Biased against Trump

Regardless of who each of us is voting for, it is irresponsible to blame either candidate for the kind of people they attract. That is why we were very surprised to read your article claiming anti-Semitism in Donald Trump’s campaign, even though he has never been instigated for it or condoned it (“Report Cites Anti-Semitism in Trump Campaign as Factor in Hateful Tweets,” Oct. 28).

It seems far-fetched that  a grandfather of Jewish grandchildren who are raised strictly religious with his blessings would condone anti-Semitism. Moreover, in the same report, the JT has quoted his representatives as denying and condemning it strongly; yet, you still insisted on bringing it up.

We feel that the JT is very biased and will use anything  at its disposal to promote its candidate.

Being the Right Kind of Agnostic Parshat Noach

101014_riskin_sholmo_rabbiWhen it comes to questions of belief, the agnostic is the loneliest of all. On one side of the fence stands the atheist, confident in his rejection of God and often dedicated to the debunking of religion.  the other side stands the  believer, who glories in his faith that the universe is the handiwork of God. The agnostic stands in the middle, not knowing whether or not God exists, usually despairing of the possibility of acquiring certitude about anything transcending observable material phenomena.

Our biblical portion makes reference to two very different agnostics, Haran and Noah. The contrast between them contains an important lesson for agnostics, believers and atheists, alike.

The Bible states that Noah didn’t enter the ark until the water literally pushed him in. Rashi’s phrase that “he believed and he didn’t believe” is really another way of describing an agnostic who remains in the state of his uncertainty; he  believes and doesn’t believe. Noah is therefore described by Rashi as the first agnostic.

The second biblical agnostic appears in the guise of Haran. Terah, the father of the clan and a famous idol manufacturer, brings charges in the court of King Nimrod against his own son. He accuses Abram of being an iconoclast who  destroyed his father’s idols while preaching heretical monotheism. As punishment, Abram is to be cast into the fiery furnace. Haran is present at the trial and takes the position of having no position. Only after Abram emerges  unscathed is Haran ready to rally behind his brother. He confidently enters the fiery furnace, but no miracles await him. Haran burns to death.

Is it not strange that the fate of the two agnostics should be so different? We read how Noah was a man of little faith, and yet not only does he survive the Flood, he turns into one of the central figures of human history. Haran, father of Lot, brother to Abraham, hovers on the edge of obscurity and is even punished with death for his lack of faith.

Rabbi Moshe Besdin explained that while Noah and Haran shared uncertainty about God, there was a vast difference  between them. Noah, despite his doubts, nevertheless built the ark, pounding away for 120 years, even suffering abuse from a world ridiculing his  eccentric persistence.

We learn from Noah’s life and Haran’s death that perfect faith is not necessary in order to conduct one’s life. Belief is never as important as action. In the World to Come, there is room for all kinds of agnostics. It depends primarily on how they acted on earth.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat.

Getting Out the Vote

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

It’s a safe bet that come Tuesday night, Maryland and its 10 electoral votes will be found to have gone to Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, in the 2016 presidential election. Despite electing a Republican governor two years ago, our state is still reliably blue.

So much so that Republicans in Cecil and Harford counties to Baltimore’s northeast have in the last several weeks been crossing the border into neighboring Pennsylvania to do battle on behalf of party standard-bearer Donald Trump in the must-win swing state. Statewide, Trump partisans have even been directing their money to efforts outside of Maryland, in essence effecting a strategic retreat from the Free State  in favor of a right flanking  maneuver in the Keystone State.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Democrats here, long loyal foot-soldiers farther up the  I-95 corridor, have been answering the charge with convoys of Hillary Clinton canvassers from Maryland appearing — including a dozen Baltimore-based Jews United for Justice volunteers — in Lancaster County to the north and across the ring of voter-rich suburbs surrounding the Democratic stronghold of Pennsylvania.

“No one wants to sit in our safely ‘blue’ Maryland when Trump victories in our neighbor states could plunge us into a ‘Trumpian’ dystopia,” said Claire Landers, a member of JUFJ. “Their fear, I think, is literally driving them to do something that might make a difference in a scarily close race.”

It’s not just the foot soldiers who have been making the trek. Last week and into the weekend, high-profile Clinton surrogates from the Jewish community popped up in Pennsylvania, with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin  appearing in Philadelphia and Alan Gross, the Washington-based contractor who spent five years in a Cuban prison, appearing in Pittsburgh.

Such migrations of politically motivated diehards in the moments leading up to Election Day are a good thing. Democracy requires an engaged and energetic public, and if these armies of Republicans and Democrats are required to get Pennsylvanians to the polls, so be it. Where it should stop is Election Day itself.

According to USA Today, just more than half of Americans are concerned the election may be rigged, which reasonable people know is not possible. The sheer size of the conspiracy that would be required to  improperly swing this election is impossibly large. But voter intimidation, on the other hand, is a real thing. It’s prohibited by federal law, and yet, in every election we hear cases of voters being prevented from entering polling places by  either “concerned citizens”  demanding identification or militant gang members making voters fearful for their safety.

Might voter intimidation also exist when busloads of people who are not poll watchers show up unannounced under the pretense of “monitoring” democracy in action.

This is the last week of campaigning. Come Tuesday, maybe we should let the election take its course … by casting a ballot and going home.

Donald, Israel and the Jews

ftv_abramson-artIt’s that time of the year, shortly before a presidential election with control of Congress also on the line. The American Jewish community is, as usual, asking a perennially problematic question: Which candidate will be best for  Israel? For the last 26 years, as executive director of a Jewish communal relations organization and as someone with a Ph.D. in political science and a particular expertise in the politics of the Middle East and American foreign policy, I have always been able to answer that question relatively easily: As  Israel’s only reliable ally, what is best for Israel is what is best for America. A strong, reliable United States reinforces and enhances Israel’s safety and  security in a very insecure world.

Hillary Clinton brings years of involvement in dealings with Arab and Israeli leaders. Trump has no such  experience and has yet to  indicate any real understanding of Middle Eastern history and present problems.


Using that variable as the primary factor in determining voting choice should help alleviate concerns about divided loyalties and/or confused  responses from those who may ask the question. But, too often, that is not the case. For example, while Republicans and Democrats are both  increasingly concerned about Donald Trump as a serious national security challenge, too many in the Jewish community remain complaisant about Trump’s background and perceived unquestioning support of Israel’s hardline policies regardless of how they may negatively impact American national interests.

Traditionally, when the national security establishment converges on a foreign policy recommendation to the president, we  expect them to bring acquired knowledge, empathy, common sense and rational thought to its final shape. For instance, when the primary actor, i.e. the president, brings few of these variables to the table, the process is flawed, and a poor outcome is likely to result.

In fact, following many years of historical research and the conducting of countless interviews with former and contemporary policymakers, I have found no evidence that presidents and/or their senior colleagues act upon these issues in a manner that is — first and foremost — contrary to their perception of American national security.

But, other factors often  intrude that can have a major factor in shaping the policy-making process. Be it religiosity, domestic and/or bureaucratic politics or simply a belief in the “righteousness” of the cause, a president’s worldview almost  always becomes structured in a manner that can justify action in order to protect the nation’s interests regardless of the many other variables that may actually intrude when making decisions.

While Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Ford, Bush I and II and Obama rarely shifted from a security-oriented modus operandi as they sought to determine Middle East policy, different presidents were strongly influenced by other significant concerns. With Harry Truman, for example, biblical influences and a sincere “desire to do what’s right,” moved him to find a haven for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust in a newly created and recognized Jewish state. For Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, personal relationships reinforced their security concerns. In terms of our current presidential candidates, while Hillary Clinton brings years of involvement in dealing with Arab and Israeli leaders. Trump has no such experience and has yet to indicate any real understanding of Middle Eastern history and present problems.

In addition, as the Republican standard bearer, Trump has gone along with his party’s move away from a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Now, the Republican Party platform calls for  a “one-state” solution that  imposes Israeli control over the Palestinians into the future.

While that stand may pander to some in the American Jewish community as ensuring Israel’s security, national security experts in both Israel and the United States would argue otherwise. For them, a one-state solution would create an “apartheid”-like situation in which public support for Israel would diminish by the day, leaving her a pariah state that is increasingly isolated on the world stage. In turn, more  regional and localized conflicts would likely arise as Israel’s  enemies take advantage of her reduced international support.

So, American Jews (like all Americans) should ponder their choices wisely come election day: Who do they trust to make decisions that are in America’s interests first and foremost, interests that should be guided by policies developed from reasoned thought, a strategic understanding of the world (including the need to maintain American commitments globally) and a recognition that a secure America is a  well-led America? That answer should not be difficult to  discern.

Arthur C. Abramson is former  executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

The Power of Light Parshat Bereshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8

This week, we read from Parshat Bereshit. Berershit is the first parsha in the Torah. According to the Torah, God created the world in seven days. He separated night from day and light from darkness. “God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.”

Torah can  bring light into someone’s world. Torah teaches us  about Jewish  life and how we should behave  as Jews. Knowing  this helps to guide us in our decisions and how to behave.


How do we understand light and darkness? Light can be seen as something positive. Light symbolizes happiness. If you see light you are reassured;  if you are stuck in a dark place, you see light and you feel like you know where you are going. Light also symbolizes good. Light can be seen as knowledge, Torah, happiness, life and joy.

Darkness represents sadness, grief, tragedy and a time of need. People may think that darkness represents something bad. However, without darkness you wouldn’t be able to have light. If you never have darkness, you wouldn’t appreciate the light.

There are different kinds of darkness and different kinds of light.

What brings darkness to someone’s world? Nobody would want a time of darkness, but everyone has had a time of darkness. For example, there are little things that could cause darkness — if you lost something or if you tripped and embarrassed yourself. There are also big things that could cause darkness — if someone in your family dies or  if you worry about people in the world who are hungry. We wish light for everyone in a time of darkness.

What brings light into our world? If we do mitzvot or charity, it makes someone’s day. For example, we can donate clothes or food to charity. Giving people something that they don’t have makes people happy. Also, people feel good about themselves when giving to others.  That is not the only way light is brought into someone’s world. Learning Torah also brings light into someone’s world.

Light also represents knowledge. People might call you bright, which means that you are smart. Learning Torah can bring light into someone’s world. Torah teaches us about Jewish life and how we should behave as Jews. Knowing this helps to guide us in our decisions and how to behave. When God created the world, He separated light from darkness. This speaks to us the way we live our lives today.

Gabrielle Moshkatal is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

Clinton a Liar

When are you liberal Jews going to wake up?

Hillary Clinton is a liar and has been taking millions of dollars from the U.S. and Israel’s enemies. She gave $150 billion to Iran to spread terrorism. And what is the purpose of having open borders and allowing in hundreds of thousands of illiterate people from all over the world who have no intention of becoming Americans and are only here for the free handouts or to cause harm to America and Americans? Can someone explain this to me?

This woman has promised to raise taxes. Promised! Are you so fond of paying for people who don’t work, paying for their housing, food, medical care and everything else the Democrats can think of to give away with your money? Are you blind or just stupid? Are you so happy with the way Obama has run this country — Black Lives Matter, the assassination of police, ISIS?

Hillary is going to be four more years of this disaster. Are you better off now then you were eight years ago? If you say yes, you are either a liar or just plain ignorant of what is going on in this country.

I take personal offense at a supposed religious magazine pimping for this hateful, corrupt person (“Hillary Clinton for President,” Oct. 14).

Why Banning the Burkini is Possible in France

Every society is, in large part, the product of its history. France is no exception. In analyzing the widespread attempt by French municipalities to ban the full-body female swimsuit known as the burkini that some Muslim women insist on wearing on public beaches, it is  essential to understand the historical underpinnings of the concept of religious freedom — not as we know it here, but as it has developed in France. When French local officials try to ban the burkini, they do so within a historical context.

It must be remembered that for a thousand years, France was dominated by the Catholic Church. The Church wielded great power, controlled much of the wealth of the nation and stifled freedom, especially religious freedom. In a first effort to establish new freedoms in revolutionary France, in 1789, the French National Assembly adopted a Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. That document was inspired by the American experiment with freedom. However, it also reflected a specifically French approach.

Article 10 of the declaration addressed the same issues as were addressed by the First Amendment to our Constitution. However, it did so in a distinctly different manner. Our First Amendment reads in relevant part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The text of Article 10 of the French Declaration, however, reads: “No one ought to be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious,” but then, significantly, adds, “provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order.”

While in the United States, wearing a kippah, a Muslim head scarf, a Sikh turban or any other religious symbol in public does not pose any threat to societal stability and could not conceivably be banned, that is not necessarily the case in France.

The burkini, which is not in and of itself a religious vestment, is a very public manifestation of a religious identity. Denying its presence on public beaches is not necessarily the repression of a religious opinion. It is, however, the repression of a manifestation of that opinion that can be considered a disturbance to a delicate public order. This is not to justify any ban of the burkini anywhere, but it is to understand why in France it is even possible to contemplate imposing such  a ban.

In its efforts to be tolerant, France has to take its very  difficult history into account and has to be conscious of its traditions. Simply put, religious freedom in France does not necessarily have to look precisely like religious freedom in our nation.

Gerard Leval is a partner in the  Washington, D.C. office of Arent Fox LLP.

Clinton Corrupt; Trump a Leader

It has been obvious that the Jewish Times has moved to the left politically by ignoring  issues that are important to the Jewish community. By  endorsing Hillary Clinton (“Hillary Clinton for President,” Oct. 14), the JT has ignored the candidate whose policies are in favor of Americans in general and Jews in particular.

Clinton was and is in favor of the horrendous Iran deal that the Obama administration made, which Israel is  totally against. As far as Clinton’s experience, let’s take a look: The whole Middle East is in shambles, and her — and Obama’s — policies have put us at major risk. Look at Syria and the Russians.

While secretary of state, four Americans died in Benghazi, including an ambassador. While secretary of state, Clinton had her own private server in her basement, where classified documents were not protected. And even after a subpoena was issued for her to hand over her emails, she had many of them deleted.

There is experience, and then there is bad experience. She is the epitome of a corrupt politician who has broken so many laws for which any regular American would be in jail if he or she had broken just one of them.

Let’s look at Donald Trump, who the JT says is unqualified. However, he wants to make America great again, and he plans to rebuild our military. This is major. He plans on  taking care of our veterans who have been ignored by the Obama administration. He plans to revise our tax code to create more jobs, including bringing billions of dollars back that large corporations have taken to foreign countries.

He wants to temporarily put a ban on immigrants that we cannot vet from countries that are likely to immerse terrorists into the refugee population.  He wants to build a wall on our Mexican border so that we can keep out illegals who are taking American jobs and who are costing our country millions in school and hospital expenses.

Trump is a leader. Let’s make America great again.

Iran’s Finger Prints

An article in Al Arabiya last week dropped a small bombshell. It reported that Hassan Fariuzabadi, military adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, boasted to the semiofficial Fars news agency that his country had “sent, in the past years, military advisers to the Gaza strip and trained the ‘Palestinian forces’” there. The fact that Al Arabiya is owned by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archrival, suggests that the report should be taken with a grain of salt. But there’s no doubt that Iran has been and remains active in the region by opposing, thwarting and threatening American interests and allies. That it could send advisers or cash to Hamas or one of its more radical competitors is certainly plausible.

Iran was also implicated in a missile attack last week on U.S. ships in the Red Sea. U.S. Central Command leader Army Gen. Joseph Votel said, “Iran is playing a role in some of this” after the ships were apparently targeted from rebel Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen. Iran has largely supported the Houthis, who are fighting to oust Yemen’s Western-backed government. Others, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), believe that the missiles were provided by Iran. In retaliation, U.S. missiles destroyed three radar sites in territory controlled by the Houthis.

Iran is already deeply involved in the conflicts in Syria, where the Assad regime is increasingly dependent on Iran’s military and financial support, and in Iraq. In Lebanon, it backs the Hezbollah militia that is pointing what Israel says is 120,000 missiles at the Jewish state. Iran has been implicated in the unsolved 1984 bombing at the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds. Iran has also ruled out negotiations with the United States on any issue beyond last year’s nuclear deal. But if Iran is responsible for firing on U.S. ships, it raises the question of what the U.S. response will be.

A year and a half ago we accepted the Obama administration’s argument that a nuclear-armed Iran was inherently more dangerous than one made $150 billion richer in exchange for forswearing nuclear weapons. But is the White House ready to live up to its part of the implied bargain? Or, is President Obama more concerned about the possible implications of action on what appears to be his increasing focus on his legacy?

Secretary of State John Kerry has made clear commitments that the United States would work to counter Iranian attempts to destabilize the region, endanger Israel and achieve Middle East hegemony. We believed him. Isn’t it time to live up to those promises for serious action and consequences?

UNESCO Cannot Change History

There was at least one piece of good news after votes by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, over the last two weeks that effectively denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount: The body has made clear just how feckless U.N. diplomacy is.

More countries opposed or abstained on the resolution than voted for it in the UNESCO executive board’s preliminary balloting on Oct. 13. In that vote, France and Sweden, which had previously announced support, abstained. Those abstensions denied the Palestinian-backed resolution any European support. (On Oct. 18, the executive board formally approved the resolution.)

Voting “no” were the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Estonia. This is far from the unequivocal denunciation that Israel’s outraged friends would have liked to see. The resolution was brought by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan. It ostensibly concerns the “safeguarding of the cultural heritage of Palestine” and affirms “the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” But throughout the text of the resolution, Jews and Judaism are absent — the Temple Mount is referred to only by its Muslim name. The text refers to Buraq Plaza, placing its English translation, Western Wall Plaza, in quotes, and criticizes Israel for its decision to build an egalitarian prayer area there.

To their credit, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, distanced themselves from the resolution. Said Bokova, “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site.” Mexican ambassador Andres Roemer, who refused to support the resolution, even appears to have lost his job over the affair, although (after he was fired) his country changed its vote from one of approval to an abstention.

The resolution is part of the Palestinians’ nonviolent agitation against Israel. But by erasing the Jewish presence in and connection to Jerusalem, beginning with King David’s conquest in the Bible — holy scripture for three religions — and continuing to the present day, the supporters are playing a zero-sum game with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one that will not encourage a solution.

One side effect of the resolution was a rare wall-to-wall denunciation by all American pro-Israel groups. On the left, Americans for Peace Now urged “United Nations agencies, when referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to avoid exclusionary and inflammatory language.” On the right, the Zionist Organization of America called the resolution “part of the Palestinian, Arab and, indeed, international campaign to delegitimize Israel’s existence.”

The resolution paints a picture that neither Israel nor her supporters recognize. The jump from criticizing Israeli behavior to erasing Jewish history is outrageous. But the resolution cannot change reality. The response of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin went right to the point: “We can understand criticism,” he said, “but you cannot change history.” Amen.