Israeli democracy alive and well
It seems like every week we hear another doomsday prognostication concerning Israel. CNN and the U.N., for example, now predict that Jerusalem’s Old City is “On the Verge of Extinction.” And Rabbi Dr. Michael Chernick now muses in your pages, “If Israel was not a democracy, would American Jewry still support it? (July 10)” But Israel is a democracy, and its record of preserving its democracy is actually better than that of all other democracies facing similar mortal dangers. So wouldn’t it be more appropriate to ponder, “The Palestinian Authority and Hamas are totalitarian regimes, so why does the political left support them and incessantly criticize Israel while giving these regimes a virtual free pass?”
Rabbi Chernick failed to incorporate context, thus exaggerating the gravity of his complaints. For example, without explaining that this would not apply to the secular world in which we actually live, Rabbi Chernick claims that Jewish tradition extols monarchy “at the end of days.” And, as if they are related, he immediately adds, “It is interesting to note that [Israel’s] Declaration of Independence does not mention democracy.” Actually, Israel’s Declaration pledges a long list of democratic principles, including “full and equal citizenship and due representation” to all its Jewish and Arab citizens. It is, in fact, the U.S. Declaration of Independence that does not mention democracy, and the USA had to fight the most deadly war in its history, and struggle through an additional century of Jim Crow laws, before we finally established “full and equal citizenship and due representation” for all our citizens — principles we are still struggling to enforce. Yet Rabbi Chernick seems quite cheerful about the future of American democracy.
Rabbi Chernick also supports his gloom and doom concerns with a litany of defiance from the fringe who introduce crazy legislation and who call for soldiers to disobey military orders. He fails to note that no democracy has ever had a shortage of politicians who misuse their power or who urge disobedience. “Hanoi Jane” Fonda and thousands of other celebrities and people in power have urged our military to disobey orders, and untold numbers fled our country and resisted the draft in protest of our wars. Mouthing off from the left and the right is in fact democracy in action, both here and in Israel. Both democracies are stronger for it. Israel has, for example, called upon the IDF to remove settlers from the Sinai and later from Gaza, and in both instances, the IDF performed its duty honorably and without bloodshed, despite the call from the fringe to disobey military orders. And a Congressman once told a NORPAC gathering that if he were to list the anti-democratic legislation that is routinely introduced in the U.S. Congress, and even more so in individual state legislatures, one would lose all hope for the future of democracy.
In the long term, we must indeed stand vigilant against anti-democratic forces in every country because such forces reflect historical trends, not Jewish ones. Right now, let us not be distracted by far-fetched hypotheticals when real dangers stand before us and the world. The biggest threat to Israeli democracy, and to world democracy, is Iran. Let’s stay focused.
Harry J. Reidler
Remembering Jerry Lewis
I remember very well a day in the 1940s when Jerry and his wife were shopping on Bergen Street in Newark. His wife was busy in the store making her selections when up and down the street people noticed crowds gathering around a store window. There in the window was Jerry Lewis undressing a female dummy — dancing with it — and making all types of flirting gestures to her. The crowd was in an uproar. Traffic was brought to a halt for a short time. A great memory at the start of a great career.
The national psyche and racist attitudes
Thomas Jefferson is rightly viewed as one our greatest presidents. I include myself in this opinion. His words in the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self evident….”) have the weight of “Divine” scripture in our national image and definition.
However, It is historically confirmed that he and other founding fathers (including George Washington) owned many African American slaves. The fact of their participation for many years in this abhorrent institution cannot be denied.
It is well known that the founding fathers were greatly influenced by the political/social/moral teachings of the Hebrew scriptures. Slavery was dealt with in the Bible with the thrust directed towards the protection of the rights of slaves and their pathway to freedom.
This is far from the concept of bondage employed in the American system where the slaves were viewed as chattel without rights or hope.
In my view this demonstrates how powerful emotional (rather than intellectual/rational) needs can influence human thinking.
Our forefathers (including some of the greatest) resorted to George Orwell’s “newspeak” in order to rationalize that African Americans were subhumans who should be enslaved and not included in the American dream.
Racism remains embedded in our national/personal psyche. Most of us are not even aware of this. It takes a long time for this disease to be cured.
Jerrold Terdiman, M.D.