I celebrate the courage of the more than 613 rabbis who have chosen to endorse President Obama for a second term. It is impossible for me to represent all of them. Each rabbi must make his or her decision based on a number of factors, including the possibility that they could lose their jobs, damage their reputations or alienate donors and board members. There are consequences for each member of Rabbis for Obama in this diverse and distinguished group. Significantly, this group has doubled in size from 2008 to 2012.
I can speak only for myself and give my reasons for endorsing the president through Rabbis for Obama. I note with pride that none of the rabbis endorsing President Obama does so by announcing his or her congregational or institutional affiliations. We are aware that we must observe the law that disallows our religious institutions from endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Each of the rabbinic endorsers does so — to borrow a phrase from Rabbi David Wolpe, who gave a prayer at the recent Democratic National Convention — “off the pulpit.” Rabbi Wolpe did not endorse the president.
But when we rabbis became “teachers in Israel,” we did not forfeit our First Amendment rights. The pulpits of congregations are there for teaching Torah. Rabbis are allowed to advocate from the pulpit for issues and values but not candidates. Even in the area of issues advocacy, prudence and good congregational democratic process calls for us to be sure that a diversity of opinion is presented.
In the 2008 presidential election and again in 2012, we have been confronted with a profound challenge to the integrity of political discourse. The unprecedented level of falsehood, innuendo and demonization spread about President Obama was and is without precedent in our political system. That level of dishonest political rhetoric reminded me of a story of the consequences of the silence of the ancient rabbis. According to our legends, the rabbis stood by silently and allowed an act of sinat hinam (baseless hate) to boil over, and eventually it led to the upending of Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the end of Jewish sovereignty for 1,800 years. This is the famous story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, whose feud had disastrous consequences. The silence of the rabbis is a cautionary tale for our time, too.
In 2008, the whisper campaign that circulated in the Jewish community was delivered through the Internet. The lies claimed that Obama was disqualified from office because he was a closeted Muslim, was anti-Israel, was not born in the United States and was a socialist-radical. All these verbal attacks continued through the campaign and during the past four years. They are beyond the pale of normal political rhetoric. For the second time in 2012, the Republican Party did not break with its “wing nuts” but instead tried to incorporate, fund and appease these factions. These rumors and lies had to be responded to in a public and organized way by Judaism’s teachers primarily because the “doozies” reflected badly on the good name of Judaism.
I grew up in Barry Goldwater’s Arizona and still remember real conservative Republicans. Certainly, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican and now independent, remembers a different Republican Party. He, too, did not take a vow of silence when he left the Republican Party. The two senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, issued their demurrals, but to no avail.
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the “dark money” groups paid for the distribution of 28 million copies of “Obsession.” This scurrilous movie and the accompanying “culture of lies” mobilized for a new round of Islamophobia. The movie was an attempt to brand Obama as a Muslim and create a diversion from the economic free fall at the end of the Bush administration. The movie stirred up the Christian right, especially Christians United for Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition, which launched an unprecedented assault against political and civic norms on the Web site I co-founded, JewsOnFirst.org.
My reading of the underlying message of hate and disdain against the president and the manufacturing of religious hatred toward Muslims impelled me to join Rabbis for Obama. My Judaism cannot countenance sly messages of religious hate toward fellow Jews or Muslims or any religion. Jewish history reminds me of the apostasy committed by the majority of the German Catholic and Protestant churches’ priests and ministers in the 1930s.
Noted philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s new book, “The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age,” analyzes the nature of the fear based on religion with which so many communities continue to grapple. We need to articulate the moral principles and practices to evaluate this fear and to question the actions the fear motivates. No teacher with integrity can sit quietly on the sidelines.
Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak lives and works in Los Angeles and Poland.
Find the con column here: Glenn Beck Rally in Jerusalem: Bad for the Jews!
“Israel must have our support, and I’m not talking about military support; I’m saying they must have our support as a people. They have a right to survive and to be free from extermination and the people who want to vaporize them. They have a right to defend themselves. Will Americans stand up and say that? [Israel has] a right to hold on to the land taken as a buffer zone between them and the people who want to kill them. That’s the support they deserve, the support they have earned and the support that is required.”
