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Archive for the ‘General News’ Category



I Now Pronounce You… Much More Inclusive! PCUSA and Marriage Equality

Jun20

by: on June 20th, 2014 | Comments Off

Photo taken by The Layman (an organization opposed to GLBTQ marriage)

Spoiler Alert: The Presbyterian Church USA, at its General Assembly, voted this week to allow ministers in states where same-gender marriage is legal, to officiate at such weddings. They also voted to change the language in their “Book of Order” to say that marriage is between “two people.”

Now a perspective from a Jew in the pew.

On April 8th 1990, Derrick Kikuchi and I were married in the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto. Back then there was no state recognition of our marriage and the Presbyterian Church USA, which banned ordination of GLBTQ folks, had not yet gotten around to making it a no-no for ministers to perform “holy unions” or other ceremonies recognizing lifetime commitments between GLBTQ partners.

In June 2008, between the time that the California Supreme Court decided that the state’s ban on same-gender marriage was unconstitutional, and the vote on Proposition 8, which amended the state’s constitution to say that marriage was only between a man and a woman, Derrick and I were to receive an award at the More Light Presbyterian’s dinner at the PCUSA General Assembly. Instead of giving a speech we thought it would be wonderful to finally get our marriage license signed at that dinner, making our marriage legal in the state of California, while we still could.

A reporter for The Layman, an organization and publication that opposes same-gender marriage, was at the dinner, took the wonderful picture above, and then spent the evening writing an article that lambasted us for what we had done that evening.

We never dreamed that six years later marriage would be legal in so many states and that the PCUSA would vote FOR marriage equality. But, despite not dreaming that it would happen, many many many people continued to work to make it happen and now…


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CNN Host Asks if Hillary Clinton Should Apologize for Telling the Truth About Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinians

Jun10

by: on June 10th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Monday on CNN’s “Crossfire,” cohost S.E. Cupp prepared the viewing audience to brace themselves for a “doosy” of a statement embedded deep in Hillary Clinton’s new book, Hard Choices.

Curious to know what this controversial statement might be? It’s a sentence from her recollections of a trip taken with Bill Clinton to the Palestinian city of Jericho in 1981. Of that trip, Clinton writes:

“In the West Bank, I got my first glimpse of life under occupation for Palestinians, who were denied the dignity and self-determination that Americans take for granted.”

After reading the above statement, Cupp pointed to Tracy Sefl, a representative of the pro-Clinton super PAC Ready for Hillary, and emotionally reminded her that Chris Christie was forced to apologize to ‘pro-Israel’ groups in America for using the language of “occupation,” emphatically employing air quotes for the word occupation.

She then looked at Sefl and asked the following:

“Is Hillary Clinton going to apologize to Israel for using that same language?”


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Remembering 9/11: Is There a Right Way?

May23

by: on May 23rd, 2014 | 16 Comments »

Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.


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John Legend, Anthony Bourdain & Shifting Use of the ‘P’ Word in America

May22

by: on May 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Growing up, I rarely heard the ‘P’ word uttered in my suburban Atlanta community, and not once did I hear it spoken in my Hebrew school at our family’s conservative synagogue, where teachers spoke of “them” in quick, hushed tones.

And whenever the ‘P’ word was mentioned, whether on CNN or ABC News, it was always accompanied by images of bloodied streets, of people who looked like me grieving, of extremists pointing guns toward the heavens. The message growing up in America, and in the American Jewish community, was clear: Palestinians were a people so evil as to not be named, unless appropriately malevolent images befitting such a people could be simultaneously conjured.

Palestinians were not human, their existence inhumane. This is what I was taught. And this is what I still believed when, in 2002, a Palestinian man planted a bomb at Hebrew University which injured my wife and killed the two American friends with whom she was sitting.

In 2002, in a post-9/11 America fomenting the early stages of a societal, systemic Islamophobia, this is what mainstream America believed as well. The ‘P’ word was used mostly to demonize, not to humanize.

But things have changed dramatically in American discourse in the last few years, mirroring a personal change which has happened within me over the last decade. It is a change which symbolically can be represented by two remarkable moments from this week, both of which happened on May 19.


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On Using ‘Anti-Semitism’ to Promote a Political Agenda in America

May17

by: on May 17th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Fifteen years ago, on a dirt road in rural Missouri, I was followed by two men in a beat-up Ford pickup for three miles, their middle fingers raised and their faces strained, screaming words I could not hear – words I did not need to hear.

This was during my yarmulke-wearing days. I was a visible, lone Jew out in the country bird watching. A Jew who suddenly found himself being tracked by two men whose hate-fueled rage inspired them to try running me off the road. As sport.

Of course, anti-Semitism exists in America and remains a dangerous, global prejudice which reverberates strongly in the Holocaust’s wake. I’ve experienced it on several occasions in multiple countries, as have family and friends. Which is why it’s troubling to witness individuals and organizations in America make false ‘anti-Semitism’ claims not to point out this real prejudice, but in the service of propaganda intended to demonize Middle-Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular.

This week was a big moment for this phenomenon, as much attention was focused on a shocking global survey on anti-Semitism conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The survey of over 50,000 respondents claims to reveal that over a billion people – 26 percent of the global population – harbor predominantly anti-Semitic views, with Muslims being the most anti-Semitic religious group and Palestinians the most anti-Semitic nationality. (According to the survey, 49 percent of Muslims worldwide are anti-Semitic, as are 75 percent of Middle-Eastern Muslims and 93 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.)

Those numbers certainly appear shocking.

However, the survey’s problematic metrics reveal this quantitative survey to be less about measuring actual anti-Semitism as defined by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and more about an occasion to demonize Middle Eastern Muslims in general, and Palestinians in particular, in the service of ‘pro-Israel’ and anti-Palestinian efforts.


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Jews in America: Our Conflicted Heritage

May12

by: on May 12th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Two young girls wearing banners that read "Abolish child slavery" in English and Yiddish. Credit: Creative Commons

On the one hand, Jews are deeply grateful that America provided us with a safe haven when so many other Christianity-dominated cultures had represented us as demon Christ-killers and created the preconditions for the rise of both secular and religious anti-Semitism. American Jews rejoiced in the promise of freedom and equality before the law, and played a major role in organizing, shaping, and leading social movements that could extend that promise to all of America’s citizens. The role of the United States in defeating Nazism at the expense of so many American lives remains an enduring source of pride even for the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those who fought in World War II, and an enduring source of appreciation for this amazing country. And the generosity of the American people toward Jews has made it possible for us to thrive and feel the kind of safety we haven’t felt for two thousand years of exile and diaspora.

On the other hand, Jewish well-being in America came not because this society didn’t seek scapegoats, but rather because it already had a scapegoat long before most Jews arrived on these shores – African Americans, Native Americans, and other targets (most recently, feminists, homosexuals, and “illegal” immigrants). While other immigrant groups from Europe found their safety in part by identifying with the dominant culture and becoming “white” (a social construct for all light-skinned people who bought into the existing systems of privilege and power), a significant section of the Jewish people in the past 150 years of presence in the United States chose instead to identify with the oppressed – most significantly with African Americans, but also with the poor (of which we were a significant part in the years 1880-1940), the oppressed, the homeless, and the hungry.

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Human Life is More Precious Than Rocks

May12

by: on May 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Last month, as the world began the remembrance of the twentieth anniversary Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people were hacked to death over a 100 day period, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon plead with the international community to send more peacekeepers to another African nation on the brink of genocide: the Central African Republic. Speaking recently in that country, where some 640,000 people have fled their homes for fear of being slaughtered, the Secretary General said, “The international community failed the people of Rwanda 20 years ago…And we are at risk of not doing enough for the people of the C.A.R. today.”

