By Irin Carmon
It took seven decades for Helen Thomas to establish her reputation as an icon among journalists, a role model for women and a hero of the left, and minutes on an Internet video to undo it. For dismissively eliding the Holocaust and historic expulsions of Jews and wishing away Zionism, her only “honor” is top anti-Semitic slur of the year from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. And it only got worse, rhetorically (Thomas’s latest proclamation: “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists”). It was always easier to appreciate Thomas’s audacity and outspokenness when it was pleasantly vague.
Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Jezebel.com.
By Douglas Century
When Yuri Foreman squared off against Miguel Cotto before more than 20,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, the spectacle hearkened back to ethnic prizefighting’s glory days. Jews may not dominate boxing like they did in the 1920s, yet as the Magen David flags waved in the Bronx night, it was clear that Jewish fighters are once again a point of pride, thanks to the Belarus-born, Israeli-raised Foreman and his fellow yeshiva-trained, Brooklyn-based pugilist Dmitriy Salita. While he lost his championship belt to Cotto, Foreman, by continuing to fight on an injured knee — his corner ultimately threw in the towel in the ninth round — demonstrated a famous characteristic of the classic Jewish boxers: a warrior’s heart.
Douglas Century is the author of “Barney Ross: The Life of a Jewish Fighter” (Nextbook/Schocken, 2006).
By Uri Dromi
Peace is possible when the two parties genuinely want it, and are willing to pay the price. Israelis and Palestinians wasted 2010 because they deluded themselves into believing that the future holds better deals. Benjamin Netanyahu, an ideologue and political survivor, is no Ariel Sharon, who reshuffled Israel’s political system and pulled out of Gaza. Mahmoud Abbas dragged his feet waiting for the world to impose a Palestinian state on Israel without him having to make concessions. This mutual paralysis left the floor to an inexperienced and unrealistic President Obama, who gave both leaders excuses to further procrastinate. It takes two to tango, three to tangle.
Uri Dromi served as spokesman for the governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres from 1992 to 1996.
A Healthy Reform
By Rashi Fein
It isn’t Medicare-for-all, but the health reform legislation enacted by Congress is already benefiting millions of Americans. When fully implemented (assuming its opponents don’t subvert it first), tens of millions more will be able to receive medical care they cannot currently afford. Of course, the law is unnecessarily complicated, somewhat akin to scratching your left ear with your right hand. But it is better to relieve an itch inefficiently than not at all. Above all, the legislation’s passage was a major step toward what other advanced democracies already do: affirming that providing health care for all is a social responsibility, and that in this area we are our brother’s keeper.
Rashi Fein is an emeritus professor of the economics of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
By Sylvia Barack Fishman
Today, when individuals can choose their religious and ethnic allegiances, conversion opens painful questions about the very character of Jewishness. That’s why the fight over Israel’s Rotem bill — which purported to make conversion easier but actually would have consolidated the power of an unaccountable state rabbinate — was so heated. Existential arguments over conversion undercut our ability to answer urgent needs. Millions of non-Jews live in Jewish families in Diaspora communities and Israel, and families with one non-Jewish parent are dramatically less likely to raise children who become Jewishly connected adults. Converts are not monolithic, but most embrace Jewish faith, culture and peoplehood, and are committed to raising a new generation of Jews.
Sylvia Barack Fishman is chair of the Near Eastern and Judaic studies department at Brandeis University.
A Sinking Feeling
By Amos Harel
The Gaza flotilla affair, long ago pushed to the back of most Israelis’ minds, remains a source of anxiety for Israel’s government and generals. The deadly botched raid resulted in intense international criticism of Israel and caused a deep rift with Turkey. Two Israeli investigative commissions will publish their reports in the coming year, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and army chief Gabi Ashkenazi should all probably expect the worst. However, one good thing has come out of this mess: Netanyahu’s government, under extreme pressure from America and Europe, decided to ease its foolish and ineffective closure over Gaza — and saved Israel further condemnation abroad.
Amos Harel is the defense analyst for Haaretz.
