In Defense of Cory Booker


To Peter Beinart, it is inconceivable that a liberal Democrat could share the views of AIPAC. That says more about Beinart than about Newark’s mayor or many other liberal Democrats.

Read more at Huffington Post

More about: AIPAC, American Jewry, Cory Booker, Democrats, Peter Beinart, Republicans, Shmuley Boteach


Iran’s Attempts to Hide Its Anti-Semitic Past—and Present


In an interview with NBC last month, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif boasted that Iran has “a history of tolerance and cooperation and living together in coexistence with our own Jewish people, and with Jews everywhere in the world.” Shahrzad Elghanayan, whose grandfather, a prominent Iranian-Jewish businessman, was executed by the nascent Islamic Republic in 1979, begs to differ:

In the 16th century, conservative Shiite scholars and clergy under the Safavid dynasty placed restrictions on all minorities, including Jews, to bar them from economic activity and to prevent them from passing their “ritual impurity” to Muslims: don’t open shops in the bazaar; don’t build attractive residences; don’t buy homes from Muslims; don’t give your children Muslim names; don’t use Muslim public baths; don’t leave your house when it rains or snows; don’t touch anything when entering Muslim shops. Jews weren’t protected by the legal criminal system, but they could convert on the spot to save their lives if attacked by Muslims. There were short periods of reprieve here and there but as a whole, life was pretty grim for the next several centuries. . . .

After Reza Shah founded the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925, he started a modernizing spree in which Jews participated and prospered [until the 1979 revolution]. . . . [After seizing power, Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini’s government instituted measures ensuring that from the earliest days in school, children were programmed into the party line. Salman Sima, a self-described moderate Muslim [who spent his childhood in Iran], says that every morning, beginning in grade school, he had to chant “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.” He says his religion teachers would say things like, “if you do something wrong, you will die a Jew.” . . .

[Foreign Minister] Zarif points to what he says are Iran’s 20,000 Jews, who he says constitute the largest population of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel. (Iran’s latest census counted only 8,756 of them, and Turkey claims to have 20,000, as well.) What he omits is that . . . the Jewish population has plummeted from its estimated 80,000-100,000 in 1979.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Iran, Iran sanctions, Mizrahi Jewry, Persian Jewry


Increased Military Spending Is a Must for Israel’s New Government


As soon as a new governing coalition takes office, argues David M. Weinberg, it should place at the top of its agenda the need to expand the defense budget and boost the capabilities of the IDF’s ground forces:

[O]ver the coming decade the IDF will need to knock back the Iranian proxy armies and jihadist militias camped on [Israel’s] borders. It may need to “decommission” Iran’s nuclear facilities in Fordo and Arak. And only God knows what kind of instability Israel may yet have to overcome on its eastern border. . . .

Consider [also] the situation in Lebanon. In order to rout Hizballah and destroy its missile stockpiles, in the next war Israel will have to reconquer southern Lebanon on the ground. Even with the Israeli air force working intensively from above (including massive leveling of Lebanese infrastructures), Israel could be facing eight weeks of real and unrelenting combat.

Readying the IDF for this requires a rollback of the misguided . . . multiyear plan for the IDF promulgated in 2013 by then-chief of staff Benny Gantz. That plan accepted a significant decrease in overall funding of the IDF and shifted priorities away from the ground forces in favor of air-force and cyber capabilities, intelligence, special-operations forces, and stand-off precision fire.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Israeli Security, Lebanon

Reinterpreting Religious Freedom, Obama-Style


The Justice Department is currently pushing an approach to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that, according to Howard Slugh and Mitchell Rocklin, would turn judges into interpreters of religious doctrine and thereby undermine accepted understandings of religious freedom:

The RFRA requires the government to demonstrate the compelling nature of any law that would place a substantial burden on a person’s religious exercise. This leads to the inevitable question of what constitutes a “substantial burden.” . . . Religious plaintiffs have argued that the test requires courts to weigh the burden of the punishment a religious person may face for refusing to violate his faith, rather than the importance of the religious practice at issue. . . The administration rejects this view, arguing that a judge must “look at the [religious] action that the plaintiffs want to take.” . . . According to this view, if a court decides that a particular religious principle is unimportant, the state can force a believer to choose between violating it and facing a draconian punishment. . . .

[S]uch a test would inevitably ensnare courts in thorny doctrinal questions. . . . A government that adjudicates the relative merits of religious commandments has invaded the most central and sacred sphere of life, usurping the role of ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams.

Read more at National Review

More about: American politics, Barack Obama, Freedom of Religion, Hobby Lobby, Politics & Current Affairs, Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Anthony Trollope’s Jewish Preoccupation


The 19th-century English novelist Anthony Trollope created no small number of Jewish characters, many but not all of them portrayed in an unflattering light. Ann Marlow attributes Trollope’s interest in Jews to his own insecurity as a member of a poor but genteel family who spent much of his life struggling to improve his financial situation:

[T]here is nasty anti-Semitism in Trollope’s depictions of Jews, but there is also identification. . . . In Phineas Redux (1873), the gallant Madame Marie Max Goesler (the widow of a Jew, if not definitely Jewish herself) faces off against the evil Dr. Emilius, saving the politician Phineas Finn from the gallows—and ends by becoming his second wife. One critic, Shirley Letwin, has argued that Madame Goesler is actually the most perfect “gentleman” in Trollope. . . .

[F]or Trollope, the profession of writing novels involved at least one stereotypical Jewish trait. In The Prime Minister, . . . the upright old gentleman Mr. Wharton refuses to allow the marriage of his daughter to the evil Ferdinand Lopez, a Jew. Trollope comments editorially that the world no longer cared whether men had “the fair skin and bold eyes and uncertain words of an English gentleman or the swarthy color and false grimace and glib tongue of some inferior Latin race.” Professionally, Trollope certainly is with the people of the glib tongue, not the stammering gentlefolk. There is perhaps no 19th-century English novelist as “glib” as Trollope. . . .

As [his] autobiography makes clear, the young Trollope had come close to falling off the class ladder. . . . For Trollope, Jews stand outside the inherited social order, creating themselves by their work—much as he did, and as he was half-ashamed, half-proud of doing.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arts & Culture, Britain, British Jewry, Jews in literature, Literature

Elections at Palestinian Universities Show the Fragility of Abbas’s Rule


Since the Palestinian Authority has not held general elections in nearly a decade, student-council elections at Palestinian universities—where candidates run on party tickets—are often the best indicator of prevailing political winds. Thus, argues Khaled Abu Toameh, a recent landslide victory for Hamas over Fatah at Bir Zeit, together with a tie between the two at Palestine Polytechnic, constitute a “vote of no-confidence in Abbas and Fatah”:

In 2006, Fatah lost the Palestinian Legislative Council elections to Hamas largely because of its failure to reform and combat financial and administrative corruption. Since then, Fatah has done almost nothing to draw the conclusions from that defeat. The same leaders who led Fatah to the 2006 defeat continue to hold key positions in Fatah, ignoring demands for reforms and transparency.

The landslide victory of Hamas at Bir Zeit University came in spite of an ongoing security clampdown by Abbas and Fatah on supporters of the Islamist movement in the West Bank. . . . It is evident . . . that Abbas’s campaign against Hamas has had a boomerang effect, resulting in increased support for the Islamist movement among Palestinians, especially those living in the West Bank. When you tell your people that the Jews are awful, and do not want peace, and just want to kill Arabs and destroy their homes and holy sites, then people say, “This means Hamas is right. We should be killing the Jews and not making peace with them.” . . .

The Hamas victory at Bir Zeit shows why it is not a good idea, at this stage, to hold parliamentary or presidential elections in the Palestinian territories.

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Fatah, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority