Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hammerman on Ethics: Is It Ethical to Read My Husband's Email?

Is It Ethical to Read My Husband's Email?

Q. Is it ethical to read my husband’s email? I don't have reason to think he's cheating, but I' m the nervous type…

You really have two compelling reasons not to open your spouse’s email: 1) he’s given you no reason not to trust him and 2) even if he were cheating, he’d be an absolute idiot to leave an email trail.....

See the complete answer here.

Our 7th Grade Class at their Recent Aliyah Service

Photo courtesy of Beth Madison

Friday, June 25, 2010

Gilad Shalit: Four Years a Captive

From Jewish Ideas Daily

Today marks four years since Palestinian infiltrators tunneled their way from Gaza into Israel, opening fire on an open-hatched tank, killing two IDF soldiers, and taking the third, Gilad Shalit, prisoner. Before long, Hamas announced it was prepared to exchange Shalit for 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners held by Israel. Then-premier Ehud Olmert declared that Jerusalem would not give in to blackmail. "We will hold no negotiations over the release of prisoners." That was then. Click for the full article

When Gilad Shalit was 11 years old, he wrote a story, "When the Shark and the Fish First Met" about two enemies that later became friends. Last year, his story was read by kids from all over the world.This year, take this opportunity to read the story and share it with others.Click here to listen to "When the Shark and the Fish First Met".Click here to download the book.

Who Speaks for American Jews?

As the programming year winds down and people begin to scatter, I'm pleased to announce that this fall's Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture promises to be one of the most noteworthy in the history of this prestigious series. Save the date of Thursday, October 7, for a dialogue on a topic of great importance to all of us, Israel's future.

The question now isn't merely how to make the best case for Israel, but who should make it. The upstart group on the Israel Advocacy scene is J-Street, which claims, with some justification, to give political voice to the mainstream of American Jews, supporters of Israel who have progressive values and a liberal-leaning political orientation. J-Street has gained quite a bit of traction recently, as Israel has become increasingly isolated, not only from its enemies, but from many friends in the US.

But the question arises as to whether it is healthy for Israel advocacy to come from multiple addresses. This past week, Congress was flooded with various pre-Israel letters, and our representatives had to decide whether to support the AIPAC letter, the J-Street letter, or both. Does J-Street's competing with AIPAC only serve to dilute Israel's core support - and the message of Israel's case? On the other hand, do J-Street's positions allow an important segment of America's Jews to be heard, especially those frustrated with the policies of the current Israeli government - and those who otherwise might stop supporting Israel altogether?

These, I submit, are the key questions faced by American Jews in regard to Israel today:

Can we get beyond the distractions of apartments in Jerusalem and boats on the Mediterranean?

Can we stand tough against extremists while still seeking out those might really want peace?

Can we speak in one loud voice on Iran while acknowledging differences - some nuanced, others more significant, in other areas?

Can we at last turn a corner on energy legislation that will free the world from Iranian blackmail and our environment from the stain of spillage?

And in the end, when we call out to our political leaders, whose voice will they hear? Who speaks for American Jews?

Looming over it all is the specter of Iran hovering on the verge of nuclear capability. Just hours ago, the House and Senate approved tough new sanctions, which the President now must sign. That will be helpful, reinforcing the actions of the Europeans and the the UN. It is up to the President to follow through, not only in signing the bill, but in making it stick, in action and in tough rhetoric. And it is now up to American Jews speak in one voice to make sure that happens. BUT CAN WE DO THAT?

So on October 7, our dialogue will feature J-Street's founder and director Jeremy Ben-Ami, along with Alan Dershowitz, whose, powerful, articulate defense of Israeli policies has made him perhaps the prime Israel advocate of them all. Rabbi Mark Golub will moderate the discussion - which I am hoping will not become a debate. Ben-Ami and Desrshowitz already debated once, at the 92nd St Y. We don't need that. The topic is too important - and Israel's fate too fragile - for this to become a contest of debating skill (they both very good at that). I know that Rabbi Golub, perhaps the best interviewer on the Jewish scene, will be able to help us all find some common ground.

So... Dershowitz - Ben Ami: At TBE on October 7.

Mark your calendars now.

Take Your Dog (or Ass) to Work Day

Today is "Take Your Dog to Work Day." I'll spare you by not bringing either of my dogs to services this gorgeous evening, outdoors at 6:30 (dress is casual), though it is tempting! But this week's Torah portion describes how the prophet Balaam did bring his pet to work, with interesting results. For him it was "Take Your Ass to Work Day," and for this latter-day Shrek, the donkey wouldn't let him get his work done. Eventually, though, as with most pets, the ass sensitized her master, and Balaam was a better person because of it. He came to curse Israel, saw how peacefully they dwelled in their tents and composed the immortal Mah Tovu prayer.

When you think about it, although he was not an Israelite, Balaam was like many Jews who come to synagogue these days. Many of us come into the sanctuary with preconceived negative notions ("Boy is this going to be b-o-r-i-n-g!"). This story teaches us that we should leave our prejudices at the door when we come into the sanctuary, enter with open minds and open hearts, ready to experience the holy. You might be surprised with what you discover.

Parshat Balak from G-dcast.com

More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com

Davennology 101: Exploring "Mah Tovu"

The "Mah Tovu" prayer, that beautiful declaration of awe traditionally recited upon entering the sanctuary, is based on a vision found in the portion Balak. The prophet Balaam comes to curse the Israelites, but then, overtaken by the peaceful beauty of their dwelling places, blesses them instead. I've assembled a number of commentaries on this short but rich prayer. Both the commentaries and the verses of the prayer itself come from a wide variety of sources.

In the spirit of my Davvenology series (a term coined by Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi), this collection of commentaries seeks to breathe life into this prayer by matching it with our life experiences. It is wonderful to be able to take not only from traditional commentaries, but also from modern Biblical criticism and contemporary interpretations as well. I include in my a section from Sh'ma magazine, in which we discover the sanctity embedded in every room of our homes (even the front porch).

The Mah Tovu prayer reminds us that each home is indeed a mini sanctuary, a "Mikdash Me'at."

I'll be posting more of my ongoing "Davvenology 101" series over the coming months.

To read the Davvenology 101 pdf, "Exploring Mah Tovu," click here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Call to Action - Iran Sanction Vote Approaches

With congressional votes on sanctions to take place over the next few days, see this video call-to-action just posted by a San Francisco congregation (featuring our old friend former Stamfordite Rabbi Stephen Pearce). Now is the time to contact our representatives.

Ask the Rabbi: Is it OK to Convert for Love?

