Be mindful in all you do

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by Lama Doboom Tulku, Times of India, Dec 21, 2011

New Delhi, India — There are some fundamental beliefs. One is the universal regime of cause and effect. The second is the idea of interdependence of all phenomena.

The third is in understanding that there is a certain dependence in origination itself, that is that which originates, changes, disappears and disintegrates. This idea is inbuilt in origination. The fourth is the impermanence of conditioned things and absence of inherent existence, the cognizer and the cognized. The fifth is the suffering that follows from mistaken perceptions in the permanence of reality. In our social as well as individual lives, we have to encounter suffering caused by false apprehensions of reality and happiness.

Buddhism does not believe in mortifying the flesh; it does not believe in ignoring the demands of life, or the potential for expanding knowledge about the universe; it does not deny that knowledge can help to reduce suffering or improve conditions of living. It has therefore no distaste for science or technology.

On the contrary, it believes that skillful use of science and technology can improve the quality of our lives. But since technology involves the choice of goals, nature of the goals, as well as the motivation that prompts the choice and pursuit of goals become very important.

If they ignore or violate any of the beliefs that listed above, they are bound to increase individual and social suffering, and not welfare. Hence what we believe will contribute to our pleasure sometimescould turn out to be the cause of aggravated suffering.

To the Buddhist, ethics and morality are not extraneous to the realm of cause and effect. They are not commandments of one who is the creator, and who functions above the realm of cause and effect. Nor have their observance to be induced by a system of reward and punishment.

The belief that actions take place in the realm of cause and effect has turned Buddhism away from the need to look for an external source of authority or reward and punishment administered by an external authority. Actions have their inescapable consequences as they are governed by the law of cause and effect.
Thus my motivations and actions will have their effects on me and the social and even natural environment in which I live. I cannot overlook this effect, and therefore, the responsibility to see that my conduct to what creates a conducive effect on me as well as my social and natural environment.

Advances in science and technology are not based on an analysis of motives, or the impact and chain-reactions that these are likely to cause on the psyche and environment. The negative consequences of this absence of mindfulness have now been brought to our attention. What do we do?

Persist in the mindless pursuit of individual power and material possessions, unconcerned with its consequences — in other words running the risk of a suicide of the species?

The answer lies within us, within our minds. To a believer in Buddha Dharma it is this mindfulness which is the basis on which to choose the path that leads to freedom and fulfillment. Among the most powerful enemies of mindfulness are desire, greed and the ego, the desire to promote one’s ego at the cost of others or society or the environment. The answer that Buddha Dharma gives is mindfulness even to protect mindfulness, and the ethics and morality that mindfulness makes imperative in a world governed by cause and effect.

Article source: http://buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=6,10633,0,0,1,0

Donors Unharmed By ID Theft Scheme, Says UJA-Fed.

John Ruskay

Manhattan DA says thieves in $2 million ring betrayed employers, preyed on clients.

UJA-Federation is studying recommendations from a security consultant’s review of its donor transaction processing system after an employee’s arrest last week in a $2 million fraud-ring bust. But the agency is confident existing security measures are stringent and the recommendations may not have prevented the fraud by a trusted employee who was authorized to access financial data but allegedly betrayed that trust.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., has accused the employee, Tracy Nelson, 24, who worked as an operations, production and reporting representative at the charity, with stealing personal information such as credit card and checking account numbers in a scheme that allegedly involved 55 people. Nelson faces 14 counts of felony identity theft and various charges of conspiracy and grand larceny.

Major donors who were targeted by the scheme include Ira Rennert, who is estimated to be worth $5.9 billion and NBA Commissioner David Stern.

Nelson, a three-year employee, was suspended in August from the 95-year-old agency, which is the second largest philanthropic network in North America. At the time she was under investigation and has since been fired. The DA said Nelson was one of four insiders in the scheme who collected data, while the others were buyers, middlemen and recruiters, check-makers and account verifiers, some of them working at banks. Nelson is the only defendant connected to UJA-Federation.

Vance said banks and other lenders absorbed all the losses, including JPMorgan Chase, TD Bank, Citibank, American Express and Discover.

“Our donor contributions are completely intact,” said UJA-Federation spokeswoman Leslie Lichter. “The funds will continue to go to help support our mission, help people in need and engage the Jewish community.”

