Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be "Pro-Israel" or "Jewish"

Since I first visted Israel 24 years ago, I have had a special and deeply personal relationship with the country and the land. I have made 19 return visits--some with Jewish organizations and others with family and on my own--and have always had a great time. It is a place that everyone in the world should visit at least once.

I have been a national officer of Israel Bonds, the United Jewish Appeal and am currently the Chairman of CLAL, an amazing organization dedicated to bringing Jewish wisdom to the public square. I have been a Federation campaign chairman and chaired the boards of Jewish day schools in two communities. My Judaism and love for and connection to Israel have been the major shaping force in my life over the last quarter century.

Having said all that, I would never publicly describe myself today as "Pro-Israel" because, like the term "religious" it has been co-opted by a group a people--including many of my good friends--to connote something that I can neither relate to nor embrace. There is not a doubt in my mind that many of my Jewish friends who claim to love Israel and/or the Jewish community above all else might be doing a great deal of harm to the future of our people and homeland in the name of being supportive.

The whole issue of what it means to be "Pro-Israel" (and what it means for an organization to describe itself as such) has been brought to the forefront in recent weeks by a number of developments in political races and the news media.

The first was Jeffrey Goldberg's brilliant op-ed piece in the New York Times


in which he accuarately pointed out that the most ardent American "supporters" of Israel have views that are more strident and far to the Right of the views of the vast majority of Israelis and their government leaders.

Just a few days later, John McCain flip-flopped and rejected the endorsement of Reverend John Hagee, the popular Christian TV evangelist whose endorsement McCain had actively sought and received just a few weeks earlier. Reverend Hagee has been on record for a long time as saying that the Catholic church is "a whore," that Hurricane Katrina was God's revenge on the city of New Orleans for planning to host a Gay Pride parade, and that Hitler's rise to power and the Holocaust were all part of God's plan to bring about the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.

The McCain people knew about these statements--all were made in recent years and were well publicized. But most Americans weren't aware of them. When they became more publicly known McCain felt pressured into throwing the good Reverend under the bus, rejecting his endorsement, and walking away.

What hasn't received nearly as much publicity is the fact that Reverend Hagee was a featured headline speaker at last year's American Israel Policy Action Committe (AIPAC) National Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. (which I attended). Hagee was the founder of a "Pro-Israel" organization called Christians United For Israel.

Although his statements about Hitler and Holocaust being the will of God were well known to the AIPAC leaders, Hagee's strong and unwavering "Pro-Israel" stance not only made him welcome at the conference--he was offered a featured speaking spot in prime-time--the kind of slot normally reserved for the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of Israel.

Here was his speech


The AIPAC crowd ate it up, as you can tell from the reaction. Notice the woman with the New York (Jewish) accent who keeps screaming "I love you" to Hagee.

There were reporters and commentators who were more ambivalent.



I came away feeling more than a little uncomfortable. I believe that AIPAC fills a unique and very important role in the American political process but I'm used to dealing with organizations that are more nuanced. Can any organization be "single issue" anymore? In this information age, don't we have to be more complex and look at the totality of a person and not just their stated opinion on a single issue?

I have been a board member of The Desert Caucus here in Tucson for a little over a year and a member for much longer. It is a large (160 members) bipartisan "Pro-Israel" PAC which invites members of Congress to address us about ten times a year. It is one of the oldest and best known groups of its kind in the country. I have been repeatedly told by other members that support of Israel is the one and only factor that the Desert Caucus cares about. {I have recently wondered if its possible to find a member of Congress who is not "Pro-Israel" anymore but I digress}.

Although I am on the board, I did not know until very recently that The Desert Caucus has an understood but not stated ban on accepting non-Jewish members. I find this to be quite ironic in that no group fought harder or more effectively than the Jews over the last 50 years to eliminate exclusionary religious prejudice in the United States. It is sad that some Jewish organizations and clubs--most of which were established years ago precisely because there was bias AGAINST Jews--are effectively the only organizations left in the country that discriminate by religion.

The Jewish country club I joined when I lived for 30 years in Milwaukee--Brynwood--was established 60 or 70 years ago because Jews were not welcome at any other clubs in town. Now it is struggling to survive. Why?

