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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Partisan Nation

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

The use of the IRS to target conservative groups should be the least surprising development in years. Not only does that sort of thing date back to Clinton and JFK, both of whom unleashed the IRS on their enemies, not to mention Nixon who never managed to pull off the things that JFK grinned, did and got away with, but there was no reason for not to do it.

The two reasons not to sic the IRS on your enemies are decency and the law. Is there anything in Obama’s career, including his treatment of fellow Democrats, to suggest that he cares for either one?

The man in the White House clawed his way to power by stabbing his mentor in the back, leaking the divorce records of his political opponents and throwing out the votes of Democrats in Florida and Michigan to claim the nomination.

And he was just getting started.

In the last election, Obama urged voters to punish our “enemies.” It was a window into the mindset of a man who moans and groans about partisan politics, but talks like Huey Long when he gets in front of the right audience.

But these days the description is fairly apt. Who was the last president that both sides could agree was an okay sort of guy or something less than the devil incarnate? The answer might be George H. W. Bush, who was pilloried for being an out of touch rich guy, but really not all that bad when you think about it. And that means we have to go back two decades to find a president that the other side didn’t think should be put on an ice floe and pushed out to sea.

And before Bush I, we would have to go back all the way to the Eisenhower or Truman era. Politics was never nice. It was often very nasty indeed. But this isn’t the petty infighting of the political class anymore. We’re not talking about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr shooting it out or Eleanor Roosevelt driving a car with a teapot on its roof behind Theodore Roosevelt Jr to keep him away from the job that would eventually go to her husband. This is a partisan politics born out of ideology.

The old politics sought a status quo that could be tweaked to favor one side or interest. The new ideological politics seek a fundamental transformation that will entirely destroy the status quo and eventually tear out every element, overturn every trace of what was and replace it with what should be. Ideological partisanship of this stripe is not concerned with the stability of the system. It is not worried about burning bridges because it believes all the bridges will have to be burned anyway.

There is a limit to what any political movement can do out of greed or personal vendettas in a democracy, but there is no limit to what it can do when it combines these with a political ideology whose ends justify all means. There is nothing that it will not do because it is unconcerned with the long term consequences of its actions, only with the short term results. It has no long term investment in the existing system which it intends to destroy.

Corrupt ideologies treat men with no decency as valuable assets. Their lack of scruples proves their willingness to put ideology over all mores and norms. The more extreme the ideology, the fewer limits it accepts on its freedom of action against its enemies and the more such actions come to seem natural. And then why not punish your enemies by using the full force of government against them?

The practical reason for not using government agencies to repress your opposition in a democracy was that they might do the same thing to you. But the mobilization of the bureaucracy as an arm of the left has made that fear largely irrelevant. Using the IRS to target Democrats would be dangerous business for a Republican. And the same would go for every other Federal agency whose appointees may be loosely conservative, but oversee organizations stuffed full of liberals and union members.

There is no such deterrent on the other side. And the only remaining deterrent, the fear of public exposure was largely nullified by the media. The impression was that Obama Inc. could do anything it pleased and get away with it. And so it did.

Get a Grip: Lapid is not Hitler or a Russian Czar

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

This is beyond baffling. I understand the anger and the reasons for it. What I don’t understand is the extent to which Haredi leadership, their representatives in government, and their spokesmen in media are willing to go to express it. What is even more baffling is that they actually believe such tactics will work!

The latest volley in the war between the Haredi leadership and the rest of the world has been in the form of making comparisons to Hitler! This is how a writer in the Israeli Yated described a speech made in the Kenesset by Yair Lapid. He compared it to a speech made by Hitler.

Unbelievable! Hitler?!

He tries to wiggle his way out of it by saying he wasn’t comparing anything to the Holocaust. Just pointing out similarities in a speech.

It isn’t only this article that is so troubling. Just about everywhere one turns these days in the extremist Haredi world there is a ‘knee-jerk’ type reaction to even a hint that suggests that the other side has a point. Recall Jonathan Rosenblum doing that and suggesting ways to counter it in positive ways. Ami magazine’s publisher treated Jonathan as though he were a pariah! Rabbi Avi Shafran, who is a former editor at Ami and is still a frequent contributor to it defended Jonathan quite eloquently in an article of his own.

There is also this from YWN:

It appears that the battle against the drafting of bnei yeshivos is not only directed at the government but at chareidi inductees referred to as the “chardakim” (חרדים קלידעת ). Of late, a letter sent to the new inductees anonymously threatens those chareidim willing to serve, apparently by fanatics who are unwilling to tolerate seeing chareidim in the military under any circumstances.

Reference is made to the “tamei” IDF uniforms, warning the recruits that if they are not out of the uniforms and tamei place in two weeks, an all-out war will be waged against them “at the correct time and place.”

