Archive for the ‘Jews and Judaism’ Category

Christmas In The Air — Already???

November 15, 2007

Old St. Nick

Pushing my cart down the aisle in Shaw’s last weekend I noticed a song I hadn’t heard in a while…Silent Night. No, please, not yet. We’re only two weeks past the celebration for the Fall Classic, the Rolling Rally. “It’s too early for Christmas music,” I muttered. “You’re not kidding,” chimed in a woman nearby. At least it wasn’t “Feliz Navidad.”

Jon Keller had a funny report on WBZ-TV on the phenomenon. Click on the videoplayer to locate the report.

Now comes the latest story likely to send Bill O’Reilly into the stratosphere. Apparently Lowe’s advertised Christmas trees under the heading “Family Trees” in a recent catalogue. Watch this report. This makes no sense on any level. Lowe’s isn’t a municipality or government entity. They’re a commercial enterprise hoping to make a profit to people selling “Christmas Trees.” Anybody who would be buying that item would be doing so because they want a Christmas Tree.

There’s no First Amendment issue involved. Lowe’s has already backpeddled.

Since the big day is only a mere 35 days away, I feel that it’s important to put a couple things on the record. With the exception of being nauseated by the thought of Christmas music weeks before Thanksgiving? — what happened to Thanksgiving, a great American traditional holiday — I have no problem with Christmas whatsoever. Carols, Santa, even a creche in the center of town — Christmas is a big deal to a lot of folks. They ought to be able to celebrate it.

As readers of Gitell.com probably know, I’m Jewish and I celebrate Chanukah. I love Chanukah, but one thing that bugs me about the celebration is how it’s been elevated to near Christmas-like proportions. I’ve noticed over the years how all kinds of folks go out of their way this time of year to wish me a Happy Chanukah. That’s thoughtful. I, however, wish this holiday could be viewed in its proper perspective. It’s far less important than Rosh Hashana, the New Year; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement; or Passover. Nobody knows what to say to me about Yom Kippur because it’s a hard holiday for Christians to get their heads around. It’s just that different. (There is one person I hear from every Yom Kippur eve. This is a person who wishes me an easy fast knowing how much I hate to be without food.)

In America, Chanukah has even appropriated the qualities of other Jewish holidays. In past times, Purim was the Jewish gift-giving holiday. How do you explain Purim?

When we enter December, I’ll be sure to eat potato latkes and spin my share of dreidels. And if the world at large wants to have Christmas trees, give presents, see Santa, it’s no skin of my back. In fact, I wish a hearty Merry Christmas to you folks who celebrate it. But can we hold off a little bit on the music, please?

Catching Up From the Bay Area

September 20, 2007

Jerusalem Defender

I’ve been out in San Mateo County, CA, on family business. I’ve been remiss in posting a couple of recent pieces about Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Earlier in the week, I wrote a news analysis on how Clinton is once again playing the Jerusalem card. Back when she was gearing up for her Senate run in 1999, Clinton sent a letter to the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America calling Jerusalem “indivisible eternal capital of Israel.” Last week, on the eve of the Jewish high holiday season, Clinton’s campaign sent out a position paper on Israel, saying ” Hillary Clinton believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned.” I analyze the politics of the move here.

It’s interesting to see that Clinton may be to the right of members of Israel’s government on this. Haim Ramon proposed giving way part of Jerusalem earlier this month.

Later in the week, I wrote about Hillary Clinton and Sister Souljah moments. Joan Vennochi revisits the Sister Souljah episode here.

Boston Lawyer Takes on the “Israel Lobby Gang”

September 10, 2007

The authors of “The Israel Lobby”, Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, are getting a lot of press these days. These are the university professors who contend that “The Israel Lobby” has hijacked American foreign policy and proved the U.S. war with Iraq. To me, this smacks all too much of anti-Jewish scapegoating at a time of an unpopular war.

Jeff Robbins, a partner at the Boston law firm of Mintz, Levin, has a terrific op-ed in The Wall Street Journal rebutting this thesis. He reports an anecdote about Saudi Arabia’s attempt to purchase positive opinion in America in the wake of 9/11.

“Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, I received a call from a major defense contractor asking for a favor. I was serving as president of the Boston chapter of the World Affairs Council, a national organization that debates foreign policy, and the defense contractor was one of the Council’s principal sponsors.

The Saudi Arabian government was sponsoring a national public relations campaign to cultivate American public opinion, and was sending Saudi emissaries around the country to make the case that Saudi Arabia was a tolerant, moderate nation worthy of American support. Would the Council organize a forum of Boston’s community leaders so that the Saudis could make their case?

While this was patently no more than a Saudi lobbying effort, we organized the forum, and it was well-attended by precisely the slice of Boston’s political and corporate elite that the Saudis and their defense contractor benefactor had hoped for. The Saudis maintained that their kingdom should be regarded as a promoter of Middle East peace, and that the abundant evidence that Saudi Arabia was in fact promoting a virulent brand of extremist Islam should be discounted.

Saudi Arabia paid for the trip of its emissaries to Boston, for the Washington-based public relations and lobbying company that organized the trip, and for the Boston public relations and lobbying company that handled the Boston part of the visit. And it drew upon the resources and relationships of the defense contractor, which sells hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, to support and orchestrate its public relations effort.”

Here is Robbin’s essential point: “It is apparently the authors’ position that, even in the face of the overwhelming leverage of an Arab world swimming in petrodollars, with a lock on the U.N. and an unlimited ability to pay for pro-Arab public relations, American Jews are obliged to stay silent. In essence, Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer have repackaged the “the-Jews-run-the-country” stuff which has long been the bread and butter of anti-Semites.”

Two other important points. Longtime readers will remember this 2002 story.

“A series of radio advertising spots ran in 30 cities across the United States in early April. One, titled “Occupation,” extolled the Arab League’s “fair plan to end the senseless violence in the Mideast.” The plan, according to the advertisement, involved Israel’s “withdrawal from the Palestinian land it has unjustly occupied for years…. There will be no more midnight raids and random searches, no more violence.” It did not condemn Palestinian terrorist bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. Another ad, titled “Peace Plan,” stated: “To stop the cycle of violence, we must first end the military occupation of Palestinian towns and neighborhoods.” Again, no mention of Palestinian terrorism and no mention of the peace offer made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, which would have given the Palestinian Authority possession of 97 percent of the West Bank — an offer Yasser Arafat turned down in 2000. Both ads concluded with the slogan “Start the peace — end the occupation,” followed by the words “paid for by the Alliance of Peace and Justice.”

Must be just another grassroots group fighting to get Israel out of the West Bank, right? Not exactly. The ads were placed by Sandler-Innocenzi, a political-advertising agency that has done spots for Republican House majority whip Tom DeLay and the Republican National Committee, among others. A Sandler-Innocenzi staffer contacted by the Phoenix acknowledged involvement with the ad and gave a phone number and address for the Alliance of Peace and Justice. The address — 8484 Westpark Drive in McLean, Virginia — is the home of media firm Qorvis Communications. Where does this complicated trail lead? To the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which, according to the federal government’s Foreign Agents Registration Act office, hired Qorvis on March 6. Qorvis did not respond to phone calls requesting comment on the ads.”

I will post a link to my feature story on a new book rebutting the “Israel Lobby” thesis. Here’s my write-up of a June encounter with Stephen Walt.

Daniel Pearl and Moral Equivalence

July 16, 2007

Daniel Pearl

Judea Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, has a stunning review of A Mighty Heart in the latest issue of The New Republic. The words of the elder Pearl are a welcome corrective to the rampant moral relativism that renders America and our enemies the same.

“Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, on January 31, 2002,” Mr. Pearl writes. “There was a time when drawing moral symmetries between two sides of every conflict was a mark of original thinking. Today, with Western intellectuals over-extending two-sidedness to reckless absurdities, it reflects nothing but lazy conformity. What is needed now is for intellectuals, filmakers, and the rest of us to resist the dangerous trend and draw legitimate distinctions where such distinctions are warranted.” Amen. I’d say Mr. Pearl’s words should also be heard by the gorgeous actress who plays his daughter-in-law, Angelina Jolie, whose public comments on the film were well-meaning but entirely morally-muddled.

He concludes: “My son Danny had the courage to examine all sides. He was a genuine listener and a champion of dialogue. Yet he also had principles and red lines. He was tolerant, but not mindlessly so.” Bravo.

Read what I wrote in The Boston Phoenix when the paper posted the video recording of Pearl’s execution by clicking here.

Bloomberg for President?

June 22, 2007

Two Great Mayors

Michael Bloomberg has garnered reams of press after having his name floated as a potential independent presidential candidate. Bloomberg, reportedly, is willing to spend $500 million on a presidential race. While money solves a lot of problems, it doesn’t do everything for the New York mayor. (With that said, it’s better to have $500 million, than not.) In my piece today in the New York Sun, I report on the myriad of practical difficulties that lie ahead of Bloomberg — despite the fact that he lacks what I call “the whiff of the weird” that usually accompanies third party candidates.

“Mr. Bloomberg’s favor has plenty of money to throw at this chore, but that’s only part of the problem. He must find competent individuals who are unaffiliated with either of the major parties and who can devote time, energy, and passion to him. Independent candidacies are often the refuge of the extreme activist, the fringe enthusiast, and the agitator.

“It’s organization, it’s organization, it’s organization,” the co-founder of the New York State Independence Party and an expert in ballot access around the country, Laureen Oliver, says. Ms. Oliver, who worked on the gubernatorial campaigns of Thomas Golisano in New York and Kinky Friedman in Texas, advised Mr. Bloomberg to hire a top national election attorney, who, in turn, could supervise 50 attorneys to navigate the labyrinthine set of state election laws.”

Michael Goldman, the senior consultant of the Government Insight Group and a former host on Bloomberg Radio, bemoans the potential impact of a Bloomberg candidacy on Democrats. (Goldman is supporting John Edwards.) “If he gets in, he badly hurts the Democrats,” Goldman tells Gitell.com. “The social conservatives never would support him.”

Goldman also makes another point about Bloomberg. Like Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut in 2004, Bloomberg would be a Jewish presidential candidate. While I think the series of issues surrounding the War on Terror complicates a Jewish candidacy, particularly one by a Jewish media mogul!, it is important to point out that there are big differences between Bloomberg, a secular Jew, and Lieberman, Sabbath-observant. I heard Benjamin Netanyahu, citing Mitt Romney’s status a Mormon, quoted on WTKK radio saying that America would welcome candidates of a variety of religious backgrounds. (Having the okay of the Israeli prime minister is probably as harmful as helpful these days.)

I’d say Bloomberg’s organizational difficulties far outweigh the reigious issues.

Steve Walt, “Israel Lobby” Author, Speaks at the Harvard Club

June 9, 2007

It’s no secret I’m deeply opposed to the “Israel Lobby” thesis put forward by Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer. What bothers me most is not their singling out of the pro-Israel community, a charge that borders upon the old double loyalty canard, is that it’s not accurate. I remember covering the nascent effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Iraq beginning in 1998 and the organized pro-Israel community wanted absolutely nothing to do with this cause. Their concerns were the discussion between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the threat of Iran developing WMD, a point made by Ariel Sharon prior to the Iraq War.

Yesterday, Steve Walt, who is already an academic dean at the Kennedy School of Government, spoke at the downtown Harvard Club of Boston. I was there. It was interesting to see Walt, whose claim is that he is seeking more dialogue and debate on the Middle East, attempt to shut down his critical questioners. He said, “Everyone should be aware of what’s going on here, which is fairly classic. We pointed out in our original paper that anybody who criticizes Israeli policies or anybody who criticizes the Israel lobby immediately gets attacked for being anti-Semitic. This is the standard operating procedure.” So much for dialogue.

