Highlights (And Mostly Lowlights) Of 2007
12/28/07
Editor and Publisher
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Let’s try a little end-of-the-year game.   I’ll mention a name or phrase, and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Ready? Walt-Mearsheimer. Jimmy Carter. Ahmadinejad at Columbia. How about: Hamas. Sderot. 1939. Too easy? Alvin Rosenfeld. Tony Judt. Norman Finkelstein. I think you get the picture. Like any year, 2007 had its highs and lows, but for Israel and the Jewish people, there was more to worry about than cheer. And depending on how you respond to the word “Annapolis” — whether it makes you feel cynical or hopeful — tells us if you think the Mideast situation is going to improve in 2008. Here’s my Top Half Dozen List ofissues for the Jewish Zeitgeist of the last 12 months: 1. Academic Meltdown: The fact that respected academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer could publish a best-selling book blaming the “Israel Lobby” (never precisely defined) for America’s troubles in the Mideast was one of several signs that the U.S. could be following Europe’s frightening lead: the delegitimization of Israel via the university. In France and England, the now open questioning of Israel’s right to exist began on the academic level and filtered down to the rest of society. We’re not there yet, by a long shot. But when the Walt-Mearsheimer argument is treated with respect rather than contempt, when former President Jimmy Carter goes around the country promoting his book equating Israel with apartheid, and when the hate-filled president of Iran is invited to speak at Columbia University, there is reason to worry. We must redouble our efforts to counter the anti-Israel attitudes of many academics teaching the Mideast on campus, including more than a few who are Jewish. 2. With God On My Ticket: There is almost a year to go before the ‘08 presidential election, but so far religion has played a disturbingly major role. Mitt Romney has had to defend his being a Mormon, Baptist minister Mike Huckabee has had great success wearing his faith on his sleeve, and the other candidates – Democrat as well as Republican – have heard the calling as well, falling all over themselves to describe the role of religion in their lives. What used to be private is now public. No wonder atheist writers like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are striking back in a U.S. puzzled as to who is Jesus’ favorite candidate and fearful of a worldwide war over Allah’s intentions. 3. Israel’s Morale Busters: The citizens of the Jewish state aren’t looking for heroes these days. They’d settle for people in the highest office not deserving of jail. Still frustrated over the ‘06 war in Lebanon and the continued captivity of three of its young soldiers, Israelis confronted a president accused of rape (who stepped down to avoid prison), a prime minister facing multiple charges of illegal business dealings (and ratings in the single digits for most of the year), and at least one chief rabbi urged to resign (Ashkenazi chief Yonah Metzger, by the State Attorney General, for allegedly lying to the police about ethical improprieties). Sadly, given Israel’s backward political system, there are no fresh young faces on the horizon to improve the prospects for cleaning house. 4. No Nukes Isn’t Necessarily Good News: The recent U.S. intelligence bombshell suggesting that Iran is not actively pursuing nuclear weapons was a stunning setback for those who fear an Iranian attack on Israel. Some Israeli political and military leaders insist the American information is naïve and off base, but the damage – at least in the short term – has been done, and talk of imminent military action against Tehran is off the table. Diplomatic efforts for tougher sanctions imposed on Iran face an even tougher battle in the new year, even though the NIE report showed they had been working. 5. Last Push For Peace: The good news about Annapolis is that so many countries came together to support a new round of Mideast peace talks; the bad news is that there is no indication of any profound — and necessary — change in procedure to make this effort more successful than past ones. Namely, consequences for the Palestinians for failing to stop violence. Most sobering is the sense that if the latest round of talks fails there may be no more efforts to achieve a two-state solution. The fact that Sderot is targeted by terrorist rockets on a daily basis and that Israel is stymied as to how to respond underscores that Hamas controlling Gaza is a major setback that cannot be ignored, for all the emphasis on the Abbas-Olmert equation. 6. Communal Confusion: Jewish organizations were beset with scandals and internal conflicts this year, most notably the World Jewish Congress, which saw its top three officials leave office: longtime president Edgar Bronfman, who accused former leader Israel Singer of stealing from him, and Stephen Herbits, the associate Bronfman brought in to clean things up but who only brought more negative attention. New president Ronald Lauder pledges reform, but there are no visible results to date. Then there was the rift between the Israeli and American branches of ORT, claims that the Claims Conference has not done enough for Holocaust survivors, and our reporting on March of the Living spending funds in questionable ways. Federation campaigns are flat in much of the country (with New York a notable exception), and United Jewish Communities has undergone major personnel and policy shifts in search of an inspirational spark. Not surprising, then, that younger Jews are distancing themselves from Jewish organizational life. The list goes on, looking back at notable and less notable names of the past year. There was the Preacher Who Loves Us (Too Much?): Pastor John Hagee, evangelical prime-time speaker at the annual AIPAC conference who doesn’t want to compromise on Israeli land, not to mention his End of Day beliefs. There were The Bad Boys who tattled on Orthodoxy: the brilliant academic Noah Feldman, still smarting from an alleged put-down by his Modern Orthodox high school for marrying out, and writer Shalom Auslander, spilling his angry (and sometimes funny) guts about growing up Orthodox in Monsey. We marveled at the generosity of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have raised the bar of Jewish philanthropy to new heights; took pride in the appointment of Michael Mukasey, a Jewish attorney and judge from New York as U.S. Attorney General; felt comforted that a young Muslim would step up and defend young Jews being beaten on a New York subway; and mourned the loss of Liviu Librescu, the Israeli-American engineering professor (and Holocaust survivor) who died saving his students in the horrific shooting at Virginia Tech, where 32 were killed. I wish the above list could have been more upbeat, but let’s hope 2008 will be more positive and inspiring. Happy new year. E-mail: Gary@jewishweek.org Six More Names In The News, 2007 (in alphabetical order):1. 1. Debbie Almontaser, who says she was forced to step down as head of the new Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn over comments about “Intifada-NYC” t- shirts. Will she get her job back? 2. Borat, the rude and crude fictional Kazakhstani journalist who touched off a lingering controversy over the parameters of satire with his put-downs of Jews in film and on television. At year’s end, his creator, Sacha Baron Cohen, said he will no longer perform as Borat (or Ali G) because they are too well known. 3. Matthew Bronfman, the new No. 2 lay leader of the World Jewish Congress. His father, Edgar, wanted Adam to succeed him in the top spot, but the timing and circumstances weren’t right, at least for now. 4. Arnie Eisen, new chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, who approved of gays in the rabbinate. What changes will he be making this year? 5. Jerusalem. The fight is on over its unification: eternal, or subject to compromise? 6. Dr. Eliyahu Winograd, whose commission of inquiry on the conduct of Israel’s political and military leaders during the ‘06 war in Lebanon will be completed in 2008, and could determine the fate of Ehud Olmert, and others.

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10/01/2009 - 12:27

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