Here is my latest response to an "Ask the Rabbi" question from About.com:

Q. I am writing to you because I was dating a Jewish man, though I myself am not Jewish. After breaking up a couple of times he came to the conclusion that it won't work because I am not Jewish. It hurts me to think that all of this is due to religious differences. I have offered to convert if it will make him happy, but both he and his family say that converting just because of him is not enough. I want to give our love a chance and make it work but I don't know where to go from here. Do you think that my conversion would be accepted in the Conservative faith if I only converted so that I could be with someone? Maybe if I tell his parents that a rabbi said my conversion would be "kosher" everyone will come around and things will turn out alright. I have no faith of my own and so converting to Judaism is not a spiritual struggle for me

A. Absolutely! Let 'em know a rabbi says it's OK. Use my name. Give them my e-mail address. I'd be happy to talk to them, anytime.

While traditionally, a rabbi is required to discourage conversion, things have changed quite a bit in recent years. Some rabbis are even actively proselytizing, something we hadn't seen in the Jewish world since Roman times. And even those who maintain more traditional standards would have much more sympathy to your predicament than they may have had a generation ago. See the full response here.

Israel: Misperceptions on Campus

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Emily Simon on Rosh Hodesh

Those of you who know me, may have gotten the impression that I like to stand out. If you have that impression…you would be right!

As you might be able to tell from my yarmulkes, my favorite colors are not your ordinary colors – neon green and neon orange.

Convinced yet?

You’ve been warned. I’m not the typical girl who is dying to go to the mall. I would rather be outside, enjoying the day. Also, unlike the typical girl, I would rather wear sneakers than flats or boots.

I hate pink. Let me put it in more socially acceptable language.

I abhor pink.

In part, I hate pink for the obvious reason- it clashes with my hair. But the main reason is that I want to be different, I want to stand out.

Standing out is a time honored Jewish tradition. We’ve always stood out. That’s what makes us Jews!

On Rosh Chodesh, we recall how Jewish women in particular were willing to stand out. According to the Midrash, Rosh Chodesh is considered a women’s holiday because at the time of the Golden Calf, the women were not willing to give up their jewelry to go against God and build the calf.
In yesterday’s Torah portion, Parshat Korach, there were four men who planned to lead a rebellion against Moshe because they wanted more power: Korach, Datan, Aviram, and Own. In the end, when they were about to pass the point of no return, Own’s name mysteriously disappears. We are told by the Midrash, that Own’s wife courageously convinced her husband to repent and separate himself from Korach, Datan, and Aviram’s evil plot.

Rosh Chodesh also teaches us that you can play an important role even if you don’t always shine the brightest. After all, Rosh Chodesh celebrates the cycles of the moon. The moon may not shine as bright as the sun, but without the moon we would have no tides, no light at night, and it provided us with the first mitzvah of the Torah, which was to commemorate the beginning of the month of Passover.One way that Jews stand out, is through Mitzvoth. For my Mitzvah Project, my friend Renee and I donated food to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County.

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Rebecca Rakowitz on Korach

Now that I am a teenager, I am expected to be an expert at many things ranging from speed texting, to spending my parents’ money, to, of course, rebelling and / or complaining.

It so happens that I’m one step ahead of the game seeing as I’ve been a skilled complainer for a long time. In fact, I’ve been complaining my whole life! Some might say I was born a teenager – and I have the baby tapes to prove it!

There was this one incident where I didn’t want to eat my yogurt with a spoon. After to complaining to my mom over and over in my 9 month old way, I tried to drink it instead and it got all over my face and in my eyes. My mom just kept taping me crying…..she makes me watch it periodically, HER laughing hysterically and ME crying and embarrassed.

My portion, Korach, contains the story of the biggest rebellion in the entire Bible! Korach, acted almost like a teenager might’ve. After all, look what Korach does:

· He argues for his own selfish reasons, although he claims to be arguing on behalf of the people.
· He was unable to see the other person’s perspective because he thought his was the only and best perspective

It says in the rabbinic text known as Pirkay Avot:

“Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will in the end endure.
Any dispute that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure.
Which is a dispute that is for the sake of heaven? The disputes of the sages Hillel and Shammai.
Which is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire congregation.”

This is an important passage because it reminds us that there are two liable sides to almost every argument- EXCEPT for when you are arguing for selfish reasons and, as the text puts it, not arguing for the sake of heaven”

So Judaism teaches us that arguing is good. It’s alright to disagree with an authority – AS LONG as you are doing it for the right reasons.

SO…..Teen rebellion can be OK!

I’m a big movie fan and I’ve learned a lot about teen rebellion from movies, especially from those old favorites from the ‘80s that I’ve seen countless times with my Dad, including the classics like Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day off.

These movies are all about teen rebellion. Ferris was a bit self-centered and went against many people including his parents to get what he wanted; a good time and a day off from school. Then again, it isn’t that bad compared to what Korach did. It’s much worse to try to seize leadership for your own selfish reasons than it is to skip school and stand on a parade float singing “Danka Schoen” in Chicago. In Dirty Dancing the young people are rebelling against authority and parents – but they had a higher cause: greater freedom and better treatment for the workers.

I’ve learned from my own experiences how important it is to argue for the right reasons. At school I campaigned for us to be able to wear sandals. With the help of complaints from other students and parents, we can now wear them – at least until the end of the year. When my principal didn’t budge at first I wanted to keep fighting it and protesting the dress code rules. My mom told me though, that you need to know how to pick and choose your battles and that there might be more important things I should be rebelling for.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of a pilot Bar and Bat Mitzvah Friendship Circle program, where teens befriend those with special needs. This is not a place where people argue at all but it really has taught me an important lesson that’ll help me when I do argue: you need to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective even if it is hard. It’s definitely hard to understand what a child with special needs is thinking but it is so rewarding when you “break through.” Imagine my joy when I was able to teach a friend something that is so easy and second hand to me but was so hard for him – like how to kick a soccer ball.