Defining Democracy Downward
By Ami Kaufman
Growing up in Israel, it was drummed into me that I was lucky to live in the region’s only democracy. Time chipped away at that notion, but 2010 was the nadir. ’Twas the year that NGOs, university lecturers and journalists were intimidated, the magnum opus being the vicious smear campaign against the New Israel Fund, complete with images of its chairwoman sporting a horn on her head. Lawmakers boosted the frightening trend with (still pending) bills that would punish critical NGOs, impose a “loyalty oath” and allow communities to reject people who don’t fit their “fundamental outlook” (meaning, of course, Arabs). In 2010, these bills were written; in 2011, will Israeli democracy’s fate be sealed?
Ami Kaufman is a co-founder of and blogger for +972 Magazine.
By Edward I. Koch
I supported the wars to depose Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, but like many Americans I believe it is now past time to escape these quagmires. Yet when President Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq, he left behind some 50,000 American troops, who would face increased danger if the Shiite-Sunni-Kurd civil war escalates. In Afghanistan — now Obama’s war as a result of his authorizing 30,000 additional troops — we sacrifice our soldiers’ lives for a corrupt government that steals billions of our dollars and lacks the support of its own people. The plan is for our troops to remain until 2014. (Who believes that?) We should get out tomorrow.
Edward I. Koch, a partner in the law firm Bryan Cave, served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989.
Showdown on the Mall
By Paul Krassner
At Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, self-serving piety was rampant. At the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” Don Novello’s “Saturday Night Live” priest character, Father Guido Sarducci, delivered a satirical benediction. Irreverence beats pandering in my book. “In Glenn Beck, the countercultural right has found its own Abbie Hoffman,” journalist Michael Lind has written. This is a slur against the ’60s: Abbie Hoffman sought justice; Glenn Beck rationalizes injustice. Abbie once chastised me: “You’re not an organizer. You don’t urge people to do things.” Like me, Stewart doesn’t try to tell people what to do. He trusts them to make up their own minds.
Paul Krassner, a co-founder of the Yippies, has published an expanded edition of his autobiography, “Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture.”
A Man-Made Disaster
By Ruth Messinger
The Haitian earthquake’s destruction left an indelible imprint on our collective memory. But, beyond the rubble, we should try to understand why this earthquake — not uncommon in strength — took such a devastating toll. External forces deforesting the country for their own benefit, years of dependence on wealthier nations for food and jobs, and a government too overwhelmed with outside interference and debt to govern effectively — all left a seriously unstable society. The challenge ahead is for the international community to provide the financial and technical assistance Haitians need to rebuild their country in a way that will help prevent the next disaster from becoming a full-blown catastrophe.
Ruth Messinger is president of American Jewish World Service.
Marc Mezvinsky Held On
By Abigail Pogrebin
When I glimpsed the wedding photo of Marc Mezvinsky in his yarmulke, I thought, “Amen. He’s holding on.” Years ago, when I interviewed designer Kenneth Cole, he told me that his promise to his wife, Maria Cuomo, to raise their children as Catholics has been “hard for me every day.” I looked at Marc and Chelsea and hoped they had made a different deal, that Marc’s unapologetic kippah symbolized a promise to hold on to his tradition. Staying Jewish in an intermarriage takes certainty, tenacity and, especially when joining a public family, a willingness to be public. On his wedding day, Marc quietly managed to speak loudly.
Abigail Pogrebin is the author of “Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk about Being Jewish “ (Broadway Books, 2005).
By Kenneth M. Pollack
The Obama administration can claim some remarkable victories against Iran’s nuclear ambitions in 2010. It forged a broad international coalition, including Russia and China, that passed the harshest U.N. sanctions against Iran ever. The sanctions have bitten so hard that Iran has been forced back to the bargaining table. But no one, including within the Obama administration, believes Iran is ready to compromise, and there is considerable doubt that the U.N. will go further than it has so far. Moreover, it is not clear that Tehran will ever bow to U.N. sanctions, no matter how draconian. So in 2011, Washington may have to start considering other options: air strikes, covert action or containment.
Kenneth M. Pollack is director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
By Jeffrey Rosen
In her confirmation hearings, Elena Kagan charmed senators by embracing her Jewish identity. Asked where she was during the 2009 Christmas airliner bombing attempt, Kagan replied, “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” Now Kagan may have a chance to mediate between her two Jewish Supreme Court colleagues, who tend to be strict separationists, and five of her six Catholic colleagues, who tend to endorse an openly religious state. Will Kagan stake out a principled position of religious neutrality that approves school vouchers, for example, while resisting school prayer? Praised as a conciliator, Kagan could help forge a welcome balance between church and state.
Jeffrey Rosen, a professor of law at George Washington University and the legal affairs editor of The New Republic, is writing a book about why Louis Brandeis matters.
The Beinart Rebellion
By Shmuel Rosner
Notwithstanding the many flaws in his much-debated jeremiad, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” Peter Beinart was definitely on to something. Otherwise his article would not have stirred such controversy. However, it is hard to imagine this “something” having the impact for which Beinart seemed to hope. No, Israel will not change its foreign policy to conform to Beinart-like ideals. Yes, Jewish organizations will still want to forge healthy relations with the Israeli people’s elected representatives. Beinart’s article did serve, though, as a wake-up call, underscoring the importance of making Israel more comprehensible and relevant to young, liberal American Jews. For that, Beinart deserves our thanks.
Shmuel Rosner is a fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and Maariv.
A Revolution in Deli
By David Sax
The triumph of Noah Bernamoff and Rachel Cohen’s small Brooklyn deli, Mile End, wasn’t that it introduced Montreal smoked meat to pastrami’s homeland or that it upset old guard favorites by earning the accolades of just about every food publication that matters in this town (with New York Magazine naming the newcomer the city’s “best deli”). Rather, with its farm-to-table house-cured meats, fresh-baked breads and culinary improvisations on Ashkenazi classics (including a schmaltz vinaigrette and sweetbread kishke), Mile End demonstrated that Jewish soul food could be as cutting edge as any other cuisine. Expect to see more delis shedding the nostalgic past for an innovative future.
David Sax is the author of “Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009).
Our Midterm Victory
By Abby Wisse Schachter
You wouldn’t know it from listening to Jewish liberals, but November 2 was a great day for our people. Finally, there will be a Jew in the top leadership ranks of the House of Representatives. After Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn, we can take pride in the ascension of Eric Cantor! More seriously, the election is great for Jews on almost every issue we care about: Israel (more support), Iran (more pressure), education (more choice), national security (more serious), immigration (more reform) and the peace process (more realistic). In addition, like all Americans, we can hope the fiscal mess made by previous Congresses will now be addressed.
Abby Wisse Schachter is editor of the New York Post’s politics blog, Capitol Punishment.
A Ground Zero Divide
By Andrew Silow-Carroll
The “Ground Zero mosque” controversy found its Hillel and Shammai in Michael Bloomberg and Abraham Foxman. Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s head, declared that “building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center would unnecessarily cause some victims more pain.” Mayor Bloomberg, supporting the center, proclaimed: “Part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.” The supporters who each attracted reflect two distinct strains in Jewish life: one that places pluralism and civil liberties above all, and another that thinks that, in a post-9/11 world, openness has its limits.
Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.
The ‘Rabba’ Reaction
By Elana Maryles Sztokman
The “rabba” affair may have been controversial, but it wasn’t much of a breakthrough. Rabba Sara Hurwitz, ordained by Rabbi Avi Weiss, wasn’t the first woman to receive Orthodox ordination (others were given it more quietly). Yet the furious reaction of Orthodox rabbinic bodies that led Weiss to promise to stop conferring the title shows that Orthodoxy’s formal, all-male leadership is increasingly out of step with the grassroots community. As long as intelligent and independent-minded Orthodox women are forced to lead double lives — in which they are equals at work (ideally) and second-class citizens in their religious lives — the exodus of the brightest women from Orthodoxy will be inevitable.
Elana Maryles Sztokman is a writer who contributes to the Forward’s Sisterhood blog.