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Letters for the week of March 17, 2017

It’s OK to criticize Israel

I commend you for your March 10 editorial “Israel’s new anti-BDS law is wrong.” I could not be more in agreement with your conclusion: “These are dangerous times. The sort of political polarization we are seeing in the United States is playing out in Israel as well. This fraying of democracy is deplorable and must be reversed.”

I think most readers of this newspaper would agree with your diagnosis for the United States, but many of the same readers would have trouble with your criticism of Israel. They rightly object to the fact that Israel is unfairly singled out for its sins by the U.N. and the world community. Israel is among the minority of nations and the only one in its region that is a democracy, and even its treatment of the occupied Palestinians pales in its level of oppression to so many other countries where atrocities abound.

But many American Jews, including liberal Democrats, believe that it is wrong for Jews in the diaspora to be critical of Israel.

I believe, on the other hand, that it is our obligation as American Zionist Jews with liberal democratic values to be concerned and to speak out about domestic oppression and illiberal tendencies everywhere, but to be most focused on the nations we care most about, the U.S. and Israel.

Many well-meaning American Jewish Zionists would argue that there is already a disproportionate amount of criticism directed at Israel. I would argue that criticism from a true friend can be a gift, and for us to constantly regurgitate disingenuous or ignorant talking points — e.g. “the proliferation of settlements has no bearing on the political stalemate in Israel and the occupied territories” — only turns off people who would be natural allies of Israel, such as many young American Jews.

Mark Davidow,
Glen Ellen

Never retreat

Rabbi David Cooper laments that many Jews who, like himself, oppose Israel’s “occupation” of Judea and Samaria and support boycotts of Israeli products are “closeted,” fearful of speaking out publicly lest it damage their careers (“I am a rabbi — but it may now be illegal for me to visit Israel,” March 10). He wishes they would come out and express themselves more.

But there’s another group that’s even more closeted. I’m referring to Jews who believe that God promised the Land of Israel to the Israelites as an everlasting possession, provided they adhered to His commandments. They believe that Israel’s highest national interest, next to repairing their relationship with the Creator, is to take possession of their entire homeland and populate it everywhere with Jews. They believe that any retreat from the land, whether from fear of their enemies or misguided compassion toward them, is an act of rebellion against God that will surely bring punishment.

Yet these Jews are often afraid to speak out, fearful of being ridiculed, or worse, for preferring the eternal truths that the Jewish nation was built upon to the ever-changing fads of modernity. Maybe it’s time for these people to come out of the closet as well!

Martin Wasserman,
Palo Alto

Where is the empathy?

Taking inspiration from Rabbi David Cooper’s decision to “come out of the closet,” I’d like to come out about a few things myself.

I agree wholeheartedly with J.’s editorial that recent actions by Israel banning those who support boycotting products from areas under Israeli control are repressive and a grave mistake. I’m heartbroken that Israel has veered so far off the path of liberal values. But I also understand.

People — and nations — always take giant steps to the right and close ranks when they feel threatened. Israelis feel their very existence undermined by relentless condemnations by the U.N., NGOs whose mission is to find fault with Israel, and stabbings and terror attacks that garner precious little sympathy from the world, to name but a few examples. Behind all this is a belief that holds Israel solely responsible for the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Rabbi Cooper boycotts goods made in West Bank settlements to pressure Israel to end the occupation — as if Israel holds all the cards here. How is it that the left assigns so little responsibility to Palestinians for their role in perpetuating the very occupation they rail against? Almost no one believes that the status quo in the West Bank is a good thing, but when I ask my left-leaning friends what Israel should do to resolve the situation, no one has an answer.

Where, I wonder, is the empathy of American Jews for the difficult position in which Israel finds itself? Can we truly understand what it feels like to be a tiny country surrounded by peoples who are ideologically opposed to its presence in their midst? Perhaps more might be accomplished by putting ourselves in the shoes of our Israeli brothers and sisters than by judging them from our own vantage point.

Malka Weitman,

URJ doesn’t speak for me

I must have missed something because I don’t remember Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, being given authority to conduct Israel’s foreign policy (“U.S. Reform movement leaders meet with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah,” March 10).

As a Reform Jew, I can emphatically state that he sure as hell doesn’t speak for me. But his self-aggrandizing conduct makes me glad America will have a realist as our ambassador to Israel. Or has Jacobs self-assigned himself to that position as well?

David Mullens,
Palo Alto

Heal the world? Sure, but first take care of our own

I read the article by Maya Mirsky (“Big crowd still feeling the Bern at Jewish socialism confab,” March 3) with much interest. I grew up in the Polish city of Dubno, where 12,000 Jews lived prior to the war.

There were a large number of Jewish organizations, such as Zionist groups, sports clubs and, of course, the Jewish Bund. We also had a large number of illegal communists. The Zionist organization’s agenda was to help transplant Jewish boys and girls to Palestine in order to build a Jewish national home, and also to move as many Jewish people from Europe because the safety of the Jewish population in Europe had become questionable with the rise of Nazi Germany.

The Zionist movements were able to settle 500,000 young Jewish boys and girls in Palestine prior to the war, thus saving their lives from the German Einsatzgruppen extermination during the war. They in turn helped to build the Jewish state.

On the other hand, what did this powerful popular Jewish Bund contribute to the solution of the Jewish problems?

The Bund’s philosophy was anti-Zionist. They were against the creation of a Jewish state. The Bund believed in spreading social justice, economic equality for the masses and promoting a Jewish secular identity. None of those programs helped to prevent the tragedy of the Shoah. The Jewish people and Jewish organizations ought to be concerned first with the welfare and safety of their own people before taking on the task of healing the world.

Sam Genirberg,
El Cerrito

Logic run amok

Since September 1787, Americans have been governed by a unique document, the Constitution. It led to establishing a great prosperous country, creation of responsive citizenry, ready to share its wealth and knowledge with the world.

Then suddenly all hell broke loose when, in November 2016, the benevolent and law-abiding U.S. citizens betrayed the Constitution, the country and themselves and elected — according to an op-ed by Mark Pasach Cohen (“Wake up and smell the fascism,” March 3) — a dictator, an admirer of Putin and Saddam Hussein, an anti-Semite and an enemy of women’s rights, an independent judiciary and civil rights as our 45th president.

Furthermore, this president has a Haman-type counselor as his adviser. Somehow the monster-president has appeared as supportive of Israel, which led a number of Jews to vote for him.

To reconcile the new president’s anti-Semitism with his support of Israel, Mr. Cohen twists himself into a pretzel claiming that Jews in diaspora are a nation. He even refers to Theodor Herzl, who “argued that all Jews are connected by nationhood.” Which, of course, nowhere could be found.

The idea of “nation” has always been associated with a collective identity of individuals residing in a defined territory. Hence, neither Mr. Cohen nor anyone living outside of the Jewish state may consider themselves as a nation. I can understand resistance to Trump and his policies, but Jews everywhere have always taken pride in logic and civil discussions, not pure propaganda and demagoguery.

Vladimir Kaplan,
San Mateo

Yay, Hebrew Free Loan!

Many thanks to Alix Wall and J. for the cover story on our new venture, Frena (“Grateful bread: New kosher bakery opens in S.F.,” Jan. 27). This has been an exciting time for us, and we’re thrilled that the bakery is receiving so much positive attention.

We also want to acknowledge Hebrew Free Loan, which gave us a $50,000 interest-free business loan that made it possible to open Frena. It takes a lot of capital to start a business, and the loan provided the funds we needed to buy cooking equipment and cover operational costs these first few months. And it’s amazing to think that we’ll never be asked to pay Hebrew Free Loan a penny of interest.

We encourage anyone else who has a dream of starting their own business — and a good business plan — to check out Hebrew Free Loan’s business loan program.

Isaac Yosef & Avi Edri,
San Francisco