June 26, 2019

Dems: Debate Israel Out in the Open

When California Democrats gather for their state party convention in San Francisco on May 31, they will hear from congressional and legislative leaders, from Gov. Gavin Newsom and every other statewide constitutional officer, and a battalion of presidential candidates. They will hear about issues that unify and inspire their party, about abortion rights and marriage equality, about universal health care and climate change, about gun control and immigrant rights. 

But one thing they will almost certainly not hear about — not from Newsom or Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not from Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or any of the other presidential contenders — is Israel.

These conventions are designed to bring together a party. Israel is tearing apart the Democratic Party. So if an attendee wants to hear about Middle East geopolitics or the domestic political manifestations of that debate, those discussions won’t take place on the podium but in the backrooms and hallways of the Moscone Center. That’s where delegates will be arguing over a passel of resolutions put forth by anti-Zionist hardliners, who call for unilateral Israeli concessions in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights and ignore ongoing security threats to residents of the Jewish state. Meanwhile, pro-Israel Democrats are fighting back with resolutions of their own that would properly define the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. And party leaders will do everything in their power to keep these arguments out of public view.

But suppressing this fight would be a mistake. Battling over the party’s principles behind closed doors simply provides an advantage to a smaller but well-organized anti-Zionist movement. Better to debate these issues in public, where a pro-Israel majority can be clearly heard. And even better to put the question to every elected official and candidate who attends the convention: Ask Newsom and Pelosi and Harris and the rest to take a public position on each of these resolutions and to make it clear that they stand with Israel.

“Better to debate these issues in public, where a pro-Israel majority can be clearly heard.”

The overwhelming majority of elected Democrats would take that position, a small but vocal minority would not. But the short-term discord would be a small price to pay to expose the shallowness and narrowness of the anti-Israel sentiment. Burying the disagreement, on the other hand, simply allows the ideological outliers to organize outside of public view and to come back stronger every year until they have become an even more formidable political force.

I was a Republican for most of my adult life, before switching to No Party Preference status several years ago when the GOP’s rightward march made it clear I no longer belonged in that party. Some readers of this column will therefore dismiss my counsel as a diabolical plot from a nonbeliever whose true goal is to harm rather than help the efforts of pro-Israel Democrats. 

But I once watched my former party be taken over by rebel forces, too. I watched as the party establishment tried to pretend that the voices of intolerance from the far right didn’t exist and ignored the growing populist anger until it was too late.

Former President George W. Bush and the late Sen. John McCain and their generational colleagues believed that the anti-immigrant forces in their party could be isolated and hidden and ultimately defeated. But their strategy of forcing those debates to take place in the shadows ultimately backfired, and by the time the fight became public, the extremists’ numbers had grown to the point where they could no longer be held back. 

As a result, anti-immigrant sentiment now not only dominates but defines the Republican Party. While that de-evolution may bring some happiness to dedicated partisans on the other side of the aisle, the end result should serve as a warning to principled Democrats who think that obscuring arguments about Israel will work any better.

It’s far too easy to underestimate insurgencies, especially on such a volatile political and societal landscape. Fanaticism left unexposed has now despoiled one of our two major political parties. Let’s not allow the same thing to happen to the other, especially not on an issue as important as the safety and security of the Jewish homeland. Exposing haters — on either the far right or the far left — to public scrutiny is ultimately the best way to prevail.


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

Get Serious About Holocaust Education

Photo from the National Museum of the USAF.

We were two of the youngest Jewish-Americans to run for Congress in 2018 — Naomi Levin and Bryan Leib. We have many things in common, including our backgrounds, our core beliefs, our love for Israel and the reasons we ran for Congress against insurmountable odds. 

We have a mutual belief that Congress should do more to educate our next generation about the Holocaust. In April 2018, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives (four Democrats, four Republicans) introduced a bill called the Never Again Education Act (HR 5460). It was introduced in response to an alarming survey by the Claims Conference asserting that more than two-thirds of American millennials have never heard of Auschwitz. 

Furthermore, more than 45% of those surveyed couldn’t name one of the ghettos or concentration camps, and 9 in 10 surveyed responded “yes” when asked if American students should learn about the Holocaust. 

After hearing the results of this study, it became clear that the memory of the Holocaust is quickly fading while anti-Semitism around the world is on the rise. I (Leib) am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and I (Levin) have relatives who survived the Holocaust. We will never forget about the Holocaust and we are personally invested in seeing Holocaust education rolled out nationwide. But what about the millions of Americans who don’t have grandparents or relatives who are Holocaust survivors and can’t name a single concentration camp? 

In response to these shocking statistics, the eight members of the House introduced a bipartisan bill that would authorize and fund the Department of Education to provide grants to carry out educational programs about the Holocaust. We and many others applauded these eight members who introduced the bill and started working with our friends, community members and members of Congress to whip up support for additional cosponsors of the bill. 

To date, the bill has 53 co-sponsors (33 Democrats, 20 Republicans). The growing number of cosponsors seemingly would have increased the likelihood that the bill would be voted on in committee with recommendation for a full vote on the House floor. 

Here is where things get weird and, well, frustrating. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 10, 2018 (the same day the bill was introduced), and now more than 365 days later, the bill has not been read once in committee and has not been voted on in committee. 

We don’t believe the federal government should tell Americans how to live our lives. However, in this case, we will make an exception because our future depends on it. 

The federal government has a real opportunity to pass a real bill that will have tangible and measurable results — that will affect the lives of our children. If we don’t start educating the next generation about the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler and the 6 millions Jews that were erased from existence, then we run the risk that history will repeat itself. 

We, Bryan Leib and Naomi Levin, are calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chairman Bobby Scott and the bill’s original lead sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), to breathe life back into this bill, get it out of committee and onto the House floor for a full vote. 

In the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what’s right.” This bill is right, the cause is just and members of Congress must stop placating the American people by telling us they care about the growing tide of anti-Semitism and actually do something to address it. This bill is their opportunity to change the tide and make an impact. Will they? Your move, Congress.


Bryan E. Leib is a program manager for the Israeli-American Council and a member of the board of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He ran for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 3rd Congressional District. Naomi Levin, a software engineer, ran for Congress in New York’s 10th Congressional District. She is a board member of Endowment for Middle East Truth. 

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.

Republicans and Democrats Hold Positive Views of Israelis But Differ Greatly on their Government

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in his residency in Jerusalem February 28, 2019 REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun

(JTA) — Republicans and Democrats may hold widely disparate views of Israel’s government, a new survey found, but both have positive vibes about Israelis.

The Pew Research Center study, released Wednesday, found that while 61 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Israel’s government — led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party — that number is only 26 percent for Democrats.

Asked about views of Israeli people, most respondents regardless of party affiliation held positive views — 77 percent of those identifying as or leaning Republican and 57 percent of those identifying as or leaning Democrat.

Older people were more likely to have a positive view of the Netanyahu government: 57 percent of respondents 65 and older held a positive view, the only age group in which a majority did so. The proportion decreased with each age group, with 27 percent of those aged 18-29 having a positive view.

As for views of the Palestinian government, a majority of respondents identifying with both parties held negative views — 81 percent for Republicans and 65 percent for Democrats. Asked about their opinions on the Palestinian people, 32 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats said they viewed them favorably.

The survey, which was conducted April 1-15, had 10,523 respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.

In past years, Pew has asked respondents whether they sympathized more with Israel or the Palestinians. This year, the research center decided to reframe the question to reflect the fact that many respondents favored both sides or neither.

Republicans and Democrats Unite to Save the Planet, and No One Notices

Bill Gates; Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Media companies have become so driven by ratings and clickbait that they’re having a hard time covering political news that doesn’t involve partisan food fights — even when that news involves saving our planet.

Take, for example, the news last week that a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced legislation to support a potential breakthrough against global warming. Who noticed? I couldn’t find anything in The New York Times or on CNN, but I did see a tweet from someone who cares deeply about the sustainability of our planet, Bill Gates.

On Thursday, Gates tweeted:

“Yesterday, a bipartisan group of leaders in the U.S. Senate introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which establishes an ambitious plan to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. I can’t overstate how important this is.”

Gates was referring to a bill that would promote next-generation nuclear power, which he feels so strongly about that he promised lawmakers he’d invest $1 billion of his own money in the initiative. Gates has already put his money where his mouth is by investing in startups like TerraPower, which is working on traveling-wave reactor technology.

The legislation was introduced on March 27 by 15 senators, including Republicans such as Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham as well as Democrats such as New Jersey’s Cory Booker and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

“Year after year, the conversation around climate change has been dominated by partisan acrimony. And yet, if there’s one issue that ought to transcend politics, it is the health of our planet.”

Why is this big news? Because year after year, the conversation around climate change has been dominated by partisan acrimony. And yet, if there’s one issue that ought to transcend politics, it is the health of our planet. Now that Republicans and Democrats have found common ground on this issue, it’s certainly worth taking notice.

It’s also worth noting why they have united around nuclear power. As far back as 2013, Scientific American was hailing nuclear power as “one of the few technologies that can quickly combat climate change.”

The magazine reported that “the low-carbon electricity produced by such [nuclear] reactors provides 20 percent of the nation’s power and, by the estimates of climate scientist James Hansen of Columbia University, avoided 64 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution. They also avoided spewing soot and other air pollution like coal-fired power plants do and thus have saved some 1.8 million lives.”

Hansen and many others, the magazine reported, think that “nuclear power is a key energy technology to fend off catastrophic climate change.” Because coal represents almost half of global emissions, Hansen explained, “If you replace these power plants with modern, safe nuclear reactors you could do a lot of [pollution reduction] quickly.”

Speed is key. The urgency of climate change has been well covered by the media. The problem is that too many potential “solutions”  are too speculative, slow or exorbitant, which may explain why they haven’t attracted much bipartisan support.

Clean and safe nuclear power, on the other hand, offers more practical hope for the future. To avoid “dangerous” climate change, according to Hansen and other experts, the world needs to drop its global warming pollution by 6 percent annually. “On a global scale, it’s hard to see how we could conceivably accomplish this without nuclear,” writes economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

“One of the biggest obstacles to this initiative is one of perception — the word “nuclear” comes with a lot of baggage.”

One of the biggest obstacles to this initiative is one of perception — the word “nuclear” comes with a lot of baggage. From the horror of the atom bomb to the meltdown of nuclear reactors, it’s always been a challenge to argue for the safety of anything nuclear. But this is a key purpose of the next-generation research: to make nuclear power ultra safe.

As is to be expected, not all scientists agree on the nuclear direction in confronting global warming. The debate and arguments will continue as the research progresses. But if the research leads to breakthroughs in nuclear energy innovation, it could have a significant impact on the future health of our planet. 

As Sen. Murkowski tweeted when the bill was introduced, “There has been a lot of discussion about climate change, & I have emphasized the need for practical, bipartisan solutions. As we seek to maintain electric reliability, keep energy affordable, & address climate change, #nuclear power stands out as one of our very best options.”

In an era of bitter partisanship, we should applaud the senators who have put their political differences aside to sponsor a concrete initiative to help save our planet. Now it’s the media’s turn to take a break from partisan food fights and cover this story.

Poll: 69% of Americans View Israel Favorably

FILE PHOTO: A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

A Gallup poll taken between Feb. 1-10 revealed that 69 percent of Americans view Israel favorably. In 2018, that number was 74 percent.

The poll, released on March 6, surveyed 1,016 Americans. Twenty-one percent of those polled viewed the Palestinian Authority (PA) favorably. That percentage remained the same in 2018.

Among political party and ideology, 87 percent of conservative Republicans, 72 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans, 66 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats and 58 percent of liberal Democrats viewed Israel favorably. In 2018, those numbers were 85 percent, 70 percent, 67 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

By contrast, 36 percent of liberal Democrats, 26 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats, 20 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans and 10 percent of conservative Republicans viewed the Palestinian Authority favorably. These were all increases from 29 percent, 21 percent, 14 percent and 9 percent respectively, in 2018.

Additionally, 59 percent of Americans sympathized with Israelis over the Palestinians in 2019, whereas 64 percent felt this way in 2018. Twenty-one percent of Americans sympathized with the Palestinians over Israelis in 2019, an increase from 19 percent in 2018. Seventy-six percent of Republicans said they sympathized with Israelis over the Palestinians, a sharp decline from 87 percent in 2018, and 43 percent of Democrats said they sympathized with Israelis over the Palestinians, a decline from 49 percent in 2018.

“Americans’ overall views toward Israel and the Palestinian Authority have changed little in the past year, with roughly seven in 10 viewing Israel very or mostly favorably and two in 10 viewing the Palestinian Authority in the same terms,” Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad wrote. “At the same time, the new poll finds a slight softening of Americans’ partiality toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly among moderate/liberal Republicans and, to a lesser extent, liberal Democrats.”

