While I do believe that everything is in God’s hands, I cannot claim to know His thoughts: I do not know why He sent Donald Trump to be our president. And while God has not (yet) told me this explicitly, I am also reasonably certain that the president is not, any more than was Mr. Obama, the Messiah. What I can say, though, is that President Trump is following a Biblical model of leadership.
Without question, one of two individuals — President Trump and Rep. Ilhan Omar — made comments “designed to incite hatred” that are putting “life at risk.” But according to leading Democrats, that person would be the president and not Omar. One could hardly look for a better example of the inversion of morality, and of hater and hated.
In a society where hate speech is condemned, calling someone hateful, when it is false, can be a potent expression of hate. The Left has raised the use of hate as hateful accusation to a fine art.
by Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Jeff Ballabon
There is an ongoing machlokes l’shem shamayim, an “argument for the sake of heaven” within the Jewish world, concerning the correct blend of religious and secular education. Some Jewish schools aggressively compete with the finest prep schools in the country. Others aim to satisfy more basic levels of secular instruction while focusing more intensively on Jewish studies. Yet a third group minimizes the study of secular subjects, producing graduates barely fluent in English, much less geography or biology.
It is appropriate for this topic to be actively debated and discussed, for Rabbinic leaders to encourage schools to follow their educational paradigms, and for parents to choose schools for their children which best meet their own priorities and beliefs. But no matter where we fall in our own philosophies of Jewish education, it is irresponsible and dangerous to direct the heavy hand of government against the choices of others.
That is the approach taken by the “Yaffed” organization, which claims to promote discussion by “rais[ing] awareness” in the community, but in reality aims to end it via coercive action. Yaffed sued New York State in Federal court, demanding that the state Education Department force Jewish schools to change their curricula — and this was a key motivator behind recent state draft requirements for private schools which, at least initially, appeared to relegate religious education to an afterthought.
Jewish survival has always hinged on Jewish education, and our history is replete with notorious examples of government interference — often with active assistance and even prodding from Jews. Whether those Jewish antagonists had a chip on their shoulder towards Judaism or were motivated by genuine concern for children, the results have always been disastrous. From the Greeks and Romans to Tsarist and Communist Russia, educated Jews — that is to say, Jewishly-educated Jews — know that government intervention in Jewish education has been a consistently destructive force.
It has become commonplace for the outside world to cast Jews with secular university educations as more highly educated than those without. Yet as alumni of both elite Ivy-League Universities and revered yeshivos, we know that the scholarship, energy and forward-looking motion within Judaism today arises primarily from those who sacrifice an advanced formal secular curriculum in favor of additional Torah study.
This is one reason why we chose schools for our children that heavily favor Torah subjects and long hours in the beis medrash at the expense of some secular studies. We fully respect the right of other Jews to make other choices. We demand the right to make our own.
This does not mean that the content of our schools’ curricula should not be debated. On the contrary, it is something which must constantly be monitored, discussed, and optimized — but within our community, never imposed upon us from the outside.
We are disturbed, therefore, to encounter an attitude of indifference or acceptance even among some Orthodox Jews, who disagree with those who consciously choose a more cloistered existence — and who believe that these government regulations will lead to no harm. The machlokes about the balance of limudei kodesh and limudei chol may be l’shem shamayim, but there is nothing l’shem shamayim about government interference in a community’s yiddishkeit. It’s also remarkably short-sighted to imagine that if we permit increased government intrusion, it will stop at a few more hours of limudei chol in chassidische chadorim.
The obvious dangers of the Yaffed approach should be self-evident to anyone paying attention to the state of education outside our community. Schools, textbooks and mandatory curricula have become petri dishes for social engineering — culturing growth in directions diametrically opposed to a Torah worldview.
Jewish schools in Great Britain are threatened with closure if they fail to teach “tolerance and respect” for “alternative lifestyle choices,” or if they offer a religious viewpoint on Creation “as having a similar or superior evidence base to scientific theories.” In the United States, schools teach “Palestinian” history while referring to “Holocaust Fatigue” to dismiss the need for education regarding the Nazi genocide. And a Canadian teacher was dismissed for mentioning to a group of high school seniors, during a discussion of differences between personal opinions and the law, his personal belief that abortion is wrong.
The only ordained rabbi on Yaffed’s Advisory Council is Eric Yoffie, President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism. That the Reform movement pursues an aggressive statist, anti-religious-freedom, progressive agenda is just as relevant to Mr. Yoffie’s involvement as his history of aggressive hostility towards traditional Judaism and its rabbis, both in America and Israel.
In Great Britain, the government claims that “even though children may have to go to a different school, and this might not be the school of the families’ choice, the enforcement action would ultimately be to the benefit of children.” In other words, state authorities explicitly posit that they are better qualified to determine what is “to the benefit of children” than the children’s parents.
That, of course, is the tacit mindset behind the recent decrees of the New York State Education Department. That is why although the current regulations may not create an immediate problem for our schools and our children, unless we join forces to push back, the next step certainly shall. For governments to tell our schools how to teach our children should offend not only a subset of the Orthodox community, but anyone who values civil liberties, religious freedoms, and parental rights.
Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV). Jeff Ballabon is chairman of B2 Strategic and advises CJV on strategy and policy.
Originally published in the Jewish Press. This version is without the edits made by the Jewish Press for space and style reasons.
In the Oct. 24 issue of Mishpacha magazine, popular in the Orthodox Jewish community, columnist Jonathan Rosenblum interviewed Jonathan Neumann, author of the excellent book dismantling the false equivalence between Jewish values and liberal activism, “To Heal the World?” Rosenblum closed by inquiring “what, short of an outbreak of violent anti-Semitism, might recreate a feeling among young Jews as being members of a unique people.”
While Neumann’s answer remains instructive, the intervening days have shown that the premise was wrong. The outbreak of violent anti-Semitism transpired that same weekend, but a celebration of Jewish unity has not resulted… because for many Jews, the aforementioned liberal activism came first.
I feel I have yet to adequately process my grief and sorrow regarding the horrific slaughter at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. This is due not only to denial, but how I learned about this atrocity.
As a Sabbath-observant Jew, I knew nothing about what had transpired until after nightfall, when I had returned from synagogue and started up my computer. I happened to look at social media before the news.
So the first thing I read was not the report of the worst anti-Semitic crime in U.S. history. What I read first was that it was my fault.
The blood of the victims was not yet dry, and already people were diverting our attention from the simple fact that Jews are still murdered for being Jews – and not hesitating to blame Jews for anti-Semitism, in classically anti-Semitic fashion.
The question for Trump-haters was why he was to blame. By that, I do not mean an incredulous “why” would Trump be responsible for the actions of an individual who opposed him – and did so specifically because Trump is “surrounded by kikes” and “there is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation.” They had no such question; for them, blaming the President was a given.
Rather, a better word is “how” to justify this improbable connection. They offered multiple, mutually-contradictory rationales, connected by nothing other than the writers’ pre-existing hostility towards the President. Others incriminated Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with no greater consistency except in their previous opinions of their target.
Consider that many of those who say this barbarian felt empowered by Trump also claim that anti-Semites in Gaza turn to violence because they feel powerless. There is no consistency, for none is required. Their underlying concern is not understanding anti-Semitism, but how to leverage it for political gain. For multiple Jewish writers, tweeters and pundits, partisan agendas come before Jewish unity. It is possible that this is even a greater tragedy than the attack itself.
Anti-Semitism is a unique form of hatred. Xenophobia says the “other” is shiftless, worthless, and criminal. The Jew, on the other hand, is conniving, resourceful, plotting. The “other” robs banks; the Jew controls the banks. And one of the basic anti-Semitic ideas is that hatred against Jews is something other than Jew-hatred, and that to the extent that it is, the Jews brought it upon themselves.
No one likes to be hated, and without a clear theological understanding of why anti-Semitism exists, it is comforting to pretend that it is going away, or tied to a political ideology that we can potentially eliminate. And thus it is understandable why Jews fall into this trap. Understandable, but horribly wrong.
Anti-Semitism is found at the extreme ends of all political movements, rather than stemming from one. That Farrakhan referred to Jews as termites, while Bowers referred to a “kike infestation,” is no coincidence – because their ideology is the same, at least when it comes to Jews. The image of Jews as parasites was common in Nazi literature, and long before.
It is true that anti-Semitism increased in 2017 – if we include the 163 bomb threats against JCC’s made by a mentally-disturbed Israeli teen and the Obama volunteer who was stalking his former girlfriend. Of the twelve violent hate crimes against Jews in New York State, nine, fully three-quarters, were in Brooklyn and directed against easily-identified Orthodox Jews – the vast majority (over 90%) of whom support President Trump. Not one of the perpetrators has been identified as a white supremacist. So the leftists are not merely wrong, but are blaming the very Jews who clearly know anti-Semitism far better than they do.
No explanation of the Pittsburgh massacre is valid that does not address the shootings at the Overland Park, Kansas JCC in 2014 and the U.S. Holocaust Museum in 2009, and the Crown Heights riot of 1991. It must also encompass the Hypercacher killings in 2015, why synagogues from France to Denmark are defended with armed troops less than 75 years after the Holocaust… and the Holocaust itself. It must, finally, explain why international media reported a rioting mob in Gaza, gathered in order to “rip down the border, and rip the Jews’ hearts from their bodies,” as a “peaceful protest” – and described the precision elimination of fifty terrorists in that mob as a “massacre.”
Jews cannot pretend that this hatred afflicts only those of particular political affiliations. That delusion only makes all Jews less safe.
Jew-hatred is not about politics. It is tied to no other agenda. As it has been for thousands of years, it is about hatred for God, Torah and values — and the same genocidal mission shared by Haman, Hitler and Bowers: “All Jews Must Die.” It cares not whether a Jew is conservative or liberal, religious or secular, rich or poor.
That is exactly why all decent people must fight it, and why all Jews must continue to proudly identify as Jews. Together.
This article first appeared in American Greatness.
Few things could be more embarrassing than giving Barack Obama a prize for “ethics in government,” as the University of Illinois did on Friday. One is reminded of the Nobel Peace Prize given to Yasser Arafat for graciously accepting a base for his terrorist organization in the middle of Judea and Samaria.
The media has made a great deal of Donald Trump’s personal moral failings and fabrications. The funny thing is, his exaggerations and braggadocio don’t affect our lives. But when Barack Obama told us that “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” knowing full well that this was untrue, he defrauded every American. And when he and his staff knowingly misinformed the media about the nature of the Iran Deal, he made every American (and every Middle Easterner) less safe.
Obama told his audience in Champaign-Urbana: “Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”
Which headlines does he mean? Surely he is not discussing getting North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un to the negotiating table for the first time to discuss denuclearization. Obama could not be referring to the growing demonstrations and efforts to topple the Iranian dictatorship in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the “deal” which propped up that barbaric regime. And one could only hope that he was not discussing Ambassador Nikki Haley taking the chair of the United Nations Security Council, as she confronts and rejects the same U.N. bigotry that the Obama Administration permitted to fester unabated.
No, it is far more probable that he was discussing subjects which he mentioned elsewhere in his address: Trump successes for which he would claim credit, and problems Obama cultivated for which he would blame his successor.
Let us remember that in 2016, when President Trump said he could renegotiate trade deals and bring jobs back to America, Obama ridiculed this as impossible. His precise words were, “what magic wand do you have?”
And now that Donald Trump has waved that wand, sparking the economy, renegotiating trade deals, bring America to the point that—for the first time in history—the Department of Labor reported more jobs available than people looking for work. Obama wants you to believe it was all his doing.
“I’m glad it’s continued, but when you hear about this economic miracle that’s been going on,” he said Friday. “I have to kind of remind them, actually those job numbers are kind of the same as they were in 2015 and 2016.”
No, they weren’t. Unemployment declined from 5 percent to 4.7 percent in 2016, which Obama declared to be about as low as reality would permit. Today it is 3.9 percent, thanks to job creation he dismissed as a pipe dream.
And then, Obama called upon Americans to reject “the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical.” Though it wasn’t what he meant, his words clearly call upon us to reject the legacy of Barack Obama.
As president, Obama needlessly and repeatedly injected racial hostility into race-blind incidents. Even the Washington Post called his remarks on the arrest of Professor Henry Gates “divisive,” and acknowledged that “Obama’s image as a racial healer never recovered.” Despite the fact that Gates refused to provide ID while standing near the damaged front door of his home, Obama declared that police “acted stupidly” and claimed the incident demonstrated that “race remains a factor in this society today.” In reality, the one who made race a factor was Barack Obama.
After Michael Brown robbed a corner store, refused to comply with police orders, and brought about his own death by attacking the responding officer, Obama called it “heartbreaking and tragic,” and lamented that Brown’s family “will never hold Michael in their arms again.” His words appeared to blame police for the death of a brutal assailant. And Obama’s words had violent and ongoing consequences, encouraging mob reaction not only locally in Ferguson, Missouri, but later in Baltimore, Dallas, and elsewhere.
And then there was Obama’s comment, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” If I had a son who resembled the guy who gave an innocent neighborhood watch member a fractured nose, two black eyes and multiple lacerations to the back of the head, I wouldn’t call attention to that fact—much less speculate on the hypothetical similarity of a hypothetical child. Either way, I would not claim to promote racial healing while calling attention to the race of “victims” who in each case had initiated the confrontations in which they were involved.
What was Trump’s “crime?” To call out violence “on many sides,” pointing out that Antifa was no less violent or dangerous than neo-Nazis. While Nazis are reviled, Antifa is celebrated by the Left as it continues to suppress the free speech of all with whom it disagrees (today, they call it “no-platforming”)—with an uncanny resemblance to the behavior of the Nazi brownshirts of the 1930s.
No one elected Trump imagining him to be a paragon of morality. But those who supported the vastly more consequential lies and frank divisiveness of the Obama era are in no position to lecture. To condemn Trump on the one hand, while awarding Obama for his “ethics” on the other, means that someone’s moral compass is in sore need of calibration.
This article first appeared in American Greatness.
We hear it repeatedly: Israel’s “right wing” government is unfair to “Palestinians,” and now the new Nation-State law, which declares Israel the home for Jewish self-determination and Hebrew its official language, cements into place “racist” policies towards its minorities.
Begin at the beginning: “Palestine,” rather than describing an “indigenous” population, is a name associated with colonialism, supremacism, slavery and bigotry — especially against Jews. “Syria-Palaestina” was the name used by Greeks and Romans to establish hegemony over the Holy Land and its surroundings, including, of course, Israel, the homeland of the Jews. And when the Romans ethnically cleansed most of the Jews from Israel, they continued to use the name Palestine. The name “stuck” through centuries of aggression and hostility by one murderous empire against another, all trying to claim Jerusalem as their own. That the Al-Aqsa mosque is built upon the site of the Holy Temple is no coincidence — a church once stood there as well. All wanted to dominate the Jews and their homeland, towards whom they displayed a uniquely virulent hatred.
Yet today the Palestinian Authority attempts to deny that the site of the Holy Temple, or the Holy Land itself, has anything to do with Jews. This is because that simple historical fact utterly contradicts their narrative.
Not long ago, PA President Mahmoud Abbas visited Saudi Arabia, and wanted to present a sign of Palestine’s unique national culture. So he presented a framed copy of the cover of the Palestine Post… today’s Jerusalem Post, which then as now was a Zionist publication.
This is because until 1964, when Yassir Arafat created the PLO, “Palestinian” was used as a reference to Jews. The 1938 flag of Palestine was a gold Magen David superimposed upon equal-sized blue and white panels. Palestine was also the place Arabs began to boycott in 1945.
To create “Palestine,” Arabs revived a word used by Roman barbarians, a flag from the Arab Revolt (especially the short-lived Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan, which in 1958 used precisely the same variant as today’s PA), and a map from Israel — for, in contra-distinction to any true indigenous people, the map of Palestine “coincidentally” traces the precise borders of the 22% of British Mandatory Palestine not given to the Hashemite clan of Mecca.
We should not forget that the vast majority of British Palestine is today’s Jordan, which is three times as large as Israel. No one talks about Jordan’s “legitimacy” under its Saudi king. The morphing of maps of “Palestine” into maps of Israel has no connection to a distinct people. The purpose of this Palestine is to displace the Jews once again, while claiming that Jews are somehow not indigenous, and the descendants of marauders from Arabia, the homeland of all Arabs, from which they expanded during a period of Jihad following the death of Mohammed, are the “indigenous.”
The dishonesty is obvious. Arabs did not build the pyramids in Egypt or the ziggurats of modern-day Iraq. They enslaved and ethnically cleansed the indigenous (black) Africans from the lush Mediterranean coastline of Africa, and just in recent decades pushed Christians out of Lebanon. Note that an Arab cannot even pronounce the word Palestine in Arabic, because the language has no phoneme for P. “Palestinian” Arabs are the world’s only population to claim to be native to a land whose name they cannot pronounce.
There are refugees from every conflict. And what humanitarians do is help those refugees find new homes, where they can live in safety and comfort. We do not seek to repatriate them — which is why there is a big discussion now about Syrian refugees.
Today, there are people in America who call themselves “Palestinian-Americans” — but curiously far fewer Syrian- and Egyptian- and Iraqi-Americans. Many of these Palestinian-Americans have never lived in Palestine or Israel, and have family trees filled with relatives who lived, at various points in time, in every part of the Arab world — which constitutes 22 countries, 423 million people, over five million square miles of land. And if they search back to a common foundation, it will be, of course, in Arabia, just as every Jewish family tree eventually goes back to Judea.
Yet they claim “Palestine,” uniquely, as their “homeland,” describing themselves as a Palestinian-American — and they don’t mean the Jordanian part. They mean Judea. They have been indoctrinated in this false narrative — for across America, fraternal organizations of Moroccan, Libyan, Egyptian, Algerian, Iraqi, Syrian, and, yes, Saudi Arabians service Arab-Americans. They, too, are Arab-Americans.
Homeland denial is a close relative of Holocaust denial, which runs equally rampant among supporters of “Palestine.” Homeland denial pretends (a) that the Jews have not maintained an historical presence in their homeland for 3,500 years, save for brief periods of hatred, genocide and ethnic cleansing so severe that we simply don’t know if more than a handful of Jews survived; (b) that the Jews have somehow given up on praying towards Jerusalem and for their return to Jerusalem, which show that no people or faith has as dear a connection to their homeland as do the Jews; and/or (c) that the current Jews are all not merely Ashkenazi, but actually Khazars who converted — never mind the Yemenite, Iraqi, Moroccan, Syrian and Ethiopian Jews who recognize those supposed “Khazars” as their brothers and sisters. No one is hated for being Khazar — but as it has been throughout history, bigots continue to find new excuses to hate Jews.
Once we discard this distorted and frankly racist narrative, we recognize that accusing Israel of apartheid and other harmful “policies” is itself part of that same unique hatred. Before and after the creation of the modern country of Israel, the Arab world erupted into pogroms and hostility against their local Jewish populations. Over 99% of the Jewish populations of Arab countries have been ethnically cleansed over the last century — there isn’t a single Arab country with even 10% of the Jewish population it had 100 years ago. The land stolen from Jews during that ethnic cleansing is over five times the size of the State of Israel. And no one seems to accuse the Arab states of apartheid. After all, it’s only Jews they hate.
A simple, appropriate tit-for-tat response would have been to quite literally expel all Arabs from Israel, which we regard as unthinkable, extremist, and evil. But that would merely have applied the standards used by every Arab state against its Jews. By that calculus, Arabs in Israel would be not merely subjugated, but subjected to the very pogroms and needless killing of which Israel is routinely — and falsely — accused.
In other words, even if the mythology about Israel’s “policies” were actually true, that still would not mean that Israel was guilty of apartheid, but rather was responding in kind to the bigotry of the surrounding Arab nations — in most of which, to this day, a Jew cannot worship freely, seek employment, or in many cases even travel safely, including both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank cities under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority not only refuses to guarantee the safety of a Jew who enters its territory, whether Israeli or otherwise, but it also pays the families of terrorists and declares explicitly that no Jew (Israeli Jew, one who wishes to live in the Jewish homeland) will be allowed to live there. Yet no one seems to accuse the Palestinian Authority of apartheid.
What did Israel do instead? What are Israel’s “policies?” Try this question: how many Arabs in Arab states are able to vote in free, fair, open elections? Is it Israel’s fault that Mahmoud Abbas is in the 13th year of his 4-year-term as “president”? The third largest political party in Israel’s Parliament is the United Arab List. There are also Arabs on Israel’s Supreme Court — making the only country in the world with both Jewish and Arab Supreme Court Justices the one accused of “apartheid.” Arabs in Israel can explore, study and perform in any profession, women can drive, get an education and work without fear of an “honor killing” if they fall in love with the wrong person, and homosexuals can live without fear of being jailed or burned alive — all rights denied to them in many Arab states, and also in the West Bank and Gaza. By the definition of apartheid established in South Africa, the only legitimate description for characterizing Israel as an apartheid state is “false.”
Arab citizens of Israel have the same rights as anyone else. There is no country in the world with Israel’s ethnic diversity yet less racism. The valedictorian at Tel Aviv University a few years ago was an Egyptian Arab, who was courageous enough to attend college in Israel despite what he was told, yet shocked by the level of difference between the lies that he was told about what to expect, and the reality.
The life expectancy of an Arab in the West Bank is several years longer than in Jordan. Ditto the life expectancy of a Gazan over an Egyptian. Yes, despite everything you’ve been told about ethnic cleansing and genocide, the Arab population of Israel is five times as large as it was in 1967. The Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza is also five times as large. The number of universities in Gaza went from one to 18 between 1967 and 2005.
The three results of Israel’s “policies” towards Arabs are superior healthcare, higher education, and the right to vote. Certainly by all definitions of genocide and ethnic cleansing, describing Israel as doing so is, once again, false.
Actually, it’s a uniquely bigoted and appalling misuse of those terms, because the majority of Israel’s Jews are refugees from the Arab ethnic cleansing mentioned earlier. Think about it: Arabs now turn against Israel, the refuge of the victims of Arab ethnic cleansing and genocide, and accuse it of ethnic cleansing and genocide. It’s a moral obscenity. In no other situation would this be granted credence.
You want racism in Israel? No one but Muslims are permitted to pray on the Temple Mount, precisely as it is in Mecca. This is characteristic of the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt and Yazidis in Syria — and explains why Bethlehem, once 20% Christian, is merely 5% Christian today.
Israel’s policies and Nation-State Law are not the problem, any more than the dozens of countries where Islam is the official religion. The problem remains the unwillingness of Arabs to accept that Palestinian Arabs remain Arabs, part of the Arab nation, and that Judea remains the homeland of the Jews.
Published in the Times of Israel.
This was edited and published in the Jewish Press, but this is the original version:
President Mahmoud Abbas addressed his Palestinian National Authority (PA) recently, in a speech broadcast on Palestinian Television. Rather than addressing the problems facing his citizenry, the lack of democratic governance exemplified by a President in the thirteenth year of his four-year term, or even the conflict with Israel, he turned his attention to history’s favorite target: the Jews.
Abbas asserted that hatred of Jews in Europe was “not because of their religion, but because of their… usury, banks and so on.” He denied the long history of bigotry and violence against Jews in the Arab world, and used this lie to “prove” that Jews were never hated “just for being Jews.”
He termed traditional Jewish prayers for Zion a “narrative” which we are “tired of hearing.” He insisted that Israel “is a colonialist enterprise, aimed at planting a foreign body in this region.” He revived the canard that Ashkenazic Jews come from the province of Khazaria: “And those are Ashkenazi Jews,” he said, “which means they are not Semitic and have no relation to Semitism and have nothing to do with the prophets Abraham or Jacob.”
By dredging up the traditional tropes of Antisemitism, Abbas inadvertently did the civilized world a great service: unmasking the true nature of the “new” stories his PA tells today.
For the record, I am no “Zionist,” in that I do not share Herzl’s delusion that taking the Jews from Europe to Israel would eliminate Antisemitism. Many of Israel’s government decisions are irrational and bureaucratic; occasionally they are dangerous.
