AN AMERICAN JEWISH – GERMAN INFORMATION & OPINION
November 10, 2010
The members of the Jewish community in the U.S., like most Americans, are in a
period of decompression trying to get over the election. More about it below.
For an “off-year” (mid-term) election the campaigning was extremely intense.
When economic times are tough, the competition is passionate to say the least.
2010 was no exception. However, no matter which side you were on, you had to
be depressed by the fact that $4 billion dollars was spent by the various
candidates on the various races. That’s more than a GNP of some small
countries. That’s awful!
However, life goes on…
The largest Jewish meeting of the year is taking place in New Orleans. It is
always referred to as the “GA” which stands for General Assembly of The Jewish
Federations of North America. The Federation movement, collectively among the
top 10 charities on the continent, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews
worldwide through the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedakah
(charity and social justice) and Torah (Jewish learning). It is done through
extensive fund raising.
There are 157 Federations plus 400 independent Jewish communities in North
America so the GA draws thousands of people. All sorts of things are discussed
and, as usual, the Prime Minister of Israel is attending to make what normally
turns out to be the most important speech.
Vice Pres. Biden made the initial address calling, “… the U.S.-Israel bond
"unbreakable" in a speech at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of
North America. Speaking before an audience of approximately 4,000 at the
opening plenary, Biden said tensions that may seem to exist between the
Obama administration and Israel do not imply a weakening of ties between the
two countries. However, “tensions” are painful and the details causing the
tensions might be more so. Time will tell.
Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s trip to Jerusalem was well publicized. He played it
right down the middle, saying that Israel should totally lift to Gaza blockade but
refusing to meet with Hamas representatives. It’s fine that he made the trip but,
frankly, it didn’t seem to have much impact. Perhaps I don’t understand, but I
couldn’t figure out what the goal was.
As I’m sure you saw in your own media, yesterday, Nov. 9th
was the 72nd
anniversary of Kristallnacht. I wrote a piece that was published in the New York
suburban paper, The Journal News. You can read it by clicking here.
I think it’s time to get on with the news…
IN THIS EDITION
IT’S OVER! – The election that is!
ELECTION FALLOUT – The Jewish angle.
THE FORWARD 50 – America’s leading Jewish weekly picks the 50 Jews who
made the greatest impact this year. I didn’t make the list.
”…MAKE LIKE THE JEWS” – Would that make Islamics more American?
AFRICAN JUDAISM – You can never tell where you’ll find relatives.
WHERE ARE THE BOYS? – Are the girls taking over Jewish life in the U.S.?
THE ROLE OF THE EU IN THE PEACE PROCESS – If the current EU role isn’t
helpful, what could be?
It felt like it would never end! The election campaign pretty much started the day
after Barack Obama was elected in 2008. And now that the 2010 results are in
we get no rest before the 2012 presidential campaign begins. The Republican
leader in the Senate has already announced that he wants to make Barack
Obama a one term president. It’s started! Pity the poor American citizen!
Pres. Obama said it best in a nationwide TV press conference. The Democrats
got “shellacked”. While shellac is a paint covering, my dictionary defines
shellacking as “to defeat decisively” and that is what happened to the Democrats.
They lost their majority in the House of Representatives, lost a number of
governors’ races and took a beating in state legislatures and in even more local
Having said all the above, the Dems still control the Senate (with a reduced
majority) and, of course, the presidency. There are pledges all over the political
spectrum of cooperation and compromise. Don’t believe it! The Holy Grail of
American politics is the presidency and while some things might get done
between now and 2012, don’t count on much!
Jewish politicians never run as Jews. They run as Dems or Repubs who happen
to be Jewish – even though everybody knows who’s what. This time around the
lone Jewish Republican in the House, Eric Cantor, was not only re-elected, he
will become the Majority Leader, the second most important post in that chamber
of the Congress. It should also be noted that Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York
remains the Dem “Whip” in the Senate, the 3rd
most powerful position in that
JTA reported, “The Republican sweep, picking up at least 60 House seats -- the
greatest swing since 1948 -- and sharply reducing the Democratic majority in the
Senate, drove at least six Jewish lawmakers out of office…
All told, Jewish representation in Congress dropped from 44 to 39, with 27 Jews
in the House and 12 in the Senate.
The defeat of five Jewish incumbents, however, just hints at what this election
could mean for Jewish access in Washington.
Since a sweep by Democrats in 2006, lawmakers with strong ties to the Jewish
community had chaired some of the most powerful committees in the House.
Committee chairmen, by determining agendas, hold almost unchallengeable
power to advance or kill legislation.
