Archive for December, 2011


They want to retreat centuries to a purer time when men were closer to God. No, not Islamists seeking to return to the time of Muhammad in the seventh century. I’m talking about the haredim, Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jews.

First, a bit of Torah. People have long believed in an idyllic past. Witness the Garden of Eden. Initially, Adam and Eve live in innocence. But the clever serpent talks Eve into violating God’s command thus earning women everlasting condemnation from conservative Christians, Muslims—and ultra-orthodox Jews. (Of course, as the narrator in my novel in progress, The Boy Walker, comments, “Remember, that schmuck Adam bit a chunk out of the forbidden fruit without a word of protest.”)

We see something of the same longing for the past in this week’s Torah portion, Vayiggash. Jacob tells Pharaoh, “Few and hard have been the years of my life, nor do they come up to the life spans of my fathers during their sojourns” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob sees himself farther from God’s presence than Isaac and Abraham.

And the haredim? They march backward to their ideal spiritual past in the seventeenth century resisting change and scorning modernity. Fine. That’s their right. But they react with hatred and violence to those who seek a Judaism compatible with the contemporary world. And that’s wrong.

Witness the travails of the city of Beit Shemesh. Haredim, who impose strict standards of “modest” dress on their wives and daughters, segregate males and females in their publicly funded schools and seek to do the same on public transportation. In the name of God, they’ve spat on an eight-year-old orthodox girl named Naama Margolese. Grown men have called her a whore. Naama’s crime? She doesn’t dress like a haredi schoolgirl. Naama, on her way to school, is guilty of “encroaching” on haredi territory—an enclave on which the rest of Israel may not intrude. In fact, the haredim want Beit Shemesh split in two so they can have their own city with their own laws—funded by others since they don’t work but receive stipends form the government. The government says no. One state. One set of laws. But it’s not that simple. Segregated buses continue to run in Jerusalem with government sanction because of haredi political clout.

Anti-haredi protestors have taken to the streets in Beit Shemesh. How this matter will conclude is anyone’s guess. Israel gives small religious parties the power to be part of coalitions. Haredi minority parties can make or break a government. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is likely to speak volumes but tread lightly.

Lest the U.S. rebuke Jerusalem for upholding a double standard—which Jerusalem does—consider this. A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia beheaded a woman for practicing witchcraft. Our Salem witch trials ended long ago. But no public outcry came from the White House. And yesterday, Washington announced it is sending $30 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to the kingdom. National security and all that.

The Israeli government can look to this and other precedents to excuse its accommodation of the haredim. It’s all politics. Sooner or later, Israelis will have to decide what kind of politics they will tolerate regarding those who will not tolerate them.

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Lowe’s, the home improvement chain, beckons shoppers with, “Let’s build something together.” Earlier this month, Loewe’s sought to help build walls around American Muslims. This gives a whole new meaning to the ancient meaning of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. So let me unravel the mystery.

The Tampa-based Florida Family Association took umbrage at a reality show on TLC (formerly The Learning Channel) titled “All-American Muslim.” The show tracks five Lebanese Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, a Detroit suburb with over 30,000 Arab-Americans. The FFA believes that “All-American Muslim” seeks to hide American Muslims’ desire to subjugate the U.S. to Sharia—Muslim law. So the FFA sent emails to companies asking them to pull their advertising. Lowe’s complied.

Interestingly, I heard one of the show’s producers on the radio. He took heat—from Muslim-Americans. They complained that the families “All-American Muslim” portrays are too American. Not all the women wear a hijab (head scarf). One woman wants to open a nightclub. And why just Lebanese-Americans? The producer explained that these were real people, and should the show be renewed, it could explore the dynamics of other American Muslims. His critics continued attacking.

As for Lowe’s, the company acknowledged that it “managed to make some people very unhappy.” Really? “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic,” Lowe’s stated, “and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.”

OMG! Since when is one’s right to exist up for discussion? Does Lowe’s believe that I should respectfully defer to anyone who holds me, as a Jew, in contempt? Lowe’s pulling advertising had nothing to do with rational discussion of legitimate issues. The company yielded to hatred.

