Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I have just returned from the 3rd annual J Street Conference in Washington D.C. attended by 2500 pro-Israel pro-peace activists from around the country and world. I was invited to deliver a statement to the plenary on the future of pro-Israel activism, and I offer those remarks here.
“Good afternoon. My name is John Rosove and I am the Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. I am the Future of Pro-Israel activism because I believe that progressive Zionism is the best assurance that Israel will remain secure, Jewish and democratic.
Gloria Steinem was right when she said that “All politics is personal,” and so before I share a bit about how my Pro-Israel activism has shaped my life and rabbinate, I want to say a few words about my roots in Zionist and Jewish leadership.
In the late 19th century half my family left Ukraine for Canada and the United States and the other half went to Palestine. Those who made aliyah were religious Jews and arrived in Jerusalem in 1880. Along with Jeremy Ben-Ami’s great-grandparents, my family were among the original settlers of Petach Tikva when they moved there in 1882. My great-great uncle was famous as Petach Tikva’s first shomer, policeman, and as both Theodor Herzl’s and Chaim Weizmann’s body guard whenever they visited the land. Another cousin became the founding professor of the Department of Near Eastern Languages at the Hebrew University, translated the Koran and A 1001 Nights to Hebrew. Yet another helped facilitate the Camp David Accords as a Knesset attorney, and a third, Ruby Rivlin, is the sitting Speaker of the Knesset.
In Los Angeles, my uncles and aunts were top leaders of the United Jewish Appeal, the Jewish Federation, the American Jewish Committee, Brandeis Camp Institute, and the Jewish Centers Association in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
I was tutored in classic mid-century Jewish liberalism and claim as my childhood rabbis Leonard Beerman and Richard Levy who mentored me in civil disobedience during the civil rights and Vietnam eras.
Taken together, all roads led me to serious engagement in Jewish religious, communal and Zionist life. My passion for Israel was especially inspired in those heady years immediately after the 1967 Six Day war and reflecting the sentiment of Yehuda Halevi, though my body is here b’kitzei maarav (at the far ends of the west), libi b’mizrach (my heart lives in the east). I feel as at home there as I do here and when I am not there, I yearn for her. My adult life has been in part a struggle to join my two central worlds as a liberal American Jew and an ohev am u-m’dinat Yisrael (lover of the people and state of Israel).
It is therefore as a Progressive Reform Zionist that I have found my true and natural home. As such I take the view that Jewish nationalism must envision our people’s independence as a means of serving humanity as a whole, that we might fulfill Isaiah’s vision to be an or lagoyim, “a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). I believe that social justice must be applied to all the major issues confronting Israeli society including Israeli Arab and Palestinian rights, minority rights, immigrant worker rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, poverty, education, and justice. Israel becoming a just society in every way needs to be the endgame if Israel is to live its own Declaration of Independence. It isn’t enough for us here in the west to mouth the right words. We have to be prepared to put our money where our mouths are, to visit Israel often, to support those progressive forces there working towards these good, just and decent ends, and, for some of us, to make aliyah.
Just as we expect much of the Jewish state, we Diaspora Jews have an obligation to give back to Israel not just our love and ideas, but of our time, expertise and treasure, especially when it’s hard to do so, when we feel frustrated, angry and alienated by Israel’s government policies and direction.
The organizations I support (e.g. Rabbis for Human Rights, B’tzelem, New Israel Fund, Shalom Achshav, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Israel Religious Action Center, and Hiddush) represent a vision of Israel that is Jewish, democratic, pluralistic, compassionate, and just. They and others like them need strong American Jewish support just as we American Jews need Israel to embody the values we cherish…We need Israel and Israel needs us – it’s a relationship that must be intimate and mutual. The Talmud (Pesachim 112a) makes this point when it says, Yoter ha-egel rotzeh linok, parah rotzei l’hanik – “Even more than the calf needs to suck, the mother needs to suckle.”
