Purim and Haman Make Us Think Of Antisemitism

TJH March_April 1992, vo. XXVII, no.5.

Purim and Haman make us think of antisemitism.  

In America socially antisemitism has been on the wane over the past four decades.  More and more Americans each year indicate that they view Jews either favorably or indifferently.  More and more are willing to share clubs and work with Jews and even to vote for a Jewish president. 

 But, in the past year, political antisemitism has made a nasty reappearance.  Pat Buchanan and David Duke have entered the presidential race.  And their antipathy to Jews is quite obvious. At a time when most Americans fear for their economic future, the image of the evil Jew who manipulates the world to his parochial means is not the kind of political propaganda that makes Jews feel very comfortable. 

Antisemitism has changed in the last century and a half.  Before the French Revolution it was primarily anti-Judaism. People hated Jews because of their religious beliefs. If Jews were willing to convert to either Christianity or Islam, conversion canceled out the hate. Although there was a high price to pay, there was an escape from persecution and destruction. 

But antisemitism today is “racial”. Antisemites despise Jews because of their birth.  Jewish beliefs and behavior are irrelevant to the enemy. Conversion makes no difference. It only turns an ordinary Jew into a Christian Jew. There is no escape from Jewish identity. 

Antisemitism is also different because it has been turned into a complete philosophy of life.  The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, first published in the Russian Empire at the turn of the century, explained all the evils of the world in terms of Jewish behavior.  Earlier anti-Jewishness saw the Jew as a malign force but not as the malign force. For the modern antisemite, there is a worldwide Jewish cabal which conspires to take over the world.  The Jews have invented both Capitalism and Communism to confuse the masses and to set them up in hostile confrontation.  Gentile kills Gentile and only the Jews benefit. As Hitler said, the morally bankrupt Semitic tradition stands against the morally pure Aryan path.  Only a war to the death can resolve the issue. For the believers in this theory, persecution of the jews is never enough. Only a Holocaust will do the job that justice requires.  

For many many people antisemitism is a substitute religion. It explains all evil in a clear and simple way. It offers a clear and simple solution. Few existing political philosophies enjoy that charity. 

The emergence of David Duke to political prominence is indeed frightening. A Nazi racist and a Ku Klux Klan Grand wizard, he is the kind of political “kook” that you expect to find on the unsuccessful political fringes.  Instead he changed his label, abandoned the Nazis for the Republicans, and came within a political inch of becoming governor of Louisiana. For such a way out “bigot” to achieve the success that he did, his “defeat” was really a victory.  He is now ready to peddle his hate message in other states. Bolstered by a new face, new money and an adoring audience, he is raring to take on as many presidential primaries that he can get his hands on. 

Pat Buchanan is not the man for southern rural whites. His constituency is the reactionary right that draws its energy and inspiration  from the Irish Roman Catholic World before Vatican Council II. Both Charles Coughlin and Joseph McCarthy came out of this milieu.  book the Kennedys and the Buckley’s climbed up from its parochial depths. Anti-communism, Catholic piety and the hatred of the British with their internationalist agenda characterize this group. 

Buchanan has been an advisor and ghostwriter for both Nixon and Reagan.  An idealogue of the New Right, he never liked Bush and always suspected, quite appropriately, that he was an opportunistic traitor to conservative principles. The Gulf War was the trigger for the separation. For the old Right (as opposed to the libertarian internationalist Right)  the war against communism was justified. But a war to get rid of dictators, especially fascist dictators, is absolutely unjustified. Trying to create a new world order to ensure democracy, human rights and free trade is a violation of America’s best interest in a naive pie-in-the-sky ambition which will fail.  

For Buchanan the Gulf War with the sign that American patriots were no longer in charge of America. Jewish and Israeli interest had manipulated the Bush Administration into risking the lives of non-Jewish boys to defeat a Jewish enemy. And all of this talk was accompanied by statements about the exaggerated estimates of Holocaust victims. The inspirational leadership of Adolf Hitler and the determination to defend Catholic rights in Poland against insidious Jewish assaults. Jewish neo-conservatives like Kristol and Podhoretz have obviously repudiated Buchanan. Even Buckley chastised him at length in the pages of the National Review. But the frightening reality remains. A “respectable” Republican idealogue is sporting antisemitism and is running for president.  

What does it all mean? 

It means that a powerful political message has been tied to an antisemite.  Buchanan advocates “America first” and protective tariffs. In a nation which is rapidly de-industrialized and where hundreds of thousands of workers are losing their factory jobs, Buchanan’s message crosses the conventional boundaries between Right and Left and makes an appeal to angry union supporters. Buchanan’s chauvinism has the power to mobilize blue collar malcontents. 

It means that antisemitism is now politically “respectable” and is now an integral part of a political platform. Buchanan can disavow his Jew hatred as much as he wants, but his statements of hostility are a public record. Social antisemitism is annoying, but never dangerous. Political antisemitism is frightening. 

It means that Buchanan and Duke will be harmless if there is a fairly speedy economic recovery. There will be a peril to Jews and to democracy if this recession turns into a long- run depression. Desperate economic times sponsor desperate political alternatives. 

It means that the Democrats have a chance to win the presidency, if they can take full advantage of the present division in the Republican ranks, and if they can come up with a half-way credible candidate. Clinton’s alleged sexual escapades are not the most auspicious beginning to a serious campaign.  

Hopefully, “prosperity” is around the corner and Buchanan and Duke will fade into the woodwork. But then… 

Meir Kahane

TJH December 1985, vol. XXIII, no. 5

Meir Kahane.  

Some Jews adore him and revere him as a modern day prophet. Many Jews fear him and hate him. Most Jews regard him as a continuing embarrassment.  

Whatever the response to his programs and policies, all Jews are agreed that his publicity skills are extraordinary. Hardly a day passes without some reference to his activities in the media. He obviously has the power to keep himself in the limelight for a long period of time and to force the Jewish establishment to deal with him publicly.  

