Ysoscher Katz

Rep. Nadler owes his constituents an apology

New York Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler owes many orthodox Jews and myself a public apology.

Currently, the American legislative branch (Congress and the Senate) is debating a resolution equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, potentially rendering the espousal of anti-Zionist opinions a criminal offense punishable by law. To give some context, the resolution was created in response to recent virulent attacks against Israel by the hard left in American society (a highly problematic resolution in of itself, as I exaplin below).

During the debate in Congress, Rep. Jerry Nadler took umbrage to the equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, passionately arguing against it. The impetus for his protest was his ultra-Orthodox constituents, in particular the large Brooklyn-based Satmar community, famous for their staunch anti-Zionisim.

He claimed that his opposition was driven by a sense of care and benevolence. Passing the bill, he argued, would be an offensive to his Satmar constituents, marking their anti-Israel views as a hate crime.

Well, Rep. Nadler, thanks but no thanks.

As a former Satmar hasid myself, who in my youth passionately held those anti-Zionist views Nadler referenced, I was deeply offended by his words. And after talking to many friends and relatives still in the community, I know they feel the same. His conflation is shocking, outrageous, and inexcusable. To compare Satmar’s anti-Zionism with the noxious anti-Israel rhetoric one encounters on numerous campuses is wrong, ignorant and insensitive. He seemingly completely misunderstands the nuance of his constituent’s anti-Zionism stance.

Rep. Nadler missed a fundamental aspect of Satmar anti-Zionism which marks it as a very different breed from the anti-Zionists the current bill addresses. True, the Satmar community is anti–Zionism but in no way are they anti-Zionists. They are vehemently opposed to Zionist theology, but harbor zero animosity toward people adhering to its theology. Those who, like myself, knew Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the founding father of Satmar’s Zionist theology, saw him as Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde on this issue, passionately hating  Zionism but nevertheless loving zionists unconditionally; a distinction with very practical implications.

Satmar kids are regaled with stories of the rebbe’s ability to distinguish between the two. Time and again, we were told how when he would meet Zionist luminaries he would treat them with deference and utmost respect, notwithstanding their ideological incompatibility. Similarly, whenever tragedy befell Israel, he would beseech God for its citizen’s well being and also contribute generously to alleviate their financial distress.

More importantly, given the above distinction, the Satmar rebbe would have been aghast at the contemporary outpouring of anti-Israel rhetoric by fellow Jews on the far and radical left. He would have condemned it in the harshest terms full stop.

Whenever he would inveigh against Zionism, he would invoke the sibling analogy. One may criticize a wayward sibling in private, but in public you defend them to death, only expressing love and unconditional support. In other words, internally one can debate the theological underpinnings of a pre-messianic state, but, in the public arena we leave behind those differences and allow ourselves to be taken over by our sense of brotherhood and camaraderie with our Zionist brethren, offering them unadulterated love and support–especially during times of agony, fear and distress.

Rep. Nadler’s attempt to conflate Satmar’s anti-Zionsim with the contemporary anti-Israel crusades is therefore wrong and outrageous.

He owes his Satmar constituents an apology.

PS. My words should not be taken in any way as an endorsement of the actual bill. In fact, I am very sympathetic to the argument that this is bad policy and should not be applauded by the Jewish community. Jewsh anti-Zioinsm is a communal issue which the community needs to grapple with internally. It is not something which should be addressed by congressional legislation–a la the distinction espoused by Rabbi Teitelbaum. We should not wash our dirty clothes in public. Disagreements with our brethren, whether on the far right or far left, should be settled among ourselves, away from the public view.

About the Author
Rabbi Ysoscher Katz is Chair of the Talmud department at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He received ordination in 1986 from Rabbi Yechezkel Roth, dayan of UTA Satmer. Rabbi Katz studied in Brisk and in Yeshivat Beit Yosef, Navaradok for more ten years, and is a graduate of the HaSha'ar Program for Jewish Educators, Rabbi Katz taught at the Ma'ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls and SAR High School, and gave a popular daf yomi class in Brooklyn for more than eight years.
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