Letter to the City of Clifton, New Jersey, regarding the term anti-Semitism

Letter to elected officials at the City of Clifton, New Jersey, regarding recent controversy over the abuse of the term anti-Semitism

August 10, 2021

To City Manager Dominick Villano
City of Clifton, New Jersey

Dear Mr. Villano,

I am writing concerning the school board meeting last Thursday night, which I attended, where a number of emotional comments were made in support of and in opposition to certain statements made by two members of the board regarding the plight of their relatives in Palestine. I learned that in a previous meeting a demand was made to remove these members from the board, claiming that their statements were anti-Semitic.

The other rabbis and I, members of Neturei Karta, an Orthodox Jewish organization, representing Orthodox Jewish communities who support Palestine, attended the meeting to express our support to our Palestinian friends, who we feel have been unjustly accused. Since my colleague, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, didn’t have the proper opportunity to get his message across at the meeting, I would like to elaborate on that message here, and explain why I believe that the accusations are wrong. This topic is very relevant to education, especially in the diverse United States.

As descendants of Jewish people who were cruelly murdered and brutally tortured in the Holocaust, it pains me to see other people suffer oppression. Those immigrants or descendants of immigrants, as we all are here in the United States, who have relatives abroad who suffer from illegal occupation and unjust killing and torture, in any part of the world, understandably should have the right to express their passion about it.

Any attempts to silence personal opinions should be considered a violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees every citizen the freedom of speech.

As a Jew, I say that silencing criticism of the treatment of the Palestinians, using the accusation of anti-Semitism, is not only unjust to the accused, but an affront to the Jewish people and the Jewish religion. Claiming that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is essentially saying that all Jews are offended by criticism of the State of Israel, which implies that all Jews, as well as the Jewish religion, support all Israeli actions. This generalization is a racist stereotype that exacerbates anti-Semitism to a large extent. Rather, when people criticize Israeli actions, their words should be viewed merely as criticism of action done by certain people of Jewish descent.

In fact, many Orthodox Jewish communities worldwide have expressed far more criticisms of Israel than those of Education Board Commissioners Fahim Abedrabbo and Feras Awwad. As my colleague Rabbi Weiss mentioned in his remarks at the meeting. In addition to the injustice done to Palestine in the first place and the continuous oppression of its people, including the refusal to grant them their internationally recognized right of return, we believe that the Zionist movement systematically attempt to uproot Jewish belief and practice from the Jewish masses. It has transformed Judaism from a religion into nationalism. The mere concept of Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel are in total violation of one of the basics of Jewish belief: that Jews are forbidden to end their Godly decreed exile on their own and attain sovereignty by fighting other nations. And of course, Judaism forbids killing and stealing another people’s land.

In addition, the Torah teaches, and centuries of Jewish history bear witness, that arrogant demands and fighting have never been the Jewish approach, and only lead to more conflict. Jews in exile have always taken care to follow an approach of humility and peaceful coexistence with our neighbors. The State of Israel, far from bringing safety to Jews, has unfortunately created an endless cycle of violence in the Middle East, bringing disaster for Jews and Arabs alike.

Given that Jews, too, speak up to clear their name and distance themselves from the State of Israel, those non-Jews who criticize Israel’s actions should not be considered anti-Semitic.

I would like to reiterate what my colleague Rabbi Moshe Lefkowitz from Jerusalem mentioned in his remarks at the above mentioned meeting. He related stories about his family in the Old City of Jerusalem, where Jews lived together with Arabs in total harmony until the rise of Zionism. Palestinians had no problem with Jews other than the occupation of their land and oppression of their people.

We of Neturei Karta have collaborated on many occasions in the past with local Arab communities in Paterson, Clifton, and throughout New Jersey. We personally know Mr. Awwad and Mr. Abedrabbo for the past several years and never felt from them any ill feelings towards Jews. On the contrary, they showed only respect for Jewish people and the Jewish religion. We appreciate their concern over what is happening to their relatives back home, and we share their sentiments.

We encourage you all, as elected officials, to appreciate the diversity of the City of Clifton and uphold the right of its elected officials to speak as they see fit. Certainly this would set an example for the students in your district that it is okay to express one’s position and conscience.

I hope that you take this in consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Rabbi Dovid Feldman
Monsey, New York

Cc: City Council
Police Chief
Board of Education

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