What I am is a Jew and a Rabbi, who has studied anti-Semitism as understood by our leaders and teachers throughout history. No, I do not mean university professors who struggle to provide a rational basis for a fundamentally irrational hatred. Like attempts to express an irrational number as a fraction, those explanations collapse the more closely we look.
This is because hatred of Jews finds a new facade to fit each new era, a contemporary rationale to mask the ancient hatred beneath. Abbas’ mistake was to refer directly to earlier eras, connecting yesterday’s obvious lie to today’s “truth.”
Today’s facade is “Palestine,” the Arab homeland which the Jews are occupying and stealing from its owners. This is a Palestine which claims no Israeli Jew may live within its borders, yet calls Israel the “apartheid” country as it foments a “resistance” comprised of murdering Jewish civilians.
What is Palestine? Let us examine seven basic truths.
1. It is a Roman name steeped in bigotry and ethnic cleansing. As the Romans murdered and exiled the Jews from their homeland, they renamed Judea because of its obvious association with Jews. Arabs say Falehsteen because Arabic has no phoneme for a “P” sound. Yes, you read correctly: “Palestinian” Arabs have no name for their purported homeland pronounceable in their native tongue.
2. From the Romans in the year 70, to the Crusaders of the 11th Century, to the Arab massacre of Hebron in 1929, Jews have never left their homeland voluntarily and have always returned. During the past 2000 years, Palestine has been home to some of the foremost Jewish scholars, many renowned even by non-Jews today: Maimonides of the Guide to the Perplexed, Rav Yosef Karo who authored the Code of Jewish Law, and the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Luria (the Ari Zal) all moved to Palestine during their lifetimes. There is even a Palestinian Talmud. The longing for Zion derided by Abbas is no modern political movement, but a fundamental tenet of Judaism.
3. This fact was known to all who invaded or migrated there. The Arabic name for Jerusalem, Al-Quds, is an abbreviation of Bet Al-Maqdes, “The Holy Temple” (in Hebrew, Bet HaMikdash). Over 60% of Jerusalem residents were Jews in 1896, prior to the formation of the Zionist movement. The 1938 Flag of Palestine in a French Atlas consisted of equal panels of blue and white, with a six-pointed gold star in the center. The “Palestine Post” changed its name after Israel’s Independence in 1948 – to The Jerusalem Post.
4. Palestine has never been an independent Arab country or community, nor has Jerusalem ever been an Arab capital. On the contrary, “Palestine” was the target of the Arab boycott when it started in 1945. The PA flag, a derivation of that used by dozens of past and present Arab nations, was previously the flag of the short-lived Federation of Iraq and Jordan – in 1958.
5. Although every indigenous people’s homeland differs significantly from modern political borders (even in England and Scotland), the PA’s “Palestine” traces precisely that area of British mandatory Palestine that is today Israel. No Lebanese, Egyptian or even Jordanian territory is claimed; neither is an inch of ancient Israel left to the Jews.
6. The website of the Palestinian Authority declares: “today’s Palestinians are direct descendants of the Arab people and share their culture, language and history.” Not coincidentally, these are the three measures by which anthropologists distinguish distinct peoples. Mahmoud Abbas said in Jordan that “we are one people living in two states,” while Hamas leader Fathi Hammad declared on Egyptian television that “half of the Palestinians are Egyptian, and the other half are Saudis.” The Peel Commission of 1937 determined that “Arabs living both east and west of the Jordan River had ties of kinship, language and culture with the Arabs in surrounding countries.”
Zuheir Mohsen, then-leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Pro-Syrian Faction, said bluntly in a 1977 interview: “The Palestinian people do not exist. Between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese there are no differences. We are all part of one people, the Arab nation.”
7. The objective of the PLO at its founding in 1964 was not to end an occupation or even to establish a country, but to destroy Israel. Zuheir Mohsen said in the same interview that the “Palestinian identity exists only for tactical reasons… Once we have secured our rights in all of Palestine, we would not postpone the unification of Jordan and Palestine for even a second.”
As Mohsen himself said, and these facts clearly indicate, Arab Palestine exists only to disenfranchise the Jews. True peace can come when the Arab world is able to free itself from falsehood and establish peaceful self-governance on land which Israel would happily give them, using a process it initiated in 1993. To pressure Israel in the meantime, to claim Israel is the obstruction as Arabs pursue false narratives of Jewish theft, greed, and blame for their own murders in lieu of productive development, is not merely counter-productive, but perpetuates an ancient hatred that still plagues humanity.
Hostility toward Judaism, Jewish observance and observant Jews has always been a central part of anti-Semitism. Sadly, it doesn’t always come from non-Jews, as Eli Steinberg noted recently in The Forward, in an op-ed called “Anti-Orthodox Is the New Anti-Semitism.”
Steinberg could have been referring to another opinion piece which emerged but two days earlier, by Elad Nehorai, also in The Forward, titled “White Nationalism Is Spreading in the Orthodox Community.”
