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OU Israel’s cautious incitement

Popular weekly newsletter Torah Tidbits is serving up biblical commentary that promotes anti-Arab racism

After the Orthodox Union’s recent condemnation of Rabbi Steven Pruzansky’s anti-Arab blog post, I hoped the organization was turning over a new leaf. I’ve detailed in the past how OU Israel’s Torah Tidbits publication has stereotyped Arabs and  referred to them as “savages” who are genetically incapable of being peaceful.

Unfortunately, Torah Tidbits seemed to unveil a new strategy last Shabbat: cautious (or coded) incitement.

Because of the recent incidents involving TT and the OU, I first got nervous when I glanced at the “Lead Tidbit” (which is featured on the front cover) and saw the following sentence: “Yes, it probably isn’t politically correct to say what will be said. Too bad.”

The writer then goes on to speculate about which current group today may or may not be connected to Eisav’s evil descendants:

When we take the Eisav Yaakov situation to their descendants – and we must do that – it would be folly to read the Torah merely as Bible stories that happened thousands of years ago – the situation gets complicated.

As we’ve said before, we are not making any genealogical claims as to who today are descendants of Eisav. That is almost irrelevant.

Unlike Rabbi Pruzansky, Torah Tidbits is couching its language with qualifiers. The writer isn’t directly stating who the genealogical descendants of Eisav are, because that is “almost” irrelevant. So why is it even being mentioned?

The article continues:

The question is who behaves like Eisav towards Yaakov, and who behaves like Amalek (Eisav’s grandson) towards Israel…we need to examine our situation in Israel vis-à-vis the Arabs who live in Israel, the Arabs who live in Gaza and other locations in Israel that have not been incorporated into the State of Israel, and the Arabs of neighboring countries.

At least Rabbi Pruzansky was honest and had the courage of his convictions. Torah Tidbits isn’t coming right out and saying that the Arabs are Amalek – which would obviously be incendiary, because the Nation of Israel is commanded to destroy Amalek. Instead, TT is simply raising a question: who behaves like Amalek today? Their readers will be able to crack this simple code (if you argue that it isn’t coded language, then why was the question raised at all?) and no one gets in trouble.

The writer adds:

To be sure, there are individuals in the Moslem and Arab world that might agree to live peacefully with the Jews. I don’t have statistics, but our experience of recent months – has shown us again the truth of the statement that Eisav hates Yaakov.

“Might?” The author neglects to mention Israel’s existing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. And he doesn’t have statistics, but he does know that recent events show that “Eisav hates Yaakov.” Readers will have no problem reading between the lines, and the OU and Torah Tidbits can maintain plausible deniability by speaking in thinly-veiled metaphors (while avoiding any outrage).

I wish that someone in the OU/at Torah Tidbits would take a brave stand against this kind of racism and incitement (there are a few prominent Rabbis who write weekly for TT, but they don’t seem to publicly register any protest). I thought we might see real change after the condemnation of Rabbi Pruzansky, but apparently TT and the OU are just adopting a new strategy so they can keep portraying Arabs as sub-humans.

TOI EDITOR’S NOTE:A response to this post by Torah Tidbits editor, Phil Chernofsky can be found at this link.

About the Author
Eric Danis lives in Modi'in, Israel with his wife and three cute kids. Whenever possible, he tries to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes about Israel and Judaism.