Adath Jeshurun’s 92nd Street Y Thought Provoking

[Archived from October 23, 2009]

by Shiela Steinman Wallace

When Congregation Adath Jeshurun decided to bring 92nd Street Y’s Live Lecture program to Louisville, they really gave the Jewish community an amazing gift. On October 8, the satellite feed brought two nationally known political commentators together for a thought-provoking discussion, and 190 people filled AJ’s auditorium to hear them.

Dennis Prager, an outspoken Jewish conservative Republican, and Alan Dershowitz, and equally outspoken Jewish liberal Democrat came together for a civil discussion of the issues of the day. It was surprising to hear how much they agreed on the facts behind the issues, even as they disagreed on the actions we should take based on those facts.

Both are strong supporters of Israel. Prager believes it is immoral to be anti-Israel and when conservatives control the U.S. government, support for Israel is strong while liberal leaders move us away. Today, he says, the liberals on university campuses are the most anti-Israel groups around while the conservative Christians are among Israel’s best friends.

Dershowitz agreed with Prager that many conservatives support Israel, but he also sees many liberals who support the country. He paid special tribute to the late Ted Kennedy and singled out Bill Clinton among others as liberals who support Israel.

He agreed that there are many anti-Israel voices on campus, but Dershowitz defined them as radicals rather than liberals. He sees his role as a teacher as preserving the liberal voice in support of Israel on campus.

Prager said today’s left have made a pro-Israel liberal an oxymoron, contending that liberals have abandoned the hatred of evil – of communism and Islamofacism. Dershowitz agreed with the premise, but defined that position as radicalism rather than liberalism.

Dershowitz believes it’s OK to be critical of Israel on issues like settlements, the rights of non-Orthodox Jews and the treatment of Arabs, but “we have less right to criticize Israel’s defense actions.” Prager counters that since we don’t live in Israel, “it is hubris to tell Israel what to do” except on issues that affect us directly like who is a Jew.

Dershowitz also warned that we must be careful not to work with President Obama so he does not move into the anti-Israel camp. It’s O.K. for the president to be critical of the settlements, he said, because he understands that Israel’s security must not be jeopardized. Obama has seen the security barrier and has been to Sderot. He rejects the Goldstone Report and the U.S. walked out of Durban 2.

Israel’s current situation is more dangerous and worse than any time since 1973, Dershowitz contends. He called the Goldstone Report an abomination that strips Israel of its right to defend itself against attack. Hamas puts children in harm’s way, he explained, so, according to the report, Israel cannot defend itself without committing atrocities.

Iran is also a major threat to Israel. Dershowitz stated that Rafsanjani, the liberal Iranian presidential candidate who was defeated in recent elections said if Iran drops a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv and kills 3 million people, Israel will retaliate and kill 15 million Iranians. The trade off will be worth it.

They agreed that they both have difficult jobs – Dershowitz faces challenges being strongly pro-Israel among liberals and Prager faces challenges getting his conservative views heard among Jews.

They discussed a number of other issues as well.

The final lecture in this fall’s 92nd Street Live lectures at AJ will feature comedian Susie Essman and broadcast personality Joy Behar. On Sunday, October 25, at 7:30 p.m., they will discuss life and their unconventional wisdom for others.

Tickets are $7.50 per person. Students will be admitted free with a valid ID. All profits from these lectures will support future programming at Adath Jeshurun.

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