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March 19, 2004

Greenspan Increases Our Social Insecurity

Your editorial on Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Social Security was excellent (“Pickpocket,” March 12). The real damage Greenspan did was to shake the faith of young people in the system. So many have expressed the opinion that Social Security won’t be there when they retire, and he has confirmed their worst fears. Now, their support for Social Security will drop even further, making it easier for politicians to destroy it with risky “solutions.”

Al Geiersbach

Milwaukee, Wis.

In your editorial about Alan Greenspan and Social Security you fell right into the trap that Greenspan constructed. You wrote, “The trouble is that the accumulated surplus has been spent.”

It cannot be. It has not been. Legally the trust funds can only be used to pay for benefits and the program’s administrative costs. Therefore, if the president or Congress use those funds for anything else, they are breaking the law.

But you attempt to clear it up, though you contradict yourself, when you write, “Accumulated IOU’s from the government to the pension fund now total as much as $1.8 trillion.”

There are no “IOU’s” unless you want to consider a government bond an IOU. As a report of the Social Security and Medicare Board of Trustees explains, “The trust funds hold money not needed in the current year to pay benefits and administrative costs and, by law, invest it in interest bearing securities of the U.S. Government.” Of course, all “interest bearing securities” of the U.S. government can be considered an “IOU,” but by the same definition, any bond issued by anybody is an IOU. The fund exists, and each year earns interest on the bonds it holds.

As for the “borrowing,” this is done by a device of presenting two budgets. They used to be called “unified” and “general.” One takes in everything so that Social Security funds are considered as “revenue” (which they definitely are not) while the other does not. The one that includes Social Security is the one that is presented to the people and obfuscates the real deficit. Bush is not the first president to do this, but at a time of exorbitant deficits, juggling the books becomes more important.

Leonard Nadler

Silver Spring, Md.

Focus on Real Danger

In your March 12 editorial “Clues and Illusions,” you state: “The Jewish community, once a powerless, persecuted minority, labored for a century to build a self-defense network by appealing to the public conscience. Along the way, we have come to be seen, not unfairly, as an influential group. It’s no longer so simple to win sympathy as vulnerable underdogs.”

As a cure for your “cluelessness” as you look upon Mel Gibson’s clever promotion of “The Passion of the Christ,” I suggest that you forget “The Passion” and consider the real problem of how American Jews appear to American non-Jews in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I, a non-Christian and non-Jew, have an idea of the beliefs, feelings and illusions that non-Jews have of Jews. Here they are. Keep in mind that by describing them I do not adopt them.

American Jews exercise a political influence greatly disproportionate to their numbers in our nation and its military forces. Non-Jews are angered by that political influence. They detect in it the uses of Jewish money for the sake of Israel, a nation armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, a nation that is one of the earth’s leading military powers, a nation to which Jews have a loyalty superior to that they owe this country, a nation led by the manipulative Sharon whom non-Jews dislike. Just as non-Jews will not die for Norway or Ireland, they will not suffer or die for Israel to whom they owe nothing. Israel and American Jews act as if they are entitled to American lives and money.

Workaday non-Jews believe that they have been pushed by Jews into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their anger has nothing to do with the merits of either the Israelis or the Palestinians. It is an unknowing anger that can best be described as “To hell with the both of them.” Jews do not want to hear that anger, and non-Jews do not express it to Jews because Jews will accuse them of antisemitism. By thus silencing non-Jews, Jews have turned non-Jews into vengeful antisemites.

Non-Jews are angry over their government’s identification of them with Israel, an identification that exposes non-Jews to terrorist attacks. It is an anxiety that flares up at massacres of the type that Spain suffered last week. It is a foreboding left unaddressed by American politicians who fear Jews, or by the media, the latter of which, non-Jews believe, is controlled by Jews who busily suppress criticism of Israel. It is an anger directed against American politicians who are regarded by non-Jews as greedy weaklings who betray America by serving the demands of arrogant Israeli leaders. Non-Jews have had a surfeit of Jews posturing smugly in their power over our politicians. Non-Jews understood the anger of the Spaniards who last week yelled at their president, “Your war, our dead!” Non-Jews in their irrational anger identified themselves with that outburst, one that has implications for Jews who are believed by non-Jews to have persuaded Bush to invade Iraq and thus triggered terrorist attacks against this country.

Use your brains. Let Gibson and his circus leave town with their film. Focus instead on informing the non-Jews of our country of their direct, vital interest in the strategic military value of Israel in this country’s dealing with a Mideast that may fall to Islamic extremists. Unless the non-Jewish public can identify with Israel out of that self-interest, Jews may, like the Spanish president, find themselves awake in a nightmare.

Harry Reynolds

Scarsdale, N.Y.

One of the lessons of the Gibson film — and surely there are many — was that we believed that here in America, we could override the historic prejudices about Jews that had deeply penetrated the Western world.

What we did for most of the years of our presence in America was to play to our common humanity in our relations with the non-Jewish communities that we approached and worked with on community issues, large and small. The pain we now feel about the Gibson film and the cool response we have gotten from those non-Jewish groups we were counting on to condemn the film as being antisemitic is not due to our not trying. If we were counting on their sympathy, we should have known better. For how many years have many of these groups turned aside when we have asked them for support on Israel during a crisis. It is time to redefine what our aspirations about America are and make peace with the fact that they are not what we hoped they would be.

Irv Kaufman

Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Only in Ireland, Yogi

Just to top off your article on Irish Jews (“‘Shalom,’ With a Brogue: Irish Jews Face the Future,” March 12), after learning that the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, was Jewish, Yogi Berra is reputed to have said: “Only in America!”

Ira Sohn

New York, N.Y.

Denying Iran Nukes

There should be no question in anyone’s mind, Iran is a nation that is illegally pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and it must be dealt with, now (“U.S. Plans To Pressure Iranians Over Nukes,” March 12). The Bush administration, and the world, have no choice but to act. The free world cannot afford to tolerate nuclear weapons in the hands of a nation that supports terrorism and disregards free will and religious freedom.

Jason Gewirtz

New York, N.Y.

Distorting Christianity

Your editorial on Mel Gibson’s “Passion” (“Passion and Redemption,” February 27) deserves high praise. Your statement that faith “includes little things like behaving responsibly” surely must lead to the conclusion that this is such a troubling film because it shows religious irresponsibility bordering on the criminal. By making religion into a blood sport Gibson betrays an interpretation of Christianity that appalls most Christians. With his in-your-face violence there is little of the Christianity that we Jews have learned to respect: the Christianity of love, kindness and devotion. Councils of Christians and Jews around the world have spent more than 70 years fostering an interfaith culture that does not blame but nurtures, does not label but celebrates and does not accuse but rejoices in the “Other.” Christianity at its best is better than Mel Gibson’s “Passion.”

Christianity at this — its worst — should not become the benchmark by which such a noble religion is judged. Just as we Jews would not want to be judged by the violence of Baruch Goldstein or the excesses of Meir Kahane, Christianity must not be judged by this paean of praise to pain that is Mel Gibson’s singular and twisted interpretation of Christianity.

Rabbi Brian D. Fox

Manchester, England

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