The very same Richard Falk
who applauded the Iranian Revolution
in 1978. The Richard Falk
who encouraged Jimmy Carter
to embrace Ayatollah Khomeini
as a man of the people?
Despite his annoying habit of calling Israelis Nazis, I have never accused Prof. Falk of being a self-hating Jew. While his animus toward Israel is apparent, I have no way of determining if it stems from an animus toward Judaism and the Jewish tradition, which is the defining characteristic of a “self-hating Jew,” of from something else. But now that he has revealed his thoughts about Jewish identity, I may have to revise my assessment.
Prof. Falk’s problem is not only with Judaism. He disdains faith communities per se, defaming them as “tribes,” whose doctrine “unconsciously and indirectly gives rise to the murderous mentality of warfare and gives a moral and religious edge to many forms of persecution, culminating in a variety of inquisitions.” Had he been born an Episcopalian, he might be beating up on the Archbishop of Canterbury. But as his essay is entitled On Jewish Identity, we must explore the evidence he brings in applying these sweeping generalizations to Judaism.
Astonishingly for a scholar of Prof. Falk’s stature and reputation, he cites precious little evidence. He mentions the “often bloody exploits of the ancient Israelites.” But those atrocities occurred in the ancient middle east, where “bloody exploits” was standard operating procedure for almost everyone. This doesn’t excuse the atrocities reported in Scripture, but it does make them unexceptionable. Some balance is achieved through praise for the “moral clarity of Old Testament prophets,” and Rabbi Hillel’s version of the Golden Rule—a forerunner of Jesus’ more famous version. The historical screen then goes dark until we are propelled into Prof. Falk’s familiar riff on the evils of contemporary Israel.
In the process, he ignores a formative period of two millennia during which Judaism evolved from a temple-based sacrificial cult to a prayer and study-centered religion. If one wants to learn about Jewish identity, that’s where one has to look. But Prof. Falk doesn’t. Although I’m not an academician, I think that a student submitting a paper entitled “On Jewish Identity” with so little supporting material would, or should, receive a failing mark, even in this era of grade inflation.
My hunch is the omission of Jewish references stems from the inconvenient truth that Prof. Falk knows very little about his subject. Perhaps he doesn’t want to know. Even a cursory study of Jewish history discredits many of the sweeping generalizations he employs to dismiss and defame Jewish identity.
Exhibit A: Prof. Falk maintains that being committed to one faith precludes “being open and receptive to the insight and wisdom of other traditions.” In fact, Jewish history demonstrates precisely the opposite. Early biblical books, including Genesis, reflect the theology and symbolism of the Akkadians and other peoples of the ancient middle east. Later books, such as Ecclesiastes, are clearly influenced by Greek philosophy. The Mishna, which was completed around 225 CE, organizes biblical legislation into categories, a format learned from the Romans. Recent scholarship has discovered an on-going dialogue between the rabbis and church fathers covering several centuries. Both sides shared ideas which each adopted and built into its separate theology. Maimonides, perhaps the greatest of all rabbis, was an Aristotelian who sought to reconcile traditional Jewish teaching with wisdom he learned from Muslim scholars during the era of Convivencia in Medieval Spain. Reform Judaism is a product of the Enlightenment. Zionism was nurtured in the intellectual soil of Romanticism. Walk into many synagogues today and you’ll find classes and spiritual exercises in yoga, meditation and other practices taken from eastern religions. The list of things borrowed and things lent is endless.
Exhibit B: Prof. Falk dismisses as “benevolent and temporary” the Jewish self-understanding that being a Chosen People bestows no privileged status, but is a mandate to pursue social justice. The historical record refutes the “benevolent and temporary” caveat. Jews have always pursued social justice, following a commandment articulated in the Book of Deuteronomy. Here inAmerica, where Jews at long last have the opportunity to participate in the larger society as full citizens, we have been leaders and workers in the pursuit of equal rights and freedom for all. And Israel, despite its flaws, remains the one democracy in the Middle East, albeit an imperfect one.
