Category Archives: Events

Election News Roundup

By Monika Wysocki

Here’s a look at a few religion and politics highlights from this week…

The newest front-runner in the wildly unpredictable GOP primary, former Senator Rick Santorum, has dominated the media cycle with his provocative remarks about President Obama—accusing the President of governing based on “a phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” and accusing him of orchestrating an “assault on all religion in America.” On Monday, Santorum’s spokeswoman mentioned President Obama’s “radical Islamic policies” in an interview on MSNBC—only to call the show after the interview to say she misspoke.

In the midst of the religious attacks, Santorum is surging in national polls and attracting larger crowds at public events, putting him on the stage as a serious contender for the nomination. Despite widespread disapproval and calls from 15 religious organizations for presidential candidates to refrain from using religion as a “political wedge issue,” Santorum’s remarks are likely to raise his profile and appeal to the surprising number of Americans who are unsure about President Obama’s faith. Which is no small matter—the latest research by the Pew Forum found that “beliefs about Obama’s religion are closely linked to political judgments about him. Those who say he is a Muslim overwhelmingly disapprove of his job performance…” If Santorum succeeds in re-invigorating false claims that President Obama is a Muslim, the president’s approval ratings will likely suffer—despite his candid remarks on his personal religious beliefs.

Santorum is not the only candidate that has doubts about the sincerity of President Obama’s faith. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has also accused the President of “an assault on religion,” while Gingrich today called the president “the most dangerous president in modern American history,” arguing that the Obama administration has failed to address the problem of radical Islamists. Franklin Graham expressed similar notions on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” saying that “Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”

Santorum’s controversial remarks might win him support from evangelical Christians that are alarmed over the recent contraceptives debate, but in the long run the religion-based rhetoric could also alienate women and independent voters. Dick Polman points out that the largest Catholic college in America routinely offers birth-control coverage in its employee benefits and that the majority of Catholics support a federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control. In the end, Santorum’s attempts to brand himself as the most conservative of the GOP candidates and President Obama as an anti-Catholic may do the GOP more harm than good in November.

Journalists Lynn Sweet and Ron Kampeas on the Jewish Vote

By Alexis McNamee

For more on the Jewish vote in the 2012 presidential election, yesterday we listened in to “The Jewish Federations of North America Teleconference Series on the 2012 Presidential Election,” featuring Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief at the Chicago-Sun Times, and Ron Kampeas, Washington Bureau Chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). In light of Mitt Romney’s win in Florida, the two experts focused on the important issues for Jewish voters today: the economy and foreign policy. Kampeas recalled Romney stating he would stand “shoulder to shoulder with our allies [in Israel],” whereas Obama has openly criticized Israel on its settlement policy. Yet Kampeas believes that as long Obama is “pro-Israel enough,” Jewish voters will not be deterred from re-electing him. Relations with Iran are also an increasingly important topic—Kampeas predicted voter focus will only shift to this matter if oil prices spike, but also noted that Republican candidates have been taking a more negative stance than Obama. Kampeas and Sweet later discussed Mitt Romney’s proposal to privatize Medicare, and said Jewish support would require Republicans to present a strategy that would protects seniors despite Medicare cuts. Both agreed that the economy is the most important issue to Jewish voters. Sweet suggested that the only way to guarantee an Obama loss in the fall would be if the unemployment rate rises above nine percent before the election. Still, both Sweet and Kampeas predicted that Obama would win more than three-quarters of the Jewish vote—roughly the same rate as in 2008.

A Moment With…Omar Sacirbey

By Sarah Breger

A June 2011 Pew poll found that 76 percent of Muslim Americans approved of President Obama’s performance in the White House—a figure far above the national average. The Muslim American community also voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in 2004 and in 2008, a major shift from 2000, when more than three-quarters voted for Republican George W. Bush. Despite these numbers, many Muslims are disillusioned with the president and the changes they believe he promised but hasn’t delivered. While the Muslim electorate is far from monolithic, and its numbers make up just a small fraction of the country’s population, Muslim voting power may prove significant in a close election.

Moment’s managing editor Sarah Breger speaks with Omar Sacirbey, a Boston-based correspondent for the Religion News Service and other publications, on this often-overlooked portion of the electorate.

MM: You recently wrote an article on presidential hopeful Ron Paul’s support in the Muslim community. Is there a “Muslim vote” in America? What are some factors that contribute to the Muslim vote?

OB: There’s more diversity in the Muslim vote this time around than in past elections. There’s a number of reasons for that. The community is becoming more diverse in terms of immigrants and American-born Muslims, and Muslims who came here when they were very young. Regarding Ron Paul, there is a mix of factors as to why this is happening. One is disappointment in Obama. When Obama won the 2008 election Muslims were hopeful, but those hopes have been somewhat tempered. Now, three years into his administration, many Muslims are disappointed that he hasn’t gotten the United States out of Afghanistan; they’re disappointed that he hasn’t done more, in their view, for the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and they’re disappointed in regards to civil rights issues, such as the Patriot Act and policies on indefinite detention, and so on. When they hear Ron Paul, they’re turned on by his statements on getting the United States out of Afghanistan and out of foreign engagements altogether; his desire to cut aid to Israel, indeed, to cut all foreign aid in general but again that he is including Israel; as well as his strong opposition to the Patriot Act and what a lot of Muslims—and others—see as draconian civil rights policies.

MM: Do Muslim Americans align with his social policies?

OB: There’s a mix. A lot of people are willing to overlook disagreements on these social issues in favor of these broader issues. Just like maybe some “values voters” might be willing to overlook Newt Gingrich’s divorces in favor of his conservative agenda.

MM: And are there areas where winning the Muslim vote is vital? 

OB: It’s hard to imagine the Muslim vote being a “make or break” kind of a vote, but it could make the difference in some states where there is a fairly large Muslim population, such as Michigan or Ohio, which are swing states. Possibly even Pennsylvania, where the Muslim population is probably smaller than in Michigan or in Ohio, but perhaps still big enough that in a state that’s going to be closely contested it could make a difference. There’s also a fairly significant Muslim population in smaller states, like Iowa. Again, it’s hard to see them making a huge difference, but if it’s going to be a closely contested election, every vote really will count.

MM: Are there candidates who are actively courting the Muslim vote?

OB: In this field—no. Romney, Gingrich, Santorum are viewed by Muslims as pretty much anti-Muslim candidates. I think you’d be hard pressed to find Muslims who support these guys. We will likely see similar behavior from Obama as in the past election, where a lot of Muslims were disappointed that when opponents would say, “Oh, he’s a Muslim,” or has Muslim sympathies, he wouldn’t say, “Well, I’m not a Muslim, but what’s wrong with being a Muslim?” like Colin Powell did. A lot of Muslims were disappointed in that, but others understood it and are willing this time around to forgive him for that

MM: Will the recently proposed anti-sharia legislation and surrounding discussions factor into voting decisions or serve to galvanize the Muslim vote in any way?

OB: It wouldn’t surprise me, because it has become such a prevalent issue since the whole process was initiated in Oklahoma—a lot of Muslims really are upset by this. They consider sharia to be personal and private and don’t want any kind of mixing between religion and government. They’re really offended by these types of actions, and scared by what they consider to be ignorance and hatred of their faith by these people who are in government. The anti-sharia movement has been a catalyst for many Muslims to become more active, even just getting out more in their communities. If you have a kid in your local elementary school, you’re maybe that much more likely to go to a PTA meeting, to go to a school board meeting, just getting out there and being visible. I think if that’s been the case, then it stands to reason that there could be a backlash against this anti-sharia movement, and a desire by Muslims to stand up and vote against people that are advocating these kinds of laws could be a factor that gets them out to the polls in November.

CAP’s “God in Politics” Forum

By Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil

The Center for American Progress in Washington, DC hosted a forum earlier this week on “God and Politics: Examining Religion in the 2012 Religion.” Jews were never mentioned in the 90-minute talk, but speakers raised some illuminating points about the country’s religious voters:

  • Changing Demographics: The white mainline Protestant population is in decline, says Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute. While the Catholic population has been steady, the demographics are shifting—the number of white Catholics is dwindling as Hispanic Catholics are on the rise. These racial divisions are also reflected in voting patterns: non-white Christians voted heavily for President Obama, while white Christians were split.
  • Evangelicals and Mormons: Almost half of white evangelicals—49 percent—say Mormonism is not a Christian religion, slightly higher than the 47 percent who say they would be uncomfortable with a Mormon president, according to PRRI surveys. Even factoring in other factors like Mitt Romney’s moderate social views and his work at Bain Capital, Jones says, “In the data, we see a consistent sign that his religion, particularly among evangelical voters, is still playing an independent role.”
  • More Believe Obama is Muslim: Forty percent of Americans still say they don’t know Obama’s religion, and 18 percent say he’s Muslim. “That number has actually gone up from 12 percent since he’s come into office,” Jones says.
  • Religion and Favorability Rating: Jones explains the strong correlation between perception of religious difference and favorability rating: Of the 51 percent of Americans who say Obama’s religion is at least somewhat different than their own, only 7 approve of him. Similarly, those who say Mormonism is very different than their own religion favor Mitt Romney 20 percentage points below those who say Mormonism is similar to their own.
  • What All Religions Agree On: Six in ten Americans agree with the statement, “Society would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal.” Every major religious group agrees despite a stark partisan divide.
  • Trouble for Obama: Obama could lose this fall, says Shaun Casey, professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary. But only if four circumstances come together—evangelical voters show up in record numbers, white mainline Protestants and white Catholics sit this election out, Obama’s campaign has poor religious outreach, and if the Catholic bishops voice their discontent with the White House. “If you have those four, then the president could be in very big trouble,” he says.
  • Hispanic Vote: Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Hispanic Evangelical Coalition, says Hispanic evangelicals could be swing votes in several states this year. “The question, I think, is, are they voting around the immigration reform issue, or are they going to vote with their sisters and brothers in the wider evangelical communities around social conservative issues?”
  • Religious Intolerance: Since the anti-Catholic backlash against John F. Kennedy in the 1960s, “religious intolerance has mutated,” says Casey. “Now the targets are different, and they’re harder to detect because people have more social pressure to not admit it to a pollster. We do know that if you’re a Muslim, a Mormon, or if you’re unaffiliated, you’re in deep trouble if you’re running for elected office in the United States.”
  • Historic Anti-Mormonism: “This meme of Mormons not being trustworthy, of being secretive, of not being fully assimilated into the United States—this has been with us for more than a century,” says religion scholar and journalist Joanna Brooks. “So what Mitt Romney is working out and working through right now is more than a century in the making.”

Embracing Rosh Hodesh

By Scott Fox

I love Hanukkah: the presents, wintertime, dreidels, candle lighting. I love all of it. I was born on the fourth day of Hanukkah (28th of Kislev), which makes the holiday particularly special. I lament the beginning of the month of Tevet because it signals the coming end of that special time and the return to normal life. As a semi-celebratory day, Rosh Hodesh (the beginning of the new month) seemed just as perfunctory as Tevet. It is a time that is marked but not especially noteworthy.

Two years ago, however, Rosh Hodesh Tevet completely changed my relationship with that time of the year. On that two-day Rosh Hodesh, I lost a woman who shaped my practice of Judaism, and also discovered new women Jewish heroes who would inject Rosh Hodesh with a newfound importance for me.

In December 2009, I went on a winter break program to study modern Israeli literature and religion with students and professors from my college. The best part was being able to spend Hanukkah in Israel. One of the people we spoke to on the trip was Anat Hoffman, executive director of the advocacy group Israel Religious Action Center and the leader of a protest movement called Women of the Wall. She told us about how religious customs function as de facto law in Israel, reducing the rights of women and non-Orthodox Jews.

Women of the Wall organizes groups of women to pray on the women’s side of the Western Wall every Rosh Hodesh. There, many of the women read Torah and wear kippot, talitot and tefillin, even though the holiest site in Judaism forbids women from praying in any way that could resemble a man. Much of what Hoffman said surprised me—this was not the Israel that I grew up learning about that welcomed all Jews with open arms. To me, the Kotel seemed like a solemn place where all Jews could come together to worship at the spot that united Jews for more than 2,000 years in their longing to return.

With two days left in Israel, I got a call from home—my grandmother had unexpectedly died. It was 30th of Kislev but the news made it feel like time had stopped. Her condition had been deteriorating since the summer. Nevertheless, her death was a shock.

The next day, Hoffman suggested that we attend the next Women of the Wall gathering on the first of Tevet. Like many of the other students, I felt both apprehensive and a bit energized about encountering the situation. I had already been to the Kotel a few times on the trip to respectfully worship. Now, I was returning, in a way, to denounce those who worship there. It almost seemed wrong to disrespect such a holy place, especially since my family was beginning a burial and mourning process that was meant to convey deference to God’s master plan. But somehow it still felt like the right thing to do for her.

My grandma was perhaps the biggest religious force in my family. She insisted on keeping a kosher home and having her children and grandchildren attend Jewish day school because she believed the structure was necessary to keep future generations practicing Judaism.

She was also far from a Lubavitcher rebbe. She was a sophisticated, ardent liberal who lived in a secular world. She was continually abreast with the latest political developments or art exhibits. While embracing the structure of Jewish tradition, she could also be very combative toward anything she did not approve of. She always fought for what she believed. As a Conservative Jew, she believed that all Jews had the right to practice religion as they desired. At her funeral, the rabbi of the synagogue praised her for doing something rare today: raising a family committed to observance of Jewish tradition while avoiding any sort of fanaticism.

That Friday morning, the first of Tevet, a cold, relentless rain fell on Jerusalem. We were already soaked as our group walked up the hills into the Old City. The women in our group went into the women’s section and joined a larger group under a colorful array of umbrellas that hid a Torah underneath.

Although it was too wet for the women to read from the Torah that morning, Orthodox men on the other side were still outraged by their presence and began yelling “Asur” (“forbidden”), throwing things at them and calling them transvestites and other derogatory words. Shockingly, this seems tame compared to what recently happened to an eight-year old girl.

Ultra-Orthodox men are forbidden from hearing women sing, especially while praying, because it will be a distraction to their religious devotion. That day it was the opposite. The men were so disruptive that I was unable to focus on praying for my grandmother over on the men’s side. Police separated the enraged men from the women who did their best to drown out all of the haranguing directed at them. I still cannot believe what I witnessed in what seemed like such a hallowed place—my grandmother would have been outraged. Supporting Women of the Wall was my way of continuing my family’s tradition.

This year, Rosh Hodesh Tevet fell on my birthday, meaning that I would honor my grandmother by saying Kaddish as I began a new year of my life. It’s easy to celebrate a new year but celebrating a new month was more difficult for me to understand until I encountered Women of the Wall demonstrating the true spirit of Rosh Hodesh. Rosh Hodesh is meant to be a shake-up from the laws of the status quo in hopes of provoking a more righteous month to come.

Beit Shemesh Rhapsody

Does Freddie Mercury have the power to heal religious and sociopolitical tensions? A group of 250 women and girls in Beit Shemesh tested the premise Friday afternoon by forming a flash mob and dancing to Queen’s song “Don’t Stop Me Now” as part of the Israeli city’s protests following an incident in which a group of Haredi men spat on an 8-year-old girl wearing what they deemed not-modest-enough clothing. Inherent awkwardness aside (can a group of people attempting to perform an ensemble dance ever not be a little embarrassing?), there is something unexpectedly moving about watching the group–some in skirts, some in jeans, some still in grade school, some old enough to be their grandmothers–bewilder onlookers in support of the right of children to walk to school unassailed.

Israel Still Has the Power to Change

By Scott Fox

The beginning of 2012 means the nearing of elections in Israel and the United States. In both, incumbents have surprisingly maintained a strong likelihood of being re-elected in spite of failures and widespread criticism. While most polling shows Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are trailing President Obama slightly, what is more surprising is that polls show that Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s Likud party would gain seats if an election were held today.

This affirmation is probably the reason Likud has moved up their primary for the next election to January 31 even though a general election does not need to be held until October 2013. Many suspect that a new election will be called during 2012 while Netanyahu still maintains this high level of support. An outside observer may find it strange that an incumbent prime minister is so popular when 6 percent of the population was in the street protesting just three months ago. Republican strategist Frank Luntz is scared of the influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement when not even one percent of Americans has taken part in the protests.

How is this possible? Haaretz, Israel’s newspaper of record and “dissent,” has been publishing opinion pieces calling the current times the worst of a growing anti-democratic trend of repression of dissent in which Israel is having trouble seeing an alternative to Bibi. Haaretz specifically focuses on two developments that have hurt the continuation of an independent press: the likely forced bankruptcy of Israel’s Channel 10 and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein’s proposal to not allow any media coverage of criminal investigations in Israel, including those of public officials.

The Knesset is forcing the commercial television station to pay debts that the channel cannot afford or close at the same time that Israel’s state broadcasting network, the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), is allowed to continue operations without paying a debt six times that of Channel 10. Haaretz and the station’s owners are crying foul over the unfair treatment that may be politically motivated. Channel 10 has aired many news reports critical of Netanyahu and the current Knesset. Knesset members apparently cheered when the vote to force the station to pay its debt immediately was successful. Weinstein’s proposed law will also critically reduce the press’s power to report on malfeasance in government and elsewhere.

What does not help is that Kadima supporters have lost faith in Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Party activists have recently protested in front of her home for a demand to “wake up the party and return to its former self.”

With all of the recent distressing news from Israel including the continuation of gender segregation on buses and the horrific death of Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi, it seems that Jews should be thankful that President Obama affirmed his commitment at the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism to a strong relationship with this troubled nation.

Israel is troubled. It is likely too afraid to stray from the hard-liner policies of Netanyahu in spite of his government’s disgraces when fears of unstable Arab neighbors abound. Although last summer’s social justice protests may have appeared to represent a return of the Israeli left, Netanyahu’s government has likely calmed that fire by being at least partially responsive to this summer’s protests, approving measures that will attempt to reduce the cost of living.

Still, the ruach that motivated the summer protests is not lost. Israelis clearly remain upset with the status quo. The voice of non-violent dissent needs to continue to be heard for Israel to demonstrate to the world that there is not a consensus that allows the weakening of its democracy. The next election may be Israel’s last chance to change before Israel’s fast-growing anti-egalitarian, ultra-Orthodox population fully dominates the electorate.

The Iranian Question: Nuclear Power or Nuclear Warheads?

By Leigh Nusbaum

Watching what’s happening from the Middle East to the Midwest over the past few weeks, it seems that everyone has an opinion about Iran today, including the Iranian government.

Iran has held a fascination over people from ancient history—including empires such as that of Cyrus the Great—to the modern era, with the rise of the Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Today, that focus is on Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran insists that the program is for peaceful purposes, but the regime’s opponents, including the Israeli government, argue that the program has a more sinister objective—nuclear weapons.

What’s so fascinating about this debate is that despite how long Iran’s nuclear program has been around, the debate on ending it makes it seem as though it is a recent phenomenon.  Iran’s nuclear program was actually started by the United States in the 1950s. A 2007 Chicago Tribune article detailed the “Atoms for Peace” program, the U.S.’s plan to give satellite countries nuclear reactors. It was a move in a nuclear chess game between the Soviet Union; they sent reactors to North Korea, Libya and Bulgaria, while the U.S. sent reactors to Pakistan, Iran and Columbia.

In fact, type “Iran’s nuclear program” into Wikipedia and you will see a photo of the Shah in an American pro-nuclear power advertisement. “The Shah knows that nuclear energy is not only economical, it has enjoyed a remarkable 30-year safety record. A record that was good enough for the citizens of Plymouth, Massachusetts, too. They’ve approved their second nuclear power plant by a vote of almost 4 to 1. Which shows you don’t have to go as far as Iran for an endorsement of nuclear power,” the advertisement said.

Granted, the Shah was considered an American as well as an Israeli ally, but still it should give pause to anyone in either country who disapproves of any nuclear program in Iran. The fact is: The United States of America and their allies, with tacit Israeli approval, built Iran’s original nuclear reactors. Meanwhile, both the United States and Israel are themselves nuclear powers—the U.S. has perhaps the largest stockpile in the world, while the exact number of Israeli warheads is unknown.

