November 16, 2018

Israeli Consul General Bids Farewell to L.A.

In pedestrian averse L.A., Sam Grundwerg, the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, walked 10 miles on Rosh Hashanah and six miles on Yom Kippur to address congregations at the city’s spread-out synagogues.

The feat speaks to the stamina, as well as the Orthodox observance of Grundwerg during his abbreviated term of almost two-and-a-half years, rather than the customary three- or four-year terms. 

Grundwerg, who officially finished his term on Nov. 15, said he chose to leave early so his three teenage children could finish their schooling back in Israel. 

He already has a new position lined up. Last month, Grundwerg, 45, was appointed chairman of Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, Israel’s official fundraising arm around the world, except in the United States, where the Jewish federations have assumed the task. In 2017, Keren Hayesod’s annual budget was $162 million, of which $140 million went to various programs and projects, including aliyah and absorption, strengthening Israeli society and programs for Jewish youth in the Diaspora.

This new assignment for Grundwerg, personally approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, represents a capstone in a varied and upward career.

Born a third-generation American in Miami Beach, Fla., Grundwerg was raised in an Orthodox and fervently Zionist family. At 17, he studied at a yeshiva in Israel for a year, then volunteered in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), serving as a tank gunner.

He then returned to Miami where he spent the next 10 years studying finance and earning a law degree at the University of Miami. Following graduation, he worked in both fields before making aliyah in 2009. In 2010, he was appointed director general in Israel for the World Jewish Congress.

Recently, at his home in West Los Angeles, Grundwerg spoke with the Journal about his tenure here. 

As consul general, he has closely observed the changing relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, which he considered inevitable. “In a way, it was easier for Diaspora Jews to support a weak, fledgling Israel than [today’s] strong, powerhouse Israel,” he said.  

While he stressed that he respects the concerns of American rabbis about the power that Israel’s Orthodox wield over establishing laws governing marriage, divorce and the very definition of who is a Jew, and the Knesset’s recent approval of the nation-state law, “by definition, Israel is a Jewish and a democratic state, but the two aspects are not completely compatible,” he said.

An ardent sports fan, Grundwerg paraphrased legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi, saying, “Israel can never be the perfect Jewish democratic state, but we can be the most best and most excellent Jewish democratic state.”

Grundwerg also spoke of the importance of his personal relationships with Jewish community leaders and public officials in Los Angeles.  “I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished, with a strong staff team,” he said. He singled out his outreach and close relationships with the Latino community, aided by the fluent Spanish of his wife, Julia, a nurse born in Puerto Rico into a family of Syrian immigrants that lived for many years in Argentina.

Among the achievements during his tenure that he mentioned was his outreach to L.A.’s growing Asian community, noting that its members, like Hispanics and Jews, share basic values such as family devotion.

He described his relations with the local news media as “pretty good,” although he cited having hassles with the Los Angeles Times about its reporting and editorials on Israel.

On a more positive note, Grundwerg highlighted the 70th-anniversary celebration of Israel’s statehood that was held at Universal Studios under the banner, “Hollywood Salutes Israel.” The event was a celebration of Israel’s historical stages, featuring American and Israeli film and sports stars.

Grundwerg also introduced talk-show host Conan O’Brien, TV presenter Bill Nye and TV travel host Laura MacKenzie to Israel.

But perhaps his most impressive coup in intercultural relations was his hosting of some 60 leaders of the Los Angeles Muslim community, including basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, for the Iftar break-fast meal during Ramadan. He held the event at his residence — which is officially designated as Israeli territory — spreading out a large prayer rug in the living room.

Looking forward, Grundwerg said he currently harbors no ambitions to go into politics. However, after a pause, he added, “But you never say never.”

A Message to My Compatriots in the American Left From Across the Pond

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, visits the Alexander Dennis Bus Factory in Falkirk, Scotland, Britain August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

The Pittsburgh tragedy made real the worst nightmare of American Jewry. Our community is now examining how we got to this frightening place, with anti-Semitism more pronounced on both the right and the left than it has been in decades. We now dread: Is this just the beginning? Are things only going to get worse? We only have to look across the pond see the writing on the wall.  

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s election as UK Labour Party leader in 2015, the party has become a hotbed of the kind of anti-Semitic worldview previously confined to the political fringe. Corbyn’s links to Holocaust deniers, friendship with terror groups Hezbollah and Hamas, and paid role for the Iranian regime broadcaster, Press TV, were long-established. This summer, the allegations continued to pile up: Corbyn was pictured holding a wreath by the gravesides of the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre masterminds. Then a video from 2013 emerged in which he questioned whether British “Zionists” understood English irony.

The UK’s internationally renowned former Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, condemned Corbyn’s rhetoric as “the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism,” only to be denounced by Corbyn’s online fanbase. Like those of President Trump, Corbyn’s supporters respond to every piece of evidence exposing the bigotry of their man—no matter how damning—with cries of “fake news.”

The impact on Britain’s Jewish community has been pronounced. As the party of civil rights, equality and liberal values, Labour was once the natural home for British Jews. But recent polls have revealed not just that Jews are abandoning the party—now, 40 percent of Britain’s Jews say they will seriously consider leaving the UK if Corbyn becomes prime minister. 

Labour’s march to the radical left is not only worrying for the Jews: the phenomenon has decimated the credibility of Britain’s most important progressive force. For American progressives, this should be a cautionary tale. If our own extreme left and its abettors go unchallenged, then what is happening in the UK could happen here. The American right has shown how aggressive populism can hijack the mainstream. Corbyn provides a warning for those of us on the left.

In Britain, those who warned of the far-left threat to progressive movements were, for a decade, ignored or dismissed—until it was too late. Now, Labour has a leader with a lifetime of support for radically anti-Israel movements, inevitably aligning himself with virulent anti-Semites. His communications director is a terror apologist who believes East Germany was preferable to West Germany. His advisers include a recent Communist Party member who previously expressed support for North Korea, and has been unable to gain security clearance to work in Parliament. A few years ago, such people were dismissed as cranks. Now they aspire to govern, and are rising through the ranks alongside Corbyn. No wonder British Jews are uneasy.

On our side of the pond, some warning signs have already been here for a while. Last year, two Jewish lesbians who had been attending the Chicago Dyke March for a decade were thrown out of the major LBGTQ+ event for bringing a rainbow flag with a Jewish star on it. “Zio tears replenish us,” they were told. Later that year, the Chicago SlutWalk trod the same anti-Semitic path, banning “Zionist symbols.”

American Jews and their allies were horrified to learn that the co-founders of one of the most groundbreaking and ostensibly empowering movements in American political history share Corbyn’s brand of contemptible, inexcusable bigotry. Women’s March Co-Founder Tamika Mallory attends rallies of the notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. Earlier this year Mallory tweeted a conspiratorial slur against the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), one of the oldest civil rights organizations in the United States. In a modern-day blood libel, Mallory said the ADL caused U.S. police brutality because it had sponsored joint counter-terrorism training between US and Israeli law enforcement. That’s absurd and anti-Semitic—and, equally important from a progressive lens, it undermines and exploits the fight against police brutality in the United States, injecting the flimsy thinking of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory into a vital campaign for justice and human dignity.

Mallory’s March co-founder, Linda Sarsour, has publicly shamed fellow Muslims for “humanizing Israelis,”, supported a terrorist convicted of a bomb plot that murdered two university students in Jerusalem and also praises Farrakhan. The types of positions and associations these women hold went unchallenged on the British left for years. Even those who wrote off the alarm bells now see clearly where these ideologies lead.

As a Jew, a Zionist and, not least, a progressive, I am determined to challenge assaults on the values that should define our movements for social, racial, economic and gender justice. Progressive movements in which Jews are isolated, defamed or forced to pass anti-Israel litmus tests are not worthy of the name. That’s why we established Zioness – a movement to give proud, progressive Jewish women a platform to fight for the causes of our time, without having to sell out their Jewish identities for credibility or acceptance. 

When anti-Israel obsession and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories take hold on the political left, most Jews are made politically homeless. The result is disastrous, not just for the Jews but for the movements themselves. This is what we’re witnessing in the UK. Zioness, and our thousands of activists and allies, will not stand by and watch it happen here.

UK Labour has become a safer space for anti-Semites than for Jews. A female Jewish Member of Parliament needed police protection at the Labour Party conference. A third of the British public thinks Corbyn is an anti-Semite. With a Conservative government bitterly divided over Brexit negotiations, a credible progressive party would be soaring in the polls—resulting in the advancement of the issues we stand proudly to fight for. Instead, Labour is struggling to build a lead. 

In the United States, now more than ever, progressives should be on the front foot. Trump’s 38 percent approval rating is a record low. We face massive challenges—for women’s equality, universal healthcare, LGBTQ+ rights and for our PoC communities to live free from fear. Those struggles will be more effectively fought by movements that welcome rather than alienate Jews and Zionists, who have always been on the forefront of social justice activism of every kind.

The 19th century German socialist, August Bebel, called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools.” The British left might have been seduced by it. But at this pivotal moment for our country, we can’t afford to be—or it will make fools of us all.

Amanda Berman is the co-Founder and President of Zioness.

Will a Leader Soon ‘Corbyn’ the Democrats?

Screenshot from Twitter.

Corbyn — verb: To turn a traditionally pro-Israel party into an anti-Semitic one while insisting you don’t hate Jews, you only hate Israel.

If years from now a candidate “Corbyns” the Democratic Party, some of us will say “I told you so” by remembering 2018’s blame-Israel-first Democratic candidates. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 hostility, Barack Obama’s Israel-related churlishness and Donald Trump’s unbearable pro-Israel bear hug will factor, too. But this autumn’s chill in the air toward Israel feels portentous.

Many progressive British Jews are panicking. Many still won’t vote Conservative. But the Labour Party, once Great Britain’s leading pro-Israel party, is turning anti-Zionist. It’s also turning anti-Semitism-positive if not positively anti-Semitic, reflecting the Jew-hating face of its new leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn doesn’t snarl or bark, he oozes. He tries hiding his Jew-hatred behind hip, progressive rhetoric. Corbyn shows how European anti-Semitism has morphed since Hitler. It’s not Nuremburg-style demagoguery. It’s not Durbanite thuggery. It’s Buckingham-Palace-to-Bel-Air snootiness, perfumed by neo-Marxist rhetoric, wearing Banana Republic fatigues and delivered by Clark Kent not Ayatollah Khomeini. (Right-wing anti-Semitism cloaks its snootiness behind Armani suits, super-sized national flags and little “I like Israel” blue-and-white lapel pins.)

Despite this masquerade, mounting evidence confirms the fears of those often labeled “paranoid Jews.” Decades ago, the novelist Cynthia Ozick said that while paranoids think people are out to get them, when they’re not; Jews are narapoid: We think people are out to get us — and they are. Corbyn confirmed it: Those who salute terrorists, who have schoolboy crushes on the sociopaths of Hamas and Hezbollah, who try Nazifying and South Africanizing the Jewish State through sweeping, sloppy, sleazy accusations are Jew-haters at heart.

It took some digging, but eventually, we discovered that beyond Corbyn’s pro-Palestine Valentines festers an old-fashioned, look-down-your-nose-at-those-bloody-Jews Jew-hater. “Zionists,” Corbyn sniffed in 2013, “clearly have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history” — a stunningly ignorant line that overlooks Zionists’ obsessions with returning home, “and secondly,” Corbyn continued, “having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either.”

Nevertheless, in this age of all-or-nothing politics, too many British lefties slavishly knuckle-walk behind their Neanderthal leader, justifying his lapses, rationalizing his hatred, mainstreaming his evil. Corbyn’s Labourites are as subservient to their hater-in-chief as Donald Trump Republicans are to their thug-in-chief. Alas, political prostitution is flourishing left and right, on both sides of the Atlantic.

By now, liberal readers must be popping blood-pressure pills as conservative readers risk spilling their coffee while high-fiving one another. In this age of polarized, paint-by-number partisan politics, this column seems poised to predict the Corbyning of the Democratic Party. And here would be the recipe: Take a swipe at Barack Obama as pro-Iran and anti-Israel; bash Democrats for letting their hatred of Trump trump their love of Jerusalem when the American embassy moved to the Jewish people’s capital; highlight the Bernie Sanderistas already in Congress and running this November; then, boom, we’ve got a model anti-Israel political storm.

And, oh, what click-bait that would be. Right-wingers would whip themselves into a frenzy, whacking the left viciously, forwarding the column passionately.

As a historian, however, my crystal ball is cloudier; while as a center fielder my temperament is more constrained. I won’t predict or bash or fulminate. I simply plead with Democrats: “Prove me wrong!”

First, the good news: The American Revolution worked. The United States left the United Kingdom. Great Britain lacks America’s baseline sympathy for Israel that is embedded in the U.S.-Israel relationship’s DNA. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s rhetoric of shared interest and shared values has long united Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Jews, with new bonds formed from shared challenges. A Gallup Poll found that 73 percent of Americans sympathize with Israel over the Palestinians proves that Israel enjoys grassroots support; it’s not political Astroturf some big bad lobby imposes.

Israel competes with Great Britain for the honor of being America’s best ally. And American-Israeli history is less complicated. Great Britain’s humiliating retreat from Palestine still stings. Indeed, although Prince William visited that vexing former British colony, Queen Elizabeth never fit the Holy Land into any of her many itineraries since the 1950s — still smarting from those unholy headaches in the 1940s.

Great Britain is also more European, more Muslim-influenced, more Arab-centered in its foreign policy and more steeped in an 800-year-old anti-Semitic past. America lacks such an anti-Semitic pedigree, making its relationship with Israel more solid, more mutual.

Still, bad omens are proliferating. Barack Obama was not anti-Israel, but he often handled the Jewish State coldly, imperiously, bristling around its often equally snippy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama took the tough-love approach toward Israel and the soft touch toward the Palestinians — stubbornly following that strategy even as it failed.

Obama’s Iran outreach was doubly damaging. His diplomatic naiveté left many Israelis feeling betrayed. Meanwhile, he drove real political wedges between American Jews and Israel by demanding Jewish obeisance when he muscled through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — the Iran nuclear deal.

Donald Trump’s destructive, polarizing presidency is solidifying these wedges: With bipartisanship scorned as wimpy, you must reject whatever your enemy likes. As Democrats recoil from all things Trump, Trump’s warmth toward Israel makes Trump haters foolishly frosty toward Israel and naively nice regarding the Palestinians and Iran.

Many progressives also perceive Israelis as their enemies in two defining struggles. The politics of privilege falsely casts Netanyahu’s right-wing-led Israel as a nation of white winners oppressing powerless people of color — the Palestinians. This demonizes Israel in the second battle, too — the bout over boundaries. To postmodernist universalists, Israel comes across as too nationalist and too religious. For social justice warriors, Israel is a popular target, blocking Jews at the intersection, rejecting anti-Semitism as part of “intersectionality” — the shared experience of oppression — despite every Jew’s advanced degrees in understanding oppression.

The politics of Trump compounded by these particular ideological crusades has produced a looming disaster: Many of the pop stars of the Resistance, 2018’s Democratic congressional candidates representing the freshest anti-Trump political faces, are also anti-Israel.

“Many of the pop stars of the resistance, 2018’s Democratic congressional candidates representing the freshest anti-Trump political faces, are also anti-Israel. “

If today’s Armageddon-oriented, sky-is-falling politics boosts fanatics, left and right, the most zealous left-wing congressional candidates may eventually “Corbyn” the Democratic Party. Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib is a prickly one-stater who vows to oppose aid for Israel — and alienated JStreet, which has long been soft on Dems promising to push Israel around. Pennsylvania’s Scott Wallace has bankrolled supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar denounces the “apartheid Israel regime” and hopes Allah will stir the masses against “the evil doings of Israel.” New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sloppily equates Ferguson, Mo., and Gaza. And Virginia’s Leslie Cockburn co-authored a crackpot book that, The New York Times wrote, has as its central assumption “that the Israeli-American connection is somewhere behind just about everything that ails us.”

Once upon a time, a midterm election with even one serious anti-Israel Democrat would have been anomalous and scandalous. Today, when Pew Research Center studies estimate that only 19 percent of progressive Democrats are pro-Israel, these anti-Israel fanatics risk pioneering a new normal. This is especially worrying because, as with so many Corbyn allies, and as we saw during the Women’s March led by Linda (Zionism-is-creepy) Sarsour, hatred of Trump trumps loyalty to Israel for most Democrats today.

In this age of Jonestown politics, supporters become contortionists, treating political parties like cults demanding 100 percent loyalty. Today’s psychology demands total fealty, not even holding your nose when something your candidate says stinks. Rather than abandoning Labour or at least admitting that “Corbyn’s anti-Semitism offends me but I’ll vote for him anyway because Conservatives offend me more,” too many supporters end up justifying his Israel hatred and excusing his anti-Semitism. With zero tolerance for ambiguity or your enemies, the supposedly tolerant end up tolerating intolerance.