In part it is because 20 years ago other clubs started admitting Jews and 10 years ago they started aggressively recruiting Jews. Only Brynwood remained religiously restricted. When it finally opened membership to non-Jews a few years ago, it was too late. Most of the young Jews in town had joined the other clubs which were closer to their homes or where their friends were members. Now Brynwood--which has a great golf course, amazing food, and spectacular facilities--is on the critical list.

I find it bizarre and disturbing how much self-destructive behavior is found in Jewish organizations claiming that their goal is to support Israel, fight assimilation, or make sure that we don't forget how hated we are by the rest of the world.

At a time--not too long ago--when Jews were the victim of widespread discrimination in the areas of work, housing, education, and club membership, these institutions were needed and played an important role. Times have changed, thank God, and we need to change as well. We need to become pluralistic as well as particularistic. We need to reach out to others as they have reached out to us and search for the partial truth in the feelings of people with whom we disagree instead of being rigid ideologues with one-issue blinders on. If we don't, then the last Pro-Israel, religious, anti-semitism-fighting Jew can turn out the lights.

If we don't, more and more existing Jewish organizations with long and glorious legacies will continue to have trouble attracting young people--or old people who are more than a little repulsed by the provincialism and bigotry they read into these policies and behaviors.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Do Jews Invest Their Money Differently?

This was a question I was asked by Olivia Mellan, sister of my dear friend Stu. Olivia is a well-known author who writes about financial issues. When I got her email, I sort of chuckled because my immediate reaction was that it was a weird question. But then I started thinking.

I ended up thanking Olivia profusely for giving me a reason to think back over my 28 years (and counting) as a financial advisor. Here's what I wrote her back:


I took the dog for a walk and thought about your questions and came up with a few thoughts. The first is that I felt I had come in contact with my roots 20 years ago when I started studying Jewish texts and realized that Jacob was the original financial planner. In Genesis when he learns that his brother Esau is coming after him he sends half his family and assets in one direction (assets back then had four legs) and the other half the other way. His stated reason was that if Esau came to destroy him, at least half of his family and possessions would be saved. It was the first literary example of diversification.

As far as the behavior patterns of clients are concerned, what differences there are between Jews and others have diminished greatly over the last 20 years as Jews have gained full access to all aspects of American society. Our behavior has become much less distinct during that time.

When I first got in the business 28 years ago, many of my clients were Jewish men whose parents or they themselves had emigrated from Europe. They came to America, worked hard, and made a lot of money. No matter how hard they worked, many of them always knew just how lucky they were to have the chance to create a new life. No matter how smart they were, each of them knew lots of people who were even smarter that never made it out of Eastern Europe.

As a result, there was an underlying sense of gratitude and sense of community responsibility that comes only from grateful people. They were very generous--particularly to Jewish organizations--with the vast majority of their philanthropy going to Israel through Federation. They invested in Israel Bonds as well.

A disproportionate number of them invested in real estate which I think was also cultural. There was something about owning land and property that was appealing to them more than investing in stocks which they viewed as a crapshoot. As we are finding out now, real estate can be a crapshoot as well but it wasn't viewed that way back then.

As I said, many of them were quite generous but it wasn't just that they gave more money than others--it was the way they gave it. I was getting involved in Federation 25 years ago and can remember going to meetings in homes where we would have a speaker and then the women would leave the room. The men would then go around and announce how much they were giving to some Jewish cause or how many Israel Bonds they were buying that year. If someone felt that another had not done enough, they would let him know in no uncertain terms.

I loved being in those rooms and being part of it all--and still do. Most Jews today--and all non-Jews--are horrified by this practice. They believe it is intrusive and ostentatious and many of my friends have told me they would rather die than be part of such a process. None of the people in the room felt that way. For them, it was all about being part of a community where there was a commitment and responsibility to take care of each other and do the right thing. I never heard of anyone going broke because he gave too much.

One characteristic that I used to notice in a handful of non-Jewish clients but never in Jews was the desire to make enough money so they would never have to work again--even at an early age. I vividly remember one such client who told me at the outset of our relationship (he was 40 years old at the time) that he wanted to make $500,000 because when he had that much he would retire. He had picked out a piece of land in northern Wisconsin and when he had enough money he was going to move there, quit working, and fish every day.

I couldn't even relate to what he was saying. Why in the world would a bright, healthy young man want to check out from all the challenges of the business world at such an early age? It sounded like torture to me. A few years later, helped by his brilliant financial advisor, he had his nest age. Within a few months he had quit his job and moved to northern Wisconsin where he fished every day. I checked in with him over the years and I never got over how shocked I was that he seemed REALLY happy. I had about six such clients over the years and none of them was Jewish.

As I said, as Jews have become more accepted by mainstream American society it is harder and harder to find these differences. I have had Catholic clients named Goldberger and Jewish clients named Costello and Sullivan so how do you even know who you're dealing with anymore?

I am surrounded by many Jewish friends who have clearly abandoned those Jewish characteristics while, at the same time bemoaning the effects of intermarriage and assimilation which, ironically, are among the factors that have led most of them to lead such full and rewarding lives. I keep reminding them that they can always move to Israel, give more to the Federation, or get on their synagogue board but most of them seem happier to live more assimilated lives and complain about how the Jewish community is falling apart. Go figure.

Let me know if you have any questions, thoughts, or would like more anecdotes. Thanks for giving me the chance to take a mental trip down memory lane.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

The New York Times Hit the Trifecta on Sunday

Three AMAZING op-ed pieces--all on subjects I've discussed recently.

I've been writing about the Jewish hysteria over Barack Obama for weeks, but Tom Friedman hit it on the head today


And I have also written about the collapse of the Republican party and the significance of last Tuesday's special Congressional election in Mississippi. Well, Frank Rich got it pretty right on that subject today as well.


But the most amazing by far was Jeffrey Goldberg's piece on what it means to be "pro-Israel" and what it should mean. He is the guy who did the Atlantic Monthly interview with Obama but what he has to say about the bizarre relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel is right-on and way overdue.


I'll have more to say about this later but read and enjoy!

Friday, May 16, 2008

If It's "Appeasement" To Talk With Iran, What Is It Called When Bush Sucks Up to Saudi Arabia?

Am I the only one who thinks this is great irony?

On Thursday, President Bush was in Israel addressing the Knesset on the occasion of Israel's 60th Birthday. Was this the time or the place for the President to compare Barack Obama and the Democrats to those who appeased the Nazis before World War II because they want to have discussions with the government of Iran, Hamas, and other democratically elected leaders in the Middle East?

(Note: The New York Times editorial staff must have read my blog because it later came out with this:


Apart from Bush's timing and choice of location, I find it fascinating that he would equate the willingness to talk with appeasement. I have read a lot of history and I have never heard Neville Chamberlain criticized by anyone for TALKING with Hitler during the late 1930s. All the criticism was for what Chamberlain and others DID after talking with Hitler.

This is a perfect example of how the water carriers of the Right have tried to eliminate rational discourse from our public conversation by coining buzzwords like "appeaser" or "cut and run" and slapping those who disagree with them with perjorative labels. Check out this segment of Chris Matthews' Hardball from May 15 where a spokeperson of the Right shows his true colors and true ignorance.


Ironically, even as Bush spoke in Israel, high ranking members of his administration were engaging in discussions with the leaders of Iran--that according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice who have said for months now that such talks were useful and necessary.

But it gets better--or worse, depending on your perspective.

The very next day (actually today), Bush moved on to Saudi Arabia to beg his good friends and our close national allies in the Saudi royal family to pump more oil so Americans can keep driving as much but pay a little less.

This gives me yet another chance to wonder out loud why Saudi Arabia is considered our ally. Virtually all of the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were Saudi All the money that funded the attack was Saudi. The education system that taught them and most others in the Middle East to hate America and want to destroy us was developed in Saudi Arabia and to this day exists there and is funded elsewhere by the Saudis. In addition, a recent government study showed that most of the money that funds terror in the world today comes from Saudi Arabia.

So why then is sucking up to the Saudis--who attacked us on 9/11 and fund most of the terrorism in the world--and begging them for oil considered "diplomacy" while suggesting that we talk to Iran whose terrorist credentials are far inferior is called "appeasement?"

This is not a rhetorical question. I really want to know.

In an ironic and pathetic postscript, the Saudis greeted Bush warmly, treated him like royalty, and then told him perform a physically impossible act and not to let the door hit him in the ass on his way back to Air Force One. They told us we will get whatever oil they give us and we'll like it.

Maybe I should have gone to graduate school. Then I might understand these things better.

It Makes Me Sad To See the Republican Party Self-Destruct

I have been waiting for two days to see how the Republicans would respond to the loss of their candidate in the special Congressional election in Mississippi on Tuesday. Even more than George Bush's microscopic approval numbers, the loss of a solid GOP seat in a district that Bush carried by 24 points four years ago was a wake-up call to the Republicans that their old playbook is now out of date.

From 2000 through 2004, Karl Rove orchestrated campaigns with a single theme: "Be afraid--be very, very afraid." Most Americans decided that during these scary times, the only way to be safe is to have tough, seasoned guys in office who understand that we are up against the forces of evil and who will not back down.

Actually there was a secondary message--that Democrats will spend tons of money, grow government, raise your taxes and drive the country into bankruptcy.

In 2006, the "be afraid" message worked less well as voters realized that for all their tough talk, six years of Republican rule had left the country in a position where we were actually less safe than before with no real plan to make things better. For all the talk of sacrifice, Bush had actually made sure that most of us had to sacrifice nothing, never worry about anyone in our families ever having to fight this pointless war and we got a tax cut to boot.

Now, two years later, voters realize that the "Conservative" Republicans have spent tons of money, grown government, lowered our taxes, and driven the country into bankruptcy.

What has become painfully clear this week is that even though their old strategy is now failing, the Republicans just don't have another playbook. In the face of recent failures and rejection by voters, they are sticking to their strategy except they're screaming a little louder and acting a little bit crazier.

When it became clear they were running behind in Mississippi among Republican voters, the Republican National Committee got involved and sent in Dick Cheney to campaign in person for their candidate. In addition, they spent a bucketload of money on ads featuring Reverend Wright and Barack Obama and tying Democrat Travis Childers (who had never met Wright or Obama and didn't mention either of them in his campaign) to these scary Black people who I guess were supposed to now represent the Democratic Party.

The result was a 54-46 percent win for the Democrat.

Then came yesterday when President Bush made his now famous statement before the Israeli Knesset referring to either Obama or all Democrats (it's not clear, nor does it matter) as "appeasers" for wanting to talk with our enemies. I'll write more about that in a different post, but it seemed to be a weird comment in a totally inappropriate setting.

Then, moments ago, former Republican candidate Mike Huckabee made a "joke" before the National Rifle Association that a loud noise in the back of the room was actually the sound of Barack Obama falling off a chair because someone had pointed a gun at him.



Huckabee later apologized for the joke in the weakest way possible. It is NOT an apology if someone makes an inappropriate and offensive remark and then says that he's sorry of someone took offense. An apology is to say "I made a stupid and offensive remark and I'm sorry." The way Huckabee apologized--as did Reverend Hagee yesterday--was to essentially blame anyone who was offended for being too sensitive and basically saying that he was sorry that they were too stupid to be able to take a good natured joke in the way he meant it.

I am being honest when I say that the true disintegration of the Republican Party makes me sad. We need a strong GOP committed to the principles that made it so great in the past--fiscal responsibility and respect for the Constitution. The Democrats have always been horrible at the former and fuzzy on the latter. The current Republican disarray and bizarre behavior may be fun for Democrats to watch but it's not good for the country.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Can a Good Jew Who Loves Israel Support Obama?

I hope so because I am a Jew who loves Israel and supports Obama.

I have continued to receive a number of emails in recent days from Jewish friends and they have common theme. They are all full of fear and concern what a Barack Obama presidency would mean for Israel. There is another common thread. None of the fears or concerns are based on anything Obama has ever said or done. It is all about things that were said or done by his former pastor, his wife, casual acquainances and neighbors along with unsolicited endorsements he has received from people he never met.

That's why I was thrilled when my son Sam sent me a link to a recent interview Obama did on the subject of Israel. Here's the link:


I'm afraid we have to get used to these smear and guilt by association campaign tactics. A McCain aide was recently quoted as saying that we should get ready for "Swift Boat times five."

The result of the special election in Mississippi on Tuesday (see my last post) could have something to do with the Republican panic.

The Democrats won yet another seat (three out of three now) in a special election to fill a formerly Republican seat in a district that Bush won by 24 percentage points in 2004. Most people are just coming to realize just how damaged the Republican brand is and how hard it is going to be for any Republican to win in November. While my friend Dennis Prager and others on the Right blame this on unfair media treatment and attacks from the Left, the fact is that Republicans themselves are disgusted with the way their own party has handled things over the last eight years and they're turning on their own. There aren't enough Lefties or Democrats in the 1st Congressional district of Mississippi to swing that election. No Democrat should ever win that district--but one did.

Here's the link to the New York Times article today about that race:


The news media has a strong vested interest in making the presidential race seem close and exciting for as long as possible--just as it had an interest in making the Clinton-Obama race seem alive for two months after it was over. My guess is that it won't be long before it becomes clear that McCain has no chance although the cable networks will try to make it seem close for as long as they can. They've got to make a living too.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why John McCain Has No Chance

There is an election next Tuesday that will tell us a lot about why Barack Obama will be elected president in November by a comfortable margin.

Of course that election is NOT the West Virginia primary. As I wrote several weeks ago, the Democratic primary contest ended months ago when Obama ran the table in 12 consecutive primaries. He has led Hillary Clinton from wire to wire and pretty much closed her out mathematically a long time ago. The cable networks have pretended there was still a race for the last six weeks because the Clinton-Obama fight has been a full employment program for pundits and they wanted to keep it going as long as they could.

The election I am referring to is the special election to fill the seat in the 1st Congressional District of Mississippi. That seat was vacated by Republican Pete Wicker who took over Trent Lott's senate seat a few months ago. It is a solidly Republican district which George W. Bush carried by 18 percentage points in 2000 and by 24 points in 2004. There is no way a Democrat should win in that district.

The race is considered close and the Republican National Committee has pulled out all the stops to salvage a win. Vice-President Cheney is making an appearance to support GOP candidate Greg Davis and the party has poured a lot of money into ads linking Democrat Travis Childers to Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright--two men who Childers has neither met nor mentioned during his campaign.

I am betting that Childers will win and become the third Democrat to win in three special elections that have been held this year to fill Congressional seats vacated by Republicans in districts carried handily by Bush in 2000 and 2004.

It will be yet another dramatic indication of how damaged the Republican brand has become over the last eight years and why John McCain has no chance in the fall elections. It also has a lot to do with why 24 Republicans in Congress have decided not to run for re-election this year--that's 1 out of every 7 GOP members.

They know what the media can't or won't say out loud. The Bush/Cheney presidency, the K Street Project, Tom DeLay's leadership, the failed war and economic strategies, Karl Rove's style and virtually everything about the way Republicans ran the show when they were in complete control from 2000-2006 have turned America off.

After eight years of arrogance, deceit, and incompetence, Americans are looking for political leaders who they believe are honest, smart, competent and pluralistic. Pluralistic means they are not partisan or bi-partisan but rather are willing to look for best practices and partial wisdom wherever they can find it. Rightly or wrongly, millions of people believe Obama has those characteristics which is why he has become such a rock star in such a short period of time.

McCain, on the other hand, has given strong indications that he, like Bush, is completely clueless regarding the facts and nuances of the situation in the Middle East. He is also trapped in the box of being unable to maintain the positions and qualities that made him popular in the first place--his willingness to be a maverick and buck the Right Wing GOP establishment when he felt it was necessary. When the Bush tax cuts first came up several years ago, he stated that he opposed them since he thought it was immoral to give the richest Americans a tax cut when we are at war. He has since flipped and decided those tax cuts are good and should be made permanent. He's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

Current polls show McCain as being quite competitive with Obama or Clinton and all the experts are talking about how close the race will be. McCain actually has a lot of appeal and in a different election following a different president he might have a very good chance. But not in this election.

My friend Dennis Prager and other radio water carriers of the Right would be well advised to stop demonizing the Left and start looking inward at their own party and what it will take to make it worthy of support by most Americans in the future. We have never needed compassionate Conservatism more than we do right now but, alas, it has never seemed more absent from the public conversation. The sins committed by Bush/Cheney in the name of Conservatism will probably set us back for a generation.