Sunday, October 20, 2019

How Many Democrats Were on the Stage Tuesday Night?

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the only child of two relatively old parents.  My dad was born in 1912 and my mom in 1921. I’m not even 60 yet.  You do the math.  The thing is, though, even though they were older than my friends’ parents, my folks were always further to the left politically.  Constantly, I would hear them complain about economic inequality.  And when they weren’t complaining, they were schlepping me to marches -- like the May 12, 1968 “Resurrection City” rally in which tents were placed on the National Mall to fight poverty.  I had yet to have my religious awakening then.  In fact, inspired in part by my parents’ railing against religious hypocrisy, I didn’t trust what came out of the mouths of most clerics.  But this much I did recognize: if the Abrahamic faiths stood for anything valid, it was to fight poverty in particular and injustice generally.  All this “love” crap meant nothing if it wasn’t associated with working hard for the poor.  I also realized for myself back in elementary school that those who think that the private sector alone will take care of the poor were no better than Mary Antoinette, whose “let ‘em eat cake” line has always, for me, defined the spirit of unbridled capitalism.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, my country had two political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.  They still exist today, albeit with different spirits.  My parents always voted Democrat because the Dems were the party of progressive taxation and using governmental programs when needed to help the poor and the working class.  From 1965 – 1980, the top marginal tax rate varied from 70-77%, yet even those figures weren’t high enough for the loudest voices of the Democratic Party.  They didn’t see why the richest of the rich needed all the money they had when so many people were poor.  In my house, all I heard was that for the most affluent country in world history to have a high level of poverty and economic equality is a “shanda.”  Whether or not you know Yiddish, you get what that means.

Fast forward now to 2019.  The top marginal tax rate is no longer in the 70s.  Today, depending on how you calculate it, it’s roughly 40 percent.  Not coincidentally, economic equality has only gotten worse. Far worse.  This was chronicled most exquisitely in a book by Thomas Piketty called “Capital,” which was published in 2014.  Since then, the problem has only become more extreme, thanks to tepid leaders on the “left” and bold leaders on the right.  But what do you say we look at some of Piketty’s comparisons between the situation in 1980 and the situation 30 years hence.  From 1980 and 2010, the share of the top decile in national income rose from 33 to 48%, the share of the top 1% in total income rose from 10% to 20%, and the share of the top 0.1% in total income rose from 1% to nearly 8%.  As for wealth inequality, the differences aren’t so dramatic.  But the trend is the same – the top 1% and 10% had a significantly greater share of the nation’s wealth in 2010 than in 1980.  Moreover, whereas our wealth equality in the USA was less than that of Europe from 1810 to 1960, it has well exceeded that of Europe ever since.   

By today’s standards, the America of my youth thus had far more economic equality than it has today, yet it still had a far more progressive tax system.  To repeat, Democrats back then didn’t think that tax system was progressive enough.  But Republicans represented quite a range.  There were the folks my parents referred to as “conservatives,” who liked things pretty much as they were, though they would allow for a little tinkering here and there.  And then there were the folks my parents called “reactionaries,” who wanted to return things to a by-gone era – like perhaps the 1920s, when the top decile earned roughly 45 percent of national income, less than they make today, but far more than they made throughout my childhood.   When I was growing up, we had Republican Senators like New York’s Jacob Javits or Maryland’s Mac Mathias.  My parents thought of them as conservatives, others would have called them centrists or even liberals, but they demonstrated that the Republican Party created a home for folks who loved the status quo and wanted only to tinker around the edges.  And remember – the status quo back then was FAR more economically equal, and may I say “progressive,” than today.

So let’s return to 2019 and, specifically, last Tuesday night. We had 12 “Democratic” candidates – so many that a comic on the Daily Show requested that in the future, the Party leaders should ensure that their candidates are spayed and neutered.  The 12 candidates were all attempting to unseat Donald Trump, the Republican President who enjoys a 94% approval rating within his party.  Two candidates on Tuesday, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, were passionately arguing for the position that our tax system isn’t nearly progressive enough.  They both want to dramatically increase the taxes on the top 0.1% -- and perhaps even the top 1% or 10% -- in order to raise funds that are needed for the poor, the working class and even middle-class Americans.  

