Category Archives: Politics

Different Hopes For Different Folks

“Number one…” presidential hopeful Joe Biden Jr. said at his March 15 debate with equally hopeful (though less entitled to be so) Senator Bernie Sanders, “if I’m elected president and have an opportunity to appoint someone to the courts, I’ll appoint the first black woman of the courts. It’s required that they have representation now. It’s long overdue.”

He continued with his number two: “If I’m elected president, my cabinet, my administration will look like the country, and I commit that I will, in fact… pick a woman to be vice president. There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.”

No doubt there are, as there are a number of qualified men. But am I alone in finding it puzzling that the choice of who should be the proverbial heartbeat away from the highest office in the land might be made on a basis of gender? Or that appointment to the highest court of the land be based on the same plus race?

What am I missing here?

Yes, I know, and lament, the bias against, and mistreatment of, women and blacks (and Native Americans, and Hispanics, and other groups) over our country’s history. And I even understand, if I don’t fully agree with, those who advocate for things like reparations for descendants of American slaves.

But how exactly do historic wrongs translate into some sort of right of precedence for public office? Apologies are owed to victims of discrimination and exploitation, perhaps compensation is even owed. But a desk in the White House or a seat on the High Court bench?

And, surely, the fact alone that there hasn’t yet been a black president or Supreme Court justice who was also a woman is hardly a compelling argument for choosing one. There hasn’t been a bald president since Eisenhower either. Or a president less than six feet tall since Grover Cleveland, and he was 5’11”. (Okay, Jimmy Carter was only 5’10; but look how he turned out.) Should we be tapping members of the short, bald demographic for leaders?

No less an example of an accomplished woman than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Politico in 2016, “I don’t think that any woman should be asked to vote for someone because she’s a woman.” Well, should any woman be asked to be a running mate or appointed a judge because she’s a woman? That would have been my next question, but, alas, I wasn’t the interviewer.

Yes, of course, I fully recognize the nature of politics and its close cousin horse-trading. I understand the practical wisdom of making choices that are likely to win the votes of particular segments of the electorate. But can’t a candidate just appoint the black woman (or short bald guy) without heralding it as some historically mandated act of high principle?

Please don’t get me wrong. I think that women can be excellent leaders. From Heleni Hamalkah to Golda Meir to Margaret Thatcher, women have done exemplary jobs in positions of power. It’s just that I think – call me crazy – that the best candidate for a position of power should be… the best candidate for the position of power, regardless of gender or race (or height).

Research has shown that female lawmakers tend to bring more federal money back to their districts than their male counterparts. And in their book Gendered Vulnerability: How Women Work Harder to Stay in Office, political scientists Jeffrey Lazarus and Amy Steigerwalt found that congresswomen are disproportionately likely to serve on committees for issues that are of most interest to their constituents, and more likely to co-sponsor legislation that helps those who elected them. So, women politicians? No problem.

But women chosen because they’re women? Problem.

Aside from the essential folly of it, choosing or appointing a woman to a high position mainly because of her womanhood disadvantages the woman. As Justice Clarence Thomas has written about affirmative action, the favoring of people based on their skin color – what he calls “racial engineering” – has “insidious consequences” – namely, the resultant assumption by others that the favored person isn’t really qualified. The same is true with gender engineering.

To me, though, even worse than choosing a woman for public office because she’s a woman is the message that doing so sends about the goals that should matter in life. Hint: Public office isn’t high on the list.

When former presidential hopeful (yes, a lot of hopes have come and gone) Senator Elizabeth Warren announced the end of her campaign on March 5, she showed some emotion as she lamented “one of the hardest parts” of her decision, that “all those little girls… are going to have to wait four more years.” For a bigger girl, that is, to become president.

High public office may indeed be an important goal, perhaps the ultimate one, of some little girls. It clearly is the consuming aim of some grown women. But, when they were little girls, the daughters my wife and I were privileged to raise would politely have declined to endorse such desiderata.

They had, as most of our community’s young women have, very different goals, hopes that are likely regarded as backward by many contemporary observers but are more beneficial to society than they may be capable of understanding. Hopes to, with Hashem’s help, become partners with husbands, to become mothers, grandmothers and beyond. Hopes to mold not legislation but hearts and minds.

Different folks, different hopes. Don’t cry for them, Senator Warren.

© 2020 Hamodia

Stop And Think

Politicians would serve themselves well to always keep in mind Rabi Yehudah Hanasi’s admonition: “An eye sees, an ear hears, and all your deeds are written in a book” (Avos 2:1).

Most public servants may not care that the Tanna was referring to a Divine “eye” and “ear,” and to an ethereal “book,” or that the advice was offered as means of avoiding sin. But it’s good practical counsel, too, for aspirants to governmental positions.

Many a candidate for public office has come to be haunted by some statement or comment made years earlier of which human eyes and ears took note and of which there is a record, if not in a book, at least in a recording or internet posting.

Like presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, who has been confronted of late with comments he made about the “stop-and-frisk” police policy he advanced as mayor of New York.

