From firstname.lastname@example.org Mon Aug 21 06:13:29 2000
Date: Sun, 20 Aug 2000 16:36:01 -0400
From: Art McGee <email@example.com>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Bad for the Jews, Bad for the Country
Bad for the Jews, Bad for the Country: Joseph Lieberman has strayed from the best aspects of Jewish tradition
By Rabbi Michael Lerner <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
in BeliefNet, 7 August 2000
Among the candidates considered by Al Gore for the
vice-presidential nomination, Joseph Lieberman was the most
politically conservative. While Bush supporters are claiming
that Lieberman's voting record shows a man closer to Bush
than to Gore, and may be lamenting the political capital
Gore may thereby accumulate with conservative voters, the
rest of us have a deeper concern. Joseph Lieberman is likely
to accelerate the process in which the two major parties
seem to be merging into one pro-business, pro-wealthy,
elitist, and morally tone-deaf governing force.
Joseph Lieberman will also give greater prominence to
the tendency in the Jewish world to subordinate values and
spiritual goals to self-interest and material success. All
the more ironic, then, that the media is responding to his
nomination by talking about his willingness to critique
Clinton on moral grounds or his Orthodoxy as proof of
having a spiritual center.
In short, Lieberman's nomination is bad for the country
and bad for the Jews.
Lieberman joined with Bill Clinton and Al Gore to create
the Democratic Leadership Council precisely to transform
the Democratic Party from its previous New Deal roots as
the champion of working people, minorities, and the poor
to a party that would cater to the needs of Wall Street
and to the upper middle class. And they've done a great
job. With Democrats on board, the gap between rich and poor
has accelerated in the Clinton/Gore years, environmental
protections have eroded when they conflicted with corporate
interests, and instead of using the end of the Cold War to
dramatically reduce the defense budget and redirect spending
to rectify the history of inequality and provide basic
social services, health care, and education, defense
spending has been treated as sacrosanct, and savings
were found by eliminating welfare.
There were those who argued that all this was Clinton's
doing, and that Gore in his heart was a more progressive
and caring person who had to hide his true feelings in
order to remain in Clinton's good graces. In selecting
Joseph Lieberman, Gore has unwittingly given great impetus
to the Naderites and others who argue that the trajectory
of American politics is to reduce even more the differences
between the two major parties. Before the American people
have a chance to register their desires, the party supposed
to be representing the only chance to restrict corporate
irresponsibility has already made its lunge to the right.
One reason why that's not good for the country is that the
elimination of real debate on fundamentals leads many people
to give up on the public sphere, refusing to vote, turning
away from the news, and generally being cynical about
participation in any aspect of democratic life.
It's also not good for the Jews.
American Jews are among the most liberal voters in America,
more consistently supporting a progressive agenda than any
other voting bloc. There's an important reason for this --
the Torah tradition has a strong commitment to social-
justice values and to caring for "the other." Jews who
became secular in America carried those values with them,
and they became the backbone of the labor movement, the
anti-war movement, the women's movement, and other
progressive social-change movements of the past
But in the past 50 years, a strong conservative voice has
emerged in the Jewish world that has had a very different
agenda. Forged by the new possibilities of "making it"
in America, these more conservative Jewish voices have
insisted that the best interests of the Jewish people lie
in identifying with America's elites of wealth and power,
finding a place within those elites, and, just in case
that didn't work out, building a militarily strong Israel to
which we might escape should the (in the conservative view)
ever-present danger of anti-Semitism reappear here. Cuddling
up to the powerful meant subordinating social justice and
joining in the celebration of the globalization of capital
and the triumph of the ethos of selfishness and materialism.
These same conservatives sought to build American ties
to Israel on a new basis -- no longer as the exemplar of
democratic and human rights values that had been the view
of many liberal Jews, but rather as the strong military
ally of the U.S., which could fight against communist
and post-communist threats to U.S. interests. From
their standpoint, the documentation of Israeli torture of
Palestinians, the denial of human rights, and the oppression
of another people were all irrelevant and uninteresting.
Jewish self-interest, from their standpoint, had nothing to
do with the triumph of a moral or spiritual reality, either
in the U.S. or in Israel. So while most American Jews were
critical of Israeli policy toward Palestinians, these
conservatives gave knee-jerk support to whatever government
the Israelis produced (and to be fair, I sat next to Hadassah
Lieberman at the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House,
and she was as willing to support this as she and her husband
had been to support previous hawkish Israeli governments).
The sad truth is that Lieberman represents the tendency
within the Jewish world to abandon the moral and spiritual
vision that led generations of Jews to be the moral
conscience of our society. Rather than championing dramatic
escalations in spending for social purposes, and to end
poverty and oppression, he will champion defense spending.
Rather than critiquing Israeli policy and attempting to
push Israel toward more significant compromises with the
Palestinians, he will exhibit the kind of contempt for
the needs of the Palestinian people that is already over-
represented by Gore's top adviser Martin Peretz (editor of
The New Republic, and one of the most consistently anti-
Palestinian voices in American politics).
Some people have imagined that Lieberman's nomination will
generate anti-Semitism. I think that Gore should be praised
for not allowing that concern to influence him. But there's
another side to that, too. The typical anti-Semitic attack
on Jews portrays us as having disproportionate power and
influence in the world. This is a lie about Jews in general,
but it's true about the sector of Jews who Lieberman
represents. Had Gore picked one of the many Jews involved
in the leadership of the causes for social justice (Sen.
Barbara Boxer, for example), he would have highlighted the
way that Jews are doing our best to heal and transform this
world. Instead, he chose one of the Jews whose power is used
to accelerate the interests of the elites, thus strengthening
the distorted image of Jews as uncaring and elitist. It's not
that a Jew was nominated; it is the kind of Jew that gives
some of us concern.
Joseph Lieberman may be a committed Orthodox Jew in his
personal practice, but in his role as a public spokesperson
he has gone far away from the best aspects of the Jewish
tradition. He has none of that prophetic voice that leads
Jews to criticize our own Jewish community and Israel in the
name of Torah values. He has none of that Jewish sensitivity
to the oppressed that would place their needs above the needs
of the wealthy. And yet this is the man who will become the
symbol of Jews to most Americans.
That's not good for the Jews.
But there's a deeper level still. America needs a
fundamentally new foundation for politics -- a foundation
that challenges the selfishness and materialism that is our
"bottom line" at this historical moment. That new politics
can be grounded in the wisdom of the biblical tradition and
its central teaching, "not by bread alone shall human beings
survive" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Lieberman and his ilk wrap
themselves in the Bible and are the first to throw stones
when people violate the sexual ethics of the Bible. Yet the
central vision of the Bible is one that calls for a world in
which we can recognize the Spirit of God embodied in every
human being and build a world consistent with that vision.
To do that, we would need a whole new definition of
productivity and efficiency, one that sees institutions
and social practices as valuable not only to the extent
that they maximize money and power but also to the extent
that they maximize love and caring, awe and wonder. Lieberman
doesn't exist in that discourse, and his nomination is one
step further away from a spiritual politics and from a world
reconnecting to the message of the Bible.
So it's not good for America either.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of TIKKUN: A Bimonthly Jewish
Critique of Politics, Culture and Society and author of
'Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the
Soul' (Hampton Roads Publishing, 2000).
Copyright (c) 2000 Beliefnet, Inc. All rights reserved.
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