Rabbi Arthur Waskow : ‘The Mormons are Coming, the Jews are Coming’

“The Mormons are Coming” / Californians Against Hate.

As Martin Buber said, ‘I do not even know what it means to say that “The ends justify the means,” but I can tell you this: The means that you actually use will become the ends that you actually achieve.’

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow / The Rag Blog / May 31, 2009

“The Mormons are Coming, the Jews are coming!”

Suppose you read that opponents of same-sex marriage had taken ads in newspapers shouting, “The Jews are Coming, the Jews are Coming!” to warn people against the nefarious influence of Jewish organizers who were (disproportionately to their numbers) involved in supporting same-sex marriage?

I would think it was disgusting bigotry.

Now imagine that supporters of same-sex marriage take ads in newspapers shouting, “The Mormons are Coming, the Mormons are coming!” to warn people against the nefarious influence of Mormon organizers who were (disproportionately to their numbers) involved in opposing same-sex marriage?

I would think it was disgusting bigotry.

The former has not happened; the latter has.

The Shalom Center and I strongly support the legalization of same-sex marriage by society as a whole and the practice of it by Jewish communities (and have done so since long before it was a salient public issue). AND — that does not prevent us from thinking this way of winning support for it is disgusting.

Mormonism — like Roman Catholicism, Orthodox Judaism, evangelical Protestantism — is a mixed bag. (I’m sure there are many people, including me, who think “renewal Judaism,” let alone Judaism in general, is a mixed bag.) And therefore, “the Mormons” must not be condemned any more than “the Jews.”

We support same-sex marriage for the sake of love and justice. For the same reasons, we oppose such unjust and hateful means of supporting it.

The ironies are astounding. The bigoted ads were placed on newspaper Web sites in three Eastern states last month — by “Californians Against Hate”!!

The ad was rejected by the Kennebec Journal in Maine, which said that the copy “borders on insulting and denigrating a whole set of people based on their religion.” Right on, Kennebec Journal!

This incident reminds us of the wisdom of the biblical teaching, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue!” Why is “justice” mentioned twice? To remind us that just ends must be pursued by just means. People who claim to be “against hate” should not mobilize hatred in support of their goals.

This teaching was ignored or subverted this past week by the FBI itself – an institution presumably committed to pursue justice.

In Riverdale, New York, four Muslim men were accused by the police of plotting to blow up two synagogues and actually buying what they thought were bombs to do it. On the surface of most of the news stories, this seemed like a simple abomination. Hatred of Jews, sparked by fury at various behaviors of some Jewish institutions, had turned into terrorism. Period. Scared me. Could have been my synagogue.

But when I read past the first four paragraphs of the New York Times story, the story became much more complex. Turns out the four alleged miscreants had been recruited by an FBI agent who came to their mosque, talked big about blowing up enemies, had money to spend on supporting these attacks and paying those who would join up. He found and organized the group of four. He arranged for them to buy fake bombs. All this with the knowledge and cooperation of the FBI.

It seems likely that if it had not been for this FBI agent., the four would never have lifted a finger against the synagogues. The news stories portray them as incoherent, small-time criminals who had served small-time prison terms. It seems likely that if no one had organized and paid them, the synagogues never would have been in danger at all.

Was justice served and were people protected by their arrest? Sort of. They had – assuming always that the news reports were accurate – actually taken what they thought were steps to blow up the synagogues.

But was the goal of justice served by just means?

What is to be done? Assuming the truth of the allegations, the four men did violate the law and endanger lives. They violated the standards of personal ethical responsibility.

But what about the standards of social ethical responsibility – society embodied in the FBI? If the FBI invented the crime, what to do?

The conventional answer is that if the four men were “entrapped,” they are entitled to be acquitted — just as a confession beaten out of a suspect, even if it turns out to be true, is nullified. (The courts have concluded that is the best way of deterring the police from beating suspects.)

But this means releasing men who, when the opportunity to commit mass murder was laid before them, went for it instead of going to the police and scotching the plot.

The analogy that occurs to me is what ought to happen when high officials plan torture and lowly grunts carry it out. “Obeying orders” is no defense. Neither is “high office.” Both the planners and the perpetrators ought to be punished.

(That is precisely why I think the Obama Doctrine of “Even if they tell, don’t ask!” and “Don’t look back” is a bad mistake.)

So in the Riverdale case, maybe the FBI agent ought to be charged as a co-conspirator, and if he is proved to have invented the crime and organized the criminals, he too should be punished — along with them.

Progressives and conservatives, the government and its critics, all need to affirm and act on the teaching — “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

As Martin Buber said, “I do not even know what it means to say that ‘The ends justify the means,’ but I can tell you this: The means that you actually use will become the ends that you actually achieve.”

He was talking to early Bolsheviks who were trying to protect the Russian Revolution by using the “Red Terror” against its opponents. The result, as decade by decade the “means” became the “ends,” was Stalinism and the gulag.

Buber was right. Remember. Do not forget.

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace,


[Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, is director of The Shalom Center. Rabbi Waskow is co-author of The Tent of Abraham, author of Godwrestling — Round 2, Down-to-Earth Judaism, and a dozen other books on Jewish thought and practice, as well as books on U.S. public policy.]

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