And it is not.

The court’s ideological bent should be gradually and methodically corrected by the appointment of a more ideologically balanced cast of justices. But such a process takes time and patience, and the court’s opponents have neither: They want change now, and refuse to acknowledge an obvious fact. When change in the court is made rapidly, and when attacks on the court become a bad habit of the government, the court loses legitimacy. And for a country to have a court without legitimacy is more dangerous than to have a court with a slight ideological bent.

In fact, it is not even clear that the government has an interest in changing the court. More often it seems to want the court to remain as it is and serve as a scapegoat on which to blame the government’s impotence. If the government truly wants all stores to be closed on Shabbat, it can put in place the legislation that will make it mandatory. However, this will be a tough political maneuver — a maneuver and result that the public doesn’t appreciate. It is much easier for the government to refrain from making tough decisions, and blame the court for the result.

This is what happened in many of the other cases that the court was forced — by an inept political machine — to decide. Last summer, the court repealed a tax on the owners of more than two apartments. The politicians who made the decision to levy this tax were furious, but the court said nothing about their right to legislate; it said only that legislation must follow a certain process, and that the Knesset did not follow the proper process — it rushed the legislation in an unlawful way.

You want proof that the court was correct in making this judgment? That’s easy: After the ruling, the government never attempted to re-pass the law. Apparently, when it must play by the rules, it doesn’t have the vote to support the legislation.

So yes, the court occasionally is problematic. But the court is hardly Israel’s most pressing problem. There is a much stronger case to be made against the ineptitude of its political class.

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

Diversity in Pro-Life Movement is Richer Than Ever

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Two days after the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court, the editorial page of The New York Times — pro-abortion then, even more pro-abortion now — announced the 7-2 decision “could bring to an end the emotional and divisive public argument” and “will end the argument if those who are now inveighing against the decision as a threat to civilization’s survival will pause long enough to recognize the limits of what the Court has done.”

That gross misstatement established the template that still exists in large measure: Pretend that Justice Harry Blackmun’s decision hadn’t gutted the abortion laws of all 50 states, some very protective, others virtually allowing abortion on-demand well into the second trimester. And because the abortion regime established nearly 45 years ago was — and is — so wildly out of sync with public opinion, its foundations remain inherently unstable.

The irony is that even “pro-choice” scholars knew how slipshod Blackmun’s opinion was. In 2005, for example, Benjamin Wittes wrote, “In the years since the decision an enormous body of academic literature has tried to put the right to an abortion on firmer legal ground. But thousands of pages of scholarship notwithstanding, the right to abortion remains constitutionally shaky. … [Roe] is a lousy opinion that disenfranchised millions of conservatives on an issue about which they care deeply.”

Irony Number 2: In its earliest years the pro-life movement was filled with liberal Democrats. A commitment to protecting the vulnerable and the powerless was the reason I once was up to my elbows in Democratic Party politics. Alas, when adherence to abortion on-demand became a litmus test, virtually all liberal Democrats chose party over principle.

But the movement’s diversity is richer than ever — everything from nonsectarian organizations such as the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) to Feminists for Life to Secular Pro-Life. That is the genius of the pro-life cause: You can oppose killing unborn babies — including those capable of experiencing horrific pain as they are torn limb from limb — for a host of reasons. Pigeonholing the pro-life movement as “right-wing” or Christian-only will never end; it will just be even more foolish.

In its earliest years the pro-life movement was filled with liberal Democrats.

Science and technology, and even television commercials, have made the job of persuasion infinitely easier. When my wife was pregnant, I had to pretend I could make out what I saw on the ultrasound. Nowadays, like hundreds of millions of grandparents, when we went to the obstetrician, we could see our grandkids in four-color “real time,” meaning you could see them running all over the place. The facial features were distinct, not blurs, and no one had to help me figure out (literally) heads from tails.

The debate in the 1990s over partial-birth abortions changed the trajectory of the abortion debate. Pro-lifers are convinced the oncoming debate over banning the abortions of pain-capable children will have no less an impact. There already is overwhelming public support for just such a law.

NRLC believes this will help reveal a truth buried for decades: A majority of Americans oppose — and always have — the reasons 90-95 percent of all abortions are performed.

All this support when the mainstream media is so hostile to our cause that they didn’t have to even feign indifference to the trial of an abortionist convicted of three counts of first-degree murder for aborting late-term babies alive and then murdering them by slicing their spinal cords. Where would public opinion be if people understood that West Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell is no outlier? That he is the real face of the abortion industry that fights any and all attempts to have their facilities inspected without prior notice? (Wonder why?)

Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer Paul Greenberg once wrote, “The right to life must come first or all the others can never take root, much less flourish. As in the Declaration of Independence’s order of certain unalienable rights, among them ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Note which one is mentioned first. And for good, logical reason.”

The movement toward life and away from death is inexorable. Remember that the next time someone pretends it is pro-lifers who are the outliers.

For the other side of the debate, read Sandra Fluke’s column here

Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life News and National Right to Life News Today.

War at the Book Club

Photo from Salvador Litvak.

At a recent meeting of our book club, we were discussing a novel about a self-loathing comedian when the conversation veered into politics. The guys in the club all are Jewish and about the same age, though our careers and backgrounds vary broadly.

Our host, whom we’ll call “Larry,” turned to “Jake,” who’d just defended President Donald Trump, and said, “You sound like the yahoos we fly over.”

I said, “Larry, you can’t mean that. You’re insulting half the country just to belittle Jake.”

“Sure, I can. They voted for the chief yahoo.”

“Let’s stick to the debate,” I replied. “We all understand that you disagree with Jake on Trump’s immigration policy. I challenge you to articulate Jake’s best argument in a manner to which Jake will say, ‘Yes, that’s my belief.’ ”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because that’s the only way you’ll ever get Jake to listen to your best argument with an open mind.”

“Exactly,” chimed in another guy.

“That’s ridiculous,” Larry said. “I’m not going to argue for the opposite of what I believe.”

“Come on, Larry,” said our oldest member, “you can do it.”

Did Larry argue the other side? Would you if you were in his shoes?

The stakes have never been higher. Americans are passionately divided over a growing number of issues. Friendships are ending and family ties are bursting because we fear for the country’s future. It seems everyone has a core issue — or two or three — that they’re ready to shout and fight about.

At a time like this, we can benefit greatly by recalling a 2,000-year-old episode from the Talmud:

R’Abba said in the name of Shmuel: for three years the followers of Shammai and the followers of the Hillel debated each other. These said the law follows their view and those said the law follows their view.

Keep in mind that this was not an academic argument. The disputants believed the destinies of their countrymen’s eternal souls were at stake.

A heavenly voice went forth and declared: Both these and those are words of the living God, but the Law follows the House of Hillel.

Now, if these and those are both the words of the living God, why did the House of Hillel merit to fix the Law according to their view?

Because they were easy and forbearing, and they would study both their opinion and the opinion of the House of Shammai. And not only that, but they would state the opinion of the House of Shammai before their own (Eruvin 13b, B. Talmud).

Now, maybe we hold like Larry in a debate of national importance, or maybe we hold like Jake. Either way, if our purpose is to do more than vent, virtue-signal or commiserate with the choir, it would behoove us to advocate like the House of Hillel. This means catching the attention of folks across the aisle by demonstrating that we’ve heard, understood and considered their best arguments. Only then will our own views have a chance to be heard, understood and considered by the people we think must hear those views. That, in my view, is where progress begins.

As for what happened at the book club, Larry declined to state Jake’s opinion with anything but sarcasm — the least effective strategy for opening any heart or mind.

Two weeks later, however, Larry and I were playing golf. As we walked up a fairway, he said, out of nowhere, “I’ve been thinking about your challenge at the book club. I was nothing but belligerent, and I missed an opportunity. Next time, I’ll articulate the other side.”

May our community merit to evolve as much as my friend Larry.

Salvador Litvak shares Jewish wisdom with his followers every day as the Accidental Talmudist (

It Was A Fraud From the Start. It’s Time to Decertify It.

A ballistic missile seen at a military parade in Tehran on Sept. 22. Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President George W. Bush discussed both regime change for the Republic of Iran and the pre-emption of its nuclear program.

By 2003, Iran had procured equipment necessary for nuclear weapons development and had conducted hydrodynamic experiments, cast and shaped uranium metal into hemispheres for a nuclear implosion device and achieved a sophisticated nuclear weapon design. It had conducted nonfissile explosive testing in a containment chamber; developed and tested exploding bridgework detonators; manufactured neutron initiators used to start a fission chain-reaction in a nuclear weapon; and drafted 14 workable designs for a nuclear weapon to fit inside the re-entry vehicle for the high-explosive warhead of Iran’s Shahab-3 medium-range missile.

Not only that, it had developed fusing systems for a nuclear missile warhead to perform a ground-burst or high-altitude burst above 3,000 meters.

Despite all this, in 2009, new President Barack Obama — lacking any military experience, national security expertise or real-world business negotiation skills — secretly plotted rapprochement with Iran, which was part of Bush’s “axis of evil.”

Obama falsely asserted that his outreach to the mullahs occurred only after the 2013 election of supposed moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Instead, to curry favor with Tehran, the Obama administration abandoned the dissidents of the 2009 Green Revolution and twisted American foreign policy during the brutal Syrian civil war, failing to enforce the red line after President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

While Tehran carved “Death to Israel” inscriptions on its bombs, Obama repeatedly tilted against the Jewish state, “creating space” between the U.S. and our closest moral and military ally in the region.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal rewarded a terror state, solidified mullah theocratic rule, deflated and endangered Iranian dissidents, and, astonishingly, gave Iran billions of U.S. dollars in unmarked cash, without congressional knowledge or approval. These funds fuel Iran’s nefarious roles in Iraq and Syria and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Council’s increased support of Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, and renewed alliance with Sunni Hamas in Gaza, all under a potential Iranian nuclear umbrella.

The Persians — who invented the ultimate game of strategy, chess — saw Obama’s ambitions for a grand deal and craftily negotiated both an end to international economic sanctions and new business contracts from European companies.

The Obama administration conducted a self-admitted propaganda campaign to smear deal opponents, even questioning the dual loyalty of American Jews. Ben Rhodes, a failed short story creative writer with no national security credentials, became Obama’s apologist in chief, proclaiming the 58 U.S. Senators who voted against the deal part of a “blob,” and admitting he made up a “narrative” that the media lapped up.

Barely avoiding a 60-vote rebuke, Obama’s Iran legacy is a Neville Chamberlain-like piece of paper, an appeasement that also signaled weakness to the North Korean dictatorship.

Netanyahu has said, “Iran has become more dangerous since [the deal] was signed, is better funded, and has sponsored more terrorism.

“Now they are going to build ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] that can reach the U.S. and have the multiple warheads to do that. That is horrible. It is dangerous for America, dangerous for Israel and dangerous for the Arabs.”

President Donald Trump decried it as “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen. … My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon.”

Every 90 days the president must decide whether to certify the following four conditions related to the nuclear deal: 
• Iran is fully implementing the agreement and all related agreements;
• Iran has not committed a material breach with respect to the agreement or, if it has, it has rectified that breach;
• Iran has not taken any action that could significantly advance its nuclear weapons program;
• Sanctions relief is “appropriate” to Iran ending its illicit nuclear program and “vital to the national security interests” of the U.S. 

According to congressional testimony in April, Iran has failed to implement the deal and its related agreements on export controls, centrifuge development, procurement, International Atomic Energy Agency access, ballistic missile development, conventional arms activities, heavy water, enriched uranium amounts and levels, and natural uranium imports.

North Korea’s “No. 2” official, Kim Yong Nam, visited Iran to boost prohibited military trade, and Tehran has opened up new arms routes to Yemen, Syria and Russia. And recently, top Iranian political and military officials admitted they launched the Khorramshahr ballistic missile, with multiple warheads and a 1,250-mile range that can reach Israel.

The Iran nuclear deal was a fraud from the start, empowering a tyranny and its continuing deceptive activity, and giving the United States and our allies nothing in return except the contempt of Tehran. It’s time to decertify it.

Larry Greenfield served as executive director of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Decertifying Would Not Increase U.S. Leverage

From left: European Union Ambassador to the U.S. David O’Sullivan, French Ambassador Gerard Araud, British Ambassador Kim Darrouch and German Ambassador Peter Wittig at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 25. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

It is no secret that President Donald Trump does not like the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He has twice certified Iranian compliance with the agreement. He must decide whether to do so again by Oct. 15.

Two years after its negotiation, the agreement is working. Every other signatory, including our European partners, believes Iran is adhering to its side of the bargain. The agreement is not perfect, but Iran is no longer on the brink of being able to produce a nuclear weapon as it was just over two years ago. The International Atomic Energy Agency has issued multiple reports confirming Iranian compliance, and credible nuclear nonproliferation experts are in agreement. Even Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran is in compliance, despite his continued valid concerns about Iran’s regional behavior

But the JCPOA was not about changing Iran’s overall behavior — it was about stopping Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. To recap, the basic contours of the agreement required Iran to reduce significantly its enriched uranium and plutonium capabilities (the possible pathways to a bomb) in exchange for the United States and other world powers removing nuclear-related economic sanctions

The agreement has not made Iran a responsible regional player. It continues to meddle in regional politics. Iran’s support for Hezbollah is a particular concern. But imagine how much worse it would be if Iran, like North Korea, were nuclear-armed. Decertifying the JCPOA will do nothing to improve Iranian behavior, and it might even make it more difficult to rally international support to counter troubling Iranian activities. Indeed, one result of Trump’s bellicose rhetoric at the United Nations was to convince the world that, if the agreement were to fail, it would be America’s — not Iran’s — fault.

Some argue that the agreement can go on without the U.S. But over the long term, the agreement is unlikely to survive decertification. If the president fails to certify, Congress must decide whether to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, which would violate the agreement. Maybe the administration could convince Congress to withhold sanctions, but it would be a strange case to make after claiming the deal isn’t serving the U.S. interest and Iran is in violation. The congressional record of voting overwhelmingly in favor of sanctions against Iran would not instill confidence that Congress would pass up the opportunity to punish Iran once again if given the opportunity.

Even if Congress did not reapply nuclear-related sanctions, the spectacle in Washington would create such economic uncertainty and political pressure within Iran that its incentives to continue adhering to nuclear restrictions would decrease. If Iran responds by failing to adhere to the strict safeguards of the JCPOA, putting global sanctions back in place would be almost unimaginable, particularly if the international community perceives the U.S. as responsible for unraveling the agreement.

This would be the worst outcome — Iran’s returning to a troubling nuclear program with weakened international resolve to challenge it. The advantages of the JCPOA, particularly regular and intrusive inspections and monitoring, would be lost. With the United States out of the picture, the possibilities are either the end of the JCPOA or a weaker agreement.

The suggestion that decertifying would increase U.S. leverage to renegotiate and strengthen the agreement is unrealistic at best. The Europeans, Russians and Chinese oppose renegotiation. Europe may be willing to discuss areas of concern like Iranian missile development and sunset clauses, but only if the administration accepts the JCPOA as the starting point. Continuing to adhere to the JCPOA will put the U.S. in a better position to lead such efforts; bolting from the JCPOA will ensure that negotiations for add-on agreements are dead in the water. Why would European partners, let alone Iran, discuss new agreements if they don’t believe the Americans lived up to the initial deal?

In 2015, fears and predictions about how things might unfold were speculative. Today, we know that the JCPOA is achieving its only stated aim: to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state. This is the judgment of nearly the entire international community. Why would the U.S. want to needlessly isolate itself, generate new risks of nuclearization and create a crisis of its own making with no clear return?

Dalia Dassa Kaye is the director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy and a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp.

Trump wins first debate

Apparently, pretty much everyone I know is a bed-wetter.

The term gained currency in politics in January 2010 when Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, in a Washington Post “>tweeted. “Clinton will enter August with strong electoral college advantage.” But that lead has since been blown, and now my in-box is positively leaking anxiety.  

Tell me Trump won’t win, my friends are emailing. It’s a slow-motion train wreck, they’re saying, and I feel helpless to stop it. Why is the media letting Trump get away with it? I wouldn’t be so nervous if it weren’t for Gary Johnson; if it weren’t for millennial apathy, for alt-right propaganda, for Paul Ryan’s cowardice; if it weren’t for sexism, racism, infotainment, Idiocracy, plutocracy, Citizens United, voter suppression…. Help!

Now comes the first debate, adding fresh impetus to stock up on mattress pads. Yet no matter what Clinton does, the Trump-wins-first-debate narrative has already been written:

– Trump and Clinton will share the same stage. He is not a normal candidate, or even a normal person. She is. No matter what happens during the debate, it is declared afterward that the one-on-one matchup has “normalized” Trump. So Trump wins.

– Because the bar for a successful Trump performance has been set so low, when Trump fails to threaten to punch Clinton, it is acclaimed as evidence of his presidential temperament and general election pivot.  Trump wins.

– Trump will attack Clinton. Clinton will defend herself. The verdict: Trump was strong; Clinton was on the defensive. But people want strength. Trump wins.

– The moderator, NBC’s Lester Holt, will call Trump on a lie. Trump will heap scorn on Holt, NBC, MSNBC, the Commission on Presidential Debates and the corrupt, dishonest media. Gallup – Clinton will nail Trump for lying. He’ll lie so much, she won’t be able to keep up with him. Fact-checkers will say, after the fact, that his pants were on fire, but it won’t matter. The debate will be scored for entertainment value, not truth-value. Clinton’s zingers will be called scripted. Trump’s taunts will be so uncivil, so beyond the political pale, so viciously funny, he will be crowned the change candidate in a change election year. Trump wins.

– Trump and Clinton will go after each other so relentlessly that the debate will be called a draw. But the Beltway consensus is that Clinton needs to win; Trump just needs to tie. So a tie is a win. Trump wins.

Even if Clinton wipes the floor with Trump, the media’s inherent bias is for suspense. The media business model requires capturing and keeping the audience’s attention, so corporations can sell our eyeballs to advertisers. It doesn’t matter how the debates go, or what the polls say; the press will portray the final stretch of this horserace as neck and neck, a photo finish, you won’t want to miss this, stay tuned.

Four years ago, I “>admitted on air, “We got played again by the Trump campaign, which is what they do.” No doubt Trump’s base loved that humiliation. But will the press ever learn? By the time the media figures out that its addiction to BREAKING NEWS is a standing invitation to be punked, the guy who’s gaming them may be sitting in the Oval Office.

I do see signs that Trump’s press bullying is losing octane. The Los Angeles Times’ lead story out of that birther event was headlined, “Trump trades one falsehood for two more,” and the New York Times led with “Trump Gives Up a Lie But Refuses to Repent.” If cable news covers the debates that unflinchingly, maybe Bed Bath & Beyond can let its inventory of waterproof bedding dwindle.

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

Donald Trump: Debating trailing Bernie Sanders would be ‘inappropriate’

Donald Trump said he would not debate Bernie Sanders because it would be “inappropriate” in light of Sanders trailing Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary fight.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, addressed the possibility of debating the Vermont senator on Friday in a statement, CNN reported.

“Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and crooked Hillary Clinton and [Debbie] Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second-place finisher,” Trump said in a statement, referring also to the head of the Democratic National Committee.

Trump also said news networks “are not proving to be too generous to charitable causes,” which he previously had said would be a goal of debating Sanders.

The two populist candidates had floated the idea of debating each other throughout the week. Sanders has been trying to debate Clinton ahead of the California primary on June 7, but she has declined.

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles, Sanders said he was disappointed that Trump changed his mind.

“I hope that he changes his mind again. Mr. Trump is known to change his mind many times in a day,” Sanders said. “Trump is a bully, he’s a big tough guy. Well, I say to Mr. Trump, what are you afraid of?”

On Thursday, Trump told supporters in Bismarck, North Dakota, that he’d “love to debate Bernie.”

“He’s a dream,” the real estate magnate said. “If we can raise [money] for maybe women’s health issues or something. If we can raise $10 or $15 million for charity, which would be a very appropriate amount.”

“I understand the television business very well. I think it would get high ratings,” Trump added.

The idea of the two debating surfaced Wednesday night when ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel told Trump he had a question from the Sanders campaign asking if Trump would be willing to debate the Democratic hopeful.

Trump warns of riots, pulls plug on Republican presidential debate

Republican front-runner Donald Trump warned on Wednesday of riots if he is denied the party's presidential nomination and pulled the plug on a scheduled debate among candidates, raising the temperature even more in a heated White House race.

The outspoken New York businessman scored big wins in primaries in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina on Tuesday, bringing him closer to the 1,237 convention delegates he needs to win the nomination.

Trump also claimed victory in Missouri but lost the crucial state of Ohio, and left the door open for those in the party trying to stop him from becoming the Republican nominee for the Nov. 8 election.

Trump might fall short of the majority of delegates required, enabling the party's establishment to put forward another name at the July convention in Cleveland to formally pick its candidate.

In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Trump said the party could not deny him the nomination should he fail to win enough delegates.

“I don't think you can say that we don't get it automatically. I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. I'm representing many, many millions of people.”

While the Republicans were mired deeper in turmoil, Hillary Clinton won victories in at least four states on Tuesday that put her in good shape to defeat U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and win the Democratic Party's nomination.

Republican Party leaders are appalled at Trump's incendiary rhetoric and reject policies such as his vow to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, temporarily ban Muslims from the United States and build a wall along the Mexican border.

