Category Archives: News

Too Many American Jews Still Believe Putin-style Lies

A piece I wrote about how Vladimir Putin’s transparent lies, recognized as such by most Americans, should sensitize all of us to the lies that have been swallowed on the domestic front by all too many of us. It can be read here.

If your access to the Haaretz site is blocked, you can send a request for a PDF of the article to [email protected] .

Comical Comparison

Have you read about how Ukrainians in Russia have planted bombs in public places, how they terrorize and murder Russian civilians, jumping unsuspecting Muscovites and viciously stabbing them? How they preach hatred for all Russians? How they declare their wish to push them all into the Arctic Ocean?

No? Well, that’s probably because, needless to say, nothing of the sort is remotely true.

And not all Molotov Cocktails are alike.

To read what I mean, please click here.

Diversity in the Court!

A sour taste was left in some mouths back in January, after Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer announced his retirement from the Court and President Biden pledged to nominate a black woman to assume his seat.

Personally, I don’t care if the president sought a Samoan-born, hard of hearing, left-handed candidate to further diversify the Court. As long as the requisite credentials and talents were there, fine with me.

So, does Ketanji Brown Jackson, the president’s nominee, have what it takes to be a High Court judge?

My thoughts on the matter are here.

The Right to Not Speak

The U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t only prohibit government from preventing what we choose to say; it also prohibits its forcing a citizen to say what he doesn’t want to say. And a case that will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall — one with repercussions for some businesses in the Orthodox Jewish community — revolves around that concept.

To read about the case and the concept, please click here:

Letter and Response in Ami Magazine

Ami Magazine received a good number of letters about a column I wrote about the Ottawa trucker protest, wherein I noted some concerning elements that were part of it.  The magazine wanted to publish three of them and I offered a response. In the end, due to space considerations, only one letter was published, the following one, which, here, is followed in turn with my response:

Dear Editor: 

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Shafran wrote an article discussing the fact that it is inappropriate to determine a true impartial conservative standpoint on anything political lest the opposing side’s argument is hearkened and comprehensively reviewed. It is a very rational perspective I totally agreed with. But lately I have gotten the impression that Rabbi Shafran has taken it too far. His views have moved ever more to the left and it almost seems as if he’s grown a bias against the right wing, versus impartiality.  

There were, for example, his take on the radical steps taken by the AG against vocal parents and his smearing of only Republican politicians who used Holocaust analogies, while ignoring the long list of Democrats doing the same. So I wasn’t surprised at last week’s article condemning the massive truck protest in Canada, though I did think some disagreement was warranted.  

The unconstitutionality of these draconian vaccine mandates and those who raise the fact that it is illegal are dissociated, and the fact that James Bauder believes in some conspiracy theories doesn’t make his argument any less compelling. The right to protest on the other hand, however big a disruption to people’s lives or to commerce, is an elementary right in every democratic country.  

Yet in this article, it is somehow deemed more disquieting than a breach of the most basic of freedoms; being coerced via unconstitutional mandates and taxations to jab a widely speculated vaccine (however illogical the speculation) into one’s own body. The article also mentions how the word “freedom” has morphed “from when it meant the desire of slaves to live normal lives to… the refusal to help stem the spread of a disease.”  

So, needless to say, the dictionary was created long before this topic came up and actually defined the word “freedom” as the power to act, think or speak without hindrance and restraint. Only the left gets so stuck on slavery and racism with regard to anything and everything.  

Now, the response Canada has taken is heavily outrageous. It definitely won’t help, for these protesters are so driven against vaccines that they’re ready to lose their job, getting arrested probably won’t deter them either. But there is a large-scale difference between being arrested for clogging up the traffic purposefully in Ottawa, even the minority protesting with hateful slogans, and those committing acts of violence. And that’s not happening here.  

The kind of language and activity that has now been invoked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada, is actual tyranny. The use of the Emergency Act in order to clear protesters off the streets, is something that in the United States would receive heavy consternation on a major-scale. When Senator Tom Cotton wrote an op-ed in the New York Times suggesting that rioters be cleared off the streets via the use of the US military if need be, the entire left went so insane that the op-ed editor for the paper was fired for the crime of having printed that op-ed. And he was talking about rioters, he wasn’t talking about protesters, he wasn’t talking about people marching peacefully on the street, yet he was so strongly censured.  

Moshe U. 

Los Angeles, CA

Response

Dear Reb Moshe,

First and foremost, thank you for sharing your perspective. I write to stimulate thought; and responses, positive or otherwise, indicate I’ve been successful.

To some of your points:

I am neither on the “left” nor on the “right.” I’m not into clubs and I eschew groupthink, the yield of partisanship. I engage topics by reading varied viewpoints, doing rigorous fact checking and formulating my own opinion. You can find very “conservative” articles of mine on issues like assisted suicide and public school prayer at Fox Opinion; similar ones about moral issues and feminism in Forward; and about discriminatory Covid restrictions at NBC-THINK. But I don’t automatically endorse what any political party or philosophy may embrace.

If my research on any particular issue leads me to a different conclusion from others’, well, that means that… I have a different opinion. Please don’t shoot.

The “draconian vaccine mandates” in Canada are neither draconian nor, precisely speaking, mandates. Nor have Canadians been “coerced” or been subjected to “egregious human rights violations.” Our neighbor to the north has not held Canadians down and vaccinated them against their will, which would arguably be a violation of their rights. It has simply extended a border-crossing vaccine requirement to include truckers, who most certainly do interact with other people during their runs, deliveries and pick-ups. That is not a curtailment of freedom, but a responsibility placed on citizens intended to protect others. One might well feel that the new rule was unnecessary or even objectionable. But one might feel otherwise, too. There can be, and often are, two different reasonable positions on a topic.

There is indeed a right to protest in Canada, as in our country. But all rights have limits. Police in both countries routinely move demonstrators, even with force, when they become disruptive of others’ rights. And Canada waited several weeks, during which Ottawans endured noise and the inability to get around, before obtaining a judge’s approval, warning the truckers to disband and only then clearing them out.

If my invocation of slavery in America to illustrate the morphing of the word “freedom” as it is used politically these divisive days was somehow offensive, let me replace that example with the freedom Hashem granted Klal Yisrael from their shibud in Mitzrayim. Contrast that oppression with the plight of the truckers.

And speaking of racism, a useful thought experiment would consist of our imagining that the Canadian truck protest was about (real or perceived) mistreatment of African-Canadians, and sponsored by a BLM group. Would you champion a weeks-long disruption of lives and commerce, and be so outraged at someone who pointed out the disturbing record of the organizers, or the ugly actions of some of the demonstrators? If so, then at least you’re consistent. If not, well, then… you’re not.

Mr. Trudeau’s invoking of the emergency powers act, later endorsed and extended by the Canadian House of Commons, took place after my column was submitted for publication. I didn’t find it egregious, though, and, incidentally, I felt the same way about Mr. Cotton’s suggestion, and felt that the criticism of him was wrong. 

The reason I wrote my column was just to point out some disconcerting facts about some of the protesters and one of their officials that I felt were likely unknown to readers.

Some others:

• Aside from the Nazi flag and multiple Confederate and QAnon ones, and from the protester who danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, others desecrated the statue of celebrated cancer research activist Terry Fox with political and anti-vaccine signs; and others urinated on the National War Memorial. Signs with angry obscenities abounded. Numerous photos and videos show the less-than-“heartfelt and touching” signs.

• Polling firm Innovative Research Group found (in a survey from Feb. 4-9) that a mere 29 percent of Canadians expressed support for “the idea of the protest” while 53 percent disapproved. A separate survey by Léger, released on February 8, found that 62 percent of Canadians oppose “the message that the trucker convoy protests are conveying of no vaccine mandates and less public health measures.”

• Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, a police watchdog, is investigating two injuries among the thousands of protesters, both having occurred after a crowd refused to disperse. Only one injury was serious, that of a 49-year-old (not, as another letter writer claimed, a83-year-old) woman, and it has not yet been determined whether a horse struck her or she was knocked down by other protesters amid the commotion. No one was (as the letter writer claimed) “trampled.”

• 13 people connected to the trucker protest in Alberta were found with more than a dozen long guns, hand guns, ammunition and body armor.

Again, my thanks for sharing a different perspective, which, even in disagreement, I fully respect. I can only ask that you give the same consideration to my perspective, and the facts I have offered in its support. And that you accept my sincere assertion that I stand not on “the left” nor on “the right,” but rather where the facts and my best shot at objective judgment take me.

The Collision Course

The case of Quintez Brown, the man who entered Louisville, Kentucky mayoral candidate Craig Greenberg’s office and opened fire on Mr. Greenberg and others present with a 9mm Glock handgun re-raises the issue of the nexus that seems to exist between at least some types of mental illness and rabid, violent antisemitism.

My thought on the matter is at https://www.amimagazine.org/2022/02/23/the-collision-course/

The Vehemence Virus

You never know what sets some people off.  Back in 2015, when I dared to write that the U.S. remaining as a partner in the Iran Deal might be better than what might happen if we withdrew from it (how’d that work out?), I received a bit of pushback. But it was nothing like the raw outrage that was expressed in the wake of my recent Ami Magazine piece about, of all things, the Ottawa trucker protest.

Letters emailed to Ami and me were strikingly strident. They included comments like “How can Ami write such a false liberal article?”; “I was horrified”; “First they came for the Truckers….”; “Omg. I just read this article. What a pack of lies!!!!!”; “I’m shocked Ami would post this without fact checking.  Shame on you!”; “Does Avi Shafran  work as Justin Trudeau’s press secretary?   Did he actually do any research or did he just copy paste from the msm news?”; “I have never experienced such straight out propaganda”; and “If the AMI [sic] cannot have the moral courage to remove Mr. Shafran from the pages then I will have no choice but to not bring it into my home.” (Talk about cancel culture.)

Accelerating Godwin’s Law, which only expects Nazi accusations to be the eventual yield of electronic discussions, one writer wasted no time in immediately raising the Third Reich: “Avi my friend, you are this generations [sic] Joseph Goebbels.”

Needless (I hope) to say, my article was entirely factual. Unlike a number of the letters, which made demonstrably false assertions (some of which will be debunked in a response to them planned for Ami’s next issue).

All that I had dared to reveal in my Ami piece was that there were people in the truckers protest movement (including the person who conceived it) with unsavory backgrounds; that a Nazi flag and Confederate flags had appeared over the weeks when truckers snarled downtown Ottawa; and that some protesters had engaged in rather ugly acts. I thought that such facts were worthy of readers’ consideration.

I conceded in the piece that “It isn’t hard, at least in theory, to summon some understanding of, if not quite sympathy for, the protesters, who don’t want to be made to vaccinate against their will.”

But, I continued, “it must be conceded, ‘freedom’ has morphed considerably from when it meant the desire of slaves to live normal lives or the goal of colonists to throw off the yoke of King George III to… the refusal to help stem the spread of a disease.”

That really riled up some people – vaccine skeptics, conspiracy theory adherents and one apparent racist, who took umbrage at my mention of slavery. 

I’ve written in public forums for many years, and have grown a thick skin. I am amused, not bothered, by verbal brickbats, especially when they are hurled by people who are clearly uninformed, filled with fury but short on facts.

But what does concern me, and deeply, is how part of the Orthodox world has not only become unhinged from reality, choosing to glom on to certain media and personalities to the exclusion of all others, but has also adopted the “outside world”’s enthusiastic embrace of outrage and acrimony over rational discussion. 

Anyone, of course, can disagree with me on anything, including my take on the protests. One can reasonably contend that the majority of the protesters were good people, that those who abused national monuments or called for violence against the government were outliers, that the right to protest a vaccine requirement for travel outweighs the effect of snarled traffic and noise.

But there is a civilized way, not to mention a Jewish way, to take issue with something.  And, distressingly, it seems that there are otherwise observant Jews who seem unable to digest that most important fact.

I offer no solutions to that unfortunate development. I just hope that more people, especially those infected with the vehemence virus, come to recognize it for the plague it is. That will be a vital first step to curing it.

© 2022 Rabbi Avi Shafran

Blinded to One’s Own Bias

Talk about tone-deaf.

A teaser for an “investigative” article by “The Journal News,” which serves several New York counties and whose online moniker is “Lohud,” consisted of the image of a clenched puppetmaster’s hand wielding pencils with strings controlling silhouettes of children, perched atop a large pile of dollars. The caption reads: “Rabbi holds the strings on $76M for East Ramapo School District… Coming Feb. 9.

The paper has a long history of what critics contend is unfair reportage about Orthodox Jews in Rockland County. That the imagery of the teaser, though, promoted a long-dishonored antisemitic canard was unarguable.Two days after gobsmacked readers began contacting the paper, its executive editor, Mary Dolan, issued an apology, explaining that its teaser’s “words and imagery unintentionally featured an antisemitic trope.”

“Members of our team, including myself,” she asserted, “did not recognize the stereotype that degrades and demeans Jews in the image and accompanying language.”

It is good to know that the paper was willing to admit its misstep, but not so good to know that seasoned journalists were unfamiliar, if indeed they were, with the time-dishonored imagery of the Jew as a conspiratorial puppet master, sinisterly manipulating others. It was, of course, much employed by the Nazis, and the canard it represents have stoked not only past pogroms but recent attacks on Jews, as in the case of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, who, in 2018, killed 11 worshippers in the largest modern mass shooting against Jews in America.

The Journal News has something of a history of “exposing” supposed sins of “rabbis” in Rockland County, with regard to the allocation of funds by the East Ramapo school board to local schools. The area has many Orthodox Jewish residents, and some of them serve on the board. As of 2020, there were approximately 11,000 students attending public schools in the district, but 27,000 students attending private schools, mostly Jewish ones.

The teased story, Ms. Dolan noted, “raises questions” about “how officials” (presumably the “rabbi”) “have chosen to allocate millions of dollars in public funds.”

The story finally appeared, after a delay, and, indeed, it contained “raised questions” – in quotations from people with records of animus against Orthodox institutions and individuals. What it didn’t contain was any factual assertion of wrongdoings. Because there have been none.

Yes, federal funds have been used to support services to children attending Jewish schools. But that is entirely in accordance with state formulas and federal laws mandating the provision of textbooks, school transportation and special education services to all school children — yes, dear Journal News, even Jewish ones.

Parents of nonpublic school children pay federal and state taxes like any citizen, and that includes the property taxes that do much to fund localities’ schools. In fact, since not all governmental services provided to public schools and their students are constitutionally available to nonpublic schools and their students, parents of the latter receive less in return for their taxes than parents of public school students.

The article’s target was Rabbi Hersh Horowitz, the executive director of a local group called the Community Education Center,” and, before the article was published, he released a statement explaining that “over the past year, Lohud has repeatedly attempted to slander me personally, and my organization as a whole.”

He went on to note that all contracts awarded by the East Ramapo Central School District have been through a rigorous “Request for Proposal” process, devoid of any private lobbying efforts; that his organization has been audited by state agencies multiple times, with no findings of misdeeds; that its most recent contract was cleared of any conflict of interest by NYS Commissioner of Education, Betty Rosa; that the its allocations, to be distributed over ten years, is federally funded and specifically earmarked – by the federal government – for private school children.

And, defiantly, he declared that his organization “will continue, undeterred and undistracted, to provide myriad essential educational services to thousands of children in multiple districts attending private schools across Rockland and Orange County.”

The Journal News hit piece didn’t mention Bruce Singer, the school district’s appointed monitor. But, before the article was released, Mr. Singer told the daily Jewish paper Hamodia that the claims made in Rabbi Horowitz’s statement are “100%” accurate. Singer also criticized the reporter of the then yet unpublished article for “misrepresenting the truth.” He also told the reporter that Rabbi Horowitz’s organization had been the subject of many audits, “and there have always been outstanding comments regarding his operation.”

In her apology for propagating the antisemitic image in the teaser, Ms. Dolan took pains to condemn “all forms of antisemitism in all ways that it is expressed.”

It’s a nice sentiment. But it brings to mind something William Saletan once wrote: “There’s a word for bias you can’t see: yours.”

The above essay appears at Times of Israel, here.