7 Israeli Human Rights Groups Protest New Knesset Bill Against African Asylum Seekers

On February 8 the Israeli Knesset passed a new law that will allow asylum seekers to be detained for 12 months in the Negev Desert’s remote Holot detention center. The law has been condemned by seven Israeli human rights organizations:

“For the fourth time, the Knesset approved a failed policy that helps no one, and wastes the taxpayers’ money. Taking away a year of an asylum-seekers’ life, sending them to Holot Detention Center and forcing them to start their life from scratch when they are released, continues to violate their rights and also continues to deepen the misery in South Tel Aviv and elsewhere.”

The seven organizations are Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), The Aid Organizations for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (ASSAF), Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), Kav-L’Oved, and Amnesty International.

Instead, these groups say that

“There are other options the government can choose: Invest capital intended for imprisonment into infrastructure and services improvement in communities housing an asylum-seeker population; Issue work permits that would allow for the regulated community dispersal across the country, and Integrate asylum-seekers into the labor market for industries where we are continuing to import foreign workers from other countries. In addition, the government should be reviewing asylum requests in accordance with international standards.” (The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants Bulletin)

In October 2013, from Jerusalem I wrote to explain what motivated these Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to escape their countries of origin on foot through hundreds of miles of arid desert to reach Israel: https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/eritrean-and-sudanese-asylum-seekers-in-tel-aviv-israel-journal-part-vi/

In October 2015, I wrote again from Jerusalem following an overwhelming vote by the World Zionist Congress, the parliament of the Jewish people, where I was an ARZA delegate, to grant these destitute refugees asylum status in Israel: https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2015/10/23/wzc-resolution-on-eritrean-and-sudanese-asylum-seekers-in-israel-jerusalem-report-2/

And today, I write not only to support these seven Israeli human rights organizations in their work on behalf of these refugees, but to say that I believe that the majority right-wing government of Israel has done an injustice to these people and has acted contrary to Jewish prophetic and rabbinic values of compassion and treatment of the stranger.

I understand the reasons why advocates of the law have taken this position. Many South Tel Aviv residents are angry that these refugees have taken over their neighborhood. Some claim (falsely) that the refugees have brought an increase of crime to Israel based on several highly publicized criminal acts by individual refugees. Studies show, however, that there is far less crime from this refugee population relative to their numbers than from Israelis themselves.

MKs have argued that granting asylum will encourage a large wave of refugees seeking safe haven in the free and democratic Jewish state to come from Africa and other Middle Eastern nations. The Israeli government, however, has now completed a security fence extending the entire length of the southern border to close that once open border and prevent more refugees from entering Israel.

It seems to me that fear of the “other,” of the stranger and the unknown is what has motivated this vote. Yes, Israel lives in a violent corner of the world, and with all the Palestinian terror against innocent Israelis, fear is justifiable and every sensitive human being, and Jews in particular, have to appreciate the stress and strain that Israelis live with every day. I was in Israel when the knifings began and I too felt the fear. I’ve lived there during the Yom Kippur War and I know the fear that the entire nation felt. And I was in Israel during the height of the suicide bombings in March, 2002 and feared even leaving my hotel. Israelis have every justification to be afraid and to take all reasonable actions to protect themselves from violence.

But these refugees are not violent. They ran for their lives. That ought to have been the central issue before the MKs after all the other concerns were dealt with. It seems to me that they were.

All these Eritrean and Sudanese refugees (who are already in Israel) need is a safe haven from two of the most brutal dictatorships in the world until such time that conditions change in their nations and they can return home, which is what virtually all of them want. In the short term, they want to work in hotels and the Israeli service industry or do work that foreign nationals are doing in the hundreds of thousands in Israel.

Every other western democracy grants political asylum to those who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution should they return to their country of origin. Israel does not, except of course, for Jews, and this is one of the great contradictions that Israel embraces.

This most recent Knesset vote is therefore deeply disappointing and distressing. The only positive I can glean from what has taken place is that these seven human rights groups, Israel’s Reform movement, along with many Members of Knesset  who voted down this law have by their positions sustained the dignity of the state of Israel as  a democracy and Jewish state thus fulfilling Israel’s core mission to be, as the prophet Isaiah preached 2700 years ago, an or lagoyim, a light to the nations of the world. Kol hakavod v’chazak v’eimatz!

