Thursday, December 13, 2018

Left, Right, Trump, Jew-hatred, and America

In the wake of the horrendous massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, much has been written about whether President Trump was responsible for the murders, who else might be responsible, is Trump an anti-Semite, how prevalent Jew-hatred is in American society, and what is creating this atmosphere where more blatant expressions of Jew-hatred and even violence are becoming common.

Vandalism to synagogues and other Jewish institutions is making the news. These incidents and other manifestations of anti-Semitism have been going on for years. Now they seem more blatant and frequent and are clearly garnering more attention from the media.

It is likely that but for being turned in by concerned family members, a Jew-hating young man in Washington, D.C. was on the verge of committing another massacre like the one in Pittsburgh.
Just days ago, a Toledo man was arrested for planning a deadly attack on a local synagogue.

In Baltimore a man screaming “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Trump” during the intermission of a performance of Fiddler on the Roof set off an understandable panic as many in the crowd expected bullets to follow. Never mind that it was an impulsive and totally inappropriate outburst borne of frustration with President Trump’s immigration stance. The point is that Jews are seen as such a target in today’s America that the audience thought it meant bullets would fly.

Hate-motivated crimes against Jews have increased substantially, and while Jews represent just 2% of the U.S. population, they are the victims of 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes.

A few commentators have criticized these statistics, saying they create a false impression because they include “non-violent” acts like vandalism. Jews in America should be comforted by that? Swastikas on synagogues, JCC’s, and days schools don’t leave scars? Words like “kike” and “dirty Zionist” scrawled on walls and Internet posts don’t mean people shouldn’t be on guard, that they have no reason to be fearful?

A columnist for the Forward asked Young American Jews whether America is still safe for Jews. There were a mix of answers, some pessimistic, some hopeful. But just the fact that the question was asked and serious, diverse answers ensued tells one a lot about the mental state of American Jews when it comes to Jew-hatred. Most American Jews would have thought the question ludicrous just five or 10 years ago.

The actual Nazi or KKK members in the U.S. is a minuscule percentage of the population. Those that go out and march and scream also represent a very low percentage of the population. But a recent reputable poll found that 9% of Americans think that it is legitimate to hold neo-Nazi views. That's about 22 million people. When you add in the five or 10 or 15 million more who feel that way but are too smart or too embarrassed to admit it, that is a whole bunch of Americans, and that is frightening.

Ultimately, the man who pulled the trigger is responsible for the horrible deaths in Pittsburgh. And, ultimately, the person who spray paints graffiti on a synagogue, or a person who sends bigoted vitriol through cyberspace, is responsible for his or her actions. But, for the atmosphere in the U.S. that has given rise to public expressions of Jew-hatred and gives license to those who are tempted to use violence, for that there is plenty of blame to go around, and it is not exclusive to one side of the political spectrum.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Dear Airbnb

Airbnb announced that it will no longer provide its services to Jewish homeowners in the West Bank. Although this decision will probably impact no more than 200 people and will have no effect at all on the Israeli economy, it is nonetheless a highly offensive decision and morally very questionable.  I wrote a letter to the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky:

Dear Mr. Chesky:

I am writing to register my strong objection to Airbnb’s decision to stop providing its services to those Jews who live in Jewish communities in the area commonly referred to as the West Bank.  My family and I will not be using Airbnb’s services unless this decision is reversed.  I would like to explain why.

At best, your decision reflects a lack of knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and is ill-considered.  At worst, it is a manifestation of Jew-hatred, aka anti-Semitism.

The Balfour Declaration stated that the British government looked favorably on the development of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.  Originally Palestine included the territory that is now Israel, the disputed West Bank, and Jordan.  When England was given a mandate over Palestine by the League of Nations it was with the full knowledge that England had issued the Balfour Declaration.

Subsequently the British created Jordan, arbitrarily tearing it off from what was Palestine and giving it to a dictator imported from elsewhere in the Arab world.  That dictator’s descendants still control Jordan even though about 70 percent of the population of Jordan is Palestinian.

In 1947, in a painful compromise, those Jews working to create the Jewish state in that area that was left agreed to a compromise:  the Jewish state would be a very narrow strip along the Mediterranean Sea, along with the Negev Desert and a part of the Galilee, and another Arab state would be created in what is now the West Bank.  (In those days, Jews and Arabs were both called Palestinians, although most in the Arab world considered the West Bank not a Palestinian state but part of southern Syria.)

The Arab world rejected this compromise.  In the 1948 war that resulted, Jordan took control of the West Bank.  Only Iraq, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom recognized Jordan’s sovereignty over the area.  The Arab world did not.  Jordan did not allow creation of a Palestinian state.  Very few people advocated for it.

In 1967, Israel fought a defensive war against Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other Arab nations.  As a result of that war Israel took control of the West Bank.  Given the history as outlined above, as well as the war, it was entirely reasonable for Israelis to claim control of the area and to develop communities there.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

All the news that. . . .

fits CNN International’s bias and pre-determined narrative.  CNN International, and much of the rest of the media, is as reliable as the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. 

For the last seven months or so, Israelis living along the border with Gaza have been subjected to daily torture:  putrid air and unhealthy pollution from burning tires; thousands of dunams of crops set ablze by flaming kites; incendiary devices thrown or flown on balloons and kites, their exclusive targets being innocent civilians. 

Explosives have landed in school yards, public areas, and a variety of buildings.  A combination of sheer luck and effective defenses has prevented many deaths.  Still, injuries, trauma, and forever-scarred children are prevalent.  This is no way to live. 

CNN International and the rest of the media have had little to nothing to report on any of this.  Moreover, the silence has been deafening from human rights groups, environmental groups, animal rights groups, and the multitudes that are quick to point out Israel’s shortcomings.  The righteous have been quiet. 

But, alas, the news blackout appears to be over.  Today CNN International ran a story by Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon.  I caught it twice, and it probably ran a few more times.  Ms. Damon’s usual assignment seems to be reporting under the worst circumstances, amidst the ruins of war, featuring suffering, helpless, very sympathetic victims.  Ms. Damon seems to love these assignments, and she is very good at them.

So, reliably and predictably, there was Ms. Damon reporting in some battle-scarred, falling-down building in Gaza, with the requisite traumatized, dirty, and sympathetic Gazan child.  Of course, anyone with a heart felt awful for this boy’s terrible circumstances.  There was even a shot of some baby bottles that just happened to be intact and in sight. 

One would think that Ms. Damon and her producers would be cautious about the bottles. In the past it has turned out that dolls and other evocative items that pulled at the heart were well-placed props.  Indeed, back in April, Palestinian AuthorityTV used a photo of the dead at the Nordhausen concentration camp to illustrateIsraeli brutality.  One assumes it was just convenient. 

What brought this on after months of silence?  What brought Ms. Damon from her usual place in the ruins of Syria, or on a leaky boat teeming with refugees, or among the terrible ruins and starving people of Yemen?  Well, the best guess is that she and CNN expected war and lots of shots of destruction and of Palestinian victims. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Sound the Alarm

To anyone who reads history and cares about a free society, today should be a particularly haunting day. A respected member of the press denied credentials because he asks tough questions of the President of the United States. And the President continues to call the media “the enemy of the people.”

The President ridding the Department of Justice of those conducting an investigation of wrongdoing in his Administration. The President, with support of the Senate Leader, threatening retaliation if the independent and equal legislative branch does its job of oversight and investigation.

Military troops called to the border to “defend” against a non-existent “invasion,” although now that the mid-term election is over, we may see the “invasion” miraculously disappear and the troops called back to the barracks.

This is a playbook like those followed in Russia, Venezuela, Turkey, North Korea and other oppressive regimes, not democracies. History teaches that those who are silent in the face of this onslaught on democracy are complicit in it.

When I write or say comments like this, many people call me an alarmist. I plead guilty. I am an alarmist.

The thing about being an alarmist is that it is a thankless characteristic. If the development you express alarm about comes true, it is a terrible situation. An alarmist who sounded the alarm for the right reasons takes no pleasure in that. On the other hand, if the subject of your alarm does not come true, people say “See, there was nothing to worry about. You’re an alarmist.” But how do we know if, but for alarmists sounding the alarm, the catastrophe would have happened?

We know that the alarms sounded in Europe in the early 1930’s were largely discounted. The late California senator Alan Cranston, then a journalist, tried to sound alarms. So did William Dodd, the historian who became the first U.S. ambassador to Germany during Hitler’s reign and whose family is the subject of Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts.” Many called them alarmists.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Pittsburgh Solidarity

In the wake of the horrible murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue, a Conservative congregation, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett announced that he would fly to Pittsburgh to show his solidarity with the Jewish community there. 