Will We Have a Choice for President in 2020?

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a roundtable discussion of the Federal Commission on School Safety Report at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Young

If ever a case could be made for a third party in American politics, it would be from the specter of next year’s presidential election being between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and a Jeremy Corbyn Democrat.

Events of the past few weeks remind us yet again that the same noxious brand of anti-Semitism infecting the British Labour Party led by Corbyn is strengthening its foothold in this country’s progressive circles. The Democratic presidential hopefuls’ failure to condemn Rep. Ilhan Omar’s most recent statements of intolerance toward the Jewish people speaks volumes about their party’s rapidly changing and increasingly worrisome dynamic.

Let’s be clear: None of the current or prospective Democratic presidential candidates is an anti-Semite. But when Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, launched yet another hateful screed February 27th — saying lawmakers and activists who support Israel hold “allegiance to a foreign country” — it was notable that none of them condemned her comments. Rather, it was House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) who had the courage to object to her “vile anti-Semitic slur” and demand an apology.

Engel’s objection was followed by similar statements from a handful of pro-Israel congressional Democrats as well as a House resolution that offered a generic denunciation of anti-Semitism. But by the time this column went to press, there was only silence from the presidential aspirants. 

To be fair, political cowardice in the face of naked bigotry has become a bipartisan pastime. When a hateful anti-Omar poster was hung recently in the West Virginia capitol during a Republican program, no member of the GOP congressional leadership was willing to denounce the perpetrator. (Local Republican officials deserve credit for condemning the attack.) And it’s common knowledge that Trump has no interest in calling out the haters on his side of the aisle, so much so that no Republican member of Congress did anything substantial to refute Michael Cohen’s testimony last week that Trump routinely used racist language to belittle African-Americans and other minorities.

“Voting for a bigot in either party is an appalling concept. Supporting a candidate who is unable or unwilling to stand up to anti-Semitism is only slightly better.”

The minority of American Jews who support Trump rarely try to defend the president’s personal behavior, pointing to his record on taxes or Israel as a reasonable tradeoff for his lack of character.

And now we see that Trump’s opponents are just as willing to look past the timidity of their party’s leaders in the face of anti-Semitism. Democratic presidential candidates don’t want to voice disapproval of Omar because they must balance their relationships within the Jewish community against their need to avoid alienating the growing number of party activists whose hostility toward Israel is now a progressive badge of honor.

Polls show that liberal Democrats sympathize with the Palestinians rather than Israel by almost a 2-to-1 margin, and no presidential hopeful can succeed without securing a portion of these votes. The result is that every one of the party’s candidates stays quiet when fellow Democrats suggest that American voters who support Israel are guilty of treason. But Democratic White House hopefuls should remember that John F. Kennedy confronted similar prejudice during his 1960 presidential campaign, when his opponents suggested the nation’s first Catholic president would prioritize his loyalty to the Vatican over his allegiance to the U.S. Constitution.

Voting for a bigot in either party is an appalling concept. Supporting a candidate who is unable or unwilling to stand up to anti-Semitism is only slightly better. The majority of American Jews consider Trump an unacceptable alternative. But until a Democratic presidential candidate chooses to follow Engel’s example, the question of who deserves the backing of pro-Israel voters will remain uncomfortably unanswered.


Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies and Pepperdine University. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and a board member of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

We Must Go After Bigots on Both Sides

Photo from Flickr/Gage Skidmore.

Last week, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was interviewed by The New York Times. King has a long history of racially tinged comments — comments that could plausibly be interpreted as either racist or as awkwardly phrased but not racist. But his interview with the Times destroyed any vestige of such vagary, as he explained, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”

Obviously, this is out-and-out bigotry. White supremacism is a grave evil — the declaration that whites are innately superior to others is by definition discriminatory. So is white nationalism, which is based on the assumptions of white supremacism. Ironically, King embraces the arguments of the political left when he suggests that Western civilization is coincident with and springs from racial discrimination.

That’s why I called on Congress to censure King; I maxed out by donating to his political opponent and called on others to do so, too. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) denounced King’s comments and said there would be consequences from the Republican caucus. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) tore into King and silent Republicans in the pages of The Washington Post. The National Republican Congressional Committee already had announced it would cut ties with King last October.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) is openly anti-Semitic. Last week, she accused members of Congress of dual loyalty to Israel thanks to their support for anti-BDS legislation. Tlaib is a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and a defender of CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill, who called for the destruction of the State of Israel. This week, it emerged that Tlaib hosted Abbas Hamideh, a pro-terrorist artist, at her swearing-in in Detroit; she also invited him to a private dinner. Hamideh has openly called for the destruction of the State of Israel and embraced the leadership of Hezbollah. Thus far, no comment from Tlaib.

“The immune systems of both the Republican and Democratic parties have been compromised.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted in 2012, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Democratic leadership has been silent.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) met and danced with anti-Semite Al Sharpton, a man who once helped incite riots in Crown Heights and racial arson at Freddy’s Fashion Mart. Sharpton once called Jews “diamond merchants” and “white interlopers” and ranted, “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” Sharpton is still a treasured member of the leftist coterie.

Democratic leaders including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have embraced anti-Semites like Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour. The Women’s March leadership as a whole has been embraced by members of both the leftist media and the Democratic Party. That leadership includes Tamika Mallory, who appeared on “The View” this week to defend her view that insane anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan is the “greatest of all time.” When pressed to condemn Farrakhan, she demurred.

Here’s the sad reality: In American politics, there are bigots on both sides. There are alt-right bigots who masquerade as defenders of Western civilization while promoting pagan racism; there are leftist bigots who masquerade as crusaders for diversity while promoting intersectional racism. The difference is that the right occasionally cleans house. It is nearly impossible to think of a Democratic figure too radical or bigoted for Democrats. 

The immune systems of both the Republican and Democratic parties have been compromised. But only one party seems to have even a baseline readiness to excise cancers from its midst — and it’s not the party the mainstream media would have you believe.


Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire.

These Jews Have Too Much Influence! 6 Comments on a New Survey

 

1.

A new survey by Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland shows that an increasing number of Americans support a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine. “When one considers that many Israelis and Palestinians, as well as many Middle East experts, already believe that a two-state solution is no longer possible, especially given the large expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank”, writes Telhami, “it’s not hard to see why more people would be drawn to a one-state solution”.

Is this new finding important? It is and it isn’t.

It’s important because it shows that Israel fails to communicate its position to American audiences, especially Democratic voters and younger voters (of which 42% support a one-state solution).

It’s not important because the one-state solution is still not a viable option, and thus not an option.

 

2.

Telhami conducts his poll every year, and almost each time I write critically about it. This is because his polls, while pretending to be impartial, in fact raise the suspicion that they are an act of advocacy for certain positions.

Take the question of the one-state solution. What it offers is a mirage. “A one-state solution: A single democratic state in which both Jews and Arabs are full and equal citizens, covering all of what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories.”

Sounds good? It does. In fact, I see no reason why Americans would not support such solution to a nagging problem. But what would happen had we told them the truth: “A one-state solution: An attempt to establish a single state that is likely to result in Jews and Arabs constantly fighting for control and spilling even more blood than today.” Would Americans still support it?

 

3.

Another choice offered to Americans is this: Do you favor the Jewishness of Israel more than its democracy” or “Israel’s democracy more than its Jewishness.”

Are you surprised to learn that, when presented with this false dichotomy, most Americans favor Israel’s democracy?

 

4.

Telhami argues (in Foreign Policy) that “What many read as a rising anti-Israeli sentiment among Democrats is mischaracterized; it reflects anger toward Israeli policies – and increasingly, with the values projected by the current Israeli government.”

I am not sure what this means. I am not sure what the difference is between “anti-Israel sentiment” and “anger towards… the values…” If someone is against the political choices of most Israelis, and against the values that most Israelis believe in, and against the policies most Israelis want – does it still not make him or her anti-Israel?

The trick Telhami uses here (and he is not alone in doing this), is placing the bar for being anti-Israel so high, that it becomes almost impossible to reach. In his book, only a person that calls for the elimination of Israel, or the destruction of it, is worthy of this title. That’s very convenient for people who want to vehemently oppose Israel without being tagged anti-Israel.

 

 

5.

I know that it’s becoming popular to argue, in left-wing circles, that being anti-Israel is not akin to being anti-Semitic.

But look at this question, and tell me if it doesn’t make you feel somewhat uneasy: “How much influence do you believe the Israeli government has on American politics and policies?”

The answer, of course, is that the Jews (and by this we mean the Jews of Israel – not the good Jews of America) might have too much influence. 55% of Democrats think they do. 44% of young Americans think they do. Would they also say that countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Britain, or China have too much influence on American politics? I bet many of them would – but Telhami didn’t ask.

 

6.

Americans want fairness, and hence many of them expect their government to “lean toward neither side” when “mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

But how does one measure a “leaning?” Here is example: If the US government says “we would not tolerate Palestinian suicide bombers killing innocent people in Tel Aviv” – does this count as “leaning” towards Israel, because it’s critical of something that only Palestinians do? Another example: If the US government says, “we believe that Palestinian insistence on a right of return imperils any prospect for a successful peace process” – does this count as “leaning” towards Israel, because an impartial position would be to say “let’s compromise on a right of return for half the people”?

In other words: what if the US government does not “lean” towards the Israeli position but rather towards to more reasonable position that tends to be the Israeli position? Would Americans want their government to lean towards an unreasonable position for the sake of being impartial?

California Needs a New, Centrist Party

Those of us who inhabit the space in American politics between the 40-yard lines have watched with dismay as the nation’s two major parties retreat into their respective ideological end zones. Many of us have often wondered about the potential for a centrist third party that could occupy the ground near midfield that has been abandoned by Democrats and Republicans.

The number of California’s registered Republican voters has fallen to less than one-quarter of the state’s electorate, leaving the marginalized GOP with fewer official members than the number of voters registered as No Party Preference. That means Republicans are now, technically, California’s third party. So the question we should be asking is: What should our state’s second political party look like?

Republicans have fallen to third-party status because of a doctrinaire message and agenda that make many women, minorities and young people feel unwelcome. Such a confrontational approach from the GOP has essentially defaulted control of the state to Democrats, who, without the checks and balances of a two-party system, have struggled to develop solutions for the state’s housing, transportation and education crises. 

Our new centrist party could draw from the strengths of both Democrats and Republicans, prioritizing job creation and economic growth while still respecting our newest and youngest neighbors. It should be known as the Independent Party, but it is instead designated with the less-descriptive No Party Preference label. While the term “independent” would send an important message to Californians looking for a true alternative, other potential titles for a new party could provide useful guidance: 

The Opportunity Party: With economic headwinds looming, California needs a pro-growth agenda that rejects the ideological extremes of both existing parties and creates opportunities for economic success and a better quality of life for residents. The chief obstacle to those goals is the lack of affordable housing for working Californians. A centrist solution could ease regulatory burdens that prevent necessary development while protecting our natural resources. We also need tax reform that would recognize the realities of a 21st-century economy and protect us from the budgetary devastation that accompanies a stock market downturn. We could benefit from California’s geographic advantage as the capital of the Pacific Rim, expanding international trade opportunities while protecting workers from unfair foreign competition. 

“Our new centrist party could draw from the strengths of both Democrats and Republicans.”

The Unity Party: From the time of the first Spanish explorers and missionaries, California has thrived when it has welcomed and supported newcomers, whose energy and optimism have fueled the state’s growth. A Unity Party would protect immigrants from demonization and vilification. It would also protect their communities from violent crime, protect their economic opportunities from an overreaching government, and protect their children from being trapped in inadequate schools. It would be a party that values the attributes that law-abiding new arrivals bring with them to our state, that encourages their integration into our communities, and that applauds their successes as our own.

The Humility Party: Members of this party would understand that the political center does not have a monopoly on smart policy ideas. They would recognize that committed progressives and equally ardent conservatives are just as invested in the state’s future. Believing a balanced approach would be the best path forward for California, they would see the foolishness in ignoring ideas from others who may have different ideological perspectives. They would know that those who disagree with them are neither stupid nor evil, but rather have a different idea on how the state can best confront its policy challenges. This party would facilitate that conversation and provide common ground on which a respectful and inclusive dialogue could flourish.

When we combine these essential strengths of unity, opportunity and humility into a new political entity for our state, it would become clear that it should be called “The California Party.” As we prepare to move forward, we welcome the involvement of all Californians who shares those core values.


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

Election: Jews Favor Israel, Oppose Trump

President Trump at the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial outside Paris. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

American Jews headed to the polls on Nov. 6 spurred by concern over health care, gun violence and the predatory glances that Republican politicians have been casting at Medicare and Social Security. These voters, still burning with anguish over the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and concern over growing xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, profoundly rejected President Donald Trump and his policies.

Jewish voters chose Democratic candidates by a 76 percent to 19 percent margin, according to a new poll conducted by GBA Strategies and commissioned by J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace organization (full disclosure: I work with J Street as a Jewish Community Engagement Fellow). Voters connected the rise of racial and religious bias in the United States and the general deterioration of public discourse with the policies and actions of the Trump administration. A large majority made clear that they have been more concerned with anti-Semitism (81 percent), racism (79 percent) and right-wing extremism (79 percent) since the president took office.

Strikingly, 72 percent of those surveyed — and 66 percent of Orthodox Jews surveyed — state that Trump’s comments and policies are “very” or “somewhat” responsible for the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue.

When asked what issues most strongly motivated their vote in the congressional elections, the top issue for the most Jews from every denomination is health care. Most Jews surveyed said the two issues after that are gun violence and Social Security/Medicare. American Jews reported that domestic issues ranked highest in their consideration of which candidates to vote for, ranking Israel 12th on a list of 14 issues and ranking Iran last. When asked about the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, 71 percent supported it, while 67 percent opposed Trump’s decision to abandon the agreement.

American-Jewish voters continue to care about the State of Israel, for which 65 percent report an “emotional attachment.” However, if Trump has been hoping that this attachment combined with his closeness with Prime Minister Netanyahu will win American Jews to his side, he should be disappointed. American Jews are not markedly fond of the Netanyahu — about a third of the respondents rated him favorably. Netanyahu’s policies, favored by Trump, are not popular with American Jews, 83 percent of whom support a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and 78 percent of whom support such a two-state solution based pre-1967 borders with land swaps, international peacekeepers and a Palestinian capital in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Seventy-six percent of American Jews think that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank should be fully suspended or restricted only to certain areas.

“Smart voters recognize Trump and Netanyahu are deeply out of step.”

Eighty-four percent of American Jews think that someone can be pro-Israel while being openly critical of the Israeli government’s policies. After all, these are voters who love the U.S. while being vocally critical of our current president — who criticize him because they love America and cannot abide the effects of his misrule on our country.

American Jews value a vigorous democracy that promotes healthy debate and curiosity about difference, not murderous hostility. They recall that we are commanded to care for the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. They value care for the sick, the elderly and young — for the widow and orphan as our prophets demanded. 

Whether it comes from Netanyahu or Trump, they dislike aggressive rhetoric and policies that promote social division and hatred. In Israel and in the U.S., they want to see security maintained and peace pursued, not through fear, but through diplomatic conflict resolution.

In the context of today’s political configuration, this means that American Jews solidly support Democratic Party candidates, and that is unlikely to change. American Jews are a small percentage of the population, but, increasingly, elections are decided by tiny portions of the electorate, and Jews are motivated voters. Smart candidates continue to recognize that Trump, Netanyahu and the voices that support them are deeply out of step with the American-Jewish electorate.


Rabbi Robin Podolsky teaches at Cal State Long Beach, writes for Shondaland, and blogs at jewishjournal.com/erevrav. 

To Win in 2020, Democrats Must Avoid the Power Trap

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reacts to the results of the U.S. midterm elections at a Democratic election night rally and party in Washington, U.S. November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

After two years in the political wilderness, enraged at a president they despise and virtually powerless to do much about it, Democrats finally see some light after regaining the House.

But as any doctor will tell you, it’s not good for the system to gorge after you’ve starved for so long.

Democrats will be tempted to use their new power in the House to take revenge on President Trump. Because they will control key committees and have the power to subpoena, it’s likely they will feel pressure from their agitated base to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, among other aggressive initiatives.

This is a trap.

For one thing, because impeachment requires the approval of two thirds of the Senate, which is staying in Republican hands, it’s highly unlikely they can get rid of Trump before the next presidential elections in 2020.

And that is precisely what Democrats must focus on—the next race for the White House.

If they squander the next two years on a bitter soap opera that will go nowhere, they will only reinforce the Republican critique that they have become a party bereft of ideas.

How can they surprise the electorate and position themselves for success in 2020? By thinking policy, by thinking about what’s good for the country.

They have little to lose by playing earnest rather than cynical. The country is expecting the two parties to continue the win-at-all-cost partisan combat so prevalent during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. It is this fanatical partisanship that has made Congress lose much of its credibility with the public.

Now that Democrats control the House, they can allow Republicans to play the bad guy if they so choose.

Believe it or not, there’s a bipartisan caucus in Congress called the “Problem Solvers Caucus” which comprises members of both parties. Yes, they’re small, but they have a big idea: Let’s focus on solutions that will help America, rather than fights that will hurt everyone.

It’s true that the parties are far apart on most of the big issues. But that’s no reason to give up. Led by the Problem Solvers Caucus, Democrats can look for small areas of agreement and build on those, and begin a process of mutual compromise. At the very least, they will look like a party of ideas and action, rather than one of destruction.

We’re all licking our wounds from the most divisive and acrimonious two years I can recall. Democratic leaders now have a chance to take the high road. They will have to contend with a progressive wing that is hardly into compromise. That will be their biggest challenge—resisting the urge to overreach.

But if they can at least look like they’re trying to bring problem solving back into politics, and attract candidates in that vein, that will increase their chances of winning the White House in 2020.

Anger and Gridlock: Working With a Divided America

In a deeply divided America, there was only one thing that unified the nation’s voters when they went to sleep the night of Nov. 6 after a long, bitter and ugly midterm election campaign.

Everybody was angry.

Despite reclaiming a majority in the House of Representatives and putting Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) on a glide path back to the Speaker’s chair, Democrats were unhappy that Republicans maintained — and may have increased — their majority in the Senate. Among other things, that means two more years of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees and the possibility of one or two additional Supreme Court appointments.

Republicans, even though they saved their Senate majority, are just as mad after losing control of the House and realizing that Pelosi and her colleagues will derail the overwhelming majority of conservative legislative and policy priorities until 2021. Two years of House investigations into almost every corner of the Trump administration will keep that anger at a fever pitch until the next election.

The predictable result of a hyper-polarized electorate is a gridlocked government. With Washington split between a Democratic House, a Senate controlled by a largely conventional GOP majority, and a White House occupied by the most untraditional of Republicans, the odds of significant progress on any of the country’s most pressing policy challenges are infinitesimal. That will in turn fuel even more voter frustration, more partisan finger-pointing and previously unimaginable levels of vitriol and nastiness.

But while voter unhappiness is pervasive throughout the electorate, the highest levels of fury and can be found at the ideological bases of the two major parties. After watching the most conservative and uncompromising voices assume control of the Republican Party throughout the age of former President Barack Obama, it appears that the lesson the Democrats have learned over the past decade is that they need their own Tea Party. And the only thing less appealing than one party being held captive by its most hard-nosed absolutists is when it happens to both of them.

The vast majority of American Jews, of course, line up on the blue side of the political dividing line, so a new House majority will offer them some solace and a considerable amount of motivation to continue the resistance for another two years. Smaller segments of the Jewish community are Trump supporters, and will now worry that their priorities on issues relating to the economy and Israel will face a more difficult path forward in a divided Washington.

But on a political landscape where the most extreme elements of both major parties have increased their influence, it raises the question as to whether American Jews should be focused more on the partisan balance between Democrats and Republicans  — or on the ideological makeup inside of those two parties. 

It has become increasingly difficult to ignore the growing vehemence of the anti-Israel voices that populate the populist wing of the Democratic Party. It has become just as hard to discount the most virulent voices of intolerance among alt-right Republicans. The majority of both parties’ loyalists would stand with Israel and protect the rights and safety of American Jews. But the red-blue chasm that separates Democrats and Republicans has fueled such scorched-earth animosity on both sides that partisans on the left and the right are far too willing to tolerate the inexcusable excesses of those who just happen to share their party registration.

The question is whether Jewish voters — just as polarized as the rest of the electorate — are willing to call out the extremists in their own party ranks. It’s important for Republican Jews to criticize those who advocate for economic boycotts against Israel. It’s just as necessary for Jewish Democrats to castigate the voices of race-based nationalism and prejudice. But it’s not that hard. The challenge is to move beyond the selective outrage that inspires our anger only against those in the other party rather than against those on both the right and the left who would endanger our community and our homeland.

The fact that Democrats took the House and Republicans held the Senate was not especially surprising. But it now appears that both parties will maintain larger majorities in their respective parties than had been expected, and larger majorities mean less incentive for compromise and collaboration. Party leaders on both sides will be reluctant to confront the extremists in their own ranks, and those who tolerate either the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement or blood-and-soil proclamations, will continue to grow their ranks — unless the Jewish community decides that some things are more important than party registration.

Here in California, the results were even less surprising, as the heavily Democratic state elected Gavin Newsom as governor and re-elected Dianne Feinstein to the Senate by overwhelming margins. Late on election night, it was still unclear whether Democrats would hold two-thirds supermajorities in the state legislature. Otherwise, the most compelling contests in the state were between blue and deep-blue candidates. But California voters are angry too, and their fury toward Trump will continue to fuel state politics and governance.

Next week, I will go on a deeper dive into all the results and what they portend. But for now, the one safe prediction is that the anger will continue to grow.


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

Israel, the U.S. and Partisanship

There’s a trendy view these days that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has committed the grave sin of turning support of Israel partisan. This is the view of many on the Democratic left, who seem perturbed at Netanyahu’s close relationship with President Donald Trump. “Netanyahu refuses to even pretend that he cares what liberal American Jews think or feel about Israel,” sneers Eric Alterman of The Nation. 

But what, precisely, is Netanyahu supposed to do in the face of the left’s gradual move against Israel over the past two decades? Alterman, for all his sneering, is a harsh anti-Israel critic — he says that Israel is either practicing apartheid today or on the verge of doing so, and has endorsed the idea behind boycott, divestment, and sanctions of Israel on the international stage. Can that be attributed to Netanyahu?

The left’s anti-Israel move has been brewing for decades. Republicans have been somewhat more pro-Israel than Democrats since the Six-Day War — Israel’s victory in that war led to an onslaught of Soviet propaganda against the Jewish state as the Soviets attempted to consolidate the support of Muslim states. Still, until 2001, the two parties remained largely pro-Israel; in 2001, 38 percent of Democrats supported Israel against the Palestinians, with 50 percent of Republicans doing so.

Then 9/11 hit. Suddenly Republican support for Israel began to climb and Democratic support for Israel began to drop. That drop was exacerbated by the advent of former President Barack Obama’s administration, which took the line that Israel’s failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians lay at the heart of broader conflicts in the region. The American left began to parrot the line of the European left that Israel’s intransigence represented the root of imperialistic Western power politics. 

After 9/11, Republican support for Israel began to climb and Democratic support for Israel began to drop.

I attended the Democratic National Convention in 2012, where constituents booed Jerusalem in the Democratic National Committee platform; there was no doubt in the room which way the Democratic Party was moving. The Obama administration established a “daylight with Israel” policy and ran roughshod over Israel’s concerns about Iranian terrorism in promotion of a hollow Iranian nuclear deal. Today, just 27 percent of Democrats say they support Israel as opposed to the Palestinians — even though the Palestinians are governed by a three-headed terrorist monster in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Islamic Jihad — as compared with 25 percent who support the Palestinians. Controversial Louis Farrakhan acolyte Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) nearly became the head of the DNC last year with the support of supposed pro-Israel advocate Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). 

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader in Britain, is openly anti-Semitic. He took tea with Raed Salah, a man he called an “honoured citizen” despite Salah’s use of the actual Blood Libel; he wrote a letter defending Stephen Sizer, a now-retired vicar who blamed Israel for the 9/11 attacks; and he hosted “his friends” from Hamas and Hezbollah in parliament. Now, Corbyn has attempted to cover his tracks. But he’s fooling no one.

Meanwhile, the American right continues to embrace Israel at record rates. Republicans favor the Israelis over the Palestinians at a rate of 79 percent to 6 percent. Contrary to self-flattering left-wing opinion, that isn’t because of Christian millenarianism — it’s not because Christians think that support for Israel will immanentize the eschaton. It’s because religious Christians in the United States truly believe that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed; they see Israel as a representative of Western ideals in a brutal region of the world; they recognize in Israel ideological allies and religious kin. Even those on the right who aren’t particularly religious support Israel because they recognize that Israel represents the canary in the coal mine for the West; Israel’s battle against Islamic terror is part of a broader battle the West must fight.

That’s not Netanyahu’s fault. Perhaps those on the left who remain pro-Israel ought to consider that the problem isn’t Israel or Netanyahu: It’s a left wing that has lost touch with reality in favor of multicultural utopianism and flattered itself into believing that sympathizing with some of the world’s worst regimes represents standing up for human rights.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author and editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire.

