Monthly Archives: August 2019

Bill Maher vs. Tlaib and Omar

The below is from the Jewish Voice published in the Jewish News Service by Fern Sidman

On his HBO program last Friday night, irreverent comedian and pundit Bill Maher pointed out the blatant hypocrisy of the BDS apologists and proffered some cogent arguments in defense of his position. He chastised the BDS proponents for their willingness to ignore their own biases and tendentious posture towards Israel while theorizing that their natural inclination is to take the side of the Palestinians in the protracted Middle East conflict because of their skin color, religion and ethnicity.

Of the BDS movement, Maher said on his program: “It’s predicated on this notion, I think—it’s very shallow thinking—that the Jews in Israel, mostly white, and the Palestinians are browner, so they must be innocent and correct, and the Jews must be wrong. As if the occupation came right out of the blue, that these completely peaceful people found themselves occupied.”

Maher also called out the mainstream media for not offering even a modicum of coverage to the flip side of the BDS movement and for cavalierly dismissing Israel’s position on the Tlaib-Omar imbroglio.

Immediately subsequent to Maher’s biting commentary, Tlaib responded to Maher by calling for a boycott of his program because he publicly disagreed with her strident animus towards Israel and that of her colleague, Omar.

Taking to Twitter on Saturday night, Tlaib referenced Maher’s statement by saying, “I am tired of folks discrediting a form of speech that is centered on equality and freedom. This is exactly how they tried to discredit & stop the boycott to stand up against the apartheid in S. Africa. It didn’t work then and it won’t now.”

On Sunday, Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, issued a press release saying that his organization finds Tlaib’s suggestion of a boycott of Maher’s program “deeply disturbing.”

Focusing on Tlaib’s vocal support for the BDS movement, Lauder said: “Serious questions need to be asked about Tlaib’s motivation in supporting the extremist BDS movement, which is allied with terrorists and is not shy about its ultimate aim of destroying Israel.”

If that were not enough, other cultural icons piped up to add their opinions on the growing controversy.

Last Sunday, it was reported that Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem had also chimed in on the mushrooming Tlaib-Omar issue by claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “bully,” and that she refuses to visit Israel while he is still in office.

In a Tweet posted on Saturday, Steinem addressed her scathing criticism directly to Netanyahu, and said that his decision to bar a visit from Tlaib and Omar was “a welcome sign that I never have to enter any country or place under your authority.”

Steinem also said that during the 1980s when Netanyahu served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, she once joined him at his New York dinner table. She opined that he was a “conversational bully to his guests then, just as you are a bully to these two elected women leaders now.”

She also claimed that U.S President Donald Trump is “drawn to successful bullies, from Russia to Saudi Arabia,” but told Netanyahu that she “hoped that as leader of a nation dedicated to democracy and free speech, you would support the same rights for two elected leaders from my country.”

She concluded her tweet to Netanyahu by saying, “If you and Trump continue to imitate each other, you will eventually be alone together at the table. I could wish both of you no greater punishment than that.”

Responding to Steinem’s harsh critique of Netanyahu on Twitter was second-wave feminist icon and prolific author Phyllis Chesler. Speaking to the Jewish Voice, Chesler challenged Steinem’s double standard by saying, “Leaders and icons are rarely perfect. Great artistic talent does not spare artists from harboring rude and common prejudice. Gloria is not perfect—no surprise here. However, in this case, her singling out only one prime minister from among a world filled with genuinely awful tyrants is both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. Gloria has called Netanyahu a ‘bully.’ If so, how does she describe the mullahs of Teheran? The leaders of ISIS and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria? The torturers-in-chief in Syria, Sudan and Saudi Arabia?”

Chesler added that “for the record: I was the one who got Gloria’s signature on the resolution opposing the U.N.’s Zionism=Racism, and I was the one who first invited both Gloria and [another co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Letty [Cottin] Pogrebin to the first-ever feminist Passover Seder, which we held at my home. Attending a few such sedarim does not constitute expertise on Israel, Judaism or the Middle East. If Gloria can proudly stand with [Women’s March leaders accused of anti-Semitic rhetoric and behavior Linda] Sarsour, Tlaib and Omar, that confirms that she is totally, blindly indoctrinated about Middle East reality. It is also an example of the way in which feminism has been co-opted, ‘occupied’ and ‘Palestinianized’ by anti-Semitic myths.”

Fern Sidman is a staff writer for the Jewish Voice ( and a former New York correspondent for Arutz Sheva. Her articles have appeared in numerous Jewish publications

Confusion About Democracy Getting Worse

Book after book in recent years has alerted us—as if we couldn’t tell by reading the news and absorbing the panicked media—that democracy is in crisis. Did it start with Trump or with Brexit? In Europe or the U.S.? The diagnosis varies among authors of different backgrounds and political persuasions, as do their prescriptions on what to do now. Not all of the books even share the premise that the loss of democracy is such a bad thing—at least one recent work argues that the real crisis was a democratic surplus.

I thought this link was interesting and wanted to share it with people. Click here to read: Read Article »

It is by Shany Mor in Tablet Aug 13, 2019.

Ilhan Omar’s Guide to Israel

The article below is reprinted from Tablet and makes a gentle and fair-minded case for why Representative Omar should expand her experiences in Israel. We expect her to criticize Israel for the occupation as well as labeling Israel a colonial state along with additional critical vocabulary. But if she truly is trying to learn with an open mind, then Omar should heed Carly Pildis’s suggestions.

August 2019

When news broke last month that Rep. Ilhan Omar was planning a trip to Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank with some of her congressional colleagues, I felt a subtle sense of hope. I disagree with many of Omar’s comments on the conflicts, but, given her rapid change in viewpoint after winning her election, I hope that she’ll come to the region with an open mind and an open heart. And having myself visited Israel on numerous occasions—visits that were deeply meaningful to me and helped me shape my view of regional politics—I believe the right itinerary could make a real difference. I’m no travel agent, but I wrestle daily with a complicated view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, with that in mind, sat down to imagine the trip I would arrange for Omar and her friends.

Tzfat is a good place to start and get rooted. The town has a deep history of Jewish mysticism, religious study, and art. Local legend claims the city was created by Noah after the flood. Yes, that Noah. It has ancient Jewish roots, including mentions in the Jerusalem Talmud and the writings of Jewish historian of Roman times Josephus, as well as a vibrant modern Jewish culture of mystical study and art. I hope Omar will stop by Abraham Loewenthal’s studio and chat with him about mystic art; I have one of his pieces in my kitchen.I hope she walks the ancient streets, exploring its beautiful unique synagogues. Abuhav Synagogue, built by Rabbi Abuhav and his disciples after they were expelled from Spain in 1492, is a favorite of mine. Another is the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, built in 1570. In 1948 a piece of shrapnel flew through the synagogue while congregants were praying, and, miraculously, no one was injured. People still write notes to God and slip them in the the hole the shrapnel left behind. I have left my own prayers there.

Why should Omar spend a day touching ancient stones and chatting with hippie mystic artists? Because some of her fellow progressives are likely to tell her that nothing about Israel is authentically Jewish, that it is all a modern construction, a colonialist, white supremacist enterprise. I am hoping after a day in Tzfat she will vocally disagree. Tzfat was the home of PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas before his family fled in 1948, and the home of Rabbi Abuhav who took refuge there in 1492. Roots tangle, especially in the Holy Land.

Now that Omar has rooted herself in history, I think she should visit those who best understand what’s at stake, because they have lost the most: the parents who lost a child to the conflict. Parents Circle-Families Forum is a grassroots organization of Palestinians and Israelis who have lost an immediate family member in the conflict. In 2007, I met with Aaron, a father from PCFF who told me lovingly and achingly about his son Noam, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War. His hands never stopped shaking, rolling and unrolling a piece of paper as he recalled hearing the news of his beloved son’s death and how he felt called to push for peace, reconciliation, and dialogue. PCFF brings families together to share their grief, and their hopes that by sharing grief they can create a path to reconciliation and peace. They have offices in both Ramat Efal and Beit Jala you can visit, where members engage in dialogue circles. Additionally, PCFF runs a summer camp for bereaved youth and a hotline that allows Israelis and Palestinians to talk for free and make new connections. It has had over a million callers. PCFF is both heartbreaking and inspirational, and it’s the kind of project that needs more support. In this era of American activists creating “anti-normalization” clauses and refusing dialogue and debate, PCFF stands in stark contrast to Western bombast. It is a model that is both heartbroken and hopeful for peace, deeply committed to recognizing the pain of all its members.

Another space that will help Omar understand the stakes of the conflict is Sderot. The people of Sderot have been hit with thousands of rockets over the past decade, including this past May, when over 450 rockets attacked Southern Israel from Gaza. One landed right outside a kindergarten in Sderot.  Forty percent of children in Sderot suffer from PTSD and anxiety due to the trauma of rocket attacks, which is far higher than the national average of 7% to 10%. The Israeli Education Ministry’s psychological service is now training teachers to help them better support children who are traumatized by the conflict. In 2009, the Jewish National Fund donated an indoor playground that doubles as a bomb shelter, so that the children of Sderot can play without risking being too far from a bomb shelter. When a Code Red alert sounds, residents have only 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter. There are over 200 throughout the city. Rep. Omar and members of her “squad” have proposed cutting U.S. military aid to Israel. I think when she is in the region, she should meet with the families in Southern Israel that would bear the brunt of that cut.

While examining investments in keeping the people of Sderot safe, both in terms of bomb shelters and the Iron Dome, it is important to contrast the average citizen of Sderot with the average citizen of Gaza, who does not have access to a bomb shelters. It seems the Hamas government is unwilling to invest in civilian bomb shelter, preferring instead to invest in underground smuggling tunnels that further the effort to bomb the citizens of Sderot. If Rep. Omar and her colleagues get a chance, they should question the Gazan government’s priorities.

More than any one specific tour stop, I hope Rep. Omar integrates into her itinerary a search for duality. Sometimes we must hold two difficult, even seemingly contradicting truths in our mind at the same time, especially as people of faith. When she visits a West Bank checkpoint, as I hope she will, and confronts the cruelty of the occupation and the hardship it causes, I hope Omar will also talk to the Israeli soldiers on duty.  If she does, she’ll see that they are often very young, just out of high school, and very frightened by the burden of responsibility for security placed on their shoulders. I hope she speaks to Palestinians who lost everything in 1948 and became refugees, just like her, and I also hope she speaks to Jewish refugees from Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Ethiopia, and the former USSR, who found a home in Israel when they were in desperate circumstances. If the congresswoman chooses to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, I hope she also goes to the Kotel. When I touched the stones of the Kotel for the first time, I laid my head on it and wept, because God felt so close and yet so far away. It is the same way for peace in the region, it seems both within our grasp and devastatingly far away.

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