Peter Beinart and I know each other from Oxford University where he was a Rhodes scholar and I was Rabbi to the students, founder of the Oxford L’Chaim Society, and personal emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I have always been kind to Peter and welcomed him into our society on multiple occasions. Indeed, I respect him till this day. Even as he was vilified for calling for a boycott on Israeli products from Judea and Samaria—which would include products like Soda Stream—I defended his character and integrity as a writer, although I disagreed vehemently with his prejudiced policies. Which begs the question, why would Peter have chosen, in his column "Cory Booker’s Rabbis," in his Open Zion blog on the Daily Beast, to attack me with the malicious lie that my stances on the Israeli-Arab conflict “borders on racism.” That disgusting, nauseating, and deeply libelous slur was not merely in Peter’s column, but was the introduction-synopsis to his piece, in big bold letters. When I challenged him on the libel through Twitter, he took the cowardly route of blaming some low-level editor of inserting the racism charge, even though Peter is the editor of Open Zion and is thus responsible for everything that appears therein. I guess that’s what passes for taking responsibility at Open Zion. To be fair, the subhead was later modified after I demanded via Twitter that it be so.
Still, I continue to like and value Peter, even if he chooses to willfully misrepresent me and my views. I found it likewise interesting that he wrote that he contacted me twice before he published his column, which never happened. I am easily accessible by e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook, and Peter and I know countless people in common. In addition, I am represented by Richard Rubenstein of Rubenstein PR who can reach me on press inquiries at all times. I find it lamentable that Peter has compromised his journalistic integrity through such false claims.
Here are the facts.
Cory Booker is like a brother to me. He is what one would call a soul friend. I first met Cory in my third year as rabbi at Oxford University when he came to our Simchas Torah celebration, planned to stay for just a little while, but found himself hours later dancing with me on the table. We started studying Judaism together several times a week. I taught him the Torah, he enlightened me as to the African-American tradition. I memorized speeches by Martin Luther King, who, as a champion of the social justice of the Hebrew Bible, was already my hero.
Our friendship blossomed quickly and together we created an entirely new community of Jews and non-Jews with a passion to bring healing to the world. Cory would come over several times a week to schmooze and cook ‘kosher soul food’ to which he and I invited many students. We did everything in Oxford together and spent countless hours in conversation.
Our friendship culminated in my asking Cory to serve as president of our student organization, the L’Chaim Society, which had already by that time grown to be the second largest student society in Oxford’s history, with thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish members, and together we hosted Nobel laureates like Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders. Cory is an expansive soul who believes he has something to learn from all and I shared with him the wellsprings of Jewish wisdom. He slowly became considerably knowledgeable of Jewish texts and aphorisms while, through Cory, I deepened my love and knowledge of the African-American community, wisdom, and experience.
Beinart’s claim that Cory and I never discuss Israeli or Middle Eastern politics is not just silly, but deeply ignorant. I arranged for Cory to visit Israel twice, the first time on the very day that the Lubavitcher Rebbe passed away nineteen years ago (the anniversary was this week). I introduced Cory to the leadership of AIPAC and arranged for him to lecture to AIPAC throughout the United States and introduced him for his lectures to AIPAC on many occasions (the videos are available on YouTube). I also arranged for Cory to be briefed at my home by Howard Kohr, the Executive Director of AIPAC, and its President, David Victor, where Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom I just honored last week at a Times Square dinner as a global champion of human life, joined us as well. Cory and I have discussed the Arab-Israeli conflict on innumerable occasions.
I paid a significant price for Cory’s presidency of L’Chaim. The picture of an African-American non-Jewish student leader introducing the former Soviet president at a Jewish gathering puzzled the Chabad leadership in London, who later demanded that the membership of all non-Jewish students of L’Chaim be rescinded so as not to dilute the Jewish character of the organization. Contrary to Beinart’s disgusting and craven allegations of racism, I refused the order and was forced to resign my position because I knew that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who has just passed away, loved all of God’s children as equals and taught me to do the same. My family suffers from the ostracization I experienced until this very day.
Let me state my beliefs, clearly and emphatically.
I’m a Jew and I’m a member of a nation that has long proclaimed to the world that every human being is created equally in the image of God. Every one of my Muslim and Arab brothers and sisters are my equals before God and the lives of my Palestinian brothers are of infinite value. I've dedicated my life to the dissemination of this core message of the Judaic tradition, openly and unequivocally.
Beinart himself knows this because he attended many of my Friday night Shabbat dinner at Oxford where he saw Arabs and Jews, blacks and whites, atheists and Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants, all coming together under my tent to create a multi-cultural society based on love, understanding, and respect. Peter saw the leading scions of the most prominent Arab families in the world, who were studying in Oxford, regularly participating in Friday Night Shabbat dinners and lectures and debates on Israel and the holocaust. Indeed, I was the one who taught many of the Arab students that they should not partake of the Sabbath wine because they are Muslim and should respect their tradition of not imbibing alcohol and through me many Muslims bought kosher meat that met their Halal standards.
