Making a Legitimate Claim for IsraelIn Rochelle Furstenberg’s recent column, “Israeli Life: Sticks and Stones and Deligitimization” (October/November issue), she took a quotation of mine out of context and mischaracterized my position. Writing “There are also those who feel the criticism has legitimacy” she quoted me as saying that “Just because you are demonized, doesn’t mean you don’t make mistakes.” The point of my article—and that very quotation—was to distinguish between legitimate criticism and illegitimate delegitimization. Of course, Israel can be criticized—like every other country in the world, it makes mistakes. But I have spent a great deal of time and effort recently fighting the assumption that just because Israel makes some mistakes its very existence should be questioned.
The point I was making when quoted was to warn Israelis not to use the illegitimate delegitimization as a shield against the necessary process of self-criticism every country should undergo, but it was in no way intended to suggest the disproportionate demonization and delegitimization campaign against Israel is legitimate. In fact, I addressed that very issue at the recent Hadassah convention in Florida this summer, leading a session noting how much room there is to criticize any democracy including Israel without delegitimizing it.
Professor of History, McGill University
As I was reading Rochelle Furstenberg’s article “Israeli Life: Sticks, Stones and Delegitimization,” I kept wondering why it is that, somehow or other, nobody zeroes in on the fundamental problem. The countries surrounding Israel are totalitarian, whether theocratic or dictatorial, and are concerned, if not worried, that the Israeli democracy might spread. All the other excuses are—in my opinion—a cover for this concern.
Leon W. Zelby
Hanukka Spirit I deplore the “Hanukka Gift Guide 2010” in the October/November issue for several reasons: 1) Hanukkah is not about expensive gift giving, 2) In these hard financial times for Hadassah and for some of its members, the advertising of high-priced items is inappropriate. With the exception of a few, these are luxury items.
My name is Scott Leader, I am in the band Sababa (www.sababamusic.com)
and I was excited to learn that we were reviewed in your magazine (“Brief Reviews,” October/November issue).
I did want to offer one correction. It says in the review that Sababa is intended for children. Actually, this is not true, we are an adult contemporary Jewish rock band. We do not perform for children and our music while “kid friendly” is not children’s music. I mention this because people often call to book us for preschools and the like and this not what we do.
In Jules Becker’s review of the New York production of “Freud’s Last Session” (October/November issue), he refers to C.S. Lewis as the “Catholic Narnia novelist.” This is incorrect. Lewis was a member of the Church of England, not a member of the Roman (or any other) Catholic church.
Moreover, while to most people Lewis’s fame may rest primarily on his series of allegorical books for children (the Narnia books), his presence in the play as Freud’s philosophical antagonist is undoubtedly due to his more significant authorial role as a Christian apologist.
Rebecca E. Rumbo
A Question of Theology
There I was, was ready to come out, theologically, find a new God to disbelieve in, until I got to Jay Michaelson’s third “reason” (“Commentary: Defining God Upward,” October/November issue). Who would ever want the “deep power of religion to be ceded to those who would use it as a billy club against anything they perceive as dangerous?” It seems that if I just air my doubts and update my theologies to the realities of our lives, I’ll agree with Michaelson’s political opinions and avoid political danger! Wow, that’s powerful. Too bad it’s not true.
Shirlee A. Hoffman
After reading the interview with Einat Wilf (October/November issue), I wasn’t sure whether to dismiss her as a misguided Jew, or just forget about her rants. I decided to write to the editor and see if other readers have the same reactions as I do.
Wilf is clearly a member of the young elite in Israeli society. I am quite sure she has a great future in front of her. Unfortunately, this future should not be as a “Jewish” leader. Her answer to the question of what is modern Zionism’s greatest challenge is almost bordering on heresy. Her answer as quoted “I believe the Knesset is the new Sanhedrin of the Jewish people. As such, it has the right to remake Jewish law” is not only against everything Jews have lived and died for centuries, but is antithetical to every credo Jews believe in. The Knesset making religious laws? Based on what—their expertise in Talmud, Mishna or halakha? Wilf should learn a little more about how Jews survived for 5,000 years. Harvard, Cambridge and Hebrew University, where I also received my master’s of arts, unfortunately does not teach Jews how to live or even survive. Yeshivot, religious day schools and academies throughout the world have guided Jews in their every day life for thousands of years. What a sad state of affairs that this Knesset member feels she has the right to establish religious laws.
The interview with Einat Wilf revealed a hostility to the Jewish religion that makes a joke of the Prayer for the State of Israel that refers to Israel as the “flowering of our redemption.” Clearly her remarks about Haredi women (“absolutely no way you can choose to travel on a segregated bus”) and her remark about “a version of medieval Judaism” show her unbridled hostility to the Jewish religion. The idea of making the Knesset the new Sanhedrin and its “right to remake Jewish law” ranges between ludicrous and shocking.
I lived and worked in Israel for 12 years. Three of my grandchildren serve in the Israeli army. If people like Einat Wilf run things I will not be able to wear a kippa on the street. Spare me from people who think as she does.
Professor of Law Emeritus, University of California
Friend or Foe?
I read the interview with Sam Brownback (August/September issue) and in particular his comments on Israel taking “aggressive action, even military action” against Iran’s nuclear facilities, i.e. the way they did against the Osirak reactor in 1981 and against the Syrian facility last year. I believe the Senator is naive if he thinks taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities could be compared to these raids.
During a speech preceding the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the man now chief justice of the Supreme Court, Senator Brownback made no secret of his feelings about abortion even going so far as to say that probably most of the poor teenage girls who sought abortions after they had been raped were lying.
The present chief justice would welcome the opportunity to overturn Roe vs. Wade. And Senator Brownback enthusiastically helped him get there. Senator Brownback may consider himself a good friend to Israel, but he is no friend to poor, young or abused women.
I found it offensive that you published an interview with Sam Brownback. He may be a strong supporter of Israel, but as a fundamentalist Christian (and that may have a lot to do with his support of Israel), he is against a woman’s right to choose, against stem cell research, against gay marriage—cultural issues that I believe most of your readers differ with him on. See his Web page for his stands on these issues. I am sure you could have found many other Christian senators, even Republicans (maybe), whose values include not only support for Israel, but support for social issues I believe most American Jews endorse.
And, by the way, your giving him a platform to criticize the current administration on its support of Israel (unfounded, to say the least) is objectionable in a magazine that I have thought to be non-partisan.
Hadassah Magazine’s August/September issue portrays former Kansas Senator Sam
Brownback as a stalwart ally of Israel and the Jewish people. Yet, the interview neglects to question Brownback’s intense and sustained opposition to embryonic stem cell research. On his own website, he likens such research to “killing.” This omission is particularly glaring given Hadassah’s commitment to and promotion of embryonic stem cell research.
Similarly, a more comprehensive article would have revealed his association with a radical group called “The Family,” which studies the leadership secrets of Hitler in order to integrate said teachings into their organizational schema. It is surprising that Hadassah chose to print such a sunny and one-sided portrait of this man, who stands opposed to much of Hadassah’s core values.
Gony F. Goldberg
Obama: Good for the Jews?
In “Letter From Jerusalem: A Two-Leader Solution” (August/September issue),
Gershom Gorenberg looks for evidence to support his premise that Obama’s administration sincerely wants to ensure Israel’s security. I am afraid what we are really seeing is a slight of hand. Why does Hadassah Magazine continue to make assertions through its articles that contradict what the rest of the Jewish community has caught onto?
We all wanted Obama to succeed, and put our hopes on him as he wanted us to. I was at that AIPAC convention during his campaign when he spoke to the conference in a heartfelt manner, throwing in a few Hebrew phrases, which brought cheers. The campaign is over now, and he doesn’t need our vote to get his agenda accomplished. He was inhospitable during Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first visit because he did not need to ingratiate himself. On the other hand, at every opportunity, whether concerning the Islamic center at ground zero or addressing Muslim constituents, he has made it clear he stands shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community in their defense, and Israel gets lip service. This does not bring us together in America, and does not help the peace process along either.
Gershom Gorenberg begins his “Letter from Jerusalem” by asserting that under George W. Bush Arab antipathy for America and Israel was high. He fails to mention that under Obama recent polls show that that antipathy has returned to pre-Obama days. In fact, Obama’s transparent attempt to coddle Arabs and Muslims is one of the conspicuous failures of what increasingly appears to be a doomed administration.
