Introductory Note: Temple Israel Center of White Plains gives funds to The New Israel Fund, which supports a boycott of Israel. Rabbi Gordon Tucker of the shul is a member of NIF’s international council, and leadership of NIF. I have written several articles against this support (see links below). Another local rabbi objected to my campaign. Here are excerpts from the local rabbi's letter of November 19th and how the issue is developing:
A Message from Rabbi Marder and President David Kahn
A few days ago, an opinion piece appeared that took aim at Rabbi Gordon Tucker, our neighbor congregation which he leads, Temple Israel Center, and its lay leaders. The topic was support for the New Israel Fund (NIF). The "accusations" grew from a charity fund contribution made for Ethiopian Jewry, but through the NIF.
The focus of the criticism was then extended to Rabbi Tucker's own personal support for the NIF and his participating (with more than 200 other people) on the NIF's International Council.
To our minds, the expanding, coordinated, public campaign against the rabbi and the congregation is wrong, and not in keeping with the manner in which machloket l'shaym shamayim- dispute for the sake of heaven- is meant to be engaged.
The NIF takes some positions and supports some efforts with which many of us might disagree, even strongly (while also doing work which many of us might support). People who disagree with any given position or activity of the NIF should listen to the NIF's explanations of its positions; the organization claims that some of its positions are misrepresented, and that is an important conversation to be had. If dissatisfied with those explanations, people should then voice their opposition with passion...
In solidarity with our friends here in White Plains, and with our brothers and sisters in Israel.
Chaim Marder, Rabbi
David Kahn, Rabbi
I. Open Letter to Temple Israel of White Plains
Rabbi Chaim Marder of Hebrew Institute of White Plains, a Modern Orthodox synagogue, sent an email to the Westchester Jewish community objecting to our campaign outing Temple Israel of White Plains as supporters of New Israel Fund (original article can be read here from November 1.) The below is my response to his letter:
Rabbi: Even though we have not spoken in some time, my family and I think of you fondly in our heads and hearts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said in referring to boycotters of Israel, “We must not cave into the pressure, [we must] expose the lies and attack the attackers. We shall unite forces in Israel and abroad, expose our enemies’ lies and fight for the Israeli citizens’ right to live their lives peacefully and safely.”
His comments do not exclude well-meaning Jews of the community of White Plains, New York. Fact: The New Israel Fund supports a boycott of Israel. Fact: The Rabbi – and the shul – have written checks to this organization. They must be held accountable. There are no nuances involved.
Your defense of Rabbi Tucker’s support for the NIF “and sitting on the NIF International Council (with more than 200 other people)" is irrelevant If there are 2000 Jews who support a boycott of Israel does that mean it is more justified? 5000? No matter how many people are on their International council, a Rabbi must not be endorsing an organization that boycotts Israel.
NIF’s boycott of Israel puts Jews and Israel at risk – Halakha and decency require us to act.
There is no way you, Rabbi Tucker or anyone else can stand with NIF and the IDF at the same time, You really must choose.
You write “The NIF takes some positions and supports some efforts with which many of us might disgree, even strongly (while also doing work which many of us might support). People who disagree with any given position or activity of the NIF should listen to the NIF's explanations of its positions; the organization claims that some of its positions are misrepresented, and that is an important conversation to be had.”
What is it you claim is misrepresented?
Do you know better than the entire Israeli political spectrum? Than Israel’s leaders who say this organization must be shunned? Should we listen to Neturei Karta? Should we listen to someone who wants to sell the Brooklyn Bridge?
The American Jewish community must wake up to the fact that certain leaders of our community are helping to fund the boycott of Israel. The proper response is to challenge them – even if they run nice synagogues in NYC suburbs.
We disagree that a pulpit Rabbi has the right to these viewpoints – just as surely you’d agree that Jews for Jesus or Neturei Karta would be objected to as Rabbinical leaders in White Plains. Rabbi Gordon Tucker, who sits on the board of NIF must be held accountable for the divisive work that organization does, work which harms the Jewish State.
Your claim that “the public campaign against Rabbi Tucker and the TIC is unbecoming, and not in keeping with the manner in which machloket l'shaym shamayim- dispute for the sake of heaven, is meant to be engaged” is simply wrong. There is no “dispute for the sake of heaven” in which a Rabbi or Jew can harm the IDF, or fund a boycott.
NIF-funded organizations just supported the families of Hamas terrorists in Israeli court.
We stand with Israel’s Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett who said “Yes, the New Israel Fund. I will boycott whomever persecutes Israeli soldiers. I will not apologize for it. Members of the New Israel Fund, listen carefully: Whoever harms, slanders and persecutes Israeli soldiers are not my brothers. I am willing to argue about everything, any topic. I am willing to, painfully, argue with those who are willing to free terrorists and hand them over to the Arabs. I am willing to argue with those who are against the Jewish identity of the state. I will stand firm on the fact that Israel is a Jewish state with Jewish values; otherwise we have no justification to be here. I despise those who attack our troops.”
Can we count on you to urge members of Temple Israel’s board to stand with us against all boycotts of Israel, rather than supporting their Rabbi so we can quiet down our campaign of naming them individually?
You have been silent on the Iran deal, on the boycott of Israel, no mass emails about the constant terror attacks – but a mass email defending a board member of The New Israel Fund? Its time to speak up against the boycott which is harming the Jewish state.
One must tell the truth – even if it is uncomfortable.
With love of Torah and Israel,
II: Follow up letter from a former Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister's Office
After reading Ronn's response to your email and rereading your email several times, I decided to take a few hours before responding.
And in my response, I will refrain from any vitriol. I will however respond from the point of view of someone who has sat in Israeli government cabinet meetings when the prime minister has had to make decisions about sending IDF soldiers into harms way.
In your email you used terms like machloket l'shaym shamayim (a dispute for the sake of Heaven), outing, jewish values and others.
I think, I hope that you would agree that the soldiers of the IDF are living and breathing heroes and angels of the Jewish people. Not just for those in Israel, but for all Jews around the world, .as they are the ones that not only protect the Jewish state, but by doing so allow us to practice Judaism proudly around the world.
NIF supports, among other organizations, Breaking the Silence, an organization dedicated to providing what they call "evidence" to "out " Israeli soldiers and in fact the entire IDF as war criminals at the UN, the EU, the international Criminal Court and others. I'm not sure where this fits in to your idea of machloket l'shaym shamayim or jewish values, but any group that tries to paint the IDF and its soldiers as war criminals, deserves the full wrath of any Jew that cherishes our soldiers.
The fact the NIF grants money to such an organization means that no matter what else the NIF does, whether seen by you, rabbi Tucker and others as good or bad, the NIF deserves to be completely shunned by the Jewish community, most.especially by rabbis - such as yourself and Rabbi Tucker.
I pray you think about this. There is no way you, Rabbi Tucker or anyone else can stand with NIF and the IDF at the same time, You really must choose. I urge you to publicly condemn NIF and anyone else who supports the maligning and targeting of our precious boys and girls in the IDF. Anyone who does the opposite deserves the ire of the Jewish people. This is an issue of not right or left, orthodox or reform and any other division. It is at its very core, an issue about whether you stand with Israel or not. It's that simple.
I hope you take my words to heart with all the good faith in which they were written.
George Birnbaum, former chief of staff to Benjamin Netanyahu
III: Three of the many responses:
1. Hi Rabbi Marder,
As there seems to be a difference of opinion why not go straight to the source.
Let's invite the leaders of NIF to answer the many questions we have about their policies.
This way we can set the record straight on an open forum.
I would be happy to host the event as it pains me deeply that while our enemy is attacking us on every continent the greatest enemy may be within.
2. Dear Rabbi Marder,
I am distressed by your letter. I spoke to Rabbi Joseph Potasnik last night. You are to be commended for your loyalty to Rabbi Tucker. However, while Rabbi Potasnik also praised the good works Rabbi Tucker has done, he is a better friend to Rabbi Tucker than you. That is because he stated clearly to me that support for the New Israel Fund is wrong.
You misplace friendship when you lead your friend astray by supporting the unsupportable. We know irrefutably that the NIF funds anti-Israel BDS groups like Breaking The Silence, Mossawa, Adalah, Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement and BTselem and others..... Yet you never tried to educate your friend when he takes the wrong path. You trivialized support for clearly anti-Israel BDS.
I hope you will reflect on what a real friend should do when a good Rabbi and friend goes down the wrong path....be a true friend and talk to your friend and point out the problem of supporting the BDS financier, the New Israel Fund.
I urge you to read the book written by the investigative reporter Edwin Black. He Is the NYTimes best selling author of "IBM and the Holocaust", his book is a fully researched expose of the New Israel Fund called "Financing The Flames". I have CC'd my friend and author Edwin Black on this email in case anyone wants to communicate directly with him on the NIF.
Read "Financing the Flames" and give it to your friend, Rabbi Tucker. That is what a real friend does, be a true friend, not an enabler.
Best personal regards
3. Dear Rabbi Marder:
As one who has lived in Israel, and is familiar with the perfidious betrayal of the Jewish people by NIF NGOs such as Baland and Adalah, I was appalled....
Firstly, everybody knows Rabbi Tucker routinely discredits various orthodox Rabbis using every slur in the book, i.e., he has called the Israeli Rabbinate "irredeemably corrupt." Don't take my word for it, ask him right now. He is proud of this, it's his badge of courage. So any misbegotten notion of yours that criticizing Rabbis is wrong is totally contradicted by Rabbi Tucker's own behavior... What you promulgate as a universal code of behavior towards Rabbis is reduced to simply sticking up for your buddy, who does precisely that which you accuse others of doing to him; a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do".
Likewise, since he mistakenly thinks NIF is pro-Israel, he should be proud of his giving shul money to and voicing support of NIF. Where's the shame that has been done to him? He staunchly supports NIF, of this he is proud, not shameful.
No, Rabbi Marder, the shame comes from the heinous "Israel - hating" of NIF, as government officials have called it, done by NIF NGOs.
So Rabbi Tucker is not ashamed of what he supports, he shouts it from the rooftops.
