November 16, 2018

Jews Need New Allies in Shaping Political Future

The Nov. 6 elections were a battle between soccer moms and NASCAR dads. 

These are the voters who represent the two opposing forces in American politics in the early 21st century, two groups of our fellow citizens whose cultural, ideological and philosophical leanings now define the front lines of the nation’s partisan warfare. Both labels are caricatures of complex and multifaceted segments of the electorate, but such glib and overly generalized stereotypes can help us understand how America’s civic discourse has become so polarized and broken.

The term “soccer mom” became popular in the early 1990s, when smart Democrats like Bill Clinton and Dianne Feinstein realized that they could convince economically upscale and socially moderate suburbanites who had historically voted Republican to cross party lines to support their candidacies. More women made this switch than men, and married voters tended to lean toward the GOP more than their single counterparts. As a result, the image of an economically successful woman driving her children to after-school activities led to the creation of the characterization “soccer mom” to describe this emerging voter bloc

Not to be outdone, equally smart GOP leaders like Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush identified another voting cohort that could be convinced to prioritize social and “value-based” issues over their economic interests. Among these working-class and blue-collar voters, attending stock-car races was a more common recreational pursuit than children’s soccer. And because more of them were men than women, the term “NASCAR dad” was born.

There are also plenty of soccer dads and NASCAR moms who made the pilgrimage from one party to the other. But the gender gap that has characterized American politics for most of the modern era intensifies when voting decisions are made on social and cultural issues rather than economic matters. As a result, the growing difference in the way working-class men and college-educated women prioritize their political thinking has been the driving force behind the increased polarization of the electorate.

For most of the 20th century, the most reliable indicator of partisan voting behavior was income. Economically successful voters tended to be more fiscally conservative and therefore supported Republican candidates in large numbers. Working class Americans were understandably more redistributionist in their economic outlook and more likely to support Democrats. (Jewish voters have been a notable exception to these partisan leanings; more on this later.)

But over those years, cultural attitudes played a significant role in voting behavior as well. The Cold War, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Vietnam, Watergate, Roe vs. Wade, and the September 11 terrorist attacks, just to name a few seminal events, drove large numbers of voters to reconsider the primacy of economic issues in deciding their party allegiances. Similarly, issues such as crime and abortion rights, and more recently stark divides over immigration, climate change and same-sex marriage, have had a similar impact. 

These trends began long before Clinton and Bush, but the accelerated efforts of the two parties to capitalize on these shifts reached an inflection point in the early years of this century. In the 2004 presidential election, income was supplanted as the most effective way of predicting a voter’s loyalties by religiosity — the frequency with which an individual attended religious services.

This was a seismic shift for all sorts of reasons. The first was mobility: Many voters might aspire to greater economic success (or worry about suffering economic reversals) and could adjust their political thinking based on these eventualities; but very few of us can imagine a circumstance that would lead us to reconsider our beliefs on whether abortion should or should not be legally permissible. This change has led to a greater resistance to compromise and collaboration. It’s one thing to split the difference on a disagreement over tax rates or government spending, but it’s a lot more difficult to find common ground between those with opposite opinions on whether two people of the same gender should be able to marry. 

“The idea of voters de-emphasizing their own economic interest in favor of social issues when casting their ballots is a puzzle that much of the political community is still working to understand. “

As a result, the partisan battle lines have hardened. The increasing sophistication of gerrymandering, the growing likelihood that residents in a mobile society will choose ideologically comfortable communities in which to live, and the advances in communications technology that protect us from information and opinion that challenges our pre-existing world view all conspire to drive us even further into our respective political comfort zones. But the most impactful driving force behind this transformation may have been the emergence of social and cultural matters as the litmus tests of American politics..

The 2018 midterm election marked the emergence of another demographic divide: education. For most of modern history, an individual’s level of economic success has been based on their level of educational achievement. And for most of modern political history this meant that college-educated voters tended to prefer Republican candidates. (Jewish Americans were an exception on this front as well.) 

While Barack Obama won college-educated voters by a narrow margin in 2008 and Hillary Clinton won the same group by a slightly larger margin in 2016, the “college gap” exploded in this year’s election. Voters with a college degree supported Democratic congressional candidates by a 20-point margin. More than three-quarters of Republican House members now represent districts where the population of voters with a college diploma is below the national average.

When gender and education levels are combined, the gap becomes a chasm. The difference between how white female college graduates voted last week as opposed to white men without college degrees is an extraordinary 54-point margin. To provide some context, this is larger than the split between white and Latino voters.

This dichotomy is a challenge for both parties. When Republicans lose all those college-educated women, they lose the suburbs — and they lose the House. But if Democrats cannot make more inroads with working-class voters, they will continue to come up short in the red states that they would have needed to retake the Senate this year — and perhaps to win an electoral majority in 2020. 

In eminent historian Thomas Frank’s book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” (published in 2004), he worries that Republicans have deceived blue-collar Kansans — and their like-minded colleagues in other states — into voting against their own economic interests by distracting them into a conversation about traditional values and cultural concerns. Frank seems to be saying that economic policy should be more important to voters than social and cultural questions, which had been the case for many years until about the time he wrote this book.

For many people, that’s still true. But as we discussed earlier, there are now even more voters — in both parties — who don’t necessarily base their votes solely on jobs and taxes. The only difference is the side of the fight they’ve chosen. It’s hard to argue that a wealthy pro-choice Democrat is any less of a values voter than a pro-life construction worker who votes Republican. 

Perhaps Frank’s book would benefit from a sequel. We could call it: “What’s the Matter With Beverly Hills?” or “What’s the Matter With Santa Monica?” The answer is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with these economically successful and socially progressive voters, no more than there is anything inappropriate about blue-collar residents of Rust Belt states who have also decided that economic issues are not the most important influencers on their vote.

(It is worth noting that the state of Kansas on which Frank focused his attentions elected a Democratic governor and House members last week. Which goes to show that geographic realignment may happen more quickly than cultural change.)

The idea of voters de-emphasizing their own economic interest in favor of social issues when casting their ballots is a puzzle that much of the political community is still working to understand. But for American Jews, this is a familiar dynamic. The late Milton Himmelfarb of the American Jewish Committee once said, “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans,” an observation which would not have attracted so much attention if it weren’t referring to a political circumstance that was then so unusual.

Over the years, though, it now appears as though the rest of the electorate is following the example of Jewish voters. James Carville, Bill Clinton’s iconoclastic strategist, famously said, “It’s the economy, stupid.”.But large numbers of voters are now joining American Jews in rejecting Carville’s premise. The challenge for our community in this new era is to show the same tolerance and respect for those who adhere to other cultural traditions as we hope to receive from them. 

“The challenge for our community in this new era is to show the same tolerance and respect for those who adhere to other cultural traditions as we hope to receive from them.”

To be clear, this does not mean embracing everyone who disagrees with us, especially when they exhibit that disagreement in hateful or even violent ways. The tragedies of Charlottesville and Pittsburgh remind us that the vile animosities against our community know no generational or geographic boundaries.

On the UCLA campus this weekend, from Nov. 16–18, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is scheduled to hold its national gathering. The organization’s members have articulated the ugliest and most repulsive anti-Semitic polemics, providing a timely reminder of the omnipresent challenges that our community must fight to overcome. The fact that a public university is allowing these hatemongers on its campus is an outrage and a perversion of the University of California’s “Principles Against Intolerance,” if not the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

But let us use the SJP menace as a reminder of the necessity for a community that represents only 2 percent of the nation’s population to forge and strengthen relationships with those who agree with us on some matters — but perhaps not all. My friend Aziza Hasan, director of the NewGround organization, which focuses on building relationships between Muslims and Jews, was a featured speaker at the candlelight vigil in Westwood that commemorated the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue. Evangelical and fundamentalist leaders throughout the country voiced similar statements of solidarity in the aftermath of that horrific event. Theirs were the words and actions of friends, even if some of those friends disagree with mainstream American Jewish thinking on questions relating to either settlements or contraceptives.

In such a hyperpartisan U.S. political environment, many in this country’s Jewish community see a more worrisome threat emanating from those who disagree with us on domestic social issues than those who dispute our beliefs on Middle East policy. The advances and successes that American Jews have achieved place much of our community squarely on the side of the suburban soccer parents described in this article’s opening paragraphs. But there are plenty of NASCAR dads and moms who will not only advocate for the safety and security of Israel, but stand with us when we face down the haters of Charlottesville and Pittsburgh. The question is how willing we are to stand with them.

Just as the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists, equally large numbers of Christian conservatives are not white supremacists. The question is whether the American Jewish community is able to look past important policy differences with many in these communities in order to forge friendships with those who share our beliefs on even more important questions of democratic values and human dignity.

The partisan divisions in American politics run deep and are getting deeper. According to a new Axios poll, increasing numbers of party loyalists on both sides have come to believe that members of the other party are ignorant, spiteful, evil and worse. More than 60 percent of Democrats believe that Republicans are racist, bigoted or sexist. 

But, surely, we should be able to differentiate between what is evil and what is incorrect. 

Those voters who support a candidate different than mine or prefer different Supreme Court justices than I do may be misguided. They may be ill-informed. More likely, they are well-intentioned citizens who simply have a different idea than you or I of how our country can best address its many challenges.

Terms like “evil” are best applied to those who shoot up synagogues and those who mindlessly parrot Nazi battle cries and epithets. If we resist the temptation to devalue that term through overuse, we ensure that calling out true evil will still mean something when we need it to most.


Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, and UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and the former director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles region.

Another Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan Ready to Clash With Reality

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, might hold the world record in reaching agreements with the wrong people at the wrong time. In the mid-1990s, he drafted an agreement for Israeli-Palestinian peace. His counterpart was Israeli Minister Yossi Beilin.

Alas, Abbas was then still under the boot of his boss, Yasser Arafat. He had no power to deliver. As for Beilin: Half a year after the pact’s draft was ready, Beilin and the labour government of which he was a member was ousted and replaced by the first government headed by the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu. The Beilin-Abu-Mazen agreement remained on the shelf. 

More than 10 years later, Abbas came close to reaching an agreement with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But two reasons prevented the agreement from materializing: First, Abbas never said yes (recently, Olmert attempted to paint this negative response in a more positive light by insisting that Abbas “never said no”). And second, by the time these two reached something close to an understanding, Olmert was no longer relevant. He was a weak prime minister, on his way out. He had no chance of getting the agreement he wanted passed in the Knesset. So, again, what the parties had agreed on remained on the shelf.

At times, Abbas seems to misread the political headwinds. An understanding with Beilin was no more than an intellectual exercise. An understanding with Olmert was no more than an illusion. Last week, on his way to making his annual speech at the United Nations, Abbas had more great meaningless meetings. He met Olmert, now a convicted felon with no political future, in London. He then met with opposition leader Tzipi Livni in New York. And yes, Livni is still a player in Israel’s political arena but is unlikely to have the power to make crucial decisions for Israel under any foreseeable political scenario. 

The two men he must talk to — Netanyahu, and President Donald Trump — did not get the honor. Both signaled that they are ready to sit down and talk. Trump even mentioned a possible “two-state solution.” Netanyahu was smart enough to respond positively to Trump’s unclear message, by reminding observers that a “state” can mean many things. “Everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently,” he said. “I am willing for the Palestinians to have the authority to rule themselves without the authority to harm us,” Netanyahu said on Sept. 26 after meeting with Trump in New York. So he did not rule out the option that such self-rule will be called a state.

What was Abbas’ response to these messages of a relative conciliatory tone? He said that the Palestinians now see the United States “with new eyes.” They don’t consider the U.S. to be a fair mediator for peace. “This administration has reneged on all previous U.S. commitments and undermined the two-state solution,” Abbas said. For Netanyahu’s Israel, Abbas reserved even harsher words, not the words of a leader preparing its people for negotiation and reconciliation.

Twenty-five years after the Oslo Accords — a plan for peace that Israelis and Palestinians drafted on their own in the early 1990s — there is now another plan for peace, one drafted by Americans. Since the beginning of the peace process, whenever the parties seemed to lose their footing and get off track, Americans felt the need to come to the rescue. Plans were drawn during the Bill Clinton years, the George W. Bush years and the Barack Obama years. To the presidents’ credit, their intentions were always good and their plans got neither better nor worse results than the initial plan drafted by Israelis and Palestinians —  that being no results. All sides seem to be much better at planning for peace than at making peace. 

Much like the Palestinians, Israel wants peace on its terms. It wants peace along with Jerusalem. It wants peace without refugees. It wants peace as a Jewish state.

And now there is another plan authored by a team of Americans that Trump assembled to write the “ultimate deal.” And don’t worry: While he still thinks that Israel and Palestine peace is a “real-estate deal”; while he one day preaches for a two-state solution and the next says a one state is also a possibility; while he still believes that “we’re going to make a deal” — his team knows better than all that. The plan is nuanced, it is coherent and it is basically ready to be released. Ready for failure.

It could lead to a Palestinian state. And yet, Netanyahu seems confident that the plan is compatible with the concept of “letting them rule themselves without the ability to harm Israel.” In other words: Ask not will they have a “state” — ask what you mean by a “state.” Call it a “state,” call it a “giraffe” or a “tiara,” Israel does not much care as long as it preserves its ability to defend the border and prevent it from becoming another Palestinian enclave of terrorism such as Gaza. The Palestinians want a flag? They can have a flag. They can have a government, a border, a president, they can make decisions, develop their towns, grow their economy, maintain internal security. They can have a lot more than they have now. All this is in the plan, but for a price the Palestinians don’t seem willing to pay.  

The plan is still under wraps because there are currently no credible buyers. The three-pronged maneuver by Trump’s administration was met with tough resistance. What were Trump’s tools? Using the Arab world to make the deal of the century a regional deal rather than an Israeli-Palestinian deal; using economic sanctions and enticements to make the Palestinians cooperate; shatter some of the orthodoxies that became an obstacle to any progress in all previous peace processes. 

Arab leaders were asked by the Trump administration — senior adviser Jared Kushner, adviser on Israel Jason Greenblatt and their team — to get on board and guarantee support for the plan. They were informed of some of the principles, and some of them responded somewhat positively. But a commitment was not granted. Trump was hoping to pressure the Palestinians, assisted by the Egyptians and Saudis. But these hopes met the reality of a Middle East where commitments are rare, and their fulfilment even rarer. 

The Palestinians were hit in the pocketbook by the administration and then told that they can get a lot more than they lost if only they’d accept certain terms and go back to the negotiating table. 

And of course, the boldest and most visible acts were those aiming to kill a few unrealistic dreams once and for all: Jerusalem was recognized as Israel’s capital, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was cut off from funds whose ultimate objective is to perpetuate and exacerbate the problem of Palestinian refugees. 

Abbas responded to all three moves with one powerful sentence: “Jerusalem is not for sale and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining.” “Jerusalem” is the battle cry that can deter Arab leaders from jumping on the Trump bandwagon. “For sale” is to clarify that the Palestinians will not let economic hardships or economic incentives divert them from their ultimate goal. “Rights” is to signal that Trump was wrong to boast that Jerusalem and the refugees are now off the table. It might be off Trump’s table, and off Netanyahu’s — but that’s exactly why Abbas sees no point in negotiating with these leaders. That’s exactly why he called for “the convening of an international peace conference based on the relevant U.N. resolutions and the internationally endorsed terms of reference and parameters.” He called for the conference, to hint that, for him, the Trump plan is off the table.

 

All sides seem to be much better at planning for peace than at making peace. 

Not that Israel is in any rush to sign an accord with the Palestinians. It is not. Much like the Palestinians, Israel wants peace on its terms. It wants peace along with Jerusalem. It wants peace without refugees. It wants peace as a Jewish state. It wants peace that the other side is not willing to grant. 

Yes, Netanyahu knows that one day, somehow, the Palestinian issue will need a remedy. But he does not see this problem as urgent. Not when the neighborhood is preoccupied with Iranian aggressiveness, Russian interventionism, Syrian bloodshed, Islamic radicalism. 

Netanyahu is quite confident about the Trump plan. But he is not overly confident because of two reasons: the erratic nature of the president, and the dynamics of negotiation, if these ever materialize. Trump dislikes failure, and by declaring a deal between Israel and Palestine to be his goal — a goal he still says is likely to be achieved — he put himself in the hands of Abbas and Netanyahu. They can make him fail. They can make him seem like a loser. 

The prime minister is aware of the danger that Trump, because of this commitment that he had made, might fall in love with the idea of peacemaking, and that such emotion proved problematic in past rounds of negotiations (former Secretary of State John Kerry and the Iran deal is recent example). The prime minister also knows that negotiation is something that could lead to many unexpected results: What if his coalition crumbles? What if his only choice is reliance on opposition parties who want him to be more accommodating toward the Palestinians? What if the public suddenly begins to pressure him to give more? What if Israel is diplomatically outmaneuvered? 

Of course, there is no danger of any of this happening as long as Abbas prefers to make deals with imaginary leaders of imaginary states, rather than real leaders of real states. If Abbas’ game is a waiting game — forget about Trump and wait for a more sympathetic U.S. president in 2020; forget about Netanyahu and wait for his legal troubles to take him down — the Israeli prime minister is also in no rush. As his U.N. speech on Sept. 27 showed, the Palestinians are relatively low on his agenda. They are a nuisance, not an existential threat. They are a diversion, not the real Middle East game of power. In fact, a main worry for Israel is the risk that the U.S. will get diverted from these important topics onto playing the game of a futile peace process. 

Netanyahu’s and Abbas’ speeches on Sept. 27 at the U.N. were merely a preseason practice. As is always true in this arena, the next couple of months could be dramatic. Abbas is slated to speak within a few weeks to the leaders of the PLO — his home crowd. This will be his more important speech, where he will present his strategy for the future. If he has a plan featuring truly bold moves, this will when he announces it. 

What can he do? He can go as far as dismantling the Palestinian Authority (PA). That is, cutting off his own nose to punish Israel. In such a case, the burden of having to take care of the Palestinian population in the West Bank will fall on Israel’s shoulders. But Israel’s main worry is not such a move. It’s a much likelier move of cutting all Palestinian Authority funds to Gaza. 

Most observers of the Abbas U.N. speech — not many Americans were watching, as most viewers were riveted by the Christine Blasey Ford-Brett Kavanaugh hearing on Capitol Hill — focused on his denunciation of Trump, his denigration of Israel’s nation-state law (a law that Netanyahu brilliantly defended), his insistence on the need to reverse the U.S. policy on Jerusalem. The Palestinians themselves focused no less attention on Abbas’ impatient message to the leaders of Hamas. 

“We made a deal,” Abbas said at the U.N. “The Palestinian government assumes its responsibilities in Gaza as it has in the West Bank. Then we build our state on the basis of one law, one authority, one system and one legitimate weapon. We do not accept a state of militias.”

The deal — unfortunately — has one unresolved problem. Hamas, in the words of Abbas, “did not agree to implement it.” In other words: Hamas would not let Abbas control Gaza. In fact, as part of the ongoing strife between these two Palestinian factions, Hamas parliamentarians convened in Gaza two weeks ago and declared that Abbas’ presidency is unlawful.

Gaza is a bomb to which Abbas holds one safety latch. Almost every day, thousands of Gazans engage in violent demonstrations near the Erez crossing to Israel. The economic situation has again reached a low, stoking rage among the residents of the strip — rage against Israel, against Hamas, against the PA. Abbas can turn this rage into a weapon by deciding to cut $96 million that the PA sends to Gaza each month. He can turn this rage into a weapon that is most likely to fire the opening shot in another Israel-Gaza war.

Twenty-five years after the Oslo Accords — the anniversary was just two weeks ago — it is not easy to remember that Gaza is where it all started. I was there the day Arafat crossed the border to take over the territory — and then when he moved to Jericho, his second stop. 

In Gaza, the history of the peace process easily can be condensed. Step one: euphoria and the beginning of a Palestinian rule. Step two: violence and terror. Step three: an Israeli pullout. Step four: Hamas take over. Step five: continuous eruptions of violence. All this, in twenty-five years. All this, with only a fraction of time when the situation looked hopeful.

The Palestinians got their first chance at making Gaza a better place and ruined it in an Intifada. They then got a second chance, when Israel left, and turned to internal violence. Then Hamas got a chance. It had the territory all to itself, and decided to use it as a launching pad for war against Israel. And now Abbas wants it back.

The likely result: another war. We seem to always be ready for that.


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

Moving & Shaking: Focus on Women’s Health; Bialik at UCLA

From left: Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles Board Chair Julie Platt, L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin and L.A. Federation CEO Jay Sanderson attend the Federation’s community leaders’ Passover seder in Venice. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles held its annual community leaders’ Passover seder on March 28 at the Israel Levin Center in Venice, bringing together elected and civic representatives from multiple faiths and backgrounds to celebrate the holiday.

Elected officials in attendance included Los Angeles City Council members Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and David Ryu; L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin; state Treasurer John Chiang; state Sen. Ben Allen; and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg.

From left: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz​; ​Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) supporter ​Myrtle Sitowitz; ​Sheba Medical Center ​Dr. Romana Herscovici; FSMC Senior Vice President ​Ruth Steinberger; FSMC President Parham Zar; and FSMC Executive Director David Levy attend “Women’s Heart Health,” a salon-style discussion in Beverly Hills. Photo courtesy of Friends of Sheba Medical Center.

Friends of Sheba Medical Center (FSMC) held its “Women’s Heart Health” salon on March 21 to discuss preventive measures against women’s cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading cause of death in women.

Nearly 100 people attended the sold-out gathering that featured Sheba Medical Center’s Dr. Romana Herscovici and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz speaking about heart health for women. The event was held at the Beverly Hills home of longtime FSMC supporter Myrtle Sitowitz.

Herscovici is spending two years as a research fellow at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, working under Bairey Merz’s mentorship in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center. Upon her return to Israel later this year, Herscovici will continue her work focusing on women’s heart health at Sheba Medical Center, which is the largest, most comprehensive medical center in Israel and the Middle East. Herscovici’s fellowship at Cedars-Sinai is an example of one of Sheba’s many global partnerships working to advance medicine worldwide.

“It was exciting to participate in such an important and informative conversation that affects all women and our families,” said Barbara Lazaroff, vice president of the FSMC board. “I am very proud of the partnership between Sheba Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai, knowing it will make a significant difference in women’s heart health across the globe.”

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Mayim Bialik, who has been selected to deliver the commencement address at UCLA in June. Photo courtesy of UCLA.

UCLA has selected actress Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” as its distinguished alumna speaker for the UCLA College commencement on June 15. Bialik holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA.

“Dr. Bialik embodies the values of a Bruin,” UCLA College Senior Dean Patricia Turner said in a statement. “Throughout her career, she has shown how hard work, determination and civic duty can lead to success. I know that our graduates will be inspired by her story as they set out to make their own mark in the world.”

Bialik will address both commencement ceremonies, scheduled for 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in Pauley Pavilion.

Since 2010, she has appeared on the popular CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” playing Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist who is the fiancée of Sheldon Cooper, played by Jim Parsons.

Among her several acting roles as a youth, Bialik portrayed the title character in the 1990s sitcom “Blossom.” After that show ended its run, Bialik left acting and earned her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from UCLA in 2000, with a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies. She earned her doctorate in neuroscience in 2007. Her thesis examined the role of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome.

While at UCLA, Bialik was a student leader in UCLA Hillel, founding a women’s Rosh Chodesh group, chanting and blowing shofar for High Holy Days services, and conducting and writing music for UCLA’s Jewish a capella group.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and actress Mayim Bialik attend the Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism. Photo courtesy of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Sixth Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, held at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem from March 19–21, drew foreign ministers, politicians and community leaders from around the world.

Actress Mayim Bialik, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg and Sharon Nazarian, senior vice president of international affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, were among the attendees from Los Angeles.

Bialik delivered the keynote address, about her personal experiences dealing with anti-Semitism and her love for the State of Israel and its people.

“It was a privilege to take part in the Sixth Global Forum with leaders from around the world,” Grundwerg said. “It is critical to focus on the importance of fostering tolerance and the need to continue to fight anti-Semitism on every front. Having the opportunity to bring Mayim Bialik, a leading and courageous voice of moral clarity in the community, is one of the true highlights of my posting. Her passion, love of the Jewish people and strong message of support for Israel resonated deeply with all who were present, including myself.”

Panels at the event addressed, among other topics, anti-Semitism in European far-right movements, anti-Semitism in the intersectionality of the far-left, and cyberhate.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush and Jewish Federation of North Americas Board Chair Richard Sandler appeared in conversation before major Federation donors. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Former President George W. Bush and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Board of Trustees Chair Richard V. Sandler appeared in conversation on March 21 at the Conrad Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., before 150 members of the JFNA Prime Minister’s Council.

Sandler, of Santa Monica, is the former board chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

In the conversation, Bush discussed the challenges of presidential decision-making, fatherhood, the 9/11 attacks, the need to help free people from tyranny and his decision to pursue painting after leaving the White House.

The JFNA Prime Minister’s Council is a group of families that have contributed more than $100,000 each to their local Federation annually or have made an endowment commitment to their Federation of $2 million.

From left: JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, Judy Levin, Alon Ben-Gurion, Victoria Davis and JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman attend a JNF breakfast in the San Fernando Valley. Photo courtesy of Jewish National Fund.

More than 400 people who attended the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Breakfast for Israel at the Woodland Hills Marriott on March 28 heard Alon Ben-Gurion recount stories about his grandfather — Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

“The historical, touching and humorous anecdotes were a wonderful way to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary,” said JNF spokeswoman Marina Brodetsky.

Alon Ben-Gurion, who served as a paratrooper during the Yom Kippur War, is a hospitality consultant who previously was a general manager for the Hilton hotel chain, including at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York from 1997-2004. In recent years, he has been focused on development issues in the Negev desert in Israel.

Attendees at the breakfast included JNF Los Angeles Board President Alyse Golden Berkley, JNF CEO Russell Robinson, breakfast co-chairs Judy Levin and Victoria Davis, JNFuture Chair Jordan Freedman, JNF supporters Marilyn and Allen Golden, and children from the MATI Israeli Community Center in Tarzana.

The nonprofit JNF, according to its website, is committed to ensuring a “strong, secure and prosperous Israel for the Jewish people everywhere.” Its programs include agricultural research farms in the Galilee, developing housing projects for young families in the Negev, and making Israel more inclusive for people with disabilities and special needs.

Both Bush presidents condemn anti-Semitism in Charlottesville statement

George W. Bush speaking at a conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., on June 23. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush issued a joint statement rejecting “racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms.”

“As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded by the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights,” the Bushes wrote Wednesday, referencing another former president, Thomas Jefferson.

Their statement, issued from their summer residence in Kennebunkport, Maine, comes in the wake of President Donald Trump’s stunning comments on the violence in the southern Virginia city over the weekend.

At a news conference Tuesday in New York, Trump doubled down on his claim that there was “blame on both sides,” equating combative left-wing counterprotesters with the bands of neo-Nazis and white supremacists who were demonstrating against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Democrats and Republicans swiftly condemned Trump’s remarks. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., was particularly blunt.

“Mr. President, I encourage you to bring us together as a nation after this horrific event in Charlottesville,” he wrote in a statement Wednesday. “Your words are dividing Americans, not healing them.”

The Bushes, both Republicans, have been critical of Trump in the past. In February, George W. Bush raised questions about Trump’s campaign contacts with Russian officials.

Jeb Bush, who lost to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and has since criticized the president’s social media use, urged him on Twitter and Facebook to “unite the country.”

“This is a time for moral clarity, not ambivalence,” the former Florida governor wrote.

Jewish Republicans were mixed in their reactions to Trump’s Charlottesville statements.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., the only Jewish Republican in the House, posted a statement on Facebook that criticized counterprotesters whom he claimed were bused in with the intent of committing violence, but he did not equate them with the neo-Nazi protesters.

“These two sides are not equal. They are different,” Zeldin wrote. “I would add though that it is not right to suggest that President Trump is wrong for acknowledging the fact that criminals on both sides showed up for the purpose of being violent.”

Eric Cantor, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, told The New York Times that Trump’s effort to equate the protesters and counterprotesters was “unacceptable.”

“There’s no moral equivalence,” Cantor said.

The Republican Jewish Coalition did not mention Trump’s comments on Charlottesville in a statement posted on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon following the news conference.

“We mourn the loss of life at Charlottesville this weekend, and will continue to pray for all those impacted,” the statement said. “Anti-Semitism and all forms of hate are anti-American, anti-Jewish, and antithetical to any sense of decency. We regret that we continue to be faced [with] these issues, but the RJC will never shy away from our role of standing up to racists, fascists, and Nazis.”

In Interview, Jeb touts brother’s legacy as guidance on Israel, peace talks

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush would not pursue the two-state solution or ask Israel to take additional steps to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians, if elected as president in the fall.

In a wide-ranging interview on the campaign trail Thursday, Jeb told Jewish Insider that he would set several pre-conditions for the Palestinians to return to the negotiation table and moving forward in the pursuit of a peace settlement.

“Not until the Palestinians recognize the right of Israel to exist within safe and secure borders; not until they stop the hatred of the Jewish State, and of Jews in general; not until they stop teaching their children to hate Israelis, and not until they have the capability of delivering on any negotiated settlement,” Jeb stressed.

The Republican presidential hopeful told Jewish Insider that his brother George W. Bush’s legacy as president and relationship with Israel “is a model of how to go about the U.S. relationship with Israel – that you don’t force Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians until they have established some degree of credibility, because they have none; until they recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State inside safe and secure borders, or say it not; until they have the political legitimacy to not only commit to a deal but enforce a deal, which they don’t.”

Former President George W. Bush was indeed viewed as being pro-Israel and had managed to maintain a warm relationship with Israel’s Prime Ministers throughout his presidency. Nonetheless, he was also the first U.S. President to publicly endorse the creation of an independent Palestinian State – one that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposed at the time – and continuously called on Israel to stop its settlement activity, at least outside of the large settlement blocs.

Jeb, who’s competing for the Republican nomination with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz from one side, and Donald Trump and Chris Christie from the other side, refused to say whether he is supports or opposes the two state solution. “As I said, I believe my brother was the strongest friend to Israel in modern history, and that would be a guide as it relates to my presidency – plain and simple,” he said.

Asked if he would do something differently, since nothing has seemed to work until now, Jeb responded, “No, I wouldn’t. That’s the lesson learned by my brother’s administration.”

Jeb also sought to reassure the pro-Israel and Jewish Republican hawkish donors that former Secretary of State is just one of many advisors on foreign policy and national security issues. “Baker is a statesman, he’s a friend, but he’s not providing advice as it relates to Israel,” Jeb told JI. “I speak to my brother regularly. I do seek my brother’s advice and I think he was a great president as it relates to having undying, committing loyalty to the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

We also discussed with the Republican presidential hopeful his views on the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s dispute with Saudi Arabia, his relationship with the Jewish community in Florida and why he would win a consistency test with any of his Republican rivals.

In the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bush said, “If you had to pick between Iran and Saudi Arabia, we should be on the side of Saudi Arabia.”

The full interview with Jeb Bush will be published over the weekend.

Hillary, Jeb and 9/11

Of all the places to be when Donald Trump said George W. Bush bore some responsibility for 9/11, I happened to be at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in Manhattan.

It’s pretty hard to stand beside a wall marked by 2,983 tiles — each painted a different shade of blue to symbolize the number of victims lost both in the 2001 attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing — and understand what Jeb Bush meant when he said his brother “kept us safe.”

The concrete wall serves as a repository for some 8,000 victims’ remains. Spelled out across its face, in letters made from metal recovered from the site, is a line from Virgil’s “Aenaid”: “No Day Shall Erase You From the Memory of Time.”

Jeb wasn’t trying to erase the victims’ names, God forbid, from memory. But he was trying to erase our memory of time itself. His brother had been president for nine months before Sept. 11, 2001. He did not keep us safe.

How much responsibility does George W. Bush bear for what happened that day? We still can’t be sure. But the answer is more than what his brother and defenders think — which is none — and less than what his critics would like to believe — 100 percent. The same is true for Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations passed up opportunities to take more forceful action against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Their lapses, failures, screw-ups and neglect have been well documented by intelligence officials, journalists and historians. The 9/11 Commission Report itself includes an implicit criticism of the former presidents. 

“Given the character and pace of their policy efforts,” wrote the authors, “we do not believe they fully understood just how many people al-Qaeda might kill, and how soon it might do it.”

This is what the commission was referring to when it gently termed 9/11 a result of inadequate imagination, policy and planning.

The 9/11 museum organizers had to thread a similar political needle, but they stuck it into the wall. As you go through the exhibition hall, the first displays are of the massive loss and damage: severed columns, a length of I-beam twisted back on itself as if it were a willow twig. If that’s what happens to steel, your mind is forced to ponder the fate of human flesh. 

Just as the carnage pushes you to ask how and why, the exhibition focuses on the perpetrators, al-Qaeda, and the American government. Against one wall, at about shin level, is a reproduction of the Aug. 6, 2001, memo Bush received, titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.”

The description of the redacted memo takes pains to indicate that it is just one of dozens of such warnings and memos a president receives, and it contained no specifics as to a time and place. To some people, that earns Bush a pass. To others, it begs the question: Isn’t leadership about setting priorities and knowing where to focus? The No. 1 job of the federal government is the security of the United States. Bush didn’t make the al-Qaeda threat a priority.

We’ll never know what the results would have been if Bush had told the State Department official who carried the Aug. 6 memo to his Texas ranch, “I’m gonna get on this.” Instead, he took the memo, infamously said, “All right, you’ve covered your ass, now,” and carried on with business as usual.

But let’s do a thought experiment: If 9/11 happened nine months into an Obama administration, does anyone really think Jeb Bush would be saying, in that case, “Obama kept us safe?” And does anyone think Obama wouldn’t acknowledge, as George W. Bush never has, his share of responsibility? Our nation’s toxic political discourse poisons the chance for an honest, dispassionate assessment of our failures. 

Why this all matters becomes achingly apparent as you walk through the 9/11 memorial. The individual names inscribed in the reverse fountains that mark the footprint where the Twin Towers stood are haunting. But what stopped me in my tracks was a firefighter’s hatchet on display. Recovered under the rubble, it was scarred by fire, twisted, the metal deeply pitted by debris. It told the whole story of the unfathomable courage of the 411 first responders who died in the collapse. We owe the dead a full accounting.

And this, too, is the lesson of the memorial: If it happened once, it could happen again.

Suicide terrorism is a part of modern life. It happened again in Israel this week, last week in Iraq, before that in Turkey. Whether it is a woman with a knife, a boy with a vest or 19 men on four jumbo jets, the threat is not going away anytime soon. We now live in a world where we can’t afford, not for a second, for our imagination to fail us. 

If Hillary and Jeb can’t discuss how Bill and George could have done a better job keeping us safe, then how can we trust them to do better? And how can Jeb imagine the next attack if he can’t even imagine his brother saying, “I’m sorry”?


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Jeb Bush launches Jewish leadership team

This post is originally from jewishinsider.com.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush launched his ‘National Jewish Leadership Committee’ Friday morning, consisting of 71 prominent members of the Jewish community.

As first reported by Jewish Insider, Bush and his senior staff are holding the first Jewish leadership briefing at the campaign headquarters in Miami this morning. The committee will be chaired by former U.S. Representative and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who endorsed the former Florida Governor last month. The new team gathered for a pre-launch dinner on Thursday at the home of Glenda and Ronnie Krongold in Miami Beach.

Danny Diaz, Jeb 2016 campaign manager, Mr. Cantor and the candidate himself were expected to address the attendees at the top of the meeting, according to a campaign source. Robert Karem, lead Foreign Policy advisor, and David Kochel, early state strategist, are also among the slated speakers.

Committee members include former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under President George W. Bush from 2007 to 2009. Mukasey, originally from New York, is a product of the Ramaz School in Manhattan, a school Bush first visited on Israel’s Independence Day earlier this year. Also notable is Sam Olens, the Attorney General for the state of Georgia, and a Florida native, who endorsed Bush last month when he came to address the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cheryl Halpern from Livingston, NJ, a major GOP donor and former national chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), is also one of the big names Bush managed to get on board. “I am privileged to know Jeb Bush. He is a man of integrity and compassion who is respected by his family, friends and community. He is a former Governor whose record reflects his achievements as a “doer” not just a talker,” Halpern said in a statement. She also added that if elected President, “I am certain that Jeb will not only be a staunch defender of America and American values, but will also be a “Shomer Yisrael” a guardian of the special relationship with the State of Israel as well.”

Bush made the reestablishment of strong ties between the U.S. and Israel in a post-Iran deal era a key issue in his campaign for president. During the 2nd Republican debate earlier this month, Bush stated, “The first thing that we need to do is to establish our commitment to Israel which has been altered by this administration. And, make sure that they have the most sophisticated weapons to send a signal to Iran that we have Israel’s back.”

In a statement posted on his website Jeb2016.com, under the banner “Jewish Leadership for Jeb” and a Hebrew pronunciation of his first name, Bush said, “When I launched my campaign, I was proud to count some long-time friends as my supporters. They have been with me since my earliest days in Florida, and we have shared great memories together. Among them include members of the Jewish community who have welcomed me into their homes for Passover Seder, taken me as a travel companion to Israel and worked with me on issues of shared concern, such as religious freedom, school choice and economic opportunity. Having their support has meant so much, and we are looking to build that team.”

Bush further pledged to “confront anti-Semitism wherever it exists” and to “restore our alliances around the world, especially with the brave and democratic State of Israel.”

Boca Raton Council Member Scott Singer told Jewish Insider in a statement, “Gov. Jeb Bush led Florida to great prosperity, cutting taxes while facilitating better private job sectors.  I’m looking forward to his proven fiscal record, strong support for our nation’s safety, and optimism for a brighter tomorrow in the White House.”

GOP fundraiser Lisa Spies, dubbed ‘Mitt’s Matchmaker’ in 2012 and who is now working for Jeb in 2016, organized a similar group of Jewish leaders to support Romney during the last presidential cycle after he was officially crowned as the GOP nominee.

With the names announced, Bush is able to mark a head start over many of the other campaigns, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who’ve attracted some of Romney’s supporters.

Read the full list of members who have joined team Jeb! below:

Eric Cantor, Yitz Applbaum, Scott Arogeti, Harold Beznos, Joshua Bolten, David Carmen, Adam Chill, Renee Evans, Steve Friedman, David Gemunder, Sander Gerber, Ron Gidwitz, Rabbi Doniel Ginsberg, Ken Goldberg, Sherry Goldberg, Adam Goldman, Al Goldstein, Michael Granoff, Yudi Gross, Reuven Hahn, Cheryl Halpern, William Heyman, David Javdan, Mark Kaplan, Autumn Karlinsky, Jeremy Katz, Joia Kazam, Joshua Kazam, Jay Kislak, Jonathan Kislak, Fara Klein, George Klein, Glenda Krongold, Ronald Krongold, S. Randy Lampert, Michael Lebovitz, Jay Lefkowitz, Leora Levy, Steven Levy, Ken Lipper, Jason Lyons, Ethan Marcovici, Bernie Marcus, Larry Medvinsky, David Metzner, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Attorney General Sam Olens, Morgan Ortagus, Thane Rosenbaum, Jason Rosenberg, David Schulman, Brian Schwartz, Betty Sembler, Mel Sembler, Michael Sevi, Florence Shapiro, Ned Siegel, Stephanie Siegel, Barry Silverman, Jeffrey Silverman, Councilman Scott Singer, Keith Sonderling, Gordon Sondland, Marc Stern, Jay Stieber, Eric Tanenblatt, Barry Volpert, Jonathan Weinberger, Alex Weiss, Anat Zeidman, Fred Zeidman, and Jay Zeidman.

What it’s like to be an Iranian Jew

Time was, you could claim to be a patriotic Iranian, a supporter of Israel and a lover of the United States all at once and be believed by most Iranians. You could say you were all three things without pretense or contradiction, or the need to rank your loyalties in order of intensity, or to distinguish between your support for Israel as a nation, as opposed to any one of its governments. That’s what we thought anyway, we Jewish Iranians whose ancestors had lived in Iran for 3,000 years. 

The mullahs had always said differently — that Jews were not “real” Iranians; that our existence was a threat to the rest of the nation; that we had lain in wait for a millennium and a half for the Arabs to come and convert most Iranians to Islam, only so we could use the blood of Muslim children in the baking of matzahs. 

The mullahs said this, and the large majority of Muslim Iranians believed them. Then, somewhere between the late 1920s, when Reza Shah’s government began to protect us against the mullahs and their troops of believers, and late in 1978, when his son, Mohammad Reza Shah, was forced out of the country, Jewish Iranians were allowed to be both things at once, in equal degrees, and to be patriotic Iranians as well as supporters of Israel. 

Then the mullahs returned, and unless we actively denounced Israel and claimed support for the Palestinian cause, we all became Zionist spies, a fifth column in Iran whose only goal was to enslave and humiliate God-fearing Muslim Arabs. You could be a Jew who despised Israel, or you could be an enemy of God, Islam and Iran. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said this, and the large majority of Muslim Iranians believed him. Never mind the age-old enmity between Iranians and Arabs, Shia and Sunni; the collective Iranian memory of conquering Arab armies laying waste to any signs of civilization; the stereotype of the “insect-eating Arab” as primitive and intellectually challenged. When it came to the matter of a bunch of Jews getting the best of a sea of Muslims, just about every Iranian mullah became a human rights lawyer.

Khomeini said a lot of things that a lot of Muslim Iranians believed. So did — do — his political heirs. Many of those original believers have greatly benefited from the mullahs’ regime over the years and continue to support it today. Others have come to realize that they were duped. Whether still in Iran or living abroad, they distrust just about every claim made by the mullahs. Except, I’m afraid, what has to do with Israel and Zionism. 

