Category Archives: Politics

Of Bump Stocks and Background Checks

The landscape of Devin P. Kelley’s life was a veritable forest of red flags.

Mr. Kelley, who last week shot to death 26 worshippers in a Texas church and wounded some 20 others, over the years was convicted of beating his wife and stepson, fracturing the latter’s skull; faced charges of animal cruelty; had been investigated for threats against family members; threatened to kill his military superiors; was caught sneaking guns onto an Air Force base; and escaped from confinement in a mental health facility.

The Air Force has admitted that it did not, as required, submit Mr. Kelley’s name to federal authorities for inclusion in a national database that would have prevented him from buying firearms from a licensed dealer.

But there is a two-word phrase in the previous paragraph that conveys the fact that, even had every red flag in the killer’s life been noticed, even had more neighbors reported him, even had the Air Force done its duty, the murderer would still have had no problem procuring his murder weapon – a AR-15-style rifle, the same sort used by the mass killers in Las Vegas last month, Orlando last year and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. (It’s also customizable; adding a “bump stock” can turn the semi-automatic into a virtual machine gun. Sweet.)

The phrase? “Licensed dealers.” Federal law does not require background checks for people buying firearms from other private individuals, as takes place regularly at gun shows across the country. Some states require private sale background checks, but most do not. Texas does not.

That loophole, through which any determined would-be killer can easily pass, was decried by past presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to no avail. The NRA argues, with members of Congress nodding their heads obediently, that there are illegal ways for criminals to purchase guns too, so why burden citizens to check a federal registry before selling a semi-automatic rifle to a fellow citizen? One wonders if those congressmen lock their front doors. There are, after all, burglars out there with crowbars.

Asked after the recent massacre about intensified vetting of gun purchases, President Trump responded that the murderer was a “very deranged individual,” and that tighter gun control might have prevented “that very brave person who happened to have a gun” from shooting the killer and averting more casualties.

But that brave man would likely have passed a background check . And, for the record, he didn’t stop the massacre; he shot Kelley only after the killer had left the church.

As to the perpetrator’s mental health, the mentally ill are no more prone to violence than the general population. As Paolo del Vecchio of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration put it: “Violence by those with mental illness is so small that even if you could somehow cure it all, 95 percent of violent crime would still exist.”

So why was America’s gun homicide rate 33 per million people in 2009, while in Canada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively? Why, as a The American Journal of Medicine study last year reported, are Americans 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries?

The only variable that explains the high rate of gun deaths in America is – you may want to sit down – the number of guns in America, and the ease with which we Americans can obtain them.

We make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns, according to a 2015 study by University of Alabama professor Adam Lankford. The U.S., moreover, has some of the weakest controls of any developed country over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned.

Yet, despite the events of recent weeks (and months, and years), gun control remains a frightening phrase to many Americans and their legislators. British journalist Dan Hodges noted with tragic resignation: “In retrospect, Sandy Hook [the 2012 attack that killed 20 students at a Connecticut elementary school] marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

The aforementioned Mr. Obama, whose own calls for more gun regulations were stymied by the legislature, reacted to last week’s massacre with a prayer. “May G-d… grant all of us the wisdom,” he wrote, “to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.”

Worthy, to my lights, of a national amen.

© Hamodia (in a slightly edited version)

The Art of the Decertification

What does President Trump’s decertification of the Iran deal mean, and what does it mean?

That wasn’t a mistake. There are two questions here. What exactly it is that the president did, and what does it herald for the world’s future.

What he did:

Back in 2015, then-President Obama approved the international agreement to restrict Iran’s advancing nuclear program. But the deal wasn’t an actual treaty, which would have required Senate approval. Skeptical lawmakers wanted to assert some sort of control over the accord, and so Senators Bob Corker (yes, that one) and Ben Cardin helped pass bipartisan legislation, the Iran Nuclear Review Act (INARA), requiring the president to certify important aspects of the deal to Congress every 90 days.

Heeding the advice of his foreign-policy advisers, President Trump did so twice. When the third deadline arrived this month, though, he opted not to, claiming that Iran is violating the terms of the agreement – or, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson clarified, its “spirit.”

While United Nations inspectors, the other parties to the deal and even top Trump administration officials (including Mr. Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford) maintain that there haven’t been substantive Iranian violations of the deal, and that Iran’s nuclear program has been halted for now, the president, who repeatedly denounced the deal during the presidential campaign, concluded that, nevertheless, the time has come to force its renegotiation.

He could have just pulled the U.S. out of the deal – a president created it, and a president can extinguish it – but instead opted to simply not certify the agreement, punting its fate, at least for now, to Congress.

And so we’re brought to the second question: What does the president’s recent action mean – for the future?

It’s not hard to make a case that, despite its abiding by the terms of the deal, the Iranian regime is belligerent and dangerous. It has gone full speed ahead with its ballistic missile program (which falls outside the nuclear agreement) and is deeply involved in murderous mischief in places like Syria and Lebanon. It has harassed American ships in the Persian Gulf and underwritten Hezbollah’s operating budget. It credibly competes with North Korea for first prize in the category of malevolence.

Still, insisting on major new concessions from Iran – which President Trump wants Congress to do – or pulling out of the Iran deal altogether, as he has threatened to do if Congress fails him, could result in a colossally sticky wicket. Right off the bat, it will provide Iran an excuse to fully resume its nuclear weapons program. The mullahs have already gone ballistic in the literal sense with their missile program; they might well be expected to do the same in the phrase’s figurative sense.

Iran’s “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already announced that “If the U.S. tears up the deal, we will shred it.”

A mere two years ago, U.S. and Israeli intelligence measured the breakout time for an Iranian nuclear weapon in weeks. Currently, due to the deal, that can is kicked down the road at least 15 years (by which time Iran may have a new, less lunatic leadership; and, if not, the military options considered two years ago can be reconsidered). Should the deal be abrogated, though, we’re back to 2015.

Then there is the expected fallout from the U.S. reneging on an agreement, even one that isn’t an actual treaty. Russia and China, as signatories of the Iran deal, will question whether the United States can be a reliable negotiating partner, at a time when cooperation among the major powers is vital in fighting radical Islam. And if there currently exists any hope that diplomacy might mitigate North Korea’s designs, there won’t be then.

So the president is taking a serious gamble, with much at stake.

Ironically, though, the very recklessness that Mr. Trump seems to project could win him the endgame here. Because it is at least conceivable that Iran’s leaders, for all their bluster, in fact feel endangered by a seemingly unrestrained American leader who openly threatens his country’s enemies with utter destruction.

Part of what propelled Mr. Trump to the presidency was his proclaimed success as a dealmaker. Might his Iranian gambit turn out to have been a shrewd move that yielded not World War III but long-term security for the civilized world?

We must hope it will and, more important, be mispallel that lev melech here will be firmly b’yad Hashem (Mishlei 21:1).

© 2017 Hamodia

Kashering Elephants and Donkeys

I appreciate that my friend of many years Rabbi Menken ( http://hamodia.com/2017/09/12/one-mans-ceiling-another-mans-floor/ ) agrees with me that treating political affiliations like sports teams is wrong, as is attaching ourselves to political positions (or parties, as I wrote in the piece he critiques) to the point of justifying the unjustifiable.

We disagree, however, about whether, as he claims, only “one political party” can rightly be supported by Torah-conscious Jews. He asserts that “to be a mainstream Democrat today, one must support” things like redefining marriage. Such redefinition, however, is no longer an issue, as it is, for better or worse (worse), not only the Supreme Court-established law of the land but embraced by many Republicans, simple citizens and legislators alike.

Rabbi Menken also attributes to the Democratic Party an “increasing” belief that Jews are stealing Palestinian land, and, by extension, its reflection of ancient anti-Semitic canards.

I don’t know what he has in mind, but what I do know, as should he, is that both sides of the aisles in both houses of Congress are staunch and proven defenders of Israel’s security needs. And that during last year’s presidential campaign, attempts by Bernie Sanders and Jim Zogby to insert “occupation” and other “evenhanded” language in the Democratic platform were summarily and effectively quashed by the Democratic mainstream; and that the Democratic platform explicitly opposed the BDS movement.

