Terror on Trial – WSJ

An excellent piece on the subject of putting terrorists on trial.  As we continue to await the trial of KSM, it is worth contemplating the differing perspectives on what a trial like his will look like.

Expect to hear a lot about Nuremberg in the months ahead. The war-crimes trials of leading Nazis, begun in that German city in 1945, will form an important subtext as we approach the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of 9/11, and his associates. The pretrial proceedings at Guantánamo may start as soon as March.

Since 9/11, America’s attempt to balance justice and national security has drawn protests both at home and abroad. Some of the criticism has been fair, but much of it ignores the dilemmas that any administration would face in dealing forcefully with 21st-century terrorists who, unlike the defendants at Nuremberg, have not yet been defeated. Few things are harder for democracies than to render justice to enemies whose aims are both irrational and non-negotiable.

The trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be historic. It will address not just a group of thugs but the enduring human phenomenon of evil. Mutable and persistent, evil has not been discouraged by the progress of reason or the taming of nature. Evil reinvents itself in every age and is reinvigorated by mankind’s inevitable immaturity. Like the fascist ideology that the democratic world fought in the 1940s, the dogma of al Qaeda (and of the extremist Shiite dictators of Iran) is despotic, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and nihilist. Like the Nazis, they cannot be appeased.

On the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama invoked Nuremberg. He had studied the tribunal in law school and referred to it in the context of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, which gave Guantánamo detainees the right to challenge their detention in federal court. Mr. Obama praised the opinion and linked it to the respect for due process, which he said, Nuremberg had exemplified. “During the Nuremberg trials, part of what made us different was even after those Nazis had performed atrocities that no one had ever seen before, we still gave them a day in court, and that taught the entire world about who we are.”

To which the most appropriate response is—up to a point. The top Nazis captured in 1945 were indeed given “their day in court.” But that court was a unique military tribunal, created specifically for the circumstances after V-E Day. The defendants were far better protected than they would have been in any Nazi court (or Soviet court, for that matter), but they certainly did not enjoy the rights of defendants in the U.S. The idea that top Nazis should have the same protections as those afforded to Americans by the U.S. Constitution never occurred to the jurists devising the rules for Nuremberg.

To some, Nuremberg will always be an example of “victors’ justice.” I believe that view is wrong and that the tribunal (where my father, Hartley Shawcross, was the chief British prosecutor) was a necessary and successful exercise of law. At Nuremberg, our civilization developed a vehicle to anathematize men imbued with evil.

Justice Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor and the architect of Nuremberg, put it well when he spoke of the regime that the accused at Nuremberg had served: “Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive.”

The scale and nature of the threats from fascism and Islamist extremism are different, but that same problem persists today. In trying both to prevent further atrocities by Islamist extremists, and to deliver justice to those detainees suspected of such crimes, President Obama has found himself, like President Bush before him, faced with decisions that test our ideals. He has been forced to shed many of his preconceptions.

On Sept. 30, 2011, drones high above Yemen targeted a car carrying Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Islamic preacher—and an American citizen. A Hellfire missile killed Mr. Awlaki and another American jihadist travelling with him.

Mr. Obama said afterward that the successful attack, coming less than five months after the killing of Osama bin Laden by the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six, was “further proof al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven in Yemen or anywhere around the world.”

The decision to use a drone to kill American citizens in Yemen was a remarkable turnaround for a politician who had criticized almost every aspect of the “war on terror” waged by his predecessor in the Oval Office. But by fall 2010, it did not come as such a surprise. By then Mr. Obama had also authorized military trials (which he once condemned) to take place in Guantánamo (which he had promised to close).

There is no question that Mr. Awlaki was a remarkably dangerous man. Born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents in 1971 and largely educated in the U.S., he spoke mellifluously and possessed a deep understanding of Western popular culture. His sermons were designed to encourage individual Muslims around the world to launch “lone wolf” attacks against all “infidels” and to persuade American Muslims to rise up against their government.

Over the Internet, Mr. Awlaki personally instructed Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan, the American Muslim soldier who murdered 13 of his colleagues and wounded 30 more in a rampage at Fort Hood in November 2009. He helped to train the so-called “underpants bomber,” Farouk Abdulmutallab, who came close to blowing up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

In 2010, Mr. Awlaki started to groom a British Muslim, Rajib Karim, who worked for British Airways, and instructed him to place a bomb on a flight to the U.S. Mr. Karim was arrested before the plot went far. Later that year, Mr. Awlaki’s group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, managed to get two bombs, disguised as printer cartridges, onto cargo planes bound for U.S. They were discovered and defused en route.

By this time, the U.S. government had decided that it had enough evidence to designate Mr. Awlaki an active terrorist threat who could be targeted. As the administration argued, over the protests of human rights groups, Mr. Awlaki was playing an operational role as part of the enemy forces covered by the legislation authorizing the use of military force that Congress had passed immediately after 9/11. Mr. Awlaki had made no attempt to surrender, and the U.S. was not able to arrest him.

As for the idea that his citizenship should give him protection from attack, it is worth recalling that in the case of Nazi saboteurs arrested in the U.S. in 1942 (the case of Ex Parte Quirin), two of them were U.S. citizens. They were nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. citizenship of “an enemy belligerent does not relieve him of the consequences of belligerency.”

Since 9/11, drones have provided a vast revolution in warfare. They have multiplied, as missile platforms and observers, and their technology is still rapidly advancing. Soldiers can now launch drones from backpacks, and the Pentagon is experimenting with drones the size of dragonflies.

Such technological developments raise new questions about the relevance of the Geneva Conventions, whose interpretation has dominated the waging of the war on terror. P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert in robotic warfare, points out that the Conventions were last effectively updated in 1949, at a time when the 45-rpm vinyl record was a hot new invention. The old laws, he argues, are struggling to keep up with high-tech weapons “like the MQ-9 Reaper, which is being used to target a 21st-century insurgent who is intentionally violating those laws by hiding in a mosque or a civilian house.”

Mr. Bush used drones sparingly to attack terrorism suspects. He is said to have feared the inevitable accusation of war crimes. By the time he left office, there had been just 44 drone strikes over five years, according to the New America Foundation, all of them in Pakistan. They are thought to have killed some 400 people.

