Obliterating Confederate Symbols is Counterproductive

When visiting Jerusalem, I typically make my way down King George Street as I journey to the Western Wall to pray. Millions of Israelis likewise traverse King George Street every year. None of these people thinks of changing the street’s name or takes offense to it.

King George Street, which is one of Jerusalem’s most central and important thoroughfares, was named in 1924 by British officials to mark the seventh year of Great Britain’s conquest of Jerusalem under General Edmund Allenby. Although the naming ceremony for King George Street was presided over by Great Britain’s military governor, and mention of British rule over Jerusalem from 1917-1948 undoubtedly evokes memories of injustice and repression, Israelis understand the historical significance of the street’s name and the role of this history in the development of Jerusalem and the modern state of Israel.  They can also contrast to that history the gracious humanitarian wartime assistance of Great Britain to Jewish German children who otherwise would have been murdered as well as Great Britain’s good treatment of its Jewish citizens. Painful memories do not obscure deeper truths of common humanity and purpose.

One might argue that a street named after a former adversarial occupying power should be changed and renamed after a native son; yet no one in Israel feels so compelled. Instead, King George Street retains its name and preserves an important piece of history for a nation and land whose connections to the past are in large measure the basis for its future.                          

Every nation must be reminded of its political and societal development and progress. To deny any expression of the historical Confederate narrative of the South is to deny the South a vision of much of its origins and evolution since the Confederate States of America fell in defeat and undertook the long mission of Reconstruction and reform. Looking back and appreciating one’s origins and heritage, along with where one stands today, is critical to a sense of self-awareness and justice—both personal and communal.       

Having grown up in Central Florida, where Confederate flags and monuments were somewhat common, I can state with certainty that almost no one read deeply into them and thought that they were anything other than markers of history. Most of these flags and monuments were displayed and erected not by cruel and mentally ill people who ram cars into young women, but by people with a sense of history and the need to preserve it.

Years ago, President George W. Bush defended flying the Confederate flag over the Texas State capitol dome, explaining that the six flags were displayed to signify the state’s history. The flags of Spain, France, and Mexico fly over that grand edifice for the same reason. It is history, not racism.       

Sadly, a significant part of the Leftist agenda has been the obliteration of history rather than its preservation. Orwell depicted this so vividly, and we see it before our eyes today, as all public traces of historical personalities and events which can now be identified with socially unacceptable ideas are being subjected to eradication by left wing politicians. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is seriously considering the removal of the famed statue of Christopher Columbus from Manhattan’s Columbus Circle (which, of course, would need to be renamed); the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. would be updated to reflect the “complexity” of Thomas Jefferson in terms of slavery and social mores; much more of this is coming.  

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, while governors of Georgia and Arkansas respectively, honored the Confederate flag and continued to authorize its prominent display on state land. Should the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and that of Bill Clinton, be shut down, and should the historical records of these men now be revised to reflect their Confederate apologia?

To live in a sanitized vacuum of time, in which all that does not conform with present-day norms is filtered out and banished, is to be blinded of perspective, appreciation, a trajectory of destiny, and even self-identity. The Torah commanded the Children of Israel to uproot live manifestations of idolatry from the Land of Israel, yet the Talmud notes that the names of several Biblical cities reflect the idolatrous past and history of transgression that were associated with these places. The Talmud explains it was necessary for the people to be reminded of previous infractions, lest these acts be repeated, and that an appreciation of God redeeming the people from a culture of idolatry was to be gained by preserving memories of those former times.         

Obliteration of all public traces of the Confederate States of America is perhaps the best way to make America vulnerable to future intolerance and to forget its identity, mission, and national aspirations.

Let us remember the past, understand it, and embrace its lessons and the meritorious values that it preserves. Let us not deny history and fail to internalize its crucial messages for the future.

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About Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer

Avrohom Gordimer is a senior rabbinic fellow at the Coalition for Jewish Values, a public policy institute reflecting traditional Jewish thought. He serves on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine, is a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website, and is a frequent contributor to Israel National News, Yated Ne'eman, and a host of other publications. He is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar, and he works as an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan. The views expressed in the above article are solely those of the writer.

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4 responses to “Obliterating Confederate Symbols is Counterproductive

  • While I appreciate the rabbi’s comments and fully agree, the Confederate monuments situation has gone well beyond his intent. It is now well-known that the anti-statue movement was spawned by people who call themselves “anti-facist” but are really anarchist communists whose goal is the destruction of our system and the Constitution and the establishment of a communist state. Look at their web sites starting with Its Coming Down. They are far left personified.

  • The Monument War is not just about erasing history. The Monument War is part of the War between Nationalists and Transnationalists, who, like former Pres. Obama, believe the nation-state must accept transnational governance by the United Nations, e.g., Paris Climate Accord, JCPOA, UNSC Resolutions.

    Both Wars are part of the campaign to delegitimize the legally elected President of the United States Donald J. Trump.

