Sunday, February 05, 2012

Stupid and Dangerous Rhetoric

Haman. You know who that was. He was the ‘Hitler’ of ancient Persia having ordered the genocide of the Jewish people as the King’s second in command with the power to do such things. We are not far away from the holiday that celebrates his demise when we read the Megilah that tells the story.

Some might remember that I recently virtually exploded when I found out that the Satmar Rebbe had used same verbiage used by the Megilah about Haman to describe Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaKohen Kook, the ideological patriarch of the Religious Zionist movement. The Satmar Rebbe was so vehemently opposed to the State of Israel that he considered his duty to disparage Rav Kook, in ‘Hamanesque’ terms.

Way on the other side of the religious spectrum is another rabbinic leader. His name is Rabbi Dov Lior. He is an adherent of Rav Kook . His mentor was Rav Kook’s son - Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook.

Rabbi Lior is a Religious Zionist leader in Israel. He is currently the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Arba and Chevron and the Rosh HaYeshiva the Kiryat Arba Yeshiva. He too made some ‘Hamanesque’ remarks about another world leader. From the Jerusalem Post:

Kiryat Arba's Chief Rabbi Dov Lior compared US President Barak Obama to Haman - an enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther- during a conference in the West Bank this week, Army Radio reported Friday.

He also labeled the Obama a "kushi" of the West, a derogatory term used to describe people of African descent.

First let me say that the fact that he used a racist term about The President of the United States is outrageous. It’s practically like using the ‘N’ word. I am thoroughly disgusted by such talk. No one has a right to call a fellow human racist names. Certainly not a man in a position of religious leadership – let alone against the leader of the only nation Israel can consistently rely upon for support.

Does Rabbi Lior have a right to freely express his opinions? After all Israel is a free country. So, I suppose he does. But free speech is not open ended. If it results in tragic consequences it loses Israel’s democratically inspired free speech protection. Calling the President Haman may have crossed that line.

But even if it does not rise to the level of danger - how in heaven’s name does anyone give this man any respect? He is completely wrong about the President. I have my own criticisms of President Obama, but there is absolutely no possibility that he is out to destroy the Jewish people ala Haman. Not only that, but he has pledged his unwavering support of the Jewish state. And the level of military cooperation between the United States and Israel is at unprecedented levels under this President! How is that Hamanesque?!

Coming from a man that is an icon to a great many Religious Zionists - this kind of talk goes way beyond mere hate speech. It is downright dangerous! Who knows what kind of zealot may arise out their midst and take Rabbi Lior’s words literally.

Think it can’t happen? Think again. It was Rabbi Lior who labeled Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin a Rodef. Rodef is the Halachic term for a pursuer out to kill you. One is allowed to kill him first. The term Rodef is used to permit an abortion when a mother’s life is in danger. The fetus is considered a Rodef.

Guess what happened to Itzhak Rabin. A radical Religious Zionist by the name Yigal Amir took him seriously and assassinated him. To this day he is unapologetic for his deed. Some among the radical extremists in religious Zionism actually consider him a hero. (There are plenty of conspiracy theorists who contend he is an innocent pawn of the Mossad or the like but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

Then there is Baruch Godstein who massacred Muslim worshippers at the Maaras HaMachpela on Purim a few years ago. Rabbi Lior considers him holier that the martyrs of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Lior preaches extremist rhetoric and uses racist epithets against a world leader who is no more a ‘Haman’ than I am. This is a tremendous Chilul HaShem and a dangerous one at that.

I’m sure the President will just shrug it off as right wing Israeli rhetoric. It will have no consequence on American policy towards Israel. The President certainly gets his share of negative rhetoric by his political opponents right here in the US. But it is shameful when it is a supposed religious leader doing it. And dangerous because of potential ‘Yigal Amirs’ in their midst.

It is not his right wing Religious Zionist position about settling the land that upsets me. Just Like I believe the Satmar Rebbe’s anti Israel position Israel is legitimate – so too is the Religious Zionist position with respect to not giving up land under any circumstances. I don’t agree with either position but I respect the rights of those who do to believe as they wish. They definitely both have legitimate sources in religious texts for their diametrically opposite views.

My disagreement is in how far each of them go in pushing their agenda. And the fact that they each have zealots that use their respective mentors philosophies to commit horrendous acts of violence.

That Rabbi Lior is a respected Rosh HaYeshiva doesn’t mean that he should get a free pass to use the kind of hate speech that could generate tragic consequences for Klal Yisroel. Icon or not – no one should be allowed to yell ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater.