Donald Trump Antisemitic Facilitator – Part II: The Iranian Dimension

Donald Trump Antisemitic Facilitator – Part II: The Iranian Dimensionby

by

Howard Adelman

SUMMARY

Connecting a non-antisemite (Trump) to a charge that the same person contributes to the rise of antisemitism is very difficult in the best of worlds. However, given the toxic discourse of the American political scene, it is even more difficult. I bracket Donald Trump initially and begin with a detailed case study of two writers, both Iranian-Americans, who accuse four other American writers of aggregating Donald Trump’s anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric, thereby adding to and exacerbating an atmosphere of intolerance generally. That, in turn, foments antisemitism. I analyze the charge in detail to demonstrate that the accusers are, at a minimum, guilty of gross distortion and unsubstantiated allegations that open up the possibility that they may themselves be contributors to antisemitism even if that may not have been their intent, raising the question of whether, both because of those targeted, the manner of their argument and their substantive declared objective, they may be border-line antisemites or even unconsciously deeply antisemitic.

If Donald Trump is unequivocally not an antisemite of any type, does Donald Trump bear some responsibility for the increase in antisemitic incidents? He has often expressed antisemitic tropes, targeting other groups. He also refused for the longest time to condemn the racists who supported him. Moreover, he is also prone to Jewish stereotyping, once referring to Jews at a Jewish event as a people focused on making money and, like himself, dealmakers. He called the people in the room, “negotiators” and said, “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money.”

However, among the political right, antisemitism is a dying creed, especially since the antisemitism targeting the billionaires who “control” the economy of the world as well as the media outlets has now become a major component in the ultra-left wing of the Democratic Party. Nevertheless, there is still more than enough coming from the right. A TV ad aired in Trump’s campaign for the presidency pointed a finger at “a global power structure that that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class and stripped our country of its wealth.” And who were the villains? All Jews – billionaire currency speculator George Soros, Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve and Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs.

Unleashing xenophobic furies possibly creates an atmosphere which makes hatred of minorities more acceptable. But the connection to antisemitism can be more indirect where actions in the name of criticizing hate stir reactions. I am not referring to the extremists on the right, such as David Duke, who greets every attack by Donald Trump on Muslims with loud cheers.  I want to raise the subtler case of border-line antisemitism which may contain a strong strain of prejudice and distortion that could readily be interpreted as antisemitism.

In a Kansas bar in February, Adam Puriton shot and killed one Indian engineer and wounded another thinking they were Iranians. In response, Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, (NIAC) and Tyler Cullis, a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (a different NIAC) legal fellow at the National Iranian American Council, wrote a piece in The Huffington Post called, “Trump Didn’t Start The Anti-Iranian Fire.” The article began by connecting the Puriton incident to Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric. However, the article went on, insisting that the problem predated and went deeper than Donald Trump and declared Trump “nothing but the most outward symptom of an affliction that has long plagued our country.” In other words, there was a “deep state,” or, at the very least, a “deep society” behind the Trump anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The article then named the culprits at the deeper level. “For more than a decade, there has been an organized effort on the part of groups like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), The Israel Project (TIP), Secure America Now, and United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and propagandists like Michael Rubin, Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and Josh Block to push war with Iran in the most hyperbolic terms, all the while defaming those – most particularly, those in the Iranian-American community – who urge a peaceful resolution to the historical tensions between the two countries.” Their thesis was that these culprits had demonized the Iranian regime and were thereby responsible for provoking Puriton’s murderous intent and actions.

I was puzzled by the attack. What do the well-known anti-Iranian positions of the above institutions and, more specifically, Michael Rubin, Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and Josh Block, have to do with arousing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric? Michael Rubin wrote a comment in Refugees Deeply (https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/articles/2016/11/04/expert-discussion-president-donald-trump-and-the-refugee-crisis). The comment appeared right after those of my pro-refugee colleagues’ strong criticisms of Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric. The three preceding criticisms of an anti-refugee bias were written by Michelle Mittelstadt from the Migration Policy Institute, Lavinia Limon, president and CRE of the U.S. Committee for Refugees who coined the phrase “warehousing” to depict the refugee camps (holding pens is a more accurate phrase) funded by the international community, and Jessica Brandt, a fellow at the Brookings Institute.

Rubin then wrote: “Trump’s deference to dictators – be they in Syria, Turkey or Russia – may convince them that they can commit atrocities without consequence. This might have the net effect of increasing refugee problems. And, because stemming immigration has been such a central part of his populist appeal, the willingness of a Trump White House to address refugees beyond basic provision of aid seems unlikely.” Though not in the same league as the three other denunciations of Trump’s anti-refugee policy, it is almost impossible to read this comment as an endorsement of Trump on refugees.

In Eli Lake’s 2015 article, “Crisis Looms for Refugees Taken in by Iraq’s Kurds,” (Bloomberg), he wrote, “The current refugee crisis created by the Syrian and Iraqi civil wars has received significant attention in recent weeks as hundreds of thousands of refugees have sought new lives in Europe. But it’s the countries in the Middle East that are suffering the most as a result of the ongoing war.” Again, this is virtually impossible to interpret as an anti-refugee screed.

Adam Kredo, on the other hand, did write a number of pieces about vetting refugees and expressed a concern, similar to Trump’s, that the Obama vetting procedures were not known and could be inadequate. He also wrote about a Texas decision to withdraw from the refugee program because of concerns over terrorism, criticized claimed plans under the Obama administration to cut screening times, and, most seriously, claimed in an 8 January 2016 piece that a member of a terrorist cell captured in Texas allegedly entered as a refugee without providing a piece of evidence to substantiate the allegation. The piece supposedly implied that the 113 individuals thus far implicated in terrorism were evidence of a flawed immigration and vetting policy.

Josh Block, as far as I know, has not written on refugee policy. He has written about the connection between Islamicism and, more specifically, ISIS and terrorists attacks in the U.S. particularly the San Bernardino killings. That earned this response by the Iranian-American writers in an article, “Top Israel advocate uses San Bernardino killings to attack Islam” (http://mondoweiss.net/2015/12/advocate-bernardino-killings)

“Josh Block, who is paid to be an advocate for Israel, spends much of his Twitter feed attacking Muslims wherever they are. The more time he spends attacking Muslims, the less his audience can reflect on occupation/dispossession.” But all the quotes were about extreme Islamicists and terrorists, not Muslims. Further, the terrorists who killed 14 and wounded 22 others were Muslim extremists. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were, according to the FBI, “homegrown violent extremists” inspired by jihadism. There was nothing said in the article about refugees, about immigrants or about Muslims in general.

Adam Kredo wrote an article for the Washington Free Beacon in January (http://freebeacon.com/national-security/muslim-brotherhood-ally-falsely-smears-senator-block-terror-designation-bill/) allegedly criticizing CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations billed as a Muslim advocacy group, for its intervention with Congress to prevent lawmakers from designating the Islamic Brotherhood as a supporter of terrorism. However, even the most superficial reader of the article soon learns that the criticism was of CAIR’s claim, quoting CAIR directly, that the author of the Cruz legislation was a disgraced former FBI agent “who made a career out of bashing Muslims and Islam.” Based on the evidence cited, the article concluded that there was absolutely no connection between the legislation and the former FBI agent. It was not an anti-Muslim article. The article was not an anti-Muslim screed.

Eli Lake did write an article in the National Post (10 February 2017) that criticized the link between Trump’s “ban” and abetting radical Islam. However, the argument made by the Iranian-Americans was against the straw man claim that Trump’s ban directly enhanced Islamicist terrorism. The charge was that Trump’s proposed ban (stayed last night by a Hawaii judge who reiterated that it was anti-Muslim based on Trump’s own words) contributed to the Islamicist ability to attract more adherents.

Michael Rubin also has been attacked as an Islamophobe in pieces in ThinkProgress and identified with a “fringe undercurrent of right-wing anti-Muslim bigotry.” (https://thinkprogress.org/the-american-enterprise-institutes-islamophobia-problem-690f500df285#.rin0xyq7c) “Rubin has long maintained relationships with Islamophobes.” The charge was guilt by association. No evidence was offered for Rubin being anti-Muslim.

Look more closely at the culprits. Michael Rubin’s PhD thesis from Yale University was entitled The Making of Modern Iran, 1858–1909: Communications, Telegraph and Society. It won the John Addison Porter Prize in history. He has since published books on Islamic extremism in the Middle East. Rubin is a former Pentagon official now at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, and instructs military officers scheduled for deployment there. Rubin is not a detached observer, not just in the ideological sense, but has drawn his conclusions on Iran not only from scholarship but from direct experience with the Iranian regime. He lived in post-revolution Iran (1996 and 1999) after six months in 1995 in Yemen, taught in pre- (2000-2001) and post-war Iraq, and even lived with the Taliban before 9/11. He knows a thing or two about Islamic extremism.

Rubin is certainly a neo-con and a hawk with respect to both Iraq and Iran. He is a hardline supporter of Netanyahu’s and Trump’s criticism of the Iran deal. So are Eli Lake, Adam Kredo and, to a much lesser extent, Josh Block who is neither a neo-con nor a hawk.

