Every day various organizations send me news releases — many helpful, some irrelevant, and some downright baffling. (Why an association for bass fishing includes a Jewish weekly on its e-mail list I’ll never know. Herring, maybe. Salmon, sure. But bass?)
Rarely are these missives very surprising or newsworthy.
Nevertheless, this past week I got a flurry of releases that made me sit up and take notice — mostly out of respect for some bold stands.
After further review…: Last Friday, the Anti-Defamation League jumped to the defense (or should I say dee-fense!) of rookie New York Jets lineman Oday Aboushi, a Palestinian-American who had been smeared as a “Muslim extremist.” His accuser was the right-wing website FrontPageMag.org, whose anti-left mania often makes The Drudge Report seem restrained by comparison. FrontPage built a case against Aboushi in classic double bank-shot manner: The 22-year-old recently spoke at a Palestinian friendship society (what Jews used to call a landsmanschaft), which hosted a high-ranking member of the PFLP terrorist group — in 1986. The article also connects the player to a “relative” (how close it doesn’t say) who once posted a nasty cartoon protesting the expulsion of Palestinians by Israeli settlers.
The ADL looked at this and other “evidence” and concluded that the charges amounted to “a lot of exaggeration and hyperbole.” Wrote national director Abe Foxman: “Absolutely nothing in the public record suggests that Aboushi is anything other than a young American athlete who takes pride in his Palestinian heritage.”
To be honest, Aboushi doesn’t sound like a likely guest speaker at an AIPAC Father-Son Picnic. But taking your own people’s side in a longstanding nationalist conflict doesn’t make you a radical. As Foxman put it, “There is nothing wrong with someone being proud of their ethnic or religious background…. Even if one disagrees with the agenda of the groups whose events he has attended, it is unfair and farfetched to cite those as evidence that he is an extremist.” Going after Palestinian-Americans like Aboushi makes the pro-Israel cause look petty, and worse.
‘Baseless hatred’: It’s been a bad few weeks for Orthodox leaders in Israel. Last week, police questioned Avraham Yosef, son of the Sephardi leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, on corruption charges — certainly inconvenient for his father, who hoped to nominate him as chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel. Ovadia nominated his son Yitzhak Yosef instead.
At an event announcing Yitzhak Yosef’s candidacy, another leading Shas rabbi, Shalom Cohen, likened religious Zionists to “Amalek,” the biblical archenemy of the Jewish people. Government minister Naftali Bennett, himself Modern Orthodox, called on fervently Orthodox leaders to condemn the remarks.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein sent a letter to Tzefat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, another candidate for Sephardi chief rabbi, demanding to know how a series of comments by the rabbi — including his call for a ban on selling or renting apartments to Arabs — are not racist under Israeli law.
Finally, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was questioned by police on corruption charges.
This was the context in which the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union called upon “all Jews throughout the world to reclaim the glory of our people by refraining from language that divides us and promoting language and deeds that unite us.”
The news release arrived this week ahead of Tisha B’Av, the fast day that mourns the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. According to one tradition, cited in the release, the Temples were destroyed as a result of baseless hatred among the Jews themselves.
“Recently we have witnessed a frightening exacerbation of internal discord and an ominous intensification of inflammatory rhetoric,” the Orthodox leaders write. “We have heard vile insults, offensive name-calling — including the inciteful invocation of the name ‘Amalek’ — and vicious personal attacks emanating from all sides on the various troublesome issues that we now confront. We have even witnessed physical violence. Indeed, in recent months we have seen precincts of Jerusalem’s Old City, in the shadow of the destroyed Temple for which we mourn today, become a venue for provocation and insult, rather than a place of unity for the global Jewish community.”
That last line is apparently a reference to Women of the Wall; the “provocation” presumably came from the women who came to pray with yarmulkas and tallitot, the “violence” from fervently Orthodox men and women who hurled insults and debris at the women. Both sides may bristle at those characterizations, but the RCA and the OU deserve credit for trying to reach across the religious-liberal divide, saying: “We urge all Jews to celebrate the diversity of our community, whatever our ideology or choice of head covering.”
‘Shocked and horrified’: Mazon, the Jewish anti-hunger group, is better known for mitzva projects than political activity. But last week they pulled no punches when Republican members of Congress stripped funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (i.e., food stamps) out of the Farm Bill. Saying the group was “shocked and horrified,” Abby J. Leibman, Mazon’s president and CEO, decried “[t]his ideologically-driven and misguided effort” and “back room political maneuver that flies in the face of decades of bipartisan consensus and rural-urban cooperation that have produced past farm bills and balanced diverse national priorities.”
Now that’s a news release you can’t ignore.