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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘American Jewish’

Peter Beinart’s Cocoon

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

In the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart is upset that the organized American Jewish community doesn’t invite Palestinian Arabs to speak at their events. He believes that American Jews don’t give enough empathy to Palestinian Arabs.

For the most part, Palestinians do not speak in American synagogues or write in the Jewish press. The organization Birthright, which since 1999 has taken almost 350,000 young Diaspora Jews—mostly Americans—to visit Israel, does not venture to Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank. Of the more than two hundred advertised speakers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) 2013 Policy Conference, two were Palestinians. By American Jewish standards, that’s high. The American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum earlier this year, which advertised sixty-four speakers, did not include a single Palestinian.

…Guidelines like Hillel’s—which codify the de facto restrictions that exist in many establishment American Jewish groups—make the organized American Jewish community a closed intellectual space, isolated from the experiences and perspectives of roughly half the people under Israeli control. And the result is that American Jewish leaders, even those who harbor no animosity toward Palestinians, know little about the reality of their lives.

Beinart grudgingly admits:

This lack of familiarity with Palestinian life also inclines many in the organized American Jewish world to assume that Palestinian anger toward Israel must be a product solely of Palestinian pathology. Rare is the American Jewish discussion of Israel that does not include some reference to the textbooks and television programs that “teach Palestinians to hate.” These charges have some merit. Palestinian schools and media do traffic in anti-Semitism and promote violence.

But:

Still, what’s often glaringly absent from the American Jewish discussion of Palestinian hatred is any recognition that some of it might stem not from what Palestinians read or hear about the Jewish state, but from the way they interact with it in their daily lives.

Beinart is at least as guilty of willful blindness as the American Jewish establishment he is insulting. His “Open Zion” site all but ignores the Palestinian Arab hate and antisemitism, just as he attempts to minimize it and contextualize it here as a natural result of things Israelis did. He says that most terror attacks are the result of anger at Israeli actions from the first intifada, without mentioning who started the first intifada. No doubt Israel’s initial reaction was more severe than would be acceptable today, but at the time Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza would travel freely to pre-1967 Israel and Israelis would visit freely to Arab areas, without fear.

The restrictions that Beinart is so upset about today came because of Palestinian Arab terror, not the other way around.

Moreover, while Beinart talks about checkpoints that exist today, what does he think would happen if a two-state solution that he so passionately supports would occur? They wouldn’t be checkpoints – there would be national borders. Try commuting to another country every day, let alone an enemy country, and see how painless it is.

American Jewish leaders have access to The New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian and, yes, Open Zion. Jewish Americans read Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen. The idea that they somehow live in a pro-Likud bubble is ridiculous. They know far more about Palestinian Arab claims and grievances than readers of Open Zion know about the day to day incitement against Israel and Jews in Palestinian Arab lives – not just “textbooks and television programs” but virtually every newspaper, every school, every media.

This is the stuff I expose along with MEMRI, Palestinian Media Watch and others.

Beinart would like to pretend that we cherry pick the worst examples. To an extent that is true. That’s how the media works – to show the worst in order to illuminate the facts – something Beinart is doing in this very essay.

However, as someone who reads quite a bit of Arabic media daily, I can assure Beinart and my readers that the hate isn’t an anomaly, while people like Salam Fayyad are the silent majority. No – within the “cocoon” of Palestinian Arab life, there is zero tolerance for any viewpoint that is the least bit conciliatory to real coexistence and peace. The hate is pervasive, not anomalous. Anyone who would speak to an American Jewish organization would, by that very fact, lose all legitimacy from their own people.

Peacenik McGovern: We Should Have Bombed Auschwitz

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

George McGovern is widely remembered for advocating immediate American withdrawal from Vietnam and sharp reductions in defense spending. Yet despite his reputation as a pacifist, the former U.S. senator and 1972 presidential candidate, who died Sunday at 90, did believe there were times when America should use military force abroad.

Case in point: the Allies’ failure to bomb Auschwitz, an episode with which McGovern had a little-known personal connection.