The New York City Police Department began increasing its emphasis on stop-and-frisk – the accosting, questioning and superficial searching of people even without probable cause for arrest – in the mid-1990s, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor. But the stops of citizens soared during Mr. Bloomberg’s mayoral tenure – rising from about 97,000 in 2002 to about 685,000 in 2011.

And, reportedly, more than 80% of those stopped and frisked were black or Latino.

The resurrected comments, which Mr. Bloomberg made in 2015, after he left office, were a defense of the stop-and-frisk policy as a deterrent to gun violence. The ex-mayor contended that “ninety-five percent of murders” were the work of “male minorities, 16 to 25.”

“You can just take [that] description,” he said, “Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops.”

Whether one sees those comments as on-target (forgive me) or wide off the mark (ditto) might depend on your race.

Certainly, those who have been circulating the blunt words – mostly others vying, as is Mr. Bloomberg, for the Democratic presidential nomination – are hoping that many blacks and Hispanics will refuse the former New York mayor their support.

For his part, Mr. Bloomberg has, in no uncertain terms, disowned his words. “I was wrong,” he declared. “And I am sorry.”

In a refreshingly contrite confession, rather unusual these days, he said: “I got something important really wrong. I didn’t understand back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities. I was totally focused on saving lives, but as we know, good intentions aren’t good enough.”

Not every black leader or pundit was buying it. Charles M. Blow, a New York Times columnist, indignantly asked: “How many people rightly complaining about kids in cages at the border are simply willing to overlook all the kids Michael Bloomberg put in cages as a result of stop-and-frisk?”

“These minority boys,” he went on, “were being hunted.”

The columnist, though, doth protest too much. No subject of stop-and-frisk was arrested, much less jailed, unless he was illegally carrying a weapon or enough illegal drugs to be felt over his clothing. And looking for suspicious behavior in crime-ridden areas isn’t exactly like hiding in a blind watching for deer.

On the other hand, Dayvon Love, director of public policy for the think tank “Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle” in Baltimore, says that some people living in high-crime neighborhoods would see some form of the stop-and-frisk strategy “as the best option available to them to meet their immediate needs.”

And Mr. Bloomberg, despite – perhaps because of – his efforts as New York mayor to fight crime, has been endorsed by four members of the Congressional Black Caucus and a number of black mayors across the country.

Aside from political concerns, also likely playing a role in Mr. Bloomberg’s change of heart and biting the bullet (sorry!) was the fact that, while crime fell precipitously during his mayoral tenure, when stop-and-frisks were phased out toward the end of his administration (after a federal judge ruled that the practice as implemented had violated civil and constitutional rights) and then were sharply curtailed under his successor, current Mayor Bill de Blasio, crime rates continued to plunge to new lows unseen since the 1950s.

So, many contend, stop-and-frisk was an ineffective means of fighting crime.

What occurs to me, though, is that there may be other explanations for the continued drop in crime in New York. In the now-infamous recording of his candid comments, Mr. Bloomberg also said: “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them. And then they start, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get caught,’ so they don’t bring the gun.”

Might it be possible that, after years of aggressive accosting of young men in areas plagued with drug dealing and violence, a residual effect persisted, and persists, with fear of stops continuing to cause fewer people to carry guns? And in fact, while the rules for stop-and-frisk have changed, the tactic still exists; where there is reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is being planned, a police officer can detain and even do a pat-down of a citizen.

So, Mr. Bloomberg’s mea culpa might not be as necessary as he (or his advisors) may think. And his clear intention for the erstwhile intense stop-and-frisk policy – to “get the guns out of the kids’ hands” – may even now resonate with black voters, an important Democratic constituency.

We will see.

© 2020 Hamodia

Pleasing Orthodox Political Palates

For some of us, double-edged swords don’t come more dangerous than the prospect of a Jewish president. The accomplishment would be heartening in a way, and would say much about America. But the reality of a Jewish person sitting in the White House would not please people infected with the derangement we call anti-Semitism. And we have more than enough of that as is, thank you.

To be sure, unless the current Commander-in-Chief is removed from office (not likely) or the Electoral College is abolished (less likely), the race for the Democratic candidacy will probably prove to be only a contest to determine who will be defeated by President Trump in November.

Still, it is noteworthy – and fear-worthy, for the above-mentioned some of us – that, back in the 1950s, two currently viable viers for the highest office in the land celebrated bar mitzvahs.

Both are ex-mayors: Senator Bernie Sanders, of Burlington, Vermont; and Michael Bloomberg, of New York. The former is a populist progressive backed by a strong grass-roots movement; the latter, a savvy, successful businessman backed by an impressive record and the willingness to spend a billion dollars of his own money on his campaign.

And both are touting their tribal credentials, to appeal to Jewish voters.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in synagogues in my life,” Mr. Bloomberg told a packed Jewish venue in Miami last week, “but my parents taught me that Judaism is more than just going to shul. It is about living our values… and it’s about revering the miracle that is the state of Israel, which – for their generation – was a dream fulfilled before their very eyes.”

In oblique criticism of Senator Sanders’ democratic socialism, he joked that “I know I’m not the only Jewish candidate running for president. But I am the only one who doesn’t want to turn America into a kibbutz.”

