You may have heard—actually, it was here last week—that I published a 17,000 word essay on our political system and the problems any president, Obama in particular, but any potential progressive would face in trying to move it, on The Nation’s website last week. That’s here.

For my Think Again column this week, I round up some of the responses it has so far received. It’s called “Kabuki Democracy: The Responses” and that’s here.

Also, my latest Moment column is called "Israel’s Greatest Enemy: Israel" and it’s here.

The Mail:

When I write about Israel, I tend to focus on its political issues with the Palestinians and the rest of the world. But right now, there’s an enormous storm brewing between Israel and American Jews; one that calls into question the legitimacy of reform, reconstructionist and conservative  Judaism in the official eyes of the Israeli state. My friend (and rabbi) David Gelfand wrote a letter to Bibi Netanyahu about it and gave me permission to print it below.
The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
Jerusalem, Israel 
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,
I am writing to you with urgency to quickly and passionately request your immediate intervention to prevent passage of the legislation being brought forward by MK David Rotem which challenges the authenticity of tens of thousands of people who have and who will yet choose Judaism and become active Jews, committed to the perpetuation of Judaism and thereby supporters and lovers of Israel.

My congregation in New York City is surely overwhelmingly and deeply concerned about the intention to grant the Chief Rabbinate sole control over conversion in Israel.  This is truly a hot button issue in our community and one that people care about with much intensity and concern. Such legislation would be an open attack on the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Jewry, which composes the vast majority of world Jewry.

While we are supportive of efforts to create greater accessibility to conversion courts in Israel, the overall impact of the Rotem Bill will seriously set back these efforts. Should this bill be enacted, it will exacerbate a widening gap between Diaspora and Israel communities, which we are working very hard to avoid.

Temple Israel of the City of New York where I serve as the Senior Rabbi firmly and strongly believes that it is imperative that you, as leader of Israel, and as one who cares deeply about the well-being of  Klal Yisrael,  the unity of the Jewish people, intervene and urge immediate withdrawal of this bill.

I look forward to your serious consideration of this matter which could rip apart Diaspora Jewry from what is too often a tenuous connection to the State of Israel.  I write to you not only as a congregational rabbi and an ohav Yisrael, an ardent Zionist, but also as Vice-President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism which represents some 1.9 million Jews around the world in over 30 countries, as well as a communal Jewish leader who also sits on the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College that remains fully committed to this issue and is a vibrant and visible presence in Jerusalem.

Wishing you well and seeking your cooperation and the withdrawal of this damaging piece of legislation.

Rabbi David Gelfand
Rabbi David Gelfand
Temple Israel
112 East 75th Street
New York, NY

Jeffrey Steinberg
Leesburg, Virginia


If Obama had not, himself, been so wedded to the Wall Street and hedge funds for funding of his campaign, he would have taken a much more FDR-modeled approach to the crisis, which, as you undoubtedly understand, bears many striking similarities to the crisis FDR faced when he came into office in March 1933.  There was a mood in the Democratic Party, during the post-2004 period, briefly, of combatting Bush and Cheney, by reinvigorating the FDR legacy. This was true during the successful campaign to defeat the privatization of Social Security, and, at one point, I recall, a group of Democratic Senators and Congressmen (I recall Dick Durban being one) showed up at the FDR Memorial, to proudly proclaim that they were "FDR Democrats."  Unfortunately, the policies from the Obama White House, particularly the economic policies, have been dominated by a Wall Street-oriented, anti-FDR faction (Summers and Geithner, to name just two).  There was no job creation or infrastructure investment, to speak of, in the $800 billion stimulus package, the core element of health care reform–the Independent Payments Advisory Commission–is a direct assault against Medicare and Medicaid, and care for the elderly and chronically ill. And the financial reform bill, as you catalogued in your lengthy Nation piece, was so much of a compromise with Wall Street that it did nothing to alter the way the game is rigged. The White House aggressively intervened, through Dodd and Frank, to kill off the efforts to restore Glass Steagall separation of the banks, which would have forced a write down or write off of the speculative portion of the debts on the books of the banks. So I don’t despair over the inability to impose a progressive agenda.  I despair that Obama has proven to be such a fraud, when held up to the best standards of the Democratic Party–FDR, some of the JFK impulses, and LBJ’s Medicare/Medicaid before he got destroyed by Vietnam. I have not yet read your book on Obama, but have recently read, and greatly appreciated your book on FDR. So you know the difference! Hope for a reply.

Eric replies: Well, I’ve not written a book about Obama and Jonathan Alter, not me, wrote the one about FDR, but OK…

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