With Republicans having taken the house, those lawmakers, all Democrats, lose
their chairmanships. They include Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who heads the
Banking Committee; Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Commerce and
Energy committee; Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs
Committee; and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the foreign operations
subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.
Furthermore, Jewish groups -- most but not all of which are bound up with
Washington’s liberal-Democratic establishment -- will see several veteran
lawmakers with whom they have built years-long relationships exiting Congress.
The most pronounced example is Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), who chaired the
Budget Committee, which works with the White House to set spending priorities.
Spratt’s office had an open door for Jewish social service lobbyists.
The most interesting fact (to me) in the entire political debate was, especially
during the last few weeks when discussion got “hot and heavy”, that not a word
was said by anybody about international or foreign affairs. In 2010 it all had to do
with the economy and jobs. Period! Nothing beyond our own shores made it into
If you’re interested in which Jewish Congress members will serve after January
1. 2011 click here. http://www.jta.org/news/article/2010/11/02/2741566/the-chosen-
I think that most people in Europe believe that the organized Jewish community
in the U.S. spends most of its time, energy and money lobbying on behalf of
Israel If you believe that, well, you’re wrong.
Actually much of its resources go into social services such as care for the elderly,
Jewish education, and services to many people who are not Jewish such as job
counseling. Much of the funding for these services (but not Jewish education)
comes from the government. With the Republicans taking over the House of
Representatives on a platform of tax cuts, deficit reduction and, in general, less
money for the kinds of services many Jewish federation agencies provide, the
fear is that there will have to be large service cuts with the neediest suffering the
In most communities a Jewish federation (the umbrella organization for local
Jewish agencies) is the funnel for funding. The Jewish Week reports, “A Jewish
federation system that was beginning to recover from the deepest recession in
postwar history could be facing a new perfect storm in the wake of this week’s
congressional elections and a tidal wave of voter unhappiness about big
government and a runaway federal deficit.
And the reluctance of Jewish federation officials to take positions on debates that
will determine how deep some of those cuts will be — starting with the expected
push by newly empowered Republicans in Congress to extend and possibly
expand Bush-era tax cuts — is making it even harder to defend threatened
The explosive confluence of the congressional elections, the nation’s ongoing
economic woes and the rising demand for services will shadow this week’s
Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly recently held in New
While federation officials insist the Jewish groups are faring better than
philanthropies in general, a Chronicle of Philanthropy list of 400 top nonprofits
revealed that overall fundraising for the largest Jewish charities was down by an
average of 18.5 percent in 2009 — almost twice as high a rate as the list as a
It’s not a secret that the U.S. just does not have the kind of “safety net” that
European countries have. So when agency private fund raising goes down and
government money is severely cut, services and the people that are being served
wind up in deep trouble. So it goes in our society.
THE FORWARD 50
Every year, America’s leading weekly Jewish newspaper picks out the 50
American Jews who have made the greatest impact during the past year. They
honestly note, “The Forward 50 is an impressionistic list, not a scientific survey. It
is compiled by staff members (with input from readers) who search for men and
women who have made a significant impact on the Jewish story in a Jewish way.
These are people who’s religious and cultural values propelled them to engage,
serve, lead, entertain, educate, create, advocate and exasperate in a decidedly
Jewish voice. Let them inspire us, too”
Jews don’t usually agree on anything and this list, as far as I’m concerned,
provides the ammunition for massive disagreement. After all, they’ve left out the
editor and publisher of America’s best newsletter on American Jewish – German
relations. It’s not a perfect world.
To see the list click here. http://forward.com/forward-50/
”…MAKE LIKE THE JEWS”
I’m not sure why the Jewish weekly, The Forward, would publish an article
suggesting that the Muslim community in the U.S. “…make like the Jews” in
order to be accepted into American society. However, the piece, written by Reza
Asian, a well known Iranian Muslim who lives, writes and teaches in the U.S.
spells out a few truths. The first is that, “Anti-Muslim sentiment in the United
States has risen to unprecedented levels. A recent Washington Post poll found
that almost half of all Americans have a negative view of Islam, nearly a 10-point
jump from a similar poll taken shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
Many reasons have been given to explain this surge in anti-Muslim hysteria in
the U.S.: economic anxiety, weariness with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,
heightened fears of a “homegrown” terrorist attack.
Yet a more revealing reason emerged in a study last August by the Pew
Research Center, which found that nearly one in five Americans believe
President Barack Obama is himself a Muslim — up from 11% a year ago.
Indeed, the more a person disagrees with President Obama’s domestic policies,
the poll found, the more likely that person is to consider Obama a Muslim.