Confronting Anti-Semitism on American College Campuses Today

I remember as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley (1968 – 1972) that when I became active in anti-Vietnam and pro-civil rights protests I encountered a measure of anti-Semitism among fellow protesters that pushed me away from ever feeling at home with them despite our shared values about equal rights and justice.

Sadly, not very much has changed these past 45 years. Anti-Semitism in the student left has become worse.

In addition to my worries about the rise of anti-Semitism in campus left-wing groups, I’m worried also about what many young Jewish idealists are thinking who, on the one hand base their activism and involvement in these groups upon traditional Jewish values of justice and equality, but on the other are unsuspecting or ill-informed or naive or in denial about the anti-Semitism they are confronting as it manifests in anti-Israel activism, pro-BDS support and pure Jew-hatred.

A particularly disturbing article appeared this month that addresses the challenge that progressive proudly identifying Jewish activists are confronting on college campuses (“In the Safe Spaces on Campus, No Jews Allowed,” The Tower Magazine, February 2016).

We learn there of the experience of two progressive pro-Israel Jewish UCLA students who attended the Students of Color Conference (SOCC) at UC Berkeley in November. The SOCC is the UC Student Association’s oldest and largest conference that has a reputation as “being a safe space where students of color, as well as white progressive allies, can address and discuss issues of structural and cultural inequality on college campuses.”

Arielle Mokhtarzadeh and Ben Rosenberg discovered to their shock and dismay that though many of their fellow college students had risen up to fight racism on campuses across the country as they did, so often those very same students subject Jewish students to anti-Semitism.

I offer below three important articles that survey anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on American college campuses today:

1. In the Safe Spaces on Campus, No Jews Allowed, By Anthony Berteaux, The Tower Magazine, February 2018 – http://www.thetower.org/article/in-the-safe-spaces-on-campus-no-jews-allowed/

Arielle Mokhtarzadeh and Ben Rosenberg shared the following:

[the conference participants] said that Israel was poisoning the water that they sell into the West Bank, and raising the price by ten times. Any sane person knows that this is not true. They also said that when Jewish-American students go on Birthright trips, the Israeli government offers you money to live on a settlement. A number of things like that…. There was also no mention of the Holocaust when talking about the history of Israel. They said that in the late 19th century, Jews decided to move into this land and take over it. They completely white-washed our history as a people… Over the course of what was probably no longer than an hour, my history was denied, the murder of my people was justified, and a movement whose sole purpose is the destruction of the Jewish homeland was glorified. Statements were made justifying the ruthless murder of innocent Israeli civilians, blatantly denying Jewish indigeneity in the land, and denying the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered. Why anyone in their right mind would accept these slanders as truths baffles me. But they did. These statements, and others, were met with endless snaps and cheers. I was taken aback.

2. Anti-Semitism On Campus: Most Jewish Students Feel Discriminated Against, New Study Finds By Jackie Salo, July 7, 2015, International Business Times – http://www.ibtimes.com/anti-semitism-campus-most-jewish-students-feel-discriminated-against-new-study-finds-2027557

Nearly three-quarters of Jewish college students have described experiencing anti-Semitism in the last year, and about one-third have been verbally harassed at one point because of their religion, according to a survey…. More than one-quarter of the Jewish students reported seeing hostility against Israel on campus from peers as a “very big” or “fairly big” problem, and nearly 15 percent felt the same level of animosity towards Jews. Nearly one-quarter of respondents said they have been blamed in the past year for the actions of Israel because they were Jewish….The study also found that Canadian universities and Midwest and California state schools had the highest rates of students reporting hostility on campus towards Jews and Israel. 

