Wednesday, April 22, 2015

This Ad Isn't Helping Israel, Guys

‘Killing Jews is Worship’ posters will soon appear on NYC subways and buses

So first off, I don't understand the judge's decision. Must the MTA accept all advertising? So if I want to create an ad featuring a naked woman straddling an armadillo with the message, "Time to ride the horny armadillo," the MTA can't say no? They've just got to roll with it?

I'm all for free speech, but there's nothing in the 1st Amendment that says a publisher HAS TO publish anything it receives. Otherwise, my very convincing article about how we actually evolved from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who were warped back in time (as alluded to in the classic video game, "Turtles in Time") would have been published in the New York Times.

Secondly, Washington Post reporter Michael Miller writes, "Making the case all the stranger is that the posters are not the work of an Islamist group, but rather a pro-Israel organization." But is the "American Freedom Defense Initiative" even pro-Israel? Because this ad does nothing to convince anyone to support Israel. It does the exact opposite.

The most convincing argument among liberals inclined against Israel is that "the country is not a place of freedom and justice, but a place where Arabs and Muslims are subjugated, segregated and subjected to discrimination and prejudice." All this ad does is, well, reveal that this supposedly pro-Israel group believes "all Muslims are terrorists." Which plays into the hands of Israel's critics. If critics call you a country founded on prejudice... maybe don't launch an ad campaign that highlights your prejudicial viewpoint?

If you want to place an ad convincing people to support Israel, then why not create an ad like this:

That took me all of 2 seconds, so excuse the clunky language. My ad team will refine it in our brainstorming sessions. But hell, it makes a much better point. It's easy to say Israel shouldn't exist, that Israel is an apartheid state. But what do you want instead? Gaza?

What other country in the Middle East would you hold up as an example of equal human rights? What other place could an Arab and a Jew even consider having a friendship? That's the best argument for Israel-- its government may be a right-wing nut factory, its rights record sometimes spotty, its military sometimes overzealous (sounds kinda like a country closer to home) but Israel is the only functional democracy in the Middle East that doesn't punish its people with Sharia law and allows freedom of expression (Israel is the only country in the region to have a free press, according to It's not an evil country, hanging gay people, stoning women, arresting and torturing dissenters. It's an imperfect country, but so is the United States.

And yet the American Freedom Defense Initiative's ad plays up the viewpoint of the far-right-wingers, the messianic settlers, many of whom--just like the far-right-wingers in America---are xenophobic, racist, bigots. There are some people in Israel who believe all Muslims are terrorists, just like a lot of people in Texas do. But they're not representative of Israel. As much as the American Freedom Defense Initiative's ad makes them out to be.

I looked into this group (again, something that took me 2 seconds) and I have to disagree with reporter Michael Miller's characterization of the AFDI as a "pro-Israel group." Up until recently, the organization was actually called "Stop Islamization of America," which, as the name suggests, had little to do with supporting Israel and everything to do with spreading anti-Islamic rhetoric. Knowing this, it's clear the ad isn't aimed at convincing anyone to support Israel. It's aimed at spreading anti-Islamic hatred. Something the judge in this case should have realized.

If I were the MTA, I'd defy the judge's order. But since I'm not, I can only urge this. Deface every one of these stupid ads you see. Tear them, write over them in permanent marker, cover them in stickers. Because this ad is not how to support Israel. Not if our desire is for peace and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Hate may grab attention. But love wins hearts.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu's Unsustainable Bubble

The most dangerous threat to Israel isn't the Palestinians, or Iran. The gravest threat is Benjamin Netanyahu.

I've written before about my skepticism that Netanyahu really believes in the peace process. A day away from elections that could cast him out of power, he removed all doubt. There will be no two-state solution as far as he's concerned. Ever.

The mask is off now. For all of Netanyahu's protestations that Israel lacks a true partner in the peace process, that Fatah is corrupt and powerless, that Hamas will quickly undermine any deal-- it's clear now that Netanyahu was never paying anything but lip service to the idea of a peace plan. From his public statements, it's clear he believes that there can never be a Palestinian state that doesn't jeopardize Israel's security.

