Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I had my meeting with the Pope today at his Wednesday audience. Let me first give you an idea of the setting.
There were approximately fifteen thousand people from all over the world gathered in St. Peter’s Square speaking an untold number of languages. The sun shone very brightly. The day was perfect. The Pope arrived in his pope-mobile to great excitement and fanfare. His vehicle was open-top. I assumed they didn’t need the protective bubble that has become so iconic on TV because there was security screening for each person present. As the Pope drove among the crowd they shouted ‘Viva Papa - Long live the Pope.’ There seemed to be genuine affection and excitement among the Catholic pilgrims who had gathered from all over the world.
The pope drove up the incline and arrived in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The people who were there to meet him sat on both sides of his dais. There were clergymen from all over the world: Cardinals, Bishops, and priests from the Catholic Church. I sat next to three Anglican Bishops from the UK. With me was my friend Gary Krupp, head of the Pave the Way Foundation, who had arranged the visit and several of his officers.
The Pope read greetings in five languages and an American priest welcomed our group publicly from the Pope’s dais. The Pope waved to us.
When the formal ceremony, lasting about two hours ended, the Pope came off his dais and moved along the receiving line to greet us. Gary introduced me to the Pope warmly with my formal titles. I gave the Pope a special gift we had gotten for him. It was a beautiful dual-time Phillip Stein watch. The Pope lit up when he saw it and said, “Look, it has two faces on it,” which, as it happened, was the perfect introduction for me to share the issues I had prepared. I said, “Pope Benedict, it’s an honor to meet you. This watch has the times of Rome and Jerusalem on it, signifying the eternal friendship between our two faiths. I also hope that when you wear it the future of the Jewish people will always be on your mind, as Israel struggles with existential threats, like Iran, who threaten to wipe it off the map. You’re voice against these threats is essential, your holiness.”
He said ‘Yes,’ nodding his head in agreement, and I continued.
“In addition, Your holiness, the dual clock face is a symbol of my request that you please join us in establishing a global family dinner night which we call, ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night.’ It involves what we call the triple two. Two hours of uninterrupted time that parents give their kids, inviting two guests, just as I am your guest today, and discussing two important subjects.”
While I said this Pope Benedict again nodded.
I concluded, “Your holiness, it’s so important that our two religions work together on this.” He said warmly, “We will work together. We will work together.” He held my hand while we spoke. The watch we gave the Pope as a gift has special resonance because the president of the company that made it, Will Stein, is an orthodox German who converted to Judaism.
I had invited my close friends David Victor, Chairman of the Board of AIPAC, and Rodney Adler, to the meeting with the Pope. Rodney emphasized to the Pope the importance of partnering with me on creating an international family dinner night and how much he believed in the idea. The Pope again warmly agreed. David then respectfully, but firmly, pressed the Pope on the need to address the Iran crisis, ‘a regime which denies the Holocaust and threatens to destroy Israel and is building nuclear weapons.’ The Pope said, “I have spoken about it and will continue to.”
As soon as the meeting was over, I was granted another meeting with Cardinal Walter Casper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.’ Gary introduced me to the Cardinal and made a strong pitch for the importance of the worldwide Church partnering with us to create our international family dinner initiative. The Cardinal, a very pleasant priest from Germany who has been close friends with Pope Benedict for forty years, strongly endorsed the idea and related his memories of family dinners with his own parents.
I made the case to the Cardinal that the pedophile priest scandal has many influential American commentators skewering the Church for being an all-boys club, seemingly anti-family. It was essential, I argued, that the Church recapture its reputation as one of the world’s foremost champions of the family. He agreed emphatically and said he agreed that the Church should partner with us.
My friend David Victor then again brought up the threat that Iran poses to Israel. The Cardinal said that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the world. He asked David to write to him and Cardinal Bertone, the Cardinal Secretary of State, with suggestions of what could be done.
It was an exciting day. Five of my nine children were with me, as well as both my parents.
I’ll share more later, G-d willing.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. On May 14th he will publish his major work on Jewish values, Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. www.shmuley.com.
5.14.13 at 9:44 am | Has Stephen Hawking really left the company of. . .
1.18.13 at 10:28 am | It’s hard to believe that every day the news. . .