The party tried to play down his riot comments, only days after Trump supporters and protesters clashed at a rally for the Republican in Chicago that was later scrapped.

“First of all, I assume he is speaking figuratively. If we go into a convention, whoever gets 1,237 delegates becomes the nominee. It's plain and simple,” Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer told CNN.

Recent outbreaks of violence during protests at Trump rallies have prompted President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and mainstream Republican figures to speak out against the billionaire.

A North Carolina sheriff's office looked into charging Trump or his campaign with “inciting a riot” at a rally in the state last week where a protester was punched, but decided not to proceed.


In comments likely to raise more concern in the Republican establishment about Trump's lack of experience and temperament, the former reality TV show host said he was for the most part his own foreign affairs adviser.

“I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain,” he told MSNBC's “Morning Joe” show. “I know what I'm doing. … My primary consultant is myself.”

Trump's closest national challenger is first-term U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who prides himself in being a grassroots conservative often at odds with Republican leaders.

He too warned of severe reactions against an attempt to stage a so-called brokered convention or contested convention to install a Republican candidate supported by party leaders.

“I think that would be an absolute disaster. I think the people would quite rightly revolt,” Cruz told CNN.

A brokered convention is a complicated process of sequential votes that opens the way for horse trading.

The Republican establishment's bid to stop Trump may have come too late as the field of candidates has dwindled to only three, with Trump, 69, in command ahead of Cruz, 45, and Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, who won his state's Republican primary on Tuesday.

Growing in confidence, Trump pulled out of a Republican debate scheduled for Monday in Utah, saying it clashed with a speech he plan to give to a pro-Israel group. Debate hosts Fox News then canceled the event.

Senator Marco Rubio quit the White House race after defeat in his home state of Florida, leaving former investment banker Kasich as the last moderate Republican presidential candidate standing.

Trump now needs to win about 55 percent of the roughly 1,100 delegates still up for grabs in state-by-state nominating contests to guarantee the nomination. It is not an insurmountable challenge.

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said it might be tough for the party to block Trump at the convention.

“A contested convention would be justified if Trump only had around 35 or 40 percent of the delegates locked up. However, if he is very close to getting the majority of delegates, it would be politically difficult for the establishment to try stop him by backroom wheeling and dealing without risking a serious backlash from voters,” said Bonjean. The strategist is not affiliated with any of the candidates.

Given the panic amid party leaders at the likelihood of a Trump nomination, some Republicans have urged U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan to step in.

But Ryan, the country's top elected Republicans and a self-described budget wonk, will not accept a nomination to be a presidential candidate, said his spokeswoman, AshLee Strong.

Party figures are divided about whether to throw their weight behind Trump despite his downsides or to go on trying to halt him. Florida Governor Rick Scott endorsed Trump on Wednesday but another influential Southern governor, South Carolina's Nikki Haley, declared her support for Cruz, the state's Post and Courier newspaper said.

The election season is likely to become more politicized after Obama nominated judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a showdown with Senate Republicans who have vowed to block any Obama nominee.

On the Democratic side, wins on Tuesday for former Secretary of State Clinton, 68, gave her an almost insurmountable edge over Sanders, 74.

Seeking to become the United States' first woman president, Clinton needs to win only around a third of the Democratic delegates remaining to become her party's nominee.

Clinton, Sanders clash over trade and auto bailout in Michigan debate

Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton clashed angrily over trade, the auto industry bailout and Wall Street in a Michigan debate on Sunday, with Sanders accusing Clinton of backing trade deals that robbed the state of jobs.

In a debate in Flint, Michigan, Sanders said Clinton supported “disastrous” trade policies that moved manufacturing jobs out of cities like Flint and Detroit and shifted them overseas.

But Clinton said Sanders' opposition to the 2009 auto bailout, a crucial issue in a state that is home to the U.S. auto industry, would have cost the state millions of jobs. The bailout, which Clinton supported, passed Congress and has been credited with helping save the U.S. industry.

“If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed, taking 4 million jobs with it,” Clinton, the former secretary of state, said ofSanders.

The debate came as Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, struggled to slow Clinton's march to the nomination to face the Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 general election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama. Media organizations predicted that Sanders would win Sunday's Maine caucus.

Sanders also questioned the sincerity of Clinton's conversion to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal.

Clinton “has discovered religion on this issue, but it’s a little too late,” he said. “Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America.”

The two contenders cut each other off on several occasions, a rare occurrence in a race that has been much more polite than the raucous Republican presidential campaign.

“Excuse me, I'm talking,” Sanders said to Clinton when she tried to interrupt. “If you're going to talk, tell the whole story,” Clinton responded.

Sanders repeated his charge that Clinton is too close to Wall Street and demanded again that she release the transcript of paid speeches she has given to Wall Street firms. Clinton said she would release them when all the candidates, including Republicans, also release transcripts of similar talks.


Throwing up his hands, Sanders said: “I'll release it. Here it is. There ain't nothing! I don’t give speeches to Wall Street!”

Both candidates said they would beat Republican front-runner Donald Trump if they face the brash billionaire businessman in the November presidential election.

“I think Donald Trump's bigotry, his bullying, his bluster, are not going to wear well on the American people,” Clinton said. “We have to end the divisiveness.”

The debate was held in Flint to highlight the city's water contamination crisis, and both candidates expressed outrage at Flint's plight and demanded state and federal money begin to flow immediately to begin relief and rebuilding efforts.

Both candidates condemned local officials who they said abetted the crisis in Flint, and demanded the resignation of Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan.

“People should be held accountable, wherever that leads,” Clinton said, adding an investigation should determine who in state and federal government was responsible. “There has to be absolute accountability.”

“What is going on is a disgrace beyond belief,” Sanders said, plugging his plan to spend $1 trillion to rebuild crumbling infrastructure across the United States.

The crisis in Flint, a predominantly black city of 100,000, was triggered when an emergency city manager installed by Snyder switched the city's water supply to the nearby Flint River from Lake Michigan to save money.

The change corroded Flint's aging pipes and released lead and other toxins into the water supply, exposing thousands of residents including children to high lead levels that have sparked serious health problems.


Opinion polls show Clinton, 68, leading in Michigan and Mississippi, which vote on Tuesday. She also leads in polls in several big states that vote on March 15, including Ohio and Florida.

Sanders, 74, faces a tough challenge erasing Clinton's lead of about 200 bound delegates who will choose the nominee at the July convention. Since the Democratic race awards delegates in each state proportionally, she will keep gathering delegates even in those states she loses.

The Democratic debate occurred one day after Sanders won nominating contests in Kansas and Nebraska, and Clinton won the bigger prize of Louisiana, a win that allowed her to slightly expand her delegate lead.

On the Republican side, Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas were angling on Sunday for a two-man race for the party's presidential nomination after splitting four state nominating contests at the weekend.

The wins for Trump, 69, and Cruz, 45, on Saturday were a setback for party leaders, who have largely opposed Trump and hinted they prefer Rubio, 44, who took third or fourth in Saturday's four Republican contests.

Cruz has been predicting a two-man race with Trump for several weeks. 

On Sunday, Rubio was projected to win in Puerto Rico, his second victory to date in nominating contests across U.S. states and territories. Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, the only other candidate remaining from a starting field of 17, has yet to win any state.

Trump will ‘definitely not’ participate in Thursday Fox debate

Donald Trump will “definitely not” participate in Thursday's Fox News U.S. Republican presidential debate, Trump's campaign manager told the Washington Post. 

“He's definitely not participating in the Fox News debate,” the Post quoted campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as saying. “His word is his bond.” 

He said Trump would remain in Iowa as planned and would instead host a event in the state to raise money for wounded warriors and other veterans groups, the Post reported.

GOP debate analysis: Rubio earns top spot

Republican presidential candidates showed up on Wednesday to yet another audition in front of millions of Americans as they were supposed to debate each other and present their vision for the future in constricted soundbites for the third GOP debate on CNBC.

But instead of being able to address their vision and draw a contrast with one another, the candidates were grilled and skewed by the moderators. But it came back to haunt CNBC as the candidates and the audience fought back aggressively.

In the remaining time they had to answer questions or address policy issues, there were two candidates who stood out, dominated the conversation and earned positive marks: Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Going into the debate, Rubio’s stakes were high. The eyes of potential backers – such as Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer – were glued to the TV screen not only to examine his performance and answers on the issues of the day but to determine whether the moment has come to put their faith in his candidacy as a viable choice.

Rubio has done pretty well in previous debates. On TV and in public speeches, the Florida Senator inspires. He’s articulate, measured, but more importantly he’s appealing. And in recent months, Rubio has been climbing the ladder in public opinion polls and all of the post-debate polls. But somehow, despite his rise in the polls, situating himself in the top 5 spots in every single national and state poll, he hasn’t been able to break out. His fundraising numbers are far from impressing, and despite missing a substantial amount of time casting votes in the Senate, he hasn’t been seen too often in the early primary states, and the amount of time spending in attending fundraisers and meeting bundlers doesn’t seem to be too productive.

Politico reported Tuesday that Singer, who considers Rubio as his favorite, is still wondering if he can create a big-time national campaign and succeed in building a formidable political operation to compete or even win the early primary states. Adelson, too, is closing in on Rubio but was said to be waiting for tonight’s debate to make a final and unregrettable decision

Rubio’s hawkish views on foreign policy issues are a plus for him in courting the heavy Jewish Republican donors. But it hasn’t helped him, so far, to bite into Ted Cruz’s base.

That changed on Wednesday night. Rubio stood his ground to the questions hurled at him, stuck to his basic campaign theme, but more importantly, threw back a punch to his main rival Jeb Bush as the two sparred at the beginning of the two-hour debate.

When he was challenged for skipping more votes than any senator to run for president, Rubio made a fair comparison to previous senators running for president, including President Barack Obama and John Kerry. “This is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative movement,” he said.

Bush, looking for a breakout moment against the charismatic Senator from Florida, countered that argument: “Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work,” he said.” I mean, literally, the Senate — what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job.”

But Rubio threw the Romney kitchen sink right at Jeb. “Over the last few weeks, I’ve listened to Jeb as he walked around the country and said that you’re modeling your campaign after John McCain, that you’re going to launch a furious comeback the way he did, by fighting hard in New Hampshire and places like that, carrying your own bag at the airport. You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you’re now modeling after?,” he asked the former Republican frontrunner. “I don’t remember you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record. The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

Rubio also got positive marks for attacking the mainstream media, which is always a plus in the Republican primary.

If I were a fly on the wall in the Adelson living room tonight, I would’ve heard Sheldon telling his wife Miriam that the deal is closed, he has it. Rubio might have earned the Vegas casino mogul’s support, even though foreign policy wasn’t even mentioned once during the entire debate, for hitting a grand slam in a game he’s pitching perfect against the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Christie also had his moments. When the moderator asked Bush about the government getting involved in fantasy football, the New Jersey Governor chimed in: “Wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt, we have people out of work, we have ISIS and al-Qaeda attacking us and we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? Seriously, how about this? How about we get the government to do what they are supposed to be doing, secure our borders, protect our people and support American values and American families.”

Rand Paul, though wearing the best tie, failed to score a breakout moment just for the fact that he was given less time to speak, and the substantive answers he gave were diluted by the candidates continued clashes with the moderators.

Just like the Democratic debate early this month, Israel was not mentioned once during the debate. In fact, the fight against ISIS and the Iran nuclear deal was only mentioned by Trump and Christie during indirect answers on other issues.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, who had a good performance, quoted the Talmud in his closing remarks: “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:9)

This also marked the first time in over three months that the frontrunner Donald Trump, already being challenged by Ben Carson for the first spot, failed to dominate the conversation and despite standing center stage, he was not the center of the discussion and was mostly ignored by the other candidates on the stage.

Other than the ten candidates standing on the stage, Senator Lindsey Graham also had a great night in the undercard debate aired on CNBC at 6:00 pm. His performance earned him a high five by the guy who became the nominee four years ago: former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. “After hearing @LindseyGrahamSC talk foreign policy tonight, it’s clear he belongs on the big stage,’ Romney tweeted.

Indeed, Graham with his knowledge of domestic and international affairs and sense of humor belonged on the main stage on Wednesday.

The 14 GOP hopefuls will get another opportunity to earn some support next month. But to sum up tonight’s debate, Jeb Bush failed to save his flailing campaign and he failed big in picking a fight with Rubio. Christie, who does well on stage, will likely benefit from Bush’s downfall in the short term. But most importantly, Rubio, as mentioned above, proved he’s ready to take it to top-tier by using to maximum his strength at the podium. Similarly, Cruz shined in the moments he was given the mic.

Clinton tacks to the left ahead of Democratic debate

Hillary Clinton has veered hard to the left ahead of Tuesday's first Democratic presidential debate, hoping to inoculate herself from criticism by rival Bernie Sanders and woo the union members and liberal activists who have been slow to embrace her.

But in a Democratic race so far featuring few political attacks or policy clashes, Clinton's move to protect her left flank on issues like the Asian trade pact and Keystone oil pipeline could open the door during the televised debate to questions about her sincerity and to charges of flip-flopping.

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, and Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who is her prime challenger, will take part in the first of six scheduled debates in the race to be the party's nominee in the November 2016 presidential election.

Programming of the event on CNN starts at 8:30 p.m. EDT but the debate itself begins at 9 p.m.

The two main candidates will be joined by former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee and former U.S. Senator James Webb of Virginia. The showdown will give Sanders his first broad national exposure and offer Clinton a chance to ease the concerns some Democrats have about her.

After two raucous Republican debates that drew big television audiences attracted by the fireworks generated by front-runner Donald Trump, the Democratic encounter in Las Vegas, is likely to be a tamer affair.

It comes at a critical time for Clinton, whose once overwhelming lead among Democrats in polls has slipped amid questions about her use of a private email server instead of a government account when she was secretary of state.

In addition, she faces the threat that Vice President Joe Biden could enter the race – something he has been increasingly urged to do as Clinton's lead falters.

Draft Biden, a political action committee created to urge the vice president to jump into the race, on Tuesday released a new ad portraying him as an advocate for the dignity of work.

Almost half of the nation’s Democrats want Biden to run, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday.

Forty-eight percent of Democrats surveyed wish he were a candidate, compared with 30 percent who said he should stay out.


Sanders, a self-described socialist, has excited the party's

left wing and generated big crowds with a message of eradicating income inequality and reining in Wall Street.

In response, Clinton took stances on several key issues recently that align her with Sanders. She reversed course to announce her opposition to the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that she had praised when she was secretary of state, and she rejected the Keystone XL pipeline that she had said in 2010 she was inclined to approve. Sanders is a longtime opponent of both projects.

Sanders, who has repeatedly refused to directly attack Clinton, signaled over the weekend he would make an issue in the debate of Clinton's tardiness in embracing liberal positions on some of those topics, noting he opposed Keystone and the TPP “from day one.”

Clinton, who still faces ambivalence about her candidacy from much of the union rank-and-file, won praise from labor leaders for her opposition to the TPP. Labor has opposed the pact out of fear it would cost manufacturing jobs and weaken environmental laws.

“I don't think she ever had any inclination to back TPP,” said R. Thomas Buffenbarger, a Clinton ally who is president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has endorsed Clinton.

Some subtle policy differences remain between the two top Democratic contenders. Sanders has pushed for what he calls a sensible approach on gun control and voted against the 1993 Brady handgun bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law.

Clinton broke with the White House to back a no-fly zone in Syria to give refugees a safe corridor. Sanders opposes it, saying it could be a step toward pulling the United States into Syria's civil war.

Sanders has discouraged Super PACs from raising funds on his behalf, warning of the influence of corporate money. Clinton is backed by several Super PACs.

Eric Davis, a professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College in Vermont, expects Sanders “to have a vigorous critique of Hillary Clinton on things like campaign finance,” saying he can criticize her for “the way she is financing her campaign and her perceived closeness to Wall Street interests.”

Iran deal debate rages on throughout L.A.

Activist Sam Yebri and USC lecturer Josh Lockman have read every page of the controversial Iran deal, but they’ve come to very different conclusions.

“Iran wants this deal. They need it. We can do better than this deal,” Yebri said, garnering applause during a community debate on Aug. 24 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. 

“Getting a better deal at this point is illusory,” Lockman countered.

The two were matched up during an evening event titled “Should Congress Approve or Reject the Iran Nuclear Deal?” moderated by Temple Emanuel Associate Rabbi Sarah Bassin. Yebri is a local attorney and president of the Iranian-American organization 30 Years After, and Lockman is a USC Law School lecturer on international law and U.S. foreign policy.

The debate on the deal — which would lift sanctions against the country in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program for at least 10 years — attracted an attentive audience of more than 150 people of all ages. 

Although the two speakers offered little in the way of fresh arguments about the agreement, they demonstrated intimate familiarity with the comprehensive deal’s fine print as they went back and forth about centrifuge reduction, “snap-back” sanctions and other talking points for more than an hour. 

The event was one of numerous debates and speaking events about Iran that have taken place in Los Angeles ever since the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany came to an agreement with Iran in July about its nuclear program. Although different speakers have represented the various points of view at each of these events, one thing the events have had in common is a captivated audience participating in the Q-and-A portions.

During this debate, audience members were asked to submit questions on notecards. One person asked about a possible alternative to this deal, given President Barack Obama and other supporters have maintained the only other option is war.

Yebri’s answer was declarative: “The fact that it’s either this deal or war is a false dichotomy.”

Bassin told audience members to hold their applause until the end, but that did not stop them from applauding Yebri’s criticism of the deal. 

Bassin pushed for people in the crowd to contact their local representatives and let them know how they feel about the deal, whether they support it or are against it. 

Lockman, in a later phone interview with the Journal, said he thought the debate over the Iran deal, if nothing else, underscored the variety of opinions local community members hold about issues pertaining to Israel and beyond. 

“This issue exemplifies the American-Jewish community does not think monolithically, whether about U.S.-Israel relations or about the Middle East at large,” he said. “There is a lot of diversity and [a] spectrum of opinions on how the United States should lead and strengthen our alliance with Israel and protect Israel.”

Audience member Mati Cohen, who told the Journal he was against the deal, said that while he was pleased with the dialogue between the two speakers, he was hoping for more discussion about how Iran will likely use the funds that it will receive after sanctions are lifted. 

“I wanted to see if they would address the main issues,” Cohen said, when asked why he attended the event.

The debate was organized by American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS Los Angeles and co-sponsored by Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Temple Israel of Hollywood and 30 Years After. 

Trump draws boos as he bristles at ‘war on women’ question

White House contender Donald Trump, known for his inflammatory rhetoric, reacted with pique at a Republican presidential debate on Thursday when asked about his past comments calling women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs” and “disgusting animals.”

Trump dismissed as “political correctness” a question from Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly, who asked him to answer charges that he was part of a “war on women.”

“What I say is what I say,” said Trump, who is leading the sprawling Republican field of 17 candidates.

He drew boos from the audience when he pushed back against Kelly by accusing her of not treating him well.

“Honestly Megyn, if you don't like it, I'm sorry. I've been very nice to you although I could probably maybe not be based on the way you have treated me,” Trump said. “But I wouldn't do that.”

Trump, a real estate mogul and former reality TV star, stood at center stage by virtue of his lead in opinion polls. His base of support is overwhelmingly male, and his comments could further erode his support among women voters.

The Republican Party has been trying to broaden its base by reaching out to women and minority voters, many of whom gravitate to the Democratic party.

Iran: What Now? A Panel Discussion on the Nuclear Deal


The Jewish Journal held a debate on the Iran nuclear deal on Aug. 2, 2015.


Mel Levine / Former U.S. Representative
Dalia Dassa Kaye / Iran Expert, RAND
Omri Ceren / The Israel Project


David Suissa / TRIBE Media Corp. & Jewish Journal President

Sponsored by The Jewish Federation, Beth Jacob and the Jewish Journal

Israel needs fans, not cheerleaders

As the New England Patriots qualified for yet another Super Bowl, my thoughts went to my late father-in-law, Harvey Kirstein, z”l, a huge fan of the team and season-ticket holder who died tragically before they became successful and never saw any of their triumphs.

It was Harvey who took me to my first game on my first trip to the United States, which was also my honeymoon. Having grown up in Britain and lived in Israel, I had no idea what was happening on the field. But I was fascinated by the cheerleaders, another example of American popular culture that was new and unfamiliar as well as strangely alluring. No matter what was happening on the field, they pranced and danced, shaking their sculpted bods and waving their pom-poms, the same plastic smiles on their perfect faces.

It prompted some thoughts on the difference between fans and cheerleaders. Whereas cheerleaders do their thing regardless of the success of the team or lack thereof, fans are much more passionately engaged. They want the team to do well — but they do not spare their opinions, thoughts and criticisms when the team is doing badly. Do we need a new quarterback? Is the head coach up to the job? Are we drafting the right players? Do we have the right game plan?

This difference between engaged fans and cheerleaders is at the center of a debate within the American-Jewish community between those who would have us play the part of cheerleaders and those who would have us be fans. 

For much of my life, I was a cheerleader. I didn’t want to hear anything negative about Israel. After all, I reasoned, it has enough critics in the world. It didn’t need one more.

