When the incoming Congress and the Obama administration start zeroing in on complex, politically charged issues of taxation and government spending, there is a very real danger they will look for political easy ways out — which, if history is a guide, means heaping most of the burden on the nation's most vulnerable citizens.
Perhaps the only positive aspect of the religious ruling made last week by 39 prominent rabbis in Israel — some of whom are state employees — banning the sale or rental of homes to non-Jews, aimed primarily at Arabs, was the major backlash against it. A number of Israeli colleagues and more than 750 diaspora rabbis, mostly from the U.S., spoke out against the ban as discrimination and, in the words of the diaspora petition, “a painful distortion of our tradition.”
We’ve become almost numb to revelations about President Richard Nixon’s anti-Semitism and the climate of bigotry he created at the White House, but last week’s release of still more White House tapes was something different: Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a Jew whose family fled Nazi Germany in 1938, was heard offering the most callous imaginable assessment of U.S. policy toward those Soviet Jews who were also seeking freedom from tyranny.
While the now-extinguished fires in northern Israel were an unimaginable catastrophe for the tiny nation — which, more than almost any other, cherishes its trees — there were heartening aspects of the fatal disaster.
It’s hardly surprising that U.S. efforts to coax Israel into extending its West Bank settlement freeze seem to have derailed. What was unclear from the initial reports: does the Obama administration have a Plan B, or does this represent the effective end of its efforts to find a route to peace for Israel and the Palestinians?
From the beginning, it never made much sense to us to invest U.S. prestige in an unbecoming effort to lure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to the peace table with a rich package of incentives that included F-35 warplanes.
Sometimes it seems the nastiness of Israeli politics is surpassed only by the nastiness of Israeli religious politics. And so it is that one of the bright spots in the Knesset, Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, who has courageously advocated for a solution to the conversion crisis based on halachic sources, has been, in effect, removed from the Shas party and, worse still, compared to Amalek, the biblical figure who embodies pure evil.
This week’s WikiLeaks dump of more than 200,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables contained few bombshells but a lot of revealing information about complex diplomatic interactions, including diplomacy aimed at confronting the Iranian nuclear threat.
It also raised troubling questions about when government secrecy is appropriate. Effective diplomacy becomes all but impossible when leaders of nations and their ambassadors can’t express themselves freely to each other, without fear of producing international headlines.
It’s often said that after 9/11, Americans joined Israelis in understanding the harsh everyday realities of this age of terrorism. The current furor over more intrusive airport screenings suggests that isn’t entirely true. Living in a country where only a tiny minority has been personally touched by the terrorist menace, we seem to want our security but to pay no price for it.
Jonathan Pollard is entering his 26th year in prison, and there’s a minor buzz in Washington about what JTA Washington correspondent Ron Kampeas called “the biggest push in years” to free the Israeli spy (See story on page 35). That effort includes a letter signed by 39 House Democrats calling for his release and a similar statement by former Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb. There are also wispy rumors his release could be part of the U.S. incentives package offered to Israel in return for a 90-day extension of its settlement moratorium.
At a time of increasingly worrisome polarization in our society, and, closest to home, in the Jewish community — on issues ranging from domestic politics to the Mideast peace process — we welcome the initiative of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) in drafting and circulating a Civility Covenant calling for “healthy, respectful dialogue based on our love for our neighbors and our people.” (See www.jewishpublicaffairs.org)