Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Steve Gutow

 

Jewish environmental group increasing efforts as climate debate heats up

image
Sybil Sanchez, the new COEJL director, says the group’s focus will be on its Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign seeking increased activism on environmental issues. Courtesy Sybil Sanchez

WASHINGTON – As the debate over how to combat climate change heats up in Copenhagen, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life is ramping up its efforts to help make the Jewish community a key player in the discussion.

Without a full-time director since early 2006, COEJL has secured a half-million dollars in funding for the next two years and hired Sybil Sanchez, executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee, to be its new director.

Sanchez said she sees COEJL helping the Jewish environmental movement transition into a new phase.

For a long time, she said, the goal was to get people to understand such things like “climate change is real” and the negative impact of carbon emissions. But now that “all but the hard core” in the Jewish community are convinced of that, Sanchez said, the question is “how do we integrate that into action as Jewish individuals and activists — move it to the next level and start to be the change we want to see in the world.”

“It’s a challenging and inspiring time,” she said.

Sanchez, who was officially to take over at COEJL on Wednesday, said that while specific plans for the future are still being discussed, the group would likely be hiring a representative in Washington. But the primary focus of the environmental organization’s efforts right now is the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign. The initiative asks American Jews to pledge that they will act to conserve on the individual level, be part of Jewish communal actions on the environment, and advocate for environmental issues with elected officials and in the media.

She also sees COEJL becoming a clearinghouse of information for synagogues and Jewish organizations, providing best practices and products to help sustainability, providing advice, and making connections between groups working on similar issues. COEJL sponsored a “sustainability” conference earlier this year for representatives of Jewish organizations.

Sanchez said the environment sparks multi-generational interest among Jews because it encompasses a number of different issues — from concern about dependence on foreign oil to protection of nature to worries about the state of the planet for future generations. And Sanchez argues that Judaism is connected to the environment in a number of ways. Major Jewish holidays are timed to the seasons of Israel, she points out, and working “in community and collectively are part of the Jewish and environmental lifestyle.” For example, the requirement to pray in a minyan, she notes, is one example of the “idea that we need each other” in Judaism.

In the absence of a full-time leader in the last few years, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism have stepped in to help out with COEJL, which is a project of JCPA. The Reform center worked on legislative advocacy in Washington, while JCPA — an advocacy umbrella organization bringing together the synagogue movements, national organizations, and local Jewish ommunities — organized grass-roots support and activism throughout the country.

The Reform center’s director, Rabbi David Saperstein, said it was good to have both organizations “more engaged than they might have been otherwise” in the issue and he hopes that intensity continues, but added that COEJL’s re-emergence will help to mobilize further the consciousness of the Jewish community.

“It is crucially important at this moment in history to play a role in the climate change debate,” he said.

“I feel it’s back in the nick of time,” said JCPA’s president, Rabbi Steve Gutow, who hopes to see COEJL become successful enough to eventually spin off into an independent group.

Gutow said the Jewish community has been a “very important leader” on a number of other issues in recent years — from Darfur to Iran to anti-discrimination issues — but has not done the same on energy and the environment.

“I think people look to us for leadership on certain issues,” he said, and “if we decide to lead, I do think we have a particular niche that we are able to help move it forward.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish groups call for civility

WASHINGTON – Americans have witnessed racist epithets, homophobic slurs, and spitting on a congressman in the realm of public discourse. Now a number of Jewish groups are saying enough is enough.

Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League issued a call for civility.

The “Statement on Civility in National Public Discourse” was unveiled during a panel discussion on “Restoring Civility to Passionate, Partisan, Political Debate” at the ADL’s National Leadership conference in Washington.

“We stand together today to call for civility in our national public discourse,” the statement says. “Let our debate on the issues of the moment be thoughtful and reasoned. Let us look to our elected leaders for leadership, whether or not we support their policies. Let all of us, across the political spectrum, encourage advocacy that is vigorous; pointed but not personal or hostile. We reject appeals to bigotry, racism, and prejudice. We reject calls to violence. In our national discourse in 2010, let us cast American democracy in the best possible light.”

