Let’s Just Think About This – Just A Little – Please!

January 28, 2008 10 Comments »

Mr. Palestine: The Only Man Who Could Make It Happen

Why do Orthodox Jews generally feel the need to be swept up with the whims of the “orthodox” denominations of other religions’ political persuasions? Just because the gay movement in America has embraced the Democratic Party, that makes the Democratic Party the party of Satan? Is that really what we’ve been reduced to? Look, I’ll be honest. Full disclosure here: I voted for Bush in 2004 in part because of the gay issue. The radical-left wing of the Democratic Party seemed to have taken over, and John Kerry was more of an advocate for “the people” than a leader who could strike compromise and build bridges and consensus. In other words, he seemed more likely to cave to the loudest shouts and screams than to proactively create change. I saw in him a weakness to give in to pressure and a lack of principled judgment and decision making. I figured – Bush has pretty much given in to the radical wing of his party, and thereby trashed the US’s standing in the world, sent our economy into a downturn and destabilized the Middle East. As bad as he has been, he couldn’t possibly do much worse. Four more years of him and he’s out. If Kerry wins, then we get at least four years of a guy who will give into the radical wing of his party, and he could potentially be re-elected, or else another radical on the other side could get elected four years down the line. I wanted a fresh start in four years, not more of the same problems with a future choice of the lesser of two evils once again. Unfortunately – in my view – I was woefully wrong about Bush’s ability to tank the country even further. On the other hand, fortunately, we now have an opportunity to choose among three (ok, probably two) good replacements from his opposing party.

I hate partisan politics. I would like to choose someone based on his ability to lead. In today’s day and age, however, you have to prioritize your political issues. You have to choose someone based on his positions on the issues that matter the most to you. The only man in the race – I think – who can unite people and lead across the vast partisan divide, is Barack Obama. But why, oh why, do Orthodox Jews seem to suffer from the same blind-sheep syndrome from which the right-wing Christian voting bloc suffers?

In 2004 it was the gay agenda. And I admit that I voted for the guy who swore up and down he would never allow a gay marriage to happen. Now we know that he either could not or else chose not to prevent it. We now have gay marriage in many places in America. What about the rest of his policies? How much of the damage that was done in the last 3 years didn’t have to happen? Would Hurricane Katrina have become the disaster that it did? Would the housing market and stock market crashes that are still wreaking havoc on the economy have been as bad? Would Hamas have won the 2006 parliamentary elections? We will never know.

Now it’s the false notion that Republicans are the only friends Israel has. Bull! Bush was the first president to use the name Palestine in a speech on part of his foreign policy agenda, and has been criticized for his pro-Palestinian agenda repeatedly by Daniel Pipes, no left-winger, I might add. But for some reason, many Orthodox Jews, and most of my friends in Israel, are ardent Bush supporters and hate the Democrats. I don’t understand it. They have just swallowed what the Republican Party has fed them, hook, line, and sinker.

As someone recently told me, he’ll never vote for Barack Hussein Obama. I tried telling him that, having studied Arabic, I could assure him that the name Hussein does not mean “terrorist dictator”, but in fact means handsome or pleasant. It would be the equivalent, I told him, of a Jew naming his son Noam. He was taken aback just a bit, and led me to believe that he will never name any future son Noam either, which is ridiculous.

I understand that politics can be petty. Thomas Jefferson was accused of incest by the Adams campaign in 1800. But can’t we use our brains, just a little? Isn’t that was being Jewish is about? RaMBa”M writes in Hilchoth Yesodei HaTorah (1:1) that “The foundation of (all) foundations and the pillar of (all) wisdoms is to know that there is a Primary Being, and that He {It} causes to exist all that exists.” We are commanded not to believe in G-d, but to know that G-d exists and creates all. Jews are not meant to follow blindly, but to investigate. Yes, we are rewarded for our proclamation at Sinai, “Na’aseh VeNishma’” – “We will do and (then) we will listen/learn”. But we still promised to devote ourselves to study and investigation of everything. If we’re going to be politically involved – which is a topic for another post – why should our political decisions be given any less thought? Why follow like sheep the man who says he loves Israel but then promotes an agenda that harms her? Why believe the guy who goes out of his way to say again and again how religious he is and how much he believes in the sanctity of marriage? Where are the policies that promote monogamy among heterosexuals? Where are the policies that support funding for marriage counseling and sex-ed in schools to encourage kids to THINK about the consequences of pre-marital sex? I know, this is a long post, and it’s a bit rambly, but I just had to get it off my chest. I’m so fed up with people telling me that they can never vote for a Democrat because they’re too religious to. This is what I have to say to my Orthodox friends who vote Republican because they’re “values voters.” If the Republican Party really were the party of values, and really tried to live up to its stated principles, you and I would not be able to have this discourse. We would be run out of America as heretics in a real hurry.

As for the president and the Republican Party, and their “values”, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “Bush doth protest too much, methinks.”.

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  • http://mosi.blog-city.com Isaac

    You said:
    “I hate partisan politics. I would like to choose someone based on his ability to lead. In today’s day and age, however, you have to prioritize your political issues. You have to choose someone based on his positions on the issues that matter the most to you.”

    But the rest of your essay seems to contradict this. It seems to me that choosing a candidate for President based on his/her positions is a losing game. No matter what the person says or even has done in the past, we are guaranteed that when the new President takes office, every promise and even every intention that pre-dated Innauguration will go out the window in the face of the actual economic, political, geopolitical, and classified security conditions. Beside that, the average, no make that *every single* voter’s understanding of these conditions is not sufficient to make sound judgements of what actions a President really ought to take. (And if any issue is subject to these limitations, foreign policy, including with respect to Israel, certainly is.)

    What matter a great deal more than campaign promises are the candidate’s ability to make critical decisions and to lead people to implment them, the candidate’s moral/ethical character, and a sense that the candidate has at least thought about the stuff you care about. These qualities are not always easy to determine, but I believe that trying to evaluate the candidate based on them would be a great deal more fruitful than trying to match up with someone on the issues.

    All that said, I agree with you that Obama seems to be the man to support this year. There’s no question that he has the power to lead and inspire. We can’t know everything about his morals and ethics, and we know he’s admitted to some mistakes in the past, but at least his marriage seems happy and faithful, and he has worked hard on ethics reform in the Senate. And he has put more thought than any other candidate into what I believe is the first problem that our government needs to solve right now: government transparency.

    Yours was the second Obama endorsement I read this morning from someone whose opinion I care about. The first was from the guy who writes the brilliant xkcd.com comic: http://blag.xkcd.com/2008/01/28/obama/

  • http://Deadairmedia.com Zechariah Mehler

    Let me begin by saying that I am the only Jewneric writer who has ever actually voted for Obama. I am happy to have Barak Obama as my Senator and I would vote for him again in the same capacity. That being said I saw Obama speak at an AIPAC convention and the things he said in regards to Israel and the peace process were less then inspiring and more then a little unsettling. This coupled with his is stunning lack of political, economic, foreign and domestic experience makes for a candidate that I am terrified of seeing in the Oval Office. The other choices that I am afforded leave an equally bad taste in my mouth and so I find myself a Democrat without a candidate.

    Seth: There are points I agree with you on and points I disagree with you on. I think that your right it’s all about PR. The Republican Party is the “party of morals” and many people are taken in by that. I really think it’s a problem that Orthodox Jews vote based on issues like gay marriage and abortion. We as Jews have lived in the most licentious immoral societies the world has ever seen and we never looked to our political leaders for our moral cues. Back then we did what we should be doing now. Expecting our rabbinic leaders to set a moral standing and not be concerned if some Presbyterian gay couple in Florida wants to shack up. We should not expect the morals of our community to be the morals of everyone’s community.

    Isaac: you’re right in a way we should look to someone who has the ability to lead but by that logic your candidate is Rudy. Of all the candidates he is the one who has proven the ability to enact the most change. If Rudy is not your guy either because of his politics or because of a personal distaste for him then I would suggest you rethink your policy on electing a candidate based on his ability to make critical decisions. After all Obama hasn’t been around long enough for us to see him make any and Bush has proven his ability to make critical decisions with out the consent of the nation.

  • http://www.izgad.blogspot.com Izgad

    I personally find Sen. Obama to be quite likeable, despite the fact that I disagree with his politics. You talk about the need to choose a president who will protect Israel. Sen. Obama is on the record as supporting talks with Iran. That scares me.

