Tuesday, June 16, 2015

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT

I've been having an exchange of letters with President Rivlin and his representative about the recent controversy related to the proposed B'nai Mitzvah service, which was originally supposed to be led by a Conservative rabbi.  Here is the correspondence:

Dear President Rivlin:

In 2010 my wife and I made Aliyah from Sacramento, California.  We now live on Rehov Harlap, within 100 meters of Beit HaNasi.  I gave up a highly successful business in Sacramento, and we left our family and friends in California to live in our homeland, Israel.  Our youngest child, our daughter, also made Aliyah around the same time.   We sold our 300 meter suburban home and the three of us now live in a 50 meter apartment that is three flights up with no elevator.

Prior to making Aliyah I was President of Sacramento’s Conservative (Masorti) synagogue.  My wife had been President of the local Jewish Federation.  We were both active supporters of AIPAC and were active in many other ways in the Jewish and pro-Israel communities.  No one in either the Jewish or the general community ever questioned our Jewishness.  No one ever considered us other than first-class and full Jews.

But here in Israel, because I am a Conservative/Masorti Jew, I am treated as less than a first-class, full Jew.  My movement is treated differently than the Orthodox movement.  My rabbi cannot preside at the wedding of my daughter.  I am constantly told that I am less of Jew.  Despite my commitment and my sacrifice, my Judaism is questioned.

Your recent refusal to host a B’nai Mitzvah ceremony with a Conservative/Masorti rabbi is a painful, bitter disappointment to me.  Since you became President, I have admired your work to reach out to Israeli minority citizens and to encourage all Israelis to feel equal and included.  But to me, a committed Jew, you joined the rest of the established powers and said “No, you are not completely included as part of the Jewish people in Israel.  Because you are a Conservative Jew, you are not equal.”  Your message is a terrible blow.  When you should have continued to lead toward an inclusive, equal, tolerant Israel, you instead reinforced an unequal, exclusive, painful Judaism in Israel.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DEAR MR. SARGEANT

Yesterday I received a letter via e-mail from Michael Sargeant, the Executive Director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Mr. Sargeant explained to me how important, indeed, “critical,” it is to elect Democrats in the 2016 election, and he asked me to sign up to support the effort.
Here is the response I sent to Mr. Sargeant:
Dear Mr. Sargeant:
I am writing in response to your e-mail on behalf of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, in which you asked me to sign up to join the fight to elect Democrats in 2016. Unfortunately, I must decline at this time. I would like to explain why.
I voted for President Obama in the 2008 California primaries and in the general election. I was a lifelong Democrat until a few years ago. At that time I re-registered as a Decline-to-State. I did so in protest of President Obama’s actions and policies toward Israel. I felt that he had misrepresented that he would be a strong supporter of Israel. Here is the letter I wrote to the President at the time.
I acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the Administration has supplied key military equipment to Israel (other than when it briefly suspended such shipments in last summer’s war) and that he has been a backstop at the UN and other world bodies. However, in the general diplomatic sphere and in public statements and positions, he has been terrible, blaming Israel and its leadership at every turn. Moreover, his positions have hurt rather than helped advance a process toward a two-state solution, something I have long-favored.
Despite the fact that I re-registered as a Decline-to-State as a protest, I continued to vote and to support mostly Democrats for office. That is now in question, however.
I am deeply disturbed about recent events relating to Iran, U.S. post-war foreign policy, and the behavior and attitude of the Obama Administration and some Democrats. Regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, Speaker Boehner reportedly breached protocol in extending the invitation. The Israeli Ambassador may have participated. It was wrong. Express your displeasure and move on.
Instead, the Administration has made a major issue out of it and is basically promoting a boycott of the Prime Minister’s speech. The Administration is using the breach of protocol as a way to discredit the Prime Minister, undermine his efforts to call attention to the threat of a nuclear or near-nuclear Iran, and to stop debate. I find this conduct outrageous.
Any breach of protocol pales in comparison to the issues at stake here: Iran getting a nuclear weapon, Iran becoming a regional and perhaps world power, and, if you believe recent essays, a radical change in the post-war approach to American foreign policy.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

MUCH ADO ABOUT AN INVITATION?

It seems that the controversy over the invitation extended by Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak before a Joint Session of Congress simply will not diminish.
Yes, it appears that Speaker Boehner breached traditional protocol in not consulting with the White House. Yes, it appears that the Prime Minister may have been wrong in not asking Speaker Boehner whether he had followed tradition. And, yes, Israeli Ambassador Dermer was totally off base if he was the mastermind of a plot to circumvent and embarrass the President.
I used the words “appears” and “may” because it has now been revealed that Speaker Boehner’s invitation stated that this would be a bipartisan event, and because, in a correction of a prior report, the New York Times revealed that the White House was, in fact, informed about the invitation. So, while tradition may have been violated in some respects, it seems that the breach of protocol and the asserted disrespect may not have been quite as egregious as originally characterized.
In any event, the controversy will not die. It appears that we could be approaching “gate” status. As in “Invitegate.”
All of this is bad. Bad for Israel. Bad for the United States. Bad for the U.S.-Israeli relationship. And, most importantly, it is good for Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
The head of a foreign legislature invites you to speak. Do you have every right to expect that the head of the legislature has followed the proper protocol? Is it the invitee’s responsibility to pick up the phone and say something like: “Your counterpart in the other branch of your government has invited me. Did he check with you? Are you o.k. with it?”
Obviously, it is ridiculous to expect the invitee to ask such questions. But that does not mean that this is a good situation. That’s why it would be a great idea for the Prime Minister to plan on coming down with the flu around March 1st.

Friday, December 19, 2014

THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA AND BDS AGAINST MEXICO--UNTHINKABLE



The world has been shocked by the discovery of the dead bodies of about 50 Mexican university students.  The students were killed because they were protesting some government policies.  A mayor and his wife, as well as numerous police officials, have been implicated in the slaughter.  Alleged initial government inaction in response to the murders has prompted outrage and protest throughout Mexico.

In solidarity with the Mexican protests, and in outrage over the government’s inadequate response, the United Auto Workers Local 2865, the union representing the University of California’s graduate student instructors (or, as they were called in prior times, teaching assistants or TA’s) voted in favor of participating in a Boycott, Discrimination, and Sanctions (BDS)  campaign against Mexico. 

With 2,168 union members voting, 1,411 of them, or 65%, voted in favor of the resolution.  (The local has a total membership of about 12,000.)  In addition to the vote, 1,136 of the graduate student instructors pledged to personally adhere to a discriminatory boycott of Mexican universities and scholars. 

Regardless of the revulsion one feels for the Mexican government’s apparent complicity in the alleged actions, the vote raises serious questions regarding the fitness for their positions and their ability to fulfill the requirements of the job of those who voted in favor of the resolution, particularly of those who signed a personal pledge to boycott Mexican universities and scholars. 

For example, one assumes that pledging to boycott Mexican universities means that if a supervising faculty member directs a student instructor to work with a colleague from a Mexican university on a research question, the student instructor will refuse.  One also assumes that if a Mexican student is in the classroom listening to the student instructor’s explanation of a subject of the class, the student instructor will either stop lecturing or will direct the Mexican student to leave the classroom. 

One would further assume from the vote and particularly from those who took the personal pledge that they will not grade papers of students who are Mexican nationals, and will not meet with them to discuss subjects under study.  One also assumes that they will not consult with Mexican scholars or reference academic papers produced by any Mexican university or scholar, thus potentially omitting important information in their own work. 

One assumes that conduct such as that described above, directed at students holding Mexican citizenship, will contribute to the creation of a hostile academic environment for students holding Mexican citizenship, and arguably will do the same for American students of Mexican descent.  Similarly, such conduct will contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment for fellow employees holding Mexican citizen, and arguably will do the same for American workers of Mexican descent. 
  

Monday, December 15, 2014

TRAVELOGUE


My wife and I returned about a week ago from a terrific month-long trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.  I was very proud of myself for planning the entire trip.  We were on our own, hooking up with a couple of mini-cruises on the Mekong River and personal guides along the way.

My nominations for the three greatest inventions of our times:  1) Penicillin. 2)  Airplane mileage.  3) Trip Advisor.  Penicillin is an easy one, of course.  We all--that is we all that were born in the 1950's--learned that it saved millions of lives a year.

The other two because it is just hard to imagine planning and executing a great trip on a reasonable budget without those two items.  OK, so I had to knock the atom out of the top three in order to fit airline mileage on the list.  I will admit it's close.

Overall impressions and reactions from the trip:  Beautiful part of the world.  Wonderful, welcoming people.  Grand, tragic histories.  Particularly tragic for Cambodia.  Unfortunately corrupt governments.

