Judgment Call:

I’m not sure what the expectations for this blog are among its participants or its readers, but I think that one of the reasons I was invited might be my political involvement. There’s an issue of great political significance brewing for some time now which I’m contemplating bringing to this blog. Although the issue – the bitter partisan battles over judicial nominations – appears to me to be off the radar screen of many in the Jewish community at the grassroots level, it is very front-and-center for the groups in Washington which claim to represent us.

Some quick background:

In the last go-around, during the battle, several prominent Jewish groups under political pressure broke with their previous policies and took positions supporting or opposing (actually, it may be that the only ones who broke with their traditions actually were in opposition – we can clarify later) nominees. This time, those same groups are not waiting. They are preparing for battle, have declared that they will engage again, and the tension is almost palpable.

I view this as an issue of great significance. It is one of the central debates in Washington and touches on the role played by Jewish groups there, the impact of the political parties in setting the agendas for those groups – in particular the long and deep ties between the Democratic party and certain “mainstream” Jewish groups – Jewish-Christian relations, issues of the Jewish community’s public expressions of morality, our impact on the integrity of the Constitution, and many other political, moral, social and cultural issues.

Example: In the last episode of the judge-wars, a particularly distressing new formulation for determining fitness for service as a judge (or, indeed, as any public official), was the Democrats’ argument that “deeply held personal beliefs,” i.e., an individual’s faith, might presumptively render them unfit for certain public offices, despite otherwise outstanding credentials and even a demonstrated history of impeccable public service.

Example: During one especially contentious week last year, there was an extraordinary confluence of two nominations that were derailed by the Democrats, one judicial, one foreign policy. The particulars have led some very concerned Jewish insiders to suggest that it was the defining moment when Muslim political clout first trumped Jewish clout in Washington.

I’ve seen this issue from the inside and from the outside. When I worked in the Senate, one of my responsibilities was judicial nominations. Since then, I have continued to work on the issue in a variety of ways.

So – with that preface, I turn to my fellow bloggers and to Cross-Currents readers to ask: is this blog a proper forum for this discussion? Too removed from the core subject matter? For me, it is perhaps the res : achieving clarity of the role Jews do play and perhaps should play in our society.

If not here, I do plan anyway to explore the issue elsewhere.

Your feedback is sought.

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12 Responses

  1. A Simple Jew says:

    I do not think that this a proper place for that type of discussion.

  2. David Brand says:

    You touch on some very different issues within the process of confirming various nominees. I’ll comment on the issue that I think is most relevant here, which is the idealogical screening of nominees. As frum Jews, I think it’s fair to say that we enhance the political process by dint of our clear moral perspective. That doesn’t mean that we’ll always agree, but it does provide us with a firm backdrop on which we formulate our political views.

    I know that die-hard libs will read that and say, “sure, we base our things on moral views too; moral values like social justice, protecting working families, reproductive rights, gay rights and ending discrimination and greed.” Ummm, yeah, we heard that right after the election. As long as the libs continue to view morals that way, they will continue to lose more and more elections. But I digress.

    I think that we view the approach of making judgements because of underlying strong moral/religious beliefs as a good thing. So, to the extent that Jewish groups come out and say that Nominee X needs to be stopped because of his views for/against a particular thing, we serve a purpose by providing counterbalance. After all, this blog IS designed to be read. People need to see that the Jewish perspective is very much in favor of “deeply held personal beliefs.”

    As far as Muslim political clout, I’ll sit back and let you give us the inside baseball there. If there’s something we can do to counter it, please let us know.

  3. Sholom Simon says:

    I hope this doesn’t become yet another left-wing/right-wing debating blog (even if it is from a Jewish perspective). I already read plenty of that. I’d rather be kept up to date on other timely Jewish issues — such as what’s going on with the PETA/AgriProcessors; copepods in NYC water; and so forth.

  4. David Brand says:

    Sholom Simon,
    The point here is that there is an inescapabable nexus between the moral and the political. You might view that as left/right, but it’s really moral versus amoral. Our morals and our politics are interwoven, like it or not. I can’t speak for those who moderate the blog, but my impression is that this is a place to think, debate and come out with something that you didn’t have before visiting. Often, that means that politics will become part of the discussion. Hang around long enough, and the moderators will probably get to PETA (they already have) and things like copepods (which were covered elesewhere before this blog started.

  5. I tend to agree with Sholom Simon on this one. But I would be interested to see a clarification/expansion of your statement about “Muslim clout” vs. “Jewish clout.” Other than the 900-pound gorilla that is the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, Jewish and Muslim Americans have remarkably congruent political agendas. I’m suprised to hear someone alleging that there are competing judicial agendas. Frankly, I haven’t seen anything in the domestic political agenda of organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Alliance, the American Muslim Task Force, and the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council that isn’t congruent with what mainstream Jewish organizations have been advocating.

    (Before anyone flames this post, please take five minutes to go to their websites and _read_ their policy statements. If the PETA-Agriprocessor war heats up or expands to the “secular” sphere, then Muslims are going to be absolutely critical political allies, since halal slaughter basically is based on kashrut. And before anyone suggests that this is an overly liberal or ecumenical reaction, please do have a look at the names of the Jewihs attendees at this week’s Brussels meeting between rabbis and imams: http://www.hommesdeparole.org/ )

    Absent further comment, I would speculate that by “Jewish clout” you really mean “conservative Jewish clout,” but then why not make it a a liberals-vs-conservatives thing rather than a Muslim-Jewish thing? More evidence? Was there some specific issue that came up?

  6. Sholom Simon says:

    David Brand wrote: “The point here is that there is an inescapabable nexus between the moral and the political. You might view that as left/right, but it�s really moral versus amoral.”

    Yes, there is a nexus between the moral and the political. But that’s not what’s underlying the issues on these judges. What’s really driving the debate on these judges is that the Dems think they are too right wing. Whether they are right or wrong is beside the point. It’s politics. It’s the torture memo. Business vs Consumer. States Rights vs Federal Power. And so forth.

    I’ve been a fan of Project Genesis for a long time. And when I heard from R Menken about this blog I was excited.

    Reading about “the war against Bush’s judges” is _not_ what excited me.

  7. tam says:

    What would you say if Muslims became a significant political group in the USA and sought to legislate shari’a in the name of “moral values”?
    What would you say, for that matter, if Catholics insisted on passing legislation that made abortion illegal even when the mother’s life was at risk?
    I think we should be very careful about our morality on the general public without consensus. If our moral views have to be argued from within Judaism there is no reason for our religiously inspired views of morality to triumph over the views of those of other faiths.
    Therefore, I think it’s best to argue from general principles, not specifically religious principles.

  8. Elitzur says:

    Oh no, please don’t – there a zillion other places I can go for that…
    But how about this for a proper discussion: should we really be spending out time/money to influence what the non-Jews think? All the money spent on convincing non-Jews of the importance of Israel, the morality of Israel, etc. Is it really worth it? Are we actually influencing anybody? If that money was spent instead on Jewish education, making all Jews into the upstanding, HONEST, citizens – so that non-Jews couldn’t help but see that Jews are the am hanivchar – wouldn’t that be a better use of our resources?

  9. Shira Drissman says:

    I think that Cross-Currents certainly can be a forum for political ideas. Obviously it shouldn’t become the focus for all the writers here, since it could become too much, however, we are supposed to live our lives according to the Torah. We need to see Judaism applied to all parts of our lives, the mundane as well as the holy. I appreciate the opportunity to see and participate in the discussion at hand.

  10. The connection between Hashkafa, moral standards, and politics is so close as to be indistinguishable. I feel it does belong.

  11. S. R. says:

    To the extent that aspects of political debates are congruent with matters on which religion has a distinct perspectival contribution to make, it seems as if this blog could add value – besides for Christian magazines like First Things, where could this specific type of discussion take place?

    The diversity of bloggers here and Judaism-specific issues is sufficient assurance, to me at least, that Cross-Currents won’t devolve into some sort of Watchblog-type political amalgam. But if other readers have deeply held beliefs to the contrary…

  12. Yossi says:

    I agree with Elitzur�s comment that pouring money into “hasbara” provides such meager return on investment. As George Orwell keenly observed: “If a man has the slightest disposition towards anti-Semitism, such things bounce off his consciousness like peas off a steel helmet.”

    See the rest of Orwell wonderfully insightful essay on anti-Semitism at http://whitewolf.newcastle.edu.au/words/authors/O/OrwellGeorge/essay/tribune/AsIPlease19440211.html

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