Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The vaccine "joke" and those sensitive Jews

 It's Pavlovian. Someone makes an inaccurate, out-of-context, stereotypical comment about Israel or Jews. Jews react, condemning the comment as false, feeding anti-Semitism, being anti-Semitic, and coming from an anti-Semite.

The defenders of the comment or commenter then respond that the Jews are using anti-Semitism to protect Israel, that not every critique of Israel is anti-Semitic, that Jews are trying to stifle legitimate debate, that Jews are too sensitive, that Jews exploit the Holocaust, and on and on.

The pattern is so common, it is tiresome. And we are now seeing it repeated in the case of Michael Che's "joke" on SNL that since Israel has vaccinated half of its population, it is only vaccinating Jews.

The point is not whether Che is anti-Semitic or even whether the “joke” was anti-Semitic. The questions are whether it is true, fair in the context of the situation, and whether, given the history of bigotry and persecution of Jews, it unnecessarily contributes to the atmosphere that encourages prejudice against Jews and violence against Jews and Jewish institutions.

Critiquing Israel is fine. Israelis and Jews do it all the time. However, a one-off joke about Jews keeping a vaccine only for themselves, with no background, no context, and devoid of any truth is not, given Jewish history and current threats, a critique.

And the joke did not appear out of nowhere. The joke would not have been made, and SNL viewers would not have had any reference point, if the audience had not been subjected to weeks of misinformation and unfair allegations against Israel for the alleged sin of not providing vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.  In short, it was the natural outcome of a sustained campaign of lies, the types of lies that have led to injury and death to Jews in the past.

Israel is vaccinating all of its citizens regardless of religion or ethnic or national background. This includes the almost two million Israeli citizens who are Arab/Palestinian.  This is unremarkable because all Israelis are covered equally by Israel's universal health care system.

What prompted the “joke” was undoubtedly the unfair and unjustified charges that Israel is not providing the vaccine to the West Bank and Gaza.  The "joke" was  neither funny nor accurate.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Erekat Chose Israel?

 Israelis who advocate for a more equal society and better relations between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens often point to Israel’s health system as a model of how things should work.

Arabs make up only a fifth of Israel’s population, but represent half the country’s pharmacists, a quarter of its nurses and just under a fifth of its doctors.  Arab doctors lead departments in some of the country’s top hospitals, and nurses and other health care providers play key roles in the Israel’s health delivery system.  Several of the experts frequently cited during the current pandemic are Israeli Arabs, including a leading virologist.

When you visit an Israeli hospital you see a micro-society of dedicated staff working together without regard to ethnic group or religious beliefs.  And you see a patient population that reflects the broad diversity of Israel’s population: Arab and Jew, black and white, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, religious and non-religious.

It’s a potpourri of the sick and injured. There have been times when a terrorist has received treatment in the room next to or on the same floor as a victim of terror.

This “we don’t care who you are, we’re going to take care of you” extends to our Palestinian neighbors, despite ongoing tension, violence, and terror.  For years, as Hamas, which controls Gaza, digs tunnels meant to be used to infiltrate and to inflict violence, as they shoot missiles at Israel’s civilian communities, and as they call for our destruction, Gazans cross the border and are driven to Israeli hospitals for care.  Many who have received Israeli health care would have died without it.  Some come regularly for ongoing treatment for an illness or condition.

Gazans coming for treatment must go through a border checkpoint. The check can be intrusive, uncomfortable, and lengthy.  There have been incidents when the delay caused someone to get worse or die or for a pregnant woman not to get the immediate care she needed.  Israel takes a P.R. beating when that happens.

But there have been occasions when a supposedly ill person is carrying a knife or when a pregnant woman has a bomb buried underneath her clothing.   Then there was the time a Palestinian woman was filmed telling a doctor that she was grateful that Israelis had saved her baby son and that she would be proud if he were to grow up to be a “martyr” as a suicide bomber.  Go figure.    

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Who Is It Good For?

 It is now far beyond policy disagreements. It is beyond rudeness, crudeness, anti-democratic behavior, even racism. It is even beyond reckless pronouncements that lead to the death and illness of thousands of people.

Large, crowded gatherings on the White House lawn without masks. Indoor receptions without masks and social distancing. Attending a debate and having your entire party refuse to wear masks. Attending a fundraiser knowing that you have been exposed and could very well have the virus.

This is unconscionable, irresponsible behavior that predictably led the President and many others in the White House and in key positions, including vital military positions, to become infected with Covid-19.

But it goes beyond that. Once infected, the President knowingly and intentionally endangered Secret Service personnel by taking a totally unnecessary joyride while a patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, all for the purpose of being photographed waving at some fans from an airtight vehicle.

Then he left the hospital, when still obviously seriously ill, and returned to the White House, again needlessly endangering staff. In a display that would have made Pinochet or Mussolini salivate, his breathing lumbered, he gave his followers exactly the wrong message: Do not be afraid of covid, do not take it seriously, a mask is not essential. He dramatically ripped off his mask, and walked inside.

Still contagious, he has returned to “work” in the Oval Office, endangering whatever staff not already ill. He said he intended to attend the next debate, and now says that he will only participate if it is in person. We do not know for certain whether the President is contagious because he will not disclose when he last tested negative for the disease.

Combining my law degree with 20 years of faithful viewing of Law and Order, I conclude that it is quite possible that a case could be made, either civilly or criminally, that this kind of behavior amounts to reckless or negligent infliction of harm or endangerment or reckless or negligent homicide. Possibly both civil and criminal actions. (continue at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com)

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Five Norwegians and the Inventor of Dynamite

 A former colleague recently wrote to me:

“My family has been having a big debate about Trump’s work on these peace deals in the Middle East.  I mentioned that I was confident that you still don’t consider Trump a friend to Israel and would not be voting for him.  My siblings want to know why.  No matter what he does it doesn’t change who he is, which in my mind is a very bad man with no morals or ethics.

I was hoping you wouldn’t mind giving me some insight on these peace deals and if you still feel Trump is not a friend to Israel.  I thought maybe you would blog about that as well as Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Oh my gosh I can’t believe how divided our country is even in my own family.”

Here is my answer, with some additions and modifications:

I’ve sometimes wondered why so much prestige is attached to the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize awarded by a committee of five Norwegians, population 5.4 million, and named after a guy who invented dynamite and who donated money for a peace prize after reading a premature obituary that criticized him for making money as an arms dealer.

Not helping me feel warm and fuzzy about the award is the fact that the International Red Cross has won the award three times, including in 1944, in the midst of its arguably willing impotence in the face of the Holocaust and after its complicity in the whitewashing of the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

That recognition was arguably topped with awarding (and never revoking) the award to Yasser Arafat, the man who made modern terrorism successful and popular.

The final straw was granting the award to President Obama at the outset of his presidency.  Not that he did anything to tarnish the award.  The problem is that he hadn’t  yet done anything.  He had barely found the White House bathrooms when the call came.

It was somewhat similar to when my kids gave me a shirt proclaiming me “World’s Greatest Saba (Grandpa)” before my first grandchild was born.  It was on a whim and prayer.  But at least I had bounced some nephews and nieces on my knees, giving some hint that I might someday deserve the honor.  No prize money, however.

So when a far-right Norwegian parliament member nominated President Trump to receive the award, my response was a chuckle and a yawn.  Hey, why not?  It will be good for SNL and Colbert. 

 (To continue, https://www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com/2020/09/a-former-colleague-recently-wrote-to-me.html)   

Five Norwegians and the Inventor of Dynamite

 A former colleague recently wrote to me:

“My family has been having a big debate about Trump’s work on these peace deals in the Middle East.  I mentioned that I was confident that you still don’t consider Trump a friend to Israel and would not be voting for him.  My siblings want to know why.  No matter what he does it doesn’t change who he is, which in my mind is a very bad man with no morals or ethics.

I was hoping you wouldn’t mind giving me some insight on these peace deals and if you still feel Trump is not a friend to Israel.  I thought maybe you would blog about that as well as Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Oh my gosh I can’t believe how divided our country is even in my own family.”

Here is my answer, with some additions and modifications:

I’ve sometimes wondered why so much prestige is attached to the Nobel Peace Prize, a prize awarded by a committee of five Norwegians, population 5.4 million, and named after a guy who invented dynamite and who donated money for a peace prize after reading a premature obituary that criticized him for making money as an arms dealer.

Not helping me feel warm and fuzzy about the award is the fact that the International Red Cross has won the award three times, including in 1944, in the midst of its arguably willing impotence in the face of the Holocaust and after its complicity in the whitewashing of the Theresienstadt Ghetto.

That recognition was arguably topped with awarding (and never revoking) the award to Yasser Arafat, the man who made modern terrorism successful and popular.

The final straw was granting the award to President Obama at the outset of his presidency.  Not that he did anything to tarnish the award.  The problem is that he hadn’t  yet done anything.  He had barely found the White House bathrooms when the call came.

It was somewhat similar to when my kids gave me a shirt proclaiming me “World’s Greatest Saba (Grandpa)” before my first grandchild was born.  It was on a whim and prayer.  But at least I had bounced some nephews and nieces on my knees, giving some hint that I might someday deserve the honor.  No prize money, however.

So when a far-right Norwegian parliament member nominated President Trump to receive the award, my response was a chuckle and a yawn.  Hey, why not?  It will be good for SNL and Colbert. 

 (To continue, https://www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com/2020/09/a-former-colleague-recently-wrote-to-me.html)   

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Boots On The Ground

It’s time for Americans and, in particular, American Jews, to be very alarmed about the state of American democracy.

Yes, I am an alarmist. However, we will never know how many bad things have been thwarted by sounding the alarm and taking action. Alarmists always look like, well, alarmists, if they are effective.

Many democracies do not become stunted or destroyed by revolutions, violent or peaceful. Many destroyed democracies are the result of incremental steps, the drip. . .drip. . .drip. . .and then knee-deep water.

Many dictatorships or near-dictatorships or quasi-democracies maintain the trappings and look of a democracy—legislatures, distinguished-looking, robe-wearing judges, a “free” but cowered or kowtowing press, etc. etc.

The U.S. has been experiencing the dripping destruction of major democratic norms for several years now.

The hallmarks have occurred largely in public view. The targeting of minorities and immigrants. The personal demonization of opponents. The firing of independent inspectors charged with exposing unethical and illegal conduct.

The dismissal and perp walk of loyal citizens who have provided testimony under oath, and the punishment of a family member (in this case, coincidentally but poignantly, two immigrants and two Jews among the targets). Commuting prison sentences for those who protect you by withholding testimony or by lying.

Members of Congress ceding traditional powers of inquiry and authority that prior generations of legislators would have guarded and utilized with enthusiasm. Congressional members and other leaders, educated and seemingly thoughtful people, rationalizing, denying, diverting.

Anne Applebaum, has spent most of her career exploring why most people go along with left-wing dictators (her book Iron Curtain, The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-56, is a masterpiece). She recently wrote an insightful and haunting essay in The Atlantic about why Republican leaders have abandoned their principles.

Others have recently written about the demise or death of democracies. The tell-tale signs are vividly on the American landscape today. There is no camouflage.

But just this last week the dripping changed.  Democracy, if not drowning, is choking and grasping for air. What is it that set off the alarms for this alarmist?

Portland, Oregon. Unidentified, camouflaged, fully-armed, battle-ready federal officers, there against the wishes of local officials and the Governor, pulling people off the streets and throwing them into unidentified vehicles, ostensibly “for questioning.”

It is irrelevant whether or not the “interviewees” were guilty of an offense or not. It is even irrelevant whether they were violent or not. It is irrelevant whether these people hold the most obnoxious, even dangerous, political views, or that I likely would not like these protestors or their politics or tactics.

The oft-quoted Martin Niemoller put it eloquently: “First they came for the. . . .And by that time no one was left to speak for me.”

It turns out that the unidentified, fully-armed, camouflaged federal officers are employees of the Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security, leading Applebaum to question on Twitter what they were doing there.

Plain and simple, this is not, or was not, how “policing” is done in America. In fact, this is not policing. It is the tool of intimidation and suppression and repression of dictatorships, of fascists and would-be fascists.

I generally reject comparisons to the Holocaust, which was unique in its horror and its targeting of one people for complete annihilation. But, sadly and frighteningly, unidentified state actors acting like hoods as they throw people into unmarked vehicles should strike a chord with anyone familiar with the behavior of Nazis in the 1930’s and ‘40’s.

For Jews, this shouldn’t be a drip. It should be a flood.  For conservatives, the sight of the federal government, over local objections, extending its long and unidentified hands, should be repugnant.

But “Trump is the best president for Israel we’ve ever had,” say about 20 or 25% of American Jews. I have long said that we should acknowledge and express appreciation when President Trump does something we like, such as recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.  However, one can argue the real-life benefits for the average Israeli of such actions against the real-life costs of America’s withdrawal from the world, of an inconsistent and sometimes incoherent foreign policy, and of greenlighting of further Russian involvement in the Middle East, particularly in Syria.

What Israel needs more than any particular American position is an America that is strong, respected, healthy, united, unabashedly supportive of democracies, and persuasive to other countries. Sadly, that clearly is not the United States of America under President Trump.
In short, Americans, alarmist or not, should be very, very alarmed. Jews who know their history should be at the forefront of the alarmists. The drip. . .drip. . .drip of a democracy under jeopardy has become a torrent.

                                           ------------------------------------------------

It is ironic that this latest assault on America’s democratic norms should come at the same time as Congressman John Lewis’ death. Lewis was one of the great champions of human rights and civil rights, as well as a great believer in friendship and connection between Jews and African-Americans. When asked why he refused to participate in Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March in 1995, he reportedly said that Farrakhan’s statements were “divisive and bigoted” and that he, Lewis, “followed his conscience, not his complexion.”

                                              ---------------------------------------------

It is unfortunately telling that the Trump Administration’s use of the tactics of dictatorial regimes should come at the same time that Secretary of State Pompeo asserts that the United States should limit the human rights it advocates for on the international stage.

(Originally published in the Times of Israel)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Uncomfortable Times for American Zionists



As one of the 75% of Israelis who do not support unilateral annexation,  I share the concern expressed by many American supporters who oppose annexation.  But where Israelis and many American Jewish Zionists seem to part ways is basing their perception of and connection with Israel based solely on annexation and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
There is no question that annexation, or the extension of sovereignty, is a very serious step to be taken unilaterally, with potential consequences for Israel’s security, demographics, diplomatic relations, democracy, and future as a Jewish state. However, there are credible voices that argue that, given the Palestinians’ long-time rejection of various proposals, and their inability to unify into one government, it is time to upset the apple cart and create our own future, whatever that may be.
Einat Wilf, a former member of the Knesset from the Labor Party, argues that Israel is in the final stages of the long process of establishing its borders and, while the road may get a bit bumpy, the sky is not falling.
One of the challenges is that, for as crucial an issue as annexation is, all but Prime Minister Netanyahu and perhaps a few other people know what it will amount to.  Are we debating annexing the Jordan Valley and every community and settlement in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) as imagined in the Trump proposal as the starting point for negotiations that would also include a Palestinian state?
Or are we debating a couple of suburban neighborhoods contiguous or nearly contiguous to Jerusalem? Or are we talking about establishing the Jordan Valley as our security border?
It is a serious subject with much different ramifications depending upon what is actually done.  And, yet, we will apparently not know exactly what it is until just before or after it has gone through a tortured negotiation process with the Trump Administration and Netanyahu’s coalition partners and, of course, through Netanyahu’s political calculations.
For a facts and figures on what likely scenarios would entail, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East policy provides a some very good outlines of how territory and people would be impacted.
American supporters of Israel are rightly confused and concerned.  So are many Israelis.  But where Israelis and many American supporters of Israel part company is seeing this issue as the end-all and be-all of Israel.
(continue at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com)