Shalom TV Live Premiers Today Throughout North America

— by Alan Oirich

Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Ed Koch and Ehud Barak will headline the premiere of Shalom TV Live

Jews throughout North America will have a new channel available for viewing beginning today, February 1, 2012, as “Shalom TV Live” premieres with a wide array of programming.

Shalom TV Live can be viewed online on any computer or mobile device by visiting the Shalom TV Web site. The channel will also be premiering in New York City and in Miami on Hotwire Communications and will soon be carried on cable systems throughout the country.

The new television channel will compliment Shalom TV’s extremely successful Free Video On Demand programming which is currently available in more than 40 million homes on virtually every cable system in the United State and on Rogers Cable in Canada.

A Jewish “PBS-style” channel in the breadth of its programming, the first week of Shalom TV Live features:

  • the annual dinner of the Zionist Organization of America in NY and the addresses of ZOA President Morton Klein and keynote speaker Glenn Beck;
  • the Union For Reform Judaism’s Biennial in Washington, DC, with President Barack Obama, Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky, and outgoing URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie,
  • an interview with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch
  • an interview with the recent past chairman of the Presidents Conference, Alan Solow, a longtime friend of President Obama.
  • And viewers will share in the fiftieth anniversary of the Foundation For Jewish Culture as its CEO, Elise Bernhardt, presents Jewish Cultural Achievement Awards to individuals who have made major cultural contributions, including Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.

In addition, Shalom TV Live will feature a daily newscast from Israel, children’s programming every morning and afternoon, a series profiling the hottest Israeli musical artists (“Muzika”), and an “HBO-like” series following Jewish singles in their search for that special someone (“From Date To Mate”).

More after the jump.
Shalom TV Live will also provide viewers with a front-row seat to the outstanding programs presented at The 92nd Street Y in New York; and the channel’s Jewish Studies programming will enable one to learn to read and understand Hebrew (“From The Aleph Bet”), study a page of Talmud (“Dimensions of the Daf”), sit with rabbis from the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem (“Rethinking Judaism”), and be introduced to the mysteries of Kabbalah (“Kabbalah Revealed”). Shalom TV also plans on telecasting live Friday Night Services preceded by a D’var Torah on the week’s Torah reading by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.

Shalom TV, a nonprofit network, is free of charge as both a VOD service and a live channel. Network president Mark S. Golub explains that the launch of the Shalom TV Live will do nothing to the Video On Demand programming which will remain available on all cable systems.

“There is something very exciting about doing live television,” Golub explains. “In addition to news from Israel, Shalom TV will now be able to cover breaking stories as they occur and our guests will be able to interact with our audience via telephone. And with a live channel, many Jews and non-Jews will find it especially easy to access Shalom TV and share in the information, education, and entertainment Shalom TV provides the entire community.”

To watch Shalom TV Live and to see the week’s program schedule; to access archived programs; and to find how to access Shalom TV’s Video On Demand network on your cable system, visit the Shalom TV Web site and click on “Find Us.” Everyone is also encouraged to call their cable provider and ask them to add Shalom TV Live to their channel lineup.

Shalom TV, America’s national Jewish television network, is available for free on virtually every cable system in America. It can be found in the free Video On Demand section on Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, Verizon FiOS, Antietam, Cox Communications, RCN, Bright House, Armstrong, Service Electric Cablevision, Service Electric Cable TV, Buckeye CableSystem, MetroCast, Blue Ridge Communications, Frontier, WOW!, Click!, GCI, and Rogers Cable (Canada).

Ed Koch Likes Romney & Gingrich, But He Will Vote For Obama

— by Alan Oirich

In an exclusive interview on Shalom TV, one of the nation’s leading Democrats has some kind words for two of the candidates vying for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

When asked by Shalom TV President Mark S. Golub who among the current Republican candidates would be best for America and for Israel, the former New York City Mayor groups the two front runners together, saying:

I believe that both Romney and Gingrich–one of which will be the Republican candidate–are both able. I’m not voting for either of them; I am voting for Obama; but they’re both able; they are fine Americans (I mean, they have a philosophy which is not mine); but they will do what they think is in the best interest of America–and they are also both very supportive of Israel.

Mr. Koch also described how after the Turner victory, the President reached out to him. In a private meeting in New York City, after the President gave what Mr. Koch calls a “magnificent” pro-Israel speech at the United Nations, Mr. Obama told the former Mayor that he didn’t understand why the Jewish community is upset with him given how very supportive of Israel he is. Mr. Koch explained to the President that he would not have been so upset with Mr. Obama if, when the President had placed demands on Israel, he had also made demands of Hamas. Koch reports the President’s responding, “Didn’t I?”

After the half hour meeting, Mr. Koch was convinced that Mr. Obama believes he is a friend of Israel and now supports Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign because of the President’s strong stand in opposition to Palestinian statehood at the United Nations and because the President has been praised by Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, for being one of the most supportive of all U.S. presidents when it comes to supplying military aid.