3. National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students 2014 – ANTI-SEMITISM REPORT, By Barry A. Kosmin & Ariela Keysar – https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/trinityantisemreport.pdf

The following appears in the report’s Forward:

…we have learned much more about the problem [of anti-Semitism on college campuses], which has worsened at many institutions …. Significantly, we did not know, until the completion of Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar’s important work on this report, the startling fact that more than half of Jewish American college students personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism during the 2013-2014 academic year…. It should be obvious that campus anti-Semitism deserves a strong response… governmental officials, university administrators, civil rights groups, and communal institutions, activists, and funders, all of whom need to decide what resources to dedicate to addressing campus anti-Semitism and how to deploy these resources. …

This report offers what responses ought to be made to anti-Semitism as it manifests on campuses. The most important defense, in addition to governmental, administration, faculty, and student responses, is a well-educated Jewish student body about Judaism itself, the history and nature of anti-Semitism, and the history and nature of the state of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. Young people need to know their own Jewish history. They need to understand the significance and nature of the state of Israel in all its complexity, and they need to be prepared to identify anti-Semitism when they encounter it and how to effectively confront it for what it is really is. And finally, they need to be able to stand proudly as Jews.

“We sought to change the State of Israel, not to change Orthodox Judaism!” Rabbi Rick Jacobs after the Kotel Decision

This past Sunday, the government of the state of Israel, led by PM Netanyahu, took an historic decision to fund and create a new egalitarian prayer space at the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall, that will be characterized by gender equality, pluralism and a lack of segregation between men and women.

This new space will be overseen by non-Orthodox Jewish religious streams (Reform, Conservative) and Women of the Wall.

The following are highlights that I noted in an international conference call for the leadership of the Reform movement this morning, February 4.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Chair of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, and Anat Hoffman, Director of the Reform movement’s Israeli Religious Action Center and Chair of Women of the Wall, discussed in detail the significance of Sunday’s cabinet decision.

Rabbi Jacobs thanked PM Netanyahu who made the establishment of an egalitarian section of the Western Wall an important part of his leadership, and he expressed gratitude to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Jewish Agency Director Natan Sharansky, the Conservative movement, the Federations of North America, and Women of the Wall. He singled out Rabbi Gilad Kariv and Anat Hoffman, whose leadership has brought about this historic decision. Rabbi Jacobs, it needs to be noted, was also a central figure in effecting this historic compromise between the liberal religious streams and the Israeli government.

Though the final agreement is imperfect, it will allow the construction of a grand and fitting entrance to a new prayer space beneath Robinson’s Arch at the southern end of the Western Wall that will be visible to all. The decision establishes as a matter of law for the first time that the Kotel belongs to the entirety of the Jewish people and not just to the Orthodox.

Rabbi Jacobs emphasized: “We sought to change the state of Israel with this decision – we could not nor did we wish to change Orthodox Judaism. That’s for them to do!”

In reaction to the decision, hateful and inflammatory words have flown from the mouths of several government Ministers who disparaged the Reform movement. We have not taken their slanderous remarks lightly, and PM Netanyahu also condemned what they said as unrepresentative of the government of Israel.

Now, this agreement must be implemented and we Jews in the Diaspora, along with our movement in Israel, will need to maintain public pressure on the government to bring it about. The best way to do this is for groups of all kinds – Synagogues, Federations, Jewish organizations, NFTY, Birthright Israel trips, family b’nai mitzvah ceremonies, weddings, and individuals need to visit and use this new prayer space.

This government decision is but one step in a longer process of bringing greater religious freedom for all Jews in the state of Israel. Other challenges include our continuing to advocate for civil marriage, for non-Orthodox burial, for the elimination of the hegemonic Chief Rabbinate over the personal choices and lives of Israelis, and for a 2-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anat Hoffman reviewed the history of this effort that commenced on December 5, 1988 when a small group of Diaspora orthodox women on Rosh Hodesh brought a Torah to the Kotel and then continued to do so on every Rosh Hodesh for the next 27 years. Anat characterized this as a precious gift that Diaspora Jewish women have given not only to Israel but to the entire Jewish people.

Rabbi Kariv shared three insights:

1. This is the first time in the history of the Israeli Reform movement that an agreement has been achieved by negotiations in the Knesset and not through the Supreme Court;

2. Israeli law recognizes that there is more than one way to worship God in Judaism;

3. The upper Kotel plaza has been removed from the purview of the Chief Rabbi of the Wall and has been reclaimed according to national democratic parameters that will allow women and men of the IDF to gather together there for ceremonies.

