Friday, February 24, 2006

Urgent Memo to President Bush: The Sky is Falling

Urgent Memo to President Bush: The Sky is Falling

Dov Burt Levy
Jewish Journal (North of Boston)
column altered from original)
February 24, 2006

Chicken Little couldn't have put it better: The sky is falling, really falling, on the White House. They can't seem to get it right. They can't tell which issues are important, which need top priority, what the citizenry ought to know. Or even when something is clearly top priority, they can't seem to staff it right by putting highly skilled people in a position to give the president good advice or do the work.

When a Republican Congressional committee issues a blistering report challenging the competence and truthfulness of a Republican White House, a Republican president could not be in worse trouble. I refer to the report last week detailing in humiliating depths the shallowness of White House efforts, and the operatives' incompetence in trying to rescue the storm victims of Mississippi and Louisiana.

Only the Cheney shooting debacle kept this report from being the top news.

The truth is that events go by so fast that the average citizen, or even those of us who are paid to keep up with the news, can hardly get a grip on any one thing.

I call it the merry-go-round effect. Remember as the Revere Beach "Flying Horses" turned, you could try to reach out and attempt a capture of a brass ring entitling you to another ride.

Lots of luck; it wasn't easy. And neither is it easy to remember the failures of a month ago. Old news vaporizes on the TV. Last week's newspapers and their once-big stories are recycled and put out with the trash.

Well, let me add some specificity to the list of mistakes at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by telling you about the White Houses' Hamas election fiasco, a story that has been lost on the news merry-go-round. Believe me, our attention will refocus on this issue as Hamas takes office in the Palestinian Authority government.

Let's go back a month. Remember how surprised the White House was by the Hamas victory? What was seen in pre-election polls as a 65-70 percent victory for Fatah over a 30-35 percent showing for Hamas turned out to be just the opposite.

Secretary of State Condelezza Rice said at a press conference, "I've asked [the staff] why nobody saw it [the Hamas victory] coming….It does say something about us not having a good enough pulse."

Pulse, Madame Secretary? How about knowledge and common sense?

College undergrads taking Political Science 101 know that polls work best (or only) in a first world country where a representative sample of likely voters can be queried, and where the likely responses won't be driven by fear and secrecy.

The Palestinian areas don't have a wide network of landline telephones. Phone directories, not listing cell phones, are grossly inaccurate. How do you find a representative sample in crowded urban areas or refugee camps? If you ever visited the nooks and crannies of the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, you understand the problem.

More important, the Palestinian people know that keeping their mouths shut, their opinions to themselves, is not only wise but also life preserving. Vigilantes shoot or hang those accused of having wrong opinions, wrong friends, or wrong actions

The State Department, CIA, and White House should never have assumed the pre-election poll numbers were reasonably accurate. That is why our nation was not prepared to respond in a planned and useful way to the Hamas victory. Perhaps the president should not have insisted on holding an election when both Palestinian and Israeli officials urged delay.

Breaking news after I prepared this column: The Bush administration announces a contract giving a United Arab Emirates company the management of six major U.S. ports. I believe the White House when they say they were unaware of the contract. Certainly, given their demagogery using the national security card against all political opponents, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Andrew Card would have tried to cook this deal into an edible meal before the announcement. Even here, they can't seem to get their information, lower level appointees and political brain working together. My guess is that they lose another one.

God save the nation.

Spontaneously Planned Protests Are Oxymoron of the Year

Spontaneously Planned Protests Are Oxymoron of the Year
January 27, 2006

You've got to give credit where credit is due. Those Muslim SRZs (super-religious zealots) sure know how to manage a worldwide Spontaneously Planned Protest, perfectly timed to distract from other issues important to them.

Imagine being able to mount violent demonstrations in 20 or 30 cities, with the same slogans being chanted, the same over-the-head clenched fists and here's the biggie a plentiful supply of Danish flags to burn. Who would have thought that Danish flags were in such good supply in all the Arab capitals?

