Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Halfway through Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Monday I was confronted by a moral dilemma. A woman protester two seats away from me had infiltrated the speech, pulled out a red anti-Israel flag, and started hurling curses about Israel. The elderly gentleman to my right, whom I had been talking to just before the speech started, pulled the flag out of her hands, cupped his hands over her mouth, and assisted in subduing her. Should I help?
The night before at AIPAC, Bibi’s speech had been disrupted seven times with multiple protesters making it almost impossible for him to continue. This follows an extensive effort on campuses worldwide for Israel-haters to make it all but impossible for any Israeli official to speak by heckling so repeatedly that the speech has to be abandoned. Clearly these efforts make a mockery of the entire principal of free speech. Now, a protester had infiltrated not just a college gathering but the inner sanctum, the very repository of American freedom and representative democracy, the United States House of Representatives. Her intention was to deny the democratically elected leader of the Israeli people the right to address the elected representatives of the American people. She could have vented her venom in any one of countless open forums, but she chose to deny Israel its voice.
Should I have participated in muting her? I had a split-second to decide.
Flashing through my mind as hands grabbed her from all sides were all the protesters against Israel that I had encountered in my eleven years as Rabbi at Oxford University. Twice we hosted Bibi at the University and twice hundreds of Palestinian students had been bused in from all over the UK to disrupt his speech. As I walked the chamber of the Oxford Union with Bibi at my side, hundreds of agitators thundered, “Netanyahu you should know, we support the PLO.” Wow, it even rhymed. Netanyahu left his police cordon and walked over to the protesters and invited them in, promising that they would be called on to ask questions. A significant number joined us and he responded patiently to their pointed barbs.
When Ariel Sharon was my guest a huge throng of protesters arrived, a significant number of whom were Jewish. They made no noise. Rather, caked in fake blood they pointed at Sharon silently as he walked into the Union. He made the same gesture, walking over to some of the protestors, while never letting go of his wife’s hand, and inviting them in to participate. Once again, many did and Sharon made sure to call on them during questions. The exchanges were hard-hitting but civil and all who witnessed it felt it had been a victory on both sides for free speech.
But all that has changed now. The Israel critics on campus have become Israel-haters, interested not in voicing any view but in delegitimizing Israel utterly and rendering it incapable of defending itself.
My mind now raced back to the heckler from Code Pink, who turned out to be Jewish, right in front of me in Congress. She was now horizontal as various gallery attendees attempted to neutralize her disruption. The Prime Minister had stopped his speech. Should I intervene before security could get there?
I decided not to. Firstly, it seemed to me that the Capitol police had plenty of contingencies for this kind of scenario and were far greater experts than me. Second, I could just imagine the headlines the next day: “Rabbi accosts protester in Congress.” Or worse. “Author of Kosher Sex grabs woman in US House.” “Rabbi Shmuley all over woman in spectator gallery”(OK, I jest about the last two but you get the picture). I decided that the image of a Rabbi participating in grabbing a protester, notwithstanding the circumstances, was exactly the kind of image these protesters wanted. They want to delegitimize the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel in particular. They want to perpetuate their lie that rather than Israel and Jews being people of benevolence and goodwill who have been forced to defend themselves against repeated attack, the Jews are now the aggressors.
So I stood as plain-clothed police immediately rushed in from every angle, grabbed the protestors, and pulled her right by me.
Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly recovered by mentioning that the idea of a protestor heckling in the Arab parliaments of Iran or Libya and surviving unharmed was impossible.
And it was ironically right there that the shared values of the United States and Israel and their special relationship became so evident. That one of the most powerful men in the Middle East can sit in front of the most powerful assembly on earth and be heckled and disrupted by a hate-filled agitator and simply make light of it as the woman was taken out of the chamber unharmed, spoke volumes about two incredible societies dedicated to the infinite worth of every human being, even a perceived enemy, and the infinite dignity of the human person to which both societies are committed. Even a person who would deny basic civility to Israel’s elected leader was still protected under the rule of law. She might be charged with an offense but she lived in a society that protected her rights.
In his brilliant and impassioned AIPAC speech House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Israel’s most able defender and greatest friend in the US government, made the point that it’s not the ’67 borders that separate the Palestinians and Israelis. Rather, the conflict is all about values, specifically the Palestinian’s’ growing culture of death versus the Israeli culture of life. The Palestinians name public squares after terrorists. Mothers ululate when their sons blow themselves up on buses, taking little children with them. They teach their children in kindergarten and schools that Jews are hook-nosed and wicked. But the government of Israel trades hundreds of killer terrorists just to bury their fallen soldiers with dignity, gives every Arab-Israeli citizen complete and full human rights, and has consistently traded massive amounts of land in the slim hope that the Palestinians will sincerely wish to make peace.
