When Jews Target Jews

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.

Envy Isn’t Jewish

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.

Not Just Jerusalem: Why America’s Rabbis Voted Trump and Don’t Regret It

Yes, you read correctly. America's rabbis voted for Donald Trump.

Given the common belief that Jews are liberal, this may come as a surprise to many. But not only do Orthodox Jews (the traditionally observant) have very different political leanings from their more liberal brethren, but they now encompass the vast majority of American Jewish clergy.

Lakewood, N.J. is the home of the largest rabbinic seminary in America and home to tens of thousands of its alumni. In a few square blocks, you'll encounter more rabbis than liberal seminaries have produced in several decades. Lakewood also produced the largest pro-Trump majority in 2016 of any New Jersey town, despite a higher percentage of immigrants, impoverished, and non-whites than most other pro-Trump communities.

Rabbis voted Trump not for financial benefits; it is liberal candidates who support generous government programs. They supported him not simply because of his pro-Israel posture, although he has exceeded expectations with his new, commonsense approach to the right of Israelis to live in peace and security.

Neither did they blind themselves to Trump's failings. They do not support what he said on a bus 12 years ago or appreciate the un-presidential things he says or tweets on a daily basis. They look askance at casinos and beauty pageants and have little patience for "reality TV."

So what is it about Trump that they liked on Election Day, and like even more a year later?

First of all, Trump understands that good and evil remain vibrant in today's world and refuses to point fingers only at those who liberals agree are evil. Charlottesville provided a great example of this phenomenon.

No honest reading of the president's remarks has him calling white supremacists "fine people." This nonsense, so loudly proclaimed in the media, was designed to prevent sober analysis of Trump's true crime: he dared point out that violence and bigotry are not unique to those perceived as "right-wing." This, liberals could not countenance. As Maxine Waters put it, "No, Trump. Not on many sides – your side."

That liberal narrative is both false and profoundly dangerous. Our First Amendment liberties depend upon protection of free speech even for those with abhorrent views. Disruption of opposition events was a Nazi tactic, and had Antifa not violently employed it against the Nazis, we might hardly have heard of Charlottesville.

In the succeeding weeks and months, Antifa repeatedly proved President Trump correct, using force to stifle free speech not from Nazis, but from anyone with whom they disagreed — including Ben Shapiro, the conservative, yarmulke-clad Jew who was the journalist most targeted by anti-Semites in 2016. Trump deserved an ovation for stating that hatred is not a one-sided phenomenon.

The leading belief of anti-Semites is that all Jewish property is stolen; this is something rabbis know from both rabbinic literature and world history. It is why Jews were forced to live in ghettos and barred from most professions during the Middle Ages. It is why the Nazis began with a boycott that declared that Germans should "protect themselves" rather than buy from Jews. And it is why the Arab League co-opted the German boycott, which leftists then renamed BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) to make a "human rights" cause out of economic warfare against Jews living in their ancestral homeland, something visited upon none of those engaged in true, unquestioned occupations of the homelands of others around the world.

Thus, anti-Semitism travels seamlessly between the far right and the far left. It is too real and too dangerous to be wielded as a partisan cudgel.

We already had a president who said Israel is "occupying" Palestinian land and who sat idly while the U.N. called Jewish life in Judea "illegal." Similar language was seven percentage points away from being part of the Democratic platform. The only foreign flag flown inside the DNC was Palestinian, while they burned the Israeli flag outside. That's not about Israel's politics, government, or policy. That's about anti-Semitism.

The Republican platform rejected the "false notion" that Israel is an occupier, and President Trump has unquestionably acted in accordance with those positions. He has a history of trusting visibly observant Jews, and he put two of them, Jared Kushner and Jason Dov Greenblatt, in charge of negotiating peace with Mahmoud Abbas. Their first demand was that Abbas stop funding terrorism. In any other context, this would seem obvious, yet this revolutionary idea entirely escaped previous negotiating teams.

