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January 16, 2017 / 18 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘reagan’

Settlements Won’t Harm US-Israel Relationship

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Many have expressed concern over the U.S. strong opposition to Jewish construction in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. I think the time has come to release ourselves from such simplistic conceptions that insult American intelligence. Most American legislators and policy makers understand that the strategic cooperation between Israel and the U.S. does not hinge on the Palestinian issue nor on the settlement issue not even on the overall conflict between Israel and the Arab nations. Rather, it is based on mutual and common interests in the Middle East and the world over such as Iran’s nuclear threat,counter- terrorism, missile defense, intelligence-sharing, battle tactics, defense and commercial industrial research, where Israel has a competitive edge over any other country in the world.

In the past two years, anyone who has been witnessing the rise of the Islamic tide on the Arab street recognizes there is no ally in the Middle East or the world over trustworthy and stable, capable, democratic and pro-American unconditionally as Israel. That is the reason the strategic cooperation between Israel and the U.S. increases despite the differences on – what the U.S. considers secondary issues – like the settlements, the Palestinian problem or even the Arab-Israel conflict.

Israel’s relationship with the U.S. flourishes regardless of who is the President or Prime Minister and whether there is chemistry between them. When my late father, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, was in office, neither Ronald Reagan nor George Bush agreed with his ideology and even threatened to cut off aid to Israel over the settlements issue. Yet during my father’s tenure US-Israel relations were strengthened in an unprecedented manner. They both knew that even if there was no chemistry, you could rely on Shamir when the chips were down. The US knows that Israel is a unique beachhead, of the Western democracies, that must be strengthened and fortified. They don’t view us as beggars but as a very valuable asset – the relationship between Israel and the US is not one – but a two way – street.

Former US Secretary of State Alexander Haig once described Israel as the biggest American aircraft carrier in the world without having to send even one American soldier, one that you cannot sink and is critical to American economic and military interests. If there were no Israel America would have send aircraft carriers with thousands of troops that would cost the US taxpayers billions of dollars. Israel saves the US all that money and work.

Some have also voiced concern over President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Kerry as Secretary of State who is known for his fierce opposition to settlements and views it as the primary obstacle to peace. Many are liable to feel that his nomination will deter Israel from implementing its decision to build thousands of apartments in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and will be viewed as an obstacle to Israel-US relations.

I trust that the new Israeli government after Jan. 22 will not be deterred and will implement the settlement drive as it decided. The claim that only Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria prejudges the outcome of negotiations is not true. Palestinian construction in Judea and Samaria – which is dramatically larger than Jewish construction there – presents facts on the ground, just as is Jewish construction.

Western tendency to single out Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria – while ignoring Palestinian construction –prejudges the outcome of negotiations! Israel’s government razes illegal Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria. Israel should, also, raze the 1,100 illegal Arab homes built annually in Jerusalem and the thousands of illegal Arab homes in Judea and Samaria.

One must realize that our problem (and that of the US) is not with the Palestinians but with the entire Arab world. First we have to try and end the conflict with the Arab League. Once we succeed in reaching an agreement with it, they will order the Palestinian leadership to concede and they will follow suit. But if no agreement is reached with the Arab world, a peace agreement with the Palestinians alone is unattainable. To adopt a simplistic approach that peace can be reached via an agreement with the Palestinians alone is not realistic.

Yair Shamir

Twenty-Eight Years Later, it’s Finally 1984

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In 1975, there were political billboards around America proclaiming portentously that 1984 was only nine years away.  The reference, of course, was to George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the novel of a collectivized, indoctrinated human future, which high-school students had been reading since it was published in 1949.

The year 1984, by Gregorian reckoning, came and went, and Americans seemed to have dodged the Nineteen-Eighty-Four bullet.  We weren’t being interned for reeducation by a Ministry of Love.  Although conservative, constitutionalist, limited-government ideas came under relentless attack in the mainstream media and the academy, those who expressed the ideas remained free to do so.  (They in fact became freer with the lifting under Reagan of the genuinely Orwellian-named “Fairness Doctrine.”)

The MSM built narratives about the reprehensible heartlessness, hypocrisy, and stupidity of conservatives, Republicans, and Christians, but we remained largely free to live and work as we chose.  Reagan was reelected in 1984, and George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were elected in the years since.  Republicans might have imposed unnecessary constraints on themselves – e.g., the party leadership unaccountably believing, against the evidence, that Republican candidates need to tack left to attract votes – but for the most part, the GOP continued to have a fair shot at the ballot box.

In 2012, the atmosphere has changed.  The sacredness of our right to free expression – religious, political, artistic – is not necessarily given priority by either our federal government or the MSM.  Dissent is treated as a pestilence, or worse (e.g., global-warming skeptics being compared to Holocaust deniers).  Media and political figures cater nakedly to political narratives, no matter how many times truth bites them in the backside.  They simply ignore the truth – often while being faced directly with it on live TV – focused instead on faithfully repeating the narratives launched from the Obama White House, as well as on nurturing narratives of their own.

Thus, when multiple attacks were mounted on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Muslim world on 9/11 – one of them a clearly pre-planned assault on the US ambassador in Libya (see here as well; the media originally reported the Libyan attack as pre-planned) – the Obama White House promptly launched a narrative: that these attacks were unrelated to the 9/11 anniversary, and were instead the fault of a shadowy naturalized American, who had made what is apparently a silly, low-quality video about Mohammed and Muslims.  (The clip on YouTube seems to confirm this assessment.)

Attacks on US embassies and consulates all across the Muslim world, on 9/11/12 and the days following, could hardly be interpreted as other than a form of attack on the United States.  Egyptian radicals storming the US embassy in Cairo chanted, “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama!” – which carries not a whiff of righteous fury about an amateur video, but clearly invokes Osama bin Laden and the tactical triumph of al Qaeda on 9/11/01, and carries a warning to the president of the United States.  Assaults and attempted assaults on US diplomatic facilities occurred from Pakistan and Afghanistan to Morocco – including violent riots against our embassy in Tunisia, the vanguard of the Arab Spring and a North African nation with which America has had peaceful, friendly ties for more than 200 years.

At the very least, the Obama administration is misinterpreting what is going on.  The eruptions in the Muslim world are happening because of the larger shift that started 18 months ago.  Crowds of radicals from the Muslim world generate a fury that Bolsheviks could only wish for; the developments across the Muslim arc of the Eastern hemisphere today are not necessarily to be interpreted in the categories of Soviet-era instigation and fomentation, for which Marxist cadre were famous.  Today’s events are somewhat different.

Significantly, Mohammed Morsi is emblematic of a new kind of Sunni Arab leader who will grope toward a signature concept of state Islamism.  But that concept is as yet without clear form, and the numerous attacks on American facilities can’t be pinned on it.  The two phenomena – attacks from the street and state Islamism – are related, but they have not gotten to a melding point yet.  This is the evolution we need to be watching for.

The Arab Spring nations have either remained, uneasily, under sclerotic despotisms, or have migrated to an evolving Muslim Brotherhood rule.  Neither case is a factor for stability, social peace, or a consensual idea in the political realm.  Libya is as yet unpacified by her putative national government; Syria is in full uproar.  The Middle East has not found a stability point, and that condition is red meat to radical extremists, who include both the terrorists who assassinated the ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, and the inciters of attacks on US embassies in Cairo and elsewhere.

J. E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer: Syria – Going, going, gone?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

It’s not clear how much longer the US will have discretion in what – if anything – to do about Syria.  While the Obama administration pesters Russia and China in the UN, Russia and China are shuttling diplomats around the Arab world, coming up with separate plans.  The Syria crisis has become as much about a contest for leadership between East and West as it is about the terrible death toll in Syria – and there is little time left for the West to act decisively.

Clearly divided global leaders

The confrontations in the UN have been emblematic of the Asian-Atlantic divide over Syria, but perhaps not as much as a less-publicized sequence of events.  In the hours after Russia and China vetoed the Western-sponsored UN resolution in February, Nicolas Sarkozy proposed the “Friends of Syria” vehicle for coordinating international action.  The US and Turkey quickly joined forces on the Friends of Syria effort, and a first meeting was scheduled for 24 February in Tunisia.

Russia and China both declined to participate.  And their non-participation has taken the form of competing efforts to put a plan together to resolve the Syrian crisis.  On 10 March, at a meeting in Cairo – shortly before this week’s UN confrontation with the US – Russia and the Arab League announced a set of agreed principles for ending the conflict.  One of those principles is that both sides – the Assad regime and the insurgents – must lay down their arms.  Russia will not buy into any proposal that has Assad’s forces observing a unilateral ceasefire.

The Arab League’s agreement on Russia’s “five principles” is a milestone in the effort to get some kind of coalescence around a way forward.  Arab League agreement is not universal; it won’t surprise Middle East-watchers that Qatar – home of Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi and recent host of the anti-Israel “Jerusalem conference” – called last week for a military solution in Syria, with Arab troops in the lead.  But the Arab League agreement with Russia tends to highlight Qatar as an outlier in that regard.

