It was hard to pass on a recent article by EJ Kessler (whom I usually like) in the Forward on Jack Abramoff–‘Dear Judge’: Religion-tinged Letters Praise Good Deeds of Felon Lobbyist
A little background: On 3 January 2006, Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding the Native American tribes that were his clients, to tax evasion and to conspiring to bribe public officials. A day later, he pleaded guilty in a separate case in Miami, Florida. Abramoff admitted that he and co-defendant Adam Kidan engaged in conspiracy and wire fraud in the purchase of a fleet of casino boats in 2000. They presented lenders with a counterfeit document showing they had put $23m ($13m) into the SunCruz Casinos deal, but in fact had put virtually no money into the purchase, and the cruise line went bankrupt the following year. Abramoff was sentenced to 70 months in jail.
Abramoff is known for his extensive lobbying past and close connections to the GOP political party. Just one example of his “six degrees” with Delay:
Abramoff took DeLay on trips to Russia, Scotland’s St. Andrews golf course, England and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where DeLay also played golf. Abramoff’s clients included the government of the Marianas, which wanted to keep the islands exempt from the minimum wage and other worker protections. In his leadership role in the House, DeLay helped derail legislation to reform Marianas’ labor laws. His lawyer has said DeLay never took any action that wasn’t based on his principles.
At the peak of Abramoff’s career, the lobbyist was known for his close ties to DeLay. DeLay once called Abramoff “one of my closest and dearest friends;” he has since disavowed their friendship.
Now, as the rabbis attest in their letters, I am ALL for seeing and honoring that people are both good and bad, and to recognize this is an imperative for all of us. I am a believer that people are good people, and that people who are good do wrong/bad things.
I have to ask though, is that really what this is about? We are talking about Florida, one of the toughest penal systems right? Good ol’ Jeb Bush–and we are talking about Abramoff, a man who, Kessler documents in her piece, was giving money that was tainted with incredible extortion and exploitation of millions of workers and Native peoples.
So why exactly is that righteous? Yes, he did things for individuals in his community, and built a restaurant–he did this on the backs of THOUSANDS of people, mostly poor people of color.
So let me ask you this then–if the rabbis are so concerned with righteousness and ethics, why aren’t they writing letters about restorative justice for native peoples, or writing letters for Leonard Peltier, who is a citizen of the Anishinabe and Lakota Nations, a father, grandfather, artist, writer, and an Indigenous rights activist. He has spent more than twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Amnesty International considers him a “political prisoner” who should be “immediately and unconditionally released.”
Of course, we’re talking about power and privilege in the U.S. — In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Abramoff is restored his right to vote in Florida BEFORE he leaves prison in a state that has one of the harshest penalties on felon disfranchisement. Today, Florida bars all former prisoners from the right to vote and only allows the vote to be restored by pardon or restoration of civil rights–both controlled by the Governor Jeb Bush himself–upon recommendation of the Clemency Board. (Some of you may have seen this process in one of Michael Moore’s latest films Fahrenheit 9/11).
And rabbis wonder why young people are turning away from the fold?
What kind of leadership is this? Please, tell me please–as I watch more and more of my peers go to rabbinical school I know that this will lead to positive change within the tradition, but D*MN, this reminds me once again we have a long way to go, and that it’s definitely not going to come from the rabbinate. (and don’t hit me back with how some rabbis are fab–believe me, i know. or with some virginia slims b*shit like we’ve come a long way baby–oh no. i want more!!!).