Public Discussion on US Aid to Israel

The United States has the right and responsibility to examine the specific uses to which this aid is applied. Our tax dollars should not be used to fund or support policies that undermine Israel’s security and American interests, such as settlement expansion beyond the security fence or the demolition of Palestinian homes and communities in the occupied West Bank.

For my complete statement, see my blog at the Times of Israel –  https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/public-discussion-on-us-aid-to-israel/

The source of our troubles

In watching the congressional impeachment hearings yesterday, I was reminded of this statement by the writer P.J. O’Rourke:

“No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power.”

Nine Evidence-Based Guidelines for a ‘Good Life’ – by Gary M. Bakker

A rabbinic colleague posted the link to this article on the Reform Rabbi list-serve and I thought it so wise and useful that I wanted to pass it along. This piece was published this month in the Skeptical Inquirer by Gary M. Bakker, a practicing clinical psychologist and clinical lecturer at the University of Tasmania, Australia, who has published in both clinical (Practical CBT) and skeptical (God: A Psychological Assessment) fields.

https://skepticalinquirer.org/2019/11/nine-evidence-based-guidelines-for-a-good-life/

 

J Street’s Position on US Aid to Israel

Note: The following position statement published today (November 4) by Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of J Street, is a direct response to many in the Jewish community who have been unfairly questioning J Street’s commitment to Israel’s true security needs following J Street’s National Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. last week. A number of Democratic presidential candidates spoke and different perspectives on US aid to Israel were raised.

 

“I couldn’t be more pleased that J Street’s National Conference last week has sparked an energetic and long-needed discussion about the role that US assistance to Israel should play, not only in supporting Israel’s long-term security, but in advancing the goal of peacefully resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bringing an end to the occupation.

It’s no secret that this is a complicated and contentious subject, in which some are all too willing to misrepresent and misconstrue the positions with which they disagree.

There are those to J Street’s right who believe that the level and uses of American aid to Israel can under no circumstances be discussed or debated — and who seek to silence this conversation.

There are those to J Street’s left who question the need for that assistance and call for it to be entirely cut or heavily reduced.

Here’s what J Street believes:

  1. J Street supports the provision of security assistance to which the United States committed in the Memorandum of Understanding negotiated during the Obama administration. As I testified to the House Appropriations Committee this year, “American assistance to Israel, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, is an important anchor for any viable peace process based on providing Israel with the confidence and assurance to move forward on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Israel faces real security threats, and US commitment to its security is rooted in America’s own national interests.
  2. The US has a right and responsibility to examine the uses to which American aid is put. Is there any country on earth that should simply get a blank check from the United States — let alone the leading recipient of United States Foreign Military Financing? US funds are supposed to be used to advance Israel’s security — not to support actions and policies that undercut it or undermine key US interests and values.
  3. The US should not foot the bill for annexation. If the Israeli government decides to formally annex any part of the West Bank — as Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly threatened to do — the US should make sure that none of the security aid money provided, or the equipment purchased with that money, is being used to implement such a destructive policy.
  4. To ensure that the US is not funding actions and policies that run counter to our interests, policies and laws, lawmakers should consider implementing enhanced transparency and accountability measures so that they can better understand how, where and why our aid is being used.

This is not a call to reduce the level of US security assistance, or to “condition aid.” It is a call to ensure that the end uses of the aid we provide, funded by US tax dollars, clearly align with our interests, policies and laws — and actually advance Israel’s security.

J Street is very encouraged and energized that there is a vibrant discussion emerging on this question. We may not share all of the positions advanced by every presidential candidate or organization with which we are generally aligned. But we do believe — without question — that the time is right for an open, honest and respectful national conversation about how the US-Israel relationship operates, and how America should use its foreign policy tools in the region to promote peace, security and human rights.

Those attacking J Street and presidential candidates for even examining the concept of restricting the use of US aid are in many cases people who have loudly called for restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority or the United Nations. They are those who generally refuse to tolerate any criticism of Israeli government policy, and refuse to even recognize the existence of the occupation.

In order for this important conversation to flourish, we cannot allow them to silence us, or to successfully smear those they disagree with as “anti-Israel.” We cannot let the “old playbook” come back into fashion.

We’ve demonstrated that the large majority of American Jews are pro-Israel but opposed to the far-right agenda of Trump, Netanyahu and their allies. Like the majority of Democrats and Americans in general, they want to see our next president confront the challenges of conflict and occupation head-on — and take bold, principled steps to lead the way toward a two-state solution.

We are determined to help defeat Donald Trump, and to make sure that his successor has the space, the vision and the tools they need to lead the way toward a better future from Day One.

