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  • dtoub 6:46 pm on Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 6:46 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: abington merger,   

    stop the abington-holy redeemer merger 

    I’ve been living in the Cheltenham area for several years now, and my family has used Abington Memorial Hospital’s services as needed. I’ve known the ob/gyn chair, Dr. Joel Polin, for many years professionally, and also know that he is as supportive of abortion access as I am. Not many abortions take place annually at Abington; somewhere between 50-100/year overall. But if many are like the procedures I once performed at an inner-city hospital in Philadelphia, these are not cases that could be done at a freestanding clinic such as Planned Parenthood or Philadelphia Women’s Center. Access to abortion within teaching hospitals is important, both for the patients and for the next generation of abortion providers (ie, the residents). Hospitals are much less of a target for anti-choice protesters, and it is also easier to manage the occasional complication (abortion is a very safe procedure, but complications minor and major can happen). A few years ago, I counter-protested against some anti-choice folks at Abington, and I know that the hospital had stood up for reproductive rights and maintained their abortion services in the face of some opposition.

    That may change. In a very surprising move, the Board of Directors of Abington Memorial Hospital has moved forward with a Letter of Intent to merge with the local Holy Redeemer Hospital, a Catholic hospital located not far away in the Meadowbrook section. As a result, even though Abington is the stronger party financially, abortions, selective reductions and physician-assisted suicide cannot be performed at Abington under the merger.

    Now, physician-assisted suicide is not permitted in the Commonwealth of PA, so that is a nonissue. But abortion and selective reduction will be forbidden at Abington, as they would be at any Catholic sectarian entity. Under agreement, contraceptive and sterilization access will be maintained at Abington.

    Some might say that this is really not too bad. Unlike what happens at Catholic institutions, women will still be able to get their contraceptives, and men and women can also undergo sterilization. There will still be IVF services and other assisted reproduction at Abington (just as Holy Redeemer has reproductive endocrinology services that involve assisted reproduction). Not many women locally undergo abortion, selective reduction is probably very uncommon even with all the IVF and ovulation induction going on, and this isn’t Mississippi. There are abortion providers in the Philadelphia area, including a hospital-based service at nearby Albert Einstein Medical Center (disclaimer: I have an adjunct faculty appointment at Einstein, but have no financial or other interest in that institution).

    But this is not a minor issue; this is a problem of nuclear proportions. And it’s not just about abortion, but affects women who have very desired pregnancies. Here are some questions and issues that help demonstrate why this is a big deal:

    • Selective reduction (which is not always thought of in the same context as abortion, as the intent is to sacrifice one or more multiple fetuses to save the remaining); for those women with triplets, quadruplets and higher-order multiple pregnancies, they will either have to undergo reduction in Philadelphia or else take their chances with the outcome

    • Preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM); will Abington physicians be permitted to induce labor in that situation or would they have to wait for intrauterine infection to evolve into sepsis? This is not a theoretical situation; this exact scenario played out with our former Senator’s wife (Karen Santorum). In that case, she made her own personal choice to delay labor induction. While it is not what I would recommend, I respect her choice as a patient. But that was her own choice, not one imposed upon her by a Catholic hospital.

    • If there is nonreassuring fetal monitoring at < 26 weeks’ gestation, will women be given a choice of labor induction vs. stat classical Cesarean section (mandating future C/S)?

    • Management of second-trimester inevitable miscarriage (eg, 18-22 weeks); will physicians be required to take unusual and medically futile measures?

    • Provision of emergency contraception (EC); regardless of what the current plan and/or potential contract agreement is between the two hospitals, EC is (wrongly) considered to be an abortifacient by the Church and proscribed as much as surgical or medical abortion. So, if a victim of a sexual assault presents at Abington’s Emergency Ward (EW), will she be offered EC? At a significant number of sectarian and nonsectarian hospitals throughout Pennsylvania, EC is not offered to victims of sexual assault, so this is not a theoretical construct.

    • Management of anencephalic and other lethal malformations detected with sonography or with other prenatal testing prior to, or past, the 24-week viability standard; based on Catholic teachings, abortion would not be available even in the presence of lethal anomalies

    • Perinatal testing for pregnancies that are likely nonviable or severely compromised, with the potential for futile C/S if nonreassuring testing results from these actions

    • Management of pregnant women with treatable cancers that are generally managed with pregnancy termination followed by definitive treatment of the malignancy (eg, stage IB cervical carcinoma diagnosed at 14 weeks’ gestation; one potential management option would be radiotherapy or D&E to terminate the pregnancy followed by gravid radical hysterectomy)

    • What about the CREOG/RRC requirements to maintain AMH ‘s residency accreditation in light of the lack of training in abortion technique and aftercare?

    • How will women who need postabortion care (for abortions done elsewhere) be managed?

    • Will the merger affect standard management of ectopic pregnancies? I suspect not, but while treating a patient with a tubal pregnancy via laparoscopy at Graduate Hospital in the 90’s, a scrub nurse told me that if it were her, she would wait for her tube to rupture before taking action, since I was essentially terminating a life. This was a very good scrub nurse, and she knew very well the implications of untreated ectopic pregnancy, such as hemorrhage and death.

    • How iron-clad is the commitment/agreement to continue to provide standard contraception and sterilization services?

    • How will they weigh the life of a mother vs her unborn baby in circumstances where they may only save one life and the mother is not capable of expressing her desire? And would that differ from cases where the mother can express her desire?

    • Management of severe non-immune hydrops fetalis during labor and deliver (ie, given the lethal nature of the condition for the fetus, will drainage of excess fetal fluid from various cavities be considered to effect vaginal delivery, or would that be proscribed as being similar to intact D&E?)

    These are just some of the things I came up with off the top of my head in a few minutes the other week. I’m sure there are others I did not think of.

    Abington Memorial is one of the largest hospitals in the county. While it is not a major academic medical center like Mass General or the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, it is a very large hospital that does more deliveries per year than many hospitals in the area. Over the past several years, we have lost many obstetrical services in the Philadelphia area; the hospital where my daughter was born is now a hospice or some other outpatient facility (ironically, owned by Abington Health). Two local hospitals within a short distance of Abington Memorial, Jeanes and Elkins Park Hospitals, no longer have OB care. It is not feasible for most women in the Abington/Jenkintown/Cheltenham area where I live to travel into Philly for their OB care and delivery, nor will most people choose to go to Einstein; it’s a good hospital, but it’s in an underserved area and most folks in my area just don’t go there. Einstein is building a new facility in the Blue Bell area, but unless you’re really determined to avoid Abington at all cost, it’s quite a hike from this area. So for all practical purposes, most women do not have other good options for their OB and other care.

    I have nothing against Holy Redeemer Hospital per sé. It is a good hospital. My children see pediatricians in their medical office building. I have to remind myself that it is a Catholic institution; unlike places like Mercy-Suburban and other hospitals that are affiliated with the Sisters of Mercy, Holy Redeemer doesn’t wear its Catholicism on its sleeve. I’ve yet to see a cross there, not that there is anything wrong with it (the Pieta of Michelangelo is one of my favorite sculptures, ever). But my point is that it has a pretty low-key approach to being a Catholic hospital, to its credit. But at the same time, it remains a Catholic hospital. And while the folks who run it might be willing to look the other way when Abington, under the merger, provides sterilization and contraceptive care, they clearly will not, and cannot, support any affiliated entity having anything to do with abortion. Low-key, yes, but there are limits.

    So that’s the quandary. In order to have this merger go through (and the business rationale for the merger, other than the value of the land Holy Redeemer sits on for additional office and OR space, escapes me), Abington will have to adhere to the directives of the Catholic Church as regards abortion and selective reduction. I respect all religions, regardless of my own atheism, and while I might not agree with Holy Redeemer banning abortion within its own hospital grounds, it is well within its right to do so. The problem is when sectarian hospitals merge with nonsectarian ones and impose their own sectarian beliefs on medical care delivered at the formerly nonsectarian institution. 

    We live in a diverse country, which is a good thing. And the Cheltenham/Abington/Jenkintown PA area is known for its diversity and generally progressive population of all religions, ethnicities and backgrounds. So the idea that a proposed takeover of a Catholic hospital would lead to the loss of abortion services at our most prominent local hospital, the one that is the stronger institution at this time, is mind-boggling and offensive to many in this area. As a result, more and more people are taking a stand against the merger, and that’s a good thing.

    I’ve sent e-mails and received canned responses, so I imagine most people who write will receive similar responses from the Abington management. But the more people write, the more the board and other management at the health system know there is solid opposition to this.

