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November 28, 2008

Seliger’s Opinion on Conference Misguided

As organizers of the November 23 conference “Jews Uniting To End the War and Heal America,” we are greatly angered by Ralph Seliger’s November 21 opinion piece “The Progressive Politics We Need.”

Seliger focused his suspicions on two out of 50 activists who are leading workshops or plenary sessions at the “Jews Uniting” event. He ignored the participation of such leading progressive Zionists as Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum, rabbis Simkha Weintraub and Rachel Kahn-Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights and Lilly Rivlin, past president of Meretz USA. (Seliger is the editor of Israel Horizons, the publication of Meretz USA.)

It saddens us that Seliger does not trust Jewish liberals and progressives to hear the wide variety of views and experience that will be expressed at the November 23 gathering and work through their own conclusions about what to do — as Jews have done since Abraham argued with God in the Torah and the talmudic rabbis argued with each other 2,000 years ago.

Instead, he received a brochure about the event in an envelope stamped “Stop the War!” — and peculiarly inferred from this that our conference would adopt “an uncompromisingly extreme posture” regarding America’s withdrawal from Iraq. Based on his own negative assessments of two of our speakers’ postures toward Israel, he tarred all the event’s organizers and participants as somehow susceptible to Israel bashing, somehow naive about “the difference between sloganeering and thoughtful foreign policy,” and somehow less politically sophisticated than Seliger himself.

The November 23 event should be applauded for providing a forum for diverse voices and a safe atmosphere for thoughtful discussion within a community that has been mostly silent or reticent about the war in Iraq. Instead, Seliger has sought to discredit us in advance, in tones of condescension toward the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, the Shalom Center, Jewish Currents and all those who will be participating in our dialogue.

We urge Forward readers to contemplate the list of participants — including key leaders of the Reform and Reconstructionist movements and of the National Council of Jewish Women, as well as Elizabeth Holtzman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Forward editorial director J.J. Goldberg, and scores of other smart, caring, expert Jewish analysts and activists — and to join us Sunday, November 23, at Central Synagogue in New York City by registering at, rather than persisting in the kind of fear and paralysis about the war that has silenced many Jewish voices for nearly six years.

Ann Toback
Executive Director
Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring
New York, N.Y.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Shalom Center
Philadelphia, Pa.

Lawrence Bush
Jewish Currents
New York, N.Y.

Unfair Depiction of Evangelical Zionists

I was shocked to see such a hateful cartoon by Eli Valley (“Evangelical Zionist Tours of Israel!” November 14), one that perpetuates some of the worst stereotypes of evangelical Christians and prejudices toward them.

While Jews and evangelicals differ on many issues, we also have many differences within our respective communities. Neither Jews nor evangelicals are monolithic. To smugly depict evangelicals as advocating the murder of Muslims and abortion doctors, and touring Israel in order to force Jews to convert to Christianity (and to gleefully promise them eternal damnation if they do not), is morally wrong, patently false and an outrageous, mean-spirited spin on reality — even for a caricature.

There are some 70 million evangelical Christians in America. For Valley to depict them on the basis of their fringe elements and characterize them as representative of the evangelical community at large crosses the boundaries of decency and reflects a gross prejudice. Imagine our reaction were a Christian magazine to run a cartoon that identified the Jewish people with radical positions and people like the late rabbi Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir. We would be justifiably outraged (and probably call it antisemitism, to boot). We should be no less outraged when a responsible publication like the Forward crosses the line between caricature and prejudice.

Particularly despicable and outrageous is the notion put forth in Valley’s cartoon that these evangelicals hail Hitler’s mass murder of millions of Jews as “fulfilling the Lord’s work” when, in fact, it is these very Christians who are acting on behalf of the survival of Israel and the Jewish people, and helping us live out our collective vow, “Never again.”

Shame on Eli Valley for perpetuating such a malicious, noxious view of evangelical Christians who have proved to be among the greatest friends that Israel and the Jewish people have today. And shame on the Forward for publishing it.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
Chicago, Ill.

Three Wrong Choices For the Forward 50

Regarding the Forward 50, I am intrigued by three of your choices: Matthew Brooks, Senator Joseph Lieberman and William Kristol (November 21).

They each lost power significantly last year. In fact, one could argue that both Brooks and Lieberman failed; Brooks threw every imaginable, and some nonimaginable, charges at Barack Obama, and he was not believed. Lieberman backed a loser and could convince the Jewish community of neither the veracity of his charges nor the credibility of his perceptions of John McCain and Obama. His was the decisive vote in the Democratic control of the Senate for two years; despite his committee chairmanship, he is a lonely man, having made personal charges against the president-elect and having alienated some fellow senators and his constituents at home.

As a New York Times correspondent, Kristol is second fiddle to David Brooks, who is far more interesting and thoughtful, and fifth fiddle when considering the influence of Frank Rich, Tom Friedman and Nobel laureate columnist Paul Krugman, who was right about President Bush’s economics from the beginning. And as to The Weekly Standard, what has it had to say in recent months, and what will it say in the future? Remember, Kristol was among the more ardent supporters of Sarah Palin.

The right lost the election. Jews voted 78%-22% for Obama. Your perceptions of power and influence should reflect this reality.

Michael Berenbaum
Los Angeles, Calif.


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