My Muslim Iranian friends will take offense at this narrative or reject its veracity outright. They’ll tell you that Persian culture is among the most tolerant, accepting and enlightened in history. They’ll be right. That to be moved by the plight of the Palestinian people or outraged by the acts of the Israeli government is not the same as being anti-Semitic. That loving Iran and its people does not mean condoning the policies and practices of its current regime. That prejudice and fanaticism are not the sole domain of Muslims. They’ll be right. 

But try, as I have, to explain to these same highly educated, vastly tolerant, otherwise broad-minded Muslim Iranians that the same truths apply to Jewish Iranians, their loyalties and priorities and, these days, their reasons for mainly disapproving of the Iran deal. Try to do that, and what you’ll get is the same old “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” diatribe that George W. Bush and former-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were both so fond of. 

Not that it’s of any consequence anywhere, but I happen to think that the Iran deal is a very bad idea whose time has come. By this I mean that I believe it will strengthen the Iranian regime and enable it to continue to oppress the Iranian nation and terrorize everyone else in the region and around the globe; that I do not believe, for a second, that the mullahs will stop pursuing the bomb for the next 10 years or ever; that until Islam goes through a reformation as did Christianity, there is no such thing — really — as a “moderate” mullah, or a “tolerant” regime based on any religion, or a government of the mullahs that will not use Jews and Israel as a rallying cry for its armies of believers. 

But the United States needs Iran to fight ISIS; the multinational companies and their allies within Western government are champing at the bit to tap the billions of dollars worth of trade they will be able to conduct with Iran after the sanctions are lifted; that Europe, Russia and China will most likely abandon the United States should it decide to push for a better deal; and that President Barack Obama, whose foreign policy has been nonexistent, has left himself and his government no choice but to move ahead with this deal. 

I don’t like it, but I don’t see how it can be avoided. Fortunately for me and the rest of the planet, I don’t have to vote yes or no on this one. I just get to say how I feel, which, as my friends like to say, is likely to alienate both sides of the argument.

Most Muslim Iranians I know vehemently support the deal. They say they do so because they love Iran and the Iranian people, that the only alternative to this deal is war, which they don’t want, and that it’s also a good deal for the United States. I believe they’re honest in their reasoning and their intentions. I don’t think their support of the deal makes them in any way anti-Semitic. I don’t think it factors into the equation either Israel’s interests or, alas, the harm Israel may suffer as a result of the deal. In this one case, I believe they’re pro-Iran and Israel-neutral. 

Most Jewish Iranians, on the other hand, vehemently oppose it. The reasons they offer are very similar to mine: It’s bad for Americans, for Israelis, for Jews anywhere within reach of the Iranian regime, and for Iranians anywhere who would like a real alternative to what the mullahs have had to offer. 

The fact that my Muslim friends disagree with me doesn’t bother me. I happen to think they’re indulging in some heavy doses of wishful thinking, just as so many of them did when they helped overthrow the shah and invite in the mullahs. Then again, they may be right about this one. And they’re certainly entitled to being wrong.

What is painful for me and, I dare say, many other Jewish Iranians, is the Muslims’ seemingly visceral, absolute, and unquestioning certainty that we oppose the deal because we’re any less Iranian. 

In this iteration, Jewish Iranians have always placed the interests of Israel above those of Iran and the Iranian nation. Most Jews left Iran after the revolution, they say, because they weren’t really Iranian in the first place; didn’t have much of an attachment to the place anyway; their love and loyalty is to Israel and only Israel, not even to the United States, where most of them now live; they’d easily trade the lives of millions of Americans and Iranians in a war, even a nuclear one, if it were good for Israel. 

Well, my Muslim friends, I’m here to say that on the question of Iranian Jews, you’ve been wrong in the past and are wrong now. My ancestors were loyal, ardent and productive subjects of the Persian Empire and lovers of the Persian culture long before Islam came to destroy the one and try to erase the other. They were not — as the mullahs claimed after they threw anchor in Iran — spies, guests or simply “not real Iranians.” They maintained their love for the country even as they were humiliated, oppressed, beaten and even killed by some Muslim Iranians. In 1978 and thereafter, they left Iran for the very same reasons that Muslim Iranians left — because they were afraid for their lives or loathe to be subjects of the mullahs. Their departure doesn’t prove that they didn’t, or don’t now, love the country and its people. Their being given safe harbor in America, Israel or Europe does mean that their allegiance is now first and foremost to their adopted country, its flag and its constitution. That doesn’t make them anti-Iran. Or pro-Benjamin Netanyahu. Or war mongers. It makes them good citizens of the nation that gave them safe harbor when their own people were calling for their heads. 

As for the Iran deal, the only thing Jewish Iranians’ dislike of it proves is that they have a better sense of history than most American legislators, and that they may engage in less wishful thinking than most Muslim Iranians. 

Then again, this is not simply an argument about one policy or another. For Jews still in Iran, Muslim Iranians’ opinion of how “real” the Jews are can be a matter of life and death. For the rest of us Jews — as for the Iranians who escaped persecution, the Iraqis, Egyptians, Syrians and other Arabs who were driven out by force — it’s an open wound that bleeds every time we have to “prove” that we belonged.

Gina Nahai’s new novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

In Dick We Trust

We already know how Republicans will run against Hillary Clinton, because Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is busily banging that drum.

“Hillary Clinton is, quite frankly, someone the American people can’t trust,” he “>video proves why you can’t trust Hillary Clinton,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “We already know from recent polls that a majority of Americans do not believe she is honest or trustworthy,” he pointed out in “It’s a Matter of Trust,” an “>missing documents from her Arkansas law firm that mysteriously turned up in the White House family quarters, or the sniper fire she said she avoided at a Bosnian airport, an account that turned out to be “just a
Flip-flopping is a garden variety accusation of pandering, but in the context of this dishonesty narrative, a change in position has been reframed as a lie.

But this can boomerang. Consider Jeb Bush’s bungled answer to Megyn Kelly’s “>acknowledged that Dick Cheney was lying when he told us in 2003 that Saddam Hussein “has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.” Cheney and the neocons (who’ve now set up shop in Jeb Bush’s inner circle) told us there was a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but Morrell “>yellowcake and the uranium “>Frontline documentary), the factory for manufacturing the phony case for war was headquartered in the vice president’s office. Cheney, not W, is the real albatross around the neck of the Republican presidential field.

If untrustworthiness is the attack they themselves are most vulnerable to, why are the Republicans working so hard to sharpen that blade? “Projective identification” is the term psychoanalyst Melanie Klein used to describe how people can unconsciously split off a part of themselves and project it instead onto others. That might be what’s happening here. Reince Priebus looks at Hillary Clinton and sees a deceiver. Dude must not know he’s looking in the mirror.  


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

George W. Bush made a painting for Sheldon Adelson

Jewish casino magnate and political mega-donor Sheldon Adelson is now the proud owner of a painting by a reclusive artist whose works are rarely seen in public – and happens to be a former U.S. president.

The New York Times has reported that George W. Bush, who began painting amateur portraits in 2012, gave Adelson one of his original paintings at last month’s Republican Jewish Coalition conference in Las Vegas.

According to the Times, the painting is of Adelson’s Marina Bay Sands resort and casino in Singapore, which is one of the most expensive buildings ever constructed.

Since his sister Dorothy’s email account was hacked in 2012 and the world learned of his artistic exploits, Bush has focused mainly on portraits of world leaders, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He has even painted former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The fiercely pro-Israel Adelson will likely spend tens (if not hundreds) of millions on the next Republican presidential candidate. Bush’s brother Jeb, who is positioning himself for a presidential run in 2016, has distanced himself from comments made by James Baker, Bush senior’s secretary of state, to bolster his pro-Israel credentials. Baker, who had tense relations with the Israeli government of the early ’90s, criticized Netanyahu at the March conference of J Street, which describes itself as a pro-Israel and pro-peace lobby.

So perhaps the gift was more than just a selfless gesture?

Either way, if the painting is comparable to Bush’s previous portraits, it will be, in the words of one art critic, of at least “high amateur” quality. The question is, which casino will Adelson display it in?

George W. Bush headlines largest Israel Bonds event since ’51 launch

Former President George W. Bush headlined the largest Israel Bonds fundraiser since the organization was inaugurated in 1951.

The event in Dallas on Monday evening drew 1,500 people and raised more than $60 million, Israel Bonds said in a statement, adding that it was the largest since the launch at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“President Bush spoke about his first visit to Israel, calling it one of his most meaningful experiences,” the statement said.

Israel Bonds’ national chairman, Fred Zeidman, a Texas-based lawyer and Republican fundraiser, joined Bush at the event. Zeidman for decades has been close to the one-time Texas governor.

Where is Obama’s grand vision?

For a man who got elected on grand visions and “hope” and “change,” President Barack Obama has brought little hope to the people of the Middle East.

Obama’s first move was grand enough, when he reached out to Muslim and Arab leaders with an apologetic speech in Cairo. The president acknowledged America’s mistakes and promised a brand-new day with him leading the free world. 

As part of this brand-new day, Obama’s second move was to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze all construction in the West Bank, including in settlement blocs that President George W. Bush had made clear would remain in Israeli hands.

From then on, it was all downhill. 

When the Iranian people rebelled against fraudulent elections, Obama stayed quiet so as to not upset the mullahs. When 14 million Egyptians swarmed the streets to protest the growing theocracy of Mohammed Morsi, Obama came out against Morsi’s adversary in the Egyptian army and ended up angering both sides.

He led from behind in Libya and allowed a violent meltdown that turned the country into an Islamic war zone. He abandoned Iraq and left a vacuum that nurtured the seeds of ISIS, who’ve turned out to be much nastier than Al Qaeda. He violated his own red line in Syria and turned away from another violent meltdown that has left 200,000 dead, and so on.

Throughout all the chaos, Obama has kept his eye on two balls: The Iranian ball and the Palestinian ball. Those are the mega causes that he believes might cement his global legacy. Just as he was the first U.S. president to bring universal health care to America, he now saw a chance to bring a Palestinian state or a nuclear-free Iran to the world.

When it became clear that the Palestinian conundrum was a go-nowhere special, he put most of his energy into the Iranian ball. His vision, as he explained to The New Yorker, would be to have a nuclear-free Iran provide a counterbalance to Sunni radical forces like ISIS and to bring more stability to the region.

This limited vision was based on a risky and tenuous stability: evil balancing evil.

But amid all the hoopla and controversy about Obama’s dealings with Iran, we seem to have forgotten what is really missing in the president’s vision: 350 million people. Yes, those are the suffering masses throughout the Middle East who are begging for basic human rights and a better life.

Those masses don’t have the power to sign a deal with Obama and give him a legacy. In fact, that’s precisely the problem — they have so little power.

You would think that a man who preaches social justice would have the vision to connect with the oppressed masses; that he’d fight passionately against human rights abuses; that he’d plant the seeds of reform that could be harvested by future generations.

Instead, the man who promised a brand-new day in Cairo six years ago has planted no good seeds at all. He’s done a little pruning of trees while the soil continues to rot.

The worst thing that can happen to a society is to have no hope. When no good seeds are planted, there is only despair. Look around the Middle East today and all you see is despair.

It must be said that Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush, was equally inept at planting seeds, preferring instead a blunt, scorched-earth approach. In that sense, one can say that U.S. policy has gone from reckless to feckless.

But how sad that Obama, the man from the famous “Hope” posters, could bring none of that hope to the people of the Middle East; how sad that he couldn’t see past the corrupt dictators and champion the rights of the powerless masses.

But how sad that Barack Obama, the man of “hope and change,” could bring none of that hope to the world’s most volatile and oppressive region. 

Imagine if Obama had confronted Iranian leaders about the recent torture and murder of six dissidents in an Iranian prison, or about the routine lynching of gays and stoning of women. Imagine if he had done that consistently throughout his term and used his global pulpit to shame the abusers and speak for the masses. Would that not have brought a little hope to a despairing region?

When I was at the AIPAC conference a week ago, I came across an organization called Advancing Human Rights that is empowering social activists throughout the Middle East and connecting them via the Internet to activists and governments in the West.

The brilliance of their initiative is that the repressive leaders of the region can’t stop them, because the activists are using circumventing tools. Their online platform, movements.org, has been in operation for less than a year and has already reached thousands of activists on both sides.

That kind of grass-roots effort is planting seeds of hope among the people. This is a vision that goes beyond “stability,” and it is the missed legacy Obama will forever regret.


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

On foreign policy, Jeb Bush navigates between brother and father

As clearly as Jeb Bush has stated that he does not want his foreign policy chops assessed against that of his brother — or his father — his choice in advisers has only made things murkier.

Of 21 advisers to the former Florida governor and putative presidential candidate named last week, just two did not work for President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993 or for George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009. And one of those, former Secretary of State George Shultz, was close to Bush’s father when they both were in the Reagan Cabinet.

And because the Georges Bush, father and son, have such disparate records on the Middle East, pro-Israel groups already are picking through the choices and trying to assess which way Jeb Bush leans.

“His father’s [administration] was known as cooler to Israel, his brother’s as warmer,” said Dov Zakheim, who worked in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.

Among the advisers are James Baker, the elder Bush’s secretary of state who is known to have said “F*** the Jews” when another Cabinet member suggested that the Jewish vote should factor into a consideration of Israel policy. Baker also openly taunted then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir with the White House phone number, saying Shamir should call when the Israeli leader was ready to talk peace.

Baker’s protege under the elder Bush, Robert Zoellick, also is an adviser and, like Baker, is a leading thinker in foreign policy’s “realist” school — less likely than neoconservatives to push for transformation overseas.

Among George W. Bush presidency veterans are John Hannah, an adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and part of a cohort within that administration considered the closest to Israel, and Paul Wolfowitz, like Hannah a prominent neoconservative thinker and, as deputy defense secretary, an architect of the Iraq War.

Also advising Jeb Bush are two of his brother’s top Jewish Cabinet officials: Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary, and Michael Mukasey, the ex-attorney general.

Bush’s frustration with the comparisons was evident last week at his signature foreign policy rollout at the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs.

“For the record, I love my brother, I love my dad, I love my mother as well, hope that’s OK, and I admire their service to the nation,” he said. “But I am my own man.”

Bush also devoted a significant chunk of his speech to praising Israel and criticizing President Barack Obama for his foreign policy, particularly having to do with the Iran nuclear talks now underway.

