Opulence and Frugality Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10)

Last Friday I wrote about the extravagance and opulence of the mishkan and linked it with a theory of property. The description of its opulence is repeated and expanded in this week’s portion and I want to use that depiction to discuss both the ethics and politics of wealth. The ethics discussion focuses on how one handles personal wealth. The political discussion focuses on how the community or society deals with allowing individuals to engage responsibly in the use and distribution of wealth.

The description of the opulence and its detail are mind boggling. For example, the olive oil has to be pure and used to light the mishkan eternally even though the light provides no function the vast majority of the time.

With respect to the political use of the wealth, why dress Aaron and his sons, the priests, in such expensive clothing? Why Aaron in particular who is such a passive personality? Look at what they were to wear: a choshen hanging from two golden rings attached to two golden chains. On that breastplate were attached twelve precious stones, four rows of three stones each, in gold settings, the two shoham stones on which were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, six names on each, and the breastplate chains attached in turn to the gold rings at the corners of the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and crimson wool, and twisted fine linen, the work of a master weaver. The priest also wore a robe, a tunic of checker work, a cap and a sash.

Why the excessive finery? The answer offered – for honour and glory. (28:2) What is the honour? Aaron is sanctified. What is the glory? To become a bondsman to God and serve Him, for Aaron is tasked with carrying the names of the twelve tribes on the two stones “as a remembrance.” To remember is to glorify God. But the answer goes deeper. For attached to the ephod were the Urim and Thummim, singular terms in spite of their plural endings. What were they for?

Cutting through all the various theories, the most convincing to me is that Urim refers to the one who is cursed, the one who is found guilty, while Thummim refers to innocence. They were the means of rendering judgement and possibly the means of deciding who was innocent and who guilty, as in cleromancy. They were akin to the Tablets of Destiny worn in Babylon by Marduk, here made plural to enhance the majesty of the objects. For the priests were dressed up in all that regalia to dispense legal justice.

Honour. Glory. The majesty of justice and the law. The people needed to be impressed. They needed to be in awe of not only God, but his laws and judgements. “Thus shall Aaron carry the names of the sons of Israel in the choshen of judgment over his heart when he enters the Holy, as a remembrance before the Lord at all times.” (Exodus 28:29)

The text goes on. The robe had to be of pure wool, bordered and decorated in a specific way as if the dedicated specificity itself supplied proof of the authority and accuracy of God’s commands and judgement. The robe had to have a showplate of pure gold on which was engraved, “Holy to the Lord,” in case anyone missed the point. The text is anything but subtle. Josephus may have invested each jewel, each colour, each sash with symbolic meaning. Philo may have invested each drop of blood placed on the priest’s right ear, right thumb and large right toe as standing for purity in each word heard, in each action taken and in the path one takes in life. But the real significance was the effect of the whole.

That is how you invest people with formal authority even though Aaron demonstrated not a single sign that he could himself be a source of authentic authority. When God slew Aaron’s two sons for making a possible minor error in the fire used in the priestly rituals, Aaron was silent. He sat there and he “doan say nuttin.” And that is perhaps why he was chosen, to be a mere vessel of the divine will. His costuming was intended to communicate dignity, not his mind, not his heart, not his soul. It would be akin to making Mike Pence the head of the Supreme Court.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that when Moses is away and the people demand a visible god that Aaron is the one who creates the golden calf. What an inversion of an alpha male. Aaron is often described as a man of peace, as a humble man, as an introvert rather than an extrovert. In reality, he seems to be a pushover for wherever the wind is blowing. He had to be invested with dignity since he as himself had none. Recall that God was still torn between wanting to govern humans who simply followed edicts blindly, who were patsies, or whether He wanted his people to mature and take responsibility for themselves and what they did. Over time, God would learn and reveal that his mission was the latter. This whole parashat is evidence that God was still of a mind that all He wanted was emissaries of his own divine will. But that sensibility, ironically, was of immeasurable value in the development of and the acceptance of human responsibility. The God of revelation exhibited its own ironic truth.

The reality is that such a position gives humans enormous strength as evidenced by Holocaust survivors who gave testimony in their lives and in their faith in following Halakhah in the concentration camps in spite of all the evidence surrounding them that they had been abandoned by God. Their sense of dignity, their sense of worth, came from a higher authority even when they were stripped of all the ostentation of religious authority. But what about the few who preserved their sense of self, their sense of worth in spite of both the horrors of the camp, but without any reliance that they were any longer just funnels for a divine will? A much greater challenge!

When each type stands before the grim reaper in the face of gross and grotesque injustice, one principle stands out. They are equal in the eyes of God. And they are equal in the court of judgement. The court is ruled by the principle of equality before the law. Thus, “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when they give the offering of the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.” (Exodus 30:15) And it goes both ways, both concerning the giving and the taking away.

Here, I eat into next week’s portion. “Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore, for it is holy unto you; every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death (my italics); for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Exodus 31:14) What Nehemiah found when he returned from Babylon was fish sellers and merchants selling their wares in the square before the temple on shabat. Order had to be restored. The rule of law had to be made majestic again. The people had to be purified. 3,000 Jews had to be slaughtered to make a point that would have made the Ayatollah proud. “Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel: Put ye every man his sword upon his thigh, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.” (Exodus 32:27)

To carry out such heinous acts in the name of a divine command seems to demand rows of medals on the commanding officer and ornate garb on the priests of justice, a God that glitters and shines among them and behaves as a boastful braggadocio. It is not surprising that those who want their priests to be humble but dressed in glamour end up with leaders that are the very opposite and lead them down a path to hell.

The dialectic is not a synthesis of humility and high purpose, of gravity and grace, for they exist in tension unresolved but raised to higher levels. By reifying that tension at a very early stage of development, as Ezra and Nehemiah tried to do, you end up with empty formal authority without any authenticity. Thank God that their effort to revive the priesthood failed in the end, and that teachers, rabbis rather than priests, became the vehicle for carrying the religion forward.

Parashat Tetzave this year falls on Shabat Zakhor when the command to wipe out the memory of Amalek is repeated in synagogues throughout the world. It is well to remember who Amalek represents. For Deuteronomy reminds us, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the journey, after you left Egypt.” God may be about remembering. But the Israelites were commanded also to forget. “(Y)ou should blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Deuteronomy 25:19)

Egyptians may have enslaved the Israelites. The Egyptian military and royal family may have resented and feared the Israelites for their proliferation. For the Egyptians, the Israelites were tools for their economy and scapegoats for the failures of the ruling class. Why was Amalek so much worse? We are commanded to remember what the Egyptians did. We are commanded to wipe out the memory of Amalek. Why the difference?

My thesis is that Amalek does not refer to a minor tribe who were once defeated by the Israelites, but to a type. Amalek is derived from, “am,” people, and ā-lek/’alek < עאלכ/עלכ: which translates as, “Sure, as if” you were the people of Amalek, losers on the stage of history to be cast into its dust bin.

What then is the political ethos? Here, we are not concerned with distributive justice, with the redistribution of wealth to alleviate suffering and enhance equality of opportunity. We are concerned with regarding each individual as having an equal standing before the law and the judgements of history. We are concerned with innocence and guilt and not justice as fairness. Confusing the two categories is a serious mistake with grave consequences, but that is a discussion for another day.

In the realm of legal and historical justice, the majesty and authority of those who render judgement must be enhanced even when the occupants of high office are fools. Costuming does that. Setting does that. And these are important lest we confuse the principles and the laws with the individuals occupying such a position for the historical moment. We are commanded to wipe out the memory of Amalek so that we can be blind in the court of justice to human differences.

When you see a statue of the Lady of Justice blindfolded, it is not simply that justice must be blind to the differences of those brought before the court, but must also be blind to the differences between the individuals holding such a high office. For the judge may be a fool, but the system of justice must retain its respect. The system of justice requires coercion on the one hand – the Lady of Justice carries a sword – and the scales of justice in which the evidence must be weighed and balanced. Most think that the blindfold is only intended to refer to the individuals charged. It is also intended to refer to the person making the determination. In that moment, we are commended to forget Amalek, to bracket that ordinary and weak humans may occupy such high office. For it is the people who bear the responsibility for ensuring and respecting the majesty of both the court of law and the court of memory.

There is an economic dimension to this segment, and, as I wrote above, it is not about distributive justice. Rather, it is about ensuring that the surplus wealth of a community is held and managed by a transcendent body, by a federal reserve as it were, and neither by individuals, nor, even worse, by a populist mob. Central banking, financial regulation and public finance must be held by an independent authority, independent of popular will.

I was told the other day, to my chagrin, that the world’s financial system was controlled by the Rothschilds. I do not believe the person was antisemitic. He was simply your typical conspiracy theorist about central bankers. He is an anarchist who would reclaim the gold held at the centre to guarantee business exchanges and redistribute it to the people so they can melt it down and make golden calves. The fierce pugilists of the populist right do not trust centralized and independent banking. They would tear down the mishkan and redistribute the wealth to the twelve tribes.

But if there is to be a nation-state and not just an aggregate of grubbing individualists, then it is important that a nation has a central institution that is a repository of wealth and that carries with it majesty and authority to dispense financial as well as criminal justice. It must be a repository of memory while always remembering the people it serves. When a federal reserve or a central bank forgets that mission, it allows its pomposity to go to its head.

We are thrust between the Scylla of populism and the Charybdis of plutocratic arrogance. It was the genius of the Israelites and their God that they created an institution designed to ride through the storms that could tear the nation asunder. Populists are hypocrites who would hold two opposite positions and ignore the difference between the Scylla and the Charybdis. In the case of Andrew Jackson, who railed against Alexander Hamilton’s insistence on the necessity for a federal reserve, he hated paper money but wanted to give the states unlimited authority to print as much of it as they wanted. He hated the idea of gold-backed currency but exhibited an unlimited passion for gold. What he wanted, in reality, as Donald Trump does today, is to accrue all economic authority to himself so that he alone could decide how to use, and, therefore, abuse, a nation’s wealth.

In the end, the most important feature of the mishkan and the majesty and opulence of its wealth is to serve as an institution without which there cannot even be distributive justice.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address and Migrants Part IV: Walls

Walls keep people out. Walls keep people in. Walls are revered – think of the Western or Wailing Wall, the Kotel, in Jerusalem, the remaining structure of the Hebrews’ great temple to their God. What is often forgotten in the reverence for any wall is why it became sacred. As told in the Book of Ezra/Nehemiah in Ezra’s story of the return of the exiles from Babylon under the protection of Cyrus the Great, and as retold by the prophet Nehemiah, the Jerusalem wall was not only an instrument for physical protection but was viewed as a way to separate Jews from gentiles given the rate of intermarriage that Ezra and Nehemiah found upon their return.

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, he found that, “the people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the land…they have taken from their daughters for themselves and for their sons, and mixed the holy seed with the peoples of the land.” (Ezra 9:1-2) This is how chapter 13 of the final book of the Torah ends, in praise of a wall of ethnic and linguistic separation and division.

1.On that day they read in the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and therein was found written, that an Ammonite and a Moabite should not enter into the assembly of God for ever;

2 because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, to curse them; howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing.

3 And it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the alien mixture.

For Nehemiah saw that: “(23) the Jews that had married women of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab; (24) and their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people.”

Nehemiah, a former assimilated Jew and high official in the Persian imperial administration, returned to the land of Judah for three reasons: 1) to ameliorate the deplorable physical conditions of both Jerusalem and its Jewish community; 2) to provide physical protection from, not only the Ammonites, but also the Samaritans who had not been deported to Babylon and saw themselves as the true heirs of Torah; neither group viewed Jerusalem as the capital. Perhaps most importantly, Nehemiah returned 3) to re-establish the ethnic identity and purity of the heirs of Judah. (Ch. 13)

The building of the wall around the Temple was viewed as a physical, religious arrier and a demographic barrier. Nehemiah “built with one hand, while holding daggers in the other” (Nehemiah 4:11) while resisting what he saw as the challenge of intermarriage to the ethnic purity of the Jewish people. Ironically, the book Ezra/Nehemiah was written in Aramaic; the only other book of scripture not written in Hebrew was the Book of Daniel. Yet, Nehemiah raged against what he insisted was the widespread inability of the children of intermarriages to speak Hebrew.

Is this reminiscent of some contemporary populist nationalist politicians? “We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.” (Viktor Orbán) Can bans on intermarriage be far behind?

Walls are so often symbolic. I know it is almost a cliché, but Robert Frost in Mending Wall is always worth quoting, if only to ensure even more that he is not endorsing the phrase he quotes from his next-door landowner, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

“Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.”

In Toronto, we built a drywall between our lawn, which is about 30” higher than the street, and the sidewalk. People passing sometimes stop to sit on it. I do not mind, except when they leave their coffee cups behind. Or their bags of dog pooh. That wall does not divide but reinforces. It is not massive like the brick retaining wall that supports the terrace in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Carlton D. Wall House in Plymouth, Michigan, but it is a fortification rather than a separation barrier.

Think of how walls are now denigrated for dividing what people currently believe should be united. Frank Lloyd Wright was a different kind or architectural prophet in introducing the open plan for the modern home in places where functions should be linked rather than separated. In contemporary housing design, we have taken the walls down between our kitchens, our dining rooms and living rooms. What walls do is never unite.

Walls fail to protect all the time, even if at first they appear to do so. I am in Mexico and I am reminded that,

“Hernán Cortés’ men met a wall

of arrows, then turned and ran.

Montezuma’s men met a wall of armor,

wept, then stoned their chief off the wall

for helping the conquistadores.”

The Walls by Ray Gonzalez

The reality is that humans build too many walls and not enough bridges. Haruki Murakami said it well in his acceptance speech for the Jerusalem Prize in 2009. “We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us — create who we are. It is we who created the system.”

The introduction to Virgil’s great twelve-part epic poem, the Aeneid, that serves as a fictional justification (or condemnation?) of the Roman Empire, ends the verse referring to the “lofty walls of Rome.” Or is it the “walls of lofty Rome,” as the great classicist Daniel Mendelsohn would translate it. If the first, walls were revered in Rome to keep the barbarians out. That is how Hadrian, the emperor who succeeded his cousin, Trajan, read it. Further, he first confirmed to himself that he would be Trajan’s successor by using the Aeneid to predict his fate when he read the line at which he arbitrarily opened the poem, “I recognize that he is the king of Rome.”

In the second century AD, he built the 73 mile Hadrian’s Wall through what would become northern England to keep the Picts, the wild men further north, from invading southward. Hadrian believed in lofty walls, not a lofty Rome, for civilization needed protection from barbarians rather than further extension to spread the sense of law and justice to the rest of the world that so elevated the Roman people. For Hadrian never felt secure either in his personal role, earned by inheritance and good fortune rather than merit, or in the mission of Rome to spread civilization to the rest of the world. Hadrian, believing that his mission had been imposed upon him “by divine instruction” focused on keeping the empire intact.

Walls can be monuments to insecurity, perhaps initially justified, as with the walls that separate Israel from the West Bank, Israel from Gaza and Israel from the Sinai and the threat from terrorists, and, I would add, illegitimately, from refugee claimants from Sudan and Eritrea. The Great Wall of China in the end never kept the Mongol hordes from invading and conquering China. Over six decades in the thirteenth century, Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan swept into China, crushed the Yuan Dynasty and established the Mongol Empire.

Walls are not only built to keep people out. They are built to keep people in. Think of the Berlin Wall the construction of which started on 13 August 1961 to prevent the people of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) from fleeing to the West. This symbol of the Cold War and of communist oppression was dismantled on 9 November 1889.

Walls are not just physical structures. They serve as barriers to ideas and values that threaten a military order built on sand. Walls surround prisons and concentration camps. Walls restrict freedom of movement physically and mentally. They are not just barriers against the threat of violence, but are ways to keep those outside walls from looking in and observing the coercion, the exploitation, the outright sadism, that goes on behind those walls. (See Shane Bauer’s American Prisons.)

However, not all walls are imposed from without to imprison those within. Some erect walls around their minds to keep new ideas out. These are often the strongest walls, the ones placed within one’s own head and heart. Then you live a life of nostalgia carrying every memory, both small and large, like stones and building blocks in a wall. That wall is stronger than one built of masonry. It is very difficult to breach and often impenetrable. The best that one can do is not butt your head against the wall directly, but rather pull the stones out from the bottom that support the wall.

“Today, we have a true democracy in Iran. Parties, newspapers and the media are free in this country, and all authorities must approach elections with an open mind. The more our mind is open, the readier we will be to prepare the groundwork for the presence of all thoughts, parties and factions.” The latter is a sentiment with which I fully agree. If only the facts on which it was premised were accurate! If only President Hassan Rouhani sincerely meant the words he uttered in Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square when he addressed the Iranian people on the fortieth anniversary of the 1979 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini coup!

Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address and Migrants     Part III: The Balderdash of Barriers at the Border

Donald Trump, a skeezy hustler rather than a “plutocrat with impeccable business instincts,” Donald Trump, insecure in the legitimacy of his presidency, has been so dedicated to keeping out prying eyes from the sordidness of his business dealings that it should be no surprise that he wants walls to keep people out. It should also be no surprise that he has invested so much of his diminishing political capital in his campaign promise to build a wall on America’s southern border with Mexico. The wall is much more important as a symbol than as a real barrier. For in his florid imagination, Trump needed a wall. But facts first and symbolism later.

It has not been because of real threats. Trump opined: “We have terrorists coming through the southern border because they find that’s probably the easiest place to come through. They drive right in and they make a left.” However, there may have been up to a half dozen terrorists who entered the U.S. through the northern border with Canada, and all at legal entry points. However, Trump does not campaign to build a wall along the Canadian border.

Further, in spite of his portrayal of Mexico as a portal for terrorists, a State Department report of September 2017 (Country Reports on Terrorism) released a year later found that, “Counterterrorism cooperation between Mexico and the United States remained strong in 2017. Improved information sharing regarding migrant populations constituted a major step forward. At year’s end there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States. [my emphasis] The U.S. southern border remains vulnerable to potential terrorist transit, although terrorist groups likely seek other means of trying to enter the United States.”

The report covering Canada is much longer. Unlike Mexico, Canada has been home to “violent extremists inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida and their affiliates and adherents.” When it comes to land crossings, Canada, unlike Mexico, has been a source of terrorist suspects entering the U.S., though not in great numbers. By far the majority of people who arouse concern try to enter by air. “By the end of 2017, approximately 180 Canadian citizens or permanent residents had traveled abroad to engage in terrorist activity in Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS and approximately 60 have since returned to Canada.” Yet there has never been a suggestion that a wall be built along the Canadian border.

On 3 February 2019 on CBS’s Face the Nation, Trump actually put forth the position that, “Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.” It was a repetition of what he had said two days earlier. “Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery.”

This is the portrait Trump paints of the caravans, mostly consisting of women and children, fathers and brothers from Central America moving through Mexico to make refugee claims at America’s legal points of entry. And just a few days ago. “Human trafficking by airplane is almost impossible. Human trafficking by van and truck, in the back seat of a car, and going through a border where there’s nobody for miles and miles, and there’s no wall to protect — it’s very easy. They make a right, then they make a left. They come into our country. And they sell people.”

These are not facts. There is virtually no evidence to back up such claims. These are products of a fevered imagination and/or a political calculus to stir up fear. His proof offered in his State of the Union Address: “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

In fact, the Secure Fence Act from 2006 during the George W. Bush administration led to the construction of a fence in El Paso between 2008 and 2009. However, violent crime reached a peak in 1993. 6,500 violent crimes were committed that year. Between 1993 and 2006, crime in the city fell 34%. Two years after the wall was completed, crime rates were actually up 17% from 2006 to 2011.

Police-community relations and cooperation between law enforcement agencies at different political levels were the main factors that contributed to the city’s safety before the border fence was even constructed. It is believed by many that the decision to construct the fence by federal authorities contributed to a degree in the breakdown of those relations. Much more importantly, building the wall “reduced trust and cooperation in immigrant communities” with law enforcement authorities.

“Police chiefs know that to be effective at crime control in this community-policing era, they must have public support. If local police are perceived as immigration enforcement officers, immigrants—both documented and undocumented— will avoid contact with police because of fear of arrest and deportation of themselves or a family member; 85 percent of immigrants in the U.S. live in mixed-status families.” (The Police Foundation Report 2009)

Take another border town, Nogales, Arizona. There a barrier wall was considered insufficient. The army strung miles of barbered concertina wire to further divide the intimately integrated 400,000 people of Nogales, Arizona, USA and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The population is split between the two municipalities roughly 50/50. Meredith Mingledorff, spokesperson for the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP), announced that CBP was in the process of adding four to six additional lines of concertina wire in “high-risk urban areas commonly exploited by criminal smuggling organizations” on U.S. government property, outside of the town’s jurisdiction.

After all, city officials would never have permitted it. They saw no threats. Since the opening of the maquiladora industry through the National Industrialization Program in Mexico, economic integration had increased enormously. Further, American citizens of Nogales resented making their city look like a prison or concentration camp. Yet the CBP claimed that, “Hardening of current infrastructure specifically in high-risk locations of the urban area help reduce the illicit activity, to include violent criminals, in these areas and increase the public safety.”

What threats? The 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of methamphetamine seized by border patrol agents in a Nogales bust were narcotics smuggled in a truck heading through a port of entry. A 50-foor long tunnel has been found before it could be used to smuggle drugs. Further, as virtually all studies have shown, undocumented migrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native Americans. U.S. border cities are generally safer than other U.S. cities. Crime rates there have either been stagnant or even dropped in recent years.

For example, in 2016, “border communities like Laredo, El Paso, Edinburg and Brownsville all saw fewer than 400 crimes for every 100,000 residents.” As a Nogales businessman, Eva Kory, said, “You hear on the news that an invasion is coming, but in fact, border communities have been invaded by our own government.” As U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva stated, “The additional wire is nothing more than a spectacle by the Trump administration to reinforce his twisted narrative of rampant lawlessness at the border.”

In his SOUA, DT claimed that, “San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.” However, San Diego’s original fencing was completed in 1994According to the Congressional Research Service, that fence alone “did not have a discernible impact” on the number of immigrants crossing the border into the United States illegally or in almost doubling the numbers apprehended between 1994 and 2018.

Do Trump and his supporters fear the demographic changes that seem so disproportionately favour the Democratic Party, a party in which support is based on a coalition of minorities, women, educated youth and progressives that once were the hallmarks of the Republican Party that Abraham Lincoln represented and in which Frederick Douglas, the greatest black American statesman of the nineteenth century, was a stalwart member?

The above recitations are just examples of the efforts to keep people out, even   though the effort to gain entry illegally declined by over 75% from the peak in 1993. 396,579 immigrants crossed the border illegally in 2018; in 2000, there were 1,643,679 arrests.

The other half of the effort entails kicking people out who are not legal residents of the U.S. by diverting resources into deportation, not just of felons, but of overstayers and those found without any proper visa at all. Even those legally in the U.S., but who are deemed likely to become a public charge because of their use of welfare and Medicaid, are being targeted for deportation. The number of undocumented migrants in the U.S, is currently at its lowest level since 2004. In fiscal year 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed 256,058 people; ICE removed 409,849 people in fiscal year 2012 during the Obama administration.

In his SOUA, Trump claimed that, “In the last 2 years, our brave ICE officers made 266,000 arrests of criminal aliens, including those charged or convicted of nearly 100,000 assaults, 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 killings.” The impression left was that the Trump administration had been more effective in deporting criminals. The facts are otherwise. Even according to a Trump apologist like Steven Camarota, excluding immigration violations, only 67,000 non-citizens in total were sentenced in the federal courts between 2011 and 2016. The total number in 2017 and 2018 had to be less than 30,000.

It is true that ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations made a total of 143,470 arrests in fiscal 2017, a 30% rise from fiscal 2016, largely in Florida, Oklahoma and northern Texas. The highest number of arrests (16,250) were made in the Dallas area. A border town like El Paso had among the fewest arrests (2,000). The reason: DT signed an executive order on 25 January that expanded ICE’s enforcement focus to most immigrants in the U.S. without authorization, regardless of whether they have a criminal record. Under President Barack Obama, by contrast, ICE prioritized the arrests of those convicted of serious crimes.

Under Trump, ICE shifted its focus from border to interior enforcement. In 2009, the year Obama came into office, with his focus on border enforcement and the arrest of non-citizens who had committed felonies, 297,898 were arrested, about twice the number of Trump in his first year in office. However, under Trump, though the number of arrests declined by about 50%, the percentage of those arrested for criminal offences rose from 39% to a majority with prior convictions. What were the vast majority of those convictions? Not assault. Traffic and drug offenses were the most common past convictions. In 2017, 48,454 had prior convictions or pending assault charges. But 62,517 had been arrested for immigration offenses, 76,503 for dangerous drug offenses and 148,893 for traffic offences.

However, the key reports that rile people up are not statistics, no matter how misleading, but notorious individual cases. On 25 April 2018, Luis Bracamontes was sentenced to death in a Sacramento court for killing two police officers on 24 October 2014, Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr. Bracamontes was an illegal migrant living in the U.S. Trump acolytes publicized this case to support Trump’s policies, ignoring that the arrest had been made under the Obama administration.

What was also ignored was that:

Bracamontes had been deported multiple times before his crime rampage on 24 October 2014

First arrested on charges related to marijuana possession in Phoenix in 1996, he was sentenced to four months in jail and then deported in 1997 when Bill Clinton was president

In 1998, Bracamontes was arrested on drug charges in Phoenix, then released by the office of the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, “for reasons unknown,” the same sheriff whom Donald Trump pardoned on 25 August 2017; Arpaio had been convicted of racial profiling in open defiance of a federal judge’s court order to stop and desist

LB last entered the country while George W. Bush was president and deported again when caught with marihuana

He lived near Salt Lake City until that fatal 2014 road trip fueled by methamphetamine ended in the two murders

Arpaio, ignoring the 1998 incident, in 2014 lamented the mushiness of federal immigration law; “Once again we are faced with another tragedy on our hands because of a form of ‘backdoor amnesty.”

There was no amnesty, only the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the Trump administration.

Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address and Migrants Part II: Legal Refugee Migration

In Part I, I dealt with DT’s ostensible support for more legal immigration, in particular, attracting immigrants who are very highly skilled and well resourced. Then why deny work authorization permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders? Why limit their ability to travel abroad? Further, DT’s efforts to limit family-sponsored migration stood out as being at odds with such a goal since many highly-skilled and well-resourced migrants want to be able to subsequently sponsor parents and adult children, particularly if they come from Asia or Africa. But the policy also applies to citizens with a Mexican heritage and sponsoring siblings. As one immigration lawyer put it in a case of a Mexican-American trying to sponsor his sister, “right now the processing time is looking like at least 20 years, if not longer.”

DT’s attacks on the lottery system which supports diversity and migration from countries that historically were underrepresented in the cohorts who had applied to migrate to the U.S., such as African countries, suggested that racism might possibly be the motive behind the criticism of the diversity lottery system, especially given DT’s record of discrimination against blacks in his family’s housing projects in Queens and, more recently, when he hosted his television show and was reported by Michael Cohen, his lawyer at the time, saying that he had not chosen Kwame Jackson, the black Goldman Sachs banker, to win in season 1, because, “There’s no way I can let this black fag win.”

