James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy

Some Muslims are not just “moderate” …

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… they are downright righteous. I met such a Muslim Arab man – Bedouin to be specific – on Thursday at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

Ishmael Khaldi works for the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, most recently as Deputy Consul in the San Francisco consulate.  He speaks for the Jewish state of Israel and being a Muslim is no barrier to that fact.

He spoke clearly about the threats to Israelis – all Israelis – emanating from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the delegitimization campaign against Israel.  Whether it is Iran’s race for nuclear weapons or the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement, these threats are threats to Arabs and Jews and others in Israel and often elsewhere.

I have met few people who have so clearly expressed the case for the Jewish state and the common bond shared among many Israelis – Jew and Arab alike.  Most striking was his explanation of the work that many Bedouins did to help give birth to the Jewish state.  For, while Israel’s independence is often simply described as the cause of war between Jews and Arabs, Khaldi made clear that a sizeable number of Bedouins supported the pre-state Jewish community and the state of Israel.

His was a story not lost on those of us familiar with the long tradition of Druze assistance to the Jewish community.  Once one peels back the simple narratives, one sees the plural multiculturalism that defines Israel as not just a Jewish state, but also as a democratic and liberal one.  Khaldi is just one of many examples of that multicultural liberal reality.

Read more about Ishmael Khaldi and buy his book through his website or on Amazon.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Evangelical Christians show more tolerance than the Left.

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John Hagee

Pastor John Hagee at the 'Night to Honor Israel' in the Quad Cities.

On Thursday, I went to the Christians United for Israel ‘Night to Honor Israel’ in Davenport. The 2,400 seat Adler Theater was filled nearly to capacity with conservative evangelical Christians. This is not typically my sort of crowd.  Conservative preacher Pastor John Hagee, who is among the best known conservative evangelicals in America, was the keynote speaker.  The crowd was filled with people who have a strict view of a different faith than mine and who have fairly severe differences with me on a wide range of social policies.

And yet, I was warmly welcomed, as a Jew, among these people.  Hagee made clear that his love and support for the Jewish people is not based on any expectation that we convert to Christianity or any other sort of compromise of our beliefs.  The crowd echoed that view.

And so, I wonder, why is it that among the supposedly tolerant and accepting people on the left here in Iowa City, I feel no tolerance; while among the typically less tolerant and conservative Christians, I feel real tolerance … even acceptance?

By way of example, a far-left Democrat from here in Johnson County, told me at the state Democratic Convention that I was a disloyal American and that I should leave and move to Israel.  I feared nothing like that on Thursday evening.  In fact, I experienced the opposite … my Jewish identity was seen as a patriotic expression of my American heritage.  God bless these people for showing me real acceptance.

 

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Doubling down on a stupid policy.

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My column is up at the Press-Citizen.  Here it is:

Doubling down on a stupid policy

Let’s be honest.

The state law that prohibits alcohol for 18-year-olds is stupid.

The federal law that promotes such a policy is not only stupid, but an obscene abuse of federal power.

These laws really do not require sophisticated criticism. The only thing that is difficult to understand about the laws is how they have managed to remain in existence for so long.

Iowa City policy that bars 18-year-olds from establishments that serve alcohol are really just doubling down on a stupid policy.

The prohibition of alcohol for those younger than 21 already creates a rich market in false identification and identity theft. But that market is promoted principally among those who want to exercise the right to purchase alcohol directly. People who want to exercise those rights through the acts of others have little incentive to obtain a false identity.

Current Iowa City policy raises the bar. Now those who merely want to share a social environment with people who are in a drinking establishment must obtain false identification. This sort of identity fraud is bad in itself, but it also creates wider channels for a wide variety of identity fraud-related scams and crimes.

That is a fairly unique problem promoted by the 21-only policy, but the shift in alcohol consumption caused by this policy is troubling on many levels. Of course, some may argue that total consumption goes down because of the policy, but that seems rather unlikely given that most high school students can fairly readily obtain alcohol. College students have many more options.