This changed somewhat in the eight years I actually lived in Israel, including the period when I served in the Israel Defense Forces. Living there gave me permission to be as critical as I liked and to take full part in the democratic life of the country. After all, the decisions of the government affected every aspect of my life — including my security and that of my family. But once I returned to the Diaspora, my previous attitude reasserted itself.

For two years, during which I worked for an organization called The Israel Project, this “hear no evil” attitude became the watchword of my professional work. My job was to work with foreign journalists, providing them with access to Israeli sources and information. But whenever the subject of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank or its settlement-building arose, my only recourse was to try to talk about something else. As a cheerleader, I had nothing useful to contribute.

Instead, I would try to divert attention to Israel’s high-tech industry, its growing wine industry, alternative energy programs, water purification plants and drip agriculture technology, as well as its medical advances. Almost every day, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem sends out information on these topics as well as Tel Aviv nightlife, pop music, the booming gay scene — anything other than settlements and the occupation.

Eventually, I reached a point when I no longer wanted to be a cheerleader. I wanted to engage Israel fully, with my heart and my mind, instead of kicking up my legs and waving a pom-pom. I concluded that this would be healthier and more honest for me and healthier for Israel as well. Hence, my decision to join J Street.

Going back to the world of professional football, there is another analogy that may be apt. In Washington, D.C., fans are quite engaged — but need to be much more engaged — in the controversy surrounding the name of the local franchise. Many Native Americans and others have spoken out against the name “Redskins,” but the team owner is not listening. I predict that he will only start listening when a critical mass of the team’s fans — those who fill stadium seats, buy season tickets and team gear — start speaking out against the name.

So it is with Israel. As fans, we have a privileged position. We have a chance to be listened to in a way that uninvolved observers never would be. We must express our unconditional love for Israel. But we must also speak out about the direction in which the country is headed.

Do we need a new quarterback, a new manager, a new game plan? Fans can debate this. Cheerleaders cannot. This government has failed to pursue peace with the same conviction that it has pursued settlements. The Palestinians also share some of the blame for the failure of peace talks, but the fact remains that if the occupation continues, there will soon be a Palestinian majority in the land that Israel controls. At that point, Israel will have to choose between remaining a Jewish homeland and remaining a democracy. 

When a team has a bad season, or a series of bad seasons, some fans get discouraged and walk away. The cheerleaders continue prancing. But it is those fans who stay — and who vocalize their feelings — that constitute the heart and soul of the franchise.

I want to be in that number.

Alan Elsner is vice president for communications at J Street.

J Street, StandWithUs debate best way to support Israel

Representatives of StandWithUs (SWU) and J Street — two Jewish organizations with very different takes on Israel — faced off Jan. 13 in a debate on why their respective group is a better friend to the Jewish state.

The free event, at Temple Judea in Tarzana, featured attorney, writer and UCLA graduate student Philippe Assouline in support of SWU, and J Street Vice President for Communications Alan Elsner. Temple Judea’s Rabbi Joshua Aaronson served as moderator for the hour-long debate, which attracted more than 400 attendees. 

The two organizations are often pitted against each other. SWU is a pro-Israel education-and-advocacy organization that concentrates resources on bolstering Israel’s image on college campuses, which are becoming increasingly anti-Israel. J Street is a progressive organization that supports a two-state solution, often criticizes the Israeli government and lobbies United States congressional leaders on legislation related to Israel.

Aaronson began the night by asking the debaters to discuss public perceptions about their respective organizations and to comment on why those perceptions even exist. Assouline blamed J Street, along with pro-Palestinian organizations, for marginalizing SWU to the extent that it is seen as little more than a mouthpiece of the Israeli government.  

“Those two things combined have given StandWithUs a completely undeserved right-wing reputation. If I had to put a label on the people I work with, it would be center-left,” he said. “There is not one person I work with who is against Palestinian self-determination and who has come out vocally against a two state-solution,”

As for J Street, which is generally seen as more of a left-wing group, any misperceptions about it come from a different place, Elsner said.

“Since J Street’s inception, there have been people in the Jewish-American establishment who felt threatened by our organization, and have tried very, very hard to spread falsehoods and dishonesty and basically blackmail the organization,” he said, “and I find it bizarre.”
Each speaker was not afraid to throw darts at the other’s organization. Assouline called J Street a lobbying organization — and not in a good way — saying, “J Street doesn’t merely try to inject new voices into the discussion; it is a lobbying group that tries to influence American policy, to change Israeli policy over and against the wishes of the Israeli electorate, sometimes.”

After the debate, Elsner described SWU to the Journal as “just a classic hasbarah cheerleading group that pushes the case of the Israeli government. That’s perfectly legitimate, but let’s not call them what they’re not.”

Another source of tension between the two groups is the documentary “The J Street Challenge,” which takes a critical view of J Street. Attorney and author Alan Dershowitz is among those who speak negatively about the progressive group in the film.

SWU did not finance “The J Street Challenge,” but it has organized screenings of it in Los Angeles and elsewhere. During last week’s debate, Elsner criticized the journalistic integrity of the film, indicating that J Street leaders did not have a real opportunity to participate in it.

Aaronson repeatedly asked the audience to withhold its applause for both debaters, but people applauded anyway, including for SWU’s Assouline’s comment about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses: “This is a campaign to kosherize killing Jews, to kosherize terrorism and to make the eliminationist rhetoric of the Palestinians noble. It is an abuse of compassion to disguise hatred as concern, and it is not about 1967, to my distress; it is about 1948.” 

When an audience member asked if the two speakers could envision their respective organizations ever working together, Assouline said he believes middle ground lies in combating the BDS movement, which has made the climate on college campuses so hostile toward Israel that supporting the country has become an act of courage. Still, Elsner said, combating BDS requires a broad appeal beyond pro-Israel groups, which SWU lacks.

In an interview following the debate, Ilanit Maghen, 31, a Santa Monica-based architect who attended the event, expressed frustration with both sides.

“It just doesn’t make sense that within ourselves as Jews — American Jews, Israeli Jews, whatever you call it — that there is such a split in belief. This is what doesn’t work in my opinion about the peace process,” she said. “I don’t support anything. I support peace. I support people who support peace.”

The Ferocious Battles for Israel on Western Campuses

The Jewish State is fighting wars for its very survival against barbarous, genocidal foes like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. But far outside the Middle East ferocious battles are being fought on the campuses of the world’s great Universities for Israel’s reputation and good name. The consequences of failure are too horrible to contemplate, including the destruction of Israel’s economic lifeline through economic boycotts that germinate on campus and pass into the mainstream.

I became an Israel campus warrior in 1988 when the Lubavitcher Rebbe first sent me as Rabbi to Oxford University. A steady stream of attacks on Israel were launched by the likes of Hanan Ashrawi, Saeb Erekat, and Yasser Arafat himself. Many of these speeches took place at the world-famous Oxford Union. Our Oxford University L’Chaim Society responded with five Israeli Prime Ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Shamir, and Ehud Olmert. We partnered with the Union for most of the speeches including mesmerizing defenses of the Jewish state delivered by a young and hyper-charismatic Bibi Netanyahu.

Since those days the battles have become ever more ferocious with the much more timid pro-Israel groups at America and Europe’s leading Universities being clobbered by Students for Justice in Palestine, Israel Apartheid Week, and BDS.

At NYU, in the heart of a city with 2.5 million Jews, SJP regularly stages die-ins that feign murder at the hands of the IDF, an Israeli apartheid wall, and serves “IDF Eviction Notices” on students to convey the brutality of the Israeli regime. In September Mahmoud Abbas received 20 standing ovations from NYU students three days before he accused Israel of genocide at the UN. Aside from my son Mendy who is an NYU undergraduate, there was not a single protest. The formal pro-Israel group on campus would later tell the New York Observer that they did not protest Abbas lest they legitimize BDS, as if there is some comparison between holding a banner outside a lecture theater and calling for the economic destruction of an innocent nation.

Last week I traveled back to Oxford with my close friend Dennis Prager for a debate on Israel versus Hamas that was easily the most hard-fought debate on Israel I have ever participated in. In an aggressive and merciless contest, our opponents in the debate threw monstrous charges that Israel is an apartheid regime, that it murders Palestinians with impunity, that Israel is a quasi-Nazi government, that Israel seeks the theft of Palestinian land and the eradication of the Palestinian people, and that Hamas is a legitimate resistance movement whose terrorism is an inevitable and organic response to Israeli colonial rule. As for America, it is like ISIS. Islamic State beheads only a few prisoners but America annihilates innocents in Pakistan each and every day with drone strikes. There is no real difference. 

Rising to speak, I looked at the huge assembled crowd of students and felt a righteous indignation bubbling up within me. My people were under attack. Whatever the odds arrayed against us, I had an opportunity to strike a blow at one of the most influential speaking platforms on earth.

Islam is a great world religion, I said, that took my people in from the Catholic expulsions of Spain and Portugal. Islam pioneered the just treatment of prisoners of under the greatest of all Muslim warriors, Sultan Saladin, who invited the Jews back to Jerusalem after his conquest in 1187. Ninety years earlier they had been slaughtered to the last woman and child after Crusader conquest. We Jews dare never forget Muslim kindness.

But Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Tonight we hear world-renowned academics justifying terrorist mass murder in Allah’s name because Palestinians feel aggrieved at Israel’s existence. When the Jews of Germany were turned into ash, soap and lampshades under Nazi rule they did not respond by blowing up German nurseries and buses. There is no excuse for terrorism. Not now. Not ever.

Islam is disgraced not only by those who murder in its name but by educated and lost souls who dignify terror with grievance. 

The Dalai Lama has been under brutal Chinese occupation since 1950 and he has never become a monster. 

As to the charges that the Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, the West Bank was illegally occupied by Jordan in 1948 yet noone ever complained of an occupation. Israel has tried since its creation to make peace with Arab states and has endangered its security with repeated territorial concessions that were met with nothing but terror attacks.  

What we learned from Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 is that should Israel withdraw from Judea and Samaria – which is not occupied but disputed – it would lead immediately to the creation of another terrorist state run by Hamas. Israel would be sandwiched between two terror launching pads intent on its total destruction.

Hamas is a genocidal organization that proudly touts its charter calling on the annihilation of Jews everywhere. It is a greater menace to Palestinians than Jews. It aids and abets honor killings of Palestinian women. It murders gay Palestinians, shoots Palestinians who dare protest its rule, ruthlessly crushes any form of criticism, and ululates when British and American civilians are murdered in Islamist terror attacks. It has ended any semblance of democratic rule in Gaza. When I arrived in Oxford tonight I did not see air force and army bases built in the heart of the College campus. No civilized nation would ever consider using students as human shields. But Hamas builds its military installations under hospitals and nurseries so that children can serve as bullet proof vests for cowardly terrorists. 