Full interview follows the jump.

Biden Wrongly Accused in Jewish Press of Flip-Flop on Pollard Pardon

Jonathan Pollard tried unsuccessfully to sell the classified documents to Australia before approaching Israel.

Mr. Biden clearly opposed a Pollard pardon in March 2007.

— Rabbi Mark S. Golub, President, Shalom TV

Last week, a number of Jewish media sources ran a story suggesting Vice President Joe Biden had changed his position on a pardon for Jonathan Pollard when he told a Jewish group in Florida that he opposed freeing the American Jew imprisoned for passing classified information to the State of Israel. For example, Israel National News suggested that the Vice President was simply protecting President Obama in a piece entitled Biden Flip-Flopped on Pollard, Took the ‘Hit’ for Obama. The story’s opening sentence read: “US Vice President Joe Biden ‘took the hit’ for President Obama to oppose freedom for Jonathan Pollard.”

This story also ran in similar fashion in the JTA, Ynet and IMRA; and I have seen it echoed by various blogers.

I have been especially surprised by these reports of a Biden “flip flop” on a Pollard pardon since the source cited as proof of the Vice President’s change of position is an interview I conducted with him for Shalom TV in March 2007 when Mr. Biden was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination (video after the jump).

I am surprised because the stories seriously distort Mr. Biden’s unequivocal opposition to a Pollard pardon by emphasizing one sentence out of context–while ignoring the unambiguous thrust of Mr. Biden’s position which he clearly articulated in that March 2007 interview.

In direct answer to my question on a pardon of Jonathan Pollard, Mr. Biden began by saying, “He has to serve his sentence, he has to serve his sentence.”

In almost every story quoting his Shalom TV appearance, this part of Mr. Biden’s answer is omitted.

Rather, in a somewhat irresponsible fashion, clips now appear on the internet which only include one sentence of Mr. Biden’s response, in which he said: “Now there is a rationale in my view why Pollard should be given leniency.”

News sources have used this single sentence to suggest that during his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2007, Mr. Biden supported a pardon for Pollard.

But if one listens to Mr. Biden’s complete answer to the Pollard question, it becomes clear that he was not equating “leniency” with a “pardon;” and that in 2007 he was adamantly opposed to any pardon of Jonathan Pollard.

Here are Mr. Biden’s complete words from that March 2007 interview:

Now there is a rationale in my view why Pollard should be given leniency. There’s a rational for that. But there is not a rationale to say, ‘No, what happened did not happen and he should be pardoned.’… If I were president, to go and pardon Pollard would make a lie out of the notion that there are certain rules, period. You cannot give classified information, period. Even to a friend. If this were Great Britain it would be the same thing. So the standard has to be maintained.

One may agree or disagree with Mr. Biden on the issue of a pardon for Jonathan Pollard; but Jews should not be misled into thinking Mr. Biden has changed his mind on the matter. There is something disappointing about a Jewish news source presenting one sentence of an interview out of context and using it to create an erroneous impression.

Mis-hearing Obama: An Opportunity Missed

Rabbi Mark S. Golub— Rabbi Mark S. Golub, President, Shalom TV

  The late Abba Eban was fond of saying that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." This saying could be applied to the way in which many in the Jewish community have reacted with criticism to President Obama's comments last Thursday (May 19) regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The President may have, in the past, articulated an approach that has been disturbing to many supporters of Israel, seeming to favor the Palestinian agenda in ways that depart from long standing American Middle East policy. But prior disappointments should not prejudice Jewish thinking to the point that Jews fail to correctly hear and appreciate a presidential message that articulates many profoundly important truths about Israel and the Palestinians — all of which Jews have prayed would be said publicly by the occupant of the White House.

Despite President Obama's presenting a host of specifics that were powerfully pro-Israel, the Jewish community has myopically placed an exaggerated emphasis on what Mr. Obama did not say, blaming him for not going far enough in expressing an anti-Palestinian line, and for referencing the '67 borders in a two-state solution.

More after the jump.

When Mr. Obama spoke to the Arab Muslim world in Cairo in June 2009, I was extremely critical of the President's description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (evoking ire among many of my friends who were wildly enthusiastic Obama supporters). In his Cairo address, Mr. Obama adopted the Palestinian "narrative" which replaces history with mythology, proffers an artificial and reprehensible moral equivalency, and suggests the State of Israel's sole justification is the Holocaust (for which Palestinians brazenly and erroneously claim no culpability).

I expected to be similarly disappointed with Mr. Obama's Middle East remarks at the State Department. But both in tone and in substance, the President expressed a dramatically different perspective from that of his address at Cairo University — and sadly, it is disappointing that so many Jews are oblivious to the differences.

The list of positives in Mr. Obama's policy statement are most impressive and provide superb ammunition against those seeking to delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel.

In last week's speech, the President positioned the Jewish People's right to a safe and secure homeland in Israel as the top priority and reaffirmed America's unwavering commitment and support, what he described in his address to AIPAC on Sunday as "ironclad." The President was eloquent in speaking of America's support of Israel as "rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values;" and specifically struck out against those would apply a double standard in their evaluations of Israel, saying that the U.S. "will stand against attempts to single [Israel] out for criticism in international forums."

Also of extreme import, the President explicitly referred to Israel as the "Jewish" state — a description which, surprisingly, created significant controversy (even among some American Jews) when Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted on including the words "Jewish state" in describing his own commitment to a two-state solution.

It is noteworthy that he President's began his actual description of the deadlock in the peace process by publicly acknowledging Palestinian efforts to delegitimize Israel and declaring that those efforts "will end in failure." The President also took on Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinians by warning against any "symbolic" Arab effort to seek statehood in the United Nations in September; singled out Hamas' terror and rejectionism as obstacles to peace; criticized the Palestinians alone for abandoning peace negotiations; and verbalized the overarching message the Jewish community has been pleading with the world to embrace: "Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist."

And finally, in referencing the peace process itself, the President finally acknowledged that no peace can be imposed upon Israel from the outside — not even by the United States.

I cannot remember an American President ever being so clear in summarizing the requisite Palestinian responsibilities incumbent upon them if they truly wish to achieve peace and an independent state; nor has any President made a stronger public declaration of the U.S. commitment to the security, character and integrity of the Jewish State of Israel.

The President had every right to expect that the Jewish world would applaud his remarks and that the Arab world would feel it had been dealt a serious dose of reality. Why, then, did the speech engender such a negative reaction within the Jewish community?

Jewish critics of the President's remarks focus on two issues. First, that while the President did reference the obstacle created by the Fatah-Hamas alliance in asking Israel to enter negotiations with "a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist," the President did not go far enough as to say that America would support Israel's legitimate refusal to sit at a peace table until the Palestinians do honestly embrace Israel's right to exist.

I, too, wish the President had made Palestinian recognition of Israel a prerequisite for any peace negotiations. Arab rejectionism is at the heart of the conflict that preceded Israeli statehood in 1948, precipitated the Six Day War of 1967 which resulted in Israel winding up in control of the West Bank, and has been the one enduring issue preventing peace between the parties.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about borders, and never has been; the conflict is about a Zionist existence anywhere in the region. To place the focus on "settlements" or "occupation," as Israel's critics have done, and as President Obama has been wont to do in prior comments, is to confuse the symptoms of the problem with the cause of the disease.

The disease that eats away at any possibility for peace in the Middle East is a deep-seated refusal within the Arab world to share the land with a Jewish state in any way at all! It mystifies me that this simple reality seems to escape the understanding of so many otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people.

But no President has yet to make this argument. President Obama should at least get credit for shining a light on the problem created by the Fatah-Hamas agreement and for at least posing the rhetorical question: "How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?"

The other supposed grievous failure in the President's speech is in his reference to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. American Jews, and the Israeli Prime Minister, have characterized this statement as a major break with prior U.S. policy and a virtual betrayal of Israel, arguing that the pre-June '67 borders render the State of Israel indefensible.

I don't understand the degree of hysteria over the President's reference to '67 lines — and I have not found anyone who can explain it to me. Every description of a two-state solution has been predicated on a modification of the '67 "Green Line" (the cease fire lines that became Israel's borders when the Arab attempt to destroy the State of Israel in 1948 ended in failure). Didn't Ehud Barak's generous offer to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000 work from modified '67 borders? Didn't Ehud Olmert's celebrated offer to Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 do the same? Hasn't it always been argued that "everyone understands" that a two-state solution will involve a "swap of territory" so that Israel will be permitted to retain portions of the West Bank that contain Jewish population centers surrounding Jerusalem; will expand Israel at its narrowest point; and will involve a compromise on the Golan Heights in order to insure Israeli security; in return for land that was inside the 1967 Green Line of Israel?

All President Obama did is articulate the formula which the Jewish world has been arguing for: "The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states." As the President accurately told his APIAC audience, "There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations."

Note, the President specifically said the borders should be "based on" the 1967 lines — not the '67 lines themselves; and his words include "with mutually agreed swaps" — which has been the consistent Israeli position in contrast to the Arab misreading of U.N. Resolution 242 (which the Arabs contend refers to the literal '67 lines without modifications). And the President is predicating any new borders upon the principle that Israel be "secure," the ultimate Jewish concern with any new border design.

Again at APIAC, the President made his position clear: "By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides."

The State of Israel could not have said it better than the President did on Thursday, and again on Sunday at AIPAC: "Every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself — by itself — against any threat," robust enough "to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security."