Though my synagogue is located at the far ends of the west, I feel grateful that by and large my community has embraced my progressive Zionist vision. Even so, I have my share of members who don’t share that vision, and who I know I have irritated over the years. The challenge for me as their rabbi is…to show them sincere respect for their vision, as different as it is from what I believe, even as I hope they respect mine as different as it is from theirs.
Over many years I and many in my community have created and nurtured a safe and open space to talk about Israel and engage multiple perspectives and viewpoints. It’s through this kind of robust dialogue that religious and community leaders can best support Israel.
Even so, I’ve been attacked for my progressive Zionist activism. I was especially criticized when my synagogue hosted Jeremy Ben-Ami this past spring in dialogue with David Suissa, the President of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, an equally passionate, articulate and intelligent Israel advocate, who incidentally, is speaking at this conference after Jeremy invited him when they appeared together at Temple Israel of Hollywood.
I had already been tagged communally as a “J Street Rabbi” for articles I penned in support of J Street’s vision and activism, and in this role I know that I’ve been dismissed by many in the LA Jewish community as being beyond the pale of “acceptable” pro-Israel activism.
I know and you know that we are not beyond the pale. Our pro-Israel pro-peace positions represent, according to recent surveys, not only the majority in the American Jewish community but also that of hundreds of thousands of Israelis. More importantly, progressive pro-Israel activism is the future because the alternative, which represents the status quo (i.e. the brutal occupation and submission of another people), is what most endangers Israel’s integrity and existence and its future as a Jewish and democratic state.
Chazak chazak v’nitchazek. May we be strong and together strengthen each other. Amen!
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March 21, 2012 | 4:56 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Why do Right Wing Extremists (RWE) act the way they do? Why do they accept the flimsy excuses and obvious lies that their leaders proclaim and cling to them so dogmatically? Why do their leaders so often turn out to be crooks and hypocrites?
These are the questions that Psychology Professor Bob Altemeyer (University of Manitoba, Winnipeg) addresses in his book The Authoritarians (Amazon.com). While his profile of the RWE follower might appear obvious, Dr. Altemeyer’s insights come after years of research.
He says that RWEs are highly submissive to the established, legitimate authorities in their society, highly aggressive in the name of their authorities to those who are outside their group, highly conventional, far more afraid than those in the general population, and less concerned about process and reasoning because the conclusion, as defined by the leader(s), is the end game. Facts that contradict the leader’s vision are discounted as irrelevant. The leader’s Truth is simple and clear.
High RWEs see the world in terms of in-groups and out-groups, are highly loyal to the in-group, and more ethnocentric than the general population. They believe, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” and if members question the group’s leaders and beliefs the questioners can quickly become regarded as traitors.
High RWEs are dogmatic and stubborn. They think in black and white terms, are relatively unchangeable, and are possessed of an unjustified certainty.
Religious fundamentalists score high on Altemeyer’s RWA scale and mix easily with the authoritarian personality. Such fundamentalists glean little purpose and joy in the exploration and discovery of new knowledge and ideas. They stand firm in their faith/beliefs, feel that they are in personal touch with the all-good Creator of the universe Who loves them and takes a special interest in them, and are certain that they will enjoy eternal happiness. In America they say, “Our country should always be a Christian country, and other beliefs should be ignored in our public institutions… All people may be entitled to their own religious beliefs, but I don’t want to associate with people whose views are quite different from my own.”
Professor Altemeyer surveyed RWA lawmakers in 50 state legislators to determine their approach to governing and policy, and received 682 responses from Democrats and 549 from Republicans. Though high RWAs tended to be mostly Republican conservatives, there were some Democrats who fit the profile.
High RWA legislators supported conservative economic policies, and rejected a law to raise the income tax rate for the rich and lower it for the poor. They held a much higher degree of racial and ethnic prejudice than low RWAs, opposed a law requiring affirmative action in state hiring, favored capital punishment, opposed gun control laws, favored a law giving police fewer restrictive rules regarding wiretapping, search-and-seizure and interrogation methods, favored a law requiring Christian religious instruction in public schools, did not think that wife abuse was a serious issue, favored restrictions on abortion, favored a law restricting anti-war protests, and opposed a law extending equal rights to homosexuals in housing and employment.