It appears that Qatar is hoping to urge the West to intervene in Syria, in combination with military forces from Arab partners; i.e., replicate the action in Libya last year.  From a Muslim Brotherhood standpoint, wresting Libya from Qadhafi opened the country up to shariazation.  But the Arab League as a whole is publicly agreeing with Russia rather than backing Qatar’s play.  (And this in spite of Arab League participation in the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunisia.)

China chimed in a few hours ago with supportive comments about the Russia-Arab League agreement.  (Beijing has also gone Russia one better with a six-point plan.)  The Chinese had an envoy in Syria last week talking to both the Assad government and the insurgents in an effort to broker a ceasefire, and they are dispatching diplomats around the region to “explain China’s position” and affirm the need for a political solution.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to host the second Friends of Syria meeting on 2 April.  (The dilatory schedule mimics the US-EU approach to Libya in 2011.)  Nothing much came out of the first one, and the second meeting is already haunted by the report – denied by Turkish authorities – that Sarkozy had not been invited to it because of the recent French resolution condemning the World War I-era slaughter of Armenians as a genocide.

The lack of momentum for Western-brokered proposals is a serious problem.  While it would be too much to say that the Russia-Arab League agreement has momentum at this point, it would also be too much to say that anything put forward by the West is a credible challenge to it.  The Arab League doesn’t have the unity to deal with Syria by itself, and has been looking for a strong horse to run with.  There is no guarantee at this point that the strong horse will be the US and EU.

Turkish press opined this weekend that the reelection of Vladimir Putin would induce a notable warming trend in Russian-Turkish relations.  Putin is a personal friend of President Gul and Prime Minister Erdogan; this prediction is solid, although of course it will not eliminate all of the natural sources of friction between the two nations.  What it may well do, however, is change the dynamic in which Turkey has found it convenient to throw in with the US on the Syria problem.

If the US is not going to back decisive action in Syria, Turkey may quietly migrate to an accord with Russia on ending the conflict  (If Ankara can present this as Russia migrating toward Turkey, so much the better for Erdogan; but Moscow has the agreement in hand with the Arab League.).  What we may count on with both Turkey and Russia is a desire to wield the primary influence over the process of establishing a new government in Syria.  With the current US administration, the utility of the United States as a patron for this Turkish purpose may not be as great as that of Russia.

J. E. Dyer

The Liberator: Ronald Reagan and Soviet Jewry

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Jews have had a long and at times complicated relationship with the men who have served as presidents of the United States. Leaders like Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman cannot be summed up in a paragraph, especially when examining their thoughts and actions toward Jews.

Among our more recent chief executives, examination of Ronald Reagan’s relationship with the Jewish people has historically focused on the 40th president as an unflagging friend of the state of Israel. “He was unshakable,” stated Shimon Peres in a typical assessment, “a staunch supporter.”

Reagan had a special affinity for Jews, which stemmed from a multitude of factors – his personal ecumenical nature; his Catholic father’s impressive intolerance of religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination; his Protestant mother’s instruction that her son “love thy neighbor.” He learned these virtues at a young age.

As Bill Clark, a devout Catholic and Reagan’s closest aide, put it: “He was very tolerant of other faiths, especially the Jewish faith.”

One of the most instructive insights into Reagan’s connection with Jews relates to the man’s Cold War experience – what he saw as literally the fight of the 20th century.

Nothing animated Reagan more than his goal of undermining atheistic Soviet communism and thereby liberating millions. And it was the Jews behind the Iron Curtain who were a central part of that calling.

Perhaps the earliest documentable example of Reagan learning about the suffering of Russian Jews was an incident from November 11, 1928 at Reagan’s boyhood church in Dixon, Illinois. That evening, the First Christian Church on South Hennepin Avenue hosted a Russian Jew named B.E. Kertchman, whose speech offered a modern history of Jews and their relations with other people and nations. Kertchman was recruited by the enthusiastic church pastor, Ben Cleaver, who was like a second father to the young Ronald Reagan, and by Nelle Reagan, Ronald’s mother.

Clearly, young Reagan was not ignorant of the plight of the Jewish people.

That appreciation by Reagan would only intensify, particularly once he left his home state of Illinois for a movie career. That career brought him into politics, especially through his position as president of the Screen Actors Guild. While historians have rightly connected Reagan’s work at SAG with the start of his fight against communism, they have somehow managed to miss his first public confrontation with the USSR in this period.

As president of SAG, Reagan spoke on behalf of the so-called DPs – Displaced Persons. DPs initially were survivors of World War II fascism, primarily Jews. Once the war ended, the list of DP-designated peoples widened to include 1.5 million individuals escaping Soviet-occupied areas in Eastern Europe, though they still included numerous Jews who longed for the creation of a homeland in Palestine.

