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A Mid-East Inconvenient Truth

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Yes, yes, I get it.  “Ethnic cleansing” conjures images of Nazi expulsions and murders of Jews, or the 1990s Bosnian war, when Serb and Croat forces intimidated, forcibly expelled or massacred one another to ensure Serb-free or Croat-free  territories.

But, like many charged terms, the expression has come to be applied as well to more benign, but still pernicious, attempts to remove populations from areas where they have lived for years, in the interest of creating a mono-ethnic state.

And that is precisely how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the term when noting that Palestinian leaders envision a Jew-free Palestinian state.  As recently as 2013, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas said in Cairo that, “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands.”

Israel, Mr. Netanyahu reminded viewers of the brief video in which he made his comment, has nearly two million Arabs living inside its borders, while the Palestinian leadership “demands a Palestinian state with one pre-condition: no Jews.”

“There’s a phrase for that,” he continued, “It’s called ethnic cleansing. And this demand is outrageous.”

“It’s even more outrageous,” he added, “that the world doesn’t find this outrageous.”

The loud, wild howling you may have heard in the wake of the video’s release was the reaction of much of the world to that observation of the Palestinian emperor’s new (and old) clothes.

Unsurprising were Palestinian and other Arab expressions of anger over the suggestion that it was somehow impolite to insist that Jews finding themselves in a future Palestinian state be forcibly removed.

And only slightly less surprising was U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon’s pronouncement that the Israeli leader’s remarks were “unacceptable and outrageous.”

There was political criticism within Israel too.  Former Justice Minister Knesset member Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah-Zionist Movement) said that the Prime Minister’s video undermined her diplomatic achievements vis-à-vis the settlements.

Even ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt was critical of the “ethnic cleansing” remark.  “Israel has many legitimate concerns about Palestinian policies and behavior,” he wrote, “However, the charge that the Palestinians seek ‘ethnic cleansing’ of settlers is just not one of them.”  He didn’t, however, explain why it wasn’t.

Disturbing too was the fact that the U.S. State Department joined the chorus of lamentations. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau responded to a question at a press conference by saying that “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank.”

Even those who believe in the wisdom (or just the inevitability) of an eventual “two state solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, even if they believe that Mr. Netanyahu was imprudent to have used the loaded phrase, have to admit that, all said and done, it wasn’t inapt.

If you read this column regularly, you know that I am not among the relentless critics of the Obama administration. I feel that the president has been, in concrete actions, as supportive of Israel (if not some of the Netanyahu government’s policies) as any American leader, if not more so.  And in fact, not long after the Netanyahu video contretemps, the American administration reached agreement with Israel on a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that constitutes the single largest pledge of military assistance in U.S. history, totaling $38 billion over 10 years, including $33 billion in Foreign Military Financing funds and an additional $5 billion in missile defense funding.

Even Mr. Netanyahu, despite having asked for yet more (the shuk doesn’t stop at Machaneh Yehudah), was clearly satisfied with the agreement.  He could have declined to sign it until after a new administration takes office in three months, but apparently felt that he was better off in Mr. Obama’s hands than in those of his successor.

But my feeling that too many of us view the Obama administration with grossly jaundiced eyes doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when it is deserving of criticism; this is one of them.  Even if it views settlements in Yehudah and Shomron as “obstacles” to peace (and the expansion of at least some arguably are), the administration was misguided to regard Mr. Netanyahu’s words as unhelpful.  They were very helpful.

If only because they discomfited so many, forcing them to fidget as they tried to justify the unjustifiable: the removal from their homes of people of a certain ethnicity – not to mention one whose members, over the course of history, were exiled repeatedly and callously by a long parade of tyrants, dictators and thugs.

© 2016 Hamodia

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Tempest in a Tallis

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The image was, to be sure, jarring: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump being draped in a tallis.

By an African-American pastor.

In a Detroit church.

To resounding applause.

Bishop Wayne Jackson of the Great Faith Ministries in Detroit effected the atifah while most of us were listening to the Krias HaTorah of Parashas Re’eh, after the candidate addressed the minister’s congregation in an attempt to garner votes from a segment of the population not naturally supportive of his candidacy.

