Thursday, March 13, 2008

Obama's Pastor

Obama is going to have to denounce the statements of the pastor of the church he's belonged to for many years in much stronger terms than he has previously if he has any hopes of becoming president. This ABC news story has many very damaging quotes from Obama's Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11.

This is what I find the most offensive - Jeremiah Wright speaking in terms very reminiscent of Ward Churchill's vile article after the September 11 attacks:

In addition to damning America, he told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism.

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.

He even uses the same metaphor as Churchill - chickens coming home to roost.

And Obama's campaign hasn't been nearly forceful enough in its denunciations of Wright -

In a statement to, Obama's press spokesman Bill Burton said, "Sen. Obama has said repeatedly that personal attacks such as this have no place in this campaign or our politics, whether they're offered from a platform at a rally or the pulpit of a church. Sen. Obama does not think of the pastor of his church in political terms. Like a member of his family, there are things he says with which Sen. Obama deeply disagrees. But now that he is retired, that doesn't detract from Sen. Obama's affection for Rev. Wright or his appreciation for the good works he has done."

I don't really care if Obama doesn't think of the pastor of his church in political terms - a lot of other people will, and will identify him with the comments that Wright has made over the years. He has to denounce him, and quickly. I don't believe for a minute that Obama believes the same things as Wright does - but he has to make that crystal clear.

Leon Greenman

This is a moving obituary of "the only Englishman to be sent to Auschwitz," Leon Greenman, who died on March 7 at age 97.

Leon Greenman was the only Englishman to be sent to Auschwitz. His wife and son died in the gas chambers, and for two and a half years he was a slave labourer, subjected to beating and experimentation. He vowed that his life thereafter would be devoted to keeping the memory of such horror alive. His final decades were spent in unceasing testimony against the crimes of Nazism, and determined campaigning against any modern revival of fascism.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

South Jerusalem

Matthew Yglesias just tipped me to this new blog - South Jerusalem - written by Gershom Gorenberg and Haim Watzman. Haim's entry on why I like South Jerusalem really encapsulates my favorite things about South Jerusalem - Emek Refaim, Baka, Katamon, Talpiot. This is my place in Jerusalem. I love this line - "Add to that the fact that South Jerusalem is the only place in the world where you can be a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew and feel like you are part of a mass movement." Amen!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Today's dead

1) Terrorist attack on Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Kiryat Moshe kills eight yeshiva students, one as young as 15.

2. Islamic Jihad terrorists blew up an IDF jeep on the Gaza border, attacked a rescue crew and killed one soldier. About the roadside bomb that blew up the jeep - "Israeli officials said that the explosive device was large, shaped and sophisticated. They suggested that it was built by militants who had received weapons training in Iran, the main sponsor of Islamic Jihad." Could this be one of the explosively formed penetrators that have been so devastating against American armored vehicles in Iraq? They were used by Hezbollah in the Lebanon war in 2006.

3. Workers at Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha came under fire from the same group of Islamic Jihad terrorists.

4. A Palestinian terrorist was killed by a Israeli airstrike on a rocket-launching team.

5. Seven Qassams were fired into Israel, two hit houses in Sderot, including that of Elisheva Turjeman.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Jews and Hagee

Two good articles on Hagee & Jews - one from Gershom Gorenberg, one from Matthew Yglesias. Both address the question of why there hasn't been more Jewish outrage about Hagee's support for McCain.

Gorenberg, who has written on the type of Protestant theology that Hagee adheres to - dispensational premillennialism (in his book The End of Days) - points out that Hagee's 1996 book, Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist "expressed uncommon sympathy for" Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin.

Hagee is a fine man to be supporting John McCain - someone who thinks that political assassination is a legitimate way to change a nation's policies!

Monday, March 03, 2008

More on Obama and the Jews (and a little Ralph Nader thrown in for good measure)

The same talk that Obama gave to Jewish leaders in Cleveland (which I quoted from in my last post) also has some more interesting statements from him, as well as the latest slime from Ralpha Nader.

He [Obama] also again noted his disagreement with some of the critical statements on Israel made by the pastor of his church, which he ascribed to the latter's support for the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa at a time that Israel continued to trade with the regime there.

"He is like an old uncle who sometimes will say things that I don't agree with," he said. "And I suspect there are some people in this room who have heard relatives say some things that they don't agree with, including, on occasion, directed at African Americans."

He concluded, "I understand the concerns and the sensitivities, and one of my goals constantly in my public career has been to try to bridge what was a historically powerful bond between the African American and Jewish communities that has been frayed in recent years."

Also on Sunday, Ralph Nader, while declaring his third-party candidacy for the US presidency, attacked Obama for allegedly concealing his "pro-Palestinian" feelings.

"He's run a brilliant tactical campaign, but his better instincts and his knowledge have been censored by himself," Nader charged on NBC's Meet the Press. "He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois before he ran for the state senate... Now he's supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza with a million and a half people."

Nader called the Palestinian-Israeli conflict a "real off-the-table issue for the candidates," including Obama, whom he described as "the first liberal evangelist in a long time" to run for president.

"The guy doesn't know what he's talking about. He's got no credibility," an Obama campaign adviser said about Nader.

Obama's campaign on Monday responded to Nader's attacks on the senator's position on Gaza.

"Barack Obama's longstanding support for Israel's security is rooted in his belief that no civilians should have to live with the threat of terrorism," the campaign statement said. "In Gaza, Hamas continues to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians every day, and that's why it is long past time that Hamas renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel's right to exist and abides by past agreements."

Democratic National Committee consultant Matt Dorf, who also does Jewish outreach, also dismissed the Nader accusations as off the mark and meaningless.

"If he thinks there are voters out there to be had by demonizing Barack Obama's record, including on Middle East issues, he's not going to find them," Dorf said. "Nader's going to get even less support than he got last time."

I guess Nader has decided that once again it's his turn to play the spoiler role vis-a-vis a Democratic candidate for President. Nader is a star example of the principle that "the perfect is the enemy of the good." He is seeking perfection, and can't abide anything less than perfect that might actually succeed. For him, ideological perfection is much preferable to doing something that actually might bring practical results.

Obama on Israel

James Kirchick, one of the bloggers on the New Republic's blog Plank, has just posted a dumb comment about something that Obama recently said. He's getting all in a lather at the following statement:

"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel," leading Democratic presidential contender Illinois Senator Barack Obama said Sunday.

"If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress," he said. He also criticized the notion that anyone who asks tough questions about advancing the peace process or tries to secure Israel by anyway other than "just crushing the opposition" is being "soft or anti-Israel."

Obama made the comments in a closed-door meeting with several members of Cleveland's Jewish community, who will be participating in the crucial Ohio primary to be held next Tuesday.

The candidate stressed his commitment to a secure, Jewish Israel and to pursuing robust diplomacy - while keeping all options on the table - to ensure that Iran doesn't acquire nuclear weapons, according to a transcript of the off-the-record event.

Obama defended - and distanced - himself from criticism that has been leveled at him about some of his campaign advisers and endorsers, but he suggested that too black-and-white a perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict helped no one. He described the debate in Israel as "much more open" than it often is in the United States.

"Understandably, because of the pressure that Israel is under, I think the US pro-Israel community is sometimes a little more protective or concerned about opening up that conversation," he continued. "All I'm saying, though, is that actually ultimately should be our goal - to have that same clear-eyed view about how we approach these issues."

Kirchick seems to think that Obama is interfering in Israeli politics by mentioning Likud, and compares him to Jim Moran, who said, "I'm never going to satisfy people who think we should be giving unequivocal support to the Likud Party." About this Kirchick says, "Such protestations about the all-encompassing power of 'Likud' is a trope in the victimization rhetoric of peace-processors who constantly blame Israel for the region's woes while pretending to be valiant friends of the Jewish State."

Obama isn't making a statement about Likud being "all-powerful" (which at the moment it certainly is not, since it's in the opposition, not in the government). Instead, he's pointing out that one can be pro-Israel without going along with all of the political positions of the Likud party, a point which is in fact often forgotten in the pro-Israel community. AIPAC, for example, seems quite able to welcome the support of someone like John Hagee (who is really advocating the destruction of Israel in his end-time theology), but does not countenance even mild criticism of Israel's actions.

