Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Talking to a journalist before an event on Sept. 6, Einat Wilf, a Member of Knesset in Ehud Barak’s Independence Faction, trotted out an old Israeli joke.
In Israel, Wilf said, “A third of Israelis serve in the army, a third of Israelis work, and a third of Israelis pay taxes — it’s just the same third.”
In light of the protests that took over Israeli streets this summer, the joke, Wilf said, has been enjoying something of a renaissance there.
“Now it’s that third that is actually protesting,” Wilf said. “And they’re demanding that the burden be shared equally — and they’re absolutely right.”
Wilf, who is 40 and has degrees from Harvard and Cambridge, could be the face of Israel’s future. She worked a stint at the consulting firm McKinsey, and ruffled a few feathers by marrying a non-Jewish German man. In August, according to The Jerusalem Post, the French daily Le Figaro printed an article about what Israel and the Middle East might look like in 2031, and their imagined future included Wilf as Israeli prime minister.
One of Wilf’s recent events in Los Angeles was organized by BINA-LA, the young leadership division of the Israeli Leadership Council that hosts frequent salons with speakers on a variety of subjects.
The audience at BINA-LA events usually consists of young Americans, Israelis and the “hybrids” who fit into both categories partially (or neither category neatly). It’s unusual to see many kippot at BINA-LA events; designer jeans and well-cut sundresses are more common. Wilf’s talk presented a new contract between the Jewish state and world Jewry.
“Israel should be the first or second home of every Jew,” Wilf said, and then went on to note just how radically this position differed from the attitude taken by most Israelis in the past — including Wilf herself.
At age 16, Wilf told the BINA-LA audience, while living in the United States on an exchange sponsored by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she was asked by a young Jewish boy what the best thing he could do for Israel was.
“Make aliyah,” Wilf told him, using the Hebrew word that connotes the elevation that comes along with moving to Israel.
To which he replied, “What’s the second-best thing?”
Wilf now eschews such language, with its implicit judgment that life for Jews in “the Diaspora” is inferior to that in Israel.
Besides, Wilf said, today people don’t make big, life-changing decisions that last for their entire lives. Many Israelis, she said, live like she does, and the old terms don’t work for them.
“What was I when I studied abroad? Was I a yoredet?” Wilf asked, using a critical term for those who leave Israel. “When I came back six years later, was I an olah [one who makes aliyah]? The language just didn’t make sense anymore.”
Wilf, who left the Labor Party with Ehud Barak in early 2011 to remain in the coalition led by the Likud Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, works to strike a centrist position in Israeli politics. She doesn’t advocate — as some in the Likud do — for annexation of most of the West Bank. And yet, Wilf told The Jewish Journal, she has “had it with the self-flagellation of the left that thinks Israel is to blame for everything.”
One could argue that Wilf aims for a similar middle-of-the-road approach in many of her proposals — including her new contract with world Jewry. Wilf would abolish the judgment-laden term “Diaspora,” but she has changed her mind and now supports the idea that Jews should learn at least some Hebrew. (They could do so in short immersion programs, Wilf said, located in Israel’s most appealing spots: “On the shores of the Kinneret,” Wilf said, “in Tel Aviv or in Eilat, combined with scuba diving.”)
Wilf also suggested finding ways for ordinary Jews around the world to establish themselves as donors — of small amounts of money, or of “human capital” — to the State of Israel, but added that such relationships shouldn’t just be one-way, and that Israelis should return the favor.
She said that there was even some consideration of the possibility of a second house of Knesset — formed along the lines of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords — which would allow representatives of world Jewry to have an advisory role into what goes on in Israel.
Of course, Jews outside of Israel have been advising the Jewish state in unsanctioned ways for longer than the State of Israel has existed — and Wilf was asked what she thought of foreign organizations that criticize Israeli policies.
With Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” American lobbying group J Street is the best-known and most controversial such organization, and Wilf addressed the J Street example directly, by outlining “two basic rules” for those who want to criticize Israel.
