Another week of shameless self-promotion

Yes, I write for Jewsweek. Yes, I'd like you to read that publication. No, I'm not ashamed of self-promotion. So pucker up princess...

In addition to my already mentioned Matrix Reloaded article, I also contributed a cover story on the just approved (by Israel) road map plan and how we've been down this road before.

There's also a story on how you can rent a rabbi, and whether or not that's a good thing, as well as yet another hip and Jewish T-shirt offering that would fit in nicely in the offices of Heeb magazine. Those, for this issue anyways, represent my favorites. Please... go read them.

politics | Intelligence failure or political ass-covering?

Salon.com's Joe Conason is highlighting a recent appearance on NPR by The Threatening Storm author, Kenneth Pollack. During said appearance, hawkish Pollack backed off his pre-war claims that "Iraq possessed a stockpile of [WMD] ready to use." That Saddam had everything necessary to build a nuke "was the consensus of opinion among the intelligence community [at the time] ... that is exactly the kind of thing that we're going to need to go back and look hard at ... those various intelligence services who were making those claims." That's right. Pollack passed the buck to, as he calls them, the "so-called experts."

The problem with Pollack's back pedaling, aside from the disappointing attempt to pawn off the findings of one's own 528 page book when they turn up to be false, is that his new argument is no more true than the old claims he's trying to distance himself from. As Joshua Micah Marshall, columnist for The Hill and contributing writer for Washington Monthly, has already pointed out on his blog, the problem with pre-war intelligence estimates wasn't the agencies generating them, but the political big-wigs who kept revising them.

"The intelligence bureaucracy [was] generating estimates of Iraq's capacities that are pretty much in line with what we're now finding. Again and again, though, the political leaders sent them back to come up with better answers." In other words, pro-war politicians in the Bush administration ignored "unhelpful" analyses and kept touting the argument that Iraq was overflowing with WMD.

Now that the fix is in, they and many of their allies in the media, are spinning the line that there was an intelligence failure. Where I come from that is referred to as bullshit, but considering the media's coverage of the issue thus far, it may turn into the political play of the year. Excuse me while I go lament.


culture | Matrix as midrash... believe it

Feel free to take a sneak peak at my analysis of the Jewish themes in the Matrix Reloaded. It'll be in the upcoming issue of Jewsweek, and it centers on the much lamented rave scene early on in the film as well as the Architect sequence everybody seems to be chewing on.

I know what you're saying. Buddhism, check. Christianity, check. Gnosticism, check. But Judaism? Believe it; it's in there.


israel | Dahlan gets dumped... sort of

News of Israel's conditional acceptance of the Road Map has overshadowed another news tidbit, that of Mohammed Dahlan getting dumped by Fatah. The news was tucked into the end of a Ha'aretz report, and to be technical, Dahlan wasn't dumped. He was banned "from intervening further in Palestinian security affairs," despite that being his job. Israel Radio (via IMRA) is reporting Fatah's Executive Committee gave authority for security affairs to Nasser Yusef, an Arafat loyalist.

That news was omitted from the Ha'aretz report, which is sad, because it highlights the ongoing struggle between Arafat and Abu Mazen. Unfortunately, the international community and the media seems to have left the story of Abu Mazen's power struggle behind the day he was sworn in. Without continued pressure to keep Abu Mazen afloat and keep Arafat and his Fatah loyalists from further undermining the new Prime Minister, I fear movement against terrorists and on the road map will remain still-born.


culture | How could you not love her?

There are two categories of guys - the ones you can take home to meet the parents, and the ones you can't. There are two categories of women - Anita Marks, and everyone else. Just in case you haven't heard of her, Ms. Marks is Jewish, co-hosts a sports radio show, and is the quarterback for the Miami Fury women's pro football squad. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention she was in the September issue of Playboy - sans jersey.

My first reaction? "G-d bless America." My second reaction? Yeah, it's still "G-d bless America. But third time around, I have to wonder if Marks isn't choosing to be a female role model at the expense of Jewish values. Don't get me wrong, I'm the least traditional guy when it comes to issues of sexuality and modesty, but I'm going to have to think a while on whether or not posing for Playboy is something we should be lauding in the Jewish community. I actually have two divergent thoughts on this, one which guides me to believe it's a positive, and another which sees it as a violation of Jewish modesty values. More on this in a later post...


politics | How Bush is compromising nat'l security?

After two wars and almost two years since 9/11, you'd think Americans would at least feel safer from terrorism. Nada, and as it turns out, it has a great deal to do with the Bush administrations ideological approach to national security. Take the issue of reforming the military. As The New Republic pointed out just after Afghanistan, Rumsfeld & Co.'s obsession with utilizing fewer troops wasn't necessarily a good thing. The Afghan campaign proved "that since it is impossible to predict the military challenges the nation will face in the future, we need a lot of powerful military hardware and a lot of personnel."

The Bush administration, however, apparently didn't learn the lesson. A new Washington Monthly article is nicely pointing out that, like post-war Afghanistan, the Bush crew is prone to losing the peace after its won the war. "When victory arrived, we lacked the troops on the ground to prevent Baghdad--and most of the rest of the country--from collapsing into anarchy," mainly because conservative military reformers are focused on cutting troop strength while stocking up on high-tech hardware, which hardly helps stop looters from ransacking and raping.

But it's not just the way the armed forces operate that illustrates how Bush may actually be harming our national security. The administration's failure to pursue policies that would curb our energy dependence on the Middle East isn't exactly cutting off the flow of cash to terrorists. On this point, it's not just a hot air energy policy, it's a failure by Bush to match his challenge to Democrats on ANWR-drilling with a similar confrontation inside his own party: to aggressively improve fuel-economy standards.

The president could make a point of linking energy policies to national security and propose a strong compromise, that paves the way for limited ANWR drilling in exchange for conservatives allowing new, more stringent fuel-economy standards. A bit of extra funding for alternative energy sources would be some nice frosting on the cake. That's not to say the Democrats aren't pandering to special interests either, but Bush presently holds the bully pulpit. Too bad he's not using it for something other than telling us al-Qaeda's on the run... or not.


politics | Bush goes nuclear, Jews follow suit

The inclusion of a provision in the 2004 Defense Authorization bill that would repeal a decade-old ban on developing low-yield nuclear weapons has gotten Democrats verklempt. They complain the attempt to re-ignite nuclear weapons development will only spark new arms races and hamstring efforts to contain nuclear proliferation in places like North Korea and the Indian subcontinent. The White House is supporting development of the new nukes as "a better deterrent to potential foes than the more powerful warheads already in the U.S. arsenal." Yes, a White House official actually said that.

The usual suspects fell in line to oppose the measure, but now the Religious Action Center, Reform Judaism's political arm, has joined the fight against the legislation. Calling for some community education and grassroots lobbying, the group has issued a special report that gives background and even tells you what Judaism says about nukes.

We've known for years the Pentagon is full of oxymorons, but who knew that developing nuclear weapons designed to be used in conventional warfare would piss people off?


politics | A perception gap between Israelis & Palestinians

A recent Yediot Ahronot article, About the Naqba, by Shlomo Avineri should be required reading for anybody trying to figure out why a reasonable solution can't be hammered out between Israelis and Palestinians. In short, there's a perception gap between the two sides which turns otherwise objective discussions into a complicated quagmire.

"The fact is that even today Palestinians refuse to accept that we are talking about rights against rights; from their point of view, in 1948, as today, we are talking about rights against injustice," writes Avineri. The implications are far-reaching. Avineri points out that such a view "fundamentally prevents compromise," but it also helps explain part of why Israel finds it difficult to make a case for its own legitimate claims. Such claims do not fit into the rubric of Palestinian perception as Avineri describes it, and such perceptions have increasingly become accepted by liberal elites in America and Europe, mainly because it fits their general sympathies.

What I find most appealing about Avineri's essay is its ability to give enormous depth of understanding to how the process of peace making is shaped and derailed while allowing us to step outside of the over-done and over-simplistic "everybody hates Israel, because everybody hates Jews" reaction so many have come to adopt.


What I'll be reading post-Shabbat

The June edition of The Atlantic features a lengthy feature on who shot Mohammed al-Dura. The piece examines the "persuasive evidence that the fatal shots could not have come from the Israeli soldiers known to have been involved in the confrontation," but is focused more on "object lesson[s] in the incendiary power of an icon," since "the evidence will not change Arab minds."

Meanwhile, Ha'aretz is featuring a piece on some internal struggles within Rabbis for Human Rights. The story focuses on the desire of some in the organization to broaden its focus "beyond the Palestinian issue - to the dismay of some of their colleagues."

And finally, there's a piece from a couple days ago on Israel's "at least a year overdue" crackdown of the International Solidarity Movement, courtesy of israelinsider.

politics | Canada continued...

While we're on the theme of Canada and anti-Israel sentiment, it's worth revisiting the situation at Concordia University. As you might recall, the Concordia Student Union effectively banned Hillel last fall, prompting a lawsuit from the Jewish group. Now that lawsuit has just been suspended by Quebec's Superior Court.

The reasoning of the court seems a bit, well... absurd. First, the judge has called on Hillel to exhaust its options within the university system itself before turning to the court. That's not entirely unreasonable, except Concordia's administration has thus far not shown an interest in intervening on Hillel's behalf. But the judge goes further still, declaring the issue one of political differences rather than racist bias. "The judge also noted that the majority of CSU executives are themselves of Jewish origin."

So to sum up, the CSU cannot be anti-Semitic, because the majority of its executives are Jewish? To me, that's dangerously close to arguing that criticism of Israel cannot be anti-Semitic, "because Arabs are Semites too." It's not the first time the question of whether a Jew can be anti-Semitic has been raised. Still, I'm unfamiliar with Canadian law. In the U.S., Hillel might more effectively argue the actions of the CSU infringe upon their free speech rights, since the First Amendment protects political speech and has been used to curtail abuses of "the power of the purse." Is there a similar principle in Canadian law?

The CSU itself is hailing the ruling as a "major legal victory" that safeguards "campus dissent against unlawful governments [i.e. Israel]." Always the bastion of moderation and objectivity, the Montreal Muslim News is touting CSU's "right to end funding for Hillel Zionazi military recruitment," as a headline to the story.

Still a McGill University professor had perhaps the best line in relation to the CSU actions vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Silly me," he said. "I didn't know student unions were supposed to have a foreign policy."

But not all is going badly for supporters of the Jewish State in Canucksville. Students from Concordia who were involved in the riots that forced the cancellation of a visit by Benjamin Netanyahu received fairly strong sentences from the university, including multi-year suspensions. Now their appeals are being rejected right and left. And elsewhere in the land of the maple leaf, the anti-Israel student government at Simon Fraser University has been routed in recent elections.


politics | Blame Canada? Why not?

It would appear that Canada, or at least its Immigration and Refugee Board, has declared Israel guilty of war crimes and turned away Lebanese asylum seeker because of it. The incident stems from an attempt by a Lebanese man to gain entry into Canada as a political refugee. He assisted Israeli intelligence by passing along information on Hezbollah operations, and was uncovered following Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. With his life in danger, he fled the country to Canada.

That's when a lawyer, representing the Minister of Immigration, jumped in and argued he should be turned away due to his complicity in Israeli "war crimes." This despite Hezbollah's listing as a terrorist group by the Canadian government. Now the Minister of Immigration, Denis Coderre, is reversing course and arguing that the IRB was out of line.

So one of two possibilities is playing out here. One, Mr. Coderre is attempting to back off a political hot potato or two, a mid-level lawyer in the IRB has single-handedly modified Canadian foreign policy! Investigations are being called for. Investigations indeed!


religion | Exodus vs. Israel - Building my Jewish identity

I've decided to jump into a discussion over at Open Source Judaism on a "Manifesto Towards a Second American Jewish Revolution" courtesy of SimplyJewish.com. My foray into this discussion reminds me of a few subjects I've been mulling in my head for some time, and then included in my weekly commentary for Emor this past Shabbat.

The question that I've been addressing is seemingly simple, but deceptively complex. Has the remembrance of the Holocaust and support for Israel replaced the Exodus narrative as the master story of the Jewish people? Michael Goldberg raised the question in his book, Why Should Jews Survive? He's not the only one, as I've bumped into that same question in discussions with Jews from the laity to the rabbinate. One Reform Jew who has become increasingly religious as he's grown older once told me blatantly, "I feel unable to question anything about our view of Israel. As a Reform Jew, we're encouraged to question everything else, but not Israel." I offered an addition: "Nor the Holocaust?"

I dive into the question in my Torah commentary, but I do want to qualify it here. For me it's a religious issue, not a political one. I am strongly pro-Israel, and I have given considerable effort to support the right of the Jewish state to exist. At the same time, that has not stopped me from criticizing policies pursued by Israel while simultaneously attacking the use of terrorism by Palestinians. To mine eyes, I have a very nuanced viewpoint on the policies and existential questions of Israel, but when somebody asked me how much Jewish conversion had informed my views on Israel I was more than a bit perplexed. I would be lying if I said my Judaism did not enrich the connection I have to the land of Israel as a Jewish homeland, but I categorically rejected the notion that Israel as a state should be central to my Jewish identity. Why? Because for me, I was informed by the lessons and outlook of Exodus. No matter how many parallels one might draw between the Holocaust and Egyptian bondage, between the creation of Israel and the liberation of the Israelites, something was lacking in those parallels: purpose. My commentary on Torah portion Emor attempts to address these issues, but I'll leave it at that for now.

I'm openly soliciting opinions on this subject from all of you.


religion | To be a Jewish athlete and/or poet... or not to be

To mine eyes, we have the makings of a better than average issue of Jewsweek this week. However, I'm particularly interested in two pieces. The first is a column by Princeton senior and New Voices writer, Melissa Harvis Renny. Originally appearing in New Voices, the piece laments the standard of Jewish observance that would deny Ms. Renny the right to win rowing championships on Shavuot. As it turns out, she draws the line at rowing "on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover -- the three holidays that are most important to me -- but I always race and practice on Shabbat," and apparently Shavuot or any other holiday that happens to conflict with her sports schedule. Her point: "Choices do have to be made. But I don't believe the choice has to be between G-d and sports."

Granted, I applaud her strong Jewish identity and desire to infuse it into her life as an athlete, but let's not kid ourselves into believing that Jewish law legitimizes the fact that "People pick and choose -- some drive on Shabbat, but only to get to synagogue; some keep kosher, but only in the house." I'm as observant (or less-than-observant) as she is, but I'm not trying to convince anybody the laws of Shabbat allow me to engage in athletic competitions.

But if Jewish athletes aren't your thing, try Jewish poets. Vanessa Hidary gets profiled, and for those who do not know her, she's an accomplished Jewish poet who made an appearance on HBO's Def Poetry series and has a running show at the famous Nuyorican Poet's Cafe on the Lower East Side in NYC.

Now, as a major fan of the use of hip-hop artistic expression in the black community to organize politically and educate socially, I find Jewish poets like Vanessa Hidary to be a beacon and an exemplar. There are certainly other Jewish poets, but why not co-opt this part of African-American culture and make it a staple of Jewish cultural expression as well? Hidary and others have done that already, so here's to them and others doing it more.

Tell me how you really feel...

I have dutifully included comments, which you may now take full advantage of. They are courtesy of the lovely folks over at Enetation, mainly because the fine folks at YACCS weren't accepting new sign-ups. In any event, enjoy your newfound ability to tell me how you really feel.

What I've been reading (and seeing) of late

I'm a shill for Jewish culture, so I feel obligated to insert a plug for Bar Mitzvah Disco, a site you probably were already aware of. From my perspective, it's just quite cool to see somebody trying to collect an anthology of the cultural rite of passage that is the bar/bat mitzvah. It's like a visual record, not unlike that photo album of wacky rabbis or the documentary on Southern Jewry. I'd like to see more of it, so that's the plug.

In other non-news, I got a sneak preview of The Italian Job, the latest in a series of heist flicks to come back into vogue in the past couple of years. Since I'm a big fan of the heist film genre, I must say I liked this particular effort. It's a bit on the cliche side, and don't think this will be winning any awards, but it is a slickly done little bit of cinema with a hint of heart mixed in for flavor. Besides, the cast is knock-out including the likes of Ed Norton, Seth Green, Donald Sutherland and your favorite host of Russell Simmon's Def Poetry and mine, Mos Def. Even with Mark Wahlberg in the leading role, consider this an official recommendation from an unofficial film-goer.

The other heist flick you should check out, for the record, is Confidence, which I caught last week. It's arguably better than the aforementioned cast spectacular.

And finally, thanks to my faithful editor over at Jewsweek, who also happens to run the Yada, Yada, Yada blog, it would appear that Heeb's L.A. premier did not go over so hot. According to the L.A. Weekly, Heeb's shin-dig was crowd-lite despite the hype and possibly due to a scheduling conflict... with Yom HaShoah! Now I'm a fan of this particular publication, but it may very well be hip today, Heeb tomorrow.

jewish future | Israel, Eminem & alarmed American Jewry

I read The Plight of the American Jew over at the Instaconfused blog. I like the blog, and to be honest, I like the point Adi's making, but I do see something worthwhile in the Luntz report he's criticizing. Allow me to elaborate here, but I've done a full feature for Jewsweek that should be up shortly. This will just be my own opinionated addendum.

Disregarding the political overtones of Luntz's findings, there is a distinct cultural crisis portrayed in his Israel in the Age of Eminem. Portraying a majority of 18-29 year-old Jews who don't know a wit about Judaism and don't seem particularly interested in learning, the report should be setting off alarm bells all over. But, as Adi has deftly pointed out, the bigger focus has been on his critique of the marketing practices of Jewish organizations.

Now, don't get me wrong, the efforts of aging board members at major Jewish organizations could use a little revamping for the younger set. Still I do tend to agree with Adi that, "Ignoring the root cause of assimilation, the decline of Jewish religious observance and Torah study, the Elders look for shortcuts in surveys, websites, and flashy advertising." Certainly the truth to reinvigorating Jewish identity is not in making Jewish things look hip.

That being said, I diverge from Adi a bit. The Luntz report is, in my eyes, a valuable source of perspective we should pay more than a bit of attention to. If the Jewish community does what Adi and I fear, being content to merely retool their advertising in line with Luntz's focus groups, then we'll be witnessing yet another failed opportunity to energize the Jewish society as a whole. However, if Jewish leaders and the organizations we entrust with developing Jewish identity take Luntz to heart, they would create new methods of pursuing Jewish dialogue and education that swerve away from "group think" or a monolithic rigidity (be it that of Orthodoxy or pro-Israel right-wing politics).

All of that, as it turns out, is why I find it more than a bit perplexing to see someone like mobius (of Jewschool fame) rather rapidly writing off Luntz's report as "a point by point plan for manipulating Jewish children into becoming Zionists." Why? Because the report is more than that. Take Open Source Judaism, a project mobius is a big fan of (as am I). That kind of initiative, designed to break Judaism free of 'group think' and social rigidity is just the kind of thing the Luntz report would probably champion.

At the end of the day, I'm not such a critic of good marketing either. No, I don't think coercive techniques designed to quell dissention and make us all good little Zionists is at all helpful or effective in producing a vibrant and inquisitive Jewish future. However, finding ways to make Jewish programming attractive to the majority of young people could be taken a bit more seriously whether in the blogosphere or the Federation boardroom.

So in summary, my position is one hopeful excitement about the report, tinged with a not insubstantial quantity of despair that the report may get applied in the worst possible ways. If we let the Jewish leaders simply use the report to further refine coercive efforts at fomenting a monolithic worldview, we will have failed as much as them. Why? Because the Luntz report contains more. It has the makings of a great treatise on how to open up Judaism and allow it to progress within a Jewish rubric towards greater discussion, depth and vibrancy than we could think possible today.


politics | Jews don't run America, but they can argue

This one's going to be long...

I took issue with a post from mobius over at Jewschool, and mobius has been so kind as to respond to fellow blogger Avraham and I. I could take the time to get into everything wrong with mobius' response and clarifications, but luckily I don't have to. Avraham has done it for me.

That being said, I do think there's a larger discussion to be had here. It's not about whether or not Tam Dalyell or Pat Buchanan are anti-Semitic, but rather how we view democracy. What constitutes a healthy, well-functioning democratic society? No doubt these questions are massive in their scope, but I'll offer up a feeble beginning.

It seems to me that the Jewish population in America is over represented in the halls of power. Constituting barely 2% of the population, we still offer up a bevy of Senators and Congressmen, deputy secretaries, press secretaries, advisors, etc. We've even got the governor of Hawaii! So some would say, "Wait a second? Wouldn't it be better if there were more black senators? Aren't there more blacks than Jews? And furthermore, don't Jews have a special loyalty to Israel, a whole other sovereign state!?"

The answer to all (except perhaps, the last) of those questions is, "Yes." But that's not the point. The point is there's nothing stopping blacks or anybody else (including evangelical Christian conservatives) from achieving over representative power. Our democracy is designed that way, as opposed to say the Athenian model. There are some definite inequalities in access, but ultimately any group can avail itself of the right to organize and pursue political power. What determines who gets more power isn't just the number of votes that roll in on Election Day. What matters most is who is going to organize and strategize in the best possible way, take advantage of their assets and overcome whatever obstacles lie in their way. If the Jewish community has been pretty good at that, I don't see a problem. In fact, I'm proud of it.

But Pat Buchanan isn't, nor is a large swath of the left in this country. As a liberal it pains me, but most of this crap is coming from my side of the political spectrum. These people aren't interested in effectively organizing and working within our democratic system. That would take too long or it conflicts with their democratic ideal that borders on socialism or whatever. But the truth is, they've taken to the streets and their airwaves to protest against policies, but they've chosen to frame their position by attacking Jews for dual loyalties or conspiratorial undue influence.

Some of these people may not be raving, David Duke, anti-Semites. What they're spewing, however, is pure anti-Semitism plain and simple, and if we don't stand up and exercise our free speech to tell them that, they won't stop. And over time, those kinds of views will seep into their worldview even further, opening the door for far worse things.

Some things I read today

Apparently there's a youth journalism project in Chicago's public housing community that pays students 15-cents a word to contribute their voices to the community. It seems to have the wonderful effect of encouraging these people to express themselves as informed citizens, which couldn't hurt anybody whether they live below the poverty line or not. All of this got me thinking that it would be an equally great idea to do the same thing in local communities for Jewish kids, and then link those local student publications to a larger network that publishes the best of the best. It could only have the positive effect of encouraging Jewish youth to form strong Jewish identities through their own self-exploration, and it might get them to be fairly eloquent at doing it to boot.

Then again, we do have New Voices and other such youth publications. Speaking of New Voices, the most recent campus diaries included therein features some insights on being young, Jewish and anti-war. Not that this hasn't been diced and sliced elsewhere, but the writing of Danielle Posen (who, if memory serves, went to Israel with me a couple years back in a small group of college editors) that struck me. To my mind, nobody has more personally or powerfully conveyed the contradictions of identity politics and liberal Judaism more effectively than Posen.

And of course, it wouldn't be a good day if somebody didn't point out that Syria's control in Lebanon may be growing tenuous. G-d hope they're right, but who knows? Still, it's a nice piece to dwell on at the end of the day.


politics | No, Jews do not run America

I'm a big fan of Jewschool, but a recent posting there has officially gone off the deep end. Following up on the latest in a line of high profile figures accusing a Jewish coterie of controlling American foreign policy, mobius proceeded to apparently agree with those figures. More specifically, he was agreeing with Pat Buchanan that anti-Semitism was being used as a slander against anybody who opposes neoconservative figures like Wolfowitz.

What mobius fails to mention (or possibly realize) is that it's entirely appropriate to hammer some of these critics for anti-Semitism. The reason? They're not attacking neoconservatives or Zionists, despite the misleading headline in mobius' post. They're attacking Jews. British MP Tam Dalyell criticized a "cabal of Jewish advisors." Before him, Jim Moran decided the "support of the Jewish community" was a better target than neoconservatives. And Pat Buchanan? Well, he has a track record.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of people who are not anti-Semitic who do criticize neoconservatism, and they shouldn't be attacked as Jew-haters. But more than a fair share of criticism against policies pursued by Bush is being directed at his Jewish advisors. Never mind that plenty of neoconservatives and sympathizers (from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on down) aren't Jewish.

Critics of neoconservatism who aren't anti-Semitic and make sure to frame their criticism in a way that doesn't attack "Jewish cabals" should absolutely speak out against the label of anti-Semitism. Pat Buchanan, for the record, isn't in that category.

But I should give mobius credit. He did call Buchanan a putz.

politics | Shocker! A Middle East center funded by Saudis!

The Berkeley Jewish Journal has a cover story alleging the school's Center for Middle East Studies is subsidized by al-Qaeda connected Saudis. That's enough to get national media outlets interested, so CNN gave it some play and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency is featuring it as one of their lead stories.

Forgive me for saying so, but this barely qualifies as news. BJJ cites funding from Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Saudi Arabia's defense minister. Saudi funding flowing through Prince Sultan has been talked about before by just about everybody paying attention to Middle East studies. The Saudis have a financial finger in just about every major Middle East center in America.

As far as the terror-connections, they're not insubstantial, but they're also 2nd-degree links that aren't exactly fresh information either. A better question would be why this makes waves only after a second-rate (they can barely spell) student publication at Berkeley decides to do a piece on Saudi funding at a single school? As it is, their journalistic capacity was crap since they didn't bother to get a response from the target of their story, something the JTA at least had the courtesy to do. It was just a bad case of sophomoric "Gotcha!" with rehashed facts.

It would be more effective to keep discussing the U.S. government's continuing relations with the Saudi royal family, but why should we stay focused on that when we can go bonzo over a "revelation" of terror-ties to funders at a Middle East studies center in California?

culture | X-Men As Bad Social Commentary?

The latest cover story over at The New Republic has the X-Men comic book as social commentary gone wrong. It seems, to Reihan Salam at least, that the X-Men's once noble message of integrationism a la MLK Jr. has gone the way of the dodo with even Professor X and his brood taking an almost Malcolm X style view of racial separatism.

"We flee to our own 'Mutant Towns,' our miniature Bohemias, our 'Valhallas' and 'Nerdistans,'" writes Salam. I have to wonder about this in a Jewish context, since one of the raging debates in Judaimerica revolves around integration versus separation from the prevalent society. The problem that TNR's lamenting of the X-Men comics views in such separatism is that for all our desires to be with our own, we still live in a country that forces us to bump into each other. Hence separatist ideology in a tossed-salad reality breeds militancy and social cleavages.

That's good and fine enough, but most Jews have a separate concern, that of vanishing Jewish identities. The balancing act that's been going on for decades involves how to maintain a strong sense of identity while still finding a way to peacefully integrate fully into society. Truth be told, that bores me. For one thing, we've been rehashing it for years. For another, why shouldn't militancy and social cleavages be a more pressing concern?

Integration is about peace. Separatism is about identity. Ideally we'd fuse both, but in a climate where increasing anti-Semitism is fueling attacks on synagogues and Jews across the globe (and in more than a few American locales), isn't our desire to withdraw and regroup going to help fuel our own inability to dialogue with others or decrease tensions or counter anti-Jewish hatred? It's a very complicated story, and I can't help but wonder how much nicer an X-Men film would be if it bothered to go Matrix-style deep and broach some sort of middle group solution to the questions of peaceful coexistence versus identity maintenance.

Who said comic books were just for kids?



Who the hell am I? It's a fair question, especially since by posting this blog, I'm implicitly requesting you take your time and read my thoughts. I think it's a fair trade, but then again I'm biased.

So who the hell am I? Just another guy, although to be more specific, I'm just another white guy who grew up in a comfortable middle-class suburban neighborhood, went to public school, went to a public university, decided the faith I grew up with wasn't all it was cracked up to be, studied various religions, chose Judaism, converted by 21, got a gig as a teacher for Jewish kids, and then jaunted up to D.C. on occasion in order to lobby on behalf of things like the U.S.-Israel relationship. Then there's the part about journalism, where I write for Jewsweek and, from time to time, other publications. One day, it is a distinct possibility that I could get paid a substantial amount to keep doing all of that.

So that's who the hell I am - just another guy. This is just another blog, or to bring up that specific part again, Just Another Rant (JAR for short). What will I rant about? A number of things, though usually I may talk about Jewish issues, Israeli news, and American political and social issues. Those are sort of specialties of mine, so forgive me if they aren't of the slightest interest to you. I suppose that's what other blogs were made for.

Also of note is that I'm fairly critical, which can piss off my friends as much as strangers like you. It's not that I feel I'm better, but I do feel other things could be. It's not that I think I'm smarter than most other people ... OK, so a fair percentage of the time it has a great deal to do with feeling smarter than other people, but bear with me. Even things I tend to sympathize with, like the State of Israel, are due a good number of pot shots and constructive critiques. At least I can take heart in the knowledge that I'm an equal opportunity arrogant S.O.B.

So that's me. At this point, I post - plenty. And you, well you read - hopefully.