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Posts Tagged ‘americans’

False Advertising, Jewish Morality and the Tobacco Industry

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Advertising and marketing are everywhere we look: on billboards and blimps, on television and film, in our newspapers and magazines, on the food boxes we eat from, even on the clothes we wear. This is a far cry from our society 50 years ago – have you ever seen an old film or television show with product placement? These advertisements often increase and shift our desire and even tell us how we might feel and act. Consumer behavior shifts based not on personal needs, economic considerations, or ethical concerns, but on the power of gimmicks and social branding.

For better or worse, the United States has become the advertising capital of the world. Total U.S. advertising expenditures reached nearly $140 billion in 2012, more than a quarter of world advertising expenditures. These can range from the sponsorship of valuable cultural activities or messages urging a more healthful living style to deceptive ads from businesses that endlessly claim to be going out of business and holding one final sale.

One example of an industry full of deceptive advertising is big tobacco, which promotes one of the most addictive and life-threatening substances known to humanity. From top to bottom, it issues false propaganda. For example, in 1994, executives of seven tobacco companies testified before Congress and lied by saying that smoking tobacco was not addictive. Significantly, however, when pressed, the executives added that they hoped that their children would not become smokers.

Tobacco advertisers have proven extraordinarily resilient and successful in promoting their products. While tobacco ads have been banned from radio and television for more than a generation, they have discovered other ways to advertise. They have learned to increase their messaging through sponsoring sports and social events where people cannot avoid exposure to their logos. In addition, cigarette companies target specific populations using various tactics:

Fortunately, society can take steps against such harmful advertisements and promotions, and we can resist false messages. We no longer have to contend with smoke-filled restaurants and theaters, or feel obligated to have ashtrays in our home ready for anyone who chooses to come in and smoke at will. Also, the percentage of American smokers has declined from about 42 percent in 1965 to 19 percent in 2011. In addition, the federal government passed legislation in 2009 that empowered the FDA to regulate tobacco products and gave states the right to restrict cigarette advertising and promotion through means such as restricting the time and place where these activities could occur. Thus far, 20 states now restrict or prohibit places where free tobacco samples can be distributed. Still, today nearly 44 million Americans smoke tobacco, and in 2011 cigarette companies spent $8.37 billion on advertising and promotional activities in the United States. Advertising has the power to persuade, and to deceive.

As religious Jews, one pertinent question about advertising and its relationship to deception and promoting harmful decisions and habits is, what is halacha’s view of this?

In “The Impact of Jewish Values on Marketing and Business Practices,” Hershey Friedman, a professor at Brooklyn College, argues that while Jewish law may not explicitly forbid the influencing of consumers, it clearly violates the spirit of the law. (Specifically, it is geneivat data, deception, which is a Biblical prohibition).

The Talmud (Chullin 94a) gives an example of how business must not include any deception, towards Jews or non-Jews: “A person should not sell shoes made of the leather of an animal that died of natural causes (which is inherently weaker) under the pretense that it was made from the leather of an animal that was slaughtered.” The Shulchan Aruch bring this as halachah (CM 228:6).

Businesses need to compete, and advertising is the norm in commercial life. It is not an option to stop advertising. Further, Jewish law does embrace the notion that a reasonable person’s expectation can be assumed. One Talmudic passage gives an example:

Mar Zutra was once going from Sikara to Mahoza, while Rava and R. Safra were going to Sikara; and they met on the way. Believing that they had come to meet him, he said, “Why did you take the trouble to come so far to meet me?” R. Safra replied, “We did not know that you were coming; had we known, we would have done more than this.” Rava said to him, “Why did you say that to him? Now you have upset him.” He replied, “But we would be deceiving him otherwise.” “No, he would be deceiving himself” (Chullin 94b).

Rav Safra argues that one may not gain from the false perception of another. Rather one must proactively correct that misunderstanding to ensure an unfair moral debt is not created. Rava, on the other hand, believes there is responsibility from the other not to be self-deceived. Aaron Levine, author of “Case Studies in Jewish Business Ethics,” explains that one must not only avoid wrong but proactively assure consumers of the truth. “The seller’s disclosure obligation consists not only of a duty not to mislead in an affirmative manner but also of a requirement to disabuse the customer of his reasonable misperception about the product.”