The Muslim SRZs would have the world believe this violence is really about the cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, that these are a people's spontaneous uprisings, and that they don't know that Western governments do not control what gets printed in their newspapers.

By now most of us know that these offensive cartoons first appeared last September, some five months ago.

You don't have to hold a Ph.D. in political science to see through the propaganda. To see that perhaps these violent demonstrations all over the world, fueled by self-righteous statements from the heads of many Arab countries, are designed to divert attention from two key issues, as well as to give the appearance of Arab power and solidarity.

The first issue, of course, is the possible United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran's nuclear development, a program which, once attained, will threaten a dozen countries in the Middle East and beyond.

The second is the recent Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections and the continuing question of whether foreign aid will continue to flow to a country dedicated, in word and deed, to the destruction of Israel.

What a good job the Spontaneously Planned Protests have done in replacing these other issues in the worldwide media.

But even more important is the message these demonstrations send: If we can mount protests of such ferocity over a few cartoons in a small newspaper, in a small nation with an obscure language, imagine what we Muslims are capable of doing if sanctions fall upon Iran or Hamas.

Of course, now the question becomes, what will the world do?

So far, some newspapers have rerun the offensive cartoons as a sign of solidarity with their beleaguered Danish newspaper colleagues. For them, the issue is freedom of the press.

I like that idea, but must admit that political cartoons like those depicting Israel as a Nazi nation make me want to at least smash an egg on the head of the cartoonist. Regardless, most of us would not burn an embassy to protest an offensive item in a newspaper.

I like less the fact that some Western politicians are trying to mollify the street by showing sympathy with the demonstrators. Too bad that the Arab street is controlled by Muslim clergy and the demonstrators will not be listening to the simpatico Western pronouncements.

Rather, I would ask those Muslim leaders why demonstrations have not been launched against the suicide bombers and terrorist killers of 20,000 innocent Iraqi civilians over the past three years. My take is that the same Muslim leaders behind the cartoon uprising are the ones behind the daily murders in Iraq.

What about the attitudes and opinions of the citizenry at large in the non-Muslim countries around the world, particularly in North America and Western Europe? What will we think of all this? What will we remember? How will these events carry over to politicians and parties vying for power and votes in the future?

Or will the Super Bowl, to be played six hours from the time I sit here writing, be what most people remember six months from now?

No Existential Crisis in Israel After Sharon

No Existential Crisis in Israel After Sharon

Jewish Journal North of Boston
January 13, 2006

Since Prime Minister Sharon’s stroke and surgery three weeks ago, I have seen the most wrong-headed, irrational analyses of Israel’s situation.

Based on what I saw, peace was probably finished, Israel was in a state of confusion, and the citizenry was in panic. The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer wrote a column headlined “Calamity for Israel,” in which he wrote: “The stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could prove to be one of the great disasters in the country’s nearly 60-year history.”

Dan Gillerman, Israel’s representative at the U.N., said, “When your father is desperately ill, we his children feel very worried, nearly orphaned and very, very sad.”

I shouted at the television set: “Dayenu, enough.”

Israel doesn’t have or need a father-like head of state. The all-powerful Father-Rulers dominate countries like Cuba, North Korea and Syria.

No modern democracy — with an honestly elected parliament, an established civil service, an independent judiciary and a free press — has ever collapsed with the death of a leader.

Think Roosevelt, Kennedy, Rabin. Remember how the successors stepped in, carried on, and fought for goals in the name of the former leader.

So it will be in Israel. People will go to work and kids to school. The military will stand fast in protecting the nation. And the movement towards disengaging from the Palestinians, setting the stage for their independent state, will continue. Life will continue with no existential crisis.

Should Ehud Olmert become prime minister, he will do just fine. Most polls are showing Olmert, in politics for 32 years and second to Sharon in the newly established Kadima party, with as much, maybe a bit more, electoral clout than even Sharon.

Why not? He is seen as a good politician and a key developer of the Sharon policy of withdrawal, disengagement and building the security fence. Plus, ten years as Jerusalem’s mayor may be Israel’s best training in diplomacy and administration.
Another reasonable electoral choice, especially for a likely coalition partner, is the Labor Party, headed by Amir Peretz — immigrant to Israel as a youngster, a working farmer, former mayor of Sderot (a town in the Negev), head of the Histadrut Labor Union, and chairman of the political party Amechad.

Rather than being anxious about Israel’s future, I look forward to the election. Israel’s parliamentary system means that every vote cast has significance; parties gain Knesset seats in proportion to the votes received. In the American system, the losing votes just evaporate. That’s why, come election time, many Israelis abroad return to cast that one vote.

I invite you, especially those who have never been, to fly to Tel Aviv, see the country, stay at least two weeks and, feel how safe and sec-ure it is.

You will be glad you did. Plus, I assure you that the next time you hear all the television blather about Israel in crisis, you will stand up with me and shout, “Dayenu, enough.”

Be assured that all potential prime ministers are well aware of Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons aimed at Israel. That’s a real existential threat to be addressed by Israel’s next prime minister. Stay tuned.

Beware of the War Against Our Potato Latkes

Beware of the War Against Our Potato Latkes

Jewish Journal North of Boston
December 31, 2005

December was not the best month for me this year.

Every day I kept hearing about the people engaged in destroying Christmas. All I heard was that “they” were doing it and I was becoming certain that “they” meant me, a Jew, along with all the other Jews.

On Nov. 28, my birthday no less, FOX News’ Bill O’Reilly, the reigning king of self-righteous hyperbole, ranted about Christian philosophy being diminished by “secular progressives” operating under “a very secret plan.”

Two weeks before that, Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) said, “Christmas had been declared politically incorrect,” and proposed a resolution to protect the symbols and traditions of Christmas. To which Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) asked: “Did somebody mug Santa Claus?” And Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) composed a poem stating, “we [Congresspeople] need a distraction, something divisive and wily, a fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly. We will pretend Christmas is under attack, hold a vote to save it, then pat ourselves on the back.” The measure passed overwhelmingly.

Crazy? Yes. But, those TV and radio personalities gain fame and income, as in the sales receipts for this season’s popular book, “The War on Christmas,” by John Gibson, another FOX News showpiece.

Yet, funny but sad, a few Jews have joined the Christian zealots (I am not making this up) in an apologia for other Jews. They call themselves the Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation (JAACD) and Don Feder, former Boston Herald columnist, is its president. Other wilted luminaries include ZOA President Morton Klein and comic Jackie Mason.

Shame on them for trying to kasher a war against opponents of Christmas where no war really exists.

I have an idea. We Jews need a conspiracy theory so we can have our own December diversion and maybe a new job for me. So here goes.

Issue: They have a secret plan to remove potato latkes from our American Chanukah holiday. That’s right, the plan replaces our sacred potato latkes, the religious gourmet delicacy of our foremothers, recipes carried on parchment on slow boats from Eastern Europe. The replacement: Israeli sufganiot (jelly doughnuts).

Don’t believe me? Go to Israel during Hanukah and you will find a mountain of sufganiot and just a tiny hill of latkes.
Why jelly doughnuts? Both jelly doughnuts and latkes are made with lots of oil, symbolizing the miracle of one day’s oil lasting eight days.

The few Israeli latkes that surface from clandestine frying pans are often so tasteless that the gourmet Israeli palette rejects them. The pro-sufganiot zealots are now heading for America, with the help of local Jews.

Check out the advertisements from Larry Levine and the Butcherie in the Jewish Journal’s Dec. 16 edition. Both are marvelous stores. Neither advertisement mentions sufganiot but both promise (and deliver) great latkes.

But, check out the Butcherie advertisement in the Boston Jewish Advocate the same week and find under latkes, a line (OK, half the size) selling sufganiot. Why sufganiot in one paper and not the other?

Because, when Brookline and Newton — cities known for Jewish success and accomplishment — embrace jelly doughnuts, the communities north of Boston will follow.

The worry: Within five years, all New England Jews will walk around with powdered sugar on their lips. Our sensuous onion-potato smell will have disappeared. The sufganiot takeover will be complete.

To counteract this, the major goal of my newly-formed organization (please send me your contribution) will be to convince Dunkin’ Donuts to market a whole range of flavorful latkes next year and to make no mention of sufganiot.

Bless O’Reilly and his cohorts, who have inspired the making of something out of nothing, regargless of how much negative tension it produces. Happy Chanukah.

Readers Respond the Column About the High Cost of Being Jewish

Readers Respond to Column About the High Cost of Being Jewish

Jewish Journal North of Boston

December 16, 2005

Last issue I wrote about the high dollar cost of the Jewish community’s religious, educational and community programs. I said committees that judge a family’s financial ability and offer fee reductions were demeaning and prevented people, especially kids, from full community participation. The resulting mountain of mail proved that I touched a sensitive nerve. It revealed a wide range of feelings and, I must say, a lot of good will.

A rabbi wrote emphasizing the importance of religious and social programs and functions, all of which require funding:

“How shall we survive without money? How is one to pay the professionals who dedicate their lives to the Jewish People; how to support the structures, afford books, salaries, and honoraria for guest lecturers; pay for phones and electric and programming, etc? Alas, there is no free lunch. It’s expensive to be a Jew. Yet there is money for lots of other things — more than ever before. What are our priorities? It is not a simple issue. But who said life was supposed to be simple? So we struggle along and do the best we can and hope people will understand and help.”

A former temple president wrote emphasizing the lay leadership’s concern about balancing the budget: “Having been president of my temple, I saw many shnorrers. We didn’t sell or assign seats for the holidays, but the first to arrive always seemed to be the non-contributors. During my administration, we set low minimum dues with a request for a donation to help cover those who were not able to pay. We included anyone who came and wanted to be a member, without question.”

“Then on the first Rosh Hashanah in our newly remodeled building, I did not give an aliyah to a very comfortable businessman who had paid no dues for the previous two years though he had offered in-kind material for our new building, which somehow never arrived. His wife and son went ballistic about ‘Harold’s traditional aliyah. The following Monday, Harold stormed into my office, tossed a $500 check on my desk, said his secretary messed up, and shouted ‘screw your aliyah.’ It’s hard to run a Jewish organization!”

The shnorrer factor depends upon where you sit, at least according to one reader: “Too often, a person or family going through financial hardship for whatever reason, can be made to feel like shnorrers if they ask for help from their fellow Jews.”

People carry pain for a long time over negative experiences: “Forty years ago I wanted to enroll my son for Bar Mitzvah in a nearby temple. He would have learned quickly, as now he is a tenured university science professor. At the time, however, I couldn’t afford the very high fee. The temple would not scale it down. So — he was never Bar Mitzvahed. I never forgot it.”

For another reader, the committee process did not leave a bad taste: “I remember my mother going to the JCC to ask for scholarships for us children to go to summer camp. Somehow, my parents carried it off without any loss of dignity and even we [children] weren’t ashamed, but this is only the exception that proves the rule you describe so clearly.”

And here is a reader who adds another dimension: “We have one child in college and two in a Jewish day school. Even with both of us working hard, paying three tuitions really straps us. We would like to send the little ones to some of the JCC activities and/or to Jewish summer camp. We just can’t do it. Too bad, I know these organizations need funds to operate. It’s a tough problem.”

My brother Bill, a businessman, says, “You can see this as an unsolvable problem or as an opportunity.” He is right. We, as a community, have an opportunity to insure that every child, regardless of their parents’ financial condition, and without well-intentioned but demeaning committees, has access to a full range of Jewish community programs.

I am asking you, dear readers, for your ideas, and I will make certain they get to those in a position to affect change.