Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The Sacramento Jewish Community, my home community, has been confronted with several real challenges lately. Firstly, the Leonard Friedman Bar Association, named for one of the most well-respected judges and pro-Israel advocates that I have ever known, invited Judge Goldstone, author of the discredited, incredibly anti-Israel biased Goldstone Report, to be the speaker at its annual dinner. This has prompted a storm of controversy in the local community of Jewish lawyers. I have been a strong critic of this invitation and a vociferous advocate of its rescission.
If this were not enough, a local mosque, headed by an Iman with whom members of the Jewish community have worked on interfaith issues, agreed to host a traveling presentation entitled "Never Again for Anyone." This presentation is a terrible affront to Jews on many levels. It accuses Israel of crimes such as the Nazis committed. It equates treatment of the Palestinians with treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. It appropriates language of the Holocaust for blatantly anti-Israel purposes. It is an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Finally, a newly formed student group at UC Davis, just 20 minutes west of Sacramento, sponsored a campus speech by an Iman from the Oakland area who is a known, vocal Jew hater. Many suspect that local Muslim Student Association members, noting the adverse consequences that resulted to the UC Irvine MSA when its members disrupted a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, cleverly created a new organization to bring in this local hate-mongerer.

It is disheartening to see such hurtful, hateful events as the one featuring the anti-Semitic Iman and the Never Again presentation take place in the Sacramento/Davis area, an area that takes pride in its tolerance and its efforts at postive intergroup relations. Equally disheartening to me is to see a Jewish group invite and lend credence to an author who, either intentionally or in reckless disregard for the truth, has done untold unfair damage to the only Jewish majority country in the world, Israel.

I have been encouraged, however, by how quickly Sacramento's Rabbinic Council came together to protest and condemn the presentation of Never Again at the local mosque. I am also encouraged by the strong voices of many Jewish lawyers, a good number of them very respected, veteran Sacramento attorneys, who have petitioned the Board of the Leonard Friedman Bar Association to rescind the invitation to Judge Goldstone. They have not been timid or shy, and several have been very eloquent.

As is usual with these kinds of siuations in the Jewish community, a debate has arisen regarding whether and how to respond to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities, and particularly in regard to the appropriate response when Jews in the community disagree with the activities of other Jews in the community, an occurrence that, unfortunately, is frequent and frequently distracts from the real work at hand.

I recently had an exchange with a Sacramento-area rabbi that touches on some of the challenges and issues in regard to this debate on the best way to respond. First are some thoughts by Rabbi Alan Greenbaum of Grass Valley, CA:

I would like to weigh in on a couple of issues/observations.

I am heartened at how passionately the leaders of the Sacramento Jewish community have come to the defense of Israel in the face of a program which was filled with outright lies as well as dark innuendoes which could only lead the un-educated or partially-educated audience members to a place of disdain of Israel. We should never be silent in the face of such efforts and, indeed, we were not silent!
At the same time I am concerned at the attempts to derail such programs before they occur - whether the "Never Again" presentation or the upcoming speech of Judge Goldstone. Just as we embrace Israel for being both Jewish and a democracy, we have to guide our own efforts with both Jewish and democratic values - free speech being among those values. Another way of understanding my concern is that we are letting those who oppose Israel set the agenda. As long as we do that; as long as we permit that dynamic, we will always be plotting and scheming of ways to get back at "them" or to silence "them" or to label "them." This strategy comes out of a place of weakness and will never win the day, or even improve the day.

It is always better to come from a place of strength. In this case, the strength would come from us setting the agenda - not in a reactive manner, but in a pro-active manner. It is better for us to launch a series of community programs which discuss Israel's strengths and weaknesses so that we choose the speakers who would speak both honestly and fairly in their analyses. It also shows the world that we are not blind loyalists of Israeli policy, but rather that we are thoughtful and aware supporters of Israel.

