Featured Articles

Don't miss the latest breaking news from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Enter your email address in the box on the right and subscribe to our free newsletter.

Trump: Israel Will Pay Price for Embassy’s Jerusalem Move

US Embassy in Jerusalem

— Ron Klein, Chairman of Jewish Democratic Council of America

JDCA condemns President Trump’s ominous warning that Israel will have to “pay a higher price” now that the U.S. Embassy has been moved to Jerusalem.

And you know what, in the negotiation Israel will have to pay a higher price because they won a very big thing, but I took it off the table. [The Palestinians] could never get past the fact of Jerusalem becoming the capital, but they will get something very good next because it’s their turn next. (President Donald Trump at West Virginia rally on Augustr 21, 2018)

This statement demonstrates – yet again – that President Trump doesn’t know the first thing about formulating effective U.S. diplomacy and maintaining historic alliances.

Threatening Israel – and offering vague promises to the Palestinians – will not bring peace to the Middle East, nor will it strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Instead, it further diminishes U.S. credibility in the region and breeds distrust among both Israelis and Palestinians.

By threatening to exact a price on Israel for his own flawed policy-making, President Trump has created confusion and distance from the Israeli government. It’s long past time for Trump’s supporters in the pro-Israel community to stop putting party over policy and to speak out against his reckless, and at times incoherent, foreign policy.

“Maybe US v. Nixon was Wrongly Decided”

Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court (July 9, 2018)

In 2016, the Republican Senate refused to consider Merrick Garland (Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit – the second highest court in the land) as President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States after the death of Antonin Scalia. After 293 days of obstruction, the GOP ran out the clock giving President Trump the opportunity to seat Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

Now, swing-justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his intention to retire from the Supreme Court giving Trump the chance to fill yet another seat on the Supreme Court. He has nominated Brett Kavanaugh – a former clerk of Anthony Kennedy who currently serves under Merrick Garland as a judge on the DC Circuit court.

How did Trump happen to chose Kavanaugh among the twenty-five candidates which the White House says were under consideration. Trump and his family and their businesses, his Presidential campiagn and his administration are under investigation by the special council and the states for a variety of matters which may come before the Supreme Court. Can a sitting President be subpoenaed? Can he be indicted? Can he pardon people who might otherwise turn state witness and testify against him? Can he pardon members of his own family or even himself? These are all questions which have not yet come before the courts and can only be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Kavanaugh is unique among the 25 judges under consideration in his interpretation of executive privilidge.

In an article for the Minnesota Law Review in 2009, Kavanaugh wrote that Congress should pass a law exempting the president from criminal prosecution and investigation while in office, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense lawyers.

In the Minnesota Law Review, Kavanaugh argues:

I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office…. We should not burden a sitting President with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions.

United States v. Nixon (1974)

In fact, Kavanaugh has claimed that even without action by Congress, the President may already be above the law and enjoy immunity was any indictments or discovery while he is in office. At a 1999 roundtable organized by the Washington Lawyer suggested several years ago that the unanimous high court ruling in 1974 that forced President Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes, leading to the end of his presidency, may have been wrongly decided.

But maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch by holding that the courts had power and jurisdiction to order the president to disclose information in response to a subpoena sought by a subordinate executive branch official. That was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do not appreciate sufficiently…Maybe the tension of the time led to an erroneous decision.

The U.S. v. Nixon marked limits on the president’s ability to withhold information needed for a criminal prosecution and led directly to Richard Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974. Associate Justice William Rehnquist recused himself as he had previously served in the Nixon administration as an Assistant Attorney General, but the other eight justices ruled against Nixon’s claims of executive privilege. This unanimously decision included the support of three justices nominated by President Nixon himself: Associate Justice Lewis Powell, Associate Justice Harry Blackmun and the author of the decision Chief Justice Warren Berger.

In our Declaration of Independence, our country’s founders bemoaned King George’s “obstruction of the administration of justice”. Accordingly, in the United States Constitution the three branches of government serve as checks and balances which guarantee that no one – not even the President is above the law. Allowing unlimited executive privileges eliminates the thin line which separates our democracy from a simple monarchy.

In a few weeks we will be reading the Torah portion Shoftim in which the future kings of Israel are enjoined to make an extra copy of the Torah and keep this scroll of the law with him so that he should refer to it at all times and come to understand that while he was head of state, even he was not completely sovereign, he was still subject to the law.

And he shall write in his own name a Sefer Torah. When he goes forth to war he must take it with him; on returning, he brings it back with him; when he sits in judgment it shall be with him, and when he sits down to eat, before him, as it is written: and it shall be with him and he shall read therein all the days of his life. (M Sanhedrin 2:4)

In the same portion (Deut. 16:20), the Torah declares tzedek, tzedek tirdof: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. (Deut. 16:20) Art by Rabbi Jonathan Kremer.

If we believe in justice, then everyone must be accountable under the law, and if a judge fails to understand this, then that judge does not deserve a life-time appointment to the Supreme Court.

Jewish Dems Condemn Trump’s Embrace of Putin at Helsinki Summit

Demand Trump and Republicans Hold Russia Responsible for Its Crimes

Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin in Helsinki, Finland.

It is the duty of the President of the United States to uphold the oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, and to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. President Trump abdicated these responsibilities with his reckless embrace of Russia, an adversary that has actively undermined America’s democratic institutions and sought to sow discord in the United States.

As opposed to reaffirming the unanimous assessment of the U.S. intelligence community regarding Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, Trump reiterated the Russian narrative about its own crimes. As opposed to defending the U.S. government and its citizens from a known adversary, Trump inexplicably undermined his own law enforcement and intelligence agencies with Putin by his side. As opposed to upholding his constitutional role as Commander in Chief, Trump kowtowed to a leader who poses an ongoing threat to America’s national security and our interests abroad.

President Trump’s actions in Helsinki were a betrayal of American values and interests, and an international disgrace. Since entering office, the president has isolated America from our allies and weakened our standing in the world. Jewish Democrats are outraged about this increasingly dangerous situation and demand that President Trump and Republicans in Congress fully acknowledge Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, hold Russia responsible for its crimes, and take concrete action to defend our democracy against this ongoing threat.

Gerrymandering is not a game… Except when it is

Board Game Invented by Austin Siblings Takes on the Supreme Court, 32 Governors, and 37 State Legislatures

Three Austin siblings, Josh, Louis, and Rebecca Lafair, invented a board game, Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game, after growing up in a gerrymandered district (Texas Congressional District 10). They want to spread the word about gerrymandering in a fun, hands-on way. Moreover, they want to remind politicians that gerrymandering is not a game.

The Lafair siblings launched Mapmaker on Kickstarter on July 10th. They reached their funding goal in only 6 hours, with support from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lawrence Lessig, David Daley, and other big voices in the anti-gerrymandering movement. The Kickstarter runs until August 8th. As part of the campaign, backers can buy games for themselves; their state legislators, who draw maps in 37 states; their governors, who veto maps in 32 of these states; and Supreme Court Justices, who rule on maps. Inside every box, the siblings are including a “Gerrymandering is Not a Game” proclamation.

High school senior Josh Lafair explains,

The more I learned about gerrymandering, the more I realized how terrible it is for our country. Today’s partisan divide can be traced back to gerrymandering. Non-competitive districts take away the incentive to compromise, so politicians don’t need to reach across the aisle.

“We’ve noticed that halfway through their first game, players often comment, ‘I finally get how packing and cracking works.’ Then they have deeper conversations about gerrymandering afterwards,” reveals Louis Lafair, who graduated last month from Stanford University.

Rebecca Lafair, a senior at Northeastern University, says, “Before 2021 redistricting, which will affect elections for the next decade, we hope to add momentum to the anti-gerrymandering movement.”

Mapmaker is not just a teaching tool or political gimmick. It is also a really fun game. Like real gerrymandering, it is full of scheming and strategizing, maneuvers and outmaneuvers. Steve Jackson, inventor of Munchkin and founder of Steve Jackson Games, describes his experience playing as “engrossing.” Aaron Schimmoller, a Settlers of Catan addict, calls Mapmaker “better than Catan.” Over one hundred people have playtested and helped the Lafair siblings improve Mapmaker.

This is not their first game. At age 11, Louis invented his first board game, which was subsequently published by Go! Games. The Austin area publisher is partnering with them for their Kickstarter campaign to ensure high quality production and seamless fulfillment.

You can support Mapmaker on Kickstarter, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. For more information about the board game, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

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.”

Riding the Redistricting Reform Roller Coaster in the Pa. General Assembly

The national census will take place in 2020. And then, the process of redrawing congressional and state legislative maps will go on in states across the country in 2021. Redistricting reform advocates had hoped for some guidance in this process from the U.S. Supreme Court, but in two recent cases, the court failed to opine on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to benefit a particular political party — and instead, issued rulings on procedural grounds.

Just how the 2021 redistricting process will take place in Pennsylvania now depends on what happens in the state’s General Assembly within the next 10 days or so. In fact, advocates for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania have been riding a legislative roller coaster for months — and it continues to be a very bumpy ride. [Read more…]

Lower Merion Yeshivot March Together at the Celebrate Israel Parade

The Lower Merion Jewish schools at Celebrate Israel Parade in NYC. Photo: N. Aaron Troodler

By N. Aaron Troodler

Carrying their large banners and waving Israeli flags with pride, three local Orthodox Jewish Day Schools from the Greater Philadelphia area marched together up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Sunday, June 3rd as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade.

For the first time ever, Caskey Torah Academy in Wynnewood, Kohelet Yeshiva in Merion Station and The Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia in Bala Cynwyd marched jointly under the banner of “The Yeshivot of Lower Merion, PA.” The three schools, which collectively educate over 600 students in the Greater Philadelphia area, traveled to Manhattan to take part in this exciting celebration marking 70 years since the founding of the modern State of Israel. Approximately 200 students, parents and grandparents from the three Lower Merion schools walked proudly, danced and sang Hebrew songs along the parade route.

[Read more…]

Did Bibi Call Overweight Israeli Eurovision Winner a Cow?

Netanyahu’s second tweet.

When overweight singer Netta Barzilai became the first Israeli to win the Eurovision contest in 20 years, Twitter users were shocked to read that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had tweeted, “[Netta], you’re a cow!”

How did that happen? Netta is known for finishing her performances with the words, “Kappara aleichem!” (“Atonement for you all!”). When Natanyahu said “kappara alaich!” (“atonement for you!”), Microsoft Translator read kappara as keparah – “like a cow.” However, the translation was still wrong, as keparah alaich means “like a cow on you.”

Absurdly, after Netta was declared winner, the prime minister tweeted, “Netta, at kappara amitit,” using kappara as an adjective, which could be correctly read in Hebrew as “Netta, you’re like a real cow!”

However, Netta never seemed to question Netanyahu’s intentions, as the two met shortly after her return to Israel and performed Netta’s “chicken dance” together:

Microsoft has seemingly fixed Translator since the incident, as the word kappara is now translated as “sweetheart” when used as an adjective.

Held annually since 1956 with 63 countries participating over the years, the Eurovision is watched by about 200 million people worldwide each year. As Israel won the contest, it will host the Eurovision next year. Participating 41 times since 1973, it was Israel’s fourth win overall, after the wins in 1978, 1979 (in which the contest was held in Jerusalem for the same reason) and 1998.

Netta’s song, “Toy,” carried a feminist message, was sang almost entirely in English (The only Hebrew line was “Ani lo booba” – “I’m not a doll.”) and used internationally famous names such as Wonder Woman and Pikachu:

The Clock Is Ticking on Redistricting Reform in Pennsylvania

Current Pennsylvania congressional district map, handed down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

During the May 15 primary elections, Pennsylvania voters throughout the commonwealth will find themselves voting in different congressional districts than they have in the past. These new districts were created by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a historic decision that struck down Pennsylvania’s 2011 district map on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans. The new Supreme Court map will be in effect for the 2018 elections and presumably the 2020 elections, but what happens after that? [Read more…]

Remembering Barbara Bush in “the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”

On April 17, former First Lady Barbara Bush died at age 92. During her long and illustrious life, Mrs. Bush championed the cause of literacy — a passion that Bonnie Squires, board president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, had the privilege of witnessing in action. Squires covered the former first lady during a stop at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where Mrs. Bush was reading to a group of children. Squires specifically recalls the touching moment when the first lady put one of the children on her lap while she read. [Read more…]