The Jew News Review – November 5, 2022 – “Alas, poor Israel….”

Shabbat shalom! 

Another gorgeous weekend on tap here in New England, with potentially record breaking temperatures. What we used to call “Indian Summer”, but in the post woke world, perhaps we should say, “Indigenous Peoples Summer”? 

“Hoist with his own petard” is what I am thinking, thanks Shakespeare. But why?

Political “wokeness” is a slang term that according to Merriam Webster “is easing into the mainstream from some varieties of a dialect called African American Vernacular English (sometimes called AAVE). In AAVE, awake is often rendered as woke, as in, ‘I was sleeping, but now I’m woke.’”

The meaning appears to have shifted sometime after Erykah Badu repeatedly used the line “I stay woke” in her 2008 song, “Master Teacher,” which begins, “I am known to stay awake.” After the song came out, “’Stay woke’ became a watch word in parts of the Black community for those who were self-aware, questioning the dominant paradigm and striving for something better,” according to Merriam-Webster. And now, the term has evolved from being the past participle of wake, to it’s current meaning, to be “conscious and aware” – but the slang word has come to represent an embrace of progressive activism, as well.

Which brings me to my “hoist with his own petard” point. In it’s dogged pursuit of social equality and justice for all, the left has embraced a long line of positions, some of which I personally favor, that end up becoming political fodder and scare tactics for the right (defunding police, sex changes for kids, borders and crime out of control), ammunition that will be used against us to put election deniers and fringe lunatics in positions of power. In other words, by embracing “woke” social justice and equality for all, have we contributed to the fall of our precious democracy as the pending red wave predictions indicate? Oops. Didn’t we elect Uncle Joe to return some center-left normality to our politics? Shouldn’t the dems be more focused on middle class messaging? Or are we just going to be victims of the usual amount of mid-term losses and hyperbolic but effective right wing propoganda? I am not suggesting we should not advocate for social justice reforms, but we should be sure to put them in the right priority and context, or suffer the consequences at the polls. And there will be consequences. Think about Marjorie Taylor Greene, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, and other fringe yahoos now leading House committees as the majority party. Ugh. 

And speaking of fringe, and to borrow shamelessly once again from Shakespeare, the question of “To Bibi or not to Bibi” has been answered, pretty emphatically by Israelis, who this week gave a majority of seats, 64, to Bibi and his coalition of religious zealot parties. In a remarkable comeback, his 3rd now, Bibi, at the age of 73, will become the new Prime Minister serving a 3rd non-consecutive term. This election was lost by the left more than won by the right, as there was only a small gain in the popular vote for the religious right and Likud parties. Bibi smartly aligned the right while the left splintered into too many parties, some of which were not able to get the required 3.25% minimum vote threshold, thereby losing their seats and their potential majority position.

“Alas, poor Israel” say many observers, including one I trust on this topic, Thomas Friedman, columnist/author for the New York Times and long time observer of the Middle East. 

The coalition that Likud leader Bibi Netanyahu is riding back into power is a rowdy alliance of ultra-Orthodox leaders and ultranationalist politicians, including some outright racist, anti-Arab Jewish extremists once deemed completely outside the norms and boundaries of Israeli politics. As it is virtually impossible for Netanyahu to build a majority coalition without the support of these extremists, some of them are almost certain to be cabinet ministers in the next Israeli government.

As that previously unthinkable reality takes hold, a fundamental question will roil synagogues in America and across the globe: “Do I support this Israel or not support it?” It will haunt pro-Israel students on college campuses. It will challenge Arab allies of Israel in the Abraham Accords, who just wanted to trade with Israel and never signed up for defending a government there that is anti-Israeli Arab. It will stress those U.S. diplomats who have reflexively defended Israel as a Jewish democracy that shares America’s values, and it will send friends of Israel in Congress fleeing from any reporter asking if America should continue sending billions of dollars in aid to such a religious-extremist-inspired government. 

In my humble opinion, this Israeli shift to the right did not happen in a vacuum. Arab extremism, security issues, hangover effects of the 2nd intifada, all contributed to the growing popularity of security-focused zealots such as Ben Gvir, who advocates for Arab ethnic cleansing and who hangs a portrait in his home of Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli terrorist responsible for shooting 29 Palestinians in 1994 gathered outside a mosque to pray! This whack job will now have a cabinet position in Bibi’s government!

Is Israel one step closer to a theocracy with the election of Bibi “Nut-and-yahoos”? Is Israel a harbinger of the right-ward shift in the US and elsewhere? Will I ever get to the Jew news? Yes, yes, and finally, yes. So, now for your weekly serving of news for Jews, curated by me from multiple sources including The Forward, Keller, Times of Israel, and others:

  1. Israel votes: Secular democracy vs Jewish Theocracy? The more fateful shift marked by Tuesday’s vote is the elevation of the foundational principle of Israel as a Jewish state above that other foundational principle of Israel as a democratic state. The parties for which those two core values have equal weight, or for which the democratic imperative outweighs the country’s Jewish centrality, were soundly beaten, with Israel’s founding party Labor on the brink of obliteration and Meretz, at time of writing, wiped out. Click here for more.
  2. Elon Musk and the Twitter debacle fueling anti-semitism – In the week after the rapper who now goes by Ye lost most of his endorsements due to his antisemitic rants, and amid an apparent uptick in broader antisemitic content on the platform, the Anti-Defamation League met with Musk, the social media giant’s mercurial new owner, about keeping hate speech off the site. Three days later, all goodwill from the meeting has devolved, as anti-Jewish content on Twitter is experiencing a “prolific surge,” according to the Network Contagion Research Institute, a firm that monitors the spread of online hate and disinformation. The institute said Friday that “terms associated with Jew are being tweeted over 5,000 times per hour,” and that “the most engaged tweets are overtly antisemitic.” Ugh. If you are currently on Twitter, I suggest you unsubscribe. 
  3. New Jersey synagogue threat “neutralized” – The individual who threatened synagogues in New Jersey on Thursday has been identified and “neutralized,” officials said Friday. A man who holds “radical extremist views” was identified as being behind the threat and “no longer poses a threat to the community at this time,” the agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark office told state and federal law enforcement officials and hundreds of Jewish leaders during a conference call Friday morning, according to a report in The New York Times. Read the story.
  4. A timeline of Kyrie Irving’s antisemitism scandal: The seven-time NBA all-star shared a link to to a film rife with antisemitic conspiracies. That was a week ago. On Thursday afternoon, the Brooklyn Nets suspended him. In between, he danced and broke up with the ADL, took responsibility but refused to deny he is antisemitic — and then, after the suspension, finally apologized. Our sports reporter, Louis Keene, has the play-by-play. Read the story ➤
  5. ‘Armageddon Time’ gets its Jewish story right — so why does the movie feel so wrong? James Gray’s new film is modeled after his own childhood as the son of Ukrainian Jews in Queens. The film is gaining accolades from critics for its handling of the interracial friendship at its center, despite the fact that its single Black character is thinly fleshed out. “This is not a nuanced depiction of Black life in America,” writes the Forward’s Mira Fox. “It’s a bag of stereotypes, with a character so thinly developed it’s impossible to see anything but his hardships.” Read her review ➤
  6. 🇮🇱  “This to me felt like a doubling down of that tribalism” – Americans now living in Israel said this week’s election, with a strong showing for the far-right Itamar Ben-Gvir helping power Benjamin Netanyahu back to the premiership, reminded them of Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. “I want for our world a less tribal, less polarized political and social environment,” said one such immigrant, Ari Hoffman. (JTA)
  7. 🧑‍⚖️  The United States Postal Service unveiled a new stamp honoring the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, set to be released in 2023. The artist Roy Lichtenstein and author Toni Morrison are also getting stamps. (USA Today)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg stamp: USPS will feature late Supreme Court Justice in  2023 : NPR

That’s all folks! And hey, it never goes without saying, let’s be careful out there.

Brad out. 

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