Why has Biden’s Approval Tanked in Light of Substantial Legislative Successes?

It seems to me that President Biden has been wildly successful as President in his first 18-months in office despite a 50-50 Senate, a bare Democratic House majority, and a recalcitrant obstructionist insurrectionist Trump-Republican Party that shows no allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the rule of law, or Biden’s legitimacy as the duly-elected President of the United States.  

To paraphrase the late 17th century playwright William Congreve: “Hell hath no fury like a President scorned.” Biden gets far too little love as his tanking approval rating suggests. At the time of this writing, he stands at 39.3 percent approval and 55.6 percent disapproval.

I took time this week to compile – as best I could – a list of Biden’s accomplishments thus far. But first, a disclaimer. I am a Joe Biden fan not only because I respect his long governmental and political experience as a Senator, Vice-President, and foreign policy expert, but because as a religious man he exudes a measure of humility, honors all faith traditions, and respects American democracy enough to not try and legislate his religious views on the country as a whole. He is also what we might call our “Chief Empath and Mensch.”  Though Joe has made his share of mistakes over his long career, for the most part, he has amassed a large treasure-trove of accomplishments especially during his presidency.

Yes, Joe is now getting older; and yes, most of us lose a measure of mental and physical acuity as we age. But it seems to me, according to everything I have seen and read about him, that Joe is still mentally sharp and in command of his policy objectives. He is certainly physically fit, though he appears stiff, likely due to suffering from lower back pain. Relative to most everyone, Biden is politically wise after a lifetime serving the public interest, savvy about how the American political system ought to work, and emotionally and morally guided to do the best he can do as President for the vast majority of Americans.

Biden’s stutter and his way of dealing with that disability are often misinterpreted as signs of confusion and a lack of focus. His advisors and those close to him affirm that he has what it takes to do his job, arguably the most difficult of any in the world.

Many of us seniors, naturally, may be inclined to project our own situation onto Biden, for better and worse. Whatever we conclude about him, however, does not necessarily mean he cannot handle the demands of the presidency. He certainly seems to be doing just fine based on his record to date and the quality of people he has appointed in his administration. Only Joe Biden knows what he can actually handle and what he can’t. If he thinks he can effectively serve as President in a second term, God bless him, and I’ll support him fully.

Here is my list of Biden’s accomplishments in his first 18-months in office:

  • The restoration of dignity to the Oval Office after four punishing years of the most corrupt President and lawless self-serving administration in the history of the country.
  • $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package which drastically increased investment in the national network of bridges, roads, airports, public transport, national broadband internet, waterways, and energy systems.
  • $1.9 trillion COVID relief deal that provided direct payments of up to $1,400 to many struggling U.S. citizens and temporarily extended unemployment support by $300 per week, channeled $20 billion into the COVID vaccination program, provided $25 billion in rental support and a further $350 billion into state, tribal, and local relief efforts, raised the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program support by 15 percent, invested $120 billion into K-12 schools across the nation, gave 209 million Americans the full dose of the COVID vaccination and 249 million (74 percent of the U.S. population) at least one dose of the vaccine.
  • Federal judge appointments Biden has so far has nominated 130 individuals to federal judgeships of which 76 have been confirmed. 80 percent are women and 53 percent are people of color.
  • Supreme Court Biden nominated the first Black woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court when he nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
  • Federal Executions Biden restored the pre-Trump status-quo and imposed a suspension on federal executions while the Department of Justice assesses the existing procedures and policies.
  • Climate change Biden re-joined the international Paris Climate Accord immediately upon assuming office thereby reversing Trump’s unilateral withdrawal in 2017, and he allowed the United States to continue to work with global players in the worldwide drive to deter the climate’s deterioration. He joined an additional agreement aimed at reversing deforestation as well as presenting a 100-country strong pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest billions of dollars to protect Americans from droughts, fires, and floods while moving America closer to our climate goals. (See specifics of the soon-to-be-passed Inflation Reduction Act below).
  • Roe V. Wade Biden has called for a national law codifying Roe V. Wade.
  • Health Care Biden strengthened the Affordable Care Act by expanding eligibility and extending the open enrollment period. Thanks to tax credits in the American Rescue Plan, a record 14.5 million Americans signed up for coverage in 2021 through the ACA, including 5.8 million new customers. At the same time, President Biden’s American Rescue Plan made quality coverage more affordable, with millions of families on ACA plans saving an average of $2,400 yearly on their premiums.
  • Transgender Service Members Within his first week at the White House, Biden issued an executive order overturning the Trump-era ban on openly transgender members of the U.S. military.
  • Unemployment When Biden took office, the unemployment rate stood at 6.3 percent. Upwards of 10,000,000 jobs have been created since January, 2021, including 642,000 American manufacturing jobs. Jobless claims are the lowest since 1969. Unemployment stands today at 3.5 percent.
  • Afghanistan Though it was a chaotic withdrawal and disastrous mistakes were obviously made, Biden ended the American military presence in Afghanistan after 20 years of war and the loss of thousands of American lives and far more injured, as he promised in his campaign.
  • NATO and the Western Alliances – Biden restored NATO after years of undermining by Trump. In the last month, NATO admitted Finland and Sweden thereby expanding its reach.
  • Ukraine – Biden has led the Western alliance and NATO in support of Ukraine against Russian aggression and led the U.S. to be the largest contributor of sophisticated arms and weapons to aid Ukraine in its self-defense.  
  • Introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act (pending with a probable vote next week) that will address the globe’s changing climate, give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices, extend health care subsidies under the ACA for three years, and raise money by requiring corporations to pay a minimum tax to lower the federal budget deficit.
  • Gun legislation – Biden signed into law the first major gun safety legislation passed in decades. Though the measure failed to ban military-style weapons, it does include funding for school safety and state crisis intervention programs. It includes granting $750 million to help states implement gun crisis intervention programs which can be used to manage red flag programs as well as for other crisis intervention programs such as mental health, drug and veteran courts. It also includes affirming Red flag laws, allows courts to temporarily seize firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others. The law includes juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System which provides a more comprehensive background check for people between 18 and 21 who want to buy guns. It bars guns from anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime.
  • The United States Chips and Science Act (CHIPS) Invests $280 billion in areas like semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research to bolster competition with China.
  • Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT) – Improves health care and benefits for veterans exposed to toxic substances (e.g. 9/11 first responders and victims of military burn pits) – passed largely by Democrats and Jon Stuart’s advocacy in shaming Republicans who cynically threatened to vote against the bill to deny Democrats a victory and then, when the public’s criticism was too intense, shifted course and voted for it.
  • Killing al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – with a huge Biden shout-out to America’s intelligence services that had been undermined by Trump.
  • Gas prices – Hit a 50-day low. Gas prices had peaked above $5 a gallon but have fallen every day for more than six weeks. Today the average national cost is closer to $4 a gallon, though in Los Angeles, gas remains above $5 a gallon.