Nikki Haley's indignant, even furious reaction to the U.N. Security Council's attempt to tell the United States where it can put its embassy to Israel was merely her latest verbal fusillade against U.N. bias regarding the world's sole Jewish state. Trump's decision to move the embassy, recognizing that no peace can be achieved that does not recognize the attachment of Jews to Jerusalem, showed that he is unafraid to speak truth to world powers. The administration was far too busy protecting Jewish interests to pay attention to Jewish liberals claiming that Trump was "encouraging" Alt-Right hatred.

And then there is the "big picture" – the underlying vision for the future of America. Western civilization traces its roots to what are called Judeo-Christian values, which trace their roots to a small community of liberated slaves clustered on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

Their Bible sanctified human life and peace, while surrounding countries glorified warfare and considered fights to the death a form of entertainment. They taught that a ruler's power must be limited, that even a king must live within the law. They pioneered universal education, which other cultures reserved for the wealthy. And they valued family and social responsibility while others regarded these as signs of weakness.

Western civilization depends upon choosing biblical values over those of Greeks, Romans, Huns, and Visigoths. This is not a political posture, but reference to our moral foundation. It is a sad commentary that one party seems devoted to tearing down traditional moral norms, expressing the belief that what is new is automatically superior.

Rabbis were guided by rabbinic scholarship and their consciences. We do not look to politicians as role models, and the idea of a perfect human is foreign to Judaism in any case. Rather, an election is a binary choice. Which candidate and which party will better protect innocent lives – our lives – here and around the world, and keep America closer to our core values?

This is why rabbis voted for Trump in 2016 and are yet happier with that choice today.

First published in the American Thinker.

Reform’s Celebration of Lawlessness

by Rabbi Pesach Lerner and Rabbi Yaakov Menken

On Thursday, November 17, Rabbi Joshua Davidson did something truly extraordinary: he prayed the weekday morning service. The synagogue which he serves as Senior Rabbi, Temple Emanu-El in New York City, apparently offers no such opportunity, so what inspired his religious fervor?

Perhaps a better question is whether his fervor was indeed religious. Rabbi Davidson claims that “because the Kotel’s regulations do not permit egalitarian worship, and because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reneged on his promise to create a prayer space there that would, we began our worship on a distant platform over the Southern Wall excavations.”

While this assertion may play well in his Temple and at the UJA, one does not gain allies by slandering them. To Israelis, Rabbi Davidson’s words are not merely false and defamatory, but contribute directly to the anti-Semitic depiction of Israel as a supremacist, apartheid state where only some citizens have rights.

There is no factual support for his claim that the “Kotel” regulations do not permit egalitarian worship. Thanks to overwhelming popular demand, a small section of the Kotel, comprising only one-sixth of its total length, has been allocated for traditional Jewish prayer. During the high holiday season alone, that traditional plaza saw over 1,000,000 visitors, and on multiple occasions was filled to capacity.

For nearly two decades, the Israeli government has provided facilities for egalitarian and other nontraditional prayer elsewhere along that same 1600-foot-long Western Wall. This section was upgraded and dubbed “Ezrat Yisrael” by then-Religious Affairs Minister Naphtali Bennet during the previous government; it features tables with large umbrellas, comfortable chairs, and Torah scrolls under the administration of the Masorti (American Conservative) movement.

Though it may be smaller in absolute terms, this space has never been filled, and thus is less in need of expansion. Less than 0.3% of Israelis affiliate with the American Reform or Conservative movement, according to a survey conducted by the pluralistic Panim organization — and, of course, weekday prayer is mostly foreign to them. During the same High Holiday season, the Ezrat Yisrael section stood almost entirely empty.

Rather than conduct their prayers at the space allocated for their use, Rabbi Davidson and his peers brought eight Torah scrolls from the outside and pushed their way into the traditional plaza — purportedly for a weekday morning service that requires only one scroll for a brief reading.

They had no need to enter the traditional plaza in order to conduct their non-traditional, egalitarian service. The only time eight Torah scrolls are carried is while dancing on Simchat Torah. And that is exactly the point: they were not coming to pray, but to dance. They came to provoke and create a disturbance, using eight holy Torah scrolls as props for their political theater.

They were not content to simply protest; they forced their way past the soldiers and police guarding the plaza. Although Rabbi Davidson’s family was safely back in New York, Israelis know that these soldiers — often members of their own families — are putting their lives on the line to protect visitors every time they search a bag. It is also against the law to bring in Torah scrolls, because someone might thus be able to steal one of the scrolls belonging to the Holy Site. To whatever extent Rabbi Davidson was “roughed up” — and those guarding the security barrier tell a different story — this transpired while he was physically breaking past the guards, breaking the law while interfering with the soldiers’ attempts to protect life, safety, and the sanctity of the Torah scrolls Rabbi Davidson claims to revere.

So, no. No one was “roughed up” due to being a Reform Jew, much as saying so delighted anti-Semitic bigots around the globe. Whatever violence transpired was directly attributable to the behavior of Rabbi Davidson and his colleagues.

Israelis recognize political theater for what it is. The current situation was described thusly by Moshe Dann, a former Professor at the City University of New York who has spent the last quarter-century living in Israel: “Unable to achieve their objectives through dialogue, negotiations and good will, without an appreciation of Israel’s distinctiveness and differences, liberal/progressive leaders are turning their communities against Israel.”

This is undeniable. The same Reform leaders also refused to take a phone call from President Donald Trump before the High Holy Days, not long after Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and several colleagues sat down for a friendly chat with Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority. After that meeting, Husam Zomlot, PA ambassador-at-large to the United States, told the Jerusalem Post that “we see eye-to-eye with the Reform movement.” Most recently, the movement explicitly turned against both Israel and America, stating that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the move of the US embassy to that city, must be held hostage to a “peace process” that Abbas refuses to pursue.

If Reform now sees “eye to eye” with a Palestinian Authority that refuses to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, and would withhold recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it is clear who has abandoned whom. Is it any surprise that Israelis have lost patience?

The authors are the President and Managing Director, respectively, of the Coalition for Jewish Values This article first appeared in the Times of Israel.

Jewish Continuity Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game

Long-standing journalistic tradition has it that although writers of articles and opinion pieces may suggest titles for their submitted work, editors have full discretion to use titles of their own devising. So one might imagine that Messrs. Cohen, Gussow and Pinker greeted publication of their recent piece in The Forward with some consternation, finding it beneath the inflammatory title, “Does Orthodox Explosion Signal Doom for Conservative and Reform?

What the authors provided was a thoughtful and cogent demographic analysis of the Jewish community, divided into three relevant groups: the Orthodox, the liberal movements (Conservative, Reform, and smaller denominations), and the “nondenominational” Jews. Among their conclusions are the following:

The number of middle-aged Jews in 2045 or so is destined to be smaller than it is today… We have a surge of nondenominational Jews in their 20s, possibly owing to the fact that so many children of Reform and Conservative parents have eschewed their childhood denominational identities… At least until now, the nondenominational Jews are far from reproducing themselves. Accordingly, they are destined to decline some decades down the road — unless their numbers are replenished by “dropouts” from the religious denominations.

But the truly startling situation is among Conservative and Reform Jews… If current trends continue, then, in 30 years, we’ll see about half as many Conservative and Reform Jews age 60-69 as we have today. And the number of Conservative and Reform children do not reverse the decline.

Turning to the Orthodox, we find wildly different trends. While just 40,000 are in their 60s, we have triple their number — 120,000 — in their 30s. And, perhaps even more astounding are the number of kids aged 0-9. They amount to 230,000 — over five times the number of people in their 60s.

They bring their data to life with the following contrast:

Metaphorically, every 100 Conservative and Reform Boomers have only 56 photos of Jewish grandchildren in their wallets (or smart phones)… If 100 Orthodox grandparents gathered in shul, they could show their friends photos of 575 grandchildren on their smart phones (but not on Shabbat, of course).

Yes, you read that correctly. The Orthodox are projected to have ten times the number of Jewish grandchildren, and to grow six times as large in two generations — while the liberal population is sliced nearly by half.

