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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


Recently, famous Black entertainers like Ice Cube, Nick Cannon, Diddy, the Jacksons (Stephen and DeSean), and even beloved Black author Alice Walker, have spouted age-old anti-Semitic talking points—usually by quoting known bigot Louis Farrakhan—insisting that “the Jews” run everything, etc. Unfortunately, most of the time when something like this happens, no one of consequence calls them out on their despicable statements. As a result, many of their fans accept what they say as the truth and develop a negative perspective about Jews. Well, I’m happy to share with you that a highly respected, really big (both literally and figuratively) Black celebrity, none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, put pen to paper in The Hollywood Reporter to call out anyone who spews out anti-Semitic filth. In response to his article, Dr. Yvette Alt Miller wrote him the following thank you letter, which I think we can identify with: 

Blog #1:                                                                                                                                           

Dear Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,

Thank you for speaking out. Thank you for breaking the silence. Thank you for using your column in The Hollywood Reporter and your celebrity status to condemn the recent torrent of virulently anti-Semitic tweets, Instagram posts, and other social media expressions targeting Jews in the vilest terms. Thank you for being a rare Black leader and role model who is not afraid to stand up and condemn hatred when it’s directed against Jews.

“Recent incidents of anti-Semitic tweets and posts from sports and entertainment celebrities are a very troubling omen for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement,” you wrote, “but so too is the shocking lack of massive indignation. Given the New Woke-fulness in Hollywood and the sports world, we expected more passionate public outrage. What we got was a shrug of meh-rage.”

That “meh-rage” hurts.

For the past few weeks, we Jews have watched in horror as a string of high profile celebrities accused us of “world domination”, repeated old slanders that Jews control the world’s banks and are the “richest” people, and quoted vile anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan and Adolf Hitler. (In the case of Hitler, the social media posts purporting to quote him – posted last weekend by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson – turned out to be misattributed.) In many cases, their extreme posts have been met with mild indignation at best. 

Contrast Jackson's slap on the wrist with the fate of Serbian soccer player Aleksandar Katai, who was fired by the LA Galaxy soccer club after his wife made racist social media posts mocking the Black Lives Matter movement. 

A lot of ink has been spilled recently lamenting “cancel culture” where one false move – one insensitive post or racist comment – can cause people to lose their credibility or even their livelihoods. It’s a horrible development but given cancel culture’s sad prevalence today it’s all the more shocking that anti-Semitic statements or posts stir such meager responses.

Celebrity rapper Ice Cube spent June 10 tweeting that Jews are responsible for oppressing African Americans. (Since your supportive column came out, Kareem, he’s attacked you for betraying Blacks and supposedly cozying up to Jews for “thirty pieces of silver”.) On June 30, television star Nick Cannon publicly agreed with the rapper Richard Griffin, who called Jews “wicked” and said Jews are responsible for most of the evil in the world on Cannon’s podcast; Cannon called these slurs “the truth”. (Cannon was recently fired from Viacom CBS for his words and finally apologized.)

Then last weekend, DeSean Jackson posted that Jews are trying to control the world and “extort America” and that “Hitler was right”. Jackson’s odious messages received only a tepid rebuttal from the NFL and many fans: the Eagles fined him but he’s still playing for the team. 

On July 8, former NBA player and Black Lives Matter activist Stephen Jackson came to his defense, posting that Jackson was “speaking the truth” and that the Jewish Rothschild family owns “all the banks”.

It’s not just athletes. “So many of the people I follow on Instagram have been quoting Louis Farrakhan,” my daughter recently lamented. She stopped following celebrities who support Farrakhan, the hateful leader of the Nation of Islam who has called Jews “Satanic,” “termites,” liars, the “master of the bankers,” slave-owners and liars. It’s hard to believe that anyone would publicly support or willingly quote Farrakhan, yet that’s what Philadelphia Eagles Lineman Malik Jackson did July 9, when he defended DeSean Jackson and called Farrakhan “honorable.” Comedian Chelsea Handler posted an old clip of Farrakhan claiming that Jews, Whites and Blacks can never “come together”; “I learned a lot from watching this powerful video” she commented in a June 21 post. (She has since deleted the video and apologized.)

Where’s the outrage? Where are the protests in the streets? After all, this time was supposed to be different.

For the past two months, so many of us have had the feeling that something was really shifting in America. I felt hopeful about race relations in the US and energized that I could take part in this change. Was I wrong? Does the hatred that so many Americans harbor towards Jews mean that when it’s our turn for support – when we Jews are being attacked and it’s time to say no to hate on our behalf – our allies aren’t willing to stand up for us?

Jews have never faced so much hate in the US. 2019 saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the US since records began. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 12% jump in attacks on Jews from the already high level the year before. Within a year, over a dozen Jews were murdered in anti-Semitic attacks, including the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018; the attack on Chabad of Poway, California on April 27, 2019; the shootout at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City on December 10, 2019; and a frenzied knife attack at a Hanukkah party in New York on December 28, 2019.

The killers in these attacks came from radically different walks of life: hateful white supremacists, members of a Black Hebrew cult that taught African Americans are the “true” Jews, and a deranged African American man. They awoke us to the fact that extremist ideologies on both the right and the left demonize Jews and foment violence against us.

A recent poll finds that while about 14% of Americans in general harbor hate towards Jews, a much higher percentage of African Americans – about 23% – hold anti-Semitic views. The poll also found higher than average levels of anti-Semitism among Hispanic respondents: 19% of American-born Hispanic respondents and 31% of foreign-born Hispanic respondents revealed they harbor negative attitudes towards Jews. 

The flurry of offensive posts in recent weeks illustrates these dismal numbers: millions of our fellow Americans, from various walks of life, seem to hate us simply because we’re Jews.

No matter how many marches we go on, how many signs we put in our windows, how much we try to support our fellow Americans and proclaim loudly that we all stand together against hate – when that hate is directed against us, all those grand promises seem to ring hollow. Too often, we stand alone.

Kareem, that’s why your column is so important. You’re a role model – an athlete, author, and outspoken critic. We need more voices like yours calling out the double standard, reminding us that tackling racism and anti-Semitism together is still possible. We need more voices like yours calling out African American leaders – and white leaders too – who are quick to rightly condemn racism but remain quiet when it’s Jews who are under attack.

As you wrote, Kareem, “The lesson never changes, so why is it so hard for some people to learn: No one is free until everyone is free. As Martin Luther King Jr. explained: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.’”

We need to have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism. As Americans condemn racism we must find the strength to stand up against Jew-hatred as well.

Yours Sincerely,
Yvette Miller

 

Blog #2:

A recent hot political topic was the possibility of Israel annexing part of what is commonly referred to as the “West Bank.” The term is a geographic description for the area that stretches from the west bank of the Jordan River up and into the mountains of Judea and Samaria. The 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords divided that territory into Areas A, B and C. They placed Areas A and B, totaling 40% of the West Bank, under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority and left Area C under Israeli military and civilian rule. Some 2.2 million Palestinians live in Areas A and B, with some 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government was seriously looking into annexing part of this area in the beginning of July. Which part was totally unclear. Due to numerous factors, it looks like the possibility of annexation has been put on the back burner, but there is no doubt that one day it will again come up on the agenda. West Bank resident Rabbi Uri Pilichowski, who is a teacher at Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah in Modi’in and the Director of Israel Advocacy for Southern NCSY, has some advice for the next round of discussions. You might disagree with his perspective, but I think his main point has a lot of validity irrespective of seeing things differently:

It’s been surreal watching from Israel as Americans discuss my future. I’ve gotten used to presidents spending years developing plans for my neighborhood and other towns in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank — they mean well, and I truly appreciate their efforts. But recently I’ve been thrown by all the attention we’ve been receiving from the American Jewish establishment. 

I’ve watched Zoom panels, Facebook Lives and read countless op-eds about my future and Israel’s annexation plan for parts of the West Bank. All the attention is gratifying, but I have noticed that many of the discussions, panels and debates have been missing some important nuance. 

I’ve also noticed that many of these panels don’t include any speakers who are Jewish settlers or Palestinian residents of the area, which made it feel like I was watching an all-male panel discuss women’s issues or three white people discuss Black Lives Matter.

When I challenged one think tank about its 20-person panel that did not include a single Palestinian or Jewish settler, I was told that the discussions centered around security issues and a resident’s perspective wouldn’t be valuable. 

But without a local speaker, these organizations are robbing their audience of the chance to hear a diverse set of opinions. Setting aside that security experts who live here are more familiar with the security challenges we face than former American security officials, their response shows a deeper flaw in how Americans view Israel and the region.

I watched a congressman who hasn’t visited a settlement in years — if ever — host an hourlong conversation about why it’s not in Israel’s interests to extend sovereignty over the West Bank. He authored a letter, and got 189 of his colleagues to sign it, which made the same points. 

How can he dismiss the perspective of Israeli settlers if he hasn’t seen us or spoken to us? It’s as ridiculous as sitting in Israel explaining to Black Americans in Minneapolis that they have nothing to fear from their police department because I visited Minneapolis once eight years ago and I’ve read that their officers are trying to do the right thing. 

The American Jewish establishment is missing nuance in four major areas: the history that led Israel to extend sovereignty over the West Bank; the effect extending Israeli sovereignty will have on Palestinians; our security challenges; and foreign relations. 

Judea and Samaria are the heartland of the Jewish homeland. As I stand here writing, I’m looking out my study’s window facing Jericho and the Jordan Valley beyond. The Torah portion we will read this week, and many others, take place within the area I can see from my window. 

Israel might one day decide a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River is in its interests, but that doesn’t change the fact that this area is historically Jewish land. The people of my town are proud to be today’s Zionist pioneers: Zionism aims to return Jews to their homeland, and by living here, we are fulfilling that objective. 

Today’s pundits view the history of this place as only 70-100 years old. They vilify my neighbors and me as immoral settlers who have stolen Palestinian land. But I look at the past 3,000 years and imagine my ancestors walking these same hills. No matter what the State of Israel decides to do with this land, its Jewish history will never be erased. 

More than this, however, the main reason Israel is extending sovereignty to this area is because the Palestinians have not offered a true partner for peace. I want nothing more than to have peace with my Palestinian neighbors, but try as Israel has, it’s proven impossible. 

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have chosen terror and rejected all peace offers without ever putting forth a reasonable counteroffer. Israelis have tried to achieve peace time and again, but the Palestinian leadership has refused at every opportunity. This week, the Palestinians made a mockery of negotiations by offering to come to the table – but only if Israel agrees to impossible preconditions. The American Jewish establishment doesn’t often grapple with this reality. 

I’ve also seen many argue that annexation would put Israel’s Jewish and Democratic nature at risk and permanently deny Palestinians self-determination. This is the most egregious of false talking points. 

As a rabbi, I care deeply about human rights. Palestinians and Jews were both created in God’s image and deserve to enjoy freedom and human rights. But contrary to so many erroneous voices, Israel isn’t causing anyone to lose rights they currently enjoy. 

Currently, Israelis in Judea and Samaria vote in Israeli elections, and Palestinians in the area vote in Palestinian elections. Most Palestinian areas are governed by the Palestinian Authority, and Israel isn’t planning on extending sovereignty to Palestinian villages. I was gratified when Prime Minister Netanyahu said that just as the Jewish settlements surrounded by Palestinian land will remain under Israeli governance, Palestinian enclaves will be governed by the Palestinian Authority. If Palestinians were denied human rights, I would be the first to stand up and protest.

When people want to drive home a point about Israel they use fear, for fear is always a great accelerant. When President Trump announced that he planned to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, experts warned us that we’d experience violence in our area. Some panel discussions give the impression that Palestinian terror ended years ago, but Israel now faces existential security threats from all around us every day. Palestinians attempt an average of more than three daily terror attacks. As an American citizen, I receive State Department security alerts. About once a month I receive a warning that there will be violence in the West Bank

I believe the Palestinian people are peaceful and want a high standard of living for their family just as I want for my family. Predictions of a rise in Palestinian violence should Israel go through with annexation are based on a view that Palestinians are incapable of reacting without violence. I don’t think of Palestinians this way and neither should you. 

There are many legitimate reasons to oppose Israel’s plans to extend sovereignty to the Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria. I completely understand American Jews who oppose Israel’s plans, though I’m a proponent of Israel following the Trump peace plan. American Jews care about Israel’s future and have the right to be concerned. 

But in forming and expressing their opinions, American Jews have a responsibility to examine the issues in a comprehensive manner and ensure that their concern is both factual and expressed in a nuanced way. To do this, they should start by making sure to include people like me, who live in the areas that the international community is focused on, in the conversation.