Israel is a just and righteous democracy which affords 1.5 million Muslims-Israeli citizens – almost the same number that live in Britain – greater freedoms and human rights than any Muslim country on earth. 

The world Jewish community and Israel’s non-Jewish allies need to wake up. Israel is under vicious attack at European, American, South African, Australian, and Canadian Universities. It’s a battle we can win if we step up our game on campus and begin to courageously fight back. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” served as Rabbi to Oxford University for 11 years. The international best-selling author of 30 books, he is also the winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year competition. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley

Sotloff family mourns, challenges Islamic State leader to Koran debate

The family of Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist beheaded by Islamic State militants, said on Wednesday he was “a gentle soul,” and challenged the group's leader to a debate on the peaceful teachings of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

The group, which has captured territory in Syria and Iraq, released a video on Tuesday of Sotloff being beheaded. U.S. officials confirmed its authenticity on Wednesday. President Barack Obama vowed to “degrade and destroy” the group.

Barak Barfi, a friend of Sotloff who is serving as family spokesman, began a prepared statement from the family in English, remembering the slain journalist as a fan of American football who enjoyed junk food, the television series “South Park” and talking to his father about golf.

The 31-year-old Sotloff was “torn between two worlds,” the statement said, but “the Arab world pulled him.”

“He was no war junkie … He merely wanted to give voice to those who had none,” Barfi said outside the family's one-story home in a leafy Miami suburb.

Barfi ended the statement with off-the-cuff remarks in Arabic, saying “Steve died a martyr for the sake of God.”

He then challenged Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to debate Islam, saying, “Woe to you. You said the month of Ramadan is the month of mercy. Where is your mercy?”

“God does not love the aggressor,” added Barfi, who is an Arabic scholar and research fellow at the New America Foundation think tank in Washington.

He went on, “I am ready to debate you with kind preachings. I have no sword in my hand and I am ready for your answer.”

The other American hostage killed in recent weeks in retaliation for U.S. air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq was journalist James Foley, who was shown being beheaded in a video released on Aug. 19.

Sotloff was a freelance journalist who traveled the Middle East writing for the magazines Time and Foreign Policy, among others.

“Steve was no hero,” the family said in its statement.

“Like all of us, he was a mere man who tried to find good concealed in a world of darkness. And if it did not exist, he tried to create it. He always sought to help those less privileged than himself, offering career services and precious contacts to newcomers in the region.”

Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013 after he drove across the border from Turkey.

He grew up in the Miami area and studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. A spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry said on social media website Twitter that Sotloff also was an Israeli citizen.

Sotloff “yearned for a tranquil life where he could enjoy Miami Dolphins games on Sunday,” his family said.

“This week we mourn,” it added. “But we will emerge from this ordeal … We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess – fear.”

Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Will Dunham and Clarence Fernandez

A community of arguers

Jewish day schools have a curious relationship with speech and debate programs. Argumentation is central to the Jewish tradition and to enduring stereotypes of the Jewish people — two Jews, three opinions — but speech and debate as an extracurricular activity has not been universally embraced across campuses. 

Some Jewish schools, including the high school I attended and now coach for, have strong and growing programs. Others are beginning to enter the field, and still others have been, at best, sporadically involved in the speech and debate world. We may be a community of arguers, but institutional enthusiasm for speech and debate often lags behind that for many other after-school opportunities. 

Why should Jewish schools have robust speech and debate programs? What value do they have for the students who join them and for the schools that support them?

The practical benefits are obvious. Members of speech and debate teams sharpen the skills that we associate with success in the 21st century. They hone their research and writing skills, gathering information on complicated topics and condensing it into concise speeches that any reasonably educated person could understand. They develop their communication skills, delivering arguments or speech scripts or impromptu remarks to judges who evaluate their performances. They work in teams, bouncing ideas off of each other in brainstorming sessions and coordinating with partners for team events. They become ambassadors for their schools and enhance the look of their college application packages. 

But there’s much more to it than that. We live in a demanding and complex world for which speech and debate provides excellent preparation.   

Speech and debate helps train students for the lifelong work of American citizenship: the ability to distinguish between good and bad evidence, recognizing that arguments appearing in reputable publications are not automatically true; appreciation of the many dimensions to a speech or debate topic, resisting the temptation to evaluate it solely with one’s opinions; the capacity to engage in civil discourse, firmly defending one’s position while fully respecting that of the opposing side. A democratic society relies on citizens who possess and use these talents, who participate in contemporary debates without losing their wits in the process. 

Andrew Delbanco, in his 2012 book “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be,” writes that liberal-arts colleges are “rehearsal spaces for democracy” that promote “inclusive democratic citizenship,” giving undergraduates forums within which to scrutinize popular wisdom and cordially exchange viewpoints. The same can be said of speech and debate programs. Students examine enduring and controversial questions, and articulate their arguments within the structured and intense environment of tournaments. They try to find a balance between conviction and respect, detail and brevity, complexity and clarity. Whatever the outcome of a round, they will develop the character and intellectual traits that permit sustained and substantive involvement in democratic discourse. 

If speech and debate is fundamental to the American story, it is all the more fundamental to the Jewish story. Abraham argues with God over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, and compels Him to change His test of justice for the cities. When God tells Moses He will destroy the Israelites for worshipping a golden calf, Moses beseeches God to spare them, and He relents. The Sages argue with Rabbi Eliezer over whether Akhnai’s oven is pure and proclaim that interpretive discussions of the Torah should be mediated through human debates, not divine intervention. 

Argumentative exchanges are ubiquitous in foundational Jewish texts and millennia of commentary, and are the process by which we seek truths that contribute to the peace of humanity. We cannot understand Judaism without understanding what Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks calls “argument as a sacred duty.” Jewish students in speech and debate programs embrace this central part of their religious heritage. They understand the power of a strong argument and recognize the obligation to use their argumentative prowess to repair the world. They join a rich intellectual tradition that has produced some of the world’s greatest thinkers and reformers, and that will produce new Jewish heroes in our lifetimes.  

Speech and debate programs are not perfect, nor are they for everyone. They represent one of many extracurricular offerings from which students can choose. But students should at least be able to make that choice. Their schools should at least have a debate club, or a speech elective, or a speech and debate team. Few activities give students such a vast array of professionally useful skills and such meaningful training in American and Jewish life. 

Making speech and debate more widely available on Jewish day school campuses will strengthen students’ educational journeys and the Jewish day school community writ large. And it will prove, perhaps once and for all, that the “two Jews, three opinions” stereotype is a gross understatement.

Danny Hirsch is the assistant speech and debate coach at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills.

Front-runners differ in county supervisor debate

Four candidates for the 3rd District seat of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — Bobby Shriver, Sheila Kuehl, John Duran and Pamela Conley Ulich — sat on the bimah at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) on the evening of April 6, grappling with the many challenges facing the county, from how to reform the sheriff’s department to how to increase support for the arts, and more.

The event also featured the race’s front-runners, Shriver and Kuehl, squaring off on a range of issues. 

For instance, on the subject of a sheriff’s department that has been engulfed in scandals of jail guards’ treatment of inmates, Shriver emphasized a need for better and more compassionate treatment of the incarcerated mentally ill. He proposed an alternative to jail sentencing for those who commit crimes.

“The good thing about treating the mentally ill outside of the jail setting is it frees up beds for the bad guys,” the former Santa Monica city councilman and mayor said.

Kuehl, who served the region for 14 years in Sacramento in the state’s Assembly and Legislature, said Shriver was evading the question put forth by the event moderator, Jewish Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky. 

Boyarsky had asked about ways the candidates would clean up the sheriff’s department, which Boyarsky described as a “battered agency.”

“The more important question is what do you do about the culture of violence among the deputies that has been condoned,” Kuehl said.

How these candidates have financed their campaigns also served to illustrate differences among them, in particular between the two leading contenders. Some 2 million people reside in the 3rd District,  which  encompasses the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, West Hollywood and parts of the Westside. 

The primary election takes place on June 3; if a winner is not voted in, a runoff of the two top finishers will take place.

The winner of the race will succeed termed-out Zev Yaroslavsky. 

Shriver, a philanthropist and the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as the brother of Maria Shriver, said he has contributed $300,000 of his own money to his campaign. His choice to not abide by the voluntary spending limit of $1.4 million in the primary race has limited individual donations to his campaign to a maximum of $300, though he can continue to spend as much of his personal money as he wishes on his campaign. He currently has gathered about $850,000 for the campaign, which includes his own money, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Kuehl, who got her start as a child actor but has spent her adult life in public service and working for nonprofits, has chosen to stick to the spending cap. 

The California Nurses Association has donated $75,000 to Kuehl’s campaign, and other unions are supporting her as well; she has raised more than $700,000 in total, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Regarding his use of personal wealth, Shriver played defense last week.

“I have my kids here, my wife here, I have a deep commitment to the county, and I felt it was important that there be a competitive race here, and that’s why I did it,” Shriver said. “I think it’s an important thing in politics that there’s competition for races.”

“Would you put in more [of your money] if needed?” Boyarsky asked him.

“If I felt I had to tell my story, sure I would — or if I were attacked, I felt, on an unfair basis,” Shriver said. 

Duran said that despite the fact he does not have the personal wealth or endorsements of the leading candidates, he is not naïve about the role money plays in races such as these.

“I think it’s just one of those necessary evils of politics,” Duran said. 

Duran, who serves on West Hollywood’s city council, and Ulich, a former Malibu city councilwoman, proposed ideas for how to bolster the arts within Los Angeles County. 

Duran said he hopes that county-run arts institutions will become more youth-friendly. 

He said there has been a “graying of the audience” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four venues that comprise the downtown Music Center, which belongs to the county.

Ulrich said she believes the county could increase revenue from merchandising, such as tote bags with new and fresh designs. “I think we need to be creative with how we raise revenue to go back into the arts,” Ulich said.

Shriver, 59, is an attorney. He co-founded, with pop singer Bono, HIV/AIDS charity organization (Product) RED. 

In addition to serving on Santa Monica’s city council — where he focused on homelessness issues and cleaning up the area’s beaches, according to his official Web site — Shriver served as the city’s mayor in 2010.

Kuehl, 73, was the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected to the California Legislature. After serving eight years in the state Senate and eight years in the state Assembly, she served as the founding director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College. She also focuses on LGBTQ issues and women’s reproductive rights, according to

Shriver and Kuehl both reside in Santa Monica.

Approximately 100 people turned out for the evening gathering, which its organizers said was held to increase awareness in the community about the county race.

“It’s all part of educating the community and making available to the wide community — not just ours — the political process,” TIOH executive director Bill Shpall said in an interview.

This was the third or fourth time that the Hollywood Reform congregation has sponsored debates among candidates running for local government, according to Shpall. The Jewish Journal was a co-sponsor of the evening. 