Wishing everybody a lovely Tuesday,

Rabbi Alan Greenbaum
Grass Valley

And here is my response:

Dear Rabbi Greenbaum:

As one who has lived in the Sacramento Jewish community for over 50 years, let me assure you that the community has undertaken many activities over the years designed to be proactive and to set the agenda. Through the JCRC, the Jewish Federation, AIPAC, Hillel, StandWithUs, Northern Californians in Support of Israel, several synagogues, Hadassah, and several other organizations, the community has sponsored positive events designed to shape perceptions of Israel and the Jewish people's aspirations to have a home of its own. I have initiated, participated in, and financially supported more of these activities than I can count.

However, when hate in the form of explicitly anti-Jewish speech or hate expressed in attempts to delegitimize and dehumanize the Jewish National Liberation Movement, i.e. Zionism, we must respond forcefully and explicitly and stop it from occurring in our community. You may characterize that as being "reactive." I characterize it as being responsible and proud. You may say it indicates "weakness." In contrast, I consider it to show strength and confidence and resoluteness.

This is not a matter of free speech. People who espouse hate in our country have every right to espouse it. However, people who oppose hate have every right and, I believe, a responsibility, to try to stop it from taking place in their community. By that I do not mean they should throw rocks or physically prevent people from assembling. But we should certainly say that we do not want it in our community and try to convince people not to sponsor or host it. These people have a right to decide that our arguments are persuasive and that they do not want anything to do with the hate.

We would join with other community groups in saying "Not in our community" if David Duke was invited to town to espouse his horrible theories of white supremacy. We would speak up against the idea of a group giving a forum to Glenn Beck so that he could espouse his misguided, hateful attitudes. Why is it when it comes to hate against Jews and delegitimizing of the Jewish people's country, many persons feel the need to provide a forum and to allow "free speech." Why are Jews first in line to say no to hate when it is directed against others, and much more concerned with airing all sides and not appearing to stifle speech when it comes to Jews?

It is true that in Israel, a democracy with a vital free press and open discussion, all of these issues are debated. Of course, there are the obvious distinctions: Israelis send their children as soldiers into areas to protect "settlements," or they send their children into areas that have been evacuated to prevent rocket attacks, and Israelis in many parts of the country live in terror when rockets come reining down.

But there is also another point: yes, we have the same rights as Israelis to debate these issues. However, we can also be informed and wise and thoughtful enough to understand that when we have these arguments, Israel's enemies can take things out of context and use them to do severe damage to Israel. Now that can happen when Israelis debate these issues. But that is a negative that must be accepted because Israelis must debate these issues. They have to decide on policies that impact their survival. We can recognize that when we discuss these issues, the negatives occur, but what are the positives? Are we making decisions that effect our lives? Are we making decisions that our children will have to implement as soldiers? There seems to be no shortage of people critical of Israel. Can we really add something new? I would suggest that we might show our strength and our thoughtfulness by not indulging every right we have to debate every issue despite the damage that can result to Israel.

If one is not comfortable with a particular Israeli policy, one can decide to just be quiet. One can say one personally disagrees with the policy but explain why others in Israel feel that they must support the policy. One can be responsible and intelligent about their discussion and understand the potential consequences of engaging in "free speech." One can decide that because Jews living in Israel live with the consequences, that one should just be supportive when one can be and not join the piling on against Israel.

At a minimum, when hate against Jews and deligitimizing of the Jewish nation tries to come to our community, we can all stand strong and say "Not in our city; not on our watch."


Alan Edelstein


If you are interested in why I feel Judge Goldstone should be treated as a pariah by mainstream Jewish organizations, and why the Leonard Friedman Bar Association's invitation should be rescinded, read my letter below to the Association. Since I wrote that, about 25 Jewish lawyers have signed onto a joint letter and, as mentioned above, several have written their own very persuasive letters.

To the Board of the Leonard M. Friedman Bar Association:

It pained me deeply to see that the Association was giving Justice Goldstone a platform and the honor of speaking at an event named after the late Justice Leonard Friedman. Much of Justice Goldstone's career and actions are antithetical to the ideals and actions of Justice Friedman. Justice Friedman loved Israel and the Jewish people, abhorred injustice and discrimination, held himself and others to the highest ethical standards, and respected and demanded the best in research, writing, and scholarship. Justice Goldstone's career has violated all of these characteristics with very damaging consequences.

