At my synagogue, in our schools, in Congress, in the Israeli government, in the international arena generally, I have become increasingly cognizant of the phenomenon of bullying and the toll that it takes on individuals, culture and society as a whole.
Bullies are interested in one thing and one thing alone – power, and however they dress it up, it is only about power, self-aggrandizement and gaining control over anyone and everyone around them that they seek. Bullies are impressed by no one except those who bully them back, and unless we stand up to them they will destroy everything that is good around us.
My synagogue schools have a zero-tolerance policy about bullies. We will work with kids who display these tendencies because we are a religious and educational institution with a heart and a mission to transform lives. But we will not sacrifice any child to the bully, and we will remove bullies from the student population if necessary. The same is true for adult congregants who think that the synagogue is there to serve them alone, and that policies and practices must accommodate their needs, or else. As the senior rabbi, I have come across such individuals on occasion, though the culture of Temple Israel doesn’t lend itself to bullies going about their ways unchecked, and it has taken me many years to finally say to myself, to my staff and leadership that there are some people we just cannot afford to keep as members.
Bullies, of course, also display qualities that draw others to them. They are often clever people, charismatic, intelligent, gifted, and well-spoken. Like Korach of the Bible, they are adept at manipulating symbols and people for their purposes and use populist language and democratic principles as a foil over their under-handed intentions. They often operate in the shadows, confuse the ethical principle of maintaining confidentiality with sustaining a “cone of silence.” They are abusers, first and foremost, and though they may seem genteel, professional, reasonable, and measured, let no one be fooled.
I normally would not name names as an ethical principle, but with regards to what is happening in Washington, D.C. and the Knesset, I believe we should call out those who systematically abuse the public trust and who are causing tremendous damage to our society here in America and to the Jewish State. So many of our leaders are bullies, and to remain silent cannot be an option, recalling Heschel’s admonition that “some are guilty, but all are responsible.”
House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whether bullies themselves or captive of bullies such as anti-tax demagogue Grover Norquist, Presidential candidates Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry, among others, are among the worst offenders. They are joined by former President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, would-be-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and so-called commentators Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity in their self-serving demagoguery.
We have bullies on the liberal side too, but they pale in significance to the cacophony that we hear constantly from the right. Together, they and people like them have caused irreparable damage to the United States, to civil discourse and to commitment to truth, and I am waiting for some of our most decent political leaders to call them out as they really are.
In Israel, too, our people has its share of bullies led first and foremost by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, like most bullies, is impressed by nothing other than another bully who isn’t hesitant to push back. He has disrespected both the President and Vice-President of the United States, the most important friends and allies the Jewish State has on the planet, because he believed from day one that President Obama could be rolled and he has been proven correct. Netanyahu has been joined by fellow bullies Yisrael Bateinu leader and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Likud Knesset member Danny Danon and most of the right-wing settler movement along with many in the Orthodox parties in turning Israel into a pariah nation and isolating her in a way we have not seen in 63 years of statehood.
It’s time for decent people to call out bullies wherever they are and whenever they rear their heads! Bullies are allowed to do their dirty work when the rest of us remain silent. For the sake of sanity and decency, we need to be vigilant everywhere, or everything we cherish and value will be lost.