Jewish Journal

Being Honest About Hate

by  David A. Lehrer

August 31, 2010 | 3:36 pm

The past few days offered an interesting confluence of events that serves to highlight the importance of moral consistency, principle and the danger posed by religious true believers.

In this weekend’s Jerusalem Post and this week’s Jewish Journal, Judea Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation [named after his son] wrote a wonderful op/ed analyzing the reasons for some of the opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a nuanced and incisive piece, Pearl argues that the most significant underlying reason is the American public’s

vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimensions that anti-Americanism had taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation…. 

The American Muslim leadership had had nine years to build up trust by taking proactive steps against the spread of anti-American terror-breeding ideologies, here and abroad….evidently, however, a sizable segment of the American public is not convinced that this leadership is doing an effective job of confidence building….

Terrorist acts, whenever condemned, are immediately “contextually explicated” (to quote Tariq Ramadan); spiritual legitimizers of suicide bombings (e.g. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar) are revered beyond criticism….”

No sooner did Pearl’s words criss-cross the globe then press reports from Israel quoted a Jewish New Year’s sermon by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, and now the spiritual leader of Israel’s leading ultra-Orthodox party, Shas.
Yosef, not one known to mince words (he has called Netanyahu a “blind she-goat” and proclaimed that “Sabbath desecrators are worse than cattle”), wished for the demise of the Palestinian Authority’s President, Mahmoud Abbas, “Abu Mazen (Abbas’ nom de guerre) and all these evil people should perish from this world….God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians…..evil, bitter enemies of Israel.”

These comments were delivered on the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s departure for this week’s Israel-Palestinian summit in Washington.

In short order, the US State Department appropriately, “regretted and condemned the inflammatory statements…they are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “the words of the rabbi do not reflect my approach or the position of the Israeli government…Israel comes to the negotiating table out of a desire to proceed with the Palestinians to an agreement that would end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations.” Hardly a ringing condemnation, but clearly a distancing from Yosef’s nuttiness. 

Much to its credit, the Anti-Defamation League is one of the only American Jewish organizations (if Google is to be believed) to unequivocally condemn Yosef’s bigotry. ADL expressed outrage at the “offensive and incendiary comments made by Ovadia Yosef…..these comments do not exist in a vacuum—such incendiary expressions contribute to a potentially dangerous environment of intolerance and hatred.”

These two events—-Pearl’s commentary and Yosef’s remarks—-complement each other perfectly.

Pearl’s call for forthrightness in condemning extremism and decrying the wishy-washiness of “contextual explications” that avoid calling hate by its name, is no less relevant when the purveyor of bigotry and hate is an Israeli and a religious leader. Intolerance and extremism are no less reprehensible when cloaked in religious garb that looks and sounds familiar; in fact, it is even more insidious because of the veneer of moral authority.

For those who rightfully call upon American Muslim leaders to speak out in unequivocal terms against Hamas, Hezbollah and other Muslim haters,  can less be asked of Jewish leaders to condemn an advocate of plagues and mass deaths from within their ranks?

Hopefully, before the Jewish New Year arrives there will be multiple voices in the Jewish community, beyond just the ADL, who will clearly and forcefully meet the Pearl test of “condemning terror breeding ideologies” no matter their source.


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