Continuing his bombing of Bernie, who has indicated he might withhold military aid from Israel if it didn’t better address humanitarian needs of Gazans, Mr. Bloomberg pledged to “never impose conditions on our military aid [to Israel], including missile defense – no matter who is Prime Minister.”

And, of course, after speaking at length about recent acts of violent anti-Semitism, he attacked Mr. Trump, associating him obliquely, and unfairly, with “racist groups” that “spread hate.”

“A world in which a president traffics in conspiracy theories,” he went on to declare, “is a world in which Jews are not safe.”

For its part, the Sanders campaign rolled out its own Jewy video last week, which began with a clip of the senator, at a J Street gathering last year, proclaiming that “I’m very proud to be Jewish, and look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.”

At that gathering, Mr. Sanders declared: “If there is any people on Earth who understands the dangers of racism and white nationalism, it is certainly the Jewish people.” And, in his own swipe at the president, he added: “And if there is any people on earth who should do everything humanly possible to fight against Trump’s efforts to try to divide us up… and bring people together around a common and progressive agenda, it is the Jewish people.”

And, although he accuses the current Israeli government of unfairness to Palestinians, he calls himself “somebody who is 100 percent pro-Israel.”

Fighting anti-Semitism and declaring support for Israel may please many Jewish political palates, and, b”H, remain pretty much de rigueur positions for any serious presidential candidate.

But office contenders seeking Jewish votes these days would be wise to not ignore American Jewry’s Orthodox segment. It may be a fraction of the country’s Jewish population (around 10%, it’s estimated) but it is a fraction that, according to sociologist Steven M. Cohen, has more than quintupled over the past two generations, and stands, b’ezras Hashem, to continue its growth.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than a quarter of American Jews 17 years of age or younger are Orthodox. Public policy experts Eric Cohen and Aylana Meisel have estimated that, by 2050, the American Jewish community will be majority Orthodox.

We Orthodox, like most other Jews, are greatly concerned about Israel’s security and about rising anti-Semitism. But, in addition to those issues, a major item on our political agenda is education.

We believe in school choice – that parents are the best arbiters of what schools their children should attend, and should not be financially penalized for not choosing public schools. And we consider it critically important that government involvement in determining the content of curricula in private schools be minimal.

Senator Sanders is officially on what we consider the wrong side of both those issues. Mr. Bloomberg, while he has long been a proponent of educational choice with regard to things like public charter schools, hasn’t taken a public position on either of our own educational concerns.

It’s not too late for him to do so, of course, and, as someone who fundamentally understands the importance of educational options, he might come to see the sense and fairness in our positions.

From a political perspective, it would be wise.

More important, though, from a Jewish perspective, it would be right.

© 2020 Hamodia

Incendiary Devices

“BLACKS NEED TO RESPECT JEWISH AUTHORITY,” reads the stark, all-caps message on Telegram, an instant messaging service. The word “JEWISH” is reverse-color emphasized.

The message came from a fake account, like similar racist sentiments from similarly nonexistent “Jewish” users that flooded the social media giant Twitter a few months back.

A tweet, for example, from the fictional “Elaine Goldschmidt” who, “frightened by the string of anti-Semitic attacks,” bemoaned the fact that blacks (the tweet uses a much-reviled slur) “were supposed to be on our side. Now we have lost control of them.” The photo used in the profile was lifted from the account of a Scottish woman, Janey Godley, who, when she found out, was not pleased.

The tweet garnered hundreds of “retweets” and “likes,” including one, ostensibly from the unsubtly named, fictional “Ari Shekelburg,” who addresses “Fellow Chosen Ones…”

Welcome to 2020.

When first notified of the misleading and inflammatory messages, Twitter responded that “we didn’t find a violation of our rules in the content.” Soon afterward, though, the company reconsidered, and suspended the disingenuous account.

The social media incendiary devices above are samples of the work of white supremacists seeking to intensify anti-Jewish feeling in parts of the black community, and to sow the same among more educated blacks who may currently harbor no hatred for Jews. As one anonymous message on a site associated with white racists observed about one anti-black canard maliciously attributed to a Jew, “Posting this on black twitter would definitely stir the hornets [sic] nest.”

The bad players play both sides of the game, too, sharing concocted anti-Semitic sentiments by African-Americans or presenting actual ones as more representative of blacks than they truly are.

What apparently inspired the trolls was the fact that, while the Pittsburgh and Poway killers were white, more recent attacks on Jews, like the murders of Jews by a black couple in Jersey City, the attempted murder of Jews in Monsey last month and the obnoxious actions of some Brooklyn goons, were perpetrated by African-Americans.

What an opportunity, the race-baiters realized, to stoke the embers of hatred, to “divide and conquer” the two groups they most despise, Jews and blacks.

They mustn’t be allowed to succeed.

It was heartening and surprising to read of how Al Sharpton condemned the recent attacks on Jews, saying he was “terribly disturbed” by them, “particularly because they were perpetrated by members of the African-American community.” Mr. Sharpton, of course, was accused, and not without reason, of employing bombastic rhetoric that helped fuel the 1991 Crown Heights riots, in which 29-year-old Yankel Rosenbaum was surrounded by a large group of young black men and fatally stabbed.

Also heartening, and not surprising, were the words of Bernice King, the daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and chief executive of the nonprofit King Center, who described the Monsey attack as an assault “against a people and a promise.” She tweeted that she was “praying for our Jewish family members” and encouraged “us all to refuse to adjust to anti-Semitic stereotypes and to rhetoric/language that dehumanizes,”

“We can’t pretend,” she concluded, “that hate is dormant.”

Radio host Larry Elder, also African-American, decried the fact that African-Americans are constantly being told that Jews are becoming wealthy by exploiting them, and asserted that “all this anti-Semitism coming from the black community against the Jewish community” shows “ignorance [of] the role many Jews played in the civil rights movement and as freedom-fighters.”

It might be futile to hope that black leaders’ exhortations will be able to cure the sort of cluelessness leavened with animosity toward “the other” that infects urban youths like the Brooklyn hoodlums who amuse themselves by harassing innocent Jews. Unfortunately, the diametric, odious messaging of rabble rousers like Louis Farrakhan strikes a more resonant chord in the imaginations of witless belligerents.

There will always be demagogues, Hitler wannabes like the “Nation of Islam” leader, and they will always manage to attract those whose aptitudes for critical thinking are no match for their susceptibilities to mental poison.

But one thing we can, and should, do is not let those vile actors and their gullible followers become the image in our minds of the larger African-American community.

If we do, we only play into the hands of our, and its, worst enemies.

© 2020 Hamodia

Abhorrent Action at a Distance

Direct physical attacks on Jews have, and for good reason, unfortunately, dominated the news in recent weeks. But there have been other kinds of attacks on innocent people who are perceived to be Jewish. Like the one committed against Kurt Eichenwald.

Mr. Eichenwald is an award-winning journalist who has written for the New York Times, Newsweek and other major media, and is the author as well of several books. He is also an epileptic, something he has compellingly addressed in some of his writings. And he has been critical of President Trump. Those last two facts dovetailed, regrettably, in a bad way.

After writing in 2016 about what he considered looming improper conflicts of interest in the then-president elect’s international business affairs, the Dallas-based Mr. Eichenwald experienced a flood of online vitriol and threats from people who felt that his criticism of Mr. Trump merited such reaction. It wasn’t the first time he had experienced such internet “trolling.” But spleen venting, while always ugly, is usually harmless.

It wasn’t, though, on the evening of December 15, 2016. One of Mr. Eichenwald’s less constrained critics, using “@jew goldstein” as a moniker and aware of Mr. Eichenwald’s medical condition, sent the writer an electronic graphics interchange format file (or GIF), an animated image. GIFs are usually intended to amuse, but this one, which loaded automatically, had a less benign objective.

The GIF, whose sender added his judgment that Mr. Eichenwald “deserved a seizure,” consisted of a series of bright flashes in quick succession, something that is known to trigger epileptic attacks in those, like Mr. Eichenwald, who are vulnerable to them.

The alleged culprit is one John Rayne Rivello, a Marine Corps veteran from Salisbury, Maryland. A search warrant turned up an internet account he maintained that featured, among other things, a screenshot of a Wikipedia page for his alleged victim, which had been altered to show a fake obituary with the date of Mr. Eichenwald’s death listed as Dec. 16, 2016.

Investigators also found that Mr. Rivello had sent a message to likeminded friends, outlining his plans and stating “I hope this sends him into a seizure” and “let’s see if he dies.”

Mr. Eichenwald didn’t die that day, but the previous evening, when he received the GIF, “he slumped over in his chair,” according to his attorney, Steven Lieberman. “He was unresponsive, and he probably would have died but for the fact that his wife heard a noise – she’s a physician – and she pulled him away from the screen and got him onto the floor.”

Mrs. Eichenwald called 911, took a picture of the strobing light on her husband’s computer and called the police.

Mr. Rivello was originally charged in Maryland for “assault with a deadly weapon” and, briefly, by the Northern District of Texas, under a federal cyberstalking statute.

First Amendment concerns were raised about the possibility that Mr. Rivello was being improperly targeted just for being a bigoted dimwit, which isn’t itself illegal. So the cyberstalking charge was dropped and he was re-indicted in Texas on lesser assault charges.

Mr. Rivello and his lawyer are reportedly still planning on mounting a defense on First Amendment grounds.

That claim is, or should be, easily rejected. The fact that the harm he inflicted was an expression of a political position is no more a defense of the assault than it would be had he punched Mr. Eichenwald in the face. The punch may communicate a message, but it isn’t protected by the First Amendment.

The larger, and novel, question is: Can an “assault” be committed at a distance?

From a Torah perspective, it most certainly can. It isn’t mere rhetoric or poetic license when Chazal refer to things like lashon hara or publicly embarrassing someone as damaging, even killing. Assault needn’t leave any physical trace at all. Such non-contact assaults aren’t halachically actionable, but they are considered criminal all the same.

Damage inflicted on a person by fire, though, even when the fire resulted from negligence – all the more so when set maliciously – is indeed actionable (see Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Nizkei Mammon 14:15). I don’t profess to be a posek, but it certainly seems at the very least arguable that sending an electronic signal may constitute something analogous.

