The Philadelphia Jewish Voice
The Delaware Valley's Progressive Alternative
Volume 1 - Number 2 - August 2005
For several weeks leading up to the June 9th issue, there were notices in the Exponent’s pages that "a new Jewish Exponent" was coming. Those of you who read the Exponent regularly have noticed that the past 7 issues have sported a new look, and to some degree a new feel. Indeed, there is a more lively look to the front page, and more coverage of events and issues that might appeal to the 20- and 30-something set: Descriptions of musical concerts, a series on the environment, interviews with young personalities, and a recent editorial openly looking at the issue of interfaith marriage – all these are commendable and make it a more attractive paper. I was hopeful that along with these changes would be a change in its commentary on world and national events. Unfortunately, the editorial policy remains locked in promoting a conservative, partisan worldview. We now look at recent editorials about two issues, Israel and the Supreme Court, that illustrate the limitations we see.
We find interesting and troubling a recent editorial by Jonathan Tobin in which he says, among other things, that Democrats must confront "anti-Israel extremists on their left wing." (A Matter of Opinion, June 23,2005) We find this statement problematic in several ways:
· It implies that Democrats are responsible for policing the views of anyone who is ‘left wing.’ It is likely that most people who consider themselves ‘left wing’ aren’t Democrats, and as Mr. Tobin concedes, most Democrats would not classify themselves as ‘left wing.’
· Hopefully all supporters of Israel, of any political leaning, feel free to respond to both invalid criticisms of Israel (thinly or not so thinly disguised anti-Semitism) and legitimate criticisms of Israel (sincere desire for Israel to correct its policies), from whatever source. But it is not any one group’s responsibility.
Most troubling is the ease with which Mr. Tobin throws around derogatory terms and uses innuendo to discredit Democrats. In that one editorial, though never directly labeling Democrats per se, he uses the terms "huffing and puffing," "partisan grudge," "nuts," "crackpots," "disgraceful event" (referring to a mock impeachment of Bush for the war in Iraq) and "extremists" in the context of discussion involving Democrats. This writing degrades the Exponent and belongs in a partisan rag at best. And he was at his journalistically most sloppy and shameful worst when he combined in one sentence ‘Democratic headquarters’ and a recounting of people handing out leaflets blaming 9/11 on Israel. Although a copy of that leaflet isn’t available to this writer, it is known that some of the most vocal proponents of the view that Israeli Intelligence had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks are connected to politically conservative media: Antiwar.com and Fox News.
Putting aside assertions of responsibility for who should be defending Israel against whom, the valid question arises as to how to respond to our government’s policies toward Israel. Of note is another editorial by Mr. Tobin (A Matter of Opinion, June 16, 2005), in which he raises questions about President Bush’s recent statements and actions regarding Israel. Clearly uncomfortable with the about-face Mr. Bush has taken since the election (championing President Abbas, providing large sums of money to the P.A., and talking about the 1949 borders as a basis for negotiation) we see the difficulty Mr. Tobin has in voicing criticism of the President. This is something he had no difficulty doing with Candidate Kerry when Kerry took positions that were to the ‘right’ of the recent Bush Administration moves. The most he seems willing to do is "watch, wait, and warn of the dangers that lie ahead." At the risk of redundantly repeating myself again (sic), the problem lies not with Mr. Tobin’s decision to either take strong issue with a given position or to only use kid gloves, but with his double standards in applying his responses: The kid gloves are for the Republicans, the harsh rebuke for the Democrats. He clearly feels justified in using such language, and more importantly and of greater concern, must feel supported by his superiors in throwing around invective in a partisan manner. It certainly is not neutrality, though neutrality is what the Exponent professes, and what its readership deserves.
There has been a lot of discussion in reference to the upcoming battle over the next Supreme Court justice nomination. In the People & Politics section (July 7, 2005), Matthew Berger of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency presents a fairly balanced overview of the stakes involved in this battle and how it affects and will be affected by the Jewish community. He describes the mix of Jewish responses, some groups urging President Bush to nominate a unifying person, others just suggesting questions to use in the hearings, and others who will just offer their opinions on certain matters (e.g., abortion, separation of church and state, etc.), but not get involved in the battle over a given nominee.
Then we have the perplexing editorial by Jonathan Tobin (A Matter of Opinion, July 7, 2005), in which he suggests Jews avoid making the coming battle a Jewish issue and, in effect, suggests Jews stay out of the "mess" entirely. Why? He says that to make it a Jewish issue would limit "our ability to use our influence on other issues." Presumably this means foreign policy issues, as all domestic issues are subject to a trip through the Supreme Court. But given Jonathan’s overall defense of the most conservative administration in recent history, it is likely his concern is with domestic policy as well. He tips his hand by the manipulative language he uses: He has liberals accusing others of extremism, while conservatives Mau-Mau their leftist opponents. Note the emphasis on liberals "accusing" on one half of the equation while conservatives playfully "Mau-Mau", with the alternative to "conservatives" being "leftists." (Leftist opponents in Congress? If there are even a handful of actual leftists, that would be a lot!) Tobin tries to revise reality by employing the apples versus oranges technique. Although any leftist would likely oppose any Bush nominee, the concern that is being raised is from the moderate segment of the country, by far the majority, who don’t want an ‘extremist’ of either persuasion. The vast majority of Jews are in this camp: supportive of a relatively liberal domestic agenda, and somewhat more to the right on foreign policy as relates to Israel.
So to suggest that Jews keep quiet when indeed the next Justice will have a great impact on many issues that traditionally are valued by Jews (namely, economic justice, protection of individuals’ rights, separation of church and state, equality of sexes and races, etc.) is self-defeating. Since most Jewish organizations are going to oppose someone that Mr. Tobin would presumably support, it sounds as if he wants to silence them for his political self-interest. To suggest that Jewish groups present their views in a spirit of cooperation and conciliation makes perfect sense. Given the extremely conservative character of this administration, Jewish groups advocating that any nominee be ‘moderately’ conservative and sensitive to the views of all segments of society (including the Christian Right) is reasonable. But to abdicate the unique perspective that a historically oppressed minority group has on the selection of a Justice who has a primary job of protecting minorities from the excesses of the majority makes no sense.
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