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16 Mar, 2008

Jewish Rabbi: U.S. Officials Quit Over Brothel Visits, But Not for Lying to Start Wars

Originally Published: 16 March 2008

The recent resignation of New York state governor Eliot Spitzer triggered a blitz of global soul-searching analysis in business, economic, political, lifestyle and social publications and weblogs.

Perhaps the most enlightened commentary was written by Michael Lerner, the rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue-without-walls in San Francisco and Berkeley, Chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives [www.spiritualprogressives.org] and editor of the online magazine www.tikkun.org.

Headlined “Elliot (sic) Spitzer and America’s Ethical Perversity,” it explored both the deeper psychological “emptiness and loneliness” that leads powerful men to patronise prostitutes as well as the wider hypocrisy of a powerful country that faults the sexual peccadilloes of low-level leaders but ignores the far more dangerous and destructive actions of those at a higher level.

It shows “just how far the right-wing sexual moralizing has been able to trump any other kind of ethical reasoning in American society,” Rabbi Lerner said.

Noting that visiting prostitutes is legal in some states and some countries, he wrote: “It’s not uncommon for men (and now increasingly women as well) who have achieved great power in our society by adopting an outer show of ruthless pursuit of power and influence (even, as in Spitzer’s case, if the power is aimed at pursuing laudable ends) to feel a deep emptiness and loneliness that is not addressed by friends or spouse, and hence to seek some kind of outside connection, no matter how superficial.”

The rabbi said that prostitution “depends on the objectification of another human being, so that sex is disconnected in ways that it should not be from a significant encounter with the spirit of God in the other or a deep recognition that is the only real way to overcome existential or situational alienation.”

Moreover, he referred to the abhorrent side effects of the trade in women for sexual purposes, such as rape, abuse and slavery, as well as the “flaunting of sexuality in the media, and the implicit message that the only real satisfaction comes from having the most physically attractive people as sexual partners.”

However, the rabbi recognised that “this kind of exploitation of women and degradation of sex is likely to continue…until sexual satisfaction is so broadly available in our society that no one has to pay for it and so deeply tied to love that no one is objectified in the process.”

Rabbi Lerner said Mr. Spitzer became an easy target and deserves to be critiqued because of his own “previous moral arrogance and willingness, when he had power to do so, to prosecute others for their participation in creating prostitution rings.”

“We, in turn, might practice the forgiveness that our religious and spiritual traditions preach, particularly those of us who have been willing to honestly face how flawed we ourselves are, and how at times we ourselves fail to embody in our actual practice with others the values that we publicly espouse.”

Beyond all that, Rabbi Lerner commented, much bigger issues are at stake.

“The President of the U.S. and the Vice President, working in concert with several other high ranking officers of our government, lied and distorted to get us involved in a war that has led to the death of over a million Iraqis, the displacement of 3 million more, the death of 4,000 Americans and the wounding of tens of thousands more.

“After token opposition in Congress, our elected representatives have overwhelmingly passed budgets funding this war, rather than refuse to fund any military projects until the President stopped the war and withdrew the troops.

“Meanwhile, our government has overtly engaged in torture, wiretapping of our phones, and violation of our human rights and the rights of people around the world. (The) Attorney General (is) a right-wing judge who refused to repudiate these crimes.

“The U.S. government has rejected every attempt to implement the Kyoto environmental agreements or to work out new agreements sufficiently strong to reverse environmental destruction that is certain to lead to new levels of flooding particularly in several poor countries around the world. The consequence: tens of millions of deaths.

“The Clinton Administration pushed, along with corporate support, a set of trade agreements that have devastated the farmers of many developing countries, forcing many off their farms and into city slums where their daughters and sons are often sold into sexual slavery.

“The global economic system we have fostered has led to increasing gaps between the rich and the poor, so that over one out of every three people on the planet lives on less than $2 a day, 1.5 billion live on less than one dollar a day, and over 15,000 children die every day from malnutrition-related diseases and inadequate availability of medicine that is hoarded by the rich countries who can afford the prices made to ensure huge profits to the pharmaceutical industry.

“Health insurance companies and private medical profiteers are doing all they can to ensure that there will be no health care for tens of millions of Americans, unless that is provided in ways that guarantee corporate super-profits and thereby guarantee that the cost of health care paid through taxes will be huge and create anger at all government social welfare and well-being programs, leading to their likely de-funding.

“People in the US have faced severe economic crises on a regional and soon on a national level because corporations move their centers of production to countries in Asia where they can exploit workers with less government or union interference and where they can destroy the environment with less societal restraints.

“Wild to achieve greater profits, corporations and the rich have managed to support politicians who lower the taxes on the rich, in the process bankrupting the public sector or severely reducing its ability to provide enough funds for quality education, health care, libraries, public transportation, and social welfare.”

Said Rabbi Lerner, “That there is no outcry for these government officials and corporate leaders to resign immediately or be impeached, that there is no moral outrage at the entire system that produces this impact, is America’s ethical perversity. Instead, the only crime against humanity that the media takes seriously and the politicians fear is being exposed for personal sexual immorality.

“While everyone basks in their own self-righteous demands on Spitzer, we all allow media and elected officials to fundamentally distort our ethical vision and play out our morality on the smallest of possible stages while ignoring the global and personal consequences of our larger ethical failures.”

Quite a tongue-lashing. Americans, take note.