Category Archives: Anti-Semitism

True Jews

You may know something about the Sicarii, or Sikari’im (or Sikrikim), the radical Jewish faction at the time of the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash.

What you may not know is that their name has been adopted by a small group of Californians who are part of a somewhat larger group of African-Americans who call themselves “Hebrew Israelites.”

The contemporary “Sicarii” hold that the Jewish People are imposters, and that descendants of Africans like themselves are the “true Jews.” They aim to “uplift disenfranchised blacks, Latinos and Native Americans” by teaching that they are the “true descendants of the ancient Israelites.” The group refers to white people in general as “deceivers” or “devils.” Stating the obvious, the Anti-Defamation League calls the Sicarii “anti-Semitic and racist.”

Members of the group are wont to create sidewalk and public space demonstrations of their beliefs and, recently, at one such regular rally in San Diego, a white passerby was allegedly knocked to the ground by one of the self-described “real Jews.”

The group’s leader, one Adonis Glaude (a.k.a. “Ahlazar BanLawya” and “Guerilla Hebrew”), denied that any of his disciples assaulted the passerby, and addressed those who contended otherwise as “you so-called Jews who are not the Jews… you’re the devil.” Helpfully, he added: “This is why we say what we say.”

A number of years ago, I came across a similar group in midtown Manhattan, where its members had set up shop – a makeshift stage and an impressive speaker system – in a pedestrian plaza.

The master of ceremonies was loudly inveighing against people of non-color. He was flanked by his two assistants dressed as he was, in colorful caps and robes adorned with Jewish symbols. Together, they angrily denounced Caucasians – with particular malice for “so-called Jews.” Occasionally, the main man would nudge one of his helpers who had missed a cue to read from the Bible in his hand. The addled assistant, once (or several times) so reminded, would then find the place in his own book and, pointing at it, read a pre-designated verse, stiltedly but with great enthusiasm.

Displayed nearby was a large board inscribed with the names of the “twelve tribes of Israel.” Opposite each was a novel identification: one of twelve African or Caribbean nationalities. Their citizens, the MC shouted, were the “real Jews.”

My immediate reaction was amusement. But then I thought about how tragic it was that beings created b’tzelem Elokim, capable of meaningful accomplishments, imagine themselves worthy of dignity only by belittling others, even stooping to adopt an identity not their own.

No point, I knew, in engaging the pitiable prophets in conversation. Their beliefs were fueled by fantasy, not fact. But I indulged in a little fantasizing myself, imagining what I would tell them if only I might find some crack in the wall of their whimsy.

I would share with them a secret: Klal Yisrael’s chosenness isn’t a trophy, a bed of laurels on which to rest. In the Jewish view of things, I’d explain, being chosen is less a badge than a charge. Yes, we Jews indeed consider our forebears’ merits as extending throughout the generations to encompass their descendants. But the bottom line is that being chosen is an obligation.

What’s more, I would tell them, our special status – unlike the supremacy preached by racists of whatever hue – is available to anyone, of any race, who both recognizes that fact and is sincerely willing to join the Jewish people and undertake its mission. One can, in other words, choose to be chosen.

But admission to the Jewish People requires sincerity and commitment, not placards and loudspeakers. It’s easy to strut about with skullcaps and shout, but undertaking the endeavor of Judaism – humbly assuming the holy yoke of the Torah’s commandments and Jewish observance – is in a different realm entirely.

Then, though, something else dawned. Chazal exhort us to “learn from every man.” Even from “Hebrew Israelites.”

For they are remarkable testimony to how coveted the name “Jew” is, even at a time (have there been others?) when the real “real Jews” are hated by so many. The Sicarii may have no clue about what being a Jew really means, but their desire to assume the mantle is still striking, and worth pondering.

What it should teach us born or properly converted Jews is just how special we really are, how desired is our very identity. And what it should inspire us to do is more seriously set ourselves to the holy mission of being what true Jews are meant to be.

© 2017 Hamodia

Blood of the Right Sort

During Germany’s accursed Third Reich, the U.S. immigration system severely limited the number of German Jews admitted to the country to about 26,000 annually. But even that quota was less than a quarter filled during most of the Nazi era, because of strict requirements put in place by the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Whether FDR’s personal sentiments about Jews – he once dismissed pleas on behalf of Jewish refugees as “Jewish wailing” and “sob stuff” – had anything to do with that policy can’t be known, but that they existed can’t be denied.

Nor can Mr. Roosevelt’s conviction that immigration should be limited to those who had “blood of the right sort.”

Back in February, President Trump famously admitted that “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” For some of us, at least, no less complicated is the issue of immigration.

Last week, the president embraced a proposal to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.

The plan is intended to stem the flow of newcomers to the U. S., in keeping with the president’s contention that the country has taken in too many low-skilled immigrants, to the detriment of American workers.

But there are studies that have shown that immigration does not have a negative effect on American jobs, and may even have a positive one. Some Republicans, in fact, are opposing the president’s initiative. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, for instance, asserted that “If this proposal were to become law, it would be devastating to our state’s economy, which relies on this immigrant work force.”

Many of us, mindful of the regular exhortations of Islamist fanatics that their followers infiltrate Western countries and kill “infidels,” and of the terrorist attacks we have all too often seen, may regard any restriction on immigration as something to celebrate. It isn’t 1938, after all, and Jews aren’t seeking refuge.

But we do well to bear in mind that, according to the Government Accountability Office, between September 12, 2001 and December 31, 2016, there were 23 fatal “Radical Islamist” attacks in the U.S., resulting in a total of 119 deaths (more than half, from two attacks, the San Bernardino and Orlando massacres), but fully 62 fatal “far-right violent extremist-motivated attacks” (although leading to “only” 106 deaths).

And to recognize that legal immigration to the U.S. is overwhelmingly from Mexico, China and India, not exactly hotbeds of Islamism. (Next on the list are the Philippines and Cuba.)

The president’s proposal should be of great concern to us. Under its terms, it would not even allow American citizens to sponsor their aged or infirm parents to immigrate to the United States.  And it is unclear whether it will provide any way to sponsor religious workers, who are very important to our community.

But beyond those practical concerns, and perhaps more important, it would be unseemly for a community like ours, whose recent forebears were immigrants, most largely unskilled and penniless, to publicly endorse new limits on immigration. Or even to feel comfortable about it to ourselves. Might hakaras hatov extend to intangibles like immigration policies? It’s hardly unthinkable.

Worthy of note, here, is the response given by Stephen Miller, the president’s policy adviser and long-time opponent of immigration, when a reporter asked him about some words at the base of the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Mr. Miller noted that “the poem that you’re referring to was added later… It’s not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

Indeed. The poem, “The New Colossus,” was written by Emma Lazarus, scion of German Jewish immigrants (long before the Nazi era), and was only later placed on a plaque at the statue.

It was referenced by rabid anti-Semite David Duke, who wrote: “As I looked into the American fight over immigration laws during the last 100 years, the driving force behind opening America’s borders became evident: It was organized Jewry, personified by the poet Emma Lazarus.”

For its part, the white nationalist website Stormfront includes an article titled “Give Me Your Huddled Masses – The Jewess who tried to destroy the U.S.!”

Jews (and Jewesses) have, of course, long been an important part of the American tapestry, as have natives of countries around the world. There is a need to ensure the safety of the citizenry, and vetting of potential immigrants is necessary – and is done.

But when considering new restrictions on legal immigration, we are wise to focus on facts, and to remember our own history in this great land.

© Hamodia 2017

In a Sane World…

Have you heard about the white family in Chicago that routinely vilifies the members of the black one across the street, calling them vile names, demanding that they move and hurling rocks through their windows? Where the black neighbors responded by putting up a fence at the edge of their property, to make it harder for the rocks to reach their house? And how the white folks, livid, called on all their friends and relatives, and white citizens everywhere, to mass at the black family’s house and voice their outrage over the despicable fence, and demand that it be removed?  And how the white mob turned into a violent riot?

No, you haven’t. Because (one hopes) it didn’t happen. But what you do likely know is that, after three Muslim terrorists killed two Israeli border policemen, members of the Druze community, at a gate to Har HaBayis, Israel placed metal detectors at the gates to the compound.

And that the Waqf, the site’s caretakers, along with the confederacy of brazen murderers known as Hamas, denounced the security measure as part of a “religious war” and a “defilement” of a holy place. The terrorist group called for a “day of rage” for Arab Muslims to vent their fury.

