Not in the Olympic Spirit

The Olympic Spirit is supposed to promote healthy sports competition, divorced from political or more serious differences among countries whose athletes choose to compete.

In ancient Greece, warring city-states called a truce before each Olympic Games. The Olympic Truce lasted from a week before the competitions began to a week after they ended. In this way, athletes, spectators and pilgrims were assured physical safety. The idea of the truce was revived in the modern Games, and last October, 180 of the 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly voted for a resolution calling for a truce in the Olympics now being held in Rio de Janeiro.

That day, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach told the General Assembly: “In the Olympic Village, we see tolerance and solidarity in their purest form. Athletes from all 206 National Olympic Committees live together in  harmony and without any kind of  discrimination.”

That sort of tolerance and harmony were absent on the eve of the Games, when the Israeli delegation sought to get on a bus to take them to the opening ceremony. The Lebanese delegation was already on the bus, and it blocked the Israelis from entering. A different bus for the  Israeli delegation was quickly found.

Israel and Lebanon are at war. But in Olympic tradition, that shouldn’t prevent them from taking the same bus to an Olympic event. And in fact, the head of Lebanon’s Olympic Committee received a dressing down on Sunday from the Games’ organizers, warning the delegation not to repeat such behavior. The head of the delegation had told Lebanese media that the Israelis were “looking for trouble.”

“The behavior of the head of the Lebanese delegation contradicts the Olympic Charter,” Gili Lusting, head of the Israeli delegation, said in a statement. The charter says “the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” The Lebanese delegation violated that ideal when it prevented the Israelis from getting on the bus.

The admonition of the Lebanese Committee reportedly was intended to discourage other delegations whose countries don’t recognize Israel from similar un-Olympian behavior. Nonetheless, when Saudi Arabian judo fighter Joud Fahmy forfeited her match on Sunday, citing an injury, the  Hebrew press speculated that she dropped out so that she wouldn’t have to face an  Israeli opponent in the next round. If that was true, her action prompts an even more fundamental sporting admonition than did the Lebanese: If you don’t want to play with others, get out of the sandbox.

Black Lives Matter, and So Does Israel

Americans of goodwill have rightly been concerned by violence, much of it by police, against unarmed black men, from the shooting of Trayvon Martin to the rough ride given to Freddie Gray. Jews are no  exception in their reactions. The relative helplessness of segments of the black community in the face of powerful  authority stirs up tribal memories across the centuries, from slavery in Egypt to genocide in Europe. Each killing offends our sense of justice and puts us further from a more perfect America.

That’s why the Black Lives Matter idea resonates with so many in the Jewish community. For older Jews, it is a continuation of the civil rights struggle. For younger ones, it is part of the 21st-century march toward the acceptance of diversity, including Jews of color.

And so it was deeply hurtful when a platform published on Aug. 1 by a coalition  of more than 50 organizations, called the Movement for Black Lives, unceremoniously  accused Israel of genocide against the Palestinians. It also called on the United States to end military aid to the Jewish state and accused Israel of practicing apartheid. The reaction to the outrageous charges was quick, direct and very much on target.

Liberal Jewish groups that march ideologically and literally with Black Lives Matter quickly denounced the accusation of genocide. The Reform movement called it “offensive and odious.” T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights group, said it was “extremely dismayed at the decision to refer to the Israeli occupation as genocide.”

The Movement for Black Lives platform puts liberal Jews in a bind, particularly younger Jews and Jews of color. “Anti-Israel rhetoric like that found in the Movement for Black Lives policy platform is especially troubling because it falsely suggests [that] American Jews — both of color and white — must choose between their commitment to combating racism in the United States and their Zionism,” the Reform movement statement said. T’ruah put it this way: “One can vigorously oppose  occupation without resorting to terms such as ‘genocide’ and without ignoring the human rights violations of terrorist groups such as Hamas.”

In our view, zero-sum thinking diminishes our possibilities. One can be pro-black lives, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. But it appears that the Movement for Black Lives just doesn’t get it.

