Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Hamid Karzai recently called the brave and selfless members of the United States military ‘demons’ who were guilty of perhaps ‘500’ atrocities against the people of the Afghanistan. One would have thought that the American Commander-in-Chief would swiftly denounce this stunning act of ingratitude by reminding him that nearly 2000 American troops have given their lives for the freedom of the Afghani people. They are angels of mercy, not demons. But in remaining silent President Obama not only missed an opportunity to defend the honor of our brave men and women in uniform, but also missed an opportunity to remind Muslims the world over of the beautiful tenets of their faith that would never brook such shameful ingratitude. The Koran, Sura 14, says that those who are grateful will be given more by God. And the prophet Mohammad also said, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.”
The point is this: capitulation by Western leaders in the face of pressure or bullying from Islamic leaders who, with their misguided actions, betray a great world religion is bad for the West and bad for Islam.
For the last three years I banged my head against a wall called the City of Englewood – its Mayor and Council – cajoling, pushing, and nearly begging that they do something about the Libyan Embassy that is my immediate next-door neighbor. Tax it, fine it, do something to make life uncomfortable for the Kaddafi government who owned it so that the murderous regime would choose to sell it and return the millions of dollars invested in it – all in an attempt to make it comfortable for Kaddafi to stay for a short while – and return the money to the Libyan people to whom it belonged.
Now comes the unbelievable news that the city’s inaction potentially endangered its inhabitants greatly, and not just me, its neighbor. We now know that the Kaddafi regime, under the concealment of diplomatic immunity, was using its embassies throughout the world to stockpile weapons like handguns, sub-machine guns, plastic explosives, hand grenades, and wiretapping equipment. In some embassies the equipment even included booby-trapped vehicles and rocket-propelled grenades.
All this was revealed when the weapons were discovered by representatives of Libya’s interim government, the National Transitional Council who started taking over the embassies abroad.
When NTC Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdul Aziz was asked whether he thought that the weapons, which were shipped in diplomatic bags, were planned for covert operations by Kaddafi and his regime, he answered “I have no single doubt in my mind.” Aziz revealed that the weapons discovered thusfar are just the tip of the iceberg and even included “chemical stuff.”
I still have no idea if the Embassy next door to me has been searched after this information was revealed. Pretty scary for a small Jersey town or for the Rabbi who lives next-door with nine kids and a Synagogue on his property, or the Moriah Jewish Day School with a thousand Jewish kids that is also a next-door neighbor.
I had actually told city officials how worried I was that there might be arms in the Embassy. But like everything else it was just shrugged off. This led to a clash between me and Congressman Steve Rothman who publicly gave me and other Englewood residents advice to be “appropriately good neighbors” to the Libyans and followed up later, after I had publicly rejected his advice, with publishing a three page press release attacking me and defending the status quo of the Libyans living tax-free in Englewood, since the city had lost an earlier challenge nearly 30 years earlier.
But what we have learned from the brave Arab peoples of Libya, Egypt, and Syria in the courageous Arab spring is that there can be no capitulation in the face of oppression and terrorism.
BBC head Mark Thomson recently confessed – to the Oxford University research project known as The Free Speech Debate – to giving Islam a better media portrayal than Christianity out of fear, arguing that the media had to consider the difference between ‘violent threats’ in place of polite complaints if they pushed ahead with certain types of satire.
Thompson said: ‘Without question, “I complain in the strongest possible terms”, is different from, “I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.” This definitely raises the stakes.’
Thomson was commenting on a 2005 BBC portrayal of Jesus wearing a diaper, something they pushed ahead with even as 45,000 people complained the broadcaster about its irreverent treatment of Christian themes. Thompson belatedly accepted their argument that the BBC would not have ridiculed Islam in a similar fashion.
The idea that one of the world’s foremost news organizations would capitulate to fear and intimidation is deeply disturbing, and not principally for Westerners but for Muslims. The more the West shows an unwillingness to bow in the face of fright and panic, the more our oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters who live in various totalitarian regimes will feel they have committed partners in confronting tyrants like Basher Assad of Syria, and the more Islam will be purged of a militaristic strain that is a betrayal of its core values.
Those who argue that Islam is an inherently violent faith, or anti-Jewish, deliberately deny history as when Sultan Saladin took back Jerusalem in 1187 and allowed all Christians to ransom their lives and the penniless to go free. The Christians had expected the same harsh treatment that they had meted out in conquering Jerusalem in 1099, when all Muslims and Jews were massacred. Saladin was also generous in his treatment of the Jewish community in his realm. In 1190, he called on Jews to settle once again within the walls of Jerusalem, since they had been banned from the city during the Crusader occupation. Maimonides, one of Judaism’s greatest thinkers, was court physician to Saladin.