I am on record of repeatedly referring to Islam as a great world religion that took the Jews in to the Ottoman Empire after Christian persecutions. Indeed, Peter quotes me as saying that I believe Islam is a great world religion, but raises suspicions about my sincerity. I have long preached how we Jews owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Islam for welcoming us into their lands after repeated expulsions, especially from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1498. Islam, as a great world religion that has often protected Jews, is stained by those who murder in its name or who preach anti-Semitism. Peter should not be excusing this unfortunate phenomenon.
I founded the second largest student society on campus with 5000 non-Jewish members, and Beinart knows firsthand that when I made Cory my president of the L’Chaim Society I lost my position with the Jewish organization for whom I worked. It was an international story that continues to reported till today.
I paid many other professional prices for my conviction that we are all equally God’s children, including losing a vast syndicated radio program when I tried to permanently relocate African-American evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in Utah. I was the first white morning radio host on America’s oldest African-American radio station, WWRL 1600 AM in New York, I was Michael Jackson’s rabbi, and I took the Rev. Al Sharpton to Israel right after the 9/11 attacks, even as I was criticized strongly by members of the Jewish community who felt he had maligned the Jewish community.
Why Beinart would purposely misrepresent these commonly known facts is mystifying.
Cory and I represent two people from totally different backgrounds, religious perspectives, ethnicities, and social backgrounds, coming together and becoming inseparable brothers. Cory was raised in a middle class family by parents who were vice presidents of IBM. I was raised by a single mother working two jobs as a bank teller and as a supermarket checkout clerk in order to feed my four siblings and me. But we represent people creating a community of love and that’s what we accomplished at Oxford and that’s what we’ve represented and encouraged ever since in our careers and personal lives.
When I ran for Congress last year, I emerged as one of the country’s foremost advocates for American intervention in Syria because of the infinite value of every Arab life. When Muammar Kaddafi tried to pitch a tent right next door to me in Englewood, New Jersey, I arose as his most vociferous critic, even as so many warned me that I was endangering my family’s security, all because Kaddafi was one of the greatest murderers of Arab life.
During my Congressional campaign, I demanded that President Obama go to the United Nations and condemn Bashar al-Assad as a war criminal at the very least. I've been making these demands since the conflict started in 2011, well before the United Nations’ estimate of dead innocent Arabs exceeding 93,000. When I was granted a meeting in June 2012 with Prime Minister Netanyahu, whom I had hosted at Oxford on multiple occasion, the first request I made was that Israel allow Arab refugees from Syria sanctuary in Israel.
I’ve dedicated my life to defending the persecuted and have now emerged, to the consternation of many of my Republican colleagues, as the foremost champion of my friend Samantha Power becoming America’s U.N. Ambassador because of her strenuous opposition to genocide, especially in Rwanda, which I visited last year.
It's precisely because of my commitment to Judaism's appreciation of the infinite value of every human life that I've been so critical of President Obama for failing to use his considerable eloquence to champion human rights globally. The more the West shows an unwillingness to fight genocidal dictators, the more our oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters who live in totalitarian regimes will feel abandoned by the international community.
Those who argue that Islam is an inherently violent faith, or anti-Jewish, deliberately deny history as when Sultan Saladin took back Jerusalem in 1187 and allowed all Christians to ransom their lives and the penniless to go free. The Christians had expected the same harsh treatment that they had meted out in conquering Jerusalem in 1099, when all Muslims and Jews were massacred. Saladin was also generous in his treatment of the Jewish community in his realm. In 1190, he called on Jews to settle once again within the walls of Jerusalem, since they had been banned from the city during the Crusader occupation. Maimonides, one of Judaism’s greatest thinkers, was court physician to Saladin.
To assail Islam as inherently anti-modern is likewise to ignore how already in the ninth century Muslim rulers were prioritizing general education when few others were. Al-Mamun, Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, established state-funded academies that translated Greek and other works of antiquity, thereby predating European universities by some three centuries. The Abbasid Muslim Empire brought about agricultural innovations in the 8th century that would not be seen in the West until late in the twelfth century. Al-Razi of Baghdad wrote numerous medical books in the tenth century which included groundbreaking health treatments which the West would not match for another six hundred years. In the sixteenth century Muslim Sultan Akbar of India was renowned for cross-cultural political appointments and enacting laws that embraced religious tolerance and protection of women and children. He was also one of the first commanders to insist on humane treatment of captured enemy troops.
I have said this endlessly in my 29 books and in my speeches about the gifts that Islam has given to the world. On the contrary, it’s because Islam is one of the great world religions that it has historically more tolerant towards Jews—unlike its European counterparts—even as it did indeed treat Jews as second-class citizens. I state this publicly, and continue to state it at every opportunity: that real Muslims feel betrayed when their religion is taken over by extremists who ignore the core tenets and contributions of Islam to the world.
That’s why it’s sad to see how things are changing and how Islam is being sullied by the large number of Islamic terrorists who murder in its name.