Abby Liebman, a congregant at TIOH, executive director of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and a Kuehl supporter — the two co-founded the California Women’s Law Center  — was among the attendees. Liebman echoed Shpall about the importance of shedding light on politics, saying that races for seats on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors fly “under the radar.”

“The opportunity to learn not only about the candidates, but the issues they see as critical and are in a position to influence greatly, is important to me,” Liebman said. 

Liebman, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that the discussion left out some issues, including health care. 

The debate of the year: David Suissa vs. Peter Beinart

Jewish Journal President David Suissa debates political author Peter Beinart spar about Israel in the debate of the year.

Moderated by Sinai Temple's Rabbi David Wolpe.

Beinart, Suissa face off on Israel

Peter Beinart is no stranger to the accusation that for a self-proclaimed passionate supporter of Israel, he treats the Jewish state too harshly.

Since the release of his book “The Crisis of Zionism” in 2012, he has traveled the country debating ardent Zionists such as Daniel Gordis and Alan Dershowitz. On the evening of Dec. 5 in Los Angeles, his opponent on the stage at Sinai Temple was David Suissa, president of TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of the Jewish Journal, and a columnist for this newspaper.

Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai’s senior rabbi, moderated the debate, which was co-sponsored by The Journal and Sinai Temple.  Both Suissa and Beinart presented their positions in opening statements, then Wolpe addressed questions to the two before taking audience questions.

Beinart is the editor of Open Zion, a blog dedicated to “an open and unafraid conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish future.” He is also an incoming contributing editor for both The Atlantic and National Journal and will become a senior columnist with the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, in January.

Formerly on AIPAC’s speaking circuit, Beinart has, in recent years, become an outspoken voice from the Left on Israel, going so far as calling for a “Zionist B.D.S.,” a boycott on products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

His basic argument, made in his book and in the Wednesday evening debate with Suissa, is that Israel is approaching a time where it will have to choose between becoming a non-democratic Jewish state, or a democratic state without a Jewish majority.

Beinart says the reason for Israel’s impending choice is its occupation of the West Bank and its policy of encouraging settlements by Israelis outside the pre-1967 borders.

Unless Israel acts soon to end its occupation of the West Bank and ceases to encourage the growth of Israeli settlements, Beinart argues, the Palestinians who support a two-state solution will turn to supporting one Palestinian state with a Jewish minority and Arab majority.

“If Israel makes permanent its occupation of the West Bank it will eventually be forced to choose between its Jewish and democratic character,” Beinart told the audience of about 250. “By supporting settlement growth, you are pushing Palestinians in exactly the direction we don’t want them to go.”

Suissa strongly objected to Beinart’s premise that settlements are the major obstacle to peace: “Settlements are an excuse for Palestinians to hide their rejectionism,” Suissa said,  and he charged that by questioning the legality of Israeli settlements, Beinart appears to call into question the legality of the entire nation of Israel.

“As long as we keep maligning settlements and calling them illegal, we reinforce the false narrative that Israel stole the land from the Palestinians,” Suissa said. “If we stole the land, the Palestinians owe us nothing, not even negotiations.”

Although the evening was peppered with some boos and interruptions alongside a handful of applauses, Wolpe quickly silenced outspoken members of the audience in favor of the speakers, and also made sure both Suissa and Beinart stayed focused on the task at hand—clarifying where they differ on Israel.

“If every settlement were gone, would peace be possible?” Wolpe asked Beinart.

Beinart responded that while he believes “100 percent” of Palestinians wish Israel had never been created, he also believes most Palestinians would accept a neighboring Jewish state, “because they are suffering so much” under the status quo.

Suissa disagreed, arguing that even without Israeli settlements, the Palestinians are holding out for a right of return—a deal for millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the diaspora to reclaim property in Israel, including refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, and also their descendants.

“If they compromise on the right of return, that means they are accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish State,” Suissa said, adding that such acceptance is necessary for a peaceful two-state solution.

The debate winded down with a discussion of the Gaza Strip, the land Israel unilaterally withdrew from in 2005 only to see Hamas, a terrorist group, be elected to power and launch thousands of rockets at southern Israel.

For years, Israel and Egypt have enforced a blockade on Gaza, making movement and economic trade difficult, even with the numerous smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.

“When you have an economic policy that destroys the individual business class in Gaza—that could’ve been the opposition to Hamas—and you allow Hamas to take complete control of the economy in Gaza,” Beinart said. “You play into Hamas’s hands.”

Suissa, responding with incredulity, said, “For Peter to sit here and blame Israel for the situation in Gaza is beyond unfair.”

Although most of the crowd appeared to support Suissa’s point of view, there was a diversity of opinion throughout the evening.

“I felt like I was in some sort of Alice in Wonderland,” said Yigal Arens, likening the plight of the Palestinians to black Americans living under Jim Crow. “The closest thing to this would have been white leaders in the southern U.S. during the fight for civil rights arguing about what was the best way to preserve white privilege.”

“I’m probably more of a Suissa person,” said Mark Mendelsohn. “This is the first time I heard Beinart.”

“I actually thought he came across more Jewish and supportive of Israel than I thought he would,” Mendelsohn said.

The Conservative gay marriage debate

On Rosh Hashanah in 1992, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis stood before his Conservative congregation at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino and declared that despite the words of Leviticus, homosexuality is not an abomination. He argued that the same understanding and compassion Jews afford all human beings should be extended to those attracted to others of their own sex, and he told his congregation: 

“More than compassion is involved. Jewish wisdom and the morality of Jewish law are at stake. … Jews have the right, and the tradition, to interpret the text so that it sanctifies God’s name, our lives and that of our children. This is no heresy.” 

Schulweis spoke long before the arguments over gay marriage became prevalent in public discourse. He spoke well after gay pride had been established, but six years before the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay teenager. It was also a year before the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which would bar harassment of closeted soldiers serving in the military, while preventing gays and lesbians from being open about their lives. The rabbi had heard many tragic stories from gays in his congregation, but he did not know how his congregants might react to his words. 

They gave him a standing ovation.

Not all congregations, even ones in the same denomination, work according to the same clock. More than two decades later, just one month ago, Rabbi David Wolpe wrote a letter to his Conservative congregation at Sinai Temple, a prominent Westside synagogue less than 10 miles south of VBS, and told them that the rabbis at Sinai had “unanimously decided that it is in accordance with the great halachic [Jewish legal] principle of kavod habriot, honor due all of God’s creation, to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, once this possibility is afforded by California law.”

[Related:  [Related:  You can follow her on Twitter at 


J Street, StandWithUs heads tangle at Temple Isaiah

These are tough times for people hoping for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

A recent cover story in The New Republic optimistically called the prospects for a two-state solution “not altogether hopeless.” President Barack Obama has made clear that he will not present a new peace plan during his visit to Israel later this month. And in Los Angeles, a recent, tense conversation between two leaders of opposing pro-Israel groups at Temple Isaiah ended without any evidence of common ground between them. 

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” lobbying group, and Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO of the right-leaning pro-Israel nonprofit StandWithUs, appeared together on stage at the L.A. synagogue on March 11 for a well-attended conversation about Israel’s future and the role of the American Jewish community. 

Over the course of the 90-minute event, the two differed on a number of issues, including how much area in the West Bank was occupied by Israeli settlements and whether an American group had the right to lobby the U.S. government in support of policies that run counter to those of the Israeli government. 

But the chasm dividing the two speakers was most evident when the moderator, Los Angeles Times reporter (and Temple Isaiah member) Mitchell Landsberg, read a question from the audience asking each to describe, in one minute or less, their vision of an “achievable and fair” solution to the conflict. 

“First of all, it’s two states for two peoples,” Ben-Ami said. In about 100 seconds, he presented his preferred outcome: the border should be negotiated — start with the pre-1967 Green Line and use land swaps to bring most settlers into Israel proper — Jerusalem should be home to an Israeli capital in the west and a Palestinian capital in the east and the Palestinians should have no right of return to Israel. 

Following applause – from one side of the mostly filled 400-seat sanctuary — Rothstein, who at one point had criticized Ben-Ami for using language that she felt was not appropriate for an event in a synagogue, offered her own response. 

“I find it fascinating that you have a plan like that,” said Rothstein, who then proceeded to read a quote from a wealthy Palestinian who said that his people had wasted money and missed opportunities to build their own state. After some prodding from Landsberg, Rothstein answered the question directly. 

“My solution is that people need to come to the table,” she said. “Why do I need to come up with a solution when the Israelis and the Palestinians need to sit down and talk?” 

Supporters of each side left the event unconvinced by the other; still, Temple Isaiah Associate Rabbi Dara Frimmer said that she was glad the conversation was taking place at the synagogue. 

“As a Reform congregation, I think the more we talk about Israel, the better,” she said. 

“But on a conversational level,” Frimmer added, “I think there’s a lot of work we all need to be doing, about how we listen to one another, how we try to express our ideas, how we push back in a way that enhances our dialogue.”

Mayoral debate at Beth Jacob

On Jan. 3, in the first mayoral debate of 2013, Congregation Beth Jacob hosted five candidates seeking to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. 

Speaking to a crowd of about 350, the candidates answered questions about how they would manage the city’s public safety services, improve its public education system and unclog traffic — even as the city faces a $222 million budget deficit in the coming year. 

The three candidates who currently hold elected offices — Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilwoman Jan Perry —have pledged to take a tough stance when negotiating with the city’s public employee unions, whose salaries and pensions are among the biggest drivers of the city’s budget deficit. In 2007, Garcetti, Greuel and Perry all voted to give city workers raises. 

At Beth Jacob, Garcetti told the audience he would negotiate “respectfully but tenaciously” with public-sector union leaders over the terms of their contracts. 

Greuel, who served on the City Council before being elected controller, emphasized economic development as a way of closing the deficit, but also said some pension reform would be required, promising to crack down on the practice of “double-dipping,” when workers collect pensions while remaining on the city payroll. 

Perry, who has said that she regrets her 2007 vote, spoke about refocusing the city’s attention on providing core services — like public safety — and suggested Los Angeles might benefit from outsourcing management of its convention center and zoo, or privatizing those facilities completely. 

Neither of the two other candidates on the stage, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez, has held elected office, and both pointed to past actions taken by the city as evidence that their better-known opponents will be unfit to lead the city. 

Pleitez, 30, a self-described “progressive” candidate whose campaign reached the fundraising threshold to receive matching funds from the city two days before the debate, proposed raising the retirement age for public-sector workers. Pleitez also advocated converting city worker pensions to 401(k)-style plans and generally adjusting the benefits so that workers pay more and the city pays less. 

James, a gay Republican lawyer and former radio talk-show personality whose campaign has been getting more attention in recent weeks, has also promoted converting city worker pensions to 401(k) plans in the past. At Beth Jacob, he pledged to use the threat of bankruptcy as a bargaining tool with city workers and accused his opponents of “municipal malpractice.” 

CivicCare, a grass-roots group dedicated to engaging and educating Jewish voters in Los Angeles on matters of importance to local governance, organized the event. Jewish Journal President David Suissa moderated.

Is cutting Big Bird kosher?

When Governor Mitt Romney talked about ending funding for PBS – and Big Bird – during his first debate with President Obama, he was describing only one of the deep cuts in Romney-Ryan budget.

But it’s not just Big Bird. And it hits us hard, at home, in the Jewish community.

Governor Romney’s budget plan would affect us – dramatically. Calling for unprecedented budget cuts, a Romney Administration would negatively impact the elderly, the disabled, the poor, and yes, Jews who span each of these categories and more. As a community committed to tikkun olam, bettering the world, we have a responsibility to protect those in our community as well as those outside it and voting for a Romney-Ryan ticket would make that virtually impossible.

Jews across the country rely on federally funded social services every day. Just ask the thousands of the elderly living in Section 202 housing, a program run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development used by both the Jewish Federation system and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty to provide house assistance to low-income seniors. Or what about seniors who benefit from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), without which we would be “leaving our most vulnerable residents behind,” the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society told Congress in 2010.

Federally funded social services are not just relegated to the elderly. One program that the Jewish Federations of North America helped pioneer is the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, an extension of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a program developed to supplement the work of local social service organizations who serve those in need of emergency assistance. This program, which helps hundreds of thousands of low-income individuals across American, Jewish and non-Jewish, has been threatened ever since Republicans have taken control of the House.

And the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – a program designed to provide nutritious food and other services to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children under the age of five – has slowly been chipped away at since Republicans took over the House in 2011. According to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, proposed cuts to the program in the fiscal year 2012 appropriations budget would result in over 700,000 eligible low-come women and children being turned away. Cuts to programs like these are guaranteed to increase under a Romney Administration.

What’s more, those benefiting from federal funds are sometimes the last people you would suspect. What about those among us suffering from Tay-Sachs, which almost exclusively occurs among Jews, and Crohn’s Disease, which disproportionately impacts our community. In 2009, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded a $3.5 million four-year grant to the Tay-Sachs Gene Therapy Consortium to aid in research of therapies for the disease. And according to the NIH, Crohn’s disease research received grants totaling $67 million in 2011. Think these are important? Well Congressman Ryan does not, as his budget demonstrates by cutting funding for biomedical research by NIH, which would result in fewer and fewer grants each year.

In the 2012 Jewish Values Survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 72% of respondents listed tikkun olam as important in shaping their political beliefs and actions. The Jewish community feels a responsibility to better the world and many support the use of federal funds for social services to accomplish this gain. But we forget that many in our own community not just use but desperately need these funds – funds that would most likely be cut or drastically reduced if Governor Romney were to become president.

We, as a community and as citizens of the United States, cannot afford a Romney Administration. We want to better our country, not make it worse for those who need help the most. President Obama and his administration’s policies have embodied this tenet of our religion, helping those in need and gaining my vote.

And when it comes these kinds of draconian cuts to much needed social service programs, the Romney-Ryan budget is definitely treif.

Marie Abrams, Lynn Lyss, and Andrea Weinstein are all former chairs of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the united voice of the organized Jewish community.

A week on the Florida campaign trail

Day One: Departing Israel

Spending a week in Florida on the eve of a presidential election has become a habit for me — one I cherish. Meeting the elderly women who suddenly become interested in politics; attending synagogues, to which the candidates flock in droves to speak; watching the hurried traveling convoys of dignitaries and emissaries and surrogates making their last-minute pitches; enjoying the hospitable weather.

As I left Israel to come here, the Knesset was about to officially disperse. Soon enough, Israel will have its own round of elections, and the speeches made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the opposition leader, were no more than election speeches.

The American public views Netanyahu in a positive light, according to a Gallup poll taken during the summer. Israel is also viewed positively by the American public, even more so than Netanyahu. Thus, as the two American presidential candidates play the Israel card in their public appearances, they play both offense and defense in somewhat tricky ways.

Consider this: For Mitt Romney, invoking Netanyahu’s name is a way of putting President Barack Obama in a tough spot. Naturally, Obama doesn’t want to acknowledge that his relations with Netanyahu are bad, that he can barely stand his presence and can hardly stomach the need to maintain contact with him. Such an admission would make matters even worse policy-wise, and might not fly with the voters who tell pollsters that they view Netanyahu positively. It might even seem problematic to voters who do not like Netanyahu but understand that having a contentious relationship with him does not serve any purpose.

Thus, when Romney calls forth the name “Netanyahu,” the only possible and credible response he can get from Obama is “Israel.” Obama doesn’t speak much about the prime minister. On the other hand, speaking about “Israel” is good for Obama, because Israel, as I mentioned above, is more popular than Netanyahu. Israel is what pro-Israel voters are concerned with. Israel is the way for Obama to circumvent “Netanyahu” or “the government of Israel.” The president has made it a habit to constantly express his support for the country, while constantly, if more subtly, expressing his dislike of its democratically elected leadership.

Day Two: Boca Raton

I began a big-fish debate night with the little fish: Florida congressional candidates speaking to a Jewish crowd. It was 7 p.m. on Oct. 16, and at the entrance to Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, dozens of young, Jewish campaign volunteers were waving signs at the coming cars, distracting drivers, threatening to scratch their side windows.

Volunteers for Republican congressional candidate Adam Hasner were mostly yarmulke-wearing young men who seemed markedly Orthodox. If their presence at the forum is any indication of Hasner’s chances — he might have one. But it could also be a sign that Hasner’s young, Jewish supporters are the ones with the commitment and the enthusiasm — though not necessarily the numbers. It was, after all, just one evening, one event, one crowded temple. Crowded, but not packed. (Well, is a temple ever packed except on Yom Kippur?)

Rabbi Dan Levin began the evening with a couple of words about the houses of Hillel and Shammai, of which the Talmud says: “These and these are both equally the words of the living God.” Which, naturally, reminded me of Obama and Romney. And if their words weren’t quite godly in their second debate, the heat and combative manner could certainly be compared to the Beit Hillel-Beit Shammai battle of ideas.

And, of course, moving from the Beth El forum to the Long Island debate didn’t feel like a huge leap. The Forward’s Gal Beckerman tweeted toward the end: “With questions from Carol Goldberg and Jeremy Epstein bookending this debate, it is officially the Jewiest debate ever.” Noah Pollack asked: “Was that a town hall debate or a meeting of Beth Shalom Congregation of Five Towns?”

More than an hour passed before the candidates got a question on foreign policy — Libya. Until then, immigration and a passing mention of China were the closest we got to the world beyond America’s borders. If anyone was still in need of any proof that American voters — Jews included — care in this election cycle only about the economy and jobs (no, not about Israel, and I also didn’t hear any question on Iran), this debate was proof enough for me.

And yes, the Libya moment was one of the highlights of the evening. But it was also more about America, not about the world. It was less about the right way to fix Libya or the guidelines for intervention in foreign wars and much more about Libya becoming a political football.

The space between the individual and the government

Is it the individual citizen who is more important in a free society, or is it the government? It’s easy to see this as the philosophical choice during this election season: One side seems to favor the liberty of the individual, while the other favors the primacy of the government.

But apparently it’s not so simple. 

In a provocative essay in the Weekly Standard titled “The Real Debate,” conservative writer Yuval Levin challenges the individual-versus-government cliché by explaining that “what matters most about society happens in the space between those two, and that creating, sustaining, and protecting that space is a prime purpose of government.”

He adds: “The real debate forced upon us by the Obama years — the underlying disagreement to which the two parties are drawn despite themselves — is in fact about the nature of that intermediate space, and of the mediating institutions that occupy it: the family, civil society, and the private economy.”

The problem, according to Levin, is that these mediating institutions have become a source of bitter ideological conflict. As he sees it, the bigger government becomes, the more it threatens the health of these institutions that live in the middle space.

“Progressives in America have always viewed those institutions with suspicion,” he writes, and have sought to empower the government to put in place “public programs and policies motivated by a single, cohesive understanding of the public interest.”   

Conservatives have resisted such a gross rationalization of society, Levin writes, and “insisted that local knowledge channeled by evolving social institutions — from civic and fraternal groups to traditional religious establishments, to charitable enterprises and complex markets — will make for better material outcomes and a better common life. 

“The life of a society consists of more than moving resources around, and what happens in that space between the individual and the government is vital — at least as much a matter of character formation as of material provision and wealth creation. Moral individualism mixed with economic collectivism only feels like freedom because it liberates people from responsibility in both arenas.”

But real freedom, Levin says, is “only possible with real responsibility. And real responsibility is only possible when you depend upon, and are depended upon by, people you know. It is, in other words, only possible in precisely that space between the individual and the state.”

As it turns out, I got a taste of that “intermediate space” last Sunday night in my neighborhood. 

The occasion was a community wedding at the Modern Orthodox YULA Girls High School.

Two months ago, members of the YULA community heard that one of their former students wanted to get married but couldn’t afford a wedding.

So, the head of school, Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, who always dreamed of using the school’s grounds for a simcha, and the dean of students, Brigitte Wintner, decided the school would “donate” the wedding. (I’m smelling a screenplay.)

Everyone in the community chipped in. Services like catering, flowers, rentals, bar, photographer, musicians, etc. all were either donated or offered at enormous discounts. YULA students, past and present, ran around setting everything up on the big day.

In the courtyard where my oldest daughter spent four years hanging out with her friends, there were now cocktail tables, a bar and waiters passing out appetizers.

In the parking lot where I would park when I had meetings with the head of school, there were multiple rows of folding chairs, a small chuppah and more rabbis than I could count.

On the far side of the lot was a tent covering enough tables to accommodate 250 guests.

Neighbors popped their heads out to discover there was an actual wedding happening on their street.

As I witnessed the ceremony, and saw more than a few grateful tears on the faces of family members, it struck me that maybe this is what Levin meant by the “space” between the individual and the government.

Yes, both the individual and the government are vitally important, but perhaps even more vital is the sacred space between the two.

In the Jewish world, this space is dominated by one word: community.

No matter how compassionate a government is, it could never create this community for us.

This community is created by the teaching of Jewish values and the living of those values in everyday life. One of those values is a sense of obligation toward other members of the community. This is not a theoretical or global value, it’s deeply local. 

It’s a value you see on the streets, in thrift shops, when people volunteer to clean the sidewalks, in warehouses that feed the needy on Shabbat, and, yes, even in weddings in schoolyards. 

It’s a value that is dependent not on government, but on character.

No matter who wins on Nov. 6, that truth will endure. 

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