To be sure, there are Jews in Israel, the United States and everywhere who are guilty as charged. They are especially visible in certain West Bank settlements where a desire to subjugate the Palestinians prevails. But they constitute a small minority. To extrapolate a community-wide character from their aberrant (and abhorrent) behavior is polemic, not scholarship.
A word must be said about Prof. Falk’s self-aggrandizement as one who has succeeded in putting his being human ahead of his being Jewish, so that unfettered by xenophobia, he is able to savor the rites, practices and wisdom of all religions. That’s gratifying, but during my forty years as a rabbi, which should make me a Super Xenophobe, I bet I’ve attended, witnessed and participated in more Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, et al worship services than Prof. Falk, along with a slew of interfaith worship experiences. I have marched, rallied and demonstrated alongside interfaith colleagues for a long list of causes. Several years ago, my partner and I joined with a group drawn from our synagogue and a local Methodist church to rebuild an African American church in rural Alabama that had been destroyed by arson. Contrary to what Prof. Falk believes possible, being a Jew enables me and many others to be better human beings. I can say the same thing about friends who are strongly committed members of other faith communities, but frequently enjoy one another’s rituals, practices and teachings.
Most disturbing is the flagrant disconnect between Prof. Falk’s claim to an “ecumenical and inclusive spiritual identity, and associated ethical and political commitments,” and his work for the United Nations. “Ecumenical” and “inclusive” strongly suggest a deep commitment to even-handedness in addressing ethical and political issues. But the mandate he accepted when becoming Special Rapporteur of the of outrageously misnamed United Nations Human Rights Council is to report only on perceived Israeli violations on the West Bank, while turning a blind eye on Palestinian suicide bombers and the like. That’s akin to refereeing a football game while calling penalties on one side only, especially when there’s no counterpart Rapporteur to monitor the Palestinians.
You read that correctly. In a conflict fraught with extraordinary complexities, where right and wrong exists on both sides, Prof. Falk choose to play an utterly one-sided, prejudicial and destructive role. On the one hand, he tars Judaism with the accusation that its doctrine “unconsciously and indirectly gives rise to the murderous mentality of warfare.” And on the other, he is indifferent to radical Islam as it drives Hamas and HIzbollah. I can’t believe that he’s unaware of this cruel absurdity. Somehow, he manages to live with it, and also with the knowledge that the UN’s interest in him is enhanced by his being Jewish.
As one who has argued frequently and fervently that criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitism, I am appalled by the damage Prof. Falk’s essay does to my case by alleging that perceived Israeli injustices are a natural, even inevitable consequence of what he condemns as an age-old Jewish religious tradition and identity. It’s a straw man on both sides of the equation, but red meat for those who delight in believing the worst about Jews. It’s no accident that the piece has been reprinted by the Intifada-Voice of Palestine website, as well by an e-screed called Foreign Policy Journal whose publisher, Jeremy R. Hammond, recently wrote a piece entitled “The Myth of the United Nations’ Creation of Israel. “
One final thought. Did anyone blanch at Prof. Falk’s proclamation that he is a proud Jew? Huh? Proud of what? Proud of belonging to a “tribe whose religious doctrine gives rise to the murderous mentality of warfare and gives a moral and religious edge to many forms of persecution, culminating in a variety of inquisitions?”
My question as a rabbi is not whether anybody else believes him, but whether he, himself, does. A little soul searching might help him appreciate the toxicity of the things he says about Jewish identity. These insights, in turn, might help him to recognize and understand the prejudice that fuels the toxicity of what he says about Israel.
Rabbi Ira Youdovin
Santa Barbara, CA
Falk gives his typical evasive response:
Dear Rabbi Ira Youdovin:
As you are probably aware, we have common friends here in Santa Barbara, making me particularly sad that you chose to insult me so intensely and unfairly. To begin with I have never equated Israelis with Nazis, and find the accusation odious. Further, I never purported to be doing more than express my sense of my own identity as a Jew in response to allegations that I was self-hating. Further still, I received several communications from rabbis that were much kinder than yours, and even supportive of what I was trying to express. And finally, on the substance of the Israel/Palestine conflict my effort and UN mandate is not to be ‘balanced’ but to be truthful; given the structure of the occupation this is what I have tried to do. Even Richard Goldstone, with lifetime Zionist credentials, fared no better than I have when he entered the no man’s land of responsible criticism of the Israeli occupation policies.
Again, I am disappointed that you did not see fit to attempt even a civil discourse on these matters of obviously deep personal concern to you.
I’ll ignore most of Falk’s whining but will answer his laughable assertion that I highlighted above. Here is what Falk wrote in 2007:
[I]t is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust.’ …
Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.
Falk defended the comparison in this BBC interview the following year.
As far as his assertion that he is simply trying to be “truthful” in reporting on human rights violations, he requested that the UNHRC ignore any Palestinian Arab violations of their own people’s human rights.
This morning on Good Morning America, an Indian Muslim-American named Eboo Patel was strenuously emphasizing that mainstream Islam in America has nothing to do with the extremists. He is very well-spoken and I have no doubt that he is sincere. (video)
The interviewer, Robin Roberts, asked Eboo whether he had any personal experiences of feeling discriminated against in recent weeks. The only example he gave was that his mother called him and suggested that perhaps his kids’ names sounded too Muslim, and she was worried about them being bullied in school.
While this is just a single anecdote, it indicates that the real problem is not that ordinary Americans discriminate against ordinary Muslims, but the media playing up the idea that redneck right-wing Republicans are out there harassing members of that faith. The number of incidents of anti-Muslim activities is diminishingly tiny – dwarfed by anti-semtitic incidents in America. Yet the media has been obsessing over this non-issue, and they have been acting as fear-mongers, causing people like Eboo’s mom to worry over nothing.
Many American public schools are filled with kids whose names represent dozens of cultures; the fear that someone named “Khalil” would be bullied because of his name is ridiculous. This unfounded fear is purely because of the media frenzy over “Islamophobia” and has little to do with reality.
Source: Mehr News Agency, Tehran
Iran released two anti-Israeli computer games on the eve of
the Quds Day. “Devil Den 2” and “Freedom Convoy”, which have been produced by
the School Students Basij Organization, were unveiled during a ceremony on
“Devil Den 2” is about the Israeli protocols, Brigadier
Mohammad-Saleh Jokar, the director of the organization, which is affiliated to
the Education Ministry, said in the ceremony.
“The illegitimate regime has said in its protocols that they will abolish all
beliefs,” he stated.
“We have witnessed that the foundations of the illegitimate Zionist regime have
been weakened and our younger generation must be familiarized with the protocols
and the antihuman ideology of the regime,” he added.
“Freedom Convoy” is about the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Jokar
A number of Iranian military commanders, including the Basij Organization
Commander Brigadier Mohammadreza Naqdi and Deputy Commander of the Armed Forces
Headquarters Masud Jazayeri, attended the ceremony.
“The downfall of oppressors is carried out by God… In the most pessimistic view,
there will be no trace of the Zionist regime in 15 years,” Naqdi said.
He said that the Zionist regime will soon be classified among the Soviet regime
and the apartheid government in South Africa, which collapsed years ago.
“The U.S. and Israel are our enemies and undoubtedly, they posses soft and hard
capabilities, but new soft investments in religious education and the rise of
the Islamic Revolution in the region have created new developments challenging
the two powers,” Jazayeri said.
He said that the games have been produced to change the tastes of users who are
being flooded with games produced by the U.S. and Israel.
Iran plans to produce six sequels to “Devil Den”. “Devil Den 1” was released in
In “Devil Den 1”, a number of top Iranian students are abducted by U.S. troops
during their pilgrimage to Karbala in Iraq. They are handed over to the Zionist
regime to convert them into Israeli soldiers. One of the students manages to
escape and tries to help liberate the other students.
A large number of the games were distributed free of charge among the
demonstrators participating in the Quds Day rally on Friday in Tehran.
They’re cheating me out of my royalties!
I’ll have to capture the distributors, convert them into Israeli soldiers, brainwash them to hate all religion, confiscate all their money, humiliate them, kill them, and sell their organs.
After all, I have a reputation to maintain.
I’m wondering what system the game runs on? I actually want to play this