December 31st: The World Can’t Settle When It Comes to Israel

It seems that, over the past few years, the United Nations has made it a habit of putting forward a piece of toothless legislation meant to slap Israel in the face, only to have the American Jewish population cry out in protest. The American government has gotten quieter and quieter in their support of Israel, moving from a die-hard support of Israel to a far more tepid policy, one that says support out of the mouth, but actions that leave the question open to interpretation.

This time around, the UN has put forward a resolution in which it calls out Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, and the pattern starts all over again. The problem is, the situation appears totally devoid of context, and leaves Israel open to fundamentally unwarranted character criticism. 

Let’s start with the settlements. In the early 2005, the Israeli government disengaged from Gaza, essentially forfeiting the territory to complete Palestinian rule. The Gaza Strip and West Bank proceeded to become the central hub for Palestinians living in the Middle East, and, today, is controlled by the majority party of the Palestinian authority, Fatah. It is vital to note that Fatah, in an election in 2006, turned over control to Hamas, a known terror organization with rampant hostility to the Jews and the Jewish state.

After the removal of Israelis from Gaza in the mid 2000s, Jewish settlers have since moved into the areas at the boundaries of the settlements, slowly choking off what little spaces exist in the territories to begin with. These are Jewish families who believe that Israel’s government had no right to give land away, and that they will ignore whatever anyone has to say about it: this land is Israel. Period. It is impossible to ignore the fact that cost of living in these areas is also dramatically lower, making it to one’s financial benefit to intrude on Palestinian land, rather than to live in Israel proper.

This is where today’s politics get nasty. On the one hand, the settlements are terrible for the state of Israel. In effect, these individuals are forgoing Israel’s policy on land and impeding on the land that Israel gave up. To the international community, this looks as though Israel is unwilling to follow the agreements they established a decade ago. Yet, to attack the settlers, one essentially must attack Israel for not having done enough to stop them, and thus seem to be in opposition with Israel.

Israel, of course, has an obligation to ensure that its citizens are abiding by the law and living where they are supposed to live. But, that means that Israel is guilty of being negligent, not malicious, or unable to control its people, not governmental encroachment. Israel would hardly be the only country in the world without a strong grip on their population. It’s part of the cost of a democracy, something that Israel knows in a Middle East without a peer in that regard.

To make matters worse, Fatah seems to love talking about the settlements. By continually having Jews encroaching on their land, they are able to argue that the Israelis are bullying them, that they are somehow abusing them day in and day out. It doesn’t matter what else Israel does in aid, it doesn’t matter what other humanitarian actions Israel takes. This is a constant ace-in-the-hole for the Palestinians to remind the world that the Israelis refuse to keep their people where they belong. Regardless of what Palestinians do to Jews in Israel, the fact that Jews encroach on their land is enough to play the sob story on international television.
What had once been a fairly mundane plot to make Israel look bad has now turned into a real problem, because America fell for the trick hook, line, and sinker. America has every right to be in opposition to settlements. Settlements are not only bad for Palestinians, but bad for Israel’s own work in defending itself on the world’s stage. To say that settlements are bad for peace is a relative no-brainer. The problem is, those statements need to come within the context of full support of Israel and the work that Israel is doing to create a safe homeland for Jewish people, and for the right of Israel to exist.

Where the Obama administration has failed the Jewish people isn’t in agreeing with the notion of UN’s issue with settlements. The issue is that they haven’t said anything else. They haven’t done nearly enough to establish that the settlements are an ill created by a fringe community of rogue Israelis, and that the real, true state of Israel is better than that. The President and his staff have an obligation to educate the public and create understanding regarding what role Israel has to play, and why a country with a bad situation is not inherently a bad country (a notion that a country as divided as America right now should be able to understand.)

The political situation in the Middle East right now is playing off of the ignorance of the public. The settlements are a problem for Israel, and one that, if Israel was smart, they would get control over immediately. But by the United Nations taking cheap-shots at Israel for their treatment of the Palestinians, it helps to establish a global distrust and animosity toward the Jewish state that it does not deserve. By stripping the situation of its context, the Jews and the Israelis are left completely open to criticism and critique, and need the help of the American people and the American government to stand up for them.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry have been working hard to try to create an environment for peace in the Middle East. Along the way, they have tried to get the Israelis to play nice while they are chastised and ridiculed in front of the world, while the Palestinians continue to refuse to come to the negotiating table. Why would they come to the table when the world will create bad press and hatred toward the Jews for them? It’s time that the American government stop holding different standards for the Israelis and the Palestinians, and demand that the Arabs meet the same level of scrutiny, something that has been woefully absent in the discussion.

Settlements are a problem for Israel, and should be dealt with. On their own, a criticism of the settlements is perfectly reasonable. But without the proper context, a political attack on Israel of this nature could have catastrophic repercussions not only for Israel, but for the relationship with the United States.

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December 26th: NFL – Not For Long

The NFL is heading into it’s final week, and we already know that the two teams that playing in last year’s Super Bowl will not be returning. With the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers both eliminated from the playoffs, a new champion will be crowned, and the NFL has plenty of exciting options. Will it be the up-and-coming Dallas Cowboys, led by a pair of rookies blowing records out of the water? Will it be the Oakland Raiders, whom success has avoided in the past decade and a half? Will it be the Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers, teams with championship pedigree looking to add to their already proud trophy case?

Regardless of the answer, the NFL has plenty of intrigue. And it doesn’t matter, because nobody is watching.

TV ratings for the NFL are at a low, unseen in recent years. Fewer and fewer fans are watching, buying merchandise, and identifying the NFL as the destination for their attention and their dollars. Many critics have tried to identify the reason for the slow demise of the NFL. Some blame deflate-gate, and the punishment of Tom Brady. Some blame Colin Kaepernick, claiming the NFL has endangered ideas of patriotism. Others complain of the punishments for celebrations, that the fun of the game is being stripped before our eyes.

In any case, the NFL must do something to keep up with their fans. They have to be willing to listen, to pay attention to where the sports world is going, and how they can keep up. If they continue to believe that they know what is best for the sport, belligerently ignoring what the fans and players are asking for, you are going to see a massive dismissal of the sport as a whole.

Baseball just saw two fan bases stimulate the entire sport with their contest in the World Series. Hockey has been using social media to brilliantly connect with fans and garner attention in America and beyond. Basketball is constantly investigating ways to maintain their hold on the audience, including discussions of advertising on jerseys. In all cases, the sports world is looking around and trying to figure out where they belong in the future, and the NFL has demonstrated a critical inability to have those conversations.

Football is a tough sell as it is. The health risks for young people have always been staggering, and something that should make parents very uncomfortable. If the NFL doesn’t find ways to not only improve the health but also ensure that fans are still paying attention, this could be the beginning of the end for football as we know it in America.

December 16th: A Colorful Suit and a Changed World

We don’t really know athletes. We think we do. We think we have a connection to the men with whom we spend our free time, the men who entertain us every evening. But we don’t really know them. We don’t know how they treat their friends, how they treat their families, what they do and what they care about. We know so vastly little about what they allow us to know. It’s the same way with all celebrities. We think we know them, but we really know so very little.

I never met Craig Sager. I only know him from his time on television, those few minutes per game where he would interview the stars and give the viewers a look into the minds of the athletes and coaches. I didn’t know him on a personal level. But, from everything I’m hearing, I certainly wish I had.

After battling cancer for years, Craig Sager passed away yesterday at the age of 65. His fight with illness had been well documented, and the entire sports world had rallied around him through each round of treatment and each long recovery. When news came of his death, the entire sports world stopped to remember the man that, according to his friends and colleagues, had been as colorful and joyful as the suits he wore.

sager-1It is easy to make someone into a saint on the day he dies. That wasn’t the case for Sager, though. Reports of his spirit and his joy were widely known, his zest for life well documented. As the stories and the love came pouring in, it was clear that this was a man who truly was as good as his reputation claimed. He was defined by the way he treated people, the way he attacked his job, and the way he brought a little joy to the world. To be able to do that, regardless of your role in life, makes you great. And Craig Sager truly was great.

Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is widely known for hating in-game interviews. He has a reputation of giving reporters and awfully hard time when they ask questions, and doing everything he can to avoid them altogether. The only exception: Sager. Popovich would always make time for Sager, even if he didn’t want to do the interview. Last night, in his tribute to his late friend, Popovich said of Sager: “If any of us could display half the courage he has to stay on this planet – to live every life as if it’s his last – we’d be well off.”

When I have children, if they take after their dad, they will want to be sports fans. When I show them the foundations of my love of sports, it won’t be the touchdowns and the dunks that define why I love the game. It won’t be the home runs or the money and fame. It will be men like Sager, that used a microphone and a tie to bring joy to the lives of those who loved the game, and who used their voice to make the world just a little brighter.

May his memory be a blessing.

December 14th: Voices of Protest Are Screaming

I have been a fan of Keith Olbermann for a long time. His show on ESPN a few years ago was an excellent combination of sports and morality, looking at how we can expect our sports and entertainment to reflect our values and represent something bigger than itself. He is well-spoken, clearly very intelligent, and always brings evidence to back up his claims.

After bouncing back and forth between sports and politics (my two favorite passions), Olbermann finally arrived at GQ, where he began a web series. As the 2016 political season ramped up, he began to direct his attention to stopping Donald Trump, using argumentation and data to structure his attack.

I loved what he was saying. To hear a political analyst use sound argument to call out the ridiculousness of the election was fascinating and entertaining, and spoke to many of the issues I had with what America was creating. His refusal to hold back his opinions was exactly the kind of authenticity and honesty that so much of what others were hoping for from their analysis of the events of the past year. Olbermann identified his bias and used it to show a vitally important idea, one that resonated with me.

Then, the election happened. After a year of hoping that this was some kind of stunt, Americans woke up having elected the least experienced and most scandal-prone president in the history of the country. Worse still, it became clear that he had won the electoral college without the popular vote, meaning more Americans had voted for the loser than the winner. In essence, Trump would be ruling without a mandate.

As the country began to come to terms with a president-elect that did not represent a unified country, Olbermann’s tone changed dramatically. He became determined, committed to finding ways to resist the ideologies he did not believe in and to demand that the American government not sink to the level of Trump’s campaign.

His passion has not wavered. In fact, listening to his web show, he speaks with more conviction than almost anyone I’ve ever heard. His willingness to say what others won’t set him apart, and makes his role as a dissenting-opinion all the more focused. And yet, that focus has grown a life of its own, blinding him from any other ideas or approaches.

In that regard, Olbermann becomes a symbol for what can happen when dissent becomes anger. His rhetoric has begun to take on the same venom that his opponents have used for months. His desire to object and resist have placed him at the forefront of the liberal radicalism that serves as an opposite extreme to the alt-right.

Keith Olbermann has become an example of what happens when a much-needed opposition to the ruling government stops making an argument and just begins to scream. Even in his legitimate claims against Trump, he is delegitimizing himself to too many who disagree with him, damning his ideas to fall on deaf ears.

We need a strong resistance in the next four years. We need to ensure that the American government reflects the needs of the American people, and we each have a strong role in letting Trump and his government know what is and is not acceptable. While Keith Olbermann has done a good job of using his voice to attempt to demand representation, he has also become a cautionary example for what happens when we let our passion turn into anger. If we have any hope of actually having a positive impact on our country and our world, we need to be careful to stay on the rational side of the dissenting line.

November 29th: Judaism’s Time to Fight

Judaism is at a pivotal moment in history. What happens in the coming weeks, months, and years will echo through the history of the Jewish people, and can prove to be the most significant turning point of the last half century.

In the wake of the Holocaust, we say “Never again.” We will never again allow that kind of hate, that kind of destruction. We won’t allow it to happen to us, and we won’t allow it to happen to anyone else.

Well, hate is on the rise, and the Jews are getting their dose. An anti-semite is about to make his home in the WHite House. The Alt-Right is using Nazi symbolism and rhetoric to attempt to recreate the horror of a generation ago, and doing so gleefully. The very humanity of Jewish people is being questioned, and a shocking few have actually shouted back “Yes, yes they are people.” The fact that the question exists is terrible, and the fact that the answer isn’t swift, immediate, and angry is worse. Anti-semitism and hate have reared their ugly heads, and congregations all across the country are scared.

This can no longer be treated as fringe behavior or oversensitivity. We can no longer wait and see if these people are ACTUALLY as dangerous as they sound or seem. We need to begin to treat this like the threat that it is, and show the strength of the Jewish people and our friends.

We, as American Jews, need to make our presence known. We have an obligation to make our voices heard, that we do not accept the rhetoric or behavior. We need to demonstrate our commitment to American values, and our insistence that our country reflect our own notions of morality. From social media to lobbying to boycotting products and companies, it is our obligation to ensure that our place in American society remains strong and safe.

And this goes beyond simply threats against Jews. The Jewish community has an obligation to not only cast out injustices against ourselves, but also to defend others, to stand up for the needy. We, as a people, have experience with what happens when the privileged ignore the plights of the oppressed. When we say “Never again,” we don’t just mean for ourselves. Never again should anyone experience the horror we went through. It is our job to make sure they never have to.

It would be easy to look past examples of anti-semitism, to shrug them off as fringe opinions and small doses of extremism. But we can no longer afford to risk the safety of our people and our culture by waiting. The alarm must be pulled and every example of hate must be identified. And we need to make sure our voices are heard and influence is felt, to ensure that our country remains a safe place for Jews and for anyone else.

To make our point, we need to find and be good allies. We have a problem in this country when each group is only willing to work to defend its own people. By banding together and fighting for common justice, we have a better chance to actually make things happen, and to ensure that all Americans are at home in their own nation.

Now is the time. The fight is here. What we do about it will determine the future of American Judaism. Let’s get to work.

November 15th: No Time For Shame

**Disclaimer: I am identifying my place as a man of privilege, someone who is white (or Jewish, who passes as white). The following is my attempt to contribute to the public discourse, and offer thoughts as a part of the marketplace of ideas.**

“I’m ashamed to be a white man.” I’ve seen that posted on a number of occasions on social media, written by liberal-minded individuals who are struggling to come to terms with how our demographic voted during the election. An astonishing percentage of Trump’s support came from white males, and his presidency feels like a threat to anyone but men of privilege.

This shame is popular these days. White men are reminded often to check their privilege, to identify their opportunities that others don’t have. They are also cautioned against mansplaining, a loosely defined term for any time a man talks down to a woman. The long-time male dominance of public discourse is being tempered by others using their voices to put men in their place and create more space for others in a conversation.

That all being said, nothing is more worthless than being ashamed of one’s race and gender. Just as minorities and women can’t choose their race or sex, neither can a white male. To be ashamed of it is a waste of time. Instead, we need to take responsibility for our behavior and our actions and do more to advocate for the way others should act. We cannot choose our demographic identity, but we can control what we do with it.

The role of white men in constructing a more equal, caring society is not to simply be ashamed of ourselves, or even to be silent and let others figure it out. Advocacy is most effective when members of the comfortable majority are willing to break ranks and be helpful to lift up those fighting for power. Our job is to listen and to offer support. And it is also our role to call out injustice wherever it exists and demand better from the world.

This is not someone else’s problem, and shame is not a helpful solution. Instead, we need to figure out ways to be willing partners to racial minorities and other gender identities to ensure that the voices of all come together to create a path to justice and peace.

I am not ashamed of who or what I am. But my actions going forward are how I will be judged, and I need to ensure that I’m doing all that I can to ensure that the world is a better place BECAUSE of me, rather than DESPITE me.