Category Archives: Politics

Ranking Ranked-Choice

Your four-man chaburah is making a siyum and you’re ordering a large pizza. The eatery offers toppings but only on the entire pizza. You like onions and are sort of okay with peppers, but you can’t stand mushrooms. Yanky loves them, though, and Yudi likes them somewhat. Shimmie’s a pepper guy and ambivalent about fungi. Complicated, no? Your first choice would be onions-only, but, to prevent the dreaded mushrooms, you’d compromise and allow peppers. Deliberations ensue, an agreement is reached, and the pie is delivered. Mazel tov.

Most political elections are so much easier. A simple majority rules; the candidate garnering the most votes is the winner. Even if no one wins a majority of votes. Even if a sizable minority loathes the winner. Even if other candidates were “spoilers,” having had little chance of winning but having siphoned votes away from a more popular candidate.

And then there is “ranked-choice” voting, a.k.a. “instant runoff” or “tiered” voting.

That system allows voters to rank their candidates – to choose not only a favorite, but second or third (or more) choices. When the votes are counted, a candidate earning more than 50% of the votes is the winner. But if no candidate achieves a majority of votes, the ballots get re-counted, this time, with the votes of those who selected the last-place candidate as their top pick counted as votes for their second-choice candidate.

If there still isn’t a 50%-winning contender, the process continues until someone amasses a majority. A majority-backed (or, at least, majority-acceptable) candidate will thus emerge as the winner. The system is arguably more democratic and unarguably less expensive that holding separate runoff elections.

Several American cities have adopted ranked-choice voting over the years. San Francisco used the method for its recent mayoral race, and New York City is considering putting the measure on the ballot for municipal elections.

Last week, Maine became the first state to use ranked-choice voting on the state level. Mainers may be especially sympathetic to the ranked-choice system, as, in both 2010 and 2014, outgoing Republican Governor Paul LePage, who has come under fire for racist and obscenity-laced statements, was elected without having won a majority of the votes.

Tallying and re-tallying votes is time-consuming, but even a pizza, after all, can’t be rushed. But, while the results of the Democratic gubernatorial primary (in which no candidate won a majority) have, at this writing, not yet emerged, one Maine ballot measure passed, with 54.2% of voters approving: To continue ranked-choice voting.

It’s a choice that seems to make sense. It may confuse some voters conditioned to the standard “the one with the most votes wins” system, require more research on the part of voters (not a bad thing, actually, that) and take longer for results to be reached. But when candidates who haven’t been chosen by a majority of voters can win office, it only aggravates the political polarization of society.

Ranked-choice voting can even actively achieve the opposite, bringing adversaries to cooperate with one another. Two of the seven Democratic rivals in the Maine governor’s race actually campaigned together. In a joint video, Mark Eves and Betsy Sweet noted that they are competitors, but agree on most issues. “You can vote for me first and Betsy second,” Mr. Eves says, with Ms. Sweet adding, “Or me first and him second.” Now when’s the last time we saw something like that?

Ranked-choice voting might even be an enticing, if far-off, option for our national elections. (Australia and Ireland have used the method for years.) Were the system to be used in primaries, the results of individual states’ primary elections might well be different from what they would be under the current system. And ratification of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC), under which a state pledges its electoral votes to the national popular-vote winner, would also arguably make presidential elections more reflective of the electorate’s will.

President Trump, for instance, lost the national popular vote and received less than 50% of the vote in six of the states he won. Both Mr. Trump and his rival Hillary Clinton, moreover, were very unpopular with a large number of voters. A late Gallup poll before the election rated their unfavorability quotients at 62% and 57% respectively.

Had the NPVIC been in effect and ranked-choice voting used by the states, the election could well have had a different result.

Whether that scenario makes one wistful or relieved, though, the ranked-choice approach is an intriguing idea for Americans to explore.

Calmly and judiciously.

Maybe over pizza.

© 2018 Hamodia

Optics and Essence

While Democrats and Republicans were trading verbal punches – and misinformation –about immigrant children last week, an adult immigrant riveted the attention of a crowd, and then the world, as he saved a child’s life.

Mamoudou Gassama, a 22-year-old Malian Muslim who, via Libya, took a perilous boat journey to Italy, and from there traveled to France, had been sleeping on the floor of a migrant residence in Montreuil, outside Paris, sharing a cramped room with six others and unable to work legally.

He has legal immigrant status now, though, and a potential job with the Paris fire department, after he saw a four-year-old boy hanging from an apartment building balcony railing in Paris and, in a feat of bravery, mettle and physical prowess, clambered up four stories, pulling himself from balcony to balcony until he reached the child, grabbed him, and pulled him back to safety.

The incident reminded some of the actions of another Malian Muslim immigrant to France, Lassana Bathily, who hid Jewish customers from an active shooter in a refrigerated room at a kosher grocery store during the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

The partisan spat on these shores concerned, in part, the separation of illegal immigrant children from their parents.

