Jewish Journal

Letters to the Editor: Sharon Brous, Flotila, Israel

Posted on Jun. 15, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Give Credit Where It’s Due

A recent Jewish Journal article describes The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ evaluation of the Fed Up With Hunger program (“Food Deserts Exposed,” May 21). It was surprising to find no mention of MAZON in any of the remarks, since the initiative was launched under MAZON’s tutelage and with the services of the consultant, retained by MAZON, who created the Blueprint to End Hunger in Los Angeles. MAZON, as the premier national Jewish organization addressing domestic hunger, applauds Federation’s efforts in addressing these issues and is gratified that MAZON’s expertise served Federation well.  MAZON, of course, continues its vital anti-hunger work.

Barbara H. Bergen
acting president,
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger

Moral High Ground a Tricky Place to Stand

Peter Beinart (“Beinart’s Failure,” “Can the Center Hold?” and “Flotillas, a New Center and Other Questions for Peter Beinart,” June 11) is a genuine intellectual, always occupying the moral high ground. To do so, one must ignore the big picture and concentrate on the imperfections. No country, no person is perfect, but criticizing those imperfections seems to give that certain intellectual class whose only function involves verbal communication psychological satisfaction. After all, while demonstrating their moral superiority, they never have to be accountable for the consequences of what they say or propose. Why look at evidence? As one philosopher once said to a student who observed that the facts did not agree with his theory, “so much the worse for the facts.”

Robert D’Agostino
via e-mail

The Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) commends The Jewish Journal for providing a multitude of views on Peter Beinart’s recent essay (June 11). However, David Suissa remarks misleadingly in his piece that PJA is merely a “friendly venue for liberal Jews who want to criticize Israel and oppose its policies” (“Beinart’s Failure,” June 11).

PJA is dedicated to the ethic of tikkun ha’ir, tikkun olam — repair of the world through justice in our cities. The nature of our work has been on full display this year as PJA has helped to expose the food deserts of Los Angeles, organized forums on comprehensive immigration reform, explored the legacy of the civil rights movement, and celebrated our NewGround fellows — young Jews and Muslims seeking progressive solutions in our city as well as addressing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in each other’s communities.

Especially in times of crisis, PJA offers a space to escape shouting and heckling, to have honest, mutually respectful, nuanced conversations. Our members hold affiliations across the spectrum from Code Pink to JStreet to AIPAC and remain in open dialogue, a unique achievement of which PJA is proud.

David, on a personal note, it was lovely getting to know you at LimmudLA. I invited you to get to know PJA better then and would still welcome you warmly at any of our events now.

Elissa D. Barrett
executive director, PJA

Focusing on Flotilla Crisis

I am writing to applaud Rabbi Sharon Brous’ very thoughtful letter in The Jewish Journal on the Gaza tragedy (“The Narrowing of the Heart and Mind: American Jewish Response to the Flotilla,” June 11). We were in Israel then and the papers were filled with applause for the need to defend, critical of the tactics, but reported little sympathy for the loss of life.

The hardening of both sides, the “you’re either with us or you’re anti-Israel” sentiment is, tragically, flourishing both in the U.S. and in Israel. Where is the vaunted intelligence of we Jews? Moshe Dayan once said, “You don’t make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies.” But to do that takes a somewhat open mind and, unfortunately, that mind seems to close tighter and tighter each day.
Thanks for standing up.

Dick Gunther
via e-mail

Rabbi Brous expected a warm reception for Peace Now speaker David Pine’s broad-reaching criticisms of Israel’s policies, including Israel’s enforcement of the Egyptian/Israeli blockade at an “Israel Solidarity Rally” as it was publicized?

Solidarity is defined as “mutual agreement and support … in a group as manifested in unanimous support and collective action for something.” The rabbi used circular logic to conclude “[We’re] utterly incapable of engaging in intelligent discourse around Israel.” She also disregarded the meaning of the word “solidarity” in the rally title and forgot the simple application of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3:3”: ... A time for tearing down and a time for building up.: The rabbi has praiseworthy erudition, but it was an Israel Solidarity Rally, not an Israel: War or Peace Forum.

If a member of her board of directors brought a glatt kosher lunch into her Yom Kippur service, would she be just as broad-minded and applaud the member’s independent thinking, and how would her congregation respond? Would they be shocked that a board member doesn’t understand it’s not a Lunch and Learn? How about holy marital sexual relations in the main sanctuary during Yom Shabbat services?

Yael Daniels
via e-mail

Sharon Brous missed the boat (so to speak) in her description of her “unease” with the prevailing mood at the recent pro-Israel rally. The purpose of the event was to loudly express the belief that Israel has the right to defend herself. No one would say that Israel always does the right thing; the intelligence failure that led to the flotilla incident is a prime example. Nor does anyone minimize the regrettable fact that lives were lost. Indeed, none of the speakers exulted in the deaths of the nine flotilla passengers — far from it. Rather, the goal was to show that there are supporters of Israel, including many non-Jews, whose attendance was laudable, who understand that Israel is within her rights to defend herself as she sees fit. It was not the forum for criticism of Israel but for a united show of support. 

The only sense of unease that I had was after reading Brous’ words, which reminded me that there are those among us who remain naive about the possibility of making peace with those who openly seek Israel’s destruction. 

Benjamin Taylor
Los Angeles

Rabbi Brous’ column makes more sense than anything else I have heard from the Jewish community about Israel’s illegal attack on the Freedom Flotilla in international waters during which Israeli commandos forced their way onto the ships and killed nine peace activists.

Brous says the Jewish community worries about attacks on “the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.” And she is correct that the community’s knee-jerk response to defend Israel’s actions is a distorted reaction. But she is incorrect when she says that Israel’s legitimacy is being questioned.

Most nations and people around the world who criticize Israel’s attack on the flotilla are not questioning Israel’s legitimacy. Rather they are condemning Israel’s attack on the flotilla as illegal, and are questioning the legality and morality of Israel’s siege on the 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip.

Everyone agrees that Israel (or any other state) has a right to defend itself.  But most nations and people do not accept Israel’s assertion that the flotilla constituted a threat. Before the flotilla sailed, its cargo was inspected by Turkish authorities to assure there were no weapons, and all passengers were security screened (maybe that is why the Mossad could not infiltrate the flotilla). In fact, the flotilla was not a threat.

The attack on the flotilla is part of Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip—both are illegal under international law as collective punishment. If Israel occupies the Gaza Strip, it has a right and duty to control imports into the area, but Israel claims that it does not occupy the Gaza Strip. If Israel wants to control imports into Gaza, Israel must accept the requirements set out by the Fourth Geneva Convention for an occupying power, including the obligation to safeguard the well-being of the civilian population. The siege and attack on the flotilla do just the opposite.

Most nations and people reject Israel’s claim that it does not occupy the Gaza Strip yet has the right to control imports. Israel cannot have it both ways.

Brous ends her column pleading for the world to “join hands with us and work to achieve a lasting peace.” The Palestinians and the world wants to do just that, but first Israel must end its siege on the Gaza Strip, and be ready to withdraw from Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.

Jeff Warner
La Habra Heights

Should Israel be supported unreservedly? The prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible have a lot to say about this very issue. Joel, Zechariah and, especially, Isaiah, among others, relate how in the end times — the “Day of the Lord” — Israel engages in a series of wars with all her neighbors. Israel is not blameless; in fact, they are in a state of partial unbelief (“their eyes are blinded”), but they win all these wars and expand their borders.  Finally, when “all nations” menace Israel, the Lord redeems them. As a matter of foreign policy, the Lord favors Israel even though many individual Jews are judged.

Guinn Williams
Los Angeles

Setting Helen Thomas Straight

The overwhelming majority of Jews who came to Israel after its independence did not come from Poland and Eastern Europe, as Helen Thomas and Richard Cohen (Washington Post, June 8) suggest. They came from the Arab and Moslem countries of Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey and Iran. The Jews killed by Hitler in Poland and Eastern Europe are dead. They did not come to Israel. The present state of Israel is populated mainly by descendants of Jews who were already in Palestine and those who came from Arab and Moslem countries. The Jews killed in the Holocaust did not build Israel.

