Category Archives: Free Speech

The Fourth Estate is not Mar-a-Lago- The Sacred Duty of the Press


The Fourth Estate is not Mar-a-Lago, it is time for both sides to get back to work.

The Free Press has a sacred place in the American system of government. The Founders knew the profound responsibility they entrusted to the Press to use their powers as a supreme check and balance to the power of each branch of Government.   The First Amendment of our Bill of Rights guarantees that this voice is exercised to preserve, protect and defend our country from the corruption that power can bring. Whether the Press fulfills this responsibility, or that the work is appreciated is the open question.

The Press has not always lived up to its sacred obligation. History is replete with examples of the Press being used to support a particular opinion or even worse, smear something with which it does not agree. The phrase “Yellow Journalism” comes from the type of press with little or no legitimate research, with sensational headlines driven by the desire to sell newspapers. It dates back to 1895. The issues of fake news or headlines without legitimacy are not new and have been the nemesis of higher quality journalism has fought for a long time. It is also the scourge of government, undermining anything with which is does not agree, slinging mud and being dishonest by misinforming the public.

Hall of Mirrors

Journalism, the kind with higher purpose as envisioned by the Founders, has its legitimate mission to gather and report the facts as a means of checking government power. It is not the friend of government rather it often plays an adversarial role. That, however, is not grounds for government officials to cast aspersions on all the press. It is to be put those officials on notice that the people are watching and you officials are ultimately responsible to us. The recent hard work of the press corps in the matter of Michael Flynn should be viewed as an important step in protecting “We the People.”

Government of, by, and for the people is the extraordinary sacred mission our officials are tasked to do. Ensuring and preserving that is the sacred mission the Free Press. It is time for everyone to do his or her respective jobs.

People of Faith United against Terror, Where are you Mr. President?

The third wave of terror threats against JCCs has swept across our country to begin this week. This on the heels is the actual act of terror: setting a Mosque on fire. These are not idle pranks. These are coordinated attacks designed to create havoc and fear in the Jewish and Muslim Communities. This is Terrorism.

As scary as these terror attacks are, so is the lack of response by the President. Why hasn’t he spoken out against domestic terrorism and on behalf of the FBI and the Justice Department supporting a full-scale investigation?   Why hasn’t the White House publicly condemned these criminal acts of hate? Silence is the tacit acceptance that hatred of Jews and Muslims is sanctioned. A nation dedicated to freedom of religion must act to protect the exercise of that freedom when it is threatened.   The First Amendment is more than fancy words written on fancy paper in fancy script. It is the eloquent aspiration of a nation striving to a beacon to the world; it is the bedrock principle upon which that nation is built. If it is anything less, then it is not worth the paper it is written upon.

President Trump, I call upon you to publicly condemn these acts and actively voice support law enforcement’s efforts to find the perpetrators of these odious acts and bring them to justice.

We people of faith stand together, united in our American voice that ensures each of us can speak in our own particular way.   This solidarity is beautifully represented by Temple B’nai Israel giving its keys to the Victoria Islamic Center’s founders so that the Mosque’s people of faith have a home until they can rebuild and a public funding page dedicated to raising money to ensure that happens.

The National Anthem meets Colin Kaepernick

KaepernickColin Kaepernick created an uproar when he remained seated for the national anthem before the football game.

Many people have jumped to judgment. He is right, he is wrong; he is either validating something we feel or he is being disrespectful to something we treasure. Right or wrong, his actions were thoughtful and deliberate and deserve consideration rather than a reflexive reaction. Kaepernick used his position and visibility to express his views about the state of affairs in our country.

America is not perfect. We are engaged in the ongoing process of creating a more perfect Union. We are building on our principles and ever aspiring to do better for everyone in our country. We have come a long way but there remains a long way to go.   Jews have long participated in this process and historically struggled with this issue. In our tradition, we have argued for centuries to discern what we should do and when. Arguments to advance our understanding are elevated to “Arguments for the sake of Heaven.” In the same Talmud, we also learn that the law and the application of law exist in our world for us to interpret and implement. Were it otherwise, we would simply be blaspheming.

Kaepernick’s stand (or lack thereof) might be seen as the cynical protest, perhaps biting the hand that feeds him. However as I have learned, Kaepernick is active in trying to make our country a better place through his work supporting Camp Taylor. From personal tragedy, Colin Kaepernick has tried to make meaning and help others using his position and wealth to promote Camp Taylor.JBL Kap Del Rio 1

Social justice and civil rights issues also have clearly touched a nerve in Kaepernick. On his social media pages, he began posting months ago about what he saw and what angered him. The sitting down during the anthem was yet one more step on a path he had already begun to travel, including sitting out the anthem earlier in the preseason, although he was not suited for play during those games. This particular act of protest, however, did garner attention. Through this act of sitting down, he raises awareness and becomes a part making social change by keeping the active conversation alive.

Whether or not one agrees with his actions, Colin Kaepernick should be respected for what he did. He is “walking the walk.”

Come Together- The AIPAC Dilemma

ComeTogether_Desktop

Trump has spouted words that are divisive, angry, bigoted and hateful. These things are anathemas to Jewish sensibilities. Many Jews and Jewish organizations, the CCAR and the URJ among them, have denounced such hate speech. But we are about to hear the speaker in an appearance before AIPAC. This dilemma is of AIPAC’s own creation.

 AIPAC has created a large and powerful voting group of Jews coalescing around promoting its view of American support of Israel. Obeisance to AIPAC’s understanding of the American-Israeli alliance is the litmus test that will judge the suitability of the presidential candidates. So expect nothing more.