Which brings me to Chanukah. Reality is that Jews led by Mattathias and his sons—Judah the Macabee (the hammer) chief among them—fought the Assyrian Greeks who sought to eradicate Judaism. Against the odds, the Macabees drove the Assyrians out then purified the Temple in Jerusalem. A few centuries later, the Sages, under Roman rule, feared celebrating a rebellious military triumph and stressed the miracle of a day’s worth of religiously pure oil lasting eight. Only in recent decades has Chanukah’s military aspect exited the closet. The holiday teaches an important lesson about standing up for your right to be who you are. Not to dominate others. Just to be.

By the way, I checked out the first show of “All-American Muslim.” I liked it. I related, too, because Muslim-Americans’ concerns are akin to those of Jews—even if many Jews see themselves as assimilated and beyond the hostility of others.

The Florida Family Association? It has become a symbol of the un-Americanism of which it accuses American Muslims. And Lowe’s will pay the piper. As Hosea 8:7 warns, “They sow wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

But as Chanukah brightens our winter days and Christmas approaches, something good can come of this. We really can build something together. Decency.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at To purchase a signed copy, email me at SLICK! also is now available at



After almost nine years, the Iraq War was officially declared over Thursday. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made the announcement at a ceremony at the Baghdad airport. I have my doubts.

I remember all the beating of drums coming out of the White House during the run-up to the war—and how foolish it was. Then Secretary of State Colin Power, a man I like very much, went in front of the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003 to make America’s case that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and was an imminent threat to world peace. I delayed going into my office to see his presentation on TV. I kept waiting for the smoking gun. The best Powell could show was a cap pistol that looked like the cheap toy it was. The intelligence on which he based his presentation—at the behest of President George W. Bush—was all a fabrication. Powell later called his appearance a blot on his reputation. He was, unfortunately, correct. (For a take on this, check out a CBS TV News report four years later at

Mr. Bush may have been well meaning. But as Shakespeare has Friar Laurence say in Romeo and Juliet, “Virtue itself turns to vice being misapplied, and vice sometime’s by action dignified.

We know what happened next. A quick military victory gave way to a totally inept post-war effort to rebuild Iraq as a democracy friendly to American and Western interests. The Bush administration hadn’t a clue. In May 2003, Paul Bremer, the U.S.’s chief civilian administrator, disbanded the Iraqi army led by and composed largely of Sunni Muslims. All hell broke loose. Washington seemed content to release tens of thousands of armed men to the streets without jobs and any hopes for a meaningful future.

I remember telling friends before the war started that were I president, I’d send a message to Saddam’s commanders asking them to stand down or risk annihilation. American forces would bypass them and displace Saddam. Then we’d work with the generals to install a new leader and keep the military intact—with pay raises. Would that have been a perfect solution? I doubt it. But given its history, the Middle East doesn’t lend itself to perfect solutions—at least not by American standards. What we ended up with was chaos at the cost of 4,487 Americans killed and 32,226 wounded. Not to mention tens of thousands of American troops coming home with all of the emotional wounds war causes. All with a price tag of nearly a trillion dollars.

Oh, and Iraq suffered from 100,000 to 150,000 civilian and military deaths. The injuries seem uncountable.

So the last hundreds of troops will leave over the next two weeks. Only a few trainers and advisers will remain. And let’s be clear about this: Our troops—many who served multiple deployments—performed bravely, and deserve all the credit we can give. If one thing has gone right regarding the Iraq War, it has been the American people’s support of our troops. Vets of Vietnam suffered the indignity of an entirely different experience.

And now? Iraq will require many years before it can achieve stability. If it can achieve stability. If it can do so in any kind of democratic form. There will be blood, and we can’t stop it. Try standing on the beach and telling the tide not to come in.

Because the old saying attributed to Yogi Berra—as every pithy saying now is—has never been truer: “It isn’t over ‘til it’s over.” And, I fear, it isn’t over yet.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at To purchase a signed copy, email me at SLICK! also is now available at




Last week, Egyptians voted for parliamentary representatives in a third of the nation’s provinces. Although secular liberals led the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, Islamic parties—no surprise—claimed 65 to 70 percent of the vote following runoff elections. The Muslim Brotherhood, which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman describes as less doctrinaire than its Salafist rivals but a long way from liberal, won the most seats. The fundamentalist Salafist Nour Party followed. The liberal Egyptian Bloc came in third with 15 to 20 percent. Nothing unexpected here. The Islamic parties were much more organized.

How Egypt’s military will work with the new parliament remains to be seen. But Egypt appears headed towards some form of Islamic government. That’s what voters—although the turnout was disappointingly low—communicated at the ballot box.