Bars have incentives to protect their customers that house and apartment dwellers do not have. Bars enrich the nightlife of Iowa City in a way that house parties do not. Bars do not have readily available areas where men can easily rape women; houses do. Bars can be openly patrolled by police without a warrant; houses cannot. Commercial districts are better suited than residential neighborhoods to the heavy traffic and noise that goes with drunken revelry. Where do we want people to drink?

However, none of this addresses the core problem. That is, 18-year-olds suddenly free of parental constraint, 21 year-olds experiencing nominal “freedom,” and a variety of others indulge irresponsibly in their alcohol consumption and cause many problems.

Whether they drink at bars or houses, this core problem remains.

A better solution requires that we, as citizens, as a city, and as a state petition our elected federal representatives to repeal the insane federal laws that promote a 21-year-old drinking age. The best solution, in the long run, might even be to abolish the drinking age entirely or reduce it to, perhaps, 14.

Let’s imagine a 14-year-old drinking age. The first opportunity for a person to drink legally would happen when they are under their parents’ care, without the financial means to buy much alcohol, unable to drive, and generally incapable of creating an environment conducive to irresponsible drinking. The novelty of drinking openly once a person arrived at college would be substantially reduced. The aggressive binge drinking that is the rite of many 21-year-olds would be non-existent.

More personally and locally, I suspect Curtis Fry would not have gotten obscenely drunk on his 21st birthday. He would not have brutally beaten my friend, Patrick McEwen, to death at Patrick’s apartment on South Van Buren Street.

Fry’s parents seem like good people. Had Fry been able to legally drink as a 14 year-old, they would have raised him in a way that prevented him from killing someone.

He would not be in prison today.

For me, imagining an alternate reality where a young man is not a killer and an old man is not brutally killed is compelling enough.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 2, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Gaza Flotilla Investigator at Iowa College of Law.

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Boyd Law Building

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer was at the University of Iowa College of Law today.  He is the lead investigator for the UN Secretary General ‘s inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident and the Mavi Marmara boarding that left several militant activists dead.  His investigation should not be confused with the recently concluded one conducted by the UN Human Rights Commission that summarily claimed Israel had committed war crimes.  Unlike the UNHRC investigation, Israel is cooperating with Palmer’s investigation and it is done under the more credible auspices of the Secretary General.

When I had Palmer as a professor in Comparative Constitutional Law, he was always very fair.  His views were somewhat more paternalistic than mine, but he was practical and reasonable.  The only major dispute I remember having with him was over the wisdom of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

Today, he maintained his professionalism.  His report will not be released until March.  He made very clear that he would not be commenting on the flotilla and he stuck to his word.  Radical leftist Professor Adrien Wing tried to bait him with a question that assumed his work would cause him to become the target of a campaign to discredit him personally and professionally and might even make him the target of violence (presumably by Jewish perpetrators?).

Palmer refused to take the bait and said simply that a person in the public eye learns to become immune to criticism.  His comments were the kind of steady, calm, and fair comments I would expect of an impartial judge.  I am optimistic that his report will be fairer to Israel than is typical of the UN.  With former Columbian President Alvaro Uribe by his side, I am doubly optimistic.

Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, September 30, 2010 at 12:43 am

Losing Iowa

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The Jewish WeekThe NY Jewish Week ran my piece today on the challenge facing Jews in Iowa over Israel and, to a lesser degree, other Jewish issues. Here’s a taste …

Iowa may be the Achilles’ heel in the fabled power of the Israel lobby. Unfortunately, Jews are losing the state.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses give it disproportionate political attention. Any serious presidential candidate must make multiple visits to the state to be viable. The lack of a significant Jewish presence in Iowa presents a problem for Jews in this country.

Most importantly, anti-Israel activists seek legitimacy for their efforts to delegitimize Israel. This legitimacy-seeking activity provoked candidate Barack Obama to say during the 2008 presidential campaign, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” One of the leading anti-Israel activists in Iowa set the trap with a question and Obama stepped into it. The Des Moines Register dutifully reported the story without important context that would have undermined the anti-Israel framing.

Read the rest of Losing Iowa at The NY Jewish Week.

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

The Atlantic covers Persian Jews in America.

