UNITED STATES – ISRAEL RELATIONS IN JEOPARDY – Rabbi Dow Marmur writes from Jerusalem

Note: My friend Rabbi Dow Marmur in Jerusalem writes poignantly of this dangerous moment in the American-Israeli relationship given the Trump-Netanyahu love-fest and the damage these two leaders are causing.

“Is it possible that the US president, considered by many to be more supportive of Israel than any of his predecessors, uses the terminology of anti-Semites? Have his Jewish daughter and her family not sensitized him to the fact that to question the loyalty of Jews has been the tool of Jew-haters through the ages? It has prompted some commentators to quote Mussolini and Hitler in the same breath as they cite Trump.

His assertion that Jews who support the Democratic Party are disloyal has shaken American Jewry, indeed Jews everywhere. Virtually all Jewish organizations in the United States [except the Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition] have reacted against it forcefully asserting that, though most American Jews may vote Democrat [75-80%], all are loyal citizens of the United States. Trump’s effort at “clarification” that he meant that they were disloyal to the Jewish people and the State of Israel hasn’t helped.

The fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu has so far remained silent on the subject hasn’t gone unnoticed. His supporters may say that his silence is in the interest of Israel, but others may suggest that at present Netanyahu is more interested in getting re-elected than serving the interests of his country. They may point to his past alliances with anti-Semitic political leaders in … Hungary and Poland that appalled the Jews there. But while the views of the relatively few Jews in these countries may not matter, to upset American Jewry is to jeopardize the very existence of Israel.

Other Israeli leaders, notably President Rivlin, seem to be aware of the potential harm the Trump-Netanyahu love-in may be doing to their country and have taken steps to try to remedy the situation. Their hope may be that Netanyahu won’t be re-elected this month and Trump won’t be re-elected next year. In this way, things would return to the normal give-and take.

But one of them may get in again and Israel will suffer. If Israel will have a centrist government after next month’s elections without “my friend Bibi”, Trump’s anti-Semitism is likely to be even more overt. If Netanyahu stays in power, but the next US Administration will be Democrat, Israel may be punished, albeit more subtly, for its current sickening admiration of Trump.”


Highly recommended newsletter – Rabbi Eric Yoffie

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, a regular columnist for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz and President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, sends his articles to those who subscribe to his list before they are published in Haaretz.

Rabbi Yoffie is among the most astute commentators on Israeli politics and affairs and Israel’s relationship to America and the American Jewish community. I read every issue carefully because of his clear thinking and carefully researched writing.

You can sign up for his newsletter by going to ericyoffie.com. On the right side of the homepage is a box marked “Subscribe to our mailing list,” with simple instructions.

A disclaimer – Eric is a friend. He did not ask me to promote his newsletter. It was my decision to do so.

Do yourself a favor and subscribe.

A few moments in a Delaware supermarket check-out line

My wife and I just spent a week with friends in Millsboro, Delaware, a lovely small town 15 minutes by car from the Rohovoth shore.

One morning our host went to the store to buy bagels and the daily Washington Post. While standing in the check-out line he struck up a friendly conversation with a middle aged woman standing behind him. After a few moments she said, “You are a very nice man!”

Everything changed, however, when, reading the paper’s headlines, he said, “We’re in a real mess – aren’t we?”

She asked, “What do you mean?”

Pointing to the paper, he said: “Trump’s erratic handling of the economy, his racism, white supremacy, and misogyny are changing the country for the worse.”

“You are a very bad man,” she barked.

Stunned, he said, “But you just told me I am nice.”

“You aren’t.”

My friend’s interchange with his neighbor is a reflection of the sorry state of civility and ethics in our nation. One moment he was a “nice man” shooting the breeze with a stranger in a supermarket check-out line, and the next he was the despised and demonized “other.”

One pillar of evil is when we become an extension of ideas and not individual human beings embodying the complexity of thoughts, feelings, backgrounds, interests, and values that we all share.

The President’s base relishes its hatred of the other at his political rallies as Trump stokes their hatred of his opponents and gives succor to the crowd’s lower angels. But we Democrats demonize Trump supporters as the despised “other” as well.

We all need to check ourselves and keep from falling into this dehumanizing trap not only for our own sake but for the sake of the soul of our nation.