After taking office in 2009, Mr. Obama swiftly expanded the use of drone attacks on suspected Islamist terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then in Somalia and Yemen. Drone strikes in Pakistan grew from 33 in 2008, Mr. Bush’s last year in office, to 53 in 2009. Altogether, there have been more than 240 drone attacks in Pakistan since the beginning of 2009, with a death toll of more than 1,300.

The remarkable thing about the president’s reliance on drones is how little protest, until recently, it has aroused. Waterboarding may be deemed an abuse of a terrorism suspect’s rights, but an attack by a Predator drone results (in the Vietnam-era phrase) in “termination with extreme prejudice.”

Public acquiescence in these aerial killings demonstrates the way in which political and moral judgments can be driven by perceptions of personality and politics. But even Mr. Obama’s honeymoon had to come to an end. His policy of killing suspects rather than detaining and interrogating them has come under increased scrutiny, and not just in the case of Mr. Awlaki.

John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the State Department, argues that one of the Bush administration’s biggest mistakes was neglecting to secure international support for its novel counterterrorism policies. Unless Obama is careful, Mr. Bellinger says, his drone program could “become as internationally maligned as Guantánamo.”

“The trial of Khalid SheikhMohammed will addressnot just a group of thugs butthe enduring humanphenomenon of evil.”

As a senator and a presidential candidate, Barack Obama criticized almost all of Mr. Bush’s decisions in the “war on terror.” Two days after his inauguration in January 2009, he ordered Guantánamo shut within a year, and that November his attorney general, Eric Holder, insisted that the main 9/11 suspects at Guantánamo, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, would be put on trial in federal court in Manhattan.

Justice Robert Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, argued against acting ‘ambiguously or indecisively.’

Since discovering the complexities of fighting Islamist terror, Mr. Obama has abandoned many of his earlier positions. In March 2011, he signed an executive order allowing terrorist detainees to be held indefinitely at Guantánamo. He also agreed that the base’s recently constructed courthouse should be the venue for the military tribunals that he had set out never to allow there.

Brig. Gen. Mark Martins is to perform the task that Justice Robert Jackson did at Nuremberg. He was appointed last June by the secretary of defense to be the chief prosecutor of the military commissions, which were reformed by act of Congress in 2009.

This was, by all accounts, an inspired choice. A former infantryman who has thought deeply about the history of military tribunals, Gen. Martins recently won widespread praise for his work as commander of the Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan.

In some ways, his task is even more daunting than that of his illustrious predecessor in 1945. Jack Goldsmith, a former Bush-administration lawyer and the author of “The Terror Presidency,” says that Gen. Martins faces a much more difficult task in legitimating the tribunals than Justice Jackson did at Nuremberg.

For his part, Gen. Martins pointed out recently, in a speech to the American Bar Association, that the military courts, as now reformed, “incorporate all of those fundamental guarantees of a fair and just trial that are demanded by our values.” Anyone accused in them enjoys far more protections than the Nazi defendants had in 1945—indeed, more than in many respected criminal justice systems around the world. Anyone convicted also will have the ultimate safeguard under American law—the right of appeal, all the way to the Supreme Court.

Why not, then, just use the federal courts to try terrorism suspects? They can be used in many cases, Gen. Martins says, but military tribunals are more appropriate, in certain cases, for the trial of non-U.S. citizens who fight in no uniform and without obeying the rules of war—”unprivileged belligerents.”

While giving great protection to defendants, the rules of military tribunals also accord more protection to the government those defendants are accused of seeking to destroy. The rules prohibit the use of statements obtained as a result of torture, or of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, but they take into account the challenges of intelligence-gathering in wartime operations overseas, do not require soldiers to give Miranda warnings to captured enemy forces, and allow an occasional hearsay statement, when it is the best available evidence from a now unavailable witness and the interests of justice are best served by considering it.

Referring to Nuremberg, Gen. Martins says that the new military tribunals cannot “make decisions to please the public or the Congress. Like our forebears, we are compelled to step back from ‘victor’s justice.’ This is what the rule of law is about. Sometimes various people or interests will not be happy. But in the end we can only do the right as we see the right…and trust that our efforts will stand the test of time.”

***

All wars involve choices between lesser evils. In a 1973 essay, the philosopher Michael Walzer described the politician who decides that he has to authorize torture to save lives. “His choices are hard,” Mr. Walzer wrote, “and he pays a price not only while making them but forever after.”

The Bush administration’s early post-9/11 decisions on Guantánamo and “enhanced interrogation” of some detainees (three were waterboarded) are believed to have provided life-saving intelligence, but each proved costly to the reputation of the U.S. Mr. Obama’s decision to kill many terrorism suspects rather than interrogate them has certainly disrupted plots and saved lives. But it carries similar costs.

This continuing crisis is not of America’s making. It stems in large part from the struggle within the Muslim world for the soul of Islam, of which the most brutal manifestation is the pitiless campaign of mass murder waged across the world by al Qaeda and its associates, most often against fellow Muslims.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, America’s commitment and sacrifices have been essential to the world’s ability to resist the forces of nihilistic aggression. That was certainly true in the war against fascism, and it is still true today. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has had to learn the hard way that, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warned, “we take and must continue to take morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.”

—Mr. Shawcross’s new book, “Justice and the Enemy: Nuremberg, 9/11 and the Trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” will be published next week by PublicAffairs. His previous books include “Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict” and “Murdoch: The Making of a Media Empire.”

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It is amazing how naive people can be – more Beit Shemesh

I think we are over-saturated by now with Beit Shemesh.  However, I do have to post one more piece (h/t Life in Israel) that just came my way.  The piece below will probably not shock people so much as reveal the sadness of how some in rabbinic positions respond to sickening and traumatic events.  I am glad there are people out there making sure these words are not allowed to stand.

A Guest Post by by Rabbi Dov Lipman

THE NERVE!

Attack me all that you want. I have been an activist, trying to set the city on a better course for years and people can disagree with me, even vehemently. That is fine and part of living in an open society. I accept it and never feel the need to respond. But when a local Rabbi attacks a little girl and her mother in the most vicious of ways, I cannot remain silent.

The following attack on little Naama and her mother, Hadassa, was penned by a local Rabbi. Everyone with a heart and soul should speak out against this distorted use of the platform given to religious clergy and his congregants should not only condemn him openly but should really think twice whether they want him to guide them in their personal and family lives.

Here is the quote:

“Poor 8 year old Naama Margolese. If my child was spat at, I would wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, give her a piece of her favorite chocolate, tell her there are bad men in the world, and in 10 minutes it is over. Waiting three months (what’s that again? The huge outcry was orchestrated three months after it happened? Huh?) to create an overreaction, and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school, and having all sorts of people tracking through her house to visit her as if they’re coming for neechum aveilim… If this poor kid gets traumatized, I’ll tell you why!”You almost have to read it again to make sure your eyes are not playing games with you because it is not fathomable that a person who has spent years studying Torah and connecting to God could ever even think of writing these words, let alone actually writing them and publicizing them.

Let’s dissect the paragraph.

Wipe the spittle off, gently, wipe away her tears, giver her chocolate, and it is over? The writer clearly has no concept of the trauma little girls experience when being called “prutza” and “shiktza” and when they are spat at. Maybe children who are familiar with a world where violence and abuse are a part of life would be able to just move on, but in the Margolese home, the children are taught to respect other people and never raise a voice or condemn the actions of others. Therefore, it is very traumatic when a child in that type of home is exposed to this type of behavior. When children are being taught proper derech eretz, verbal assaults cannot simply be ignored. When children are taught respect, spit cannot simply be wiped away and forgotten.

Oh, wait a minute. I just realized something. This Rabbi never even came to the school to see, firsthand, what was happening. He probably subscribes to the camp that it is all an exaggeration. Isn’t there a concept that one cannot really have an opinion about something without actually experiencing it? The nerve to make light of what many girls, not just Naama, experienced without actually seeing it in person!

Let’s go further. “Waiting three months?” and “Three months after it happened? ” Rabbi, perhaps it is time to get your facts right before writing such a strong condemnation. In case you did not know, the extremists returned within the last few weeks! They returned with more people and with an organized bus! Our informants in RBS Bet told us that if there was not going to be some kind of strong response the extremists were going to escalate things until who knows what could have happened to a Jewish child, rachmana litzlan.
“To create an overreaction and having a huge escort to accompany the child to school?” Since when is thousands of Israelis wanting to come to defend a little Jewish girl an “overreaction?” Baruch Hashem, all of those “horrible anti-Torah secularists” have a Jewish pulse and, upon seeing the tears of this Jewish girl wanted to help. What a strong contrast with the reaction of this Rabbi who for months upon hearing about the traumatized girls responded with a message which seemed to convey, “What do you want from me?”

We continue. “All sort of people trecking through her house like neechum aveilim?” What a sick and distorted image. All one had to do was see the look on Naama’s face when MK Rabbi Amsalem gave her a siddur and tehilim (she davens from that siddur daily) to see how therapeutic and important this was for her. The same goes for the gift which Eli Friedman and the TOV party gave to her. These visitors are people who truly walk in the way of God and reach out to love other Jews instead of being defensive and writing nasty and soulless declarations. Perhaps in the divisive, extremist world visits of love and care feel like “nichum aveilim” but for the rest of the Jewish people they are actually quite pleasant and inspirational.

Finally, this “poor kid” will not be traumatized any longer. Her parents did what any loving parent would do and found a way to secure their daughter’s safety. In addition, her parents were able to show their daughter the beautiful side of a unified am yisrael and the beauty of true chareidim.

All sensible and caring people must do anything possible to condemn this Rabbi’s statements. But even more than that, we must work to make sure that people with this type of flippant attitude regarding verbal/physical abuse and assault and religious extremism not have any involvement in guiding Jewish children or their parents. Because when those “poor children” are turned off by what is presented to them as a soulless, uncaring, and extremist religion and their clergy not protecting them from abuse, no one will have to “tell you why.”

Misusing the Holocaust

I was refraining from this particular aspect of the Beit Shemesh conflict, but the latest report (see here (h/t failed messiah) compels me to address what might be more sickening.  As you will see from the report below, the same crazies involved in the disgusting behavior against other Jews are also protesting against their own, claiming that Israel is the equivalent to Nazi Germany.  The original protests, which might be the cause for the uproar from the majority of the Haredi community, took place in Israel last Sat. night.  Many posts have already addressed the horrific pictures of young, religious looking kids, posing the like the famous picture of the kid surrendering to the Nazis (see here).  My disgust with the latest report is beyond the misuse of the Holocaust.  My problem is that other  Jews, regardless of their insanity, marching and claiming Israel to be like Nazi Germany, are furthering negative rhetoric against Israel.  Look, we know the difference between Neturei Karta and Satmar (I think).  Yet, does the rest of the world.  I just wish these people would have the seichel to keep their political opinions to themselves.  Its bad enough we have press about gender bias, but we need another round of the Israeli government are Nazis.  Again, I place this back into the hands of the Haredi rabbinic establishment.  If statements had been made years ago, long before the crescendo of events we are watching, perhaps much of this could have been prevented.  Instead, now we are backpedalling and hoping that it can go away. 

Orthodox Jews to Protest Israel Wearing Yellow “Jude” Stars – TODAY

NEW YORK, Jan. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Torah-true Jews will be gathering to demonstrate in front of Israeli consulates, in U.S.A., Canada and England. The protesters will don concentration camp clothing with the reviled “yellow star” pinned on their garments, to express their cry of desperation and to show solidarity with their brethren in the Holy Land, who demonstrated in Jerusalem this past Saturday night. Thousands of elders and children took to the streets of Jerusalem garbed in concentration camp clothing and yellow Stars of David pinned on their chests.

“The present incarceration of Torah-true Jews, beating etc. is not the sole event that brought the G-d-fearing Jews to such a desperate display”, said Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of Neturei Karta International. “The present event is not an isolated event or some new policy of the State of Israel being perpetrated against the G-d-fearing religious community. It is only part of the long and ongoing battle between Zionism and the State of Israel with the Torah-true Jews.”

“The ideology of Zionism is both the transformation of Judaism from religion and subservience to the Almighty, to base material nationalism, and a plan to end our Heavenly-decreed exile through our own actions. Both of these concepts are totally contradictory to the true Jewish belief. The Almighty alone will bring our redemption. We are expressly forbidden to take any action to end exile.”

“Therefore, all the great sages and leaders of Judaism in past generations, have stood in total opposition to Zionism and the existence of the State of ‘Israel’. Zionism works with all its power to totally eradicate, Heaven forbid, these true Jewish beliefs. To Torah-true Jews, their Jewish beliefs take precedence over their lives. Therefore, these Jews have undergone a long chain of suffering, imprisonment and letting their blood be spilt in this battle. The present events are just one more link in the long chain of the Zionist campaign in their attempted abolishment of the true Jewish faith.”

“Therefore, our brethren in Jerusalem demonstrated their anguish and pain by wearing the yellow star and striped Holocaust clothes.”

“We stand with them in solidarity.”

“May we merit to see, soon in our days, the revelation of the glory of the Almighty, when all the nations will serve the Almighty in peace and harmony. Amen.”

Jewish Rabbis and laymen will demonstrate in front of the Israeli consulates, TODAY: Thursday, January 5, 2012

NEW YORK CITY: 800 second Avenue [between 42 and 43] at 3:00 pm, followed by a march to the United Nations [First and 43]

LONDON:  2 Palace Green, London W8 4QB, at 2:30 pm

MONTREAL: 1 Westmount Square, Westmount, Quebec, at 2:45 pm

 

 

Is There No Stopping The Flood?

Just like the below blog posting indicates, the plot thickens.  Is it really possible that much of the rabbinic leadership carries so little weight?  It has been clear to me throughout the recent scandal that the Haredi leadership (and yes I am lumping them all into one) has been merely giving the zealots a slap on the wrist, but in reality does not want to condemn them because it still furthers the agenda.  This point was brought home to me yesterday when I read the following story, which I have to assume occurred within the past 20 years but don’t know exactly (the point being the conversation was not a recent one).

“During my tenure at Yated Neeman, where I served as founding editor and continued several years after, I once asked Rac Shach ztz”l what approach to take in writing about the demonstrations that were taking place in Yerushalayim every Shabbos on Bar Ilan Street and on the Ramot road, typically featuring stones thrown at passing cars.  Rav Shach’s answer to me, quote from memory was, ‘It’s quite possible that the real mechallelei Shabbos here are the demonstrators.  First of all, throwing stones is absolutely assur in and of itself, in addition to the risk of killing someone.  But aside from the stone-throwing, they’re causing Shabbos desecration through the demonstrations.  Instead, they could vote in the municipal elections and shift the balance of power in the local government.  With a religious majority, a lot of this chillul Shabbos could be prevented.  But they won’t listen to us…”

(R. Moshe Grylak, Mishpacha Magazine, Issue 389)

So here are my questions:  1.  Is it really true they won’t listen?  2.  So what if they won’t listen, these things need to be said over and over again?  Why are we only hearing such comments years later?

To me, the situation is simple.  The violence between ultra-religious has been allowed to go on for so long, whether openly or quietly encouraged, that the tide certainly will be difficult to turn now.  And yes, it is a small group perpetrating the hate, but we are all responsible for not having cried out sooner.

Is There No Stopping The Flood? – FailedMessiah.com.

No stopping the flood

The vocal extremism within the ultra-Orthodox community should be seen as a reaction to their peers’ increasing openness to the outside world.

By Yair Ettinger

On Tuesday, ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman had no mention of the religious clashes in Beit Shemesh on its front page. Instead, the headline trumpeted a letter signed by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, considered the leader of the non-Hasidic, “Lithuanian” ultra-Orthodox.

“We must protest and warn of all sorts of trends from outside to strike at the cruse of pure oil, to alter the spirit and the essence of the ultra-Orthodox public,” blared the headline. The letter called for boycotting all the new study tracks designated for Haredim in academia, and employment programs in the army and civil service, since they were intended to form “a group of ultra-Orthodox subordinate to persons who have thrown off the burden [of obedience to the commandments], their rule and their culture.”

The missive was written three weeks ago, but intended for publication during Hanukkah. It had no connection to this week’s events, but it does cast new light on them.

The gender-segregated bus lines have been plying the country’s roads for several years now, the fanatic ultra-Orthodox ghetto in Beit Shemesh is not new and the modesty signs urging women to avoid places where men congregate or walk are a part of the landscape there. The city’s extremists, known as the Sicarii, have been harassing little girls from the modern-Orthodox community for four months now. Why did this flare into a storm at now of all times?

While some among the secular would say that it’s due to growing ultra-Orthodox extremism, which is only now being exposed in the media, Knesset members from United Torah Judaism believe the timing is entirely cynical, a result of the race heating up between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud ), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu ), opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) and Labor Party chair MK Shelly Yachimovich. Netanyahu knows he does not have a coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties UTJ and Shas, and that both parties will leave the government if he launches a conflict with the ultra-Orthodox, even though they have no better coalition option. And in one month, the test period set by the High Court of Justice for determining whether gender segregation on buses is being done voluntarily (rather than by coercion ) will come to an end.

There may be another explanation behind the ultra-Orthodox rabbis’ exhortations about the unseen hand reaching for the “cruse of pure oil.” Are the rabbis – and the Sicarii – sensing dramatic internal changes within ultra-Orthodox society itself?

This is not the first time Rabbi Elyashiv has denounced higher education, but it’s unlikely that he has ever before issued such a sweeping prohibition of participation by the ultra-Orthodox in any kind of framework beyond Torah study. The rabbi is denouncing vocational training, ultra-Orthodox colleges and military and civil service because their initiators “acknowledge openly that the aim of all these trends is to alter the spirit and essence of the ultra-Orthodox public and to introduce all kinds of aspirations, national and ‘enlightened,’ of which our forefathers never conceived and to promote integration with secular and sinful people.”

Fanning the hatred A broader reference to current events can be found in the remarks of another Lithuanian rabbi, which also appeared in Yated Neeman. Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach wrote, “The spirit of rapprochement with the general [secular] public is causing the great hatred.” It is generally believed, or at least said, that the answer to hatred is reconciliation and dialogue. Actually, the Lithuanian leadership believes the answer is distancing and separatism. A more radical approach, both separatist and anti-Zionist, characterizes Those who have sanctified separatism and anti-Zionism are the extremist ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit, which is descended from descendants of the pre-Zionist Jewish community in Palestine, and which today controls Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet. Most extreme are Unlike the mainstream ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Auerbach, the extremist Sicarii: They do not even want to dissipate the hatred.

