June 26, 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.

Why I Didn’t March

On the morning of Jan. 20, some guy friends at my gym in New York City ask me why I’m not at the Women’s March.

“Well… the march doesn’t speak for me,” I begin.

“What do you mean — aren’t you for women’s rights?”

“Yes, of course, but it depends what you mean by rights.”

Blank stares. This is clearly not a gym conversation.

“I am a woman, yes,” I continue. “But I don’t agree with the leaders of the march on many issues.”

More blank stares.

“Let’s just say, before I’m a woman, I’m an individual. I don’t need to be told what to think or who to vote for. The leaders of this march believe they have the right to tell me what to think. That is the opposite of feminism.”

Oh, cool, they nod. In their heads, I have moved into the category of “interesting woman at the gym who says things we don’t understand.”

Sadly, so many women who marched last weekend don’t understand this critical point, either. They don’t understand that you can’t call something a Women’s March and then attach to it a particular set of politics. Would men attending a Men’s March be expected to think exactly the same thoughts on every issue?

This was a Progressive Women’s March, as was last year’s. So why don’t they call it that? Because, like it or not, the leaders of these marches don’t think women are very smart. Maybe “smart” isn’t the right word. Obedient — the leaders of these marches believe women should be obedient. You just tell women what to do and think, and they will follow suit. Just as Michelle Obama thought she could tell women that they had to vote for Hillary, these leaders believe they just need to tell women what to chant, who to hate, etc., and they will willingly fall in line.

And for Progressive women, they are quite right. In fact, a defining feature of today’s Progressivism/leftism is its fundamentalist approach to life. In diametric opposition to true liberalism, Progressives question nothing. They follow orders, and they’re very good at it.

But even if I were a woman who shared a Progressive view of life, I wouldn’t march. Why? Well, why would I want to be even remotely involved with something led by Linda Sarsour? Leaving aside everything else, Sarsour has never denied her desire to see Israel disappear. In fact, it is a core tenet of her belief system. And she is brilliant at convincing Progressives that they should hate Israel too.

I understand the goal of the Zioness Movement, for instance, is to force Progressives to give Zionist women a seat at their table. But I think there’s a flaw in this: Progressivism is now, by definition, proudly anti-Zionist. It’s part of the “intersectionality” they toss around. Why would you want to be part of a group of people whose core belief is hatred of you?

Wouldn’t a better tactic be to strengthen real liberalism? Zionism is by definition a subset of liberalism — you literally cannot be liberal and anti-Zionist.

During last year’s march, I had to shield my son’s eyes from the signs and attire of many participants. I remember trying to explain to him one particular sign held by a male: “Kill the patriarchy.”

This year, now 8 years old, he was conveniently in synagogue all morning. Later in the day, we were on a crowded train, going to a tennis tournament. Two white women with pink knit hats were occupying a third seat with a sign that said: “Trust Women.” Meanwhile, a bunch of minority women were standing with me, rolling their eyes. Not once did the pink hats even notice us standing there, let alone remove the sign.

My son was looking at them as well. What message is his generation learning from all of this? Progressive men want to kill themselves because they are so riddled with patriarchic guilt? Progressive women are so self-involved they can’t be bothered to give up their sign’s seat for another human?

The next day, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we watched men and women in wheelchairs play tennis. My son was mesmerized. “One day, I’d like to help them,” said the boy whose empathy comes in fits and starts.

“You will,” I said, knowing that this moment was more important for humanity than hundreds of women around the country wearing pussy hats. That’s why I didn’t march.

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

Are Jewish College Students Privileged?

Photo from Flickr/Tony Webster.

I sometimes joke that if there’s anything I’ve learned in three years at UCLA, it’s how to spell “privilege” without spell-check.

In the age of identity politics, the concept of group-based privilege frames nearly every political discussion on college campuses, from debates on immigration to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The idea is that nearly all of us benefit from some combination of unearned, identity-based advantages embedded in American socio-historical structures. People must “check their privilege,” or adjust their everyday behavior accordingly, by trying to dismantle the structures that give their identity groups a leg up.

This shift in political language poses crucial questions for Jewish students: Do Jews have privilege in America, despite persistent anti-Semitism? If so, what are we doing with that privilege?

Our answers could determine whether we are included within progressive campus circles, which generally regard checking one’s privilege as a signal of solidarity with other marginalized students.

The question of whether Jews have white privilege surfaced in June, when light-skinned Israeli actress Gal Gadot starred in the film “Wonder Woman,” and again in early August when white supremacists chanted anti-Semitic slurs at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

In his Jewish Journal column about Gadot’s casting, Shmuel Rosner asked, in perhaps one of the most pronounced examples of the generational gap in Jewish priorities, “Who cares if Gadot is white?”