In any event, Mr. Rivello’s case will of course be adjudicated by American, not Jewish, law.

It has been clear for some time now that contemporary secular law needs to evolve to meet challenges posed by new technologies like the internet.

Mr. Rivello’s next hearing is scheduled for January 31. Unless he decides to just plead guilty, his case might prove a good opportunity to rein in some cyberspace miscreancy.

© 2020 Hamodia (in an edited form)

Oy, Such Soros!

Last week saw the launch of an initiative born of a strange shidduch – between the foundation of famously progressive philanthropist George Soros and that of libertarian donor Charles Koch.

The “Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft” was introduced as a “transpartisan” think tank whose focus will be on promoting diplomatic agreement instead of military solutions.

The new enterprise takes its name from John Quincy Adams, the sixth American president, who, as Secretary of State in 1821, made a speech warning against the U.S. going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.”

There are, however, in fact, a number of fearsome monsters out there, some of whom threaten our allies and our own country. It’s nice to imagine that diplomacy might contain them but, alas, sometimes military action is really the only effective course.

The hope for a pre-Moshiach peaceful world, unrealistic though it is, is vintage George Soros. The Jewish Hungarian-American investor (original name: Schwartz) has spent billions to spread democratic values and human rights worldwide.

He also has expressed some repugnant attitudes.

He revoltingly likened President George W. Bush and his administration to Nazis. Asked once about his thoughts on Israel, he replied: “I don’t deny the Jews to a right to a national existence – but I don’t want anything to do with it,” and he has blamed anti-Semitism on Israel’s policies.

At the same time, Soros has himself become a favorite bugaboo of anti-Semites, like Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who denounced him as “the famous Hungarian Jew Soros.”

His status as a prime target of haters came up during the House Intelligence Committee hearings last month.

Former top National Security Council staffer Fiona Hill delivered what was to many the most riveting testimony of the hearings. She told of a smear campaign against former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Ms. Hill pointed out that a conspiracy theory associating Ms. Yovanovitch with the much-vilified Mr. Soros was at the heart of a smear campaign against the respected ambassador, who was fired from her position by the president.

“When I saw this happening to Ambassador Yovanovitch…,” Ms. Hill said, calmly but forcefully, “I was furious, because this is, again, just this whipping up of what is frankly an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros to basically target nonpartisan career officials.”

“This is the longest-running anti-Semitic trope that we have in history…” she continued, “the new Protocols of The Elders of Zion.” That reference, of course, was to the 19th-century forgery created by the Russian czar’s secret police that cast Jews as evil, all-controlling plotters against mankind, a book that is still published and cherished by anti-Semites to this day.

Some commentators, like Dinesh D’Souza, Alex Jones and Glenn Beck, have portrayed Soros as a Nazi collaborator.

For all his faults, that charge is silliness. During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, the future financier was a 13-year-old who, with the help of his father, who feared for his son’s life, assumed a false identity as the godson of a Hungarian official. That foster-father functionary was tasked with taking inventory at the homes of Jewish families so that their possessions could be taken by the Nazi authorities. Witnessing his protector taking notes was the extent of young George’s “collaboration.”

Nor is Mr. Soros a global puppet master intent on bending world powers to his will, as charged by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (he of the “the Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren was staged” claim), convicted felon Roger Stone and attorney Joe DiGenova.

The latter (who, incidentally, led the prosecution of Jonathan Pollard) told Fox News, “There’s no doubt that George Soros controls a very large part of the career foreign service at the United States State Department. He also controls the activities of FBI agents overseas.”

No evidence of those assertions, however, was offered.

In October, 2018, Fox even banned one of its regular guests, Chris Farrell, of Judicial Watch, from the network, for falsely suggesting that Soros had funded a migrant caravan traveling through Central America.

Despite Mr. Soros’ “progressive” values and his (at best) ambivalence about Israel, it’s important to not buy into the utter vilification of the man – to realize that casting him as a fabulously wealthy aspirant to world domination is unadulterated anti-Semitism, a contemporary take on the portrayal of Jews as controlling the wealth, and thus the destiny, of the world. As it happens and just for the record, Christians hold the largest amount of world wealth (55%), followed by Muslims (5.8%) and Hindus (3.3%). Jews come in at 1.1%.

And so, Ms. Hill’s claim that making false assertions of Soros connections to smear people is thinly veiled anti-Semitism was, as they say in her native Great Britain (she became a U.S. citizen in 2002), spot-on.

Part of the bane of galus is that Jew haters will always seek Jewish malefactors to portray as emblematic of a nefarious pan-Jewish plot. And when they come up empty, they simply create demonic Jewish plotters out of thin air, like the “Elders of Zion.”

Or their version of George Soros.

Even with our own justified criticisms of the investor, we should take care to not buy into the Jew haters’ narrative and inadvertently aid those who spread libels and wish all of us only ill.

© 2019 Hamodia

Contemptible Comity

The state of political discourse in these United States today – unfortunately, including much of the American Jewish world (including our corner of it) – was well exemplified in the reactions to something Senator Chuck Schumer of New York did not long ago.

When Long Island Representative Peter King announced his retirement from Congress, some were pleased. Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, never one to hide her deeper feelings, tweeted, simply, “Good riddance.”