So now that I am a bat mitzvah and am ready to take on the responsibilities of Jewish adulthood, I now understand how to “know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” There are some battles that do need to be fought - but they need to be fought for the right reasons, for the sake of heaven.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Setting The NY Times Straight on Flotilla Terror Ties

New York Times Needs My Help to Find Flotilla Planners' Terrorist Ties: OK! Here's A Start for Their Research
By Barry Rubin*
June 12, 2010


The New York Times is a vast and wealthy organization with highly paid reporters and news bureaus around the world. Unfortunately, however, it seems to need a little help in gathering the news. In an editorial, the newspaper has held forth with the following sentence:
"The Israelis claim that Insani Yardim Vakfi is a dangerous organization with terrorist links. They have yet to offer any evidence to support that charge."
This is like Goldstone who keeps saying that no one has challenged his report despite literally hundreds of specific refutations. It is like the little boy who doesn't want to hear something, puts his hands over his ears, and keeps yelling, "I don't hear you!"It does, however, mark some retreat from the Times earlier statement of intense suspicion about documented Israeli claims, in which one of its writers dismisses the video footage of the soldiers being attacked with these words: "Those images of commandos being attacked with clubs and chairs are lacking context. Were they shot before or after the boarding party started using force?"Of course, the video clearly shows the deck of the ship with no Israeli soldiers on it. There is no fighting at all. The first soldier comes down the rope, holding on with both hands. He is attacked. Then a second, he is attacked. And so on for the next two. So how could the boarding party be using force when it had not yet boarded? How's that for context?In other words, the Times has updated the three famous monkeys: See no terrorism, Hear no terrorism, Report no terrorism.
But since I had an hour to spare, I decided to offer my services to the New York Times to provide some evidence about IHH links to terrorism. I offer this to the Times for publication, further research, and the names of people who might be interviewed. If the newspaper wants more of my research services, I suggest it hires me as a consultant. Otherwise, it might assign some reporters to open their eyes and read material that is available easily from reliable sources. Or they might actually do some research themselves!OK here is some of the evidence the Times says hasn't been offered:
--Hamas is a terrorist organization and IHH has acted as a support group helping Hamas obtain political support and supplies. Just as Americans are arrested for furnishing equipment and money to terrorist groups as constituting "terrorist links" the same applies to the IHH. The IHH has organized propaganda and raised money for Hamas, furnished money for the families of Hamas terrorist casualties, and performed many other services which, as noted above, makes it an organization with "terrorist links."
--Turkish raids by previous government calling IHH terrorist. In 1997, a Turkish security force raid discovered in the IHH headquarters weapons, explosives, instructions for making bombs, and other furnishings that indicate it has terrorist links. Turkish reports say that the documents captured shows that IHH members, with organizational support, were being dispatched as Jihad warriors in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. The group was also found to have bought automatic weapons.
--A report commissioned by the Danish government is full of data about terrorist links. See here and here.
This is how it opens the section on IHH:"Yet, the phenomenon of charitable front groups that provide support to Al-Qaida [includes]...the so-called Foundation for Human Rights, Liberties, and Humanitarian Relief (IHH).
--The respected French counterterrorism magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, has revealed, in the words of the Danish report:"IHH leader, Bülent Yildirim [who organized the Gaza flotilla], was directly involved in recruiting "veteran soldiers" to organize jihad activities. According to the French report, a number of operatives were sent by IHH into war zones in Islamic countries to gain combat experience. The report also stated that IHH transferred money, 'caches of firearms, knives and pre-fabricated explosives' to Muslim fighters in those countries."
An examination of IHH's telephone records in 1996 showed repeated calls in 1996 to an Al-Qaeda guest house in Milan and to Algerian terrorists operating in Europe (one of whom was notorious Al-Qaeda figure Abu Ma'ali [Abd al-Qadr Mukhtari], who operated in Bosnia)."
--IHH, according to Bruguière, was also involved in a terrorist attack on the United States, as he testified at the trial of Ahmed Ressam, a senior al-Qaida operative who in 1999 entered the United States with 1320 pounds of explosives planning to carry out a massive attack at Los Angeles International Airport. He testified that IHH had played an important role in the attempted attack, providing forged documents, agents who helped Ressam, and weapons for al-Qaida. In recent days, Bruguière has repeated his statements on IHH noting there have been attempts to intimidate him into silence.
--Statement by Mete Cubukcu, editor-in-chief of NTV, one of Turkey's largest television networks, on the German Television One show, that IHH was linked to international terrorism. Note also the presence of BPP cadre working with IHH, a party which left-wing German groups--including the one that furnished part of the flotilla passengers--described as violent and neo-Nazi. Here it is in:GermanFrenchEnglish
--IHH is part of the Union of Good, designated as a Hamas front group by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
According to this U.S. government agency: "The Union of Good's executive leadership and board of directors includes Hamas leaders, Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), and other terrorist supporters."You are also welcome to examine this detailed report from Israel on terrorist links of the IHH.Let me repeat the New York Times claim:"The Israelis claim that Insani Yardim Vakfi is a dangerous organization with terrorist links. They have yet to offer any evidence to support that charge."
Ok. Here's what I rounded up in less than an hour. I'm offering it to you for free. Now do some work of your own and issue a retraction since Israel had offered evidence. We are waiting.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Search of Peace (Israel 21c)

In the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid, the world's press may now be focusing exclusively on the seemingly unsolvable battle between the Arabs and the Jews, but peacemakers all over the region continue to work quietly towards a better future.

Find out more in our stories below from Israel 21c:

Israeli and Jordanian women, in business, for peace An Israeli-American academic has initiated a program that may both advance disadvantaged women from Israel and Jordan and build peace among nations.

Anyone for tennis? The Israel Tennis Center hopes to produce a professional, top caliber, mixed Jewish-Arab team that will represent Israel in prestigious international tournaments.

The economic reality of coexistence Despite economic hardships, Jewish and Arab youth will continue their rare ongoing dialogue, promises the staff at the Givat Haviva Center for Peace.

Galilee moms come together for peace [Video] For a group of Jewish, Christian, Druse and Moslem mothers living in Israel's Galilee region, peace starts in the home.

To dignify diversity The Merchavim Institute works to educate Israeli society by training Arab and Jewish teachers to pass on to their students a sensitivity to diversity.

Ten top Israeli business ventures that inspire peace in the Middle East Peace in the Middle East may seem elusive, but Jews and Arabs across Israel are working hard to create bridges though business. ISRAEL21c brings you a list of Israel's top ten coexistence business ventures.

Swinging from the coexistence trapeze Just one day "at the circus" leads to remarkable changes in the way Israeli Jewish, Muslim and Christian high school students relate to each other.

Giving voice to peace [Video] A Jaffa youth choir that combines the voices of Jewish and Arabs girls isn't just sharing its message of coexistence, it's practicing it out loud.

Incubating peace with Israel's Arab sector A flagship incubator in Israel is helping to create coexistence while ensuring that Muslim and Christian Israeli Arabs develop expertise in biotech and the life sciences.

Giving birth to peace A group of Palestinian and Israeli midwives are working together to ensure that pregnant mothers in Israel and the Palestinian territories have safe and natural births.

Israelis and Jordanians unite for emergency preparedness A regional emergency response team of Jordanians and Israelis is forging collaboration that could save lives and contribute to real peace between the two peoples.