The DPs were held in camps in Britain, Canada, Belgium, and Latin America, at a large cost to the United States – at least $100 million annually. Soviet officials outrageously claimed that the U.S. was holding the DPs as a source of semi-slave labor – a charge dismissed by Eleanor Roosevelt as “utterly untrue.”

A bill was introducedin Congress by William G. Stratton, a Republican congressman from Reagan’s home state, to permit entry of 400,000 DPs into the U.S. Reagan fought for the bill, which faced stiff opposition in Congress. He did not shy from dramatic rhetoric, agreeing with UN official Herbert H. Lehman: “Apparently there are some people who would rather bury the Stratton bill in red tape and thus bury the DPs in a mass grave. They would be burying Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike.”

On May 7, 1947, Reagan, through the New York-based Citizens Committee on Displaced Persons, released a statement urging passage of the Stratton bill. This was probably his first open campaign against Moscow, and it involved defending people of all faiths, including Jews.

Reagan in the White House

As Reagan ultimately made his way to the White House, these issues came with him. They were close to his heart. As a citizen, Reagan had been painfully aware of the Soviet war on religion. The Soviet leadership was an equal opportunity discriminator, attacking religious believers of all stripes. In fact, communists everywhere assaulted religious believers: in the USSR, Romania, China, Cambodia, Cuba, etc.

As president, Reagan noted that Jews in particular had suffered cruel persecution under communism. Even the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, said Reagan, had used threats and harassment to force “virtually every Nicaraguan Jew to flee [the] country.”

Reagan would do his part for those Jews. In fact, he always kept on hand an updated list of people in prison in the Soviet Union, which he carried with him in his coat pocket. Each time Secretary of State George Shultz prepared to travel to the USSR, Reagan pulled out the list and directed, “I want you to raise these names with the Soviets.” Sure enough, Shultz would raise them and one by one they would be released from the gulag and often even allowed to leave the country. Many of them, of course, were Jews – individuals like Anatoly “Natan” Sharansky.

Reagan did not merely act through intermediaries. He personally took his request to the highest level, as was evident to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev soon after he pulled up to the White House on the morning of December 8, 1987, to commence the third summit in three years between the United States and the USSR.

After the welcoming ceremony, he and Reagan and their interpreters went to the Oval Office. Reagan seized on the one-on-one session to hammer the issue of Soviet human-rights violations. While he said he was pleased that some Soviet Jews were being permitted to leave the Soviet Union, he felt more should be allowed.

As he had at Geneva and Reykjavik, Gorbachev bristled when he heard the translation of Reagan’s remarks on human rights. Reagan recalled the general secretary’s sensitive reaction: “He replied that he was not the accused standing in a dock and I was not a prosecutor, and that I had no right to bring up domestic matters of the Soviet Union.”

Gorbachev was always perturbed by Reagan’s insistence on open emigration for Soviet Jews. Still angry a decade later, Gorbachev recalled in his memoirs how he snapped at Reagan: “Mr. President like you, I represent a great country and therefore expect our dialogue to be conducted on the basis of reciprocity and equality. Otherwise there simply will be no dialogue.”

Yet Reagan was confident the dialogue would continue, as it did into the next summit, six months later in Moscow.

The two leaders held their first one-on-one at 3:26 p.m., Sunday, May 29. It lasted an hour and 11 minutes. The conversation went back and forth, with Gorbachev going first. When it was Reagan’s turn, he immediately began speaking on religion in Russia. He spoke of Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and Ukrainian Catholics, and insisted all have a right to attend the place of worship of their choice.

Gorbachev responded by claiming there was nota serious problem with religion in Russia. The debate continued. Reagan then made a bold move, which was quite revealing of his priorities: he linked Gorbachev’s economic demands to his – Reagan’s – personal goal of religious freedom in the USSR.

“Gorbachev again expressed his desire for increased U.S.-Soviet trade,” recalled Reagan later. “I was ready for him.”

Reagan told Gorbachev: “One reason we have trouble increasing trade with your country,” he added, is “because of Soviet human rights abuses.”

Reagan singled out religious freedom: “I’m not trying to tell you how to run your country,” he said, “but I realize you are probably concerned that if you allow too many of the Jews who want to emigrate from the Soviet Union to leave, there’ll be a ‘brain drain,’ a loss of skilled people from your economy. But did it ever occur to you, on this whole question of human rights, that maybe if the Jews were permitted to worship as they want to and teach their children the Hebrew language, that maybe they wouldn’t want to leave the Soviet Union?…  [P]erhaps if they were allowed to reopen their synagogues and worship as they want to, they might decide that they wouldn’t have to leave and there wouldn’t be that problem of a brain drain.”

