OU president slams US Jewish groups over anti-boycott law

Orthodox Union head urges US Jews, who don't pay Israel taxes or serve IDF, to keep from criticizing Israeli policy.

OU president Simcha Katz_311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
OU president Simcha Katz_311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The president of the Orthodox Union on Monday slammed the US Jewish groups who recently chastised Israel over the anti-boycott law.
“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.
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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 law.
“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,” said Katz.
“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.
All the 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 needed.
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.”