May 24, 2019

A Progressive Misnomer

The group of Democratic candidates running against President Trump in the 2020 elections. REUTERS/Files

Labels matter, and they are an integral part of the war of ideas.

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt met in December 1941, weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Nazi Germany declaration of war against the United States, they signed a joint document articulating their nations’ war aims. It was titled “Joint Declaration of the United Nations,” not “Joint Declaration of the Alliance” and not “Joint Declaration of the Associated Powers.” Roosevelt rejected the term “Alliance” because it might be a problem to Senate isolationists. Churchill rejected the term “Associated Powers” because it sounded too “flat.” Hence the birth of the “United Nations,” a title designed for both its emotional punch and its political purpose.

This choice of labels is of constant concern to politicians and political movements. Those who favor retaining access to abortions call themselves “pro choice,” not “pro fetal death.” Those who favor more restrictive access to abortions call themselves “pro life,” not “pro unwanted babies.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has accused those who support Israel of having an “allegiance to a foreign country,” rejects the label “anti-Semitic” but has no objection to “pro-Palestinian.” 

Democrats seem to understand the value of emotive branding better than Republicans. The latter demonstrates no objection to being called “conservative,” although that label can connote a lack of originality and a kneejerk adversity to change. Democrats, on the other hand, have rebranded themselves as “progressives,” eschewing the use of the term “liberal,” which can have an elitist connotation (for example, the “liberal arts”) out of touch with the everyday problems facing the average American. Consistent with this rebranding, almost half of the Democratic House members are part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; there is no Congressional Liberal Caucus. 

Democrats have rebranded themselves as ‘progressives,’ eschewing the use of the term ‘liberal.’

This stratagem, which the media and even Republicans have bought into, obfuscates and prejudges discussion. “Progressive” and “progressivism” are labels that have strong positive connotations. “Progress” is defined by the Random House Dictionary as “movement to a higher stage,” “advancement in general” and “continuous improvement,” and is a synonym for “betterment.” “Progressive” is defined as “favoring progress.” What millennial — indeed what person of any age, educational level or background — would be opposed to improvement or betterment? To be a social reformer, a progressive in the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, committed by definition to “continuous improvement” and “betterment,” has an obvious appeal. 

Today, “progressivism” sometimes describes economic populism; other times, it encompasses cultural or social issues. “Progressive” Hillary Clinton, during her presidential run, asserted her unrelenting opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and her willingness to impose tariffs on China and other countries. “Progressives” are said to support New York’s recent late-term abortion law. “Progressives,” in the words of one Los Angeles Times headline, “hope to reset debate on Israel.” Other “progressives” campaign to restrict the availability of charter schools.

The “progressive” label unfairly biases and confuses the arguments concerning these and other social and political issues. Fair and informed public discussion would be served by a general return to “liberal” or “leftist,” terms that do not subtly predispose one to favor so-called “progressives” and their programs. While “liberal” and “leftist” do carry some baggage, this is equally true of the terms “conservative” and “rightist.” Media and commentators who strive to be unbiased must take the lead. “Progressive” ideas and candidates should be judged on their merits, not wrapped in a distorting label that prejudges thoughtful consideration.

Gregory Smith is a retired appellate lawyer in Los Angeles.

The Joe Biden Gamble

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addresses the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2019. Photo by KEVIN LAMARQUE/ Reuters

Most presidential campaigns are about the economy, or matters of war and peace. Can Joe Biden make the 2020 election a referendum on white supremacy? If he can, he will win. If not, President Donald Trump’s chances for re-election get a lot better.

While most of the other Democratic candidates are debating how aggressive they should be pushing to reverse Trump’s agenda on a number of fronts, Biden is taking a decidedly different approach. He is arguing not against Trump the policymaker, but against Trump the person. While Biden has indicated the outlines of his platform and has promised more details going forward, it’s clear that he will frame his campaign primarily as a moral indictment against the incumbent. 

The safer and more conventional approach, which all of the other 20-plus Democratic candidates are taking, is to try to beat Trump on the issues. That’s how Nancy Pelosi’s forces took back the House last year, by talking about health care and other policy matters rather than taking Trump’s bait. 

On the presidential campaign trail, this has played out as an internal Democratic debate over different degrees of progressivism. Should universal health coverage be achieved through a Bernie Sanders-preferred single-payer system or through less sweeping means? Should the nation institute something along the lines of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal or fight climate change in a more measured Barack Obama-era way? Similar shades-of-blue distinctions are being drawn on criminal justice, taxes, education, housing, immigration and foreign policy.

Biden is arguing not against Trump the policymaker, but against Trump the person.

But Biden is gambling that while the voters who will decide a general election may disagree with Trump on many policy matters, they are much more uncomfortable with the president’s personal conduct. That’s why the most significant aspect of Biden’s launch has been his repeated references to the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and to Trump’s comment about “fine people on both sides” of the events there. Biden clearly believes that this was a defining moment in Trump’s presidency and in recent American history, and he clearly intends to make it the centerpiece of his campaign. The president’s recent efforts to reframe those remarks in a less objectionable context suggest that he knows the harm that a sustained debate about Charlottesville could cause his chances for re-election. 

The conventional wisdom that developed after the 2016 campaign is that Trump’s opponents place themselves at a great disadvantage when they engage in his type of personal combat. So for the last two-plus years, the president’s foes have instead trained their fire on his least popular policy goals.

Until Biden. The unique calculation he has made is that the way to beat Trump isn’t to abandon the strategy that Clinton employed in 2016, but rather to just do it better. Biden’s advisers believe that the former vice president’s “Middle Class Joe” relatability will allow him to connect with the white working-class voters in a way that Clinton simply could not. 

Biden’s first challenge is to make it out of a Democratic primary populated with alternatives that are a more natural generational and ideological fit for the new Democratic Party. His struggles to address the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in the first days of his campaign portend ongoing difficulty on this front, as does his habit of praising Republicans with whom he has worked.

If he becomes the nominee, he must then confront Trump’s ability to marshal populist animosity toward the traditional political system. Biden might be more likable than Clinton, but he has been in Washington even longer, which makes him a ready-made target for Trump’s attacks against the establishment.

Biden’s final challenge with this approach is one of consistency. As those of us in the Jewish community know, hatred and prejudice come from both the far right and the far left. Just as ugly strains of nationalism can ooze into anti-Semitism and other racial and ethnic bigotry, the most virulent strains of anti-Zionism in some progressive circles can turn into equally repulsive forms of anti-Semitism. 

Can a character-based message take Biden to the White House? Perhaps, but only if it’s applied evenly.

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

I Stand With the Occidental Student

Photo from Wikimedia commons

I stand with the anonymous fellow student who informed the Journal about Occidental’s Israeli Apartheid Week. Although students at my school have dismissed his perspective, I can affirm it. As a pro-Israel, pro-peace American Jew, I passed that wall every day, often unsettled. A wall that uses the words Jews and Israelis interchangeably, fails to mention the terrorist group Hamas, and discusses the history of Israel without the Holocaust, settles in comfortably with a campus culture that sees polarization as indicative of its vitality. 

But, I’m not surprised. How is this situation any different than the incident that happened at Cornell, or at Duke, or the mania that has swept college campuses? Most American college students don’t support the human rights violations taking place in Israel. Yet, only a few can articulate politically effective solutions that don’t involve the annihilation of Israel or blame the Jews for their intergenerational trauma. 

Like many American college students, I believe we should remain critical of Israel’s government. However, I’m tired of the rhetoric to achieve that goal, often invoking decades-old stereotypes and equating Zionism with white supremacy. The way we articulate our political ideologies is just as important as the ideologies themselves. The issue being explored on college campuses is no longer about holding Israel accountable, but has strayed into why Jews should feel morally culpable for their history and religious beliefs.

The majority of the students on my campus aren’t Jewish or Palestinian, nor have they visited the Middle East, nor have they read extensively about the conflict from a variety of sources. This is not to suggest we cannot be invested in a movement that hasn’t affected us. However, when groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) or Jewish Student Union (JSU) control students’ accessibility to information, they’re working with a population that tends to have little to no exposure to the issue. These same movements urge Jewish students not to visit Israel, even if that trip has an alternative agenda, such as the ones J Street offers. How can we learn firsthand about these contentious issues otherwise? 

Furthermore, suppressing voices or engendering social pushback is often key to these movements’ interactions. Groups like JSU and SJP often heavily support anti-normalization. Broadly, this is a policy of many anti-Israel extremists to not engage with Jews, Israelis and anyone who believes in Israel’s right to exist. Specifically on college campuses, these groups will refuse to work with any groups that support the concept of a Jewish homeland. They’ll shut down any viewpoints that contradict theirs, hindering any chance at healthy dialogue. 

“Liberal colleges have become moral playgrounds — we pit ourselves against one another to determine who is more progressive.”

As a student who believes in a two-state solution, I am disappointed at this state of affairs. Liberal colleges have become moral playgrounds — we pit ourselves against one another to determine who is more progressive. According to these standards, students who think Israel has political legitimacy are pegged as white supremacists. Anyone who believes in a Jewish homeland is an enemy to Palestinian liberation. Dissociation with your religious identity is simply the price one must pay to feel comfortable on today’s college campuses. 

So I stand with the student who reported Occidental’s Israeli Apartheid Week. For a movement that believes Jews should completely disregard their social and emotional ties to Israel, we are constantly being pulled back in. 

Jews, who represent less than one percent of the world’s population are increasingly pushed out of leftist spaces, including college campuses. Students on my campus openly advocate for the demolition of Israel — a country that is home to almost half the world’s Jews. It’s discouraging to think that these same voices are going to be deciding the future of BDS on college campuses, or our nation’s next political leaders. Until these movements provide spaces where Jews feel comfortable reclaiming their definitions of anti-Semitism, we are denying the same freedoms our institutions claim to embody.

Maddie Solomon is a first-year politics major at Occidental College from Denver.

Toxic Femininity

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

We belong to the light; we belong to the thunder.

My son, Alexander, and I recently discovered the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy. The films, which follow an a cappella group called the Bellas through college, are essentially an ode to female empowerment. Using music as their fuel, the Bellas find themselves and their strengths, both as individuals and as a group.

Aside from loving the signature non-conformity, the films reminded me of the importance of strong female role models. The fact is, women, just like blacks, Jews, Muslims and every other group, need to see strong, proud and effective representations of themselves — it is a key component of empowerment.

With this in mind, I continue to shake my head at the progressive embrace of women like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I should say at the outset that the fact that she fully owns her style and sexuality is not the problem. In fact, it’s a vast improvement over the idea that women had to be neutered to be taken seriously. Feminism never intended for women to give up our femininity.

No, the problem is that we went from pantsuit nation to the glorification of ditziness.

The irony is that progressives, in order to continue to embrace AOC, are now fully reveling in sexism. A few weeks ago, I re-posted a video of AOC rambling. It was, as Alexander would put it, cringey.

But my progressive male friends took offense at my daring to call this out. Their comments could be summed up in this one: “She’s hot; leave her alone.”

“We all know that AOC would not be sitting in Congress right now if some men hadn’t found her attractive.”

Of course, they don’t love her just because they find her attractive. They love her because she tries to spout politics they agree with. But we all know that AOC would not be sitting in Congress right now if some men hadn’t found her attractive. 

The fact that AOC has rebooted a looks-based judgment of women is sadly the least of the problems. Far more dangerous is her glorification of emotional reasoning. Coined in the 1970s by Aaron Beck, the founder of cognitive therapy, emotional reasoning is the process of concluding that your emotional reaction proves something is true.

Emotional reasoning is actually a huge problem for many women, leading to serious issues, most notably depression. And yet Ocasio-Cortez gleefully employs it. “Congress is too old,” she felt compelled to tell Elite Daily. “They don’t have a stake in the game.”

One could argue that the entire “social justice” movement today is built on emotional reasoning: Facts are irrelevant, feelings = reality, words = violence. And the profound ignorance that has resulted from this — from unconscionable articles in The New Yorker that uncategorically defend Rep. Ilhan Omar to the recent UC Berkeley student government meeting, where lies about Jews and Israel showed a breathtaking normalization — seem to bother no one on the left, from editors to administrators. 

The most lasting damage of all of this, though, may be on women. Forget the strong, empowered women of “Pitch Perfect.” Today, young girls see that the women getting all the attention are weak and irresponsible (many in the #MeToo movement), cognitively challenged, prone to emotional outbursts, and totally cool about being reduced to their attractiveness.

It’s toxic femininity, potentially far more dangerous than toxic masculinity.

A recent parody of AOC by an 8-year-old was pitch perfect: “I also want to talk about socialism because socialism is so amazing. Like, socialism is actually short for social media. I do social media, so I’m a socialist.”  

There are many positive aspects of femininity that women can bring to public life. Nurturing, for example. I think one of the reasons Nikki Haley is appealing to people across the political spectrum is that she not only refuses to disown her femininity, but she often uses softness to make tough points. But one never feels as though she allows her emotions to run the show.

Quite the contrary. One gets the impression that all of her decisions stem from deep thought. It is my profound hope that she finds running for president a well-reasoned choice for herself. Because, of the many positives I believe she can offer, possibly the most positive is her ability to show the intent of real feminism: producing a well-educated, thoughtful, kind and respectful woman to lead this country.

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

This Passover, Teach Your Children About Modern-Day Slavery

While enjoying a seder at a friend’s house, I watched a father tell his 5-year-old daughter the story of Passover. 

“The Jews were slaves in Egypt,” he said. “Do you know what a slave is?” The little girl didn’t. “It’s when someone else owns you and forces you to do stuff you don’t want to,” he explained. “Do you ever feel like a slave, Antonia?” She nodded, still mad that she wasn’t allowed to eat the macaroons before dinner.

Now, telling the story of Exodus isn’t quite like reading “Goodnight Moon” to your toddler. The story of Passover is graphic. It begins with an enslaved woman sending her baby down a river in hopes he will not be fed to crocodiles. But for our people, it’s necessary to put the kids in front of “The Prince of Egypt,” which portrays these horrors in cartoons (and an exceptional soundtrack) so they can understand the slavery we endured. Only that way can they understand the message of Passover: to value freedom and to break chains. 

