If I wanted to respond to each letter to the editor or article directly criticizing me or taking positions that I disagree with, I would never be able to write about other topics. However, this week I wanted to make an exception to address the arguments made in two letters claiming that I am taking contradictory positions and that I support Ocasio-Cortez and Ms. Tlaib since, just like them, I am a critic of the president.
In yeshivah and in law school, similar skills are taught. One of the skills is being able to look at various situations where the court or rabbis seem to be making contradictory determinations, but closer analysis indicates otherwise. One example is in the Daf Yomi from Saturday, January 19, 2019 (Chullin 53 [a]), where Rav is asked three questions that are similar and gives three answers that appear to be contradictory. The Talmud explains that the three inquires and replies pertain to different cases.
This same analysis explains why, as it relates to President Trump and Syria, those opposing the pullout of troops should publicly speak out while at the same time it is better not to publicly attack Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib.
Trump is the most powerful political leader in this country, if not the world. What he says and does has reverberations not only in this county but all over the world. Congress may have the power of the purse, but only the president is the commander in chief of the military. If he tells the military that he wants them to leave Syria, they will leave Syria. National Security Chief John Bolton can give all the speeches he wants about not leaving Syria until ISIS is defeated, but it means nothing since the president is not following his advice. As one military commander noted, “Nothing changed; we do not take orders from Bolton.” The process of leaving Syria has begun.
In contrast, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib are freshmen members of the House of Representatives, two of 435 voting members. Neither one is on an important House committee. Right now, they have no power and are trying their best to make themselves relevant by self-promoting and picking fights with anyone who criticizes them.
There are many things that we see every day that annoy us. The fact that a person feels the need to publicly attack another, for example, in an article or a scathing letter to the editor, is an indication that you think the person is important. Therefore, spending time publicly attacking Ocasio-Cortez or Tlaib is giving them what they want: an appearance of importance. However, we need to work behind the scene with likeminded individuals who oppose them to make sure they do not obtain power to cause damage.
These are not easy issues. I understand why people have a different view. When the American Nazi Party wanted to march through Skokie in 1977, the Jewish community was in a quandary. Should they stage a counter-protest or ignore them and let them have their march? If there is a counter-protest it will give the American Nazi Party publicity and inflate their importance. The reaction by some was to try to stop the march by going to court. This ended up being a case that went up to the Supreme Court and the American Nazi Party was allowed to march based on the First Amendment. After the decision, the response was to largely ignore them. I think it turned out to be the best approach, since the Nazi Party ended up having a march in Chicago with little fanfare.
It is unfortunate that a child of Holocaust survivors is so traumatized that every time there is something that occurs that is unfavorable to the Jewish community, he thinks it will lead to another Holocaust, this time in America, if we do not publicly speak up. As bad as it appears to some people today, the situation for Jews in America was much worse before World War II and there was no Holocaust. For example, in 1921, a titan of industry, Henry Ford, publicly argued that the Protocols of Zion was proof of a Jewish plot to take over the world. In the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin spewed anti-Semitic rhetoric on a weekly radio show heard by as many as 30 million. There was a rally in Madison Square Garden in February 1939 by the American Nazi Party. Streets in Yaphank, Long Island, were named after important German Nazi leaders including Adolf Hitler, and there was a camp, Camp Siegfried, that taught Nazi ideology and had pro-Nazi marches. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a child remembered traveling and seeing signs “no dogs and Jews allowed.”
The second letter to the editor makes the claim that since I criticize Trump, and Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib also criticize Trump, I therefore am a supporter of Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib. It’s the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” argument. With that logic, Mr. Eschandy is a supporter of ANTIFA (antifascists). In August 2017, a group of white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, screaming anti-Semitic slogans. They were met with a violent counter-demonstration by the far left including ANTIFA. Jews including Mr. Eschandy and I abhor the conduct of the white supremacists, yet we also disagree with the positions of ANTIFA on other issues, even though in this instance we and ANTIFA have the same negative feelings toward white supremacists.
The same dichotomy applies to criticizing Trump. If one just read the local Jewish papers, you would think that Trump has a 95 percent approval rating. In the latest Marist Poll, the president has a 39 percent approval rating and a 53 percent disapproval rating. Among Independents it is 37 percent disapproval and 57 percent disapproval. Thus, while Ocasio- Cortez and Tlaib disapprove of the president and the majority takes the same position, it does not establish that a majority supports their other positions. As stated in my prior article, the group that they ally themselves with, the Democratic Socialists of America, had only 24,000 members as of July 2017. Moreover, a study released last October found that only 8 percent identified themselves as progressive activists (“Hidden Tribes: A Study of American’s Political Landscape”).
Therefore, one can be a critic of the president while at the same time be a critic of Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib. I am in good company, since a substantial group of people would fall within this category.
The irony concerning Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib is there is little, if any, difference between me and my critics of the goal. The only dispute is tactics. Yet in our polarized sociality, even a mere disagreement about tactics results in a venomous personal attack.
Warren S. Hecht is a local attorney. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org