Biden’s Approval Rating – It seems incredibly odd that Biden’s approval numbers remains so low given the above list of accomplishments. Perhaps, these legislative wins will result in a ratings bump. A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted in early July found that 64 percent of Democrats wanted someone other than Biden to be the party’s nominee in 2024. A CNN poll later in the month put that figure at 75 percent among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. Those numbers, however, can change. Remember that Biden had a 55% approval rating during his first six months in office.

Why are Biden’s approval numbers so low? Here are a few possible answers:

  • Baked-in attitudes among Republican election deniers and the lingering suspicion among too many Americans that, despite all facts to the contrary, Biden’s 2020 election victory was illegitimate.
  • Biased news coverage among cable commentators, right-wing and local media, and among some in the mainstream media that never seem to miss an opportunity to cast Biden’s successes in a negative light.
  • Biden’s advancing age.
  • High expectations that Biden raised in his campaign to pass legislation assuring more affordable child care, help for the elderly and those who care for them, less expensive preschool, efforts to confront the cost of housing, student debt relief, tuition-free community college, money to cover health care for the poor in states that have refused to expand Medicaid.

Mario Cuomo once said that “politicians campaign in poetry, but they govern in prose. Biden certainly is not the most eloquent of presidents, but his record thus far suggests that his prose is strong. In the end, that is what is important.

What might be the future of the Biden Presidency? It is hard to tell, but if past is prologue it could be very good indeed.

I’m a big fan of Dan Rather’s “Steady”

I have always appreciated Dan Rather, from the time he got beat-up as a reporter on the floor of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, to when he was embedded on behalf of CBS News on the ground in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion there, to when he became CBS’s Evening News Anchor after Walter Cronkite retired, and after he left CBS News to report and write on other platforms.

I have listened to him over many years. I love his down-home speaking style, his recall of Texas aphorisms and folksy imagery, the accented sound of his voice, and his wisdom.

I read religiously now his email postings in his series called “Steady,” and the one that came today (August 2) is to-the-point of what we all face in these times. I offer it below.

I’m not the only one who regards Dan Rather as a national treasure. He has earned it.

“Sometimes I remind myself that I haven’t talked to an old friend in a while. There are a lot of excuses, of course. Days pass by. Everyone is busy in some way. But when I do decide to pick up the phone or write a note, I am almost never disappointed. 

“How are you?” I ask. It can be a throwaway line, a perfunctory conversation starter meant to elicit an “I’m okay,” and then move on. But I mean it, and I want to know. 

These are difficult times. We all know that. There is a lot that is dispiriting. There is a lot that is demoralizing. There is a lot (more than we might want to admit) that can be outright terrifying. 

We all try to soldier on as best we can. We carry burdens that are personal, professional, communal, and familial. Fate strikes us all in unique and unpredictable ways. 

And then there is all that hangs over us at the national and global level. We talk about it often here — the threat to democracy, our climate crisis, a pandemic, attacks on our constitutional rights, and on, and on. 

But where we can find hope, support, empathy, and resilience, is in our human connections, our communities, our networks of friends and family. Age, distance, the pandemic, financial burdens, and many other hurdles can make that closeness more difficult to maintain.” 

My Favorite Podcasts

There are currently nearly 2.2 million podcasts out there, according to ListenNotes. According to Amplifi and Podnews, 44% of the podcasts have less than 3 episodes. Only 720,000 podcasts have more than 10 episodes. Of those 720,000 podcasts, only 156,000 are releasing a weekly episode.

There are more than 1 billion podcast listeners every week (really!). Most listeners are in Asia, India, and China and are responsible for 45% of all podcast listener-ship in the world. In the United States, 80 million people, or 28% of the population (over the age of 12) are weekly listeners.

Most of the podcasts are coming from the United States (1.4 million to be precise). While India and China have the most listeners, they only account for 42,000 podcasts. 1.3 million Podcasts are in English. The second most popular language, Spanish, is far behind with only 220,000 podcasts.

[Source for all the above stats: https://podcastpage.io/podcast-statistics/]

So, 80 million of us Americans are devotees of podcasts. I listen every morning on my 60-90 minutes-walk in my neighborhood, whenever I’m driving alone on a long distance journey in my car (in LA, that is a fairly frequent occurrence), and occasionally when I’m doing the laundry, washing dishes, or doing other household tasks that bore me silly. I’m sure, given the numbers above, I’m not the only one.

My preferred Podcasts are those in which I can learn something new about our times in politics, current affairs, thought, and history in the United States, Israel, the Jewish world, and beyond. I listen to Podcasts that express ideas from the political left, right, and center of the political spectrum. I do not listen to Podcasts whose hosts rile me up emotionally – life is just too short. I look to be both stimulated and entertained.

Here is my preferred current list:

American News, Politics, and Commentary

Post Reports – Daily from The Washington Post with Martine Powers.

The Daily – Daily from The New York Times with Michael Barbaro and Sabrina Tavernise.

Hell and High Water – Twice-weekly with John Heilemann.

Pod Save America – Twice-weekly with Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer, and Tommy Vietor.

The Bulwark – Twice-weekly with Charlie Sykes.

The Ezra Klein Show – Twice-weekly.

Sway – Twice-weekly with Kara Swisher from the New York Times.

The Lincoln Project – Twice-weekly founded by former and incumbent anti-Trump Republicans.

Politics War Room – Weekly with James Carville and Al Hunt.

The New Yorker: Politics and More – Weekly with different hosts.

Hacks on Tap – Weekly with David Axelrod, Mike Murphy, and Robert Gibbs.

The Axe Files – Weekly with David Axelrod.

History

HistoryExtra – Daily from the BBC History Magazine.

Reflections of History – Daily with Jon Meacham (5 minutes each episode).

History this Week – Weekly with Sally Helm.

Jewish and Israeli News and Commentary

The Daily Briefing – From The Times of Israel with Jessica Steinberg and Amanda Bush Eldan.

The Promised – Weekly from Tel Aviv (TLV1) with Noah Ephron, Allison Kaplan Sommer, and Don Futterman.

Tel Aviv Review – Weekly from the Jerusalem Leer Institute on TLV1 with Gideon Halpern.

Haaretz Weekly – With Allison Kaplan Sommer.

For Heaven’s Sake – Every other week from the Shalom Hartman Institute with Rabbi Donniel Hartman, Yossi Klein Halevi, and Elana Stein-Hain.

In These Times – Every other week with Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, Stephen S. Wise Free Synagogue, NY.

No – I don’t listen to every podcast every week.

When I become weary of the news and commentary, I shift to music (usually classical), or I take off my head-phones, listen to the birds in the early morning hours in Sherman Oaks and Studio City as the sun rises, and let my mind wander.

Two Strong Recommendations of New Israeli Films Streaming on Netflix

In the past week I watched two moving and important films now streaming on Netflix that offer insight into the origins of the modern State of Israel and the development of Israel through the experience of one of the most important of Israel’s founding generation, the late Prime Minister and President of the State Shimon Peres.

I highly recommend both to your viewing this summer and especially hope that young liberal and progressive American Jews (from junior high school age through their millennial years) who may be unsure of or question their relationship with Israel to watch both of them.