The data does “tell a jarring story” — simply that the two communities are heading in opposite directions, and at an accelerating rate. That, however, has no relevance to the chosen title hanging over this important content.

The Forward must engage its readers and entice them with catchy headlines, and it is a journal not known for its fondness for the beliefs or practices of observant Jews. But there is something uniquely unseemly about a title implying that Orthodoxy’s gains are somehow related to Conservative and Reform’s losses. One cannot determine whether the editor imagined a thriving Orthodox community to be merely an indicator of liberal decline, or a causative factor — as the article beneath that headline utterly contradicts either implication.

It was once true that there was an inverse relationship between Orthodoxy and liberal Judaism; at that time, immigrants worked on Shabbos (in an era where one was likely to lose a job otherwise) yet prayed in Orthodox synagogues — but their children turned primarily to the Conservative movement. So the decline in Orthodoxy contributed to the rise of the Conservatives, making the latter the dominant American movement for much of the twentieth century. The next generations moved yet further to the left, such that the Reform peaked in the 1970s or 80s.

Intensive Jewish education and commitment reversed Orthodoxy’s decline; today neither an Orthodox nor liberal upbringing feeds into the other in significant numbers. Although it may be true that many Jews from non-Orthodox families adopt Jewish observance each year, their numbers are at most a minor factor in the decline of the non-Orthodox movements. Cohen, Gussow and Pinker don’t even mention this aspect. And, perhaps tellingly, those who drop out of observance after obtaining a day school education rarely join either of the liberal movements. So the growth of Orthodoxy and decline of liberal Judaism are independent phenomena.

Not only are the Orthodox not contributing to the implosion of liberal Judaism, but they are in the forefront of efforts to hold it back. Among the identity-enhancing Jewish activities suggested by the authors are several in which Orthodox Jews help to inspire non-Orthodox youth and young adults: Jewish day schools, Chabad on campus, Hillel, and trips to Israel. Olami on campus and Orthodox-run websites like Aish.com, Chabad.org and Torah.org are but a few other examples. While Orthodox teachers and guides in these programs would readily agree that full Jewish observance might be the ideal outcome, they would also tally anyone who commits to building a Jewish home as a “success,” and acknowledge that this is the far more likely outcome of their efforts.

The American Jewish population is not a zero-sum game; one community’s failure to perpetuate itself cannot be blamed upon the other. Several of the reasons for Orthodoxy’s burgeoning growth were beautifully described by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt in her op-ed which appeared the same day — none of these come at the expense of liberal Judaism. If the prognosis for Conservative and Reform Judaism is “doom,” it is not because of Orthodoxy, but despite Orthodox efforts to help their more liberal brethren to stanch their losses.

President Trump Is Right, Again

President Trump was roundly criticized for failing to call out neo-Nazis or the KKK by name in his first statement on the tragic violence in Charlottesville last weekend. Even many others in the GOP, including Marco Rubio and Orrin Hatch, indicated that the President should have been specific.

Yet the fact that the planned rally turned into a very two-sided violent melee is undeniable. And here’s what the President said:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society.

The words others found offensive were: “on many sides.” Why, they demand, didn’t the President immediately condemn the neo-Nazis and the KKK by name? When pressed on this, the President replied:

“What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ‘alt-right’? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

The President is right. The presence of odious hate groups on one side does not excuse violence by hate groups on the other. But the left prefers to pretend that left-wing hate doesn’t exist, rather than addressing it.

Maxine Waters responded to the President by tweeting, “No, Trump. Not on many sides, your side.” This is both factually wrong and profoundly dangerous.

The problem with condemning the Nazis or KKK is that it is simply too easy. Just days earlier, a friend and colleague criticized a particular organization as being so weak that it could make no public comment on any issue “except to condemn Hitler.” The only people who don’t regard Nazis as evil are other Nazis.

The question which we should be asking is: why is the left whitewashing Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Antifa?

Of all these groups, the Neo-Nazis, the KKK, BLM and Antifa, which one called for violence against police, which manifested itself in shootings of law enforcement officers in Texas and Louisiana? Which of these groups threatens free speech on college campuses in this country, violently preventing students from hearing opposing views?

I don’t know about you, but I consider policies and procedures that facilitate the disproportionate murder of young black men to be racist. And although every police force must police itself and remove racism from within its ranks, BLM’s hateful agitation has not only led to murdered police officers.

In Baltimore, the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015 led to riots and the politically-motivated prosecution of six officers (half of whom were black themselves) for following what was standard procedure at the time. This led to police being afraid to do the aggressive work necessary to get illegal guns off the street before they are used.

The results can only be described as horrific. 2015 was the most murderous year per-capita in Baltimore history, with 2016 coming in second. 2017 is on track to exceed both. And in all three years, young black men have been hugely overrepresented among the victims. A 10-month-old baby nearly died in her car, which remained locked following the murder of her 26-year-old father in May—until a police officer heard her cry.

The fact that the officer was white shouldn’t even deserve mention. The killing fields of Baltimore are a violent white supremacist’s dreamland, thanks to BLM.

But the media won’t talk that way. The left prefers to imagine that BLM is a civil rights movement, solving a real problem. And this is hardly the only example of left-wing “human rights” causes serving as convenient cover for anarchy, hatred and violence.

If we are going to tear down hateful monuments, we should not start with statues of Robert E. Lee, whom most historians consider to be no more racist than many Northerners of his day. We should start with the Arch of Titus in Rome, celebrating the military victories of that Emperor. After all, the Arch focuses specifically upon the plunder of Jerusalem, and the desecration of the treasures of its Holy Temple. It is an indisputable celebration of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

But that is exactly why it should not be removed. We need to remember our history, in order to avoid repeating it.

Which of the following statements has incited more murders in 2017: “Heil Hitler” or “Free Palestine”?

Again, the answer is obvious. Everyone knows that Hitler was a Nazi. But all too many people forget that “Palestine” is the name given to the land of Judea by the same hateful invaders who built that Arch, in an attempt to sever the connection between the land and those whose home it truly is. Forget that Palestine is a name birthed from barbarism and ethnic cleansing, forget that it was nothing more than a distant province to its Arab rulers, none of whom possessed it within the past 500 years (save for a brief period of Egyptian control in the 1830s), and you can make “Free Palestine” sound like a civil rights movement.

But what does it really stand for? Consider that there are dozens of unquestioned occupations around the world, in places like Tibet, Chechnya, and even Northern Ireland. But only one call for “justice” is used to justify the murder of children.

There is hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. It is easy to recognize the hate of 50 years ago; it takes discernment to recognize the hate of today, especially when the left is deliberately masking the hate groups in their midst.

The President should have named all of the hate groups involved, or none. The President was right the first time.

An earlier version of this article was first published in American Greatness, and discussed on the editor’s radio program.

Division at the Western Wall is No Path to Unity

By Rabbi Pesach Lerner and Rabbi Yaakov Menken

The statements from American Jewish movements, the Jewish Agency, and various op-ed writers could hardly have been more repetitive. Following the decision of Israeli PM Netanyahu and his cabinet to suspend the “deal” that would have created a large plaza for mixed prayer at the Western Wall, most rushed to offer opinions no more varied than the news reports, as if there were only one reasonable position that writers (and readers) could take.

Their consistent thesis was that Netanyahu’s decision caved to “political pressure” from the charedi political parties (universally described as “ultra-Orthodox”) and that suspension of the deal was divisive, a rejection of American Jewry. Pejoratives are not merely mean-spirited and divisive in their own right; in this case, they were used to upend the reality.

Neither Uri Ariel nor Betzalel Smotrich, MKs of the Jewish Home party, could remotely be described as “ultra-Orthodox.” Yet both wrote a letter to Netanyahu urging that the deal be scrapped; after it was, Ariel said in a prepared statement that “we succeeded in preventing an unnecessary split among the Jewish people and an attack on the social and religious fabric of Israeli society and the Jewish people.”

So which position unites us, and which divides? Each claims to side with unity, but only one can be correct.

Read the full op-ed at the Jerusalem Post.

