Thursday, March 8, 2018

Is There An Overlooked Jewish Farrakhan/Mallory Scandal?

A number of media outlets have given voice to outrage at Women's March leader Tamika Mallory's complicity with Louis Farrakhan's antisemitism. Yesterday I added a criticism of Rabbi Sharon Brous both for her statement defending Mallory and for her saying that while Farrakhan is repugnant, similarly flawed leaders exist in the Jewish community.


Several people responded to the latter point by arguing that Brous is correct and that there are indeed such leaders in the Jewish community. Some of the names put forward were Rabbi Meir Kahane, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, Rabbi Dov Lior, and Ayelet Shaked. Others compared Mallory's complicity to how various people in the Jewish community associate with, praise, and do not criticize such leaders, and argued that there is a double standard going on here.

To a certain extent this rejoinder is justified, but only in a relatively minor way. There are certain points of similarity that I will address, but there are fundamental differences. While the various Jewish leaders mentioned have expressed some deeply despicable statements and positions, they are still worlds apart from Farrakhan.

Allow me to explain. The anti-Palestinian statements expressed by these people have to be understood as reflecting two ways in which these people differ in their worldview from others. The first is that they see the Israel-Palestinian conflict as being one of all-out war, like Britain vs. Germany and America vs. Japan in World War II. Now, this is wrong; notwithstanding Abbas' incitement and the various acts of terror, it is absolutely not all-out war. The PA prevents and foils numerous acts of terrorism, and there are many Palestinians who work with and for Israelis and who have no hostile intentions. Still, it is mistaken to see it as all-out war, it's understandable that some people nevertheless view it that way.

But when there is an all-out war for survival, what is the appropriate strategy? To what extent does one aim for clear victory, even when it results in massive losses for the other side, not all of whom may be complicit? Again, this is something in which people will reasonably differ. Some people believe that Hiroshima and Dresden were justified, otherwise believe that they were morally abhorrent. You might think that someone has the wrong perspective, but you can't totally invalidate their opinion.

This is why it is wrong to claim that the Jewish community has its own Farrakhans. There is simply no comparison between someone who (wrongly but understandably) believes that we are in an all-out war for survival against the Arabs, demanding harsh tactics, and Farrakhan's lifelong obsession with demonizing Jews, claiming them to be the source of much of the world's ills, and spreading slander such that the Jews are responsible for 9/11.

Now, having said all that, there remains a valid point that when Jewish religious leaders do say things that are unacceptable by any measure - such as Rav Ovadia Yosef's comments about the victims of Hurricane Katrina and others - they should be called out on it. Some argue that Rav Ovadia had a style of speaking in wild hyperbolic drama, and nobody was expected to take it too seriously. Perhaps, but this is not clear; furthermore, as I have written in the past, I still think that people did and do have a responsibility to condemn such statements. The Sages state that "In a place where there is no man, strive to be a man," and "In a situation of desecration of God's Name, one does not apportion respect to a rabbi," but the general Orthodox community seems paralyzed with cowardice when it comes to criticizing the sins of those revered as Gedolim. This is a problem. Nevertheless, as discussed, there is still a world of difference between such people and Farrakhan.

But, for argument's sake, let us say that there is no significant difference between these people and Farrakhan. Would that mean that there is a double standard in our criticism of Mallory (and, by extension, Brous)? Not at all.

The crucial difference is with regard to the nature of the circumstances and of the complicitee (that's a word that I just made up to describe the person accused of being complicit). No rabbi promoting a platform of love and tolerance would have happily and unapologetically attended and praised an anti-Arab speech by Rav Ovadiah. And if a different type of public figure such as an actress or newscaster had attended Farrakhan's rally, there would not have been the same degree of protest. The outrage here was because Mallory (and Brous) have specifically set themselves up as prominent leaders of intersectional movements that protest various forms of hatred and intolerance. It's not just a matter of the glaring hypocrisy, but also the fundamental betrayal of the very values that they are professing to lead.

And it still might have died down quickly, were it not for the fact that Mallory and her partners and supporters just keep digging themselves deeper and deeper in the hole. Sarsour failed to criticize Farrakhan and instead supported a minister who tried to deflect the criticism by talking about Netanyahu. The Women's March released a statement in which they failed to present any strong condemnation of Farrakhan, saying instead that his statements are "not aligned with the Women's March Unity Principles," and did not criticize Mallory's complicity, saying instead that they are presenting "external silence" while working this out privately. Mallory herself just released a long, meandering public statement in which, incredibly, she continued to refuse to apologize or condemn Farrakhan's statements. Brous's statement defended rather than criticized Mallory.

