New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is infamous for his bombastic takedowns of critics in public forums, from union leaders to school teachers. His antics, though dubbed "bullying" by his opponents, have made him a hero among many conservatives across America.
Yair Lapid, the second most powerful politician in Israel, seems to be following a similar rhetorical playbook as he works to fulfill his campaign pledge to wrest control of Israel's political establishment from the country's ultra-Orthodox. Over at Tablet, I write
about his latest sparring match with his Haredi opponents:
This past week, Yair Lapid delivered his first speech as Finance Minister of the new Israeli government. In most countries, this might not sound like edge-of-your-seat material. But Israel is not most countries. What began as an effort by Lapid to explain his austerity budget quickly devolved into a shouting match with the Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) members, who accused Lapid of unfairly targeting their community with his cuts.
Read the whole thing here
, including subtitled video of Lapid's biting ripostes in the Knesset.
at Tablet uncovers a remarkable historical artifact:
On Yom ha-Atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, in 1955, Albert Einstein was scheduled to address the American people on ABC, NBC and CBS. His speech--a passionate plea for peace and defense of the fledgling state of Israel--had been written in conjunction with the Israeli consulate and famed Ambassador Abba Eban. But on April 18, eight days before Einstein was to deliver it, the physicist died suddenly at the age of 76.
As regular readers know, I'm not a fan of pundits bashing politicians for their religious beliefs. Like the Constitution, I don't believe in a religious test for office. And as a reporter, I've found that such attacks tend to stem from ignorance and political opportunism
rather than principle or genuine concern. Today in Tablet
, I wrote about one hypocrisy evident in this unfortunate discourse:
Imagine if a group of prominent religious leaders went to Washington, D.C., to advocate against abortion. Imagine these clerics filmed a television ad in which they made a faith-based appeal for the cause, citing scripture while dressed in full religious regalia. And suppose this campaign were funded by a political action committee backed by one of America’s wealthiest politicians. Can you imagine the outcry from the commentariat? How quickly such an initiative would be denounced by liberal columnists and politicians as a religious encroachment on our country’s politics—a dangerous theocratic imposition on our secular democracy?
This past weekend, such a faith-fueled campaign kicked off in the nation’s capital, except it wasn’t pushing restrictions on abortions—it was pushing restrictions on guns. Backed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the political action committee co-chaired by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, dozens of esteemed faith leaders converged on Washington on Friday to kick off National Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath. The event coincided with the release of a pro-gun control TV ad featuring many of these clerics, including Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, and Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center.
Not a single column was written protesting these religious leaders preaching in service of a partisan political cause. But such selective censure should not be surprising: The charge that faith leaders are inappropriately meddling in our politics is one that only seems to be leveled at religious conservatives and not at their liberal counterparts. For the overwhelming majority of critics, it’s not really the fact of religion’s involvement in politics that’s troubling—it’s the “wrong” religious views being involved in politics. Take a closer look and one finds that their cries of “theocracy!” tend to be motivated more by partisanship than principle.
I spent half of last week covering the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). It's a political pageant that draws over half of Congress, dozens of administration officials, scores of dignitaries, an army of journalists, and thousands of delegates from across America.So naturally, the first thing I did when I got there was design a bingo board. Since there are particular buzzwords and catchphrases that the speakers are pretty much contractually obligated to say ("Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East," "all options are on the table for dealing with Iran"), it's a fun game to play.
Certainly, attendees thought so--some even tweeted pictures
of their boards during the speeches.
One thing you couldn't help but notice at the conference was the visible presence of Orthodox Jews. Regular readers (ok, my mom) will recall that I first wrote about the increasing political engagement of this group at the Republican National Convention
. At AIPAC, I talked
to the major movers in the Orthodox Union, among others, to get a sense of the Orthodox involvement in the country's largest pro-Israel lobby:
“The official buzz is Iron Dome, but the unofficial buzz might be velvet dome,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, a longtime Chabad emissary in Washington, D.C. (who famously kashered the White House kitchen), referring to the velvet skullcaps worn by the numerous Chabad attendees. “You used to see maybe a couple dozen yarmulkes at the AIPAC conference. Now there are many hundreds.”
“Join me in a mob-like chant,” exclaims
the 59-year-old scholar standing in front of the packed auditorium. As he raises his hands into the air, hundreds of the nation’s most talented students begin to intone in unison: “USA! USA! Latkes, Latkes, USA!” The place? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The occasion: MIT Hillel’s sixth annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate on March 5, 2008.
It’s a ritual that will soon be repeated on college campuses nationwide, as star academics face off on the perennial culinary question of Jewish tradition: latkes or hamentaschen? Which is superior—the fried potato pancakes traditionally served on Hanukkah, or the triangular jelly or poppy-filled pastries of the holiday of Purim? I wrote about this custom for Tablet, and talked to scholars and conflict resolution experts about it:
The media tends to report about Israeli politics through the lens of foreign policy--the peace process, the conflict with Iran, and so on. This makes sense from a reporter's perspective, because international readers are most interested in, and will be most affected by, a country's foreign policy rather than its local domestic concerns like the economy, or religion and state relations.But it's not a particularly good way to actually understand Israeli politics, or the politics of any democracy for that matter. Domestic issues matter--they shape elections and help determine who comes to power. Today in Tablet, I show how one such issue--the Jewish state's entanglement in religion--is driving Israeli politics today:
Recently, a number of critics from Salon
to The Guardian
have claimed that "Homeland," the award-winning Showtime drama about America's war on terror, traffics in anti-Muslim tropes. Over at The Atlantic
--where I last critiqued
the political realism of The West Wing
--I show that this is far from the case
Over at Tablet, I profile
Josh Hantman, the Oxford and Harvard-educated English language spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Defense and personal adviser to Ehud Barak on English correspondence, interviews and speeches:
I crashed the annual Chabad Kinus Hashluchim and spent Sunday with over 3000 Chabad rabbis from around the world. I wrote about it
Read the rest--including the source of the quote in the title of this post--here
I got some superb rabbis from across the different Jewish denominations to argue about the question
over at Tablet
. And I took the opportunity to explore some of the fascinating history of this dispute:
Read it all here
while you're waiting for the election results to come in. Rabbi Daniel Jeremy Silver's critique, tucked away in an obscure 1985 academic volume on modern Judaism, is worth reading in full (feel free to get in touch if you'd like a scanned PDF). Silver himself was a very impressive figure in American Judaism and today, a fellowship
for rabbis at the Harvard Center for Jewish Studies is named in his honor.