Dr. Altemeyer noted that fear exacerbates latent right wing extremist and authoritarian tendencies and brings them mightily to the fore.
And so, what do we do about this?
Dr. Altemeyer suggests five strategies:
 While protecting ourselves from legitimate threats is necessary, we should avoid stoking the embers of fear to unjustifiable levels;
 We need to eschew self-righteous posturing.
 We should resist ethnocentric self-justification and denial of the legitimacy of the “other.”
 We should teach our children to question all authority while at the same time noting that authority legitimately granted to institutions necessary for the perpetuation of democracy and to duly elected leaders or properly appointed officials should be respected and supported.
 We should do everything we can to educate our people to think so that they will not be taken for suckers and susceptible in the hands of charismatic and dogmatic extremist leaders.
The upcoming US presidential election has already brought the RWEs into the public eye in a big way. RWAs are also operating in Israel, the Arab/Islamic world and Europe.
Dr. Altemeyer has done us a service with this study, and I recommend it.
March 20, 2012 | 8:32 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Barcelona Media, an interdisciplinary center of research and innovation, hosted the Norman Lear USC Annenberg Center director Marty Kaplan to speak at its 10th anniversary celebration on March 6, 2012.
A disclaimer – Marty is a dear friend, but I was under no obligation to post his talk – I offer it to you because it is that good!
Marty’s talk is titled “From Attention to Engagement: The Transformation of the Content Industry.”
Consider the following:
Today there are 600 channels, 175 million active internet sites, 200 million blogs, 845 million users of Face Book, 300 million users of tweet, 2 billion videos streamed on Netflix, and 800 million viewers/month on YouTube. None of this had been invented 7 and 8 years ago.
The use of information is more pervasive and intrusive than ever before. Every time we swipe a credit card, record on our DVRs, use our Target, Ralphs, or other credit card or ID, use our cell phones, visit an internet site, etc. etc. etc. that information is available to marketers, politicians, entertainment companies whether we like it or not.
Marty is brilliantly comprehensive in explaining not only the phenomena of what has occurred but the impact it has made on our lives, politics and every other dimension of contemporary life. I highly recommend watching his 54 minute video.
For those with less time, here is a skimmable pdf.
March 15, 2012 | 8:58 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The following are a bit dated (9 months) but I came upon them just now and thought that despite all the negatives we always hear about Israel coming from the Arab media, these are striking.
On June 7, 2011, two Saudi columnists, the liberal Khalaf Al-Harbi, of the Saudi daily Okaz, and Fawaz Al-‘Ilmi, of the Saudi daily Al-Watan, published articles comparing Israel’s situation to that of the Arab countries. Al-Harbi opined that the secret to Israel’s success lay in its democratic regime and its respect for the human rights of its citizens, while Al-‘Ilmi wrote that Israel’s prosperity was due to its investment in education and science. It should be noted that these articles are a rare phenomenon in the Saudi government press.
 Al-Harbi: “Do We Really Still Believe that Israel Is a Temporary Entity Bound to Disappear?”
“When we were young, the teachers exhausted us by reiterating that Israel is, without question, a temporary and transient country. When we got old enough to read, newspapers and books filled our heads with reasons why Israel could not [continue to] exist in its Arab surroundings?
For years, we waited for the moment when Israel would disappear, and here we are [today, witnessing] the moment when the Arab countries are beginning to topple, one after the other. “A few days ago was the 44th anniversary of the naksa [i.e., the defeat in the 1967 war], when Israel swallowed up Arab lands… A week or more ago, [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu delivered a brilliant speech before the American Congress in which he emphasized that Israel would not return to the 1967 borders. This statement means that Israel has achieved such a degree of complacency and tranquility that it is no longer willing to negotiate even over those lands it has admitted to occupying [in 1967], much less… over the lands it occupied in 1948. Do we really still believe that Israel is a temporary entity bound to disappear? “Perhaps Israel will disappear in another 100 or 200 years, as no one can foresee what will happen in the future.