Partisan Divide over Israel

Pew Research Center reported on Jan. 23 the disturbing results of a poll on Israel. According to the poll, 46 percent of Americans support Israel over the Palestinians; just 16 percent support the Palestinians over the Israelis. Those results have been relatively consistent for years.

The disturbing part arises in the context of party identification. While 79 percent of Republicans say they sympathize with Israel, as do 42 percent of independents, just 27 percent of Democrats say they identify with Israel. Since 2001, Republican support for Israel has skyrocketed from 50 percent to 79 percent; in that same period, support from Democrats has declined from 38 percent to 27 percent.

Why the increasing divide?

The easiest answer would be President Donald Trump. A plurality of Americans — 42 percent — say that Trump is “striking the right balance” on the Middle East, while 30 percent say he unfairly favors Israel; 47 percent of Americans said President Barack Obama had struck a good balance, with 21 percent saying he favored the Palestinians too much. This obviously means that a solid number of Democrats were comfortable with Obama’s anti-Israel policies. Trump has reversed that polarity, driving down Israel’s numbers with Democrats.

The second easy answer would be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had an icy relationship with Obama and has a warm relationship with Trump  This has consequences for public relations: 52 percent of Republicans have a favorable impression of Netanyahu, compared with 18 percent of Democrats.

Republicans live in a post-9/11 world; Democrats live in a pre-9/11 world.

But both these answers are too easy. The divide between Republicans and Democrats on Israel predated both Trump and Netanyahu — the gap began to grow with Sept. 11 and yawned wider with the Obama administration. I attended the 2012 Democratic National Convention at which the attendees loudly booed the reinstatement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the party platform. Some deeper element is driving this newfound division over Israel.

That deeper element is worldview, exposed by 9/11 and exacerbated over time by increasing partisan bickering over Islamic terrorism. From 1978 through the Oslo Accord, support for Israelis declined while support for the Palestinians stayed approximately even. About as many Americans said they supported “neither party” or “both” as said they supported the Israelis. That’s because the United States faced virtually no threat from Islamic radicalism. After Oslo, support for Israel jumped, particularly as Israel was hit by wave after wave of Palestinian terrorism.

Then, after 9/11, support for Israelis jumped among Republicans and never stopped growing. Conservative Americans, who had been more likely to draw a moral equation between Israel and her enemies, identified with the Israelis — they saw Israel as an outpost of Western civilization in a region rife with Islamic terrorism. They saw Palestinians handing out candies as the World Trade Center towers fell, and they knew that Israelis had been facing down the same threat. The real, meaningful conflict between Islamist barbarism and Western liberalism was thrown into sharp relief.

Democrats, too, initially responded to 9/11 with more support for Israel. But as the war on terror progressed, Democrats began to see Western civilization as the provocative agent. Too many on the left saw Islamic terrorism as a response to Western cruelty — cruelty to which Israel was supposedly a party. Nowhere was this clearer than in the media coverage of the Gaza War, which glorified Hamas at the expense of Israel, even as Israel tried to avoid civilian casualties and Hamas tried to inflict them. The Obama administration reflected that viewpoint, which is why it pursued Iranian regional growth with alacrity. The West, Obama and the Democrats thought, had to withdraw from the Middle East in order to empower dispossessed Islamists (hence State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf’s asinine suggestion that ISIS be given jobs to help them avoid terrorism).

Unfortunately, the gap yawns ever greater. Republicans live in a post-9/11 world; Democrats live in a pre-9/11 world. That has dramatic, unfortunate implications for Israel: In a polarized political environment, the historic bipartisan support for the Jewish state is quickly eroding. That’s not a bipartisan problem. That’s a specifically Democratic problem, and one that should encourage Jews to examine whether the Democratic Party ought to re-evaluate its moral worldview in the Middle East.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author and editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire.

Eroding Support for Israel: What Can We Do?

Should We Worry?

The facts, before we dive into the many points of data, are quite simple:

  • Americans sympathize with Israel much more than they sympathize with the Palestinians.
  • But behind this fact lurks a partisan divide: Republicans are highly supportive of Israel, Democrats less so.
  • The trend of eroding Democratic support for Israel continues.
  • The trend of declining support of Israel among young Americans also continues.

These are the facts, presented yesterday by the Pew Research Center. Now the questions.

The first of which is: should we worry? This has an easy answer. Of course, we should. Israel needs American support, and the more support the better. Israel also needs stable support, not one that comes and goes when government switches parties. If only one party is highly supportive of Israel, then only when this party is in power Israel can be relatively calm about the support it will get.

What Can We Do?

A second question is more complicated: what can we do about it? For this question, there are several answers available – and it is not surprising that each of them serves a certain political agenda. That is to say: these are answers that mostly utilize the new numbers to advance a cause.

First answer: Israel must change its policies and attitudes. Obviously, it is the answer you hear from people who want Israel to change its policies. For example: end the occupation, and your support in America will get a boost. With this answer there are two problems. One – Israel was not more popular when it was engaged in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Take a look: these are the numbers representing sympathy with Israel since 1990 (borrowed from the Jewish Virtual Library). As you can see, support for Israel is rising even amid recent hurdles in Israeli-Palestinian relations (look at the red trendline). You’d also notice that disengagement from Gaza (2005), or post Oslo Accord years (mid 1990’s) did not necessary translate to more American sympathy.

Of course, there’s another problem with the change-your-policy suggestion. Israelis do not want to change course because they believe that the current course is the one most secure and beneficial. They will only change course if they decide that the current course is no longer the best course, or if they calculate that what they gain by staying on course is less than what they lose in American support. And that is not an easy thing to calculate.

Second answer: Invest more in PR. This is the answer of people who think Israel ought not change its course but want to do something about the worrying trend. These people believe that Israel has a good case, and that with this case minds and hearts can be altered.

The problem with this answer is clear: the case might be strong, but Americans of a certain camp do not buy it – and even many Israelis don’t. In the world of geo-politics, actions speak much louder than PR campaigns. No campaign can compete with the impact of war in Gaza. No campaign can be more effective than a speech by Netanyahu in Congress.

Third answer: There is not much Israel can do. What we see – the alienation of liberals from Israel – is the result of social megatrends that impact many subjects among which Israel is just one. If that’s the case, the conclusion could be: invest in the people with which you have chance (namely, Republican conservatives), and don’t sweat over things you do not control.

What’s the problem with this attitude? Come November 2018, assuming the Democratic Party takes over Congress, the problem will become clear. The party in power will be the one that is less committed to the US bond with Israel.

Should We Panic?

No. The trend is clear, and the new survey is authoritative. But looking at the many surveys done in the last couple of years is a calming exercise. Yes, support for Israel is eroding, but the Palestinians do not gain much. In fact, the trendline is still one of a growing gap between the (higher) support for Israel and the (lower) support for Palestinians.

Take a look (this is based on numbers assembled by Rosner’s Domain):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does God Want Higher Taxes?

Photo from Flickr/401kcalculator.org

Last week, Republicans did what they always do when they have power: They passed an across-the-board tax cut.

Not a single Democrat voted for the tax reform bill in the Senate or House. That’s a major shift since the 2001 tax cuts under George W. Bush, when 12 Democrats voted for that bill in the Senate, and 28 voted for it in the House.

Last week, Democrats rightly complained about the process, which was perfunctory and messy, complete with handwritten notes in the final Senate version. They wrongly complained about the structure of the tax reform bill, which they said raised taxes on the poor (false) to decrease taxes on the rich. And they hypocritically complained about increases to the deficit — when’s the last time Democrats complained about too much spending?

But it was peculiarly perplexing to watch religious Democrats complain about the tax bill by citing biblical text. Conservatives were high-handedly informed that God mandates higher taxes — that to care for the poor and the orphan, governments were instituted among men.

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg led the charge, stating on Twitter, “If the Bible is so against systemic solutions to poverty, why is a jubilee year declared that releases people from debt to alleviate intergenerational poverty? What is leket, shikhah, pe’ah, and maaser if not taxes meant to create a safety net for those in need?”

Let’s begin with the bizarre contention that the Bible requires higher taxes. That’s simply untrue. The Bible talks about “taxes” (Hebrew: mas) in the traditional sense in only a few places: Solomon raised taxes, as did his son Rehoboam, with the result that the kingdom of Israel was split in half; Ahasuerus raised taxes at the end of the Book of Esther, a move that isn’t exactly seen as an unmitigated positive in the Talmud. The Torah’s emphasis on tzedakah is about private giving, not about government-enforced giving.

The Torah isn’t a guidebook for government welfare programs. It’s a guidebook for personal goodness.

Now, let’s talk other forms of biblical “taxes.” First, there’s maaser, tithing; Ruttenberg here probably is referring to maaser sheni, which in Deuteronomy 14 is directed toward the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow (maaser is directed toward the priests alone). It applies only in the third and sixth years of the sabbatical cycle, and it’s 10 percent of the produce.

Then there’s shikhah, which occurs when you forget a sheaf in the field; you’re supposed to leave it for the widow and the orphan (Deuteronomy 24:19). That’s a rather de minimis contribution. Leket and pe’ah are referenced in Leviticus 19; leket refers to ears of corn forgotten on the ground, which are to be left there for the poor (again, this is de minimis); pe’ah refers to the corner of your field. The minimum amount for pe’ah is 1/60th of your field.

At best, then, we’re talking about a biblically mandated 11.7 percent of your produce every third and sixth year. Democrats want to maintain the highest tax rates at over 50 percent, if we include state and local taxes.

Finally, there’s shemitta and yovel. Shemitta mandates the waiver of all debts in the seventh year (Deuteronomy 15); yovel restores all land ownership to its original owner in the 50th year (Leviticus 25). Ruttenberg says that these mechanisms were designed to prevent accumulation of wealth. That’s untrue. Actually, they were designed to maintain tribal land ownership, since the Talmud says that yovel applies only when the tribes were living in their prescribed territories. And the rabbis designed an entire system, pruzbul, in order to avoid the impact of yovel and shmitta loans. It turns out that a system that routinely devaluates loans prevents their issuance, thereby harming the poor.

None of this is designed to undercut the notion that the Torah cares about the poor. It most certainly does. But our obligations are personal, not government-created; God wants us to act out of personal desire to help the poor. And not coincidentally, studies show that those who are most religious tend to give the most to charity, not those who point to the Bible in order to justify government cash-grabs.

The Torah isn’t a guidebook for government welfare programs. It’s a guidebook for personal goodness. To turn it into the former is to prevent the cultivation of the latter.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the conservative podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Republican Proposals Are a Good Start

Photo from Flickr/ccPixs.com.

Presidents Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George Bush (43) all organized major tax cuts that generated significant economic growth.

Donald Trump has staked his presidency on gross domestic product rates far above President Barack Obama’s years (1.5 percent per year).  He badly needs a political victory, and the GOP needs something to show for its majority, heading into 2018.

“On the one hand,” as economists say, the Trump tax plan is overdue. Lowering corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 20 percent will make U.S. business more competitive with Canada, Europe and Asia. Apple and other large enterprises will repatriate some of the $3 trillion held offshore, creating jobs and raising employee wages.

Economist Larry Lindsey predicts that lower corporate taxes and deregulation will increase productivity, capital formation, new business startups and employee education and re-training, though growing corporate earnings have already pushed the Dow Jones industrial average, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the NASDAQ composite to all-time highs.

“On the other hand,” keeping popular tax deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable giving risks growing our national debt if promised economic growth does not materialize.

To generate revenue, then, the president advocates ending the federal deduction of state and local taxes. Democrats argue this is an unfortunate, partisan shot at taxpayers in high-tax states like California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.  They are correct.

Some Republicans wrongly argue that blue states are subsidized by more fiscally prudent red states. But California is a net donor state, bearing the burden of one-third of the entire nation’s welfare cases, plus other costs associated with federal failure on illegal immigration.

The GOP tax plan, then, unfortunately favors corporate lobbyists and the super wealthy, the top 1 percent of the 1 percent, the Manhattan hedge fund billionaires and Silicon Valley masters of the universe.  These are not mostly Republicans, by the way, nor part of the Trump electoral coalition.

A wealth tax on the top 1 percent — the high-income earners who pay some 40 percent of all federal income taxes; as well as the top 10 percent — who pay some 70 percent of all federal income taxes — would ungenerously label as “rich” those taxpayers who already pay way more than their fair share, due to progressive tax rates that punish striving, sacrifice and success, and discourage investment, saving, hard work and self-reliance.

Taxes are about incentives. The late economist Milton Friedman taught that what we tax, we get less of.  As he said, “We need not more taxes, but more taxpayers.”

The GOP effort to reduce the tax rate on the middle class is popular, as is the rejection of a border adjustment tax, which would disfavor importers, retailers and consumers.

