Monday, December 12, 2011

From Joe McCarthy to Ophir Okunis

Yes, I remember Senator Joe McCarthy…….very vaguely. I have some kind of distant memory from our two-room home in back of my folks' small grocery store in Brooklyn, listening to radio reports of his investigations in the early 1950's. I was really oblivious to its meaning, but I remember my folks and their friends being solemn and seemingly unhappy with what they heard. It was much later that I learned about Senator McCarthy's witch-hunt of all those supposed anti-American communists and "pinkos"……a witch-hunt that destroyed the lives of so many individual Americans and their families while also accusing the Democratic party of "twenty years of treason", describing the American Civil Liberties Union as "a front for, and doing the work of the Communist Party", and declaring the Voice of America as un-American. When he died at the age of 48 in 1957, with some connection to alcoholism, it was a few days before my 16th birthday and I was aware enough to know why McCarthy was already considered by many Americans a pariah to the concept of democracy. I was also aware why my parents and their friends were especially in a celebrative mood. McCarthy had destroyed the lives of many, many Jews….way beyond our proportion in the American population.

Ophir Okunis, member of our Israeli Knesset (parliament), Deputy-Speaker of our Knesset, mainstream Likud Party member and very close associate of our Prime Minister, managed to enlighten us during a TV interview as to his thoughts about Joe Mccarthy:

"McCarthy was correct in every word he uttered." End quote.

O.K. ……so later on he tried telling the media that he was misunderstood. But no….I'm sure he wasn't. Knesset member Ophir Okunis is a prominent actor in today's battle about Israeli democracy, and an initiator of Knesset legislations to restrict the activities of Israeli human rights groups and "leftist" organizations who monitor injustices within our own country. Of course he isn't alone. In 2011 he is one of many within a Knesset majority and a coalition government who support both his words and his intents. It is the same majority that is working to have more governmental control of our Supreme Court, more governmental control of our news media; a majority that is supporting the evolution of religious-Halachic interpretations of Jewish law as superior to laws evolved through the struggle for democracy and civil liberties for all. Our justice system, our human rights groups, women, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, journalists …….. are all under greater political and ideological and social attack than ever before in our short history as a modern nation.

In 1954 Edward R. Murrow, America's prominent journalist of WWII (and later), stood up to MacCarthy , re-energized the voices of democracy and reawakened the American majority to their call. In 2011 no such transformation is visible in our smaller world of Israel.

Hillary Clinton voiced a few troubled words about some anti –democratic legislation being studied by our Government and Knesset. The response of many coalition politicians and supporters was instant: Don't meddle in our internal business; look to your own faults in your own country. Likewise, so many of our liberal Jews around the world (especially in the U.S.) claim they won't meddle in Israeli policies because they don't live in Israel. Both responses have always been an enigma for me.

We Israelis of diverse political leanings, are always willing to voice our opinion (pro or con) about democracy in other countries (…….examples? there are plenty …….e.g. the Niqab (face-veil), whether in France or in Saudi Arabia. Another more recent example ?? the elections in Russia.) But heaven forbid "goyeshe" criticism of our own actions, even by friends. Likewise, many of our Jewish friends around the world had no problem actively joining criticism of undemocratic actions around the world (remember South Africa ? and how about China or Burma ?? Oh yes, how about women's rights – and plights – in non-westernized countries ??). But so few in our Jewish Diaspora dare take a public and active stand about what is happening in our own backyard, here in Israel.

Five or ten or fifteen years from now, as we look around us here in Israel, probably from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, with our Jewish minority governing an Arab majority in a Greater Israel legislated by local law as our Jewish State, ours and ours alone, we will then remember MK Ophir Okunis. In 2011 Okunis fairly represents our Israeli Knesset and Government. Remember what he said in 2011:

" McCarthy was correct in every word he uttered." End quote.

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