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?