‘You must know what you know and know what you don’t know.’ This was an oft stated principle drilled into me and all of his other students throughout the illustrious career of one of HTC’s great Roshei Yeshiva, Harav Zelig Starr, ZTL. His point was that in order to learn Torah – or anything else in life – one must be clear about the knowledge one has, clearly realize there are things he may not know, have the modesty to admit it, and only then will one begin to be successful in their learning.
This very principle was cited by one of the most brilliant writers in the Orthodox world, Rabbi Avi Shafran in an article written for Ami Magazine and republished both in the Chicago Tribune and on Cross-Currents. As I repeatedly state, although we have some areas of disagreement – more often than not I agree with his take on things. This article is one of those many times of agreement.
It bothers him – as it does me- that our President is being unfairly treated and that many of us mischaracterize his views and policies toward Israel and the Jewish people. He acknowledges that it is not only Frum Jews that have this animosity and even suggests some legitimate - and not so legitimate - reasons for it. But he considers it over the top and undeserved. Just as I do. He lists many positive things about the President that are important to the Jewish world to underscore this point.
When in the past I dared to say anything at all positive about the President I was attacked as being very naïve - at the very least - by people that usually agree with me on most other things. They would then list a litany of his Aveiros with respect to Israel in order to show just how terrible this man is. I have said it in the past - the negative attitude often expressed about him borders on the irrational.
And although Rabbi Shafran only hints at it, I will say it outright. I believe there is an element of at least latent racism in some of those people. To deny the fact that racism exists in the Jewish community is to deny reality. Let’s face it. There are some Orthodox Jews who are racist. That is not being Motzi Laz (lying). It is simply acknowledging a sad fact about some of our people that needs the disinfectant of exposure in order to irradicate it from our midst.
Among those who have responded to Rabbi Shafran are two people who I know do not have a racist bone in their bodies.
One is another brilliant Orthodox writer, Jonathan Rosenblum, who writes a rebuttal in Cross Currents and the other is an acquaintance of mine who is also quite brilliant - Yoel Lorberbaum. He wrote a rebuttal in much harsher tones than Jonathan did- chastising Rabbi Shafran for praising a President who is so clearly unfriendly to Israel. And he cites many examples to make his case. There was a rebuttal article by Rabbi Shafran and then a rebuttal to that by Mr. Lorberbaum.
While all concerned make more or less legitimate cases for their perspectives on the President, I can’t help feeling that there is an undue animosity towards the President by Rabbi Shafran’s critics. It is overkill. And it is troubling.
For the record I happen to agree with many of those who are opposed to President Obama’s policies with respect to Israel. Both of Rabbi Shafran’s opponents make valid points. But so too does Rabbi Shafran. However, I think that none of us necessarily disagree on what the best policy for Israel should be. But one must respect the view of others who disagree with us.
One of the facts of life is that differing views result in policies that can anger opponents. Even if all seek the same goals.
Let us illustrate this with President Clinton. I believe he was a true friend of the Jewish people and the Jewish State. But many view him as an enemy because of the Camp David Accords between Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat. At best they see his efforts as a self aggrandizing attempt to do nothing more than assure his place in history. I don’t believe that for a minute. I believe he truly wanted to see peace between Israel and her neighbors.
President Clinton almost had a peace deal between Israel and the Arabs. With the benfit of 20/20 hindsight it is now quite easy to see that he was wrong. Thank God Arafat rejected it. But was it wrong of Clinton to believe that a peace treaty could produce peace and tranquilty – prosperity and ultimately friendly relationships with all the Arab nations -that he went all out to try and acheive it?
That he was wrongin his approach does not mean he did not seek the best deal he could for Israel. Clinton believed he was doing the right thing then and so did then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak– a man whose ruling coalition was elected by a majority of the Israeli people - primarily for that purpose. That President Clinton was so clearly wrong is beside the point. He was a true friend of Israel – no less than Presidents Roanld Reagan or George W. Bush.
In my view President Obama is a good and decent man who genuinely wants to see peace in Israel. He does not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body – despite his former pastor’s
vehement anti Israel stance. One that he forcefully rejected.
That his tactics have radically departed from those of his predeccesors in tryining to achieve peace does not make him anti Israel. He’s trying something different. He wants to ingratiate himself with the Arabs so that he will have more influence with them. He has gone out of his way to do that realizing that he will be perceived as becoming less pro Israel and more pro Palestinian. And far too many of us see that as as being anti Israel. But just as Bill Clinton was not anti Israel - neither is Barack Obama
I believe the President is extremely naïve about Israel and the Arabs. I don’t think he realizes just how much hatred exists against the Jewish people by the general population of Palestinians - even those who aren’t fundamentalist. And that if they could have their way – they would eliminate Israel off the face of the earth. That’s what over 100 years of anti Israel, anti Jewish indoctrination will do to a people.
The President unfortunatly buys into the typical liberal mindset that if you just give them a state and alleviate the poverty of the masses - all will be well. He places almost no importance on the religious mindset of the Arab Muslim that believes that Israel has no validity and that the Jews have no legitimate claim to the land. He thinks that if he repeats comments about Israel’s legitimacy often enough - they will believe it. But they won’t. Religious beliefs cannot be overcome by political rhetoric.
As naïve as the President seems to be about this, I firmly believe he is as sincere as any conservative Republican about wanting peace and security for the Jewish people of Israel as well as the Palestinians. He is just mistaken as to how to go about it. But please let us not attribute nefarious motives to him with all kinds of questionable ‘proofs’.
I believe in large part that was Rabbi Shafran’s point. If we are going to be opposed to the President’s policies we have to be fair and do it for the right reasons - and certainly not unfairly bash him. Emes and Tzedek demand nothing less of us. Anything less is a disservice to both the President and to us.
As Rabbi Shafran stated from the outset, he is a life-long Republican who voted for John McCain. As did I. The irony of a right wing Orthodox Jew who is a staunch Republican writing favorable words about a Democratic President should not be lost on anyone.