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July 22, 2005

Reform Movement: Scalia Beyond the Pale

A July 15 article reports that the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism “considers Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — the conservative judge that President Bush indicated is a presumptive mold for future nominees — as being well within the judicial mainstream” (“Jewish Groups Backing Away From Talk of Opposing Court Pick”). The article also quotes me as saying that “Justice Scalia, who opposes abortion rights and is far to the right of Jewish organizations on most church-state issues, ‘fits that category of someone who is really not that extreme.’”

Since the article presented the inverse of our views, you can imagine my surprise and frustration on reading the article. I am unsure how the article confused our position to such a degree. The Religious Action Center and the Reform movement are in no way “backing away,” and we remain deeply engaged in the efforts to preserve our fundamental freedoms by rejecting appointments of judges whose extreme views would undo those freedoms.

So let me be clear: While the Reform movement did not make a determination formally on Scalia’s nomination, his narrow and over-reaching opinions, as measured by the policy positions of our movement, are representative of those jurists who are outside the mainstream and who the Reform movement has deemed inappropriate to sit on the bench of the highest court in our country. Our movement is deeply committed to forging a fair and independent judiciary, one which upholds the laws of our country and protects the rights and liberties that we as Americans hold dear.

The Religious Action Center continues to work on the issue of a strong, fair and mainstream federal judiciary, one that will be protective of those fundamental freedoms that the American Jewish community fought so hard to expand and secure throughout the 20th century. Through our active role in national public-interest coalitions and through our own national networks of social justice activists, as well as for our rabbis and lay leaders in our synagogues, the issue of judicial nominations is at the forefront of our policy and programmatic priorities.

As a community that has flourished in this country largely by rights secured and strengthened in our judicial system, and as a people whose prophetic tradition speaks to issues of social justice that so often come before our nation’s courts, the Religious Action Center will continue our determined efforts to demand a Supreme Court nominee committed to equal justice under the law.

Mark Pelavin

Associate Director

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Washington, D.C.

Review Off on Oil Book

I was amazed to read Gal Beckerman’s July 8 review of Zvi Alexander’s book, “ Oil: Israel’s Covert Efforts To Secure Oil Supplies” (“An Army of One Ponders His Hunt for Israeli Oil”).

As an Israeli journalist who was asked to review the same book for an Israeli newspaper, it seems that Beckerman and I read two entirely different books. Since I have also met Alexander, and interviewed him about his work, I found him and his book to be modest, and full of respect and dignity toward everyone.

He is the last man who anyone can say is sure of his righteousness and confident in his own power. Actually, Beckerman didn’t point this out against Alexander, rather he implied this about all Israelis, stating that“he always sounds Israeli.”

Beckerman, probably influenced by his work about the history of the Soviet Jewry movement, also has taken the opportunity of reviewing the book to settle his score with capitalists. He describes Alexander’s most commonsense ideas, which were a real beacon of light in the darkness of several decades ago, as “some radical free-market ideas.”

In his effort to defame Alexander, Beckerman writes, as well, that Alexander is a “far cry from the new Jew envisioned by the Zionist founders.” Do we as Israelis also have to apologize for that?

No, there are no old and new Jews. No, Beckerman, Jews are not obliged anymore to live the way others would want them to. We are a free people now, struggling to build a democratic free-market society.

Unfortunately, it seems, not only has the reviewer missed the most important points of the book, which have tremendous importance for written Zionist history, but he also took an illegitimate opportunity to confront capitalism, Zionism, Israelis and even the rationalism of the decisions that Israel took during the Arab boycott. Alas, in his mad rush to defame, Beckerman forgot to report about the book.

Eran Bar-Tal

Ramat Hasharon, Israel

Insensitive Linguistics

I thought the July 15 East Village Mamele column was both interesting and thought provoking (“Postpartum Depression Is Risky Business”). But I found it ironic that after suggesting Brad Pitt “needs a little linguistic consciousness raising,” Marjorie Ingall demonstrates that she could use some of the same. While criticizing various verbal social commentaries uttered by celebrities, Ingall states that “it generally isn’t fair to attack celebrities for sounding like retards.”

Does Ingall think that her use of the word “retards” as a pejorative is any better or more sensitive than Pitt’s use of the word “mental”? How would Ingall respond if one of her children called a playmate a “retard”? Would the East Village Mamele use the term “retard” when speaking with another mamele who actually had a child that was developmentally disabled?

Ingall’s criticism of Pitt for his linguistic insensitivity reminds me of the cliché, “When you point one finger at another, you are pointing four fingers back at yourself.”

Robin Sherman Herman

Weatogue, Conn.

O’Connor’s ‘Nuance’ Ignored Constitution

The July 8 Viewpoint column certainly hit the nail on the head: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did compromise and practice nuance (“O’Connor: Supreme Court’s First Rabbi?”).

The problem is that she was supposed to represent the law, and the law cannot be nuanced. The law has to be explicit.

We have a Constitution that is supposed to direct the members of the court. O’Connor and her ilk tend to ignore the words as clearly written and wish to reach a broad consensus. That is the prerogative of the legislature. Elected officials are supposed to listen to constituents and change the law as the majority wishes.

I and other conservatives object strenuously when judges and justices make the law and ignore the letter of existing law. Without consistency of laws, we are a nation without principles.

Allan Rosing

Roswell, Ga.

Spielberg Film Revives Old Double Standard

I disagree with the Forward that the controversy surrounding Steven Spielberg’s new film on the Mossad is simply media manufactured (“Spielberg Shooting Mossad Film, Media Smells Blood,” July 15). I believe it stems from basic and perhaps irreversible schisms within the American Jewish community and between American and Israeli Jews.

The tapping of Tony Kushner to rewrite the screenplay is cause for concern not because he is a harsh critic of Zionism and Israel, but rather because he negates Zionism and Israel in their entirety and seems unable to see any possible justification for Jewish statehood or the need to defend it. To say that a person of such views may not be the perfect choice to author a film about Operation Gideon’s Sword is something of an understatement. I cannot see Spielberg asking David Irving to rewrite “Schindler’s List,” for reasons that ought to be equally obvious.

But there is a deeper issue at hand, and it is this: The ambivalence and introspection that the Forward praises in Spielberg speaks to some of us not as healthy introspection but as a form of self-flagellation, a perversion of the self, a product of the slave mind fashioned by centuries of dispersion and oppression. That is to say, it speaks to us of the belief that, to steal a phrase from Simone de Beauvoir, there are two types of people, human beings and Jews, and when Jews start acting like human beings they are accused of being monsters.

Simply put, this is the oft-noted double standard by which Jews are expected to be somehow higher, better and purer than other human beings. It reminds one of Eric Hoffer’s remark that the Jews are expected to act like the only true Christians in the world. This is perhaps summed up in the article by the statement, “[W]e can only hope that Spielberg stays true to his apparent vision of portraying his Mossad subjects as tough guys with Jewish hearts.”

What precisely, we are permitted to ask, is a “Jewish heart”? It is a phrase that means absolutely nothing beyond the obvious implication that there is a difference between the “Jewish” heart and the normal human heart; the heart that drives a man to seek both vengeance and justice against those who have murdered his brothers.

Last year I witnessed the aftermath of a bus bombing barely 10 minutes from where I live. No one who has witnessed such a thing can mythologize or fetishize acts of violence; however, nor can he accept the idea that it is simply zealotry or “confusing introspection with weakness” to feel both wronged and angered by the idea that the Jew, alone out of the peoples of the world, must deny his basic humanity in order to be considered worthy of being called a Jew.

Benjamin Kerstein

Beersheva, Israel

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