Alan Edelstein

Not my father’s America

Forget the politics. Forget whose fault it is. Watching what is happening on the southern border of the United States is depressing and disgusting. It’s shameful.

I am glad that my father, his brothers, his friends are gone. This is not the America they served for, fought for, sometimes marched and rallied for, voted for, and, despite different politics, different levels of education, different degrees of success, believed in. It’s not the America I grew up being taught to believe in.

Yes, it may have been an idealized America. It may have been only a part of America. But it was a good and decent America, even if it was in their and our dreams, even if it was their, and our, idealized America.

It was not an America where immigrants, legal or illegal, refugees, people afraid and on the run, people seeking a better life, were demonized. It was not an America where immigrant children are torn away from their parents and are sleeping on concrete floors with aluminum “blankets.” It was not an America where fathers and baby daughters wash up dead on river banks.

In my father’s America, and mine, we helped people who were in desperate straits. We didn’t perpetuate their misery.

As an American citizen, brought up on the ideals and the dreams of America that my father imbued in me, not naive about its faults, but still a believer in the ideals, I am ashamed.

Former First Lady Laura Bush rightly asserted that what is happening on the border belies America’s claims to be a moral nation:

“Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation, on being the nation that sends humanitarian relief to places devastated by natural disasters or famine or war. We pride ourselves on believing that people should be seen for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.”

The 99 year old former Nuremberg trials prosecutor Ben Ferencz knows crimes against humanity when he sees them, and he says he is seeing them now:

‘“We list crimes against humanity in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. We have ‘other inhumane acts designed to cause great suffering’. What could cause more great suffering than what they did in the name of immigration law? It’s ridiculous,” the prosecutor of war criminals said regarding the family separation policy.”‘

‘“I knew the Statue of Liberty. I came under the Statue of Liberty as an immigrant,” Mr Ferencz said during the interview, which was posted on the UN website. His family came to the US from Romania when he was a child.’

‘Referencing a line from the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed at the base of the statue – “I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Mr Ferencz said “the lamp went out when [Trump] said no immigrants allowed unless they meet the rules that we laid down”.’

Much energy and outrage has been put into the discussion of whether the border facilities holding the refugees and would-be immigrants are concentration camps.

According to a strict definition, they may be. But the term has been so identified with the experience of Jews in the Holocaust, an experience whose core purpose was starvation, depredation, torture, and murder, that the use of the term in the current instance is understandably viewed by many as one more attempt to minimize and to destroy the uniqueness and severity of the campaign to destroy the Jews.

More important than terminology is the question of what is being done to protest this unconscionable, immoral situation, a situation that violates all of America’s ideals.

Not enough. Yes, we’ve heard words of outrage from politicians and others. Yes, some lawyers went down and took statements and bore witness. Yes, the Congress appropriated funds ostensibly designed to solve the problem. And, yes, the usual groups have voiced their objections.

None of this has worked. It is time for action, including civil disobedience if necessary.

Back in the day–the ’60’s–tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands marched against the War in Vietnam. People blocked trains and recruiting stations. The Civil Rights Movement was a model of civil disobedience: sit-in’s, marches, bus boycotts, and more. More recently concerned Americans marched against genocide in Sudan. Interestingly and, unfortunately not so surprising, the marches and rallies I participated in were disproportionately populated by aging, grey-haired Jews, veterans of protests of past years.

The Soviet Jewry Movement saw hundreds of thousands rally, march, write letters, and lobby. There were demonstrations outside of Soviet embassies. The more assertive, often led by rabbis, chained themselves to fences.

All of these tactics, necessary now, are largely missing. Press statements and Twitter and Facebook posts seem to be the ineffective substitutes.

This shameful American debacle calls out for all liberal American Jewish groups that pride themselves on being on the cutting edge of the the social justice movement. Where are the groups that are so quick to point out and express outrage about every real and perceived Israeli wart, and to sometimes fly in to demonstrate their seriousness, and to sometimes appear not to recognize that there are plenty of Israelis that are fighting for a better society? Where are they now, when atrocities are taking place on American soil and at American borders?

The situation on the border seems to be custom-made for rabbis and others of conscious to be blocking buses transporting immigrants to unacceptable facilities. It seems that this would be the time for these leaders to be chained to the fences confining these poor people.

As Laura Bush asserts, American morality is in jeopardy. As Nuremberg prosecutor Ferencz states, Lady Liberty’s lamp is out.

It’s time for people of conscience, and particularly American Jewish leaders of conscience, to take action.


Chutzpah Award:

It takes something beyond confidence to do what South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is doing: run for president of the United States of America at the age of 37 after serving as mayor of a city with a population of 101,166 for seven year.

Even if you are very articulate, and even if you went to Harvard, and even if you were a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and even if you were an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves and served in Afghanistan, and even if you were valedictorian of your high school senior class and won first prize in the JFK Profiles in Courage competition for writing about the integrity and courage of a senator 40 years your senior who you are now running against, none other than Bernie Sanders, it still takes something more than confidence. Guts? Nerve? Arrogance? Chutzpah?

Buttigieg certainly demonstrated chutzpah, and ignorance, when he questioned Israel’s human rights record and condescendingly said that it needs “friendly guidance” on peace. That takes nerve coming from a 37 year old mayor of a small town that just had a questionable shooting and from a country that is separating kids from parents, putting them in cages and having that sleep on concrete under aluminum “blankets,” among other things.

I am betting that Mayor Buttigieg knows next to nothing about how Israel handles human rights under very challenging security circumstances. I wonder if he knows that within the last few years Israel had massive problems with a huge number (given Israel’s population) of African refugees. We had demonstrations against them, and then demonstrations in support of them. We had racist comments.

We had condemnations. We had politicians exploiting the situation, throwing flames on the fire. Israel’s Prime Minister began implementing plans to send the refugees back to their countries of origin, which many alleged would have put them in mortal danger.

Then, Israel’s Supreme Court, a court often accused of liberal activism, of asserting jurisdiction far beyond its mandate, of making law, stepped in and halted implementation of the plan. The response: the removal stopped. The plan died.

I wonder if Mayor Buttigieg knows that recent history in Israel’s human rights history.

As for peace, I would bet he knows next to nothing about what Israelis have done for peace. I wonder if he has seen the thousands of gravestones and sites that are evidence of Israel’s dedication to peace. I wonder if he knows the history of Israel’s offers for peace and the responses they have received.

I wonder how the Mayor of a small town in Indiana, a citizen of a country that has been involved in countless wars and skirmishes, that has helped depose democratically elected leaders of countries, that sells arms around the word, that kills thousands of its own citizens every year because it refuses to do something about it, can be so confident and so sure, at the age of 37, that he can lecture Israelis about human rights and seeking peace.

Mayor Buttigieg is obviously smart and articulate, and very experienced as far as 30-something’s go, but he has a long way to go in the experience and humility category before he would get my vote. He reminds me of what my father used to say to me: “I only hope that when you grow up that you are half as smart as you now think you are.” As I get older, and as the world gets more complicated and depressing, my father seems to get smarter.

In short, he’s got chutzpah.


Feeling My Pain:

California Senator Kamala Harris, in the recent Democratic Party presidential debates, took a well-planned shot at former VP Joe Biden for his talk of how he used to work with, and have relationships with, segregationists. She explained how those relationships, and the way he referred to them, was hurtful.;_ylt=A0geJGvWCBZdwBUAugtXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTExbXY5b2MwBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwM0BHZ0aWQDREZENl8xBHNlYwNzcg —

I took advantage of the opportunity to try to explain to Senator Harris how, in a similar fashion, Jews are hurt when she and others associate with persons who have demonstrated Jew-hatred in their past:

Dear Senator Harris:

I am from California. I voted for you to be California Attorney General and U.S. Senator. While I would prefer that you run for President after gaining more years of experience as a Senator, I would definitely vote for you against President Trump and, depending on what the field looks like at the time, I would consider voting for you in the California primary election.

However, Al Sharpton has said statements and engaged in behavior that is clearly anti-Semitic and that have been very hurtful to me and many other Jews. Just as you are understandably hurt with Senator Biden’s explanation of his relationships with segregationists decades ago, I and many other Jews are very hurt when we see pictures of U.S. senators and presidential candidates such as the one whose link I have provided, a picture that I do not believe was taken that many years ago, cultivating Al Sharpton’s support, parading down to see him, speaking with him as friends do, and laughing with him.


Alan Edelstein

About the Author
Alan Edelstein made Aliyah in 2011 and lives in Jerusalem. He was the founding partner of a well-respected California government affairs firm and was involved in California government and politics as a lobbyist and consultant for 30 years. He blogs at He can be reached at