Helping Authors Reach their Goals as an Independent Editor since 2009

It’s always gratifying when I know I’ve helped an author make his or her book better than when I received the manuscript from them, and even better when they show their appreciation with a recommendation that I can use in marketing my editorial and publishing services to other writers. Professor Dov Waxman’s Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel is an extremely important and timely book, just the kind of title I enjoyed acquiring when I was an in-house editor, one that I am proud to have worked on with Prof Waxman under the rubric of Philip Turner Book Productions. I look forward to seeing it in print in 2016. Meantime, I’m pleased to share his recommendation of my services:

“I was looking for someone to edit my book Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict over Israel (Princeton University Press, 2016) and my agent recommended Philip Turner.  His recommendation was excellent.  Philip turned out to be exactly the kind of editor I was looking for—thorough and detailed, with a keen understanding of my goals as a writer, my intended audience, and my book’s arguments.  His careful editing has certainly improved my book, and I recommend him wholeheartedly.”—Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies, Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies, Co-Director, Middle East Center, Northeastern University

Slight Sliver of Light in the Aftermath of Teenagers Killing Teenagers in Israel and Palestine

The families and communities grieving the recent kidnapping/killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are trying to console one another. From Times of Israel coverage today:

“The uncle of the slain Israeli teenager Naftali Fraenkel offered his condolences Sunday in a phone call to Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose 16-year-old son was murdered last week in what police believe was a revenge killing by Jewish extremists. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he too spoke to Abu Khdeir and, on behalf of the residents of Jerusalem, condemned the killing of his son Muhammad [age 15]. The call came hours after two Palestinians from the Hebron area paid a visit to the grieving Fraenkel family.”

Elsewhere today, Israeli police arrested six Israeli Jewish males, some teenagers, in the murder of the young Abu Khdeir, found dead some hours after passengers in a passing car abducted from an east Jerusalem street.  It was reported by that Israeli authorities believe that one night before the accused perpetrators grabbed Abu Khdeir, some of them tried and failed to abduct a nine-year old boy who, with his mother, fended off the attempted kidnapping. Finally, in a related development, a clandestine video recording had been made of Israeli soldiers arresting and beating a teenager, Tariq Khderi, who is an American cousin to Muhammad Abu Khdeir, visiting family for the summer. It has been a very terrible month in Israel and the Occupied Territories. When teenagers are torturing other teenagers, something is seriously wrong in a society.3 murdered Israeli teenagersMuhammad Abu Khdeir

The Times of Israel story mentioned above reported at some length on the exchange of sympathies among Jewish and Palestinian civilians, a slight sliver of light amid the bad news:

“One of the [Palestinian] visitors told the Hebrew NRG website that Fraenkel’s statements last week after Abu Khdeir’s murder ‘touched a large portion of the Palestinian people.’

‘I come from a bereaved family, I lost my brother and I have family that were former prisoners, unfortunately we also threw stones at you. What can you do?’ he said.

In a statement last week, the Fraenkels condemned the murder of Abu Khdeir, saying in a statement that ‘There is no difference when it comes to blood. Murder is murder; there is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for any murder.’

‘The moment we learn to deal with each other’s pain and stop the anger against one another, the situation will be better,” the [Palestinian] visitor said. “Our mission is to strengthen the family and also to take a step forward towards the liberation of my people. We believe that only through the hearts of the Jews will our liberation happen.’

He described the warm welcome the Fraenkels gave him, and said: ‘We are sorry for any harm against people, whether Jewish or Muslim. We don’t want anyone to be hurt, and want to reach a political agreement.’

The two Palestinians also described an upcoming initiative called the ‘Hunger Strike Against Violence,’ next Tuesday, on which the Jewish fast of the 17 of Tammuz coincides with the ongoing Muslim Ramadan holiday. ‘Palestinians that I knew wanted to come visit and console the families, so I brought them,” [Fraenkel family friend] Ostroff said. ‘The family welcomed them in a remarkable way. They didn’t even think twice to let them in; it was obvious to them that it was okay.’”

I will close this post by referring to a tweet I sent out last night, regarding a sober analysis of the current situation from a longtime Israeli security official.