“Let me just put this on you,” Pastor Jackson said, identifying the garment as a prayer shawl “straight from Israel,” and The Donald, although he did look a mite befuddled, didn’t resist.

The congregation was effusive in its praise of the spectacle.  Some Jewish media, clergyfolk and armchair pundits, though, considerably less so.

Some took the humor route, like writer Yair Rosenberg, who speculated that “Trump was finally embracing his role as a fringe candidate.”

Others, though, were outraged at, as several described it, the “cultural misappropriation.”

One commentator called it “sacrilege” for Mr. Trump, a non-Jew, to dare to wear a “sacred garment of Jews.”   Another, growing apparently increasingly apoplectic, could only comment: “The pastor just gave Trump a tallis from Israel. Which is just … no. Just no. No no no.”

Reform rabbi Ron Kronish, the founder and senior advisor for the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, was appalled by the scene, which he described as “a totally absurd distortion of the meaning of an important Jewish ritual object, which is used by Jews for prayer all over the world.”

Nor could the rabbi resist the opportunity to denigrate Mr. Trump (ignoring the candidate’s karka olam passivity throughout the tallis-donning, which was unexpectedly sprung upon him by the pastor), creatively suggesting that the tallis “is a symbol of humility before G-d” and that while he “would hope that Mr. Trump would not misappropriate this ritual object for his travels… with this megalomania [sic] almost anything is possible.”

Conservative rabbi Danya Ruttenberg huffed that “A Jewish prayer shawl… is a ritual garment. Meant to be worn only by Jews. This is the worst kind of appropriation.”

And Modern Orthodox rabbi Seth Farber expressed his own great discomfort with the use of a “holy object” for “political purposes.”

Now, there is certainly something to be upset about when non-Jews utilize objects associated with Judaism to try to lure ignorant Jews away from their religious heritage.  Tallisos, among other things, are routinely employed by missionaries to put a deceptive “Jewish gloss” on decidedly un-Jewish beliefs.

And the Detroit spectacle, too, in fact had distinct Christian overtones.  While his victim was trapped in the tallis, Pastor Jackson offered him a second gift, two copies (one for Mrs. Trump) of something called the “Jewish Heritage Study Bible,” which includes distinctly Christian elements.  The pastor also saw fit to quote from the Christian bible at that moment.

He, moreover, shared a distinctly un-Jewish description of a tallis, understanding it, apparently, as a good-luck talisman of sorts (over which, he explained, he had fasted and prayed) that, when Mr. Trump will wear it, will “lift you up.”

But the clergyman was not aiming his act or comments at Jews, but rather at Mr. Trump and the congregation.  The howls of outrage, I think, say more about the howlers than about the poor pastor or the recipient of his gifts.

The misappropriation of Judaism that more merits vexation is various Jewish clergy’s abusing holy pesukim to justify some of the most decidedly un-Jewish ways of life.

We might wince at bit, or even smirk, at appropriations of things like a tallis or menorah or yarmulke (a Jewish article that most every politician, at least along the coasts, has donned on countless occasions).  But waxing indignant over such sillinesses bespeaks being overly sensitive – and insufficiently appreciative of the fact that, despite the dormant, and occasionally not-so-dormant, anti-Semites that infect parts of the nation, so many Americans value, even venerate, things Jewish, and Jews.

The reverend’s reverence for the tallis and his excitement over its Israeli origin – like the blowing of shofaros at civil rights rallies or Pesach “Sedarim” at the White House – should evoke not indignation but perhaps something akin to gratitude.  Gratitude, that is, for Hashem’s allowing so many of us Jews to serve out our exile-sentence today in a place where we are not only not hated and hunted but actually, in some ways, appreciated, even revered.

© Hamodia 2016

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Conservatism in Crisis

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If the phrase “alt-right” puts you in mind of a computer keyboard, you are (blessedly) not following the presidential campaign.

Even if you are aware of the phrase, though, you may not have a good handle on what it means.  For good reason.  Many don’t.  It’s a hazy phrase.

The term, which is shorthand for “alternative right,” has been in circulation for several years, but it enjoyed a recent moment in a particularly bright spotlight when presidential candidate Clinton, in a speech, sought to make a distinction between mainstream Republicans and what she characterized as holders of a “racist ideology,” i.e. the “alt-right,” who she says are a major base of support for her opponent.

The “alt-right” movement – if it can even be given a label implying some unifying philosophy – means different things to different people, as it includes disparate elements.

What those elements generally share is a dedication to family values; a reverence for Western civilization and rejection of multiculturalism; an embrace of “racialism,” the idea that different ethnicities exhibit different characteristics and are best segregated from one another; and, consonant with that latter credo, opposition to immigration, both legal and illegal.

Mrs. Clinton referenced the alt-right because her rival Donald Trump recently named a new campaign chief, Stephen Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, a conservative website some have associated with the group.

The alt-right’s “intellectual godfather,” in many eyes, is Jared Taylor. Although he characterizes himself as a “white advocate,” he strongly rejects being labeled racist, contending that his “racialism” is “moderate and commonsensical,” a benign form of belief in the “natural” separation of races and nationalities.  He contends that white people promoting their own racial interests is no different than other ethnic groups promoting theirs.  He has said, “I want my grandchildren to look like my grandparents. I don’t want them to look like Anwar Sadat or Fu Manchu.”

Pointing to the homogeneity of places of worship, schools and neighborhoods, he insists that people “if left to themselves, will generally sort themselves out by race.”

Certain of Mr. Taylor’s beliefs may resonate with some Orthodox Jews.  We may rightly eschew racism (seeing black Jews, for instance, no different from white ones), but we tend to be less than enamored of some elements of various minority cultures; we deeply value ethnic cohesion, preferring to live in neighborhoods among “our own kind”; and we have serious problems with certain elements of “progressive” western civilization and multiculturalism.

Mr. Taylor, in fact, welcomes Jews.  He has said that we “look white to him.”

That sentiment though, is not typical among others under the alt-right umbrella.

Even a nuanced rejection of non-western cultures inevitably attracts genuine racists and haters, and devolves into rejection of the eternal “other”: Jews.  The American far right has always embraced, inter alia, one or another form of Jew-hatred.  More balanced members of the alt-right refer to their “1488ers” – a reference to two well-known neo-Nazi slogans, the “14 Words” in the sentence “We Must Secure The Existence Of Our People And A Future For White Children”; and the number 88, referring to “H,” the eighth letter of the alphabet, doubled and coding for “Heil Hitler.”

And even Mr. Taylor has permitted people like Don Black, a former Klan leader who runs the neo-Nazi Stormfront.org web forum, to attend his conferences.  He may or may not endorse Black’s every attitude, but neither has he rejected his support.

Back in the 1960s, the John Birch Society, then dedicated to the theory that the U.S. government was controlled by communists, was condemned by the ADL for contributing to anti-Semitism and selling anti-Semitic literature. The brilliant and erudite William F. Buckley Jr., the unarguable conscience of conservatism at the time, recognized the group’s nature, and the threat its extremism posed to responsible social conservatives.  In the magazine he founded, National Review, he denounced and distanced himself from the Birchers in no uncertain terms, contending that “love of truth and country call[s] for the firm rejection” of the group.

It is ironic that it has fallen to the Democratic presidential contender to make a distinction between responsible Republicanism and the current loose confederacy that includes haters.

In the wake of Buckley’s denunciation of the alt-righters of the time, some National Review subscribers angrily cancelled their subscriptions.  Others, though, were appreciative of Buckley’s stance.  One wrote: “You have once again given a voice to the conscience of conservatism.”

That letter was signed “Ronald Reagan.”

© 2016 Hamodia

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Unrighteous Indignation

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And here, all this time, we thought Auschwitz was a Polish death camp.

It was, of course, at least in the sense that it was a place in Poland where upward of a million souls, the vast majority of them Jewish, perished at the hands of ruthless, evil murderers.

The camp, though, was built and operated by Germans, a fact that has brought Polish authorities to protest when the camp is labeled “Polish.”

In 2012, for instance, President Obama raised hackles when, awarding a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to a Polish resistance fighter, he referred to a “Polish death camp.”  He later apologized, saying he should have used the term “Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland.”

Earlier this month, the Polish government approved a new bill mandating fines and even, in some cases, prison terms of up to three years for anyone who uses phrases like “Polish death camps” to refer to Nazi camps on Polish soil.

While threatening penalties for using a particular phrase is an act of dubious wisdom or worth, the Polish protesters have history on their side… at least with regard to who owned and operated the death camps on Polish soil. Germans, not Poles, ran Auschwitz, Treblinka and other death camps, where more than three million Jews died; Poland was an occupied country at the time.

But the indignation isn’t righteous.  At least not unless it includes an important caveat; an admission that many Poles themselves were no mere bystanders to the Holocaust.

Some Polish officials are trying to obscure that truth.  “It wasn’t our mothers, nor our fathers, who are responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust, which were committed by German and Nazi criminals on occupied Polish territory,” asserts Zbignew Ziobro, the Polish justice minister.

But the justice minister does truth an injustice.  In implementing their genocidal program, German forces drew upon all-too-eager-to-help Polish police forces and railroad personnel, who guarded ghettos and helped deport Jews to the killing centers. Individual Poles often pitched in, identifying and hunting down Jews in hiding and then actively participated in the plunder of Jewish property.

In his book “The Coming of the Holocaust: From Antisemitism to Genocide,” University of California, Santa Cruz Professor Peter Kenez described Poles of German ethnicity as “welcome[ing] the [Nazi] conquerors with enthusiasm.”

Nor were ethnic Poles unhappy at the prospect of helping the invaders rid their country of Jews.

History Professor Jan T. Gross, who was born in Poland to a Polish mother and Jewish father, published “Neighbors” in 2001, in which he documented that atrocities long blamed on Nazi officials were in fact carried out by local Polish civilians.

Like the massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne in July 1941. Mere weeks after Nazi forces gained control of the town, its Polish mayor, Marian Karolak, and local Nazi officials gave orders to round up the town’s Jews – both long-term residents as well as Jews who were sheltering there. Some Jews were hunted down and gleefully killed by the town’s residents with clubs, axes and knives. Most were herded into a barn, emptied out for the purpose and set afire, killing all inside.

There were also Poles, of course, who helped Jews, even risking their own lives to do so. Yad Vashem has recognized more than 6,000 of them as “Righteous Among the Nations” for rescuing Jews, more than from any other country.

But the norm, sadly, was that Polish citizens were more likely than not to turn against their Jewish neighbors when circumstances permitted.  There are numerous personal accounts of such hatred leading to murder.  It lasted throughout the war, and beyond it.

The Polish town of Kielce was home to about 24,000 Jews before World War II, and the number swelled considerably during the war, as German officials forced Jews from other towns and countries to enter the ghetto established there.  By August 1944, all but a few hundred Jews who were kept alive as slave workers there had been murdered.

You may know the rest of the story. After the war, about 150 Jewish survivors returned to Kielce. Slowly, they began to rebuild their lives, establishing a shul and an orphanage. On July 4, 1946, the town’s non-Jewish inhabitants started a blood libel, falsely accusing the Jews of kidnapping a Christian child. A mob descended on the Jews and, as police and soldiers stood by and watched, the local Poles viciously murdered 42 innocent Jewish Holocaust survivors and injured scores more.

If you drive down Bathurst Street in Toronto, you might notice a shul called Kielcer Congregation, presumably established by survivors of the war and pogrom, or by others in their memory.

And if you drive about a mile south, you’ll reach Eglinton Avenue, off of which my dear in-laws live.  My father-in-law, Reb Yisroel Yitzchok Cohen, may he be well, is an alumnus of a number of concentration camps, including the Polish – sorry, “German on occupied Polish territory” – one called Auschwitz.  At war’s end, he emerged, barely, and managed to find his way back to his Polish hometown of Lodz.  He had heard that his younger sister Mirel (whose memory is carried in the second name of my wife), had also survived the war and had returned there.