“The more you disparage us, the better,” they told us in Beit Shemesh this week. This is the essence of the fanatic ideology, which has drawn attention due to several cases in recent years – the ultra-Orthodox mother arrested for starving her child, the fight over opening Jerusalem’s Karta parking lot on Shabbat, the ancient graves alongside Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, Jerusalem’s Gay Pride Parade and more. Two decades ago, Eda rabbis were already permitting young fanatics from Mea She’arim to move to the increasingly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh. The extreme Lithuanian courts of Toldot Avraham Yitzhak, Toldot Aharon and smaller groups like Torah Veyireh and the Pharisees are all sending members to the new neighborhoods there. They have done a remarkable job of establishing a fanatic ghetto. The Sicarii within this ghetto are terrorizing Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet as well as the rabbis. No one in the ultra-Orthodox camp is willing to clash with them.

Yet winds of change are blowing even among the most fanatic camp. Once, former Eda Haredit spokesman Shmuel Pappenheim was frequently dispatched to represent the official, extreme anti-Zionist line and to defend his sect, Toldot Aharon. But Pappenheim, a Beit Shemesh resident, recently came out of the closet as a sworn reformist: He is studying for a degree at Bar-Ilan University and heads an office encouraging ultra-Orthodox employment in Beit Shemesh, on top of his other public activities.

Pappenheim thinks that in the ultra-Orthodox’s clash with outsiders, the extremists on both sides are failing to see the powerful processes underway in the ultra-Orthodox mainstream: The ultra-Orthodox are irreversibly opening up, he believes.

“This week I spoke before a Scout troop in Jerusalem, alongside a representative of Yisrael Hofshit [Be Free Israel, an organization that works to advance religious freedom and other democratic values], who denounced ultra-Orthodox extremism,” says Pappenheim. “I told her she was missing the entire point. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox public has begun to understand that it needs to take its fate into its hands. There are thousands of ultra-Orthodox in the army, in academia, in the free professions. Are they telling us we’re in a religious war? On the contrary. The religious public is heading toward something great, and the rabbis’ attempts to stop this are like the rooster running in circles after being beheaded.”

The Sicarii are acting out of frustration, not ideology, he says. “They see society around them progressing and are frustrated. They do not really think; they just act violently for the sake of causing action and chaos.”

Pappenheim believes the rabbis’ attempts to turn back time are destined to fail. “I’m not seeing any students dropping out of ultra-Orthdox colleges” due to Rabbi Elyashiv’s letter, he says. “That isn’t going to help anymore. Maybe this is the rabbis’ job, to try to stop the flow so that 16-year-old boys know their only aim in life is to study Torah, but this process is reality.”

Pappenheim himself is being smeared by wall posters declaring, “Greeks have ganged up on us!” and draws condemnations from his extremist neighbors, but as the son of an aristocratic Toldot Aharon family, he retains access to the top.

“A married yeshiva student from Toldot Avraham Hasidut is serving in Shahar [a prestigious Israel Defense Forces technology program for married yeshiva students]. Things are happening. I told my rebbe and he asked: ‘What? Do you think our married yeshiva students will also be there?’ I said it could happen. He said, ‘Such a thing should not come to us,’ and I told him that while his role may be to prevent it, this is the process. We need to understand this and not shut our eyes. He knows this well. A month ago President [Shimon] Peres visited [Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s daughter] Adina Bar-Shalom’s ultra-Orthodox college in Jerusalem. In the first row were three married yeshiva students from Toldot Aharon.”

Conflicting changes Pappenheim’s remarks show that the discussion about “growing ultra-Orthdox extremism” ignores the fact that this sector, like the national religious sector, is going through conflicting processes. The public at large is now noticing the modesty revolution, which includes the segregated buses, the “Taliban” women in black cloaks, the gender segregation at the health clinics in Beit Shemesh and the advertising companies’ reluctance to post outdoor ads with pictures of women in Jerusalem, but it has been going on for years.

But there are only a few dozen women in cloaks and a few hundred hot-headed Sicarii. Even if we generalize and include the thousands of Gur Hasidim – the largest Hasidic faction, known for its obsessiveness on matters of sexuality and whose functionaries have been pushing segregated buses for years – this is still only a minority within the ultra-Orthodox sector.

This minority certainly is smaller than the large group of ultra-Orthodox women – including women from Gur – working in the free professions and high-tech, the thousands of men and women studying at ultra-Orthodox colleges and the men volunteering for special ultra-Orthodox programs in the IDF and civil service. And many more ultra-Orthodox use computers, smartphones and the Internet, despite the rabbis’ loud but futile war against these technologies. Even if these people are still a minority, they are a much larger minority than the extremists.

Economic distress alone is enough to push the ultra-Orthodox to reform, which in turn damages the supreme ultra-Orthodox value of separatism, “the pure cruse of oil.” The change in values is keeping the rabbis awake at night. The more openness there is, the more they seek to close things off. That is how Orthodoxy was born 200 years ago, that is how the “Taliban” sect in Beit Shemesh was born and that is likely how innovations like “kosher electricity” will be born – out of the growing push for strictness and the ultra-Orthodox representatives’ intoxication with political power – as well as the secular politicians’ ignorance.

The segregated buses were not intended to exclude women; they were intended to exclude secular people, to create a sanctified ultra-Orthodox space detached from the threatening outside world. The new ultra-Orthodox suburbs of Beitar Ilit and Modi’in Ilit were intended as sacred ultra-Orthodox ghettoes, sometimes with the help of secret “acceptance committees” that filtered out the newly observant, the national religious and sometimes also Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox. The Lithuanian girls’ schools make a point of accepting only students “like ourselves,” meaning no Mizrahim. Likewise the Haredim developed their own transportation system under the nose of Egged, Dan and the High Court of Justice.

The radical idea that came out of the Prime Minister’s Bureau this week, to split Beit Shemesh into two municipalities based on sectoral affiliation, no doubt appeals to some of the ultra-Orthodox extremists. But Pappenehim says that in order to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into workplaces, colleges and military service, they need unique frameworks that allow for gender segregation. “There is no other way,” he says.

Aryeh Goldhaber is an activist in the ultra-Orthodox reformist movement “Tov,” in Beit Shemesh. He says ultra-Orthodox people like him are suffering both at the hands of the extremists and from the authorities’ blind eye. He, like Pappenheim, favors tough police action against the fanatics, because the “violent campaign against the ultra-Orthodox” is driving moderate members of his community to close ranks with the Sicarii.

Unlike Rabbi Elyashiv, he says, “We are happy to be active partners in the larger Israeli society – in employment, the army and studies, but the more openness there is, the louder the extremists shout.” Pressure from Shas and UTJ is pushing the establishment to ignore ultra-Orthodox reformists, “and this is making things difficult for us.”

Failed Messiah continues with his own assessment of the situation.

Lets be clear.

What Ettinger contends is that Rabbi Elyashiv and the other so-called mainstream haredi leaders see that they are losing control of their rank and file, who are in increasing numbers opting to get secular educations and jobs in the wider Israeli community. So they have become increasingly strict, banning secular education, army service, etc., to try to stop up the ‘breech’ in the haredi ghetto wall.

This moves “mainstream” haredi leadership closer to Eidah Charedit and their street gang offshoot, the Sicarii.

At the same time, press coverage of the violence and statements by secular politicians about it that in any way blame “mainstream” haredi leadership and the the wider haredi community for the violence supposedly committed only by the Sicarii gang pushes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the haredi rank abd file to become more extreme and to move closer to Eidah Charedit and and the Sicarii.

And this is true even though these “mainstream” haredi leaders have not condemned the haredi violence against women and little children that sparked this press coverage and the statements of those secular politicians.

In other words, haredi leadership won’t condemn the violence because the violence is meant to help goals be achieved that they strongly support – and all of those goals further separation of haredim from all other Jews. And haredi leaders want this increased separation in order to retain power over the haredi rank and file – and to retain control over lucrative communal institutions, like yeshivas.

This makes “mainstream” haredi leadership and the politicians and newspapers that answer to them – as guilty as the Sicarii gang.

And that should never be forgotten.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring – Um, excuse me!!

Update: To add fuel to the fire, see this post at Failed Messiah. If all the judge gives this person is house arrest with Yeshiva privileges, what recourse is left to fight the problem of tznius patrols.

I don’t often get into these debates with others, but this post truly makes me cringe. I am glad everyone is finally speaking up. All the Orthodox rabbinic organizations, RCA (their statement will be ready soon), Agudat Israel, and IRF (I don’t want to here comments about whether it is Orthodox or not), are making statements condemning religious extremist violence in Beit Shemesh. The Belzer Rebbe also alluded to the violence according to this piece. Yet, I wonder if perhaps it is another case of too little, too late. Religious violence in Israel has been there for years. And sure, for every stone thrower, there is a Rabbi who says it is not appropriate. Yet, you only hear about that years later. And even in this, while all the organizations are talking, who is to say the zealots are listening.

Now, don’t get me wrong, talk we must, but let’s not get carried away and make declarations like R. Adlerstein is, that this is the beginning of an “Charedi Spring.” I find the usurping of that term preposterous, as while I hope this event does cause a change, to equate it with what is going on in the rest of the Middle East is absurd. Besides, the Arab Spring upon which this is predicated upon is, by many accounts, turning into an Islamic winter.

To me, the violence should have been condemned and punished years ago. But when there was public silence against protesting Shabbat desecrators, all it did was embolden some of them to take their violence to another level. And to top it off, unless one of their grand Rebbes comes out and says the violence is not allowed, which most likely will not happen because of their own fear of their followers, I don’t see much in the way of curtailing it. And should the Israeli government step in and arrest some of the more egregious men who are attacking and cursing young girls, I have a hard time believing the more mainstream Haredi world won’t be up in arms to an extent.

To conclude, we should all hope that this violence will end as it is making us all look bad as well as proving Hillary Clinton correct to an extent when she sparked her own controversy with her comments about gender bias in Israel. To outsiders, it is no different, even if on the inside we can try to find the subtleties. I pray that these men find some seichel (intelligence) and stop this disgusting display of zealotry in a time when we need to be banding together as one nation.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring | Cross-Currents.

Welcoming The Charedi Spring

The Charedi Spring may have finally arrived. Eight year old Naama Margolese may do for Israel what a Tunisian street vendor did for the Arab world. The wave of revulsion for the behavior of the extremists, if sustained and channeled into focused police work, may release the Israeli public – both secular and charedi – from the tyranny of fanatics whose thuggery and primitivism ran unchecked in Meah Shearim for years.

The price we pay for it is a massive chilul Hashem, as hundreds of millions of people equate Torah with Taliban. The only partial antidote is for the genuine Orthodox world to do what Muslims do not do to their extremists. We must condemn with passion, conviction and without qualification.

As the numbers of Meah Shearim-grown extremists increased, they sought space in other communities. (It was not only a matter of space. They were repudiated by many in their own neighborhood, including the Edah Charedis, which was still unable to rein them in.) Large numbers settled upon the Beit Shemesh area. Their growing enclave in RBS-Bet gradually spread out, to the point that they found themselves in close proximity to existing neighborhoods of dati Leumi and conventional charedim. Ongoing clashes came to a head with the opening of a frum girls’ school on land the extremists coveted in the dati Leumi neighborhood of Scheinfeld. While the dispute has been going on for months, and while violently imposing their requirements on local businesses has taken place for years, the issue exploded upon the national and international scene through a clip from Israel’s Channel Two that has gone viral. Listening to an Anglo girl dressed in long sleeves and a skirt speak about her fears in simply crossing the street and having to run a gauntlet of taunts, curses, and spittle from bearded adults has turned out to be the impetus to galvanize a country – including many charedim – into taking action. Contrasting her angelic demeanor with the ugly rhetoric of one of the tormentors who is particularly honest about their objectives to take over the entire contributed to the mood of resistance.

Both the Prime Minister and the President spoke about the video. (Netanyahu was particularly gracious. “”We must beware of generalizing an entire population, because the vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law”). Thousands came to Beit Shemesh and help stand up against the extremists. Groups of Knesset members are scheduling visits. Most remarkably, Haaretz reported that journalists were getting plenty of lip from charedim – but not to complain as usual about unbalanced treatment of their community. Rather, charedim were turning to them in person and by phone to implore them to keep the heat on through their coverage, so that the government will have no choice but to take firm action against the zealots who make life miserable for them as well. Haaretz even had to concede a difference between a minority population of out of control extremists and a “mainstream charedi” population.

To anyone not familiar with the history and dynamics of the charedi communities of Israel – and the century-and-a-half-long kulturkampf that created it, there is nothing in the pictures coming from Israel to differentiate the mobs in Beit Shemesh from those in Pakistan or Iraq. No amount of casuistry will put a dent in the plain truth: the behavior of many people who are seen as frum is a massive chilul Hashem of epic proportions.

Rabbinic and communal organizations are readying statements denouncing the barbarians at the gates of Beit Shemesh. This is necessary and good. It is probably not good enough. The extremists are not the equivalent of the poor, semi-literate unwashed masses in the Muslim suburbs of Paris. They were the recipients of many years of Torah chinuch. They studied, to some degree, the same seforim as the rest of us.

Even after we protest, the world will want to know what makes us more authentic than them. Why are they not the “real” Jews, and we are the reformers? How do we demonstrate that they are the imposters, that their understanding of Yiddishkeit is foreign to its genuine spirit? It is simply insufficient to say that we are right and they are wrong, or that our rabbis and leaders are greater than theirs. We dare not leave the very definition of Yiddishkeit to a he says, she says competition.

It is not enough to unequivocally denounce them. We must explain to the world – and fully and confidently to ourselves – why the extremists are a foreign, sickly weed, not another shitah among many. Where do we find within our mesorah the confidence to see these people as outside of it? We must be able to point not just to a collection of their terrible actions, but to fundamental themes in their lifestyle that make them different – and that we can package simply and reinforce in our children and students.

I have nothing magisterial or even particularly insightful to offer. A few thoughts, however, do come to mind.

How do I reject thee? Let me count the ways…

1) The dignity of everyone possessed of a Tzelem Elokim. We take it seriously; they don’t. You can’t take it seriously and still bring children to tears. You could never smear feces on the property of others. You could never spit at someone, rather than engage in discourse. You would see in all of this a belittling of the tzelem Elokim – the image of G-d vested in Man – not only of the other person, but of yourself. The imposition of one set of standards on others who are not willing (e.g. removing public benches so that women will not sit on them in public) is not only theft of the public, it is a denial of their Tzelem Elokim that allows them to choose their own decisors. Claiming that all other decisors but their own are wrong is a fatal distortion of halachic process.

2) Hakoras HaTov According to Chovos HaLevavos, owning up to the obligation to reciprocate what others have benefited you (even when done for the wrong reasons) is the key to any growth in serving Hashem. Closing their eyes to the benefits they have received from the State – the blood that has been spilled defending them in every war since ’48; the subsidies that feed their children and pay for their medical care – is so profoundly un-Jewish that it should be sufficient cause to call them opponents of Torah. All the mental gymnastics applied by them to prove to themselves that they owe nothing to anyone (i.e., if it weren’t for everyone else’s sins, the Arabs would be our peaceful and loving neighbors) should only prove that they can compound lack of hakoras hatov with distortion of sechel. R. Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l used to ask every year during Neilah that people daven for the soldiers of Tzahal. “Those who don’t understand why are fools.”

3) The simplest one, and the one that works the most for me: The proper way, we are told in Avos, is one that brings honor to Hashem and honor to the one who follow it. It should be simple enough to argue that a lifestyle that brings nothing but contempt upon Torah cannot legitimately be Torah! Discounting the small percentage of Israelis who truly hate Torah, the rest of Israeli society cannot be written off the same way. Where they should see the ahavas Yisrael of the R Aryeh Levin they remember a generation ago, they see nothing in the video clip but unvarnished hatred. Where they should see a lifestyle to admire, they see a community that cannot support itself, covers up its misdeeds, and shows itself entirely unsuitable to face challenges of real life. They react – and indeed often overreact – with contempt. But at least part of their contempt is understandable. It certainly means that the extremists are not bringing honor to anyone.

This alone proves that their way cannot be Torah. Everything else is commentary.

The Hillary Moment

I just couldn’t resist posting this op-ed piece from Monday’s WSJ.  It is quite fascinating to see many in the Democratic world thinking that Obama is not the strongest candidate that they could nominate for 2012.  To me, it goes back to something I said in 2008.  At the time, I argued with many that the Democratic party made a strategic error by running Obama.  The chronology shoud have been Hillary in 2008 with Obama as VP.  Then, a hoped for second term in 2012.  By 2016, Obama would have had 8 years of experience as VP, which would have been enough time to learn the ropes of Washington.  Of course, history didn’t play out this way, so now many in the Democratic party are clamoring for Hillary. 

The Hillary Moment
President Obama can’t win by running a constructive campaign, and he won’t be able to govern if he does win a second term.
By PATRICK H. CADDELL
AND DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

When Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson accepted the reality that they could not effectively govern the nation if they sought re-election to the White House, both men took the moral high ground and decided against running for a new term as president. President Obama is facing a similar reality—and he must reach the same conclusion.

He should abandon his candidacy for re-election in favor of a clear alternative, one capable not only of saving the Democratic Party, but more important, of governing effectively and in a way that preserves the most important of the president’s accomplishments. He should step aside for the one candidate who would become, by acclamation, the nominee of the Democratic Party: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Never before has there been such an obvious potential successor—one who has been a loyal and effective member of the president’s administration, who has the stature to take on the office, and who is the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.

Certainly, Mr. Obama could still win re-election in 2012. Even with his all-time low job approval ratings (and even worse ratings on handling the economy) the president could eke out a victory in November. But the kind of campaign required for the president’s political survival would make it almost impossible for him to govern—not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term.

Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance. With his job approval ratings below 45% overall and below 40% on the economy, the president cannot affirmatively make the case that voters are better off now than they were four years ago. He—like everyone else—knows that they are worse off.

President Obama is now neck and neck with a generic Republican challenger in the latest Real Clear Politics 2012 General Election Average (43.8%-43.%). Meanwhile, voters disapprove of the president’s performance 49%-41% in the most recent Gallup survey, and 63% of voters disapprove of his handling of the economy, according to the most recent CNN/ORC poll.

Consequently, he has to make the case that the Republicans, who have garnered even lower ratings in the polls for their unwillingness to compromise and settle for gridlock, represent a more risky and dangerous choice than the current administration—an argument he’s clearly begun to articulate.

One year ago in these pages, we warned that if President Obama continued down his overly partisan road, the nation would be “guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it.” The result has been exactly as we predicted: stalemate in Washington, fights over the debt ceiling, an inability to tackle the debt and deficit, and paralysis exacerbating market turmoil and economic decline.

If President Obama were to withdraw, he would put great pressure on the Republicans to come to the table and negotiate—especially if the president singularly focused in the way we have suggested on the economy, job creation, and debt and deficit reduction. By taking himself out of the campaign, he would change the dynamic from who is more to blame—George W. Bush or Barack Obama?—to a more constructive dialogue about our nation’s future.

Even though Mrs. Clinton has expressed no interest in running, and we have no information to suggest that she is running any sort of stealth campaign, it is clear that she commands majority support throughout the country. A CNN/ORC poll released in late September had Mrs. Clinton’s approval rating at an all-time high of 69%—even better than when she was the nation’s first lady. Meanwhile, a Time Magazine poll shows that Mrs. Clinton is favored over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 17 points (55%-38%), and Texas Gov. Rick Perry by 26 points (58%-32%).

But this is about more than electoral politics. Not only is Mrs. Clinton better positioned to win in 2012 than Mr. Obama, but she is better positioned to govern if she does. Given her strong public support, she has the ability to step above partisan politics, reach out to Republicans, change the dialogue, and break the gridlock in Washington.

President Bill Clinton reached a historic agreement with the Republicans in 1997 that led to a balanced budget. Were Mrs. Clinton to become the Democratic nominee, her argument would almost certainly have to be about reconciliation and about an overarching deal to rein in the federal deficit. She will understand implicitly the need to draw up a bipartisan plan with elements similar to her husband’s in the mid-to-late ’90s—entitlement reform, reform of the Defense Department, reining in spending, all the while working to preserve the country’s social safety net.

Having unique experience in government as first lady, senator and now as Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton is more qualified than any presidential candidate in recent memory, including her husband. Her election would arguably be as historic an event as the election of President Obama in 2008.

By going down the re-election road and into partisan mode, the president has effectively guaranteed that the remainder of his term will be marred by the resentment and division that have eroded our national identity, common purpose, and most of all, our economic strength. If he continues on this course it is certain that the 2012 campaign will exacerbate the divisions in our country and weaken our national identity to such a degree that the scorched-earth campaign that President George W. Bush ran in the 2002 midterms and the 2004 presidential election will pale in comparison.

We write as patriots and Democrats—concerned about the fate of our party and, most of all, our country. We do not write as people who have been in contact with Mrs. Clinton or her political operation. Nor would we expect to be directly involved in any Clinton campaign.

If President Obama is not willing to seize the moral high ground and step aside, then the two Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, must urge the president not to seek re-election—for the good of the party and most of all for the good of the country. And they must present the only clear alternative—Hillary Clinton.

Election 2012’s great religious divide

The issue of religion and politics continues to be a hot button item during elections.  Whether it is the question of Obama’s religious ties or Romney and his Mormonism, people want to know what drives a candidate.  I do think certain situations might warrant Americans to be wary of voting a particular candidate in.  Nevertheless, most of those running for the presidency tend to be more aligned with the expediency of one’s political views than one’s religious beliefs.  Having said that, I know most Americans do care about a candidates religion, though usually when there is a fear of negative influence.  We have seen people scared off by Bush’s evangelical, born-again rhetoric, as well as others who were/are fearful of the unknowns of Obama’s religious beliefs (which is not the subject of this piece).  In the following Washington Post op-ed, the author appears to want to question the candidates about belief might influence policy.  For Conservatives, this piece does leave a bad taste as it seems the issue is only an issue because of the Republican primaries, when in 2008, when Obama’s religious affiliation came up, it was ignored by the same writers as are asking about it now. 

Election 2012’s great religious divide

We have embarked on yet another presidential campaign in which religion will play an important role without any agreement over what the ground rules for that engagement should be.

If you think we’re talking past each other on jobs and budgets, consider the religious divide. One side says “separation of church and state” while the other speaks of “religion’s legitimate role in the public square.” Each camp then sees the question as closed and can get quite self-righteous in avoiding the other’s claims.

Anyone who enters this terrain should do so with fear and trembling. But a few things ought to be clear, and let’s start with this: The Mormon faith of Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman should not be an issue in this campaign. Period.

In the United States, we have no religious tests for office. It’s true that this constitutional provision does not prevent a voter from casting a ballot on any basis he or she wishes to use. Nonetheless, it’s the right assumption for citizens in a pluralistic democracy.

All Americans ought to empathize with religious minorities because each of us is part of one. If Mormonism can be held against Romney and Huntsman, then everyone else’s tradition — and, for nonbelievers, their lack of religious affiliation — can be held against them, too. We have gone down this road before. Recall the ugly controversy over Catholicism when Al Smith and John F. Kennedy sought the presidency. We shouldn’t want to repeat the experiences of 1928 or 1960.

But to say this is not the same as saying that religion should be excluded from politics. The test should be: To what extent would a candidate’s religious views affect what he or she might do in office?

Many beliefs rooted in a tradition (the Virgin Birth, how an individual keeps kosher laws, precisely how someone conceives the afterlife) are not relevant in any direct way to how a candidate would govern. In the case of Mormonism, those who disagree with its religious tenets are free to do so but they should argue about them outside the confines of a political campaign.

Yet there are many questions — and not just concerning abortion — on which the ethical and moral commitments that arise from faith would have a direct impact on what candidates might do in office. Those should be argued about. My own views on poverty, equality and social justice, for example, have been strongly influenced by Catholic social thought, the Old Testament prophets and the civil rights preachers. Religious conservatives have arrived at convictions quite different in many cases from mine, after reflection on their own faith and their traditions.

Neither they nor I have a right to use the state to impose such views on religious grounds. That’s the essence of the pluralist bargain. But we can make a religious case for them if we wish.

This leads to a conclusion that the philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain reached some years ago: “Separation of church and state is one thing. Separation of religion and politics is something else altogether. Religion and politics flow back and forth in American civil society all the time — always have, always will.”

That is entirely true. It’s also not as simple as it sounds. For if religious people fairly claim that faith has a legitimate place in public life, they must accept that the public (including journalists) is fully justified in probing how that faith might influence what they would do with political power.

Religious people cannot have it both ways: to assert that their faith really matters to their public engagement, and then to insist, when it’s convenient, that religion is a matter about which no one has a right to ask questions. Voters especially have a right to know how a candidate’s philosophical leanings shape his or her attitudes toward the religious freedom of unbelievers as well as believers.

And here’s the hardest part: We all have to ask ourselves whether what we claim to be hearing as the voice of faith (or of God) may in fact be nothing more than the voice of our ideology or political party. We should also ask whether candidates are merely exploiting religion to rally some part of the electorate to their side. The difficulty of answering both questions — given the human genius for rationalization — might encourage a certain humility that comes hard to most of us, and perhaps, above all, to people who write opinion columns.