Archive for the ‘ISRAEL’ Category

DIRTY LAUNDRY

Jerusalem and the Second Temple fell to Rome in 70 CE. The Sages saw in this event dirty laundry—what Jews didn’t want to talk about. The tragedy occurred because of sinat chinam—baseless hatred. Not of Rome for Judea but of Jews towards each other. Jews around the globe need to take notice. So do non-Jewish Americans.

Today, discrete groups of haredim—ultra-orthodox Jews—maintain great antipathy towards each other. They unite in their distaste—often hatred—for Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and secular Jews—the majority of Jews in Israel and the U.S.

The haredim deny Israelis in the Progressive (Reform) and Masorti (Conservative) movements religious equality. In 1948, David Ben Gurion gave this then tiny group full charge of all religious lifecycle events to bring them into his governing coalition. With their high birthrate, the haredim grew far faster than other Israeli Jewish groups. In Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s multi-party coalition, they wield considerable political power. This includes preventing Progressive women from praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) by themselves or with men, wearing tallitot (prayer shawls) and reading from the Torah.

The Jerusalem Post (9-6) reported statements by Shlomo Amar, Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, that Reform Jews “… don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray [at the Western Wall]. But no one should think that they want to pray. They want to desecrate the holy.”

Sinat chinam! Jews seeking religious equality very much observe Shabbat (Friday night and Saturday) and Yom Kippur (beginning this year on September 29 and coincident with Shabbat). Their interpretation and observance of the Law is not that of Rabbi Amar and others in the ultra-Orthodox community—who often contend among themselves regarding minutiae. But it is serious, studious and heartfelt, reflecting a love of Torah along with an embrace of the twenty-first century.

Divisiveness also impacts Israel’s political realm. The left has faded. The far-right now abhors centrists, who prefer a two-state solution given sound security guarantees to a greater Israel disenfranchising Arab citizens—or denying citizenship. Despite statements to the contrary, Netanyahu continues to appease the far-right. This while facing allegations of corruption and his wife Sara’s imminent indictment on corruption charges.

The hatred keeps on coming. Bibi and Sara’s son Yair recently posted on Facebook a cartoon using classic anti-Semitic images of his father’s political foes, including billionaire George Soros and former prime minister Ehud Barak. Yair withdrew the meme but not before it elicited praise from American neo-Nazis.

Israel and world Jewry see Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas—among others—as security or existential threats. The challenges they present must be faced with resolve. But Israel confronts an even greater challenge—disunity.

The U.S. exhibits the same dirty laundry. Liberals and conservatives raise fists and shout each other down. Varying groups claim sole knowledge of civic and religious truth. Each seeks to impose its views on the others.

This week’s Torah portion, Nitzavim, offers my favorite biblical verse: “Choose life” (30:19). We possess free will. Using it, we can air our dirty laundry and rid ourselves of its stench. Otherwise, we open ourselves to grave risks as reflected in the words of the cartoonist Walt Kelly’s beloved character Pogo: “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

To all Jews everywhere: L’Shana Tovah—Happy New Year. To everyone else: shalom—peace.

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THE MORAL IMPERATIVE

Last week, I wrote about the military trial of Israeli Sgt. Elor Azaria, convicted of manslaughter in killing a wounded Palestinian knife wielder. The response by Lt. General Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), reminded me of an experience I had fifty years ago.

Many Israelis opposed to Sgt. Azaria’s conviction pleaded that he should be exonerated as a child of Israel—“everybody’s child.” Eisenkot replied, “An 18-year-old in the Israeli Army is not ‘everybody’s child’. He is a fighter, a soldier who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this.”

The IDF’s code of conduct states that military personnel must respond to a high moral standard that empowers them to refuse orders by their superiors. Jews are all too familiar with “good Germans” who, during World War Two, insisted that they were only following orders when they worked at death camps and took part in or enabled atrocities.

This brings me to Lt. Colonel Bert Bishop, commanding officer of the 97th Student Battalion at the U.S. Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. In May 1967, shortly before my class was to graduate, Col. Bishop informally gave us a glimpse of some of the situations we might confront in Vietnam. (The Army sent me to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and left me there.)

A combat veteran of World War Two and Korea—later a battalion commander in Vietnam, where he was promoted to full colonel—Col. Bishop covered a variety of practical matters, including relationships with our non-commissioned officers on whom we would depend. He informed the Jewish candidates—three of us in a class of 194—that we would have to assume some of the duties of a chaplain for Jewish soldiers wounded or troubled throughout the region where we served. There weren’t enough Jewish chaplains to cover all of Vietnam.

Most important, Col. Bishop told us that we should refuse to carry out immoral orders. How unexpected and extraordinary that was. Our battalion commander, who’d been on the battlefield and whose task was preparing us to close with the enemy and kill him, reminded us that as officers we were responsible to uphold the Army’s code of conduct. Regardless of risk to our careers or legal action some quarters might take, we were not to emulate the Germans who carried out the Holocaust.

We know that in Vietnam—a war we never should have fought—some American troops went awry. We remember the massacre at My Lai in 1968 that stained the Army’s reputation. But I will never forget Col. Bishop’s urging that no situation could allow us to be anything but professional and moral.

Gen. Eisenkot has made the same statement. And while some Israelis will plead that IDF troops face complex challenges—which they do—I believe the majority will agree with the chief of staff. True, we Jews are held to a higher standard. But that’s the standard we set for ourselves. Morality in combat or anti-insurgency situations does not represent weakness. By keeping the Israeli military and society grounded and disciplined in law and Torah, it creates ongoing strength.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And may the New Year bring a more peaceful world so that soldiers everywhere can disengage and no longer face these universal moral dilemmas.

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ISRAEL’S “UNTOLD” STORY

Two days ago, Israel experienced bad news and good news. Sadly, most of the world will focus on the bad. But the military court verdict regarding #SergeantElorAzaria must be noted for the good it presents about a nation so often maligned—and blindly so.

Last March, Sgt. Azaria shot dead a Palestinian man—one of two knife wielders in the West Bank city of Hebron. The other Palestinian had already been killed. Israeli troops have the right to defend civilians and themselves under attack. The problem lies in Sgt. Azaria having shot Abd Elfatah Ashareef eleven minutes after another soldier had shot and “neutralized” him.

The court determined that Ashareef had posed no danger and convicted Sgt. Azaria of manslaughter. Many Israelis support Sgt. Azaria. Many Israelis adhere to the law and do not. Yesterday police arrested two Israeli Jews for inciting pro-Azaria violence on social media. Here we need to recognize that Israeli law remains as impartial as it can be in trying times, holding all Israelis—Jews and non-Jews—responsible for appropriate conduct.

This is not the first time an Israeli court—military or civilian—has found a Jew or the government liable for criminal or civil actions. True, not all court decisions are balanced. But Israeli Arabs and Palestinians often achieve legal victories because the law—with support by Israeli Jews—recognizes that they are in the right.

Imagine the same scenario in a military court elsewhere in the Middle East. Would a soldier killing someone who acted against his government face legal—let alone public—discipline? If you can say yes, you know something about the region that I don’t.

Would a court in Russia or China try one of their soldiers who killed someone bearing a weapon with deadly intent after that would-be killer had been neutralized? Would journalists be allowed to report on the case? Would government leaders, pro and con, discuss it? Would those who incite violence on Moscow’s or Beijing’s behalf be arrested? If you can say yes, you know something about Russia and China that I don’t.

Yet these two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council voted to condemn as illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. (I wrote last week that those settlements are wrong and provide the Palestinians with another excuse to avoid negotiations.) Russia and China hardly stand as advocates for human rights.

Finally, can you imagine Hamas or the Palestinian Authority bringing to trial Palestinians who assault or murder Israelis? I can’t; it doesn’t happen. The killers are praised. If they’re killed, massive funerals celebrate their martyrdom.” Cash payments go to their families.

Israel survives in a region filled with hostility flowing in all directions. The country can and should present a better image to the world, starting with a halt to settlement building. But Israel stands head and shoulders above its neighbors as a nation where law has real meaning, where Israelis of all religions—and Palestinians—can call on the courts with a reasonable, if still imperfect, expectation of justice.