We see from these sources that Jewish law demands that we be extremely cautious in protecting and promoting the truth. We should take note of and observe these principles in our daily interactions with our fellows on the street, in the beit midrash, in workplace, and in the voting booth and when we talk about creating regulations for advertising.

American Pride Undermined by Inaction in Syria

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

I’ve heard many people say that America has no vital national interest in Syria. Well, how about this.

When I was an American living in England for 11 years it stuck me that one of the principal differences between my country and the UK was the lack of Union Jacks flying from people’s homes and businesses. In America countless homes have the stars and stripes flying as do many stores. It’s ubiquitous.

Why the difference? I always believed it was the fact that Americans have immense pride in being American while other countries don’t celebrate their national heritage as much. Yes, the British do so on special occasions like a royal wedding. But we Americans do so on ordinary days as well.

The reason: because America stands for something. It was the world’s first modern constitutional democracy. It threw off the yoke of a tyrant and established the people’s rule. More recently it liberated Europe from the tyranny of Nazism, liberated Iraq from the mass murderer Saddam Hussein, and was instrumental in purging Libya of the butcher Gaddafi.

Americans are justly proud of how we embody human liberty. Europe was once part of this alliance, especially in the Second World War where Britain, especially, was exemplary. But since them, the Europeans have taken a cynical approach to liberating incarcerated peoples and the prevention of genocide.

But what happens to American pride when we begin to watch bodies of gassed children and choose to remain innocent bystanders? What are we to be proud of then? A lofty standard of living? High speed internet? Cheaper gas then Europe?

Americans are driven to advance their country because they believe in their country. Our national promise is predicated on an affirmation of our values.

I cannot imagine loving America with the same passion that courses through my veins if America doesn’t use its righteous might to protect the innocent and the weak. I will always be a proud American. But that pride stems from the values we espouse and promote.

Yes, I realize we can’t be the world’s policeman. Even our strength and resources are limited. But I come back to a famous Rabbinical teaching in Ethics of Our Fathers that says, “It is not for you to complete the work, but neither can you wash your hands of it, either.” We’re not obligated to intervene in every atrocity. Nor are we capable. But neither can we turn a blind eye to the most egregious violations of human rights. If we do so then we are misusing the wealth and strength of our nation.

The Rwandan genocide, whose twentieth anniversary is this coming April, was all coordinated from a single radio antenna. The United States was asked to fire a single missile that would have destroyed the transmitter. The Clinton Administration refused because it was spooked by the events of Black Hawk down that had transpired a few months earlier in October, 1993. But that one missile could have largely prevented a mass atrocity that claimed the lives of nearly one million people.

We are not the world’s policeman. And our national debt is becoming a crisis of its own. But we can afford a few cruise missiles fired at Bashar Assad’s air force and presidential palaces, which will force the tyrant to live in the underground bunkers that should be the abode of monsters who gas their people.

Poll: Americans Not Eager to Attack Syria

Monday, August 26th, 2013

While some lawmakers, including Sen. Bob Corker, republican of Tennessee, senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are pressuring President Barack Obama to take military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad, Americans are not excited about the prospect of a new war.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Aug. 19-23 and released Sunday, about 60 percent of Americans said Obama shouldn’t intervene in Syria’s civil war, while only 9 percent favored action.

More Americans would support U.S. intervention if the use of chemical weapons were to be confirmed, with 25 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed. But an Aug. 13 Reuters/|Ipsos poll asked the same question and got responses of 30.2 percent in support of intervention to 41.6 opposed.

U.S. military assets in the region are being intensified, but no decisions were announced after an emergency White House meeting that included Vice President Joe Biden and top defense, intelligence and diplomatic officials.

Why They Hate Us

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Boy, do they hate America.

I’m on a flight in Tanzania, having left Rwanda where we made a second tour of the genocide sites with the impending twentieth anniversary of the slaughter, when I meet a very fine Pakistani family going on safari.

We exchange pleasantries. They have children studying in the UK, as do many upper-class Pakistani families. My wife and I lived in the UK. We find much to talk about. I relate to them all the Pakistani students I knew at Oxford who were regulars at our events. They tell me of their trip to see the mountain gorillas and how they are enjoying Africa.

Suddenly, the father says to me, “I was in Israel recently. I enjoyed it. But I was disgusted at the treatment of the Palestinians who cannot even go from Bethlehem into Jerusalem.”

I explain to him that the checkpoints are relatively new. “They did not exist when I was a student in Jerusalem. They were set up after a wave of terror bombings killed thousands of Israeli civilians. You can hardly blame Israel from trying to stop the slaughter.”

“The slaughter?” he says, “You mean the way Israel massacres Palestinians every day. And it’s all funded by America, who is the biggest murderer in the world. Just look at the 100 people every day being killed in Iraq.”

I raise my eyebrows, trying to remain calm and provoked. “But that’s being done by Islamic terrorists. What does it have to do with America? We Americans died to liberate the Iraqis. We spent more than a trillion dollars of our national treasure on complete strangers to stop them from being slaughtered by Saddam Hussein.”

He ignores the facts and continues his diatribe. “America is now slaughtering everyone in Afghanistan, just to destabilize the region, and blaming everything on Pakistan.”

“America is trying to save Afghanistan from the Taliban,” I counter, “monsters who brutalize women, fanatics that behead those who don’t conform to their religious extremes.”

“Nonsense,” he says, “the Taliban is infinitely more humane that the Americans and their agents in the Middle East, the Israelis.”

By now I’ve had enough and I go on the offensive.

“Why was Osama bin Laden living in Abbotabad, a mile from Pakistan’s West Point? Who was sheltering a man who killed 3000 innocent Americans?”

And here he makes my jaw drop. “Three thousand Americans dead is nothing, a drop in the ocean, compared to how many Muslims America has killed.”

You may wonder why I am relating this story. It’s an isolated incident, right? But it’s not. It’s a sentiment I encountered in so many parts of Africa where I traveled to Rwanda, to again see the genocide sites and meet with government officials, and then to Arusha in Tanzania, to see the criminal courts where the Rwandan genocidaires were tried.

Readers of my columns will know that I am one of Jewry’s foremost defenders of Islam. I remind Jewish audiences constantly that we dare not de-contexualize the current frictions between Jews and Muslims. Saladin welcomed the Jews back to Jerusalem in 1187 when he captured the holy city from the crusaders who massacred every last Jew. The Ottomans took in large numbers of Jews when we were expelled from Catholic Spain and Portugal. Jews flourished in many Islamic lands where the Koran said they would have to be treated as second-class citizens but should otherwise not suffer persecution. I took Dr. Oz, during our recent visit to Israel together, to see the tomb of Maimonides in Tiberius, explaining that the greatest Muslim ruler that ever lived made the great sage his personal physician. Whenever some of my Jewish colleagues speak of Islam as an inherently violent religion, citing verses in the Koran to prove it, I remind them that there are plenty of verses of our own Torah which can be taken out of context and sound pretty violent. It all comes down to how these passages are interpreted.

But with that being said, there is no question in my mind that Islam is undergoing a modern crisis which perhaps only its clerics and lay leaders can rescue it from. Here in Tanzania there was a terrible story just a week ago when two British female Jewish teenagers were attacked with acid by Islamic assailants.

It’s not that imams and are preaching violence, although many unfortunately do. It’s rather that they preach victimhood. America is to blame for their problems. Israel is to blame for their suffering.

Where are the Islamic leaders and clerics who are prepared to say, “We are responsible for our own problems. We are taking a great world religion and turning it insular and away from secular knowledge rather than finding the balance between the holy and the mundane. We are not empowering women to be the equals of men in all spheres. We Palestinians took the largest per capita foreign aid ever given to a people and we allowed corruption and hatred of Israel to squander the funds on bombs and bullets rather than building universities and schools. We elect leaders democratically who then, like Hamas, or Muhammad Morsi, precede to dismantle democratic institutions. We see the Jews as our enemies rather than using them as an example of what we ourselves should aspire to. They returned to their land after long ago being dispersed by foreign European powers and made the desert bloom. We can surely do the same.”

What the Benghazi Leaks Mean, and what Difference Would it Have Made?

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Imaging this: it was well-known that in 2011 the United States was facilitating the weapons supply to Syrian rebels. The weapons were paid for by Qatar and Saudi Arabia and delivered through Turkey.

We have known for more than a year about this traffic. There were two big UN Reports on this traffic.( By the way this meant that the United States was arming Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups.)

What wasn’t known was a simple detail: the United States was also collecting and shipping the weapons.

That’s it! This is what was being concealed. After all, it was openly known previously that the Libyan rebels against Qadhafi were armed by the United States.

The whole mess was unnecessary!

If it were known that the CIA guys in Turkey weren’t just watching the weapons supply but delivering it, to quote Clinton, what difference would it have made?

Would Congress have stopped the weapons’ traffic? No, they wouldn’t even do anything about the arms to Mexican drug gangs that killed Americans?

Would Americans rise in revolt? No.

Would it have cost one percent of the votes in the election? No.

Sure, some bloggers would have talked about parallels to Iran-Contra and a handful of members of Congress would have complained but the massive media machine would have ignored it and the majority of Republicans would have snored.

Did President Obama have to lie in a UN speech saying the ambassador was just there to supervise a hospital and a school? No.

Did a video have to be blamed so as to blame Americans and Islamophobia for the attack? No.

Was the cover-up necessary even to defend the administration’s “perfect” record against terrorist attacks on Americans”? No.

The expose of this arms’ supply channel would have bothered few and changed nothing. But since we knew already that the administration was helping arm anti-American, antisemitic, anti-Christian, and homophobic, and anti-women Islamist terrorists I don’t think the difference was huge.

Did the cover-up have to lead to the refusal to defend properly American personnel to prevent what they were doing from leaking out? No.

In short this program of lies and deception and cover up wasn’t even necessary. Those Americans may have been rescued and those lies might have been avoided with no harm to the administration.

I think that tells a lot about how the Obama Administration treats and manipulates the American people. And it also tells about its very profound incompetence and ignorance.

Only in America

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Once again this great nation of ours lives up to its credo.

To some it may be of small consequence that 14 year-old Edon Pinchot won the hearts of Americans last Monday night as he sang a rendition of David Guetta’s “Titanium” on the television show, “America’s Got Talent” (See Edon’s performance below). But I would disagree. It demonstrates something about America.

He not only got a standing ovation from the audience, he was showered with praise by the 3 judges who are not reticent to ridicule bad performances. Of the 12 contestants competing in these quarter-finals, only four are selected to go to the next level. The 3 judges predicted Edon to be one of those four. And they were right. Edon has moved on to the next level of competition.

What is unusual about Edon is that he is an Orthodox Jew. He is a recent graduate of Chicago’s Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School located in Skokie. I know his grandparents. His grandfather and I served together on the board of directors at HTC. They are a wonderful and committed Torah family.

What is even more unusual is that Edon wore a rather nice sized Kipa on his head. It took courage for this young boy to perform in front of a live audience knowing that millions of viewers were watching him on TV. But it took serious commitment to his Judaism to keep a Kipa on his head in a business known for vanity and conformity to the whims of popular culture. Had he removed his Kipa for this performance, it would have been understandable. But he chose to wear it proudly in public. He deserves a lot of credit for that.

Credit goes to the American people too for taking him into their hearts. Americans didn’t see a Kipa – even though it was very obviously upon his head. They saw a talented young boy singing his heart out. And they loved it.

I often say that anti Semitism in this country is practically nonexistent. Except for isolated pockets of extremism like the Neo Nazis, the KKK… or Palestinian-influenced anti-Zionism that occasionally morphs into the anti Semitism popping up in some universities – one would be hard pressed to see it on any real scale.

Among examples of our acceptance that I have pointed to are: Evangelical Christians, the Gore/Lieberman candidacy, and various news stories about how average Americans see their fellow Jewish citizens as equals and have defend them agains anti Semitic attacks. And now once again we have yet another cross-section of Americans that have done the same.

This – despite all the bad behavior some of us are guilty of. I think John McCain was right. When asked by a reporter a few years ago about whether Jack Abramoff’s behavior would negatively color the views Americans had of the Jewish people, he answered that the American people are smart enough to know that one person does not represent the whole. I think that’s right. Makes me proud to be an American.

Happy Birthday America!

A Look Back: 2011-2012 in Campus Israel Advocacy

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

UN vote reactions. BDS efforts. Anti-Israel Conferences. Gilad Shalit’s release. Social media advocacy. Failed and successful collaborations.

It’s been an eventful year on campus, and through it all, Israel Campus Beat has been reporting on the Israel-on-campus reality. Here’s a look at the 2011-2012 academic year through the keen eyes of ICB.

In the Beginning

The year began with the debate over Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly (GA) in September. In preparation for the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) bid for statehood at the GA, Hillel’s Center for Israel Engagement led an initiative, Tents for Israel, to educate students about Israel and enable them to ask questions about Israel in a secure space.

Even prior to Hillel’s initiative, however, the Israel on Campus Coalition and partners launched the Real Partners. Real Peace (RPRP) campaign in July to prepare students on campus to deal with questions about the Palestinian statehood bid. The RPRP campaign promoted the need for direct negotiations between responsible partners to end the conflict by encouraging students to write op-eds on campus, circulate petitions, and undertake other efforts to raise awareness in the campus community. At the launch, students gathered from across the nation, sharing ideas for effective campus advocacy, and used ideas from their discussions not only for the RPRP campaign but also for larger Israel advocacy efforts. To help spread the campaign and keep students connected, RPRP relied heavily on social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Social Media Advocacy

Social media was a major tool for Hasbara Fellowships, who created the “Friend Request Pending” campaign (as part of RPRP). Using Facebook as their theme, Hasbara created a YouTube video to spread the message that Israel wants to become “friends” with Jordan, Egypt, Palestine and others, but the friendship requests are rejected.

Activists on other campuses, such as Brandeis University, have also used video to promote pro-Israel messages. Other students attended the David Project’s Video Production Seminar back in November to learn more about promoting Israel through video; one video, created by a David Project video intern, has been viewed more than 20,000 times.

Social media is quickly becoming a top tool for Israel advocacy. When IDF soldier Gilad Shalit’s release (after more than five years in captivity) was announced in October, Israel supporters turned to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread the good news and share their support. Campus Israel groups use Facebook and Twitter to keep students informed of upcoming meetings and events on campus. Students are taking advantage of the technology of the 21st century and using it for Israel advocacy.

Reaching Out

As important as social media is, it does not replace the fundamental need for building relationships. In the past year, pro-Israel students have sought to establish relationships with pro-Palestinian student groups, though the efforts are fraught with challenges. Early in the school year, ICB reported on a coalition between Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Noles for Israel (NFI) at Florida State University (FSU). Such efforts are so rare that they can seem too good to be true, and in this case, it was. A mere month after the start of this new, hopeful coalition, FSU’s SJP invited Norman Finkelstein, a notoriously anti-Israel speaker, to campus and the partnership ended bitterly.

A successful partnership, however, blossomed this year at a different Florida university. At the University of Miami, an MZ-Grinspoon Intern started a new pro-Israel organization on campus, the I-Team, that includes Jewish, Palestinian and Christian members who work together harmoniously.

Countering anti-Israel Sentiment

In response to a conference at the University of Pennsylvania that sought to advance the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) effort, Israel supporters galvanized to offer a broad range of activities designed to counter the anti-Israel activity. Student activists from all over traveled to Penn to engage students in discussions about Israel. With Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz as the keynote speaker and over 800 students attending Friday night dinners devoted to discussing the conflict, the effort succeeded in creating a positive view of Israel on campus and yielded an Ivy League joint leadership statement condemning the BDS movement.

Later in the year, Dershowitz shared his views with ICB about the Harvard University student conference in March, entitled “Israel/Palestine and the One-State Solution.” Student activists and the professionals who support them have learned a lot from the encounters with anti-Israel activity on and off the campus over the past year. But the most prominent lessons to be learned may be the importance of building and maintaining coalitions and partnerships with diverse groups.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/on-campus-indepth/a-look-back-2011-2012-in-campus-israel-advocacy/2012/05/16/

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