DT has put in place hurdle after hurdle to the ease in obtaining a Green Card or permanent residency in the U.S. by:

  • Slowing down the processing of applications – the backlog increased by 35% by the end of 2017
  • Requiring in-person interviews with all applicants
  • Adding restrictions to applications for naturalization from non-citizens serving in the U.S. military and rescinding the policy of offering military recruits expedited citizenship after they complete their basic training
  • Limiting access to health and welfare benefits to immigrant applicants while DT lied openly about their abuse of federal assistance
  • Redefined and restricted eligibility for “specialty occupations” such as a computer programmer, as well as “employment” and “employer-employee relationship,” to reduce the numbers who qualify
  • An October 2017 policy memo gave visa officers the discretion to treat visa renewals in the same manner as new applications
  • Granting immigration officers absolute discretion to deny applications if there are any errors in the application, however minor, and, further, to initiate deportation proceedings immediately.

DT undermined and undercut a perfectly legal route to migrate to the U.S. under the American humanitarian refugee program. He:

  • initially suspended the refugee admissions program
  • reduced the number of humanitarian refugee admissions into the U.S from 110,000 in 2016 to 50,000 in 1917 and reduced the intake in 2018 to 20,000 even though the target was 45,000; he set a target of 30,000 for 2019, the lowest number in almost forty years.

DT’s claim that he supports increased legal migration is also undercut by his strong opposition and the policies he has put in place to decrease the ability of individuals to arrive at an American border, whether in an airport or on the southern border, who legally and properly want to claim Convention refugee status. What actions did he take?

  • Endorsed the practice of immigration patrol officers turning people away from legal points of entry when they indicate that they want to claim refugee status
  • Rescinded the right of all asylum seekers to a hearing before an immigration judge and permitting denial if the adjudicator determines upon initial review that the claim is fraudulent or has a low chance of success
  • Reduced the categories under which asylum claimants could justify that they were targeted from persecution, such as denying the right of an applicant to claim refugee status because he or she had been a target of spousal or gang violence
  • Limited the border crossings at which asylum claims could be filed
  • Enhanced vetting for refugee asylum applicants from 11 countries deemed to be “high-risk” – Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen
  • Limited the discretion accorded to refugee adjudication officers to positively approve claims
  • Absolutely barred entry to anyone, including asylum claimants, who come from specific Muslim countries.

All of these initiatives have been taken against a background in which the DT administration removed the language of the Statue of Liberty that celebrated America as a land which welcomed immigrants.

What lies behind these changes? Some are innocuous. Some are simply changes in the administration of immigrant and refugee movements to ensure improvements in processing. But many, if not most of the changes, are intended, not to calm fears citizens have of strangers, but to instill and roil those fears because:

  • Current citizens view newcomers as increased competition for jobs that they want
  • A belief that supporting migrants, and especially refugees, will create greater tax burdens on themselves
  • Still others believe that existing opportunities only provide the initial wedge to developing a totally open-door policy
  • Others base their resistance to resentment at literally changing the face of America and efforts to increase legal immigration are undercut by a nativist agenda.
  • For still others, it is an expression of their strong patriotism that in the end boils down to nativist narrow nationalism.

The reality, however, is that the majority of Americans are NOT driven to resist immigration by a mythological nostalgia for the past and a better America. Polling repeatedly demonstrates that a majority of Americans do not believe that immigration should decline. Although Trump trumpets his support for more legal immigration, the administration of even legal immigration suggests a white nationalist agenda. Ignoring the deterrent administrative initiatives to legal migration, legislation that Trump has supported would probably halve traditional legal levels. When administrative and legal initiatives are combined, the effect on traditional patterns of legal migration would be devastating.

However, as everyone knows, the most sensational news concerns illegal migration. Tomorrow morning, I will address that issue under the title of “The Balderdash of Barriers at the Border.”

God Instructs the Israelites to Build Him a Highly Adorned Sanctuary Why? Terumah: Exodus 25

 

God Instructs the Israelites to build Him a highly adorned portable sanctuary, a mishkan. Some commentators seem to be embarrassed by the extravagance and tend to downplay the adornment and the quality of the materials. As Dena Weiss writes, “The mishkan is a fitting home for God not because of its expensive materials and fine appearance, but because it was built by, and placed in the midst of God’s people.” (my italics) But the section opens with verse after verse of the expensive materials: gold, silver, brass, expensive dyed materials of blue, purple and scarlet made from goat’s hair and ram’s skins, sealskins and acacia wood, oil for the lights scented with expensive spices, onyx stones in the ephod and breastplate. (Exodus 25:3-7) Only then does God say (25:8) that the purpose of the sanctuary is so that God can live among the people.

To get a sense of the value of the material used, look at the issue of the use of goat hair for the sanctuary. It is self-evident that this was not the outer hair of the goat that was coarse and usually black and used to make the tents for the Israelites. Black outer hair was a very functional material since the wool expanded in rain and provided waterproofing while it insulated the interior from the hot sun and contained the heat in the cold nights of winter. But it was coarse.

The goat’s wool used for the mishkan was the underwool, the layer beneath the outer coarse hair of the goat’ It was the much more valuable wool because it was half the width of the outer coarse hair (15 versus 30 microns) and akin to cashmere (from Kashmir goats) and angora. It is the wool used to make pashminas in Pakistan and India. Some experts speculate that Abraham brought with him from Mesopotamia these valuable goats with the fine underwool and that provided the source for his quick and vast increase in wealth.

We know throughout history that red and purple dyes, the dyes of royalty, are very expensive as well. Since the underwool tended to be white, it was far more suitable for dying than grey or darker wool such as mohair. In Oaxaca, we learned that second to the silver mines of the new world, the largest source of wealth for the Spaniards was the import of dyes from cochineal and “cochineal became increasingly important to royal finances.” (Amy Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red, p. 105) In other words, the value of the mishkan was not simply in the overlay of the arc and the staves with pure gold and the crown of gold, but the cloth, the dyes, the incense, the skins and the quality of wood used in its construction. The bluish-purple dyes were likely derived from a substance extracted from molluscs as a parallel to the cochineal dyes.

What about the tachash covering the tabernacle that is translated as sealskin? Whether or not it is sealskin, it refers to a highly valued material. In Ezekiel 16:10, God is referred to as making his wife (Israel) sandals of tachash to wear as well as dressing Israel in valuable silks and fine linen. If the material really was sealskin that had been imported into Egypt, these were very highly valued.

Further, examine the following structural parts of the mishkan made from acacia trees:

  • the ark and its poles
  • the table of showbread and its poles
  • the brazen altar and its poles
  • the incense altar and its poles
  • the poles for hanging the curtains
  • the support boards.

Acacia trees probably grew in the Sinai, but they grew alone rather than in forests. They are highly valued because the wood is very hard and very dense, a result of their very slow growth explaining their much higher value.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that such a tree was used for construction. In most societies, it would have been regarded as a sacred tree used as places to perform sacrifices, conduct religious ceremonies and rites of passage and burials. For that purpose, the Israelites used caves. Bedouin used sacred trees as places to conduct law courts or as community social centres. In any of these cases, cutting up a sacred tree for construction, even for Israel’s God, would have been considered sacrilegious and even profane.

For the Israelites, natural mountains served to connect earth and heaven. Even more significant, the construction of the mishkan was intended to allow God to leave heaven and live in the midst of the Israelites. The sacred was not to be kept on high apart from the profane, but in the centre of everyday life while retaining its exclusivity. The acacia trees were used for construction, perhaps not only for their value, but as a message that trees, even acacia trees, did not possess supernatural powers to grant favours or render judgements.

What about the onyx stones? Onyx is not an extremely rare and valuable material. They were to be set in gold though. Onyx stones were to be used to decorate the ephod, the richly embroidered, apron vestment worn by the high priest with two shoulder straps and ornamental attachments for securing the breastplate. The clue may lie in two areas. Onyx with its parallel bands is considered a powerful warrior stone and connotes courage and a resistance to fear. More importantly, perhaps, it is a hard stone used for carving and engraving and is referred to in Genesis 2:12 as found in the Garden of Eden. Exodus 28:9 reads: “And thou shalt take two onyx stones, and shalt grave on them the names of the children of Israel.”

Not in ordinary stones. But in precious stones. God will not only live in the midst of the Israelites, but the names of the Israelites shall be engraved on the breastplates of priests. “He prepared also two onyx stones, fast set and closed in gold, and graven by the art of a lapidary, with the names of the children of Israel.” (Exodus 39:6)

What does all this add up to? If we are embarrassed or play down the lavishness of the adornment, we miss a main point. Further, the quality is not only in the materials but in the details of the design – the preparations, the proportions, the positioning, the detailed particularities and specifications. The artistry in the use and conjunction of these materials is at least as valuable as the materials themselves. I suggest that in this section we have been presented with the Hebrew theory of property.