The ADL call for civility comes on the heels of a similar measure adopted in February focused on combating incivility among Jewish groups, particularly those with differing views on the Israeli-Palestinian debate. It was passed in Dallas as part of a resolution at the annual plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group bringing together the synagogue movements, local Jewish communities, and several national organizations, including the ADL.

The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, recounted the events that led to his organization’s declaration.

“The level of incivility and debate relating first to the health-care bill and now the immigration debate, the Arizona legislation — it has been a crescendo, a back-and-forth of not discussing things civilly,” he said.

The ADL plans to reach out to its 30 regional offices to bring the pledge to elected leaders to sign in an effort to “lessen hostility in the language of debates,” Foxman said.

The first to sign were Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, and Matt Brooks, his counterpart at the Republican Jewish Coalition — two groups that have not enjoyed the most cordial of relationships.

The groups even argued as to the wording of the pledge, with Forman not entirely pleased with what he described as the final “watered-down” version. Brooks requested the removal of “mean-spirited” before he would sign, Forman said. Brooks replied that neither the ADL nor the NJDC pushed back over the changes and that his edits “made for a tighter, cleaner, neater document.”

Foxman brushed off the quibble saying, “Yes, people gave input, but ultimately they were signing on to our statement.”

Forman also was willing to shift into a conciliatory mode.

“Congratulations are due to the ADL, all of us, Democrats and Republicans, for we start with this minimal statement and build on it,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of the health of democracy and Judaism that we bring back civility in discourse.”

Brooks agreed, saying, “I believe very strongly that we need to vigorously debate issues of the day, but in a way that’s respectful of the political process, that doesn’t engage in racial or religious or ad hominem attacks.”

With most forms of incivility happening in the public eye — at town hall meetings, on the Senate floor — the ADL believes that the media and the public are the best-positioned to police the matter.

Foxman said, “People can argue strongly and passionately about what they believe, and when they realize being uncivil is counterproductive to them and their cause, there will be a positive response.”

The JCPA has particularly focused on the increased heat in recent years among Jewish groups when dealing with Israel, with the rise of pro-Israel groups like J Street that perform open criticism of the Jewish state.

J Street has taken shots at Jews who associate with right-wing Christian evangelicals, saying that they are abetting a movement that imagines Israel’s destruction. More conservative groups have accused J Street of consorting with Israel’s mortal enemies.

“We are experiencing a level of incivility, particularly over issues pertaining to Israel, that has not been witnessed in recent memory,” the JCPA resolution said. “Where such polarization occurs within the Jewish community, it tears at the fabric of Klal Yisrael —our very sense of peoplehood — and is a cause for profound concern.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of JCPA, said that though the details are not yet firm, a committee representing Jews from “left to right” will be put in place by June and will be charged with designing a multi-year plan to combat incivility and teach proper discourse.

“We need to know how to show respect when we agree,” Gutow said, “and when we do not.”

JTA

 
 

Beck under fire over Soros comments

Fox News provocateur Glenn Beck spent spent several days taking aim at billionaire businessman and philanthropist George Soros, but so far — at least within Jewish circles — the barrage appears to be backfiring.

On his radio and TV shows last week, Beck portrayed Soros as running a shadow government bent on controlling the global economy. Some liberal pundits and organizations responded by accusing Beck of relying on anti-Semitic tropes. But the widest range of condemnations came in response to Beck’s Nov. 10 comments on Soros’ childhood activities during the Holocaust:

“And George Soros used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off,” Beck said. “And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening.

“Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps. And I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God. As a 14-year-old boy, I don’t know what you would do.”

In fact Soros, then 13 and living under the protection of a non-Jewish Hungarian, on one occasion joined the older man when he was ordered by Nazis to inventory the estate of a Hungarian Jew who had fled. On another occasion, the local Jewish council had ordered Soros to deliver letters to local lawyers. Soros’ father, Tivadar, realized the letters were to Jewish lawyers and meant to expedite their deportation. He told his son to warn the targets to flee and ended the boy’s work with the council.

