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Punctuated Equilibrium

Travis Woodson 

An Exercise in Political Epistemology: Mukasey, Schumer, Chertoff, and the AIPAC Trial 

November 23, 2007

Epistemology – the critical study of what we know (or think we know) and how we know it – is a distinctive and admirable aspect of Western culture.  From Socrates to the proponents of scientific method we learn the importance of caution in reaching conclusions.   In Anglo-American law, with its rules of evidence (especially its rejection of hearsay) and presumption of innocence, we see a similar restraint.  But caution in reaching conclusions is not always a virtue.  In some contexts, it can be a fatal mistake.

Let’s say you are visiting a major American city, get lost, and wander into a ghetto.   Half a dozen youths in hoodies approach you on a dark street.  It is possible they mean you no harm, but this is no environment for abstract philosophy.  You would be a fool not to recognize that you are in danger. 

I was thinking recently about what we know and don’t know while reading about the confirmation of Judge Michael Mukasey as Attorney General.  Here are some things we know with reasonable certainty:

 1.  We know from Jewish sources that Mukasey is an Orthodox Jew and political conservative, whose “Judaism is . . . deeply felt.”  He is a lifelong congregant at Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City.  He attended the Ramaz School, a Modern Orthodox Jewish prep school; his wife was headmistress there, and both his children attended the school.  The Mission Statement for the Kehilath Jeshurun Congregation includes the following:

“[W]e are deeply committed to our religious traditions, to the study of the Torah, the observance of Shabbat and kashrut, the love of, and support for, our fellow Jews and an unbreakable bond with the State of Israel and its citizens.

“Our identification with the State of Israel and our fellow Jews extends well beyond the more conventional UJA/Federation, Israel Bonds and tree-planting campaigns . . .  KJ participates in and sponsors political action groups around the world, and runs several well-attended missions each year to Israel for the primary purpose of demonstrating solidarity and support to our brethren, especially in these incredibly difficult times for the State and its citizens.

“KJ sponsors and supports an array of other programs . . . a partial list includes: ... The Israel Action Committee [which] is the vanguard of the growing grassroots movement among American Jewish communities to incubate local, regional and even national initiatives designed to support the beleaguered State of Israel.”

2.   We know that Mukasey’s sponsor for the Attorney General Position was Senator Charles Schumer of New York.  Schumer is Jewish, a supporter of the Iraq war resolution, a member of AIPAC, and a strident advocate for Israel.   Schumer was one of two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee – Senator Feinstein of California was the other – to cross party lines and vote for Mukasey’s confirmation as Attorney General, despite Mukasey’s political affiliation with Rudy Giuliani and his refusal to declare that waterboarding was illegal torture.  Previously, Schumer had supported the neoconservative Republican John Bolton as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. primarily because Bolton was aggressively pro-Israel.

 3.   We know that Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, is the son of a rabbi, that his mother was apparently an Israeli national, that his wife was co-chairwoman of the regional Anti-Defamation League’s civil rights committee in the mid 1990s, and that his children attended Jewish days schools.  And we know that Senator Schumer was a leading advocate for Chertoff’s appointment.

What conclusions can we draw from these facts?   One obvious conclusion is that our government’s decisions to tap our telephones, read our emails, characterize our political dissent as “terrorism,” and waterboard us are now largely controlled by Jews who feel an unbreakable bond with Israel and with their fellow Jews.  I do not know Mukasey, Schumer, or Chertoff.  It may be that if the interests of Israel diverged from the best interests of the United States in a matter over which they have authority, these gentlemen would protect America over Israel.  But we would be fools to act on that premise. 

The trial of the AIPAC lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, who are charged under the 1917 Espionage Act with receiving classified information from a Defense Department official, may tell us something about Mukasey’s loyalties.  The ink had hardly dried on Mukasey’s confirmation papers before his co-religionists began calling on him to drop the prosecution of Rosen and Weissman.  In a November 12, 2007 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “A Test for Mr. Mukasey,” Norman Pearlstine insists that Mukasey withdraw the charges.  “To do so,” says Pearlstine, “would require courage, toughness, decency and good sense, but the facts and the law make it the right thing to do.” 

In addition to courage, toughness, decency and good sense, however, Mukasey will need a healthy measure of chutzpah to comply with Pearlstine’s demands.  Mukasey was named to replace Alberto Gonzalez for the ostensible purpose of restoring integrity and the rule of law to the Justice Department.  Any honest person with an IQ above 90 would discern Jewish tribal solidarity, not integrity and the rule of law, in Mukasey’s withdrawal of charges against Rosen and Weissman. 

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.   In fact, I predict it will happen, but probably not until it can be used as part of a quid pro quo in connection with the 2008 elections.

Travis Woodson is an attorney practicing on the West Coast.

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