Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jewish Perspective on Voting

Matzav explains it

How Jews Should Vote
Posted: 03.JUL.08
By Rabbi Avi Shafran

Yes, Varda, there is a Jewish way to vote - or at least a genuine Jewish perspective to bring to political races like the current one for the American presidency.

Some Jews would assert that “voting Jewish” consists only of analyzing the respective candidates’ positions or pronouncements on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or any of a number of domestic social issues, or on Iran, Darfur or the environment.

Such analyses are certainly proper. But there is a larger context in which to place them here, an overarching Jewish principle.

A June 6 New York Sun editorial rejected attempts to link Senator Obama with odious people he has known. The editorialist noted that even American presidents who had espoused repugnant views before their elections, came afterward to act very differently from what their erstwhile views would have led anyone to expect.

Before he ascended to the presidency, for example, Harry Truman expressed deeply negative opinions about blacks, Asians, Italians and Jews; yet, once in office he greatly energized the cause of civil rights and confounded his State and Defense Departments by recognizing Israel within minutes of the Jewish State’s declaration of independence. And – like Richard Nixon, another man with seemingly strong personal feelings of ill will toward Jews – he supported Israel with military supplies at a crucial juncture in the Jewish State’s history.

Thus, when it comes to world leadership, it seems, it is not unreasonable to expect the unexpected. The Sun editorialized its explanation of the phenomenon: “…once a man accedes to the presidency, reality has a way of asserting itself.”

The Jewish take on the unpredictability of world leaders, however, lies less in reality’s self-assertion than in the upshot of a posuk in Mishlei: “Like streams of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Hashem” (21:1).

Our mesorah’s understanding of those words is that while all human beings are gifted with free will, there are times when Divine guidance – even Divine coercion – can play a decisive role in the actions of mortals, and in particular those of national leaders.

That is not, of course, necessarily to say that by virtue of their exalted positions such people are mere automatons, or that they are never responsible for choices they make. “Merits are brought through the meritorious,” says the Gemara, “and iniquity through the iniquitous.”

What it is to say, though, is that some element of Divine intercession can sometimes be at play in a far-reaching royal – or Presidential – decision.

Thus, the Torah tells us, Hashem “hardened the heart” of Paroh and, centuries later, acted through Achashverosh to grant Esther’s wishes and rescue ancient Persia’s Jews from Haman’s hand. (The phrase “hamelech” in the Megillas Esther, we are informed, on one level actually means “the King,” the ultimate One). There are, similarly, many more recent examples as well of national leaders acting in ways that would never have been predictable before their rise to power. It is almost as if someone (or Someone) had reached into the leader’s heart and fiddled around with its contents.

When such Heavenly interventions take place, our mesorah teaches, they are the fruit of Jewish merits – or, sadly, the lack of the same. What matters in the end is not the leaders’ pasts but rather the Jews’ presents – the current state of our dedication to Hashem and His will.

Which idea, of course, rather radically alters the attitude we should take, if not the calculus we should make, when we weight candidates for high office. It doesn’t obviate either the need to assess their characters or positions, or the importance itself of voting – a duty that our gedolim strongly stress. Hashem’s intervention in human affairs does not absolve us humans from shouldering our ethical or civil responsibilities.

But from a truly Jewish perspective, the tipping point of how kings and presidents will in the end act regarding issues that matter most is the relationship of Klal Yisroel to the Creator. Whoever happens to be elected is of considerably less import than the critical factor: our zechuyos, our spiritual merits.

So, yes, Varda, while there may not be a clear candidate for the Jewish vote in November, there is a clear perspective for Jewish voters to keep in mind: What matter more than our choices in the voting booth are the ones we make in our homes and our lives.

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

© Am Echad Resources

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Obama - Good for Jews? Maybe Not

Boker Tov

Beware Obama?

Very interesting stuff, this. I don't know if you saw it, or if the video is available somewhere online, but Sean Hannity recently interviewed (that is, argued with) the pastor of Barack Obama's church.

[found: partial transcript]

At issue was this commentary by Erik Rush, wherein Erik took the Mission Statement of that church and (brilliantly) substituted the word, "White," for the word, "Black," resulting in what I thought was a perfectly feasible accusation of racism... specifically, of Black supremacy.

How many Americans would vote for a presidential candidate who was the member of a church that professed the following credo?

1. Commitment to God

2. Commitment to the White Community

3. Commitment to the White Family

4. Dedication to the Pursuit of Education

5. Dedication to the Pursuit of Excellence

6. Adherence to the White Work Ethic

7. Commitment to Self-Discipline and Self-Respect

8. Disavowal of the Pursuit of "Middleclassness"

9. Pledge to make the fruits of all developing and acquired skills available to the White Community

10. Pledge to Allocate Regularly, a Portion of Personal Resources for Strengthening and Supporting White Institutions

11. Pledge allegiance to all White leadership who espouse and embrace the White Value System

12. Personal commitment to embracement of the White Value System.

The question is rhetorical, of course. The answer is that such a candidate wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected dog catcher ... let alone President, because that candidate would be instantly branded a racist, among the most vile and frightening of white supremacists....

Hannity, seemingly fairly, invited the pastor of that church to respond on the air. It was ridiculous and went nowhere. The pastor kept talking about "liberation theology," barking about did Hannity know liberation theology, had he read this book and that. At the time, knowing absolutely nothing about liberation theology myself, I scoffed, and wrote it off in my mind as being dated 1960s stuff [it's actually from the 70s]. Like Hannity, I just wanted the man to answer the racism charges.

Well, lo and behold, in an offline conversation with friends about historical proofs of the Jewishness of Jesus, I was given this to read: Misusing Jesus: How the church divorces Jesus from Judaism.

To my amazement, the discussion includes the "liberation theology" so emphatically embraced by Obama's pastor. The article is fascinating and should be read in its entirety, but check this out:

Another case of divorcing Jesus from Judaism arises in the case of liberation theology—that form of religious thought proclaiming that God has a "preferential option for the poor" and seeking to put biblical pronouncement in service to political and economic ends: Jesus is the pedagogue of the oppressed, the redeemer of the underclass, the hero of the masses.

The problem is not the use of Jesus for political ends; the biblical material has always been (and should continue to be) used to promote a more just society. The problem is that the language of liberation all too often veers off into anti-Jewish rants. Jesus becomes the Palestinian martyr crucified once again by the Jews; he is the one killed by the "patriarchal god of Judaism"; he breaks down the barriers that "Judaism" erects between Jew and gentile, rich and poor, male and female, slave and free, and so he can liberate all today. The intent is well meaning, but the history is dreadful, and the impression given of Judaism is obscene.

The poison is there in the founding documents of liberation theology. One of the fathers of the movement, Gustavo GutiƩrrez, states in A Theology of Liberation (1973) ... that the "infidelities of the Jewish people made the Old Covenant invalid."

Leonardo Boff writes in Passions of Christ, Passions of the World (1987)...

"In the world as Jesus found it, human beings were under the yoke of absolutization of religion, of tradition, and of the law. Religion was no longer the way in which human beings expressed their own openness to God. It had crystallized and stagnated in a world of its own, a world of rites and sacrifice. Pharisees had a morbid conception of their God."

This rhetoric should sound familiar: it echoes standard New Testament scholarship of the 1970s. Yet these works, classics in their field, are still being assigned to students of theology and still being read across the globe. In their wake comes anti-Judaism. I have myself recommended these early works to my students in part because there is much of value in what GutiƩrrez and Boff have to say, and I would not want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But, sadly, when I ask my students whether they have any critique of the theology itself, not all notice the anti-Jewish rhetoric.