What then, is the answer he proposes? It's very clear from the policies he's supported as Prime Minister.

1. Restrict Palestinians' travel and ability to organize.

2. Strengthen and expand Iron Dome to prevent rocket attacks.

3. Secure borders with walls and high-tech monitoring.

4. Expand settlements to establish buffer zones and drive Palestinians out of strategic areas.

5. Use American money and diplomatic power to keep other countries out of it.

Netanyahu's 5-points of darkness security strategy, from his perspective, and the perspective of many Israelis, has worked so far. Israel is suffering far less casualties from terrorism than it suffered in the past. It faces no real conventional military threat. It's safer to live in Israel now than at any point during its history. Basically, Netanyahu has enclosed Israel in a bubble, and he doesn't care much about what's happening outside of it.

Yet it's a remarkably cruel and short-sighted strategy. The long-term downside to living in a bubble  should be evident to anyone who bothers to think about the future-- for Israel and the Palestinians.

With no Palestinian state on the table, Israel continues its control of the Palestinian territories, expands Jewish settlements, ignores the basic needs of the Palestinians and crowds them into ever worsening conditions-- effectively confirming the beliefs of all those who accuse Israel of being an apartheid state. Meanwhile, Israel isolates itself diplomatically and ostracizes its only reliable ally, the United States. Billions of dollars are wasted on maintaining security structures. The Palestinian territory remains a thorn in Israel's side that erupts in flares of violence, followed by severe, disproportionate crackdowns that resemble, more and more, acts of ethnic cleansing (drawing international condemnation and provoking acts of antisemitism towards Jews worldwide). In this scenario, "peace" only comes when Israelis effectively subjugate the Palestinians to the point where their population numbers and passions no longer pose a threat and the territory can be officially absorbed into Israel. And that's really the best case scenario for how this all shakes out-- it's a long, violent, conflict-riddled road to even get to that horrifically xenophobic vision of the future. It's much more likely that eliminating peace as a viable option ends up further radicalizing both sides until an all-out war erupts and forces other countries to intervene.

That's what most of us Jews have sworn would never happen. We're not the Nazis. We've suffered thousands of years of persecution, we would never seek to decimate another group. "We don't want the Palestinians gone, we want them to stop attacking us." That's always been the noble refrain: Israel doesn't want to destroy the Palestinians, the way many of them want to destroy Israel.

The only justification for Israel's management of the Palestinian territories has been to assure Israel's security while working to establish permanent peace. If you ditch the second part, then you basically concede the argument to all the antisemites and Israel-haters--"You're right, we don't want the Palestinians here."

Is that the Israel that Israelis want? To drop the noble intentions of living side by side in peace, and instead declare manifest destiny--Israel, and only Israel, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan? Israel in a bubble, blowing bigger and bigger, while those standing in the way get smothered?

That may be Netanyahu's plan, but we'll soon see if the voters agree. Right now, polls have Netanyahu trailing his more moderate rivals. That gives me some hope that the noble cause is not yet lost.

After all, bubbles, as we know, have a tendency to pop.

Update 3/18: Well, Bibi appears to have enough support to form a coalition. Jonathan Chait published an article today that echoes my concerns:

"Netanyahu’s comments present a coherent and chilling vision of his long-term strategy. His intention is to maintain singular Israeli control in perpetuity over the entire territory that the early Zionists were once happy to partition into two states. This course will eventually lead to pressure for Palestinians to gain a democratic voice within the institutions that control their lives, but Netanyahu treats that as illegitimate, as well. He proposes to snuff out every peaceful outlet for Arab political aspirations."

Somehow, America survived the lunacy of George W. Bush (even though his actions gave the world ISIS and destroyed our economy). Hopefully, Israel will survive Netanyahu.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

From The Department Of Bad Ideas: Strangers At A Bachelor Party

How 'bout it ladies? Anyone want to hop into this rape suite?

