Tag Archives: congress

Loving Israel The Right (Or Left) Way

By Amanda Walgrove

Last week, Sarah Palin visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of Israel’s right-wing coalition, including Likud Chairman, Danny Danon. Many have questioned whether or not this was an early campaign move; many GOP members who may throw their hats into the Presidential ring—Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Haley Barbour—have recently made visits to Israel as well. “It’s not the Ames straw poll, but I do think a visit to Israel is an important stop for folks who are running for president,” Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks told Politico. “So much of what our commander-in-chief will deal with in the White House is rooted in this part of the world.” Besides being a shiny credential on the checklist for candidacy, Palin’s visit also serves to put another face to the name of what has become an increasingly conservative stance on what it means to be “pro-Israel.”

Tea Partiers have been split between what Walter Russell Mead has deemed the “Palinite” and “Paulite” approaches to foreign policy. The “proactive” tactics Palin  endorses call for maintaining a tight alliance with Israel. Garnering significantly less support from the GOP is Ron Paul’s “passive” approach, which suggests that America distance itself from the Israeli-Palestine conflict and avoid supporting one over the other. Speaking out about the need to condemn Palestine for attacks on Israel, Republican House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, responded to the recent bombing in Jerusalem by saying, “The White House must do more to tamp down anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories. That’s why I support bipartisan efforts in the House and Senate that call on the White House to put an end to anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian territories.” But how has the median Jewish American constituency reacted, considering the latest tragedies that Israel has faced?

Dominating the American Jewish landscape, the right-leaning AIPAC fully supports the policies of any Israeli government, including the current one, stating on its website, “AIPAC works to secure vital U.S. foreign aid for Israel to help ensure Israel remains strong and secure.” Jeremy Ben-Ami, creator of the three-year-old J Street, felt that this conservative domination left a gap for American Jews who wanted to commune and raise money for a more peaceful solution to conflicts between Israel and Palestine. While a tagline of “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” has a positive ring to it, the controversy lies in the idea that Palestine should not be reprimanded for attacks on Israel, but rather, they must be persuaded to make a peace agreement. For supporters of J Street, questions arise such as: Is someone anti-Israel if he or she believes that the Palestinians deserve the same rights as the Jews? Can someone be pro-Israel without fully supporting the Israeli government’s decisions?

Israeli lawmakers held a hearing on Wednesday to decide the answers to these questions, discerning what role Jews living outside the country should have in Israeli policymaking. A recent poll showed that only 14% of Israelis had ever heard of J Street and only 19% believed that the American Jewish community should provide unconditional support for Israeli politics. However, right-wing Israeli politicians, believing America’s support to be crucial, think that J Street verges upon  treason by not backing the decisions of the Israeli government. Lawmaker Otniel Schneller, a member of the centrist Kadima party, said at the hearing, “J Street is not a Zionist organization. It cannot be pro-Israel,” suggesting that J Street’s display of love for Israel “has strings attached.”  While extreme critics of J Street have labeled the lobby group “anti-Israel,” Danon said he would call for a committee vote to have J Street labeled a pro-Palestinian rather than a pro-Israeli group, a move Ben-Ami said could compromise J Street’s appeal in the United States.

Without having to label any group or belief as the “anti,” it’s easy to see that there are different definitions of what people consider to be “pro-Israel.” After the recent brutal murder of the Fogel family in Israel, representatives from the left and right sent letters to President Obama, advising him on how to stand with Israel in the conflict with Palestine. Obama’s dedication to the “Pro-Peace” sentiment is supported by J Street and its passionate followers, but remains  neglected by Netanyahu’s administration. Meanwhile, Republicans have been accusing Obama of taking a weak stance in supporting Israel, especially after his reluctance to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy.

Ahead of Palin’s visit to Israel last week, an Obama official reportedly joked that the Netanyahu was “waiting for President Palin.” But preoccupation with American campaign strategies, lobbyists, and party lines seems increasingly distracting during a time of violent unrest in the Middle East. The real problem is that powerful stances on foreign policy are becoming dangerously polarized, to a point where disingenuous jabs will be made from each side.  AIPAC was recently condemned for using the recent bombing in Jerusalem in its fund-raising and J Street has been accused of criticizing other organizations in order to promote a more leftist standing. Instead of figuring out who is centrist, hypocritical, leftist, or conservative, the focus should be put back on a practical strategy for the safety of Israeli citizens and the ways in which America can use its resources to help.

After Giffords Attack, Searching for Compassion

By Steven Philp

Addressing nationwide concern for Representative Gabrielle Giffords, doctors have expressed hope for her recovery despite having suffered a gunshot wound to the head. According to an article posted by Haaretz, the bullet passed through the left side of the brain, including areas that control speech function; her doctors have warned that extensive damage in these locations could preclude a full recovery from the incident. “There are obvious areas of our brain that are less tolerant to intrusion,” said Dr. Michael Lemole. “I don’t want to go down the speculation road but at the same time we’re cautiously optimistic.” Although in critical condition Giffords has been able to respond to simple commands, such as holding up two fingers when prompted.

Yet optimism is a precious commodity given the nature of the shooting, which left 18 injured and six dead, including nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green. In an interview with Haaretz, Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim expressed her dismay, stating that both the Jewish and non-Jewish community of Tucson is “shocked and horrified, and completely saddened…We don’t know all the details, but it is incomprehensible.” Giffords has attended Congregation Chaverim for over ten years. Although authorities have yet to shed light on the motives of the shooter, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, some have pointed to possible anti-Semitism. According to an interview with Associated Press – conducted on condition of anonymity – a government official familiar with the case said that local authorities have been pursuing a link between Loughner and American Renaissance, an anti-government group associated with the white supremacist organization New Century Foundation. Both groups are known for their anti-Semitic and anti-government rhetoric, which is reflected in some of Loughner’s online video and blog posts.

However some see these potential motives as part of a larger problem, pointing to the prevalence of aggressive – if not overtly militaristic – rhetoric in national debate. According to the Guardian, Giffords has been repeatedly targeted by the Tea Party after voting for healthcare reform and vocally opposing Arizona’s anti-immigration laws. Tucson sheriff Clarence Dupnik expressed his concern that “growing hate and anger” toward the government, including calls to armed resistance, played a role in the shooting.  Similarly, the National Jewish Democratic Council released a statement that read, “Many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse.” Called a traitor to her country, Gifford was included on a “target list” posted by Sarah Palin’s PAC during the midterm election which marked key races with gun sights. Although the graphic has since been pulled from the Web site, news sources like the Huffington Post still carry the image.

Yet some continue this violent rhetoric, including the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), which came in to the national spotlight several years ago through its anti-gay and anti-Semitic protests. Given their record, it is unsurprising that they would target the victims of the Arizona shooting. According to a flyer posted on their Web site and reposted on the Huffington Post, the WBC writes, “THANK GOD FOR THE SHOOTER – 6 DEAD!” They continue, stating that the deaths are divine retribution for the federal court case that was brought against the WBC for picketing the funerals of fallen soldiers.

However, there is a counter-message. Media figures such as Keith Olbermann have come out against the hate-filled rhetoric, asking for an overhaul of national debate and the movement away from violent and incendiary language. This is reminiscent of a voice that emerged from the Jewish community several months ago. As part of a new campaign against “fear-based politics,” Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR – a progressive Jewish community based in Los Angeles, CA – posted a video calling for “radical empathy.” She reminds us that, as Jews, we understand vulnerability. Yet we can use our collective memory of suffering to recognize the rhetoric of fear, and to counter it through absolute and unfaltering compassion. Al tirah, “fear not,” reads the Torah; Rabbi Brous looks to this reminder, a direct command from G-d to face adversity with conviction. Instead of pointing our indignation at Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, the Westboro Baptist Church, or – as difficult as this may be – Jared Loughner, we need to ask questions. What are they afraid of? Why? And how can we – as Jews, as Americans, and as people of conscience – meet their fears with the empathy needed to soften their hearts?