“One, that the implication of their work cannot be that the Israelis are incapable of choosing their government,” Wilf said. “I mean, it’s one thing to say that you don’t like the choice they’ve made, and it’s a completely different tone, implying that Israelis have made the wrong choice. Because the large majority of Israelis think they’ve made the right choice.
“The other rule,” Wilf said, “is that an organization or a group that seeks to engage in that critical discussion cannot abdicate responsibility for those who abuse the organization in order to promote things that have absolutely nothing to do with Israel’s interests.”
Wilf made several stops in the Los Angeles area during her trip, including one at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino on Shabbat. Her remarks at that venue focused on many of these same subjects.
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September 12, 2011 | 8:43 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
September 9, 2011 | 5:25 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Jason Ablin, head of school at Milken Community High School, will leave the school at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
The news was announced to parents and other members of the Milken community on Sept. 9 in an e-mail that included letters from Ablin and Milken Board President Aaron Leibovic.
“With Milken transitioning into a new and exciting era and with the particular type of work that will need to be accomplished in the future, both the Board and I agreed that the future position of Head of School was not in accordance with my own professional mission,” Ablin wrote.
Ablin has been head of Milken for four years. He first began working at the high school as director of general and integrated studies in 1999.
Since the school was founded in 1990, Milken operated under the umbrella of Stephen S. Wise Temple. In March 2011, the synagogue and school announced that they were severing ties, a process that is to be finalized by July 2012.
In his letter to the Milken community, Leibovic said that Ablin and the leaders of the synagogue and school all still support the process of making Milken independent.
“I want to publicly thank [Ablin] for the significant role he has played and will continue to play as we move to conclude a final agreement between the school and temple,” Leibovic wrote.
Leibovic said the board will begin a search for a new head of school immediately.
September 8, 2011 | 7:11 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Anyone who thinks that one long-time incumbent Democrat is the same as any other might want to take a look at the reactions of Rep. Howard Berman (D - Valley Village) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D - Sherman Oaks) to President Obama’s speech this evening.
Sherman and Berman have both declared that they intend to run for reelection in California’s newly redrawn 30th congressional district, and if neither one decides to either retire, change jobs, or run in another district, the voters in the West San Fernando Valley could be faced with a choice that is more subtle than usual.
Subtle doesn’t mean inconsequential, though.
In an emailed statement, Berman said he was “pleased to see President Obama take a definitive step tonight towards bringing this gridlock to an end and finally jump starting efforts to get the economy moving again.” Berman added that he would soon introduce two separate jobs bills and exhorted the Republican majority to allow jobs legislation to pass.
Sherman, meanwhile, called the president’s plan for job creation “good but insufficient.”
“We need a bolder spending program over the next 2 years to get us out of this recession,” Sherman said in an emailed statement, “but if and only if it is paired with an even bolder program to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years.”
When compared with the reaction from, say, the Republican National Committee (“President Obama’s Latest Rehash Of Failed Proposals Proves That He Is Devoid Of Solutions And Unfit To Lead”), the difference between Berman and Sherman may seem slight. But come 2012, those subtle differences may be what leads voters in the 30th district in one direction or the other.
Read the complete statements from Berman and Sherman below:
Congressman Howard Berman on President Obama’s Address to Congress on Job Creation
Berman Announces Intention to Introduce His Own Jobs Bills Later This Month
Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman released the following statement in response to President Barack Obama’s address to Congress this evening.
“No issue facing our nation right now is more urgent than job creation. Californians are rightly asking ‘where are the jobs’ and due to the partisan bickering that has sadly become synonymous with Washington, efforts to answer these calls have stalled. I was pleased to see President Obama take a definitive step tonight towards bringing this gridlock to an end and finally jump starting efforts to get the economy moving again. In this same vein, I will be introducing two separate jobs bills in the coming weeks that are designed to increase the export of American made goods and in turn create new jobs here at home at no additional cost to taxpayers.
“In our democracy however, it takes more than delivering speeches and introducing bills to get our economy back on track. The Republican Majority here in the House must finally allow jobs proposals to move forward in Congress. It has been nearly 250 days since Republicans took control, and since then they have been unable to pass even one single piece of jobs legislation.
“I am committed to doing what we can in Congress to promote job creation and put more money in the pockets of middle class families.”
Congressman Sherman Reacts to President Obama’s Economic Plan
Washington DC – Following President Obama’s September 8th speech, Congressman Brad Sherman released the following statement:
“The President’s economic plan is good but insufficient. We need a bolder spending program over the next 2 years to get us out of this recession, but if and only if it is paired with an even bolder program to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years. I’m pleased that the President supports tax breaks for the middle class, including the payroll tax holiday which provides immediate additional stimulus and is self-reversing.
I’m disappointed that among the measures that congress should enact the president mentioned free trade agreements; this will have the exact opposite effect and ensure the loss of thousands of American jobs. I would also like to see the administration take a more active role in keeping housing prices from declining any further. Along with any jobs recovery act, we should have a housing act.”
September 8, 2011 | 5:23 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti declared that he is running for Mayor of the City of Los Angeles on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Times called Garcetti “the highest-profile Latino in the race,” since his father, former District Attorney Gil Garcetti, is of Mexican descent.
But Eric Garcetti’s mother, Sukey Roth, is Jewish—which makes Garcetti the third Jewish candidate to enter the 2013 race to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is termed out.
There’s Austin Beutner, Villaraigosa’s former “jobs czar,” who was recently asked by a blogger whether he went to church. “No, I’m Jewish,” Beutner said, “I was bar mitzvah’ed, but I don’t go. Oh, my wife is Protestant.”
And there’s L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is the only African-American candidate in the race. She converted to Judaism almost 30 years ago.
Two non-Jews round out the current field: City Controller Wendy Gruel, who raised more than any other candidate in the first half of 2011 (over $518,000), is married to the Jewish film producer (“Darfur Now,”) Dean Schramm. Kevin James, the openly gay attorney and radio host, is the only Republican in the race.
The field could become even Jewy-er if Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky declares his candidacy. The former L.A. city councilman and one-time activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry will have to give up his current job in 2014 because of term limits.
“I think [Yaroslavsky’s] absolutely, unequivocally getting in,” a political consultant told the Times on Thursday.
September 8, 2011 | 1:04 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
The New York Post is reporting that Democrat David Weprin, an orthodox Jew running in New York for ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner’s seat, is spending more than $260,000 on TV ads as part of his campaign against Republican Bob Turner.
The race between Weprin and Turner is close—9 points separate the candidates, according to the New York Daily News—and the fight is being waged over all media, including unsolicited text messages to New York-based cell phones.
“David Weprin defied Jewish law and betrayed our values by voting to impose gay marriage in New York,” a text message sent from the email address “email@example.com” to an unknown number of recipients on Sep. 6 read. “Do NOT vote for Weprin.”
The group behind the text message, Americans in Contact PAC, is a group that supports Republican candidates. Its acronym is very similar to that of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which is the country’s largest pro-Israel lobby. (The similarity temporarily tripped up one blogger.)
According to the Forward, Turner “has gained some traction by seeking to link Weprin to President Obama and his perceived lukewarm support of Israel.”
Since 2005, the Federal Communications Commission has prohibited the sending of unwanted commercial emails messages to wireless devices, but that ban does not extend to messages about candidates for public office.
September 8, 2011 | 9:15 am
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
A new national poll unveiled at the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) on Sep. 7 finds Americans are worried about a nuclear Iran, afraid that China presents a military threat to the United States and concerned about the possibility of Islamic terror attacks perpetrated by American-born Muslims.
The poll, conducted for Secure America Now by the political group’s co-founders, Pat Caddell and John McLaughlin, is based on interviews conducted with 1,000 likely voters from August 8-10, and was unveiled at the first of the MOT’s two 9/11-themed events.
Titled “9/11 + 10: Public Attitudes about Security Threats—Domestic and Global,” the program was promoted as “a provocative evening.”
But despite the presenters using words like “stunning” to describe some of the poll results, the audience of about 60 stayed mostly impassive while listening to Caddell and McLaughlin’s data.
This isn’t Caddell and McLaughlin’s first survey into security issues—the pair has presented earlier findings at Conservative political gatherings in the past—and they acknowledge that Americans are mostly concerned about the economy right now. But they said that national security issues could still end up influencing the results of the 2012 election.
“The economy is certainly the most important issue by far, but this issue could end up being the deciding issue,” Caddell said.
Caddell served as pollster to Jimmy Carter in 1976 and 1980 and today is a regular contributor to Fox News. McLaughlin is a Republican pollster who counts House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R - VA) and Rep. Peter King (R - NY) among his current clients. They co-founded Secure America Now in the summer of 2010, and said that their data in August was collected from a representative sample of the American population.
The pollsters encouraged their audience to pay closest attention to the biggest numbers which, they said, suggested unanimity.
In response to a question about “Islamic terrorism by American born Muslims,” for example, 86 percent of respondents said they were concerned, and more than half of those said they were “very concerned.”
The evening’s moderator, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, asked the panelists what they might say if approached by a group of Imams who had seen and were concerned by the poll’s results.
“What advice would you give them?” Cooper asked.
“That they need to speak out more,” Caddell said.
Caddell said that Muslim Americans also feel their leaders haven’t spoken out sufficiently, pointing to a poll by the Pew Research Center released on Aug. 30, that showed nearly half of Muslim Americans (48 percent) said Muslim leaders in the United States have not done enough to challenge extremists.
In his presentation, Caddell objected fiercely to the idea that the Secure America Now poll results might be due to anti-Muslim prejudice.
“You cannot have 86 percent of the American people believe something like this and tell me that this is the result of Americans being racist or Islamophobic,” Caddell said.
But other results from the Pew poll suggest that the American general public’s impressions of Muslim Americans differ significantly from Muslim Americans’ self-perceptions.
While 21 percent of Muslim Americans see support for extremism in their community, 40 percent of the general public believes such support exists. Just 4 percent of Muslim Americans believe that support for extremism is growing among Muslim Americans. Six times as many in the general public (24 percent) believe that such support is growing.
Of those in the audience at the MOT, not everyone was convinced.
“Is the polling organization itself starting off with a bias?” asked Saul Leonard, 77, a member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who said he tends to vote Democratic. “I have a feeling they were, just by the name, Secure America Now.”
Many of the poll results did not augur well for President Obama’s reelection chances. Of those polled in August by Secure America Now, just 49 percent approved of the president’s performance on defense and security.
Alan Richards, 46, comes regularly to the MOT with the people he mentors at the Amity Foundation, a drug treatment center. Richards, who voted for Obama in 2008, said he was undecided as to whether he would vote for the president again in 2012, and said that the evening’s presentation gave him more to think about as he considers his options.
But—as McLaughlin and Caddell said—Richards’ main beef with Obama had to do with the level of unemployment.
“That’s one of the primary issues we deal with when it comes to reentry, is helping ex-offenders get positions and jobs, back in the corporate area,” he said.
September 6, 2011 | 5:49 pm
Posted by Jonah Lowenfeld
California’s assembly approved a bill on Sept. 6 that prohibits cities and counties from enacting bans on male circumcision.
The measure, known as AB 768, was written in response to the effort to ban the practice for males under 18 in San Francisco.
Circumcision is a sacred rite for Jews and Muslims. The San Francisco ballot measure banning circumcision, which was to appear on the Nov. 2011 ballot, was dismissed in July by a judge who found that it was pre-empted by an existing state law.
The bill passed by the legislature on Sep. 6 was written by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D - Los Angeles), who was put up to the task by his former boss, Rep. Brad Sherman (D- Sherman Oaks).
“When Congressman Sherman called me, I could tell from the sound of his voice how important this was, not only to him, but to the Jewish Community,” Gatto said today in an emailed statement.
Sherman, who is Jewish, has introduced legislation at the federal level (HR 2400) that would stop states and municipalities from banning male circumcision. That bill is being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The California bill now moves to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.