Clearly, many voters ignore the legendary New York Mayor Ed Koch’s famous challenge: “If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”

Moreover, having been caricatured as “privileged” and “white,” many Jews fear confronting women of color, like Sarsour, Omar and Tlaib, who bash Israel. All this Sarsouring — enslaving yourself to a unified theory of politics wherein all principles take a back seat to Trump-bashing — risks Corbyning the Democratic Party. Already the party of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, of Lyndon Johnson and Bella Abzug, of Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and Hubert Humphrey, of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and John L. Lewis — all ardent Zionists — has become the mainstream American political home for anti-Zionists.

True, most Democratic leaders remain pro-Israel, reflecting that resilient American political consensus. And truth is on Israel’s side. For all the current tensions, supporting Israel remains a far more progressive, Democratic, liberal-friendly cause than supporting the terrorist-addicted Palestinians, the theocracy in Iran or any Arab dictatorship. As progressive talk-show host Bill Maher puts it, “Where would you rather live in the Middle East? In Gaza under Sharia law or Tel Aviv?” Political delusions don’t last forever (see communism, facism, Ku Klux Klanism). It’s hard to believe that every generation will condemn Israel as ultranationalist and ultrareligious while giving Palestinians and Islamists a pass. Corbyn’s rise is cautionary not predictive.

Pro-Israel Democrats must save their party from its new pop stars. They should copy something from the Republican playbook. In December 1991, the grand old man of conservatism, William F. Buckley, made it clear there was no room in the conservative tent — and the Republican Party — for anti-Semites, even if they hid behind a façade of anti-Israelism.

Buckley outed his ideological ally Pat Buchanan and another old friend, Joe Sobran, exposing the Jew-hatred in their snarling contempt for Israel. Making the case, Buckley wrote a 40,000-word article in The National Review, which became the book “In Search of Anti-Semitism,” after the initial essay generated the most letters to the editor in the magazine’s history. 

While opposing America’s entering the Gulf War, Buchanan — who by December 1991 was running for president — accused four pro-war individuals of being in the Israel Defense Ministry’s “Amen Corner.” “They have in common many things,” Buckley noted. “The most conspicuous of these is that they are Jewish.”

Still mourning Auschwitz, Buckley said, “I am ready to concede that in our world, in our time, Jews have inherited distinctive immunities.” Even without that indulgence, noting that Israel is the Jewish state, he insisted, “Anyone who gives voice, especially if this is done repeatedly, to opinions distinctively, even uniquely, offensive to the security of settled Jewish sentiment involving religious or ethnic or tribal pride, engages in anti-Semitic activity.”

Assessing Buchanan’s systematic hostility toward Israel, Buckley concluded: “I find it impossible to defend Pat Buchanan against the charge that what he did and said during the period under examination amounted to anti-Semitism, whatever it was that drove him to say and do it; most probably an iconoclastic temperament.”

“I’m in favor of 95 percent of what he’s doing and saying,” Buckley told reporters. “I hope he changes his mind.” But, Buckley — whose father was a bigot — had long been drawing clear red lines. “Charges of anti-Semitism have been a burden historically for the American right,” The Washington Post reported, “and Buckley has worked hard through The National Review to separate mainstream conservatism from that stigma.”

Although Buckley cautioned against the opposite problem — an occasionally obsessive “anti-anti-Semitism” — he targeted those who deserved it. All too presciently, Buckley declared that for the American right — “short of the real fever swamps” — anti-Semitism is “pretty much a nonproblem. On the left, it’s a creeping problem.”

In the 1990s, Buckley did the right thing and burnished his historical reputation. Here, then, is one prediction I will make: History will judge the silence of too many British Labour leaders harshly for wilting in the face of Corbyn’s demagoguery. And we all must ask, especially on the Jewish left: Where is a Democratic Buckley today, a leading non-Jewish intellectual and activist ready to make the case against progressive anti-Semitism — and for progressive Zionism?

Gil Troy is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University in Toronto and author of the recently released “The Zionist Ideas.”

Halie Soifer: Getting Out the Young, Jewish Vote for Democrats

Halie Soifer

Most people aren’t in the business of swinging presidential elections at the ripe old age of 30 but Halie Soifer isn’t most people. 

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Soifer helped swing Florida in favor of an upstart Illinois senator by playing a key role in securing a crucial electorate: the state’s Jewish vote. After heading Jewish outreach in Florida for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign, Soifer’s journey has included stops in the national security realm and as a behind-the-scenes political operative. 

Soifer, 39, previously served as an adviser to Obama’s United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, then performed the same role on the staff of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif). Now she heads up the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), a progressive political organization founded in 2016 that supports Democrats running for office. At the helm of JDCA, she has her sights set on influencing another critical election. 

With November’s midterms fast approaching, Soifer spoke to the Journal about her organization, President Donald Trump, the Democratic Party’s U.S.-Israel stance and why she’s confident Jewish voter turnout can help the Democrats win back the House. 

Jewish Journal: What drew you to a burgeoning organization like JDCA? 

Halie Soifer: Once President Trump took office, I decided it was time to leave government and help change the composition of the Congress and Senate as opposed to working for one member. JDCA was a natural fit. It’s advocacy in terms of issues I care about as a Jew, such as fighting against unjust immigrant policies, the Muslim ban and standing up for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship in a way that feels particularly pressing in this moment in our history. 

JJ: You said previously JDCA was created “to fill a vacuum and in response to this administration.” Can you elaborate? 

HS: In the aftermath of Charlottesville, [Va., violence] I think all Jews throughout the country were shocked to see Nazis marching in the streets and Jewish Democrats, in particular, didn’t have one organization to represent their voice in that moment. It was really out of that sense of urgency that JDCA was born: to serve as the voice of Jewish Democrats, whether it was responding to the rise of anti-Semitism in the country or other troubling trends we’ve seen in regard to the Trump administration. It’s also focusing on advocating in the affirmative agenda, which we’re doing in this upcoming election. That means helping to get Democrats who share our values elected to Congress. 

“We’ve seen no less than nine neo-Nazi, white supremacist, Holocaust deniers running for office in this election cycle. They now feel legitimate in the Trump era to the point of running for Congress.”

JJ: What’s JDCA looking at specifically when figuring out which candidates to support?   

HS: We’re looking at close races where either there’s a strong Democratic challenger to a Republican incumbent, or a vacancy, or a Democratic incumbent who needs our help; but only where the race is predicted to come down to a margin that’s smaller than the Jewish community. Our assessment comes down to this: Can the Jewish community make the difference?  

JJ: You recently wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post titled “Record Number of Jewish Voters Will Reject Trump in November.” What’s fueling your optimism about the midterms? 

HS: It’s the issues superseding politics that are antithetical to Jewish values, such as zero-tolerance immigration, and separating children from their parents at our border. I’ve been traveling to organize events for Jewish Democrats. Last week, we started our midterm volunteer program. We’re readying canvassing for Sean Casten in Chicago, Jennifer Wexton in Virginia. I hear it everywhere I go. And it’s not even a partisan issue. These are deep-seated concerns about the direction of our country, and I’m confident the November results will reflect that. 

JJ: The U.S.-Israel relationship has become an increasingly partisan issue. Are changing views or shifting party lines a threat to Jews continuing to loyally vote Democratic? 

HS: I don’t believe that views on Israel have changed among Democrats. If you look at voting patterns in Congress, there’s no change for support for a two-state solution, no change in U.S. military assistance to Israel and no change in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. I believe that while some Republicans would like to create a narrative that there’s been a change in the Democratic Party on its Israel stance, the reality is that there has not been a marked shift.  

JJ: What do you say to critics who argue that a different anti-Semitism, one mired in anti-Israel views, that exists in far-right circles, is permeating parts of the Democratic Party, even gaining momentum among younger Democrats? Is that legitimate? 

HS: I certainly would not equate the two. On the right, we’ve seen no less than nine neo-Nazi, white supremacist, Holocaust deniers running for office in this election cycle. That’s astounding. It’s not that these people and these movements didn’t exist previously, but they now feel legitimate in the Trump era to the point of running for Congress. That’s a problem the Republican Party has to grapple with. 

JJ: How does your organization speak out against these people? 

HS: On the left, there have been three candidates for Congress who have expressed views with regard to Israel that we, as an organization, have disagreed with publicly. We’ve not referred to them as anti-Semites, because, again, we don’t equate the two. 

JJ: Who are those candidates? 

HS: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. 

JJ: Those three names, especially Ocasio-Cortez, appear to represent the future of the Democratic Party. 

HS: In the case of someone like Ocasio-Cortez, we share her views on many, in fact, most other issues. For those three candidates, we’ve made it clear, while we don’t share that view, we’re interested in engaging. I think when these three candidates arrive in Washington, they’ll soon see that the Democratic Party supports a strong bipartisan relationship between the U.S. and Israel, which includes full military funding for Israel. We don’t expect that to change with these three being elected to Congress.

A correction has been made on Oct. 22. An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the volunteer program canvassed for Peter Roskam. It did not.

The ‘Jewish Cinderella’ and the Progressive President

Rose Pastor Stokes was proudly defiant. President Woodrow Wilson tried to lock her up. The president told her to work for him, but she would not obey. 

Disobedience came naturally to Rose Pastor Stokes. 

She was the only child of an arranged marriage forced upon her mother. The reluctant Jewish bride’s parents physically dragged her, weeping, to the chuppah. The bride’s preferred choice was a gentile. In 1878, in a shtetl in the Russian Pale that had been forbidden. Instead, Papa chose a Jewish groom. 

Rose (“Reisel”) was born the following year. But Rose’s father, the chosen hassan (groom), abandoned them before the girl turned 3. Mother and daughter fled to England, and then Cleveland, launching Rose’s lifelong journey beyond the Pale.

Her mother remarried and had six more children. Rose was a teenaged sweatshop worker in a Cleveland cigar factory when her stepfather abandoned the family. Twice, Rose had been abandoned by fathers. Twice, her poor mother had been abandoned by husbands. Female self-reliance was more than an ideal to Rose. It was a matter of survival.

In 1917, she was living in New York City, a 38-year-old successful journalist, playwright, poet, graphic artist and social critic. She fought for women’s suffrage, access to birth control, and the labor union movement. She believed in socialism and democracy. Today, she might call herself a Democratic Socialist. She supported the Zionist movement to create a Jewish nation, which she envisioned as a socialist haven. Had her life taken a different path, she might have become a kibbutznik. 

The press called Rose a “Sweatshop Cinderella” when she married James Graham Phelps Stokes, the fabulously wealthy scion of gentile industrialists and philanthropists. Rose promised to love and honor, but not obey. 

The couple worked together to uplift the downtrodden and dispossessed. They joined the Socialist Party, a curious choice for Graham, whose family had embraced capitalism and enjoyed bountiful wealth for centuries, beginning in colonial New England. 

After the outbreak of World War I in Europe in August 1914, President Wilson struggled to avoid American involvement. He called for a “preparedness” campaign of “armed neutrality,” and then a policy of diplomacy for “peace without victory.” He campaigned for re-election in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” 

He could not continue to keep us out of war. German submarine attacks on American and Allied Powers ships, plus the revelation that Germany tried to coax Mexico to declare war on the United States, became intolerable provocations. In April 1917, Wilson sent American troops to join the Allied Powers in combat. 

“In only four months, Rose Pastor Stokes went from being invited to the White House to indicted for espionage.

Wilson was determined to control public opinion. First, he formed the Committee on Public Information to create a marketing and propaganda campaign to boost support for the war. 

Then he tried to silence criticism and dissent. At the president’s urging, the Espionage Act of 1917 was passed. Critics could be prosecuted and jailed for opinions that supposedly might discourage enlistment in the military or encourage American soldiers to desert. 

The Socialist Party voted to oppose the president’s decision to enter the war. Rose and Graham Stokes resigned from the party and publicly announced their support for the war effort. She also resigned from the Woman’s Peace Party. 

Rose insisted that she was not a pacifist. She was not a patriot. She was an internationalist. She would fight for America, even in the military if necessary. 

Rose Pastor Stokes was aroused by Wilson’s quest to make the world safe for democracy, a worthy internationalist agenda. She revered democracy but despised capitalism, the system she blamed for the desperate plight of the poor. Wilson’s internationalism was of a different stripe. He wanted to create a League of Nations. 

Wilson encouraged Rose to do more.

The director of Wilson’s Committee on Public Information’s Division of Films offered to make Rose Pastor Stokes a movie star. 

The Division of Films was producing a movie in which “[w]e are going to show scenes of people who have been born in alien countries, who have become American citizens, and achieved places of worth and prominence. There will be two women in the picture.” The idea was to celebrate immigrants who supported the war effort, and to encourage others to do so. “We would like to have you enact one of the parts.” 

Rose politely declined.

In November, Wilson’s daughter Margaret invited Rose to have dinner with her and the president at the White House to discuss other ways to help drum up support for the war. 

Rose politely declined.

She recoiled from the “motley political elements” who applauded her initial pro-war stand. That same month, the Russian Bolshevik Revolution raised her hopes for a utopian international socialist movement. Those hopes would be dashed by the bloody Russian civil war and totalitarianism of the Soviet Union. But Rose could not predict all that. 

She came to believe that Wilson’s war would not make the world safe for democracy, but it would promote what she viewed as rapacious capitalism. The results would enrich financier and banker J.P. Morgan and others whom she called war profiteers.

Rose recanted her support and turned against American involvement in the war. 

Wilson had been against the war before being for it. Rose Pastor Stokes had been for the war before she was against it.

The government continued to pursue her. In January 1918, the Committee on Public Information’s Division of Publicity asked Rose to contribute something in writing for the pro-war propaganda campaign. 

Rose politely declined, citing her “convictions regarding imperialism and freedom of speech.” 

Rose Pastor Stokes returned to the lecture circuit, barnstorming the country and speaking about politics. She criticized the president for enriching war profiteers. 

The Kansas City Star newspaper mistakenly reported that although Rose was “against” the war, she was “for” the U.S. government. She wrote to disabuse the editors of their misconception. 

“I made no such statement, and I believe no such thing. No government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people, while the government is for the profiteers.”

The newspaper published her letter, and the president had her arrested under the Espionage Act. He led the call to lock her up. 

If she was not “for” the government, she must be “for” the enemies. That letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing her political opinions was enough to sustain a conviction and a 10-year prison sentence. 

In only four months, Rose Pastor Stokes went from being invited to the White House to indicted for espionage. Just two months after she was asked to contribute pro-government propaganda, she was charged as a criminal who would be sentenced to a federal penitentiary.

The conviction was overturned on appeal in 1921, and the government declined to bring new charges. The war was over and Warren G. Harding had succeeded Wilson as president. Congress refused to endorse Wilson’s League of Nations. Rose Pastor Stokes divorced her wealthy husband in 1925, and at age 47, she married a 29-year-old, poor, Jewish, socialist scholar. 

Alan Robert Ginsberg is a historian and the author of “The Salome Ensemble,” about four Jewish female immigrants who shaped American history in the early 20th century. 

Bari Weiss Likens Her Work to Smashing Idols

New York Times Op-Ed writer Bari Weiss

Hours after Christine Blasey Ford’s and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s testimonies before the Senate Judiciary Committee transfixed the nation, New York Times op-ed writer Bari Weiss told a Sinai Temple audience she could personally relate to the political divisions roiling the United States.

“I’m the daughter of a Trump-curious man who was forbidden from voting for him because my mom withheld sex,” Weiss said, eliciting laughter from the approximately 100 people in attendance.

Weiss appeared on Sept. 27 for a discussion with Sinai Temple’s Max Webb Senior Rabbi David Wolpe. During their hour-long conversation, the journalist and the rabbi discussed Ford’s allegations of Kavanaugh’s sexual assault, President Trump’s impact on the nation’s discourse, anti-Semitism in the U.S. and abroad, and how Weiss, 34, became an opinion writer at one of the nation’s most prominent newspapers.

Wolpe said he saw people’s reactions to Kavanaugh’s and Ford’s testimonies as evidence of how polarized the country has become. “I don’t know of anyone on the right who was convinced by her testimony, and anyone on the left who was convinced by his,” Wolpe said. “Everybody was reinforced by what they went in for.”

Weiss had a slightly different perspective: “I was struck by the fact that a lot of people I talked to actually said they were sympathetic in both directions.”

Weiss has been an op-ed writer and editor at The New York Times since joining the newspaper in 2017. Prior to that, she was an op-ed and book review editor at The Wall Street Journal. She also worked at the Jewish online magazine Tablet. Her opinion pieces at The New York Times have included one headlined “When Progressives Embrace Hate,” in which she denounced anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour.

Transitioning last year from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, she said she went “from being the most left-wing person at a conservative editorial page to one of the most conservative people at a liberal editorial page.” 

Weiss’ politics are not easy to pinpoint. Though she has won conservative readers for her willingness to criticize left-wing progressives and for her support of Israel, she is no fan of the president. 

When Wolpe asked: “I don’t think there is a figure in my lifetime that has garnered anything like the kind of attention [Trump] has — why?” 

Weiss responded: “Because — and I’m sorry to the Trumpers in the room — it is absolutely shocking this man is the most powerful man in the world.” 

Weiss, who was raised in Pittsburgh and attended Columbia University, did not always envision herself becoming a journalist.

“I’m not someone who from a young age imagined myself being a writer, or had dreams of being a novelist, or anything like that, but I was always very driven by ideas and by values, and that is the reason I got into journalism,” she said.

“I am used to being politically homeless, which I think is a very, very Jewish position.”

She said she found her voice at Columbia University. She entered college identifying with the political left but revised her thinking after experiencing Israel bias among those who also considered themselves in the left wing.

“All of a sudden the progressive Zionism I thought was normal and standard … I was told [that] to be a Zionist is to be a racist,” she said.

Weiss, who had once thought of pursuing a career in the rabbinate, likened her columns to sermons. “They’re just called op-eds,” she said. 

Weiss and Wolpe also addressed contemporary challenges facing the Jewish people.

Weiss said Jewish life in Europe was “dead or dying.”

“I don’t know a Jew in France that doesn’t have an apartment in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan or Jerusalem,” Weiss said, adding there is a need to take anti-Semitism in America seriously, “both on the far right and the far left.”

“On the far right it’s very easy to see, I think. It is often more dramatic. It is people marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville [Va.] saying, ‘The Jews will not replace us,’ ” she explained. “… On the left, it is a bit harder because, frankly, it is people we are friends with. It is people in our communities and it is people who are trying to convince us that, because they are cloaking it in the language of anti-Zionism, it is not as threatening.”

Weiss said she believes Judaism and journalism share a commitment to the truth. She pointed to the biblical story of Abraham smashing idols before starting the world’s first monotheistic religion as a metaphor applicable to her career.

“The smashing of the idols is smashing the cultural mores of the time to tell a deeper truth about the world,” Weiss said.

And throughout her career, Weiss said, she has experienced the loneliness of “telling the truth as I see it.”

“I am used to being politically homeless, which I think is a very, very Jewish position.”

Educator Emil (Uzi) Jacoby, 94

Emil Jacoby and Leonard Cohen on Grandparents’ Day at Temple Israel of Hollywood Day School on March 31, 2015. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Jacoby

Beloved local Jewish educator Emil (Uzi) Jacoby died on Feb. 15 in Los Angeles. He was 94.

Jacoby was born on Nov. 30, 1923, in Cop, Czechoslovakia. After his bar mitzvah, he went to study in yeshiva, first in Cop and then in Ungvar, which at the time was part of Hungary.

At 16, Jacoby left yeshiva and went to the Gymnasia in Ungvar. He graduated in 1943 and moved to Budapest, Hungary. There, he was trained to become a leader of the then-illegal Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement. It was then he adopted a Hebrew nom de guerre — Menachem Uziel. From that day forward, he was known as Uzi.

During World War II, Uzi helped lead the efforts in Bucharest, Romania, and Budapest to rescue European Jews and bring them to Israel. After the war, Uzi was elected as Bnei Akiva’s director of operations in Hungary and served as the camp director at Lake Balaton’s summer camp. It was there that he met the greatest love of his life, Erika, a Holocaust survivor.

On Nov. 29, 1947, Uzi received his doctorate and also became engaged to Erika, almost a year after they met. It was also the day that the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab.

Shortly afterward, Uzi (now called Dr. Emil Jacoby) moved to Paris to work with Yosef Burg in the European office of the Mizrahi political movement. He visited Israel and in August 1949 traveled to New York City, where he reunited with Erika.

Settling in New York, Uzi taught at the Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Brooklyn while simultaneously completing two degrees at the Jewish Theological Seminary, as well as a master’s degree in mathematics at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Uzi and Erika moved to Los Angeles in July 1953. From 1953 to 1956, Uzi was the director of education at Valley Jewish Community Center/Adat Ari El. From there, he went on to become the associate director, executive director and then accreditation consultant at the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (now called Builders of Jewish Education). He remained in that position until he retired in 2008.

Uzi also spent 10 summers as the education director for Camp Ramah and was an adjunct professor at the University of Judaism.

Uzi is survived by his wife, Erika, three children, 10 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Settler Opens Her Home to Peace

Caroline Schuhl Schattner

Fourteen years ago, during the Second Intifada, Caroline Schuhl Schattner of Toulouse, France, felt the time had come to realize her Zionist dream. Frustrated with French news media coverage that made Israel out to be the aggressor during the prolonged uprising, she moved to Israel intent on becoming an actor in Israeli history, not a bystander.

Schuhl Schattner enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and joined a combat rescue unit. Today, at the age of 34, with a master’s degree in linguistics, a husband and three children, she lives in Efrat, a largely Modern Orthodox town in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, where she continues to work at making peace.

Every two weeks she hosts informal meetings in her home between Palestinians and Israeli settlers living in and around Gush Etzion, a flashpoint in 2015-16 for what is sometimes known as the “Knife Intifada,” a period when Palestinians regularly stabbed, shot and ran over random Israelis in the streets.

Schuhl Schattner believes that many Palestinians reject such violence, and she is determined to get Israeli Jews to know them, and for them to get to know Israeli Jews.

“I saw that Jews and Arabs live in the region and I see how they see each other — in business, at the shopping center — but they don’t know each other,” Schuhl Schattner said in phone interview from her home in Efrat. “Even though they meet via commerce, Jews have a stereotypical view of Arabs and Arabs have a stereotypical view of Jews. I thought that it’s a shame. We all live here, and we’ll all continue to live here.”

Schuhl Schattner was recently appointed project manager for olim [immigrants] at the Gush Etzion Regional Council. Her work with Palestinians is her personal initiative that she began a year ago.

Recently, she led a joint Israeli-Palestinian olive harvest in the village of Kfar Hussan.

“Most of the Palestinians, they’re people who want to live well — that’s what’s important to them,” she said. “And part of the good and simple life is to live in harmony with the Jews. Many of them don’t have extreme political views. If you succeed in having Jews and Palestinians meet each other, and the Palestinian sees the Jew is not the enemy, he’ll break out of his stereotypical view, and vice versa.”

The joint harvest produced a Facebook friendship between a young Israeli and a Palestinian, who are not allowed by Palestinian law to meet in person. Palestinians must receive permission from Israeli authorities to enter Israeli towns, but the Palestinian Authority can imprison Palestinians who interact socially with Israelis.

“Part of the good and simple life [for most of these Palestinians] is to live in harmony with the Jews.” — Caroline Schuhl Schattner

These days, about 20 to 30 people meet in Schuhl Schattner’s home for coffee, cookies, cake and conversations about topics that are generally taboo at the table: religion and politics. At the meetings, Palestinians often relay their frustrations with living under IDF controls that limit their freedom of movement, while Israelis express their fear of the terrorism and violence that make such security measures necessary. But participants from both groups generally agree that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have the Palestinians’ best interests at heart — it seeks to thwart attempts at normalization in Israeli-Palestinian relations, and it feeds off conflict.

Schuhl Schattner said some of her friends and neighbors have been skeptical about her efforts, but she remains undeterred, encouraged by the story of one of her Palestinian friends whose brother was released from prison 10 years ago after serving a term for terrorist activity. After the friend introduced his brother to his Jewish friends, the brother’s hatred of Israel and Jews faded.

“I don’t care how much hate you instill in someone’s head,” Schuhl Schattner said. “If you have a good meeting, that’s what stays.”

These photos of Holocaust survivors from the SS Exodus are incredible

Children posing for a photo in hats that read “Exodus 1947” in a displaced persons camp in Germany, September 1947. Photo by Robert Gary

In the summer of 1947, when the British turned away the SS Exodus from the shores of Palestine, the world was watching.

Before the eyes of the international media, British troops violently forced the ship’s passengers — most of them Holocaust survivors — onto ships back to Europe. The resulting reports helped turn public opinion in favor of the Zionist movement and against the pro-Arab British policy of limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine.

But much else was happening in the aftermath of World War II, and attention soon shifted elsewhere. One of the few journalists to stick with the story was Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent Robert Gary, who filed a series of reports from displaced persons camps in Germany.

Seventy years later and decades after his death, Gary is again drawing attention to the “Exodus Jews,” albeit mostly in Israel.

An album of 230 of his photos will be sold at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem on Oct. 31, and a number of the images reveal the reality inside the camps, where the Jews continued to prepare for life in Palestine under trying conditions.

Some of the photos, which have little to no captioning, capture the haunting similarities of the DP camps to those in which the Nazis interned and killed millions of Jews during the Holocaust, including images of Exodus Jews repairing barbed-wire fences under the watch of guards.

But others show the Jews participating in communal activities and preparing for their hoped-for future in Palestine. In one photo, Zionist emissaries from the territory — young women dressed in white T-shirts and shorts — appear to lead the Exodus Jews in a circular folk dance.

Shay Mendelovich, a researcher at Kedem, said he expects there to be a lot of interest in the album, which is being sold by an anoymous collector who bought it from the Gary family. Mendelovich predicted it could be sold for as much as $10,000.

“The photos are pretty unique,” he said. “There were other people in these camps. But Robert Gary was one of the few who had a camera and knew how to take pictures.”

Jews dancing in a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

Between 1945 and 1952, more than 250,000 Jews lived in displaced persons camps and urban centers in Germany, Austria and Italy that were overseen by Allied authorities and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Despite having been liberated from the Nazi camps, they continued to languish in Europe under guard and behind barbed wire.

Gary was an American Jewish reporter who JTA sent to Europe to cover the aftermath of World War II. He detailed the living conditions in the camps more than a year before the Exodus journey: inadequate food; cold, crowded rooms; violence by guards and mind-numbing boredom. But he reported in September 1946 that the greatest concern among Jews was escaping Europe, preferably for Palestine.

“Certainly the DP’s are sensitive to the material things and sound off when things go bad (which is as it should be), but above all this is their natural desire to start a new life elsewhere for the bulk in Palestine, for others, in the U.S. and other lands,” he wrote. “Get any group of DP’s together and they’ll keep you busy with the number one question: When are we leaving?”

In July 1947, more than 4,500 Jews from the camps boarded the Exodus in France and set sail for Palestine without legal immigration certificates. They hoped to join the hundreds of thousands of Jews building a pro-Jewish state.

Organized by the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary force in Palestine, the mission was the largest of dozens of mostly failed attempts at illegal Jewish immigration during the decades of British administration of the territory following World War I. The British largely sought to limit the arrival of Jews to Palestine out of deference to the often violent opposition of its Arab majority.

The Haganah had outfitted and manned the Exodus in hopes of outmaneuvering the British Navy and unloading the passengers on the beach. But near the end of its weeklong voyage, the British intercepted the ship off the shore of Palestine and brought it into the Haifa port. Troops removed resisting passengers there, injuring dozens and killing three, and loaded them on three ships back to Europe.

Even after two months on the Exodus, the passengers resisted setting foot back on the continent. When the British finally forced them ashore in September 1947 and into two displaced persons camps in occupied northern Germany — Poppendorf and Am Stau — many sang the Zionist anthem “Hatikvah” in protest. An unexploded time bomb, apparently designed to go off after the passengers were ashore, was later found on one of the ships.

Jews repairing fencing at a DP camp in Germany, September 1947. (Robert Gary)

The widely reported events won worldwide sympathy for European Jews and their national aspirations. An American newspaper headlined a story about the Exodus “Back to the Reich.” The Yugoslav delegate from from the United Nations Special Commission on Palestine called the affair “the best possible evidence we have for allowing Jews into Palestine.”

Later, the Exodus achieved legendary status, most famously as the inspiration and namesake of the 1958 best-seller by Leon Uris and the 1960 film starring Paul Newman. Some, including former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, credited the Exodus with a major role in the foundation of the State of Israel in May 1948.

Gary, who was stationed in Munich, had close ties to Zionist activists; he reported early and often on the continuing plight of the Exodus Jews in the camps. His dispatches highlighted their continued challenges, including malnutrition, and unabated longing to immigrate to Palestine.

In a report from Poppendorf days after the Exodus Jews arrived, Gary said the dark running joke in the camp was that the alternative to Palestine was simple: “Everyone would choose a tree from which to hang himself.”

“The Jews of Germany demand and expect a chance to start life anew under reasonably secure circumstances,” he wrote. “They feel these places exist mainly in Palestine and the U.S. And they are determined to get there, either by legal or illegal means, or just by plain old fashioned patience.”

Pnina Drori, who later became Gary’s wife, was among the emissaries that the Jewish Agency for Israel sent to the camps from Palestine to prepare the Jews for aliyah. As a kindergarten teacher, she taught the children Hebrew and Zionist songs. Other emissaries, she said, offered military training in preparation for the escalating battles with the Arab majority in Palestine.

“In the photos, you see a lot of young people in shorts and kind of Israeli clothes,” she said. “We were getting them ready for Israeli life, both good and bad. You have to remember Israel was at war at the time.”

A 1947 photo of the fake certificate identifying Robert Gary as a passenger of the SS Exodus. (Courtesy of Kedem Auction House)

Gary was one of the few journalists who continued visiting the DP camps in the weeks after the Exodus Jews returned to Europe. Somehow he even obtained a fake certificate identifying him as one of the former passengers of the ship. But by late September 1947, JTA reported that British authorities had tired of Gary’s critical coverage and barred him from entry.

“The fact that Gary and [New York newspaper PM reporter Maurice] Pearlman were the only correspondents still assigned to the story, and had remained at the camps, aroused the authorities, who charged that they ‘were snooping about too much,’” according to the report.

Israel declared independence in May 1948, and after Great Britain recognized the Jewish state in January 1949, it finally sent most of the remaining Exodus passengers to the new Jewish state. Nearly all the DP camps in Europe were closed by 1952 and the Jews dispersed around the world, most to Israel and the United States.

Gary soon immigrated to Israel, too. He married Drori in 1949, months after meeting her at a Hanukkah party at the Jewish Agency’s headquarters in Munich, and the couple moved to Jerusalem, where they had two daughters. Robert Gary took at job at The Jerusalem Post and later worked for the British news agency Reuters. Pnina Gary, 90, continued her acting career.

She said her husband always carried a camera with him when he was reporting, and their home was filled with photo albums.

Decades after Robert Gary died in Tel Aviv in 1987, at the age of 67, Pnina Gary wrote and starred in a hit play, “An Israeli Love Story.” It is based on her real-life romance with the first man she was supposed to marry, who was killed by local Arabs in an ambush on their kibbutz.

“We knew life wouldn’t be easy in Israel,” she said. “That’s not why anyone comes here.”

The left has an Israel problem. Do colleges have an anti-Semitism problem?

Illustrative photo of Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators at an Apartheid Week event at the University of California, Berkeley, in February 2012. Photo by James Buck/Flickr

Last week, the JTA news service reported a story about a student alternative guide published by student activists at Tufts University that labels Israel a white supremacist state. The so-called “disorientation guide” also reduced the university’s Hillel to a “Zionist” organization that offers nothing of value to the private campus’ diversity or culture.

The authors of the guide might deny that, of course. But what else do you make of a guide to campus diversity that does not discuss Jewish social, cultural or religious life? And one that takes at face value complaints from an African-American organization that a Hillel-sponsored event about gun control was meant to “exploit” Black people “for their own pro-Israel agenda”?

After all, what’s a Jewish organization doing promoting liberal causes, right?

The conflation of “Jewish” and “Zionist” (and “racist” and “colonialist,” while we’re at it) is hardly a new thing on the left, although the guide was a pretty stark example of an entire minority group on campus being erased or devalued with a few taps of a keyboard by those who purport to stand up for religious and ethnic minorities. That’s why we considered it an important story, and that’s why we published it.

Still, a few things bothered me about the story — and the issue itself.

First, just because an activist group says dumb and misguided things about Jews and Israel, that doesn’t mean the campus in question is “hostile” or “uncomfortable” for Jews. Too often groups, mostly on the outside, seize on incidents like these (and articles like ours) to tar the school or administration as unfriendly or anti-Semitic. Last year, the Algemeiner Journal, a New York-based newspaper covering American and international Jewish and Israel-related news, published a list of “The 40 Worst Colleges for Jewish Students,” which was really just a list of  anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic incidents at various campuses. Missing was any sense of how Jewish students actually experience Jewish life at these colleges.

As the student magazine New Voices recently put it:  “If Columbia University — home of kosher dining, multiple minyans and a joint program with Jewish Theological Seminary — is the worst school for Jewish students … you’re probably defining ‘bad for Jewish students’ wrong.”

Indeed, Tufts, No. 23 on the Algemeiner list, has a student body that is 25 percent Jewish. Our article noted that it has a range of Jewish and pro-Israel clubs, including Hillel, the Tufts American Israel Alliance, Tufts Friends of Israel, J Street U, Jewish Voice for Peace, TAMID and  Israeli American Council (IAC) Mishelanu. Hillel offers Reform and Conservative Shabbat services, and there’s a Chabad. The Forward, which took into account many more factors than pro-Palestinian activism when assembling its own list of top colleges, named Tufts the 13th best school for Jewish students.

That’s not to say that “Israel Apartheid Week” demonstrations, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolutions and screeds like the “disorientation guide” aren’t upsetting. Or that a strong reaction isn’t called for when anti-Zionists slander Israel, Jewish groups and individual Jews.

But colleges are also places where students are supposed to encounter upsetting or uncomfortable ideas. You can’t ridicule a leftist campus like UC Berkeley when it offers counseling to students offended by a talk by a conservative like Ben Shapiro, and then demand that a university “protect” Jewish kids from a pro-Palestinian message. (I mean, you can — but just watch out who you’re calling a “snowflake.”)

On the other hand, the Tufts “disorientation guide” itself also failed the test of university-level inquiry.

There are already enough reasons to be critical of Israel, if you are so inclined, without inventing slanders like “white supremacy.” Liberal Zionists, for example, see Israel’s control of millions of noncitizen Palestinians not only as a hardship for Palestinians but a threat to Israel’s own Jewish and democratic character. Their critique — shared with a weakened but persistent left in Israel itself — is one side of a debate in which reasonable people can take part. You can disagree, but you understand that the critics are serious in their concerns and can summon a strong factual argument in their defense.

But by accusing Israel of “white supremacy,” the anti-Zionists sound like that old tongue-in-cheek definition of anti-Semitism: “disliking Jews more than is necessary.” They yank the debate into a territory where it doesn’t belong. Nothing in Zionism assumes Jews are white, and indeed Israel’s Jewish population — four-fifths of a country that includes a substantial minority of Arab citizens — includes a range of ethnic groups hailing from Europe, North Africa, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Ethiopia and India.

And the “white supremacy” gambit is shoddy scholarship and a tactical disaster. It casts the conflict as a simple case of segregation and civil rights, and not as a clash of national identities. So you can be proud of yourself as a good leftist if, in the name of intersectionality, you rally all kinds of dispossessed groups and discriminated-against people behind your anti-Israel cause, but you do nothing to bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace.

Because, the Palestinians aren’t looking for equality, they are looking to fulfill their nationalist aspirations, just like the Jews. Palestinians — I am talking about those who live in the West Bank and Gaza, not Israel’s Arab citizens — don’t want to vote or serve in the Knesset. They want a country — some, a country coterminous with Israel; some separate and side-by-side. But if you delegitimize Israel — and that can be the only motivation behind calling it “white supremacist” — it can mean that you are wishing for only one outcome: the end of the idea of a Jewish homeland, and the elimination of the political sovereignty for one national group, the Jews, in favor of another, the Palestinians.

Then you would have to explain why Palestinian nationalism is any less “racist” or supremacist than the Jews’.

Anti-Zionists, selective in their nationalisms, have found an easy and fashionable metaphor into which to plug their anger at Israel and solidarity with the Palestinians. As a former colleague put it on Facebook: “They’re not really interested in doing good; they’re interested in feeling good. And forcing complicated realities into simplistic moral frameworks helps them feel good about themselves and their ‘activism.’”

What’s more, by hating Israel more than they have to, they have managed to discredit the left in ways that are spreading into the center, and handing a huge victory to a pro-Israel right that is only too happy to paint its adversaries as unserious, uninformed and anti-Semitic.

New group for progressive Zionists to march in Chicago SlutWalk

Calling themselves progressive and Zionist, about a dozen activists plan on marching in a Chicago demonstration against sexual violence to promote the idea thaZionism and liberal values are compatible.

Members of the Zioness initiative, which launched Tuesday, will march together on Saturday at SlutWalk Chicago, a women’s rights demonstration against sexual violence. Zioness members will be marching with banners and T-shirts featuring a design of a woman wearing a Star of David necklace.

Organizers of the SlutWalk initially said that they would ban Stars of David from the event, but later altered their policy to allow religious symbols but not national flags.

The SlutWalk policy came in the wake of a controversy over the Chicago Dyke March in June, when three Jewish participants at the LGBTQ demonstration were ejected for carrying LGBTQ Pride flags adorned with the Star of David. Dyke March organizers said the women were advocating for Israel at an anti-Zionist event.

The Dyke March incident served as “a watershed moment,” said Zioness organizer Amanda Berman.

“It was really a moment where everyone in the community said, ‘This is unacceptable, the line has been crossed, and there’s no way we can walk back from it now because no one can claim this is just opposition to a political party or a policy 10,000 miles away. It’s now about Jews,’” she told JTA.

The Dyke March incident was widely condemned by the Jewish community, and Jews who are pro-Israel have complained that they often do not feel comfortable expressing their religious identity openly at LGBTQ events and settings.

Berman, the New York-based director of legal affairs at The Lawfare Project — which calls itself the “legal arm of the pro-Israel community” — will travel to Chicago for Saturday’s march. She formed Zioness with around a dozen friends from across the country.

“When SlutWalk said, ‘We stand in solidarity with the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March,’ and said ‘We will also ban Zionist symbols, including Jewish stars,’ it became an opportunity to challenge the narrative that Jews and Zionists can’t participate in progressive movements,” she added.

Although SlutWalk Chicago said it would welcome religious symbols, on Thursday it denounced the Zioness initiative for using the march to promote a “nationalist agenda.”

“SlutWalk Chicago does not support the ‘Zioness progressives’ planning on coming to the walk Saturday. We at SlutWalk Chicago stand with Jewish people, just as we stand for Palestinian human rights. Those two ideologies can exist in the same realm, and taking a stance against anti-Semitism is not an affirmation of support for the state of Israel and its occupation of Palestine,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

“We oppose all oppressive governments whether they be the United States or Israel, as we recognize these regimes often disproportionately oppress women and femmes. We find it disgusting that any group would appropriate a day dedicated to survivors fighting rape culture in order to promote their own nationalist agenda,” SlutWalk Chicago continued.

Demonstrators at a Slutwalk march through downtown Chicago, Sept. 7, 2013. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Meanwhile, Berman said the response from the Jewish community has been positive. Though the group was presently focused on Saturday’s march, organizers also have larger aspirations, Berman said.

“We do have broader goals in terms of how to turn this into something that can empower Jewish activists in the future in every variety of social justice movement, that’s certainly the goal,” she said. “Right now we’re very focused on Saturday — that’s the way that this group came to be, to challenge this narrative on Saturday by establishing a new movement and creating the opportunity for people to come and stand in solidarity.”

Slutwalk Chicago, in reversal, will allow marchers carrying Jewish and Zionist symbols

Demonstrators at a Slutwalk march through downtown Chicago, Sept. 7, 2013. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Slutwalk Chicago will allow marchers carrying Jewish or Zionist symbols after saying earlier they would be banned.

The group, part of an international movement that protests rape culture and slut shaming, in its ban announced this month referred to a decision by the Chicago Dyke March to ask three women carrying rainbow flags featuring white Stars of David to leave.

But a Slutwalk Chicago organizer told Haaretz on Sunday that the group would welcome all participants at the Aug. 12 march who wish to protest rape culture. The organizer, identified as Red, also said the collective needs to make amends to the Jewish community for past actions.

“We are not banning any symbols or any kind of ethnic or heritage flags,” Red told Haaretz following a meeting of organizers to hone their message. “Those are welcome, everyone is welcome to express themselves as they see fit at SlutWalk. And we encourage people to bring signs and symbols that represent fighting sexism, patriarchy, rape culture, and that takes a lot of different forms for different people, and we support them in how they decide to show up for SlutWalk.”

Since a series of tweets reportedly made by the group’s social media team without consulting with the collective, SlutWalk has reached out to the Jewish and Muslim communities in Chicago to show that the event is inclusive and offers a safe space to all participants, Red told Haaretz.

Red said people carrying Israeli flags would not be banned.

“As a feminist person myself, I feel very strongly about Palestinian liberation and radical Jewish resistance,” Red told Haaretz. “I care very deeply about those concerns, but I do think that at SlutWalk Chicago we have some apologizing to do around the confusion with some of our tweets.”

Organizers of the Chicago Dyke March in June told the three women carrying Jewish Pride flags who were asked to leave that the rainbow flags with a white Star of David would be a “trigger,” or traumatic stimulus, for those who found them offensive.

Jewish groups have denounced the banning of the Jewish Pride flags at the lesbian march and called for an apology.

Trump’s Jewish groupies should be nervous

President Donald Trump on April 13. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

The near-messianic belief in President Donald Trump held by certain pro-Israel Jews dates to the campaign, when he seemed an unshakable friend to the Jewish state, especially compared to Hillary Clinton. But the president already has reversed himself on China, North Korea, Syria, Russia and NATO. Trump’s dizzying abandonment of once-unshakable positions raises the question of whether Israel will be the next ally he decides to pass over.

In fact, the Trump administration already has sent mixed signals that should worry hard-line Zionists. During the campaign, Trump firmly supported the West Bank settlement project, but in April he said expanding settlements “does not help advance peace.” His promises to move the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem have been downgraded to getting what Vice President Mike Pence calls “serious consideration.”

Though the many Orthodox and other conservative pro-Israel supporters of the president expect the embassy to move, they should be cautious. The man whose considerable ego is built on dealmaking has called Middle East peace “the ultimate deal” — and that means compromise. In his book “The Art of the Deal,” Trump boasted of aiming very high, but “sometimes I settle for less than I sought.” Another of his principles is to “never get too attached to one deal or one approach.”

West Bank settlers and their financial and political backers in the Diaspora see every one of their positions as inalienable. They will inevitably find any Trump-style deal regarding Israel thoroughly dispiriting.

Those confident that Trump’s commitment to right-skewing positions on Israel won’t share the fate of his promises to stay out of Syria and label China a currency manipulator point to his bedrock Evangelical support and the role of Jewish family members Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Neither is a slam dunk.

So far, evangelicals have followed (the steadfastly pro-life) Trump more than the other way around – most prominently on gay rights. The Family Research Council and similar groups muted their disappointment when Trump didn’t issue an anti-gay executive order and reappointed an Obama administration gay-rights diplomat. Evangelical Zionist fervor could similarly wane should the president waver on Israel.

Regarding Kushner and his wife Ivanka, true believers on the right may be overly enamored with their own extremist belief that anyone with a more accommodating position toward Palestinians is necessarily anti-Israel.

Trump’s Jewish daughter and son-in-law have never identified with the most religiously and politically conservative segments of Orthodox Judaism. The rabbi responsible for the very fact they are a Jewish family is famously on the more accommodating side of Orthodoxy, and three years ago, the school associated with their Upper East Side synagogue invited a prominent Muslim critic of Israel to speak. While the invitation was later rescinded, the controversy would be unthinkable at nearly all other Orthodox schools and congregations.

It’s true that Kushner has been close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for many years, but Netanyahu himself is suspect in right-leaning Zionist quarters for his support of a two-state solution and supposed excessive friendliness with Palestinian leaders. As for settlements, The New York Times says Kushner’s thinking “is not well understood.”

We may be facing a “Nixon goes to China” moment for both Kushner and Trump. That expression refers to President Richard Nixon’s 1972 China trip normalizing relations between the United States and the world’s most populous country At the time, Democrats would suffer political disaster for de-escalating tensions with the communist behemoth. But as a Republican with impeccable anti-communist credentials, Nixon was able to take that bold but important step.

The Likudniks who celebrated Kushner’s appointment as Middle East envoy were reading the wrong tea leaves. What use is a negotiator who could never budge? Trump’s thinking may very well be: if even Kushner is willing to pressure Israel to make concessions on settlements, Jerusalem, and Palestinian sovereignty, the administration will appear to be an honest and fair broker.

As a resident of Jerusalem, dual citizen of the United States and Israel, and center-right Zionist, I pray the administration vigorously defends the security of the State of Israel. But recent world events underscore what I told my pro-Israel friends when I told them I was voting for Clinton. Her pro-Israel credentials may have been suspect, but her stability and predictability were better for America – and, ultimately, Israel – than a president whose positions change radically as he learns on the job and discovers that being a president is a lot harder and less fun than being a candidate.

David Benkof is a columnist for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and, or E-mail him at

Bipartisan bill in House and Senate targets settlement boycotters with fines

Sen. Ben Cardin speaking at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol, Oct. 1, 2015. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

A bipartisan slate of U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill that would extend fines on companies that comply with the Arab League boycott of Israel to those complying with a U.N.-designated boycotts of settlements.

The Israel Anti-Boycott act initiated Thursday in the House of Representatives and the Senate was prompted in part by the call last year of the U.N. Human Rights Council for the creation of a database of companies that deal with Israel entities in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. On Thursday, the council approved a resolution calling on countries to cut ties to settlements.

Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced the compliance bill in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., and Juan Vargas, D-Calif., introduced the measure.

“The United States should bring its foreign policy and its economic institutions, its relationships, and its leverage to bear to combat boycott, divestment, and sanctions actions against Israel,” Cardin, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “We should not stand idle when foreign countries or international governmental organizations use BDS tactics to isolate one of our key allies.”

The bill attaches fines passed in a 1979 law targeting the Arab League boycott of Israel, then in full force. The boycott has since abated in influence, in part because it was criminalized by the United States.

Liberal pro-Israel groups have objected in recent years to similar legislation, arguing that boycotting settlements — an action that some liberal Zionists support — should not be wrapped into broader boycotts of Israel, which most of the Jewish community rejects.

Cardin has argued that the new legislation is not aimed at protecting settlements, but at keeping the Palestinians from forcing Israel’s hand in determining a final-status agreement absent talks.

“We cannot allow these attempts to bypass direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to go unchecked,” he said in his statement.

His release emphasized that the bill includes language that “does not make any U.S. policy statement about Israeli settlements” and “is only about opposing politically-motivated commercial actions aimed at delegitimizing Israel and pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions outside the bounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

The bill comes on the eve of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference. AIPAC has been assisting lawmakers in drafting pro-Israel bills that would attract support from both parties, a rarity in a Washington increasingly polarized by President Donald Trump’s administration. Its activists will lobby for the bills on the last day of the conference, which runs March 26-28.

On Thursday, a bipartisan raft of senators introduced a bill that would target Iran with sanctions on its missile testing and its backing for destabilization in the Middle East, but that avoids sanctions that have been relieved by the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. A similar bill was introduced the same day by Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the minority whip. Hoyer and Royce are scheduled to speak at the conference.

Democrats back the Iran deal, which trades sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, while Republicans oppose it.

Calendar: March 10-16, 2017




cal-casablancaNoah Isenberg and Monika Henreid discuss Isenberg’s new book, “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie.” Its focus is the award-winning film that was released in 1942 featuring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and a memorable supporting cast. Isenberg, a film historian, reveals the myths and realities behind “Casablanca’s” production. Through extensive research and interviews with filmmakers, film critics, family members of the cast and crew, and die-hard fans, Isenberg reveals why the film remains so revered. He also focuses on the major role that refugees from Hitler’s Europe played in the production (many cast members were immigrants). The book is filled with fresh insights into “Casablanca’s” creation, production and legacy. 3 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.



Shalom Hanoch and Moshe Levi perform their final show in the United States. 8 p.m. $100. The Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills.



cal-born-survivorsWendy Holden chronicled the stories of three young mothers who were torn from their families by the Nazis in her powerful book “Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope.” The three women were strangers, but all a few months pregnant and in need of help to keep it a secret from their Nazi captors. Despite the odds, they all defied death to give their children life. Meet one of the Holocaust survivors, Hana Berger Moran. 7:30 p.m. Free; registration required at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 556-3222.



cal-david-wolpeAs the debate over Israel rages on across college campuses and in living rooms throughout the United States, is “Zionist” still a term of support for Israel, or is it now a loaded term? How do younger Americans interpret “Zionism”? Join the Jewish Journal and Hadassah’s Defining Zionism program as we explore how tomorrow’s leaders are thinking about and engaging with the Jewish state, and how their relationship with Israel differs from that of previous generations. Moderated by Sinai Temple Rabbi David Wolpe; Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Sarah Bassin; 30 Years After co-founder Sam Yebri; and Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. 7 p.m. $10 in advance; $15 at the door. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.


How does our Jewish tradition understand the concept and practice of mercy and how do we live up to this ideal, which is one of the highest qualities we look for in a human being? Rabbi Steven Silver will discuss “Catholic and Jewish Concepts of Forgiveness.” After lunch, there will be a screening of “Stolen Summer,” a Project Greenlight film about a young Catholic boy who goes on a quest to help a dying Jewish friend get into heaven. 11 a.m. $14; $12 for members. The Rosenberg Cultural Center at Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 316-8444.


Harkham-GAON Academy (at the Westside Jewish Community Center) is hosting this event for high school juniors and seniors to gain insight into Jewish life opportunities at college campuses across the country. The event will include a panel of experts on Jewish life at college with the opportunity to ask questions. You will also hear about challenges Jewish college students face. 6:30 p.m. Free. Harkham-GAON Academy, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 556-0663.


In response to the recent wave of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers nationwide, and the vandalism at multiple Jewish cemeteries across the country, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles will hold a town hall addressing security issues at Jewish sites. Los Angeles Police Department officials and senior representatives from the FBI will speak. 5 p.m. RSVP required at; no walk-ins. The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles.



cal-FabrizioLelliFabrizio Lelli will discuss the extraordinary spiritual rebirth of contemporary Judaism by comparing it with other intellectually significant phases of Apulian Judaism in the past. Lelli studies the history of Apulian Jewish culture, concentrating on written and oral testimonies of former Jewish refugees who were in transit camps in the region of Apulia. Lelli teaches at the University of Salento in Italy. Sponsored by UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies. 4 p.m. Free. Pre-registration required at or (310) 267-5327. UCLA, 314 Royce Hall, Los Angeles.

Stop celebrating Muslim decency

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri. Feb. 21. Photo by Tom Gannam/REUTERS.

Being congratulated for basic civility is no compliment

Since the recent wave of anti-Semitic bomb threats, vandalism, and cemetery desecrations, journalistic and social media have vocally celebrated condemnations, fund-raising, and volunteer efforts by Muslim groups in an attempt to bolster interfaith cooperation and rehabilitate the reputation of the Islamic community precisely when its very welcome in America is being questioned like never before.

But nobody deserves congratulations for basic decency. Condemning bomb threats and making donations to repair damage from bias crimes is something good people of all backgrounds do. Liberal hoopla over proper Muslim responses to anti-Semitism is no more than a religious riff on the soft bigotry of low expectations. When Muslims go to extraordinary lengths to show they embrace their Jewish neighbors – and they sometimes do – public praise is appropriate. But headlines about Islamic press releases condemning cemetery vandalism send the opposite message – that in normal circumstances Muslims are callous and heartless.

Imagine these headlines:

  • Asian Driver Arrives At Work Without Incident
  • Jamaican Musician Passes Drug Test
  • Black Man Marries His Children’s Mother


While those headlines aim to challenge nasty stereotypes, they actually reinforce their legitimacy.

News stories about broad community efforts to help besieged Jews that contain a sentence “Even the local Muslim community turned out in force” are entirely appropriate. But special congratulations when Muslims act like, well, people are not compliments.

I know how it feels to have my own group celebrated for simple propriety.

As a Zionist, I am perpetually annoyed by hasbara (roughly, propaganda) that celebrates Israeli actions that are only minimally admirable – like an Israeli soldier who shares her sandwich with a starving Palestinian child or an Tel Aviv hospital that provides an impoverished dying Arab woman with free medical care. Yes, I understand that these examples are intended to debunk the idea that Israelis are not decent (although I have yet to see anti-Israel discourse accusing Israelis of withholding sandwiches from orphans). But the very act of highlighting basic decency legitimizes the slander, which is particularly offensive given the many good Israeli actions that are far from just minimally proper.

The people spotlighting Muslim attempts to repair desecrated cemeteries may think they’re rebutting negative stereotypes. But they aren’t. Sorry to say it, but Americans who fear or hate Muslims don’t do so because they think Muslims tolerate vandalism. They do so because they think Muslims tolerate terrorism. These stories will not dent that perception.

Americans are rightly proud of the way its citizens of many groups came together to help one group among them recover in a time of distress – and Muslims should be part of that celebration. But breathless reports that American Muslims aren’t jackasses after all help nobody – including American Muslims.

David Benkof is a columnist for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and, or E-mail him at




McGill student leader doubles down on ‘punch a Zionist today’ message

McGill University. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

A McGill University student leader who advised on Twitter to “punch a Zionist today” is refusing to resign or retract the comment amid rising Jewish anger on campus against him.

Council member Igor Sadikov did not relent at what was described as a “tense” meeting of the student union legislative council on Thursday.

According to witnesses who attended, Sadikov appeared to double down on his stance, arguing that Jews were not a “a legitimate ethnic group,” according to B’nai Brith Canada.

“I have never felt so targeted, disgusted or disappointed in my life,” Jewish McGill student Molly Harris later wrote in a post on Facebook.

Sadikov, who also is active in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, has denied he is anti-Semitic, noting that his father is Jewish and his mother is half-Jewish. He said his original tweet, which he later deleted, was meant to criticize a “political philosophy,” not Jews.

McGill has condemned Sadikov, joining the Jewish groups  B’nai Brith, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The university’s undergraduate arts society formally called on Sadikov to resign and B’nai Brith asked police to investigate whether Sadikov had incited hatred with his tweet.

But the mass condemnation seemed to do little to appease pro-Israel students at McGill, who say they feel increasingly isolated and vulnerable on campus.

At the Thursday meeting, according to reports, council members voted by a wide margin against censuring Sadikov, while a leader of McGill’s BDS group asked why an individual “pro-Zionist” member of the council was not being impeached.

Critics at the meeting charged that council members stayed silent as Sadikov took his stand and also in reaction to the pro-BDS speaker.

McGill’s student union also has the power to impeach Sadikov, but has not moved to do so.

The campus newspaper, The McGill Daily, which Sadikov once served as editor, recently enacted a policy to ban “pro-Zionist” opinion from its pages.

In America, politicians pay for bucking Netanyahu

This article originally appeared at ” target=”_blank”>Sienna Institute Research poll shows her leading Sanders 52 percent to 42 percent, and 60 percent to 38 percent among Jews.

Sanders is up against a powerful voice. Netanyahu has become a force in trying to get American Jews to support his policy of expanding settlements in Israel and taking an increasingly harsh line against Palestinians. He is a great ally of Republicans and a dedicated foe of any American president supporting an acceptable Israel agreement with the Palestinians, going back to the first President Bush and most especially singling out President Barack Obama.

His political team in Israel and in the United States has helped create a network of conservative Jews, mostly on the Republican side, which supports ” target=”_blank”>meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board and was a bit muddy in his answers.

Asked about negotiations with the Palestinians, he said, “I lived in Israel. I have family in Israel. I believe 100 percent not only in Israel’s right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks. But from the United States’ point of view, I think, long-term, we cannot ignore the reality that you have large numbers of Palestinians who are suffering now poverty rates off the charts, unemployment off the charts, Gaza remaining a destroyed area. … [T]here are good people on both sides, and Israel … cannot just simply expand when it wants to expand with more settlements. So I think the United States has got to help work with the Palestinian people as well. I think that is the path toward peace. … If the expansion [of settlements] was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate.”

That all makes sense to Zionists like me, who can’t stand Netanyahu’s persona or his expansionist policies. But Sanders was being interviewed in New York, where the slightest slip means trouble.

And slip he did. Talking of the number of Palestinians killed when the Israelis assaulted Gaza to stop terrorist attacks on Israel, he said, “My recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right? … My understanding is a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I am alone in believing Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”

As he later admitted, Sanders got the numbers wrong. The Intercept wrote that a week after the conclusion of the fighting, the U.N. reported that 2,131 Palestinians had been killed in the Israeli bombardment, ” target=”_blank”>she told the Daily News editorial board, “that I will continue, as I did as senator, as I did as secretary of state, to do anything and everything for their security; that I will continue to speak out against the ” target=”_blank”>J Street, a liberal Jewish organization that favors a two-state solution, he expressed sympathy for innocent Palestinian victims.

That no doubt doomed him with the Netanyahu set. But Clinton, if she wins the nomination and the presidency, will also come up against Netanyahu’s no-compromise insistence on more settlements and more limitations on Palestinian power. And with his perpetual campaigning for support among right-wing Republicans, he probably won’t give up American politics.

In the end, an American president will have to—as Obama has done—remind Netanyahu that he is prime minister of Israel, and that he can’t dictate American policies.

‘Attack a civilian and you’re a terrorist; Attack a soldier and you’re an adversary’

An Israeli member of parliament (MK) triggered a torrent of criticism from fellow politicians in recent days when he refused to label a Palestinian who had stabbed an Israeli soldier as a terrorist. Palestinians could be expected to violently resist foreign military rule just as armed Zionist organizations did when they rose up against the British Mandate prior to Israeli independence, Zouheir Bahloul, the Zionist Union’s only Arab MK (member of Knesset) said.

“The (Irgun), the Lehi, the Haganah – all of these Jewish organizations went out onto the streets to fight against the British Mandate and its soldiers, to make your state – which has become an incredible state – a reality. Why can't the Palestinians do the same?” Bahloul asked during a cultural event held in the historical city of Acre.

Bahloul’s comments came in the context of a discussion regarding Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, 21, a Palestinian who, along with an accomplice, stabbed a soldier in the contested city of Hebron. Sharif was shot during the attack and then subsequently (several minutes later) shot in the head by another soldier as he lay on the ground bleeding. The second soldier, who remains unidentified due to a gag order, is now facing manslaughter charges. Since al-Sharif's was an attack on a military individual, it did not constitute a terrorist act, the Zionist Union MK argued.

He contrasted that with attacks against civilians, including Jewish civilians living in the West Bank. “Anyone who murders someone, cuts short the life of an innocent person or ambushes a family coming home from work, is a terrorist,” Bahloul later said in an interview with Army Radio.

Criticism of Bahloul's comments has been wide-ranging, including from within Bahloul’s own party.

“The Zionist Union’s position is that a terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist, and it does not matter if he intended to kill Jews or Arabs,” Isaac Herzog, the party’s chairman and head of the opposition wrote on Facebook.

MK Nava Boker, from the ruling Likud party, asked that the Knesset Ethics committee suspend Bahloul, accusing him of labelling Israeli soldiers as targets and approving the spilling of their blood.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also joined in the condemnation, describing Bahloul’s comments as “shameful.”

“(Israeli) soldiers protect us with their bodies from bloodthirsty murderers, I expect every citizen of Israel, and especially MKs, to give them full support,” Netanyahu said via Facebook.

Yet despite the considerable criticism from Israeli politicians of every hue, no MK has publically disputed Bahloul’s argument that the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi conducted a violent campaign against the British military and that therefore Palestinians could be expected to use similar tactics. Instead, criticism of the Arab MK has focused on his ‘legitimization of terrorism.’

Bahloul’s point that a distinction should be made between attacks on civilians and attacks on military personnel challenges the current status quo whereby any act of violence against the Israeli army or police is automatically condemned as terrorism.

In the past, however, that distinction was made. 

“The terrorists choose to attack weak and defenseless civilians: old people, women, etc – essentially anyone, except soldiers…Guerilla fighters are not terrorists. They are irregular soldiers who fight against regular army forces and not civilians,” Binyamin Netanyahu wrote in his 1986 book, Terrorism: How the West Can Win.

This is not to say that Palestinian attackers have not targeted civilians, and at times continue to do so. But during the violence of the past six months, there are signs that some ‘lone-wolf’ attackers have chosen to target Israeli police or army personnel rather than softer targets, most notably in the frequent attacks carried out at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, a well-known hotspot flooded with Israeli security personnel.

But if some Palestinian attackers (and it’s by no means all) discriminate between violence against civilians and military personnel, it is not a distinction being made much of by the Israeli media. Most of the country's leading newspapers and TV presenters describe any Palestinian accused of using violence as a terrorist.

Violence was a tool employed by the Haganah, Irgun and Lehi to reach a political goal. The three organizations shared a similar goal, the creation of a Jewish state, but differed in their approach. More radical than the Haganah, the Irgun, whose members advocated attacking the British Mandate forces, became an independent entity in 1931. The even more radical Lehi (derogatorily referred to as the Stern Gang by the British at the time) in turn separated from the Irgun in 1940. Its members disagreed with the Irgun leadership who wished to pause hostilities against the British while the latter fought Nazi Germany.

“The Haganah was very much a mainstream organization that was not particularly keen on attacking civilian targets, even members of the British civil administration,” Ben Mendales, a researcher with the Moshe Dayan Center, told The Media Line. Evidence for this can be seen in the way the Haganah distanced itself from the other two movements after the bombing of the King David Hotel by the Irgun – an attack which killed 91 people, the majority of whom civilians – Mendales said.

Although the actions of the Irgun and Lehi were more radical, Mendales stopped short of designating them terrorists. “I wouldn’t be comfortable saying they were terrorists because it’s a very politically charged and complex issue… it’s a debate which is still being voiced today,” he explained.

The United Nations (UN), the United States and the British government regarded the Irgun as a terrorist organization. Lehi members even referred to themselves as terrorists, publishing in August 1943, “Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes.” The assassination of Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat sent to the region by the UN to mediate between the Arabs and Zionists, and the massacre at Deir Yassin, were seen as two of the more radical actions taken by the Zionists in their struggle for independence. 

Yet despite such actions, these organizations were very much accepted into mainstream society in Israel, their commanders even becoming state leaders. Menachem Begin of the Irgun and Yitzhak Shamir of Lehi both became prime ministers of Israel. And here it could be argued that double standards are being applied.

“The British regarded (Yitzhak Shamir) as a terrorist the same way that we claim every Arab who stabs a soldier is a terrorist,” Yoav Gelber, a professor of history at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told The Media Line. A desire to conduct military operations without incurring a single casualty is causing Israelis to make “hysterical generalizations,” the historian argued.

“Every Palestinian who tries to attack a civilian or a soldier is an enemy, but there are different kinds of enemies: if he attacks a civilian he is a terrorist; if he attacks soldiers he is an adversary on the battlefield,” Gelber concluded.

From left to right, Israelis sour on ‘opportunist’ Donald Trump

He’s crude. He’s blunt. He’s inauthentic. He is not a man of peace.

Left and right, religious and secular, Arab and Jew, Israelis don’t have many kind words for Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner.

In interviews this week, several prominent Israelis described Trump as an opportunist and a demagogue whose political convictions are hard to make out.

“As Israelis, we look at him and laugh a little,” said Ronen Shoval, founder of the hard-line, right-wing Zionist organization Im Tirtzu. “He looks inauthentic. Men in Israel don’t color their hair like that. He looks like he’s had plastic surgery.”

Trump, who was due to speak Monday night at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C., has upset many in the pro-Israel community with his promise to be “neutral” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his questioning of Israel’s commitment to peace.

In response, Trump has pointed to his role as grand marshal of New York’s 2004 Salute to Israel Parade and his Orthodox Jewish daughter and grandchildren as evidence of his pro-Israel bona fides.

According to a poll in February by the Israel Democracy Institute, three-fifths of Israeli Jews said a Trump administration would be friendly to Israel. A survey by the Israeli news website Walla found that Israelis preferred Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton to Trump by a margin of 38 to 23 percent. Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, received 7 percent support, while Republicans Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio received 5 and 4 percent, respectively. Twenty-three percent did not choose a candidate.

Like many Americans concerned by Trump’s apparent encouragement of violence at his rallies and his support among white supremacists, Israelis who spoke to JTA focused more on the candidate’s character than his specific policies.

Some Israelis praised Trump’s willingness to speak bluntly, no matter the consequences. Shoval said Trump reminds him of former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, another plain-talking politician who has drawn accusations of racism for his call to have Israeli Arabs live in a Palestinian state under a future peace deal.

But others worried that Trump’s seemingly off-the-cuff convictions could change once he’s in office.

“There’s a feeling of finally, enough with political correctness, enough with the establishment,” prominent religious Zionist Rabbi Yuval Cherlow told JTA.

“The problem is that there isn’t a feeling you can trust him,” Cherlow said. “You can’t know if he’s going to do what he says. He’s not obligated to anything.”

On the left, Israelis are just as mistrustful — and less enamored by his frankness. Columnist Nahum Barnea has written that Trump is a threat to America’s democratic values and compared him to Oren Hazan, a scandal-plagued Likud lawmaker accused of bringing clients prostitutes and drugs when he managed a casino in Bulgaria.

Speaking to JTA, Barnea said Trump could be dangerous to the U.S.-Israel relationship because he’s less of a known quantity than Clinton and has weaker ties to America’s pro-Israel community.

“I think Trump is unpredictable and unobligated,” Barnea told JTA. “Hillary Clinton is predictable and obligated. The prime minister of Israel will feel comfortable with a president whose actions he can expect.”

According to Shoval, Israelis look for consistency in their ideologues and suggested that Likud voters would prefer Ted Cruz, the arch-conservative Texas senator and Trump’s closest competitor for the Republican nomination.

“Israeli society is very ideological, and Trump is viewed in Israel as an opportunist and not ideological,” Shoval said.

Israeli Arabs appear to be less engaged with the Trump phenomenon than their Jewish neighbors. Nearly half told the Israel Democracy Institute they “didn’t know” whether Trump would be friendly to Israel. Among the some 100 Israeli Arabs polled by Walla in March, a mere 7 percent supported Trump.

“From the perspective of Palestinian citizens who live in Israel, he’ll just make the situation more extreme,” said journalist Ghada Zoabi, who runs the Arab-Israeli news website Bokra. “He won’t take a positive role in leading to peace. He’s not a man of peace. He wants to celebrate the existing conflict.”

Yisrael Friedman, editor of Yated Neeman, a leading haredi Orthodox publication, said haredi Israelis have mostly been ignoring the Trump campaign out of a belief that God — not the president — controls matters of state.

“America seems to have gone crazy,” Friedman said, adding that Trump’s popularity deserves psychiatric examination. But he said only God knows which candidate would be best for the Jews.

“God will play with him like a marionette if he’s elected,” Friedman said. “At this point I’m praying for whatever’s best for the Jewish people. What’s right and good, I don’t know.”

The mufti’s hotel was just ranked the best in the Middle East (yes, that mufti)

This week we learned that the grand mufti of Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea for the Final Solution — or at least that Israel’s prime minister believes that.

But it turns out that Palestinian nationalist Haj Amin al-Husseini was not merely a notorious anti-Zionist and anti-Semite: He was also a talented hotel builder responsible in part for the acclaimed Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem.

The luxury hotel the mufti built — which has since been refurbished considerably and is under new management — was just named top hotel in the Middle East and seventh in the world in the Conde Nast Traveler’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards.

According to the Times of Israel, the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, previously the Palace Hotel, opened in 2014 following a $50 million refurbishment. The original hotel, located in western Jerusalem, near Independence Park, was empty for years, then used for government offices by both the British Mandate and Israel — and then vacant again.

Citing a recent Israeli TV report, the Times of Israel said Israel’s pre-state Haganah planted listening devices in the hotel’s chandeliers to spy on meetings of Britain’s Peel Commission held from late 1936 to mid-1937.

Jerusalem’s Mamilla Hotel and King David Hotel also made the Middle East top 10 list .

According to GoJerusalem, a tourism website, the Palace was built in 1928-29 “under the order of Jerusalem’s Supreme Muslim Council and supervised by the infamous mufti of Jerusalem.”

The engineer supervising the hundreds of Arab workers was Jewish and a Haganah member (facilitating the spying incident later). But, GoJerusalem writes, the Palace didn’t stay in business long:

Due to a hardcore rivalry, much deceit (during the excavation, it was revealed that the site was an old Muslim cemetery – the Mufti covered this up) and a dash of sabotage between the British-appointed Arab mayor and the mufti, the hotel was destined to fail. Management of the hotel was handed over to a local corrupt hotelier, but it was eventually forced to close its doors once the King David opened down the block.

The Iran deal is done: What history should teach us

Thirty-four senators — 32 Democrats plus two Independents who caucus with the Democrats — have come out in favor of the Iran deal, enough to sustain a presidential veto, so approval of the deal with Iran and five American partners is a foregone conclusion. The questions to ask now are what have we learned and how will we go forward?

Permit me to turn to history and to examine Jewish identity in relation to Israel, an identity shaped by age and by history. For Jews in their 80s and 90s, there is the direct recollection of the Holocaust and the overwhelming gratitude that they naturally feel for the establishment of the State of Israel as a haven for the Jewish people, a place of refuge and an insurance policy for oppressed and endangered Jews everywhere.

My generation, which followed these elders, was shaped by the events in Israel of 1967 and 1973, and so, in turn, we created what Jonathan Woocher described in the 1980s as the Judaism of Sacred Survival: remembrance of the Holocaust entwined with a commitment to Israel’s survival. These two elements were central to our being Jewish, whether we were pious or secular, Orthodox or liberal.

The Judaism of Sacred Survival eroded over time. 

For some, the erosion began in 1982 with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon — perceived by many in Israel and in the United States as Israel’s first war of choice — further stained by its bloody and indecisive aftermath. 

For others, the First Intifada changed their perception of Israel from David to Goliath, and raised the Palestinian question to the fore.

For still others, religious Zionists and secular nationalists, a very different segment of Jews in America, the erosion took place in 1993 when the government of Israel established relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization — hitherto Israel’s arch enemy — and it seemed as if Israel might withdraw from areas of the West Bank and compromise the nationalist and messianic dream of the Greater Land of Israel that had fueled them. Some of Israel’s most ardent Jewish-American supporters openly criticized the government of Israel, and a sharp religious division developed between Orthodox Jewish religious Zionists — who were joined later by evangelical Zionists — and more liberal Jews concerned about Israel’s future as both a Jewish and democratic State. Battle lines were drawn, and Israel no longer was a consensus issue for the Jewish-American community. Support for Israel came to be  followed by the question: “What type of Israel?”

For the millennial generation, the experience of Israel has been different, defined by three recent wars — two in Gaza and one in Lebanon, as well as the ongoing battles in the Middle East with and among the Muslim factions of Afghanistan, Iraq, al-Qaida, Syria, Libya and ISIS. More than a dozen years into the crossfire, many of even the most informed American Jews cannot tell you the difference between Shia and Sunni or divide the Muslim populations accordingly. Therefore, many Jews are hesitant about the exercise of military might — American or Israeli — for fear of igniting an even worse outcome, as happened in Iraq.

These various groups of Jews also have major differences in perceptions of Israel. Some perceive Israel as successful and powerful, an economic marvel and a regional military superpower. Others perceive Israel as dependent and vulnerable. They can’t shake the feeling that Jews are always victims, never victors, acted upon in history and not actors in history. The reality is probably that Israel is both. With all its power, Israel has had to confront the limitations of power in each of the post 1967 wars, and with all its pride in Jewish independence, we all live in an interdependent world, and Israel is no exception.

We see the same reality through two very different lenses.

So what have we learned from the Iran deal debate?

It is difficult to defeat the U.S. president on an issue he regards as central to national security. 

Some of us remember how difficult it was to oppose the Vietnam War almost a half century ago. Others will recall the contentious battle and loss in 1981 when Jews attempted to persuade Congress to vote down the newly installed Ronald Reagan administration’s plan (begun by the Jimmy Carter administration) to sell five AWACS (Airborne Warning and Command System) to Saudi Arabia. Still others will note that we still have no congressional action in the war with ISIS. The War Resolution is stalled in Congress, which does not want to assume the responsibility of a vote. Presidential power is significant, and what the U.S. president declares to be in the national interest usually carries the day — this president, any president.

The Israeli prime minister’s speech to Congress failed. 

Invited by Speaker of the House John Boehner, who sought to embarrass the president, at the initiative of Israel’s ambassador to the United States, a former Republican operative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the joint session of Congress made support for the Iran deal — any deal, because at the time the shape of the deal wasn’t known — a partisan issue. The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran only made the issue more partisan, and to date, only two Democratic senators — Charles Schumer (New York) and Robert Menendez (New Jersey) — have come out openly against the deal. Someone misjudged the prime minister’s political strategy. The gamble did not work. So, too, the gambles that preceded it of going partisan in the 2012 elections, and of doing battle with the president early on over what seem like peripheral issues, if Iran is indeed an existential issue.

Today, Jewish organizations, which almost uniformly opposed the deal, have a credibility problem. 

For whom do they speak and what do they represent? One now must wonder whether they speak for the Jews of the United States, who, according to multiple surveys, were far more supportive of the deal than the general American populace, or merely for their membership and older donor base. Have they alienated younger Jews, more liberal Jews? Many may have to recalibrate their message if not their programs.

President Barack Obama’s legacy and the fate of the deal are inextricably linked. 

If the deal works, his judgment will be vindicated. If Iran cheats and develops the bomb, if in that event sanctions cannot be reimposed, or he and/or his successor are unable to engage in strong diplomatic action or effective military action, then Obama’s historical reputation is tarnished and his critics will be correct in regarding him as naïve or as having been taken for a sucker, to use a term that Jewish Journal readers are familiar with. This question provides an important convergence of interest between the president and his critics, and one that should be built upon. Assuming that the president is interested in his historical legacy — and few presidents aren’t — this will be significant leverage going forward.

As to Jews, we have to learn once again how to talk with one another without accusations, and how to fight with one another so that, in the end, we can affirm one another’s fears, values and concerns, even as we vehemently disagree over the potential outcome. Otherwise, a deep divide can grow even deeper. Jews do not speak with one voice. Perhaps we never did, and we may have to learn to harmonize discordant tones.

Now that we have the deal, we have to make it better. Because Jews will face significant problems in the future. It is imperative that we can face them together.

Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at

To those who hear anti-Semitism when it is not there

I’ve learned a new term: “dog whistle.” The term was used by Lee Smith, a political columnist for the online magazine Tablet, who wrote that President Barack Obama was “hinting broadly at anti-Semitic conceits — like dual loyalties, moneyed interests, Jewish lobbies — to scare off Democrats tempted to vote against” the Iran nuclear deal. Obama didn’t say Jews were leading the opposition, but he hinted at a frequency that sensitive ears could hear — he dog whistled.

As someone who has spent his life studying anti-Semitism, you’d think my hearing would be extra-sensitive. But I heard the president’s speech at American University (AU) and heard nothing of the sort. In fact, I heard a man going out of his way to make sure that he had paid attention to the concerns of Israel and American Jewish organizations even as he disagreed with them.

At AU, the president said, “Many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” That is true. Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton suggested that this is an appropriate time to attack Iran — and Bolton is not Jewish. 

The president went on to say, “I do think it is important to acknowledge another more understandable motivation behind the opposition to this deal, or at least skepticism to this deal, and that is a sincere affinity for our friend and ally Israel. An affinity that, as someone who has been a stalwart friend to Israel throughout my career, I deeply share.”

The president went on to say: “No one can blame Israelis for having a deep skepticism about any dealings with a government like Iran’s — which includes leaders who have denied the Holocaust, embrace an ideology of anti-Semitism, facilitate the flow of rockets that are arrayed on Israel’s borders are pointed at Tel Aviv. In such a dangerous neighborhood, Israel has to be vigilant, and it rightly insists that it cannot depend on any other country — even its great friend the United States — for its own security. So we have to take seriously concerns in Israel.”

These certainly don’t sound like the words of an anti-Semite, but rather of a Zionist. These are the words of someone who believes Israel has the right to defend itself, and who has assisted Israel in its self-defense. These words reflect the ethos of Zionism far better than those of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who believes that the president is somehow on the verge of sending Jews to the ovens — as if Israel has no IsraelDefense Forces and is not a strong, secure nation. (After those comments, Huckabee had the audacity to travel to Israel to raise funds.)

In his AU speech, the president attacked the predominance of money in our political life. And when the president said “money,” his opponents heard “Jewish” money — which he did not say — and immediately made the anti-Semitic associations. They heard anti-Semitism. I did not.

But let’s be truthful. Let’s be unapologetic. Jews are powerful. Let us not deny it. It is much better to be powerful than powerless. We are never as powerful as our enemies imagine us to be, nor as powerless as we sometimes see ourselves.

Some Jews, not all and not most, are wealthy, let us not deny it either. It is better to be wealthy than poor.

There is a massive, ongoing lobbying effort against the agreement. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has suspended all staff vacations, amassed a $30 million fund and flown in 700 of its top supporters to oppose the agreement. Full-page ads appear in prominent newspapers — general and Jewish. The prime minister of Israel has spoken to 10,000 American Jews. Israeli officials have been flown in to speak to Jewish audiences. American Jewish organizations are mobilizing significant resources. Are we to pretend that there is not an intense lobbying effort? By calling attention to that lobbying effort, is one somehow saying that lobbying is illegitimate, inappropriate and not within the general practices of American life?

Those who hear dog whistles when they aren’t being blown reflect a deep insecurity about being American, Jewish and pro-Israel. They dread the idea of being accused of dual loyalties—as if all of us don’t live with conflicting loyalties. There is no reason to pretend that many Jews — I wish it were many more — have loyalty to the State of Israel. I certainly do, though my loyalty does not necessarily translate into support for the policies of the government of Israel and its prime minister. These same Jews have loyalty  and pledge allegiance to the United States, the land in which they live and vote. I certainly do. These loyalties are often harmonious. U.S. interests and Israeli interests most often — but not always — coincide; after all, we are allies. The best of U.S. values and the best of Israeli values often coincide; after all, we are both democratic societies committed to human rights and human dignity. When they clash, there is tension, and American Jews are torn. The president has acknowledged the legitimacy of Jewish affinity to Israel time and again. To be torn is not to be treasonous; to be torn is not to be disloyal. 

To my ears, what the president said is not anti-Semitic; it is fact. But opponents of the agreement argue that overriding the veto and embarrassing the president of the United States and making him powerless before the world, isolating Israel and the United States and permitting Iran to get the bomb without violating an agreement, is in the best interest of the United States. So they yell, “Dog whistle!” 

But there is no dog whistle. Israel’s prime minister has chosen, for reasons of his own, to become a political adversary of the president of the United States. The American Jewish establishment, in aligning with him, has pushed itself into a lose-lose situation. If the president’s veto is overturned, most of the sanctions will end; the U.S. and Israel will be isolated; Iran will be unencumbered to develop a nuclear bomb; U.S. leadership in the world will be diminished, which is profoundly dangerous to Israel; and anti-Semites — or those suspected of being anti-Semites, such as “The Israel Lobby” authors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer — will have what they will regard as clear and convincing evidence that Jews control America. Many American Jews — who are more supportive of the deal than the general American populace — will be further alienated from Jewish institutional life.

If the deal goes through, American Jews will have flexed their muscles but still demonstrated that what the president determines to be in U.S. national interest almost always prevails. The American public and the world will discover that the prime minister of Israel does not speak for the Jews, and that Jewish organizations represent their donors, rather than the Jews in whose name they speak.

I would not be concerned with the charges of anti-Semitism, except that they lower the bar beyond recognition. There are real anti-Semites — dangerous anti-Semites — in this world. Jews uniquely understand the history of people who have hated and murdered us just for being Jewish. To say that Barack Obama is an anti-Semite, or even insinuate he hates Jews, dangerously misrepresents the real danger of actual anti-Semites and anti-Semitism.

Michael Berenbaum is professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University. Find his A Jew blog at

Where does Bernie Sanders, the Jewish candidate for president, stand on Israel?

Bernie Sanders’ best friend is a Zionist who teaches Jewish philosophy, he had a formative experience on a kibbutz and “Saturday Night Live” dubbed him the “old Jew.”

Still, Sanders can’t get away from the inevitable “But where is he on Israel?” question, especially now that the Democratic presidential contender, an Independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, has pulled ahead of Hillary Rodham Clinton in New Hampshire, the first primary state.

“Do you view yourself as a Zionist?” the left-leaning online magazine Vox asked Sanders in a July 28 interview.

It’s a funny question for Sanders, who if there were an “out and proud” metric for Jews in politics would score high.

Sanders, 73, is best friends with Richard Sugarman, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the University of Vermont who champions Zionism to his left-leaning students. His other best friend – and former chief of staff – is Huck Gutman, a University of Vermont professor of literature who is a passionate aficionado of the poetry of Yehuda Amichai.

When the comedian Sarah Silverman introduced Sanders at an Aug. 10 rally in Los Angeles, she shunted aside for a moment her caustic Jewish shtick.

“His moral compass and sense of values inspires me,” she said. “He always seems to be on the right side of history.”

Silverman ticked off a list of Sanders’ qualifications that align him with positions that polls show American Jews overwhelmingly favor: for same-sex marriage, for civil rights, against the Iraq war. She might have added favoring universally available health care.

“He is a man of the people,” Silverman said. “He has to be; his name is Bernie.”

Fresh out of the University of Chicago and already deeply involved in left-wing activism, Sanders spent several months in the mid-1960s on a. The Brooklyn-born and accented Sanders has been shaped by the murder of his father’s extended family in the Holocaust.

“As everyone in this room knows, I am a Jew, an old Jew,” actor Fred Armisen said while playing Sanders in a 2013 “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

Sanders’ well-known pique surfaced in June when Diane Rehm, the NPR talk show host, declaratively told him he had dual U.S.-Israel citizenship, citing an anti-Semitic meme circulating on the Internet.

“Well, no, I do not have dual citizenship with Israel,” Sanders said. “I’m an American. I don’t know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period.”

So where does Bernie Sanders stand on Israel? Here’s a review.

He backs Israel, but he believes in spending less on defense assistance to Israel and more on economic assistance in the Middle East.

Is Sanders a Zionist? Here’s what he told Vox’s Ezra Klein:

“A Zionist? What does that mean? Want to define what the word is? Do I think Israel has the right to exist? Yeah, I do. Do I believe that the United States should be playing an even-handed role in terms of its dealings with the Palestinian community in Israel? Absolutely I do.

“Again, I think that you have volatile regions in the world, the Middle East is one of them, and the United States has got to work with other countries around the world to fight for Israel’s security and existence at the same time as we fight for a Palestinian state where the people in that country can enjoy a decent standard of living, which is certainly not the case right now. My long-term hope is that instead of pouring so much military aid into Israel, into Egypt, we can provide more economic aid to help improve the standard of living of the people in that area.”

He will defend Israel to a hostile crowd, but will also fault Israel – and will shout down hecklers.

At a town hall in Cabot, Vermont, during last summer’s Gaza war, a constituent commended Sanders for not signing onto a Senate resolution that solely blamed Hamas for the conflict, but wondered if he would “go further.”

“Has Israel overreacted? Have they bombed U.N. facilities? The answer is yes, and that is terribly, terribly wrong,” Sanders said.

“On the other hand – and there is another hand – you have a situation where Hamas is sending missiles into Israel – a fact – and you know where some of those missiles are coming from. They’re coming from populated areas; that’s a fact. Hamas is using money that came into Gaza for construction purposes – and God knows they need roads and all the things that they need – and used some of that money to build these very sophisticated tunnels into Israel for military purposes.”

Hecklers interrupted, some shouting epithets.

“Excuse me, shut up, you don’t have the microphone,” Sanders said. “You asked the question, I’m answering it. This is called democracy. I am answering a question and I do not want to be disturbed.”

His critical but supportive posture on Israel has been consistent and has included using assistance as leverage.

As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1988, Sanders was asked if he backed then-candidate for president Jesse Jackson’s support for the Palestinians during the first intifada. Sanders excoriated what he depicted as Israeli brutality as well as Arab extremism.

“What is going on in the Middle East right now is obviously a tragedy, there’s no question about it. The sight of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms and legs of Arabs is reprehensible. The idea of Israel closing down towns and sealing them off is unacceptable,” he said at a news conference, according to video unearthed by Alternet writer Zaid Jilani. “You have had a crisis there for 30 years, you have had people at war for 30 years, you have a situation with some Arab countries where there are still some Arab leadership calling for the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of Israeli citizens.”

Sanders said the United States should exercise the prerogative it has as an economic power.

“We are pouring billions of dollars in arms into Arab countries. We have the clout to demand they and Israel, who we’re also heavily financing, to begin to sit down and work out a sensible solution to the problem which would guarantee the existence of the State of Israel and which would also protect Palestinian rights,” he said.

He doesn’t think the Iran nuclear deal is perfect, but he backs it.

“It’s so easy to be critical of an agreement which is not perfect,” he told CBS News on Aug. 7. “But the United States has to negotiate with, you know, other countries. We have to negotiate with Iran. And the alternative of not reaching an agreement, you know what it is? It’s war. Do we really want another war, a war with Iran? An asymmetrical warfare that will take place all over this world, threatening American troops? So I think we go as far as we possibly can in trying to give peace a chance, if you like. Trying to see if this agreement will work. And I will support it.”

What it’s like to be an Iranian Jew

Time was, you could claim to be a patriotic Iranian, a supporter of Israel and a lover of the United States all at once and be believed by most Iranians. You could say you were all three things without pretense or contradiction, or the need to rank your loyalties in order of intensity, or to distinguish between your support for Israel as a nation, as opposed to any one of its governments. That’s what we thought anyway, we Jewish Iranians whose ancestors had lived in Iran for 3,000 years. 

The mullahs had always said differently — that Jews were not “real” Iranians; that our existence was a threat to the rest of the nation; that we had lain in wait for a millennium and a half for the Arabs to come and convert most Iranians to Islam, only so we could use the blood of Muslim children in the baking of matzahs. 

The mullahs said this, and the large majority of Muslim Iranians believed them. Then, somewhere between the late 1920s, when Reza Shah’s government began to protect us against the mullahs and their troops of believers, and late in 1978, when his son, Mohammad Reza Shah, was forced out of the country, Jewish Iranians were allowed to be both things at once, in equal degrees, and to be patriotic Iranians as well as supporters of Israel. 

Then the mullahs returned, and unless we actively denounced Israel and claimed support for the Palestinian cause, we all became Zionist spies, a fifth column in Iran whose only goal was to enslave and humiliate God-fearing Muslim Arabs. You could be a Jew who despised Israel, or you could be an enemy of God, Islam and Iran. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said this, and the large majority of Muslim Iranians believed him. Never mind the age-old enmity between Iranians and Arabs, Shia and Sunni; the collective Iranian memory of conquering Arab armies laying waste to any signs of civilization; the stereotype of the “insect-eating Arab” as primitive and intellectually challenged. When it came to the matter of a bunch of Jews getting the best of a sea of Muslims, just about every Iranian mullah became a human rights lawyer.

Khomeini said a lot of things that a lot of Muslim Iranians believed. So did — do — his political heirs. Many of those original believers have greatly benefited from the mullahs’ regime over the years and continue to support it today. Others have come to realize that they were duped. Whether still in Iran or living abroad, they distrust just about every claim made by the mullahs. Except, I’m afraid, what has to do with Israel and Zionism. 

My Muslim Iranian friends will take offense at this narrative or reject its veracity outright. They’ll tell you that Persian culture is among the most tolerant, accepting and enlightened in history. They’ll be right. That to be moved by the plight of the Palestinian people or outraged by the acts of the Israeli government is not the same as being anti-Semitic. That loving Iran and its people does not mean condoning the policies and practices of its current regime. That prejudice and fanaticism are not the sole domain of Muslims. They’ll be right. 

But try, as I have, to explain to these same highly educated, vastly tolerant, otherwise broad-minded Muslim Iranians that the same truths apply to Jewish Iranians, their loyalties and priorities and, these days, their reasons for mainly disapproving of the Iran deal. Try to do that, and what you’ll get is the same old “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” diatribe that George W. Bush and former-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were both so fond of. 

Not that it’s of any consequence anywhere, but I happen to think that the Iran deal is a very bad idea whose time has come. By this I mean that I believe it will strengthen the Iranian regime and enable it to continue to oppress the Iranian nation and terrorize everyone else in the region and around the globe; that I do not believe, for a second, that the mullahs will stop pursuing the bomb for the next 10 years or ever; that until Islam goes through a reformation as did Christianity, there is no such thing — really — as a “moderate” mullah, or a “tolerant” regime based on any religion, or a government of the mullahs that will not use Jews and Israel as a rallying cry for its armies of believers. 

But the United States needs Iran to fight ISIS; the multinational companies and their allies within Western government are champing at the bit to tap the billions of dollars worth of trade they will be able to conduct with Iran after the sanctions are lifted; that Europe, Russia and China will most likely abandon the United States should it decide to push for a better deal; and that President Barack Obama, whose foreign policy has been nonexistent, has left himself and his government no choice but to move ahead with this deal. 

I don’t like it, but I don’t see how it can be avoided. Fortunately for me and the rest of the planet, I don’t have to vote yes or no on this one. I just get to say how I feel, which, as my friends like to say, is likely to alienate both sides of the argument.

Most Muslim Iranians I know vehemently support the deal. They say they do so because they love Iran and the Iranian people, that the only alternative to this deal is war, which they don’t want, and that it’s also a good deal for the United States. I believe they’re honest in their reasoning and their intentions. I don’t think their support of the deal makes them in any way anti-Semitic. I don’t think it factors into the equation either Israel’s interests or, alas, the harm Israel may suffer as a result of the deal. In this one case, I believe they’re pro-Iran and Israel-neutral. 

Most Jewish Iranians, on the other hand, vehemently oppose it. The reasons they offer are very similar to mine: It’s bad for Americans, for Israelis, for Jews anywhere within reach of the Iranian regime, and for Iranians anywhere who would like a real alternative to what the mullahs have had to offer. 

The fact that my Muslim friends disagree with me doesn’t bother me. I happen to think they’re indulging in some heavy doses of wishful thinking, just as so many of them did when they helped overthrow the shah and invite in the mullahs. Then again, they may be right about this one. And they’re certainly entitled to being wrong.

What is painful for me and, I dare say, many other Jewish Iranians, is the Muslims’ seemingly visceral, absolute, and unquestioning certainty that we oppose the deal because we’re any less Iranian. 

In this iteration, Jewish Iranians have always placed the interests of Israel above those of Iran and the Iranian nation. Most Jews left Iran after the revolution, they say, because they weren’t really Iranian in the first place; didn’t have much of an attachment to the place anyway; their love and loyalty is to Israel and only Israel, not even to the United States, where most of them now live; they’d easily trade the lives of millions of Americans and Iranians in a war, even a nuclear one, if it were good for Israel. 

Well, my Muslim friends, I’m here to say that on the question of Iranian Jews, you’ve been wrong in the past and are wrong now. My ancestors were loyal, ardent and productive subjects of the Persian Empire and lovers of the Persian culture long before Islam came to destroy the one and try to erase the other. They were not — as the mullahs claimed after they threw anchor in Iran — spies, guests or simply “not real Iranians.” They maintained their love for the country even as they were humiliated, oppressed, beaten and even killed by some Muslim Iranians. In 1978 and thereafter, they left Iran for the very same reasons that Muslim Iranians left — because they were afraid for their lives or loathe to be subjects of the mullahs. Their departure doesn’t prove that they didn’t, or don’t now, love the country and its people. Their being given safe harbor in America, Israel or Europe does mean that their allegiance is now first and foremost to their adopted country, its flag and its constitution. That doesn’t make them anti-Iran. Or pro-Benjamin Netanyahu. Or war mongers. It makes them good citizens of the nation that gave them safe harbor when their own people were calling for their heads. 

As for the Iran deal, the only thing Jewish Iranians’ dislike of it proves is that they have a better sense of history than most American legislators, and that they may engage in less wishful thinking than most Muslim Iranians. 

Then again, this is not simply an argument about one policy or another. For Jews still in Iran, Muslim Iranians’ opinion of how “real” the Jews are can be a matter of life and death. For the rest of us Jews — as for the Iranians who escaped persecution, the Iraqis, Egyptians, Syrians and other Arabs who were driven out by force — it’s an open wound that bleeds every time we have to “prove” that we belonged.

Gina Nahai’s new novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Theodore Bikel, actor, singer and activist, 91

Theodore Bikel, folk singer, actor, liberal activist, Zionist and multilinguist, died of natural causes July 21 at the UCLA Medical Center. He was 91.

Nicknamed Theo, Bikel was born in 1924 in Vienna and, as a 14-year-old in 1938, watched as Nazi troops march into his hometown upon Germany’s annexation of Austria. Soon afterward, the family moved to Palestine, where young Bikel spent the next few years working on a kibbutz. He began acting as a teenager, moving to London in 1945 to study dramatic art, and to the United States in 1954.

[Bikel on what wisdom he would pass on to the next generation]

Considered one of the most versatile actors of his generation, Bikel originated the role of Capt. Georg von Trapp in the original Broadway production of “The Sound of Music.” But the performer may be best remembered as the definitive Tevye the Milkman, polishing the role during 2,200 performances of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

As a versatile and multilingual movie actor who had more than 150 roles on the silver screen, he was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor, playing a Southern sheriff in “The Defiant Ones.”

He performed in hundreds of television shows, ranging from “Gunsmoke” to “All in the Family,” and was in more than 35 stage productions around the world.

As an ardent political and Zionist activist, Bikel served as senior vice president of the American Jewish Congress, and held leadership roles in the Democratic Party, Amnesty International and was the president of Actors Equity from 1973 to 1982. He was an early and powerful advocate for Soviet Jews, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights era, and was active in the anti-apartheid movement against the South African government.

In his 2002 autobiography, “Theo: An Autobiography,” Bikel wrote that not returning to Israel from London in 1948 was the hardest moral decision of his life. “A few of my contemporaries regarded what I did as a character flaw, if not a downright act of desertion,” Bikel wrote. “In me, there remains a small, still voice, that asks where I can ever fully acquit myself in my own mind.”

A few years later, in 2010, Bikel signed on to a letter that expressed support for Israeli actors, directors and producers who refused to perform in Ariel, an Israeli urban settlement in the West Bank. “I think I am more Zionist than anyone who thinks you should accept everything they say in Jerusalem as truth,” Bikel said at the time in an interview with the Forward.

He gloried most in the his role as a folksinger, telling the Jewish Journal in an extended interview in late 2013 that he was proudest of “presenting the songs of my people, songs of pain and songs of hope.”

Shortly after the interview, the one-time refugee returned to Vienna at the invitation of the Austrian parliament to accept the country’s highest honor in the arts. As a finale, Bikel asked the distinguished audience to rise, as he sang “The Song of the Partisans” in Yiddish. He also sang and recorded songs in Hebrew, Russian and Ladino.

Bikel never stopped working, touring film festivals that screened the 2014 documentary “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem,” on which he was the executive producer.

As news broke Tuesday of Bikel’s death, local friends of Bikel’s in Hollywood, politics and Jewish life extended their condolences. Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime supervisor in L.A. County, and, like Bikel, a former outspoken advocate for Soviet Jewry, wrote in a statement that Bikel was one of his “personal heroes.” 

“I have known Theo since 1970 when I was a college student,” Yaroslavsky wrote. “He was one of my personal heroes. The times I spent with him are among the most memorable of my life. The world has lost one of its great humanitarians, and I have lost one of my greatest friends.”

Musician Craig Taubman was another of the actor’s longtime friends.

“I sat with Theo the other day and asked him what it was that made art so powerful,” he told the Journal. “He said, ‘Through the prism of art we become what we were meant to be, spiritual human beings. Souls untied from the heaviness of the body.’ Theo is untied by the heaviness of his body — may his art live on as a gift for generations to come.”

Actor Ed Asner, who used to run the Screen Actors Guild, previously said about Bikel: “To be with him is to be in the presence of greatness.”

For his tombstone, Bikel told a Journal interviewer, he planned the inscription, “He Was the Singer of His People” — in Yiddish.

Survivors include his wife, Aimee, sons Rob and Danny, stepsons Zeev and Noam Ginsburg, and three grandchildren.

Donations may be made to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger or to The Actors Fund.


“Theo Bikel was a giant when it comes to Yiddish and Yiddish song. My earliest memories are of my parents playing his Yiddish folk songs albums in the house. He graciously leveraged his celebrity to support Yiddish, and it was his Yiddish “neshome” which informed his mentshlikhkayt. We were lucky to have him – and even luckier as a community that he chose to make Los Angeles his home.”

Why are liberals bashing Michael Oren?

After interviewing former ambassador Michael Oren last week at the Museum of Tolerance, and reading countless articles attacking him, I think I’ve figured out why his new book, “Ally,” has struck such a sensitive nerve, especially with pro-Obama liberal Zionists.

In case you’ve been on Mars lately, Oren has been under relentless attack for his candid and sharp criticism of President Barack Obama and his policies, which he believes have hurt Israel. As his friend Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in the Times of Israel, “Michael has been called everything from a publicity hound to a virtual traitor sacrificing Israel’s relations with its most important ally for the sole purpose of selling books.”

What is disappointing is that much of the criticism has little to do with the main thrust of the book, which is Obama’s record on Israel and the Middle East. Why is that?  .

After all, it’s not as if liberal Zionists who support Obama can’t handle criticism of their president – they live with that all the time. What is it about Oren’s particular criticism that has made so many of them so defensive?

The candid analysis in “Ally” serves as a cautionary tale for all future leaders and activists who care about the two-state solution.

It’s not just what you’re hearing — that the Obama administration and its supporters are concerned that Oren’s criticism of the Iranian nuclear deal will undermine final negotiations. That is a part of it, but there’s more.

Think about it. What is the crown jewel of liberal Zionist aspirations? What is the one thing they crave above all else that will secure a Jewish and democratic Israel? That’s right, the two-state solution.

Oren’s book is threatening to liberal Zionists because it makes a compelling case that their hero Obama has severely undermined the very thing they crave – negotiations towards a two-state solution.

With the sharp eye of a historian, Oren explains how, in Obama’s zeal to create diplomatic “daylight” with Israel while reaching out to the Arab/Muslim world, Obama brought terminal darkness to the peace process.

By making Israeli settlements the major obstacle to peace, Obama ignored fundamental obstacles such as chronic Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state and the teaching of Jew-hatred in Palestinian society. By pressuring only Israel — the one party that has, in the past, evacuated settlements and made peace offers that got rejected — he gave Palestinian leadership zero incentive to negotiate, let alone make any concessions.

While Prime Minister Netanyahu’s grating style and bunker mentality certainly didn’t help matters, Oren reminds us that, despite opposition from his own party, Netanyahu declared support for a two-state solution and implemented a settlement freeze that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called “unprecedented.” In any case, once Obama launched his “pressure only Israel” policy at the beginning of his term, the die of failure was cast.

From the get-go, Obama’s approach turned off the majority of Israelis and made them unwilling to take more risks for peace. In one of the crucial insights of his book, Oren notes that Israelis take risks when they feel secure there is no daylight with America, and that having no daylight on military security but plenty of daylight on diplomacy simply doesn’t work in the Middle East.

The irony, of course, is that Obama’s obsession with pressuring Israel ended up killing the incentive for both sides to negotiate. This is not a personal criticism of Obama, it’s an anatomy of a failure. Even if you believe that the president was motivated by “tough love” for Israel, it’s hard not to conclude that his policy resulted in one big failure for both sides.

This is a painful pill for many liberal Zionists to swallow, especially when delivered by a reputable historian and longtime champion of the two-state solution. Oren’s credible voice has forced his critics to confront the unpleasant possibility that it was their man Obama – and not the hated Netanyahu – who failed them the most on a cause they so cherish.

The candid analysis in “Ally” serves as a cautionary tale for all future leaders and activists who care about the two-state solution. Instead of demonizing Oren, his critics should engage him on the substance. For starters, a good debate coming out of his book would be this: Who is most responsible for the failure of the peace process — Obama, Netanyahu or Abbas?

Right now, because most of the attention is on the endgame negotiations with Iran, it’s easy to overlook the sorry saga of the failed negotiations with the Palestinians. But this is an issue that will not go away. If you want to better understand the hysterical reaction to Oren’s book, his analysis of this saga is a good place to start.

Oren had the chutzpah to tell diehard Obama supporters something they never wanted to hear, and, in return, he got weapons of mass distraction.

Watch the full event: A Special Evening with Michael Oren

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

Torn between two loves: A review of Michael Oren’s new book

A plate of cheese and crackers served to hungry Israeli officials at the White House is one of the many images that lingered after I read Michael Oren’s riveting new book, “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide.” The book is an insider account of Oren’s tenure as the Israeli ambassador to the United States during an especially stormy time from 2009 to 2013. Those storms are sure to get most of the attention, but it would be a mistake to overlook the first part of the book, a condensed autobiography that plants the seeds for a crucial theme that hovers above the entire book.

That theme is dual loyalty.

In modern parlance, “dual loyalty” is usually used as a pejorative, an accusation that an American Jew may feel more loyalty to Israel than to the United States.

The astonishing thing about Oren’s book is that he has, to a certain extent, redeemed the term. The “dual loyalty” the reader feels in “Ally” is not tinged by the poison of betrayal. Rather, it is imbued with a sense of generosity, a sense that an American with an Israeli passport can genuinely love both countries deeply, even when those countries quarrel. 

Loyalty is a charged term, because it implies one must choose, and Oren certainly “chooses” Israel the minute he gives up his U.S. passport, as is required by law to become a foreign envoy. But it is a wrenching moment for him, as he believes in that U.S. passport — “in the history it symbolized, the values it proclaimed.”

Oren is aware of the nation’s darker legacies, but that does not make him less sentimental about America: “My eyes still misted during the national anthem, brightened at the sight of Manhattan’s skyline, and marveled at the Rockies from thirty-five thousand feet.”

His love for America is filled with gratitude. “From the time that all four of my grandparents arrived on Ellis Island, through the Great Depression, in which they raised my parents, and the farm-bound community in which I grew up, America held out the chance to excel. True, prejudice was prevalent, but so, too, was our ability to fight it. Unreservedly, I referred to Americans as ‘we.’ ”

Oren’s gratitude is deepened by his own personal struggles: “Overweight and so pigeon-toed that I had to wear an excruciating leg brace at night, I was hopeless at sports. And severe learning disabilities consigned me to the ‘dumb’ classes at school, where I failed to grasp elementary math and learn to write legibly.”

Driven to succeed, Oren fought to overcome these obstacles, forging himself into an athlete, teaching himself grammar and spelling, learning to write poetry and eventually attending Ivy League schools. “All the hallmarks of an American success became mine,” he acknowledges, “thanks in part to uniquely American opportunities.”

His love for Israel sprouted as his success in America grew. As early as age 12, he had a keen sense of history, “an awareness that I was not just a lone Jew living in late 1960s America, but part of a global Jewish collective stretching back millennia.”

If America made him strong, the thought of Israel made him stronger. When he made aliyah in 1979, Oren drew upon the inner fortitude he had developed in America to overcome the enormous physical challenge of becoming a paratrooper in the Israeli military. 

There was no contradiction between his two loves. In meetings of the Zionist youth movement, he often heard the famous words of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court Justice: “Every American Jew who supported Zionism was a better American for doing so.”

The United States and Israel, Oren came to appreciate, “were both democracies, both freedom-loving, and similarly determined to defend their independence. One could be — in fact, should be — a Zionist as well as a patriotic American, because the two countries stood for identical ideals.”

As an author, professor and historian living in Israel, Oren could indulge in the idealized marriage of Zionism and America that so nourished his childhood. The relationship between the two countries was so organic that he never felt he had to choose — choosing one meant choosing both.

That luxury was gone when he became ambassador.

This is the real drama of Oren’s book: watching him navigate the innumerable conflicts between the country he loves and represents and the country he loves but cannot represent. At the outset, Oren acknowledges that “the two countries had changed markedly and were in danger of drifting apart,” but he believed he could “help prevent that by representing Jerusalem to Washington as well as Israel to the United States.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone better prepared for the task.

From the minute he put on his “armor,” the crises came and never let up, from the unyielding Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the existential threat of a nuclear Iran. Inevitably, the character that looms largest in the whole drama is President Barack Obama.

The book gives us a blow-by-blow of a turbulent relationship between friends, with Oren at the heart of the drama. A big part of the book’s appeal is in its narrative texture — the late-night phone calls, the emergency meetings, the interrupted family trips, the tense summons at the State Department or White House, the strategy sessions at the embassy, and so on. It is Oren's sharp storytelling mixed with his candid and insightful commentary that makes the book riveting.

While always respectful when speaking about Obama, Oren is also too honest and too knowledgeable to let the president off the hook whenever he thinks he is mistaken, which is often. The tension builds when these mistakes are seen as hurting the country Oren is sworn to protect. Oren is relentless and crafty in making Israel’s case, but he’s up against an indomitable force: The most powerful man in the world has decided to put distance, or “daylight,” between America and Israel.

Oren’s problem is not with America, but with Obama — and he proceeds to show us how Obama’s distancing policy has come to hurt Israel.

Oren recounts, for example, the infamous “daylight meeting” with Jewish leaders at the White House, when Obama disagreed with Malcolm Hoenlein’s contention that “Israelis took risks only when they were convinced that the United States stood with them.” 

Oren explains how Obama “recalled the eight years when Bush backed Israel unequivocally but never produced peace,” and then he delivers the president’s knockout punch: “When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines and that erodes our credibility with the Arabs.”

This view has always appeared reasonable to a large segment of American Jews, especially those who favor Obama and disliked Bush. But Oren punches back.

First, he corrects Obama’s assertion that Israel just sits on the sidelines when there’s no daylight: “Bush’s support for Israel had, in fact, emboldened [Ehud] Olmert to propose establishing a Palestinian state — an offer ignored by Mahmoud Abbas.”

Then, he delivers a knockout punch of his own. He’s grateful for Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security, but in the Middle East, Oren writes, security is largely a product of impressions. Seen in that context, Obama’s approach of “no daylight on security but daylight on diplomacy” leaves Israel vulnerable and reduces its power of deterrence. “A friend who stands by his friends on some issues but not others is, in Middle Eastern eyes, not really a friend. In a region famous for its unforgiving sun, any daylight is searing.”

The daylight was certainly blinding on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Emboldened by his soaring popularity at the beginning of his first term, Obama laid down the law and set up conditions to peace talks that even the Palestinians had never insisted upon: a complete freeze of all Jewish construction in the West Bank, including even Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and all natural growth, something no Israeli leader could accept.

Oren is relentless and crafty in making Israel’s case, but he’s up against an indomitable force: The most powerful man in the world has decided to put “daylight” between America and Israel.

That draconian demand essentially paralyzed the peace process and set the Obama-Netanyahu relationship on a collision course from which it never recovered. Oh, sure, there were the occasional charm offensives and make-up sessions, but they were mostly a front. As Oren’s narrative makes clear, Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu were fundamentally at odds over how to approach the Palestinian conflict.

This section is perhaps the least interesting in the book, if for no other reason than the politics feel like Groundhog Day and are entirely predictable. The minute Obama decided to pressure only Israel, the die was cast. Abbas and his cohorts could continue naming stadiums after terrorists, cleaning Israel’s clock in international forums, and sitting back and enjoying the show of two historic allies going at it.

Things got so tenuous that when Abbas called Obama’s bluff and sought a Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlements, Obama, desperate not to exercise his veto power, offered to endorse the Palestinian position on the 1967 lines, altering more than 40 years of American policy. The book’s revelation of this sneaky maneuver is getting a lot of media attention, but everyone seems to be missing an essential fact: Abbas still said no.

A vexing low point in the ongoing saga with Obama is the night Israeli officials were left alone and hungry at the White House while Obama and Netanyahu were off in a private meeting. No food was served until someone asked, and then a White House employee brought a plate of cheese and crackers, which Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak proceeded to devour.

I’m not quite sure why something so small and silly made an impression on me – maybe there's something about Jews and food – but Oren brought it up and it stuck.

In any event, all the battling and squabbling between Obama and Netanyahu were small potatoes compared to their division on the existential issue of Iran's nuclear program. “Rarely in modern history have nations faced genuine existential threats,” Oren writes, quoting a piece he wrote in Commentary. “Israel uniquely confronted many potential cataclysms on a daily basis. Three of them, alone, were posed by Iran’s nuclear program.”

First, he writes, there is Iran’s attempt to produce a bomb that it could place atop one of the many missiles it already possesses and which could hit any city in Israel. Second, there is Iran’s status as the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism — meaning that if Iran got the bomb, so would the terrorists. And, last, once Iran acquired nuclear capabilities, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would obtain them as well, locking Israel into a fatally unstable neighborhood.

Oren is at his best dissecting the disagreement over Iran, candidly cutting through the public front extolling the common U.S. and Israeli goals of preventing a nuclear Iran. “Behind this outward confluence of policies,” he writes, “yawned several chasms.”

The first chasm is structural: “America, a very large and supremely armed country located far from the Middle East and not threatened by national annihilation by Iran, could afford to take chances on the nuclear issue that tiny and less-powerful Israel, situated in Iran’s backyard and slated by its rulers for destruction, could not.”

The second is conceptual: “While Netanyahu doubted that Iran would concede its nuclear program without first enduring crippling sanctions and confronting a serious military threat, Obama remained committed to the principle of engagement, in the hope that Iran could one day ‘rejoin the community of nations.’ ”

But nothing separated Washington and Jerusalem more than the possibility of military action. In one of the juicier reveals in the book, Oren quotes Barak telling his American counterparts: “One night of strategic bombing will restore all your lost prestige in the Middle East. The Iranian nightmare is a full-blown American attack.” The American response was silence.

If the Palestinian issue had a farcical and cynical sheen, the Iranian issue had a tragic one that tested Oren unlike any other: “It wedged me between a prime minister who believed it his historic duty to defend Israel against an imminent mortal threat and a president who saw that same danger as less lethal, less pressing, and still addressable through diplomacy.”

Oren diligently chronicles the tortured, interminable dance between Obama and Netanyahu on the Iranian issue, one that still awaits a final act. But there is also a fascinating dance between Oren and his boss, Netanyahu, flowing through the book. 

“Ever mindful of the opportunity he gave me to achieve a lifelong dream,” Oren writes, “I liked Netanyahu, but I never became his friend. Rendered suspicious by years of political treacheries, he appeared not to cultivate or even need friendships. … And yet, I still empathized with his loneliness, a leader of a country that had little respect for rank and often less for those who wore it … [who] presided over unremitting crises, domestic and foreign, that would break most normal men.”

Oren says he gave his boss loyalty and honesty, including “advice he did not always relish hearing.” Oren’s approach, which was more conciliatory, especially toward Washington, “ran counter to Netanyahu’s personality — part commando, part politico, and thoroughly predatory.”

In one of the most telling passages of the book, Oren writes about a “most difficult” truth he could never bring himself to tell his boss: “He had much in common with Obama. Both men were left-handed, both believed in the power of oratory and that they were the smartest men in the room. Both were loners, adverse to hasty decision making and susceptible to a strong woman’s advice. And both saw themselves in transformative historical roles.”

It’s a mark of Oren’s affinity for both countries that he’s able to see the similarities in the quarreling leaders. One way of looking at Oren’s journey across the American-Israeli divide is that he did all he could to stop two great allies from drifting apart. “Preserving the alliance remained my paramount priority,” he writes.

Oren is sharply critical of some Jewish journalists in America, many of whom he feels hold Israel to a double standard and overdose on criticism of the Jewish state. Maybe that’s why  he published regularly during his tenure, including an unapologetic article in Foreign Policy magazine, titled “The Ultimate Ally.” This is it how it opens:

“What is the definition of an American ally? On an ideological level, an ally is a country that shares America’s values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people’s beliefs. Tactically, an ally stands with the United States through multiple conflicts and promotes its global vision. From its location at one strategic crossroads, an ally enhances American intelligence and defense capabilities, and provides ports and training for U.S. forces. Its army is formidable and unequivocally loyal to its democratic government. An ally helps secure America’s borders and assists in saving American lives on and off the battlefield. And an ally stimulates the U.S. economy through trade, technological innovation, and job creation.

“Few countries fit this description, but Israel is certainly one of them.”

This may help to explain how Oren was able to navigate the sharp conflicts between the two countries he so loves — he didn’t see the relationship as a one-way street. He saw America’s value to Israel, yes, but he also saw Israel’s value to America.

As a historian, too, Oren understands that leaders come and go; that no leader, however powerful, is bigger than a country or its ideals.  Leaders may damage relationships and interests, but they don’t damage values. Oren was deeply loyal to his beloved Israel, but he was also deeply loyal to the enduring values of his beloved America. 

That is how he gave dual loyalty a good name.

Michael Oren’s “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide” will be released by Random House on June 23. David Suissa will interview Oren onstage at the Museum of Tolerance on July 1 at 7 p.m. Free. Oren will also speak at the Richard Nixon Foundation in Yorba Linda on July 2 at 7 p.m.

A settler’s Nakba

Dispatches From Judea and Samaria: first in a series

How does a passionate, religious Zionist who is also committed to Israel-Palestinian reconciliation and dialogue deal with nakba, the Arabic term for the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the founding of Israel?

On one hand, I feel no guilt whatsoever over the displacement of more than a half-million Palestinians during our War of Independence. I have no doubts about the justice of the Jews’ return to our historic national land, as promised throughout the Torah and dreamt about by generations of Jews. Yes, the events of the 1948-49 war were indeed tragic — for both sides. But they occurred in the context of a war — a war started by the Arab states, lest anyone need reminding, and they occurred alongside another human tragedy similar in kind and scope: The destruction of millennia-old Jewish communities across the Arab world.

Furthermore, the whole proposition of nakba is problematic insofar as it sets up Israel’s creation as a zero-sum game: Israeli independence as a disaster for the Palestinians. When Palestinians say the “disaster” of 1948, they do not mean the disaster caused by a series of poor decisions made by Arab leaders to attack the nascent state, or the years of abuse Palestinian refugees have suffered at their hands ever since. Good for Israel equals bad for Palestine and vice versa.

WATCH: Palestinian activist Ali Abu Awad and West Bank settler Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger tell their stories of personal transformation.


That construct leaves little room for connection or relationships between Zionists and Palestinians, and no room for me. For all Israel’s faults, I think Israel has done a pretty good job in the areas of democracy, economic advancement and even human rights, an area in which Israel is routinely singled out for criticism. I am proud of our accomplishments over the past 67 years, made in the face of difficult circumstances, and make no apologies for living here.

I am proud of our accomplishments over the past 67 years, made in the face of difficult circumstances, and make no apologies for living here.

But in recent years, I’ve left that discussion behind. As I’ve built relationships with Palestinians, I’ve tried hard to replace the traditional Israel-Palestinian discussion — justification, accusation, debate, argumentation — with a new conversation, one based on empathy, connections, relationships. In contrast to my previous attempts to reach out to Palestinians, over the past year I have made good friends on the other side of the separation wall, individuals with whom I share values, hopes and fears, and especially a love of this land.

What, then, is the right way for an unapologetic religious Zionist — and a settler to boot — to balance the unmitigated joy I feel over the return of our people to the Land of Israel with the Palestinian experience of May 14, especially if just two weeks ago I asked my Palestinian friends to share in my celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut?

My friend Ali Abu Awwad does not describe the events of 1948 with his mind. He describes them with his eyes.

Although 15 years have passed since he dedicated his life to reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians (that transformation happened after he was shot by a settler in 2001, a month before his brother was killed during an oral altercation with an Israel Defense Forces soldier at the height of the Second Intifada), Abu Awwad’s description of his years as a rock- and Molotov cocktail-throwing activist during the First Intifada conveys the heat and intensity of his teenage hatred for everything Israel.

But that sense of fury is absent when the topic of conversation moves to his father’s departure from al-Qubayba, a village of about 1,200 people near the present-day Israeli town of Lachish, where Ali’s grandfather served as imam. Instead, he talks about the events of 1948 with a tangible sense of personal history and a wistful sense of deep longing for the family home that was destroyed long before he was born in 1972.

“My dad was about 22 at the time, and they walked from there to Tarkumiyeh, near where the military checkpoint is today, a distance of about 10 miles. They thought they would be gone for only a few days, but they realized quickly that they couldn’t go back. After a few weeks, they moved farther toward Hebron, and eventually settled in Beit Ummar, near where the bodies of the three yeshiva students were discovered last year,” he says.

“[To many people], accept[ing[ the term nakba is not only to accept the fact, but is also to accept the notion of who was guilty. Therefore, even to mention the word nakba as part of the Jewish vocabulary is basically to accept a narrative that undermines the legitimacy of the State of Israel to exist,” says Rabbi Donniel Hartman.

That is a tough mental barrier to get around, but an essential one if we are to reset the rules of engagement between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s birth was not synonymous with disaster for the Palestinians, but by opening up to Palestinians’ collective memory, we pave a two-way path for Palestinians to create receptiveness toward our celebration of our return to the Land of Israel.

Palestinian activist Ali Abu Awad and West Bank settler Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger will tell their stories of personal transformation at Pico Union Project on May 28 at 7:30 p.m. Free. For more information, visit

Andrew Friedman is a member of Shorashim/Judur, a grass-roots movement of local Israelis and Palestinians creating relationships and friendships in Judea and Samaria, as well as of the Interfaith Encounter Forum.

Hezbollah sees Yemen strikes causing more Mideast tension

Hezbollah condemned as “unjust aggression” Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen on Thursday and said it takes the region towards increased tension.

The Shi'ite group, which is backed by Iran, also called on Saudi Arabia and its allies to immediately and unconditionally halt the strikes.

“This adventure, (which) lacks wisdom and legal and legitimate justification and which is led by Saudi Arabia, is taking the region towards increased tension and dangers for the future and the present of the region,” its statement said.

“We see that this aggression secures American interests and offers a great favor for the Zionist enemy,” it said, a reference to Israel.