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Does Temple University Condone Historical Revisionism?

By Melissa Landa, Ph.D.

Temple University professor Marc Lamont-Hill has spent the last three weeks sparring in-person and on-line with a group of Zionists who are no longer willing to sit idly by as he defames the Jewish people and promotes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel. On May 4, six members of the organization, Alliance for Israel—including Jews from South Africa and the former Soviet Union— attended and videotaped his participation on a panel at the University of Massachusetts where he refused to denounce the Hamas missiles that were landing in civilian areas in Israel as he spoke. We sat and watched in dismay as an Israeli among us was asked by Vijay Prashad, the moderator, to leave the auditorium after breaking down in tears and shouting that his friend in Israel had been killed in a terror attack, and we continued to listen in disbelief as Lamont-Hill argued that we need to reevaluate what constitutes terrorism.

Despite Lamont-Hill’s 2015 Huffington Post essay called, “Why Every Black Activist Should Stand With Rasmea Odeh,” in which he celebrated the convicted terrorist and murderer of two university students in a grocery store in Israel in1969, watching him condone terrorism was a moment I will not soon forget.

Three days later, when Alliance for Israel alerted the public about his behavior at the University of Massachusetts in a Twitter message, Lamont-Hill issued the unequivocal denial, “I literally did the opposite of everything you just said.”

Undeterred, as if engaging in a hazing process to earn himself a secure position among the leaders of the BDS campaign, on May 20, Lamont-Hill contradicted an autobiographical ethnography written by Hen Mazzig, an Israeli Mizrahi Jew, and an Alliance for Israel Advisory Board member. In response to Mazzig’s article in the Los Angeles Times that described his family’s violent oppression and expulsion from Iraq and their migration to safe haven in Israel, Lamont-Hill challenged Mazzig with the following outrageous claim about the origin of the Mizrahi Jews: “The racial and political project that transformed Palestinian Jews (who lived peacefully with other Palestinians) into the 20th century identity category of ‘Mizrahi’ as a means of detaching them from Palestinian identity.”

At best, Lamont-Hill has exposed his lack of historical and cultural knowledge of the Middle East and of the Jewish people. At worst, he is deliberately engaging in historical revisionism to facilitate his personal crusade against Israel, falsely portraying the Jewish state as a European colonial project, thus, justifying terrorism against innocent Israelis as noble Palestinian “resistance.” Regardless, Lamont-Hill’s actions warrant immediate attention from all Temple University stakeholders.

Temple University administrators should and must take disciplinary action against Lamont-Hill based on his failure to demonstrate intellectual and scholarly honesty and integrity as articulated by the American Association of University Professors. It would also behoove the administration to recall the 2014 incident when a member of Students for Justice (SJP) in Palestine punched a Jewish student in the face on the campus of Temple University and recognize that SJP is the official student arm of the BDS campaign that Lamont-Hill promotes.

If they are unwilling or unable to dismiss Lamont-Hill given their policies on promotion and tenure, the administration certainly should pursue other disciplinary actions, including denying him sabbatical and preventing him from advising doctoral students. In concert, Temple University alumni should begin to exercise their influence by withholding financial donations to their alma mater until the administration acts in accordance with the standards expected of an accredited American institution of higher education. Finally, Jewish students, prospective and current, should give serious thought to whether Temple University is an institution that will ensure their safety or a university that recognizes and respects their history and identity.

With three months before the start of the next academic year, Temple University has ample time to determine the nature of its affiliation with Professor Lamont-Hill and, in turn, with the American Jewish community.

Photo credit:Joe Piette https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

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.

Speaking Out for the Voiceless

The Honorable Irwin Cotler was the Keynote Speaker at the American Jewish Committees’s Murray Friedman annual lecture. Murray Friedman was a passionate advocate for human rights and this program honored his memory. Professor Cotler is the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and longtime Member of Parliament, and an international human rights lawyer.

Mr. Cotler is passionate about the struggle for human rights of minorites all over the world. He has worked tirelessly for the protection of human rights internationally. His mission is to give a voice to the voiceless. Mr. Cotler discussed the human rights abuses occurring in Venezuela, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia. He decried the world’s indifference to the suffering of political prisoners and genocides of persecuted minorities.

Mr. Cotler described the laundering of the delegitimization of Israel under the guise of human rights. He described the selective use of words and images to present Israel as a human rights abusing nation that should not exist. According to Mr. Cotler, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council is populated by human rights violators. There is a culture of impunity, in which only Israel is condemned internationally, while other countries are ignored. With the passage of time, this condemnation becomes internalized, accepted, and adopted by journalists, academics, and politicians around the world.

What is to be done? Mr. Cotler believes that it is our individual and collective responsibility to speak on behalf of the voiceless. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of indifference to suffering just because it is occurring far away from us.

Photo credit: Christopher Brown.

Anti-Semitism in Europe Today and What it Means for America

Photo by OsamaK https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:OsamaK

Eldad Beck is a multilingual, Sorbonne-educated Israeli journalist based in Europe. He has spent the past several years walking about the streets of Berlin, Paris, Budapest, and other cities listening to the people. According to him, anti-Semitism is alive and well in the hearts and minds of regular Europeans. The trends in Europe may be a roadmap for the Jewish community in the United States.

Since he covers the whole continent, he spoke of the situation in several countries. For the sake of brevity, we will focus on his experience in Germany.

Mr. Beck was curious about what young Germans think about Jews these days. Do they know what anti-Semitism is, and if it exists in Germany? Why is Israel so negatively seen in Germany?

He asked a class of college students about the news media. What do the reports say, and how does that make them feel? The students analyzed all the major German newspapers. They discovered that whether they were politically to the left or to the right, regardless of the other conflicts in the Middle East, all of the publications have an anti-Israel slant.

Mr. Beck wondered how Germany arrived at this place. He asked the students why they think Jews are negatively portrayed. The students shared three reasons that German gentiles don’t like Jews.

The first is that they feel like there are many Jews in Germany. Mr. Beck asked them how many Jews they thought live in Germany. They thought the community numbers one million. In reality, the Jewish population of Germany is two hundred thousand.

The second reason Germans don’t like Jews is that they think that there are many Jews in politics, with an outsize influence. The truth is that there is not a single Jewish politician serving in the Bundestag.

The third reason the students gave is that there are many Jews in the media. There are very few Jews in the German media.

How did these German college students come to have these beliefs?

They never learned about anti-Semitism. These young Germans were never taught about the process in Germany that led up to the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is only one part of the hatred of Jews. It is possible to have anti-Semitism in places where there are no Jews.

The hatred of Jews started as a religious hatred. The issue was over who has the true religion. When Jews were faced with a choice of life or death, they could change their religion in order to save their lives. This is what occurred during the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was the root of the second type of hatred of Jews, a hatred of a race. Jews who converted to Catholicism, or “New Christians,” were not really considered clean by the Old Christians.

“Semite” replaced the word for “Jews” in Europe. Historically, anti-Semitism was hatred of Jews, and of no other Semites.

The State of Israel was founded after the Holocaust. Zionism was not a response to Nazism. It had originated much earlier, in the late 1890s, with Theodor Herzl.

Anti-Zionism is the political hatred of Jews. According to the anti-Zionists, Jews are not allowed to have their own state. In Europe, the word “Zionist” is a curse.

Germany has a double crisis. There is a revolt against the elites and a conflict between “old” Europeans and “new” immigrants and refugees. The one point of agreement between all these people is their hatred of Jews. This engenders all sorts of conspiracy theories.

One such theory is that Angela Merkel is a Jew. Mrs. Merkel supports Israel. She promotes good relations between Israel and Germany. Some Germans compare what the Nazis did to the Jews with what Israelis do to the Palestinians. This is a way for them to clean their conscience and memory from the Holocaust.

Germany has allowed so many Muslim immigrants into the country that the Germans now feel threatened by them. The German authorities refuse to acknowledge Muslim anti-Semitism. When anti-Semitic attacks occur, the police are afraid of interfering and escalating the situation. In 2014, three men of Palestinian descent threw a Molotov cocktail at the Wuppertal Synagogue near Dusseldorf. A German court ruled that this is considered a legitimate expression of anger at Israel.

Mr. Beck concluded that the difference between today and the past is the existence of the State of Israel. Jews all over the world have a country they can go to. Standing by Israel is one of the best guarantees against all forms of hatred of Jews. The fight against hatred must not stop. The battle today is against the existence of the State of Israel. Those who oppose Israel want the Jews to be weak and dependent on them. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is not a boycott movement. It is a movement to annihilate the Jewish State. The political slogan chanted by members of the BDS, “Palestine from the river to the sea,” means all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. This means the destruction of the State of Israel.

There are 1.6 million Jews in the European Union. 38% of these Jews are considering immigration. 80% will not wear external Jewish symbols such as a Star of David or yarmulke, or go to Jewish public events. If the Jewish community in the United States does not open its eyes to the threats against it, it will inevitably face the same situation.

This Election and the Jews of America

— by Deanne Comer

The horrific, anti-Semitic act of violence that befell members of the Tree of Life synagogue of Pittsburgh brought to the forefront issues of divisiveness in our society and among American Jews.

Like many, I am fearful now for the future of my country that gave me security, opportunity and pride in its democratic principles and just societal values. Jews who are concerned and insecure will question the idea that America is our homeland in fact, and look to Israel as the authentic homeland likely to guarantee our survival as a people.

On Election Day, Jews might have voted for Republican candidates, believing fallaciously that the present Administration has supported Israel more than any other, and negating the reality that all US past administrations have reaffirmed Israel’s legitimacy.

We need to demonstrate our faith in the precepts of an America that absorbed us into its sumptuous landscape and gave us the boundless opportunity to translate the Judaic principles of Tikun Olam (to repair the world) into social action.

Reject the party that immorally urges persecution against “the other,” demonstrates inhumane border policies, urges verbal attacks on political opponents and our free press, spews hateful rhetoric, supports “good people” at white supremacist rallies, and lets political funding blind it to the need for gun control laws.

Say “Enough is enough” by voting for Democratic candidates who are committed to the premise that this undercurrent of hate and overt violence must… and can be stopped!

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.”