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The gaffes, goofs, and gotchas of 2015
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The gaffes, goofs, and gotchas of 2015

Free at last. Almost. Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was finally released but can’t leave the country for five years. If after three decades in prison he wouldn’t reveal the co-conspirators the government was looking for, he’s not about to do it now. It’s time to let him go to Israel where he can be the poster boy for the anti-American far right. 

Drivers wanted. Saudi women finally got to run for office and to vote for the first time; 18 were elected to local councils. But there are still more Israeli women flying F-16s than there are Saudi women driving cars. 

Parenthoodlums. The Republican vendetta against Planned Parenthood and abortion rights galloped on while the GOP was simultaneously cutting funding for food stamps, maternal health care, and infant health and nutrition funding. They validated former Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass) observation that Republicans believe “life begins at conception and ends at birth,” and after that, you’re on your own.

Bible vs. Constitution. A four-times married court clerk in Kentucky refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because she claimed it offended her religious beliefs. She had no qualms about breaking the law, disobeying a court order, or violating her oath, which she did with the support of two Republican presidential candidates who have said they’d put their interpretation of the Bible above the Constitution. 

Booted. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) may have built a solid conservative record over a quarter century in Congress, but it wasn’t conservative enough for the know-nothings and Tea Partiers who made his dream job a nightmare and drove him from office. Apparently the new speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), isn’t conservative enough for them either. His brief honeymoon didn’t even make it into the new year before the long knives of talk radio and the Internet started after him for the sin of bipartisan cooperation, even decrying his “Muslim beard.”

Spilling beans. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was supposed to succeed Boehner until he committed the politically fatal offense of truth-telling, when he confessed that the Benghazi hearings were just a partisan hit job on Hillary Clinton timed to damage her presidential campaign. As if to prove it, a House committee looked craven in an 11-hour grilling of Clinton, who emerged unscathed. 

Does he or doesn’t he? In an appeal to right-wing voters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised supporters there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. After his reelection, he changed his tune, but nobody’s buying it. Similarly, Netanyahu urged his supporters to rush to the polls because Israel’s Arab citizens were voting in “droves.” He denied there was any racism involved. What then? Chauvinism? Bigotry?  

Tradition. This tradition is not what Tevye sings about in Fiddler. One former president of Israel is in prison for sexual assault, a religious Knesset member who preached family values resigned after being accused of the same thing, and a senior cabinet minister quit politics last week in the face of similar charges (making way for perhaps a new tradition: the first openly gay member of Knesset). 

Guns for terrorists. Members of Congress and their NRA owners blocked any move to deny people on the terrorism list from buying all the assault rifles and guns they want. In the words of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), that’s their God-given right, even for potential terrorists. 

Feel the Bern. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) made history in 2000 as the first Jew on a national ticket when he ran for vice president with Democrat Al Gore. A later attempt to run for president fizzled before it even started. But Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), a 74-year-old Brooklyn-born Jewish socialist, is mounting the first serious campaign by a Jew. Polls give him a decent chance to win the New Hampshire Democratic primary Feb. 9. 

Down for the count. Fighting Iran has been the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s top priority for decades. AIPAC expected, judging by all those near-unanimous sanctions votes, that its efforts to block the Iran nuclear deal would be a cake walk. But the organization suffered a humiliating defeat when it couldn’t even get the agreement to the floor for an up-or-down vote. Netanyahu lost all chances to help shape the deal when he made a dramatic personal appeal to Congress — arranged by his Republican friends eager to embarrass President Obama — to scuttle the agreement; he only succeeded in doing more damage to his relations with the administration.

Insult to injury. After losing the Iran vote, Bibi said he wanted to repair relations with the United States. He then appointed as his spokesperson someone who had called the President of the United States an anti-Semite. 

Profiles in cowardice. Most Jewish organizations — as did Netanyahu — quickly and emphatically condemned Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering this country. But not enough. Leading Orthodox groups were timid in their response — condemning the call but not mentioning Trump or Muslims. Some, by their silence — AIPAC, the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union — left themselves open to the charge that they gave their tacit approval, or thought it too politically risky to stand up to anti-Muslim bigotry.

Shifting fortunes. While the National Jewish Democratic Council closed its office and contracted out what remains of its mission to a PR firm, the Republican Jewish Coalition soared in the opposite direction. Much credit goes to its prime benefactor, Sheldon Adelson. The promise of upwards of $100 million in campaign contributions by the casino billionaire brought all the GOP presidential contenders to the RJC candidate forums — aka “the Adelson primary” — as they auditioned for Jewish money. Except for Trump, who said he didn’t need any money from the rich Jews and went on to insult them.

Takes two to tango. Secretary of State John Kerry wants nothing more than to be the man who brought peace to the Middle East. He has a few problems: neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian leaders are interested and President Obama has written it off as a lost cause. But look for Kerry to make another vain effort in 2016.

Phobo-philia. The presidential campaign so far seems to be defined by the candidates’ phobias: xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, epistemophobia, and phronemophobia.

The new bromance. Trumputin.

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