After 30 days in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, and the Mekong Delta, in Phnom Phen and Ankgor Wat, in Pakse and the Four Thousand Islands, in remote villages of the Laotian north, and in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, the question that kept going through my head:  why exactly did we Americans see these people as a tremendous threat and feel the need to bomb the living daylights out of them?

They, particularly the Vietnamese, seem to be the most industrious, capitalistic people one can imagine. They appear to have the same deal with their government as the Chinese have:  We'll let you one-party Communists have the power and generally run things, and you'll leave us alone and let us make money and try to improve our lives.

They certainly did not seem intent on knocking dominoes down and spreading Communism throughout the world.  Which does make you wonder:  how do you know when the threat is real enough and requires standing up to it?  We thought the dominoes would fall.  The Red Scare or Red Menace was real.  The Communists wanted to take over the world.  Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Khrushchev, Ho Chi Minh.  They were the bad guys.  We had to stand up to them.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

LATEST NEWS: ISRAELIS READY TO ABANDON PEACE WORK




From the President of the United States, speaking to the UN on the eve of Rosh Hashanah:

“The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace," Obama said. Then, departing from printed remarks made available to reporters beforehand, he added: "And that’s something worthy of reflection within Israel."

Israelis need the President of the United States to tell them what to reflect on during our holy days?

Too many Israelis are ready to abandon the hard work of peace? What planet is the President inhabiting? This is unbelievably offensive and factually wrong. Has he ever seen the graves of the thousands of young people on Mt. Herzl?  The memorials to terrorist victims?  Has he heard the prayers for peace?

I know of no Israeli who is "ready to abandon the hard work of peace" or who doesn't pray or hope for peace daily. To make such a statement at any time is offensive and insulting. To do so on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, when every Jew prays for a peaceful year, reflects on the past year, and tries to rededicate himself to a worthy life, is just unbelievably insensitive.

Despite all of my criticisms of President Obama's foreign policy, and my many concerns about his policies that have hurt Israel and the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I have always tried to regard him with the respect a President deserves. However, this is simply outrageous and I have no respect left for this president.

Over and over again, Israelis have taken great steps for peace, only to be faced with terrorism, missiles, and hate. Israelis continue to reach out to their Palestinian neighbors and to be willing to make great sacrifices for a real peace.  And, after having done so, when we must then defend ourselves from a less than optimum position, the world condemns us, with the U.S. Secretary of State publicly and sarcastically mocking our efforts at precision.

Monday, August 18, 2014

TICK, TICK, TICK. . . .THE ENDLESS TISHA B'AV


Tick. Tick. Tick.  It’s starting to feel a bit routine.  If it’s Monday, it must be time for the ceasefire--to be extended?  To be extended after some missiles are fired into Israel?  Not to be extended?  Not to be extended, with missiles fired, Israel responding, then reinstated?  To be unilaterally extended?  Unilaterally breached? 

Who knows.  And who knows which variation will come with tonight’s midnight deadline.  Or maybe it will be a whole new scenario that no one has yet thought of.

It’s a hell of a way to live, particularly for those in the South or those from the South that would like to return home.  Basically a terrorist organization gets to decide whether we have war or peace.  If it is war, they get to decide how intense it is.  We are not supposed to defeat them if they just shoot a few missiles at our civilians. 

In the name of “proportionality,” we are supposed to just respond in kind.  Because we have invested in protecting our civilians, we are judged to be poor sports or, worse, war criminals, if many more of them die because their leaders invested in missiles and  tunnels aimed at us rather than in building a society. 

This despite the fact that in the laws of international war, proportionality has nothing to do with comparative firepower or comparative death tolls.  The doctrine of proportionality has to do with using only that force necessary to achieve a legitimate war objective. 

Destroying missile-launching sites and tunnels designed to kill and maim civilians is a legitimate war objective.  Whether or not Israel’s use of force was proportionate to accomplishing that objective is a matter of legitimate inquiry.  Discussion of comparative firepower and comparative deaths is simply digression at best, undermining of Israel’s ability to defend itself at worst. 

Israelis are all for Gazans having a thriving society.  Build airports, seaports, resorts, industry.  It would only be good for them and for us.  But they cannot have open borders and free ports and airports as long as Hamas or others would use such assets to rebuild tunnels and replenish missile supplies.  Estimates are that 40% of Gaza’s budget, primarily aid from the world, went toward infrastructure for war against innocent Israelis rather than for building Gaza as supposedly intended by the donors.