The matter of Sgt. Azaria constitutes a painful story. Still, it must be told and seen in context. Hopefully, American law will remain as respectful of justice.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you find yourself discussing Israel, discuss the whole story.

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JERUSALEM, RAMALLAH & WASHINGTON

Once, a man stacked up piles of dried grass, sticks, branches then logs in a heat-baked land. A friend asked, “What’s with all this fuel? One spark could set the whole area ablaze.” The gatherer said, “Maybe the weather will turn cold. But relax. I certainly won’t start a fire now.” The friend shook his head. “It’s not you starting a fire I’m worried about.”

One week ago, the #UnitedNationsSecurityCouncil condemned #Israelisettlements in the West Bank, 14-0. The United States abstained rather than vetoing the measure. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu lashed out at the Obama administration. “Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council.”

I love Israel. Which is why I say, “Friends don’t let friends stack up fuel for someone else to set on fire.”

On Wednesday, Secretary of State #JohnKerry spoke about new settlements preventing a two-state solution between Jerusalem (yes, the capital of Israel) and Ramallah (capital of the Palestinian Authority). Washington supports a two-state solution. I do, too. An Israel encompassing the West Bank ultimately cannot be both a Jewish and democratic state. A one-state solution eventually will lead to Palestinians lighting a match and possibly causing a major conflagration.

Bibi, in turning to Israel’s far right for political support, continues to kick the can down the road. The can makes an increasingly explosive noise. The world community—hypocrites that so many nations are—will become even more antagonistic towards Israel. Yes, Israel is forging ties with India and China (the latter a member of the Security Council), African and Latin American nations, and Russia (also a Security Council member). It’s renewing ties with Turkey and creating “under the table” relationships with Sunni Arab states. Those are all positives. But Bibi keeps gathering fuel and painting Israel into a corner.

Am I bashing Israel? No way. Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is non-negotiable. Moreover, while the Israeli right remains intransigent about holding on to Judea and Samaria, it’s the Palestinians who turned their backs on a meaningful (read that negotiated, not dictated) two-state agreement. In 2000 and 2008, Jerusalem offered Ramallah East Jerusalem along with modified West Bank borders compensated with land from Israel proper. The Palestinians walked away.

In 2014, Kerry offered what we can surmise to be a similar plan. Jerusalem—read that, Bibi—expressed willingness to talk. Ramallah—P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas—never responded.

Ramallah will continue to avoid making necessary compromises—Israel also will have to compromise—to achieve a Palestinian state and peace. Moshe Yaalon, former Israeli Defense Minister and military Chief of Staff, presents a sad but cogent reason in Foreign Affairs (Jan./Feb. 2017). “Rejecting Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people means that the conflict is not about borders but about Israel’s very existence.” The Palestinians’ “chief objective has been not to achieve their own national community but to deny the Jews theirs.”

It’s in Jerusalem’s best interest to halt settlement building inside the West Bank and hit the ball squarely into Ramallah’s court. Let the Palestinians find another lame excuse for avoiding negotiations and take the blame they deserve. Removing all that highly flammable fuel will help Jerusalem keep from burning down its own house.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And Happy New Year. May 2017 bring us all meaningful steps toward healing and peace.

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GENOCIDE—FACT AND FANTASY

On August 1, The Movement for Black Lives issued its platform. The group represents a coalition of 60-plus organizations calling for equal treatment for African Americans in the criminal justice system and rebuilding Black communities. Among the platform’s statements: “The US […] is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” Around the same time, the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah party issued an equally outrageous statement. What are the facts?

If the writers of the MBL platform had any idea what genocide entails, they’d think twice. (Perhaps they did: I just checked the platform, and the genocide reference seems to have been removed, although solidarity with “Palestine” remains. Fact: If Israel sought to slaughter the Palestinian people, it would have done so.

Fact: On May 6, France24.com reported that Palestinians engaging in the “Knife Intifada” had to date staged more than 350 attacks on Israelis leaving dead 34 Israelis and nearly 200 Palestinians. Understand that these Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers, police and the occasional armed civilian, who responded to the attacks. Does this constitute an Israeli strategy of genocide? I’d more of a case that it doesn’t, but the idea is so bizarre that I won’t waste my time writing more words on this matter and your time reading them.