I am a Rabbi and a Jew that has forever fought Islamophobia and has repeatedly written and preached in front of tens of thousands of Jews and Christians that Islam is a great world religion that took Jews in when they were kicked out of Catholic Spain and Portugal. I am constantly inspired by everyday Muslims I meet in the US who observe Halal, fast on Ramadan, and take their religion seriously. So it is with great sadness that I am witnessing the growing emphasis on violence – especially against Jews – that is tragically becoming commonplace among far too many of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
The chance of peace ever taking hold in the Middle East is contingent on what Golda Meir once said, that Palestinians have to learn to love their children more than they hate Israelis.
Perhaps one day the female protestor who was dragged away in front of me will love the Arabs more than she hates Israel and if so, we’ll see her directing her real protest against Arab societies that participate in honor killings against young women, hang gays, and deny our Arab brothers and sisters the basic right to protest without fear of death.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books and is currently establishing The National Center for Universal Jewish Values. His most recent book is “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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May 23, 2011 | 10:56 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
President Obama’s speech at AIPAC straddled the line of Jackie Mason standup. It turns out that when the President said last Thursday that Israel should return to its ’67 borders, it wasn’t exactly what he meant. Who said I was referring to 1967. I meant 1867. And even 1867, I didn’t mean CE, I meant BCE. And why did you assume I was talking about Israel’s border. I was talking about French Guyana’s borders.
This was the first time in my life that I ever felt sorry for Barack Obama, an incongruous sentiment for a man so talented and who also just happens to be the most powerful man in the world. Why did he elicit my sympathy? Because you could see in both his body language and utter absence of passion that he had been defeated. The president dithered, bobbed and weaved. He came into a room filled with 10,000 pro-Israel activists knowing that he blew it, not just with the American Jewish community but with history as well.
For months Arab democracy has been breaking out all over the world. President Obama had yet to give one major policy speech on this unprecedented uprising. Yet, when he finally chose to do so and thus recapture the traditional American President’s epitaph as ‘Leader of the Free World,’ he could not help but insert a highly inflammatory line about Israel that was immediately seized upon by the world’s media thereby extinguishing the speech’s other content. And even on the Israel front he was forced to so dilute the ’67 border statement that it became utterly meaningless.
“It was my reference to the 1967 lines—with mutually agreed swaps—that received the lion’s share of the attention… and since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means. By definition, it means that the parties themselves -– Israelis and Palestinians -– will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967… It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu could not have expressed it better.
So why did President Obama destroy his Arab democracy speech, not to mention further erode his already tenuous Jewish support, with a reference to the ’67 borders that he has now climbed down from? Here we have a president with the eloquence of Martin Luther King, Jr. but who has yet to make a single memorable speech as President aside from the moving and dignified words he offered the night Bin Laden was assassinated. Last Thursday at the State department was his chance. Why did he blow it?
The President’s explanation at AIPAC was that he had no idea that the ’67 borders line was going to be so inflammatory.
“My position has been misrepresented… If there is a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance…. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately.”
But the President’s claims to naiveté are ridiculous. To his detractors the President is many things. But he is no fool. He knew full well that being the first American President to publicly call for a return to the ’67 lines was a bomb waiting to detonate. As the New York Times reported, Netanyahu had already had a “furious” phone call with Hillary Clinton the morning of the speech when the Secretary of State phoned to inform the Prime Minister that the line would be included at the President’s insistence. Obama knew darn well that the demand to return to the pre-6-Day-War borders spoke directly to the Palestinian narrative of an expansionist, imperialist Israel hell-bent on swallowing up the land of a defenseless people who were peacefully growing olives and herding sheep when Israel suddenly and without provocation sent in its tanks in 1967 to expand the borders of a burgeoning empire.
So why did Obama say it? Why did he personally insist on including it?
I believe the answer to this question speaks directly to the growing mistrust that American Jewry, who gave the President 78% of its vote in 2008, has for Obama and why Democratic Jewish donor purses are closing.
Stated simply, this President has a strange obsession with Israel. Even when he’s talking about the unprecedented breakout of democracy across oppressive Arab regimes he still has to connect it to Israel. He could easily have given a stand-along speech about Israel and mentioned the ’67 lines there. But he believes to his core the oft-repeated falsehood that the secret to wide-ranging Middle East peace is a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and that Israeli intransigence is largely responsible for Arab anger and Middle East strife. And even as history proves him wrong and the Arabs start directing their anger against their real oppressors like Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt, Qaddafi of Libya, and Assad of Syria, President Obama still thinks that at its root the protests are against Netanyahu of Israel.
Every president wants to be historic and Obama has decided that a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will define his presidency. If he pressures Israel enough to remove any military presence from the Jordan valley and return for the most part to its ’67 borders, not to mention exposing Netanyahu as a stiff-necked obstructionist, he will achieve what no President has before him.
Sadly, the President has forgotten that Jimmy Carter pulled off just that kind of breakthrough, brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, yet is still remembered as a failed President because he lost the larger battle of freedom to Islamists in Iran who initiated a war against the West, which we are still fighting, and established a prison for freedom-loving Muslims.
Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books, including his recent work “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” and broadcasts widely on television and radio. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
May 20, 2011 | 10:57 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
President Obama’s advisors wanted him to get out in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on Monday. So they preempted Bibi’s own peace proposal by having Obama call for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, give or take a few land swaps.
There was one problem with the timing. It overlooked the fact that President Obama is addressing the largest gathering of AIPAC ever this coming Sunday, with 10,000 pro-Israel activists in attendance. It’ll be fun to see what happens. Here is Obama who just became the first president to ever call on Israel to return to the 1967 lines going in front, just three days later, of the largest annual gathering of Jews and Israel supporters. What were the President’s advisors thinking?
The President will no doubt be respectfully welcomed and the organizers have already asked the crowd not to boo. But the President’s speech will have zero credibility and he may as well not bother.
When he last addressed AIPAC in June 2008 Obama had clinched, just the night before, the Democratic nomination for President. I was in the audience and I heard him say the following words:
“There are those who would lay all the problems of the Middle East at the doorstep of Israel and its supporters as if the Israeli Palestinian conflict is the root of all trouble in the region. These voices blame the Middle East’s only democracy for the region’s extremism. They offer the false promise that abandoning a stalwart ally is somehow the path to strength. It is not; it has never been and it never will be.
“Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us; Israel has always faced these threats on the frontlines and I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”
Hmmm. Unshakable commitment? How, Mr. President? By pressuring Israel to return to suicidal 1967 borders that would give it a girth of just 8 miles near Tel Aviv?
And how could Obama, on the one hand, condemn those who blame all the Middle East’s ills on Israel and on the other hand come dangerously close to advancing the same argument by making the highlight of his talk on the Middle East the call for Israel to transcend its stubbornness and agree to indefensible borders?
This speech at the State Department was supposed to be about the Arab pro-democracy movement. It was meant to convey American support for Arab freedom. Yet, true to Obama’s curious obsession with Israel, its most memorable line, and the one used as a headline by the world’s leading publications, was the change in American policy to pressure Israel back to the ’67 lines without demanding any similar concession from the Palestinians. Couldn’t the President have waited just a little bit before talking about Israel in the same speech as Mubarak, Assad, and Qaddafi? Could he not have devoted just a single speech – without Israel as a distraction – to the momentous and welcome changes in the Arab world in which hundreds of millions of people are tasting freedom for the first time?
In throwing in such an inflammatory demand of the Middle East’s sole democracy and a state that is just a crumb compared to the vast Arab lands that surround it, the President knew full well that his pressure on Israel would dominate the speech and feed the lie that Israeli intransigence is the cause of the turmoil in the Middle East.
What a shame the President gave this foolish speech. He was just beginning to win over many of his detractors by finally showing he had a backbone by killing Osama bin Laden in a daring raid and participating, if not leading, in the bombing of Qaddafi. The day before the speech he had enacted sanctions against Assad of Syria and held him accountable for slaughtering his people. It was a new Obama, standing up to tyranny, sounding the clarion call for freedom, warning tyrants they would face retribution. Now we’re back to the same old Obama, weak on dictators and tough on Israel.
On Assad the President’s remarks were positively stupefying. “The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.” Huh? Assad? Transition to democracy? You’ve got to be kidding. It’ll be a cold day in hell before that murderer ever relinquishes power.
None of this is credible and the President knows it.
It was to be hoped that the American President would have come out to support the Arab spring as soon as it began. Instead we got Obama’s equivocations on Mubarak and then an endorsement of his departure only after he had been pushed out by the Egyptians. On Libya the President ceded leadership to the British and the French. On Syria he waited weeks before taking any action against Assad and then left the door open for him to remain President, even as he continues to slaughter his people.
How sad that now, months after the Arab uprisings began, when President Obama has finally decided to give a major policy speech supporting the Arab right to be free, he squandered the opportunity by yet again dumping on Israel.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, is the international best-selling author of 25 books, most recently “Honoring the Child Spirit” and “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
May 16, 2011 | 11:07 am
Posted By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The bizarre burial of Osama bin Laden at sea – an action necessitated by our government’s need to accommodate Islamic law requiring that a Muslim be buried within 24 hours of death – raises urgent questions about the definition of faith in America. Can a mass murderer be said to be religious? Can there be religious ritual without religious values? And should Western governments participate in this definition of religion as something that is preached as opposed to practiced?
For years US government officials as well American Muslim leaders have been saying that Osama bin Laden is not a Muslim but a charlatan, a man who ostensibly lived in accordance with Islamic ritual but whose actions violated the Islamic prohibition against killing civilian non-combatants. At his death the Islam Society of North America released a statement noting, “The ideology of bin Laden is incompatible with Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims.” A spokesperson for the Muslim Public Affairs Council echoed the sentiment. “He basically hijacked Islam and became a disgrace to Muslims.” Why then if bin Laden did not live as a Muslim did it our government rush to bury him as one?
This unfortunate endorsement by the United States of faith as a collection of spiritual ritual unattached to basic laws of morality feeds a growing perception of faith-based hypocrisy that is alienating large numbers from religious tradition.