What fuels the recent anger towards Iran is a combination of several issues.  The short version is: Iran wants to enrich its uranium, while countries like the United States oppose it, because they are concerned that uranium enrichment will lead to nuclear weapons.

There’s also a fear of what the nuclear weapons will be used for, if Iran ever gets them. Will the weapons be used as leverage in geopolitics? Will it encourage other neighboring countries to openly pursue entry into the nuclear club? Or given the incendiary statements of Iran’s current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, regarding the Holocaust, Israel and the United States, will the weapons be used for a more sinister purpose, detonating over Tel Aviv or some other U.S.-friendly location?

This November, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report claims that there was reliable evidence that Iran was carrying out experiments aimed at making a nuclear weapon.  Iran has weathered both substantial criticism as well as new sanctions by the U.S., UK, and EU. Many of these sanctions are directed towards the Central Bank of Iran, which will likely cause a much more crippling blow to the Iranian economy than previous rounds of sanctions.

In response to UK’s round of sanctions, student protesters stormed the UK’s embassy in Tehran. Conjuring up images of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, when Iranian students held hostages in the American Embassy for 444 days, the UK pulled its diplomatic staff out of Iran and closed the Iranian embassy in London. Several EU countries, including France, Germany, and the Netherlands pulled their envoys from Tehran as well.

So the question is, what is the proper response to Iran’s nuclear program? One response that should not be actively pursued is military action. It’s premature and those who advocate for it at this moment are dangerously overlooking the consequences of such action. If anything, it could be worse than Iraq or Afghanistan.

Fareed Zakaria puts it best, “Let’s be clear: We are talking about a preventive war against a country that has not attacked us. We are talking about war on the basis of intelligence reports. It is easy to start a war. It is very difficult to predict how it will go and where it might end. I think we need to ask some hard questions before we start launching the missiles.”

 

The Case for Alan Gross

by Maddie Ulanow

Alan Gross is a 60-year-old resident of Potomac, Maryland, a quiet Washington suburb with a thriving Jewish community. A father of two and local synagogue member, Gross is also a specialist in helping obtain satellite signals in remote locations. His background in rural technologies led to his hiring by Development Alternatives, Inc., a State Department contractor, and, in turn, to Cuba, with the goal of aiding the isolated Jewish community.

That is, until it all fell apart. On December 3, 2009, Gross was stopped and detained at the Havana airport, and has remained in Cuban custody since. The charge? Espionage.

In the two years since his imprisonment, he and his family have suffered tremendous hardship. His daughter has undergone a double mastectomy for breast cancer, and his 89-year-old mother has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. His wife, unable to make the mortgage payments without her husband’s income, has sold her home and moved to a DC apartment. Gross himself has lost a hundred pounds and suffers from his own health conditions. And still, just this year, the Cuban government upheld his fifteen year sentence. Whether or not Gross was unintentionally breaking the law by connecting Cuba’s Jews to the Internet, the circumstances and consequences that followed have been wrong and unjust.

When Gilad Shalit was held captive in Gaza, Israelis and people worldwide took up the mantra “What if he was your brother?” Gross’s incarceration stirs up the same sentiment. My father did volunteer work with Gross, and has repeatedly told me what a good man Gross was, how dedicated to the Jewish community he was, and how the two of them undertook the same types of projects; Alan Gross could just as easily have been my father instead of someone else’s.

His situation is not unlike that of Ilan Grapel, an Israeli-American and a student at Emory University in Atlanta who was arrested in Egypt this past October, also on charges of espionage. Grapel’s release was negotiated by Israel, in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners. It raises the question–how serious is the risk Jews face of being detained abroad on trumped-up charges?

In an interview outside the Cuban interest section of the Swiss embassy in Washington this past week, Gross’s wife, Judy, said the last time she spoke to him on the phone, she’d never heard him sound so helpless. His health is deteriorating, his family needs him, and yet for the second year in a row, there was an empty chair at Thanksgiving dinner.

And that is why after two years, the community Gross once served so passionately has come together to call for his release.

