Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Mediocrity of James Rhodenhiser

Late last month, Henry Herskovitz of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends extended an invitation to the Rev. James C. Rhodenhiser of St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church to meet with him and other critics of JWPF's vigil. The specific occasion for the offer was the visit to Ann Arbor of Dan McGown and Paul Eisen of Deir Yassin Remembered. After the invite and an explanation Herskovitz wrote, "We would certainly be willing to listen to what you and other invitees have to say." Below, via Herskovitz, is Rhodenhiser's response in toto and unedited except for the addition of one hyperlink.
Henry, can't get the mayor or Ken early Saturday a.m. To hear why scapegoating is a good idea. apologizing would be the way to get Jewish community attention and door to actual dialogue, not posters advocating overthrow of Israel or blaming Zionism for Nazism. Peace is always the result of mutuality not hostility. Ken and I are willing to put up an Israeli flag at our places if you wanted to give Beth Israel a break those weekends, we could make up a schedule together. God bless, james
Reading this, one wonders if Rhodenhiser is really so ill-informed or ill-educated that he actually believes there is any scapegoating going on. Merriam-Webster defines a scapegoat as "a person who is unfairly blamed for something that others have done". However, Beth Israel Congregation (BIC) has never been blamed "unfairly" nor for what "others have done".

BIC is fairly subject to protest for their own public support for the Jewish state that was created by force by a minority population in someone else's homeland. BIC is fairly subject to protest for indoctrinating children into militant Zionism. BIC is fairly subject to protest for its cheer-leading when Israel goes to war. BIC is fairly subject to protest for its toleration of its senior rabbi's apologetics of torture.

Rhodenhiser writes about opening (?) the "door to actual dialogue". He would do well to read read "When Dialogue is NOT our Hope" by Joseph Phelps in the Mennonite journal, Conciliation Quarterly.Here's part of what Phelps writes:
We cannot dialogue when: ...

When an issue of justice is involved.

This is the most complex reason for halting dialogue. Some conflicts are more than a difference of perspectives. As Martin Luther King reminded us, sometimes there are reasons "why we can't wait." People of God cannot be content to engage in dialogue with perpetrators of evil and injustice. We must be hesitant and cautious to place such strong labels on an individual or group, but sometimes we must.

There are times when action must take precedence over talk, when conflict should be pursued in place of a false peace. This what Jeremiah (6:14) accused the prophets of Jerusalem of doing: "They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, 'Peace, Peace,' when there is no peace." A dialogue between Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus company which tried to force her to give up her seat in the 1950s was not in order ... Clearly, the time for talking had passed. An act of resistance, a shifting of sentiment, and a redefinition of power was necessary before honest dialogue could resume.

Jesus reminded us that there would be issues worth (non-violently) fighting over: "Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather dissension" (Luke 12:51). His stance for justice and true holiness put Him in constant conflict with those who preferred the status quo. The conflict exposed the need for radical change. To have quelled the conflict through dialogue would have been to neglect the work for which He was sent ...
Yes, a talking shop would be much easier and more comfortable than actually taking a decade-long public, prophetic stand but JWPF is not a dialogue group; it is a peace and justice action group. Here is its position:
Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends will end the vigils if Beth Israel satisfies our three previously stated requests or if equivalent goals are achieved through negotiations with Beth Israel: committing to work for the equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel; committing to work for the end of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem; and committing to work for the right of Palestinians to return to the homes from which they were forcibly removed in what was to become Israel.
The above words were written by a JWPF founder, the late Sol Metz (they are erroneously and mysteriously attributed to someone else on the MLive web site). No dialogue with BIC is necessary or warranted. Just as the Montgomery bus company ended its support for segregation, BIC can ends its support for Jewish supremacism in Palestine. However, I suspect the folks at BIC are far more devoted to their racist cause than the owners of the bus company ever were.

I've never met the Rev. Rhodenhiser. I know of him only through the little that I've read by him and about him. Based on that small sample though he strikes me as the kind of cleric the Rev. William Sloane Coffin had in mind when he said: "I think the bright flames of Christianity are now down to smoldering embers, if not ashes, of feeling comfortable. The church is pretty much down to therapy and management. There's really little prophetic fire ... we have mediocre politicians, and the clergy is pretty mediocre also."

I can easily imagine a long ago version of Rhodenhiser scolding the prophet Jeremiah as he stood "in the gate of the LORD'S house" and rebuked Israel (Jeremiah 7). I can see him chastising Amos for telling Beth Israel in the Lord's name: "I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies" because the Israelites had turned "justice to wormwood" and brought "righteousness to the ground." Look, there's James Rhodenhiser denouncing Isaiah to the city officials for telling Israel they are a "sinful nation, [a] people laden with iniquity" whose "hands are full of blood".

And, hey, isn't that the Rev. Rhodenhiser admonishing Jesus of Nazareth, wagging his finger and telling him "Peace is always the result of mutuality not hostility" after, all in one episode, Jesus: Drove the money-changers from the Temple; provoked the elders and chief priests to anger with his defiance and teachings; called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, blind fools, snakes, and vipers; and condemned the Holy City saying "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!"? Jesus wasn't much for Rhodenhiser-style dialogue, it would seem, and Rhodenhiser isn't much for Jesus or Coffin-style prophetic fire.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Beth Sholom Salutes JWPF on Ten Years

Earlier this month Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends celebrated ten years of faithfulness in the struggle for justice and peace in Palestine. Once again, Temple Beth Sholom has marked the occasion.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

1,443 Words of (Mostly) Balderdash

There is no such thing, it is said, as bad publicity. However, a recent article in Tablet Magazine would have been better publicity for Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF) if author Steve Friess had been committed to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Friess would also benefit by learning a thing or two about professional journalism from Ryan Stanton. Below are several excerpts, preceded by "SF", from Friess' September 12 article, "500 Days of Protest in Ann Arbor", my comments follow each excerpt.

SF: "protesters ... wave doctored Israeli flags, with red lines crossing out the Star of David in the middle, and solicit honks from passing motorists."

Only one "doctored" Israeli flag has appeared at the protest outside the Beth Israel Congregation (BIC). On that flag, the red slash of the international no/prohibition symbol does indeed cross the "star of David", aka the "magen David", but solely because it is the central emblem adorning the flag of the State of Israel. That emblem, a hexagram, is not an ancient Judaic symbol.

As noted in the "Magen David" entry in the Encyclopaedia Judaica, the hexagram was used "as early as the Bronze Age ... in many civilizations and in regions as far apart as Mesopotamia and Britain." The symbol also "appears in early Byzantine and many medieval European churches ... Probably in imitation of church usage – and certainly not as a specifically Jewish symbol – the hexagram is found on some synagogues from the later Middle Ages ..."

So, how did the hexagram become associated with Jews and Judaism? According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica: "The prime motive behind the wide diffusion of the sign in the 19th century was the desire to imitate Christianity. ... From such general use it was taken over by the Zionist movement. The very first issue of Die Welt, Herzl's Zionist journal, bore it as its emblem."

Judaism 101 adds: "The Magen David gained popularity as a symbol of Judaism when it was adopted as the emblem of the Zionist movement in 1897, but the symbol continued to be controversial for many years afterward. When the modern state of Israel was founded, there was much debate over whether this symbol should be used on the flag."

SF: "the group—known as Jewish Witnesses For Peace and Friends even though Herskovitz is its only regular Jewish participant ..."