In a subsequent interview with the JTA, Brous did criticize Mallory, and acknowledged that the Left has a problem with antisemitism. Yet she insisted (against the available evidence) that the Women's March leadership is trying to improve and that she will not step away from her relationship with Linda Sarsour and the other Women's March leaders. Good grief, Rabbi Brous, what will it take for you to acknowledge that it's ridiculous to purport to be fighting moral injustice when you are aligning yourself with antisemites?

34 comments:

  1. R' Natan, that picture was a big mistake.

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  2. "This is why it is wrong to claim that the Jewish community has its own Farrakhans. There is simply no comparison between someone who (wrongly but understandably) believes that we are in an all-out war for survival against the Arabs, demanding harsh tactics, and Farrakhan's lifelong obsession with demonizing Jews, claiming them to be the source of much of the world's ills, and spreading slander such that the Jews are responsible for 9/11."

    True, but there is room for comparison between Farrakhan and those Rabbis who think Arabs are sub-human.
    And sadly, there are too many of them. (Even one is too many.)

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  3. It is particularly tone-deaf to post a picture juxtaposing Louis Farrakhan and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.

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    1. I thought that the red line in the middle was sufficient demarcation, but ok, I changed it.

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    2. That being said, the quotes from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef are irresponsible at best, crudely wrong at worst.

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  4. Agree with your post for the most part. While there is no Jewish equivalent of Farrakhan's wild assertion that white people are an evil race invented in a test tube by a mad scientist, there are still many in the frum world who write off entire races of people based on Pere Adam and Eisav sonei l'Yaakov. May we see change for the better in our lifetimes.

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  5. When exactly does the PA stop terrorist attacks? The PA is a terror organization, Mahmoud Abbas is a holocaust denying terrorist. And yes, it is an all out war between the Israeli government and the PA. The PA charter does not accept Israel as a country. Palestinian schools indoctrinate children to kill Jews and view them as animals. The fact that there are a few dissidents in the movement only shows how terrible the PA is. Any Palestinian who actually supports Israel fears for his life.

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  6. According to a Washington Post story on Keith Ellison (Minnesota congressman and rising Democratic Party leader,) his ties to Farrakhan are not an issue with his colleagues:

    "Ellison is a former Nation of Islam member who swore when he ran for Congress in 2006 that he had left Farrakhan behind in his past. Despite those promises, Ellison attended multiple meetings with Farrakhan while in Congress, as revealed by The Daily Caller. Ellison is currently the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

    Ellison’s fellow Democrats don’t care about his meetings with the famed anti-Semite, he told the Washington Post for a story on Wednesday.

    'None of my colleagues ever asked me about that, only reporters,' Ellison told the Post. 'I am telling you, no one cares. I’ve been all over Minnesota, all over Alabama, all over Missouri, all over Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and nobody ever asked me about this. People ask me about wages, about pay, about health care, about guns, about immigration. They ask me all kinds of challenging questions. But for some reason, some folks in the Fourth Estate think that this Farrakhan thing needs to be inquired about instead.'

    In his interview with the Post, Ellison never denied meeting with Farrkahan in Congress.

    Ellison has repeatedly attacked the media for reporting on his ties to Farrakhan. He previously bashed the media for reporting on his meeting with Farrakhan in a Washington, D.C., hotel room.

    Ellison isn’t the only congressional Democrat to have a relationship with Farrakhan. Six other Democrats have attended meetings with Farrakhan while in Congress.

    California Reps. Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee, Illinois Rep. Danny Davis, Indiana Rep. Andre Carson, New York Rep. Gregory Meeks and Texas Rep. Al Green have all attended meetings with Farrakhan while in Congress, according to photos, videos and witness accounts of the meetings reviewed by The Daily Caller News Foundation."

    As far as the Democratic Party (which is rapidly moving much farther to the Left) goes, there's no scandal in ties to Farrakhan. The Women's March advances the Party agenda, and many American Jewish organizations have fully endorsed that agenda as implementing "Jewish values."
    So no. No scandal.
    QED. Ellison and Sarsour and Tamika Murray are promoting Jewish values. Farrakhan shmarrakhan.

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  7. You know, I'm a charter member of this blog, having been reading and participating since Day 1. Along the way there's been lots of posts I disagreed with, and some I thought were really mistaken, but not so many I can recall as thoroughly *unnecessary* as this one. There is really, *really*, no need to respond to comments seeking to equate the individuals you mentioned with a lunatic. (And you don't even need to censor them either, people understand there's a lot of crazies out there.) Proverbs 26:4. This post is a good illustration of it.

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  8. There is a difference but it's not what you posited.
    There are, in fact, lots of Farrakhan-type folks in the Orthodox Jewish community. Do you recall the "Gadol" who, on video, called all Gentile murderers? What are children taught about non-Jews in many yeshivos? How many times was Barack Obama called Hamas or Hitler-lite?
    The difference is in the proposed solution. Farrakhan would like to have us wiped out. We just want outsiders to leave us alone. It's the solutions, not the ideas, that are different.

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    1. Barack Hussein Obama has been involved with the muslim brotherhood, Jeremiah wright etc... He never denounced all of the evil they spouted and continue to spout. He never separated himself from them and throughout his 8 years supported many sources of evil around the world. I don't know anyone that equated him to Hitler YM"S , that would be a stupid fall into Goodwin's law, but one can easily support categorizing him as a muslim-sympathizing anti-semite.

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  9. You can't compare Farrakhan to Meir Kahana, hy"d.
    RMK never advocated killing anyone, like Farrakhan does. He did advocate paying money to Arabs to move out of Israel (like certain other chavrei Knesset to this day) for which he was not allowed to run for office (thank you, prosecutor ehud olmert), while Arab parties that did advocate murder of Jews were ruled non racists.

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    1. Meir Kahana ran a terrorist organization. You are doing exactly what Brous is doing.

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    2. David Ohsie I am convinced that you are either sick in the head or your political hackery has turned you dishonest in an ugly way

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    3. Meir Kahana didn't run a terrorist organization? I met one of his people who went to jail for planning to blow something up or hurt someone. I asked whether or not it was true and preferred not to answer. You can also find plenty online about it. I would argue that your politics has skewed what you will accept as true. If you think that your side is always doing the right thing, then you know that you've drunk the kook-aid.

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    4. Ohsie- Name calling wont solve anything. You can call Rav Kahane's organization a "terrorist organization" just like you can call King Dawidh a "terrorist" or Moshe Rabbeinu or Shimshon. The bottom line is what was it for and was it or was it not justified. And in the case of Rav kahane ZTL HYD it was to fight injustice and free Jews from oppression. Of-course it was a great thing just like a Jew fighting Nazis during the Holocause.

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  10. I agree with your overall analysis, but disagree about the propriety of "calling out" someone like Rav Ovadya. If you meant other gedolim doing so, fine, but I don't think an ordinary Jew has the right to call him out. A gadol deserves a certain measure of deference and respect.

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  11. The problem with Farrakhan is that he believes white people were created by a mad black scientist and deserve to be exterminated. This alone, one would have thought, would make him unnacceptable to any moderately sane person.

    The fact that it is only Farrakhan's views about Jews that are causing his buddies embarrassment demonstrates how normalized anti-white bigotry and black-supremacist fantasy history has become in mainstream discourse.

    On the other topic: Ovadiah Yosef was autistic and the majority of his followers are, in the most literal sense, dumb. Now, being dumb is not a crime, it's not even a sin. They literally can't help it and nor can anyone else. However, in a functional society, dumb people do not get to contribute to public debate and weird autistic geniuses are left alone to write funny books and certainly not encouraged to set up political parties.

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    1. If there was no moniker on this comment I'd still know who wrote it. The crassly offensive opining plus thoughtless generalisations about particular cultural groupings is classic Gavriel M. Dumb, literally, refers to an inability to speak. Perhaps expand your literary awareness. Start with a dictionary. A literal one.

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    2. Classic racist comments. Referring to (without directly referring) Sefardim as "dumb" and "inferior"

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  12. The crucial difference is with regard to the nature of the circumstances and of the complicitee (that's a word that I just made up to describe the person accused of being complicit). No rabbi promoting a platform of love and tolerance would have happily and unapologetically attended and praised an anti-Arab speech by Rav Ovadiah.

    Did R Brous attend and praise and antisemitic speech by Farrakhan?

    This is much simpler than you are making it out to be. We all overlook the sins of our allies to a greater degree than our enemies. R Brous is doing so here and she is correct that others, and especially many Orthodox, also do it. Call her out for it and accept that your allies do it too sometimes.

    I also think that the hypocrisy card is not useful. The fact that R Brous promotes tolerance to a greater degree than most Orthodox rabbis doesn't give the less-tolerant a pass for endorsing or ignoring bad ideas. I prefer someone who is inconsistently right on an issue to someone who is consistently wrong.

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    1. I think Garnel's excellent comment (March 8, 2018 at 9:02 PM) makes it less simple. Brous is silent to someone insinuating attacking people whereas "most Orthodox rabbis" are and preach to scaredy cats as far as doing something physical.

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    2. Chaim, that last comment of yours is becoming less true on a daily basis. See Meah Shearim and the hilltop youth for details.

      It's awful but it's reality

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    3. How many people at Farrakhan marches go out and attack people? In any case, these fine distinctions are kinda silly: "But their support for dumb things on the left are not as dangerous our support for dumb things on the right" is not very convincing.

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  13. I suppose percentage of Arabs personally involved in murdering Jews does not exceed percentage of Germans that did that. Their only complicity is silence. Just like Germans. (And just like Israelis in time of Gush Katif destruction.)

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  14. "Silence?" They support it and love it.

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  15. Most Arab residents of Israel oppose Israel's existence and many have supported "peace" as a means of dismantling Israel using Arafat-style salami tactics plus attrition. Viewing transfer as the best long-term option is quite reasonable and far from despicable.

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  16. I am sure that I do not grasp the concept of "the legacy of the rationalist Rishonim (medieval Torah scholars)" and what it has to do with this discourse or the ridicule of Torah Scholars. I am aware that Rabbi Dr Slifkin (and I use the term 'Rabbi' lightly as R Slifkin several times assigns that title to Sharon Brous) has made a very commendable life's work of animals/nature and the bible/jewish literature. Why he feels the need to dabble in so many other popular discussions, which present to him unavoidable stumbling blocks, I do not know. If one word can be used to describe his writing it would be hyperbole yet he uses that word to deride the man who may have had the broadest torah knowledge in RDNS lifetime. At the very least R O Yosef was a (deserving) chief rabbi of Israel and and unquestioned giant of Torah (NOT hyperbole) in the 20th century as well as a tzadik. Rabbi slifkin may be brilliant (in his own mind) but all his Torah knowledge "wouldn't even fill the pinky toenail of Rav Ovadia". RDNS's audacity to so boldly criticize and condemn such a giant is also beyond my comprehension. On the few times that friends have forwarded to me this blog I always ask the same question in the comments and apparently there is no answer. Why has RDNS made one of his life goals the ridicule of Torah sages? Suppose he is still scarred by the bans that boosted him to fame does that mean that forever he will be unable to refrain from mocking those that are much greater than he, that he does not understand or that he disagrees with? RDNS was a mere 15 years old when R M Kahane HY"D was murdered. He never knew the man. He most likely will never accomplish in learning or deeds even a tiny fraction of what RMK did in his life (eg saving a millions of soviet Jews, saving Ethiopian Jews, saving Jews in the US and Canada, teaching judaism to so many and bringing so many close to it and to Zionism etc...) Has he studied enough about him that he has the right to roundly condemn him and put his name in an equation with truly evil men?! Where does he have the audacity to hope to condemn a living Torah giant and saint like Rav Dov Lior and put him in the evil equation. In every one of these little diatribes of RDNS he makes me think of why Achashveirus had to make that silly decree about every man being the king in his own home. With each of these inappropriate columns he causes readers to take less seriously his main body of work. If you want your readers or visitors to your museum to think that you really know what you are talking about, you won't accomplish it by devoting column after column to deriding Torah giants.

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    1. Roland, did you actually read the post, or did your hatred of RNS blind you to what he wrote? It wasn't RNS comparing Brous to R. Kahana and R. Ovadia - it was OTHER PEOPLE, and RNS was RESPONDING to them and arguing that they were WRONG.

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    2. "At the very least R O Yosef was a (deserving) chief rabbi of Israel and and unquestioned giant of Torah (NOT hyperbole) in the 20th century as well as a tzadik."

      On what basis do you say that he was a tzadik?

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  17. On what basis do we call anyone a tzadik? I admit that I personally had very little interaction with him although even very late in his life I turned to him with a halachic question on a sensitive family matter and received a personal response. However, I have heard numerous stories of how he went out of his way to help individuals, particularly agunot. I also saw the outpouring of grief when he died. Within hours a million! Israelis raced from all over the country to pay respects. The news reports explaining the phenomenon of so many from every part of Israeli society turning out were full of stories of how he had personally touched their lives. Does anyone question his greatness in Torah and Ben adam lamakom. This seemed to cover the ben adam lechaveiro side. Take out the word zadik if your mileage varied but it doesn't change the thrust of my comment.

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  18. I read it DT and do NOT hate. RNS mentions 3 great rabbis and about them he says "To a certain extent this rejoinder is justified" "While the various Jewish leaders mentioned have expressed some deeply despicable statements and positions" "Rav Ovadia...responsibility to condemn such statements. "there remains a valid point that when Jewish religious leaders do say things that are unacceptable by any measure - such as Rav Ovadia Yosef's ... - they should be called out on it" Maybe i misunderstand RNS's chosen words and implied tone but I think if you have kids and they spoke that way you would consider it disrespectful and inappropriate. I think that with regards to the 3 rabbis mentioned we (RNS and myself, I don't know you) are analogous to the children and the words spoken were (once again) out of line. Then again, I am no expert in Maimonidean thought and am not the representative of his 'rationalist' ideas in the 21st century. Yet I imagine that even in Maimonidean thought respect for Torah scholars and ones elders, be it in age or wisdom, takes a high priority.

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    1. "While the various Jewish leaders mentioned have expressed some deeply despicable statements and positions"

      I regret that sentence - it should have been qualified. For example, I don't think that Ayelet Shaked has ever expressed deeply despicable statements and positions. And I don't know much about Rav Kahane or Rav Lior. But when a high profile rabbi says that the victims of the Shoah were reincarnated sinners, and that the black victims of Katrina were punished for learning Torah and for Godlessness, and that Goyim have no reason to exist other than to serve Jews - yes, these are despicable statements, and the rest of the Jewish people have a responsibility to denounce them and say, This is not what we believe. And as Chazal say, Where there is chillul Hashem, you put aside the kavod that we normally have for Rabbanim.

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  19. NS I am glad you have now retracted your disparaging remarks on all but Rav Ovadiah Yosef. I recall the Saturday morning sermon of an American Charedi Gadol after Katrina saying in effect that he doesn't know why some of his colleagues speculate as to cause and effect, rhyme and reason, when such disasters happen for the true Jewish response is always to say 'what can we do now to help those in need of help?'. Our job is not to judge but to help. HOWEVER, did Rav Ovadia say that because of the ideas you quote him as saying we should not help? NO. He was discussing theology in light of current events at his weekly shiur. "This is not what we believe"? Somehow I imagine that if you respectfully challenged his theological statements then (or sometime in his lifetime) he would have had no trouble defending them all within the framework of Jewish learning. My understanding is that his compassion was legendary and he sometimes would go without sleep going through all the sources until he could formulate a teshuva to free an Aguna lest she remain chained even one more day. Ayelet Shaked, on the other hand, "despicable statements and positions" (close to murder in my book) to the extent that I could never vote for her. Tomorrow (15/3/18) will be the trail of the boy she, as minister of justice, gave the green light to murder. Prisoner E, a boy of 16 who was home in bed the morning of the Duma Arson was being brutally tortured in a shabak dungeon for weeks to elicit a confession that he was responsible. There was no evidence but with beautiful peyos, a big kipa and the right (wrong?) friends he was the chosen scapegoat. Ayelet Shaked and her deputy, Ron Nizri, knew of the torture but they chose to rubber stamp it for political expediency. For close to a month the boy was kept sleepless, beaten, tortured and abused physically and psychologically in solitary confinement. Torquemada of the GSS relished in his screams of anguish but Ayelet Shaked was deaf to them. She had no trouble sleeping then or during the ensuing two years when thanks to her, he languished in solitary confinement in conditions worse than that of the most heinous terrorist murderers in Israeli prisons. A pretty face doesn't mean one is not "despicable"

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