He discovered that Mirel had indeed reached Lodz.  And that one day soon after their arrival, she and several other girls had visited the local Jewish cemetery to find the graves of relatives who had died in the Lodz ghetto.  The girls split up and made up to meet at the cemetery entrance.  All did, except for Mirel.  Having survived the war and made her way “home,” she had been murdered by an unknown assailant among the graves.

Before that was known, the other girls went to the police to report the missing person.  The response they received was, “What is your worry?  So there will be one Jewess less in Poland.”

© 2016 Hamodia

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Illusions of Objectivity

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Some American journalists assigned to the political beat are having a hard time.  Their dilemma is named Donald Trump, a man they don’t feel they can cover objectively.

Those troubled are reporters with a liberal bent, and that, of course, means most of the profession.  The vast majority of mainstream print and electronic media personnel are well entrenched on the left end of the political spectrum. To be sure, one needn’t be a social or political liberal to regard the Republican presidential candidate with concern – many in Mr. T.’s own party are distancing themselves from him – but “progressive” citizens have a particular revulsion for the controversial candidate.

And so, while the intrepid reporters soldier on in the quest for fairness, impartiality and objectivity, they are finding it hard to maintain their professional standards, or even the façade of neutrality.

Jim Rutenberg, the New York Times’ “media columnist,” lamented his and his colleagues’ predicament.

“If you’re a working journalist,” he wrote, “and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes… you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.”

“You would move closer,” he continued, “than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.”

Mr. Rutenberg’s honest confession of discomfort is commendable.  But it’s also somewhat amusing, because, while Mr. Trump may be an outsize (one might even say yuuuge!) challenge to the media’s objectivity, the notion itself of journalistic impartiality is more veneer than substance.  There are other fairness challenges that reporters routinely face and fail.

In fact, Donald Trump doesn’t really pose so great a trial for reporters.  Even if they regard him as dangerous, his words have famously spoken for themselves; all that the media has to do is quote him.  He’s not a very guarded or subtle person; he says very much what he means. So there is no need, and should be no temptation, for any journalist to treat him any differently than anyone else.  Just share what the guy says.  That’s enough.

The greater challenge to idealistic members of the media is the need to recognize and confront their broader biases when it comes to other subjects.  Like, say, religion.

Fully 91% of those who work at national news organizations, according to a Pew survey, say they don’t consider it necessary to believe in G-d to be moral.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those respondents disdain religious people or institutions, but it does raise the possibility, maybe even the likelihood, that they may harbor at least some subtle bias regarding religious believers or their ideals.

This column last week noted one recent example.  No major media news report (and, for that matter, no major media opinion columnist) saw fit, when reporting on Mrs. Ghazala Khan’s decision not to speak, as her husband did, at the Democratic National Convention, to note some traditional religions’ concept of modesty.  The idea that a woman might consider it inappropriate to speak before men is simply beyond the imaginings of most reporters.  Were they forced to confront it, they would likely dismiss it as backward, oppressive or even immoral.  Olam hafuch ra’isi.

And then there are the general Jewish media, which are transparently prejudiced against Orthodox Jews, at least chareidi ones, a fact well evidenced both in their choices of what stories about the “ultra-Orthodox” (a pejorative phrase itself) to cover or to ignore and in the tone of chareidi-world stories they consider newsworthy. That isn’t surprising; most of their reporters and columnists are non-Orthodox Jews, and they surely shlep their personal baggage to their keyboards – whether they are aware of it or not.  As the writer William Saletan once wisely observed: “There’s a word for bias you can’t see: yours.”

The not-so-secret “secret” here, which applies to both the general Jewish media and their non-Jewish counterparts, is that reporters, despite their imaginings of themselves as objective, are human.  And, as such, they are just as biased and close-minded as any other mortals. So, rather than wring their hands over how to cover Donald Trump, they would do better to consider the possibility that some more subtle, hence more troublesome, biases inform their reportage of… other things.