Although today Kahane is the only representative of his right-wing party in the Knesset, polls indicate that should an early election be held he would capture 10  percent of the vote. His bite may almost be as bad as his bark. 

How do we explain the emergence in Israel of a successful political figure who advocates the expulsion of all Arabs and who pleads that democracy is an inappropriate political structure for the Jewish state?  

There is no single cause. The continuous 40-year battle with the Arab world has created a war mentality that views all Arabs as the hated enemy. The frustration over persistent Palestinian terrorism feeds the hostility. The disillusionment that followed the inconclusive struggle in Lebanon searches for some Arab victim to receive the energy of its despair. The nearly impossible task of absorbing the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza feeds the creation of dramatic action and fantasy solutions. The decay of the Likud, Begin’s conservative coalition, which has now consented to share the government with its more liberal opponents, encourages opportunities on the right to recruit the devotees who represent the compromise. The long-standing Sephardic anger against the old Ashkenazic establishment expresses itself in a direct attack on the patriotism of the ruling class. Above all, the new immigration of ultra-Orthodox Jews from North America provides troops and fanatic fury for the street thugs of the Kahane movement.  

Whatever the causes, the Kahane phenomenon is real and dangerous.  

What is its significance? What does it say to us about the present and the future of the Jewish state?  

The Kahane phenomenon is a vivid proof that racism and fascism are just as Jewish as universalism and socialism. The call for the expulsion of Arabs from the Jewish state is no different from the demand of German Nazis for the eviction of the Jews from German soil. There are many elements in traditional rabbinic Judaism that encourage chauvinism and a violent hatred of outsiders. Given the privilege of majority status, the victim becomes the victimizer.  

Kahane, as a traditional rabbi turned politician, is an example of the danger in marrying nationalism with religion. The original pioneers of a militaristic nationalism, like Vladimir Jabotinsky, regarded the superstition and fanaticism of the traditional religious sector with as much disdain as their socialist opponents. Although it encouraged violence, it was free of the Messianic foolishness which now characterizes the new conservatives. Begin, with politicial astuteness, encourafged the merger of two previousy incompatible Zionist trends. The result is the Jewish version of the army of Ayatolla Khomeini. A militant chauvinism receives religious sanction.  

Kahane, like Hitler, derives much of his success from saying out loud what many people are thinking, but which most of them are too embarrassed to proclaim publicly. By speaking racism without inhibition, he makes it respectable. If politicians dar utter the forbidden words of racism, ordinary citizens certainly have the right to do the same. What was formerly clandestine, associated with shame, now becomes an accepted part of the political dialogue. Like the proclamations of the ancient Persian king, the sentiment, once uttered, cannot be recalled.  

The Kahane phenomenon is a testimony to the emergence in Israeli politics of violent confrontation. Although Begin’s rhetoric often encouraged spontaneous physical attacks on opponents in the streets, the recruitment of thugs to engineer personal assaults and public disturbances is something new and frightening. Especially the use of provacative insults like “traitor” and “blasphemer” gives ordinary criminals the right to pose as the self-righteous defenders of the faith.  

Kahane demonstrates the irony of Arab-Jewish relations. Its propoganda encourages the very Arab alienation which the racists claim justifies the expulsion of the Arabs. The more Kahane speaks and is publicized, the more do Israeli Arabs and their West Bank Palestinian brothers feel that they can find no comfortable place within the Jewish state. The more Arab alienation, the more Arab violence. The more Arab violence, the more the Kahane demand for Jewish counter-violence.  

The Kahane upsurge certainly reflects the weakening of the Likud coalition. Originally a small right-wing party controlled by Menachem Begin, the Likud emerged as a marriage between militaristic nationalists and the capitalist opponents of Zionest socialism. With the socialist decline in the mid-’70’s. Likud assumed political power in 1977 and expanded its security base by forging an alliance with the religous right. However, the retirement of Begin  and the revival of the Labor opposition, has left the coalition in disarray. No longer finding resolute leadership within the major conservative party, many right wingers are turning to the new fringe groups on the right for political expression. The more Likud decays, the stronger will Kahane grow.  

Kahane has been a catalyst for the Israeli left. There is nothing like a terrifying enemy to mobilize the indifferent. The one positive consequence of Kahane’s emergence to prominence is that he, like Jerry Falwell, forces lazy liberals to take political action and to patch up old quarrels for the sake of effective confrontation. By simply being the monster that he is, he fuels the energies of reluctant secular Zionists and their liberal religious friends.  

What should be done about Kahane? 

The answer is not one that orthodox civil libertarians like. But freedom of speech and political organization can never be absolutes. They are functions of the preservation of social order and a democratic political system.  

Kahane’s political party, like all political parties that preach racism, needs to be banned. Israel is not America. Israel is a vulnerable bi-national state at war with its neighbors. It cannot afford the luxury of racist incitement to violence. Just as West Germany appropriately forbids the establishment of openly Nazi political organizations, so must Israel forbid the right of Kahane to sit and preach in the Israeli parliament.  

Political bans cannot ban the convictions that give rise to the crisis. But they do remove the political respectability that enhances the prestige of organized racism and makes it more difficult to operate.  

A democracy that believes in survival does not masochistically allow itself to be used for its own destruction. At this time when Arab-Jewish reconciliation is so essential to Israel’s survival, absolute political freedom is less important than peace.  

The Rabbi Writes: Shula is Coming

The Jewish Humanist, November 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 4

Shula is coming. 

Shula is the famous Shulamit Aloni, the fiery Shulamit Aloni, who transformed the politics of Israel. Founder of the Ratz party, she was the first champion of individual freedom and women’s rights in the Knesset arena. Her courageous voice rallied thousands of Israelis to push for separation of religion and government and to demand the civil liberties that we as Americans take for granted. 