A small but vigorous group of protesters held signs outside the Cuban interest center in support of the Gross family and Alan’s release. They meet every Monday, and have been meeting every Monday for weeks, and will continue to do so until his release. Their work and persistence are admirable, but his release will take more than just the courage of his friends and family. It will also take action by the State Department and the government of the United States, where Gross is a citizen. Three American students were recently released from Egyptian custody, and Alan Gross deserves no less.

Now more than ever is a time to come together on his and his family’s behalf. The picketers at the Cuban interest center read the traveler’s prayer for him, asking God to bless him and his family as he tries to find his way home.

The Goldstone Saga

by Erica Shaps

Every year at Brandeis University there is at least one Israel/Palestine-related event that lights a fire under the campus. My freshman year, it was a well-publicized and well-attended debate between Justice Richard Goldstone and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold over the contents of the 2009 United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (known as the Goldstone Report). To be honest, I remember the speakers’ rhetorical styles better than their arguments. Gold’s voice echoed abrasively, and he came armed with an aesthetically disarming Powerpoint. Goldstone, on the other hand, tried to explain himself calmly in a lilting South African accent. He came across as a gentle Jewish grandfather. Although I disagreed with many of his report’s harshest conclusions, some of which he later retracted, it was impossible to deny that he had good intentions when accepting the mandate. At some point during the debate, I realized I felt terrible for Richard Goldstone.

Justice Goldstone has had an incredibly prolific career, becoming one of the most trusted and respected judges across the globe. The Goldstone Commission played a critical role in even-handedly subduing apartheid-related violence as South Africa began to transition to true democracy. He served as Chief U.N. prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and his efforts were critical in successfully recognizing rape as a war crime in the Geneva Convention.

In spite of this, in many elements of the Jewish community, the judge is now being judged solely based on the Goldstone report. After the report, his own community called him a self-hating Jew and a traitor. It was widely reported that he was initially going to be restricted from his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Various media sources reported that he had a hard time sleeping and was under great distress.

In April, Goldstone wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he expressed regret over some of the Goldstone Report’s conclusions, particularly that Israel killed civilians intentionally. Recently, Goldstone wrote a New York Times op-ed debunking the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. His well-articulated argument against the apartheid claim was particularly potent since he was an anti-apartheid judge in South Africa.

In the wake of these writings, we are seeing the delegitimization and redemption of Richard Goldstone on a very large public scale.

Some commentators are now starting to welcome Goldstone back into the fold of the Jewish community, or are considering “ forgiving him” because of his last two op-eds. Alan Dershowitz, the famed lawyer and Israel advocate who once considered Goldstone a friend, called him a traitor to the Jewish people and stated that the Goldstone Report was written by “an evil, evil man.” After Goldstone published his retraction, Dershowitz wrote an article explaining that Goldstone was moving in the right direction but still “needs to do teshuvah.”

Conversely, many who once lauded Goldstone as a courageous hero now condemn him as a desperate sell-out who is no longer relevant. Some behave as if his last two op-ed articles completely undermine the initial Goldstone Report and his entire body of work. Richard Falk, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights and Princeton professor, wrote that Goldstone had fallen from grace to “this shabby role as legal gladiator recklessly jousting on behalf of Israel” after his New York Times op-ed was published.

I don’t know why Goldstone chose to write his op-ed. But the claim that he did so in an act of “caving in to Zionist pressure” is preposterous. Perhaps he is trying to work toward the same mission he was when he accepted the UN mandate: Pursuing his understanding of justice and truth using the resources at his disposal.

Justice Goldstone’s case reveals some sad human tendencies. When we agree with someone, we quote them endlessly, respect them and use their work to further our arguments and cement our understanding of the universe without guilt or struggle. When we disagree with someone’s conclusions, he is a liar, a traitor, and we are required to be suspicious of his motivations and intentions.  We should be capable of objecting to a person’s work and questioning his or her opinions’ accuracy and validity without character assassinations. I do not agree with all of the conclusions drawn in the Goldstone Report, and think its flaws had some terrible ramifications; I still have immense respect for Justice Goldstone. It is easier to dismiss a person than to dismiss their argument, but for precisely this reason, it is important that we maintain standards of civility in the public discourse.