Look, I get it. You're throwing your first bachelor party, and the idea of 10-15 guys crammed in a small hotel room just sounds... er... "gay" to you. Nevermind that you should all be secure enough in your sexuality to cope with a sausagefest. I get that your buddy is getting hitched while most of the other guys are single and ready to mingle. "Let's invite random girls on the internet" might sound like a reasonable solution.

It is not.

First, think of how this looks to a woman. A woman who doesn't know you at all, who has never met you or any of your friends. We know what's expected at bachelor parties--drinking, strippers, some lighthearted debauchery before the groom settles down. Will a woman who doesn't know you and doesn't prostitute herself for a living jump at this opportunity? Even the boldest chick has got to have a moment of doubt when she reads the words, "huge bachelor party" and "hotel suite."

Second, think about who might show up. Sure, you can "background check," but lets face it, there's only so much you can tell about someone from Google. A woman who would accept this invitation is probably not someone with solid critical thinking skills, and therefore, is likely to have a whole host of problems you definitely don't want at a bachelor party. Even if your crew is a bunch of choir boys, what's going to happen when this stranger starts shooting heroin in the bathroom or goes ballistic on somebody?

Third, think of the bride, and any associated girlfriends. Strippers are par for the course, they're not unexpected, and generally, a lot of women don't have a problem with them because there are presumed boundaries. Everyone understands it's a performance, it's entertainment. No one's putting their dick where it doesn't belong. A professional stripper is accustomed to these parties and knows how to handle them. Now imagine the bride or any of your crew's girlfriends learns about random strangers being invited up to a hotel suite with alcohol. The only precedent for this behavior is a single guy searching "F4M no strings" on Craigslist. Which is essentially what you're doing.

According to the guy who made the post, he already has strippers coming, along with some girls who he actually knows. "WE ARE ALL AVERAGE JOES, MID 20s, WE HAVE ALL THE ADULT ENTERTAINMENT TAKEN CARE OF, WE JUST DONT WANT A SUITE FULL OF DUDES, A NICE EVEN CROWD! FREE DRINKS AND ENTERTAINMENT!"

Well okay, Mr. All Caps. I'm no sage, but if you already have strippers and you already have some other girls coming... then why go to the internet to further even out your ridiculous female-to-male-ratio requirement? Why not... you know, ask the girls that are already coming if they have any friends who might like to party? Answering my own question... because nearly every girl they asked can see that this is not an ideal situation.

I've never had a bad time at a bachelor party. Not all of them had strippers. Not all of them even had alcohol. If you want to find some ladies for the single guys, then bring the group out to a bar. Pick up women the old-fashioned way. Or, and here's an idea-- do a joint bachelor/bachelorette party.

But inviting strangers to an alcohol-and-testosterone-filled hotel suite? Save an idea like that for your Law & Order SVU spec script.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Deporting 5 Million People Makes No Sense

You were brought to the U.S. as an infant. You grew up here. You speak no language other than English. You know no one in the country your parents left behind. You consider yourself an American. Yet, Republicans want you to "go back to Mexico or wherever you came from." This, my friends, isn't "compassionate conservatism," it's xenophobia.

But hey, punishing children for the "crimes" of their parents makes total sense, right?

Today, a federal judge suspended an executive order by President Obama that would have, among other things, made sure that someone who grew up in America could not be pulled from their home, locked in a cage, and shipped to a country they've never seen. It also made sure no child born in America (and therefore a citizen) would lose their parents to deportation. Obama's order was apparently wayyyy overstepping, according to Republicans, because hey, "once a wetback always a wetback," right?

It's not that Republicans haven't considered the economic impact of suddenly removing 5 million people from the country-- they believe that every single one of these people is a drain on our economy, and removing them will suddenly open up 5 million jobs for good, hardworking white folk.... er.. real Americans. There's just one problem with this economic analysis-- it's simple-minded and wrong.

The Center For American Progress points out, and I'm paraphrasing here, that no nation in the history of civilization has benefited from the sudden loss of 5 million people. Mainly because these 5 million people don't only take-- they give. Like every person ever, they spend money in addition to earning it. And the money that 5 million people spend has a ripple effect throughout the economy.