A Sad Day for American Jewish Media

Originally published on Arutz-7, May 1, 2017

It is indeed a sad day when an article by the editor of a major Jewish publication fully crosses the line in order to adopt an anti-Semitic narrative about Jews and Israel. But when it is the editor of The Forward who expresses her "dread, despair and embarrassment" that Israel avoided extermination in 1967, we can express our disappointment, but few of us are surprised.

She states that as a child, she "truly believed" that Israel's survival was endangered — as if it were simply childish to imagine that "the extermination of Zionist existence" was the Arab agenda. She says that military victory — not the Balfour Declaration, much less the eternal bond between the Jewish People and their homeland — "legitimized Israel’s moral right to exist;" a militaristic, colonialist view entirely foreign to Israeli Jews who lived through the crisis. 

Far from a "disaster for Palestinians," the Six-Day War gave Arabs living in Gaza and Judea (what Jordan called the "West Bank" when they occupied it in 1948) unparalleled opportunities: universities, modern medicine, massive upgrades to infrastructure. It also vastly improved their lives, from a human and civil rights perspective, compared to Jordan, Egypt and any other Arab state. 

It also gave them something else: the opportunity to slaughter Jews, celebrate barbarism, and blame it on "the occupation." Previous atrocities, from the attack upon Petach Tikva in 1886, to the massacre of the Hebron yeshiva and surrounding community in 1929, to the threatened "momentous massacre" of 1948, and the terrorist attacks of the 1950s culminating in the creation of the PLO terrorist organization in 1964, were all recognized as barbaric and evil. Today we are told that, on the contrary, "resistance is not terrorism." The murder of civilians was "indefensible" for the Irish Republican Army and destroyed the Chechen rebellion, although both constituted "resistance" to true and unquestioned occupations of indigenous peoples in their homelands. Yet it is acceptable for "Palestinian" Arabs. Why the difference? Because in this case, the victims are Jews.

A photo caption to Eisner's article asserts that "Palestinians surrender to Israeli soldiers." This is historical revisionism at its finest. Those surrendering to Israeli soldiers in 1967 did not describe themselves as "Palestinian," but rather "Jordanian." But of course, that level of honesty would vacate the claim that "indigenous Palestinians" are under "occupation." 

The name "Palestine" is translated from the Roman Palaestina. It is a name associated with genocide and ethnic cleansing. Hadrian, the Roman Emporer, renamed the land known to its natives as Judea, because the original name made too obvious a connection to its natives: the Jews. 

Who are the "Palestinians?" Arabs, of course. Arabs who cannot pronounce "Palestine" in their language — the only purported indigenous people to lack a home-grown name for their so-called homeland. The same Arabs who colonized the Middle East and Northern Africa from their true homeland, a large expanse known as Arabiyya. After each failed attempt to massacre the Jews of Israel, they engaged in pogroms and ethnic cleansing of Jews from their homes across the Arab world; the majority fled to Israel. Today, Arabs point fingers at the descendants of these Jewish refugees, and accuse them of racism towards Arabs. And Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, joins their cry.

The "checkpoints" were not built in 1967, nor to promote "apartheid." They exist for precisely the same reason that we endure the humiliation of removing our shoes in order to board an airplane. The barrier and checkpoints were built to stop massacres of Russian refugees at a discotheque and Holocaust survivors at Passover seders — not to mention families out to enjoy a pizza at Sbarro's. Eisner does not condemn any of these atrocities. Instead she implies that there is something evil in trying to prevent them.

To traditional Jews, this is not entirely a surprise. The Forward has consistently favored welfare programs, but only as long as they aren't used by Jews. It incessantly obsesses over people leaving Orthodoxy, and groups that help them leave. Should we be surprised that the editor writes a hit piece against Israel, celebrating the canards of anti-Semitism — and on the day when the Jews of Israel celebrate being spared from death yet again?

O-WOW Calls to End Prayer at the Wall

Originally published in HaModia.

In an unexpected moment of courtroom drama, Dr. Susan Weiss, attorney for the “Original Women of the Wall” (O-WOW), conceded last week what many observers have long recognized: that far from advocating for women’s rights, their agenda is to obstruct observant Jews attempting to pray.