Ushering Israel's Arabs into the global village An Israeli billionaire businessman with a social conscience is building a technology park in an Israeli Arab city, hoping to develop the residents' entrepreneurial spirit.

Hammerman on Ethics: Helen Thomas: Should We Forgive an Anti-Semite Who Apologizes?

Helen Thomas: Should We Forgive an Anti-Semite Who Apologizes?

The Rebbe and the Messianic Message

(Two fascinating books and several articles have appeared recently regarding Habad and their rebbe. No one can deny the tremendous impact Rabbi Schneerson has made on Jewish life, nor can we deny the power of the messianic thread in Jewish history. Nor can we deny the danger of unbounded messianism unleashed. The new books shed light on this issue. See this summary essay below from Jewish Ideas Daily an excellent source for thought-provoking materials. Sign up for their daily e-mails! But first, click here to see an article I wrote on the topic of the rebbe and messianism a number of years ago. )

The story of Lubavitcher Hasidism in our time is nothing short of astounding. Here is an ultra-Orthodox sect, deployed all over the world, exuberantly engaged with non-observant Jews and with non-Jews, availing itself of every imaginable form of contemporary communications technology. What was, for generations, the most intellectual and scholastic-minded hasidic dynasty—its other name, Chabad, is an acronym for "Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge"—has become an ecstatic mass movement. At the heart of it all is the seventh and last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), who died childless—and whom some substantial number of his followers forthrightly regard as the messiah.

Recent publications deepen our understanding of this extraordinary figure. A new biography by Menachem Friedman and Samuel Heilman is especially interesting for its exploration of Schneerson's life prior to his 1951 assumption of the dynastic mantle after the death of his father-in-law, and especially during the 1930s when as a young man he divided his time between studying philosophy and engineering in Paris and Berlin. The authors' conclusion—that Schneerson's rabbinical vocation emerged only once he found himself a refugee in America—has already angered many Chabad Hasidim. Undoubtedly, though, these early experiences were central to his later ability to adapt his teachings and organization to the temper and mores of his times. It was he who sent emissaries (shluhim) everywhere and made deft use not only of technology and America's global centrality but of such passing currents as the idealism of the Peace Corps, the counterculture of the 1960s, the turn to ethnicity and "roots," and the return to traditional values.

Central to his energy and vision was, indeed, messianism. In an inaugural homily, he articulated his central doctrine. The Kabbalah teaches that the divine presence descends to this world, hitting bottom at the seventh and lowest level of existence—the point from which, paradoxically, redemption ascends. It would be the task of his, the seventh generation of Chabad, and of himself, the seventh rebbe, to redeem the world from the bottom up.

In another recent book, the scholar Elliot Wolfson makes clear just how far-reaching was the redemption the Rebbe sought. Teasing out the recesses of his mystical thought (and writing in an intensely recondite idiom of his own), Wolfson reconstructs a skein of esoteric teachings running through Chabad back to the time of its founding figure in the late-18th century. In this conception, the final messianic redemption will involve a decisive transformation of human consciousness through the dissolution of all differences and distinctions, of human finitude and of time itself, into the perfect eternal simplicity of God.

Many of the Rebbe's followers today do not insist on his continued literal existence, or that he will soon return in his person to complete the redemption. But many do so insist, and in Israel their numbers are growing. If Wolfson is right, they misunderstand his teachings more deeply than they know. The question facing Chabad is how it will endure in the absence of a rebbe who was, by definition, the very last. The question that Chabad poses to the rest of the Jewish world is how something like this movement's passion, commitment, and creativity can animate the work of those who do not share its messianic ardor.

The Rebbe and His Biographers Allan Nadler, Forward. Friedman and Heilman, while scanting Chabad's social and political history under Schneerson's leadership, as well as key aspects of his spiritual development, offer a provocative interpretation of his life, death, and afterlife.

The Berlin-Paris Years Chabad-Revisited. Lubavitch hasidim take issue with Friedman and Heilman's reconstruction of the period 1927-1940.

How The Lubavitcher Rebbe Lives On - Gary Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week

Chabad's Lost Messiah Tomer Persico, Azure. Messianism was at the heart of the Rebbe's vision of Chabad and himself.

The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Jews David Berger, Commentary. Belief in the Rebbe's messiahship shatters a core tenet of Judaism and erases a fundamental difference with Christianity; why has it gone largely unopposed?

Conservative and Reform Leaders Meet with Sharansky and Silverman

Conservative and Reform Leaders Meet with Sharansky and Silverman
The Jewish Federations of North America convenes discussion on proposed Knesset conversion bill

The leaders of the Conservative and Reform religious movements in North American Jewry met Tuesday with Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky at a meeting hosted by Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.
This followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent request that Sharansky dialogue with Diaspora leaders on issues of mutual interest. Sharansky initiated this week's discussion after he met with Conservative and Reform representatives in Israel to discuss their concerns about proposed legislation in the Israeli Knesset regarding conversion to Judaism.

Netanyahu last week wrote to the Conservative and Reform movements that any proposed legislation would ensure the unity "of the entire Jewish people." This week's meeting, which Silverman hosted, included Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement and Dr. Misha Galperin, the Jewish Agency's incoming head of Global External Affairs.

The rabbis repeated their concern that no single religious stream has authority to oversee or approve conversions. Sharansky assured the participants that he would communicate their views to the Prime Minister and would work with the Knesset to ensure that any legislation moving forward would reflect these concerns.

"This has been a very constructive start to an important dialogue," Sharansky said. "The Jewish State is a state of all Jews and the Government of Israel must balance its political concerns with the concerns of the Jewish people the world over. I am engaging in dialogue with all relevant parties at the request of the Prime Minister, fulfilling the Jewish Agency's historic role as the nexus between world Jewish communities and the State of Israel."

In March, a controversy erupted over proposed amendments to a bill intended to create local municipal conversion courts in Israel.

The amendments would, for the first time, place legislative authority for conversion under the offices of the Chief Rabbi. Leaders of Diaspora Jewry and the religious streams objected to the amendments that placed conversion in the hands of one religious stream because conversion is, by its nature, directly linked to the Law of Return and is therefore a matter affecting the world Jewish community.

"Since this issue arose, the Jewish Federations have partnered with the Jewish Agency to represent the concerns of Diaspora Jewry. By hosting this gathering of key partners in the religious movements, we are helping to ensure that our community is acting in unison to shape the best outcome," said Silverman.

The Jewish Agency, which has on its board representatives of the major Jewish streams, has long served as the body representing the Jewish world to the Government of Israel on matters concerning world Jewry.