Blogging AIPAC

March 14, 2007

This morning Eli Lake predicted the pounding that the NetRoots would put on Democrats for appearing at AIPAC’s Washington conference. It’s no surprise, then, to find lots of commentary doing exactly that. Exhibit A: M.J. Rosenberg’s commentary at TPMCafe.

Writes Rosenberg: “But, according to CQ some of the same Democrats most vehement about ending the Iraq debacle are resisting denying the President unilateral authority to go to war in Iran. The hypocrisy is astounding. It is worth noting that the AIPAC conference begins in Washington this weekend with thousands of citizen lobbyists being deployed to Capitol Hill to deliver the message that Iran must be dealt with, one way or another.

This battle over the Pelosi language is part of the overall Iran effort.

And you thought it couldn’t happen again!”

But Rosenberg neglects to provide one central fact in his blogging — his relationship with a rival organization to AIPAC! Rosenberg’s bio states that he “works in Washington supporting US efforts to advance an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.” Rosenberg fails to disclose how or where he works to that effect. For that, you can go to Gitell.com. Back in January, I wrote “as far as M.J. Rosenberg goes, he is the Washington representative of a national group, the Israel Policy Forum, that has been trying to supplant the primary pro-Israel lobbying group in America, AIPAC, for more than a decade, another old story.”

According to the IPF website, Rosenberg is “the Director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center.”

If ethics on the blogosphere mean anything, the rule is that people have to disclose their relationships. Marshall got some interesting stuff out of Rosenberg, who has essentially endorsed the hateful Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis. (He told The New York Times: “‘The way it works is that most members of Congress feel that saying things on the Middle East that are not strictly the Aipac line will get them in more trouble than it’s worth.”)

Look, blogging is difficult. The demand for speed sometimes gets in the way of accuracy. I tend to make more mistakes blogging than in my written work — both in terms of typos and mistakes of clarity. But when they arise, it’s important to correct them. And, most of all, readers have to know your biases, conflicts and interests in these items.

Romney and Religion

March 13, 2007

One of the fascinating subtexts of the 2008 election has been the question of religion — particularly in the Republican Primary. Interestingly, religion was not much of an issue in Mitt Romney’s campaign for governor in 2002. Covering that race for the Boston Phoenix in 2002, I thought his Mormon background might be an issue, but it wasn’t. Remember 2002 represented the height of the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, which served to mute the issue of religion in heavily Roman Catholic Boston.

But the Republican Primary is something different. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, gave me some strong quotes suggesting that the commentary around the Mormon faith this time around is too strong and bordering on religious bigotry. I write about Romney and religion in my New York Sun column today.

In Fairness

February 21, 2007

Here is Peter Bart’s direct quote about Edwards: “Perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace, Edwards remarked, was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.” The Edwards campaign is now attempting to tamp down the damage of Bart’s report and is, accordingly, retracting the quote. According to the Associated Press, “Edwards says one of the greatest short-term threats to world peace is Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

I find it interesting that the Edwards Campaign is disputing the accuracy of an essentially friendly story.

As far as the language characterizing Edwards remarks as “labeling Israel the greatest threat to world peace,” that characterization is indeed mine as Jonah Goldberg states, and not the direct quote taken from Peter Bart above. If the Bart version of the facts is true — and the AP reports that Bart and Variety are standing by his story — I stand by my analysis below.

Wonkette Jumps the Shark; John Edwards, Empty Suit

February 21, 2007

It’s encouraging to read the kind of thoughtful, intelligent discussion of foreign affairs, I discovered on Wonkette today. Over the years, I have found that Wonkette has done an admirable job of dishing up a tasty mix of political gossip and Washington-based insight. Today, I visit the site to see what it has to say on John Edwards jaw-droppingly appalling remarks labeling Israel, in effect, the greatest threat to world peace. (In case you missed it, Peter Bart of Variety wrote the initial story here.)

Wonkette suggests, in response to critiques on NRO and elsewhere, that Edwards’ act of “stating the obvious” is impossible in today’s world and “requires taking your lips off Israel’s ass for a few seconds, and that’s fatal for any American politician with presidential ambitions. This isn’t because Jews get upset or Israel’s feelings will get hurt or anything. It’s because of batshit insane evangelical American Jesus Freaks who have to love and protect Israel so Jesus will come back and destroy it.”

Wonkette is incorrect here on a couple of things. First, it is a canard to suggest as Wonkette and others that supporters of Israel block debate on Israeli policy. The very smart and up-and-coming writer James Kirchick offered a devastating rebuttal to this notion in a Washington Examiner piece. Here is Kirchick’s point in relevant part:

“When prodded to identify an instance in which legitimate criticism of Israel has been labeled “anti-Semitic,” the promoters of this meme come up with nothing. Indeed, the debate in the United States could not be more fair and vigorous, especially compared to how the subject is discussed in the rest of the world. In Europe, Israel is always to blame for whatever trouble boils in the Middle East; in Arab and Muslim nations, there is little deviation from the viewpoint that Israel itself is illegitimate and should be destroyed. The United States is the only place where Israel gets a fair hearing. To claim that critics of Israel are unfairly maligned and silenced is a pathetic means of avoiding debate on the actual issues that matter.”

Second, the appalling thing about Edwards comment is that it is just another way of blaming the victim. Here we have Iran, a nation whose leader has sponsored a hateful Holocaust denial conference and has vowed to wipe out Israel on the brink of developing a weapon to destroy Israel, and, for Edwards and Wonkette, the nation that seeks to protect itself is the “threat”. What would Edwards and Wonkette have Israel do? Vote itself out of existence perhaps? (At least, Israel’s citizens, including Arabs can vote, which they aren’t allowed to do in other parts of the Middle East.)

Regarding Edwards, the former senator’s comments are just the latest sign that this guy is an absolute empty suit who has been in search of a political identity since 2000. I first encountered this guy at a Democratic breakast at the Beverly Hilton during the 2000 DNC in Los Angeles. The room filled with Massachusetts’s seasoned politicos didn’t give him a second look. Everybody at the level of City Councillor and above saw him for what he was — a shallow neophyte. In 2002, I went up to New Hampshire to see him again and came away only marginally more impressed.

“When he got to the subject of income disparity between the rich and poor, Edwards seemed ready to discuss a substantive problem in depth — as if he were going to deliver some innovative solution that would restore the vital center of American politics. He started out promisingly: ‘I think you could ask the American people tomorrow — and I’m talking about people who live in rural North Carolina, who sometimes vote Democratic and sometimes vote Republican, I think we can convince them tomorrow — that every child in America ought to get a first-class education.’ And then … nothing. While packaged as a unique statement delivered by a Democrat who managed to win an election in Jesse Helms’s own state, Edwards’s comment scaled the pinnacle of banality, if such a thing is possible. Who among serious Americans — including the Republicans — doesn’t think students ought to receive the best possible education? Policy fights involve how best to achieve this — not the general principle, which was all Edwards had to offer.”

In the beginning, he was a DLCer in the mold of Bill Clinton. Then, he was an economic populist. Now, he is going after the NetRoots.

In search of a political identity, he hired David Bonior, a longtime critic of Israel, as his campaign manager. Ben Smith of Politico has already reported on the striking similarity between a 1996 Bonior speech and Edwards’ address to the DNC last month. Now, Edwards is taking on Bonior’s anti-Israel portfolio as well.

To Wonkette, my suggestion is to tread on familiar territory. In other words, keep it light.

I fear, however, that Edwards is too light to be considered a serious candidate for the presidency.

CLARIFICATION: The phrasing “labeling Israel the greatest threat to world peace” is my own. Peter Bart direct quote is as follows ““Perhaps the greatest short-term threat to world peace, Edwards remarked, was the possibility that Israel would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.” For more on Edwards statement today see above.