September 24, 2018

The When is Now! Jewish Thoughts on the Upcoming G7 Summit

This article was originally published in German in Jüdische Allgemeine 

 

In an ever-increasing, interconnected world, leaders cannot exist in the cocoons of their disconnected bubbles of influence, but must be accountable to the voices of democratically minded, free-thinking peoples. No longer fettered by walls of security that separate them from the people, leaders who initiate global policy are not isolated actors nor can they be allowed to implement decisions that affect billions unilaterally. The mandate is for us as participants in liberal society to use these gatherings of global import as springboards toward a greater awareness of global social welfare issues and to agitate for justice so that people who otherwise would be shut out can be heard at the Summit.

The evolution of the G7 began with an understandable objective: to prevent a repetition of the unprecedented twin catastrophes of worldwide depression and war like that of the period between 1929-1945. Near the end of the Second World War, when the United States was the leading industrial power and holder of most of the world’s gold reserves, the Bretton Woods system was devised, where forty-four nations agreed to fix individual currency rates to the American dollar, valued at $35/ounce. While it was stable for a time, eventually Europe and Japan began to rival the United States for exports and combined with other factors (American military spending, for example), foreign nations soon had more dollars than the United States could cover in gold (and most nations opted out of the system). When President Richard Nixon took the United States off the international gold standard in 1971, he did so to prevent foreign nations from exchanging their dollars for gold, thus preserving the American gold reserves. Yet, this only created a sense of insecurity. And to make matters worse, oil-producing Arab nations declared an oil embargo against the United States and Europe in 1973, causing tremendous inflation and chaos in the United States, while Germany and four other European countries banned driving and flying on Sundays.

As a result of these crises, French, German, Italian, Japanese, British, and American financial officials formed the “Library Group” in an effort to collectively deal with international economic issues. By 1976, the respective government leaders replaced the officials, and their annual Summit was called the G6. By 1998, when Russia was added, it had become the G8 (Canada having been included earlier).  In 2014, however, and in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia was expelled from the group, thus reverting to the G7.

While the thought of elected leaders discussing a unified economic strategy seems benign, much of the groundwork for the annual Summit is preceded by several meetings at which financial officials (so-called “Sherpas“) discuss issues in preparation for the Summit. Thus, a small group of unelected, wealthy individuals have the potential for greater influence over worldwide economic policy, while representatives of labor, consumers, and—more importantly—billions of people from poorer nations not included in the G7 have no such input.

Who will be their “Sherpa”?

We would do well to be skeptical. In the LIBOR fixed inter-bank interest rate scandal that broke in 2013, a number of international banks were eventually fined approximately £5.8 billion.  Undeterred, corruption continued until May 2015, when EU and United States authorities levied fines against seven banks for about 6.5 billion additional pounds for fixing foreign exchange rates. However, none of the criminals involved had to be named, and none appear to face any risk of criminal charges. Should we trust the world’s future to these people? Can we look to them to have concern for the poor?

This is the context for the upcoming global Summit of the world’s most powerful leaders as they convene to discuss issues of global consequence. Meeting this week at the ultra-luxury hotel Schloss Elmau nestled at the foot of the Wetterstein Mountains in Bavaria, remote from the increasing instability that faces modern humanity, the leaders of the G7 nations will confer for the forty-first time about delivering the most pertinent solutions to today’s numerous global problems. Over the course of two days, grand issues will be debated, and the fruits of these discussions will affect not only the citizens of the respective G7 countries, but the fates of countless people. In considering the magnitude of these talks, those at the apogee of power will be in a considerable position to influence international policy in a manner that must not solely focus on enriching their own treasuries. In this way, these national leaders can bring forth the greatly needed resolutions to ending great global scourges: poverty, chronic hunger, homelessness, women’s education, orphan’s rights, and, ultimately, a sustainable, equitable planet for us to continue working towards. Let us pray that they do so.

The action items on the docket for the G7 are primarily concerned with issues encompassing international security, strengthening foreign policy and free trade between nations, and taming the wildly unpredictable global markets that will most likely result in a 2008-style breakdown within the foreseeable future without proactive steps to stave off such a potentiality.

As serious as these matters are, they are merely abstractions for many people around the world. What do Japanese-American banking relations mean to a man in Kenya who can’t tend his field to feed his family? What do Canadian-German business ties have to do with the boy in India who has lost his parents to disease and penury?

There are a number of issues at stake that run complementary to the topics of discussion at the G7, but they are no less important.

In their stead, let us be the voice of change. What do we want? Most importantly, we need to bring awareness to the fact that nearly 800 million people lack food security and are undernourished. Although this number has gone down in the last two decades, it’s still an abhorrent number. How are we to live in a more just society when so many lack the most basic of human needs?

Our venerated sage Rashi explained what it meant to ignore the plight of the needy: “Conquering one’s eyes as if one does not see. You shall not see…and ignore – The plain meaning here is that you shall not notice only in order to ignore” (Deuteronomy 21:1). In the Torah, it is not until Joseph recognizes the vulnerability in his estranged brothers that he becomes a great world leader. One doesn’t lose greatness, but seals it when one prioritizes those who are most disadvantaged in the world.

As the distance between peoples shrink on a global level, the work that has to be done to ensure fairness and access to limited resources grows. As ethical beings, our concern is not to be directed to the powerful; they can manage on their own. Our mandate, inspired from our holy texts and Sages, is to place attention on the downtrodden, on the lonely, on the voiceless. It cannot be an occasional thought or activity. Rather, we must secure our concern into systemic protections. If we have the ability to be advocates for the repressed, for the persecuted, for the weak, we are in dereliction of our duties if we neglect such opportunities and close our hearts to their plight. As someone who has interacted with both the most influential members of the society and the most vulnerable, I know that there is so much to be done to bridge the economic divide. But it can be done, it must done, to protect every beautiful soul that has been planted on this Divine Earth.

 

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of seven books on Jewish ethics.  Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”