As to the effect of this on Gorbachev, Reagan later recorded: “Whether my words had any impact or not I don’t know, but after that the Soviet government began allowing more churches and synagogues to reopen.”

The Soviet government did indeed do so, but not without more persistent complaining about Reagan’s concern for Jews.

Typical was an October 6, 1988 statement from the Moscow Domestic Service, which accused Reagan of turning to the issue of Jewish emigration “whenever it has been necessary to open another anti-Soviet, anti-socialist campaign.” The Soviets were annoyed because Reagan once again had the audacity to decry the continued persecution of Soviet Jews.

“President Reagan said in his speech that there are tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Jews in the USSR who long for exit visas and are not getting them,” complained Moscow. “Who has felt this need to appeal to figures that have clearly been dreamed up and plucked from thin air and wrap them in tendentious rhetoric?”

“Why,” the Moscow Domestic Service went on, “is he once again trying to whip up passions and blow up nonexistent problems?” In the next line, Moscow provided an answer: “Perhaps this is to the advantage of the Zionist circles which are trying to distract the attention of the world public in this way from the genocide that they themselves are perpetrating against the Palestinians in the Israeli occupied Arab lands? It’s no accident that in the same speech, President Reagan allowed himself an outburst against the United Nations, which in his opinion ought to rescind Resolution 3379, passed in 1975, which describes Zionism as a form of racial discrimination.”

This, judged the Moscow Domestic Service, was another Reagan outrage, as there was “incontrovertible proof” that Zionism was both a form of racism and genocide. This October 1988 statement from the Moscow Domestic Service is a healthy reminder – “incontrovertible proof” – of what the Jewish people and the world once faced in Moscow only two decades ago, and even amid all the promise of Gorbachev’s glasnost: a group of shameless liars.

Victory – and Freedom

No matter, because in the end Ronald Reagan succeeded: the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the USSR imploded in 1991, and the Cold War was over. Liberation for countless millions was achieved without the horrible nuclear exchange we had all feared.

And Soviet Jews likewise were liberated, as hundreds of thousands subsequently now had the right at long last to leave, and did so, streaming into Israel in the largest exodus sice the founding of the modern Israeli state.

Reagan’s mind, which by the mid-1990’s was being consumed by another evil – the horrific disease called Alzheimer’s – mercifully lasted just long enough to observe the tremendous accomplishment.

By 1997, however, the former president’s mind was going fast. The White House, the Soviets, and all of those who suffered behind the Iron Curtain were mere flickering memories. And yet, in a poignant moment that summer, Ronald Reagan got a meaningful thank you.

As the former president strolled through Armand Hammer Park near his Bel Air home, he was approached by a tourist named Yakob Ravin and his twelve-year-old grandson, both Jewish Ukrainian émigrés living near Toledo, Ohio. They cheered Reagan as he drew near and briefly spoke to the retired president, who posed for a picture with the boy, which his grandfather proudly snapped.

“Mr. President,” said Ravin, “thank you for everything you did for the Jewish people, for Soviet people, to destroy the communist empire.” The slightly confused 86-year-old Reagan paused and responded: “Yes, that is my job.”

That was his job. And many longed to thank him. Most never did, at least not to his face. Instead, many came out in the immediate days after June 5, 2004, when Reagan died at the age of 93.

A pair of AP reporters interviewed Rabbi Velvel Tsikman – one of the upwards of 50,000 Soviet bloc immigrants living today in the greater Los Angeles area – who remembered a time when the only link he had to his Jewish heritage was a line in his Soviet passport that read: “Nationality: Jewish.”

In the USSR, Rabbi Tsikman was forbidden to wear a yarmulke. Now, he leads a vibrant Russian Jewish community in West Hollywood from his office at the Chabad Russian Jewish Community Center. And he credits his spiritual freedom to Ronald Reagan.

“[Reagan’s] doctrine,” said Rabbi Tsikman, “what he did, was very helpful to destroy the monster that was there in Europe.”

At the retirement center where he works, Rabbi Tsikman commented on the elderly people there who joined him late in life by leaving the USSR. “They are living in a paradise here,” he said. “It’s like God is paying them for a terrible life in Russia. These people were sitting home waiting to die. When they came here, they came alive again.”

If Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would be thrilled to meet them. He and they shared a long road together, all the way back to when he was an actor championing the DPs and, and even before then, when their ancestors, people like B.E. Kertchman, met people like Nelle Reagan and Ben Cleaver.