Media Coverage of the Conversion Bill

Coverage of recent developments:
MK, Non-Orthodox Clash On Conversions, The Jewish Week, May 4th.
Conversion Division, Letter to the Editor by Reuven Hammer, The Jerusalem Post, May 4th.
Pulling the wool over our eyes, by Andy Sacks, The Jerusalem Post, May 3rd.
U.S. Jews Fight Israeli Laws On Conversion, Huffington Post, May 5th.
Free-market Judaism, Editorial by The Jerusalem Post, May 3rd.
Israel Conversion Bill A Hard Sell To U.S. Jews, The Jewish Week, April 27th.
Jewish Leaders Oppose Conversion Bill, The Jerusalem Post, May 2nd.
She doesn't live here anymore, April 30th
Morris Allen's response to "She doesn't live here" article. May 4th

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Myths and Facts: Fact Sheet #75 - The Gaza Flotilla


Helen Thomas' Downfall - the Backstory

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Teenager Adam Nesenoff and his father, Rabbi David Nesenoff, are pretty far down the media food chain.

The son, an active member of the National Council for Synagogue Youth, the Orthodox Union’s affiliated youth group, runs his own newsy site, Shmoozepoint.com. Dad operates a website called RabbiLive.com and sometimes portrays the satirical character of Julio Ramirez, a Hispanic priest who teams with a rabbi to deliver “Holy Weather” reports.

So it was impressive enough that both managed to snag media credentials for the American Jewish Heritage Month celebration May 27 at the White House. But in the past week, the senior Nesenoff took things to another level, turning his few hours as a hobnobber into 15 minutes of fame as the YouTube journalist who brought down a media icon.

It was the rabbi, armed with a camera and accompanied by his son and his teenage friend, who went around asking notables if they had any "comments on Israel."

As the world now knows, Helen Thomas sure did.

"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," the doyenne of the Washington press corps said, and laughed. "Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land."

Nesenoff asked where she thought they should go.

"Go home," she responded.

Asked to elaborate, Thomas said, “Poland, Germany,” and after more prompting by the rabbi, added “and America, and everywhere else.”

The rabbi didn’t post the video until June 3, but it quickly gained national attention, unleashing a flurry of demands for Thomas’ marginalization, if not dismissal.

On Monday, Thomas, 89, heeded the calls and quit, according to her employer, the Hearst Corp. Thomas' phone number was not answering.

The Nesenoff video went viral after being picked up by Yidwithlid, a popular site run by the conservative commentator Sammy Benoit, and then posted to the hyper-popular conservative video site Breitbart TV.

That's when the complaints started: First out of the box was B'nai B'rith International, which issued a June 4 statement from its president, Dennis Glick, demanding that Thomas be fired.
A diverse slew of other Jewish organizations soon followed with their own condemnations. Officials of the two most recent administrations -- Ari Fleischer of the Bush administration and Lanny Davis of the Clinton administration -- also slammed Thomas and called for her to be sacked.

The first death knell for Thomas' career, though, probably came when she found herself being criticized on liberal websites such as Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo, which have long lauded her for asking discomfiting questions of presidents -- particularly her encounters with George W. Bush during the Iraq War.

Joe Klein, the Time magazine scribe who has been a tough critic of Israel's Netanyahu government, called her views "odious" and said she should no longer have the privilege, accorded by the White House Correspondents Association, of a front row center seat.

Thomas' apology, posted June 4, preceded most of the broadsides against her.

"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians," she said in the apology. "They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

Critics, including the Anti-Defamation League, said it did not go far enough.

By Monday, such requests appeared moot: After a series of blows, it was clear her career was finished.

On Sunday, Thomas was dropped by her speaking agent, Nine Speakers. The following day, the Washington Post reported that Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md. -- a Washington suburb with a substantial Jewish population -- was withdrawing its invitation to Thomas to be commencement speaker.

The final blow was a one-two: The White House Correspondents Association met to consider her front-row center perch. And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the remarks "offensive and reprehensible."

The die was cast: Midday Monday, Hearst announced her retirement.

"Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately," said a statement issued Monday by the corporation. "Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet."

It was a rapid fall for a woman who had become a liberal icon.

Thomas was a perennial, admired for becoming, during the Kennedy administration, one of the first women to cover the White House beat. She was granted the first question at news conferences, and finished each conference with a "Thank you Mr. President." She earned the ultimate Washington status symbol: cameos in movies about politics.

Thomas, for decades a consummate insider who had watched her beloved UPI diminish into irrelevance, embraced her new status as an irascible outsider. In 2006 she published the book "Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public."

Her posture as maverick was something of a feint: Washington has long nurtured an establishment journalist culture that cozies up to power, and Thomas since the 1960s was one of its denizens, hobnobbing with the Kennedys, the Johnsons and their confidants.

Thomas, the child of Lebanese immigrants, was known to be a fierce critic of Israel and what she saw as the unwillingness of successive administrations to speak out against Jerusalem's perceived misdeeds.

Her most recent encounter with Gibbs, after Israel's raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship, came after her remarks to Nesenoff but before he revealed them to the world.

She called Israel's raid a "deliberate massacre" and said the White House's expression of "regret" was "pitiful."

Dan Mariaschin, the director of B’nai B’rith, said Thomas' comments should have come as no surprise.

"There's a Yiddish expression, 'What's on your lung is on your tongue,’ " he said. "She has a long record of being purposefully hypercritical of Israel."

Mariaschin acknowledged that the timing was against her. B’nai B’rith would have called for her dismissal even without the opprobrium visited on Israel after the flotilla raid, but it didn't help, he said.

"The timing was such that, coming as it did right after the flotilla issue, I think perhaps it brought her comments into even starker focus," he said.

Nesenoff, of Stony Brook, N.Y., said he had accompanied his son and his friend to share the joyful experience of the White House's Jewish celebration.

Adam Nesenoff, 17, who in addition to running his own website is his father's webmaster, had applied for a media credential after hearing that the event would have a youthful emphasis. The elder Nesenoff asked the White House if he could join his son, explaining that otherwise he would be stuck outside the whole day waiting to drive him home.

They wandered the grounds near the White House press room before the event. Rabbi Nesenoff said he pointed out Thomas to the teens because she was a press icon. He was vaguely aware she had views critical of Israel, but did not think she would be vicious.

"People can have their opinions, but this was 'Get out of the whole land, cleanse the whole land of Jews," he said. "We're there in our Shabbos best, we had driven down -- we were taken back. If it was a skinhead in a parking lot -- but here's this sweet little old lady on the White House grounds. We were hurt."

Nesenoff said he still hopes for a more expansive apology from Thomas.