When the Labor government under Yitshak Rabin took power in Israel four years ago, she was appointed Minister of Education. Her predecessors for fifteen years had been the tools of Ultra- Orthodox Rabbis and the “yeshiva” lobby, funneling millions of shekels into the hands of religious fanatics. Her attempt to reverse the process was met with fierce opposition. Her bold articulation of a secular vision for Israel was labeled ” blasphemous”. In the end, Rabin was forced by panicky Laborites to shift her to the less controversial Ministry of culture. Even members of her own party turned on her for her “indiscretions” island sought to find more timid leadership. But the nature of Shula is to speak honestly and never to be intimidated. 

With the arrival of Netanyahu, Shula became part of the opposition.  She understands that there are two urgent causes for those who are concerned about the survival of Israel.  The first is the development of a strong secular humanistic movement in Israel, which will offer effective resistance to Orthodox demands and which will provide a positive Jewish alternative.  Shula was instrumental in helping to launch Secular Humanistic Judaism in Israel after her 1979 visit to the Birmingham Temple.  The second is the defense of the peace process which Rabin and Peres initiated and which Netanyahu is in the process of destroying. 

The threat to the security and survival of Israel provided by the intransigence of Netanyahu is enormous. Bibi talks peace but he is unwilling to make any concessions which will make peace between Jew and Arab possible. This inflexibility flows both from personal conviction and political necessity. He is totally dependent on the votes of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset to guarantee the viability of his government. 

The consequences of his intransigence are frightening. Credibility and authority of the government will collapse. Chaos among the Palestinians will ensue. Some Palestinians will renew the Intifada. Many Palestinians will turn to the fundamentalist Hamas as an alternative leadership. The moderate Arab regimes of Mubarak in Egypt and Hussein in Jordan, which committed their prestige to the peace process, will be in danger. The Israeli army, prodded by the insecurities of Orthodox settlers, will engage in a campaign of repression which will alienate American and world opinion. Israel will be isolated, surrounded by fierce and fanatic enemies, fighting a war that cannot be won. The conflict will stimulate fear and chauvinism in the Israeli public and make them prone to increasing Orthodox control. The vision of a free secular democratic Jewish state will die. 

The peace process was intended to initiate a different scenario. The Israelis would evacuate Gaza and the West Bank, including Hebron. A Palestinian state would emerge next to the Jewish state. Peace would strengthen Mubarak and Hussein in Egypt and Jordan, who would offer their support to guarantee that Arafat behaved and that the fundamentalist were restrained. The reality of Peace would persuade other Arab and Muslim states to abandon their hostility and to enter into a friendly relationship with Israel. The intransigent government of Gadhafi in Libya, Bashir in the Sudan (sic) and Assad in Syria would be isolated. In time the Arab and Muslim worlds would open up to Israeli know how and technological skills. Israel would function as a high-tech Hong Kong or Singapore in a Middle Eastern Muslim sea. The secular forces in the Arab world would be encouraged by these transformations to resist their fundamentalist enemies. Israel would be smaller but safer, a partner in projects of economic cooperation. Hate and distrust would continue. But they would be controlled by the growing possibility of mutual respect and mutual dependence.  

The dream of this second scenario cannot be allowed to die.  Israelis who supported the peace process and who suffered the cruel disappointment of losing the May election need to know that there are thousands of Jews in the Diaspora who support their cause and who are prepared to act on behalf of the vision of Rabin and Peres.  Many of these Jews are in America the nation that has the power and vested interest to pressure the Israeli government to change its course. 

On Monday evening November 18 at 8:30PM Shula will be in the Birmingham Temple to speak to us about Israel and peace.  This meeting will be a Rally for Peace.  All members of the Birmingham Temple-all members of the Jewish community-all concerned citizens who believe that the peace process must not be allowed to die and that Netanyahu must be persuaded to reverse his course of self-destruction are urged to attend. 

We must join Shula in offering resistance to this act of national suicide.  Those in power, in both Israel and the United States must hear our voice.  Silence and resignation are ethically unacceptable. 

Rabin died because he would not surrender to the demands of inflexible nationalism.  Today his assassin, Yigal Amir, is being honored by Orthodox fan clubs who celebrate his act of “patriotism”.  If we are appalled by this indecency, if we do not believe that these demonstrators speak on behalf of most of the Jewish people.  If we are passionate about the long-run survival of the Jewish people, then we will make it our business to attend the rally on November 18 to hear Shula and to offer our support to the struggle for peace. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, August 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 1

Challenge is what makes life exciting.  Every human being, every human community, grow (sic) stronger confronting difficult challenges optimistically and discovering their own power and talent. 

In the next five years, the Temple will be passing through an important transition.   A new rabbi will become your leader.  Over the last 33 years I have worked, together with you, to create the Birmingham Temple and Humanistic Judaism.  What we achieved is not trivial.  We turned a set of shared personal connections into a living community and vital movement.  A new and important Jewish voice is heard in Detroit and in other places throughout the world. 

Over the last three decades we have faced many formidable challenges.  Creating a movement from scratch is not easy, especially when there is strong hostility from the outside world  But we were determined.  We recruited members.  We invented celebrations.  We educated children and adults, we turned our ethics into social action.  We built our Temple home.  We created brother and sister communities all over North America. 

Along the way we made profound friendships and supported each other through both pain and pleasure.  The voice of Humanistic Judaism in Detroit comes out of a body of vital and intense human connections. 

The Jewish world of 1996 is different from that of 1963.  The Jewish community is aging.  The priorities of Jewish young people in a mobile age are different from the needs of traditional families.  Intermarriage is creating a Jewish milieu with fuzzier boundaries and with less attachment to ethnic memories.  The rising power of the new Militant Orthodoxy is providing a dangerous well-organized and aggressive assault on the secular and humanistic values of a free society. 

In the new context we have to recruit new members.  We have to pay for the basic needs of our community.  We have to invest in the future of our Temple family.  We have to mobilize the talents and resources of our members to deal with the changing world.  We have to clarify our vision.  We have to choose a new rabbi  And we need to do all of this with a strong sense of community solidarity. 

The best way to guarantee our future is to take action.  Whatever action we take should be part of a long-run vision and an intense personal commitment.  We have to see ourselves leading our congregation into the twenty-first century.  We  need a “Five Year Plan” that will give us a dramatic push forward. 

Such a “Five Year Plan” will require us to take the following bold actions. 

We need to mobilize as many members as possible to make a special five-year money contribution to pay for all the initiatives we need to undertake.  Already generous people  have pledged to cover whatever deficits will occur during this transition period and to finance the search for a new rabbi and the creation of new programs. 

We  need to find new and better ways to publicize and “market” the wonderful programs we presently have.  Many people who are potential members and supporters of the Birmingham Temple do not know who we are and what we do. We need to increase our visibility by targeting special audiences.  Already an enthusiastic new marketing committee has been established.  With proper funding it should be able to make a significant difference. 

We  need to “pursue” potential new members more aggressively and more creatively.  We need to identify the different needs of different people which we are able to serve and to let them know the benefits that they will receive by joining our community.  We need to persuade the “children” of our congregation who are now adults and who identify with the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism to become dues-paying members.  We need to solicit the financial support of the hundreds of people who attend our programs and use our services but who have not expressed their appreciation in a financial way. 

We need to brainstorm new ways to freshen and improve our celebration of life so that Shabbat and the holidays will offer opportunities not only of intellectual stimulation, but also emotional intensity and aesthetic satisfaction.  The celebration needs of the next generation may be different from those of their parents and grandparents,  The service has to provide the Jewish environment that no longer exists in the outside world. 

We need to establish an effective way to identify my successor.  A search committee has already been created.  We need to remember that the International Institute is presently involved in training able men and women to become Humanistic rabbis. 

We need to involve as many people as possible in the process of creative thinking.  Every member should have the opportunity to make his or her own personal five-year commitment. 

I am optimistic about the future of the Birmingham Temple. 

We have a (sic) unique and important Jewish message.  We have a membership with enormous talents and strong commitment.  We have a vital community bound together by friendship and mutual support.  We have a movement to give our Temple philosophy a place in the Jewish universe.  We have a Jewish world that needs an imaginative secular option. We have a Temple tradition of courageous and creative responses to challenge.   

I have made my commitment to the “Five Year Plan”.  We need yours too. 

The Rabbi Writes: Is Sherwin Wine Retiring?

The Jewish Humanist, September 1992, Vol. XXIX, Number 2

Is Sherwin Wine retiring? And, if he is, when is he retiring?  

These questions are being asked by a lot of people (sic) especially members of the Temple family. Up until now the answers have been rumors, many of them inaccurate. 

The questions are justified. I am 64 years old, energetic and in good health but, like all people vulnerable to surprise disasters. What if something terrible should happen to me? What would be the future of the Birmingham Temple. (sic

In response to this anxiety a special committee was established to deal with the problem. After all, it was clear that we should be prepared for whatever the future would bring, that an orderly well-planned search for my successor should begin. Even money was raised to finance a search and to provide for the costs of transition. 

As time passed certain realities intruded that would serve as the guidelines for the transition. The first was that the Temple cannot afford to support two rabbis for more than one year. If a suitable assistant or successor should emerge, the transition period could not exceed one year. The second was that important projects, which are necessary to strengthen the Temple and guarantee its future are incomplete and require my participation. The most important of these projects is the building of an educational wing called the Center for Humanistic Judaism. The third was that my retirement plan, which was started late, will not be complete until 1998 when I will be 70. I am not financially able to retire before I am 70.  

Therefore, the answers to the first two questions are quite clear.  I will retire in June, 1998.  Hopefully, in July 1997 my successor will join me for a year of transition and preparation. 

During the next five years many things can be done to ensure that a suitable successor is found. The Birmingham Temple and Humanistic Judaism have been my life for the past 30 years. And nothing is more important to me than that the right person is chosen to be my successor. 

What is the right person? 

The right person must be able to be or do the following things: 

✔ Must be an ordained Rabbi. 

✔ Must be committed to the philosophy and future of Humanistic Judaism. 

✔ Must be young enough to invest his or her life in the Temple but mature enough to have authority. 

✔ Must win the approval and support of an overwhelming majority of the Temple family.  

What can we do during the next five years to find such a person? 

We can establish a positive, ongoing relationship with the students in the Rabbinic Program of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism.  The Institute was established six years ago by the International Federation to train professional leaders for our movement. The Rabbinic Program has opened in North America this year. The Program is a five-year undergraduate program, which includes the acquisition of a doctorate in Judaic Studies or philosophy from a secular university.  Three students have enrolled in the program, two women and one man.  They are eager to do part of their field work training at the Birmingham Temple. We will have the opportunity to experience their skills and personality and to establish a long- run, meaningful connection. They will have the opportunity to understand how to serve the needs of Humanistic Jews in a congregational setting. One of them, or some future student, may indeed be the leader we are looking for.  I hope that you will meet the three students this month when they will participate with me as readers in the High Holiday services. It would be wonderful if my successor would emerge out of our own movement and would be trained to be a rabbi within the framework of our own philosophy. 

We can establish a positive ongoing relationship with rabbis and Jewish academic figures out in the Jewish world who either identify with or favor Humanistic Judaism.  The would collectively constitute a pool of prospective successors who might be available for consideration when the transition period arrives.  They will be invited to be speakers for Shabbat services and special study sessions so that they can become familiar with the Birmingham Temple and we can become familiar with them. If the chemistry is right, some of them may be invited back on a regular basis to reinforce the connection. If an emergency occurs, they, like the rabbinic students, would be available to respond.  