1.9.13 at 11:14 am | A few years ago I was out having dinner with my. . .
7.10.12 at 9:50 am | The most unpleasant people I have encountered in. . .
6.21.12 at 12:01 pm | I believe that the first African-American. . .
6.6.12 at 6:13 pm | Last night I was blessed to win the Republican. . .
5.14.13 at 9:44 am | Has Stephen Hawking really left the company of. . . (108)
1.21.11 at 12:42 pm | The best response thus far to Amy Chua’s screed. . . (23)
12.14.09 at 7:47 pm | On a recent debate about marital infidelity on. . . (9)
April 26, 2010 | 8:58 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Since the public announcement of my upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict this Wednesday at the Vatican, courtesy of my friend Gary Krupp, many of my close Jewish friends have expressed not approval but disappointment. ‘They blamed the pedophile priest scandal on Jews and compared the attacks on the Church to anti-Semitism. How could you, Shmuley?’ ‘The Pope was in the Hitler Youth and he wants to make Pope Pius XII, who never condemned the holocaust, into a saint.’ ‘The Church has always been anti-Semitic. You’re being used.’
Come now. Jewish insularity is the ultimate obstacle to the dissemination of Jewish values, while Jewish contempt for the non-Jewish world because of its past immorality and Jew-hatred is itself immoral and hateful. Pope Benedict is being kicked to the curb in nearly every part of the world. But I as a Jew do not forget that for all his failures in properly handing the abomination of pedophile Priests, for which the Church must atone and repent, Benedict has been a great friend to the Jewish community, visiting an unprecedented three Synagogues in four years as well as the State of Israel. And whom does it benefit to see a mighty Church fall? The millions of orphans the Church tends to worldwide? The schools it runs and the pupils it teaches? The hope its Priests give to the poor, especially in the third world?
I have been one of Pope Pius XII’s foremost critics in the entire world. But Benedict is not Pius and before we holler for his demise let’s recall that as the Cardinal Secretary of State he did more to extend the Church’s hand in friendship to other people’s and faiths than nearly anyone who preceded him.
There is much in Jewish law and tradition that could bring healing to the Church, beginning with the Jewish laws of modesty and sexual seclusion. In Judaism a man and woman who are not married are not allowed to be in a locked room together. When I was Rabbi to Michael Jackson I took this law and applied it his special circumstances. I told him that the only way he could rehabilitate his reputation, after the pedophile accusations against him, was to quite simply foreswear ever being alone with a child. I even grabbed Michael’s shoulders and made him promise me he would never seclude himself with a child not his own. And for the two years we were close to he stuck to the script. When he and I launched our initiative to help children, the focus was on working with their parents to prioritize their kids, rather than with the kids themselves. It wasn’t until Michael stupidly disregarded this simple advice and decided to share a bed – however platonically – with a young child and then brag about it on international TV that he was arrested and started the inexorable decline that ended in his death a few years later.
The Church should embrace the same straightforward rule. No priest should be allowed to be in alone with a child. Period. If a Priest needs to speak to a child alone, the door must never be locked and there must always be the possibility that they can be intruded upon by outsiders. If they walk in a park, it cannot be one that is empty of people. This way we’ll know that any Priest who breaks the guidelines will be punished whether or not they abuse a child. It would significantly curb the potential for any act of child molestation and might even discourage pedophiles from entering the priesthood in the first place.
But more importantly, it’s time for Jews and Catholics to work together to promote new values in America. While our country is gripped in an epidemic of materialism and an orgy of greed, the only values religion seems to talk about is opposition to gay marriage and abortion. But the emphasis on the negative is not going to create much that is positive. We need values that promotes family, strengthens marriage, inspires selflessness in children, and advances the cause of a purposeful life that makes us less obsessive about money and career.
This is why I wish to discuss with Pope Benedict the Catholic Church getting behind our ‘Turn Friday Night into Family Night’ initiative, the push for a global family dinner night. Imagine if all the world’s families – Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Atheist, Agnostic – sat down every Friday night and embraced our ‘Triple Two.” Parents giving their children two uninterrupted hours every Friday night, inviting two guests to teach the children sharing and hospitality, and discussing two important subjects rather than a movie or celebrity gossip. And Friday night is the one evening that unites all. It’s sacred already to Jews and Muslims. Up until Second Vatican Council it was a night where Catholics were forbidden to eat meat. And for the non-religious it’s the beginning of the weekend and sets the tone the activities that will follow. If the family gets together on Friday night, chances are they’ll do more stuff together on Saturday and Sunday as well.