Simplifying the tax code may save individual taxpayers time and costs preparing annual federal returns.  Ending the complex alternative minimum tax (AMT) tax and the federal estate tax are good ideas, too.

Perhaps it’s time for the flat tax — real individual tax reform and simplification — or a consumption tax, which raises revenue without disproportionately hurting the working poor.

Perhaps it’s time for the flat tax.

Half of our citizens with low income now don’t pay any federal income tax, (although they do pay federal payroll, Social Security and Medicare taxes). Perhaps low-income workers should bear the responsibility of even small income taxes, too.

Joseph Isaac Lifshitz’s careful study of the biblical and rabbinic corpus, “Judaism, Law and the Free Market” offers instruction from talmudic tractate Berakhot: “One who benefits from his own labor is greater than one who fears heaven.” And from Pesahim, in a teaching of Rabbi Akiva to his son: “It is better to make your Sabbath meals ordinary than to become dependent on others.”

Albert Einstein asserted that the tax code was purposely confusing: “This is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher.”

Former Chief Justice John Marshall noted that: “The power to tax is the power to destroy,” while Benjamin Franklin warned: “It would be a hard government that took even one-tenth of a people’s income.”

Like death, taxes are certain. Current proposals to offer some relief for hardworking citizens make good public policy.


Larry Greenfield is a fellow of The Claremont Institute and a wealth advisor in Los Angeles.

Democrats Need a Tax Plan, Too

Photo from Flickr/www.ccPixs.com.

The Republican tax-reform plan is marginally less generous to the wealthy than many conservatives would like. As the GOP struggles to cobble together an actual bill that can unite their fractious party, it’s tempting for Democrats to sit back and enjoy the show.

But that’s shortsighted. How can Democrats steer Congress toward constructive reform without a proposal of their own? And how can the Democratic Party rebuild its own credibility on economic issues if it has no vision on tax policy?

For Americans, and for the viability of their own party, Democrats need to offer a progressive road map for tax reform that clearly spells out what they would change in our existing tax laws, and why. The party is going to need a coherent and principled basis for judging and improving the package that Republicans come up with, which will explode the debt while delivering the biggest tax cuts to the nation’s wealthiest families.

At the moment, Democratic tax policy can be summed up this way: Raise taxes on the rich. That’s not good enough. Though the approach may excite hardcore partisans and class warriors, it doesn’t speak to working- and middle-class aspirations for better jobs and higher wages.

Taxing the rich won’t pay for everything.

Americans want a forward-looking and concrete plan for pulling the country out of its slow-growth rut and ensuring that workers without a college degree can find middle-income jobs in today’s knowledge economy.

Rather than sit mute as Republicans flail, Democrats ought to view the coming debate over tax reform as an opportunity to show Americans what they stand for, and offer, if not a detailed tax bill, these basic progressive tenets:

A well-designed tax overhaul could breathe new life into the economy by eliminating market distortions and inefficiencies that misallocate capital. Democrats should push for ending, or at least limiting, a host of tax-preference items that channel investment into tax-favored activities rather than productive ones. They also should call for cutting taxes on startups, the most fertile source of new jobs. In the long term, Democrats should advocate for a fundamentally different way of financing government — one that taxes consumption more, and income and innovation far less.

Democrats are right when they say that America’s wealthiest families can and should contribute more. But taxing the rich won’t pay for everything. Democrats need to tap new revenue sources. For instance, they should scale back costly tax preferences for health insurance and housing that disproportionately benefit high-income households. They also should lower the payroll tax, which hits working Americans harder than the income tax. Reducing the payroll tax would create an immediate bump in overall economic growth.

Democrats should propose bringing business tax rates down to competitive levels and taxing business activity where it occurs. Not only does our outdated corporate tax system burden many U.S. companies with higher nominal and effective rates than their foreign competitors, it also gives our companies a perverse incentive to park profits overseas.

The American tax system is not just outdated. It’s positively byzantine. Streamlining the code would make it much easier for working families to file their taxes. What’s more, many of the most complicated tax preferences serve to benefit corporations and the country’s richest households. Removing or reforming these items and creating a simpler, more transparent tax code would boost public confidence in our system of voluntary compliance.

Republican leaders in Congress are backpedaling from campaign promises to pass “revenue-neutral” tax reform and reverting to the long-discredited claim that tax cuts will pay for themselves by turbo-charging the economy. As American fiscal policy suffocates under the weight of $20 trillion in national debt, Democrats can’t let Republicans get away with such nonsense. The drain in revenue would put intolerable pressure on public investment and lead to the freezing of much-needed government programs.

To help millions more Americans reach the middle class, and to define themselves as the real party of jobs and growth, Democrats need to put forward a tax plan of their own.


Will Marshall is president of the Progressive Policy Institute.

A double standard for Trump on Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, U.S. July 25, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernest/REUTERS.

The double standard that too many Jewish supporters of Donald Trump apply to this president was on sad display last week.

A young Palestinian man entered the home of a Jewish family in the village of Halamish on July 21 and stabbed Yosef, Chaya and Elad Salomon to death. No justification. No mercy. No humanity. 

Our hearts cried out for universal condemnation. Our president needed to set the example of moral leadership. As of this writing, he has said nothing. 

Well, not nothing. Immediately following news of the butchery, President Donald J. Trump did tweet. This is what he said: “It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.”

Trump was so focused on the perceived treachery of Republicans who refuse to go along with some half-baked Obamacare repeal that he passed on the opportunity to call out terrorists, fanatics and their enablers.

My reaction to Trump’s bizarre tweet was, What if President Obama had done this?

What if Barack Obama had said nothing about the indescribably awful photos of the Salomon family murder scene? His Jewish detractors would have pilloried him — and rightly so.

The contrast points to something more and more apparent: a double standard applied by the pro-Israel community to Trump and his predecessor.

Three weeks ago, Trump recertified Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. I believe this was the right thing to do, but then again, I supported the deal originally.  Trump didn’t. But when he reversed himself, did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fly to Washington and speak to Congress to publicly condemn Trump? Did Trump’s Jewish supporters call him a traitor to Israel and an Iranian puppet? Nope. Double standard.

One week ago, the Trump administration cut a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a Syrian ceasefire that leaves Hezbollah troops close to Israel’s northern border.  Israel vehemently opposed the idea. But Trump sided with Putin. “The Americans completely conceded to the Russians,” a senior Israeli military official told Al-Monitor. “The very names of Iran or Hezbollah do not appear in the agreement, and there is no expression of Israeli concerns at all. Our security needs are completely ignored.”

I’m not sure the ceasefire wasn’t the right move. But I do know what holy hell the pro-Israel right would have raised if Obama had signed that deal. In this case, they said nothing. Double standard.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised he would move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem  “on Day One.” Jewish and Christian audiences leapt to their feet at Trump’s promise.

Two months ago, Trump declined to move the embassy. The protest from those who applauded him? Barely a word. Double standard.

Keep in mind these all are examples from the past couple of months. Want to go back further? Imagine what the Republican outcry would have been if Obama refused to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day? Or if Obama had said he “doesn’t know anything about” Louis Farrakhan, as candidate Trump said of KKK Grand Nincompoop David Duke.   

A healthy swath of the Jewish community, and the larger Republican crowd, reviled Obama. But time and again they grade Trump on a curve. Obama signed a $38 billion aid deal with Israel, helped fund its Iron Dome program, stood by Israel during the Gaza War and firmly declared anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism — two years before French President Emmanuel Macron did. Did it matter? Nope. Double standard.

With one notable exception — the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein — the president’s Jewish supporters give him a pass on issues, statements and actions they would have slammed Obama for.

Obama could do no right, Trump can do no wrong. Can you even imagine the derision if Obama’s State Department had blamed Israel for Palestinian terror, as Trump’s State Department did in a report released this week?

Here’s what I wonder: Why does Trump get a pass? Maybe United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley buys Trump all the indulgences he will ever need. Maybe Obama haters simply used Israel as a wedge issue to gain Jewish votes when their real concern was other Democratic policies. Or maybe these supporters cut Trump slack because they believe he supports Israel deep down in his kishkas, or guts, and — so they like to say– Obama just didn’t.

If it’s the last reason, then I have one question that Jewish supporters of the president must consider: Does it matter if you have Israel in your kishkas if you are otherwise incompetent, unprepared, uniformed and relentlessly self-concerned?

In July 2014, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found murdered by Palestinian terrorists — a horror no less shocking and unjustifiable than the Salomon murders last week. Almost immediately, then-President Barack Obama sent his condolences to the families of the teenagers and condemned the “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”

It’s not asking too much of a president to respond with humanity to inhuman acts. And it’s not expecting too much of his supporters to call him out when he falls short.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Dating 101: The Politics of Love

I have been dating George for six months. We spend a lot of time together and have settled into a comfortable space. He makes me laugh and I feel protected, valued, cherished, respected, and entertained. He is kind and gentle, yet not at all a pushover. He is a good man, which I noticed immediately because one often takes notice of things they have never encountered before. I like him very much.

George and I don’t fight. Not to say we don’t disagree on things, because we do, but there is no yelling, disrespect, regret in what we say, or how we say it. There are a lot of things that are new about this relationship. I thought the biggest obstacle would be that George is not Jewish. Turns out that isn’t actually a deal breaker. He has come with me to Shabbat Services, met my Rabbi, and embraced how I embrace my faith. I am Jewish enough to carry my faith on my own, which is an empowering feeling as I always felt my partner needed also be Jewish.

So here is where we stand:

Kindness                 Check

Chemistry                Check

Sense of Humor     Check

Respect                   Check

Handsome              Check

Tall                           Check

Blue Eyes                Check

Thinks I Rock         Check

Religion                   All Good

Politics                    Oy Vey

I am a person who likes to talk about politics. I am fascinated by what is happening in America and enjoy not only the banter that politics inspires, but learning about how the political system works. It is a truly unique time for this country and I want to talk about it. Not just politics, but the news in general. From the alleged treason of Donald Trump and his family, to the senseless killings of African Americans by law enforcement, to people who sold pot being in prison next to people who sold heroin, I want to not only talk about it, but try to fix it. Whether writing about race relations, calling my Congressman to have my voice heard, or advocating for medical marijuana, it all matters to me.

It has forced me to look at my relationship in a way I never have before. I have to decide what is important and why I think it is important. Does it matter that I be with someone who thinks exactly like me? Am I holding my partner up a different level of scrutiny than I do my friends? Do I value someone who treats me well?  Is not talking about politics a deal breaker? Can I only love someone who thinks the exact same way as me?  At the end of the day it forces me to think about what I want, what I deserve, and what I am afraid of. Am I simply using politics as a way to run away from someone wonderful because I’m scared?

Rachelle Friberg is a friend of mine. I have never met her in person mind you, but she is my friend. She is a lovely young woman who reached out to me on social media after I wrote a series of blogs about a random encounter with Sarah Palin. She was hosting a radio show and asked if I would come on and talk about it. While I am sure there are many republicans in my life, she was the first one who was really out there with her politics. She is proudly republican. She is also young, educated, religious, and close with her family. With the exception of our political affiliations, we are actually quite similar and I like her very much. We have been friends for several years and she is my go to republican.

I asked Rachelle a few questions because I value her opinion on politics. She’d be a great politician and perhaps after her career as one of the best school teachers this country has to offer, she will run for office. Rachelle has always been a republican. Both her parents are republicans. She used to consider herself a conservative republican, but her views have shifted a little over time. While she still considers herself a fiscal conservative, which I suppose I am too, she considers herself more of a moderate when it comes to social issues. She has coined herself a “common-sense republican”, which I love.

I asked Rachelle if she would date democrat and it was the first time she’d ever been asked the question. She never gave the topic much thought. When it comes to dating or being in a relationship, she looks at the individual and could care less whom the guy she’s dating voted for in an election. If the chemistry is there, why would she let political differences stand in the way of her having a committed, lasting relationship? She expanded by saying having differences in beliefs whether it comes to something as important as politics, or as trivial as what kind of pizza toppings you prefer on pizza (ham and pineapple is her winner), can be a good thing in that you’ll never run out of things to talk about. Healthy debates can be a good thing and can add an element of fun to a relationship.

When we spoke about President Trump, Rachelle shared that this was the first presidential election since voting in her first election at age of 18, she didn’t vote for the republican nominee. When it came to voting day, she could not vote for an individual whom she felt did not represent her as a republican or her values. That said, she said since President Trump won, and is now president of the United States, he is her President. She respects the office of the land and believes we live in the greatest country on earth. She believes it is her duty to stand by her country, but she wishes he would stop tweeting already.

At the end of the day Rachelle does not think political affiliation of your significant other should determine whether or not you can jump all in. If you have chemistry, who cares whom they voted for? Would it make it easier if they vote the same way as she did? Probably. But Rachelle reminded me nothing comes easy without hard work and grit. Relationships can be messy, but they are also amazing testaments to the value that comes with loving someone through the good and the bad. Sometimes the best relationships come from the most unexpected circumstances. You’ll never know unless you take a leap of faith.

Rachelle made me see things differently. If she can date a democrat, then certainly I could date a republican! In a final attempt to get her to get me to walk away from George, I asked my lovely Christian friend if she would date a Jew. Her answer was really surprising to me. It was a tough question for her. She is deeply rooted in her religion but it is not the be-all, end-all of a relationship for her. She would date someone who practices a different religion because love is love and she understands how special and rare it is to find someone. Oh. My. God. I might actually be in love with Rachelle. She is a wonderful human being.

As I write this I can’t help but wonder what I’m doing. Am I trying to push away a man because of politics? Am I so certain I have yet again picked the wrong person, I am willing to get rid of him before my heart is hurt? Am I brave enough to jump in and fall in love with a man who makes no sense anywhere but my heart? It is all rather complicated and I suppose that is the thing about love. It is not relationships that are complicated, but rather love. Love is also grand and I have been searching for it for a long time. The possibility of finding it is terrifying. Not sure what I’m doing, but I am certain politics shouldn’t play a role in love.

George is a lovely man but the simple truth is that not only is he a republican, but he voted Donald Trump. At the end of the day that is something that has me stuck. This man has been gentle with my heart and inspired me to view things differently, but how can I respect someone who not only voted for, but continues to support Trump? It may simply be impossible. I hope to have a happy ending one day, and whenever that is, and whoever it is with, I will be grateful, afraid, excited, and as always, keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dating 101: Politics and Religion

I have been dating “George” for several months and for the first time in my life I am not in a rush to define it. He calls me his girlfriend, which is lovely. We are in an exclusive and committed relationship that matters to me, but I am not searching for labels or declarations. That is new for me because as a hopeless romantic I am so hopeful that my view of relationships has been distorted.

I have loved men who were unworthy of me. By unworthy of course I mean they should never date. Ever. I have not been interested in men who were probably good for me. I have cried more tears than anyone should, yet I am certain I will find love. I will meet someone wonderful who gets, deserves, and appreciates me. We will build memories that are happy rather than sad. It is just a matter of time.

When it comes to George, I have never been treated so kindly by a man. He is sweet, attentive, supportive, and lovely. He does not look like anyone I’ve ever dated, and he is not Jewish, which is how I have always rolled. He is a republican, which is how I never roll. We have nothing in common and were raised very differently, yet we are in a relationship and it is all really quite nice.

I am at a point in my life when I understand how hard it is to simply have nice. Nice is a wonderful word to describe a relationship and I don’t think people understand how important it is to have things be nice. To be clear it is not boring, just nice. We are respectful of each other’s opinions and communicate without fear. I enjoy his company and how he treats me. Most importantly, he makes me laugh.

There is however, one unsettling thing. When we talk politics, I find myself wanting to punch him in the face. We are on different pages and it makes my lower back spasm. The truth is no matter how much George thinks he is a Republican, I think he may actually be Independent. Perhaps I am one too! He believes his views are patriotic, but they are actually not at all in the best interest of the country.

I like him, but politics are a road block. I used to think I could never date a man who wasn’t Jewish, but it turns out dating a republican is much harder. It could just be me getting nervous that everything is good and therefore I’m finding things to sabotage. It could also be that I’m simply not able to date someone so different on two very important subjects of politics and religion.

It is hard to know if I am making the right choices. On Friday night George came with me to Shabbat services. He held my hand while I prayed, participated in the traditions, and met my Rabbi. It is great that he is open to my faith and will celebrate with me. I appreciate it, but we will undoubtedly speak about the political drama of the week, and I will struggle to not punch him. Oy vey.

At this point in our relationship I need to either jump in or get out. I want very much to set aside politics and focus on the nice, but I am not sure I can do it. I am open to all perspectives, but am struggling with politics, which is strange because I was certain it would be religion that got in my way. George is not a religious person. He believes on God, but does not practice any faith.

That makes things surprisingly easy. I am a practicing Jew, but I do not need him to practice with me to be satisfied in my faith. It is enough that he supports and respects how I practice Judaism. Having him at services with me was lovely. He was comfortable and open to all of it. This is a wonderful man who checks a lot of my boxes. I want to make it work, but will I be able to?

Can you fall in love with someone who is fundamentally different from you? Can you build a life with someone who’s political perspective changes how you view them? Should you invest in someone who you want to change? I adore this man but politically we are beyond not being on the same page, we are actually reading different books. It seems silly, but is a real struggle.

The internal battle I thought I would face over religion never happened. Instead my struggle is political, but love should never be political. Should it? I believe people should think, feel, and believe whatever they want. I also believe in love, and love is grand. The most important thing in love is respect, so can I love someone who’s views I don’t respect? It is all rather complicated.

The problem is that I have written here many times that love should not be complicated. My past relationships have always had something that was complicated, and the complication ultimately ends things. I am in a relationship now where the complication has been front and center from the beginning. There are no surprises. I knew what the differences were right from the start.

Time will tell if this complication brings us closer together or tears us apart. George is of the belief it makes us interesting as a couple. He is also a republican, so what does he know? Oy! It has been a wonderful weekend with George. We went to temple, hung out with my son, and enjoyed our time together. As for the future, he might be my bashert so I am putting politics aside, and keeping the faith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish groups lambaste Trump’s pullout from climate accords

President Donald Trump on Thursday said he will withdraw the United States from the landmark 2015 global agreement to fight climate change, earning statements of dismay from critics, including Jewish groups who regard the pullout as a diplomatic and environmental disaster.

Speaking Thursday at ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said the so-called Paris accords, signed by every country except for Syria and Nicaragua, place “draconian” financial and economic burdens on American businesses and taxpayers and give other countries a trade advantage over the United States.

“As someone who cares deeply about our environment, I cannot in good conscience support a deal which punishes the United States,” he said. “The Paris accord is very unfair at the highest level to the United States.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued a statement on behalf of the Reform movement saying the announcement was “an abdication of responsibility to address global climate change and is both physically dangerous and morally reprehensible.

“The decision disregards vitally important environmental efforts to protect both our planet and the population, with consequences that will reverberate for generations,” wrote Pesner. “Reneging on the agreement diminishes U.S. leadership and undermines longstanding alliances, placing an undue burden on other nations to address climate change.

American Jewish World Service, which advocates for people in developing nations, said such countries would bear the brunt of the severe storms, flooding, droughts and famine that a scientific consensus regards as the already apparent signs of the effects of man-made global warming.

“The longer the U.S. denies climate change and fails to take responsibility for its outsized contribution to global warming, the greater the risk posed to the entire world, especially the poorest people on Earth,” said Robert Bank, president and CEO of AJWS, in a statement.

Added Banks: “We stand proudly as Jews who cherish the Earth to object in the strongest terms to the President’s shortsighted and damaging decision. As American Jews, we will continue to raise our voices in solidarity with the people worldwide who have done the least to cause global warming but who suffer the most.”

Vatican officials also signaled their dismay with Trump’s decision. The Catholic church strongly supported the climate accords. Last month, the Union for Reform Judaism, AJWS and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life joined 20 other religious groups in urging Trump to adhere to the agreement, which was reached in 2015 and signed in 2016.

The 195 countries that signed the Paris Agreement pledged to adopt nonbinding plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans largely applauded Trump’s decision to pull out of the accords, although reports indicated that there was opposition among some of his closest advisers, including Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council; Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and unpaid adviser, and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

Neither Ivanka Trump nor her husband attended the announcement ceremony, which fell on the second day of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Both are observant Jews.

The making of Adam Schiff: Why is this man taking on the president?

Rep. Adam Schiff speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill on March 30 about the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

This is hardly the first time Adam Schiff has had Russia on his mind.

Years ago, and long before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Schiff was a United States Attorney in Los Angeles who led the prosecution of an FBI agent  convicted on spy charges.

“Sex for secrets,” he recalled in a telephone interview with the Jewish Journal last month. “He was seduced by an attractive KGB asset named Svetlana — they’re always named Svetlana. I had to work extensively with the FBI even though it was the first time an FBI agent was ever indicted for espionage. … It’s so odd to be working on a case again involving the bureau and Russia. But it does feel like it’s come full circle.”

Congressman Adam Schiff, 56, is one of 18 Jews serving in the House, and these days, one of the most prominent of the chamber’s 193 Democrats. He’s been everywhere lately — a guest on CNN and MSNBC, a focus of stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. His Twitter following is growing exponentially. Already, people are suggesting he could become a presidential candidate in 2020.

And all this for one reason: Schiff is the ranking member — the top Democrat — on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is investigating whether the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone in the Trump campaign had a role in it.

With Democrats in the minority, Schiff has only so much power in setting the panel’s agenda. Nonetheless, he has emerged as a forceful counterweight to President Donald Trump’s defenders, who insist the current investigations into Russia’s election activities — the Senate and FBI are holding their own probes — are little more than politically motivated witch hunts designed to undermine the Trump presidency.

“The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain [Trump’s] worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy.” — Adam Schiff

Undaunted, Schiff is pressing ahead, an effort that draws together the most salient parts of a life in public service — his Judaism, his law background, four years in the California Senate and his 16-plus years in the House — not to mention his role as a Big Brother to a young African-American boy who Schiff’s father, Ed Schiff, says made Adam “a better person.”

It’s a foundation that also has cemented his confidence in American institutions despite the current chaos of Washington.

“I think our democracy is resilient enough; we’ll get through this, I think, even if the president doesn’t operate within established norms of office,” Schiff said. “The American people do have a strong center of gravity that will constrain his worst impulses, so I’m a believer in our democracy. I think we’ll get through this. But certainly, there are some rough roads ahead.”

Schiff was born in Boston in 1960, a few months before John F. Kennedy was elected president, as the younger of two sons to Ed and Sherri Schiff. Theirs was a mixed marriage: Ed, who now lives in Boca Raton, Fla. — “living the ‘Seinfeld’ life,” his son said — is a Democrat; Sherri, who died around 2009 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, was a Republican.

Adam Schiff poses during his bar mitzvah in June 1973 at Temple Isaiah in Northern California. Photo courtesy of Ed Schiff

Ed Schiff was a businessman who moved around the country as a regional sales director for Farah, a men’s pants manufacturing company. Sherri, “bored with country club life … went into real estate, where her boss said, ‘You are wasting time writing copy. Why don’t you get into sales?’ ” Ed said.

After a few years of living in Arizona, the Schiffs moved in 1970 to Contra Costa County in the Bay Area, where Ed got out of the “rag business,” as he called it, and purchased a building materials yard.

In those days, Adam was a studious boy who, according to his father, always did his homework, adored his mother and had a friendly sibling rivalry with his older brother, Dan, a relationship Adam would later write about in a screenplay — never produced — called “Common Wall.” Adam became a bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah, a Reform congregation in Lafayette, Calif., in June 1973.

“I certainly do remember making tape recordings of my [bar mitzvah] practice sessions on cassette tape with a little cassette recorder, and I think I may even have one of those,” Schiff said. “It’s funny to hear your voice back then.”

In 1978, he entered Stanford University. A pre-med student, he also studied political science, and upon graduation, he was unsure if he wanted to pursue law or medicine. He decided on the former and enrolled at Harvard Law School.

After graduating in 1985, he clerked for federal Judge Matthew Byrne, a Los Angeles native who presided over the trial involving Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Later, Schiff spent six years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in L.A. During that time, he met his wife, Eve Sanderson Schiff — yes, they’re Adam and Eve — and prosecuted Richard Miller, the FBI agent convicted of espionage.

Schiff’s success against Miller, as well as Byrne’s influence, accelerated his interest in politics.

“After Adam convicted the FBI agent of treason, he called me and said, ‘Dad, can you imagine what it’s like to have representatives of the most powerful nation in the world calling you and offering to help you in any way they could? Dad, I will never have another case like that in my life,’ ” Ed recalled his son saying. “ ‘I’m going into politics.’ ”

Twice he ran unsuccessfully for the California Assembly but promised his supporters he would do better next time. In 1996, he was elected to the State Senate.

“Adam takes things in progression, and the learning curve … with each loss made it that much easier the next time,” his father said.

In 2000, Schiff ran for Congress to unseat Republican James Rogan in what was then the most expensive House race of all time. Rogan was a two-term Congressman who had his own national profile, in part, from working to impeach President Bill Clinton. Schiff sought help from his mother, asking if she’d make phone calls to voters on his behalf.