So where would the shame come from? The shame could come from the fact that his fervently held belief in NIF has been revealed to be the exact opposite of what he says it is: not a boon to Israel, but viciously destructive to Israel. Like the Israel government says.
Whose fault is this? And there is a simple solution: He repudiates NIF due to the bad behavior of its NGOs. Then he no longer feels shame, he feels pride in joining the rest of us who work to build up the IDF and Israel, not tear it down.
You claim Rabbi Tucker has ben "outed". Nobody has "outed" Rabbi Tucker. As you know this term originated in malicious acts done to reveal to heterosexual people that somebody is homosexual, against the wish of the homosexual.
Since he loves NIF so much why in heavens name would Rabbi Tucker not want the whole world to know immediately that he supports NIF?
He has not been "outed". Nothing has been told about him that is either untrue or, from his perspective, shameful.
So your figure of speech is am embarrassing malapropism.
What has happened is that Rabbi Tucker has been revealed to support an NGO whose behavior many, if not most, of his members would consider way, way beyond the pale.
But Rabbi Marder, you know all this. Like Rabbi Stephen Wise who sold out European Jewry as Hitler burned and gassed them, there are, sadly, always Rabbis who wander off their theological reservation, and mistake their religious knowledge for political knowledge, to the great, horrible detriment of their followers. Rabbis who in turn support them look like they have surrendered their powers of critical judgement in favor of cronyism.
Our sages tell us that if Judaism stands for anything, it stands for our ability to tell good from bad. ISIS does some good things; they do feed hungry children But the bad they do is so much stronger than the good they do we judge them on balance, to be bad. The bad NIF does by paying for NGOs who seek to destroy the Jewish content of Israel and who seek to destroy the IDF outweighs any good they may do, so as to make them treif.
Following your logic to its conclusion, one would have to agree that a Rabbi who gave money to Hamas shouldn't be fired, or that a Rabbi who gave money to the Nazis in WW II shouldn't have been fired, because these organizations did some good things too.
So while it's understandable why you would be reluctant to accept the basic fact that it is the kahal that hires the Rav, not the other way around, it is a fact of Jewish life. You and every other congregational Rabbi keeps his job only as long as the kahal feels comfortable with him, overall.
We contend that T I C members, when in possession of the facts regarding NIF support of anti Israel NGOs, would in large numbers conclude that this was an organization that they should not support.
By making the argument that we should agree, just because rabbi Tucker says so, that on balance NIF is sufficiently meritorious so as to warrant shul support, improperly extends his writ to non theological areas for which he is not the mara d atra.
Rabbis sometimes make mistakes. Sometimes they conspire to murder their wives, as in New Jersey. Sometimes they try to bribe police officials, as in Israel. Sometimes they do stupid things such as sitting in a shvitz naked with 12 year old boys.
And this is the sorry situation with which the membership of T I C is faced. Rabbi Tucker has made a mistake, No, Rabbi Marder, he is not infallible. And yes, Rabbi Marder, sometimes people actually lie. NIF lies about being a pro Israel NGO; this is the conclusion of the State of Israel Do you know better than they about this, Rabbi Marder?
Rabbi Tucker, to put the most positive spin possible on his behavior, has been duped. He has been duped by the NIF who say they support Israel but whose actions belie this claim as determined by the government of medinat Yisrael. And we are providing him with an opportunity to stand up like a mensch, and say he has been wrong.
It is not shameful or intimidating for the members to assess the worthiness of NIF, it's their job. And we fervently believe that when they know the truth about what NIF does, they will be deeply concerned about Rabbi Tucker's use of Temple money and Temple prestige to support NIF.
We are not attacking the kahal, on the contrary. We are not stifling debate about the merit of NIF, quite the contrary. We want as many members to know the facts about NIF as possible, and to talk about it, and to debate it from every possible angle, because we are confident they will decide they don't want their Rabbi promoting this group.
With respect Rabbi Marder, your epistle almost sounds like a gentleman's debating club in Oxford. Rabbi Marder, this is pikuah nefesh, this is life and death. While you sit comfortably in Westchester, I'm sorry, our brothers and sisters are being slaughtered on the streets of Eretz Yisrael. Jews were killed by Arabs who may well have been incited by the putrid Moslem ideology of hatred espoused by NIF grantee Adalah.
You say we need to have some kind of debate society exercise in discussing the allegedly pure pro-Israel intentions of NIF. We say, with all respect, our brothers' and sisters' blood flows in the streets. Rabbi Marder, Jewish blood is no longer cheap. Immediate action is needed, and that action includes making sure T I C members see the full extent to which their spiritual leader has been duped.
Rabbi Marder, Ezra Schwartz, z"l, an 18 year old yeshiva student from Sharon, MA was murdered by an Arab in the gush because he was a Jew. NIF supports NGOs that directly incite murderous Arabs to kill Jews in Israel, and excuses this murder saying the reason for it is the Arabs are angry that Israel doesn't give them more land. Perhaps you and Rabbi Tucker would like to speak with his parents and explain why you think they "should listen to the NIF's explanations of its positions", in your words.
Dr. Phillip Jacobs