By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Some things seem to be done only because they have always been done, notwithstanding that they are wrong, harmful, embarrassing, senseless, immoral or obsolete. Patterns become established, paradigms become fixed and real thinking – or re-thinking – ceases. There are few more inane defenses of a particular action than to assert “this has been our longstanding policy,” and yet, in many circles, on a variety of issues, that passes for a reasonable explanation and an end to a discussion of the matter. A few examples will suffice.
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the decade-old Congressional law mandating that American citizens born in Jerusalem can be recorded as having been born in Israel. As predicted here six months ago, the three Jewish justices (and two others) upheld the traditional US policy of not “prejudging” the outcome of negotiations by officially recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Obviously, as noted, it didn’t have to be. Recording country of birth in a passport does not articulate diplomatic policy as much as it states a geographical reality. The Court could have easily concluded that this notation is procedural, not substantive, and reflects a reality that is acknowledged across the world in other disputed territories (see the dissent of the estimable Justice Antonin Scalia). But if the feckless Jews on the Court do not wish to recognize the historical and geographical reality of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, why should the six Catholics?
The broader point is the soundness of the “policy.” As mentioned in the Court’s opinion and by Obama administration spokesmen, the longstanding “policy” of the American government has been not to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but to leave the matter of its status to the negotiations between the parties. This policy has existed since Israel’s founding, and has been embraced by Presidents friendly to Israel and unfriendly to Israel. But does this “policy” make any sense? Of course not.
It strikes me that the policy has its strongest advocates in the pro-Arab, striped pants contingent at the State Department, and even friendly presidents saw no reason to change the policy and risk antagonizing the bureaucrats at State, especially since successive Israeli governments, to their discredit, have never pushed for its modification. It behooves Americans – and especially American Jews – to recognize that the denial of recognition applies to all of Jerusalem, from 1948 on, and has nothing to do with the Six Day War and the Old City. But Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it is obviously inIsrael, a verity denied acknowledgment for my little grandson who, as far as the United States is concerned, was born in a city without a country.
Forget, for a moment, reality (as politicians often do), and examine the “policy” on its face. Jerusalem is not recognized as capital of Israel because, officially, “it is a matter subject to negotiations between the parties and the US does not wish to prejudge the outcome of those negotiations” (for almost 70 years). But didn’t Obama call for a two-state “solution”? Hasn’t Obama insisted on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders? Didn’t Obama demand that part of Jerusalem be made the capital of the “Palestinian” state? Aren’t those all matters “subject to negotiations between the parties” for which the US also should not wish to prejudge the outcome? Why is the matter of Jerusalem singled out for special diplomatic treatment? Clearly, consistency is not a requisite of American foreign policy.
And shouldn’t we expect more from President Obama? After all, Obama unctuously – and bizarrely –asserted recently that he is “the closest thing to a Jew that has ever sat” in the White House. Shouldn’t this almost-Jew recognize the intrinsic connection between his own Jewish people and the City of Jerusalem? Or is this another example of Yiddishe Mazal: who would have thought that the “first Jewish president” – as per New York Magazine – would turn out to be a self-hating Jew?
The “policy” makes no sense, and maintaining the “policy” makes even less sense. The stated fear – prompting turmoil and unrest in the Arab world – is risible, especially given that the Arab world only knows turmoil and unrest. If Israel does not begin a campaign – no quid pro quo, just elementary integrity – to have the US recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, then shame on Israel. And Obama can do it with one stroke of his fabled pen. Perhaps that will boost his popularity among American Jews above the 41% level to which it has fallen.
Take another failed paradigm. The other day I was listening to a former Palestinian Arab activist, turned pro-Israel, who stated that peace is impossible now given the culture of violence in the Arab world. One non-Orthodox rabbi asked: “for those of us who still believe in the two-state solution, to whom should we talk?” The answer was: no one. There is no one to talk to. Her disappointment was palpable. A generation of Jews – maybe two – has invested so much into encouraging or cajoling a surrender of Judea and Samaria and the creation of another Palestinian state that those advocates are simply lost and bereft without that vision, lacking any means of moving forward. They are trapped in the old reality, paralyzed into thinking that the world that is long gone is still there or will soon return. The wise person sees the nolad – what is foreseeable, what trends are probable – and adjusts accordingly.
On another topic but still with another paralyzing paradigm, America’s culture wars heated up with the curious case of Rachel Dolezal, deposed president of the Spokane NAACP, who was exposed this week as a racial fraud – a white girl who claimed to be black and identified as black, to the chagrin of her parents. Granted, we have to allow for some mental illness and moderate our tone, but she did assert the victimhood of a black identity and was rewarded with some of the spoils generally assigned in the American political system to blacks with grievances.
That is troubling, because those spoils are designated for real blacks and not wannabes. But can a person claim a new racial identity? Can a white claim to be a black or vice versa? Indeed , if a man can claim that he is really a woman trapped in a man’s body, why can’t a white person claim that he is a black trapped in a white body? And in both cases, utilize the basic medical procedures to coordinate the exterior with the interior? Shouldn’t a world that celebrates gender fluidity also celebrate racial fluidity? Why can’t a Scandinavian claim that he feels very, very Chinese?
The great Shelby Steele (in his new book, “Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country”) insightfully refers to these excursions as “poetic truth,” which ignores or even rejects actual truth in order to assert “a larger essential truth that supports one’s ideological position.” One of the afflictions of American society is the license taken by anyone to create “poetic truths” that are thrust upon others and enforced through the moral intimidation known as political correctness.
The original sin – the paradigm that paralyzes progress and precludes rational discussion – is the segregation of American society today into disparate groups. “Identity politics” has little room or interest in an individual, and one’s worth and standing are only determined by identification with a particular group. Of course, there are favored and disfavored groups, but where the group is the ticket to rights and privileges, the individual becomes devalued. It partly explains the Dolezal phenomenon, but also why Americans have become so polarized and acrimonious. You are your group, and all others will relate to you as they would relate to your group. That degradation of the individual can only be reversed when “identity politics” is ended, and that will not be in this election cycle, if ever.
Finally, the rampant promiscuity on college campuses has created expectations of amorous activity in both men and women that has necessitated the creation of speech and conduct codes, with rigid rules that purport to define acceptance or rejection of one’s lustful advances. To be sure, feminism – among its other grand achievements – has succeeded in making some women as lecherous as many men. A new “yes means yes” campaign has begun, which undercuts the traditional role of seduction, not to mention marriage.
But the problem is not excessive concupiscence among young people. That has existed since Adam and Eve. The problem is the expectations of promiscuity, the casualness of coupling, the nonchalance of the hookup culture that is bound to leave some party, subsequently scorned the day after, irritated and despondent even when yes meant yes, and certainly when intentions are left ambiguous.
How about changing the expectations? Hey, here’s a crazy idea: how about saving sexual activity for marriage? Really, has anyone ever thought of that?? That way there will be no need for oral agreements, written contracts, or legal stipulations in the presence of two witnesses. There will be no misunderstandings or lawsuits. It will also help young people learn a little about self-control, also a good virtue to cultivate in life.
It will happen eventually – some time before Rachel Dolezal decides she is Asian but after Jerusalem is recognized by the United States as the capital of Israel.