And vent they did, massing across Yerushalayim, screaming and shouting and attacking police officers. And a Palestinian knifed to death a 70-year-old man, his 46-year-old daughter and 26-year-old son during their Shabbos seudah in Halamish. (The murderer, shot by authorities, is being treated at Petah Tikva’s Rabin Medical Center.)

In a sane world, violent rage over metal detectors would barely pass as farce. In our world, though, it is reality.

The detectors, of course, are regular fixtures at airports, government buildings and myriad other places where tight security is called for. As Yerushalayim police commissioner Yoram Halevi pointed out, “When I go shopping on Friday I pass through a detector at the mall.”

But Azzam Khatib, the Waqf’s director, will have none of that. “We will never ever accept any changes in the mosque,” he declared, “and Israel has to put an end to this crisis by removing the metal detectors.”

Hamas’ official statement on the matter decried how Israel’s prevention of Muslims from practicing their faith “in complete freedom,” presumably by requiring them to walk through a metal detector, is “a dangerous escalation of the Zionists’ plans to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque and seize full control of it.”

The statement goes on to salute “the martyrs of Al Aqsa Mosque, [the] Al-Jabbarin family, who proudly sacrificed themselves.” Those would be the three murderers whose murderous actions were what required the metal detectors in the first place, and who were dispatched by Israeli police before they could wreak further mayhem.

For his part, the “moderate” Fatah’s Central Committee member Jamal Muhaisen chimed in with the unoriginal and incendiary sentiment that “What is happening in Jerusalem today is aimed at attacking al-Aksa Mosque.”  And Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that he is freezing all contacts with Israel.

The Palestinians’ bellicosity isn’t surprising. The very symbols they embrace tell us who they are. Fatah’s flag includes the image of a hand grenade and is graced with some blood-red Arabic text (probably not “give peace a chance”). Hamas’ logo is a pair of swords, not likely intended to evoke the image of filleting fish.

Over the past two years Palestinians have intentionally killed 45 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British tourist in stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks.

At this writing, Jared Kushner has reportedly met with Mr. Abbas, and was rebuffed by the Palestinian. No statement has emerged from the White House. In the previous imagined theoretical sane world, world leaders would be informing Abbas and company that metal detectors in sensitive public places is a no-insult no-brainer.

But whether the metal detectors remain or are removed [UPDATED: They have been removed], whether the Arab Muslim world will continue to howl and riot or will be brought to cheer [UPDATED: It is cheering] and put its rocks, bottles and firebombs away until it next feels affronted, its wild belligerence, tragically, will remain.

According to the police, the murderers of the Israeli Druze guards had stashed their weapons on Har HaBayis, whence they emerged and opened fire. Searching the mosques on the site afterward, police found dozens of knives, slingshots, batons, metal spikes, inciting material and ordnance.

And what, to the Palestinian mind, “defiles” a holy place? Weapons? Hateful material?

No. Metal detectors.

© 2017 Hamodia

Open Season on the Orthodox

The description of the scene fairly leapt off the page: Shabbos at the Kosel, people davening, a paraplegic in a motorized wheelchair, a group of Orthodox Jews approaching…

“…like a big-league pitcher [one religious Jew] cocked his arm and flung the rock at the man in the wheelchair. The rock hit him in the middle of his forehead, his neck reeled back and blood oozed down this face… Then the adorable little children, who only seconds ago were throwing candy [at a bar-mitzvah boy] turned into savages and started picking up rocks and hurling them at the man. Two of them grabbed the brightly colored prayer shawl from around the man’s neck and cracked it like a whip in his face.

“Some Americans tried to intervene but were themselves stoned. Nearby guards stood by, apparently assuming that the man was getting just punishment for his crime: using electricity on the Sabbath.”

That report appeared in the November 15, 1994 issue of the Arizona State University daily paper, The State Press; it had been recommended for publication by the chairman of the university’s journalism department and the director of the school’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. It was, after all, compellingly written and important.

Only one problem: what it described never happened.

Eventually (although after being read by thousands), the report was retracted, when a law student dared to demand corroborating facts and none were found. Pressed for the truth, the aspiring 24-year-old senior journalism major who had penned the piece admitted that the entire account, from start to finish, had been the product of nothing but her own fertile imagination.

It was a particularly gross, but far from singular, example of journalistic malpractice in the realm of reportage about Orthodox Jews. In Moment Magazine’s February, 2000 cover story, which carried the title of this column, I detailed a number of more subtle, but perhaps even more disturbing for the fact, journalistic “liberties” taken by media when “reporting” on the Orthodox community. And in the years since, countless others have come down the pike.