While referring to the Pittsburgh congregants as “our brothers and sisters,” Bennett stated that “All Israel are responsible for one another” and that “the State of Israel is deeply pained by this terrible antisemitic murder.”

Normally the Israeli Consul General would serve as the Israeli representative at events in an American Jewish community.  Occasionally, an event is of such significance that the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. would attend.  Given the enormity of this attack, Bennett, the highest-ranking Israeli official with responsibility for the diaspora, a member of the ruling coalition, an aspiring Prime Minister, apparently felt compelled to vividly demonstrate his and Israel’s solidarity with the American Jewish community by personally going to Pittsburgh. 

Minister Bennett’s gesture, no doubt heartfelt and sincere, is a commendable one.  Bennett obviously wants to demonstrate that he and Israel care for all Jews regardless of how they pray or the stream of Judaism they belong to.   Declaring that “When Jews are murdered in Pittsburgh, the people of Israel feel pain,” Bennett makes no distinction amongst Jews. We are one. 

Given that Bennett is the leader of the Jewish Home party, a “right wing” party with many Orthodox Jews as members, American Jews should take note and appreciate the Minister’s demonstration of support and solidarity. 

However, there is something awry when a Minister travels to Pittsburgh to demonstrate his oneness with the Jews of a Conservative congregation, but the Jews of that congregation know that their own rabbi is not given the same respect as Orthodox rabbis.  Their rabbi and his Israeli colleagues cannot officiate at their marriage here in Israel.  Their rabbi and his Israeli colleagues cannot bury the dead here in Israel.  Their rabbi and his Israeli colleagues cannot convert a person to Judaism here in Israel.

Tree of Life’s rabbi and his congregant do have the right to pray in an egalitarian minyan at the Kotel, and Bennett should be credited with playing a positive role in developing that space, albeit with the Supreme Court’s encouragement.  However, the coalition that Minister Bennett and his party are members of refused to implement the agreement they negotiated that would have truly recognized their equality as Jews in Israel, an agreement that would have instituted a common entrance to the Kotel area and that would have placed members of the Reform and Conservative movements on the board responsible for the area. 

On the important vote truly expressing respect for, equality of, and solidarity with all Jews, a politically tough vote, Minister Bennett abstained.  When it came to a gesture of solidarity with political risk, he took a duck. 

If Bennett truly wants to show that the Jewish people are one, if he wants his meaningful and appreciated gesture, to have even more meaning, to last more than the day or two he is in Pittsburgh, to really resonate, he would be well-advised carry forth this sentiment into his life and actions as an Israeli political leader.  He would not just recognize that all Jews are equal and worthy in times of despair and destruction, but every day and in every way in the only Jewish nation on earth. 

If Bennett truly wants to show that he respects the Jews of Tree of Life, he will turn his sentiments into action.  As the ultra-Orthodox threaten to bring down a government that recognizes the legitimacy and equality of all streams of Judaism, he would pledge to bring down a government that does not do so.  In marriage, in conversions, in death.  And he would act on his pledge. 

Now that would be a gesture of solidarity, of respect, with meaning. 

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

For speaking engagements: 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Useful Idiots and Other Players

For the last several weeks, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others in Gaza have been using kites and other means to fly incendiary devices and explosives into southern Israeli communities and fields near the border.

Virtually all targets have been civilian. Thousands of acres of fields as well as communities have been burned and threatened with destruction. The other day Israel finally stepped up some actions to try to stop the attacks. In response, the Palestinians have fired a huge barrage of rockets into Israeli communities, targeting civilians.

Israeli civilians are now sleeping in shelters and running for cover with just seconds marking the difference between life and death or injury.  Children are traumatized.

Iran is encouraging and supporting this as a way to divert Israel and the world's attention from its efforts to establish military bases in Syria and to encourage Syria to attack Israel. Thank you, Presidents Obama, Putin, and Trump, and the P-5+1.

I have seen and heard nothing from CNN, the NY Times, Senators Sanders and Feinstein, the UN, the EU, Rabbi Jacobs and the Reform Movement, J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, If Not Now, Breaking the Silence, Ireland, Human Rights Watch, and the myriad of other persons and groups who predictably condemn and caution Israel at the first sign of violence, regardless of history or context.

The Israeli public has had enough and is understandably demanding that the government take stronger action to protect the children, women, and men of the south.  In response, Israel is about to act.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as part of their strategy, deliberately embed military resources among civilians, hoping to cause death and injury of Palestinians and thereby sympathetic international attention and condemnation of Israel.  And it works every time.  Everyone plays according to script, with the international players seemingly relishing their role as dupes, albeit self-righteous ones.

When  Palestinians start to be injured and killed, I am sure we will hear from all those I listed above and more about "disproportionate" force (which simply means they would be happier if Jews died), the "cycle of violence," "restraint by all parties," and more platitudes ad nausea.

The roles of hypocrites, opportunists, bigots, and useful idiots never seem to have any shortage of enthusiastic players.

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Great Divide

It seemingly took less than a few minutes for the most recent poll about the divide between American Jews and Israelis to get plastered on every Jewish website, news report, Facebook page, and e-mail box.

My response: resignation, and a yawn. Next thing we'll learn is that there is gambling in the house.
Israeli Jews are increasing in number and are living a Jewish national life daily, up-close, and sometimes with dangerous and deadly consequences.

The American Jewish population is decreasing, and for most American Jews, Judaism is a an occasional thing, Israel is a minor, very occasional thought (most haven’t even visited once), a source of discomfort when Israel has to do what a nation in the Middle East has to do to survive, and not something that fits in with their desire to be part of a universal, inclusive, feeling-good-about-reaching-out-to-others self-perception.

Much is written about how the divide between American Jews and Israeli Jews is exacerbated by Israel's conduct and policies toward Palestinians, toward and about non-Orthodox Jewry, and the like. How Israel is alienating the mainstream American Jewish community and alienating young American Jews.

This is true to a certain extent. Israelis live in a different political environment, with a different political structure, with a different perspective on synagogue and state, with a different security situation, and on and on. American Jews, from their perspectives, are just not going to be comfortable with everything Israelis do because of their situation and perspectives.

Because most of them are largely ignorant of Israel's history and circumstances and perspectives, and because most of them are heavily infused with and invested in their history, circumstances, and perspectives, American Jews are not going to be very understanding of or comfortable with much of what Israel does.

But this is for those who are paying attention. Most are not. Most hardly give a thought to Israel. On a daily basis, most barely give a moment to thinking and living as Jews.

American Jews’ connection to Israel is mostly falling by the wayside not because of any particular Israeli policy. Most pay little or no attention. It is evaporating because most Jews' connection to Judaism is evaporating.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bibi and the Nukes

It is long past time for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leave office. He’s got more baggage than Samsonite.

Among many people there is now an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction against Netanyahu on virtually every issue he raises. It is not always deserved, even though there is a good argument that he contributed to this near Pavlovian reaction.

Netanyahu has acted responsibly on some issues, particularly when it comes to the security of Israel which, for understandable reasons, is a very high priority here. For example, during the last Gaza War, undertaken to stop the missiles being fired into Israel and to stop the tunnels used to terrorize the south and to attempt to kidnap soldiers, there was much pressure from the right to go further into Gaza and to overthrow Hamas.

Netanyahu did what was necessary for Israel's defense but he resisted the pressure to go any further, knowing that it would create an untenable situation. He took a lot of flak for, in the view of those advocating such an action, not eradicating the problem once and for all.

Regarding the recent showcasing of Iranian documents and discs that demonstrate that Iran lied when it told the world it never had a nuclear weapons program, I could have done without Netanyahu's public show. I would have preferred that he present the information privately to relevant leaders around the world. Now, instead of the focus being on the issues, i.e. does Iran pose a nuclear threat and should the current deal be modified or rescinded, much of the focus is on Bibi’s presentation and veracity.

Of course, that problem is irrelevant if the intended audience was simply Donald Trump and it was determined that this was the best way to reach him. Coming just hours after Secretary of State Pompeo’s visit, one suspects this may have been a requested performance with that one-person audience in mind.

It is unfortunate that Netanyahu’s presentation is the focus of attention and that many doubt its authenticity. Of course, one can argue that without the presentation, or performance, no one would have paid any attention to the issue.

The criticism of the presentation is unfortunate for several reasons. First, just in terms of intelligence work, i.e. the spy game, this operation made James Bond and anything written by Tom Clancy look like minor league play. They spymasters should be given credit, anonymously, of course.