"She has to do a little 'tikkun olam,' ” the rabbis said. “I hope to God she lives a very long time; she has business yet."

Evidence Emerges of Government-Flotilla Link; Brave Turkish Nationalists Try to Calm Things Down

Flash: Major New Development in Flotilla Story? Evidence Emerges of Government-Flotilla Link; Brave Turkish Nationalists Try to Calm Things Down
By Barry Rubin*
June 9, 2010

I've written about how the Gaza flotilla issue and stirring up a hysterical hatred of Israel is playing a role in internal Turkish politics as the government tries to use this demagoguery to continue eroding Turkish democracy and to win the next election. And a little later I'm going to talk about a major new development in the flotilla story.

In addition, while Turks are united in anger and sorrow about the deaths of nine of their citizens, they do not necessarily agree with the current government's extremist response which threatens to lead to involving Turkey in violence and damaging its reputation abroad.

The leader of the main opposition, Ataturkist and social democratic party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu stated that Prime Minister Erdogan, "Almost declared war against Israel in his party's meeting....Our party displays a more moderate and careful approach. Foreign policy can't be carried out with heroism but with reason. The Turkish Foreign Ministry should publicly disclose correspondence made with Israel so that we may all learn whether Israel warned Turkey or not."

Now you might ask yourself what is Kilicdaroglu hinting at here? And the answer is important and potentially explosive. There is a widespread story, which cannot yet be verified but seems to be more than a rumor, for why this tragedy might have happened. People ask: Why did the Israeli soldiers land on a ship where they should have expected to be received with a violent attack?

According to some people who are in a position to know, here's the reason: Erdogan assured Israel that the ship's passengers were peaceful and there would be no violence. That's why Israel approached taking and diverting the ship in the manner it did. Is this true? I don't know but it is definitely a story to watch. And here--the important development I referred to above--is the most detailed account yet of the connection between the Turkish government and the IHH, a group with terrorist connections which organized the flotilla and initiated the violence. Don't fail to check out this source, which I've found to be very reliable over the years.

It is understandable, especially given what they've been told by their government and media, that Turks are very upset about the deaths. Yet it is important to understand that there are different views in Turkey over how to handle this problem. The government wants a confrontation and has been moving into an alliance with Iran and Syria long before the latest events. The opposition wants to uphold Turkish honor but not to break with the West or turn this into a near-war situation with Israel.

Here's an interesting example.Erdogan said that Israel's peaceful seizure of five boats and its self-defense on the sixth (you can imagine, these aren't his words) was against Judaism, a subject on which he purports to be an expert.

Kilicdaroglu, responded: Erdogan knows the Torah; we thank him. What does its sixth commandment say? Do not kill! But the holy book also has an eighth commandment, which says 'Do not steal.' And the ninth commandment says 'Do not lie.'"

Kilicdaroglu has built his career on fighting the current government's corruption and presumably will make a major election theme.

Erdogan responded by accusing the leader of the opposition of being an apologist for Israel, saying among other things,: "He is acting like Tel Aviv's lawyer." The attempt is to paint the opposition leader as a flunky of the hated state, another step in the regime's effort to transform Turkish politics into something more closely resembling those of Egypt, Syria, or Iran.

*Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. You can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

Top 10 Signs Your Rabbi Is Also A Boxer

Top 10 Signs Your Rabbi Is Also A Boxer

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Doubting (Helen) Thomas & Reflecting on Her Demise

A lot of people are having fun at Helen Thomas' expense today. Andy Borowitz concocted this headline: Helen Thomas Named New BP Spokesperson.

She needed to resign. No question that her comments were shocking and offensive for a person of any age. The "ol geezer" alibi just won't cut it, even though we've all heard embarrassing comments emerge from the mouths of that-great-uncle-who-just-won't-shut-up. So Thomas, like Reverent Wright before her, is an embarrassment. I'm amazed that a person in so public a position has never slipped up so blatantly before.

But part of me feels very unclean about the viral nature of this instant trial, this "Gotcha" journalism that has now become so pronounced in the blogosphere. It reeks of what Jewish law calls rechilut, tale bearing. it is one of the worst forms of gossip (Lashon ha-ra), and it is gossip even if it is true.

Were Thomas already retired, it would be even worse. As it is, with her position of respect and prominence, someone presenting views like that is dangerous. So she needed to be exposed to her employers and stopped. But maybe the rebuke could have been done more privately - a tack also supported by Jewish sources.

I know and respect the rabbi who exposed Thomas. I've no doubt that he was as shocked as the rest of us by her words and he responded as I likely would have done. So I'm not calling him out on this (otherwise, I should have done it privately too!).

I'm just hoping we all can step back and not feel so smug that we may have "nabbed one." Anti-Semites won't disappear if we take them out, one at a time. And I'm not convinced that Thomas was always an anti-Semite, or is right now, even if what she said was clearly vile and anti-Semitic.

Hammerman on Ethics: Is it OK to Hide a Fugitive From the Police?

Hammerman on Ethics: Is it OK to Hide a Fugitive From the Police?
Q: You are out for a walk one night and you see a man running towards you. He looks terrified, stressed and panicked. He comes up to you with tears in his eyes and says, “I am going to hide right here. I can’t run anymore. I didn’t do anything wrong. Please, promise me you won’t tell them where I am!”

So you promise the man, he hides behind a bush and you keep walking.

Ten seconds later four men turn the corner where the panicked man had come from and head towards you. As they get closer you see that they are, indeed, police officers. They walk up to you and ask if you have seen the man they were chasing. What do you do? Do you lie? Why?
A: Turn him in – probably.

In America we begin with a presumption of innocence. What matters most in Jewish law, however, is the preservation of innocent life. Virtually all obligations and prohibitions may be suspended in order to save a life. That concept, known as pikuach nefesh, can guide us here.
(for the complete answer, click here)

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Watershed Week for Pluralism in Israel

I received this very encouraging update today from the Israel Religious Action Committee

It’s been a tough week. Thanks to all of you who bore with the rather ominous message I sent out last Monday and wrote back with your comments and questions. I was grateful for the chance to talk about the Gaza Flotilla during a special CCAR conference call.

And now, back to business: pluralism.

May 25th was a historic moment for the Knesset: the first ever assembly of a new lobby dedicated to the need for greater religious pluralism in Israel.

The Knesset session, led by MK Nitzan Horowitz of the Meretz Party and MK Shlomo Molla from Kadima, was packed with brainy, passionate people who all had woken up well before the rest of the country with the realization that things need to change here – and fast.