Other points:

• The Orthodox Rabbinate will maintain complete control over the traditional northern section of the Kotel;

• Notes can be placed in the new prayer section’s Wall as in the northern traditional prayer area;

• We are sensitive that this is an historic religious area for other faith traditions. We will be thoughtful neighbors and we will not ask Christians to remove their crucifixes when entering our prayer area, as they are asked to do in the traditional area (the Pope was asked to do so when he visited the Kotel);

• The National Antiquities Department Director promises that modifications to the Robinson’s Arch area for this new prayer space will not disrupt the archaeological integrity of the site or the Al Aqsa Mosque compound;

• There will be no modesty police overseeing people in this section as is the case in the traditional northern section;

• This area will be known as “The southern section of the Western Wall.”

This decision not only enhances the democratic character of the state of Israel, but it enhances the Jewish character of the state. It is an extraordinary example of partnership between the state of Israel and the Jewish people around the world working together on behalf of klal Yisrael.

To PM Netanyahu, the Jewish people owe you a debt of gratitude.

“Israel’s Creeping Annexation of West Bank Speeds Up” by Alan Elsner – Huffington Post – Plus Area C Map

I normally do not post entire articles written by others, but this one is so important that I am doing so. It appears on January 29’s edition of Huffington Post and was written by veteran Israeli journalist Alan Elsner who serves as Vice President of Communications at J Street.

Here is a link to a map showing Areas A, B and C in the West Bank. Should Area C be annexed by Israel, a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would become impossible.


As is is well known, many members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are strident opponents of a two-state solution and would like to annex at least a major portion of the occupied West Bank.

Until recently, many in the international community assumed that Netanyahu would block such moves and continue his policy of paying lip service to the goal of a two-state solution, while blocking any meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians and allowing the Israeli settler population of the West Bank to slowly but steadily expand.

But recent developments may indicate that Netanyahu has decided to take his foot off the brakes. Construction within the settlements has accelerated significantly while more and more members of the Cabinet are calling for Israel to officially annex the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C. Within the settlements, giant placards are springing up reading, “Sovereignty! Now is the time.”

Under interim agreements signed in the 1990s with the Palestinians, the West Bank was divided into three zones. In Area A, comprising about 18 percent of the land including the major Palestinian cities, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is supposed to run things without Israeli interference — although the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service frequently mount raids inside this area.

Area B is around 22 percent of the West Bank and is mainly rural. Israel retained security control of the area but the PA is supposed to control civil affairs.

Area C comprises over 60 percent of the territory and is under almost total Israeli military control, including control of all land-related civil matters. That means Israel controls land allocation, planning and construction and infrastructure.

The size of the Palestinian population of Area C is disputed. Right-wing Israeli politicians like Education Minister Naftali Bennett claim there are only 50,000 Palestinians living there and therefore Israel could easily annex the territory and grant them Israeli citizenship without altering significantly the demographic balance within Israel.

However, the United Nations says there are 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C. Israeli civil rights organizations like B’Tselem put the number at around 200,000. The dispute arises because many Palestinian towns and villages fall partly in Areas A or B and partly in Area C. Area C also holds virtually all of the Israeli settler population of the West Bank – now around 350,000 plus.

For many years, the Israeli authorities have been behaving as if Area C will one day become part of Israel. Obviously, there can be no Palestinian state if it does. The Israeli Civil Administration has methodically blocked virtually all Palestinian construction and attempts at economic development and systematically taken over more and more land and brought it under Israeli control and ownership.

According to B’Tselem:
— 36.5 percent of Area C land is defined by Israel as “state land”.
— 63 percent is within settler local and regional councils.
— 20 percent is under examination by the authorities with a view to retaining them as government property.
— 30 percent is defined as “live fire zones.”
— 14 percent has been declared nature reserves or national parks.