The answer to that question is, of course, college students — including the Jewish ones who reject the very pretense of the progressive expectation that we recognize our privilege. These students claim it’s an insult to say Jews benefit from white privilege in this country when anti-Semitism has often relegated us to otherness.

In 2014, Tal Fortgang, a Jewish freshman at Princeton, appeared on Fox News regarding an article he wrote, “Checking My Privilege,” in his campus conservative magazine. Fortgang argued that accusations of white privilege erased the reality of anti-Semitic oppression his Jewish ancestors faced in Nazi Germany.

“Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown,” Fortgang wrote. “Maybe that’s my privilege.”

Other Jewish students feel the burden of Jewish privilege on their shoulders — even more so when it goes unrecognized by the larger community. Prior to this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, UCLA student leader Rafael Sands penned an op-ed to the Jewish Journal called, “Why I’m Skipping AIPAC This Year.”

Sands explained the moral conflict he felt as an American Jew: Yes, Jews face anti-Semitism, sometimes subtly and other times hideously,  but Jews also have come a long way — succeeding at getting our foot in the door of American politics (AIPAC’s magnitude a case in point) and, by extension, American privilege.

We must consider the need to reckon with the Jewish place in the narrative of American white privilege.

Inviting Donald Trump and Mike Pence to speak at AIPAC represented American Jewish complicity in the administration’s ban on Muslim immigration, animosity toward undocumented people and hostility to reproductive choice, Sands wrote.

I hope my non-Jewish peers agree that it was refreshing to hear such remarks from a Jewish UCLA leader. The work of justice requires, before anything else, that we address our flaws.

This is not to say there isn’t a serious need for progressives to grant more legitimacy to claims of anti-Semitism, which sometimes seem to get thrust outside the circle of real oppressions. We should never have to choose between condemning anti-Semitism and supporting social justice movements.

In our own community, though, we must consider the need to reckon with the Jewish place in the narrative of American white privilege, the reality that some Jewish people and institutions have been reluctant to do so, and a progressive alliance that’s not going to wait for us while we figure all of this out.

If Jewish students want to be true partners to our progressive peers, it is our responsibility to check our privilege — even if, at times, we’re unsure what we will find.

Gabriella Kamran is a third-year communications and gender studies student at UCLA.

Letters to the Editor: Gun rights debate, keeping politics out of temple, Radical Middle and David Suissa

Gun Rights Debate Continues

First of all, congratulations to the Journal for debating an issue that the Supreme court handed down a decision on almost 10 years ago (“Does the Second Amendment Guarantee the Right to Bear Arms?” Oct. 13).

Second, my admiration to Karen Kaskey for her very well-done arguments. In contrast: The best part of Ben Shapiro’s arguments is the headline: “Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality.” His analysis of the facts, though, is superficial and he fails to see the reality that modern society is not the same as it was 200 years ago. Everything in the universe, including American society, is subject to change. He doesn’t understand that the purpose of the constitution of any country is to serve its people and should be subject to change, as well.

As far as the Supreme Court decision on the issue: Yes, the court has the legal authority to clarify the meaning of any part of the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean justices can read the minds of those who wrote it. Nobody can.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles

Regarding Ben Shapiro’s column on the Las Vegas shooting (“Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality,” Oct. 13):

• Congress and the states have the legal authority to ban assault weapons.

• Polls show a majority of Americans want assault weapons to be illegal.

• Shapiro doesn’t even deal with the issue of assault weapons in his column. Instead, he changes the subject to a supposed effort to take away all guns from all citizens, which is untrue and irrelevant to the massacre in Las Vegas.

• Shapiro makes the lame conservative argument that because it’s impossible to stop all shootings, there’s no point in even trying. That makes as much sense as saying that I won’t lock the doors, windows and gates of my house because I can’t stop all burglaries.

• Conservatives love to say that the left can’t see evil when it’s staring them in the face and won’t act against it when they can. The real evil here is that conservatives are just fine with mass shootings, won’t do anything about them because they’re on the payroll of the gun industry, and callously thwart the desire of all Americans to feel safe from the threat of assault weapons.

Michael Asher via email

Leave Politics Out of the Temple

I was in shock when I read “Political Pundits Discuss ‘Trump’s America’ in Debate at Valley Beth Shalom,” (Oct. 13). First, this should never have been organized at this temple. I believe that there are tax consequences, aside from being very distasteful. Peter Beinart and David Frum are looney Jews talking trash about Trump.