It is very important to remember that for a Reform or Reconstructionist rabbit, becoming a Humanistic rabbi is a dramatic step. Having once closed the bridge, he or she cannot return. 

I am optimistic that over the next five years, we shall become familiar with a pool of suitable candidates, from among whom we can choose my successor. During this time we shall be able to strengthen the congregation and make Humanistic Judaism a more attractive option to both prospective members and leaders. 

Choosing the next rabbi at the Birmingham Temple is one of the most important decisions we need to make. It must be done carefully and with a full and realistic awareness of all the resources that are available. Right now there are many things we can do to get ready for 1998. I do not doubt that, if we remain true to our historic purpose, we will find the future leader we need and want.  

The Rabbi Writes: Bush or Clinton

The Jewish Humanist, October 1992, Vol. XXIX, Number 3

Bush or Clinton? 

Ever since the frightening Republican convention the choice has been very clear to me.  The economic agenda which won the victory for Ronald Reagan in 1980, has been abandoned.  The social agenda of the radical right, with its hatred of feminists, atheists, homsexuals and Jews, has taken its place at the center of the Republican stage.   “Family values” is the front cliche for all this hatred and meanness. 

The social agenda of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson will win the hearts of a large vocal minority of the American people.  But it is not high on the priority list of most Americans.  Most Americans are worried about the economy and about their jobs.  Most Americans belong to the vulnerable and battered middle class who are experiencing a fall in their standard of living and who are losing hope in the economic future of America.  Most Americans now belong to “unconventional” families where women are forced to work outside their homes and where the traditional support systems are no longer available, even through prayer.   

The setting of this election is a terrifying economic recession.  This recession does not appear to be a short-run relapse like the recessions of the past.  It is a symptom of a major structural fault in our economy as it encounters new technology and international competition.  People are frightened and apprehensive.  They need to be assured about their jobs and their homes.  They need hope.  That was the genius of Reagan.  He always conveyed hope. 

This election has been both tedious and exciting.  The endless primaries were tedious.  The arrival and departure of Perot was exciting.  Perot was a major threat to both Bush and Clinton.  He seemed to have the power to galvanize the moderates among both the Republicans and the Democrats around a single candidate.  The moderates are the American Center, the largest potential political bloc in this nation.  The moderates are the people who are wary of the social agenda of the Right and the welfare agenda of the Left.  The moderates are the American middle class whose support is essential for a presidential victory.  If Perot had brought them together into a third party, he would have radically altered the character of American politics.  But he turned out to be an enormous disappointment, a billionaire eccentric with megalomaniac manners and with a skin too thin for ordinary politics. 

Of course, political campaigns are no cup of tea.  If an age where television images dominate and privacy is impossible, running for public office is akin to running naked in the streets with all your warts and pimples exposed.  There is no question anymore that is outrageous.  There is no personal detail that the public does not have the right to know.  Democracy and equality have removed any possibility of remaining a mysterious aristocrat.  Sleeze is the gossip of the masses turned into a political weapon.  You have to be a monk, starting in the womb, in order to plan a successful political career.  Or you have to be bland enough to have avoided doing anything interesting. 

The Republican concession to feminism is to have two wives offer their endorsement of their husbands.  Women blame the “kosherizers” of the social agenda.  Mean spirited Marilyn Quayle and her limited husband are two of the best reasons to vote for Clinton.  What if something should happen to Bush and these two darlings of the religious right should take over the White House? The thought is terrifying. 

Now the Clinton alternative is not all roses.  Clinton is an attractive, bright man with enormous political savvy.  He is smart enough to know that victory goes to the candidate who captures the Center.  Roosevelt sailed to victory with the Left and the Center.  Reagan made a winning team out of the Right and the Center.  Clinton has to do what Roosevelt did.  And he has a recession to help him get to the White House. 

Clinton’s stand on the social agenda is clear and morally correct.  He is in favor of privacy and personal choice.  He supports the protection of those who deviate from the traditional norm. 

His economic program is more vague.  He wants to tax the rich and relieve the burdens of the middle class.  He wants to use the government to mobilize the economy and to create jobs.  He wants to save money by reducing military spending.  He wants to replace welfare with workfare. 

All of these goals are commendable.  But they do not really address the central overwhelming problem, the crushing burden of debt which eats up more and more of the national income.  With an aging population the greatest burdens of our society are the middle class entitlements for health and retirement that expand relentlessly.  Continuing that process will not be easy, especially with the promise of unusual health care.  The test of his success, if he is elected, will be to stimulate the economy sufficiently to meet the challenge of these burdens. 

In the end, I support Clinton because I will not support a candidate who has sold his soul to the radical right and its reactionary social agenda.  I do not know whether Clinton will be better for the Jews than Bush.  After all, the reason the Shamir government fell and the peace initiative of Rabin could begin was, ironically, the relentless pressure brought by Jim Baker to resist the demands of the Israeli Right.  But the Israel agenda is not the major issue that we American Jews must confront in this election.  We need a president who will not be the prisoner of the crazy Right or the crazy Left.  We need a president who is willing to live with social changes that cannot be reversed and confront the fundamental economic issues that frighten the American public.  We need someone who will project sanity, caring, intelligence and hope.   

Given the options, Bill Clinton is our best choice. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, February 1990, Vol. XXVI, Number 7

Time Magazine is right. Mikhail Gorbachev was the hero of the 80s. 

Gorbachev is proof that personalities do make a difference in history. Political, social and economic forces have their place. But determined individuals and crucial positions of leadership, have the power to transform the world – for either good or evil. 

Would the Greek Empire have existed without Alexander the Great? Would the New Deal have worked without Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Would the Holocaust have taken place without Adolf Hitler? 