“Image of Victory – תמונת הניצחון,” a 128-minute 2021 film based on true events that took place during the 1948 Israeli Independence War and was set in a kibbutz called “Nitzavim” on the Mediterranean coast between the Gaza Strip and Tel Aviv. In a ferocious battle between the Egyptian forces and about 200 young Israelis between the ages of 16 and 25, one cannot help but be moved and impressed by the courage of those young Israelis who gave their lives for the infant Jewish state or were taken as POWs by the Egyptian army. The battle that completely destroyed the kibbutz under Egyptian missiles and tanks is viewed from both the Egyptian and Israeli perspectives. The film, directed by Avi Nesher, was nominated for 15 Israeli Ophir awards and is the most expensive film ($5 million) ever shot in Israel. The film crew recreated in its entirety the former Nitzavim settlement only to destroy it with guns and tanks as the Egyptians did so long ago. The film is streaming on Netflix in Hebrew and Arabic with English sub-titles.

“Never Stop Dreaming: The Life and Legacy of Shimon Peres” is a moving two-hour documentary including portions of more than 50 hours of interviews with the former Israeli Prime Minister and President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres including discussion of his origins in Belarus, his relationship with his learned and revered grandfather, his teen-age years during the British Mandate helping to build up agriculture, and his close relationship with Israel’s founding Prime Minister and Minister of Defense David Ben Gurion. The film reveals Peres’ key roles in building up Israel’s Defense capability, in launching the famed 1976 Entebbe Rescue, developing a Jordanian peace deal with King Hussein in 1987, his advocacy of the Oslo Peace Process, his complex relationship with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and his role in inspiring Israel to become a hi-tech society. The film is streaming on Netflix and is in English.

Taken together, these two films amply show the courage, vision, ingenuity, and dreams for peace of the respective subjects.

Coping after the Death of a Loved One

I have lived with the death of a dear one since I was a child when my father died suddenly at the young age of 53. I was 9 years old. That loss was especially painful in my young life as it is for any child who loses a parent.

I have often wondered where my Dad was after he died. I knew exactly where his remains are buried in the cemetery, but where was the essence of him after he took his last breath? What happened to his spirit and soul, his mind, memory, and consciousness? As the years passed, did he know what became of his sons, my brother and me, his family and friends? Or, upon death did he simply cease to be, his memory gone, his consciousness inert, and his being nullified. In the Hebrew Bible, death is sometimes described as a state of non-being in “Sheol,” the “place” of non-existence, darkness, lifelessness – neither heaven nor hell.

I have had to help congregants over decades cope with our powerlessness before and following the death of loved ones, of our inability to answer the ultimate question about what happens to us, if anything, when we die. I read everything I could find in Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, Islamic Sufism, Buddhism, Native American and other faith traditions about the nature of the soul and that which animates a human being. At times, I allowed myself to believe in the idea that the soul is indestructible and eternal, that it retains its memories as it journeys into the metaphysical realm, and that it is aware of the lives of its surviving loved ones. I allowed myself to believe the evidence of past-life memory and the eventual return of the soul to effect tikun (repair) as a consequence of the former life’s bad behavior and moral failings. I found that this was often a comforting response to those who needed or wanted to believe that there is a reality to the soul separate from the body that transcends the material world.

The French Catholic Jesuit Priest and theologian Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) once said: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” I quoted him high and low for years, and part of me believes he was right, that there is far more to our lives than our earthly material experience, that soul-consciousness exists in the metaphysical realm, that it is a remarkable truth that one soul comes into one body to create a human life, and if it does so once, why not twice and many times.

In 1995, after two years of reading, polling my congregants about their experiences of past-life memory and intuitive knowledge, I delivered a Kol Nidre sermon that I called “The Journey of the Soul” in which I made the case for reincarnation – in Hebrew, gilgul hanefesh (“wheel of the soul”) – and justified it based on the work of many originally skeptical scientists and physicians such as Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Dr. Raymond Moody, Dr. Melvin Morse, Dr. Brian Weiss, and others into near-death experiences and past-life memory. I read The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the scientific work of the University of Virginia researcher Dr. Ian Stevenson on evidence of past-life memory in a number of subjects whose knowledge of former lives could not have been known through any normal means.

In Reform Judaism, the 19th and 20th century liberal Jewish religious stream that grew out of the European Enlightenment, I knew that when I delivered that sermon I was taking a risk of alienating rationalists in my community on the holiest evening of the Jewish year. I was surprised, in spite of the history of my movement, that many resonated with what I said and were inspired and comforted by the possibility that one’s soul-life survives death and is very long. I shared the stories of people in my community who told me that they had experienced visitations by dead relatives through dreams and in their waking moments. One told me she knew that her father died in exactly the way he did as a result of a catastrophic auto accident before being informed of the death because he came to her (they lived hundreds of miles apart) to tell her that he was at peace and that she should not worry about him. One well-known and highly respected non-Orthodox Jewish scholar in the Los Angeles Jewish community told me confidentially of a visit by his dead father soon after his funeral to him in his waking hours. I asked, “What do you make of this?” He said, “I don’t know because if I gave it any more thought I would have to change everything I believe to be true.”

