Author Archives: daphnamoment

Debate spotlight: Israel


President Barack Obama is looking to regain momentum against Republican nominee Mitt Romney at tonight’s debate, but a leading expert says that on Israel, at least, very few differences between the two candidates will emerge as the two prepare to battle.

“They are almost identical,” Denis Brian, author of The Elected and the Chosen: Why American Presidents Have Supported Jews and Israel From George Washington to Barack Obama told Moment Magazine. “They are both completely supportive of Israel and so I don’t think one will have an advantage over the other.”

Brian, whose recently published book examines every American president’s record on Jewish and later, Israel issues, says that the only key difference between the two candidates is their rapport with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“Everything Obama has done has been pro-Israel. Romney doesn’t have that record, but he’s close personally with Netanyahu, which unfortunately isn’t the case with Obama.”

Brian says that Obama is intensely pro-Israel and rates him among the top in terms of his support for Jewish issues.

And who ranks at the bottom?

That honor, Brian says, goes to Andrew Johnson, who assumed the presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. “He’s the only outspoken anti-Semitic US president.”

Voting? Don’t stress out!

Voting in a national election causes anxiety and a spike in stress hormones, a new Israeli study has found. Levels of cortisol – a hormone secreted in times of stress to help the body cope with perceived threats — were three times higher just before voting than the levels recorded among people in the control group who were not voting.

The study was conducted on Israel’s Election Day in 2009 as people made their way to vote. Participants gave a saliva sample and completed a questionnaire examining their emotional state at a booth that was placed 30 ft. from the ballot box. The control group consisted of other people from the same area who were asked to give a saliva test and complete the questionnaire on post-election day. The findings were published in the recent issue of the scientific journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.  


“Emotional changes are related and affect various physiological processes, but we were surprised that voting in national democratic elections causes emotional reactions accompanied by such physical and psychological stress that can easily influence our decision-making,” said Prof. Hagit Cohen from the Anxiety and Stress Research Unit at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Faculty of Health Sciences, who conducted the study. “Since we do not like to feel ‘stressed out’,” adds Prof. Cohen, “It is unclear whether this pressure on Election Day can influence people and cause them not to vote at all. Impact on voter turnout is particularly important given that the stress levels rise if our preferred party or candidate for whom we want to vote is not popular in the polls.”

Jewish Bahrainian ambassador to speak tonight

Houda Ezra Nonoo, Ambassador of Bahrain to the US, and the first Jewish ambassador posted abroad by an Arab country, is scheduled to headline the annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) outside Washington D.C.

Nonoo, who is also the first female ambassador to the US from Bahrain, has remained largely tight-lipped throughout her stint in Washington. And though she granted Moment Magazine an exclusive interview last year, she rarely speaks publicly about issues including her country’s suppression of the Shiite majority during the Arab Spring riots of 2011.

But that is starting to change and Nonoo now has her own blog, where she posts a few times a week on issues ranging from 9/11 to the UN General Assembly.

AMSEA was founded in 2007 by Middle East historian Bernard Lewis, as an attempt to counter the hegemony of Edward Said in American universities.

“In the democratic world, universities are free and you don’t have an imposed orthodoxy,” Lewis told Moment Magazine last year. “That’s not the case [in Middle Eastern Studies departments] where you have an imposed orthodoxy to a greater degree than any other time since the Middle Ages. It makes free discussion, if not impossible, very difficult.”

Moment readers on Ayn Rand


More than half of Moment readers say Ayn Rand’s ideas have no place in politics today, according to a reader survey.

Rand, the Jewish author and philosopher born Alisa Rosenbaum, is said to have influenced Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. And as Ryan prepares to take on vice president Joe Biden in the debates tonight, it remains to be seen how important her ideas will be.

According to the survey, just 43 percent of Moment readers say that her ideas belong in politics today.

Here are some of the top responses to our question, “Do Ayn Rand’s ideas belong in politics today?”

“Selfishness and rampant individualism will not help create a sustainable and livable society. Surely the years since the crash of 2008 have shown this to be true.”

“Since when are non-violent, non-hateful socio-economic worldviews beyond democratic discourse?”

“Capitalism has been successful because it is based on the very human qualities of greed, selfishness, and acquisitiveness–qualities extolled by Ayn Rand. Since no one in American politics today is suggesting that capitalism be eliminated, and since virtually all ideas (except those based on hatred toward identifiable groups of innocent people) should be subject to public discussion and debate, Ayn Rand’s ideas belong in politics today.”

“As Jews our imperative should be tikkun olam— i.e. to repair the world. This idea is incompatible with Rand’s philosophy of intense individualism and unbridled capitalism.”

“Rand’s ideas are appropriate for high school students who live in a world of absolute values. A mature polity must take care of its least powerful members.”

“All ideas are welcome, although some ideas are crazy. Still, crazy sometimes transforms. I think no ideas should be banned from politics but I do not think her ideas are good for America!”

“Her philosophy is timeless. It is based on the very best in human nature. Reading both novels should be required reading in every high school.”

“ALL ideas belong in American politics. We cannot be the Land of the Free without total freedom of thought and a willingness to consider, discuss, test, accept, or reject, all ideas of approaches and solutions. We must have extremes in our system (and Ayn Rand is not so extreme) in order to find a middle path that is the best solution for us.”

“It is selfish, an adolescent fantasy, overly, simplistic, and totally unworkable, for a society and the individuals within society. Anytime that any semblance of these ideas became a policy or law, the result was a disaster. It is also immoral and inhumane, catering to the selfish, grandiose impulses, while denying the human capacity for empathy, community, other measures of greatness, other than material. It shows both contempt and denial of human vulnerability that we all share.”

“All ideas should be able to be discussed in politics. Ayn Rand’s ideas can then be thoroughly aired and rejected.”

“Ayn Rand’s ideas represent an extreme of economic individualism divested of any sense of responsibility to others–either other individuals or to a broader community–to the point of being completely antisocial. It represents a sort of ethical solipsism.”

“Her ideas result in policies that are the opposite of tikkun olam. This is in conflict with the Jewish saying: if you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world. Rand says your only duty is to save yourself. She is right to be suspicious of government; but wrong to assume that government is always and inevitably an enemy of the people.”

“When I was a young girl, I loved her books. Now that I am older and wiser, I see she had no compassion for the less fortunate or even the middle class as we know it today.”

“She stands for greed, cruelty, meanness, nastiness, and sheer psychopathy. Unfortunately, this crackpot philosopher and fourth-rate novelist is now becoming part of the US mainstream. If and when fascism comes to America, it will be in Randian garb! So no, Rand’s ideas don’t ‘belong’ in politics. But alas, they are well entrenched in American politics, both at the grass-roots level and among the corporate elites. And they are growing, like some sci-fi monster.”

Anti-Jihad ads come to Washington

A Christian social justice group is fighting the newest wave of anti-Muslim advertisements with a campaign to raise $25,000 to buy counter-advertisements aboard the D.C. Metro system that read, “Love Your Muslim Neighbor.”

The campaign, announced yesterday, comes after the controversial ads, which have already been placed in San Francisco and New York, reached the nation’s capital.  Paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the advertisement reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

Sojourners, the Washington-based social justice group, is now soliciting $25 contributions in the hopes of raising the necessary $5,000 to buy a counter ad. “If we want peace between Muslims and Christians, we can start by standing against religious intolerance in our own backyard,” the group said in a statement.  “Everyone – regardless of race, religion, or creed – deserves to feel welcome and safe when riding public transit in the United States.”

There has been considerable public opposition to AFDI’s anti-jihad campaign, which many detractors call Islamaphobic. On Friday, though, U.S. District Judge Mary Collyer ruled that the D.C. transit system had to allow the advertisements based on the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

Ron Meier of the Anti-Defamation League said in a statement, “We support the court’s conclusion that the ad is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, yet we still strongly object to both the message and the messenger. We believe these ads are highly offensive and inflammatory. Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim. It is possible to support Israel without engaging in bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.”

“We don’t think it’s controversial,” Pamela Geller, executive director of the AFDI told reporters. “It’s truth. Telling the truth now is equated with ‘hate’ and ‘bigotry’ in an attempt to silence and demonize the truth-tellers. That makes my ads all the more important.”

Bachmann takes on falafel

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is coming under fire for anti-Muslim statements that she never made but were taken seriously by readers of a satire magazine.

In what is described by the satirical publication the Daily Currant as a real interview, the congresswoman tells local news station KSTP-TV in Minneapolis that falafel, a “jihadi food,” should be banned because it is a “gateway food” to Islam.

“It starts with falafel, then the kids move on to shawarma. After a while they say ‘hey this tastes good, I wonder what else comes from Arabia?’ Before you know it our children are listening to Muslim music, reading the Koran, and plotting attacks against the homeland.”

The satirical piece has gone viral and many people have retweeted her comments incredulously.  As one detractor wrote, “I can’t believe there are still people in Minnesota who support her.”

Reached at her Washington D.C. office, a spokeswoman for the congresswoman told Moment Magazine that she has no plans to respond to the satirical news piece.




Pulpit Freedom Sunday vs IRS

By Daphna Berman

Some 1,500 pastors are expected to publicly endorse political candidates and openly violate IRS law this coming weekend as part of Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

The brainchild of the Christian group Alliance Defending Freedom, the public effort is expected to draw much media attention—but with few legal repercussions.

Because of the Johnson Amendment, enacted in 1954 and sponsored by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, charities, religious groups and other organizations claiming tax exempt status as 501(c)3 non-profits are politically limited. According to the law, they “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”  In 1987, Congress strengthened the ban, clarifying that the prohibition also applies to statements opposing candidates.

But the IRS does little to enforce it. Today, nearly all churches are tax exempt and violations on both sides of the political fence are common.

“This is the most ignored U.S. law—with the possible exception of the littering law,” one prominent tax attorney told In the Moment.

Stephen Colbert, who took on the issue on his nightly political satire show, The Colbert Report, described Pulpit Freedom Sunday as a time “when the thrill of lengthy sermons finally meets the excitement of IRS tax policy.”

“This is another example of President Obama’s war on religion, which he cleverly passed in 1954,” Colbert added.

Pastor Jim Garlow, a leader of the movement, and a guest on Colbert’s show, said that Sunday will allow religious leaders to “reclaim what was lost” as a result of the law. “There should be no government intrusion into the life of the church at all,” he said.

Alliance Defending Freedom, according to the group’s website, “does not endorse or oppose political parties or candidates, nor does it urge allegiance to any political party or candidate.” It does, however, “believe that churches and pastors have the freedom to plainly speak Scriptural truth about the qualifications of candidates for public office – regardless of candidates’ political affiliation.

“If the IRS chooses to enforce the Johnson Amendment against a pastor who participated, then we’re prepared to litigate that issue and protect that pastor’s constitutional rights,” Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the organization, has said. “If they don’t, then I think Pulpit Freedom Sunday is going to continue to grow year after year.”

But tax attorneys said the issue has little to do with the constitution and much more to do with IRS law. “Organizations have a choice: if they want to exercise their first amendment rights, they shouldn’t apply for and benefit for tax-exempt rights,” the tax attorney said.

In 2006, the IRS said it investigated 44 churches out of 237 church and non-church referrals. They verified “improper political activity” and issued “written advisories” in 26, but did not revoke tax-exempt status in any cases

When Pulpit Freedom Sunday began four years ago, 33 pastors participated. That number grew to 539 last year and is expected to pass 1,500 on Sunday. Pastors are being encouraged to videotape their sermons and send copies to the IRS.

The issue came to a head in 1992 when a pastor at the Church at Pierce Creek in upstate New York took out a full-page ad in USA Today in which he slammed Bill Clinton’s policies as a “rebellion to God’s laws.” The ad also solicited tax-deductible donations for the church. The IRS let them off with a warning to stop politicking, but the church refused, went to court, and lost—both in federal court and again, in federal appeals court.

Pigs, the Holocaust and Isaac Bashevis Singer

A Holocaust survivor led a Los Angeles protest in front of meat-processing plant where some 1.5 million pigs are slaughtered annually, in a move he says was influenced by his experiences in the Warsaw ghetto.


Alex Hershaft, founder of Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), traveled to California from his Washington D.C.-area home to mark Tuesday’s World Farm Animal Day in a demonstration in which two people were arrested.

“As a Nazi Holocaust survivor, I am honor-bound to call public attention to this ongoing tragedy,” he said. “Indeed, my 37-year struggle to end the use of animals for food has been inspired largely by my experience of the Nazi Holocaust in Poland.”

“Obviously, I am not equating the millions of my fellow Jews slain tragically in the 1940s and the millions of pigs slaughtered every week for U.S. dinner tables, for we differ in many ways. Yet, we all share a love of life and our ability to experience many emotions, including affection, joy, sadness, and fear.

He says he draws inspiration from Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer: “For the animals, [life] is an eternal Treblinka.”


Jews and tonight’s debate

Tonight’s debate is unlikely to sway Jewish voters or even directly appeal to them, a leading expert on American Jewish voting trends told In the Moment.