Mr. Schumer, however, although a Democrat, issued a warm tribute to the soon-to-be Republican retiree, who not only is a member of the other party but someone with whom the senator has strongly disagreed on a number of occasions.

Mr. Schumer tweeted that Mr. King, during his service in the House of Representatives, showed that he “fiercely loved America, Long Island, and his Irish heritage, and left a lasting mark on all 3.”  The senator added, “I will miss him in Congress & value his friendship.”

How… how… how… DARE he?

Well that, at least, was the reaction of many on the livid left.

“Good grief,” read one of the milder social media responses. “Have you lost your mind?”

Most of the more than 10,000 replies to Mr. Schumer from his followers were decidedly negative, and many were quite outraged. Videos of thumbs-turning-downs, eye-rolling and heads shaking “no” flooded into the senator’s Twitter feed. Some commenters suggested that the former Congressman and current fourth-term Senator, as a result of his contemptible comity, should resign.

To be sure, many Democrats have had problems with some of Mr. King’s positions and statements. He voted to repeal Obamacare, opposed the redefinition of marriage and was a fervent supporter of the Patriot Act.

And he once complained that there are “too many mosques” in America, “too many people sympathetic to radical Islam,” and suggested that “We should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.” He also compared football players’ kneeling in protest against racism during the playing of the national anthem to Nazi salutes.

But none of that prevented Mr. Schumer from giving him credit where he felt it was due.

The reaction to Mr. Schumer’s praise of a political adversary was a sad reflection of what plagues politics today, what might be called hyperpartisanosis.. It is no longer enough to disagree or even to engage in verbal duels with one’s political adversaries.  They must be enemies – hated, derided, declared evil incarnate.

And the disease exists on both sides of the current political divide.  One can, for instance, consider Bernie Sanders (or Barack Obama – remember him?) to be woefully misguided about what American policy toward Israel should be.  One can reject totally the idea that a two-state solution – the outcome those two men embrace – is a path to peace in the Middle East. But disagreeing, even vehemently, with that contention, and opposing any move to try to bring such a plan closer do not, or should not, yield to vilifying its proponents or ascribing “Jewish self-hatred” or anti-Semitism to them.

Not every wrongheaded person, in other words, is wicked.

But, of course, the ascribing of wickedness is very much a part of the new blue/red American civil war.  One sees it in the online anger and insults, in the bitterly sarcastic questions lawmakers pose to people “’from the other side” giving testimony, in the chants at protests and rallies. No longer do presentations of arguments and evidence suffice. Contempt and invective must be summoned.

It’s nothing entirely new, of course.  American politics has long entailed a degree of abuse and incivility.  But it seemed that, over the years, things were moving in a more genteel direction.
Alas, it was only an extended blip. Things are worse than ever.

And, as the Yiddish maxim has it, the way that larger society goes, unfortunately, is the way some Jews go as well.

Self-appointed arbiters of ostensible Jewish positions, in coffee rooms and chatrooms, comments sections and letters pages, preach about the unforgivable sins of this or that public figure or holder of a position different from the preacher’s own. There are only black and white; shades of gray are for sissies.

To be sure, there are indeed bad actors in public life, people who well deserve vilification because, well, because they are villains.  But not every black activist is Louis Farrakhan; and not every democratic socialist, Joseph Stalin. What’s more: Not every candidate (like Bernie Sanders) with anti-Israel fans and not every candidate (like President Trump) with anti-Semitic ones is necessarily himself either anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.

We all know better than that.

Or, at least, we should.

© 2019 Hamodia

Disinformation Please

The ad accuses President Trump of having paid a $2 million bribe to a Vermont prosecutor for the latter to fabricate a larceny charge against Senator Bernie Sanders.

Despite the president’s vociferous objection to the promotion of an entirely fictitious accusation against him, the social media giant Facebook refused to remove the ad.

Likewise fictitious, as you may have guessed, is the existence of any such ad, whose crafting and publicizing any right-minded person would consider akin to a crime.

Entirely real, though, is an actual video ad Facebook ran that falsely accused former Vice President Joe Biden of having blackmailed Ukrainian officials to halt an investigation of his son, Hunter. “Send Quid Pro Joe Biden into retirement,” the voice-over intoned.

In 2016, Mr. Biden did indeed urge Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, with the threat of withholding U.S. aid. But, as numerous fact-checkers have pointed out, that was the official U.S. government position, not his personal decision, and had nothing whatsoever to do with Hunter Biden.

The video making the bogus accusation was the work of a “super PAC,” or deep-pocketed political action committee. Facebook explained that, although disseminating false information violates the social network’s policies on misinformation, a political leader’s claims, even if they are lies, are inherently newsworthy, and thus immune to removal.

The Biden campaign objected that the falsehood was not made by a politician but rather by a political committee, and thus should have been rejected.

Which, of course, entirely misses the larger point: We are at (or over) the cusp of a presidential campaign that appears bound to be saturated with deceit and disinformation. Voters, beware.

Six versions of the “Quid Pro Joe” ad were targeted to Facebook users in South Carolina, Iowa and Massachusetts, according to Facebook’s ad library. The ad is no longer active, but, in a recent speech to students at Washington’s Georgetown University in Washington, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his treatment of political ads containing falsehoods on grounds of freedom of expression.

“People having the power to express themselves,” he said, “is a new kind of force in the world – a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society.”

The phrase “power structure” put me in mind of something we read about in shul two Shabbosos ago – the Tower of Bavel. Not all power structures are good ones.

And using the power of mass communication to empower falsehoods would seem to fall in the not-so-good category.

Interestingly, there have been numerous political ads rejected by Facebook. The global media and technology company Buzzfeed’s news division found 160 vetoed spots, submitted by candidates Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and President Trump.

Not one, though, was rejected for containing an untruth, only for things like offensive language and “fake buttons” – nonfunctioning “yes” and “no” click-options, something Facebook, for some reason, doesn’t allow on paid content.

So, as far as Facebook is concerned: Fake buttons, no way; fake facts, no problem.

I’m not naïve. Political ads have, of course, always sought to mislead, at least in the sense of presenting one side of an issue without acknowledging the argument for the other side. That’s the prerogative of parties and PACS, which, after all, pay good money to present their cases. Critical thinking will always be an essential part of citizens’ weighing of arguments.

But asserting that Medicare for all or universal gun registration or building a border wall is a good idea or a bad one is one thing. Contending falsely that a president bribed a prosecutor or that a former vice-president used his power of office to block prosecution of his son, or that “the Jews” were behind the 9/11 attacks is in another category altogether.

To its credit, Facebook recently removed from its platform four foreign-based networks – including one linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the group indicted for interference in the 2016 presidential election – that were targeting Mr. Biden’s current quest for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

But shouldn’t domestic shenanigans by candidates of any stripe be subject to similar treatment?

In defense of Facebook’s “lies by politicians are acceptable” policy, the company’s vice president of global affairs and communications Nick Clegg compares the social media platform with its more than 2 billion global users to a tennis court.

“Our job is to make sure the court is ready – the surface is flat, the lines painted, the net at the correct height,” he explained. “How the players play the game is up to them, not us.”

No, Mr. Clegg: If you’re providing the court and broadcasting the game, you need to make clear to the players that smashing your opponent over the head with your racket simply isn’t an acceptable move.

© 2019 Hamodia

Tweets and Transparency

Hoisted by its own petard, The New York Times cried foul. Please forgive the clichés, but they’re really most apt.

Let’s start with the paper of record’s wail of indignation. It came last week in the form of a lengthy front-page article reporting that “A loose network of conservative operatives allied with the White House is pursuing what they say will be an aggressive operation to discredit news organizations deemed hostile to President Trump by publicizing damaging information about journalists.”

The “operation,” the paper continues, is “the latest step in a long-running effort by President Trump and his allies to undercut the influence of legitimate news reporting.”

I have no dog in the president-media fight (okay, okay, I’ll curb the clichés). But the Old Gray Lady’s umbrage over revelations that some of her valued servants harbor some skeletons in their closets (really, I’m trying) is a bit amusing. After all, the Times has made a major industry of discrediting people hired by Mr. Trump, most recently, newly appointed White House press secretary and communications director Stephanie Grisham, who, The Times dutifully reported, has “professional scrapes [and] ethical blunders” in her history.

Now, though, the revered medium sees something disgraceful in the unearthing of some bones in its own, and other major media’s, possession, in the form of social media posts by members of their staffs.

Like the Times’ own now-former politics desk editor, Tom Wright-Piersanti, whose years-old anti-Semitic and racist tweets, when recently revealed by right-wing website Breitbart News, resulted in his reported demotion.

Or the paper’s likewise demoted erstwhile deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman, who was punished for posting messages on social media about race and politics that showed what the paper called “serious lapses in judgment.”

Undemoted, though – in fact, invited to join the Times’ editorial board – is Sarah Jeong, who had tweeted, among other things, “oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy i get out of being cruel to old white men.” The paper defended its hire with the explanation that the tech editor’s “journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment. For a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.”

Oh.

Then there was CNN’s Mohammed Elshamy, who was forced to resign in July from his position as the news organization’s photo editor and writer when GOP operative Arthur Schwartz discovered and disclosed that Mr. Elshamy had praised the murder of “More than four jewish pigs [sic – and sick, too],” in a 2011 terrorist attack in Yerushalayim.

Both the CNN and NYT erstwhile bad boys apologized profusely, and two of them attributed their undignified behavior to the vagaries of their youths. (Mr. Wright-Piersanti was in college at the time of his terrible tweets; Mr. Elshami, in his teens). But, of course, the ultimate issue is whether such people should be trusted to be objective reporters. The child, after all, as the poet William Wordsworth put it, “is father of the man.” Is there reason to assume that youthful hatreds or biases simply disappeared over a few years?

Nonetheless, Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger rose up in righteous defensiveness, ironically presenting a mirror image of Mr. Trump’s recent turgid tweet that journalism is “nothing more than an evil propaganda machine for the Democrat Party.” Mr. Sulzberger, for his part, decried the exposure of reporters’ biases as a campaign “to intimidate journalists from doing their job, which includes serving as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing when it occurs.”

Curiously, there seems to be no comprehension in that declaration of the difference between being intimidated and being responsible; nor any hint that the power of media may need – no, surely needs – checks too.

With similar umbrage, a CNN spokesman characterized the disclosure of ugliness in its reporters’ pasts as “a means of suppression” and “a clear abandonment of democracy.”

Applesauce. It’s a means of transparency, and an expression of democracy. It makes the Fourth Estate answerable, as it should be, to the citizenry.

The president and those in his orbit should not be immune to criticism, and their foibles should not be out of bounds for journalistic inspection and revelation. But the very same is true for reporters and editors. If Americans are to be properly served by their public servants – and it should never be forgotten that such servitude is the essential charge of elected office – and by the organizations that mediate between happenings and citizens, transparency is paramount.

Both government and media, in other words, need to do their due diligence when recruiting employees.

After all, what’s good for the goose is – oh, sorry.

© 2019 Hamodia

Scrutinizing the ‘Squad’

President Trump’s singling out of four progressive freshman Congresswomen – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – for strong criticism resonated strongly with his supporters, among them many in our own community.

And, at least in part, for good reason.

Ms. Tlaib has denounced what she asserts to be “continued dehumanization and racist policies by the State of Israel that violate international human rights, but also violate my core values of who I am as an American” and compared contemporary Israeli society – citing “different colored license plates if you are Palestinian or Israeli” (gasp) – to the era of segregation in the U.S., when African-Americans had to drink from different water fountains than whites, had to sit in the backs of buses and suffered beatings and lynchings.

(For the record, Ms. Tlaib, the green license plates are for cars registered to holders of Palestinian Authority identity cards. Palestinians with Israeli citizenship or eastern Yerushalayim residency permits have access to regular yellow Israeli ones.)

As to Ms. Omar, she famously tweeted about how “Israel has hypnotized the world” and “the evil doings of Israel.” And, of course, about the “Benjamins” she implied are the reason for Congress’ support for Israel.

Even after apologizing for that canard, she claimed that American elected officials who support Israel are advocating “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Both Congresswomen, moreover, support the BDS movement to boycott Israel.

But the members of “The Squad,” while they may share socially progressive attitudes, are not all the same. And it would be both a mistake and a misstep, I think, to lump them all together as some nefarious “gang of four.”

Yes, in May, 2018, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, moved by images from Gaza, tweeted her chagrin at what she characterized as a “massacre” and referred to the “occupation of Palestine” – both woefully uninformed and ugly statements.

But, to her credit, after being informed of some facts, she quickly acknowledged that she is “not the expert” on the Middle East and promised to “learn and evolve” regarding Middle East affairs. That was no mere perfunctory apology. She hasn’t made any similarly Israel-negative references since, and in fact has strongly declared her affirmation of Israel’s legitimacy as a nation.

Her much-assailed invocation of the term “concentration camp” for border detention centers was also, whether a wise choice of phrase or not (not), the product of the sensitive Congresswoman’s having been moved by disturbing images and reports from the border. In a lengthy radio interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Remnick, she demonstrated intelligence, eloquence and compassion on the topic. And, asked by Mr. Remnick if she had meant to compare the detention centers to Auschwitz, she didn’t hesitate to respond, “Absolutely not.”

More disturbing of late was Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s “no” vote on a resolution condemning the BDS movement. But, from her own words, in which she expresses anti-Likud but not anti-Israel sentiments, she clearly doesn’t understand how BDS stands in stark contrast to her professed support for Israel as a country.

Ms. Pressley, for her part, supports a bill that would prevent Israel from using American military aid for the “military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” But she strongly opposes BDS, has vocally condemned anti-Semitism and has enjoyed close ties with Jewish leaders in Boston, most of which is included in her district.

This is not meant as an endorsement of either of the latter representatives, only as an attempt to bring a degree of discernment to the members of a foursome who, despite certain similarities, are hardly, ideologically speaking, conjoined quadruplets.

The time-honored and wise approach of Klal Yisrael throughout the ages has been to maintain as good relations as possible with all political leaders and representatives – whether or not they are “on the same page” as us on every issue, even on every important issue. Obviously, when a representative evidences animus for Jews or Israel, such relations may be difficult or impossible.

But one thing is certain. We must be wary about jumping to, and especially voicing, negative conclusions about people in positions of influence based on less- than-justified assumptions or “guilt by association.”

I can’t say that I know what either Ms. Ocasio-Cortez or Ms. Pressley believes deep down in her soul about Jews or Israel. “Man sees what is before his eyes; Hashem alone sees into the heart” (Shmuel I, 16:7).

And maybe one day, chas v’shalom, we’ll witness the two joining their anti-Israel colleagues, supporting BDS and a “one-state solution”. Maybe they’ll appear on the House chamber floor waving Palestinian flags and brandishing copies of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

But nothing in their records leads me personally to the conclusion that either woman deserves our scorn.

And what’s more, attributing abhorrent attitudes to people who haven’t evidenced them is a dangerous habit. Because publicly casting such aspersions is not only wrong, it can lead to their becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.

© 2019 Hamodia