To assail Islam as inherently anti-modern is likewise to ignore how already in the ninth century Muslim rulers were prioritizing general education when few others were. Al-Mamun, Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, established state-funded academies that translated Greek and other works of antiquity, thereby predating European universities by some three centuries. The Abbasid Muslim Empire brought about agricultural innovations in the 8th century that would not be seen in the West until late in the twelfth century. Al-Razi of Baghdad wrote numerous medical books in the tenth century which included groundbreaking health treatments which the West would not match for another six hundred years. In the sixteenth century Muslim Sultan Akbar of India was renowned for cross-cultural political appointments and enacting laws that embraced religious tolerance and protection of women and children. He was also one of the first commanders to insist on humane treatment of captured enemy troops.
Islam today can experience the same kind of enlightened golden age it has in the past if it, along with the West, stands up to the murderers and bullies who betray a great world religion by daring to speak wickedly in its name.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who just published Kosher Jesus, is running for Congress in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District and recently won the Bergen County Republican Endorsement in a vote. His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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March 5, 2012 | 11:54 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
B’nai Brith Canada is an organization whose stated purpose it is, like our excellent Anti-Defamation League here in the United States, to defend Jews against attack. It’s run by Frank Dimant whom I only ever met over the phone and who appears to be a gentleman. But that begs the question of what his purpose was in releasing a statement in support of Sun TV host Michael Coren after I condemned Coren’s anti-Jewish remarks in his interview with me in Toronto about my new bestseller Kosher Jesus. The full interview is available here.
To be sure, Coren’s comments to me was not the first time he publicly insulted Jews. Ever since my horrible experience with Coren, I have received emails from people all over Canada sharing other Coren highlights, like his TV show last October where he said, in discussing Canadian groups who complain too much, “To those Jewish organizations pretending (his emphasis) that neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are hiding behind every corner…. Of course you’ve suffered in the past. Of course there were pogroms and the holocaust. But this is now, in Canada. So… SHUT UP (his emphasis again).” Coren’s words beggar belief, and you have to view how flippantly he spoke of Jewish suffering, which this transcription cannot convey. Of course you Jews have suffered, of course there was a holocaust. But get over it. That’s the past. Now you live in a nice country. So shut your trap!
Surely Coren’s attack against paranoid Jews who believe there is still Jew-hatred is aimed first and foremost at organizations like B’nai Brith who ‘pretend’ and invent anti-Semitism to suit their own purposes.
Yet, with all that, Dimant released a statement, without having had the decency to even pick up a phone to me prior, saying, “It is truly unfortunate that Rabbi Boteach misunderstood the words of Michael Coren during their on-air discussion and subsequently publicly labeled him as an anti-Semite… Michael … has never given any indication whatsoever of harboring anti-Semitic tendencies.”
Now, Dimant is wrong. I never labeled Coren an anti-Semite. I do not live in Canada and am prepared to follow the lead of the local Jewish community in determining who our friends are. But even “friends” can sometimes say horrible things for which they have to be called out, particularly when they involve perpetuating offensive and defamatory anti-Jewish stereotypes.
For 20 years I have been at the forefront of educating the Jewish community worldwide as to the friendship of the Mormon Church well before it was fashionable to even mention. At Oxford, Michael Taft Benson, whose grandfather was the prophet of the Mormon Church, became one of my dearest friends, and remains so, and I learned that contrary to Jewish feelings at the time, the Mormons were amazing people who loved Israel and the Jewish people. Nevertheless, Elie Wiesel, whom I took in 2006 to Utah to lecture to the Mormons, was right when he recently criticized the Church for the posthumous baptizing of holocaust victims, especially the parents of Simon Wiesenthal, and the Mormon Church, to its enormous credit, acted with humility and sensitivity in stopping the practice. Coren, however, remains utterly unapologetic about his disgusting remarks.
Harry Truman was Israel’s greatest friend in its formative stage. Israel remains in his debt to this very day. But about our people he wrote this: “The Jews, I find are very, very selfish. When they have power, physical, financial or political neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog.” Surely, amid our gratitude to Truman for Israel, we have a right to criticize these astonishing remarks.
Billy Graham, America’s greatest evangelist, is a proven friend of Israel and the Jewish community. He is a man I consider a hero and to whom I look up. But should we ignore his statement to Richard Nixon in the White House, taped secretly in 1972, that, similar to Coren’s remarks about Jews and Hollywood, Jews control the American media? Graham called it a “stranglehold” according to tapes released by the National Archives. “This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” Jewish friends, he said, “swarm around me and are friendly to me… They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.”
And Nixon himself, in one of the greatest acts of pro-Israel friendship and courage, helped to rescue Israel from oblivion in the 1973 Yom Kippur War by initiating the military airlift. But does that mean the Jewish community should overlook the nonstop anti-Semitic comments Nixon made about Jews in the Oval office?
Perhaps Dimant and the B’nai Brith would care to share what part of Coren’s words I misunderstood.
I was invited on to Coren’s TV simply to discuss Kosher Jesus. Within minutes the host turned the conversation away from my book to the subject of Jews and Judaism and made four very troubling assertions. First, that Jesus completed Judaism, thereby emphasizing classical replacement theology where Christianity sought, for two thousand years, to dismiss Judaism as an outdated religion. Second, that liberal Jews who strongly dislike Christians are involved in a conspiracy to portray them as Neanderthals. Third, the proof that Jews seek to malign Christians? Well, Hollywood, of course, which Jews either control or significantly influence. Fourth, and finally, that the Jews are engaged in another conspiracy to malign Pope Pius XII, the wartime holocaust pontiff whom the Catholic Church is currently seeking to beatify but who is known to the rest of the world as Hitler’s Pope.
This last point was particularly low. Pope Pius was the man who signed the first treaty with the Nazis, refused to even once condemn the extermination of the Jews through all the years of the holocaust amidst constant prodding from all the allied leaders, and, after the war, ordered the mass kidnapping of untold numbers of baptized Jewish children who had been given to the Church for safekeeping. (My many columns on the history of Pope Pius, as well as my experiences with Coren after the show, can be found at www.shmuley.com). Coren is obsessed with Jews and others maligning poor Pope Pius. Last week he devoted another unhinged show to once again attacking me personally, making fun of my name and appearance, and most importantly, defending Hitler’s Pope from his monumental sins against the Jewish people.
Are Dimant and the B’nai Brith in the business of defending this kind of portrayal of Jews? Is Dimant a defender of Pope Pius?
Yad Vashem’s caption of Pius says he did not protest the Nazi genocide of Jews and maintained a largely neutral position. This led the Vatican to threaten to cancel Pope Benedict’s visit to Israel’s holocaust museum unless it was changed. Needless to say, Yad Vashem refused to capitulate. I would guess that Canadian Jewry support that position, which is why B’nai Brith should do the right thing and publicly clarify for the Canadian Jews, who finance them, their position on Pope Pius.
I publicly debated the Vatican’s desire to beatify Pius XII with my very dear friend, the papal knight and devoted Jewish activist, Gary Krupp, on 26 May, 2010. The video is available here. The viewer will determine who prevailed, but regardless, Gary is a refined gentleman who took me to meet Pope Benedict. Coren, by contrast, is a fundamentalist religious fanatic who savages those who disagree with him, even on historical fact. I have politely and repeatedly invited Coren to a public debate on Pope Pius. He has responded with further grotesque and cowardly personal insults. But then, personal insults are the last refuge of the intellectual coward.
Here is what renowned historian Robert Wistrich said of the Vatican’s effort to canonize Pope Pius: “Pius XII personally intervened after 1945 to commute the sentences of convicted German war criminals. This solicitude for Nazi criminals contrasts sharply with Pius XII ignoring all entreaties to make a public statement against anti-Semitism even after the full horrors of the death camps had been revealed in 1945.”
Jewish leaders who condemned the attempted canonization of Pius included Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean at The Simon Wiesenthal Center, who said he was “amazed” and that “it… would be a great distortion of history” if Pius XII were canonized. The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants called the announcement “profoundly insensitive and thoughtless” while Stephan Kramer, the head of Germany’s Central Jewish Council, called the declaration a “hijacking of historical facts concerning the Nazi era… That’s what makes me furious.” And Rabbi Yisrael Lau, Chairman of Yad Vashem and Israel’s former Chief Rabbi, said, “This is a shame I think for the church. It is not a good education for generations to come.”
How could Dimant and B’nai Brith be so profoundly out of step with world Jewish leaders on Coren’s remarks that Pius is being falsely maligned?
Unfortunately, Dimant’s unbelievable defense of Coren has given him license to vilify me non-stop on his TV show while simultaneously defending the “saintly” Pope Pius. Indeed, Dimant himself sat in total silence while Coren made fun of my height, name, appearance, and then slandered my character. I have long given up hope of Sun TV reining in their shameful, immature, and unprofessional host and clearly they will give a TV show to absolutely anyone. But I did expect much more from a Jewish organization which purports to defend the Jewish community. We are a community that has been maligned for millennia and must be on our guard against defamation, and that applies also to extremist right-wing commentators like Coren who are friends with conservative Jews but who savagely attack liberal Jews. We are one people and dare not allow outsiders to divide us.
Truth be told, I gave Coren an out. Right after the interview was over, as he ordered me out of his studio, I asked him if he really wanted to be known for those comments. His reaction was to grow extremely aggressive, tell me I was threatening him, and then to have his Jewish intern attack me as well. I refused to leave the studio as he tried to evict me, enforcing my long-stated policy of ‘No tolerance for Intolerance.’ I told Coren he can call security, but I would not leave until I spoke to one of his superiors. Ever since, Coren’s attacks have lowered the bar on any semblance of journalistic professionalism or adult maturity, repeatedly attacking my name, appearance, and height. But though Coren chooses to be a disgrace to his profession and network, that does not mean that respected Jewish organizations need condone such shameful behavior.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom Newsweek calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America,’ was the host of TLC’s Shalom in the Home, which won the National Fatherhood Award, was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium, and received the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. The international best-selling author of 27 he has just published Kosher Jesus. He is currently mulling a run for Congress from New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District, running as a Republican. www.shmuleyforcongress.com.