In 2019, far too many chains remain locked. An estimated 40.3 million people are currently enslaved around the world, according to the International Labour Organization. That’s more than double the global Jewish population. 

The chattel slavery of the Israelites in Egypt is very much alive today. During the Libyan civil war in 2017, a video of men being sold at auction for $400 each went viral. In Mauritania, where slavery is illegal but widely ignored, local human rights organizations believe up to 20% of the population — 800,000 human beings — live in servitude.

Meanwhile, in other countries people are enslaved through debt bondage, in which those who borrow money are forced to work off the debt through forced labor, regardless how inhumane. This practice is primarily inflicted upon migrants, who are seized into servitude in exchange for stay permits. In Salerno, Italy, 35 people are being investigated for enslaving immigrants and earning 6 million euros off their labor. With the rise of anti-immigrant movements in the West, these populations are becoming increasingly vulnerable.

While Western policies place a tremendous burden on refugees to enter democratic nations, totalitarian governments are enslaving their own through conscription. The 2018 Global Slavery Index estimated that North Korea’s regime had shoved about 2.8 million of its citizens into labor camps, with men working in construction and women sewing in sweatshops. The New York Times reported that China is subjecting its Muslim and Jewish citizens to forced labor in internment camps, where they are sent to impose assimilation into secular Chinese life.

Meanwhile, in other countries, slavery has taken the form of child marriage. According to Anti-Slavery International, wedding vows often operate as a shield for those who wish to forcibly wed and exploit children into their adult lives. Regularly, underage girls are taken by warlords as tribute from their families. 

According to UNICEF, 400 million women in the world are married before they are adults, meaning 41% of the global female population is at risk of living in servitude. However, in 93 countries, bondage through marriage remains legal. Why? Authorities contend they are more concerned with heartbreak than human rights. One court in India defended child marriage because if it were outlawed “judges would be left to deal with broken hearts, weeping daughters, devastated parents and petrified young husbands … chased by serious criminal cases, when their sin is that they fell in love.”

But child brides don’t even understand what romantic love is. “I was so young I didn’t even know what marriage meant when I got married,” explained an underage bride from Bangladesh. “Even if I get money, I come home and give it to my husband. If I don’t give him the money, he beats me.”

However, slavery is not a foreign issue. It’s happening right now in the United States. 

Though we may dress it up as “human trafficking,” America is home to 400,000 slaves. 

“In 2019, far too many chains remain locked. An estimated 40.3 million people are currently enslaved around the world, according to the International Labour Organization.”

Rather than being forced to build pyramids, our people are being sold as sex objects. While some Americans engage in the industry of stripping, pornography and prostitution by choice, for many people, sex work is not a choice, it’s rape.

In most conversations about sex trafficking in the U.S., we assume the victims are Vietnamese women being shipped over in barges — refugees and immigrants who were brought into the United States by smugglers who now abuse them. This is a dilemma, but a great deal of sex trafficking survivors are American children. According to ECPAT-USA, a nonprofit working to end commercial sexual exploitation of children, the average age of a child who enters street prostitution is 12 to 14 years old. These children are either enslaved by their own parents or are kidnapped. Not only are sex trafficking victims subjected to regular sexual assault, but their enslavers often beat and starve them.

“In the dictionary, the definition of slavery is the ‘state of one bound in servitude.’ If someone sells you to someone else, is that not slavery?” said Tina Frundt, who was forced into prostitution by her boyfriend when she was 14. “If someone forces you to do things against your will and you are not allowed to leave, is that not slavery? Then I ask you why, when pimps traffic young women and girls on the streets of America, isn’t this a form of modern-day slavery?”

Of course, what people like Frundt go through is against the law. But it is still happening, widely unnoticed. It’s unclear exactly how many Americans are being trafficked for sex in the $150 billion industry. But when authorities bust rings of pimps and prostitutes, they often prosecute and detain trafficking victims for engaging in prostitution, even if they are minors, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2015 trafficking report.

If these modern-day slaves are convicted and imprisoned, the cycle of bondage doesn’t end, it just becomes legal.

Although slavery in the U.S. was outlawed in 1865, not all slavery is a crime. In fact, it’s how we punish crime. Through the mass incarceration of black and Latino Americans, the government has found a way to keep slavery alive.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” says the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, enabling slavery to remain as the modern prison system. The incarceration of black and Latino citizens is rampant because of a racist culture that depicts them as criminals and superpredators, a justice system that has harsher mandatory minimums for using drugs more popular in communities of color, and calculated crackdowns disguised as part of the war on crime and drugs.

For many, prison is not just a punishment but a means of enslavement. 

In Texas, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, incarcerated Americas are forced to perform labor for free. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which confines the largest population of convicted criminals in America, has its inmates raise, process and harvest livestock; manufacture soap and clothes; and cultivate 24 kinds of crops. Without making any income, prisoners work 12 hour days as painters, electricians, maintenance workers, cooks, custodians and dog trainers. 

The enslavement of predominantly black and brown Americans through mass incarceration is one of the most insidious forms of racism in this country. While in the past the Jewish, black and brown communities have bonded through our shared history of slavery, the legacy of slavery lives on for people of color.

There’s no doubt modern-day slavery is difficult to talk about, especially during your Passover seder. We all know it’s considered bad decorum to bring up politics during the holidays, especially conversations that involve heated topics like race, sex abuse, tyranny and immigration. 

But Passover, much like being Jewish, is inherently political. It’s not about eating matzo ball soup, it’s about paying homage to the trauma our ancestors survived. It is a ritual stand against slavery, which today, just like in the days of Pharaoh, is a symptom of government policies.

There’s a depraved stereotype that Jews care only about their own oppression. The best resistance to any misconception is to visibly demonstrate its falsehood. Politicizing Passover is our chance to show our empathetic humanitarianism. 

During these eight days, empowered by our history of slavery, we should take tangible steps to fight bondage in this modern world, whether by rallying against mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex, advocating for survivors of sex trafficking, or simply spreading awareness. This means not just applauding our children for reciting the four questions, but asking ourselves even harder ones. 

How can we inform our little ones about the devastating realities of slavery in this century? How do we teach them to combat not just human trafficking, but also the blaming of its survivors? How can we persuade our lawmakers to institute alternatives to prison as the default penalty for low-level crimes? How can we causally tell the story of painting our doorways with blood and then discuss that blood and flesh is still being sold in Libya? 

Jewish children are outrageously strong. Despite knowing Santa Claus isn’t real, they resist the urge to tell their Christian classmates. They pretend that socks and underwear are substantial gifts. Before hitting puberty, Natalie Portman managed to star in blockbusters. At 11 years old, Naomi Wadler demanded more inclusivity in the national March for Our Lives movement. 

Jewish kids are not afraid of much, likely because once a year we tell them one of the most disturbing stories of all — our history. At each Passover table, as we break matzo and break down our history in Egypt, new children learn what a slave is. Although we might have cute finger puppets for each of the Ten Plagues, we’re still describing turning rivers into blood, boils, beasts and, of course, the murder of firstborn children. 

Judaism has so many practical and symbolic ways to discuss our history of enslavement. Whether munching on bitter herbs to remind us of the acrimonious life of a slave, or visualizing through Charoset the mortar our ancestors used to make bricks into pyramids, we’ve found a way to make bondage polite dinner conversation.

But there’s still more to discuss. 

Let’s start combating modern-day slavery — and start kids on the subject early. Jewish children are strong. We need them to help us free the 10 million other kids still in chains.

Ariel Sobel. is a nationally-recognized writer, filmmaker, and TEDx talker.

Politics Claims Another Friendship

A green two-way street sign pointing to Liberal and Conservative, representing the two dominant political parties and ideologies in national and global politics

My friendship with “Caroline” had been fading for years when, on a whim, I clicked on her Facebook page. When I landed there, I had a shock. She had replaced her previous personal photo — where she stands next to her husband, both of them smiling — with an illustration aiming daggers at political conservatives. It depicted a woman, seemingly Lady Justice, forcibly held down on a table. A man stands above her menacingly, his white hands projecting out of the sleeves of an expensive-looking suit. He gags the blindfolded woman with one hand as the other clamps down on her wrist, forcing her scales of justice to lay in disarray. 

The pièce de résistance? The bold red-white-and-blue Republican elephant logos burnishing the man’s shirt cuffs.

I gaped at the image, feeling a true sense of loss. Caroline and I had been close for more than 20 years, beginning in junior high school. In high school and college, we were both left of center. Wasn’t everybody? I loved and admired Caroline. She was delightful, adventurous, smart, warm and on a path to success despite a difficult family background. During college, I introduced her to a friend of mine, thinking they would make a great couple. I was honored to be a witness at their wedding more than 30 years ago.  

When I met my husband, I was introduced for the first time to conservative political and traditional Jewish teachings. I didn’t want them to make sense because, like so many Jews, I wore my liberal identity as a badge of honor. I resisted any paradigm shift in my self-perception or in how I perceived the world. But after long and careful consideration, I saw the value and wisdom in many conservative positions, both political and religious. My practices and beliefs drifted rightward, toward what I had previously considered “the dark side.” Caroline and I never talked politics after that shift but still found plenty of common ground in talking about our families, our jobs, books, music and more. 

Living on opposite sides of the country, we connected less and less often. In our politically polarized culture, I felt increasingly cut off from Caroline, and she stopped taking the initiative to call or email. This also was true of other old left-leaning friends. Several years ago, one of them unfriended me on Facebook after I posted a link to an article with evidence that tighter gun control laws do not necessarily correlate with lower rates of gun violence.

“The Judy I knew used to be more nuanced,” she typed, severing all ties. 

“It’s not healthy to live in a purist ideological bubble.”

Caroline’s choice to fuse her social media persona with her politics also felt like a final severing of our friendship. It demonized the left’s favorite target: white Republican men, and with its suggestion of sexual violence, it cheapened the experience of women who had endured such trauma. 

Ironies abounded: Haven’t the majority of men accused of such crimes in recent years been famous Democrats? And, far from conservatives stifling dissent or even the right to speak, aren’t conservatives the ones who are frequently banned from speaking at universities, and threatened with violence if they do? Don’t leftists dominate college campuses, the vast majority of news outlets and social media? Google and YouTube censor and restrict access to more than 80 videos produced by the conservative Prager University. Spotify and Twitter also refuse advertising from certain conservative organizations.  

Who exactly is gagging whom?

I have never regretted my decision to rethink my views, one that was scary at the time but one I know has provided a life of deeper meaning and joy. But I still miss the friendships with good, well-meaning people that had nourished me for so long, and which I knew would pay the price of my evolving viewpoints. I am blessed to have many longstanding, treasured friendships with like-minded individuals, but it’s not healthy to live in a purist ideological bubble. I would welcome respectful debate and discussion, but as many of my conservative friends have also found, liberal friends are usually unwilling to engage. 

 If meaningful engagement is too high a bar, maybe we can start by not demonizing those whose politics have strayed from our own.

Judy Gruen is the author of “The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith.”

An Illiberal Lament?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Owns the Truth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Phenomenon of Left and Right

I have said some things on podcasts and on Twitter that have raised questions. I am hoping to answer those questions so people will understand the framework I am working from and why I have arrived at the perspective I have. 

I hear many people talking as if the terms liberal, progressive and leftist refer to different factions, and that one might partner with one and reject another.

I have been on the left my entire adult life. I never have seen clean distinctions drawn between these things. There was a time when the term liberal had been so thoroughly demonized by those on the right that I remember consciously choosing to call myself a progressive in order to evade the stigma. But there was no change in my perspective that accompanied it.

There may be slight distinctions in how people use those terms, but in general, I think they are synonyms and should be treated as such.

I also have said I am a liberal who wishes to live in a world so good I could be a conservative. That may sound paradoxical at first, or strange. But I think it makes a great deal of sense because the core of liberalism is a desire for change. If one’s desire for change is an earnest desire to see things improve, then surely there is a state in which things have been improved to the point where you would hope to conserve a structure rather than alter it.

I also have said I am a liberal who wishes to live in a world so good I could be a conservative.

At that point, you become a conservative.

I don’t expect to reach that place in my lifetime, but if we did, the honest thing to do would be for me to shift positions and say, “This system is so functional that we would be foolish to change.”

The essence of liberalism is a desire for change. And change can be about a number of things. In general for those of us on the left, it comes from a recognition that the system, as we find it, is unfair to some people. To the extent it is unfair, and that the unfairness is distributed in some way that is predictable, that certain populations face obstacles that others don’t, we could correct that problem. And I believe we have a moral obligation to do so. 

I also believe that we are on a trajectory, technologically and in the ways that the population of the planet is growing, that puts us in grave danger in the near term. Both of those things suggest a need for a comparatively radical degree of change. 

Those on the right are correctly pointing out that there is other evidence that says our system as it exists is highly functional. Harvard psychology professor and author Steven Pinker famously points to a decrease in random violence and warfare. I believe he has a real point. But I don’t think it predicts where we will end up in the long term. 

What it is the result of, effectively, is the fact we have created a kind of artificial growth that goes on decade after decade and gives people a lot to lose for engaging in random violence. But because it is predicated on the fiction it can go on forever, ultimately it is going to leave us holding the bag.

So, yes, I am a progressive, I’m a liberal, and I would like to see those of us on the left who have a rational perspective that is grounded in science and logic retake the left, take control of it from people who are using it as a weapon, and restore a rational dialogue of progressivism to the landscape.

I also believe that those on the right who are interested in seeing the best possible system and believe we are closer to it than I do should be rooting for a vibrant left because it is only the tension between these two entities that leaves us with reasonable governance. 

In other words, liberals tend to be overly enthusiastic about the idea of change. They tend to not fully appreciate the unintended consequences of attempting to fix problems that are identified. 

Conservatives tend to be very skeptical of change. When something could be improved, they often get in the way of those improvements because they fear the unintended consequence perhaps more than they should. 

It is the tension between these two things, where liberals can fill in the blind spots of conservatives and conservatives can fill in the blind spots of liberals, that is the magic that makes our system function well. 

It leaves us with change — enough to make things better over time — but not such wild enthusiasm for change that we take a good system and destroy it in the pursuit of a perfect one.

Bret Weinstein is an evolutionary biologist who spent most of his career at Evergreen State College in Washington state before resigning last year after a political dispute.

I Am a Liberal. Are You?

Photo from The Blue Diamond Gallery.

I am a liberal

And I’m here to take back the word from those who have hijacked it for their illiberal agendas.

I am a liberal

Which means I believe unconditionally in the Enlightenment principles of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, democracy and civil rights.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that different policy stances can emanate from these principles, that an orthodoxy of opinion is the opposite of liberalism.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that unbiased reporting is part of the responsibility of a free press.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that unbiased teaching is a prerequisite for civil society.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that shutting down dissent, especially at universities, is an act of fascism.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that boycotting a group or country based on race or religion is also an act of fascism.

I am a liberal

Which means I understand that individuality — not group identity or conformity — is the foundation of liberal ideology.

I am a liberal

Which means I am obliged to speak out against injustice and tyranny wherever it arises.

You are not a liberal

If you attempt to shut down speech just because you disagree with it.

You are not a liberal — if you attempt to shut down speech just because you disagree with it.

You are not a liberal

If you engage in biased journalism.

You are not a liberal If you teach your students your opinions rather than the truth.

You are not a liberal

If you judge people by the color of their skin, rather than the content of their character.

You are not a liberal

If you engage in moral or cultural relativism; if you don’t apply the same standards to everyone.

You are not a liberal

If you call yourself a feminist but never call out the very real oppression of women in countries like Iran or Pakistan.

You are not a liberal

If you oppose Zionism, the self-determination of the Jewish people, the return to our ancestral homeland.

You are not a liberal

If you don’t understand that, as long as force is not involved, sexuality is private; my life doesn’t revolve around your sexuality.

You are not a liberal

If you think maintaining your status is more important than telling the truth.

I am a liberal.

Are you?

Dating 101: Fingers Crossed

I have been quietly dating a lovely man for a few months. He is a wonderful father, grandfather, and son. He is kind, smart, funny, generous, gentle, and respectful. He treats me with a tenderness I have never experienced in a relationship before. He extends the same respect to my son, which I appreciate and admire very much. We have a wonderful time together and I feel nervous, but content.

We don’t have a lot of things in common, and are politically on opposite sides of just about everything, but he allows me to have my opinion. He also allows me to spend a lot of time trying to change his opinion. He is open to change and growth and knowledge. I adore this man am quite certain that if I can get out of my own way, we will be important to each other in a lot of different ways.

I have had a series of complicated and difficult relationships, and while my relationship with George is complicated in some ways and difficult in others, it is also easy, calm, nurturing, and fun. We laugh at many things, including each other, and I feel blessed to have stumbled upon this man. He is unlike anyone I thought I would ever date, but has all the qualities I was looking for in a man.

It is new, exciting, comfortable, and connected. I don’t know where we will end up, but being on this road with him has brought me happiness. I have been writing about my dates and relationships for years, always being clear that I only date Jews and Democrats. I am now dating a man who is not a Democrat or a Jew, and I am counting my blessings.

Time will tell what we become to each other, but we are both happy and hopeful. It is strange to be dating a man who is not Jewish, but I am working through it. It is frustrating to date a man who is not a Democrat, but he is working through it. It is unusual to be dating a man who takes such good care of me, so I am crossing my fingers and keeping the faith.

Liberal groups condemn religion bill as ‘government-sanctioned discrimination’

Some 22 liberal groups, most of them Jewish, condemned a bill that would protect individuals and nonprofits that oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds from government sanction.

The First Amendment Defense Act would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license or certification to an individual, association or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For example, the bill would prohibit a federal contractor from losing its funding if it refused to serve same-sex couples.

The bill was introduced last month by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Ind.).


Hearings on the bill will take place Wednesday in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In a letter to the committee about what they call the “unjust legislation,” the groups said that: “Although our beliefs and faith traditions hold different views about the nature of human sexuality and marriage, we all share a common teaching that all human beings deserve to live in dignity and with respect, and that we must treat all people fairly and equally. The ‘First Amendment Defense Act’ directly contradicts these principles and reflects a profoundly misguided understanding of religious freedom.”

“This bill falsely suggests that the protections of the First Amendment are certainly inadequate to ensure robust religious freedom,” the letter continued, saying that it “authorizes government-sanctioned discrimination against married same sex couples and persons having sexual relations outside of marriage.”

The legislation “violates the core constitutional principle that the federal government will not prefer a faith tradition or religious tenet over another by endorsing and privileging certain religious perspectives on marriage and sexuality,”according to the letter.

Among the groups that signed on to the letter are the Anti-Defamation League, Bend the Arc, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hadassah, Jewish Women International, Keshet, National Council of Jewish Women, and Union for Reform Judaism.

The moral and intellectual state of the Jewish left

There is at least one thing about which my critics and I can agree: The very many responses — published in the Jewish Journal and elsewhere (The Forward, Huffington Post and various blogs) — to my Dec. 4 column titled “The Torah and the Transgendered” are an excellent measure of the moral and intellectual state of the American-Jewish left.

My critics and I recognize that all these rabbis, including the head of the Reform rabbinate, all these Jewish professors and all the Jewish laypeople who attacked me and my column represent the American-Jewish left, and are therefore a fine indicator of the moral and intellectual state of the American-Jewish left.

Let’s see what that state is.

Before doing so, however, one important caveat. Although many may call themselves liberals, I am discussing the left, not traditional liberals. It is vital to recall that there was a very long period when “liberal” and “left” were not only not synonymous, they were frequently at odds with each other. For example, liberals were fiercely anti-communist, and the left wasn’t (it was anti-anti-communist). Similarly, the left regarded America — as it does today — as essentially a racist, sexist, xenophobic and imperialistic country, while liberals thought America, though not perfect, was and is the greatest country ever created.

[RELATED: A response to Dennis Prager]

Here then are some of the characteristics of the American-Jewish left that stand out from the responses:

First, the low intellectual state.

Jews and the left generally pride themselves in valuing the life of the mind. But the left (with, of course, some individual exceptions) is actually anti-intellectual. The proof is the contemporary university where ideology has replaced intellectual inquiry. As Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens (a secular Jew with a graduate degree from the London School of Economics) succinctly put it recently in his Wall Street Journal column, “American academia is, by and large, idiotic.”

Why? Because leftists, not traditional liberals, have taken over the universities. 

There are few intellectual arguments in the scores of responses to my column. The vast majority of the rhetoric is about how bigoted a person I am.

In fact, nearly all the responses actually betrayed an unwillingness (or perhaps even an inability) to dialogue intellectually. When not condemning me as an individual, they discussed accepting transgender individuals in Jewish life — which I happen to support, believe it or not. But my column had nothing to do with accepting transgender individuals either as people or as Jews. It was about the blurring of male-female distinction in society, and how much the Torah (and later Judaism) values distinctions, including the male-female distinction.

This blurring of the male-female distinction has me very worried about the future because I do not believe that the abolition of “he” and “she,” as more and more universities now recommend, is a healthy thing. I do not believe that it is good that boys are elected high school homecoming queens — because queens are female and kings are male; or that anatomical males should be naked in high school girls’ locker rooms. I do not believe it is healthy for children when parents raise them with no gender, leaving it to the children to determine their gender as they grow up. And I do not believe that the widespread progressive dismissal of the need for both a father and a mother — given how little the sexes differ, who needs a parent of each sex? — is good for society.

This societal denial of the significance of male and female, this blurring of genders, and Judaism’s opposition to such blurring was the subject of my column. Yet that subject was either missed or ignored by virtually every responder, who wrote as if in preprogrammed mode, “bigot,” “non-inclusive,” “intolerant,” “transphobic,” “hateful” and, one after another, described the Torah as saying essentially anything a person (on the left) wants it to say.

Which brings us to characteristic No. 2:

Instead of intellectual discourse, what we have is the dismissal of the decency of the left’s opponents. If you oppose the left, you are rarely debated. Instead you are dismissed as sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, racist, bigoted and spewing hatred. And that’s only a partial list. Instead of debating us, the left morally dismisses us as unworthy of debate.

For example, Rabbi Sharon Brous wrote that “Prager is a self-appointed community provocateur — a role he seems to enjoy.” 

The idea that I deeply and sincerely care about people (including the transgendered), about Jews and Judaism, about children and about their future is one that Rabbi Brous cannot entertain. Because then my ideas would have to be responded to, whereas if I am just “a self-appointed community provocateur,” I don’t merit a reasoned response to a reasonable column.

FYI to Rabbi Brous: I was a leader in the fight to save Soviet Jewry, and I wrote, with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, one of the most widely read English-language introductions to Judaism ever published, before you were born. I have lectured to more Jews than almost any living Jew. I have brought innumerable Jews to Judaism, and innumerable non-Jews to an appreciation of Jews. And you demean these 40 years of service to Jews as those of “a self-appointed community provocateur.”

By dismissing opponents’ decency, those on the left feel no need to confront our arguments. At the end of my second column responding to my critics, I invited any or all of the responders to a public dialogue organized by the Jewish Journal with proceeds divided among the charities of our choice. No one thus far has accepted the invitation. The reason is that the left lives in an intellectual bubble, and therefore isn’t used to being intellectually challenged.

Third, and finally, there is a willingness to make up falsehoods in the service of progressive ideals. Thus, the head of the Reform rabbinate (the Central Conference of American Rabbis) wrote, “Sadly the Jewish Journal has a long history of publishing Prager’s vitriol and personal attacks on hard-working and devoted rabbis.” 

That is, as I wrote in my response column, a lie. There is no such history, let alone long history. My call for her to back up her charge or retract it has thus far been met with silence.

And yet another rabbi wrote:

“The first thing we learn about ourselves in Bereshit/Genesis is that we are created in the image of God and that zachar u’nikeva bara otam (male and female God created it (the human).”

To make her point, this rabbi simply decided to mistranslate one of the two words she cited from the Torah. Bara otam means “created them,” not “created it.” 

I have devoted all this time and effort to this subject for many reasons. One is, as I wrote above, my fears for the next generation. 

Another is that pre-adolescent children are now encouraged to adopt a transgender identity when in most cases, gender dysphoria is only a passing phase. 

As sex researcher Debra W. Soh wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal:

“Research has shown that most gender dysphoric children outgrow their dysphoria, and do so by adolescence: Most will grow up to be happy, gay adults, and some, like myself, to be happy, straight adults.

“Waiting until a child has reached cognitive maturity before making these sorts of decisions would make the most sense. But this is an unpopular stance, and scientists and clinicians who support it are vilified, not because science — which should be our guiding beacon — disproves it, but because it has been deemed insensitive and at odds with the current ideology.”

And my other reason for all this writing is to provide Jewish historians of the future a picture of the moral and intellectual state of progressive Judaism in the early 21st century — in the progressives’ own words.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (

At Politicon, diversity and polarity make for entertaining (and loud) political fare

Partisan, political theater was on full display mid-afternoon on Oct. 10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, as two of the panels at the inaugural Politicon conference overlapped.

In “Independence Hall,” a panel included Democratic strategists David Axelrod, James Carville and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, while next door in “Freedom Hall,” right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter debated Cenk Uyger, a left-wing activist and commentator.

Some of the louder Democrats in the crowd chortled as Gingrich talked economics, and whooped when Axelrod defended President Obama’s economic record. Meanwhile it seemed Uyger and the standing-room only crowd next door couldn’t quite tell whether Coulter was serious when she said it would have been better had the United States dropped a nuclear weapon on Iraq instead of toppling Saddam Hussein and then withdrawing.

“ISIS, when they put somebody in a cage and burned him alive, we thought they were the worst monsters on earth. You say you’d like to do that on a grand scale, because that’s what a nuclear weapon does,” Uyger said to Coulter, to large applause. 

“In response to 9/11, yes,” Colter responded, “we should not have sent ground troops. We should have dropped…in retrospect, now that we know we’re in a country that can elect Barack Obama, instead of bothering to create a democracy in Iraq, which we did, and which was working beautifully,” she said, to boos. “Are we getting back to immigration, the topic of my book, and technically the topic of this panel?”

The two-day conference, which ran Oct. 9-10, attracted about 9,000 attendees, according to event organizers, and brought together some of the nation’s most recognizable figures in politics, media and entertainment, including “The Daily Show” host, Trevor Noah, who performed a stand-up routine followed up by a conversation with Carville, the political commentator who helped Bill Clinton win the presidency, as well as Paul Begala, former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), John Avlon, editor in chief of the Daily Beast, with Edward Snowden, who became famous for leaking classified information from the NSA, appearing via live video from Russia.

Modeled after the wildly popular Comic-Con, Politicon’s first run was a sort of cholent for the political mind. There was the good – former Obama speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and Jay Leno-monologue writer and Democratic political consultant, Jon Macks on speechwriting; conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, broadcasting his show live and interviewing, via telephone, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. There was the bad – a woman who screamed out “bulls**t!” to one of Gingrich’s points and then bragged about it after the panel. And there was the weird – ranging from the “Beats, Rhymes and Justice” slam poetry session to the cleverly and thematically cosplay-dressed attendees who got in for free.

In “Democracy Village,” the physical proximity of booths from different organizations, despite their stark ideological contrasts, created a bit of a compromising, kumbaya feel. Local conservative radio station KRLA, for example, bumped shoulders with the LGBT Republican Log Cabin Republicans, while just a few feet away were a Teamsters Local Union booth, and one for the Los Angeles County Young Democrats.

“This is really the intersection of politics and entertainment,” said Macks, who, in addition to his comedy writing, has also done debate preparation sessions with Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and has done speechwriting for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others. “When politics is entertainment, when 24 million people are watching Donald Trump debate, this is a chance for everyone from your political junkies to political nerds to your issue-oriented people to everyday citizens who are just interested in finding out and having some fun.”

Did Politicon, with its variety and diversity, change minds or create some ground for compromise? Probably not, but that wasn’t really its purpose. Like any convention – whether for comic books, fashion, politics or entertainment – many, maybe even most of the attendees, were those already passionate about, and probably set in, their political and ideological beliefs. But with commentators on opposite sides of the spectrum sharing a stage, and with activists from the left and the right schmoozing and working only a few feet apart, Politicon did deliver on its slogan, “Entertain Democracy.”

Netanyahu facing challenges, criticism from Jewish liberals

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing escalating criticism and pressure from the White House, he could use some help from Israel’s erstwhile allies in the American Jewish community — especially those with sway in liberal and Democratic circles.

But several leading Jewish liberal critics of Netanyahu are working to rally American Jewish opinion against him by stepping up their condemnations of the prime minister and calling on the United States to ratchet up the pressure on Israel.

The epicenter of this liberal Jewish push is the annual J Street conference in Washington, where in a speech on Saturday night to 3,000 attendees, the group’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, accused Netanyahu of harming the U.S.-Israel relationship through “partisan gamesmanship” and called on the Obama administration to put forth the parameters for a resolution to the conflict at the U.N. Security Council.

Ben Ami’s remarks came days after another harsh Netanyahu critic, Peter Beinart, called for the Obama administration to “punish” Israel on several fronts — including by backing Palestinian “bids” at the United Nations and denying visas to and freezing the assets of Israeli settler leaders. Beinart also urged American Jews to ensure that Netanyahu and members of his Cabinet are met with protesters at Jewish events.

While more establishment liberal and centrist Jewish organizations show no signs of writing off the prime minister or endorsing such aggressive steps, some have expressed concerns about Netanyahu’s 11th-hour campaign tactics — specifically his vow that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch and his urging supporters to counter the “droves” of Arabs coming out to vote.

Leaders of the two largest religious streams in American Judaism, the Reform and Conservative movements, both issued statements last week condemning Netanyahu’s comments about Arab-Israeli voters.

“Because we proudly and unreservedly continue our unflagging support for the State of Israel, its citizens and its values, we must condemn the prime minister’s statement, singling out Arab citizens for exercising their legitimate right to vote,” the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement Thursday. “It is incumbent upon Jews around the world to denounce the prime minister’s divisive and undemocratic statement and we do so here.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, called the statement “disheartening” and a “naked appeal to his hard-right base’s fears rather than their hopes.”

For his part, Netanyahu moved quickly post-election to contain the damage from his pre-election remarks, holding interviews with several U.S. media outlets in which he insisted that he remains committed to a two-state solution but circumstances do not allow for one because of Palestinian intransigence and ongoing turmoil across the region.

Netanyahu said his Election Day appeal was meant not to suppress Arab voters, who he claimed were being mobilized by a “foreign funded” get-out-the-vote operation, but only to inspire his own supporters.

In a sign that Netanyahu was seeking to send the word out beyond his conservative base, the prime minister not only did an interview with Fox News, but talked with two leading liberal media outlets, MSNBC and NPR.

Several mainstream centrist organizations — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League — were quick to embrace Netanyahu’s post-election insistence. AIPAC criticized the Obama administration for having “rebuffed” the prime minister’s efforts to put relations with the United States back on track.

“Unfortunately, administration spokespersons rebuffed the prime minister’s efforts to improve the understandings between Israel and the U.S.,” AIPAC said. “In contrast to their comments, we urge the administration to further strengthen ties with America’s most reliable and only truly democratic ally in the Middle East.”

Such statements signaled strong support for the prime minister, but they also underscored the extent to which influential American Jewish groups see support for a two-state solution as a key strategy for calming U.S.-Israeli tensions. Israel’s support for two states has served as a central rhetorical point for mainstream pro-Israel groups that have long argued that Israel is more willing to sacrifice for peace than its Arab counterparts.

Yet even as Netanyahu sought to defuse the controversy over his remarks, reports suggested that the makeup of his emerging coalition could keep U.S.-Israeli tensions boiling on several fronts.

The first party he invited into the government was Jewish Home, which rejects a Palestinian state. Another likely coalition partner, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, who recently said that disloyal Arab-Israelis should be beheaded. The coalition government is also likely to include include haredi Orthodox parties, whose rejection of non-Orthodox streams has been a cause of tension with U.S. Jews for decades.

Netanyahu’s outgoing government, in place since January 2013, was the first in decades to keep haredi parties in the opposition. Tensions had been higher between Israel and the U.S. Jewish leadership during Netanyahu’s previous term, from 2009 to 2013, due to concerns over treatment of women by haredi government officials and the non-recognition of non-Orthodox movements.

Unless Netanyahu attempts to forge a national unity government — something both he and the opposition Zionist Union have already counted out — he will need the 14 seats of two haredi parties to secure a safe majority. If history is any indication, the haredi parties will vigorously oppose the introduction of civil marriage and increased recognition of and funding for the Reform and Conservative streams.

How liberal critics failed Israel

If you listen to some prominent liberal critics of Israel, you might think that liberalism in Israel is in a deep coma. For many years now, these critics have been single-mindedly obsessed with one liberal cause: Israel’s failure to make peace with the Palestinians.

It’s a great cause, of course. How can anyone argue with someone who wants to “secure the future of a Jewish democratic state” and who is doing it out of love and concern for Israel?

But in their obsession with the Palestinian conflict, these critics have sucked the soul out of Israel’s liberal image.

According to this distorted calculus, as long as peace with the Palestinians is failing, Israeli liberalism is failing.

Liberal critics like Peter Beinart see Israel’s failure to make peace as a “crisis” signifying a betrayal of Israel’s liberal character. As the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has become more intractable, these critics have doubled down and continued to focus on Israel’s inability to make peace.

As a result, unwittingly or not, they have contributed to the libelous view of Israel as an oppressive regime that shuns liberal values and is worthy of the worst global condemnations.

Why is that a tragedy? Because Israel is hardly a country that shuns liberal values.

It is astonishing to think that a tiny nation surrounded by 150,000 enemy rockets could harbor more than 36,000 nonprofit organizations working to make the country a better place.

These diverse groups are spread throughout the country and fight for the rights of Arabs, Bedouins, refugees, the poor, the handicapped, a cleaner environment, women, gays, terror victims, Ethiopians, animals and so on.  

What does it say about Israel that it would spawn, nurture and support such an immense network of social activists?

It says that Israel is an island of decency in a sea of horror.

But God forbid anyone should ever find that out. Liberal critics are constantly pointing out Israel’s dirty laundry, but they rarely talk about the thousands of Israelis actually doing the laundry — what my friend Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, calls “democracy in action.”

It is this work in progress that distinguishes Israel, not the fact that it often fails to please its critics. Yes, Israel’s full of problems and social ills, just like any Western country, including America. But here’s the point: Turn over any problem, any failure, any injustice, and you’ll find a long list of Israeli social activists fighting to make things better.

Why are there so many of these activists in Israel? Because Israel allows it. In that part of the world, that kind of liberal freedom is not something you take for granted.

Sometimes I wonder if the Palestinians have so opposed a Jewish state because they’re afraid that if peace ever happens, the world will see the liberal, multicultural face of Israel that has for so long been hidden by the conflict. And who’d want to boycott that?

With the medieval violence now sweeping the Middle East, it’s doubly tragic that Israel’s liberal critics have kept Israel trapped in its little box of “failure with the Palestinians.”

“The new Middle East is now raising penetrating questions that must generate an upheaval in liberal thought,” Ari Shavit wrote last week in Haaretz. “Liberals can no longer ignore the awful plague of Middle East brutality and the fact that millions of Arabs live with no rights and no future.” 

Instead of focusing on how the Middle East (not to mention a future Palestine) must emulate the democratic and multicultural ways of Israel in order to save itself, critics like Beinart continue to harp on the unraveling of Israel’s democracy.

Talk about tunnel vision.

None of this means that liberals should stop criticizing Israel or abandon their search for peace. But if they continue to define Israel’s liberalism solely through the prism of its failure to make peace, they will continue to contribute to the global lie that Israel is an oppressive regime devoid of liberal virtues.

That may be fine if you’re anti-Israel, but not if you’re pro-Israel.

It is outrageous that liberal critics who love Israel have failed to show the tikkun olam side of Israel to the millions of liberal Jews who have been poisoned by the vicious anti-Israel propaganda routinely seen on college campuses and elsewhere.

Instead of putting Israel’s flaws and failures in the proper context of a democratic work in progress, we have allowed Israel’s enemies to take those failures and turn Israel into an illiberal demon. How that is “good” for Israel mystifies me.

Here is the simple truth that many liberal critics of Israel, and all the Jew-haters of the world, seem to easily forget: The Middle East would be a lot better place today if it were more like Israel.

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

Leonard Fein, liberal activist and scholar, dies

Leonard Fein, a veteran Jewish activist and writer, has died at 80.

Fein died Thursday morning, announced the Forward newspaper, where he was a longtime columnist.

A prominent voice of Jewish liberalism and left-wing Zionism, Fein was the author of numerous books on Jewish issues and politics.

Fein was the founder of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and of the National Jewish Coalition for Literacy.

He also was a founder and board member of Americans for Peace Now, the American affiliate of Israel’s Peace Now movement.

In 1975, he co-founded Moment Magazine with Elie Wiesel. Fein was a former professor of political science and social policy and of Jewish studies at Brandeis University.

David Suissa: Why won’t liberals defend Israel?

As I was reading about “engagement” — the new buzzword regarding Israel that came out of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial this past weekend in San Diego — I wondered: Did anyone at the convention notice the other hot word circulating regarding the Jewish state?

This one would be the all-too familiar “B” word: Boycott.

While America’s largest Jewish denomination was discussing its engagement with Israel, the American Studies Association (ASA) became the country’s largest academic group to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleges and universities. This comes on the heels of a similar boycott last April, by the Association for Asian American Studies.

These nasty assaults on Israel don’t just violate the spirit of academia; more importantly, they discriminate against the Jewish state. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the ASA president himself, Curtis Marez, who admitted to The New York Times that there are plenty of nations in the world with a worse human rights record than Israel’s.

So, he was asked, why pick on Israel?

In a statement that might well enter the anti-Semitic Hall of Fame, Marez replied, “One has to start somewhere.”

Forget about starting with nations where women are stoned to death, gays are lynched and children are murdered. 

No, Marez has to start somewhere — so why not start with the Jews?

Activist lawyer Alan Dershowitz issued a clever challenge to Marez’s group while they were considering the boycott: “I asked them to name a single country in the history of the world faced with threats comparable to those Israel faces that has had a better record of human rights, a higher degree of compliance with the rule of law, a more demanding judiciary, more concern for the lives of enemy civilians, or more freedom to criticize the government than the State of Israel.”

As Dershowitz writes in Haaretz, “Not a single member of the association came up with a name of a single country. That is because there are none. Israel is not perfect, but neither is any other country, and Israel is far better than most.”

Here’s the point: You can be the biggest peacenik in the world and criticize Israeli settlements all day long and still be completely justified in expressing revulsion at the blatant discrimination routinely inflicted on Israel.

Which brings me to the new buzzword on Israel for the URJ — engagement — which Allison Kaplan Sommer describes in Haaretz as “the trendy umbrella term that both acknowledges the existence of disagreement in the relationship, and endorses using any avenue of interest to get Reform Jews more involved with Israel.”

These disagreements, which include the need for greater respect within Israel for non-Orthodox streams, are genuine and should not be downplayed.

But here’s my question for URJ head Rabbi Rick Jacobs: You spoke eloquently at the biennial about your deep love for Israel and the need to engage Israel, but why did you not speak about the need to defend Israel against unfair and discriminatory attacks?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the global lies that have soiled the name of Israel?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the hypocrisy of the United Nations, where Israel gets condemned more than the top 16 violators of human rights combined?

Why did you not call on your movement to fight and expose the anti-Zionist BDS movement that aims only to delegitimize the Jewish state you so love? 

I get that the focus of your movement’s relationship with Israel is based around a healthy and honest engagement of issues, with some “tough love” thrown in, just as one would do with family.

But there’s something else one does with family: One defends it when it is unfairly attacked.

One thing I admire about Rabbi Jacobs is how he jumps over the walls that often divide the Jewish family, as when he recently attended the annual gathering of the Chabad movement. I’ve heard him talk of how we can all learn from one another.

So, next time the rabbi is in Tel Aviv, I have an idea for another wall he can jump: Visit the offices of Shurat HaDin (the Israel Law Center), and hear from legal expert Nitsana Darshan-Leitner how the ASA boycott violates international, federal and state law in the United States, and how her group plans to defend Israel against this illegal and unconscionable assault.

Also, hear about the group’s track record of bringing lawyers from across the world to prosecute institutions, governments and private companies that discriminate against Israel. If you like what you hear, find out how your movement can help.

Fighting discrimination — whether against Israel or any other country — should be a proud liberal cause. One can engage and even criticize Israel and also fight to defend it against unfair attacks. Liberal icon Dershowitz, who criticizes Israeli settlements, is a rare case of a liberal lover of Israel who’s not afraid to take the gloves off to defend the Jewish state.

He should be the keynote speaker at the next Reform convention.

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

Pew finds Jews mostly liberal

One of the most interesting findings of the respected Pew Research Center’s poll of American Jews was the continuing theme of Jewish liberalism and approval of Barack Obama’s performance — a vote of confidence in the president exceeded only by that of African-American Protestants and Hispanic Catholics.

“Jews are among the most strongly liberal, Democratic groups in U.S. politics,” the Pew report said. “There are more than twice as many self-identified Jewish liberals as conservatives, while among the general public, this balance is nearly reversed. In addition, about seven-in-ten Jews identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party. Jews are more supportive of President Barack Obama than are most other religious groups. And about eight-in-ten Jews say homosexuality should be accepted by society.”

The survey is a landmark in research on the Jewish states of mind, the first such major survey since the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001. It digs deeply into religious practice, participation in community activities, educational and economic attainment, demographics, and social and political views. It will help shape writing, commentary and research on Jewish American life for years to come.

It was taken between Feb. 20 and June 13 of this year, including a diverse sampling of 3,475 Jews, who are representative of the 6 million-plus American Jews. 

The pollsters were aware of the difficulty of defining who is a Jew. “This is an ancient question with no single, timeless answer,” they said. They divided Jews in two ways. One was by religion — those who “say their religion is Jewish (and who do not profess any other religion).” The other was “Jews of no religion — people who describe themselves … as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, but who have a Jewish parent or were raised Jewish and who still consider themselves Jewish in some way.” Interestingly, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of Jews considered themselves Jewish by religion.

The findings on Jewish attitudes toward Obama come at a significant time. While the Pew pollsters were in the field, the president was under fire for his policies on Syria, Iran and Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly didn’t like the way he was going.

In addition, he was headed toward yet another brutal confrontation with Republicans, especially the GOP in the House of Representatives. His approval ratings in national polls had dropped sharply since his 2012 re-election.

That drop wasn’t the case among Jews. A total of 65 percent of those surveyed by Pew said they approved of the way Obama was doing his job. Both women and men felt the same way, by just about the same percentage — a contrast to surveys of the general population, which show Obama more popular among women. The same is also true among age groups — with 64 percent of Jews over 50 approving of him and 66 percent of those under 50 agreeing.

Only African-American Protestants, with 88 percent, and Hispanic Catholics, 76 percent, give the president higher approval ratings.

However, the same percentages of Orthodox Jews do not share these beliefs, particularly the ultra-Orthodox, the survey found. For example, 82 percent of Jews overall feel that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 58 percent of the Orthodox Jews felt it should be discouraged, with that sentiment reaching 70 percent among the ultra-Orthodox. And just 33 percent of Orthodox Jews gave Obama a favorable job-performance rating, with the number even lower among the ultra-Orthodox, 28 percent.

This minority is growing. The Orthodox Jewish community has double the birthrate of the rest of the Jews, and it is substantially younger. Those trends add up to increased Orthodox influence in the political world if they chose to use it. 

Jewish Republicans have tried to mobilize them in past presidential elections, but, so far, each time the Democratic candidate has received a solid majority, the numbers hardly wavering from one election to the next. 

But in recent weeks, their efforts have been damaged by the cadre of radical Republicans in the House, and by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who closed down the federal government in their effort to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

You might think the Republicans are on the right track after the Obamacare Web sites’ troubled introduction, and after months of conservative attacks on the ACA, with polls showing that, while negative sentiment is declining, the Affordable Care Act is still unpopular.

But that’s not the case with Jews. They back Obamacare. The American Jewish Committee’s Web site noted that most public opinion polls show a majority of Jews favor the ACA. The Pew survey explains why. 

The poll shows that even among the irreligious, Jewish identity is intertwined with feelings of obligation to society and remembrance of how Jews have been persecuted. Jews worry about the underdogs, who are on the difficult road that they, their parents or grandparents traveled.

The Holocaust is deep in Jewish consciousness. Pew reported that roughly seven in 10 U.S. Jews (73 percent) say remembering the Holocaust is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them. Nearly as many say leading an ethical and moral life is essential to what it means to be Jewish. And a majority of U.S. Jews say working for justice and equality in society is essential to being Jewish.

The hard-hearted Republican conduct of the past weeks, plus the House Republicans’ willingness to shut down badly needed government services run counter to those feelings. That will likely shape how a majority of Jews vote in the 2014 midterm election, as well as in 2016, when the country picks a successor to Barack Obama.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

California: the left’s laboratory

Our state of California has become a laboratory. The progressive party, the Democrats, holds every statewide office, from governor on down, and they hold super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. Even if every Republican legislator in Sacramento votes against a bill, the bill will pass. Therefore the left has a state in which it can do anything it wants. 

In light of that, here are three laws recently passed by progressives in California. 

The first law makes California, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, “the first state to require that school textbooks and history lessons include the contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

Throughout American and Western history, there has been one overriding purpose to history textbooks: to relate as truthfully as possible what has occurred in the past.

For progressives, however, that is not the overriding purpose of history textbooks. Rather, it is to enable students of various racial, national, ethnic, sexual and gender groups to feel good about themselves. California Democrats have therefore passed laws dictating that textbooks include the contributions of, among others, women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, European-Americans and American Indians. 

With regard to social policies, conservatives are more concerned with standards, liberals are more concerned with feelings. The standard here is historical truth. But historical truth matters less to those who are more concerned with feelings.

The historical truth, of course, is that white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) males were overwhelmingly the most active participants in founding America. Of course women, Catholics, Jews, Latinos, blacks, Asians, atheists and gays made contributions, and when they merited mention in history texts, they were mentioned. 

Imagine if we applied the California law to musical history. German/Austrian males — such as Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner — were disproportionately the greatest composers of classical music. What would progressives say about a law that demanded that histories of classical music must include composers of a dozen nationalities and not devote most of their discussions to those of German/Austrian lineage?

Actually, we have an answer. A few years ago the chief New York Times music critic, Anthony Tommasini, a progressive, published his list of the top 10 composers. He didn’t include Haydn, who, among other achievements, was the father of both the symphony and the string quartet. Why? Because, he wrote, he wanted a diverse list. Diversity, too, is a greater progressive value than historical truth. So Debussy (French), Bartok (Hungarian) and Stravinsky (Russian) made the list, but not Haydn or Handel. 

With this California law we have truly entered a Twilight Zone of the absurd. Have transgendered Americans who have made significant contributions to American history been heretofore left out of history textbooks? Have American Indians? Or bisexuals? Can you name one who has been deliberately omitted because of ethnicity or sexuality?

A second example took place this month when the California State Assembly passed a new bill. 

As described by the progressive Huffington Post: “A bill that would provide transgender students equal access to facilities and programs based on their gender identity cleared California’s state assembly. … The bill would explicitly allow students to use public restrooms and join sports teams that correspond with how they identify, regardless of their biological gender.”

In other words, if this bill passes the California State Senate — as it presumably will, given the progressive majority — students — even first-graders — will choose the restroom (or sports team) not according to their sex, but according to how they feel about their gender. No longer will a student’s biological sex determine whether he/she enters a men’s or women’s bathroom or joins a men’s or women’s team. 

And third, California has already passed laws prohibiting any business in the state from refusing to hire or firing an employee based on how one expresses his/her gender identity. That means that if one of your salesmen decides to wear a dress to work — as a man, not as a transsexual woman — no employer may demand that he show up at work in men’s clothing.

I have described only three of California’s progressive laws — those regarding sexuality. There are equally radical laws in all other realms of our lives. To cite but one, the California legislature is now considering passing what it calls the Homeless Bill of Rights. This bill, introduced by Tom Ammiano, the same San Francisco assemblyman who introduced the Transgender Bill of Rights, will allow anyone to sit, sleep, eat and otherwise live in any public place, including in front of stores and homes. It includes “the right to panhandle, the right to occupy public spaces, the right to fish through trash receptacles in search of recyclables … and the right to taxpayer-funded legal counsel if a municipality issues a citation to a homeless person for any of the protected activities.” 

This is what happens when the left does what it can. 

Welcome to California. Once the Golden State, now the Left’s Laboratory.

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

Everything is easier than doing good

Some thoughts for Rosh Hashanah:

If we took a vote on what trait we human beings most value, goodness would undoubtedly win. Certainly goodness is the trait that we most want everyone else to possess.

But if we say we value goodness above everything else — and surely Judaism does — why aren’t there more good people?

A big reason is that it is easier to value other things — including, and especially, positive things — more than goodness. So it’s much easier to be just about anything rather than good.

It’s easier to be religious than to be good.

The history of all religions is replete with examples of individuals who seem religious, yet who are not good and are sometimes downright evil. The most obvious examples today are found within Islam. But Judaism, Christianity and all other religions have provided examples. It was mean-spirited observant Jews (observant of laws between man and God) whom the Prophets most severely criticized. God doesn’t want your ritual observances, Isaiah said in God’s name, if you don’t treat people properly. And too much of European Christian history produced people who valued faith over goodness.

It’s easier to be progressive than to be good.

Just as it is easier to be religious than to be good, it is easier to hold progressive positions than to be good. Too many religious people have equated religious piety with goodness, and too many believers in today’s dominant religion, progressivism, equate left-wing positions with goodness. I saw this as a graduate student in the 1970s, when the most progressive students were so often personally mean and dishonest. They seemed to believe that protesting against war and racism defined the good human being — so how they treated actual people didn’t really matter. Defining goodness as having progressive social positions has helped produce a lot of mean-spirited and narcissistic individuals with the “right” social positions.

It’s easier to be brilliant (and successful) than to be good.

Ask your children — whether they are 5 or 45 — what they think you most want them to be: happy, good, successful or smart.

Parents have told me for decades how surprised they were that their children did not answer “good.” One reason is that so many parents have stressed brilliance (and the success that brilliance should lead to) over goodness. Thus, many parents brag about their child’s brilliance rather than about their goodness. How closely do parents monitor their children’s character as compared to how closely they monitor their children’s grades?

Brilliance is probably the most overrated human attribute. And there is absolutely no connection between it and goodness. 

It’s easier to care about the earth than to be good.

Everyone who cares about the next generation of human beings cares about the earth. But we live at a time when many care about the earth more than they care about human beings. That is why, for example, the environmentalist movement in the West persisted in banning DDT, despite the fact that not using DDT to destroy the Anopheles mosquito has resulted in millions of Africans dying of malaria.

Similarly, it is a lot easier to fight carbon emissions than to fight evil.

It’s easier to love animals than to love people.

The secular West has produced many people who love animals more than human beings. Ask people who love their pet if they would first try to save a beloved dog or cat that was drowning or a human being they did not know who was also drowning. If my asking this question for over 30 years is any indication, a significant percentage would answer that they would first try to save their dog or cat. Why? Because, they say, they love their pet and they don’t love the stranger.

Contrary to what is widely believed, love of animals does not translate into love of people. While those who are cruel to animals will likely be cruel to people, the converse is not true. Love of animals has little to do with, and can often substitute for, love of people. 

It’s easier to love humanity than to love your neighbor.

The greatest moral teaching of the Torah is, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” not “Love humanity [or “all people”] as yourself.” Why? Because it’s easy to love humanity; it’s much tougher to love our neighbor.

It’s easier to be intellectual and cultured than to be good.

The most cultured nation in the world created the Holocaust. The nation that produced Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Wagner also produced the Nazis and Auschwitz. For those of us whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by the art and culture produced by Germans, that is a sobering fact.

It’s easier to intend to do good than to do good.

It is a truism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Nearly all the evils of the 20th century, the bloodiest century in history, were committed not by sadists, but by people with good intentions.

That is why, when it comes to how we treat our fellow human beings, only our behavior — not our intention, and not how much we feel for others — matters. 

The primacy of behavior over feelings may well be Judaism’s greatest message. 

A happy and healthy new year to all my readers.

Dennis Prager will once again be conducting High Holy Day services in Los Angeles. For more information, visit

So, how many Jews will vote for Mitt Romney?

Here is a truism we all already know: Jews are news. The fact is, no matter how tiny the American Jewish community might be — between 1.5 and 2 percent of the population — the battle for Jewish votes will be extensively reported and analyzed.

Over the last several decades, Democratic identification overall has fluctuated both up and down, from 36 percent at the high points, in 1988 and 2008 (according to Gallup poll tracking), to lows of 31 percent in 2010. Among many traditionally Democratic groups, such as white Southerners, Catholics and others, the trend has been fairly consistently downward, even as other groups, mainly Hispanics,  became more reliable supporters of the party. However, while others were changing affiliations, Jews’ political leanings remained largely the same.

There are many explanations for the unique political behavior of the Jewish voter, most focusing on the relatively liberal views of Jews on almost all social issues, while others suggesting that the “rural, overwhelmingly Christian and Southern” nature of the GOP is a turn-off for Jewish voters. The Washington Post’s conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin framed it thus: “They don’t sound like us, they don’t talk like us, and they don’t understand us.”

Whatever the reason, in almost every election cycle of recent years, Republicans have attempted to make a new case for the “this time, it is really coming” argument — namely, that a new wave of Jewish Republican voters is about to appear. However, as I outlined in 2009 in a long piece in Commentary Magazine, “The story remained what it has been over the course of the past seven national elections, with Jews voting for Democratic candidates by colossal margins.”

Will 2012 prove any different? Last August, New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow made a case somewhat reminiscent of the Republican claims of 2004 and 2008: Relying on data from the Pew Research Center in 2010, Blow argued that “the number of Jews who identify as Republican or as independents who lean Republican has increased by more than half since the year [Barack Obama] was elected. At 33 percent, it now stands at the highest level since the data have been kept. In 2008, the ratio of Democratic Jews to Republican Jews was far more than three to one. Now it’s less than two to one.”

In response to criticism from some quarters, Blow nevertheless repeated his claim a few weeks later in another column, in which he argued that “Obama’s approval rating among Jews in 2010 averaged 58 percent. This percentage was the lowest of all those representing his enthusiastic supporter groups except one, the religious unaffiliated.” Blow’s claim that Obama’s loss of support among Jews should be attributed to the president’s positions on Israel was furiously debated (many of Blow’s critics were associated with the dovish J Street lobby, and relied on many polls in which Jews rank the topic of “Israel” as fairly low in their voting priorities). Nevertheless, the question remains: Do Jews — as one might conclude from the Pew numbers — now trend Republican more than they have in the past?

To help make all this a numbers-based type of discussion, we gathered data available from four sources: the American Jewish Committee (AJC) annual surveys of Jewish opinion, Gallup surveys, the study on Jewish Distinctiveness in America by Tom W. Smith (from 2005 — we needed those to get a glimpse of previous decades) and the Pew Research Center studies. The result was quite revealing: While Pew studies suggest that the GOP is gaining somewhat among Jewish voters (that’s the basis for the Blow post), the other data seem to suggest that Jews don’t really trend Republican, but rather independent — like the rest of the electorate. In other words, the Democratic Party is losing, while the Republican Party is not necessarily gaining.