My father, as you imagine, has long since passed from this Earth, so I can’t ask him what he thinks of Warren or Sanders. My mom, while still alive at 98, isn’t in good enough shape cognitively to worry about the nuances of American politics.  But I suspect that if I took the time to explain what happened on Tuesday, she would have been proud of Warren and Sanders for their willingness to fight for those who our capitalist system is leaving behind.  In short, I saw two Democrats on that stage who would have been recognized as Democrats by any political observer of the ‘60s and ‘70s, let alone the Depression Era period that shaped my parents’ thinking.

But what about the other ten Democrats?  How were they responding to the phenomenon that Piketty chronicled so extensively in his book?  I was struck by the unwillingness of the other men and women on that debate stage to sound like Democrats even during a primary contest.  Sanders, who had a heart attack a couple of weeks earlier, was kindly left alone by the other candidates.  But Warren, who has risen to the lead in the betting markets, if not the polls, was relentlessly piled on by one Democratic candidate after another.  The first wave was Biden, and Buttigieg, and Klobuchar.  They were critical of the idea that Warren supported a single payor health care system and was afraid to admit that taxes might have to go up if we wanted to ensure that the poor get the same health care as the rich.  Well, OK.  I get why they would have wanted to press her to be more candid.  But later, when Warren started talking about adding a tax on wealth in excess of $50 million and Beto O’Rourke criticized her for being “punitive,” where was Biden?  Or Buttigieg?  Or Klobuchar?  Were they coming to Warren’s defense?  Were they saying that “We’re Democrats. We believed back in the ‘60s and ‘70s that the uber-rich weren’t paying enough taxes when they were taxed a hell of lot more than they are today. We’re not going to sit back and let you bash a candidate as ‘punitive’ simply because she wants the uber-rich to shoulder a lot more of the tax burden.”  They said nothing of the sort.  In fact, when called upon to show their passion for economic equity, they responded with radio silence.

The loudest of Warren’s interlocutors would like us to see them, first and foremost, as “pragmatists.”  This philosophy can best be summarized by a line from Amy Klobuchar, in direct response to Warren’s progressive plans: “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done.”

And there you have it.  From the time Bill Clinton took back the White House for the Dems after 12 years of GOP Rule in 1992, the idea that we would make America’s economic profile resemble that of my youth has been viewed by the Democratic establishment as a “pipe dream.”  Clinton sought a “third way” – one that isn’t nearly as progressive as the approach of old Democrats, but is more compassionate than the Let ’Em Eat Cakers who served as the vanguard of the “Reagan Revolution.”  In 2016, when his wife ran for President against Bernie Sanders, only a single Democratic Senator supported Sanders.  Even Warren refused to commit; that was the extent of the stranglehold that the “Third Way” has had on Democratic politics.  

So now that Warren has regained her progressive voice, and Bernie has gotten out of his hospital bed to resume his jeremiads, I keep asking the same question: what would my parents think of Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and the rest of them?  Are they more like the Democrats of my youth?  Or are they merely the second coming of Jacob Javits and Mac Mathias – centrist 60s-70s style Republicans?  

My parents, being professional economists, would probably point out that Biden, Buttigieg and company may even be further to the RIGHT than Javits and Mathias, for at least the latter are not on record as essentially tolerating our pitifully non-progressive tax system.  Truly, if things have moved so much further to the Republican side of the spectrum in the last 30-40 years, why do Warren and Sanders seem so damned alone on that stage?  Or was that evening just another reminder that Ronald Reagan has won the soul of America, and that the two-party system is really about nothing more than nibbling around the edges of the cake that he (and Marie Antoinette) have given us?