The agency€™s chief financial officer, Irvin Rosenthal, said in an interview Tuesday that Nelson, like all employees, was subject to an extensive screening by an outside agency.

“The background check came back clean,” said Rosenthal. “The DA’s office and the security consultant we brought in to look at procedures told us that if a person has legitimate access to information in the course of their duties and wants to misuse that information, there is no way you can assure yourself 100 percent and prevent it.”

In announcing the bust after an 18-month investigation, Vance said œNo organization or individual is immune to the threat of cybercrime. From ATM skimmers, to waiters stealing credit card info, to the exploitation of systemic weaknesses in bank systems, we are attacking cybercrime and identity theft head on. Today’s indictment reveals another tool of organized identity thieves — insiders who betray their employers and prey on clients.”

The New York Police Department was alerted to the scheme because it created a history of unusual transactions. “The checks didn’t bounce but they left a bread-crumb trail right back to the suspects, said Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

UJA-Federation general counsel Ellen Zimmerman said there was no breach of the agency’s computer systems to outsiders. “There was no hacking,” she said. “This was plain, old-fashioned carrying out a piece of paper.”

Vance said Nelson’s duties included the processing of donations made to UJA by both check and credit card.

She was indicted on Dec. 16 alongside the man with whom she lived, Roberto Millar, an Audi car salesman, and pleaded not guilty. She was ordered held without bail.

In addition to the charity agency, the thieves allegedly took data from Millar’s employer, Open Road-Audi of Brooklyn and from Akam Associates, a residential property management firm in Manhattan.

According to the DA, some of the people arrested were members of the Bloods, Crips and Outlaws gangs and several were charged with grand larceny and identity theft.

Since last May, the gang cashed money or transferred it to their own bank accounts and reportedly bought electronics, expensive clothing and luxury cars, according to the New York Times. Three tellers at JP Morgan Chase Bank knowingly ignored suspicious transactions or stole information from customers’ accounts, according to reports.

UJA-Federation collects annual donations from about 60,000 contributors. Lichter, the agency’s spokeswoman, said that while an outside evaluation determined that existing security procedures were sound, the agency was studying its consultant’s recommendations for strengthening them. The officials declined to specify the recommendations.

In a statement posted on its website and also sent to donors, UJA-Federation said “we deeply regret that some donors have had their credit card or checking account numbers improperly shared through this criminal activity, as well as the worry that it has caused.” 

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N.Y. Lawmaker Carl Kruger Quits Over Bribery Charges

A New York lawmaker who had strong Orthodox Jewish backing because he rejected a gay rights initiative quit after pleading guilty to charges that he funneled bribes through his gay partner.

State Sen. Carl Kruger, a conservative Democrat who has held his Brooklyn seat since 1994 and was one finance chairman, resigned Tuesday just before pleading guilty to laundering up to $1 million from lobbyists through Michael Turano, a real estate agent described by prosecutors as Kruger’s “intimate associate” and housemate.

“I accept responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry for my conduct,” Kruger was quoted by the New York Daily News as telling the court.

Kruger, who is Jewish, earned plaudits from the Orthodox community in 2009 for voting against a gay marriage bill, telling the Orthodox Hamodia newspaper at the time, “When it becomes an emotional, gut-wrenching issue, when it cuts through the fabric of traditions and values, then I have my community as the cornerstone of my decision.”

The resignation will set off a scramble to capture the open seat that is bound to be hard-fought and closely watched given the small margin by which Republicans control the Senate. It may also affect the way a redistricting commission redraws the Senate district map. Analysts see recent Orthodox politically conservative voting patterns in Brooklyn as creating unprecedented opportunity for Republican gains.

Likely candidates include two Russian American lawyers, Democrat Igor Oberman and Republican David
 

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Romney Won’t Commit On Jerusalem, Pollard

Mitt Romney would not commit to moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem or to pardoning Jonathan Pollard.

Romney, a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination who has garnered the greatest support among donors, met privately Monday with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Washington Jewish Week reported.

On Jerusalem he said he would “consult with the government of Israel” before he makes a final decision.

“It’s easy for me to promise, but it’s something I would consult with the government [of Israel] on,” the Washington Jewish Week quoted him as saying, relying on a source present at the meeting.

Romney’s chief rival, Newt Gingrich, has said he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on his first day in office.

Romney has said that some of Gingrich’s pronouncements on the Middle East amount to bomb throwing and should not be made without first consulting the Israeli government.