This false and misleading. Marcia Federbush, who is Jewish, also attends the vigil regularly. While it is true that a majority of current participants are not Jewish, this was not always the case. When the vigil started, Jews comprised a majority. Several Jews quit because they were not able to stand up to the pressure and smears meted out by Zionist Jews. Further, other Jews who were there from the beginning, such as Rachel Persico, Larry Hochman, and Sol Metz, have since died. It is, perhaps, a sign of the moral decrepitude of the larger Jewish community that no younger Jews have come forward to take their places.

SF: "Almost every Shabbat since Sept. 13, 2003, they have appeared at this corner on Washtenaw Avenue decrying the synagogue as an agent of Palestinian oppression."

This is also misleading. No one in JWPF asserts that BIC is "an agent of Palestinian oppression". As reported nearly a month ago: "Herskovitz said his group isn't blaming the synagogue for the actions of a foreign government — just holding the congregation accountable for supporting the state of Israel."

What is at issue is the synagogue's active and willful complicity in the oppression of Palestinians. This takes the form of its public expressions for the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine, the silencing of all but the most tepid of Jewish critics of the Jewish State, its trips to Israel to indoctrinate BIC youth into militant Zionism, and its cheer-leading when Israel goes to war. Not surprisingly, BIC leaders and members want to support Israel without experiencing the moral opprobrium that is their due.

SF: "But [Henry] Herskovitz's efforts are rooted in an old-fashioned intra-faith grudge: In 2003, the synagogue refused to let him present a slideshow of photographs he'd taken at a Palestinian refugee camp that he felt documented human rights abuses. Incensed, he turned to local pro-Palestinian groups for support."

To reduce Herskovitz's objections to being silenced by his synagogue, which had no problem hosting yoga classes on the sabbath, to an "old-fashioned intra-faith grudge" is a way of trivializing the issue. One can imagine a 17th century Steve Friess similarly characterizing Spinoza's expulsion from Amsterdam's Jewish community as an "old-fashioned intra-faith grudge".

Curious readers are invited to view the photos Herskovitz collected on his 2002 visit to the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank. His photos document the experience that began the transformation of a nominally Zionist Jew into a stalwart enemy of Jewish hypocrisy and chauvinism. Also, Herskovitz first turned to fellow Jews and the peace community from which he came when his efforts were rejected by Rabbi Dobrusin.

SF: "Beth Israel's rabbi, Robert Dobrusin, said he rejected the original request because he didn't know what context Herskovitz planned to use for his presentation. 'If what's happened since then is any indication, I was right,' Dobrusin said this week."

This is a rather strange assertion. Why didn't Dobrusin ask Herskovitz about the "context" and content? And why didn't Friess ask Dobrusin about that? In fact, I've spoken to Henry Herskovitz and he says Dobrusin knew exactly what he wanted to do.

SF: "Herskovitz, for his part, first called on Beth Israel to denounce Israel's existence, and now promises they'll stand down if Dobrusin removes the Israeli flag from the sanctuary."

Here is Herskovitz's comment on the Tablet Magazine web site:
Friess' claim that "Herskovitz, for his part, first called on Beth Israel to denounce Israel’s existence" is simply not true. Though I personally believe that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish supremacist state, I have never called upon Beth Israel to do the same, whether it was when the vigils started, nor now.

Rather, as our deceased friend and vigiler Sol Metz reiterated in the Ann Arbor News (July 17, 2009): "Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends will end the vigils if Beth Israel satisfies our three previously stated requests or if equivalent goals are achieved through negotiations with Beth Israel: Committing to work for the equal rights for the Palestinian citizens of Israel, committing to work for the end of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, and committing to work for the right of Palestinians to return to the homes from which they were forcibly removed in what was to become Israel."
It is also inaccurate to report that removing the flag will end the vigils. That is Herskovitz's personal issue, JWPF has never adopted that position collectively.

SF:"[Herskovitz] says he attended High Holiday services at Beth Israel before Dobrusin's 1988 hire, but now he spends Yom Kippur each year taunting fasting worshippers by dubbing it International Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day."

Herskovitz never dubbed Yom Kippur anything and he certainly doesn't taunt anyone, no one brings burgers to the vigil. The only way "worshippers" would even know about the Bill Henry, Z"L, international Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day is if they chose to read about it here, in Herskovitz's weekly vigil reports, or, now, from Friess' article. Not much of a taunt.

SF: "[Herskovitz] and his group are scrupulous about staying off synagogue property and not obstructing anyone's ability to come and go—just as the synagogue has been scrupulous about respecting Herskovitz's First Amendment right to carry on protesting."

There is some truth to this. JWPF has been scrupulous about not obstructing people, the only people ever investigated or arrested by police in connection with the protests were a Beth Israel congregant, Eli Avny (Assault with a Deadly Weapon), and a BIC guest, Abraham Seligman (Assault and Battery). But there is a false equivalence suggested here. For, while JWPF has never sought any means, legal or extra-legal, to prevent people from attending services, the congregation has not been similarly respectful of the rights of JWPF members.

In 2007, it came to light that BIC was handing out a leaflet entitled,"Frequently Asked Questions About the Synagogue Protesters". It included these words:
Since what they are doing is legal, we cannot force them to leave, and we do not want to hand them the publicity a legal fight would entail. Our instincts in this area have been affirmed by the current and former Ann Arbor police chiefs, and by numerous other attorneys and community leaders we gave consulted. We continue to investigate legal options, albeit without much optimism.
It is clear that the leaders of BIC acknowledge the free speech rights of JWPF only grudgingly and, at least at that time, they continued look for the means to silence them.

SF: "But even many who are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians regard Herskovitz's group as an embarrassment. Imam Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan, denounced the protest to The Arab American News, noting: "We'd be hypocrites to say it's not civil in front of mosques yet to endorse it taking place at other houses of worship ... There's a time and place for everything, and it would not be fitting for us as Muslims to protest in front of Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath day."

Interesting. Friess writes about "many" but, quoting a two-year-old article, he only cites a one person, Dawud Walid, a self-described "Black American Muslim" and a "revert to Islam" (read Walid's contribution in All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim). Here's something else attributed to him: "Dawud Walid ... said the root cause of the conflict [in Lebanon] was Israeli occupation of Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian territory, not Islamic fundamentalist terrorists as the Bush Administration would prefer people to believe. He also told the cheering crowd that the interests of Israel are not the same as and should never supersede America's." (Source: Art Aisner, "Marchers protest war: Multiple speakers at rally highly critical of Israel", Ann Arbor News, August 12, 2006).

So, yes, if he still believe as he did seven years ago then Walid can probably fairly be said to be sympathetic to Palestinians so why does he object to the vigils?  Not for Walid is the reasoning of Rabbi Abraham Heschel: "Worship preceded or followed by evil acts becomes an absurdity. The holy place is doomed when people indulge in unholy deeds." He is uninterested in what goes on in the synagogue or what it stands for.

It's simple, Walid doesn't want people protesting outside mosques. Here's what Herskovitz said about this in the same article Friess cites: "I would say that if a mosque was a Zionist mosque, as strange as that may sound, I would certainly not attack a group for protesting in front of such a mosque; we have protested in front of Zionist churches and synagogues before."