At least three of the four grew up in Pennsylvania. At least three of the four grew up in Jewish leftist households. Michael Rubin was even sent to a Quaker School for fourteen years. All appear to have started out left of centre. But the most common feature of all four is that they are all Jewish. There are a plethora of non-Jewish neo-cons. Why are the only four named critics of Iran and the nuclear deal Jewish? Why are they falsely identified with anti-refugee and anti-Muslim positions?

“A decade of messaging like this, though, has now had its payday: Adam Purinton walked into a bar and shot to kill what he believed to be Iranians,” wrote Parsi and Cullis. The implication of the article can easily be interpreted to mean that Jews were to blame for the killing the Indian engineer and wounding of another just as they were behind the movers and shakers of the economic order, especially since none of the myriad of non-Jewish neo-cons were mentioned, and that the criticisms were identified with a defence of Israel.

Anyone who has read my writings knows that I am far more sympathetic to the political positions of Parsi and Cullis. I have defended the Obama nuclear deal with Iran and criticized the neo-con opposition. I opposed the war in Iraq and am certainly opposed to any pre-emptive attack on Iran. But all my reading, in spite of all my criticisms of the positions of Rubin, Lake, Kredo and Block, would never suggest that anyone of them was anti-refugee or anti-Muslim even when I may criticize some points they may make on these issues.

The question is, are Parsi and Cullis guilty of fostering antisemitism when they falsely accuse the Jewish-four of being anti-refugee and anti-Muslim?

With the help of Alex Zisman

To be continued.

Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

Donald Trump as a Philo-Semite – Part I: Trump and Antisemitism

by

Howard Adelman

Last evening, Donald Trump may have been the one to have secretly released the first two pages of his 2005 tax returns to Rachel Maddow, host of a liberal political U.S. TV show, by mailing Trump chronicler and investigative journalist David Cay Johnston in the proverbial brown envelope with no return address his simplified Alternative Minimum Tax form. Why? Because it shows The Donald in a relatively favourable light – he evidently earned $150 million that year and paid 25% in taxes – $38 million. He had done nothing either illegal or improper. No wonder the White House quickly confirmed the accuracy of the figures while insisting that the “illegal” disclosure be investigated. “You know you are desperate for ratings when are you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago.”

What a way for the master deflector and magician of all time to take the public’s eye off the scandal swirling around his head about his tweets accusing Barack Obama of taping him in the Trump Tower. “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic1] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” All efforts to deflect from that insane accusation by his surrogates – he did not mean his personal phone but the campaign phones; he did not literally even mean wiretapping; he did not literally mean Barack Obama – have been laughed out of the ball park.

The release of the 2005 tax returns may be a substitute for his failed early Saturday morning tweets to distract from the investigations launched from a myriad of directions into the possibility of Trump campaigners’ collusion with Putin’s KGB government. What a chance to steer the inquiries away from the possibility that Trump is in the process of setting up the first Western kleptocracy to compete with Putin’s. What a way for the scandal of firing all the Democratic Party-appointed prosecuting attorneys in one fell swoop – that was what was unprecedented – this past Friday, including one, Preet Bharara, whom he promised could stay on in the Southern District of New York, but who turned out to be the prime investigator into white-collar criminality, including dirty money laundering, swirling around Wall Street. Of the 46 prosecuting attorneys asked to resign immediately and without notice, Bharara was the only one who refused and was fired Saturday, but that gave him an extra day. To do what? – is the question.

The two cover pages of Donald Trump’s tax returns show him earning a very large annual income, reminding Americans of what an astute businessman he is and that he may be as rich as he claims to be. He is seen to be paying a considerable tax bill, but without disclosing his charitable contributions and, more importantly, without disclosing his possible indebtedness to the Deutsche Bank which became a clearing house for laundering billions in Russian money. Unlike the mid-nineties tax return that was leaked during the campaign that showed him not only paying no taxes, but declaring a write off that could have him paying no taxes for 18 years, this so-called explosive revelation displayed Trump as having paid taxes after only ten years, not 18. But why not all the tax returns before 2008 that had already been audited? Why not the full return?

Such speculations may only be the efforts of a liberal observer trying disrespectfully to throw more mud at a president attempting to model himself on President Andrew Jackson, an authentic rather than penthouse populist as the analysis by the Republican-led Congressional Budget Office of the new Ryan health bill reveals – cover far fewer people and allegedly save the government billions. On the other hand, Jackson was the master media manipulator of his time. Jackson, like Trump, did clear the swamp, but only to replace the occupants with his own much more mendacious crew of loyalists. Jackson also was the supreme ethnic cleanser, removing millions of aboriginal people from east of the Mississippi just as Trump now aims to remove those “bad hombres” back to Mexico and to prevent the “lawless savages” who believe in Islam from entering the U.S.

So why discuss Donald Trump’s connection with antisemitism now? The issue seems so tangential. If, in fact, there has been an upsurge in antisemitic incidents since Donald Trump took the reins of power in America. All one hundred U.S. senators signed an open letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James B. Comey demanding swift action against the upsurge in antisemitic activity. “We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities.”

Is Donald Trump in any way responsible for the upsurge or for the allegedly inadequate response? Any accusation that Donald Trump himself is antisemitic appears far-fetched. However, in the current maelstrom swirling around Trump from so many directions, a step back into what appears to be a peripheral issue re Donald Trump, though not for Jews, may be instructive.

The question of whether Donald Trump is antisemitic is easier to answer than the question of whether he bears any responsibility for the upsurge in antisemitism. First, he is clearly not guilty of antisemitism Type C, that is anti-Zionist antisemitism. He has a history of close connections with the Jewish people and Israel. In 1983, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) awarded Donald Trump the Tree of Life Award, a “humanitarian award presented to individuals for their outstanding community involvement [and] their dedication to the cause of American-Israeli friendship.” He was honoured in 2004 by serving as the Grand Marshall in the 2004 Israel Day Parade. He has received many other awards and acknowledgements from the Jewish community, such as the Liberty Award in 2015 from the publication, Algemeiner.

Though in the campaign for the nomination just over a year ago in Charleston, South Carolina, he insisted that he would be “a sort of neutral guy” vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has been anything but. He is unequivocally pro-Israel. Donald Trump does not know what it means to be impartial. In fact, he is the most pro-Israel president America has ever had, if pro-Israel is equated with support for the policies of the current coalition that John Kerry dubbed “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme element.”

Trump supports a united Jerusalem. He promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in his presentation to the AIPAC conference when he was a candidate for the leadership of the Republican Party. “We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.” He has not rejected the building of settlements across the Green Line. He was critical of Barack Obama for not using the veto to kill the UNSC Resolution this past 28 December 2016 condemning Israeli settlement activity, including the suburbs throughout Jerusalem, as illegal, the first successful UNSC resolution critical of settlements in forty years and one which declares the settlements not simply an obstacle to peace. The resolution even implied support for BDS. Donald Trump had intervened to try to sideline the vote by getting the mover of the resolution, Egypt, to withdraw as its mover one day earlier after Trump phoned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, only to see the resolution reintroduced the next day by the other four non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Trump and Israel are linked in other ways. Instead of being critical of the “separation” wall dividing parts of the West Bank from Israel, Trump has lauded it and cited the “separation barrier” as an example of his planned wall along the border with Mexico. It would secure America against both drug smugglers and terrorists just as the separation barrier in Israel has been an effective tool for reducing terrorist attacks. He has favoured “defensible borders” rather than the green line as a reference point in peace negotiations. And he has insisted that the U.S. would support any deal arrived at between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, but “advised” the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He is an old and chummy friend of Bibi’s and once said in a video made for the 2013 Israeli elections, “You truly have a great prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s a winner, he’s highly respected, he’s highly thought of by all. Vote for Benjamin – terrific guy, terrific leader, great for Israel.” In fact, he has said that he would go further than Bibi and not just demolish the homes of the families of terrorists, but “take out the families.”

He joined Bibi in denouncing the deal with Iran as the “worst deal ever.” Since achieving office, Trump has appointed two of his lawyers, one his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman and a financial supporter of West Bank settlement activity, as ambassador to Israel, and another real estate lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as his special envoy to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump appointed Nikki Haley (née Randhawa), in spite of her call for him to release his tax returns, as the American ambassador to the UN. Haley, when she was Governor of South Carolina for six years, initiated legislation in 2016 to prevent boycott, divest and sanctions (BDS) efforts in South Carolina, the first state-wide effort to do so.

No sooner was Nikki Haley appointed UN Ambassador than she excoriated the UN, justly, for its bias “in favour of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of Israel.” She moved to block the appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, who had an excellent reputation as an honest technocrat, from serving to lead the UN mission to Libya to stop the use of Libya as a launching pad for refugee claimants to reach Europe. Haley did not want the appointment of Fayyad to signal a willingness to recognize Palestine as a state.

Nor does Trump seem guilty of racist antisemitism Type B, since he has an observant Orthodox Jewish daughter and two gorgeous Jewish grandchildren and his son-in-law, David Kushner, is a chief political adviser. Tomorrow, I will inquire into the question of Trump‘s possible anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican and anti-Black American racism and its connection with antisemitism, but it seems absolutely clear that Trump is not a racist antisemite even though he occasionally engages in antisemitic Jewish stereotyping. The latter seems to be a problem that results from his sloppy thinking processes and terrible articulation rather than from any antisemitism.

Trump is also very clearly not an anti-Jewish antisemite, first because he does not seem to be imbued with any Christian values, including its negative history of Christian persecution of Jews. Nor is he an Enlightenment antisemite like Voltaire since he possesses even fewer traces of Enlightenment values, especially of tolerance, than of Christian values. Besides he is reason-challenged. Is he an antisemite in the original Type A along the lines depicted in the Book of Esther charging Jews with  suffering from dual loyalty and adhering to a set of rules at odds with the American government? Since no one in my memory or studies has been more at odds with the rules of political discourse in the U.S., that would certainly be like the pot calling the kettle black. Further, there seems virtually nothing in common between him and Haman. Donald Trump would never play second fiddle to King Ahasuerus.

But perhaps there are some similarities between himself and King Ahasuerus. For the latter allowed antisemitism to flourish under his watch and seemed oblivious. I will wait until tomorrow’s blog to explore this question when I try to discern the connection between Donald Trump and the upsurge of antisemitic incidents.

Islamophobia in Canada

Islamophobia in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

According to Amira Elghawaby, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the term “Islamophobia” as used in Canada describes the irrational fear or hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination or acts of harassment or violence. One week after Trump’s rant, on 23 February 2017 in Ontario, Canada, the legislature passed a unanimous motion condemning Islamophobia. The motion was spurred by the shooting deaths of six worshippers and wounding 19 others in a mosque in Quebec. But it was also a response to local incidents in Ottawa (anti-Muslim graffiti, and the spitting at young women wearing hijabs). The Ontario legislature motion was introduced by Liberal backbencher Nathalie Des Rosiers from the Ottawa riding of Ottawa-Vanier. It called on the legislature to “stand against all forms of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance,” and to rebuke a “growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments.” The motion called for a condemnation of “all forms of Islamophobia.”

Canadians across the country had rallied to demonstrate their support for besieged Muslims. Flowers and several hand-made signs were placed outside Masjid Al-Iman mosque in Victoria in the wake of the deadly shooting in Quebec on 30 January. My own rabbi was one of leaders who helped form a circle of peace around a mosque in Toronto.

The Muslim community in Canada, feeling singled out as never before, felt justified in wanting the legislatures across Canada, especially the federal parliament, to go further. Amira Elghawaby asked the federal government not only to take steps to combat Islamophobia and support M-103, a federal parliamentary motion to condemn Islamophobia, but to declare 29 January, the date of the Quebec shooting, a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.

In the federal legislature, the debate has been different than the one in Ontario. The motion was similar and the non-binding motion M-103 called on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” The full private member’s motion read as follows:

In the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, [my italics – do you understand what that means? Is this addressed to the general reader? It is political gibberish.] (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supported the motion, arguing that the Muslim community is currently “particularly vulnerable these days to intolerance and discrimination.” At the federal level, the Progressive Conservative party, or many of its MPs, took a different tack than their Ontario cousins and opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action. Federal Conservatives insisted that the federal motion should be opposed because it singles out one religious group over others. Many Conservative MPs opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action, fearing a suppression of free speech would result.

Some federal Conservatives supported the motion, such as South Surrey-White Rock B.C. Conservative MP Dianne Watts. Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong also supported the motion. “In light of the mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy last month, where six Muslims were killed and 19 injured while they prayed in their mosque, it is appropriate and important that Canadian parliamentarians study the issue of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic prejudice and discrimination.” He denied the argument that the motion could be used to curtail freedom of speech simply because Islamophobia is not defined. After all, Section 319 of the Criminal Code goes even further and makes it an offence to wilfully promote or publicly incite hatred against any identifiable group which, incidentally, Chong would repeal because the section sets too high a standard on non-hate speech.

Other Conservatives have argued that many definitions of Islamophobia include “dislike” of Islam and its adherents as part of the definition. The motion could potentially put a damper on free speech. Kellie Leitch (Conservative, Simcoe-Gray), another leadership candidate for the opposition party, claimed that she was fighting back “against politically correct nonsense.” Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin O’Leary and Erin O’Toole, other candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, also criticized the motion condemning Islamophobia.

Barbara Kay, a national columnist, argued that there are many more anti-Semitic incidents, let alone statements, targeting, Jews. 181 hate-motivated crimes targeting the Jewish religion were reported in 2013; there were 65 crimes motivated by hatred against the Muslim religion. (There will be more on anti-Semitism in a subsequent blog.) Breitbart News went even further and noted that the motion never mentioned anti-Semitism or anti-Christian discrimination and suggested that the latter occurs far more often in Canada than victimization of Muslims, but provided no data to back up such a claim.

In the federal legislature, a Conservative motion virtually identical to Khalid’s, except that it excised the term “Islamophobia,” was defeated 165-126 as Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, voted against the motion.

There have been a few indications that labeling something as motivated by Islamophobia could result in curbing free speech. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation objected to Mark Steyn’s 2006 book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, precisely on such grounds. Steyn was not content to rail against Islam, or, more precisely, its radical interpretations, but expressed the fear that, because of internal weaknesses, largely attributed to bleeding heart liberals and their moral and cultural relativism promoting multiculturalism, combined with an increase in the Muslim population and demographic decline of native non-Muslim populations, as well as the economic unsustainability of the social democratic state, a day might come when the call to prayer from a muezzin on a loudspeaker would become widespread. In a much more fearsome scenario, Talibanic enforcers would cruise Greenwich Village burning books and barber shops. The Supreme Court was imagined as having decided that Sharia law did not violate the “separation of church and state.” Steyn also dismissed the fear of climate change as an imminent danger as irrational.

While many condemned the book as Islamophobic, Christopher Hitchens gave it a rave review. George W. Bush recommended it to his staff. Ironically, promoters of Islamic exceptionalism agreed with Steyn in condemning Western relativism. The movers of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.fmreview.org/sites/fmr/files/FMRdownloads/en/FMRpdfs/Human-Rights/cairo.pdf), the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, could be included. That human rights doctrine criticized the Western tradition of human rights as sometimes conflicting with Sharia law. This Islamic iteration of human rights included the usual litany that required protection and actions to be condemned – “discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, gender, political affiliation, social status and even religion.”

The defence of the freedom of speech in Article 22(a), however, was conditional not absolute. Expression cannot be “contrary to the practices of Shariah,” “the sole source of human rights,” not human nature. Article 24 states: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia.”
Conflicts arose over the definition of gender rights since women have specific duties to perform and men are given primary responsibility for the social and financial protection of the family. Equality is only guaranteed to men. Women do not have the right to marry a non-Muslim or to have more than one spouse and cannot initiate divorce without the consent of their husbands. In Iran, a Muslim woman can only marry a non-Muslim man if he can produce evidence that he had converted to Islam. Most specifically, Article 10 of the Declaration calls Islam “the religion of unspoiled nature” and prohibits conversion to another religion or atheism if compulsion or economic incentives and exploitation or even ignorance is allegedly used, leaving the barn door wide open for condemning virtually any conversion from Islam as an abuse of human rights.

This is not simply an abstract principle. As a 2014 U.S. State Department report documented, societal discrimination against non-Muslims is rampant in Muslim-majority countries. In 2013, in Iran, though the sentence of death as provided in law is no longer used, converts have been sentenced to an average of over three years of served time, lashes and fines for “apostasy.”

For someone committed to the Western tradition of human rights, the Cairo declaration on human rights not only has many lacunae, but provides a rationale for the abuse of human rights under the guise of protecting human rights and explicitly states that the Declaration is intended to limit the application of the UN universal declaration of human rights. There is, therefore, a difference between criticisms of Islam, dislike of Islam and discrimination against individual Muslims. The latter is forbidden in the Western human rights tradition. The former two are clearly not forbidden, and, further, are protected. You have a right to criticize Islam. You have a right to dislike Islam. You have no right to discriminate against Muslims.

Since the term Islamophobic is not restricted to discriminatory behaviour, but includes attitudes such as “dislike,” there is a real and not just a rhetorical problem. However, there is also a problem in cases where criticisms and dislike of Islam are used as justification for discrimination against Muslims.

On the other hand, there is a difference between condemning Steyn’s book as Islamophobic and banning the book. The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights defined Islamophobia as a rights violation without ensuring that the criticism of Islam was guaranteed as a right. It is clearly possible, especially given the record of Islamic states, that individuals educated as Muslims might be more prone not only to condemn a book like that of Steyn, but ban it.

In Canada, we can be proud that many Muslims occupy important political positions and are excellent representatives of all their constituents with no indication that they confuse “dislike” and “criticisms” with their condemnation of Islamophobia. In addition to former members of parliament – Rahim Jaffer, Wajid Khan – these include Ontario Liberal MPPs: Shafiq Qaadri, Etobicoke, Omar Alghabra, Mississauga Centre, Khalil Ramat, London-Fanshawe, as well as the Attorney General of Ontario, Yasir Naqvi. In the federal parliament, we find Yasmin Ratansi, Liberal Don Valley East, and Maryam Monsef, Liberal, Peterborough, who is Minister of Status of Women in the Justin Trudeau government. Perhaps most notable of all, and with a reputation as possibly the best mayor in all of Canada, is Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary. Not one can be justly accused of subordinating Canadian law and the Western human rights tradition to the Cairo Declaration of human rights and Sharia law.

But there are also Muslim citizens of Canada who are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, but who believe that Canadian law should be subordinated to Sharia law. I am critical of them just as I am critical of Jews and Christians with whom I disagree. I am critical of some Jewish and Christian religious practices and some expressions of each of those faiths. But it is also true that some aspects of Islam pose a much greater challenge to the Western liberal tradition than twenty-first century Christianity and Judaism. It is my right as a Canadian to offer well-intentioned and constructive critiques of religious practices or ideologies. However, I see no core inconsistency between a defense of the right to criticize and a suspicion of some Islamic beliefs and practices and a condemnation of Islamophobia.

There is a real problem that when Islamophobia also includes a dislike of Islam as well as an irrational fear of and prejudice against Muslims. There is a danger that the term can be misused. Irwin Cotler may be correct in stating that the term anti-Muslim prejudice might be preferable to Islamophobia. But a term and phrase is best understood in terms of current practices and real life situations that threaten the lives and well-being of Muslims. Also, although I too might have quibbles about a motion opposing Islamophobia and even harsher criticisms of some aspects of Islam, which should not be interpreted as resentment of Islam, I strongly support a motion condemning Islamophobia for I radically disagree with the contention that some Conservatives made that, “there no phobia of Islam in Canada.”

When federal Conservatives opposed the motion because it singles out one religious group over others and feared a suppression of free speech would result, it is important to recognize that the motion singles out one religious group precisely because this religious group was singled out. Also, the fear of suppressing free speech is rubbish. If you are rigorous enough, there will be no suppression. Only those who are drawn to slippery slopes may have to face the consequences. Bensoussan is but one example. He could have easily extricated himself from his predicament.

As far as Islamophobia goes, its practical acceptance as anti-Muslim sentiment is equivalent to the acceptance of anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish prejudice, in spite of the fact that Arabs are also Semites, inviting the facetious argument that anti-Semitism should be extended to cover Arabs as well. Is the term anti-Jewish prejudice preferable to anti-Semitism?

I see no evidence that the support for a motion condemning Islamophobia in any way puts the slightest dent in our belief in freedom of speech. Further, when a man is president of the United States who offers repeated evidence of being Islamophobic, it is all the more important to condemn Islamophobic expressions. I believe that the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) opposing the federal motion on Islamophobia on grounds that the motion, “requires us to silence legitimate concerns or suppress a public conversation about those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world” is not only unjustified but irrational. The motion in context has no such requirement.

The motion M-103 is not the source of “alienation and dissonance” as CIJA is wont to believe. In my estimation, CIJA’s opposition has its roots in understandable Jewish fears. I can understand where CIJA is coming from as I explore the new face of anti-Semitism in my next blog.

With the help of Alex Zisman

U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

U.S. and International Background to Islamophobia in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

Three weeks ago, on 6 February 2017, Donald Trump issued a list of 78 terror attacks that had allegedly been under or not reported by the media. He left off that list numerous and almost daily terrorist attacks against Muslim targets. Not one terrorist attack in Israel was included. The attack against a mosque in a Quebec City suburb on 29 January 2017 by an Islamophobe was omitted. Most on the list – the Paris Bataclan attack, the Nice truck killings, the Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando, Florida, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, received massive worldwide coverage. When Sean Spicer was specifically asked for names of attacks that were not reported by “the very, very dishonest press,” he promised to provide a list later, insisting there were “several instances,” “a lot of instances,” but no list was ever produced.

Two weeks ago, on 16 February 2017, two particularly heinous and destructive terrorist attacks took place. In Baghdad, at a very popular used automobile market in the southwest corner of the city, a car packed with explosives blew up killing at least 45 and wounding hundreds of others. In Pakistan, in a relatively small city in Sindh Province, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the very famous Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and killed at least 88, including many women and children, and wounded many more. The victims were virtually all Muslims. The perpetrator in both cases was the Islamic State.

On that same day of these two attacks, Trump held his first sole, and spontaneous, one hour plus bizarre press conference as president. Rant is probably a more accurate description of what took place. Sometimes Islamophobia is best revealed by silences and omissions rather than overt hate speech. While Trump once again berated the “dishonest press,” in a discussion of terrorism, Trump failed to mention either the Iraq or the Pakistan attack. He offered no condolences to the victims’ families or the nations in which these large number of victims died at the hands of terrorists. Nor did he tweet about it later. For, in his view of terrorism, Islamicist terrorists only target Western – i.e. non-Islamic Judeo-Christian civilization – when, in fact, the vast majority of targets of these terrorist extremists are themselves followers of Islam.

Donald Trump had cited the Center for Security Policy to justify his migration ban in his 27 January Executive Order, the same centre that honoured Zuhdi Jasser, head of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), as a “defender of the home front.” Jasser is a doctor of internal medicine and nuclear cardiology in Phoenix, Arizona and a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. navy. He served two years (2012 and 2013) on the Congressional U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is a strong advocate for the separation of mosque and state and opponent of both political and radical Islam. His focus has been radicalization in the Islamic community in America. He narrated a notorious PBS film Islam v Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center, which PBS banned from the air following pressure from Muslim organizations which widely interpreted the film as anti-Islamic, even though its focus is radicalization. Jasser is a poster boy for Trump’s contention that he is not anti-Islam.

Within the U.S., attacks from the far right far outnumber any Islamicist terrorism. One example occurred just two weeks ago. Adan Purinton, in the Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, after calling for the men he assaulted to return to their home country, shot and killed an Indian man, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, and seriously wounded an American bystander, Ian Grillot, who tried to intervene. Alok Madasani, who also had been attacked, survived his wounds as well. The attack took place just prior to the sentencing of two Kansas men for an attack on three Somalis.

Nonie (originally Nahid) Darwish, an Egyptian-American human rights advocate, a former Muslim and convert to Christianity, founder of Arabs for Israel even though her father as an Egyptian military officer was a victim of a targeted killing by allegedly Israeli agents, has been another leading voice. She is president of AIFD, wrote several books:  Now They Call Me Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror and Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. She has led the effort to broaden what has been dubbed the U.S. Islamophobia network and called for the defeat and annihilation of Islam. Mosques, she declared, are the sources for initiating the war against America. In such cases, how do you separate the right to free speech and the right to be critical of Islam from Islamophobia?

This trope of Islam and not just Islamism as a clear and present danger is complemented by a depiction of Islamic countries and Muslims as hypocrites. Muslims, critics contend, argue for freedom when they are a minority but repress the freedom to practice Christianity when Muslims are the majority. Muslim countries love and admire non-Muslims who champion freedom for Muslims in non-Muslim countries, but either actively or by turning a blind eye discriminate against non-Muslims in their own countries. Muslim countries condemn discrimination against Muslims while they perpetuate not just discrimination but oppression of minorities.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Numan Kurtulmuș, insisted that, “rising Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-immigrant feelings” lay behind Trump’s travel ban against seven countries. Yasin Aktay, the chair of Turkey’s ruling party called the ban “racist” and a violation of human rights. Both ignored the rising tide of persecution of individual Christians and Christian institutions, particularly Protestant ones within Turkey. (See the report of the Association of Protestant Churches in Turkey which documents the increasing persecution of Christians in 2015 in its Human Rights Violations Report.) Over 100 Evangelical Christian pastors have been expelled from Turkey.

Christians have been cleansed in huge numbers from the Middle East where those communities have existed for two thousand years. Saudi Arabia has a travel ban limiting where non-Muslims can travel in the country. The public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited.

Islamophobia is not simply the disagreement with or dislike of Islam as a religion, though that is specified in the dictionary, but prejudice against that religion and its adherents that is expressed in the public arena in a myriad of negative ways. It includes an irrational fear of Islam. Donald Trump does not explicitly and unequivocally express his Islamophobia in this way, but in his actions and his policies, he certainly acts as the “new sheriff in town” with the objective of cleaning up the hombres that has been interpreted as signalling to Muslims that they are unwelcome. Trump associates with groups who would not only ban hijab-wearing women from working in any government position, but would insist that all Muslim government employees sign a loyalty document that they reject Sharia law. For them, Sharia is not a set of legal texts and religious practices subject to interpretation, but the foundational code for converting America to the Muslim faith.

Stephen K. Bannon, perhaps his closest political adviser and the former executive chairman of Breitbart, described Muslim American groups as “cultural jihadists.” He contended that their intention is to destroy American society from within. He wrote a documentary film script ten years ago with this theme; it was called Destroying the Great Satan.

This depiction of Islam as an insidious agency assaulting the American way of life is a sentiment echoed by organizations such as ACT for America which argues that the “jihadists wearing suits” are more insidious and dangerous than radical Islamicists. The organization, with 17 full time staff and a half million members, depicts Islam has having a mission of Islamicizing America. ACT claims that the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIA) is “working to infiltrate the U.S. government and destroy American society from within,” a domestic extension of a very active and determined international conspiracy. (See Trevor Loudon’s documentary, Enemies Within.) ACT volunteers train local communities on how to object to mosques being built in their neighbourhoods and to push for banning existing ones unless they denounce Sharia.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who was fired after only a few weeks as Donald Trump’s security adviser, sits on ACT’s board of directors. When he was fired, ACT dubbed it the work of “rogue weasels” and “shadow warriors” within the depths of the government. ACT vigorously campaigned to defend Trump’s executive order banning entry to individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. One cannot hear Donald Trump’s slogan, “America First” but recall, if you have ever looked at it, ACTs website that claims, “we are the greatest nation on earth” and “if you are an American you must be an American first.” ACT, of course, ardently supported Trump’s ban against travelers from seven Muslim majority countries, but also opposed the resettlement of any Muslim refugees in the U.S.

