How Do Americans React to Mass Violence?

On Wednesday night a gunman entered the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California and began firing into the crowd. The horrifying and senseless attack took twelve lives, including one police officer and a college student. As Americans react to the news of the violence there is a dreadful sense of familiarity. Mass shootings in America are increasing in frequency. Has our reaction begun to follow a script? More at CNN.

…there is no shortage of ideas when it comes to preventing such horror. The problem is, the loudest voices only offer two choices:

It’s either: “You want more gun control.” or “You want to arm everyone.”

We need to escape this prison of two ideas… Religious and political terror has an ideology. Criminal homicide has a payoff — revenge or profit. This is the only terror that exists as an end in itself. We can stop it. But to do that we need to open ourselves up to uncomfortable ideas, ones that take us out our rigid teams.

This old script will continue to play out for days. McConnell and his crowd will get around to saying they’re going to do something, but they won’t. Some gun lobbyist shill will say it’s “inappropriate” to “politicize” the massacre so quickly, as if the next massacre might not be days away. People will marvel that something like this could happen in a place that is so “safe,” as if other sites of mass murders — schools, a movie theater, a synagogue, a Baptist church — were not presumed to be safe. The smartest thing we heard all day, entirely off script, came from a man in London who wondered what in God’s name is wrong with our country.

The script following these shootings is too familiar — flags at half-staff, hollow words of sympathy — but what chills me is the relatively calm eloquence of the survivors speaking to reporters. How they don’t seem particularly surprised to have survived a mass shooting. That they are able, in the immediate aftermath of trauma, to articulate their experiences. They can do this because they have seen it done.

Has the World Learned the Lessons of Kristallnacht?

Today marks the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Day of Broken Glass. On November 9th and 10th in 1938, German forces along with citizens carried out a brutal pogrom against Jews which included breaking the shop windows of Jewish businesses, looting, setting property afire, and murder. 80 years later, in the wake of the United States’ worst antisemitic attack, Jews are wondering if the world has truly learned the lessons of Kristallnacht. More at The Atlantic.

“Kristallnacht” has found a second life as a popular term in political discourse, used by a political spectrum as diverse as critics of the Trump-Putin press conference in Helsinki to anti-Jeremy Corbyn voices to the alt-right accusing Facebook of a “digital Kristallnacht.” [.] That the Kristallnacht anniversary engages public attention is inevitably good – because it is right to recall the injustices and crimes of the past. But it is also damaging – because reading across from past events to today’s problems in the absence of historical knowledge and context is senseless, misleading and dangerous.

80 years after Kristallnacht — the past remains with us. Anti-Semitism still plagues Europe, the United States and other regions. In several European countries, including Germany, we have recently seen shocking expressions of anti-Semitism, physical assaults on Jews and defiance of police efforts to restore order. Anti-Semitism is a shape-shifting phenomenon that emanates from a variety of sources — xenophobia, populism, neo-Nazism, Islamist extremism, far-left radicalism and anti-Zionism. Europe’s Jews are worried about the future.

The perpetrator bears the greatest degree of culpability for the harm that befalls the victim; however, as the Holocaust clearly demonstrated the complicity of the bystander greatly facilitated the perpetrator’s actions and its consequences. It is that complicity that is at the core of our undertaking; in proposing legal standard that enables prosecution of the bystander the assumption is that there is a need to clearly articulate an enforceable duty to care. That is the essence of the social contract. To not protect the vulnerable and at-risk members of society—regardless of their status, position, and class—is a resounding rejection of the social contract. That, for me, is the critical lesson I propose we take away from Kristallnacht.

Is the Democratic Party Headed for a Crisis Over Israel?

Is Israel a partisan issue? Trump’s staunchly pro-Israel policies and the Democrats’ newly elected and critical-of-Israel politicians would seem to indicate that the Republican Party is now the party of Israel. Of course, the picture is not that simple. The Democrats do seem to be moving left on Israel, but the questions of how fast and how far remain unanswered. More at Breaking Israel News.

Left-wing criticism of Israel is nothing new, but it’s mostly remained outside of the halls of power. This new generation of candidates could bring the views long expressed in activist communities—and reflected in those polls—to Capitol Hill in a way we haven’t previously seen. A related shift that is moving this process along: Over the period that included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s clashes with President Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal and Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Israel has become an increasingly partisan rather than religious or cultural issue for Americans. The increasing identification of Israel as a “Republican” rather than Jewish issue has opened some space for mainstream liberal Democrats to be a little more critical, and left-wing ones to be a lot more critical.

Democrats expanded their numbers throughout the country, but those who ran as unabashed progressives, rather than as moderates, generally failed in districts and states that were not deep blue. . . . The future of the Democratic party with respect to Israel is by no means assured as the party shifts to the left. But for the present, the radical anti-Israel faction remains in the minority, at least as far as Congress is concerned. It will be up to pro-Israel liberals to make sure it stays that way.

I am not much impressed by the fact that J Street – the leftist Jewish lobby – endorsed so many candidates who made it into Congress. Supporting “128 winning candidates” is not that difficult when one knows well in advance that a Democratic victory is to be expected. However, I am impressed by something else: that so many Democratic candidates embrace the support of J Street. Ten years ago, some of them would hesitate, fearing to be tagged as not-pro-Israel-enough. That they no longer hesitate means that A. J Street succeeded in legitimizing its politics and B. that the Democratic Party is indeed changing its tune on Israel (in my view, not for the better).

What Are the Politics of Loyalty in Israel?

The controversial “Loyalty in Culture Bill” is making its way through the Knesset and stirring political drama at every stage. The bill, authored by Culture Minister Miri Regev, would allow the government to withdraw funding from cultural institutions if they produce work that doesn’t display “loyalty” to the state as defined by the bill. The bill drew strong condemnation from Israel’s Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber. Now Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is demanding Zilber be terminated for her comments on the bill. More at Jerusalem Post.

And I ask, what do the legal advisers have over elected officials regarding the preservation of freedom and equality? Why do they assume that they are more committed to these values than the individuals chosen by the public to uphold these values? Who is telling us that the court cannot harm democracy? It is a perverse perception that when a citizen wears the robe of law he becomes an angel who protects our freedom and equality from the others who only want to erode these values.

It was the most public spat between Mandelblit and Shaked, who usually make an effort to work out their differences quietly and behind the scenes… While we understand the anger of both Mandelblit and Shaked, Zilber legitimately voiced her views, and she should not be punished for doing so. We need to cultivate a culture in Israel that encourages public debate and does not curtail freedom of expression by public officials, especially those who are meant to represent the rule of law and order.

Shaked plays a key role in the all-out war that Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government is waging on the state’s gatekeepers, while Zilber has long fought to preserve democracy from Shaked’s destructive behavior. Now the justice minister has finally found a pretext for getting rid of her… Civil servants and gatekeepers are being asked to display blind loyalty to their political superiors, not to constitutional law. The government browbeats them, and anyone who doesn’t agree with it is compared to a fifth column, someone who ought to be fired.

Is the Republican Party the Party of Trump?

When Trump ran for President in 2016 he was a Republican unlike any other and the distance between him and his party’s traditional positions was wide. Today that gap has shrunk, and it may not be a good thing for the GOP.

Mr. Trump is nothing if not a good weatherman; he knows which way the winds blow. In 2016 they blew against the establishment; in 2018 they are gusting toward impeachment. Two years of wild talk by the “resistance” about his alleged crimes against decency, democracy and all that is holy have surely opened Mr. Trump’s eyes to a cold reality: The Republicans are the only friends he’s got.

The Democratic takeover of the House has reinforced the GOP as the party of President Trump. Centrist House Republicans from wealthy suburban and metropolitan districts — traditional GOP strongholds — suffered many of the party’s losses, including a number who distanced themselves from Trump. At the same time, several Republicans won contested races by firmly aligning themselves with Trump and his brand of brash populist politics, such as Florida governor-elect Ron DeSantis, North Dakota senator-elect Kevin Cramer, and Georgia governor-elect Brian Kemp.

Republicans, increasingly, wield power only because America’s political system insulates them from the public’s judgments. The leader of their party — and of the country — came in second in the popular vote to Hillary Clinton and, despite a roaring economy, hasn’t cracked 50 percent in the polls since taking office. Tonight, Republicans lost the House, and if Democrats hadn’t been defending 26 Senate seats to Republicans’ nine, it’s likely they would’ve seen a rout in the Senate too. The GOP needs to ask itself: What’s going to happen in 2020, when the Senate map reverses, and Republicans are defending twice as many seats as Democrats?

Did California Miss an Opportunity to Address the Housing Crisis?

Proposition 10, a contentious rent control ballot initiative, failed to pass on Tuesday. California’s housing crisis, a problem which consists of housing shortages, rising rents, and increasing homelessness, is something most California residents feel the need to address. Did they just vote no on a solution? More at CityLab.

The election wasn’t a total loss for affordable housing in California: Proposition 1, which will dedicate $4 billion in state bonds towards existing affordable housing programs, including the construction of new units for low-income residents, veterans, and farmworkers, secured a definitive win. Proposition 2 also passed, funneling $2 billion in state revenue into homelessness prevention housing.

Rising rents are the natural market response to an excess of demand over supply. While rent control benefits those lucky enough to secure below-market rents, it does not increase the number of units. Just the opposite — rent control decreases the financial incentives for developers to build more units. Rent control also decreases incentives to double up on housing, which increases the number of homeless people.

…the defeat of Proposition 10 can’t be the end of the discussion on rent control. Certainly not if California is serious about addressing the upheaval and suffering caused by rapidly rising rents.Incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature ought to take on the same issue that Proposition 10 sought to address — how to fairly and effectively ease the existing state restrictions on rent control in order to protect tenants — while also taking steps to encourage new market-rate and affordable-housing units.

Roundtable Extra: Commentary on Parashat Toldot

This week at the Jewish Journal, Parashat Toldot is under discussion.

Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) — tells us the fascinating story of Jacob and Esau and of the selling of Esau’s birthright to Jacob.

Be sure to listen to Shmuel Rosner’s Torah Talk on Toldot with Rabbi Jeremy Rosen.

Also check out the full discussion at the Jewish Journal’s Table for Five where we discuss the passage: And Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham. – Gen. 26:18

  • Rabbi Daniel Greyber: Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitza (1800-54) imagines Isaac sitting at the edge of town, knowing that everything happens for a reason, and wondering, “What does God want me to learn from this moment?”
  • Nina Litvak: Isaac’s work re-digging his father’s old wells gives us insight into his true greatness.
  • Rivkah Slonim: Yitzchak personified gevurah — strength and discipline. In stark contradistinction, his father Abraham’s overarching characteristic was chesed — kindness and benevolence.
  • Pinchas Winston: In the Torah, a well of water is usually a symbol of Torah itself, especially when it comes to the forefathers.
  • Dan Messinger: Jewish tradition teaches us that we are always to go back to the well. Just a few weeks ago we finished the cycle of reading the Torah, only to roll it back and begin again.

Today’s Hot Issues

How Do Americans React to Mass Violence? Has the World Learned the Lessons of Kristallnacht? Is the Democratic Party Headed for a Crisis Over Israel? What Are the Politics of Loyalty in Israel? Is the Republican Party the Party of Trump? Did California Miss an Opportunity to Address the Housing Crisis? Roundtable Extra: Commentary on Parashat Toldot