Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Misplaced Criticism

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is someone I usually agree with. But I disagree with him on his Cross Currents post offering advice to the Secretary of State. I should add that he is not the only one who has made this kind of criticism. It is often the case that when Israel is criticized even in the slightest way for seeming to veer away from its democratic values there are immediate reactions like this one – taking umbrage at comparisons to repressive dictatorships, and complaining about a double standard. Here are Rabbi Adlerstein’s words:

Speaking to a closed forum in Washington last Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, always solicitous of Israel’s best interests, warned that developments in the Jewish State reminded her of Iran. Soldiers refusing to listen to women singing, gender-separated bus lines – these worried her. The standing of women in Israel was in danger of eroding. While some Israelis were chagrined by the comparison, Tzipi Livni (looking simply fabulous in a new hijab she wore for the occasion) concurred.

While I am no booster of the recent innovations in separating the sexes, I could find reason in this episode to consign Ms. Clinton to the back of the bus of clear thinking. Iranian Islam imposes its strictures on everyone, whether they like it or not. The burka has a long way to go before it becomes the fashion statement of Tel Aviv. The frum soldiers were not advocating silencing women. They simply wanted the right to absent themselves, in accordance with their commitment to a clear and unequivocal halacha that demands just that. Ironically, while Ms. Clinton was formulating her tendentious position, members of a club she used to belong to were at work giving Americans the same privilege that the Israeli soldiers sought. The US Senate, concerned that military chaplains might be required to perform gay weddings, passed legislation to the effect that one “who as a matter of conscience or moral principle does not wish to perform a marriage, may not be required to do so.” Shocking. Next thing you know, DC will adopt Teheran as her sister city.

I find this criticsm and sarcasm to be misplaced. Of course there is no comparison between Israel, a modern western style democracy - and Iran, a repressive Islamist regime. No one in their right mind would ever compare the two and say that Israel is equal to or anywhere near Iran in that regard.

As someone with conservative political leanings I am no fan of the current Secretary of State. But with her predisposed feminist and politically liberal leanings she was criticizing behavior that reminded her of Iran - much the same way she might criticize a Republican administration in America if they were doing something she didn’t like. For example when the Bush administration used water-boarding as an enhanced interrogation technique for enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay - I'm sure she called it torture. If she said it reminded her of some repressive right wing dictatorships - does that make her anti American?

I am 100% convinced she recognizes Israel as the only true democracy in the Middle East and is very aware of the deserved praise it gets with respect to woman's rights. She would not contradict that. But when she sees an injustice based on perceived religious fanaticism (irrespective of whether her perceptions are correct) she will speak out - expecting Israel to be better than that – and warning that if continues it could erode the status of women. She certainly has a right to view things as she sees them and we should not see that as pejorative.

Yes - there is a double standard for Israel. And there should be! Israel should be a light unto the nations and that means we expect her to act accordingly.

Maybe that's why Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar was so critical of the very thing she criticized - Mehadrin buses.