These anti-Jewish obscenities are still produced by those who know better. The presses that publish such materials—the World Council of Churches press in Geneva; Fortress Press, which is connected to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; the Catholic (Maryknoll) Orbis Books and so on—are all affiliated with groups that have splendid statements on Jewish-Christian relations. But the evil of anti-Jewish biblical and theological interpretation is so pernicious, so omnipresent, that it affects even those who seek its eradication. Just as racism and sexism and the host of other human sins affect us all, so too anti-Judaism is promoted even by the best of institutions, the most progressive of theologians, and the most sensitive of those who work for justice and peace.

I'll tell you something. I cringe when I see that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein. I get nervous when I read that as a young child he attended a Muslim school in Jakarta. But when I learn that his pastor is a follower of liberation theology and that such theology contains "anti-Jewish obscenities," I am horrified ...
and terribly curious to know more.

Now Obama's supporters will tell you (and actually do say - see comments) that he is being unfairly attacked, even "swiftboated," if anyone dares to bring up his early Muslim education. Apparently, it's not PC to raise questions about that -- NOR, I assume, will it be considered politically correct to ask about the type of Christian theology he accepts as an adult.

I'd like to ask what Obama remembers from the Islamic school. I'd like to ask if his current religious beliefs are tainted by notions of Black supremacy, as portrayed by Erik Rush. I'd like to ask if he embraces liberation theology, as does his pastor. If so, I'd like to follow up by asking his response to the charge that liberation theology is intrinsically anti-Jewish.

I feel like I'm playing "Mother, May I?" and the answer is No.

There's a reason Pinch Sulzberger is pushing Obama's Hawaii Childhood, post-Jakarta-madrassa. When considering who might best lead the free world and who will set the tone for the United States' alliance with the Jewish state of Israel.... the Left would have you think no further than pleasant images of pineapples and leis.

Barack Obama, third from left at rear, in 1972 with his fifth-grade class in a photograph from Na Opio, the yearbook of the Punahou School. (AP Photo)

So saith Dhimmedia. Who am I to argue?

UPDATE: It occurs to me that Black Liberation Theology is not exactly what was being referenced in the article I linked, but according to Wikipedia, they are related, so I assume my argument is still valid. If you know more than I do and think I have made a mistake, please write to me via the email link at top left.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why would a nice Jewish boy vote for Ken Blackwell

Psst! Let me tell you a secret – not every Jew should vote for Ken Blackwell for governor this November 7. Really. Take it from me, the head of Jewish outreach for Ohioans for Blackwell in Cuyahoga County. Some Jews should vote for, umm, whatsisname, the other guy.
Who should not vote for Ken, beyond doubt? Anyone who holds the following views so strongly that no other issue matters:
 Abortion is a woman’s right at any time until the baby is born, or even a bit later.
 George W. Bush is so evil that voting for any Republican anywhere could be interpreted as support for Bush’s evil.
 All Republicans are the same and bad, and any Democrat is good, without exception.
 The legacy media (print, television, radio) always get the story right.
Alright smarty-pants, sez you, so who should vote for Blackwell for governor, other than far-right Christian crazies and mindless Republicans or Bushbots ? Anyone who thinks that the only issues that matter are ensuring dramatic increases in Ohio’s economic growth or dramatic changes to business-as-usual in Columbus. For everyone else, let’s think about politics critically, evaluating the tradeoffs and making the best decision with the information available at the time.
Question 1: Is Ken Blackwell an extremist?
Short answer: No, but he is consistent, competent and experienced, unlike his opponent.
Ken is competent and principled, not extreme. As any effective politician or negotiator must, Ken has compromised his positions during his entire political career, most recently by trading a constitutional amendment to limit state and local spending for a legislative solution to cap state spending. He has never compromised his principles, however, which few other politicians can aver truthfully. Many who are often awarded the accolade of “principled but effective politician” have endorsed Ken for governor, including John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Jim Petro. As Peter Bronson put it in the Cincinnati Enquirer, “the fact is, Blackwell is no more extreme than most of Ohio. He's a Ronald Reagan conservative who believes gay marriage is wrong, Bill Cosby is right, the liberal welfare state has caused more poverty than racism, and abortion has killed more black people than lynchings.”
By the way, is the other guy an extremist? His ratings by Project Vote Smart, which gives a nonpartisan listing of ratings by interest groups that track how often an office holder voted with the group's agenda, from zero (never) to 100 percent of the time, show consistency, at least before he started running for governor.
• The abortion lobby NARAL:100 percent in 2004 (but only 50 percent in 2005 when he began running for governor).
• The nuke-ban group Nuclear Age Peace Foundation: 100 percent.
• The oldest liberal lobbying group, Americans for Democratic Action: 95 percent in 2005, the same as Ted Kennedy.
• People for the American Way: 77 percent.
• NOW: 86 percent.
'If you look at my record as a congressman, nearly everything I've done as a congressman is nearly identical, in terms of votes and positions I've taken to (Stephanie) Tubbs Jones, Sherrod Brown, Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur,' [Ken Blackwell’s opponent] told a Cincinnati newspaper.
Digging deeper, I tried to compare the candidates’ positions on the issues, but against Blackwell’s specific proposals his opponent offers only platitudes. As I’ve said to many, in this competition of the Champ against the Chump, Blackwell offers concrete policies grounded in enormous familiarity with state government and policy fundamentals, to which his opponent offers merely platitudes. Consider education as an example.
Blackwell’s Education Proposals
Primary and secondary education:
• Allocate 65% of operating budgets to in-classroom instruction to increase classroom spending by $1.2 billion.
• Establish magnet school programs in advanced mathematics, science and foreign languages in all 88 counties.
• Expand vouchers to include special education students
State college and university system:
• Articulation – Use $500 million from proceeds of the Ohio Turnpike lease to increase the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs at universities and attract the best and brightest minds to Ohio's campuses.
• Massification - Create a business community-led task force to evaluate and make market-based recommendations for improving university curriculums.
• Accountability - Determine if individual universities have the necessary courses available to obtain a degree in four years. Ensure Ohio's state supported colleges and universities provide required course work that will allow students to obtain bachelor's degrees in four years.
• Efficiency - Improve transferability of credits between community colleges and four-year institutions.
• Accessibility – Make funding directly follow the student to the state supported higher education institution of their choice. Accessibility for children whose parents died while in military service or as a first responder. Says the Chump
(from his website)
“Education that starts from the beginning, gives a fair chance to every Ohio child and leads to a degree that counts.
“TURNAROUND OHIO starts with early care and education, making sure every child has the chance to start school ready and able to learn. That includes quality early learning experiences, of course. But effective learning depends on effective care: adequate nutrition, timely health care, and behavioral health screenings that keep challenges from becoming problems.
“Children who are ready to learn will do their best in schools that have the right tools and well-prepared teachers to help them learn to be the kind of creative problem-solvers we need for 21st century jobs. From books and technology to more accurate ways to measure proficiency, to providing a richer curriculum, Ohio schools will make the most of each child’s talents.
“And our bright, hard-working graduates will be assured of affordable access to the advanced education they need to move ahead. Any student accepted to a state college or university will have the opportunity to attend, even if their family cannot afford to send them. And, working with universities and community colleges, we’ll find ways to help them control tuition, contain their costs, and serve the needs of a broad range of students, from job-training and adult education to the highest levels of math and science.”

Question 2: Will Blackwell ban abortion?
Short answer: He couldn’t if he wanted to.
Choice regarding abortion will remain the law in Ohio even if Ken Blackwell is elected governor. Justice Kennedy is unlikely to reverse undermine his concurrence in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, so Roe v. Wade is likely to remain the law of the land. Not that reversing Roe would be a bad thing, since judicial usurpation of a contentious issue has perforce driven the debate to the margins, with none of the compromise and accessibility of the legislative process. But deciding whom to vote for as governor on the basis of abortion alone is a lot like refusing to fly in an airplane because it might end up in the Sears Tower. Not impossible, just phobic.
Nonetheless, it is possible that the legislative and executive branch may be restored to their rightful supremacy in the separation of powers. Pursuant to the “culture of life” and demand for greater responsibility that Ken espouses, Ken advocates prohibiting abortion in all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. Ken’s views are actually more nuanced than his own statements may indicate, however, since he would countenance medical intervention on behalf of the mother even if it was a certainty that the blastopore, embryo, fetus, or baby, as Ken would call it, would die as the result. Even so, his views contradict even the most restrictive reading of Jewish law regarding the permissibility of abortion, which oppose abortion on demand but may go beyond the exceptions that usually exist (danger to mother’s life, rape, and incest). A Rabbi will take psychological factors into account when deciding if an abortion is permissible or rather required. The danger to the mental health of a girl/woman may make abortion permissible under Jewish Law in limited situations.
So must a Jew vote against a politician who advocates a policy that would transgress Jewish law? Of course not. No legislative majority shares Ken’s abolitionist views, and in any case any law that actually passed is likely to include an exception based on religious conscience. So voting for Ken does not in any way put a pro-choice Jew at risk of having to choose between halachah and the laws of Ohio. Besides, one policy does not a decision make, and most candidates at some point or other, including many Jewish ones, have advocated policies that transgress Jewish law.
Question 3: Is Ken good for the Jews, or will he impose a “Cristocracy”?
Short answer: Ken often says “The opposite of a theocracy is not a secular state but one that respects the religious views of all its citizens.”
Like any other community of like-minded individuals, practicing Christians seek to live in a society that reflects their views. Like any other community, they desire and have the right seek to organize around common values and find it convenient to build on networks developed in institutions that support their understanding, adoption, and practice of those common values. The law forbids clergy of tax-exempt religious organizations from endorsing a particular candidate from the pulpit and no more. The US Constitution forbids “the establishment of religion or abridging the free exercise thereof.”
Where is the threat to Jews’ free exercise of religion from “Cristocracy”? Never mind that the values and sources of Christianity are almost identical to Jewish values and sources. Never mind that America is such a unique phenomenon in Christendom and history that hanging American Christians with the historical sins of semi-Christianized European tribes and their rapacious rulers is absurd. Never mind that those complaining most loudly about the Ohio Restoration Project never raised an eyebrow at the use of churches, mostly in the African-American community, for political purposes by left-wing ideology and Democratic candidates. I can only state, as a matter that is obvious to anyone paying attention, that no Christian group in America of any size or influence seeks to have articles of their faith adopted as public policy, such as declamations of the Lord’s Prayer (in any version) or religious tests for holding public office or affirmation of a particular theological view. They only seek to have their morality reflected in the laws of the land, which is the same goal that anyone has in political participation, whether they acknowledge or realize it or not.
The preceding paragraph may have lost some people with occluded reasoning, but let’s return to it’s opening shaila , rephrased: Why do Jews fear those who take Christian religious texts and circumscriptions seriously? I hesitate to ask this question, because I believe the answer may be simply “bigotry”, based, as it always is, in fear. The bigotry of the half-formulated view that religion is a symptom of mental weakness or even mental illness. The belief that goyim in general or Christians in particular cannot be trusted.
Bunk. But let us assume, however, that there are reasons for such fear. Let us name and examine these fears, too:
1. The Christian right doesn’t care about us, they only want and expect Jews to convert or die at the End of Days. As the couple who lead the outreach to social conservatives in Cuyahoga County for Ohioans for Blackwell have often told me, “all my life I’ve been taught that G-d said ‘I will bless the nations through the [Jews],’ ‘those who bless the [Jews] shall be blessed and those who curse them shall be cursed’.” Now, they are Baptists from Parma (The horror! The horror!), so I understand they cannot be trusted to tell the truth to or about a Jew, right? Oy veys mir, such a fair-minded view. Besides, what about Father Coughlin’s radio show in the 1930s, my uncle’s favorite reason for voting for Al Gore in 2000? As my highly educated Catholic friend argued to me vigorously, Jews fail to realize that what Jesus did was not replace Jewish law but to reopen the covenant of Abraham to non-Jews. I don’t believe that for a second, but since it makes him want to study Talmud, I’ll take his word for it and trust in his and other Christians’ goodwill toward Jews.
In any case, better to say, as the old saw goes, “when the Messiah comes, ask him if he’s ever been here before. If he says no, the Christians should convert and if he says yes, the Jews should convert.” Until then, nearly all of the Christian Right has its own unassailable reasons for supporting Jews and Israel that make that support the most reliable in the non-Jewish world today.
2. Whatever the Christian Right may avow now, their real motives are domination and proselytizing, by tricks or by force, just like believing Christians always have and always will. Today, as I said above. “Ay, there’s the rub/ to remember, perchance to relive/ the horrors of the past/ at the expense of the present.” To worry about persecution or abandonment by Christians in America is to fight the last battle (by several) and to fail to face the present challenges with our present allies. Should Israel buy arms and trade with Germany? Absolutely, because they are our friend at the moment, and we need all the friends we can get.
3. Why else would the Christian Right engage in a culture war against freedom of artistic expression and personal liberty? As the Talmud explains, one man in a lifeboat adrift on a sea starts to bore a hole in the boards under his seat… The argument “if you don’t like it don’t watch” has two terrible consequences. First, it sets the home against the outside world, setting the stage for the kind of culture war that we now face. Second, it undermines those parents least able to transmit and those children most in need of values that underlay success. Earlier this year, Dennis Prager hosted his father on his radio show, and one exchange particularly got my attention. Dennis Prager: “Would you say that your environment, your time outside the house, played an important role in your upbringing?” Max Prager: “Oh, absolutely. Home was good for only two things, eating and sleeping.” Most of the problems in our society are the result of self-destructive personal choices. Christians simply want to avoid having to fight the rest of society to raise healthy children.
4. Homosexuals are not hurting anyone, so why can’t the Christian Right leave them alone? The war on marriage has been explored in depth elsewhere, so suffice it to say here that efforts to change the institution of marriage go beyond tolerance into acceptance. No one wants to go on a witch hunt for homosexuals, but conservatives, Christian or otherwise, do not want to be forced to accept and support personal choices that they oppose and may view as inimical to the social order. Are they wrong? You may think so, but shame on you if you want to deny others the integrity of their beliefs.
5. Ken Blackwell either leads or obeys the Christian Right in its nefarious means and ends with no real regard for the Jews. How do you know? How do you distinguish this view from any other conspiracy view that Jews have suffered from? Do Christians support Ken for his views or does Ken hold his views to gain Christians’ support? For this answer, I can best refer you to Ken’s biography at or his recent book, “Rebuilding America: A Prescription for Creating Strong Families, Building the Wealth of Working People, And Redeveloping Our Cities,” in which he lays out well-reasoned bases for his views that have as much to do with thought and experience as religion, and nothing to do with religious authority. As one who has met the man repeatedly, looked him in the eye, watched him in public and semi-private, and watched him espouse views that would hurt him politically, I can assure you that it simply is not in his nature to do what he is told. Oh, and did I mention he’s Catholic, a Papist corrupted by Roman mummery? “America, what a great country!”.
6. The other guy is as pro-Israel as Ken, so a good-for-the-Jews analysis is a wash anyway. Is Israel the only issue affecting Jews? For example, every hashkafa / movement / stream of American Judaism has come to two conclusions. First, the real threat of Jews’ survival as a nation in America is that America may love us to death, through assimilation and eager acceptance. Second, a Jewish education in general and (an expensive!) private day school education in particular is essential to the survival of American Jewry as Jews. Ken’s views on school choice and ensuring a quality education supports the needs of our community and the rest of the American public, while the other guy’s views and core supporters are hostile to those needs. Besides, Ken favors vouchers in areas that would help the poorest Ohioans, Jews or otherwise, get a quality education the public schools fail to offer, including, if he can get it through, Cleveland Heights.
What especially disheartens me about Jews who fear that Ken seeks to impose or would abet the imposition of a theocracy is its utter absurdity in general and its ludicrousness in particular with regard to Ken. Even if the difference between the candidates were a matter of degree, such are the differences that matter. John Kerry’s view that Israel has a qualified right to defend itself, limited by proportionality, may differ in degree from George W. Bush’s view that “Israel has a right to defend itself”, without reservation, but that distinction has made an enormous difference.
But the difference between Ken and his opponent is so enormous as to be a difference in kind, not just degree. Just the highlights of Ken’s Jewish resume are extraordinary, let alone its full depth and breadth.
• In the 1970’s, Teddy Kollek invited Ken to serve on the International Jerusalem Committee, the youngest member and the only American elected official on the committee.
• In the 1980’s, as deputy American ambassador to the UN, Ken worked successfully with another diplomat named John Bolton to repeal the “Zionism = Racism” resolution of the General Assembly.