Perhaps, Walid's head-in-the-sand approach helps explain why he and an Episcopal bishop collaborated with Rabbi Dobrusin on an op-ed about torture. You see, a year before that op-ed was published Rabbi Dobrusin explained at a sabbath service how torture could be "justified" under Judaic law. Here's the key paragraph in Dobrusin's sermon:
Some might ask: Doesn't making torture illegal tie the hands of our military in the event that an act of torture might possibly save thousands of Americans? Think about how we would respond if, God forbid, our family members were in danger. We would do what we thought we had to do, and then would seek to defend ourselves as having committed a justified act of self-defense. But we don't go into situations saying that morals don't matter in how we live our lives.
Yes, opposition to torture matters--all the way up to the point that it doesn't. When the situation gets challenging then "We would do what we thought we had to do ..."

SF: "Others point out that Dobrusin is a poor target, because the rabbi has been outspoken in his support for a two-state peace settlement. 'The rabbi is one of the most outspoken for addressing full equality for Arab citizens,' said Ann Arbor City Councilman Chuck Warpehoski, director of the local Interfaith Council, which has condemned Herskovitz and his followers. 'That's his dream for what Israel should be. We're talking about one of the people most willing to be critical of Israeli policy and he's the one who's targeted for this kind of abuse. It boggles the mind.' "

What truly "boggles the mind" is that any supposedly rational, ethical person could think that "support for a two-state peace settlement" is in any way about peace, justice, or "full equality." The South African apartheid regime, too, wanted separate states for Whites and Blacks but no decent, thinking person ever fell for that. By talking about "Arab citizens" Warpehoski also conveniently leaves 4.9 million Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967 out in the cold. Perhaps dollar signs are obscuring his moral vision, earlier this year the editor of described Warpehoski as "a walking conflict of interest".

SF: "Herskovitz was happy to elaborate ... 'I said it's incumbent upon Jews to understand why they were hated and why they were treated so badly not only in Germany but other places,' he said. 'For one thing, the Bolsheviks from Russia were coming into Germany and Hitler feared the Bolsheviks, which were dominated by Jewish leadership. So he looked around and said, "Well, I have all these Jews in Germany." It's like the Japanese-Americans in World War Two, we didn't trust them so we rounded them up. That's what Hitler did.' Such commentary, while historically suspect and abhorrent to most Jews, has made Herskovitz a celebrity of the anti-Israel fringe."

Certainly, it is the burden of Jewish mainstream discourse to defend and propagate the notion of Jews as eternal innocents and their 'enemies' as irrational people who hate them only because of Jews' innate goodness, material success, godliness, or ________ (fill in the blank with a positive attribute of your choice). However, there are Jews (no one else can be trusted with such matters, right?) who lend credence to the idea that the rise of Nazism and the policies of the Third Reich were influenced by the behavior of Jews.

As Theodor Herzl explained in The Jewish State (1896):
... Governments will never take action against all Jews. The equal rights of the Jew before the law cannot be withdrawn where they have once been conceded; for the first attempt at withdrawal would immediately drive all Jews, rich and poor alike, into the ranks of revolutionary parties. The beginning of any official acts of injustice against the Jews invariably brings about economic crises. Therefore, no weapons can be effectively used against us, because these injure the hands that wield them. Meantime hatred grows apace.
Although Herzl was clearly mistaken in failing to anticipate the Third Reich his main point is well-taken and Nazi Germany is an exception that proves the rule. Jews did use their power to create an economic crisis in Germany and their efforts to topple Hitler may well have succeeded if they hadn't been halted by Jews

Dennis Prager and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, writing in Why the Jews?: The Reason for Antisemitism (2007), develop the idea that Jewish radicalism helps explain animosity toward Jews. In fact, they have a whole chapter on the subject where they state flatly: "During the last century some of these Jews have contributed to intense Jew-hatred. These are radical and revolutionary Jews" (p. 42). They assert, "The association of Jews with revolutionary doctrines and social upheaval has not, unfortunately, been the product of antisemites' imaginations" (p. 43). They take note of "the highly disproportionate role played by Jews in radical causes ..." (p. 43) explaining that "radical alienated Jews have been active in societies as diverse as despotic and antisemitic czarist Russia, the democratic Weimar Germany, and the United States" (pp. 44-45).

They remind readers, for example, that "Béla Kun, a Jew, established the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic in March of [1919]. Of the 48 people's commissars in his government, 30 were Jews as were 161 of its 202 highest officials" (p. 46)."In Germany," they write, "until 1933 when Hitler came to power, the predominance of Jews on the radical left was as pronounced as in Russia. ... These Jewish radicals wielded a major influence over the cultural and intellectual life of Weimar Germany, an influence utterly disproportionate to their numbers ... " and "to many Germans ... they stood out as destroyers of everything German" ( p. 46).

In The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State (1993), Benjamin Ginsberg argues "Jews played key roles in constructing a number of the most important states to emerge ... over the past 700 years. ... For many of these states, Jews were crucial in building and staffing institutions of extraction, coercion, administration, and mobilization ... these relationships have been the chief catalysts for organized anti-Semitism" (p. 11). Of Soviet Russia and the USSR, he says: "the special contribution of the Jews to the Bolshevik state involved the organization of coercion. From the beginning, the Soviet state relied heavily upon military, police, and security services to sustain itself, and Jews were active in these agencies. ... Jews had traditionally been at the margins of Russian society and, hence, prepared to staff and direct the coercive instruments upon which the state relied to control its citizens" (pp. 30-31).

Ginsberg also goes into some detail about how Jews were central to the creation of the Weimar Republic and dominated German economic, political, and cultural life during the inter-war period. And Ginsberg cites Rosa Luxemburg, a Jewish communist, as "one of the most prominent leaders" of the failed German Revolution of 1918–19, and mentions three other Jews prominent in the communist coup d'etat in Bavaria that resulted in the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic in 1919: Eugen Leviné, Gustav Landauer, and Ernst Toller (p. 29).

From Samuel Landman, in Great Britain, the Jews and Palestine (1936) and echoing British PM Lloyd George, we learn that American Zionist Jews were mobilized on a "quid pro quo contract basis" to bring the US into World War I on the side of Britain and France (p. 4). The payoff was the Balfour Declaration. Landman was a British Jewish Zionist insider and he claims: "The fact that it was Jewish help that brought U.S.A. into the War on the side of the Allies has rankled ever since in German—especially Nazi—minds, and has contributed in no small measure to the prominence which anti-Semitism occupies in the Nazi programme" (p. 6).

Regarding Bolshevik Russia, Winston Churchill averred in 1920: "There is no need to exaggerate the part played in the creation of Bolshevism and in the actual bringing about of the Russian Revolution, by these international and for the most part atheistical Jews, it is certainly a very great one; it probably outweighs all others. With the notable exception of Lenin [in fact, Lenin, too, had Jewish ancestry] the majority of the leading figures are Jews. Moreover, the principal inspiration and driving power comes from the Jewish leaders." Of course, since Churchill is not Jewish he cannot be regarded as a reliable source in this matter.

Now, let's sum up what we have learned in this final section. Contra Friess, there is nothing "suspect" about Herskovitz's "commentary" about attempting to understand the rational basis for German antipathy to Jews. This is not to excuse the irrational imputation of collective guilt to all Jews qua Jews but to point out that there is evidence that Jews, a tiny minority, exercised disproportionate power in Russia, Germany, and elsewhere. Jews used power in their perceived self-interest and in a manner which alienated and angered members of the majority populations of these countries. Jews may find this truth "abhorrent" but they do no one, least of all themselves, any favors by refusing to wrestle with it.

Finally, Friess claims that Herskovitz's "commentary" has made him "a celebrity of the anti-Israel fringe." My last question to Friess is what fringe? There is reason to believe that the pro-Israel crowd may be the true fringe. According to an international scientific poll commissioned by the BBC this year, only 21% of respondents thought Israel had a "mainly positive" influence in the world. 52% thought Israel had a "mainly negative" influence, putting the country in the same class with North Korea.

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Zionist 'Humanitarianism' has a recent article about the 10th anniversary of the Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends vigil in front of Beth Israel Congregation. In the article, reporter Ryan Stanton quotes congregant Barry Gross touting congregants who "pledge to donate money to humanitarian causes for every protester who shows up on Saturdays".

Their two recipient organizations are the Magen David Adom (MDA)--the Israeli counterpart of the American Red Cross--and Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS), which is described in the article as "a cooperative village jointly founded by Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinian Arabs to show they can live side by side in peace." The humanitarian value of these two entities is, at best, questionable and, thus, they are very appropriate charitable choices for Zionists.

Emblem of the Magen David Adom
(lit. "Red Shield of David")
The MDA is an adjunct of the Zionist movement and the Israeli military and has a track record of not serving all citizens of Israel equally (see here and here). Two anecdotes will give you a further sense of the values of the Magen David Adom. Last year, the MDA created a rabbinical committee to "dictate religious guidelines" to MDA volunteers. The head of the committee is Shmuel Eliyahu (also transliterated as "Eliahu"), the Chief Rabbi of Safad, and who is on the Israeli government payroll. I first wrote about Eliyahu in 2008 when he was singing the praises of "a revenge that is so painful, it will burn into their souls the message of all our enemies that Jewish blood is more valuable than gold and platinum."

A year earlier Eliyahu had been calling for mass killings of Palestinians. Eliyahu has a track record of violent incitement and racism that even embarrasses the 'progressive' Zionist Jews who are calling for his ouster--it's a shande far di goyim don't you know? Please ponder for a moment the outcry if the American Red Cross appointed a similar committee of liberal Christian clergy, let alone violent reactionaries on the government payroll.

My second MDA anecdote concerns its Greater Tel Aviv spokesman, Mydan Ben Yoash. It seems Ben Yoash is a funny man who shared his humor on Facebook. Here's a joke that got him into a bit of trouble last June:
Q: How long does it take an Arab woman to bring down the garbage?
A: Nine months!
Get it? Ha, ha. Is this guy a card or what?

As for NSWAS, here's a description from Mulham Assir writing in the Palestine Chronicle: "Neve Shalom is a fraudulent propaganda construct created (like the Wall of Shame itself, on stolen land) to fool the world with the slogan 'peaceful coexistence is possible.' The subtext is 'if only Palestinians would accept the occupation, the dispossession, our refusal to allow the refugee to come home even as we import people from all over the world to man our "Jewish state" machine, if they accepted their "métèque" and wog status in their own land, but above all, if only most of them would go away voluntarily so we wouldn't have to allay our demographic fears by using tanks, missiles and bulldozers that put a crimp in our image abroad.' "

Elsewhere, Assir refers to NSWAS as a Potemkin village. His critique is underscored by information on the NSWAS web site. For instance, the community is not self-supporting but dependent upon funding from "International Friends' Associations around the world," the European Union, the Israeli government, and, of course, Zionists like Barry Gross and friends. Also, the village is for "Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel," Palestinian refugees from 1948 Nakba or 1967 Naksa need not apply. And, yes, you must apply to live in NSWAS and be approved first by "a committee" and then by "the plenum".

Furthermore, the goals and achievements of NSWAS are quite limited: "We talk about 'living with the conflict', 'conflict management', sometimes 'conflict transformation'. We don’t look at our work as 'conflict resolution' because realistically, the conflict requires a political solution." Elsewhere, discussing "problems" arising "in the current political and economic situation" the community admits "Issues also revolve around the imposition of inequalities, rules and trends by the wider society upon the village. An obvious example is that Jews are recruited into the army where they are exposed to danger and possibly active service against Arabs. Another is the fact that Arabs are subject to subtle and less subtle forms of discrimination in the wider society." All this has resulted in the "lowering of optimism regarding chances for an equitable coexistence since September 2000 [the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada]" and "a questioning of the degree to which NSWAS's own form of coexistence is successful."

As an aside, there is also the irony that NSWAS was founded by the Rev. Bruno Hussar, a Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism who became a Dominican priest, on land leased and later donated, by a Christian monastery. Yet, today, "the majority of the village members are either secular or regard religious belief as a personal matter, religion is seen more in terms of being a component of one's cultural identity."

All in all, I'd say that MDA and NSWAS reflect the values of Barry Gross and friends quite well. The MDA supports the Israeli military, discriminates against Palestinians, and appoints Jewish racists to high profile positions and NSWAS is a, perhaps, noble experiment that is in fact powerless to address that circumstances responsible for its creation. Why deal with Jewish supremacism when you can simply evade the issue, write a check, and feel smug about it to boot? 

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Coleman v. AATA Settled

I want to give readers a belated update on Coleman v. AATA. It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that the lawsuit resulted in a pyrrhic victory for the plaintiff, Blaine Coleman.

In a nutshell, Judge Goldsmith ruled that the AATA had violated Coleman's First Amendment rights but gave them the opportunity to reconsider Coleman's proposed advertisement under a revised policy which he declared constitutional with the result that the ad was once again rejected. Last July, the Coleman and his attorneys at the ACLU threw in the towel and settled the lawsuit in return for partial payment by AATA of its fees and expenses. reporter Ryan Stanton writes: "[ACLU attorney Dan] Korobkin said the ACLU brought the case to support the principles of free speech. From the ACLU's standpoint, he said, the legal case never had anything to do with Israel." This attitude doomed the lawsuit before the first hearing; Israel was always a central issue.

Because of this attitude, the conflicts of interest by the judge and other public officials in the case never got the scrutiny they deserved. As I wrote in a comment on the Ann Arbor Chronicle:
One thing that puzzles me, though, is why the Ann Arbor Chronicle hasn't been as thorough in exploring the potential for judicial bias in this case. Suppose this were a case about a provocative abortion rights advertisement (imagine, for example, a bloody coat hangar and some language about driving women back into the hands of unsafe back-alley abortionists) and it turned out that, according to public records, the assigned federal judge was a leading member of an organization staunchly and actively opposed to abortion, he had proudly sent his minor daughter to intern with Operation Rescue, and was a significant investor/donor to militant anti-abortion groups.
In such a case, can anyone doubt that the judge's political activities and inclinations would be a matter for journalistic scrutiny? I understand that the Plaintiff in this AATA case has chosen not to raise the question of judicial bias but does that completely negate the matter? I don't think so. This case is about everyone's 1st Amendment rights and the independence and fairness of federal judges is a matter that should concern us all. Then, too, there are conflict of interest/bias issues concerning the AATA Board and its corporate counsel that have also not been explored by the Ann Arbor Chronicle and other mainstream media. Why not put some hard, probing questions to the people on the public payroll in this matter?
That never happened.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

The 4th Annual Bill Henry International Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day

Saturday, September 14, 2013, is the 4th annual Bill Henry international Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day. This day honors Bill Henry (né Herskovitz) for a decision that quite possibly saved an eight-year-old boy from a life of "Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism". For the full story behind Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day please see the 2011 post about this momentous day.

