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There is an old joke that when Israel’s Golda Meir met President Richard Nixon, she told him that her job was much harder than his. “You may be the president of 200 million people,” she said, “but I am the prime minister of 2 million prime ministers.”
From Moses to Netanyahu the Jewish flock has always believed it knew better than its shepherds – and it never beat around the burning bush to criticize, to opine, or to dissent. Herein lies one of the greatest secrets of their success as a nation and a people: Jews have a generous ability to look at their own kind and find fault. The Israeli press corps is among the freest in the world to criticize its government – and it does so with glee.
Indeed, Jews are the most persecuted people in history, but it has not resulted in a blind allegiance toward one another. And it is here that I pivot to African-Americans and urge them to take a tip from the Jewish “race” book.
In late April, a New York Times survey showed that 96 percent of blacks approved of the job that Obama was doing as president. In late July, a Rasmussen poll revealed the president had a 97 percent approval rating among black voters. Tuesday, a Marist poll showed that if an election were held now, 99 percent of black Americans would favor Obama over Sarah Palin. Another Marist poll shows that 87 percent of African-Americans report President Obama is handling the health-care situation appropriately, compared to 38 percent of whites who approve and 44 percent of Latinos.
But are African-Americans doing themselves a favor by blindly supporting Obama simply because he is America’s first black president? If their aim is to have great success as a people, they should be doing the opposite and unabashedly criticizing and questioning his policies. Through scrutiny and close vigilance of their leaders, Jews have helped foster success and personal growth both on an individual basis and as a people. Similarly, African-Americans should be harder on Obama than anyone else because just as they hold him in high regard as an icon of success – as they should – his responsibility toward them cuts both ways. He succeeded to make it as the first black president – great – but will he make it as president? If he fails, will all blacks fall with him?
Whenever a Jew is in a position of power, for instance, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, especially when he ran for vice president with Al Gore, all Jews began to get nervous that he would do or say something that would reflect badly on the Jewish people, especially because he was an Orthodox Jew. They made sure to let him know. He was termed “the conscience of the Senate.” How could he not be? He had the guilt trip of over 5 million American Jews and one Jewish mother tucked well under his yarmulke.
This self-serving censuring runs across Jewish life. Let me say with authoritative knowledge that there is rare a rabbi in this country and around the world who has not been lambasted, fired or censured by his congregants or his synagogue board for comments made that were deemed unacceptable. Rabbis get flack if their speeches extend five minutes into lunchtime, never mind for their content. Jews take each other on with great vigilance and often little mercy when they feel their own people are doing and saying something wrong. We saw no such reaction, however, from African-Americans in their churches or from Obama himself who sat in Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years while he damned this country and the Zionists. And I believe there is an equal reluctance now to confront Obama’s policies. African-Americans can’t expect the world to be colorblind while at the same time they support Obama blindly. A scaffold built of sycophants will never build true success but just sustain it for a while. They must take their leaders to task.
No one is right 100 percent of the time, and if people go unchallenged they become less right yet evermore righteous. True, I too get upset when I hear a Jew criticize another Jew or Israel publicly. The initial instinct is: “We have to stick together.” But part of what made the Jewish people a successful people is the diversity and challenges we pose to one another. It’s a process of refinement. When I had to bash Israel, I did so abashedly. When I interviewed CNN Journalist Wolf Blitzer, a Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors, I asked him how he had the gall to be critical of Israel in some of his reports. He answered, “My parents always taught me that you don’t do anybody any favors by covering up mistakes; otherwise people tend to repeat those mistakes.” That, my friends, is transparency!
A people’s potential is much like a muscle. If you offer it no resistance, it will never grow or strengthen into greatness. Indeed, there was a time when both Jews and blacks cried, “Let my people go.” But now is the time to let their people “grow.”