• Since the early 1990’s, Ken has served as a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), most recently working on a JINSA initiative to foster a tripartite alliance between the US, Israel, and India.
We owe hakaras hatov, a debt of gratitude, to someone who has done more for Jews than most Jewish politicians. He has his own sources of ahavas yisroel, no matter how they differ (or maybe “not so much” ) from ours, a complete lack of shanda about sticking up for Jews, and political gains from his party’s base for supporting Israel.
And let’s review that last point. Whose party can be trusted with Israel’s safety, Ken’s or his opponent’s? A Los Angeles Times poll on August 17, 2006 reported that 75% of Republicans thought Israel’s actions against Hezbollah were justified, compared to only 49% of Democrats. Similarly, 64% of Republicans thought the US should continue to align with Israel, compared to only 39% of Democrats. So who should a true Zionist want to see elected to a potentially president-making position in 2008?
Question 4: Does Columbus really need another Republican? Isn’t it time for a change?
Short answer: Yes, and Ken has the record, principles and experience to reverse course in Columbus.
So all Republicans are the same, eh? I beg to differ. In 1999 the Cincinnati Enquirer called Ken Blackwell “the anti-Taft”. The paper wanted to hurt Ken, but no other appellation could capture how much Ken would disrupt the culture of corruption and incompetence in Columbus. While a Republican for over 35 years, Ken has a history of bucking his party, criticizing it, and handing it a black eye when he thought it deserved it. Here are just a few of his most recent turns in opposition to the leadership of his own party:
 He opposed, no-holds-barred, an increase in the state sales tax, and won a reduction in the rate.
 As state auditor, he proposed reforms that would have prevented the abuse and fraud at the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, only to be stopped by then-Governor Taft and the Republican leadership in the legislature.
 He championed the TEL (Tax Expenditure Limitation) Amendment in the teeth of opposition from his party’s leadership.
Compared with Ken’s three decades of experience in Columbus, the other guy knows nothing about how the state capitol works and is not even effective in Washington, D.C., where he is supposed to have a clue. In 2005, ranked him the 402nd “most effective” Congressman, and 430th “most influential” out of 438 listed representatives, after the non-voting delegates from the U.S. Virgin Islands (385) and American Samoa (356). He also missed more House votes than all but two representatives, according to the Washington Post.
Ken’s priorities are Ohio’s priorities and not the social issues that are used to scare most Jewish voters away from Ken. He has identified five priorities for his administration:
1. Taxation: No state ever taxed and spent itself into prosperity. If we want to stay and have our children stay in Ohio, we have to stop chasing out the most talented and successful members of our society. Another favorite quote from Ken is that
2 and 3. Regulation and Litigation: Ohio has prioritized security too much and liberty and economic growth too little.
4. Education: More money needs to be spent in the classroom, and administrators and educators can and must seek efficiencies too.
5. Health care: Medicaid is eating up the state’s budget, and we can and must seek efficiencies without harming care.
What’s not here? G-d, guns, gays, abortion, or any of the other wedge issues that his opponents try to use to separate Jews from voting their interests.
Finally, Ken has raised most of his money from small and new donors, as well as drawing on many volunteers to fill the ranks of his campaign. As in 2004, the Cuyahoga County team expects to rely on volunteers to win, in sharp contrast to the bloated budgets for paid staff wielded by the other guy’s allies and the substantial reliance for support among entrenched interests in Columbus, not least of which are unions. Ken will not owe anyone his victory and can act independently in pursuing the best interests of the people of Ohio; the other guy will owe nearly everybody and have little of his own experience or knowledge to rely on.
Are a candidate’s character and integrity your top priorities?
Short answer: Character and integrity should matter most when deciding between candidates.
During my internships at state and federal legislatures, I came to understand that many of the decisions faced by legislators are matters of common sense opposed to venality hidden by sanctimony and pandering. In contrast, Ken says, “you may not like my positions, but with me you’ll always know where I stand.” The other guy, on the other hand, is full of contradictions. Here are just a few:
 a gun rights supporter who does not own a gun,
 a Methodist minister “on leave from the ministry” who has never been pastor to a congregation,
 a proponent of “family values” who has no children.
Too often, I hear my fellow citizens bellyache about how shifty and deceptive and corrupt politicians are, lacking political courage or independence from donors or what have you. You may disagree with many of Ken’s positions or agree with where the other guy may finally come down, but here’s your chance to strike a blow for integrity in the political process.
What about the election fraud?
Short answer: Bogus. See “Democrats keep leveling charges at Blackwell they can't back up,” Joe Hallett, The Columbus Dispatch, Sunday, June 11, 2006, excerpted below.
“. . . Blackwell stirred a firestorm by writing rules to implement House Bill 3, the election-reform law that took effect May 2. One rule requires people who are paid for registering voters to personally take forms signed by new voters to boards of election offices or face a fifth-degree felony. Typically, signature collectors turn over the forms to groups sponsoring voter-registration drives that then deliver them en masse to election officials.
“Democrats were outraged, complaining that the rule could shut down efforts to register new voters. Who in Westerville, for example, would want to collect new-voter signatures and risk becoming a felon for not personally driving them the 15 miles to the county election board in Downtown Columbus? The Ohio League of Women Voters called the rule goofy and said it would imperil voter-registration drives using volunteers. Lee Fisher, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, said the rule adds to the 'ample evidence that Ken Blackwell has manipulated the election system to disenfranchise voters.’ . . . .
“But Blackwell has a strong counterargument: The rule he wrote simply follows the law. Indeed, it does appear to do that. Critics might more appropriately aim their ire at the GOP-controlled legislature and demand that it change the law.
“Doing that, however, would deny Democrats a new opportunity to use Blackwell as a scapegoat. They haven't stopped blaming him for Sen. John Kerry's loss to President Bush in the 2004 presidential election, never mind that Kerry told The Dispatch just a month ago that he did not lose the election because of fraud. . . .
“The latest to enter the fray is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who authored a long story in the June 3 issue of Rolling Stone titled: 'Was the 2004 election stolen? ' Kennedy's conclusion: 'I've become convinced that the president's party mounted a massive, coordinated campaign to subvert the will of the people in 2004.' Kennedy's chief villain is Blackwell. If you read Kennedy's story, make sure to go to and read the rebuttal by Farhad Manjoo, a Salon staff writer, who spent a year exhaustively studying the Ohio election rather than, a la Kennedy, dipping his toe into it 19 months later. Writes Manjoo, 'If you do read Kennedy's article, be prepared to machete your way through numerous errors of interpretation and his deliberate omission of key bits of data.
“That warning is echoed by my colleague Mark Niquette, who closely covered and dissected the election aftermath. Cutting through the swirl of conspiracy theories about how Blackwell helped Republicans steal the election, Niquette told me that the critics conveniently neglect one crucial fact: Stealing the Ohio election for Bush would have required widespread complicity by Democrats.
“Ohio has a bipartisan election system with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans at the county level, where elections are actually run, Niquette said. For the massive fraud outlined in stories such as Kennedy's to have occurred without being exposed at the time, scores of Democratic election officials and hundreds of lawyers for Kerry in Ohio would have had to have been bought off, incompetent or both.
“Kennedy rails about the woefully inadequate number of voting machines in Franklin County's inner-city precincts, but with bipartisan approval, a Democrat decided where the machines would be placed. Kennedy accuses Blackwell of twisting the rules on provisional ballots to help Bush block Democratic votes but neglects to mention that 32 other states have the same rules for counting such ballots and that Ohio's rate for counting them was 77 percent, the third highest in the nation.”
So reporters and columnists for the Columbus Dispatch and Salon, both having shown editorial and publisher bias against Ken, both confirm that the charges against him are baseless. Flail away, my liberal friends, but don’t expect voters to believe you.
Fine, whatever, but can he win?
Short answer: Yes; opinion polling methods are inaccurate to the point of being obsolete.
Remember that in 2004 Kerry led in the polls by ten points with three months to go. Opinion polls have gotten worse since the summer, apparently, but here’s three reasons why opinion polls are increasingly unreliable and irrelevant:
1. Back to the future: As more people rely solely on cell phones, telephone polls (that do not include cell phone numbers) lose their randomization. Dewey beats Truman, anyone?
2. Polls consistently underestimate GOP turnout and overestimate Democrats’ motivation.
3. Voters must provide ID or the last four digits of their social security number to prove eligibility to vote. While I steadfastly insist on principle that anyone who can’t or won’t provide ID properly should not be allowed to vote, I acknowledge that the political impact of this provision is likely to hurt Democrats’ relative turnout. The pollsters, however, aren’t measuring propensity to comply with voting requirements.
Finally, Democrats have followed a losing strategy (“We are not them, so vote for us”) and made this election a referendum on Ken Blackwell. The reason I have refrained from giving “the other guy” a name is that as of a July 23rd poll (for what it’s worth), 65% of Ohioans had never heard of him. The Democrats’ reasoning seems to be a replay of their efforts in 2004 – we just need a candidate that won’t offend anyone – and the Republicans’ reasoning in the New York senatorial races in 2000 – HRC’s negatives are above 44%, so we only need to get a few more points against her – and 1998 – forget D’Amato, Schumer is terrible. This strategy consistently loses, as the Republican Party proved for the second half of the 20th century until 1994, when their candidates for the US House of Representatives ran on a 10 point platform that offered a genuine and positive alternative to the party in power. Americans are more likely to vote for someone they like than against someone they despise.
Democrats, of course, will cry foul unless they win the election and contrast opinion poll results with voting poll results. Someday, perhaps, they’ll learn that the only true measure of the popular is votes in the ballot box. When voters look beyond the biased reports and hysteria, they will see that their state will fare well with Ken Blackwell, and he will win - the most votes in Ohio, the governor’s office, and in the process change the face of American politics for a generation.

