David Elcott on Faith in Academia

As part of our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses the place of religion in an academic setting.

Negotiating with Terrorists: Shalit May Be Coming Home

Gilad Shalit

Jews worldwide are doubtless thrilled to hear that Gilad Shalit may be on his way home soon. The prayers of millions may be on the verge of being granted.

Amidst the elation, however, many are doubtless also wondering how and why it is that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has agreed to swap prisoners with the terrorist group Hamas, apparently breaking, bending or changing Israel's long-standing policy: you don't negotiate with terrorists.

[W]e - Israel, the legitimate Palestinian government, the Arab world, and the entire international community - cannot afford to appease or reward Hamas.  (Tzipi Livni)

 Israel has never, nor will it ever, negotiate with Hamas, as long as it refuses to accept the three principles set forth by the international community. (Ehud Olmert)

No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. (President Obama)

 Yet PM Netanyahu has just run afoul of all three of these pronouncements from leaders who can hardly be accused of being more right-wing than he.

Questions upon questions present themselves. Will the Israeli public be so ecstatic to have Gilad back that they approve of this deal? If so, how will they respond the next time international leaders demand that Israel sit down with a Palestinian Authority leadership team that includes Hamas? How then could anyone simply say, we don't negotiate with terrorists? Is there to be an exception for hostages, and if so, what if this causes Hamas to take more hostages? Or what if they don't? Could it not be said that every Israeli and every Palestinian is already, in a way, a hostage to this war?

These are not easy questions, and they deserve a conversation beyond easy responses. It would be useless simply to declare that this deal proves that nations should always be willing to negotiate with terrorists who murder civilians, and equally useless to dismiss this particular deal in this particular situation out of hand, merely because it cuts against the grain of a general principle. Geopolitics is chess, not checkers, and the search for an answer that works in every situation is a search destined to fail.

Yet this kind of simple-minded attitude, it seems to me, generally characterizes American Jewish discourse about the Middle East. Either you're an Israel-booster, eager to refute any criticism, eager to show that Israel is always right, and that the answer to all provocations must be strength, or you're a peacenik convinced that Israeli military action is always wrong, and that all violence is one simple, easily comprehensible "cycle of violence." The missing voices are the voices of nuance and complexity -- voices held hostage within our minds to the natural desire of all of us to fit into a pre-packaged political camp.

This development -- a hardline Prime Minister negotiating with Hamas and agreeing to a deal that releases a thousand Palestinian prisoners -- may turn out to have been brilliant, or it may turn out to have been disastrous. (Only time, and perhaps an enormous amount of it, will tell.) Either way, I think this news should upend our habits of knee-jerk reaction in dialogue on Middle East questions. It should remind us to examine each question in its particulars, and not just in its abstractions.

And either way, if and when Gilad Shalit returns to Israel alive and free, it should be a cause for enormous celebration.

Rogan Kersh on AIPAC and J Street

Lobbying expert Prof. Rogan Kersh of NYU Wagner examines AIPAC, J Street, and Israel lobbying, in this installment of our Office Hours video series.

Rogan Kersh: Israel Remarkably Relevant in American Politics

In the second installment of our Office Hours series, Prof. Rogan Kersh of NYU Wagner discusses the place of Israel in American politics.

 

Hyman Bookbinder z"l

Bookie

Hyman Bookbinder, the Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, passed away last Thursday, as the Forward and the Jewish Week report. Bookbinder was also involved in founding the National Jewish Democratic Council, although he felt that American Jews should be active in both political parties. In tribute to his memory, an excerpt from "We Jews in the Democratic Process", a Bookbinder essay for Sh'ma from 1989:

In our pluralist society, each group is permitted to advocate and even press its own agenda, but, in the final analysis, it must be able to demonstrate that its interests are compatible with, and dependent upon, the general interest. No groups in America have understood this better than the Jewish community and the labor movement. It has become a political cliche these days to refer to the "powerful Jewish lobby"—too often carelessly called the "Israel lobby." I have often said that the Jewish lobby is not as strong as some think, but not nearly as weak as some would like. Jews have interests. We intend to defend them. We do not apologize for whatever strength and influence we have. Tragically, there were times when our strength—our ability to affect government action —was not effective enough. We had not yet learned how to use the precious right of advocacy; our people suffered dire consequences as a result. We are determined not to let that happen again...

...So American Jews have developed the skills for mobilizing our community and the general community on behalf of the security of our people —in Israel, in the Soviet Union, in our own country. But we have never forgotten that we are only six million Jews—less than 3 percent of all Americans. We must be able to persuade at least another 48% that our case is just, our concerns real, and that America's own ideals and interests are in harmony with ours. Getting this support, I am convinced, is not the job alone of the professional Washington-based Jewish lobby. In a very real sense we must think of the entire Jewish community as that lobby—the totality of Jewish influence in the country exercised by a wide range of secular and religious institutions, and by individuals publicly recognized as Jewish leaders and spokespersons. And in the larger sense we must think of the allies and the friends the Jewish community has acquired across the land—the churches, women, labor, civil rights, education, urban affairs and so many other groups in our society. We have won these allies, these friends, in two ways: by educating and appealing to them on the merits of our case, and by demonstrating our interest and commitment to the broader community's agenda.

There are some in our community who argue against involvement in these broader public issues, believing that our immediate Jewish problems require all of our attention and energies and resources. My response has always been that I am proud that over the years we have defined our Jewishness, our Judaism, as a commitment to justice for all people, to peace for all people, to freedom for all people. Such a commitment to universal justice does not short-change our Jewish interest; it is, in fact, the only way to protect such interests. But as a pragmatic lobbyist, if you please, I see this broader activity also as a necessary strategy to establish credibility, to make friends, to win trust. "How can Zionism equal racism," we want Congressmen and black leaders and journalists to ask themselves, "when Jewish representatives we work with or observe day after day are promoting fair housing and fair employment and fair immigration policies?"

There is no conflict between our great love and great hopes for this blessed land and our deep feelings for Israel and for our Jewishness; not only are such feelings compatible, they are mutally reinforcing.

Four Decades of Vital Jewish Discourse

Listen

If you subscribe to our newsletter, then you already know that the journal Sh'ma and BJPA have recently officially launched the complete collection of the journal, from its inception in 1970 until the latest issue. Read the press release here.

This collection has already become a crucial part of BJPA's overall holdings -- not only in size (Sh'ma articles currently make up over a third of BJPA publications), but also in broadening the scope of the archive. A bird's-eye view of the context of Sh'ma within our other holdings will help to explain:

Our other largest single content contributor, the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (with its predecessors, Jewish Social Service Quarterly and the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service) is professionally oriented, and for much of its history, focuses mainly on social work. Many other of our publications are studies, reports, surveys, and other research-oriented publications. (For a few recent examples, see Limud by the Lake Revisited or Child Poverty and Deprivation in the British Jewish Community.) Also common among BJPA publications are professional analyses and recommendations. (For example, see this AJC Statement on Religious Pluralism, or Celebrating Distinctions: A Strategic Plan for the LGBT Alliance.)

Each of these types of publication (and more) provides a different kind of perspective on topics of Jewish policy. One element that makes Sh'ma unique among these sources, however -- and one reason that this launch is so significant -- is that Sh'ma is a platform for such a diverse range of approaches. Academic research is important, but so are the free-wheeling commentaries on traditional texts in Sh'ma's NiSh'ma series. Professional best practices and social work methodologies are important, but so are the more informal reactions of influential Jewish leaders and authors to the pressing issues of the day. Detailed analyses and reccommendations are important, but so are the dynamic and multi-voiced debates presented in the pages of any given issue of Sh'ma on any given topic.

Additionally, and not unimportantly, Sh'ma is reader-oriented and accessible. To be sure, the journal is policy-relevant and substantive, but it is also  accessible to the general reader in a way which some of our other material is not. This is not an insult to that less accessible material; professional literature and social science demand a high level of detail. But as we officially launch the complete Sh'ma collection, it's important to recognize that emphasizing strong writing (as Sh'ma consistently does) can also be a powerful policy tool.

San Fran Circumcision Ban: Cutting Down on Cutting

Circumcision

Despite all the demonstrable health benefits of circumcision, San Francisco will vote in November to decide whether or not to ban circumcision in the city, without any sort of religious exemption for Jews and Muslims.

The JTA Archive's blog takes a fascinating look back today at JTA articles from the 20th century on the topic of circumcision. With a hat-tip to our friends at the JTA, and a reminder regarding the old adage about imitation and flattery, here is our own round-up of a few circumcision-related BJPA holdings, all of them from the past three decades:

Perhaps the real motivation for the San Francisco circumcision ban is precisely to unite the Jewish and Muslim communities in opposition... Or not.

From the J-Vault: American Jewish Politics 100 Years Ago

J-Vault logo

On a day when the Israeli Prime Minister will address the U.S. Congress, it is worth zooming out to look at Jewish involvement with American government from a more distant perspective -- to ask, for example: with what were American Jewish political advocates concerned a century ago?