Of course, times have to be right for change. But they are only the setting. Someone has to take advantage of the opportunity. The economic difficulties of the Russian Empire were not the creation of Gorbachev. Nevertheless, could have been confronted with many different strategies. More repression was one option. The decision of Gorbachev to choose glasnost and perestroika was not inevitable. Nor was his election to the leadership of the Communist Party. Several important conservative members of the Politburo were absent from Moscow on the day that Chernenko died. His coming to power was almost by chance. 

Because of Gorbachev Europe is no longer the same. The Cold War is ending. The Russian people are free to speak their mind. Subject nationalities are asserting their right to self – determination. The Soviet Satellites of Eastern Europe have been liberated. The hegemony of the Communist party has been repudiated by former Stalinist regimes. The Berlin Wall has come tumbling down. Jews of the Soviet Union are free to emigrate. 

It is quite clear that none of this would have happened without the boldness and political skills of Gorbachev. The collapse of the Stalinist governments of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria was only possible because the people no longer feared the intervention of the Russian army. The Brezhnev Doctrine so dramatically manifested in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, had been eliminated. The old rulers were left naked and defenseless before their own people. 

I do not believe that Gorbachev was fully aware of the consequences of his decisions. I am not sure that he would have made them had he been fully aware. His hope and vision were to reform and strengthen the Communist parties through liberalization. He wanted the social system to ride the crest of reform, not to be destroyed by its impact. 

What he wanted did not happen. He underestimated the ability of the Communist hierarchies to adapt to necessary change. He also underestimated the hostility to Communism which existed among subject peoples. Once freed from the fear of retaliation the mobs became uncontrollable in their demands. The Communist establishment came tumbling down like a house of cards. 

In the chaos of the last year the desire for personal freedom has taken second place to the power of nationalism. Long suppressed nations want autonomy and Independence more than they want economic restructuring. In the melee of conflicting national interests the Soviet Union may disintegrate into an arena of warring states. Fueled by patriotism, resentment and chauvinistic ambition, the nations of the former Russian empire may turn to an agenda never envisioned by Gorbachev. Armenia and Azerbaijan are just the beginning of the trouble. 

Will Gorbachev be able to survive these unforeseen consequences? Or will the emerging chaos spell his undoing?  

In recent weeks his nerves seem to be very much on edge. He delivered an hysterical speech in the Soviet legislature about his loyalty to Communism. He harshly scolded the Lithuanian audiences he had sought to charge. He told his wife to shut up in public. 

His survival in power is important. There is no other Russian leader charismatic enough to provide the image of leadership in the midst of this political storm. 

What is quite clear is that he cannot survive so long as he ties his fortune to the Communist Party. What has happened in the Soviet satellites will also happen in the Soviet Union. The discredited political structures cannot satisfy the demands of the people for personal freedom, economic Improvement in national assertiveness. If he insists on defending Communism he will fall with Communism. 

If Gorbachev can advance his boldness one more step, he will present himself as a reformist president who is not bound by the political and party structures of the past. If he does so, he will discover that his people will follow where he leads, that his conservative enemies will be stymied by their own confusion and that the support of Western nations will readily be forthcoming. 

If he fails to do so, he will only grow more frustrated amid the bewildering and unforeseen consequences of his own decisions. Attacked by both liberals and conservatives, his triumphant victories will degenerate into hysterical last – stands. He will be destroyed by what he created.  

Gorbachev was the hero of the ‘80’s.  Whether he will be the hero of the ‘90’s will be largely up to him – up to his vision of his role in history.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, February 1986, Vol. XXIII, Number 7

Lincoln’s Birthday now has a twin.  Martin Luther King, Jr. has joined our sixteenth president  as a national hero deserving a national holiday.  The symbols of national unity are now becoming more diverse. 

Many people thought that the “kosherizing” of this new holiday would never happen.  Many worked hard to make sure that it would never happen.  Bigots had blind masks of respectability, maintaining that there were other, more worthy Americans from Thomas Jefferson to FDR who deserved holidays first.  They missed the point of King’s advocates.  National memorial festivals are not really intended to honor the dead.  They are symbols of political and social realities which merit public attention and respect. 

What is the significance of celebrating King’s birthday for all Americans? 

The birthday reminds us that we are a multi-ethnic, multi-racial nation with connections to many countries and many nations.  At one time, we had an Angleo-Saxon majority who found their sense of roots in England.  Today the citizens of British descent are a minority people, an ethnic enclave in an increasingly diverse state.  For most American, English is not their ancestral tongue.  It is a cultural convenience which enables people of widely different backgrounds to communicate with each other in a mobile urban society where space has to be shared.  The symbols of the state, including its holidays, need to reflect the people who live in it. 

The birthday reminds us that we are gradually ceasing to be a “European” nation.  Blacks, Asians and Chicanos are a very visible presence in our country.  Given the present birthrates of both whites and non-whites, it is quite likely that the future racial composition of the American people will be radically different from what it presently is.  Countless numbers of Americans will no longer be able to find their “homeland” in Europe.  They will experience their roots in Asia and Africa.  As an Africa-American, King is a symbol of the American future much more than a hero of the American past. 

The birthday is a sign of the health of the American political system.  There is an enormous flexibility in our politics structures which enables them to adapt successfully to dramatically new circumstances and which most leftist radicals failed to discern.  Ever since the civil rights marches twenty years ago there have been enormous changes in the pattern of racial segregation and humiliation in the country.  Although unemployment is still widespread in the black (sic) community, the presence of blacks (sic) in politics, academia and corporations is considerably stronger.  Despite all the racial tensions that persist, there is a creative dynamism and health to our society which warrants optimism.  Progress moves slowly.  But it does move. 