Professor Danny Mendler of the Chemistry Department at Hebrew University stood up at the meeting and asked – “why are we, the majority in Israel [referring to non ultra-Orthodox Jews] trying to figure out how to fight for our rights? Why are we letting ourselves be coerced by a religious minority? As a scientist, it makes no sense to me.”

I spoke about how the Kotel, once a national symbol, now a discotheque-synagogue for the ultra-Orthodox, had to be liberated once more. I was dead serious when I said that the Kotel has become a symbol of the helplessness of the secular – or non-Orthodox – majority in Israel to assert their religious rights.

And perhaps so many Israelis are reluctant to claim these rights because they’ve been turned off from Judaism completely, discouraged by the rampant corruption present in state-sponsored Orthodox Judaism and religious affairs. A young man from a secular yeshiva pointed out, “it’s not just that the ultra-Orthodox are ignorant of the modern world – secular Israelis are ignorant of Judaism.”

But imagine the good that would happen if more Israelis became involved in progressive Jewish communities, and discovered there’s more than one way to be Jewish.

Toward the end of the session, MK Dr. Einat Wilf of Labor said something very perceptive. “The first 100 years of Zionism were about nationalism and the state,” she said. “The next 100 will be about Judaism.” In other words, who is a Jew? Which Jews get to define Judaism for everyone else? And why should some Jews be allowed to determine the fate of the entire Jewish people?
Two days later, Kadima, the opposition party led by Tzipi Livni, held a daylong symposium on Jewish identity and pluralism. This is truly good news – one of the current coalition’s major parties has chosen to focus for the first time ever on issues of religion and state.

With two Knesset sessions in one week devoted to issues of pluralism and Jewish identity, defenders of religious pluralism are tapping into popular support for change.

Anat Hoffman

P.S. Click here for an interview I gave last month about the current religious climate in Israel on Chicago Public Radio.

P.P.S. And click here to read Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser’s note on Noa Raz.


And Religion and Justice for All?
By Peggy Cidor, The Jerusalem Post, May 28th, 2010
The observant Jewish Left is a rather new phenomenon in Israel – whether Reform, Conservative...read more...

'Haredi Students Have Seized Control of Hurva Synagogue'
By Abe Selig, The Jerusalem Post, June 6th, 2010
Although the rebuilding and rededication of the historic Hurva synagogue was welcomed with much read more...

PM Backs Dialogue on Conversion Bill 'To Ensure Unity'
By Jonah Mandel, The Jerusalem Post, June 5th, 2010
In his first public statement regarding the controversy surrounding Israel Beiteinu’s read more...

Emanuel Bar Mitzvah Goes Ahead in Old City, But Not at Western Wall
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz, May 31st, 2010
Zach Emanuel, the son of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, celebrated his bar mitzvah at the read more...

Braverman: Israel Should Embrace its Arabs, Haredim
By Mike Dagan, Haaretz, June 1st, 2010
Israel should do more to integrate its Arab and Haredi sectors, Minister of Minority Affairs Avishay Braverman read more...

New Knesset Lobby Promotes Civil Equality and Pluralism
By Jonah Mandel, The Jerusalem Post, May 27th, 2010
A new Knesset lobby plans to establish a team to monitor and react to violence and harassment read more...


On May 23, Israel's chief rabbinate issued new regulations requiring prospective couples whose parents had been married by someone other than a rabbinate-approved rabbi to apply, along with their mothers, for a full inquiry into their Jewishness. In the meantime, making deft use of its authority over conversions to Judaism, the rabbinate has acted to delegitimize other rabbis, in particular from the Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist movements, as a whole. Founded as a body that would help unify the modern Jewish state, the rabbinate (Hebrew: rabbanut) has evolved into something else entirely. Continue reading today's feature, "The Chief Rabbinate."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flotilla Choir Presents: We Con the World

This one is going around.

The Flotilla: What We Know Now...

TBE's Rachel Leiterstein at a rally supporting Israel yesterday in New York

Here's the first problem. When we rush to judgment, we are almost always wrong. Here's the second problem. In this age of instant communication and ubiquitous punditry, everyone rushes to judgment. The third problem: just about everyone who rushed to judgment about the flotilla incident was wrong. Which leads to the fourth problem: Israel should have released its video proof of the violent intent of the so-called peace protesters many hours earlier. An entire news cycle came and went and the knee-jerk pontificators all had time to step up onto their soap boxes and pontificate.

Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic blog, "The Disappearance of Jewish Wisdom," highlights this problem - he admits that he doesn't have all the facts yet and that the protesters were "not exactly Ghandi-like," but can't entire suppress the temptation to pontificate anyway about Israel's lack of foresight.

With the dust now beginning to clear, we are getting a solid picture of where the Israelis could have done better - and why a bloody confrontation still might have been unavoidable. I participated an hour long briefing for rabbis from AIPAC yesterday via conference call. We learned that Israel indeed pursued several courses of action to avoid a confrontation, but that confrontation is what the radicals on this boat - and apparently the Turkish government - wanted. The signals of radicalization from Turkey are especially distressing. We also learned that, despite all the claims to the contrary, Israel is going to great lengths to ensure that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. You can see the documentation here.
Bülent Yildirim, the main organizer of the Gaza Flotilla, explained at a Hamas rally in Gaza that the operation was no humanitarian effort but part of a global Jihad to overthrow governments and install Islamist dictatorships. He made no secret of that fact, as shown in the MEMRI translation and video - see more details here.

AIPAC also provided an Action Alert, calling upon us to contact our representatives.

Click here to view statements made by VP Biden and members of Congress. See also House Majority Leader: Israel "Rightfully" Raided Flotilla and Sen. Lieberman Defends Israel Over Flotilla Raid.
Biden's comments on Charlie Rose:

"They've said, 'Here you go. You're in the Mediterranean. This ship -- if you divert slightly north you can unload it and we'll get the stuff into Gaza. So what's the big deal here? What's the big deal of insisting it go straight to Gaza? Well, it's legitimate for Israel to say, 'I don't know what's on that ship. These guys are dropping... 3,000 rockets on my people. "Look, you can argue whether Israel should have dropped people onto that ship or not -- but the truth of the matter is, Israel has a right to know -- they're at war with Hamas -- has a right to know whether or not arms are being smuggled in." Biden also blamed Hamas for the crisis that has wracked the coastal territory and for the ongoing state of conflict with Israel.
As we put pressure, and the world put pressure on Israel to let material go into Gaza to help those people who are suffering, the ordinary Palestinians there, what happened? Hamas would confiscate it, put it in a warehouse [and] sell it. So the problem is this would end tomorrow if Hamas agreed to form a government with the Palestinian Authority on the conditions the international community has set up."

Click here to watch the interview.

