Politics is a Dirty Word

Several years ago soon after I made Aliyah, I attended a shiur at Bar Ilan University. It was the day before election day. After the shiur was over, the Rabbi said “Everyone remember to vote, because it is a mitzvah to vote for whichever party you believe will be the best for Am Yisrael.” I was not libertarian back then so I thought that was an OK thing to say, but years later I realized how twisted and nonsensical a statement it really was.

First of all, what if the person is wrong about the best party for Am Yisrael? Worse, what if he votes for a party because he believes it will do something violent, like expel Jews or Arabs from their homes, and he thinks this is good for whatever reason? Is he morally responsible for voting for that kind of party? What if he thinks a certain party will be good and then it does the opposite of what he thinks? Is he responsible for it as a voter for that party? Deeper still, if the Rabbi thinks it’s so important to vote for “whichever party you believe is best” why not just tell us what party is best so we can vote for the thing? After all, people go to him for all kinds of advice. Marital, personal, religious etc. But God forbid you should ever give me your opinion about who to vote for?

The shallow answer is that politics is something else. It’s dirty. Most people know this intuitively. It makes people feel icky, all kinds of people very icky, but it’s hard to put a finger on why. You’re giving a Dvar Torah or speech somewhere, feel free to talk about morality, God, Halacha, spirituality, Tanach, Gemara or whatever, and people are usually fine with that. But most synagogues have a “no politics” rule for their Rabbis and preachers, and rightly so. Bring in politics and you’re going to get yelled at by somebody. Why? Politics is reserved for political “safe zones,” where it has to be announced beforehand that the event will be political, and what kind of politics it will be. Otherwise talking about politics is considered improper, even wrong. How can this be? Mustn’t there be a political position that’s actually right and one that’s wrong?

No matter how entrenched your political opinions may be, you will always feel this ickiness, some sense of inappropriateness when it comes to politics in certain settings. You will always feel that other people “have the right to express their own political opinions” and being politically active is commendable even if you disagree strongly with somebody’s politics.

But if you think the other guy is wrong, why is it commendable?

You can have a very close friend that disagrees with you politically, and outside of politics you can get along great. You can even be married to someone with very different political opinions from your own and this may have little to no effect on your marriage. Somehow politics inhabits this “otherness” that can be siphoned off from your real life and interactions with people into some kind of parallel universe where your disagreements can be cordoned off from affecting any other area. How is this possible?

Even stranger, politics divides people viciously into groups and sects that are otherwise pretty much identical in most respects. Take the recent political infighting among Haredim regarding some municipal election in Jerusalem last October. One of those really old Rabbis who a lot of people follow got physically attacked in his home for supporting one mayoral candidate over some other one. There were threatening letters exchanged, etc. Or consider the case of Ovadiah Yosef. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t respect the man for his accomplishments outside the political realm. People will all blandly agree he was great. But once you get into his politics, that’s when the fights start. Some people love him and others hate him. Why only in politics do we get these vicious fights?

The answer to all these questions is that the essence of politics is force, and nobody likes being forced to do things that he wouldn’t voluntarily do. Politics is essentially the question of where money you are forced to pay, goes. You are being forced to pay taxes, and then vote (sort of) on what they should be used for. It is impossible for everyone to want the same things, so conflict results.

On the free market in any given exchange, both sides necessarily benefit, minimizing fights. Everyone gets to decide for himself exactly what his money is used for according to his own values. But in political action, one side necessarily loses. One person is always forced to pay for someone else’s benefit, and this yields resentment. This is not limited to government welfare. It is pervasive in every realm of government imaginable, from the most totalitarian dictatorships to a minimum government limited to army, police, and a court system.

Take the “disengagement” from Gaza in 2005. Why was this a political event? On the one hand, the “left wing” resented Jews even being there in the first place because it is not a left wing value to settle Gaza with Jews, forget about why. The reason they resented it is because they, the left wing people, were being forced to pay for the protection of these towns by the army through the tax system, a cause which they do not support. This costs money, and nobody likes it when his money is being used for things he does not approve of.

On the other hand, the “right wing” certainly resented the fact that people were being kicked out of their property by an army that the “right wing” was also equally paying for. Right wing people do not like paying for the destruction of their values any more than the left wing does. So it becomes a bitter, nasty fight.

Or take gay pride parades. This starts a political debate every single year. Why? Because the roads upon which these parades take place are paid for by force through the tax system. The people who value gay pride parades will fight to have them on the streets that they pay for. The people who do not value gay pride parades will also fight to keep them off the streets that they equally pay for. So it becomes a bitter, nasty fight.

Or take that fight over segregated Ashkenazi/Sephardi education a few years back in Emanuel. The school was a tax-funded government school paid for by everybody, and “right wing” (or racist, or whatever term you want to use it’s all the same meaningless labeling) parents who valued a segregated education for whatever reason for their children, resented being forced to educate their kids in a manner they did not approve of in a school they were being forced to pay for through the tax system. Many people who had not even heard of Emanuel in the first place became vested in this political fight in a school that had no connection to their lives, because they felt sick being forced to pay for a school that was segregating children and wanted the parents arrested. A bitter, nasty fight ensued.

As taxes go higher, the fights get worse and worse, because there is less money left over for people to use as they wish, and it becomes ever more important how the tax money gets distributed.

As the tax burden gets higher and higher and politics consequently gets more and more bitter and divisive, the tax leviers – the ones that actually pass the laws to arrest you if you don’t pay them – divert your attention to scapegoats instead of at the tax leviers, the politicians themselves who are responsible. Take tax-funded child stipends. These are deeply, deeply resented by those forced to pay for them. In a country that has the power to force you not only to pay taxes, but also to actually serve in the IDF for three years of your life, there is even deeper resentment between people who would rather not be a slave for 3 years and get exemptions for it to learn Torah (whatever that means), and people who are still forced into the IDF because they’d rather not sit in a Yeshiva for 3 years. Then devolves into a fight of one side trying to force the other side to also be a slave to the IDF for three years, which will cost even more money and an even worse fight ensues.

And the government, that thing that levies the taxes and hands out the licenses to the broadcast news media, makes sure that story after story is published about how, of course, Haredim are the ones to blame because they get a few hundred shekels in child welfare stipends while evading the army and everyone else has to pay them and get drafted. But they also make sure that not a single story is published about the enormous “stipends” of 30,000 plus shekels a month going to 2,646 senior government officials costing over a billion shekels a year coming from the same tax pile. Those are respected public servants, the ones getting 30,000  a month of your money. Haredim, the ones getting a few hundred though, are parasites. Nothing to see here.

A government controlled health care system fosters bitterness between those who want all kinds of drugs covered by taxpayers and those who don’t want to pay for them because why should they? Government controlled transporation leads to bitterness about whether there should be any service on Shabbat or not. Tax funded education leads to fights about who has to learn what in order to get the money. Anything and everything that government touches gives rise to hatred and infighting and for good reason. With tax funded anything, one side necessarily loses. Then it becomes a competition over who can squeeze the most money out of the other side.

This is exactly why no Rabbi can get up and say which party is the best for Am Yisrael. Because there is none. There is no win win in politics. Deep down we all know this. This is why, no matter how strong your political opinions may be, you will always see your political enemies as legitimate and commendable in their political action. Because you know somewhere inside that your political foe is just defending himself against your pull for his money. You have a right to fight, he has a right to fight back. Voting is trying to hire some guy to steal from your neighbor for you. That’s why politics is a dirty, dirty word. That’s why it cannot come up in a Dvar Torah without getting you in trouble.

You belong to the pressure group you belong to, and the objective is to squeeze money out of someone else who doesn’t hold your values using the government as your mafia for your own benefit. As Frederic Bastiat once said, “Government is the big fiction by which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 11.38.40 PM

Meanwhile, as we all come together on election day to try and steal from one another, the bureaucrats always get to skim off the top.

Someone in my neighborhood once told me proudly that he got a job as a lobbyist at the Knesset. He knew I am a Feiglin activist and thought I’d be happy for him getting closer to the centers of power and force and whatnot. He didn’t know who he was talking to. I asked him if he was lobbying for money or liberty? The question took him for a loop. He thought for a second and said, in a bit of a shameful tone, “Money, I guess.” I looked down and walked away from him, hoping I hurt his pride as much as possible.

The only legitimate reason to be involved in politics is for the purpose of destroying it. Of finding someone who will actually give you your own money back instead of give you someone else’s to shut you up.

As for the solution to all these problems, it is to get the government out and privatize. In the case of the Disengagement from Gaza, the real solution would have been to exempt Gazan Jews from all taxes, give them their share of weapons in the IDF they paid for, and let them defend themselves at their own expense rather than at the expense of left wingers in Tel Aviv. Problem solved. Nobody has to kick anybody out of his home.

Gay Pride parades – sell the government controlled roads to private owners who will manage them, and have the pride parade organizers negotiate a price for the parade with the private road owners. Alternatively, privatize the parks and let them hold a parade in a private city park somewhere at the market price. This way nobody who hates gay pride parades and thinks God hates them too has to pay for them, and people who love gay pride parades and think God loves them too can pay for them and the rest of us can yawn in blessed apathy and not have to read about fights over a parade in the news anymore.

The Ashkenazi/Sephardi segregation battle in Emanuel? Shut down the Education Ministry, let schools operate based on consumer preferences, end the tax flow to schools, and if parents want to send their kids to fully private segregated schools, then pay for it and do it! And if you think that’s disgusting and racist, you don’t have to pay for it so what do you care?!

It’s easy to compose a Dvar Torah devoid of politics and talk about how all Jews should be united. But practically, this is impossible so long as we are always trying to live at the expense of one another. We all have different values. That will never change. Some of us are “racists,” and want segregated education, some of us don’t like that idea. Some of us love the Army and would serve forever without pay. Others hate guns and want to be left alone. Some of us are gay and love parading it, others think gay marriage will bring on Armageddon. Some of us hate “settlers” and think they are destroying everything. Others love settlers and think without them we’d all be dead and God will hate us or whatever. We are all different, and the only way to unite is to respect differences and not force the other side to conform with what we, personally, happen to value.

We cannot be unified if we are always at one another’s throats trying to get our money back from the other side while our mutual enslavers eat at our tax-funded banquet. The way you unify the Jewish People is not by suggesting we all be better. It’s by getting taxes and government out of everything so there is practically nothing to fight over. If you just let people do what they want and not pay for what they don’t believe in, the hardest lefty and the most extreme righty can and will get along.

Politics, at bottom, is based on the total lack of respect for other people’s property. Get rid of it. It’s a dirty word. The next time you feel icky discussing something political, delve into that shame and develop it, grow it, foster it. This is a good thing. It’s your own human decency creeping up on you. If you love politics and everything about it, you are either a politician, in which case there is little hope for you, or you haven’t read this far anyway.



About the Author
Rafi is from Miami, made Aliyah in 2007, and lives with his wife and four kids in the Golan. He analyzes financial markets for a living. Rafi is a libertarian running for Knesset for slot #10 on Moshe Feiglin's Zehut Party Knesset slate.