It did endorse the eventual goal of a two-state solution, but if that constitutes some sort of updated Jew hatred, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, along with some other very fine supporters of Israel, would qualify as anti-Semites.

But I don’t want to be put in a position of doing precisely what I decried in my original article, singing the praises of any party. My entire point was that mindless partisan politics and Torah-consciousness do not mix. Or should not. There are times when “conservative” values serve Klal Yisrael best, and times when “liberal” ones do; issues regarding which one party best reflects our concerns, and issues about which the other one does; and individual legislators who are on our side regarding some issues but not others. What is more, representatives of either party may themselves hold different positions from their own colleagues. What should matter alone to us is what is best for Klal Yisrael. And indiscriminate partisanship does not serve that goal.

As to Charlottesville, the “Unite the Right” gathering was explicitly billed in its promotional literature as a show of “white” strength; its official poster, in fact, was clearly modeled on Nazi posters, complete with birds pointedly reminiscent of the Nazi eagle darting through the sky, with Confederate flags in the place of the swastikas.

And actual swastikas were held aloft by rally participants, as many hundreds of them marched at night with torches, chanting angrily “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” – an English rendering of the Nazi “blut und boden.”

The counter-protest, by contrast, was organized by a coalition of peaceful rights groups: Peoples Action for Racial Justice, Together Cville and Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice. According to their advertising, their march was to be “a peaceful protest against all forms of white supremacy, racial intolerance, and discrimination.”

And it largely was just that. Some violent elements also crashed the protest and police didn’t seem to make efforts to stop violence between them and similar elements among the supremacists. But in no way was the counter-protest a mirror of the supremacist rally. The vast majority of the former were demonstrating against hatred; the vast majority of the latter were expressing it.

And no number of “first hand” anecdotes, no matter how compelling, can obscure that fact.

The president, on two occasions, seemed to pointedly equate the supremacists and the anti-hate group. For that Rabbi Menken offers his “gratitude.” That, though, is precisely the sort of blunt partisanship and hero worship I consider so harmful. One needn’t be an opponent of Mr. Trump to acknowledge the inaptness of his apparent comparison. In fact, among the myriad groups that did so was the Republican Jewish Coalition. Rabbi Menken seems here to be, as they say, “more Catholic than the Pope.”

The president’s comments were not merely “politically” misguided, they were morally wrong. That does not make him a bad person or an enemy, chalilah, but neither does it make him a hero.

I do not understand the pertinence of Rabbi Menken’s mention of media that tried to connect car attacks by Muslim terrorists in Europe with the supremacist who drove his car into a peaceful crowd in Charlottesville, but I certainly join him in his skepticism about that assertion.

Nor do I fathom the relevance here of the contrast between Israel’s humanitarianism and her Arab enemies’ celebration of murder. I have, in fact, written about that staggering contrast on several occasions.

And so, my bottom line remains what the first lines of my original column contended: We American Jews who are faithful to Torah must advocate our interests and our ideals, but judiciously. We must not fall into the contemporary trap of becoming partisan cheerleaders instead of prudent champions.

© 2017 Hamodia

Statues of Limitation

It’s safe to say that many of us are less than exercised over the public debate about Confederate-era statues on public lands. It may animate those with a dog in the race, so to speak, like African-Americans, some wistful white Southerners and pigeons. But the conventional community wisdom is that it is hardly an issue that need concern us.

Before explaining why I disagree, some facts (always a good idea):

While those who oppose the removal of public-space statues honoring Confederate leaders assert that only a tiny minority of radical, “progressive” elements wish to take down the stone tributes, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that more than a quarter of all Americans favored removing the statues. Another 19% said they were conflicted.

The statues, moreover, their advocates maintain, are merely meant to honor brave Civil War heroes who fought for their vision of the United States.

The vast majority of the controversial statues, however, were erected well after the end of that war, and in fact peaked in the early and mid-1900s. Just when, as it happens, many states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise black Americans.

Historians don’t consider that confluence of events to be meaningless. As James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, observed: “These statues were meant to create legitimate garb for white supremacy. Why [else] would you put a statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson in 1948 in Baltimore?”

Moving from facts to assertions, the statue-protectors claim that history will be threatened by the monuments’ removals, as the statues are reminders of the war that split the nation during the early 1860s.

History, though, is safe, preserved as it has been and will continue to be, by more effective means than stone figures, things like history books and school curricula.

Finally, those who oppose tampering with the monuments point out that there will be no end to such undertakings. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, after all, were slave owners. Shall we dismantle their memorials too? As President Trump asked rhetorically at his August 15 press conference, “Where does it stop?”

That latter argument seems reasonable at first thought; but at second thought, less so. The statues that many citizens feel don’t belong on public land are of men who championed or symbolize slavery, not those who simply, like countless Americans, took advantage of the institution when it was a regrettable but accepted social norm.

And, contrary to the view of a handful of suddenly popular revisionist historians, while the Civil War was fought for a number of reasons, like states’ rights and economic independence, slavery was, in the words of the Confederate vice-president Alexander H. Stephens, “the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution” of Southern independence. Stephens continued by explaining that the Confederacy rested “upon the great truth that the negro [sic] is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

There was a reason, after all, that all of the Confederate states were slave states, and that all of the free states remained in the Union.

Why, though, should we care about the statues? The answer, in a word, is empathy.

Leave aside the very real implications here of darkei shalom – which is not, as some “scholars” suggest, some “meta-halachic” novelty but the expression of an essential Torah concept. Feeling the pain of another is a central mussar goal. And while it may most directly have impact on the pain of fellow members of Klal Yisrael – our own “family” – the middah itself stands on its own as an ideal, one to be cultivated and internalized.

That millions of fellow human beings are offended by towering reminders of their dreadful history in our country should at very least make us consider “what is hateful,” to use Rabi Akiva’s formulation, to us, to wonder how we would feel were there a swastika monument, or a statue of American Nazi Party founder George Lincoln Rockwell – who merely hated and didn’t really harm Jews – on the front lawn of a courthouse or in a public park.

If one’s answer to that question is “eh, no big deal,” then unconcern for the hundreds of public tributes to proponents of the enslavement and mistreatment of a people is at least consistent.

But if one’s answer is that a stone swastika or a Nazi on a pedestal, his hand outstretched in tribute to his vision, is offensive, then we need to recognize, and appreciate, why others are irritated by very real tributes to very real racism.

© 2017 Hamodia

The Peril of Partisanship

Among contemporary American life’s many negative influences on Torah-conscious Jews is a subtle one that is generally overlooked.

We don’t need reminders of the pernicious impact of the surrounding society’s denial of eternal truths, embrace of immorality, lack of any semblance of tznius or obsession with material comforts and possessions. Well, actually we do need such reminders, and receive them from our manhigim.

But we seldom hear about a spiritual ill that, at least to my lights, seems to be running wild among even Jews who are otherwise committed to Torah: Political bandwagon-jumping.

I’m not referring, of course, to responsible shtadlanus, whose primary and most responsible practitioner is the organization I am privileged to work for (but, I remind readers, in whose name I do not write in this space), Agudath Israel of America.

The judicious and delicate execution of shtadlanus, interaction with government officials – which was pioneered in the U.S. by the likes of “Mike” Tress and Rabbi Moshe Sherer, zichronom livrachah – is vital, although not a simple thing. People like my esteemed colleagues Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel and Rabbi Abba Cohen, with the guidance of Gedolim, admirably carry on those pioneers’ work in a duly careful and conscientious manner.

My concern is with something else, what might best be called the “political sports team mentality” popular with so many simple-minded Americans, but which has been seeping, heavily of late, into the Torah-dedicated world as well.

Otherwise intelligent individuals gleefully glom onto particular political parties or politicians, usually for some (at least arguably) rational reason, but then, when faced with the championed party’s or person’s wrongheaded actions, words or behavior, are unable to let go. The fans bend over backward to justify the unjustifiable, because, well, it’s their player or their team.

And, conversely, the “opposing team” is a no-good bunch of bums, and can do no right. A leader or legislator can act laudably but, if he is on the wrong side of the designated partisan divide, will be criticized for being hypocritical, having a hidden agenda or just for not having done more.

Is this what our community has come to, a quieter but no less mindless version of the rowdy crowds who heartily chant “Yes, we can!” or “Lock her up!”?

Something’s gone missing in parts of our community and some of its organs’ political positions and commentary. Actually a few things. One is humility.

That is to say, there are seldom simple answers to complex political issues – which most political issues are. Yes, there are certainly occasions when it is clear that a particular piece of legislation or political candidate is worthy, or the opposite.

But in most cases, things are not entirely as they are portrayed by either the New York Times’ editorial page or talk radio personalities. And only a careful hearing-out and honest consideration of all sides of an issue, be it immigration or free trade or Confederate statues or even a potential peace process in the Middle East, has a chance of yielding an informed, objective position. Mindless team spirit is no path to emes. Sometimes, even, as conservative columnist David Brooks recently observed, “The truth is plural.”

Thoughtful, truth-consistent positions come from research and objective analysis, not the rantings or self-righteousness of partisan players. Assertions, even if one hears them shouted on the radio or sees them, as the wry joke goes, “on the internet!,” are not necessarily actual facts.

An actual fact is that, at the “Unite the Right” rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, one side was entirely composed of white supremacists of varied stripes but the other was mostly comprised of non-radical, non-violent opponents of white supremacy. And that the former group contained no very fine people. And, on the other hand, that neither Steve Bannon nor President Trump is an anti-Semite.

An actual fact is that it wasn’t “the media” alone that was disturbed by the president’s seeming comparison of the two groups, but also leading Republican lawmakers, staunchly conservative periodicals, commentators like Charles Krauthammer, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and, lihavdil, a number of respected Rabbanim.

An actual fact is that, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently observed, “Most news is not fake.”

Mr. Brooks made another observation about political “zealots.” They turn politics, he wrote, “into a secular religion.” In our case, actually, it’s much worse. They turn religion – ours – into political tools, and even attempt to utilize statements of Chazal and divrei Torah to buttress their partisan positions. That’s indefensible.

As is the entire “sports team” mentality in politics.  We are, or should be, better than that.

© 2017 Hamodia

Blood of the Right Sort

During Germany’s accursed Third Reich, the U.S. immigration system severely limited the number of German Jews admitted to the country to about 26,000 annually. But even that quota was less than a quarter filled during most of the Nazi era, because of strict requirements put in place by the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Whether FDR’s personal sentiments about Jews – he once dismissed pleas on behalf of Jewish refugees as “Jewish wailing” and “sob stuff” – had anything to do with that policy can’t be known, but that they existed can’t be denied.

Nor can Mr. Roosevelt’s conviction that immigration should be limited to those who had “blood of the right sort.”

Back in February, President Trump famously admitted that “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” For some of us, at least, no less complicated is the issue of immigration.

Last week, the president embraced a proposal to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.

The plan is intended to stem the flow of newcomers to the U. S., in keeping with the president’s contention that the country has taken in too many low-skilled immigrants, to the detriment of American workers.

But there are studies that have shown that immigration does not have a negative effect on American jobs, and may even have a positive one. Some Republicans, in fact, are opposing the president’s initiative. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, for instance, asserted that “If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state’s economy, which relies on this immigrant work force.”

Many of us, mindful of the regular exhortations of Islamist fanatics that their followers infiltrate Western countries and kill “infidels,” and of the terrorist attacks we have all too often seen, may regard any restriction on immigration as something to celebrate. It isn’t 1938, after all, and Jews aren’t seeking refuge.

But we do well to bear in mind that, according to the Government Accountability Office, between September 12, 2001 and December 31, 2016, there were 23 fatal “Radical Islamist” attacks in the U.S., resulting in a total of 119 deaths (more than half, from two attacks, the San Bernardino and Orlando massacres), but fully 62 fatal “far-right violent extremist-motivated attacks” (although leading to “only” 106 deaths).

And to recognize that legal immigration to the U.S. is overwhelmingly from Mexico, China and India, not exactly hotbeds of Islamism. (Next on the list are the Philippines and Cuba.)

The president’s proposal should be of great concern to us. Under its terms, it would not even allow American citizens to sponsor their aged or infirm parents to immigrate to the United States.  And it is unclear whether it will provide any way to sponsor religious workers, who are very important to our community.

But beyond those practical concerns, and perhaps more important, it would be unseemly for a community like ours, whose recent forebears were immigrants, most largely unskilled and penniless, to publicly endorse new limits on immigration. Or even to feel comfortable about it to ourselves. Might hakaras hatov extend to intangibles like immigration policies? It’s hardly unthinkable.

Worthy of note, here, is the response given by Stephen Miller, the president’s policy adviser and long-time opponent of immigration, when a reporter asked him about some words at the base of the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Mr. Miller noted that “the poem that you’re referring to was added later… It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

Indeed. The poem, “The New Colossus,” was written by Emma Lazarus, scion of German Jewish immigrants (long before the Nazi era), and was only later placed on a plaque at the statue.

It was referenced by rabid anti-Semite David Duke, who wrote: “As I looked into the American fight over immigration laws during the last 100 years, the driving force behind opening America’s borders became evident: It was organized Jewry, personified by the poet Emma Lazarus.”

For its part, the white nationalist website Stormfront includes an article titled “Give Me Your Huddled Masses – The Jewess who tried to destroy the U.S.!”

Jews (and Jewesses) have, of course, long been an important part of the American tapestry, as have natives of countries around the world. There is a need to ensure the safety of the citizenry, and vetting of potential immigrants is necessary – and is done.

But when considering new restrictions on legal immigration, we are wise to focus on facts, and to remember our own history in this great land.

© Hamodia 2017

Mr. Berman’s Bubby

“An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing,” declared Dale Ho, director of the A.C.L.U.’s Voting Rights Project.

He was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s declining last week to judge a North Carolina voting law that a federal appeals court had struck down as an unconstitutional effort to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The law, enacted in 2013, effectively rejected forms of voter identification used disproportionately by blacks, like IDs issued to government employees, students and people receiving public assistance. It was part of a wave of voting restrictions that followed in the wake of Shelby vs. Holder, that year’s 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision overturning a requirement that certain states with histories of voter discrimination obtain preclearance from a federal court before making changes to their voting laws.

The federal appeals court also noted that North Carolina had “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud” in the state and that the only evidence of fraud was in absentee voting by mail, a method that was both exempted by the law and is used disproportionately by white voters.

The court also found that the law’s restrictions on early voting had a much larger effect on black voters, who “disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting,” the result of free rides to polling places offered by black churches on “Souls to the Polls” Sundays. (Note to Agudath Israel voting drive officials: See if that slogan’s been copyrighted!)

Last week’s Supreme Court decision not to revive the North Carolina case, however, turned on procedural issues, not on the substance of the suit, so the now-full-bench court’s current leanings remain unknown.

Attempts to curtail blacks’ ability to vote are a regrettable part of American history. They took the form of things like literacy texts and poll taxes.

And, of course, at the founding of the republic, neither women nor members of various religious groups (ours included) were eligible to vote. Only in 1920 were women allowed to vote in all federal and state elections; and only in 1964 were poll taxes outlawed.

Interestingly, there is no explicit “right to vote” in the U.S. Constitution. What the country’s foundational legal document includes, in various amendments, are prohibitions against certain forms of discrimination in establishing who may vote. It is a distinction with a difference, if a subtle one.

Voting in America is a privilege, not something any American can claim a right to, as he can to speak or worship freely, or to a speedy trial. And that means that restrictions, if they don’t discriminate against any group or to favor a political party, are perfectly acceptable.

Likely heading for the Supreme Court now, though, is a Texas law requiring photo identification. A district judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit have declared the law discriminatory, even though it accepts seven types of photo ID and can be satisfied by a voter presenting a utility bill or paycheck and signing a form asserting that they have a “reasonable impediment” preventing the obtaining of a photo ID.

A similar law was recently enacted in Iowa.  Ari Berman, a writer for The Nation, wrote a piece titled, “Iowa’s New Voter ID Law Would Have Disenfranchised My Grandmother,” about his late bubby, a Holocaust survivor who moved from Brooklyn to Iowa (go figure) when she was 89.