But I will turn to an August 4 report in The New York Times: “Fatah Makes Incendiary Claim of Killing 11,000 Israelis.” Fatah, the political party headed by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, made an ugly boast in Arabic on one of its official Facebook pages. As writer Diaa Hadid reports: “’For the argumentative … the ignorant … And for those who do not know history,’ begins the Facebook post, ‘The Fatah movement killed 11,000 Israelis.’” The Fatah website had previously made the same erroneous claim in August 2014, according to the Times.

Is this the norm on Fatah’s part? Writes Hadid, “Mr. Abbas, who succeeded Mr. Arafat, has repeatedly said he supports nonviolent resistance against the Israeli occupation. But Fatah has historically championed armed resistance as a central tenet of its doctrine for the liberation of the Palestinian people.” Given the Facebook post, which side exhibits genocidal tendencies?

Fact: The situation between Israel and the Palestinians is not optimal. Tension and violence mar what passes for peace. Thankfully, the situation isn’t worse. Hopefully, it will get better. I’ve stated before and I’ll state now that I believe only a two-state solution will end these hostilities. But I’ll also emphasize that while Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will drag his feet as long as he remains in office, Palestinian leadership (let’s not even mention genocide-oriented Hamas in Gaza) digs in its heals to avoid negotiating a realistic two-state agreement.

As to The Movement for Black Lives, I support Black Americans (and Black French and Britons) being treated equally in every phase of life. I’ve always supported that. I always will. And where help is required, it needs to be given. But I will not support MBL in any way.

Fact: The issue does not involve Israel. Fact: Israel is not committing genocide. Fact: Doing nothing but muddy the waters by self-righteously defaming a nation, its people and their supporters will not move forward this important matter of social justice. Thinking that it will represents pure fantasy.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And give a fact a break today.

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TORN BETWEEN WORLDS

The Hebrew word shalom means “hello,” “goodbye” and “peace.” It comes from shalem, which means wholeness. When we feel whole, we experience shalom—peace. When we don’t, our inner conflicts can have grave consequences for ourselves and those around us. This theme ran through the four movies Carolyn and I recently saw at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.

A Tale of Love and Darkness by the Israeli-born American actress Natalie Portman is based on the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz (nee Klausner; Oz means strength in Hebrew). Oz’s parents came separately to Israel from Eastern Europe in the 1930s and met in Jerusalem. His mother, well educated and from a once-wealthy family, could not cope with the challenging life in Israel before and after independence. She became increasingly depressed and committed suicide. Interestingly, Jerusalem is equated with the biblical city of Shalem along with the Canaanite priest Melchizedek—about whom I write in God’s Others—mentioned in Genesis 14:18. In 1967, Jerusalem was reunited by the Israeli military. Yet it remains culturally divided between West (Jews) and East (Arabs).

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You focuses on the hit TV shows Lear created from the the late 1960s through the ‘80s. The controversial but highly rated “All in the Family” featured Carroll O’Connor as the right-wing, irascible Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as his beleaguered but loving wife Edith. Hunkered down in his Queens home, Archie resists the whirlwind of social and cultural changes in America. He feels lost in a time warp, hence the title music “Those Were the Days” with its brilliant line, “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.” Which we could not. Yes, Archie is a racist and a misogynist. Still, there’s something lovable about him because he cannot conceal his basic humanity.

The Writer is an Israeli TV series created by Sayed Kashua. Its protagonist Kateb (Yousef Sweid) mirrors Sayed as the creator of the actual Israeli hit show Arab Labor. Kateb reveals Sayed’s feeling of dislocation—an Israeli Arab sympathetic to the Palestinians but a thoroughly modern resident of Jewish West Jerusalem. Ultimately, Kateb takes a teaching position in the United States. Kashua has been at the University of Illinois for two years and is applying for his green card.

For the Love of Spock tracks the development of the character Dr. Spock in the famed “Star Trek” TV series and movies. It also profiles Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Spock to life. Spock—whose famed hand salute is the sign of the priestly blessing given by descendants of the kohanim (priests) during Yom Kippur and observed by the young Nimoy in his Boston synagogue—is half-Vulcan, half-human. Spock’s cold logic typifies his Vulcan self, but echoing Archie Bunker, he periodically reveals his human emotions. Nimoy himself suffered a dichotomy. Most Trekkies saw him only as Spock and didn’t know about his other acting work or concede that Nimoy was a person in his own right.

The Jewish Film Festival runs through this weekend in San Rafael and Berkeley. It’s worth attending. It’s also worth looking at any of the films through the lens of human beings torn between worlds. To a great extent, this represents the human condition—as does the search for shalem.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you’re looking for someone with dueling personalities, check YouTube for my 2013 stand-up routine at San Francisco’s Purple Onion.

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GAME OF THRONES, TEL AVIV AND ORLANDO

Recently on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister (the Kingslayer) sought to capture Riverrun, a castle commanded by Brynden Tully (the Blackfish). Sir Jaime headed a large force, but Riverrun boasted a deep moat and high walls making a head-on attack foolhardy. What to do?

Sir Jaime laid siege, a tactic as old as warfare. Alas, the Blackfish had accumulated two years of food. Sir Jaime could have launched large rocks to chip away at Riverrun’s walls, but that would take time he didn’t have. Or he could have launched flaming arrows and burning objects, ultimately destroying Riverrun. He’d end up with a ruin.

I think of Riverrun’s walls in regard to the recent murders of four Israelis in Tel Aviv. Last September, a number of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs began waging the Knife Intifada augmented by shootings, as in Tel Aviv, and vehicles. Tel Aviv is an open city and thus vulnerable. But Tel Avivis refuse to bow to fear. Of course, parts of Israel are walled off from the West Bank. I’ve been there. Those walls, along with checkpoints, have reduced attacks against Israel. Still, the Knife Intifada points out their limits. Only a meaningful peace agreement will offer protection from violence. That’s not imminent. Both sides seek to dictate the terms of a two-state solution. Peace requires their coming together, not standing apart.

The Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, has walls. They can keep out heat and cold, rain and wind but not hatred. The ISIS-inspired gunman who murdered 49 innocent people and wounded 53 last Saturday night might have been kept out of the United States if higher walls were built around our immigration policy as well as our borders. But the murderer was born in New York City long predating the Islamic State and even 9/11. The battle against Islamist extremism (President Obama won’t say it; I will) will be long, difficult and bloody. Nonetheless, we will not protect America by destroying its cherished values.

What then of Sir Jaime and Riverrun? Faced with those high, thick walls, he developed a brilliant, if cruel, solution. He held prisoner Riverrun’s legitimate lord Edmuir Tully and Edmuir’s young son. Sir Jaime offered Edmuir his freedom if Edmuir would order the troops in Riverrun to stand down and open the gate. Otherwise, he’d catapult Edmuir’s son over the walls. Fire a single shot as it were. Edmuir relented.

A walled fortress, Fort Point, sits under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge not far from my home. The first cannon was mounted there in 1861 to protect San Francisco Bay. Attacks by Confederate ships never came. Walled fortresses soon became obsolete thanks to powerful artillery and larger ship-based guns even before the advent of air power. There’s a lesson here.

Donald Trump wants to build walls to limit what people and goods can enter the United States. Some Americans respond enthusiastically. A changing society frightens them. In truth, our post-industrial economy has left many behind. But fear and frustration offer no solutions. They only drive people to vilify other religions, races and nationalities. Moreover, the walls that keep others out would imprison us. Still, they cling to the mantra, “Things were better in the past.”

Interestingly, that’s the mantra of ISIS.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And when you get a chance to reach out to someone, please take it.

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MUSLIM BASHING AND ANTI-SEMITISM

Does anti-Muslim rhetoric relate to anti-Semitism? Yes, according to my friend Claudia Hagadus Long, an attorney and fellow novelist. Claudia has authored a trilogy about colonial Mexico—Josefina’s Sin, The Duel for Consuelo and (late 2016 or 2017) Marcela Unchained. Given her family’s challenging Jewish history, an undercurrent of anti-Semitism runs through all. Now, Muslim bashing has her on edge.

