December 10, 2019

Contentious Issues Before the Supreme Court

Loyola Professor Jessica Levinson; Photo by Steve Mirkin

With impeachment hearings and the tension between the executive and legislative branches taking up most of the news bandwidth, it’s easy to forget there’s a third co-equal branch of constitutional government: the judicial branch. 

On Nov. 19, Wilshire Boulevard Temple hosted Loyola law professor Jessica Levinson at its westside Irmas campus on West Olympic Boulevard. Levinson spoke on “Update on the Supreme Court: Cases on the Docket and What’s at Stake.”

Around 50 people turned out to hear Levinson, known for her regular appearances on KCRW’s “Press Play.” She spoke about the way a case makes its way before the court; what kind of cases the court hears; and how the justices reach their decisions and decide who writes the opinions.

She also dropped in telling details, such as the differing styles of the justices, from Clarence Thomas’ mute disinterest to Sonia Sotomayor’s rapid-fire questioning;  and why even the liberal justices have “forgiven” newest Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

“They have to work with him for the next 40 some-odd years,” Levinson said. “You might want his vote in the future, and you won’t get it if you can’t even stand to look at him.”

She then highlighted some of the cases appearing before the court this term (from October to the end of June 2020). There are three LGTBQ discrimination cases. Levinson boiled down all three, explaining they are over the definition of the word “sex” as written into the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Conservatives, Levinson said, argue that in 1964 no one would have believed the word covered sexual orientation or gender identity. Liberals, on the other hand, are arguing, “Don’t look at the context, just look at the word. Based on other opinions, it should be read broadly.” 

“[Chief Justice John Roberts] is not a moderate jurist by any stretch of the imagination, but he is the ideological center of the court.” — Jessica Levinson

She went on to say the court is divided on the issue and the decision will come down to Chief Justice John Roberts, noting, “He is not a moderate jurist by any stretch of the imagination, but he is the ideological center of the court.” 

Also before the court is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): President Barack Obama’s decision in November 2014 to grant undocumented immigrants who arrived as children before 2007 the right to stay in the country under certain conditions. 

Levinson said President Donald Trump can repeal the program but the question is whether the court can get involved and if so, did the administration follow the proper procedures outlined in the Federal Administrative Procedure Act?

The DACA discussion took up so much time, Levinson was forced to rush through cases on gun control and freedom of religion, so that the audience could ask questions about impeachment. 

With Trump continuing to insist that a sitting president not only can’t be indicted but can’t even be investigated, Levinson said, “This would essentially take the legs out from under Congress’ oversight authority. It’s an argument so broad in scope it’s not likely to be upheld.” 

She believes the court will take the long view, something she said she also advises her students. “Don’t think about whether you want President Trump to be able to do this — think if you want another president to do this,” she said. However, she worries that the framers of the Constitution never envisioned a man like Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

After the talk, attendee Jackie Bogin told the Journal she found Levinson “very articulate and had the facts down pat, and didn’t hesitate to answer questions.” 

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi Susan Nanus, who organized the evening, said Levinson “answered everything I wanted to know. And I liked the cases she chose.”

Speaking with the Journal at the end of the evening, Levinson said she was impressed by the audience’s questions and hoped the impeachment inquiry would increase the public’s interest in and understanding of the law. “Think of all the words we now know,” she said. “Like ‘emoluments.’ In some ways, it’s been an enormously educational moment.”

Nikki Haley Takes Manhattan, Again With ‘Grit and Grace’

Former UN Ambassador (R) Nikki Haley visits New York City Nov. 12, 2019 (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Throughout history, there have been leaders able to rise above the fray, whose innate moral clarity have enabled them to offer light and hope when both feel elusive.

I heard one of them speak at the 92nd Street Y last week. “Always use the power of your voice,” Nikki Haley told an enthusiastic crowd during the first stop of her book tour for “With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace.”

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley talked about “knowing the pain of discrimination” being raised in South Carolina: “My father always told me, your job is not to show them how you’re different; your job is to show them how you’re similar.

“My parents never let us forget how blessed we were to be in America,” she said.

Listening to Haley relay funny stories, watching the generally left-leaning crowd laugh and cheer her on, I kept thinking: She can bring the country back together; she can inspire each of us to be our best selves. Tough yet kind, she is the role model all Americans need right now.

Moderator Dana Perino brought up the time during the 2016 presidential primaries when Haley endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio (D-Fla.). Then-candidate Donald Trump tweeted in response: “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!” To which Haley responded: “Bless your heart.” It was not meant as a compliment.

Haley, of course, went on to become Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, a position she endowed with relentless truth-telling and bravery. In April 2017 Haley held up a photo of dead children following a gas attack in Syria and said, “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” 

“They got used to me,” she told the crowd. “As Elie Wiesel said, you have to take a side. When you abstain you do more harm than good.” She then talked about the now infamous U.S. abstention from U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334 in December 2016, which called for an end to Israeli settlements. Hearing about it from Israel’s ambassador at the U.N., Danny Danon, she writes in her book: “All I could think about was how that feeling was all too familiar to me. I know what if feels like to be different, humiliated, and ostracized for being who you are.”

Haley told Danon: “Under my watch, that will never happen again.”

Haley discussed the toxicity of politics today, especially the verbal slander.

Haley talked about visiting war-torn countries and making it a habit to meet privately with the women who had been abused by the conflicts. “Women bear so much of the pain from war,” she said. This combination of compassion and moral clarity is, I think, precisely what sets Haley apart — from both sides of the aisle.

Haley discussed the toxicity of politics today, especially the verbal slander. “We’ve gotten to the point where each side is calling the other ‘evil,’ ” she said. “That hits a nerve. I’ve seen evil — rape used as a weapon of war, babies dead from chemical weapons. This type of language has to stop. On our worst day, we are blessed to live in America.”

Haley believes we need to save our wrath for our real enemies. “We can never trust Russia,” she said definitively. “They will never be our friend.” More to the point: “When we’re divided, they win.”

Haley didn’t discuss rising anti-Semitism or the rockets raining down on Israel. She didn’t have to. Of all the venues in the country to start her book tour, she chose the 92nd Street Y. What I saw in the crowd was that the Jewish people’s connection to Haley goes far deeper than her sticking up for us at the U.N. 

Haley, like many of us, is a child of immigrants who endured discrimination to rise to the top. Not just to sit there and look pretty but to help bring back to the world everything that’s been lost in recent years, from civility to pride.

I walked out feeling stronger and more resolute than I have in a long time — feeling like this beacon of light was going to show us, personally and politically, how to move forward. 

No one knows what’s going to happen in the next year or the next month. “Anything is possible,” Haley said with a smile.


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

A Moment of Pride

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch returns for additional questioning after a break while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2019 in Washington, DC. In the second impeachment hearing held by the committee, House Democrats continue to build a case against U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to link U.S. military aid for Ukraine to the nation’s investigation of his political rivals. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

I didn’t think I was addicted to junk food, but as David Suissa has pointed out, the news has become the new Dorito or for me, a distasteful flavored potato chip; bitter, nasty, shameful, revengeful, and oh so indecent. For those of us who try to live the Jewish values of integrity, truth, and righteousness, it is almost impossible to not react and be mesmerized by the overwhelming cultural standards Mr. Trump enacts on a moment to moment basis, supported by paid officials – Republican House members and Senators, themselves seemingly hypnotized by distortion and lies, like a member of a cult. It’s astonishing to watch while being enveloped in the eye of this hurricane that constantly swirls around us, holding us in its destructive force. I hope that such misplaced loyalty will come back to haunt them.

Yet, for a moment, on Friday, Nov. 15, I felt pride and joy as I watched an intelligent, honorable, prideful, and honest woman face the world, despite her fear, to tell her story. Thirty-three years of dedicated service to our country, including terrifying situations where her physical being was most importantly the president (small ‘p’ on purpose). Confidently she owned her vast experience and skill, asking a simple question. “Why did the president have to smear her, when he could have just told her to leave her position?” Of course, not one Republican was willing to answer this simple question. Restating over and over again that the president had the power and position to choose whoever he wished to serve him, something she herself acknowledged, not one of them would address her simple query. 

How many times have we been reminded that Judaism abhors shaming someone in public, as Talmud describes (San 107a) it is if ones’’ face literally loses its color, turning white Ambassador Yovanovitch herself explained, after reading the letter dismissing her and hearing of the smear campaign, that witnesses observed the color of her face drained away. With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often passed to future generations from those who suffered the trauma from either Nazi and Communist regimes, it isn’t hard to empathize with this Diplomat and her response to being abused verbally and subtly (perhaps not so subtly) threatened. As she said, “I felt intimidated.” To read, “that things could happen to her,” felt, ominously, not so good. Being beautiful, talented, skilled and most importantly respected must have been quite threatening to Mr. Trump. The best he could do was, smear her reputation. How sad is that.

Marie Yovanovitch is a hero to me. So are the many public servants who are willing to defy White House orders and come forward to tell the truth, something alien to this administration. It is heartening to know, and witness, that America still has legs to stand on. Whether politically correct or not, impeachment is what this president deserves. His arrogance and hubris must be responded to. 

As Thanksgiving approaches we must hearken back to the courage and risk-taking of those who left countries where leaders like Trump believed they were above the law and could do whatever they wished at the expense of their peoples’ freedom and safety. These mavericks led the way to the creation of this country, which embraced freedom and the pursuit of happiness for any and all. 

Thank you, Marie Yovanovich, for being a woman of courage and integrity and role modeling for all, young and old, what it means to be honest, courageous and live with dignity.

Rabbi and Cantor Eva Robbins

Pompeo’s Settlement Statement: Facts on the Ground

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives for a brief photo opportunity before a meeting with Republic of Cyprus Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides at the U.S. Department of State on November 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Bluff

Note the double negative in the statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.” Pompeo didn’t say that establishing settlements is consistent with international law. He said it is not inconsistent. And, more importantly, he said it does not matter — that is, international law does not matter. In fact, I’d argue that his most important observation was the following sentence: “The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace.”

Are settlements illegal? Thoughtful people can have a sincere debate about that.

Can there be a judicial resolution to the conflict? There can be no serious debate about that. 

This means that Pompeo’s most important observation is plainly true. International law has no practical meaning in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and one could legitimately wonder if it has any meaning anywhere). Inserting it into the conversation is a disruption. Inserting it into the conversation is a manipulation. It is a tactic aimed at presenting Israel as a pariah state, a state guilty of criminality. 

We should thank Pompeo and President Donald Trump’s administration calling this bluff. 

The Settlements

When Pompeo said that settlements weren’t illegal, he didn’t say that they weren’t damaging to the goal of peace. He didn’t say they weren’t ill-advised. This is less of a statement about the settlements than it is about the role and the limitations of international law. 

The settlements are a separate issue. As Pompeo said, they create new realities on the ground. They create realities that some people see as disastrous. True, international law is irrelevant in discussing the settlements. And yet, we need to discuss the settlements, the strategy behind them, their advantages and disadvantages. We still need to discuss an area in which millions live under Israel’s control without having full political rights. We still need to consider the options for Israel as it moves forward, mixing settlers and Palestinians in ways that could make separation complicated if not impossible. 

The Timing

A few days ago, the European Union’s top court ruled that European countries must label products made in Israeli settlements. Pompeo’s declaration is a clear and immediate rebuff of this unwise decision by the court. Again, it is calling a bluff: This is not a judicial decision based on law. It is a political decision expressing Europe’s opposition to settlement activity.

So the timing is important but Israel still will have to deal with a European Union — its largest business partner — whose policy is to use international law as a justification for labeling products made by Jews who live in a disputed area. 

Timing is also important because Israel is in the midst of a nutty political process. And Pompeo’s statement — on the heels of last week’s Gaza eruption — make a coalition supported by the Arab Party seem less viable. The leader of the Blue and White Party, Benny Gantz, responded favorably to the U.S. policy change. The leaders of the Arab bloc are furious. In other words, Pompeo added another wedge to the many wedges that separate Gantz and the Arabs, and make a coalition headed by him and supported by them  seem unrealistic (if not impossible).

The Response

Europe disagrees with the Trump administration. This was to be expected. 

The Palestinians are unhappy. That’s natural. 

Most Jewish organizations meekly support the statement (AIPAC) or strongly oppose it (the Reform movement). Unfortunate but predictable. 

Democratic presidential candidates disagree with the Trump administration. “The Trump administration’s statement on West Bank settlements is not only a significant step backward in our efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the latest in a pattern of destructive decisions that harm our national interests,” Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said. That’s important because of simple truth: The Trump administration altered a position that can be reversed. In other words, if Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Buttigieg enter the Oval Office, they can easily return to the “settlements are illegal” policy. 

And yet, unlike statements, some facts on the ground are not easy to undo. When the American Embassy was moved to Jerusalem, Democratic candidates were unhappy but it’s unlikely that any of them would attempt to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv. With settlement activity, they will have similar problem: What Israel decides to build under a Trump umbrella will add “facts on the ground” to the statement. Reversing the statement will be possible, evacuating these settlements much more difficult.


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

What’s Happening: ‘Stand Up for Her,’ Israel Gap Year Fair

FRI NOV 15

Karmel Melamed
Iranian-born journalist, attorney and activist Karmel Melamed speaks at Congregation Kol Ami. Melamed, who has monitored the status of Iran’s Jews the last two decades, said that a 2018 “PBS NewsHour” report asserting they were safe was a bogus claim. Shabbat services feature Kol Ami’s house band, KOLective Sound, as well as Rabbis Denise Eger and Max Chaiken. 8-9:30 p.m. Free. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. (323) 606-0996.

N’Ranena Shabbat
The N’ranena Shabbat service at Adat Ari El brims with upbeat music, community participation and a spiritual tefilah experience. Purchase a hearty barbecue chicken dinner in advance. The synagogue provides the challah. No picnic dinners, please. 6-8:30 p.m. Service free, $18 dinner for adults, $15 for children. Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 766-9426.

Cantor Fox and Cantorial Art
Uzbekistan-born Cantor Herschel Fox leads a Friday night Shabbat farbrengen at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), spotlighting “The Musical Treasure of Our People,” the history of cantorial art. He is joined by the renowned Israel Rand, chief cantor of Ramat Gan. A festive Oneg follows. On Saturday, after Shabbat morning services, Rand talks with Fox and VBS Rabbi Ed Feinstein. Tonight: 5-5:45 p.m. services. 7:30-10 p.m. Fox and Rand on cantorial art. 9:30 a.m. Shabbat morning services. 12:30 p.m. Fox and Rand conversation. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.

SAT NOV 16

AIPAC Shabbat ar Beth Jacob
Tal Becker, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a veteran peace negotiator, speaks twice on this AIPAC Shabbat at Beth Jacob Congregation. After services, he discusses “Exile and Redemption: Reimagining the Relationship Between Israel and World Jewry.” During a lunch to follow, in conversation with AIPAC Regional Director Wayne Klitofsky, he examines “The Deal of the Century? The Past, Present and Future of the Israeli-Palestinian Relationship.” 9 a.m. services. Registration for lunch required. Lunch: $55, $40 for those who attended the 2019 AIPAC conference.
Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911.

SUN NOV 17

“Stand Up For Her”
The organization Women Creating Change holds an event, “Stand Up for Her,” that celebrates and features performers from the Middle East and North Africa. Aiming to bridge cultural divides, the evening showcases poets, musicians, artists and standup comedians who are Lebanese, Egyptian, Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian, Pakistani, Moroccan, Israeli and Palestinian. 5:30 p.m. red carpet, special cocktails, wine tasting. 6:30 p.m. art exhibits. 7 p.m. performances. $50-$75. Expert Dojo, Third Floor Rooftop, Third Street Promenade, 395 Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica.

Saskia Keeley

Bringing Rivals Together
Since 2015, photojournalist Saskia Keeley has conducted photo workshops in the West Bank for both Israeli and Palestinian girls and women. At Temple Israel of Hollywood, in a lecture open to the public titled “Beyond the Lens: Photography Bridging Divides,” Keeley explains her purpose of developing her students’ photographic skills and fostering an environment where the two sides are comfortable together. 2 p.m. Free. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd. (323) 876-8330.

Hecht, Holocaust and Trump
Julien Gorbach, author of “The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist,” sits down this afternoon with USC Casden Institute Director
Steve Ross for a conversation on the state of the world as it relates to the late screenwriter. Their discussion is called “The Ben Hecht Story: Lessons of the Holocaust in the Age of Trump.” 4-5:30 p.m. Free. USC University Park campus, Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240. (213) 740-1744. . 

MON NOV 18

Rabbi Laura Geller
One of the earliest women to be ordained in the 1970s, Rabbi Laura Geller introduces her new book, “Getting Good at Getting Older,” at Kehillat Ma’arav with a lecture and book signing. Her late husband, Richard Siegel, was her co-author. When Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills hired Geller in 1994, she became the first woman rabbi to lead a major metropolitan congregation, where she served for 22 years. Light refreshments served. 7 p.m. Free. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

TUE NOV 19

Unconditional Support for Israel
Two experts tackle one of the most intriguing questions related to Israel: “Does Unconditional Support for Zionism and Israel Still Matter?” Appearing at Kehillat Israel, Saba Soomekh, assistant director of Interreligious and Intercommunity Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, addresses this and other issues, including political divisiveness in America, a rise in anti-Semitism and a changing demographic in Israel. Rick Entin of the Israel Matters Committee moderates. 7:15 p.m. Free. Kehillat Israel, 16019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.

“A Case of Life and Death”
Given the speed of contemporary changes in medical science, Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky of Chabad of North Ranch in Westlake Village speaks tonight on “The Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Dilemmas: The Complex Subject of Medical Ethics.” His goal is to educate and to show his audience an ethically correct path through life’s most difficult challenges. Health care specialist Jody Sherman provides additional perspectives. 7:30 p.m. cocktails, 8 p.m. program. Free. Chabad of Encino, 4915 Hayvenhurst Ave., Encino. (818) 784-9986.

“Update on the Supreme Court”
Here is a unique opportunity to hear from a legal expert on the most complicated cases of the times. Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, also a political commentator on KCRW’s “Press Play,” brings her insights on the status of a number of urgent cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Delving into a wide range of cases, she discusses the effects their verdicts will have on us. 7:30 p.m. Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus on the Westside, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd. (213) 388-2401.

Michelle Azar

“From Baghdad to Brooklyn”
Actress, singer and rebbetzin Michelle Azar brings her one-woman show, “From Baghdad to Brooklyn,” to the Skirball Cultural Center. Tracing her Iraqi roots through story and song, Azar presents a timely account of family love but also dysfunction. A Q&A session with Azar and Aziza Hasan, executive director of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, follows the performance. 7:30 p.m. $15 members, $20 general. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. (310) 440-4500.

THU NOV 21

Israel Gap Year Fair
The annual American Israel Gap Year Fair for students seeking a reflective and productive year abroad before starting college is being held at Shalhevet High School. Whether you prefer a coed setting, all-boys or all-girls schools, the only cross-denominational Israel gap year fair in the country has a solution. All attendees must be registered. 6:30-9 p.m. Free. A donation to the American Israel Gap Year Fair Association is appreciated. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave. (310) 702-0644. aigya.org.

“Love of Zion”
From Philo of Alexandria to the present day, Nili Alon Amit, a researcher and lecturer of philosophy at Hakibbutzim Academic College in Tel Aviv, explores many of the sources for Jews’ traditional love of Zion through religious, philosophical and poetic sources in a lecture at the Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA Hillel. Amit, a visiting professor at the Nazarian Center this year, shows how ancient and medieval thought turns up in the contemporary Israeli “Love of the Land.” Her lecture is titled “Land and Wisdom: The Love of Zion — From the Hebrew Bible to Contemporary Israeli Poetry.” 2-3:15 p.m. Free. UCLA Bunche Hall, Room 10383. (310) 825-9646.

Yuval Ron

Yuval Ron Ensemble
Internationally acclaimed world music favorite the Yuval Ron Ensemble performs tonight. Led by award-winning composer and oud player Yuval Ron, the quintet features artists of varying faiths and backgrounds playing sacred Jewish, Christian and Sufi music of the Middle East. The band tries to alleviate national, racial, religious and cultural tensions by melding Middle Eastern music and dance into an inspiring musical celebration. 7:30-10:30 p.m. $30 adults, $20 students. Theatre Raymond Kabbaz, 10361 W. Pico Blvd. (310) 286-0553.


Have an event coming up? Send your information two weeks prior to the event to ryant@jewishjournal.com for consideration. For groups staging an event that requires an RSVP, please submit details about the event the week before the RSVP deadline.

‘King Bibi’ Documents Netanyahu’s Rise to Power

A still from "King Bibi" Photo from YouTube

Benjamin Netanyahu has been the face of Israeli politics for 20 years as prime minister and Likud party chairman. But amid criminal investigations for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and the Likud’s slippage in the last election, Netanyahu’s future is in doubt. He nevertheless remains a fascinating figure, as the documentary “King Bibi” depicts. 

Subtitled “The Life and Performances of Benjamin Netanyahu,” it chronicles his rise to power, his obsession with image and his relationships with the media and President Donald Trump. It will be screened at the Israel Film Festival (IFF) in Los Angeles on Nov. 17 and 23.

“I was fascinated by Netanyahu as a cinematic character. I had a fascination with all his media appearances over the years and I wanted to learn more about him,” filmmaker Dan Shadur told the Journal. Eschewing talking-head interviews, he assembled the film using only archival footage of Netanyahu’s television and public appearances. 

Although he includes Netanyahu’s youth and early adulthood, “It’s not a biopic,”
Shadur said. “I don’t pretend to reveal the true man behind the news or give you all
the biographical details. I went with the archives to tell the story and say something not only about Netanyahu and Israel but also politics and media and the relationship between them.”

In his research, Shadur sought “footage that would be different from what we’re used to seeing of Netanyahu — something that would show him before he became what he is.” Over a four-year period, he gathered material from more than 60 archives in Israel and the United States, totaling hundreds of hours. “One of the things that stood out from the research was … how much Netanyahu was ahead of the times,” he said.

“I don’t believe that art can change your political point of view or should serve as propaganda, but I hope it will make people think about politics, Israel and what  happened to Israel in the last 40 years since Netanyahu appeared 

for the first time.” 

— Dan Shadur

 

The film draws parallels between Netanyahu and Trump’s handling of the media and direct communication with the public. “Netanyahu thought about things in the ’90s that are prominent today: the idea of attacking the media and making it an antagonist so supporters can relate to it and identify it as an enemy,” Shadur said. “He launched the website for the prime minister’s office to talk directly to the people. He was already thinking about social media 10 years before it existed.”

Asked to predict the outcome of the criminal investigation into Netanyahu’s conduct, Shadur said, “I think it’s going to be hard for him to get away with it completely. In the meantime he’s not letting go. He’s taking the whole political system with him so we haven’t had a government for a year now. He’s the problem. If it was another leader from the right, it would have been resolved by now.”

Not surprisingly, “King Bibi” has received a lot of attention in Israel. “It brought in different crowds: Netanyahu supporters and his opponents who can relate to it, and people from both sides who don’t like the film. It created an interesting discussion,” Shadur said. “For some people, it reassures what a great leader he is, for others it shows the devil at work. I don’t believe that art can change your political point of view or should serve as propaganda, but I hope it will make people think about politics, Israel and what happened to Israel in the last 40 years since Netanyahu appeared for the first time. The film is about Netanyahu, but it’s also about Israel and the radical changes it went through in those decades and Netanyahu is the face of it.”

Shadur confirmed that Netanyahu has seen “King Bibi” and commented publicly. “He said it was an interesting documentary. He fell asleep in the middle, not because the film wasn’t good but because he was very tired. He watched it on a flight to Chad.”

Shadur, the son of Israelis of Polish and Lithuanian heritage, grew up in suburban Tel Aviv in a secular Jewish family. He was a writer and newspaper editor before he enrolled in film school. “It was a great way to tell stories and share a point of view,” he said. “Then I got into documentaries, which combined film and my journalism background.”  His previous film “Before the Revolution” is based on the years his family lived in Iran in the late 1970s. He’s currently shooting a film about Telegrass, an Israeli cannabis delivery app and its Orthodox Jewish founder.

“King Bibi” continues to play the film festival circuit, and it will have a digital release sometime in 2020. Shadur is particularly excited about its inclusion in the IFF. “I love L.A. and I wish I could be there,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing about the reaction. I think it’s an important film for American Jews and Americans in general. It talks about a lot of important topics and I hope a lot of people will come to see it.”


“King Bibi” will screen at the Israel Film Festival on Nov. 17 at Laemmle’s Town Center 5 and on Nov. 23 at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts. Visit the website for showtimes and ticket information.

Israelis and Trump: A Guide to The Complicated Relationship

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Is President Donald Trump good for Israel? In recent months, that question has become more frequent, urgent and difficult to answer. Many Israelis have begun to worry about the stated support of the president. His abandonment of the Kurds in Syria hinted that he might not be as committed as Israel wants him to be. His lack of action after Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia might hint that he isn’t quite reliable as an ally in a time of need. His cozy dialogue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might hint that Trump doesn’t see a world in which the better regimes deserve more support. 

Israelis look at Trump and wonder about him. Sure, they know he moved the embassy to Jerusalem, and called Iran’s bluff, and recognized Israel’s jurisdiction over the Golan Heights, and yet when asked if Israel’s security is a central consideration for the president as he forms American Mideast policy, many hesitate. Two years ago, when the question was asked by the Israel Democracy Institute, more than half of the Jews (51%) and two-thirds of the Arabs (67%) in Israel said yes. But their confidence has declined. Today, only one-third of the Jews (35%) and just slightly more Arabs (39%) have this view. 

Does this mean Israel no longer will cheer Trump during his reelection bid? Here, the story becomes more complicated because there are two ways for Israelis (or any outsiders) to view Trump. 

One way is to look at him separately — to ask questions such as: Is he good for us? Will he protect us? Can we trust him? When these questions are asked, it’s easy to see that Israel today is less in awe of the president than it was before.

Another way — and the more appropriate of the two — is to view Trump with a comparative outlook. When one does that, the questions change to: Is he better for us than other candidates? Will he protect us more than other candidates? Can we trust him more than we trust other candidates?

Consider Iran. Consider the fact that Israel — official Israel — looks with apprehension at the Americans’ lack of response to Iranian attacks. A drone was shot down, nothing happened. Missiles flew, nothing happened. You’d have to forgive Israel if it comes to the conclusion that if or when Iran decides to act, Israel will be on its own. Now, consider the alternative: Is a U.S. led by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden more likely to take a bold stand against Iran? You’d have to forgive Israel if it comes to the conclusion that the answer is no. Democratic leaders already clarified that their intention is simple: To go back to the understandings of the Iran nuclear deal. In other words: To let Iran score a clear victory. 

It is likely that Israel is going to find itself grudgingly rooting for Trump.

Consider the fact that three leading Democratic candidates recently hinted that they might cut U.S. military aid to Israel unless Israel changes its policy toward the Palestinians. “It is the official policy of the United States of America to support a two-state solution, and if Israel is moving in the opposite direction, then everything is on the table,” Warren said. The question is: What constitutes the “opposite direction?” Would President Warren cut aid to Israel if the Palestinians complain about construction of neighborhoods in east Jerusalem? Sanders has said that “if you want military aid, you’re going to have to fundamentally change your relationship [to Gaza].” 

The question again: What constitutes a change of relationship to Gaza? One would have to remind President Sanders that Israel’s current policy vis-à-vis Gaza is relatively mellow. In fact, Israel’s opposition — the centrist Blue and White opposition — argues for more aggressive policies in Gaza. So the policy Sanders might encourage is one that no one within the Israeli mainstream supports. 

Taking the second approach of comparative assessment of the candidates, Trump suddenly seems a little more appealing to Israelis. In fact, it is quite likely that Israel is going to find itself grudgingly rooting for him, because when it comes to Middle East policies, his Democratic opponents seem to have most of his deficiencies, and then some.


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

Is Impeachment Ahead for Donald Trump?

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 07: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event where U.S.-Japan trade agreements were signed at the White House on October 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump also spoke about the U.S. Southern Border, Syria, and the current impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

As written by Finley Peter Dunne in 1895, fictional philosopher Mr. Dooley once asserted “politics ain’t beanbag.” This means the lives of politicians on and off the campaign trail will be rough — but it’s to be expected.

Modern U.S. elections feature gerrymandered districts, dark money campaign donations, vote harvesting and “deep fake” videos. Supreme Court judicial nominations are occasions to defeat (Reagan nominee Robert Bork), deny (Obama nominee Merrick Garland) or destroy (Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh) federal judges.

Now, the permanent partisan war rooms in Washington, D.C., have simply shifted to a new battleground.

So will President Donald Trump be impeached? 

Of course, he will.

Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was likely to result in his impeachment after the Democrats gained the majority in the House. Acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate is virtually assured, as well.

Trump, an outsider businessman seeking to “drain the swamp” and take on “the deep state” has infuriated his opposition with his tone and style, even more than his policy agenda. The Washington Post reported the first calls to impeach on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 2017, based on conflict-of-interest claims. Reps. Al Green and Brad Sherman launched a formal House resolution seeking articles of impeachment that same year.

FBI and congressional investigations into alleged Russian collusion progressed for the next two years. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report found no underlying criminal conspiracy, but raised serious issues of obstruction of justice.

Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sparked whistleblower concerns of self-dealing. The whistleblower was accused, in unconfirmed reports, to be a longtime partisan staffer associated with former Vice President Joe Biden, CIA Director John Brennan, and the Democrat National Committee (DNC).

Zelensky claims he wasn’t directly asked, as a condition of receiving U.S. military aid, to investigate potential corruption by Biden’s son Hunter (who once was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company).

The Obama administration had held up approximately $1 billion in aid because of corruption in Ukraine and Trump claimed Biden had bragged about deterring Ukrainian prosecutors from examining his son’s activities.  

After continuing to withhold monetary aid and complaining that Europeans were not contributing to Ukraine’s defense against Russia, the administration did release $391 million in aid in September 2019.

Rep. Adam Schiff has been holding witness hearings to investigate alleged abuse of power by Trump in seeking personal or political advantage by asking Zelensky “for a favor.” There also are concerns the original Ukraine tapes were “doctored.”

Trump’s upset in 2016 was likely to result in his impeachment after the Democrats gained the majority in the House. 

The GOP has vociferously complained these to-date “secret hearings” lack due process and fair play, and deny presidential counsel, cross-examination of witnesses or GOP subpoenas.

Trump’s supporters accused Democrats of selective leaks to partisan media organizations as part of a strategy to create a narrative of impeachable offenses rising to “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”   

On Oct. 31, 2019, Democrats passed a party-line vote absent of any GOP support to move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry. Impeachment purposefully is difficult, requiring a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds vote of conviction in the Senate.

The case against Trump ultimately is a political claim of abuse of power, untrustworthiness and unfitness for office.

Once impeached and acquitted, Trump’s ultimate political fortunes and historical reputation will rise or fall when the American public asserts its voice and vote in 2020. n


Larry Greenfield is a fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. 

For Democrats, Course Correction or Revolution?

Democratic presidential candidates (L-R) Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), billionaire Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and former housing secretary Julian Castro at the strart of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. A record 12 presidential hopefuls are participating in the debate hosted by CNN and The New York Times. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A few years back, Netflix aired a terrific series called “Bloodline” starring Sissy Spacek and Kyle Chandler in a story about a family in the Florida Keys whose members were implicated in a horrific crime. The show’s marketing tagline was particularly compelling — “We’re Not Bad People. We Just Did a Bad Thing.”

Fast forward to 2019, and that could make a very appropriate slogan for former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. From the beginning, Biden’s core message has essentially been that the American people simply need to fix a mistake and then just get things back to normal. We’re not bad people. We just did a bad thing.

More aggressive Democrats reject what they feel is an overly timid approach and instead call for much more dramatic and sweeping change. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others, see beating President Donald Trump as one small step toward much grander goals. On the campaign trail, in cable television interviews, and most notably in the primary debates, the candidates use issues like universal health care and free college tuition and the Green New Deal as placeholders for that broader discussion: Is this election a course correction that can put the country back on track after four years of Trump? Or is it a jumping-off point for fundamental change far beyond what the leaders of either party have attempted for many years?

This is not just a matter of ideology, as the definitions of terms like progressive, populist and centrist are too amorphous and shift too rapidly to track. Rather, it’s a question of attitude: How bold (or how reckless) should Trump’s general election opponent dare to be? Or alternatively, how carefully (or how cowardly) should Democrats work to avoid overreaching in such a high-stakes election?

The combination of Warren’s ascendancy and Biden’s struggles has intensified this internal disagreement. Party activists and donors who worry about Warren’s prospects in a general election are now fearful that Biden may not be able to stop her from the nomination. This could provide an opportunity for mid-tier candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Sen. Amy Klobuchar to emerge as a pragmatic alternative to Warren. Or it could simply provide a glide path for Warren to achieve the nomination by contrasting herself as a safer alternative to Sanders.

How bold should Trump’s general election opponent dare to be?

Sanders’ diminishing poll numbers, and his seeming lack of interest in reaching out beyond the party’s most ardent progressives, make it difficult to see how he could come out on top. But his small dollar-fueled fundraising ensures that he’ll remain a force through the spring, and the recent endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an important reminder of the depths of the passion for Sanders with his strongest supporters. More likely, though, his presence on the trail will serve mainly to normalize Warren’s policy agenda, and allow her to position herself as the more talented and therefore more electable of the two leading progressive heartthrobs.

But unlike Sanders, Warren does think about how to reach out to moderate Democrats in the primary and to independent voters in the fall. That’s why the recent criticisms she’s faced from Buttigieg and Klobuchar over how she will pay for her health care plan have created a precarious situation for her. Sanders is happy to say that “Medicare for All” will require tax increases on the middle class. Warren must be much more careful, and the way she describes the funding sources for her single-payer proposal will be an important moment in the primary. 

The months between now and the Iowa caucuses in February are several lifetimes in politics. There’s more than enough time for Biden to regain his footing and to use Trump’s broadsides against him to elevate himself over the rest of the primary field. There’s also plenty of time for Buttigieg or Klobuchar to supplant him as the middle-of-the-road option for cautious primary voters, or for an overlooked candidate like Sen. Cory Booker to ascend. There may even be enough time for Sen. Kamala Harris to resurrect a campaign that has wandered far off course. 

But the central question for Democratic primary voters will remain unchanged: Does the party want a revolution or a course correction? Is beating Trump enough or do they want even more?


Dan Schnur is a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, UC Berkeley and Pepperdine University. 

We Are Not All Kurds

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images

The civil war in Syria started almost a decade ago. Millions were forced to flee. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Condemnations aside, the international community did little to halt the butchery. It did not find a way to force out President Bashar Assad. It did not muster the will to curb Iranian intervention. It did not object to Russian meddling. 

It also never secured a permanent safe haven for the Kurds. 

President Donald Trump deserves all the criticism he is getting — and then some — for ordering the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and allowing Turkey to send its forces unhindered into Syrian territory without much consideration of the consequences. He deserves criticism for being hasty, unmethodical, impulsive and uninformed about the situation. He doesn’t deserve criticism for eroding America’s standing as a world leader — such erosion started long before he took office. He doesn’t deserve criticism for an incoherent American policy in Syria — this also preceded his presidency. He doesn’t deserve criticism for wanting U.S. forces out of Syria — such promises paved his way to becoming president in the first place. 

Since Turkish forces pushed their way into Syria, reports about Israel’s “concerns” over recent developments rained with growing frequency. 

Few in Israel “dispute that Trump’s unpredictability and transactional attitude toward strategy can be a liability,” Reuters reported. There are “growing fears that Israel’s archenemy Iran could be emboldened by what appears to be an increasingly hands-off American policy in the region,” the Associated Press reported. “America’s two most important allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel, reassess the American commitment to the containment of Iran and, consequently, to their own security,” The New York Times reported. The Washington Post, in more dramatic language, argued that what happened in Syria “badly rattled Israel’s national security experts, who decried President Trump’s action as a betrayal of loyal allies and evidence that Israel’s most vital supporter is a fickle friend at best.”

All of it is true. None of it is true.

True: Israel is worried about the U.S.’ lack of commitment to the Middle East. It started to worry years ago, when Trump was still a quirky TV personality. True: Israel doesn’t welcome abrupt changes in U.S. foreign policy. Such twists and turns hurt stability in a region whose main problem is a lack of long-term stability. 

American presidents must consider American interests and implement policies as they see fit. 

Not true: Israel does not — and ought not ever — make its security contingent on a strong U.S. commitment to the region. Certainly, things are easier and less dangerous when there is a clear U.S. commitment. Certainly, Israel highly values the support of the U.S. But it has always been and must remain realistic about the true meaning of such commitment. 

Remember: The U.S. made a commitment to keep the Straits of Tiran open for shipping, but when Egypt closed the straits, President Lyndon Johnson did not send U.S. forces to the region. In fact, what he was saying at the time might remind you of Trump today. Referring to the Kurds, Trump tweeted: “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” Concerning the straits, Johnson said: “I want to see (British Prime Minister Harold) Wilson and (French President Charles) De Gaulle out there with their ships all lined up, too.” 

Remember: In October 1983, President Ronald Reagan committed to keeping U.S. Marines in Lebanon. “The reason they must stay there until the situation is under control is quite clear. We have vital interests in Lebanon.” A few months later, U.S. forces were out, withdrawn. Needless to say, this was way before the “situation” was “under control.”

These reminders are offered here not as criticism of U.S. policy. American presidents must consider American interests and implement policies as they see fit. They are offered here to counter the many pundits (and hacks) who seem to believe that Trump is the first president who does not honor a commitment, or the first to say one thing and do the opposite, or the first to leave an ally to its own devices, or the first to cut and run, or the first to remind Israel — and all other countries in the region — that outside backing is not a guarantee of survival. 

The tragedy of the Kurds does not begin with the decision of an erratic American president to pull a thousand soldiers out of Syria. Their tragedy begins with the fact that a thousand American soldiers is all that stands between them and calamity.


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

Shmuel’s book, #IsraeliJudaism, Portrait of a Cultural Revolution, is now available in English. The Jewish Review of Books called it “important, accessible new study”. Haaretz called it “impressively broad survey”. Order it here: amzn.to/2lDntvh

AJC Condemns Trump’s Decision to Withdraw from Syria

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 07: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event where U.S.-Japan trade agreements were signed at the White House on October 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump also spoke about the U.S. Southern Border, Syria, and the current impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other Jewish groups condemned the Trump administration’s Oct. 6 announcement that the United States will be withdrawing troops from northern Syria.

The announcement states that the U.S. will end its opposition to Turkey’s “long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” referencing the U.S. established safe-zone that serves as a buffer between the Turkish government and Kurdish forces. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States,” the announcement reads.

The American Jewish Committee tweeted, “The Pentagon said the Syrian Kurds bravely helped take back their homeland from ISIS. Now, after a call with Erdogan, @POTUS
okays a Turkish incursion, a dangerous move that could have dire consequences for the Mideast. We urge POTUS to reconsider. We mustn’t abandon our allies.”

Democratic Majority for Israel CEO Mark Mellman similarly said in a statement, “With their backing, Kurdish forces helped lead the fight against ISIS, sacrificing thousands of their soldiers in the process. The United States promised the Kurds continued security cooperation to reduce the Turkish threat, but President Trump’s impulsive decision betrays America’s commitments to the Kurdish people.”

Jewish Democratic Council of America Executive Director Halie Soifer, who was also a national security adviser in the Obama administration, said in a statement that [President Donald] Trump’s “reckless” move “sends a clear message that the U.S. cannot be trusted or relied upon, and that U.S. policy can turn on a dime based on the whims of an unstable president. Our allies, including Israel, will note that President Trump’s foreign policy is clearly guided by his personal and political interests, as opposed to the national security interests of the United States and our regional partners.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) tweeted, “The Kurds have fought, bled & died fighting alongside the US. They have been warriors & brothers in battle along the way. POTUS is right to want to end endless wars, but the Turks wiping out the Kurds will ABSOLUTELY NOT be an acceptable outcome after all of that.”

Trump defended his decision on Twitter, arguing that “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey.”

UPDATE: The Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement that they urge “President Trump not to abandon the Kurds of Syria to the deadly whims of Turkey’s Erdogan. Maintaining the presence of a few hundred American troops to protect America’s ally is the most prudent and appropriate path and will negate future attacks by Turkey against people who stood and stand with the United States of America.”

Adam Schiff Responds to President’s Criticism

Congressman Adam Schiff; Photo by Lorin Granger

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who has become the face of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, expressed commitment to the task of investigating Trump despite heavy criticism from the president.

“This is an incredibly serious and somber task that we are undertaking in the House Intelligence Committee,” Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, told the Journal in an email. “We are committed to conducting a serious and thorough investigation, and we are treating the whistleblower complaint as our roadmap.”

On Sept. 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) announced an impeachment inquiry into Trump in connection with a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call became the subject of a whistleblower complaint. During the call, Trump allegedly asked Zelensky to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, a potential opponent in the 2020 presidential election, and Biden’s son, Hunter. 

Schiff said the transcript of the call, which the White House released to the public, was pivotal to the investigation.

“The call record released by the White House is Exhibit No. 1, and we’ll be hearing directly from the whistleblower very soon to discuss the issues raised in the complaint,” he said.

Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Joseph Maguire provided the House Intelligence Committee with the whistleblower complaint on Sept. 25. This was later than the complaint should have been provided to the committee, according to Schiff’s office. The Intelligence Community’s Inspector General told the House Intelligence Committee that the office of the DNI withheld the complaint and should have transmitted it by Sept. 2, Schiff’s office said.

“We are committed to conducting a serious and thorough investigation, and we are treating the whistleblower complaint as our roadmap.” — Rep. Adam Schiff

Last week, Maguire testified before Schiff and the House Intelligence Committee about the complaint. During his opening statement, Schiff — whose district includes Glendale, Burbank and West Hollywood — said the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky revealed Trump violating his oath of office. The remarks were widely criticized by the president and his supporters, with Trump saying Schiff fabricated Trump’s remarks to make them sound worse than they were.

“Yesterday we were presented with the most graphic evidence yet that the president of the United States has betrayed his oath of office, betrayed his oath to defend our national security and betrayed his oath to defend our constitution,” Schiff, who is Jewish, said during his opening remarks.

Trump reportedly withheld $400 million in bipartisan-approved U.S. military aid to Ukraine days before the phone call, prompting critics to assert that Trump used the aid as a quid pro quo with Zelensky — meaning that the aid would be released if Zelensky helped investigate the Bidens, as Trump had asked. 

Several House committees are involved in the impeachment inquiry, including the Judiciary committee, led by Rep. Jerrold “Jerry” Nadler (D-N.Y.), and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). Pelosi has said that she wants Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee to lead the probe. Schiff has a close relationship with the Speaker and was actively involved in the Robert Mueller investigation into whether Trump colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Trump criticized Schiff’s handling of the Russian investigation. Likewise, since the announcement of the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s call with Zelensky, Trump has continued to criticize Schiff, calling him treasonous. 

For his part, Schiff is undeterred.

“No sooner had Mueller testified about this collusion, than the president was at it again, this time trying to shake down the Ukraine government to help him in the next presidential election,” he told the Journal. “But I’m used to the president’s attacks and tweets — and they’re only going to get worse — as he grows more erratic.”

Impeachment May Hinge on Schiff’s Storytelling Ability

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) Photo by Leah Millis/Reuters

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has taken the biggest gamble of the modern political era.

Her decision to move forward with an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump could result in the forced removal of a sitting president for the first time since our nation declared independence from Great Britain. Or it could unintentionally energize Trump’s most loyal supporters to a new level of enthusiasm and voter turnout next November, providing him with the additional boost necessary to win reelection. The stakes could not be higher, and there is no historical precedent in almost 2 1/2 centuries of American history from which to predict the outcome.

In some ways, Pelosi’s decision may have been unavoidable. Recent revelations about Trump’s efforts to coerce the Ukrainian government into an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter probably left her with no plausible alternative. After the news broke, calls for impeachment spread rapidly from her party’s most progressive voices to those centrist members whose reelections would be most at risk if the impeachment effort is unsuccessful. The tipping point was a joint Washington Post op-ed co-authored by seven freshman Democrats — all of whom won districts last fall that Trump had carried in 2016 and all of whom hold military and national security credentials — calling for the investigation to move forward. Realizing that her most vulnerable members no longer wanted or needed protection from the impeachment debate, Pelosi (D-San Francisco) made her announcement the next day.

But coaxing centrist members of Congress to investigate Trump and convincing centrist voters to support his impeachment are two extremely different tasks. While Trump can be impeached by a simple majority vote of a Democratic-controlled House, he would not be removed from office unless a two-thirds majority of the Republican-held Senate voted to convict. That would require the votes of no fewer than 20 GOP senators, an almost unimaginable goal unless public opinion moves against Trump in an unprecedented way. Without that massive shift in voter sentiment, the most likely outcome is that an impeached Trump remains in office and uses the Democrats’ failed effort to remove him as a battle cry on the campaign trail next year.

Adam Schiff’s ultimate goal is to induce 20 Republican senators to vote for Trump’s removal, and even a Netflix-quality storyline might not be enough.

This challenge — whether Democrats can persuade not only their own party loyalists but most independents and a sizable plurality of Republican voters to support Trump’s removal — comes down to one basic question: How good a storyteller is Adam Schiff?

Schiff, the mild-mannered Valley congressman who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, will be the most visible public face in favor of impeachment. He must figure out a way not only to produce substantive evidence to justify Trump’s removal but to craft a sufficiently captivating narrative to engage the attention of millions of low-interest voters. This task becomes even more daunting with the knowledge that it must be accomplished while battling the headwinds of a contrary storyline delivered by Trump’s organization through the cable television and social media venues in which they excel.

Trump’s opponents argue that the president’s interactions with Ukrainian officials will be a less complicated plot to follow than the other accusations he has faced over the past four years. But while the “Trump tries to blackmail foreign government to assist reelection campaign” is certainly a provocative plotline, it’s not as though the previous controversies should have been especially difficult to understand either. At the time, allegations like “Russians help Trump defeat Clinton” and “Trump pays hush money to former lovers” would have seemed to be equally compelling attention-grabbers, but neither held public attention long enough to cause significant political damage.

There are other differences between this new controversy and its predecessors that could work to the Democrats’ advantage. Special counsel Robert Mueller conducted his investigation behind closed doors, which ceded the public dialogue to Trump. Schiff will have the platform of public hearings, which enables him to construct an ongoing case against the president that is more accessible to voters. Second, Mueller’s work focused on an election that had been completed before Trump took office. Schiff’s emphasis will be on the present and future, an election that is taking place while Trump holds the powers that come with the presidency. Most importantly, Mueller’s goal was to produce as even-handed a report as possible and to frame it in a measured and low-key manner. Schiff’s objective is very different, to tell the most fascinating and exciting story that he can muster.

In other words, Schiff may be more likely to interest voters in his argument than Mueller simply because he wants to. Honest brokers like Mueller are a necessary part of the investigatory process, but they are much less exciting to the average viewer than committed advocates. And while Schiff tends to present a somewhat understated public persona, the fact that he aspires to a different messaging outcome than Mueller makes a more impactful message much more probable.

But his ultimate goal is to induce 20 Republican senators to vote for Trump’s removal, and even a Netflix-quality storyline might not be enough. Trump and his allies would argue that the Senate’s failure to convict would represent acquittal and absolution. Along with the heightened motivation from conservative voters heading into the election, it’s more than likely that Trump’s survival would have a dispiriting effect on many of his opponents. A lackluster turnout from young and minority voters could easily lead to a repeat of the 2016 election outcome.

Pelosi might see a pathway in which Trump’s impeachment could motivate voters to rally behind his opponent, even if the Senate allowed him to remain in office. But that is a communications feat requiring messaging skills that few contemporary politicians possess. By starting down the path to impeachment now, she is betting everything on Schiff’s ability to convince enough voters to line up against Trump so that 20 Republican senators will decide to abandon the president. Either way, Pelosi is about to change the arc of history. In about 13 months, we’ll know in which direction it changed.


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

Anti-Semitic Flyers Found in Montana

Photo from Flickr.

A slew of anti-Semitic flyers were found in Montana on Sept. 30, after similar flyers had been found in the state capitol earlier in the week.

According to the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN), the flyers appeared on some local businesses in downtown Whitefish; the flyers featured the white nationalist symbols “88” – code for “Heil Hitler” – and “14 Words,” which is code for the slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Additionally, some flyers featured President Donald Trump with an Israeli flag in the upper-right-hand corner.

MHRN Co-Director Rachel Carroll Rivas said in a statement, “The hate literature was not only offensive in relation to the Jewish holiday, but it is concerning as there is a recorded rise and mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in the United States, including the troll storm perpetrated from outside the community onto the Jewish people of Whitefish just two and a half years ago.”

ADL Pacific Northwest Regional Director Miri Cypers said in a statement to the Journal, “It is extremely troubling see anti-Semitic propaganda appear in Whitefish, Montana – a community where neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin unleashed a troll army on the local Jewish community in 2016. We stand side-by-side with the Whitefish community, as we did in 2016, and will continue to do moving forward.”

Similar flyers were found on various vehicles and homes in Helena on Sept. 23 and 24; KTVQ described the flyers as referring “to Israel and to political issues in the Middle East.” Har Shalom Congregation Rabbi Laurie Franklin said in a statement, “In the week before the Jewish New Year, it is unfortunate to see an attempt to intimidate our Jewish Montanans and show bias with anonymous leaflets attacking Israel. Let’s not be fooled: this is not a dialogue about policy; these are tactics to divide us from each other and sow fear. All of us should reject this action as cowardly and destructive to community.”

Can We Keep Trump Out of Yom Kippur?

Whether President Donald Trump deserves to be impeached or not, with Yom Kippur around the corner, the question on my mind is: How much should we allow politics to take over our holiest day of the year?

That thought first occurred to me when I read a High Holiday message from the Reform Jewish Movement dated Sept. 3.

“As we begin the month of Elul,” the statement gently began, “we enter a time of introspection and reflection culminating in the Jewish High Holidays.”

Very quickly, though, the message got down to business:

“In this spirit, we reflect upon and are compelled to express our deep concern about the coarseness of public discourse, led in too many ways by the president of the United States.”

Yup, him again.

The statement continued with a focus on excoriating our Tweeter in Chief and  praying that all Americans “will loudly and unambiguously call for an end to politics infused with bullying, hateful diatribes and personal character assaults.”

What’s the problem, you ask?

On this day, the “others” who should concern us most are those whom we ourselves have hurt, offended, deceived or neglected.

The problem is not that these sentiments are wrong, but that they are disconnected from the High Holy Days spirit of self-accounting and self-judgment.

However much one may hate Trump, he’s got nothing to do with our personal behavior over the past year. He can’t answer any of these questions for us: How have we dealt with the people in our lives? Where did we go wrong? Who did we hurt? How can we make amends?

Indeed, should we judge ourselves by how well we have resisted the president this past year, or by how well we have resisted the urge to hurt others?

We have allowed politics to so hijack our consciousness that it’s now common for rabbis to give sermons dealing with political battles of one kind or another, urging us to fight for justice by confronting the “other” side.

That may or may not be fine on Shabbat, but we ought to draw a hard line at the Day of Atonement. On this day, the “others” who should concern us most are those whom we ourselves have hurt, offended, deceived or neglected.

As the Reform statement says, “We enter a time of introspection and reflection,” but this sacred time is so we can confront our own wrongdoings and seek atonement and forgiveness.

There is nothing controversial about this: Yom Kippur is a time to focus on our sins, not those of others, even those of a president one may think is the worst thing to happen to humanity this century.

I’m sure there are plenty of rabbis who won’t feel the need to bring up politics on Yom Kippur and will focus on inner repair. I’m addressing the others — those who may feel that the most inspiring message they can deliver has to deal with a president they abhor.

This is a missed opportunity. A Day of Atonement message should take us inside ourselves, not inside those we can’t stand.

As Rabbi and Cantor Eva Robbins writes in a column this week, Yom Kippur is “a day of purging and cleansing … [when] we feel transparent, weak and vulnerable, as we cleanse the ‘shmutz’ of our lives, enliven our souls by unburdening the brokenness within, and come away rebirthed and renewed for the next year.”

And as Rabbi Lori Shapiro writes in her cover story, especially at this time of year, we must remember that “Judaism demands personal accountability, sobriety and knowledge of oneself.”

A Day of Atonement message should take us inside ourselves, not inside those we can’t stand.

Is there an appropriate way to bring up Trump and politics in a Yom Kippur sermon? Here’s how I would do it:

“Dear congregants: Many of you may be expecting today a sermon expressing my deep concern for the state of our nation, and especially for a president whose behavior many of us consider beyond the pale. You may be expecting me to urge you to confront this president for the sake of truth and justice.

“Of course, I can easily do that, but we already do that all year long. Today is different. This is our Day of Atonement, a day of humility, of somber introspection.

“Today, we focus on our own behavior and failures, not the behavior and failures of others. The ‘others’ we should worry about are those whom we may have hurt.

“So, let’s get to work. It will be a long day. And no worries — after we break the fast and are spiritually cleansed, we can go back to Trump.”

Have a meaningful fast.

Trump Condemns Iran’s ‘Monstrous Anti-Semitism’ in UN Speech

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the AMVETS (American Veterans) National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. U.S., August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

President Donald Trump condemned the Iranian regime’s anti-Semitism and urged Arab nations to seek peace with Israel during his Sept. 24 speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

Trump said that Iran is “one of the greatest security threats” to the West. “Not only is Iran one of the world’s largest state sponsors of terrorism, but Iran’s leaders are fueling the tragic wars in both Syria and Yemen,” Trump said. “At the same time, the regime is squandering the nation’s wealth and future in a fanatical quest for nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. We must never allow this to happen.”

He then touted the fact that the United States exited from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and has since implemented multiple sanctions against Tehran.

“No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s bloodlust,” Trump said. “As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted. They will be tightened. Iran’s leaders will have turned a proud nation into just another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a personal crusade for power and riches.”

Trump added that the Iranian regime promulgates “monstrous anti-Semitism,” pointing out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Israel “a malignant cancerous tumor” that needs to be destroyed.

“America will never tolerate such anti-Semitic hate,” Trump said. “Fanatics have long used hatred of Israel to distract from their own failures.”

Trump proceeded to urge Arab nations to establish “full normalized relations” with Israel in order to achieve peace and economic prosperity in the regime.

“It is time for Iran’s leaders to step forward and to stop threatening other countries and focus on building up their own country,” Trump said. “It is time for Iran’s leaders to finally put the Iranian people first. America is ready to embrace friendship with all who genuinely seek peace and respect.”

Trump Announces Sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank

U.S. President Donald Trump and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison wave to guests at the end of an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S. September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump announced new sanctions on Iran’s national bank on Sept. 20, touting them as the “highest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”

Speaking to reporters in the White House, Trump said the sanctions were in response to Iran’s support of terror throughout the Middle East. He added that Iran is “broke” and that he’ll use military action against Iran if necessary.

“Iran knows if they misbehave, they’re on borrowed time,” Trump said.

Treasury Department Secretary Steve Mnuchin condemned Iran’s Sept. 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities as “unacceptable” in a Sept. 20 statement.

“Treasury’s action targets a crucial funding mechanism that the Iranian regime uses to support its terrorist network, including the Quds Force, Hezbollah and other militants that spread terror and destabilize the region,” Mnuchin said.

A Sept. 13 Fox News report stated that Iran’s pension funds are on the “brink of collapse” as a result of the Trump administration’s sanctions, noting that 17 of the country’s 18 pension funds are at a negative balance.

Israel’s New York Consul General Dani Dayan told Yahoo! Finance on Sept. 18 that the Israeli government supports the Trump administration’s policy of ramping up sanctions against Iran.

“Iran has less recourse to give to the proxy terrorists they support, to promote terrorism all over the world, to promote instability all over the world, to supply arms to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations,” Dayan said.

Roy Cohn Documentary Reveals the Rise of President Trump

Roy Cohn; Photo by James Meehan, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Unlike the many biographical documentaries that celebrate notable individuals’ monumental achievements and contributions to culture or society, “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” has a liar, a cheat and an all-around despicable human being as the subject.

Cohn was a brilliant, ruthless lawyer who began his career witch-hunting Communists — many of them Jews like himself — as Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel. He pushed for and obtained the death penalty for spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, despite lack of evidence. He crusaded against gays in government in the Army-McCarthy hearings, although he was a closeted homosexual — something he denied until the day he died of AIDS in 1986.

He conspired to get Ronald Reagan into office and keep Geraldine Ferraro out of it. He defended mafiosos including John Gotti and Carmine Galante, and defrauded clients, for which he eventually was disbarred. But most significantly, according to filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer, “Roy Cohn is the creator of Donald Trump.”

As the documentary depicts, Cohn met the young real estate developer in 1973 and became his adviser and mentor, teaching Trump how to hide evidence, destroy paper trails and always strike back with vehemence. Trump took those tenets all the way to the White House. Three decades after Cohn’s death, Cohn has left an indelible mark on U.S. politics. The film’s title is taken from an actual Trump quote.

In 2016, during the presidential election, Tyrnauer was making “54,” his documentary about the infamous New York disco Studio 54, at which Cohn frequently was photographed. Researching further, he was intrigued by the idea of the Cohn-Trump relationship, but never thought Trump would win the election. When it came to pass, he knew he had to tell the story.

 “Cohn did something no one has 

ever done, which is create a president from beyond the grave.”  — Matt Tyrnauer

 

“Cohn goes from being a very significant footnote in American history to being the Machiavelli of our time,” Tyrnauer told the Journal. “He was not afraid to transgress; break the law in the name of winning at all costs. When it came time to face whatever consequences caught up with him, he was willing to double down and hit back a hundred times harder, create diversions and rat out other people if necessary. He passed his philosophy on to Trump and gave him the methodology. Every day, you see Trump doing something that Cohn might have said or done 50 or 60 years ago. Cohn did something no one has ever done, which is create a president from beyond the grave.”

Tyrnauer knew he needed to make the movie quickly in order for a release during the 2020 election campaign process. “I believe that producing this film is a public service,” he said. “It’s not a movie about Donald Trump. But in another sense, every moment of it is about Donald Trump.” That said, he also wanted to explore other aspects of Cohn’s life and career, and emphasize the reach of Cohn’s influence “as the connector between the legitimate and illegitimate power structures of the United States — a less well-known story, but urgent to tell.”

Tyrnauer sought out rare archival footage, including obscure talk-show interviews featuring Cohn, and conducted interviews with journalists, historians and Cohn’s cousins. (Trump declined to talk.) He delves into Cohn’s family and upbringing to discover why an insecure, gay Jewish boy became so ashamed of his religion and sexual orientation that he targeted others like him. In the film, Cohn’s cousin calls Cohn “the definition of the self-hating Jew.”

Senator Joseph McCarthy covers the microphones with his hands while having a whispered discussion with his chief counsel Roy Cohn during a committee hearing, in Washington. Photo by Sony Pictures Classics; AP/REX/Shutterstock

“At the time, Judaism and Bolshevism were interchangeable, certainly in anti-Semitic circles,” Tyrnauer said. “Certain members of the Jewish community would compensate and say, ‘Not me. I’m not like those other Jews. I’ll show you how anti-Communist I am.’ Certainly, his role in the Rosenberg case raises a lot of questions. He denied the very essence of who he was, and it was not a victimless crime. He was a dangerous hypocrite, and the film does everything it can to call that out.”

Tyrnauer was raised in Los Angeles in a non-observant family of Ashkenazic Jews but considers himself an atheist. “My stepfather, who wasn’t Jewish and who I was very close with, was an atheist. I took after him,” he said. He also followed his stepfather, a producer of TV shows including “Columbo” and “The Virginian,” into the film world. 

Aside from “54,” Tyrnauer’s previous documentaries include “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” and “Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.” Also a journalist, he was on the masthead for 25 years at Vanity Fair, where he wrote an article headlined “Once Upon a Time in Beverly Hills,” which he’s now adapting for a scripted feature with Amazon. He’s also working on a narrative adaptation of “Citizen Jane” and “Home,” an architecture-themed docuseries for Apple+ TV.

As for his current documentary, Tyrnauer imagines his subject would be flattered. “I think he might like it because in his playbook, there was no such thing as bad publicity,” he said. He hopes audiences see Cohn for what he was. “This film debunks anything positive about Cohn that a casual observer might have concluded or misconstrued. I also want audiences to understand what a demagogue is, and how very vulnerable our society is to a clever, sociopathic narcissist who achieves the position of extraordinary power. We all have to be vigilant, educated, aware and ready to act. I hope this film serves as a primer to the public and awakens the fires of recognition in as many people as possible.”

“Where’s My Roy Cohn?” opens Sept. 20 in theaters. 

Trump and Democrats Have Stake in ‘Bibi Primary’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Long before the Iowa and New Hampshire voters go to the polls next year, the first primary of the 2020 presidential campaign is already upon us.

Call it the Bibi primary.

Given the internal divisions within their party over Israel and the Middle East, most of the Democratic primary candidates have decided that the best way to straddle the divide between traditional pro-Israel Democrats and the party’s newer wave of more confrontational anti-Zionists is to soft-pedal more substantive questions on settlements, Gaza and other security matters and to escalate the vitriol in their personal rhetoric against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself. Almost all of them go to great lengths to explain that their dissatisfaction with Netanyahu does not necessarily make them opponents of Israel, and that they would be eager to work with a more reasonable Israeli leader.

All of which is just fine unless Bibi is no longer Israel’s prime minister. If Netanyahu does not remain in power after the upcoming election, he is almost certain to be replaced by a like-minded successor on many of the issues that agitate Democratic activists. “Bibi-ism without Bibi” would leave the current policy disagreements between American liberals and Israeli conservatives firmly in place.

There might be a short-term window in which the Democratic candidates praise the new prime minister and express hope for what they consider a more productive working relationship. But the strong similarities between Netanyahu’s agenda and that of his successor will quickly close that window of goodwill, which will make it much harder for the candidates to continue to pacify their party’s base by demonizing yet another Israeli leader without either shifting leftward on substantive matters or risking the wrath of angry primary voters. Before too long, they will realize that the best political outcome for them would have been for Bibi remain in office so they can continue to vilify him personally while still proclaiming their support for a more accommodating — but hypothetical — alternative.

If Netanyahu does not remain in power, he is almost certain to be replaced by a like-minded successor.

On the other side of the aisle, it looks as though President Donald Trump is beginning to hedge his bets.

As recently as late August, there was fevered speculation in both countries about what type of last-minute surprise Trump would unveil to help his friend secure re-election. Perhaps Trump would endorse annexation of the West Bank, participate in a three-way security summit with Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, or even return Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard to Israel.  But in stark contrast to his high-profile moves before the April vote designed to shore up Netanyahu’s support, Trump has been much more circumspect heading into the new elections.

The most notable interaction between Netanyahu and Trump recently has been the absence of interaction. It was widely reported that the Israeli prime minister was not even able to get Trump on the phone to try to convince him not to pursue a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting. After Trump’s rebuff, Netanyahu appears to be resigned to have wistfully conceded that such a meeting would not be as bad as all that.

So Trump could still attempt to put his thumb — if not his fist — on the scale for Netanyahu. He could announce an enhanced security agreement or even an 11th-hour visit to Israel. But he seems less likely to invest as much of his own political capital in his old friend. Maybe he feels like he’s already done all he can to incrementally increase his own Jewish support and that other issues will be as valuable for motivating his religious conservative base. Or maybe Trump thinks he’s already won the Bibi primary — and that there’s nothing else in it for him to stand with his embattled ally.


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

Bolton Fired from Trump Administration

FILE PHOTO: National Security Advisor John Bolton adjusts his glasses as U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton was fired from his position on Sept. 9. President Donald Trump made the announcement in a couple of Sept 10 tweets.

Trump’s tweets read, “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore…. I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.”

Bolton contradicted Trump in a tweet that read, “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in a Sept. 10 press conference, “When the president of the United States makes a decision like this, he’s well within his rights to do so.” He added that “Bolton and I had different views about how we should proceed” on various aspects of foreign policy.

Prior to working for the Trump administration, Bolton served as ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-6 as a recess appointment under President George W. Bush.

Congressman Tells IfNotNow the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Isn’t Black-And-White

Photo from Flickr.

An IfNotNow video posted on Aug. 26 shows Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) telling a couple of constituents during a Aug. 22 town hall that “everything is in shades of grey” when it comes to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In the video, a constituent identified as Jonathan asked Schneider if he thinks “the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza is a human rights crisis.”

Schneider replied, “We’ll start with Gaza. Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza exactly 14 years ago, August of 2005.”

Jonathan then interjected that he “was just asking a yes or no question,” prompting Schneider to reply, “There is no yes or no here. Everything’s in shades of grey.”

The video later cuts to another constituent identified as Nathan asking Schneider how his position on United States-Israel relations differs from President Trump, given that Schneider praised Trump’s decision to move U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, his exit from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“If you would talk to Israelis, if they think the U.S. should move its capital to Jerusalem, they would say ‘yes’,” Schneider said, “and not just the U.S., every country should move their embassy to the capital.”

“You represent American Jews, not Israelis,” Nathan replied.

“No, I represent the United States,” Schneider responded.

Israeli writer Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll tweeted, “Thank you @RepSchneider
for your integrity & refusal to be bullied by people who try to force others to respond to simplistic questions on a conflict affecting millions of people thousands of miles away. Well done.”

Others weighed in:

IfNotNow has encouraged boycotts of the Birthright trip to Israel because they don’t think it balanced enough toward the Palestinians. Canary Mission, a watchdog against anti-Semitism, published a July report stating that IfNotNow has been partnering with Americans for Muslims in Palestine, which Canary Mission says is “rife with anti-Semitism and terror support.”

Trump Doesn’t Understand American Jews’ Political Views

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the AMVETS (American Veterans) National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. U.S., August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Did President Donald Trump actually refer to American Jews as “a basket of deplorables”? Not quite. But as a reminder, it was approximately three years ago that Hillary Clinton used that phrase to disparage Trump supporters, arguing that many voters preparing to cast a ballot for her opponent were motivated by racism and sexism, introducing that phrase to the political lexicon.

When Trump recently castigated Jewish voters for their failure to reward him with their support, he used different language with which to level his criticism. Instead of calling Jews “deplorable,” he said that widespread Jewish backing of Democratic candidates demonstrated “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Slightly more than 70% of American Jews voted for Clinton in the 2016 election. Using that number (and a thesaurus), Trump appears to believe more than two-thirds of Jewish voters in this country either are stupid or treasonous.

Specific word choice notwithstanding, that sounds pretty deplorable.

We’ve learned over the past few years that Trump divides the world into two groups: his loyal friends and his sworn enemies. He believes the phrase “a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty” applies to anyone who would stand in the way of his reelection. His thinking has less to do with anti-Semitism than an extraordinarily tribalist view of Earth’s population.

Trump divides people not just between allies and opponents, but heroes and villains. The result is a mindset that sees political campaigns as cataclysmic battles between the forces of good and evil. This mentality now dominates the thinking of both political parties (and means Joe Biden is either the last sane person in American politics or a hopelessly naïve relic of a bygone era).

Clinton’s insults in 2016 caused her tremendous political damage. Throughout her campaign, she had struggled to attract support from the white working-class voters who had been a critical part of the coalition that elected her husband and most other modern Democratic presidential candidates. The backlash to her remarks permanently put out of reach the large majority of those voters.

Trump’s challenge is a different one. Most of the American-Jewish community was permanently out of his reach even before his recent exercise in name-calling. But the frustration that led him to lash out is a familiar one. It reflects decades of erroneous Republican thinking when it comes to the political motivations of Jewish voters. For the better part of a generation, GOP politicians and strategists have believed their party’s strong record on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East would (or should) lead to increased levels of support from Jewish voters.

“For the better part of a generation, GOP politicians and strategists have believed their party’s strong record on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East would (or should) lead to increased levels of support from Jewish voters.”

But public-opinion polling over that time consistently has shown that most American Jews prioritize candidates’ domestic social and cultural policy agenda over their views on Israel. Trump made the same mistake Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and countless other Republican leaders have made in the past —just louder and more confrontationally.

The original targets of Trump’s attacks — Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) —– demonstrate the potential limits of that issue hierarchy with Jewish voters. Most American Jews prefer Democratic politicians, but not those who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement or who harbor the type of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments Omar and Tlaib regularly express. Trump has devoted huge amounts of time and energy to highlighting the roles of these two women in the Democratic Party and attempting to force their colleagues into either standing with them or disavowing them. It’s a fairly standard campaign tactic — the same strategy Republicans have used, linking Nancy Pelosi with Democratic candidates in contested congressional races, and which Democrats employ in those same districts by invoking Trump.

The difference is that Trump didn’t just insult his political opponents. Just as Clinton did during her presidential campaign, he expanded his attacks to the voters themselves, which is much more dangerous.

Just as the majority of Trump’s supporters are neither racist nor sexist, most American Jews possess abundant amounts of both knowledge and loyalty. In both cases, suggesting otherwise is downright deplorable.


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

Rep. Nadler Calls Out Trump Over Disloyalty Remarks, Omar and Tlaib Over ‘Vile’ Cartoon

FILE PHOTO: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) holds a news conference to discuss the Committee's oversight agenda following the Mueller Hearing in Washington, U.S. July 26, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) condemned President Donald Trump’s “disloyalty” remarks as well as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) for sharing a “vile” cartoon.

The Aug. 22 tweet reads, “The growing anti-Semitism in our political dialogue is repugnant. @realdonaldtrump’s comments about disloyalty are a vicious and dangerous anti-Semitic trope. And the Carlos Latuff cartoon forwarded by @RepRashida and @Ilhan can surely be read for its vile underlying message.”

Nadler received praise from both sides of the political aisle:

Trump accused Jews who vote for the Democratic Party of being “disloyal” to Israel on Aug. 20 and 21; Tlaib and Omar both shared a cartoon on their Aug. 16 Instagram stories showing Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu putting their hands over Omar and Tlaib’s mouths, respectively. The author of the cartoon, Carlos Latuff, placed in second in Iran’s 2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Contest. Both have received condemnation from myriad Jewish groups.

Sen. Booker: Trump’s Statement about Jewish Disloyalty is ‘Outrageous Stuff Offending All Americans’

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and U.S. Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Cory Booker in Los Angeles on Thursday. Photo by Ryan Torok

Speaking to reporters on Aug. 22 during a visit to Los Angeles, 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) denounced President Donald Trump’s Aug. 20 statement that Jews who vote Democrat lack knowledge or are disloyal.

“I’m running for president to unify this country,” he said. “We are a nation of many religions, many ethnicities, and we are a nation of one purpose, one destiny, one love, and it’s about time we get back to having leaders that show the best of who we are and unite us — not like this guy who is saying outrageous stuff that is offending all Americans.”

Booker made his remarks following a panel on gun violence with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at at the Crenshaw-area co-working space Vector90. Garcetti also denounced Trump’s comments.

“I think all American Jews are great Americans, even the quarter that votes Republican, unlike me,” said Garcetti, who is of Mexican, Russian Jewish and Italian heritage, and also a Democrat. “I think this is a moment for us to see racism when you hear it, whether it’s starting a campaign calling my other half, Mexican Americans, ‘rapists and murderers,’ or whether it’s now saying Jews who don’t vote for this guy are somehow disloyal. It’s fundamentally wrong, it’s un-Jewish and more importantly, it’s un-American.”

Booker, who isn’t Jewish, even cited the Torah in his remarks, saying, “I have studied Judaism. Jews have a very powerful belief about tikkun olam, healing the world, not dividing it as Donald Trump does. There is a beautiful song sung during the High Holidays that has the line in it, ‘Ki beiti beit tefillah l’chol ha-‘amim,’ ‘May my house be a house of prayer for many nations.’ It’s a very Jewish idea. It’s about bringing people together …in a pluralistic way and showing that strength, justice, kindness and decency comes as a result of that.

Trump, Booker said, “is trying to divide us against ourselves. He is playing into literally what the Russians are trying to do, which is to pit Americans against Americans and have us crumble and fall from within because they know that a house divided cannot stand.”

While many Jewish organizations have denounced Trump’s ‘disloyalty’ remarks, the Republican Jewish Coalition supported the president’s comments.

However, according to the Pew Research Center, Jews have continued to remain largely supportive of Democrats during the course of the Trump presidency, with nearly 80% voting for Democrats in the 2018 mid-term elections.

The Truth About Israel and the Democrats

U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) react as they discuss travel restrictions to Palestine and Israel during a news conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St Paul, Minnesota, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Caroline Yang

In the past week, I found myself in a minority. Well, I can’t be certain that this was really a minority, because that depends on the question of a minority among whom — Israelis? Columnists? Experts? No matter, for a few days, it surely felt like a minority. News organizations, including the Journal, published articles denouncing Israel for not letting two U.S. congresswomen enter the country. And I thought: Way to go, Israel. 

Of course, being on the receiving end of denunciation is never pleasant. And yet, Israel made the right, if belated, choice. It should have said at the outset that Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) are not welcome. It should have presented at the outset the Democratic Party with a dilemma: Do you support Omar and Tlaib — or Israel? 

To me, this seems like an easy one, but in today’s world, and today’s America, maybe it’s not. Israel has a problem with the Democratic Party. This is not a new problem. Party voters are moving left. The move to the left is manifested in many ways, including less support for Israel. Obviously, an incident like the one with Omar and Tlaib will make it easier for the party’s left-wing to hammer Israel a little more, putting its centrist wing in a defensive position. Obviously, the incident will further erode Israel’s ability to communicate with voters, and perhaps with some elected officials, in the Democratic Party. 

On the other hand, there should be no illusion: Had the visit taken place, it would not necessarily improve Israel’s situation. Omar and Tlaib are a cunning duo, and their visit’s aim was to further erode support for Israel. It’s not inconceivable to imagine scenarios that would make the visit even more harmful than the ban.

“Democratic Party leaders can’t argue that Israel alone is responsible for souring the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Why is the Democratic Party upset with Israel? It is customary to blame Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for recent erosion in the party’s stance. And indeed, he bears some of the blame. But the attempts to claim that he is the sole culprit are ridiculous. When Ehud Olmert was Israel’s prime minister — the Olmert of concessions and peace negotiations — the Democrats also weren’t always happy. You know why? Because of his close relationship with a Republican president. Here is an April 2007 quote from veteran reporter Nathan Gutman: “Democrats are still angry about what they see as Olmert’s desperate attempts to align himself with President [George W.] Bush even if it means wading into American political controversies.” Sound familiar? It is familiar. Democratic leaders are never happy when an Israeli prime minister befriends a Republican president. 

One of Netanyahu’s problems is the optics of what he does. For eight years, he had adversarial relations with a Democratic president. So Democratic voters must think: Gee, this guy only gets along with Republicans. But the truth is much more boring. Netanyahu had little choice but to oppose President Barack Obama. He opposed him for the same reason former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, not quite a Netanyahu ally, called Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, “messianic and obsessive.” He opposed him for the same reason Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, not a great Netanyahu supporter, worried that “in the past, the United States has seen Israel as a strategic asset in the Middle East beyond moral commitment. It is currently unclear what the White House’s position is.” 

Enter Trump. A president who moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights. Obviously, there is a considerable gap between Israel’s cool attitude toward Obama and the warm and sympathetic attitude toward Trump. This is not because one is a Republican and one is a Democrat, but because Israel prefers sympathetic presidents.

The ban on Omar and Tlaib does not have to damage Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party. In fact, what happens next is for Democratic leaders to decide. They can choose to understand that Israel made a reasonable choice. They can choose to disagree with Israel and move on. They also can choose to further damage the relationship. What they can’t do is argue that Israel alone is responsible for souring the relationship.


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

Poem: Oath of Disloyalty

I am a disloyal Jew.

I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation
I am not loyal to stories that tell me whom I should hate.

I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
I am loyal to the dream of justice.
I am loyal to this suffering Earth
And to all life.
I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come
And to the quality of world we leave them.
I am not loyal to what America has become.
But to what America could be.
I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
Holiness, hope and love.


Reb Irwin Keller lives in Sonoma County California and is a student member of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal. Learn more about his website here. 

Trump Defends ‘Disloyalty’ Remarks, Says Jews Who Vote Democrat Are ‘Disloyal’ to Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the AMVETS (American Veterans) National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. U.S., August 21, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

President Donald Trump doubled down on his “disloyalty” remarks on Aug. 21, telling reporters that he thought that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal” to Israel.

A reporter asked Trump in the White House lawn if he thinks Democrat Jews aren’t loyal to Israel, Trump responded, “Oh I say so, yeah.” The reporter then asked Trump is that was an anti-Semitic sentiment, prompting Trump to reply, “It’s only anti-Semitic in your head.”

He added that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) “are so bad for Israel. They are so bad for Jewish people. You take a look at the horrible anti-Semitic statements that they made, you take a look at what they want to do Israel, take a look at the fact that they want aid – all of the aid, almost $4 billion – all of the aid cut from Israel… the Democrats, they have to own it.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “.@POTUS made it clear he thinks Jews have a dual loyalty to Israel. This #antiSemitic trope has been used to persecute Jews for centuries & it’s unacceptable to promote it. He should apologize immediately.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris similarly tweeted, “Dear @POTUS, Please stop. American Jews are [American] citizens, period. Why are you raising issues about loyalties? This is toxic & has a very dark history. Many of us care deeply about Israel’s well-being. But that’s a far cry from suggesting allegiance to another nation.”

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted out a comment from conservative talk show host Wayne Allyn Root saying that “the Jewish people in Israel love [Trump] like’s the King of Israel.”

Simon Wiesenthal Center Founder and Dean Rabbi Marvin Hier and Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda Rabbi Abraham Cooper said in an Aug. 21 statement, “We believe that since 1948 the overwhelming majority of American Jews, irrespective of party affiliation, unequivocally support the State of Israel. We also affirm that this bipartisan support is absolutely essential to the future well being and security of the Jewish State. To say otherwise, and depend only on one party, particularly in these turbulent times of increased hate and anti-Semitism, only weakens and divides the most important Jewish community in the Diaspora.”

CA Man’s Poem on Trump’s ‘Disloyal Jew’ Comment Picks Up Following

On the morning of Aug. 21, Reb Irwin Keller woke up with poetry in his head.

“I grabbed my phone and started dictating. I then checked online to see what creative responses had emerged, and I didn’t see any,” Keller said to the Journal via email. “So I cleaned up a few lines and just posted it. It barely felt like it came from me; it felt like it came through me, including lines emerging right from my dreams.”

This poem was in direct reference to President Donald Trump saying that Jews who vote for the Democratic Party have “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty” on Aug. 20.

“I felt a strong call to put words to my feelings about the president’s comment,” Keller said. “I know in some ways it is not a good use of time to respond to every affront that issues from him. But this one hit hard. It was an invitation for white nationalists to act on their hatred of Jews. It was a provocation to divide Jews from each other and from our natural allies in the US, which includes the Muslim community. And hearing a presidential invitation to Anti-Semitism, complete with the old trope of Jewish split loyalties was haunting. It chilled my heart.”

In a few short hours, his poem had picked up momentum, being shared throughout online Jewish communities all around the country.

“When it instantly started traveling the internet, I realized I was hitting a nerve, tapping into something Jews were feeling deeply. Something about being manipulated, used, and targeted. A lot of our Jewish justice work has been empathetic – that is, we are protecting the rights of others because it’s our duty and our privilege. But this was such a dirty thing, aimed right at us. I felt people waking up who hadn’t previously had words.”

Read his poem below:

I am a disloyal Jew.

I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation
I am not loyal to stories that tell me whom I should hate.

I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
I am loyal to the dream of justice.
I am loyal to this suffering Earth
And to all life.
I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come
And to the quality of world we leave them.
I am not loyal to what America has become.
But to what America could be.
I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
Holiness, hope and love.


Reb Irwin Keller lives in Sonoma County California and is a student member of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal. Learn more about his website here. 

Israel Was Justified in Barring Omar and Tlaib

U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are seen in a combination from file photos. REUTERS/File Photos

Editor’s Note: This is part of a two-opinion analysis on Israel’s decision to ban United States Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). For the other view, click here. 

A great uproar followed Israel’s decision to bar United States Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from entering the country. However, the government made the right decision, as it was following a law adopted by Israel’s democratically elected legislature and because the congresswomen made it clear they were intent on turning their visit into an anti-Israel propaganda show.

It is an American principle that no one is above the law, yet critics expected Israel to ignore its law banning supporters of the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to accommodate the two congresswomen. The U.S. did not look the other way or make exceptions when it barred Irish politician Gerry Adams, U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim and celebrities such as singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) from entering our country. In fact, the Obama administration banned a member of Israel’s Knesset from coming here in 2012.

Had Omar and Tlaib gone to Israel on a fact-finding trip (the purpose of most congressional visits), that would have been in keeping with tradition. However, they made a political statement before they left, drafting an itinerary titled “U.S. Congressional Delegation to Palestine.” There is no state of “Palestine”; there is only the Palestinian Authority. This is coded language used by people who support the Palestinians’ desire to replace Israel with a Palestinian state. It also was inflammatory because Omar and Tlaib planned to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, which is not in “Palestine” — it is the capital of Israel.

The two politicians were not interested in visiting other parts of Israel or speaking to Israeli officials. Omar said, “The goal of our trip was to witness firsthand what is happening on the ground in Palestine.” If they had a genuine desire to learn about Israel from Israelis, both Jewish and Muslim, as well as to visit with Palestinians, they could have joined the record number of Democrats who traveled together on a fact-finding mission just days before.

Even after seeing the itinerary and knowing her support for the terrorist-allied BDS movement, which seeks Israel’s destruction, the government was prepared to let Tlaib enter the country. She sent a letter to Israel’s interior minister, asking to be allowed to visit her 90-year-old grandmother because “this might be my last opportunity to see her,” and agreeing to any Israeli restrictions.

Minister Aryeh Deri granted her request, but Tlaib subsequently changed her mind and turned down the invitation, tweeting, “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression and injustice.”

Talk about hypocrisy. As Deri said, “Apparently, her hate for Israel outweighs her love for her grandmother.” Yet, Israel was pilloried for not welcoming a woman with such utter contempt for the Jewish state, not to mention her history of anti-Semitic remarks, including her accusations that American Jews have dual loyalty — the old, vile canard, perhaps the most trafficked of all anti-Semitic tropes.

It is an American principle that no one is above the law, yet critics expected Israel to ignore its law banning supporters of the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to accommodate the two congresswomen.

Tlaib still can visit her grandmother in the future if she changes her mind. She also could have visited her grandmother before she declared her support for the BDS movement. Why Tlaib did not visit her elderly grandmother over the last decade is none of my business, except as it pertains to how she uses her grandmother as a cudgel with which to browbeat Israel.

After complaining about being persecuted for her beliefs, Tlaib had the chutzpah to call for a boycott of comedian Bill Maher, who, accurately if overly colorfully, called BDS “a bull—- purity test by people who want to appear woke but actually slept through history class.” He observed that BDS supporters seem to believe because “Palestinians are browner” than the mostly white Israelis, “they must be innocent and correct, and the Jews must be wrong.”

He also highlighted the absurdity of their belief that “occupation came right out of the blue, that these completely peaceful people found themselves occupied.” For Tlaib, such objectionable speech should be punished by a boycott. This is a hallmark of BDS supporters: the belief they have freedom of speech but anyone who dares criticize them does not.

In addition to hypocrisy, the congresswomen continue to engage in slander against Israel. Omar accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of instituting a “Muslim ban.” Tlaib and Omar are not the first people, or even the first parliamentarians, to be barred from entering Israel. For example, two French politicians were denied entry because of their support for BDS. Perhaps if Omar had gone to Israel, she could have met with some of the more than 1 million Muslims who are citizens of Israel and enjoy full civil rights, unlike Muslims (and Christians) who live under the dictatorial rule of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Like other BDS supporters, Omar and Tlaib are myopic when it comes to civil rights. Hence, they are silent, for example, after the Palestinian Authority announced this week it was banning members of the Palestinian LGBTQ community from engaging in any activities in the West Bank. This was especially ironic given Tlaib’s tweet the same day about her “allies” in the LGBTQ community.

I also don’t buy the argument that Israel’s decision has divided Democrats and made Israel a partisan issue. Just before this balagan erupted, the House voted 398-17 to approve a resolution opposing BDS; only 16 Democrats opposed it. Also, a record 41 Democrats went on the Israel trip Omar and Tlaib shunned. If anyone turned Israel into a partisan issue, it was President Barack Obama, who twisted the arms of Democrats to vote for his catastrophic Iran nuclear deal that legitimized an abominable government sworn to a second Holocaust and that gave $150 billion to the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.

This latest incident, along with President Donald Trump’s focus on the four progressive congresswomen known as “the squad,” has put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of feeling the need to defend Omar and Tlaib. They clearly are embarrassed by the congresswomen and have emphasized the politicians are just two votes in a chamber that continues to overwhelmingly support Israel.

In contrast to some of my Jewish friends, I do not believe banning Omar and Tlaib strengthened the BDS movement because BDS received its 15 minutes of fame. People quickly will view this incident in its proper context. Two hate-filled members of Congress with an irrational loathing of the Jewish state were denied entry because they joined a movement that seeks Israel’s destruction. BDS leaders make no secret of this goal. As professor and BDS supporter As’ad AbuKhalil has said, “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.” Who said that Israel is obligated to invite people into the country who seek its annihilation?

Yes, the ban provoked some bad press, but for Israel, it is much more important that BDS supporters be kept out of the country, where they can do far less damage than if they were allowed to attack the legitimacy of Israel from within.

After 2,000 years of anti-Semitism and just 75 years after the Holocaust, it’s time for the Jewish people to stop the slow creep of anti-Semitism from the moment it rears its ugly head. And being a member of Congress does not provide license to hate the Jewish people and seek the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of 33 books, including “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery,” and “Lust for Love,” co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.

Why Bibi Should Have Followed AIPAC

U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump's attacks on four minority congresswomen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

There are many angles to the still-burning controversy of Israel refusing to allow entry to U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

First, there are the merits of the case. Israel passed a law in 2017 prohibiting entry to anyone who supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Tlaib and Omar have well-documented anti-Israel and pro-BDS credentials. Their published itinerary for the visit didn’t even pretend to see both sides of the conflict. It reeked of a propaganda media circus to embarrass their Israeli hosts.

Further, the trip was sponsored by a Palestinian group, Miftah, that NRO’s David French wrote is “a vile, vicious anti-Semitic group that spread blood libel, printed neo-Nazi propaganda, and celebrates terrorists who kill children.”

So, yes, Israel had every right to prevent a visit that had all the makings of an Israel hatefest and could have incited violence in a region already on edge.

From the minute Trump’s tweet came out, it transformed the dynamics of the story… The story was no longer about the anti-Zionism of two Congresswomen; it was about the U.S.—Israel relationship.

But let’s go beyond the merits and think strategically. As I wrote online after the decision, “Regardless of where you sit politically, it’s bad optics for a country that bills itself as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to act as if it has something to hide.”

And while there was a strong case for refusing entry, doing so made Israel appear anti-Democratic and turned Tlaib and Omar into heroes and victims. It also strengthened the voices of those who libel Israel as an Apartheid, anti-Democratic state.

This was clearly, then, a lose-lose situation for Israel.

Until something happened that changed everything— the nakedly partisan tweet from President Donald Trump:

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

From the minute Trump’s tweet came out, it transformed the dynamics of the story. Even if Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu had already decided to bar Tlaib and Omar from entering (as he ended up doing), it didn’t matter– it would be seen as if he bowed to Trump’s pressure and played along with his political war against Democrats.

And if he allowed them in, he’d be seen as going against a president who has been hugely supportive of Bibi and his government.

By introducing partisan politics, Trump significantly raised the stakes. The story was no longer about the anti-Zionism of two Congresswomen; it was about the U.S.—Israel relationship.

Bibi was in a tight spot. He was pressured from both sides. What he might have missed is that Trump’s public pressure actually presented a unique opportunity. Had he refused to go along with Trump’s partisan games, Bibi could have made this dramatic statement to the U.S. Congress:

“Bipartisan support for the state of Israel, as well as our enormous respect for the U.S. Congress, are rock-solid values for my country. That is why we will welcome Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Omar to Israel, despite our serious concerns about their anti-Israel activity, and despite partisan pressure from some of our friends.”

In other words, going against Trump, which would have taken cojones, was precisely the leverage point Bibi needed to solidify Israel’s most vital strategic asset: Bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress.

Allowing two anti-Zionists to flack their propaganda for a few days in the Palestinian territories seems like a reasonable price to pay for that strategic benefit, especially considering that barring them has exacted its own price.

Would Israel have paid a price from a vindictive Trump whose “order” was not followed? One never knows with our impulsive president, but he must be aware that “punishing” Israel would surely not help him retain the White House in 2020.

Bibi was in a tight spot. He was pressured from both sides. What he might have missed is that Trump’s public pressure actually presented a unique opportunity.

As it stands now, instead of Israel getting a boost in Congressional support, Bibi’s decision to bar the Congresswomen has undermined that support, forcing Democrats to defend Tlaib and Omar and further fraying Israel’s bipartisanship relationship with its most important ally.

One can argue that Congressional Democrats should have aimed their sights on Tlaib and Omar for planning a one-sided trip with intentions to humiliate an ally. Maybe, had the Congresswomen been allowed in, pro-Israel Democrats would have had more ammunition. We don’t know.

What we know is that Bibi could have used a comeback with Democrats. His love affair with a president that virtually all Democrats abhor hasn’t helped Israel’s image. I’m sure Bibi knows this. I’m sure he also realizes that his latest move will likely reinforce the resentments and partisan divisions.

He had a chance to reverse this pattern by following the wise ways of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a group that understands and nourishes bipartisan support for Israel better than anyone. In a rare move, AIPAC went against Bibi’s decision, tweeting that “every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.” They knew what they were doing.

The “entrygate” controversy may blow over in a few news cycles, or it may linger and leave a scar. Either way, it’s a shame that Israel couldn’t seize the moment to strengthen its position in the world’s most powerful legislature. That’s the one angle to this story I find most compelling.