The actions taken by the Obama administration to Israel’s prejudice have been amply documented. And to suggest then that Obama has been “misread” is to substitute wishful thinking for reality. The most recent egregious act of this administration was to allow Israel to be singled out in the NPT report that ended the latest session of that group. This exposes Israel’s nuclear program to unwanted scrutiny, a situation studiously avoided by prior administrations of both parties. No mention is made in the report of Iran. This is an act that no one can “misread.”
Jews intuitively (and, in this case, objectively) know who is for them and who is against them. Obama has provided a long list of actions that clearly demonstrate his disapprobation of the Jewish State. Blaming Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu for this condition, as Gorenberg does, is to blame a clear Israeli consensus about what is in the Jewish State’s best interests.
American Jews were great supporters of Obama in the past election in part because Obama came to Israel during the campaign and expressed a level of support for Israel and Israel’s right to decide what is best for Israel that has not been reflected in practice. Everyone but Gorenberg and the blinkered left can see that.
I read Gershom Gorenberg’s column with great interest, as I’ve been increasingly dismayed with the negative attitudes concerning President Obama’s feelings about Israel. This president has long had many close friends who are Jewish, in contrast to President Bush (who only “discovered” us when it was convenient for his administration to behave negatively toward the Arab world). President Obama is doing the only sensible thing in his approach towards Israel.
I’m also disgusted with the ever-rightward shift of political ideology and allegiance on the part of many American Jews, as it’s the neocons who got us into this mess in the first place. Further, I seriously doubt if there will ever be peace while Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister, as he’s a big part of the problem instead of the solution.
In case anyone has failed to notice, anti-Semitism is now at an all-time high post-World War II. It’s pure folly for Israel and her supporters to continue down this path of no return. I just hope enough people come to their senses before it’s too late.
Susan J. Levinson
New York, NY
While Barry Rubin (in “Letter from Herzliya: All It Takes,” August/September issue) presents a clear and practical picture of what a final peace should entail between Israel and not only the Palestinian Arabs but the Arab world, Gershom Gorenberg again states a program that would lead to the demise of the Jewish nation. His view that Israel should essentially follow blindly the demands of President Obama, which in many respects duplicates those of Mahmoud Abbas, would be tantamount to committing national suicide.
His contention that President Obama is a best friend of Israel certainly comes as news to the Israeli electorate as the approval rating of our president in that nation hovers about 10 percent. His supply of arms to Lebanon, his funding of the Palestinian Authority military, his refusal to back Israel during the Gaza campaign and his resurrection of the United Nations Human Rights Council, with its constant call for punishment of Israel, are not attractive to Israeli voters. Even in the arms area, he has endorsed a $30 billion package of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and has forced Israel to spend money on the F-35 without allowing that plane to be upgraded showing a lack of appreciation for Israel’s defense needs.
President Obama has demonstrated in multiple ways that he is no friend of the Jewish state, and the Israeli public knows it.
Barry Rubin in “Letter from Herzliya: All It Takes” correctly writes that a central demand of Israel in the peace negotiations is the Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. How can we expect the Arabs to give this recognition when the founding document of the Declaration of Independence of 1948 dilutes the concept of a Jewish State by granting citizenship to non-Jews? When professors at Ben-Gurion University teach that the concept of a nation state is taboo. When Shulamit Aloni proclaims “Ani Yisraeli, nekuda.” When many sabras minimize if not totally deny their Jewishness and consider themselves humanist citizens of a state called Israel. When many of them demand that to please the Arab minority we should change the name of the state, the flag and the national anthem, “Hatikva,” because how can an Arab sing “nefesh yehudi homiya.” When the majority of Jews in the world, even those who are Zionist and supporters of Israel, do not live in the Jewish State but outside of the Jewish State. Let us begin by demanding that Israelis recognize that Israel is the national home of the Jewish people, not a non-sectarian America.
A Note of Appreciation
I wanted to convey my thanks to Nina Mogilnick for her “Family Matters: Riding in Noah’s Ark” in your April/May issue. The column could so easily have been about our 10 year old son, Eli, and our experiences raising him—his happiness in certain outside environments, our joy at seeing him enjoy “typical” activities, his habit of bursting out into song, and the lovely moments when they create a opportunity for a back and forth exchange with him, our mixed feelings about allowing that sort of behavior in public, and our feelings of emotional exhaustion during those, fortunately rare, moments when things break bad. Articles about autism are more and more frequent now, but every time I read one, especially one that so closely mirrors our experience, it is a comfort to me.
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