The Civil Administration almost never grants Palestinians living in Area C building permits, forcing them to build illegally. According to a UN report last September, more than 11,000 demolition orders are currently outstanding in Area C. These orders – which affect an estimated 13,000 Palestinian-owned structures, including homes – are among the over 14,000 demolition orders issued by the Israeli Civil Administration between 1988 and 2014.

Israel’s civil administration deputy head Uri Mendes said earlier this month his office is cracking down on illegal Palestinian building and destroying all such structures, save for those that are the subject of legal cases or are protected by a court injunction.

The EU is fighting back against this policy, providing funds for Palestinians to build even without permits, believing this is crucial for their economic development. Thus, a serious clash is developing on this issue between the Europeans and the Netanyahu government.

The future of the two-state solution is playing out in Area C, which has most of the land of a future Palestinian state. This area should be designated for developing and expanding existing Palestinian communities. They are also crucial for building and locating infrastructure such as waste treatment facilities and industrial zones, which cannot be placed in cities. This land has vital mineral and water resources. To give just one example, Human Rights Watch recently reported that Israel gets 25 percent of its quarrying materials from the West Bank and that 94 of the stone quarried in the West Bank goes to Israel.

Israel’s policy in Area C of creeping de facto annexation is now turning into galloping annexation. The world, led by the United States, should start paying more attention before it is too late.




The Knesset NGO Transparency Bill is not what its backers say it is!

Israel’s Justice Minister, 39 year-old Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Jewish Home Party that represents the powerful settler movement, is the primary advocate behind the Knesset bill that would require NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that receive 50% or more of their funding from foreign governments to publicly detail those sources as a means, Shaked says, to protect the state of Israel from the undermining and delegitimizing efforts of the Jewish state by foreign governments.

This bill, however, has nothing to do with what its backers claim because the bill is superfluous. Israel already has many regulations in place for NGOs that receive money from foreign governments, and their budgets are published and sources of income are known.

What is the real intent behind passage of this NGO Transparency bill?

To target Israeli human rights and left-wing organizations such as “B’tzelem,” which monitors human rights violations against Palestinians by settlers and the Israeli military administration in the West Bank, “Breaking the Silence,” a group of former IDF soldiers who are speaking out about army violations of  human rights in the West Bank, and the American based “New Israel Fund,” a pro-Israel human rights organization that funds projects not funded by the Israeli government or American Federation dollars.

It is noteworthy that many right-wing NGOs that are not transparent are left untouched by this Knesset Bill.

According to a Peace Now survey issued in September, 2015 that examined the reports for 2006-2013 of nine NGOs identified with the Israeli right-wing, it was found that there is no way of knowing where the funding of hundreds of millions of shekels to these organizations that deeply affect policy and Israeli public opinion comes from (see http://peacenow.org.il/eng/RightWingNGOs).

For example, 2% (160,000 NIS) of the extremist right-wing organization “Im Tirtsu’s” funding is secret. Last week Im Tirtsu launched a slanderous campaign targeting some of Israel’s most respected left-wing literary icons including Amos Oz, A.B Yehoshua and David Grossman calling them “moles in culture” and insinuating that they are treasonous.

The anti-left “NGO Monitor” does not reveal 23% of its funding. The settlement movement’s powerful “Yesha Council” does not reveal 99% of its funding. The right-wing organization “Ir David Foundation” (Elad) that has led the way in building and developing East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods for Jewish settlement, does not reveal 100% of its funding.

The reason these groups are not required to reveal their funding sources is that their money either comes from Israeli individuals and Foundations or from wealthy American Jews and American Foundations. There is no requirement in Israeli law to name the names of individuals or non-government foundations. The Shaked NGO Transparency Bill only addresses funding from foreign governments.

Shaked’s bill is similar to policies in Egypt after the revolution that banned all NGOs and to Putin’s Russia that bans free speech. MK Shaked dismissed criticism by comparing the Israeli bill with the American Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), but US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro publicly refuted her comparison last month saying:

“As a general matter, US law imposes no limits, restrictions or transparency requirements on the  receipt of foreign funding by NGOs operating in the United States, other than those generally applicable to all Americans…the draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities….FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”

Shaked’s NGO Transparency bill does not expose anything new. Organizations in Israel that receive funds from private donors, as such as Sheldon Adelson, are far less regulated as opposed to those organizations receiving money from foreign governments, even governments such as the EU, Germany and the Netherlands that have excellent relations with Israel.

What it comes down to is that MK Shaked’s law focuses upon organizations she and the right-wing government of Israel do not like.

There seems to be a misconception by the bill’s advocates about the important check and balance role that NGOs play in democracies. In a proper democracy, the government does not get to decide what are the good NGOs and what are the bad NGOs. Rather, people decide what they wish to fund or not fund.

Shaked acknowledges that this NGO law does not shut down any NGO nor does it require changes in operating left-wing NGOs. The purpose of the bill is symbolic. Its intent is to sow suspicion about Israeli human rights NGOs, to insult their integrity, to challenge their pro-Israel credentials, and to prime the Israeli public to accept further limitations on what NGOs can do and not do down the road.

This bill ought to be defeated but it is expected to pass, which does not augur well for Israeli democracy.

Gratitude – A Poem for Parashat Yitro

How you lifted me
Upon eagles’ wings
When I despaired
I’d not recover
Nor swoon over grandchildren.

You swooped down
And plucked me from the pit
As a father snatches a child
From a dangerous sea
And a bird hovers over her nest
Turning tenderness into ferocity
When her fledgling is threatened.

In an instant I
Was restored to life.

So swiftly you came
Streaking across skies
To set me gently
Upon pinions
And shield me
From malignancy
And hunter’s arrows
From inert Sheol
And loneliness
Relentlessly beckoning
Like gravity on lead.

Higher than mountains
You lifted me
Insignificant and small
You robed in grandeur
Aided by healers
You attending from Your perch
Drawing me close
To them and You.

How can I repay them for my restored life?
How can I praise You?

Poem by Rabbi John L. Rosove – inspired by Exodus 19:4

The Staggering Statistics of Gun Violence in America and What We Can Do About It

This week two leaders of Women Against Gun Violence, Loren Lieb and Donna Finkelstein whose children were injured in the 1999 Los Angeles Jewish Community Center shooting, visited my synagogue’s senior staff to ask our synagogue community and schools to promote education and advocacy on behalf of gun safety.

Here are statistics showing the disastrous effects of gun violence on American lives (provided by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Women Against Gun Violence):

Children (0-19 years)

• Every year on average – 17,499 American children and teens (0-19 years) are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention – 2,677 kids die from gun violence – 14,822 kids survive gun injuries

• Every day on average – 48 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention – 7 children and teens die from gun violence – 41 children and teens are shot and survive

All ages

• Every year on average – 108,476 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention – 32,514 people die from gun violence – 75,962 people survive gun injuries

• Every day on average – 297 people in America are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention – 89 people die from gun violence – 208 people are shot and survive

Firearms are the 2nd leading cause of death for children and teens ages 1-19

A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense

Gun ownership in a country is a significant predictor of firearm homicide rates. For each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increases by .9%.

There are 65 million more guns than adults in America.

Suicides account for 60% of gun deaths each year.

1 out of 3 homes with kids have guns and 1.7 million children live in a home with an unlocked, loaded gun

82% of firearm suicides among youth under 18 used a firearm belonging to a family member, usually a parent

76% of children ages 5-14 know where firearms are kept in the home

24% of students in grades 7-12 report having easy access to a gun in the home

29% of households with children younger than 12 fail to lock up their guns

33% of 8-12 year old boys who come across an unlocked handgun pick it up and pull the trigger

22% of children who live in a house with a gun handle a gun without their parents’ knowledge

50% of all unintentional shooting deaths among children occur at home – almost 50% occur in the home of a friend or relative

Millions of guns are sold every year in “no questions asked” transactions. 40% of guns now sold in America are done so without a Brady background check

The statistics of gun violence, killings and injuries are staggering. Is there anything we citizens can do to protect ourselves and our children better?

Here are suggestions offered by Women Against Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence:

1. The safest house is one without a gun – if you have a gun, lock it up, separate the weapon from ammunition, or get rid of it;

2. If you are a parent whose child has a play-date in a friend’s home, ask the child’s parent(s) before the play-date if there are guns in the home and if so, are they locked up? If not, do not allow your child to play at that house. Invite your child’s friend instead to play in your home;

3. Talk to your children about gun danger and gun safety. Tell them never to pick up a gun that they see lying around a house. Then they should tell an adult there is a gun. Then they should call you (their parents) and go home. Remind them frequently that guns can kill.

4. Talk to your teen-age children about attending parties where there may be unlocked guns. If they learn that there is an unlocked gun, they should follow the steps in item #3 above.

5. Invite Women Against Gun Violence to speak to parents and children in your child’s schools.

6. Display posters advocating gun safety in schools, synagogues and community buildings.

7. Fight the National Rifle Association (NRA) refusal to support reasonable gun safety legislation and don’t support any congressional, senate or presidential candidate who refuses to support the same.

Before and After Sinai – A poem for B’shallach

Eternal One
Was not Moses your intimate friend
With whom you spoke ‘Face to face’
Who You sent To Pharaoh
To diminish his name
That Yours might prevail over all the earth?

Was he not Your trusted Shepherd
Who stood before despots on Your behalf
And in humility before You?

Why did You betray him?
Moses suffered because he measured himself
Against Your image.

He was Your voice
Your extended hand
Your fingers touching
Water, air, fire, and earth.

You worked against him
Using him,
Stiffening Pharaoh’s heart,
Showing You as the only One,
Reversing creation,
Devastating worlds,
Polluting waters,
Destroying crops,
Killing beasts,
Darkening the future.

You made him redeemer to lead the people
And drag them through salt water walls,
In mud and muck birthing them
As You drowned all of Egypt.

The people needed Your fist
But they didn’t change.
They complained at Meribah
Where You ordered Moses to hit the rock
And he did as you commanded.

Your strong hand and arm
Held close to Your breast
You fed them manna
And sated them from Miriam’s wells.

You brought them into the wild
Led them to Sinai
Gave them words
To be a holy nation
Your treasured possession
A nation of souls.

Years rolled by
Miriam died
The waters dried
The people complained

Moses was old
Tired and worn
Long past his prime.
You told him to speak to the rock
Out of covenantal faith
Permitting the waters to flow freely.

You knew his mind and his weariness.
You knew he would beat the rock
With his stick and water would flow
Surprised – You were enraged
And You denied Moses his dream
To enter the land.

Poor Moses
He did all you commanded.
He was your friend
But You consigned him away to a lonely death
On a lowly mountain.

We, his descendants
Await the day
When the Word will be stronger
Than the fist.

It will be a very long time
Far longer than 40 years.

Poem by Rabbi John L. Rosove

West Bank Settlements are neither “illegitimate” nor “illegal” – But that’s NOT the issue

Even though a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems very far away, it is still the only solution that preserves Israel’s democratic and Jewish character, and it is the only solution that will restore Israel’s international standing.

Everything good that Israel is and does, however, is being eclipsed by terror, violence and the contentious issue of West Bank settlements.

The Times of Israel reported this week (“US backs European move to distinguish Israel from West Bank,” January 20) the following:

“Our longstanding position on settlements is clear,” [US] State Department spokesman John Kirby said at the department’s daily press briefing Tuesday.

“We view Israeli settlement activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace,” he said. “We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations.

“The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements, because administrations from both parties have long recognized that settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine prospects for a two-state solution,” Kirby added. “We are no different.”

A few historical points:

  1. West Bank land after World War I became part of the British Mandatory Authority. Before that it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire and over the past millennia by a number of  different sovereign powers going back to Biblical days;
  2. After the 1948 Israel-Arab War, Jordan conquered the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Old City of Jerusalem. Egypt took the Gaza Strip. Syria occupied the Golan Heights;
  3. During the 1967 Israeli-Arab War, Israel conquered those five areas;
  4. No nation, not the Ottomans, Great Britain, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, or Israel was necessarily entitled to the West Bank by treaty because there never were any treaties. In every instance, occupation came about as a consequence of war and armistice agreements;
  5. The UN Security Council and General Assembly unilaterally conferred upon these territories legal status as belonging to the Arabs/Palestinians, and Israel’s occupation as “illegal”;
  6. In 1979, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 446 by a vote of 12-0 with 3 abstentions from Norway, the UK and the US that determined: “… the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
  7. With the passage of Resolution 446, the UN determined that territories administered by Israel are subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention (adopted in 1949) requiring Israel to refrain from taking any action that would change the status or demographic composition of those territories including moving civilians onto this land.