Claudia’s parents were non-observant Jews, her American-born father militantly so. Her mother was one of the few in her family to survive the Holocaust. When Claudia was a child, her parents, sister and brother moved from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. Her father’s sister had married a Mexican Jew, and the family practiced Judaism in Guadalajara. Claudia’s Mexican friends were Catholic. She and her sister often accompanied them to church. That was okay with her mother, who’d been protected by nuns in Poland and elsewhere. “They helped her survive.”

As a youngster, Claudia was unaware of her family’s history and attitudes. Anti-Semitism remained “the bear in the living room no one spoke of.” Eventually she learned of her mother’s Holocaust experiences. The story proved so painful, she has not been able to write about it.

But writers find ways to deal with pain. Calling on her early years in Mexico—the family eventually returned to New York, and Claudia attended Harvard—she began writing about conversos. These “secret Jews,” along with Catholics once Jewish, are pursued by the Inquisition. Josefina, heroine of the first novel, is introduced to poetry by a Jew, whose brief appearance lays bare his precarious position in the New World. Consuelo, protagonist in the second, is a converso’s daughter. Her mother and grandmother light candles on Friday night—in secret.

It’s hardly surprising that Claudia is finely attuned to anti-Semitism today. Terrorist acts against Jews throughout the world, she says, are reported with a yawn. Otherwise-thoughtful people and self-proclaimed anti-racists happily vilify Jews. Claudia sees much anti-Semitism in attitudes towards Israel, particularly on campus. She cites a vocal minority of students who consider themselves liberal seeking to exclude Israeli scientists or poets from being part of activities because of their country’s policies. “This allows for a refusal to look at an individual’s contribution to the greater good simply because he or she is Jewish.”

Claudia doesn’t always support Israel’s policies but distinguishes Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora from the Israeli government. Non-Jews are treated differently, she points out. No one seeks to exclude Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis or Iranians from international conferences and forums, although their nations’ policies often raise eyebrows. The United States has committed its share of violence, yet vocal students seeking divestment from companies that do business with Israel never say a word about divesting from American companies.

So how does anti-Semitism connect with Muslim bashing? We’ll always have bigots, says Claudia, but people “who should know better” are jumping on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. It’s now okay for them to be against a particular religion. That being so, anti-Semitism also becomes acceptable. It’s widespread in Europe and openly so.

Where might Muslim bashing lead the United States? While the U.S. offers “unbelievable freedom,” Claudia fears the tide may turn. “If it’s okay to be anti-Muslim then it’s okay to be anti-Semitic—the easiest anti of all.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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SAN BERNARDINO

In a way, San Bernardino in Southern California’s Inland Empire has become America’s Paris and also its Jerusalem.

Why Paris? The City of Light symbolizes Western enlightenment and respect for human rights—values Islamists deplore. Why Jerusalem? The capital of Israel—even if the United States maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv—represents another symbol deplored by Islamists. It’s the power of Jews to direct their own future in the Middle East no longer subjugated, and periodically persecuted, under Muslim rule.

Why San Bernardino? While major cities across the nation guard against Islamist terrorism—New York and Boston have been there—“San Berdoo” in Southern California’s Inland Empire proved a target of opportunity. A Muslim couple—local residents—appear to have chosen to make a statement: No one is safe anywhere in America.

Much investigative work remains before conclusions can be drawn about whether the couple—he American-born, she Pakistani-born and raised in Saudi Arabia where they met—constituted a sleeper cell of ISIS or one of the Al Qaeda groups. But they seem to have become radicalized at some point, possibly years ago. And the military-style clothing, body armor, automatic weapons and remote-controlled bombs hint at long-term planning indicative of much more than a workplace confrontation.

Here, I want to go back to Israel, the Islamist mindset and Western perceptions. While Paris has been tense but thankfully quiet for the last few weeks, Jerusalem and all Israel continue to face what some term the “Knife Intifada.” Many dozens of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians—women as well as men—have attacked Jewish civilians, soldiers and police. Most have used knives. A few have used vehicles. Some attackers have killed Israelis. Many attackers have been killed as Israelis defended themselves.