To be specific:

1. Justice Goldstone was a South African judge during the apartheid period. Far from protesting apartheid and working against it, he was an active cog in this despicable wheel. He imposed death sentences on more than a dozen black South Africans. It was only when he saw the tide turning that he moved toward the post-apartheid camp, giving rise to his well-known report. Consistent with his opportunistic, which-way-is-the wind blowing habits, his report focused only on the violence of the pro-apartheid camp, ignoring the violence of the African National Council's supporters. When later queried about his role in the apartheid South African judiciary system, he responded with an answer that can be summarized as "I was just going along with the system." Justice Friedman never just went along if he believed something was wrong.

2. Justice Goldstone accepted a mandate from the United Nations that he knew was biased against Israel from the beginning and had in its origins the conclusion that Israel was guilty. The fact that Justice Goldstone unsuccessfully tried to have the mandate changed, along with the fact that it was issued by a body that is well-known to be incredibly biased against Israel, demonstrates that he knew that it was one-sided and designed to condemn Israel. The fact that he accepted the assignment despite his failure to have the mandate changed is evidence that fairness and truth were not his primary motivations in accepting the assignment.

3. Justice Goldstone relied on unsubstantiated accounts of alleged Israeli actions from sources that were obviously unreliable and motivated by hate and a desire to see Israel convicted in the world of public opinion. He relied on witnesses that were obviously motivated to lie and who were subject to coercion from Hamas. After the lies about the Jenin "massacres' and other well-known examples of Palestinian partisans inventing facts, he surely knew not to accept these statements as fact. Yet he did. He accepted without question Palestinian numbers on the civilian versus terrorist fatalities, and he published these numbers as if they were fact. Now that a Hamas leader has contradicted these numbers and stated that the numbers presented by Israel were the accurate ones, Justice Goldstone has not amended his report or, to my knowledge, even acknowledged his mistake.

4. Justice Goldstone deliberately ignored in his report the context of Israel's actions in Gaza. He gave scant attention to the years of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, rockets that were targeted at and terrorized civilians. Moreover, he gave little attention to Hamas' deliberate strategy of positioning itself amongst civilians and Israel's many efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

Justice Goldstone's actions as a judge under South Africa's apartheid regime resulted in the execution of black South Africans pursuant to a fundamentally unjust legal system. His acceptance of a mandate designed to convict Israel and his publication of falsehoods that he must have known were unreliable have done Israel irreparable harm. His work has led Israel to be accused of war crimes and its leaders to be subjected to lawfare in many countries. He has contributed greatly to the attempts to delegitimize the only Jewish-majority nation on earth and to turn Jews into pariahs in much of the world.

For this man to be given the honor of speaking at an event hosted by an organization named after Leonard Friedman is an affront to all that Justice Friedman stood for. But one might argue that Justice Friedman also stood for free speech, the free exchange of ideas, debate and discussion. He did. He believed in those great ideals. But, while he was idealistic, he was also a practical, pragmatic man who cared deeply about Israel and would countenance no one who unfairly and injudiciously did it great harm, as did Justice Goldstone. I believe Justice Friedman would have said that Justice Goldstone has every right to speak, but that a Jewish bar association should not give him the honor, the forum, and the credibility.

Justice Friedman believed in the right of association. However, that did not stop him from calling me when I was a college student, telling me that if I recruited the young people he would have the signs made, and joining me and other college students in a protest outside of a restaurant objecting to the presence of anti-Israel politicians of a foreign country. Justice Friedman believed in the free exchange of ideas, but that did not stop him from making headlines in the local papers by very publicly resigning from the United Nations Association in protest of the United Nations' anti-Israel actions.

Giving Justice Goldstone a platform at a Jewish bar association gives honor and credibility to a man who does not deserve it and who has done a great injustice and irreparable damage to Israel. Associating him with the memory of Leonard Friedman is an insult to Justice Friedman's memory.

I respectfully urge you to reconsider your invitation to Justice Goldstone.

Alan Edelstein

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