Judith Butler, Once More a Target of Critics Who Would Silence Her

Readers here may recall I’ve written and shared about literary scholar and contemporary philosopher Judith Butler, a frequent target of criticism by right-wing conservative Jewish commentators, owing to positions of hers such as support for the boycott/divest/sanction (BDS) movement with regard to Israel. Some people in this debate–like Peter Beinart in his book The Crisis of Zionism–support boycotting only those goods that come from the Occupied Territories, not all of Israel. That’s my position, too. I’m not certain where Butler lands on that point–but regardless, unlike her opponents, I fully support her right to freely express herself and be heard, in all realms–political, critical and aesthetic.

All this comes up again because of a new instance of the Jewish establishment trying to banish her voice from the communal conversation. In the current episode, Philip Weiss writes in a blog post headed, “Jewish community commits intellectual suicide before our eyes,” that Butler had been asked to participate in a March 6 discussion of Franz Kafka at NYC’s Jewish Museum, but the invitation was withdrawn, owing to what Weiss believes was ‘pressure from donors.’ Weiss writes, “One critic said, ‘The hosting of [BDS] advocate Judith Butler by The Jewish Museum is a slap in the face to every Jew,’ Richard Allen, head of JCC Watch, told” This, all about a discussion of Kafka, with no direct relevance to Israel.

In the same vein of craven submission to angry types, the museum also recently canceled a panel that was to discuss John Judis’s important new book Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. Many Jews on the right are nowadays inflamed by discussions like these, and many organizations, whether or not they share the same conservative ideology, succumb to threats and pressure.

This is all kind of personal to me. Judith Butler and I grew up in the same Jewish community in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, where her father, known to all his patients as “Danny,” was a friendly family dentist. He looked after the teeth of all five Turners. He resembled Jack Paar, but nicer looking. Judith’s sister Diane was in my same year in school, where we knew each other. She moved to NY at around the same time I did, as part of a modern dance company, and we continued to see each other in the city from time to time. I occasionally heard from Diane about her sister, Judith, already then a professor, and a rising star in academia. She is an honorable person and a serious scholar. She should not be castigated or exiled for what I know to be an honest expression of belief, arrived at through careful deliberation and the weighing of difficult moral choices. As an example of her thoughtfulness, I submit this transcript of a talk she gave last February at Brooklyn College. It is well worth reading, and all in her own words.

Netanyahu’s Deplorable Choice

I deplore Israeli PM Netanyahu’s refusal to travel to South Africa for celebrations and observances of Nelson Mandela’s life. As a counter to that decision. I’m going share a celebratory photo of then-President Nelson Mandela taken with South African Jews. His decision shamed and dishonored the noble legacy of many Jews typified here, of Jewish people–in South Africa and abroad, the latter category of which I am one–who all worked to end apartheid in our lifetimes. Photo credit to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency who also published a comprehensive timeline chronicling the relationship between Mandela and the Jewish community.

One of the best commentaries I’ve read on this issue was by columnist Bradley Burston in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Nixing Mandela Funeral as too Costly, Bibi Shows World What He’s Truly Made OfMandela-and-the-Jews JTA. Here’s how it ends:

“Never has Netanyahu sent a message quite this infuriating, with so much apparent success. He is betting, apparently, that the moderate majority has expectations so low, its resources of outrage so overtaxed and depleted, its capacity for response so beaten flat, that it will do little more than shrug and trudge on. And this bet may well be the smart money. What we are stuck with, in the end, is the message that Netanyahu is sending to the world. The world that Netanyahu’s Israel is determined not to be a part of. “The whole world is coming to South Africa,” foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said at the weekend. The world, yes. Israel, maybe not.”

Judith Butler, Magnet for Critics, Voicing Truths She Sees

Judith-ButlerLast August I wrote about philosopher and author Judith Butler and her critics who wanted the Adorno Prize she’d been awarded by the city of Frankfurt to be denied her. I was glad that the critics’ demands were unavailing. My post from last summer focused on her beliefs about Israel and Palestine, and about the fact that in a twist of circumstance, I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, with Judith’s father as my dentist. I knew Judith’s sister, Diane. Our parents were friendly, too. As the tweet above indicates, this week Judith was again the target of critics, when a speech she gave at Brooklyn College drew protesters critical of her support for the B.D.S movement, which advocates Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel for its policies in the Occupied Territories and the West Bank.

For my part, I believe in co-existence and a two-state solution. I abhor the policies of the Netanyahu government, and believe that its construction of settlements on land that should be the subject of negotiation marginalizes reasonable voices on all sides, making a peaceful solution an ever-diminishing prospect. I condemn intolerance, hateful rhetoric, and violence. I do not share all of Judith Butler’s positions, but I emphatically support her right of self-expression and applaud the decision of Brooklyn College to uphold the principles of free speech and academic freedom, allowing her to speak this week, even in the face of critics who wanted the event canceled.

Bigoted Orthodox Men Deny Jewish Women Equal Status in Israel

NY Times article by Jodi Rudoren reports on appalling behavior by men in the Orthodox establishment that proceeds largely unchallenged by the Israeli justice system.

Carrying On the Tradition of a Brave Human Rights Rabbi

Dec. 6 Update: As of noon today, the NY Times article about the expression of support for the UN’s endorsement of Palestinian statehood by the rabbis and board at B’Nai Jeshurun was the most emailed story on the Times website. Also, for any readers of this blog who would like to discover more about Marshall Meyer, my friend and longtime BJ member Jane Isay reminds me of Marshall’s posthumous book You Shall Be My Witness, which she edited with Marshall’s widow, Naomi.

Though I have not officially been a congregant for the past several years, I was for more than a decade (1985-97) an active member of Congregation B’Nai Jeshurun, a Manhattan synagogue. Its lead rabbi during the years I was active, until his untimely death in 1993, was Marshall T. Meyer. I met Marshall in 1985, shortly after he returned to the United States from Argentina following a lengthy sojourn as a rabbi there, during which time he became an outspoken critic of the military junta that imprisoned, tortured, and ‘disappeared’ thousands of people they deemed opponents in the country’s “dirty war.” The dedication of the searing 1981 book, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, by Argentine activist and former prisoner Jacobo Timerman, reads,

To Marshall Meyer

A rabbi who brought comfort

to Jewish, Christian, and atheist prisoners in

Argentine jails.

After the murderous generals fell from power, Marshall served on the national commission that investigated and chronicled the full range of crimes and abuses they had committed, the only non-Argentine to do so. He told me in sadness that after his service on that body he found he could no longer be an honest pastoral counselor to victims’ families, having learned disturbing details of the torture prisoners endured; he felt torn between sharing what he knew when grieving survivors asked him about their relatives’ last days. Wanting to spare them more agony, they sensed he knew more than he could say. Marshall–who as a rabbinical student worked with spiritual giant Abraham Joshua Heschel, typing several of his book manuscripts prior to publication–had a big personality and was unflinchingly vulnerable. He gave and received a lot of hugs. When he returned to the States from Argentina, he soon became rabbi of B’Nai Jeshurun, then a moribund Manhattan congregation, and within a short time had made it one of the most vital synagogues in New York City. It even gained a nickname, ‘BJ.’ During his tenure, Marshall recruited two younger rabbis to serve alongside him there, Roly Matalon and Marcelo Bronstein–from Argentina and Chile, respectively–who fully took the helm after his wrenching death, at only age 63. Though I’m not much involved with the congregation these days, I still consider myself a sort of lay disciple of Marshall’s, and a friend to Roly and Marcelo and to the congregation.

As a reading of Marshall’s NY Times obituary will attest, provided here in a link and below as a scan of my original clipping, Roly and Marcelo carry on Marshall’s committed rabbinate. The NY Times reports tonight that the two rabbis, along with BJ’s longtime musical director, Cantor Ari Priven, and rabbinical colleague Felicia Sol, and the institution’s board, have made public an open letter they wrote, seconding the UN’s vote last week that endorsed Palestinian statehood. The Times article reprints the entire letter, as I will do too.

Dear Friends,

Yesterday’s vote at the UN on Palestinian membership was a day which will go down in history, although what history will write about it only time will tell.

In this week’s Parashat Vayishlach, Jacob battles with the angel and earns the name Israel. It is the first time we are recognized as the people of Israel. Our own struggles were rewarded exactly 65 years ago on 29 November 1947 with the UN partition plan that acknowledged the right of the Jewish people to an independent state.

The Parasha also tells us how Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau again, 20 years after fleeing from him. The risks are real — Esau has threatened to kill him. This meeting is the biblical prototype of confrontation between Israel and the nations. Before the meeting with Esau, Jacob prepares in three ways: he divides his camp in two, he prays to God, and he sends Esau gifts and conciliatory messages. These three tactics mirror the basic strategies that Israel has at its disposal: preparation for battle, prayer, and diplomacy.

We as a nation have had to rely on all three at different times. Today we feel it is critical that we remember the crucial role that diplomacy played in achieving independence for the State of Israel.

The vote at the UN yesterday is a great moment for us as citizens of the world. This is an opportunity to celebrate the process that allows a nation to come forward and ask for recognition. Having gained independence ourselves in this way, we are especially conscious of this. Every people has the right of recognition, every person has the right of recognition.

As Jews deeply committed to the security and democracy of Israel, and in light of the violence this past month in Gaza and Israel, we hope that November 29, 2012 will mark the moment that brought about a needed sense of dignity and purpose to the Palestinian people, led to a cessation of violence and hastened the two state solution.

We continue to pray for a lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors.

As soon as I read about what they’d done at BJ, I tweeted this out with the link to the Times piece:

Philip Turner ‏@philipsturner
Proud of NYC’s Cong B’Nai Jeshurun, its rabbis&board for boldly voicing support of UN vote for Palestinian statehood.

Now I’m happy to share the news even more widely, here on this blog. For the record, I will state that I believe in co-existence and a two-state solution as the best hope for resolving the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I’m grateful to have known and shared a deep friendship with Marshall, and appreciative of the legacy that his successors faithfully carry on at BJ.

Contrasts and Contradictions among Jews in America and Israel

At his blog MJ Rosenberg has a powerful analysis on why Israeli government officials have been so determined in their efforts to derail last Sunday’s “60 Minutes piece” on the flight of Palestinian Christians from the country. As I watched the segment with longtime CBS correspondent Bob Simon, it struck me that for decades Israel has benefited from the tourism of evangelicals and patronage from the same politically conservative quarters in Congress. If it were to be established that Christians are faring poorly and fleeing the ‘Holy Land,’ and what’s more, faring poorly and fleeing as a result of Israel’s policies, that close relationship could well become endangered, that is if American Christians were to become exercised about the fate of Christians of semitic, i.e., Arab ethnicity. This explains why the Israeli government protested the segment to CBS so vociferously even before it aired. Rosenberg points out this is also why, once it was clear the segment would air anyway, the umbrella organization of Jewish community federations in the U.S. sent an “emergency email to its affiliates and members” that read in part, “We hope that CBS will be flooded with responses through their inboxes, Facebook, Twitter and mail after the program to express discontent if it is as biased as we anticipate.”

Rosenberg writes, “Ever since the Likud party first came to power in 1977, Israeli propagandists have managed to successfully convince conservative American Christians that their counterparts in the Holy Land are Israelis. . . . But this 60 Minutes story revealed to millions of American viewers (it was the 6th highest rated show last week) that, in fact, their counterparts are Palestinian Christians who are being squeezed out by the Israeli authorities and especially by the whole settlement enterprise which is gobbling up their land, homes, and ability to travel from one town to another.”

Rosenberg concedes the “exodus is not the result of an Israeli policy to specifically target Christians and drive them from the place Christianity began. Rather, it is the result of the oppressive policies toward Palestinians in general—policies that do not distinguish between Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians.” The effect is nonetheless much the same as if it were the result of anti-Christian bias, with the figures telling the tale, cited by him in a parenthetical phrase: “(In 1967 Christians constituted 5% of Jerusalem’s population; Christians today constitute just 1.5%. Bethlehem, not long ago an overwhelmingly Christian city, is now hardly Christian at all.).”

In other news regarding Israel and the American Jewish community from last week, I was pleased to see J.J. Goldberg’s commentary in The Forward, What Stirred Hornet’s Nest?, where he questions the weirdly uniform series of attacks disguised as book reviews of Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, an excellent book that I have also blogged about several times in recent weeks. The pushback was overdue, and I’m glad to see it now emerging. The book deserves the widest possible readership, and the numerous ad hominen attacks on Beinart are shameful.

Blogger Philip Weiss also read the Goldberg column and makes a charge of his own in a blog post titled Why did Washington Post and NYT lend themselves to ‘unglued’ ‘angerfest’ directed at Beinart?: “I believe the New York Times and Washington Post‘s eager participation in this rightwing frenzy can be explained by two trends: the large Jewish presence in the establishment, and the rightwing Zionist character of the Jewish establishment. C.f., the Iraq wardrums in the media. Some day, Jewish and American historians will marvel at this.”
[I believe Weiss should have written “Iran wardrums in the media,” but I haven’t seen a correction yet on his blog Mondoweiss.]

There was a third related episode last week, when the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said, according to the Times, that he believes Iran’s leaders are “rational” and that they will not build a nuclear weapon. This remark was greeted approvingly by Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born expert now living in Tel Aviv who with Yossi Melman wrote a book for me in 2006, The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran, and with whom I am a nowadays a Facebook friend.

The Times reported that “Javendanfar told The Guardian newspaper that Mr. Gantz’s comments were ‘a welcome development’ that ‘takes the hysterics out of Israel’s public assessment of the Iranian nuclear program.’ Well, no sooner did the hysterics gets dialed down a drop than Israeli Defense Ehud Barak the next day gave a public slap to Lt. Gen. Gantz, saying, “The truth must be told: The chance that this level of pressures will make Iran respond to the international demand to halt the program in an irreversible manner—the chance of that appears low.” In the midst of this, another Israeli official seemed to side with Gantz, with Javendafar writing on his Facebook timeline: “Gathering momentum like an avalanche: today another former senior Israeli intelligence official voiced his opposition to an attack against Iran. Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet (Israeli FBI) until last year” who,”questioned Netanyahu and Barak’s leadership, saying he has no faith in them. ‘I don’t believe in leadership which makes decisions based upon messianic feelings.'”

Now, Saturday’s Times has picked up Diskin’s comments and reported on themin more depth with additional context. Interestingly, Diskin delivered them at a public forum in Israel, not in a liberal redoubt, but in the geopolitically sensitive town of Kfar Saba, where terrorist incidents have occurred over the past decade. From the Times story:

Echoing Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, Mr. Diskin also said that the government was “misleading the public” about the likely effectiveness of an aerial strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “A lot of experts have long been saying that one of the results of an Israeli attack on Iran could be a dramatic acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program,” Mr. Diskin said at a community forum in Kfar Saba, a central Israeli city. “What the Iranians prefer to do today slowly and quietly, they would have the legitimacy to do quickly and in a much shorter time.”

Not limiting his comments to Israel’s foreign relations, the Times points out,

Indeed, Mr. Diskin did not limit his critique to the policy on Iran. He said Israel had in recent years become “more and more racist,” and, invoking the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, said there were many extremist Jews today who “would be willing to take up arms against their Jewish brothers.”

The Times asked Javedanfar for his view of Diskin’s remarks, and in an email reply he expanded on his Facebook comments.

“Israel’s citizens would be forgiven for thinking that when it comes to addressing the Iranian nuclear threat, Netanyahu and Barak rely more on their own self-created image as the messiahs than mounting evidence and warnings that such an attack could be counterproductive. The public nature of such warnings by former intelligence officials puts pressure on Netanyahu and Barak,” he added, “because if they attack Iran and it backfires, such warnings could be used against both of them in postwar commissions.”

How to synthesize all this recent news about the American Jewish community, Israel, and the international scene? My takeaway is that in Israel–unlike the U.S.–there is at least some open and candid disagreement among officials and citizens over the country’s correct’s course of action. In the States, American Jews and progressive politicians are subject to attempts by establishment Jewish organizations and right-wing elements to silence people and stifle debate that is unworthy of American democracy. I would add that the split in Israel now seen between defense and intelligence officers on the one hand, and elected leaders on the other is worryingly reminiscent of the debate that prevailed in the U.S. before the Bush administration invaded Iraq in March 2003. As an American, a Jew, a world citizen, I sincerely hope the outcome will be different in this instance, though I’m very concerned it may not be. If you share my hope and concern, please lend a hand by sharing this commentary among your contacts and in your social networks. Also, if you like, the comment field is open below.