However, looking at the current state of its Arab neighbors, I see ... countries, political entities that lack the ability to maintain their national unity, and armies that are not trying to wipe out Israel so much as to wipe out their own peoples… The secret to Israel’s survival, despite all the great challenges it has faced, lies in democracy and respect for the worth of the [Israeli] individual, regardless of [Israel ‘s] racism and brutality vis-a-vis its Arab enemies. The secret to the collapse of the Arab countries, one after another, lies in dictatorship and in the oppression of the individual… It is impossible for an Arab country, a neighbor of Israel, to succeed in liberating Palestine while denying dignity to individuals [within its own borders]. “Israel won war after war, and scooped up Arab lands larger than [Israel itself] in both size and population. It then went on [to develop] manufacturing, industry, and invention.
The [average] income there is double [the average income] in the neighboring Arab countries. [Israel] has rendered itself an inescapable fact. Throughout all stages [of its development], it drew its power from the honor it granted to its citizens, while its Arab neighbors trampled the [poor] creatures known as their citizens under military boots. “If only we could get in touch with our teachers to let them know that Israel still exists, while the Arabs are headed for destruction. In order to know who will remain and who will perish, one must always check who has democracy, human rights, and social justice.”
 Al-‘Ilmi: Israel Is at the Pinnacle of Scientific Research, the Arabs at Its Nadir
“This year, Israel published numerous scientific studies that put it in first place worldwide in terms of the number of studies [published] per capita - 12 studies to every 10,000 people. America is in second place, with 10 studies [to every 10,000 people], followed by Britain, with nine. As for the Arab countries, they are all at the bottom end of these statistics. Reports on the gaps in science and technology between the Arabs and Israel show that the annual education expenses of the [average] Arab citizen has dropped to $340, while in Israel it is more than $2,500. Indices… that measure income, education, and health levels place Israel at 23rd place worldwide, while Egypt has dropped to 199th place, Syria to 111th, Jordan to 99th, and Lebanon to 82nd. As for the number of scientists engaged in research per one million citizens, Israel has 1,395, versus 136 in the Arab world…
UNESCO’s statistics indicate that, on average, scientific research expenses in the Arab countries do not exceed 0.2% of the annual budget, whereas in Israel the figure is 4.7%, placing it in first place worldwide… For ten years now, Israel has been forming strategic ties with scientifically advanced countries in order to merge [its research] with their research centers, and in order to encourage its scientists to take part in international development programs. Today, there are 21 international science companies in Israel .... It knows before everyone else the results of [these companies’] studies, reaping their fruits and using their scientific expertise to advance Israeli inventions. “The Israeli strategy in science and technology is based on finding new approaches in scientific research and technological invention by training new generations of scientists - especially in physics, chemistry, and the natural and social sciences, as [Israel] is convinced that these sciences will allow it to control the world and direct its course.
Since 1949, Israel has established marine geology and nuclear physics institutes, as well as [institutes] for the study of desert regions and information technology. Israel makes use of scientific research and technological development to secure its coasts and meet its [other]
strategic defense and security needs, and in order to protect the environment, discover and develop natural resources and use them before others, produce electricity, communications, and information technology, and research [alternative] energy…”
March 12, 2012 | 9:43 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
In watching “Game Change” on HBO this weekend about the rise and fall of Sarah Palin, as well as the controversy around Rush Limbaugh’s nasty slander of a decent young woman activist and law student, the scandal in Britain emanating from the hubris of Rupert Murdoch and his empire, the rise and fall of Glenn Beck after calling the President of the United States a racist, and the failure of Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Donald Trump among the Republican presidential contenders, one character flaw seems to be held in common by them all – egotism.
Frank William Leahy, a Hall of Fame college football coach, once said that “Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”
The Pirkei Avot (4:1) offers counsel to those of us whose egos rage out of control:
“Who is the wise one? The one who learns from all people. Who is the strong one? The one who subdues his/her passions. Who is the wealthy one? The one who is satisfied in what s/he has. Who is the honored one? The one that honors her/his fellows.”
March 7, 2012 | 5:35 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
When I was in Israel several weeks ago I had the opportunity to accompany one of Shalom Achshav’s Settlement Watch staffers on a 4 hour trek into the West Bank around Jerusalem to investigate building activity in both the “legal” settlements and the “illegal outposts.” The Israeli government has made a commitment to dismantle the dozens of “illegal outposts,” but to date has not done so. These outposts and some of the settlements built deep inside the West Bank pose problems in imagining a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank in an eventual two-state peace agreement.
This past week Peter Beinart wrote an important piece in The Daily Beast entitled “AIPAC, Israel, and the Hypocritical Claim of backing a Two-State Solution.” It is, in my view, a persuasive argument contending that AIPAC’s policy in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is nothing more than lip service. For the complete article, see http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/03/05/aipac-israel-and-the-hypocritical-claim-of-backing-a-two-state-solution.html.
Beinart reports that on the morning the most recent AIPAC National Conference began, AIPAC’s national body approved its 2012 action principles. Nowhere, however, is a “Palestinian state” or “two-state solution” mentioned. The action principles also call for an “undivided Jerusalem,” (point #6) a problematic statement given the consensus among many that a final resolution of this conflict will include Jerusalem serving as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. The Clinton-Barak-Arafat plan, the Geneva Accord, and the Olmert-Abbas proposals all designated Jerusalem as the eventual capital of both states. It is a bottom line issue for both peoples, and for AIPAC to dismiss this is a non-starter.
Recognizing that AIPAC’s 2012 principles present a question about AIPAC’s commitment of support for a two-state solution, a progressive group that sits on AIPAC’s National Council, Ameinu, introduced an amendment to AIPAC’s action principles that read, “AIPAC supports Israel’s commitment to democratic values and the rule of law, including the protection of minorities and the dismantling of illegal settlement outposts.”
In advance of the vote, the AIPAC Board attempted to discourage Ameinu from introducing the amendment arguing that AIPAC should never tell the Israeli government what to do. But the Israeli government had already committed itself to dismantling these “illegal outposts.” The Ameinu amendment only sought to put AIPAC on record in supporting the Israeli government’s own policy decision. One has to wonder why it would demur in this case when so often AIPAC boldly supports other Israeli government decisions. The only conclusion one can reasonably draw is that AIPAC wants to see settlement construction continue and make a two-state solution virtually impossible, if it isn’t already.
By a vote of 300 to five, AIPAC voted down Ameinu’s amendment.
Israel has a choice. If it intends to maintain its Jewish majority and its democratic institutions it needs a negotiated two-state solution. If it intends to hold onto all the West Bank in Israel, then Israel will have to either deny 1.2 million Palestinians living in the West Bank full Israeli citizenship rights thereby sacrificing Israel’s democratic ideals, or grant those Palestinians citizenship and lose its Jewish majority in just a few short years. Either way, Israel will cease to embody the original Zionist vision as the homeland for the Jewish people and a democratic state based upon equal rights for all.
Beinart put it this way:
“AIPAC serves as a political bodyguard for the settlement process that brings one state ever closer [i.e. a secular and bi-national state]. [AIPAC] serves as a pallbearer for that quaint idea envisioned by Israel’s declaration of independence, a state that both safeguards the Jewish people and offers “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, or sex.””
When the AIPAC Board takes positions as it did in voting down Ameinu’s amendment in such a lopsided vote, I fear for Israel’s future. More sober AIPAC supporters ought to as well.
March 5, 2012 | 5:58 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
“ְהָפוּך” in Hebrew means opposite, upside-down, reversed, or backward!
However, in regards to the reading of the Book of Esther backwards, Jewish law (Halacha) says: “One who reads the Megilah backwards has not fulfilled the mitzvah (commandment) of reading the Megilah.”