  • http://www.kobymandell.org Seth Jacobson

    You all make good points. Isaac, I mean that I wish one could choose based on leadership, but unfortunately there are too many people in politics who run on single- or primary-issues, such that it is difficult to find a candidate who does not scare you, and you generally end up choosing the least of two evils in any given election. Obama, on the other hand, strikes me not as a man who focuses on idividual issues – yes, issues are important, and with him I like more than I dislike – but as a leader. He is someone who has sound judgment, AND is smart enough to recognize and correct mistakes he has made.

    Z – on leadership, he has a record of crossing party lines to get things done. He has a stellar resume if you look at his accomplishment before he ventured into electoral politics. He’s been in a leadership role longer than Hillary has when you look at it from that perspective. Also, while I loved having Giuliani as a mayor when I was in New York, I fully recognize that some of his accomplishments as mayor not only crossed party lines, but crossed legal and ethical lines as well. That is not something that will translate well on the national stage. First of all, there are too many eyes and ears to let that sort of thing happen, which would diminish his effectiveness, and second, if he did succeed in pushing the limits, it would set even worse precedents than those set by the current administration in terms of the reaches presidential power.

    On Israel, that was an issue that came up last night at an open house I attended. He has some advisers that worry people, but I think that he is generally supported by much of the pro-Israel bloc of the Democratic Party. In addition, like I said, he’s smart enough to recognize and fix mistakes.

    Thanks, guys, for the comments. Please DIGG this article!!

  • Robert Perl

    This is as issue that has bothered me quite a bit lately. Simply phrased, “What makes a presidential candidate good for Israel?”. The answers will encompass the entire American political spectrum. However, as people who care deeply about Israel as the eternal home of the Jewish people, we must look for a person who will seek to strengthen Israel as a America’s best ally in the Middle East.
    So when we think of President Bush’s record on what he has achieved with regard to Israel’s security, we can only think of it as dismal. Whether the president is for or against a Palestinian state, for or against Israel’s retention of the territories it was forced to occupy, are so insignificant as compared to what he has done to make Israel more vulnerable to physical and total annihilation by Iran. His mismanagement of the Iraq war has emboldened Iran to pursue its nuclear weapons development program, while explicitly proclaiming its desire to destroy Israel. From this perspective, the Palestinians are an annoyance, while Iran is an existential threat. This simple observation is, unfortunately, missed by many Orthodox Jews who have been blinded to believe that retention of the territories is the only important issue for Israel today.
    Tom Friedman, in numerous New York Times columns, has forcefully argued that the most important weapon America has in its Global War on Terror (GWOT) is ending its dependence on foreign oil — well, maybe it’s OK to import from Canada — because oil money not only emboldens people like Ahmadinajad and Chavez and Putin in their outrageous exploits to gain greater geopolitical power. Furthermore, as is the case with Saudi Arabia, large amounts of oil money are being funneled to the most radical jihadist strains of Islam, and converted into funds for terrorist actions. Therefore, I feel that the most — perhaps even the only — important litmus test for any presidential candidate is his or her commitment to energy independence.
    This leads me to another sore point with me — global warming. If not terrorism or nuclear weapons, the greatest threat to the entire planet is the likely flooding of global coastal regions caused by unfathomably enormous chunks of ice breaking off from Greenland and Antarctica and falling into the world’s oceans because of global warming induced melting. The fact that this phenomenon is man-made and probably reversible by reducing caron emissions is no longer a disputed issue in the scientific community. A recent Scientific American editorial (almost unheard of in that magazine) attested to those facts. Yet many Orthodox lambaste Al Gore for his persistent advocacy of this issue. This is another unfortunate example of Orthodox Jewry following lock step with right wing extremists to the detriment of the very Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam — the divine charge for man to improve the world that he inhabits. Even if one is swayed, although I cannot imagine how any thinking person could be, to believe that global warming is a lot of Liberal hooey, why would he not support the environmentalists’ cause to reduce our use of oil?
    This leads me to my final point. What has happened to some of the most important concepts that are explicitly stated in the Torah? No Rashi or any other commentaries are needed to understand the commandment to all people (not just Jews) to pursue compassion and justice (tzedek u’mishpat). In fact, check out the chapter on Sodom and Gomorrah and you will see that its indifference to wickedness and refusal to enforce basic moral laws of murder and thievery that caused God to destroy those kingdoms. Their sexual habits are never mentioned in the Torah. At every turn, the Torah exhorts to be sensitive to the needs of the widows, orphans and foreigners in your midst. We are told to pursue righteousness (Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof) and do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord. How is the “moral majority” Republican agenda furthering these goals? The hypocrisy of defending Republicans, or anybody else in positions of power, who let corporations in favored industries go unregulated to the detriment of the overall citizenry, and letting the fabulously wealthy expand their riches to the very apparent devastating expense of the poor and middle classes should be unconscionable to any truly God-fearing Jew.
    That’s enough of my rant. Now I challenge my fellow Orthodox Jews to tell me that it ain’t so.