Romney, according to this account of his remarks said he was “open to examining” the issue of Jonathan Pollard, the convicted spy for Israel.

Storobin, as well as Democratic Councilman Lew Fidler, according to Sheepshead Bites, a local news blog.
 

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Maynard Wishner, National AJC Leader, Dies At 88

Maynard Wishner, a past national president of the American Jewish Committee who also headed other Jewish groups, has died.

Wishner, a Chicago attorney and activist who served as the AJC’s national president from 1980 to 쌿,  died Monday at 88. He had been serving as honorary president and a member of its Board of Governors until his passing.

He also was chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs when it was called the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, and served as president of the Council of Jewish Federations, the precursor to the Jewish Federations of North America.

Wishner traveled throughout the world as an advocate for the Jewish people and Israel. Throughout his legal career and Jewish communal volunteer involvement, Wishner was a vocal proponent of advancing cooperative intergroup relations to strengthen American society and build enduring friendships for the Jewish community, according to an AJC statement. He also was an outspoken advocate for securing the freedom of Jews in the Soviet Union,

In Chicago, Wishner led the Chicago Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Family and Community Service. He also  served as executive director of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Relations and assistant corporation counsel for the City of Chicago before entering private practice.

He guided  many other organizations and commissions at the local, state and national level.

His awards and accolades include the Chicago Jewish federation’s Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award and the American Jewish Committeeâs Mensch Award.  He was honored by the countries of Greece and Poland for his work to further Jewish relations with both of those communities and nations, and led Jewish outreach to the Latino and African-American communities.

 

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Egyptian Islamist Party Says It Will Recognize Treaty With Israel

 A radical Islamist party in Egypt said it will respect the country’s peace treaty with Israel.

The spokesman for the Salafi Al-Nour party, which won up to 30 percent of the vote in the first round of parliamentary elections in Egypt, announced Tuesday that the party would respect all treaties signed by Egypt, including theŁ979 peace treaty with Israel. Party leaders later clarified that the party is looking into the matter, Ynet reported.

The Salafi Al-Nour party finished second behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party; the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to negotiate with Israel.

Meanwhile, violence continued in Egypt as soldiers and police fired live ammunition and used batons on protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. At least 13 protesters have been reported killed and hundreds wounded as protesters demand an end to military rule.

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Reform Meets Amid Challenges

New Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs at Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial outside Washington.

Energy, Obama and handwringing over next generation at biennial.

National Harbor, Md. — The metaphors abound. To Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism, it’s a gas station. To Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the outgoing president, it’s an anchor. To Stephen Sacks, the incoming chairman of Reform’s board, it’s a supermarket.

They’re all talking about the Reform synagogue, and they all agree on one thing: It’s not a place you can find very many Reform Jews from post-bar/bat mitzvah age through their 30s.

“Most synagogues are not meeting the needs of that demographic,” said Rabbi Elissa Koppel, 39, of Temple Beth El in Hillsborough, N.J. “Synagogues need to think differently about how to reach them. I think it’s always been a challenge, but there’s more awareness of it now.”

Reform activists and leaders cite several reasons for the disaffection of young Jews: the difficulty of competing for young people’s attention given the distractions of the modern world; the ethos of individualism in American life; a growing preference for virtual social networks over physical ones; parents who emphasize soccer practice over Jewish tradition a declining sense of obligation to belong to communal institutions.

And then, of course, there’s the deterrent of Reform synagogues themselves.

“The standard model is not working for the younger generation,” said Rabbi Larry Sernovitz, 39, of Old York Temple Beth Am in Abington, Pa., near Philadelphia. “A lot of programming is based on the 50s and 60s set — one size fits all. But American Jews have become more assimilated and are moving away from organized synagogue life. The movement has to change along with that.”

The Reform movement is facing a host of challenges, from an economic downturn that has left some synagogues unable to make ends meet to the Union for Reform Judaism itself, which is undergoing a transition at the top and is six months away from completing an 18-month assessment to decide the movement’s future. But Reform leaders say their greatest hurdle is figuring out how to engage young Jews, most of whom leave Reform synagogues “with the last hora of the bar/bat mitzvah party,” as Jacobs puts it.

One need look no further than Yoffieâ€s own children, whom he talked about in his Shabbat sermon at the Reform biennial conference held Dec. 14-18 at a hotel just outside Washington. His daughter, Adina, attends a Modern Orthodox shul, and his son Adam, 28, finds temple boring and doesn’t go much at all, according to Yoffie.