Perhaps the real reason so many in the Jewish community did not hear the overwhelming good in the President's remarks last Thursday is that the Mr. Obama's prior statements and actions — such as elevating the issue of settlements as if they are the principle obstacle to peace and in his inappropriate treatment of Prime Minister Netanyahu during a White House visit last year — have so damaged his credibility and a sense trust among many pro-Israel supporters that his message is dismissed out of hand. Mr. Netanyahu's apparent dispute with reference to using the '67 lines has also caused many to believe there is something new in the President's formula.

But President Obama has the right to learn and grow. His speech on Thursday, parts of which he reiterated virtually verbatim in his appearance at APIAC, indicates a change in approach which may well indicate he has done both. As for Mr. Netanyahu's objection to Mr. Obama's reference to '67 borders, the President was only making public what has been understood by all to be the working template for the past generation; and, as the brilliant editor of the Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz, suggest to me, Mr. Netanyahu's cause for concern was that the President has already played Israel's best card in the negotiations (i.e. the West Ban) without insisting the Palestinians would do the same (i.e. relinquish their claim of a right of return).

In the end, Mr. Netanyahu must deal with Mr. Obama in the way he feels is in the best interests of the State of Israel. American Jews, on the other hand, can serve the State of Israel by listening to what the President is actually proposing without prejudice.

American Jews who have heard an anti-Israel bias in President Obama's address on the Middle East are not only doing him injustice, they are missing an invaluable opportunity to trumpet the President's positive messages regarding the State of Israel — ones which he made before the entire world and which the entire world should well heed.


Shalom TV will be airing President Obama's address to AIPAC as well as other speechs from the 2011 AIPAC conference.

Rabbi Mark S. Golub is the president and executive producer of Shalom TV, America's national Jewish television network available as free Video On Demand in more than 41 million homes on virtually every cable system in the United States and in Canada.

Copyright Rabbi Mark S. Golub.

The Immorality of Moral Equivalency

— Rabbi Mark S. Golub

On Friday night, March 11, Hamas terrorists crossed into the West Bank to the Jewish community of Itamar where they murdered a Jewish family as they slept in their beds. The victims included a mother and father, Udi Fogel (36) and Ruth Fogel (35), and their three children, Yoav (11), Elad (4), and Hadas (3 months).

The sheer brutality of the Hamas act takes one’s breath away. In highly uncharacteristic fashion, the Israeli government made the decision to display graphic photos of the death scene–photos which are visible though a link at the bottom of this editorial.

More after the jump.
Sadly, there are many Jews who, wittingly or unwittingly, facilitate Palestinian violence by failing to make a moral distinction between wanton murder on the one hand and occupation and military actions on the other.

A chilling example of this loss of perspective among ideologues in the Jewish community is revealed in a press release published by Americans For Peace Now. Although APN characterized the attack as “horrifying,” and praised the Palestinian Authority for condemning the attack, APN then went on to urge leaders of Israel and the Palestinians “to fight violent extremists on both sides.”

To suggest that Jewish extremists engage in acts similar to those of Arab extremists such as Hamas is to distort Jewish and Israeli reality beyond measure.

Have Jewish extremists ever snuck into an Arab home and murdered a family sleeping in their beds?

Any death in war is a cosmic tragedy of divine proportion. The loss of life and the pain inflicted on any family is beyond limits, whether the life lost is that an Israeli or an Arab.

This does not mean, however, that all reasons for taking a life are morally equivalent.

Only hard-line ideologues would argue in the shadow of this outrageous brutality that there is an equivalency of Israeli and Palestinian policy. Yet, this has become more and more commonplace in some circles.

An Israeli group of soldiers visiting North American college campuses [Our Soldiers Speak] reports how from the University of Western Ontario to Wilfrid Laurier, from Hampshire College to the University of Pittsburgh, from Oberlin to Oklahoma, students–even some Jewish students–not only accuse Israel of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, but also justify terror attacks against the Israeli People.

The Nazi propaganda machine of Adolph Hitler proved that when a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes accepted as fact–especially by people who have no access to the truth.

The Jewish world will never relinquish its sacred obligation of self-criticism, and Israelis have well demonstrated from the moment of the birth of the Jewish State that Israeli policies will come under the fiercest of internal moral scrutiny. No serious Jew ever suggests that Israel be given a pass on the way it treats Arab Israelis or Palestinians on the West Bank. There will always be Jews pushing Israel toward its highest goals.

But there is no way to overstate the degree of damage done to the State of Israel and, ironically, to the possibilities for ever finding a peaceful resolution of the conflict that tears at both Israeli and Palestinian families, by arguments of moral equivalency. In fact, such arguments are without moral grounding themselves.

A fitting response of tribute to the slain Fogel family would be for Jews everywhere to decry the outrageous brutality that took their lives and to condemn murder without needing to soften that condemnation by suggesting Israel is somehow also at fault.