Today, evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most vociferous friends and defenders and I salute their uncompromising friendship. Popes John XXIII, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI were phenomenal friends of the world Jewish community and Israel. But many of Muslim brothers and sisters, however, are forgetting the historical ties between the Jews and Muslims. They are failing to condemn the murder of Jews and others being committed in the name of Islam. They are reluctant to criticize the large numbers of Muslims who disgrace Islam by transforming a religion of tolerance into a religion of blood and mayhem. And they are allowing themselves to be bystanders as their great faith is made into a mockery by those who preach Jihad against Israel and the Jews.
As far as the people of Hebron are concerned, I absolutely believe that the settlers of Hebron are peaceful. The first thing you discover about the residents of Hebron, whom I visited again just two weeks ago and whom the world derisively describes as settlers—as if Jews living in their own ancient capital are newcomers—is their warmth, friendliness and hospitality. In the column Peter refers to, I describe how I arrived with twenty guests and our host, a wise and dedicated communal activist named Yigal, prepared a feast fit for a king. We ate in his Sukka, surrounded by a tranquility and quiet that I, in my busy life, rarely experience. The night air was cool and energizing.
All around us children were playing, utterly carefree, on pristine playgrounds. So many Jews in Hebron have been killed in terror attacks over the years. Yet the residents in general, and the children in particular, live unafraid. They are also liberated from hatred. When their friends die, they mourn them, bury them, commemorate them, and move on with their lives. There are no general calls for revenge attacks, there are no mass demonstrations braying for Arab blood. Their response, rather, is to demonstrate, in the most peaceful manner, that they are there to stay.
Peter shamelessly cited the most extreme examples of murderers like Baruch Goldstein. For him to do so based on the actions of such a small handful of individuals, hardly a representative sample of religious Jews in Israel, is reckless and irresponsible.
I condemned Baruch Goldstein when he mercilessly killed 29 innocent Muslims in prayer. Living in Oxford at the time, I told the UK media that Goldstein was an abomination to Judaism. Anyone who can kill innocent people at prayer is an absolute disgrace to faith.
His crimes even inspired an attack on my own house and children at Oxford, firebombed the night after his murder spree, as was reported in the national UK media.
I believe that Jews and Arabs should be allowed to live anywhere in Israel or Judea and Samaria. I don’t think that those places should be “Judenrein.” If someone said to me, "Arabs cannot live in Jerusalem," I would be one of the first to object.
What confused apologists like Peter don’t understand is that Israel is a great blessing not just to Jews but especially to Arabs. Before Israel, everyone dismissed Arab tyranny as being typical of the Middle East. You can’t expect women’s rights and women’s education, or gays having rights in the Middle East, because, after all, it’s a tyrannical neighborhood. What do you expect? Thugs like Hosni Mubarak, the Assad family, and Kaddafi used to be the face of the Middle East so that we in the West should never expect it to change or reform itself. This is the attitude that Michael Gerson coined as "the soft bigotry of low expectations."
But Israel's establishment and development proved that a thriving, liberal, democracy can flourish in the heart of the Middle East. It gave hope to Israel’s Arab neighbors that they too can live free. Moreover, Israel’s Arab-Israeli citizens have the most rights of any Arabs in the Middle East.
I’d like to remind my audience that in 2005 Israel withdrew fully from Gaza, dismantling its communities and forcibly removing its Jewish residents. It only lead to tens of thousands of rockets being fired at Israeli hospitals and schools. So perhaps Beinart should be a more careful before recklessly arguing that Israel should unilaterally withdraw from Judea and Samaria.
And that also applies to Arab rights.
Does Beinart condone the honor killings of innocent Arab young women under Hamas and the Palestinian Authority whose only crime is to have a boyfriend? Does he condone Hamas’ and the PLO’s regular murder of homosexuals on false charges of collaboration with Israel? Does he condone the billions of dollars stolen from the Palestinian people by Yasser Arafat and other corrupt PA and Hamas officials?
Why would a leading Middle East expert like Peter condemn the only democracy in the Middle East? Why would he attack a country, situated in a region of such deep misogyny, that celebrates women succeeding in every area of academic, professional, and political life? Why would he pounce on a nation whose Arab citizens are the least afraid in the entire Middle East? An expert like Peter should tell the truth, that Arabs serve in the Israel Knesset—where they freely and regularly disagree with Israel—as well as the Israeli Supreme Court, the civil service, and every other area of Israeli life.
Could it be that Peter’s problem with Israel is that it still not settled the status of the West Bank?
But if that is the case, surely Peter knows that Israel has seen thousands of its citizens slaughtered in gruesome terror attacks ever since it granted autonomy to the Palestinian authority to control 97 percent of the Palestinian population?
Could it be because Israel has yet to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state?
But then Peter is a highly educated man and he knows that after Israel withdrew fully from Gaza it led not just to rockets being fired against Israel, but to the dismantling of the democratic hopes of the Palestinian people as they experienced the theocratic oppression of Hamas and the endemic corruption of the Palestinian Authority. And if Peter disagrees with me, I have a simple question for him. Where would he rather live? Under Israel, with all the imperfections of a democracy caught in an existential struggle for survival, or under Hamas?