Rabbi Arthur WaskowPosted Feb 13, 2008 •Permalink • Printer-Friendly Version
Obama, Romney, Bigotry, & Slander
by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The Shalom Center by law may not, and doesn’t, choose between candidates in an election. But there is no legal, ethical, or moral bar to our denouncing the use of religious slurs and slanders when they are used against any candidate. Or more than one, as is the case right now in American politics.
Indeed, we are morally REQUIRED to condemn such slanders. And so are all of us. To say it NOW, before slander casts its vote against decency and ALL America loses the Presidential election.
During the past month, beginning with Senator Barak Obama’s victory in Iowa, there has been an explosion of slanders that had circulated earlier to a much smaller audience – mainly that he attended a Wahhabist pro-terrorist Muslim school as a child, and that he is secretly a Muslim today —and not merely a Muslim, but anti-Semitic.
I am ashamed to say that these slanders have gained most of their currency in the Jewish community –- and I am proud to be able to say that leaders of some Jewish organizations have publicly and forthrightly denounced them.
For a number of major reports about the true facts and about the origins and impact of the slanders, please see a series of articles we have just posted in the “Interreligious” and “What is Anti-Semitism” sections of our Website. See – http://www.shalomctr.org/taxonomy/term/50
Given all that, I am astonished by an editorial in the current issue of The Forward, a normally progressive and independent-minded Jewish weekly. The editorial defines the rumors about Obama as baseless –- except that he did briefly attend a Muslim school as a child in Indonesia under his father’s tutelage. It diagnoses the fear that bubbles up in the willingness of some Jews to believe such rumors. It treats the call for honesty and an end to slander as merely the voice of an ineffectual Jewish establishment, as if the slanders were somehow the voice of “the people.”
But the Forward never clearly and vigorously urges Jews at the grass roots to denounce these slanders. Instead it says:
Accusations of antisemitism take on a life of their own. … Moderate and liberal Jews who don’t share the conservatives’ agenda will give the benefit of doubt to the accusers.Thus the Jewish hawks have the final say, and the burden is on the candidate to avoid falling afoul of them.
And it even says: “Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Almost certainly not.”
“ALMOST?” I thought as I read this piece. “Where does this ‘almost’ come from?”
“The burden is on the candidate”? Of course in practical fact the candidate must address the slanders, but ethically the burden is on US. All us Americans. All us Jews.
So I wrote the editor:
“Your editorial says: ‘Is Barack Obama a Muslim? Almost certainly not.’
I say: “Is J. J. Goldberg [editor of The Forward] a Christian? Almost certainly not. Even if he sang Christian hymns (as I did, because that’s what children were required to do in those days) in public elementary and junior high school.”
“ ‘Almost certainly not’ ? Where does that “almost” come from, in regard to a person who for decades has fervently prayed in a Christian church?
“And you adulterate the ancient progressivism of the Forward into fake populism, giving a make-believe gloss of proletarian glamor to the paranoias you should be denouncing. Your editorial described the virulent effect of the “anti-Semite” smear on frightened Jews without clearly and nobly denouncing it.
“With blessings that you recover your clarity and your menschklichkeit, remembering that emet, tzedek, and shalom — TRUTH, Justice, and Peace — are the three pillars on which the world must stand.”
Let me end by saying that this is not a problem of demonizing Muslims alone, and not a problem among Jews alone. The attacks on Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon are scandalous. The assertions by some candidates that the president must or should be Christian are scandalous. From them, one would never learn or guess that the Constitution says –—
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
That provision was never more needed than now. For me, that and the First Amendment are the most godly provisions God ever inspired into the American Constitution.
There are plenty of reasons to support or to oppose any of the present candidates for president. Their religious origins and beliefs are not among them. How they translate their religious beliefs into public policy is.
And the burden is on ALL of us to say so, to say it in synagogues and churches and mosques and temples and shrines —and yes, I will say it again: to say it NOW, before slander casts its vote against decency and ALL America loses the Presidential election.
Shalom, salaam, shantih, peace –