ACT labels supporters of the resettlement of Syrian refugees into the U.S. as fanatics. The concept of “Islamophobia” is “fake news” and part of the international conspiracy’s propaganda campaign that uses liberals as fronts. The push for combating Islamophobia by these apologists for Islam is but a front for the perpetrators of evil against which good Christians in the name of the good must fight back.

In Europe, political parties have built their central base in the fight against Muslims. On 15 March, there will be parliamentary elections in The Netherlands. In Holland, 6% of the population is Muslim – mainly Turks and Moroccans. Geert Wilders’s populist Freedom Party (PVV) has made migration and Islamisation the core of his campaign. The PVV is expected to increase its number of seats from 10% to at least 20% and is currently the frontrunner among the many competing Dutch political parties, though it will not likely be included in any coalition. Wilders denounced the number of Moroccans in the country, whom he has referred to as “scum,” and has been convicted by Dutch courts of inciting discrimination against Dutch Moroccans. Wilders vowed to appeal and denounced the court’s decision as suppressing free speech. Wilders has stated that Islam is potentially more dangerous than Nazism, especially since the Koran includes more anti-Semitic hatred than Mein Kampf.  Wilders supports closing all mosques and Islamic schools and banning the sale of the Koran (Qur’an).  Recall that two far right Dutch activists have been assassinated in recent years – Pim Fortuyn and then filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim radical, Mohammed Bouyeri.

In recent local elections in Germany, the far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), captured almost 14% of the vote in recent local elections. Stories of a mob of Arab men rampaging through the streets of Frankfurt and assaulting women were widely reported worldwide, but the stories turned out to be “fake news.” Local police subsequently determined that the stories were “baseless.” But the story spread like wildfire because an old refrain of the “foreign sexual offender” is a deep part of German as well as Dutch culture.

“False news” is pervasive in Europe, some originating in the U.S. Breitbart news reported that a mob of 1,000 chanting “Allahu Akhbar,” this past New Year’s Eve, had attacked police in Dortmund and set fire to what Breitbart reported was the oldest church. It never happened. Further, St. Reinold is not Europe’s oldest church; the Cathedral of Trier is and this was where fireworks from a celebrating crowd accidentally set off a small roof fire. Racism is once again on the rise in Germany with a multitude of assaults by neo-Nazis against foreigners who looked Arabic – a passenger getting out of a taxi and an attack against a biracial boy in the safe Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg by four neo-Nazis. These take place in spite of strong laws and vigorous enforcement by the German state against neo-Nazis and the racism they espouse. That racism runs contrary to the born-again sense of tolerance now pervasive among Germans which allowed Angela Merkel to admit over a million Middle East refugees into Germany.

Marine Le Pen in France is a strong competitor to Wilders’s Islamophobic messages. For Le Pen, France must choose between being French and continuing its self-destructive trip as a multiculturalist country. Since the infamous Paris and Nice radical jihadist attacks, the fear of Islam and migrants as central mainstays of her National Front party have become more mainstream. Like Trump’s supporters, like Wilders, Le Pen insists that France is threatened both from within and from without by Islam and not just radical Islam. Trump’s ban barring migrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries was applauded, but did not go far enough since the ban was only temporary for only six Muslim countries; the ban should have been applied much wider.

Islamicism is bred among Muslim immigrants as well as brought to France from the outside. And its source is Islam itself, though Le Pen, like Trump, initially adopted a far more limited focus on “foreigners who preach hatred” and advocated stripping Islamicists, not Muslims, of their citizenship.

Canada has established itself as an exception to a more general tide of rising Islamophobia, but is not immune from the virus.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Wronging and Opp Strangers

Wronging and Oppressing Strangers: Mishpatim Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

by

Howard Adelman

Is it serendipity that we read such a text between Donald Trump’s aborted cruel, inhuman and unconstitutional Executive Order dealing with migrants and the delayed promise to issue a revised order next week? When immigration enforcement officers were previously restricted to rounding up illegal aliens in the U.S. found guilty of serious crimes, is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when restrictions on U.S. immigration officers have been lifted and they are now instructed to round up illegal aliens found or even alleged to be guilty of any conviction (going through a red light) and not just a criminal let alone a serious criminal record?  Guadalupe García de Rayos, was arrested in Phoenix and ordered deported; she is the mother of two American-born children and had been in the U.S. ten years and was registered with the American Immigration Service to which she reported dutifully twice per year. But she had been found guilty years ago of carrying and working under a fake ID.

Is it serendipity that we read Mishpatim when refugees in the dead of winter have been crossing the undefended and usually unprotected land border between the U.S. and Canada at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec or near Emerson, Manitoba or in British Columbia at unmanned border crossings such as in Surrey where a Honduran family recently entered Canada? RCMP officers may monitor banks of screens receiving data from surveillance cameras, but that only tracks and does not stop claimants from crossing into Canada. Once on Canadian soil, they are assisted by Quebec provincial police, RCMP officers, Canadian Border Services agents or volunteers to be taken to a centre where they can make a refugee claim. In January alone, 452 asylum seekers crossed into Quebec and over 400 into Manitoba. To repeat, this has been in the dead of winter. In another month, we can expect the numbers to greatly increase so that I will not be surprised, if the circumstances do not change in the U.S., to see up to 40,000 asylum claimants cross the border into Canada illegally in 2017. And this could turn out to be a gross underestimate.

There is a way to circumvent these riskier crossings. Allow claimants to cross at legal entry points and make a claim there. That would mean suspending the definition of the U.S. as a Safe Third Country. For that provision presumed that asylum claimants would be protected by U.S. law. There are justifiable fears that this is no longer the case, not just by sympathetic Canadians, but by supporters of refugees in the United States, many of whom have volunteered to take the asylum claimants to areas where they can walk across the border at a terminus of a new underground railway network into Canada.

Many Americans and Canadians are taking Justin Trudeau at his word when he tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” This week, Canada welcomed into Manitoba another group of the 1,200 Yazidis due to arrive in Canada this year as humanitarian refugees who will not have to be processed through the Convention refugee claims system.

Canada is on the outer fringes of the refugee movements, especially the hundreds of thousands crossing into Europe from the Middle East and North Africa. This past week, we read of 87 bodies recovered from a capsized boat off the cost of Libya; the smugglers had removed the motor and allowed the boat to be swamped. Last week I learned that the son of an Israeli friend, a diver who inspects underwater pipelines, found numerous bodies trapped under the pipeline at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Several weeks ago, a visiting Israeli rabbi talked to a group of us about the refugees arriving in Israel from Africa and the Middle East and discussed the “Extradition of Refugees According to the Jewish Tradition.” He quoted Deuteronomy 23:16-17 dealing with the treatment of bondsmen who should not be returned to his master and, instead, should be allowed to dwell with one who found him or her. That escaped bondsmen should be allowed to live in freedom within the gates of the city and no wrong should be committed against him.

Mishpatim (laws) deal with both slaves and strangers. Though Genesis 14:19 enjoins Israelites to “love the stranger for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt,” Mishpatim is the first time this moral injunction is put into a legal code posed as a negative as distinct from a positive moral injunction of action that is just, These Covenantal laws, Sefer HaB’rit, are not as generous as the Deuteronomic Code or the Holiness Code found in Leviticus, but just as Moses upon the advice of Jethro made a beginning in the administration of justice and introduced a more decentralized system of administering law, one in which the magistrates were to be chosen based on moral criteria without direct guidance from God (see my blog from last Friday), much more specific and clearly man-made laws well beyond the Ten Commandments had to be introduced. If we take the position in the text as reflecting a time when the laws were introduced (unlikely), these laws were promulgated before Moses disappeared for forty days and forty nights.

It is telling that the very first laws are those applicable to Hebrew slaves and then to property. Only then, and very briefly, do we read, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (22:20) I thought that Rabbi Plaut had told me that this injunction was the one most repeated in the Torah and was cited 27 times, but my memory must be incorrect because the visiting rabbi said that, in fact, he had counted and it was repeated 36 times. As everyone knows, and as the Babylonian Talmud reminds us (Bava Metzia 59b), the more repetition, the greater the significance. It isn’t as if there is a causal relationship between the experience of slavery in Egypt and the obligation not to wrong or oppress strangers, but, as many know who have undertaken research on those who assist refugees, the closer the connection in the family history with the experience of refugees, the greater the motivation to help. Having been a stranger is neither an adequate nor a necessary motive for helping refugees, but, statistically, it increases the likelihood of offering such assistance. Even more importantly, it established a fundamental identity between the person offering assistance and the refugee. History and memory must be reinforced to ensure hospitality for the stranger.

But the Israelites were not just strangers in Egypt; they were slaves. The section Mishpatim begins with slaves as an echo of Genesis, “Know now that your descendants shall be strangers in a land not theirs; they shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13) Refugees are often treated worse even than slaves, for they often lack the protections of the larger society or state in which they live. However, if we are to understand what it means in the instruction not to wrong or oppress the stranger, it is helpful to look at the initial and first try at dealing with slaves, not slaves who are non-nationals, but Hebrew slaves.

Hebrew slaves in Exodus were debt slaves, though in Leviticus (17-26) they are simply called debtors. Reduced to impoverishment, they became slaves to compensate for debts. But as Hebrews, they were not Other. Further, there was a maximum limit to their enslavement – 6 years unless the master provided a male with a woman to wed and they had children. (The Deuteronomy Code – in reality more an incomplete collection of common law rather than a systematic code, but I will use the latter as a term of convenience – renames the debt slave as a brother and goes further, requiring the master to release the debt slave with part of his profits from his years of labour to allow the debt slave to get a new start -15:13) In the latter case, in the Exodus Code, the wife and the children continue to remain slaves belonging to the master, but they were also released in the improved Deuteronomy Code. If a man does not want to be separated from his wife and children, he may voluntarily stay as a refugee for the rest of his life, a status to be marked by an awl pierced through his ear.

Note that this part of the code had to do with male slaves. The code was based on gender discrimination. Daughters could be sold by their fathers (not their parents) but as “wives,” not as slaves, but only under the Exodus Code. But if the male tired of a woman he kept as a concubine, he either had to let her go free, especially if he violated her rights, or provide for her for the rest of her days. He could not sell her. If his son married her, then she had to be treated equally as any other woman chosen to be a wife. (Exodus 21:2-11) So there is a hierarchy of Others – male slaves, female concubines and strangers. The greatest number of injunctions by far apply to the treatment of strangers.

This does not mean that there was a correspondence between the law and actual behaviour. As is well known, there is often a gap between the moral aspirations of a society and its conformity to those ideals. Abuse of debt slaves, of women in slavery and of strangers increased as the gap widened between the protections offered to those at the bottom of the ladder and the rewards taken and presumed by those at the top widened. That is, as societies became more corrupt, as the prophet Amos pointed out, the greater the mistreatment of debt slaves, of women and of strangers. That mistreatment is often a by-product of that corruption and/or used as a distraction from it.  The results were often horrific.

For example, a widow cried out to the prophet Elisha:

ד:א וְאִשָּׁ֣ה אַחַ֣ת מִנְּשֵׁ֣י בְנֵֽי־הַ֠נְּבִיאִים צָעֲקָ֨ה אֶל־אֱלִישָׁ֜ע לֵאמֹ֗ר עַבְדְּךָ֤ אִישִׁי֙ מֵ֔ת וְאַתָּ֣ה יָדַ֔עְתָּ כִּ֣י עַבְדְּךָ֔ הָיָ֥ה יָרֵ֖א אֶת־יְ-הֹוָ֑ה וְהַ֨נֹּשֶׁ֔ה בָּ֗א לָקַ֜חַת אֶת־שְׁנֵ֧י יְלָדַ֛י ל֖וֹ לַעֲבָדִֽים: 4:1 A certain woman, the wife of one of the disciples of the prophets, cried out to Elisha: “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know how your servant revered Yhwh. And now a creditor is coming to seize my two children as slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1)

This ruthlessness, obviously, is not restricted to the ancient world. When the very people who caused the mortgage crisis and economic collapse in 2008 were rescued, the hundreds of thousands who owed money on many of those mortgages on properties that were then financially underwater were not given relief by and large, but were foreclosed upon and thrown out of their homes because the system “sold the just for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Ruthlessness became even more the order of the day.

When we do not take care of our own needy (evvon), it is much more difficult to take care of the needs of strangers. The innocent, the just, the idealists (tzaddiqim) are swept aside and everyone out for himself becomes the ruling ethos. The poor, the needy, have indeed been cheated by the system as their incomes decline and they fall into poverty. It is no wonder that many are willing to follow a leader who displaces the blame on foreigners, on strangers, for often, this is a distraction to hide even more deep-seated corruption.

The stranger is not to be treated wrongly or oppressed. These are not the same, but there is contention about the difference. Some argue that a wrong falls under the law – someone is wronged when he or she is treated other than in the way the law requires. A person oppressed is a victim of society. In another interpretation, a wrong is a monetary infraction for which there can be compensation. There can be no compensation for oppression. Alternatively, a wrong is a verbal slight, an expression of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia for which there can be no financial compensation. Oppression is a specific action of exploitation. In a fourth and somewhat complementary conception, a wrong is corrected by writing and applying just law; oppression can only be corrected through empathy by a native-born for the stranger.

Whatever the differences, a ger stranger is not a visiting foreigner (nochri), but an alien living among us who is not yet a citizen. The Torah demands that the ger be treated with all the rights we have and, as well, with a welcoming hand and smile. Xenophobia is the precise opposite to this treatment.

 

I am grateful for the insights into debt slaves to the commentaries of Professor Marvin A. Sweeney (“The Bible’s Evolving Effort to Humanize Debt Slavery”), Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy”), and Dr. Aaron Koller (“The Law of the Hebrew Slave: Reading the Law Collections as Commentary”) who contends that the three different versions apply to three different types of servitude and that Deuteronomy fills in lacunae rather than develops the law in a more benign direction. On the principle of treating the stranger, see Rabbi Jonathan Sack’s commentary from 2 February 2008 entitled “Loving the Stranger.”

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Learning the Techniques of Persuasion

Learning the Techniques of Persuasion

by

Howard Adelman

Against a background of coal miners in hard hats, Donald Trump signed a measure a week ago that rolled back a last-minute Obama regulation restricting coal mines from dumping debris into nearby streams. Patricia Nana, a Cameroonian-American, insisted that, “If he hadn’t gotten into office, 70,000 miners would have been put out of work. I saw the ceremony where he signed that bill, giving them their jobs back, and he had miners with their hard hats and everything – you could see how happy they were.” Pictures are worth a thousand words, they say. The reality: the regulation would have cost very few jobs that would more than be compensated by new jobs created through the clean-up of the streams.

The Washington Post on 21 February 2017 reported this as “an example of the frequent distance between Trump’s rhetoric, which many of his supporters wholeheartedly believe, and verifiable facts.” These supporters at a Trump rally in Florida received their news regularly from Fox News and right-wing radio. Those interviewed were aware of what they read and what they saw, but knew virtually nothing about topics embarrassing to the president, such as the recent resignation of Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, because he lied to the Vice-President. If they knew that, they knew nothing of the broader charge, that he spoke inappropriately, frequently and possibly illegally about lifting the sanctions on Russia with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, before Trump was even president. Some did not even know that Flynn had resigned and had been replaced by Lt. General H.R. McMaster.

One cannot win an effort at persuasion unless one has access to the other side. Even then, what is said will be filtered through a set of beliefs largely resistant to the information and arguments being put forth. And we are not speaking of Donald Trump himself or his immediate acolytes. We are talking about the Trumpists, the true believers in his entourage who voted for him and would vote for him again even after a month of chaos and mismanagement.

Do not attempt to practice the arts of persuasion on Donald Trump, on his acolytes or on the true believers that are his followers. There are plenty of others who cast ballots for Donald Trump who do not approach issues with a pre-formed mindblindness. The first rule: select your targets who may possibly be open to listening to the case you wish to bring. But such a rule creates its own problems. Do we end up only talking to those who share our bubble? Do we retreat to our “safe spaces”? Does that reinforce intolerance and even deeper misunderstandings, especially with the almost total breakdown in the consensus, led by the president, in respecting the media and in engaging in civil discourse? There is no longer even a consensus on the civility expected of a president.

Even when dealing with those more malleable than the ardent Trump supporter, there is a problem in conducting discourse within the larger climate of fear and suspicion. In his Florida rally, Donald Trump may have stoked that fear by referring to a non-existent event in Sweden the night before, but what he did see and hear was an author, Ami Horowitz, who claimed that statistics on rape and violent crime in Sweden had increased since the large influx of foreigners in 2015. Don Lemon on his CNN show interviewed the author and challenged both his misuse of statistics and his conclusions, but without another expert present, the interview disintegrated into the interviewee insisting that what he claimed was true while Lemon kept offering evidence and arguments for its false representation of the situation in Sweden.

A quick subsequent review of some authoritative evidence from Sweden indicated that Don Lemon was much more accurate than his guest and supposed expert in representing rape and violent crime rates in Sweden. What had been offered was hyperbole and distortion by pointing to a one year spike and ignoring the overall pattern of declining rates of violence and sexual assault. Even when there were outstanding examples of violence, as there was two evenings ago, the riots looked tame compared to those that have occurred frequently in American cities. And they are much rarer, one about every second year. In these cases, Middle Eastern refugees were involved.

But there was no rape. There was no violence – though one police officer was slightly injured. When there is violence, the perpetrators were much more likely to be right-wing extremists than immigrants. Swedes seem to know this and a majority continue to support the intake of refugees and migrants. Nevertheless, Trumpists insist that there is a media conspiracy to cover up the incidents of rape and violence in Sweden.