Some liberal activists tweeted photos of detainees at the U.S.-Mexico border in steel cages, including one of a cage occupied by young boys, and blamed the Trump administration for breaking up immigrant families.

As it turned out, though, the photos were from 2014, when Barack Obama was president.

Among those who gleefully pointed out the error was President Trump. But he erred himself in a subsequent tweet exhorting his followers to “put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there [sic] parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.” 

There is no such law, and the policy of separating children comes, in effect, from current administration policy, which automatically considers all who cross the U.S. border to be violators of criminal law. Under U.S. protocol, if parents are jailed, their children are separated from them. As to the 2014 photos, they were of children who arrived at the border without their parents.

Immigration, particularly for us Jews, is a fraught issue. There is understandable fear of arrivals from majority Muslim countries that espouse rabid anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes. And yet, on the other hand, immigration to the U.S. is overwhelmingly from Mexico, China and India. And most of us American Jews are ourselves descended from relatively recent immigrants. Can we refuse others seeking opportunity, and often refuge, in our country?

Thoughtful Jews, I think, have two issues here to consider: The optics and the essence.

By optics I mean: What do we want recent immigrants and potential immigrants, legal and undocumented, to see? Jewish hands raised in a gesture of “halt!”, or extended in welcome? Yes, there may be incorrigible bad apples among potential immigrants (like there are among citizens). But there are many more wholesome imported fruits, even exemplary people like Messrs. Gassama and Bathily.

Does being a vocal part of the anti-immigration, deport-the-undocumented political camp offer any practical gain, beyond garnering the appreciation of alarmists and xenophobes? And does that gain, such as it is, outweigh the potential achievement of good will from immigrants, current and future?

And by essence I mean whether immigration is itself something positive, and whether undocumented immigrants should be regarded with sympathy or suspicion.

The threat of immigrant terrorists, so often raised in the debate, is largely a dark fantasy. The libertarian Cato Institute informs us that, based on the record, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by an illegal immigrant is 1 in 10.9 billion per year. Yes, billion. Fears matter, but not as much as facts.

All that said, when it comes to how to regard immigration, reasonable people can disagree.

But all of us might consider the recent words of National Review senior editor Jonah Goldberg, a writer whose conservative credentials are beyond challenge.

“Of course,” he wrote, “there’s a kernel of truth to both sides’ awful shouting points on immigrants, but they crowd out the greater truth: Most immigrants, even those who are in the country illegally, aren’t animalistic members of MS-13… Neither victims nor villains, they are human beings desperate to make the most of the American dream as they see it.”

It’s possible that Mr. Goldberg has gone soft.

But maybe he just doesn’t see traditional conservatism as incompatible with compassion.

It’s not.

 © 2018 Hamodia

Mutcheh-ing the Mullahs

Did you hear about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s revelation that Iran is cheating on the deal it made in 2015 with six major world powers?

Well, if you did, you misheard. Or were misled.

Several news organizations seemed to make that erroneous claim, and the situation wasn’t helped by a White House communiqué contending that the news from Israel exposed the fact that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.”

The statement’s “clerical error,” in the words of White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was later amended, with “has” changed to “had.” How tragically droll had World War III resulted from a single letter typo.

What Mr. Netanyahu in fact revealed was a large cache of documents (55,000 pages, and 183 compact discs) that, he explained, had been obtained and spirited out of Iran by Mossad (that grinding sound you’ve been hearing is the manic gnashing of mullahs’ teeth). The voluminous material, as described by the Israeli leader, revealed some previously unknown former Iranian nuclear sites, and showed that Iran, despite its insistence to the contrary at the time the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was enacted, had indeed earlier pursued the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

That revelation is less than shocking. Nobody, including in the Obama administration, believed that Iran hadn’t aspired to nuclear weaponhood. The Shiite government was known to have had a program, “Project Amad,” with that specific aim, which continued until 2003.

Four years before the nuclear deal was signed, an International Atomic Energy Agency report explicitly noted the existence of Project Amad,. And, shortly before the deal, even then-Secretary of State John Kerry, one of its architects, nodded to Iran’s bald lie about its past activities, politely explaining that “we are not fixated on Iran specifically accounting for what they did at one point in time or another.”

In fact, it was precisely the recognition of Iran’s nuclear aspirations that propelled the powers to push for a deal, in order to put brakes on the mullahs’ objective. As British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson noted last week, “The Iran nuclear deal is not based on trust about Iran’s intentions; rather it is based on tough verification.”

President Trump campaigned on a promise to trash or renegotiate that “worst deal ever” (an appellation it apparently shares with NAFTA – they must have tied for first place), and has now pulled the United States out of the agreement.

Some observers have speculated that Mr. Netanyahu’s dramatic unveiling (quite literally; he pulled a curtain off exhibits) of the material taken from Iran and demonstrating the country’s deceitfulness was intended to prepare the way for Mr. Trump’s pulling the U.S. out of the deal.

But the revelation might also have been aimed more poignantly at the Iranians themselves, to put them on uncomfortable notice that not only is what everyone knew but couldn’t prove in 2015 now proven, but also to apprise them that Israel has the means to infiltrate secure locations within Iran (even within Tehran, where the documents had been hidden) and help itself to what it likes.

Which discomfort might just help Mr. Trump succeed at forcing Iranian leaders to agree to terms that would allow the U.S. to enter a new agreement with them. The hardliners in the Iranian government who opposed the deal all along are condemning the American about-face, saying “We told you so” to the relative moderates. But if they are sufficiently nervous about what might happen next within its own borders, it might just be a bit less resistant to “persuasion.”

What’s more, the president’s bravado – or, in his critics’ eyes, volatility – arguably helped intimidate North Korea, even though the outcome of that country’s inscrutable leader’s overture to his southern neighbor remains to be seen. Might Mr. Trump’s swagger (which his new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has declared is returning to American foreign policy) convince Iran to better… understand things?

President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain futilely lobbied Mr. Trump to not re-open the deal. Iranian hardliners are clamoring for Iran to abandon the deal itself and resume its nuclear program. But the nation’s mullahcracy certainly appreciates the deal’s lifting of some economic sanctions. Might it conceivably accept tightened terms if some means can be devised to allow it to save face?

Neither reasonability nor flexibility, though, are among the current Iranian government’s strong points, and even if a typo, thankfully, didn’t result in war, pushing the mullahs too far could.

Let’s hope – and be mispallel – that it won’t.

© 2018 Hamodia

(This column has been edited to reflect events of days since it was published.)

The Lonely Man of Politics

James Comey Jr., the former director of the FBI and author of the new book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” truly stands out from the crowd.

Not only because the man is 6’ 8”tall. But because he may well be the most reviled person in American politics today.

In our grossly polarized society, most personalities on the political scene, even if only on the sidelines, like Mr. Comey, are embraced by one squad and reviled by the other. Team mentality reigns, and the body politic is reduced to cheering or booing fans. Only face paint is missing.

And so it is something of an anomaly to observe a personality who is booed all around. Mr. Comey has achieved that status.

The Blue Team considers him (not unreasonably) to have played a part, perhaps a decisive one, in the defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential elections.

On October 26, 2016, two weeks before the presidential election, then-FBI director Comey learned that his agents had discovered a trove of emails on then-Congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer between the Democratic candidate and Mr. Weiner’s then-wife Huma Abedin (yes, a lot of “then”s here). Mr. Comey felt he had to inform Congress that the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of private e-mail servers when she was Secretary of State was being reopened due to new information. He decided that to not reveal the new information would be misleading of Congress and the public

Mere days before the election, he informed Congress that “Based on our review [of the new material], we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July.” That was when he had announced that the agency “did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information” but that “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

Speaking last week to comedian/political commentator Stephen Colbert about those actions, Mr. Comey admitted that he knew his decision would deeply upset “at least half of partisans,” but that “it never occurred to me we would [upset] all of them.”

But upset them all he did, and Mrs. Clinton famously went on to lose the election, further incensing her supporters. New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow recently referred to Mr. Comey as having “made reckless and harmful disclosures and proclamations about the Clinton investigation while not whispering a word about the concurrent investigation into the Trump campaign.”

For his part, Mr. Comey feels he had no honorable choice but to do what he felt his position required of him. The Brookings Institution’s Benjamin Wittes characterized Mr. Comey’s quandary: “Charge Hillary Clinton and you will regret it. Don’t charge her and you will regret that too. Explain your reasoning and you will regret it. Don’t explain your reasoning and you will regret it. Inform Congress of your actions immediately before an election, and you will regret that. Don’t inform Congress and you will regret that too… The steps you take to remain apolitical will make you political.”

Team Red, for its part, reviles Mr. Comey for whatever it was that made President Trump fire him last May; and now for his book, which is highly critical of the president.

What prompted the FBI head’s firing is not entirely clear. At first, Mr. Trump said the termination was on the recommendation of United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Later he insisted he had made the decision on his own. The day after the firing, he told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that he had “just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job” and added “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

What is clear, though, is that Mr. Comey is not, to put it mildly, enamored of Mr. Trump, and doesn’t hide his feelings in his recent book. He likens the president to a mob boss, judges him “unethical and untethered to truth” and characterizes his leadership as “transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty.”

No way to win friends in Red America.

Maybe it’s my decades at Agudath Israel, over which time I regularly witnessed (and continue to witness) decisions made on high principle attacked from opposite corners. Maybe advancing age has tempered me, à la a poet’s declaration, “So goodbye cut and dried/Nice to have known you/But something went awry/And I’ve outgrown you.”

But– leaving aside the actual political issues – I can’t help feeling admiration for a player who does what he feels is right even if it means being booed by all the fans.

© Hamodia 2018

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)