June 4, 2018
News Press Release

ZOA Urges HUC Reform Rabbinical School: Condemn Your Israel/Judaism Bashing Commencement Speaker Michael Chabon

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein released the following statement:

On the very same day – May 14, 2018 – that Jews around the world were celebrating the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s miraculous reestablishment as the homeland of the Jewish people, and our long-sought relocation of the United States Embassy to the Jewish people’s eternal capital Jerusalem, the Reform Movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (“HUC-JIR”) Rabbinical School in Los Angeles gave an honorary doctorate and its Rabbi graduation commencement speech platform to atheist, anti-Israel, anti-Judaism activist Michael Chabon.  

Dismayingly, in his introduction of Chabon, HUC-JIR Acting Interim President David Ellenson praised Chabon’s recent anti-Israel book (a collaboration with foreign-funded anti-Israel NGO “Breaking the Silence,” which fabricates and spreads falsehoods about the Israel Defense Forces) and took a dig at the U.S. Embassy relocation occurring that day.  The embassy relocation was an event that should have been extolled and blessed at the HUC-JIR graduation – instead of disparaged. In his brief introduction, HUC-JIR’s Acting President also managed to smear Israel’s recovery of her historic, lawfully Jewish lands of eastern Jerusalem and Judea/Samaria, in a defensive war – calling this “50 years of Israeli occupation in Palestine.”  

As ZOA has repeatedly explained, there is no “occupation.”  (See, e.g., There Is No Israeli ‘Occupation’: It’s Not Arab Land and 98 Percent of Palestinian-Arabs Live Under Arab Rule,” by Morton Klein, Breitbart, Sept. 29, 2017.)  

And despite Chabon’s unbridled propagandizing against innocent Israelis, Ellenson called Chabon a “moral voice.”   

HUC-JIR acting leader Ellenson stated:

He [Chabon] has also edited, with Ayelet Waldman [Chabon’s wife], “Kingdom of Olives & Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation,” a book of particular relevance on this day, as the United States moves its embassy to Jerusalem.  A book of essays about 50 years of Israeli occupation in Palestine. . . . It is a great honor for me as the acting interim president of the college institute, to welcome such a distinguished novelist and moral voice to address you, our graduates and their families today, on your graduation.”

Chabon repeatedly promoted an absolutely “no walls” dogma that would endanger all of Israel – on the very same day when 40,000 machete-armed, grenade-throwing and gun-toting Hamas-led rioters were attempting to invade “Israel proper” to murder Jews. 

Adding to this debacle, in a subsequent written statement on May 25, 2018, HUC-JIR Acting President Ellenson and Dean Joshua Holo defended Chabon’s graduation speech as legitimate “debate” – despite the fact that this purported “debate” consisted of Chabon’s one-sided condemnation of Israel, Jews and Judaism, the reasonable security measures that protect tens of thousands of Jews from being murdered. A number of graduates and their families walked out in horror, although they were again dismayed and nearly brought to tears, when they heard their fellow rabbinical graduates applaud Chabon’s denunciation of Israel and our faith.  (See, e.g., How Michael Chabon Ambushed My Graduation,” by Morin Zaray, Aish, May 29, 2018.)

Unfortunately, HUC-JIR leaders Ellenson and Holo’s written statement took additional digs at the mythical Israeli “occupation,” and minimized and mis-portrayed Chabon’s thoroughly anti-Israel, anti-Jewish speech as only opposing Israel’s policies in the West Bank, and as “embracing Israel” and as “deeply Jewish and Zionist.”  

In fact, Chabon’s speech professed nothing pro-Jewish or pro-Zionist, and no “embrace” of Israel.  His speech demonized Israel from start to finish.  The “best” Chabon mustered was to splice a few Yiddish words into his thoroughly hateful speech, and to mention that his family followed some Jewish traditions in the past, before Chabon concluded that Judaism was a “toxin in the bloodstream”  – which “petrifies” one’s body and causes one’s mind to “unravel,” and could only be halted by cutting off one’s arm as soon as one saw “the first dreaded pebblings of the disease.”

Chabon repeatedly promoted an absolutely “no walls” dogma that would endanger all of Israel – on the very same day when 40,000 machete-armed, grenade-throwing and gun-toting Hamas-led rioters were attempting to invade “Israel proper” to murder Jews. 

Chabon called upon HUC-JIR’s new graduates – the world’s future Reform Rabbis, cantors and other communal officials – to “abolish the [Israeli] checkpoints” and the security fence.

Abolishing such security members would amount to signing the death warrants of thousands of Jews – and result in Palestinian Arab terrorists killing and maiming Jews at will.  For instance, in 2009, one week after Israel removed checkpoints, Rabbi Meir Chai, a young father of seven babies and children, was murdered by Fatah Palestinian-Arab terrorists, near the spot of a former checkpoint.  Israel was forced to erect the security fence in 2005, after Palestinian Arab terrorists murdered 2000 innocent Jews and injured close to 10,000 innocent Jews in suicide bombings during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).

Yet, Chabon claimed that any attempt to “draw a distinction between walls that protect and walls that imprison . . . .  is only the same, dark logic again, justifying itself as always in the name of security.  Security is an invention of humanity’s jailers.  Anywhere you look, it is and has always been the hand of power drawing the boundaries, putting up the separation barriers, and propagandizing hatred and fear of the people on the other side of the wall.  Security for some means imprisonment for all.” 

Actually, security means security.  Period. And security for some often means security for all.  Far more death on both sides would result if Israel allowed Gazan Arabs to invade Israel to carry out their stated intention to murder every Jew and to cut out and eat Jewish hearts and livers.   

Chabon also remained essentially unconcerned about the prospect of “Judaism disappear[ing] from the face of the earth forever” through intermarriage, because, in Chabon’s depressed worldview, Judaism is a divisive, irrelevant religion, and anyway, all human history is “just one long story of grief, loss and fading away.”   

Chabon also urged HUC-JIR’s new graduating rabbis to “reinvent” Judaism as a universalism divorced from the Torah principles and traditions that have sustained the Jewish people throughout the millennia.  Chabon falsely denied the sustaining power of Torah and tradition.

Etz Chaim” – the exquisite, beloved, heartfelt song sung in synagogues throughout the world each week while returning the Torah to the ark, sums up this perennial power – the secret of our survival:  “It [the Torah] is the tree of life for those who cling fast to it; And all who cling to it find happiness; Its ways are the ways of pleasantness; And all its paths are peace; Return us to you, oh Lord, and we shall return; Renew us as in the days of old.”  (Additional beautiful versions and videos of Etz Chaim are here and here and here and here.)

Chabon also railed at, and blamed “the G-d that I [Chabon] don’t believe in” for the very act of creating heaven and earth – because creation was a “divisive” act.  Chabon claimed: “As for Judaism itself, . . . the whole thing is a giant interlocking system of distinctions and divisions.” In Chabon’s ignorant, simplistic, immoral worldview, all divisions are bad:  For Chabon, there apparently is no difference between a Hamas or Fatah terrorist and a young Jewish soldier protecting innocent lives.  A sensible person who views a terrorist differently is the real problem, because that person is engaged in evil “dehumanization of the other.”  

And of course, Chabon ignores the togetherness fostered by Judaism:  The minyan that brings Jews together to pray; the extended family; the diverse community and nation that care for one another.  In his ignorance, Chabon cites “eruvim” as his prime example of Jewish “divisiveness,” when in reality the purpose of an eruv is to bring an entire community together, within one joint home.  

Rabbi Elli Fischer aptly noted:

It’s ironic that you [Chabon] see an eruv as a “boundary”. The dynamics of eruv is that it merges many homes into one large home. It literally means “mixture”. The walls of one home expand outward. And these are boundaries with no walls. Isn’t that what you want. Michael?”  

(@Adderabbi 4:14 PM  30 May 2018)

Chabon also blamed “the G-d he doesn’t believe in” for causing the “slaughter of thousands of innocent Egyptian boys,”and obscenely claimed: “There’s the G-d who wants you [Haredim] to throw rocks at little girls on their way to school.”   Seriously? It does not seem to occur to Chabon that the neither the Torah nor G-d nor Israeli authorities “want” or permit Haredim to throw rocks at little girls.  Chabon of course did not mention the deadly nail-encrusted boulders hurled at Israelis by Palestinian-Arab terrorists – or any other Hamas or Fatah atrocities. 

And hypocritically, despite professing the value of “loving kindness” towards all, Chabon displayed only hatred, disgust and contempt for Jews: the Jews living in Judaism’s most ancient city of Hebron and ancient capital of Jerusalem; the Israeli soldiers protecting Israel’s innocent Jewish men, women and children while doing everything possible to avoid Palestinian-Arab casualties; religious Jews; and the Jews married to one another in Jewish “in-marriage.”  

Chabon even assailed Berkeley leftwing, hippie-style Jews for being insufficiently “open” even after they had “reconfigured” “all the [Jewish] language of patriarchy and triumphalism . . . for maximum niceness.”  In other words, only a Judaism that is completely devoid of even the slightest trace of anything Jewish might be acceptable. 

Chabon horrifyingly and anti-Semitically blamed Jewish “in-marriage” for “genetic impoverishment”(notwithstanding 20% of all Nobel Laureates are Jews as well as leaders in virtually every field) and infamously called such marriages a “ghetto of two.”  He ignored the Jewish belief that every loving, harmonious Jewish marriage has a third partner: G-d, and is an important part of the fabric of our entire people.  (See, e.g., Jewish Insights into Marriage,” by Rabbi Maurice Lamm.)

Chabon reserved his most appalling anti-Jewish venom and demonization for the brave innocent Jews of Hebron – a city where Jews have lived for 3,500 years – and the young soldiers stationed in the area.  Chabon stated: “I abhor an enclave too.  A gated community.  A restricted country club.  Or a clutch of 800 zealots, lodged in illusory safety beyond a wall made from the bodies of teenage soldiers, gazing out in scorn and lordly alarm at the surrounding 200,000 residents of the city of Hebron,” and “I have never seen a sorrier and more riotous group of convicts than the Jews of present-day Hebron.” 

As a spokesman for Hebron pointed out, Hebron’s Jewish community does not “gaze out in scorn” at its Arab neighbors – but rather has many Arab friends and colleagues – those who reject jihad.  Moreover, the IDF stationed in the area also protects adjacent Kiryat Arba (a city of 10,000) and 700,000 pilgrims a year who visit the ancient Jewish holy sites in Hebron where our forebears are buried.  The Hebron spokesman aptly also wrote: 

The IDF defends Hebron for two reasons: Jews have every historical right to be in Hebron, and at the same time we are under constant attack from the jihad. It is not our zealousness that provokes violence, but rather a hateful ideology that has taken hold of our region. Michael, why do give the attackers a pass while blaming the victim?”  (See To Michael Chabon, From Biblical Hebron,” JNS, May 30, 2018.)

Would Chabon prefer to re-enact the horrific 1929 and 1936 Arab brutal massacres of Hebron’s then-defenseless Jewish community?  

The Coalition for Jewish Values report on Chabon’s “well-known . . . hostility towards Israel and its self-defense,” and Chabon’s HUC-JIR speech noted that Chabon “would have preferred to see Hebron with no “machinery” there to prevent a repeat murder of its Jewish visitors and residents.”  (See Special Memorandum: Concerning the Recent HUC Graduation,” by Rabbi Pesach Lerner & Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Coalition for Jewish Values, May 28, 2018.)

Chabon also lambasted Jews for purportedly “devising” the Exodus story “out of whole cloth” and simply “inventing” and “deciding we had once been slaves.”  Chabon sneered: what sort of people would invent such a history for itself?  “Exodus-denier” Chabon falsely insisted that the “whole Exodus story thing is all just a bunch of baloney.”  Chabon also ignorantly based this conclusion on his beside-the-point arguments such as that the “pyramids weren’t even built by slave labor.”  Who and how the pyramids were built is of course irrelevant.  As the Bible relates, the Jewish slaves built the storehouse cities of Pithom and Ramses– and archeological evidence backs this up.  (See, e.g., Evidence of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt,” Biblical Archeological Society, Mar. 28, 2018.)

In sum, Chabon continually viciously demeaned and demonized Judaism, Jews, Israel, Torah and G-d.  On a day that commemorated the twin miracles of Israel’s rebirth and solidified America’s recognition of the Jewish people’s eternal capital Jerusalem, Chabon never offered even a moment of thanks for the blessings that G-d has bestowed upon us, the miracle of living in our land, and the transcendent beauty of a Jewish marriage.

Rabbi Panken’s sad passing, and important words:  The ZOA wishes to offer our condolences to the HUC-JIR community on the untimely recent passing of its former president, Rabbi Aaron Panken.  His death is a loss to the entire Jewish world.

The HUC-JIR graduation ceremonies included a pre-recorded video address by Rabbi Panken.   Rabbi Panken wisely stated: “There is beautiful light in the seventieth anniversary of the State of Israel that we are celebrating, with joy and gladness.”  

It was unfortunate and disturbing that only one or two persons in the audience applauded this important line – which was otherwise absent from the proceedings.  Perhaps those would have applauded celebrating Israel’s miraculous rebirth had already left the premises, during Chabon’s earlier speech. But still, it is deeply concerning, for the future of Reform Judaism, if its new rabbis do not celebrate and applaud Israel’s reconstitution and survival.  

Zionist Organization of America members, activists and staff come from every stream of Judaism, including the Reform Movement.  We are deeply saddened to see any part of the Jewish people depart from the Zionist cause which is at the core of our faith and peoplehood.  We are deeply distressed that HUC-JIR may have contributed to this departure by selecting a graduation speaker who demonized Zionism, Israel and Judaism.