Author Archives: Mel Weiss

Live from the Lilith Blog

July 20, 2009 by

Israel, America, and the changing political status quo

Sometimes, Israeli politics and U.S. politics can seem very far apart, very separate, very disconnected. And then there are months like this one.

As the question of settlement expansion in the West Bank gets hotter and hotter, the question of what President Obama will, can and should do is burnin’ up as well. Furthermore, it seems to have suddenly come to the attention of many Jewish communal leaders that not everyone shares their stance on settlement expansion (and, more systemically, how the U.S. should engage with Israel). Depending on whose figures you trust, it sounds like that coveted youth demographic stands largely to the left of the line.

The exact nature of this back-and-forth is sometimes obscured; basically, the idea being pushed by Obama and his Jewish supporters both in the U.S. and in Israel is that settlement expansion in the West Bank needs to be curtailed. The settlements, of highly dubious legality, ought not be allowed to grow, including via “natural growth,” which is a made-up term with all the scientific accuracy of “partial-birth abortion.” The thinking behind this line of argument is that the ideal end to The Situation is a two-state solution; part-to-all of the Palestinian state will be made up of the West Bank; it may be way too late to remove settlements there, but it will be easier to work through the excruciating minutiae of redrawing the maps—as well as convincing everyone to approach the table seriously—if those settlements stop growing. As in, right now.

The opposition to this idea, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and agreed to by many Jewish American organizations, including AIPAC, is that “natural growth” is a legitimate right of Israeli settlers. (Sometimes, to be fair, the argument has been that Netanyahu can’t keep his coalition together without ceding that right.) The Israeli Supreme Court has already ruled that the government’s right to set policy in the settlements overrides the rights of settlers there, and, in general, governments are usually granted land-use rights superceding those of individual citizens. (In the U.S., a verison this right is known, and occasionally abused, as eminent domain. There’s also the concept of zoning laws, which is underpinned by the same principle.)

If the issue is totally confusing to you, well, maybe that’s because it’s meant to be. Obama’s firmer stance is seen as indicative of some loss of support for Israel, and it’s got at least one segment of American Jews worried. Of course, that may be because the rise of an alternative stance threatens their political hegemony.

Obama, meanwhile, keeps trying to remind the Jewish world that he’s working on striking a very difficult balance in making progress with both sides, though informal reports indicate that he looks good doing it.

And, in other news, the politician described as “Israel’s Sarah Palin” is getting her moment in the spotlight. There are some great—I mean, awful—“But can she see Russia from her house?” jokes that I won’t make. I do suppose that it’s a sign of some kind of progress to have women on all sides of an issue. Tzipi Livni received such a large amount of media attention before the election; it’s of course only right and expected that other female politicians receive their due as well. It’s great to see that women can lead on the political left and the political right; that doesn’t require any women do automatically conclude that either is correct.

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 22, 2009 by

I-Countries

It is a well-publicized time for your country to be in the news, if it begins with “i” and is located in the Middle East. (My apologies to India, Indonesia, Iraq, Iceland and Ireland. There is much of note going on in your interesting sovereign states as well, but I’m pressed for time.)

I think it goes without saying that the incredible and still very much unfolding series of events in Iran are very much on everyone’s mind. (For an amazing example of this “citizen journalism” everyone’s talking about, read this intense reporting from Saturday’s protests.) There has been a gratifying amount of coverage about how—and how much—this revolution will change the roles women can play in Iranian society. If you’re looking for a good distillation, I’d recommend Roya Hakakian’s recent interview. Hakakian, a Jewish Iranian who’s been covering Iranian-American issues for a variety of sources for some time, points out that the more Iranian men have and continue to understand their rights as intertwined with those of Iranian women, the stronger the movement will be.

Meanwhile, news cycles march on everywhere. The State Department released a report on human trafficking around the globe; unfortunately, not much has improved in Israel since visited the issue a few years ago. Israel remains a tier-two country, and the report singles out the lack of victim services (shelter, medical, psychological, etc.) as the most pressing need. You can download the report here. Meanwhile, New York’s junior senator is proposing a plan to get infertility treatments much more widely covered by insurance policies, much as they are in Israel. (Having learned so much about the sometimes debilitating side-effects of hyper pro-natalism from Barbara Gingold, I’m interested in seeing where this leads. New York is as totally broke as any other state, of course, so this may all lead nowhere quite quickly.)

While the Mac folks develop the inevitable iCountry app (ten points to the person who best describes such a thing), the actual I-countries keep us on our toes.

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 10, 2009 by

Second Honeymoon

In my (admittedly somewhat limited) experience, sometimes, once the bloom begins to fade from a new relationship, it can be easy to feel…well, maybe a little disappointed. You and your co-relationship person might disagree on something, or they disappoint you somehow, and you just feel the magic seeping away. When you’re lucky, you and your relationship can catch a second wind: you can fall into that second honeymoon, get all impressed all over again, and remember why you felt as strongly as you did.

So with that clunky metaphor of an introduction—did you see or hear or read President Obama’s speech in Cairo? I know, it’s really long, but if you haven’t taken a moment (hour) to listen in, I strongly suggest you do. At least take in the highlights. A new day has dawned, and you don’t want to be left behind.

If you haven’t heard the speech, let me just say this—it’s a shocker. President Obama hits point after point of foreign policy common sense that no one in her right mind ever expected to hear from a politician’s mouth. Israel must abandon settlements; Palestinians must abandon violence. We helped overthrow the democratically-elected government of Iran in 1953. The Holocaust, 9/11 and torture by American forces are all facts for the record, not up for debate nor subject to semantic contortions. (Speaking of semantics, our president’s Arabic accent is just lovely.) Obama also made a powerful declaration of women’s rights, during which you could see Secretary Clinton looking on. The whole moment was extremely profound.

For everyone who waded through the stinking piles of hateful and xenophobic fear-mongering during the election season (“He’s a Muslim, which means he’s a terrorist!”) and hoped and prayed for the lunacy to stop—it’s not a done deal, but what a start. The speech ended with wise words from the Quran, the Talmud and the New Testament, reminding us all that religion can bring us together, too.

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

June 1, 2009 by

Unsung Newscycles

There were obviously big things afoot this past week, what with President Obama announcing his first Supreme Court nominee. If you are of a slightly wonkish persuasion, then perhaps you meditated on what it might mean for Secretary of State Clinton to have spoken very firmly to the Israeli leadership about curtailing the growth of settlements. A doctor known as an abortion provider was killed. And all this above the steady hums of Iraq, Guantanamo, healthcare, recession.

So pardon me using this space to briefly highlight two minor blips on the news screen that are, in their own way, pretty heartening. Timely and interesting, too—but their power to make us feel a little better about the world is much in demand.

First, local press got great coverage, most of which was not picked up nationally, of the post-Prop 8-court-decision protests. San Francisco’s protest was especially dramatic, resulting in a number of arrests for disrupting traffic. Apparently, the first arrested were local clergy, including Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco, who, as she was led off in wrist cuffs, said, “It’s the right thing to do.” Talk about a role model.

Second, and perhaps even less glamorous, is the launch of a new and amazing fusion of labor and Middle Eastern politics. Meet TULIP—Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine, whose website not only provides information about the organization (which basically seeks to advocate for a two-state solution with strong co-operative unions) but also provides media that re-frames so much about the conversation, shifting almost entirely to an economic view of the conflict and related labor initiatives. Read the articles and reports they provide, and re-vision the power of workers. It’s pretty amazing.

Blips worth noting, no?

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 18, 2009 by

Truth/Out…and Lots of Women

I’d say if there are two things other than the economy and healthcare gripping the minds of the people around me, it would have to be
the truth—generally in regards to things like, Did the Speaker of the House know about memos approving torture and when did she know it? and what the @$#!*& happened in Afghanistan?—and… those who are out. Gays keeps racking up news cycles, not just because of the gay marriage wave sweeping the Northeast, but also because of renewed interest in DADT, the genius policy that has allowed thousands of able and willing United States soldiers to be removed from the military. (I love yelling back at the tv that Israel has been dealing with openly gay soldiers for years.) When Lt. Dan Choi—West Point graduate and Arab linguist—came out on the Rachel Maddow Show, he set in motion his own termination, recently served by letter. He’s not the only one. If that strikes you as absolutely absurd—as does the fact that the Obama administration has already decided not to deal with it right now—then really the only good news is that Jon Stewart agrees with you. That aside, it’s pretty ugly.

