Thursday, February 26, 2015
(U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)
Dear Honorable Elected Representatives and Officials,
Jewish hero, bridge builder, and Soviet Gulag survivor Natan Sharansky famously suggested a "3d" test for what he termed the "new antisemitism" (http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-sharansky-f04.htm). Softer than its more overt cousins, this anti-semitism is the product of double standards, delegitimization and demonization. Semantics and incendiary politics aside, this is a useful rubric for examining unfair and biased treatment of Israel.
Yesterday, testifying before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned:
"The Prime-Minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush. We all know what happened with that decision."
The problems with this statement are many, and consequential. Firstly, there is extreme hypocrisy. Kerry, vast majorities of both major U.S. parties, as well as the vast majority of the American people supported that war. In fact, John Kerry was one of the select few with the actual power to wage war (the U.S. Congress is supposed to be the branch to declare wars). Then Senator Kerry voted for the war he now criticizes others for supporting.
Secondly, intentional or not (I assume it is not), this plays off of fears and classic anti-semitic canards that the Jews are a fifth-column, divided in their loyalty, powerful in their influence, lobbying and persuading the United States to act against their own interest. Often, this type of allegation goes hand-in-hand with conspiracies of Jewish ownership of the main organs of society (Holywood, the media, government, Wall Street), and lurks just beneath the surface. See, for example, a recent attempt to deny a Jewish student appointment on a judicial governing council at UCLA because of the "conflicts of interest" involved simply in being an affiliated Jew (http://dailybruin.com/2015/02/18/submission-usac-members-should-apologize-for-discriminatory-act/). In reality, Israel was merely supporting its great friend and ally. I recognize that Kerry didn't make accuse Israel of influencing the policy, but he certainly came too close to intimating such a thing.
Many allies supported and fought in the Iraq War with us. To single out Israel, particularly Benjamin Netanyahu, and then note his judgement is now circumspect is a clear employment of an unfortunate double standard. Are the leaders of England, France, Germany, Canada, and all of the politicians, military officials, etc. now circumspect in their judgment of all military matters due to their support of that war? Perhaps, but Israel is again the country to focus on and criticize. It's worth noting that this event isn't occurring in isolation, but comes on the heels of weeks of intensifying and personal criticism of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu from administration officials like John Kerry, Susan Rice, Jen Psaki, and many many others. Nary a week goes by without incitement against Israel or its elected leader from the executive branch. Would it were that the administration would reserve its anger and frustration for actual enemies such as the Iranian regime (committed overtly and proudly to terrorism and our defeat). Instead, for political reasons, those criticisms are limited or absent, while criticism of Israel is ubiquitous and overemphasized. That's called a double standard, and it's time to protest.
John Kerry also misleads with his words. Much ink has been spilled noting Israel's (and yes, Benjamin Netanyahu's) reluctance to engage in a military conflict with Iran, desiring instead a negotiated solution. Netanyahu himself recently gave a speech where he stressed his vehement opposition to a bad agreement, but not an agreement generally (http://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/61341-150216-netanyahu-s-congress-speech-to-be-delayed-by-5-minutes-on-israeli-tv). Kerry implies that Israel is gunning for war, but it clearly is not, as evidenced by the lack of attack or discussion about one. Kerry also imputes Netanyahu's support for the Iraq war to Israel, though Netanyahu was only a former Prime Minister holding no elected office at that time. In reality, Secretary Kerry and President Obama have promised a non-nuclear Iran, but have clearly given up on that notion if multiple media reports of the emerging deal are to be believed.
In short and without exaggeration or rhetorical flourish, the administration has mislead, employed a double standard (the frequency and intensity of the criticism render a term like double standard generous), stoked fears of Jewish influence and hypocritically attacked the Jewish State and its Prime Minister. Moreover, they've done it with obvious anger and resentment.
To an outside observer, it seems that President Obama and Secretary Kerry are letting a personal feud with Prime Minister Netanyahu (I'm not commenting on the legitimacy of that feud, as I recognize there are many viewpoints) dominate discussion, instead stifling important and legitimate discussion about the real issue, Iran's nuclear intentions, motivations, and capabilities. Let's have a national debate about whether the terms of the emerging deal are a good one. Distracting and making it all about a school-yard catfight between world leaders is silly and demeans the high offices being served and the United States Government generally.
At a time where Jews are frightfully experiencing a renewal in violent and hateful global anti-semitism, the administration's tone and words are causing increased anxiety for many. As a Rabbi and communal leader, it is my moral duty to protest and to do so loudly. This week, Jews across the world will celebrate Purim, celebrating victory over a genocidal Persian regime seeking to kill the Jews for reasons of political expedience. Just as Mordechai and Esther acted to protect the Jews of Persia, we speak up on behalf of our people again. Treat Israel and its leaders fairly, like the loyal Middle Eastern democractic ally that it is. End the scorn, double standards, fixation and misleading criticism. Please, enough is enough.
חיים בעריל בן מאיר שמשון ולאה ביילה
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
This is the text of a letter I sent today to the Islamic School of RI, which was recently attacked and vandalized with incredibly hateful messages. We should stand in solidarity against this kind of bigotry and hatred, which has no place in our society.
Dear Students, Teachers, Staff, Parents, Members of the Board of Trustees, Supporters and Friends of the Islamic School of Rhode Island:
It is with outrage and profound sadness that we received the news of bigoted and hateful messages spray-painted illegally and cruelly onto your precious school. We condemn the actions, and more importantly, the spirit of hatred that caused them.
Coming on the heels of the vicious attack and brutal killing of three upstanding Muslim students in North Carolina, and just one day after your school’s memorial of those honorable victims, may they rest in peace, it seems unlikely that the timing was coincidental. Rather, the vandalism of your school was likely intended to rub salt in the proverbial wound and was calculated to cause increased fear and anxiety. This makes these otherwise horrific actions that much worse.
We extend our hands in offering you support during this time, and pledge to work together to fight intolerance and hatred all too common in our world. Sharing the belief that all people are created in the image of the one true God, we join together with you in prayers for peace and respect. Assalamu alaykum.