Jon Stewart and Other Activist Jews in the Egyptian Uprising

As we Americans celebrated our nation’s 237th year of independence and freedom yesterday on the 4th of July, we also kept a close eye on the precarious situation in Egypt. As the final hours of Mohammed Morsi’s presidency wound down, we continued to monitor the volatile situation there, constantly thinking of how the tense events in Egypt would affect Israel, its close neighbor to the North.Although many were concerned that the Egypt-Israel peace treaty would be broken under Morsi’s regime, that didn’t happen. However, now that the military is in charge of the country the peace treaty seems at risk and there could be a lapse in the protection of the Sinai from terror cells.

Unfortunately, I think we’ll have to wait a while longer to get a good sense of how the Egyptian uprising and protests will affect Israel and her relations with neighboring Egypt. One interesting story that I’ve been following during the continued unrest in Egypt has been the role of Jewish people in the situation.

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Miketz: Kim Jong Un, Joseph and Ultimogeniture

In biblical times the concept of primogeniture was practiced widely in the Ancient Near East. That is to say, the eldest son would inherit the entire estate to the exclusion of younger siblings. In Jewish law, the eldest son was promised a double portion of the estate (Deuteronomy 20:17). However, in the Book of Genesis we see that this is not the case. Rather, it is the younger brother who, time and again, receives the birthright (albeit through deception) and the promise of succession.

Throughout the Genesis narrative (what my teacher Rabbi Burt Visotzky calls “an ugly little soap opera about a dysfunctional family”) the eldest son appears unsuitable to succeed as leader of the family dynasty and thus the younger son becomes the heir to the clan. With the sons of Adam and Eve, God chooses the younger Abel’s offering instead of the firstborn Cain’s sacrifice. Abraham is the eldest son of Terach, but when he leaves his father’s home, he gives up the birthright to his younger brother Nahor. Abraham’s firstborn son Ishmael is kicked out of the house and the patrimony goes instead to the younger Isaac. Then Isaac’s younger son Jacob receives his father’s birthright and coveted blessing through trickery. The trend continues when Jacob favors his younger son Joseph, the son of his true beloved Rachel. This favoritism of one son leads to horrible events for the family.

The last act of patrilineal ultimogeniture in the Book of Genesis is at the end of the narrative when Jacob blesses his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim (Joseph’s sons). The grandfather crosses his hands, laying his right hand upon the younger Ephraim and his left on the elder Manasseh, thus granting the birthright to the younger brother.

In this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, we learn more about the interesting character of Joseph who flaunts his “most favored son” status in front of his brothers causing their enmity toward him. Joseph makes his dreams into a reality by lording over his brothers in Egypt when they come looking for food during the famine. While things seem to have worked out well for Joseph, we cannot ignore the series of unfortunate events (including his near death experience of being hurled into a pit by his brothers) that occurred because of ultimogeniture, the emergence of the youngest son as leader. (Technically Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob, but Joseph was Jacob’s favorite because his beloved Rachel died during the birth of Benjamin.)

Following the sudden death of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il, we are beginning to learn more about his youngest son and the successor to his dynasty. The new leader of North Korea is Kim Jong Il’s third and favorite son Kim Jong Un.

It will be interesting to see how Kim Jong Un’s two older brothers respond to their younger brother’s leadership. I don’t suspect they will throw their brother into a pit or sell him into slavery, but I am certain there exists a fair amount of jealousy following their younger brother’s transition to power. Perhaps the day will come when Kim Jong Un’s brothers come to him in a time of need just as Joseph’s older brothers had to come to him in Egypt during the widespread famine.

The lesson we can learn from the family in Genesis is that leadership succession in a family dynasty will always be wrought with emotion. Primogeniture might have been the way of the world in biblical times, but the younger brothers always emerged as the chosen successor. And so it is in our day. We can only hope that North Korea’s new 28-year-old leader will rule with a level head. Joseph might have been in charge of the stockpile of food during a famine, but this young ruler is charged with North Korea’s nuclear program. Let’s hope his older brothers are able to put aside any animus and envy that exists so that sibling rivalry doesn’t cause a grave situation that could impact us all.