Copyright Rabbi Mark S. Golub, President of Shalom TV.

Heated Debate Between Dershowitz Ben-Ami

  • Dershowitz: J Street contributes to atmosphere of delegitimizing Israel
  • Ben-Ami: Dershowitz drives young, liberal Jews away from Israel

Sparks fly in an often contentious, always interesting evening of discussion centered on the question “Who Speaks For Israel?” featuring Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, recognized by many as America’s most articulate centrist defender of the State of Israel, and Jeremy Ben-Ami, founding president of J Street, the relatively new Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill that seeks to bring US pressure to bear on Israel to move the Middle East peace process forward.

More after the jump.
From the start of the discussion, neither Dershowitz nor Ben-Ami is timid in expressing criticism of the other. The evening is a marked contrast from an earlier debate the two participated in at New York’s 92nd Street Y, when moderator Elliot Spitzer tried to steer the conversation toward areas of agreement. In this exchange, Shalom TV President Mark S. Golub helps the speakers clarify the ways in which they support Israel from very different perspectives.

Although Ben-Ami begins the discussion by saying that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have contributed to a lack of peace in the Middle East, and “there is more than enough blame to go around; both sides have committed their fair share of errors,” the J Street leader refuses to say that he would tell college students that “Israel is not the problem.”

Citing J Street’s refusal to condemn the Goldstone Report, its secretly taking money from George Soros, and its criticizing Israel’s human rights record out of context, Dershowitz contends that J Street adds to current efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and permits college students to think of Israel as an apartheid or Nazi nation.

“All human rights is comparative,” insists Dershowitz. “Nobody is better than a C+ or B-. But no country in modern history has had a better human rights record faced with comparable threats than the nation of Israel. Not the United States, not Great Britain, not France. I will not let Israel be a scapegoat for divestment, for boycotts, for delegitimization, for demonization, for being singled out as human rights violators–and J Street contributes to that atmosphere.”

Dershowitz also accuses J Street of failing to cite the positives in Israel’s human rights record, pointing to the sterling record of Israel’s Supreme Court.

“Let’s look at Israel’s Supreme Court compared to the United States’ Supreme Court,” says Dershowitz. “I would trade the two supreme courts in thirty seconds. The Israeli Supreme Court is much more sensitive to civil rights than the US Supreme Court. You wouldn’t know that listening to J Street.”

Ben-Ami counters with a claim that Dershowitz is distorting J Street’s nuanced message and makes a point of saying he believes one of the travesties of the United Nations is its obsession with Israel’s human rights record vis-a-vis the rest of the world. Ben-Ami also blames Dershowitz for pushing young people away from Israel by labeling anyone who dares to disagree with Israel as being anti-Israel or a self-hating Jew.

“You, and [your] manner of advocacy, are part of the problem, which is why so many younger, liberal Jews are walking away from Israel. You are creating an atmosphere where it is very difficult for us to feel comfortable coming forward and discussing very difficult and very troubling issues.”

One of the most dramatic moments occurs when Dershowitz suddenly reveals large blowups of frames from a J Street video grouping him with Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh in the “Chorus of No” on the two-state solution, and in opposition to President Obama, General Petraeus, Secretary of State Clinton, and the “Chorus of Yes.”

“Jeremy knows I’ve been opposed to the settlements since when he was still in diapers,” says Dershowitz as he asks for an apology from Ben-Ami.

Ben-Ami responds by saying Dershowitz owes him an apology for saying that J Street had “gone over to the dark side” in a piece Dershowitz wrote for the Huffington Post. In the end, neither man apologizes to the other.

In a most telling interchange, Dershowitz declares, “I am J Street’s nightmare because I am a liberal, Democratic Jew who strongly opposes the settlements, who strongly favors a two-state solution, who supports Obama, who supports Hillary Clinton, who supports Petraeus; but who does not support J Street. You have to create the illusion that anyone who opposes J Street is a member of the right and the Sarah Palin/Rush Limbaugh group. You can’t explain me, Irwin Cotler, Elie Wiesel–who agree with your positions but who don’t agree with the fact that you always emphasize your criticism of Israel and not your support of Israel; that you have many members of your organization who are virulently anti-Israel.”

Ben-Ami: Name one! You always say we have many members of our group who are virulently anti-Israel. Name one.

Dershowitz: Students at Berkeley who refuse to include “pro-Israel” in their name.

Ben-Ami: That makes then virulently anti-Israel?

Dershowitz: Absolutely. Why would you not have pro-Israel in your name?

Ben-Ami: This is why we view the way in which you advocate for Israel as “the nightmare” for J Street. It is true. It is because people like you, and the way in which you advocate, act as a chilling factor for people to get involved with Israel in the first place.

The two men also disagree on Iran. Ben-Ami argues that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would diminish Iran’s strength and its desire to develop nuclear weapons. Dershowitz strongly disagrees and contends that Ben-Ami is positioning Israel to take the blame if Iran develops nuclear capability.

