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Jewish Journal

Obsessing over Aish HaTorah and ‘Obsession’

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 28, 2008 | 2:57 pm

Before the whole Clarion controversy, I only knew a few things about the Jewish outreach organization Aish HaTorah: they offer private Torah study at a hefty price and one of their rabbis considered Luke Ford “one of the Torah weirdos.”

But then the organization got caught up in the production and distribution of “Obsession,” a video about Islamic jihad that was distributed to 28 million American via newspaper inserts. Aish’s involvement remains a bit murky, but a lot of shoe leather has been expended drawing dark lines.

Now Jeffrey Goldberg has joined the chorus of critics:

Aish HaTorah denies any direct connection to the film, which is designed to make naive Americans believe that B-52s filled with radical jihadists are about to carpet-bomb their churches, and are only awaiting Barack Obama’s ascension to launch the attack. But the manifold connections, as laid out in this article, among others, make it clear that high-level officials of Aish are up to their chins in this project. The most disreputable flack in New York, Ronn Torossian, who represents Aish, makes an appearance in this story, which was to be expected: Torossian last made the news when he employed sock-puppetry in defense of one of his many indefensible clients, Agriprocessors, Inc., the Luvavitch-owned kosher slaughterhouse that treats its employees nearly as badly as it treats its animals, which is saying something, because Agriprocessor slaughterers have been filmed ripping out the tracheas of living cattle.

But I digress. It’s said of Ronn Torossian that he represents “right-wing” Israeli politicians, but this description does not do his clients justice. “Right-wing” is Bibi Netanyahu. Torossian represents the lunatic fringe. Several years ago, in one of my only encounters with him, he introduced me to Benny Elon, a rabbi and settler leader who was then Israel’s tourism minister, and who, at various points in his career, has more or less advocated the ethnic cleansing of Israel of its Arab citizens. At one point, when Elon had gone to take a telephone call, Torossian and I started talking about Israel’s right to reprisal for terrorist attacks. I was arguing in favor of some sort of proportionality (this was after Jenin, in which the Israeli army chose to root out terrorism block by block rather than bomb the city from the air) but Torossian interrupted: “I think we should kill a hundred Arabs or a thousand Arabs for every one Jew they kill.” I was somewhat taken aback, of course, because this is a Nazi idea, rather than a Jewish idea. I asked him to explicate: “If someone from a town blows himself up and kills Jews, we should wipe out the town he’s from, kill them all. The Israelis are suckers. They should have destroyed Jenin.” He went on like this for some time. I would only note that Torossian, to the best of my knowledge, never volunteered for the Israeli army, so he seemed to me by definition a chickenhawk.

Torossian’s attitude toward Arabs and toward the peace process are echoed in the approach of Aish HaTorah, which is just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today. Its operatives flourish in the radical belt of Jewish settlements just south of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, and their outposts across the world propagandize on behalf of a particularly sterile, sexist and revanchist brand of Judaism. Which is amusing, of course, because “Obsession” is meant to expose a particularly sterile, sexist and racist brand of Islam.

The tragedy of “Obsession” is not that it is wrong; the tragedy is that it takes a serious issue, and a serious threat—that of Islamism—and makes it into a cartoon. Its central argument is that the “Islamofascism” of today is not only the equivalent of Nazism, but worse than Nazism. This is quite a thing for a Jewish organization to argue. One of the featured speakers in “Obsession” is a self-described “former PLO terrorist” named Walid Shoebat, who argues on film that a “secular dogma like Nazism is less dangerous than Islamofascism is today.”

This is lunacy, of course. Islamism isn’t Nazism. It’s bad enough without being labeled Nazism. Martin Gilbert, the biographer of Churchill, shows up in the film as well, and doesn’t cover himself in glory: “History has an unfortunate habit of always repeating itself,” he says. Always? Does this mean that the Arabs are right now constructing death camps for the Jewish citizens of Israel?

Just unbelievable, but the most unbelievable part of the “Obsession” campaign is its timing: What does this film have to do with Barack Obama? The film is meant to suggest that Obama will provide aid and comfort to Islamism, or is an Islamist himself. There is not one shred of proof on this planet that Barack Obama is anything other than an Israel-supporting Christian. Yes, he went to party with Rashid Khalidi. So did I. Does that make me a member of Hezbollah?

If Goldberg—the former IDF soldier who Norman Finkelstein falsely accused of torturing Palestinians—is a member of Hezbollah, then I’m Kim Jong Il.

And that, Charles Barkley says, would make me a knucklehead:

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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