November 16, 2018

Antifa, Nazism and the opportunistic politics that divide us

White supremacists clash with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Americans are more united than ever on issues of race and free speech.

So why the hell are we so divided?

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville, Va., white supremacist terror attack on anti-white supremacist protesters, the vast majority of Americans agreed on the following propositions: white supremacism is evil; neo-Nazism is evil; violence against peaceful protesters is evil, whether from left to right or vice versa.

Yet here we are, two weeks after the event, and the heat has not cooled.

That’s not thanks to serious disagreements among Americans. It’s thanks to political opportunism on all sides.

It’s easy to blame President Donald Trump for that reaction; his response to the Charlottesville attack was indeed deeply disturbing. It was disturbing for the president to initially blame “both sides” for the event, as though those counterprotesting white supremacism were moral equals of those protesting in its favor. It was more disturbing for the president to say there were “very fine people” at the neo-Nazi tiki torch march, and to add that he had no idea what the “alt-right” was.

Trump’s bizarre, horrifying response to the Charlottesville attacks would have justified criticism of him. I’ve been personally pointing out the president’s stubborn and unjustifiable unwillingness to condemn the alt-right for well over a year (I was the alt-right’s top journalistic target in 2016 on Twitter, according to the Anti-Defamation League). Such critiques would have been useful and welcome.

Instead, the mainstream left has politicized the situation through two particular strategies: first, labeling conservatives more broadly as neo-Nazi sympathizers; second, justifying violence from communist/anarchist antifa members.

The first strategy is old hat by now on the left. On college campuses, conservatives are regularly labeled beneficiaries of “white privilege” who merely seek to uphold their supremacy; anodyne political candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been hit with charges of racism from the left. Democrats routinely dog Republicans with the myth of the “Southern switch” — the notion that the Republicans and Democrats changed positions on civil rights after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, leading to Republicans winning the South. (For the record, that theory is eminently untrue, and has been repeatedly debunked by election analysts ranging from Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics to Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin and Richard Johnston of theUniversity of Pennsylvania.)

But that false conflation found a new outlet for the left in support for antifa (anti-fascism). Antifa is a violent group that has attacked protesters in Sacramento, Berkeley, Dallas, Boston and Charlottesville; it’s dedicated to the proposition that those it labels fascists must be fought physically. It’s not anti-fascist so much as anti-right-wing — it shut down a parade in Portland last year because Republican Party members were scheduled to march in that parade. Antifa’s violence in Boston two weeks after Charlottesville wasn’t directed at Nazis or Nazi sympathizers, but at police officers and normal free-speech advocates.

Yet many on the left have justified their behavior as a necessary counter to the white supremacists and alt-righters. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) justified the violence by appealing to the evils of the neo-Nazis. Professor N.D.B. Connolly of Johns Hopkins University wrote in the pages of The Washington Post that the time for nonviolence had ended — that it was time to “throw rocks.” Dartmouth University historian Mark Bray defended antifa by stating that the group makes an “ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late.”

This is appalling stuff unless the Nazis are actually getting violent. Words aren’t violence. A free society relies on that distinction to function properly — as Max Weber stated, the purpose of civilization is to hand over the role of protection of rights to a state that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Breaking that pact destroys the social fabric.

Now, most liberals — as opposed to leftists — don’t support antifa. Even Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) denounced antifa’s tactics in Berkeley, for example. But in response to some on the left’s defense of antifa and their attempt to broaden the Nazi label to include large swaths of conservatives, too many people on the right have fallen into the trap of defending bad behavior of its own. Instead of disassociating clearly and universally from President Trump’s comments, the right has glommed onto the grain of truth embedded in them —  that antifa is violent — in order to shrug at the whole.

The result of all of this: the unanimity that existed regarding racism and violence has been shattered. And all so that political figures can make hay by castigating large groups of people who hate Nazism and violence.

Let’s restore the unanimity. Nazism is bad and unjustifiable. Violence against those who are not acting violently is bad and unjustifiable. That’s not whataboutism. That’s truth.

If we can’t agree on those basic principles, we’re not going to be able to share a country.


BEN SHAPIRO is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

POINT: Romney vs. Obama vis-à-vis Israel

[Read the counter-point here]

“President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.” That’s what Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for president, said in the high-profile speech accepting his party’s nomination on Aug. 30, repeating a slang phrase for sacrificing a friend for selfish reasons that he had deployed before, for example in May 2011 and January 2012. This criticism of Barack Obama fits a persistent Republican critique. Specifically, several other recent presidential candidates used or endorsed the same “bus” formulation vis-à-vis Obama and Israel, including Herman Cain in May 2011, Rick Perry in September 2011, Newt Gingrich in January 2012 and Rick Santorum in February 2012.

These Republican attacks on Obama’s relations with Israel have several important implications for U.S. foreign policy.

First, out of the many Middle East-related issues, Israel and Israel alone, retains a permanent role in U.S. electoral politics, influencing how a significant number of voters — not just Jews but also Arabs, Muslims, Evangelical Christians, conservatives and liberals — vote for president.

Second, attitudes toward Israel serve as a proxy for views toward other Middle Eastern issues: If I know your views on Israel, I have a good idea about your thinking on such topics as energy policy, Islamism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, AKP-led Turkey, the Iranian nuclear buildup, intervention in Libya, the Mohamed Morsi presidency in Egypt and the Syrian civil war.

Third, the Republican criticism of Obama points to a sea change in what determines attitudes toward Israel. Religion was once the key, with Jews the ardent Zionists and Christians less engaged. Today, in contrast, the determining factor is political outlook. To discern someone’s views on Israel, the best question to ask is not, “What is your religion?” but, “Who do you want for president?” As a rule, conservatives feel more warmly toward Israel and liberals more coolly. Polls show conservative Republicans to be the most ardent Zionists, followed by Republicans in general, followed by independents, Democrats and, lastly, liberal Democrats. Yes, Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City, also said, in September 2011, that Obama “threw Israel under the bus,” but Koch, now 87, represents the fading old guard of the Democratic Party. The difference between the parties in the Arab-Israeli conflict is becoming as deep as their differences on the economy or on cultural issues.

Fourth, as Israel increasingly becomes an issue dividing Democrats from Republicans, I predict a reduction of the bipartisan support for Israel that has provided Israel a unique status in U.S. politics and sustained organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. I also predict that Romney and Paul Ryan, as mainstream conservatives, will head an administration that will be the warmest ever to Israel, far surpassing the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Contrarily, should Obama be re-elected, the coldest treatment of Israel ever by a U.S. president will follow.

Obama’s constipated record of the past three and a half years vis-à-vis Israel on such topics as the Palestinians and Iran leads to this conclusion; but so does what we know about his record before he entered high electoral politics in 2004, especially his associations with radical anti-Zionists.

For example, Obama worshipfully listened to Edward Said in May 1998 and sat quietly by at a going-away party in 2003 for former PLO flack Rashid Khalidi as Israel was accused of terrorism against Palestinians. (In contrast, Romney has been friends with Benjamin Netanyahu since 1976.)

Also revealing is what Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based anti-Israel extremist, wrote about his last conversation with Obama in early 2004, as the latter was in the midst of a primary campaign for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. Abunimah wrote that Obama warmly greeted him and then added, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more upfront.” More: referring to Abunimah’s attacks on Israel in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, Obama encouraged him with, “Keep up the good work!”

When one puts this in the context of what Obama said off-mike to then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in March 2012 (“This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility”), it would be wise to assume that, if Obama wins on Nov. 6, things will “calm down” for him and he finally can “be more upfront” about so-called Palestine. Then Israel’s troubles will really begin.

Perry set to drop out of presidential race

Rick Perry reportedly is dropping his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee.

CNN and The New York Times reported Thursday that the Texas governor will announce later in the day his decision to bow out; a news conference reportedly is scheduled in South Carolina.

Perry, a staunch backer of Israel who has longstanding ties with leading Republican Jews, surged in the polls when he announced his bid for the GOP nod last August, but he dipped following a number of poor debate performances.

After lagging in the Iowa and New Hampshire tests, he had hoped to rally in South Carolina, which goes to the polls on Saturday. The polls, however, show Perry trailing in the conservative state.

Perry’s exit would narrow the race to four candidates—front-runner Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Reuters reported that two Perry campaign sources said he is likely to endorse Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Gingrich, an ex-congressman from Georgia, and Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, are expected to battle for Perry’s evangelical and social conservative backers.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who tied with Santorum in Iowa and won in New Hampshire, is currently leading in South Carolina polling.

Republicans’ ‘Starting from zero’ aid proposal startles pro-Israel community

“Starting from zero,” the foreign assistance plan touted by leading Republican candidates at a debate, is getting low marks, and not just from Democrats and the foreign policy community. Pro-Israel activists and fellow Republicans also have concerns.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry introduced the plan during the first foreign policy debate Saturday night, held by CBS and the National Journal at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. South Carolina is a key early primary state.

“The foreign aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars,” he said. “Zero dollars. And then we’ll have a conversation. Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollar needs to go into those countries.”

Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, signed on immediately. Gingrich said the plan made “absolutely perfect sense.” Romney, who has made clear that he disagrees with Perry on much else, in this case said he welcomed the idea, saying “You start everything at zero.”

The proposal of such a radical change raised concerns in the pro-Israel community.

“Hacking away at the international affairs budget of the U.S. government is inefficient and counterproductive, and will not advance U.S. fiscal interests,” said Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international affairs. “There’s too little money and it’s too vital to put on the chopping block.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee did not have comment, but its former spokesman, Josh Block, weighed in with an e-mail blast to reporters of comments he had provided to Politico.

“When Rick Perry speaks, all I can think is oops,” wrote Block, who is now a consultant for centrist Democrats, but who has been critical of President Obama. Block was referring to Perry’s “oops” in an earlier debate, when he had a memory lapse about the agencies that he had proposed to eliminate.

“Even appearing to question our commitment to Israel certainly falls in that category,” Block said. “Foreign aid is one of the best investments we can make, and it represents 1 percent of our budget. Israel is special, and our aid to them is a direct investment in our own economy.”

At least three-quarters of the $3 billion in military assistance that Israel receives from the United States each year must be spent stateside. Overall, the U.S. spends about $50 billion annually in foreign assistance, less than 1 percent of the overall budget.

Pressed by a viewer, through Twitter, to specify whether “start from zero” included Israel, Perry replied, “Absolutely.”

“Every country would start at zero,” he said. “Obviously, Israel is a special ally. And my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level. But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”

That drew a withering response from the Republican Jewish Coalition, which tweeted, “Hoping @perrytruthteam will brief their man on 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that governs US- #Israel funding levels.”

Israel and the United States signed the 10-year memorandum of understanding in 2007; its long-term assurances are aimed at providing Israel with both financial assurances and political support. The message, said Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman from Florida speaking to Jewish reporters on a Democratic National Committee conference call, is that the United States has Israel’s back in the long run.

“Contrast that with the message that the Republican presidential candidates sent on Saturday night, which is that the security relationship between the United States and Israel, like all other relationships, is zeroed out every year,” Wexler said. “And let Israel make the argument why it’s justified, and maybe it will and maybe it won’t be honored. The 2007 memorandum of understanding for President Obama is sacrosanct. For the Republicans, they apparently don’t even reference it.”

In fact, immediately following the debate, Romney’s spokesmen said he would exempt Israel from the policy—but that didn’t do much to assuage pro-Israel concerns. Pro-Israel figures for years have emphasized that they prefer to see Israel wrapped into an overall foreign policy package and not tweaked apart, as some Republicans have proposed.

Gingrich raised pro-Israel eyebrows when he proposed starting Egypt at zero, in part because of rising Muslim-Christian tensions in that country in the wake of the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. Israel has made clear that it wants U.S. assistance to continue as long as the Egyptian government maintains the peace treaty with Israel.

Richard Parker, the spokesman for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a foreign aid advocacy group co-founded by AIPAC and top-heavy with former U.S. generals, said U.S. assistance leverages U.S. influence and tamps down unrest.

“When we go into a country and help them with education and health efforts, you can stabilize those countries,” said Parker, whose group on Monday released a letter from five former secretaries of state—including four Republicans—urging Congress not to cut the foreign aid budget.

That was also a key point for Isaacson, who spoke with JTA from Morocco, where he is on an AJC trip through the region to encourage democracy reforms.

“I’m meeting with government and civil society figures that see us a beacon of democracy, but an uncertain partner,” Isaacson said, referring to the rancorous political debate in the United States over the proper U.S. role overseas. “Signals that the U.S. would retreat are troubling and not in the interests of the United States.”

A Romney adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said that influence comes only if the United States ensures accountability from recipients. The source referred to the issue that had sparked Perry’s response in the first place: Pakistan’s unreliable role as an ally.

“We have seen a ton of money in places, and zero comes out of it,” the source said, explaining that starting from zero would “force a culture of accountability. The Pakistanis think they have us over a barrel. It’s one thing to have influence, and it’s another to have someone think they’re so indispensable to you they can do what they want.”

That is not a unanimous view among Republicans. The top foreign operations appropriator in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), has repeatedly made the case for using assistance as a means of influence. Significantly, two of the candidates with deep congressional roots made the same case in the debate Saturday night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

“We can’t be indecisive about whether Pakistan is our friend,” Santorum said. “They must be our friend. And we must engage them as friends, get over the difficulties we have, as we did with Saudi Arabia, with respect to the events of 9/11.”

The most recent debate was not the first time that Republican front-runners called for a change in American foreign aid policies. In a debate last month, Romney suggested that he favored eliminating American foreign aid that goes for humanitarian purposes.

“I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid,” Romney said at the Oct. 18 debate. “We ought to get the Chinese to take care of the people that are taking that borrowed money today.”

Keeping up with the Kandidates

“Are you not entertained?”

” target=”_hplink”>warned that the world is just a handful of years away from irreversible climate change.  But with the Republican presidential field and GOP congressional leadership calling climate change a hoax, and with the energy industry pouring billions into lobbying and ad campaigns, the only thing standing between us and our planet’s catastrophic endgame is the delusion that it’s all just an episode of America’s Got Tsuris.

Also last week, Jack Abramoff provided a revolting ” target=”_hplink”>entertainment, media and society at the USC martyk@usc.edu.

Perry: I would back Israeli strike on Iran

U.S. presidential candidate Rick Perry said he would back an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facitilies.

Perry said Thursday that, as president, he would support an attack if there were proof Tehran was moving closer to a nuclear weapon, Reuters reported.

“Obviously, we are going to support Israel,” the Texas governor said in an interview with CNN. “And I’ve said that we will support Israel in every way that we can, whether it’s economic sanctions, whether it’s overt or covert operations, up to and including military action.”

“We cannot afford to allow that madman in Iran to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, period,” he added.

Perry, who has been slipping in the polls of late, made his comments on the same day that President Barack Obama called for “unprecedented pressure” to compel Iran to meet its international obligations. A report due next week from the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to provide further details about Iran’s nuclear program.

Obama-Romney 2012

Forget the fantasy of Hillary Clinton taking Joe Biden’s place on the 2012 ballot.  Not only because it is not going to happen.  The theory that having Hillary on the ticket would galvanize the base and that coveted independent voters, especially women, would break toward Democrats, has no deeper roots in empirical reality than creationism or climate change denial.  It’s just not the game-changer that Obama needs to hang on to the presidency, let alone give him a Congress that would be any less obstructionist than the one we have now.

Some Obama supporters don’t think he’ll need a Hail Mary pass.  This view, which a developmental psychologist might call magical thinking, depends on widespread revulsion at the prospect of total GOP control of the government, an unappetizing nominee at the top of the Republican ticket and leveraging Occupy Wall Street-type discontent to benefit the Administration that enabled Tim Geithner and Larry Summers and shafted Elizabeth Warren.

I suppose there’s also the possibility that unemployment and the economy will be moving in the right direction by November of next year, but if that’s what it’ll take for Obama to win the swing states, it’s basically “Say goodnight, Gracie.”

Obama’s best hope is to change the dynamic of the race – to shake things up so that it’s not a referendum on him (that is, on the lousy economy).  To accomplish that, I have an admittedly bizarre but weirdly conceivable proposal: Obama could try to persuade Mitt Romney to be his running mate.

Start with the polling data saying that Americans want an end to the bickering and bitterness in Washington.  Never mind the cockeyed injustice of holding Democrats and Republicans equally responsible for the nation’s toxic gridlock; voters have no legal obligation to be informed about what’s actually been going on.  You want can’t-we-all-get-along?  Here ya go.  An Obama-Romney ticket would have irresistible appeal to the kumbaya constituency. 

It also would appeal to the president’s inner conciliator.  His recent spate of truth-telling about Republicans, while faintly encouraging to his disheartened base, runs counter to his nature.  He really does believe that there’s common ground to be found with the people who pledged to destroy him the moment he was elected, so why not make the most of it?  Let Obama be Obama.  With Mitt on the ticket, and eventually just down the West Wing hall, every day could be bipartisan day.

Romney, of course, would need to be convinced to join Team Obama.  It actually might be a good career move for him.  After all, Republicans already think his professions of right-wing orthodoxy are inauthentic, and surely he’d be more comfortable in his skin if he could revert to the more moderate views he once held, before the Tea Party primary required him to go all un-mavericky.  There’s also the possibility that Romney, rather than being a closet socialist, is just a garden-variety opportunist, which would make it ideologically effortless for him to join a fusion ticket. 

Obama-Romney could even sell itself as the third party that the punditocracy is pining for.  If you liked Simpson-Bowles, you’ll love Obama-Romney.  Third parties have inadvertent consequences; they divide the opposition.  With Obama-Romney, though, you get the bragging rights of upending the political chessboard, but without running the risk of throwing the race to a side you can’t stand. 

Why would Romney do it?  My guess is that in Mitt Land, the current calculation is that he can withstand the $20 million or more of negative media that Rick Perry is about to unleash on him.  But by the time he gets the Republican nomination, he’ll be damaged goods, and the base will like him even less than they do now.  Better to be part of an exciting new experiment in American democracy than to drag his butt across the finish line with no mandate.

For Obama, convincing Romney to transcend petty partisanship would demonstrate strength.  It might also increase his chances to get a Democratic Congress, though it’s true that those odds could hardly get any worse.  And for people who think there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties, well, it would suggest that they might be right after all.

No, I don’t think Obama-Romney will happen.  It’s a goofy solution to a dead serious problem that afflicts Democrats and Republicans alike.  Our political system is not about to change.  The plutocrats are more powerful than ever, and nothing on the horizon looks likely to change that.  The 2012 election will be awash with special interest money, much of it secret and corporate.  The ads that money will pay for will be as devious as ever.  The Romney campaign, even with a break-the-mold running mate, will be passionless, except for the passion to defeat Obama.  Whatever passion the Obama campaign manages to inspire this time around will be ignited not by dreams of change, but by nightmares of a Republican wrecking crew.  It does make a difference which party wins.  But it would make an even bigger difference if both parties lost. 

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

Romney’s Jewish backers enjoying front-runner status, even as challenges continue from his right

Mitt Romney is the whack-a-mole front-runner: He consistently leads the Republican pack, but only by beating back one conservative challenger after another.

First it was Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, and now a surging Herman Cain.

His contradictory status—as a front-runner caught in a constant rearguard action against challengers to his right—both energizes and frustrates one of his most loyal constituencies, Republican Jews.

Romney’s financial backers are a who’s who of the Republican Jewish establishment, and his foreign policy advisers are culled from some of the pro-Israel community’s best and brightest.

Romney has cultivated Jewish Republicans since he launched his unsuccessful bid in 2007 for the ‘08 nod, said Fred Zeidman, a longtime backer.

“Every major Jewish Republican fundraiser has been with Mitt” since then, said Zeidman, a Houston lawyer who was a major backer of George W. Bush.

Romney’s relationship with leading Jewish givers, in turn, has brought more top-ranking GOP Jews into the fold, both as donors and advisers, Zeidman said.

“He’s been able to pick and choose,” he said. “People have been signing up.”

Yet the former Massachusetts governor continues to be dogged by his status as the moderate front-runner whom the conservative grass-roots longs to replace. Now he is being shadowed in the polls by Cain, a former pizza parlor executive.

An invitation last month to a Romney fundraiser by NORPAC, one of the pre-eminent pro-Israel political action committees, underscored Romney’s precarious status.

“Governor Romney is well known to our community and is one of two front-runners for the Republican Nomination,” the invitation said. “While things are certainly subject to change in an election, Governor Romney is currently the betting site favorite to win the Republican nomination.”

Most galling for Jewish Republicans are the potshots that proxies for his rivals are taking at Romney’s Mormon faith. The latest salvo came over the weekend at the Value Voters Summit in Washington when Robert Jeffress, a pastor at a Dallas megachurch who supports Perry, the Texas governor, called Mormonism a cult.

“I can’t believe as a Jew that anyone is going to be involved in someone’s religion,” Mel Sembler, a shopping center magnate and leading Republican donor who is backing Romney, told JTA. “What’s that got to do with running the biggest enterprise in the world?”

Sembler, a former ambassador to Australia and Italy who has served as the national finance chairman for the Republican National Committee, suggested that Romney was not out of the woods.

“Everything has an impact; some people don’t like the way he combs his hair,” Sembler said. “I would hope people would not be focused on what his religion is but what his capabilities are.”

Zeidman said that Romney’s strategy would remain as it has been: acting like a front-runner and focusing most of the fight on President Obama instead of his GOP rivals.

“If you’re the front-runner and [Obama] is the only person between you and the presidency, focus on him and let the others look at your tuchas,” is how Zeidman described the strategy.

Especially frustrating for Romney’s backers is that the Value Voters Summit kerfuffle overshadowed Romney’s first major foreign policy speech, on Friday at The Citadel military academy in South Carolina.

Israel policy was a significant part of the speech. Romney said he would increase defense assistance to Israel, raise the U.S. military profile near Iran and recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

He cast Obama’s policies as contributing to Israel’s isolation.

“I will bolster and repair our alliances,” Romney said. “Our friends should never fear that we will not stand by them in an hour of need. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.”

The Obama and Netanyahu governments have smoothed relations in recent months, and Israeli officials credit the administration with tightening defense ties and backing Israel at the United Nations. Obama also refers to Israel as a Jewish state.

Sembler, who took Romney to Israel in 2007, said the former governor “gets it.” He recalled the overflight of the country, requisite for VIP guests, and a view of the security fence.

“I remember us flying around with the two generals,” Sembler recalled. “The generals kept apologizing for the fence. Governor Romney said, ‘Are the people on the other side of the fence shooting, because I see bullet marks.’ The generals said yes, so Governor Romney said, ‘Don’t apologize.’ ”

Romney in his speech suggested that Israel might become further isolated if Obama remains in office.

“Will Iran be a fully activated nuclear weapons state, threatening its neighbors, dominating the world’s oil supply with a stranglehold on the Strait of Hormuz?” he asked. “In the hands of the ayatollahs, a nuclear Iran is nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Iran’s suicidal fanatics could blackmail the world.

“By 2015, will Israel be even more isolated by a hostile international community? Will those who seek Israel’s destruction feel emboldened by American ambivalence? Will Israel have been forced to fight yet another war to protect its citizens and its right to exist?”

Romney said that as president he would “enhance our deterrent against the Iranian regime by ordering the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces, one in the eastern Mediterranean and one in the Persian Gulf region. I will begin discussions with Israel to increase the level of our military assistance and coordination. And I will again reiterate that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.”

He also said he would centralize U.S. Middle East policy to ensure “that the Arab Spring does not fade into a long winter.”

The speech came a day after Romney published a list of his foreign policy advisers, including many who have been active in or are close to the pro-Israel community, such as Norm Coleman, the former U.S. senator from Minnesota who is now active with the Republican Jewish Coalition; Dan Senor, the co-author of a book on Israeli technological innovation who often works with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; and Dov Zakheim, a former top Pentagon official in various Republican administrations who also is active with the American Jewish Committee.

Zakheim said that Romney was approaching his foreign policy the same way he approached governance of Massachusetts, where he earned plaudits from Democrats for taxing corporations despite his closeness to business.

“He seems to be the kind of guy who wants a range of opinions,” Zakheim said. “He chose a lot of folks from all over the spectrum.”

Indeed, Zakheim and another adviser, Meghan O’Sullivan, have feet in the realist camp of GOP foreign policy, while Senor and Coleman are closer to neoconservatives.

Letters to the Editor: UN-Vote, Bimah, Los Angeles Jewish Home, Rick Perry

The UN-Vote

When my husband slapped the paper down on the table and said, “Cancel our subscription, I cannot read the rest of Rob Eshman’s editorial” (“UN-Vote,” Sept. 16), I picked up the paper expecting to see a refutation of President Obama labeled as “that well-known Israel hater,” later in the article. Instead, the same slander is repeated in the fourth paragraph.

Usually good with words and believing that we should hear all sides of an argument, this calumny makes me sick. Please return my subscription money, or send me a personal note of explanation. It is never too late for teshuvah. If I have offended Mr. Eshman, I am sorry. Now it is his turn.

Judith Aronson
via e-mail

Rob Eshman responds: Evidently my attempt at sarcasm failed miserably. There is no evidence to support the idea that Obama is a “well-known Israel hater.” The idea is popular in some Jewish circles. I find it so outlandish, especially in the context of the upcoming U.N. vote, that I thought I’d poke fun at it.


Politics on the Bimah

As a fellow member of the Board of Rabbis Executive committee who has successfully advocated for the board to take positions on certain political issues, I differed with Rabbi Vogel’s conclusion that rabbis should remain carefully neutral when speaking from the bimah (“Politics on the Bimah,” Sept. 9). At Stephen S. Wise Temple, a large portion of my responsibilities includes engaging our membership in political activism for social justice. In that capacity, I often speak about issues such as immigration reform, climate change, budgetary decisions and advocacy for public education, to name a few. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the economic conditions that damn the soul, the social conditions that corrupt men, and the city governments that cripple them, is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood.”

I fear that the risk for religious leaders who do not speak out on the major social issues of our day is to make religion irrelevant. Religions are concerned with morality and ethics, and public policy reflects particular values. Having said that, religion is an interpretive means of expression, so it goes without saying that the ideas that one religious leader culls from the words of his or her faith are a product of that person’s identity and beliefs. Therefore, it is incumbent upon religious leaders to maintain respect for divergent views.

Rabbi Ron Stern
via e-mail


Remember Jewish Home’s Volunteers

In answer to the proposed question of how do we maintain programs when funding is pulled back (“Turning 100: Los Angeles Jewish Home Has Ambitious Growth Plans,” Sept. 16), I feel the efforts of the vast amount of volunteers were not recognized as a vital force in helping to maintain programs at the Home. These volunteers give of themselves in many tireless ways. They are out in our Jewish community educating others about the values of the Home and accepting donations from helpful contributors. With these donations, many projects are accomplished, such as the Red Hat event pictured in your article.

Please continue to highlight the Jewish Home’s 100 years of caring for our growing elderly community.

Anne Geffner
via e-mail


Siege Mentality

Marty Kaplan’s explanation about how voters’ views can be manipulated by either compliments or incitement offers a very important lens into the goals and methods of conservative talk radio (“Letting Animals Vote,” Sept. 23). It is difficult for talk radio to manipulate its listeners’ views through the use of compliments. Instead, talk radio employs the use of incitement to demonize and vilify all sorts of groups as enemies. As Mr. Kaplan writes, “There’s nothing like inducing a siege mentality to make people impervious to evidence that contradicts them.”

Michael Asher
Valley Village


Boteach on Perry

You have to love Rabbi Shmuley Boteach with his folksy, soft-sell Orthodox Judaism. However, I was bemused by his plea to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to consider “universal Jewish values” (“Dear Gov. Perry: Instill Christian Values With Some Jewish Ones,” Sept. 23). Shmuley’s claim to have a “deep-seated love and respect for my Evangelical brothers and sisters” seems to me to be disingenuous. Shmuley knows that the Evangelical Christian belief in the Rapture constitutes a rejection of Judaism.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village


Making Social Responsibility Affordable

I’m really not a social activist. Many of the columnists in The Jewish Journal urge us to put our money where our mouth is and to take socially responsive positions (e.g., to boycott corporations or governments that are anti-union or discriminate against gays, immigrants etc.). Recently, the diplomatic position of Turkey has changed from friendly to Israel to downright hostile. Many readers are alumni of UCLA, USC or other universities that sponsor travel programs. UCLA is one participant in a summer Black Sea cruise, which spends four days in Turkish ports. Few of us are fortunate enough to have enough disposable income for lavish travel plans. I no longer feel that I can spend money that will wind up in Turkey. In a broader sense, wouldn’t it be more socially responsible to spend our discretionary travel dollars in recession-impacted areas like California, the United States or our two closest North American neighbors?


Mike Klein
Claremont


Boyle Heights Remembered

WOW! Just by reading the article (”Boyle Heights, the Sequel,” July 16), memories floated into my brain about Boyle Heights. From 1948 to the mid-1950s, the pediatrics office of my late husband, Dr. Joseph Eiser, was at the corner of Brooklyn and Soto, right next to the famous Currie’s ice cream cone. In his office in a converted apartment building at 306 N. Soto, Dr. Joe dedicated his life to helping children of all backgrounds stay healthy while also diagnosing and curing illnesses. He also made emergency house calls all over the area and to City Terrace, Aliso Village and other areas around Boyle Heights. Eventually, we and many other Jewish veterans of World War II and their families moved east to the San Gabriel Valley — in our case, to Monterey Park and then to Montebello, where the Jewish Educational Center (which become Temple B’nai Emet) was built to house, for many years, a more-than 500-member congregation, remnants of which still hold regular services. Though he kept his practice in Boyle Heights for several years and sent his children to the Jewish Academy on Breed Street, eventually he moved his office to Monterey Park, where he continued to serve many loyal and also new patients of varied ethnic groups. These included adults, after he completed his studies to become a Fellow of the American Association of Allergists. Today, he is remembered with gratitude for his devotion to taking care of so many people and even saving their lives. Though Dr. Joe passed away in 1997, we are touched and thrilled when my family and I still meet many generations of former patients — some of whom still live in the area and some who have moved — who remember him and express their appreciation for the excellent, individualized care he gave to them, their children or in some cases even their grandchildren. His good deeds keep his memory alive in Boyle Heights and beyond.

Charlotte Eiser
Montebello


Middle East Conflict

Is there a rift between the United States and Israel (“Is Rift Looming in U.S.-Israel Ties?”)?  Not a chance. The real conflict is with the liberal-statist juggernaut of President Obama and company.

Well did Mayor Ed Koch denounce the president: “We campaigned for him, and all he has done is throw Israel under the bus.”

The president and his cadre of leftists support the perennial underdog Palestinians just because they are weak. Unfortunately, none of these pols is willing to acknowledge that the Palestinians’ weakened status in the Middle East is due to the interminable prodding and cajoling of hostile Arab states that wish to jam this never-ending thorn of Palestinian statehood into the side of the Jewish state.

Every attempt to disrupt peace is one more attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state. President Obama has inadvertently hastened this harassment from denouncing the Jews’ right to build Jewish settlements in Jewish territory, to urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to offer retracting Israel’s border back to pre-1967 lines.

The American president wants peace at any cost, even if it eventually endangers the Jewish state. Israel deserves peace, but not at the cost of its own existence.

The rift with Israel, therefore, is not with the United States as a whole, but with the current president, whose term of office is likely to be cut conveniently short by the next presidential election.

Arthur Christopher Schaper
Torrance


President Abbas in his recent speech clearly enunciated what he and what the Palestinian leadership mean by “occupation.”

He stated, “What I will take to the UN will be the suffering and concerns of our people that have taken place over 63 years living under the occupation.”

Sixty-three years subtracted from 2011 equals 1948, which is when Israel was created by the United Nations.

When Abbas referred to 63 years of occupation, he was actually defining the Palestinian mind-set that “occupation” meant Israel’s “occupation” of Israel from 1948 through 1967 plus Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza from 1967 through 2011. This new concept of Israel’s “occupation” is now referred to by Palestinian leaders as Israel’s occupation of the area which Israel took control of in the 1967 war; however, the Palestinian leadership, by every act and every word in Arabic, intends to use this “return to 1967 borders” as its “peaceful” stepping stone to the elimination of Israel.

Furthermore, there are at this moment three Palestinian formal documents that call for Israel’s destruction: the Hamas 1988 Constitution, the Fatah Constitution of 1964 and the 1968 amended PLO Charter (Covenant). There has been no attempt to modify the Fatah or Hamas constitutions. There has been an attempt to allegedly amend the 1968 PLO Charter pursuant to Palestinian obligations in the 1995 Oslo II accord. A careful review of events and documents from 1993 through the Dec. 14, 1998, vote by the PNC and the leaders of the Palestinians casts serious doubts about any alleged amendments of the Charter. No new Charter has ever surfaced. If there ever were a new Charter, the Palestinian 2000 intifada violated any attempt to allegedly modify the Charter.

There have been 108 average annual Israeli civilian deaths from Palestinian terrorists from Jan. 1, 1999, through Dec. 31, 2009, versus 28 annual average Israeli civilian deaths from Palestinian terrorists from Jan. 1, 1949, through Dec. 31, 1998, which further illustrates the “benefit” of peace agreements with the Palestinian leadership.

William K. Langfan
via e-mail


‘Irvine 11’

We respect the jury process and its decision on the “Irvine 11.” The jury determined that the students’ actions were unlawful and will never be tolerated. It is unfortunate that these students didn’t respect the responsibilities of free speech. The decision sends a clear message: The right to free speech includes the right to be heard; people must learn to be tolerant of opposing views; trying to shout down others is tyranny of the mob, not free speech — a heckler’s veto. This case is a watershed. We hope that other activists will learn the lesson of this incident and in the future, protest in an appropriate and legal manner. Our video of the “Irvine 11’s” disruptions brought this issue to public attention. Our videographer taped the event and the gathering outside where the “Irvine 11” and their supporters boasted about the success of their preplanned disruption. The video went viral on YouTube with over three-quarters of a million views. Our videographers’ tapes were also used in the trial. We hope that these tapes and the consequences will help restore reasonable, informed debate on campuses and elsewhere.

Roz Rothstein
CEO, StandWithUs


CORRECTION

An opinion piece on the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N. (“Silver Linings in Palestinian Statehood,” Sept. 23) should have stated that if the Palestinians get approval in the U.N. General Assembly but fail with the Security Council vote, they will be able to use international criminal courts.

Israel top foreign policy issue at GOP debate

Israel was the foreign policy topic most often raised by viewers ahead of a Republican presidential debate.

Fox News Channel launched the foreign policy round of the debate on Thursday night by noting that Israel was by far the biggest word in its foreign policy “word cloud” culled by Google from questions compiled ahead of the debate.

Moderators asked former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and entrepreneur Herman Cain how they viewed the attempt this week by the Palestinian Authority to win statehood recognition through the United Nations.

Both candidates earned loud applause from the Orlando, Fla. audience by chiding President Obama for creating distance between the U.S. and israeli governments.

“You don’t allow an inch of space to exist between you, and your friends and allies,” Romney said.

Newest entrant into GOP field, Rick Perry, is longtime friend of Israel—and Jesus

To some conservative Jews, Texas Gov. Rick Perry would make an excellent presidential candidate. He’s been to Israel more than any other candidate in the field and has said he loves it. And Perry creates jobs.

But other Jewish conservatives seeking the anti-Obama candidate look at the three-term governor and see something arresting: He believes he’s on a mission from God.

Perry has nonplussed longtime Jewish supporters by claiming that he has been “called” to the presidency and by hosting a prayer rally this month that appealed to Jesus to save America.

Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s Right Turn columnist and a bellwether of Jewish conservatism, took liberals to task on her blog for treating the event as “a spectacle”—it was borne of deeply considered worries about the country’s parlous state, she said—but Rubin also expressed caveats about the rally.

“His words at the event were restrained but not ecumenical,” she wrote. “And his use of public office to promote the Christian event was, to me, inappropriate. The event, while scheduled last December, is still reflective of the man who would be president. Would he do this in the Oval Office? Does he not understand how many Americans might be offended? Is he lacking advice from a non-Texan perspective?”

Fred Zeidman, an influential Houston lawyer who has known Perry for decades and has hosted him at his home, said that “None of us remember him being quite as devout as he seems to be now, but we wouldn’t necessarily have known.”

Zeidman, who for eight years served as chairman of the board of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, supports Mitt Romney. But Zeidman told JTA that before endorsing Romney, he checked with Perry last December to ask whether he would be running. At the time Perry said no.

On Saturday, Perry threw his hat into the ring.

“A great country requires a better direction,” he said, declaring his candidacy. “A renewed nation needs a new president.”

Perry has been a conservative since before he switched parties in 1989 to became a Republican. A cotton farmer and former Air Force pilot, he led efforts in his first five years as a Democrat in the Texas Legislature to pare the budget.

Perry, a devout Methodist, was attracted to Israel from the launch of his career. One of his first acts after being elected agriculture commissioner in 1991 was to create the Texas-Israel Exchange, which promoted information and research sharing.

In a 2009 interview with The Jerusalem Post, when as governor he led a delegation to Israel, Perry—who at about the same time flirted with Texas secessionist rhetoric—said the alliance was a natural one.

“When I was here for the first time some 18 years ago and I was touring the country, the comparison between Masada and the Alamo was not lost on me,” he told the Post. “I mean, we’re talking about two groups of people who were willing to give up their lives for freedom and liberty.”

As much as Perry’s heartfelt love for Israel makes him attractive to Republican Jews, it is the other reason that he was in Israel at the time—seeking out job creation initiatives, as he has across the globe—that has been the basis of his Jewish support.

“I became intrigued by Rick Perry when I read his book ‘Fed Up!’ because it was exactly what I was feeling,” Robin Bernstein, who heads Perry’s fundraising in Florida, said in an interview. “His economic success in Texas is a model for the entire country.”

Texas has managed to weather the recession comparatively well, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has reported that half of all U.S. jobs created from June 2009 to April 2011 were in Texas.

Published last year, “Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington” blames America’s woes on an arrogant power elite in Washington. In the first chapter, Perry accuses this elite of “chutzpah”—music to conservative ears seeking relief from what they see as government unbound.

“We are fed up with being overtaxed and overregulated,” Perry wrote. “We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kind of cars we can drive, what kinds of guns we can own, what kind of prayers we are allowed to say and where we can say them, what political speech we are allowed to use to elect candidates, what kind of energy we can use, what kind of food we can grow, what doctor we can see, and countless other restrictions on our right to live as we see fit.”

It’s a message that resounds with Jewish conservatives—save, perhaps, for its defense of public prayer.

By the same token, Perry’s declaration last month that the presidency is “what I’ve been called to” sent a shudder through some among the conservative Jewish establishment. This month it was Perry’s leadership in organizing the massive Houston prayer rally, dubbed The Response, and his insistence that “we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles” that led some Jewish conservatives to go on the record with their discomfiture.

“My response to The Response: No, thanks,” wrote Jacob Sullum, a syndicated columnist. “My people have managed without Jesus for thousands of years. Why start now?”

Sullum also criticized Perry for seeming to abandon his previous let-the-states-decide view on social issues in favor of amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage everywhere in the country.

Sixteen rabbis were among 50 Houston clergy members who urged Perry not to host the rally. National groups like the Anti-Defamation League also opposed it.

“He called this rally as a governor,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in an interview before Perry’s formal declaration of his candidacy for president. “He didn’t try to camouflage anything. He’s pleasant and he’s smart, he has good relations with the Jewish community, but this is a conscious disregard of law and authority. What troubles me most is this is his perception of where America is at.”

Bernstein, Perry’s Florida backer, said such concerns are overstated.

“Nobody criticized Moses for being ‘called,’ ” she said. “The fact that he upholds the Ten Commandments is very important. I like to believe a man of faith has a moral compass.”

Jewish Democrats are eating up the controversy. In a statement, the National Jewish Democratic Council said it was “encouraging” Perry to run, “given that his record will help repel American Jews and remind them why they support Democrats in historic numbers.”

Zeidman wondered if, with the rally, his old friend was miscalculating.

“I don’t know that he has not gone too far in his appeal to the conservative wing of the party,” Zeidman said. “That could prove harmful in a general election.”

Still, Zeidman said, it would be a bigger mistake to underestimate a governor who in 11 years in office has wrested much power from the Legislature, where it had been concentrated for decades, and who knows how to win.

“He should never be underestimated in terms of his campaigning ability,” Zeidman said.

Quit Christian prayer rally, religious leaders urge Texas governor

Sixteen rabbis are among the more than 50 Houston religious leaders who signed a letter asking Texas Gov. Rick Perry to reconsider participating in a Christian prayer rally.

Rick Perry, a potential Republican presidential candidate, plans to host “The Response” on Aug. 6 at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. In a commercial featured on the rally’s website, Perry “calls on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did, and the Israelites did in the book of Job,” as a solution to the “economy in trouble, communities in crisis, and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism.”

The Response is sponsored by the American Family Association, a Conservative Christian advocacy nonprofit founded in 1977 as the National Federation for Decency. The rally follows the association’s statement of faith, which includes that the Christian Bible is “the inspired, the only infallible, authorative Word of God.”

In the letter, the leaders criticize Perry for calling for “a full day of exclusionary prayer. … This religious event is not open to all faiths, and its statement of beliefs does not represent religious diversity.”

The rabbis who signed are members of the Anti-Defamation League’s Coalition of Mutual Respect, a group of U.S. interfaith leaders who promote education and respect among religions and ethnicities.

“By his actions,” the letter says, “Governor Perry is expressing an official message of endorsement of one faith over all others, thereby sending an official message of religious exclusion and preference to all Texans who do not share that faith. We believe our religious freedom is threatened when a government official promotes religion, especially one religion over all others.”

Texas governor signs mezuzah law

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed a law that would require homeowner associations to permit religious displays on residents’ doors, including mezuzot.

Perry signed the bill at the end of the Texas legislative session on June 17; it reportedly had been unclear whether he would sign the new law.

According to the law, the religious item must be under 25 inches and remain in the doorway.

The law was introduced after a Conservative Jewish couple was ordered to remove a mezuzah from the door of their rental apartment and then fined when they refused. The couple sued to be allowed to keep the mezuzah up and lost; they moved from the building when their lease was up. They then turned to Houston Rep. Garnet Coleman to help push the bill through the Texas legislature to prevent the same thing from happening to others, according to the Houston Chronicle.

In 2008, Florida’s state Legislature passed a similar bill.