She had no driver’s license, birth certificate or passport; thus, Mr. Berman contends – well, his article’s title finishes the sentence.

Iowa’s law, however, specifies that the state Department of Transportation will provide free voter IDs to voter registrants who don’t already have state-issued identification. So Berman’s bubby, aleha hashalom, would have no trouble registering and voting today.

Does widespread voting fraud exist? President Trump’s repeated claims notwithstanding, no. Does that mean that laws to prevent it are wrong? No, again. Are voting restrictions racist or reasonable? Well, they can be either.

And yet, as things go in our black-and-white world, when it comes to voting requirements, Democrats and Republicans; minority advocates and establishment types; liberals and conservatives, all line up their regular armies, giving orders to take no prisoners and make no concessions.

A judicious person – a characterization to which each of us should aspire – doesn’t fall into formation on either side of such issues. There are distinctions to be made, nuances to discern, factors to weigh. Tasks that, here, will fall eventually to the land’s highest court.

© 2017 Hamodia

An Impossible Pretzel

Some people, it seems, like some dogs with teeth planted firmly in mailmen’s legs, just can’t let go.

Take Peter Beinart.

I have no problem with the columnist and former The New Republic editor’s expressing liberal Zionist views, much as I may disagree with some of them. There is room in this world for different perspectives.

Nor am I particularly vexed by his longtime opposition to President Trump; the president has certainly left himself open to criticism on many occasions. Mr. Beinart’s past insinuation that the president harbors tolerance for anti-Semitism was a silly and unfounded charge, but there are always plenty of those to go around.

What’s more troublesome is the columnist’s refusal to give Mr. Trump credit when it is due, like after the president’s speech last week at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Speaking to a crowd of several hundred at the museum, and belying once and for all accusations of his insensitivity toward the Jewish people, the president spoke of how “the Nazis massacred six million Jews,” how “two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered in the genocide.”

Addressing survivors present, he said, “You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond… any description,” and asserted that, through their testimony, they “fulfill the righteous duty to… engrave into the world’s memory the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.”

He also spoke of Israel as “an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people.” And he deemed Holocaust denial “one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues all around the world,” concluding with the words: “So today we mourn. We remember. We pray. And we pledge: Never again.”

Enter Peter Beinart. Well, not into the museum, but into the pages of the Forward, where he cited Mr. Trump’s recounting of the story of Gerda Weissman, who, in 1945, as an emaciated 21-year-old veteran of Nazi work camps and a death march, was liberated, and elated to see a car sporting not a swastika but an American star. Her liberator turned out to be a Jewish American lieutenant, Kurt Klein, and they eventually became husband and wife.

Mr. Beinart reflects on “how [Mr. Trump’s] views might have affected people like Gerda Klein had he been president back then.” The original “America Firsters,” war-era isolationists, he contends, “shared a mentality” with the president – to protect the United States’ “shores and its people” and to “not squander money and might safeguarding foreigners in distant lands.”

“It is this mentality,” he asserts, “that earlier this year led Trump to propose a budget that cuts U.S. funding for the United Nations in half,” which could bring about “the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it.”

The postwar Displaced Persons Camps, Mr. Beinart goes on to remind us, were administered by a U.N. commission, and paid for largely by the U.S. President Trump, he confidently states, “would likely have seen it as a prime example of other countries ripping America off,” and would “surely have disapproved,” in 1946, when anti-Semitic pogroms in Poland “sent tens of thousands of Jews streaming across the border into U.S.-administered DP camps in Germany,” of allowing any of them onto our shores.

Because Mr. Trump is president, Mr. Beinart concludes, “the Gerda Kleins of today are unlikely to see America’s symbols the way she did.”

One needn’t be a proponent of a Mexican wall to recognize that there is no comparison between, on the one hand, caring for people who narrowly escaped a multi-national genocidal effort only to face murderous pogroms, and, on the other, welcoming every foreigner seeking to improve his economic welfare.

Nor need one like Mr. Trump’s immigration ban to understand that, justified or not, the fear of terrorists infiltrating our country is somewhat more plausible today than it was regarding Jews in 1946.