Dershowitz is especially critical of J Street’s failure to condemn the Goldstone Report even though Ben-Ami confirms that he does not believe its conclusions which charge Israel with purposely plotting to kill civilians in Gaza and contends there is no proof that Hamas used human shields or fired from civilian areas.

“You know why you didn’t criticize the Goldstone Report?” asks Dershowitz rhetorically. “Because too many of your members would have quit–because [J Street] members voted [in favor of] the Goldstone Report without reading it!”

Ben-Ami responds that Dershowitz distorts J Street’s position, pointing out that J Street criticized the report as biased and urged the US to oppose any acceptance of the Goldstone Report in the UN Security Council. Ben-Ami also claims that the suggestion that J Street facilitated a meeting between Goldstone and members of Congress is a media lie perpetrated by a biased Washington Times.

Explaining J Street’s lobbying philosophy, Ben Ami says, “We are American citizens and we have a right to influence American policy, especially in matters regarding Israel, because, as Jews, we have a stake in what happens in that country. We have a right to tell Israel the truth–that the path Israel is on is leading it off a cliff and is not securing the Israeli future as a Jewish and democratic home. And it is the most Zionist thing we can do.”

Dershowitz summarizes his position by saying, “Criticize Israel. But tell college students both sides of the equation. Don’t let them come away with the impression that Israel is a unique human rights violator. Put it in context–that’s all I ask you to do.”

The Dershowitz/Ben-Ami debate was sponsored by the Harold Hoffman Memorial Lecture, a free annual event open to the public at Temple Beth El in Stamford, Connecticut. This year the event drew an overflow crowd of more than 1,100 people who were split in their support of Dershowitz and Ben-Ami.

The entire debate will begin airing for four weeks on Shalom TV as free Video On Demand, the Jewish network available on cable systems throughout the United States and in Canada. The program may also be viewed online by clicking here, or at under “Watch Complete Programs.”  

Ayalon: “Israel had to end Freeze to avoid seeming weak.”

Admits that Gaza withdrawal was an excruciatingly painful mistake

In the aftermath of Israel’s decision on September 26 to end its ten-month construction freeze within existing West Bank settlements as originally scheduled, one of Israel’s leading diplomats, Danny Ayalon, deputy foreign minister and the number two man in Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party tells Shalom TV President Mark S. Golub that Israel had no choice but to end the settlement freeze in order to retain any credibility in the Arab world and in international circles.

In an exclusive interview with Shalom TV conducted with Minister Ayalon in New York City, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister makes his government’s position clear.

“I’ll tell you Mark, the international scene is cruel. There is no real mercy for the weak and there is no second chance for people who cannot sustain themselves. It’s very cynical, it’s very hypocritical. And that is why we have to stand by our word, so our word will mean something–not just for us but for the international community in the future as well.”

Asked if the recent talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas gives him hope or confidence that a real peace process is underway, Minister Ayalon answers, “Unfortunately at this point I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel–or if I see the light it is an oncoming train. There is one thing we asked the Palestinians to recognize–that Israel is a homeland of the Jewish People. They refused.”

Mr. Ayalon also makes reference to his meeting with Salam Fayyad in which the Palestinian prime minister walked out of a joint press conference at the United Nations rather than sign a statement saying that the “two state solution” was for “two separate peoples.”

For Mr. Ayalon, Israelis don’t need the Palestinians to acknowledge that “Israel is a Jewish state” for their own self-identity; rather, Israel needs the Palestinians to say it in Arabic “so there will be a finality of conflict and an end of claims.”

“We don’t want a settlement with Palestinians whereby the children of the Palestinians are still taught that Haifa is theirs, Tel Aviv is theirs, Jaffa is theirs; this is what we mean by their recognizing Israel as the “Jewish” state.”

Ayalon, who was one of the chief proponents for Israel’s evacuation of Gaza when he was part of the Ariel Sharon government, is also asked by Golub whether, in retrospect, he feels the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake.

“Yes, it was,” says Ayalon candidly, “and in hindsight we shouldn’t have done it because it was excruciatingly painful.”

But, for Ayalon, it is an event from which Israel can learn.

“We have a lesson that we cannot cede territory without a full agreement without a full commitment of the other side–and with enforcement to make sure that no terrorism and no violence can come out of any territory that we will ever leave in the future.”

Conversion Bill Should Not Diminish Support For Israel

— Rabbi Mark S. Golub

The campaign of the Conservative and Reform Movements to generate American opposition to the Rotem Conversion Bill in Israel was remarkably successful. The bill has been tabled for six months and may never see the light of day again. Unfortunately, however, the campaign overstated the threat the bill posed to non-Orthodox American Jewry and unnecessarily angered large numbers of uninformed Jews over a bill which actually does not address them at all.

Photo: MK David Rotem, author of the controversial conversion bill.
The campaign of the Conservative and Reform Movements to generate American opposition to the Rotem Conversion Bill in Israel was remarkably successful. The bill has been tabled for six months and may never see the light of day again. Unfortunately, however, the campaign overstated the threat the bill posed to non-Orthodox American Jewry and unnecessarily angered large numbers of uninformed Jews over a bill which actually does not address them at all.

The Anglo Jewish media joined in the chorus warning of dire consequences were the bill to become law, while failing to separate fact from hysteria for their readers. Jewish headlines in newspapers and blogs echoed the erroneous notion that the bill resurrected the “Who is a Jew?” question and was an assault by the ultra-Orthodox establishment in Israel on Israel’s Law of Return, on non-Orthodox conversions in America, and on the legitimacy of Conservative and Reform Judaism.

The most disturbing aspect of the campaign, however, was the subtle suggestion that the bill would jeopardize the bond between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel and would therefore threaten the security and future of the Jewish State.

The Union of Reform Congregations ran a headline in its weekly briefing, “Take Action Now! Attack on Pluralism Threatens Israeli-Diaspora Relations.” Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movements Rabbinical Assembly, and one of the most articulate and passionate proponents of Jewish pluralism in Israel, also described the bill as a blow to Israel-Diaspora relations that would be “damaging to Israel’s security” because “the great majority of American Jews” will consider themselves “second-class citizens officially in the eyes of the Jewish State.”

A newspaper headline warned of a “conversion crisis” that could “threaten pro-Israel efforts” in America (Jewish Week, July 23, 2010), and described how the Rotem Bill is “alienating Israel’s friends” (Forward, July 23, 2010). Articles declared that the bill threatens to contribute to “a seismic shift in the base of the pro-Israel movement in America.”

Perhaps the most pernicious diatribe against the bill was Alana Newhouse’s op ed piece in the New York Times (July 15, 2010). Her article misstated the real issue; inaccurately described the actions of the Talmudic sage Hillel (he “accepted” rather than “converted” a person for conversion on the spot); and, in an aside worthy of a supermarket rag, slandered the entire ultra-Orthodox rabbinate by citing the sins of one lone rabbi (I do assume Ms. Newhouse knows there are sinners within the Conservative and Reform rabbinates as well.)

Still, the Newhouse piece, however flawed, ran dead center on the New York Times op ed page and brought the issue to the attention of a legion of American Jews who normally are uninterested in such details of Israeli life but who, as a result of the Times piece, suddenly felt personally insulted and threatened. Ms. Newhouse announced to all of America that in the Rotem Conversion Bill Israel is telling “85 percent of the Jewish diaspora that their rabbis weren’t rabbis and their religious practices were a sham, the conversions of their parents and spouses were invalid, their marriages weren’t legal under Jewish law, and their progeny were a tribe of bastards unfit to marry other Jews.”

In point of fact, the Rotem Conversion Bill says nothing of the kind. Despite what American Jews might believe after reading Ms. Newhouse’s editorial and receiving emergency e-mails, the Rotem Conversion Bill does not address any aspect of American Judaism at all.

The bill never mentions the Law of Return and would have no impact on the way it would apply to any Diaspora Jew. If the bill were to become law, it would do nothing to change the current process by which Conservative and Reform conversions in America are accepted as valid for Jews seeking Israeli citizenship.

The Rotem Conversion Bill does indeed propose changes on the Israeli scene. To facilitate more opportunities for conversion in Israel, especially for thousands of Russian immigrants who now serve in the Israeli army and who wish to become part of the Jewish people, the Rotem bill would give local city rabbis the right to perform conversions. Most people approve of this goal of the bill.

The bill’s author, K’nesset Member and Law Committee Chair David Rotem (Yisrael Bieteinu Party), added that the bill would formalize Orthodox control of conversions in Israel by placing them under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and by stipulating that converts would have to commit to living a life of Halakhah (traditional Jewish Law).

For Israelis, there is nothing really new or dramatic in the Rotem bill. In contrast to what many American Jews might assume from the outcry among their leadership, the bill would do very little to change the current de facto ultra-Orthodox control of the conversion process.

The real issue, then, is not “who is a Jew” or the Law of Return. The real issue is the way the Rotem Conversion Bill might obstruct the future of Jewish pluralism in Israel.

It is perfectly understandable for the leaders of non-Orthodox institutions to be angered by the Rotem Conversion Bill. The Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements have been working tirelessly to bring Jewish pluralism to Israel, and their leaders describe with justifiable pride their significant progress. Were the Rotem Bill to become Israeli law, it would be a setback in their struggle.