I have a minority opinion of the whole how-America-deals-with-gays thing—or a minority assessment, anyway. To my untrained mind, it seems that when government treats gay people differently than straight people, and does so without much by way of demonstrably factual basis, it’s following somebody’s religious code, and that’s really not okay with me. (Not that it should matter, but the fact that it’s not my religious code doesn’t help.)

Women are getting their fair share of attention, too. Secretary Sebelius’s new report on why the healthcare system particularly screws women deserves a read. (Did you know that women are not only 13% more likely to delay needed care, but that 43% of women go uninsured?) And it looks like Ruth Bader Ginsburg might get some female company on the bench; word on the street is that Obama is looking to appoint a woman to replace Justice Souter… though we’ll have to see what the minority has to say about that.

Sigh. Yes, we can…and um, maybe we will… Can we get back to you on that?

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

April 27, 2009 by

100 Days, 100 Nights

I’ve admitted publicly to being bad at math, but don’t worry—I know we’re not yet at President Obama’s 100-days-on-the-job date yet. But since it falls this Wednesday, I’m hoping doing just a little list-making now isn’t jumping the gun too much. We’re slogging through the Omer, still, so I’m in a day-counting kind of mood.

And despite some of the more radically partisan reads of the situation, it’s hard to deny that president Obama has been a busy, busy man. There was the closing of Guantanamo and the repeal of the global gag rule, small things like SCHIP and reversing an embarrassing rule about documenting the return of military caskets, and slightly bigger issues, like defining our mission in Afghanistan and…what was that, again? Oh, right, passing a stimulus package that FDR would have loved.

And with all that going on, Obama still had time to travel the globe and meet with a foreign public that loves him (often addressing them in their native tongues). Oh yeah, and he also held a seder and adopted a dog.

Decisive action in times of trouble can be a great comfort, and watching decisive Presidential action at such times can be pretty great, too. Regardless of your opinions vis-à-vis any of the specific policies Obama has pursued thus far, you have to marvel at the man’s inability to sit still. I don’t know whether it’s incredible drive or incredible shpilkes, and to be totally honest, I don’t much care. Here’s hoping that the next 100 days are as full of energy and ideas as the first 100.

Of course, even as some things hit their remarkable stride, other remarkable things must come to an end. Sadly, the inimitable Bea Arthur died yesterday. I’m convinced she was the second wave’s answer to Woody Allen—never mind to Archie Bunker—and she will be sorely missed. It’s pretty amazing to hear and read so many eulogizing comments that all begin, “She was the first feminist I ever saw on television…”

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

April 21, 2009 by

No Good Angle

You know how sometimes a news story shows up that’s kind of like a car wreck, no matter how you look at it? So amazingly yuck that even bloggers who have been shamefully negligent of the big (and funny) news stories in the last few weeks just have to say something? Yeah. So let’s talk about California’s Rep. Jane Harman, and the small problem she’s having right now.

Harman, of CA’s 36th District, was caught on tape by an NSA wiretap, “telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would press the Justice Department to go easy on two AIPAC officers accused of espionage-related charges and that this agent pledged, in return, to use his or her influence to help Harman become head of the House intelligence committee,” according to CQ Politics. Yikes. Did you catch that? She offered assistance on espionage charges in exchange for help getting onto the House intelligence committee. There are a number of intelligence-related jokes just waiting to be made here, so why don’t we all just take a moment and think those quietly to ourselves.

Unfortunately, the story continues, as CQ’s coverage also alleges that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales halted any investigation into Harman’s activities, because he needed her support in defending the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Irony alert!

I am no major AIPAC fan, but this is bad news all around. Not only does this kind of thing feed the lunatic fringe, which, in a post-Madoff world, needs little stoking to begin with, but it’s depressing as hell to see yet another manifestation of politics trumping reason, common sense, the law, and any sense of propriety. Also, the NSA was wiretapping a member of Congress. That they found something gross is almost beside the point. (Kind of like saying that any “intelligence” derived justifies waterboarding two suspects 266 times.)