When the “Center for Women’s Justice” filed suit last year on behalf of O-WOW, their stated claim was that the women of O-WOW merely wanted to pray in their own fashion — including reading from a Torah scroll in the women’s section. Preventing them from doing so, they argued, violated Israel’s anti-discrimination laws.

Their day in court revealed a very different interest. Judge Elyakim Rubenstein asked their lead attorney, Dr. Susan Weiss, what sort of alternative site might be acceptable to the group. She replied that in her view, none was necessary. Rubenstein then asked what she would do, were it up to her. She responded:

In actuality, there wouldn’t be a mechitzah (divider) there at all, and I would send all of them to their synagogue. Perhaps I would earmark certain hours for them … It needs to be a public plaza. ‘All of them’ includes both observant women and those women who want to wear tzitzis.

She went on to say that the Wall is not a synagogue, and should not be treated that way. Rather than arguing that women should have Torah scrolls at the wall, she in essence argued that no one should.

Leah Aharoni is co-founder of Women For the Wall (W4W), an organization created by women who pray at the Wall regularly and object to the disturbances created by O-WOW and Women of the Wall. Just recently, W4W requested to join in the case as respondents, because, she said, “they are ignoring the sincere desires of the much larger group that seeks to maintain the tradition of prayer at the Holy Site.”

Regarding Weiss’ statements in court, Aharoni commented that “this confirms what we have said from the beginning, that they are not advocating for women’s rights. Rather, they want to deny observant Jews the ability to pray at the Wall.”

A look back reveals that this is not a new argument. O-WOW is comprised of the majority of the initial, core supporters of Women of the Wall (WOW). And in previous years, Anat Hoffman, head of WOW, suggested herself that her ultimate agenda was to prevent Orthodox prayer at the Holy Site. She told Channel 2 that a day would come when people would look back and say about the Wall, “there used to be a mechitzah here all the time! You don’t believe it.” And before Natan Sharansky proposed a new section, she told a Florida audience that she would be open to “timesharing,” for the Wall to be open six hours a day as a “national monument, open to others but not to Orthodox men.”

Hoffman directs the American Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, described by writer Jonathan Rosenblum as “determined to make life miserable for Torah organizations in any manner possible.” This is entirely in accordance with the expressed interests of both WOW and O-WOW. But the Reform movement — an insignificant minority in Israel, comprised of Jews who do not pray on even a weekly basis — landed upon an even better option: to demand a site equal in size and prominence to the current plaza, used by hundreds of thousands of Jews who pray three times a day.

This is what precipitated the split between WOW and O-WOW. O-WOW’s primary interest is to force their practices upon observant women, while Hoffman now claims that WOW “is the right group for bringing about change in Israel, but not the right group for bringing about change in the Orthodox world.”

The end goal of all three groups — WOW, O-WOW, and the American Reform movement — remains the same: to change the Jewish character of the Jewish State. Hoffman told the BBC that the fight at the Kotel is merely a stepping stone on the path to changing marriage, divorce, and burial in Israel.

Aharoni’s focus, however, remains upon the here and now. She stresses that what O-WOW proposed to the Court is not merely offensive to the observant Jews who stream to the Wall on a daily basis. “For most visitors,” she said, “the idea that they can go to the Wall at any hour of the day or night, any time of the year, and find people pouring out their hearts to G-d … that is a critical part of the experience.”

This experience would be denied to millions of Jews, if the 50 members of O-WOW and WOW were to have their way.

Obama’s Antipathy Towards Israel

In I Maccabees, Shimon is reported to have said, “We have neither taken foreign land nor seized foreign property, but only the inheritance of our ancestors, which at one time had been unjustly taken by our enemies. Now that we have the opportunity, we are firmly holding the inheritance of our ancestors.” (I Maccabees 15:33-34)

The New York Observer today published my piece, which attempts to explain why Obama would go ahead and anger his allies such as Charles Schumer and Alan Dershowitz, and also provoke his successor, who could now prioritize dismantling the Obama legacy.