This is the right time for the Catholic Church to own a global family dinner night. The pedophile priest scandal has reinforced the conclusion of some that the Church is an old boys club that at best makes concessions to the weakness of human nature by allowing men and women to marry. The ideal, however, is celibacy and childlessness. The Church must return to its previous posture as a champion of family and what better way than to mandate that all Catholic families worldwide do as Jesus did. Put the worldly stuff away on Friday nights and consecrate it as an evening of holiness and togetherness.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. His major book on the universal Jewish values that can enrich the lives of every man and woman, Renewal, will be published by Basic Books on May 14th. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
April 20, 2010 | 1:36 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
I was horrified to hear that there were South African Jews objecting to Judge Richard Goldstone attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Blocking a fellow Jew, let alone a grandfather, from a family’s religious celebration because of his opinions on Israel is disgraceful. I recall once that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that any Synagogue that bars a fellow Jew from entry ought to be shut down. We’re not Hamas, Hezbollah, or Fatah. We don’t summarily execute compatriots accused of collaborating with the enemy, as these terrorist organizations do to innocent Palestinians. We don’t character assassinate them either or banish them from our communities. Rather, where fellow Jews, like Goldstone, are harsh critics of Israel, we show them respect and deference and then destroy not them but their arguments in the cold light of fact and reason.
The Goldstone Report is a modern-day blood libel against the Jewish state and has been torn to shreds by expert international jurists, including Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard and Prof. Richard Landes, Director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. Among the many compelling arguments against Goldstone is the fact that his report failed to focus on Hamas initiating the war by firing thousands or terror rockets against Israeli cities, intentionally using women and children as human shields in order to draw Israeli attacks and then accuse them of killing civilians, and how Goldstone granted near-complete credulity to all Hamas claims while cynically deriding those of Israel. As Dershowitz expressed it, the Goldstone Report is ‘to any fair reader, a shoddy piece of work, unworthy of serious consideration by people of good will committed to the truth.’
But that does not make Goldstone an enemy of his people. Rather, I believe, Goldstone, like so many others, reactively chooses the side of the Palestinians not because he is a self-hating Jew but because he boorishly assumes that the weaker party in any conflict is necessarily the aggrieved party. During Israel’s invasion of Gaza to stop Hamas’ murderous rockets it was easy to look at Israel’s tanks and helicopters and view the Palestinians terrorists as helpless victims. By the same logic, however, the awesome military invasion of a million soldiers on the beaches of Normandy made the Nazis into peace-loving innocents, and American shock-and awe over Baghdad made Saddam into a blameless target.
Goldstone is a foolish ignoramus rather than a traitor to his people. We have to stop believing that anyone who is anti-Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic. That misguided notion is what led Israel to have such abysmal PR in the first place, assuming as it did that since these critics have an innate hatred of Israel there was no reason to rebut their arguments. The toxic result is that Israel has tragically failed to promote the justice of its cause in a well-organized PR offensive and the Arabs, in the greatest PR coup in history, have somehow convinced the world that six million vulnerable Jews are oppressing five hundred million oil-rich Arabs.
Upon my last visit to South Africa on a book tour I was warmly embraced by the South African media who told me that ‘a Rabbi as open-minded and universal’ as me ought to be bold enough to criticize Israel’s ‘apartheid’ policies toward the Palestinians. Many black South Africans view Israel like the Boer and British Europenan colonizers who oppressed the indigenous population prior to Mandella’s presidency in 1994. I could have easily dismissed them as anti-Semites. But I knew in my heart they were decent, G-d-fearing people who had never heard a robust defense of Israel and I seized the opportunity on TV and radio to make Israel’s case.
The Jews are very similar to black South Africans, I told them. Long ago we too lived peacefully in our land, in Israel. The Holy Land, as the New Testament makes clear, had Jews and no Arabs. Then the Romans, a brutal, European occupier destroyed our Temple and took us as slaves to Europe where we lived under brutal oppression for millennia while praying thrice daily for a return to our ancient homeland. In the Arab countries where many migrated, Sephardic Jews lived under Arab governments where they were further treated like black South Africans, second-class citizens, denied basic human rights and required to pay jizyah, the Koran-obligated poll tax. My father who grew up in Iran, remembers the humiliation of having Islamic shopkeepers refuse to take money directly from his impure Jewish hands. Likewise, Ashkenazi Jews, like their black South African counterparts who were stuffed into townships, were placed into ghettos in Europe and forced to live apart. Finally, the flowering of modern nationalist movements enabled the Jews to begin leaving these lands en masse and returning to their indigenous, ancestral homeland.
But even amid the Jewish dispersion after Rome’s conquest, a minority Jewish population retained an uninterrupted presence is Israel for more than three thousand years. We did not colonize the land but were always a part of it. And when the waves of European Jews began returning to the land in modern times, the land was virtually desolate. The Zionist pioneers did the laborious work of draining the swamps and making the desert bloom.
Far from being a white, colonial settlement, the establishment of Israel is analogous to American blacks who had been forcibly removed from Africa and returned to create the nation of Liberia. The obscene comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa also ignores the fact that Israel is the first country in history to airlift tens of thousands of black men, women, and children from Ethiopia to become free and full citizens within its borders.
Finally, I told my listeners, black South Africans who inspired the world with their capacity for peaceful coexistence could not be more different to the Palestinians who have tragically embraced hatred and terrorism. Nelson Mandela rose to become the foremost statesman in the world with his message of forgiveness and reconciliation. Yasser Arafat fathered international terrorism and stole millions of dollars from his poverty-stricken people.
In stupidly shunning people like Judge Goldstone we in the Jewish community are alienating those who need the light of Jewish values most.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. On May 14th he will publish his major work on Jewish values, Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. www.shmuley.com.
April 16, 2010 | 8:46 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
At middle age I have come to accept my limitations. Although I like to have an opinion on almost everything, I am conscious of the fact that I am not a legal scholar and do not understand all the complexities of the criminal case against Shalom Rubashkin, the former CEO of America’s largest kosher meat plant, Agriprocessors of Postville, Iowa.
But I am not a stupid man either. And I, and a heck of a lot of other fairly intelligent and educated people are scratching our heads as to why government prosecutors are requesting that Rubashkin, who has ten children, including an autistic son, and a reputation for enormous philanthropy, be given a life sentence in prison.
A life behind bars. The very words are ominous. Isn’t that reserved for society’s most heinous offenders? Life sentence has one conjuring images of rapists and murderers, international drug cartel kingpins and white-collar criminals guilty of gargantuan fraud, like Bernie Madoff.
What did Rubashkin do? After an INS raid on the plant that found hundreds of illegal immigrants, the company was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and Rubashkin, who had already been arrested for employing illegals, was subsequently found guilty of defrauding a bank and producing false invoices in order to keep the business going. There is no insinuation that he did any of this for personal profit or gain. Unlike Madoff, he had no Hamptons estate, no fancy yacht, and no Manhattan penthouse. By all accounts he and his family lived in incredibly modest circumstances.
Obviously, the Rubashkin story has been an enormous embarrassment to the American Jewish community in general and orthodoxy in particular. The largest kosher meat plant in the country employing hundreds of illegal immigrants? Engaging in bank fraud in order to remain a going concern? Falsifying invoices and misleading lenders? These are serious charges that go against both terrestrial and celestial law and constitute actions that neither man nor G-d can condone. The expected flight of Jewish leaders and spokespeople from Rubashkin’s side ensued, whatever the injustice of his proposed sentence. We Jews are accustomed to run from scandal like the plague.
So let’s remove the smoke from this unsavory story and focus on truth.
Yes, we Jews unfortunately have our criminals. Yes, we orthodox Jews unfortunately have our felons. We’re human, too. We have people guilty of serious wrongdoing. And we too must confess our sins, repent of our actions, be punished for our crimes, and teach our children to always do better and never excuse our behavior. Our community need to know that no matter how important you believe it is for other Jews to eat kosher food, you cannot purchase that mitzvah at any price. You cannot be a good Jew if you are not an honest person. A religious obligation that comes through theft – even when your intention is to simply keep a business open so you can eventually pay off your loans – subverts all principles of religious morality.
Rubashkin is no hero. Whatever the nobility of his intentions, he is a poor example to religious youth. His behavior must and should be condemned. He has been found guilty of a crime and he must do the time.
But he is no monster either. Unlike Wall Street bankers, he did not bet the farm and other people’s deposits in order to buy himself a Ferrari. Unlike AIG executives, he did not cost the government billions in bailouts and then get a bonus. And while I, of course, understand that criminal conduct is infinitely more serious, so is prosecutorial overzealousness that borders on fanaticism.
The time that Rubashkin serves must be fair and just. This is America. Just as there is no room for toleration of criminal conduct, there is also no room for a lynch mob mentality. I realize I am not a lawyer. But I have enough sense to understand that a punishment of a few years in prison sets an unassailable example that criminal conduct is utterly inexcusable. Anything more than that for a crime of this nature gives the false impression that the American justice system is prejudicial and untrustworthy.
As for the outcry from the Hassidic community that Rubashkin is being treated unfairly and that his yarmulke and beard make for a prosecutorial bull’s-eye, I love America too much to believe any of it. This is the fairest, most decent country on earth. But I do believe it possible that when an overtly religious person perpetrates a crime – especially one that involves companies catering to religious needs – there is a feeling on the part of many that the hypocrisy mandates an even harsher sentence.
So let’s be clear.
This is not in any way analogous to other ugly religious stories dominating the news like pedophile priests. There is no suggestion that Rubashkin’s crimes be covered up. Less so is there any insinuation that Rubashkin be moved to another state where he can start up a new kosher meat plant. Rubashkin’s trustworthiness in the American Jewish community is finished.
But there is an insistence that he be treated like a human being. That it be taken into consideration that he has no prior offenses and that his company provided kosher meat to hundreds of thousands of people at affordable prices so that more Jews could observe their faith. That he and his family are legendary in the Hassidic community for their charitable giving, their hospitality, and their communal involvement. That Rubashkin himself devoted a substantial portion of his profits to funding a soup kitchen and supporting organizations like Collel Chabad that feed the hungry and the poor. To disregard all these considerations when it comes to sentencing is to disregard the universal belief that the good we do is not cancelled out by our horrendous mistakes.
I know my own limitations. Perhaps Rubashkin’s prosecutors ought to know theirs as well.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, host of TLC’s ‘Shalom in the Home,’ is the international best-selling author of 23 books, winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year, and winner of the American Jewish Press Association’s highest award for excellence in commentary. His website is www.shmuley.com.
April 12, 2010 | 12:17 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The only institution worse at PR than Israel is the Catholic Church. Never in my life have I seen such a formidable world power handle a crisis more catastrophically than how the Vatican is handling the current scandal of pedophile priests. And the sad thing is that the weakening of the Church in general, and this pope in particular, is bad all round. The Church does incalculable good throughout the world with innumerable orphanages, schools, and hospitals. And for Jewish-Catholic relations Benedict has been a godsend (pardon the pun).
For most of its two thousand years the Catholic Church has been anti-Semitic, responsible for horrific atrocities against Jews and others who branded heretics. But in the latter half of the twentieth century the Church repented of its past due to the courage and spiritual integrity of three special men: John XXIII, the greatest of all modern Popes, John Paul II, a leader of extraordinary humanity and humility, and Joseph Ratzinger, the cerebral Cardinal largely responsible for the theological underpinnings that served as John Paul’s foundation in reaching out to the Jews. In the five short years of his pontificate Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, has visited Synagogues in Germany, New York, and Rome, not to mention his much-heralded visit to Israel last year.
Which begs the question why the Church would itself undermine this impressive record first with Cardinal Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, comparing the attacks on Benedict to that of Pius XII. Pius was the highly impious, amoral pontiff, who signed a Concordat with Hitler in 1933 and never once directly condemned Nazi anti-Semitism or the holocaust. In October, 1943, he watched literally as the Jews of Rome were rounded up to be sent to Auschwitz and did not publicly protest.
But rather than unnecessarily alienating the Jews by comparing the attacks on the Church over pedophilia to anti-Semitism, as the Pope’s personal preacher Raniero Cantalamessa did in the Pope’s presence, it would be wise for the Church to learn the following from their Jewish friends: don’t be afraid to be fallible and human.
The principle difference between the Catholicism and Judaism is the former’s emphasis on the perfection of Jesus and the infallibility of the Pope versus the latter’s insistence that no human is divine and no Biblical figure is perfect. While people are not prepared to forgive the infractions of the perfect, they are extremely understanding of the failings of humans when they apologize sincerely for their failures and take full responsibility for their actions.
Later this month I am scheduled to meet the Pope through Gary Krupp, with whom I have sparred over Pius’s legacy but who has since become a friend. I wish I could impress upon the well-intentioned leader of the Catholic Church the need to come clean with the public. Face the people and tell them how you never wished for any children to be harmed and it breaks your heart to see how your inaction and obstruction may have led to more kids being violated. But you made the colossal error of moving slowly and cautiously because you feared what public exposure and the defrocking of criminal Priests would do to the reputation of the Church. You erred hugely in putting the needs of an institution ahead of the safety of the individuals that institution is meant to protect. Explain how you further erred by accepting the prevailing psychiatric opinion of the time that pedophiles could be reformed through counseling and you thought that after extreme therapy these Priests were cured. Admit you screwed up and ask forgiveness for your failures. Human beings forgive the flaws of other human beings. But they don’t forgive gods. Pledge the remainder of your days to helping heal the victims, making reasonable restitution, and declare unequivocally that henceforth the Church will hand over all priests guilty of molestation to the authorities for prosecution.
As the author of Kosher Sex, a pivot in the intersection between faith and sexuality, I would counsel the Church to announce a conclave examining the effects, if any, of clerical vows of celibacy on pedophilia in the clergy. Some would argue there is no connection. But few would deny that an announcement of this magnitude by the Pope would demonstrate the seriousness with which he is addressing the issue and his preparedness to take unprecedented action to heal the Church.
But the Pope is not the only one who needs to apologize. Many in the media have gone beyond all reason in their attacks. Maureen Dowd, who is Catholic, offered the unbelievable comparison of the Church’s refusal to ordain women or place them in positions of leadership with Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses of women. Are you kidding? The Saudis, in 2002, allowed 15 High School girls to burn to death rather than run out of their smoldering school without a head covering. Amnesty International accuses the Saudis of subjecting women to “arbitrary arrest… torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the use of the death penalty” for religious infractions, like meeting with men in public. Yakin Erturk, the United Nations special representative on violence against women, visited Saudi Arabia and reported ‘the domestic abuse [women] systematically encounter with little prospect of redress.’ She added that the Muttawa, the Saudi religious police, are “responsible for serious human rights abuses in harassing, threatening and arresting women who ‘deviate from accepted norms.” And then there are the continued reports of female genital mutilation that is practiced in northern Saudi Arabia.
And I thought it’s only we Jews who can be so self-hating.
The Western world suffers from an epidemic of materialism, divorce, broken families, and celebrity obsession, the most effective antidote for which is more spirituality and a stronger religious presence. The Catholic Church might be terrible at crisis management and the pope may not be perfect. But what might emerge from this dark episode is a more transparent, more accessible, and more sensitive Church which, in its humanity, might just begin to connect with the eighty percent of lapsed Catholics who pay only lip-service to the Church throughout the Western world.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, has just published ‘The Blessing of Enough.’ Folllow him on Twitter @Rabbishmuley.
April 4, 2010 | 6:21 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
When it came to protecting the right of the Libyan Ambassador to the UN living immediately next door to me in Englewood, my Democratic Congressman, Steve Rothman, found his voice, issuing a three page press release about a deal he had brokered with the State Department 27 years ago for the Libyans to bizarrely remain in a New Jersey suburb. But when I asked Rothman, who is Jewish, to give me a comment on Obama’s degrading treatment of Israel’s elected officials and the Administration’s opposition to Jews building in all parts of Jerusalem, his Chief of Staff sent me an email that said the Congressman was “away for the holidays so we won’t be able to provide you with a statement.”
Attitudes like these on the part of influential Jewish members of the American establishment explain why Obama has been allowed to get away with his appalling treatment of Israel. Yes, it is we Jews who allow it, afraid to take a stand against a President who is rapidly emerging as the new Jimmy Carter.
Don’t think Obama isn’t listening.
When it came to endorsing a recent Congressional vote to label the Turks’ slaughter of over one million Armenians during the first World War a genocide, Obama quickly broke a campaign pledge, and a moral duty, to do just that and publicly distanced himself from the term genocide in order not to offend the Turkish government. And when it came to hosting the Dalai Lama at the White House, the President of the world’s sole superpower quickly bowed to Chinese bullying, not only refusing to greet the great humanitarian publicly but sending him out through the service entrance of the White House where the Dalai Lama was photographed surrounded by giant bags of garbage. But when it comes to treating America’s most reliable ally like a pariah nation, Obama has no fear of the American Jewish community because he’s convinced there will be no price to pay. The Jews are too timid to react.
How sad that we Jews have become so politically pathetic. Although there were grave suspicions about Obama’s position on Israel before the campaign, greatly compounded by his having sat through 20 years of vitriol toward Israel from his own pastor, American Jewry gave Obama the benefit of the doubt. Nearly eighty percent of American Jews voted for him against a proven friend of Israel in John McCain. But fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Amid the Jewish propensity to blindly pull the Democrat lever in every vote without even thinking, if Obama gets anything more than twenty percent of the Jewish vote in 2012 it will be a manifestation of a community which simply doesn’t know how to stand up for its itself and has contempt for its own interests.
And spare me the lectures on dual loyalty. If there is one thing the American people have learned it’s that the Israeli people are their canaries in the coalmine. Attacks that Israelis experience first just presage what Americans will later face. Why? Because the Islamic nations hate Israel for the same reason they hate America. Israel is a bastion of freedom in a region of tyranny. The Mullahs are religious, the Arab dictators mostly secular. But what they share in common is an absolute desire to rule absolutely. They hate Israel and America for its freedoms. They know that elections will knock them out of power and, like Saddam, they would face trial for crimes against humanity.
Ahmedenijad hates his own people even more than he hates Israel, brutalizing and slaughtering them in the streets whenever they stand up for themselves. The last thing the House of Saud wants is democracy, preferring to plunder their country’s oil wealth and concentrate it in the hands of princes of the blood all of whom live like kings. The same hatred of liberty is harbored by all the other Arab potentates who have oppressed their people for decades, from Mubarak who has been in power for three decades, to Kaddafi and the Assads who have stolen power for four.
The same is true of Israel’s policies of human rights. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where gays can march openly. Any attempt to do so in Riyadh would end with the marchers all being decapitated. Of course, we don’t have to worry about that in Iran since Ahmedenijad assured us in his lecture at Columbia that Iran has no homosexuals.
And this applies even more importantly in the area of women’s rights. Israel is the Middle East’s greatest champion of women’s rights, with women enjoying all the freedoms of men. But the Islamic countries do everything in their power to oppress women, afraid of the possible corruption women would bring if they showed an ankle or drove a car.
Rather than pressuring Jews not to build condos in Jerusalem, Obama ought to pressure the Arabs to liberalize and democratize. He ought to use his considerable eloquence to state the obvious truth. That until such time as the Arabs allow their citizens to be free, there will never be peace in the Middle East. Israel is the solution rather than the problem. The more Arab countries emulate its market economy and liberal democracy, the more our oppressed Islamic brothers and sisters will prosper. They will not need scapegoats, like Jews, to vent their understandable frustration at their wretched, impoverished lives, all brought about by clerics and dictators whose steal their money and their freedoms.
According to many estimates, Muammar Kaddafi is the richest man in the world, with a net worth of over $70 billion. That a thief and a murderer of that magnitude is allowed to own a tax-free mansion next door to me where we, honest and hard working Americans, pay for his police protection and trash removal, is a travesty of truth and justice.
When American Jews stand up to the lie that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is war in the Middle East, they end up helping their Arab brethren as well. Because the last things the five hundred million Arabs who live under state censorship and political oppression need is their rulers and clerics finding a convenient scapegoat upon whom to place the blame for their people’s suffering.
And every time Obama falsely puts the blame on Israel for the Middle East’s tensions, he puts another nail in the coffin of future Middle East freedom and Arab democracy and liberty.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. His most recent book is ‘The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.