Islam in the United States has become “otherized.” It has become a receptacle
into which can be tossed all the fears and anxieties that Americans have about
the faltering economy, unfamiliar changes to the political order, a shifting racial
landscape — everything that is fearful, seemingly foreign and beyond individual
All that is true. Mr. Asian goes on to suggest, “This development is neither new
nor unexpected. In fact, everything that is currently being said about America’s
vast and diverse Muslim population — that they are “foreign and exotic and un-
American” — was said about Jewish immigrants nearly a century ago.
…American Muslims must learn a valuable lesson from the American Jewish
experience about how to reframe perception of their religious community. Rather
than apologetically trying to strip away the veil of exoticism and otherness that
had formed about their faith and culture — as so many Muslim leaders (myself
included) are so desperate to do when it comes to Islam — American Jews
plunged ahead in becoming business and political leaders themselves. Even
more significantly, they took the lead in the arts: literature, music, film. Jewish
ideas, Jewish mores and Jewish stories became a deeply ingrained part of the
American cultural landscape, refashioning the mainstream. The same right-wing
religious groups, which a century ago would likely have joined in the anti-Jewish
chorus issuing forth from pulpits across America, now speak proudly of the
country’s “Judeo-Christian” foundations.
This is the path to acceptance that American Muslims must walk, a path that
cannot be paved simply through greater education about Islam but rather
through greater Muslim participation in business and government and, more
importantly, through the arts.
All that is true as well.
It sounds easy and there is nothing Mr. Asian suggests that I would argue with. I
would also add that anti-Muslim feeling is not only bad for the Muslims but only
one degree away from being bad for all minorities in the U.S. – including the
Jews. However, American Muslims do not come from the same backgrounds as
American Jews. World politics and the behavior of some Islamic countries have a
great negative impact on American thinking and Islamic terrorists provide an
indelible picture in the minds of almost all Americans. Most Jews who immigrated
originally came to the U.S. without there being a single Jewish country in the
world that would take them in and primarily to escape deep discrimination in the
places they left behind. Muslims have come to the U.S. mostly (but certainly not
exclusively) for economic reasons. There are many other differences.
Becoming part of “America” is not so easy. Jews, to some degree, are still seen
as “others” but there are so many other “others” these days that their otherness
does not stick out so visibly.
Interestingly (at least to me), the problems Germany is having with its integration
of Muslim immigrants is, of course, identical or, at least, similar. However, in
Germany there are many fewer “others” so the Turks, Arabs, etc. are easier to
focus on. That makes them more vulnerable.
I do not think Mr. Asian’s formula is wrong. In fact, I think he’s quite correct but
Muslims taking the road the Jews have tread should understand that it is a long
and hard road with considerable pain along the way. For better or worse, there
isn’t any other avenue available. Good luck!
Of all the places in the world I, with my very American – European focus, would
not expect Judaism to begin to flourish is in Africa. However, my all too
constricted view proves out to be absolutely wrong.
The Jewish Chronicle On-Line in an article entitled, “Why the star of David is
rising across Africa” notes, “Timbuktu: the name is so steeped in mystique that
many people think it is an imaginary rather than a real place. Historically, the city
in the republic of Mali has been a centre of Islamic civilization in Africa. It is also
home to an emerging Jewish community.
According to local lore, some of the Jewish traders who crossed the Sahara
centuries ago settled there but their descendants were forcibly converted to
Islam. Now a new generation wants to return to their roots and openly identify as
Jews. They have taken the Hebrew name Zakhor, "remember".
The Zakhor are by no means unique. Across the continent, similar communities
have been forming in Ghana, Nigeria, the Congo - there are even Tutsi Jews in
Rwanda. The dramatic airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, far from closing the
book on black African Judaism, has led to a new chapter”
Simon Rocker, who wrote the article also mentions the Igbu in Nigeria, the
Abayudaya in Uganda and the Lemba in Zimbabwe who either have Jewish roots
or are turning to Judaism. "Throughout Africa, the idea of Judaism is becoming
more and more important, as is identification with Israel," says Tudor Parfitt,
professor of Hebrew at London University's School of Oriental and African
Studies (SOAS). "Actual practice of Judaism is also becoming more common."
Overall, the take-up of Judaism in Africa is going to have "incalculable
importance to Jewish people," he believes, and "not only in Africa, but also in
Asia, where there are vast numbers of people who have similar views". Far from
being regarded as a pariah state, Israel is "revered" among those he has visited.
"They are aware of what Israel has done in Africa in aid for such a small
country," he says. "Among these groups that identify with Jews, Israel is held up
to be a great place. And when [Israel's] ambassadors don't pay attention to them,
they get very upset."
I don’t usually like being wrong. However, in this case I’m delighted!
WHERE ARE THE BOYS?
Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week, wrote an interesting article pointing
out, “For too many boys in our community, bar mitzvah (at age 13) represents
the end rather than the beginning of their formal Jewish involvement and
It’s no secret that our institutions are facing a losing battle in keeping Jewish
teenage boys engaged.
They are dropping out of organized Jewish life at a disturbing rate, complaining
that post-bar mitzvah programs are too boring and not relevant to their interests.
Studies show that 70 percent of teens involved in organized Jewish activities are
That imbalance holds true for campus activities as well, and the Conservative
and Reform movements report a decline in the number of young men enrolling in
rabbinical school. What’s more, the dramatically decreasing attendance of men
at Reform services has become a significant topic of concern.
Faced with the prospect of a Jewish future largely missing male involvement, an
organization with a track record of success in engaging young girls in Jewish life
has turned its attention to boys.
Moving Traditions is an organization that focuses on gender differences and
found that “…Jewish boys like being with other Jewish boys and want to spend
time thinking about what it means to be male.” They found, “…the key to gaining
the boys’ interest in Jewish education is to “link Jewish themes and knowledge”
to the developmental process of their “journey into manhood.”
Frankly, I hadn’t thought much about the paucity of the number of young males
active in Jewish life. However, I have noted that there are many more females
coming out of Reform and Conservative seminaries and there is an upsurge of
women taking on leadership roles in Jewish organizational life. I figured, as I
think many who are interested in these sorts of things have, that the reason was
the increased reaching out to women and not the lack of sufficient numbers of
males. I’m still not 100% convinced that I’m wrong. However, if in this the case I
am, then the Jewish community has a big problem on its hands.
To read the Rosenberg article click here.
THE ROLE OF THE EU IN THE PEACE PROCESS
It is not be a secret that I, and many other observers of the Middle East peace
process, feel that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security
Policy has not played a useful role in trying to bring Israel and the Palestinians
together. Catherine Ashton seems to be so one-sided in opposition to Israel that,
at least in my opinion, she has done more harm than good. With almost
Pavlovian negative responses to anything Israel says or does, she places the EU
in a less than neutral position – one which that precludes the EU from being
In a recent Jerusalem Post article, Dr. Rory Miller of Kings College, London
spells out a useful policy for the EU to follow which is antithetical to one being
followed currently by Lady Ashton.
Dr. Miller states, “Generations of European policy-makers have believed that a
permanent settlement of this conflict on the basis of a two state solution is not
only vital for the Middle East but, in the words of former EU foreign policy chief
Javier Solana, is “fundamental to our own security.”
They have also come to view Europe’s success in transforming its economic
power into political influence in the conflict as a key indictor of its capacity to play
a role on the international stage.
This has been very apparent in recent weeks when the EU’s representative for
foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, rushed to the region from
Washington to shore up the floundering peace talks following criticism that she
failed to raise the international profile of the recently launched European External
Action Service – a new mechanism designed to give the EU a stronger voice.
If current US peace envoy George Mitchell can’t keep the Palestinians and
Israelis talking, then it seems inconceivable that there is anything the EU can
bring to the table that will. So what should Europe do? Recently Marc Otte, the
EU’s special representative for Middle East peace, looked forward to the day that
the EU would be “a full player” in the politics of the conflict.
But the EU should stop measuring its success in contributing to peace in terms
of its ability to score political points over the US, or gain a political role
commensurate with its economic weight. Instead it should emphasize its
longtime position as the international community’s lead donor to the PA as well
as Israel’s number one trading partner.
Though unglamorous, Europe’s budgetary support for Palestinian institutions and
infrastructure, as well as its humanitarian, refugee and food aid has been hugely
important to sustaining Palestinian society. It continues to be key to the state-
When a Palestinian state is finally established, the EU will play a crucial role in
doing what it has done best in Europe over the past half century – promoting
consensus and economic cooperation among former enemies in the interests of
regional prosperity and long term stability. Europe, Israel and the Palestinians
would all be well served if the EU fully acknowledged the importance of this role,
not as a pretext for political influence, but as an end in itself.
After reading Dr. Miller’s article I find myself applauding and yelling “Bravo!” I
realize that things are moving in a more Euro direction and Germany pushed the
Lisbon Treaty for what it saw as good reasons. However, when it comes to the
Middle East, a singular German foreign policy somewhat more balanced could do
a lot more to help the peace process than the course Catherine Ashton is plying
at the moment. Given the realities of the situation, if the EU would follow the plan
Dr. Miller has laid out peace and tranquility would be better served.
See you again at the end of the month.
DuBow Digest is written and published by Eugene DuBow who can be contacted
by clicking here.
Both the American and Germany editions are posted at
www.dubowdigest.typepad.com. Click her to connect