Home October 2011 True Believers and Mixed Messages

True Believers and Mixed Messages

It is fitting that the trial of the Irvine 11 and the special election in New York took place in the shadow of the tenth anniversary of “9/11.”  The reactions to all of the events are indicative of the complexity of human decision-making, especially that of American Jews.
Anyone in attendance at UCI on February 8, 2010, has a vivid memory of the orchestrated attempt by the so-called Irvine 11 to interfere with Ambassador Michael Oren’s right to free speech.  These Muslim students constantly interrupted Oren’s appearance, taking turns standing up and reading statements loudly as the ambassador tried to speak.  The disruptions began about 15 seconds after Oren started speaking and ended when security guards removed the students.  Not only were members of the audience deprived of listening and interacting with Oren, but the apparent orchestration of the Muslim Student Union actions makes me think of the attack on that horrible day in 2001 – cold, calculated and coordinated.
While the students did no physical harm, they obviously acted out of hatred for the Jews and Western culture and disrespect for the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.  Someone was pulling the strings, and the students acted in concert, creating an environment of disruption, fear and anger.  Yes, the students have been punished by means of a short ban on Muslim Student Union activities, but what happens if we let it go at that?  Such violations of free speech will keep happening in Irvine and elsewhere.  Jews will be uncomfortable – or perhaps unsure of what the First Amendment really means or who is being victimized.
In a polling place across the country, as reported by JTA, Republican Bob Turner won an upset victory in the heavily Democratic and Jewish congressional district in New York represented by Anthony Weiner until his resignation in mid-June amid a sex scandal.  Turner beat his Democratic opponent, New York State Assemblyman David Weprin, in the September 13 special election by a margin of 54 to 46 percent.  Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, urged voters to support Turner in order to send a message of dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama over his policies toward Israel.
Was it Israel, same-sex marriage or the Obama administration’s handling of the economy?  Perhaps voters acted out of self interest, or perhaps they voted along abstract lines.  Both parties are trying to ascribe motives to the voters, and both are using the polls to find reasons for the outcome.  Jews in the district are sending a message, but what is it?
According to Dan Senor, co-author with Saul Singer of Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle (Twelve, 2011) and senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, writing in the Wall Street Journal (September 14, 2011), “Mr. Obama … has built the most consistently one-sided diplomatic record against Israel of any American president in generations.”
Finally, the 9/11 memorial celebration was conceived in a way that did not include firefighters and other first responders, unquestionably the true heroes of the day, the people who gave us hope for the goodness of mankind in one of the ugliest moments in memory.  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office said that because of the number of victims’ family members attending there would not be enough room to accommodate first responders at Ground Zero that day.  In addition, the mayor did not want to have religious services out of fear of offending anyone. Apparently, political correctness trumped the truth.
How are all of these scenarios connected?  The radical Muslims are passionate and synchronized.  Whatever their motivation to disrupt a speech or a whole country, there is cold, hard determination to act.  For Jews the journey is important, and the need to weigh the alternatives is critical.  Thus, the Jews will consider that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim (in God’s image), think about how the other people feel, relate it to having been outsiders themselves and have trouble balancing self-interest with empathy.
May we find that balance in the New Year.

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