Soros, 80, has been slammed in some Jewish circles over his calls for increased U.S. engagement in the Middle East peace process and his strong criticism of Israeli policies. In recent months, some pro-Israel advocates and pundits have ripped J Street for accepting his money and lying about it. And during the Bush administration, it was Soros who was accused of unfairly playing the Holocaust card when he compared the Bush administration to the Nazi and communist regimes.

This time around, though, the loudest Jewish voices belong to those defending Soros from Beck’s attacks.

“This is the height of ignorance or insensitivity, or both,” said Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“As a kid, at 6, I spit at Jews — does that make me part of the Nazi machine?” Foxman said, referring to the fact that as a child he was protected by non-Jews who had not revealed his background to him. “There’s an arrogance here for Glenn Beck, a non-Jew, to set the standards of what makes a good Jew.”

Elan Steinberg, the vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, called Beck’s attack “improper.”

“When you make a particularly monstrous accusation such as this, you have to have proof,” he said. “I have seen no proof.”

In the clearest sign that Beck may have overreached within Jewish circles, Jonathan Tobin of the conservative journal Commentary also took to the blogosphere to slam Beck.

“Political commentary that reduces every person and every thing to pure black and white may be entertaining, but it is often misleading,” wrote Tobin, who noted that he and his publication can usually be found in the camp of those bashing Soros. “There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo.”

Tobin echoed some liberal pundits in accusing Beck of taking Soros’ comments out of context, including a recording of the philanthropist discussing his efforts to undermine various governments. According to Tobin, Beck failed to make clear that Soros was talking about his support of Cold War-era dissidents in the Soviet Union and Soviet satellite states.

“In other words,” Tobin wrote, “while Soros’s current politics is abhorrent, he was one of the good guys when it came to the fight against Soviet Communism.”

Beck used the Nov. 12 edition of his radio show to defend himself against claims of anti-Semitism by describing himself as a “friend of the Jews.” He also argued that it was ridiculous to accuse him of playing up anti-Semitic stereotypes since he has spoken out against efforts to demonize bankers.

Besides, Beck said, Soros is anti-Israel. Beck’s co-host, Pat Gray, added that Soros was “probably anti-Jewish.”

During the same broadcast, Beck mistakenly claimed that the ADL was accusing him of anti-Semitism regarding the comments about Soros. In fact, Foxman and the ADL never used the A-word, instead calling Beck’s comments about Soros “completely inappropriate, offensive, and over the top.”

Unrelated to the flap over Soros, Foxman sent Beck an Oct. 22 letter apologizing for an ADL direct-mail piece that included Beck in a list of celebrities who had made anti-Semitic remarks over the past year.

“Even though we may disagree from time to time,” Foxman wrote, “I know that you are a friend of the Jewish people, and a friend of Israel.”

During his Nov. 12 radio broadcast, Beck also discussed having directed his staff to investigate whether any of Soros’ foundations or organizations had given money to the ADL. As it turns out, the ADL has denied receiving money from Soros. The organization did, however, recently organize a fund-raising dinner to honor Beck’s boss, Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp., which owns Fox News.

This is not the first time that Beck has found himself being criticized by Jewish groups over comments relating to the Holocaust. Several Jewish leaders confronted Beck after he said during the recent election season that terms like “social justice” lead to death camps.

In response to those complaints, Fox News president Roger Ailes and vice president Joel Cheatwood met in August with three Jewish organizational leaders: Simon Greer, the director of Jewish Funds for Justice; Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College; and Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Subsequently Beck sent Greer a note saying that he understood “the sensitivity and sacred nature of this dark chapter in human history.” Last week, in response to the broadcasts about Soros, Greer said that Beck and Fox had made a “mockery of their professed understanding.”

Greer sparked controversy following the meeting with Fox officials by claiming that they had sided with Jewish leaders. Fox officials and other sources familiar with the meeting disputed Greer’s account, saying that Ailes and Cheatwood simply expressed sympathy for their concerns but never criticized Beck.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
Page 1 of 1 pages
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31