In his series of books beginning with Many Lives, Many Masters, Dr. Brian Weiss presented compelling evidence that human beings can access the souls of the dead through hypnosis, and that there is a thin line between this world and the metaphysical realm. Part of me believes it’s true. Of course, no one can prove by empirical means the reality of soul-consciousness beyond death. Belief in it involves intuitive thinking and accepting the truths provided to us through non-rational (as opposed to irrational) thinking.

If gilgul hanefesh is a true thing, Jewish mysticism affirms that our souls undergo a process of tikun in the first eleven months after death, and then the soul ascends to the Otzar Ha-Nefashot (Treasury of Souls) before ascending higher into either lower Gan Eden or higher Gan Eden before returning to a new life.

There are many take-away lessons to be learned in reincarnation theory, that our lives are far more complex than we realize, that we are here to learn and evolve morally and ethically, that human life is short in the greater expanse of time, that a soul’s life is long, that the virtues of humility, appreciation, gratitude, and generosity are key elements to fulfillment, magnanimity, wisdom, and happiness, and that we are here to love and, hopefully, be loved.

Regardless of whether we believe in reincarnation theory or not, those truths are worthy in and of themselves.

Two States: Still the Best Solution for an Israeli-Palestinian Future – Op-ed in Haaretz

By Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher, and Orni Petruschka

July 20, 2022 – Opinion – Haaretz

[Note: Despite the expansion of the settlement enterprise in Israel’s occupied West Bank, these three leading Israelis continue to affirm the position that the United States must lead the way in bringing Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table to lay plans for an eventual two-states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. See their biographies at the conclusion of this op-ed.]

During a press conference in Ramallah on July 16, U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated that “as president of the United States, my commitment to [the] goal of a two-state solution has not changed in all these years.”

He then added that “even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up on trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis and both sides closer together.”

Biden then flew to Saudi Arabia, where Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir clarified Riyadh’s position on CNN: “Once we have committed to a two-state settlement with a Palestinian state in the occupied territories with East Jerusalem as its capital, that’s our requirement for peace.”

Biden’s visit presented a multi-focal opportunity for the Israeli government: first, to restore a non-partisan, intimate strategic relationship with the United States; second, to fine-tune a coordinated policy to counter a nuclear-threshold Iran; third, to further reinforce the regional normalization spring-boarded by the 2020 Abraham Accords; and fourth, and most importantly, to clarify that Israel does not support either the three-state solution (which would return the West Bank to Jordan and the Gaza Strip to Egypt) or the slide toward a disastrous one-state reality.

Unfortunately, it failed to do the last of these.

The visit was potentially a golden opportunity for Israel to convey that it seeks to promote a process of gradual, responsible, continuous, and purposeful separation from the Palestinians, thereby ensuring its future as a Jewish and democratic, secure, and egalitarian state, all while respecting the Palestinian right to self-determination. All this requires courage, leadership, and national responsibility.

And the Biden administration should be hands-on in terms of both the process and the ultimate vision of a two-state reality, which is indispensable. It is attainable through a series of transitional phases, interim agreements, and independent steps, all compliant with a continuous regional, multilateral, and bilateral negotiation process.

It is clearer now that there are no shortcuts to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contrary to what Trump and Netanyahu would have liked us to believe with the festivities over the Abraham Accords.

For us and those like us, Israelis who do not shy away from both love of our country and concern about its future as the democratic and secure nation-state of the Jewish people, the spirit of the Declaration of Independence is a lodestar.

Whenever liberal Zionist patriots like us, who served the country without batting an eye, do not deal with the occupation and its consequences, we abandon the arena and allow the continuation of the creeping annexation process. And every day that passes without advancing toward disengaging from the Palestinians and ending the occupation, the creeping annexation distances us from the possibility of changing reality.

The terminology of “shrinking the conflict” that the outgoing government has championed is linguistic whitewashing aimed at continuing the tacit annexation.

While turning a blind eye to the settlement outposts in Evyatar and Homesh and showing laxity in the face of the despicable phenomena of seriously, unruly settler violence, and most importantly categorically dismissing any dialogue with the Palestinians, Israel is blindly walking down the road of a one-state reality.

Its indifference to the ramifications of the so-called status quo is a mirror image of the Arab world’s “three nos” at the Khartoum Conference of 1967: this time, it’s no to peace, no to recognition of a Palestinian state, and no to negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people.

There is currently no political feasibility for a two-state solution. Nevertheless, the moderate camp, with its political, civil, and public branches led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his colleagues, should rally around a plan and message that will promote the creation of a two-state reality and preserve the chances and conditions for future Israeli-Palestinian disengagement and creation two distinct nation-states with a border between them; call for a freeze on settlement outside the major blocs; and promote mechanisms that will enable the evacuation of settlements located east of the separation barrier.

Any other course means that the center-left is joining a policy of annexation that will lead to the loss of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, which would bury the Zionist enterprise and be a disaster for both us and the Palestinians.

The right-wing parties in Israel boastfully say are part of “the national camp.” In practice, they are no more than the binational camp, willfully leading us to a disastrous binational state instead of the necessary partition.

Prime Minister Lapid and the moderate camp around him should express a willingness to promote a plan aimed more ambitiously at providing a better future to generations of the some 15 million Israelis and Palestinians living in this battered land. Let us hope a second “government of change” is established after the November election, one that will adopt a step-by-step policy of advancement toward a better regional reality.

Ami Ayalon is a former commander of the Israeli Navy and head of the Israeli domestic security agency.

Gilead Sher is an Israeli attorney who served as Chief of Staff and Policy Coordinator to Israel’s former Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak.

Orni Petruschka is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel and co-founder of the Israeli independent, non-partisan organization, Blue White Future.

Reform Jewish Movement Statement on the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Declaration of Israel as an Apartheid State

Note: I am printing the combined statement of American Reform Judaism (the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, American Conference of Cantors) concerning the American Presbyterian Church’s defamatory statement about Israel. As the statement notes towards the end, the American Reform Jewish movement has called over many years for a negotiated two states for two people’s resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This designation by the PCUSA of Israel as an “Apartheid state” is not only inaccurate (as the statement below explains) but is inflammatory and will be used by anti-Israel and antisemitic left-wing elements in the United States to delegitimize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

July 13, 2022 

The Reform Jewish Movement strongly condemns Presbyterian Church (USA)’s declaration falsely charging that Israel is an apartheid state, with the passage of Amendment INT-02 at its recent General Assembly. The Reform Movement is equally appalled that the Church entertained a recommendation to remove the term “antisemitism” from its official lexicon, preferring the term “anti-Jewish,” as it is universally accepted that “antisemitism” refers specifically to the hatred of the Jewish people. This is not the first time that an egregious statement on Israel has been made by PCUSA leadership, and we can clearly see that this is part of a pattern. Earlier this year in his reflection for Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, the Church’s highest official, Stated Clerk Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, described Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as, “21st-century slavery.”

The Reform Movement condemns these libelous mischaracterizations of the Jewish State, which carry with them a significant risk of increased antisemitism in the United States and worldwide.

The accusation of ‘apartheid’ is flawed, as the distinguishing factor determining the legal system in the West Bank is based on nationality and citizenship, not racial hierarchy, skin color, religious, or ethnic measures. Positioning the conflict in racial terms is simply wrong and is unhelpful in bringing this conflict to resolution. PCUSA and other international organizations continuously fail to recognize the context of Israel/Palestine, as they do not address Israel’s security concerns or the call by many of Israel’s neighbors – including the Palestinians – to bring an end to the Jewish State.

While the North American Reform Movement has a long-standing policy of opposition to Israeli settlements, we deeply regret that the PCUSA has taken an entirely unhelpful, even counterproductive, approach toward achieving a two-state solution. We acknowledge that the occupation regularly causes hardship to Palestinians, and to that end, we have repeatedly called for negotiations to establish two states for two peoples.

Reform Jews across North America enjoy warm relationships with local Presbyterian clergy and laity, many of whom have chosen to disassociate themselves from the national body. We will continue to nurture those relationships, engaging our friends and partners honestly and candidly to share our hurt, anger, and disappointment. Reform rabbis, cantors, and lay leaders will work with our Presbyterian partners to build a greater understanding of the Jewish people’s commitment to Israel, as well as a more accurate and nuanced understanding of its ongoing conflicts, its vulnerability to antisemitism, and our shared concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people. We call on PCUSA to retract their resolution.

Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Lewis Kamrass (he/him), President
Rabbi Hara E. Person (she/her), Chief Executive

American Conference of Cantors
Cantor Seth Warner (he/him), President
Rachel Roth (she/her), Chief Operating Officer

Union for Reform Judaism
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (she/her), Chair
Rabbi Rick Jacobs (he/him), President

Firing Zones – the Smoking Gun

Classified document reveals IDF ‘firing zones’ built to give land to settlers

In a top-secret meeting held in 1979, revealed here for the first time, then-Agricultural Minister Ariel Sharon explained that firing zones were meant to create ‘land reserves’ for settlements, as part of his larger plan of establishing ‘ethnic borders’ between Jews and Palestinians.