Any normal person would be absolutely fed up with this constant line of crap! Trump is a racist, Trump is anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and on and on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valley Beth Shalom is losing membership. I know that other “liberal” temples are. Keep houses of worship just for spiritual purposes and leave politics at home!

Alexandra Joans, Los Angeles

Please add my name to those who feel the same as the “heckler” at Temple Israel of Hollywood (“Heckler Interrupts Kol Nidre Sermon,” Oct. 6).

Your “senior writer” seems to have given a new definition to the term heckler. Not long ago, “heckler” would conjure up a picture of someone sitting at length in an audience, making it rough on some budding entertainer.

Your reporter indicated none of that. The man got fed up with the narrishkayt and stated, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer.”

According to your reporter, he was not the only one disturbed by Rabbi John Rosove’s flights into “liberal political rhetoric.” Others voiced their displeasure that our synagogues were being turned into houses of rebellion against the government. He stated his protest — and left. “Stormed”? Tsk, tsk.

My wife and I “stormed” out of Temple Beth Hillel this past High Holy Days, demanding (and receiving) our money back, after the rabbi made sure that the congregation was apprised that Israel is an occupier, that it is non-egalitarian toward women who just want to pray at the Western Wall, that we should be magnanimous enough to welcome all in need to share our boundless country and, oh, yes, that the Reform movement has asked all Reform synagogues to “rise up against this [illegitimate] government.”

As your reporter quoted another irate citizen not afraid to buck the rising liberal nonsense, “We don’t need to listen to this bull—-!”

P.S. Apparently, neither do the fine people of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who pulled out of the movement for the same reason.

Steve Klein via email

Obviously, there were people attending the Kol Nidre service at Temple Israel of Hollywood who strongly felt that denouncing our president during the rabbi’s sermon was not appropriate — so much so that they walked out; and one man even spoke out in opposition as he stormed out of the sanctuary.

I agree with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple about keeping politics out of the synagogue. It is not intended to be a place for expressing political differences.

According to Wikipedia, “politics is the process and method of gaining or maintaining support for public or common action, the conduct of decision-making for groups.” It serves to sway people’s allegiance.

On the other hand, a temple is “an edifice or place dedicated to the service or worship of a deity.”

Whether or not you like our president (I voted against him), the temple is a place for religious worship — certainly not intended for political denunciation of our president.

George Epstein, Los Angeles

Both Parties Leave  the ‘Middle’ Behind

Karen Lehrman Block is completely right, but rather late (“Toward a Radical Middle,” Oct. 6). The “middle” (to which I belong, as well) was written out of the Democratic and Republican parties years ago, and I see no sign of it being able to return because its politicians have morphed into the “establishment” and are functioning only to their own benefit. That’s what Donald Trump ran against and that’s why he was elected.

Your first redesigned issue was excellent.

Stephen J. Meyers via email

Progressives Should  Reconsider Their Ethics

In “Dancing With Darkness” (Oct. 13), David Suissa extols the personal freedom we enjoy in the United States, although it tragically enabled the Las Vegas massacre. American freedom has a particular resonance with Jews because it’s inspired by the Ten Commandments, which assert that true freedom requires moral behavior. The Founding Fathers were so profoundly aware of their Hebrew roots that the Liberty Bell’s sole inscription is from Leviticus; Ben Franklin’s original idea for the Great Seal of the United States was a depiction of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea; and George Washington personally assured the fledgling Jewish community that its members were free and equal citizens.

Despite this history, progressives have for years condemned Christianity and Judaism, the latter by demonizing Zionism. Since turning their backs on Judeo-Christian ethics, progressives have become meaner and less tolerant, like the crowds who cheered Madonna when she mused about “blowing up the White House,” and Linda Sarsour when she praised a convicted terrorist murderer.

After the Las Vegas massacre, a young, Jewish CBS vice president declared she was unsympathetic to the victims because “country music fans often are Republican.” Progressive indoctrination, such as Hillary Clinton calling candidate Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables,” robbed this woman of her conscience and empathy.

Hopefully, the Harvey Weinstein scandal will lead progressives to reconsider their values, or we may well forfeit the freedom our ancestors died for.

Rueben Gordon, Calabasas

Good Luck, David Suissa

Congratulations to David Suissa on his new role as editor-in-chief of the Journal. The most recent Journal already shows that there is a changing of the guard and a new leadership reflecting a new light shining on different aspects of Jewish life, Israel and the world.

I have been a longtime reader of the Journal and I want to wish you much success in your new position. Go from strength to strength.

Best wishes.

Leila Bronner, Los Angeles

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 www.pragerhighholidays.net

Talking with progressives about Israel

For years, liberal Zionists have been writing about the need to renew the traditional progressive-Zionist alliance, inspired by the civil rights and labor movements, and the importance of using these partnerships to maintain left-leaning allies for Israel.

Getting allies on the right has been easier because supporting Israel fits in neatly with the various goals of groups on the right, such as religious conservatives, the neoconservatives who deeply distrust the Muslim community, or economic conservatives who admire Israel’s thriving capital market. So much so, that political conservatives choose to overlook the “socialistic” policies of Israel, including protectionism, universal health care, education, and equal rights statutes for minorities and women.

The left is trickier. While most on the left side of the political spectrum support Israel, some progressives do not. The irony is that they probably agree with Israel’s domestic social welfare and civil rights policies more than conservatives do, but nevertheless a small element of the progressive movement has taken the “underdog vs. colonizer” model and oversimplified it in the context of a far more complex Middle East than some are willing to admit exists.

However, abandonment of our traditional alliances is only part of the problem. The other problem is how we explain Israel to the left. To paraphrase pollster Frank Luntz, we don’t “frame” Israel in language that resonates with the left.

Groups such as Democrats for Israel, the only Democratic club solely focused on supporting Israel and the Jewish community, made strides in the progressive community by explaining Israel in a way that many in the Democratic Party have embraced, beating back attempts by extremists to get the party to condemn Israel for merely defending itself from Hamas and Hezbollah.

How did we do it? In addition to keeping up partnerships, we learned to frame Israel in a way that resonated with our allies.

Israel is an island of progressivism

Universal education, universal health care, equal rights, minority rights protections, strong activist courts, and gays and lesbians openly serving in the military: Israel sounds like a progressive’s dream. Until I brought this up to several Democratic clubs, they had no idea that Israel was founded by a bunch of socialists on kibbutzim. No other single country in the Middle East has the complete set of social and civil rights that Israel does. 

If Israel was a “creation” of colonialist powers, why is the country so liberal when it comes to activist courts and civil rights?
Israel has limited security choices due to geography and culture

Israel is about the size of New Jersey. At its narrowest point, Israel is about nine miles wide, about the distance from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles. This gives Israel very little room for error and sometimes requires it to overcompensate in its security choices.

Also, in the past when the United States publicly backed off its support for Israel, Israel’s enemies have interpreted it as a sign that Israel is weak and can be attacked (some have theorized that Nixon’s weak support for Israel in 1973 led to the Yom Kippur War). Therefore, the United States needs to be careful in how it chooses to resolve differences of opinion with its strongest ally, lest there then become no ally there at all.  

However, every president has had his differences with Israel, just like there have been disagreements with every other ally, and no military aid was cut off to Great Britain or Canada.

Also, the region has more than 60 years of ethnic division building on thousands of years of history. Some Palestinian schools still refuse to teach children that Israel exists, and Hamas’ children’s TV openly preaches anti-Semitism. While Fatah’s leadership may profess to the West supporting peace, their own internal messaging has been more mixed — such as recently naming a town square after a terrorist whose only achievement was killing an innocent Israeli family.
Democracies are not perfect, and neither is Israel

We have heard it repeatedly: “Criticizing Israel publicly is not pro-Israel.” Whether you agree or not, picking on Israel is not what I am advocating here.

We just have to stop acting like we are infallible when we all know that no one, and no nation, is perfect.

We live in a sound-bite age, where pundits are expected to say, “We are right and they are wrong.” Pro-Israel activists are trained to say that Israel takes measures it deems necessary to defend itself and not acknowledge those measures’ collateral effects. It may work for news opinion shows, but the real world is not that way. 

Democratic countries are made of human beings with flaws that extend to their governments, but that does not mean we should get rid of the country. If we got rid of a country just because of mistakes the government made, the United States might have perished numerous times.    

Going into specific faults is unnecessary. Just admitting that our side is not perfect goes a long way toward establishing credibility with skeptics and further acknowledges that Israel at least has the democratic checks and balances that the surrounding countries don’t. 

Nothing in the Middle East is simple

People, especially ideologues, like to see things in the stark contrasts of right and wrong. Just as conservatives value “freedom,” progressives value “justice” and are wary of the use of corporate or military means to oppress or deny any group access to its basic needs and rights, such as food, shelter and freedom of expression.

Progressives distrust state use of military-industrial power, so when they see the Israel Defense Forces in uniforms and Palestinian militiamen in plain clothes, the reflexive reaction is to sympathize with the side that does not appear to be an extension of organized military might (even if both are actually organized armies).

Of course, the situation is not that simple. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very complex, involving land, water, peace and a multitude of groups, some of which have a vested interest in opposing peace. The governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority are, for the most part, trying to move to the middle despite the pressures, years of distrust and the fact that neither side has been very good at keeping its word to the other (resulting in many lost opportunities on both sides).

Even the issues of borders and settlements are complex, with the borders changing in 1948, 1967 and even 1973, and with Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin both using the issue of settlements as a negotiating chip during peace negotiations (how easily we have forgotten that Begin invested heavily in settlements in the Sinai).

The more we openly discuss how complex the situation is, the more we can shift the argument from blaming one party to a broader discussion of the complexities of the region and how the parties can come together. Other conflicts based on deep and long-lasting religious and ethnic divisions (such as Northern Ireland) were not settled by blaming a single party, but by acknowledging that everyone shares responsibility.

Andrew Lachman is the past president of Democrats for Israel — Los Angeles and is a current member of the Democratic National Committee and a Truman National Security Project Partner.

Analysis – Leftists Try to ‘Take Back God’ in 2008

The 2008 election may be more than three years away, but one group is hoping to press the Democratic Party to infuse spirituality into its platform for that campaign.

“The right is correct; there is a huge spiritual crisis in America,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine. “And the left doesn’t get it.”

Republicans and their allies on the religious right have “done a good job” of articulating that crisis, Lerner said, but their analysis is “fundamentally flawed” because it’s based on demonizing “feminists, gays, liberals, African Americans.”

Lerner made his comments before an opening-night crowd of 1,200 attendees at a four-day interfaith conference on spiritual activism.

An initiative, as several speakers put it, to “take back God” — and the White House — from the religious right was the principle behind the forum, held July 20-24 at UC Berkeley.

The real crisis in the United States, according to Lerner, is generated by the “ethos of greed and materialism” that drives Western culture and impoverishes human relationships. And until the left and the Democratic Party understand that deep human hunger for meaning, the religious right will continue its ascendancy.

“We have not yet built a movement that speaks to those human needs, and until we do, the right has cornered the market,” he said.

The organizers hope to create a “network of spiritual progressives” who will, over the course of the next three years, develop a spiritually based platform they hope to take to the 2008 presidential elections.

They also plan to call for various international initiatives, including a “Global Marshall Plan” in which the developed countries that are part of the G-8 group of nations would each donate 5 percent of their gross domestic product for the next 20 years to eradicate poverty and hunger and rebuild the infrastructure of Third World economies.

“We’ve created this gathering for people who want to challenge the misuse of God and religion by the religious right and build a new bottom line whereby institutions will be judged rational, productive and efficient not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, generosity and kindness, ethical and ecological sensitivity,” Lerner outlined.

Although the conference organizers insist they’re apolitical, they’re clearly aiming their words at the Democratic Party, which like the rest of the left is, they say, tainted by “religio-phobia.”

“It’s easier to come out as gay in Boston than as religious in the Democratic Party,” said the keynote speaker, Rev. Jim Wallis, a well-known progressive evangelical Christian and the author of the best-selling “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”

Wallis, who has just wrapped up a 47-city book tour, told the crowd that many Americans consider themselves people of faith but don’t feel the religious right speaks in their name.

“The religious right think they own God,” he continued. “They think there are only two moral issues: abortion and gay marriage.”

Instead, he said, ending poverty should be the highest priority of a faith-based politics. “Now that’s a moral value,” he stated.

This isn’t the first faith-based progressive movement to champion social justice. Groups including the Clergy and Laity Network, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Nevada Interfaith Council for Worker Justice also try to bring together representatives of various religious organizations in the name of specific social or economic issues.

But the Berkeley initiative, a project of the Tikkun community created by Lerner, reaches beyond synagogue, church or mosque walls to “people who are spiritual but not religious,” organizers said.

Although the gathering’s theoretical underpinnings — merging traditional leftist ideas of social justice with spirituality — are very much Lerner’s, the conference itself featured speakers from Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and nonsectarian backgrounds, and its focus was clearly nondenominational.

There was just a handful of rabbis and no leaders of major Jewish organizations in attendance. Some people who helped put the conference together admitted privately that they were “disappointed” at the lack of response from the organized Jewish world.

“We are definitely interested in reaching out to them,” said Lerner, adding that he expects that the network’s next conference, in February in Washington, “will attract much more of the Jewish establishment.”

He hopes that this new network and the movement it spawns “will provide a way for Jewish liberals and progressives to unite around issues of concern” to them.

Throughout the conference, speakers urged participants to “go home and organize locally” and spoke of creating progressive, spiritually friendly caucuses within the Democratic and Green parties “and maybe even the Republican Party,” Lerner said.