The battle against Soviet communism was present at the start and finish of Ronald Reagan̓s life, as was his kinship with the Jewish people.

Dr. Paul Kengor

Religion and The Presidency

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

With Presidents Day coming up next Monday, it seemed like the ideal time to chat with Paul Kengor, associate professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Professor Kengor has devoted years to studying, writing and lecturing about the spiritual roots of the American republic and the influence of religion on the presidency. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperCollins, 2006) and also God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life and God and George W. Bush: A Spiritual Life.

The Jewish Press: Why does the U.S. differ from other Western countries when it comes to the professed piety of its leaders?

Kengor: The United States is simply a more religious country, and has been from the outset, always with a strong sense of the place of Providence in the founding and continuation of the American republic, and of this special experiment in representative democracy. The great sociologist Peter Berger once said that the two most religious nations in the world are India and the United States, which may well be true.

Today, Western Europe has undergone a stunning secularization by which it has cast aside its Christian roots. It is a rather fascinating development, actually. Consider that the continent that is the home of both the Vatican and the Reformation, of Catholicism and Protestantism, of Aquinas and Calvin, of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, of Rome and Wittenberg, is abandoning its Christian identity, and it does so voluntarily, eagerly, under no threat from vandals at the gate.

When Nietzsche a century ago surveyed his surroundings and proclaimed that “God is dead,” he might have in retrospect judged himself only slightly premature.

By the way, Michael Medved, the radio talk show host and Orthodox Jew, makes the interesting point that a de-Christianized Western Europe could be a very bad Europe for Jews; that’s another argument, but obviously a very significant point.

The difference seems to go all the way back to the American and French revolutions.

Yes. When you compare the American Revolution to the French Revolution, the contrast is extraordinary. The historian Paul Johnson wrote that the American Revolution was a “religious event,” whereas the French Revolution was an “anti-religious event,” which is absolutely true. And it was that difference, notes Johnson, that defined the two revolutions from start to finish, and which explains the horrific violence, chaos, and bloodshed of the French Revolution.

John Adams was certainly cognizant of the contrast. He had written to Thomas Jefferson about his concerns over the French Revolution, warning Jefferson that there was no reason to get excited about a revolution of 30 million atheists.

You can go even earlier than the American Revolution. Take John Winthrop aboard the Arabella in 1630, standing on the deck, off the Massachusetts coast. Winthrop said of this new land that it “shall be as a city upon a hill.” He said, “The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and cause him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” That became a favorite phrase of Ronald Reagan’s, of course.

Reagan loved these images. He called the image of George Washington praying in the snow of Valley Forge “the most sublime image in American history.”

You can draw a straight line from Winthrop to Washington to Woodrow Wilson to Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. This piety is embedded in the very fabric of this nation.

Not a few historians claim that the Founding Fathers, as well as many early American presidents, were not Christians but deists – they believed in a Creator but did not subscribe to any specific religious dogma.

First, let me underscore that few to none were deists, even Jefferson, I would say. The faith of the founders has been badly butchered by modern historians. The vast majority of them were Christians. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 34 were Anglicans, 13 were Congregationalists, 6 were Presbyterians, one was a Baptist, one was a Quaker, and one was Catholic.

That said, there are some founders where it is difficult to say definitively that they were absolutely Christians, and thus were indeed, generally speaking, theists. Some say that this applies to George Washington, which it may.

Has there been a president who was publicly indifferent or hostile to religious expression?

I can’t think of a single such president. The concern now is that there is a secular culture in America that is hostile to religious expression by our presidents, at least in the case of a conservative Republican president like George W. Bush. And it really is a double standard. Liberals never complain about religious expression by their own, whether a Jimmy Carter or a Reverend Jesse Jackson or, as we shall soon see, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I will predict right now: Expect Hillary to run for president as the most religious Democrat since Jimmy Carter, and expect the liberal press to not only not protest but to swoon and to suddenly “get religion.” She will be able to say things like Dick Gephardt said in Iowa in December 2004, “Jesus was a Democrat, I think,” or like Jesse Jackson said at the 2004 Democratic national convention, “Jesus was a liberal and Herod was a conservative,” and get away with it.

Expect Hillary, like her husband before her, to campaign like crazy in churches, and to be able to do so with complete impunity from the press, in a way that George W. Bush would never be permitted to do.

You write, in God and Ronald Reagan, of seeing, when you went over Ronald Reagan’s presidential papers, many examples of “Reagan’s intense religious thinking.” Can you elaborate?

It was everywhere. Countless letters, and in the margins of numerous speeches. I’ll give just one example: When a friend or associate died, Reagan often fired off a letter to the widow in which he offered words of comfort about “God’s plan,” and how it is not “up to us to decide the where and how of things.” We can only trust, Reagan would say, that God knows best and works everything according to His plan and for His greater good.

You also write, “In order to understand Reagan’s lifelong enmity toward communism, it is crucial to review the role of atheism in Soviet philosophy.”

What we did not realize in the 1980’s was that Reagan considered the Soviet Union an Evil Empire not merely because it robbed people of the most basic civil liberties, and because it killed upwards of 30-60 million people, but also because the founders of the Soviet state pursued what Mikhail Gorbachev rightly called a brutal “war on religion: against people of all faiths – Christians, Jews, Muslims.” Karl Marx had dubbed religion the “opiate of the masses.” That phrase stuck. It would become a sage slogan in the Communist Party.

To cite merely one casual reference, Natan Sharansky, who was jailed from 1977-1986, recalls a conversation with one of his interrogators, who said flatly: “According to Marx, religion is the opiate of the masses. We won’t permit anyone to poison our children.” That phrase became gospel truth to countless communists. According to Marx himself, “Communism begins where atheism begins.”

Vladimir Lenin, the godfather of the Bolshevik state, said far worse. “There can be nothing more abominable than religion,” he wrote in a letter to Maxim Gorky in January 1913. Alexander Yakovlev recently found a new Lenin letter, dated December 25, 1919, in which he issued an order: “To put up with ‘Nikola’ [the religious holiday commemorating the relics of St. Nikolai] would be stupid – the entire Cheka must be on the alert to see to it that those who do not show up for work because of ‘Nikola’ are shot.”

Reagan knew about this war on religion, this institutionalized atheism. And he knew the Kremlin wanted to spread communism worldwide. For Reagan, this wasn’t just a bad empire, it was an evil empire. And, as Reagan said in the Evil Empire speech, he as a Christian was required to “oppose sin and evil” with all of his might.

Reagan was appalled at the Soviet persecution of all believers, and especially Jews. He constantly pressured Gorbachev to allow for free emigration of Soviet Jews. This annoyed Gorbachev, because Reagan pushed it so hard and so constantly.

Reagan wrote in his memoirs, “No conviction I’ve ever had has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.” Was there a religious motivation or a geo-strategic one behind that sentiment?

Both. He had tremendous respect for Israel. I could go into the political and strategic reasons, but those are probably clear to readers of this publication. What I found in my research on Reagan’s early religious life was that he learned religious and ethnic tolerance at a very young age, from both his devout Protestant mother and (apparently) apathetic Catholic father.

He never forgot when his father refused to register at a hotel upon realizing that Jews were denied lodging there. Jack Reagan told the clerk that he would be sleeping outside in his car, which he did.

He also learned tolerance of Jews at his church, the First Christian Church on S. Hennepin Avenue in Dixon, Illinois. I learned from church records that on November 11, 1928, the congregation hosted a Russian Jew who spoke on the modern history of Jews and their relations with other people and nations.

You write, in God and George W. Bush, that Bush “practices a non-judgmental brand of Christianity that prompts him simultaneously to concede that ‘men and women can be good without faith,’ and to assert that all believers need not be Christians.”

There has never been a more ecumenical president.

In his first year in office, Bush observed eight separate Jewish holy days, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Chanukah. In December 2001, he lit a Chanukah menorah at the White House Residence as a symbol that the White House is “the people’s house” and that it belongs to people of all faiths. It was the first time in history that had been done.

This supposedly rigid fundamentalist Protestant has likewise embraced Catholics. For his most cherished domestic project, his Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, he appointed James Towey, a one-time attorney for Mother Teresa.

He’s also gone out of his way to foster good relations with Muslims, to the dismay of not a few Evangelicals.

No president has spoken as glowingly as Bush has about Islam, which he calls a “religion of peace.” In fact, his claim that the Koran “teaches tolerance” is an assertion that truly rigid fundamentalists find laughable. Pat Robertson has referred to Mohammed as “an absolutely wild-eyed fanatic” and “a robber and a brigand.” He said of the Muslim holy book: “You read the Koran. It says wage war against your enemies. Kill them if you possibly can.”

Bush has said just the opposite, claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. In fact, he reached out to Muslims before September 11, 2001. To my knowledge, George W. Bush was the first president ever to mention mosques in his first inaugural address – which, of course, was before September 11, 2001. In his Republican convention address in August 2000, he mentioned mosques, as he did in a March 1999 speech to a Baptist church in Houston.

He explains his ecumenism this way: “We’re all God’s children [and] we need to treat each other in a decent and civilized way.” It is precisely because he is a Christian, says Bush, that he must love all peoples of all faiths.

This is yet another side of Bush that his critics do not understand, and, frankly, probably don’t want to understand.

As you point out, Bush has been extraordinarily welcoming of Jews and Jewish events in the White House. Why, then, in your opinion, is he so unpopular with the American Jewish community?

I can’t answer that. You can probably provide a better explanation than I could. I believe that generally the American Jewish community divides with Bush not over religion but over politics and ideology. If Israel were the only issue, I would think they’d be thrilled with the fact that Bush has permanently removed Saddam Hussein, a man who once had a plaque on his desk which read: “Three Whom God Should Have Never Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies.”

It looks like Saddam, thanks to Bush, will never be able to follow through on his pledge to scorch half of Israel with chemical gas.

Jason Maoz

The Times’s Strange Potshot

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

It’s not exactly news that The New York Times editorial page detested Ronald Reagan. But who would have thought that seventeen years after the end of his presidency and nearly two years after his death the Times would still seek to denigrate Reagan’s legacy, on its news pages, in a manner that can only be described as petty and inappropriate?

Of course, no one ever expected the Times’s liberal editorialists to endorse Reagan for president in 1980 and 1984. The last Republican presidential candidate endorsed by the Times had been Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 – a partisan run the Times has maintained since Reagan left office, making it a neat half-century that the paper has now been firmly in the Democratic camp.

And few were surprised at the relentless invective aimed Reagan’s way by Times editorialists throughout his two terms in Washington. In January 1983, barely two years into his presidency, a Times editorial declared that “The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan’s White House” and warned that unless he came up with “better ideas” the country was doomed “to two more years of destructive confusion.” (Reagan sagely ignored the Times’s advice and was reelected 22 months later, winning 49 of 50 states in a historic landslide.)

Even as Reagan’s stature steadily rose among historians in the years after he returned to private life, the Times continued to view him as essentially a mediocrity whose successes, the paper insisted in a churlish editorial on the occasion of his passing, were due largely to “good timing and good luck.”

What’s that, you say? A newspaper has every right in its editorial commentary to assess a public figure as harshly, even insultingly, as it cares to? No argument there, but what about when a paper like the Times takes a potshot at a deceased president not in an editorial but in a news story?

When longtime Reagan adviser Lyn Nofziger died last week, John M. Broder, the Times’s Los Angeles bureau chief, included the following paragraph in his article [emphasis added]:

Mr. Nofziger was at the hospital with Reagan after he was shot in March 1981 and relayed to the press the president’s memorable, if perhaps apocryphal, line to Mrs. Reagan at the hospital: “Honey, I forgot to duck.”

“Perhaps apocryphal”?

Reagan’s display of calmness and grace on the day he was very nearly killed cemented a bond between him and the American people that remained strong even through the darkest days of the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986 and 1987. His quips – in addition to “Honey, I forgot to duck,” he asked a nurse who was holding his hand, “Does Nancy know about us?” and said to operating room personnel, “Please tell me you’re all Republicans” – have been told and retold in hundreds of books and articles on the Reagan presidency, with nary a hint that they were, in Broder’s words, “perhaps apocryphal.”

But leave aside all those books and articles. Let’s look at how the Times itself reported Reagan’s remarks in the days following the assassination attempt. In the Times’s lead article of March 31, 1981, the day after John Hinckley Jr. fired his shots, then-reporter Howell Raines wrote: “ ‘Honey, I forgot to duck,’ Mr. Reagan was quoted as telling his wife.”

In the same edition, the Times’s Lynn Rosellini began her article, “Shortly before he was wheeled into the operating room, President Reagan looked up at his wife, Nancy, and told her: ‘Honey, I forgot to duck’.” The article, by the way, was headlined ‘Honey, I Forgot To Duck,’ Injured Reagan Tells Wife.

For good measure, reporter B. Drummond Ayres Jr. repeated the “I forgot to duck” quip in a sidebar piece that ran in the Times two days after the shooting. Titled Amid the Darkest Moments, a Leaven of Presidential Wit, the article described Reagan’s jocular statements as “good medicine, leavening the crisis, buoying an anxious nation and showing the wounded leader to be a man of genuine good humor and sunny disposition, even in deep adversity.”

Where, then, did John M. Broder get the idea that the “Honey, I forgot to duck” quip was “perhaps apocryphal”? Not, apparently, from his own newspaper. But doesn’t he, as every good Timesman should, consider the Times the nation’s “paper of record”?

Jason Maoz

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/the-timess-strange-potshot/2006/04/05/

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