The West was riveted by Paris. Now, the American media understandably devotes much time to San Bernardino. Yet while Frenchmen and Americans are up in arms, the story in Israel arouses little ire. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry appear to see these as “small” political attacks divorced from Islamism and anti-Semitism. Mr. Kerry initially suggested the “logic” of disillusioned Arabs in Israel and on the West Bank expressing frustration with the failure of talks to establish a Palestinian State.

When it comes to Israel, the media often skews the situation. On Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle’s World section headlined: “Israeli troops kill 2 Palestinians after stabbing attempts.” Imagine running the headline, “California police kill 2 Muslims after shots fired in government building.”

That said let’s not lust after simple solutions. Fighting a totalitarian pathology like Islamism—Muslim but not to be confused with Islam—represents a complex undertaking. We’ll likely see more U.S. military muscle in Syria and Iraq during 2016. That’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Regrettably, we’re also likely to see more anti-Muslim paranoia. That’s both wrong and foolish. As Haider Ali Hussein Mullick, a Navy reserve officer and teacher at the Naval War College wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, “If we don’t want to play into the hands of Islamic State propaganda that America is at war with Islam, we must stand up against Islamophobia.” As rhetoric heats up may cool heads prevail.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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ANCHOR BABIES AND OPEN EARS

Tuesday night, I attended a workshop, “Speaking Across Conflict,” at Congregation Sherith Israel. It related to heated discussions—and lack of discussions—about Israel among Jews. Rabbi Melissa Weintraub led the workshop. She is co-director of Resetting the Table, a program of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs’ Civility Campaign. The basics are simple. Implementing them is challenging.

Rabbi Weintraub emphasizes listening to people with whom you disagree. You focus on what’s important to others—the hard part—rather than on how to counter their positions. After listening, you can offer your own views. Regrettably, shouting is a hallmark of Israeli politics and Jewish responses. It also corrodes American politics. Republicans and Democrats shun dialogue and define accusations as valid arguments. Acrimony abounds. Little gets accomplished.

Immigration is an issue generating more heat than light. The nation faces three basic choices: One: Open our borders to everyone. Two: Close our borders to everyone. Three: Establish quotas regarding how many immigrants we take in and their qualifications. The last option represents our current law, but it badly needs updating. Times have changed since my parents and father became citizens 101 years ago.

The hue and cry is deafening. Some Americans can’t understand why people who enter America in violation of the law can stay here. They’re accused of being anti-immigrant. They’re not. They support immigration within the law. Others cannot imagine how the nation can purge itself of eleven million people who arrived illegally. (Yes, it’s illegal to violate the law). Many “illegals” have lived here peacefully and productively for years. Solving the problem requires a new mindset. We have to listen to each other’s concerns, acknowledge them and find ways to compromise, understanding that this issue cannot be framed in simplistic black and white.

Take “anchor babies” or birthright citizenship. Donald Trump wants to do away with automatically granting citizenship to babies born in the U.S. of non-citizens. The right screams, “Hell, yes!” The left screams, “Hell, no!”

Let me say that I think Donald Trump is a joke. A bad one. He’s a lightning rod for know-nothings, addressing legitimate issues in infantile ways. That being said, I have doubts about birthright citizenship. I recognize the existence of the 14th Amendment and the practical concerns regarding authenticating parental citizenship, as well as adopting a new Constitutional amendment. But birthright citizenship is hardly a universal concept.

Of the developed nations, only the U.S. and Canada provide birthright citizenship. Great Britain, France, Germany and Australia—among many others—restrict citizenship for babies born within their borders. I don’t suggest that other nations’ laws are inherently better than ours. I’ll skip Sharia law practiced in Saudi Arabia and Iran, thank you. But reasoned arguments relating to birthright citizenship can be made pro and con.

It’s time we recognize that it’s not treasonous to listen to different views. It’s also time we replace presidential debates with actual discussions. Candidates would be required to listen and acknowledge when other candidates present their views at lengths greater than those of sound bites. They would wait their turn then offer their own positions—uninterrupted.

Running our mouths does nothing but run down the nation. We might discover a lot more substance between our ears if we take our fingers out of them.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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