November 20, 2018

What’s a bigger threat to Jews, left or right?

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

Who’s worse, the fanatics who want to kill us now or the extremists who want to kill us later? That was the question Jews locked onto this week, like two dogs playing tug of war with a sock. It’s entertaining until one of them loses a tooth.

The fight began after President Donald Trump equivocated in his condemnation of neo-Nazis and placed the blame for the violence at the Aug. 12 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., on both the alt-right and the people who came to protest them.

Trump’s insistence that there was blame on “many sides” and there were “good people on both sides” drew justifiable denunciation from a broad swath of the Jewish world. The nonpartisan Anti-Defamation League (yes, it’s nonpartisan), of course, condemned the president’s remarks. But so did Haskel Lookstein, the Orthodox rabbi who officiated at Ivanka Trump’s conversion, as well as the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

If there’s one thing most Jews can still manage to agree on, it’s that Nazis are bad.

But then came social media, and that’s where the fights broke out.

Yes, what Trump did was terrible, but the real danger to American Jews is the left, some people argued. It’s the antifa people, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and Black Lives Matter with its anti-Zionist platform who intimidate Jewish students on college campuses, shut down free speech for pro-Israel speakers, and in the case of BDS, work toward a world where Israel and the Palestinians can bloody each other in a Lebanon-circa-1982-style civil war. At this year’s Chicago SlutWalk, the leftist organizers refused to let Jews march under a banner showing the Star of David, a Jewish symbol that long predates the State of Israel. 

Yeah, the leftists shot back, but what about … Nazis? It’s the alt-right members who carry guns, threaten synagogues as they did in Charlottesville, chant “Jews will not replace us,” and far and away commit more violent attacks. To paraphrase Sally Field, they hate us, they really hate us.

This is how the arguments play out on Facebook, Instagram and, occasionally, as they say on Twitter, IRL — in real life.

Some debaters go straight to history, or at least to something they remember from the History Channel. The left gave us Stalin and Mao. The fascists gave us Hitler. The left aligned with Palestinian terrorists. The right gave us … Hitler.

The right says that a few pathetic men carrying swastikas can’t compare to an international movement like BDS. The left points out that a few pathetic men carrying swastikas is an exact description of the Nazi Party in 1921.

The right claims there’s something called the alt-left that is dangerously anti-Semitic. The left points out that Fox News host Sean Hannity invented the term “alt-left” to stoke fear, whereas a neo-Nazi created the word “alt-right” to rebrand his loathsome movement.

“There is no comparable side on the left to the alt-right,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said on MSNBC this week.  “White supremacists amass with …  a nationalist agenda that pushes out minorities based on how you pray, who you love or where you’re from. So, it’s really not comparable.”

I’ve read the platforms of antifa groups online, and they all state they oppose all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. That’s not a claim you find on DailyStormer.com. Having said that, I wouldn’t be shocked one day to find anti-fascists showing up to intimidate marchers at a pro-Israel rally. Leftist politicians in England like Jeremy Corbyn side with terrorists against Israel, and their sickness is infectious.

The bottom line is, after our initial almost-unity in condemning Trump’s remarks, we quickly split on which extreme should concern us more. Astonishingly, the Democrats in the debate tend to “objectively” consider the neo-Nazis a far worse threat, while the Republicans “objectively” conclude that the antifas and BDS-ers are the clear and present danger. People come in with their biases and leave with them intact. No minds are changed in the making of this debate.

Here’s what I think: We need to sleep with one eye open, sometimes the right one, sometimes the left one.

The far right and far left always circle back to meet each other under the same DSM entry for paranoia, conspiracy theories, violence and Jew hatred. The far left disguises anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism. The far right disguises nothing: They hate Jews and the “Zios.”

These days, the far right has gotten a big blast of wind in its sails from our president (thanks for that) and the limp response from fellow Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who failed to stand up to him. Not to mention the Jews who serve or sometimes live with Trump. They only make things worse.

But winds shift. That means next time someone tries to convince you that all the danger blows from one direction, remind them that it doesn’t. The Jewish left needs to mind the left, and the Jewish right the right. Let’s work together to fight the fanatics and their enablers wherever, and whoever, they are.


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.

Trump’s target: Immigrants like us

President Donald Trump in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug. 22. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

While reporting on the current generation of immigrants, I’ve been struck by how they resemble Jews who, like them, left the old country for a risky journey to the United States.

We forget family roots as the years pass. Only determined genealogists have the curiosity to trace families back to the towns of the Ashkenaz and Sefarad. 

But there is no better time than now to think about roots.

Who would think that the top news of the day would be American Nazis running wild, rampaging with their swastikas and anti-Semitic chants? They are evocative of the vicious young men who stormed through Russian cities and villages during pogroms, in Jewish quarters in the Middle East, in European cities when Hitler reigned.

Then, to make matters worse, President Donald Trump sank to the level of Hitler apologists when he said of the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., “You … had some very fine people on both sides.” 

The United States has been a welcoming land for Jews. But the Nazi sympathizers and Trump’s comments ought to remind us of a certain precariousness in our lives. Paranoid perhaps, but that gloomy thought is with me as I cover the immigration issue for the website Truthdig.

When Trump took office with his pledge to sharply limit immigration and to deport those here without documentation — numbering about 11 million — Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer, son of an immigrant mother, said he thought immigration was one of the most important stories of our time and that we were in the middle of it in Southern California.  I thought so, too.

Take Boyle Heights, for example.

I began exploring Boyle Heights, Los Angeles’ traditional immigrant center, for the Los Angeles Times in 1970.

Much has changed since then. Brooklyn Avenue, the Boyle Heights’ main street of some of our readers’ youth, is now Cesar Chavez Avenue, and the Jews who made it their community long ago migrated westward. But some of the heritage of the old Boyle Heights — then a multiethnic, working-class neighborhood with a tradition of activist politics — remains.

That activism was apparent to me during a recent community workshop organized by Truthdig Managing Editor Eric Ortiz. The event was designed to show young people how to get news out in this era of internet journalism.

The concerns of these young journalists , who contribute to Boyle Heights Beat, a bilingual community newspaper and website, ranged from fighting the gentrification of Boyle Heights to reporting on the wave of fear in the Latino community over the rapidly increasing arrests of undocumented immigrants.

One story in a recent edition was about Los Angeles’ first all-solar-powered arts and music festival in Mariachi Plaza. Another was a moving account by a Boyle Heights Beat reporter about what happened when her father, here on a green card, was deported. What distinguishes the stories is that they give full pictures of life in Boyle Heights, rather than limiting themselves to the usual media accounts of undocumented immigrants being hauled away by authorities. 

My former Los Angeles Times colleague Hector Tobar wrote of these usual accounts in a New York Times op-ed, calling such stories “kind of immigration porn,” designed to titillate readers and viewers. “You are many times more likely to see a deportee on the TV news than a Latino doctor or teacher,” he wrote. “My objection is not to the coverage of deportations. … But the humiliated and hunted people you see in coverage of the deported are not the whole person. Tenacity and stubbornness are the defining qualities of undocumented America.”

These were the qualities of our Jewish immigrant forebears. They had the tenacity, stubbornness and courage to leave the old country for a faraway land whose language they frequently could not read or speak. They were impoverished before they left and often more so when they arrived. Grit and, often, family members pulled them up — sometimes way up.

These qualities are not recognized in the cruelly restrictive immigration measure proposed by Trump that would cut the number of immigrants to this country by half and, among other provisions, require English language skills. It would also eliminate some family sponsorship of immigrants, the route most immigrants follow to get into the United States. The provision would devastate Latino and Muslim families.

One of the provision’s authors was Trump aide Stephen Miller. As Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman wrote, Miller is the descendent of immigrants who benefited from American openness and generosity.

If you can, visit immigrant communities, go to meetings, explore the schools and watch people fight deportation in immigration court. Look carefully. You’ll see in their faces the faces of your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.

Today, Latinos and Muslims are under threat from the Trump administration. As inconceivable as it sounds, one day it could be us.


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

Why more Israelis are moving to the US

Children waving Israeli and American flags at the Celebrate Israel parade in New York City on June 4. Photo by Perry Bindelglass

Six years ago, the Israeli government released a series of controversial ads to show its expatriates that they would never feel at home in the United States.

But last year, Israeli Cabinet members lined up to address a Washington, D.C., conference celebrating Israeli-American identity.

The ad campaign, which was pulled following a backlash from Israelis and Jews abroad, represented Israel’s traditional attitude toward citizens who left its borders. Emphasizing its image as the Jewish national homeland — and ever concerned about its Jewish-Arab demographic balance — Israel’s government has long encouraged Jews not only to move to Israel but to stay there. In 2014, then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid called Israelis who moved to Berlin “anti-Zionists.”

But the parade of Israeli ministers who spoke at the 2016 conference of the Israeli-American Council attested to a shifting reality: Whether the Israeli government likes it or not, the Israeli-American diaspora is real, growing and leaving its mark on the United States.

Here are four things to know about the Israelis who live in the United States.

No one knows how many Israelis live in the United States — but it could be a million.

There’s no real way to know how many Israelis are living in the United States. Any first-generation child of Israelis is considered an Israeli citizen, and Israel can’t force its expatriates to register with their local consulate.

Estimates of Israelis in America vary widely — from about 200,000 to as many as a million. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, some 250,000 Israelis acquired permanent residence in the United States between 1949 (when 98 Israelis left the infant state) to 2015 (which saw about 4,000 Israelis move stateside). But that number does not chart deaths or Israelis who moved back.

The 2013 Pew Research Forum study on American Jews found a similar number: About 300,000 Jews in America were either born in Israel or born to an Israeli parent. In total, Pew found that first- or second-generation Israelis account for about 5 percent of American Jews.

Even the Israeli government produces two different numbers. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports that a little more than 500,000 Israelis in total moved abroad from 1990 to 2014 — and nearly 230,000 came back. But Israel’s U.S. Embassy told JTA that between 750,000 and 1 million Israelis live in the country. Adam Milstein, chairman of the Israeli-American Council, an umbrella group for Israelis here, told JTA that includes 400,000 children born to an Israeli parent.

In recent years, Israel has lost more people to the United States than it has gained. From 2012 to 2015, according to Homeland Security, 17,770 Israelis took up residence in the United States. During that span, fewer than 13,000 people made the move  from the United States to Israel.

They are centered in New York and Los Angeles.

Israelis tend to go where the Jews are. Milstein estimates that about 250,000 Israelis each live in the Los Angeles and New York City metro areas, which also boast the two largest Jewish communities in the United States. Smaller concentrations of Israelis (and Jews) live in South Florida, Chicago and San Francisco.

Those cities, in turn, have developed a range of services for their Israeli diasporas. Israel’s Immigrant Absorption Ministry maintains Israeli Houses in nine American cities that host cultural events and political activism. The Israeli-American Council has chapters in 15 cities. And communities boast active Facebook groups: “Israelis in New York” includes 18,000 members.

The cities also provide ample opportunities for Israeli culture. Israeli cuisine is a staple of New York’s restaurant scene, from chef Einat Admony’s mini empire of eateries, to Dizengoff, an Israeli restaurant with branches in Philadelphia and New York. Aroma, the iconic Israeli coffee chain, has branches in New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and Miami.

And Israeli musicians — from Idan Raichel to Shlomo Artzi to Sarit Hadad — are never hard to find on New York’s concert scene. An adaptation of Israeli novelist David Grossman’s book “To the End of the Land” opened recently at the the annual Lincoln Center Festival.

They come for education and work.

Neither the Israeli Embassy nor the Israeli-American Council tracks why Israelis move to the U.S., but Milstein suspects it’s for professional and academic reasons. Israel’s small size means Israelis with college or advanced degrees often seek to advance their careers in places with more opportunities abroad.

Israelis “don’t have the roots [of] someone whose family lived in Italy for 20 generations, or who lived in America for the last 150 years,” Milstein said. “The Jewish people, the most valuable asset they have is their brain. They can take their brain[s] anywhere.”

Israel, conversely, has begun to worry about its “brain drain” recently. A 2013 study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies found that for every 100 Israeli scholars who stayed in Israel, 29 left for positions abroad in 2008.

The drain is happening in the tech industry, too: According to the Israeli Executives and Founders Forum, an Israeli tech association, there are nearly 150 Israeli startups in Silicon Valley.

Israel still wants them back.

Israel’s government may have recognized that it can’t bring back all the Israelis from the United States, but it’s still trying. The appeal is both emotional and economic.

The 2011 ad campaign, for example, featured a series of shorts highlighting the Israeli-American cultural divide. In one, a child of Israelis in America, video chatting with Israeli grandparents, talks about the upcoming winter holiday of Christmas, not Hanukkah. In another, an Israeli woman comes home to commemorate Memorial Day in Israel with a candle — her American boyfriend mistakes it for romantic lighting.

More recently, Israel has also laid out financial incentives to draw expatriates back, including a program set to launch later this year called “Returning at 70,” a reference to Israel’s 70th Independence Day in 2018. The Immigrant Absorption Ministry will provide returning Israelis with financial assistance for six months, and will even cover a portion of their salaries in order to ensure they can find work in their old-new home. The government is also offering free professional development courses and consulting.

