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Top Jewish Leader: Many Progressives No Longer Welcome in the Jewish Communal Tent


by: on January 29th, 2014 | 10 Comments »

The story of me being barred from speaking about my book at a university student center (UCSB Hillel) gained national attention this week. And with this exposure came American Jewish leaders who exposed their desire for Hillel International, and Jewish organizations at large, to bar progressives such as myself from being allowed to stand within the communal tent.

Such expressions served to further concretize the existence of a true crisis facing the American Jewish community: a crisis over Jewish institutions deciding who should, and should not, be considered legitimate members of the community on the basis of their political views.

The most prominent among them was William Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy & Director of the Washington office of The Jewish Federations of North America, who wrote in support of UCSB Hillel banning me:

“I just do not support giving communal hecsher to those who are outside the bounds of legitimate discourse … Your [political views] place you outside our communal tent.”

Now, one might think, based upon this, that I’m a horrendous individual with wildly offensive views to be cast outside a vast, nondenominational tent. So, who am I? Brace yourself: I’m a Jewish educator who teaches biblical and rabbinic texts at a North American day school. I’m an author whose memoir focuses on my reconciliation with a Palestinian family. And I’m a progressive Zionist who would like to see Israel thrive as a Jewish, democratic state resulting from a finalized two-state agreement.

Clearly, I’m a vile anti-Semite who should be banned from ever speaking within an Jewish building (save the classroom where I teach daily, I suppose).


US Jews Celebrate Same Sex Marriage While Israel In Uproar Because Bibi’s Son Is Dating “Out”


by: on January 27th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

A front page article in today’s Ha’aretz struck me with the thought that, no matter what happens with the peace process, it is becoming impossible to expect non-Orthodox (i.e. 90-plus per cent) of young American Jews to identify with today’s Israel.

There, on page one, was a photo of a beautiful young couple in their early 20′s who are seriously dating. One is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s son. The other is a Norwegian girl who happens not to be Jewish. Sweet looking kids. But, in Israel, a scandal.


Christian Fundamentalists Are Irrelevant: Only Jews Matter On Israel


by: on January 26th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

I am always amused when I hear people say that right-wing Christian fundamentalists are part of the Israel Lobby, that Congress is just as intimidated by them as they are by AIPAC and its satellite organizations.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Yes, millions and millions of fundamentalists may “support” Israel (not Jews, mind you, who they rightly consider to be dangerously secular) but their support, such as it is, is meaningless.

Here’s why. Christian fundamentalists do not vote based on Israel. As you can see on any of their websites, their voting issues are guns, abortion, gays  and a host of other issues designed to bring America “back” to the ethnically pure Christian republic of their dreams. These days, looming over all else, is their hatred for America’s first black president. They “pray” against  Israel’s “enemies”  but they mobilize against Obama, Obama, Obama. 


Scarlett Johansson vs. Oxfam


by: on January 25th, 2014 | 49 Comments »

A high-profile controversy bubbled over this week into the mainstream over actress Scarlett Johansson’s endorsement of the carbonate-it-yourself company, SodaStream. While the controversy itself is rather narrow, its meaning and implications are far-reaching, as I’ll explain in a moment. But first, allow me to explain the controversy …

Johansson has become the celebrity face of SodaStream, an Israeli company which has its factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. This week, SodaStream made a promotional push in advance of her upcoming Super Bowl ad for the company, which considers Johansson a “brand ambassador,” going so far as to describe the relationship between the two as a “love story” between a socially conscious company and a passionate consumer.

The only problem is that, aside from being SodaStream’s “brand ambassador,” she is also an “Oxfam Ambassador” for the global charity organization, Oxfam International. This week, Palestinians and international boycott advocates challenged either Johansson to leave SodaStream, or Oxfam to end its relationship with Johansson, given the conflict due to Oxfam’s political position on Israeli settlements.


AIPAC Is Self-Destructing


by: on January 24th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

While the fate of the Senate’s Iran sanctions bill remains uncertain, one thing appears clear: AIPAC is alienating allies on Capitol Hill with its intense and self-destructive lobbying efforts.

That alienation has reached peak volume as a result of AIPAC’s bitter, partisan attack against DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, one of the lobbying outfit’s most reliable allies in the House.

Why is she being attacked? Wasserman Schultz has yet to make a public pronouncement as to which way she leans with regard to the sanctions bill. And behind the scenes, it has been reported that she’s trying to dissuade Democrats from supporting the bill, which, given her appointment by President Obama to head the DNC, seems more than expected.

But it’s not so much that Wasserman Schultz has become an AIPAC target. It’s how ugly and partisan AIPAC’s attack against her has become for an organization which takes great pains to appear non-partisan. So what did AIPAC do? It sent out an action letter to her constituents in Florida which used, in its attack, a denigrating and speculative article by the right-wing Washington Free Beacon.

Even though AIPAC declined to comment for a Foreign Policy story on the matter, current and former AIPAC operatives and activists – alarmed by what’s transpiring – are speaking out:

In the 40 years I’ve been involved with AIPAC, this is the first time I’ve seen such a blatant departure from bipartisanship,” said Doug Bloomfield, AIPAC’s former chief lobbyist.


Michael Adler, an AIPAC activist and prominent Democratic donor, said targeting Wasserman Schultz for not supporting new sanctions legislation is misguided given her value to the pro-Israel community. “The bill is only a litmus test for the unsophisticated in the pro-Israel community,” he said. “People can disagree on tactics, but Debbie is in a unique position as DNC chair and has the pro-Israel agenda deeply-rooted in her.”


An Old Voice, A Young Voice, On the Highly Unfashionable Word Called Evil


by: on January 22nd, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Today, U.S. Secretary State John Kerry, age 70, had his voice heard during the Syria “peace” conference in Switzerland, in which he reiterated the State Department’s position that Bashar al-Assad must leave office by “mutual consent.” As reported by the New York Times:

Putting the best face on the meeting, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Wednesday night that it was significant that senior diplomats from 40 countries and organizations had gathered in the lakeside Swiss city of Montreux, to initiate the conference. Mr. Kerry insisted that he had always known that the talks would be “tough” and described the conference as a “process,” which he implied could last for months or even years.

Since Secretary Kerry, age 70, has had his voice today on how to respond to the atrocities of the Assad regime, I would like to use this post at Tikkun Daily to give voice to Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb, who was arrested, tortured, mutilated and killed by the Assad regime in 2011.

Hamza was 13 years old.

We could not heal and repair the world in time for Hamza and so many others around the globe, or even implement already established, and basic, international law to spare his short life, and his indescribable suffering.

Thus, the only voice he has to give us is from his perch in heaven, and through his before and after photos of his torture and murder:

The Power of Unity


by: on January 20th, 2014 | Comments Off

MLK and Malcolm X

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X meet before the Senate debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Credit: Creative Commons/Library of Congress.

As far as we know, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X only met once. They were both attending the debate on the Civil Rights Bill of 1964, and they briefly exchanged greetings at the US Capitol. There is a picture of the two men, shaking hands and smiling as if they were old friends who had not seen each other for a long time. History leaves us with a fascinating “what if.” How would the history of the civil rights movement, of the United States, and of the world have been different if these men had a longer meeting? What would have been different if the two had joined forces if such an alliance were even possible? How would the world be different if the two men had lived long lives?

The play The Meeting by Jeff Stetson imagines a meeting between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. in a Harlem hotel room a week before Malcolm’s assassination. According to the play, Malcolm X has invited Martin Luther King to visit him in Harlem, and King has accepted his invitation. The two men talk, not as larger than life national figures, but they talk as two human, all too human beings, in many ways ordinary men who have been drafted by extraordinary times to play an outsized role in the moral evolution of humankind. The question of how to portray this was a challenge to the actors playing Martin and Malcolm. (http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/black-rep-presents-meeting)

I recently saw the current production of this play by the St Louis Black Repertory Company (http://www.theblackrep.org/) and I was struck by two insights. Full disclosure. My son is a member of the current Black Rep cast. He plays Rashad, Malcolm X’s bodyguard. The three actors in this play seem to all be in their thirties, the same age as were Martin and Malcolm in 1965. My first insight: I was reminded that neither of these men lived to see their 40th birthday. They were young men leading a movement of young people. They were deeply committed to a cause larger than themselves. They were my parent’s age. I was a girl when the civil rights movement was at its apex. Now my son is representing that time on the stage.

I thought about my generation and about the work we did, that we did not do, the work that we are still doing. I thought about this current generation of 30 somethings and their artistic imagination. I thought about the people younger than 30 and what this fragmented world of social networking and smart phones and video games and the surveillance state and the Hip-Hop International Nation, and the Internet means to the project of human rights.

At the end of the day, both Martin and Malcolm were interested in bringing about human dignity. And, here is my second insight. For all of their differences in how to achieve the end result, they both worked toward the same goal of justice for all of humanity through human unity.


A Nation Awakening: Boycott Against Israel Is the Top Story in … Israel


by: on January 20th, 2014 | 23 Comments »

Something remarkable has happened in the last 24 hours in Israel, with two of the country’s most popular media outlets, one television and one newspaper, making the growing effectiveness of boycotts against Israel as their top stories.

Perhaps more remarkable? Neither outlet sought to demonize those leading the European and Palestinian boycott efforts as anti-Semitic, as so often happens in America. Instead, the focus was on these boycotts’ growing impact on Israeli businesses and their root causes: Israel’s settlement enterprise and continued conflict with the Palestinians.

It all started on Saturday night with an in-depth, primetime expose by what is easily Israel’s most watched news program: Channel 2′s “Weekend” (סוף השבוע). This is how Larry Derfner at +972 Magazine described the moment:

On Saturday night the boycott of Israel gained an impressive new level of mainstream recognition in this country. Channel 2 News, easily the most watched, most influential news show here, ran a heavily-promoted, 16-minute piece on the boycott in its 8 p.m. prime-time program. The piece was remarkable not only for its length and prominence, but even more so because it did not demonize the boycott movement, it didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing. Instead, top-drawer reporter Dana Weiss treated the boycott as an established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.


When Did Cory Booker Become Such A Likudnik?


by: on January 19th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

I received an email over the weekend from a woman in northern New Jersey who says she was “shocked” to see Senator Cory Booker’s name on the list of Democratic senators who are backing AIPAC over the president on the issue of Iran sanctions. “I don’t get it. He has been a friend of Muslims during his entire career. Why did he change?” The answer is simple: he didn’t. His support for the local Muslim community has nothing to do with his position on matters AIPAC cares about: the Israeli-Palestinian issue and Iran. As far as the lobby is concerned, Booker can march 24-7 in front of the FBI building to protest profiling of Muslims, so long as does not deviate an iota from Netanyahu’s line on Israel, Palestine or Iran. In fact, being good on Muslim civil rights serves as a good cover for being terrible on Middle East matters.

Booker is a more complex case than, say, Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham, or Bob Menendez. They are obstructionists on Iran and Israel entirely for the campaign funds. For Booker, that is a large part of it. Remember how, back in the 2012 presidential campaign, he publicly broke with President Obama on whether or not Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital — buying up and then dismantling companies — was a legitimate campaign issue? Obama thought it was because it showed Romney not as a job creator but the opposite. But, just as the Bain issue was getting traction in the polls, Booker went on Meet The Press and called the Obama’s use of it “nauseating” and “ridiculous,” damaging Obama but delighting Booker’s own Wall Street donors.


American Dream Deferred: Wealth of Richest 400 Equals that of Nation’s 44 Million African Americans


by: on January 19th, 2014 | Comments Off

We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not just for his heroic championing of social justice, but economic justice as well. Indeed, income inequality was always a central focus for Dr. King, who in 1951 told Correta Scott that “a society based on making all the money you can and ignoring people’s needs, is wrong.”

Which is why, in 1967, Dr. King launched the Poor People’s Campaign, which championed economic justice for black Americans and poor minorities (including whites) alike, aiming to give them the collective power to “assert and win their right to a decent life.”

As Bob Lord notes in his op-ed, “Dr. King’s Nightmare,” Dr. King’s activism was always squarely focused on economic justice. His historic March on Washington was for “jobs and justice,” and at the time of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, he was advocating on behalf of striking sanitation workers in Memphis. In fact, some of his last words were to those sanitation workers on the need to fight, in the face of intense opposition, for their economic justice:

“We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”