By Yuval Abraham July 11, 2022 – 972 Magazine

A never-before-seen document reveals that Israel created “military firing zones” in the occupied West Bank as a mechanism for transferring land to settlements. Those firing zones, which on their face were established for the purpose of military training, were built as part of a larger strategy to create an “ethnic border” between Jews and Palestinians. (See link below)

I offer below an addendum to my post on Sunday, July 10, 2022 (“What to know in advance of Biden’s visit to Israel and the M.E. this week”). I included a letter to President Biden signed by American pro-Israel organizations, including the Union for Reform Judaism representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews, urging him to protest the removal of 1000 Palestinians from their homes in Masafer Yatta in the southern Occupied West Bank area around Hebron. Since Sunday, more organizations signed onto the letter. The letter was organized by J Street.

Here is the complete list:

Ameinu – Americans for Peace Now – Habonim Dror North America – Hashomer Hatzair USA – Israel Policy Forum – Jewish Labor Committee – J Street – National Council of Jewish Women – New Israel Fund – New York Jewish Agenda – Partners for Progressive Israel – Reconstructing Judaism – Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association – T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights – Union for Reform Judaism

For English translation of original Hebrew article just posted on 972 Magazine, read details here – https://www.972mag.com/firing-zones-sharon-settlements/

What to know in advance of Biden’s visit to Israel and the M.E. this week

Below is a link in Politico to a very good overview of what President Biden’s challenges and positions are vis a vis Israel, the Palestinians, the Saudis, other regional allies, and Iran as he prepares to spend four days in the Middle East beginning with a visit to Israel on Wednesday, July 13.

Before you read it, I want to share with you a letter that will be presented to President Biden on Monday (July 11) at the White House before he leaves for Israel that is signed by many liberal and progressive pro-Israel Zionist organizations including the Union for Reform Judaism (the umbrella organization of 850 Reform synagogues in America representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews) on the potential tragedy in the Occupied West Bank at Masafer Yatta, a collection of 19 Palestinian hamlets with a population of about 1000 Palestinians. This area is located in the southern West Bank between 14 and 24 kilometers south of the city of Hebron in the southern Hebron Hills. This letter, as is stated, follows another letter by dozens of US Senators and Congressional Representatives to Secretary Anthony Blinken making the case why it is important for the Israeli government and military NOT to follow through on this risky, inhumane, potentially explosive, and unnecessary military operation that will deprive 1000 Palestinians of their homes.

Quick background to Masafer Yatta: On May 4, 2022, Israel’s High Court ruled that Masafer Yatta residents had “failed to prove” their claim of permanent residence in the area before the Israeli army declared it a “restricted military site” known as “Firing Zone 918.” The Israeli High Court judgment ended a two-decade long legal struggle, paving the way for the eviction of all 1000 Palestinians from their homes and the planned demolition of those homes. In the 1980s, the Israeli military deemed that the area is a military zone and “uninhabited.” However, Palestinians claim that they have occupied these hamlets long before Israel occupied the area after the 1967 War.

The following letter from the American pro-Israel organizations urges President Biden to ask Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid not to carry out the High Court’s order and not to demolish the homes of these 1000 Palestinians.  

Here is the letter and the list of signatories – following the letter, I post the link to a very worthwhile read in Politico.

July 11, 2022

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden

President of the United States

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We are pro-Israel organizations writing to urge you to help prevent the forced displacement of approximately 1,000 Palestinians from their homes in the area of Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank. We ask you to raise this issue and make clear the United States’ firm opposition to such displacement in your upcoming trip to Israel.

Earlier this year, the Israeli government won its bid to have the Israeli Supreme Court greenlight the forced displacement of at least 1,000 Palestinians from their homes in several of the Masafer Yatta villages in the South Hebron Hills. This would be the largest mass eviction of Palestinian families in decades, and the demolition of homes in the area has already begun.

Dozens of US Senators and Representatives wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May, concerned that “this relocation of Palestinian families from homes they have lived on for generations could spark violence, is in direct violation of international humanitarian law, and could further undermine efforts to reach a two-state solution.”

“As supporters of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, we believe such evictions undermine our shared democratic values, imperil Israel’s security, and disregard Palestinian human and civil rights,” the lawmakers wrote. “We respectfully request that you immediately engage with the Israeli government to prevent these evictions and further military training exercises in the area.”

As lifelong advocates for Israel’s security and survival as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people, we echo these lawmakers’ call and believe it is vital that you firmly and unequivocally oppose these harmful displacements. We stand ready to welcome and amplify such a message delivered in your upcoming trip to Israel and the West Bank.

