Tag Archives: Media

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.

Israel and the Left

by Theodore Samets

In its consistent effort to commoditize political positions as “left” or “right,”“conservative” or “liberal,” much of American media has determined that to be pro-Israel is to be right-wing, to be anti-Israel is left-wing.

It exists even here on InTheMoment, when last week a blogger called CAMERA, a pro-Israel media monitor, “conservative,” without qualifying what she meant by that term. CAMERA itself claims to be “non-partisan.”

This equation of “right equals pro-Israel” is problematic on a number of levels, but each time a writer, pontificator or politician repeats it, it seems to gain ground.

Why is this concerning? Because the people who will be most hurt by making support for Israel a partisan issue are the Israelis; the country whose existence will be threatened is Israel.

Israel has long enjoyed high popularity among the American left, and that should be no less true today. What’s more liberal than supporting gay rights, women’s rights, and democracy in the Middle East? Israel is an environmentally conscious, universal health care-providing, equality-loving nation. Democrats and Republicans alike should be vehement defenders of the Jewish State and passionate believers in the vibrant US-Israel relationship.

Most Democratic politicians understand the importance of standing with Israel. At this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, for example, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said that with any future two-state solution, “Israel’s borders must be defensible and must reflect reality on the ground,” rebutting President Obama’s call for a return to 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon swaps.

Nonetheless, Republicans are occasionally guilty of trying to turn Israel into a partisan issue, such as when the Republican Jewish Coalition exaggerated new Democratic National Committee chair and pro-Israel stalwart Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s minimal ties to JStreet. But some Democrats encourage this effort when they refuse to make clear that they stand with Israel.

When groups like JStreet defend Donna Edwards, a Maryland congresswoman with problematic positions on Israel, when Democrats allow voices that are not pro-Israel to claim that mantle, it hurts Israel, it hurts the Democratic Party, and it hurts the United States. Democratic leaders need to sideline JStreet and its allies and focus on recruiting pro-Israel candidates to run for office; if not, support for Israel will become an ever-more Republican issue, and the media will be correct when they equate pro-Israel with right wing.

We need more members of congress like Eliot Engel and Brad Sherman and fewer like Dennis Kucinich.

Which is not to say that Republicans never voice anti-Israel sentiment; but when they do, the Republican Jewish Coalition condemns it. It’s hard to imagine the RJC’s counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council, doing the same thing, given their decision to stand with JStreet, an organization whose destructive policies put Israel’s security at risk.

Democrats need to turn their focus inward: Why is it that the far-left’s animosity toward Israel has found its voice protected by a contingent of the party leadership, when Republicans have successfully silenced much of the isolationist, anti-Israel rhetoric of past leaders like Pat Buchanan?

It’s time for Democrats to tell the president that his pressure on the Israelis to return to peace talks is misplaced; it is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who has avoided the table for the past two and a half years. It’s time for pro-Israel Democrats, who make up the vast majority of the congressional caucus and the party as a whole to do this in the open.

It’s easy to throw punches at your enemies in Washington; it’s much harder to tell a friend that they’re wrong.

If Democrats can’t stand up and do this, the ever-present warnings of the Jewish right – that Jews might start voting for and giving to Republicans in larger numbers – might just come true.

For a whole host of reasons, Jews remain loyal to the Democratic Party, as well they should. Democrats at the core represent the belief in tikkun olam that Jews embrace so strongly. Yet if the Democratic leadership can’t prevent the right from successfully making support for Israel a partisan issue, the loyalty of past generations may not remain.

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?

Jews In the Media on Jews In The Media

By Ben Goldberg

CNN anchor Rick Sanchez was fired last weekend after calling Jon Stewart a “bigot” and saying that CNN and most of the media are run by Jews.

In a radio interview with host Peter Dominick, Sanchez implied that Stewart looked down on him because of his ethnicity. When told that Stewart himself might actually relate since, as a Jew, he is also part of an oppressed minority, Sanchez fired this salvo:

Very powerless people… [snickers] He’s such a minority, I mean, you know [sarcastically]… Please, what are you kidding? … I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they — the people in this country who are Jewish — are an oppressed minority? Yeah. [sarcastically]

As it turns out, Sanchez’s remarks are factually off base. As Brian Palmer at Slate points out, almost none of the top media corporations are run by Jews.

But even if Jews don’t “run the media,” it’s no secret that American Jews have been disproportionately successful. There’s even a blog devoted to documenting Jewish success.  According to its author, this success is partly due to “the huge premium Jews have placed on education, on rearing strong families, their push for innovation and entrepreneurship, tolerance for differing opinions, accountability for one’s performance in this life, and their sense of duty to help make the world better (tikkun olam).”

Take the Emanuel family. Rahm Emanuel recently stepped down as as White House Chief of Staff, one of the most powerful positions in the country, to run for mayor back in his hometown of Chicago. His brother Ari is a Hollywood super-agent, representing the likes of Larry David, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg and supposedly the inspiration for the character Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage. Rahm’s older brother, Ezekiel, is a renowned bio-ethicist at the National Institutes of Health. Three Jewish brothers, all rising to positions of great power and influence.

And the Emanuels are just one example of many. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has been in the news as well, the focal point of Aaron Sorkin’s new movie, The Social Network.  Facebook, Google and Dell all were founded by Jews. Jews cured polio, founded newspapers, and received 22 percent of all Nobel prizes. Einstein, Marx, Freud — all Jews. Without question, Jews have risen to the top in a variety of different fields.

Yet, while Jewish success and accomplishments are clear, there are two salient points Sanchez never considered.  For one, being successful doesn’t mean that Jews “run” everything.  Sanchez, perhaps inadvertently, implied that Jews act as a monolithic whole, evoking classic anti-Semitic imagery a la the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  Second, it seems ignorant to assume that success and oppression are mutually exclusive.  Just because Jews have achieved so much does not mean they faced no hardships on that road to success.  The Emanuel family’s father, for example, was an Israeli immigrant who came to the United States in search of opportunity.

If instead of implying that Jews run the media, Sanchez had simply pointed to their success, would it still have been anti-Semitic?  Opinions vary.   Danielle Berrin argues in her blog, The Hollywood Jew, that Jews play the anti-Semite card too quickly. Sanchez, she says, was certainly insulting and probably offensive. Anti-Semitic though? Not so much. As she says, “just because something is tasteless and stupid doesn’t mean it’s anti-Semitic.”