Liberals are feeling their oats these days. The president’s poll ratings are down. Support for the Iraq war has eroded. Democrats in Congress are on the offensive charging the White House with misleading the country into war. An aide to the Vice President has been indicted, Congressman Tom DeLay is also facing charges, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under the spotlight for stock transactions by his blind trust.
It is, in other words, a perfect storm of opportunity for the left, which must also mean that it is time for leaders of major Jewish organizations on the political left to demonstrate their ignorance and arrogance, and proclaim their special hold on the truth and justice. There are several recent astonishing examples of this megalomania phenomenon among the leaders of this community.
According to the November 4th edition of the Forward, a national liberal Jewish newspaper, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, stated that the proposed budget “cuts” being considered by the Congress
are irreconcilable with what the Jewish community has been fighting to achieve for years, and irreconcilable with our Jewish values.
This over-the-top condemnation was directed at an attempt by Congress to reduce the size of the federal budget by less than 0.5% over the next five years. Most of the proposed budget cuts resulted from a very small reduction in the rate of growth of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, not even a real payment reduction.
But this was too much for Saperstein. He further concluded that the proposed cuts are “sinful.” That’s right: sinful.
Saperstein’s language suggests that he believes he has a special grasp and insight on what should and should not be in the federal budget grab-bag. But committing a sin, of course, goes beyond merely being wrong. Mistakes, and bad policies are not always sinful.
The words that are used by public figures matter. Saperstein’s arrogance is both astonishing and real. But there are far worse symptoms of megalomania recently visible.
The Reform movement just held its biennial convention in Houston. As is befitting the most liberal major branch of the most liberal religious community in America, their agenda contained the usual potpourri of liberal concerns. Here are some of the items that were approved at the convention:
Resolution on the War in Iraq
Resolution Opposing the Nomination of Judge Samuel Alito Jr
Resolution Concerning Divestment And Other Economic Actions As Obstacles To The Advancement Of Middle East Peace
Resolution On The Politicization Of Science In The United States
Resolution On Ending Global Poverty
Resolution On Voting Rights For The District Of Columbia
Resolution On Support For Jewish Military Chaplains And Jewish Military Personnel And Their Families
Resolution On Workers’ Rights In The United Stateses
Resolution In Recognition Of The 20th Anniversary Of Mazon: A Jewish Response To Hunger
Resolution Honoring The National Association Of Temple Educators On Its 50th Anniversary
Resolution On Torture
I have no problem with this agenda. I have chosen not to be a member of the Reform movement. There are various reasons for this, including that I do not like to hear lectures on the High Holidays about the high crimes of the United States, why Bush is bad, or if the Middle East conflict even comes up, why Israel is primarily responsible for the failure to achieve peace. Many of my friends routinely tell me every year that these themes are exactly the kind of verbiage that they get to hear in the sermons by their Reform rabbis. I can get this kind of political indoctrination in the New York Times. I do not care for it in shul.
I think that most Reform rabbis (like most religious leaders) do not have a clue about how to fight the War on Terror, nor how to conduct the war in Iraq. I am happy they are behind the pulpit and not giving orders to any military personnel. So when they pass a resolution calling for a timetable for American withdrawal from Iraq, it is not a surprise. But it is also no great contribution to any intelligent debate on the subject. It is the same as listening to Barbara Boxer on the subject, or reading some of the moon-bat leftwing websites that also accept or look forward to a defeat in Iraq, and assume there are no consequences.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the President of the Reform movement, could not restrain his glee at passage of the measure on Iraq. He added the following priceless comment:
The sentiment was clear and overwhelming…. American Jews, and all Americans, are profoundly critical of this war and they want this administration to tell us how and when it will bring our troops home.
I suspect that quite a few members of the Reform movement do not approve of the action that was just taken on Iraq at the biennial convention. In fact, even among the Rabbis voting, it did not pass unanimously. A majority of Reform Jews I am sure do approve of the measure. After all, according to some surveys, between 85% and 90% of reform Jews voted for John Kerry in 2004. But this just means that Yoffie would be overstating if he had only suggested that all members of the Reform movement supported the Iraq measure.
But such a misstatement is not enough for the great leader. The Reform movement represents only 1.5 million of the 5.5 million Jews in the United States. Thus, by making the blanket statement that “American Jews” are profoundly critical of the war, Yoffie is being shamefully deceitful and dishonest. But he doesn’t stop there. He also states that “all Americans” are profoundly critical of the war.
It is beyond ludicrous for Yoffie to extrapolate from a vote on a resolution put forth at a Reform movement convention that “all Americans” are profoundly critical of the war, and they all want this Administration to tell us how and when it will bring our troops home. Rabbi Yoffie may want to read what those hardline right-wingers Senator John McCain and Senator Joe Lieberman have written and said about the wisdom of setting a timetable for an early withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. But why read, when you can proclaim? Yoffie’s statement is perhaps the best example of the recent megalomania phenomenon among major liberal Jewish leaders, though not the only one.
Even worse, the rabbi went on to excoriate the Religious Right for its perceived assault on American values:
The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech today, calling them “zealots” who claim a “monopoly on God” while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler’s.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said “religious right” leaders believe “unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person…What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?”
A comparison to Nazis? That is the kind of cheapening of the uniqueness of the Holocaust that normally gets one in trouble with the Anti-Defamation League and its President Abraham Foxman. At least most of the time, it does. But Foxman did not find any problem in Yoffie’s outrageous and vile comparison of the Nazi killing machine to anti-gay marriage advocates among the Christian right. When you do not agree with the political and social priorities of Rabbi Yoffie or Rabbi Saperstein, you must be a Nazi or sinful. This is the wonderful language of these temperate, thoughtful leaders.
One reason that Abe Foxman did not find any time to suggest he had a problem with Yoffie’s assault on the Christian right, was that he was launching his own attacks on the Christian Right. Foxman, let us remember, was so apoplectic about Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ last year, that he seemed to expect mass pogroms by Christians against Jews after they watched the movie and left the suburban cineplex. Now, Foxman is arguing that religion is crossing the line in the American public square. And he doesn’t mean rabbis claiming to speak for God and all Americans in demanding liberal policies, of course.
As a result, today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized, and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!
On the same home page of the ADL website, is a link to a national poll which suggests that Foxman’s view is not one held by a majority of Americans (much less a unanimously held view, though Rabbi Yoffie may differ on this). A majority of Americans take issue with attacks on religion, rather than Foxman’s fear that religious Americans are claiming the formerly secular public square. From lawsuits to eliminate the words: “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, to department stores afraid to wish their customers a “Merry Christmas,” to forcing nativity displays out of public squares (where they have been for decades), a majority of Americans see a radical secularist assault on public observance of religion.
That most Americans do not see things Foxman’s way is of course troubling to him. That Christians may be mounting a counter-attack to protect the role of religion in American life must be even more problematic. I guess that opponents of particular policy positions held by Yoffie or Foxman are supposed to lie down and roll over in the face of superior intelligence and a more enlightened morality. When the megalomaniacs speak, as in the old E. F Hutton commercials, people are supposed to listen.
What is most disheartening about the assault on the Christian right, and evangelical groups, is that these groups are often the best allies that Jews find in support of the state of Israel. But of course in the case of Reform Jews it is not so clear how much support there actually is for Israel among the rabbinate and the membership. Israel is certainly not the top priority of many members of the Reform movement, and some members have little sympathy for Israel.
Nonetheless, the recent Reform biennial conference passed a resolution on the divestment campaign by Protestant churches directed against Israel. The ADL has also worked to counter this divestment effort. But the Protestant churches that are pushing divestment are not the evangelical churches or the Christian right that Foxman and Yoffie see in their soup and want to battle in their new holy war. Divestment efforts are coming from the liberal mainline Protestant churches, whose social action agenda has a heavy overlap with that of the ADL and the Reform movement.
The only problem is that these liberal churches also see Palestinians as the victims in the Middle East conflict. Life would be a lot easier for Abe Foxman and Rabbi Yoffie if these liberal churches just stuck to bashing President Bush, and worked to feed the refugees in the Sudan, fight Wal-Mart, and pushed for more Medicare and Medicaid funding and for higher taxes on the rich. David Klinghoffer has also noted the cognitive dissonance at work here.
The fact that the leaders of these liberal Jewish groups still seek rapprochement with the very liberal churches which are trying to undermine Israel, and use the most extreme and contemptuous language to describe their supposed enemies on the Christian right, including many who are heavily committed to Israel’s defense and survival, says something about what really matters to these pillars of the liberal Jewish establishment.
It is time for Rabbi Yoffie and Abe Foxman to take a chill pill, and maybe get a little perspective. They do not speak for all Jews, and certainly not for me.
It is not evangelical Christians who hijacked airplanes and crashed them into tall buildings in New York. And it is not evangelical Christians calling for the elimination of the state of Israel or murdering Jews there, or murdering Americans in Iraq and elsewhere. Of course, Abe Foxman and Rabbi Yoffie believe we have bigger threats than radical Islamic terrorism, such as silent prayers before a school day begins, a nativity display next to a Menorah in the town square, and making sure that minority students do not get a better education in a private school with a religious affiliation financed by education vouchers.
By failing to recognize the most basic realities around them, focusing on imagined enemies while ignoring and even cozying up to those who support real enemies of the Jewish people, the liberal Jewish panjandrums have clearly entered pathological territory.
Megalomania is a disease. By pretending to speak for me and many of my politically conservative Jewish friends, these rabbis compound their illness. And it is one of the reason why our ranks are growing.
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