Only last week, a video by an Israeli broadcaster, Reshet TV, depicted reporter Guy Hochman walking around Bnei Brak holding an Israeli flag. The video showed two chareidi motorcyclists grabbing the flag and breaking it.

Another news organization, however, Kol Hazman, reported that the video had been orchestrated by Mr. Hochman himself. And an eyewitness recounted that, before the depicted incident, the reporter had walked “for four hours on the streets of Bnei Brak without being attacked.”

Then a man claiming to be one of the motorcyclists claimed he had been asked to break the flag as part of a “satirical skit,” and just wanted to be of assistance to the reporter.

At first, Reshet TV denied that the video had been manipulated. Several days later, however, the respected Israeli business newspaper The Marker reported that, apparently, it had been, and that the broadcaster had dismissed both Hochman and his editor.

Are there chareidim who act indecorously? Of course there are. But what does it say that media seek out misbehavior, and even, when they can’t find any, fabricate it?

Depressing, no? But we must remain hopeful that, even after so many years of anti-chareidi animus, haters might one day come to their senses.

Just before Pesach, a CNN program depicted Israeli chareidim as a threat to the country, as potentially doing to Israel what the mullahs did to Iran. I wrote an article for a secular Jewish publication pointing out the ridiculousness of that contention.

Most of the responses I received were positive. In the opposite category, though, was one from someone I’ll call E. S. (he signed his full name), a self-described Conservative-turned-Reform Jew. He called chareidim “an abominable blight upon world Jewry and an absolute curse within Israel,” and wants “the entire detestable bunch” to be driven out of Israel “with bayonets and bullets.”

There was more, too, but I’ll spare you. The degree and illogic of the loathing, though, seemed familiar; I remembered something, and decided to write him back.

After politely responding to various accusations he made, I wrote: “I’m heartened, though, by my knowledge that no less a luminary than Rabbi Akiva once remarked that, back when he was an ignoramus, he would have viciously bitten any Torah scholar he came across ‘like a wild donkey’.”

“So I retain hope,” I concluded, “that one day you, too, may have your mud-covered glasses wiped clean.”

His, and others’.

© 2017 Hamodia

Fear Itself

A navi I’m not, but, still, it was good timing. Several weeks back, at the height of the fears fomented by bomb threats against U.S. Jewish institutions, I wrote an article for an Israeli newspaper gingerly pointing out that, of the nearly 150 threats and building evacuations and searches, not a single bomb had been found.

All that is needed, I noted, to make an effective anonymous crank call, is an unlocked cellphone and a prepaid SIM card – and “using the internet to make an untraceable call is even easier.”

I pictured a shlub without much of a life making such calls, to wield “power” or get attention, “Maybe he is even capable of true violence,” I wrote, “but then again, maybe not.”

It turned out, of course, that many, if not most, of the threats were indeed baseless, although it wasn’t a shlub who made the calls (hey, I said I’m not a navi) but, apparently, an emotionally compromised individual in Israel.

Jew-hatred surely exists, even in the U.S. There are, as there have long been, bands of neo-Nazis, radical leftist “defenders of Palestine” and other assorted misfits with overheated imaginations preparing to wage war against an imagined Jewish menace.

I’m personally acquainted with anti-Semitism, too. When I was a youngster in Baltimore, during recess one day, a group of non-Jewish neighborhood boys asked my classmates and me if they could join our baseball game. Nice kids that we were, we said sure. Once at bat, though, the opposing team suddenly lost interest in the game and turned our own Louisville Slugger bats against us. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

And a few years later, as a teen, when my father and I would walk to shul, we’d regularly hear “Heil Hitler” shouted at us by kids. In fact, mere months ago, the same phrase was aimed at me by one of a group of boys on a city bus. (I regret not having calmly asked him his name and tried to turn the encounter into a “teaching moment.” Alas, I was so disgusted, all I could summon to say to him was a frustrated “What in the world is wrong with you?”)

But it must be admitted – and appreciated – that, unlike in some European countries, there is very little actual violence against Jews in America today. In 2015, the ADL cited fully seven cases of stones or eggs having been thrown, or bb-pellets shot, at Jews – nationwide, over the course of the year. The sort of serious anti-Jewish knifings, shootings and arsons that have occurred elsewhere are simply not part of the American scene.