Religious truth is notoriously difficult to gauge given the competing claims of the world’s great faiths. For Jews the deification of any man is an act of sacrilege yet the divinity of Jesus is central to Christian belief. Likewise, Christianity affirms that Christ is the sole path to salvation. Yet Islam insists that Muhammad was a prophet who lived after Jesus and paved a new and exclusive road to heaven. Religious truth, therefore, is established by a different criteria entirely, namely, its ability to shape and mold righteous character in its adherents.
As a Jew I do not believe that Joseph Smith discovered golden plates written in Reformed Egyptian in 1823 which he translated with seer stones. But having had extensive exposure to the strong families and charitable communities that the Mormon Church has built worldwide, I do believe that in Western New York where he claimed to have found the plates Smith encountered universal religious truths that were incorporated into Mormonism and which account for the high ethical standards of his followers. Conversely, when a religious figure devotes his life not to compassionate acts but to a blood-filled apocalypse it is either him or his religion which is fraudulent.
Bin Laden never walked in the footsteps of Muhammad but worshipped a god of his own making. While the Koran expressly prohibits the taking of an innocent life in the strongest terms – “We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land, it would be as if he slew the whole of mankind” (Sura 5:32) – bin Laden told Al Jazeera in 2001 that those who say “killing a child is not valid” in Islam “speak without any knowledge of Islamic law” because murdering a child may be done in vengeance. Bin Laden subscribed not to Islam but to Osamaism, a satanic faith of his own making where he devised the rules.
Indeed, Bin Laden and others who preach murder in the name of G-d are in no way analogous to the Pastor or Rabbi caught cheating with a congregant or the Priest found to be molesting a child, and not just because the taking of a life is more a more serious sin. For while the latter involves acts of religious inconsistency, however heinous, the former constitutes outright religious hypocrisy.
The difference is not merely semantic but cuts to the core of human nature. Few pastors believe that adultery is not a sin and few priests would argue that child molestation is a virtue. So why do so many religious people disgrace themselves by acting in contravention to basic morality? Because humans are fallible and selfish, weak and inconsistent, which is not to excuse their actions so much as to explain their failings. They mean what they preach but tragically cannot always live up to their own moral preaching.
The hypocrite, however, is he who professes a piety that he himself never believes in merely for public consumption. I was not surprised that the video trove captured by our Navy SEALs displayed bin Laden as a vain and shallow man obsessed with his celebrity and tinkering with his physical appearance. It confirmed the hypocrisy of a man who inveighed against Western corruption while enthusiastically embracing its emphasis on image to the exclusion of spiritual substance.
The same hypocrisy can be found in home-grown religious hate groups like Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church who, with their loathsome slogan ‘G-d Hates Fags’, protests the military funerals of fallen soldiers claiming that their death is the revenge of a G-d angered by America’s tolerance for homosexuality. Here is an ostensibly Christian Church whose very foundation – whatever it thinks of homosexuality – is in direct contravention of the Bible’s core teachings of reward and punishment: “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” (Ezekiel 18:20)
But notwithstanding the larger point of the difference between inconsistency and hypocrisy, the growing chasm between faith-based teachings, on the one hand, and theactions of the faithful on the other, is the greatest cancer afflicting modern religion and accounts for the popularity of the new high priests of atheism like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. They exploit the duplicity of religious ritual unaccompanied by religious values and use it to make a wider point, that religion is itself a control-motivated fraud and faith a money-making scam.
It was not Martin Luther who in 1517 was responsible for the Reformation but rather the crooked indulgences of a then-corrupt Church that had become religious without being spiritual, more interested in the soaring spires of St. Peter’s Cathedral than the moral elevation of its priests.
America is rapidly becoming a debtor nation of insatiable consumers whose unhealthy dependency on material objects for happiness three years ago collapsed down a $10 trillion economy. We are purveyors of an increasingly decadent culture whose exploitation of a fame-obsessed obsessed citizenry on television now passes for ‘reality’ and whose institutions of higher learning are often better known for drinking than for learning. We are in desperate need of the inspiration and moral realignment that only religion can impart. But it will not happen so long as we falsely define religion as a collection of empty ritual unaccompanied by moral behavior and values.
Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ is the international best-selling author of 26 books including his most recent work, ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
April 29, 2011 | 10:06 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
The report in The New York Times that atheists are looking for official recognition as chaplains in the US military in order to cater to the needs of non-believing servicemen is interesting.
On the one hand, it’s kind of absurd. Atheist chaplains? It’s a contradiction in terms. What are they going to teach? Non-belief? What services will they offer? Non-prayers and sermons on evolution? And what comfort will they offer dying soldiers, G-d forbid (oops! Even that doesn’t work). Will they say, “Game over. You’re going to a place of complete oblivion. Thank you for your service.”?
