Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Abramoff Saga: A Jewish Jack Climbs the Corruption Stalk

January 13 - The Jewish Journal (North of Boston)

The Abramoff Saga: A Jewish Jack Climbs the Corruption Stalk

Last April, following Act I of the Jack Abramoff drama, I wrote, "Abramoff may wear his religion on his sleeve and a yarmulke on his head, but his actions mock those symbols. How he raised and where he spent his foundation's money makes him huge trouble for the Jewish community..."

Now comes the huge trouble. Act II opened last week with Abramoff leaving the courthouse having agreed to cooperate fully with the investigating authorities by testifying against congressmen, senators, congressional staffers and whoever else shows up in the thousands of Abramoff emails now in the hands of the Justice Department.

Apparently, Abramoff brokered a deal that reduces what might have been a sentence of more than 30 years to one of about 11 years.

So, dear readers, be prepared during the next year to read and see enough of Abramoff in the general press to make you sick. You will hear again and again about the monies funneled to a Jewish Day School in Maryland and to a group of settlers in the West Bank for weapons training, the purchase of Florida gaming ships, and more.

Last week's picture of Abramoff leaving the courthouse dressed in a black raincoat and a wide-brimmed, black felt hat was said by a number of TV commentators to look like a Mafioso Godfather. Soon enough these news people will connect Abramoff's garb to the dress of Orthodox Jews and connect that idea to all the menorah lightings and other religious gatherings attended by Abramoff at the White House and Congress. It won't be pretty.

When this happens, please keep in mind that Abramoff is not my problem, not your problem, not a Jewish problem. He is, as American politicians so often put it, as American as apple pie. In short, when you have, as Will Rogers coined a century ago, "the best Congress that money can buy," then a buyer like Abramoff, regardless of the clothes he wears or which religion he claims to follow, is a necessary part of the production.

Abramoff was just the latest Winnie the Pooh figure trailing behind him thousand dollar bills covered with fresh honey, while politicians licked it off and deposited the greenbacks either in their campaign coffers or in their spouse's work account.

The Abramoff Story will be for 2006 as the OJ and Martha stories were for previous years: wall-to-wall coverage, ad nauseam.

Don't be anxious. Too many of our grandparents suffered low self-esteem and fear of anti-Semitism when the exposure of a Jewish bad guy hit the public press. I remember how my grandmother, a strong woman from Lithuania, was nevertheless shamed by the revelations in the 1950s about Bernard Goldfine, the New England businessman who allegedly bribed President Eisenhower's chief of staff, Sherman Adams, with gifts of vicuna fur coats.

Today, we Jews are secure enough in our citizenship to ignore more easily whatever comparisons anyone wants to make. We know that Charles Ponzi did not reflect on Italians; Whitey Bulger does not reflect on Irish-Americans; and Abramoff does not reflect on American Jews.

I predict that Abramoff will get more jail time than the now-agreed years. There will be no pardons as in Iran-Contra, and the number of sitting politicians and congressional staff to be charged and convicted will be minimal, fewer than a dozen.

And I predict that not as what ought to be, but as the least the Bush administration will get away with in light of the publicized facts.

Sorry, we must sit through Act II before seeing the last act, the sentencing.

All of this is a good lesson to be learned by young and old in our country. Wheeling and dealing, and eventually stealing, is not the road to take. Not only can it lead to jail, but it is also is a corruption of soul and spirit.

Still, we can almost count on another such scandal ten years or so from now, perhaps starring a Chinese-American or Mexican-American or African-American, or maybe just a descended-from-the-Mayflower, white Christian American.

Casting to be announced.