Of Bibi, Donald, Sheldon and First Amendment Rights

With this blog, I celebrate one year of being a part of The Times of Israels’ very open and robust “marketplace of ideas.”  Anyone who knows anything about core First Amendment values knows that the Marketplace Metaphor is a pillar of the foundational democratic value of free speech.   So it is that on this first anniversary of being one of the many public voices on this well-run social media platform that I thank David Horovitz and the Times of Israel staff for ensuring that at least this core democratic value has a place in Israeli society and politics.

My career as a blogger began on a United Airlines flight to Tel Aviv a year ago when I was the unfortunate woman assigned to seat 17C.  On the basis of Jewish Law, I was asked by the leader of the group of ultra-Orthodox men to switch seats to 17D to accommodate one of his followers.  As I composed a year ago, “Sorry Sir, I disagree, but still I moved to 17D.”  Reflecting on the striking similarity between my “discrimination” experience and that experienced by black people in the US prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, I was sickened to my core.  Then, on the return leg of last year’s January trip, I had a similar experience that was witnessed by a member of the Board of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, our JCPA.  My first blog in this series, Of Martin Luther King, Monsey and 17D, chronicles that chapter of my life as a 21st Century Passionate Zionist Feminist Activist.

This year, thankfully, my January travels back and forth from NYC to Jerusalem were uneventful.  Given that public events in both my country of citizenship and my Homeland range from chaotic to deeply disturbing, I was relieved to not be a part of any public drama during this visit.  It was close enough that the terrorist attack on Sunday afternoon occurred in one of my most beloved places in my southern Jerusalem neighborhood, “the tayelet,”  The Haas-Sherover Promenade is the very first place I visited in Jerusalem on an August evening in 1991, as a brand new member of the United Jewish Appeal’s Young Leadership Cabinet.  The tayelet is just a short walk from our apartment,  down Derech Bethlechem and then a left turn up toward Talpiot.  It is a place we all know very well.  My children, especially Raffi and Sarah, were very shaken up by this terrorist attack on Israeli soldiers.  The front page of Tuesday’s New York Times has a searing image of two young female members of the IDF, one wearing a pink beret and one wearing a purple beret, mourning at the funeral of Lt. Yael Yekutiel.  This reminds me of the deeply personal pain caused by each piguah back in the days when I chaired the Cleveland-Beit Shean Partnership during the early years of the 21st century.

Given the subject matter of this blog, it is ironic that I bought the newspaper but once during my entire week in Israel.  I also didn’t watch any cable or broadcast news, as we had disconnected the cable TV in our Jerusalem apartment.  While I did get news updates via the internet, I assumed the classic Israeli posture of ignoring the news when there is very little good news to read about.  I landed to the news of the Elon Azaria verdict. I found myself deeply dismayed that Bibi, bowing to his right wing ultra-nationalist view of the world, condemned this verdict and began talk of a pardon, despite the clearcut nature of the facts of the case.  In Israel, the IDF has always been a highly respected institution, in large measure because of the very strong moral code that guides Jewish military behavior.  In any democracy, the judicial system must be seen as legitimate and above politics.  That the court system of Israel is under attack because of an outcome that does not comport with right-wing Israeli political views is an example of what I consider, “bad news.”

Rising from my jet lag evening nap, I was confronted by the most recent potential crisis out of “Trump World.”  The evening before my President-Elect’s first press conference in 168 days, the breaking news is that the Russians probably have compromising information about Mr. Trump.  Frankly, anyone who has been following current events cannot be surprised by the latest developments.  As for Mr. Trump’s response:  more “fake news.”  As I wrote in my last blog, the failure to find a factual consensus in American society can make each one of us a little crazy.

Thankfully, we, the Jewish People, have our common narrative to ground us in some spiritual truths.  Or at least, we did, once upon a time.  These days, it is truly hard to know what to true, what is real, what matters and who to trust.  Is Israel so under siege in the wake of Resolution 2334 or is this a diplomatic/verbal wake up call to responsible leadership to find new ways of achieving the UN-sanctioned “Two-State Solution”, given the current facts on the ground?  Which, by the way, in my view of the world, includes an uncontested Jewish claim to the Western Wall.  The facts on the ground speak for themselves.  In fact, if I may remind the Prime Minister, the State of Israel recently struck a deal with Leaders of the Jewish People to expand that exact same Holy Space.  But somehow, that deal is on hold due to the Prime Minister’s razor thin ruling coalition.  I understand the nature of Israel’s parliamentary democracy, Bibi.  Do you understand that your deference to your ultra-Orthodox political partners is hugely insulting to the rest of the Jewish People? Or do you think that if you distract us by your irrational fears about Resolution 2334, we will look the other way?  Sorry, Bibi, but we as a Jewish People are commanded to remember. both covenants eternal and contemporary agreements, especially those hailed as “historic.”  I take that commandment to remember very seriously, as a passionate modern Jewish woman who understands that your ultra-Orthodox haredi coalition partners want to take away my hard-fought Sobel Rights at the Kotel.

On the Israeli news front, I came home to NYC to read that Bibi is on record having had an “interesting” conversation with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes,  As reported by Isabel Kershner for the NYT, “Mr. Netanyahu was recorded in a meeting negotiating mutual benefits with an old foe, the publisher of Yediot Aharonot, a popular newspaper that is sharply critical of the prime minister, reported Channel 2, a commercial television station.”

Allow me a reflection – just as in our Holy Texts, where our Sages quote this source and that source and an even more authoritative source to prove the point, so do we look to our credible news sources for the Truth.  Or at least that was the norm, the common accepted way of discerning a shared reality,  before the days of Mr. Trump.  I am sorry to say, based on this latest story of attempted media manipulation, that our Prime Minister, has also tried to shape what the public knows .  And once again, I find that there is a disturbing connection between these two political leaders who happen to be Master Manipulations and the name of the connection is once again, Sheldon Adelson.  Months ago I wrote a blog entitled, “Shame on Sheldon, Donald is a Demagogue,” lamenting the large political donation Mr. Adelson had made to the Republican candidate Donald Trump.  Today I look to the pages of the Israeli and US press and I read that the Prime Minister was confident he could control Israel HaYom’s distribution and circulation (based on his close ties to Mr. Adelson) to benefit the struggling Yediot.  While the deal never happened, the fact that Bibi attempted to buy positive press coverage is, shall I say, a Cause of Concern.  Another in a long list of concerns I have about the State of Israel.

Please understand that I write these blogs as a Passionate Zionist who has invested a considerable amount of personal philanthropic resources in, an inordinate amount of time in engagement with and have risked my reputation on behalf of the modern Jewish Democratic State of Israel.  I also write these blogs as an American Jewish Woman who came of age in the 1970’s, in the dawn of a new time in both American and Jewish society.  In one of those beautiful synchronicities, my emergence as a leader in the Modern Jewish Democracy Movement  began on Rosh Hodesh Av, 5770, when I was an eye witness to the arrest of Woman of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman for carrying a Torah Scroll away from the Kotel Plaza towards Robinson Arch.  I also write these blogs as a proud American Jew who has the good fortune to experience the richness of Jewish life in New York City, after having raised my children in the unique Jewish community that is Cleveland, peppered with a Jerusalem life that has bred three Next Generation Zionists.

The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project is a creative attempt to spark the “spiritual civil rights movement” of the 5770’s.  Using new language, such as “Public Jewish Law” and phrases such as “Other than Orthodox” and “protecting the spiritual civil rights of All Jews, regardless of gender or adjective,” SRSS is seeking to catalyze support for the many non-governmental organizations in Israel doing the work on the ground to plant the seeds of a healthy Israeli Judaism that strengthens the democratic nature of the State.  While First Amendment religious values are at the core of the SRSS mission, SRSS has not focused on the Freedom of the Press issues which are also a core element of the First Amendment.  In light of the latest series of events however, I just had to share these thoughts.

As a Jewish artist/activist I am rooted in a rich tradition of prophetic and ritual storytelling.  How proud I am that our Jewish stories form the foundation for just and fair democratic societies.  However, my President-Elect is attacking the storytellers of our times, the creative class, those artists who are exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech.  Mr. Trump’s most recent target is the beloved Meryl Streep, tweeting against her because of her thoughtful public words on what is the appropriate behavior for a leader.  These attacks are undermining one of the foundational pillars of a democratic society.  I wonder if my Prime Minister understands that by attacking the Israeli judiciary, the IDF and the accepted diplomatic norms of foreign relations, he, like Mr. Trump, is similarly undermining some of the foundational pillars of our Jewish democratic society.

What I do know is that the year 5777/2017 is going to challenge many of our core assumptions for both societies.  With a nod to the vital nature of a Free Press in these times, I bless each of us with the courage to find our voice, speak truth to power and work to find common ground for the common good.  And may this Zionist Marketplace of Ideas thrive for many years to come.

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.
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