Massacre in Rwanda

The Jewish Humanist, September 1994

Tutsi. It has the sound of some bizarre tribal name for Africa. It is also the name of a holocaust. Some 500,000 Tutsis have been massacred by their Hutu neighbors in a faraway land called Rwanda. Thirty years ago the murder of Africans by Africans would not have been deemed important. But in the age of television and Third World awareness, the Tutsis have turned into real people. One-eighth of their nation was destroyed by beatings, burning and hacking. The horror of their dismembered and floating bodies was captured on film and displayed itself on the television screens of the world.

The Tutsis are black. But they are not Bantus like most of the blacks in Central Africa. They are Nilotics, former residents of the upper Nile. They are taller, thinner and with narrower noses than their Bantu neighbors. Four hundred years ago they invaded Rwanda, conquered the native Bantus and pygmies and settled down as a governing aristocracy. The symbol of their culture was herds of cattle and the sign of their power was Bantu obedience. Like their fellow Nilotics, the Masai who settled in what today is Kenya, they saw themselves as superior to their Bantu subjects.

The native Bantus in the Tutsi kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi were the oppressed Hutus. They came to hate the Tutsis. But they did not have the power to overthrow them. Although Tutsis and Hutus were both black, they were and are physically distinct. The Hutus are much shorter, especially because they mixed with the aboriginal pygmies whom they had conquered and oppressed. The pygmies fled Into the rain forest where they still remain. Over the years Tutsis and Hutus lived together as lords and servants. In time they came to speak the same language. But the national, social and physical differences persisted.

In the nineteenth century the Europeans arrived In the form of Germans. The Tutsi kingdoms became German protectorates. After the First World War, the Tutsi kingdoms were taken by the Allied victors from the Germans and given to the Belgians. Both the Germans and the Belgians brought European soldiers, missionaries and culture to Rwanda and Burundi. They also trained many blacks to be teachers, administrators and military auxiliaries. In choosing to train collaborators both the Germans and the Belgians preferred the Tutsis. They saw them as a handsome race and ma desirable as allies.

When Belgium gave up its colonial empire the early 1960’s, she granted independence to the Congo (Zaire) – and to Rwanda and Burundi. But Independence left the Tutsis a vulnerable position. They were only 15% of the population in both states. They were hated and resented by the Hutus. The Belgians were no longer there to support them. The government of Zaire, a large nation of Bantus on the West, sympathized with their Bantu brothers.

In both Rwanda and Burundi, Hutu rebellions broke out reinforced by overpopulation and the struggle for land. In Burundi the Tutsi minority maintained their power. But in Rwanda the Tutsis lost their power.

The tables were turned.  Hutus now assaulted Tutsis. Hundreds of thousands were killed. Many Tutsis fled eastward to Uganda, where the black population was less Bantu and more Nilotic. With the help of the Ugandan government, the president of which was Tutsi, they organized a resistance movement to regain their power. They called it the Rwanda Patriotic Front. They invaded Rwanda with the specific aim of overthrowing Hutu power. The Hutu army retreated before them.

The Hutu government of Rwanda was desperate. Extremists took over. Using the death of their president in plane crash as a pretext, they mobilized the Hutu masses against the Tutsi invaders with horror stories of Tutsi Intentions to kill all Hutus. Ironically, the Tutsi soldiers did not Massacre Hutus. But the Hutu masses, inflamed by government propaganda and intimidated by local militias, turned on their Tutsi neighbors and mercilessly killed a half million of them.

In the end, the massacre did not help the Hutus. Their armies retreated to Zaire. And two million Hutus, fearful of Tutsi vengeance, fled with them. Today half the Hutu population of Rwanda lives hopelessly as refugees in Zaire. Their enemies are no longer Tutsis. They are starvation and cholera.

What does all this mean?

It means that ethnic holocausts can still take place without any significant intervention from the outside world. The French arrival was self-serving. They were trying to rescue their Hutu allies and failed.

It means that Africans will oppress Africans and that Africans will kill Africans without any significant provocation from white colonialists. African nations left to their own devices do not have a better moral record than their European oppressors.

It means that militant nationalism is counter-productive when two nations share the same territory. Separating Hutus and Tutsis is not physically or economically possible.

It means that the United States has failed again morally. As the leading power in the world, it needed to mobilize its allies and the United Nations to rescue a vulnerable minority from extermination. The Tutsis have a morally ambivalent history. But they do not deserve to be massacred.

It means that we, as Jews, the most dramatic victims of racial holocaust, must do whatever we can do to insure that the perpetrators and organizers of this massacre are brought to Justice before an appropriate international tribunal. Such a crime can no longer be swept under the rug of history.

China After Tiananmen Square

The Jewish Humanist, August 1989

The massacre in Beijing will long remain in our memory. The shooting of thousands of unarmed and innocent civilians by a brutal army shattered our hopes for democracy in China. What initially seemed impossible happened.

The context of the killings only added to the despair. In other parts of the Communist world democracy was advancing. The new Supreme Soviet was meeting with free and open debate. The Communist Party had been defeated in Poland in a free election. The Hungarians were talking about a multi-party system. Until this repression it seemed as though the entire Communist world was moving inevitably to more and more freedom and democracy.

Visions of a world of universal detent and disarmament, induced by the Chinese reforms and the Gorbachev initiative, were clouded by the massacre. The fear arose that Communist conservatives would be emboldened by this success and would offer stronger resistance to reformers in other parts of the Marxist world. Holdout tyrannies, like East Germany and Czechoslovakia, might look at China and find support for their stand. Reluctant reformers in the Soviet Union would see the possibility of changing sides and winning. Rabid anti-Communists in the West would use the repression to revive their paranoia. The mood of optimism might be turned off by new, doubts and apprehensions.

How justified is this new pessimism?

There is no doubt about it. The conservatives, the octogenarians and their henchmen who have been opposed to the speed and sweep of the economic reformers, who have spent their lives in the midst of an authoritarian and Stalinist party structure, who are determined to maintain the supremacy of the Party at any cost – these men have won a victory. They have persuaded the commanders of the Army to serve their vested interests and to impose their minority will upon the people.

The forces of democracy are in danger and on the run. Deng Hsiao Ping, the senior leader who had sought to remove the octogenarians and the conservative bureaucrats from positions of power, has reaffirmed his Stalinist past by joining them. A new sinister Triumvirate of President Yang Shangkun, Prime Minister Li Peng and Securities Chief Qiao Shi have assumed power. And they may be perfectly willing to endure international rejection in order to maintain it.

The picture looks grim. Is there any hope to be extracted from the present situation?

I think there is.

This conservative regime no longer enjoys the support of the people. The deep hatred and anger that the shootings engendered will not quickly pass away. The sense of outrage has deprived the regime of the legitimacy that came so easily in the days of Mao. The “mandate of heaven” is gone. The people appear to be deeply alienated from the army and the “star” personalities of the regime. Sullen obedience is no key to the long-run future of any government. Without some form of active public cooperation no army and no police can ultimately prevail.

The massive demonstrations of students and workers for democratic reform indicate that the Chinese people are quite different from what they were ten years ago. The new freedom in the economic sphere has inevitably stimulated the demand for more freedom in the political sphere. The expectation level of both the educated elite and the urban masses has dramatically risen. What was once regarded as liberation from tyranny has now turned into tyranny. Lowering those expectations will not be easy.

The old Stalinist and behavioral assumption that people can be conditioned to endure any oppression has been -proven false by recent events in the Communist world. In both Eastern Europe and in China public resistance has revealed that human nature is not quite so malleable as social engineers would wish. As Erich Fromm has maintained, there is a limit to how much control people will endure. In the end the weakness of totalitarian regimes is that they bump up against the resentment of the unfulfilled masses. Democracy may indeed be an unstable form of government. But so is dictatorship.

It is quite clear that economic and political reform go together. Deng Hsiao Ping gave the Chinese some economic freedom without conceding any significant political liberties. He mocked Gorbachev, because Gorbachev attempted to use democracy and an open society to stimulate economic restructuring. But Deng’s contention that one can happen without the other is false. Market freedom spawns its own restless energy. The free exchange of goods leads eventually to the demand for the free exchange of ideas. And economic self-reliance strengthens the need for political self-reliance. Russia’s problem is that its economic gains will have no future without democratic reforms.

Progress is never a continuing set of forward steps. There are always many relapses. Quite often the onset of liberation is preceded by a last desperate attempt by diehard reactionaries to hold on to their power. The step-back ward is necessary to mobilize the people for the leap forward. The new repression in China will only serve to undermine what remaining credibility still adheres to the Communist Party. It may ultimately persuade even the reluctant to rebel. There is a hope yet that, sometime soon, the tanks in Tiananmen Square will be replaced by a new statue       of the Goddess of Democracy.

A Visit to South America

The Jewish Humanist, October 1989


This summer I was in Argentina. I was in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. An adventure on the Amazon lured me. The ever-present political turmoil intrigued me. And the presence of two Humanistic Jewish communities in Montevideo and Buenos Aires aroused my missionary instincts.

The most troubled country I visited was Argentina. I had been there before, just after a military junta had overthrown Isabel Peron in a swift coup. Now I returned to the same nation immediately after the election of Saul Menem, a loyal disciple of Isabel’s husband, to the presidency of the republic. This election, took place amid the worst financial crisis the Argentine people have ever experienced. Rioting and the looting of stores had preceded my arrival.

I did not know what I would find when I took the hydrofoil from Uruguay to Buenos Aires on a cold rainy windy winter’s day. Would “the Big Apple” still be the exciting splendid city I still remembered? Would there be violence in the streets? Would the military allow a follower of Juan Peron to be the leader of the nation? Was the Jewish community safe or in danger?

My boat trip allowed me to reflect on the causes of the present Argentine distress. Once viewed as the wealthy land of cattle barons and gauchos, Argentina was now sinking, through economic distress, into the status of a third World country. And the cause of her problem was none other than the most charismatic leader of her history – Juan Peron.

When Peron came to power in 1946, he decided to maintain his power through the promotion of a political ideology which was half-fascist and half-socialist. The foundation of his power was a unique alliance between the military and the labor unions (“the shirtless ones”). This bonding was accompanied by an extreme nationalism which sought to dislodge all foreign control of the Argentine economy. It was reinforced by the personal skill of Evita, Peron’s wife, and the new welfare system which she promoted. Banks and basic industries were nationalized. Foreign investors, especially the British were driven out. New factories were built with state money and state control. Hundreds of thousands of farm workers left the pampas to find their fortunes in the new, jobs in the cities. The standard of living rose, especially for the working class, and especially for the friends of Peron.

So long as a devastated Europe provided a market for Argentine manufactured goods – as well as the more traditional meat and wheat – Peron was secure. Bu when Europe revived the easy markets disappeared. Exports dropped. But imports did not drop. The price of political power was that Peron could no reduce his subsidies to his labor allies. The imbalance grew, aggravated by the inefficiency and corruption of state industries. Inflation followed – at first slow, and then devastating. Even after the fall of Peron the military governments that followed could not reverse the devastation. The last military government, much addicted to terror and a sadistic fear of suspected leftists and liberals, made everything worse through a new free trade policy which bankrupted whatever private industry still survived. After years of protection, the fresh air of competition was lethal. Only borrowing money from America seemed to be the answer to these problems. The debt rose astronomically. And the economy collapsed.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, the city was much shabbier than I remembered it. The grandeur of a city that had tried desperately to be like Paris was still there. But it was faded and was in need of repair. There is no money to fix anything. Potholes fill the streets. And all construction has stopped. Nothing is being built. The country is at an economic standstill. The currency is worthless. In February, 17 Argentine australes bought you one American dollar. In July, it took 700 australes to do the same work. Inflation is somewhere around 12,000% per annum right now. It is so bad that prices are never posted, credit cards are never accepted and banks pay 1,000% interest on short-run deposits. Middle-class people with fixed incomes are sinking into poverty. Working-class people have no money to buy food or clothing. Only the rich, with easy access to American dollars, seem to be weathering the storm. An underground economy of illegal transactions is thriving.

Right now, in most neighborhoods, the people are too exhausted and stunned to rebel. They are also waiting to see what the new government is going to do. Desperation breeds hope.

The government is the first democratically elected regime in sixty -years to follow another democratically -elected regime a major achievement in itself. For the past six years after the disastrous Falklands War unseated the military junta, the Radical Party – and their leader, Raul Alfonsin – tried valiantly to reverse the legacy of Peron and the military. But they failed. They did succeed in punishing many of the military murderers of innocent victims, including prominent generals who now linger in jail. Yet, they could not rescue the economy. Foreign investors shunned them. And state industries resisted their reforms.

Now the Peronists are back in power. The military detest them as much as they detest the Radicals. But they do not want to be responsible for the economy. They would prefer to -wait and see -what happens.

Menem, the new president, is an enigma. He is an Arab Muslim who converted to Catholicism so that he could be both a politician and president in a Catholic country. He was a mediocre governor of a poverty-stricken province and was famous for womanizing and public spats with his volatile wife. But he is a sportsman and a demagogue, with the oratorical power to reach the masses that Peron did. His campaign slogans were hardly suggestive of a rational approach to the economic disaster.

But he has surprised everybody. His amnesty for army officers still awaiting prosecution was predictable – as well as his proposal to pardon convicted generals. Even though he was jailed by the junta, he needs to appease the army and his constituency will not object. Yet his economic proposals are a total repudiation of the Peronist legacy. He has called for the privatization of state industries. This revolutionary proposal would mean the sale of Argentine industry to foreign investors. Peron must be turning over in his grave!

Privatization means foreign investment and foreign control. It is a slap in the face to all the Argentine chauvinists who supported self-sufficiency and the anti-British war. But there is no alternative. Without foreign money the Argentine economy cannot be made productive. Menem took a bold step that even his more liberal predecessor was afraid to take. Sometimes radical action is only tolerated in leaders who are seen as impeccably conservative and patriotic.

Amid this economic mess the Jews of Argentina are managing to survive. With 300,000 in the nation and 250,000 in Buenos Aires, they are primarily a capital city phenomenon. Some are rich. Most are middle-class and professional. Some are poor. Almost all of them were opposed to the Peronists and supported Alfonsin and the Radical Party. They viewed the Menem victory with great apprehension. Visions of new repressions, anti-Semitic outbursts and economic chaos were part of their anxiety.

Right now they are less afraid than they were. Given the number of Jewish victims of junta murders, the proposed amnesty is disturbing. But some Jews realize that the amnesty may be the price that needs to be paid to keep the army from taking over. The economic proposals of Menem are heartening and welcome. Like the rest of the middle-class they are waiting to see whether these reforms will indeed be realized.

Many Jews, like other Argentinians, have lost faith in the possibility that the legacy of Peron can be reversed. They want to leave. But where can they go?

Europe is now the favorite possibility. Since most Argentinians are of Spanish and Italian descent, they hope to find easy access to the new European Economic Community through a return to the lands of their ancestors. It is ironic that the great-grandchildren of the peasants who fled Spain and Italy because of poverty now want to go back to their homelands because they see those countries as richer than Argentina.

While Europe is a strong option for Jews, both North America and Israel have great appeal – the United States for economic reasons, Israel for ethnic and cultural reasons.

There is a significant Aliyah to Israel. Most of Argentine Jewry is overwhelmingly secular and Zionistic. The synagogue is a minor institution compared to the independent day schools and private community centers which dominate Jewish community life. The two biggest Jewish institutions in Buenos Aires are Club Hebraica and Club Hakvakh. They are unique to Argentina and other Latin American countries. They are a cross between a country club, a cultural center and a school. Religion is almost nonexistent in their programming. Zionism and Hebrew are dominant. In the more hostile environment of Argentina, Israel is more than a romantic attachment. It is a real alternative.

Despite the barriers of Catholic culture, assimilation is widespread and intermarriage is growing. Feeding on the fears of Argentine Jewry for its future are the newly arrived emissaries of ultra-Orthodoxy who offer themselves as the only guarantee of Jewish survival. Their influence is increasing, despite the secular orientation of most Argentinian Jews.

Humanistic Jews in Argentina now have their own association with their own magazine. Their president is Gregorio Klimovsky, a world-renowned professor of philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires. Many distinguished writers and posts have also joined the movement.

Their task is clear. While most Argentine Jews are secular, they are not self-consciously or positively secular. They simply see themselves as not religious. This negative posture makes them vulnerable to all the new conservative religious governments that provide a positive affirmation of Jewish identity. The job of the Association is to offer self-awareness to secular Jews and to give them humanistic ways to express their Jewish commitment. Certainly, the Zionist and Yiddishist heritage of Argentine Jewry can reinforce that task.

Despite the economic distress, I was inspired by my contact with our soul brothers and sisters in Argentina. They are eager for contact and sharing. And I assured them that we in North America are eager too.

The future of the Association will depend on the future of Argentine Jewry. And the future of Argentine Jewry will depend on the future of Argentina.

Can the economic disaster be reversed? Right now hope is the best policy available.

The Fall of Communism

The Jewish Humanist, December 1989

Who can believe? The Berlin Wall is open. Poland has a non-Communist government. The Hungarians are no longer a “people’s republic”. The Supreme Soviet rejects Gorbachev’s legislation.

What does it all mean?

Failure of socialism. Socialism is on hard times. Plagued by the propaganda of utopian promises, Marxist governments have been unable to deliver on the promises they made. Eastern Europe is an economic shambles, with standards of living and levels of technology that would be unacceptable in the West. The socialist obsession with equality has produced rigid authoritarian elites who allow no space to personal freedom and individual initiative. The people are fed up – and rightly so. Despite its many faults, bourgeois capitalism remains the most attractive alternative for most developed and developing nations.

Communism is reversible. The Jeanne Kirkpatrick doctrine that Communist regimes are not reversible has been proven false. Totalitarian regimes can change without violent revolution and without foreign intervention. In the end, no regime, however dictatorial, can survive without the passive support of the people. Even years of indoctrination and surveillance do not work against profound popular discontent. Once the threat of Soviet military intervention was removed, the satellite governments in Poland, Hungary, and East Germany fell like houses of cards. There is a limit beyond which people cannot be pushed without rebelling.

Soviet Empire is disintegrating. The Brezhnev doctrine is finished. Russia will no longer intervene to maintain Communist governments in power. The test was Poland. When the Russians did nothing after the Solidarity victory they gave the signal to the opponents of communist regimes in the other satellite countries that they could proceed with impunity. Obviously Gorbachev has made a choice. The loss of empire is worth the possibility of European disarmament and the economic development of the backward Soviet economy with Western aid.

End to the Cold War. Disconcerting as it may be to many, we are losing our chief enemy. The justification for increasing armaments and warlike confrontation is gone. The Warsaw Pact is falling apart. And so will NATO. Without the Communist threat the political mentality of the West is being radically altered. Many conservative holdouts will decry the clever trick of Gorbachev to arrange for the dismantling of Western defenses. But their arguments will prove ineffective against the obvious profound changes in the Communist world.

Independence of Europe and Japan. As the Soviet threat lessens, the willingness of Japan and our European allies to follow, the lead of America will diminish. The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union will be followed by increasing tension among the Western allies, aggravated by intense economic rivalry. The American hegemony will be sorely tested in the years to come. Military competition will be replaced by a more difficult and far more challenging economic competition.

Victory of Germany and Japan. The two “losers” of the Second World War are now emerging as economic winners, with all the power that economic success brings in a world where nuclear war is inconceivable. With the possibility now that the two Germanys may ultimately be reunited, Germany will dominate the new federation of Europe. This federation may expand to include many of the countries of Eastern Europe now in the Soviet orbit. With its central location and enormous economic power, Germany will become the premier state of a united Europe. Ironically the two militarist powers of the Nazi era have discovered that military might is no longer the chief road to success and domination.

Change in China. Just as Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria will have to conform to the democratic changes in Russia and in other European Communist states, so will China have to conform. The aging reactionary leadership that suppressed the students in Tiananmen Square confront both the hostility of their own people and the hostility of the outside world. China stands isolated, deeply dependent on Western business and investment. The government no longer has the “mandate of Heaven”. In a world where Communism is losing its credibility, all Communist regimes are on the defensive.

Revival of the United Nations. With the end of the Cold War, the United Nations can be reborn. If the United States and the Soviet Union will cooperate the United Nations can do what it was intended to do. Already there is dramatic evidence of its revival. The withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan, the truce in Angola and the liberation of Namibia have all been engineered through UN auspices. With peace in the air, the world Organization will become increasingly more important in resolving regional conflicts.

New issues are arising. As the old conflict between America and Russia dies down, the world will be able to turn its attention to issues that affect all nations and especially the survival of the human race. One of the most pressing problems that have seized the imagination of young people all over the world is the issue of the environment. Environmental concern may be one of the major vehicles for creating new bonds between old enemies. It may sponsor the beginning of genuinely world legislation. –

Individuals make a difference. Whatever his motivation, the architect of the overwhelming changes we are experiencing is Mikhail Gorbachev. History is not only the product of vast impersonal social forces. It is also a script written by bold creative individuals. What has happened was not inevitable. The disintegration of the Soviet system could have taken a more violent and frightening course. One man triggered the revolution. Despite his limitations, he deserves our praise.

What does it all mean?

We have every right to be optimistic about the human future.

Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait

The Jewish Humanist, September 1990

Iraqis invasion of Kuwait came as quite a surprise to the world. No one believed that Saddam Hussein would be mad enough to defy the Western alliance at a time when he could no longer count on the support of the Soviet Union. Was this deed the action of an irrational man, a dreadful miscalculation? Or was it a shrewd plan to expose the weakness of the West and to mobilize the Arab world behind the might of Iraq? Only the unfolding of events will answer that question.

However, the current crises has made us aware of certain important realities that were obscured by the euphoria that followed the death of the Cold War. In the heady atmosphere of the collapse of Communism many naive people came to believe that major wars among nations would disappear and that military budgets would become irrelevant. But the Iraq crises has reawakened us to reality.

What is reality?

The end of the Cold War does not mean the end of war. Natural and regional conflicts will continue throughout the world, especially in the Third World. The manufacture of weapons is still a profitable industry. Small ambitious nations will continue to purchase arms. Some of them will even seek to develop nuclear arms. The former easily divisible world of Soviet-American confrontation may be replaced by much more chaotic and dangerous hostility.

The Middle East is replacing Europe as the setting of future confrontations. Muslim fundamentalism combined with Arab and Persian nationalism is a powerful spark to war. Add the economic importance of oil to the Western world and the intense Muslim resentment of the old Western imperialism and you have the makings of violent terrorism and war.

Despite victory in the Cold War, Western powers are very vulnerable because they are dependent on petroleum from Middle East. Even the trauma the 1973 boycott did little to persuade the Americans, Europe and the Japanese to reduce their reliance on Muslim oil. The fall in oil prices made it convenient to forget the danger. But danger remains. The West cannot allow the oil fields to fall into the hands of unfriendly powers. In a time of crisis, military intervention is unavoidable.

America remains the policeman the world. While the United Nations acted nobly in declaring sanctions against the Iraqis, enforcement of the sanctions been left up to America. Both the Europeans (with the exception of the British) and the Japanese, despite their economic power, continue to use American military might as their shield protector. This parasitic reliance is unfair. It gives America more responsibility t it can afford and more negative criticism than it deserves.

Iraq is the first Arab nation become a formidable military power. The Iraqi army I million strong) is the fourth largest army in the world, right behind Russia, China and America. For a nation of seventeen million people that reality is an amazing achievement. And if you add experience of eight years of war with the Persians you have a tough military force. America will find it difficult to field an equal number of battle-trained soldiers. As with Israel, size is no indication of military might.

In war almost anything is possible. Even enemies can become temporary friends, witness Hitler and Stalin, the Americans and the Russians in World War II. The possible reconciliation of secularist Iraq with fundamentalist Iran is a frightening prospect. Both nations feed on anti-American and anti-Israeli passion. Both nations are opposed to the establishment governments of the Middle East, especially feudal regimes of the Arabian Peninsula like Kuwait. Both nations want to raise the price of oil and humiliate the West through economic warfare. Both nations are in favor of terrorism and extra-legal violence to achieve their aims. If Iran accepts Iraqi peace offers and cooperates with Hussein, the American blockade will become impossible.

The Arab nation is, to a large degree, an illusion. There are deep divisions in the Arab world. These divisions were dramatized by the response to the moderate Arab regimes to the Iraqi invasion. A strong alliance of Egyptians, Moroccans and Syrians merged to offer its support to the endangered Saudis. Regional and personal hostilities are also aggravated by class hostilities. The have-not Arabs, like the Palestinians, are deeply resentful of the affluent Arabs, like the Kuwaitis. Hussein intends to see class warfare as. a weapon to Le-stabilize existing conservative Arab regimes and to mobilize the Arab masses to his side.

Oil and democracy do not necessarily go together. While the political system of the aggressor Iraqis is an internal socialist dictatorship, the political system of the victim Kuwaitis was an anti-democratic feudal monarchy. Defending the integrity of Kuwait, whose boundaries were determined by colonial administrators, is less an exercise in the defense of democracy than in the preservation of Western economics and world order. The endangered Arab states are no more respectable than was South Vietnam.

The crises has restored Egypt to a position of Arab leadership. President Mubarak has emerged as the consummate politician who has mobilized an Arab coalition against Hussein. For a long time Egypt was a pariah state in the Arab world because of its peace settlement with Israel. Now the Iraqi confrontation has put Egypt back in first place. If it succeeds in helping the Americans defeat Iraq, it will return to its former role as the center of the Arab world.

The peace movement in Israel has been dealt an almost fatal blow. The emergence of an Arab foe has revised the notion that Israel is an important American ally. Especially now that the PLO and the Palestinians have sided with the Iraqis, the Americans will be reluctant to push for the creation of a Palestinian state. Arafat, by backing Hussein, has given new strength to the Israeli right wing, who has continuously claimed that Arafat and his cohorts are unreliable and dangerous radicals.

The Jews are again in the center of world controversy. Hussein’s threat to punish Israel if he is attacked ties American military intervention to the defense of Israel. If the confrontation with Iraq is short, Israel will benefit from the victory. If the confrontation is prolonged, American frustration could redirect American hostility to Israel as the major cause of Middle East turmoil and Muslim resentment.

Hopefully, the confrontation will be short. But there are no guarantees.

South Africa in Transition

The Jewish Humanist, November 1990


South Africa is a troubled nation. I know, I spent three weeks there this past summer.

I was also there in 1973 at the height -of-the apartheid system. I did not – imagine at that time that-the whites -would yield- their power willingly. I imagined that only a violent revolution could change the system.

But in 1990 I seemed to be wrong. Dramatic concessions were made by the- white government. Nelson Mandela, the black leader, was released-from prison after 27 years of confinement. The African National Congress, long banned, was declared legal.

I was overwhelmed by the changes. I wanted to see them with my own eyes. I wanted to experience the difference.

Now South Africa is not a nation. It is a collection of nations. Situated on a piece of land about the size of Texas and California put together, it is the home of many ethnic groups. Some 35 million people are divided among blacks, whites, coloreds and Indians. The blacks constitute over seventy percent of the population. They are divided into three great nations, Xhosa, the Zulu and the Sotho. The whites number almost 5 million. They, in turn, are divided into the English and the Dutch. After three hundred years they call themselves Afrikaners.

Ever since its beginning as the Cape Colony, South Africa has experienced white domination. In 1948 white supremacy was turned into an official policy called apartheid (separation). Laws were passed that turned blacks into aliens, forbade them to own land in white areas, forbade them to live in white areas without special permission and confined them to inferior housing, school and work. Other laws were passed to reinforce this “racism”. Anti-apartheid propaganda was labeled communism and communism was banned. A powerful army and police force, assisted by black collaborators made sure that these laws were enforced.

Apartheid culture was the South Africa culture I experienced in 1973. It was a culture of two worlds. Whites belonged to the First World, coddled by affluence and servants, Blacks belonged to the Third World, living in hoveIs and reduced to walking for basic transportation. This system of contrasts was infused with religious piety and conservative virtues, which were intended to delay the entry of South Africa into the twentieth century.

However, ever since 1976, the apartheid structure has been slowly collapsing. Black resistance, which began in Soweto grew in number and in power. The white government first responded with repression and then responded with concessions. Petty segregation was ended. A new constitution was written granting the vote to coloreds (mulattos) and Indians. The past laws were abolished. Sex and marriage between, the races were no longer forbidden. Mandela was released.

Of course, these concessions did not come about only because of black resistance. The composition of sanctions by the world community, including the United States, hurt the economy severely. Unemployment, failing businesses and a falling rand were painful prices to pay for apartheid. Ultimately the white Afrikaner Nationalist government threw in the towel and announced its commitment to dismantle apartheid.

When I arrived in South Africa last summer the process of dismantling apartheid had just begun. The blacks still had no vote. The land was still segregated. And negotiations between De Klerk, the white president, and Mandela had just begun.

But there were many changes from 1973.

Hotels and public accommodations were desegregated. Blacks were too poor to use them. But more prosperous Indians were present in the hotels and resorts in large numbers.

Token affirmative action was in place. In many banks and corporate offices, black managers and executives appeared from time to time to illustrate the beginning of new racial policies.

Strikes and boycotts were everywhere. Black unions were demanding more pay and more benefits. Black demonstrators were marching through white areas. Black customers were withholding their business from firms that insisted on preserving apartheid.

Freedom had a new lease on life. Censorship was gone. The change was so dramatic that some liberals had difficulty adjusting to their new liberty. Radical anti-government literature abounds. Even Communists were publishing freely.

Politics were turned upside down. The right-wing Nationalist party, which controlled the government and which had invented apartheid, was now a party of the “left” committed to the dismantling of segregation. Disgruntled conservative whites had organized another political party to argue their cause. But their new party found itself in the opposition and without real political power.

