Have you been following this story about Jim Russell, who is running for Nita Lowey’s seat in Congress?
He’s well known as an anti-immigration advocate from Hawthorne. Now he wants to talk about the economy as he aims for Washington.
But the Republican Party has pulled its support for him—although he still may appear on the ballot—because of an “essay” he wrote in 2001.
The essay will be described in many ways. Controversial. Racist. Anti-Semitic.
I don’t normally throw around that particular N word. I hate it when politicians and commentators casually describe opponents as Nazis or Communists. I think those labels should be saved for the real deal.
But the N word is what comes to mind when I read Russell’s “The Western Contribution to World History.”
His whole point is that European contributions to Western civilization are being destroyed because Europeans are getting too close to non-Europeans.
Everything started going wrong, he writes, when Alexander the Great conquered Persia and married a Persian princess. He became “the first apostle of multiculturalism and demonstrated the ethnocultural dangers of empire-building.”
He later laments that people in “so-called underdeveloped nations” are living longer because of Western medicine and that Western advances in transportation have reduced the West’s isolation. “As a result,” he writes, “we must develop a heightened awareness of alternate social isolating mechanisms, such as physical appearance, if we wish to enhance our prospects for survival.”
So get to work, Dr. Mengele.
Russell also embraces eugenics (“improving” the human gene pool), promotes psuedo-scholars with far-right and Nazi backgrounds, and offers that “Welfare does away with natural selection.”
And, boy, he doesn’t like the Jews.
He writes: “From Samuel Morse, Nikola Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi to Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Philo Farnsworth came great inventions with the potential to enlighten and fortify our People. Yet this potential was never realized. Instead these inventions were hijacked by Mayer, Thalberg, Warner, and Cohn et al who sought to utilize our media for their financial gain, or worse, to manipulate our opinions and behavior.”
Sounds like a page from Mein Kampf.
Russell later praises Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot for for seeking to “preserve our culture.”
He drops in Eliot’s conditions for an “optimal society,” including “The population should be homogeneous” and ”…reasons of race and culture combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable.”
And there’s this: “There is now afoot a conscious effort to de-Europeanize and to re-Judaize Christianity, through scriptural revision, internal treachery and external pressure.”
During a press conference yesterday and an appearance today on Phil Reisman’s radio show, Russell simply refused to address the points he made in his article. He clumsily changed the subject or said that certain points were being overemphasized or taken out of context.
He said he likes the way minorities dress well at church.
But he’s still running for Congress.
He wants to talk about jobs.
Every couple of years, the great “Who is a Jew?” debate arises in a slightly new form. And this is one of those years.
Non-Jews may not realize the difficulty that Jews often have defining who is a Jew—especially when it comes to the tricky questions of conversion.
Each of the main Jewish movements in the U.S.—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist—have their own standards and processes for conversion. In general, the movements leave each other alone (even if everyone knows that the Orthodox world may not recognize those converted by the Reform and Conservative movements as Jews).
Things get really tricky when it comes to Israel.
Israeli politicians promote policies and laws that they consider to be in the best interests of Israel—but which are often seen by diaspora Jews, including non-Orthodox Jews in the U.S., as directly affecting them.
Right now, Israel is very concerned about the growing numbers of Israeli citizens from Russia who are not Jewish. For one thing, some of these non-Jewish Russian-Israelis are bound to marry Jewish Israelis, raising a litany of intermarriage questions and concerns that American Jews have been dealing with for decades.
Many Israelis would like to see many of these Russian Israelis convert to Judaism.
A piece of legislation, known as the Rotem bill, was supposed to address this by allowing a decentralized system of rabbis to oversee conversions. But—there’s always a but—it would also allow Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to have final say on conversions.
In Israel, the Chief Rabbinate—the religious establishment—is run by ultra-Orthodox Jews. And ultra-Orthodox Jews, as you might imagine, prefer ultra-Orthodox standards for conversion.
The concern among American Jews who are not Orthodox is that Israel’s Chief Rabbinate could be given the power to not recognize conversions performed in the U.S.
It is a mostly symbolic issue, because there aren’t many Reform Jewish converts in the U.S. looking to move to Israel. But symbolism is powerful, especially when many non-Orthodox Jews support and defend Israel all their lives.
It seems that the bill will not be voted on just yet. But the debate continues.
As the Jewish Week’s Gary Rosenblatt writes:
The larger issue — squaring the circle of maintaining standards of Orthodox religious law in Israel without further alienating the majority of world Jewry — is not going away. And neither is the ill will created among the majority of Jews in this country by the attempt to pass the bill, however well intended it may have been.
Elsewhere in the Jewish Week, Thomas Dine, the former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, says: “Eventually, these things begin to wear out the enthusiasm of American Jews for the Jewish state.”
Our own Nita Lowey weighs in: “One of my real concerns is that this is not a new issue. We’ve raised objections to this kind of proposal for as far back as I can remember, because it affects the character of Israel and it affects Jews around the world.”
This is serious stuff for Israel/American Jewish relations.
As a convert to Judaism writes on JewishJournal.com:
Our leaders in Israel need to understand that this growing ultra-Orthodox monopoly, which would only be enhanced by the Rotem bill in whatever form that it might take, or any similar legislation that resurrects the “who is a Jew?” issue, has the potential to irreparably damage the strong ties between Israel and her Diaspora supporters and to create a sectarian rift between Orthodoxy and the 85 percent of world Jewry who do not identify themselves as Orthodox Jews.
The increasing power and influence of ultra-Orthodox extremists is providing regular fodder for critics of Israel and institutions like J Street to suggest that Israel lacks a commitment to pluralistic forms of Judaism and the democratic principles that have allowed it to develop into the strongest nation in the Middle East and one of the most durable economies in the world. It is particularly poisonous to young Jews in the Diaspora who lack the historic perspective to continue to rationalize the current state of affairs.
The negative impact the Rotem bill could have on Israel and the Jewish people cannot be underestimated. This is not an issue about which Jews outside of Israel will complain for a few days and then simply forget — it could permanently damage Israel’s relationship with world Jewry.