The birthday reminds us that it is possible for competing nationalities to negotiate their differences and avoid Civil War. Lincoln was a reluctant war leader.  King was an enthusiastic advocate of non-violence.  In a multi-ethnic world where nationalities are all mixed together in an urban stew, civil war is self-destructive because both sides destroy what they need to share.  Since they cannot really be separated, they have to develop a pragmatic togetherness.  Old models of confrontation no longer work.  Boundaries with hostile forces on both sides are ineffective as more and more blacks (sic) and Chicanos slip into the middle class.  Differences will have to be negotiated peacefully.  Non-violence will mean survival. 

For us Jews, King’s birthday offers at least two messages.  The first is that our historic immigrant skill of climbing to the top by seeking to ingratiate ourselves with the Anglosaxon establishment may now be less useful than it used to be.  Our obsession with impressing white Protestants with our social usefulness and with the benign character of our religion reflects a survival strategy appropriate to an Anglosaxon country.  In a state where blacks(sic) are becoming politically more and more important, we need to reassess the danger of the new hostilities which have surfaced in the past few years between black (sic) and Jews.  We need new skills for dealing more effectively with non-white, non-establishment ethnic groups.  We need to spend more time trying to find out what they want and need. 

The second message deals with our image of the Jewish state.  Although Israel is clearly binational-with a substantial Arab minority with a language of its own-there are no symbols, heroes, or holidays with which the Arabs can identify and which enable the Jews to give public recognition and dignity to the Arab presence.  For Arabs in Israel, the signs of Israeli patriotism provoke only alienation.  For Jew in Israel, they emphasize the “foreignness” of their Arab citizens.  While non-Israeli Jews in the Diaspora can identify with the symbols of the Jewish state, many non-Jewish Israeli citizens of longstanding cannot.  Ultimately, out of both moral and political necessity, Canada had to alter its flag to acknowledge the French, and America had to change its roster of heroes to give recognition to the blacks (sic).  Hopefully, Israel will prove as wise. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, December 1984, Vol. XXII, Number 5

The election is over.   

What does it all mean? 

Certainly there were few surprises.  The overwhelming Reagan victory was predicted by every pollster long before the balloting began.  The inability of Mondale-even with Ferraro-to mobilize a winning coalition was obvious from the beginning.  Democrats spent most of the campaign in deep depression. 

The election results did reveal certain political realities that both conservative and liberals must face. 

Here they are: 

Despite predictions to the contrary and despite an enormous Republican effort to woo the Jews, Jews voted overwhelmingly for Mondale.  In 1980 40% of the Jews chose Reagan.  In l984 only 30% did the same.  Neither economic self-interest nor strong support for the Israeli government could overcome Jewish uneasiness about the new alliance of Reagan with the religious Right.  The attempt to Christianize America scares many Jewish voters who were no long enthusiastic Democrats, especially in the age of Jesse Jackson. 

The majority of women voted for Reagan.  Most American women are not enthusiastic supporters of feminism.  Ferraro was no turn-on for them.  And many feminists, who liked the idea of a women vice-presidential candidate, voted for Reagan because their economic vested interests were more important for them. 

The Republicans have become a white man’s party.  Almost 90% of all Black voter (sic) chose Mondale.  Black rejection of the Republicans serves the strategy of many conservative Republicans.  Although they cannot articulate it publicly, they are delighted by Black hostility.  It wins white racist votes.  And whites are the overwhelming majority of the American people.   

A major realignment of American political forces has taken place.  Reagan has accomplished (sic) in 1980 and 1984 for conservatives what Roosevelt did for liberals in 1932 and 1936.  He has put together a winning coalition.  Although conservatives were, most likely, the American majority throughout the entire liberal political era, they were subverted by their division into Northern Republican and Southern Democrats.  Now they are united.  The South and the West have replaced the East as the center of Republican strength.  The Democrats are now reduced to a minority coalition of Blacks, Hispanics, liberals, feminists and organized labor.  Only the House of Representatives remains under their control.  And many of the House Democrats are conservative.  

Jesse Jackson proved to be of limited value to the Democrats.  Jackson’s dramatization of his Black loyalties provoked a white backlash.  All over the South the registration of new Black voters was countered by the aggressive registration of new white voters by pro-Reagan fundamentalist preachers.  Only the church-state controversy prevented an exodus of many Jewish voters from the Democratic fold in the face of what they perceived to be Jackson’s antisemitism. 

The re-election of Helms to the Senate in North Carolina is a boost for the religious Right.  As the most vocal champion of the importance of merging ‘Christian morality’ with American public life, Helms will continue to push for school prayer, abortion prohibition and state support for private education.  His exaggerated anti-communism bodes no good for our disarmament future, especially if he assumes the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Certainly, he will aggressively insist that Reagan pay his political debt to the fundamentalist Right that supported him. 

The House of Representatives is now more Republican than before.  While most liberals have been ‘weeded out” of the Republican ranks, many Democrats remain conservative.  It may now be easier for Reagan to restore the conservative House alliance he enjoyed in 1981. 

The power of a charismatic media personality has been confirmed.  Just as Roosevelt (Reagan’s role model, ironically) mastered the radio so has Reagan mastered television.  His good-humored macho optimism has proved politically irresistible.  He communicated leadership in a way that Mondale, bogged down with a vain attempt to discuss substantive issues, did not. 

So what is the message of these political realities to both political parties? 

The message to the Democrats is clear. 

They need presidential candidates who can win in the media.  Mondale-type aspirants, no matter how talented or how well-intentioned, simply will not do. 

The Jesse Jackson Black power strategy may mobilize Blacks.  But it also mobilizes  hostile white.  The Democrats will remain a minority party if they are viewed primarily as the party of the Blacks and disadvantaged. 

America is not in the mood for messages of doom and impending financial disaster.  Mondale’s realism may have been refreshing.  But it did not win votes.  Successful candidates project optimism. 

It’s hard to say.  But the ‘best’ thing that could happen for the Democrats is a recession. 

The message to the Republicans is also clear. 

They may have a long-run majority party if they can weld their coalition more tightly together. 

A substitute for Reagan is essential.  The new coalition is still too fragile to rely on the efforts of a mediocre showman.  Neither Bob Dole nor Jack Kemp quite fill the bill. 

The Jewish vote will not really be available to the Republicans so long as the ‘preachers’ remain in the White House.   

The Republican have a choice.  They can persist in their winning strategy to create a white man’s party in America basically ignoring Blacks and racial minorities.  Such a campaign is morally questionable and will create deep social rifts in America.  Or they can choose a more moderate strategy, which provides for the inclusion of disadvantaged racial minorities in the list of recipients of government help.  The choice is a moral one.  I’m not sure that is wil be politically convincing. 

The Rabbi Writes: Bill Clinton Won

The Jewish Humanist, December 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 5

That hardly seemed possible two years ago.  Newt Gingrich was on the rise.  His faithful followers flooded the halls of Congress.  Both the Senate and the House of Representatives were given over into Republican hands.  The radical rightness of the Contract with America was popular.  The first two years of the Clinton presidency featured dramatic failures, especially the fiasco of health care reform.  The stench of scandal was rising up from the White House. 

But the ‘miracle’ happened.  Newt Gingrich overplayed his power hand.  He frightened the middle class with his ‘indiscreet’ campaign to tackle the cost of Medicare.  He annoyed many economic conservatives with his persistent effort to push the social agenda of the Religious Right.  He angered millions of Americans by his radical attempt to shut down the American government by withholding funds.  His bulldog personality, with all its insistence that change happen quickly, did not take into account the deep ambivalence of Americans about the role of government in their lives.  Only a charismatic Republican candidate could reverse the damage.  But, instead, the party bosses chose Robert Dole.  Had he been a Democratic ‘mole’ his dull schoolteacher preachiness could not have served the cause of the Democrats more effectively.  The Republican Congressional victory in 1994 was turned into a presidential defeat in 1996. 

Of course we have to be aware of the realities surrounding the Clinton victory.  Bill Clinton was elected by less than a majority of the Americans who chose to vote.  The Republicans still control both houses of Congress, increasing their number in the Senate.  Newt Gingrich is still the Speaker of the House,, with the power to dictate much of the legislative agenda.  The economic policies of Bill Clinton are almost indistinguishable from that of the Republicans, a phenomenon dictated by political necessity.  Many Americans who voted for Clinton expressed deep reservations about his moral character and complained about the unexciting choice they were ‘forced’ to make.  Even in victory, Clinton was faced with the threat of deadly scandal. 

So what does the Clinton victory really mean? 

It means that the Left is dead.  You can no longer win a political victory preaching the virtues of the welfare state.  But, at the same time, you cannot assault the established welfare benefits of the middle class, especially Medicare. 

It means that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans call the economic shots and Clinton follows.  Bill Clinton was able to win the election because he embraced a large part of the Gingrich agenda, from workfare to the shrinking of the government.  The defeat of Dole was not a defeat for Republican economics.  While the unions were instrumental in helping remove some Republican ‘radicals’ from Congress, Clinton ignored their economic passions.  The victory for North American free trade, engineered with the help of the Republicans, is a case in point.  Cooperation between the President and the Republican Congress on economic issues will continue. 

It means that only by embracing the moderate Center, where most Americans stand, can you win a presidential election.  The Left and the Right can only ‘win’ if they ally themselves to a candidate of the Center. 

It means that the ‘great reversal’ has taken place.  The American South, which at one time was the reliable bastion of the Democratic party is in the foundation population (sic) of the Republicans.  Twenty years ago the South voted Republican only in presidential elections.  Today they vote Republican in Congressional elections. The Democratic conservatives of the past have become the Repblican conservatives of the present and the future.  At the same time the Northeast, which until Roosevelt was a Republivan stronghold, has now gone over to the Democrats.  The political map has been turned upside down. 

It means that, while the Democrats are becoming more moderate, they are also losing their Southern right wing conservatives.  Many of these conservatives always voted with the Republicans anyway, especially on social issues.  The internal unity of the Congressional Democrats has been improved. 

It means that racial minorities are becoming politically more important.  The victories of Clinton in the Northeast and California were dictated by the overwhelming support of Blacks and Hispanics. Republican power in the past, especially its capture of the South, relied on its image as the party of white people.  But, with the growth of the non-white population, that image may, in the end, prove to be counter-productive. 

It means that increasing numbers of American no longer see themselves as either Republicans or Democrats.  They split their vote in the spirit of independents.  The stability of the old system, with large blocs of predictable party voters, is gone.  Long stretches of either Democratic or Republian rule will no longer exist.  The new fickle voting public has little discomfort in either mixing or repudiating.  Old time party loyalty is over.  Change is the name of the game. 

It means that the political era dominated by World War II has come to an end.  Robert Dole was the last presidential candidate who will have participated in the greatest trauma of the twentieth century.  The patriotism of that era (that) carried over into the intensities of the Cold War, is now not even nostalgia.  Most American have no memories of either war or conscription.  World War II is ancient history.  And so is the America of small towns and apple pie. 

It means that Bill Clinton may have a hard time in a second term.  A Republican Congress will not force the political advantages in pushing the Whitewater scandal.  The political victim of such an assault will not be Clinton-who cannot run again for president-but Al Gore, the obvious heir-apparent to the Clinton mantle.  The public needs to brace itself for Whitewater ‘burnout.” 

Above all it means the defeat of the Religious Right.  One of the reasons that Clinton took the moderate Center was  his resistance to the social and ‘moral’ agenda of the Republican party.  It is very clear that, outside of the South, the alliance of the Republicans with the Christian Coalition is not an advantage.  For Americans who fear the Religious Right this development is good news.