“Partisans come to a debate with preset expectations and most Jews are partisans,” said Kenneth Wald, a political science professor at the University of Florida and co-author of Jewish American Voting Behavior 1972-2008: Just the Facts, a recent survey of Jewish voting trends.  “If there’s a population both candidates have in mind, it’s Catholics, not Jews. Catholics are the swing voters of late.”

The debate, which will focus on domestic issues and is slated to start at 9 Eastern tonight, will not touch on foreign policy issues such as Israel or Iran—a key concern for many Jewish voters. Issues such as domestic terrorism may come into play, however.

Jewish American Voting Behavior 1972-2008: Just the Facts was published in July by the Solomon Project, a non-partisan group that aims to educate American Jews about civic involvement. Among other findings, the study revealed that American Jews remain much more Democratic and liberal than the rest of the electorate—contrary to the claim that an increasing number are fleeing to the Republican Party. It also found that President Obama captured 74 percent of the national Jewish vote, slightly lower than the widely cited 78 percent that was originally reported.

Wald also said that little mention will be made of Romney’s Mormonism, but that the former governor’s religion does not concern most Jews. “Governor Romney doesn’t raise the hackles of Jews in the way that Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin did,” he said.

Still, he said to look out for a number of issues that continue to concern many Jewish voters, among them the economy, Medicare, social security and abortion rights.


Ayn Rand in Washington

By Nadine Epstein

Last evening, I attended the world premiere of Atlas Shrugged, Part Two, at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, attended by the glitterati of the libertarian world. Spotted in the crowd were Grover Norquist, Matt Kibbe (head of FreedomWorks), the heart and souls of The Atlas Society and the stars of the new film, an entirely new cast since Part One.

Once the introductory preaching concluded (altruism seemed to be misconstrued as solely government enforced) and reminders to vote were put forth (the name Mitt Romney was never uttered), the lights went down and the fun began. Although some camera angles and production values jarred me at times, I’ve gotta say, I enjoyed the movie, especially the fast-paced, action-filled last half. The new actors playing the iconic characters (the film’s Wikipedia page says that the old cast was no longer affordable, claiming Taylor Schilling was now a “bona-fide movie star”) outshone those in Part One. We’re not talking Oscar-grade acting here, but Samantha Mathis’s Dagny Taggart was far more nuanced, likeable and believable.

None of this matters, because this is not why you go to see Atlas Shrugged. For many, it is Ayn Rand’s ideas and philosophy, but for me it is the thrill of the story, and the genre of  “economic fantasy.” What a cool idea to build a dystopian society (the film is placed in the not too distant future, although Rand anchored it firmly in her time) in which smart, entrepreneurial people self-deport to a hidden nirvana, leaving the rest of humanity to fend for itself. While the plot is heavy-handed, and full of holes, it is eminently readable, and yes, even watchable. Of course, therein lies the lasting power of Ayn Rand’s ideas: They inhabit this page-turner novel (as well as The Fountainhead and We the Living) that makes them highly accessible to people who have often read little else about history, political and economic thought.

Will Part Two of Atlas Shrugged have the same seductive power as the novel to sway minds and hearts, especially on the eve of a national presidential election? The funders and producers must hope so, hence the October 12, 2012, premiere date.

Here’s an excerpt from an op-ed I recently wrote for The Hill which explains why I think many in the American Jewish community will not be swayed:

Being “steeped in Jewish history also makes most American Jews immune to the charms of Ayn Rand, the popular patron goddess of free markets and objectivism. Ayn Rand, born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum, was a Jew who grew up in the Soviet Union, and left for America in 1925. Once transplanted to the U.S., she wrote passionate novels, among the best the semi-autobiographical We the Living, and later the phenomenal bestsellers, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Her embrace of individual rights over all else has transcended generations, inspiring economic conservatives from Alan Greenspan to Paul Ryan and beyond.

“Ayn Rand is a fascinating person, but her ideas need to be understood for what they are: the outgrowth of a bright young Jewish woman’s despair and her hatred of communism. Her move to the U.S. allowed her ideas to take root in a painstakingly constructed hybrid American capitalist system. Like kudzu invading and replacing native plant species, her ideas spread whether they made sense in her new country or not. Although appealing to some Jews, among them some libertarian idealists and recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union, her ideas leave the vast majority of American Jews cold. In other words, the economic beliefs of Paul Ryan are unlikely to resonate with most American Jews.”