Political Antisemitism

TJH May_June 1996, vo. XXX11, number 10.

“Political Antisemitism” 

Holocaust Day has a special significance in this election year. Political antisemitism is abroad in the Republican Party.  

Modern anti-Semitism is different from traditional anti-Judaism. Traditional hostility to the Jews is primarily directed to the religion of the Jews. Economic and racial themes are secondary. Modern antisemitism is primarily directed to the “race” and economic role of the Jews. Religious ideas are secondary. Neither Hitler nor Coughlin was interested in Judaism. They were obsessed by Jews. 

Capitalism is the most popular of available economic systems. It is responsible for wealth, technological development and rising standards of living. But it also produces decaying families, violent cities and unemployment. Relentless competition produces both winners and losers. For the winners the system is the best of all possible worlds. For the losers the system appears uncaring and heartless. It takes only a little paranoia to turn that accusation into antisemitism. The world of money becomes the world of the Jews and the world of money is the evil oppressor of the innocent patriot. 

Hitler did not invent modern antisemitism. The change, uncertainty, expectations and trauma of capitalism did. The very system that fostered the prosperity and the liberation of the Jews also spawned their most vicious enemy.  

Antisemitism will not go away so long as economic anxiety remains. It is a chronic disease of an urban, anonymous, detribalized, and money-centered world. When the economy is strong it is tolerable. When the economy goes bad it becomes intolerable. Right now technology, automation and thinking machines are wreaking havoc with the lives and employment of millions of workers and middle-class people. Most young people are pessimistic not optimistic about their economic future. Industrial workers, blacks and Hispanics, are feeling abandoned and resentful. Jews become the personification of all the forces they fear and do not control.  

Modern anti-Semitism comes in two forms. The mild form is social antisemitism. This hostility excludes Jews from social intercourse with non-Jews, especially the power elite. While social antisemitism is morally deplorable, it is easily handled. Jews simply create and perpetuate the familiar institutions which enable them to socialize with each other.  

The virulent form is political antisemitism. This antagonism seeks to seize political power and to use that power to deprive Jews of their status, property and lives. Political antisemitism is what the deadly virus of European Jew-hatred was all about. From Dreyfus to the Holocaust it was driven by a vision of the “Jewish Peril” that justified expulsion and extermination. Often political antisemitism starts off with mild rebukes and develops, through economic turmoil, to broad programs of oppression.  

Political antisemitism features political leaders, politicians eager to use hostility to Jews as a vehicle to power.  

Many European leaders chose this path. In America, there was very little political antisemitism until the First World War. 

In the Twenties Henry Ford publicized the vicious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In the Depression Thirties, Charles Coughlin preached a message of hate for capitalism, communism and Jews. The Second World War and economic prosperity terminated this threat. 

But, of course, the troubled Nineties has revived it. Pat Buchanan has arrived on the Republican stage to denounce Wall Street, the brokers of the money world, foreign exploiters, corporate greed and the inordinate power of Israel and the Jews over American life.  

Of course, his voice is a minority voice. Of course he will not be the Republican nominee. But it is also true that the Republican leadership has not openly repudiated him for his public hostility to Jewish influence. His position is very much the same as that of Louis Farrakhan in the Black world. He disparages the Jews. He courts racist supporters. And he knows that he is immune to expulsion. He has too many powerful devotees. Pleasing the Jews is less important than hanging on to any potential voter.  

I do not imagine that the economic future of America will allow the triumph of either fascism or political antisemitism. I do not believe that either Dole or the mainstream leaders of the Republican party or anything but embarrassed by the public rantings of Pat Buchanan. But I will not support a political party whose leadership refuses to condemn this voice of hatred.  

(Just as I will not condone the authority of Black leadership that fears to confront Farrakhan.) 

The poor, the oppressed and economic “losers” of the world deserve our sympathy and help. But they are not necessarily the moral voices of humanity. If sufficiently provoked, they will embrace ideologies that will produce political repression. America and the world of economic change are vulnerable to self-destructive voices. Right now, Buchanan, despite Dole’s victory, is a dangerous voice of the evil.  

Jewish votes should not support any political party that does not condemned the purveyors of antisemitism in its midst 

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… 

Leadership

TJH March 1991, vo. XXV11, number 8.

“Leadership” 

Many people ask me about the future of Humanistic Judaism. What are the realistic prospects for our future? What do we need to do to spread the word, to recruit new people to our movement?  

There are many things we need to strengthen our future. We need more literature. We need more publicity. We need more money to pay for both. But, above all, we need more professional leaders.  

The heart of our movement are local communities and congregations. Without them there is no movement. Most communities begin with volunteers who have much enthusiasm but little expertise for serving the needs of their members. In time, volunteers get exhausted and, even if they are not exhausted, they are not trained to be ceremonialists, philosophic counselors and Jewish educators.  

Communities without professional leaders “plateau”. They cannot grow because they cannot serve the holiday, life-cycle and identity needs of prospective joiners, especially the needs of families with young children. Their philosophy is attractive to many. But their ability to reach out to others is limited by the absence of skilled people who are both able and willing to do what needs to be done.  

The first professional leaders of our movement have been rabbis. Both Daniel Friedman (Chicago) and I have served as the spiritual and philosophic leaders of the two largest and most important communities in our national association. Both of us have tried to pioneer the idea of a rabbi without God. Just as the Reform movement pioneered the concept of a rabbi who rejects the authority of orthodox law, so has our effort been an attempt to develop the legitimacy of a non-theistic and “secular” rabbinate. 

The rabbinate is an important profession for Humanistic Judaism and needs to be cultivated. It provides both status and legitimacy for humanistic communities seeking a link with the past. The role of the rabbi as a philosophic leader and teacher corresponds very well to the traditional role of many rabbis.  

One of our most important movement tasks is to recruit and train new rabbis for our communities, both established and emerging. Recruitment of already ordained rabbis is not easy. Both the Reform and the Reconstructionist movements have taken a turn to the right. Their younger rabbinic graduates are often more conservative than the graduates of earlier decades. They are not interested in becoming radical “renegades” or mavericks. The number of potential “defectors” is close to zero. 

Training our own rabbis is, therefore, an urgent task. For this reason a rabbinic program was recently established by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. The program envisions a five year post-graduate course of study with a PhD in Judaic Studies from a secular university, courses on Humanistic Judaism with the faculty of the Institute and  an appropriate internship with a movement community. Hopefully, bright young men and women, who would never have contemplated the rabbinate because they are humanistic, will find this opportunity an attractive option. 

But rabbis are not enough to serve the leadership needs of our movement. There are small communities that cannot afford a rabbi. These are small communities that cannot afford a full-time leader. There are large communities that need assistants. There are needy communities that require professional leadership right away.  

Out of this pressing circumstance a new Jewish profession has emerged. It is called leader in English. It is called madrikh (men) or madrikha (women) in Hebrew. 

A madrikha is a professional community leader. She performs an important role somewhere between the work of the volunteer non-professional leader and the work of a rabbi. She is a ceremonialist who performs weddings and conducts funerals. She is an educator who can teach Humanistic Judaism to adults and children. She is a counselor who can offer appropriate ethical advice to people seeking her help. She is an administrator who can manage the affairs of a small community.  

A madrikha undergoes a three-year training program. This program includes training seminars, academic study and field work. Before the International Institute was established candidates received their education at the Humanist Institute in New York. Now the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism has created a complete training program for madrikhim and madrikhot. They define professional standards, arrange for continuing education, and provide certification. There are presently eleven members of the Conference.  

As you may have noticed, the programs and service of our own Birmingham Temple have been enormously enhanced by the talents and efforts of our resident madrikhot. Without the skills and dedication of Carolyn Borman, Miriam Jerris, Janis Levin-Gorelick, and Marilyn Rowens, much of the important work of the Temple would never be completed. For me, personally, they have been wonderful associates, who have assisted me in the carrying out of my own responsibilities.  

Madrikhot have become a significant part of the landscape of Humanistic Judaism. They perform an indispensable service. And they deserve our tribute and recognition. 

Please join me and the congregation on Friday evening, March 22 at 8:30 PM to celebrate their achievement and to hear their own reflections on the work they do.  

One Side of Purim Is Fun and Laughter. The Other Side Is Haman

TJH march 1990, vol. XXVI, no. 8.

One side of Purim is fun and laughter. The other side is Haman.  

Haman is the arch-figure of Jew hatred, called anti-Semitism in modern times. He is the symbol of a social disease so dreadful and so powerful that it killed 6 million innocent people in this century.  

What is the future of anti-semitism?  

After World War II we hoped that it would disappear. We hoped that the trauma of the Holocaust would make it impossible for respectable people to be openly anti-Semitic in respectable society.  

Certainly, in the Western world this hope seemed to be fulfilled. Overt anti-Semitism became unpopular. Bigoted demagogues, like Coughlin & Smith, were silenced. Numberless schools, corporations and clubs open their doors to Jews who have been excluded. Jewish culture and Jewish themes made their way into the movies and television. Jewish identity took on a positive public Image. But in other parts of the world, hostility to Jews was either revived or invented. In the Soviet empire Stalinists decided to reinforce their tyrannical rule by catering to the historic bigotry of their nations. Jews were purged from government. Jewish culture was suppressed. And leaders of the Jewish community were executed. Although most Jews were allowed to retain their homes and their jobs their safety was precarious. Communist propaganda reminded them that they were aliens.  

In the Arab world, where most of the people were Semites like Jews, anti-jewish feeling emerged where it had never really existed before. The conflict in Palestine in the establishment of the state of Israel prompted a vicious anti-semitism reminiscent of Nazi assaults. Thousands of Jews fled their homes and came as refugees to the Jewish state. hostility to Jews was disguised as opposition to Zionism. But the anti-zionism of the Arab world contains the same vicious stereotypes that filled the propaganda of European fascists.  

When the recent revolutionary changes began in Eastern Europe, many observers imagined that at least one of these two centers of anti-Semitism would vanish. Official Soviet and Communist hostility would disappear with the disappearance of Communism. The emergence of popular democracy would free the Jews and end the threats to their safety. 

This expectation proved naive. The collapse of Communist power has not undermined it. It has revived it in a more virulent form than Communism ever allowed. The new freedom means freedom not only for liberal democracy but also for authoritarian fascists. End European fascism has long used anti-Semitism as an ideological strategy to mobilize the masses.  

Jew hatred and Eastern Europe has deep roots. Both Catholic and Orthodox christianity cultivated the image of the Jew as Satan incarnate. (In fact Jews were excluded from Russia until the Russian conquest of Poland.) The pre-capitalist structures of countries like Poland and Romania stimulated Envy in suspicion of urban life in urban entrepreneurs. And the Jews were overwhelmingly town and city people.  

The dismantling of the Communist power structure has terminated Communist anti-Semitism. But, in the new chaotic political environment, it has made it possible for the old bigotry to rear its ugly head. In Hungary, Romania, Latvia and Russia political parties with anti-Semitic agendas have been organized. Their program runs from the elimination of Jewish influence in public life to the expulsion of Jews. Although these parties are not large, they are growing.  

What does their presence tell us about the nature of anti-Semitism?  

Anti-semitism is a chronic disease. The historic role of the Jew to serve as a scapegoat for social ills is so deeply embedded in the European psyche that it cannot be eliminated either by education or by democracy. Since we cannot destroy it we must learn how to restrain it.  

Anti-Semitism flourishes where there is economic distress. The growing inflation, unemployment and shortages of the former socialist countries sponsor mass insecurity. The mass insecurities and helplessness motivate the people to embrace traditional and simplistic explanations for the economic crisis. The longest survival issues dominate the political scene, hostility to the Jews will continue to grow. 

 Anti-Semitism originated, to a large degree, in religious prejudice. But its present complaint about the Jews is not religious. Jews are detested for their economic role. They are seen as economic and cultural conspirators who have invented both market capitalism and Marxist socialism to exploit the masses. Jewish religious beliefs are unrelated to the fantasy. 

 Anti-Semitism is unrelated to Jewish power. In most of these countries, with the exception of the Soviet Union, there are now very few Jews. The Holocaust remove the bulk of the Jewish population. Despite that reality, the fear and hatred of Jews continue. Unlike the Jews of Western Europe in the United States who have real power, the Jews of Eastern Europe are envied for what they do not have. 

 Anti-Semitism is a strategy of both the Left and the Right. Both the Communists and the fascists have used it. Both the working class and the bourgeoisie can share its view of the world. Both sides are capable of initiating violence against the Jews. What both sides share is chauvinistic nationalism which views the Jew as an alien intruder. This reality makes the motivation for Zionism very clear. Sometimes the only effective response to Gentile nationalism is Jewish nationalism.  

 The belief that the Jew is both smart and evil is an old one. It will not be easily dislodged. We need to be less naive than the people who believe it.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, October 1994, Vol. XXXI, Number 3 

A doctor performing abortions is killed in Florida. A full-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times accuses Bill Clinton of arranging the murder of his good friend and assistant Vincent Foster. Irangate villain Oliver North wins the Republican primary for the United States Senate seat from Virginia and proposes to restore Christian values in America.      

Together with thousands of other events these three provocations are evidence of the continuing presence and power of the Religious Right. Emerging in 1980 during the first Reagan campaign, as a major political force, the Religious Right is still alive and well and determined to win the victory that has so far eluded them. Their leaders are by now familiar – Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Donald Wildman, Paul Wyrich. The Moral Majority may have yielded to the Christian Coalition. But the agenda remains the same. 

The agenda is very clear and very frightening. It is the use of government power to impose a Christian fundamentalist moral code of behavior on all the American people. Before 1980 the fundamentalists shunned national politics. Now they are the masters of it. Although they represent only 15-20% of the American public they act as though they are the voice of America and of American values. 

The Religious Right has its roots in the traditional conservative movement. Traditional conservatives are different from economic conservatives. Economic conservatives liked to be called liberals in the nineteenth century. They opposed the government control of private life and championed the right of individuals to personal and economic freedom. When they first emerged they were on the Left. Only the movement of many classical liberals to egalitarian and socialist ideas turned them into “conservatives.” Economic conservatives do not want to use the government. They want to avoid the government. 

Traditional conservatives are the real conservatives. They come out of the agricultural world that preceded capitalism. Their role model for the organization of society is the authoritarian family. The government is like a good father, guiding and protecting his children. Good fathers make demands, impose discipline and control behavior. Religion features an authoritarian God who behaves in the same way and who is a reflection of what good fathers and good governments do. The primary role of society is reproduction. Therefore abortion and homosexuality are forbidden. And the basic role of women is to have babies and to serve their husbands. 

Although capitalism and personal freedom have been around for a long time in America, there are many Americans who still belong to or yearn to return to this old conservative world. Their numbers have increased in recent years because American life has been traumatized by family decline, lifestyle change, economic uncertainty and crime. Traditional conservatives have placed the responsibility for these changes on the doorstep of unbridled freedom and its ally secular humanism. 

If the Religious Right were to achieve political power in America, they would put prayers, Bible readings and Bible theology into the public schools. They would use tax money to pay for private religious education. They would censor books and newspapers. They would outlaw abortion and homosexuality. They would pass laws to encourage women to bear children and to stay at home. 

For many years traditional conservatives were too divided to be effective. White fundamentalists hated Black fundamentalists. Charismatics hated fundamentalists. Protestants hated Catholics. All of them hated Jews. Many conservative Protestants were in favor of the separation of religion and government because they did not want state money going to Catholic parochial schools. But all of that has changed. The civil rights movement has ironically brought White and Black fundamentalists together. Communism and abortion have sealed the union between conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics. And the growing number of Jewish fundamentalists has bizarrely recruited Jewish allies for a Christian America. What was divided is now united against their shared enemy – a free society. 

The strategy of the Religious Right is to take over the Republican Party. Since they are a distinct minority, they cannot win power unless they hang onto the coattails of a major political institution. Unfortunately, they have been very successful in their campaign. Hundreds of Republican precincts have fallen under their control. Hundreds of their devotees have been nominated as Republican candidates. The 1992 Republican Convention was dominated by their agenda and by their ideology. Most Republican leaders are afraid of them and seek their approval and support. 

The consequence is the vicious assault on Bill Clinton. Clinton has many faults. But he is not a sex maniac and murderer. But hundreds of thousands of Americans now believe that he is. They do not read the liberal press. They listen to the tapes circulated by Robertson and Falwell which give credibility to these accusations. 

The campaign by the Religious Right ought to frighten us into action. We, as humanists, are, in their eyes, the ultimate enemy. But, in offering resistance, we need to keep in mind certain basic realities. 

The first basic reality is that most Republicans are economic conservatives, not traditional conservatives. The only way to fight the Religious Right is to mobilize the Republican (sic) who also hate them. Economic freedom goes together with personal freedom and with the separation of religion from government. Rational Republicans know that. 

The second basic reality is that morality is a stronger argument than a peevish defense of personal choice. The Religious Right derives its power from its presentation of itself as the defender of ethics and morality. If, indeed, their point of view is the moral one, they have the moral authority to impose their will on us. The way to fight the Religious Right is to take the moral monopoly away from the (sic). Abortion freedom is not merely personal choice. It is the moral choice in an overcrowded world as Society of wanted babies is the only society that is morally sustainable. Abortion freedom is not merely personal choice.It is the moral choice. In an overcrowded world a society of wanted babies is the only society that is morally sustainable. Abortion freedom is not simply an individual right. It is, above all, a social and ethical necessity.  

The Religious Right will be a chronic and continuous political force in American life. We have to be on the alert to resist them. When we offer our resistance, we must remember that many people who call themselves conservatives are our national allies – and that the defense of individual freedom is also the defense of social morality.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, January 1998, Vol. XXXIV, Number 6

Tel Aviv is the place to be at the beginning of October 1998,  especially if you are a Humanistic Jew. The seventh annual conference of our International Federation will convene in Israel’s biggest and most secular city. 

There are many good reasons for us to hold this important meeting in Tel Aviv. This coming year all of Israel and all the Jewish world will be celebrating the fiftieth birthday anniversary of the independence of the Jewish state. In May 1948 David Ben-Gurion proclaimed that Israel was a sovereign republic. The place of that Proclamation was not Jerusalem but Tel Aviv, the city invented by Zionism. Coincidentally, Zionism is celebrating the Centennial of its creation in Basel in 1897. Two important anniversaries coincide and dramatize the centrality of Israel in contemporary Jewish life. 

In 1994 we held our conference in Jerusalem. But that city has been taken over by the ultra-Orthodox and aggressive ‘black hats’. Tel Aviv remains the center of that secular Hebrew culture which, over the years we have come to identify with the Israeli world. Today that secular culture is threatened by the ambitions of an arrogant Orthodox minority, who, in collusion with a nationalist government that values power over Integrity, is seeking to establish a new Israeli culture. This new culture would find its roots in the restrictions of traditional Judaism and in the political supervision of traditional rabbis.  

Secular and humanist Jews need to resist this betrayal of the Zionist ideal. We have to stand in solidarity with our secular brothers and sisters in the Jewish state to announce our united opposition to creeping the theocracy and to mobilize our forces to offer resistance. The Tel Aviv conference will be an opportunity for Israelis and Diaspora Jews, who value humanism in Jewish life, to make a public and dramatic stand. We want many members of our Temple and our movement to be present, so that our combined voices will be heard.  

These are traumatic times for the Jewish State. While the economy continues to perform well, fueled by privatization and foreign investment, the morale of the Israeli public is low. The peace process has collapsed. The ‘civil war’ between the secularists and the orthodox is hotting up. Public opinion all over the world is turning hostile. The government of Bibi Netanyahu is bumbling and ineffective, humiliated by scandal and despised by the leaders of its own political Coalition. Both liberals and conservatives are depressed in the absence of pragmatic direction. 

There are many dangers, which Israel now confronts. 

The American government is angry. Clinton refused to meet with Netanyahu when the Prime Minister visited the States. Albright is visibly annoyed with the Israelis (sic) refusal to abide by the Oslo peace agreement. America is losing its support in the Arab world by its obvious refusal to punish Israel. With the crisis in Iraq that support is indispensable. The alliance with America is not trivial for the Jewish State. Endangering the connection is self-destructive.  

American Jewry is also angry. The government backing of its orthodox allies in their attempt to delegitimize Reform and Conservative conversions has created tension between Israel and its most powerful Jewish supporters.  Most American Jews are not orthodox (sic). They have been insulted by this provocative ‘slap in the face’. The collective power in America is the reason why the United States supports Israel above and beyond its strategic interests. Alienating American Jews is another foolish act of self-destruction. 

Secular Jews and Israel are experiencing the intrusion of orthodox (sic) demands more and more. Neighborhoods and towns, which were historically secular, have now been taken over by orthodox (sic) ‘invaders’. Confrontation and violence are undermining the sense of belonging that secular Jews have felt since the beginning of the Zionist venture. The ‘black hats’ are taking over the state that the zionists (sic) created. Jewish Israel is being divided into two opposing and hostile camps. 

Immigration is getting matched by emigration. Many secular Jews are leaving an environment, which has become unfamiliar and uncomfortable for them. While the exodus is still small, it is a sign of a growing frustration among Israelis with the new religious militancy. The old Ashkenazic elite are discovering that they are now a minority in a population that finds no problem in mixing rabbis and government. 

Moderate Arab states are turning away from Israel. They are covering their bets by cultivating the opposition. Strident denunciations of Iraq and Libya are vanishing. Invitations by Iranian conferences are accepted. Israeli security depends on friendly Arabs on the Israeli border. Neither Egypt nor Jordan wish to be seen as the friends of the enemies of Palestinian independence. 

All of these developments are troubling to secular Zionists throughout the Jewish world. The Jewish state is the most important creation of the Jewish people in the last nineteen centuries. It has helped restore Jewish dignity. It has rescued hundreds of thousands of Jews from persecution and humiliation. It has provided a vital center for the development of Jewish culture. It has revived the Hebrew language and turned it into a major vehicle for Jewish expression Jewish identity. It has demonstrated the power and vitality of the Jewish people. 

It is important that Israel survive (sic) -and that it survive (sic) as a liberal democracy. We are going to Tel Aviv in October 1998 because we believe that Israel’s survival needs a stronger and more powerful secular and humanistic voice. 

Please join us. You will experience the beauties and wonders of the land and the people. You will study with top Israeli professors and scholars who will take you on personal tours of historic sites in Jerusalem. You will meet dozens of humanistic brothers and sisters who need to experience the strong support of the Jews of the Diaspora. You will discover both fun and inspiration. Above all, you will feel that you are doing something important to guarantee a humanistic future for the Jewish State.  

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, April 1994, Vol. XXX, Number 9

Thirty innocent victims died in a massacre.  They were not Jews.  They were Arabs killed by a Jew. 

The Hebron disaster is one of the tragic moments in the history of Zionism and the Jewish state. Banukh Goldstein, a Jewish religious fanatic and a follower of Meir Kahane, choose to shoot into a crowd of Muslim worshipers in the name of God.  In his self-righteous ardor he imagined that he was doing the will of the Lord and saving the Jewish people.  In reality he committed a moral outrage and produced irreparable damage to the Jeiwsh people and the Jewish state. 

The image of the suffering Jew, the image of Schindler’s List, has been replaced by the image of the murdering Jew.  The peace process between Istaelis and Palestinians has been halted.  The moderate leadership of the Arab world has been discredited in the eyes of many Arabs who had initially supported the Rabin-Arafat initiative.  The forces of Arab extremism have been strengthened.  A fragile optimism has been replaced by a deep gloom.  Only people who love war in the Middle East can rejoice.  

The Hebron disaster has highlighted many powerful realities.  It demonstrated the fragility of the whole peace process.  It now hangs on a thread which may break at any moment.  It exposed the vulnerability of Jewish and Arab moderates to the schemes of small numbers of extremists.  Above all, it revealed the danger of Jewish religious extremism. 

For so long, our focus was on the danger of Arab extremism and Arab fundamentalists.  Terror was something that Arabs did.  The victims were Jews, innocent men, women and children assaulted by Arab fanatics.  Ever since l967 Palestinian terrorism provided the moral justification for the Jewish resistance to making any concessions.  We had the moral high ground.  Arabs alone were murders (sic). 

But that illusion has now been shattered.  Yes, there is Arab religious extremism.  But there is also Jewish religious extremism.  And it is just as dangerous to the Jewish people. 

Jewish religious extremism is very old.  It is as old as the Messianic movements which began in Judea over two thousand years ago  The Jewish Messianists believed that they were the chosen people of God, that all other people were sinners and doomed, that the final Judgment Day was imminent, that in the final battle all the wicked would be punished, that the power of God would sustain the small band of the saved against their enemies.  Like the author of Deuteronomy 7 they envisioned a world purified of non-believers.  Only violence against the chosen people is morally wrong.  Violence against infidels is exactly what they deserve.  There are dozens of quotations from both the Bible and the Talmud, which reflect this mind-set.  They are an embarrassment to the Jews.  We generally choose to ignore them.  Christian and Muslim fanatics are  eirs to this legacy. 

While, for many Jews, Jewish persecution and suffering provided an emotional foundation for a morality of compassion and empathy with the suffering of others, for others the pain of antisemitism only reinforced hatred of the outside word, paranoia and dream of vengeance.  In the tight world of ultra Orthodoxy these dreams were strengthened by religious faith.  The one positive side to this self-righteousness was that these people were never successful, after the destruction of the Jewish state, in achieving political power. 

For most of these people, Zionism was anathema.  In their eyes the Zionists were secular Jews who had rejected divine help and divine guidance and who were seeking to establish a Jewish state without the Torah as the constitution.  Zionists were worse than Gentile non-believers because they were Jews who had abandoned the true faith and who were seeking to lure vulnerable Jews away from their ancestral faith.  Until 1967 they wanted nothing at all to do with the state of Israel or the Zionist enterprise. 

But the Six Day War changed everything.  The easy victory of the Israelis and the capture of the sacred sites of historic Judaism, from the Western Wall to the Cave of Machpelah, seemed like a divine miracle.  Many extremists made a turnaround, embraced the Jewish state, and vowed to keep its sacred soil forever in Jewish hands. 

After 1967 the “believers” of Brooklyn began to leave Mecca and to immigrate to Israel  They were entirely different from the Zionist pioneers.  They were fiercely Orthodox, Messianic in their thinking, and contemptuous of a modern liberal secular state.  They did not want to settle in secular Israel.  They wanted to settle in their own tight communities,, preferably in the West Bank where they could be near the ancient shrine of the Jewish People.  Many found their way to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall.  Others established their home near Shekhem (Neblus) or the Cave of Machpelah (Hebron).  They were indifferent to Arab hostility.  In a short while their initiative and courage would prod God to send his Messiah  The End of Days would come and the Jewish people would be glorified. 

Fanatic leaders like Rabbi Moshe Leinnger and fanatic movements like Gash Emunim arose and captured the imagination and devotion of the “believers.”  For those who are more extreme, the fiery words of Mier Kahane, calling for the expulsion of all Arabs from the Holy Land, were ˆsicˆ)welcomed. 

The Likud government of Menachim Begin and Yitshak Shamir paid for them to settle down in the midst of the Palestinians.  It gave them arms to defend themselves against attack and to intimidate their “enemies.”  Even though many of the leaders of the Likud were secular, they saw these religious extremists as allies in their determination to keep the West Bank. 

Secular Israelis and moderate religionists-discovered to their chagrin that there was now a determined minority of religious rightwingers who did not believe in a democratic and pluralistic state, who wanted to lead the nation into a murderous confrontation with the Palestinians.  Neither the intifada nor the possibility of a peace through compromise diminished their ardor.  All who were opposed to holding the West Bank through force were designated traitors 

In America these fanatics were supported by ambivalent American Jews, who felt guilty over their assimilation to Jewish culture and their unwillingness to immigrate to Israel.  Many American Jews who were neither religious nor Orthodox saw them as instruments of Jewish survival and determination.  The fanatics cultivated their ambivalence. 

What are we, the rational Jews who support a secular and democratic state, who embrace the historic Zionist vision, going to do about these extremists in our midst?  How are we, the overwhelming majority of the Jewish people, a majority which repudiates religious fanaticism going to deal with this embarrassing internal plague?  What must the government and people of Israel do with this group of self-appointed prophets of God? 

The Hebron massacre makes a strong response necessary. 

In America we need to publicly repudiate their message and resist their entry into positions of power and authority in our community. 

In Israel our Jewish brothers and sisters need to outlaw, restrain, remove and deport all those who advocate violence against the Arabs.  At the minimum they need to disarm Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Let the Israeli army protect both Jews and Arabs. 

The future of Israel and the Jewish people is (sic) at stake. 

The Rabbi Writes: Abortion

The Jewish Humanist, September 1989, Vol. XXVI, Number 2

Human rights in America received a serious blow from the Supreme Court on July 3 when five justices upheld a Missouri law restricting abortion freedom.  Ever since January, when the Court announced that it would consider the controversial case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the pros and cons of the abortion world have been waiting with bated breath to hear the decision.  Liberals were somewhat prepared for an unsatisfactory outcome.  They knew that the Reagan appointments of O’Connor, Scalia and Kennedy would have conservative consequences.  But they were hoping against hope. 

Rehnquist, speaking for the majority, stated that there was presently no necessity to overthrow Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision of 1973 that defined abortion choice as a constitutional right.  But he saw no constitutional reason why appropriate restrictions could not be placed on the exercise of this freedom, especially since the state had a vested interest in the preservation of individual life.  He found no difficulty with the state of Missouri’s decision to prevent abortion in public hospitals and clinics.  It was under no obligation to assist people in the exercise of their rights.  Nor was the required 20 week check on the viability of the fetus an illegal intrusion.  The independence of the fetus was a medical decision which could not be replaced by arbitrary court standards. 

Scalia joined the Court majority but dissented from the Rehnquist opinion.  He regretted that the Court had not been told enough to repudiate what was constitutionally wrong.  He believed that dismantling Roe v. Wade piece by piece was an act of judicial cowardice. 

On the other hand, Blackmun, the author of the 1973 majority statement, said that he heard the death knell of abortion freedom in the Rehnquist opinion and feared further assaults on the constitutional rights of American citizens. 

Following the decision anti-abortionists in virtually all the state legislatures framed new laws to place public restrictions on personal choice and to deny all forms of state aid and state support for women seeking abortion.  Liberal forces, angry and defiant, mobilized to resist this new legislative onslaught.  But, having lost the battle of the courts, they were not quite sure what new strategy to adopt.  They had invested so much energy in the motion that judges were ultimately the best defenders of abortion freedom.  The Rehnquist opinion dramatized certain realities for both conservative and liberal. 

1.  Ronald Reagan has won his battle to change the character of the Supreme Court.  The liberal Warren Court that drove conservatives to campaigns for impeachment no longer exists.  The liberals are now an old and somewhat feeble minority, desperately clinging to office out of fear of who would replace them.  The conservatives are young and vigorous.  And their public supporters, who at one time denounced the Court as a Communist cabal and sought to restrict its power, are now full of praise for the authority of the Court. 

2.  The Constitution, like the Bible, is not a document with an independent meaning all its own.  It ultimately means what its official interpreters make it mean.  They do not discover their opinions in the Constitution.  They impose their opinions on the Constitution, whether those judicial interpreters are liberals or conservatives.  The Constitution is a set of ‘kosherizing’ words.  But what these words mean is up to the judges.  And the judges, in the end, respond to changing political realities and to changing public opinion.   

3.  American public opinion has been deeply influenced by the persistent campaigns of the anti-abortionists.  In fact, the propaganda of the “pro-life” people has been far more effective than the educational campaigns of the “pro-choice’ advocates.  Anti-abortionists have been successful in seizing the moral high ground and in sowing doubts among ambivalent voters.  The Court, to some degree, is a reflection of the new public opinion. 

4.  Relying on the courts for ultimate protection is a misguided strategy in a democratic society.  Judges, in the end, are agents of political agenda and political parties.  In the higher courts they are political appointees, reflecting the political struggles of their time and deeply responsive to constituencies that favor their appointment.  Liberal courts can easily turn into conservative courts and vice-versa.  In the end, the defense of human rights must be won at the polls and not in the courts. 

Herein lies the challenge for all of us who believe in abortion freedom.  We have to convince the masses of the justice of our cause-not the judges. 

Ironically, many liberals who claim to be egalitarian have very elitist political convictions.  They do not trust the masses and are very pessimistic about the possibility of reversing conservative public opinion.  They are much more comfortable turning to small judicial bodies to impose their enlightened opinions on people who appear to be less enlightened.  They do not really trust the democratic process.  The reality is that, over the past decade, social conservatives have been far more successful in mobilizing the masses than liberals. 

Therefore, the traumatizing Rehnquist opinion is both a challenge and an opportunity for us.  We can no longer rely on the courts for our victories. We have to turn to the polls.  We will have to lobby legislators.  We will have to convince voters.  We will have to mobilize workers.  We will have to appeal to the ears and minds of the American people. 

This may sound like more work than we are prepared to do.  But there is no alternative.  In the end, the security of our freedoms cannot rely on the fickle loyalty of the courts.  It must depend on the support of the people and of public opinion. 

The judicial “setback” of the Webster decision may be the beginning of the revitalization of the feminist movement and of liberal political forces that need the challenge of an important political battle.  And we will not have won our fight until we convince a clear majority of the American voters that reproductive rights are human rights. 

The Rabbi Writes: The Religious Right

The Jewish Humanist, October 1996, Vol. XXXIII, Number 3

The Religious Right 

Today in America there is a powerful mobilized voter constituency which is called the Religious Right.  Their most aggressive political organization is the Christian Coalition.  And their new and most visible leader is Ralph Reed.  In San Diego they took over the Republican Party platform. 

The Religious Right has its roots in the agricultural past, which is the foundation of traditional conservatism.  Before capitalism and urbanization most people were peasants and farmers, living in small villages.  The fundamental social unit was the extended family.  In that world bearing children was the easiest way to provide a cheap and obedient labor force.  Women obeyed their husbands.  Children obeyed and revered their parents.  Female significance lay in the raising of offspring.  Since the struggle for survival was harsh, pain and suffering were accepted as part of normal living.  The answer to suffering lay in religion which promised happiness after death. 

The ruling class of this milieu consisted of warriors and clergy.  Soldiers and priests were the familiar authority figures.  Honor and morality were identified with their virtues.  Money, commerce, and merchants were viewed with hostility.  They were too unfamiliar and thiswordly (sic) to be fully acceptable.  The source of ethical living lay in farms and small towns.  Reverence for the land and God was the pillar of the social order. 

When the industrial and capitalist revolutions came, the social upheavals produced an opposition to the tight control of family, church, and military government. These people were called “liberals” because they wanted to substitute personal freedom for social control.  The traditional people who wanted to preserve the old order were appropriately called “conservatives.”  In time the problems of capitalism produced an even more radical opposition.  These radicals sometimes chose to call themselves “socialists.” 

The liberals of the nineteenth century fought the social conservatives.  They wanted freedom from tradition, family control, and government.  They proposed the alternative of the autonomous individual and individual rights.  Every person had the right to choose his work, his residence, his religion, and his lifestyle.  Free speech, free assembly, and free enterprise supported these rights.  The “classic liberal” was no conservative.  What he was proposing was a radical departure from tradition.  Today, when free enterprise appears “traditional,” many defenders of laissez-faire capitalism call themselves “conservative.”  It is very important to make a distinction between “economic conservatives” who champion individual freedom and the genuine conservatives who champion social control. 

Social conservatism thrives on patriotism.  After all, the clan, the tribe, and the ethnic nation are simply extensions of the traditional family.  Loyalty to them has deep roots in the old world of agriculture.  Modern capitalism, like the big mixed cities it produces, tends to be international.  The consumer culture knows no boundaries.  In its mind choice should be as broad as possible.  Ironically, capitalism fostered nationalism because it needed the resources of a strong state and because it sponsored literacy in native languages.  But extreme nationalism is inimical to the spirit of free enterprise. 

Pat Buchanan is a powerful example of the conflict between chauvinism and free enterprise.  His strident opposition to free trade in the name of American patriotism rests ultimately on the parochial value of a tribal system.  Strangers are to be feared and excluded.  No foreign goods and no immigrants are the slogans of the Traditional Right. 

Buchanan’s constituency is not the upper classes.  It is the working class and the lower middle class who “tune in” to his message.  These people are only one, two, or three generations away from the farm.  They confront uncertain employment, disintegrating families, and violent cities.  The standard of living to which they had grown accustomed is “up for grabs.”  Capitalism and urban life are not as kind to them as they are to the professional classes.  Scapegoats for their misery are attractive.  Populist leaders like Huey Long, Charles Coughlin, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan know how to cultivate the paranoia of ruthless enemies. 

Social conservatism feeds on peasant and farmer nostalgia for small towns, tight families, group conformity, patriotic sacrifice, ancestral religion, and dangerous outsiders.  The dilemma of traditionalists is that the world they want is a function of an agricultural society of scarcity.  In order to return to it, they would have to forgo the lifestyle of the consumer culture.  For most of them, that is a price they are not prepared to pay. 

The Religious Right is a response to the discomforts, dislocations, violence, and uncertainty of modern urban culture.  In the  Muslim world it attacks capitalism, the consumer culture, and the freedom which stems from both of them.  In America such a strategy is not feasible.  Conservative anxieties avoid the basic economic anxieties: (with the exception of Buchanan) and focus on the lifestyle that a free consumer culture of choice cllows.  Abortion, hoosexuality, pornography, and feminism become the enemies.  All of them are seen as the manifestations of a sinister secularism.  Only  a return to the old religion and the values it sponsored will push back this secular tide. 

The part of America with the closest time connection to rural life and with the highest percentage of native Anglosaxons is the center of the Religious Right.  The South is the natural home of this political movement.  The money and “troops” of the fundamentalists come from all over America but are essentially Southern.  Churches of Southern origin are the mobilizers of the “faithful.” 

The aim of the Religious Right is political power.  While they cannot bring back the old values without blowing up the present economic system, they can create repression, turn patriotism into dangerous chauvinism, and undermine the integrity of our scientific institutions.  To say the least, they are dangerous. 

Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition are determined to control the machinery of the Republican Party.  Historically, the Republicans were the party that promoted industrialization, urbanization, and immigration There were much closer to classical liberals than they were to social conservatives.  Their Eastern establishment sponsored both liberal religion and planned parenthood.  Moreover, they were overwhelmingly Northern.  It is ironic that the “last cry” of Southern rural America has now become a controlling force in this Yankee reaction.  The base of both the Religious Right and the Republicans is now the South. 

School prayer will not bring back the old values, nor will it reverse the surge of the new individualism.  Social discipline and social responsibility demand a new values strategy for realists.  What is especially annoying about the Religious Right is their ideological bankruptcy.  They want to “have their cake and eat it.”  They want the comforts of urban capitalism together with all the asceticism of the old farm. 

Only the Republicans can give the Religious Right the power they want.  We must make sure that they do not. 

The Rabbi Writes: Election Day

The Jewish Humanist, November 1982, Vol. XX, Number 4

Election Day. 

November is a month when we think about politicians and the way they should behave.  It is a time when we focus on the role of government in our lives. 

Government is an indispensable part of our existence.  When it makes demands on us and takes our money we hate it.  When it gives us what we want we love it.  For most citizens the ambivalence will never be resolved.  Even the most charismatic politician will be both admired and resented. 

No matter who is elected to public office-Democrat or Republican-he will have to confront certain realities.  There are certain facts that transcend the partisan struggle and become the setting for any government program. 

What are these realities? 

People distrust the government now more than ever before.  There is a deep disillusionment among all Americans about what the government can do for them.  Political activity has declined.  Established parties have difficulty recruiting workers.  The public attitude features more resentment than admiration.  Even in a time of deep recession the old radical movement cannot mobilize people for programs of massive government intervention. Ronald Reagan touches a strong popular sentiment when he speaks of shrinking the government. 

What cures inflation increases unemployment.  The economic strategy of the Government and the Federal Reserve Board over the past few years, has been an assault on the problem of inflation.  High interest rates and the attempt to reduce public welfare have been partially successful in checking inflation.  But they have also resulted in the worst unemployment record since the Great Depression.  If we wish to reduce unemployment, we will have to risk more inflation.  There is no present single cure for both. 

Tax cuts do not work.  The tax cuts of supply side economics are not working.  Government revenues are declining and government deficits are ballooning.  Military and welfare costs are rising.  Promised private investment in job-producing enterprises has not been forthcoming.  If the public debt continues to grow massively, interest rates will go up fast as the government borrows most of the available money.  We cannot have our cake and eat it. We have to pay for what we buy. 

We have to choose between welfare and jobs.  The strained resources of the government, on all levels, cannot meet both the welfare demands of an aging society and the necessity to create new jobs and to provide job training;.  Right now, if the government has to make choices, it should invest its money in training young people for professions of the future and not in improved maintenance of the elderly.  Futuristic education is the key to our survival and to the preservation of our standard of living  Old industries will move to the parts of the world where labor is cheap.  Innovative industries will be able to sustain an expensive workforce. 

Government planning and initiative are required.  Private enterprise has always needed government help.  It still does.  The public authorities have to direct the use of available money.  It has to make sure that it is not gobbled up in useless corporate mergers.  It has to assign it to innovative job-producing businesses that will be able to compete on the markets of the future.  Passive withdrawal from intervention is to court disaster.  If we do not tamper with the marketplace, others will.  We need a long-run plan for the investment of our resources. 

Abortion and school prayer are diversions from the real issues.  Since the economic problems often appear unsolvable, it is tempting for politicians to divert public attention from the real issues and to play the role of moral crusader.  The danger is that in the attempt to hide from the economic dilemmas, the guarantees of civil liberties and a secular state, which are part of our constitutional heritage, will be sacrificed for short run political advantage.  The dignity and integrity of all politicians are going to be sorely tested in the near future. 

Nuclear arms control is an important new movement on the political scene.  The campaign against the creation and use of nuclear weapons is a new popular movement which crosses conventional partisan ones and which will not quickly go away.  It is the successor to the environmental passion of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.  It is an expression of continued public resentment of the military authorities, who lost so much credibility during the Vietnam war.  The entry of a traditional conserative institution, like the Roman Catholic Church, into the fray makes the campaign more than another extracurricular activity of peripheral liberals and radicals. 

Peace and the economy go together.  Economic recovery is not possible unless government expenditures are cut and government deficits shrink.  Military expenses are one of the major reasons for the out-of-control budget.  Even if we reduce welfare money to a bare minimum it is still too much.  Many conservatives are caught in a bind.  They want both a strong economy and the Cold War.  But economic recovery will take place only if we trim the military budget. 

Negotiating arms reductions with the Soviet Union is not distinct from our economic program.  It is part and parcel of our economic strategy.  Neither Russia nor America can afford the arms race. 

Ethics and women are important constituencies.  Playing to a white male Angle-Saxon audience is no longer a winning political style.  There are too many aroused women, non-whites and non-Anglsaxons to play that game.  Government leaders can no longer patronize the ‘outsiders’.  There are too many of them. 

Most Americans are in the Center.  What makes our democratic system work is that our citizens are not polarized into the Right and the Left.  Most of us are in the Center-favoring a marriage of free enterprise with mild government intervention-preferring individual freedom to religious dogmatism-choosing negotiation to belligerence.  Moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats are in the end, the most successful politicians.  That it is sometimes hard to tell the difference is a good sign. 

These ten realities are the unavoidable facts our new elected Congressmen and legislators will have to deal.