The Israelites were nomads. Value was placed in portability, in that which could be traded and moved much more than fixed property, such as land. Second, value and wealth were respected, not something to be embarrassed about. Third, the most valuable property was communal. Fourth, valuable property was made, not simply through raw labour to convert the natural world into artifacts and possessions (John Locke and Karl Marx), but through the investment of inherited and highly developed crafts as well as a sense of design and beauty. Fifth, it was the beauty of the material world that conjoined heaven and earth and, further, allowed the divine to live and reveal Himself amidst ordinary people. Sixth, the focus was on this world, not a nether world or an afterlife. Seven, the value of onyx stone was made even more precious, by carrying the past into the future through engraving, remembering and recalling the past.  Finally, as would be shown later in the tale of the making of the golden calf, God was the trustee of what was valuable. Humans are merely sojourners on earth, responsible for its preservation and enhancement. When humans start worshipping the glitter of gold as if it were divine, they betray their divine calling.

What a different sense of property than the property of possessive individualism at the root of capitalist thought or the collectivist ownership of property to be managed through political institutions of Communism. The difference extends to the conception of labour itself. In John Locke’s possessive individualism, humans invest their labour into nature to convert nature into things – animals and grains – that they can consume and keep themselves alive. In the state of nature, there is enough and sufficient for all.

However, with the invention of money, with the invention of an abstract form of measuring wealth, a few would be able to accumulate capital and live off the labour of others. That accumulation would lead to scarcity and conflict, thereby necessitating government to set the rules for this class conflict. For Karl Marx, the class conflict had to be inverted and turned on its head so that the many bondsmen of the world, the exploited labourers, could repossess their surplus capital in the name of all workers as a collective possession.

In either case, labour was a forced exercise. Humans had to labour in order to survive. Second, the labour of workers through coercion was used for the benefit of the wealthy. However, in the biblical account in Exodus 25:2, the contribution to making the mishkan is strictly voluntary. God instructs Moses: “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering.” The stress is on the voluntary. The stress is on the willing sacrifice for the common good. And for the shared beauty.

Hegel tried to recover this sense of property in his Phenomenology of Spiri,t though the section on Lordship and Bondage is most dominantly, and incorrectly, interpreted through a Marxist reading, in the twentieth century most prominently by Alexandre Kojève. These thinkers ignored the historical fact that Hegel was a religious thinker and philosopher and, more particularly, tried to translate the content of scripture into a philosophical dialectic of development, change and revelation. There is concurrence that humans are riven by two internal contending forces, life and the effort to survive, and, second, desire, the effort to make a name for oneself and gain historical recognition. In the Marxist and neo-Marxist version, the lordship/ bondage of the feudal regime emerges out of the effort of one party in conflict with another to gain recognition of his or her superiority over the other and by the other.

In this violent clash of wills, the party that defeats and kills the other loses in two very different ways. There is no gain in the use of another’s labour. Second, there is no other to recognize the victory of the winner. Thus, the winner, instead of killing the other, holds a sword to his neck and offers the other a deal. The winner will allow the loser to survive. In fact, the winner will provide protection. However, in return for permitting the other to both live and be protected, the other must give two things, first labour on behalf of the lord who won and, thereby, becoming his bondsman. Second, he must recognize the lord as one whom the bondsman not only serves, but recognizes as superior. Thus, the lord rules over the bondsman through coercion.

However, in the religious interpretation of Hegel, the desire is not to rule over another and to be recognized by the other as superior, but to be like God. That will not mean coerced servitude but a voluntary offering of oneself for a purpose seen as divine. As in the Marxist interpretation of Hegel, the quest for survival and the quest for eternal recognition rather than simply recognition of one’s superiority by another, will be at odds. However, in the religious interpretation, the tension is never resolved but transported to another plane where humans in their quest for survival give up and surrender their higher aspirations. This includes settling for recognition by others of one’s superiority over the other when what one really wants is recognition by God of one’s worth.

To gain that recognition entails a sacrifice, a sacrifice of one’s time, one’s energy, one’s labour, one’s skills, one’s artistic sensibility in pursuit of this higher purpose. It is and must be voluntary. It cannot be coerced. But it will always be unstable as we are prone to distrust the divine within us and that God’s testament will be inscribed on our lives and we are prone to revert to survival mode. Further, there is a pernicious side to the dedication to a higher purpose as illustrated in the very beginning in the story of Adam and Eve.

Adam believes he is like God in two very different ways. He uses words to name things and therefore bring them into existence in a constructivist epistemology and in imitation of how God created the world. In doing so, he forgets he is human, that he is embodied. He projects his bodily needs and reproductive desires onto the other, Eve, who is simply viewed as a physical projection of himself. Further, the part of himself that represents sexual desire, embodied desire, is othered. He views his penis as a separate erect snake tempting Eve and over which he takes no responsibility. The result in the story is well known and need not be repeated.

Thus, the divine spark is both crucial to higher aspirations but a fundamental flaw if we forget we are embodied and human and still need to survive. The mishkan in being made of precious materials reminds us that the world is here and now in relationship to others and that, in the end, we are not gods or simply in service to a divine purpose; we are not constituted by that divine purpose. We have sexual partners. We breed children and have a responsibility for them.

The problem is always how to work out this internal tension and dialectic between life, between the quest for survival, with desire in both its higher aspirational version and through connecting us to others.

Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address and Migrants Part I: Legal High-Skilled Migrants and the Diversity Program

Yesterday morning in my blog I wrote, “Trump’s nativist demagoguery, though relatively brief, was on full display in his State of the Union address last evening.” It seemed straightforward and uncontroversial when I wrote it. Evidently not! Was DT’s demagoguery not “relatively brief”? Some believed that, in the SOUA, DT went on too long and revealed his continuing obsession and fear of migrants. Others contended that DT’s demagoguery was not on full display for a change.

I will dissect his comments in this and a subsequent blog and you judge. Thankfully, I am helped somewhat by the fact checkers at CNN and The Washington Post and many scholars and journalists who concentrate on immigration and refugee issues.

In his SOUA, DT stated unequivocally, I want people to come into our country, in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.” Did The Donald ever give you the impression that he loved migration into the U.S., wanted much more of it, but only on the condition that the migrants enter legally? It is one thing to attempt to build a wall against migrants attempting to cross a border illegally because you believe they are criminals and rapists. It is another matter to build an administrative wall, a very high one, against legal migrants, in an effort that seems to belie DT’s new line that he wants people to come to America “in the largest numbers ever.”

First, this line was adlibbed. It was not included in the copy of the State of the Union Address that was circulated to journalists. And, of course, it was noticed by immigration advocates and experts because it seemed to be directly at odds with the policies DT put in place in the first two years of his presidency. It was no surprise then that in the briefing that followed with reporters, DT was asked whether the remark signalled a change in policy.

“Yes,” was his answer, effectively admitting that in the previous two years he had introduced policies to limit legal immigration, quite aside from his efforts against illegal migrants. Trump offered an explanation for the change. “(W)e need people in our country because our unemployment numbers are so low, and we have massive numbers of companies coming back into our country.” He had signalled this new line a week earlier at a meeting on human trafficking on the southern border, with an additional qualification. “We really need people, but it has to be through a legal process and a process really of merit.” (my italics)

Lobbyists who were nativists or who opposed large scale immigration for other reasons also noted the policy shift. Ira Mehlman, the spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, greeted the change by dubbing it “bad public policy” and a reversal of previous presidential positions. “Mass immigration, legal or illegal, undermines the jobs and wages of many Americans, overburdens vital social institutions and the social safety net. The president seems to be ignoring the impact of excessive immigration on American society.”

On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also noted the change, but welcomed it “as the unemployment rate has fallen and businesses have struggled to fill job openings.” For those who favoured the change, the issue remained: what was deemed a meritorious migration increase based on merit? Was the merit one simply of need? Then an increase in the guest worker program demanded by employers might suffice with no route to citizenship. On the other hand, if merit applied to the skills of the immigrant applicants, then a very different policy would follow encouraging highly skilled migration to the U.S. Since guest worker programs in the U.S., though legal migratory programs, usually do not entail any path to permanent residency and/or citizenship, my focus in this blog will be on legal immigration and not on legal migration with respect to guest workers.

The policy shift, even if it was one – and, given DT’s record of reversals when his nativist base is aroused, one might remain suspicious – left open the meaning of meritorious legal migration. Look at the record of the first two years of the administration for clues. It certainly does not seem to include fostering family reunification, even though the possibility of family reunification is a key component when highly skilled individuals consider migrating anywhere.

What has the Trump administration policy been towards family reunification? Trump has repeatedly complained about chain migration and the family reunification policies that enhance chain migration. Immigration advocates argue that reuniting families through the immigration system is humane and contributes to stability, prosperity, and stronger communities. They could also argue that it enhances the migration patterns of the highly skilled. Trump policies have curtailed family reunification by cutting the number of eligible categories, including parental and adult children sponsorship. It should be no surprise that the excision of categories disproportionately affects minority migration. So do other administrative practices.

I am not here concerned with DT’s well-publicized efforts to divide families without any legal status. If Trump plans to increase the entry of highly skilled workers, why did his administration enact policies that planned to revoke spousal working permits for migrants traveling on the high-skilled H-1B visas? Why would you have policies that restrict family reunification only to minority-aged children when the highly-skilled are very concerned with the well-being of their parents as well as their adult children? Further, programs that restrict parental and adult children sponsorship have a much greater effect on highly-skilled migrants from Third World countries.