© 2016 Hamodia

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Summer Camps and Summer Camps

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There are all sorts of summer camps.

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Silence Can Be Golden

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What’s omitted from a discussion can sometimes speak quite loudly.  And sometimes quite disturbingly.  That’s true, I think, about the national conversation about the Khizr and Ghazala Khan/Donald Trump contretemps.

Unless you’ve been summering in the Australian outback and off the grid, you likely know that the most memorable moment of the Democratic National Convention (at least if the idea of a woman presidential nominee somehow didn’t make you swoon) was the speech delivered by the aforementioned Khizr Khan, a Pakistani-born, Harvard Law School-educated American citizen.  Mr. Khan has worked in immigration and trade law, and founded a pro bono project to provide legal services for the families of soldiers.  The Khans’ son, Humayun, an Army captain, was killed in 2004 while protecting his unit.

At the convention, Mr. Khan identified himself and his wife, who stood at his side, as “patriotic American Muslims,” and sharply condemned Donald Trump for what the Khans see as his bias against Muslims and divisive rhetoric.  “You have sacrificed nothing,” he added, addressing Mr. Trump, “and no one.”

Mr. Trump, in subsequent interviews, responded to that accusation by arguing that he had raised money for veterans, created “tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures [and] had tremendous success.”  And he also speculated that the reason Mrs. Khan hadn’t spoken was because, as a Muslim, “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.  You tell me.”

Mrs. Khan explained her reticence in a Washington Post essay.  “Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me,” she wrote, “I could hardly control myself. What mother could?”

The punditsphere went wild, mostly with applause for the Khans and derision for Mr. Trump.  There were the expected right-wing “exposés” of the Khans’ (nonexistent) connections to terrorist organizations, but the responsible responses to the showdown were critical of the Republican candidate and sympathetic to the Gold Star parents.

But while there is no reason to doubt Mrs. Khan’s claim that she was just too anguished by the memory of her son to speak, something that should have been considered somewhere in all the seeming millions of words that were produced on the row simply wasn’t.

That would be the possibility that a woman might choose, for religious reasons, to not avail herself of center stage and a microphone.  All sides of the controversy seem to have agreed to the postulate that tznius is a sign of backwardness, or worse.

That was unarguably the upshot of Mr. Trump’s infelicitous insinuation, that Mrs. Khan’s silence at the convention was religious in nature, and evidence that Islam is intolerant and repressive.

To be sure, there are sizable parts of the Islamic world where women are in fact cruelly oppressed, where physical abuse, forced marriages and “honor killings” are unremarkable.  But what Mr. Trump was demeaning was the very concept of different roles for men and for women, the thought that a woman might, as a matter of moral principle, wish to avoid being the focus of a public gathering. He was insinuating, in other words, that a traditional idea of modesty is somehow sinister.

Islam, though some Muslims may chafe at the observation, borrowed many attitudes and observances from the Jewish mesorah.  Islam’s monotheism and avoidance of graven images, its insistence on circumcision, its requirement for prayer with a quorum and facing a particular direction, its practice of fasting, all point to the religion’s founder’s familiarity with the Jews of his time. As does that faith’s concept of tznius, even if, like some of its other borrowings, it might have been taken to an unnecessarily extreme level.

I don’t know the Khans’ level of Islamic observance, but Mrs. Khan wore a hijab as she stood next to her husband at the convention podium.  So it is certainly plausible that her decision to not speak in that very public venue may have been, at least to a degree, informed by a tznius concern.

A concern that the plethora of pundits chose to not even consider, thereby, in effect, endorsing Mr. Trump’s bias on the matter.

To be sure, and most unfortunately, tznius isn’t an idea that garners much respect in contemporary western society.  Moreover, Mr. Trump’s relationship with any sort of modesty is famously fraught.

But it is particularly disturbing that his insinuation that traditional roles for men and women bespeak repression and backwardness went missing in the national discussion, altogether unchallenged by the ostensibly open-minded men and women of the media.