Speaking on Shalom TV, Jerry Silverman, the brilliant and charismatic new leader of the federation movement of North America, put his finger on the only real danger posed by the Rotem Conversion Bill: it paves the way toward a “slippery slope.” While there is nothing in the bill either critical of or relevant to American Jewry today, passage of the bill could embolden the Chief Rabbinate to try, at a future time, to extend their power in Israel and even seek to delegitimize non-Orthodox conversions in the Diaspora for the Law of Return.

This warrants opposition to the bill, but not with the sense of calamity that characterized the American response. Moreover, it is virtually inconceivable to believe the Israeli K’nesset would ever enact a law that would truly alienate the vast majority of Diaspora Jewry. It may be fun for media pundits to suggest that Israelis are that “stupid;” but they are not suicidal. They well understand, and have just been given an object lesson in, how powerful and effective the Diaspora lobby can be when it wants to mobilize American Jewish support.

I, like the vast majority of American and Diaspora Jews, would love to see Israel adopt a pluralistic view of Judaism so that Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis would have equal legal standing with Orthodox rabbis to preside at marriages, divorces, burials, and conversions. There is something sadly ironic that the only place on earth where a Jew cannot be married with a rabbi of choice is the State of Israel.

But it is crucial for American Jews to understand that the overwhelming number of Israelis do not share this perspective. The notion does not interest them. For most Israelis, simply living “ba-Aretz” (in the Land of Israel) is all the Jewish identity or Jewish “observance” they need.

Even the most secular of Israelis feel that their entire existence is immersed in Jewishness. Hebrew is their native language; Jewish holidays are celebrated nationally; the Israeli flag is patterned on the tallit; the IDF is a Jewish army; and the soil they walk upon is the very soil that gave the birth of the Jewish people and links them to their Jewish ancestors. While there are those in Israel who are seriously concerned that Israelis take their Jewishness for granted, have self-identities as “Israelis” rather than as “Jews,” and know far too little about their Jewish heritage, most Israelis feel they are more Jewish than Diaspora Jews even if they rarely engage in Jewish observance.

The typical Israeli response to American styles of Jewish pluralism, then, is to dismiss it out of hand. The Israeli attitude is: “I don’t want to be Orthodox; but if I ever were to be ‘religious,’ I would be Orthodox because Orthodoxy is the only authentic expression of Judaism.”

Israelis may resent the fact that the ultra-Orthodox do not serve in the Israeli army, are often supported by the State, and have taken more than their share of the national education dollar (weakening Israel’s public school system); but when it comes to matters of religious observance, Israelis by and large do not get worked up over the fact that the ultra Orthodox are in sole control of marriage, divorce, burial, conversion, and the Jewish holy places in Israel.

That is why most Israelis are oblivious to the general struggle for Jewish pluralism in their country or to specific issues such as women’s fight for rights at the Western Wall. This is also why the enormous uproar within American Jewry over the Rotem Conversion Bill has not been duplicated in Israel. Conservative Rabbi Josh Hammerman, writing his blog from Israel, bemoans that he has seen “disturbingly little coverage on this matter in the Hebrew media here.”

For American Jewish leaders, their real problem is with the Israeli people, not with the ultra-Orthodox establishment.

I once asked Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi of Efrat (formerly the rabbi of Lincoln Square synagogue in Manhattan), whether he wanted Israel to be “a Torah state.” Riskin’s reply articulates the quintessential Jewish answer: “I would love nothing more than for Israel to be a Torah state; but only when the overwhelming majority of Israelis would like it to be.”

One could easily apply Shlomo Riskin’s answer to those who are working fervently to implement Jewish pluralism in Israel: “There would be nothing better than for Israel to be a pluralistic state; but only when the overwhelming majority of Israelis would like it to be.”

The challenge facing the Reform and Conservative movements is to create pluralistic models of Jewish life in Israel that will, one day, be so attractive to Israelis that the implementation of Jewish pluralism becomes the will of the Israeli people. There are Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders who believe they are well on the way towards this goal and are correct in saying that passage of the Rotem Conversion Bill would be a bump in the road.

But the reality is that the Orthodox control of family law touches on a very small slice of Israeli life. Most American Jews who visit Israel rarely confront a problem as a result of Orthodox control of marriage and conversion. Non-Orthodox Jews travel throughout Israel and never feel like second class citizens. I have yet to hear an American Jew return from Israel and complain about their not being able to practice Judaism. They often attend Reform or Masorti (Conservative) synagogues with their friends and have a lovely time.

That is why American Jews can indeed be mobilized to protest a perceived attempt by the Orthodox establishment in Israel to delegitimize them; it is much more difficult to arouse their passions over threats to Jewish pluralism in Israel. This may explain the exaggerated way in which the Rotem Conversion Bill was portrayed as an assault on non-Orthodox American Jewry.

But as wonderful as it would be for Jewish pluralism to flourish in Israel, it is irresponsible for anyone to imply that Israel might, or should, receive less support from American Jewry because of the Rotem Conversion Bill.

Rabbi Mark S. Golub is the President of Shalom TV.