It’s been clear to me for about ten years that the primary problem the United States faces in crafting Middle East policy is not so much the Arabs or the Israelis. It is the Israel lobby (led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC but consisting also of all the major Jewish organizations that include Israel in their portfolio.
Writing about the lobby’s influence (from the perspective of someone who had spent 20 years dealing with AIPAC as an aide to a senator and several House members), I initially felt like a voice in the wilderness. Yes, there were always people pointing to the power of the lobby but many of those had no use for Israel to start out with. For them, attacking the lobby is a subset of attacking Israel in general.
Don’t get me wrong. Although I support a secure Jewish State of Israel, I despise the policies of the Netanyahu government and any and all Israeli policies that are designed to either preserve the occupation or (and this is most relevant now) prevent a diplomatic resolution of the stalemate over Iranian nuclear development. Even if the lobby didn’t exist, I’d be vehemently condemning those policies.
Of course, if the lobby didn’t exist, the United States government would not have to spend much effort getting a country that is the largest recipient of U.S. aid in line, just as the bank who holds the mortgage has considerably more say than a property’s nominal owner. Not only do all other foreign recipients of U.S. aid have to comply with conditions set by Washington, so do all states and municipalities here in the United States. Only Israel gets what it wants, no strings attached.
by: Lynn Feinerman on November 13th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
(ADL Headquarters in Jerusalem/ Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Neal Ungerleider)
A Facebook friend recently shared an obscure message referring to a “certain organization” publishing a list of “anti-Israel” groups, among them the Jewish Voice For Peace. She made no mention of the name of the organization sitting in judgment and making the public condemnation.
This Facebook connection thought it might be indecent, or perhaps indelicate, to refer to the organization publishing the list. She thought that naming the organization might be a form of “Lashon Hara”, Hebrew for “bad mouthing” or gossip or, surely in this case, character assassination.
I had to laugh…
For this is just what the “certain organization”, namely the Anti-Defamation League, has done with its branding of various groups as “anti-Israel.” And that is not a laughing matter.
Here is what the Anti-Defamation League says about itself:
The Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all. (ADL website)
Apparently the ADL considers itself superior to such civil rights advocates as the Center For Constitutional Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union. Perhaps that hubris led to its assumption of authority to condemn activist groups such as the Jewish Voice For Peace to social ostracism and marginalization.
by: Amy B. Dean on November 7th, 2013 | 4 Comments »
(Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Doug Geisler)
Jews understand what it means to start a new life in another country. As a nation of immigrants, the US welcomed and protected generations of Jews who fled persecution, famine and poverty in Eastern Europe and the Middle East to begin a new life in the US together with their families. Today, a commitment to the core Jewish mandate of “welcoming the stranger” takes a different form. This year, Jewish activists around the country have mobilized – some even getting arrested in acts of civil disobedience – to push Congress to pass an immigration reform package that would put an end to families being separated by deportation and establish a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.
But as progress on immigration reform stalls in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, some hard-line GOP members want to withhold all access to citizenship for one of the most vulnerable groups of immigrants: the undocumented. Moreover, some politically conservative Jews have been quoted in the press as being involved in this push against a pathway to citizenship for newcomers to the US. One vocal opponent to reform is Stephen Steinlight, former director of national affairs for the American Jewish Council (AJC), who in June told the Jewish Daily Forward that he views Jewish pro-immigration reform activists as “do-gooders leaning over backwards for the aggrieved.” Can Jews overcome such political difference within their ranks to achieve justice for immigrants?
by: Robert Cohen on November 6th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
This month the Jewish American writer and Israel/Palestine activist, Mark Braverman, publishes his second book ‘A Wall in Jerusalem’. It follows ‘Fatal Embrace’ in 2010 which quickly established Braverman as an important new voice in the Israel/Palestine debate. Below you can read Braverman’s first interview to mark the new book’s publication given exclusively to Micah’s Paradigm Shift.
Braverman, who has deep family roots in Israel, has developed what he describes as a ‘calling’ to speak to the Church in a spirit of Christian teaching that sees Jesus as a radical Jew rebelling against the Jewish establishment and the Roman occupation of first century Palestine. In his new book he successfully straddles Jewish and Christian theological thinking to create a shared dialogue of justice and compassion. Braverman is determined to articulate a Christian approach to Palestinian solidarity that counters evangelical Christian Zionism while remaining rooted in the teaching of Jesus. He also challenges the phenomenon of Christian post-Holocaust guilt that leads to a reluctance by the Church to confront Israeli injustice against the Palestinian people for fear of disturbing Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue.
by: Sigfried Gold on November 4th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
(Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Jerusalem Prayer Team)
Is the death of Judaism or liberal American Judaism suggested by the Pew report on American Judaism cause for alarm or remorse or an opportunity for creative renewal? I’ll side with the latter, along with Rabbi Rami Shapiro as he calls for abandoning the American Jewish status quo as a lost cause and starting something new. He lays out a vision he labels “Judaism Next” that embraces the inescapable skepticism and pluralism of our secular age and mixes Judaism’s wiser scriptures and traditions with contemporary philosophy, literature and moral sensibilities (and decorates the result with an avalanche of anarchic philanthropic experiments in Jewish meaning making.) He invites further conversation, asking us “not to argue with my vision of Judaism but to share your own.”
I applaud Rabbi Shapiro’s blunt prognosis and his invitation to creative rebuilding, and I’m sympathetic with much of his vision, but, despite my best efforts, I find myself succumbing to some inner compulsion to argue, even to the point that the presentation of my own vision will have to wait for a future article. My vision is still murky, complicated, not quite articulate, and can’t compete with Rabbi Shapiro’s unless I poke a couple holes in his first and question one of his underlying assumptions.
Well, the hole I want to call attention to doesn’t need to be poked so much as investigated: it’s the absence of faith in Rabbi Shapiro’s program. I can’t tell how intentional this absence is or if it constitutes a real tear in the overall fabric, but I see it in the space between Rabbi Shapiro’s skepticism and his sense of meaning and goodness.
by: Arthur Waskow on October 29th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
"Each of these three jagged-edge explorations of the Jewish future might be seen as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle," the author writes. Credit: Creative Commons/Scouten.
Three new pointers toward the Jewish future have recently been published, and caused a stir: the book on Jewish Megatrends that Rabbi Sidney Schwarz edited/compiled/wrote; the book about the neo-Hassidic community of Jewish renewal by Rabbi Shaul Magid on American Post-Judaism (a most peculiar title since it’s about a new paradigm of Judaism); and the Pew survey on a generation of “non-religious” Jews.
Each of the three is valuable; each has an important lack that the others might fill.
There are two major problems in Schwarz’s book. One is that it ignores the spiritual roots and spiritual flowering of the new universalist orientation of an increasing number of Jews – an orientation away from “What’s good for the Jews?” to the question, “What in Judaism is or can become good for the world?”
Credit: Pew Research Center.
The Pew Research Center’s recently published “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” a summary of its findings drawn from 70,000 screening interviews and 3,475 in-depth interviews with Jews in all fifty states. What is most striking to me (and to Arthur Waskow with whom I’ve been engaged in discussion about these results) is that the Pew survey seems oblivious to the spiritual hunger of American Jews, and hence does not ask a series of questions about this hunger. For example, the survey never asks respondents, “In what forms do you seek spiritual growth or spiritual experience?” which would have been a more important and revealing kind of question for the under-seventy crowd than questions about their religious observance.
Here are some of the conclusions published in the Pew Research Center report:
Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion.
The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.
The changing nature of Jewish identity stands out sharply when the survey’s results are analyzed by generation. Fully 93% of Jews in the aging Greatest Generation identify as Jewish on the basis of religion (called “Jews by religion” in this report); just 7% describe themselves as having no religion (“Jews of no religion”). By contrast, among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults – the Millennials – 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.
by: Kelsey Waxman on October 17th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
Two weeks have passed since the culmination of the fourth annual J Street National Conference in Washington, D.C. Two weeks have also gone by since our congressional leaders failed to come to a compromise regarding the future of our national budget, resulting in a complete shutdown of governmental affairs. The three days I spent representing Tikkun magazine at the nation’s largest “Pro Israel, Pro Peace” gathering have left me conflicted about the American call for progressive peace in the region, but have reassured me that those who are committed to fighting for it are headed in the right direction.
From my exhibitor’s table in an isolated area of the Washington Conference Center, my perception of the goings-on of J Street was much different than the average delegate. I’d like to share my own individual analysis of the conference – please take note that the statements and opinions I’m offering here are purely my own and do not represent those of Tikkun or any other entity.
To refresh our memory, J Street, founded in 2008, is a Jewish-American political advocacy organization that markets itself as “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” The organization promotes a vision for security and stability in Israel/Palestine through its lobbying in the form of an American-brokered two-state solution.
(Tikkun's J Street Table/ Credit: Kelsey Waxman)
It should be noted that with “exhibitor” status, neither Tikkun nor I were technically invited to participate in the J Street conference, but to stand quietly on the sidelines as “Jewish allies” of J Street and hand out our literature. While several other exhibitors, organizations, and publications submitted materials to be handed out in conference “swag bags,” Tikkun‘s magazines seemed to mysteriously not make the distribution cut. This disappointed me because J Street markets itself as an organization committed to the open facilitation of peace dialogue, but the exclusion of different perspectives on Israel/Palestine issues contradicts that very principle.
According to a Pew survey, American Jews are becoming increasingly critical of Israel, with nearly 50 percent no longer believing that its leaders are sincerely interested in making peace with Palestinians.
The Pew survey’s findings are particularly significant when one considers what Peter Beinart calls the “American Jewish cocoon.” Within many segments of the American Jewish community, honest looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not normative in synagogues or Jewish institutions, and a majority of Jewish leaders tend toward reflexively supporting Israeli policies (such as settlements and the occupation) which are both self-destructive and hurtful to Palestinians.
However, the views of American Jews at large are straying from the institutional norms, particularly, and perhaps most significantly, the 18-29 set.
by: Robert Cohen on October 15th, 2013 | 2 Comments »
(Simon Schama/ Credit: Creative Commons)
In Britain, the BBC has recently finished airing a landmark documentary ‘The Story of the Jews’, written and presented by the British historian Simon Schama. The ratings were good and the praise was high from both the mainstream media critics and from most British Jews. It was a highly passionate and emotional telling of ‘our story’. This time, unlike Schama’s previous television histories, it was personal.
I had certainly enjoyed much of Schama’s presentation until he said this:
“…in some sense if you don’t live in Israel – I don’t live in Israel – you’re morally obliged to be nearly silent, nearly silent.”
It was the final episode. After four Sunday nights of television and three thousand years of Jewish history, here was the telling of the modern State of Israel. Simon Schama had entitled it: ‘Return’.