We cannot minimize the problem of racism. It exists in all communities and needs to be extinguished in all communities, ours included. But to stereotype a particular group, whether religious or ethnic, as being racist is part of the problem, not the solution. How would we react to an op-ed titled “Nationalism Is Spreading in the Latino Community”? Does this not prove Steinberg’s point, that targeting the Orthodox is somehow more acceptable?
We must recall that Jews, who have suffered at the hands of whites more than most anyone, have never themselves been leading racists. And yet, the belief that Jews are supremacists who despise humanity and care about only their own is a core anti-Semitic canard. This is how Rabbi Naftali T.Y. Berlin, dean of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva, summarized anti-Semitism a half-century prior to the Holocaust (Commentary to the Torah, appendix, Gen. 31:29):
This is the way of the nations: that if they see one Jew steal, they say that all those who serve G-d are thieves — and that Judaism itself gives them permission to do so. And for this reason, one should do badly to [Jews] and stamp out Judaism.
This belief, that Jews are anxious to plunder the rest of humanity for Jewish benefit is found in the fabricated “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” in Nazi literature, and in the minutes of the Mahwah, New Jersey, town council, as Steinberg showed. Look at what we are routinely told about Israel. Myths of Jewish control of the banks, government and the media all grow from this same sickly root, and, exactly as Rabbi Berlin explained, this has been used to justify everything from pogroms to expulsions to genocide.
And yet, despite the proliferation of this idea, a canard it remains. And just as Jews are not a group of evil, self-interested plunderers, they are also not becoming white supremacists, contra Nehorai’s article.
Nehorai’s piece begins with the report that President Trump made a disparaging reference to countries designated for Temporary Protected Status and/or to Third World countries in Africa. Some said the comment was aimed at the racial makeup of the countries and was thus racist. But these accusations were in line with false accusations of racism and anti-Semitism that have dogged the president from the beginning of his campaign, as the Forward’s J.J. Goldberg reminded us.
The use of crass and unbecoming language, which the president denied, doesn’t make him a racist, and neither does the underlying sentiment. The TPS program protects foreign nationals from deportation “due to conditions in the [home] country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” If one were to list countries to which one might wish to move, considering everything from human rights to medical care, indoor plumbing and high-speed internet, those countries would end up near the bottom of the list.
It is not racist to admit this, unless of course you believe that the TPS program, established with bipartisan support in 1990, is distinguishing between countries based on race or ethnicity. I don’t believe this, and I don’t think Nehorai does, either.
That Haiti is not a country to which we would aim to move is not a racist sentiment. On the contrary, humanitarian concern over the conditions of their home country is the very reason we do not deport Haitians. We give preferential treatment to them over people from Norway, or Barbados, and to those from El Salvador and Nicaragua over those from Costa Rica and Panama.
To be sure, racists like Richard Spencer and David Duke were eager to co-opt the president’s comments for their own use. But it is neither fair nor appropriate to use guilt by association to paint anyone with the temerity to defend the president’s dismissal of those countries as a racist.
Yet the writer does precisely this, quoting an Orthodox Jew who said roughly as follows:
Option A: El Salvador isn’t a ‘dump,’ so they don’t need 17 years of Temporary Protected Status, and migrants from there should be sent home immediately. Option B: El Salvador is, in fact, a ‘dump.’
Nehorai claims that he “was amazed at how similar” that commenter sounded to Spencer. This is astounding. Spencer said that solving Haiti’s problems requires more European, white Frenchmen and fewer Haitians. The commenter explains, using the president’s vulgar term, that countries are designated for TPS because they are in bad shape. This explains why we harbor El Salvadorans in the United States, a humanitarian practice that racists like Spencer would oppose.
Yet Nehorai not only describes the similarities of the two statements, but also their differences. On these grounds, he accuses the entire Orthodox community of turning to racism.
He does the same when it comes to the neo-Nazi Unite the Right rally. The protesters had a permit to march, and were violently attacked by Antifa, the same group that tries to prevent Ben Shapiro and other conservative and pro-Israel speakers from being heard.
Video footage from that rally showed that there was violence perpetrated by both sides, which is exactly what the president said, and condemned. I do not believe the transcripts support the claim that he called Nazis “fine people.” He said that both good and bad could be found on both sides. Still, regardless of whether you agree with me, to call this view racist is wrong.
So how much actual proof of the spreading white nationalism among the Orthodox are we left with? None at all.
Unfortunately, that didn’t matter. To many, Nehorai’s article merely confirmed what they already “knew.” How often do we hear that Orthodox Jews care only about themselves, and don’t even accept the Jewish status of other Jews? You see? This proves (ultra-)Orthodox Jews are racists, like we’ve always said.
Many of the most prominent Orthodox institutions are devoted to serving non-Orthodox audiences, including Aish HaTorah, Ohr Somayach, the Community Kollel network and Chabad — which now has centers in all 50 states. Could we imagine young couples moving out to the proverbial middle of nowhere to serve people they don’t care about?
The myth of Jewish supremacy, that Jews care only for themselves, is not borne out in the observant community, either. In Israel, where the Orthodox comprise a much higher percentage of the total population, it is difficult to have something go wrong anywhere in the country without an Orthodox-led organization offering help without regard for race, ethnicity or religion: United Hatzalah, Yad Sarah, Ezer MiTzion, Ezra L’Marpeh, Laniado Hospital and Zaka are just a few examples. So it should be obvious that those claims are ridiculous calumny, yet they still have “traction.”
If we are going to celebrate diversity, we must go far beyond platitudes about coexistence. The very least we can demand is that we refrain from stereotyping other Jews. Tolerance begins at home.
This article was originally publshed in The Forward under a different title.
As a typical Jewish child attending a suburban prep school, I lived through the season just concluded with a certain feeling of envy. Most friends and neighbors were celebrating a big, gaudy holiday season, while I and my Jewish friends were left out. They decorated houses and trees, painted shopping malls red and green, and you couldn’t find a station on the dial that wasn’t playing music from earlier generations.
Little has changed, save my attitude. Having learned more about the unique responsibility and privilege of being a Jew, I have nothing of which to be jealous. My own children, growing up with the Jewish education I lacked, also do not suffer the least hint of that envy. We don’t want what they have; we want what is ours.
And it is fortunate that it is so. In the Sayings of the Fathers, our Sages caution us that envy is one of the dangerous traits that “removes” a person from the world. A person consumed by jealousy no longer sees and enjoys the world. He ignores his own blessings, caring only for what someone else has.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem could (and should) be a place of Jewish unity; instead, it has become for some a target of envy. To them, someone else — traditional Jews, whom their leaders impugn as “ultra” Orthodox — have a place for prayer, and they don’t have a place of similar size and prominence. Thus they are jealous — but of what?
Let us step back and be objective.
According to the Pew Research Center, half of Israel’s 6.5 million Jews are traditional or observant. And in another recent survey, the pluralistic Panim organization determined that under 3% of Israeli Jews, or just over 150,000, are affiliated with the American Reform or Conservative movements. Even this is an excessively optimistic figure, given the paucity of liberal synagogues in Israel. But using these numbers alone, it would be excessive for American liberal leaders to demand even 5% of the space afforded to traditional Jews.
And there is another factor. The average Orthodox person prays several times each day, and gravitates towards Jerusalem’s Old City and the opportunity to pray facing the Temple Mount, which Jewish tradition reveres as the holiest site on earth.
The average non-Orthodox Jew, by contrast, prays several times per year. And the Reform movement expressly rejects the Temple Mount as having special sanctity, and calls its synagogues “temples” to supplant it.
So even were their adherents equal in number, the need for space for American-style egalitarian prayer would likely be less than 1% of that allocated for traditional prayer. Take the two factors together, and the most that liberal leaders could reasonably demand is a space 0.05%, one in two thousand of that allocated for traditional prayer.
The government has thus already done far more than objectively necessary. Since the early 2000s, space at Robinson’s Arch has been available for “alternative” prayer services of whatever kind. Several years ago, then-Religious Affairs Minister Naftali Bennet upgraded the space, creating a new Ezrat Yisrael platform for this purpose.
Usage of that space — or lack thereof — proves the accuracy of the above analysis of need. Whereas the traditional plaza is filled to overflowing several times each year, Ezrat Yisrael has not once been used to capacity, and is rarely used at all.
What, then, explains the demand for a space of similar size and prominence to that used for traditional prayer, given an objective lack of both theoretical and demonstrated need while even the existing, smaller space is left vacant? It defies explanation, unless we acknowledge that envy is a powerful force. “They have it, so we must have it too.”
How much more good would these American leaders do, were they to not increase jealousy but reduce it? Why should Jewish children be left envious of non-Jewish peers celebrating non-Jewish holidays? I’m hardly the first to observe that when someone has a strong Jewish identity and an understanding of our unique national mission — and recognizes our disproportional impact upon civilization and history — it is obvious that we have nothing for which to be jealous.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate Past President of the Union for Reform Judaism, has called this “the most Jewishly ignorant generation in history.” The crisis for American Jewry is not 6000 miles away, but all around us. There is so much that liberal leaders could and should be doing to solve this crisis.
Yet Jewish camps are in decline, and the various educational initiatives launched by Rabbi Yoffie during his tenure have long since flamed out. New efforts are clearly and urgently needed. Synagogue attendance will not increase if the rabbi wastes congregants’ time discussing a site that most have never seen. The intermarriage rate will not decline if rabbis do not teach the privilege of being Jewish.
Liberal Judaism in America will not rebuild from its collapse if its campaigns focus upon jealousy. When Jews are bringing “Hannukah Bushes” into their homes in America, to sermonize about Israel is to “fiddle while Rome burns.”
This piece first appeared in the Times of Israel.