    We also need more physicians on staff at Abington to speak up and, if it comes to it, even resign their positions. When I was an attending physician at one Philadelphia hospital, I ended up leaving to go to Pennsylvania Hospital in large part because my former dept. chair was anti-choice and decided to go over my head and cancel one of two second-trimester abortions I had scheduled in the OR there (he couldn’t cancel the second patient, much as he wanted to, as I had already placed laminaria into the cervix to prepare it). At some point, we physicians need to uphold our own principles and ethical standards. If we cannot make a decision based on medical evidence but have to comply with religious dogma in certain situations, all of us have a choice to make in terms of whether or not that is acceptable based on our interest in providing the best medical care for our patients.

    Abortion is not a happy procedure, unlike much of obstetrics (although OB is often anything but happy, but that’s another discussion). I’ve never had a patient who took it particularly lightly, or who loved undergoing the procedure. But it is often a necessary procedure, both medically and from a public health standpoint. Some of my colleagues have died for providing this legal procedure. LeRoy Carhart, whom I’ve spoken with and admire greatly, has had his life disrupted and threatened on multiple occasions for his dedication to providing this service to his patients. Warren Hearn, whom I also think very highly of as a physician, is often under armed guard due to threats against his life. Those of us who have provided abortion services do not have an easy time of it. Besides the protestors and the inappropriate social stigma, many of our own colleagues (even in ob/gyn) disrespect us and treat us like undesirables. So when I hear of yet another hospital that will no longer provide abortion services, it touches a raw nerve. Many people have worked for years to do whatever they could to make sure that women at least have some places where they can exercise control over their own reproductive destinies. That’s because a lot of us feel that women who cannot control their reproduction are not truly free. So this is important to those of us in women’s healthcare, and from the responses to the Abington Board’s decision, I’m glad that this is very important to a lot of people in the local area as well.

    Feel free to e-mail the management of Abington Memorial Hospital. Just to make it easier, here are their e-mail addresses (keep it civil and polite, however. This isn’t personal):

    Mr. Laurence M. Merlis (Chief Executive Officer and President): Lmerlis@amh.org

    Meg McGoldrick (COO): Mmcgoldrick@amh.org

    Ivy Silver (Chair, Foundation Board of Trustees): Isilver@amh.org

    Robert Infarinato (Chairman of the Hospital Foundation, Chairman of the Board of Trustees): RInfarinato@amh.org

    • Jenny French 10:55 pm on Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 10:55 pm Permalink

      You are a brave and caring person and doctor, and I highly respect and admire you for taking a stand and writing this.

    • dtoub 11:29 pm on Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 11:29 pm Permalink

      Thanks. Much too generous and kind, but thanks.

    • Lara Stone 8:51 pm on Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 8:51 pm Permalink

      Thank you so much for writing this very logical, medically informative and straight-forward piece. I am currently 16 weeks pregnant (happy to be!) and I find myself disturbed by the events transpiring at AMH. Luckily my OBG care is at another hospital that is unaffiliated due to my location, but other women are not so fortunate. Were I to find myself in the horrific situation of medically requiring an emergency termination of my pregnancy- I can’t imagine having that choice taken out of my hands or being delayed life-saving treatment to transfer to a distant location. I do not want my medical treatment in the hands of religious crusaders- I want it in my hands and the hands of my doctor. The impact of this merger is far-reaching and deeply concerning. It is because of voices such as yours that women have come as far with our medical care as we have. It is an ongoing pursuit and without the aid of doctors willing to stand up for what is medically, morally and humanely right- we would have been silenced often in history and drowned out by politics presently. Reading posts like these reassures me that there are doctors that are willing to do the right thing, sadly at times to their own detriment. Doctors should not live in fear of their lives, their well-being, their reputations amongst colleagues for doing what is best for their patients in their medical view. I can’t imagine being ostracized for standing up for basic human rights and liberties. I imagine many doctors at AMH, as well as locally, are facing personal and professional repercussions due to this merger or their opinions. Thank you for having the courage to speak out and for being a voice of reason within the local and medical community.

    • dtoub 8:53 pm on Wednesday, July 11, 2012, 8:53 pm Permalink

      Thanks very much, and congratulations. You make some very good points, and I appreciate your taking the time to share them with me.

    • Lucie Cutterson 8:07 pm on Saturday, July 14, 2012, 8:07 pm Permalink

      Thank you for writing this and being part of the resistance to this merger.

  • dtoub 3:58 am on Monday, April 2, 2012, 3:58 am Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , peter beinart, zionism   

    my review of Peter Beinart’s “The Crisis of Zionism” 

    I’ve been familiar with Peter Beinart’s writings since he wrote a very important piece in the New York Review of Books a few years ago that noted that younger Jews were becoming less and less concerned about Israel, He argued that this was in large part because Israel was no longer seen as an endangered nobel country, but rather as one that was an occupier that has amassed a very powerful military force insulating the country from any neighboring threats. Beinart also had once supported the Iraq war, but subsequently recanted. Of course, given that he is a well-educated journalist who is also an academic, it seemed curious to me that many of us who are not erudite journalists had no problem figuring out in the run up to the war that this was a really dumb and dangerous thing for the Bush administration to do. But Beinart did seem to hit the nail on the head regarding Israel and its powerful, blind supporters in the US, and if nothing else, he hit a serious nerve in the organized Jewish community.

    I was so taken by what Beinart had written in the New York Review of Books that I went ahead and worked to bring him to my local reconstructionist synagogue, and he will be speaking there later this month. So when I learned that he was publishing a book on “The Crisis of Zionism,” I preordered it on Amazon and happily downloaded it to my iPhone’s Kindle reader within hours of it coming out last week.

    Interestingly, from the stuff one can see on the Web, on TV and in other media, Beinart is largely being demonized as a “traitor” to the Jewish people, a “self-hating Jew” and probably worse epithets by now. Contrast that with the reaction to Gershon Gorenberg’s recent book that raises alarms about the ongoing settlement enterprise by the Israeli government; nary a bad word or remark, almost as if few even paid attention to Gorenberg’s book. Most likely, as a friend pointed out to me, this is because Gorenberg criticizes Israeli governmental policies. Beinart is taking on the US Jewish establishment, and that apparently hits a raw nerve.

    Given all this, is Beinart’s book really a bomb thrown at the organized Jewish community, and is he Noam Chomsky-redux? I’ll cut to the chase: yes and no.

    Let’s start with the good. The Crisis of ZIonism is well-written, and contains a lot of material that does question the standard narrative on Israel and criticizes, often vehemently, the large organizations that have come to speak for the US Jewish community, even when many of us within that community is in total conflict with the opinions proffered by those groups that claim to represent us. These include organizations such as AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and so on. Beinart recounts, in painful detail, how many within those groups actively worked to derail the Middle East peace process, and even work against our current president when he suggested policies contrary to those of the Netanyahu administration in Israel. Beinart also points out the hypocrisy in criticizing President Obama (to whom Beinart refers as “The First Jewish President”) for verbally opposing settlement activities when previous Republican administrations actually went beyond verbal disagreements and withheld money and arms to Israel when they disagreed with Israeli policy and actions. So yes, Beinart does criticize, and appropriately so, the organized Jewish community.

    Now for the bad; he’s no Noam Chomsky. Not even close. I’m not sure why he’s being referred to as an “ultraliberal;” if that’s the case, then many of us must be the second coming of Che Guevara. Beinart came across to me as wanting things both ways; he wants to criticize Israel for its interminable occupation of Palestinians, but also wants to support Israel so that his kinder, gentler pre-Netanyahu Israel can break through. The problem is that that kinder, gentler Zionism never existed. What Peter doesn’t call much attention to is the fact that the occupation started, continued and flourished under secular Labor governments that predated the current religious Zionism endemic within the settler movement. Ben Gurion, Dayan, Meir, Rabin, Peres, all of them secular and none of them did much to end the occupation. If anything, they all promoted it, including Rabin (to be fair, Rabin did eventually provide some reforms that helped Israelis of Palestinian descent, but a Lincoln he wasn’t). Beinart relates how Herzl and other early Zionists wanted to have Israel represent something akin to Vienna rather than the intolerant cruelty it currently represents. What Beinart omits is that in the early Zionist vision, the Arabs would live in peace under a Jewish government, albeit with equal rights but no land of their own. It is also quite true that when Israel was conceived, Jews were being slaughtered in many countries and no one really did give a damn. But it was also true that the early Zionists wanted a Jewish refuge, not necessarily a country where Jews ruled exclusively, and certainly not one in which Jewish law held sway. And for hundreds of years, many rabbis didn’t have any interest in settling in Israel nor did the average religious Jew; Israel was only to come into being through the return of the messiah. The real impetus for a Jewish refuge came out of the real persecution endemic in much of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Beinart correctly points out that the occupation is destroying Israel, and understands that it must end. So he wants to mobilize progressive Jews (or more precisely, “liberal Zionists,” as he terms them) to take action and reclaim his imaginary and elusive “feel-good, tolerant Zionism” to save Israel. But as he pointed out in his accurate New York Review of Books article, many young Jews in the US just don’t find Israel relevant to their daily lives. So Beinart really wants Jews to start caring about Israel and somehow convince Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land and devise a two-state solution. And to get these young progressive Americans to care about Israel, he feels the answer is to push for increasing enrollment in Jewish day schools (right after he points out that Jewish day schools are costly and tend to have fewer resources than secular schools). And then, to convince Israel to end its occupation, there should be a targeted boycott of goods from the West Bank (or “Zionist BDS, as he calls it, referring to the boycott/divest/sanction movement that targets Israel as a whole), but not of “democratic Israel,” as he terms the area within the Green Line that defines the 1948-1967 borders of Israel. And an element of his Zionist BDS is to instead invest in “democratic Israel,” which he defines as all territory not officially Occupied by Israel.

    That’s his solution: daily Jewish education and a selective boycott of the “undemocratic” part of Israel.

    That was the most disappointing aspect of this book for me; he can go just far enough to criticize the organized Jewish community in the US and the Netanyahu government, but can’t accept a boycott movement against Israel as a whole, nor does he seem to accept that since many of the really vehement settlers are orthodox Jews, perhaps Jewish education isn’t a definite recipe for more tolerance of Israel’s Palestinian citizens and (occupied) neighbors. Granted, Beinart does point out many aspects of Jewish teaching that should provoke revulsion at the current occupation. But clearly those important Jewish values are not guaranteed to cause religious Israelis to pull out of the West Bank and stop their control of Gazan life. Beinart very pointedly is against the BDS movement because in his view, it delegitimizes Israel. That seemed strange to me, when he had earlier correctly indicated that the sound-bite that criticizing Israeli policy is “delegitimization” amounts to a canard designed to delegitimize the complaint itself. Most people in the BDS movement are not antisemitic nor do they want to see Israel vanish. Just the opposite; many are Jews like me, who want Israel to be better. Clearly, Beinart wants that very much as well. But he has a fairly simplistic vision: all was good before the occupation and before right-wing governments came into power in Israel, so if a progressive government would just come into power in Israel, that country could go back to being a moral beacon, etc. But Israel has had liberal governments from day one, and under those governments chose to provide orthodox Jewish control over civil affairs such as marriage, and chose to continue and expand its control over Palestinians and their land. Beinart is operating under a very clean duality: liberal Zionism and President Obama = good, right-wing religious Zionism and Netanyahu = bad. But I’m still not clear what liberal Zionism is, exactly, and while I agree with every negative thing Beinart writes on Netanyahu and other right-wingers in Israeli politics, there is no evidence that a subsequent liberal/Labor government in Israel would do much of anything to reverse the occupation. If only it were that easy.

    And Beinart’s solution also requires a two-state solution. That would have made sense in the 90’s when the Oslo Accords seemed to move things in that direction. But this is 2012, and without an Israeli retreat from settlements such as Ariel and several other large towns that Israel is loathe to ever give up, it’s unclear how any Palestinian state could comprise anything more than a series of Bantustans on non-adjacent land areas. Ariel, for example, would cut a Palestinian state in two. The entire “can’t we just rewind things back a decade or two” argument within The Crisis of Zionism just seems to be so much fanciful thinking to my mind, even constituting magical thinking. So what about a one-state solution then? Beinart condemns it (as does much of the Jewish establishment he rightfully criticizes), since he views it as the end of a Jewish state, and unworkable (he offers up the images of Belgium and Lebanon as examples of why a one-state solution likely is impossible to work in Israel). Yes, a one-state solution is not a slam-dunk, and is probably impractical. But a two-state solution is dead at this point. It hasn’t been a reality since 1967 nor was it a reality when the UN partitioned Mandate Palestine into Jewish and Arab sections with an internationalized Jerusalem. And let’s say a two-state solution happened tomorrow; would Israelis accept even a demilitarized Palestinian state on two sides containing at least a few radicals who want Palestine to comprise everything within the Green Line? And for that matter, would those religious Zionists accept giving up claims to Judea and Samaria, land that they believe is theirs? Some of these folks still believe Jordan should be part of Israel, based on some phrases from the Old Testament. And what of the settlements? And what of Israelis of Palestinian descent? And what happens to the Palestinian right of return? So yes, a one-state solution may be pie in the sky. But no less so than a two-state solution, and in some ways (S. Africa being a good example, although not a perfect analogy), perhaps a one-state solution would be more appropriate. It would allow everyone living there, Jew, Muslim and Christian, access to their holy sites regardless of whether they sit in what would have been Israel or Palestine. There would be one military, regardless of one’s religion. But what about a Jewish state? Depends what is meant by that. If it means a Jewish homeland, one which is free of persecution, then does it matter who is running the country? A Jewish state doesn’t have to mean having only Jews in primary positions of power. It can mean, however, a democracy where everyone is equal, but allows Jews to live in peace. There is just no more reason for Jews to be the exclusive power holders in a “Jewish state” than there was reason for white Afrikaners to be the exclusive power in a democratic S. Africa. Yes, I may be dreaming given the unlikely probability that a single democratic state would ever arise between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. But just because something might not happen doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t.

    So ultimately, for all of Beinart’s valid criticisms of an organized Jewish community in the US that is woefully out of touch with its more progressive constituents, as well as his revulsion at the occupation and the Netanyahu government in Israel, his solutions fall flat and his vision is ultimately surprisingly and disappointingly naive. He ignores the discrimination inherent in even the early conceptions of ZIonism that involved a return to Israel (and that assumed an acquiescence on the part of the Palestinian population indigenous to that area). He pushes for a selective “Zionist BDS” that only targets the West Bank, which is neither practical nor useful, while condemning a wider and potentially more powerful BDS movement against Israel as a whole (consistent with this, Beinart recently praised the failure of a NYC food coop to put forward a boycott of Israeli goods). The truth is that the occupied territories and Israel are intimately linked.

    Beinart wants to hold on to a two-state solution and condemns a one-state vision, while hoping to enlist young progressive Jews in the effort towards propping up Israel and undoing the settlement enterprise. Beinart opines that those young Jews would be more committed to activism on behalf of a two-state solution were they going to Jewish day schools every day (disclaimer: my wife and I sent both of our children to Quaker schools for part of their education, and they currently attend secular public schools, as did both of us when we were that age). None of this makes a whole lot of sense to me, much as I understand where he is coming from. There is little or no mention of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace that are currently working to end the occupation but that also support BDS efforts. There isn’t even a whole lot of mention of Palestinians, period, except for a few prominent names like Saeb Erekat and Yasir Arafat.

    I have no question that Beinart sympathizes with the Palestinians. But he feels very strongly (not surprising given his modern Orthodox adherence) that there is a religious, biblical and historical right for Jews to inhabit and run Israel, and that would be destroyed by any Palestinian right of return and/or a one-state solution. While Israel exists and is not going away, the religious dogma or historical justifications for Jewish control of Israel are thin. Why wouldn’t the Ba’hai or other religious minorities that are persecuted not then also deserve their own states, for example?

    It is also very understandable that Beinart cannot support the current Netanyahu government. But while Netanyahu and his administration are certainly suboptimal, it’s not like a Peres government or a Barak government led to an end to the occupation and equal rights for Israelis of Palestinian descent. Beinart feels there is a democratic Israel within the Green Line and an undemocratic one in the occupied territories. Truth is, while Israel is ostensibly a democracy, it has been drifting away from democracy for some time, even before the current Netanyahu government. There is gross discrimination against Israelis of Palestinian ancestry; Beinart makes that very clear in is book. Yet he seems to feel that bad as that is, at least that group has citizenship; Palestinian within the territories lack citizenship and are governed by military rule while settlers are governed by Israeli rule. But consider that Black Americans had citizenship in the US for years but were horribly persecuted and discriminated against for much of the 20th century. We were a democracy then, too. There is no place for the systematic discrimination against non-Jewish Israelis who also identify with Palestinian Arabs. There is thus something wrong when it’s fair to boycott “undemocratic Israel” (ie, the Occupied Territories) yet unfair to boycott a “democratic Israel” that is becoming less democratic, discriminates against 20% of its population and gives material, legal and financial support to the occupation enterprise. It’s not like everything within the Green Line is good and the occupation beyond it is bad; both are intimately linked, and the occupation could not exist were it not for everyone and everything within the Green Line. Beinart also feels that East Jerusalem is less discriminatory than the occupied territories, as Palestinians are eligible to apply for citizenship within East Jerusalem. But that really doesn’t make Israel particularly democratic in practice, nor does it mean that Israel proper deserves support while boycotting settlement goods.