Even if Jews aren’t yet moving in droves over to the GOP camp, the data might still be considered bad news for the Democratic Party. When a Republican candidate for the presidency is getting more votes from Jewish voters, it is not usually Jewish Republican voters. As one study showed, “The average non-Jewish Bush voter identifies as a weak Republican, while the mean Jewish Bush voter is an independent-leaning Republican.” Another study, this one of the 2008 election, found that “among Independents, we see even more of a pronounced split, with Obama garnering just over 36 percent, McCain close to 30 percent and undecided at 30 percent.” Clearly, the more independent the Jewish voter, the more likely he is to choose a Republican over a Democratic nominee.

To better understand this, one must consider a follow-up on the “leanings” of independent Jewish voters. Back in 2004, a study found that “after asking independents which party they ‘leaned’ toward, 64 percent of all Jewish voters identified as Democrats, 16 percent as Republicans and 20 percent as independents.” If that is still the case, then Democrats have less to worry about, as most “leaners” tend to behave in a way similar to that of party partisans. But Republicans can hope that the Pew 2010 study is a sign that Jewish independents now trend Republican.

This is exactly what the most recent AJC study also suggests. This survey posed two questions relevant to the question of Jewish party identification. The first question is the one the AJC people included in previous polls: “In politics TODAY, do you consider yourself a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent?” The second one is a new one for AJC polls: “[IF INDEPENDENT/OTHER] As of TODAY, do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican Party/Democratic Party?”

The second question is the one that’s making the difference. Of the 26 percent Independents responding to this poll, 15 percent, when pressured to “lean” toward one of the parties, chose to lean GOP. Taken together, GOP voters plus those leaning toward the GOP amount in this poll to 27 percent, not far from the 29 percent registered by Pew — and a reflection of a possible rightward trend. 

Having said that, not one serious pollster or political operative expects the Jewish vote to be divided in favor of the 2012 Republican candidate or to be equally distributed. The question is not about who will be winning the Jewish vote, but rather, whether the GOP can outperform its past performances with Jewish voters. Pollster Jim Gerstein answered this question last November by saying the following: “Our latest poll of American Jews simulated an election between Obama and Romney, and perhaps presents the clearest picture of where the Jewish vote may be headed. The initial vote shows Obama leading 63 to 24 [percent]. When we allocated the undecided voters by party identification — a common practice among political pollsters when trying to map out the outcome of a race — the vote was 70 to 27 [percent].”

So what does this mean for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney?

It is important to note at this point that in reality, for Jewish votes to be of any significance come Election Day, the margin between candidates has to be very small — very, very small — and in very specific areas.

Take Ohio. Jews in this state comprise 3 percent of the vote; in 2004 George W. Bush took the election by 2.1 percent of the entire Ohio electorate. This means that even in the closest of elections, you need every single Jew to vote as one bloc to make a difference. That is never going to happen, as even the most optimistic (among Republican operatives) and the most pessimistic (among Democratic operatives) put the percentage of Jewish voters in play no higher than 15 to 18 percent, which could potentially be added to the 22 to 26 percent who voted for John McCain in 2008.

In February 2012, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published a new analysis of party identification by religion. The bottom line, as far as Jewish voters go, was pretty clear: “Even Jewish voters, who have traditionally been and remain one of the strongest Democratic constituencies, have moved noticeably in the Republican direction; Jewish voters favored the Democrats by a 52-point margin in 2008 but now prefer the Democratic Party by a significantly smaller 36-point margin.”

Yet a May 2012 AJC survey of American Jewish opinion (which actually contained nothing Earth-shattering) found support for Obama among American Jews to be slightly higher than it had been half a year earlier, but still not very high. As Ron Kampeas of the JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) reported at the time: “The AJC’s new findings are similar to those of the Public Religion Research Institute in March. That poll showed Obama scoring 62 percent of the Jewish vote, as opposed to 30 percent for a GOP candidate.”

Romney, according to the AJC survey, could get as much as 33 percent of the Jewish vote. That’s nice compared to Republican performances in previous election cycles, but not the meltdown of Jewish support for Obama that some Republican operatives predicted about a year ago. Forty percent of Jewish Americans do not approve of Obama’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations. But this is a significant improvement compared to the September 2011 survey in which 53 percent registered in the “disapprove” column. 

A June 2012 Gallup poll on the current tendencies of Jewish voters (and accompanying analysis by Jeffrey Jones) makes clear that “Obama remains the favorite of Jewish voters but appears to be running a bit weaker among them than he did in 2008, given the 10-point drop in Jewish support for him compared with a five-point drop among all voters. Nonetheless, for those who have a short memory, maybe it is worth pointing out that 10 months ago, Gallup was saying the exact opposite — that Obama’s numbers are down among Jews proportionally to the president’s decline among other groups:

“There is little sign that President Obama is suffering disproportionately in support among Jews; 54 percent approved of his job performance from Aug. 1-Sept. 15, 13 percentage points higher than his overall 41 percent approval rating during that time, and similar to the average 14-point gap seen throughout Obama’s term.”

True, comparisons can be tricky. A year ago, the question was about presidential approval, and this time it is about voting preference. Even trickier is that Gallup compares Obama of June 2012 to Obama of October 2008. What happens if one compares June 2012 to June 2008? Suddenly, Obama doesn’t look like a loser: Back in 2008, Jewish voters hesitated during the summer, and it was only in the fall that they made up their minds to support Obama in far greater numbers than previously registered. This might — or might not — happen again this coming November. Time will tell.

Assuming that around 75 percent of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008 (very few knowledgeable observers still believe the 78 percent exit poll number of 2008), how high can Romney climb? If the Jewish swing votes in play are no more than 18 percent — the most ambitious estimate I’ve heard from American sources in the know — Romney’s ceiling is 43 percent. But for him to get to that number, one needs to give him the votes of every single undecided Jewish voter. Realistic? Not quite.

If Romney gets half the votes of undecided Jews, he’ll be at 34 percent. That is, if you agree with the estimated 25 percent Jewish Republican voters, and the estimated 18 percent of Jewish votes in play. If you go by the exit poll (22 percent of Jews voted McCain in 2008) and add to it the lowest estimate of votes in play (I heard 12 percent), the Romney ceiling is a much lower 34 percent, and the likely Romney achievement (if he gets half of the Jewish votes in play) will be at around 28 percent of the Jewish vote. When was the last time that any Republican nominee got 30 percent or more of the Jewish vote? Reagan in 1984. It would be no mean feat if Romney were able to get more votes than McCain, George W. Bush (twice), Dole, George H. W. Bush and repeat the 1984 Reagan vote.

Writer Sara Miller contributed to this report.

Jewish groups condemn effort to ban circumcision

San Francisco-area Jewish organizations condemned a proposed ballot measure to outlaw Jewish ritual circumcision in the city.

The Anti-Defamation League, the local Jewish Community Relations Council, the Board of Rabbis of Northern California and the American Jewish Committee together issued a statement expressing “great concern” about the proposed measure, which would make the practice of brit milah, or ritual circumcision, on anyone under age 18 a misdemeanor carrying a $1,000 fine.

“For thousands of years, Jews around the world have engaged in this important religious ritual, which is of fundamental importance in the Jewish tradition,” the statement said. “The organized Jewish community is deeply troubled by this initiative, which would interfere with the rights of parents to make religious decisions for their own families.”

San Francisco resident Lloyd Schofield is spearheading the effort to collect enough signatures to get the anti-bris measure on the ballot next year. At least 7,100 signatures are needed to qualify. Schofield wants to ban the practice of male circumcision, including for Jewish religious purposes; female circumcision is already illegal. Likewise, Schofield argues, male circumcision on boys under the age of consent should be illegal, too.

“People can practice whatever religion they want, but your religious practice ends with someone else’s body,” Schofield said in a recent interview with CBS. “His body doesn’t belong to his culture, his government, his religion or even his parents. It’s his decision.”

While the proposed measure has drawn international media attention, the Jewish agencies who condemned the effort said they believed any such measure would be defeated at the ballot box.

“San Francisco has a tradition of embracing the diversity and respecting the religious customs of its citizens,” the joint statement said. “We trust that the voters of San Francisco will see this proposed initiative as an affront to that tradition and to their freedom.”

Will Congress listen to liberal pro-Israel groups’ criticism of Gaza operation?

WASHINGTON (JTA)—In the first sign of a post-election struggle to set the American Jewish community’s Middle East agenda, a quartet of liberal pro-Israel groups is criticizing Jerusalem’s decision to launch retaliatory attacks against Gaza.

J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and the Israel Policy Forum all issued statements defending Israel’s right to strike Hamas installations in Gaza but saying, with varying degrees of forcefulness, that such actions will be counterproductive and damage Israel’s security in the long run. In their statements, they called for intervention by the United States and the international community to restore a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

In addition to issuing a statement, J Street organized a petition that calls for “immediate and strong U.S.-led diplomatic efforts to urgently reinstate a meaningful ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel and lifts the blockade of Gaza.” The organization’s online director, Isaac Luria, sent out a message Tuesday saying that J Street was already citing the 14,000 signatures collected as of Tuesday in conversations with President-elect Obama’s transition team and Congress.

Despite such efforts, representatives of J Street and the other three groups say it is difficult to gauge how much resonance their message is having in Washington circles, because Congress is in recess and the new administration is still three weeks away from taking office . But, according to J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, even if the groups fail to influence U.S. decision-making this time around, speaking out is a “really important first step” in sparking a discussion in the Jewish community and the wider political world.

“Part of our role in this is to create that space” and “say right up front this is an action we’re going to stand up and question,” Ben-Ami told JTA. “We’re going to question whether this is the right strategy.”

“This is a test to see whether there is a need and support” for that viewpoint, he added.

In his statement over the weekend, Ben-Ami said that ” real friends of Israel recognize that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability.”

Ben-Ami will have a chance to take his message directly to Jewish communal activists from across the country when they gather in Baltimore at the end of February for the annual policy plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. The JCPA, an umbrella organization that brings together national Jewish organizations, the synagogue movements and dozens of local Jewish communities to formulate policy positions, has invited Ben-Ami to participate in a panel discussion on Israel advocacy.

The JCPA and the community’s other main umbrella organization, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as well as several other groups, issued statements offering unabashed support for Israel’s Gaza operation.

Brit Tzedek’s executive director, Diane Balser, said that she saw the statements as a “step” in forging “greater momentum” for a stronger alternative Jewish voice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My hope would be to coordinate more and more,” she said, particularly with an Obama administration that is seen as more sympathetic to their viewpoint than the Bush administration was.

Ben-Ami, though, said he didn’t think J Street and other like-minded groups would have much impact on any kind of congressional reaction to the Hamas operation when the House and Senate return to work next week. “I would be shocked if what came out of Congress was anything but a ringing endorsement of Israel,” he said, noting that in the immediate early days of a military operation the typical and understandable reaction is strong backing of the Jewish state.

Indeed, one of the most prominent of the 41 candidates endorsed this fall by J Street’s political action committee, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), released a statement strongly backing Israel’s decision and making no mention of American intervention.

“It is unconscionable for anyone to expect that the Israeli government or any other government for that matter, to sit idly as thousands of deadly rockets rain down on their cities and threaten the well-being and security of their citizens,” Wexler said. “I urge the international community to join the United States in denouncing the daily terrorist acts carried out by Hamas and support Israel’s right to self-defense and security.”

Instead, Ben-Ami said, J Street hopes to have an impact on the Middle East debate six to 12 months down the road, via congressional and administration action that focuses on achieving a political settlement.

The director of the Israel Policy Forum’s Washington office, M.J. Rosenberg, said the emergence of J Street could add a new dynamic to the work of dovish pro-Israel groups.

“Because they raised money for people’s campaigns, they have a different position vis-a-vis members of Congress,” he said, compared to a organization like IPF, which focuses on providing information and lobbying.

But Rosenberg said that while seeing four groups issue somewhat similar statements draws additional attention to their viewpoint, he downplayed a suggestion that it represented the first salvo of a more forceful effort to spread that message. “What we’ve been doing is the same,” he said. “The difference is the situation is worse” and “efforts might intensify because this is so bad.”

Americans for Peace Now spokesman Ori Nir agreed with Rosenberg that the recent statements did not mark the launch of a formal campaign, adding that the Gaza operation was not a particularly good vehicle to start such an effort. “We don’t view the issue of the Israeli operation as a black-and-white, clear-cut issue,” Nir said. “It wouldn’t serve as a strong rallying cause because it is so nuanced.”

But Nir said that Americans for Peace Now was strategizing with like-minded organizations on possible joint congressional action; he added that the group sent out an action alert to more than 10,000 activists urging them to write to President Bush and President-elect Obama on the issue. “We’re reminding people that since the objective here is political, military force alone cannot achieve” the desired outcome, Nir said. “There needs to be a diplomatic component.”

A top communal Jewish leader questioned the dovish groups’ positions. The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, wondered why IPF’s statement first called for an end to hostilities before commenting on the situation and defending Israel’s right to strike. “I find that skewed,” he said, because Hamas didn’t listen to calls to halt its rocket fire in recent weeks.

Foxman rejected J Street’s statement that “there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict,” saying it “does a disservice” by lumping Hamas into the general Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“They’re not interested in negotiating,” Foxman said. “They’re a terrorist organization. Why should they be treated by our community as a legitimate partner to negotiations?”

Henry Waxman: In his own words

What makes Waxman run?  

Earlier today, Rep. Henry Waxman defeated Congressman John Dingell for Chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The Westside Democrat, who is 69, now assumes a key role in pushing for greater government action on environmental issues like global warming. 

Two years ago in The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Waxman reflected on the values and traditions that shaped his political career:

This piece is excerpted from remarks Rep. Henry Waxman gave at Carmen and Louis Warschaw Distinguished Lecture delivered at USC April 23.

What drew me to politics was the esteem I had always felt for public service and the commitment of our religious values to justice, human and civil rights, peace and the importance of helping all people be able to realize their full potential. And, of course, the essential task for our nation to be engaged in the world as a force for good.

As a Jewish congressman, I have been mindful that even in America, there have only been 157 Jews who have ever served in the House of Representatives; that I was the first Jew ever to have been elected from Southern California and the first in California in 40 years when I was elected in 1974. Today, we have 24 Jewish members, many from districts with very few Jewish constituents and seven from Southern California.