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Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Jews can trace their history in Persia back at least 2,500 years to the time of Cyrus the Great, who restored the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile.  Sadly, in the last several decades, the Jews in Persia have been reduced to one tenth their previous size.  Most Jews fled Iran because of the rising antisemitism and persecution that accompanied the Islamic Revolution and went to Israel.  A very large number also fled to the United States.

The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Weingarten has an amazing piece discussing the recent history of Persian Jews in the United States.  Here is what she reports on Persian Jewish thought on the possibility of a military strike on Iran:

“Its very difficult for us,” explains Hooshang Nemat, the executive vice president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York. “You dont want to see your nation destroyed, and you dont want to see a conflict between your country of birth and the country that you sympathize with because of religion and because of shared history.” Nemat, a 67-year-old Mashadi Jew an small, ancient group from the Iranian city of Mashad, came to America in 1961 as a student at the University of Miami. He returned to Iran in 1972, and came back to the United States because of the revolution.

Like Nemat, most Iranian American Jews are against a military strike on Iran — whether it is from Israel or from the United States. But while theyd prefer a diplomatic solution, others say they would still support Israel in defending itself against a virulently anti-Semitic, and potentially dangerous, regime. Sam Kermanian, the former secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, believes that an Israeli strike “would be viewed as a justifiable act of defense,” adding that “the reaction of the Iranian American Jewish community wont be much different than the reaction of the majority of the people of Iran, who view the current regime as oppressive, and in conflict with the interests of the people of Iran.”

via Iranian Jews in America: Torn Between Homelands – International – The Atlantic.

This is just a small sample of what Weingarten shares.  The entire piece is worth reading and provides valuable insight on the views of religious minorities from Iran.

cross-posted at The View From Damavand

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 2:23 am

CUFI, Grassley, and being pro-Israel.

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Grassley @ CUFI

Senator Charles Grassley addresses Christians United For Israel on August 19 in Clive, Iowa.

On Thursday, I had the privilege of meeting with a lot of Christian supporters of Israel affiliated with CUFI, Christians United for Israel.  The degree of love and support I felt from these people presents a challenge to the center-left.

I am a Democrat and a liberal on a large number of social policies.  But, even when I acknowledged this fact, I was answered by the recognition that it makes our mutual interest in supporting Israel all the more awesome.

Christians for Israel support Israel and the Jewish people because of their Christian faith.  The believe they honor God by honoring Jews and Israel.  Unlike some Christians, they do not merely see Jews as part of some end-times story or desire dragging Jews into a war in order to provoke Armageddon.  They pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the security of Israel and the Jewish people.

Senator Charles Grassley addressed the group of at least a few hundred people in Clive, Iowa.  His expression of support for Israel and the Jewish people is a challenge.  It is a challenge because, as a Democrat, I do not experience such expressions of support in my own party.  I hear support, but it is often explicitly narrow support.  In offering his unyielding support (not necessarily uncritical – but certainly unyielding), Grassley challenges Democrats like me to do better.

And, indeed, we must do better.  Current polling shows that Jews are increasingly Republican.  Indeed, one third of Jews report being Republican today compared to 20% in 2008 and 26% in 2006.  Weakness on Israel among Democrats must be a factor in this shift.

How many of my fellow Democrats, for example would say, as Grassley did, that, “God commands me that I must pray for Jerusalem’s peace”?  How many would say that, “Judaism can stand alone without Christianity but Christianity cannot stand alone without Judaism”?  Among Democrats, would that line about Christian dependence on Judaism get the tremendous applause that these overwhelmingly Republican Christians gave?  How many Democrats would join the echoes of Isaiah 62 that, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet”?

Now, I know people who work with Grassley’s general election opponent in November, Democrat Roxanne Conlin.  They have assured me that she stands with Israel.  But, when Grassley expresses his support with such passion, it makes voting with my party a little more difficult.  For less active Democratic Jews, it might make standing with the Democratic Party much more difficult.

We Democrats must meet this challenge.  It is a strategic necessity that we not allow Republicans to capture voters on this issue.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, August 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm