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This week in power: Obama, Prisoner release, Palestinian textbooks, Jews and Christmas

by Danny Groner

December 22, 2011 | 4:31 am

A roundup of the most talked about political and global stories in the Jewish world this week:

Obama’s Jewish address
President Obama reassured some of his Jewish constituents on Friday by reaffirming his commitment to Israel in front of thousands of attendees at the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial event. “America’s commitment and my commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable,” he said. “We have been there, and we will continue to be there. Those are the facts.” But not everyone was impressed. “It was an arrogant speech, seemingly oblivious to the criticisms that have swirled around him,” said The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. “The only redeeming aspect of the speech was his more robust statements on Iran,” a major concern for Jews heading into the election season. Worries about Obama’s loss of the Jewish base might be overstated, according to a Jewish Daily Forward report. “The 2012 list of volunteer bundlers does indicate that Obama has not lost the Jewish Democratic elite who made up a significant proportion of his support in 2008.”

Prisoners go free
Israel followed through on its promise dating back to the Shalit deal that it would release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as part of the swap. On Sunday night, that became a reality when 550 inmates from Israeli prisons. Yet one man who remains in jail is Marwan Barghouti, who some Palestinians believe could be their next leader and a man who can deliver peace, too. One of the man’s cousins, Fakhri Barghouti, is free now and speaking out about his mistreatment and the conflict. “I left prison but the occupation is still here. I have more freedom than in prison, but it’s still the same occupation,” he said. “It’s just that I have more freedom of movement.”

Allen West’s gaffe
Rep. Allen West again compared notorious Nazi Joseph Goebbels to the Democrat Party because of the “lies and deceit” he sees. West could face consequences next year as he vies for re-election in a Jewish area. He’s invoked Nazi comparisons in the past, too. “I don’t care for Goebbels analogies much myself.  Besides their vulnerability to criticism for being excessive and offensive, they’re so ancient and played out,” said John Hayward at Human Events. “The study of both fascism and Nazism, which are two separate but related horrors, is too serious to suffer distraction by quoting Goebbels’ famous but pedestrian observations about Big Lies and such. Others have said it better. Leave the old monster in his crypt.”

What’s inside Palestinian textbooks?
At a recent debate, Newt Gingrich claimed that Palestinians are being taught terrorism in schools, but reports indicate that no violence against Israel is mentioned anywhere in their textbooks. They did find that peace is not a central theme to the lessons, though. “While there’s plenty of hard feelings on both sides – and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, remains largely captive to its extremist rhetoric — the reality on the West Bank is far more nuanced and, generally, more positive than what passes for debate in the U.S. presidential contest,” said Karl Vick at TIME. And this furor just incited the same old debate between the two sides, said John Lake at BlogCritics. “In these days of nuclear proliferation, the war in Israel/Palestine must be seriously considered, and actions to end this hostility should be forthcoming and soon.”

Celebrating Christmas
What’s a Jew to do on December 25? “It’s a quick jump from appreciating a Christmas display to arguing with your child about sitting on Santa’s lap. But if we want our children to be firm in their own Jewish identity, we need to be firm with its boundaries,” warned Rabbi Micah Peltz at Haaretz. “But I’d argue that you can ooh and ahh at the Rockefeller Center tree without feeling jealous and without forsaking your own ideals,” argued Jordana Horn at MSN. “Part of what is so amazing about living in America is living alongside of traditions and cultures other than our own.” There’s a delicate balance, and one that many struggle to find.

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