So Rep. Harman, shame on you! (It should be noted that Harman is denying the allegations.) The one good thing that might come of all this would be a renewed sense of outrage in Congress that the U.S. government spied on its own citizens. It can happen to you, too—and maybe it already did! So let’s make a deal: if Congress can agree that FISA loopholes need to be shut, then maybe we won’t have to gawk at their PR train-wreck moments with such an undercurrent of self-righteousness. Who’s with me?

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

February 24, 2009 by

Fiscal Discipline

I am, as my friends, family and girlfriend can tell you, kind of cheap. Not super-cheap, not inhibiting-my-social-interactions cheap, just I-live-in-New-York-go-to-grad-school-and-work-at-a-non-profit cheap. You know what I’m avoiding saying right now, don’t you? Because in fact, I think this impulse might be in my blood; although I grew up in very comfortable circumstances, my mother is a compulsive coupon clipper, a woman who takes the leftover bread in the basket home with whatever anyone didn’t finish when we eat out, a woman who taught me to think it was totally normal to buy bras pulled from huge cardboard boxes six feet up tiny little hallways on the Lower East Side. I was aware of both the stereotype and the fact of over-privileged Jewish women with lots of cash (though I was to learn more later on in life), but to me, the relationship of my primary Jewish female role model to money was more about thrift than anything else. That, too, of course, comes out of a particular historical situation, and I could go on for a very long time, but let’s just say you should go read some Joyce Antler and leave it at that.

So fast-forward to my current far-left view of the world and, most obsessively, of my national government. I can see why there might be some conflict between an ethos of personal thrift and thinking that the government should spend a lot of money—goodness knows it has been pointed out to me. But I would like to clear the record on something here: I and many of my fellow lefties don’t want to see profligate spending towards no end. We don’t want the government to flush money down the toilet bowl (or for to renovate the toilet bowl, either); we do think that society that shells out cash for those who need it can be a more just society, although God knows where we got that idea. So, sometimes cash needs to be spent and, yeah, sometimes it can get to be a lot of cash. But, the same way I was sat firmly down and taught how to keep a checkbook, there needs to be some sense of accountability for how money is spent, and we need to spend it in the most productive way.

According to people way, way smarter than I, it turns out that tax cuts are not a good way to spend government money. This would be less of a problem if a) we hadn’t just spent about 40% of a huge-ass stimulus bill on them and b) they didn’t cost the government the same as all of our national defense. Yeah. Of course, I also just learned that for years, the wars we’ve been fighting haven’t been on the national budget. Instead, we’ve had a series of “Emergency Supplemental” appropriation bills, which let us pay a whole lot for things without having them show up on the budget, which strikes me as a liiiiiiiiiiiittle bit disingenuous. Kind of like doing a monthly budget and forgetting to include, I don’t know, your rent, and then mooching cash off of your family, friends and roommates when the bill-paying time of the month rolls around. As my personal hero likes to call it, “bullpuckey.”

But, fear no more, because at the same time that this new administration is spending loads of your cash on roads and tax cuts alike, they’re at least going to be honest about how much they’re spending. Calling the budget process in recent years an “exercise in deception,” President Obama has promised to spend lots of your money to try to keep the bottom from falling out of the economy, to be transparent about the actual cost of the two wars (remember them?) that we’re fighting, and to cut the deficit in half within four years. I have no idea how the heck that’s going to happen, but I would like to assure you, Mr. President, that my mom is ready by the phone if you ever want her two cents. I recommend her; you’ll just have to note those two cents down.

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

February 17, 2009 by

Tzedek or Bust?

I find it almost impossible to discuss the recent stimulus package, passed by Congress last week, in any sense of coherence; I feel so strongly about the outcome I wanted to see that it hinders my clarity. Certainly, I am unable to speak about it with anything resembling brevity. With the possible exception a Shabbat guest who actively solicited my opinions—and, fifteen minutes later, when I stopped to catch my breath, probably regretted it—I worry that I am boring the living daylights out of every single person I know.

That said, let us leave the stimulus plan right now. Let’s discuss that much calmer, safer, clearer subject—the Israeli elections. Oh…wait. So as you may well have heard, Tzipi Livni won…sort of. While Ms. Livni took the largest number of votes, neither she nor any of the candidates pulled in enough votes to actually have a majority in the Knesset. This means that a government-sharing situation is probably around the bend—actually, Livni’s party of Kadima has already called for this—provided she’s in charge of it.

It’s not a wholly unknown phenomenon—it happened before, a quarter-century ago, when Yitzkhak Shamir and Shimon Peres traded off midway.

I keep reminding myself that this could have been worse—I have a recurring nightmare, honestly, about Bibi Netanyahu being the next Israeli PM—and, as such, I guess that power-sharing is okay by me if it means that Livni is mostly calling the shots. It certainly sounds, at least superficially, like the kind of political compromise someone with self-identified feminist sensibilities should embrace: sharing instead of beating each other to a pulp non-stop.

And yet, and yet…

When I watch a certain American political party, which shall remain unidentified, attempt to stymie whatever progress might be made towards pulling our economy out of the toilet, I burn with honest rage—rage so real it literally renders me inarticulate. It’s not about partisanism for the sake of partisanism, though I’m capable of that as well—I just think that when things are dire, the people in charge with the good ideas shouldn’t have to take much input from the people with the terrible, destructive ideas. Playing nice is not as much of a feminist virtue to me as fixing the things in this world that are really, really wrong. And I happen to throw my lot in with those who value funding for infrastructure and peace talks aimed at a peaceful two-state solution. (Surprise!) So, really, it’s not like sharing is a bad thing, politically. It’s just that maybe sharing is merely the means to a larger end, and if that means stops working, we can try something else.

It’s very easy to feel powerless in both of these political situations, but it’s probably not good for us to despair. I remain cheered by the fact that much of the international progressive community is as interested in reaching out to Israel as some progressive Jewish American organizations—a la Avaaz and Jstreet. We have no way of knowing how the Israeli political kaleidescope will shake out in its new formations, but I’m ready to say that while any functioning government deserves its people’s initial respect, there’s nothing wrong with saying, these are our ideals. These are our dreams. This is the way of being a force for tzedek in the world—so help us onward or get out of the way.

–Mel Weiss

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Live from the Lilith Blog

February 2, 2009 by

Tav HaYosher for Republican Women Senators (Really)

There’s so much to say about what’s going on in the world of politics right now—the stimulus package is headed to the Senate, where it may or may not have some of its stripped provisions reinstated (um…family planning, anyone?) and also may or may not face a shutout by the Republicans there, not to mention Tzipi Livni backing away from her promises to remove settlers and Iraq holding fairly peaceful elections. Whew!

However, I’d like to take a moment to savor the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. (One of my political gurus—the one I happen to live with—says she plans to never call it anything but the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The woman deserves that much!) I am, of course, thrilled that the legislation passed, and thrilled that, to put it less delicately, hardworking Americans aren’t going to be continually screwed based on the ridiculous and discriminatory whims of their bosses. I was also thrilled by a trend in how the votes went—because despite an otherwise predictable partisan split over this legislation, all of the women in the Senate, including four Republicans, voted yea. Given the awesome and utterly asinine showing of partisan lowballing that came with the House Republicans’ decision (after the stimulus package had been hung with tax cuts like a Hanukkah bush, of course) to take their toys and go home, this display by the Senate’s Republican women is pretty impressive.

It’s not like I now support everything these women want (although I have always, always had a soft spot for Maine’s Olympia Snowe, the woman who should have been John McCain’s knee-jerk female pick for a running mate). There’s still plenty left to disagree about. But I did feel a little flash of pride that the people out there supporting the “post-partisan” message President Obama embodies for so many—the idea that things are so messed up that maybe fixing them is more important than hitting each other over the head—were, by and large, women. (And Arlen Specter. But you get my point.)

There is so, so much work to do, and I don’t think hysterical liberals can be blamed for feeling like we need to get as much done at once as we can. (By the way, PLEASE call your senator and tell him or her to support the stimulus plan—with the family planning provisions reinstated!) In that spirit, a moment of applause for the Republican women of the Senate, who have, in their long and illustrious careers, probably wondered about their salaries more than we’d believe. They get this week’s Tav HaYosher (Ethical Seal).

And then, after a moment of applause, it’s back to rebuilding the U. S. of A.

–Mel Weiss

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