“They agree on what they don’t want, Yoffie said. “They don’t want their synagogue to be the synagogue of their youth.”

In a time of decreasing affiliation with communal Jewish institutions across the denominational spectrum, concern is growing in the Reform movement that unlike previous generations, the young Jews leaving Reform synagogues now will never return.

“A newer trend indicates that fewer and fewer Jews will even join for their children,” Jacobs said in his biennial address Sunday morning. “Of all the movements, Reform Jews lead the way and — this ain’t a happy one — we lead the way in leaving when childhood education is over.”

In an interview with JTA, Jacobs added, “If we don’t start thinking differently about youth, it’s certainly not a bright and rosy future.”

The bleak prognosis for the movement was belied by a biennial that many participants described as the most energetic they had ever attended.

“I’ve felt inspired by this conference,” said Jonah Kaplan, 25, of Springfield, Mo. “My belief in the movement has been reaffirmed. It’s important to get some Yiddishkeit and Jewish vigor and Jewish identity, and be surrounded by people like me who share the same passion for Judaism that I do.”

Nearly 6,000 people attended the biennial, making it the biggest Reform conference in history and the first to be sold out, and featured speeches by President Obama, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor  and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, among others. It also was the last biennial with Yoffie at the helm. Jacobs, who has been the rabbi at the Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, N.Y., will take over as president in January after 16 years of Yoffie’s leadership.

Sessions at the five-day conference covered everything from â€Yoga Shalom: The Embodiment of Prayer” to “Is America Abandoning Church-State Separation? Implications for the Jewish Community.”

For many of the rabbis, cantors, lay leaders and teens from the National Federation of Temple Youth in attendance, the main motive for coming was to reconnect with old friends and be energized by the thousands of fellow Reform faithful.

The conference was a mix of old and new, reflecting some of the changes made by the movement over the last generation and some it has not made. The weekday prayer services consisted of participatory singing, guitar playing and even storytelling and meditation — part of a revolution in Reform prayer led by the late singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman. But the Shabbat morning service was more formal and operatic, sending some congregants — mostly young people, but also gray-haired ones — out of the room and into the hallways to chat and fiddle with their phones.

Yoffie over the years has tried to make Torah a renewed focus of the movement, pushing for more Jewish study, Shabbat observance, the adoption of some kind of Jewish dietary ethos and the practice of mitzvot. To some degree the push has taken hold, though not always in step with traditional Jewish practice.

The communal Friday night dinner was kosher style, not kosher, there was a single challah at each table rather than the traditional two, and Shabbat candles were lit after Kabbalat Shabbat services, more than three hours after sunset.

At services, instead of the traditional “maariv” blessing on Friday night, the congregation chanted a piece of prose written by Anne Frank. On Saturday, aliyot went to groups rather than individuals, and the selection from the weekly Torah portion amounted to just 11 verses — excluding the passage from the weekly portion that Obama had cited the day before in the d€™var Torah he used to open his speech.

“We’re not a halachic movement and we don’t profess to be, Yoffie told JTA. “We now have a Reform Judaism that is in a certain sense more traditional. We’re also more radical. We live with the contradiction.”

The question for the Reform movement isn’t how close or far it can get from halachah, or Jewish law, but whether it can interest the 80 percent of Reform Jews who stay away from the synagogue for two or three decades after their bar mitzvah.

Jacobs says that if young people arent going to come to the synagogue, the movement will just have to bring the synagogue to them. How that is to be done is not exactly clear. Jacobs, whose own temple hired a rabbinic intern to work outside the synagogue to engage people in Jewish life, is starting by launching a campaign for youth engagement and going on a listening tour to learn about innovative and successful models.

Rabbi Jonathan Hecht,ಳ, of Temple Chaverim in Plainview, N.Y., says the movement has to move away from synagogues being bar-mitzvah factories — what Jacobs called a gas station to “fill up the next generation with Jewish gas” and what Sacks called a “supermarket where Reform Jews come to purchase services.”

“We are at fault for creating a model based on ‘You come to synagogue when your kids are in third grade and you’re out in eighth grade,’ ” Hecht said, lamenting that kids “see Reform Judaism as something you do at one time in your life, like college.”

It’s a question, he said, of resources.

“Are we willing to add more camps, more full-time youth workers?” Hecht asked. “Where are we putting our efforts?” 

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Hitchens’ ‘Hostility’ To Israel

Friends recall his difficulty with Zionism and Judaism.

For Jews, few ideals are more exalted than that of the “intellectual.” But if there is any correlation between intellect and goodness, or good sense, it is defied — and mystified — by Christopher Hitchens and his attitudes toward Israel and Judaism. An intellectual and often dazzling writer, he was often completely merciless in his scathing dismissals of both Zionism and Judaism in ways that were often more incendiary than intellectual. A vigorous, unyielding atheist, on top of that, his friendship was valued by the Zionists and rabbis who knew him best, who prayed for him as he lay dying, and who mourn their loss of a friend.

And yet, how to reconcile a love for Zionism and Judaism with the contempt of one so brilliant? Of course, history — from ancient Greece to Vichy France — is littered with intellectuals who looked at Jews, even intellectual Jews, with contempt, even a threat. Hitchens was respectful and friendly to individual Jews; he only had unbridled contempt for some of their ideas. Knowing this, one rabbi said he could be friends with Hitchens; he just couldn’t invite him to his shul.

By all accounts, Hitchens, who died Dec. 15 of esophageal cancer at age 62, came of age as a leftist, a Marxist even, who had an unexpected change of heart after 9/11, supporting the war in Iraq, supporting George W. Bush for president and refusing to be politically correct about the Islamic threat — a threat he called “Islamofascism.” But while Hitchens became supportive of the American right, he never abandoned the left’s critique of Israel.

As Hitchens said in an 2003 interview with FrontPage magazine, “One of the advantages of a Marxist and internationalist training is that it exposes one to the early writings of those Jewish cosmopolitans who warned from the first day that Zionism would be a false messiah for the Jews and an injustice to the Arabs. Nothing suggests to me that they were wrong on these crucial points.”

James Kirchik, a contributing editor to The New Republic, wrote in Haaretz, that Israel “became less of an issue” for Hitchens, as Hitchens saw radical Islam hijacking Palestinian politics.

Sam Freedman, a writer for The New York Times, e-mailed, “My sense is that Hitchens was evolving from his lockstep pro-Palestinian position, partly because of his views about Islamist terrorism and partly, I can only conjecture, because of belatedly discovering his Jewish heritage. He never completely reversed course on Israel and Palestine, but he certainly moved a substantial distance from Edward Said, who’d been a co-author/editor with him.”

But Kirchik recalled Hitchens, over drinks one night, telling him he could never accept the premise of a Jewish homeland, a “stupid, messianic, superstitious idea.”

The Christian Science Monitor, in memoriam, printed 10 of Hitchens’ “more memorable quotes,” including: “I am an anti-Zionist. I’m one of those people of Jewish descent who believes that Zionism would be a mistake even if there were no Palestinians.”

Of Jewish descent? Hitchens was raised a Christian before becoming an atheist, and didn’t even discover that his mother was Jewish until he was middle-aged. “I was pleased to find I was pleased,” he wrote.

To be an anti-Semite, he said, was to be a “moral idiot.” History has shown that “Judaeophobia is an unfailing prognosis of barbarism and collapse, and the states and movements that promulgate it are doomed to suicide as well as homicide.” Today, Palestinian anti-Semitism is an “obscenity … not to be explained away by glib terms like despair or occupation, as other religious fools like Jimmy Carter — who managed to meet the Hamas gangsters without mentioning their racist manifesto — would have you believe.”

And yet, if not anti-Semitic, he was anti-Jewish in ways more crude than philosophical. To take Chanukah as an example, Hitchens described the holiday as “the triumph of tribal Jewish backwardness,” celebrating “fundamentalist thuggeryâ and “the imposition of theocratic darkness. Preferring hyperbole and insult to intellectual analysis, Hitchens concluded, “When the fanatics… won [and] Judaism repudiated Athens for Jerusalem, the development of the whole of humanity was terribly retarded.”

With his slash-and-burn style, he described the United States as Israel’s “Shabbos goy… the non-Jew who is paid a trifling fee to turn out the lights or turn on the stove, or whatever else is needful to get around the more annoying regulations of the Sabbath. How the old buzzard must cackle when he sees the gentiles actually volunteering a bribe to do the lowly work! And lowly it is,” wrote Hitchens, œinvolving the tearing-up of international law and U.N. resolutions and election promises, and the further dispossession and eviction of a people to whom we gave our word…. [We] will most certainly be made to regret it. For now, though, the shame.”

He rhetorically asked Israelis, in Slate: “Without God on your side, what the hell are you doing in the greater Jerusalem area in the first place?”

Intellectual? Some might think these rants sounded more like Helen Thomas or Mel Gibson, except they were ostracized while Hitchens’ rants were considered witty, erudite and pass the brandy. Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, e-mailed, “Yes, he was given a pass for these borderline anti-Semitic cheap shots about Israel and Judaism, primarily because he was a member of the club. We sometimes paid the price for Hitchens’ belatedly discovered Jewishness, which he clearly had difficulty dealing with.”

In 2010, in the online Jewish Ideas Daily, Benjamin Kerstein wrote, “The fact that Christopher Hitchens has a problem with Jews has been an open secret for years. No one much likes to talk about it, and for various reasons his journalistic peers have remained silent on the subject.”

Rabbi David Wolpe, a Jewish Week contributor who often debated Hitchens, noted in a Jewish Journal article Hitchens’ “hostility” to Israel, but was silent about it when writing about Hitchens for Slate.

Another debating partner of Hitchens, Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, did not mention Hitchens’ anti-Zionism either, in his memorial column for Fox News, but Boteach did write of an “anti-religious screed” by Hitchens, in which Hitchens charged that Jewish courts in Israel had ruled that a Jew may not save the life of a non-Jew on the Sabbath. It was one of many lies and half-truths that Hitchens used to depict Judaism.

Challenged by Rabbi Boteach, Hitchens offered a source that “turned out to be a famous fraud,” said Rabbi Boteach. “I was incensed and wrote Hitchens that he had always prided himself on the truth and had to correct the false information he had disseminated. He wrote back that he would amend the assertion in the book’s next printing,” but “our relationship cooled.”

Boteach told us, by telephone, that he nevertheless prayed and urged prayers for Hitchens during his illness, and Hitchens was touched by the gesture even as he dismissed its efficacy.

Rabbi Wolpe e-mailed The Jewish Week that his relationship with Hitchens ended up having limits, as well, despite how much he appreciated Hitchens’ “charm and kindness.â

Said Wolpe, Hitchens “had spent too much time with the Palestinians and was too sympathetic to them to believe Israel’s narrative. … I think he retained many of the attitudes of the left, even as he moved away, and was unable to retool his views toward Israel. It is why I never invited him to the shul [Sinai Temple], much as I liked and admired him in other ways.” 

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Times’ Friedman Responds On ‘Israel Lobby’ Phrase

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman told The Jewish Week Tuesday that the wording of a memorable phrase in his Dec. 13 column (“Newt, Mitt, Bibi and Vladimir”) may have been inexact when he wrote that the standing ovation Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received in Congress this year “was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.”

“In retrospect I probably should have used a more precise term like ‘engineered’ by the Israel lobby — a term that does not suggest grand conspiracy theories that I don’t subscribe to,” Friedman said. “It would have helped people focus on my argument, which I stand by 100 percent.”

That argument was about the need to distinguish between American and Israeli interests at times, and to note that many American Jews “are deeply worried about where Israel is going today.”

Most of the criticism of the column from Jewish leaders focused on the reference to Netanyahu’s congressional ovation being “bought and paid for by the Israeli lobby.”

David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, wrote in his blog that Friedman “crossed a line” with the Israel lobby statement, which he called “inaccurate and shockingly insidious,” conjuring up “the ugliest anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Friedman has often written of his support for the State of Israel, despite his sometimes sharp criticism of Jerusalem’s policies. His was a lonely voice of support for Israel in the mainstream press during the Israeli army’s military campaigns against Hamas and Hezbollah.

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Amid Settler Crackdown, Hilltop Town And Its Yeshiva Still Defiant

The Od Yosef Chai seminary in Yitzhar.

As new anti-vigilante measures take hold, officials in Yitzhar increasingly in the government’s cross-hairs.

Yitzhar, West Bank — “Revenge junction,” reads the graffiti scrawled on a road sign marking the turnoff to this mountaintop Jewish settlement. It is perhaps a telling welcome to a town and local yeshiva considered by Israel’s government as a nest of young, radical right-wing vigilantes.