However, even if we have some glimpse of what we face in the world of persuasion, how can we use our rational and communicative skills to best effect? When we try to persuade another, do we first attempt to establish the facts or, as the ancient Sophists did, focus on arête or virtue, on values of the highest order – excellence in other words? If the latter, what rhetorical and philosophic techniques are required? Or do we set aside argument and discourse altogether and instead opt for authenticity, opt for giving witness to what you believe to be true as opposed to the claims of the Other.

Mel Gibson’s totally unsubtle and sometimes saccharine Hacksaw Ridge, with the most gruesome and graphic scenes of the maelstrom of war I have ever seen, tells the “true” story of a conscientious objector, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), as the true believer and saint-like figure who served as a U.S. medic in the war against the Japanese in Okinawa. He won the highest award for bravery, the U.S. Medal of Honor. Doss volunteered to serve, but given his faith (he was a Seventh Day Adventist) and promise to God, he would not bear arms. In Gibson’s interpretation, this superhero combined an open-hearted approach to life with steely determination to defend his beliefs.

Some of his fellow soldiers viewed that as cowardice and bullied and beat him. His commanding officers treated his behaviour as disobedience and undertook an effort to have him court martialled. But through witnessing to his faith, through his unqualified brave actions in battle, he proved them all wrong. He did not use argument to defend his case, but he did need an order from a superior officer in Washington that conscientious objectors serving as medics need not bear arms. But most of all, he needed to prove they were wrong and more than did so in repeated acts of outstanding bravery in rescuing his fellow soldiers.

There are other ways to win arguments than with words and arguments. There are also other ways to lose arguments regardless of one’s skill with words and reason. Does the payment of money in exchange for such teaching these skills corrupt the process as Socrates proclaimed as he sought to establish the pursuit of Truth, Wisdom and Courage as the superior values for a warrior and aristocratic class? After all, Trumpists and anti-Trumpists often insist that supporters or opponents respectively are being paid to be there.  And senior executives of companies may indirectly be paid for touting the Trump presidency when they attend his “job” rallies because the company benefits from the positive publicity and the president promoting their products and their commitment to America. It is not they who have to pay off the president but the president who may be paying them off for being touts for himself.

Modern universities, though periodically invaded by corruption, have overwhelmingly proved the falsity of Socrates’ claims and shown that guaranteed wages and the principle of academic freedom have overwhelmingly protected the independence of scholars and scientists in both their teaching and research functions. By and large, responsible media outlets, and even irresponsible ones, have largely succeeded in drawing a line between the sources of their ad revenues and their news and editorial content. It should not be presumed in advance that material influences trump intellectual ones.

We have also learned that, contrary to Socrates, knowledge is not a single craft, but a multiplicity of tasks each with its own specialized vocabulary, techniques, objects of study and standards for assessing results. There is no singular path to knowledge. There is not even a singular Truth with a capital “T.” There is a difference between being a sage and being a scholar or research scientist. Most of the latter are not sages, as much as they may contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

In the ancient Greek world of Socrates, rhetorical skills were valued more than parsing arguments and evidence in a written work or stringing together depictions in a coherent way in a story or a novel. The latter was exemplified in the movie, Genius, the biopic of renowned Scribner’s editor, Max Perkins (Colin Firth), and his exuberant unboundaried novelist, Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River were, arguably, both made into coherent, readable and popular novels because of the concise effort of editing the logorrheic outpouring of the poetic prose of the American Walt Whitman of the twentieth century. In a book culture, arguments and evidence in science and scholarship, or narrative plots, themes and characterization in fiction, must be coherent to facilitate communication.

This is not the case where alternatives to persuasion are used. Incoherence, boring and meaningless repetition of phrases, body language and snorts or their equivalents in tweets, may be used to confound coherence and disparage criteria such as truth and consistency. When the message requires audience fragmentation, traditional and legacy media with standards of correspondence to facts and coherence in presentation must be regarded as the enemy to be undermined and debilitated. Following Donald Trump’s rant as an excuse for a news conference last week (16 February 2017), in a tweet the next day, he dubbed the news media “the enemy of the American people.” In the original version, he wrote: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @CNN, @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!” Given the grammar and style, he should have written sic! The illogic was best exemplified when he dubbed the leaks about his election campaign’s links to Russians authentic, but the reporting of those leaks, “fake news.”

We have four different groups in contention, however, not two. There are the modern scholars and scientists, journalists and writers who, like the ancient Sophists, adhere to standards of reasoning and establishing evidence, to techniques of differentiating truth from falsehood. In the other corner are the modern cynics, the dogged or dog-like (κυνικός – kynikos) celebrators of fame and fortune, of strength and power. Modern cynics are the very opposite of their Athenian predecessors – Antisthenes and Diogenes made famous in Plato’s dialogues. The latter became ideologues who insisted in turning the rigour and discipline of argument into an ascetic life style. Trump and his followers have replaced rigour and discipline with incoherence and rants.

The modern version of ancient cynicism are evangelicals with their narrow adherence to ideology. Paradoxically, they unite with modern cynics because both disparage rigour in thought and use of language. The two groups are united in a single camp because of their opposition to the use of reason and reflection, attention to facts and follies, as a method for establishing truth. For contemporary cynics as ideologues as well as cynical inversions of those ancient practitioners, Truth is either revealed or it is whatever I believe. It is not something to be pursued.

In addition to the Sophists, there is a fourth group. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. From very different perspectives, they were philosophers. Like the ancient cynics and their modern evangelical ideologues, they believed in Truth with a capital “T”. Like the sophists, they believed Truth, along with the virtue of Justice, could be established by adherence to the principles of reason, of consistency in argument, of correspondence with facts and of coherence in weaving it altogether. Unlike the sophists who revered the techniques of rationality and made no claims about an ultimate revelation, these philosophers believed that they could reveal that Truth and uncover the principles of Justice through reason alone.

The partnership of sceptical sophists and rational philosophers, Camp A, opposed the members of Camp B, the union of believers in sincerity and goodness of human motives and actions (evangelical ideologues) with the contemporary cynics of disbelief and insincerity who regard human motives and actions to be fundamentally base. Linking the evangelical ideologues and the contemporary cynics are the economic ideologues who believe human motives are strictly self-interested, but, like the evangelical ideologues, have constructed an ideology, materialistic rather than value-based, indifferent to facts and arguments that predetermine how the economic order is to be constructed.

The question then is when there are no rules of discourse, when frameworks trump dialogue, how do the members of Camp A persuade those who belong to Camp B? The members of both camps speak the same language with the same grammatical rules, but the rules of logic and the rules of falsification differ dramatically. They are not shared. At least by the core members of one camp versus those of another. That is where one finds an opening in the gaps between the core and the periphery and in the divisions among the sub-groups in Camp B. Before one can take advantage of those openings, it is necessary to establish common grounds for Camp A.

In the next blog, I inquire into what we can learn from ancient Greeks caught up with the question of persuasion.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Politics and the Administration of Justice

Politics and the Administration of Justice: Yitro: Exodus 18:1 – 20:23

by

Howard Adelman

My commentary is restricted to Chapter 18.

The Israelites, or, at least Moses, had been taught the basics of diplomacy and how to deal with an irrational and vengeful tyrant. The Israelites were then taught some core lessons in the art of war. Diplomacy and military skills may be necessary for a people to be secure. But the key will be politics, the ability of a people to govern themselves.

“But I thought that the Israelites were governed by God!” That is a misconception. Parshat Yitro illustrates that this conception is erroneous. The Israelites had fought and won a glorious and impossible victory. Last shabat was shabat shira, the shabat of song and rejoicing when Miriam with song and timbrel against the backdrop of the sea led the Israelites and danced and sang the night away. The God of tradition, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the god of diplomacy and wrath who subsequently revealed Himself as a warrior God, a God of war, has now made room for pleasure and joy, for happiness and delight. God talks but He does not sing. It is we who sing in praise of God – and other things. Does God now reveal Himself to His people, to all his people, as a god who can teach the people the arts of government and not just the arts of war?

Water was scarce. The principles of change had been transformed into the principles of security and resistance against change. Food too had been scarce. Neither the earth nor the heavens opened up to feed the people. Their souls were starving even more than their bodies. Little did they know that the exhilaration of victory would be followed by the long and dark tunnel of struggle, of resentment. Appreciation for what they had and for what they had accomplished had been replaced by resentment and self-pity. The water they drank had become bitter.

The water is made sweet. The heavens and the earth yield, if not their bounty, sufficient amounts to survive. And the military tradition becomes professionalized as Joshua defeats Amalek, with Aaron and Hur each holding one arm of Moses on the hill overseeing the battle.

Against this backdrop, Jethro (Yitro), Moses’ father-in-law, appears on the scene to reunite Moses with his wife, Zipporah, and his two sons, Gershom (stranger in a foreign land) and Eliezer (God is my help). Moses will have to introduce his people to a land that will not be foreign, but will be their own land. Moses will also have to help his people learn self-reliance and not be so dependent on God’s help and assistance. But Moses, himself, in keeping his family safe while everyone else risked their own families, demonstrated that he was not fully of the people. The other Israelites had their families, their wives and children with them. Further, Moses himself was still far too reliant on God.

Why were Zipporah, Gershom and Eliezer left in the safety of the home of Jethro while Moses took on the Egyptians in an epic diplomatic and military battle? The question is not only not answered, it is not even asked. Instead, Moses updated his father-in-law, not an Israelite but a Midianite priest. The next day, Jethro watched Moses serve as the magistrate of his people resolving disputes among them.

The scene reminded me of one when I was first introduced to Arafat. We were in Gaza. It was about 10:00 p.m. in the evening. We were ushered into a large room with chairs all around the perimeter of the room. There were perhaps 16-18 people occupying those chairs. Recall, it was 10:00 p.m. in the evening. We were escorted past those waiting supplicants into a smaller reception area where four others were waiting. We did not sit but stood. Soon, two individuals emerged from another adjacent room. One brushed past us and the other invited us to follow him in.

Arafat came out from behind his desk, grasped each of our hands with both of his and greeted us warmly. We were individually introduced, all four of us, and Arafat nodded at the introduction. There was no translation into Arabic and it was not clear to me whether Arafat followed the introductions. Pleasantries were exchanged and then we were invited by our escort to follow him out of the room, but not before there was some more grasping of hands and smiling nods.

When we left and were once again outside, I asked the leader of our group, a very experienced diplomat, what that was all about. He said it was a courtesy introduction before we could continue our discussions in Gaza. My question, however, was not about the perfunctory introduction, since it was clear that it had just been a formality. I wanted to know what Arafat was doing seeing people in the late evening with twenty or so waiting to talk to him.

I was told that this is what Arafat did and often until three in the morning. He saw Palestinians who wanted a favour, a disposition, an intervention in a domestic or business dispute, or on any other matter under the sun. It might be a request to adjudicate a dispute with a next door neighbour over a fence line. Arafat had never been educated by Jethro. He lacked a father-in-law to serve as a mentor. Arafat was performing as Moses did before Jethro arrived on the scene in Sinai.

13. It came about on the next day that Moses sat down to judge the people, and the people stood before Moses from the morning until the evening. יגוַֽיְהִי֙ מִמָּ֣חֳרָ֔ת וַיֵּ֥שֶׁב משֶׁ֖ה לִשְׁפֹּ֣ט אֶת־הָעָ֑ם וַיַּֽעֲמֹ֤ד הָעָם֙ עַל־משֶׁ֔ה מִן־הַבֹּ֖קֶר עַד־הָעָֽרֶ

Unlike the Palestinians in Gaza waiting to see Arafat who had seats, the Israelites waiting to see Moses had to stand for hours.

14. When Moses’ father in law saw what he was doing to the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you sit by yourself, while all the people stand before you from morning till evening?” ידוַיַּרְא֙ חֹתֵ֣ן משֶׁ֔ה אֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־ה֥וּא עֹשֶׂ֖ה לָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מָֽה־הַדָּבָ֤ר הַזֶּה֙ אֲשֶׁ֨ר אַתָּ֤ה עֹשֶׂה֙ לָעָ֔ם מַדּ֗וּעַ אַתָּ֤ה יוֹשֵׁב֙ לְבַדֶּ֔ךָ וְכָל־הָעָ֛ם נִצָּ֥ב עָלֶ֖יךָ מִן־בֹּ֥קֶר עַד־עָֽרֶב:

Jethro remonstrated Moses. Moses had made the Israelites stand for a long time and did not respect the dignity he owed each of his people. He was akin to the physician who has all his patients come early and accumulate lest the doctor lose time waiting. For hours, the Israelites stood while he, Moses, sat. Secondly, Moses handled all the adjudication personally. Moses replied to Jethro in a defensive way. “I did not ask them to come. They sought me out. Secondly, they came to see me not just to seek a resolution of a relatively petty problem, but to seek God’s ruling on such matters. They come to seek God. In other words, as God’s stand-in, I, Moses, am only a conduit for God’s word.” We are presented with a case of government which is neither responsible nor responsive, neither representative nor respectful,

15Moses said to his father in law, “For the people come to me to seek God. טווַיֹּ֥אמֶר משֶׁ֖ה לְחֹֽתְנ֑וֹ כִּֽי־יָבֹ֥א אֵלַ֛י הָעָ֖ם לִדְר֥שׁ אֱלֹהִֽים:

As far as Jethro was concerned, that was no answer at all. For at least two consequentialist reasons. The process would wear out Moses and would also make the people weary – all that waiting, and in terrible circumstances just at a time when they needed relief, not a further weighty burden.

17. Moses’ father in law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not good. יזוַיֹּ֛אמֶר חֹתֵ֥ן משֶׁ֖ה אֵלָ֑יו לֹא־טוֹב֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתָּ֖ה עֹשֶֽׂה:
18. You will surely wear yourself out both you and these people who are with you for the matter is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. יחנָבֹ֣ל תִּבֹּ֔ל גַּם־אַתָּ֕ה גַּם־הָעָ֥ם הַזֶּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עִמָּ֑ךְ כִּֽי־כָבֵ֤ד מִמְּךָ֙ הַדָּבָ֔ר לֹֽא־תוּכַ֥ל עֲשׂ֖הוּ לְבַדֶּֽךָ:
19. Now listen to me. I will advise you, and may the Lord be with you. [You] represent the people before God, and you shall bring the matters to God. יטעַתָּ֞ה שְׁמַ֤ע בְּקֹלִי֙ אִיעָ֣צְךָ֔ וִיהִ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים עִמָּ֑ךְ הֱיֵ֧ה אַתָּ֣ה לָעָ֗ם מ֚וּל הָֽאֱלֹהִ֔ים וְהֵֽבֵאתָ֥ אַתָּ֛ה אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים אֶל־הָֽאֱלֹהִֽים:
20. And you shall admonish them concerning the statutes and the teachings, and you shall make known to them the way they shall go and the deed[s] they shall do. כוְהִזְהַרְתָּ֣ה אֶתְהֶ֔ם אֶת־הַֽחֻקִּ֖ים וְאֶת־הַתּוֹרֹ֑ת וְהֽוֹדַעְתָּ֣ לָהֶ֗ם אֶת־הַדֶּ֨רֶךְ֙ יֵ֣לְכוּ בָ֔הּ וְאֶת־הַמַּֽעֲשֶׂ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יַֽעֲשֽׂוּן:
21. But you shall choose out of the entire nation men of substance, God fearers, men of truth, who hate monetary gain, and you shall appoint over them [Israel] leaders over thousands, leaders over hundreds, leaders over fifties, and leaders over tens. כאוְאַתָּ֣ה תֶֽחֱזֶ֣ה מִכָּל־הָ֠עָ֠ם אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל יִרְאֵ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים אַנְשֵׁ֥י אֱמֶ֖ת שׂ֣נְאֵי בָ֑צַע וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ עֲלֵהֶ֗ם שָׂרֵ֤י אֲלָפִים֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מֵא֔וֹת שָׂרֵ֥י חֲמִשִּׁ֖ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י עֲשָׂרֹֽת

Simply put – delegate. Give the lesser matters to others and only involve yourself in the very major disputes. Note, there is no separation of powers between executive and judicial functions. The judiciary are still named and appointed by Moses and are only permitted to rule on relatively minor matters. Further, they also serve as political leaders to apply the laws handed down from Moses.

But they are chosen based on their rectitude, their unconcern with using their positions to advance their monetary interests for they are already men of substance, men of chayil (חַ֜֜יִל) in the material sense and in a sense that they carry with them gravitas. For chayil refers not only to wealth, but to strength of character, a man of moral worth, hence, a man of substance. They are serious men. They must also be both honest and God-fearing in order to carry out their responsibilities. It is as if they put their property in a blind trust. After all, the Talmud, as Rashi cites it, says, “Any judge from whom money is exacted through litigation is not [fit to be] a judge.” [based on Mechilta and B.B. 58b] They must use their positions only to judge honestly and impartially.

This is not a lesson in self-government. It is still a top-down system. There is still no differentiation between the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative arms of government. God legislates. Moses serves as the magistrate and organizes the implementation of both the legislative and judicial functions.

The second lesson offers the criteria for choosing leaders who are also judicial officers. They must be men of wealth. They must be honest men whose gains are not ill-gotten. They must be trustworthy that they will implement what they decide. They must also be God-fearing.

There is a third lesson hidden among all the other recommendations. It is a statement in verse 19. “You represent the people before God.” Moses has his position, not as the undisputed leader of or over the Israelites, but as the representative of the Israelites before God. His primary job is not top-down, even though he performs that function; it is bottom-up – to represent the people. Thus, we get the first glimmerings of democracy as well as the first steps towards efficient government and the requirement that the men who make up that government be chosen on the basis of a very lofty set of values.

Note the following. The values are eternal and unchanging and are delivered from on high, from above. The lesson about efficiency comes from the side, from a foreigner. Though he came to respect the power of the Israeli god, there is nothing said about his conversion as Rashi implied. The Israelites had to remain open to others, non-Israelite lights.

If authority in values come from above, ideas on how to organize the system of authority came from the outside and by means of a non-Israelite agent. The Israelis had to remain open to outside influences. Third, interests flowed from below and Moses’ prime job was to represent the people as a whole to God. Not special interests. But everyone’s interests. The nation’s interest.

We now have the basic skeleton for a polity.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman