A Jewish Response to the Plight of the Dreamers

Photo: Bend the Arc Facebook.

Koach Frazier is arrested as Stosh Cotler and Rabbi Jonah Pesner continue to sing. Photo: Bend the Arc Facebook.

“Why would you do this for us?” This question was posed after a group of over 80 rabbis and Jewish leaders were arrested during a protest at the Capitol, led by the Jewish organization Bend the Arc, on behalf of the Dreamers. [Read more…]

Why Israel Should Not Be Extolling President Trump

Photo by Wayne McLean (Jgritz) http://www.waynemclean.com/

Jerusalem. Photo: Wayne McLean

Israel is going gaga over President Trump, largely for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There are over 110 “God bless Trump” signs in Jerusalem. There are plans to name a future rail station near the Kotel (Western Wall) after Trump. The Jerusalem Friends of Zion Heritage Center put up a four-story display thanking him. But, there are many reasons to reconsider the abundant praise.

A major reason is that Trump, along with a majority of Republicans, is in denial about climate change, an existential threat to Israel, the US, and the world. Despite the overwhelming consensus of climate experts and the many recent severe climate events, Trump is the only major world leader denying climate change. He has pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris climate pact agreed to by all of the 195 nations attending, including Israel. He appointed a climate denier as director of the US Environmental Protection Agency. He also has filled many other important positions with those who deny anthropomorphic global change. He is doing everything possible to eliminate or weaken recent efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, claiming that he is freeing businesses from regulations.

Israelis should be especially concerned about climate threats. Due to climate change, the Middle East is becoming hotter and drier and, according to military experts, this makes violence, terrorism, and war more likely. If the rapid melting of polar icecaps and glaciers continue, the coastal plain that contains most of Israel’s population and infrastructure will be inundated by a rising Mediterranean Sea.

Israel is already facing the effects of climate change, now in the fifth year of a severe drought. The water level of the Sea of Galilee is at a 100 year low, much of the Jordan River is reduced to a trickle, and the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly.  Water experts warn that if the Sea of Galilee continues to shrink, it could become a salt sea like the Dead Sea, as underground springs release saline water into it.

Another important reason is that Trump’s policies are contrary to basic Jewish values in terms of concern for the disadvantaged, the stranger, the hungry, and the poor. Rather than improving Obamacare, which provided health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, Trump supported health legislation that would have caused up to 32 million Americans to lose their insurance and others to pay higher premiums. Rather than supporting efforts to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure (given a grade of  D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers), Trump and Republican legislators pushed through a tax bill that greatly benefits the wealthiest Americans and large, profitable corporations. This will increase the U.S. national debt by up to $1.5 trillion, giving the Republicans an excuse to carry out their long-time desires to cut social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental and health protections.

Then there is the issue of Trump’s character. As NY Times conservative columnist Bret Stephens, a former chief editor of the Jerusalem Post, put it in a recent article, Trump’s character involves, “lying, narcissism, and bullying.” He continues: “In place of the usual jousting between the administration and the press, we have a president who fantasizes on Twitter about physically assaulting CNN. In place of a president who defends the honor and integrity of his own officers and agencies, we have one who humiliates his attorney general, denigrates the F.B.I. and compares our intelligence agencies to the Gestapo.” Do we really want to honor such a person and make him a role model for our children and grandchildren?

In addition, lavishing praise on Trump is adding to the current split between many American Jews and Israel. Almost 80% of American Jews disapprove of the job Trump is doing, according to a September poll by the American Jewish Committee. So when they see how Israel is going overboard in praising Trump it adds to the alienation many Americans feel due to recent Israeli decisions on prayer at the Kotel, conversion, and other issues. This could reduce the moral, political, and financial support Israel receives from American Jews.

Yes, but doesn’t Trump still deserve praise for his strong support of Israel? Somehow negative things about Trump’s positions and statements about Israel are being ignored. For example: Trump has not kept his pledge of seeing that there would be no space between the US and Israel, as he has demanded several times that Israel limit settlement construction. Trump’s $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia reduces Israel’s qualitative military edge. In his Holocaust remembrance statement Trump omitted any mention of Jews. Trump appointed white supremacists to senior positions and retweeted neo-Nazi propaganda on several occasions. He failed to quickly condemn anti-Semitism several times. He has left the post of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism vacant since taking office. He ended President Obama’s tradition of hosting a White House Seder. He compromised Israeli intelligence by sharing top secret information with Russia. Since Trump became president there has been a sharp increase in incidents of anti-Semitic and other bigoted statements and acts. There are many other examples.

Trump deserves praise for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but not to be lionized, for the reasons above and more. Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always has been and always will be. But the nations of the world will only acknowledge that if it is part of a comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem is good for Israel’s morale, it did not change the overall situation. It did cause much resentment among the Palestinians, other Arabs, and many nations, led to some violence, showed further evidence of widespread opposition to Israel’s position on Jerusalem through the votes in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and resulted in a further decrease in the potential of a peace agreement. Also, Trump again signed a waiver so that the US embassy will not soon be moved to Jerusalem and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that it will likely not be moved during Trump’s current term.

Yes, the peace process has been basically dead for some time, and the Palestinians certainly deserve much blame. But Israel needs to do everything possible to obtain a resolution of the conflict in order to avert continued and possibly increased violence and diplomatic criticism, effectively respond to her economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain a Jewish and a democratic state. Many Israel strategic and military experts agree with this assessment, including all the living ex-heads of the Shin Bet. Of course, Israel’s security has to be paramount in any agreement.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island

 

Trump Tax Plan Contains $2 Trillion Error

Money Bag. Photo By Barbara Lock [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By Barbara Lock

by Christopher Bates

On July 22, 1962, the Mariner I was launched after years of planning and preparation. Its mission, in the midst of the space race, was to conduct a flyby of Venus. Mariner never made it, since it exploded five minutes after takeoff. The reason? A missing dash in the mathematical coding done by NASA. It’s famously known as the “$80 million punctuation error.”

That $80 million is equivalent to a bit more than $650 million today. Still, if any of those scientists are still with us, they can sleep a little better, because their mistake is a drop in the bucket compared to the accounting error in Donald Trump’s budget. [Read more…]

“We Will Be Okay”: An Open Letter to Fellow Rabbis and Faith Leaders

Will we be okay? What do I tell my kids?

These are two questions that have been asked since the nation elected Donald Trump as president of the United States. The answer to the first question is yes. And we will tell our children the following: On November 8, our country elected Mr. Trump to be our next president. For many of us, he was not the person we wanted, but our nation has spoken in a way that makes this country extraordinary. We voted and we decided. Our process worked. Despite our deep disagreements, we all have a president-elect.

usflagNow it is time to find a way to move forward. We will pray our new president embraces the ideal that he is the president of all people of the United States and that the United States has unique responsibilities because it holds a unique role in the world. Whether we agree with Mr. Trump’s personal or political views, we hope for his success as the leader of our nation. At the same time, we need to embrace our important place to fight for what we believe to be right, especially given the circumstances that brought us to this place.

We have long relied on government intervention to address issues and solve problems. However, for many in America, that did not work. They felt abandoned, if not betrayed, with promises of protection broken, and a system unresponsive to their needs.

And for many others of us, we have been lulled into complacency and a false sense of security. This election is a harsh wake-up call and rouses us to action, not against the government, but aware of governments’ limitations to help the governed. It is up to us to create the change we seek, now more than ever. Voting is only the first step in a process of engagement. Showing up at local meetings, petitioning Congress and holding the new president — and every part of government — accountable must ensue. Community organizing is vital. Our aspirations and goals are in our hands. We cannot relegate them to another’s care, certainly not now. Our community groups, both religious and civic, can use this moment in our history to reinvigorate and rededicate themselves, advancing important values of dignity, equality and justice.

Yes, we will be all right. The United States of America is strong, and we, her people, are resilient. But the future is in our hands. It is our work as rabbis and other faith leaders to help guide and support the people as teachers, chaplains and champions of social justice and the values we hold dear. There is much to do, and our work has never been more important.

Trump’s Secret Server Connected to Russia

 the Trump Organization has a secret server registered to Trump Tower that has been covertly communicating with Russia,

Trump Tower Server connected to Russia.

In response to a new report from Slate showing that the Trump Organization has a secret server registered to Trump Tower that has been covertly communicating with Russia, Hillary for America Senior Policy Adviser Jake Sullivan released the following statement Monday:

This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow. Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.

This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia. It certainly seems the Trump Organization felt it had something to hide, given that it apparently took steps to conceal the link when it was discovered by journalists.

