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September 11, 2009
 

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 11, 2009 By James D. Besser New York Jewish Week WASHINGTON, D.C.--At a Virginia town meeting on health care reform, a rabbi giving an opening prayer was shouted down by protesters claiming Democratic propos- als would lead to euthanasia and more abortions. Rep. Bar- ney Frank (D-Mass) became an instant YouTube hit by asking an angry town hall participant who waved a picture of Presi- dent Barack Obama as Adolf Hitler, "On what planet do you spend most of your time?" And in numerous town meetings placards have ap- peared with slogans like this: "Obama lies, Granny dies." Obama's faltering health care drive has touched a na- tional raw nerve. The resulting fury, exploited by a range of extremist groups and some partisans who have said they hope health care reformwill be Obama's "Waterloo," has Jew- ish leaders deeply concerned. "In a way it's a perfect storm," said Abraham Fox- man, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "The economic crisis, last year's tensions on the immigration issue and, some would say, the election of Barack Obama are all festering in extremist circles, looking for an outlet." The apparent outlet is a health care reform backlash that has dominated this sum- mer's headlines. The resulting furor has greatly dimmed the Democrats' chances of enact- ing meaningful reform this year. And it has also set off alarm bells in Jewish board- rooms. "It's the same kind of unfo- cused rage we saw a few years ago on the issue of illegal immigration," said a leading Jewish community relations activist who asked that his name not be used. "In polls, people say they know there's something wrong with the health care system. But flash the words 'euthanasia' and 'Nazi' and 'socialism' in front of them, and it taps all this built-up anger and the hunt for scapegoats." While favoring changes in a flawed health care system, most Jewish groups--even those most directly involved in this summer's fierce congres- sional battle over Democratic proposals backed by the Obama administration--have steered clear of endorsing specific legislation. Instead, groups such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the United Jewish Communities, wary of getting caught in the partisan crossfire and representing constituen- cies that are far from unified on the best solution to the nation's health care woes, are supporting specific aspects of the congressional proposals. Both have endorsed some kind of "public option" for provid- ing health care coverage for those who can't afford or get access to private or employer provided insurance, strength- ening Medicaid and reducing inequities in access to quality health care. Even among some of the Jewish groups involved, there has been a quiet retreat from conspicuous activism, the result of a backlash from more conservative major donors opposed to the Democratic proposals and fears about the intensity of the debate, as demonstrated in town meet- ings across the country. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has been the most active Jewish group in the fight. The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) has created a Rabbis for Health insurance Reform Web site. The Democratic group has made the issue a top priority in recent weeks. Other Jewish groups, while not weighing in on reform proposals, are beginning to focus more narrowly on the explosive backlash and the potentially dangerous forces the raging health care debate has unleashed. "We are extraordinarily con- cerned," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Cooper's group has been most troubled about the extensive use of Holocaust al- lusions in this summer's health care fights, including the anonymous e-mails circulat- ing in the Jewish community suggesting White House health care staffers share the views of the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele and talk show host Rush Limbaugh's claim that the logo for the administration health reform effort is "damn close to the Nazi swastika logo." Rabbi Cooper worries that "if every debate about important national issues starts out with the 'N word' [for Nazi], the tragic legacy of the Nazi Holocaust is going to be lost. And it's not just for the Jewish people; we're still grappling with issues of genocide around the globe; the expropriation Of this imagery makes it harder to address it appropriately." But he also said the "con- spiracy-oriented extremism" driving much of the debate this summer is a here-and-now danger to all minorities. Some are "using the health care debate as wallpaper for their extremist ideology," he said. "The deeper concern is that, perhaps because of the instantaneous media world in whichwe live, theirextremism seems to be sticking." According to the ADL's Foxman, traditional extremist groups have latched onto the fury surrounding the health care debate, fanning it and trying to use it to recruit to their cause. "The Holocaust imagery and comparisons of President Obama to Hitler that have become ubiquitous at the town hall protests in the public de- bate over health care reform, have been strongly promoted and fueled by Lyndon La- Rouche and his network of supporters," the ADL said in a statement last month. The group also blasted Limbaugh's Nazi analogies. The LaRouche network has "prodBced signs, banners, pamphlets and other items that employ Nazi imagery and introduced them at many public forums around the country," according to the ADL report. "Such Nazi im- agery has appeared at many public forums, including at the August 17 event held by Congressman Barney Frank, where a member of the La- Rouche Youth Movement held up for the cameras a picture of Obamawith a Hitler mustache at a town meeting." The ADL called LaRouche a"longtime anti-Semitic con- spiracy theorist and perennial presidential candidate" who has a history of "linking the AIDS crisis, the drug epidemic and international financial crises to prominent Jews and Jewish organizations." "There's nothing new about the LaRouche organization us- ing Hitler imagery with their conspiracy theories," Foxman said. "They are being opportu- nistic in using this issue to flog their issue and get attention., What worries Jewish lead- ers: that kind of extremist language may gain unwar- ranted legitimacy from the statements by mainstream politicians such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who claimed that Democratic plans mandate "death panels" and euthanasia. Some Jewish leaders say the extremism is coming from both ends of the political spectrum. "It's true the issue has been hijacked, but I see extremism and incivility on both sides," Said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the