Streams of Anxious Consciousness 32

Rashida Tlaib was censured in Congress yesterday. She is only the 25th congressperson to be censured in the almost 250-year history of the House of Representatives. Many Democrats crossed party lines to call out the Michigan based representative. I am relieved that, for some, morality trumped party loyalty.

Tlaib’s censure is bittersweet for me.

I love that America elected a Muslim, Palestinian woman to Congress. I think it is proof of America that Ilhan Omar, a Somali born woman who wears a religious head covering, serves to keep America and the foundations of freedom, tolerance and openness it was built upon, alive and strong. I love that Congress looks like America; black, white, male, female, trans, old, young, straight, gay, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and non-believers. That IS America. That is the secret sauce that makes America unique and successful.

What gets me is when those two particular congresswomen use tropes that demonize Jews or invoke chants that are genocidal against Israel. When pointed out, they do not pause and reflect on their hurtful words. They do not absorb how their sentiments lands on a different people. They double down and refused to back away or apologize.

Tlaib has traded snide comments about Israel and Omar, about Jews too many times. What bothers me more than their hatred is that they are disconnected from facts.

For example, Tlaib claims Israel is an apartheid country. Nothing could be further from the truth.

• In an apartheid country, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims or Christians could not marry. In Israel they can and do.
• In an apartheid country, Israelis and Palestinians could not vote. In Israel, Palestinians and Israelis can and do.
• In an apartheid country, Israelis and Palestinians could not serve in the army. In Israel, Palestinians and Israelis can and do serve in the army.
• In an apartheid country, Israelis and Palestinians could not represent the judicial system. In Israel, Palestinians and Israelis can and do serve on the courts and as advocates. One of the chief justices of Israel is Arab. In a further irony, the Chief Justice who sentenced Israel’s President Katzav to prison, is Arab.
• In an apartheid country, Israelis and Palestinians could not live in the same areas or sell lands to one another. In Israel, Palestinians and Israelis can and do live side by side. Ironically, it is forbidden in Palestinian areas, including Gaza, to sell land or property to a Jew, under penalty of death. THAT is apartheid.

This is not to say that there are not problems in Israel. The way too many Israelis treat Palestinians needs to be addressed in a serious manner. There are, I would contend, racist elements and behaviors within Israeli society that needs to be dealt with soon. Settler violence towards Palestinians is criminal and immoral. Each incident and actor should be tried and punished. To commit those acts of violence in some twisted and distorted interpretation of the Torah is fanaticism. It is one step away from what radical Islamic fanatics on the other side do. If not reigned in, I worry of what those fringe elements will become.

None of those actions justify Tlaib continuing with her chant of ‘River to Sea,’ nor her claims of Israel being an apartheid country. Nor does it excuse Omar talking about ‘The Benjamin’s.’

Here is another ironic detail related to Omar’s antisemitic claims.

It has recently been revealed that Qatar has invested billions of dollars around U.S. college campuses. Qatar has also been harboring the Hamas heads of terrorism in their country and elevating them. The United Nations, UNRWA, the European Union and the United States, along with Qatar have donated trillions of dollars to the people of Gaza for aid and relief. Those funds have been embezzled and pilfered by Hamas and used for terror and enriching Hamas leadership.

Perhaps Representative Omar was referring to the Qatari ‘Benjamins.’ Maybe the UN or EU ‘Benjamins?’ Or was she glossing over those funds and their misappropriations to focus on the age-old antisemitic image of Jews and money.

I do not care what gender you identify as, what religion you are connected to, where you are from, who you are attracted to, or what color your skin is. If you are an elected official, you should be able to call balls and strikes, know right from wrong, without challenge. Of course, we can have debate on when life begins and whether it is the responsibility of the government or the individual to provide health care. Brutalizing children, raping teenage girls, kidnapping Holocaust survivors, setting people on fire can never be justified, excused by antisemitic tropes, chanted over with genocidal slogans or ignored. Never.

Both Tlaib and Omar, along with a “squad” of others have consistently voted against aid to Israel. Beyond the dangers this poses to Israeli civilians, including denying Iron Dome funding to protect the innocent, it is replete with ignorance.

If Tlaib, Omar and the other mimicking members of the “Squad” bothered to learn about aid to Israel as is their responsibility as elected officials, they would know that in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the $3.5B of aid that goes to Israel annually, more than $3.1 Billion of that is products and materials manufactured and produced in America. Thus, by voting against aid, they are really voting against American jobs, the American economy and American infrastructure, along with making Israeli citizens more vulnerable. That either highlights serious incompetence or frightening hatred that transcends their patriotism and oath of office. Either way, their actions and behaviors should scare us.

Ritchie Torres, a member of Congress who is Black, gay, Latino and Puerto Rican runs in many of the same circles as Tlaib and Omar. He is the darling of the Progressives caucus in Congress. Best of all, he is one of the fiercest defenders of Israel. As he says, “I defend Israel not despite being Progressive, but because I am a Progressive.”

Congressman Torres should be the standard of what simple nuance, understanding and advocacy for humanity can look and act like.

I do not care which party Tlaib and Omar represent or where they are from or what religion they believe in. What I do care is that they have facts and a moral compass. They seem to be missing both as of late.

It was Congressman Ritchie Torres that drew my attention to a disgusting moment on the college campus form last week.

Before I share, a proviso. I have been writing a lot about comparisons between what is happening now and what happened during 1938-1945. I know it is not a comfortable equivalence for some. I do not toss these Holocaust analogies around lightly. Whoever said the past is prologue was genius. Below is an example of a terrifying similarity.

At Penn, a well-educated, Ivy League college student took to the podium in a rally and was speaking fondly about the ‘joyful’ images of butchered Israelis from the ‘glorious October 7th, massacre. This student felt ‘happy’ upon hearing the news of dead Jews. In what appears to be a call for violence, she tells the crowd to ‘hold that feeling in your hearts and ‘bring it to the streets.’ Congressman Torres points out this is not a patient in a psychiatric hospital. This is a student at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

There is an toxic and sadistic ingredient to anyone who can relish in dead Jews. I expect that of Hamas and ISIS. I will not tolerate it on a campus where my community members attend and learn. It is too dangerous.

When I read about this student, I was immediately reminded of two examples from the Shoah. The first is Franz Stengl, the former commandant of Treblinka who fled to Argentina where he lived for more than twenty years without being brought to justice. Eventually, Simon Wiesenthal tracked him down. He was brought back to Europe and tried in Germany. At his trial, a photo album from Kurt Franz, the second in command at Treblinka was found. The title of Franz’s picture album from the death camp was called “The Good Old Days.”

Treblinka was notorious for being the most efficient extermination camp. In its stride, they could kill 17,000 people in one day. In less than 19 months close to 900,000 Jewish souls were systematically killed and then burned on rail tracks.

Franz photographed these atrocities and referred to them, and his partners in crime, nostalgically and with fondness.

Ilse Höess, Rudolf’s wife, raised her children in a luxurious villa abutting the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. While prisoners were performing menial slave labor, dying of starvation and disease, Ilse and Rudolf’s kids were frolicking in their swimming pool and swaying on their seesaw. She stayed loyal to Hitler and Nazi ideology until she died.

She recalled her time living in that villa as some of the best days of her life, filled with happiness and laughter.

Jews and gentiles are being hung and tortured just seconds away, within ear and eyeshot, and she was a living the good life. How can a person like that live in the same moral universe as you and me?

Question: Is this University of Pennsylvania student different from the likes of Stengl, Höess or Franz? A person who delights in the sight of dead Jews and pines for more. What has history told us about such people? How should we deal with such amoral characters?

Here is a satisfying nugget of related comeuppance.

Many of these hateful kids and adults who share their happiness in dead Jews, threaten to hurt or kill Zionists, taunt students on campus, demean them in the classroom, or tear down posters on streets of missing and captive people, are getting retribution.

There is a daily list of people outed for destroying missing signs, professors put on immediate leave and government officials fired. Students will soon be expelled, as they should. Some have been doxxed and having job offers rescinded and scholarships revoked. These people and their supportive circles are denouncing their terminations and expulsions. They call it unfair and wrong.

Yet, these are the very same circles who invented and implemented cancel-culture. Except, now that they are on the other end, it lands differently.

I have never been a fan of cancel culture. I believe it removes a fundamental tenet of repentance and forgiveness from society. I hold true to my beliefs. Those who spoke with glee of dead Jews or taunted students on campus or threatened violence at a rally or said October 7th was deserved on the Jews or tore down signs devoid of compassion for human suffering, should be given a path to penitence and forgiveness. They just need to understand that forgiveness is given by spoken apology accompanied by proven deeds and acts.

I anxiously await both.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC.
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