This line of communication may help explain Trump’s bizarre adoration of Vladimir Putin and endorsement of so many pro-Kremlin positions throughout this campaign. It raises even more troubling questions in light of Russia’s masterminding of hacking efforts that are clearly intended to hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign. We can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia’s meddling in our elections.

[Read more…]

GOP unveils stage for convention

(Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch)

The GOP released a model of the stage for their 2016 convention.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. Because it’s a model, I don’t think releasing it achieved the effect they desired. It kind of looks like a middle-school panorama project.
  2. It looks like a standard convention stage. Anyone expecting anything dramatically different for a Trump convention won’t find it here.

[Read more…]

Trump’s Rhetoric on Immigration Hurts US, Helps ISIL

A K-1 (Fiancee) Visa

A K-1 (Fiancee) Visa

It is a rare day when Dick Cheney and Lindsay Graham are in agreement with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump’s calls to ban Muslim entry into the U.S. are so absurd and outrageous that he has people on both sides of the aisle railing against him.

In Trump’s simplistic, uninformed world view, the constitutional questions of a religious test to enter the U.S. are of no concern. Neither are details of how one would determine who is a Muslim. Would Trump call for Caucasian or Christian males like himself be barred from theaters, schools, or political gatherings since the majority of mass shooters share his ethnicity or religion?

Ignorant of the thousands of applicants whose visas are denied, revoked, cancelled, or stuck in interminable security checks every day, Trump’s proposed solution accepts the radical’s narrative of religion, exposes his ignorance on the laws and processes of this country, and poses an even greater threat to national security than the national security problems they purport to solve. This latest proposal is much the same as his “solution” for immigration reform in general: build a wall.

The reality is comprehensive inter-agency counter-terrorism screening has been a part of the process for admission of foreign nationals since before 9/11. Since then, the visa issuance process has become vastly more complex. Applicants are screened regardless of the type of visa they apply for, be it as a student, tourist, worker, artist, or under the Visa Waiver Program, or as a permanent resident.

If a case is flagged for review based on law enforcement or intelligence, State Department regulations require a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO, to be obtained before the foreign national can receive a visa to enter the U.S. The foreign national is run through as many as seven different interconnected government databases. Other federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, and the NSA are constantly consulted to update visa issuance procedures. The data in these databases is also dynamic, and can be updated quickly in response to new intelligence.

Counter-terrorism screening works, and it happens every day for every type of visa. The refugee screening process is even more exhaustive. It can take between 18 and 24 months and it takes longer to screen refugees because they usually do not have documents with them.

A “security check” is not some pro-forma review done for appearance’s sake, but is instead a thorough screening to determine whether this person will be allowed into the U.S. They are performed by government agents who take their job very seriously. Trump’s rhetoric is a slap in the face of these dedicated public servants.

Many politicians are questioning “fiancee” (K-1) visa procedures. This is also a misguided inquiry. The issue is counter-terrorism screening, not the particular visa process. And counter-terrorism screening already happens for all visas. While no system is perfect, shutting the whole thing down actually enhances the threat to America. Do Trump & Co. really think the complex security check process run and maintained by experienced officials would have been established if it would have been easier to just stop immigration?

Perhaps more importantly is the fact that Trump’s proposal only feeds into the problem that he is trying to address. National security specialist Benjamin Wittes noted that rejecting refugees, particularly on the basis of their religion or national origin, actually presents ISIL and other extremist groups fodder for their narrative of an apocalyptic clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. ISIL profits from Trump rhetoric. Moreover, such a call would break up families, hinder business and effectively build a wall from the rest of the world.

Terrorism has multiple causes. Pretending it can be stopped by banning Muslim entry is a fantasy soundbite made to get ratings. But real lives are at stake here. This is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction.

A robust background check system — which we already have — must be considered as one part of a broader national security strategy. Rejecting xenophobia in favor of actually countering ISIL is not just the right thing to do — it is also the safer one.

Donald Trump Addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition

— by Richard Chaitt and Scott Schley

Real estate mogul Donald Trump was among the thirteen Republican candidates speaking at the RJC Presidential Presidential Forum.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

He was introduced as “a mensch with chutzpah.” Trump mentioned that his daughter and grandchildren are Jewish joking that the RJC only likes him because his daughter was Jewish and that made him mishpacha. He said having a Jewish daughter was great, except he can’t get her on the phone on Saturday.

While he asked for the Republican Jewish Council’s support, he did not ask for money as he is self-funding his campaign. The audience found Trump and the many jokes he told very humorous, but he did not say much of substance.

Trump said “Obama was the worst thing ever for Israel. Our negotiations with Iran was horrible and we did not bargain from strength.” He criticized Obama for being unwilling to use the term ‘radical Islam’. He argued that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should not be allowed to run, claiming that what she did with her emails was criminal.

Donald Trump has been a strong supporter of Israel. He told the story of how he was asked by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to do an election commercial for him. He said the commercial must have worked, since Bibi won. Trump called himself a great deal maker and thinks he can make a deal for peace. He would not commit to having a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This caused “boos” from the audience. However, Trump countered that “To do a deal, you do not reveal your cards up front.”

In conclusion, Trump was very charismatic, sharp and funny, but there was no there there. He only spoke in generalities without being specific.

Speeches by the other Republican presidential candidates is available in our full coverage of the RJC presidential forum.

GOP Presidential Candidates Blast Iran Deal in Primetime Debate

Ten Republican presidential candidates participated in Fox News’s primetime debate:

  • businessman Donald Trump,
  • former Florida Governor Jeb Bush,
  • Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker,
  • former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee,
  • neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson,
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz,
  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio,
  • Kentucky Senator Rand Paul,
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Walker said that if the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, negotiated by the Obama administration and pending congress review, is signed and he is elected president, he will cancel it immediately:

I still remember, as a kid, tying a yellow ribbon around a tree in front of my house during the 444 days that Iran held 52 Americans hostage. Iran is not a place we should be doing business with.

To me, you terminate the deal on day one, you reinstate the sanctions authorized by Congress, you go to Congress and put in place even more crippling sanctions in place, and then you convince our allies to do the same.

This is not just bad with Iran, this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who’s gonna stand up and do something about it.

Paul criticized the agreement as well, mentioning former President Ronald Reagan as an example for a better approach:

I’m a Reagan conservative. Reagan did negotiate with the Soviets. But you have to negotiate from a position of strength, and I think President Obama gave away too much, too early.

If there’s going to be a negotiation, you’re going to have to believe somehow that the Iranians are going to comply. I asked this question to John Kerry, I said “do you believe they’re trustworthy?” and he said “No.”

And I said, “well, how are we gonna get them to comply?” I would have never released the sanctions before there was consistent evidence of compliance.

Huckabee mentioned Reagan as well:

Ronald Reagan said “trust, but verify.” President Obama is “trust, but vilify.” He trusts our enemies and vilifies everyone who disagrees with him. And the reason we disagree with him has nothing to do with party. It has to do with the incredibly dangerous place that this world is gonna be as a result of a deal in which we got nothing.

We didn’t even get four hostages out. We got nothing, and Iran gets everything they want. We said we would have anywhere, anytime negotiations and inspections, we gave that up. We said that we would make sure that they didn’t have any nuclear capacity, we gave that up.

The president can’t tell you what we got. I’ll tell you what the world got. The world has a burgeoning nuclear power that didn’t, as the Soviets, say “we might defend ourselves in a war.” What the Iranians have said is, “we will wipe Israel off the face of the map, and we will bring death to America.”

When someone points a gun at your head and loads it, by God, you ought to take them seriously, and we need to take that seriously.

Romney’s “Moral Failure” to Challenge Trump on Birther Conspiracies

— by David A. Harris

Leave it to Mitt Romney to bring me together in agreement with George Will, who yesterday called Donald Trump a “bloviating ignoramus.”

It is disturbing in the extreme that too many Americans already harbor any thought that our president is not an American — particularly after the release of the long-form birth certificate, which one might think would have shut down the birther cottage industry. That this lunacy would actually be advanced by Mitt Romney’s surrogate and fundraising headliner du jour — the nutty Trump, who offensively doubled-down on his crazy birther questions even this morning — is just astonishing given that we’re talking about the GOP standard-bearer.

The most important thing here is what this says about Mitt Romney: when confronted by press with the inevitable questions, does he separate from Trump? Does he even appropriately challenge these outlandish claims, as John McCain did in 2008? No — he takes some variation of the “I don’t agree with every supporter” line. It’s an utter moral failure, plain and simple. What will hurt Romney most in the eyes of some independent voters is his refusal to stand up and say the right thing — to do anything, really — out of an apparent fear of offending the most extreme radical fringe of his party.

Originally published in Politico. David A. Harris is the President and CEO of the NJDC