What I like about these quotations from Obama is that they reveal a real acquaintance with the different political views in the American Jewish community, and a willingness to be a true advocate for peace alongside a firm support for Israel. I hope that this doesn't sink him in the end with Jewish voters who get too scared at what he is saying and misread his willingness to work for peace for a lack of support for Israel.

I think that he is spot on about why the pro-Israel community in the U.S. is often more protective (than Israeli opinion). This is an impulse that I have often felt myself, even though my politics are much to the left of the Likud. I get very tired of hearing the reflexive anti-Israel opinions of the American and European left, many European nations, and of course all of the U.N. resolutions that condemn Israel without also condemning Arab actions against Israel. In the face of that onslaught, it's tempting simply to support Israel and everything it does, out of the conviction that even if Israel adopted the methods of "flower power" tomorrow, it wouldn't matter to those who routinely savage Israel.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

American religious groups

I just took a look at the Pew religion survey (which I referenced in the previous entry), and figured out the numbers for each religious group according to the percentages from the survey. I multiplied the percentages by the current number for the U.S. population, which I got from the Census Bureau's website - 303,549,926. Since I was using the Pew survey's percentages, the figures are identical for those religions which had the same percentage in the survey, which is obviously artificial. What has really gotten attention in the press is the fairly large number of unaffiliated people (16%), but I think all of the numbers are interesting.

Following up on an earlier series of posts about the relative numbers of Muslims and Jews in the United States, this survey estimates that the Jewish population is 1.7% of the American population (around 5.2 million people) and that the Muslim population is .6% of the American population (about 1.8 million people). The Muslim figure is at the lower end of the estimated number of Muslims in America. The Jewish figure is in accord with lower estimates of Jewish population made by various recent Jewish population surveys.

Other interesting facts that come from the survey - the total number of Catholics is not much less than the total number of Evangelical Protestants: about 79.8 million vs. 72.5 million. Buddhists and Hindus are 2.1 million and 1.2 million respectively. Unitarians are a little over 900,000, while New Age (including Wiccans and pagans) is about 1.2 million.

American religious groups - estimated total numbers

Evangelical Protestant - 79,833,630
Historically Black Churches - 20,944,944
Mormon - 5,160,348
Orthodox (Christian) - 1,821,299
Jewish - 5,160,348
Muslim - 1,821,299
Unaffiliated - 48,871,538 [this includes: Atheist - 4,856,798, Agnostic - 7,285,198, Nothing in particular - 36,729,541]
Mainline Protestant Churches - 54,942,536 [this includes mainline Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglican/Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalist, Quaker]
Catholic - 72,548,432
Jehovah's Witness - 2,124,849
Buddhist - 2,124,849
Hindu - 1,214,199
Unitarians and other liberal faiths - 2,124,849
New Age - 1,214,199

More on McCain/Hagee

Another thing that I don't understand about McCain's acceptance of Hagee's endorsement is what he thinks the effect that Hagee's anti-Catholicism will have on Catholic voters in the general election. Isn't this just a gift that McCain is giving to the Democratic nominee, who can present him or herself as the candidate of religious tolerance? Hasn't it sunk into McCain's consciousness how many Americans are Catholic (it's the largest single Christian denomination in the country, much bigger than the Southern Baptist Convention)? And Catholics don't like having their religion dissed any more than anyone else does.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

What Hagee really believes about Jews

Bruce Wilson of the Talk to Action blog has posted a long story about John Hagee's views about Jews - in which it becomes quite clear that he is anti-semitic in so many ways! And this man not only has endorsed McCain for president (and had his endorsement enthusiastically welcomed by McCain), but has also been welcomed by AIPAC (at their annual conference last year). Why are our so-called Jewish "leaders" so oblivious to the dangerous flaws of the people they've embraced as our "friends"?