    > The Monument War now has the official support of the United Nations.
    >>deBlasio’s assault on Christopher Columbus was timed with the U.N. CERD resolution.
    >>>So is “The March to Confront White Supremacy”:

    U.N. CERD: ” The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has urged the U.S. government to reject racist speech and ideology and criticized its “failure at the highest political level”
    to unequivocally condemn the racist violence in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month. …”

    “U.N. Panel Urges U.S. Government To Reject Racial Hatred And Violence”
    August 23, 201712:22 PM ET
    http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/23/545491028/u-n-panel-urges-u-s-government-to-reject-racial-hatred-and-violence

    “The March to Confront White Supremacy”:
    “Activists are set to start a 10-day march from Charlottesville, Va., to Washington, D.C., on Monday
    to confront white supremacy and demand President Trump’s removal from office.

    “The March to Confront White Supremacy,” is set to start in Charlottesville Monday, Aug. 28 and end in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Organizers say the march will be followed by an occupation of Washington with daily nonviolent demonstrations.

    “This is the time to confront white supremacy in our government and throughout our history. We demand that President Trump to be removed from office for allying himself with this ideology of hate and we demand an agenda that repairs the damage it’s done to our country and its people,” the website for the march reads.”A coalition of left-wing activist groups is set to start a 10-day march from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., on Monday to “confront white supremacy” and demand President Trump’s removal from office. …”

    “10-day march from Charlottesville to DC to start Monday By John Bowden – 08/26/17 06:47 PM EDT”
    http://thehill.com/homenews/news/348136-ten-day-march-from-charlottesville-to-dc-to-start-monday

    >The U.N. CERD may seem harmless, but the linkages are not. Anastasia Crickley, chair of CERD, is the ultimate credentialed Social Justice warrior, from Ireland to the EU to chairing U.N. CERD. The “liberal international order” that won the Cold War was anchored by the creation of the UN, whose legitimacy is threatened by POTUS Trump, and other nationalist leaders/politicians in Europe.

    >>This is all direct delegitimization of President Trump, patterned after the palestinians relentless campaign to delegitimize the nation-state of Israel, through the UN, UNCHR, UNESCO, alternate historical ‘narrative’, protests, etcetera.

    >>>The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, started the UN attacks in October, 2016:

    “Donald Trump Is ‘Dangerous’ for Global Stability, U.N. Rights Chief Says
    By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE OCT. 12, 2016
    U.N. Official Calls Trump ‘Dangerous’ ”
    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/world/europe/donald-trump-un-human-rights.html

    “…Speaking to journalists in Geneva on Wednesday, Mr. al-Hussein said that he had no intention of toning down his remarks, given what he described as the prevailing permissive environment in which political
    leaders felt able to deliver speeches that moved beyond freedom of expression to incitement.

    “When you fan resentment and seek as a political leader to
    pin blame on a specific community for deeper problems, real problems, this is
    highly regrettable,” Mr. al-Hussein said. “There are very real fears that are
    being stoked and exploited, and this is the point that I was trying to make.”

    The high commissioner set those concerns in the context of a
    growing “mean spiritedness” of international political discourse, and he voiced
    alarm at the escalating attacks on international law particularly visible in
    the ferocious bombing of the eastern parts of Aleppo, Syria, in recent weeks
    and in the failure of the United Nations Security Council to end it.

    “We look at historical experiences, and we find that we fast arrive at a point where we are unable to deal with the crises that we have in place,” Mr. al-Hussein said. “It’s as if we have now begun to forget the very real lessons drawn at the end of the Second World War about what it is we need to keep this world safe.” ”
    https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/world/europe/donald-trump-un-human-rights.html

    >>>>fwiw, UNHCHR Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein is the Hashemite prince who inherited the position as head of the Royal Houses of Iraq and Syria

  • “Obliteration of all public traces of the Confederate States of America is perhaps the best way to make America vulnerable to future intolerance and to forget its identity, mission, and national aspirations.”

    Spot on, Rabbi. Although I would suggest that the current obliteration of public history is intolerance in the here and now; intolerance of facts, intolerance of ideas, intolerance of individual freedoms. The Left in this country has become adept at pointing its shameless unaccountable finger at all opposition and accusing it of doing exactly what the left is at itself.

  • Very poor analogy. I happen to live on King George street in Jerusalem.
    King George, as well in the British rule in general in Israel, is commonly viewed not as an oppressor, but rather as part of a short-lived mandate which gave Israel its independence. This is the reason that other cities in Israel tend to also have King George streets, as well as others named for British dignitaries (Herbert Samuel, Lord Smuts, and many more), so named not by the British, but by the Israeli-government post-independence, as a gesture of gratitude.
    A more apt analogy would be imagining streets in the Golan named for Syrian leaders, or ones in Jewish settlements in the the west bank named for Jordanians. You of course won’t find any of these.

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