November 15, 2015

When the best hasbara is no hasbara

Has anyone who ever suffered loss appreciated a condolence message that opens, "I'm so sorry for your loss, but…" Most of us would consider such words to be off-message or insincere at best, vindictive and insensitive at worst.

I suppose what amazes me most about the numerous opportunistic Facebook posts following the Paris attacks is the total lack of shame or pretense. Between cartoons, unsourced videos and personal manifestos, the message ranges from shcandenfreude to resentment, from incitement to satisfaction. They nearly outnumber the messages of support.

The worst of the worst are those who either fool themselves or perhaps are trying to fool the treat of us: "My heart aches for the people of Paris, BUT…" The trend is so prevalent, particularly among my fellow Israel-supporters, that I've clicked "hide" instead of un-friending the dozen or more offenders, after I post my own criticism. 

Honestly, it's hard to rank the levels of perversity, because so many Facebook friends didn't even register a condolence followed by "but" -- they just launched right into a series of posts playing up their own sense of righteousness, superiority, and self-satisfaction.

Thanks for your sympathy?
One message I keep seeing, is that the French are too focused on boycotting Israeli products (presumably because the European Union just voted to label -- but NOT boycott -- products from the West Bank), and not enough on keeping out terrorists. The moral of this meme is that the French have it coming. (Of course, even if they were, they wouldn't have it coming.)

Another message complains that Facebook and the world make such a big deal when 129 (now 132) people are killed in France, while ignoring or excusing smaller attacks on Israelis. Anyone with two or more kids will recognize this sort of jealousy as perfectly natural and understandable…for a six-year-old. 

The fact is, European leaders like French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Manuel Valls have stood at Israel's side in its fight against terrorism and other threats, and defended the rights of French Jews -- pretending that they haven't should elicit derision, not applause and "like" clicks. 

September 11, 2015

AIPAC & Bibi, the Perfect Storm

I've already commented a bit about the fallout from the Iran Deal fight, for Israel and for American Jews -- here, here, and here.

Over the years, AIPAC and other Jewish organizations have increasingly given themselves over to wealthy donors with greater or narrower visions. Since the days when the late Yitzhak Rabin -- as  Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. -- slammed American Jews for backing McGovern over Nixon, we have also ceded more and more decisionmaking to the Government of Israel, especially in the past few years.

Added to this, over three decades ago, AIPAC began grooming Benjamin Netanyahu as the proud new face of Israeli leadership. This is the same Bibi who literally pushed his way into the Charlie Hebdo march, en route to lecturing French Jews on their pending demise and the need to all immigrate to their only true home in Israel. While they responded by singing the Marseillaise, the major Jewish organizations on this side of the Atlantic have largely rallied behind Netanyahu, even as he arranged with the Republican opposition to call out President Obama from inside the U.S. Capitol.

We'll recover, because we have to. Maybe AIPAC will go the way of Lehman Bros., maybe it won't. But there are many other organizations out there which are "too big to fail", which means there's no way to stop them from repeating the same destructive folly whenever Netanyahu decides there's an imminent and existential threat to Israel, and by extension to the Diaspora on whose behalf he claims to speak.

As ever, it's the folks on Jewish Main Street who will have to pick up the pieces, and next time there might be fewer of them sticking around to pitch in.

And Netanyahu? He's already moved on to other issues, because the next Holocaust he warned about -- the fight of all fights -- is no longer useful to him. But don't worry, he's still keeping the Holocaust angle alive, this time as a counter to European boycotts.

August 21, 2015

Appreciating Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter redeemed our nation after the carnage of Vietnam and Watergate. At Camp David, by sheer force of personality, he saved Israel from having to continuously mobilize on two fronts, which probably set the stage for Startup Nation. 

He boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics over the invasion of Afghanistan. He signed off on a daring mission to free the U.S. Embassy hostages in Tehran, and he paid the price. He has some issues with Israel, which is his right, and that pains us because he still has sweeping moral authority in an era when it's become a scarce commodity. 

Every year he sticks around, he saves a few million more people with housing, public health and poverty-relief initiatives. We have been blessed by his service and example, and his legacy is secure. Thank you, President Carter, and God bless.

August 6, 2015

Hiroshima+70 deserves honesty, not fear

Not so long ago, in the National Air & Space Museum’s massive annex behind Dulles Airport, I showed my son the Enola Gay – the infamous B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima 70 years ago today. I had never seen the actual plane myself, so naturally I looked closely over the information panel. 

There's an obvious argument to be made about the considerations at the time, despite the resulting catastrophe and chilling specter of nuclear apocalypse we still endure (see under: Iran deal). Absent any photos or description of the human toll, the curators focused on the bomber's crew and capabilities, and the tonnage of the blast, etc. 

I was left to describe, for my young son, just what happened, and why that plane is a dark symbol for our civilization, however justified we might claim its mission to have been. How can this artifact be displayed or even mentioned, without presenting its full context and implications?

It isn't just the Enola Gay; the ICBM missiles are also presented with no description of the strategy and the terror they inflicted upon generations of Americans, Russians, and Europeans. Unilateral disarmament may be impractical, but that doesn't mean we can afford to glorify our nuclear "necessary evil". Especially not to our children, and especially not while we're within reach of keeping another nuclear contender from crossing that threshold. 

That the region's only known (though undeclared) nuclear state is leading the opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the "Iran deal") is troubling on several levels. For today, I'm going to stick with the level of Hiroshima, and the duty we all bear to maintain the dignity of human life along with the value of strength through peace. Fear is a dangerous and addictive drug.

February 4, 2015

Instead of denying he's naked on Iran, Bibi should put on some clothes

As much as I've tried to avoid it, the Netanyahu speech flap keeps festering and snowballing at the same time. In the mass media. 

Everyone involved is a calculating politician, so let's not pretend otherwise. Let's not pretend the White House was entirely above-board, and let's not pretend that the speech and its timing aren't more about Republican and Likud politics than about Iran's nuclear program. The idea that the looming deadline for nuclear negotiations and Israel's upcoming elections just happen to coincide, ignores the fact that Netanyahu decides when to call elections. Even FoxNews has criticized the idea

It's no longer about putting some pressure on the negotiations, so they fail. By being so obvious and over-the-top, Netanyahu has rebalanced the scales in Iran's favor, making it incrementally harder for the Western powers to exact the same concessions from Iran.

Democrats who rank high on AIPAC's friends' list are considering whether to skip Netanyahu's speech altogether. In all the decades of U.S.-Israel partnership and tensions, that's a first, it wasn't inevitable, and it hurts Israel more than it hurts Obama, Boehner, or even -- and especially -- Iran. As for Netanyahu's hometown audience back in Israel, we'll have to see whether he gains more votes than he loses, especially with right-wing contenders like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman trying to outdo him on the Paris attacks and Jordan's fight against ISIS.

At this late stage, IMHO, the best thing for everyone, including Netanyahu and the nation he leads -- and for the case against Iran -- would be for the PM to step back, apologize for falling into petty politics, and wait until after elections to schedule an official visit. Given that even Netanyahu's confidant and Washington envoy has already passed the buck, I have no illusions this will happen. But then Israel's national anthem is entitled "The Hope"...

January 22, 2015

For Silver, betraying Jewish education is old hat

Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, may yet be found innocent of the charges against him in a new federal indictment. But the dirty secret within the Jewish community, is that he's been guilty of other offenses: Allowing milions in campaign contributions from teacher union override his allegiance to the Jewish community.
The most recent twist in this long-running farce: Crowning a public career understandably devoid of even a yarmulke, the privately Orthodox Silver -- who blocked tax incentives and other offsets that would ease the tuition crisis in New York State, home to the largest private day school population in the world -- dressed today like a yeshiva rebbe for his "perp walk".

In all our dealings with the Speaker, he never once offered serious relief of the kind that's worked in other states, without breaching constitutional protections or incentivizing tuition hikes -- excuses he consistently used to avoid serious legislative remedies.

To be fair, we were able to work out agreements with the Speaker to expand or update existing programs, netting tens of millions for non-public schools, including the yeshiva/day school community. And also, to be fair, major Jewish groups hailed the Speaker's "leadership" and good will, both publicly and in private ring-kissing sessions, to preserve and advance their claims of access and influence, and to maintain credibility as if they were accomplishing great things for Jewish education. With tuition totalling something over $1 billion a year for New York's Jewish community, a few million at a time is barely a dent.

I figured, politics is politics, and never bore a grudge against the Speaker. Even with the conflicts of interest implicit in his outside earnings, Albany is no clean room for good government and Governor Cuomo's own fighting words against corruption have faded into farce.
But seeing the Speaker suddenly don his yeshiva-style fedora for the most public appearance of his life -- in a moment of disgrace, pointedly identifying with the very community he had blocked -- is what pushed me to speak my mind.

The Catholic community hasn't waited patiently for the Speaker to throw them crumbs, which is the reason Governor Cuomo -- just yesterday -- committed to pushing a modest but promising initiative to increase the tax benefits for donations to non-public school scholarship funds.
I don't expect any Jewish community groups with a stake in "business as usual" to speak out against anything the Speaker has done, so I am voicing my own humble protest against his duplicity and our own community's complicity. I also confess my own playing ball (but never backing down) when I thought it could advance the cause.

November 19, 2014

Adding intellectual insult to physical carnage

There are no new debates and no new lessons to be learned from yesterday's wrenching, horrific, disgusting and barbaric attack in Jerusalem. I stopped being surprised a long time ago. The problems and the solutions are neither easy nor mysterious, and suggesting otherwise adds to the difficulty. May the families and the entire community find the comfort and courage to move forward in every way.

In the car yesterday morning, I listened to BBC's coverage of the synagogue attack, via our much-maligned public radio network, including an extensive chillingly vivid account by an Israeli first responder who literally jumped right into the unfolding carnage. I found his account, and the entire BBC report, to be deeply meaningful and illuminating, and couldn't have imagined a more appropriate or objectively sympathetic frame for the immediate aftermath of such an unthinkable tragedy. 

Right or left, the wasted time and effort pillorying the news media (and trumpeting every graveyard-shift breaking-news error) for supposedly biased coverage is a distraction from the real tragedy and from the real dilemmas facing Israel and the region, and the Jewish people. "All hands on deck" is a call for discipline, ingenuity and clarity of purpose, not recitations of talking points and easy answers, running around in circles, or blaming each other as our ship nears the reef.

The persistent effort to discredit open discussion and dissent within the Jewish community is beyond wasteful -- it's destructive to the very mission and purpose of the sacred enterprise. It advances the very goal of such awful but strategically irrelevant attacks, which -- beyond provoking the sort of retaliation which further alienates Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in Israel proper -- is to break the Jewish spirit and open discourse. Those who respond to external attacks by attacking other Jews are no less "self-hating" than those whose Judaism they impugn.

As I mentioned above, this is all a play that's been repeated too many times, and despite a few heroic attempts we have yet to see either progress or a dramatic shift from the same thinking.