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Protesting Bonai Shalom Congregation

We learn via Henry Herskovitz of a monthly synagogue protest in Boulder, CO. Michael Rabb and other members of CU-Divest began protesting outside Congregation Bonai Shalom (CBS) in November. We would be happy to find a synagogue representing the Judaic mainstream that is not pro-Israel but it appears we'll have to keep looking.

You see, CBS celebrates Yom Ha'atzmaut, which marks a bitter milestone in the Nakba--the violent ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Jews in 1948. Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrates the declaration of "independence" by the Jewish state. This year, as Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day--which is illegal within the Jewish state--with protests, CBS was represented in Boulder's Yom Ha'Atzmaut celebration. CBS Rabbi Marc Soloway was there, along with "past and present IDF soldiers". On a day when Palestinians were brutalized, Jews in Boulder celebrated.

On the CBS web site, Rabbi Soloway makes clear his ethically bankrupt left/liberal Zionist stance: "Recently I was in the locker room of my gym in a conversation with someone who started talking in a very one-sided way about the brutality of the Israeli occupation, which had oppressed Palestinians for hundreds of years! I launched into a passionate, emotional lecture about Israel as the only democracy in the region and its right to self-determination and security and the world's media's bias towards the Palestinian side and what it feels like to be surrounded by people who want to destroy you!"

So, Michael and friends, we bid you godspeed. You have selected an appropriate place for your protests. As Elliott Abrams once observed: "Where is it possible to find a group of Jews who are committed to Israel, and whose children are likely to honor that commitment? The answer is, in a synagogue on the Sabbath."

See also: "Left Zionism exposed"

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

AATA Ordered to Reconsider Anti-Israel Ad

The Ann Arbor Chronicle reports: "In an order filed Dec. 17, 2012, judge Mark Goldsmith of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan has ruled that the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority must reconsider an advertisement it had previously rejected for placement on the sides of its buses." It is inconceivable that the AATA will approve the advertisement under its new policy so inquiring minds want to know what is the point of this order?

See also:

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Coleman v. AATA Update

The Associated Press reports: "A judge has ruled against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority [AATA] in a lawsuit that challenges the bus agency's rejection of an anti-Israel ad." The ruling may, however, turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the Plaintiff, Blaine Coleman, because Judge Mark Goldsmith's "OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER AND/OR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AND DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS" does not, in fact, grant the relief Plaintiff requested in his motion nor does it finally deny the Defendant's motion to dismiss the suit.

As Judge Goldsmith notes: "In his motion for preliminary injunction, Plaintiff requests that the Court enter an order directing Defendants to immediately accept and display Plaintiff's advertisement on terms no less favorable than those given to other advertisers." Opinion at p. 38. Yet, instead of doing that, Goldsmith leaves open the possibility of giving AATA another bite at the apple: "Another option could be to allow AATA to craft a new policy without the constitutional infirmities identified by this opinion." Opinion at pp. 38-39.

On the matter of the defense's motion to dismiss, Goldsmith writes: "Regarding the other issues raised by Defendant's motion to dismiss and not addressed in this Opinion (i.e., viewpoint discrimination and the as-applied vagueness challenge to the 'persons or group of persons' language), the Court will determine whether such issues remain to be adjudicated after it reviews the parties' forthcoming supplemental briefs." Opinion at p. 40.

With such a ruling, it's hard not to wonder if Goldsmith's pro-Israel bias isn't showing and this is all setting the stage for allowing AATA to reject the ad and/or a dismissal of the suit. If that turns out to be the case then it will be a pity that the Plaintiff and his attorneys at the ACLU of Michigan haven't asked Goldsmith to recuse himself. In the meantime local taxpayers will continue to foot the bill as the AATA's lawyers defend their right to violate Blaine Coleman's First Amendment rights. Parenthetically, it should said that the best southeast Michigan coverage of this case, so far, is on Their reporting has been far superior to that of the AP or

See also:

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The 3rd Annual Bill Henry International Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day

Wednesday, September 26, 2012, is the 3rd annual Bill Henry international Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day. This day honors Bill Henry (né Herskovitz) for a decision that quite possibly saved an eight-year-old boy from a life of "Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism". Since Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day follows the Jewish calendar, it actually starts at sunset on 9/25 and ends at sunset on 9/26.

For the full story behind Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day please see last year's post about this momentous day.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Power of Naming

Robert Azzi has an interesting new article entitled "Challenging the Power of Privilege" where he discusses Jewish control of the narrative of Israel's creation. Referring to Israel's so-called New Historians, he notes: "It took Israeli historians to legitimize the Palestinian story. It took Israeli historians to legitimize the truth." Point taken. Sadly, Azzi has not the courage or insight to acknowledge that Jewish, not "Israeli", is the operative identity. No Palestinian Israeli historian (or non-Jewish Euro-American, for that matter) would have achieved even the limited accceptance and credibility accorded to the Jewish Israeli revisionist historians.

There is then another power that Azzi and most others won't discuss or fight for and that is the power of naming. The dominant form of oppression in Palestine today is Jewish supremacism and it enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of Jews worldwide but you'd be hard-pressed to find very many people in the West--Palestinian or otherwise--who will say that publicly.

As the pseudonymous Sara said in "The Forgotten '-ism': An Arab American Women's Perspective on Zionism, Racism, and Sexism": "In this country, progressive circles are Zionist circles. ... You might be able to say Palestinians are victims but you can't say they're victims of Jews. ... You can't name Jews as your oppressor, but it's the Jewish state." Or as Paul Eisen said in "Jewish Power": "The crime against the Palestinian people is being committed by a Jewish state with Jewish soldiers using weapons displaying Jewish religious symbols, and with the full support and complicity of the overwhelming mass of organised Jews worldwide. But to name Jews as responsible for this crime seems impossible to do."

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Update II: The First Jewish President

Below is an image of the cover of the September 26, 2011 issue of New York magazine.

See also:

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Judge Goldsmith Biased in AATA Suit?

Henry Herskovitz is reporting another apparent conflict of interest in the AATA "Boycott Israel" advertising controversy. In a section of his recent vigil report entitled "Disturbing News Flash" he writes:
On the heels of this conflict of interest existing with AATA Board members and Counsel, comes this: according to U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith's biography, "[Goldsmith] has also served in the leadership of several community organizations, including ... the B'nai B'rith Anti- Defamation League." We have also determined from a separate and reliable source that his leadership included Board membership on the ADL. How many foxes does it take to guard this henhouse? Will someone ask Judge Goldsmith whether he supports Israel’s claimed right to exist as a Jewish state (the ADL sure does), and whether that answer might influence his ability to render a fair verdict?
Judge Mark A. Goldsmith was nominated to the federal bench by Barack Obama while serving on the Oakland County Circuit Court. A little digging revealed more evidence of Goldsmith's potential bias in the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority case. Goldsmith's 2010 federal Financial Disclosure Report (Section VII) indicates that he doesn't own any US bonds but he does own Israel Bonds and they're the only asset for which he did not declare a value. Furthermore, Goldsmith and his wife sent their sixteen-year-old daughter to study in Israel. Can a man with such strong Zionist ties really be expected to preside impartially at a trial over the constitutionality of an advertisement graphically criticizing Israel as an apartheid state and calling for its boycott?

The Code of Conduct for United States Judges says:

  1. Respect for Law. A judge should respect and comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
  2. Outside Influence. A judge should not allow family, social, political, financial, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. A judge should neither lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. A judge should not testify voluntarily as a character witness.
  3. Nondiscriminatory Membership. A judge should not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origin.
Regarding Canon 2B, Goldsmith has or recently had demonstrable family and financial ties to Israel. It may be, too, that his social relationships unsuit him to preside at this trial. In the nominee's questionnaire Goldsmith submitted to the judiciary committee, he discloses that he became Vice-President for Religious Affairs of B'nai B'rith Barristers in 2009. "Advocacy for Israel" is second on B'nai B'rith's list of "Our Prime Issues". B'nai B'rith has publicly "condemned" supporters, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of the international boycott of Israel. Furthermore, Goldsmith has been a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee since the 1990s.

Goldsmith is also evidently a "strictly Sabbath observant," devout adherent of Judaism; he is a cantor at his synagogue and a serious student of the Talmud. In his nominee's questionnaire Goldsmith reports that he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit. Goldsmith was profiled in 2011 in "Jewels of Justice: Timeless Jewish Values in the American Courtroom" in the American Jewish Spirit (emphasis added). Reportedly, at his federal investiture ceremony, "the newly appointed judge said 'he was grateful to the Almighty for allowing my plan to be part of His plan,' and in the words of an ancient Jewish prayer, thanked God for 'granting us all life, sustaining us and allowing us to reach this day.' ... 'I do believe with a complete faith, Judge Goldsmith said, 'that the Spirit above guides the spirit within.' "

Being devoutly religious should not per se be a disqualifying factor but one wonders how the "Spirit above" will guide Goldsmith's "spirit within" when it comes to Coleman v. AATA. He's been a member of Congregation Beth Shalom since 1987; he joined its Board of Directors that same year and served until 2005. He was the president of the congregation from 1997 until 1999. Congregation Beth Shalom describes itself as providing "opportunities for all ages that nurture our love of and commitment to Jewish life, our Synagogue and the State of Israel" and it hosts an "Israel Affairs" committee. There can be little doubt that the Congregation Beth Shalom agrees that Zionism is an affirmation of Judaism and "has its origins and roots in the authoritative religious texts of Judaism. ... Anti-Zionism, not Zionism, is a departure from the Jewish religion."

Regarding Canon 2C, Goldsmith's service (1986-1994) on the "Regional Advisory Board of B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League" (ADL), which was highlighted in his Senate confirmation hearing, sets off alarm bells. The ADL is decidedly and undeniably pro-Israel and that to the detriment of Palestinians. A case can be made that it "practices invidious discrimination" (although probably not in its membership) against non-Jewish people and Jews who are not Zionist (or insufficiently so).

In 2000, a Colorado jury awarded a $10 million judgment against the ADL to two people who had been defamed as "anti-Semites" by the ADL. That award survived all ADL appeals. Earlier, in 1999, the ADL was forced to pay $175,000 in an out-of-court settlement stemming from forty years of domestic political espionage by the ADL. The ADL has been active in lobbying against Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide. This had led some Massachusetts communities to pull out of the ADL's bogus "No Place for Hate" campaign. Interested readers are urged to have a look at Professor Steven Salaita's book, Israel's Dead Soul. Salaita devotes an entire chapter to the ADL where he makes a compelling case that "according to its own public criteria, the ADL should classify itself as a hate group."

In light of all of the above, should Goldsmith recuse himself? You decide. Canon 3C(1) of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges says: "A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned ..."

See also Coleman v. AATA Update

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Conflicts of Interest at AATA?

As I pointed out to a friend and fellow activist Sunday night, the current dispute over the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's Board of Directors decision to reject a proposed bus advertisement by Blaine Coleman raises the matter of conflicts of interest in the AATA's decision-making process. After huddling in a closed session with AATA counsel Jerry Lax, the Ann Arbor Chronicle reports that the Board voted unanimously, with Board chair Jesse Bernstein and member David Nacht present and voting, to support a resolution endorsing a rejection of Coleman's proposed "Boycott 'Israel,' Boycott Apartheid" ad by the AATA's advertising contractor. It doesn't seem likely that the entire Board would go against the advice of legal counsel and, thus, it's reasonable to conclude that Jerry Lax supported the resolution too.

The problem is that Lax, Bernstein, and Nacht are, apparently, supporters of Israel, the very entity targeted by Coleman's ads. The Washtenaw Jewish News reported in December 2009 that Jerry Lax has served on the boards of the two local pro-Israel outfits: the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor and Temple Beth Emeth. Lax also added his name to a campaign advertisement of "Michigan Jews Who Support Senators Obama & Biden". Here's part of the text of that ad:

Stay focused on the issues:

Israel's security:
"Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable."
Barack Obama, speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008.

Iran's threat: "There is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran ... and my goal will be to eliminate this threat." – Barack Obama, speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008.
Yes, those were the first two issues in the ad. No wonder those Michigan Jews supported "The First Jewish President."

As to AATA Board chair Jesse Bernstein, well, he's also on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Israel Business Bridge. 'Nuff said, right? Okay, but it won't hurt to mention that Bernstein is also a donor to Kehillot B'Yahad/Congregations Together (KBY), whose aims include: "STRENGTHENING THE JEWISH STATE". Bernstein also happens to be the chair of a Temple Beth Emeth's Long Range Sustainability committee. David Nacht's LinkedIn profile identifies him as a supporter of the Anti-Defamation League, a former Board member of Temple Beth Emeth, and a donor to the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County.

Inquiring minds want to know how much these guy's--all three associated with Temple Beth Emeth--support of Israel may have colored their judgment in favor of violating the First Amendment rights of Coleman. The vote also potentially put the AATA and, thus, taxpayers on the hook for an expensive legal fight it seems likely to lose.

12/11/2011 Update: Just days after this post was published the ACLU announced that it is bringing suit in federal court against the AATA on behalf of Blaine Coleman. It's a real shame and a bit of a mystery that the Board of Directors are not named as defendants in the complaint.

See also: "Is Judge Goldsmith Biased in AATA Suit?"

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quotable: Jewish Question/Zionist Question

The anti-Zionist struggle must not encage itself in too simplistic a link between the Jewish Question with the Zionist Question-–a simplistic link that in fact craves to sever the deeper ontological connection that might persist between the two questions. Such a dominant, and far too quick, paradigm that by and large dominates the anti-Zionist struggle has been that Zionism's misuse of the Holocaust is somehow an aberration of Jewish thinking. Thus portrayed, Zionism can be successfully isolated and fought against by Jews as Jews.

It is this very denial of the existential link between the Jewish Question and the Zionist Question–a link that is suppressed by formulations such as "Jews Against Zionism" or, more broadly, by many attempts of "Jews" to become anti-Zionist--that needs to be questioned and destabilised.To be an anti-Zionist without due regard to that being and thinking that Zionism may so tragically continues, may well be to confuse symptom and cause, thus perpetuating that history that leaves the symptom–Zionism–intact. There is need to fathom the extent to which the slogan "Jews against Zionism" may be an oxymoron. Such an oxymoron may be at the heart of the denial, and protection bestowed upon the denial, of the oxymoronic nature of another notion, namely that of a "Jewish and democratic state".

Source: "The Silencing of Gilad Atzmon" by Oren Ben-Dor in CounterPunch, March 15-17, 2008.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quotable: Jews Take Charge

Anti-Semitism could really amount to something if the Jews would just take charge of it.

And so they have ...

Source: Alexander Roda Roda (1872-1945) as quoted in "Germans use 'anti-Israel' Jews to soothe Holocaust guilt" by Benjamin Weinthal in the Jerusalem Post online edition, Oct. 16, 2011.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday 10/8 is Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day

Saturday, October 8, 2011, is the 2nd annual Bill Henry international Eat-a-Cheeseburger Day. This day honors Bill Henry (né Herskovitz) for a decision that quite possibly saved an eight-year-old boy from a life of "Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism".

That boy grew up to be Henry Herskovitz and in 1954 young Henry was hungry from fasting on Yom Kippur. Eight-year-olds aren't required to fast and so the fact that his father Bill bought him something to eat is not remarkable, that he bought him a cheeseburger is.

Under Judaic religious law or halacha, cheeseburgers are treif, i.e. they're not kosher. Observant Jews aren't supposed to eat them and some Jews can get pretty worked-up about cheeseburgers. You see, keeping kosher is about Jewish self-segregation. But you don't have to believe me, you can believe Rabbi Yaakov Luban.

Rabbi Luban is a "specialist in communal [kosher] issues" and Executive Rabbinic Coordinator of the Orthodox Union's kosher certification division, the world's largest kosher certification agency. In "Playing with Fire", Rabbi Luban writes:
Thousands of years ago, the Rabbis of old recognized that Jewish identity is the key to the survival of Klal Yisrael ["the Jewish People, as a whole"]. To this end, they enacted three sets of food laws to limit socialization: bishul akum, pas akum and stam yainom (cooked food, bread and wine prepared by gentiles). This was based on the realization that bonds of friendship are established by eating together, and breaking bread with a stranger is the first step to developing a closer relationship. For thousands of years of exile, the biblical and rabbinic laws of kosher have formed a natural fortress that prevented the assimilation of the Jewish people into many different cultures of the world. Today, with spiraling assimilation wreaking havoc at a frightening rate, the prophetic vision of Chazal [an acronym, meaning "Our Sages of Blessed Memory" in ref. to the Talmud] is all the more apparent. It is significant that even for secularized Jews, a kosher kitchen often remains the last bastion against intermarriage and assimilation.

More than two thousand years ago, the Rabbis prohibited eating certain foods cooked by non-Jews in order to limit socialization which might lead to intermarriage between Jews and gentiles.
Okay, so maybe I've taken a little interpretive license with this otherwise true story but, still, I like to believe that Bill Henry's decision to buy his boy a cheeseburger on the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" wasn't an accident but a mitzvah that helped set his son on the path of becoming a mensch, a fighter for human rights, justice, and, peace for all. So, what the heck? If you're not fasting on Saturday 10/8 then join people across the globe in eating a cheeseburger (really, any non-kosher food or beverage will do) in honor of our shared humanity and in memory of Bill Henry, a dad who truly loved his son enough not to try to turn him into a bigot.

P.S. If you're going to buy that cheeseburger at a fast food restaurant (Yuck, don't do it!) then skip McDonald's. With 153 restaurants in Israel, they're big-time violators of the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Try Burger King instead, they pulled out of Israel last year.

See also:

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Saturday, September 03, 2011

Jews and Torture Update II

In my "Jews and Torture" post, back in 2007, I wrote:
Michael Mukasey's nomination as US Attorney General was placed in apparent jeopardy when he refused to state in Senate confirmation hearings that the form of torture known as waterboarding was illegal under US law. His nomination was rescued by two Jewish Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Diane Feinstein and Charles Schumer, who joined with all nine Republicans in an 11-8 vote to send the nomination to the full Senate where they were joined by Joseph Lieberman, another Jew who voted against his caucus. Mukasey was confirmed by a 53-40 vote--"the narrowest margin to confirm an attorney general in more than 50 years."
Recently I had occasion to look at the voting records of the three Jewish Senators who pulled Mukasey's nomination out of the fire. They only highlight how remarkable it was for them to cross party lines to support Mukasey. According to the Washington Post's database, during the 110th Congress, Feinstein voted with her caucus 94% of the time, Lieberman 87%, and Schumer 97%.

See also:

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Saturday, July 02, 2011

Update on "The First Jewish President"

It turns that when I wrote my brief post on "The First Jewish President" back in 2009 I missed a lengthy and revealing article in the Chicago Jewish News. The article is from October 24, 2008, and is entitled "Obama and the Jews" (the article is also archived here by If Americans Knew). The piece begins with a quote from "the former Chicago congressman, federal judge and White House counsel to President Bill Clinton," Abner Mikva: "I think when this is all over, people are going to say that Barack Obama is the first Jewish president".

See also: "Jews Could Decide Dems Presidential Nominee"

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Not Far Enough: Fact-Checking Finkelstein

I've been reading This Time We Went Too Far: Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion by Norman G. Finkelstein (OR Books, 2010). Even though Finkelstein is "functionally a Zionist of the Left-liberal persuasion" there is no denying his passionate and often principled argumentation in support of positions that are generally helpful to those unemcumbered by Finkelstein's tribal loyalties.

The "Gaza Invasion" of Finkelstein's subtitle was the 22-day Hanukkah Massacre in the winter of 2008-2009 wherein forces of the Jewish state killed 1,417 Palestinians and wounded 5,303 in Gaza. I can't say I made a thorough examination of Finkelstein's book but I did flag two pages in chapter six, "Ever Fewer Hosannas," in the hardcover edition for follow-up.

At the top of page 110 there appears the last sentence of a lengthy quote from "Poll: Attachment of U.S. Jews To Israel Falls in Past 2 Years" by Steven M. Cohen in the Jewish Daily Forward (March 04, 2005). It says: "Just 57% affirmed that 'caring about Israel is a very important part of my being Jewish,' compared with 73% in a similar survey in 1989." In chapter six Finkelstein is making the case that American Jewish support for Israel is declining.

Finkelstein, apparently, didn't go far enough in reading the article. When read in its entirety a more complex picture of the attitudes of Americans Jews towards Israel emerges. For example, there's the finding that 95% of Americans Jews feel some degree of pride in Israel with fully two-thirds saying they "always" or "often" "feel proud of Israel"; only 5% said "never". Then, too, "Only 13% said they are 'sometimes uncomfortable identifying as a supporter of Israel,' with an additional 14% 'not sure' "; 73% disagreed with the statement.

Concerning the attitudes of American Jews regarding Palestinians, Cohen writes:
When offered sharply critical characterizations of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, more respondents disagreed than agreed. However, substantial numbers were unsure. Thus, by 60% to 11% the sample rejected the assertion that "Israel persecutes a minority population," with 29% not sure. Similarly, by a 65% to 13% margin, they rejected the notion that "Israel occupies lands that belong to another people," with 22% not sure.
To restate that, only 11% of Americans Jews recognize that Palestinians are oppressed by Israel and only 13% admit that Israel occupies Palestinian territory. Curiously, only 17% of American Jews answered "Yes" when asked, "Are you a Zionist?"

Regarding a poll more closely related to the subject of his book, Finkelstein spins the results of J Street's March 2009 "National Survey of American Jews". On pages 118-119, Finkelstein writes, "a poll of American Jews found that 47% strongly approved of the Israeli assault, but—in a sharp break with the usual wall-to-wall solidarity—53 per cent were either ambivalent (44 per cent 'somewhat' approved or 'somewhat' disapproved) or strongly disapproved (9 per cent)."

Now, before I tell you what Finkelstein didn't tell his readers about that poll, I want to emphasize two points: First, these are American, not Israeli, Jews. Second, the poll was conducted from February 28, 2009 through March 9, 2009. The Hanukkah Massacre ended on January 18, 2009.

