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Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky

I am going to start with politics, end up in Israel, and connect them through society.

We are already well into the 2016 presidential election cycle. People support this candidate or that one; the polls tell us which candidate is ahead and by how much.

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It is almost impossible for someone to agree 100 percent with any other person. Even if you like a candidate, there must be something on which you disagree. Yet, strangely enough, after someone finds a candidate or politician he likes, he defends the candidate on every issue.

Instead of remaining objective, people defend their candidates’ foolish policies and even rationalize or deny the candidates’ vices and misdeeds.

I have a friend who follows a simple strategy: Politics is like driving. If you want to move forward, use “D” (drive, Democrat). If you want to go backward, use “R” (reverse, Republican). Shoin.

In my friend’s world, and for many other people, whatever Democrats do is good and whatever Republicans do is bad – or the other way around. (For the record, I am unenrolled – which here in Massachusetts means I am registered to vote but belong to no party.)

Many of us tend to view everything in terms of black and white – “FDR was good for the Jews,” “Reagan was an outstanding president,” or my favorite, “[fill in the blank] was an anti-Semite.” What’s wrong with being honest and saying the president in question did things that were good and things that were bad?

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about FDR, Reagan, both Bushes, or Obama. You may find what they did to be 90 percent good and 10 percent bad or vice versa, but discussing their specific actions yields a much more accurate and realistic assessment of their presidencies.

I suggest that people should take stands on issues and forget the candidates and the parties. (Thomas Jefferson argued against the formation of political parties, referring to them as “cabals.”) It is up to you to decide what issues are important to you. What are your principles? What are your values? What issues do you feel strongly about? You can then vote for the candidate who is the best match for your positions. And yes, a candidate’s integrity can be one of those issues.

But be careful not to back a candidate blindly. Don’t outsource your mind or your standards. Don’t let others decide what your values are. Make your own decisions. And don’t fall into the trap of sweepingly defending a candidate, his positions, even his misdeeds. Ask yourself: Would you still feel this way about a specific policy if it were the position of an opposing candidate or the other party?

Supporting a politician regardless of problematic policies or character defects (or both) leads us to create or accept false narratives (lies). We make up stories to justify our candidate, just as we invent false narratives in other areas of life. And false narratives are an underlying cause of many societal ills.

When people see that false narratives are not challenged or are even accepted as Truth, they are encouraged to create their own false narratives. While some false narratives turn out to be relatively inconsequential, others have major implications.

Consider these examples of false narratives that have made the rounds:

* It doesn’t matter how you were born, you can choose to be a man or a woman.

* A woman’s right to choose need not take into account the heart beating in her womb.

* Government spending stimulates the economy.

* Very large banks and companies are too big to fail.

* The term “separation of church and state” is based in our Constitution.

Many more come to mind but I will end my list here. Feel free to add your own, but please be honest. And this leads us, of course, to false narratives regarding Israel:

* Israel supplanted the country of Palestine.

* Palestinians would stop committing acts of terror if they had their own state.

* Arab citizens of Israel live under an apartheid system.

* A Jewish Temple never stood in Jerusalem.

* The settlements are an obstacle to peace.

The facts are that from its inception (and even prior to that), Israel has made every attempt at peaceful coexistence with the Arabs, who have rejected the offers and instead turned to terror.

The truth is, there never was a country of Palestine. Palestinians are not a race, ethnic group, or nation. (Until 1948, the term “Palestinians” referred to Jews who lived in Palestine. Referring exclusively to Arabs as Palestinians is another false narrative.) Many Arabs initially welcomed the European Jews, anticipating new economic opportunities and development.

Today the majority of Palestinians will settle for nothing less than a one-state solution called Palestine and the elimination of Israel (Heaven forbid). And if Hamas-run Gaza and the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority are indicative of what a Palestinian state would look like, it is not hard to imagine the dangers a Palestinian state would pose for Israel.

But for the most part, the world accepts the false narrative put forth by the Palestinians. Unfortunately, that false narrative is even promoted by Israel’s leaders, who speak publicly of a two-state solution, exhibiting an eagerness to negotiate and compromise that only encourages more terror.

I recently watched talks on YouTube by Kasim Hafeez, a British Muslim who nearly signed up as a terrorist to fight Israel but became pro-Israel after reading Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. He then visited Israel to see for himself how the Arabs lived. He now calls himself a “Muslim Zionist.” Kasim questioned the popular narrative and learned that it was indeed false. He has risked his relationship with his family and his community, but he could not deny the truth once he opened his mind.

Whether on Israel or on other issues, we all need to question the popular narrative and learn the truth for ourselves. Most important, we must clarify the values, principles, and standards we believe in, and make our own decisions. And when it comes to politics, it’s imperative we stand for issues, not people.

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Rabbi Chaim Kosofsky is a Chabad shliach in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. He teaches Judaic studies at Lubavitcher Yeshiva Academy (www.LYA.org), and runs programs and teaches adult education for Beis Medresh Lubavitch. He is the author of “Much, Much Better” (Hachai, 2006), a picture book for young children and their parents. He can be reached at chaimrl@comcast.net.

8 COMMENTS

  1. “For, once the happiness and strength of society were placed in riches, it became a necessary consequence to debar from the exercise of political rights all the citizens who do not offer by their fortunes a guarantee or pledge of attachment to such an order of things—an order reputed, as it were, the perfection of the social state. In all social systems of this kind, the great majority of the citizens being incessantly subjected to painful drudgery are, in effect, condemned to languish all their days in misery, ignorance, and slavery.”
    ***
    P.Buonarotti

  2. I am not sure whether your comment is positive or negative.
    Thanks G_d the Rabbi does not understand politics. He seemingly tries to give sound moral advice for those who will vote, exercising their only remaining democratic right in a world that is fast losing all of its morrings.

    Regardless of whether one is religious or not, it is painfully obvious our "proud" modern Western society has lost all of its humane and moral foundations.
    As a result political or religious extremist forces fill the vacuum we created, overruning our societies like knife in butter.
    Thus any advice, help trying to re-inject some moral, humane values into society are welcome.

  3. You are so right Zsolti Hermann.

    To add to your words, there is also the false narrative of ISIS “nihilism”—I think courtesy of Hillary Clinton. This is a deadly lack of understanding of both ISIS and Western society. “Nihilist?” – quite the contrary, ISIS and their ilk have purpose coming out of their ears.

    The nihilist are the youth here growing up with “Mom’s apple pie” substituted with mind-numbing entertainment, “freedom” to every selfish excess, and normalization/glorification of every perversity and degradation from gossip and humiliating video-byte—the crueler, the better, to sexual perversity and violence. This is the purpose of life until the corpse is euphemistically disposed of so it doesn’t sour the still-paying customers’ fun.

    With no moral compass, our youth are already set up to accept almost any means, if there would only be a purpose, a real goal to make it worthwhile. And then comes that black flag out of Arabia.

    No, they are not nihilist—we are, and they are threatening to turn that into our undoing.

  4. Rabbi Kosofsky is indeed a very bright person. It is true that each of us should have its way of life, and separate it from the political party we chose. It is crucial that none of us starts supporting wrong steps just becuase they are done by a person we elected. It is indeed the case that out politicians are not our leaders to way of life. I find this post particularly beautiful as the Rabbi suggests how to be both faithful to your belief system while joining political elections – thus being a good citizen all around. Chazak!

  5. Rabbi Kosofsky makes several excellent and sorely needed points: 1) Political narratives tend to be simplified versions of issues that often mask hidden agendas. We all need to be aware of this. 2) Voting for someone does not mean we accept everything they tell us. The American political system demands that we think clearly and evaluate what our political leaders say and do, and vote them out of office, if they do not represent our expectations of them.

    Most important, Israel (and Jews as a group) are being attacked from all sides (the Media, the UN, Europe, Scandinavia) based on a false narrative. Israel, in fact, is one of the most, if not the most, humane nation on the face of the Earth. Under intense pressure from extremely hostile neighbors, Israel for decade has used extraordinary restraint. They, for instance, put their own troops at great risk, by informing Arabs where they will attack, when they carry out defensive missions, to avoid hurting civilians. Unfortunately, these missions are necessary because the Hamas, and the PA launch attacks from densely populated areas.

    Israel, far from being an apartied state, as the false narrative goes, guaruntees the rights of all its citizens. Arab Israelis have all the same rights as Jewish Israelis; they enjoy full rights to safety, health, monitary, education benefits. Israeli Arabs are judges, have full representation in the Kenesset (they now have the third largest party in the Kennesset), and are found at all levels of business, and government work.

    For decades, Israel has tried to make peace with its neighbors. Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza over ten years ago. Since that time, Hamas and the PLO have brutalized their citizenry and done everything possible to avoid peace with Israel. Despite being attacked over and over again, Israel provides Gazans with electricity (unpaid for) and water and often provides healthcare, help in agriculture and business, and education for non-Israeli Muslims.

    Israel guaruntees the rights of all its citizens and supports the rights of women, gays, Muslims, Christians, etc. Israel is also the only nation trying to help Christian refugees from Islamic brutality.

    Thank you Rabbi Kossofsky for your inciteful and much needed advice.

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