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October 5, 2012
 

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PAGE 4A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 5, 2012 . By Daniel Sokatch SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)--Politicians some- times save the most important truths for a foreign audience. Sometimes those truths really need to be said at home. On "Meet the Press" last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a particular point about the liberal values shared by the United States and his country. In characterizing those rioting in the Middle East against the United States, Netanyahu said, "There is a tinderbox of hatred here from avirulent strain of Islam that takes moderate Muslims and Arabs and attacks them first, but seeks to deprive all of us of the basic values that we have. They're against human rights, they're against the rights of women, they're against freedom of religion, they're against freedom of speech and freedom of expression. They're against all the things that we value. They're against tolerance. They're against pluralism and they're against freedom." As the New Israel Fund has fought for 34 years for civil rights, tolerance, pluralism, and women's and minor!ty rights in Israel, this crystal-clear statement of Israel's values was quite welcome--particularly when Israel's own democracy often seems to be increas- ingly at risk. Members of the prime minister's Likud Party and governing coalition have intro- duced more than 40 bills in the Knesset that would defund or penalize Israel's human rights groups, constrict minority rights or weaken the independence of Israel's media and judiciary. Despite High Court rulings, women continue to be excluded from everything from the airwaves (on the government-funded Orthodox radio station) to the front seats of public bus lines to ordinary commercial advertisements in Jerusalem. And there has By Jonathan Tobin But they were wrong. What they needed JNS.org was another Jimmy Carter. And in Barack Obama they hope to have found one. Given the smallsize of the Jewish popu- Democrats have replied to GOP criti- lation, the attention given to the Jewish cisms of Obama on Israel by rightly vote is, almost by definition, disproportion- pointing out that he has not destroyed the ate. But though the absolute numbers at alliance. But their main counter-argument stake in the battle for this small slice of is to say that even raising Israel in this the electorate is small, if Republicans can manner isn't kosher because doing so persuade a substantial percentage of Jews undermines the consensus. But they are to abandon their t~aditional support for the being more than a little hypocritical. Democrats, especially in key swing states They wish to silence this debate because such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, it they stand to lose in any discussion on the could have a real impact on the outcome issue since it is the only point on which of a close presidential race in November. conservatives can apl~eal to a generally But Jewish Republicans and Democrats liberal constituency like the Jews. don't merely disagree about the issues. YetnomatterwhethertheGOPwindsup They differ over whether it iseven per- getting a significantly higher percentage missible to debate what is arguably one of Jewish votes this year or not, the debate of the most important issues for Jewish about Israel has still been, contrary to voters: Israel. Democratic arguments, good for the Jews. For the last generation, but especially Though some worry the tension be- over the course of the last decade, Re- tween Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu publicans have highlighted their party's and Obama that has cropped up again fervent backing for Israel to convince a this month on Iran will undermine the traditionally solid Democratic constitu- pro-Israel consensus, those fears are un- ency to back the GOP. Democrats don't founded. The pro-Israel consensus exists merely take umbrage at the implication becatasemostAmericans care deeply about that their party is any less dependably pro- Israetl. Backing for Zionism is baked deep Israel than the Republicans but argue that into tthe political DNA of the country and since support for Israel is the function of the owerwhelming majority of Americans a bipartisan coalition, for their opponents see tl~e alliance as based on common values to try and use it as a wedge issue turns that transcend the issues of the day. something that should be above politics Accountability is the keystone of de- into a partisan football, mocracy. If the Jewish community is not This debate has heated up this year and prepared to hold politicians accountable forgoodreason.Mostpollsindicatethatthe for their stands, it will soon discover its DemocraticshareoftheJewishvotemaybe concerns being ignored. Indeed, if the the lowestsince1988. The reason for this is Obama administration were not afraid that President Obama's attitude toward Is- of losing more Jewish votes because of a raelhasalarmedmanyJews.Constantfights credible Republican challenge, it is more marked the first three years of his admin- than likely President Obama would feel he istration with the Israeli government over had a free-hand to exert more pressure on the peace process, settlements, Jerusalem Israeland to ignore its concerns about Iran. and the 1967 lines. Despite an election-year While there are friends of Israel on'both Jewish charm offensive conducted by the sidesofthepotiticalaisle, the debate about administration, the disagreement between Israel has helped keep both parties compet- the two countries over setting red lines ingforJewishvotes.Andthatissomething about Iran's nuclear weapons program has that is good for Israel, no matter whether become bitter and public, you are a Republican or a Democrat. All. this has given the Republicans an JNS Columnist Jonathan S. Tobin is senior opening and they haven't been shy in try- onlin~ editor of COMMENTARY magazine ing to exploit it. Republicans have longed and chief political blogger at www.com- for a candidate to lead their party who mentarymagazine.com. He can be reached could inspire confidence in the Jews like via e-mail at: jtobin@commentarymagazine. Ronald Reagan, whose 39 percent of the com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter. Jewish vote in 1980 set a modern record, com/#!/TobinCommentary. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. ~ ~ CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE ~ ~ ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 41 Press Awards EWISH NBW~ HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- dresses ($46.95 for therest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage ~aid at Fern Park and additiona| mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Snd address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 emaih news@orlandoheritage.com Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Starn Mike Etzkin Kim Fischer Sodety Editor Bookkeeping Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Account Executives Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser Richard Ries Contributing Columnists Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky Tim Boxer David Bornstein Terri Fine Ed Ziegler Production Department David Lehman David Gaudio Teri Marks Elaine Schooping Gil Dombrosky Caroline Pope '4 been little tolerance from ultranationalists in the governing coalition of anyone who dares to question current government policies. Even more worrisome is the upsurge in racist incitement and violence. Knesset members from Likud and other parties in the governing coalition have characterized asylum seekers from Africa in the most prejudicial terms, leading a summer ra|ly against them that turned into a violent riot. The attempted "lynching" of an Arab youth in Jerusalem recently and the firebombing in the territories of a car with a Palestinian family are only the most visible incidents in which minorities are threatened or attacked, or their property expropriated. No one has yet been convicted Of any of the vigilante "price tag" attacks on mosques in Israel or the territories. The Likud Party was founded in a his- toric tradition Of steadfast commitment to the values of Western, liberal democracies. From Ze'ev Jabotinsky to Benny Begin, there have been leaders of the Israeli right whose dedication to democratic values cannot be questioned. And we are sure that Netanyahu's experience liVing in the United States taught him that American Jews are ferociously dedi- cated to those values. Indeed, we are influ- ential far beyond our numbers in supporting civil rights and pluralism organizations such as the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center and People for the American Way. And, since most of us are Reform, Conserva- tive, Reconstructionist or secular, we look at the rejection of those streams of Jewish life by Israel's state-sponsored haredi Orthodox hierarchy with resentment and concern. Israel's still-functioning democrzfcy can be an example to its neighbors, now.strug- gling toward a better and moYe democratic future. It can guarantee anddeliver on the promises of "full social and political equal- ity for all its citizens, without distinction By Gary Rosenblatt New York Jewish Week Sometimes conversations are more note- worthy for the topics they don't include than for the ones they do. You might think that the overwhelming focus of discussion at a two-day retreat held earlier this month for a wide,~ariety of Jewish leaders and emerging leaders from around the country--during which they were invited to bring up whatever issues they felt were most timely and important--would have been the looming Iran crisis and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. After all, the media has been concentrating on little else for months. But at The Conversation, the annual conference sponsored by The Jewish Week, those issues were hardly mentioned by the 50 participants, a cross-section of artists, rabbis, business people, educators, philanthropists, activists and communal leaders. Instead, they chose~ to explore a number of topics dealing with Jewish identity and continuity, the subtext being a deep concern that the next generatioh