Sunday, September 17, 2006

Modern Orthodoxy and Ethnic Cleansing

There was a bit of brouhaha about my post on ethnic cleansing. The issue was whether I had overstated my case in associating American Modern Orthodox Jews with the settlers on the West Bank. The details of the complaints and my acknowledgement of saying something misleading can be found in the comments section of Thursday’s blog.

Yossi Beilin, the leader of the leftwing Meretz party, has called upon attorney general to prosecute Eitam for incitement to racism. Eitam is a reserve brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces and former chairman of the National Religious Party. He is even today a charismatic and radical figure in Israeli politics. He left the party in 2005 when moderates tried to recapture control, and went on to join the extremist National Union. Now the two parties have combined, and Eitam is back in business. His words must be taken seriously. The Forward asked several Orthodox leaders to address Effie Eitam’s comments. They went like this:

Rabbi Yosef Blau, president of the Religious Zionists of America, said that Eitam’s view is not the mainstream view and not the view of most Religious Zionists. He went on to say that "Eitam should not be judged by this one incident, since his remarks could have been the result of a heated outburst within the “context of a group of Arab Knesset members going to Syria, at a time when Syria has self-defined itself as an enemy of Israel. I’m not prepared to say, ‘Throw this one out of the Knesset, throw that one out of the Knesset’ every time someone says something’."

I disagree. I think even if he said it in an outburst of anger, he should be minimally asked to retract his comment and say that it was a result of anger. If he’s not prepared to do so, then he stands by them and consequences should follow.

The Forward then turned to Rabbi Norman Lamm, the chancellor of Yeshiva University. He also offered criticism, while cautioning against a rush to sanction Eitam. “I can understand what drives General Eitam, but I do not at all concur with his conclusions. Israel prides itself as being the only true democracy in the Middle East, and that is an asset, as well as a moral obligation, that I would not want to forfeit. At the same time, I would not go to the other extreme, and charge him with racism, because what bothers him are national groups that are presumably disloyal to the state, not ethnic or religious groups. It is therefore wrong in my opinion to persecute and prosecute General Eitam — but it is important to dissociate ourselves from this dangerous policy.”

How does anyone know the Arabs, not individuals but the group as a whole, are disloyal? Have they committed multiple acts of treason, in which case they should be prosecuted? Has Rabbi Lamm conducted a survey and would he know what they really believe if they answered the survey? If they said they were loyal would he believe them? If they said they want a bi-national state are they automatically a fifth column? Shouldn’t the burden be on Effie Eitam to prove disloyalty, and not assume it, since he’s ready to kick them out? Eitam described Arab Knesset members as “a fifth column, a league of traitors of the first rank.” If he can prove it, he should bring charges; if he can’t, he should shut up, or so it seems to me.

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the rabbi of Kehilath Jeshurun, the ritzy congregation on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and a senior member of the Modern Orthodox rabbinate said “I think he points to a very serious problem for the State of Israel, and I don’t know what the solution to that problem is. I think you have a very large percentage of the citizens of Israel who are not loyal to the state but rather to the sworn enemies of the state, but I don’t know how to solve that problem.”

Perhaps Rabbi Lookstein should consider such measures as equal opportunity for Israeli-Arabs, equal per capita expenditure of state funds to municipalities irrespective of ethnicity and recruiting more than token Israeli-Arabs for prominent positions in the media and in government. It might help. Maybe God forfend a little affirmative action. When people have a larger stake in a system, they are more inclined to support it enthusiastically.

Rabbi Basil Herring of the Rabbinical Council of America said he could not provide a complete reply until he’d consulted his board. “What I can certainly tell you now,” he said, “is that we will not endorse those statements.” It is comforting to know that the RCA will not endorse Effie Eitam’s position. I’m not quite sure what else Rabbi Herring has to find out from his board before he can condemn the remarks.

The ADL and the AJC, liberal American Jewish organizations, said what I believe is the right position. “Calls by public figures to ban minorities and expel them from their homes are abhorrent. These are irresponsible statements advocating collective measures that the ADL totally rejects.”

What I want to know is why we’re supposed to be empathic and understand where Eitam is coming from, and why we should not rush to judgment? Why all the hemming and hawing, on the one hand-on the other hand, unless what Eitam said reverberates, at least to some extent, with the leadership of Modern Orthodoxy. It is possible that Ultra Orthodox leaders would have said the same, though I doubt it. They may agree with Eitam but he’s not one of them and they wouldn’t expend any energy to help him out. It is also true that there are Modern Orthodox Jews who would not hesitate to bring charges of incitement against Eitam. My point today is a narrow one. In my opinion the responses of these prominent Modern Orthodox leaders was tepid and inadequate.


At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should write a serious e-mail to Rabbi Blau and cc it to Herring and Lookstein.

At 11:37 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...

This post ought to have been about anti-Arab racism in Israel, and its apologists in the American Orthodox community. The post is clearly trying to say something more, viz., that this racism is uniquely a Modern Orthodox problem. Am I reading you right? Or are you saying that yes, the UO agree with the MO 100% on this; it's just they're smart enough this time to be quiet about the issue? Your words are ambiguous to me as they contain too many escape clauses ("may", "would have", etc.) -- where do you stand? In your opinion what do the UO think about Arabs?

I'll say up front that if you honestly think that the UO are any more tolerant of goyim, much less Arabs than any other branch of Orthodoxy you are hereby declared meshuga, unhinged, oyver batul.

They may come as a shock to your average Haredi fellow traveler, sequestered as he is in the saftey of waspy college town (present company excluded of course), but the views that one can find in the books such as the one referenced here

are no surprise to those of us who have actually grown up with, been taught by, and live with Haredim. (see also:

At 3:52 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

I specifically said I am making a narrow, i.e., non-comparative point, having learnt my lesson from the last go around. Alas, you continue to be unhappy. I now feel it my personal responsibility to badmouth charedim, lest I be accused of being less than perfectly fair (I am unfair), a fellow traveler (I wish I were), and naively sequestered in a WASPY college town (if only…it used to be, but no longer).

I agree UO Jews are intolerant of goyim in general and Arabs in particular, are xenophobic and generally feel less bad about these attitudes than MO’s, not having internalized the values of tolerance, pluralism, multiculturalism and political correctness. (How can you not love such Jews?) If they could wish the Arabs away they would have been gone a long time ago. At the same time UO’s have a tradition of not starting a fight with goyim or making the nations of the world angry with the Jewish people. It might be because they proudly carry on the galuth tradition of shtadlunuth or because they are acutely conscious of shirking their duty to join the army, it has the beneficial consequence that in the clutch they are agreeable to any reasonable compromise that will avoid war. (My kind of guys) Not so the settlers and their supporters. They make Jabotinsky look like a Peace Nownik.

As for my being oyver ‘n batul(senile)…no reason to rush things. It will happen in its own good time.

At 10:47 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...

Look, I'm sorry for misunderstanding you, but I wanted to get an explicit reading of your position. Now I got it, and I'm relieved to learn that it's a reasonable one.

And I never said you were senile - I said that if you believed something so insane as aforementioned notion, then would I perforce conclude that you were off your rocker. Perish the thought. Hopefully you're mochel me.


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