There were times during Tuesday’s debate when both Warren and Sanders frustrated me.  Most notably, neither explained very well why they supported Medicare for All.  My parents would have been disgusted with how little they tried to demonstrate the downside of the so-called “public option” approach to health care or why a focus on taxes instead of COSTS as the primary metric on which to evaluate a health care system is simply a Republican talking point.  Bernie and Elizabeth had a chance to speak out articulately for all progressive economists that night and their performance left something to be desired.

But at least they were recognizable as Democrats.  At least I felt they represented my party.  At least I felt they have absorbed the teachings of Thomas Piketty, Julius and Evelyn Spiro, and all other economists who clearly have given a damn about the poor and the working class.

You see, Senator Klobuchar, it’s not enough to join the Democratic Party, insert yourself across the aisle from Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, and vote in favor of top marginal taxes that are 40% plus rather than 40% minus.  I’m not young anymore.  In fact, I’m only two months and two days younger than you are.  I remember when Democrats were Democrats.  And if you want to act like one, you’ve got to show me that you couldn’t even abide being satisfied with the America of our youth because of its economic inequalities, let alone that you can’t satisfy yourself with mere tinkering when America has become far LESS economically equal now than it was before.

I heard you say, Senator Klobuchar, that neither you, nor Mayor Pete, nor even the billionaire on that stage Tuesday night is “standing up for billionaires.”  But that’s not enough, is it?  I need to see that you are standing up for the guy I saw lying on the ground late Friday night two blocks from my daughter’s row house in a part of Washington DC that most of the barons of today’s Democratic Party wouldn’t set foot in.  I can see that Bernie and Elizabeth, for all their slip-ups, are standing up for that guy.  One of them will get my vote in the primary. 

Saturday, May 04, 2019


With some regret, I am announcing today that the Empathic Rationalist will be taking a sabbatical.  I've been keeping this blog going for 13 years without one, and that's frankly too long.

I will miss taking the opportunity to communicate with my loyal readers on a weekly basis.  Thank you so much for letting me know over the years that you enjoy reading this blog; that means more to me than you know.  However, due to certain events in my life, I feel the need to cut down on my so-called "extra-curricular activities," and at the moment, blogging didn't make the cut.  I fully expect that this self-imposed sabbatical will be merely temporary but what I can't say is how long it will last.

All the best to each of you.  Enjoy the upcoming political campaign season.  And may you and your family experience the very best of health.


Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Request to My Fellow Democrats: Time for Spring Fever

We’re nearly two months away from the first Presidential Primary debate and yet already, liberal pundits are savaging those Democrats who’ve had the courage to enter the race.  I see the criticism frequently in such on-line forums as the Huffington Post.  And just yesterday, I heard an MSNBC talking head criticize Biden for daring to criticize President Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” remarks.  According to this pundit, Biden would be well advised not to talk about such issues given his own track record when it comes to the topic of race.

Really?   From what I can tell, Vice President Biden has been a devoted public servant for more decades than that progressive pundit has been alive, and yet the latter doesn’t think he has standing to highlight the single worst moment in the Presidency of the man Democrats are trying to defeat.  Folks, can we stop eating our own?  Please?

My hope is for all Democrats to spend the remainder of what I call the “pre-season” keeping our hearts and minds open about all these candidates.  Let them make mistakes.  Let them speak vapidly or duck difficult questions.  Let them take back an ill-advised comment or policy position.  And to the extent they feel compelled to speak sharply about a fellow Presidential candidate, encourage them to take on the candidate running as a Republican, not each other.

Why do I say that?  Because at the end of the June, and for the next 8-12 months thereafter, some amount of intra-party conflict is inevitable and even healthy.  Presumably, our candidates won’t be offering us childlike monikers such as “Lyin' Ted,” “Little Marco,” or “Low Energy Jeb,” but the ones who are hurting in the polls will owe it to their supporters to throw at least some barbs in the direction of the favorites. But for the good of the Party, can we at least enjoy an extended honeymoon period?  Can we spend the next two full months building up as much affection as possible for all these candidates?  Or do we have to wallow in the kind of mockery-narratives that are increasingly popping up with respect to each of Trump’s would-be challengers?

If you’re not immediately familiar with these narratives, just ask yourself which of the 20 Democratic candidates are best positioned to defeat Trump and lead the Democratic party.    

The elderly, grumpy, unelectable white male socialist who scares the crap out of moderate Democrats, let alone Republicans, Bernie Sanders?

The out-of-touch, kind-of-creepy, gaffe-prone politician whose record is the antithesis of progressive, Joe Biden?

The charisma-challenged, condescending professor who reminds everyone of Hillary except that she’s even less electable, Elizabeth Warren?

The “Senator Pothole” tinkerer who claims to be Minnesota-nice but has proven to her Congressional staffers to be anything but nice, Amy Klobuchar?

The frivolous dilettante, whose Presidential campaign is fueled primarily by narcissism and a desire to have a really cool personal adventure, Beto O’Rourke?

The finger-in-the-wind pol who refuses to answer substantive questions and yet has much to answer for herself in the way she has dealt with the criminal justice system, Kamala Harris?

The inexperienced millennial who also doesn’t think voters deserve to know what he stands for but thinks he can get elected by spewing pseudo-intellectual gibberish, Pete Buttigieg?

The guy from Jersey who is pretending to run on a Kumbaya platform at a time when nobody wants to hear anyone sing Kumbaya, especially if he’s from Jersey, Corey Booker?

Or one of those other pathetic, nameless candidates whose standing in the polls is so damned low that nobody is even bothering to insult them?

Folks, mocking a politician is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.  These people self-promote at the same time that they self-reveal.  You show me a politician, any politician, and I’ll show you a hypocrite.  It comes with the territory.  But unless you want to see President Trump re-elected, I suggest you look at the above list and recognize that (a) you’ll be voting for one of those folks in the fall of ‘20, and (b) the person you’ll vote for in the general election probably won’t be the one you’d like to vote for today.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that because elections among twenty contenders is kind of a crap shoot, you’re most likely going to have to go crazy in support of a general election candidate who you voted AGAINST in your state’s primary.   If that’s going to happen, you’d better figure out a way to stay as positive as possible about as many of these people as possible for as long as possible. 

So what do you say we allow all these candidates the next two months to impress us with their positive characteristics – their visions, their policy proposals, and their formulas for taking on President Trump.  What do you say we embrace what it means as voters to be able to wholeheartedly support ANY of the above?  Maybe if that happens, the intra-party criticism that will inevitably begin to flow in July and thereafter would be a bit more measured.  Then, when it does come time to nominate someone in the summer of 2020, we will have identified a person who’ll be beloved by the entire Democratic party and many of the Independents.  And that candidate will not only beat Donald Trump in the next election but also grab a mandate to change the direction of government in January of 2021.   

Let’s face it – the Russians weren’t the primary reason why we lost the election of 2016.  Mostly, we caused ourselves to lose – by taking for granted states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and by teaching a veritable master class in how NOT to run a primary campaign.   Now, we have a chance for a do-over.  We have a chance to replace a crooked coronation (where a single, favored candidate was given debate questions in advance) with an honest, give-everyone-a-fair-chance celebration of democracy.   We have two months to set the table for that celebration.  I say, let’s call this the “Spring Fever” period.  Let’s fall in love with our candidates.  Let’s build them all up, so that ultimately, for the good of the country and the world, at least one of them will not fall down. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Yes Virginia, We Do Live in Interesting Times

I know what you’re thinking about, but I’m not going to write about that report.  I’ll let everyone else have their say and encourage you to read as much about it as possible on your own.

Other things happened this past week.  Tiger Woods won the Masters despite having had spinal fusion surgery -- a medical miracle.  Then, tragically, much of the majestic Notre-Dame Cathedral burned down – a reminder that what is oldest and most beautiful is often the most fragile.  While that fire was burning, millions of people and corporations were also filing their 2018 income taxes.   Thanks to last year’s Congress, we were given one more jolt of economic disparity, with most of the benefits going to the uber-rich and most of the costs being paid by the poor, the middle class, and future generations.  In an added bit of absurdity, this latest round of tax changes reflected a massive amount of redistribution from blue states to red states.  In my case, my federal deductions were cut dramatically, and my state deductions were cut practically to nothing.   For some reason, the powers-that-be have decided to punish me for living in that royal-blue state of Maryland. 

When Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, this country had reached its peak in economic equality.  Now, nearly 40 years later, it’s a totally different ballgame.  Wages have stagnated for most of us, income has gone through the roof for a select few of us, and the national debt has entered the stratosphere.  Increasing the debt has been a bi-partisan effort, whereas decreasing the taxes on the wealthy is a Republican obsession, not a Democratic one.  Every time a new Republican Administration comes to town, the wealthy are guaranteed to enjoy a big fat present from the government.  Call it a reverse Robin Hood – from people like me, who can no longer afford to itemize deductions, to the fat cats who have figured out how to avoid paying taxes altogether by coming up with deductions that most of us have never heard of.

Tax Day wasn’t the only underreported story this week.  I also saw a statistic indicating that 88% of Republicans approve of the President but only 8% of Democrats.   Just think about those numbers for a moment.  They are a sign that the “United” States of America has become a misnomer.  Indeed, for the first time, I’ve been reading about Republican strategists deliberately planning an election strategy designed to win the Electoral College despite reconciling themselves to losing the popular vote.  When you consider developments such as a kind tax policy for Red States and a penal policy for Blue ones, you can understand how such a strategy just might work. 

What is truly depressing is that for a large number of Americans, none of this is especially troublesome.  When I look at my Republican friends, I see an increasingly cynical bunch.  They ignore signs of political favoritism in the tax code and take their breaks where they find them.  In the face of lies and deceptive statements made by government officials, they ignore those too, projecting a “boys will be boys” attitude – much like the way they shrugged off the Access Hollywood Tapes.   When their party enacts measures to depress the vote or keep the nation’s Capital effectively unrepresented in Congress, they see nothing, hear nothing, and say nothing.   When their party leaders laugh off climate change or the dangers of lax gun laws, they give us crickets. 

Honestly, when nearly everyone who belongs to one political party approves of the President’s job performance, and nearly nobody who belongs to the other party approves of that same performance, what you have is a broken system.  In a functioning political environment, partisanship would never reach that level because it makes unified national efforts (like fighting wars on poverty or on Nazis) almost impossible.   The fact that virtually nobody from either political party approves of the Congress’ performance makes matters even worse, not better.   None of this is likely to create trust in government on the part of a citizenry.

For many of us, the best way to react to this situation is simply to ignore current events and tend to one’s own garden.  But that’s precisely what we can’t do.  Now, more than ever, we all need to stay engaged.  In a year, you see, We the People will have an opportunity to steer this boat in a different direction or, if we choose, stay the course.

Every four years, we hear the same B.S. mantra: “this could be the most pivotal election in your lifetime.”  Every four years I laugh at how that same cliché gets tossed out and nobody scoffs at it.  Every election can’t be THE most important, can it?  

Well no, every election isn’t the most important.  But this coming election?  Yeah, I think this is one that above all others will define America in the 21st century.  Trust me, you’ll want to play a part in it. You won’t want to leave this one to chance.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Relections After Another Netanyahu Victory

Everyone who associates themselves with a religious faith surely takes pride in its “values.”  In fact, we tend to identify our faith above all else with the values preached and exemplified by our greatest role models.   At least that’s the case with Judaism.

My people have plenty of catch phrases to remind ourselves of what “Jewish values” mean.   We speak of Rabbi Akiva and how he taught that the Torah’s fundamental principle was “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   And we often cite Rabbi Hillel, who when asked to summarize the entire Torah while standing on one foot, replied “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. All the rest is commentary.  Now go study.”  In both cases, these rabbis place central importance on how human beings should treat one another.  More than our observance of religious ritual or even our devotion to God, that’s what defines our commitment to the Jewish faith. 

Whenever values are discussed, of course, there is room for ambiguity.  In the above examples, a debate could center on the word “neighbor.”  In theory, if a person lives in a Jewish community, their “neighbors” will tend to be fellow Jews.  So, taken literally, as long as we care for our fellow Jews, we can disregard or even disdain gentiles and not run afoul of the directives to be good to our neighbors.  But that’s not the way I’ve been taught.  From parents and Jewish-school teachers alike, I’ve heard that the Jew is obligated to take care of ALL people, and especially the most vulnerable, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.  Such universalism is indeed mainstream American-Jewish doctrine and has been for generations.    That’s why so many of our parents and grandparents were attracted to socialism and other left-leaning ideologies.

When I grew up in the 60s, America had the largest Jewish community in the world.  Our community was also known for its overarching political liberalism.   In 1928, only 28 percent of Jews voted for Hoover – and that was the election he won.  In 1932, Hoover’s total among Jews was 18%, and for the next four elections, the Republican candidate did even worse.  Even in 1972, when Nixon won 49 states, McGovern had a +30% margin among Jews.   Next year, in fact, will be the 100th anniversary of the last time that a Republican Presidential candidate won 40% of the Jewish vote.  Over the past 100 years, our community has become far more affluent, but no less politically liberal.  Some might say that we’ve been willing to vote against our own pecuniary interest in order to be true to the “values” that defined our sense of identity. 

As children who cleaved to our sense of Jewish values, my friends and I spoke about the nation of Israel in glowing and even heroic terms.  Back then, Israel symbolized both Jewish progressivism and an antidote to Jewish victimization.  This little country was started primarily by secular socialists and other leftists.  They gathered together in economic collectives known as Kibbutzim and for decades, their progressive party (Labor) dominated every election.  While most American Jews weren’t exactly historians, one fact we did know was that when Israel became a state, its citizens supported partitioning the land into two-states-for-two-peoples, but it was the Palestinians who fought against such an outcome.  Decades after the creation of Israel, there was still no “Occupation.”  And even after the Settlements began being built, we all assumed that Israel’s leaders would support the existence of a Palestinian state as soon as they had a legitimate partner for peace on the Palestinian side.  The problem, we assumed, was that enough Palestinians seemed hell bent on crushing Israel and taking back the land for themselves that Israeli had no choice but to watch their backs and build walls.  In one war after another, Arab States ganged up on precious little Israel, and it practically took miracles for Israel to survive, let alone to win these wars.  When the Israeli army seized such strategic land as the Golan Heights, no American Jew in their right mind would have begrudged Israel’s right to keep it.  But we remained passionately committed to Israel giving up the land necessary to create a viable two-state solution – one state for our own people and another for our Palestinian “neighbors” who were also victims in the arena of geopolitics and who for the most part are as innocent as the Israelis.  That two-state commitment became an integral manifestation of “Jewish values,” one that I and millions of other American Jewish Zionists continue to hold dear and always will.

American-Jewish values, you see, aren’t changing so dramatically.  But Israel is.  Now its leaders have enacted the “Jewish Nation State Law,” which stands for the principle that Israel is a nation state ONLY for the Jewish people, rather than being a nation state for both the Jewish people and for any gentiles (i.e., Palestinians) who happen to be citizens of the nation.  More significantly, its Prime Minister now stands for the principle that all the Jewish Settlements in the West Bank can legitimately be annexed by Israel – meaning that what would remain of “Palestine” would be a small chunk of swiss cheese, one that couldn’t possibly give rise to a “state” worthy of the term.  Honestly, though, what’s notable about Israel these days isn’t just that it is led by people who appear to have given up on the notion of Palestinian autonomy.  It’s that the citizens of Israel continue to vote for such leaders.  Frankly, just as the center-right movement in America seems incapable of getting a majority of Jewish support, the center-left movement in Israel seems equally incapable of winning elections.  Yes, they do just fine in and around Tel Aviv. But in the hinterland and in Jerusalem?  The majorities there would rather vote in for a fifth term a Prime Minister who has completely abandoned a two-state solution and who is close to being indicted for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.  Better that guy than anyone who stands for the same principles that the vast majority of American Jews would select. Houston, we have a problem.

Speaking personally, I feel no modicum of alienation from the Israeli people right now.  I have never had problems knowing, respecting and loving right-wing Jews.  But what I’ve not had to wrap my arms around, until recently, is that the world’s largest Jewish population (Israel overtook the U.S. in that regard during my adult life) is becoming one of the most right-wing democracies in the world.  I cannot possibly relate to what plan the Netanyahu voters have in mind for the Palestinians.  Are they expecting the Palestinians simply to pack up and head for Jordan – sort of a Middle Eastern Trail of Tears?  Or are these “majority” voters reconciled to the Palestinians remaining in Israeli-controlled areas as a stateless, impoverished underclass?  Honestly, what is the vision and how do we get there? And how is this possibly consistent with Jewish values?

Actually, I can guess the answer to that last question.  I’ve read the Book of Joshua.  I’ve seen the single-mindedness of God’s alleged directive to the Hebrew people to seize the Promised Land by, among other things, killing its inhabitants. Compared to Joshua and his troops, Bibi Netanyahu is positively Gandhi-like in his treatment of the Palestinians.   What’s more, I have heard many Jews over the years argue that the disputed land is ours because we have the prior claim to it and thus the superior legal right to it.  After all, we gave the Palestinians the chance to divide it up and they chose instead to terrorize us and to fight wars over the land; they lost, we won, and to the victor goes the spoils.  Some of the Jews I know who adopt that attitude are otherwise progressive people who care deeply about the poor or infirm.  So I guess an argument can be made that this view is consistent with “universalist” values.  But that argument would not be made by more than a small minority of non-Jews throughout the world.  And it would not be made by the vast majority of American Jews either.  So why, then, are most Israelis going to polls and supporting political parties who trade in that sort of reasoning?  What has happened to Jewish values?

These are questions that young American Jews are surely going to ask in schools and summer camps throughout this nation.  They were asking them before this recent election cycle, and now that the Jewish Nation State Law has been passed, the Prime Minister has stated his willingness to annex all the Settlements, and his alleged corruption has been exposed, young Jewish Americans will be raising these questions at a fever pitch.  You’ll forgive these young people if they wonder if their progressive teachers have been feeding them a load of crap in suggesting that Jews are any more altruistic or compassionate than anyone else.  You’ll forgive them if they wonder if the term “Jewish values” has any meaning at all.   And you’ll forgive them if they wonder whether they have far more in common with American Episcopalians or Unitarian-Universalists – or, for that matter, the so-called “Nones” – than they have with Israeli Jews.

Such wondering is surely going to present an incredible challenge to those of us who wish to see Judaism continue to flourish in America.  It’s a challenge that my Jewish friends and I didn’t have to face back in the 60s, and yet many of our cohort still gave up our Jewish identities and assimilated.  I can only imagine what’s going to happen to my grandson’s generation.

Fortunately, though, I don’t have to worry about my grandson himself – his mother is a rabbi and his parents will raise him right.  They will explain that in truth, the values of a religion are the values that the religion inspires in the minds of all of its inhabitants.  So Jewish values are my values, they’re Netanyahu’s values, and they’re the values of everyone who identifies with the faith and is inspired by it.   

It is incumbent on each of us to continue to study the great works associated with our faith, to develop our values based on that study, and to exemplify those values in our conduct.  If in doing so we seem out of step with the majority of our people, so be it.   There is enough wisdom in Judaism – and, for that matter, in all the world’s great religions – to inspire free-thinking individuals to find a set of values by which they can live their lives.  If you’re truly religious, you should have the courage to stick to those values even when it appears you’re merely a voice in the wilderness.

So to those people in and around Tel Aviv who continue to lose one national election after another, please hold your heads high and keep on fighting.  Someday, you might find yourselves in the majority again. And who knows?  Maybe that’s when your country will dismantle some of these imperialist settlements and make the kind of peace that honors the Palestinians, your values, and mine.