NY Times’ Misguided News Alerts

Last week, the Zionist Organization of America issued a press release expressing its shock that President Barack Obama omitted Israel in his list of countries suffering from terrorist attacks. ZOA was appalled by the omission.

The Obama Administration released the President’s talking points for the forthcoming tenth anniversary of 9/11 and while the speech included eight cities were terrorism has occurred, he didn’t include an Israeli city. This is the statement the ZOA took issue with: “As we commemorate the citizens of over 90 countries who perished in the 9/11 attacks, we honor all victims of terrorism, in every nation around the world … We honor and celebrate the resilience of individuals, families, and communities on every continent, whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, or Lahore or London.”

The ZOA press release also referenced a 2008 speech Obama delivered as a candidate when he mentioned six cities plagued by terrorism but failed to include an Israeli city. I thought the ZOA’s statement was unnecessary. It is clear that President Obama was using alliteration in his speech and sought to provide some examples of where terrorism has occurred. Perhaps if terrorism were more prevalent in a major world city like Johannesburg, he could have included “Jerusalem or Johannesburg” in his speech. The President wasn’t giving priority to these world cities over any other location where terrorism has occurred, he was merely stating that we should honor and celebrate the resilience of people everywhere. Just as Chicago would be included if we say “in New York or LA,” so too Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are included when the President says “Lahore or London”.

So, I didn’t think the ZOA’s rant was necessary. I do, however, raise my eyebrows at the NY Times’ decision to not issue an email news alert about yesterday’s storming of Israel’s Egyptian Embassy by thousands of protesters in Cairo and the necessary evacuation of its diplomats by Israeli military jets.

I’ve been receiving email news alerts from the NY Times for many years. Most of the time they are legitimately “breaking news” stories. Sometimes the news alerts refer to breaking political news and sometimes they let you know if a major sports milestone occurred. Oftentimes they alert us if a notable person has died.

I was surprised last night after Shabbat when the only news alert I saw in my email inbox from the NY Times let me know that actor Cliff Robertson had died. Who was Cliff Robertson? Exactly!

Even though over 80 personnel and family members of Israel’s embassy in Cairo had to be saved in an emergency rescue operation after violent riots erupted there, the NY Times felt that the only “breaking news” that had to conveyed to its news alert subscribers was that a little known actor had died. In the alert, the Times even described Robertson as an actor who “never quite reached the top echelon of movie stardom.”

I don’t think President Obama deserves to be attacked for neglecting to include an Israeli city in his brief listing of world cities where terrorism occurs (everyone knows Israel has had her share of terrorist attacks), I do think it is curious that the NY Times is so misguided when deciding what news actually deserves an email news alert.

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

Evangelical Zionists

“I had them at Shalom.”

These words are attributed to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein as he was on his way back to Chicago in a rented compact Chevy with author Zev Chafets after Eckstein addressed a group of Christian Zionists at the Family Christian Center in Munster, Indiana.

Zev ChafetsI’ve read every book that Zev Chafets has written. Zev’s books are hard to put down — they are witty, provocative, and informative. I’ve known Zev Chafets my whole life. He is a family friend who was once married to my mother’s best friend. His most recent book, however, I read not because of the author but rather because of the subject matter that intrigued me.

A couple years ago when I was directing the monthly Synaplex program for Adat Shalom Synagogue in suburban Detroit I needed to find an interesting speaker to follow Shabbat dinner. I put in a phone call to Zev in New York who graciously accepted my invitation to come to Adat Shalom (he is a native Detroiter who grew up in Pontiac). He told me he would talk about his current project — Christian Zionists and the Judeo-Evangelical Alliance. It was December 2005 and Zev was about to travel to Israel with a group of Evangelicals as part of his research for A Match Made in Heaven, his new book (a chapter in the book is Zev’s travelogue from his Christian pilgrimage).

