As this issue of the Jewish World goes to press, the Larimer County district attorney in Colorado is still pondering possible criminal charges against the parents of Falcon Heene, 6, popularly known as “balloon boy.” According to the county sheriff, Richard and Mayumi Heene, the parents of balloon boy, staged a hoax on Oct. 15, when they released a saucer-shaped weather balloon and pretended that their son was carried aloft in the wayward airship. Falcon later turned up — he had been hiding in the attic of the family home.
The Heene family saga was minutely covered by news media and an anxious nation watched; but another recent hoax received far less publicity. Actors from a political satire group known as the Yes Men — as it happens, two Jews, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno — staged a press conference and posed as representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Bichlbaum, addressing reporters at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., said, “We believe that climate legislation currently being considered by the U.S. Senate is a great start towards a bill that will spur American innovation, create jobs and give us all a good chance of survival.”
The satirist, who said his name was “Hingo Sembra,” pledged his group’s support to the Kerry-Boxer bill, and added, “We at the Chamber have tried to keep climate science from interfering with business. But without a stable climate, there will be no business.”
You can watch the video of the press conference on You Tube. At the end of the presentation before some amused journalists, Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesperson for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, appears and declares the event a fraud. He and Bichlbaum then argue over who should present a business card. (A new film, The Yes Men Fix the World, is scheduled to be shown in Minneapolis in December.)
Also, earlier this month, the Jerusalem Post published an opinion piece by Isi Leibler, a Jewish activist and businessman from Australia who is now living in Israel. Not one to pussyfoot around the issue, Leibler launches his screed with the following: “The exploitation of Judge Goldstone’s Jewish background by our enemies intensifies our obligation to confront the enemy within — renegade Jews — including Israelis who stand at the vanguard of global efforts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state. Such odious Jews can be traced back to apostates during the Middle Ages who fabricated blood libels and vile distortions of Jewish religious practice for Christian anti-Semites to incite hatred, which culminated in massacres. It was in response to these renegades that the herem (excommunication) was introduced.”
Leibler goes on to lash out at “non-Jewish Jews… with no prior involvement in Jewish life,” who “occupy leading roles fueling global anti-Israel campaigns.” Specifically, he blames the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Rabbi Michael Lerner, certain Israeli academics, and the new dovish lobby group J Street for virtually all that ails Israel.
“The Israeli government must now take steps to neutralize the impact of renegade Jews who present themselves as legitimate alternative Jewish viewpoints,” according to Leibler, who calls for a “global Jewish solidarity conference,” which apparently would create some sort of enemies list and “exorcise the [Jewish] renegades from our midst.”
So, I am reasonably sure that Leibler’s article is not a hoax, like balloon boy or the Yes Men at the National Press Club. Rather, the writer is pushing for Israel, and the Jewish community generally, to suppress dissent and devise a 21st century version of Jewish excommunication. It is unclear exactly how Leibler proposes to drive out his Jewish enemies; in America, for example, one can find the means to live without the support of the shul and Jewish social service agencies. Perhaps those Jews who end up in the writer’s bad books will be banned from vacationing in Israel.
Seriously, Leibler represents a sort of fascistic mentality that brooks no deviation from his particular party line. His suggestion evokes the dismal state of mind that preceded other Jewish fratricidal conflicts, such as the Great Revolt of 66 C.E., which our tradition now views as a catastrophe. The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem came about because of the causeless hatred (sinat chinam) that prevailed among Jews, according to the rabbinic sages.
Many Jews in the United States do not engage with Israel, are bewildered by events there and would not consider even visiting the Jewish state. Others are strong defenders of Israeli government policies, even as they shift from year to year. In the aftermath of the 2006 Second Lebanon War and the war in Gaza earlier this year, more Jews are concerned, and even shocked, by Israel’s use of military force, and the increasing decline of Israel’s reputation in the world community. Still other American Jews see themselves as anti-Zionist and proponents of the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement against Israel.
Jews — a fractious people, as the saying goes — should be open to communal dialogue about the fate of Israel. A movement to banish “renegade Jews” from our midst is ill conceived and, hopefully, will gain no widespread traction.
In a recent edition of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot, Nahum Barnea interviewed Bernard-Henri Lévy, a prominent French philosopher who was in Israel attending the President’s Conference. Lévy admitted that he had written a “terrible article” 12 years ago about Benjamin Netanyahu, during his previous tenure as Israeli premier. However, Lévy allowed that Netanyahu “has learned a lot and changed a lot. Did he learn enough, that I don’t know. Today Netanyahu is discovering what the ancient Greeks discovered: that you can be strong, but you can never know if you are the strongest. You cannot rely only on your military might. There are also moral values and political wisdom. I may be wrong, but my sense is that there is a new Netanyahu. He realizes how urgent the Palestinian issue is. If peace is not attained soon, this will not only be a tragedy for the Palestinians but also for Israel. You will face a choice: either there will be no Jewish state — or you will turn into South Africa.”
Further, Lévy observed that, vis-Ã -vis the controversial Goldstone report on Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war, Israel should do as it has done in the past: “Launch an investigation. I don’t think that what Israel does will change the way the world judges it. Israel is prejudged. Every country can have a bad government, but nobody concludes from that that the country is illegitimate… I don’t know of another country in the world that has been in a state of war for 60 years and hasn’t abandoned its democratic principles and has not lost its vitality. The Sept. 11 terror attacks led to Draconian laws in America. The war in Algeria toppled democratic values in France. Israel is unusual: I admire it for this.”
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 10.30.09)Â