Daniel Cord is the coordinator of Jewish outreach for the Cuyahoga County Steering Committee of Ohioans for Blackwell. He lives in Shaker Heights, OH and is general counsel of a health care company.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Brown and Jewish Values

Brown and Jewish values

This letter published in the Cleveland Jewish News today informs you why one should vote for sherod Brown.

Sherrod Brown, Democratic candidate for US Senator, truly believes in mitzvot and the teachings of Micah that tell us “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with G-d.”

This is why I urge voters to support the candidate who truly represents our Jewish values, Sherrod Brown.

Congressman Brown believes that ten years is too long to wait to raise the minimum wage. He strongly supports stem-cell research and reproductive rights, and stands by our seniors by opposing Social Security privatization. He wants to provide home heating subsidies to our most vulnerable and make prescription drugs affordable to nursing home residents.

The DeWine/Bush policies have undermined our civil liberties, decimated our Constitution and advocated the unchecked powers of a Unitary Presidency, while undermining the Geneva Convention.

Its time for a new voice for Ohio and a new direction in Washington.

Ira Leichtman

Houston, Texas

Liberal vs. Jewish values

This letter was printed in the Cleveland Jewish News today. It shows the clear difference between two types of Jews.

Liberal vs. Jewish values

This letter is in response to Paul Levin's letter “Consider the whole Republican package” (CJN, Oct. 13).

Almost every time I read the letters section of the Cleveland Jewish News, I come across letters from liberal Jews mentioning “Jewish values.” These writers invariably claim that liberal values are “Jewish values.”

For the record, the following (a partial list) are not “Jewish values”: Abortion on demand; homosexuality; socialism; unwavering hatred of President George Bush; believing that the Rosenbergs were innocent; partial-birth abortion; support for an independent Palestine; intermarriage and blind support for the Democratic Party.

Just because certain values are held by a group of Jews does not make those values “Jewish.”

I would be grateful if liberal Jews would stop claiming their values are “Jewish values.” They are not.

Yosef Feigenbaum

Beersheva, Israel

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Anti-Israel language written into the platforms of Democratic state committees in several US states

The vampire's kiss:

Divestment and Boycott - A Progress Report:

How is the Economic and Political War Against Israel Going?

Legend (or at least Bram Stoker) posits that a vampire can only enter someone's home if he or she is invited across the threshold. There could be no metaphor more apt for the divest-from-Israel campaigns that have proliferated among schools, unions, cities and churches in the US and Europe over the last four years.

"BDS" (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) as a tactic for anti-Israel activity and propaganda galvanized during the notorious UN World Conference against Racism in Durban in 2001 - just weeks before the 9/11 attacks. It reached a peak in 2004. But for all the energies expended by its advocates, all the headlines it has attracted for several years, and all the concern it has raised in Israel and among Israel's supporters, it has essentially fizzled, especially with the Presbyterian Church's recent decision to abandon divestment from Israel as church policy.

A recent statement by the former president of the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine that the recent war in Lebanon would breathe new life into the divestment movement at the university is an off-hand admission that those projects are currently suffering from a shortage of oxygen due to the failure of previous efforts. Indeed, the divest-from-Israel's greatest detrimental impact appears to have been on the very organizations that chose to pursue this political path.

Divestment, Reincarnated

While economic warfare has been a staple of Arab-Israeli conflict since the Arab boycott of the 1920s, divestment, the latest incarnation of the money weapon, began to appear on US media radars in 2002 with a petition circulating at Harvard and MIT universities calling for both schools to "divest from Israel, and from US companies that sell arms to Israel" until various conditions were met. By the end of 2002, only 182 students, 94 staff members and 205 alumni had signed the document, yet the call for divestment emanating from members of two of America's most prestigious schools led to similar divestment petition drives on dozens of campuses across the country.

With university divestment petitions raising awareness of this new tool for activists, America's mainline Protestant churches began to explore divestment options. The Episcopalian Church of the USA, United Church of Christ and two regions of the United Methodist Church all passed resolutions encouraging divestment from Israel. However, it was the Presbyterian Church USA at their 2004 General Assembly, whose resolution calling for "phased, selective divestments in companies doing business in Israel," that was central in helping divestment go from mainline to mainstream.

By 2004, divestment calls seemed to be coming from all directions: cities and towns, unions, political parties, and civic organizations representing groups as diverse as British architects (Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine) to American lawyers (The Lawyers' Guild). Events in the Middle East (the second Intifada and then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon's response to that terrorist onslaught) were fueling anti-Israeli sentiment and activity worldwide. In addition, the groups calling for economic sanctions were already ideologically inclined to accept a narrative about the Middle East hostile to the Jewish state. Yet the fact that actions by all of these groups were coalescing around acommon set of objectives points to the momentum divestment seemed to be gaining in various quarters.

This common language included a nearly identical set of targeted companies, the most prominent being equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, chosen not just because of the involvement of Caterpillar equipment in the death/martyrdom of International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist Rachel Corrie, but also because the widespread holding of Caterpillar shares by prominent institutions effectively allowed divestment into the door of nearly any organization.

A Movement or a Tactic?

In many ways, divestment represents not so much a political "movement" or alignment, but rather a new tactic embraced by organizations already committed to propaganda on behalf of Israel's foes. Fundamental to the many groups pushing divestment over the last five years has been the so-called "Apartheid strategy," the desire to build a groundswell similar to the anti-Apartheid movement that targeted South Africa throughout the 1980s, this time with the Jewish state playing the role of South Africa's white racist government.

Even those pushing divestment most vigorously understood that the short-term financial impact of divestiture on the robust Israeli economy would be minimal. But, as described again and again in university, church and other campaign communications, divestment advocates were taking a long-range view, hoping to create over time an automatic linkage in the mind of the public between Israel and Apartheid South Africa.

The organizations behind manyearlier divestment drives, including the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM), and The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, while not unknown, are certainly less prestigious than the institutions on the front lines of this decade's divestment campaigns such as Harvard or the Presbyterian Church. This points to another cornerstone of the divestment strategy: the leveraging of institutional reputation.

The use of large, respected organizations to help small groups punch above their political weight is nothing new. Church leaders, for example, are routinely lobbied to take stands on contemporary political issues from local matters (such as crime and youth violence) to international conflicts (such as the genocide in Darfur). What separates divestment from some of these other examples is the extreme, anti-democratic lengths divestment activists have been willing to go to get such an organization into their column, and the tremendous sacrifices they demand from institutions for the "privilege" of being considered a sincere divestment advocate.

Academic Freedom

While petition drives at various universities first brought divestment into America's political bloodstream, and garnered considerable media attention, not one school ever actually took steps to divest their considerable endowment or retirement portfolios of assets associated with the Jewish state. In fact, many educational leaders openly criticized those calling for divestment, with then Harvard president Lawrence Summers gaining the most attention in 2002 when he condemned anti-Israel activists on his campus, memorably describing them as "anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent."

School leaders are often credited with derailing school divestment efforts, but the fact is that sentiment in favor of divestment never ran particularly high among students, faculty and alumni on any campus. For example, the original Harvard-MIT divestment petition was met with an anti-divestiture counter petition with 10 times as many signatories.

If American universities proved barren ground for actual divestiture (rather than media-amplified noise), academic activists did manage to chalk up an overseas victory, albeit a temporary one, with the British-based union, the Association of University Teachers (AUT).

Few outside British academic circles had ever heard of the AUT until last year, when it voted to boycott two Israeli universities on a series of what could generously be described as trumped-up charges.

As a UK-based union of university instructors and professionals, the AUT also had a "social justice" constituency that was hijacked by a group of anti-Israel activists who, through relentless maneuvering of the AUT's Byzantine governing bureaucracy, managed to pass a resolution calling for British academics to break all ties with Bar-Ilan and Haifa Universities.

World reaction to the move was swift. Jewish groups scorned the decision while anti-Israel activists hailed it as their first academic "victory." More important, academics worldwide condemned the AUT's assault on intellectual freedom, and AUT members (most of whom only discovered the action their leadership had taken after decisions were made) revolted against the usurpation of their name, overturning the policy in an overwhelming vote.

Earlier this year, another British union, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE), passed a motion calling on individual academics to personally boycott Israeli colleagues who did not openly condemn the Israeli government. Like the AUT decision a year earlier, the NATFHE motion was taken at the behest of a small group of union activist leaders, only this time the vote was held just hours before the union dissolved itself to merge with the aforementioned AUT (which had rejected a similar boycott a few months earlier). If the original AUT vote could be considered a tragedy, the NATFHE decision (from the furtive attempt to hijack the union minutes before it disappeared to the McCarthyite call for British lecturers to impose loyalty oaths on their Israeli colleagues) most resembled farce, a much greater embarrassment to British, than Israeli, academia.

Municipal Divestment

Calls for divestment have floated around the fringes of municipal politics in cities such as Seattle, Ann Arbor and Dallas for years. However, it was in the city of Somerville, Massachusetts that divestment forces came closest to victory in the winter of 2004.

In many ways Somerville (one of the country's most densely populated urban areas located next to Boston and Cambridge) would seem an unlikely locale for a showdown on Middle East politics. The city has small Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities, none of which are particularly politically active. While activists claimed that the make-up of the city's retirement fund portfolio (which included not just Caterpillar shares, but also investments in Israel Bonds) was the reason for their local campaign, the choice of Somerville had more to do with the dynamics of the anti-Israel activist community in the Boston area.

Due to the cosmopolitan nature of the region and the availability of large amounts of student activist "labor," Boston has always been home to a wide variety of both pro - and anti - Israel organizations. Unlike their more stable nemeses (such as the Boston-based CAMERA and David Project), local groups antagonistic to the Jewish state tend to be fluid, frequently forming, splitting and reorganizing based on changes in Middle East politics (most recently Islamist trends) or around new tactics such as divestment.

Divestment was spearheaded by a group named the Somerville Divestment Project (SDP). Claiming to be a local, grassroots organization that had mobilized in reaction to the city's municipal investment choices, members of the organization included familiar names from Boston, Cambridge and area suburbs who had been involved with various anti-Israel campaigns (including petition drives, film and lecture series, and consulate and Israel Independence Day protests) for decades.

Meeting behind closed doors with Somerville's aldermen (the city's 11-person legislature, a group with a history of taking stands on national and international issues beyond their purview such as Burma, Sudan and the USA Patriot Act) for over a year, the SDP managed to convince the majority of legislators that the Arab-Israeli crisis neatly fit the Burma/Sudan template as an international human rights crisis with a simple storyline and clear villains and victims. Information that might have laid blame on the crisis taking place in the region (including the deaths of over 1,000 Israelis from terror bombing) on anyone other than Israel was marginalized in the discussion.

In late October of 2004, the Board of Aldermen was about to vote in favor of a non-binding resolution recommending that the independent retirement board divest holdings (including stocks and Israel Bonds) that the SDP had identified as representing "investment" in the Israeli side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was only when two legislators insisted that the final vote be deferred until public hearings were held that the citizens of Somerville found out what had almost been done in their name.

The ensuing controversy, covered by worldwide media, brought Boston's Israel Consul General into hearings that proved to be the most raucous in the city's history, with area activists on both sides of the issue flooding city hall in a series of meetings between early November and early December of 2004. While opposition never had the chance to fully organize, the scope of the controversy easily convinced the city's aldermen that the storyline the SDP had been feeding them for months was an inaccurate oversimplification designed to minimize the hugely controversial nature of what they were being asked to do. Once the complexity of the Middle East conflict was made clear, and the scope of the controversy understood, aldermen reversed their original positions, voting unanimously to kill the measure.

Divestment raised its head again in Somerville last year, when the SDP decided to take its case "to the people" via a voter petition drive to get divestment onto the 2005 electoral ballot. This time, though, opponents of divestment had the chance to organize a counter campaign. Just as significantly, the SDP had developed fissures after its 2004 defeat, splitting and reforming under a much more radical leadership that hit the streets with a campaign so harsh, abusive and even anti-Semitic, that it alienated many of those who had once supported the organization.

The loss of experienced political operatives led to a series of blunders, notably a refusal to follow the rules set forth by the city on the nature and timing of legal petitioning activity. Despite attempts to sue the city, divestment never made it onto the 2005 ballot. Although it is unknown what would have happened had the issue reached voters, phone-banking efforts by divestment opponents during the summer of '05 found sentiment running a familiar 10 to one against divestiture.

Divestment proponents are currently attempting to make use of more lenient district requirements to get two anti-Israel measures onto a local ballot in November 2006. Yet the further their efforts are separated from the government endorsement they nearly received in 2004, the more the significance of their activity fades to resemble the petition-driven anti-Israel activism that has been background noise in the Boston area for decades.

Bearing Witness

By far, the US Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) had been the jewel in the crown of the divestment movement. Like divestment votes in the AUT and Somerville, the church's divestment decisions were made by a small group that acted with minimal input from members. Unlike these other institutions, however, this small group was not a radical fringe, but rather included members from the church's top leadership.

In contrast to more hierarchical religious institutions, the Presbyterians have a representational structure operating at the level of Presbyteries consisting of one or more churches organized geographically. Ostensibly, decisions on church policy emanate from the Presbytery-level "grass roots" that submit resolutions, called "Overtures." These are voted on by representatives of all Presbyteries at a General Assembly held every two years.

The church currently faces a pair of linked institutional crises: a dwindling membership (which has fallen by almost half in the last four decades) paired with growing centralization of power within a church bureaucracy that has assumed quasi-executive authority. Church management of several billion dollars in assets (including property and huge investment and retirement funds) created the need for a large, full-time, paid professional church staff, located in Louisville Kentucky. Over the years, Louisville has shown an increasing tendency to manage denominational issues (including theological and political disputes) from the top.

This bureaucracy's hostility to the Jewish state has been manifest for close to two decades, and has included several pronouncements that effectively lay blame for all problems in the Middle East at Israel's doorstep (including both Arab suffering and Israeli suffering born from occupation-created Palestinian "desperation"). The Presbyterian News Service (PNS) is uniformly uninterestedin or hostile to Israeli versions of events, and much of the theological language used to describe the conflict has been lifted from the church's partners in Middle East "peacemaking," the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a radical Palestinian Christian group behind many church divestment programs.

Divestment was one of many Overtures handled in the last hours of the PCUSA's 2004 General Assembly. Part of a string of resolutions that, among other things, condemned Israel's security barrier and called for an end to "the occupation"(described as the root cause of all violence in the region), divestment seemed a natural extension to church policies of taking stands on Middle East issues and using their investments as leverage on political and social issues. Given this backdrop, church leaders were unprepared for the controversy their divestment resolution would cause. Within days of that vote, however, divestment champions were traveling the globe broadcasting their success and using the PCUSA resolution to convince other churches that they should join their Presbyterian brothers in punishing the alleged crimes of "Apartheid Israel." At the same time, Jewish leaders let it be known that inter-faith dialogue could not continue with divestment on the table.

The church's hostility to the Jewish state led to a spate of negative publicity. Press coverage became particularly embarrassing after Al-Manar, Hizbullah's satellite television network, revealed that Presbyterian groups, including representatives from the national denomination's powerful Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), had met with the Lebanese terrorist organization on several occasions. A quote from ACSWP member Ronald Stone stating that "As an elder of our church, I'd like to say that according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders," led to condemnation from several quarters, including the US Congress.

Although outsiders played a role in lobbying PCUSA between 2004 and the 2006, it was the disaffection of numerous church members, spurred on by bad publicity related to events like the meeting with Hizbullah, that helped see divestment unseated at the June 2006 General Assembly meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.

Polls indicated that support for divestment dissipated quickly the closer one got to the pews, and this year's meeting featured dozens of Overtures on the Middle East, most calling for divestment to be overturned. While the church hierarchy worked hard to try to get decisions on this issue deferred and kept in the hands of church professionals, a membership revolt led to the overturning of divestment within PCUSA which was approved by 95 percent of voters.

Just as PCUSA's 2004 decisions blazed the trail for other churches to pass their own divestment resolutions, so the Presbyterians' 2006 reversal on divestment has led to an abandonment of the tactic by other churches, including the Anglicans and United Church of Canada (UCC). The UCC case is particularly telling since that group's General Council rejected specific economic targeting of Israel just as the war in Lebanon was in full force. Even with that fighting as backdrop, UCC not only walked away from Israel-specific divestment, but also criticized Middle East countries that do not accept Israel's right to exist, a significant turnaround for what had been one of Israel's harshest critics among mainline Protestant organizations.

Common Threads

In every case where divestment has met with success, it has been the result of a small group of dedicated activists willing to use any tactic, including subverting democratic procedures, to turn a respected organization into an ally. And whenever those decisions could be subjected to democratic input, those victories have been reversed, preventing divestment champions from gaining the momentum needed to make their Apartheid strategy self-sustaining.

When divestment has been democratically defeated, it has never been by a close margin, but by lopsided majorities of 10-20 to 1. It needs to be remembered that these overwhelming numbers do not represent a liberal-conservative split, such as America's supposed "Red-Blue" divide, for divestment's few successes have been entirely within self-identified progressive institutions. If the subject somehow became the basis for a nationwide survey, sentiment in support of divestment from Israel would in all likelihood barely be noticeable.

Also, whenever divestment has gained traction (in political maneuvering more resembling coups than revolutions, much less democratic processes), organizations that have embraced the divestment agenda have been asked to place their most sacred assets on the altar. In the case of the AUT, it was academic freedom. In the case of the Presbyterian Church, it was Christian witness. This is no accident, for someone making a political choice can always change his or her mind. But an institution placing its most valued possession, its reputation, on the line will find it that much more difficult to pull back from the brink.

While it is tempting to look at divestment in retreat as a simple good-news story, there are important lessons to be learned from the struggles of the last four years, especially in light of new violence in Gaza and Lebanon and efforts by Israel's foes in Europe and the US to use unfolding events to re-stoke their movement.

First, the shallow support for divestment, even among liberal-minded institutions, demonstrates that grassroots citizens and group members are not inclined to see their institutions subverted for narrow political purposes. It would be a stretch to say that a Zionist heart beats in the breast of the average Presbyterian, British university lecturer or Somerville citizen. However, common people continue to show more good sense than their leaders, at least with regard to protecting their organizations from cynical manipulation.

