Netroots and Anti-Semitism

T-Shirt sold at Netroots Nation calling for people to “Resist Racism, Sexism, Zionism, …”

The Netroots conference has met annually since 2006, and serves as a think-tank for progressive political activists and bloggers especially from the Daily Kos for which the conference was originally known as Yearly Kos. Last week was the first time it was held in Philadelphia, so I decide to give it a try and connect with fellow progressives, strategize on issues of common interest, and learn about various Presidential candidates. Instead, I was frustrated by the idealogical purity required by many participants.

Judaism has informed my progressive values such as standing up to hate, welcoming the oppressed, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and protecting the environment. Moreover, in foreign policy I see Israel as an example (albeit imperfect) of these values and the only true democracy in the Middle East.

I know that there are many on Daily Kos and elsewhere on left who do not share my views of Israel, and I was a bit worried when I browsed the biographies of the Netroots speakers and the attendees and found that all of the references to “Israel” were parts of references to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) and related groups.

Nevertheless, I was heartened to see a panel scheduled entitled How We Fight Anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, it would have been more accurately entitled “How we fight accusations of Anti-Semitism.”

The moderator and panelists spoke well about the threat of anti-Semtism on the right. Trump may not have invented racism or anti-Semitism, but he has certainly given cover to racists and anti-Semites. Anti-Semtism is now more socially acceptable, and what was once said in whispers or dog-whistles is now overt. GOP leaders spread anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. If even a small number of people are influenced by these memes and come to believe that George Soros and the Jews hate America and are organizing an invasion of illegal immigrants from the South to take our jobs, spread disease, commit crimes and engage in terrorism, then attacks like those at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue are not surprising.

However, the panelists went too far when they claimed that anti-Semitism on the left is entirely a fiction devised by the right in order to divide and conquer the Democrats.

There is some truth to what the panelists said about the Republicans. For example, the GOP accused Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Holocaust denial when she used the term “concentration camp” to describe the detention facilities which the Trump administration uses to hold refugee children. This is an accurate use of the term “concentration camp,” that is, a place where undesired people are collected in overcrowded conditions. Often life in these places are unhealthy, difficult and dangerous. Perhaps some of those who object to AOC’s terminology do not understand the distinction between concentration camps and death camps. However, the true purpose of these accusations was to divide the Democrats and distract from criticism of the President and his immigration policies.

In contrast, when Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar says support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins,” it is unknown whether her comments stemmed more from ignorance or from anti-Semitism. Either way she deserved to be corrected. Indeed, the Democratic leadership were right when they condemned her.

But we must not bury our heads in the sand and deny every accusation of anti-Semitism. The Republicans do not have a monopoly on anti-Semitism. Nor must we defend ourselves with “what-about-ism.” Even if White Nationalism is a greater threat, we are hypocrites if we white-wash any anti-Semitism on the left. In fact, we probably have more influence over our allies than over our opponents, so attention to lesser transgressions of our allies is worthwhile.

In Judaism, we have the notion of Tocheichah (constructive criticism). I hope that this article is read in this spirit. I do not point out fault in order debase my friends but rather to help them understand how we can all do better.

Doc Jess attended the panel with me and she had a similar reaction to mine, and walked out. (See the Democratic Convention Watch website for more about her experience at Netroots Nation.)

I stayed behind and waited until the end in order to ask a question about the reality of a certain amount of anti-Semitism on the left. I hoped to describe my frustration when I would happen to join a political rally for a progressive cause only to find that it had been co-opted by an anti-Zionist group.

The panel ended without an opportunity to ask this question, so I continued on to the next event on my agenda — a rally on Arch Street against the mass incarceration of children on the border. There was a large crowd and I was glad to hold a sign high and help protect the rights of these children.

However, soon the crowd was led in a chant repeating the refrain “No Walls Anywhere: Not America, Not Israel.”

All of a sudden, as a supporter of Israel, I no longer felt welcome.

I believe in freedom of speech. If the person with the megaphone wanted to hold a rally in favor of the BDS movement, then he is certainly welcome to do so. But please do it one block away, or an hour earlier or later. If you think your cause is right, then advertise it and like-minded people will come and support you. But you should not take a rally intended to support immigrants and refugees at the US boarder and turn it into a rally about Israel. Either you are co-opting the crowd which someone else organized, or you are engaging in bait-and-switch and tricking people like me into seeming to rally in favor of a cause they would not otherwise support.

I tried to be heard, but to no avail. I saw other people in the crowd who seemed similarly distressed by the turn which the rally had just taken. I then separated myself from the group and returned alone through the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

One of the panelists from that morning recognized me and expressed her regret that insufficient time had been allotted for questions and I had been unable to ask mine. I took the opportunity to tell her what concerned me about the panel and how the rally I had just left was a perfect case in point. She was surprised that I do not support BDS and told me that if I do not support BDS then they have no need for me at a rally of any kind.

I do not necessarily see eye-to-eye with the candidates I support on every issue, but there is a saying in politics, “If you agree with me on 9 out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist!”

Similarly, if we adopt a narrow view of politics and shun the support on a given issue of anyone who does not support us on another issue, then we are doing ourselves harm. We should embrace a wide tent and welcome the support of anyone who is generally supportive of many of our goals. That is the way to build a majority and win elections. Similarly, in Congress, we should seek common ground and create alliances and co-sponsor bills even with legislators that diametrically oppose us on other issues. [Editor’s Note: Former President Obama recently made a speech against rigidity among Progressives: “you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues, and when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.” Also, an article about Black Lives Matter adding criticism of Israel to their agenda.]

There is much to do, but we can make progress one issue at a time. If instead we shun those who lack ideological purity, then we will accomplish nothing.

Blue Wave Fact or Fiction with Dick Polman

Join DJOP on Sunday September 16 at 11 am as columnist Dick Polman discusses the topic of the November 2018 elections. Dick will discuss  his thoughts on whether or not there will be a Blue Wave election as well as the current political climate including Trump, Russians, Mueller and our own PA races from Governor to Senate to Congress.  A light brunch will be served and there will be time for Q and A. So save the date for a not to be missed event! Sign up here:

Overcooking California’s election process

That Uncle Leo from “Seinfeld” once accused a cook at Monk’s of anti-Semitism because he overcooked a hamburger. Imagine how he would characterize California’s new election system, which by chance or conspiracy has caused Jewish Angelenos unspeakable horrors.

…With apologies to the late, great actor Len Lesser who portrayed Uncle Leo and lived near Los Angeles.

Poor Jewish Angelenos.

California’s new “top-two” primary must be an anti-Semitic plot. Uncle Leo of “Seinfeld” would conclude nothing less, especially since an Austrian-born governor signed off on it. Recall that Uncle Leo once accused a cook of anti-Semitism for overcooking a hamburger.
The state’s first “top-two” primary should be its last. It produced two general election contests that must be torture for every voter who lives in the newly-drawn 30th and 33rd congressional districts – where the vast majority of Jewish Angelenos live. Many a righteous gentile is suffering along with them.

Two veteran Jewish Democratic representatives – Howard Berman and Brad Sherman – are fighting (now, almost literally) for much of the San Fermando Valley, the 30th, because their districts are being merged. Democrat Henry Waxman, by all accounts a highly respected representative, faces a Republican-turned-independent who will not give straight answers on domestic issues. Both Waxman and his rival, Bill Bloomfield, are Jewish.

More after the jump.
I swiftly came to envy Jewish Angelenos during a much-too-brief visit to L.A. last December. Loved the beaches, appreciated the courtesy of most Angelenos and enjoyed the vitality.

Now a plague has fallen over the landscape that is almost as disastrous as a….okay, so it is not quite so horrid as a 7.5-scale earthquake.

Both the Waxman and Berman-Sherman elections exemplify why the “top-two” primary was, is and will be a bad idea.
Had the designers of this plan surveyed past elections, they would have learned that fewer voters turn out in primaries than general elections. Put another way: Who doesn’t know that primary turnout is much lower than general election turnout? That means fewer people determine the line-up.

The intention of the new process is laudatory. The “top-two” primary is intended to dilute partisan influence. The system allows candidates of all stripes – Democrat, Republican, third party or independent – to run in a single open primary in congressional elections and other contests. The two candidates with the greatest number of votes will face off in the general election.

It opens the door for independent candidates, but the results of the first primary last June 5 were underwhelming. Four independents broke through, but three eked out low numbers allowing them to face incumbents who each won large majorities (two Democrats and a Republican).

The exception is Henry Waxman. He has won every election since 1975 with a minimum of 60 percent of the vote, yet he emerged from the primary with 45 percent. He faces an independent who calls Congress “hyper-partisan.”
Whether Waxman is “hyper-partisan” is open to question, but he is no doubt accomplished. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, passed major anti-pollution legislation and helped initiate early versions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Health-care reform would hardly be a personal priority for his constituents in Malibu, Beverly Hills and other ultra-wealthy communities. Redistricting removed 45 percent of his constituents, mostly on L.A.’s west side, and added expensive coastal real estate south of Los Angeles International Airport, a.k.a. LAX.

I watched Waxman chair a committee meeting in 2008 on complicated financial matters, yet after awhile it was clear that the Bush administration was vulnerable to criminal prosecution. It takes an intelligent, diligent worker bee to accomplish that much.

Bloomfield is running as an independent who previously contributed $285,000 to Republicans. His stated reason for running: “You’ve got people in Congress who basically think that their job is to politick 24/7. The hyper-partisanship is causing the gridlock.”

How does Waxman contribute to that concern? In a Jewish Journal article, Bloomfield makes no case and Waxman’s record, in fact, suggests otherwise.

The Journal piece describes Bloomfield as having “avoided picking sides on a number of issues that have divided Congress” and lamented passage of health-reform without support from any Republicans, but refused to say how he would have voted.

We need independents because Congress and other political offices need average citizens with lots of fresh ideas who are not held back by partisan influence. One would think Bloomfield is full of new attitudes and reflects the perspective of people who lack a political home.

Jews in the Valley have been compelled to endure an election contest between Berman and Sherman not once but twice. They were the main players during the primary and now they are engaged in what amounts to a rematch.
As Democrats with similar liberal voting records, these guys have as much in common politically as any pair of contestants. Incredibly, $11 million has been spent on this election, which The Los Angeles Times described as one of the nation’s most expensive.

It almost turned into a literal slugfest earlier during a debate this month when Sherman disputed Berman’s lead sponsorship of the Dream Act, an immigration reform bill, and Berman called his rival “delusional.” Berman appeared to approach Sherman, who yelled, “Don’t you dare stand up here in the west San Fernando Valley and get in my face! Get away from me!”

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, Sherman put his arm around Berman and said, “You want to get into this? You want to put your face in mine?”

Sherman is 57 and Bermain is 71. This incident occurred in Woodland Hills, which The Jewish Journal tagged as the most populous Jewish community in Los Angeles. A sheriff separated them.

The general-election line-up was determined by a minority of voters because of low turnout during primaries. General election voters could respond to their choice with anger and confusion.

It is too late to relieve the current suffering of our California brethren, but a repeat can be avoided. Revert to closed primaries and establish a ranked preference process in the general election known as Instant Runoff Voting.
On its Web site, the Center for Voting and Democracy describes how Instant Runoff Voting would work: “IRV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Voters have the option to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish, but can vote without fear that ranking less favored candidates will harm the chances of their more preferred candidates.

“First choices are then tabulated, and if a candidate receives a majority of first choices, he or she is elected. If nobody has a clear majority of votes on the first count, a series of runoffs are simulated, using each voter’s preferences indicated on the ballot. The weakest candidates are successively eliminated and their voters’ ballots are redistributed to next choices until a candidate earns a majority of votes.”

Time for Sacramento to cease overcooking elections. Let my people (and all righteous gentiles) vote…in an election process that makes sense.