February 1, 2008

Barack Obama Is A Friend of Israel

Despite the ringing endorsement of Senator Barack Obama by Jewish colleagues in the Congress and ardent Jewish supporters in his home state of Illinois, the rumor mill does not stop churning out the spurious accusation that the presidential candidate is no friend of Israel (“Internal Memo Takes On Obama’s Mideast Approach,” January 23). The character assassins could not care less about accuracy; their aim is to sow doubt through insidious appeals to voters’ sensitivities — and for Jews, this means Israel.

Last month, an internal memorandum written by a staffer at the American Jewish Committee, of which I am honorary president, was leaked to the Forward. The memorandum claims that Obama had called on Israel “to take risks for peace.”

If true — and the staffer did not cite sources — these are the exact words used by President Bush when he visited Israel last month. They are also the same words repeated by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before, during and since Bush’s visit.

The staffer’s allegation that Obama has changed course in his views on Iran are equally vacuous. Listen to his words: “The world must work to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy. And while we should take no option, including military action, off the table, sustained and aggressive diplomacy combined with tough sanctions should be our primary means to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.”

As far as I know, none of the presidential candidates, Republican or Democrat, is saying anything different.

Obama’s position on Hamas, which the AJCommittee staffer also questions without any reference to statements by the senator, has been equally strong: “We must maintain the isolation of Hamas. To end the isolation, Hamas must first recognize Israel’s right to exist; renounce the use of violence; and abide by past agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

Here, again, Obama is in step with Israel’s leadership. None of Israel’s supporters is saying anything different.

The AJCommittee has since apologized to the Obama campaign for “any inaccuracies that the memorandum might have contained,” explaining that it was prepared “on a tight deadline immediately after the Iowa caucuses.”

Let there be no mistake: Obama is a friend of Israel. Everything he has said and done in his private life and in a decade of public service confirms his deep commitment to the security and well being of the Jewish state.

Hungarian Hasidim Are What They Are

Arts & Culture writer Allan Nadler does Forward readers a disservice by using questionable genealogy to reinforce what can only be described as unbridled contempt for Spinka, and by extension, Hungarian Hasidim (“Righteous Indignation: How Are We To Understand the Alleged Spinka Scandal?”, January 25).

Without a shred of evidence, Nadler asserts that Hungarian Hasidim are responsible for the vast majority of Hasidic money laundering scandals. Whether or not this is true, it might be due less to the decline of the creative era of early Hasidism than to the depredations visited upon Polish Jewry in the Holocaust. Surely Nadler is aware that most contemporary Hasidim are Hungarians because the Final Solution reached that country much later than Poland.

In other words, the answer cannot “be found mainly in a failure of historical and theological evolution among these groups.” The question itself was barely more than an assertion based on a gut feeling. The answer to this question might just be that there are more Hungarian Hasidim.

This, as Nadler puts it, “failure of historical and theological evolution”— which assumes that Hasidim should have evolved a certain way — is dated to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin. Whether or not the 19th-century fault lines between Rizhin and its detractors are still relevant today, taking one side in that old dispute smacks of chauvinism and compromises the historian’s role of objectively telling us what happened.

History turned out the way it did and even an entirely unremarkable historian should know to conjecture as to the why and to the how. Nadler does not get a do-over — the Hungarian Hasidim are what they are, no matter how he wishes they would have evolved.

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February 1, 2008

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