In Jerusalem less than a year ago, an ultra-Orthodox Jew named Yishai Schlissel, who had already publicly declared his loathing of homosexuals, wildly assaulted participants in a Gay Pride parade with a long kitchen knife. Before police could stop him, Schlissel had stabbed six of the “blasphemous” marchers, one of whom – a sixteen-year-old girl – later died from her wounds.
Schlissel claimed he was acting on behalf of the Torah – which forbids homosexual intercourse – but an Internet poll conducted by the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Shabbat website found that only 13% of respondents believed ultra-Orthodox Jews owed anyone an apology for the attacks, even though the community’s leaders had long condemned gays as criminals, or worse.
Speaking for the majority, Chaim Brizel – “the sexton of a Jerusalem synagogue,” who referred to the event Schlissel ravaged as the “Abomination Parade” – was almost contemptuous at the idea of remorse: “Religion should not have to apologize that crazy individuals exploit it for bad purposes…. All the talk about this in the media is a case of incitement against the ultra-Orthodox sector.” The Israeli ultra-Orthodox party Yahadut HaTorah did not even issue a public statement condemning Schissel’s deadly violence, “because a response could be misinterpreted to mean that we assume a degree of responsibility, when we assume no responsibility at all…. As representatives of our public, we will not respond to every criminal act, especially not an act committed by a single insane individual.”
So, when a Muslim security guard with a history of erratic threats opened fire earlier this month in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people (before he himself was shot dead by police), members of the Orthodox Jewish community were quick to distinguish the killer’s actions from his religion – right?
Ari Fuld, a religious Zionist and assistant director of Standing Together, an organization “that supports IDF soldiers,” wasted no time publicly blaming Islam for the Orlando killings. Barely a day after the mass shooting, Fuld insisted on the website of the Orthodox Jewish Press that what happened in Orlando was “a radical Islamic terrorist attack”; he even condemned President Barack Obama for not identifying the crime as “Islamist,” and complained that “the vocal majority” of Muslims were not condemning the attack. (They were, but you’d never know it from Fuld’s column.) The President, he fumed, was part of “the enlightened ‘libertard’ culture that is running around protecting those who want you dead!”
Seconding Fuld in Jewish media was Martin Oliner, the Orthodox Jewish mayor of Lawrence, New York. How a Long Island mayor became an overnight expert on the motivation of a dead Florida Muslim is more than I know, but Oliner minced no words to the Israeli newspaper Arutz Sheva. The Orlando massacre could only have arisen from “a culture of Islamic radicalism” whose enemy was “the Judeo-Christian West,” said Oliner. “Even if it’s not ISIS,” he explained, “the idea that someone would kill 50 people in a terrorist attack, this probably has to do with Islamic terrorism.”
Please don’t ask me to define the word “libertard,” or to explain the arithmetic that automatically renders 50 victims the work of a Muslim. I’m more concerned with a different question.
Where are the Orthodox rabbis?
Where are the Orthodox leaders who screamed “incitement” when their critics pointed up the connection between rabbinic fulminations against gays and Yishai Schlissel’s deadly attack – why aren’t they denouncing the far more blatant incitement by Donald Trump against Muslims, supported by public statements from their own coreligionists, in the wake of the Orlando shootings?
Where are the rabbis who told us – as most did, though there were creditable exceptions – that no religion is responsible for its exploitation by a dangerously unbalanced individual? Back then they washed their hands of Yishai Schlissel with such words; when will they apply the same logic to a Muslim homophobe, rejecting the guilt-by-association fantasy promoted by the likes of Fuld and Oliner?
And finally, where are the rabbis’ voices against the horrifying revenge demanded by Fuld, who seeks a mass expulsion of Muslims, or Oliner, who in response to a mass murder calls for – mass murder?
Here are the Lawrence mayor’s exact words: “When you have a disease, you have to take the proper medicine, and a strong dose of it…. The US needs to bring the world together in a coalition to actively wipe out ISIS.”
So if Oliner has his way, the U.S. will answer one violent attack in Orlando by intensifying a bombing campaign that has probably killed hundreds of Syrian civilians already – one that will inevitably add to the number of people in the Middle East angry enough at Americans to consider shooting some of them.
Does the Orthodox rabbinate also embrace such brutal and dangerous militarism? I would like to say no, but within days of the Orlando tragedy Binyamin Rose, writing in the June 15 issue of the influential Orthodox weekly Mishpacha, had actually upped the ante. According to Rose, the Orlando attack was nothing less than a “clash of civilizations” that called for the “the use of overwhelming military force” to counter “the jihadists who have seized control of much of the Muslim world.” Hear that? – “much of the Muslim world.” Collectively, the Fuld/Oliner/Mishpacha approach amounts to carte blanche for a war of annihilation against a vast array of people who – one would think – have already suffered more than enough.
To me, as an Orthodox Jew, the right course seems painfully self-evident. We need to speak out, clearly and forcefully, against all hate speech leveled at gays. And we need to be equally clear in our defense of Muslims, the only population in the U.S. facing more popular demonization than gays are.
If we don’t, we will be aligning ourselves with the forces of hate that, in today’s combustible circumstances, could easily consume much more than an Orlando nightclub – in Damascus, in Gaza, in Nablus, just to start with. And if Jewish leadership isn’t awake to this basic fact, so much the worse for all of us.
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