So, these American Jews were expressing their attitudes more than a month after the fog of war and Israeli gov't. propaganda had begun to clear. The one-sidedness of the 'conflict' was well-known by then, graphic images of Palestinian suffering had circulated widely, and respected international human rights groups had already begun to weigh-in against Israel.

What did American Jews tell J Street pollsters? Fully 75% said they "strongly approved" or "somewhat approved" "of the recent military action that Israel took in Gaza"; a plurality (47%) of American Jews "strongly approved". This despite the fact that 59% "felt that the military action had no impact on Israel's security (41 percent) or made Israel less secure (18 percent)". This is not quite the picture Finkelstein paints.

See also: "Quotable: '99 percent of American Jewry'"

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rabbi Dobrusin Hijacks Religious Freedom Day Panel

Inspired by incidents of anti-Muslim violence, it was billed as part of celebrating Religious Freedom Day but Rabbi Robert Dobrusin of Beth Israel Congregation (BIC) hijacked the panel discussion on Thursday at the Ann Arbor District Library. One of the featured panelists, Dobrusin bemoaned "an extremely unpleasant situation" and launched into a diatribe against the weekly vigils of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends despite his admission that "our religious freedom has not been threatened, it has not been limited" and "no one has ever been physically prevented from entering our building".

Dobrusin was long on generalities but short on specifics. He admits that JWPF is "expressing an opinion at odds with deeply held feelings of a majority of our members". This gives the lie to the claim sometimes made by vigil critics that many or most of the congregants agree with JWPF's criticisms of Israel but that the problem is mainly with JWPF's tactics. Dobrusin then proceeds to claim that JWPF misrepresents the "relationship" and "connection which our congregation ... feels with the State of Israel." Yet, Dobrusin's charge of misrepresentation is bald-faced with nothing to support it.

He follows with the claim that JWPF "has endeavored ... to publicize its message against the legitimacy of Israel and against any negotiated settlement based a two-state solution". This falsehood is not new.

Regardless of the varying positions individual JWPF members may have, as I wrote in 2007, "In fact, JWPF has never taken a group position on the legitimacy of Israel." Likewise, the group has never taken a position opposing a "two-state solution." In March, 2007, JWPF approved the following statement:
Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends have been asked what it would take for us to end our vigils at the Beth Israel Congregation (BIC).

Our answer is simple and well within the power of BIC. We would end our vigils at BIC if the Board of Directors of BIC publicly states its full support for the following principles that basic human rights require:
  1. The full civil and political equality of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel within Israel;
  2. The prompt implementation of the rights of Palestinian refugees of 1947-8 and 1967 to return to their homes and properties in Israel and Palestine as stipulated in UN resolution 194; and,
  3. The prompt end of Israeli occupation and colonization of all lands seized by Israel in 1967.
Although we are not all Jewish, we hold that inequality, the forced exile of millions of Palestinians, and military occupation are inconsistent with the highest ideals of Judaism.
Following his misrepresentation of JWPF's position on Israel, Dobrusin says: "Now, the question is if we express our opinions ... are we accountable for what it is we believe? Can people disagree with us or should we be able to hide behind the walls of our synagogue and say this is our opinion and it can't be debated?"

Dobrusin answers his question in the negative claiming "if we want to have respectful discussion ... we can have respectful discussion ... surely that can happen." So, why is it that more than seven years ago the request of JWPF founder Henry Herskovitz, who regarded BIC as his spiritual home and regularly attended High Holy Day services there, to address the congregation, not at Sabbath services but on a week night evening, was denied?

In more than seven years, why haven't Henry and JWPF ever been invited in for the debate Dobrusin says he welcomes? The answer is, apparently, because JWPF's non-violent exercise of their own Constitutionally protected rights, which Dobrusin grudgingly admits is legal, feels "to us as harassment".

Dobrusin also claims that the signs JWPF members hold outside BIC are "often quite simply untrue." This is a tacit admission that at least sometimes they are true. Moreover, as before, Dobrusin's claims are simply unsubstantiated. What signs are untrue, Rabbi? Let's debate that.

Dobrusin talks about how "restrained," at his behest, the congregants have been in responding to the "harassment" of JWPF. "We don't want physical or verbal confrontation on the street outside the synagogue," he says.

This would have been a nice time to acknowledge that the only people ever investigated or arrested by police in connection with the protests were a Beth Israel congregant, Eli Avny (Assault with a Deadly Weapon), and a guest, Abraham Seligman (Assault and Battery). It would also have been an opportune moment for Chuck Warpehoski to make a belated apology for the fact that the organization he heads, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, never took a stand against the violence directed at JWPF members but that probably wouldn't be good for business.

Dobrusin concludes his presentation with a plea for people to support BIC and speak out against JWPF's vigils. Dobrusin frames his plea by saying:
The point I want to stress this evening is really the one with the most importance. You know in the long-run this isn't a Beth Israel issue. And it isn't a Jewish community issue. And it isn't an issue about Middle East politics. It's an Ann Arbor issue. The atmosphere and peace of our entire community is tarnished when people feel tension as they approach their house of worship on their holy day ... as long as this type of action continues the spiritual atmosphere and the sense of comfort and peace of our community is severely damaged and that's truly a shame for all of us. (emphasis added)
What's clear from this is that Rabbi Dobrusin is no student of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here's something the Rev. King had to say in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" about "tension" and "peace":
... I am not afraid of the word "tension." ... there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.
No doubt it was men like Rabbi Dobrusin whom the Rev. King had in mind when he lamented the one "who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods ... ' "

Rabbi Dobrusin wants us to believe that the violent Jewish supremacist state that he and his congregation support is not the real issue.

Forget that when Israel turned Lebanon into a "free-fire zone" in 2006, BIC responded by publishing on their web site a photo of four Israeli flags along with a statement of support for the "people of the State of Israel at this time of crisis" and stating that "We pray for the safety of those who defend Israel …"

Forget that Rabbi Dobrusin wrote in the Ann Arbor News: "Beth Israel Congregation affirms without any hesitation or equivocation the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, and affirms the right of Israel to defend itself from enemies who seek its destruction."

Forget that BIC sends their young children to Israel and poses them for photos with armed Israeli soldiers.

Forget that Rabbi Dobrusin has offered a halachic justification of torture from the bima.

Forget all that. The real issue is the tension and tarnished peace in our community. Oh, the humanity!

Rabbi Dobrusin wants us to believe that "among the institutions which our community must respect is the sanctity of the house of worship." But Beth Israel's support for Israel has diminished, if not eradicated, its claim of sanctity. As Abraham Heschel explains:
The prophet knew that religion could distort what the Lord demanded … To the people, religion was Temple, priesthood, incense: "This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord" (Jer. 7:4). Such piety Jeremiah brands as fraud and illusion. "Behold you trust in deceptive words to no avail," he calls (Jer. 7:8). Worship preceded or followed by evil acts becomes an absurdity. The holy place is doomed when people indulge in unholy deeds.
BIC's support of Jewish supremacism in Palestine is indeed an evil act and an unholy deed. And as the prophet Isaiah (ch. 1) said:
Though you pray at length,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood.
And as the prophet Amos (ch. 5) said to "the House of Israel":
Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood,
and bring righteousness to the ground! ...
They hate the one who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. ...
Hate evil and love good,
and establish justice in the gate ...
let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
You can find a 3.1 Mb audio file (.wav) of Dobrusin's speech here at

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