For a proper perspective, we note that the 1905 census, when Jerusalem was under Turkish Moslem rule, states that Jews outnumbered Moslems five to one in Jerusalem. So who should go back to where?

Harry J. Lipkin,
professor emeritus
Weizmann Institute of Science
via e-mail

Taxation Without Representation?

True believer Marty Kaplan feels our nation’s compelling history began with FDR (“Tom Friedman Wants to Raise Your Taxes,” June 11). Others of a less-leftist persuasion recall a much richer and evocative U.S. past. History repeats, and our Founding Fathers’ enemies King George III and Parliament were reanimated in 2009 as Prince Barack and a tone-deaf Democratic Congress. The overriding issue in the final half of the 18th century was the same as today: taxation without representation. A new nation then formed, which created as its centerpiece a representative government “responsible to the will of the people.” And now we are blessed with a Congress acting in the dead of night, fulminating and passing legislation that is volubly and fundamentally opposed by a majority of this nation’s citizens.

Kaplan, who appears to have never met a tax he can’t cuddle, now supports all-knowing New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in believing we can be taxed out of debt. It appears Marty has embraced the wrong Friedman. Suggest an alternate surname Kaplan might recognize—Milton. Of course, that eminent economist and writer has gone to meet his maker, although even in his present circumstance, a more reliable resource than The Times’ Mr. Thomas.

Stuart Weiss
Beverly Hills

Time for New Peace Plan

Reading “Americans for Peace Now” (June 11), it would be to their advantage if they would publish their own peace plan that has already been accepted by the various Palestinians leaders, rather than expounding the same old rhetoric.
Danny Bental

Prager, Grater and the U.S. Budget Deficit

My friend Dennis Prager is a forceful and always interesting advocate for his cause and did a good job of critiquing my other friend Rabbi Grater in terms of the methodology of his argument on behalf of his causes (“Rabbi Clarifies Left’s Beliefs,” June 4). Therefore, I find it interesting that Dennis engages in much the same kind of argument in defense of his causes. In charging that President Obama is the one engaged in “monstrous deficit spending,” he compares this to President Bush’s “small and manageable” deficits.

Actually, I think President Bush’s deficits were much more egregious and unnecessary than Obama’s. When President Obama assumed office, he inherited a rather huge (not “small”) deficit and multibillion-dollar bank bailouts drawing exclusively on borrowed money. Also facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, he felt properly compelled to undertake a stimulus program, which inhibited the growth of unemployment—requiring more borrowed money.

President Bush, on the other hand, inherited a budget surplus that during President Clinton’s last year was partially used to pay down the national debt. President Bush and the Republican Congress slashed taxes and effectively wiped out the surplus. In the wake of 9/11, President Bush engaged in two hugely expensive wars financed with borrowed money. He could have rallied a fearful and angry American public behind a program of spending cuts and tax increases to pay for the wars. I personally regret that he didn’t use that occasion to slap a dollar-a-gallon tax on gasoline (incrementally imposed at 10 cents a month). That would have probably covered the budget deficit, stimulated a move to more fuel-efficient cars and cut our trade deficit.

Anyway, I feel honored to be able to gently and respectfully engage in a little petard hoisting with my friend Dennis.

Rabbi Gilbert Kollin

My response to “Dennis Prager Responds” (“Rabbi Responds to Prager’s Column on Problems With the Left,” June 11) to Rabbi Grater is simple: Mr. Prager has learned the lesson of Munich, but he has not learned the lesson of the Cuban missile crisis.

Robert Bookman
Los Angeles

An ‘Impossible’ Situation?

I read David Suissa’s “Impossible Man” (June 4) and three-quarters through I laughed. However, what I laughed at is actually not funny. It is so sad, however, as to be funny.

Suissa wrote about professor Martin Sherman’s (Tel Aviv University) bold stance against the presently trendy Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution. What Suissa said was quite telling when he stated, “It’s true that his presentation was compelling, but I don’t have the chutzpah to stand alone. ... I still need to get my kids married.” In other words, Suissa might agree with Sherman’s argument, however, knowing he would be ostracized for this, he refuses. Not only would he be ostracized, his children would be also. While I hate to be judgmental, in this case it is unavoidable. First of all, I now further understand how Orthodox Judaism has not changed for all these centuries. It is just this “true to one’s beliefs” stance that Suissa deduces is not worth the risk. For standing alone, the Orthodox will destroy a man’s life, if he has the chutzpah, and then no doubt find or create some halachic excuse for doing so. Yet it is just what they demonize, the individual, which is the only force that can begin any process for change. One would think this basic biblical message of the prophets, almost all being singular individuals, would have been understood by now. Then again, many of these prophets were stoned to death, due to their unpopular message. The Orthodox appear to maintain the legacy of those who did the stoning.
Suissa also should have thought about the immature peer pressure community he was part of and the world he lives in before putting children onto this planet. I do not doubt that the Orthodox would do just as he says to his children. Of course, David, there are many non-Orthodox Jews and even non-Jews that his children could choose from to marry. That is correct, Mr. Suissa, there is a whole wide world out there. A world that is good, bad and everything in between.

Richard S. Levik
Mar Vista

More Than Money in a Law Degree

In your cover story on law school students (“Economic Downturn Is Giving Law School Students the Summertime Blues,” May 28), Ms. Elana Zarotsky says, “It’s a great living and there are lots of things you can do with it.” After almost 40 years of practicing law, I couldn’t agree with her more.

However, from that point on, Ms. Zarotsky and her classmates (at least those interviewed in this article) narrow their focus from “lots of things” to one “thing”—obtaining a six-figure salary at a large law firm, a goal now rendered unobtainable in the current economy.

While I empathize with their disappointment, these future lawyers are missing the point Ms. Zarotsky made, i.e. there are lots of “things” you can do with a law degree besides working for a big law firm, especially if you want to have a life.

I never worked for a large firm and never wanted to. By the same token, I’ve rarely seen the kind of income these students seek. But my wife and I raised and educated four children who hold seven college degrees among them. We travel, enjoy the rich cultural life L.A. has to offer and, most importantly from your article’s perspective, I did “lots of things.”

Small firms gave me the advantage of meeting with clients from day one, handling court cases in my first year and getting a huge range of experience in very short order.

Not having to justify that huge salary or compete with other junior associates allowed my colleagues and me to do “lots of things” in the community. Every firm I worked with considered community service and pro bono legal work part of our ethos. Many of your readers will remember my former partners Harmon Ballin, Bill Levin (both of blessed memory) and Jay Plotkin, all active leaders in the Jewish and legal communities. We all loved what we did and while very clear that making a decent living was one goal, it wasn’t the end all and be all of our existence.

My own field of elder law—helping seniors, their families and people with disabilities—to which I have devoted the last 20-plus years of my professional life, is one that doesn’t exist in the big firms; there’s not enough profit for them. I go home every night (and I mean every night) knowing that people who were in trouble, families facing enormous challenges because of an ill parent, spouse or child with a disability, were assisted by me and the wonderful team that works with me. No amount of money can equal that feeling.

As the author notes, the economy eventually will turn around and the big firms will start hiring again. But I’m hoping that by then some of the students featured in your article (and their classmates) will discover there really are “lots of things” to do with that bar card in small firms, legal aid or government service, and that those “things” are even more exciting, intellectually stimulating and ultimately more rewarding than that six-figure paycheck.

Stuart D. Zimring
North Hollywood

Appreciation for Wagner Symposium

The well-attended Wagner symposium at the American Jewish University on June 6 did a wonderful job of presenting both sides of the dilemma that faces opera-loving Jews (and many non-Jews as well) regarding seeing or hearing the works of this malevolent but supremely gifted composer (“Wagner: Kosher or Treif?” June 11).

I was one of those in attendance, and I did not find the remarks of great-grandson Gottfried Wagner “rambling” or “hard to follow,” but very illuminating and effective. Further, he is to be greatly praised for his insight and the courage he has demonstrated in articulating that insight.

Paul Herman
Los Angeles

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