The Baal Shem Tov (the founder of modern Hasidism) comments, saying: “If you read the Megilah thinking it’s only about the past [i.e. looking backwards], you miss the point.”
We Jews need to look forward always. Though we are a people with a long memory and we do not forget very much in our history and experience, we become mired in the past to our own detriment because then we find ourselves responding to current challenges inappropriately and unwisely.
March 2, 2012 | 8:36 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
My friend, Rabbi Stanley Davids, writes from Jerusalem in response to my review of Sari Nusseibeh’s autobiography Once Upon A Country – A Palestinian Life and referred me to a recent article in the English language Al Jazeera in which Dr. Nusseibeh critiques the Israeli government’s demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as a “Jewish state.” http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/201192614417586774.html
In my review of Once Upon A Country I quoted Dr. Nusseibeh: “Palestinians need to know that to get their state requires acknowledging the moral right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.” (p. 446)
In his Al Jazeera piece, however, Dr. Nusseibeh argues that Israel’s own stated claim to be a democracy that is inclusive with equal rights for all its citizens (e.g. Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, Muslims, Christians, secular, etc.) demands that Israel not be defined as a “Jewish state.”
The current debate about the nature of Israel as a Jewish state and democracy, in fairness, was initiated by the current Israeli government when it demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” Dr. Nusseibeh’s article shines a light on the inherent problems in this demand not only for Palestinians and other non-Jewish citizens but for Israeli democracy. It is one thing, he says, to call Israel the “homeland of the Jewish people” (which he supports) and quite another to call it a “Jewish state” (which he does not support). One points to a people at home in its land and the other to a modern political entity.
In Al Jazeera Dr. Nusseibeh wrote:
“In short, recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ in Israel is not the same as, say, recognition of Greece today as a ‘Christian State.’ It entails, in the Old Testament itself, a Covenant between God and a Chosen People regarding a Promised Land that should be taken by force at the expense of the other inhabitants of the land and of non-Jews. This idea is not present as such in other religions that we know of. Moreover, even secular and progressive voices in Israel, such as former president of the Supreme Court of Israel, Aharon Barak, understand the concept of a ‘Jewish State’ as follows:
‘[The] Jewish State is the state of the Jewish people … it is a state in which every Jew has the right to return … a Jewish state derives its values from its religious heritage, the Bible is the basic of its books and Israel’s prophets are the basis of its morality … a Jewish state is a state in which the values of Israel, Torah, Jewish heritage and the values of the Jewish halacha [religious law] are the bases of its values.’ (‘A State in Emergency’, Ha’aretz, 19 June, 2005.)
So, rather than demand that Palestinians recognise Israel as a ‘Jewish State’ as such - adding ‘beyond chutzpah’ to insult and injury - we offer the suggestion that Israeli leaders ask instead that Palestinians recognise Israel (proper) as a civil, democratic, and pluralistic state whose official religion is Judaism, and whose majority is Jewish. Many states (including Israel’s neighbours Jordan and Egypt, and countries such as Greece) have their official religion as Christianity or Islam (but grant equal civil rights to all citizens) and there is no reason why Israeli Jews should not want the religion of their state to be officially Jewish. This is a reasonable demand, and it may allay the fears of Jewish Israelis about becoming a minority in Israel, and at the same time not arouse fears among Palestinians and Arabs about being ethnically cleansed in Palestine. Demanding the recognition of Israel’s official religion as Judaism, rather than the recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish State’, would also mean Israel continuing to be a democracy.”
Should Israel do as Dr. Nusseibeh suggests raises important issues that would need to be clarified including the Jewish right of return, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, who is obligated to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, taxation and equal distribution of tax revenues, etc. Some of these problems can be accommodated in a two states for two peoples resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as the right of return.
Dr. Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset who leads his party, the Arab Movement for Change, put it poignantly and painfully this way: “Israel is Jewish and democratic - Jewish for the Arabs and democratic for the Jews.”