Category Archives: Politics

Erratum

A reader has informed me that, contrary to what I had written in an earlier posting, NRA chief Wayne LaPierre did indeed mention the names of a number of non-Jews in his speech to CPAC.  He is correct, and I have amended the piece accordingly.  The new version is here.

My apologies to all my readers for my inadvertent error.

We The People, They The Elites

I’m not one to spy anti-Semites hiding under the bed. When I was a high school Rebbi, sometimes, when erasing the blackboard (remember blackboards?), I lost control of the wood-and-felt eraser and it landed on the floor. I would look down at it and growl “antesehMIT!” – not just as a joke but as an indirect lesson to the class that not every obstacle a Jew might face is necessarily sourced in Jew-hatred.

But my antenna for subtle prejudice against Jews nevertheless functions well. And a recent speech by longtime National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre set it vibrating intensely.

The NRA boss was addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and he didn’t mention the words “Jew” or “Jewish” at any point. But my radar strongly registered his words all the same.

The speech was a fiery one, an ultra-conservative cri de coeur that went far beyond defending gun ownership and opposing even reasonable gun control measures. It was a call to arms (maybe even literally – I’m not sure) for patriotic Americans to resist liberal societal forces – “European-style socialists,” as he called them – that he accused of being determined to destroy America from within.

Deriding recent efforts at tightening gun restrictions, he asserted that “The elites don’t care, not one whit, about America’s school system… For them, it is not a safety issue. It is a political issue. They care more about control and more of it. Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms, so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

“History proves it,” he asserted. “Every time, in every nation in which this political disease rises to power, its citizens are repressed, their freedoms are destroyed, and their firearms are banned and confiscated.

“It is all backed in this country by the social engineering, and the billions [of dollars], of people like George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and more.”

He went on to single out Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer as one of the Democrats who, he claimed, are anti-American and “liars to the core.”

And, for good measure, he namechecked Karl Marx, Bernie Sanders and 1960s community organizer Saul Alinsky.

“These intellectual elites,” he charged, “think they’re smarter than the rest of us. And they think they’re better than we are. They truly believe it… They think they deserve to be in charge of every lever of power.”

“But you know what?” he challenged his listeners, “We the People are in charge of this country!”

He characterized the Democratic Party as “infested with saboteurs,” and the student-propelled resurgence of gun-control advocacy that followed the Parkland, Florida school shooting as a “shameful politicization of tragedy… a classic strategy right out of the playbook of a poisonous movement.”

Then, noting how there are armed guards at some jewelry stores and sports stadiums, he asked his listeners, “Do we really love our money and our celebrities more than we love our children?”

Practically every sentence he uttered drew resounding applause.

Now, few if any of us Orthodox Jews are fans of George Soros or Saul Alinsky, and we certainly have no sympathies for Karl Marx. Most of us, moreover, are politically and socially conservative. But is it unreasonable to be concerned by the fact that so many of the names Mr. LaPierre cited, especially the non-elected officials, are of Jewish ethnicity?

To be sure, Jews are prominent in American philanthropy and politics, and, whether or not we like it, most American Jews are of liberal bent.

But billionaire gun-control and “social engineering” proponents also prominently include people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Jeff Bezos. And, in Congress, many similarly non-members-of-the-tribe, like Senators Jack Reed and Richard Durbin, and Representative Carolyn Maloney, are at the forefront of the effort to enact gun control legislation.

Mr. LaPierre likely has no great affection for those people or others like them. Why did he omit them from his jeremiad?

And why did his gun control enemy list not include “usual suspects” like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence or The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?

Why did he choose instead to reference so many… people known as Jews?

Mr. LaPierre may be no more anti-Semitic than my old blackboard eraser. Maybe I’m reading into his recent screed’s references to Jews something that isn’t really there.

But my antenna won’t stop buzzing.

© 2018 Hamodia

NOTE: This column has been corrected to not claim or insinuate that Mr. LaPierre referenced only Jews in his speech.

Agudath Israel on Today’s General Assembly Vote

Agudath Israel Statement on This Morning’s U.N. General Assembly Vote

The countries that voted this morning in the United Nations General Assembly to demand that the U.S. rescind its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its plan to move its embassy there once again showed their true and ugly colors.

The General Assembly has long been a ludicrously anti-Israel forum, a grandiose soapbox where nations, including more than a few whose regimes routinely oppress, torture and murder their own citizens, wax righteously indignant at Israel’s audacity in defending herself against her many bloodthirsty enemies.

Today’s vote, however, forged a new low in the world body’s antipathy toward Israel.  Not only does the majority of the General Assembly seek to deprive Israel of the right to determine her own capital, but it seeks to prevent our own country from respecting that right.

In 1995, Congress passed a law explicitly establishing the position of the United States that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel,” and requiring that the American Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem.  Earlier this month, President Trump announced the implementation of that law.

We are proud of the steadfast friendship toward Israel and recognition of reality that Congress and President Trump have demonstrated.  We applaud President Trump and Ambassador Haley for their courageous articulation of American values in the lion’s den of the United Nations.

And we remain ever hopeful that other responsible nations will come to recognize the special status of Jerusalem not only to the state of Israel but to the Jewish people throughout the millennia.

Agudath Israel Letter to Turkish Consul Condemning Erdogan’s Ugly Words

 

December 11, 2017

 

BY REGULAR MAIL & E-MAIL ([email protected])

Honorable Ertan Yalçın

Consul General

Turkish Consulate General in New York

825 3rd Avenue

New York, NY 10022

Dear Mr. Consul General:

I write on behalf of Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox Jewish organization, to register outrage over the recent reported comments of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who ludicrously called Israel – the only true democracy and humanitarian country in the Middle East – a “terrorist state” that “kills children.”

Compounding the absurdity of that charge was Mr. Erdoğan’s ahistorical assertion that “Jerusalem was ruled by Muslims for many centuries but never closed to the believers of the other religions during that time.”  It is clearly documented that, at least from 1948 until 1967, Islamic authorities and Jordan prevented Jews and Christians from visiting their holy sites in the Old City, including the Western Wall.  And it is well known and entirely evident that Israel provides access to all religious sites within its territory.  To claim the opposite is nothing less than an attempt to create false “facts.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s further assertion that “Jerusalem is the worshipping center for mainly Muslims, Christians, and partially Jews” betrays not only further deep ignorance but even deeper prejudice.

Such baseless and incendiary rhetoric has become commonplace among barbaric enemies of peace who in fact murderously target innocents as a matter of policy.  That such language now emerges from the mouth of a head of state is utterly contemptible.

Turkey for many years represented a voice of sanity and responsibility in a region cursed with delusion and violence.  It is unfortunate, indeed tragic, that recent years have seen it influenced by the worst elements around it.

Sincerely,

                                                                  Rabbi David Zwiebel

Executive Vice President

Agudath Israel of America

 

Peter Beinart’s Orthophobia

Below is my original draft of a piece I wrote for Forward.  The article as it appeared there, though, was substantially edited, and several sentences that I think are important were omitted.  So I share the original here.  The Forward piece can be read here.

Well, in case anyone for some reason may have been wondering, Peter Beinart, who recently wrote a piece titled “The Orthodox Should Know Better than to Embrace Hatred of Muslims,” doesn’t follow J.K Rowling on Twitter.

Because if the Forward senior columnist and former The New Republic editor did, he would have seen Harry Potter’s creator’s retweet last year of a haredi (or in the Forward’s pejorative preference, “ultra-Orthodox”) rabbi’s message.

The rabbi shared the fact that he had dedicated his presidential election vote to the American Muslim soldier Captain Humayun Khan – who was killed in combat and about whom his father Khizr spoke movingly at the Democratic National Convention. Then-candidate Donald Trump, of course, was then touting his “Muslim ban.”

The Hasidic rabbi, who serves as a media relations coordinator at the national Orthodox Jewish organization Agudath Israel of America (full disclosure: I work there too), shared a photo of himself holding his ballot, alongside a photo of Captain Khan and his gravestone. He wrote that he wanted to highlight how Captain Khan’s “devotion makes (religious) freedom possible.”

The tweet was liked almost 12,000 times and retweeted 5,496 times, including Ms. Rowling’s sharing of the photo and message with her 13 million followers. Not one of whom, apparently, is Mr. Beinart, who wrote recently here that “the inability to distinguish jihadist terrorism from Islam fuels American Jewish hostility toward American Muslims” and that such inability is “particularly true among the Orthodox.”

Mr. Beinart must have also missed the story of the haredi director of a Brooklyn soup kitchen who, after the election, rallied support within his community for Muslim Yemeni neighbors who were protesting the new president’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.  The haredi also organized support for a beleaguered local Yemeni-owned bodega, complete with “Shalom/Salaam” posters.

Agudath Israel, moreover, issued a pro-immigration statement about the ban asserting that such a move is acceptable only if intended to prevent terrorists from entering the country, only “if tempered by true concern for innocent refugees” and only if “its focus is on places,… not on religious populations.”

Mr. Beinart could be forgiven for not knowing about the hassidic WhatsApp group that calls itself “Isaac and Yishmoel,” created to enable its members to defend unfairly maligned Muslims.

But some research on his part might have turned up the fact that Agudath Israel’s executive vice president chairs the Committee of New York City Religious and Independent School Officials, which includes representation from the Islamic School Association. And that he has worked with Islamic school representatives on a number of issues before the New York State Education Department. And that, on the national level, he works with Islamic school groups under the umbrella of the Council for Private Education.

Agudath Israel has also joined with Islamic groups in amicus briefs in religious liberty cases, and, along with the Orthodox Union, another major national group, has opposed “anti-sharia” laws.

Is there wariness about Muslims among many Orthodox Jews?  Yes, as there is among many non-Orthodox ones, among many Episcopalians, Catholics and Hindus too.  Is that fair to the vast majority of Muslim citizens, who have no evil designs?  No.  But, unfortunately, the proclaimed world-conquering designs of Islamists and the malevolent acts committed by extremists exist.  The distrust that results is, unfortunately, the responsible Muslim’s unfair burden to bear.

But do Orthodox Jews hate Muslims or seek to harm them?  Mr. Beinart should visit one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods where Orthodox Jews and Muslim immigrants live side by side, day by day without friction.

The Forward columnist compounds his slander of Orthodox Jews by engaging in some Orthophobia, in effect accusing haredim of preventing women from marrying, touting genocide and killing babies.  Yes, you read right.

There isn’t space here to rebut such outlandishness.  Suffice it to say that it is a high haredi ideal to find ways to compel a recalcitrant husband to agree to divorce his abandoned wife; that no people today can be identified with Amalek, and so the biblical injunction to destroy that evil nation cannot be applied; and that metzitza bipeh, the oral suction practiced by some haredim as part of the Jewish circumcision rite, has never been proven to be related to, much less the cause of, any infection in an infant, as three medical/statistics experts have affirmed (http://forward.com/opinion/letters/194118/no-conclusive-evidence-on-circumcision-rite-and-he/) in these very pages.

The Orthodox community’s final crime, in the Beinart courtroom, is having voted in large numbers, and in contrast to the larger Jewish community, for the man currently occupying the White House.  Judge Beinart chooses to interpret that fact as the result of Orthodox anti-Muslim sentiment.

Might it be, though, that many haredim simply recognize that judicial appointments comprise one of the most influential powers any president has? And felt that Mr. Trump’s likely choices would prove more sensitive to our community’s concerns about societal issues and the potential erosion of religious rights in America?

We must plead guilty – forgive us – to the charges of being social conservatives and religious rights activists.  But not to Mr. Beinart’s ugly and incendiary charge.

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