I am proud to have played a role as a congressman in events that impacted the Jewish people. My wife, Janet and I were in Egypt and Israel when, after meeting with both President [Anwar] Sadat and Prime Minister [Menachem] Begin, Sadat came to Jerusalem. We sat is amazement as we heard his speech in the Knesset. We fought for the freedom of Soviet Jews, visited Refuseniks, pressured Soviet leaders, and saw the doors open to allow them to leave. Janet was an instrumental player in the efforts to help Syrian Jews leave. We were in Israel as the airlift of Ethiopians arrived in Israel. I was able to attend the White House ceremonies for the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt, the signings of the ill-fated Oslo agreement between Arafat and Rabin; the dinner in honor of diplomatic relations between Israel and Jordan. Last August, we were in Israel as it undertook the difficult disengagement from the Gaza.

While I have always had a strong Jewish identity, only as an adult have I explored more deeply the Jewish religion. The Jewish way is to have us elevate ourselves and refine our character through the observance of mitzvot. Judaism is much more about acting and doing the right thing, rather than believing the right things. Ethics is at Judaism’s core. God’s primary concern is not that we mindlessly follow ritual, but act decently. Ritual is to help us do that.

Actions and how we live our lives and treat others is at the heart of the matter. To aid us along these lines, we have specific obligations. Tzedakah, which means righteousness, not charity, helps bring justice to others and sanctity to ourselves. The discipline of kashrut raises the most mundane of routine acts into a religious reminder that we are distinctive and the mere physical satisfaction of our appetite can be a spiritual act. Shabbat gives sanctity to time to refresh our body and our soul. It has great meaning for me primarily to remind me, no matter how important I may or am supposed to be, the world can get along without me quite well for one day. It puts a lot of things into perspective.

Jewish observance is a check on our arrogance, self-importance, rationalizations to do what we want. We are required to fulfill the ethical commands and to choose to overcome our natural inclinations that are not worthy.

I have looked at the issue of governmental power in a similar way. Our U.S. Constitution tries to put in place a mechanism for checks and balances because our founders did not trust the concentration of power and the arrogance and corruption that can come with it. By the way, Jewish sources also resist an absolute power structure. Rabbi Joseph Soleveitchik referred to a well-known axiom that power tends to corrupt the one who wields it. The noblest, best-intentioned ruler is affected by the glory, tribute, and power of his office. This may cause him to step over the boundary of legitimate authority. The human ego is likely to be distorted and intoxicated by a status, which has no external limits.

For the last six years, we’ve essentially had one-party rule in Washington. And for the last decade, the Republican congressional leadership has governed with the idea that the most important job for them was to keep the Republicans together instead of trying to seek bipartisanship.

Next week, the Republicans will put forth a bill in the House for lobbying reform, in response to the convictions of Duke Cunningham, and the indictments and convictions of a number of staff people around Tom Delay, who also has been indicted. The problem runs far deeper than can be cured by superficial reform. The problem starts not with lobbyists, but with Congress itself.

Look at the Medicare prescription drug bill. Negotiations were behind closed doors; Democrats excluded. Key estimates about the bill’s costs were withheld by a government official who was told he would be fired if he disclosed the information. Two key negotiators ended up working for the drug companies after the bill passed. And when the bill was short of votes on the House floor, the 15-minute roll call was extended to three hours. A Republican member was offered a bribe to vote for it. Now, seniors are trying to make sense of the law and how it affects them, while the drug and insurance companies are coming out the big winners, as the legislation is projected to cost billions more than originally thought.

What about our checks and balances? What about self restraint and ethical guidelines? It is as if recklessness is invited because some leaders do not think they will be held accountable.

Oversight is important, and if done right it can find the truth and bring real change.

At the same time the Congress is refusing to do oversight, the Bush administration acted, even before Sept. 11, 200l, with greater secrecy than any other in history, exceeding even Richard Nixon’s.

Last year, Congressional Quarterly, the nonpartisan magazine reported that:

“Administration secrecy has become the rule rather than the exception, a phenomenon that lawmakers, journalists, public interest groups and even ordinary Americans say has interfered with their ability to participate in government and to hold it accountable for its actions.”

Congressional Quarterly went on to note that some of the documents the administration has withheld seem to have little to do with the war on terrorism and a lot to do with keeping embarrassing information from the public.

There’s no doubt that some things must be kept secret. Our national security demands some information must be kept secret for the good of all. But what we have here is an obsession for secrecy.

Think about the secrets that we now know about: the wiretapping of Americans; a network of foreign prisons; information about detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Sept. 11 documents proving that the White House had been warned abut the use of hijacked airplanes as weapons

I do not intend to be partisan. But I do believe that the leadership of our government in both Congress and the Executive Branch has turned away from core values we have as Americans and as Jews.

The Journal’s Raphael J. Sonenshein profiled Waxman — ‘the Democrats’ Elliot Ness’ — last year:

The sweeping Democratic congressional victories in 2006 have not translated into the kind of oversight many voters had hoped for. In particular, the SenateJudiciary Committee has been notably unable to penetrate the Iron Curtain of Justice Department resistance.

The Bush administration has figured out it can derail the traditional hearing process by simply refusing to cooperate at all, by withholding all relevant documents or either not showing up at hearings, and if there, having nothing interesting to say. White-maned senators, who look like they were sent from Central Casting to play the part of “outraged representatives,” are reduced to rolling their eyes when witnesses “do not recall.”

Without the facts being handed to them on a silver platter, the senators seem inclined to weakly extend deadlines for cooperation or just give up. How can we do oversight, they ask, if the White House won’t help us?

There is another path to oversight, though, and its model has been developed by a 68-year-old Jewish congressman from the Westside of Los Angeles named Henry Waxman. But it takes a lot more work than the standard model.

With a hostile president, even a Democratic majority in Congress cannot legislate. But it can do oversight, and in the long run, oversight creates a constituency for legislation. Oversight is about information and public education.

In fact, Waxman already did more oversight while in the minority than many Democrats have been able to accomplish with the majority. Back in 2005, David Corn wrote in the Nation magazine that Democrats considered Waxman to be their “Eliot Ness,” and that many members wished the rest of the party would adopt his approach.

The standard oversight model is the congressional hearing. But hearings are not good vehicles to gather information, and they do not work as public education without some effort and creativity. Senators who think they are one great question away from breaking the case wide open and getting their names into the history books instead find themselves drawn into obscure debates with uncooperative witnesses, which leave the public baffled or indifferent. It’s doubtful that anyone will repeat Sen. Howard Baker’s memorable Watergate line: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” So why bother trying?

A hallmark of Waxman’s work as chairman of the incomparable House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (which, Waxman notes, allows him to poke into “everything”) is that his staff does the legwork before hearings are held. Before the 2006 elections brought him into the majority, Waxman used his minority position on the committee to establish an investigative staff. He has used his staff even more effectively in the majority.

Majority staff reports on a wide array of topics are made available to the media in an accessible format. There is usually a “hook” that fosters active media coverage. For instance, in 2004 he issued a staff report listing “237 misleading statements” by Bush administration officials about Iraq.

The groundwork for the issue is defined by Waxman, and the baseline information does not depend on cooperative witnesses. These reports, covering a vast array of urgent topics, make for good reading on his committee Website. The Web site also includes a “whistleblower hotline.” The hearings then add to the data and even add some drama.

Once the report is issued, hostile witnesses have an incentive to appear before the committee to do damage control. That is why Blackwater’s founder had to testify following a blistering and well-publicized staff report that investigated the company’s activities in Iraq. Waxman knows how to run a dramatic hearing, as shown by the famous day in 1994 when he got tobacco executives to raise their hands and commit perjury about the effects of smoking.

Waxman’s latest foray into Blackwater suggests that if he keeps pulling that thread, he may bring home to the public the scope and impact of the private war the taxpayers have been financing in Iraq. That’s what congressional investigations are supposed to do.

He is worrisome enough to Republicans that one California congressman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), issued a veiled threat: “If Henry Waxman today wants to go to Iraq and do an investigation, Blackwater will be his support team. His protection team. Do you think he really wants to investigate directly?”

Waxman is easy to underestimate. He is obviously not a member of the Washington society A list. He is known for never having attended the Academy Awards in his hometown. After the 2006 elections, he told Time magazine, “It’s such a long night. When I watch it on TV, I can get a snack.”

Those who know Waxman’s political history, however, are not surprised that he is tenacious and effective. While Waxman is very idealistic about how government should work and is not a Beltway shmoozer, he is a sophisticated political practitioner.

Before he won a seat in Congress in 1974, Waxman was a young Democratic activist during the heyday of Democrats in California politics. He upset an incumbent to win election to the state Assembly in 1968. He and his close ally (and, after 1982, fellow congressman) Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) pieced together one of the few successful political organizations in Los Angeles political history.

Labeled the Waxman-Berman “machine” (which was undoubtedly an overstatement encouraged by the lack of such organizations in California), their combine backed numerous candidates for the state Legislature and other offices. They nurtured the early career of Zev Yaroslavsky.

Waxman and Berman were effective campaign organizers and team builders. They were at the center of a loyal group of elected officials, many of whom were Jewish politicians on the Westside; others were African Americans and Latinos.

So as Democrats struggle to define their role of congressional majority facing a hostile White House, they would do well to consider that neither the White House nor the mass media will do their work for them. If they want to see how it is done, they would be well served to ask the West Los Angeles expert.

Can new pro-Israel group J Street generate political clout?

Can fundraising success translate into Capitol Hill clout?

That’s the question facing J Street, the new liberal pro-Israel political action committee, which raised nearly $570,000 for 41 U.S. House and Senate candidates — a total far surpassing most other pro-Israel political action committees.

Even some of the group’s critics called J Street’s fundraising prowess impressive for an organization that officially launched just last April. But with an election just completed in the United States and one on the horizon in Israel, many said it is still too early to judge exactly how and whether J Street can also make a mark in the halls of the U.S. Congress. For now, the organization is pointing to its fundraising success as progress.

“Our hope is what we did in this cycle will demonstrate there is political support for a broad range of views of what it means to be pro-Israel,” said J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami, whose organization calls itself “pro-Israel, pro-peace” and advocates for an increased U.S. role in finding diplomatic solutions to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its political action committee (PAC) operates independently from its advocacy and lobbying organization.

J Street has marketed itself as an alternative to the more hawkish views that it claims dominate many organizations. Ben-Ami said its success proved “there isn’t a stranglehold” or “monopoly” on “where political support” for Israel comes from.

Ben-Ami said he hoped to see less support for measures “critical” of the peace process, such as efforts to curb U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority, as well as less “hawkish language” in letters and resolutions that regularly circulate in the House and Senate dealing with Israel and the Palestinians.

Over the summer, J Street protested an appearance by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) at a pro-Israel gathering organized by the Rev. John Hagee and the decision, ultimately reversed, by Jewish organizations to invite Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to an anti-Iran rally.

More important than any of these efforts, or the candidates J Street helped elect to Congress, may be the new president at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, pro-Israel legislators and activists said.

With President-elect Barack Obama having pledged to step up U.S. involvement and the Bush administration already in the midst of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian talks, J Street’s desire for robust American engagement is likely to be a centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy in the coming months and years.

Many liberals have hailed J Street as a much-needed alternative and corrective to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), even though the influential pro-Israel lobby was advocating a two-state solution and U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority.

At the same time, some veteran voices have been quick to slam J Street.

“They’re willing to take a very dovish view,” and, “of course, there’s some support out there,” said Morris Amitay, founder and treasurer of the political action committee, Washington PAC, and a former AIPAC executive director. However, he said, “the proof will be in the pudding” — whether the pro-Israel resolutions dealing with the peace process, like the ones to which Ben-Ami referred, receive anything less than the 400 votes they customarily get in the House. Amitay said he was glad to be on the 400-vote side.

One concrete measure of J Street’s success, some observers said, was its ability to convince candidates, including incumbents, to accept its endorsement.

“Receiving J Street’s endorsement is akin to a declaration of independence on Mideast policy. It means foregoing the financial support of the big, right-leaning PACs, and that requires real courage,” a pro-Israel organization official said.

Amitay, a critic of J Street from its birth — he called the group part of the “blame Israel first” crowd — announced that his organization would not back any candidate that took J Street’s endorsement. Along those lines, he told J Street endorsee Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) that he would no longer benefit from Washington PAC donations.

Amitay said he was planning to speak with two other Washington PAC beneficiaries who also received the J Street hechsher. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) is one of them.

Thirty-two of the 41 candidates J Street backed won election, with 24 of the winners being incumbents. Two of those endorsed — Democrats Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio and Ethan Berkowitz of Alaska — are in races that had yet to be called as of press time.

J Street employed a less traditional fundraising approach in outraising dozens of other pro-Israel PACs that, in some cases, have been around for decades. At nearly all other pro-Israel PACs, money is donated to the PAC, whose leadership takes that pool and decides which candidates should receive funds. There is a limit of $5,000 per candidate per election — the primary and the general election — for a total of $10,000 per cycle.

J Street did raise a small amount using the conventional method, but most of its donations came with the organization acting as a “conduit,” Ben-Ami explained. For example, a donor would pledge to give J Street $1,000, and J Street would “recommend” certain candidates to support. The donor then would decide where to direct his or her dollars and write a check to J Street, which would subsequently cut a check to those candidates, accompanied by information outlining specifically who the money came from.

Utilizing this method allowed J Street to raise unlimited amounts for its endorsees, because contributions counted against the $4,600 limit on donations that an individual can give to a specific candidate during an election cycle, not the $10,000-per-candidate restriction on political action committees.

So, for example, J Street managed to send $91,000 to Democrat Jeff Merkley in his race against incumbent Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), while PACs using the more traditional method would only have been able to distribute $10,000 to a candidate in the race.

Jews looked past worries to embrace Obama

For some Jewish voters, the strangeness of Barack Obama was like a recurring dream: unsettling and then settling in, and then, suddenly, revelatory.

Ari Wallach described breaking through to elderly Jews in Florida who had resisted voting for the son of the man from Kenya, the tall black man with the middle name “Hussein.”

“It wasn’t only his policy on Israel and Iran, on health care,” said Wallach, whose ” target=”_blank”>Great Shlep,” an effort to prod young adults to get their Jewish grandparents in Florida to vote for Obama. “His biography feels so Jewish, it feels like an Ellis Island archetype. People felt more comfortable when I talked about where he came from, it resonated so deeply surprisingly among older Jews.”

For months, polls showed Obama languishing at about 60 percent of the Jewish vote, a critical chunk short of the 75 percent or so Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) garnered in 2004. But exit polls from the Tuesday election showed Obama matching those results, garnering about 78 percent of the Jewish vote against 22 percent for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his Republican rival.

Wallach credited the campaign’s late-campaign blitz of Jewish communities, joined by groups like his own, for converting the candidate from stranger to standard bearer for a Jewish ethos.

It was an uphill battle, starting with rumors that Obama was a hidden Muslim, that he wasn’t a genuine, born American. The subterranean campaign soon burst through semi-legitimate and then legitimate forums; Obama was not a Muslim, these conservatives and Republicans said, but he might have been raised a Muslim and later had radical associations.

The ” target=”_blank”>reject the RJC ads, said it was vindicated.

“Tonight, American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multimillion dollar campaign of baseless smears and fear waged against him by the right wing of our community,” J-Street’s director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said in a statement. “Surrogates and right-wing political operatives in our community stopped at nothing in their efforts to sway Jewish voters against Obama. With exit polls showing Barack Obama’s share of the Jewish vote equal to 2004 levels, it is absolutely clear that their efforts failed.”

Some Democrats said McCain, once popular among Jews because of his willingness to reach across the aisle, hurt himself in the community by choosing the deeply conservative and relatively inexperienced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

An American Jewish Committee poll commissioned in September found that 54 percent of American Jews disapproved of the Palin pick, compared to just 15 percent who disapproved of Obama’s decision to tap Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

But Obama’s appeal to Jews might have been most deeply rooted in shared values, said Mik Moore, Wallach’s partner in

“Folks just wanted to be with us, with the more progressive candidate; it’s where their heart is,” he said.

Jewish vote not a sure bet in swing state Nevada

Support for presidential candidate Barack Obama remains strong among Nevada’s Jewish population, but Jews can no longer be counted on as a bloc vote for the Democrats.

It is a startling revelation to many Jewish leaders in the state, including Rabbi Felipe Goodman of Conservative Temple Beth Shalom, one of the largest congregations in Las Vegas, whose members include Mayor Oscar Goodman and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley.

When it was announced that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) would speak at the temple in September, Goodman saw a divisive split among his members.

“Before we announced a Democrat was coming, people were up in arms,” Goodman said of a subsequent visit by former California Congressman Mel Levine. “And then, of course, there were those who were delighted” at Lieberman’s visit. “You could really see that the group was divided. The same amount of calls came in telling me it was wonderful as came in saying they were upset.

“People usually think the Jewish vote is a Democratic vote,” he said. “In this day and age, it’s very much split.”

“I see a divide, but I see it as a divide that’s been within them,” said Rabbi Hershel Brooks of Temple Bet Knesset Bamidbar, a Reform Las Vegas congregation. “There’s a divide about who will be a little more for the State of Israel. The divide isn’t like they’re all choking each other. It’s still respectful; they’re still friends. I don’t think there will be this divide after the election. Not at all.”

Goodman sees the change as longer term: “I think more and more Jews are shifting toward the right ideals, at least in Las Vegas,” he said.

There are two main causes for the shift, all agree: First, many Nevada Jews supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and have been hesitant to put their full backing behind Obama. But also, the support of Israel by the Bush administration — and by the McCain camp — has many questioning their allegiances.

“There’s no question that Hillary Clinton was more popular than Obama,” said Rabbi Kenneth Segel of Las Vegas’ Temple Sinai. “She had very strong standing here. She had the support of the muscled insiders. She would have been for many Democrats in this state a more logical choice than voting Republican.”

Added Goodman: “There are certain issues that affect people in Nevada, specifically. The taxation issue is near and dear to their hearts. People don’t accept it or admit it, but I think it’s there. Yes, the support of Israel is a big part of it. The same is true on the other side of the coin. I’ve seen a lot of people who have turned. It’s not only about Israel.”

Many view the state as still up for grabs, even now. And because of Nevada’s role as a swing state, many Jews on both sides of the ticket in surrounding states are flocking to Las Vegas to help stump for their cause, including Democrats from the blue state of California and Republicans from the red state of Arizona, McCain’s home state.

“We do have a tremendous number of volunteers from California,” said Paul Kincaid, spokesman for Nevada State Democratic Party. “They see that their state really isn’t going to be a swing state, but Nevada might be one. A lot of folks are coming from all around —California, Arizona, even Utah.”

Leo Bletnitsky, co-chair of the Southern Nevada chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), said California Republicans also are devoting their efforts to Nevada. “We’ve had a lot of people come here from California, because they know it’s a lost cause [at home]. They understand how important it is to knock on doors and do some phone-banking. And it’s been nice this year to make calls and not have people hang up the phone on me. People are at least listening now.”

All this attention puts Nevada in an unfamiliar place.

For the first time in recent memory, major candidates are treating the state as a battleground, despite the fact that it offers the winner just five electoral college votes.

“Nevada in the past has largely been neglected by the major candidates, simply because of the five electoral votes,” Segel said. “Nevada was sort of left behind. Because of the closeness and because of the division in the state — the competitive aspect of it — everyone is scrounging around.”

California Jewish Voters Guide: Views on state and local issues split on party lines

The presidential race is garnering most of the headlines, but there’s plenty of emotional energy — and money — left to lavish on the 12 statewide propositions on the California ballot, plus various city and county initiatives.

As in the top of the ballot contest between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain, the Jewish community is sharply split between the Democratic/liberal majority and the Republican/conservative minority.

For views on the left side, The Journal checked out the recommendations of the statewide Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), with comments by its president, Douglas Mirell.

On the right side, the Republican Jewish Coalition of California is not taking an official stand on the propositions, with a single, notable exception, but the organization’s founder, Bruce Bialosky, filled in the gap. Bialosky made clear that he was speaking for himself but indicated that most Jewish Republicans of his acquaintance share his preferences.

Five of the propositions would obligate the state to issue new bonds or borrow money, largely for health, transportation and environmental projects, and here the philosophical differences between the two sides emerge clearly. PJA supports three of the five measures, while Bialosky opposes them all.

“There may be many worthy projects, but I’m voting against every measure that requires new bonds or raises taxes,” Bialosky said. “Like any family, the state has to live within its means. If any problem is really so pressing, it should be funded through the regular budget.”

Six of the seven remaining propositions are linked to social attitudes toward family values, the environment and the criminal justice system, and again they show distinct ideological differences.

Even when both sides agree in their vote on the same measure, they come to their conclusions from different perspectives.

California Statewide

Proposition 1A — Authorizes $9.95 billion in state bonds to help fund a bullet train between Orange County and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Progressive Jewish Alliance: Yes.
The high-speed rail system will assure that our state can meet the challenges of future growth. Mirell expressed concern about increasing state indebtedness, but in this case, as for Propositions 3 and 12, the benefits trumped his reservations.
Bruce Bialosky: No.
California cannot afford any new bonds. Other opponents say that the money would be better spent upgrading existing rail and highway systems or to fund more urgent needs.

Proposition 2 — Bars tight confinement of egg-laying hens and other farm animals as of 2015.
PJA: Yes.
Healthier for human consumers and shows respect for all forms of life.
BB: No.
Generally opposes unnecessary state interference. Other critics say that passage would give out-of-state egg exporters an advantage over California farmers.

Proposition 3 — Authorizes $980 million in bonds to upgrade and expand 13 University of California and nonprofit children’s hospitals.
PJA: Yes.
Critical for ensuring adequate future care for children, regardless of family’s ability to pay.
BB: No.
State cannot afford new bonds and, in any case, should not finance large projects through the initiative process.

Proposition 4 — Requires waiting period and doctor’s notification to parents before terminating a minor’s pregnancy through abortion.
PJA: No.
Would endanger teenagers’ health by limiting access to safe, legal health care.
BB: Yes.
While many of us are pro-choice, we believe that parents have a right to know if their minor daughters are seeking abortions, Bialosky said.
(For a more extensive discussion, see “Abortion Notification Measure Draws Opposition” in The Journal’s Oct. 24 issue.)

Proposition 5 — Allocates $460 million a year in state funds for the treatment of those convicted of nonviolent, drug-related crimes as an alternative to incarceration.
PJA: Yes.
“We support policies that focus on treatment and education, rather than punishment, as part of our commitment to teshuvah (repentance).”
BB: No.
Critics argue that Proposition 5 would decriminalize drugs and cost taxpayers too much.

Proposition 6 — Increases state funding for criminal justice programs by $365 million to $965 million, boosts penalties for gang activities and extends satellite tracking of sex offenders.
PJA: No.
Money would go mainly to law enforcement agencies and too little for treatment, education and rehabilitation programs.
BB: No.
Requires more state spending with little accountability.

Proposition 7 — Requires public and private utilities to increase the proportion of their electricity derived from renewable sources by certain dates.
PJA: No.
Sounds good but would actually retard the growth of solar and other forms of renewable energies.
BB: No.
Would be unworkable.

Proposition 8 — Amends the state Constitution to define marriage as only between a man and a woman and thus bar same-sex marriages.
This hot-button issue has drawn national attention and donations, with the two sides raising a total of more than $60 million, a record for any ballot measure in the United States this year.
PJA: No.
Defeat of this initiative is PJA’s top priority, because “it would further institutionalize discrimination…. As a people of faith, we are obligated to oppose bigotry and hatred.”
BB: Yes.
This is a particularly hard call, with Jewish Republicans lining up on both sides of the issue, Bialosky said. “It’s horribly unfair to label supporters as bigoted and anti-gay.”

Proposition 9 — Enhances the rights of crime victims and restricts early release of prison inmates.
PJA: No.
Violates the rights of criminal defendants, “including the centrality of the assumption of innocence. Victims’ rights are already protected by California law.”
BB: Yes.

Proposition 10 — Borrows $5 billion, mainly to give rebates to buyers of vehicles fueled by natural gas, hydrogen and other alternative fuels.
PJA: No.
Unnecessary expenditure, which would duplicate government and private efforts already underway.
BB: No.
Digs an even deeper deficit hole.

Proposition 11 — Strips Legislature of decennial task of redrawing districts for elective state offices and gives the job to a bipartisan 14-member commission. Most analysts believe that passage of Proposition 11 would raise the number of Republicans elected to the state Senate and Assembly and lower the number of Democrats.
PJA: Neutral.
Committee members split on this issue and made no official recommendation. However, Mirell, speaking for himself, urged a no vote. He argued that the measure would not prevent the regular legislative gridlock in Sacramento. “The root of the problem lies in term limits for legislators and the requirement for a two-thirds majority to pass the budget,” he said.
Republican Jewish Coalition: Yes.
In a rare exception to its policy of no endorsement, the coalition is backing Proposition 11.
For Bialosky, this measure is the most important one on the ballot and would unclog the logjam in Sacramento. “I’m not saying this for partisan advantage,” he declared. “I believe every state in the union should adopt the same system, regardless of which party is in power.”

Proposition 12 — Issue $900 million in bonds for low-cost loans to California veterans to buy homes or farms.
PJA: Yes.
Veterans would benefit and mortgage payments would cover bond costs.
BB: No.
Reaffirms his opposition to all bond measures or tax increases.
In addition to the statewide propositions, what follows are positions on selected county, municipal and school issues.
PJA did not take a stand on these local measures, but Mirell said he supports all — with two exceptions — on the grounds that they are needed to upgrade our quality of life, education and transportation.
Without exception, Bialosky opposes all but one, reasoning that they cost too much money, are not needed or represent unwarranted government intrusion.

No on Prop. 8 Video: Following the landmark California Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex couples to legally marry, members of Beth Chayim Chadashim, the world’s original lesbian & gay synagogue, took them up on it… in droves. Rabbi Lisa Edwards of BCC officiated at most of these ceremonies, an approximate total of 42 couples between June 17 and Election Day. The song is Since Youve Asked, written by Judy Collins, sung by Dan Fogelberg.

City of Los Angeles

Proposition A — Adds $36 in taxes annually for each property for after-school and anti-gang programs.

Proposition B — Permits city to use money from previously passed propositions to authorize the construction of 52,500 new affordable housing units, many of them for the elderly.

Los Angeles County

Measure R — Increases the sales tax by 0.5 percent to 8.75 percent to raise $30 billion to $40 billion for road improvements and mass transit.

Los Angeles Community College District

J — Authorizes $35 billion in bonds to upgrade facilities and expand educational programs.

Los Angeles Unified School District

Q — Authorizes $7 billion in bonds to upgrade facilities, including earthquake safety, and improve job and college preparation.
PJA’s Mirell, who endorses all the preceding measures, said he was undecided on Q because the school district had not made a complete case on how the money would be used.

Beverly Hills

Measure H — Allows the Beverly Hilton Hotel and its owner, Beny Alagem, to build a 12-story Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and two luxury condo towers at its Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards site.
The measure has agitated residents for months, with Alagem wining and dining the citizenry amid charges of voter-buying.
Proponents say the ambitious construction projects would revitalize Beverly Hills and bring more money into the city’s coffers. Opponents, among them bona fide celebrities, foresee traffic jams on an apocalyptic scale.
Although neither are Beverly Hills residents, Bialosky and Mirell have followed the struggle with some interest.
Bialosky supports H on the grounds that a man has a right to build what he wants on his own property.
Mirell said he doesn’t have enough facts for a fair call, but he sees some virtue in high-density development along the city’s main travel routes to encourage construction of a rational transportation system.

Santa Monica
Measure T — Would cap commercial development in the city at about half the current level. Mirell is for the measure and Bialosky against it.

Fiscal conservative ISO tax and spend liberal