The Two Americas, the Two Israels

For those of us who watched the U.S. election from Israel, the results seemed eerily familiar. America’s electoral map is sharply divided: between blue and red, urban and rural, the coastal liberals and the conservative masses in the middle. In Israel, we call it the geographic divide between the “center” of the country and the “periphery,” between the elites and the rest of the people.

Donald Trump was propelled to victory in part on a platform of “draining the swamp” of a corrupt ruling class and stopping illegal immigration. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his re-election campaign last year, was spurred to a last-minute victory by tacitly reviving the timeworn idea of a disconnected Ashkenazi elite and the threat of the Arab minority “flocking to the polls.”

While comparisons are always inexact, it does seem that in both America and Israel there is a great divide in society on issues of culture and identity. Combined with economic frustration on a global stage, this divide fuels feelings of growing nationalism, xenophobia and populism among the citizenry. It is this divide that all of us in both countries who care about liberal and constitutional democratic values have to understand and work to repair.

Like America, Israel is now engaged in a battle over its identity. Religious and nationalist particularism is on the rise, and many fear that the Jewish State’s Zionist identity is threatened by a growing Arab minority and the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians.

In the 2015 election, Israelis on the periphery reacted against urban elites who appear to have more in common with their counterparts in Berlin and Brooklyn than with the peripheral working-class town of Beit She’an.

During my time as director general of the Kadima party, I saw the full spectrum of Israeli society. Our party activists were dedicated and sensible people. But in recent years I have watched some of these same people come out in support of overtly illiberal legislative proposals. Did these party  activists suddenly become racists and populists? I don’t believe so. Rather, I believe they are responding to their own perceptions of peril — to Israel’s Jewish character in a challenging security environment.

For Israel as well as America, what is needed is a genuine concern for the preservation of national identity and more inclusive economic policies that bring prosperity for all. Our openness and pluralism are among our societies’ greatest strengths. They cannot be taken for granted.

Yohanan Plesner is president of the Israel Democracy Institute.

Dreaming of Health Care

Despite reports that the Affordable Care Act is in danger of being obliterated after the election, enrollment in the health insurance marketplace reopened Nov. 1 to high demand, with more than 100,000 people signing up for coverage in the first week alone.

Anyone without insurance can enroll until the marketplace closes Jan. 31. Since the law took effect, 20 million people have gained coverage, bringing the uninsured rate to an all-time low of 8.6 percent. That’s a lot of people to throw overboard without the lifejacket of health care, and it remains to be seen what Congress may propose to deal with the crisis that would ensue if it were  repealed.

While we ready ourselves to try to preserve health care access for millions, getting people covered now is not only our moral obligation but will be among our best defenses. We must include those left out who ought to be in, and young immigrants born elsewhere but eligible to stay in the United States are among them. In 2012, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, sheltering from deportation many (often known as DREAMers) who were brought to the U.S. by their parents at an early age. They have known no other home and fervently hope to remain here and live full and productive lives integrated into American society.

Ironically, those able under the president’s program to stay in the United States continue to be denied access to Medicaid, barred from the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers children of low-income families, and excluded from accessing the health care available in the marketplace through the Affordable Care Act. Others who reside in the United States with lawful status can obtain health coverage through these programs. Those covered by DACA are the  exception.

In the wake of the political victories of staunch opponents of the Affordable Care Act,  efforts to improve the law may fall victim to efforts to destroy it. But Obama can lay down a marker and fix the injustice that bars DREAMers from  accessing affordable health coverage without a new law. Before leaving office, the president should remove this  exception and fully include all who are in the U.S. and deemed “lawfully present” by DACA.

Surely one way to advance the goal of supporting young, striving immigrants is to change the administrative regulations of the Affordable Care Act that exclude DREAMers from federal health care programs. That is indeed within the power of the president to do, and if his legacy is to hold, we urge him to do it immediately.

Nancy K. Kaufman is chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Bannon and Breitbart: Friends of Israel

In his inspiring book “Words That Hurt, Words that Heal,” Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote, “Because words can be used to inflict devastating and irrevocable suffering, Jewish teachings go so far as to compare cruel words to murder.”

Thus it is painful to see the malicious character assassination and false accusations of anti-Semitism being hurled against President-elect Donald Trump’s appointee Stephen Bannon and Bannon’s company, Breitbart Media.

In fact, as pro-Israel writer and Breitbart senior editor Joel B. Pollak wrote, Bannon is “an American patriot who defends Israel and has deep empathy for the Jewish people.” Pollak is an Orthodox Jew. Would an Orthodox Jew praise Bannon and tolerate spending six years working with Bannon if he were an ugly Jew hater and Israel basher?

ZOA’s own experience and analysis of Breitbart articles confirms Bannon’s and Breitbart’s friendship and fair-mindedness toward the Jewish people and Israel. To accuse Bannon and Breitbart of anti-Semitism is Orwellian. In fact, Breitbart bravely fights against anti-Semitism.

Bannon joined my organization, the Zionist Organization of America, in fighting against anti-Semitic rallies at the City University of New York. He required his Breitbart reporters to repeatedly call CUNY officials and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aides, urging them to do something to curb these vicious anti-Semitic demonstrations.

Breitbart courageously publishes articles reporting that the Palestinian Authority defames Israel with blatant falsehoods, and Breitbart bravely publicizes Iran’s violations of the nuclear rollback deal that pose an existential threat to Israel.

On behalf of myself and the ZOA, I thus welcome the appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist to the incoming Trump-Pence administration.

I also have to ask: Would President-elect Trump’s extraordinarily pro-Israel advisers such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Sheldon Adelson and Orthodox Jews Jared Kushner, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt ever allow an anti-Semite/Israel hater to work with them? Would Trump’s Orthodox Jewish daughter and adviser Ivanka, whose children attend an Orthodox day school, ever allow an anti-Semite to work with her father?

And given that the president-elect’s platform on Israel is the strongest pro-Israel platform ever, would an anti-Semite be appointed to implement that platform?

Of course not.

Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.

What I’ve Learned from the Election Process

view1_friedman-reutThe biggest gift I got moving to the U.S. was the gift of listening.

When you are new to a place, language and culture, you have to start listening, and it is not an easy task for a native Israeli.

When the election season started, I decided to stick to the listening strategy. I was eager to learn how the system works here. I wondered if it would be any different from the process I was used to in Israel. I wondered if there is a real gap between Democrats and Republicans and if people on both sides would really share their views with me.

To my surprise, people were happy to share their thoughts with me as if I were a neutral and safe island. They assumed that I would not make them feel uncomfortable or apologetic for their beliefs.

But even with a front-row seat, I understood that there is still much I need to learn, and listening to WYPR is not enough. The one big lesson I have learned: The need to listen doesn’t belong exclusively to me or to Israeli politics.

Much like Israel, both sides feel like they have not been heard, that people make assumptions about who they are because of the party they belong to, and eventually they stop communicating with each other, which is a big loss for us all.

At my job, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Jewish teens, and speaking with them is fascinating. We talk about identity, what it feels like to be a minority — I’m the only Israeli in the room — and the obvious assumptions people make about me because I’m Israeli.

Being a critical reader, I enjoy hearing their thoughts and opinions, especially since they are a step away from college, and it feels as if this might be our last opportunity to engage them as an organic group.

I’m happy to share that our teens get it. But it’s our obligation to provide them with the important tools for effective listening and for not being intimidated because they belong to a specific group. When they vote in four years, we need to know that we have provided them with the best possible tools.

As my 93-year-old Holocaust survivor grandmother regularly tells me: “Reut, always remember it’s never too late to start again. I had to begin again more times than you can imagine. But while doing so look around you, listen, learn and voice your opinion.” She lives that way in Tel Aviv, and I can only hope to do so in Baltimore.

Reut Friedman is Israel education associate at the Macks Center for Jewish Education. 

Apparently, Decency Is for Losers

In its own way, the 2016 presidential election (“It’s Trump,” Nov. 11) was a referendum on Jewish values, vis-a-vis their compatibility with contemporary American values. If the results of last week’s electile dysfunction (Alan Dershowitz’s term) are any indication, the two are monstrously adversarial.

Hillary Clinton is every Jewish parent’s ideal kid: the well-prepared, hard-working, super-smart, well-mannered best student in the class. Donald Trump is

a crude, bullying, solipsistic, sciolistic, crotch-grabbing, compulsively lying am-ha’eretz. And he won. Bigly.

Personality now trumps character; discipline, experience and decency are for “losers.”

As leader of the free world, the president of the United States serves as a role model and exemplar of the highest level of professional success.

Since the purpose of education is to train children for leadership and accomplishment in 21st-century America, will Jewish educators now be forced to modify — Trumpify — their K-to-12 curricula accordingly?

The Gift That Gives Back to You

view1_lindaelmanWith the arrival of November, Americans started to prepare for Thanksgiving. Of all the American holidays, Thanksgiving seems to resonate most with Jews, as Thanksgiving’s theme centers around hakorat hatov, gratitude. It is a time to reflect on how grateful we are for the gifts that are bestowed on us by G-d that allow us to give to others. We are grateful for the friendships we form in being part of this giving community.

Although Jews like to think of ourselves as givers, in reality we are also receivers. We all benefit from the strength of our community. We all benefit from the strong institutions in Baltimore, whether they are the synagogues, the Jewish Community Center, The Associated’s agencies, the schools … The list is endless. So many of our children and grandchildren receive books and programming through the Center for Jewish Education’s PJ Library. Many of our children or grandchildren have gone on a free trip to Israel through Birthright.

So we are not only givers, we are takers as well. We are able to live fulfilling Jewish lives in a wonderful Jewish community in large measure because of the foundation laid and the continued support provided by The Associated. Much of the time, the gift we give, which we intend to benefit others, is also helping ourselves and our own families.

This year, The Associated will again participate in #GivingTuesday. #GivingTuesday is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, right after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday has become a global movement to kick off the charitable season in the greater community. It provides an opportunity to bring together nonprofits, businesses and individuals to address local challenges. The Associated has been an integral part of this unique program since its inception five years ago.

In its first year, The Associated raised more money than any other nonprofit in the country on that day. For The Associated, #GivingTuesday is one of our biggest fundraising days of the year. #GivingTuesday provides a great opportunity to teach our children the Jewish values of gratitude and giving back. It doesn’t matter how much we each give. What matters is that we all participate.

Please keep the uniquely Jewish concept of gratitude in mind when deciding on your gift to The Associated campaign this year. It is not only a gift that gives to others. It is a gift that gives back to you.

Linda S. Elman is chair of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s women’s campaign.

Dismayed Jews Have a Place to Go

Americans who opposed Donald Trump have awoken in a stupor, shocked that his victory was no mere nightmare. For those who cannot envision living under a Trump regime, “I’m moving to Canada” or elsewhere no longer feels like election-year blather.

But where would you go?

If five million Americans, alarmed by a reckless, ruthless chief executive, decided to move north tomorrow, Canada would not have the desire — or the ability — to absorb them. No country in the world would absorb that magnitude of American expats.

Well, there is one country.

If the five million would-be emigres were American Jews, Israel would welcome and cherish every single one. That massive a population transfer would boost the tiny nation’s population by 62 percent (think: 200 million new Americans) and require exhausting everyday sacrifice by Israelis. Housing, employment, health care, education, traffic — every aspect of Israeli life would be upended. Yet, there’s very little antipathy to olim among Israelis.

Welcoming olim — and especially those who see themselves as refugees — is not just part of Israel’s culture. It is Israel’s very raison d’être.

Will anti-Semitic attacks be a hallmark of the Trump administration? Hard to say. The president-elect has shown no personal animus toward Jews, and in fact, his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Orthodox members of the Tribe.

But if just by campaigning for the presidency Trump energized the “alt-right,” with its open contempt for Jews, imagine what his victory has already begun to do for such malignant voices.

A global move is always hard, and English-speaking olim face daunting challenges in their new home. But the Israeli government, as well as non-profit organizations (start with Nefesh B’Nefesh) and most every Israeli you meet will gladly help you learn Hebrew (though in bigger cities, English goes far) and find work and a home.

A lot of Americans are discombobulated, feeling helpless about a country that is slipping out from under their feet. If you’re Jewish and want to do something, stop and ponder a question you may have considered preposterous weeks ago: Should I live in Israel?

Ask yourself, “Where do I want to build a life? Where do I want to make friends and raise a family? Where do I want to contribute to a thriving society?”

Is the answer Donald Trump’s America? A country where his regime implements his vision while you watch in horror? A society where every other voter you might meet actively helped him become president?

Because if that answer doesn’t work for you, you have something no other category of American has. You have another choice. Come home.

David Benkof is senior political analyst for the Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared.

UN’s Anti-Israel Resolutions Are Unjust

World War II taught the  international community that more needed to be done to protect at-risk cultures, especially since the war targeted the Jewish population and attempted to dissolve the Jewish identity. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), established in 1945 in response to World War II, seeks to preserve history and culture around the world.

The UNESCO constitution states: “The purpose of the  Organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations.” This history makes it all the more baffling as to why UNESCO and other agencies under the United Nations have considered inflammatory and one-sided resolutions that deny Israel’s right to existence and to its history.

While there is much to be done to pursue peace and stability, the consideration and adoption of one-sided resolutions contradict the U.N.’s work to contribute to peace and security.

Last month, UNESCO’s  executive board approved a resolution that is fundamentally flawed and a threat to the delicate Israel-Palestine peace process, seeking to rewrite Jerusalem’s diverse and complex history. Jerusalem is among the holiest cities in the world for millions of people from many backgrounds. The resolution, offered by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, ignores the Jewish and Christian connection to both the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, only referring to the historical holy sites by Muslim names. The resolution is counterproductive; the city of Jerusalem is sacred to the three main monotheistic religions in the world: Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and efforts to erase these connections are dangerous. It is reckless to use an international body to de-legitimize Israel and rewrite the region’s history by disregarding historical facts. While the resolution was approved 24-6, I am proud that the United States opposed this resolution and stood with Israel. However, I am discouraged that these types of resolutions receive a vote in the first place.

The UNESCO resolutions are just the most recent example of countries using the U.N. to undermine Jewish history and allow anti-Israel activism. We should be discussing how to make the world a safer place, but yet we have to constantly defend established and indisputable history. If we truly want a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict, we should stop voting on one-sided resolutions that have no basis in reality and instead focus on direct  bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The U.N. should be a place for productive dialogue to produce results that will positively contribute to the world; antagonistic measures that reject  history only enhances tensions. The U.S. must continue to stand strong with Israel and encourage the peace process to be settled outside of the  international arena.

Congressman John Delaney (D) represents Maryland’s 6th District.

When a Jew Travels to Poland

Once, when a Jewish person  announced plans to visit Germany, friends would ask, “Why would you want to go there?” They were obviously unaware of Germany’s move from its past — evident in the handsome German-Jewish History Museum, the encouragement  of new Jewish communities throughout the country and the opening of a touching outdoor memorial to European Jews.

And it is made most evident by Germany’s august Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has based her strong concern for displaced and desperate Middle Eastern refugees on her nation’s ugly history.

Now Poland — with its shameful anti-Semitic past — seems to be moving to where Germany had been.

Again, friends ask, “Why are you going there?” But there are answers. When you actually travel to the country and see a Jewish community working to rebuild — with the help of the government and private sources — you see Poland through different eyes.

You see that, while fully aware of the decimation of its pre-war Jewish population, the nation seems determined to try to re-create the communities that had produced a rich heritage dating to the Middle Ages. It is a slow process, with the small number of Jews, many assimilated, struggling to make a future for themselves and their children. But there is hope that it is happening.

If you are fortunate to be led by a unique Polish guide, you realize how many citizens of this increasingly pluralistic nation want the world to understand what is happening here.

In Warsaw, the “new” Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a breathtaking modern edifice built on the grounds of the  demolished Warsaw Ghetto. Throughout this exceptional institution you get the sense of the nation’s desire to bring back the past, where Jewish culture was such an important part of Polish life.

There were a number of other sites my guide Renata Guzera showed me, giving me historical and current background.

But modern Poland goes beyond the memorials to the past. Describing the street fairs and art exhibits in the Kazimierz district of Krakow, Guzera told me that I had to come back when some of the annual Jewish events would take place. “Everyone turns out for them,” she said excitedly.

One sees progress in the  nation, more than the bricks and mortar of the physical structures. One sees people starting to come here to make a life, people who want their children to learn about the lost culture and help bring it back.

Margot Horwitz is a board member  of the Jewish Social Policy Action  Network in Philadelphia.

Anti-Semitism: Danger to Us All

My father, Haim Hendrick Roet, a Holocaust survivor from the Netherlands, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in January during its annual Holocaust memorial ceremony with this poignant cri de coeur: “Looking back 70 years,” he said, “it is heartbreaking that as a world, we did not learn enough from the Holocaust.”

Eight months later, speaking from the same U.N. podium, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani embodied all that my father had decried, demonstrating once again that Iran failed to learn past lessons. “Zionist pressure groups,” Rouhani claimed, have contaminated the U.S. Congress, “forcing the highest American judicial  institution to violate peremptory norms of international law.”

The spectacle of an Iranian leader spewing centuries-old canards about Jewish control over foreign governments,  financial institutions and the media is hardly new. Anti-Semitism is, after all, the most durable and pliable of all conspiracy theories known to humankind.

What’s deeply disappointing and dangerous, however, is the utter passivity and lack of condemnation that followed this statement. A few years ago, dozens of U.N. delegations took a principled stand against blatant Iranian anti-Semitism and walked out in protest when former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the same forum to raise similar hateful accusations.

So, where’s the outrage now?

While many in the U.N. laud the Iran nuclear agreement, lift sanction on the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, reward the Mullahs with billions of dollars and lucrative trade deals, and welcome the new Iranian president as a so-called “reformer,” official Iranian  anti-Semitic statements and Holocaust denial continues  unabated and unchallenged.

In too many places, Jews are again afraid to express their Judaism and be identified outside their homes and communities. Whether it’s in Brussels, where a man with a Kalashnikov opened fire and murdered four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, over the internet, where unimaginable hate is spread through cyberspace at nanosecond speed, on university campuses or even in the halls of the U.N., we must take a stand against what one U.N. secretary-general called “the oldest living hatred.”

Anti-Semitism does not need a reason, only an excuse.

A recent study found that one quarter of the world’s population harbors anti-Semitic beliefs. If the U.N. is a mirror of the world, reflecting all that is good and bad, the rising plague of anti-Semitism requires a U.N. that leads the efforts to eradicate the resurgence of the world’s oldest hatred without excuses and fear.

For Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rightly reminds us: “A United Nations that wants to be true to its founding aims and ideals has a duty to speak out against anti-Semitism.”

Ambassador David Roet is Israel’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations. This column was provided by JNS.org.