 The candidates should not rise or fall based on a single speech. But given the stakes, I expect all candidates to speak in support of a strong secure Israel. I do not expect thoughtful analysis of the Middle East or a path towards peace, just words espousing that peace is good, Israel must remain strong and we are Israel’s friend. I do not recall a candidate speaking otherwise to any Jewish groups or lobby. To expect more than these platitudes, however, would be to set unrealistic expectations. Even if both candidates did have detailed plans, given the deep fissures in the American Jewish community and our own inability to engage ourselves in meaningful dialogue, anyone with political savvy will play to the crowd rather that risk alienating a voting bloc.

 I will not judge a candidate’s suitability for President based on this opportunity to curry favor with AIPAC, nor should anyone attending the AIPAC conference. Mrs. Clinton was one of the earliest national leaders to speak to the idea of a two-state solution, which was most unorthodox at the time and did not sit well with many. Mr. Trump has not-too-deftly tried to balance his need to be an impartial mediator with pro-Jewish, pro-Israel sentiments. We must look to a record of thoughts and deeds to establish the bona fides of the candidates. We need to have someone who understands the complexities of the situation.

 The AIPAC convention is not the place where this will happen. So this phase of the conference is merely a beauty pageant. AIPAC can bask in its own glory, pleased in knowing it had the political clout to force the equivalent of a bathing suit competition. But we will learn precious little more than that.   This is a moment to reassess our true motivations for having such appearances and why we attend such staged events.

 Many friends and colleagues are heading to the convention to learn and show support for AIPAC and its work supporting Israel. I commend my colleagues and friends who are grappling with the appropriate response to Mr. Trump. I suggest that whatever course of action you decide, it is unfortunate that the AIPAC convention has become so focused on something so meaningless.

The Candidates at AIPAC

Candidates at AIPAC

AIPACI am troubled by the pending appearances of the presidential candidates at the AIPAC conference. It is important to hear from them. However, the value is in the substance of the presentation, not the celebrity surrounding it. We do not need a beauty pageant. I am concerned about the substance.

Candidates appear in venues like AIPAC order to get votes, hoping to share a message that appeals to the group. Unfortunately, in these constricted spaces it is unlikely that they will deliver a complete message and will instead present little more than some populist pandering to the voting block represented by AIPAC. I expect that each candidate will offer some rhetoric about his/her commitment to a strong and secure Israel. But we need more than words. Each candidate needs to elaborate a thoughtful policy of both a strategic and tactical process to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the United States and secure stability in the region. A single speech at the AIPAC conference cannot do this. Platitudes and promises whether eloquent or crass are worthless.

We in the rabbinic community are struggling with Donald Trump’s appearance in particular at the AIPAC conference. The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) have taken a stand to express deep discontent with the hatred, bigotry and bullying that seems to characterize much of Trump’s message. The URJ and the CCAR are stating core Jewish principles. But this statement raises important overall questions about appearances at the AIPAC conference by the candidates.

The last time Mr. Trump publicly referenced Jews, we saw anti-Semitic canards played out on the public stage in the form of jokes. Jews in the room laughed nervously and uncomfortably at the joke, but it was not funny. Such words combined with other inflammatory divisive speech leads me to reluctantly conclude that this forum is not the appropriate place for Trump or his rhetoric. But such a position stands in direct opposition to my belief in free speech and the open exchange of ideas.

It is unrealistic to call upon AIPAC to rescind the invitations to the candidates. AIPAC needs to remain nonpartisan and promote its pro-Israel agenda. Conference attendees should be respectful of all speakers. No one, however, should be swayed by a single speech. It is critically important we look to the individual’s corpus of speeches and the existing records of each candidate to truly determine where they stand on Israel as part of a cohesive vision of American leadership and on the fundamental principles that we hold sacrosanct. Then we all must vote.

It is Time to Stake our Claim on the College Campus

It is time for the Reform Jewish Community to answer the call to the college campuses across the country. It is time that we commit to placing a Reform Rabbi on each campus with a significant Jewish student population. The goal should be to establish an endowed position so that the Reform voice will be heard. This Reform Rabbi will work with Hillel, but not for Hillel, freeing the rabbi to speak and act according to the best ideas of Reform including inclusivity, embracing modernity and Israel. Funding will come from donors who have a vested interest in their school of choice and the students who live and learn there. These groups include: Parents of Students, alumni and the students themselves.

 There is an active battle underway for the hearts and minds of the college students. College is a critical juncture in their development as thinking, feeling people. We have a profound investment in the outcome. These young people represent the future of the Jewish people in America and therefore an important future voice of world Judaism. If they do not develop connections with their Jewishness or with the state of Israel, then this generation will not embrace either their Judaism or Israel when they take the reins of leadership from us. If we do not demonstrate in meaningful and tangible ways that we care passionately about our young people, it is left to others to influence the conversations on campus during this critical period of identity formation of our students.

 We know that we can act boldly and when we do, we offer a vision that others will see and support. Whether or not you agree with him, Mr. Sheldon Adelson has clearly demonstrated both a passion for what he believes, and the ability to galvanize others into action, raising vast sums of money for his limited college vision. We are equally invested in our children and the future, which rests on their shoulders.   It is time we rise to the occasion and stake a claim on our kids and our future.

 Rabbi David M. Levin

this letter was sent to the leadership of the Reform Movement including CCAR, HUC and URJ