SHABBAT SERMON
FEBRUARY 23, 2019
RABBI MITCHELL WOHLBERG

Who Hates Us … the Most?

I have asked the question before, but now we know the answer! The answer to the great debate amongst Jews these days: who hates us more … the people on the right, or the people on the left? We all agree that we are hated! We all agree that from Pittsburgh to Budapest and all points in between, there is hatred from the right. And we all agree that from BDS to Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, there is hatred from the left. But the REAL question is: who hates us more? Who is more dangerous? Of course, the answer usually depends upon which side of the divide we’re standing. In the words of Jonathan Tobin, the highly respected head of the Jewish News Syndicate, “In recent years, how you answer that question tended to be a function of your politics more than anything else. For liberals, anti-Semitism was the work of the traditional far right … the conservatives, it was just the opposite.”

Well, no matter where you stand the great debate is now over! The question has been answered. Last month the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism proclaimed loud and clear that the greatest threat is coming from the right. In the words of the ADL report, “Every single extremist killing – from Pittsburgh to Parkland – had a link to right-wing extremism. The white supremacist attack in Pittsburgh should serve as a wake-up call to everyone about the deadly consequences of hateful rhetoric.” The ADL study pointed out that last year Islamic extremism accounted for only 2% of the murders at the hands of extremists, while the figure for white supremacists was 78%.

That’s what the ADL says. The greatest threat is from the right. Ah, but I know what some of you out there are saying to yourselves: You’re saying to yourselves that the ADL is biased because it leans to the left. And I’ll say to you: even if that is true, then you have to know that a week or two after the ADL report, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, under the leadership of Naftali Bennett – no “lefty” to be sure – came to the exact same conclusion, citing an alarming rise in anti-Semitism around the world, and calling the “far right largely responsible,” pointing out that “anti-Semitic violence in 2018 was led by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.”

That’s it! Case closed! The facts are in! The greatest threat is from the right! There is nothing more to say. Except for one thing: a case can be made that from the perspective of Jewish tradition, the greater danger to Jews today comes from the left more than from the right. And to understand why, we first have to understand one of the strangest statements in Jewish literature. It is found in the Haggadah that we read every year at the Pesach Seder. From out of nowhere, the Haggadah has a statement which tells us that Pharaoh was not our worst enemy! There was someone even more dangerous and despicable. Who? Listen to what the Haggadah tells us:

“Go and learn what Lavon, the Aramean, tried to do to our father Jacob. While Pharaoh decreed only against the male children, Lavon tried to uproot us all.” Lavan? The father of our matriarchs Rachel and Leah … who tricked our forefather, Jacob, into working for him for 14 years, and then tried to cheat him out of his fair wages? Lavan was a greater threat to the Jewish people than Pharaoh who enslaved us for over 200 years, and threw our children into the Nile?

Yes! Lavan was a greater threat. Why? With Pharaoh, you knew exactly where he stood … you knew exactly what he wanted to do to you! Not so with Lavan … Lavan presented himself as caring about us, of only doing what was in our best interests. And the deeper we fell into that trap, the more dangerous it became for our survival.

There are two words in Hebrew for an enemy. One is “soneh” and the other is “oyev.” What’s the difference? “Soneh” is one who hates you and says so! “Oyev” sounds like “ohev” which means “to love someone.” That is an enemy who claims that they love you, but really doesn’t. And that’s the one who is the greater threat.

The threat from the right, their hatred of the Jews, is right out there in the open! The white supremacists marching in Charlottesville cried out, “The Jews will not replace us!” That’s it! Plain and simple! One year a neo-Nazi group identified every Jewish family in an Oregon college town and mailed each of them a hateful card on Hitler’s birthday. They made no attempt to hide how they feel about Jews. Look at some of the names of these groups: Neo-Nazi, Aryan Brotherhood, Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation. We know what to expect from them.

But what about a group called “Black Lives Matter?” Sounds like a worthy cause and many Jews joined with them in their appeal for racial equality … only to discover that Black Lives Matter had written a manifesto which was profoundly anti-Israel; accusing Israel of genocide and apartheid, and endorsing the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement. And what about the Women’s March? Jewish women very much agreed with what it stood for … only to discover that the Women’s March leaders associate with outspoken antiSemites. The Women’s March founder, Tamika Mallory, called her hero Louis Farrakhan the “greatest of all time,” refusing to condemn his statements calling Jews “termites” and refusing to recognize Israel’s existence. Linda Sarsour, another leader of the movement, praises Arab terrorists and compares Zionist Jews to neo-Nazis.

And then, there is the LGBTQ movement … lots of Jewish involvement there too. Yet, last year the organizers of the Pride Parade in Chicago ejected people who were carrying Pride flags emblazoned with the Jewish Star of David, claiming that Zionism is “an inherently white supremacist ideology.” Jewish gay activists write of how, when attending these rallies, they are reluctant to reveal their Jewish identity.

Amongst none of these groups and none of these organizations will you ever hear anyone crying out, “Jews will not replace us!” You will never hear a good word about Hitler and they will all deny that they are anti-Semites. They will tell you that some of their best friends are Jews! In fact, it’s true to say that some of their best friends are Jews! Now all this has come to the U.S. Congress with the arrival of Representative Ilhan Omar, who supports BDS, who once tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world … may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” then recently took it a step further proclaiming that Jewish money buys American support for Israel.

Then there is Representative Rashida Tlaib, the freshman Democratic congresswoman from Michigan, who posed for a picture with a Hezbollah supporter at her swearing-in ceremony in Detroit. Recently when a group of senators proposed an anti-BDS bill, Tlaib said that they forgot what country they represent.

And then there is the star of the show, New York’s representative Alexandria OcasioCortez who recently had a conversation with the head of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

She described the experience as being an “honor,” and a “lovely and wide-reaching conversation.” Isn’t that lovely? Ocasio-Cortez, having been a member of Congress for about three and a half minutes, is already having a pleasant conversation with – of all people – a man that 85% of British Jewry consider an anti-Semite. That’s how you’re getting to know something about foreign affairs? Perhaps soon you will be able to join your colleague Rep. Omar who speaks of the “evil things Israel does” and was appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee … the most important committee on foreign policy!

Of course, you can say that these are just a handful of people; random individuals. Don’t fool yourselves! Recently a very strong pro-Israel, anti-BDS resolution came before the U.S. Senate … which to his everlasting credit, was the culmination of a process that had our own Senator Ben Cardin at the forefront. It passed by a vote of 77 to 23. Of the 23 who voted against it, 22 were Democrats, including Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen. Only one Republican voted against! And to see what this is leading to, of the seven Senate Democrats who have expressed an interest in running for the Democratic nomination for President in 2020, six of the seven voted against … a measure that AIPAC threw its full weight behind and said “contains critical pro-Israel provisions.” So much for the power of Jewish money! The six who voted against – Harris, Booker, Warren, Brown, Gillebrand and, of course, Uncle Bernie – all gave different reasons. But the bottom line is, they were appealing to where they believe their base stands … and that’s not with us!

When I was growing up, and I suspect in many American Jewish homes, there were certain rules you knew you had to follow as a Jew. Amongst them were: marry a Jew and vote Democratic. The truth is, the Democratic Party has always been our home base. It was only in the 1980s with the rise of Reagan Republicanism that Republicans developed a more pro-Israel policy. But we need to ask ourselves: where are we today, and where are we headed tomorrow? This is not a new question. Already in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention, the platform that year, for the first time in many years, did not call for Jerusalem to be the united capital of Israel. It was said that that was an accident. That is acceptable. What was not acceptable was when there was a call for a vote to put it back into the Democratic platform there was a rousing chorus of “nos” and boos. That was not an accident and that was not a small minority. That is not acceptable. I’m sorry I have to say it, but it must be said: the fact is, that never would have happened at the Republican Convention!

I know that some of you do not agree with what I have had to say, and do not like what I have to say. You are thinking to yourself: the rabbi should not get involved in politics. That’s just what I heard from some when I criticized so many of the actions of Donald Trump that I believe have created an atmosphere that aids and abets the haters on the right. His supporters also said that the rabbi should not get involved in politics. So, let me tell you: I was right for speaking out then, and right for speaking out now! I am not talking politics … I am talking about the future of the Jewish people! And every rabbi, and every Jewish leader, have choices that have to be made in this regard. But the one choice that is not acceptable for us as Jews is to remain silent.

The sin of the golden calf, which we read of this morning, is considered one of the worst in the history of our people. The truth of the matter is, if not for the prayers of Moshe, God was prepared to destroy the entire Jewish people. But then, we are told, that God forgave us. But who did he forgive? And for what? The Torah tells us that Moshe executed all those who were involved in worshipping the Golden Calf. According to the Talmud, there were 3,000 who were found guilty. So they were punished for their sin. So, who was it that God forgave? He forgave the rest of the Jewish people! What was there to forgive? What was their sin? They didn’t do anything! That was their sin. In American law if you do nothing you are not culpable … in Jewish law you are! In American tradition, silence is golden … in the Jewish tradition silence is the golden calf!

We American Jews have a very powerful voice. With all the haters out there, we still live in the greatest country on earth. Three Jews sit on our Supreme Court. Three Jews – Sanders, Schultz and Bloomberg – have expressed interest in running for president. And no one has a word to say. Yes, there is hate from the left … and there is hate from the right … but at its core, no people have been better to the Jewish people than the American people! We must do all that we can to keep it that way! The problem is not just with the haters. It’s with the Bernie Sanders of this world. Uncle Bernie, who commenting about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s vile tweets about AIPAC and Jewish money, said – and I quote – “I talked to Ilhan last night to give her my personal support. We will stand by our Muslim brothers and sisters.” As long as we have Jews who speak like that, and as long as there is a debate on who hates us more: the left or the right, we must raise our voice loud and clear and tell them and all those I spoke of this morning in the clearest words: “I’m not calling you an anti-Semite … I’m not calling you an anti-Zionist … and I’m not calling you a self-hating Jew. You certainly can criticize Israel. Almost every Jew living in Israel criticizes Israel! But, I’m just telling you that as long as you fight for a boycott of Israel – a boycott which seeks to delegitimize Israel – as long as you pick out Israel from all of the 195 countries in this world for a boycott … not countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Syria, Iran, Turkey, the Philippines, and countless others where thousands of innocent people are being arrested and murdered … but you consider Israel, which just happens to be the one Jewish country in this whole world as worthy of delegitimization … As long as you are not outraged at Hezbollah, whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said: “If the Jews will gather in Israel it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide,” then one thing is clear: no, I’m not calling you an anti-Semite and I’m not calling you and anti-Zionist and I’m not calling you a self-hating Jew. I’m just saying: you do not wish me well, and you are no friend of mine! And I will do everything I can to defeat you before you have a chance to defeat me!

God has given us American Jews a powerful voice. We now have a voice in the Republican Party and even a stronger voice in the Democratic Party. But only if we use it! We dare not remain silent. In keeping with the words of the prophet: “Leman tziyon lo echeshe u’lemaan Yerushalayim lo eshkot – for the sake of Zion, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not remain quiet.” Amen.

© copyright 2019 by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg. All rights reserved.





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