On the other hand, I am completely opposed to any kind of religious coercion and why should non-believing military personnel not have someone they can talk to who shares their absence of faith? If you’re an atheist and you’ve returned from Iraq or Afghanistan and you’re finding it difficult, say, to reintegrate to life back home, maybe you don’t want to talk to someone whom you think views life only through the prism of faith. In the same way that it might be uncomfortable for a Jewish soldier to talk about his deepest issues with, say, a Catholic Priest, it is arguably just as uncomfortable for an atheist soldier to talk to the same Priest.
Still it would seem that those who profess an absence of belief can’t really be religious or spiritual chaplains. If you’re an atheist then what you see is what you get. There is no other reality – higher or lower – and the word spiritual is nothing but a crude con.
I am well aware that many of my atheist friends will tell me, ‘Come on Shmuley. OK, so an atheist ‘chaplain’ might not be able to offer the same comfort to a soldier who saw his buddy die in Iraq. He won’t be able to say to him, ‘Your friend is in a better place,’ and we concede that telling him, ‘Your friend died for a noble cause. Now he is decomposing in a dark grave from which there is no escape,’ isn’t as compelling as saying that he’s up in heaven with the ministering angels. But why offer false comfort anyway, Shmuley? None of it is true and this is just religion once again serving as a balm for people’s fear of death, a true opiate of the masses.’
I get it, and I’m not here going to enter into a lengthy discussion about the afterlife, a subject I recently debated with my friend, the world-renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens, and which is available on YouTube.
But even without solving the issue of the possible effectiveness of atheist chaplains, surely if the military agrees to create them there will have to be some new name for the profession, and I would assume they would fall more under the rubric of psychologists and other professionals who try to help those in need without professing, or utilizing, any particular faith.
So. Do I think it’s a good idea for the military to have atheist counselor soldiers? Sure. Let let’s have trained professionals who profess atheism who are made available to non-believing service men and women who are reluctant to discuss personal issues with religious chaplains. But please, call them something that doesn’t make a mockery of religion by pretending that someone can be a minister of the religion of non-belief.
Having said all this, I think it worthwhile to point out that the move on the part of atheists to create an official chaplaincy reinforces my firm belief that atheism is becoming its own religion. I will make this point at great length in my upcoming book, “The Church of Evolution,” slated to come out, G-d willing, later in the year. But there are many people whose atheism is supported by their own creeds and by the same willful denial of certain facts that has in the past characterized many of the faithful. In addition, the new atheists, like Richard Dawkins, demonstrate an intolerance and condescension to people of faith that is very similar to what one sadly finds among some of the most close-minded of religious people.
So perhaps it is just as well that we formalize the new Church of Atheism by creating a formal military chaplaincy.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s debates with atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are available on YouTube. His book-length response to the new atheists will be published later this year. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
April 11, 2011 | 10:04 am
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
In a column last week I shared my disappointment in discovering that one of the people whose thought and books has been a formative influence on my life had been associated with anti-Israel remarks. Samantha Power is arguably the world’s foremost voice against genocide. Her 2002 Pulitzer-prize winning book A Problem from Hell is one that I have quoted on countless occasions in print and in lectures. As a member of a people who just 60 years faced total annihilation in the holocaust, I consider Power’s plea – that ‘Never Again’ be a motto that civilized nations deliver on, using the diplomatic, economic and, if necessary, military tools at their disposal to prevent genocide – to be one of the world’s most important. She currently serves as President Obama’s senior adviser on human rights and is widely acknowledged to have the President’s ear. She was also credited by many publications with being one of the most influential voices in President Obama’s decision to prevent Muammar Kaddafi from slaughtering his people (although in my meeting with her she adamantly denied this and said the decision was the President’s alone). In short, Power is and has been one of my heroes.
So it was with profound sadness that in praising her in recent lectures to the Jewish communities of Australia, South Africa, and New York that audience members approached me with alleged negative comments she had made against Israel. I responded with a column last week quoting the comments and calling on Ms. Power to clarify them lest she be seen as insensitive to a nation who has an army solely for self defense without which it would likely be subject to yet another genocide.
To her credit Ms. Power got in touch with me and invited me to meet her in her White House office this past Thursday. The meeting was substantive and directly addressed the comments I quoted. She was personable, accessible, and exhibited a humility uncommon to those in positions of high authority and power. She seemed genuinely and deeply pained by the perception that she was not a friend of Israel.
The principal comments attributed to her come from an interview she granted in 2002 in Berkeley, California while she was on her book tour. She was asked by an interviewer to respond to a “thought experiment” as to what she would advise an American president if it seemed that either party in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were moving toward genocide. Any seasoned media professional would have known that rule number one – as Michael Dukakis famously discovered in 1988 after being asked by Bernard Shaw of CNN how he would respond if his wife Kitty were raped – is never to respond to a hypothetical. But Power, fresh on the national media scene, was baited by the question and answered that preventing such a genocide would entail America being prepared to alienate a powerful constituency – by which she meant the American-Jewish community - and sending in a protective force to prevent another situation like Rwanda. From these comments – putting Israel and the possibility of genocide against the Palestinians in a single sentence – Power has been lobbed together with other enemies of Israel.
In our conversation she rejected utterly the notion she had any animus toward Israel. She acknowledged that she had erred significantly in offering hypothetical comments that did not reflect how she felt. She said that opponents of President Obama had unfairly taken her disorganized comments further and characterized them as ‘invade Israel’ talk. She said that if she really believed that Israel could even be remotely accused of practicing genocide against the Palestinians then the correct forum for her to express that view would have been somewhere in the 664 pages of her book wherein she details all the genocides of the twentieth century. She never even hints at Israel being guilty of any such atrocity. She explained that the only time she has written about Israel was in a later book on slain UN Diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. There she described his time in UNIFIL and included a discussion of the Government of Israel’s own findings on Sabra and Shatila.
To bolster her argument she mentioned that her former Professor at Harvard Alan Dershowitz – whom I consider to be Israel’s most eloquent global champion – called her after A Problem from Hell was published to applaud her for not remotely associating Israel with genocide, the way so many academic enemies had. I checked with my old friend Professor Dershowitz and he confirmed that he has warm feelings toward his former student and considers her a moderate on Israel.
Listening to Power face-to-face and hearing her clarification set amidst the visible hurt of being grouped together with Israel’s detractors, I found her argument convincing. Power, the world’s leading chronicler of genocide, is being dismissed as an enemy of the Jewish state based almost entirely on a fragment of a single interview lasting about two-and-a-half minutes. Most significantly, however we understand the meaning of her words in the unfortunate interview, they are utterly belied by her actions. She would later indeed become a senior adviser to a President of the United States and not only would she never even remotely identify Israel as a genocidal power that needed to be stopped but, to the contrary, she would utilize her influence to advocate for military action against a genocidal Arab dictator who is not only killing innocent Arab protestors but is, along with Iran, one of Israel’s most outspoken enemies.
In addition, some leading members of the American Jewish establishment shared with me that Power was instrumental in having America decline attendance at Durban II in April 2009, otherwise known as the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which promised to be, like Durban I in 2001, a UN-sponsored Israel hate-fest.
There have been other, more minor comments by Power that have been interpreted as hostile to Israel but the interpretations rely on the assumption, generated in 2002, that she is an Israel-hater. But based on Ms. Power’s clarification, and much more importantly her actions, I believe this perception to be without merit and justice demands that we now move on from her comments and judge her instead by her actions.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my personal stake in the rehabilitation of Samantha Power’s reputation in the Jewish community. Firstly, it seems incongruous that a woman that has done more in modern times to highlight the atrocity of genocide than anyone else should be ostracized from a community that has most experienced its tragic effects. Indeed, in our meeting Power told me that the Jewish community is by far the most vocal against genocide and that at the Save Darfur rally of 1 May, 2006 there was an endless sea of yarmulkes. Likewise, in A Problem from Hell she writes of the Jewish community’s role in mobilizing military intervention in Bosnia.
Second, Muammar Kaddafi owns the home right next door to me in Englewood, New Jersey. I have been sickened over the past two years to awaken every morning to the site of the Libyan flag flying fifty feet from my home. I have done everything in my power to fight and oppose this brutal dictator ever since he announced plans to personally occupy the home and pitch a tent next-door to me. I have lobbied mayors, Governors, Congressmen, and Senators. Amid my deep respect for President Bush and his efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East, I was disappointed that his administration chose to normalize relations with Kaddafi. But one of the few American officials with a President’s ear who advocated punishing Kaddafi for his wickedness was Samantha Power.
Third – and for me most importantly – I have spent a large part of my life fighting Israel’s enemies in public forums. Whether it was the eleven years at the University of Oxford where I brought five Israeli Prime Ministers and endless cabinet ministers to respond to false accusations against the Jewish state or the past eleven years where I have been a defender of Israel on the American airwaves, championing the truth about Israel as a benevolent and liberal democracy has been one of my life’s highest callings. But as important as it is to expose those who are our enemies, it is equally important to exonerate those who are not. A person’s reputation is all they have and I know what it is like to feel unjustly maligned. Samantha Power has done the Jewish people a service by highlighting the crime of genocide and we welcome her repudiation of earlier comments on Israel. They were some time ago, she has expressed her regret for comments that lent themselves to misinterpretation and Judaism teaches that a person is judged primarily by their actions.
Power has lectured all over the world about the holocaust. She has used her influence to prevent a dictator from killing more of G-d’s children. She has highlighted the central role of world Jewry in preventing genocide. These are heroic actions that should be applauded rather than criticized.
Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ was the London Times Millennium Preacher of the Year and is the winner of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He has been on Newsweek’s Ten Most Influential Rabbis in America list since its inception. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
March 23, 2011 | 3:42 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Hearing about a bomb going off in Jerusalem is entirely different when you have two daughters living there. You scramble for your phone. You search out your kids. Any potential delay in their answering their cells is painful. You finally get through. Thank G-d, they’re alright. But what of those who aren’t? Those maimed and killed who were also someone’s daughters, sons, mothers, and fathers.
The news lately has been sickening. And while the Japanese earthquake is not something we can control, the knifing of three-year-old-children in Israel, bombs against civilians in Jerusalem, live fire against protesters in Bahrain, and the use of helicopter gunships against Arab civilians in Libya is something we can stop.
So why don’t we?
Why does evil continue to flourish so mightily in the year 2011? How is that Gaddafi, who owns the home literally next-door to me in Englewood, New Jersey, could get away with blowing up planes and discos for forty years and only when he starts using RPG’s against demonstrators can be declared by an American president to have ‘lost the legitimacy to rule’? Why has the Mafioso Assad family continued to rule Syria for decades? And how can Palestinian-terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah continue to murder Jewish civilians and pay barely any price with the international community?
Because we have forgotten how to hate evil.
Early Christians like St. Paul embraced the Jewish Bible but rejected what they called the ‘vengeful’ G-d of the Old Testament. In his place they gave us Jesus, a deity who they said was synonymous with love. Hate no longer had any place, including hating evil. So whereas the Hebrew G-d of the Israel says explicitly in the book of Malachi, “I love Jacob but I hate Esau,” where the former is representative of those who struggle for peace and the latter is a symbol for those who live by the sword, Jesus says in the New Testament that one must love even one’s enemies and turn the other check to an attack, seemingly advocating passivity in the face of blind cruelty.
Shortly I will argue that this sanitized version of Jesus – a rebel against Rome who was put to death by the empire for opposing Caesar and Roman rule – is utterly inaccurate. But the effects of the misapprehension are felt till today. In the twentieth century genocide was commonplace. A few of the better-known examples include the Turks slaughter of the Armenians during the First World War, the German holocaust of the Jews, the Khmer Rouge and their killing fields in Cambodia in 1975-78, the Hutus hacking to death the Tutsis in Rwanda in April 1994, the ethnic cleanings of Croats by Bosnian Serbs, and the wholesale slaughter of black Christians in the Sudan by white Muslim Janjaweed militias.
How did the world allow so much suffering? Because we practice love without hate, which means we often lack the motivation to stop monsters from committing their crimes against innocents.
Is anyone surprised that China, whose president was recently given only the second state dinner of the Obama presidency and who is currently brutalizing reigning winner of the Noble peace prize, is also opposing the use of force against Gaddafi in Libya? So why do we accord this government so much respect?
At times it becomes almost comical, as when the Carter Administration actually lobbied to have the Khmer Rouge be recognized in the UN as the legitimate government of Cambodia. Or when Kofi Anan, at the time head of all UN peace-keeping forces worldwide, forbade General Romeo Dallaire of Canada, who commanded the UN peace-keeping force in Kigali, from using force to stop the Rwandan genocide. Anan would later be rewarded for his lack of abhorrence for genocide with becoming UN Secretary-General.
But can love really exist without hate? Can someone claim to love the 1.5 million children who were killed by Hitler without hating the SS who gassed them and dashed their brains against rocks? Can you love the 800,000 Rwandans who were savagely cut up by machetes in Rwanda without hating the Hutus who just a few hours earlier were their friends and neighbors? Can you claim to love peaceful protesters in Tehran while refusing to hate the tyrant Ahmadinejad who mows them down in the streets? And can you love the victims of Pan Am 103 without hating Gaddafi for raining their bodies down over Lockerbie?
And spare me the argument that once you start hating the terrorist it can spill over into hating innocents as well. Firstly, the same argument can be made against love, that once you embrace it you may end up loving the wrong people, like a husband or wife having an affair. Please. We discerning adults are plenty capable of controlling our emotions and directing them to legitimate targets. We hate Hamas for their honor killings of young girls with boyfriends or their murder of gays in Gaza without letting it spill over into hating the guy who stole our parking space.
Indeed, this is what Jesus himself meant. He never said to love G-d’s enemies, but your enemies. G-d’s enemies are the religious police in Saudi Arabia who allow young girls to burn alive in their high schools rather than run from the inferno without a face covering. Your enemy is the guy who got promoted over you at work.
Likewise, by turning the other cheek Jesus never meant that if Osama bin Laden blows up New York we should let him take Los Angeles as well. Rather, he meant that if you hear that someone you consider a friend said something unpleasant about you try and transcend the provocation. Any other understanding would make a mockery of one of the greatest moral teachers of all time.
Jesus hated the Romans for their cruelty and Luke (13:1-2) describes the brutality of the Roman proconsul Pilate, which Jesus uses as an illustration for his students. “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?”
Indeed, if we don’t begin to hate and fight evil, more victims will suffer and more innocents will die.
Shmuley Boteach, ‘America’s Rabbi,’ is the author of 25 books, most recently ‘Honoring the Child Spirit’ and ‘Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.’ He is about to publish a book on the Jewish Jesus and his fight against Rome. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
March 7, 2011 | 1:06 pm
Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Just as I was about to write a column praising Natalie Portman for attacking racist John Galliano, along comes Mike Huckabee to attack her as a unmarried-and-pregnant-negative-role-model. There’s a time for everything, Mike. And this was the wrong time. But before I respond to Mr. Huckabee – man for whom I have much respect – let me first tell you why Ms. Portman elicited my praise.
Our world constantly excuses evil. The Hitlers and Stalins of this world are spoken of as ‘sick,’ as if they committed their evil out of delusion and mental illness. That’s how you now hear people speaking about Gaddafi - he’s a weirdo, he’s high as a kite – instead of calling him what he really is, evil and cruel to the core.
Over the past two weeks Hilary Clinton and President Obama have been saying that Muammar Gaddafi has ‘lost the legitimacy to rule,’ surely, the most painfully laughable phrase uttered by a Secretary of State and President of the United States in recent memory. Er.. he only now lost the legitimacy to rule? And while he tortured and imprisoned political opponents for forty years and blew up airliners and discotheques he had legitimacy to rule? President Obama, who shook Gaddafi’s hand in Italy, has this Messianic hang-up where he believes that he can somehow transform brutal killers like Gaddafi into upstanding citizens instead of boldly declaring them to be the evil killers they are.
About five years ago I wrote a column that said that although most of my close friends are staunch liberals, I myself could never embrace liberalism because it refuses to hate evil. And the inability of the two most powerful people in the United States to get up and say ‘Gaddafi is, was, and always will be a despot’ is sad proof of my earlier conviction.
So it was with glee that I read Ms. Portman’s courageous statement in the wake of John Galliano exposing himself as a Jew-hater. When Mel Gibson made a film depicting Jews as Christ-killers, Hollywood, and the Jews of Hollywood – with the notable exception of my former agent Ari Emanuel – excused him and continued to work with him. Even after he got drunk and called us ‘F-ing Jews’ who incite all the world’s wars, Hollywood still cast him in films. It wasn’t until we discovered that he also hates women, African-Americans, and Lord knows who else that he was finally shunned.
But this time when a famed designer, an ‘artist,’ made his admiration for Hitler known (was it all those stylish SS uniforms that caught your eye, John?) a leading actress who had just won an Academy award told him to go to hell. Saying she was ‘shocked and disgusted,’ she declared herself proud to be Jewish. Party on Natalie!
So perhaps Mr. Huckabee should have thought twice before choosing this particular moment to attack a Hollywood hero who stood up to evil.
Not that Huckabee doesn’t have an important overall point. It is disconcerting that few in Hollywood seem to believe that children should be brought into the world amid the security of marriage and surely our stars of the big screen would agree that most children love to see Mom and Dad as husband and wife.
But having said this, Ms. Portman is quite simply the wrong target. Mr. Huckabee’s ire ought to be directed toward the men who are the real problem.
Once there was a code of honor among men to treat women with commitment and respect. If you lived with a woman and wanted to have a child with her you granted her the ultimate compliment of publicly declaring your love and commitment to her by making her your wife. Marriage is a where a man selects one woman and simultaneously deselects every other woman on earth, thereby establishing the object of his live as the one and only.
Today, however, there is a broken code of male honor. Men treat women casually and hedge their bets. And why not? If you can have a woman commit to you without having to reciprocate the whole marriage thing seems a bit gratuitous.
This is a regular mistake made by social conservatives. Last week Richard Land, the head of the Southern Baptists, published a column in the Wall Street Journal enjoining religious conservatives not to give up the fight on abortion, the most divisive of all social issues in America. But why can’t we find language that is actually unifying? Both the left and the right agree that respect for women is a paramount virtue. Yet, most abortions are the product of men sleeping with women whom they don’t love, impregnating them, and abandoning them. These are not men but inseminators, hormonally-driven walking sperm banks. Abortion thrives in a society that has witnessed the end of love and the rise of the hook-up. Yes, women have to learn to respect themselves but more importantly parents and schools must inculcate within men a desire to be gentlemen again.
So instead of beating an endless drum on abortion, why not focus on the real problem. Is there anyone of any political persuasion who would condone men using women as masturbatory material and disappearing from their lives?
Granted, men who have a child with a woman in a serious relationship, like Portmans’ beau, Benjamin Millepied, are not in this category and indeed he is her fiancé. Still, there are way too many men who leave the picture as soon as the woman is pregnant.
In his comments Huckabee himself acknowledged that it’s the men who are the problem, which makes his attack on Portman even more curious. “You know, right now, 75 percent of black kids in this country are born out of wedlock,” he said. “61 percent of Hispanic kids—across the board, 41 percent of all live births in America are out of wedlock births. And the cost of that is simply staggering.” But it’s not the women who are abandoning these kids, Mike, but the men.
And the same applies to so many of these recent racist tirades, nearly all of which are being committed by broken and messed up men.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books and has recently published “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life,” and “Honoring the Child Spirit: Inspiration and Learning from Our Children.” Follow him Twitter @RabbiShmuley.