Moses and Korah, Elie Wiesel and Max Blumenthal
Moses and Korah, Elie Wiesel and Max Blumenthal
This past week Jews across the world read and studied Parshat Korah in the Torah, which includes a story about a challenge to Moses’ leadership by his own cousin Korah. It is profound and Shakespearean that the strongest challenge to Moses’ leadership comes from within his – our – own family. Korah rises up and challenges Moshe Rabeinu, Moses “Our Teacher.” Korah convinced a contingency of fellow members of the Jewish People to err and follow him and challenge Moses as it says, “And they rose up before Moses, from within the Children of Israel… And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron…” (Num. 16:2-3)
Because the conflict arises from within the Jewish People, I think we can feel Moses’s pain and anguish drip all over the parchment of the Torah this week. Family can induce greater, sharper wounds than strangers. Family can repeat more familiar criticism than can strangers. Outrageous accusations by family is more often believed than by strangers. Because after all if it’s family that speaks these false claims then people assume that the claims must be true.
Last Saturday, we all learned of the death of Elie Wiesel. Many have eulogized him and said far more profound things than I could ever say. To say that Elie Wiesel prevailed against the Nazis and the undeniable evils of the Shoah is not enough. To say that he was a Nobel Prize winner is not enough. To say that he was a spokesman for the Jewish people and human consciousness is not enough.
I have always felt an affinity towards Elie Wiesel -- a connection. As a grandchild of four Prevailers myself, I constantly search for voices to reveal the mysteries of the Shoah, to give me guidance for the horror, to explain how most of the world stood passively by and watched. I often try to imagine where I am from and I can only explain to others that my family is from Yad Vashem and if you’d like a great guide then you should read Elie Wiesel’s works.
The former Director of the US Holocaust Museum and the former President and CEO of Steven Spielberg’s SHOAH Foundation, Dr. Rabbi Michael Berenbaum wrote in The Forward, “More than any other human being I know, he [Elie Wiesel] was responsible for changing the status of Holocaust survivors from victims and refugees to witnesses with a moral mission, not only to remember the past but transform the future. Raised, at least according to his own self-description as a Hasid, an extremely devout Jew, he behaved as a secularized Rebbe with disciples and followers ready to heed his every word.”
Dr. Berenbaum classifies Elie Wiesel as, “… a unique figure among American Jewish leaders. Neither the director of an organization nor the head of a movement, he had no real institutional base. Unlike Gershom Scholem, Raul Hilberg or Jacob Neusner, Wiesel did not define an academic field. He was not associated with any theological or historical doctrine.”
In the 20th and 21st century world – post-Shoah, post-establishment of the State of Israel – perhaps worldwide Jewry and the world at large had no greater moral teacher than Elie Wiesel. And for this reason I felt anguish and disgust and dismay and simple sadness when not even one hour after the announcement of Elie Wiesel’s passing, Max Blumenthal wrote on Twitter, “Elie Wiesel is dead. He spent his last years inciting hatred, defending apartheid and palling around with fascists.”
Wikipedia describes Max Blumenthal as a Jewish Pro-Palestinian writer. He is a senior writer at Alternet, who has contributed to the Daily Beast, Al Akhbar, the author of the book “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel”, and currently has over eighty one thousand followers on Twitter. Blumenthal went on to write on Twitter, “Elie Wiesel went from a victim of war crimes to a supporter of those who commit them. He did more harm than good and should not be honored.”
What makes this so significant at this time is that Max Blumenthal’s father is Sidney Blumenthal, who is a long-time trusted confidant to Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton. Sidney Blumenthal often appears in photos alongside Secretary Clinton at her appearances. And to show you how conscious Secretary Clinton is of Max Blumenthal’s tweet, Clinton’s senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan responded through The Jerusalem Post, “Secretary Clinton emphatically rejects these offensive, hateful, and patently absurd statements about Elie Wiesel.” Later in the statement clearly intended for our family due to its subject and due to the media source selected to distribute it, Sullivan said, “She [Clinton] believes that Max Blumenthal and others should cease and desist in making them [these statements].”
We are all obsessed with Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump and the incredibly anti-Semitic meme he recently tweeted of Secretary Clinton surrounded by money with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” written inside a Jewish Star of David. Trump inadequately tried explaining the mistake just as he inadequately tried explaining his inability to denounce David Duke’s endorsement of him in February. (For those of us who don’t already know, Duke is a former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Klu Klux Klan in Louisiana.) In May, Trump received a public compliment from outspoken anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Farrakhan said, “Trump is the only member who has stood in front of the Jewish Community and said ‘I don’t want your money.’”
Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, wrote a piece for Time.com called, “Trump’s Star of David Tweet Gives Anti-Semitism Free Reign.” In it, Rabbi Wolpe explains that he just returned from Israel and everybody there wanted to know if Trump is an anti-Semite. Rabbi Wolpe wrote, “I believe Trump has a genuine attachment to Israel and to Jews. But he appears to have a congenital inability to apologize or to quash the malevolence of any of his supporters, no matter how egregious. One need not be a hater to give license to those who do hate.”
To address Trump’s problematic relationship with the Jewish community is an easy assignment because he’s not in our family. In my community of Adat Shalom in Los Angeles, I hear congregants speaking about Trump during Kiddish, during Minyan, even during services. Much like the media, we are obsessed with Trump. I wonder how many of us from our family are considering voting for him? Statistically speaking, very few. According to JewishVirtualLibrary.org, 69% of Jews voted for President Obama in 2012, 78% of Jews voted for President Obama in 2008, 76% of Jews voted for Senator Kerry in 2004, and 79% of Jews voted for Vice President Gore in 2000. President Clinton carried the Jewish vote with 80% and 78% in 1992 and 1996, respectively.
Statistically speaking, the Democtratic Party is our family. And in my opinion, Max Blumenthal is only the tip of the iceberg.
Senator Bernie Sanders, Jewish himself who mightily challenged Secretary Clinton in the primary, ran a campaign that involved advisors like James Zogby, who was described by The Washington Post on May 23rd as an activist for Palestinian rights and is the founder and President of Arab American Institute. In an attempt to unite the Democratic Party ahead of the convention, Sanders was awarded five nominees to the Democratic Party Platform as reported by the same article in The Washington Post. Sanders received five nominees, Clinton received six and the Democratic National Committee received four nominees for the committee that drafts the party platform. And who was one of Sanders’ nominees? You guessed it, James Zogby.
On June 29th, The Chicago Tribune, a publication well known for not being kind to Israel, published an article titled, “Inside the Democratic Party’s showdown over Israel-Palestine.” The article reported Zogby’s comments at the platform committee meeting, “’We do not often see the Arab-Israeli conflict through Palestinian eyes,’ Zogby began, according to an informal transcript of the meeting obtained by Foreign Policy. He [Zogby] was pushing an amendment calling for ‘an end to occupation and illegal settlements.’”
The article states that Zogby’s proposal was defeated by a charge led by two other committee members: Clinton appointee Wendy Sherman, Jewish herself and the former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs at the State Department during Clinton’s time there, and Democratic National Committee appointee former U.S. Representative Howard Berman, Jewish himself from California’s 28th district in the Los Angeles area. The article read that, “Berman said the amendment would be ‘a terrible mistake’ because it was ‘one-sided’ toward the Palestinians.”
The article goes on to explain that it’s not just Zogby. Sanders himself has been trying to move American policy toward a Palestinian perspective. It reported, “In one of the most heated exchanges of the unexpectedly contested nomination fight, the Vermont socialist [Sanders] used an April debate in New York to push the former Secretary of State [Clinton] to call Israel's 2014 strikes on Gaza disproportionate. She refused.”
In an op-ed for The Jerusalem Post, lifelong Democrat Alan Dershowitz wrote, “Sanders has demonstrated a consistent bias against the nation-state of the Jewish people and surrounded himself with ‘experts’ who often describe Israel as an apartheid state, and have repeatedly accused the IDF of committing war crimes.”
Republicans and Democrats -- a pox on both of their houses as far as I’m concerned. As a Rabbi, I am concerned about the future of the Jewish People and the State of Israel. The Jewish narrative depends first and foremost on the actions of the Jewish People – how we act, what we say, who speaks on our behalf. And the scary part is that it’s our own family in the form of Max Blumenthal and Bernie Sanders who are inviting this kind of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel rhetoric into the national dialogue.
I am not endorsing Donald Trump. Please do not misunderstand me. But it’s become too easy to discuss Trump’s shortcomings and poor judgment. It’s too easy to ridicule Trump’s public support from known enemies of the Jewish People.
It’s time that we take a deep look inside of our own family and start inspecting our own family for the kinds of accusations we’re making about ourselves. We have so few Moses-like figures left. And to me, if I knew nothing about Israel but I knew Elie Wiesel, and I knew he supported Israel like he did, I would support Israel like I do. And to me, if I knew nothing about Max Blumenthal but I knew what he said about Elie Wiesel, I would believe that he is a poor judge of character at best and morally corrupt at worst.
As Elie Wiesel taught us, when you recognize anti-Semitism or hatred of any kind, it’s our obligation to stand against it in any way we can. When that anti-Semitism is being perpetrated or invited or endorsed by fellow Jews within a political party that enjoys so much of our support, it’s our obligation to press it out.
The Democratic Party should not take the Jewish vote for granted. For those of us active in politics, demand change. Call your political representatives and speak out, withhold donations until change occurs. We should not tolerate anti-Semitism whenever it appears whether it be in the language of direct anti-Semitism or in the language of anti-Semitism masked as anti-Israel speech, whether it is spoken on MSNBC or on Fox News. The language of anti-Semitism is filthy and vile.
Don’t accept anti-Semitism in any form – whether it is intended to hurt Jews or hurt Israel – whether it appears from the political right or political left, from a White Supremicist, from a Muslim or from a Jew.
To challenge Elie Wiesel’s legacy is akin to Korah’s challenge. May Elie Wiesel’s life and his teachings be a blessing for our Jewish family and for the entire world forever.