Israel Turns 71: What Israelis May Be Thinking About

In this 71st year since statehood, Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s Day of Remembrance – is May 8, followed on May 9 by Yom Haatzmaut, Independence Day. In Israel there is major recognition of these events.

The Day of Remembrance is experienced by quiet observation, no movies or theatres will play. Radio stations broadcast programs that recall the loss of life in all of Israel’s wars. A siren announces the arrival at dusk of Yom Hazikaron. It sounds again at midmorning and all traffic and activity halts for two minutes of silence to mark the sacrifices.

At sundown Israelis achieve an immense change of pace and mood. Yom Haatzmaut includes dancing all evening and into the wee hours of the night at the Wall, and partying in Safra Square (outside Jerusalem’s city hall) and at block parties across the nation.

A token group of pre-cleared Palestinians have been invited to the Remembrance Day ceremonies in past years. This year the government has a complete shutdown on travel for the holiday and Palestinians are not invited (in fact, disinvited according to Haaretz).

This year the holiday finds Israel between governments, although there is no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu will once again form a government and continue as P.M., setting a record for lifetime service in that post.

Despite the P.M.’s tight hold on the government, this holiday comes at a time when Israel is at the center of a worldwide storm: a dispute over the continued growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Concern over the lack of progress in reaching any peace with the Palestinians living there and in Gaza. And a movement of young people and university academics away from support of the Government of Israel is happening, particularly in the U.S.

Through astute politicking, the American Jewish community and Christian religious groups have secured the unwavering support of the Trump Administration for the Netanyahu policies.

So Israelis might, during their celebration, toast the imminent declaration of annexation of portions of the West Bank. They might celebrate the American support of their permanent occupation of portions of the Golan Heights. They will be pleased at entrenchment of their sole possession of all of Jerusalem, marked by the move of the official address of the American embassy in Israel, and the closure of our separate legation to the Palestinian Authority.

A “Greater Israel” is closer at hand than ever.

Yet the Israelis ought to hold a measured celebration. Israel is in an arms race with Iran, which has the backing of Russia and could potentially secure the support of China as well – the latter being an increasingly capable designer and maker of armaments. The Trump Administration is a firm friend, but unlike the Israeli P.M., Trump faces a serious reelection challenge and, beyond that, a term limit.

So those of us who recall the history of the State, from an assemblage of islands in the United Nations Partition Plan to the present military power from the river to the sea, may say a prayer for a Smarter Israel, as soon as possible.

Jewish Labor Committee Comment on Janus Decision on “Fair Share” Fees

The Jewish Labor Committee spoke out against today’s decision in Janus v AFSCME Council 31. In that decision the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 40-year old unanimous decision (Abood v. Detroit Board of Education) that held that union “fair share” fees are constitutional. In Janus the court ruled that anything that a union representing public employees does to improve working conditions – any effort to improve safety in the workplace, to restrict excessive overtime, to ensure fair wages or otherwise improve workers’ lives on the job – is political and that “fair share” payments to cover these union services are a violation of fee payers’ free speech.

The JLC states, “Unions are required by law to represent and negotiate on behalf of all public employees, members and nonmembers alike. So everyone who benefits should contribute to the cost of representational activities like contract negotiations and grievance representation. Before this case, no one was forced to be a union member or pay any fees that fund political activities. Fair share fees enabled employees who didn’t want to contribute in any way towards the union’s political and lobbying activities to pay a lower amount that excluded any dues money spent on such activities. Non-members will now be able to “free ride” on the dues paid by their coworkers and deprive unions of the resources needed to fight for worker rights in the workplace.”

Jonathan Sarna Lectures on Leonard Bernstein at 100

Leonard Bernstein Exhibit at the AMJH. Head and hands, conducting. By permission of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Leonard Bernstein Exhibit

Historian Dr. Jonathan Sarna visited Philadelphia to introduce the new exhibit on the life of composer Leonard Bernstein at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH).

The exhibit traces Bernstein from birth in 1918 in Massachusetts, through his student days, his studies in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, (where he attended the Curtis Institute) and his debut as a conductor replacing the ailing Bruno Walter. Uniquely among Jewish composers, Bernstein took an active interest in Jewish affairs and Israel, according to Sarna. Memorabilia in the exhibit confirm this, including excerpts from Bernstein’s correspondence, speeches, and orchestral and movie film clips. In his own terms and through his papers, Bernstein emerges as constantly striving to achieve more compositions, more performances and at the same time, to maintain close contacts with family, friends and Jewish life. [Read more…]

Democracy Works Summit in Philadelphia

A two-day conference of good government advocates will be convened in Philadelphia on May 21 and 22, with attendance open to the public. Hosted by Common Cause Pennsylvania, the summit will present speakers from the private, public and nonprofit sectors of the mid-Atlantic region, who will discuss issues critical to our democracy, such as the census, redistricting and voting modernization. [Read more…]

Unrigging Our Elections

Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in League of Women Voters v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was just handed down. In its opinion, the court held that Pennsylvania’s congressional district maps violate the state constitution. The ruling also requires that the maps be redrawn in time for the May 2018 primaries.

People who are concerned that elections in the U.S. are “rigged” should be thrilled with the wave of new court cases on partisan gerrymandering, which voice this contention, and even better, propose remedies for the problem. [Read more…]

Regulating the Communications Industry: From Bells to Bandwidth

The government has repeatedly had difficulty regulating telecommunications, and the current controversy over net neutrality is no exception. It is a battle pitting telecommunications titans AT&T, Comcast and Verizon against virtually everyone else who uses the Internet — which is virtually everyone else. The titans appear to have prevailed, and Internet users, including The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, are seriously worried. [Read more…]

Supreme Court Stays Court-Ordered Texas Redistricting. What Does It Mean?

Original gerrymander cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale, "Boston Gazette," March 26, 1812.

Original gerrymander cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale, “Boston Gazette,” March 26, 1812.

The case challenging redistricting in Texas, Veasey v. Abbott, has been around since 2011. Congressional districts set after the 2010 census were alleged to be discriminatory against minorities and hence illegal under the federal Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs won, and new districts were drawn and approved by the federal district court.

But in three elections since then, plaintiffs argue that the new districts have proven still to be discriminatory. The federal district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and ordered the districts redrawn in time for the 2018 election. The case is now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. [Read more…]

Religious Freedom Reimagined?

Every year the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) holds a panel discussion on the just-concluded term of the U.S. Supreme Court. Broadcast live from the National Constitution Center, this year’s panel — consisting of legal experts Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Frederick Lawrence and Dahlia Lithwick — reviewed the 2016-17 term, which ended in June. They covered topics ranging from free speech and transgender rights to an analysis of the court’s newest member, Justice Gorsuch. They also discussed an issue of particular interest to the Jewish community: the separation of church and state, raised by a Supreme Court case with potentially far-reaching implications. [Read more…]

Independence Day Is an Occasion to Celebrate American Jewish Heroes

Haym Salomon Stamp. Photo: USPS.

Haym Salomon Stamp. Photo: USPS.

How many Jewish heroes of the Revolutionary War (or earlier) can you identify? You probably know that Haym Salomon was a key figure in financing the Revolution. Did you know that Francis Salvador was the first Jew to die in the American Revolution, on August 1, 1776, following the signing of the Declaration of Independence? You might know that Philadelphian Rebecca Gratz founded the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society and other relief organizations. Did you know that her family was prominent among revolutionaries here? We also have colonial recipes. [Read more…]