Friday, 23 October 2015 15:40

Ramblings

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Ramblings

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute of Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.

History Encourages Efforts Towards Muslim-Jewish Understanding

[Editor's note: This was written before the latest war begun by Hizballah, but as the article points to historical realities, hope remains that present-day hatreds need not be perpetual.]

Throughout the U.S., dialogue between American Jews and Muslims is increasing. According to The Jerusalem Report,

Both 9/11 and four years of intifada chilled relations between American Jews and Muslims, which had warmed notably during the Oslo period. Now dialogue is showing new signs of life. "And as the situation in the Middle East improves-which I think it will do now, please God," says Rabbi David Rosen, director of Inter-religious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, "there will be greater willingness on the part of the Jewish community to take more risks."

Dialogue has resumed, often sparked by individuals or groups not in leadership positions in either community, according to the Report:

After Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, his father, Judea Pearl, began a series of unscripted public dialogues with Akbar Ahmed, a professor of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, DC. Since an initial dialogue in Pittsburgh in October 2003, the two have appeared at gatherings around the U.S. and the United Kingdom, with Canada and several U.S. cities on the schedule for this year. Audiences are typically one-third Muslim and most of the rest Jewish, according to Pearl, an Israel-born professor of computer science at UCLA.

Pearl says:

My main reason is to convince Muslims that we are not their enemies. We try to stress the commonalities, though we don't shy away from friction.

Another example of dialogue is the Children of Abraham organization, co-founded by a Jewish man and a Muslim woman in 2004 in New York and London to offer "internships" to Jewish and Muslim young people around the world. The interns' task is to photograph Jewish and Muslim life in their communities and then dialogue with each other via the Internet. The first group of 60 interns from 27 countries took about 2,000 photographs last summer and posted 3,000 messages on the organization's web site in discussions that continued after the internships ended.

Other groups include the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, started by Zhudi Jasser, a Phoenix-area physician, which believes in the compatibility of Islamic and American values. In the Boston area, Judith Obermayer, a retired mathematician, hosted the first meeting of a Jewish-Muslim dialogue group about two years ago. From a handful of organizers brought together by the head of the local branch of the American Jewish Committee, the group that includes academics, doctors, businesspeople and ordinary Muslims and Jews-has grown to the point where 75 people attended a recent dinner.

The American Jewish Committee's Rabbi Rosen declares:

The Talmud asks, "Who is a hero?" and answers: "He who makes his enemy into a friend."

Last September Jordan's King Abdullah told a gathering of American rabbis in Washington, DC, that Jews and Muslims are irrevocably "tied together by culture and history" and that he is willing to take radical measures to combat Muslim extremists. He declared:

We face a common threat: extremist distortions of religion and the wanton acts of violence that derive therefrom. Such abominations have already divided us from without for far too long.

Rabbi Marc Gopin of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University presented the king with a copy of the Hebrew Bible in both English and Hebrew. Secular leaders, he said, "need to learn from your [the king's] example, learn from true heroism of one who confronts his adversaries."

While some have argued that Muslim-Jewish enmity is a long-standing phenomenon, the historic record tells a far different story. Indeed, when Jews were being harshly persecuted in Christian Europe, they often found a Golden Age in Muslim lands.

In her book The Ornament of the World, Prof. Maria Rosa Menocal of Yale University explores the history of Jews under Muslim rule in Spain:

Throughout most of the invigorated peninsula, Arabic was adopted as the ultimate in classiness and distinction by the communities of the other two faiths. The new Islamic polity not only allowed Jews and Christians to survive but, following Qur'anic mandate, by and large protected them, and both the Jewish and Christian communities in al-Andalus became thoroughly Arabized within relatively few years of Abd al-Rahman's arrival in Cordoba. . . . In principle, all Islamic polities were (and are) required by Qur'anic injunction . . . to tolerate Christians and Jews living in their midst. But beyond that fundamental prescribed posture, al-Andalus was, from these beginnings, the site of memorable and distinctive interfaith relations. Here the Jewish community rose from the ashes of an abysmal existence under the Visigoths to the point that the emir who proclaimed himself caliph in the 10th century had a Jew as his foreign minister.

