Monday, February 12, 2007

Yet Another Chilul HaShem

It causes me great pain and sorrow to write the following. But I feel I have an obligation to speak out when Kavod HaTorah is so publicly compromised.

Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew, is an elected Democratic Assemblyman for the State of New York. He represents that portion of Brooklyn that includes Boro Park. I have never met the gentleman but have read much about him. I know him to be an ardent supporter of Israel. At least the political right wing portion of it. He is also a Religious Zionist who supports very right wing Religious Zionist Yeshivos like Ateres Kohanim.

By all acounts he is a decent fellow, with decent values. In fact I recall quoting him when he rightfully criticized the ultra Orthodox rioters in his distrcit about a year or so ago, who were so violent and destructive that they went so far as torching police squad cars. I honor his integrity in that instance.

But I can’t allow my sincere praise for what he did there to obscure my utter conempt for what he did now, as reported in an article in The Jewish Week:

“Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind raised some $40,000 to run full-page ads in Jewish newspapers last month calling on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to quit and urging supporters to back his cause by writing tax-deductible checks to a charity called Yad Moshe."

"The ads, however, instructed donors to mail the checks to an address that was not the charity’s but the headquarters of Hikind’s campaign finance committee, Friends of Dov Hikind."

I strongly object to his lack of ethics in this regard. He is guilty of a cardinal sin in my book: that of justifying unethical means to achieve his own political ends, in this case for the State of Israel. He defends his effort as a non politcal and therefore a tax-deductable enterprise. He makes this claim based on the fact he does not advocate for the election of a specific candidate.

But he does advocate for the removal of a sitting Prime Minister of a foreign country. One can quibble about how correct his own right wing Religious Zionist poitical views are. But one cannot quibble that he is raising money to support his own views and the methods employed in raising funds.

It is disingenuous for him to call his views non politcal. I am reminded of President Nixon’s strongly held views that his own politcal views were so important to the welfare of the nation and his political opponent’s views so harmful that Watergate was in the end totally justified. He called “all of his men” great patriots. And they probably were. But they were also unethcical criminals. But Nixon felt the ends, getting re-elected, justified the means, the Watergate break-in to Democratic national headquaters. One can be a great patriot and still be an unethical criminal. And this is what Mr. Hikind seems to be by doing this. He believes that the policies of the current government in Israel justify his unethical activty in the United States.

His official position is that he has done nothing wrong and he is well within the law in doing what he did. That will be up to those investigating him. But even if he is exonerated, his actions are still a Chilul HaShem. And this isn’t the first time he has gotten himself into trouble either:

“Hikind was acquitted of federal bribery charges in 1998 in a case in which two officials of a Brooklyn charity were convicted of having misappropriated government funds by directing them to benefit Hikind.”

True he was acquitted. But do we really want high profile Jews skirting around the law, even if they have supposedly noble reasons for doing so? I don’t think so. First of all what is legitmate to him may not be legitimate to others. Trying to oust the sitting Prime Minister of Israel is not exactly a universally agreed upon proposition. Not everyone has the same views about Prime Minister Olmert that he does. But even if they did, that does not justify unethical means in acehiving those ends.

And to make matters worse, he recruited in his cause a convicted felon, Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, a man who:

"...pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 1996 and served 10 months in prison for the felony." "More recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission has charged Rabbi Tannenbaum with securities fraud in a civil case. And a jury in 2002 found him guilty in a federal civil suit filed by a plaintiff who claimed he was a victim of the fraud, which involved false claims about the assets of a company whose stock Rabbi Tannenbaum and others were promoting."


Assemblyman Hikind and Rabbi Tannenbaum seem to have concocted a scheme to raise funds for a foreign political cause and launder donations through Rabbi Tannenbaum’s tax exempt charity, Yad Moshe.

The Chilul HaShem is further aggravated by the vlie language he uses in ads of that campaign.

"The ad went on to denounce Olmert, also in upper case type, as, “ARROGANT,” “IRRESPONSIBLE,” “DELUSIONAL,” “INEPT,” “CONFUSED,” “INDECISIVE,” “OVER WHELMED,” AND “INCOMPETENT."

"Its sponsor was identified as “ASSEMBLYMAN DOV HIKIND,” adding, “COMMITTEE IN FORMATION.” Smaller type on the bottom instructed donors wishing to “participate in this campaign” to “forward your tax deductible contributions to Yad Moshe."

Even if one agrees with MR. Hikind’s views with respect to Prime Minister Olmert, it is unconscionable to use such vile language with respect to a sitting Israeli leader. One can call for his removal without doing that. A high profile, Kippa wearing Orthodox Jewish figure like Mr. Hikind accomplishes nothing except creating a Chilul HaShem by using such invectives. And that says nothing about the Chilul HaShem of the unethical means used to obtain the funds used to put out those ads.

At this point it doesn’t even matter to me if he is found to have been technically within the limits of the law. I cannot conceive of any defense of these activities. They are a disgrace. If Mr. Hikind has any honor left at all, he ought to resign.