Other administrative measures significantly slowed down the processing of family-based immigration applications. The processing of green card or permanent residency applications has significantly slowed down. DT campaigned to lower overall immigration. I am not talking just of non-immediate relative family reunification applications that fell from the adjudication of just 22% of applicants in 2016 to only 9% in 2017. Immediate relative application processing fell from 67% in 2016 to 54% in 2017. The backlog has increased 35% to over 800,000 petitions.

Trump has kept Stephen Miller, his most strident member of the White House advocating strict immigration limits, in place. There appears to be a contradiction between encouraging high-skilled immigration and increased restrictions on family reunification. Other administrative measures suggest that practices have been put in place that undermine any effort to increase the number of highly-skilled immigrants.

For example, the Department of Homeland Security has made it mandatory that all applicants for employment-based permanent residency have personal interviews. Further, H-1B visas were to be only issued to the most highly skilled and to the highest-paid beneficiaries. Extension or renewal of green cards are no longer processed as routine, but are processed as if they were applications de novo. The above changes are just the tip of the iceberg. Specialty occupations are being redefined to make them much more restrictive. Additional hoops and requirements have been added.  And this is ostensibly an anti-regulatory administration!

This is not simply a Trump immigration policy but a Republican one. See the 2015 Immigration Handbook for the New Republican Majority which overtly argued for severe cuts in overall immigration levels. But that policy specifically targeted guest workers, suggesting that Trump’s policy reversal to support increased levels would only apply to the highl-skilled. But, again, if so, why the increased restrictions on family reunification when that is one key to attracting highly-skilled migrants? The arguments above not only question the sincerity and/or consistency with which Donald Trump is pushing for increased immigration, but even question the coherence of a program ostensibly aimed at encouraging immigration of the very highly skilled. As constructed, it suggests that Trump sincerely wants greater highly-skilled immigration, but possibly not if those immigrants come from countries that will increase the proportion of minorities within the U.S.

This interpretation is reinforced by Trump policies with respect to the Diversity Visa Program. That program allows prospective migrants from countries with a record of low immigration to the U.S. to enter a lottery to apply for permanent residency. Trump has repeatedly tried to end that lottery system that benefits the migration of minorities, particularly migrants from Africa.

In Part II, I will consider the legal migration of those who want to apply for Convention refugee status in the U.S. However, I want to leave the reader with a teaser. There is a great deal of literature that suggests that increased diversity in a population, to the surprise of many, reduces support for refugees. (See, for example, Liza G. Steele and Lamis Abdelaaty 2018 study,”Ethnic diversity and attitudes towards refugees,” in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies which, with some exceptions, supports this finding. See also the European Social Survey, the World Bank Development Indicators, and the Manifesto Project Dataset.) The greater the ethnic diversity, the more that new refugee arrivals are viewed as a threat. If that is the case, Donald Trump, if he opposes the arrival of Convention refugee applicants at U.S. legal entry points, logically should support greater diversity in the intake of legal economic migrants. The above analysis suggests that he does not blog. Why?

One might expect that the greater contact between and among different ethnic groups enhances support for refugees. In the next I want to not only analyze and dissect Trump’s policies towards refugees, but also do so in conjunction with his alleged biases on the one hand (after all, I alleged that Trump’s demagoguery was on full display in his State of the Union Address) and the predisposition of many American constituents on the other hand.

To be continued.

Absorptive Capacity: Four Rationales for Limiting Immigrant Entry

In response to my very recent blog on “Darkness,” one reader criticized me for my extremely negative picture of Donald Trump. He also criticized me for my use of the term “black.” He wrote “History has many faces of black, including pitch black, jet black, coal black, and dark black. Man made a dreadful noun of ‘black’ when it defined dark skinned Africans as ‘black’ people.”

I will leave Trump out for the moment and focus on the claim that man made a dreadful noun of ‘black.’ There is a radical difference between the noun ‘black’ and making ‘black’ into a dreadful noun by using black to stir up dread. The dread does not attach to the noun but to its use. I will not offer a defence of my use of black for black is indeed beautiful. Instead, I refer to a 2007 book, Blackness and Modernity: The Colour of Humanity and the Quest for Freedom. It was written first as a PhD thesis under my supervision at York University just before I retired in 2003. The thesis became this book that won the prestigious John Porter award from the Canadian Sociological Association for the best scholarly book published in the discipline in Canada that year. I recommend the book.

Just by way of introduction, Cecil Foster, the author, was born in Barbados and is a Canadian novelist, essayist, journalist and scholar. He is one of Canada’s leading public intellectuals writing and speaking about Canada’s experience with multiculturalism. He has written 5 novels as well as other scholarly books, his latest on the role of the black porters employed by Canadian railway companies and how they helped transform Canada into what it is today. Cecil is now a professor at the University of Buffalo and chairs its Department of Transnational Studies. “We see our department as the university’s gateway for students eager to explore connections across boundaries of all kinds: across national borders, continents and oceans; across lines of social identity; across time; between humanity and the natural environment; across the disciplines; between theory and practice; and between research and social engagement.”

I use this as an introduction to this morning’s blog because immigration of those who are different – whether black, Sikh, Chinese, or Vietnamese, Jew or Muslim – has been opposed under the general rubric that a country’s absorptive capacity is the reason for limiting the entry for certain groups of new immigrants and/or refugees. However, there are at least four different definitions of absorptive capacity and the consequent reasons for putting limits on intake. Two have to do almost entirely with the character of the immigrant/refugee. Another two have to do with the limitations of the host country where the immigrants and refugees want to stay

The first brands a certain class of immigrants/refugees as Other, as Others who are generally lesser, as Others who are dangerous and a threat to the society into which they are seeking entry. The absorptive capacity of a country is limited because these immigrants/refugees are perceived as posing a threat to the culture, well-being and stability of the receiving country. It is the core reason why Donald Trump opposed Muslim immigrant/refugees and migrants from Mexico and Central America. I have written a critique of that position in an earlier blog on “Locusts.” Trump’s nativist demagoguery, though relatively brief, was on full display in his State of the Union address last evening.

There is a second meaning of “absorptive capacity’ which puts the problem squarely on those seeking entry. It was brought to my attention by another reader of my blog in a response yesterday, who also berated me for my preoccupation with Donald Trump, this time, not because I mis-characterize him so much but because my attention was considered excessive and a waste of my time. That reader introduced me to a German writer for Die Welt, Henryk Broder, who also happens to be Jewish.

The reader brought to my attention a 4 February 2019 article that I had already read in Tablet by Clemens Heni entitled, “Why is Germany’s best-known Jewish journalist giving speeches to its holocaust-downplaying, far-right party?” The article can be found here criticizing Henryk Broder for his speech to the far-right neo-Nazi party in Germany, AfD:

https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/279898/jewish-journalist-defending-german-far-right?utm_source=tabletmagazinelist&utm_campaign=47c3df1d98-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_02_04_02_38&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c308bf8edb-47c3df1d98-207609181

When I first read Heni’s piece, I took the criticism at face value.  But my reader also sent me her translation of the speech Broder gave. I have included it at the end of the blog. It is hilarious and a brilliant piece satirizing the very neo-Nazis he was addressing. Heni totally misrepresented Broder’s position and what he stood for. The speech was definitely not an intellectual embrace of the AfD.

However, when I concurred with that critique of Heni, I was asked to listen to another of Broder’s speeches which he delivered at the Danish Parliament Christiansborg at a conference on “The Danish Mohammad Cartoon Crisis in Retrospect” on 26 September 2015 put on by the Free Press Association to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Muhammad drawings.

https://www.trykkefrihed.dk/henryk-broder-at-the-cartoon-crisis-in-retrospect.

I listened to the speech. What a contrast with the one that Heni criticized! The opening line was funny, but the rest was not.

The speech brought out a very different side of Broder, his critique of Angela Merkel for allowing one million refugees to enter Germany. He claimed that they were almost all Muslim. Though most were, very many were Christian and Yazidis and most were not even from the Middle East. The speech was serious and not intended to be funny. Small errors however, then count more. Essentially, Broder argued that allowing the entry of one million Muslim Syrian refugees into Germany was a calamity from which Germany would be unable to recover. He deplored the appeasement approach to the threat of Islamicization and insisted that the refugees could not be absorbed, not only because of the problems of finding housing, food and teachers, but because there was a clash of values, a clash of civilizations, that the policy of multiculturalism tried to cover up.

The refugees had no experience with rights as part of their culture, he argued. The history of the Scottish enlightenment, of German philosophy, the French Revolution, Italian pasta and Danish design were foreign to them. There was a historical spirit to Europe with which they did not and could not identify. Broder was simply calling a spade a spade, he said, seemingly totally unaware of the transformation of the expression from referring to speaking the unvarnished truth without embellishment to a reference to African-Americans in the 1920s as “spades.” In answer to a question from the floor, he insisted that the policy was a product of self-flagellation and false guilt towards the plight of the Third World.

Below are some extracts from that speech:

After his opening joke about his casual dress to improve the reputation of Germany, he said that the gathering was intended to “mourn the passing of our peninsula” with 500 million Europeans as an outcrop of Asia. The spirit of Europe, he insisted, “did not perish overnight.” Not physically, but “mentally, culturally and in terms of self-esteem.” “Europe has committed suicide.” The villains? Those who promoted peace, love, tolerance and multiculturalism.

The fortress of education, culture and science that Europe had been was allowed to be breached by Broder’s leftist and liberal German friends in the name of women’s rights, gay rights but, most significantly, great sensitivity to Muslim culture. Germans were to use speech responsibly. Self-restraint was necessary to make social peace. These were the new imperatives that acted to restrict rights according to Broder, a self-declared proud fundamentalist of the Enlightenment.

When Angela Merkel was asked what she intends to do to protect Germany from Islamicization, a perfectly simple question in Broder’s view, she responded that if someone is afraid of Islamicization, they should read Holy Scripture. According to Broder’s critique, Merkel was praised for her courage and influence. But Broder charged Merkel and other German leaders with appeasement and pre-emptive surrender. Unlike Viktor Orbán of Hungary, with whose position he explicitly identified, Broder saw no hope beyond the horizon in the face of a million “mostly young Muslim males unable to restrain themselves.” The actual number who arrived was 890,000. They would be followed, Broder argued, by perhaps one million more in 2016. In fact, the numbers dropped back to one-quarter of that projection. In the last month of 2015, the number had eased. Further, though the increase from one quarter million to 890,000 was claimed to be largely made up of Syrian refugees, in fact only about one of three came from war-torn Syria directly or indirectly. In fact, Albanian and Kosovars made up the top two groups. Broder perhaps would not care. They were Muslims even if they were European Muslims.

Broder mocked Obama’s “Yes we can,” and Merkel for saying, “Wir schaffen das” or “We can do this.” He rebuked Merkel for her “Willkommenskultur,” or welcome culture. One thing Broder said that we know for sure: “The unrestricted influx of Refugees with no experience of democracy, human rights, women’s rights and the rule of law will change Germany beyond recognition. And not only Germany. Europe will not survive this test of endurance.” He claimed that Europe was unsalvageable and blamed its self-destruction on Brussels bureaucrats whose avarice and arrogance blocked their perception of reality. They were accused of being masters of fraud and deception. Europe was now a house of cards failing apart and immigrants/refugees bore a considerable responsibility for that fact. Broder insisted that, “We cannot cope with millions of refugees coming from different cultures.”

The problem of refugees was not that they were rapists and killers or that they were lesser beings and alien threats. Broder is no Donald Trump. However, he does adhere to the clash of civilizations ideology and that these refugees could not be integrated into Europe. I do not know whether he is aware that the same reasons were offered for keeping Jews out of Canada before 1948.

There are two other schools that use the limits of absorptive capacity as a reason for limiting the intake of immigrants/refugees. Both point to limitations of the receiving society, which the nativists and culture clash ideologies also cite, but more as asides. Politics and socio-economics of the receiving side become primary for these two versions of absorptive capacity.

David Frum belongs to the political school for limiting the entry of immigrants and refugees into the U.S., not because there is anything inherently wrong with the immigrants and refugees themselves, but there is a problem when the numbers become too great and they threaten the American polity. They do so in several ways, according to David. First, a bleeding heart, like Barack Obama, in order to delay the deportation of Dreamers, protected them by executive order when he could not get an agreement with Congress. This set a terrible precedent for Donald Trump.

David Frum offered a large number of quotes to demonstrate that Republicans not too long ago argued for protecting Dreamers and not deporting them. (Trumpocracy 34-36) What the party elite did not recognize, and Donald Trump alone did, was, “that their voters did not share the donors’ and pundits’ policy consensus.” (36) As a result, traditional Republicans lost control of the party to Trump.

David Frum is not anti-immigrant. When he was only nineteen, he was singularly responsible for organizing the most private sponsorships of Indochinese refugees through the synagogue to which he belonged compared to any other – fifty sponsorships. Further, it was at a time when the majority of Canadians opposed the intake of 60,000 Indochinese refugees. It took courageous leadership by all political parties in Canada, particularly the Tories at the time, to confront that resistance, to refuse to give in to the nativism and racism and fear of competition from these newcomers from a very different culture.

However, for David Frum, what was brave instead of prudent in 1979 for Canadian politicians, was imprudent for Republicans who in their blindness failed to see the rise of a dangerous populist like Donald Trump who truly threatened the fabric of institutions and political culture and values of America. In the name of political prudence, Frum argued for caution and limits.

I, and a great deal of research, would suggest that this is the real appeasement; the damage is not only done to all those refugees who are not allowed entry, but to the values that Western democracies do and should aspire to realize. Canada, because of its private sponsorship program, has the advantage of having built a grass roots significant constituency that can and does lobby for pro-refugee policies. Unfortunately, the pioneering of Canada has been copied only very recently by a few countries.

Finally, there is a fourth school with respect to absorptive capacity. The reference is foreshadowed by the other three, but the emphasis is not on the refugees but on the need to educate citizens that refugees are not a danger to their livelihoods, their political institutions and their fundamental values. That education takes time and puts limits on how many refugees can be admitted in any one year. My own research, however, suggests that the limit has never ever been approached. However, it is true that if multicultural policies are weak, if educational programs are lacking, if effective mechanisms for integration are not in place, then the possibility of an effective backlash is so much greater. The risk is even much greater when a political party decides to use the populist fears to build a constituency and a voting base to win an election.

However, contrary to Broder, I would argue that such appeals must be confronted with political cleverness as well as rational debate in public. I will end with telling a story I have told many times before. When in 1979 we were confronted with the National Citizens’ Coalition using a racist campaign to challenge the policy of admitting 50,000 Indochinese refugees, we launched Operation Intellectual Kneecapping and recruited enlightened Conservative donors to threaten the NCC with cutting off their donations if they continued their racist strident objections to the intake of Indochinese refugees. The NCC stopped their campaign. Contrary to Broder, the real appeasers are those who give in to nativist xenophobia or those who believe in the false doctrine of a clash of civilizations.

Appendix

Henryk Broder’s talk at the AfD faction of the Bundestag

Jan 29, 2019, as documented [in a shortened version] by Die Welt on 31.01.2019

Translated by bea sara goll © 2019 [explanations in […] are of the translator.]

For the full talk in German, see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoaOn2VlaCs

Preliminary note: Before my speech, a photo was taken showing how Alice Weidel, leader of the AfD parliamentary group, embraced me. This image has been disseminated by the AfD in the social media. It would have been right to avoid the embrace. As a journalist you should keep a distance from politicians. There is, of course, no reason to draw any further conclusions from this embrace. I apologize and vow to be more careful at the next opportunity.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the invitation.

I have been to the Bundestag several times, most recently at a meeting of the Petitions Committee. But I have never spoken before a faction. My first choice would have been the Grüne. I would have even come here by bike or a rowboat. But the Grüne are not that far yet, that they would invite someone like me. First of all, I would have to start separating my waste, heating my home sparingly and using less water. I do not do that. I do not even believe that the climate change exists because there has not been a day in history when the climate has not changed. Climate change is as new as the eternal succession of winter, spring, summer and fall. What is new is that the climate has become the fetish of the enlightened, who believe neither in Jesus nor in Moses or Mohammed. The British writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the inventor of Father Brown, has already said the right thing: “Since people no longer believe in God, they do not believe in anything, they believe all sorts of nonsense.”

The worldwide hype surrounding a 16-year-old Swede, who considers herself a revenant by Jeanne d’Arc, has proved that again, just recently.

But this was just my attempt at an icebreaker to warm up. Back to the beginning. Just as I wonder why you invited me and not Richard David Precht, so ask yourself why I accepted the invitation.

The thing is very simple. They wanted to see if anyone who can write as good as I do could speak just as well-in the den or hell of brown spotted lions, in the snake pit of reaction, in the darkroom of history. And besides, you want to know if I’m really as likeable as I always seem when on TV.

Some of you may never have seen a real Jew in nature and are now waiting for the room to fill with the smell of garlic and sulfur.

I like doing stuff I’ve never done before. I recently went on a cruise for the first time in my life – and I liked it a lot. On my to-do list, which I would like to work off before my 75th birthday, are still: the visit to a swingers club, the journey to the center of the earth and a ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway with Florian Silbereisen [cruise ship captain in a German soap opera] as my personal butler.

Although a visit to you was not on my list, I accepted the invitation anyway; when does a Jew already get the opportunity to perform in a room full of Nazis, neo-Nazis, crypto-Nazis and Para-Nazis?

Besides, I’m only doing what the Bundespresident has recently advised us to do. We should approach each other; get to know each other better, talk to each other in order to strengthen the cohesion of this society.

That’s exactly what I’m doing. I am a bridge builder, a reconciler; I advocate a colorful, open and tolerant society in which no one is marginalized. I judge people in my environment not by origin, skin color or religion, but by whether, in broad terms, they also accept opinions other than their own. I am tolerant to the limit of self-denial, but I do not want to be tolerant of a group of people: the intolerant ones, who make themselves the measure of all things and promise me either eternal life in paradise, if I follow them, or a box seat in hell, if I refuse them.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the introduction. Now follows the main part.

The idea was that we talk about Political Correctness, though nobody knows what the term really means. It is an empty box into which anyone can throw whatever he considers inappropriate, evil, insulting or dangerous, anything that could threaten “social peace”, and that – social peace – is something that is not something that serves peace but rather something that threatens the freedom of expression.

That we can no longer buy “Negro Kisses” and that the Sarotti Moor has been renamed “Sarotti – Magician of the Senses”, that I can live with. Worse, much worse, I find that in some Dutch supermarkets there is no longer any “Jodenkoeken” (Jewish cake), a specialty of short crust pastry, which was invented by a Jewish baker at the end of the 19th century. The “Jodenkoeken” are now called “Dutch cookies” and are exported under this name all the way to China. That may be politically correct, but I shall call it a cultural expropriation. I want my Jodenkoeken back!

In Germany, this magnificent product is not sold, which probably has to do with the name. It would have to be renamed, politically correctly, in “Jewish men and women’s Cake,” and that would be a great laugh then.

But even that is just a petitesse on the edge of the PC field. What I find unspeakable and intolerable, on the other hand, is a statement by Cardinal Marx, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference. He recently said in a discussion in Berlin that the term “Christian Occident” should not be used, because it is “exclusionary”. Even more annoying than the cardinal’s statement was that no one disagreed with him and nobody said what this statement is for: a preventive submission.

Now, as a Jew, it would not matter to me how a cardinal defines Europe and what semantic exercises he does to avoid being suspected of “marginalizing” anyone.

At first glance, such a statement may be seen as a sign of humility; in fact, the opposite is the case. It demonstrates conceit and hypocrisy. “Look how tolerant we are! We do not even claim our story for ourselves! ”

To exclude no one may be a noble idea. It just races past the reality. I have never been invited to a Eucharist celebration. Will I be marginalized? An application from me for a place in Jungle Camp was not even answered. A clear case of exclusion. And what about the many prelates, vicars, chaplains and deacons in the Catholic Church who did not make it to Cardinal? How must they suffer from exclusion? Not to mention the women, who have no chance of being accepted into the cardinals’ circle.

Even in nature there is always exclusion. A hamster has no choice, even though he would rather be traveling as a gazelle, one must feel sorry for all giraffes who dream of a life as dolphins, but we cannot help them.

Political correctness starts where reality ends, in the now over 70 gender options, in the rather funny assertion that man and woman are not biological facts, but “social constructs” that leave every man the choice, whether he or she wants to be a man or a woman or today this and tomorrow that.

Whereby it is scandalous that der Mensch [human being] is a masculine noun for whom there is no feminine counterpart.

While we sit here so nicely, a dozen doctoral theses are written about this problem and how you could overcome it.

To avoid misunderstandings, I want to say that I am not a principled opponent of political correctness, if it means that there are things that one should not do and should not propagate.

However, this space of what can be said and what can be done is subject to constant change. I think it is right and proper that homosexuality has been decriminalized and that marital rape has been reduced to a crime from having been a husband’s privilege. I think it is right and proper that child marriages should be banned, regardless of the cultural background of the families involved. I am in favor of judging the offense of “child molestation” more severely, in order to be able to follow such cases as that of the already mentioned Greta from Sweden, who was chosen by the climate coalition as the icon of their movement.

I think it is also correct that I – if I call someone an “anti-Semite” – must prove this accusation, which is not easy given the level of education or German judges, for whom the [6 million victims of the] Holocaust is the measure of things and everything under that number is considered mere administrative offense.

And if someone calls a politician he does not like a “Nazi slut”, then that would have to be proved and not rewarded by using the satire-card. There is still a considerable need for legal education here.

But it is not just laws that can be interpreted differently, of course, by what is called the “discretionary margin,” which in turn leads to verdicts that no “normal” thinking person can comprehend. It’s also about something that our PC-moderately unspoiled parents put into the words “That’s not done”. You do not put your feet on the table, you do not burp while eating, and you do not call the twelve worst years in German history “bird shit.” [The AfD lead, Gauland called Hitler and the Nazis just a piece of bird shit on the more than 1000 years of glorious German history at a congress of the AfD Junge Alternative].

This is a grave sin – not only from the point of view of the Nazi victims – the Jews, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, the resistance fighters, the deserters.. It must also be a no-go for any German who is not a Jew, not a Gypsy, not gay and has no relatives who were persecuted by the Nazis.
Ladies and gentlemen, I did not come here to give you a sermon or tell you what to do or not to do. I do not want to block you nor do I want to show you the way. Well, maybe a little.

I am here for two reasons. First, I am all for fair play. And dealing with your party is anything but fair. When your Bremen colleague Magnitz was beaten up – does anyone know how far the search for the perpetrators is now? – Although all have condemned the act, in some of the distancing was also noted that those who sow the wind, must expect to reap storm. Like women, who are blamed, and accused of some complicity when sexually molested because they wear too short skirts.

This is not possible; this is unworthy of a democracy that is based on the idea in the broadest sense that “wrong” attitudes and opinions, that is, deviating from the general consensus, are to be protected. The limits of that which is permitted, I have already pointed out, are established by the Criminal Code. The right to freedom of expression knows no “right” and no “wrong” opinions.

This also applies to tastelessness of all kinds, such as the SPD deputy Johannes Kahr’s lowering himself into the levels of his outhouse a few weeks ago in the course of a parliamentary debate. You remember. He advised you to look in the mirror so you can see how ugly you are. “Hatred makes you ugly!” He shouted to you with the innocence of a man who has no mirror at home himself.

I was speechless and waited, in vain, for an order call from the Speaker of Parliament. Of a similar quality was the contribution of an editor of the Hamburger Morgenpost, who let his imagination run wild: “In a fair world, one would have to withdraw the right to vote from AfD supporters. The same ways as you take away children’s toys when they behave badly.”
The question of how one recognizes AfD fans and how such a measure would be compatible with the rules of a free election was neither asked nor answered.

An isolated case, but a characteristic one.

Yesterday, one day after the Holocaust Remembrance Day, green radio MEP Michael Cramer was interviewed on Deutschlandfunk – on climate change and pollutants in the air. Cramer said, among other things: “That you have different positions, that’s part of it. There are people who deny the Holocaust. There are people who deny that particulate matter and CO2 and nitrogen oxides are harmful to health, that’s part of it. ”

I try to imagine what would happen in this country if one of you had said something like that. I would be among the first to attack you.

Some deny the Holocaust, the others the climate, which is not just an idiotic analogy. As already mentioned, one would have to speak of climate change deniers, more precisely: of people who doubt that there is a man-made climate change. Now I am waiting for climate denial to be punished as much as the denial of the Holocaust, and I look forward to the first trial of a Green People’s Court chaired by Michael Cramer.

Ladies and gentlemen. We live in a consensus democracy. That may not be bad, but I am convinced that it is not consensus but dissent that constitutes the essence of democracy, as we see it right now in England, where the Prime Minister is being cornered by her own party. What would be as unthinkable with us as the takeover of the Bundeswehr by the Salvation Army.
So today I am here to – as Anja Reschke [German journalist] would say – “set a signal” for fair dealings with the political opponent, in the spirit of our Bundespresident. And because as a responsible citizen of this republic, I do not allow myself to be prescribed where and when I am allowed to appear. Of course, I know that the AfD is a no-go area that should be dealt with on a large scale. More and more it becomes routine to start disputed opinions with the words: “I am not a supporter of the AfD, but …” But what?

The attitude to the AfD is a kind of political litmus test, as it was to my youth the attitude to the GDR. Whoever failed to refer to the GDR as the “so-called GDR” was considered a communist. My first and only summons to the political police I got before graduation. I had ordered some brochures somewhere in the GDR, which were intercepted on the way.

When a few days ago I told an old friend that I would be performing with you today, he made a face as if I had confessed to him that I make my living with drug trafficking. “You’re only instrumentalized,” he said. “Do not you know?”

Of course, I know it. And you know what? I do not care. Everyone exploits everyone today. The Bild does it to Helene Fischer, Helene Fischer to Florian Silbereisen, Florian Silbereisen to his dorky fans who are following him.

And me, I’m instrumentalized every day. As proof that there is again a Jewish life in Germany, Jewish communities, Jewish literary and musical days and more and more Jewish cafés and restaurants, one more instrumentalization does not matter.

You instrumentalize me, and I instrumentalize you. I try how far I can go. If there is no shitstorm, it is good, if there is one, it is even better.

And if you want to know now whether I intend to vote for you, all I can say is that it depends entirely on you. I am a picker. At the last general election, I gave my vote to the Animal Protection Party. If you want my vote, then you have to convince me. I think it is great that you affirm Israel’s right to exist, although that is a matter of course, we also do not discuss the right of existence of Belgium. But that’s not enough for me, I expect more. You would have to curb your enthusiasm for Russia and Putin, your US allergy, avoid ambiguities in German history, and give your members and voters clear wine that you are not a depot for contaminated German devotional items. It may cost you a few voters, but it should be worth it. Clarity before unity!

As with good wine, the same goes for political parties. A drop of butyric acid spoils the taste of the whole bottle.

I have long considered how to end this short speech. Dramatic or relaxed? With a good punch line or a bad joke? Maybe with the classic: I do not share your opinion, but I will always work for you to express them freely … That’s too worn out for me, and the source is unclear. It could be from Voltaire or Rosa Luxemburg.

So I make it short and painless: Thank you for the invitation. I hope I have not bored you. And I wish you the strength and the courage to question yourself.

Shalom everyone!