White homeowners were now outraged by the emergence of thousands of black squatters in their neighborhood and on their beaches. With the past laws gone, many unemployed poor blacks had moved from the black homelands to the white areas in search of jobs. But there are no jobs and no housing, and no more places in the black townships.

Three years ago the squatters would have been ruthlessly removed. Today a timid and ambivalent white government lets them stay.

Violence was everywhere. Blacks were killing blacks in the black townships. The Zulus, an imperial black nation that had ruled all the others, wanted their share in the scramble for power. Their leader Bathilezi and his political party Inkotha wanted equality with Mandela, a Xhosa, and the leader of the African National Congress. White vigilantes were encouraging the Zulus, with the hope that if blacks could be encouraged to kill blacks, the whites could remain in control.

Important issues were hotly debated by whites and blacks. Should capitalism be returned? Should wealth be redistributed? Should a new constitution guarantee one person one vote? Should Afrikaans, the language of the hated Afrikaners, be retained as one of the two official languages of South Africa? How should the control of the army and police be transferred to a black majority?

Most whites in South Africa are bewildered by the changes. They struggle to cope. Some have accepted the inevitability of black control and are steeling themselves to live with it. Some still hope that the blacks will kill each other off or die of AIDS and white supremacy will remain. Some are determined to resist, even though they are not quite sure what they would do. Many are talking about emigration, preferably to Australia or southern California.

The Jews in South Africa are also bewildered. Still 110,000 strong with over half of their number in Johannesburg, they struggle with the emerging realities. Strongly Zionistic and religiously conservative, their leadership has provided a timid and cautious resistance to apartheid. The close ties between pariah South Africa and pariah Israel make them reluctant to provoke the government.

Most Jews are ambivalent about leaving. Their lifestyle is so comfortable, especially in a servant culture, that it is hard to depart in the absence of any overt assault. Even the reemergence of anti-Semitism among right-wing Afrikaners (who now blame the Jews for the demise of apartheid) is not a sufficient stimulus to start an exodus. If a black government retains capitalism many Jews will remain.

“So what is going to happen?,” people ask me. I do not know. If the Xhosas and Zulus get together, a black majority government with socialist edges will take over. If the whites and the Zulus get together, a black-white coalition may be the political consequence. Most blacks want the first. Most whites want the second.

But continued bloodshed and chaos could produce many other alternatives.

A Humanistic Jewish Education

The Jewish Humanist, January 1977


‘Education’ is a sacred Jewish word. ‘Jewish education’ is a sacred Jewish phrase.

In Jewish social mythology no ethnic group values formal education more than Jews. Going to school is so universally Jewish that not going to school requires an apology.

Jewish education began with the study of the Torah and the Talmud. But it transcended that parochial beginning and moved on to physics, chemistry, psychology and the humanities. The Jews became in the twentieth century the arbiters of intellectual achievement.

The secular state school became a ‘sacred’ institution for European and American Jews. It was the most reliable road to social advancement. What Jews could not achieve through pedigree and inherited wealth they achieved through certificates of education.

Jewish children night complain about the boredom and tedium of public school. But they never questioned its value and its power. Only the recent glut in the market of educational degrees has aroused a new skepticism.

The emergence of secular education created a new institution called the ‘religion school’. The ‘religion school’ was a kind of academic garbage can. It taught all those peripheral and denominational subjects that the public school was unwilling or unable to teach.

To Jewish children ­ and to Jewish parents – the power distinction was very clear. Public schools had the power to make you either a social winner or a social loser. Their rewards were economically significant – and their punishments were terrifying. They had the ‘with it’ prestige of the future.

Sunday Schools had only the power of the past. They were concessions to residual guilt, fading nostalgia and the pain of persistent anti-Semitism. Their rewards were economically insignificant (except for Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation) and their punishments were ludicrous (especially with the vanishing of the afterlife.) As educational places they suffered from pleading postures, resentful students and indifferent parents.

Sunday Schools and religion schools only work when they have purposes which the society deems important to personal success – and when the parents who require their children to attend recognize this importance. If the parents do not recognize that the religion school possesses worthwhile power then the children – who generally read their parents very well – will not.

Theoretically, a humanistic Jewish School is committed to a vital training program. Ethical education is the acquisition of ethical skills which children need for personal survival and success. Cooperative, generous self-reliant and rational people are usually more successful than their opposites in fulfilling their basic needs.

The purpose of a humanistic Jewish school is to help its students become more cooperative, more generous, more self-reliant and more rational – using whatever is relevant in the Jewish experience to reinforce these values. Since it meets at odd hours – weekday afternoons and Sunday mornings – and since the parents are the most important authorities in the lives of their children, the school is viable only if the parents make it viable.

Humanistic Jewish parents – who are behaviorally sincere – act in the following way.

  1. They find out what their children are studying in the Temple school and continue the discussion at home. They inquire about specific information and specific attitudes. They never settle for meaningless vague questions like ‘Did you enjoy Sunday School?’
  2. They never settle for a babysitting service. They insist that whatever time their children invest in the Temple school (including the Mitzvah and Confirmation programs) be related to the important task of character development. They are less interested in having their children temporarily amused or entertained and more interested in seeing a long-run improvement in self-esteem and ethical behavior.
  3. They do not treat Jewish activity as only vehicles to group identity. When they celebrate holidays together with their children, they choose ceremonies, readings and statements which strengthen humanistic values.
  4. They assume responsibility for the character development of their children. They are not afraid to make demands when demands are appropriate. They know that reliability and the completion of tasks are valuable moral skills.
  5. They let their children know frequently why humanistic Judaism is important to them and why ethical training is as significant to ultimate success as secular academic work.

Parents are ethical role models. So are teachers. They have to work together.

Lifestyles in Transition

The Jewish Humanist, February 1977

People in transition. We are people in transition.

We are moving from one life style to another.

Our behavior is changing. As husbands or wives, as mothers or fathers, as employers or employees, as men or women, we are no longer behaving the way we used to.

The change is overwhelming. Divorce is ordinary. Pre-marital sex is conventional. Career women are legion. Artificial birth control is the norm for American Catholics. Even abortion has become Italian.

The change is so overwhelming that we often deny it. It makes us feel so insecure, so guilty. We try to imagine that our moral values have remained the same. We try to avoid confronting our behavior.

Moral schizophrenia is the psychic disease of many people in transition. It is the self-destructive defense against fear and guilt. Our conscious beliefs go one way, our behavior goes another. Our stated values are fantasies. They are unrelated to the substance of our actions. When we are challenged , some of us get very angry because we are resisting the painful truth. Some of us shrug our shoulders because we are embarrassed by our own ambivalence.

Moral schizophrenics are always the victims of change. Since they deny that it is happening, they can never control it.               They simply change and grumble. Unconscious needs and dumb social forces push them on relentlessly. Their resistance, when it comes, is both hysterical and ineffective. They are the victims of their own cowardice.

Healthy people are always fighting ethical dishonesty. They want their stated values to coincide with their behavior. They want to be aware of .what they are doing and why they are doing what they do. They want to be in control of their behavior and to consciously select the changes which are best suited to their needs. They want to resist irrational fear and non-productive guilt.

As people in transition – who can no longer live according to the dictates of old social scripts and who want to preserve their own moral integrity – we need a healthy style for coping with change. We need to admit ultimate responsibility for our own lives. Blaming others for bad decisions may be justified but is generally useless. Blaming destiny or irresistible social forces may be accurate but is usually a way of avoiding doing anything. Peevishness is fashionable. If we cannot be in total control, then we will not be in control at all!

Assuming responsibility is merely the good-humored awareness that conscious decision does make a difference.

We need to identify our most important desires. A healthy life style should serve our needs, not violate then. We have to be honest about our feelings. Anger and depression are signs that we are missing what we really went. Pro-longed anxiety Indicates that we haven’t come to terms with what we really fear. We have to know our needs before we can choose to satisfy them.

We have to be able to put our wants in some order of priority. Since we cannot satisfy all our desires simultaneously, we have to pick and choose. Human needs are complex. They cannot be reduced to single desires like sex, love, power or serenity. Simplicity is intellectually neat but pragmatically naive. On a practical level, we are messy jumbles of wants, each demanding center-stage and enormous amounts of energy. Knowing desire is never enough. We have to figure out the order of desire. If we don’t do it consciously and rationally, then we will do it unconsciously and irrationally. The former procedure is less spontaneous – but it is also less dangerous.

We need to know how to make rational choices. Irrational choices are decisions that serve the interests of dead people – that serve the needs of ancestors who cannot be served. Irrational people are always citing tradition and historical convention to justify their life style. Rational people always justify their behavior by pointing out how decisions serve the needs of the living. ‘I can’t help myself; that’s the way I feel’ is the standard reply of people who are traumatized by ancestral disapproval and who refuse to take the painful step of resisting the past for the sake of living needs and future good consequences.

We have to be able to resolve incurable ambivalence. Most of us want both independence and togetherness. The current psychotherapeutic fashion is for people to say that they want to run their own lives. But they generally want to run their own lives together with someone else. They want the ecstasy of intimacy and the pleasure of separateness at the same time. Total independence and total intimacy are not compatible. If we want one, we cannot have the other. Self-fulfilment is more than selfish independence or masochistic merging. It is a good-humored compromise called responsible intimacy.

We need to know the life style options. The traditional world allowed only one script for each sex and for each class. The contemporary world is a supermarket of life styles. Open marriage, communal child-rearing, living together, single swinging, nature simplicity, leisure careers – are still novel but increasingly legitimate choices. Even conventional long-run relationships, whether in marriage or work, require new stimulation to rescue them from boredom. Keeping ourselves aware of alternatives is necessary for both hope and sanity.

We need to resist stereotypes. As: children of our genes we are indeed programmed. But our programming allows for wide options. Men are not violating their nature when they are soft, gentle and dependent. Women are not resisting their essence, when they are strong, aggressive and publicly commanding. Our society requires greater flexibility than the tradition allowed. We need to be more open to variety. People do not exist to fit life styles. Life styles should be designed to fit people.

We need to be individually real. Before the present transition family, work and ethnic identities were primary. For a growing minority they have become secondary, although still very important. This minority are an avant garde, sensitive to the problems of investing self-awareness in groups. Groups no longer provide the stability and security they used to. Being able to see oneself as independently real of any group identity is becoming necessary for many people. In a world of serial careers, intermarriage and feeling young at fifty, it is dangerous to find one’s self-image in a group label.

We above all, have to be able to deal with the value of the temporary. Our conditioning so values the eternal that we often view marriages and careers that do not last forever as failures. We deny the importance of our pleasure and our joy because it does not last forever. In a world of rapid change this conditioning is conducive to neither happiness nor survival. Seeing change as painful but often desirable will, make us less possessive and more attractive.

We are people in continuous transition. We need the skills to make that transition worthwhile.

Visiting East Asia

The Jewish Humanist, September 1996

I have just returned from five weeks in East Asia. I had been there three times before, the first time as a Jewish Chaplain in the American army in Korea. My memories of Korea were poverty and devastation. I was anxious to see what the economic revolution of Asian capitalism had done to the settings of my memories. China, Vietnam and Indonesia were added to my voyage. I had seen China and Indonesia a decade before. Vietnam was new to me and, because of the terrible war, the most intriguing of my destinations.

I was aware, from my reading, that great transformations had taken place. I knew that the most dynamic economies of the world had their home in the Far East. I knew that the old Communism had given up its ghost and had embraced the consumer culture. Only authoritarian regimes and empty Marxist slogans remained. But I was unprepared for the dramatic difference to the past. The new urban centers of skyscrapers, expressways, automobiles, high tech factories, shopping malls, banks and motorbikes startled me. American culture had crossed the Pacific and had made a comfortable marriage with the fresh ambition and talents of eager Asians. The “goodies” of the Western world are more fascinating to these once hungry people than they are to us, somewhat jaded from overexposure.

As a Jew, visiting East Asia is different from visiting Europe or the Middle East. In the Western and Middle Eastern worlds there is an old and significant Jewish presence. The stories of both Christianity and Islam cannot be told without the Jews. The cities of Germany, Russia, Turkey and a dozen other neighboring countries have profound Jewish memories, both pleasant and unpleasant. In fact, our Jewish ancestors helped to make them great.