    On a more mundane note, this is also a short book. I was surprised to have finished it with my Kindle Reader indicating that I was around 47% through the book, meaning that over 50% of the book consists of endnotes, references and acknowledgements. I literally finished the book in three days.

    The Crisis of Zionism was a worthwhile book to have read. It provides a good deal of interesting detail about selected US Jewish organizations, the hidden dealings between US administrations and Israel over the years, and takes Israel and the US Jewish establishment to task for supporting the occupation and undermining more liberal American presidents. But I was ultimately very disappointed by the “solutions” presented by Beinart, his holding to the idea that there is a better, kinder Israel just waiting to be freed by the efforts of young progressive Jews if they only attended heder every day, and his condemnation of BDS and a one-state solution as inimical to a Jewish state and even (in the case of BDS), fundamentally antisemitic.

  • dtoub 11:59 pm on Monday, March 19, 2012, 11:59 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ,   

    getting it out in the open 

    While I haven’t been blogging very much for awhile (Facebook and Twitter have gotten the brunt of my thoughts, and I’ve been very busy with work travel, family, etc.), there has been a lot of back and forth in my own life lately about Israel. Most recently, Peter Beinart has been stirring things up with his comments about the Occupation and Zionism, in anticipation of his forthcoming book. I got to know Peter about two years ago through a really nice essay he wrote on the fact that younger US Jews are losing any connection to, and interest in, Israel. It really shook up the organized Jewish community here in the states, and I was glad to see that. So I reached out to Peter and he will be giving a set of lectures at my reconstructionist synagogue in PA.

    But in reality, Peter Beinart and I are not entirely aligned on Israel. For all the talk out there of how he is a “traitor” to the Jewish people, a “self-hating Jew,” etc., the reality is that he is pretty moderate. He is an Orthodox Jew. He supports a two-state solution. He supports Israel, just not the settlements. He feels that any right of return for the Palestinians would be suicidal for Israel. And  he is very much against the BDS movement (boycott, divest, sanction) aimed at Israel.

    In contrast, I am secular and atheist, support a one-state solution in principle, have no great interest in supporting Israel any more than any other well-off country (I feel much better when my family supports Sudan or other underprivileged nations), support the right of return for Palestinians to their homes in what is now Israel, and do support BDS. Since this stuff keeps coming up, and I’ve probably lost a few friends as a result of not keeping my views to myself (although I know I’ve gained far more friends as a result), here is a quick synopsis of my views on Israel, so as to avoid any confusion.

    • I believe that in the context of the times, when Jews were indeed being slaughtered throughout Europe and Russia, it was understandable for Jews to have wanted a place where they could be safe. The early Zionists were secular, and were not initially focused on Israel. Basically, any place where they could settle and be safe, including Madagascar and Uganda, was perfectly fine with them. Besides, for hundreds of years, most Jews declined to settle in Palestine, since it was not a religious compulsion (just the opposite; most rabbis felt that Israel could only be resettled upon the return of the messiah).
    • I reject any biblical justification for Jewish settlement in Israel. There is little or no historical evidence that most of the Bible ever happened, and it’s even been argued by folks like Shlomo Sand that there was never a true exile of the Jews from Israel at the hands of the Romans.
    • Israel is a fact on the ground. It was established by the UN, and isn’t going anywhere. So criticisms, and boycotts, of Israel can no more “delegitimize” Israel than a breath can collapse an 8,000-meter mountain. Only Israel can hurt itself. And boy, does it.
    • Israel is a beautiful country. I’ve been there. But it is also a very conflicted country, and one that does not provide equal freedoms or support to Israelis of Arab origin, women, Mizrahi Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, immigrants from Asia and sub-Saharan africa, Ethiopian Jews and Bedouin. It is not apartheid in the fullest sense of the word, but it comes pretty damned close to being that way.
    • Israel has also become more fascist in its approaches to its Arab population and anyone who isn’t among the majority Jewish population. Avigdor Lieberman is a fascist (there, I’ve said it). It’s no surprise that the current Israeli government is viewed favorably by racists and anti-Muslim gentiles like Geert Wilders and Marine La Pen. Then again, the Etzel (Stern Gang) were also fascists and looked to Nazi Germany for support (these extremist Jews were ignored, incidentally).
    • A two-state solution sounds great. But it has never ever worked for Israel or for Palestine. And it’s hard to see how current plans would permit a true Palestinian state to exist, given that it would be split into many parts by territory claimed by Israel. A one-state solution has its issues as well, but if both sides were willing to trust and respect the other, and offer equal rights, then it would be possible. Gandhi never wanted to partition India. It was partitioned, and millions died in the process, there have been several wars between India and Pakistan, and Bangladesh was not exactly an easy ride, either. In the end, Jews and Palestinians are interconnected in ways that are not really severable. The borders need to reflect that; Palestinian Jews , Muslims and Christians coexisted relatively (though not 100%) well for centuries. The fundamental conflict is not about religious differences, but about land.
    • I don’t care if Israel is a “Jewish state” if that means that it is a near-theocracy, a state dominated by one religion in which religious laws are invoked in many civil matters (such as marriage). To me,  a Jewish state is a Jewish homeland, a place where Jews can live without internal persecution. That does not require a Jewish majority, nor Jewish control. But it does require democracy and equal rights. Jews can live however they want to individually live under a Jewish, or Muslim, or Christian leadership. I’ve yet to see anything but a Christian leadership in the US, and Jews and Muslims have done well (although there remains a lot of persecution of Muslims in the US, and there once was a lot of antisemitism).
    • While there have been Jewish populations in other countries that understandably sought, and required, refuge in Israel, I also feel it is a shame that so many Arab or Muslim countries where there once were Jews are now largely or entirely devoid of them. Again, some of this certainly was due to antisemitism, as in Iraq and Egypt. But in other cases, such as Morocco (generally lacking in antisemitism), it was in part due to Israeli actions, and sometimes (as has been claimed for Iraq), even due to incitement by Israel. When Israel was a much more secular, even socialist, country, the ideal was for Jews to speak the same language, with the same accent/pronunciation, and for Jews to all make aliyah to “eretz yisroel.” Problem was, Jews lived (and still do, fortunately) all over, had different skin tones, different accents, languages, cultures, etc. So while Ben Gurion wanted Jews to emigrate to Israel, it wasn’t easy if you were a Jew from the Maghreb, the Kurdish areas, etc. You were a second-class citizen at best, and were made to feel unwelcome. The power was concentrated in the Ashkenazim. And if you think about it, having all the Jews migrate to Israel, so that they’re all in one place, makes it much easier for another Hitler to wipe them out, no? I think of that every time some Israeli leader exhorts French Jews or US Jews to make aliyah.
    • Iran is a huge violator of human rights, and a lousy theocratic government that oppresses homosexuals, Ba’hai, and many other groups. But it is not an antisemitic country (there are 25,000 Jews who, while they live somewhat separate lives from their Shia neighbors, are respected as members of another Abrahamic religion). Iran, despite its leader’s rhetoric, has not placed its Jews in concentration camps. So while I’m not going to defend a regime of which I’ve always been critical, let’s not beat the drums for another unnecessary war, either.
    • Which brings me to the lobby. No, Jews do not control the media, world financial markets or the press. We’re really not that powerful, and the notion of a “Jewish lobby” is at its core, antisemitic. But I think anyone who feels the Israeli lobby does not have a major influence on Congress and Mideast policy is deluded.
    • Let me also be clear that any comparisons between Israel and Nazis are wrong, stupid and even antisemitic. Israel, for all its faults, is not committing a holocaust against the Palestinians, nor is it anything close to a Nazi party. I do think one could make a good case, however, that the Israeli government has adopted some policies that many of us do feel are very close to fascist, if not fascist indeed. But fascist policies alone do not Nazis make.
    • The Holocaust pervades Israeli society. The significance of the Holocaust in terms of Israeli mindset and behavior cannot be overemphasized. But at the same time, the Naqba also needs to be acknowledged by the Israeli government, and Israel needs to come to grips with the fact that 1/5 of its population generally believes that Israeli Independence Day is a day of mourning, no less than some American Indians hate Columbus Day and perhaps even resent July 4th. And understandably so. At the same time, more Palestinians need to acknowledge, not deny, the Holocaust (and indeed, many of them have made major efforts in this regard).
    • Palestinians deserve their right of return. This won’t destroy Israel, but strengthen it. It makes no sense, nor is it compassionate, that I could decide tomorrow to emigrate to Israel and I would have citizenship rights on the spot, yet a Palestinian whose family left Haifa in 1948 could not do that, or even travel via Ben Gurion Airport (as a friend’s Palestinian husband, a distinguished economist, can’t do, for example).
    • Palestine is not a dirty word. Nor are Palestinians an “invented people.”
    • Birthright Israel and other “rah rah Israel” efforts to indoctrinate US Jewish youth, are misguided, one-sided and propaganda. I will never support stuff like that.
    • I support BDS for the same reason that I supported the boycott of apartheid S. Africa. This doesn’t mean that all Israelis are of one mind; many are against the Occupation just as there were S. Africans who were against apartheid and worked with the ANC and other groups against it. But boycotting is a nonviolent way to foment social change. It is not “delegitimizing” to support BDS. Israel’s own actions do itself an injustice far more than any boycott could. That said, I don’t support boycotts that involve academia or the arts; I like to think that the arts and academics are beyond politics. Indeed, both foster understandings of “the other,” so I just can’t support those boycotts. But outside of that, I’m fine with BDS.
    • I also do not support the Jewish National Fund (it expelled Palestinians and that was its raison d’etre), Hillel, the ADL (I used to, but it is now a right-wing and diseased organization), or AIPAC, and have my misgivings about J Street (they’re too wishy-washy and bought into the right-wing canards about BDS).
    • I wish Obama had threatened to defund Israel over the continued support and expansion of the settlements
    • All Palestinians are not terrorists. All Israelis are not oppressors.
    • Politicians in the US cannot criticize Israel and survive politically. Israeli politicians, however, can criticize Israel with impunity. Why can’t politicians in any country criticize Israel and have their opinion respected? Israel is more progressive than much of the Western world, in this regard.
    • Yes, Israel is not Syria. It does not torture and murder thousands of its citizens. But I’d like to think Israel lives up to a higher standard than “it’s not Syria.”
    • I’m not a self-hating Jew. No one, except for some people with major depression, hate themselves in the true sense of the term. Labelling people as Nazis, traitors and self-hating Jews merely shows that the organized US Jewish community is threatened by those who speak out against bad Israeli policies.
    • There is nothing of which I am aware in Jewish law that says one has to support Israel. Last time I checked, I was a US citizen. I don’t vote in any Israeli elections. I don’t receive support from Israel, nor do I pay taxes to Jerusalem. So I have nothing to do with Israeli policy, and resent the idea that if someone is Jewish, ergo they must support Israel. In the proudest Jewish tradition, many of us feel perfectly free to criticize what we don’t like about Israeli actions/policies. Unfortunately, many organized Jewish institutions do not understand Jewish tradition.
    • Is there a double standard regarding Israel? Yes, there is. But the fact that human rights abuses by Turkey, Iran, China and many other countries don’t command as much attention as the Israeli occupation still doesn’t make the occupation right. The argument that “well, they do it too” really is a weak one; we don’t accept it from children, right?

    I could go on, but at least this is a start. I was trying to be as honest as possible and not leave any major issues off the table.

    Please feel free to comment. And be forthright; I can take the criticism. But please, don’t start with the “self-hating Jew” remarks. It’s getting old.

  • dtoub 3:01 pm on Wednesday, February 1, 2012, 3:01 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: incredibly dumb right-wing decisions, Komen hates women   

    boycott the susan g. komen foundation 

    I’ve been skeptical of the Susan G. Komen Foundation (or as they call themselves, “Susan G. Komen For The Cure”) for a long time. And then I learned that much of their funding simply doesn’t go towards breast carcinoma research. And then I learned that they sued several nonprofits all because they used the term “cure” in their marketing. It all seemed like a scam to be on a massive scale, but then I talked myself down a bit, since any efforts towards even education and screening for breast cancer can’t hurt. I do think other cancers are woefully underfunded, such as ovarian cancer (which also kills many women) and pancreatic cancer (again, I’ve known too many women who have died from the disease). But that doesn’t mean that breast cancer shouldn’t be funded. So I didn’t make waves and did the Race for the Cure in Philadelphia every Mother’s Day.

    But now, I say Boycott Komen.

    Yesterday, it was announced that Komen is defunding breast cancer screening efforts at Planned Parenthood centers nationwide. That amounts to between $700,000 and $800,000 annually. I used to be interim medical director at Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia, and also provided abortion and well-woman care at several Planned Parenthood centers in the Philly area. Most of the women I screened for breast cancer were not of means, and PP was essentially their only health care provider. So what Komen just did was hurt these and other women who rely on such services for their general medical care, including annual breast cancer screening.

    Komen claims it did not act out of political pressure or pressure from the antichoice crowd. Rather, they claim it now has a policy of not funding organizations that are under federal investigation. Yes, PP is under investigation for misappropriation of federal funds towards their abortion services, which has never been demonstrated to be true and there doesn’t appear to be evidence of this now. But some jackass in the Congress decided to go after PP because of their provision of abortion services. So without any evidence or proof of “guilt,” Komen just caved in and pulled all their funding. And then there’s the fact that their new VP, former GA governor candidate Karen Handel, was well known to be a pro-lifer who was very much against Planned Parenthood. But I’m sure that is just a coincidence.

    This is such a bad decision that it absolutely defies rational explanation. It is total idiocy. This should have nothing to do with abortion. But at the same time, it should be said that abortion is overregulated, unjustly tarnished and very much represents an important public health need. Childbirth is 14x more hazardous than abortion. Yet, no one is promoting legislation to warn women against carrying their pregnancies to term. Somehow though, it’s considered ok to pass burdensome and ridiculous laws requiring women to undergo sonography to look at their fetuses and to wait at least 24 hours before being able to have an abortion after providing informed consent. As if any woman wakes up and says “What the hell, I’ll go have myself an abortion today.”

    Women of all backgrounds should be pissed by what Komen did today. Men of all backgrounds should be just as pissed.

    So I will do some research and update this post with ethical nonprofits related to breast cancer research that are far more worthy of our donations than Komen ever was.

    But if nothing else, Boycott Komen.

    UPDATE 2/5/12
    At the end of this article, there is a nice list of groups that spend nearly all of their funding on research and treatment.

    • Todd Maxwell 5:12 am on Thursday, February 2, 2012, 5:12 am Permalink

      Yes, boycott Susan G. Komen Foundation for their de-funding of Planned Parenthood. Placing polical ideology over thier supposed aims and goals (preventing and/or curing breast cancer) by making breast exams for women LESS available is helping whom in this fight?

    • shirley dyrkolbotn 6:17 pm on Thursday, February 2, 2012, 6:17 pm Permalink

      makes me sick!

    • Maureen 11:10 pm on Thursday, February 2, 2012, 11:10 pm Permalink

      I agree; boycott Susan G. Komen Foundation. I will never support another walker or this organization. My funds will go directly to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that truly support women’s health. it is disgusting that Susan G. Komen pulled funding and then tried to lie about it.

  • dtoub 12:10 pm on Sunday, March 20, 2011, 12:10 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: academic freedom, , Mearsheimer   

    letters in response to my letter… 

    It’s not often that I write a letter to my alumni magazine. I did so, because two alumni had written letters that had not yet been rebutted, in which they in effect labelled a course on Zionism and Palestine as antisemitic at worst, biased at best. The course is taught by Professor John Mearsheimer, who is a very prominent political scientist. I don’t know Professor Mearsheimer; I never took any poli sci courses at Chicago, although I did have a roommate who thought very highly of his teaching. When I was a student at the U of C, Mearsheimer was very uncontroversial. Then a few years ago, he teamed up with Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard to write a scholarly article about the Israeli Lobby and its effect on US foreign policy. This was probably the first time two highly regarded academics approached such a controversial subject. I’d read their paper and while one might argue with a part here and there, my feeling is that it was largely dead on, and at the very least, constituted appropriate scholarship. Needless to say, Mearsheimer and Walt were labelled as antisemites, but I felt they had approached this topic with suitable caution,  and took great pains to avoid their work falling into the category of antisemitism (for example, they clearly emphasized that they were referring to an Israeli Lobby made up of Christians and Jews, not a Jewish Lobby, which is an antisemitic construct).

    Apparently, Mearsheimer is teaching a class on Zionism and Palestine. Two alumni of my distinguished alma mater wrote letters to the alumni magazine in which they said things like:

    “The U of C has allowed itself to stumble into the volatile issue of whether Professor Mearsheimer will be “teaching” a course in Zionism and Middle East foreign policy or in reality serving as a proxy voice advocate of the anti-Jewish, anti-Israel idealogues that seek the final solution of extinction of Israel, the only vibrant, productive, functioning democracy in the Middle East.”

    “Propaganda is the teaching of the captive mind. Has Mearsheimer actually become not an educator but a “useful idiot” of the enemies of Israel and, for whatever reason, the University of Chicago an unwitting accomplice?”

    “Professor John Mearsheimer’s undergraduate class, Zionism and Palestine, pays “considerable attention … to the plight of the Palestinians.””

    “A respected scholar” who “always limits enrollment in his seminars by requiring instructor’s consent” and “a very popular teacher,” Professor Mearsheimer’s students often agree with him about “modern-day Israel” and welcome reinforcement for their partisan views. But for undergraduates interested in nonpartisan scholarship, Professor Mearsheimer’s class does not offer a “safe environment.””

    I felt this needed some balance, so I wrote a letter and independently, another alumnus wrote his views as well. The point of my letter was simply that there was an automatic assumption that teaching about the effects of Zionism upon the Palestinians is opinion-based rather than evidence-based, and that anything that goes against the accepted (in the US, at least) narrative that Israel is an embattled “vibrant democracy” is condemned as antisemitic. I find that inappropriate, particularly in an academic environment.

    I got home yesterday from a work trip to the UK and The Netherlands and found the latest copy of my alumni magazine, which contained several responses to the letters that I and another alumnus had felt compelled to write a few months earlier. I was glad to see some supportive letters, one of which referred to me as “courageous.” I strongly disagree, but the sentiment was appreciated. The University of Chicago Magazine did allow both of the original letter-writers to try to rebut the letters I and another alumnus had written in support of Mearsheimer’s class, and unfortunately the Magazine clearly has indicated that no further discussion would be published. That’s a shame, since I think their points, along with the alumnus who lives in the highly religious and conservative community of B’nei Brak, deserve some further discussion, although I probably shouldn’t even try to rebut the latter’s belief that “Moreover, the moral right of the Jews to live in all of “Palestine” goes back approximately 3,700 years, as documented in the Old Testament (affirmed by Muslims as a holy book) and confirmed by countless archaeological findings.” It’s not worth anyone’s time to try to discuss how the Old Testament hardly constitutes a historic document. And the fact that Palestine is clearly deserving of quotation marks in his letter (I wonder how he’d have felt if I had discussed “Israel?”) indicates that this is not a U of C graduate who has an open mind.

    It’s interesting, though, that this has essentially pitted Jew vs. Jew in the letters section of the U of C Magazine. It’s interesting, because that actually is the reality. Many of us do not buy into the “My Israel, right or wrong” point of view. We can’t view Palestinians as collectively guilty for terrorism. Nor can we ignore their plight. Whether one calls Israeli society “apartheid” or not (and my personal view is that, while it is not a precise analogue of what happened in Afrikaner-ruled South Africa, it’s pretty damned close in many ways), is not the point. The point is that Israeli society does discriminate against Arabs, Jews of non-Western background, Jews who are not religious, and many other groups. It’s wonderful that Arabs can participate in the Israeli government, but why shouldn’t they? Aren’t they citizens? And the same people who love to point out Arab Israeli participation in the Knesset paradoxically do not point to the participation of Jews in the Iranian parliament as similar evidence of a “vibrant democracy” in that repressive country.

    One point was made that, in effect, we shouldn’t be criticizing Israel when other countries do bad things too. Honestly-is this really the best rational argument someone from my distinguished alma mater can make? I doubt I would have gotten a decent grade when I was in school there had I made that sort of argument in a paper. I have no issue with anyone disagreeing with me, but could we at least base it on factual data, rather than false comparisons?

    • p bailey 12:32 pm on Sunday, March 20, 2011, 12:32 pm Permalink

      openness and free dialogue is always better than the whispering behind closed doors. opinions should be freely shared and debated on their merits (which sadly doesn’t happen as much as it should).

      props to you for having the courage to stand behind your convictions

  • dtoub 3:13 pm on Sunday, January 9, 2011, 3:13 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: senseless   

    reaction to the Tucson shootings 

    Years ago, I ran as a Democrat for school board in a very conservative part of PA where right before the primary, the local pro-life group sent out a mailing stating I had killed babies and maimed women. I certainly had gone out many times to campaign and meet people I didn’t know. Given the mailing and my public “outing” as a proud abortion provider, who knows what could have happened. 

    My family was out all the time campaigning for Obama. We’ve been at events where he was present, and also marched alongside Joe Sestak in nearby Hatboro, PA. It never would have crossed our mind that something bad could happen in such as setting. Until now. 

    It doesn’t matter if the shooter was crazy, right- or left-wing. What matters is that this is taking place in an atmosphere of extreme polarization and incitement. And for the most part, whether the right wing wants to admit it or not (and they don’t), it’s the right wing that constantly blares its hatred on Fox News, talk radio and countless blogs. We don’t bring guns to town hall meetings. We don’t use gun rhetoric, like “reload.” Words have meaning.  And consequences. 

  • dtoub 12:02 pm on Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 12:02 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Islamophobia,   

    the ground zero mosque that is neither a mosque nor at ground zero: discuss 

    I’ve been following the “ground zero mosque” controversy for some time now, and every time I have wanted to blog about it, it occurs to me that pretty much all that I’d want to say about it has already been said. Let me just summarize my thoughts with some bullet points.

    • Islam did not attack the WTC or Pentagon; al-Qaeda did
    • If folks are upset about a supposed lack of sensitivity of an Islamic Cultural Center being built several blocks out of sight from the WTC site, then why aren’t they similarly offended by Christian churches near the site of Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that was blown to bits by the Christian fundamentalist Timothy McVeigh. BTW, two churches are across the street, one on either side.
    • There are Muslim prayers held in the Pentagon and have been for many years
    • There is a mosque near the WTC site already and no one cared about it before, so why now?
    • The Imam who has spearheaded the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero is not a radical terrorist sympathizer. He’s a Sufi who has worked for years to build interfaith dialogue and understanding. The US already sends him out as an emissary to Muslim countries for just that reason.
    • We’re a democratic republic founded on religious tolerance. If we don’t allow the Cordoba Center (now called Park51) to be built, haven’t the terrorists already won?
    • No one cares about the various adult theaters and video shops near “hallowed ground,” so how is an Islamic center such an offense?
    • How far away is sufficient, were the Islamic center to be moved? Is Iceland too close? Judging from the anti-Islam rhetoric and growing violence against Americans of the Islamic faith, it would seem Tunguska, Siberia is still too close to lower Manhattan for some folks.
    • Mayor Bloomberg has integrity, at least as far as this issue is concerned. President Obama had integrity then became wishy-washy. Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Pamela Geller, all of whom are inciting anti-Muslim feeling, are beneath contempt.
    Like I said, all of this has been said in one form or another by people who are far more eloquent and insightful. But I had to say it as well, since the controversy simmers on, some people are already getting killed over it, and the madness has to stop.
    • Paul Muller 8:53 pm on Friday, September 3, 2010, 8:53 pm Permalink

      The argument about a mosque a few blocks away is telling; a healthy culture would have already rebuilt the towers – or something higher – on the site.

      Mosque or no mosque – all we have from our leadership is the same hole in the ground.

  • dtoub 5:21 pm on Friday, June 4, 2010, 5:21 pm Permalink | Reply
    Tags: flotilla,   

    dear bibi 

    Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:

    You don’t know me, nor I you, but my home is a few minutes’ walk from Cheltenham High School from where you graduated, so in that sense we’re like neighbors. In any case, I know you’ve had a tough time figuring out the most appropriate response both to the Free Gaza flotilla last week as well as to its aftermath, so I wanted to give you some suggestions. Please accept this in the spirit in which it’s offered.

    First, the flotilla. Everything is always clearer in hindsight, but it was pretty clear to me and others that this was only going to end badly. How could this have been prevented, while still adhering to Israeli concerns about potential arms smuggling to Gaza? Perhaps the wisest solution, given that you have to also cater to your political interests in Israel, would have been to wait until the ships were in Gazan waters (where you are blockading naval traffic to Gaza), board them in broad daylight without helicopters, make it clear that your navy’s intent is to inspect the ship for weapons, and once nothing was found (since there were no weapons on board, based on the current state of knowledge), allow the vessels to pass on to Gaza. Yes, you would have allowed the flotilla to violate your blockade, but let’s face it, the blockade has been knowingly violated before, as Israel has allowed some boats to pass through. I’ll ignore my own view that the blockade is illegal, useless, counterproductive to your country, harmful to the people of Gaza (many of whom are innocent of any bad deeds towards Israel, etc. But I will say that had you inspected the vessels and allowed them to pass, yes Israel might have lost a little face and some folks would laugh at your country’s expense, but many others would have actually praised your country for showing restraint. No one would have died-that’s always a good thing. And after a few days, most people would have forgotten about this.

