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On Trump’s choice of Israeli ambassador



I’m going to tell you a little bit more than I did yesterday about the pernicious influence that rightwing Jews have, both here in America and in Israel.

Yesterday I explained how the presence of about one million Russian ultra-orthodox Jews (out of Israel’s total population of eight million) has poisoned Israeli politics and actually endangered that small nation’s security. Today I want to explore these notions more fully, based on what we now know about Trump’s new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

I’ve never met Friedman but I’ve known orthodox Jews like him. They are angry religionists, putting their theological views above everything else. These are people who still live in the Middle Ages: no man is allowed to touch a woman, not even to shake her hand, unless he is her husband. The absurdities of the Old Testament are taken literally: if you mow the lawn on Saturday, you’ve committed an abomination and may be stoned to death. Homosexuality is, obviously, also worthy of the death penalty.

But of course, these Jews don’t have the power, yet, to inflict their medieval views on the world, and they know it, which is why they continue to await for the arrival of “Moshiach”—the messiah. When he comes (and it will be a “he”), then Jewish law, halakha, will be imposed upon the world, and there will be plenty of executions. You don’t believe it? Try talking, off the record, to an orthodox Jewish rabbi, perhaps one of the Lubavitch faith, as I have done. You will have a glimpse into insanity that will leave you shaken.

Friedman is clearly a hater of Arabs. So, for that matter, are most orthodox Jews. They believe that Jews are God’s chosen; everybody else is dreck, and Arabs are the dreckiest of all. They believe that God gave “the holy land” to Israel for all of time, and they have no intention of sharing it with anybody. They do not accept a “two-state solution”—certainly, Friedman doesn’t—even though common sense tells us it is the only solution for the problem of the Palestinians. Friedman consistently accuses anyone who disagrees with him, including his fellow Jews, of being “anti-semites” and calls them “worse than Nazis,” insults that explain the affinity he and America’s new insulter-in-chief, Trump, have for each other. (Their friendship goes back to the 1990s, when Friedman’s bankruptcy law firm represented Trump.) Both men are aggressive, in-your-face screamers, convinced of the rectitude of their positions, and determined to drive their many enemies into the dirt.

Diplomats are supposed to be, well, diplomatic. Mature leaders understand this, and find suitable people to represent them abroad. Confrontational ambassadors can have serious, unwanted consequences. One reason for the outbreak of World War II, many historians believe, was Hitler’s appointment of von Ribbentrop as, first, his consul in London, and then Foreign Minister. Ribbentrop was appallingly rude and crude; his views were as extreme as those of his master, and he was widely disliked, even by his fellow Nazis. Had Ribbentrop been more even-tempered, more measured in his responses, it is possible Hitler could have achieved all his desires without war. But Ribbentrop was a case of the tail wagging the dog: Hitler, who knew virtually nothing about foreign affairs (he never left Germany before becoming Chancellor, and then only for a quick trip to conquered Paris), was dragged to extremes by his mentally unstable Foreign Minister.

The similarities between Friedman and Trump, on the one hand, and Ribbentrop and Hitler, on the other, are striking. Trump shows no evidence of ever having thought seriously about Middle Eastern affairs. Now that he has to, he has hired an unpleasant ideologue, and a religious nut, to boot, who has shown fascist tendencies. For example, shortly before the election, but after being appointed Trump’s “Israel expert,” he released a statement containing his recommendations for Israeli policy under a Trump administration. Included was this nugget, which should alarm everybody: The Trump administration will ask the Justice Department to investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel.” Just what we need: the FBI running riot on college campuses, investigating—whom? Anyone rightwing Jews don’t like.

Look, I agree with much of what the Israel-firsters say. Palestinians do have to renounce violence. They do have to accept the right of the State of Israel to exist. The stupidity they teach children in their madrasas is contemptible. But people like Friedman are unable to perceive the beam in their own eyes when they criticize Muslims. How open to the GLBT community is Friedman’s orthodox religion? Could two men or two women marry in his synagogue? Would his synagogue allow a woman to be a rabbi? Would gay Jews be accepted into the congregation? If I could have a sit-down with Friedman I’d ask him this one simple question: When Moshiach returns, will rabbis impose the death penalty on gays? And I wouldn’t let him weasel out of answering, as orthodox Jews have a tendency to do when you call them out on their madness.

I want to end with an anecdote that perhaps illuminates more clearly my concern with orthodox Jews. When I was a little boy my parents sent me to “Hebrew School” to become educated in Jewish language, religion, history and culture. One year, when I was about nine, we had a rabbi, a tall young man from an ultra-orthodox wing of Judaism. He was explaining to us how the World was then about 5,715 years old, according to Jewish creation theory. Now I, being a kid fascinated by dinosaurs, raised my hand and asked Rabbi about fossils that scientists said were tens of millions and even hundreds of millions of years old. Rabbi replied that the scientists were all liars. He told us about Piltdown Man, to this day one of the most infamous scientific hoaxes in history, and insinuated that all scientists were committing similar hoaxes, if they did not accept Jewish creation theory, which also precludes evolution. This was an Aha! moment for me. It’s when I realized that extreme religious belief and intelligent understanding of the world are mutually exclusive. I threw my lot in with intelligent understanding and have never regretted that decision. Jews such as Friedman made, sadly, another choice.


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