And as far as mainstream America is concerned, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that Jews are the most warmly regarded religious group in the country. My personal experience, despite outliers like the boy on the bus, corroborates that.

More emblematic of America than name-callers or stone-throwers were the non-Jewish riders of the subway in New York City in February who, encountering anti-Semitic graffiti on a subway map, banded together to erase it. Or the Montana town that, faced with a planned anti-Jewish march nearby, issued a resolution “denouncing hate, bigotry, and intolerance, which today masquerade under euphemisms such as ‘white nationalism’ and the ‘alt-right.’”

We Jews, for good reason, live our lives against a subtle backdrop of fear, even in countries as wonderful as the one we American Jews are fortunate to call home at present. But keeping perspective is always proper. One of the k’lalos, after all, in the Tochachah in parshas Bechukosai (Vayikra 26:36) is that we will flee at “the sound of a rustling leaf,” that we’ll perceive enemies where there aren’t any. And that is a bane, not an ideal.

There are times for anxiety, to be sure. But there are also times, too, to feel deeply thankful for our security. The words many attribute to R’ Nachman miBreslov, that, on the narrow bridge that is the world, the main thing is “not to be afraid at all,” are not, in fact, his words. What he wrote (Likutei Tinyana, 48) was not “lo l’fached”—“[one should] not fear,” but, rather, “shelo yispached” – “[that one] not become fearful,” not, in other words, frighten himself.

I’m no Pollyanna when it comes to potential danger for Jews. I’m not in the “It can’t happen here” camp. Of course “it” can. Jewish fortunes have turned on dimes throughout history.

It just isn’t happening now, and it behooves us to reflect on that great brachah.

© Hamodia 2017

Hypocritic Oath

A nineteen-year-old Israeli citizen of Arab ethnicity was among the 39 people killed in the recent attack of an Istanbul club, for which the terrorist group Islamic State claimed pride of ownership.

Lian Zaher Nasser was from the Israeli Arab city of Tira, and, since she had no travel insurance, her family asked the local municipality for help in bringing her remains home. The municipality turned to the Israeli government, and the Interior Ministry immediately agreed to fund the return of the body and made the necessary arrangements. ZAKA coordinated the logistics and transportation.

The young woman’s funeral took place in her home town. Among the speakers was Israeli-Arab Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi (Joint Arab List). In his eulogy, he said that the Islamic State terror group “is not Islam, and most of the victims of its crimes are Muslims…” The entire Arab public, he added, “is shocked and feels great sadness and anger” over the attack, which he rightly called “loathsome.”

Dr. Tibi, a doctor who trained at Hebrew University, is often described as “witty” and “charming.” A vocal Palestinian nationalist, he opposes Islamism and, as per his funeral comments, the terrorism it embraces.

He is also a hypocrite.

At a Palestinian Authority event on September 1, 2011, which was broadcast by Palestinian Authority television, Mr. Tibi, who served for several years as a political advisor to Yasser Arafat and wearing an Arafat-style keffiyeh slung over his neck, told his audience: “Nothing is more exalted than those whom Israel dubs Terrorists-Shahids.”

Shahid” is usually translated by media as “martyr.” The English word, however, bespeaks a passive death, and its wide use by both “Palestinian nationalists” and Islamists like Islamic State alike includes people who are dispatched in the process of trying to kill others in the name of either ideology. In the Arab world, suicide bombings are popularly called amaliyat istishadiah, or “acts through which one became a shahid.”

Mr. Tibi, at that same event, explained that “The shahid is the trailblazer, drawing with his blood the path to freedom and liberation.” And he offered his blessings “to the thousands of shahids in the homeland and abroad, and… to our shahids and yours, inside the green line, those the occupier wants to dub terrorists, while we say there is nothing more exalted than those who died for the homeland.” Deaths, that is, resultant from the act of murder. After all, despite all the Arab propaganda, Palestinians are not killed for passive resistance. And, as was seen in recent days, in the case of Sgt. Elor Azaria, who illegally dispatched a terrorist whose absence from the world left it a better place, when an Israeli soldier, in a rare occurrence, uses lethal force where it wasn’t necessary, he is put on trial and convicted.

This past July, Mr. Tibi paid a visit to the Hadarim prison, to pay his respects to Marwan Barghouti, the terrorist responsible for a number of terrorists attacks in 2002, including one at a gas station in Givat Ze’ev, in which 45-year-old woman was murdered, one in Ma’aleh Adumim and another one at the Seafood Market restaurant. He was acquitted for 33 other murders of which he was accused; there was insufficient evidence of his direct involvement.

Currently serving several consecutive life sentences, he continues to regularly incite violence against Israel from his prison cell.

Ahmed Tibi’s visiting a convicted and unrepentant terrorist dovetails (if any word with “dove” in it might be appropriate here) well with his words at the 2011 gathering. He is a wolf in doctor’s white coat (or Knesset attire). He likely has some high-minded response to the question of how he can loudly and harshly condemn the killing of civilians by Islamic State but celebrate the killing of civilians by Palestinian “trailblazers.”

Maybe he would try to make some distinction between religiously-fueled murder and politically-fueled murder.

Maybe he would describe Palestinians’ aching for a homeland (other than Jordan, Syria and Gaza) as something that justifies wanton mayhem.

But, were he an honest man, not just a charming one, he might just admit that the key to his distinction lies not in such philosophical assertions but rather in the very words he used during his eulogy for Miss Nasser – his reference to the fact that “most of the victims” of Islamic State’s “crimes are Muslims” and the fact that most of the victims, and all of the targets, of Palestinian “freedom fighters” are Jews.

© 2017 Hamodia

The Boys Who Cried “Anti-Semite!”

The sobbing of some political liberals, including, of course, many Jews, that ensued after the presidential election results were tallied has turned into wild wailing with the appointment of Stephen Bannon as senior counselor to the president-elect.

Those observers were shocked enough back in August, when Mr. Bannon, the executive chairman of the politically conservative Breitbart News, was put in charge of Donald Trump’s campaign.  Now, though, mouths are foaming.

Partisan condemnation of Mr. Bannon’s recent appointment was expected.  169 House Democrats signed a letter to Mr. Trump characterizing his new appointee as a purveyor of anti-Semitism, misogyny and racism.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called him “a champion of white supremacy.”

In the Jewish world, the Union for Reform Judaism accused Mr. Bannon of being “responsible for the advancement of ideologies antithetical to our nation, including anti-Semitism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia.”

The Anti-Defamation League said that Bannon is “hostile to core American values.”

Forward editor Jane Eisner, asserted that with Bannon’s appointment, “the anti-Semitic sentiments of the far right are closer to the center of political power than they have been in recent memory.”

And the National Council of Jewish Women pronounced its verdict: “Bannon and his ilk must be barred from his [Trump] administration.”

The actual evidence for labeling Bannon an anti-Semite, or enabler of anti-Semites, or racist, or all-around monster is slim. No, actually, nonexistent.

Not that a yeoman’s effort hasn’t been expended to make the case.  The news organization that Mr. Bannon has headed since the death of its founder Andrew Breitbart in 2012 is certainly not to many people’s tastes (my own included).  It makes famously right-leaning Fox News seem like a liberal lamb.  And it has a penchant for putting provocative headlines on entirely reasonable (if arguable) opinion pieces.

Headlines like: “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.”  That Breitbart piece, written by political conservative David Horowitz, was an unremarkable gripe about the fact that Mr. Kristol, a dean of American conservatism, had written critically about Donald Trump.  Mr. Horowitz noted how “Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, ISIS, and Hamas” have “openly sworn to exterminate the Jews,” and shared his feeling that the Obama administration was not adequately facing that threat to Jews and to America. “To weaken the only party that stands between the Jews and their annihilation, and between America and the forces intent on destroying her,” Horowitz wrote, “is a political miscalculation so great and a betrayal so profound as to not be easily forgiven.”

Whatever one might feel about that article’s thesis, it was run-of-the-mill  intra-Republican kvetching and not, by any measure, anti-Semitic.

Another piece of “evidence” for Bannon’s malevolence is the claim of his former wife, in divorce documents, that, while seeking a private school for his children, he made a remark about “spoiled” Jewish children.  Needless to say, unsupported (and denied) accusations in divorce proceedings deserve no one’s attention.

The strongest charge against Mr. Bannon is his statement in an interview last summer that Breitbart News is “the platform for the alt-right.”

But, as has been noted before in this space, the “alt-right” means different things to different people, and includes widely disparate elements.