“The elephant has left the building” – The Promised Podcast and HR 326

The Promised – a podcast recorded in Tel Aviv by 3 thoughtful left-of-center Israelis – did a search of over 7000 on-line Israeli election ads and found almost no mention of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by any political party platform except one. These commentators suggest that the occupation may be more of an issue in the 2020 American elections than the Israeli election should the American far left-wing Jewish organization Ifnotnow succeed in making it so.

For my complete statement, see my blog at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-elephant-has-left-the-building-the-promised-podcast-and-hr-326/

Analysis || Another Radical-right Netanyahu Government Would Decimate Israel’s Ties With American Jews – Haaretz – Chemi Shalev | 08.08.2019

Note: The following article by the leading Haaretz journalist, Chemi Shalev, is not available unless you subscribe to Haaretz. I am reprinting it here because what Shalev says is spot-on about both the Israeli election on September 17 and the future relationship between Israel and the liberal American Jewish community.

“A shift of a few points in the polls would set up Netanyahu’s ultimate deal with the devil: Immunity in exchange for destructive government zealotry

Unlike the “first past the post” method used in the United States, Britain and most other democracies, Israel’s proportional election system often fails to yield a clear-cut winner. Victory depends not only on voter preferences but also on post-election maneuvering by the leaders of the various parties. It is achieved only if and when the candidate appointed by the president succeeds in cobbling together a coalition that provides an incoming government with a majority in the Knesset.

Avigdor Lieberman’s defection from Netanyahu’s natural bloc — which includes his Likud, parties to its right and religious parties — sabotaged the prime minister’s efforts to set up a right-wing government after the April 9 election. Rather than adhere to established constitutional norms, which would have entailed handing over the mantle to another candidate, Netanyahu coerced the Knesset to disperse itself and to set a new election for September 17.

The success or failure of Netanyahu’s gambit depends on whether the new ballot will yield more favorable results: A shift of four to five Knesset seats one way or another could make all the difference. The permutations are numerous, but they boil down to one simple question: Will Netanyahu’s bloc garner more than 61 seats, allowing him to bypass Lieberman and snub his potential partners to the left?

If it doesn’t — and on the unfounded assumption that Lieberman will stick to his guns and refuse to endorse such a government — Netanyahu will, at best, be forced into a broad-based coalition with Kahol Lavan or Labor from the left, or, at worst, be tossed aside to end his political career in deflating defeat. In both scenarios Netanyahu would most likely face criminal indictments within a short few months.

If Netanyahu and his allies do cross the 60-seat threshold, however — or if Lieberman decides to rejoin his natural habitat for a steep price, as many suspect he will — Netanyahu will score his greatest triumph. The stage will be set for his ultimate deal with the devil. His new coalition is likely to grant him immunity from prosecution, but that would be the least of its havoc.

Netanyahu, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, would be willing to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, curtail any right, defy any convention, dismantle any democratic institution and annex any disputed territory in order to assure the survival and success of liberty — as long as it’s his own.

Netanyahu’s potential aiders and abettors on the religious right know that his back is against the wall. They can feel his fear and smell his desperation. They will recognize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that voters dumped in their laps and will demand an exorbitant ransom for setting Netanyahu free. If you thought Netanyahu’s previous four years in office placed Israel on a slippery slope toward an authoritarian, ethnocentric theocracy, prepare yourself: You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Granting Netanyahu retroactive immunity from prosecution would not only distort democracy and violate the rule of law — it would open the floodgates for a deluge of disastrous decisions, policies and laws that would change Israel forever. Stricter Orthodox hegemony, restrictions on free expression and dissent, subjugation of the legal system and civil service as well as an all-out push for annexation of the West Bank would top the agenda. But given that with food comes an appetite, other yet-unknown evils would soon join them.

Such a nightmarish scenario would crush Israel’s shrinking liberal Jewish minority, further alienate its minorities, escalate international condemnation and invigorate the boycott movement. And while Netanyahu might be able to maintain Israel’s strategic relationship with the United States, and even enhance it further if Donald Trump is reelected, a narrow right-wing government could very well deliver a final coup de grâce to the troubled relationship between Israel and the majority of American Jews.

The ties that bind the two largest Jewish communities in the world are already frayed, almost beyond repair. Inherent and unavoidable tensions with the largely liberal American Jewish community over issues such as peace and pluralism were exacerbated over the past four years in the wake of Netanyahu’s defiant confrontation with Barack Obama and his amorous cohabitation with Trump. In between, Netanyahu’s obedient ministers and slavish parliamentarians supplied a steady stream of provocative statements and policy decisions that poured even more fuel on a fire that was already threatening to rage out of control.

Four more years with an invigorated clerical-right Netanyahu government would turn the blazes into an all-consuming inferno. Netanyahu, who feels indebted to and dependent on Trump’s goodwill, would do his best to ensure that his good friend in the White House is reelected, tradition of non-intervention in internal U.S. affairs be damned. Given the fever pitch of their current antipathy toward the U.S. president, this would be reason enough for many American Jews to distance themselves permanently from the Jewish state.

The anticipated spate of archconservative and ultra-nationalistic policies and actions of such a government would alienate the rest. A Netanyahu government beholden to Ayelet Shaked’s Hayamin Hehadash party would strive to annex the West Bank, piecemeal or in one fell swoop; kill any lingering hopes for a two-state solution; and institute a regime that anyone but its apologists will view as apartheid. Ultra-Orthodox parties would curtail LGBTQ rights, try to reverse women’s equality and squash any hope for recognition of Reform and Conservative Jewry. And Netanyahu’s own Likud zealots would gut the judicial system, politicize its civil service, clamp down on dissenting media and try to put Israeli Arabs back in their rightful place as a barely tolerated minority of individuals who should be grateful for what they’re given.

This will be all too much to bear for the roughly three-quarters of American Jews who voted against Trump and for Democrats in both the 2016 and 2018 elections — especially if Trump himself is reelected, and doubly so if Netanyahu is seen to help. Abandoning hope that Israel will come to its senses, liberal American Jews will identify Netanyahu’s Israel with what they view as the utter viciousness and vileness of Trump and his administration. Given the escalating political polarization in the United States, the contamination could prove incurable.

It would certainly thwart the efforts and initiatives of well-meaning institutions such as the Diaspora Museum, the Jewish Agency, the Ruderman Foundation and others, which have been spurred into action in recent years by the specter of deteriorating ties between Israel and American Jews. The fledgling dams that these do-gooders are trying to construct with platforms for open dialogue and greater understanding would most likely be swept away by the expected tsunami of arrogant and retrograde moves emanating from Netanyahu’s government and its unabashed Jewish-supremacist worldview.

The flip side, of course, is that any result on September 17 other than a clear-cut right-wing majority for Netanyahu would be a godsend for future ties between the two communities, a last-minute reprieve that would allow them to step back from the abyss. Even if Netanyahu remains in power, albeit at the head of a broad-based government, his policies would necessarily moderate and create less friction and tensions with American Jewry. Such a government would necessarily include politicians who have a more favorable view of Israel’s relationship with American Jews and a greater sense of urgency to fix them.

The current prognosis of most pollsters and forecasters is that this is the most likely outcome of the September 17 ballot. But it doesn’t take much for it to change in Netanyahu’s favor. If Labor under Amir Peretz dips below the electoral threshold or if Arabs and disaffected leftists turn out in the same lowly numbers as they did on April 9, Netanyahu could easily scale the 61-seat barrier that stands between him and his dreams.

In his moment of undeniable triumph, as he brandishes his get-out-of-jail-free card, takes aim at his tormentors and critics and allows his coalition partners to carry out their coup d’état against Israel’s liberal democracy, American Jews will be the least of his concerns. A once-cherished alliance based on affection, kinship and mutual dependence would soon be thrown into the dustbin of history.



What will the new Knesset look like?

This is an article for die-hard Israel watchers and for anyone wanting to make sense of the demographics of the next Israeli Knesset.

Though the Israeli election (September 17) is 6 weeks away and anything can happen between now and then, this piece in The Times of Israel (August 6) offers a guesstimate into what the next Knesset will be.

“Now that the candidate lists for the September elections are closed, we can sketch the profile of Israel’s new team of parliamentarians 

The election campaign has reached an important milestone. After long weeks of mergers, alliances and splits, the candidate lists have been finalized. Now that the dust has settled and the picture is clear, we know what lists will be competing and who is running on them. This allows us to sketch a picture of the new Knesset. Who will be our 120 representatives? Will the number of women MKs continue to backslide? Will the low level of Arab representation improve as a result of the Arab parties’ decision to once again run on a united list?”


George Orwell on political speech

Since the tragic two mass murders in the United States this past week, both apparently provoked by white nationalist extremism, I’m reminded of the words of George Orwell:

“…one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. …Political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind….” (Politics and the English Language – 1946)


Maureen Dowd is Right!

Like many of you I have gone back and forth about the wisdom of impeachment of our President.

The Mueller Report shows that Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice on at least 5 occasions and of soliciting and accepting help from a foreign adversary in the 2016 election without reporting his campaign’s numerous contacts with Russian operatives to the FBI. If that were not enough, his ongoing violation of the emolument clause of the US Constitution is cause for impeachment. This in addition to his racism, xenophobia, misogyny, cruelty to political asylum seekers and their children, pathological lying,  malignant narcissism, and personal attacks on distinguished Americans ought to be enough to send Trump packing from the White House.

Nothing would be more emotionally satisfying for me than to watch as Trump is driven from office before his term is done. However, nothing is more risky than putting the country through an impeachment process if our goal is to elect a Democrat to the White House in 2020, keep the US House of Representatives in Nancy Pelosi’s hands, and elect a Democratic majority in the Senate.

Maureen Dowd, as smart, seasoned, and wise a Washington columnist for the NY Times as there is, puts the issue exactly right in her column “Spare Me the Purity Racket” (NY Times op-ed – Sunday, July 28, 2019).

I suggest that all moderates and progressives take what Ms. Dowd says to heart.

I confess that the day after Mueller appeared before Congress, I wrote to my Congressman Adam Schiff and said that it’s time for Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings. Maureen Dowd changed my mind.

Adam – please forget what I wrote you!

See Dowd’s piece – https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/27/opinion/sunday/maureen-dowd-trump-impeachment.html

“We went to the west bank to see the occupation and came back more connected to Israel” – Forward

For the first time, J Street funded a “Birthright Trip” for 40 young American Jews to experience Israel in a way that traditional Birthright trips do not offer its participants. This trip included visiting the border of Gaza and the West Bank and talking with Israelis under threat from Hamas bombs and Palestinians living under occupation. Nothing was sugar coated or denied. The students understand that one can be pro-Israel and committed Zionists and be against the occupation of another people.

The student writers (link below) and most of their fellow travelers returned from this experience with far greater understanding not only of what the State of Israel means to the Jewish people as our national home but also how the occupation has had a corrosive effect on the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

See – https://forward.com/opinion/428232/we-went-to-the-west-bank-to-see-the-occupation-we-came-back-more-connected/

Note: I serve as a national co-chair of the J Street Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of more than 900 rabbis and cantors.

J Street is a pro-Israel pro-peace political and educational organization based in Washington, D.C., and advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

J Street’s national policy conference will take place in Washington, D.C. from October 26-29. For more information, go to http://www.jstreet.org.

Renewal in a Toxic Political Environment

Like so many, I’ve become a news junky, especially since Donald Trump became President.

For those who care about government policy as a vehicle to help improve our nation’s quality of life, who believe in the partnership between government, the private sector, NGOs, and religious communities in moving the nation forward as a just and compassionate society, and who yearn for a foreign policy that is strategically sound, peace-oriented, and dignified – Trump is anathema.

Yet, despite my strong interest in the news, for my own well-being – and perhaps for yours too – we need to be able to step back and disengage from time to time from the toxicity of politics in general and the malignant narcissism of Trump in particular.

To these ends, I was moved this week when listening to an interview of the veteran conservative commentator George Will (a never-Trump former Republican) of The Washington Post by Preet Bharara on his “Stay Tuned with Preet” Podcast (July 18, 2019).

Will said:

“One of the invaluable messages after the political intoxications of the 20th century is that politics should not be what defines your identity; that government has a great and stately jurisdiction but it’s not everything. And if you are looking for excitement; if you are looking for spiritual fulfillment; if you are looking for the meaning in life, don’t look to politics because we see what happens when mass movements become intoxicated by political movements fighting faiths, fascism, communism and the like that try to envelop their lives – it’s not healthy.”

Our challenge, therefore, ought to be to stay engaged but maintain our emotional, psychological, spiritual, and creative balance while at the same time registering new voters, fighting voter suppression and foreign intervention in our elections, and voting in a new president and democratic controlled Senate in 2020. Along the way, as Will suggests, we need to be able to step away enough to be able nurture our hearts, minds, and souls in ways that are restorative.