© 2016 Hamodia

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The Enemy

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In December, 2014, after a driver shouting Islamic slogans mowed down more than a dozen pedestrians in Dijon, France, the city’s chief prosecutor called the attacks the work of an unbalanced man whose motivations were vague and “hardly coherent.”

Mere weeks earlier, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a spokesman for Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State that I prefer, since the group finds it demeaning), called on Muslims to “smash [any Westerner’s] head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”  Comprehensive fellow, covers all bases.

So it wouldn’t be in the realm of the unreasonable to imagine that, whatever the mental state of the Dijon driver, Islamism played a distinct role in his rampage.  Yet reluctance to use the “I”-word, like that evidenced by the cautious French prosecutor, persists.

Equally persistent is the apparent desire, when Islamism is clearly implicated, to find other “root causes” for the acts of Arabic-shouting stabbers, shooters and bombers, and to relegate Islamism to some secondary role.  We hear that the mayhem was the result of things like mental illness, or that the attackers’ real problems were that they were “social misfits,” “impoverished,” “disaffected youths,” seeking a “cause” to give their lives “meaning” (a usually sublime word, here demoted to a state of utter ugliness).

Such contentions, in particular the last one, may hold some truth in some cases.  William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar, contends that there are many socially inept people “who have no organizational ties to ISIS,” and are not religious at all in their personal lives but who readily murder in the name of Islam.  He calls them “ISIS-ish” and describes them as “rebels looking for a cause.”

But that doesn’t explain calculated Islamist killers like Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was a popular college student; Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood killer, who was an army doctor; San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook, who lived the comfortable life of a suburbanite; the Orlando mass murderer Omar Mateen, who worked for a security firm; or the Bangladeshis who killed 20 at a cafe in Dhaka last month, who were members of a privileged elite.  Or Adel Kermiche, who recently slit the throat of a priest during a church prayer service in Normandy and was described by his uncle as “normal… good… He went to school, he was like you and me. He had friends…”

Then, though, there is the discordant fact that not all mass mayhem is Islamism-inspired.  Neither 1999’s Columbine massacre, 2007’s Virginia Tech shootings, 2012’s Aurora mass murder nor last year’s attack on a black church in Charleston had any Islamic connection.

So what, in the end, is the enemy?  Islamism? Mental illness? Poverty?  Privilege? Racism? Disaffection?

We prefer our crises neat, simple, comprehensible.  But the murderous violence plaguing the world today isn’t any of those things.  And, while we may be comforted – if such a word can be used here – to imagine that the mass murder buck stops squarely at some particular group, it doesn’t.

Even if so much mayhem today is committed in the name of Islam, most Muslims do not seek to harm anyone.  Most mentally ill aren’t in the least violent.  Most poor people don’t seek to wreak havoc, and neither do most privileged ones. Most racists are content to nurture their antipathies privately.  Most disaffected or socially inept just suffer in silence.

To be sure, the Islamist threat, from not just Daesh but Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbolla, Boko Haram and others, is large, looming and real.  An ideology that fuels so much killing, and that exults in cold-blooded murder, needs to be fought by civilized humanity in every way.

But the version (or, many Muslims would say, perversion) of Islam represented by groups like those in the previous paragraph, still isn’t the essence of the ultimate enemy, something larger that has infected not only the Muslim world but the minds of all sorts of others.

It is ra, evil, the outgrowth of the bechira Hashem has bestowed on human beings.  It plagues our imperfect world in an assortment of guises and infiltrates those receptive to it. It finds portals, ways of seeping into human movements and human beings, of fostering hatred and disdain for life.

Which is not to imply that we shouldn’t fight all of that ultimate enemy’s contemporary manifestations.  Only that, as we do, we not lose sight of the bigger picture, and our role as ovdei Hashem, in changing it.

© 2016 Hamodia

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Trump and The Jewish Question

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“The anti-Semitism that is threaded throughout the Republican Party of late goes straight to the feet of Donald Trump.”  That, according to Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then-chair of the Democratic National Committee.  Mr. Trump, she added, has “clearly demonstrated” anti-Semitism “throughout his candidacy.”

Evidence proffered for the Republican nominee’s alleged Jew-hatred includes the now-famous image disseminated by the Trump campaign, which depicted Hillary Clinton accompanied by mounds of money and a six-pointed star.  The image, it turned out, had been borrowed from a white supremacist website.

Then there is the candidate’s speech to a group of Republican Jewish donors in which he said that he didn’t want their money (a sentiment that drew praise from Louis Farrakhan, not otherwise a Trump supporter).  And the fact that Mr. Trump has been endorsed by people like David Duke.

More recently, when a Jewish former Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, spoke at the Republican national convention, a torrent of anti-Semitic comments spilled onto the comments section of a livestream of the event.  They included praise for Hitler, ym”s, images of yellow stars accompanying the epithet “Make America Jewish Again” and comments like “Ban Jews.”

One needn’t be a supporter of Mr. Trump, though, to recognize that the anti-Semitism charges against him are seriously, forgive me, trumped up.  In fact, they’re nonsense.

That he has an Orthodox-converted Jewish daughter and a Jewish son-in-law (and three grandchildren, whom he often refers to as his Jewish progeny), with all of whom he is close, should itself be enough to put the charge to rest.

If more is needed though, well, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, Steve Mnuchin, and general counsel, Jason Greenblatt, are both observant Jews.  The latter, who has worked for Trump since the mid-1990s, is one of the candidate’s top advisers on Israel and Jewish affairs.  And another top Trump adviser has said that Trump backs an Israeli annexation of all or parts of the West Bank.  The candidate once received an award from the Jewish National Fund and served as grand marshal of the New York Israel Day parade.

I’m not sure what David Duke or Louis Farrakhan make of all that, but such people, in any event, don’t traffic in facts.

I remind readers that not only does Agudath Israel of America not endorse or publicly support candidates, neither do I as an individual – the role in which I write this column.  I am concerned only with what I perceive to be truth and fairness.

Mr. Trump cannot be blamed, either, for support he has received from unsavory corners.  He may or may not be happy with haters’ support (politics, after all, being, above all else, about votes).  But he has clearly disavowed the sentiments of Duke and company, and can’t be expected to respond each time a malignant mind embraces his candidacy.

Depending on one’s own personal constitution, Mr. Trump may seem refreshing or revolting; his policies, sensible or seditious; his demeanor, exhilarating or unbalanced.  But his alleged anti-Semitism is unworthy of anyone’s consideration.

What is, though, worth noting is the aforementioned malevolence, the packs of dogs who hear and respond to imaginary Jew-hate whistles.

As we go about our daily lives, unburdened by the angst and terror that were part of our forbears’ lives over millennia in other lands, it’s easy to imagine that the land of the free is free, too, of Jew-hatred.  Then come times, like the current one, when our bubble is burst.

Bethany Mandel is a young, politically conservative, Jewish writer.  After she penned criticism of Mr. Trump, a tsunami of spleen spilled forth.

Among what she estimates to be thousands of anti-Semitic messages aimed at her were suggestions like “Die, you deserve to be in an oven,” and depictions of her face superimposed on the body of a Holocaust victim.

“By pushing this into the media, the Jews bring to the public the fact that yes, the majority of Hilary’s [sic] donors are filthy Jew terrorists,” wrote Andrew Anglin in the Daily Stormer, a site named in honor of the notorious tabloid published by Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher, ym”s.

Though it’s disconcerting to perceive, beneath the verdant surface of our fruited plain, some truly foul and slimy things, it’s important, even spiritually healthy, to do so.

Because, amid our protection and our plenty, we are wont to forget that we remain in galus.  And that’s a thought we need to think about, especially, the “three weeks” having arrived, this time of Jewish year.

© 2016 Hamodia

 

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abortion demonstration

Abortion Distortion

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With the Democratic and Republican platforms offering more polarized planks on abortion than ever, the issue of “reproductive rights” is, once again, well, birthed into the glare.

Also in the limelight of late are some misleading assertions about Judaism’s attitude toward fetal life.

An op-ed of mine on the topic in Haaretz is here.

Or, to receive a copy of the piece, just request one, from rabbiavishafran42@gmail.com .

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