In June 1944, the Roosevelt administration received a detailed report about Auschwitz from two escapees who described the mass-murder process and drew diagrams pinpointing the gas chambers and crematoria. Jewish organizations repeatedly asked U.S. officials to order the bombing of Auschwitz and the railroad lines leading to the camp. The proposal was rejected on the grounds that it would require “considerable diversion” of planes that were needed elsewhere for the war effort.

One U.S. official claimed that bombing Auschwitz “might provoke even more vindictive action by the Germans.”

Enter McGovern. In World War II, the 22-year-old son of a South Dakota pastor piloted a B-24 “Liberator” bomber. Among his targets: German synthetic oil factories in occupied Poland – some of them fewer than five miles from the Auschwitz gas chambers.

In 2004, McGovern spoke on camera for the first time about those experiences in a meeting organized by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies with Holocaust survivor and philanthropist Sigmund Rolat and filmmakers Stuart Erdheim and Chaim Hecht.

McGovern dismissed the Roosevelt administration’s claims about the diversion of planes. The argument was just “a rationalization,” he said, noting that no diversions would have been needed when he and other U.S pilots already were flying over that area.

Ironically, the Allies did divert military resources for other reasons. For example, FDR in 1943 ordered the Army to divert money and manpower to rescue artwork and historic monuments in Europe’s battle zones. The British provided ships to bring 20,000 Muslims on a religious pilgrimage from Egypt to Mecca in the middle of the war. Gen. George Patton even diverted U.S. troops in Austria to save 150 of the famous Lipizzaner dancing horses.

“There is no question we should have attempted…to go after Auschwitz,” McGovern said in the interview. “There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.”

Even if there was a danger of accidentally harming some of the prisoners, “it was certainly worth the effort, despite all the risks,” McGovern said, because the prisoners were already “doomed to death” and an Allied bombing attack might have slowed down the mass-murder process, thus saving many more lives.

At the time, 16-year-old Elie Wiesel was part of a slave labor battalion stationed just outside the main camp of Auschwitz. Many years later, in his bestselling book Night, Wiesel described a U.S. bombing raid on the oil factories that he witnessed.

“[I]f a bomb had fallen on the blocks [the prisoners' barracks], it alone would have claimed hundreds of victims on the spot. But we were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not of that death,” Wiesel wrote. “Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life. The raid lasted over an hour. If it could only have lasted ten times ten hours!”

At the time, McGovern and his fellow pilots had no idea what was happening in Auschwitz.

“I attended every briefing that the air force gave to us,” he said. “I heard everyone, from generals on down. I never heard once mentioned the possibility that the United States air force might interdict against the gas chambers.”

Ironically, in one raid, several stray bombs from McGovern’s squadron missed the oil factory they were targeting and accidentally struck an SS sick bay, killing five SS men.

McGovern said that if his commanders had asked for volunteers to bomb the death camp, “whole crews would have volunteered.” Most soldiers understood that the war against the Nazis was not just a military struggle but a moral one, as well. In his view they would have recognized the importance of trying to interrupt the mass-murder process, even if it meant endangering their own lives in a risky bombing raid.

Cory Booker & Shmuley Boteach: The Rabbi and the Rhodes Scholar (Video)

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Twenty years ago this Monday, corresponding to the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah, a young African-American Rhodes scholar walked into a Chabad Jewish student center in Oxford, England. He had had a date with a Jewish woman who told him she was going to be at the Sukkot festivities at Rabbi Shmuley’s and would meet him there. As it turned out, he was stood up, and as he waited sheepishly in the corner of the room not knowing what to do next, he was approached by the Rabbi’s wife who invited him to sit in ‘the hot-seat’ next to the young Chabad Rabbi. Being the most joyous night of the Jewish calendar, the young student would later join with hundreds of other students dancing with the Torahs. This accidental meeting would change both their lives.

Cory Booker had little exposure to the Jewish community prior to that evening and I, who was serving as the Rabbi to the students of Oxford University, had only sporadic exposure to the African-American community. But in the days, weeks, and months that followed we began studying together almost daily. We studied the great texts of Judaism and discussed the great speeches of African-American leaders. Cory would later serve a full term as President of our Jewish student organization, which was then the second largest student group at the University with thousands of members. Together we hosted luminaries like Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders who lectured on values-based leadership.