  • http://www.kobymandell.org Seth Jacobson

    Wow, Robert, that’s quite the comment! On your first point about Israel, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    On your second point about global warming, I happen to currently agree that it is a serious issue, not because of the threat of flooding our coastal cities – which I think is unlikely to occur to the extent of Al Gore’s example in “An Inconvenient Truth”, but because of the way that the world tends to regulate itself and try to put itself into equilibrium. The damage that has been done over the last 30 years to the Earth’s equilibrium could be very great, which could in turn result in a drastic shift in our weather patterns, which could cause even more damage until things finally straighten out again, some decades or even centuries in the future. I don’t think that is something of a religious issue, however, and I think that Tikkun Olam has been misused by many to further an environmentalist agenda. It has little to do with greenhouse gases and much more to do with morals and ethics.

    As for your third point, I think we’re seeing a resurgence in the Evangelical Christian community as well as the Orthodox Jewish community (which I’d like to see more of), in which people who have in the past supported the “family values” of the Republican party are now recognizing that 1)they aren’t really the party of values, and 2)there are many, many more issues of a moral and ethical nature that matter to us that are being neglected by the Republican Party through and through.

  • Ahron Lerman

    “Four more years of him and he’s out. If Kerry wins, then we get at least four years of a guy who will give into the radical wing of his party, and he could potentially be re-elected, or else another radical on the other side could get elected four years down the line. I wanted a fresh start in four years, not more of the same problems with a future choice of the lesser of two evils once again.” —– WHAT?! This is the most pathetic voting philosophy I’ve ever heard of. I’d be embarrassed to have admitted what you did. Seriously. You vote for the next four years, not on the chance that the guy you vote for will be reelcted and then someone you don’t agree with being elected after that. Huh? So you voted for who you admit was the GREATER of two evils? You openly voted for MORE EVIL. That makes my head spin. You should probably just stick with your admittance of voting for unequal rights for gays. You seem slightly less ignorant that way. Still ignorant, but a little less.

  • http://Deadairmedia.com Zechariah Mehler

    I will admit that I was also disappointed with Seth’s concept about voting in the last election. In 2004 I did believe that Bush could do a tremendous amount of harm in a second term. But hindsight bias is 20/20 and had Kerry won I am unable to speculate on what his presidency would have been like. The election wasn’t about voting for the lesser of two evils it was about having two miserable choices for president. Personally my soul died a little when I voted for Kerry and I am a staunch Democrat. It’s inappropriate to berate anyone for the choice they felt compelled to make. Though my personal political dogma differs from that of this article I am willing to concede that there was a logical thought process behind it and I can only hope that through respectful discourse I can help those who follow paths differing from my own to see the logic in my voting decisions.

  • http://www.weinbergconsulting.com Dave Weinberg
  • jik

    Wow, I can’t tell you how happy I am to see other religious Jews writing about these issues.

    I wrote about the tendency of many Jews to be single-issue voters (in particular on the topic of supporting Israel), which I consider to be antithetical to real Jewish values, in my blog on January 23. I also addressed the fact that there are so many other issues that Jews should be paying attention to when deciding for whom to vote.

    Unfortunately, I think the Republican party has done an amazing job of coopting the language of debate by convincing many religious Jews that they are the party of “values voters,” where “values voters” apparently means “opposed to abortion and intolerant of homosexuals.” Well, those aren’t my values, and I don’t think they’re true Jewish values either, and I think it’s about time the Democratic party put some energy into figuring out how to win Jews back.

    Barack Obama is the best chance to do that the party has seen in many years. That’s why the conservatives are afraid of him, and their fear has driven them to launch a vicious smear campaign, about which all Jews, whether or not they support Obama, should be appalled.

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