Mr. Beinart, though, insists on twisting Mr. Trump’s sentiments into an impossible pretzel, into something cynical and hypocritical.

“He praises Holocaust survivors today,” the columnist writes about the president, “because it’s politically expedient. But his actions desecrate their memory. Had he more shame, he would not have spoken at the Holocaust Memorial Museum at all.”

But Mr. Trump, Mr. Beinart surely knows, isn’t currently running for office. And if there’s one thing most everyone agrees about, it’s that he expresses things bluntly, as he believes them to be. Had Peter Beinart more shame, he would not have written his article at all.

© 2017 Hamodia

Callousness or Conscientiousness?

The most incriminatory and unarguable allegation leveled by some Senate Judiciary Committee panelists against Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch was, apparently, that he isn’t Merrick Garland. Guilty as charged.

Mr. Garland, of course, for anyone blessedly short of political memory, was former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the seat left vacant since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, 2016. Republican senators refused to schedule a hearing for that nominee since, they argued, a new president would be inaugurated a mere ten months later.

In this observer’s mind, and entirely unrelated to either my feelings about Mr. Obama or the fact that Judge Garland is Jewish, that refusal was a failure of congressional conscience. No matter how lame a presidential duck may be (and ten months is a substantial amount of time for a waterfowl to limp about), a sitting president has a right to nominate a candidate for a vacant Supreme Court seat; and the legislative branch, a responsibility to fairly consider him.

But the fact that something unconscionable was done cannot change reality. Bad things happen (or are wrought), but life must go on. Mr. Garland’s mistreatment does not implicate Mr. Gorsuch in any way. And the latter, as per his reputation and his thoughtful responses during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, is an individual eminently qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Less incriminatory, and entirely arguable, were two other charges brought against the nominee: that he once made remarks disparaging to expectant mothers, and that he showed callous misjudgment in a fraught legal case, ruling for an employer against an employee.

In the first case, a former law student of Judge Gorsuch alleged that, in a course at the University of Colorado Law School last year, he told his class that employers, specifically law firms, should ask women seeking jobs about their plans for establishing a family, and implied that women routinely manipulate companies when they are interviewed, in order to extract maternity benefits.

Asked if the charge was true, Mr. Gorsuch replied, “No.”

“I would have never have said [such a thing],” he continued, “I’d be delighted to actually clear this up.”

In a letter to the committee, another student in the class disputed the account. And a former law clerk for Mr. Gorsuch, Janie Nitze, said that when she heard the allegations, “I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.” She and 10 other female former clerks also sent a letter to the committee in support of the candidate. In it, the 11 women asserted that “The judge has spoken of the struggles of working attorneys to juggle family with work obligations; not once have we heard him intimate that those struggles are, or should be, shouldered by one gender alone.”

The second attempt to portray Mr. Gorsuch as an ogre involved the case of a truck driver who was fired for abandoning his cargo trailer when its brakes froze in sub-zero temperatures. The unfortunate man, after repeatedly being told by the company to stay put since help was on the way, decided – entirely understandably, considering the temperature and the malfunctioning of the heater in the truck cab – to detach the trailer from the cab and drive away.

The legal question in the case was whether a “whistleblower” provision that protects a driver when he “refuses to operate a vehicle” because of safety concerns covered the trucker who chose instead to operate his vehicle.

It may have been heartless for the employer to fire the trucker, in other words, but did it violate the letter of the statute? Judge Gorsuch, in a dissent to a 2016 ruling by his two colleagues on a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, contended that it did not.

For that stance, the nominee was painted as heartless himself, unconcerned with the “little guy.” But an American judge, of course, no less than, l’havdil, a posek in a monetary issue, must render his dispassionate judgment, devoid of sympathy or antipathy toward either litigant, “big company” or “little guy.” The Torah enjoins us to not “favor the face of the poor one” in court (Vayikra, 19:15).

In 97 percent of 2,700 cases, Mr. Gorsuch noted, his judgments were part of unanimous decisions; and he was in the majority 99 percent of the time.

No, he’s not Merrick Garland, it must be conceded. He is Neil Gorsuch.

And eminently qualified for a seat on the republic’s highest court.

© 2017 Hamodia