Subsequently, the U.N. Security Council authorized more U.N. peacekeepers to the C.A.R., who are due to arrive by September. None of those peacekeepers are slated to be Americans.

The absence of any Americans on the U.N. peacekeeping force for the C.A.R. might be a good “gut check” moment for the nation, especially when weighed against the militaristic message that President Obama is sending to another part of the world: the Asia Pacific.

For example, on his recent visit to Japan the President said of the China-Japan territorial dispute over uninhabited rocky islands in the East China Sea – a dispute which may result in a China-Japan military confrontation – “What is a consistent part of the alliance (U.S. – Japan alliance) is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who expressed relief that America will militarily defend those rocky islands, said of Obama’s military reassurance, “On this point, I fully trust President Obama.” Needless to say, not expressing relief over Obama’s promise to take America to war over those uninhabited, rocky islands was the Chinese government. Indeed, as mentioned today in a New York Times editorial, this week’s water cannon spat between the Chinese and Vietnamese navies over the deployment of a Chinese oil rig in the South China Sea may be a direct geopolitical consequence of President Obama’s assertive – and official – military posture of collective defense, his own editorializing about America’s war-weariness notwithstanding. According to the New York Times editorial board:

Some experts say the Chinese deployed the rig because oil and gas reserves were recently found nearby. But the move could also be pushback against President Obama and his increased focus on Asia. On a recent trip to Asia, Mr. Obama said America would defend disputed islands in the East China Sea under its security treaty with Japan and reinforced a treaty commitment to the Philippines.

So here we have the President of the United States – again, publicly telegraphing to the American people that he “feels their pain” about stupid wars – simultaneously telling China and Japan, explicitly, that he is prepared to take the United States of America to war over those uninhabited, rocky islands that are disputed by China and Japan, and those two respective nations responding accordingly: Prime Minister Abe of Japan with relief, and the Chinese military with an upping of their ante in other disputed waters of the region.

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“Sometimes I’m Afraid. Sometimes I Hit.”

May10

by: on May 10th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

When Jenna answers you, she furrows her brow slightly and looks beyond you, into the distance. It might seem as though she’s concentrating hard, but you’re not taxing her seven-year-old intellect. No, you’re making her think of things, you’re making her remember things, that no seven year old should have to remember.

Her voice is quiet, sweet. And as she talks about soldiers breaking into her house at 3:30 am, and the shooting of tear gas outside meant not for crowd control, but to awaken everyone in the village, you feel pain. But then she looks at you and smiles. Happy to be treated kindly, to be helpful, to be cute.

"I think if we just talk with them, then maybe they'll return our land" - Jenna, age 7, in "Sometimes I'm Afraid. Sometimes I Hit."


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Palestinian-American asks about BDS at my book event, and nobody gets hurt

May3

by: on May 3rd, 2014 | 9 Comments »

In a remarkable moment* Wednesday night at my book event in Washington, D.C., I was asked about my views on the boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS) movement by a Palestinian-American in attendance.

During both the question and answer – which comprised three minutes of an 80-minute event – not a single American Jew was hurt, nor was Israel harmed, by the conversation. This despite dire warnings from American Jewish leaders about the dangers of such “illegitimate” discourse and my inclusion in the Jewish communal tent.

Instead of causing communal damage, the moment elicited nods and applause from a packed house of mostly progressive Jews at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library, where around 200 people braved biblical rains in the District to gather for a book event sponsored by J Street and Americans for Peace Now.

It was a beautiful, moving event. It was also an event that never should have happened.


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Palestinian Unity Will Be A Big Step On Path To Peace

Apr29

by: on April 29th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

The New York Times devoted a few thousand words on Tuesday to telling us what we already know: the peace process is dead and Prime Minister Netanyahu killed it.

Of course, it hems and haws, apportioning blame to both sides but, it is clear that the Times knows that the sole reason there was no chance that Kerry’s fool’s errand would succeed is because the Israeli right has no intention of giving up the West Bank.

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