JCPA president. "When people begin to speak in a language that's full of anger and outrage, the debate stops being about what's best for the country. There aren't enough people standing up and saying 'no.'" But a leading political his- torian dismissed that claim. "The Republicans may not be the fomenters in the extremism we're seeing, but they're tiding it, the way many rode the McCarthy hysteria," said Allan J. Lichtman a politi- cal historian at the American University in Washington. Lichtman said the current health care furor is related to a long tradition of American populism, "an angry belief that the special interests are manipulating society against hardworking people." But there's an irony this time around, he said. "Some of what we're see- ing is being encouraged and orchestrated by the very same big interests that the protesters claim to be decrying, including the health insurance indus- try," he said. While overt anti-Semitism hasn't emerged as a major theme in the health care reform backlash, "the Jewish community should be very concerned, " Lichtman said. "Whenever hysteria and scape- goating seem to reign, Jews need to be on their guard, even when they are not specifically targets." Reprinted with permission from the New York Jewish Week, Www.jewishweek.com. By Adam Wills Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles LOS ANGELES--Neve Gordon, the Ben-Gurion University political science professor whose Aug. 20 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times titled "Boycott Israel" described Israel as an "apart- heid state," has dra~wn pro- tests and threats of cutting off funding for the school by some U.S. donors, "The whole thing could have serious repercussions," said Philip Gomperts, South- western regional director for American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a U.S. fundraising or- ganization for the university. Gordon's op-ed prompted multiple calls of protest to the school's Los Angeles- based Southwestern region- al office, which raises about $6.5 million annually. Fears donors would turn on the school grew after Haaretz reported that Los Angeles Jews were considering a boycott of the university, described in a letter Israel's consequently have decidedto Los Angeles-based Consul support the Boycott, Divest- General Jacob Dayan sent to ment and Sanctions move- Ben-GurionPresidentRivka ment that was launched by Carrel. Dayanwrote that do- Palestinian activists in July norswho contacted himwere 2005 and has since garnered "unanimous in threatening widespread support around to withhold donations." the globe." In his column, Gordon, As in the United States, a tenured professor at Ben- in Israel tenured professors Gurion, wrote that the"most are protected with regard accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apart- heid state.., the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure... I SW Orlando Orlando Altamonte Springs Lake Mary East Orlando Ocoee ]DITION TASTED GOOD. 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"I do not under- stand the logic of those who want to boycott BGU," Gor- don said in an interview with The Journal. "'We hate Neve Gordon because he calls for a boycott, so we're going to boycott.' What, exactly, is the rationale?" he said. Ben-Gurion's U. S. fund- raisers say Gordon has been a thorn in their Side for years. Doron Krakow, the agency's national execu- tive vice president, said he heard from "a fair number of donors who find the sentiment of Dr. Gordon ap- palling., Israel's Education Minister Gideon Saar called Gordon's column "appalling and condemnable," and its Religious Affairs Minister Yaacov Margi called for Gordon's suspension from the university, according to The Jerusalem Post. Ben- Gurion President Carmi also condemned Gordon's com- ments two weeks ago, saying in a statement released on Aug. 21 that the university strongly disassociates itself from "Gordon's destructive views thatabuse the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at BGU. "We are shocked and out- raged by his remarks, which are both irresponsible and morally reprehensible," she said. "Academics who enter- tain such resentment toward their country are welcome to consider another profes- sional and personal home." But the Association for Civil Rights in Israel took issue with Carmi's denouncement, saying the University is curb- ing academic free speech by condemning Gordon's op-ed. Gordon said his piece did not call for an outright boycott of Israel. "I call for a gradual boycott sensitive to context and circumstances, which would begin with boy- cotting companies located in the occupied territories, including the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel," he said. Los Angeles Times acting letters editor Sara Lessley said Gordon's col- umn, which appeared on a Thursday, generated roughly 75 letters immediately fol- lowing its publication, with sentiments almost evenly split between support and opposition. The following Sunday and Monday, howev- er, The Times was inundated with hundreds of letters from an international campaign in support of Gordon. "The wording is much the same. They say they applaud the L.A. Times for its courage," Lessley said. Murray Fromson, an L.A.- based donor, said he isn't planning to withhold his contributions because of Gordon, but he is Concerned that others might. "People will think twice about giving to Ben-Gurion because of Neve Gordon,"said Fromson, whose wife, Dodi, serves on the American Associates' na- tional board. Carol Saal, the group's board president, said the national organization has received many e-mails and phone calls. "Of course the messages are that they're upset," she said. "They're afraid this is going to hurt the university." But the impact on the school remains to be seen: Dayan told The Journal that few of the calls he received were from major donors, and Gomperts said that he has heard from only one or two small local donors. However, the school's national market- ing and communications director, Ronni Strongin, said she had heard from one major donor who said, "Fire the guy or I'm not giving BGU any more money." Strongin said thatwithholding money could result in punishing all of the university's students, faculty and staff. "If they withhold money, they are then fulfilling Dr. Gordon's wishes," she said. Gordon ar- gues that withholding funds from the school in hope of ousting him sets a dangerous precedent. "If donors want to stop providing the financial support to the university because of one professor, they do not understand the significance of academic freedom. Do they want the university to have a single voice?" Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, www. jewish journal.com.