No, this statement was not made by Benjamin Netanyahu; it was made by Glenn Beck during his program on Fox News a couple of months ago.
As the most hated cable news host among the left — and especially among liberal Jews — Beck emerged as the medium’s most pro-Israel commentator. This was very welcome news for me, as when he first began broadcasting for Fox News a few years ago, he focused almost exclusively on domestic issues, advocating strict libertarian policies for America. For the most part, he steered clear of issues related to defense and international relations. As such, I feared he was in the mold of Ron Paul.
But then something changed. About a year ago, when the flotilla incident occurred, Beck was out in front, reporting on Israel’s right to self-defense, while so many others in the mainstream media were ambiguous or hostile toward the Jewish state. I decided to watch Keith Olbermann on one of the nights following the incident, and his entire coverage was relegated to a biased interview with one of the “peace activists” on the ship.
Conversely, Beck did two consecutive shows devoted to defending Israel’s actions in the flotilla incident, as well as educating his audience about the creation of Israel, the history of the Jewish people and anti-Semitism. Furthermore, during the last several months, Beck has devoted large segments of his shows to discussing how the tumultuous uprisings in the Middle East will affect Israel’s security. Unlike many in the liberal media who blindly cheer these revolutions, Beck — with the fate of Israel on his mind — is engaging the issue with a healthy dose of skepticism. Beck understands that Egypt, under the ousted President Mubarak, kept peace with Israel for 30 years. Now, the virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli Muslim Brotherhood is poised to take power. In addition, Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei — the lauded “progressive” among Western leftists — said: “If Israel attacked Gaza, we would declare war against the Zionist regime.” It looks like Beck’s skepticism about the fate of Israel vis-a-vis the Egyptian uprising is well founded.
On his Fox News show, Beck repeatedly stated that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that shares America’s values of freedom and human rights. In March, Beck began the show with the statement, “Tonight I stand with Israel,” and then asked: “Tens of millions of Arabs have suffered atrocities at the hands of their own countries … but Israel is the evil one — that is the obstacle to peace? … How many homosexuals have been stoned to death by the Israelis? … How many terrorists are wearing a yarmulke?”
On his program during the week of Passover, Beck played the part of a rabbi giving a sermon or a Hebrew school teacher giving a lesson as he spoke beautifully about the seder. In fact, he sat down at his own authentic seder, complete with matzah, gefilte fish, maror, karpas and more.
He then explained why supporting Israel is a moral imperative: “The world wonders why it is that most Americans sympathize with the Israelis in their continual battle with the Palestinians and the Arab world. I don’t think it’s that hard to understand. Israel is a democracy. It’s the closest thing to what we understand as freedom in the entire Middle East. We relate to that. But maybe more importantly, we share common values.”
Beck also compared the story of the Jews leaving Egypt with the story of the Pilgrims coming to America, as they both faced hardships to escape oppression: “The story is the same for America and Israel and all over the world. … With Israel, Americans have a shared culture, shared history and values. We have been close allies since their inception. … There have been occasional bumps in the road with our relationship with Israel, but we have stood by them when no one else would. But now I fear that seems to be changing.”
There is absolutely nothing like this from liberal cable news hosts. Even Bill Maher, who normally defends Israel against the venom of his radical guests, said he understands how some could view the Jewish state as “thugs” for being an “occupying army.”
The truth is that if one wants to find consistent pro-Israel coverage, Beck is the person to listen to. The problem is that, for so many liberal Jews, hate of the right overwhelms their love for Israel. As such, they marginalize Beck, even though he is without question the media’s most outspoken supporter of Israel. This is unfortunate, as in this time when Israel is isolated internationally, decried as an apartheid state on college campuses and constantly threatened with annihilation, Beck’s voice is so necessary and precious. One of the most popular political commentators in America is using his fame for great good — to bring awareness and respect to the Jewish state.
On Aug. 24, Beck is holding a pro-Israel rally in Israel to bring awareness and support to the tiny Jewish state. Thank you, Glenn, for your unwavering support for Israel. We need more people in the media like you.