So, did the Boston Jewish Community Relations Council go too far in rejecting the Movement for Black Lives platform because of its stance on Israel? We don’t think so. The Movement’s odious declarations on Israel crossed a wide and bright red line. The Movement, in effect, spurned the very Jewish community that is so ideologically and practically supportive of their goals, and that move has consequences.

Black lives matter. But the dishonest  accusations of genocide and the mislabeling of Israel as an apartheid state does nothing to protect black lives.

Peace Now Leader Wants End to P.A.

A veteran leader of the Peace Now movement is apparently calling on Israel to overthrow the Palestinian Authority. It may seem hard to believe, but that’s the plain meaning of an op-ed in the July 29 edition of New York Jewish Week by Martin I. Bresler, a former chairman — and current board member — of Americans for Peace Now.

Peace Now has long functioned almost as a defense  attorney for the Palestinian  Authority — vigorously demanding Israeli concessions to the P.A., while refraining from criticizing the P.A.’s sponsorship of terrorism and its constant  incitement against Jews and Israel.

Bresler’s op-ed began with the usual litany of denunciations of Israel’s behavior. “The occupation is evil,” he informed readers. “It is immoral. It is un-Jewish.” Israel has become “the oppressor of another people.”

But not to worry — Bresler has a solution. He has a six-step peace plan, and here’s step No. 1: “Israel can announce … that it recognizes that the  occupation must end at some point, that it will do so as soon as the security situation permits, and until that time it will administer the West Bank for the benefit of its Palestinian inhabitants and its own safety.”

Come again?

Bresler, in the name of Americans for Peace Now, wants Israel to “administer the West Bank for the benefit of its Palestinian inhabitants.”

Right now, of course, it is the Palestinian Authority which administers 99 percent of the Palestinian inhabitants of Judea-Samaria (the West Bank). The P.A. has been doing so since 1995, when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin withdrew Israel’s forces from the areas where nearly all of the Palestinians reside.

For Israel now to “administer the West Bank for the benefit of its Palestinian inhabitants,” as Bresler proposes, means that  Israel would need to overthrow and disband the Palestinian  Authority, and resume the  pre-1995 policy of occupying  and administering the  Palestinians.

One must assume that Bresler is a rational man and therefore is aware of the existence of the Palestinian Authority. If Bresler paused to think, he would have to acknowledge that the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, controls Palestinian education, culture, elections, the economy, and all other facets of Palestinian communal life. The P.A. police arrest Palestinian criminals. The P.A. sanitation department collects the trash. Just about the only thing the P.A. can’t do is import tanks and planes.

To pretend that Israel is still “occupying” the Palestinians is absurd. It’s time for the Peace Now camp to emerge from its time warp and stop living in a pre-1995 fantasy world that no longer exists.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa  Flatow, who was murdered in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

Prelude to a Pogrom

Very recently filmmaker Ami Horowitz documented how Portland State University students reacted when being asked to pledge money to purchase explosives to bomb  Israeli schools, hospitals and synagogues. Far from recoiling in shock and horror or immediately placing calls to Homeland Security, the students reacted in a different way: They happily signed on, many of the open-minded academicians punctuating their support for the idea with fist-bumps and high-fives.

The film ran on nationwide television on Fox a few weeks ago, and for those who wish to dismiss this as hardly indicative of what left-leaning leaders think, the “Get the Jew!” emails exposed on WikiLeaks a few days ago directed at Bernie Sanders should cause any American — Jewish or Gentile — to be extremely concerned. Jewish-American leaders had nothing to say about it, but strangely that’s really not out of the ordinary.

Perhaps, though, now that the acrimony and rhetoric has reached such a level that liberal progressives can now openly congratulate people who say in public they wish to murder Israeli civilians, Jews in America will finally have had enough.

Very few segments of the American electorate have supported the progressive agenda with as much fervor and reliability as Jewish Americans. While Jews have steadfastly maintained all the admirable qualities that are and have been the hallmarks of their culture for millennia — hard work, patriotism, religious piety — the political leaders they support have installed planks in a platform that scream just the opposite.

One can certainly cast historical scorn on Cossacks who conducted pogroms against Jews in Eastern Europe, Spanish monarchs who expelled them en masse or even go back as far as Roman proconsuls who demolished their holy places and cast an entire people into Diaspora. These enemies, however, plainly identified themselves. The supposed liberals, on the other hand, have been warmly smiling at their Jewish comrades, clasping their arms around their shoulders  before every election.

Now, however, these elements aren’t even bothering with trying to maintain the previous façade properly, so certain are they that Jews in America will meekly follow them wherever it is that the political insanity leads. And speaking of insanity, as concerns the hard-working, honest, law-abiding salt of the Earth that is the Jewish-American community, Euripides warned best: Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

David Nabhan is a Pittsburgh-based science and science fiction writer.

The Spectacle of the Battling New York Mayors

Political attack dogs, like their furry namesake, come in many breeds. But even in the same breed, no two attack dogs are exactly the same. And so it was with two former Republican mayors of New York City, who treated viewers of  the Republican and Democratic national conventions to wildly different displays.

Rudy Giuliani’s full-throated, high-volume speech at the GOP confab in Cleveland two weeks ago sought to drown out any thought that Democrat Hillary Clinton was anything less than an accessory to murder.

“It was Hillary Clinton who advocated for the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya. Now Libya is in chaos,” Giuliani shouted. “Hillary Clinton is accountable for this and much more.

“Her dereliction of duty and failure to keep her people safe played a major role in the horrific Islamic terrorist murders on Sept. 11-12, 2012 in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of four brave Americans: our Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and CIA agents Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty,” he continued. “And Clinton, and the Obama administration, for political reasons, lied about the purpose of the attacks, including her lying directly to the families of those who were killed.”

Mighty strong words. But those attacks were rivaled by Giuliani’s successor in  office, and former Republican, Michael Bloomberg, who took to the Democratic podium one week later to go billionaire to billionaire against Donald Trump. Unlike Giuliani, Bloomberg didn’t appear to  believe that he had to growl or shout, or even bare his teeth, in order to make his points. But he also was on the attack,  letting his wealth and entrepreneurial success add volume to what was otherwise  a low-key, but focused, speech.

“Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s running his business? God help us!” Bloomberg said. “I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.”

“Trump has left behind a well-documented record of bankruptcies and thousands of  lawsuits and angry shareholders and contractors who feel cheated and disillusioned customers who feel ripped off,” added Bloomberg, now an announced  Independent. He went on to call Trump a “dangerous demagogue,” a “risky, reckless and radical choice.”

We have seen enough of the relentless (even if sometimes entertaining) attacks from both parties. With some 100 days left until Election Day, we hope that the candidates and their surrogates will focus their comments on the policies and positions that really matter, rather than the negativity, insults and accusations of the attack teams. American voters deserve a comprehensive exploration of the issues by the candidates in order to help them decide for whom they should vote, rather than for whom they shouldn’t.

Unfortunately, there is little chance that will happen.

Salute to Sinai

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

It’s not in every city where the local “Jewish” hospital remains a crucial component of the Jewish community. But Baltimore, as we all know so well, is not like most cities.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Sinai Hospital turns 150, a milestone celebration of a history that saw a facility rise from the dark days of anti-Jewish discrimination — as in most cities, where the Jewish community saw a need for its own hospital — embark on the cutting edge of research in the 20th century and become, as the headquarters of Lifebridge Health, one of the preeminent healthcare corporations in this region.

“We believe as Judaism does that healthcare is a right,” says Rabbi Mitchell Ackerson, the director of pastoral care at Sinai. “It is not a privilege, it’s a right. Then you have to act that way.”

Today, few if any in our community have not been  personally touched by Sinai or its affiliated institutions, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Northwest Hospital. It’s the place most of us have gone for treatment — JT managing editor Marc Shapiro, for  instance, learned compassion, empathy and patience, all while a young patient there. It’s also where many of us have been welcomed into the world, including my youngest, who was born at Sinai during the Freddie Gray uprising.

In an age when the fibers of community are fraying, the presence of an institution such as Sinai reminds us that we’re all connected, in life, in sickness and yes, when the time comes, in death. Way back when, in an idealistic age that may never have existed, there was the neighborhood doctor who knew everyone, making house calls day in and day out. That physician became almost a member of everyone’s family, the one who saw the best and the worst of humanity.

Here in Baltimore, for many of us, Sinai is like that physician-neighbor of so long ago. And the hospital is looking to  expand its footprint, making investments in violence prevention, nutrition awareness, housing and mentorship in the neighborhoods surrounding its location on Northern Parkway.

“We care about our community,” says hospital president Amy Perry. “The reasons people are sick are not always because of congenital deficiencies or things that are uncontrollable; they’re often just bad preventive health care and low quality of life. As we’ve tried to make our community healthier, we’ve worked hard to find the triggers, and a lot of them have to do with violence prevention, education, housing, jobs.”

As Sinai becomes more of a force in and around our corner of Maryland, it just might provide a model for how other institutions — schools, synagogues, libraries — can actively reach out, as opposed to  passively taking in.

Sanders’ Values Are Israeli Values

“A Fly (Donkey?) on the Wall: Behind the Scenes at the DNC” (July 29) quotes Adrian Shanker as describing Bernie Sanders’ “vision as grounded in values that are very Jewish to begin with.”

Sanders’ hashkafa is that of democratic socialism: the ideology of the Founding Fathers of the State of Israel. (Not to be confused with the crony capitalism of the current Israeli government, whose policies have created an inequality gap even exceeding that which currently afflicts the United States.)

Right-wing condemnation of Sanders and his democratic socialism agenda amount to a full-throated attack on the origins of the Jewish State, which — in this age of BDS — qualifies as being anti-Zionist, anti-Israel and hence, — according to Zionist Organization of America logic — anti-Semitic.

As a people of memory, Jews should keep this in mind for  the November and subsequent  elections.

Politically conservative Jews, such as the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Orthodox community, who stood silently by while this calumny transpired, owe an apology to the Jewish community worldwide, as does the Jewish media for not highlighting this  telltale historical link.

And what better time to render such an mea culpa than now, during the Three Weeks?

Five Things People with Disabilities Wish You Knew

Eighteen years ago, my best friend gave birth to a baby boy with Down syndrome. I was already very familiar with people who have disabilities, but I had no idea what to say to my friend who had just given birth to a child with severe disabilities.

A week later I sat down with a mutual friend who has a brother with Down syndrome to discuss how I could best support the new mother. She told me what not to say and I was horrified at how many mistakes I had already made! I felt so awful that I stopped visiting and asking about the baby for fear that I would say the wrong thing. But during that time I lost out on the opportunity to support my friend who really needed me.

Similarly, some people are so afraid to do the wrong thing that they avoid people who have special needs. They are losing out on befriending so many extraordinary, fun and funny people in an effort to be “thoughtful”. To help clear the smoke between sensitive and insensitive, here’s a list of five tips of what most people feel is OK and what is not so OK when interacting with a person who has a disability.

1. When talking with someone who has a disability, speak directly to that person rather than through a companion or interpreter. Instead of stating, “Ask him how he is feeling,” make eye contact and ask the  individual “How are you feeling?”

2. It’s okay to use common expressions, such as “see you later” or “got to be running along” that seem to relate to the person’s disability, such as a visual or mobility handicap.

3. It’s okay to offer your help, but don’t just assume you’re assistance is needed. Ask first, or wait for someone to ask you for your help.

4. It’s okay to ask people about their disabilities and it’s also okay for them not to talk about it. Like all of us, some people love to talk about themselves. Others are by nature more private. Gauge your questions by the personality of the individual.

5. Invite friends with disabilities to join you in daily  activities and special occasions. Most people are not mean, they just don’t think of it.

At the end of the day, you should love your neighbor as yourself. Treat people with disabilities the way you like to be treated.

From these ideas we can  deduce that the best thing to say to a new mother of a baby with disabilities might be something like, “Congratulations! How are you and the baby feeling?”

Yael Zelinger is a Disability and Inclusion Associate at the Macks Center for Jewish Education. She can be reached at or  410-735-5023.

Pope Francis Must Insist Auschwitz Church Be Moved

Last week, Pope Francis made a pilgrimage to Poland, visiting Auschwitz — the notorious death camp in Poland where 1.1 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Auschwitz is comprised of two camps: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, also called Birkenau. Birkenau is the actual “theater of death,” where the vast majority of Jews were murdered.

At Birkenau, there is a large church in what once was the Nazi commandant headquarters. The church is in direct  violation of a 1987 agreement signed by four European cardinals and European Jewish leaders that declares “there will be no permanent Catholic place of worship on the site of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.” Pope Francis must recognize this affront and ask that the church be moved.

Its very existence at this  sacred Jewish space is inappropriate, misleading and a  violation of Shoah memory. If the church structure remains, its large cross casting a shadow over Auschwitz II, the site could suggest to the uninformed that the Holocaust was either an attempt at Christian genocide or that the church defended Jews at that time — when in fact the church turned its back on the large-scale attempted annihilation of the Jewish people.

If humans are to learn from our history, to strive for a better future, we need to know what has passed before us. Otherwise, we perpetuate the possibility that the atrocities of the past will repeat in the future and  untold suffering will prevail.

It’s up to people of moral conscience to raise a voice for the sake of Holocaust memory and declare loud and clear: A church has no place at Auschwitz II. Pope Francis — who has shown himself to be a great friend to the Jewish community — has the power to order the Birkenau church be moved. The building should become a museum, specific to Birkenau, showing how the Nazis carried out their atrocities there. The large crosses in front of and on top of the building should be removed. The memory of the Jews murdered there — murdered because they were Jews — must be  recognized with historical  accuracy.

With each passing year, fewer survivors remain. The time is not far off when there will be no living witnesses to share their part in this story, to say: Yes, this happened, and this is how. We cannot allow evidence of the Holocaust to be co-opted by other groups for other purposes.

Rabbi Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale-the Bayit, and founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Journey to Open Orthodoxy.”

Zika Advances while Congress Dawdles

The mosquito that carries the Zika virus, which can cause severe birth defects in  fetuses, has emerged in the mainland United States. More than a dozen new “homegrown” cases of the virus have been reported since last Friday, and Health officials have warned pregnant women not to visit a Miami, Fla. neighborhood where the recent outbreak occurred.

“It is a truly scary situation,” Tom Frieden, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday. “This is a really tough mosquito to control.” Some form of federal intervention is necessary in order to control the spread of the disease and to eliminate the Aedes aegypt mosquito that carries it. But, Congress has not responded.

In February, with Brazil and other locations in South America and the Caribbean targeted by travel bans, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and to help prevent similar outbreaks in the United States. No one expected the president to get what he wanted, and most were optimistic (including this paper) when bipartisan consensus resulted in what  appeared to be a $1.1 billion compromise.

But no final agreement on funding was reached on the Hill before the summer  recess. This was in part due to the fact that Republicans added riders to the legislation, including proposals to restrict funding  for Planned Parenthood and to weaken clean water laws, that Democrats could not accept.

With Congress not set to return to work until after Labor Day, public health agencies have been doing what they’ve been doing all year to fight Zika: using funds diverted from other health programs, such as the fight against Ebola. This is certainly not the way to develop a comprehensive program to fight the virus or to develop a vaccine.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ron Klain,  former White House Ebola response coordinator, suggested that the lack of urgency on Zika may be because the disease is largely out of sight: “Zika is easily underestimated because symptoms are not obvious, and the most grave health consequence — birth defects in babies born to infected mothers — occur months in the future.” But he added: “Already, more than 5,000 people in the U.S. and its territories have tested positive for Zika; more than 300 pregnant women in the continental U.S. have the virus.”

Continued congressional inaction on the Zika threat is unacceptable. Lives are literally at stake. And with the spread of the virus, the health threat is becoming even more pronounced. Partisan bickering and related efforts to win points on other issues are a distraction. There is a growing public health disaster in Florida that the federal government needs to address.