But China, Korea and Vietnam have no long-run significant connection to Jewish history. We all know about the native Chinese Jews who had their origin in the arrival of adventurous Persian Jewish merchants in the days of the Sung emperors. We also know about the Russian and German Jews who found their way to Harbin and Shanghai in this century, the agents of an expanding Russia or refugees from Hitler. But they are gone, a brief but exotic chapter in the saga of the Jewish people. They left no imprint on Chinese culture or Chinese memory. Tourists can find a few relics of their past in old Kaifeng or in the fast-changing streets of the former international settlements in Shanghai.

Yet in some strange way, East Asia is very Jewish to me. The young people remind me of all those Asian students in the United States and Canada who are replacing Jewish students as the winners of the top honors in science and mathematics. They are ambitious for education and success, in the same way that the Jewish immigrant children I grew up with in the ghetto of Detroit were eager for academic and worldly achievement. Their faces and food were not familiar, but their values were.

Communism had not been able to destroy the Confucian values of family loyalty, family ambition and self-discipline. As a Jew, these values were familiar to me. They were at the foundation of Jewish success. Add to this the Confucian reverence for the written word and scholarly study, embellish it with lingering bourgeois skills in commerce and trade – and you have the perfect setting for winning in an education oriented capitalistic world. In many respects the Chinese in Southeast Asia are resented in the same way as the achieving Jews in the Western world.

My experience in East Asia stood in dramatic contrast to my experience in the countries of the Muslim world. In the Muslim places where there is no oil, deep poverty prevails. While there is reverence for the written word, the text of the Koran, most study and learning are directed to religious study. The secular sciences of Western society are viewed as dangerous and subversive of the faith. A powerful religious establishment hates Western culture and offers resistance to its ideological advances. Iran, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and many other nations live with this hostility and the civil war it creates.

What unites the Jews and the people of East Asia is an overwhelming embrace of secular education. It is the key to their mutual success. No powerful Buddhist or native clergy remains in the Far East to oppose the appeal of scientific thought. Old values have been wedded to new thinking, without the reactionary intervention of fundamentalist religion. The consequence is social discipline and worldly success.

Of course, modern urban industrial capitalist civilization has brought the problems of overcrowding, crime and rudeness. They are the unavoidable accompaniments of a dynamic economy. But the growing victory over poverty outweighs their annoying intrusion. East Asia is way ahead of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. In a few decades its emerging affluent nations may become the economic and political center of our planet.

It is quite possible that, in the twenty first century, Jewish ambition and the energies of the Pacific Rim will come together in a new chapter of Jewish history. Shanghai will not be Minsk, but then neither was London, New York or Los Angeles. Maybe the Jewish love of Chinese food is a prophecy!

Humanist Affirmations

The Jewish Humanist, Winter 1975-76

Humanism is a life style. A life style is a way of responding to our own needs and to the needs of other people. It is a way of coping with the continuous demands of our environment and of our society.

Coping needs power. A good life style makes us aware of our power and helps us test it. Self-esteem comes from the successful use of our personal power.

A humanistic life style includes the following personal affirmations of power:

I have power to live with uncertainty.

In most traditional religions certainty is regarded as a virtue. The dogmatic and fanatic believer is preferred to the doubter and to the skeptic. Believing strongly – in spite of the evidence, or believing strongly – in the absence of evidence, is reason for praise.

Humanism finds no virtue in the fanatic believer. The age of science is an age when all statements about the world are open to public testing. If they are true, they are true in a limited way. They depend on the stingy help of limited evidence. They live with the possibility that tomorrow they may be refuted on the basis of new experiences and new discoveries. They accept the fact that they are fallible. They are willing to resign from truth and knowledge when new evidence asks them to. Unlike dogmatic theological statements they are truly humble. They do not have to be true forever and ever.

The true humanist avoids rigid belief. He has strong beliefs, based upon strong evidence, just as he has weak beliefs, based upon weak evidence. But his strong beliefs are not so strong that he cannot alter or replace them. He does not invest his ego in statements of truth. He invests his ego in the skill he possesses to believe with reservation, to be open to new ideas and theories, and to give up what the evidence can no longer sustain. He especially values the skill he has to live with no answer to important questions. If the origins of the universe are unknown, he can live without knowing. The need for answers, the need for certainty is a sickness. Healthy people prefer responsible reason to irresponsible faith.

I have the power to be generous.

Traditional religions speak a lot about sacrifice. Sacrifice is the act of diminishing myself and my possessions, for the sake of others. Sacrifice is giving myself up to the needs of others. It is a form of self-destruction. As a gift, it can only give the giver a strong sense of guilt. Both the traditional Christ figure and the stereotyped Jewish mother are expressions of sacrifice.

Humanists avoid sacrifice. They prefer generosity. The generous person assumes that when he gives to others he does not take away from himself. Since his essential identity is not to be found in the things he owns but lies in his own personal skills, the act of giving is an expression of personal; power – the power to be useful to others. If I am a poet and I give away my poems, I can still write another. If I am a carpenter and I give away my chair, I can still create another.

Generous people are neither anal nor extravagant. They do not insist on receiving equal rewards for services rendered. They do not dispose of their own goods so carelessly that they harm their own survival and the happiness of those who depend on them.

I have the power to be attractive.

Traditional religion prefers humble and reverent people who confront life by denying their own power and by affirming the power of God.

Humanism applauds the humility of living with uncertainty. But it does not commend the humble behavior of prayer and worship.     It may be true that human strength is limited and that human weakness is extensive. But dwelling on helplessness is a lifestyle of despair. It is a loser’s lifestyle. It is transferring the survival technique of infants to adult life. Helplessness is attractive in infants. It is ugly on people over ten – especially if it can be avoided.

Humanists assume that they have the right to win at the game of happiness. They focus in on their weaknesses only long enough to figure out what skills they need. They do not arrange to lose before the game starts by choosing to be pitiable. Only babies and Southern belles have ever won with that technique.

Humanism, in the end, is an aesthetic option. It finds beauty in people who do not choose to whine or complain – but who dare to test their strength against the overwhelming power of a sometimes indifferent universe.