Second, divestment's repeated defeats demonstrate the potentially permanent impact of Israel's supporters taking a stand and saying "no more." By way of example, more than ten years ago James Zogby's Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (AADC) had achieved some success in getting anti-Israel language written into the platforms of Democratic state committees in several US states. It was in Massachusetts that their efforts met a wall of resistance by an organized Jewish community, much as divestment faced its Waterloo in the city of Somerville. This effort broke the critical momentum AADC had achieved and, within a year, language critical of Israel was removed from state party platforms.

It may be that divestment, with its call for economic boycott echoing dark chapters in Jewish history, was odious enough to unite individuals and groups with widely varying positions on the Middle East. But especially in light of current events, the power of unified defiance should not be underestimated.

Finally, groups contemplating an embrace of divestment as their means of doing something about the crisis in the Middle East should look at what this position has cost other groups that have taken this controversial step. In England, a newly merged teacher union faces ongoing internal battles over overt and covert academic boycotts, and diminishing public sympathy for an organization that claims to represent academic freedom. After two years of cynical maneuvering, the leadership of PCUSA is regarded with suspicion by its own members, just as those outside the church are asking if it merits the moral leadership it claims for itself.

To see the degenerating effects of divestment at its fullest, one need only look at the Green Party in the US, now so heavily infiltrated by Islamist radicals that its main raison d'etre seems to be battling over "190," the party's own impotent divestment resolution. Once again, this resolution was made national party policy at the eleventh hour by radical members, with little input from party members and in contravention to party rules (including requirements to consult with other national Green parties, such as the one in Israel). With members leaving the party in droves over the issue, and Green candidates struggling with the 190 albatross in mainstream political races, a party once able to play spoiler in a national election may fully self-immolate long before it can even reach America's graveyard of failed third parties.

It may be that the Lebanon crisis will breathe new life into the struggling divestment movement. But at the time of this writing, even the most vocal institutional critics of Israel (such as the mainline Protestant churches) show no immediate interest in revisiting the campaign, no interest, that is, in inviting the vampire back across the threshold.

Jon Haber is a Massachusetts writer and the creator of the anti-divestment activist Web sites and

Dems Need to Distance themselves from the Leftists Anti-Israel

Let the Parties Compete on Which is More Supportive of Israel!

By Jonathan Tobin

Jewish Democrats Squirm as Republican Ads Highlight the Growing Influence of Anti-Israel MoveOn Leftists in the Democratic Party, But It's a Legitimate Election Issue; Taking Israel Off the Table is Not in the Community's Interest

JWR - Something interesting has been happening in British politics this year that ought to gain the attention of Americans, including those who generally have no interest in the subject.

What has happened is that Britain's opposition Conservative Party has struck up an unlikely alliance with the left wing of the governing Labor Party on the issue of the Middle East. The Tories, whose leadership in recent decades have been broadly sympathetic toward Israel — though not nearly as friendly as American conservatives — have decided to throw the Jewish state under the proverbial double-decker bus as they seek to return to power.

Recently, William Hague, the Tory spokesman on foreign affairs, denounced Israel's war of self-defense against Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorists. Hague's use of the canard about "disproportionate" Israeli counterattacks on terrorists — and the endorsement of the statement by Party leader David Cameron — was a signal that the Conservatives, whose standing in the British polls makes them a real threat to unseat Labor in the next election, would not allow their foes to paint them as too friendly to Israel.

The Tory's decision to flip on Israel took place at the same time that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was forced by his Labor followers to walk the plank and announce that he would finally leave office next year. Though Blair has been damaged by his support for the war in Iraq, it appears that the straw that broke the camel's back for the Labor rank-and-file was his backing for Israel during its war with Hezbollah.

What all this means is that although British support for Israel has been tepid even at its height, an era in which the last three prime ministers (Conservatives Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and then Blair) had been backers of the Jewish state, and desirous of Jewish votes on that basis, is likely over. The large Muslim vote is up for grabs - seemingly making hostility to Israel a consensus position in British politics.

What has that to do with anything going on here? The answer is perhaps more than many of us think.

The loudest debate going on in the American Jewish world the last couple of months has to do with the renewed attempt of the Republican Party to make inroads among Jewish voters on the basis of its support for Israel, and what it contends is the less than exemplary record of its Democratic foes.

To that end, the Republican Jewish Coalition — a Jewish GOP support group — has been placing ads in Jewish publications around the country skewering the Democrats and painting their own party as the good guys on Israel.

The reaction from large segments of a Jewish community, in which the overwhelming majority of its members are reliable supporters of the Democrats, has been emotional and angry. They are appalled at the idea that Republicans would have the chutzpah to ask for their votes. The point isn't so much that they reject the content of the ads, but that they consider the entire exercise to be illegitimate.

Many seem to be echoing the line from the classic Broadway musical "Fiorello," in which the victory of a Republican congressional candidate in a Democratic district is greeted with dismay. Like that victory of future New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, many Jews think the GOP ads "just ain't democratic."

Of course, perspective on the merit of the ads is obviously dependent on political affiliation.

The Republicans have a fair point when they note that anti-Israel leftists, such as those affiliated with the group, have real pull within the Democratic Party these days. By comparison, anti-Israel figures on the right, like the odious Pat Buchanan, are bereft of influence in the current GOP. Moreover, the decline of the hawkish "Scoop Jackson" wing of the Democratic Party was finalized this past summer with the rejection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman by Connecticut Democrats.

Nevertheless, the Democrats are also right to point out that attempts to tar their party as anti-Israel are not true. Support for Israel is a bipartisan affair, and Democratic Party leaders, as well as the overwhelming majority of their caucus in both the House and the Senate, are genuine backers.

What Jewish Democrats do need to do is to confront the strain of anti-Zionism growing on the left and in the anti-war movement, and ensure that it is kept out of the mainstream of their party. That is a task that will be even more important if, as now seems likely, the Democrats prevail in next month's congressional elections.

But Democrats are seeking to delegitimize the entire Reublican campaign with their claim that GOP attempts to use Israel as a wedge issue will undermine the bipartisan consensus on the issue. Some go even further and assert that by identifying support for Israel with the Bush administration, the ads may have the effect of making it less attractive for Democrats and liberals to sympathize with an Israel that is linked with a president and a party that they hate.

What Democrats seem to want is for the entire issue to be taken off the table. That would give them a tactical advantage, but behind it lies the dubious notion that holding either party accountable for their performance on Middle East issues is itself somehow not kosher.

Flash back to 1992, when Democrats made hay over the contemptible policies and behavior of the administration of the first President Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker toward Israel. Then, there was no question that Israel was an issue — and one that would cost the Republicans votes.

Taking Israel off the table today is no more legitimate a stance than a call for keeping church-state separation off the agenda would be on the part of Republicans. And if anyone thinks that having a conservative president support Israel will turn off liberals, maybe the problem is more with the liberals than the president.

No matter which party you support, what we should strive for is accountability from them. And the only way to hold political parties accountable is to make them pay for mistakes or to reward them for good behavior at the ballot box. By contrast, if a key issue is taken out of the discussion, the parties will inevitably stop prioritizing it.

Those currently calling for Israel to be eliminated from our debates should peek across the Atlantic to see what a country where appeals to pro-Israel sentiments have been sidelined looks like.

As different as Britain is from the United States, if there is a bipartisan consensus in support of Israel in this country, it is because the two major parties have spent the last 30 years or so actually competing for Jewish votes on this basis. The moment we tell them to stop will be the time when those who would break the consensus will have a leg up. As was the case in Britain, there are other constituencies that are all too eager to step in and give politicians a reason to switch sides.

So let the parties debate which is the most ardent supporter of Israel. It may be messy, but it beats the alternative.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the <>Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.