American Jews – Faked Out

I have never been a boxer, but it is my understanding that there is a move wherein a fighter fakes a jab with his left hand, only to deliver a knockout punch with a right hook.

I would like to suggest that we in the American Jewish community are falling for such a fake. Two examples come to mind.

The first is the uproar over the appointment of Steve Bannon as Senior Policy Adviser.  As odious as Bannon is, it is not clear that he is truly an anti-Semite or how much power he will actually wield.

The second fake is the uproar over an absurd and unconstitutional suggestion that Muslims in the country be registered. The proposal in actuality seeks to reinstitute an ineffectual program from the Bush II era called NSEERS, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. This program registers people visiting the U.S. by country of origin, even though these countries are predominately Muslim.

Both of these are essentially meaningless distractions which make us vulnerable to the very real knockout punches which are to come.

I am disappointed that both the Conservative and Reform movements, as well as the ADL, have come out so strongly against Bannon. I also think that while calls that we should all register as Muslims might make us feel good and might make a strong statement to our neighbors, such actions might cause us to miss very real challenges. We in North Carolina have seen this before. I am afraid that we are being faked out.

Consider this. Shortly after Bannon’s appointment was announced, Senator Jeff Sessions was nominated to become Attorney General. Sessions has been an ardent opponent of Civil Rights and Voting Rights throughout his career.  Part of his responsibility will be to uphold the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal protection under the law.  (Based upon his record, he will uphold the 14th Amendment only for white men!)  As an old time Alabama segregationist, the damage that he can do in this position is indeed significant. He will be a disastrous AG! As his nomination will require Senate approval, we will need to lobby against him.  In terms of its importance, his nomination is far more significant than Bannon’s and yet our community has not issued statements against Sessions.

In the future, Trump will need to throw “redmeat” to his right wing, evangelical base before proceeding with anything else. Specifically, one of the first things that Trump will do will be to try to appease the NRA. The word is that he will do this with the national “Open Carry” law. This is much more significant than either Bannon or NSEERS. The potential damage to the country, to innocent lives, will be devastating and long lasting.

Trump will seek to defund Planned Parenthood. Where I live, 3400 people, primarily poor and uninsured women, depend on the wide range of high quality, preventive, general and reproductive health care services provided by Planned Parenthood. Defunding would eliminate the only access many of these clients have to safe, necessary medical care and would undermine the health of men and women in our city with potentially tragic results.

Trump will also focus his attention on the Supreme Court and once he gets a new justice, will try to find a way to overturn Roe v Wade which would be a cataclysmic blow to every woman’s fundamental right to bodily autonomy, privacy, and religious freedom.

Trump will then attempt to replace Obamacare by means of cuts to both Medicare and Medicaid expansion.

Mobilizing our community against the nomination of Jeff Sessions, against the defunding of Planned Parenthood, against the nomination of a jurist with an ideological predisposition to overturning Roe v Wade, against an open carry law, and against cuts in healthcare for the poor, the elderly, and the most vulnerable; these are the issues which desperately need our attention now.

The Bannon and Muslim issues are fakes and are for Trump useful distractions which will divert our attention from other more significant issues.

There is an old folk song from the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s entitled “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize”. The lyrics say “Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on!”

Thus far, the responses of the organized Jewish community have not been ones wherein we have kept our “eyes on the prize”. Rather, our responses may be characterized as reactive to highly charged, but basically symbolic issues.

The right hooks, the knockout punches, are coming!  Let us hope that we would do better in the future in recognizing the real threats and not the fake ones!

About the Author
Fred Guttman is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, North Carolina. He has served on the Commission of Social Action for Reform Judaism. He has been recognized as one of the “50 Voices for Justice” by the URJ and by the Forward Magazine as one of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis.” In March 2015, he organized the National Jewish commemoration in Selma of the 50th Anniversary of the Bloody Sunday March.