Israelis who have opened businesses stateside, meanwhile, will receive about $14,000 for the costs of relocating the business. And Israelis who move to the country’s underdeveloped northern and southern regions are eligible for grants as well as loans with low interest rates.

But Milstein says that even with these programs, Israeli officials still understand that it’s better to embrace expatriates than shame them into coming home.

“By trying to raise our guilt feeling, it backfired,” he said. “The State of Israel is getting to the realization that [our] being here, they can’t do too much about it. We can help the State of Israel a lot. They understand we can be their strategic asset.”

Israel and Russia only countries to view Trump more favorably than Obama, poll shows

President Donald Trump in Iowa on June 21. Photo by Scott Morgan/Reuters

Israel and Russia were the only two countries to have a more favorable view of President Donald Trump than his predecessor, Barack Obama, at the end of his time in office, a survey found.

The annual survey by the Pew Research Center on America’s image abroad also found that some 81 percent of Israelis have a positive view of the United States under Trump, compared with a median of 58 percent, according to the results released Tuesday.

Some 40,447 respondents in 37 countries outside the United States answered the survey from Feb. 16 to May 8.

Israel’s favorability rating of the United States has held steady over the past several surveys, including 81 percent in 2015, 84 percent in 2014, and 83 percent in 2013. In 2009, the rating was at 71 percent, the lowest since the survey was started 15 years ago.

In Russia, 41 percent have a favorable view of the United States under Trump, compared with 15 percent under Obama.

Israelis’ confidence in Trump was measured at 56 percent, compared to 49 percent for Obama at the end of his second four-year term. But the median showed 22 percent confidence in Trump and 64 percent in Obama.

The survey also found that 69 percent of Israelis surveyed said they considered Trump to be a strong leader, compared to a median of 55 percent. Some 54 percent of Israelis said Trump is well qualified to serve as president; the median was 26 percent.

Considering the border wall with Mexico, 42 percent of Israelis supported Trump’s idea, compared with 24 percent from all countries surveyed. On Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, 69 percent of Israelis were opposed, comparing to the 71 percent of the other countries surveyed.

“The sharp decline in how much global publics trust the U.S. president on the world stage is especially pronounced among some of America’s closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as neighboring Mexico and Canada,” according to the survey.

Among close U.S. allies, in Germany, the favorability ranking for the U.S. has dropped to 11 percent under Trump from 86 under Obama; in France, 14 percent from 84 percent, and in Canada, 22 percent from 83 percent. Sweden saw a drop to 10 percent from 93 percent.

Among Middle East countries, the U.S. did not fare particularly well under either president, but again there was more confidence in Obama. Some numbers: Turkey 11 percent for Trump, 45 for Obama; Jordan, 5 percent and 14 percent, and Lebanon, 11 percent and 36 percent.

Many countries that have had poor relations with the U.S. over many years were not among those questioned, such as Syria and Iraq.

Hunk hawks hideous health bill

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

John Thune is the most handsome man in the U.S. Senate. Square jawed, gleaming smile, cowboy tan, the 6’4” South Dakota Republican’s rugged good looks are antipodal to the mien of majority leader Mitch McConnell, whom Jon Stewart has definitively established is Yertle the Turtle’s doppelgänger. If the human brain’s positive bias toward attractive people didn’t cue me to infer that Thune is a great guy, a real straight shooter, I’d be as outraged by the assault on Americans’ health that Thune and his co-conspirators are currently waging, and by the subversion of American democracy they’re using to ram it through, as I am when its public face is McConnell’s.

Thune is a member of the all-white, all-male “gang of 13” staunchly conservative Republicans whom McConnell tasked two months ago with secretly writing a new GOP health bill in the Senate.

Because a parliamentary tactic will embed this Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal — and alleged replacement — into a budget reconciliation bill, it’s exempt from being filibustered by Democrats. That means the bill will need only 50 of the 52 Republican senators, along with Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote, in order to pass, instead of the 60 votes it takes to shut down a filibuster, which would require at least eight Democrats to defect.

Because the House also must pass the bill with only Republican votes, it needs to be mean enough to win over the House’s far right Freedom Caucus, “mean” being President Donald Trump’s new description of the formerly “beautiful” House health bill he fêted in the Rose Garden in May. That’s why the American Health Care Act (AHCA) that McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan want Trump’s signature on before July 4 likely will deprive 23 million Americans of health insurance; end Obamacare’s minimum benefits, like mental health services and maternity care; deny coverage for pre-existing conditions; permit lifetime benefit caps; cut $800 billion from Medicaid and turn it into block grants to states, effectively killing the program — oh, and give the top 0.1 percent of households an average tax cut of nearly $200,000.

I say “likely,” since the actual content of the bill has been shrouded in secrecy. Because a majority of Americans oppose those changes to a law that a majority of Americans support, McConnell knows that his only chance to pass it before the public catches on and rises up is a total blackout of information as they write the bill, which is what’s happening now, and once they reveal it, a blitzkrieg without committee hearings or time for town halls, hurtling toward a final vote within a matter of hours.

This is not normal. It’s not how a bill affecting one-fifth of our economy is supposed to be considered. McConnell’s plan is to make it seem normal, which is why they’re deploying the credibility of John Thune’s chiseled cheekbones: to sell a coup d’état as if it were a “Schoolhouse Rock!” civics lesson.

The day after a gunman opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice, prompting calls to for a return to civil discourse in our politics, Thune was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” saying we all must do our part to achieve the unity that this moment requires. Speaking of unity, journalist Mike Barnicle piped up, what about the health care bill being written in secret? “Nobody knows what’s in this bill,” Barnicle said. As a starter, he asked, in the spirit of reaching across the aisle, of bipartisanship and openness, “How about … telling us what’s in this bill?”

Thune’s answer made me marvel that a man with such good hair could deceive so baldly.

There’s really no bill to share, he said. What’s going on now is just discussions, just policy options. It will be openly shared when it’s reduced to legislative language, he said, as though that’s just how the lawmaking process works.

It’s not. Drafts of bills are routinely made public long before legislative language is locked in. They’re distributed as outlines, memos, letters, emails, talking points, PowerPoints, lists, charts, conference calls, cut-and-pastes, works in progress, principles, summaries, overviews, abstracts. They’re the basis for innumerable meetings with constituents, stakeholders, interest groups, media, members of both parties, think tanks, analysts and experts. That’s American democracy in action. What’s happening now is not.

Besides, Thune added, there’s been so much discussion of health care over the past decade, “it’s like any of us are unfamiliar with what the issues are.” We’ve already discussed them.

The ACA was the subject of hundreds of committee hearings and markups, hundreds of hours of congressional debate, hundreds of town halls and public forums and two years of news coverage. But that discussion was about expanding Medicaid, not eliminating it; about increasing benefits, not cutting them; about providing health insurance to millions, not giving tax cuts to millionaires. If the media were to give the AHCA’s issues the kind of scrutiny and airtime it gave Obamacare, Republicans would now be running from it like a dumpster fire.

To be sure, John Thune would make one handsome fireman. But I doubt even he could convince his colleagues in Congress to bunk in a burning building.


MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Joe Lieberman reportedly out of contention as Trump pick to lead FBI

Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman testifying during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill on Nov. 3, 2015. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump reportedly has dropped Joe Lieberman, a one-time Democrat who was the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket, from his list of contenders to helm the FBI.

Trump had indicated last week that Lieberman, a former U.S. senator from Connecticut and an Independent who has forged strong ties with Republicans and Democrats, was his likeliest pick. Lieberman was seen by Trump’s team as a sop to members of both parties angry with Trump for how he fired James Comey, the previous FBI director.

But Democrats in the Senate, chief among them Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, raised concerns because Lieberman is employed by the legal firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres and Friedman, which represents Trump. CNN reported Wednesday that Trump had retained the firm’s top lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, as personal counsel as scandals besieged Trump’s presidency, and that was likely a factor in Lieberman’s removal from contention for the FBI post.

Comey was helming the investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign when Trump sacked him earlier this month.

The White House delivered an array of sometimes conflicting reasons for the dismissal, saying at first that Comey mishandled last year’s FBI inquiry into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Then Trump acknowledged that he was also thinking of the Russia inquiry when he fired Comey.

Comey’s firing and subsequent reporting that Trump had tried to influence Comey’s handling of the Trump campaign-Russia investigation was a watershed in the scandals that have plagued Trump’s young presidency. Republicans in Congress seemed eager for the first time to vigorously pursue their own investigations into the alleged Russia ties, and last week subpoenaed materials related to the Russia investigations.

Lieberman earned a reputation for integrity in the late 1990s when he became the first Senate Democrat to take President Bill Clinton to task for his transgressions related to his affair with a White House intern.

Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000, made history when he named Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, as his running mate.

Lieberman alienated grassroots Democrats in the next decade when he backed President George W. Bush’s Iraq War, and in 2006 was defeated in the Democratic primary in his home state. He ran and won as an Independent, and backed his close friend, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, over Barack Obama in the 2008 election. He retired from politics in 2012.

Since then, Lieberman has gravitated back toward the Democratic fold, campaigning among Florida’s Jews last year for Clinton. He still maintains ties with Republicans, however, this year testifying on behalf of two Trump nominees in confirmation hearings: Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, who is the “Friedman” in the legal firm representing Trump.

Meeting with Abbas, Trump calls Manchester attackers ‘evil losers’

President Donald Trump shaking hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint news conference in Bethlehem, in the West Bank on May 23. Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, Donald Trump condemned those behind the deadly bombing in Manchester, England, the night before as “evil losers.”

“So many young beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term,” Trump said in a joint news conference with Abbas on the second day of the U.S. president’s two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank. “They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are.”

At least 22 people were killed as they exited a concert by the American pop star Ariana Grande at Manchester Arena. Police said the attack was carried out by a lone suspect who died in the explosion. The Islamic State has taken responsibility.

Abbas also expressed his “warm condolences” to the victims of the attack and to the British people.

Discussing his talks with Abbas, Trump spoke of achieving a peace deal, saying “I am committed to trying to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I intend to do everything I can to help them achieve that goal. President Abbas assures me he is ready to work toward that goal in good faith, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised the same. I look forward to working with these leaders toward a lasting peace.”

On Monday, Trump met with Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, where he also spoke of possibilities for recharging the peace process.

“There are many things that can happen now that could never have happened before,” Trump said during the visit. “We must seize them together. We must take advantage of the situation.”

In his appearance with Abbas, Trump made what many took as a reference to Palestinian payments to the families of terrorists. The practice of paying “martyrs” and their families dates back decades and survived the Oslo peace process launched in 1993.

“Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Trump said.

He also called for zero tolerance for terror.

“We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single unified voice,” the U.S. leader said.

In his remarks, Abbas said he has no problem with Judaism. He said the Palestinians’ “fundamental problem is with occupation and settlements and the failure of Israel to recognize the state of Palestine as we recognize it.”

Abbas said the Palestinians “are committed to working with [Trump] to reach a historic peace deal between us and Israel.”

Under Trump, daylight re-emerges in US-Israel relationship

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Just days before President Donald Trump’s first visit to Israel, the U.S.-Israel relationship is undergoing its first major crisis in the Trump era. ZOA’s Klein: “The President is getting bad advice.”

HOW IT STARTED: During a Sunday morning interview with Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, Tillerson said that any decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would not be made for some time, adding that it would take consultations with Israel and the Palestinians to see if the move would advance the peace process. “I think it’ll be informed, again, by the parties that are involved in those talks,” Tillerson said. “And most certainly Israel’s view on whether Israel views it as being helpful to a peace initiative or perhaps a distraction.”

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Hours after the interview was broadcast, Netanyahu issued a rare statementresponding to Tillerson’s remarks. “Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem would not harm the peace process,” Netanyahu said. “On the contrary, it would advance it by correcting an historical injustice and by shattering the Palestinian fantasy that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel.” He repeated this statement at the weekly Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday.

DID BIBI ADVISE TRUMP AGAINST MOVING? On Monday, in response to a Fox News report that Netanyahu told Trump not to move the embassy right away, the Prime Minister’s Office released partial transcripts of Netanyahu’s White House meeting as proof that he had urged the President to move the embassy. “The embassy – the PM supports moving it,” a summary of the Oval Office meeting read. During a working lunch at the White House, “the PM was asked about the embassy and explained [that moving it would not lead to bloodshed in the region, as some were trying to intimidate President Trump into believing.”

The Prime Minister’s office also released a transcript of a meeting between Ambassador Ron Dermer and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn on January 16: “Dermer explained why moving the embassy would help advance peace and not the opposite. This would send the message that we are in Jerusalem to stay. Moving the embassy would force the other side to contend with the lie they’ve constructed – that Israel has no connection to Jerusalem – and will cause them to understand that Israel will be here forever with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Visiting the Wall: According to a report by Israel’s Channel 2, the U.S. advance team rebuffed a request from Netanyahu’s team to accompany Trump while he visits the Western Wall. According to the report, the US team explained that the site is part of disputed territory in the West Bank and not under Israeli sovereignty. An official in Netanyahu’s office expressed“astonishment” over the comment. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel has contacted the administration to discuss the matter.

REACTIONS: Abe Foxman, former National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), lambasted the White House for its “very serious misunderstandings” on sensitive and important issues to Israel and the Jewish people. “It makes many of us — who are hoping for a change in U.S.-Israel relations — nervous,” Foxman, the current Director of Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, told Jewish Insider. “I cannot believe that the traditionally pro-Palestinian functionaries in the American Consulate in Jerusalem are making the decisions on the Kotel and Jerusalem.”

The current CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, urged the White House to clarify its stance following the report. “The Kotel is 100% part of Israel and holy to Jews around [the] world,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

“When a President or Prime Minister needs to put out record of a private conversation to defend themselves against the other or their domestic opposition, it’s not a good sign,” Aaron David Miller, Vice President for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Jewish Insider. “Remember the agreement between these two [leaders] to manage differences by not going public?”

“Playing with the Jerusalem issue complicates not just the putative peace process, but everyone’s politics,” Miller explained. “If Trump wants to hang a ‘closed for the season’ sign on the peace process before it ever gets started, he should fool around with the Jerusalem issue.”

“The administration has boxed itself in by focusing on Jerusalem and not doing what every other administration (R or D) has done which is to punt the issue,” he added.

Dore Gold, former MFA Director General and current President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, defended Netanyahu’s action, saying the Prime Minister is right to push on Jerusalem as Israel commemorates the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. “Now that the administration is expressing strong determination to reach a final status deal, naturally Israelis are concerned about what happens to Jerusalem,” Gold said in an email. “This is a core value of national identity for Israelis which may not be fully appreciated by the outside world.”

Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who will be in Israel during Trump’s visit, was reportedly “furious” about Tillerson’s comments on the embassy. Mort Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), said on Monday that he is very disappointed with Trump’s handling of the issue. “I am very disappointed he hasn’t moved the embassy,” Klein told Jewish Insider in a phone interview. “It’s a mistake. This harms President Trump’s credibility and if the Arabs don’t respect his credibility, it is more likely that they would be making impossible demands.”

“The President is getting bad advice from some of his aides,” Klein continued. “All I say to his people is: the embassy hasn’t been moved for the 23 years since Oslo and you haven’t gotten peace. So the problem is obviously not moving the embassy to Jerusalem.” Klein elaborated that in recent meetings at the White House he told Trump aides, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, that “moving the embassy would make the Palestinians and the Arab world understand that Trump is serious and doing what’s right and that the jig is up.”

Klein said he’s worried about Tillerson citing the current Secretary of State’s relationship with former Secretary of State James Baker. “I am concerned that Tillerson will begin to pressure Israel to take stands that they can’t take,” he said. “I am worried.”

A White House spokesperson told Jewish Insider, “The comments about the Western Wall were not authorized communication and they do not represent the position of the United States and certainly not of the President.”

And on his 92d day, he fired the surgeon general

Dr. Vivek Murthy. Photo from Wikipedia

At least I got to thank him for his service while he was still serving.

If you saw the “Diabetic Lesbians and a Blushing Bride” episode of last season’s CBS sitcom “Mom,” an improbably funny series about the struggles of a mother (Allison Janney) and daughter (Anna Farris) in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse, the last five minutes held a shocker for you: a teenager played by recurring guest star Emily Osment dies of a drug overdose.

But then you were in for another surprise: U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy in dress blues, flanked by Janney and Farris, warning that drug overdoses kill more Americans than car crashes.  The families behind these numbers, he tells us, need our compassion. The 30-second PSA ends with a 24/7 Helpline number to call “if you or someone you know needs help.” After it ran, calls to 1-800-662-HELP tripled.

Last week, 48 hours before Donald Trump fired him, Dr. Murthy came to Los Angeles to talk to a roomful of TV show runners, producers and writers. Communicating public health messages is central to the surgeon general’s job, and Murthy understands how powerfully entertainment can influence audiences. When we identify with fictional characters, when we’re transported by their narratives, our knowledge, our beliefs, even our behavior can be shaped by made-up stories.

Murthy’s message to the creative community: Opioid addiction is an epidemic. Everyone knows someone struggling with it. But it’s a chronic illness, a disease of the brain, not a moral failure. He asked Hollywood’s help in depicting it that way, and that when they do, to please depict hope, not just pain; recovery, not just despair.

If the surgeon general knew that two years into his four-year term as a nonpolitical appointee, the president was going to ask for his resignation, or that when that happened, Murthy would refuse, forcing the president to fire him, I saw no sign of it that night.

I was his host. As director of the Norman Lear Center, named for the TV pioneer and philanthropist whose shows have wrestled with cancer, sexual assault, racism, homophobia and so many other realities of American life, I’m especially proud of our Hollywood, Health & Society program run by my colleague Kate Folb. For 16 years, HH&S has provided free expert advice to hundreds of shows on issues of public health, safety and security. We connect writers with top medical and scientific specialists to answer their questions; we bring experts to writers’ rooms to brief them on topics ranging from HIV to climate change to the risk of nuclear war; we invite speakers to tell their personal stories, and to inspire writers with their passion to repair the world.

Murthy told the TV writers that when President Obama nominated him in 2013, a nurse at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he worked said to him, “If you can do one thing, please do something about the addiction crisis.” He recounted some of the stories people told him as he traveled the country trying to do what she asked, like the man addicted to opioids who told Murthy that when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, he actually welcomed the news: He figured that after his surgery, he’d be given painkillers.

Surgeon general Vivek Murthy, right, and Marty Kaplan. Photo courtesy Norman Lear Center

Surgeon general Vivek Murthy, right, and Marty Kaplan. Photo courtesy Norman Lear Center

Cortney Lovell, a 28-year old mom-next-door from upstate New York, told the writers her story as well. She recalled the winter night in her car nine years ago when she deliberately shot an overdose of heroin and cocaine into her veins. She thought death was a better option than the hell of her life. Lovell doesn’t know why she didn’t die that night, but today she’s in long-term recovery from addiction, and she’s helping others prevent and escape from what happened to her.  The writers also heard Gemma Baker, writer/producer and co-creator of “Mom,” and Zoanne Clack, executive producer of “Grey’s Anatomy,” explore the craft of informing audiences while also entertaining them.

And none of us, except perhaps Murthy, had a clue he’d be out the door two days later.

The Senate held up Murthy’s confirmation for more than a year because Republicans held his support of the Affordable Care Act against him, and because the NRA opposed him for calling gun violence a public health issue. Once in office, when he warned that the nicotine in e-cigarettes was harmful to kids’ developing brains, Big Tobacco and right wing groups like Americans for Tax Reform called for Murthy’s ouster. Last week, when he listed the causes of opioid addiction at our event, he included the prescription drug industry’s aggressive pain pill marketing, which made me think he must be on Big Pharma’s hit list, too. With that many strikes against him – to me, badges of honor – it’s amazing he lasted until the Administration’s 92d day.

The farewell message that Murthy, 39, the grandson of a poor farmer from India, posted on his Facebook page is extremely gracious, especially given the circumstances.  I’m not sure I’d be able to pull off being that lovely. But I’m reasonably sure that the nice folks who pulled the trap door under Vivek Murthy are indifferent to the oath known to anyone who’s seen a medical show on TV: First, do no harm.


MARTY KAPLAN is the Norman Lear professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

How complicated is Syria? Trump just helped ISIS

We like our problems clean and direct. Good versus evil. Good fights evil. Good wins.

The Syrian regime of President Assad is evil. Its use of chemical weapons to murder children was barbaric. It makes sense to not let him get away with it. So, you can argue that President Trump was right to order missile strikes against the regime.

This satisfying moral action, however, should not make us dumb down a complicated conflict. The dominant reality of the Syrian conflict today is that it represents evil vs evil. You can get rid of one evil only to see something worse replace it.

On one side of the conflict, you have the Assad regime, supported by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. A few years ago, Assad was on life support. Now, with his strong partners, he’s made a comeback.

On the other side of the conflict are anti-regime rebel groups who fight each other as much as they fight the Assad regime.

The largest is ISIS, with 25,000 to 80,000 fighters. ISIS has become the enemy par excellence in the Western world. Trump has talked incessantly about destroying them. Now consider this: By striking Assad, Trump ended up helping ISIS. Complicated enough?

Besides ISIS, there are groups like Al-Nusra Front (15,000 to 20,000 fighters), Jaysh al-Islam (17,000 to 25,000), Ahrar ash-Sham (10,000 to 20,000), Asala wa-al-Tanmiya (13,000), Jaysh al-Fatah (10,000), Sham Legion (4,000) and Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union (3,000).

In the middle of this jungle is the Free Syrian Army, with 100,000 fighters, which was started by former Syrian officers. Everyone seems to fight them.

Geography further complicates the picture. The country has been heavily splintered. Different groups have different power bases. Of course, the more land you can conquer the more power you have.

In the North is the Kurdish group, which is another story altogether, because Kurds are known to be more moderate. But Turkey hates the Kurds. Just as Iran and Syria are supporting the Assad regime, countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey are supporting their own rebel groups.

The point is this: Syria has become a complete, violent mess. When it comes to the most likely winners in this conflict, the choice has become evil versus evil. The good people of Syria who initially rose up against Assad, and the militias they organized, have been slowly crushed.

As much as it may satisfy us to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, it’s important to keep our eye on the whole picture. What can America do? At this point, not much. Six years ago, when the more moderate rebel forces were stronger, we could have given them military assistance and established no-fly zones. Would it have worked? Who knows? There’s no certainty when so many violent forces are at play.

What we do know today is that extremist groups have the upper hand pretty much everywhere and that Russia has established its own military presence. That limits our options. On the humanitarian front, we can certainly help establish safe zones to assist the millions of refugees. We can even order the occasional pinprick attack to show we’re still here and we have our limits, and the use of chemical weapons is one of them.

But let’s be real. There are no good options. The Syrian fire has gotten too big to simply suffocate. Yes, let’s stay vigilant. Let’s make sure things don’t get too out of hand and spill over into other countries (like Israel). But as vexed as I am to say this, when evil fights evil, sometimes the best option is to let them fight it out, and to help ensure no one wins.

As Daniel Pipes writes, “Iranian- and Russian-backed Shi’ite pro-government jihadis are best kept busy fighting Saudi-, Qatar-, and Turkish-backed anti-government Sunni jihadis; because Kurds, however appealing, are not contenders for control of the whole of Syria; and because Americans have no stomach for another Middle Eastern war.”

Trump can go on about how attacking Assad is a “vital U.S. interest,” but who’s he kidding? Is he ready to invite the head of ISIS to the White House for peace talks?


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

Rasmea Odeh, Linda Sarsour slam ‘Zionists’ at Jewish Voice for Peace summit

Linda Sarsour speaking onstage during the Women’s March on Washington in Washington, D.C, Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

A Palestinian woman who is being forced to leave the United States for not telling immigration authorities that she was imprisoned in Israel for two terror attacks told a U.S. Jewish group that they must stop the “Zionists” from their “land grab.”

Rasmea Odeh was the keynote speaker on Sunday in Chicago at a summit of the Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Odeh, 69, accepted a plea bargain last month that forces her to leave the country and strips her U.S. citizenship. She had been fighting in the courts for years.

Also speaking at the conference was the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who raised hackles among liberal American Jews recently by saying that those who identify as Zionist cannot be feminist because they are ignoring the rights of Palestinian women.

Meanwhile, during Odeh’s address, the Israel advocacy group StandWithUs held a memorial ceremony at the same hotel for Edward Joffe and Leon Kanner, the two men killed in the 1969 bombing in Jerusalem for which Odeh was convicted by an Israeli military court. The group had been denied a request to rent a conference room at the insistence of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Odeh spoke about having to leave the United States.

“I thought when I came to the U.S., and made it my second home, it would be the last station in a journey of struggle that I shared with my Palestinian people in response to the Nakba [catastrophe]  and the occupation of 1967,” she told the audience of about 1,000, referring to the Palestinians’ perception of Israel’s founding, including their forced and voluntary displacement to neighboring countries.

She added: “Now I face a similar Nakba, forced to leave the country and the life that I built for myself over 23 years in the U.S., but I will continue my struggle for justice for my people wherever I land.”

Odeh, a leader of the grassroots International Women’s Strike, reminded the audience that Americans are “in the streets” resisting President Donald Trump every day.

She continued: “Of course, Zionists aren’t going to stop their land grab in Palestine either. The Palestinians there and the Palestinians and our supporters here have to stop them with our resistance and our organization.”

In 1970, Odeh was sentenced to life in prison for two bombing attacks on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and spent 10 years in prison before being released in a prisoner exchange in 1980.

In 2015, she was sentenced in the U.S. to 18 months in prison for covering up her conviction and imprisonment in Israel when she entered the country in 1995 and applied for citizenship in 2004, but the conviction was later vacated to allow Odeh to show that she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder over her alleged mistreatment while in prison.

Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March on Washington who recently raised thousands of dollars to repair anti-Semitic vandalism at three U.S. Jewish cemeteries, told the crowd: “If what is being asked of me by those who pronounce themselves and call themselves Zionist is that I, as a Palestinian American, have to somehow leave out a part of my identity so you can be welcomed in a space to work on justice, then that’s not going to be the right space for you.”

“We, as Palestinian Americans, as Arab Americans, as Muslim Americans, we will not change who we are to make anybody feel comfortable. If you ain’t all in, then this ain’t the movement for you,” she said.

StandWithUs rented a regular hotel room and held its memorial there.

In a statement, the Joffe family described Jewish Voice for Peace as “another deeply misguided so-called ‘Jewish’ organization.”

“She will soon be forgotten by her supporters who have so misguidedly championed her,” the statement said, “but the memory of Edward and Leon will live on forever.”

How Trump made me a Second Amendment American

Danielle Berrin takes aim at the Los Angeles Gun Club shooting range. Photos and video by Rick Sorkin

We called ourselves Bonnie and Clyde for the day.

We felt dangerous and powerful holding the gun between our fists, laying our eyes on the target, spraying bullets into the air.

Boom! Bullet to the head.

Boom! Bullet to the eye.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Thigh, kidney, heart.

I never imagined I’d be a good shot. But there I was, spending a Friday afternoon at the Los Angeles Gun Club, shooting a weapon for the first time.

Something about the frenzied atmosphere of paranoia caused by the Donald Trump Administration — with its covert Russian ties, autocratic tendencies and growing contempt for the press (not to mention the surge of the alt-right) — inspired me to get a handle on self-defense.

I wasn’t alone. The New Yorker recently reported that Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives are buying foreign landing strips and underground luxury apartments, and stocking up on ammunition, preparing for the “crackup of civilization.” It’s a bit hysterical, I admit, and the moral calculus of the über-wealthy seeking only to spare themselves is disturbing. But it got me thinking: What recourse do the rest of us have if we can’t afford an end-of-days investment in former missile silos?

Enter: The Gun.

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Growing up, I never encountered one. “Mom was a little freaked out about them,” my dad said. So, we didn’t have one in the house. Guns, for me, were exotic and unfamiliar — the domain of Hollywood movies, faraway wars or my dad’s Republican cousin. As an adult, I came to associate guns with mass shootings and politics; at shul, I frequently heard sermons on behalf of gun control, but my exposure to the real thing was limited.

“I’m taking you shooting,” my friend, musician Rick Sorkin, said to me.

So, off we went to a nondescript building on a quiet block downtown. Inside, the L.A. Gun Club offers a dazzling array of firearms for rent and a small indoor shooting range.

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Guns were everywhere — symmetrically layed out in glass cases, mounted on walls and sitting in the holsters of the clerks who work there. An assortment of paper targets was plastered throughout for your shooting pleasure — a terrorist in a bush, a sketch of the human anatomy, or a plain old bull’s-eye. It was like a library, devoted to the culture of killing machines.

To get a gun, all Rick and I had to do was sign a release, then leave a fingerprint and a driver’s license. Minutes later, I was holding a Glock 17 in my hands — “popular with law enforcement,” the clerk said. Since it was my first time, he performed a brief demonstration, showing me how to lock, load and shoot before we entered the range.

DSC_0048Rick clicked in a round of cartridges, then handed me my first loaded gun. My nerves simmered as I gripped it, one hand over the other, index finger flat on the side, right above the trigger.

I stood in our little chamber as the sound of rifles exploded all around us, so loud it was dizzying, despite the fact I was wearing both earplugs and earmuffs. Feet firmly apart, I lifted the gun and aimed at the target.

“Take a deep breath, then pull the trigger on the exhale,” Rick said.

But I could barely breathe, I was so overwhelmed. I was sure the thing either was going to accidentally kill someone or backfire in my face.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I told him.

But there was no way I was going to chicken out while a guy had all the fun.

I squinted over the top of the barrel and aimed for the head on the target.

Boom! Right through the brain.

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Blood surged through my veins in a heady rush of adrenaline and excitement. I had metaphorically killed a man with my very first shot. That’s how easy it is to end a life.

Shooting a gun, it turns out, can be exhilarating, especially when you’re good at it. It also demystifies an object associated with death and destruction. As a woman, it’s empowering to hold a weapon in your hands and know how to use it. But it’s a complicated power — God forbid you ever need to exercise it.

DSC_0158The more I pounded my paper target, the more I realized the dissonance of what I was doing: Target practice is fun, even a bit addictive, but let’s be honest, it’s not the reason guns exist. They were created to kill animals and human beings.

That doesn’t mean, given the current political atmosphere and the history of our country, that I’m not grateful for the constitutional right to bear arms. I like that more than 200 years after the Second Amendment was adopted, a relatively defenseless urbanite like myself can walk into a gun range, get some instruction and learn a new way to protect myself — though I’m also aware of the risks of gun ownership and that I’d need more training and practice before I ever felt comfortable, God forbid, using a gun to save myself or someone else.

I also know the religious tradition I love aspires to a prophetic vision of a world of nonviolence, where swords will turn into plowshares and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

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But from one afternoon, the Demon Gun now feels a little less demonic. And me? I feel a little more American.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Left, right must unite against anti-Semitic hate

recent headline from London’s Jewish Chronicle read: “Worst Year On Record As Anti-Semitism Soars In Britain 36 Percent.”

Across the big pond, the initial reaction may have been: “Thank the Lord, it’s not happening here.”

Not so fast. U.S. headlines confirm that history’s oldest hate continues to rear its ugly head across America:

• Jewish Community Centers in the United States have received nearly 70 bomb threats in 2017. The digitally altered voice threatens, “It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel. … In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel. … There’s going to be a bloodbath … in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.” The FBI has yet to apprehend the culprits.

• Chicago’s historic downtown Loop Synagogue, founded nearly 90 years ago, had its plate glass window shattered shortly after midnight on the Sabbath. The coward who broke the glass also plastered the synagogue entrance with black-and-white swastika stickers. The Chicago Police have opened a hate crime investigation.

• At Houston’s Cypress Ranch High School, students taking a senior class photo held their hands in the air in a “Sieg Heil” Nazi salute. The photos have been circulating on social media. In an email to TV station KPRC-TV, a student witness says that as many as 70 young people were shouting “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Trump.” Whether stupid prank or hate crime, “It was pretty terrifying,” one student said.

• At the University of Florida in Gainesville, a man wearing a swastika armband and making menacing statements, identified as Michael Dewitz, appeared on campus the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dewitz was at this for a week. Finally, some student protesters roughed him up. Gainesville is reputedly one of the most “liberal” areas in north Central Florida.

In one of the few redeeming moments, New York commuters banded together one Saturday to clean up a subway car defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti and Nazi symbols. Gregory Locke, a young attorney from Harlem, saw the group effort unfold after he got on the city’s No. 1 Line at 50th Street. There were swastikas and other graffiti on every window, door and advertising display. Slogans were also written across the rail car, including “Destroy Israel, Heil Hitler,” and “Jews belong in the oven.”

On a Facebook post, Locke said, “The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do. One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work.” Locke told NBC News that his fellow passengers then began looking for hand sanitizer, while others started wiping off the graffiti, which was gone before the train made it as far as Lincoln Center at 66th Street.

What Americans today need is a reintroduction to and embrace of Martin Luther King’s legacy — a leader who campaigned for justice for all.

These incidents are not about policies, but a symptom and byproduct of the extreme political and social polarization of our country across ideological and partisan lines that became supercharged during the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential campaign — and show no signs of abating. In fact, they are only getting worse, and left unchecked could lead to dangerous, if unintended, consequences.

Surely there must be ways to defend immigrants, refugees and the court system without smearing the White House as a den of “Nazis.” Those seniors in Houston are just aping adults quick to deploy the N-bomb 24/7. Such tactics succeed only in eroding the swastika and Nazism as the quintessential symbols of genocidal and anti-Semitic evil, and may be inadvertently opening the way for more, not less hate.

What Americans today need is a reintroduction to and embrace of Martin Luther King’s legacy — a leader who campaigned for justice for all and whose denunciation of all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, earned him and his movement support from Americans of every race, religion and creed.

Today, many European Jews no longer wear a yarmulke or Star of David necklace for fear of attack. In 2017, we need more Americans from across the social and political divides to demonstratively reject history’s oldest hate — as the group of New York subway riders did — or we may soon be grappling with the impact of mainstream anti-Semitic hate, not unlike Europe’s.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.

A legacy of O

When he ran for President, Barack Obama promoted “we are not red states or blue states, but the United States.” He didn’t mean it.

Radicalized by his prolific communist mentor Frank Marshall Davis, Barry (Soetero) enjoyed his pot-smoking “choom gang” in high school, and then regularly attended socialist conferences while in college.

He became a community organizer in Chicago and close friend of the radical Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and the domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, his philosophical and political influencers. Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” were calculations against the American Dream.

As Presidential candidate in 2008, Senator Obama declared the cumulative national debt, at 8 Trillion dollars, “unpatriotic.” But his unprecedented generational assault on America’s children has now resulted in a staggering debt of 20 Trillion dollars, and all-time high levels of government dependency in “food stamp nation”.

For that bill, taxpayers could have easily covered all the medical care of the uninsured without imposing the Obamacare disaster. But the Affordable Care Act was never about affordability, access, reducing health care costs, or keeping your insurance or your doctor.  It was always about federal control and a path to socialized health care through an eventual single-payer system.

Obama’s legacy therefore is a decline of consumer choice and health care competition, with providers and doctors walking away, and middle class Americans shocked at their skyrocketing insurance premiums and extremely high insurance deductibles.

Since 1790, the annual average domestic economic growth rate in our nation is just under 4%. Having never worked in the private sector, Barack Obama has presided over the poorest-ever 8 year national economic performance, a mere 1.5% annual growth.

Declaring “I won”, President Obama promoted an extreme and often petty partisanship, incessantly castigating, and never compromising with Congress.

He demoralized entrepreneurs (“you didn’t build that”), demonized the “bitter clingers” to their guns and religion, opposed domestic energy production (Keystone pipeline) and ridiculed doctors “seeking profit”.

A former adjunct law professor, Obama’s executive over-reach was repeatedly repudiated by the Courts.

Mr. Obama promised transparency, but his administration produced a stunning collection of scandals:

Fast & Furious gun running to Mexican drug lords, the IRS assault on Conservatives, the targeting of James Rosen and AP reporters, released GITMO terrorists returning to battle, the Benghazi failure to anticipate, protect, defend, or admit the truth about the planned 9/11 anniversary assault on U.S. assets, Healthcare Insurance Fraud, the woeful Bo Berghdahl trade, Auto Dealergate, the DOJ Black Panther whitewash, the NEA Art scandal, the Sestak affair, Inspector General Gerald Walpin’s firing, the mis-spending of Stimulus Funds , the DOJ propaganda unit, Solyndra, the Attorney General held in contempt of Congress, and massive failures at the Veterans Administration, the CDC, and the Secret Service.  The list goes on and on.

As Commander in Chief, Mr. Obama, absent any national security experience or credentials, called our troops “corpsemen” and oversaw significant declines in military preparedness and troops, tanks, planes, and warship levels.

His human rights record is a disaster — diffidence about assaults on Christians, and Yazidi and Nigerian girls sold into slavery without rescue, and unforgivable decisions to side against dissidents from Tehran to Eastern Europe.  Mr. Obama took the wrong side in Honduras and Egypt (Moslem Brotherhood), and sought to appease and empower the Castro regime in Cuba and the Mullah tyranny in Iran.  He didn’t extract concessions; he conceded, over and over, to our enemies.

The Russian re-set was an historic blunder (“Tell Vladimir I’ll have more flexibility after I’m re-elected”) and Obama failed to retaliate against Chinese cyber hacking, a lesson Russians must have learned.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner managed a tripling of US combat deaths in Afghanistan over his predecessor, and his most unfortunate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, which VP Biden had declared stable, helped to unleash the barbarism of ISIS (“a JV Team”, “contained”).

Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry exhibited remarkable ineffectiveness in promoting stability in the Middle East, encouraging Palestinian irredentism and resulting in failed states in Libya and Yemen.

UN Ambassador Samantha Power who literally wrote the book on R2P, the “responsibility to protect” against genocide, failed her mission. Responsibility was abandoned to beg favor with the Iranians, who received not further sanction but billions of American dollars and a green light to continue regional domination and terror, support of Assad in Syria, and threats against Israel.

Most egregiously, President Obama failed to enforce his own red line in Syria or even create no fly zones, after the Assad regime used chemical weapons. There is no more Syrian state, 500,000 are dead, and millions of refugees are flooding into Europe, destabilizing the West.  History will judge this administration harshly.

The Obama Doctrine (“offend friends and hug thugs”) was perhaps most calculated to undermine Bibi Netanyahu, (including Obama sending his political team and U.S. taxpayer funds to influence the Israeli elections).  Seeking “daylight” between special allies, Mr. Obama used every opportunity to destroy the bi-partisan tradition of U.S. diplomatic and political support for the Jewish state.  During the Iran Deal debate, Mr. Obama sank to new lows, castigating opponents (the majority in Congress and in public opinion) as dual loyalists.

Once hailed as a political genius, Obama’s radicalism led his party into disarray, and repeated electoral disaster, with some 1000 national and state legislative seats and many Governorships lost during his tenure. Ungenerous to his political opponents, he ultimately was quite uncaring about his own political party too.

The black community faired quite economically poorly during his two terms.  And, abandoning his roots, Barack Obama has sadly accepted no accountability for the years-long murder wave gripping Chi-town.

Barack Hussein Obama chose purposefully to assail American allies abroad, befriend tyrannies, abandon dissidents and victims abroad, and attack traditional Americans and economic growth at home.

He was also never a truth teller about Islamic Jihad and the challenge of radical Islam’s assaults on Americans within our own borders.

His legacy is to have made America less safe and sovereign, less prosperous and entrepreneurial, and less united than the promised hope and change campaign of 2008.


Larry Greenfield has served as executive director of the Reagan Legacy Foundation, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Republican Jewish Coalition of California. He is long associated with the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship & Political Philosophy.

Wiesenthal Center’s Hier defends decision to appear at Trump inauguration

Sitting in his office at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, where he’s founder and dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier pushed a stack of printouts across his desk — blessings and invocations he’s delivered on behalf of four sitting U.S. presidents.

“I’ve done invocations for President [Bill] Clinton, both Bushes, Ronald Reagan,” he said. “I wouldn’t make any exception.”

The Dec. 28 announcement that Hier would offer a benediction at the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump — the first rabbi to appear at an inauguration since Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk at Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 — was greeted immediately with controversy: Why would the head of an organization dedicated to fighting hate bless a politician whose candidacy faced repeated accusations of ethnic and religious intolerance?

A petition on Change.org calling on Hier to back out gathered more than 2,000 signatures in three days.

“By speaking at his inauguration, especially as a hero of a half-century battling hate and intolerance, we feel you lend those elements of your ‘brand’ — if inadvertently — to help create a smokescreen for Trump,” the petition reads.

But Hier remains unfazed. For him, the decision to appear as one of six faith leaders at the Jan. 20 swearing-in — and the only non-Christian — was an easy one. The peaceful transition of power is “the trademark of democracy,” he said, and he was honored to receive the invitation. 

“Who’s sitting on the platform [at Trump’s inauguration]?” he asked. “His worst opponents, sitting in the peaceful transfer of power: Hillary and Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, President and Mrs. Obama, George W. Bush and his wife — and they say that I shouldn’t partake. Come, come! Isn’t that the height of hypocrisy?”

His appearance shouldn’t be viewed as an endorsement, Hier said. He pointed out that he criticized Trump during the campaign, for instance when the candidate suggested a registry of Muslims in the United States.

“I’ve stated my views and I was invited to give the prayer anyway,” he said.

What’s more, he said, his appearance won’t impede his willingness to criticize the Trump administration in the future, just as he has criticized past presidents. For instance, in 1985, the Wiesenthal Center was among the most vocal opponents of then-President Ronald Reagan’s decision to visit a German cemetery where Nazi troops were buried, despite Hier sharing a close personal relationship with the president. 

“The same will happen under the Trump administration,” he told the Journal. “But what we’re not going to do is play this game that only when the president of the United States is a Democrat, then everyone should go to the inauguration.”

He said he would not be swayed by critics.

“They’re entitled to their points of view,” he said. “They’re not influencing me. Marvin Hier is going to the inauguration. They’re not influencing me at all. And they need to know, tremendous amounts of people have emailed me and called me and said, ‘Don’t you dare listen to these people.’ ”

He addressed concerns about the so-called alt-right, a loose-knit group of white supremacists emboldened by the Trump campaign, saying right-wing anti-Semites have received too much attention in recent months relative to anti-Semitic criticism of Israel on the left. 

“We’re very concerned about the alt-right,” he said. “We’re also concerned about the loonies on the left that never get any play, the ones who hate Israel. … Both extremes can do great harm to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

President Barack Obama’s decision to allow a U.N. Security Council resolution to pass condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank was the “biggest anti-Israel thing ever done,” he said, though he stopped short of labeling it anti-Semitic. 

Hier is optimistic that the next administration will represent a change in tone.

“If I were Hamas, I’d be very nervous,” he said, referring to the terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip. “The new president is going to do the opposite of President Obama. He’s going to mention Hamas 1,000 times and forget to mention the settlements, evening the score of the way it’s been all these years.”

Hier dismissed news reports linking his inauguration appearance to $35,000 in donations made to the Simon Wiesenthal Center by the family of Jared Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

“They’re longtime supporters of Simon Wiesenthal,” Hier said of the Kushners, whom he considers friends. “It’s got nothing to do [with the inauguration]. They were supporters before Ivanka met Jared.”

He declined to preview his remarks except to say that he would draw on an argument by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik regarding a discrepancy in Exodus. According to the Torah, God observed the Israelites’ suffering in Egypt when Moses fled after striking down a cruel slave driver, but didn’t send the prophet to their aid until 60 years later. “What’s this business of the respite of 60 years?” Hier said.

“God waits on his human partners,” he explained. “If his human partners are not willing to assume their proper role and act, He’s prepared to just wait it out — 60 years, 600 years, 6,000 years. So one of the themes will be that when a human being is born, they do not collect Social Security at birth, because the expectation is: Do something first. That’s the point.”

U.S. allows UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements to pass

This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com.

After days of uncertainty, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) voted unanimously (14-0-1) on Friday afternoon to condemn Israeli settlement construction. The United States abstained, allowing the resolution to pass, and infuriating Jerusalem.

Israeli officials harshly criticized the UN move. Noting the Security Council’s inability to pass a comprehensive resolution addressing the humanitarian crisis in Allepo, Israeli diplomat George Deek wrote, “Now that the UN satisfied its obsession with Israel, it can go back to doing nothing about Syria.” Given that President Barak Obama is currently serving its last month in office, Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi argued on Channel 2 News that the vote was a “spit in the face of American democracy.”

In explaining her vote, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power began her speech quoting Republican President Ronald Reagan: “Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated.”

Yet, while noting her opposition to Israeli settlements, Power also reprimanded Turtle Bay in justifying the United State’s decision to abstain rather than supporting the draft. The UN Human Rights Council passed more resolution targeting the Jewish state than the world’s most egregious human rights violators: Syria, North Korea, Iran and South Sudan combined, the American Ambassador reiterated.  

Speaker Paul Ryan lashed out at Obama for refusing to veto the resolution calling the move “absolutely shameful…. Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel.”

Even Democratic legislators opposed their own party leader. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) said that he was “disappointed that the U.S. delegation did not use veto power on Security Council.”

Leading Republican Senators including Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) have vowed that with the passing of this UNSC resolution, they would work to cut funding from Turtle Bay.

But within the Israeli Knesset, views were more mixed on the resolution. Zahava Gal-On, chairwoman of the Meretz Party urged Obama before the vote not to issue a veto. She blamed the government’s policy for advancing legislation that legalized an unauthorized outpost built on private settlement land in unifying the international community against the settlement enterprise. The Israeli Prime Minister’s office launched a harsh attack against the White House in its statement after the vote: “The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes.”

“Unprecedented failure in the Security Council,” blasted former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. “The Prime Minister needs to fire his Foreign Minister, and of course blame Obama, Kerry, Arafat and the Mufti.” Netanyahu currently serves both as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Amir Tibon, diplomatic correspondent for Walla News, highlighted the fact that Russia supported the anti-settlement resolution despite Netanyahu’s repeated touts of the intimate Moscow-Jerusalem relationship 

Noting the criticism of Obama’s abstention from Democratic circles, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications said on a conference call with reporters, “We have great respect for Senator Schumer… What I would say is where is the evidence that by not taking this action it would slow settlement activity?” Rhodes added that the Administration would have vetoed any resolution that would have imposed a settlement on the two sides or recognized a Palestinian state.

Palestinian support for the resolution was widespread ranging from the Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour along with the Islamic Jihad militia, which praised the resolution for isolating and boycotting the Jewish state.

Martin Indyk, former U.S. Middle East Peace Envoy and Ambassador to Israel stressed, “Hope settlers will understand UNSC 2334 meaning: their determination to settle West Bank and undermine peace negotiations is hurting Israel.”

Despite all of the condemnations and commendation for the UN resolution from both sides, it remains unclear how today’s vote in Turtle Bay will directly impact Israelis and Palestinians on-the-ground thousands of miles from New York.  

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted, “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20,” suggesting that the next commander in chief will adopt more pro-Israel policies in Turtle Bay.

Jewish Insider reporter Jacob Kornbluh contributed to this article.  To receive Jewish Insider’s free morning briefing, click here.

How to love Trump

For a majority of Americans, feeling traumatized and terrified are reasonable responses to the words “President-elect Donald Trump.” But even if his inauguration marks the demise of the star-spangled mythos we grew up on, being catatonic is no way to spend the next four years, especially if we're lucky enough to survive, oh, a nuclear war. But acceptance of Trump – acceptance is the last of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of dealing with death – is hardly chicken soup for our souls. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, Trump: that can’t be the best we can do. 

Why not love? Those thousands at Trump’s rallies, those millions who voted for him: many of them do seem to love him. Well, maybe the rest of us can, too! 

Impossible?  Recall what the Queen of Hearts told Alice when she said it was impossible to believe the Queen was 101: Believing impossible things takes practice. “When I was your age,” she said, “I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  

Try it. (1) Trump won an electoral college landslide. (2) Trump won the popular vote. (3) Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil are the best friends of forgotten Americans. (4) No one has more respect for women than Donald Trump. (5) Mexico will pay for the wall. (6) Up is down, black is white and day is night.

Facts getting in the way of that? That’s why post-truthers have more fun. But put in half-an-hour a day, and by Inauguration Day you’ll be believing every word that comes out of Kellyanne Conway’s mouth. 

No? So what’s your real problem with Trump? The gilt? Get over it.  

From Beverly Hills to Short Hills, there are taste tribes for whom there’s no such thing as too much gold leaf, gold paint or bling. As a 12-year-old, I was fully complicit in my mother’s choice of a “conversation piece” for the gold-carpeted living room of our new suburban split level, a tower of three “antiqued” gold cherubs with a jeweled lampshade sprouting from the forehead of the chubby child on top. If gilt like that was regal enough for Kaplans, surely it’s fitting for our 21st century roi soleil, so please park the snark when the new White House decorator goes a little Versailles on us.

Or is the problem the guilt? You can get over that, too.  

You watch “Say Yes to the Dress,” don’t you? “Real Housewives of Atlanta”? You keep up with the Kardashians? Like those nominally unscripted soaps, the Trump Show is a guilty pleasure, too – digital junk food, political empty calories, the “reality” formerly known as reality. Trump’s hat may say “Make America Great Again,” but his meta-hat says, Let me entertain you. The twitter taunts, the billionaire boys club, the mayhem at rallies, the humiliated rivals, the insulted, dishonest media: As Russell Crowe asks in “Gladiator,” “Are you not entertained?” 

Look at the promotional campaign MSNBC is running for its anchors. The print ad features a tight close-up of Trump’s face. The text reads, “What will he do?” Beneath that, “What won’t he do?” And beneath that, an indictment – not of him, but of us: “This is why you watch.” At the bottom, flanked by photos of its anchors, are the MSNBC logo and a tag line: “This is who we are.” New York Magazine writer Joe Hagan tweeted about it, “This ad nails everything that is wrong with the media. Fascism as ratings spectacle.” If you grieve over the audience’s addiction to disaster porn, if you mourn the news-as-entertainment business model that fostered it, then you’re bound to feel guilty about watching, and you’ve got a rough ride ahead. But if, instead, you treat boredom like a fate worse than tyranny, if you medicate civic A.D.H.D. with always-breaking BREAKING NEWS, if you mistake engagement with social media for actual citizen participation, you’re gonna rock these next four years.  

Trump voters love the rupture with the American political narrative that he ran on. But if the popular vote is any guide to the country’s mood, I suspect that fear of the future is now more widespread than exhilaration that anything can happen. The truth is that no one has a clue what’s next. That’s not fun; it’s frightening. 

The next commander-in-chief is an impulsive, deceitful, corrupt, intellectually lazy megalomaniac. That’s a delicious character disorder for the villain of a comic book, and it’s ideally suited to a news industry whose audience is addicted to melodrama and whose narrative technique maximizes suspense, surprise and dread. Though horror is a thrilling genre, and real-time tension is irresistible to our animal appetites, there’s no guarantee that the scary story we’re living through will have a happy ending.

“This is why you watch.” Really? To torture ourselves wondering how bad things can get? To have a front row seat for the last days of American democracy?  

There’s an awesome opportunity that responsible journalism can rise to right now. The repeal of Obamacare begs to be framed not as a retributive power struggle between political parties, but as a moral struggle for a diverse people to define a good society. Climate change cries out to be covered not as a farce about ignorance, but as an epic about the survival of our species. Explaining economic policy requires risky honesty from the media about inequality, and a fearless, patient commitment to educating its audiences. That’s not the same as keeping the country watching by keeping it on the edge of a nervous breakdown.   

An avalanche of coverage of the first 100 days of Trump is imminent. How will the media do? We know how brilliantly they did covering the primaries and the general. They made a lot of dough doing it. It’s wishful thinking, I know, but imagine if there were a different yardstick for how well they tell the next part of the story. That would really be something to love. 


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

Trump’s triumph: Netanyahu is in a good mood

Love him or loathe him, when Benjamin Netanyahu walks into the room, everyone pays attention. 

Bibi could be in a good mood, or a bad mood, or a little bit of both, but he is always an energy vortex: the center and the star, chest out, chin up, basking in the limelight.

Last week, I was in the room when he entered with the force of a wind tunnel. I was among a group of Jewish journalists from the United States, Europe and Latin America who were invited to Jerusalem at the invitation of his government and watched as Bibi used his charismatic power to polarizing effect. 

In a stunning switch from his usual apocalyptic diatribes — including, most notably, to the U.S. Congress — Bibi was in a triumphant, optimistic mood. During a 30-minute, carefully planned press conference, with questions and questioners selected in advance, the Israeli prime minister decided to flout the rules and go off script. 

We could ask him anything we wanted, he said.

But when Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward, introduced the group and attempted to ask her first question, the impatient prime minister interrupted. 

“Is this a speech or a question?” he asked. 

He dismissed her inquiry about anti-Semitism in the U.S. — whether from the alt-right or the far left — as a “fringe phenomenon” and pushed the conversation where he wanted it to go.

“After you ask me all these things, I’ll tell you a few things,” he said in his deep, velvety voice. “You might ask me whether something is changing in the world about Israel. What about Israel’s isolation? You gotta ask me that! If you don’t, I’m gonna ask it: Israel’s growing isolation in the world. We have to talk about it.”

He caught our group off guard when he challenged about 50 journalists to guess how many world leaders he is scheduled to meet with in 2017. “Isolation” implies not many, but Bibi didn’t really want us to guess — he wanted to brag.

“Two hundred and fifty!” he exclaimed. 

This new Bibi wasn’t pounding the table about Israel as pariah state, or holding up graphs about nuclear proliferation red lines. He was proclaiming the Jewish state as the world’s most popular. He was eager to enumerate a list of recent accomplishments, including lucrative trade deals with Asia and renewed ties to Latin American leaders who want to “change their relationship to Israel.” Then, he borrowed a play straight from Fidel Castro’s playbook and drew our attention to a PowerPoint slide about Israel’s record-shattering dairy cows. 

Occupation be damned! Israel now truly can call itself the Land of Milk and Honey.

But things didn’t come across as so sweet to Bibi’s audience, an informed and impassioned group who follow the prime minister’s every move and weren’t buying his bravado. 

“I’ve seen the prime minister many times interact with journalists, diplomats and other officials and I’ve rarely seen him act in such a mean-spirited manner,” an Israeli journalist, who asked not to be named because he covers the prime minister, told me. “He appeared annoyed, arrogant, irritated … and he seemed not interested in what people had to say and what they care about. He just wanted to get his talking points across.”

“He turned our press conference into his press conference,” an Austrian journalist agreed. “He’s the master of the show, not us.”

“I was entertained,” a Dutch television reporter confessed at dinner. 

The Americans were thoroughly disgusted. The Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt recalled another occasion, many years ago, when Bibi was dismissive of the Jewish press. Rosenblatt said he was in the room for back-to-back press conferences in New York, one for mainstream media and the other for Jewish journalists, and watched Bibi go on a charm offensive for the likes of Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, only to appear listless and gloomy for the Jewish outlets. 

How strange that a prime minister who fancies himself “the leader of the Jewish people” would behave so erratically and offensively when he has home-court advantage. Rather than a show of respect and appreciation — he had invited us there, after all — we got a show of swagger and superiority.

“I think for right-wing populists in Europe, Bibi is a sort of role model,” the Austrian journalist said, referring to well-documented ties between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and one of Austria’s far-right political leaders. “Because of his rhetoric, because of his behavior to the press, and [because] he’s survived any scandal that’s ever taken place here.”

If I hadn’t been to the Gaza border earlier that day, on a visit coordinated by Netanyahu’s own government, I might be more excited about the astonishing dairy cows. But Israel still faces real threats and harsh choices. So while there are many reasons to celebrate her wonders, there also are reasons for her leader to show a little modesty. 

But instead of destroying golden calves, Bibi has become one. The day of our press conference, Tel Aviv sculptor Itay Zalait erected a 14-foot golden effigy of “King Bibi” in Rabin Square — a statement-making art installation that captured worldwide attention and drew comparisons between Bibi and dictators like Saddam Hussein. The prime minister’s supporters roundly condemned the stunt and the statue was toppled quickly.

But the artist’s point was made: If Bibi is more than merely a modern statesman and sees himself as the leader of the Jewish people, he is heir to the leadership tradition of Moses — who was “more humble than any other person on earth.” 

Signing trade deals doesn’t obviate the lessons of Torah.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

The irony of hate

Typically, I try to keep politics off of the pulpit. I believe the job of clergy is to help people deepen their relationship with God, and I recommend only that everyone act ethically and become active and involved in their political passions. But the circumstances of the last week have created a situation that I believe must be addressed from a Jewish perspective.

I understand emotions have run high throughout this election cycle, as they do every four years. In 2000, I remember so many politically liberal friends angry and sad about the presidential election, and committing themselves to working in the next cycle harder for their candidate and beliefs. In 2008 and 2012, I heard many conservative friends bemoan the election and re-election of Barack Obama, and express their fears of what they felt he would do to the country. But in all of these cases, there was always a respect for their political opponents and an acceptance that after the election was over, we would come together as Americans.

Our tradition is filled with rabbis and Sages having passionate debates over a multiplicity of topics. These dialogues are so intense that they are even referred to as a “War between Sages” (Bavli Bava Metzia 59b). It is a Jewish tradition to passionately argue our beliefs, and again in the tractate Bava Metzia (84a) we learn through the story of Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish that it is through this passionate discourse that a “fuller comprehension” can be achieved. This is the basis of the process of argumentation in the Great Assembly wherein the court made a ruling based on the sages’ arguments.

But in Judaism, this is traditionally done with respect for one another. We don’t degrade our opponents personally. After the decision is reached, we do not continue debating, and our history is clear to respect the outcome of the debate.

I am beyond saddened that these simple demonstrations of respect seem to have left our political world on a national level, and instead so many people have resorted to hate and violence. There have been riots in cities throughout the country, including the destruction of shops and businesses, and even shootings as people have decided that it is OK to act with hatred in their hearts. All of the accusations made by these demonstrators that president-elect Donald Trump is oppressive, bigoted and dangerous have become manifest in their own inappropriate actions of violent demonstrations. They are the ones acting out of hatred toward their fellow Americans just because they disagree with them politically. These rioters are demonstrating not only a complete lack of respect for the political process and for America, but in their actions they are showing a self-involved narcissism that discounts the fact that half of the nation feels differently than they do. 

These demonstrators have become the hate that they so vehemently allege to oppose.

I applaud everyone who passionately stands for their beliefs and tries to legally make changes in policies. But it is ethically wrong on every level to violently demonstrate just because you didn’t get your way. It is against the moral fabric of this nation’s history to unilaterally decide to ignore the results of an election just because it didn’t go the way you wanted. Liberals didn’t act like this in 2000; conservatives didn’t do it in 2008 and 2012. It is against Jewish ethical practices to violently demonstrate in this way, and it is a dangerous form of adolescent behavior that is a direct expression of a hate for others with opposing political views. Ironically, it is a manifestation of the hatred these rioters accuse their political opponents of having —yet they are the ones truly showing actions of darkness and hate in these riots.

If you are unhappy with the results of the election, I encourage you to get involved in the political process for the next cycle. Please become a champion for your beliefs through the election of candidates who you support, but I beg you to remove any of the hatred in your heart that is expressed in inappropriate actions of violence toward the man who was legally elected to be our president — and toward his supporters. 

Like the sages of old, we must come together now and try to make changes in the future through respectful and legal ways — not through these hate-filled demonstrations, but through mutually respectful and legal processes. If you have been involved in these riots, please stop trying to make a change through violence and instead work together alongside those with whom you disagree in attempts to find harmony with one another in policies and practices. Please don’t act like like angry children; instead, demonstrate a respect for those you disagree with and engage in a healthy discourse.

Let go of the anger and hatred in your hearts, and I beg you instead to come together as Americans and human beings who recognize that everyone has the same goal: to see a brighter future in this country for our children and their children.

Rabbi Hillel taught: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” (Pirkei Avot 1:14). Let us all in this time choose to respect one another, and act on that respect without hatred in our hearts and actions. And maybe if we really respect one another even in our differences, our nation and the world will be more filled with peace.

That is my prayer. Will you join me in this prayer for peace through mutual respect?


Rabbi Michael Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village (nersimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” He can be reached at RabbiBarclay@aol.com.

In Hurricane Matthew aftermath, Jewish groups lend a hand

As the death toll from Hurricane Matthew continued to rise, Jewish groups were working to help victims in the United States and the Caribbean.

The storm, which the National Hurricane Center downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday, has killed at least 19 people in the U.S., including in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, according to NBC.

In the Caribbean, much of the damage was concentrated in Haiti, where the death toll was said to have reached 1,000, Reuters reported.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was focusing its efforts on Haiti, where it was working with relief group Heart to Heart International to provide hygiene kits, water purification tablets and other aid to those on the island’s highly affected southern part.

Also in Haiti, the World Jewish Relief was providing emergency assistance, including food, water, shelter and hygiene kits. The American Jewish World Service was sending relief funds to aid groups in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The Mexican Jewish humanitarian group Cadena dispatched volunteers to Haiti to help with search-and-rescue efforts and relief work there.

Chabad emissaries in U.S. states helped provide assistance to victims, including by using their houses to provide shelter and distributing Shabbat meals and care packages over the weekend to students and residents in Florida.

The Jewish Federations of North America was opening an emergency fund to collect money to mobilize humanitarian support and provide relief to Jewish communities in the path of the hurricane.

Bibi and Barack part amiably as chilly US-Israel relations thaw

When President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for what was likely to be the last time as leaders of their countries, the most important thing they said was “see you soon.”

Netanyahu's invitation to Obama to visit Israel post-presidency augured a thaw in U.S.-Israel relations, which was also seen in remarks by Israel's diplomatic corps and signals from the pro-Israel lobby.

Their friendly, relaxed interaction was in marked contrast to meetings like the one in 2011, when after Obama called for talks based on 1967 lines, Netanyahu lectured the American president in the Oval Office about Middle Eastern realities and Obama clutched the arm of his elegant chair seemingly to keep himself from decking the Israeli leader.

Much of their chatter this time, at least in the open part of the meeting Wednesday in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, was about Netanyahu’s invitation to Obama and Obama’s ostensible eagerness to accept it.

More saliently, Netanyahu made it clear he understood the transformational impact that the country’s first black president would have on the American left and on Democrats, and how important it was to Israel to restore and burnish ties with that political sector.

“Your voice, your influential voice will be heard for many decades, and I know you'll continue to support Israel's right to defend itself and its right to thrive as a Jewish state. So I want you to know, Barack, that you'll always be a welcome guest in Israel,” Netanyahu said, and teased Obama about a favorite pastime. “And by the way, I don’t play golf, but right next to my home in Caesarea in Israel there's a terrific golf course.”

Obama said he “very much appreciated” the invitation.

“I will visit Israel often because it is a beautiful country with beautiful people,” he said. “And Michelle and the girls, I think, resent that fact that I have not taken them on most of these trips. So they're insisting that I do take them. Of course, they will appreciate the fact that the next time I visit Israel, I won’t have to sit in [bilateral meetings] but instead can enjoy the sights and sounds of a remarkable country.”

Which is not to say the meeting was a Seinfeldian one, about nothing. Reports said the closed meeting saw more sparring between the two men on Israeli settlement building – although in his public remarks, Obama also acknowledged that the issue was one that would soon be out of his control and that Netanyahu had the upper hand.

“Obviously, I'm only going be to be president for another few months,” he said. “The prime minister will be there quite a bit longer and our hope will be that in these conversations we get a sense of how Israel sees the next few years, what the opportunities are and what the challenges are in order to assure that we keep alive the possibility of a stable, secure Israel at peace with its neighbors, and a Palestinian homeland that meets the aspirations of their people.”

In his speech the day before at the United Nations, Obama mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian impasse in passing, and notably blamed Palestinian incitement as much as he did Israel’s settlement policy.

It was anti-climactic after months of fevered speculation in Israel and the pro-Israel community that Obama would in his last months launch a new major initiative on the issue, possibly through a U.N. Security Council resolution outlining the parameters of a final status two-state agreement.

That's an approach Netanyahu abhors, warning the General Assembly in his own speech there Thursday, “We will not accept any attempt by the U.N. to dictate terms to Israel. The road to peace runs through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not through New York.”

On the eve of Obama’s speech, 88 U.S. senators urged the president to veto any “one-sided” Security Council resolutions and to generally avoid pressing for peace talks absent an initiative by the Israelis. The letter was shaped by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby.

The back and forth on Wednesday between Obama and Netanyahu was extraordinary in and of itself after eight years of a relationship that more often than not was fraught.

Think back to past tense relations between U.S. and Israeli leaders: It’s hard to imagine Menachem Begin asking Jimmy Carter as he packed up the White House to come walk in Jesus’ steps in the Galilee, or Yitzhak Shamir telling George H.W. Bush how relaxing the Dead Sea mud can be.

Making nice with Obama is a key element of Netanyahu’s bid to keep Democrats pro-Israel.

Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington and one of Netanyahu’s most trusted advisers, said as much last week just before Israel and the United States signed a defense assistance agreement that guarantees Israel $38 billion over the next 10 years.

Dermer welcomed the agreement by referring to tensions between Israel and Obama – and more broadly, Democrats – over last year’s Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed.

“Despite not seeing eye to eye on Iran, this speaks to the strength and power” of the relationship, Dermer said of Obama’s backing of the assistance agreement. “The fact he’s signing it means we’ll have the backing of the entire American people – the broadest possible support.”

Dermer, meanwhile, has plunged himself into cultivating black Democrats, who saw Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to Congress lambasting Obama’s Iran policy as a deep signal of disrespect to the president.

More broadly, Israel and the mainstream pro-Israel community are nowhere near as eager to assist Republicans in isolating and embarrassing Obama as they were a year ago, when Netanyahu and AIPAC led opposition to the Iran deal.

Republican senators, however, are still itching for a fight: They introduced legislation in the wake of the defense assistance agreement that would upend the agreement’s clause that requires Israel to return any extra money Congress allocates for the next two years. That clause shrinks the role Congress plays in supporting Israel and shaping U.S.-Israel relations.

One the sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talked up the bill at the Orthodox Union’s annual leadership meeting on Wednesday. Another senator, Tom Cotton, R-Ark, went so far as to say he would “rescind” the defense assistance memorandum of understanding.

Israel and AIPAC do not want any part of it. Jacob Nagel, the Israeli national security adviser who signed the defense assistance agreement, last week said he was aware of Graham’s plans – and that Israeli officials had made clear to the senator that they opposed them.

“Senator Graham is one of the greatest supporters of Israel in Congress,” Nagel said, “but everyone who spoke with him said it was not a good idea. Israel is a country that honors its agreements.”

AIPAC, notably, had not taken a position on Graham's legislation, which was also backed by six other Republican senators: Mark Kirk of Illinois; Ted Cruz of Texas; Marco Rubio of Florida; Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; John McCain of Arizona, and Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Asked about the bill, AIPAC’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, said advancing bipartisan legislation was key.

“While we have not taken a position on this specific bill, we strongly support security assistance and missile defense funding for Israel and reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act,” he said. “We urge Congress to work on a bipartisan basis to achieve these crucial objectives.”

The letter from the 88 senators, as much as its aim was to urge Obama not to allow the Palestinians to get ahead of themselves, also included language that Democrats favored, including a reference to a future “Palestine” and a two-state solution.

An AIPAC insider said the language was deliberate and part of the effort to bring Democrats on board. It was also enough to drive away key pro-Israel Republicans who refused to sign, among them Cruz, Rubio, Cotton and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., speaking to foreign policy reporters, said that AIPAC and others in the pro-Israel community were moving on from the tensions stoked by disagreement over Iran.

“They understand the backlash is when you make support for Israel a wedge partisan issue,” said Cardin, one of just four Democratic senators who opposed the deal.

Israel and the United States sign historic 10-year, $38 billion defense assistance pact

The United States and Israel formally signed the new $38 billion 10-year “memorandum of understanding” (MOU), in what the State Department called the “single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history,” at the U.S. State Department on Wednesday.

The pact was signed by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon, Jr. and Israel’s Acting National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Ambassadors Dan Shapiro and Ron Dermer also attended the signing ceremony.

According to details of the deal, Israel will get $3.8 billion dollars annually, $500 million of which will be allocated to developing missile defense systems. Israel also committed not to approach Congress for additional budgets for missile defense systems, and “volunteered” to give back any money Congress gives above the MOU’s limits, according to “>Haaretz that in the event of an emergency, such as a war, the United States would be prepared to consider increasing the budget for missile defense systems beyond what is promised in the agreement, as it has done in the past.

In a statement on Tuesday, AIPAC commended President Obama and his administration “for forging this landmark agreement. It demonstrates America’s strong and unwavering commitment to Israel.”

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton welcomed the new security assistance deal as sending a clear message to the region and the world that the U.S. “will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.”

“America’s commitment to Israel’s security must always remain rock-solid and unwavering,” Clinton said in a statement. “That’s why Senator Kaine and I applaud the agreement on a new memorandum of understanding regarding American security assistance to Israel, and congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama on this important diplomatic achievement. It reaffirms the depth and strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship — which is based on common security interests, shared values, and deep historical ties — and sends a clear message to the region and the world that we will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.”

According to the Democratic nominee, the MOU “will help solidify and chart a course for the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship in the 21st century as we face a range of common challenges, from Iran’s destabilizing activities to the threats from ISIS and radical jihadism, and efforts to delegitimize Israel on the world stage.” 

To curb binge drinking, follow Israel’s lead

The scene outside a bar in Tel Aviv looks very different from the scene outside a college party in the United States. 

Young American college kids may spend their evenings slumped over a curb, with heads in hands and consciousness in question. Young Israelis actually seem to be enjoying their evenings out. 

That’s not to say American college students don’t also enjoy their time out, but rather that the Israelis will typically remember those nights.  

Going out as an underage college student in America is a blur of cheap vodka and swigs of orange juice from a shared bottle. The result of these wild evenings often includes “blacking out,” a badge of honor in some circles.  

So what’s going on? Why does it seem as if young Israelis have a better handle on alcohol consumption than their American peers? I spent this summer working and living as an of-age adult in Israel, and I discovered revealing disparities in the laws and culture surrounding alcohol. 

In Israel, the drinking age is 18 and alcohol cannot be purchased in stores after 11 p.m. The Knesset also limits advertising and marketing of alcohol and imposes increased taxes on alcohol.  

According to a Times of Israel story, alcohol consumption in Israel is low. Binge drinking, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says is a serious health hazard for youth, is lower in Israel than in other developed nations.

Binge drinking in the United States is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 90 percent of alcohol consumed by adults under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinking. 

The drinking age in the United States is 21. For many college students younger than 21, the primary objective seems to be to consume high volumes quickly. 

Given that young people use and abuse alcohol at a staggeringly high rate, we should take action to address this epidemic and our outdated laws governing alcohol consumption. 

Reforming laws surrounding alcohol can help to turn an unsafe, irresponsible and illegal activity to a regulated and safer one. According to the OECD report, individuals of higher socio-economic status as well as higher education levels are more likely to abuse alcohol. College students are at risk. 

Israel’s experience resonates with the finding of health professionals. According to a report in the U.S. National Library of Medicine — National Institutes of Health, policies that limit the hours of alcohol sale by more than two hours “might be a means of reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.”

In the United States, we seem to believe that a higher drinking age will teach our children a lesson that alcohol is for more mature individuals. This is a failed experiment that did not work during Prohibition and does not work now. Rather than an absolute ban that encourages buying “by the bottle” late at night, we should encourage better behavior. Better instead to have young people drinking in bars, ordering drinks that are measured in alcohol content one at a time. 

By lowering the drinking age and imposing stricter rules about purchasing alcohol, we have a better chance at getting to the root of the issue — binge drinking. 

During my two months in Tel Aviv, I noticed how young Americans simply didn’t have the opportunity to binge drink. By the time we finished dinner, stores had stopped selling alcohol. The 11:01 p.m. dilemma ensued. Either we paid for expensive alcohol at bars, or we stopped drinking. We drank less. 

The moral of the story for those of us older than18 in Israel was that we’d plan our night out. We consumed alcohol over a longer period of time, typically with dinner, which is safer. If we did not have this foresight, the system punished you a little bit by making your ability to get belligerently drunk or “blacking out” that much harder. 

Israel has often been referred to as the “startup nation.” Perhaps in addition to its technological achievements, we Americans might now follow its lead to “start up” changing our attitudes toward alcohol and making our kids safer and healthier.


Lauren Sonnenberg is a junior at Northwestern University studying journalism and history. She recently completed an internship at Haaretz newspaper in Israel.

Israeli security chief in DC reportedly to sign $38B defense assistance pact

Israel’s acting head of national security is in Washington, D.C., reportedly to sign a deal extending U.S. defense assistance to Israel for 10 years.

Jacob Nagel arrived Tuesday, and according to Israeli media reports, will meet with his U.S. counterpart, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, to sign the $38 billion military aid package.

The deal, called a memorandum of understanding, is expected to be rolled out officially within days, possibly as early as this week, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the deal.

Nagel left for the United States on Monday night after meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, Haaretz reported. According to Haaretz, the meeting dealt with the final details of the agreement, including how it would be publicly announced.

The final package of $38 billion would be higher than the $3.1 billion of assistance provided annually in the expiring deal, but lower than the $45 billion sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Reuters, the new deal will include missile defense cooperation, which had been considered separately from defense assistance. The change will make it harder for Israel to appeal directly to Congress for increases in missile defense.

Additionally, the deal over time will roll back the approximately 25 percent of the funds Israel may spend on defense equipment manufactured in Israel. Instead, the money must be spent on the U.S. defense industry.

Trump: Nuclear deal turned Iran into dangerous ‘world power’

The Iranian regime was on the verge of being eliminated as a threat to the U.S. and Israel before the nuclear deal was signed, Donald Trump said on Tuesday.

“The deal is one of the worst negotiated deals of any kind that I have ever seen,” the Republican presidential nominee said at a town hall event in Virginia. “What we have done is created a monster. If you take a look at Iran from four-five years ago, they were dying. They had sanctions. They were being choked to death and they were absolutely dying. They weren’t even going to be much of a threat. They didn’t have anything going and now they are a power. We have made them a power, overnight.”

According to Trump, Iran has become a world power after the nuclear deal and are “highly threatening to the state of Israel.”

“They are going to have nuclear weapons and this path, in my opinion, is going to be a quicker path to nuclear weapons,” Trump suggested. “The deal is grossly incompetent.”

Trump further charged that “Crooked Hillary Clinton wanted this deal,” which, he said, puts Iran on “a shorter road to nuclear weapons.”

Asked by the moderator, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, what he’s going to do about Iran and the nuclear deal, Trump assured the crowd: “We will solve that problem if I get the chance, believe me. If I get the chance, you will be very happy. You will be very happy.”

While Trump spoke in Virginia, Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine spoke in North Carolina where he  ” target=”_blank”>Subscribe here.


Executed Iranian nuclear scientist unfairly tried, said he was innocent, mother says

Iranian security forces may have pressured nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, hanged last week for spying for the United States, to admit to crimes he did not commit, his mother said in an interview this week.

Amiri leapt to the global spotlight in 2010 when he claimed first that U.S. agents had abducted him and then that he was in the United States of his own free will.

The same year, he returned to Iran where he was welcomed as a hero but then detained and tried on charges that he divulged nuclear secrets.

“When I was saying goodbye to him before his execution, he told me not to be sad as he had done nothing wrong,” Marzieh Amiri told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“He asked me to tell everyone that he was innocent. He was saying his conscience was clear,” she said.

Her son's closed-door trial was unfair and he was not properly represented, she said. She did not know the full name of the lawyer, who as a result could not be reached for comment.

“They should have held a public trial,” she said. “I am not angry with the government or the Supreme Leader (of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). I am angry with extremist security forces who were on his case, trying to prove he was a spy and who maybe forced him to confess to things he hadn't done.”

Iranian judiciary officials could not be reached for comment. Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, spokesman for Iran's judiciary, told reporters Amiri received a fair trial and the case followed standard judicial procedure.

“He … had contacted Iran's number one enemy, America, and had given our most secret and vital information to them,” Mohseni Ejei said on Sunday, according to the state broadcaster.

“I AM AN IRANIAN”

In June 2010, Iranian state television showed Amiri, then 32, saying in a video he was in Arizona after U.S. and Saudi intelligence forces kidnapped him a year earlier during a religious pilgrimage abroad.

In a second video soon afterwards, Amiri said he was in the United States voluntarily and wanted to dispel “rumors” that had been spread about him.

“I am an Iranian, and I have taken no step against my homeland,” he said.

As a young man with a talent for electronics in the Iranian city of Kermanshah, Amiri would tote his toolbox to friends' houses and fix their broken appliances, his mother said. 

He won a coveted scholarship from the defense ministry to further his studies and eventually became a researcher in radiation safety at the defense ministry-affiliated Malek Ashtar University of Technology, visiting sites associated with Iran's nuclear program. 

According to a U.S. official involved in the case, the Central Intelligence Agency recruited Amiri in Iran and helped extract him using the pilgrimage.

But U.S. officials had doubts about the depth of Amiri's knowledge and access to the most sensitive information.

Amiri was questioned, given a new identity and a home in Arizona, and paid around $5 million, the officials said.

However he began telling his handlers he missed his young son and wanted to return to Iran, though they warned he likely would face imprisonment or worse and might never see his son.

Arriving in Tehran in July 2010, he was greeted by his son, reporters and Iran's deputy foreign minister. Someone placed a wreath around his neck and he flashed a “V” for victory while clutching his son.

CLEAR CONSCIENCE

Marzieh Amiri said her son was free on his return and even took a vacation in Iran with his family. “But one day they suddenly arrested him … When we followed up, (the security forces) said, 'It's for his own protection. He is our guest'.”

He was held in isolation in Tehran, his mother said. His wife filed for divorce, and he became nervous and suffered from high blood pressure

“His loneliness was killing him,” she said, adding she visited him once or twice a month. “He told me he prefers to die as he could not tolerate the isolation any more.”

Last week, officials brought his corpse to Kermanshah. Rope marks on his neck indicated he had been hanged, his mother said.

Hillary Clinton, accepting nomination, lays out progressive agenda, assertive foreign policy

Hillary Clinton laid out a broadly progressive domestic agenda as she accepted the Democratic presidential nomination, adopting rhetoric and policies championed by her primary rival, Bernie Sanders.

Clinton also celebrated her achievement as the first woman to receive a major party’s presidential nomination. And she talked tough on foreign policy, pledging to destroy terrorists and safeguard the United States’ traditional allies, including Israel.

She took pride in helping the United States reach a deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program. And she said her administration would enforce it.

“You want a leader who understands we are stronger when we work with our allies around the world and care for our veterans here at home,” she said. “I’m proud that we put a lid on Iran’s nuclear program without firing a single shot – now we have to enforce it, and keep supporting Israel’s security.”

Near the beginning of her speech, Clinton made an extended appeal to Sanders supporters, some of whom had expressed hesitation about supporting her. She promised to fight for progressive issues and to pay attention to their concerns.

“You’ve put economic and social justice issues front and center, where they belong,” she said to Sanders. “And to all of your supporters here and around the country: I want you to know, I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause. Our country needs your ideas, energy, and passion. That’s the only way we can turn our progressive platform into real change for America.”

She pushed many key elements of Sanders’ platform in her speech, from eliminating public college tuition for most Americans to attacking free trade deals. Multiple times, she attacked Wall Street and corporations that ship jobs overseas.

“I’ve heard from so many of you who feel like the economy just isn’t working,” she said. “Some of you are frustrated – even furious. And you know what? You’re right. It’s not yet working the way it should. Americans are willing to work – and work hard. But right now, an awful lot of people feel there is less and less respect for the work they do.”

She also pledged to fight what she called “systemic racism” and work on reforming the criminal justice system. She said she would advocate for a range of minorities, particularly groups she accused the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, of unfairly attacking. She also promised to fight for gun control.

“We will reform our criminal justice system from end-to-end, and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” she said. “We will defend all our rights – civil rights, human rights and voting rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights, LGBT rights and the rights of people with disabilities.”

She also promised to fight for a range of women’s and family issues — from paid family leave to abortion rights and equal pay for women. She couched that battle in her becoming the first woman to become a major party’s presidential nominee.

“Tonight, we’ve reached a milestone in our nation’s march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president,” she said to cheers. “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”

Clinton acknowledged her sometimes stiff public image, as well as her intense focus on policy. But while speakers and videos before her speech revolved around humanizing her by telling her personal story, she admitted that “some people just don’t know what to make of me.” But she painted her wonkishness as a sign of caring rather than aloofness.

“The truth is, through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part,” she said. She said she focuses on the details of policy “because it’s not just a detail if it’s your kid —  if it’s your family. It’s a big deal.”

She also recognized that Americans were anxious because of a string of terror attacks around the world, in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. But she said the best way to respond to those threats is through cool-headed leadership.

“America’s strength doesn’t come from lashing out,” she said. “Strength relies on smarts, judgment, cool resolve, and the precise and strategic application of power. That’s the kind of Commander-in-Chief I pledge to be.”

She attacked Trump as unstable, immature and bigoted. Echoing a theme speakers have touched on throughout the convention, she said he lacks the temperament to run the country.

“He loses his cool at the slightest provocation,” she said. “When he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he’s challenged in a debate. When he sees a protester at a rally. Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Clinton is running close to Trump in the polls, and referred to divisions in the country. But if elected, she promised to serve her supporters as well as her detractors.

“I will be a President for Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” she said. “For the struggling, the striving and the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don’t.”

Israeli envoy: Hillary Clinton led the way to Gaza cease-fire in 2012

Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador the the United States, credited Hillary Clinton with the leading role in achieving a cease-fire in Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas.

Clinton flew to the region and conducted shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel to end hostilities between Israel and Hamas through indirect negotiations. Dermer said that because of the quick cease-fire, the eight-day conflict was the only one of Israel’s three rounds of fighting with Hamas to not include an Israeli ground operation in Gaza.

“She came in and had to get it right, and had, I think, basically one shot,” Dermer said at an event hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “A lot of lives were saved.”

Dermer said the talks defined “how the U.S. and Israel work together as allies.”

He also defended Israeli settlement expansion in areas that would likely be part of a Palestinian state in a negotiated agreement. Dermer admonished the international community for criticizing Israeli building in settlements that would likely remain part of Israel. And he said that settlers living deeper in the West Bank should, in the event of Palestinian statehood, be given the option of gaining citizenship in that state.

“When you think settlers are undermining the prospects of peace, you are saying Palestine must be ‘judenrein,'” he said, using a Nazi German term meaning “free of Jews.” “There is no reason, concretely and in principle, why Jews should not be able to live in a future Palestinian state.”

Early in the event, a protester disrupted Dermer, standing in front of him, holding a banner and yelling “Occupation is not a Jewish value. Settlements are an obstacle to peace. We need justice and peace. We need equality for all people in Palestine and Israel.” After security guards escorted her out, protesters outside chanted “Free, free Palestine.”

Dermer said the next U.S. president should pursue the peace process by engaging with the Palestinian Authority and the wider Arab world on parallel tracks. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested, Dermer said shared opposition to Iran and the Islamic State terror group could draw Israel and Arab states closer together.

“The Arab states in the region understand the dangers of Iran, understand the danger of ISIS, and see Israel as a potential ally in that struggle,” he said. “One of the opportunities for a new administration is to take this new realignment in the Arab world and see how to translate that into a policy that advances peace.”

Convicted spy Pollard urges reversal of U.S. parole conditions

Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy U.S intelligence officer convicted of spying for Israel, asked a judge on Friday to overturn restrictive probation conditions imposed when he was released in November after serving 30 years in prison.

Eliot Lauer, Pollard's lawyer, argued in federal court in Manhattan that the U.S. Parole Commission had imposed arbitrary requirements that he wear an electronic tracking device and submit his work computer to monitoring.

Those conditions were based partly on the grounds that Pollard could still disclose government secrets, which Lauer called inconceivable as his client would need to remember classified information from more than 30 years ago.

“The information is ridiculously stale, and it's the type of information that no human being could reasonably recall,” Lauer told U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest.

By leaving the computer restriction in place, Lauer said Pollard was being prevented from taking an investment firm job.

But a prosecutor pointed to a letter by U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stating that documents compromised by Pollard remain classified at the levels of “top secret” and “secret.”

“They do pose a current harm to national security if they are disclosed further,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Sol Tinio told the court.

She also said the commission rightly concluded Pollard was a flight risk given he had repeatedly expressed the wish to move to Israel, where his wife lives. Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in prison and Israel had long pushed for his release. As part of his parole, Pollard must remain in the United States for five years.

Forrest said she planned to rule within four weeks.

Pollard, 61, pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with his providing Israeli contacts hundreds of classified documents he had obtained as a Naval intelligence specialist in exchange for thousands of dollars.

He was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison. After serving 30 years, which included time in custody following his 1985 arrest, Pollard was released on parole on Nov. 20 from a federal prison in North Carolina and now lives in New York. 

Friday's proceedings were the second time Pollard challenged his parole conditions in court.

In December, Forrest ordered the U.S. Parole Commission to provide further justification for the tracking device and computer monitoring. The commission in March upheld the conditions while providing further reasoning.

A year in: Iran is still bad, the Iran deal is still good

This time last year the US and the Jewish community were locked in ferocious debate over the nuclear deal between Iran and the major world powers. Pundits cautioned that the deal would be violated, that sanction relief would enrich Hezbollah and Hamas, that we would be facing a regional nuclear arms race, and that Israel’s security would be sorely harmed. A year has passed since the deal was cut, and not one of these predictions has come to pass. Instead, the much-maligned Iran deal has increased the security of Israel and its Western allies, most importantly by providing the time to collaborate on creative ways to stop Iran from ever acquiring nuclear weapons. 

A year ago, Iran had enough enriched uranium to build nine nuclear devices and would have been able to enrich enough material to create its first nuclear device within roughly six weeks. It was enriching uranium in the fortified Fordow facility in the heart of a mountain, and had installed 19,000 centrifuges, 9,000 of which were active. Furthermore, Iran was introducing advanced centrifuges that would multiply the rate at which it enriched uranium, and in Arak it was putting the finishing touches on a reactor that would enable production of weapons-grade plutonium.

[OPPOSING VIEW: One year on, the Iran deal is still bad]

Thanks to the deal, the Iranian nuclear program has been rolled back and is now at least a year away from obtaining a nuclear device. Indeed, the deal ensures Iran will be kept a year away from the bomb for another ten years. Its stockpile of enriched uranium is now capped at 300 kilograms — less than a third the amount required for a bomb. Most of Iran’s centrifuges have been dismantled. No uranium is allowed in Fordow and advanced centrifuge R&D is and will remain severely limited for nearly a decade. Moreover, Iran must allow inspectors access to suspected undeclared sites within a limited timeframe. The core of the Arak reactor has been removed and filled with concrete. 

In short, Iran is considerably farther from military nuclear capability and under stricter oversight and verification than it would have been without the deal, as it will remain for years to come. This is a much better outcome than those offered by the alternatives, including the use of military force.

In return for curtailing its nuclear aspirations, Iran saw a removal of sanctions, including its frozen assets abroad. Though the deal’s detractors claimed that these assets amounted to 150 billion USD, the actual figure is closer to 50, little of which has been released thus far. Not only have Hezbollah and Hamas not benefited from the deal, but US sanctions and geo-political realities have combined to pressure them even more than before. In the wake of the deal, relative moderates in Iran have made some gains in elections, and a nuclear arms race is nowhere to be seen. No wonder Israeli political and military leaders have either fallen silent on the nuclear threat or expressed cautious optimism.

One would imagine that given these achievements, the conversation would shift to the opportunities at hand. Many of the deal’s opponents, however, continue to argue that it is bad. Take for instance a recent column by Bret Stephens in the WSJ who argued that Iran has already violated the deal. Stephens points to reports by German intelligence regarding Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear technology after the deal was signed. He also cites the US administration’s complacence regarding evidence uncovered in an IAEA report of traces of nuclear materials found in Parchin, where Iran was suspected to have researched military nuclear technologies in the beginning of the last decade, and Iran’s continued surface-to-surface missile (SSM) testing. Despite these infractions, Stephens claims, the Obama administration is set on promoting normalization with Iran. 

However damning these accusations may sound, they amount to a poor argument. The German reports relate to 2015, whereas the deal’s implementation day was January 16, 2016. The US and Germany both stated explicitly that there is no evidence of Iranian infringements after implementation day.

As for Parchin, we should be reassured by the fact that international inspectors could find traces of decade old nuclear material, despite extensive Iranian concealment attempts. Why didn't we hear more about this? Because an informed decision was made last year to end the investigation since the details of those experiments were known to the West, and the ongoing investigation only served to embarrass Iran. This decision can be criticized, but the discoveries in Parchin came as no surprise to experts.

Surface-to-surface missile R&D is bad news. However, SSM research is a violation of the UN Security Council Resolution affirming the deal, not of the deal itself. It's a technicality, but technicalities are the soul of such agreements. Also, since Iran violated the resolution, it is suffering from resulting sanctions.

But what of Iranian support of Assad’s regime in Syria, of the Houthis in Yemen, and of terrorist organizations worldwide? What of their cyber attacks on the US? To this I respond that I’d rather a rogue state be limited to conventional means. No one is naïve about Iran’s ambitions, nor did anyone expect Iran to turn into an ally of the West overnight. Without the deal, Iran would not only still be doing all of the above, it would be doing so in reach of nuclear capabilities.

In light of all of this, my assessment is that although Iran is still a very negative actor, the deal has had an overall positive effect on Israeli and US security. Moving forward, we should turn to ensuring that the deal continues to benefit us. For that we need to stop looking for ways to derail it. We need to get together and demand that our leaders focus on preventing Iran from dashing for a bomb at the deal’s end, and on better ideas on leveraging the deal’s advantages to counter negative Iranian action and influence. 

Progress has been made; let us not squander the opportunities ahead.