Visiting New York this week, I sought to assess the broader implications of the recent “International Peace Award” bestowed on former president Jimmy Carter by Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School. This unsavory display of groveling by a major Jewish institution to a committed foe of the Jewish people is not merely a stain on the entire Jewish community but highlights a dramatic erosion of Jewish values and Jewish dignity.
Many consider it a wake-up call and believe that alarm bells should be ringing in the conference rooms of major Jewish organizations.
Yeshiva University, created 127 years ago, is the crown jewel of America’s modern Orthodox establishment. Its Rabbinical Seminary was headed by the revered Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Its Cardozo Law School has evolved into the one of the most pre-eminent legal educational institutions. Although it caters for all Americans, Cardozo prides itself on being a Jewish institution, serves only kosher food and is closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.
Since his electoral defeat, Carter has emerged as one of the most vicious opponents of the Jewish state whose vile bias appears to stem from traditional Christian anti-Semitism. His theological approach even retains the odium of Jewish deicide and he is on record stating that Jews hate Christians because they are “unclean, uncircumcised” and view them as “dogs”.
He was one of the principal architects of the campaign to demonize Israel as an “apartheid state” which led to14 members of the Carter Center including his former close advisor, Kenneth Stein, resigning and unequivocally accusing him of maliciously lying about Israel. Carter meets and embraces Hamas leaders, urging the US to negotiate with them. He also opposes efforts to deny Iran nuclear weapons.
Alan Dershowitz said that he could not “imagine a worse person to honor for conflict resolution”. He accused Carter of being “significantly responsible for the second intifada… He just prefers terrorists to Israelis” and “encouraged terrorism and violence by Hamas and Hezbollah”. He accused him of having “more blood on his hands than practically any other president” and could not understand how such a person who “never met a terrorist he didn’t like” could become the recipient of such an award.
Yet the administrators of Yeshiva University refused to rescind or even condemn the award to Carter. Their principal concern was to display political correctness and avoid being accused of restricting “academic freedom” or infringing on the rights of their students.
Chancellor Richard Joel declined to endorse the decision and unlike the Dean of Cardozo, Professor Matthew Diller, Joel “courageously” announced that he would absent himself from the proceedings. But he stressed that “Yeshiva University both celebrates and takes seriously its obligation at the University to thrive as a free marketplace of ideas, while remaining committed to its unique mission as a proud Jewish University”.
Needless to say, it would have been highly unlikely for Yeshiva University authorities to have stood aside and mumbled clichés about academic freedom had one of their student affiliates sought to honor a racist or right wing extremist.
The event was announced only four days in advance because the organizers knew that honoring such an inveterate anti-Semite would enrage many members of the Jewish community.
There were major protests from Yeshiva University alumni and students. But the Jewish leadership establishment itself was incredibly restrained. Other than the Zionist Organization of America, no Jewish organization of substance called on the authorities at Yeshiva University to intervene or rescind the award.
ADL‘s Abe Foxman remarked that the award was wrong, it was inappropriate to honour Carter and that there was a need to “instill values” to ensure that “future mistakes like this will not be made”. But he stressed that “the University responded properly” by not intervening.
Even the outspoken Simon Wiesenthal Center, whilst blaming the students for failing to “exercise due diligence”, avoided calling on the University authorities to rescind the award.
In contrast, when a Jewish institution invites or honors controversial personalities on the radical political right or anyone out-of-favor with the liberal chic, there are invariably widespread protests and condemnations. This was exemplified by the recent histrionic pressures and threats employed which led to the cancellation of the invitation to Pamela Geller, the outspoken campaigner against Islamic fundamentalism, to address Jewish organizations. Had the students at Yeshiva University invited her, it is highly unlikely that the authorities would have been as accommodating as they were to Carter.
Regrettably, when it comes to those demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, the trend is for mainstream leaders to bury their heads in the sand, babble about freedom of expression and the need for dialogue and avoid confrontations. They rationalize this by insisting that the overriding objective must be to create a “big tent” encompassing the widest possible range of viewpoints, including those previously considered beyond the pale of the mainstream Jewish community.
During the Cold War, Jewish communists served as apologists for Stalinism and even applauded the execution of Jews on trumped up charges. But they were deemed rogue elements. In contrast, their successors who today engage in vicious anti-Israeli rhetoric, promote BDS and campaign to persuade the American administration to exert pressure on Israel, are becoming integrated as legitimate components of the mainstream Jewish community or simply regarded as just another facet of a “pluralistic” Jewish community.
Yeshiva University is one of the most committed bastions of the Jewish community. When its management declines to overrule the unconscionable decision of its students to honor an anti-Semite, it highlights the extent to which the rot has already advanced and penetrated organizations purportedly promoting Jewish values and Jewish interests.
Thus one should not be surprised to learn that Hillel branches on some campuses host disgusting groups demonizing Israel like “Breaking the Silence” and engage in kumbaya with Muslims hostile to the Jewish state.
Even a number of Federations have set aside funds for anti-Israeli institutions and initiatives. Increasingly, radical rabbis, synagogues and Jewish cultural organizations are hosting speakers who shamelessly defame Israel.
Most current Diaspora Jewish religious, political and cultural leaders were molded during an era when the Holocaust and the struggle to create a Jewish state still dominated public consciousness. Now, many of these are reaching the age of retirement. If they are loath to speak out when such degradation of Jewish values takes place on their watch, the situation may worsen dramatically when the next generation of leaders emerge whose background is likely to make them even less sensitive to these issues.
When Jewish leaders stand aside or remain silent as elements hostile to the Jewish people and Israel are hosted or honored within the Jewish community, this invariably impacts on their core values. It will also legitimize and embolden Israel’s adversaries to intensify efforts to impose BDS as exemplified last week when UC Berkeley student senators carried a resolution to that effect.
Jewish leaders committed to Jewish continuity who proclaim their love for Israel must agree upon certain codes of conduct. This has no bearing on freedom of expression. Nobody seeks to deny anyone the right to say what they please. But if a community fails to draw red lines for its constituents, it will face chaos and anarchy and undermine the shared values which enabled the Jewish people to survive throughout the ages.
The writer may be contacted at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom