Sunday, June 19, 2016
My wife and I returned to Israel late Monday afternoon after a two month stay in the U.S. It was not an easy trip—two stops, 23 hours, a cancelled leg, lost luggage. But, as always, it felt good to be back.
Friends were visiting from California. So, despite our fatigue, we hit the ground running. Other than vegetating for a few days, what better way to recuperate from the ordeal that is today’s air transportation system than to introduce good friends to some of the fun and beauty of Jerusalem that the standard touring may have skipped over?
Yemin Moshe, drinks on the King David patio, Machane Yehuda, Café Itamar at Moshav Ora, the Israel Museum. A good time.
And one reminder of what it has taken to defend and build this Jewish home in this inhospitable neighborhood: Mt. Herzl. Our friends, and we, were moved as we walked through row after row of the graves of young people who died so that Jews might live freely in their own country.
The poignant finale: an elderly couple walking up to and bending down, readying to light a candle beside a grave stone in which the year 1982, along with a few details, was etched. The thought of that couple making that walk and lighting that candle for 34 long years is one very good way to put the irritations and complaints of daily life in the Jewish Homeland in perspective.
It was now Thursday afternoon. I asked our friends, who are members of our Conservative synagogue back in Sacramento, if they would like to join us for a different kind of Israeli experience. The main worship area of the Western Wall, the Kotel, has basically become an Orthodox synagogue controlled by the Orthodox rabbinate. All religious practice at the holiest site in Judaism is controlled by one segment of world Jewry.
Per their practice, men and women must worship separately. Those who disagree with this practice and wish to worship as they believe, i.e. Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Jews, are relegated to a distinct section called the Robinson’s Arch area, the entrance to which is through an archaeological center and not through the entrance to the Kotel.
The message is clear: You are not accepted. Yours is not a legitimate expression of Judaism. Ours is the only authentic Jewish practice. Sending that message is not a mistake. The powers-that-be openly express this belief in their many pronouncements over the issue.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
Was it sincere outrage and indignation and concern for the country? Or was it typical cynical political grandstanding and exploitation?
Democrats have expressed outrage at Donald Trump's demagogic, myopic, and racist statements about Mexican Americans and Muslims. They've protested his tasteless, misogynistic attacks on women. They've bemoaned the fact that he, with the active participation of some of his Republican primary rivals, has taken the presidential campaign down to all-time lows.
They've been right to do so. I joined them in doing so.
The Democrats called on Republicans to join them and to refuse to support such a man as the nominee of their party. They've been right to so.
Some Republicans--not enough--have refused to support Trump, even if it means a Democrat wins the White House. Most of those Republicans have attributed their position to their lack of faith in Trump's conservative bona fides and to his crassness. A very few--not nearly enough--have attributed their position to Trump's racism and misogyny.
We have seen what is important to Republicans. Standing up against hate? Taking a principled stand? Being truly concerned about the nation? Or party unity? Winning the presidency at any cost? Stopping a candidate they seem to hate with a vengeance?
Now the Democrats face a similar test.
Saturday, November 14, 2015
All decent people mourn the death and destruction caused by the terrorists in Friday’s attacks in Paris. French President Hollande has identified the attackers as ISIS. These are truly evil people.
The Washington Post of Nov. 13 reports: 'According to reports, Hollande declared there that France was "going to lead a war," presumably against Islamist militants. He said his country's response would be "ruthless."' President Obama and other world leaders are offering their full sympathy and support.
This is in sharp contrast to the response when Israelis and Jews are the victims of terror. I am waiting for the U.S. State Department, the UN, and the EU to call on all parties to "exercise restraint" to end "the cycle of violence," to not use “excessive force” in responding, and to not use “disproportionate force.”
This is their usual mantra when Jews are killed in Israel and the territories due to terror. Are Jewish lives worth less than the lives lost in the terrible attack in France? Does not the murder of Jews by terrorists deserve the same response that Pres. Hollande now calls for?
When the Western world advocates a different response to terror by Palestinians because it somehow believes the Palestinians' alleged grievances are credible, or because the victims are Israelis or Jews, it gives a green light to terror elsewhere. In ISIS' thinking, its grievances are every bit as legitimate as those of the Palestinians, if not more so.
If terror is justified or excused, or if the victims are admonished to limit their response because of the alleged legitimacy of the attackers' grievance, terror becomes a legitimate tool for any allegedly aggrieved party.
Trying to pick and choose when terror is a legitimate tool is counterproductive and self-defeating. Excusing it or trying to mitigate the victims' response when the victims are Jews but not in other instances, demonstrates bigotry and immorality.
(Originally published in The Times of Israel)
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Thursday, November 12, 2015
The European Union moved forward today with its requirement that Israeli goods made in areas captured in the 1967 Six Day War be labeled as coming from the territories rather than from Israel. There is any number of valid reasons supporting the argument that this requirement is unfair, counterproductive, discriminatory, and anti-peace.
Knowing that these very good arguments will not convince the Europeans, who have created a sub-culture and cottage industry out of their disproportionate compassion for the “plight of the poor Palestinians” while demonizing Israel as the world’s worst oppressor, I suggest that Israeli manufacturers include the following along with the EU label requirements:
“Made by [company name] by [number of employees] making an average of [wages] per hour, [_X_] times more than the average wage in the territories, with health benefits, pension, [any other benefits], which are equal to the wages and benefits paid to Israeli employees at the company.”
The label should include a picture of one of the Palestinian employees and his family with a caption:
“[Name of employee] and his family, [names of family members in picture]. Employed [____] years. Annual salary: ________, plus benefits.”
With no faith that the valid arguments against the EU labeling requirement will convince any European, but with a habitual dedication to making rational arguments, I offer mine in addition to my proposed labeling language:
--Did the EU ask about opinions of the Palestinian workers who will lose their jobs if the labeling achieves its intended result, which are the boycott of goods and the closing of the Jewish-owned facilities? Does anyone over in Europe think that the people whose livelihoods could be at stake have a legitimate thought on the matter?
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Alan, I have a serious question that I would like to have your opinion on. Netanyahu is quoted as saying the Holocaust was not Hitler’s idea. As a Jew, I want to support Israel. I want to believe that Israel’s problems stem from individuals and groups that are vehemently anti-Zionist. But I keep hearing stories about Netanyahu’s recalcitrance to consider any reasonable peace plan and I hear so much about how non-Jews are treated poorly in Israel, that I have to question what is really going on over there. This statement by Netanyahu [regarding the Mufti and Hitler] has me wondering if he is not teetering on the edge of paranoia. What’s up with this guy?
My response, with edits:
Wow, Joe. That’s a lot of ground to cover. To really do it justice, we ought to get together for lunch when I am back in Sacramento. In the meantime, I will give it a shot.
These are very complicated issues, with lots of history and context. Most people draw their conclusions from reading the NY Times and watching CNN. I understand why, but that does not do it justice.
You and every Jew have every right to be very proud of Israel. Yes, it has many, many problems. (Find me a country that doesn’t.) But when you consider history, neighborhood, composition, threats, this place is really unbelievable.
About 8.3 million people. About one million people from the former Soviet Union, not people steeped in democracy. Millions of people or the children of people from Arab nations. Not steeped in democracy, plus many are understandably bitter about their treatment in the Arab nations and when they first arrived here. About 21% (1.7 million) of the population is Arab/Palestinian, many with torn, ambivalent feelings about their place in society.
We have bigotry, fear, racism, threats, terrorists, Iran nukes, children going off to war on a regular basis. And, yet, we have a fully functioning democracy (with problems, of course). Free press; an activist, independent court; people (Arab Knesset members) standing up in the Knesset saying things that if similar things were said in Congress, would cause them to be run out of the country as traitors; gay rights, minority rights, women’s rights, etc. etc.
Yes, we have our bigots and racists, but we have myriad of people and organizations standing up and fighting for a free press, against racism and bigotry, and for peace.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Today American citizens are exercising a cherished American right. Many members of AIPAC are flying into D.C. to lobby their members of Congress to vote against the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran. I applaud them. They are engaging in an activity at the heart of America’s greatness: the right of any citizen to directly speak to and to try to persuade their representatives.
From both my former profession as a lobbyist in California and from my many years as a pro-Israel activist, I have known some members of Congress for many years. Even though I could not be there in person, I decided to join my fellow American citizens in lobbying members of Congress. I thought I could provide a personal perspective of an American now living in Israel, someone with a foot in each country.
And so I wrote personal letters to a few Democratic Congressional members and I asked my colleagues in the U.S. to deliver the letters when they visit the members. Of course, like any professional, I ignored much of the advice I gave clients for 30 years: be brief, stick to the talking points. I did follow some of my advice: I am polite, and I am clear about what I am asking for: A NO vote.
With some brief introductory, personal sentences omitted, here’s my letter:
My wife Dana and I have the privilege of being citizens of both the United States and Israel, and we live part of each year in Sacramento and Jerusalem. I am writing to you from Jerusalem, where I can tell you that the Iranian nuclear deal is on the minds of many if not most people.
Firstly, I would like to say just how much we appreciate your longtime friendship with, and support of, the Jewish community and Israel. You have been a true and loyal friend, and I know your feelings are heartfelt. I know that asking you to vote against a major foreign policy initiative of President Obama is a huge request, and I know that you will very seriously consider the impact of the agreement on the safety and the future of Israelis and Americans.
I know several associates of mine who are your constituents will be visiting with you or your staff to explain their opposition to the agreement. I know from my communications with them that I share the reasons they will express for opposing the agreement. I wanted to add or emphasize a few points that are especially concerning or upsetting to me, perhaps because of the perspective I have gained from living a good part of the last five years in Israel.
Ironically, my first major concern has little or nothing to do with Israel, Iran, or nuclear arms. It is a concern borne out of my being a lawyer and out of having watched the erosion of Congressional power vis-à-vis Presidential power over the last 45 years. It has to do with the Constitution and checks-and-balances.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Our friend Shimon Re’em was being honored last Wednesday night by the City of Haifa for his contributions over a lifetime to the city and the area. An educator by profession, Shimon has spent a very active retirement educating citizens, particularly young people, about the Haifa area prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the early years, with an emphasis on the resistance to the British.
I wasn’t looking forward to the traffic and to driving up to Haifa and back to Jerusalem in one evening. But it isn’t often that a family friend of 25-plus years is honored, so off we went. We left Jerusalem about 3:15, planning to beat some traffic and to arrive early enough to grab dinner on the Carmel in Haifa.
About 5:00, we drove into one of the rest stop/gas station/coffee shop places along Highway 6. It’s Israel’s version of the Eastern U.S.’ old Howard Johnson stops. No one will mistake them for a desert oasis. Not looking forward to my usual frustration using a U.S. credit card at an Israeli gas pump, I treated myself to the full service pumps.
A young man strolled over, took my card, and went to work. “Where you from?” he asked in decent accented English.
Sensing he was not really interested in my usual “We live part of the year in Jerusalem, part in Sacramento, I sold my business early so that I could pursue Herzl’s dream,” I simply replied, “California.”
To which he inquired “You Jewish?”
Not totally surprised by the question, I replied “Yes.” Then I got a little surprise. His answer: “Well, then, this is your home. Welcome.”
Feeling I knew the answer but sensing a door had been opened a bit, I asked: “Thank you. And you?”
“I’m Arab.” Then, looking like he felt I might need some clarification, he added “I am an Israeli Arab.”
Me: “So this is your home too?”