Refusing to Apologize is the Act of a Coward

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One of my favorite movies is She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with John Wayne.  In it, Wayne, playing a captain of cavalry says to a young officer, “never apologize, son-its a sign of weakness”.

Apparently many of the  candidates running for President seem to think that this Hollywood bit of machismo is now a required characteristic of a successful candidate.  Several of them, including Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina. Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz have refused to apologize for offensive and patently false statements.  Hillary Clinton had to be cajoled to apologize for a foolish remark regarding her mail server.  Apparently, those who support these candidates approve of the “no apology” model, because their poll numbers do not fall when they refuse to apologize.

The truth is, the refusal to apologize for a false or offensive statement is both cowardly and weak.  It shows that the person is incapable of reflection, growth and change.  It shows that at worst they are morally stunted and at best, shallow.  My teacher Rabbi David Hartman has taught that the ability to change is the hallmark of the human being, that which distinguishes us from the rest of creation.  He has also taught that the ability to change is both the most difficult and morally noble act a person can undertake.  Saying “I’m sorry” is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.

Ann Coulter is the inevitable next step in Trumpism


There is no way to tell this story without being crude, because the person about whom the story is told is a crude and classless person herself, of exceedingly low character.     By now you may know that Ann Coulter tweeted during the GOP debate her disgust for the constant references to Israel by asking “How many F****g Jews are in this country, anyway”?

I have my own issues with the GOP’s appropriation of Israel as a partisan issue, I think it is a disastrous development for which we bear some responsibility; but this is clear anti-Semitism and bigotry from a respected voice in the conservative community.

I remind readers of this blog what I said just a few weeks ago:  have we forgotten Martin Neimoller’s dictum-“First they came from the Jews?”- when Trump made racism and open bigotry permissible again, and a compliant media celebrated his fame, we did little.  That we are now a target of a prominent cultural commentator (who is a Trump supporter)  is not a surprise.

No State for Old Men


I am a big fan of the novel No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy.  In the novel, and the subsequent movie, McCarthy explores the corrupting influence of money on virtually everyone and every institution.  At the end of the novel, the villain, a truly evil man, is able to escape justice simply by paying a few young children a large sum of money to provide him with a disguise.

The news that the Chairman of United Airlines, Jeff Smisek, and other executives have been ousted over a corruption issue related to the Christie Administration is a case in point.  Apparently, Smisek, hoping for a reduction in his rent at Newark Airport, paid off David Samson, chair of the Port Authority and Christie appointee,  with a special route to his weekend home.   After Samson’s resignation in the wake of the Bridge scandal, the weekend-only flights suddenly stopped.

Samson himself is a powerful New Jersey power broker and attorney with close ties to  several prominent law firms and many politicians in our state.  He is a former Attorney General and a close confidant of our Governor.  His own attorney is Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security Secretary and another powerful attorney in New Jersey.

It is unclear why Smisek has been the only casualty of New Jersey’s corrupt politics.  (He has a generous severance package, so he will not be suffering too much).  I believe it is because New Jersey’s corrupt culture is in some ways unique; there is an unwritten rule that everyone needs to get “a little something” and everyone needs to be “taken care of” when there is money to be made.  The money is shared, graft and pay-offs are bipartisan, and no one gets too greedy.  There are honest and honorable men and women in the power structures of New Jersey, but many of them are so connected by business and friendship circles to those who are dishonest that it is the practice to simply look the other way.

Smisek is an outsider, from Chicago.  Chicago corruption is  different (I lived there, too).  Your best friend can easily turn on you at any time;  it’s everyone for themselves.  Jersey, they circle the wagons and protect each other.  Smisek was the easy mark, he never imagined that when push came to shove, he was going to go down alone.  The sad part is, he probably did what he did for the good of the company, to reduce costs, and got nothing personal in return.

It is really a shame; New Jersey may be a physically unattractive state, but it has some really wonderful qualities.  Among them is a practical pragmatic spirit; give New Jerseyans an opportunity and they can do almost anything, fix almost any problem, and succeed in almost any task.  There is no slavish adherence to ideology-people in New Jersey “get it done”.   It is tragic that the obsessive pursuit of money prevents them from doing so; we are now truly “no state for old men”.

It is Happening Here


My mother, God bless her, has a number of favorite expressions.  One of them is “It can happen here”-referring to another Holocaust.  When things seem too good for the Jews, she will ominously say, “Don’t get too comfortable, it can happen here”.

I may be the only one, but it seems to me that in this “summer of Trump” there are signs that “it is happening here”.  The New York Times today carried a photograph of Univision anchor Jorge Ramos confronting Trump on his anti-Latino racism, while two shaven headed thugs stand ominously in the background, seemingly waiting for the signal from Boss Trump to crack some heads.   (I have nothing against shaven headed thugs, I’ve been accused of looking like one, but these guys were obviously Trump muscle).  What was astonishing to me was that the assorted “journalists” in the room (what we laughingly call the blow-dried- hair on- air personalities) remained absolutely silent.   To be fair, a “journalist” from MSNBC timidly spoke up after Ramos was thrown out, so I guess good for her.  C’mon guys, you all went to elementary school, I’m sure you’ve at the very least seen a poster of the famous “First they came for the Jews….right?  I’m sure you don’t know who said it (it was Martin Neimoller) but at least you saw it on a coffee mug or something? Maybe you had to read it off a cue card covering a local Yom HaShoa event?

Elie Wiesel has said that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.  The other day, as an Hispanic reporter was harassed out of the room for daring to question a powerful man, I saw indifference.

Why I will support the dysfunctional “deal”

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It is a truism in the world of church and synagogue dynamics that a dysfunctional leadership makes exceptionally poor decisions.  Once a church or synagogue Board has collapsed into dysfunction and acrimony, virtually no decision can be trusted as healthy.  This is why many congregations must hire an interim pastor or rabbi when there is grave dysfunction; the leadership needs to be replaced or to heal before a permanent spiritual leader can be found.

The acrimony over the Iran “deal” can be traced directly to over thirty years of dysfunction amongst our political leadership class (aided and abetted by an entertainment -oriented pundit class) and an increasingly foolish and vapid electorate.  The fact is, our political system now functions so poorly that the bitter divide that exists over the Iran deal was inevitable.  That the same dysfunction exists to a great extent in Israel itself only exacerbates this problem.  Few Republicans were ever going to support the deal because it is now a political axiom that Obama must be opposed on Israel issues, and even many Democratic politicians are fearful of being seen as weak on the issue.  The Netanyahu administration has directly injected itself into the political morass of American politics and has no doubt contributed to the division.  The Obama administration has stumbled and made bad decisions regarding Israel in the past.  I am more than slightly nauseated by the attempt to sway the American Jewish community both by the White House and by opponents of the deal.  It smacks of manipulation.

It appears that many American Jewish community organizations are slowly aligning  against the “deal”.  Some because they genuinely feel it is harmful to israel.  Some because they answer to contributors or constituents who demand it.  Some because they simply do not want to be seen as “weak” on Israel’s security at a time when Israel remains in peril.

Here is my personal view.  I think the “deal” is flawed.  I think it is weak when it comes to oversight, weak when it comes to holding Iran accountable.  I think Iran is a truly bad actor in the world and a sponsor of terror.  War remains a possibility.

In the best of all worlds, reasonable people from all sides of the debate in America would have come together to work on an agreement that that has clear ramifications for our future and that of the world.  In the best of all worlds, Republican and Democratic politicians would have worked to strengthen the agreement in Congress, putting aside partisan animosities for the sake of peace and stability.  I wish that were so.  The deal is flawed.  It emerges from a dysfunctional political system.  The politicians have left town.  They are not going to work to make a flawed deal better.   However, given two bad choices, I have learned to make the least “bad” choice.  In my opinion, the deal should be supported with the understanding that it is deeply flawed and requires monitoring that goes beyond business as usual.  The fate of world peace rides on an honest assessment of whether the Iranians comply.   I know many of my fellow Jews will disagree with me.  I truly respect and understand their view.  But again, in my opinion we must be honest with ourselves.  We can’t denounce the deal without recognizing the dysfunction that led us to this moment.  We must be brutally honest with ourselves.  We are reaping the bitter, rotten fruit of three decades of dysfunction in our political system and in our national discourse.   We are partially to blame for that dysfunction, and it is up to us to repair it.  There are two poor choices.  I say, take the least bad and support the deal.  I welcome your responses.  (keep it civil, please)

Fellow Jews, the Syrians and the Saudis are not our moral measure!


Like many of you, the Boxing Rabbi has been reading many reactions to the horrific actions of my fellow Jews in recent days.   First the murder of a young girl and the stabbing of five others by an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem, followed by the burning of a Palestinian infant by Jewish settlers in the Arab town of Duma.    One too common reaction I have encountered  is a condemnation of the killings followed by something along the lines of “Well, why aren’t the same people who are condemning Israelis today more outraged by the actions of the Syrians, or the Saudis, or Isis?”

Frankly, I don’t care why people are not more outraged by the depravities of the Syrians or Saudis.  The Syrians are not my moral yardstick, and the fact that they may have committed more atrocities than my people is not relevant.  It’s not a contest.  I’m not keeping score.  My moral compass is the Torah, the Jewish tradition, and the ethical principles that have guided the Jewish people for millennia.   Those who perpetrated these atrocities are a foul stain on our nation.  We are at war for the soul of the Jewish people.

Cut off their funding, bulldoze their homes, Mr. Netanyahu.


Mr. Netanyahu-

You have, to your credit, called the actions of the man who stabbed six at the Gay Pride March in Jerusalem and the men who burned a Palestinian infant to death “hate” and “terror”.   (Although I wish you were more like President Rivlin, who had the moral courage to participate in a massive rally against hate in Zion Square).  You know what I know, what everyone knows in Israel-that these hellish actions of wicked men did not come out of nowhere.  They were sown by hateful and demented “rabbis”, by law-breaking settlers, by “yeshivot” that receive massive funding from the State.  Now treat them exactly as you would treat non-Jewish terror groups.  Go after the rabbis who incite hate, cut off funding to the yeshivot that teach hate, bulldoze the homes of the Jewish terrorists when found, and above all cut off all funding to any organization or institution connected with all these perpetrators.  Do it today.  For the sake of the soul of my beloved Israel.