Living in the heart of the Arab world, Jews first served their apprenticeship in the sciences of Islamic intellectual masters and in time became their collaborators in developing the general culture of the region. A striking example of this breadth of interest was Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204), a native of Cordoba. What chiefly characterized Jewish thought in this period was its search for unity-the attempt to reconcile faith with reason, theology, and philosophy, the acceptance of authority with freedom of inquiry. In Arab countries in the Near East and North Africa, where there existed this free intermingling of cultures, there blossomed a rich and unique Jewish intellectuality in Arabic. Beginning with the 10th century, especially in the kingdom of Cordoba under the enlightened Omayyad caliphs Abd al-Rahman and his son, Al-Hakin, there appeared a galaxy of Jewish scholars, historians, philologists, grammarians, religious philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, doctors, and poets. During the 11th century Ubn Usaibia, a Muslim scholar, listed 50 Jewish authors writing in Arabic on medical subjects alone.

As Karen Armstrong notes in A History of God:

The destruction of Muslim Spain was fatal for the Jews. In March 1492, a few weeks after the conquest of Granada, the Christian monarchs gave Spanish Jews the choice of baptism or expulsion. Many of the Spanish Jews were so attached to their home that they became Christians, though some continued to practice their faith in secret. . . . Some 150,000 Jews refused baptism, however, and were forcibly deported from Spain; they took refuge in Turkey, the Balkans, and North Africa. The Muslims of Spain had given Jews the best home they ever had in the diaspora, so the annihilation of Spanish Jewry was mourned by Jews throughout the world as the greatest disaster to have befallen their people since the destruction of the Temple in CE 70.

Jane S. Gerber, in her book The Jews of Spain, points out that:

In the 15th and 16th centuries . . . it was the Ottoman Empire, then at the zenith of her power, that alone afforded exiles a place where "their weary feet could find rest.". . . Her sultans-Bayezid II, Mehmet II, Suleiman the Magnificent-were dynamic, farsighted rulers who were delighted to receive the talented, skilled Jewish outcasts of Europe. . . . Bayezid II, responding to the expulsion from Spain, reportedly exclaimed, "You call Ferdinand a wise king, who impoverishes his country and enriches our own." He not only welcomed Sephardic exiles but ordered his provincial government to assist the wanderers by opening the borders. Indeed, the refugees would find the Ottoman state to be powerful, generous and tolerant.

On a recent visit to Andalusia--Cordoba, Seville and Granada, among other places-this writer observed the many remaining reminders of this Golden Age of Muslim-Jewish cooperation and amity. They serve to illustrate the lack of historic understanding of those who present the current impasse over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the latest in a long history of strife and conflict. The real story is far different-and far more hopeful. It may provide us with a genuine road map for the future.

Congressional Ethics and Big Government: As One Grows, the Other Declines

More and more, the very term "Congressional ethics" appears to be an oxymoron. Recent examples of corruption are mounting in number and excess. Both Republicans and Democrats are involved.

In May a former aide to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who later went to work with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded to guilty to conspiring to illegally influence Ney. A corporate executive pleaded guilty to bribing Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA). Federal prosecutors say they found a $90,000 payoff in Jefferson's freezer. Late last year Rep. Randy ''Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) resigned after confessing to taking $2.4 million in bribes, including a Rolls-Royce. In March Cunningham was sentenced to more than eight years in prison.

The F.BI. is now investigating the possibility that members of Congress were "steering," (influencing) contractors to hire a member's friends, family, or staff, or soliciting campaign contributions from them, in exchange for placing special benefits, or "earmarks," in legislation. "The potential for earmarks being abused is great," says a federal law enforcement official. Sources report that one of the members being examined is House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (R-CA). Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WY) stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House Ethics Committee after it was revealed he directed millions in federal grants to groups set up by him and staffed by his friends. Those friends, in turn, contributed to his campaigns.

A study released in June by the Center for Public Integrity, American Public Media, and Northwestern University journalism students found that private sponsors paid nearly $50 million over five and a half years to send members of Congress and their staffs on at least 23,000 trips. The study is the first time that researchers have pinpointed the full cost of privately funded Congressional travel.

The researchers kept tabs on which offices filed incomplete, incorrect or late reports disclosing details of their travels. They singled out two lawmakers, Reps. Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), for failing to disclose until six weeks before the report was issued that the Cuban government and a New York grocery mogul paid for their April 2002 trip to Havana to meet President Fidel Castro. Earlier disclosure reports had specified only a Minneapolis-based conservation group as the sponsor.

Golf trips to Scotland are at the center of an expansive federal investigation of Congressional corruption that has resulted in plea agreements from lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. Scanlon was once a senior aide to former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas). During the five and a half years ending in 2005, Delay's office spent about $500,000 of other people's money on travel, topping the report's list. That total is nearly three times the annual salary of a party leader in the House.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) made a $2 million profit last year on the sale of land five and a half miles from a highway project that he helped to finance with targeted federal funds. A House member from California received nearly double what he paid for a four-acre parcel near an Air Force base after securing $8 million for a planned freeway interchange 16 miles away. Another California Congressman obtained funding in last year's highway bill for street improvements near a planned residential and commercial development that he co-owns.

In all three cases, Hastert and Reps. Ken Calvert (R-CA) and Gary Miller (R-CA) say that they were securing funds their home districts wanted badly, and that in no way did the earmarks have any impact on the land values of their investments. But for watchdog groups, the cases---which involve home-district projects funded through narrowly written legislative language--represent a growing problem. Keith Ashdown, Vice President of the group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said:

The sound bites from politicians have always been that they're doing what's best for their districts, but we're starting to see a pattern that looks like they might be doing what's best for their pocketbooks.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), the ranking member on the defense appropriations subcommittee, has a brother, Robert Murtha, whose lobbying firm represents ten companies that received more than $20 million from last year's defense spending bill. The L.A. Times reported:

Clients of the lobbying firm KSA Consulting--whose top officials also include former Congressional aide Carmen V. Scialabba, who worked for Rep. Murtha as a Congressional aide for 27 years--received a total of $20.8 million from the bill.

In early 2004, according to Roll Call, Mr. Murtha "reportedly leaned on U.S. Navy officials to sign a contract to transfer the Hunters Point shipyard to the city of San Francisco." Laurence Pelosi, nephew of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, at the time was an executive of the company that owned the rights to the land. The same article also reported how Murtha has been behind millions of dollars worth of earmarks in defense appropriations bills that went to companies owned by the children of fellow Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Paul Kanjorski.

Lobbyists have given more than $103 million to members of Congress since 1998, according to a new report released by Public Citizen, a public interest group. The $103 million total is "nearly double" the previous estimates. Influence peddling, more and more, dominates Washington. The Economist notes that,

Individual lawmakers have immense power to take money out of the public purse for the narrowest of purposes. Any one of them can slip an extra paragraph into a bill to secure funding for a project that may have nothing to do with the bill's stated purpose. Such "earmarks" are often inserted at the last moment and pass without scrutiny. . . . Earmarks are an open invitation to corruption, since you only have to incentivise one Congressman to win a fat slice of federal cash, and there are lots of legal ways to do it. So long as the contribution conforms with campaign-finance laws and no legislative favor is explicitly traded, you are probably in the clear.

What is increasingly clear is that as government grows larger, corruption increases accordingly. In The Economist's view,

Lobbyists are not the disease, merely the symptom. Their numbers have doubled in the past five years, to 35,000, because federal spending has grown larger and more wasteful. Earmarks have proliferated . . . from 1,439 in 1995 to 13,997 last year. Politicians of both parties love them, because they allow an individual lawmaker to take credit for delivering a specific goody to his constituents.

