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Saturday, December 04, 2004

Not In My Name

NOTE: This article was originally published here on 4 August 2004. Republished for the purpose of newsfeed distribution.

Racism as a problem is nothing new; it can likely be traced to the times immemorial. We mostly notice it when we find ourselves being the target of racists; that is also not particularly surprising as we the humans always possess a certain measure of self-centeredness. But what goes around comes around, and whatever behaviour you consider morally wrong is wrong universally, regardless of whether it is your group that is practicing that behaviour, or some other group. The same goes for racism.

Racists tend to seek legitimacy by claiming that they are spiritually best endowed members of their ethnic or religious group. They tend to view those who do not hold their radical views as apostates. Quite in agreement with that pattern of behaviour, Jewish racists claim to be the
truest Jews ever to tread the Earth. On a number of occasions, people of that mold informed me that they consider me not to be a real Jew. I disagree with that assessment, and I also consider racism incompatible with true morality. Sometimes extreme expressions of bigotry and prejudice make me feel that I must no longer remain silent, and thus I feel that I have to make my views known. Later in this piece I am going to address the radical publication whose existence ended up being a catalyst in motivating me to write this piece. It is just that I believe that silence in the face of extremism can sometimes be viewed as acquiescence,- and on the part of myself and hopefully many others, there is no acquiescence here.

I have recently come across the name of Rabbi Saadya Grama who had authored a Hebrew book titled "Romemut Yisrael Ufarashat Hagalut" (one possible translation: "The Grandeur of Israel and the Issue of Exile"). Among other things the book establishes the idea of Jewish superiority.
The book was written in Hebrew and proved controversial enough for the only bookstore in Brooklyn, New York that was for a brief period of time selling it to pull it off the shelf. One would be correct in saying that I did not put in as much effort as I could have in obtaining the book and checking it out for myself. I certainly did not; I have reason to believe, however, that that book is not something which I would want to spend much effort locating, or much money subsidizing by way of purchase. So I am relying on third-party translations and quotes in forming my opinion of this book.

In its December 19, 2003 issue "Forward" published an article about the book titled "Charedi Rabbis Rush To Disavow Anti-Gentile Book". This, along with other "Forward" articles, is the source I am using for my analysis of Rabbi Grama's book. It is worth noting that some of the Rabbis denouncing the book had earlier endorsed it. Thus it appears incorrect to claim that this book can be dismissed as an opinion of one individual, not supported by anybody of import.

However, Rabbi Grama and his book is just a side-show to the topic that I would like to address: the Jewish racism. Just like any other form of racism, it takes many forms and varies in its intensity as well as in its choice of a target. Based on what I get to see the prevalent strain is the idea of superiority of Jews and inferiority of others, derisively referred to as "goyim". Rabbi Grama, whose racism is radical and uncommon in its intensity, formulates it thusly:

The difference between the people of Israel and the nations of the world is an essential one. The Jew by his source and in his very essence is entirely good. The goy, by his source and in his very essence is completely evil. This is not simply a matter of religious distinction, but rather of two completely different species.
This is clearly a justification for a racist view of the world. While few Jews would openly make this kind of a racist statement, a certain percentage of them appear to follow this sort of notion in some way or other. Some believe that Jews in Diaspora should avoid certain jobs that are not sufficiently prestigious. Some think that Jews should only abide by Jewish morals and customs, disregarding moral norms and customs of other societies even if they happen to reside in those societies. Some radicals believe that Jewish interests simply override any moral obligations towards the non-Jews. Racism is a complex phenomena; so is Jewish racism, and the list of its manifestations could be continued.

It would certainly be wrong to say that racism is a universal affliction amongst the Jews; I would think that it is only a minority that shares this sort of worldview. Jews as a people know
as well as anybody what the toll of racism can be. That may be why Jews have been so active in many liberation movements, such as the civil rights struggle of the Black Americans in the US. And Jews have every right to fight the new wave of anti-Semitism today.

However, to bolster the morality of our demand that racism directed against us be stopped, we must first stop racism emanating from us. To that end, I would like to unequivocally state that Rabbi Grama does not speak in my name. I hope the majority of other Jews share this perception.

Unfortunately, the racist minority receives a tacit support of a silent majority that is too complacent to denounce them. Or, in some cases, that majority may be too selfish to denounce them, thinking that bigots promoting Jews are "good bigots". This perception is myopic and wrong, both from a moral perspective and from a pragmatic one. Jewish racism must be denounced,- and neither the tragic Jewish historical experience, nor the rabid racism of Israel's enemies can be used as an excuse.

As extremist minorities often are, the one proclaiming Jewish superiority as the cornerstone of its political agenda is very active politically and has enough influence to affect millions of people, both Jews and non-Jews. Those who view Arabs as subhumans certainly help perpetuate oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and lack of equal rights for the Israeli Arab citizens. To the cohorts of those racists belong such prominent Israelis as the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, late Rehavam Zeevi and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. It only appears logical, following their racist assumptions, to conclude that the suffering of the lower race (Arabs) should not be viewed as a priority problem and can be allowed to continue indefinitely so long as the master race (Jews) is not affected. That sort of sentiment is also heard at times from ordinary Jews, Israeli and otherwise, who, when pondering the various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, only concern themselves with the well-being of Jews without giving any thought as to what the other side's circumstances are.

Even if a racist ideology can win a momentary success at any given point, it corrupts the society that succumbs to bigotry and is likely to cause more suffering and misery in the future. Those who seek to humiliate others always humiliate themselves in the process. It also helps to keep
in mind that victims tend to have a long memory and they are likely to try to get their payback when an opportunity presents itself. That is yet more reason for the Jews to fight racism, not espouse it.

We as Jews must send a clear message to the world that we are ready and willing to build ties with other ethnic and religious groups based upon equality and respect. That we are ready to shoulder the same responsibilities as those shouldered by others. That whether in Israel
or in Diaspora we demand no special rights or privilleges not afforded to others, nor accept special responsibilities not shared by others; nor do we view ourselves superior to non-Jews. Not only is defeating the racism emanating from the Jews our collective moral duty,- it is also an integral part of the struggle against anti-Semitism.

Friday, December 03, 2004

"What Did We Do to Deserve Condoleezza Rice?"

Asks the title of Sheldon Richman's FFF article. That is, in my opinion, not a bad question to ask. But before I address it allow me to make a couple of side points.

When I am faced with the task of assessing a political or furthermore an executive official I prefer to spend as little time as possible furthering any purely political agenda but instead to assess that official's qualifications and credentials, concentrating purely on the their aptitude for, and performance in, the office in which they serve, or for which they are being considered. I also prefer to stay way from analyzing their private lives aside from where an obvious interference with the individual's ability to perform the duties of office may arise. Let us try to apply this method of analysis to our Secretary of State nominee, Condoleezza Rice.

Here's how Richman begins his article:

Is this a great country or what? Thanks to President George W. Bush, we will now have the first secretary of state who once had an oil tanker named after her. No kidding. Chevron put Condoleezza Rice’s name on a tanker when she served on its board of directors, from which she resigned just before the 2001 inauguration. Chevron later changed the name, and President Bush appointed her national security advisor.

But that factoid is overshadowed by her career since moving from Chevron’s board. Does she deserve this career move? Set aside her lack of experience as a diplomat. Except for some time spent as provost of Stanford University, before her government appointments she was a specialist in Russian studies. I presume one can learn diplomatic skills on the job. Also set aside her weak management skills, which were manifest during her tenure as national security advisor. One might pick up those skills as the head of the State Department.

But can she learn to tell the truth to the American people? Her record is not encouraging.

Rice was one of the key administration people in the massive deception campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq, which continues to cost the lives of countless Iraqis. (The U.S. government refuses to keep count.) More than once Rice stood before the American people and blatantly lied to them. On at least one occasion the White House acknowledged that she fell down on a crucial job.

It was Rice who told us shortly after the 9/11 attacks that she and the rest of the national security apparatus never dreamed that al-Qaeda would ever fly airplanes into buildings. We learned later that the CIA had warned of this. She also said she was unaware that the CIA doubted that President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from the African country Niger. The CIA had made its doubts more than obvious and had even gotten Bush to remove the claim from a speech. That was before he used it in his state of the Union address, although the claim was no more solid then.

So, in short, we've got somebody who is not only known to be marginally competent for the job she is being nominated for, but also is known to bend the truth if not lie outright. On top of that, the way in which she communicated the statements that we now know were not true makes it clear, almost, in my opinion, comically clear that only two possibilities existed at the time those statements were originally made: either the person making them was lying, or she was hopelessly incompetent to occupy the office she at the time occupied,- that of the National Security Advisor.

Let us just consider one instance,- Rice's statement after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 to the effect that such attacks could not even have been imagined. Saying that some 50 years after the technique of using an airplane as a bomb was massively employed by the Japanese Air Force in WWII and some six years after Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 WTC bombing attack, admitted to having considered the same technique for attacking US Government buildings would, in my opinion, be tantamount to one's admission to ignorance of the relevant national security history,- essentially, the sort of ignorance that is likely to disqualify one from performing the duties of that office.

Says Richman,
Some years ago Laurence Peter formulated the Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” If Rice is confirmed as secretary of state, Dr. Peter’s principle will have to be revised.

The question is not, “Does she deserve it?” No. The question is, “Do we?”

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

And Who Are Those Valiant Guards?

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) is tasked with guarding our nation's transportation infrastructure in order, to a large extent, to prevent the tragedy akin to the 9/11 from ever again taking place. Given the risks associated with a potential disaster on a scale even significantly lower than what one saw happen on that terrible day some three years ago, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the agency manning the first line of defense would settle for nothing short of excellence as far as its standards are concerned. That, however, does not seem to be the case.

Some facts are truly telling. Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas and a 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for President, writes in a article:
Problems within TSA are legion. In the rush to hire a new workforce, 28,000 screeners were put to work without background checks. Some of them were convicted felons. Many were very young, uneducated, with little job experience. At Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York, police arrested dozens of TSA employees who were simply stealing valuables from the luggage they were assigned to inspect. Of course, TSA has banned locks on checked luggage, leaving passengers with checked bags totally at the mercy of screeners working behind closed doors. None of this is surprising for a government agency of any size, but we must understand the reality of TSA: its employees have no special training, wisdom, intelligence, or experience whatsoever that qualifies them to have any authority over you. They certainly have no better idea than you do how to prevent terrorism. TSA is about new bureaucratic turf and lucrative union make-work, not terrorism.
The TSA is known for its intimidating tactics. I have noted that earlier, and Rep. Paul seems to be sharing my view:
TSA has created an atmosphere of fear and meek subservience in our airports that smacks of Soviet bureaucratic bullying. TSA policies are subject to change at any moment, they differ from airport to airport, and they need not be in writing. One former member of Congress demanded to see the written regulation authorizing a search of her person. TSA flatly told her, "We don't have to show it to anyone." Think you have a right to know the laws and regulations you are expected to obey? Too bad. Get in line and stay quiet, or we'll make life very hard for you. This is the attitude of TSA personnel.
While judging a large organization is never an easy proposition, it is my impression,- based upon both personal observations of the TSA personnel at work and what is being reported about them,- that the TSA is certainly adding a cloud of intimidation over the heads of the traveling public without being obviously effective as an anti-terror force. As a society, we should not just blindly accept the government's position on either who should do the important work the TSA is tasked with doing, or how it ought to be done. I do not believe that they know better, as they so often claim. And they hardly ever fail to prove the opposite to me.

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