“He said, ‘Mama, I would like you to do something for me. I would like you to call these people and tell them a little about me and ask them to vote for me. She jumped into that for 2 1/2 years like it was eating ice cream,” Ed said. “Her spiel went like this: ‘Good evening. My name is Sherri Schiff. My son Adam is running for Congress in your district. May I tell you a little about him?’ ”

Schiff currently is serving in his ninth two-year term in the House, representing a district that now extends from West Hollywood to the eastern edge of Pasadena and from Echo Park to the Angeles National Forest. He has a reputation as a moderate who works with members of both parties. With a large constituency of Armenians, he has championed legislation that would formalize United States recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915-17. He once delivered an entire speech on the House floor in Armenian and worked with the Armenian members of a hard-rock band, System of a Down, toward seeking recognition of the genocide.

Regarding Israel, which is never out of the headlines, he said, “I’m deeply concerned with a trend I’ve seen over the last several years, where the U.S.-Israel relationship, which always had been very bipartisan regardless of who was in office in Israel or in the U.S., has been trending toward a situation where you have a GOP-Likud relationship and Democratic relationship with other parties in Israel. I think that’s a very destructive trend.”

In 2015, as Jews became polarized over the Iranian nuclear agreement, Schiff considered both sides, then came out in favor of it. Recently, he expressed concern that in the event Trump believes Iran has violated the agreement by developing a nuclear weapon, the president’s outlandishness on Twitter and elsewhere will undermine his credibility in efforts to galvanize allies into action against Iran.

“I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system.” — Adam Schiff

“If they are cheating and the president calls them out on it and thinks there should be some response to it, will the country believe it?” he asked. “The allies we’d need to participate with us, would they believe us? The intelligence agencies that he’s maligning? This is the reason why presidential credibility is to be treasured and not squandered.”

Like Trump, Schiff uses Twitter to communicate his positions. One of his most shared tweets — more than 43,000 retweets and nearly 83,000 likes — addressed Trump’s tweet aimed at the “so-called judge” who had blocked his executive order barring individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.:

This ‘so-called’ judge was nominated by a ‘so-called’ President & was confirmed by the ‘so-called’ Senate. Read the ‘so-called’ Constitution.”

Tweets aside, Schiff’s 17-minute opening statement during the Intelligence Committee’s first public hearing on Russia on March 20 was less attack-dog and, befitting his usual public demeanor in television interviews, more lawyerly. He cited events of the presidential campaign that could suggest coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign, improving the Republican’s chance of victory.

“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and are nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible,” Schiff said, addressing FBI Director James Comey and Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency. “But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected, and not unrelated, and that the Russians used … techniques to corrupt U.S. persons. … We simply don’t know.”

In the interview with the Journal, he said, “I have been so appalled by this president’s conduct. I feel I have to vigorously oppose his efforts to undermine our system, and so, I certainly think there is more than a grain of truth to the idea this is a different kind of role for me.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in West L.A. met Schiff five years ago at a memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills. Wolpe was leading the service, and Schiff said he was impressed with how eloquently and powerfully he spoke. The two struck up a friendship, exchanging book recommendations via email. The first book Schiff recommended to Wolpe reflected Schiff’s earlier involvement with Russia. It was “Eugene Onegin,” a masterpiece by the Russian novelist Alexander Pushkin.

“When he’s in town, we have lunch,” Wolpe said. “I talk a little bit about politics, but we talk a lot about literature and life.”

“When I saw him at AIPAC [in March], I told him how proud I am of how he’s been conducting himself,” Wolpe continued. “He’s in a tricky position. This is a very fraught time and I think he has conducted himself with a great deal of dignity. I am not trying to take political sides; I try my best not to. I think he is a nice, thoughtful, decent, caring and very intelligent man, so I’m impressed with him.”

Schiff’s own rabbi concurs.

“I felt personally very proud that Adam has taken stances on issues that really move him personally, and he hasn’t backed down on that,” said Rabbi Baht Yameem Weiss of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.

“From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now.” — Ed Schiff, father of Adam Schiff

For all his supporters, not everyone appreciates his approach to the investigation.

“Adam Schiff is a bright guy. He’s a talented legislator, but right now, instead of focusing on the substance of the investigation, he’s focusing on politics and partisanship,” Ken Khachigian, a San Clemente-based Republican strategist and former senior adviser to President Ronald Reagan, told the L.A. Daily News last month.

Schiff and his wife, who is Catholic, are raising their two children, Alexa, 18, and Elijah, 14, Jewish. The family has belonged to Temple Beth Ami since 2010. They formerly belonged to Temple Sinai in Glendale. Alexa is involved with the Hillel at Northwestern University, where she is a freshman. She has traveled to Israel with a Jewish summer camp and will be working as a counselor at the camp this summer, Weiss said.

As a House member, Schiff said he draws on the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam (repairing the world) to influence his work in Congress.

“We have a responsibility to mend the torn fabric of the world,” he said.

For all of his success as a prosecutor, state legislator and congressman, it might have been his experience with a Black kid from Inglewood that has shaped Schiff most. In his mid-20s, fresh out of law school, he volunteered to become a “big brother” through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles. He was paired with David McMillan, a child of a single mother who needed a male role model for her son.

The two hit it off immediately, bonding over “The Big Lebowski,” Billy Joel and the beach. Three decades later, they are still part of each other’s lives. McMillan, now a television writer and playwright living in Los Angeles, was in Schiff’s wedding and recently attended Elijah Schiff’s bar mitzvah. There, Adam’s father approached McMillan and said, “I want to thank you for making Adam a better person.”

“I certainly would like to hope my relationship has had a positive impact, not just in how he conducts politics but also as a human being,” McMillan said.

“My ‘big brother’ is leading the resistance and is emerging as a leader not just of the Democratic Party but of all people who care about our democratic institutions and making sure they just survive.”

schiff-bbbs

Left: In 1986, 25-year-old Adam Schiff gets together with David McMillan, his Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles “little brother.” Photo courtesy of David McMillan
Right: Congressman Adam Schiff and David McMillan were paired 30 years ago through Big Brothers Big Sisters. The two would become lifelong friends. Photo courtesy of David McMillan

Speculation over Schiff’s future includes whether he might run for the Senate to succeed Dianne Feinstein, who is 83 and shares the same birthday, June 22, as Schiff. Feinstein, a senator since 1992, has not said whether she intends to seek another six-year term next year, but Schiff running to succeed her is a possibility his father won’t rule out.

“I think it would be a tremendous honor for him to step into the Senate if he wanted it, but I don’t know,” Ed Schiff said. “From where I sit, I think he’s certainly one of the leaders in the Democratic Party right now. And where that goes, how that goes, and so forth, I think it all depends on which way our country is going.”

In March, Schiff gave a speech at the Westwood home of Karl S. Thurmond, a friend of more than 30 years. In his 40-minute talk, Schiff denounced the president and expressed hope for the future of the Democratic Party before taking questions from the audience.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon. Below: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Left: Adam Schiff and his friend and former Harvard Law School classmate Karl Thurmond cross the finish line at the 1990 Los Angeles Marathon.
Right: Nearly 30 years after running the marathon, the two appeared together at Thurmond’s Westwood home in March. Schiff spoke before 50 of his supporters and discussed the Trump administration, the future of the Democratic Party and more.

Thurmond is an attorney and member of the Milken Community Schools board of trustees. He and Schiff were classmates in law school and both moved to L.A. after graduation, becoming part of a group that committed to becoming involved with a nonprofit to affect change. It was a pledge that led Schiff to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

They were 30 at the time, and Schiff was living in Venice. Training for the Los Angeles Marathon, he and Thurmond went on runs from Venice to Malibu and back, using the time to discuss career ambitions. Adam confided in Thurmond that he wanted to be president one day, to follow in the footsteps of his idol, John F. Kennedy.

“We would talk about our aspirations in life and one of his biggest from Day One was to run for political office so he could give back. His idol at the time, and I think still is, was President Kennedy,” Thurmond said. “I firmly believe, as he moves up, one day he will be running for president. And I can’t think of a better person to hold that office.”

For his part, Schiff declined to address his future.

“I don’t have much time even to eat lunch,” he said, “let alone think about anything other than what’s going on in the intelligence world.”

Senate introduces bipartisan bill with new Iran sanctions on eve of AIPAC conference

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey addresses the AIPAC annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., March 5, 2013. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

A bipartisan slate of senators has introduced new sanctions targeting Iran for its missile testing and destabilizing actions days before AIPAC’s national conference.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 was introduced Thursday by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Ten senators, from both parties, co-sponsored the measure.

The act establishes new sanctions targeting Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles and its backing for terrorism, and also seeks to block the property of any entity involved in the sale of arms to or from Iran. It does not reintroduce sanctions lifted from Iran as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The text was not yet available.

The bill is timed ahead of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference taking place March 26-28 in Washington, D.C. AIPAC, after two years of tensions with Democrats over Iran policy, and emerging tensions with Republicans over the lobby’s endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, wants the conference to celebrate its reputation for bipartisanship.

Bipartisanship was a theme in the release announcing the sanctions.

“The spirit of bipartisanship of this important legislation underscores our strong belief that the United States must speak with one voice on the issue of holding Iran accountable for its continued nefarious actions across the world as the leading state sponsor of terrorism,” Menendez said.

Corker said the bill “demonstrates the strong bipartisan support in Congress for a comprehensive approach to holding Iran accountable by targeting all aspects of the regime’s destabilizing actions.”

Tensions arose between AIPAC and Democrats over the Obama administration’s deal with Iran trading sanctions relief for a nuclear rollback. AIPAC, along with the Israeli government and most Republicans, opposed the deal. A key stumbling block to bipartisan bills extending sanctions to Iran was Democratic fears that measures backed by republicans were aimed at killing the deal, known as JCPOA.

The areas targeted for sanctions in the new bill are outside the ambit of the nuclear deal.

“This legislation was carefully crafted not to impede with the United States’ ability to live up to its commitments under the JCPOA, while still reaffirming and strengthening our resolve by imposing tough new sanctions to hold the Iranian regime accountable for threatening global and regional security,” Menendez said in the release.

A staffer for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the foreign relations committee, said Cardin led Democrats in their efforts to make sure the bill did not undercut the Iran deal. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., also played a leading role in making sure the bill was in compliance with the agreement.

Among measures favored by Republicans but removed by Democrats, the staffer said, were language that would have limited the ability of a president to waive the provisions of the bill for national security reasons; language that would have written oversight of the Iran deal’s sanctions relief into the new bill; language targeting the sale of commercial aircraft to Iran, which was liberalized as part of the nuclear deal, and limitations on dollar transactions allowed Iran under the nuclear deal.

Also introduced this week in time for the AIPAC conference were identical bipartisan bills in the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives that would “encourage new areas of cooperation” between Israel and the United States in the economic sphere.

AIPAC officials have said the lobby stands out as a focal point for bipartisanship at a time of polarization under President Donald Trump.

AIPAC seeking bipartisan spirit in a polarized capital

The crowd at last year’s AIPAC conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

Maintaining Iran sanctions, crushing BDS and ensuring aid to Israel are high on the agenda, of course.

But the overarching message at this year’s conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is, if you want a break from polarization, come join us.

“This is an unprecedented time of political polarization, and we will have a rare bipartisan gathering in Washington,” an official of the lobby told JTA about the March 26-28 confab. “One of the impressive aspects of our speaker program is that we will have the entire bipartisan leadership of Congress.”

That might seem a stretch following two tense years in which AIPAC faced off against the Obama administration – and by extension much of the Democratic congressional delegation – over the Iran nuclear deal.

But check out the roster of conference speakers and you can see the lobby is trying hard.

Among Congress members, for instance, there are the usual suspects, including stalwarts of the U.S.-Israel relationship like Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Ed Royce, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Vice President Mike Pence is speaking, and so are the leaders of each party in both chambers.

But also featured is Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a freshman who had the backing of Bernie Sanders, the Democratic presidential candidate who had his request for a satellite feed at last year’s conference turned down. Also present this year and absent last year, for the most part: Democrats who backed the Iran deal.

Among the other speakers are Obama administration architects and defenders of the nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program.

One striking example is Rob Malley, a National Security Council official who didn’t join President Barack Obama’s team until his second term in part because pro-Israel objections kept him out in the first four years. (Malley, a peace negotiator under President Bill Clinton, had committed the heresy of insisting that both Israelis and Palestinians were to blame for the collapse of talks in 2000.)

If there’s a let-bygones-be-bygones flavor to all this, it results in part from anxieties pervading the Jewish organizational world about polarization in the era of Trump. Jewish groups get their most consequential policy work done lining up backers from both parties.

“We continue to very much believe in the bipartisan model because it is the only way to get things done,” said the official, who like AIPAC officials are wont to do, requested anonymity. “This is the one gathering where D’s and R’s come together for high purpose.”

J Street, the liberal Middle East policy group, demonstrated at its own policy conference last month that it was only too happy to lead the resistance to President Donald Trump, who has appalled the liberal Jewish majority with his broadsides against minorities and his isolationism. J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explicitly said he was ready to step in now where AIPAC would not.

AIPAC is also under fire from the right. Republican Jews who consider the lobby’s bipartisanship a bane rather than a boon were behind the party platform’s retreat last year from explicit endorsement of the two-state solution. More recently, Trump has also marked such a retreat, at least rhetorically.

The Israeli American Council, principally backed by Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire who in 2007 fell out with AIPAC in part over its embrace of the two-state outcome, has attempted to position itself as the more conservative-friendly Israel lobby. The right-leaning Christians United for Israel is similarly assuming a higher profile on the Hill.

And so, in forging its legislative agenda, AIPAC is doing its best to find items both parties can get behind. There are three areas:

* Iran: Democrats are still resisting legislation that would undo the nuclear deal, but are ready to countenance more narrowly targeted sanctions. AIPAC is helping to craft bills that would target Iran’s missile testing and its transfer of arms to other hostile actors in the region.

* Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions: AIPAC will back a bill modeled on one introduced in the last congressional session by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., that would extend to the BDS movement 1970s laws that made it illegal to participate in the Arab League boycott of Israel.

* Foreign assistance: AIPAC activists will lobby the Hill on the final day of the conference with a request to back assistance to Israel (currently at $3.1 billion a year, set to rise next year to $3.8 billion). Support for such aid is a given, despite deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs in  Trump’s budget proposal.

Also a given will be the activists’ insistence that aid to Israel should not exist in a vacuum and should be accompanied by a robust continuation of U.S. aid to other countries. With a Trump administration pledged to slashing foreign assistance by a third and wiping out whole programs, AIPAC is returning to a posture unfamiliar since the early 1990s, when it stood up to a central plank of a Republican president.

Notably absent from the agenda is any item that robustly declares support for a two-state outcome. AIPAC officials say the longtime U.S. policy remains very much on their agenda, but the lobby’s apparent soft pedaling of the issue is notable at a time when other mainstream groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, have been assertive in urging the U.S. and Israeli governments to preserve it.

No need to shame the Federation

This column is a response to a column posted March 17 at jewishjournal.com, “A Deafening Silence from the Jewish Federation,” taking the Los Angeles Jewish Federation to task for not speaking out against certain policies and statements of President Donald Trump. You can join a Facebook discussion on this issue here.

Our local Federation can do no right. When it took a public stand two years ago against the Iran nuclear deal—which many of us considered bad for Israel and America, and still do—it got reamed by local Jews who felt the Federation should not exclude the many Jewish voices who favored the deal.

Although I was against the deal, I had sympathy for that pushback, since politics in general is very divisive and the Federation’s role is to be as unifying and inclusive as possible. The Federation learned its lesson. 

But now that Donald Trump is in the White House, some of those same voices are taking the Federation to task for staying out of politics and keeping quiet. In a joint op-ed in the Journal by four prominent progressive Jews, the Federation is shamed for remaining “deafeningly silent” in the face of the outrageous words and actions from our new president.

This goes against a long local tradition, the authors write, where “Los Angeles has had active Jewish community organizations that often spoke with one voice, took stands, ventured into politically risky territory and helped mark Jews as a force to be reckoned with on the community relations and political scenes.”

But the authors cite no precedent of past Federations taking on a president, or even a political cause. They use the loose term “Jewish leaders” without specifying if those were Federation leaders.

What they do suggest is that if anyone as bad as Trump would have become president over the past forty years, “The non-profit leadership of this community would have been vocal, visible and busy organizing in opposition.” 

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way.

Fair enough, but here’s the problem with that position: I know a lot of Jews in Los Angeles who think Obama was pretty bad, too. They believe Obama increased the racial tensions in our country, did virtually nothing to stop the massacre of 500,000 civilians in Syria and the worst refugee crisis of the century, and tried to turn America into another failed, socialist European state.

Some of those Jews claimed Obama’s policies violated Jewish values, and that it was a Jewish value to oppose him. In fact, had progressive Jews mobilized to oppose Obama during the massacres in Syria, and implored the Federation to speak out in the name of Jewish values against Obama’s Syria policy, they might be getting a better hearing today.

Either way, I have no political dog in this fight. I’ve written columns urging Republicans to “dump” Trump and even wrote a piece calling him worse than a liar. Personally, I enjoy seeing the Trump opposition movement—it shows me our diverse community in action.

That long and noble tradition that the authors write about, of Jews being “active participants in meetings, demonstrations, legislation, community events and forming alliances,” is alive and well. It reminds me of how much I cherish our freedom to protest and hold our leaders accountable, which I never take for granted.

But should that be the role of the Federation at the expense of further dividing our community? I don’t think so.

It’s interesting to note that when the authors try to strengthen their case by showing examples of prominent conservatives who had the guts to take on Trump, they cite three newspaper pundits. These pundits, they write, “all have readers, long-time admirers and fee-generating organizations that they have angered and alienated because of their courage—but they spoke out nevertheless.”

Yes, but speaking out is the core role of a pundit. Pundits don’t have the duty to unify a community or help it heal. Federations do. Our Federation has made its share of mistakes over the years; I just don’t think that aiming for bipartisanship in tremendously divisive times is one of them.

If there’s any “statement” the Federation can make, it might be to organize “Open Nights” where different voices of the community would be heard in a civil and open way. Instead of picking one voice, the Federation would convene multiple voices. Maybe really smart people will find a middle ground that can project Jewish values in a Trumpian world without dividing us any further.

As the Journal’s Esther Kustanowitz wrote on a Facebook post, “It’s easy to emerge as leaders, with a statement to rouse community to action, when everyone agrees. It’s when people disagree—when a community holds different beliefs in tension with each other—that emerging as a community leader gets difficult.”

If you ask me, any leadership move that can bring Jews together under the most divisive and stressful circumstances would be worthy of the highest Jewish value—Trump or no Trump.

Poll: 87 percent of Democrats, 53 percent of Republicans say anti-Semitism a ‘serious’ problem

Melanie Steinhardt comforting Becca Richman at the Jewish Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, Feb. 26. Photo by Dominick Reuter/Getty Images.

Seventy percent of American voters see anti-Semitism in the country as a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem, up from 49 percent a month ago, according to a new poll.

The responses differed by party identification, with an overwhelming majority of Democrats, 87 percent, seeing anti-Semitism as a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem, and slightly more than half of Republicans, 53 percent, seeing it as such, according to the poll released Thursday.

The survey was was conducted by Quinnipiac University at the beginning of March.

Jewish institutions, including community centers and Anti-Defamation League offices, have been hit with more than 100 bomb threats so far this year, all of them hoaxes. In the past three weeks, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in Philadelphia,St. Louis, and Rochester, New York.

Respondents were split on President Donald Trump’s response to the bomb threats and vandalism, with 37 percent approving and 38 percent disapproving. Most Republicans, 71 percent, approved of Trump’s response, while most Democrats, 66 percent, disapproved.

The poll also found that 63 percent of American voters think hatred and prejudice has increased since Trump’s election, while two percent say it has decreased and 32 percent say it has stayed the same.

Trump has come under fire for his delayed response to the incidents. Concerning the threats on Jewish establishments, Trump at first deflected questions – and in one instance shouted down a reporter who asked him about it – before calling them “horrible.”

Last month, the president noted the bomb threats and vandalism of cemeteries in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.

The Kansas City incident occurred after a patron ejected from a bar after hurling racial epithets at two workers from India allegedly returned with a gun and killed one of the men and wounded another.

Lee Zeldin: Trump’s Jewish mini-me

At a time when most Congressional Republicans are trying to distance themselves from Donald Trump, one is behaving like a cheap clone of his party's presidential candidate, complete with mind-numbing outrageous charges and incendiary rhetoric.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, the lone Jewish Republican in the 114th Congress, has called Barack Obama a “racist,” sounded like a Trump birther clone questioning the president's heritage and loyalty and accused him of having “no idea what he is doing.”

Zeldin, a freshman representing New York's first district at the eastern end of Long Island, likes to imitate his idol, Trump, by phrasing an accusation as if he's not the one who actually made the charge.

He said the return of $400 million in frozen funds to Iran was a “cash ransom to the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism,” virtually accusing the president of treason by suggesting he “is playing for the other team.”

The charge of dual loyalty is particularly offensive coming from a Jewish congressman.

Speaker Paul Ryan's called Trump's attack on the Mexican heritage of Indiana-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel “the textbook definition of racist,” but Zeldin defended the mogul, telling CNN not Trump but “the president of the United States is a racist with his policies and his rhetoric.” 

Trump, like many on the right, have trouble accepting an African-American or a woman as the president of their white man's Christian country.  Sounds like Zeldin does, too.

Huffington Post has said Zeldin has “shown a willingness to engage in some of the basest forms of politics.”

As the GOP's lone Jew in Congress Zeldin is often expected to give a hechsher or approval to his colleagues' positions on Israel. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but the New York Post reported he “skipped out” on two thirds of the meetings in his first year that focused on ISIS and the Syrian crisis despite all “his tough talk” on those issues.

Zeldin told the Jerusalem Post that Trump would be a more reliable friend of Israel than Hillary Clinton despite saying he'd be neutral in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and that neither side really wants peace. He also flip-flops on where in Israel the U.S. embassy should be located, and has said Israel and other countries should reimburse Washington for past foreign aid.  

More alarming, 50 leading Republican former national security officials have said Trump would be an unreliable ally to America's foreign friends like Israel and is unqualified to be commander in chief.

The GOP approach to the Jewish community is based on being super-hawks on the three I's – Israel, Iran and ISIS – and hoping we're stupid enough to overlook their generally dismal records on domestic and social issues that are at least if not more important.

It doesn't work, and as new evidence listen to the far right Israeli politician and settlement leader, Dani Dayan, who just became Prime Minister Netanyahu's consul general in New York.  “Any American president is good for Israel,” he told the New York Times. 

After former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani returned from Israel recently saying Netanyahu prefers Trump, the prime minister's office quickly announced he is not taking sides this year.

When Netanyahu criticized Trump's planned Muslim ban last December, the reality TV performer was offended and cancelled a planned trip to Israel. 

Hating Muslims has been a cornerstone of Trump's campaign and no doubt some Jews, especially on the right, may share that, but the overwhelming Jewish reaction has been rejection, perhaps because they understand that for hatemongers like Trump “we could be next.”  

Zeldin, 36, an Iraq war veteran, has predicted Trump would “annihilate” Clinton in his Long Island district, which went Democrat in the past two elections.  

His opponent is Anna Throne-Holst, a former Southampton town supervisor.   Unlike the incumbent, she supports the Iran nuclear agreement, the two-state solution and is receiving contributions from the pro-peace JStreet PAC. 

Zeldin has strong support from anti-abortion and gun groups. The NRA gave him its A rating and National Right to Life scores him 100 percent. Planned Parenthood, NARAL, ACLU and the Friends Committee on National Legislation all give him zero ratings.

He opposes same-sex marriage and is sponsoring legislation that would sanction discrimination based on “a religious belief or moral conviction” opposed to same sex marriage. GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence signed a similar law as governor of Indiana.

Zeldin has met at least twice with the rightwing group Oath Keepers, which the New York Daily News said dabbles in “fringe conspiracy theories,” claims the Sandy Hook school massacre was a hoax and called President Obama a “Muslim/Extremist.”  Its founder has said war hero Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is “a traitor who should be hung by the neck until dead.” 

Zeldin initially justified the meetings by saying he's available to all constituents, but after numerous protests said he doesn't agree with “100%” of the group's message.

He also defended majority whip Steve Scalise's (R-LA) meeting with white supremacists linked to former KKK grand dragon David Duke, saying it wouldn't harm “Republican progress towards reaching minorities and the Jewish community.”  Three months later Scalise For Congress sent Zeldin a $2,000 campaign contribution.

In Trumpian tradition, Zeldin excoriated the media for bringing up the “not a big deal” incident and attacked Obama for having “82 meetings with Al Sharpton.”

Zeldin has tied his wagon to Donald Trump in a district that went Democrat in three of the past four elections.  Non-partisan election experts rate Zeldin's race a toss-up.


Douglas Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist; Washington, D.C., lobbyist; and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

House Dems: GOP sanctions bill undermines bipartisan stance on Iran

House Democrats are urging Republican leaders to forgo a vote on new Iran sanctions before the House adjourns on July 14 in order to maintain Congress’s traditionally bipartisan approach to Iran.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expected to bring three Iran-related bills to the floor for a partisan vote exactly one year after the Iran nuclear agreement was announced in an effort to shine light on Iran’s illicit behavior and alleged violations of the nuclear deal, the Washington Post first 

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