The people of Georgia elected an African-American senior pastor and a Jewish investigative journalist and documentary producer. We should have been celebrating such a moment of progress in what historically has been a cradle of racism. This was a watershed moment for our electorate and for our country. And yet, today, we are the laughingstock of the world.
World leaders are looking at our country saying either: “See, this is why you need to crack skulls and have a dictator” or “They call this a respectful, glorified City on the Hill, a beacon of democracy?” We have taken a step back as a country. The hallowed halls of our Capitol have been stained by the disrespect and malice of those looking to besmirch both the history and future of this great nation.
The president of these United States has sought time and again to divide these states. He continues to foment lies and hatred, and sow mistrust. He venerates trespassers and hooligans as patriots. He is guilty of sedition, which has now cost yet another life — this time in the halls of our Capitol.
There is no conspiracy. There is no evil plot. The only fraud is found in the fraudulent words put out into the ether from our president. The only attempts to steal the election(s) are the lies our president spews and the terrorists marching on and into our Capitol last week.
How has our president neither truly criticized, nor decried any of these actions? Not of the terrorist who left a pipe bomb outside Republican National Committee Headquarters; not of those who stormed the Capitol; not of those who erected gallows, vandalized property, trespassed elected offices, occupied the chambers.
About 2,700 years ago the Prophet Jeremiah implored the Babylonian exiles: “Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in the peace thereof you shall have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7). He foresaw and lamented destruction. He prophesied against those bent on anarchy, depravity, and disorder. Last week was not the pursuit of peace. Last week was an insurrection.
Guns drawn at the doors of our House, protecting those inside — we need our prophets yet again. Our president is a false prophet, charging his followers that they “can’t take back our country with weakness — [they need to] show strength and stay strong.”
Predicated on Jeremiah’s prophetic entreaty is the rabbinic concept of dina d’malkhuta dina — Shmuel’s teaching that the law of the land is the law. So important is this concept that the 16th–century Jewish legal code, the Shulchan Arukh, invokes it 25 times.
The law of the land is the law. We must honor it. We must behold it. We must respect it. That is our moral imperative and what it means to be part of these United States. It is not our charge to tear these United States apart.
Further, this is also what results from four years of a non-functional Justice Department, which has been complicit and done nothing in the face of the proliferation of white nationalism and extremism. And yet, I have hope.
Judge Merrick Garland, a Department of Justice veteran and independent jurist on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is nominated to serve as attorney general. A consensus-building voice, Judge Garland has worked under Democratic and Republican administrations. He led investigations into some of the most high-profile cases and crises in modern history, including the Atlanta Olympics bombings and the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and coordinated the government’s response to the Oklahoma City bombing. Garland’s nomination underscores the president-elect’s commitment to restore integrity and the rule of law, boost morale of the dedicated career professionals at DOJ, and build a more equitable justice system that serves all Americans.
Lisa Monaco, a veteran prosecutor and dedicated public servant, is nominated to serve as deputy attorney general. She served in the Department of Justice for 15 years, always putting service to the American people above politics, successfully prosecuting a range of cases from violent crime to fraud and public corruption.
Vanita Gupta, former acting assistant attorney general and one of the most respected civil rights attorneys in America, is nominated to serve as associate attorney general. During the Obama-Biden administration, she served as acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division — the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States. As the Indian-American daughter of immigrants, she would be the first woman of color to serve in this role.
Kristen Clarke, a veteran of the Department of Justice, is nominated to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights. She has extensive law enforcement and civil rights experience, handling cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, human trafficking, voting rights and redistricting. She has been a champion of systemic equity and equal justice throughout her career, including in her current role as president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
I have hope because President-elect Biden named nominees for the Department of Justice who will do the opposite of the current department. These leaders, all of whom are Justice Department veterans, will restore independence and integrity to the highest levels of the department, renew Americans’ faith in the rule of law, and work tirelessly to build a more equitable justice system.
They will fight discrimination, ensure equity, and safeguard all Americans, no matter their race or religion, their sexual orientation or gender identity, their class or disability, their ZIP code, immigration status or their country of origin.
They will begin to remove the fresh stain on our nation. They will prioritize prosecuting hate crimes and enforcing civil and voting rights, using all its authority under the law. They will serve as one of the pillars of our national security apparatus to defend the homeland from threats, especially akin to those we witnessed yesterday. The department will use all its tools and resources to ensure Americans in every community are safe and secure.
I was embarrassed last week. I was saddened last week. But I am heartened knowing that we will once again return to the path of the law of the land remaining the law. And I wait with pained anticipation for the current chapter, God-willing, to be behind us, speedily, in our days.
Rabbi Avi S. Olitzky is a senior rabbi of Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park.
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