If government did not have the power to bestow a variety of benefits and subsidies to particular interest groups, there would be little incentive to purchase influence in Washington. As government has grown larger and larger, the incentive to curry favor with politicians has grown along with it. Editorially, The Washington Examiner points out that:

The federal budget consumes a fifth or more of the nation's annual economic activity, with the bulk of that spending directly influenced by members of Congress and indirectly by their top aides. So why is anybody surprised that the beneficiaries of federal largesse spend millions of dollars skating right up to and sometimes past the letter of the law in order to influence the decision-makers who hold the purse strings?

In the Examiner's view:

The solution is not more regulations and rules that require teams of lawyers to understand and which crafty lobbyists, Congressional aides and other Washington insiders eventually will find new ways to evade. The solution is to reduce the size and scale of government. Only then will there be significantly fewer special interests buying plane and hotel tickets for members of Congress and their staffs.

Traditionally, conservatives have been wary and suspicious of government power. In his book Conservatism in America, Clinton Rossiter declared that:

Government, in the conservative view, is something like fire. Under control, it is the most useful of servants; out of control, it is ravaging tyrant.

In Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman wrote that:

Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom . . .

The Bush administration, rather than cutting back government power and spending, has expanded both, to the dismay of many traditional conservatives. David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, laments that under this administration we have seen "a 48 percent increase in spending in just six years," a "federalization of public schools" and "the biggest entitlement since LBJ." In fact, federal spending is outstripping economic growth at a rate unseen in more than half a century. The federal government is currently spending 20.8 cents of every $1 the economy generates, up from 18.5 cents in 2001. That is the most rapid growth during one administration since Franklin Roosevelt, who served 1933-45, during the Depression and World War II.

Economist Milton Friedman says that the past four years of spending increases are "disgraceful" and a betrayal of Republican Party principles. "I'm disgusted by it," the winner of the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences told the Washington Times:

For the first time in many years, the Republicans have control of Congress. But once in power, the spending limits were off and it's disgraceful because it went against their principles.

As government continues to grow, ethical lapses in Congress are likely to increase, And there is little inclination in the Congress to reform its own lax ethical rules, on the part of either party. Ten Ethics Committee members and their aides have enjoyed 400 privately financed trips worth $1 million in a recent five-year period, according to a study of the Center for Public Integrity. Leading the beneficiaries was Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), now the ranking Democrat on the committee. The "ethics reform" which has thus far been approved by Congress leaves, in place the current system of permissive gift and travel rules, inadequate disclosure, and lax enforcement.

Several members of Congress have offered proposals that would represent genuine reform. Reps. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Martin Meehan (D-MA) have introduced legislation that would stop lawmakers from borrowing corporate jets at cut-rate prices. It would bar corporations and other private interests that lobby Congress from footing the bill for Congressional travel. It would slow the revolving door by increasing the waiting period for lobbying former colleagues from one year to two. It would create an independent Office of Public Integrity to put some teeth into the enforcement of all these rules. Sadly, there is almost no prospect for the passage of this legislation.

While Congress seems incapable of policing its own ethical standards, it is unlikely to permit anyone else to do so. In March, a Senate committee rejected a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent office to oversee the enforcement of Congressional ethics and lobbying laws, signaling a reluctance to do anything to beef up the enforcement of its rules.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs voted 11 to 5 in March to defeat a proposal by its chairman, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and its ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) that would have created an office of public integrity to toughen enforcement and combat the loss of reputation Congress has suffered after the guilty plea in January of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Democrats joined Republicans in killing the measure. The vote was described by government watchdog groups as the latest example of Congress's disinterest in real reform.

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, states that:

Congress's lenders have shown they really don't care if their colleagues were taking bribes or using hookers, much less that the oversight-deprived contracting process is broken. They are happy that there's no ethics process to hold people accountable. If that's not a culture of corruption, I'd like a better definition.

Satirist Mark Russell once said that in Washington we do not really have a conservative party or a liberal party but only "a fund-raising party." As government grows larger, and the benefits to be had by purchasing influence increases, the ethical decline we now observe is likely to continue, probably to escalate. Thus far, voters have not held members of Congress accountable for these excesses. Until they do, little is likely to change. *

"The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy." --John Quincy Adams

Read 1958 times Last modified on Friday, 23 October 2015 20:40
Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby(Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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