will be less engaged in religious and communal life. At The Conversation, held in the bucolic farmlands of the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center, a few miles north of Balti- more, there are no guest speakers, panels or plenaries. Instead, through the facilitation of .Open Space, the participants are told that they themselves are the program. They are invited to post topics they'd like to discuss on a wall, and anyone who wants to join them is free to do so. Or they can choose from one of the other topics posted and take part in those talks. So some conversations have 15 or 20 or more participants; others may have two or three. The only rules are that the discussions are off the record--no one is to be directly quoted--giving people the comfort level to be open and speak frankly. And there is "The Law of Two Feet," which says that if you are in a conversation and not contributing to it or getting much out of it, you are free to get up and seek out another discussion without feeling guilty, It's a simple, but liberating, way of ensuring a certain energy level to the discussion. This Was our eighth annual conference, and of race, creed or sex" and "full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture" enshrined in the Proclamation of the State of Israel. It can equalize opportunity for those Israelis left out and do much to remedy the situation of the shrinking middle class--the people who filled the streets during last year's social protest. Most of all, Israel can preserve its relatiotl- ship with the United States and with American Jews in particular by defending the shared values described by the prime minister. We believe in an Israel that fulfills the promise of its founders, both as a Jewish homeland and as a state that treats all of its citizens and residents decently, equally and with justice. We want to be proud of Israel's commitment to human and civil rights and to freedom. We ask that the prime minister speak--not in English to Americans but in Hebrew to his fellow Israelis--of the absolute necessity of retaining Israel's status as a liberal and toler- ant democracy. An Israel that marginalizes minorities, stifles dissent and brooks no disagreement with government policy is not the Israel that most American Jews have signed up for. Nor is it the Israel envisioned by its founding fathers and mothers. American Jews well understand that government must protect the weak and the defenseless, and ensure equal opportunity for all. And we believe Israel can be the Jewish homeland and still, in protecting freedom of conscience, achieve the kind of separation between reIigion and state necessary for true democracy to flourish. Our belief in this vision of Israel is genuine and real and born out of the best Jewish and humanist values. That is the real red line for us, and we ask the prime minister to ensure that Israel never, ever crosses it. Daniel Sokatch is the president and CEO of the New Israel Fund. f more than 500 people have attended overall. Each year is different, of course, depending on who was there and what they had to say to each other. But generally the themes that emerge are less about the headlines of the day and more about what people are struggling with in their Jewish lives. Among the three dozen topics posted on the wall during the two-dayprogram in mid- September were: "Imagining new forms and structures for American Jewish life," "why being Jewish matters: helping under-30s to engage," "the disappearing center in political and Jewish life," "is it possible to study and replicate innovation?" "what do I need a rabbi for? .... everyone talks about Jewish values, but what are they?" and "what is being swept under the rug in your community?" The most powerful discussion I took part in was one near the end of the conference, entitled "God: why haven't we spoken about Him/Her yet?" Over the course of 75 minutes, about 15 people, sitting in the warm sunshine on the back porch, moved from abstract theories and summaries of theologians they'd read to at-times gut-wrenchingly personal feel- ings about what God means to them. Several people shared insights about how they have dealt with tragedy and loss in their lives. Later, at the closing session, a number of participants spoke with gratitude and wonder about their ability to open up to people who had been strangers two days before. And they spoke about how rare was the opportunity to have a day or two to meet, think, reflect, debate and discuss issues of meaning to them." One communal professional said his daily life is "all about process," and he was relieved to have this mental oasis, not checking e-mails all day. Another participant later told me she was amazed at how deep the conversations went. "I think we all crave authenticity," she said, "and for many of us active in Jewish life, we are too often reduced to taking complex issues and turning them into slogans to try and engage the community. There is so little time for reflection. "The digital age," she said, "has robbed us of these opportunities for authentic discussion." That's really what The Conversation is all about. Gary@jewishweek.org