Our conference was a major milestone in this work. We look forward to standing together with you to continue the fight throughout the year ahead.

Thanks for all that you do,

Jeremy Ben-Ami
President, J Street”

All Its Inhabitants: Living Under Israeli Jurisdiction

In the forthcoming book, Deepening the Dialogue: Israelis and American Jews Envision the Jewish-Democratic State (New York: CCAR Press, 2019), Rabbi Jill Jacobs and Rabbi Levi Kelman address the aspirational ethical treatment of all the inhabitants of the land of Israel as articulated in Israel’s Declaration of Independence (DOI).

I am a co-editor with Rabbi Stanley Davids of this unique book that includes 20 articles (chapters) based on Israel’s (DOI) of which Rabbis Jacobs and Kelman are two.

The articles are written by 10 leading Israeli and 10 leading American Jewish thought leaders addressing a wide variety of issues relative to the DOI. The book’s articles will all be translated into Hebrew and English and will be available in Israel and all English speaking countries. The book will be published before the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial Convention in Chicago (December 11-15).

This superb book is part of a project to bring Israelis and Diaspora Jews together to consider and discuss the fundamental issues concerning Israel’s democracy and pluralistic character as the homeland of the Jewish people.

I wrote a review of Rabbi’s Jacobs (Director of Terua: Rabbis for Human Rights in America) and Rabbi Levi Kelman (founder of Congregation Kol Haneshama and immediate past director of Israel’s Rabbis for Human Rights) for the Reform Judaism on-line website. You can find my review here – http://bit.ly/2BS5ZAl.

I urge you to purchase the book and read all 20 pieces. They are superbly written concerning what Israel is and aspires to be.

The settlers who beat me didn’t care that I am an observant Jew – Isaac Johnston 972 Magazine

“The settlers of Yitzhar beat me with crowbars and threw a stone at my head that split open the skin. Then they set fire to the olive groves.”
 
Do read Isaac Johnston’s report of the attack near Yitzhar upon Rabbis for Human Rights demonstrators. My synagogue’s immediate past youth director was one of those attacked. Thankfully, she survived with only minor injuries.
This is a perfect example of sinat chinam – “baseless hatred” that the rabbis explained was the cause of the destruction of the 2nd Temple by Rome in 70 CE.
 

Trump’s Failure of Character

In watching Trump’s rapid moral and ethical demise relative to his behavior as President, I’ve thought much about what makes for an effective and ethical leader in politics and government, in business and the arts, in the non-profit sector and religion.

After spending 40 years as a congregational rabbi, I have learned that character is everything and that effective leadership depends on one’s maintenance of good character.

I offer my thoughts about those qualities of character that I believe are essential to great leadership. When measured against the character of President Trump, he fails miserably.

See my full statement on my blog at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/trumps-failure-of-character/

Los Angeles County Jewish Voter Poll – 2019-2020

Los Angeles County constitutes the third largest concentration of Jews in the world after Israel and New York. A recent poll of Jews in LA County was recently released. See the findings here:

https://calstatela.patbrowninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/REVISED-FINAL-Key-Findings-Presentation-2019-PBI-LA-County-Jewish-Voter-Poll3.pdf

The Fox Hunt – A gripping tale

The Fox Hunt – A Memoir of Yemen and my Odyssey to America (Harper Collins: New York, 2018) reads like an action novel based in the fundamentalist and extremist Muslim world. It tells the odyssey of a young Yemeni Muslim man, Mohammed Al Samawi, who dared to challenge the template of anti-Christian and anti-Jewish attitudes in which he was raised and risked his life to escape his beloved country of birth in the midst of its murderous civil war in 2015.

To read my entire review, see my blog at the Times of Israel – https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-fox-hunt-a-gripping-tale/

Shana Tova from J Street

Cantor Evan Kent, Rabbi Andrea London, Rabbi John Rosove, and Rabbi David Teutsch write:

“So much is at stake in this New Year. Both in the United States and in Israel, so many of the core Jewish and democratic values we hold dear are being challenged. We have seen a rise in acts of violence committed in the name of hate and discrimination. We have seen leaders use inflammatory rhetoric to stoke fear, create divisions, and exacerbate conflict. We have seen core principles of tolerance, equality, diversity, and justice under threat. As Jews we object to the use of lashon hara and rehilut, evil speech, as efforts to demean and divide.”

See full greeting at – https://jstreet.org/shana-tova-from-j-street-5780/?akid=121260.205086.IGl7Rz&rd=1&t=20#.XYxf6OdKjOQ