The Center made this handy infographic to show the economic difference between legalizing these undocumented workers and deporting them:

Even if you don't buy the Center's methodology, or believe them to be commie pinko lesbian freedom-haters, it doesn't take a liberal ideology to do a Google search and find out that uprooting 5 million people is a project that has only been undertaken by the Nazis, Stalin, Genghis Khan, and the most brutal despots of the Roman Empire (also, that thing we did to the Native Americans). While some Republicans may believe these are historical models that America should totally follow, most human beings would agree that there might be a better way of solving the problem of undocumented workers than simply shoving them into cages and removing them to places where many are likely to suffer.

After all, what makes us so special? Because we were born here? Whoop-de-fuckin-woo. You know who else was born here? Charles Manson. The Unabomber. Kim Kardashian. Being born here doesn't make you a good American or a positive contributor to our society. The biggest crime committed by the majority of these immigrants? WANTING TO WORK. Oh no! Oh no!!!!

Sure, they've taken our jobs. How is a real American supposed to get a dangerous, disgusting, degrading, minimum wage job that no one wants? The immigrants have taken them all--like they have since our country's inception. Back in 1776 we gave those kinds of jobs to slaves and indentured servants. Then that free labor dried up (thanks alot, Lincoln), and we turned to the influx of Irish, Italians and Jews that came to our shores from Europe. Then those people joined the middle class, and the next wave of immigrants filled those roles. THIS IS THE WAY ITS ALWAYS BEEN. The previous generation of immigrants moves up the ladder, the new immigrants work their way up from the bottom.

The only difference now is that the oligarchs in charge of America have decided they want to hold on to a greater percentage of America's money than any generation of upper class fatcats in our nation's history. As a result, the middle class is finding less and less money available to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. And the oligarchs, realizing that middle class voters may not like that, have looked around for a powerless group of people to blame... like those "damn Mexicans."

Of course, as more legal immigration occurs, "those damn Mexicans" are getting less and less powerless. Don't think the Republicans don't see this coming. Defenders of the fabulously wealthy for the last three decades (at least), they see their precious "white power" constituency shrinking as a percentage of the population. They see more and more brown and tan faces, and they realize the prospect of winning a national election is becoming increasingly doubtful. The only solution they have is to stem the tide--remove as many of "those people" as possible from the country. The undocumented workers are the low-hanging fruit, the easy sell-- they "don't belong here." But this is not rooted is sound economic or humanitarian policy. It's all about the fear that 5 million people could become legal... and vote for Democrats.

That's it. That's the only reason it makes sense to deport a group of people en masse.

By all means, deport those who commit crimes. Deport those who abuse government services. Deport the layabouts who aren't working, aren't contributing to the American economy. And sure, make it harder for future illegal immigrants to come here, by tightening border security and enforcing laws against employers who hire new undocumented workers. Do more to direct these desperate people toward legal pathways of immigration. Heck, you can even set a deadline at which this "amnesty" will no longer apply. This is all essential for maintaining security and healthy population growth. No one is advocating for opening the floodgates.

But for those who are already here? Who slipped the net long ago and have established themselves? They're not the enemy. Neither are the kids who grew up here, who have little ties to the homeland their parents fled many years before. All Obama did with his executive order was acknowledge that it's too late to get rid of these people without destroying our economy and causing a large-scale humanitarian crisis. This isn't overstepping. It's being realistic.

These people are no longer Mexicans, or whatever. They're Americans, whether the Republican Party likes it or not. Fearing their potential voting power is not a valid excuse for unconscionable cruelty.

And when you uproot families and separate parents from their children, what else can you call it?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is Birthright is Responsible For An American Kid's Death? No.

My Birthright Israel Group (guy with the gun is our security guard)
According to Allison Benedikt, the death of an American boy who joined the Israeli army in their battle against terrorists is partially the fault of Birthright Israel, the program for young American Jews that sends them to Israel, all expenses paid, for 10 days and teaches them about the country and its people. If Max Steinberg hadn't gone on Birthright, she says, he never would have joined the IDF, and would still be alive today.

