Jews Who Hate Israel

Some well-known Jewish writers — Noam Chomsky being the best known — do not just criticize Israel, but they hate Israel. Hate is a strong emotion, and we do not expect it in print a great deal, and certainly not when it is directed toward one’s own people, one’s own family. But here it is: a few dozen writers, a few thousand signers of petitions, all claiming to be Jews, all asserting a strong hatred for Israel. Why ?

I have written an essay that I call “Prolegomena to the Study of Jews Who Hate Israel” that seeks, not easy answers, but answers nonetheless, but mostly tries to point to ways in which we could come to a better understanding of these interesting folks. Click on the link and let me know what you think, won’t you.



On Indulgences and Torah Scrolls

Let’s say that a Roman Catholic diocese needs to obtain a mortgage loan on its property. And let’s also say that times are bad, that unemployment is high, and that the faithful of the diocese might find it hard to keep up regular contributions. That would mean that the diocese could find it difficult to make monthly payments on the loan. The church buildings, representing the security for the loan, are difficult to sell, making a foreclosure on the mortgage impractical. So here is an idea that might come up in the minds of the bank lawyers: have the diocese pledge not only the churches’ real estate, but also its “personal property,” property that is not real estate.

What sort of “personal property” does a diocese own ? Well, it could always sell indulgences, couldn’t it ?

No, of course it could not. Canon law forbids it, and civil law, probably, forbids it also. Most of all, as far as I know, there is no active market in indulgences, so this lack of a market, if nothing else, would make the idea impractical. But before this fact was determined by the mortgage bankers, I think they might well have entertained the idea.

What makes me say this ? Well, I have before me an actual mortgage agreement that mortgage lawyers concocted for a synagogue, in which I find the following:

… which loan shall be secured by a mortgage on the Congregation’s premises and a security interest on all items of personal property used at or related to the Congregation’s premises …

One of the reasons that lawyers like to use obscure legal terms is that laymen cannot understand them. The hapless congregants of this synagogue approved the language, but how many of them understood that they were mortgaging their sacred Torah scrolls ? As I said, “personal property” means all property that is not real estate. What does a synagogue own in this regard that has value ? Used books, used computers ? Hardly. But Torah scrolls have a market value of between $20,000 and $60,000 each, so in the case at hand the value of the scrolls might be half a million dollars. Furthermore, in case of foreclosure, Torah scrolls are a great deal more marketable than synagogue buildings …

There is of course a catch to all this, but it isn’t a catch that seems to have worried either the mortgage bankers or the congregation’s board: Jewish law, halakha, forbids the trafficking in Torah scrolls, sifrei torah. Moreover, even to those who are either not versed in halakha or are fairly indifferent to its many provisions, there is something unusual in this piece of “creative financing” that should have raised red flags. As it happens, the involvement of “personal property” in connection with a real estate loan, especially in the case of synagogues, has so far been unknown.

Now I have to say something that I believe is generally true, but is also no doubt unfair to some honest and hard-working people. This is it: red flags are not popular among creative-finance lawyers. It is said about mortgage bankers (a good many of them), and their lawyers (a good many of these), that they each have one glass eye, and that you can always tell which eye it is because it is the one that inspires more confidence in its owner’s probity.

Hate crimes USA: Jews are the most targeted

# of offenses = number of “hate crimes” reported by U.S. Department of Justice for 2008

size of target = for the “racial” groups, US Census data; for the religious groups, poll data of self-identified religious adherents, corrected to include both children and adults; all rounded to nearest million, except that for Jews and Muslims the rounding is to the nearest 100,000.

Interpretation: Proportionately, Jews were targeted more than three times as often as Blacks, more than four times as often as Muslims.

Al-Quds University and Radical Chic

The Arab name for Jerusalem is Al-Quds. Al-Quds Day, for example, is observed in Iran and some other countries as a day for denouncing Israel. And then there is an Al-Quds University (AQU) in Jerusalem which is dedicated to … well, all kinds of things, but, in my interpretation of its website, primarily to pushing an anti-Israel political agenda.

But wait, is that a fair description ? AQU has influential and powerful connections to Western institutions which would seem to foreclose any crude or hateful stance on Israel or on peaceful solutions to the Israel-Arab conflict. For example, AQU has agreements of collaboration with the Jewish Brandeis University in Massachusetts, and also with Bard College in New York, under its Jewish president Leon Botstein. ( Bard’s interest, I have been told, is in building bridges with the Palestinians, in helping to improve the education of Palestinians, etc. , all aims with which I find myself in full agreement. And I suppose Brandeis would have the same kind of objectives in mind when it shares its resources and lends its good name to the promotion of AQU.)

So what gives here ?

The AQU website, unfortunately, leaves no doubt about the strident political commitments of the institution. The site’s central “General Information” is a lengthy, rambling history of Jerusalem from an anti-Israel point of view. The establishment of Israel in 1948 is described as “the 1948 Nakba,” using the Palestinian nationalist term meaning “Catastrophe.” Beyond that, there are references to various writers and scholars all of whom seem to say that the Jews have not had a historical connection to the land of Israel, that there was no such thing as King David, that the Western Wall could not have been related to a Jewish Temple, etc. etc. Obviously, one could make some sort of reasonable case for some of these assertions. But this General Information is a piece of special pleading; it is all tied together with propagandistic glue. Whatever writings fit the parti pris is carefully adduced; whatever scholarship tends in a different direction is carefully ignored.

About two years ago there was a controversy at Barnard College about an anthropologist, Nadia Abu El Haj, whose politically-inspired writings, similarly, held that Jews have no historic claim to the land of Israel. Professor Alan Segal, also of Barnard, is an expert on the relevant archaeology and wrote a trenchant criticism of Abu El Haj. This article can also serve as a criticism of AQU’s scholarship.

Over and above AQU’s unfortunate and unscholarly politicization of the history of Israel, I am also worried about how it might deal with certain other matters of Jewish history. In particular, what kind of teaching is done at AQU about the Holocaust ? It might be a problem for them, judging by how they treat the issue of Jerusalem. There is a revealing article by Mikael Tossavainen on the place of the Holocaust in Arab political thinking. It sheds a great deal of light on the matter at hand.

Has either Bard or Brandeis looked into any of this ? Has either of these institutions tried to restrain their protégé in any way ? Not as far as I was able to find out. On the contrary, both Bard and Brandeis, is their public pronouncements, have nothing but praise.

That seems curious considering what we must assume to be the ordinary, customary criteria for scholarship at these institutions. It would be insulting to think, and wrong, that anything less than a critical weighing of evidence and dispassionate scholarship can win acclaim at either Bard or Brandeis. Obviously no institution is perfect, and it would be naive to think that the ideals of scholarship are always attained even in our most elite institutions. But on the other hand, no, the propaganda-as-scholarship that emanates from AQU surely could not be tolerated in our best colleges and universities, and not at B & B, on any matter other than Al-Quds. So why, why, do both Bard and Brandeis “collaborate,” as they say, with this sorry institution ?

The answer, I suggest, lies in the title of this posting: Radical Chic. Of course the reference is to Tom Wolfe’s classic description of the relationship between Leonard Bernstein and the Black Panthers. Bernstein catered to people that he knew, or should have known, to be brutes. Why ? He did not, fundamentally, regard them as his equals, but he wished, in his vanity, to be associated with the frisson of Black Power. He obviously did not employ standards that he would employ for educated white people when he patronized the Black Panthers with his money, his connections, and his fawning condescension. Something like that, mutatis mutandis, I see as the heart of B & B’s relationship to AQU.

The French Left and Islamist Anti-Semitism: A Dilemma

Olivier Besancenot: Mail Carrier, Recent Candidate for the French Presidency, Leader of the (Trotskyist) New Anti-Capitalist Party, and Anti-Israel Activist

For the Left in France, both traditional and new, there is a bit of a dilemma: one the one hand, its politics have historically been defined by a strict secularism (religion being the opiate of the people, and all that). But on the other hand, at least since 1967, the Left (except perhaps for some groups within the Socialist Party) has also been pledged to work against Israel. Now the most anti-Israel political force of them all is that of the religious, militant Islamists. What is there for a poor leftist do: make common cause with the Islamists and be considered soft on secularism ? Or denounce the militant Islamists and be considered soft on Zionism ?

Obviously, this being a French matter, and more particularly a matter for the much-fissured French Left, there have been a number of ways in which the dilemma has been faced. A very revealing article by Jean-Yves Camus, The French Left and Political Islam: Secularism Versus the Temptation of an Alliance, surveys the field.

The Non-Accountability of Religious Groups

No, it is probably not true that religious groups in this country are robbing us blind. But we cannot be sure, because, inexplicably, our laws have loopholes that prevent the government from effectively checking on the finances of churches, synagogues, and mosques, on how these groups manage or mismanage the very considerable public funds with which they are entrusted by way of tax exemptions and tax deductibility of donations.

Does it ever happen, for example, that a religious group will offer a receipt for a donation for a payment which was not in fact a voluntary contribution but rather a payment for some sort of service, say a church-catered wedding or individual religious tutoring ? Issuing a donation-receipt under such circumstances would be illegal but under current auditing rules of the IRS and state agencies, it would be almost impossible to detect.

I have outlined the contours of the problem in the first part of a law review article entitled “When the Constitution Fails on Church and State: Two Case Studies,” 6 Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, 1.2 (2005). Here I reproduce Sections 5-15 of this article. I have omitted the numerous footnotes; they contain supporting detail and and can be consulted by clicking on the link shown above.


[5] The United States in recent years have seen well-publicized scandals in the
Catholic Church, primarily concerning sex, but also involving concomitant financial
irregularities. The public discussion surrounding this matter has not touched upon the fact the Catholic Church, like all other religious groups, is given very unusual immunity from financial reporting to the government and from most auditing by the government.

[6] The federal religious immunities in the IRC are found in Sections
508(a)(c)(1)(a), 6033, and 7611, and have a long history, going back at least to the
beginning of the twentieth century. They are noteworthy because they benefit religious groups and not other non-profit entities (except by way of certain de minimis provisions).

[7] Section 508 immunity provides that new religious groups (and small secular
groups that can qualify under a de minimis rule) need not file an application to qualify for tax exemption. Most non-profit groups must file a Form 1023 to obtain recognition as a tax-exempt entity. This form asks searching questions about the group’s finances angovernance. But churches and synagogues need not file; they are considered tax exempt on their own say-so. This is a very significant exemption from accountability.

[8] However, Form 1023 may be filed by churches on a voluntary basis. A
church that takes this route will be asked, in addition to the questions that are applicable to all non-profits, a special group of questions contained in “Schedule A”, which are designed to distinguish bona fide churches from illegal schemes.16 The logic, if any, of Schedule A is not obvious. If a group considers itself a church or synagogue it need not file such information unless it decides to do so voluntarily, in which case it will have its bona fides questioned; those declining the voluntary filing have their bona fides assumed.

[9] Nor are the advantages of filing [to a church] obvious. A publication by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement) recommends voluntary filing, partly because it results in a listing by the IRS’s Publication 78. Such listing does confer more visibility to a group, and perhaps enhances its credibility among prospective donors, but does not enhance a church’s tax status or any other legal prerogative. Many churches and synagogues are listed in this mammoth book but many are not. There does not seem to be an easy way to estimate the extent of this voluntary compliance.

[10] The Section 6033 and 7611 exemptions free churches from the periodic
financial reporting that is required of other non-profit groups. These exemptions
benefit “churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions and associations of
churches” (as well as secular groups with annual gross receipts of less than $5000) and are thus more narrowly drawn than certain other definitions of “religion.” Obviously, a mosque and a synagogue is a “church” for this purpose, but certain other church-related groups are not.

[11] The § 6033 exemption is particularly significant and far-reaching because it
affects not only the targeted groups but also the public at large. At issue is the famous IRS Form 990, which for all other non-profit groups affords a revealing and very accessible picture of how non-profit groups manage their money. Secular non-profit groups are required to file this form annually, but churches are not. Most states require that the secular groups operating within their borders also file a copy of the 990 with the state government. Religious groups, however, are generally exempt from these state filings.

[12] The philosophy behind Form 990 is as follows: in return for the many
privileges that the government bestows on non-profit organizations — income tax
exemption, exemption from property taxes, and tax deductibility of donations, the
government asks for the disclosure of financial information, akin to, but much less
extensive than the information required of publicly owned corporations. Since the
various tax privileges of these non-profit groups may be considered tax expenditures by government on all levels, non-profit groups may be said to receive considerable public funds and should be held accountable for such funds.

[13] The Form 990 filings of all the major non-profit organizations are now widely
available in various publications and on the Internet. They form the basis for ratings given to nonprofit groups by various “watchdog” groups who are interested in how efficiently the charities and other nonprofit groups are managed. The information required on Form 990 includes total receipts, sources of such receipts, expenditures by type and recipient, salaries of top officials, and information on self-dealing operations among board and staff members. The IRC provides penalties for self-dealing, for example a property sold by a board member to the organization at an inflated price. Churches do not have to file such information. Consequently, it is possible that the inappropriate expenditures surrounding the sex scandal in the Catholic Church could not have been as easily kept secret if the Church had been required annually to file Form 990.

[14] The Form 990 disclosure of salaries has attracted particular attention in a
report published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. This kind of publicity is likely to
have a deterrent effect on excessive salaries. Again, this public disclosure is not required of religious bodies. In addition, the § 7611 exemption frees churches from routine auditing by the IRS. The Service can do audits, but only for cause, and then only with restrictions that do not apply to secular groups.

[15] Taken together, these Code exemptions create the impression that Congress
regards religious folk as more trustworthy than non-religious folk and less in need of
accountability. As we shall see below, most of the states have followed these Federal
exemptions from accountability. Concerning the state exemptions, Catherine Knight

[a] church officer who dips into the collection plate may be
held accountable on Judgment Day, but what about a
reckoning in this life? . . . The ability of the attorneys
general of the various states or of church members to
regulate the fiscal decisions of the church’s corporate
directors or officers is mired in statutory limitations and
constitutional questions. As a result, religious corporations
are largely self-regulated.

Was Congress right to assume that, when acting under color of church, man’s probity is beyond question? …

While, as we have seen, IRS approval is not needed to qualify a religious group for 501(c)(3) status, obtaining such approval seems ludicrously simple. Professor Rob Reich of Stanford has issued a report on the topic: “Anything Goes.” The report has an appendix listing 60 “most eccentric” groups that have managed to obtain IRS approval, for instance groups who impersonate nuns.

The New York Times tells the Swiss: You Are Disgraceful

Fifty-seven and a half percent of Swiss voters have approved an initiative that bans the building of minarets on Swiss territory. I personally do not see much merit in the proposal, and, had I been a Swiss voter, would probably have voted No. Now whatever the rights or wrongs of the proposal, it was a democratically-arrived decision, a peaceful action, subject, like all such decisions, to discussion and possible reversal in the future.

But to judge by the hysterical and incendiary editorial of the New York Times, this decision by Swiss voters was the moral equivalent of an Islamist suicide attack:

Disgraceful. That is the only way to describe the success of a right-wing initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland, where 57 percent of voters cast ballots for a bigoted and mean-spirited measure….. the worst response to extremism and intolerance is extremism and intolerance.

No, this initiative does not constitute “extremism and intolerance” in the same way that, say, a suicide attack is “extremism and intolerance.” The murder of innocent people is irreversible, while a democratic vote, in principle, is not.

The educated classes, in Switzerland and especially elsewhere, had condemned this initiative. Like the Sarah Palin phenomenon in the United States, the vote constituted a revolt by the Swiss electorate, more in the rural districts than in the cities, against the learned advice of their enlightened betters. The vote was also a response to perceived threats from Islamic immigrants to traditional lifestyles. The Swiss-based journalist Daniel Ammann, without in any way endorsing the initiative, does what the finger-wagging New York Times editorialists cannot get themselves to do; he provides some cultural context to the vote:

A majority of Swiss voters obviously feels that there are problems with Muslim integration into civil society at the moment. This vague sentiment was fueled by a number of incidents over the last years: The former Imam of a mosque in Geneva, Hani Ramadan, a Swiss citizen by the way, publicly justified the stoning of adulterers or the punitive amputation of the hand of a thief. Muslim parents prevented their daughters from attending swimming classes, gymnastics or summer camps in public schools because they didn’t want their girls to be together with boys. Media reports about forced marriages, female genital mutilations and “honor killings” of Muslim women – all confirmed by authorities or in court — came as a shocking surprise. A university professor even went as far as to suggest in an official publication of a federal commission to introduce elements of the Sharia, the Muslim legal system, into Switzerland.

To repeat, neither Ammann nor I would have voted for this initiative. But, at the very least, let’s try to go beyond condemnation to understanding.