“Nuclear weapons in Iran was once a unifying issue within American foreign policy,” said Bush, who also noted that he had visited Israel five times. “Leaders of both parties agreed to it. When he launched his negotiations, President Obama said that that was the goal — to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Now we are told that the goal has changed. The point of these negotiations is not to solve the problem, it is to manage it.”

Republicans and Israel’s government have criticized the emerging deal for allowing Iran to maintain limited uranium enrichment, which they say leaves Iran as a threshold nuclear weapons state. Obama administration officials say there are other guarantees that will keep Iran from acquiring a weapon.

As much as Bush focused his speech on Obama as the template he wanted for favorable comparison, questions about whether he prefers his father’s policies or his brother’s are not going away.

Any Republican candidate for president inevitably would draw on experience garnered during the last two GOP presidencies, but Mitt Romney and John McCain, the 2012 and 2008 nominees, respectively, drew plenty of foreign policy advisers from congressional staffers as well as the punditocracy. The one Jeb Bush adviser not aligned with either president is Lincoln Diaz Balart, a former Cuban-American congressman from Florida. Of the 21 advisers, 13 worked for George W. Bush, two for his father and four for both men.

Regarding Israel, the starkest contrast between the two presidents Bush has to do with Israel’s claims to the West Bank. The elder Bush clashed publicly with Israel’s government over settlement expansion. Meanwhile, in a 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the younger Bush recognized some settlement enclaves as “realities on the ground” — the first U.S. recognition of any Israeli claim in the West Bank. However, behind closed doors he continued to press for an end to settlement expansion.

The broader contrast and the one likelier to preoccupy Jeb Bush has to do with Iraq. The elder Bush waited until building as broad a coalition as possible before engaging in a limited war with Iraq in 1991 after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein. The U.S.-led victory helped reinforce American ascendancy in the post-Cold War period.

The younger Bush led a much smaller coalition invading Saddam’s Iraq in 2003, seeking broader outcomes, including the installation of a pro-Western government. Instead the invasion led to turmoil that still persists.

Whose path would Jeb Bush choose? His speech in Chicago suggested that he was influenced by both outlooks.

Like his brother, he appeared averse to engaging publicly in spats with allies like Israel. Bush was appalled at the tit-for-tat vituperation that has recently characterized the relationship between the Netanyahu and Obama governments. Obama’s administration, he said, “has lobbed insults at Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu with incredible regularity.”

Also, like his brother, he tended to cast alliances not simply as a matter of shared interests but of emotional investment.

In his five visits to Israel, Bush said, “I have had the incredible joy of seeing the spirit of Israel.” He said signing a Florida trade agreement with Israel was a highlight of his governorship.

Yet there are signs, too, that Bush harbors the caution that characterized his father’s foreign policy.

“If we want to build confidence and trust in the American position, we have to listen,” he said in what was seen by some as an allusion to his brother’s reluctance to take counsel from American allies. “The president needs to set a strategy and be clear about it, not overcommit or overpromise, but always strive to deliver.”

A more direct jab at his brother came in response to a question about the value of advancing democracy through elections — something George W. Bush was criticized for emphasizing at the expense of caution and U.S. interests.

“This is a problem of presidents past as well, in all honesty, ‘If you have an election, you are a democracy,’” he said. “Hamas had an election, Hezbollah competes. These groups are not supportive of democracy; they use the election process to take away freedom from people.”

Notably, the elections that raised Hamas and Hezbollah to influence occurred on his brother’s watch, and in the Palestinian case, at his insistence.

Condi’s cost per minute

Forget whether former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson was paid more or less than her predecessor, Bill Keller.  I want to know why Condoleezza Rice was paid more than Condoleezza Rice.

Rutgers University offered $35,000 to George W. Bush’s national security advisor and secretary of state to speak at its commencement exercises on Sunday.  But just a few weeks ago, Rice got $150,000 for giving a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs. 

As it turned out, pushback from some Rutgers faculty and students caused Rice to bow out, saying she didn’t want to be a “distraction.”  Still, she had accepted their lowball offer in the first place.  Why the deep discount? Was she planning to be 80 percent more platitudinous in New Jersey than in Minnesota?  Or maybe it was a pro rata deal, and she going to speak for 14 minutes in New Brunswick instead of the hour she talked in Minneapolis.

It couldn’t be that she was embarrassed to have had such a good payday at the Humphrey School.   Her 150 bills is apparently what the graduation market will bear.  As “>points out, at one of them Rove recently theorized – to Gibson’s thundering silence – that Hillary Clinton suffered traumatic brain damage. 

Rice’s Minnesota tab was picked up by the Carlson Foundation, so no tuition dollars were harmed in putting on the event, though money is money, and arguably the dough that went to her might instead have gone to student scholarships, faculty salaries or a century’s supply of Cremora® for the U of M’s lounges.  But her Rutgers fee – which her replacement, former New Jersey governor Tom Kean, has waived – would have come from a public university’s revenue, not from a benefactor, which means that anyone who paid for a parking pass or a student fee this year might have been able to claim some pride of ownership if she’d shown up.

But the controversy over Rice’s Rutgers gig hasn’t so much been about money.  Instead, it’s turned on free speech (intolerant liberals won’t let conservatives speak truth to them), academic integrity (bubble-dwelling lefties should welcome an intellectual challenge) and pre-emptive nostalgia (don’t spoil my family’s graduation memories with politics).  A respectable case against inviting her in the first place is that honoring Rice, as “>Don’t Look Back doctrine.  When it comes to national security, he told George Stephanopoulos a few days before his inauguration, “what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.” Turn the page.  Which meant no accountability for W, nor for Vice President Cheney, nor for Karl Rove, nor for Donald Rumsfeld, nor for Condoleeza Rice. 

When she testified before the 9/11 commission, co-chaired by her Rutgers understudy Tom Kean, former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste asked her about the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB – the president’s daily briefing – headlined, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.”  Why didn’t she act on this threat? Oh, no, “This was not a ‘threat report,’ ’’ she replied. The PDB “did not warn of any coming attack inside the United States.”  It’s just “historical information,” she said.  You know: “Bin Laden Determined” doesn’t mean “Bin Laden Is Determined”; it means “Bin Laden Was Determined.”  That’s the best she could do.  That’s all she’s ever been asked to do.  Why should that get in the way of a fine American university’s laundering an martyk@jewishjournal.com.

ADL honors George W. Bush

The Anti-Defamation League awarded its highest honor to former President George W. Bush.

The ADL presented its America’s Democratic Legacy Award to the former president during a Thursday night gala dinner that opened the its national executive committee meeting in Palm Beach, Fla.

“We will never forget, Mr. President, how the vision you laid out of ‘two states, living side by side, in peace and security’ still informs our consciousness and our parlance today,” said the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman. “You solidified an unbreakable affinity between two democracies challenged by extremists and terrorists — and an ironclad shared understanding — that security is one of the most important foundations for peace.”

Foxman also hailed Bush’s support for immigration reform and his leadership after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“When you were called on to respond to unspeakable terror, hate and violence, you refused to let America give into stereotypes,” Foxman said. “You answered calls for anti-Muslim revenge with calls for respect and understanding.”

Bush spoke at the dinner, which was held at The Breakers resort and was reportedly closed to the press.

Previous recipients of the award, which the ADL has been giving out for more than half a century, have included American presidents as well as other government, business, literary and religious figures.

George W. Bush and Jews for Jesus

Former President George W. Bush spoke for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) this past week, and this has led to a good deal of writing on Jews for Jesus and the ex-president’s address.

Some observations:

• Like nearly every other Jew, I was saddened by the news. The MJBI is not some quiet Messianic congregation consisting of Christians and born-Jews who affirm Jesus as their Lord, Savior, and Messiah; its entire raison d’etre is to convert Jews to Christianity. Needless to say, in a free society, such as ours, one should be free to engage in proselytizing. And if President Bush had spoken before a Christian organization whose purpose was to spread belief in Jesus, no one would have said a thing. 

But the MJBI is different. First, it is devoted solely to bringing Jews to Christian faith. Second, it does so by telling Jews that they do not become Christian when they accept Christ; they stay Jewish. They simply become “fulfilled” Jews. So unlike every other case of religious conversion in the world, the Jew who converts to Christianity remains a member of the religious group he previously identified with.

To most Jews, that is intellectually dishonest. Such Jews should call themselves by the name of the faith whose religious doctrines they now embrace — Christian. Jews may be saddened when a Jew leaves Judaism, but they can respect the decision. After all, if Christians can become Jews, Jews can become Christians. What Jews cannot respect is when Jewish converts to Christianity deny they are Christians, call themselves Jews, and devote their lives to converting other Jews.

• Even many Evangelical Christians who are genuinely and selflessly devoted to fighting on behalf of the Jewish people and Israel find it difficult to understand why Jews react so negatively to Jews for Jesus. The best way I have found to explain this to them is by comparing the Jews’ attitude toward Jews for Jesus to Evangelicals’ attitude to Mormons. Evangelical Christians have no more problem with there being Mormons than they do with any other religious group; their problem is with Mormons calling themselves Christian — just as Jews have no problem with the existence of Christians, only with Jews who convert to Christianity who still call themselves Jews — and claim that the only authentic Jew is one who is a Christian. 

• Jews should not allow their opposition to Jews for Jesus to bleed over to opposition to Christian Zionists, as a writer on this subject recently irresponsibly did in the liberal Jewish newspaper The Forward. Christian Zionists have been the best friends Jews have had for most of the last two centuries. As Andrew Brown, the religion writer for the British newspaper The Guardian, wrote this week:

“Without the belief of Victorian upper class evangelical Englishmen — almost exactly the equivalents of George W. Bush — there never would have been a Balfour Declaration. And without that declaration, there could not have been the Jewish immigration to Palestine that laid the foundations for the state of Israel.”

Today, groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and other Evangelical pro-Israel groups are the Jews’ and Israel’s best friends in the world — and they are not working to convert us. If the Evangelicals turn against Israel the way the liberal churches have, we will be in deep trouble.

• Concerning George W. Bush, it should not be difficult for Jews to object to his address to MJBI while continuing to express gratitude for his steadfast support for Israel while president of the United States. I think it is fair to say that nearly all the Jews of Israel are far more angered by President Barack Obama’s policies toward Iran than George W. Bush’s appearance at a Jews for Jesus institution. As Yossi Klein Halevi said this week (on my radio show), “a majority of Israelis today have no faith in the Obama administration’s will to stop a nuclear Iran.” Israelis did have faith in George W. Bush’s will to stop Iran. So, let’s not lose perspective because of one address to a group of Christians few people have ever heard of.

• For 40 years I have argued that Jews for Jesus pose little or no danger to Jewish survival. We Jews should be preoccupied with all the Jews for Nothing, the Jews for anti-Zionism, the Jews for radical Leftism, the Jews in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who developed the obscene vegetarian campaign called “Holocaust on Your Plate” that equates the barbecuing of chickens in America with the cremating of the Jews in the Holocaust.

Our sons and daughters in college are not being alienated from Judaism, the Jewish people, and, of course, from Israel by Jews for Jesus, but by the secular left-wing professors who teach contempt for God, for religion, for Zionism and for Israel.

• The claim of Jews for Jesus that they are not Christians but Jews is false advertising, but the claim that they remain Jews is not false. Take, for example, the late Roman Catholic Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger. He was born a Jew, Aaron Lustiger, and converted to Catholicism. On becoming Archbishop of Paris, Lustiger said: “I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”

Yet, Jews around the world came to revere Cardinal Lustiger for his unceasing efforts to rid the Catholic Church of anti-Semitism and to help Israel in the Catholic world. This Catholic, who considered himself Jewish, was a regular speaker for the World Jewish Congress and was even invited to speak at the Modern Orthodox Jewish seminary Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York.

Of course, Lustiger did not devote his life, as Jews for Jesus organizations do, to converting Jews. But Jewish law regarded him as a Jew, mainstream Jews honored him, and he asked that the Kaddish be recited for him upon his death.

• The only positive Jewish response to Jews for Jesus is to figure out how to keep Jews Jewish so that they will not leave us for other secular or religious faiths. And the way to achieve that is to instill in young Jews faith in the Jewish trinity: God, Torah and Israel. Then they won’t seek any other trinity.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

What do Bush and Pew have in common?

I am often asked if Jews for Jesus missionaries are still a problem. Since most people don’t see them handing out religious tracts on street corners and college campuses, the way they did in the 70’s and 80’s, they assume that they are no longer a concern. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Missionaries like Jews for Jesus and “Messianic Jews” have migrated to the web where they reach our children in the comfort of their home and dormitory room.

Additionally, these missionaries regularly launch crusades in major Jewish populations worldwide and are growing in Israel, with dozen of missionaries canvassing the country and placing ads in newspapers like Ha’aretz and on the side of Egged buses.

Two recent news items dramatize this phenomenon.

The Pew study claims 34% of Jews think you can be Jewish and believe Jesus is the messiah.  Additionally an article in Mother Jones reported that President George W. Bush will be the keynote fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains evangelical Christians from the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Jews for Jesus and the “Messianic Jews” have fought for 35 years to achieve acceptance in society. These news items prove that they have been successful. Today, most Christians don’t think twice about the oxymoron of being Jewish and Christian simultaneously. Additionally, the messianic Jews have gained acceptance by riding on the coattails of evangelicals who support Israel financially and politically.

A number of years ago I was asked to attend a Jewish Federation meeting to hear a well-known evangelical pastor. During the Q&A I expressed my concern about the deception of “Messianic Jews” who wear Yarmulkas and light Shabbat candles. The pastor did not see the hypocrisy of Jews who have accepted Christianity using rabbinic traditions to masquerade as traditional Jews.

This misconception is rampant among the Christian community and George Bush is just another victim of the ploy of thinking it is all right to be Jewish and Christian at the same time.

I believe the Pew study also missed the point. If it had asked if you can be Jewish and believe Jesus is God I think the response would have been dramatically lower than 34%.  Simply believing Jesus is a human messiah is often a convenient compromise for many intermarried Jews. It would be more uncomfortable for them to accept the Christian belief that Jesus is divine.

As we approach Chanukah, we must take to heart the message of not losing our precious Jewish identity through assimilation and apathy. Let’s commit to continue the battle of the Maccabees and say no to being a Jew for Jesus.


Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz founded Jews for Judaism International and celebrating 28 years at their December 10th Gala. For information visit www.JewsforJudaism.org/Gala.

Why Bush shouldn’t talk to the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute

A media firestorm kicked up last week after Mother Jones broke the story that President George W. Bush was to be the keynote speaker at the annual fundraiser of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute on Nov. 14. 

I blogged about the news as soon as I heard about it, and I’ve now had a chance to review what others have written, as well as the online comments. 

Keep in mind, judging the state of the American mind by reading Internet comment sections is like tasting a four-star meal by scooping it out of the garbage disposal. It’s weird and messy and slightly scary. But in Bush v. Jews, one constant refrain emerges: Why are Jews so upset? Religion is a private matter, the majority of commenters say. The people who invited Bush happen to believe Jews need to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The former president wants to speak to them. So what?

So let me explain. There is nothing private about the Irving, Texas-based Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. Its sole purpose is very public — to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. When Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah, these people believe, Jesus will return to earth and the End Times and Rapture will follow.

That may or may not happen — my guess is we’ll never know. But one thing for certain does occur when Jews believe Jesus is divine: They stop being Jews. This is something all Jews agree on. Think about that for a second: This may be the only thing about which all Jews agree. It’s what makes Jews Jews. 

“‘Jews for Jesus,’” Rabbi David Wolpe wrote on beliefnet.org some years ago, “makes as much sense as saying ‘Christians for Muhammad.’”  

Bush, therefore, is helping to raise money for a group whose reason for being is to stop there being Jews.

It sounds alarmist, but there it is. Success for the group Bush supports would mean no more Jews. 

Of course, that’s not how the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute frames it. It tells those it proselytizes to that they can believe that Jesus is the Messiah and still be Jewish. The thing is, the proselytizers know that not a single Jewish scholar, or text, or tradition, or belief, supports that claim. So, in order to do away with Judaism, they have to lie and engage in subterfuge and double-speak. Bush, a straight shooter, agreed to speak to some of the greatest snake oil salesmen in the great state of Texas.

Keep in mind: Jews have no problem with Christians believing in Jesus. Some of our best friends are Christians. Many Jews, like me, even like and admire Jesus, that fiery Nazarene, for his radicalism, his truth telling, kindness and courage. Don’t forget, as Reza Aslan, author of the Jesus biography “Zealot,” told the Journal, “Jesus was a Jew first and foremost, and everything he said and did has to be understood solely within a Jewish context, that his teachings were simply a form of Judaism that then became what we now call Christianity. He was a fervent, zealous, law-abiding Jew.”

But where we part ways with Christians, where we remain Jews, is that we don’t believe the man was God. 

For the wannabe Bill Mahers out there, this may seem just a foolish fight between two sets of what Louis C.K. calls, “believies.”

But for Jews, the distinction defines us. There are many theological reasons why Jews reject Jesus as the Messiah, but I believe the real reason goes deeper than theology, deeper than text.

For Jews, there is no Father and Son; there is no Trinity: there is only Unity. One. That is a mindset with vast implications for how Jews see the world and behave in it. God is ineffable, certainly not a man, and God’s power lies precisely in that mystery. We accept that the biggest piece of the puzzle is left unsolved — that missing piece is the engine of our spiritual journey. It makes us, as individuals and as a People, inquisitive, skeptical of authority, relatively tolerant, empathetic — for if God is One, we’re all in this together — and eternally dissatisfied. 

That’s why when we start believing in Jesus as God, we stop being Jewish — not just in name, but deep down, in our souls. 

According to its 2011 IRS filing, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, the group President Bush is supporting, spent $1.2 million attempting to convince Jews around the world not to be Jews. Read through the filing and you’ll see how the group goes about doing this. It spent $69,000 in Ukraine, $79,000 in Russia and a whopping $203,000 in Ethiopia (note to IRS — that seems like an awful lot of money in an inexpensive place where there aren’t many Jews left, anyway). The group spent only $20,000 in Israel, and no expenditures are listed for the United States or Western Europe. 

The Jews of the former Soviet Union, cut off from practicing their religion first by the Holocaust, then by the communists, are among the world’s least educated about Jewish belief and practice. The Messianic Jewish Bible Institute is piggybacking on a century of persecution to reach the low-hanging fruit of Jewish identity.

And now, they have a former American president to give them a boost.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

George W. Bush to headline fundraiser for Texas proselytizing group

Former President George W. Bush will headline a fundraiser in Texas for a group that seeks to convert Jews to Christianity.

Bush is scheduled to appear Nov. 15 in suburban Dallas to raise funds for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a Texas-based group that says its mission “is to bring Jewish people into a personal relationship of faith with Yeshua the Messiah, knowing their acceptance will eventually mean life from the dead.”

Tickets for the event at the Irving Convention Center start at $250 and rise to as high as $100,000.

According to Mother Jones, which first reported the fundraiser, the $100,000 tickets include a VIP reception with Bush and a tour of Israel guided by the institute’s president, Wayne Wilks.

Is Obama George W. — or even Nixon? The secrecy factor

The Obama administration has in recent weeks suffered a 1-2-3 scandal outbreak:

– The Benghazi tragedy-as-fiasco gained legs when internal emails emerged suggesting a massaged timeline of who knew what, when;

– The IRS owned up to focusing on conservative groups in delaying approval for tax exempt status in the last election;

– The AP furiously revealed that for two months last year the Justice Department had tracked its phone calls, apparently in a bid to track down government leakers in a story about the thwarting of a Yemen-based terrorist plot.

So the emerging narrative is, is President Obama another George W. Bush or (gasp!) Richard Nixon? And will this finally lose him the liberals?

The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center is already on the record with fairly no-holds-barred outrage regarding the IRS story:

Reports that the IRS focused attention on applications for tax exempt status from groups with apparently politically conservative names and ideologies are deeply concerning. The IRS must establish neutral guidelines for its work that do not favor or disadvantage any political ideology. Abiding by these guidelines will ensure the IRS upholds the non-partisan status that is key to maintaining public trust in its work.

No individual or organization should incur extra attention from the IRS solely on the basis of political ideology and no entity should feel implicit or explicit pressure to alter its mission or actions based on fear of politically-motivated action from the IRS – or any other government agency.

We look forward to a full explanation from the IRS as to how this situation developed and how it will be prevented from occurring in the future.

Jon Stewart had fun last night with the 1-2-3 meme:

And naturally, we’re already deep into Nixon comparisons.

The Nixon years are an inverse of the old 1960s encomium: Anyone who misremembers them so badly can’t have lived through them. Nixon made rivals into enemies, tried to make enemies into criminals, and made the Constitution confetti along the way. Obama, so far, is a long way from there.

But the Bush comparisons seem to have legs, and not least because it has been Obama’s defenders who over the last couple of days have raised them. The Bush era IRS in 2004 went after the NAACP, they have noted, and the Bush administration sought New York Times and Washington Post phone records under the same terms that the Obama DOJ did the AP.

Which raises the question: How does this square with a president who campaigned on a vow not to be Bush, particularly as it related to government secrecy?

One caveat: The Bush administration sought to criminalize the gathering of information, not merely its leaking. It tried to set a precedent that ultimately would have criminalized the journalists in these cases, not just the leakers.

JTA covered the story, naturally enough — the “leakees” in this case were two former AIPAC staffers. And notably, one of Attorney General Eric Holder’s first acts was to shut the case down.

Senate clears way for vote on Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel

The Senate cleared the way on Tuesday for the likely confirmation of Chuck Hagel as President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense.

The Senate voted 71-27 to end debate and move forward, almost two weeks after Republicans launched a filibuster to block Hagel's nomination. It was the first time such a procedural tactic had been used to delay consideration of a nominee for secretary of defense.

More than 15 Republicans joined with Democrats to open the way for a vote by the full Senate, now scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST.

The vote virtually guarantees Hagel's approval: The entire Democratic caucus — 55 out of 100 senators — is committed to his confirmation, and only a simple majority is required to confirm the nomination.

A number of centrist Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, had expressed concerns about past Hagel comments, particularly his claim in 2006 that a “Jewish lobby” “intimidates” Congress, as well as his skepticism of sanctions and military moves that would keep Iran from advancing its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the vote to end debate that a vote to confirm Hagel could come as soon as Tuesday afternoon.

Some have also raised questions about whether Hagel is sufficiently supportive of Israel or tough enough on Iran.

CALL TO PANETTA

Some of Hagel's most vehement opponents made a last-ditch appeal on the Senate floor for his nomination to be stopped before the vote on Tuesday. They argued that Hagel would be weakened in running the defense department because he will not be confirmed with strong bipartisan support.

James Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had even called Leon Panetta, the retiring secretary of defense, and asked him to remain at the Pentagon.

Panetta, 74, who has made no secret of his desire to retire to his home in California, declined.

Faulting a range of Hagel's past statements on Iran, Israel and other matters, Inhofe also pledged to work for the quick confirmation of another potential nominee if Hagel were withdrawn.

“We have a lot of them out there who would be confirmed in a matter of minutes,” he added, naming Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy, and Ashton Carter, the current deputy defense secretary, as more acceptable alternatives.

But Democrats blasted Republicans for the delay, when the country is at war and facing a budget crisis, and pushed for the vote to go ahead.

“Politically motivated delays send a terrible signal to our allies and to the world. And they send a terrible signal to tens of thousands of Americans serving in Afghanistan. For the sake of national security, it's time to set aside this partisanship,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing By David Storey, David Brunnstrom and Cynthia Osterman

Obama’s planned visit to Israel

As you’ve probably heard, President Obama will visit Israel next month, his first time as president. And for those people still upset with him for not visiting during his first term, here’s the good news: Obama’s visit is still much earlier in his second term than when George W. Bush visited. So there’s no reason to be upset — not about the timing of the visit. As for the reasons and the implications of this impending visit — this is no big surprise — here’s one list of things to be considered:


Political Editor Shmuel Rosner, in Tel Aviv, discusses President Obama's Israel visit timing with Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, in Los Angeles. Story continues after the video.


Iran

Remember Benjamin Netanyahu’s U.N. speech last September? Remember his “red line”? Summer is coming fast, and a presidential visit in early spring is one good way of attempting to give the United States and its allies more legroom to  maneuver. Obama wants to do more talking with Iran and needs Israel not to be too fidgety with its timetables. His presence is a way of reassuring Israelis that the United States is on their side and that they should not rush to action. Since the public isn’t eager to see action — Obama has a chance of succeeding with it. As for the prime minister, that’s another story. Netanyahu truly believes that he was planted in his office to do this one, big thing of saving Israel from the peril of a nuclear Iran. If there’s one issue on which Netanyahu might decide to spite public opinion — Iran would be it.

Peace

One hopes that Obama got some assurances from both Israelis and Palestinians that his visit will not go to waste. The time for renewal of the peace process — that is, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — is long overdue. If Obama can’t make it happen, his visit could be in danger of being labeled a failure. (On the other hand, expecting him to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to get the two sides much closer to resolving it would also be a huge mistake — he can’t do it).

Coalition Talks

Don’t underestimate the timing of the announcement. Potential coalition members now have a clearer choice: If they want to see Obama, they’d better hurry. If they want to keep claiming that Netanyahu is ruining Israel’s relations with the United States — their case just became less convincing.

Israeli Compromises

Obama’s visit would make Netanyahu seem stronger, at least for a while (until the visit, and possibly after it if the visit is successful). Obama is experienced enough to understand this and surely made Netanyahu pay some price for it. Where can Israel compromise? Iran is tough, but with his new coalition Netanyahu has more flexibility on the Palestinian front (he doesn’t yet have a coalition — but his potential coalitions give him this flexibility).

Syrian Tensions

As I argued last week, the situation in Syria is bringing the Israeli and the U.S. governments closer together. It will give Obama and Netanyahu one safer issue on which to agree.

Scheduling Complications

If Obama is going to Israel in late March, this means that the hope for him to come here for Shimon Peres’ Presidential Conference is pretty much dead. It also makes the annual AIPAC conference in early March a little less consequential. Netanyahu will not travel to Washington if Obama is coming to Jerusalem (or so I’d assume); Obama might not want to go to AIPAC and upstage his own visit just two weeks before it happens. For the past week I’ve been thinking that the smartest move for the administration would be to send Chuck Hagel to the AIPAC conference — if he is confirmed as secretary of defense. This would make an interesting speech, and would present AIPAC attendees with an interesting test of restraint.

Israeli Opinion

Can Obama move the needle of suspicion downward with this visit? The American president is perceived by many Israelis as pro-Palestinian or neutral. I’m not sure whether Obama cares much about being popular among Israelis, but I’m sure that some advisers have told him that being more popular would also make him more effective as he battles with Netanyahu over policy. The question for me is this: Can Obama still charm Israelis — or maybe it’s too late for him to change an already firm Israeli suspicion of him? (My answer: He can probably change Israeli minds, but not by making speeches — they’d have to see action to be convinced).

Agenda

One would hope Obama is well aware that Israelis are too busy with conscripting the ultra-Orthodox at the moment to be concerned with issues such as regional peace and the occupation. Seriously: Much like the United States, Israel is preoccupied with domestic concerns. Assuming coalition talks are completed by the time Obama comes, the new government will be busy with drafting a budget and planning for cuts in government spending and raising taxes. Obama’s visit will be a distraction — not an event that’s going to top the agenda for very long.

It’s Time

Four years ago, I wrote an article for The New Republic in which, somewhat nastily, I advised Obama not to come to Israel:

“[W]ords alone will not make Israelis trust Obama. Israelis do not suffer from lack of understanding of the issues; they suffer from peace-fatigue. They look at “peace processes” with suspicion, based on experience and events. They are scarred enough to know what has [worked] and what has not, and they are tired of the good intentions of enthusiastic novices, believing that with their youth and their smarts they’ll be able to come up with some magic trick that can somehow round a square. What Obama needs is a convincing plan that makes sense. It does not look like he has one.”

Now I think it’s good time for him to come. Why?

• Because it is clearly not about domestic politics — elections are over in both countries.

• Because expectations have been lowered enough for all parties involved to understand that peace isn’t coming “within a year or two.” No one expects a “magic trick” anymore.

• Because Obama is no longer an “enthusiastic novice” — he is a second-term president.

• Because Netanyahu needs an opportunity to be a gracious host to Obama. And it will save Obama at least one Netanyahu visit to Washington, where he keeps getting on the president’s nerves.

• Because the Middle East is in turmoil and this really isn’t the right time for these two leaders to keep bickering about one another.

• Because Obama has to be here at least once, so why not get it over with.

One question though: Does he stay for the Seder?

Remembering Ed Koch: A pugnacious New Yorker and passionate Jew till his dying day

One of the proudest moments of Ed Koch’s life came during a trip to Israel in 1990, in the midst of the first Palestinian intifada.

Koch had recently left City Hall after 12 years as mayor of New York City and was touring Jerusalem when a Palestinian threw a rock at his group, striking Koch in the head. The ex-mayor was bleeding a bit but wasn’t really hurt, and he mopped up the wound with his handkerchief.

The incident would become one of Koch’s favorite stories, the moment, he would say, when “I shed a little blood for the people of Israel.”

It was reflective of the pugnacity of the man who served three terms as mayor of New York, spent nine years in Congress, earned two battle stars as an infantryman in Europe during World War II, wrote 17 books, and spent the last two decades of his life as a lawyer, talk show host, professor and even restaurant critic — working almost to his last day.

Koch, 88, died of congestive heart failure early Friday morning at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital. He had been hospitalized twice in recent weeks to drain fluid from his lungs. His death came on the same day as “Koch,” a documentary about his life, opens in theaters nationwide.

Tributes to Koch immediately poured in from all corners of the Jewish world, including the Israeli ambassador to the United States, and both sides of the political aisle.

“Mayor Koch was a passionate and principled leader and an outspoken defender of Israel and the Jewish community,” said Matt Brooks, the director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “He chose principle over politics and didn’t engage in partisan bitterness.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council hailed Koch as a “consummate and proud Jewish Democrat who advocated fiercely for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the progressive domestic policies in which he truly believed.”

Famous for greeting constituents with “How'm I doin?,” the Jewish mayor presided over some of the city's most difficult years, from 1978 to 1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.

Edward Irving Koch was born in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924 to Jewish immigrants from Poland. The family moved to Newark, N.J., when Koch was 9, after his father’s fur shop closed during the Depression, but returned to New York in 1941 when business picked up again. After high school, Koch enrolled at City College and worked as a shoe salesman, but his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the army in 1943.

He served in the infantry and after the war spent time in Bavaria helping replace Nazis who occupied public posts with non-Nazis, according to The New York Times. He was discharged in 1946 and went to law school at New York University.

Koch got his start in politics as a Democratic district leader in Greenwich Village, then worked his way up to City Council, and in 1968 beat incumbent Whitney North Seymour Jr., a Republican, in a race for Congress. Though he served for nine years in Washington, Koch remained a creature of New York, saying he got the “bends” whenever he stayed away from the city for too long, according to the Times.

In 1977, Koch ran for mayor, upsetting Abraham Beame, another Jewish mayor who oversaw a fiscal crisis that brought New York to the edge of bankruptcy. Upon taking office, Koch immediately set to cutting the municipal budget, trimming the city’s workforce, reaching a settlement with unions and securing federal aid that had been denied to Beame. In his second term, he turned the $400 million deficit he had inherited into a $500 million surplus.

He won a third term with 78 percent of the vote, but then things went sour. His administration was beset by a series of corruption scandals, rising drug-related violence and burgeoning racial tensions. Koch became the target of black ire for closing a hospital in Harlem — a move he later conceded had been a mistake — and for saying that Jews would be “crazy” to vote for the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the 1988 presidential primary, given Jackson’s support for Palestinians and his 1984 reference to New York as “Hymietown.”

After losing his bid for election to a fourth term in 1989 when David Dinkins bested him in the Democratic primary, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish Yoda, blessing or cursing political figures as he saw fit and not always hewing to the prescripts of the Democratic Party.

In his later years, Koch seemed to swing like a pendulum between Democrats and Republicans, and his political imprimatur was eagerly sought by both sides.

He endorsed Giuliani, a Republican, in his successful mayoral bid in 1993 against Dinkins. He often shared — and sometimes took over — the stage at endorsements for other Republicans, including New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Al D'Amato and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Koch stumped hard for George W. Bush's presidential reelection in 2004, and was not afraid to tell baffled Jewish Democrats why: Bush had Israel's back, Koch said.

Four years later, Republicans hoped to win a repeat endorsement for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Koch, alarmed at what he saw as Republican plans to degrade the social safety net he had championed as a congressman in the 1970s, instead threw in with Barack Obama.

Almost as soon as Obama became president, however, Koch became one of his biggest Jewish detractors, lacerating the president with criticism for his perceived coolness to Israel.

“I believe we are seeing a dramatic change in the relationship between the United States and the State of Israel that adversely affects the State of Israel and it is being orchestrated by President Barack Obama,” Koch said in early 2010, after a cool meeting between the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The president, when he invited the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, to the White House, was extremely rude to him, treated him as though he were a Third World tyrant.”

In 2011, Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner for a special election to fill a vacant congressional seat in New York in what was seen as a safe Democratic district, even though the Democratic contender, David Weprin, was both Jewish and stridently pro-Israel. Turner won and many credited Koch’s endorsement with tipping the scales during the campaign. When Obama subsequently retreated from criticism of Israel's settlement policies, Koch claimed credit.

“I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the U.S. on the Mideast,” Koch wrote supporters in an email.

Last year, Koch enthusiastically endorsed Obama in a long video released just before the election — an appearance Jewish Democrats credit with helping boost Obama's Jewish numbers in Florida, a critical swing state.

Yet in recent weeks Koch turned on Obama again, making no secret of his disappointment in Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator with a fraught relationship with the pro-Israel community, for secretary of defense.

“Frankly, I thought that there would come a time when he would renege on what he conveyed on his support of Israel,” Koch said of Obama in a Jan. 7 interview with the Algemeiner, a Jewish publication. “It comes a little earlier than I thought it would.”

Rabbi Joe Potasnik, the executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said Koch told him his hero was Harry Truman, another Democratic Party leader unafraid of defying his base. “He admired independence,” Potasnik recalled in an interview Friday.

Koch, who never married, held twin passions he guarded ferociously: the Jewish people and New York.

After the stone-throwing incident in 1990, Koch took the stone and blood-stained handkerchief to a frame shop, but the shop lost the stone and substituted a fake — which Koch immediately spotted. He was placated only by a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who praised him as “the first eminent American to be stoned in the Old City.” Instead of the stone, Koch framed Shamir’s letter along with a photo of his wound.

Koch’s tombstone is engraved with his name, his years as mayor, the Shema prayer, and the final words of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered in Pakistan on Feb. 1, 2002, the same date Koch died: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”

His chosen burial place is a non-denominational churchyard at the corner of 155th Street and Amsterdam — selected because he could not imagine spending eternity outside Manhattan.

Olmert: Likud an ‘extreme right-wing party’

Speaking at Columbia Law School, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the Likud an “extreme right-wing party” and suggested that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have better relations with the White House.

During his talk Wednesday night, Olmert went out of his way to praise President Obama, saying he has been and will continue to be a great friend of Israel. Olmert defended Obama’s call for an Israeli-Palestinian deal based on the 1967 borders with land swaps, saying that President George W. Bush endorsed the same policy.

“I don’t know why when President Obama said the same thing he became an enemy,” Olmert said.

Olmert praised Bush and said that Israel benefitted from the warm relations between the two of them. He then lamented the lack of a similar dynamic between Obama and Netanyahu, Olmert’s successor and political rival. Olmert did not explicitly blame Netanyahu for his sometimes chilly relationship with Obama, but in the context of his overall presentation Olmert seemed to be faulting the prime minister or those in his camp.

Referring to Netanyahu’s decision to join forces with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the Knesset elections scheduled for Jan. 22, Olmert blasted the Likud as an “extreme right-wing party.”

Olmert once was a leading member of the Likud, but left the party with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to form Kadima. After Sharon fell into a coma, Olmert took over as prime minister before a series of legal scandals forced him to step down.

Olmert, who ultimately was acquitted, is rumored to be preparing for a return to the political fray. He declined to share his plans for the coming campaign, but promised that he would make an announcement in a few days following his return to Israel.

Olmert predicted that the January elections would determine whether Israel would move forward with efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians and warned that the failure to do so ultimately would make it impossible for Israel to continue as a Jewish and democratic state.

The choice: Obama or Romney?

Either way, you’re going to have to suck it up.

Whether you pick Obama or Romney, you are voting as much for imperfection as for promise.

This is not an election of love and enthusiasm — that was so 2008. But 2012 is not about desire — it’s about duty.

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, after four years of Obama and two of Romney, there are very few unknown unknowns.

If you choose Obama, you are going to have to swallow a recovery far more tepid than promised. You are going to hope he will focus on jobs, jobs, jobs — and not find another 800-pound distraction like health care to vacuum up his time, energy and political capital. You are going to have to ignore his previous inability to get major legislation through Congress, his “unwillingness,” as The New York Times editorial endorsement of Obama chided, “to throw himself into the political fight.” You have to find reason to believe him when he says that this time, he will not let Simpson-Bowles, or a strong version of it, wither and die.

If you choose Romney, you are going to have to ignore the fact that nonpartisan analyses have said his deficit and jobs plans don’t add up.

“Romney’s tax cut plan doesn’t work,” wrote The Daily Beast’s David Frum, a George W. Bush speechwriter. “I’m a Republican, I support Romney, etc. But you can’t cut that much in such a stagnant economy and expect to break even. Even with a deductions cap, it just won’t happen.”

You are going to have to overlook the fact that they don’t really qualify as “plans” by your own definition of the word. You are going to have to believe he will stand up to the Grover Norquists and the Ralph Reeds and the Todd Akins — and even the Paul Ryans — when it comes to issues such as new revenues, women’s rights, civil rights.

To choose Obama is to trust that the 2012 model will reconnect with the 2008 vision. To choose Romney is to trust that Massachusetts Romney, the Romney of the general election and Denver debate, will slam the White House door on Primary Romney.

To vote for Obama is to acknowledge that, no, he probably doesn’t have Israel in his kishkas — but you have evidence that he has guided Mideast policy through difficult times and come to Israel’s defense where it matters, according to people like Ehud Barak and former Mossad director Efraim Levy, most.

To vote for Romney is to acknowledge that he has a true sense of devotion to Israel, but that he may very well bring back some of the same misguided foreign-policy crew that crippled the United States in the Iraq war and wants to write blank checks to a bloated military.

You can appreciate Romney’s intelligence when it comes to business, but you have to ignore the stunning ignorance — or disingenuousness — of the man who discounted “the 47 percent.”

You can value Obama’s commitment to extending student loans, health care and the social safety net, but you have to believe that, after the economy is stabilized, he won’t kick the issue of entitlement reform down the road.

You can appreciate Romney’s commitment to deficit reduction, but you have to believe he won’t really double down on disproven trickle-down theories.

To vote for Obama is to hope that he is more like Bill Clinton than Jimmy Carter. To vote for Romney is to hope that he is less like George W. Bush and more like George H.W. Bush — or like Bill Clinton.

“Republicans want you to think that, rhetoric aside, Romney is a pragmatic manager of the economy, while Democrats claim that he is an ideologue tilting against your most sacred beliefs,” Jewish Journal Senior Political Editor Shmuel Rosner writes in his book “The Jewish Vote.” “Democrats want you to think that, rhetoric aside, Obama is a pragmatic defender of Israel, while Republicans claim that he is an ideologue tilting against your most sacred beliefs.”

A cautious Obama voter is hoping the president will do what he says. A cautious Romney voter is hoping the governor will do, in many cases, the opposite of what he says. Either way, hope for the best.

And, above all, vote.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney: A foreign policy difference?

If Barack Obama is re-elected, he ought to consider making Mitt Romney his new secretary of state. I propose this far-fetched howler not because I’m trying to get into my own Dumb Idea Hall of Fame, or because white, male secretaries of state seem to be going the way of the dodo at Foggy Bottom (there hasn’t been one since Warren Christopher departed in 1997).

I raise the idea to drive home a broader point. Despite his campaign rhetoric, Romney would be quite comfortable carrying out President Obama’s foreign policy because it accords so closely with his own.

And that brings up an extraordinary fact. What has emerged in the second decade after 9/11 is a remarkable consensus among Democrats and Republicans on a core approach to the nation’s foreign policy. It’s certainly not a perfect alignment. But rarely since the end of the Cold War has there been this level of consensus.

Indeed, while Americans may be divided, polarized and dysfunctional about issues closer to home, we are really quite united in how we see the world and what we should do about it.

A post 9/11 consensus is emerging that has bridged the ideological divide of the George W. Bush years. And it’s going to be pretty durable.

Paradoxically, both Bush’s successes and failures helped to create this new consensus. His tough and largely successful approach to counterterrorism — specifically, keeping the homeland safe and keeping al-Qaeda and its affiliates at bay through use of special forces, drone attacks, aggressive use of intelligence and more effective cooperation among agencies now forms a virtually unassailable bipartisan consensus. As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign, Obama has become Bush on steroids.

And Bush’s failed policies — a discretionary war in Iraq and a mismanaged one in Afghanistan — have had an equally profound effect. These adventures created a counter-reaction against ill-advised military campaigns that is now bipartisan theology as well.

Four key principles drive the new post, post-9/11 consensus:

1. Fix our broken house: These days, any sentient politician understands that the key to American power abroad is inextricably linked to the state of our union here at home. Whether our leaders are prepared to pay the political price to address these domestic problems is another matter. But the talking points seem pretty similar: Build our nation first, not anyone else’s. Watch what you’re spending abroad, and focus on the five deadly D’s at home — debt, deficit, dysfunctional politics, decaying infrastructure and dependence on Middle East hydrocarbons.

2. But defend it: The second core consensus is the need to kill the bad guys abroad before they can kill us, but to do it without invading nations and thus becoming responsible for rebuilding them.

3. End wars, don’t begin them: Sadly, the dominant question of America’s 21st century conflicts so far is not “can we win?” but “when can we leave?” That was the central question that has occupied Obama’s decision-making in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And no matter who is elected president in 2012, there’s not going to be much enthusiasm for further adventures abroad or trillion-dollar experiments in nation-building.

4. Subcontract, create a committee and a process whenever possible: Whoever came up with the term “leading from behind” erred only in the packaging. Wrong choice of words, right idea. America can’t save the world by itself, nor should we expect to, or be expected to, by others. Let’s be clear: We can always lead from the front — into disaster (see: Afghanistan, Iraq) — and who wants that?

Instead, the greater challenge is how to decide when and how to intervene successfully in a way that’s congruent with our interests and resources. Multilateralism and process became dirty words during the George W. Bush years. And, hey, they’re not heroic measures. Indeed, they’re time-consuming and often messy, because they depend on others. But they can be useful, particularly when vital and core American national interests aren’t involved.

It’s not only on these core assumptions that the candidates share a broad agreement. These principles translate into specific policies where it would be tough to tell the difference between a Romney and an Obama presidency:

Iran: Sorry, I just don’t see any significant difference between the way Obama is handling Iran’s nuclear program and the way Romney might as president. And that’s because there seems to be an inexorable arc to the Iranian nuclear problem. If by 2013, sanctions and negotiations don’t produce a sustainable deal and Iran continues its quest for a nuclear weapon, one of two things is going to happen: Israel is likely to strike, or we will.

If it’s the former, both Obama and Romney would be there to defend the Israelis and manage the mess that would follow. Both would be prepared to intercede on Israel’s behalf if and when it came to that. As for a U.S. strike, it’s becoming a bipartisan article of faith that the United States will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. And both men are prepared to use military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites as a last resort, even if it means only a delay (and that’s what it would mean) in Iran’s quest for nukes.

Freedom agenda: The bloom went off this rose in George W. Bush’s administration. The Arab Spring has turned into a long, cold winter — the prospects for the quick and easy rise of democracies in the Middle East are slim to none. A Romney administration might produce a tougher tone in defense of freedom (without any meaningful action) and perhaps more negative rhetoric about Islamists, but would also confront the same bad options and limited leverage Obama has now. On Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and anywhere else the United States is unable to direct the domestic politics in distant lands, Romney would likely adopt much the same approach as the current administration.

Diplomatic engagement: Had you listened to Obama in 2009, you might very well have concluded that he was out to change the world through engagement and diplomacy. But that was then. Obama has learned quite a bit, and appears to have come much closer to the tougher-minded Romney view on the merits of engaging Hugo Chávez, the Kim regime in North Korea, the mullahs in Tehran, and Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Conspicuously absent from this list of leaders whom Obama has seemingly written off is Vladimir Putin, who appears to be an integral part of the White House’s Iran strategy.

Romney has taken a much tougher line on Russia and China. Still, the realities of governing would invariably soften the Romney campaign line that Russia is public enemy No. 1 and that China is a currency manipulator.

Israel: Paradoxically, the one issue where Romney and Obama might actually differ is on the most bipartisan one of all — Israel. Romney’s views on Israel are guided more by his gut instincts (see Bush 43) than those of Obama, whose view of the Israelis is colder and more calculating.

The issue isn’t support for Israel’s security — both would be committed to that. It’s that damn peace process, which keeps turning up like a bad penny. Obama wants progress and sees Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as largely responsible for the lack of it. He may want to push some bold initiative in a second term, but it won’t be so easy to do. For Romney, the peace process isn’t going to be a priority unless the Israelis and Palestinians — through violence or diplomacy — make it one.

The bottom line? The new consensus is that the world’s a more challenging place than ever, and both Democrats and Republicans are learning that we can’t control it. (Of course, we never did.) That doesn’t mean that the United States cannot lead or succeed in protecting its interests, it just means its leaders need to be more disciplined about how and when to project American power.

The new divide on foreign policy is clear — and I, for one, am ecstatic about it. It’s not between left and right, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. It’s between making decisions that are smart, on the one hand, or dumb on the other. And I’m hoping that the next president — whoever he is — knows exactly which side America wants to be on.


Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled “Can America Have Another Great President?” This essay was adapted from his column, “Reality Check,” which runs weekly in ForeignPolicy.com.

President George W. Bush to speak at Minnesota synagogue

Former President George W. Bush will speak at Beth El Synagogue on Sept. 21, the Minnesota synagogue said.

The fundraising event at the Conservative synagogue in St. Louis Park is being billed as “An Intimate Evening with the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush.” The audience will be limited to 250; ticket prices start at $1,250.

Bush’s speaking fee is reported to be between $100,000 and $150,000.

No press will be allowed to cover the event, according to an Aug. 22 letter from Beth El president Gil Mann. The letter notes a Sept. 1 deadline for ticket orders, “so that appropriate security measures can be taken.”

In his letter, Mann wrote that “[Bush’s] appearance coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9-11, a time when our country came together with a singular purpose. This national tragedy defined much of his presidency, and the lessons of that time should prove illuminating and provide important perspective today as our country strives to be more united.”

Other world leaders who have spoken at Beth El include former President Clinton, ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Rice’s appearance in November 2009 engendered controversy in the congregation and in the larger community. Dozen of protesters decrying her support for the Iraq War and the use of torture against suspected terrorists picketed outside the event.

L.A. leaders visit White House in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month

Four leaders of the Los Angeles Jewish community were among about 200 people who met President Barack Obama during a White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month.

“To be inside the home of the locus of power of our country and for Western democracy is a pretty extraordinary thing,” said Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, leader of Temple Beth Am. “And it’s no small thing that a lot of people at this event are the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of refugees who came to America on the promise of freedom and possibility of equality.”

Temple Beth Am member

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Bush flirts with peace talks but won’t commit to Palestinians

The rug that Syrian President Bashar pulled out from under his widely reported but vaguely defined peace offensive last week was a Persian weave.

He had been talking for months about unconditionally resuming negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights, and it seemed like Israel, under American pressure, was the disinterested party. Then roles were quickly reversed in a week filled with feints and false starts, but so far there’s been more motion than movement.

President George W. Bush kicked off the week by reaffirming his vision of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it was widely seen as an attempt to divert attention from his debacle in Iraq rather than a commitment to sustained diplomacy.

That view was reinforced by a White House mailing to Jewish leaders recommending an article by historian Michael Oren quoting Israeli officials as satisfied “there were no changes in Bush’s policies.”

White House aides also quickly shot down any notion that the “international meeting” Bush announced would be a peace conference. Just a meeting, they said, chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Bush may not even show up. And don’t look for many Arab leaders to be there, either. The price of admission will be recognition of Israel, Bush said. That leaves out all those who should be there, like Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Iraq.

That’s right, Iraq. Bush’s icon of Arab democracy where leaders have repeatedly denounced the Zionist enemy and have no more interest in peace than that other benefactor of Bush’s democracy crusade — Hamas.

Assad’s shift hardly seemed coincidental, coming on the eve of a visit by his Iranian benefactor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. According to a London-based Arabic newspaper, Ahmadinejad signed a strategic agreement with Syria promising increased military, political and economic assistance conditioned on a refusal to make peace with Israel.

To press his point, Ahmadinejad also met in Damascus with leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups, encouraging them to unite in armed struggle against Israel, and he pledged Iran’s support.

Reversing his recent rhetoric, Assad announced he would resume talks with Israel only through a third party and only with advance written Israeli “guarantees” to meet all his demands, including a full return of the Golan Heights.

That came on the heels of a tactical shift by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who after months of dodging Assad’s probes, told Al-Arabiya television last week that he is ready for direct talks without preconditions.

Olmert had been under pressure from Washington to rebuff Assad’s peace feelers on the assumption the Syrian leader was just trying to deflect American pressure to stop aiding the Iraqi insurgents. As a condition for talks, Olmert had demanded Assad withdraw his backing for Hezbollah, Hamas and other anti-Israel Islamic extremist groups prior to any talks.

American sanctions have had little impact on Assad’s behavior, and the Syrian dictator apparently concluded threats of military action were a bluff in light of American problems in Iraq and Israel’s poor performance against Hezbollah in Lebanon last year.

Iran, according to Israeli analysts, has been trying to raise regional tensions by telling Assad that Israel is planning a war against Syria to block Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon and to erase last year’s failures. Ahmadinejad’s real goal may be to discourage American or Israeli attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities, they say.

The other prominent visitor to the region this week, with a totally opposite agenda, is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the new Middle East envoy for the Quartet (United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia). His assignment is to help the Palestinians rebuild their institutions and economy, but he’d like to expand that and be an active peace negotiator as well.

That’s not what President Bush had in mind when he outsourced Middle East diplomacy to his old friend and loyal Iraq war partner. Blair has been a longtime advocate of accelerating the peace process and has the backing of three quarters of the Quartet.

His greatest obstacle might be Rice, who doesn’t want him treading on her turf. She’s made it clear that he should stick to his official mandate. That’s the way Ehud Olmert wants it, too; he’s no more ready than the Americans for the final status negotiations that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants.

But it’s more than just territorial for Rice; her boss likes to talk about peace but has been unwilling to do the heavy lifting needed to get negotiations off the ground.

Initially he didn’t want to be seen following the failed footsteps of his predecessors –Poppy and Bill Clinton — but Iraq overtook that. Bush paid lip service to Middle East peace because the Arabs, his allies and the Baker-Hamilton Commission said showing movement on that front was essential to convincing others to help rescue him from his Iraq morass.

Bush will hear that again this week when Jordanian King Abdullah II comes to the White House to tell him he’s not moving aggressively enough on the Palestinian front. The president will assure his royal visitor of his sincere desire for peace, but the reality is Bush’s desire to be the father of Palestinian statehood hasn’t gone beyond the flirtation stage. Wishes don’t beget results.

From Damascus to Jerusalem to Ramallah to Washington, these days of summer sizzle are looking like a time of peace fizzle.

Douglas M. Bloomfield, a former staff member of AIPAC, writes about the Mideast and politics of Jewish life in America.

Faith-based foreign policy faces perils ahead

Ideology is fine for campaigners, bloggers and talk show hosts, but it often wreaks havoc in the real world, where effective policy requires flexibility, not rules dreamed up in think tanks and advocacy groups.

That lesson has defined Israeli policy for decades, but it is being eroded by Jerusalem’s acquiescence to a U.S. administration that has implemented a foreign policy based more on faith than pragmatism.

A stubbornly ideological administration has put the United States in a deep hole in the international arena — and a vulnerable Israel could pay a big price for playing along with the true believers in Washington.

While Israel has always taken a hard line on terrorists and front-line adversaries, it has traditionally remained open to peace feelers, however tenuous.

It wasn’t just U.S. pressure that caused the hard-line Yitzhak Shamir government to start talking to a blood-drenched PLO or to engage in the Madrid peace process in the early 1990s. Yitzhak Rabin, a celebrated general who could hardly be called a peacenik, signed the Oslo agreement and shook Yasser Arafat’s hand in 1993, not because he believed the old terrorist leader had suddenly developed a love of Zion but because of a conviction that Israel’s future was dependent on finding some way to talk to its enemies.

Syria has long been a fomenter and supporter of terrorism and a source of regional instability. But the Jewish state has never shrunk from talking to Damascus whenever its leaders believed there was even a glimmer of hope to advance negotiations and avoid war.

Israel has even maintained backchannel contacts with Iran, despite the fanaticism of its leaders, in the belief that such contacts could someday pay important dividends.

Israeli governments representing both the left and the right understood that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends, and that in the Middle East, every chance for peace is a long shot. That has been the U.S. view of the region as well — until now.

An administration driven by rigid ideology expects Israel to play by the same rules. Current U.S. doctrine says you never talk to terrorists or terror-sponsoring countries; therefore Israel must do the same, regardless of its very different circumstances.

When Syrian president Bashar Assad sent out tentative peace feelers last year, the Bush administration laid down the law to Israel: don’t respond, even though some analysts in the Israeli government believed there might be slight shifts in the Syrian position that were worth exploring.

Last week, those instructions became even more explicit; according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her recent Mideast visit, demanded that Israel avoid even exploratory contacts with the Assad regime.

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is not particularly inclined to start new talks with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but there, too, the Bush administration has made its demands clear: don’t give Hamas or anybody connected to it the time of day.

Israel is in a straitjacket of American design, barred from employing its traditional hard-headed pragmatism, prevented from exploring possible new routes to peace. It is treated as a client state, not an ally; its politically weak leaders, afraid of angering a senior partner in Washington that believes talking to enemies is tantamount to endorsing them, meekly complies with U.S demands.

Jerusalem should look more closely at what these policies have done to U.S. interests and influence around the world.

President Bush’s black-and-white, good-versus-evil view of a complex world and his refusal to negotiate with those he deems unworthy have left the United States with almost no allies and little credibility.

That isolation has undercut U.S. efforts to deal with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of extremists and increased, not decreased, the armies of terrorists eager to lash out against enemies real and imagined.

The Iraq war he started on the basis of ideology, not intelligence, has spread instability across the Middle East and strengthened Iran, according to U.S. intelligence estimates.

Washington’s refusal to talk to Iran hasn’t slowed its quest for nuclear weapons, and may have rallied a restive populace behind an increasingly unpopular leadership. It’s refusal to talk to Syria hasn’t changed Syrian behavior for the better, and may have pushed Damascus deeper into the Iranian orbit.

So shouldn’t Israel’s leaders be alarmed that on key matters involving their nation’s security they are being dictated to by a government in Washington whose ideology-driven foreign policy has undercut vital shared priorities and added to the dangers Israel faces in a seething Middle East?

Faith-based foreign policy hasn’t worked for Washington, and now it threatens to compound the problems facing a Jewish state that once based its foreign policy on tough pragmatism, not theories and beliefs. Israel can’t afford to thumb its nose at its only real ally — but there could be a big cost to continuing to follow the dictates of an administration that remains pure in its beliefs but increasingly alone in its policies.