I recently received an email from a reporter asking me to comment on questions of the “when did you stop beating your wife” variety. I receive these near daily from anti-Israel and anti-Semitic publications who accuse me of everything from supporting genocide against Palestinians, to lending my name to African regimes that slaughter their people (they’re referring to my friend President Paul Kagame, who actually stopped the genocide in Rwanda in 1994), to abandoning Michael Jackson. But this one came from a Jewish publication and included these gems: Do I disappear for days, sometimes weeks, into a room where I cry on the floor and then work for 23 hours a day? Did I turn my Chabad house in Oxford into a vehicle for self-promotion and self-advancement and basically become an impresario by using the prestige of Oxford to attract celebrity speakers? Is my new book Kosher Lust not a violation of Jewish teachings of modesty, and doesn’t its emphasis on lust over love denigrate women by making them objects of male desire?
It did not surprise me that the questions came from a reporter who was raised Orthodox, abandoned it, and has family members who are vehement public critics of Jewish practice. Those who leave Jewish observance often spend a great deal of their lives having to justify their rejection of a religion which, they claim, is too insular, narrow and backward to allow adherents to live a fully modern life. As someone who lives a public life as an Orthodox Jew in the secular world, I am a favorite target of those who need to prove that it’s impossible. My very existence irks them. I have no right to be a representative of Judaism in the media given that my yarmulke and beard capture the primitive, antiquated side of Judaism from which they, with all their sophistication, have “graduated.”
But the point I want to make is not just the well-known one that Jews are their own worst enemies, but this: When articles like these are written, my friends say to me, no-one will believe this garbage. Don’t respond. Everyone will see it as a twisted, sociopathic character assault motivated by a reporter’s deeply personal and psychological issues with their Jewishness and upbringing.
As I write these words, Israel is engaged in a ground assault in Gaza against Hamas in which too many of its righteous soldiers have already fallen. Rather than the world showing sympathy for a tiny democracy that invaded the giant terrorist cell that is Gaza to stop rockets being fired at schools, world media is largely portraying Israel as the aggressor who is cavalier and callous about Palestinian lives.
I’ll tell you why. Because Israel made the same mistake of believing, for decades, that all the lies told about them would not be believed. The Jewish state treated as beneath contempt the falsehoods that Israel poisons the water of Palestinian children (an accusation made by Suha Arafat in the presence of Hillary Clinton), introduces AIDS to kill off Palestinians, bombs Arab children indiscriminately, steals Palestinian land without compensation, has no historical claim to ancient Israel, humiliates Palestinians at military checkpoints for merely racist reasons, and built a wall that has made the West Bank into the Warsaw Ghetto. Israel never felt the need to respond to any of this drivel because it thought the truth of its righteousness and respect for human rights was self-evident.
It was the same mistake made by Jews for the past 2,000 years. They were sure that no-one would believe they murdered god in the form of Jesus. That no-one would believe that they drink the blood of Christian children.
That no-one would believe they poisoned the wells of Europe, creating the bubonic plague. And that no-one would believe they were stealing land that had been theirs for thousands of years.
Countless Jews died because of these lies. Only now are we learning that each and every one must be responded to.
Of course, the venue where one chooses to respond matters. Dignifying a malicious story with a response in an irredeemably hostile publication will only give it credibility it does not deserve. This is especially true when the media outlet in question is driven by hatred, irrational bias, and wants to simply do a hit piece. Holocaust denial, for instance, must be responded to. But not in neo-Nazi publications. Lies about Israel must be addressed. But much more effectively in The Wall Street Journal than The New York Times, The Washington Post than The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times than Al Jazeera, even though these more hostile outlets cannot be ignored and must be addressed – the New York Times especially.
As for me and the allegations that I lock myself in a room for days on end, I would welcome the luxury and would see it as a vacation. Sadly, with nine kids to support, I can only lock myself in a room and cry for a week at a time.
As to the charge of self-promotion, well, my name is on this column, right? But whatever my imperfections, I have never veered from my mission – to promote the universal teachings of Judaism and make our people a light unto the nations – not now, not ever.
Soft lies that are not responded to slowly become hardened truths.
It’s a lesson that Israel must finally learn.
The writer is the international best-selling author of 30 books and Founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary and won the London Times Preacher of the Year competition. He has just published Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.