I have also been made aware of an opinion recently expressed by one Haredi rabbinic leader who said that any attempt to alter the long established Haredi curriculum of all Torah all the time with a basic core curriculum of secular studies for part of the day – should be fought tooth and nail. And this leader is often considered a moderate – for good reason.

Let’s not forget all the “yehoreg v’al yaavor” (be killed rather than transgress) type statements by various rabbinic leaders and their agents in the media who try and spread the word – and steamroll any reasonable attempt at understanding and compromise.

There is only one word that can explain the over the top reaction by Haredi establishment to this: Paranoia. Of course using the word paranoia in the context of Israeli leadership may seem to some to be disrespectful. How dare anyone say that a gadol (great leader) who by very definition expresses Daas Torah (Torah knowledge) is paranoid?

I am not God forbid saying that. I am not talking about clinical paranoia. But that word accurately describes what I believe the thinking process is. What I mean is that a lot of what is going on is misplaced fear based on a Jewish history filled with exactly the kind of things these leaders believe they are fighting now. There had been a consistent effort by ‘the enlightened’ secularist society aided by like minded Jews who had abandoned the Torah to do exactly what these leaders fear. This was also the attitude of some of the early Zionist founders which continued into the early years of the State.

So when Haredi leadership see tactics that resemble what happened then being used now, they draw the same conclusions. They see it as an all out war against the Torah. No matter how reasonable the demands being made now are… or how necessary a budgetary decision may be, they do not listen to it. They simply do not believe it and see it all as a conspiracy of anti Torah forces. They see an enemy of Torah behind every rock.

Instead of reasoned discussion in the Knesset, a speaker like Lapid gets shouted down and later compared to Hitler! They will not allow him to make his argument. Lapid is therefore making the explanation of his ministry’s budget proposals outside the Knesset. Not that he doesn’t want to make in in the Knesset. But he knows what will happen. When he approached a Haredi Knesset member about being allowed to make his speech uninterrupted so it could be fairly discussed there, he was basically rebuffed.

Israel Moves Closer to Eliminating Small Parties

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

A bill to increase the minimum number for a political party to be represented in the Knesset has passed a ministerial committee and will be brought to the Knesset for a first vote. If it passes, it will be discussed in a Knesset committee for returning to the Knesset for further votes.

The bill is sponsored by Likud Beiteinu Knesset Member Dudi Rotem. It would double the current 2 percent minimum, and if it passes, it would be much more difficult for parties such as Kadima, which has only two Knesset Members in the current legislature, to be elected.

The proposal also could affect the three predominantly Arab parties, each of which has only three or four Knesset Members.

High Stakes in Iran for Ahmadinejad

Monday, May 6th, 2013

In Iran almost nothing is what it seems to be. Iranian culture is formal; it places a premium on politeness and manners. By violating both principles, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been mesmerizing Iranians, to the delight of the masses and the embarrassment of the few. When Iranian reporters in New York, for instance, told him that the Iranian parliamentarians had criticized him, he shot back “Goh khordand” (“They can go eat [explitive]“).

Referring to the U.S.-Iranian relationship, Ahmadinejad refers to breast-feeding babies and uses profanity, and his audience loves him! The first reference comes from a Persian expression: Mamaro looloo bord ["The ogre has taken away the mother's breastfeeding"], meaning: From now on, the rules have been changed and you had better listen to me.

Ahmadinejad constantly belittles the regime’s enemies — and is the most successful leader to do so since the death of Khomeini. Khomeini prophetically proclaimed, “America cannot do a damn thing,” and history seems to have proven him right — both throughout the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the pullback of the Marines from Beirut by President Reagan, through the present failure of the U.S. to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad keeps standing up to America and America keeps doing nothing to stop him. It was America alone, by doing nothing, that enabled Khomeini to achieve greatness and maintain his grip on power.

Ahmadinejad follows in Khomeini’s footsteps. He proclaims the holocaust is a myth; he constantly belittles America, and the U.S. still does nothing. When Ahmadinejad is interviewed by the American media, the interviewers are ill-prepared: they never ask follow-up questions, challenge his lies, or call his bluff.

Iranian society, like most of us, likes winners, and if winning comes through the principle of zerangi [winning at the expense of others], and you come out on top, all the better.

Ahmadinejad is, moreover, known as a big teller of tall tales and white lies: a chakhan. Telling tall tales and white lies is embedded within the Islamic culture of Iran: in the religious writings, telling white lies to your enemies is encouraged. As a devout Shi’ite Muslim, Ahmadinejad is practicing taqiya [dissimulation] — completely acceptable if used to advance the goals of the Islamic Republic — and also possibly your rule — whenever and wherever necessary.