In other words – all West Bank settlements are “illegal” and “illegitimate.” But, is it true?

I agree with the Israeli government position that they are not illegal. The Israeli position is that since none of this land ever “belonged” to any nation by treaty Israel is not “legally” constrained by Resolution 446 or the Fourth Geneva Convention.

However, Israel’s policies of settlement and expansion are hardly politically smart, constructive, wise, or helpful if a two-state solution is ever going to become a reality.

Israel’s policies in the West Bank since 1967 have effectively blurred the “Green Line” (the 1949 Armistice line following Israel’s War of Independence) to such a degree and enmeshment has become so extensive between the West Bank Palestinian Arab population and Israeli Jewish settlements that no contiguous Palestinian state will be possible in the West Bank if new settlements and settlement expansion do not stop. At some point fairly soon, what will be left is a nightmare situation of a one-state solution that will be in a perpetual state of terror, violence and war.

Many observers believe that it is not yet too late to reverse the slide towards a one-state reality. Only an agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians can bring the kind of peace and security both Israelis and Palestinians crave.



Hillary’s and Bill’s marriage is none of America’s business

It is no one’s business how Hillary and Bill Clinton have worked through their marriage challenges.

As a congregational rabbi of 36 years, I have counseled many couples as infidelity tears marriages apart. In those rare instances when the partners’ love for one another is strong enough and they are forgiving enough and repentant enough, some couples can stay married successfully and happily.

Marriage and long-term relationship commitments are often difficult. Most married individuals, at one time or another, are seduced or almost seduced to violate their marriage bond and commitment. That there were violations in the Clinton marriage is, frankly, none of America’s business. Whatever indiscretions Bill committed, Hillary staying with him does not make Hillary an enabler, as Donald Trump self-righteously and cruelly barked last week, but rather, it suggests that Hillary is a strong, forgiving and loving wife.

In reading Carl Bernstein’s excellent un-authorized biography of Hillary Clinton A Woman in Charge (publ. 2007), I came away with the sense that the Clintons are honest with each other, that they know each other exceptionally well, have made peace with each other’s frailties, and that they have enough together that they want to stay married. If that reflects a deficiency of character, then perhaps I have learned nothing in my life as a Jew and a rabbi. To the contrary, I believe that their suffering, reconciliation and ability to move forward together is a sign of strong character and abiding love.

When Hillary Clinton was a Senator, my wife Barbara and I spent 10 minutes speaking with her privately at an LA fundraiser. She had just delivered a sermon on Yom Kippur at a congregation in Los Angeles on the theme of forgiveness. I asked her what she said as I had just spoken on the same theme in my synagogue, and she looked me in the eye and explained that she loves her husband and despite the humiliation she suffered following the Monica Lewinsky affair, as a Christian she found it in her heart to forgive him, that Bill never wanted to lose her as his wife, that he loved her and she loved him, and that they had built a life together far beyond politics that they cherished and did not want to lose.

Bernstein discussed this dynamic at some length in his book, and it became clear to me, as I have learned counseling couples over the years, that everyone, including Hillary and Bill, is different. Every couple is different and every marriage is different. Those that survive threats to their marriage  become stronger and more committed to each other as a consequence and are to be respected, not vilified.

So – let’s stick to the issues of this important presidential campaign and judge the capacity of the respective candidates on the basis of their philosophy of governing, their judgement, temperament, perspective, experience, and understanding of the nation and the world, and decide based on those metrics what this nation needs going forward and not allow ourselves to speculate on what happens inside anyone’s marriage. Frankly, we don’t have a clue and it’s none of our business.


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