Washington Watch: Our own agents of intolerance

Influence of Israeli Orthodox widens rift between Diaspora and Israel.

douglas bloomfield 63 (photo credit: Courtesy)
douglas bloomfield 63
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jewish activists in both political parties have launched campaigns accusing the opposition of fostering religious bigotry and hostility toward Israel, and they're just getting warmed up for the fall campaign. Jewish Republicans would have us believe the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's hate-filled rantings make his most famous parishioner unfit for the presidency and taints the Democratic Party as an unreliable friend of Israel. On the other side, liberal Jews make similar arguments about Sen. John McCain and point to his avid courtship of Pastor John Hagee, the Rev. Pat Robertson and other "agents of intolerance," as the presumptive GOP nominee once branded them. Both attacks have had little impact. So far. But that will change, especially if Sen. Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. Both parties will wrap themselves in self-righteous holy raiments, and Jews will be a major target audience. All three remaining presidential candidates have been working overtime to convince Jewish voters they will preserve, protect and defend the ties that bind the United States and Israel. They are sincere and can be trusted, notwithstanding the dire warnings of their opponents. The threat to the relationship comes less from the pulpits of evangelical megachurches like San Antonio's Cornerstone Church or Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ than from the pulpits of extremist rabbis within our own community. The hatred that spews from many of those rabbis threatens to drive a wedge between the Diaspora and Israel, where the religious establishment has disproportionate influence and displays open contempt for the non-Orthodox, particularly Reform and secular Jews. YET THIS spreading rift is largely ignored by Jewish leadership that is quick to condemn hate speech by leaders of other religions and too often blind when it comes from one of our own. It is particularly troubling when the message of hate comes from rabbis who train other rabbis like Rabbi Herschel Schachter, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University, who said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should be shot if his government tries to "give away Jerusalem." It wasn't until after his words were cited in the New York Jewish Week and played repeatedly on YouTube that he finally apologized. University President Richard Joel "repudiated" Schachter's message but there was no disciplinary action. The chief rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, wants to hang "from a high tree" the young children of the terrorist responsible for last month's attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. Arabs, he said, must be made to "understand very well the language of revenge." It apparently runs in the family. His father, a former chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, has called for carpet bombing of Gaza in retribution for Kassam rockets, has blamed the Holocaust on Reform German Jews, and said the 2005 Tsunami was preemptive "divine punishment" for Asian governments' support of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Another chief Sephardi Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the powerful Shas party, has said Holocaust victims were the reincarnated souls of sinners, called Palestinians "snakes," branded a supreme court justice an "enemy of the Jew," and declared "it is permissible to kill" anyone who "thinks evil thoughts about yeshiva students. No political leader has the temerity to respond to the Shas hatemonger for fear he might turn his party against them. Blind ambition can cause deafness in politicians lusting for the backing of the religious minority. Fatwas on prime ministers seems to be a specialty. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin showed that when rabbis accuse a prime minister of acts punishable by death under traditional law, their followers may take them seriously. But that lesson seems lost on rabbis Hershel Schachter, Ovadia Yosef and Shalom Dov Wolpe. RABBI YOSEF prayed for God to strike dead Ariel Sharon for proposing the Gaza disengagement. Rabbi Wolpe in January called Prime Minister Olmert a "terrible traitor" and said he and his top ministers "should be hanged for negotiating with the Palestinians." When American Jewish media expose or condemn such incitement they are often accused of intolerance themselves. The disproportionate influence of the religious establishment is an important element in the growing rift between the Diaspora and Israel, according to Prof. Yehezkel Dror of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute. A recent study by the group found Diaspora Jewry's sense of identification with Israel weakening among the non-Orthodox. When prominent Orthodox rabbis advocate mass murder, regicide, mutiny by Israeli soldiers or forbid followers to rent property or give jobs to Arabs, declare it a "sin" to enter a Reform synagogue or to sell Torah scrolls or mezuzot to Reform Jews, and blame a recent earthquake in Israel on "homosexual activity" the fabric of the nation is threatened. The Jerusalem Post noted this week that "these are manifestations of religious extremism seemingly tolerated by the community in which they took place." They are also wedges that threaten to widen the rift between the Diaspora and an Israel that appears increasingly dominated by the religious establishment. We rightly demand Palestinian leaders halt their anti-Israel incitement and some are repelled by Obama's continuing relationship with his former pastor - but when it comes to our own haters, too often mum's the word.