During Ahmadinejad’s latest trip to Isfahan province, the Fars News Agency, which is friendly towards him, carried multiple pictures of him and his choice for the next president, Esfandyar Mashai; it went on to show single photographs of Mashai. It just so happens that Mashai is also related to Ahmadinejad by marriage: his son married Mashai’s daughter. Blood alliances are a big factor in Iranian politics.

If we are to understand the fierce battles now raging among Iran’s rulers, we need to find answers to the following questions: What has emboldened Ahmadinejad to use such foul language in public when addressing his adversaries?

  • Who and what is emboldening him openly to support, as his successor, Mashai, a man singled out by other forces in the regime for criticism?
  • Are these signs of a major power shift in the Islamic Republic?

We can draw two conclusions from the above:

  • Ahmadinejad dares not give the impression that he is weak;
  • He is certain that his opponents — three Larijani brothers and Khamene’i — are weak.
  • As an activist, however, within the ranks of the veterans of the Revolutionary Guards, he must feel that they cover his back. This is a game of high-stakes poker, following in the footsteps of large sums that have been transferred out of Iran by the cronies of the regime.

The stakes are so high, in fact, that Ahmadinejad is providing videos of another Larijani brother, Fazael Larijani, demanding bribes. This video was screened in parliament to the shame and amazement of the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani.

For Ahmadinejad, this is a win-win gamble. He can either succeed by blackmailing his opposition within the ruling Islamic regime not to harm him, or, should he be harmed, he will be granted martyrdom — a lofty and much sought-after status in the current messianic Shi’ite regime.

Lakewood’s $10 Million Coup

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

This is one of those stories that worry me. VIN and NJ.com report that Lakewood Yeshiva (BMG) has been approved by the State of New Jersey for an over ten million dollar grant in what Governor Chris Christie is calling a “new era” for the state’s institutions of higher learning.

I’m sure that Lakewood applied for that grant legally and truthfully. I do not believe for a second that there was any fraud involved. And I congratulate them on a successful outcome. Lakewood certainly needs the money. But I remain with some serious concerns.

The grant was given for the construction of a library and research center. Governor Christie’s goal is “keeping New Jersey’s “best” and “brightest” in-state, while attracting new research and business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs.”

What worries me is that in spite of what I am sure was a completely honest presentation of Lakewood’s plans to the state; I am not convinced that the state’s purpose in granting them that money is even a dream in the back of the minds of Lakewood’s leaders. Nor do I believe for a minute that such a library will serve any other purpose than the stated mission of such an institution – Torah study. The kind of research that library will offer will no doubt be only in that vein. Neither am I convinced that it will result in anything near attracting new business partners.

This project will help to retain some of the finest minds in Torah Judaism. Lakewood is the premier “Torah Only” Yeshiva in the United States. It attracts the best and brightest among its constituents. Expansion means attracting more of the same. Some of whom may settle there and eventually have good jobs (and some – not such great jobs).

But even so, Lakewood cannot claim that as its goal. It can only say that this is a by-product of their ‘Torah Only” system. This is a yeshiva that forbids its students to take any secular courses while enrolled there and discourages it even after they leave. This is a yeshiva whose rosh yeshiva (dean) made disparaging remarks about someone who has been a pioneer in providing higher education for students of yeshivos like Lakewood so that they could get decent jobs… basically referring to him as a second class citizen (…full time students of Torah being first class citizens). One might even say that the rosh yeshiva would view someone like that as undermining the goals of Lakewood!

It is also no secret that Lakewood uses the welfare system legally for students who qualify for aid. Most of them probably do – since they do not have jobs but do have large families. Even those whose wives work (most of them, I’m sure) do not make enough money to disqualify them from some sort of government assistance. Again, nothing legally wrong with that.

I have to ask, is there not a moral or ethical issue of misrepresenting yourself to the world in this way – even if you qualify legally? Is there not something wrong with able bodied people choosing not to work and using the welfare system as a means of income?

And by the same token, is there not something wrong with taking over $10 million knowing what the government thinks you are going to do with that money – and using it for something else – even though it technically qualifies? A Beis HaMedrash may be a library. But is a $10 million Beis HaMedrash going to attract business partners who will bring new and better paying jobs?

Even if it truly a research library and not a Beis HaMedrash – it will certainly only contain Seforim – religious books – even if some of them will be in English. What kind of research will this foster – other than research in Torah studies?

I of course have no problem with such a library. I think it will be a valuable resource for student of Torah. But is this what the State of New Jersey had in mind in approving $10 million dollars to Lakewood?

Lakewood’s goal is not Governor Christie’s goal. Lakewood wants to expand its student base. The enormous growth in the numbers of Orthodox Jews, especially among Haredi Jews of the “Torah Only” persuasion, demands such an expansion. For some time now, Lakewood has been talking about doubling its capacity to over 10,000 students!

I guess they have found a way of doing that. But is it ethical? Will the state be happy with the results? And how will this be perceived by the secular public? Will they not see this as being unethical? Is this ultimately the wisest way of raising money for their cause? Will the potential negative fallout be worth it if it happens?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

TIME Lists Yair Lapid as One of Top 100 Influential Leaders

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

TIME magazine has selected Israel’s new superstar politician Yair Lapid as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. The magazine placed him alongside people such as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Pope Francis in the group of top leaders.

Lapid is the son of the late secular party leader Tomy Lapid, a Holocaust survivor whose Shinui (Change) party won 15 seats in the Knesset and then fell into the long history of failed one-man and one-issue parties.

The younger Lapid turned to politics last year after making a name for himself as a left-wing secular journalist who formed his Yesh Atid (Future) party and then advertised himself as a tolerant centrist. Yesh Atid is the second largest party in the Knesset, earning him the position of Finance Minister, probably the first person to hold that position without having even a high school diploma.

“If the world at large views Israel through its conflict with the Palestinians, Lapid personifies the nation’s determinedly inward focus, TIME’s Israeli correspondent Karl Vick wrote.

Lapid is becoming the center-left media’s Great Hope to oust Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Lapid himself has said he expects to become Prime Minister. It might have been more than a coincidence that the name of Netanyahu, who was on the list last year, was missing from this year’s roster.

Vick correctly concluded in his short description of Lapid, “He already has the swagger.”

Better or Worse: Politics and Conceptions of Change

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

All politics are the politics of the future. The one cause that we all champion, regardless of our political orientation, is the cause of the future. All that we fight for is the ability to shape the future.

The fundamental political question is, “Do you believe things are getting better or worse?” Ruling parties tend to answer, “Better”, opposition parties tend to answer, “Worse”. The deeper answer to that question though lies in our perceptions of the past and the future.

The left tends to view the past negatively and future shock positively. It wants change to disrupt the old order of things in order to make way for a new order. It hews to a progressive understanding of history in which we have been getting better with the advance of time, the march of progress mimics evolution as a means of lifting humanity out of the muck and raising it up on ivory towers of reason through a ceaseless process of change.

The right often views the past positively, it sees change as a destroyer that undermines civilization’s accomplishments and threatens to usher in anarchy. It fights to conserve that which is threatened by the entropic winds of change. The conservative worldview is progressive in its own way, but it is the progress of the established order. It sees progress emerging from the accretion of civilization, rather than from the disruption of revolution.

Where the left tends to be unrealistically optimistic about the future, acting like a child running to the edge and jumping off, without remembering all the bumps and bruises before, the right tends to be pessimistic about the future. It tends to be wary of change because it is all too aware of how dangerous change can be.

Youth who do not understand the value of what is around them rush to the left. As they achieve a sense of worth, of the world around them and of their labors, they drift slowly to the right. Age also brings with it a sense of vulnerability. Knowing how you can be hurt, how fragile the thin skin of the body, the fleshy connections and organs dangling within, brings with it a different view of the world. Once you understand that you can lose and that you will lose, then you also understand how important it is to defend what you have left.

The vital mantra of the left is do something for the sake of doing something. Change for the sake of novelty. Action for the sake of action. This carnival drumbeat loses its appeal when you come to understand how dangerous change can be. Personal history becomes national history becomes personal history again as you live through it. Seeing what a mistake change can be as you watch politicians disgraced, causes revealed as fool’s errands and crusades fall apart, is a great teacher of the folly of change for the sake of change.

Reagan’s question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” is the fundamental challenge of the conservative that asks whether the change was really worth it. It is the question at the heart of the struggle between the right and the left.

Are you better off than you were twenty years ago or forty years ago? It’s an uncomfortable question because it has no simple answer. In some ways we are better off and in some ways we are worse off. Examining the question points us to the sources of the problem. The places where the tree has grown wrong, the branches that have to be pruned so that it may live.

The power of this question is that it challenges the narrative of change. It asks us to examine that most basic premise that change is good. But beyond the narrative tangles of those in power and those out of power, is the larger echo of that question which asks whether the world overall is becoming a better or worse place.

This question has deeper resonances. Is history a wheel or a rocket shooting up to the stars? Are we on an inevitable evolutionary trajectory rising up or are we doomed to repeat dark ages, progress and then dark ages again? Beneath all the speculations and theorizing is the grim question, what becomes of us? Not us individually, but our societies, our nations, our civilizations, our accomplishments and our way of life.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/daniel-greenfield/better-or-worse-politics-and-conceptions-of-change/2013/04/09/

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