There's a lot of finger pointing going on as the latest Gaza-Israel crisis drags on, but this is a new low.

The mission of Birthright, as quoted by Benedikt, is to "ensure the continuity of the Jewish people by strengthening Jewish identity, Jewish communities, and solidarity with Israel." Nowhere in this mission statement is joining the army mentioned. Yet Benedikt writes, "Though most trip alumni do not join the IDF (Birthright’s spokeswoman told me they don’t keep track), to do so seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission—the ultimate expression of a Jew’s solidarity with Israel is to take up arms to defend it."

Yes, apparently "solidarity" = becoming an Israeli soldier.

Soldiers in training, according to Benedikt
This couldn't be further from the truth. Birthright Israel is really about one thing, and that's getting Jewish boys and girls to make babies together. Everything about the trip points out the precariousness of the Jewish people, our shaky place in the world, something not always evident within the upper middle class Jewish communities of the United States, where, by and large, we're free from antisemitism and generally accepted. The biggest threat to Jews today is not Hamas, but intermarriage, conversion and secularism, which is achieving over many generations what Hitler attempted to do in just one. For many Jews today, being Jewish is watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and enjoying lox on a bagel... and if that's the extent of it, then what about the next generation? What kind of faith will they pass on?

Orthodox communities are growing--with the amount of children they produce, that's a given. But the middle-of-the-road, Conservative Judaism movement that gave me my upbringing and once served as a model for modern Judaism is falling apart. This brand of Judaism doesn't pretend someone is dead if they marry outside the faith... and while that's the right thing to do, it means that subsequent generations are one step further removed from the culture and beliefs that withstood the Spanish Inquisition, the crusades and Hitler. It means as time goes on, American Jews are becoming simply Americans. The Jewish part, the part that survived centuries of persecution, is being lost.

Birthright Israel attempts to restore a sense of duty to maintaining this Jewish identity-- that even if we do choose to intermarry, even if we don't share the religious beliefs of our ancestors, we have a responsibility to keep the ideals and beliefs of Judaism alive. For most Birthright participants, this may mean going to synagogue a bit more often, celebrating Shabbat on Friday nights, or simply educating themselves more about Judaism and Jewish history. For others, they may seek out a Jewish spouse (maybe the girl they hooked up with on their trip).

Joining the IDF is something apart from that. Yes, on my Birthright trip, we spent time with kids our own age who wore IDF uniforms. But none of us joined the IDF. Instead, one member of our group fell in love with one of them. Teddy from California and Shilana from Tel Aviv have been together for close to five years now. That's the endgame.

Benedikt writes, "What makes an American kid with shaky Hebrew and no ties to the state of Israel suddenly decide he is ready to make this sacrifice? Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it."

Max Steinberg's sense of duty extended to fighting for Israel, the same way so many young Americans join the military here, in the United States. But it's a decision separate and apart from a 10-day program aimed at getting Jewish kids to bone each other. Max could have moved to Israel later in life, waiting until he aged out of military service (age 30). Instead, he chose to join the IDF even sooner than he legally was required to as a new immigrant (olim, as they're called, have 1 year of acclimation-- Max signed up six months after his Birthright trip), and joined an elite sharpshooting force voluntarily. He didn't have to do any of that. Birthright certainly didn't tell him to, unless I was in the bathroom when everyone else was taking target practice.

It's clear Benedikt sees Birthright as a brainwashing organization: "It turns out that it’s not that hard to persuade young people to see the world a certain way and that Birthright is very good at doing it. You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get."

Except it's not what you get. You get Teddy and Shilana. You get me. You get the thousands of other participants who did not join the IDF, but have a deeper appreciation for their roots. Max's brother and sister, who were on the same Birthright trip, did not make the same decision. Perhaps they were just snoozing when Birthright made the "take up arms for Israel" pitch?

Max is dead because of a Hamas gunman. That's it.  Pointing a finger at Birthright is shifting blame away from the people with guns, rockets and bombs. And that's where the blame should lie.

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