Zev ChafetsZev spoke brilliantly at Adat Shalom about the phenomenon that is the passionate love that Evangelical Christians feel for the State of Israel (and how they back this up with their charitable commitments to Israel). I hadn’t previously given much thought to Christian Zionism, but like most Jews at the time I was fairly skeptical about the motivations behind Christian support of Israel. Following Zev’s talk, my interest was piqued. Over the course of the ensuing two years, I read as much as I could about Christian Zionism, I invited Pastor Glenn Plummer (Fellowship of Israel and Black America) to address my synagogue in Ohio, I was captivated by an emotionally charged speech by Pastor John Hagee at the AIPAC Policy Conference, I dialogued with Israeli tour guides Linda Olmert and Danny Ehrlich of Keshet Israel about their experiences guiding Christians through Israel, and most recently I completed Zev’s book.

Zev devotes an entire chapter to an individual who has committed his life to reaching out to Christian Zionists for the sake of Israel and Israelis. He characterizes Yechiel Eckstein as an Orthodox rabbi who “had become a televangelist.” Eckstein, who runs the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has raised millions of dollars from evangelical Christians and given that money away to Jewish charities. Zev spends much time with Eckstein — both on the road and at his headquarters in Chicago — and provides the reader with an in-depth perspective about Eckstein’s background and the motivation for his work.

Rabbi Yechiel EcksteinOne thing is clear in Zev’s evaluation of Eckstein (right), his popularity among Christians is unmatched among Jews. Eckstein has long had detractors in the major American Jewish organizations, especially the Anti-Defamation League where Eckstein got his professional start. In Zev’s book, he quotes ADL executive director Abe Foxman “as accusing Eckstein of selling the dignity of the Jewish people by pandering to Christians.”

Israel’s political leaders have long appreciated and recognized the importance of Christian tourism in Israel (a point made several times by Zev in his book). Further, following John Hagee’s well received AIPAC speech in March, strong supporters of Israel among the Jewish community have learned how vital and reassuring the genuine Christian support of Israel is. And a major development this week may change the way the Jewish community views Christian Zionism.

The JTA reports that “thousands of evangelical Christian donors now have a powerful seat at the table of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the vanguard of the Zionist movement. The Jewish Agency announced last week it has forged a ‘strategic partnership’ with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an organization that depends primarily on conservative Christian donors to raise tens of millions of dollars per year to help Israel and impoverished Jews in the Diaspora.”

In exchange for an annual $15 million contribution to the Jewish Agency, Yechiel Eckstein will be given a seat on the Jewish Agency’s highest governing committee. The article addresses the Jewish community’s ambivalence about financial support from evangelical Christians, stating, “the fear being that some might be motivated at least in part by the belief that the Apocalypse and the return of Jesus can take place only once Jews move back to the Holy Land.” [complete JTA article]

Perhaps this news will give Zev Chafets cause to pen a new epilogue to the paperback edition of A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance. It is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Israel and the Christian support of the Jewish state. Hopefully, Zev Chafets will alleviate the concerns and cynicism the American Jewish community has about Christian support of Israel. As Zev eloquently puts it, the evangelical Christian Zionists in America are “not the enemy. They are the enemy of the enemy, and they want to be accepted and appreciated. In return they are offering a wartime alliance and full partnership in a Judeo-Christian America. It is an offer the Jews of America should consider while it is still on the table.” Well said.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Glenn Plummer in Shul and Zev Chafets on "The Colbert Report"

Pastor Glenn Plummer and Rabbi Jason MillerThis past Friday evening my synagogue hosted Pastor Glenn Plummer (in photo at left) as the keynote speaker for part of our Synaplex Shabbat. Glenn Plummer, a Black Evangelical minister from Detroit, founded the Fellowship of Israel and Black America (FIBA) in February 2006. FIBA is a partnership with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.

It is unfortunate that only 75 people were in attendance because Pastor Plummer was such a charismatic, energetic, and passionate speaker. I found him to be genuine in his love for Israel both in his public lecture as well as in our private conversations. Everyone was truly moved by his message and they haven’t stopped talking about how impressed they were with his presentation. He seriously loves Israel and he loves the Jewish people. Pastor Plummer explains that his commitment to Israel stems from the Torah’s message in Genesis 12:3, specifically that God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.

In what was the most intensely emotional moment of Pastor Plummer’s speech, he thanked all of the Jewish people on behalf of the Black community for the strong support provided by Jews during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. He explained that Black leaders should in turn bless Jewish people today, and supporting Israel is one way to do this.

The evangelical support for Israel is strong and yet we in the Jewish community remain skeptical of it. After listening to Pastor Plummer’s words and conversing with him privately, I have come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t be skeptical of this support any longer. Jews certainly do not have to agree with everything Evangelical Christians believe – and we shouldn’t agree with everything they believe – but their support of Israel is genuine.

Zev Chafetz (in photo at right), a family friend whom I’ve known since I was a little baby, recently published a book about the Christian Evangelical support of Israel called A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance. Zev is originally from Pontiac, Michigan and was at one time married to my mother’s best friend. He made aliyah to Israel in the late 1960’s and headed the Israeli Government Press Office under Menachem Begin, but he currently lives and writes in New York.

Last year, I invited Zev to speak at Adat Shalom Synagogue following Shabbat dinner for a Synaplex (“SYNergy”) Shabbat. Close to finishing his book at the time, Zev spoke about his adventures while researching the Evangelical Christian community. I was excited to see Zev on “The Colbert Report” Monday night (video below). It was one of the best interviews I’ve seen Stephen Colbert do, and Zev was both funny and cynical — true to form.


We’re going to be hearing a lot more about the Christian Evangelical support of Israel in the near future. I plan to attend Pastor Plummer’s session on the subject at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington in a couple weeks.

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

Lipstadt: Carter has a "Jewish Problem"

From the Washington Post

Jimmy Carter’s Jewish Problem
By Deborah Lipstadt

It is hard to criticize an icon. Jimmy Carter’s humanitarian work has saved countless lives. Yet his life has also been shaped by the Bible, where the Hebrew prophets taught us to speak truth to power. So I write.

Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” while exceptionally sensitive to Palestinian suffering, ignores a legacy of mistreatment, expulsion and murder committed against Jews. It trivializes the murder of Israelis. Now, facing a storm of criticism, he has relied on anti-Semitic stereotypes in defense.

One cannot ignore the Holocaust’s impact on Jewish identity and the history of the Middle East conflict. When an Ahmadinejad or Hamas threatens to destroy Israel, Jews have historical precedent to believe them. Jimmy Carter either does not understand this or considers it irrelevant.

His book, which dwells on the Palestinian refugee experience, makes two fleeting references to the Holocaust. The book contains a detailed chronology of major developments necessary for the reader to understand the current situation in the Middle East. Remarkably, there is nothing listed between 1939 and 1947. Nitpickers might say that the Holocaust did not happen in the region. However, this event sealed in the minds of almost all the world’s people then the need for the Jewish people to have a Jewish state in their ancestral homeland. Carter never discusses the Jewish refugees who were prevented from entering Palestine before and after the war. One of Israel’s first acts upon declaring statehood was to send ships to take those people “home.”

A guiding principle of Israel is that never again will persecuted Jews be left with no place to go. Israel’s ideal of Jewish refuge is enshrined in laws that grant immediate citizenship to any Jew who requests it. A Jew, for purposes of this law, is anyone who, had that person lived in Nazi Germany, would have been stripped of citizenship by the Nuremberg Laws.

Compare Carter’s approach with that of Rashid Khalidi, head of Columbia University’s Middle East Institute and a professor of Arab studies there. His recent book “The Iron Cage” contains more than a dozen references to the seminal place the Holocaust and anti-Semitism hold in the Israeli worldview. This from a Palestinian who does not cast himself as an evenhanded negotiator.

In contrast, by almost ignoring the Holocaust, Carter gives inadvertent comfort to those who deny its importance or even its historical reality, in part because it helps them deny Israel’s right to exist. This from the president who signed the legislation creating the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Carter’s minimization of the Holocaust is compounded by his recent behavior. On MSNBC in December, he described conditions for Palestinians as “one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation” in the world. When the interviewer asked “Worse than Rwanda?” Carter said that he did not want to discuss the “ancient history” of Rwanda.

To give Carter the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that he meant an ongoing crisis. Is the Palestinians’ situation equivalent to Darfur, which our own government has branded genocide?

Carter has repeatedly fallen back — possibly unconsciously — on traditional anti-Semitic canards. In the Los Angeles Times last month, he declared it”politically suicide” for a politician to advocate a “balanced position” on the crisis. On Al-Jazeera TV, he dismissed the critique of his book by declaring that “most of the condemnations of my book came from Jewish-American organizations.” Jeffrey Goldberg, who lambasted the book in The Post last month, writes for the New Yorker. Ethan Bronner, who in the New York Times called the book “a distortion,” is the Times’ deputy foreign editor. Slate’s Michael Kinsley declared it “moronic.” Dennis Ross, who was chief negotiator on the conflict in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, described the book as a rewriting and misrepresentation of history. Alan Dershowitz teaches at Harvard and Ken Stein at Emory. Both have criticized the book. Because of the book’s inaccuracies and imbalance and Carter’s subsequent behavior, 14 members of the Carter Center’s Board of Councilors have resigned — many in anguish because they so respect Carter’s other work. All are Jews. Does that invalidate their criticism — and mine — or render us representatives of Jewish organizations?

On CNN, Carter bemoaned the “tremendous intimidation in our country that has silenced” the media. Carter has appeared on C-SPAN, “Larry King Live” and “Meet the Press,” among many shows. When a caller to C-SPAN accused Carter of anti-Semitism, the host cut him off. Who’s being silenced?

Perhaps unused to being criticized, Carter reflexively fell back on this kind of innuendo about Jewish control of the media and government. Even if unconscious, such stereotyping from a man of his stature is noteworthy. When David Duke spouts it, I yawn. When Jimmy Carter does, I shudder.

Others can enumerate the many factual errors in this book. A man who has done much good and who wants to bring peace has not only failed to move the process forward but has given refuge to scoundrels.

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

Mass resignation from Carter Center (JTA)

From JTA.org

Fourteen Jewish members of the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned to protest the former president’s book blaming Israel for the failure of Middle East peace efforts.

In a letter to Carter obtained by JTA, the group wrote Thursday that he had abandoned his role as peace broker in favor of malicious partisan advocacy, portraying the conflict as a “purely one-sided affair” which Israel bears full responsibility for resolving.

“This is not the Carter Center or the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support,” the letter said.

“Therefore it is with sadness and regret that we hereby tender our resignation from the Board of Councilors of the Carter Center effective immediately.”

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

Jimmy Carter’s Maps Questioned by Dennis Ross

Jimmy-Carter-Israel-MapIn a NY Times article, former Ambassador Dennis Ross raises some serious criticism of Jimmy Carter’s use of maps in his new book “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” Of course, Ross is not the first to criticize Carter for the way he uses the maps (or where he got them) to make his argument. Prof. Alan Dershowitz (see his article in the Boston Globe) has offered to debate Carter about his arguments in the book, but Carter has refused the challenge.

Here is the Ross op-ed from the New York Times:

Don’t Play with Maps
By Dennis Ross

I became embroiled in a controversy with former President Jimmy Carter over the use of two maps in his recent book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” While some criticized what appeared to be the misappropriation of maps I had commissioned for my book, “The Missing Peace,” my concern was always different.

I was concerned less with where the maps had originally come from — Mr. Carter has said that he used an atlas that was published after my book appeared — and more with how they were labeled. To my mind, Mr. Carter’s presentation badly misrepresents the Middle East proposals advanced by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and in so doing undermines, in a small but important way, efforts to bring peace to the region.

In his book, Mr. Carter juxtaposes two maps labeled the “Palestinian Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000” and “Israeli Interpretation of Clinton’s Proposal 2000.”

The problem is that the “Palestinian interpretation” is actually taken from an Israeli map presented during the Camp David summit meeting in July 2000, while the “Israeli interpretation” is an approximation of what President Clinton subsequently proposed in December of that year. Without knowing this, the reader is left to conclude that the Clinton proposals must have been so ambiguous and unfair that Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was justified in rejecting them. But that is simply untrue. [more]

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