O.U. Political Compass Needs Reorienting
The Jewish Press - January 14, 2000 - Rabbi Dov Fisher
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations ("Orthodox Union" or "OU") has blazed so many wonderful trails in its pioneering efforts to advance kosher consumption, youth kiruv, and synagogue services in the United States that it is time, out of love for the OU, to hope that our organization will return soon to its core political values and away from the temporary allure of the spotlight's glamor.
Because I believe most OU members are pained and increasingly are embarrassed by our organization's continued soft-pedaling of Hillary Clinton's political record on Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular, even as the OU appears to have fallen behind the American Jewish mainstream by seeming to continue impeding efforts to free Jonathan Pollard from excessive punishment. It is time for us to speak.
First, some background.
During a ten-year career as a pulpit rav in New Jersey and in California, I was congregational rabbi of two different synagogues affiliated with the "OU." As a musmach of Yeshiva University's RIETS, I played an active role as a community spokesman during that decade, was a rabbinical advisor to two of the OU's NCSY chapters, and shared in rearing three girls who played leadership roles in the OU's NCSY. I love the OU and have solid OU credentials. And that is why, having played an active role in the Rabbinical Council of California and having published a significant amount of thought on Jewish religious issues not only in The Jewish Press but also in the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, my conscience compels me to write.
Recently, I published my first commentary on Jonathan Pollard. In it, I urged Hillary Clinton, a candidate for the United States Senate seat being vacated in New York, to join the chorus calling for Pollard's long-overdue release from detention. I can never support or defend what Pollard did to land himself in federal prison, but I am now persuaded that, having served some 15 years for a crime that never before has been so severely punished, Pollard now is more a political prisoner than a caged spy.
In a commentary, which appeared in the Jewish World Review, (on the internet) I clearly spoke in my own name only, but I listed three affiliations after the article for identification purposes. One of those affiliations was a lay leadership position to which I had been appointed at the Orthodox Union. Within hours of my article's publication, calling on Mrs. Clinton to urge Pollard's release, an OU official instructed that I be removed from my lay leadership position within the organization. I inquired further and learned from sources at the highest levels of the OU that it now is formal OU policy to squelch any implied criticism of Hillary Clinton and, separately, to oppose any efforts to promote Pollard's release. It is my considered view that each of these two OU political policies stands diametrically in opposition to the views held by the overwhelming majority of the Orthodox Union's support base.
I have never before, in the 20 years since being ordained a rav and since becoming a legitimate community leader, seen anything like this. And that goes back to my years as national director of the American Likud, as member of the American Zionist Federation national executive committee, as a regular delegate to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as an honorary member of my city's United Jewish Appeal executive board in New Jersey, as a member of the Rabbinical Council of California, and the like.
I feel confirmed in my views that the OU's massaging of Hillary Clinton's candidacy and its reticent approach to calls for Pollard's release are inconsistent with the OU's mainstream for many reasons. I worship with OU members, and that rank-and-file understandably was appalled and incensed by a published comment attributed to an OU Vice President, David Luchins, who recently told a secular Jewish newspaper that the Orthodox weekly, The Jewish Press, "wished for and welcomed Yitzchak Rabin's assassination." That statement patently was incorrect. More importantly, it resurrected a particularly painful calumny that has been leveled broadside at Orthodox Jews since that killing occurred.
On Pollard, it would appear that the majority of the OU's rank-and-file support base have come to perceive - as have most American Jews across the political and theological spectra of thought - that, in his 15th year of incarceration, Pollard no longer is the spy serving a necessary punishment for espionage but, instead, has become a quasi-Mendel Beiliss. Having finished serving the prison time that this country historically has meted against those who have conducted espionage for allies, he now symbolically appears to be serving a second, separate incarceration, aimed at reminding all American Jews that this country will not brook Jewish dual loyalty towards Israel that transcends the nominal manifestations of singing "Hatikvah" alongside the "Star-Spangled Banner."
Secrets are secrets, and no member of an ethnic group should be divulging them abroad. But Pollard's excessive punishment, running into a second generation, seems troubling because America has not manifested a readiness to incarcerate other "hyphenated-Americans" for divulging secrets to their particular hyphenated lands of origin. Simply put, no one in American history ever before has sat in custody as long as has Pollard for handing secrets, no matter how sensitive, to an American ally. In this regard, it remains compelling that a high official in the United States Department of Justice made the conscious decision not to accuse Pollard of "treason."
So he is not a traitor and never has been accused of treason. It is that simple. And this country simply does not imprison non-traitors as it has Pollard; in fact, even most convicted traitors are released to freedom sooner than he.
Pollard negotiated and entered into a carefully crafted legal plea; yet, the Government incarcerated him for life anyway. Common sense and life experience teaches that no one agrees to save the Government the costs and risks of an extended, open trial - agreeing to plead guilty to allegations - in return for a maximum sentence. And Pollard, a Stanford University graduate, does not lack smarts. But he was double-crossed. Moreover, he was denied due process under the law when the sentencing judge secretly sought communications from one party to the Pollard case - the Government - without apprising Pollard. Similarly, he was victimized by the troubling steps taken by a former Jewish American, Caspar Weinberger, who submitted a secret incriminating memorandum to Pollard's judge.
Because Pollard long since has completed serving a sentence appropriate for his criminal espionage, I published my call in the Jewish World Review for Hillary Clinton to speak out on the matter. As a well-intentioned, if misplaced, favor to my colleagues in the OU - to contribute to its public presence in the marketplace of ideas - I listed my lay leadership position among several other affiliations that identify me,
However, a call for Pollard's release or one suggesting that Hillary Clinton is not in step with friends of our community on an issue of importance to those who comprise Orthodox Jewish laity, apparently trespasses an OU rubicon that apparently is not crossed when one mendaciously tells a reporter that an Orthodox Jewish weekly wished for and welcomed a political assassination.
Consider after all, that my article impelled the OU to remove me from my lay leadership post, but the slander of The Jewish Press did not lead the OU to take comparable action in the face of that egregious defamation.
It is imperative, of course, that we not lose sight of the "good stuff" about the OU. The hechsher continues as an insignia of glory in the world of kosher consumption, and NCSY continues to provide kiruv and a socially meaningful infrastructure for young Jews. Building on these two pronounced successes, the Orthodox Union's rank-and-file may now hope to see:
- A termination of the OU's troubling efforts to present Hillary
Clinton as a friend
of Orthodox Jewish interests. Despite public smiles and carefully staged
conferences, Hillary has not meaningfully promoted a call to move
Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, has embraced Suha Arafat during the height
of her anti-Jewish slander, has won the support of the Peace Now
movement for her opposition to Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria,
and has refused to do for Pollard that which has been done for Puerto
Rican FALN terrorists.
- A reconsideration of bestowing encomia and praises upon individuals
records seem highly inconsistent with the OU's professed ideals and
For those who remember the OU awarding a "Corporate Leadership Award"
in mid- 1997 to the head of L'Oreal, despite a checkered past during the
Holocaust and the corporation's having been penalized $1.4 million - the
second highest fine that the United States Commerce Department ever has
imposed as punishment for complying with the Arab boycott of Israel -
the pain caused by presenting such awards of dubious merit is palpable.
- A reversal in the OU's equivocation on Pollard. The movement for Pollard has expanded dramatically from the Jewish political and theological right to embrace a broad spectrum of Jews of all beliefs. He has been sitting too long, and that is that. Pollard needs a presidential pardon. President Clinton's wife is seeking Jewish votes. The White House already has acted to influence Puerto Rican voting patterns by pardoning a group of convicted FALN terrorist murderers. Thus, Hillary can influence the White House to pardon Pollard, too, if she wants that pardon to be issued. And the OU, in helping Hillary recast her image of hostility to our beliefs, is failing to make clear that Pollard must be released.
We can only hope that the OU's political compass will be restored soon. The organization's political actions, no less than its theological actions, must reflect the beliefs, hopes, and aspirations of the rank-and-file-of centrist Torah observance in the United States.