Twenty years, countless conversations, and hundreds of Friday night Shabbat dinners later, Cory today is a much-loved honorary member of the American Jewish community, regularly lecturing at Synagogues and Jewish conferences across the country. More significant, Cory has challenged the Jewish community to live up to its Biblical calling to serve as ‘a light unto the nations.’ In many of the speeches we deliver together he asks the Jewish participants if they study the weekly Parsha, if they honor the commandments, and cherish the Sabbath. What allows an African-American Christian Mayor to challenge Jewish leaders to deepen their Jewish commitment? Because those same leaders are amazed at Cory’s knowledge of Judaism and appreciation of the Jewish contribution to civilization.

I have long believed that the next wave of Jewish commitment will be inspired by non-Jews. In massive conferences like Christians United For Israel we are already seeing a great wave of Christian interest in Judaism and a desire to reconnect Jesus back to his Jewish roots. But Cory has taken this a step further, studying Judaism with a view to teaching it to Jews.

A few years ago AIPAC invited Cory and me to address a large group in Chicago. It was the week where we read the story of Genesis in Synagogue and Cory delivered a moving speech on the creation of Adam and Eve, culled from a speech by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The wife of a prominent American Jewish leader approached me after the speech and asked if I would study the Parsha of the week with her, as I do with Cory. I asked her why now. She responded, “When you hear someone so prominent in the American political landscape deriving inspiration from the Torah, and he’s not even Jewish, you become a little embarrassed that you are ignorant of your tradition and you want to discover what he has discovered.” I have heard similar sentiments expressed by other Jewish listeners on many occasions.

My friendship with Cory also sparked a lifelong closeness between me and the African-American community. I became the first-ever white morning radio host on America’s legacy black radio station, WWRL in New York City. I took the Rev. Al Sharpton to Israel to alleviate the enmity between him and the Jewish community, I was the driving force behind an effort to have 600 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina find permanent homes in Utah where they have been moved only temporarily, and I preached at the Martin Luther King chapel at Morehouse College at a conference with Coretta Scott King. And as part of my current run for Congress in New Jersey, I travelled to Rwanda to highlight the 1994 genocide and help combat efforts to deny it. The Rwandan government invited me to meet President Paul Kagame in New York last week and I hosted a reception for Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo with American Jewish leaders.

There are those who believe that the black and Jewish communities share a common history of persecution. But being among the world’s foremost victims is not the basis of our bond. The relationship between blacks and Jews is built on shared faith rather than shared oppression, common destiny rather than common history, shared values rather than shared interests, and a mutual commitment to social justice rather than a mutual alienation from the mainstream.

I thank God for a friendship that has endured for two decades and the enrichment it has brought to us and our respective communities.

Homeland Security Runs Threat Response Exercise with Jewish Leaders

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

About 50 high-ranking federal and state law enforcement officials met with an equal number of leading American Jewish officials for their first “table top” threat exercise.

The Joint Department of Homeland Security - American Jewish Community Table Top Exercise, held Wednesday at an unnamed location in Rosslyn, Va., was designed to identify gaps in information sharing, to share best practices and to push security concerns throughout the American Jewish community.

“This was not just another briefing,” Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Secure Community Network, told JTA. “This milestone event was to have the highest level national leaders together in a room for five hours with senior Jewish leaders so we know going out of that room what we need to know what to do to go forward.”

The program began with a current threat assessment by government officials and then simulated potential threats. It featured participants in an amphitheater-style room where they watched law enforcement coordinate responses to two particular scenarios: multiple attacks on Jewish communities throughout the Diaspora and then on Jewish institutions in the United States.

“I’ve got to tell you it didn’t take much prodding to get questions,” William Flynn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Infrastructure Protection, United States Department of Homeland Security, told JTA. “This was a very engaged group and a very well-informed group that asked some very, very good and serious questions and posed some important issues.”

The Department of Homeland Security has helped coordinate security in recent months at the Maccabi Games in Houston, New York, and Memphis, Tenn., he added.

“This was an effort to pull it all together and take a look at the best practices that we’ve identified and any potential gaps that might be there, particularly in how we share information accurately and in actionable ways,” Flynn said.

Goldenberg added, “These leaders walked out saying, `I gotta go back to my constituents and my agencies and I now have a much better idea of what I need to do to secure my community because it’s not just securing a building, but a community. It’s not about panic and it’s not about fear. It’s about partnership” with law enforcement agencies.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who participated in the exercise, said in a statement, “Our partnership with organizations and leaders of faith communities has helped, and continues to help, communities across the country prepare for threats that may originate either within our borders or abroad.”

Other participants included: Rand Beers, Undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security, National Protection and Programs; Jerry Silverman, Jewish Federations of North America president and CEO; Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; and representatives from the FBI and the Department of State.

New Focus On Obama And Israel

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

A new book by foreign policy pundit Peter Beinart, The Crisis of Zionism, seems certain to reignite the debate over President Obama’s feelings toward Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the focus will be a little different this time around. It will be not on his exposure to the likes of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, William Ayres or Rashid Khalidi but rather on the prominent members of the Chicago Jewish community who took him under their wing.

Mr. Beinart writes (in an excerpt of the book that appeared in Newsweek):

The story of Obama’s relationship to Netanyahu and his American Jewish allies is, fundamentally, a story of acquiescence. Obama took office with a distinctly progressive vision of Jewish identity and state, one shaped by the Chicago Jewish community that helped launch his political career. Three years later – after a bitter struggle with the Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment – that vision is all but gone.Obama entered the White House after an adulthood spent – more than any predecessor – in the company of Jews. Most of his key legal mentors were Jews (Abner Mikva, for example); many of his biggest donors were Jews; his chief political consultant, David Axelrod, was a Jew; he lived across the street from a synagogue. And for the most part, the Jews Obama knew best were progressives, shaped by the civil-rights movement and alienated from mainstream American Jewish organizations over Israel.

Mr. Beinart goes on to say that this all accounted for the fact that

Obama’s initial statements about Israel often mirrored the liberal Zionism of his Jewish friends. Like them, he embraced the progressive aspects of Israeli society and Jewish tradition while critiquing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank…. In the words of Rabbi Arnold Wolf, an earlier supporter who ran the synagogue across the street from Obama’s house, Obama “was on the line of [the dovish Israeli group] Peace Now.”

Indeed, during his 2008 run for the White House, candidate Obama said that being pro-Israel does not mean hewing the Likud line.

According to Mr. Beinart, political reality eventually set in and President Obama abandoned his push for a settlement freeze and no longer stated publicly that any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would have to be based on 1967 lines with land swaps. Of course, Mr. Obama’s new, more restrained approach ignores the issue of Israeli retention of the major settlements in any final agreement – something that had been recognized by President George W. Bush – and thus preserves his fealty to the vision of his early supporters.

And that is precisely why many of us will continue to wonder whether Mr. Obama will revert to form should he win in November and venture into a second term unconcerned with having to face the voters again.

Israel-American Knesset Caucus Established

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

A new Israel-American Jewish Knesset Caucus was inaugurated on Wednesday, in recognition of the importance of the American Jewish community, and the need for a fixed platform with which to deliberate on the relationship between the two communities.

According to a caucus statement, it will be the “central Knesset address for all issues related to the American Jewish community.”

The inauguration comes on the heels of a recent poll, sponsored by Brandeis University and the Ruderman Family Foundation, that assessed the attitudes of Israeli Jews towards their coreligionists in the US. The results lent overwhelming support to the establishment of the caucus, as close to 90% of Israeli Jews surveyed said that the American Jewish community is crucial to Israel’s security and continued existence. 71% of Israeli Jews polled also believe that the Diaspora should be considered when legislating fundamental laws like ‘Who is a Jew?’.

Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, the caucus chairperson, was one of six MK’s to participate in the Ruderman Fellows Program in 2011, which seeks to increase knowledge and understanding among Israeli leaders about the American Jewish community.

Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, was quoted as saying that “[t]he fact that the Knesset members are now willing to examine and address the shifting dynamics in the American Jewish world is a huge step for Israeli political leaders, and it will have a direct impact on the future of Israel and Jewish unity.”

Reaction To Ads Expose Troubled U.S. Jewish Psyche

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

The recent kerfluffle over Israeli government video ads and billboard posters, designed to entice wayward yordim to return home, instead exposed the troubled psyche of American Jews.

 

One might say – if verbal treif is permitted – that a ham-handed attempt by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption to guilt-trip wandering Israelis into leaving their American promised land backfired. The ministry had good reason for concern lest American society continue to corrode the loyalty of Israelis to their homeland and culture. The benefits of assimilation, as American Jewish history (and the current intermarriage rate) reveals, exact high costs.

 

In the ministry videos a young Israeli woman solemnly contemplates Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance for fallen Israeli soldiers, while her American boyfriend is clueless. A sleeping Israeli father does not awaken while his youngster calls “daddy,” but not “abba.” The child of Israelis, Skyping with grandparents back home, is oblivious to the meaning of their Chanukah candles and imagines that it is Christmas.

 

For months these ads elicited no discernible response, either from wayward Israelis or American Jews. But once the video clips appeared on the Jewish Channel, prompting a tirade from Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, gevalts resounded throughout the land.

 

Goldberg was appalled: “I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads.” Their message was clear: “it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America.” He added, gratuitously, that Israel has its own problems: many rabbis “act like Iranian mullahs.” And intermarriage can be “understood as an opportunity” – although for what he did not specify.

 

The Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America was furious. Rejecting any notion that “American Jews do not understand Israel” (which hardly was the primary thrust of the ads), they warned that “this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship.” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman found the videos “demeaning.”

 

There may also have been a political subtext to the belated outrage. The New York Times noted gratuitously that the Israeli ministry responsible for the ad campaign is headed by a Russian immigrant named Sofa Landver. She belongs to “the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party [that]…takes a hard line on the peace process with the Palestinians and advocates exchanging parts of Israel heavily populated by Arab citizens for Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank.” Therefore, presumably, the ad campaign must be a bad idea.

 

With some 500,000 Israelis estimated to be living in the United States, it is no small problem that the Immigrant Absorption Ministry tried to address – if too bluntly for American Jewish insecurities. The Ministry, expressing its respect and appreciation to the American Jewish community, reiterated the obvious: the ad campaign targeted Israelis who had succumbed to the allure of American enticements, not American Jews.

 

But Prime Minister Netanyahu, responding to the squall of outrage from American Jewish precincts, quickly aborted the ad campaign. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, engaging in damage control, appeared on CNN for an interview with John King – on Shabbat, no less – to apologize for the failure of the Immigration Ministry to “take into account American Jewish sensibilities.”

 

As Jerusalem-based journalist David Hazony perceptively observed about the video ad fracas, “in the hysteria of the response, the insecurity of American Jewish life is laid bare.” That is the real story of the video ad contretemps, which the fury of American Jews inadvertently confirmed.

 

Israel has long been an integral part of that story. Two years after Israel’s founding, American Jewish Committee President Jacob Blaustein wrested his famous agreement from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that Israel would neither presume to speak for American Jews nor attempt to entice them to make aliyah.

 

More recently, whenever Israel has incurred the wrath of an American president for permitting another settlement in its biblical homeland American Jews have writhed with embarrassment and hastened to distance themselves from Israeli “zealots.”

 

Assimilated American Jews remain ever anxious lest they be held guilty by association with Israel’s perceived misdeeds. Their loyalty to the United States must never be impugned. Any implication that American Jews are without a sustainable Jewish identity is infuriating. They seemed shocked that exposure to Jewish life in their promised American homeland can corrode the Jewish identity of Israelis.

 

Israeli yordim are the proverbial canary in the mineshaft, warning of imminent danger ahead. Yet the ads were intended as a warning to Israelis, not to the American Jews who quickly jumped to the conclusion that it is “about us” – a clear indication, as Hazony wrote, that Israelis “stepped on a live wire in the American Jewish psyche.”

 

For American Jews of a certain persuasion, Israel once again was the big bad Jewish bully whose reckless actions jeopardized their deep yearning for recognition as good Jews and acceptance as loyal Americans. But when an Israeli and an American Jew are paired, the ads suggested, the Jewish deficiencies of American Jewish life become glaringly apparent. That stung – precisely because there is truth to it.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/reaction-to-ads-expose-troubled-u-s-jewish-psyche/2011/12/07/

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