Shabbat Shalom!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Twittering of Gilad Shalit

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

Ynet News is reporting that the Israeli prime minister’s emissary to the negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas to return the captive Gilad Shalit said “it’s not over yet. The deal reached is pretty complicated, but the most difficult part is behind us.” The former Mossad agent turned Gilad Shalit negotiator, David Meidan, added that he plans to travel to Egypt soon, together with the negotiation team, to plan Gilad Shalit’s return to Israel.

While the deal to free Shalit was orchestrated by high-level Israeli politicians, negotiators like Meidan, and world leaders, there was also an impressive social media campaign spanning the past few years to spread word of Shalit’s captivity through the micro-blogging site Twitter. The hashtag #FreeGilad has long been used on Twitter following any statement or link relating to the cause of freeing Gilad Shalit. As Adam Dickter blogged about yesterday, Gilad Shalit was trending on Twitter moments after news about the deal began to spread.

Dickter wrote at NewsFactorNews: “News of Shalit’s release and the controversial agreement spread quickly around the world, creating a stream of tweets. The hashtag #GiladShalit moved along computer screens almost as quickly today as #SteveJobs did last week, following the death of the Apple co-founder and former CEO. A few days before that, #iPhone5 topped Twitter, when Apple released a new phone that turned out to be the iPhone 4S, not an iPhone 5, as expected.”

In the NewsFactorNews post, Dickter quoted me about the early use of Twitter to promote the Free Gilad Movement:

Rabbi Jason Miller, who writes extensively about the intersection of Jewish themes and technology, said he learned about the deal Tuesday from a New York Times Breaking News alert, and quickly Tweeted it to his 2,357 followers. It was, in a way, coming full circle, as social media have been used extensively to raise awareness of Shalit’s plight. “The hashtag #FreeGilad is one that I have been using for at least three years now,” said Miller. “In fact, it was one of the first hashtags I ever used on Twitter. I’ve also been asked by leaders of the ‘Free Gilad’ movement if I would tweet certain statements at certain times of the year, on the anniversary of his captivity.” “It’s not just news for Israelis or Jewish people, but an international story.”

Dickter also noted that Facebook also offered an opportunity for people around the world to share their thoughts. The Free Gilad Shalit group, which has 107,112 members.

No doubt that the moment Gilad Shalit is back home safe and sound, he’ll be trending in the Twittersphere once again.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Justin Bieber Gets Crossed Off Bibi’s Calendar

Fame is an odd thing. Many world leaders, diplomats and American politicians would have a difficult time getting a private meeting with the prime minister of Israel. But a 17-year-old Canadian kid with blond hair and a talent for entertaining pre-teen girls has no problem getting face time with Benjamin Netanyahu. That is, until Justin Bieber refused to meet with children living in communities affected by Gaza rocket fire. So it sounds like the Bibi-Bieber Summit is off.

Bieber was slated to meet with PM Bibi Netanyahu tomorrow evening in Israel. Netanyahu’s advisers invited a group of children from communities near the Gaza border to attend the meeting with Bieber. In fact, last week these children got off their school bus just before it was hit by a Hamas rocket. A teen was critically wounded in the incident.

Israeli new website Haaretz is now reporting that Bieber, who’s been under constant camera fire from the Paparazzi in Israel, is refusing to meet the children, which led Netanyahu to cancel their meeting.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering not only how a 17-year-old kid gets a meeting with the Israeli prime minister, but also how he rebuffs the prime minister’s request for a PR moment.

I can only identify two of Bieber’s songs and those are the ones that my children sing around the house. However, I certainly understand the allure. These teen sensations pop up every few years. After all, to paraphrase Paul Simon: “It’s every generation throws a teen hero up the pop charts.” But there must be something more about this Justin Bieber. No matter how famous they became, I don’t think Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera ever had a peace summit with a foreign leader. And they certainly didn’t manage to get dis-invited the way Bieber just did.

While I don’t see Justin Bieber becoming the next Bono and jetting off to far away nations to lobby government leaders or address Congress, I do think Netanyahu knew what he was doing by setting up the meeting and then promptly canceling it. Bibi was going to use Bieber’s fame and cache among the world’s youth to both showcase Israel and demonstrate the realities of life in Israel amid rocket fire from Gaza. But if the young pop sensation didn’t want to play ball, the deal was off.

Bibi didn’t block out an hour from his busy schedule because he needed advice from Justin Bieber or because he wanted to look cool to Israeli youth by posing for photos with their teen idol. Bibi was exploiting Bieber’s fame for what’s known in Israel as hasbara — propaganda. If Bieber wasn’t willing, I’m sure Bibi can find someone else to do it.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Joe Lieberman Tapped for Egyptian Government Post

While I’m no Jon Stewart or Andy Borowitz when it comes to political satire, I have had the following funny situation playing in my head ever since the riots in Egypt began:

PRESS CONFERENCE IN CAIRO, EGYPT

Joe Lieberman: Thank you for joining me here today in Cairo. I know it’s only been a few weeks since my press conference where I announced  I’ll retire from the Senate and not seek re-election. However, I have a major announcement to make yet again. Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, has appointed me Foreign Minister over this country.

CNN Reporter: Mr. Lieberman, when will you begin?

Joe Lieberman: The appointment is effective today… it’s immediate in light of the chaos that currently plagues Egypt. I will be the second in command. And no Jewish man has ever held such a position of power in Egypt.

Fox Reporter: Uh, that’s not actually true sir, have you read the Jewish Bible?

Joe Lieberman: Right, good point. Well, I am the first man named Joseph to…

Fox Reporter: No, that’s not quite right either Mr. Lieberman.

Joe Lieberman: Well, anyway, there’s a lot of work to be done. I’d like to thank the Pharoah, er, I mean the President for his faith in me. You know when he called me on the phone to ask me to come down here, he said he never dreamed that the political situation could get so bad. But I told him that he had in fact dreamed that it would get this bad. I keep telling him that.

AP Reporter: What will be your first order of business to calm the masses who are rioting in the street?

Joe Lieberman: I came up with this great idea to stockpile food because you just never know. I’ve been in pits before and I think that in time we can get these people to start building. Thank you very much for your time today and God Bless Egypt!

Al Jazeera Reporter: Have a good Shabbos Vizier Lieberman!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Fidel Tells Ahmadinejad to Stop Slandering the Jews

A few years ago, it looked like Fidel Castro was going to make his grand exit from the land of the living. Instead, early this summer he emerged from his medically induced hiatus. Since his return, Castro has apparently been reading The Atlantic because he contacted Jeffrey Goldberg, a reporter at the magazine recently.

While Goldberg was on vacation a couple weeks ago, the head of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington (what would be the Cuban embassy if we had diplomatic relations with Cuba) called Goldberg’s cellphone with a message from Fidel Castro. He invited him to Havana to discuss Goldberg’s article on Iran and Israel.

Fidel told Goldberg that his article in The Atlantic confirmed “his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran.” Fidel “criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the ‘unique’ history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.”

Goldberg’s reflections on his face-to-face meeting with Castro is fascinating. Perhaps, if he’s feeling up to it, Castro should be brokering peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Goldstone Report and Dore Gold

I first met Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and foreign policy adviser to Bibi Netanyahu, a few years ago at a Jewish National Fund event. I was very impressed with what he had to say and how articulately he said it. Therefore, I was excited when I was invited to hear Ambassador Gold speak about the Goldstone Report this past week at a private lunch for local rabbis.

The Goldstone Report is the independent fact-finding mission created by the United Nations Human Rights Council and led by a South African jurist to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the Gaza War. I had read several articles about the report and had seen Dore Gold debate Justice Richard Goldstone (video below), but was interested to ask him some questions about how Israel will respond to the report. Sure enough, at the luncheon arranged by AIPAC, Mr. Gold didn’t disappoint. He was able to translate the 575-page report full of legalese into easy-to-understand language. (Even he admitted that getting through the report in preparation for his debate against Justice Goldstein required much coffee and Advil.)

Ambassador Gold characterized the report as a way to de-legitimize Israel (the report says that the Israeli Defense Forces deliberately killed innocent Palestinians). He pointed out that the report doesn’t merely state that the IDF used excessive force or ignored the laws of proportionality, but that the Israeli Army intentionally targeted civilians (as part of its program). The report, he explains, attacks Israel’s very foundations. Some might be surprised that a Jewish judge (Goldstone) who has a daughter living in Israel would come to such conclusions. However, based on the history of the United Nations’ relationship with Israel over the past six decades, the report should not come as a shock.

Goldstone cites eleven cases where there was “no fog of war” and yet Israeli soldiers killed innocent Palestinians. In perhaps his best refutation of the Goldstone Report, Dore Gold points out that early in the report, Goldstone admits that it was difficult to obtain information about these questionable attacks through Palestinian testimonies because the Palestinian civilians were afraid to talk about it because they were scared of retribution. Later in the report, however, Goldstone cites individual testimony from these Palestinians as proof of the eleven cases where there was “no fog of war.”

Further, Gold points out that Hamas was using Palestinians as human shields and storing weaponry in the basements of schools during Operation Cast Lead. Contrary to what Goldstone reports, the IDF went above and beyond to warn the Palestinian civilians of impending attacks on locations where they knew weapons were being kept (leaflets were dropped and even phone call warnings were made to home and cell phones).

There will be debate among Israelis (and the world) as to how Israel should respond to the Goldstone Report. The New York Jewish Week interviewed Moshe Halbertal, co-author of the Israeli military code of ethics, who said that Israel’s refusal to conduct an independent, thorough probe of its military’s handling of last winter’s 22-day war against Hamas in Gaza as demanded by the United Nations is a “missed opportunity.”

The article stated that “Israel has said its Gaza incursion occurred in response to a nearly incessant barrage of rocket fire by Hamas terrorists in Gaza on Israeli civilians. It said the large number of Palestinian civilian casualties was because Hamas terrorists fought Israeli troops from civilian areas. Israeli media reported this week that Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi favored a limited review of the war by a committee of senior Israeli jurists. They would be permitted to question political and military leaders, as well as Israeli military officials who investigated UN allegations of war crimes, but would be barred from interviewing officers and soldiers who took part in the war.”

Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz published a lengthy rebuttal of the Goldstone Report in the January 31st Jerusalem Post online issue in which he calls the report a “study in evidentiary bias” and refers to Goldstone as an “evil, evil man” and a traitor to the Jewish people.

However the Israeli government ultimately decides to respond to the Goldstone Report, after listening to Dore Gold discuss the inherent problems and factual errors of the report, I’m glad the Israeli prime minister is consulting with him. He really seems to understand what was underlying such a one-sided UN report. Here is the video of Dore Gold responding to Justice Goldstone at the Brandeis University debate:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Conservative Movement in DC

The Reform Movement, under the sage guidance of Rabbi David Saperstein, has always taken the lead in domestic politics. Saperstein, voted Newsweek Magazine’s most influential rabbi, heads the Reform Movement’s Religion Action Committee (RAC). The RAC’s website states that it “has been the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in the nation’s capital for more than 40 years. The RAC educates and mobilizes the American Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on issues from economic justice to civil rights to religious liberty to Israel.” Similarly, the Orthodox Union has the OU Institute for Public Affairs.

The Conservative Movement has never had a Washington Office or a “man in D.C.” Until now. Recently, the Rabbinical Assembly tapped Rabbi Jack Moline (right) to be its first director of public policy. Moline says the position will be an extension of the political advocacy and activist work he’s been doing as an individual rabbi for the last 25 years, and he’s anxious to use the connections cultivated in Washington to advance the agenda of Conservative rabbis.

I ran into Jack Moline when I was in Washington recently for the AIPAC Policy Conference. I was headed to dinner at the Kosher restaurant “Eli’s” with two other Conservative rabbis from Detroit. Jack offered to drive us from the Washington Convention Center to the restuarant which gave us an opportunity to both congratulate him on his new appointment and to ask him some questions. The bottom line is that it is too bad the Conservative Movement waited this long to create a director of public policy in Washington, but it is wonderful that Jack Moline will serve in this position. He’s the perfect choice. In his initial statement on public policy, Jack wrote:

The goal is to bring as much added value to public policy discussions as possible, especially by the inclusion of perspectives that reflect the Jewish values that flow from the ethos of Conservative Judaism. Of necessity, I will rely on colleagues from the OU and the RAC, JCPA and UJC, but our advocacy will not be an automatic echo of either one. Effective advocacy is a matter of finding common ground – in a sense, p’sharah – not merely proclaiming ideals. As such, we will sometimes find ourselves in coalition with groups with whom we will other times disagree: Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Muslims, atheists and a host of Protestant denominational groups.

Already, one notices the Rabbinical Assembly finding its voice when it comes to matters in Washington. Only days before the AIPAC Policy Conference, it was announced that Michael Oren was being considered for the position of Israeli Ambassador to the United States. The Rabbinical Assembly wasted no time in issuing a press release to commend the appointment.

The RA noted in its statement that Oren is the product of a Conservative Jewish upbringing in New Jersey. Further, Dr. Oren spoke at the RA convention in 2004, following the publication of his book, Six Days of War.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the incoming executive vice president of the RA terms Michael Oren an “iconic figure whose intellect and communication abilities are without peer in contemporary political life. No one today can argue the case for Israel in quite the way that he can,” she reiterated. “Whether in his IDF uniform in front of CNN’s cameras or on the pages of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times, Michael Oren has been acting as a de facto ambassador for Israel for quite some time.”

At the AIPAC conference, Dr. Oren spoke at a luncheon for rabbis. The RA also noted in the press release that “the overwhelming majority of rabbis who were in attendance [at the luncheon] are Conservative.” To be fair, Oren explained that his Judaism has roots in many movements. In fact, he explained that he was raised in Conservative Judaism but dropped out of his Conservative synagogue’s Hebrew School. He’s also had religoius experiences with Chabad and was a member in the Reform “Kol Haneshama” in his Jerusalem neighborhood.

Oren is a great choice for the ambassador position. I’ve heard him speak several times and I’ve been impressed on each occasion. He will certainly have company in Washington with other political and economic leaders who have roots in Conservative Judaism, including Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

United Synagogue Moves to New Digs and Gets Some International Neighbors

Rapaport House - 155 Fifth Avenue - Manhattan - Rabbi Jason Miller's BlogIn December 2006, I was one of the first to post about the announced sale of the headquarters building for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the congregational arm of Conservative Judaism worldwide. Well, now it has been reported that USCJ sold the Rapaport House (155 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan) for $26.5 million and acquired new headquarters on two floors at 820 Second Avenue. I’m sure this was quite a return on investment for United Synagogue since it acquired 155 Fifth Avenue (pictured) some three decades ago.

USCJ plans to move into its new location in early 2008, but what is most interesting is who its neighbors in the building will be. The article at GlobeSt.com lists both Trinidad & Tobago‘s and Peru‘s permanent missions to the UN as well as the government of Croatia. I did a quick web search, however, and also learned that the permanent missions to the UN for Nepal, Nicaragua, Micronesia, Korea, Liberia, and Madagascar also rent space in this building. And, as if that’s not enough global representation to make things interesting, Syria‘s UN mission is also based in the building. In fact, there have been numerous rallies in front of this building demanding that Syria release Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit.

Furthermore, the United Nations Federal Credit Union now occupies floors 10 and 11 — the two floors that will soon be USCJ’s home, so the UN will become United Synagogue’s temporary tenant until it relocates.

So not only will the international leaders of Conservative Judaism be sharing their elevator rides with the Peruvian ambassador (USY Peru/Israel Pilgrimage anyone?), they will also be the landlord to the United Nations’ Bank. Interesting!

And I hear there’s also a strong possibility that the Syrian Arab Republic can use United Synagogue’s restroom key on all Jewish holidays when USCJ’s offices are closed (sounds like an even trade if Israel can keep the Golan Heights). This could be the first step toward peace in the Middle East. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that lobby.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller