Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

The American Association of Jewish Lawyers & Jurists (AAJLJ) is the voluntary bar association of American Jewish lawyers. We are a national nonprofit association that represents the American Jewish legal community in regard to legal issues that affect, and are of importance to, the community, including; freedom of religion, civil rights, human rights, access to justice, social justice, and defense of the rule of law. The Association also represents and defends the interests of the State of Israel in regard to legal matters such as the BDS movement, and by providing opportunities for American lawyers to better understand the Israeli justice system and the strength of the rule of law in Israel. 

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Dear Jewish Lawyers,

 Another year has come around and now, as we head into 5783 the need for sage counsel is ever present. The AAJLJ has been making great strides over the last year, even if most of those are behind the scenes. There was a great lawyer years ago who said to me that “we whisper loudly” and I never understood what he meant, but this year has given me some clarity.

In terms of the briefs that have been filed and the more activist stance that we have taken, much has been done. Now, we are seeing an elevated level of engagement particularly by Board members in many arenas:

The webinar programs have been a great success and we are looking to strengthen those in terms of frequency as we have the quality in our ranks;

We will be building a new website, which will include the facility where members will be able to filter by locale and practice focus, to allow for easier networking
and finding local counsel;

A newsletter will become a regular feature, highlighting webinars, CLE’s and articles of importance to our organization; and
We will form a rapid response team for public messaging and constructive engagement on issues affecting the Jewish communities at large.

There are many challenges in the law at the moment, many of which will test our viewpoints as an organization and internally. I would hope that the AAJLJ can provide a rare safe space where these issues can be debated in a mature, congenial and rational manner, so that we as an organization can formulate its guidance.

A prime example is the case of Yeshiva University, Et Al. v. Yu Pride Alliance, Et Al. 697 U.S. ___ (2022), where there are diverse viewpoints within our organization as to the interface of state Human Rights legislation and constitutional rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression, between the individual and the institution. On such emotive issues which have a genuine bearing on the lives of those around us, there may not be a cohesive and unified viewpoint that the AAJLJ can articulate, but that should not stop the debate. As president, I was asked by members to issue a statement supporting both the YU and YU Pride Alliance stances, and declined to do so because as lawyers we can rise above virtue signaling and understand that there are many nuances in such a case. Not unlike Tevye who famously said “you are both right.” For example, one can support the YU’s constitutional argument while also agreeing with the opinion of the majority that local avenues must be exhausted prior to a stay being entertained by the Supreme Court.

This is just one of the examples where the guidance of the talent pool of the AAJLJ is sorely needed and fortunately there are members who are willing to devote their time, considerable skill and efforts to assist the Jewish community.

I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support and in particular Sharon Aleckson our executive director for keeping us on track. It would take far too long to thank each of those core board members who go above and beyond on a daily basis, you know who you are and you have my personal gratitude.

Rosh Hashanah is a time where, in our agrarian past, the main harvests have come in, the grain has been threshed and instead of looking at the world as finishing for a season, we immediately begin anew and look to the year ahead. We see this in Simchat Torah as well where we finish reading and start again all on the same day. This year of 5783 is a Shemittah year, one in which we could let the land lie fallow and take a sabbatical. Nowadays we do not have such a luxury, and neither do we as Jewish Lawyers. Unfortunately, antisemitism is still rife, wars are still being waged and Jews around the world need our help and our guidance in many areas.

I wish you all “Un Buen Principio” as my people say. May your prayers resonate with you, may you be well inscribed in all of the books up on high and may you be a light unto all lawyers.

Shanah Tovah

Robert Garson
AAJLJ President

AN OPEN LETTER TO TOM FRIEDMAN
By Harold Halpern

Tom,

I've read and reread your column in Friday's New York Times entitled, "Only Saudi Arabia and Israeli Arabs Can Save Israel as a Jewish Democracy."
This column reminds me of your Arab Spring article in 2011 informing us that the uprising by youth of the Arab countries represented a new spirit, a spirit of democracy leading you to urge Israel to reach out and make an agreement with the Palestinian Authority (PA) - as if that could be achieved unilaterally. I remind you that you were wrong. No Arab nation is a democracy with possible exception of Tunisia a flawed democracy, at best. Just look at turmoil in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq etc.

Now in your article you put the burden again on Israel to make an agreement with PA not asking the PA to mend its ways by taking a single step.

You don't even ask that payment be ended by PA to parents to honor their children for killing Israeli citizens.

You don't ask that the PA acknowledge the right of Israel to live in peace as a sovereign nation.

You don't acknowledge that Prime Minister Yair Lapid in his welcoming of President Biden to Israel reiterated Israel's commitment to a two state solution in which Israel and PA live in security.

You don't refer to the Arab nations repeated wars on Israel to drive it into the Mediterranean Sea starting in 1948 after UN authorized its creation.

You don't mention that Jordan in control of the West Bank, with all Jews excluded, joined Egypt and Syria's attacking Israel in 1967 in which it lost the West Bank. You don't mention that the Arabs after the defeat refused to recognize or negotiate with Israel.

You don't mention the surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur 1973 in which Egypt joined again by Syria and Jordan tried but failed to wipe Israel off the map.

You make but a backhanded reference to Prime Minister Ehud Barack' s offer of 97% of West Bank to PA ( including rights in Jerusalem) and minimize Arafat's rejection of the offer followed by PA's 2nd Intifada with suicide bombers killing thousands of Israeli civilians between 2000 and 2005.

You make reference to Dennis Ross, former Middle East Mediator, but make no mention that Arafat rejected the offer of a Palestinian state as Dennis Ross told me in an interview " Arafat just could not take off his terrorist suit."

Nor do you mention that the PA is corrupt, that its leader Mahmoud Abbas, now in his mid 80's, has no interest in an agreement. He merely wants to hold on without having had an election for 16 years.

Nor do you mention that Dennis Ross has repeatedly stated, no peace agreement is possible now with the current leadership.

Nor do you mention that 40% of the West Bank is under the control of the PA as provided in the Camp David Agreements.

Nor do you mention that the PA and Israel and Jordan cooperate on security - Hamas is their common enemy.

Nor do you mention that the sovereignty of the West Bank is at best uncertain. Palestinians have never had a state - not even one when Jordan controlled it from 1948 to 1967.

Nor do you mention the PA narrative that all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea belongs to us despite Israel having occupied the land as a Jewish nation for more than 1500 years before the Muslim religion was founded and the Arabs from Arabia captured Jerusalem.

Tom, Yossi Klein Halevi, the Israeli author said it best in his book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbors. To paraphrase he wrote that both Israel and PA have the same narrative that all the land belongs to us. But he urged that since we are unable to live together let us do the " painful" and divide the land. I, he wrote, will miss Hebron, where the Jewish patriarchs are buried and elsewhere just as you will miss Jaffa and elsewhere.

So Tom, when the PA is ready to accept Israel as a lawful country in the mideast with appropriate security requirements then Israel will be ready for a Palestinian state.

One final word. Israel is a Jewish state and a democracy - with its Arabs represented on the Supreme Court, in the government and all phases of society with equal legal rights; and so too in West Bank. International law provides that existing law shall apply and it does for Palestinians - they are subject to same law today as they were before 1967.

It is my hope that the day will come, the sooner the better, that Israel and Palestinians will live side by side, Israel secure as a mideast state and Palestinians achieving its national aspirations.

-Harold