This leads me to wonder why Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state reaps so many harsh responses. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as a condition for meaningful negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas opposes such Israeli status. The concept of a nation having a religious identity obviously disturbs Mr. Abbas, Palestinians and the Muslim world—at least if that status is Jewish. Here’s where illogic reigns.

Fifty-seven countries belong to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, formerly the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The OIC’s mission is to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world. It represents over 1.5 billion Muslims, although not the 140 million Muslims in India. That nation is blocked from membership by Pakistan.

Let’s be clear here. OIC representatives are nations with Muslim populations ranging from virtually total to a majority. Members include the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. These are their official titles, not my editorializing. Flags of a dozen OIC states—from Algeria and Azerbaijan to Tunisia and Turkey—display the crescent/star symbol of Islam. These obviously are religiously defined nations. And while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia doesn’t have “Islamic” in its name, it hardly disguises its self-proclaimed role as “guardian of the two holy places” (Mecca and Medina) and overwhelming adherence to Sharia—Muslim religious law. Saudi Arabia prohibits public non-Muslim prayer and non-Muslim houses of worship.

As to Israel, since Jews make up three-quarters of its population, Israel as a Jewish State hardly seems far-fetched. Yet Israeli law remains civil, not religious. It protects the rights of minorities—Muslims, Christians, Baha’i and others—unlike so many OIC nations. Admittedly, Israel doesn’t do this perfectly. Abuses exist. They’re wrong. Yet Israeli courts often make bold and necessary decisions upholding minorities’ rights.

Will Egypt become the Islamic State of Egypt? Possibly. We’re about to enter the Arab winter, and the ultimate outcome of the Arab spring remains distant. But now—today—we can acknowledge that a single, self-declared Jewish state hardly poses a threat to the Muslim world—unless all Muslim states suddenly turn to secularism in order to avoid potential religious conflict.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at To purchase a signed copy, email me at SLICK! also is now available at




Like most Americans, I’ve been thinking about our high rate of unemployment. True, it just dropped from 9.0 to 8.6 percent. That’s better but it’s still way too high—perhaps the one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on. So what to do? I admit that Facebook comments, viral emails and talk-show hosts have been revealing the answer all along and I… I was too dumb to understand. But not anymore.

We can easily lower the unemployment rate to 7.6 percent, 4.6 percent and even 1.6 percent. All it takes is for every unemployed American to get off his or her backside and get a job.

Why Congress failed to pick up on this mystifies me. Democrats say that pumping up government spending will get all kinds of infrastructure and energy projects going and create jobs. Wrong! Republicans say that cutting government spending will put more money in businesses’ coffers and consumers’ wallets—and create jobs. Wrong! No wonder we witnessed the recent—if hardly unexpected—failure of the Congressional supercommittee. They didn’t get it.

But let’s not kid blame Congress. Or Wall Street. Or the banks. Or CEOs taking home ten or twenty or forty million dollars in salaries, bonuses and stock options. They all mean well. Let’s be honest and point the finger at the real guilty parties. Us! We Americans just don’t want to work. If we did, according to the pundits who’ve enlightened me, we would.

Take a middle manager who used to make $60,000 a year. Obviously, said manager would rather kick back on a fraction of that amount paid in unemployment insurance—while it lasts. And that’s despite Oprah going off the air months ago and Regis Philbin recently following suit. These lazy Americans would rather lie around the house all morning then spend all afternoon nursing a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts than barge into their old employers’ offices and demand their jobs back. Companies only lay off employees who want to be laid off.

Or maybe that former manager should barge into that Dunkin’ Donuts’ manager’s office and demand a job brewing and serving java. It wouldn’t pay much, but what’s really important is showing initiative. Every company wants employees with initiative. And they’ll hire those employees when they feel more confident about the future. Which they won’t until millions of work-averse Americans stand up and pledge allegiance to a marketplace unfettered by regulation and the continued recognition of corporations as legal persons for the purpose of making unlimited political donations to kill off regulations real or proposed. The problem is, Americans are couch potatoes. Maybe they’d stand up if they could, but they can’t.

Honestly, if the unemployed don’t realize that getting a job is as simple as saying, “I want a job,” then off with their heads. And if they somehow manage to hold on to their heads and keep making noise, then I propose a sobering retort: “Let them eat cake!”

We know how that worked out for Marie Antoinette and her crowd.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at To purchase a signed copy, email me at SLICK! also is now available at