    So now let’s deal with the present-nine people (including a US citizen) died on one of those ships. I get it-they attacked your elite commandoes, but in all honesty, the average big city cop in the US deals with riots every now and then an generally no one gets killed. Why did you helicopter in commandoes one by one-if you were worried enough about the potential for arms on that ship, surely your military folks understand the bad judgment involved in having military people descend single file into a mass of several hundred pissed off people. And why couldn’t the commandoes have shot at people’s legs-seriously, Arnold Schwarzenegger did just that in Terminator 2, so if people in Hollywood consider this possible, surely the IDF understands the possibility of nonlethal force as well.

    But then you went ahead and squandered a good opportunity to try to move on. You spoke the next day and declared that no apologies were needed, that this was a ship of hate, not a love boat, etc. Not at all reconciliatory. Let me give you a hint if I might-you’re the leader of the fourth largest military power in the world. You represent an entire country. Rather than act like a manager of a small company by denying blame, here’s what I think true leadership would have entailed: a measured apologia. Since I know you’ve never probably apologized for anything to anyone (let’s face it, this is Israel, not any other supposedly civilized nation), here’s a draft that you can use the next time you illegally board and murder a bunch of people on a Turkish vessel:

    “In order to move forward, I would like to apologize. First,to the Turkish nation for what happened to their ships yesterday. All Israel values our longstanding, close relationship with our Turkish friends and I will do whatever it takes to nurture that relationship back to where it once was and beyond. I deeply regret the loss of life, and want to make it clear that this was not something we ever intended to have happen. We should have chosen a different course, such as inspecting the vessels in Gazan waters, certifying the lack of weapons smuggling and letting humanitarian aid go unimpeded to Gaza. We made a grievous error, and I would like to take a moment and honor the nine people who regrettably died at our hands yesterday (insert names). I would also like to apologize on behalf of Israel to the families of the dead, to the survivors and their families, and to the various countries represented by the passengers. We accept full responsibility for our actions, and as Prime Minister, the primary responsibility is mine to bear.

    Israel overreacted. That is clear. While I cannot reverse the terrible events that took place yesterday, I can work to make a difference moving forward. To begin, we will pay restitution for the lives lost and for damage to the ships. Second, we will immediately lift the blockade against Gaza. This has not helped the cause of peace, but has made life unbearable for the residents of Gaza, who have been living like prisoners. Israel has no desire to occupy Gaza-let me be clear. But while we did withdraw several years ago, we did not create conditions on the ground that would allow Gazans to rule their own destiny. This will change. The blockade will end. Third, Israel will continue to work with our Palestinian partners, whom we respect, to develop a mutually-agreeable amd workable solution to the conflicts that divide us. Make no mistake-we want to normalize relationships with our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We have shared this land before, and will do so in the future. Our lives are intertwined, and what divides us pales before the bonds that can unite us. We will respect your autonomy. At the same time, we ask that we can also live securely, but will work with your security forces to rein in terrorism on a joint basis, rather than engage in collective punishments that do not serve, and actually harm, the process of peace.

    So we are terribly sorry for our horrible errors in boarding the Turkish vessels and, whether unintentional or not, killing several people on board. Let’s make these nine deaths stand for something, however. Let’s take this as an impetus towards settling our differences, making life better for the people of Palestine and Israel, and moving forward.”

    I know what you’re thinking, Bibi-am I out of my mind? Yes, this type of speech would undoubtedly cause friction within your conservative Likud party and certainly cause problems with the extreme right wing in Israel, much as Obama’s policies (real or imagined) have driven our lunatic fringe nuts here in the US. But it’s the right thing to do, and you know as much. Yes, some Arabs and Turks would still riot against Israel in the wake of the civilian deaths. But this proposed speech would blunt much of of the criticism; in one fell swoop, you would be acknowledging the loss of nine people, accepting responsibility, asking forgiveness and taking concrete steps to ease the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza. Surely many of the Palestinians and Turks would be impressed by your words and, if followed by constructive actions, be less inclined towards rioting, express hatred of Israel, etc.

    So you missed an opportunity, Bibi. Israel has become the BP of nations. Why is it, though, that some corporations at least know how to do damage control (sorry, but doctored/selectively edited YouTube videos don’t cut it) and are at least willing to apologize, while a supposedly democratic nation like Israel can’t apologize for anything to save its life?

    Anyhoo, feel free to use my speech the next time you arrogantly board unarmed vessels and murder civilians who resist an act of piracy. Maybe the speech will help. Or not-but like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.

    • kraig grady 6:48 pm on Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 6:48 pm Permalink

      I think he already responded when he said this
      “The same countries
      that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted

  • dtoub 8:34 am on Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 8:34 am Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , oy   

    hard to be a pro-palestinian moderate jew 

    As my friends know, I’ve been an outspoken critic of Israeli policy forever. Specifically, I lost my faith during the Israel-Lebanon war in the 80’s and never got it back. I’ve supported Palestinian rights and have had to defend myself from the usual “self-hating, Noam Chomsky-loving Jew” slurs ever since. I’ve been to Israel once, during the first Intifada, and got into daily debates with a member of the “praise Israel first” crowd-he read the right-wing Jerusalem Post while I read the left-wing Ha’aretz, and finally had to ignore his e-mails trying to convert me upon our return. I have a former colleague from a startup who is a proud member of AIPAC and with whom I have agreed to disagree, since our debates were starting to get personal and ugly. At a former synagogue, where the Israeli Ambassador to Philadelphia was speaking, I had the audacity to ask him during a Q and A why the Israeli government was in the business of assassinating people. That felt like the moment in my favorite Ibsen play where everyone in the town points to the protagonist and calls him an “enemy of the people.”

    In my current synagogue, as chair of adult education, I’ve spearheaded dialogues on the Israel/Palestine conflict, which regrettably did little to resolve the current divides in our community over this important issue. Still, I was glad I did it-dialogue is always a worthwhile path, even if it doesn’t always provide the desired immediate results of mutual understanding and tolerance. I’ve even managed to have a program that raised awareness of the Naqba, the “catastrophe” that was Israeli independence in 1948. I think that just as it is important for Palestinians to acknowledge the significance of the Holocaust, so too should Jews and Israelis acknowledge the suffering of Palestinians from the Naqba. Each population is similar in that it has experienced great loss and horrific tragedy. I have never shied away from criticizing Israel, and tend to associate with fellow travelers who think beyond the usual propaganda that has propped up Israeli actions and cruelty since the 60’s and even earlier. Unlike many other Jews, I freely use the word Palestine, despite being admonished that no such country exists. So I’m anything but pro-Palestinian and horrified by the Israeli idiocy and barbarism that is exemplified by the recent massacre on the Gaza flotilla.

    But I’m also moderate-I don’t see the world as black and white and try to avoid generalities (I don’t always succeed, but at least I make the effort). I am not free of criticism from some on the “blame Israel first” side who can’t understand why I’d take issue with what are floridly antisemitic and ignorant comments about the flotilla incident. Contrary to what some of these folks think (and it is a minority, but still a vocal one), Israel is not synonymous with Judaism. One-fifth of Israel’s population is not Jewish, but Palestinian/Druse/Christian/Muslim. Nor is Judaism like Catholicism-as with Islam, there is no single centralized authority in the form of a person who speaks for everyone. We don’t have a pope, nor is Israel the Vatican. Israel doesn’t speak for Jews any more than Iran speaks for Muslims. Yet anger towards Israel frequently devolves into hatred towards the Jews. I joined a group on Facebook that ostensibly is a protest group against the Israeli massacre of civilians on one of six vessels that tried to break the Gaza blockade. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get past the overt antisemitism of many of the posts, so I finally left. In addition to the photos of a skull above a Star of David and a Photoshopped Israeli flag with the Star of David replaced by a swastika, many of the posts contained gems like


    “Hitler said: I could have exterminated all the Jews of the world, but I left some of them for you to find out why I disinherit them.”


    “zionists are nazis”

    blah blah blah blah etc etc etc etc. It just keeps going. What I’m undecided about is which is worse-the comments or the people who Liked them on Facebook. To be fair, several people did take offense and express a desire to leave the group, but most kept on spewing all sorts of hatred. I understand and share the visceral response to what Israel did, but at no time should that devolve into hatred and frank antisemitism. A lot of the comments seem to derive their rationalization from two basic misconceptions:

    • All Jews view themselves as “chosen” and therefore superior to gentiles
    • Israel claims to be a Jewish state and so represents all Jews

    First, many Jews reject the concept of “chosenness,” Reconstructionist Judaism in particular, of which I am a member. Not because the idea of being “chosen” is meant to imply superiority, but because it has been mistaken that way and been a source for division and conflict. Second, while Israel does indeed claim to be a Jewish state, it doesn’t speak for all Jews. Iran is an Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia is for Muslims only-so what? That has no relevance to Shia and Sunni Muslims outside of those countries. Ahmedinejad and Khatami do not speak for all Shia, for example. Furthermore, what a Jewish state constitutes is open to debate-I think it’s really something that goes to the original intent of the secular zionists who founded Israel, namely a land where Jews can live without fear of persecution. Not a religious state. Not a state where only Jews live. Zionism came out of the very real fact that at the time of the late 1800’s, Jews were being discriminated against and brutally killed in Europe and Russia. Folks like Herzl, who were anything but religious, tried to come up with some place (Uganda was one potential site) to which Jews might migrate and be safe. Eventually this all got melded with religion and, I think, went to hell. But the original intent wasn’t to usurp Palestinian land and be colonizers but to share the land and be free of persecution. That doesn’t mean that Arabs were viewed as equals to Europeans-they weren’t, and that’s shameful. But Israel was not, and is not, synonymous with Judaism nor does it have any control over the religion.

    Anyway, to paraphrase the novelist Sholom Aleichem, it’s hard to be a pro-Palestinian moderate Jew. Neither side of this interminable reality accepts you-you’re essentially scum to both sides. Many Jews who support Israel think of me the way they think of Noam Chomsky (and yes, he’s one of my heroes), and no, they don’t admire him for his excellence in linguistic scholarship. Some on the left who criticize Israel as I do demand absolute fealty to their version of reality, which is often unbalanced and veers dangerously towards the neo-Nazi line. The truth is never black or white but rather grey. Israel isn’t always right, nor is it always wrong. At the same time, its arrogance, its neverending colonization and occupation of Palestinian land, its apartheid-like structures and violence against Palestinians and their supporters (including Jews) resemble the once pariah state of S. Africa. While South Africa eventually got past all that and, while imperfect, has found a way to meld its citizens together and go beyond racism, I’m not optimistic about Israel’s future. I’ve said this for years and will do so once again-the gravest danger to Israel isn’t Iran or its neighbors or Hamas. The gravest danger to Israel is Israel itself.

    • kraig grady 9:08 am on Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 9:08 am Permalink

      It is tough to be stuck in the middle like you and many Jewish people are, who are against such actions, and one indeed wonders just what they were thinking by playing it out this way. Unlike the US which kills people at their weddings, which has to be the most messed up thing ever, you are compeled to comment and to qualify.
      Why aren’t those promoting such things by the US not under the same pressure. So there is an unequality here. And not saying there is no justifcation for the actions but to really make the world a place for everyone ALL instances should be treated equally and resisted. So let your courage to stand up to speak against for what your tribe is doing wrong be a model for others to do the same when their own does like wise. as in so many cases, it surely does.

    • dtoub 11:51 am on Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 11:51 am Permalink

      Thanks kraig. We’re not happy with what the US does either in many cases, and as you say there is indeed a double standard. Why no protests outside of S. Korea against what N. Korea did recently with attacking a S. Korean vessel in international waters? Why no protests against what Russia does in Chechnya? Or against what Turkey is doing to the Kurds or what Iran does against its Bahai minority, etc. Probably all countries are culpable to a degree. But to paraphrase Orwell, some countries are more equal than others. And yes, I’d like to see more members of my tribe step up and condemn Israel for what it did, and go so far as to boycott Israeli goods, stop buying Israel bonds, stop their trips to Israel, stop donating, etc. But that will never happen, unfortunately. That would make a difference.

    • Paul Muller 1:49 pm on Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 1:49 pm Permalink

      What baffles me is that Israel has been fighting its neighbors for what, 60+ years and still no real security has resulted from all that fighting. Do Israelis like living on high alert all the time? When is somebody gonna try something that actually works to build security rather than simply creating a new generation of enemies? You would think that pragmatism would eventually triumph…

    • dtoub 3:52 pm on Wednesday, June 2, 2010, 3:52 pm Permalink

      Paul that would require both sides, or at least one of them, to view the other as human and approach the other with respect. That will never happen. Both the PA and Israelis love their guns. When I was over there I couldn’t go anywhere, not to a mall, not to an archeological site, where there wasn’t someone with an AK-47. The IDF is glorified, particularly by young Jewish kids in the US. It’s sick. Young Israelis are the most extreme, perhaps because they know nothing of Palestinians except for an association with terrorism, while most Palestinians only know the Israelis as occupiers, soldiers and settlers, none of which paint true or helpful pictures of the other. It’s like a bunch of kids who want the same toy: “It’s mine!” “No, it’s mine.” The way I’d deal with that as a parent would be to take away the toy so neither child has it and they’d learn to share. Someone really needs to just take Palestine/Israel away from the people living there, give it to the UN, biased as that organization is, and have it in some sort of receivership. These people will keep on hating, killing one another, etc. It will never stop. Neither side has appropriate leadership and probably never will.

  • dtoub 9:07 am on Monday, May 31, 2010, 9:07 am Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , senseless violence   

    this exchange sums up my feelings re: the gaza flotilla massacre 

    On Facebook (Ken is someone with whom I went to public high school many many moons ago):

    Me (regarding the attack on the flotilla): “Stupid. Incredibly stupid. And criminal. I’ll point to this the next time someone tells me Israel is acting in self-defense. As I’ve said many many times, the gravest threat to Israel is Israel itself.”

    Ken: “Let’s see what the real story is. From an Israeli point of view there is a large population inside Gaza trying to bring in weapons to kill Israelis. Israel has blockaded the area to prevent this. A Flotilla attempts to thwart the blockade. Israeli commandos board the vessel. That’s what happens in a blockade. The commandos are attacked with knives and clubs. Pandemonium breaks out on these tiny boats. 15 Israeli soldiers are wounded, 12 activists are wounded and 2 are killed (early reports, could change). The area is under military blockade. Boats should not sail there unless they are looking for trouble. They got trouble and succeeded in their mission to make Israel look bad. Some paid with their lives and I guess it is worth it for them. This was a publicity stunt designed to put Israel in a NO-Win situation. Why are there so many videos and reports? Media outlets were called and sat. phones were on board. Don’t jump to such anti-Israel conclusions. We have enough people to do that, like Ahmadinejad. He condemned the attack”

    Me: “Ken, with all due respect, that’s a ton of bullshit. Wake up already-stop being a zionist propagandist, you’re too intelligent for that, no? This is the same nonsense that was spewed when the Philly cops dropped a percussion bomb on the MOVE house and destroyed a neighborhood. Stuff like that isn’t justified. Imagine if the SS Exodus were fired upon by the British, which was violating the Mandate era laws in Palestine. Indeed, the British decided against storming the Exodus, precisely because it would have been met with violence and civilian deaths. There were any of a number of ways that Israel could have responded to the flotilla, none of which would have led to deaths. And Ahmedinejad is hardly the only person to condemn the Israeli attack-France, Germany, Turkey and other EU countries are also outraged. Are they all to be dismissed as “enemies of Israel?”

    Israel is an occupying power, drunk on its military superiority and the most arrogant nation on earth. It makes life much more difficult for Jews outside Israel, since we’re viewed as sympathetic regardless of Israel’s actions. If Israel is a sovereign nation, as it is, then it has to take blame for its errors. Instead, Barak is blaming the people on the ship (blaming the victims is a tactic they use over and over again, in Gaza, in the West Bank, etc). This strikes me as having parallels with the Sharpsville Massacre, the Amritsar Massacre and any of a number of massacres against Jews during the Nazi era. Sorry Ken, but perhaps instead of reading AIPAC’s propaganda or the Jerusalem Post, you might consider the reporting in the Israeli paper Ha’aretz, which is at least honest about Israel’s misdeeds. Israel gets no sympathy or excuses from me any more than the US does when it commits crimes (just consider the US record in Latin America over the past 70 years).

    Other than that, have a wonderful Memorial Day.”

    Okay, I’m now braced for the usual retorts about me being a “turncoat” like Noam Chomsky, the ultimate perjorative among the “rah-rah Israel” and the “praise Israel first” crowd here in the US. Personally, Chomsky’s views are perhaps more moderate than mine in this regard. Well, I’m resigned to it. Bring it on.

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