Jim Himes, BTW, released the following statement on June 1:

“Israel is our good friend and our only long term ally in a dangerous part of the world. As Americans we do not rush to judgment before we have the facts. As tragic as the situation in the Mediterranean is, I urge all parties involved to do all they can to reduce tension and to allow the facts to be examined.”

Correctly, he did not rush to judgment on June 1. Now that it is June 4, I've contacted Himes' office to thank him for his wisdom in that initial response and to see if there might be an updated statement reflecting his current perceptions.

President Obama has said some encouraging things as well, here with Larry King:
President Barack Obama told CNN's Larry King on Thursday: "The United States, with the other members of the UN Security Council, said very clearly that we condemned all the acts that led up to this violence. It was a tragic situation. You've got loss of life that was unnecessary. So we are calling for an effective investigation of everything that happened. I think the Israelis are going to agree to that - an investigation of international standards - because they recognize that this can't be good for Israel's long-term security."
"Here's what we've got. You've got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they've got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel/Gaza border. I've been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people's bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there. On the other hand you've got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future."
"I think what's important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out, how can we meet Israel's security concerns, but at the same time start opening up opportunity for Palestinians....You've got to have a situation in which the Palestinians have real opportunity and Israel's neighbors recognize Israel's legitimate security concerns and are committed to peace." (CNN) See also Video: Obama Interview (CNN)

Also, here are some talking points from the director general of Israel's Ministry of Public Diplomacy (who is a cousin of TBE's Sue Greenwald).

See also this AIPAC backgrounder on the NPT Review Conference last week, another major concern (that has fallen under the radar because of Gaza). Instead of seizing the opportunity of the NPT Review Conference to highlight Iran’s blatant pursuit of nuclear weapons, many member nations worked to use the NPT document as a vehicle to criticize Israel. Regrettably, the US givernment did not use its veto power to prevent this document from being passed (although US spokespeople later deplored it). Calling the document “deeply flawed” and “hypocritical,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that it “singles out Israel, the Middle East’s only true democracy and the only country threatened with annihilation... [and] ignores the realities of the Middle East and the real threats facing the region and the entire world.”

See also J-Street's
Gaza Flotilla Resource Page and Q&A: Gaza Blockade - to gain a slightly different perspective.
Still, with more of the facts now known, with Israel's case far more defensible, there is this:

In our zeal to defend Israel against unwarranted and relentless attack, we need to temper that bumper sticker mentality with a dose of humanity. In 2001, with the Oslo process blown to bits by the suicide bombers, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote:

"In the past, Israel's enemies have tried to put it in a military crisis and failed. Then they tried to put it in a political crisis and failed. Now they are about to put it in a spiritual crisis, and they may succeed."

That is exactly what is happening now. The war right now is for Israel's very legitimacy in the eyes of the nations. Not for its physical survival, but its moral legitimacy. Of course we know that the playing field is unfair, that Israel is being led into trap after trap by those who do not value human life. But the only way to combat that is to not allow us to dehumanize the Other. We must grieve for the loss of life this week on the open waters west of Gaza. Israel's enemies understand that those who lose their humanity can easily be portrayed as themselves less than human: bloodthirsty, vengeful demons.

There is no question that Israel's case is strong, even if some might question the precise tactics used. There is also no question that the embargo of Gaza needs to continue, as long as humanitarian aid is allowed to enter (as has happened). But our best response - and Israel's - to continue to be human; to acknowledge the suffering on all sides. And to grieve for all the victims.

Finally, see this excellent summary of the current situation from Marc Shulman's blog:

The Israeli government is laboriously trying to decide how to respond to the world-wide criticism that its country has come under since its soldiers were ambushed, attempting to stop the ships headed to Gaza. I think it would be useful to summarize what we know as of now. Much of this has been known for a few days (and I wrote about most of it on Tuesday) but let's review:

First, this was not a ship filled solely with international aid workers or other people with peaceful goals. There might have been a large number of activists, but this was ship was clearly filled with potential suicide bombers. It seems this is what a group of those on the ship were trying to do. Nine of them succeeded, at least in the suicide part. The IDF presented captured footage showing one of the attackers saying beforehand he has tried twice before to become a "Shahid"-- this time he hope he succeeds. Second, The group that sent the ships has been closely tied to Muslim fundamentalist groups; groups that have clearly been responsible for terrorist activities. It is also clear the Turks on board had been heavily influenced by the rise of Islam and anti Israeli attitudes in Turkey. This rise of Islam has been led by Erogdwan, the Turkish Prime Minister, who has set Turkey on a steady anti-Israel and anti-Western path. According to the chief foreign correspondent of the Israel Channel 10, who just returned from Turkey; who spent significant time in Gaza and the West Bank, says he has never been to a rally (like last night's demonstration in Istanbul) where the hatred for Israel was so strong. He fears that Turkey could turn into another Iran. There is an excellent piece on Turkey in the Wall Street Journal called:
Erodwan and the Decline of the Turks

The plan was an ingenious set up on the part of the planners. They wanted violence and they were ready to make the best use of it. The world fell right into their trap, immediately blaming Israel, as if it had deliberately (or even accidently) killed dozens of women and children. There is another excellent article in the WSJ on how fast the world rushes to condemn Israel, called: Beating Up on Israel

We also know that Israeli intelligence failed completely to anticipate what happened; something that is not understandable, since it would seem one of the easier assignments to have gotten an agent on to a ship full of activist from all parts of the world. However, there was no attempt to gain that intelligence, assumedly, since it was no one's priority. This, again, shows the failure of the Israeli government to understand what its priorities should be.

We also know how poor, or more correctly, how slow Israel's PR campaign is. As I mentioned yesterday, the IDF films of the event have been the number 1, 2 and 3 most watched films on YouTube... but they came late! Today, Michael Oren had an excellent article in NYT, An Assault Cloaked In Peace, but he writes most of what I wrote from public sources on Tuesday, on Thursday. Israel needs to learn to act like some American politicians to control the news cycle as much as possible.

On the positive side, Vice President Biden was on Charlie Rose last night http://www.charlierose.com/ In the interview, he defended the right of Israel to intercept the ships and gave a historic perspective- making the simple point that if Hamas was to accept the conditions of the Quartet: Refute violence, agree to Peace Talks and Accept Prior agreements, there would be no quarantine. Biden, who is the person closest to President Obama in the administration would clearly not have gone on air with such a statement without the President's green light.

Finally, on a really positive note: A new natural gas field was discovered off the coast of Israel. It is double the size of the field that was discovered last year. That first field will be able to supply Israel with natural gas for 20-30 years, the new field if its projections come to fruition will turn Israel into a major Gas exporter.