Let's find out.

This week, from the J-Vault: The Government of the United States and Affairs of Interest to the Jews (1911)

This excerpt from the American Jewish Yearbook contains the following interesting items, among others:

Sen. Lee S. Overman (N. C.) introduces bill (S. 4514), providing for a $10 head tax, an educational test, the production of certificate of good character, the possession of $25, and other restrictive features [for immigration policy]...

Sen. Joseph F. Johnston (Ala.) submits a report (No. 81), on the bill (S. 404) introduced by him on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia...

Rep. Adolph J. Sabath (111.), in a speech in the House, denounces the Immigration Commission for its "libel" on the Jewish people in its report on the White Slave Traffic...

After debate, in the course of which Senators Bailey (Tex.) and Money (Miss.) pay tribute to Jewish people, Senate passes bill (S. 404), introduced by Senator J. F. Johnston (Ala.), on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia, amended so as to exempt from its penalties persons who observe as a day of rest any other day of the week than Sunday...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 21,342), providing that the naturalization laws shall apply only to " white persons of the Caucasian race."...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 24,993), providing that Section 2169 of the Revised Statutes, which accords the right of naturalization to "free white persons " and Africans, shall not be construed so as to prevent "Asiatics who are Armenians, Syrians, or Jews from becoming naturalized citizens."

Download publication...

J-Vault logo

1967 Borders, and How to Lie With Maps

Israel, sans Green Line

As Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere continue to mull over President Obama's Middle East speech last Thursday, and his subsequent explanation at the AIPAC conference, "1967 borders" have become the topic du jour.

In 2008, Hannah Weitzer of Windows-Channels for Communication observed in Sh'ma that Diaspora Jews are accustomed to looking at maps of Israel which do not mark the Palestinian territories, or the "Green Line" that represents the 1967 border. "Drawing in the internationally recognized border between Israel proper and the occupied territories is not a quick fix for all of the issues surrounding Israel education," she writes. "But teaching with maps that lack the green line is indicative of a larger gap between fact and myth that runs rampant in teaching Israel to Diaspora Jews."

But if a map without the Green Line is deceptive, might not a map featuring a hard, solid, 1967-style Green Line be equally deceptive? In the same issue of Sh'ma, history professor Derek J. Penslar cautions against oversimplification in cartography:

"I have a colleague at the University of Toronto who teaches a course called 'How to Lie With Maps.' Supporters of Israel might well suggest as required reading for this course Palestinian maps that show a unitary Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan with no sign of Israel’s existence. Yet Israeli maps, and those produced by and for Diaspora Jews, rarely mark the Green Line that constitutes the country’s internationally recognized borders."

Yet is the answer simply to replace one simplistic map with another simplistic map?

"The best way... would be through maps that faithfully depict the constant presence of Jews and Arabs in the same landscape... Superimposing maps would display the geographic structure and distribution of each community along with the points of intersection between them."

Penslar's chief concern is diachronic -- he wants to help people to understand the development of Arab and Jewish populations in Israel/Palestine over time. But I think his point is even more interesting if taken synchronically -- as a model for looking at the present moment. The reality of Jewish settlement blocs, along with Arab-majority population centers in Israel proper, makes the prospect of a neat and tidy border along the Green Line completely untenable. Besides which, the Green Line was not set in stone or decided upon by any kind of treaty or decree -- it's basically a cease-fire line marking troop positions during a pause (lasting from 1949 until 1967) in a war that started in 1948 and has never actually ended. President Obama, of course, recognizes this, which is why he included the phrase "mutually-agreed swaps" in his speech.

In any case, Penslar's point at its core is that a simple map is a deceptive map, and I think perhaps observers of all but the most extreme positions can agree with that.

Complexity

Cohen's Comments: The Gender Salary Gap

In this installment of our video series, BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen examines and evaluates potential explanations for the salary gap between women and men in the Jewish communal field.

He gives special mention to the work being done by Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community.

 

Proportions of Giving: A Tiresome Argument

eJewish Philanthropy is highlighting selections fromThe Peoplehood Papers #6 (available in full via the Nadav Fund site), dedicated to the tension between the principles of charity toward the stranger and charity to help one's own. A number of articles appear, with some arguing that the Jewish community must put Jewish needs first, and others arguing that Jews must look to the needs of all people.

This is an argument we have seen before. I think immediately of an exchange last year between Prof. Jack Wertheimer, who argued that Jews give enough to nonsectarian causes and should spend more enhancing Jewish knowledge and engagement, and Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who argued that meeting Jewish needs and meeting other people's needs is not a zero-sum game.

This argument is tiresome for two reasons. First, each side argues mainly against straw-man versions of the other. Listening to the more particularist voices, one might conclude that all outward-directed Jewish philanthropy is undertaken by people and organizations completely uninterested in meeting Jewish needs. On the other hand, listening to the more universalist voices, one would think that anyone who believes in prioritizing Jewish needs wants actually to abandon non-Jewish needs completely. In fact, thank God, neither of these characterizations is true. This is an unnecessary spat between two groups of good people, both of which are full of integrity and compassion. People on both sides of this debate actually agree that Jews should help both Jews and non-Jews.

The only substantive difference over which to bicker is the proportion: should 90% of our funds go to help Jews and 10% to help non-Jews? Or vice-versa? Or 50-50? Maybe we should make a complex actuarial formula that will tell us, conclusively, that 43.79% of communal funds should go to helping our fellow Jews...

And that brings us to the second reason this argument is tiresome: why are we so picky about the proportion? Aren't there better uses for our time and energy than sniping at one another about proportions of giving? We could, for example, spend that time actually helping someone instead. Any time a donor or volunteer or organization steps up to make a difference, we shouldn't wag our fingers at them because they are [too / insufficiently] insular and should be helping [Jews / non-Jews]; we should congratulate them with a big "yasher koach" for doing something at all.

If I may wax ironic for a moment: we have been blessed with an abundance of need. There is a great mass of physical and spiritual poverty; there is great need for both religious and sociopolitical education. If we are ever faced with the terrifying conundrum of not enough needs to be met, then we can indulge ourselves in frittering away our time arguing about the "proper" proportions.

Meanwhile, in the face of such a voluminous and diverse pool of needs, let everyone give where her/his inclinations tend, and it will all be to the credit side of the moral ledger. When our inclinations differ, what of it? The organization which focuses on Jews out of familial love, and the organization which focuses on people who do not happen to be Jewish out of universal love, are both doing essentially the same thing: helping people. When we keep that in mind, the differences ought to take on a secondary importance, at most.

"Resisting Re-ghettoization" Recap

Wagner Today, the student blog of NYU Wagner, provides a useful summary of yesterday's BJPA roundtable ("Resisting Re-ghettoization: From Without and Within") with journalist Yossi Klein Halevi:

The great post-Holocaust achievements were power and integration into the world community (and for American Jewry, the public space). Now both those achievements are under assault -- from without and from within. The legitimacy of Jewish power is questioned not only by the UN Human Rights Council, but also by increasing numbers of Jews. The integration of Jews into the world community is also under assault from without and within -- the diplomatic ghettoization of Israel, the growing power of the haredim and the religious right in Israel.

He emphasized that we need to re-commit the American Jewish-Israeli relationship to reaffirming Jewish power and the Jewish place in the community of nations. This means resisting the demonization from without -- and strengthening Jewish pluralism, especially religious pluralism in Israel.

Click here for their full summary, with a few pictures.

Tablet Magazine also covered the event.

Here came, for me, the most useful part of the conversation, because I got to see, in Halevi, something I had heretofore only read about: The widespread Israeli understanding of the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from all the Gaza settlements and a few in the West Bank as a complete disaster, which must never be repeated. “I don’t want Netanyahu to give anything away for free,” Halevi insisted, his voice carrying a harsh undercurrent for the only time that afternoon. The problem with extending the freeze for nothing in return, he said, is that the last time the settlements were put on hold—indeed, they were eliminated—in exchange for nothing, there were rockets; and then there was an attempt to stop the rockets; and then there was a near-total absence of international support for stopping the rockets; and then there was the Goldstone Report.

Read Marc Tracy's excellent overview of and commentary on the roundtable: Resisting ‘Re-Ghettoization’

Baby Boomer Encore Careers: Impeding the Youth?

Kicking off our discussion of public service encore careers for retiring baby boomers, an attendee of our 9/21 event (who wishes to remain anonymous) writes:

Has anyone mentioned the fact that giving all of the good jobs to older people with private sector experience is invalidating and professionally limiting for younger people who are choosing to prepare and work in this field from an earlier point in their careers?

What do you think? If the Jewish community does seek to tap the talents of retiring Baby Boomers for public service, do the benefits outweigh any potential damage to the Jewish communal recruitment pipeline?

Feel free to respond by clicking "Comments" below this post, or email bjpa.wagner@nyu.edu to submit a posting of your own.