Commentary Magazine


A Rabbi Who Can’t Tell the Difference Between Iran and America

Absent the ability to make moral distinctions, ethics is a meaningless concept. Indeed, if you can’t tell the difference between, say, a despotic theocracy and a genuine if flawed democracy, you are in a poor position to claim any moral authority, let alone speak for a great religious tradition grounded in the Torah and the work of countless generations of Jewish scholars. Yet that is the position that CLAL—The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership finds itself in today. Founded in 1974 by Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, CLAL’s main initial focus was to forge a sense of Jewish unity in an American community divided by bickering denominations and a vast array of political and religious disputes. If today, 16 years after Greenberg retired and was replaced by Rabbi Irwin Kula, many of its efforts often might be mistaken for a faint shadow of whatever liberal conventional wisdom recently came down the pike, its slogan “The Hebrew word for inclusive” still highlights a brand that is rooted in the idea of bringing together a diverse Jewish community.

Kula has never been mistaken for Greenberg, whose centrism was not just a pose but also a genuine conviction (he was fond of saying that no matter which denomination you belonged to, you had something to be ashamed of). Rather than tell each segment of American Jewry hard truths, Kula has specialized in telling liberal Jewish audiences what they want to hear. But while there has never been much doubt that he is a figure of the left, something he posted on his official Facebook page on Tuesday that claimed Iran’s faux elections are little different from America’s democratic system calls into questions not only his judgment, but his moral compass.

The post (hat tip to Alan Luxenberg of the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute) read as follows:

Of course there is a difference and yet there is something strangely parallel how in Iran you have to be vetted by the guardian council of clerics to run for president while in the United States, while you don’t have to be vetted by clerics, you have to be vetted by concentrations of private capital. With very rare exceptions unless you pass their filter, you don’t enter the political system. I guess one way or another it is always clerics…the only question being just what religion they are peddling, using, distorting? to preserve and expand their power…yes yes yes i would rather live here than in Iran…

While we’re glad that Kula prefers to dwell in the American theocracy of “private capital” to the pleasures of life in an Islamist state where Jews are demonized, that is about the only thought here that makes any sense. Suffice it to say that there is nothing remotely analogous about the process by which American politicians seek to raise money from citizens and groups and a system that rules as ineligible for inclusion on a ballot anyone who diverges even a smidge from the ideology of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Some on the left may lament the fact that Americans of all stripes and convictions can individually or collectively mobilize their financial resources to promote political speech or candidates as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. They may prefer a system in which all candidates are restricted to public funds. That would restrict the ability of citizens to express their opinions and preferences as well as to reinforce the influence of the mainstream liberal media. But to pretend that a system that provides opportunity for all comers to test their popularity and the strength of their ideas are also no different from the fake elections conducted in Iran is beyond absurd.

As an example of political insight, Kula’s rant ranks somewhere between the musings of a Marxist high school sophomore and the product of an Occupy Wall Street tent city seminar conducted in a haze of marijuana smoke. But what is really troubling about it is not so much an inane argument for campaign finance laws as is his not-so-subtle effort to legitimize the regime in Tehran or at least to defuse support for action against Iran.

At a time when Iran’s theocratic regime that has threatened genocide against Israel and the Jewish people continues to work toward the creation of a nuclear weapon to accomplish that despicable goal, for someone who claims the mantle of leadership to be making such specious analogies is a blow to efforts to push for Jewish unity on the issue of Iran. That CLAL would tolerate this type of behavior from its head speaks volumes about how far the group has fallen since Greenberg’s day.

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