Israel blues - המצב

Another few events have recently occurred that have made me feel even more hopeless than usual about the situation (המצב) in the Middle East. First of all, the escalation of fighting between Hamas and Israel - the killing of a student at Sapir College, the increase in the range of Hamas rockets to northern Ashkelon. Any response that Israel makes to the Hamas attacks is condemned - if it's military, then because innocent civilians get killed (which they do); if it's through an economic blockade, because innocent civilians, again, are being harmed for the actions of the terrorists. Israel has withdrawn, totally, from Gaza.

Why should Israel be expected to aid people who respond only with violence? Even when Israel opens the crossings between Israel and Gaza to allow humanitarian shipments in, there are attacks at the crossing points themselves. Why can't aid go through Egypt? I actually thought it was good when Palestinians knocked down the wall between Egypt and Gaza and were able to go to Egyptian Rafah and buy supplies. Why can't that be made permanent? (I suppose one of the problems is that this would make it easier for trained terrorists to enter Gaza, which seems to have been the case - some Iranian-trained terrorists who had entered Gaza recently were killed by an IDF strike, which was one of the factors that led to the escalation from Hamas).

I was talking to a (non-Jewish) friend the other day and brought up the topic of Israel/Palestine. I was saying that about 2/3 of Israelis in a recent poll had said that they were willing to negotiate with Hamas for a cease-fire. She pointed out that it's unlikely that Hamas itself actually wants to negotiate with Israel, since what they want is the destruction of Israel. This same friend has met members of the Israeli peace camp and knows that not all Israelis are right wing (and in fact that they are very ill-served by their political leadership). It was actually quite nice talking to her and having the expansive feeling that it was possible to be pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-Palestinan at the same time.

Then there's U.S. politics. Barak Obama is being attacked by right-wingers because he's supposedly anti-Israel (because he actually expressed compassion for Palestinians, among other things). But actually he's just as pro-Israel as Clinton or McCain. Read his recent speech to AIPAC. He says the same thing the other candidates say. One of the things that was giving me some hope was his capability to see that there is right on both sides.

And then McCain gets endorsed by John Hagee, the right-wing nut case who believes that the best way to love Israel is to hope that it gets blown to smithereens in the final war of Armageddon. And the same media that's all over Obama for not renouncing Farakhan vigorously enough does nothing to pressure McCain to renounce Hagee's support. The same Hagee that some deluded Jews have started to believe is really "pro-Israel." I recently received a book in the mail (unsolicited) by someone named David Brog, called Standing with Israel, with a foreward by John Hagee. The purpose of this book is to try to prove to Jews that we should welcome support from the evangelical right wing that supports Israel because it fits into their theological end-times scenario. No thanks, I'm not interested in this pseudo-support, which will turn to outright anti-semitism when Jews or Israel don't act according to the way they've scripted us into their scenario.

And then, from the left side of the spectrum, I found out that local "peace" groups are bringing speakers and an exhibition to Ithaca in order to inform us all about the "Nakba" and the unmitigated disaster that was created sixty years ago when Israel was established. The speakers and exhibition are completely one sided - there's no acknowledgement that there could be any right on the Israeli side, or that there's moral/political ambiguity in this situation.

I think that what's really depressing me the most is that these events, both in Israel and in the American presidential campaign (as well as in the parochial world of Ithaca) lead to a real narrowing of the political space for anyone who does not want to belong to one of the extremes. For a while it seemed to me that Obama's candidacy was helping to create slightly more political space for this middle ground on Israel/Palestine. But then the Hagee endorsement and the attacks on Obama's "anti-Israel" stand are doing their best to make that space vanishingly small. I think that most American Jews are actually in the middle - we support Israel and we want the best for it, we are concerned about the human rights of Palestinians as well as of Israeli Jews, and we want to see a compromise solution that will allow for the creation of a Palestinian state, both to lessen the misery visited upon the Palestinian people and to give Palestinians fewer reasons to want to attack and destroy Israel.

But the extremes of both the left and the right are not interested in any compromise. According to them we must be ideologically pure - anything else is a betrayal of our principles. I don't believe in purity in politics anymore. My basic political premise now is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. The search for purity just ends up with a lot of injured and dead people.