In the week since an Israeli military base was attacked and Palestinians were stoned by dozens of settlement sympathizers, Israelis have been up in arms amid allegations of growing lawlessness among hard-line Jewish settlements and the smaller outposts.

Allegations that the attackers — believed to be a hardened circle of €œhilltop youth” from the settlement outposts near the West Bank city of Nablus — have been handled with kid gloves prompted a tidal wave of soul searching and a shift in outlook among Israelis. Those attacks, carried out by the fringe group of settlers, peaked last week in a sustained campaign of marauding through Palestinian villages, and mosque burnings. 

As Israeli officials began using the words “Jewish terror†to describe the new round of violence, government ministers decided to allow the army to enforce legal measures against the extremist settlers akin to the ones used against Palestinians, such as “administrative detention”; the move allows the government to keep suspects locked up for eight days before appearing in front of a judge. 

Government officials reason that such medicine is necessary to rein in future attacks on security forces and Palestinians, a two-year campaign of vigilantism called “price tag” — a reference to a quid pro quo for Palestinian terror strikes and violent actions against settlements.

But defense commentators from Israeli newspapers were skeptical if the crackdown would go into effect or be effective. Moreover, B’Tselem, a human rights group that normally criticizes the settlers in defense of the Palestinians, denounced the measure.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the view from Yitzhar is a mirror image of the public criticism. Residents here say that the government, far from being too lax toward the settlers, is targeting them with settlement evacuations and summary crackdowns, said Avraham Binyamin, a Yitzhar spokesperson.

“There is no other group of citizens in Israel that suffers from such treatment, only those who live in Judea and Samaria,” Binyamin said, adding that settlers are victims of the government’s knee-jerk reaction. “The government and police shoot the arrow, and then they look for a target.”

Yitzhar has been in the crosshairs of the government since long before last week’s string of attacks. Every several months, the police make arrests here of residents suspected of activity in far-right groups. In the most recent arrest operation in June, Binyamin himself was taken into custody as part of a raid on the offices of the Jewish Voice, a news website that serves as a mouthpiece of the radical setters.

In August, the Shin Bet secret service ordered special restraining orders against about a dozen Yitzhar residents suspected of vigilantism, out of fear that attacks on Palestinians could spark a new uprising.     

And on the same night as the attack on the IDF base, Yitzhar’s leaders called on IDF soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. In an interview with The Jewish Week, Binyamin explained it as a democratic act of civil disobedience.

He admitted that there have been vigilante attacks from Yitzhar outposts against nearby Arab villages as retaliation for arson attacks against Yitzhar. Three years ago, a Palestinian infiltrated a Yitzhar outpost and attacked a child, he said. “It happens that the retaliation comes from Yitzhar,” he said. “There is a feeling that the army doesn’t give enough of a response, and there is a clear feeling that the police is making provocation against us.â€

In what may be the government’s toughest move against Yitzhar, less than two months ago Israel€™s Education Ministry took the unprecedented step of cutting ties and funding to the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva.

Accusing yeshiva rabbis of inciting students to acts of violence against Arabs and against the government, the Education Ministry not only ended the yeshiva’s 2 million shekel a year ($500,000) funding but also revoked the licensing for its subsidiary high school. The ministry focused a good deal of its criticism on yeshiva rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur for co-authoring a 2009 book, “The King’s Torah (Torat Hamelech): Laws of Life and Death Between Israel and the Nations,” which discusses exceptions to the prohibition against killing non-Jews.

In a recent interview with The Jewish Week, Od Yosef Chai’s executive director, Itamar Posen, defended the yeshiva and denied the government’s accusations that rabbis at the seminary incite youths who have taken part in price-tag attacks.

He denied any link between the yeshiva students and the price-tag campaign, including attacks committed last week. He refused to comment on the new government measures, asserting that they have no connection to the yeshiva.

“The kids here only know how to study Torah. They are very disciplined,€ he said.

That wasn’t the conclusion of the government. In an Oct. 27 letter announcing the funding cut, the Education Ministry argued, with the help of classified evidence, that the yeshiva’s students had been involved in numerous violent activities against Palestinians and Israeli security forces, and that rabbis encouraged the vigilantism by inciting students and themselves joining in the violence.

In an August summons to a hearing, the ministry said that “The King’s Torah” approves the harming of innocents, and that the yeshiva featured content from the book on its website and fliers.

The activity at the yeshiva was inconsistent with the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and endangers the public peace and security, the Education Ministry wrote.

Palestinian neighbors and human rights activists say that settlers from Yitzhar and other radical settlements have been engaged in a campaign to terrorize and intimidate locals to scare them off their land.

Groups like Btselem have footage of soldiers standing by while settlers from Yitzhar throw rocks at a neighboring Palestinian village. In one clip, Rabbi Shapira is allegedly seen walking among the rock throwers.

“It’s a failure of law enforcement at every level. Authorities are not doing their jobs,” said Bâ€Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli.

Despite the public’s shock from the attacks, the next day two Palestinian cars were set ablaze while graffiti was found in a Jerusalem mosque. Human rights monitors from the United Nations and Oxfam report that vigilante attacks have more than doubled in two years.

Even mainstream settler groups oppose the actions of the hilltop youth. Pinchas Wallerstein said of the price-tag strategy, “Every struggle against the IDF, as well as Arab innocent bystanders, should be punished with all severity, and if [those perpetrators] aren’t punished, it will lead to the demise of the state of Israel.â Wallerstein added that “it is the job of the rabbis and the leadership to denounce it.”

About œThe King’s Torah,” he said, he is “against it.” But he opposed the Education Ministry’s defunding of Od Yosef Chai as long as there were no similar steps being taken against left-wing academics.

Yossi Klein Halevi, of the Shalom Hartman Institute, said that the vigilante movement presents religious Zionists and the settlers with a dilemma at a time they are rising in mainstream institutions such as the army.

€œFor religious Zionists this is a historic achievement, but the violence of a powerful fringe is threatening to undermine the mainstream status of religious Zionism in general and the settlers in particular,” Halevi continued. “And the settler leaders don’t know how to cope.”

The Od Yosef Chai yeshiva sits on a barren hilltop just below Yitzhar’s residential neighborhoods, with a commanding view of nearby Palestinian villages.

Even the yeshiva building itself is contested: while Posen says that it is located within land designated for the expansion of Yitzhar, he acknowledges that it was built before getting the proper authorization and is considered illegal.

During recess, one student wore a shirt reading “Kahane was right,” referring to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was outlawed for incitement against Arabs. Another wore a shirt that read, “Jews, let€™s win.”

Wary of the media, Yitzhar residents and yeshiva students are reluctant to speak and referred a reporter to spokesman Binyamin.

To raise money for the cash-strapped yeshiva, Od Yosef Chai held a fundraiser on Dec. 15 attended by Rabbi Shapira, Knesset member Michael Ben Ari of the far-right National Union Party and Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who was accused by the army of preaching to students to refuse orders to evacuate settlements.

Amid rounds of dancing and singing by the guests, who numbered in the hundreds, the night’s featured speaker was Rabbi Yitzhak Ginzburg, the seminary’s top rabbinic authority. During his lecture, he addressed the government crackdown, likening the administrative detentions announced by the government to the actions of Israelite King Saul in the waning years of his rule.

Mordechai Inbari, a professor of religion at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, who has studied the theology of “Torat Hamelech” and Rabbi Ginzburg, said the rabbis see the state as going against the divine will.

“The radical rabbis argue that there is a setback in the messianic process, and their mission is to fix it. And the way to fix it is to stop identifying with the state,” he said. “The state is portrayed as evil … It is too left wing, too secular. Their mission is too put the state back on track through political activism.” 

The controversial “Torat Hamelech” has drawn fire from rabbis as well. The chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, Yaakov Ariel, endorsed a 145-page halachic response to the book written a year ago by Ariel Finkelshtain, a graduate of the Netivot chesder yeshiva. By focusing on situations in which the killing of non-Jews is permissible, the book presents a “problematic” view of non-Jews that implies their inferiority, an attitude that isn’t supported in the Torah, Finkelshtain said. While the book has no explicit orders to kill non-Jews, “It’s like lighting a match. It can inflame things,” Finkelstain continued. “It broadcasts to a lot of extremists in the field to get up and do something.”

Posen said that “The Kingâs Torah” merely represents a dry scholarly discussion of halacha not meant for the general readership. Still, he said, the book’s relevance goes beyond the theoretical, providing ideas about what the Torah says about the ways to fight enemies.

“This book calls for leadership,” Posen said. “Its authors pray for a day that the leadership of Israel will act according to the Torah, so hopefully they will take this book and learn,” he said. 

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