What those elements generally share is a dedication to family values; a reverence for Western civilization and rejection of multiculturalism.  The fringes of the movement, though, can include racism, opposition to all immigration and anti-Semitism. The fringes of the “progressive” wing of American politics, too, include Jew-haters (though they dress up their hatred as “anti-Israel” sentiment).

Imagining that Mr. Bannon meant to include the alt-right’s tattered fringes in his statement is ungenerous, and unsupported by the actual content of Breitbart offerings.  As far back as 2014, he explicitly predicted that racism would eventually get “washed out” of right-wing movements.

As it happens, not only was the late Mr. Breitbart Jewish, but the news service carrying his name was started by a Jewish lawyer and businessman, Larry Solov, who conceived it during a trip he made to Israel with Mr. Breitbart.  It was to be “a site,” Mr. Solov wrote, “that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel.”  Which it has been.

I don’t automatically accept the veracity of what I read at Breitbart, or in The New York Times.  Every news medium, whether it admits it or not, has its slant and partialities.  A semblance of accuracy can only be gained by reading, and balancing, a variety of media, fully aware of each one’s biases.

Racism and anti-Semitism are malign, to be sure.  So, though, is, carelessly and without evidence, casting labels like “racist” or “anti-Semite” about.

© Hamodia 2016

The Sukkah Still Stands

There is simply no describing the plaintive, moving melody to which Yiddish writer Avraham Reisen’s poem was set.  As a song, it is familiar to many of us who know it thanks to immigrant parents or grandparents.  And, remarkably, the strains of “A Sukkeleh,” no matter how often we may have heard them, still tend to choke us up.

Based on Reisen’s “In Sukkeh,” the song, really concerns two sukkos, one literal, the other metaphorical, and the poem, though it was written at the beginning of the last century, is still tender, profound and timely.

Thinking about the song, as I – and surely others – invariably do every year this season, it occurred to me to try to render it into English for readers unfamiliar with either the song or the language in which it was written.  I’m not a professional translator, and my rendering, below, is not perfectly literal.  But it’s close, and is faithful to the rhyme scheme and meter of the original:

A sukkaleh, quite small,

Wooden planks for each wall;

Lovingly I stood them upright.

I laid thatch as a ceiling

And now, filled with deep feeling,

I sit in my sukkaleh at night.

 

A chill wind attacks,

Blowing through the cracks;

The candles, they flicker and yearn.

It’s so strange a thing

That as the Kiddush I sing,

The flames, calmed, now quietly burn.

 

In comes my daughter,

Bearing hot food and water;

Worry on her face like a pall.

She just stands there shaking

And, her voice nearly breaking,

Says “Tattenyu, the sukkah’s going to fall!”

 

Dear daughter, don’t fret;

It hasn’t fallen yet.

The sukkah’s fine; banish your fright.

There have been many such fears,

For nigh two thousand years;

Yet the little sukkah still stands upright.

As we approach the yomtov of Sukkos and celebrate the divine protection our ancestors were afforded during their forty years’ wandering in the midbar, we are supposed – indeed, commanded – to be happy.  We refer to Sukkos, in our tefillos as zman simchoseinu, “the time of our joy.”

And yet, at least seen superficially, there seems little Jewish joy to be had these days.  “State actors” openly threaten acheinu bnei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.  Enemies bent on killing Jews attack them, there and elsewhere in the world.  Here in America, an ugly current of anti-Semitism emerges at times to remind us that it thrives in the dirt underfoot.  The internal adversaries of intermarriage and assimilation continue to intensify and take their terrible toll.

The poet, however, well captured a Sukkos-truth.  With temperatures dropping and winter’s gloom not a great distance away, our sukkah-dwelling is indeed a quiet but powerful statement: We are secure because our ultimate protection, as a people if not necessarily as individuals, is assured.

And our security is sourced in nothing so flimsy as a fortified edifice; it is protection provided us by Hakodosh Boruch Hu Himself, in the merit of our avos, and of our own emulation of their dedication to the Divine.

And so, no matter how loudly the winds may howl, no matter how vulnerable our physical fortresses may be, we give harbor to neither despair nor insecurity.  Instead, we redouble our recognition that, in the end, Hashem is in charge, that all is in His hands.

And that, as it has for millennia, the sukkah continues to stand.

A Mid-East Inconvenient Truth

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