The “War on Christmas” begins early, as some Christians apparently are outraged that Starbucks has removed pictures of reindeer from its holiday cups, leaving a plain red color. One “self-proclaimed” evangelist declared that “Starbucks hates Jesus”. A VP for Starbucks defended the change, declaring that Starbucks should be comfortable for everyone, since “Starbucks is a sanctuary“. Ironically, he is right-and put his finger on the problem. More Christians and Jews go to Starbucks regularly than their own house of worship, so of course they want their holiday celebrations represented there. I long for the day when my Christian clergy friends in picture-postcard rural Connecticut used to tell their parishioners-“You want to see nice holiday decorations? Come to church.”
Yet another story in the New York Times today that is attempting to frame this latest eruption of murderous behavior by Palestinians as solely the result of oppression and rage. As if stabbing children and the elderly, and hacking a man to death were both normal reactions; and as if there was not a tragic 70 year history of Palestinian and Arab nihilism.
Rather than dismiss the Times as hopelessly anti-Israel, I wonder if there is not another phenomenon at play. Those of us who have lived in Israel and spent time there know that Israel has more foreign journalists reporting from there than literally any other country. We also know that life in Israel can be exceptionally pleasant. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are cosmopolitan, cultured cities with arts, fine dining, exciting nightlife and beautiful neighborhoods. It has the vibe of living in New York or LA, with even better weather. A journalist or “foreign correspondent” can live exceptionally well and yet be a fifteen minute drive from an area of conflict. All the “correspondent” has to do is don one of those cool looking flak jackets, hire a driver and off they go to do “drive by interviews” with the usual suspects-a shopkeeper, a cabdriver, Professor Sari Nuseibeh. Presto! A front page Times article. What they didn’t tell you is that they spent the day at the beach or in the café, and following their brief drive through Sur Bachur or Bethlehem or Issawiya, they will be back on their veranda sipping gin and tonics. How else to justify elegant living and a big expense account than to write these articles?
Someone once said that a cynic is simply an idealist that has been disappointed. When it comes to the bloody and death embracing Palestinian liberation movement, and those that are attempting to justify it, that is certainly now me.
I have written before on these pages about the Bishop of Newark, John Myers. At a time when Pope Francis is emphasizing love, compassion and concern for all of God’s children, including those previously repudiated by the Catholic church, demanding that church leaders adopt a humbler lifestyle, and speaking out harshly against the abuse of children by the clergy, Myers has consistently taken the opposite tack. He has, without question and according to incontrovertible evidence protected and defended priests who have abused children, both here and in his previous position in Peoria; used tens of thousands of dollars from diocesan funds to build a palatial retirement home for himself in a tony part of Jersey, and cracked down on any priest who dares to show compassion to the divorced, LGBTQ or politically liberal Catholic.
Now he has doubled down. In an article in today’s Star Ledger, it is reported that Myers has sent a letter to the unfortunate priests in his diocese demanding that they show no mercy towards those who deviate from Catholic doctrine, denying communion and even the use of Church facilities to people whose ideology does not match that of Myers. Frankly, I don’t get it. The Pope has shown his willingness to remove Bishops who are corrupt and venal, but Myers has remained untouched. For a time, Rome sent a co-Bishop to actually run the diocese as a response to Myers’ egregious behavior, but he has since left. What does Myers have on the Vatican, or on Francis, that leaves him untouched? It is not that Myers is liked by his flock; it appears that not only is he disliked, but disliked widely by lay Catholics. Contributions to the diocese are way down, because Catholics are wary that their monies are going to feather Myers’ own nest (literally).
As a religious leader myself, I am always responsible to those whom I serve, and accountable for every action and decision. I get that. It is the price of leadership. But Myers appears untouchable. I must admit, I am a little wistful and envious that Myers appears to have a complete insulation from his actions that most of us never achieve.
First there was the article last week claiming that there is historical doubt as to whether the Temples once stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (The Times issued a correction claiming that the article was really about where the Temples once stood, but I actually read the article and there is no question that they were raising the question as to the reality of a Jewish Temple). Today, the article on page four is about the excessive use of force utilized by Israeli police in stopping a wave of murderous knife attacks by Palestinians taking place throughout the country. One paragraph actually asserted that because a police officer was wearing a protective vest when he was stabbed he should have known that he was perfectly safe from injury and had no need to use deadly force. (Reminding me of the articles claiming that since Israel had the “Iron Dome” it should not respond when Hamas rained rockets on their elementary schools and such).
I have said before that the New York Times believes that the only acceptable place for Jewish settlement is the Upper West side, but this is getting absurd. Short of every Jew (at least the light skinned, more acceptable ones ) packing up and moving to 72nd and Broadway, what does the Times wish us to do?
I have supported every peace initiative since the 80’s (including the latest “Iran Deal”) and taken my share of hits for it-but come on guys, your hatred of Jewish self-determination, your loathing of the Jewish state, is glaringly, and embarrassingly, obvious.
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.
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.
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”.