The president of the Orthodox Union on Monday slammed the US Jewish groups who
recently chastised Israel over the anti-boycott law.
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“We live in the
United States, we haven’t served in the army, we don’t pay taxes [in Israel], so
it would be inappropriate for us to publicly, in some fashion, criticize Israel
on what they do to protect themselves,” said Simcha Katz.
The new law,
which passed in the Knesset last Monday, enables citizens to file civil suits
against people or organizations that call for economic, cultural or academic
boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions or regions under Israeli control,
and prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or
comply with such boycotts.
American Jewish groups ranging from J-Street
to Zionists of America, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the ADL,
Americans for Peace Now and the New Israel Fund all spoke out against the
“On a personal level,” Katz noted, “I fully agree with the
anti-boycott legislation. It was based on US legislation, which has criminal
components to it. This doesn’t have criminal components to it; essentially, it’s
a financial potential component.
“I was reading that Telrad, one of the
companies in Israel, was selling products to the Palestinians – but part of the
deal was that they couldn’t buy from Judea and Samaria. I find that outrageous,”
“On a personal level, I’m fully in support of that particular
law. Generally we support the Israeli government per se. The OU hasn’t taken a
position, and generally we are supportive of what the Israeli government in
power does,” he reiterated.
The OU was notably silent on last year’s
conversion bill controversy as well, a topic Katz said his movement was not an
expert in, so there was no point in getting involved.
“Look, we’re into
tachles, to accomplishing things, we do things in the field – that’s what we’re
interested in. So we want to be very supportive of the Israeli government, [and]
meanwhile we’re involved in a lot of activities.
Press releases are not
what we’re interested in.”
The kashrut supervision element of the OU,
which supports the organization’s community work, came about in the 1920s as the
initiative of an Orthodox women’s organization to be a non-profit group to serve
the Jewish community. In the 1940s, Heinz wanted a kashrut symbol on its
products, but not with Hebrew letters.
“Heinz worked together with us to
develop the first circle U,” said Katz of their famous emblem. “And from there,
the OU became a very important symbol.”
The OU currently provides kashrut
supervision to 7,147 plants in over 80 countries, “with 550 rabbis working in
the field to ensure that the kashrut is of the highest standard,” Katz said.
This makes the OU “the backbone of the kashrut industry in the world” since most
of the kosher manufacturers use products under its supervision.
profits from the industry go back to the Jewish community, Katz continued,
noting the kiruv work – bringing Judaism to unaffiliated Jews – among some
25,000 students in the US, the programs in 250 public schools, as well as in the
dayschools supported by the OU, the 15 couples living on 15 university campuses
– all of this “to keep Jews as Jews.”
The OU also supports programs in
locales in which intermarriage is a rare event, but other aid is
Katz, a retired business professor who served for 30 years as a
volunteer at the OU before agreeing to take over its helm six months ago – also
as a volunteer – was speaking in Jerusalem during a short trip to oversee the
OU-funded programs in Israel, programs such as Mashiv Haruach for soldiers, the
Hezroni “Zula” for outcast youth, and the Makom Balev program for youth in
outlying areas of the country.
“There is currently an intermarriage rate
of over 50 percent in the United States, and without the Orthodox group – it’s
closer to 70-80%. We are losing our children,” Katz said. “So we try to see if
we can stem the tide.”
Katz was also wary of the recent European
legislation against shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter. The lower Dutch
parliament recently approved a bill that would prohibit slaughtering animals
without first stunning them – a practice against Jewish law – and the European
parliament was set to vote on an amendment that would stipulate marking kosher
slaughtered meat as such. The vote was put off.
Could such trends spread
across the ocean to the United States?
“Jews are paranoid – for a good reason,
we’ve seen this movie before,” said Katz. “The first ban in Germany was
Hitler’s ban on shechita. And it’s a little discomfiting, given what’s
happening in terms of assimilation.
“Fortunately,” he continued, in the
US, “we feel that at this time we have influence, impact, presence. But things
change. So you can never really be too careful.”