Sincerely,

Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror North America, and Hashomer Hatzair USA, J Street, New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, T’ruah, Union for Reform Judaism

See this link to the Political analysis: https://www.politico.com/news/2022/07/09/israel-winner-after-biden-meeting-with-saudi-crown-prince-00044789

152 Words Describing Donald Trump and the Future of American Democracy

“But words are things, a small drop of ink, / Falling like dew upon a thought, produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.” –Lord Byron (1788-1824)

After January 6, 2021, I compiled a list of descriptive words used by journalists and op-ed writers to describe Donald Trump’s behavior and character. I posted that list on this blog on January 8, 2021, two days after the violent insurrection against American democracy. In the past eighteen months, however, I have had to add more descriptive language that journalists and others have used in describing the former President. Taking them together, they create a mind-numbingly negative and bleak portrait of a man who was the most powerful human being in the world.

Never could I have imagined in my lifetime that any Presidency could be worse than the criminal enterprise run out of the White House by Richard Nixon. But I was wrong. It seems clear, even before the January 6 hearings are concluded and the Justice Department finishes its work, that Trump outpaced Nixon’s criminality by a wide margin.

Frank Bruni wrote in response to Cassidy Hutchinson’s damning testimony of Trump before the House Committee (“Was Jan. 6 Really ‘Un-American’?” NYT, June 30, 2022):

“…this country is a mix of truth and lie, of generosity and selfishness, of order and chaos. What Hutchinson saw on Jan. 6, 2021, wasn’t ‘un-American.’ It was just an especially sad and scary version of America.”

Bruni was right. Trump does not represent us all or the America as envisioned by our nation’s founding generation. Though that generation of constitutional framers worried that a would-be King might one day seek to destroy the constitutional separation of powers in our three-branch system of government and assume power for him/herself, theirs was a positive vision of America that would emerge because it was governed by law and justice than the dark dystopia in which the lawless Trump lives and breathes.

The question now is this – are we as a nation going to set aside everything the House Committee and Justice Department have learned about what Trump and his henchmen did and tried to do, or is there a legal remedy that can restore the integrity of our constitutional democracy?

I know I am not alone in hoping that Trump and his henchmen will be indicted, found guilty, and incarcerated, as would any criminal and seditious conspirator.

Those concerned about extremist right-wing political push-back should indictments come before the midterms and consequently cause a wave of Trump Republicans to be elected up and down the ballot in many states are possibly right, and they are also possibly right that the House and Senate might flip as a consequence – unless, of course, masses of anti-Trump Republicans, Independents, and Democrats vote; but not indicting Trump and his accomplices will send the message that the American criminal justice system condones insurrection, sedition, and treason and that, in my view, is far worse.

As much as I fear the transfer of control in the Congress from the Democrats to Trump Republicans, I fear more that AG Garland will allow his overly cautious judicial temperament to define this moment in American history with inaction thereby subverting the American democratic experiment.

Perhaps, reviewing this list of 152 words (yes – that many!) describing Trump’s character will have sunk in enough during these past eighteen months to stiffen the resolve of AG Garland and Justice Department officials to do what they need to do on our behalf.

Here are those words:

“Twice-impeached, corrupt, unprecedented, liar, dishonest, deceitful, denier, deceptive, insincere, untrustworthy, duplicitous, hypocritical, angry, argumentative, oppositional, divisive, aggressive, mob-boss-like, cyber-bully, intimidating, threatening, vindictive, rage-filled, controversial, outrageous, arrogant, entitled, intolerant, insensitive, uncaring, indecent, disrespectful, craven, hostile, hateful, ruthless, cruel, mean, malevolent, dystopian, dark, base, low, abhorrent, decrepit, egoistical, egotistical, self-centered, narcissistic, malignant, unwell, mentally ill, delusional, unhinged, nihilistic, self-serving, selfish, chaotic, unpredictable, childish, cowardly, manipulative, ignoble, shameful, deplorable, discreditable, licentious, lecherous, reprehensible, sexist, misogynist, racist, supremacist, Islamophobic, homophobic, poisonous, odious, toxic, evil, bad, criminal, wrong-doer, amoral, immoral, ignominious, worst, catastrophic, calamitous, ruinous, disastrous, devastating, damaging, destructive, back-stabbing, double-crossing, two-faced, unfaithful, faithless, sacrilegious, soulless, disloyal, cheater, thief, fraudulent, scandalous, despicable, rancid, grievous, churlish, rude, ill-mannered, bad-tempered, cynical, appalling, profligate, ignorant, inflammatory, degenerate, debauched, imprudent, alarming, clownish, reckless, dangerous, murderous, violent, extremist, unworthy, unfit, dysfunctional, incompetent, ineffective, ignorant, foolish, stupid, irresponsible, unaccountable, culpable, failed, subversive, illiberal, authoritarian, fascistic, anti-democratic, lawless, autocratic, authoritarian, seditious, traitorous, treasonous, insurrectionist, un-American.”