The Zionist Conspiracy

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Interview With Rabbi Asher Lopatin

An edited and condensed version of this interview appears in this week's issue of The Jewish Press. Here is the full transcript:

Joseph Schick: You were recently quoted in Newsweek stating that, regarding Israel, "there is a lot of disappointment" in Rahm Emanuel, that "what we've seen is more of the tough Rahm Emanuel. Not the warm Rahm." What have you been hearing from your congregants about Rahm Emaunel in particular and the Obama Administration generally? What are your own concerns?

Rabbi Asher Lopatin: Since the Obama trip to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I must say that there has been some pride that Rahm Emanuel was seen in all the pictures so close to the president – a Jew right there near King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, part of the talks and discussions. That is the closest any member of Anshe Sholom has gotten to the King of Arabia to the best of our knowledge!

At the same time, the vast majority of my congregants, as I’m sure many rabbis are experiencing, feel that Israel is not getting a fair shake in the discussion, pronouncements and speeches given by the administration. If there are no Palestinian leaders who are willing to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, then how can Israel be expected to make concessions – to people who vow to destroy it? Moreover, the idea of stopping natural growth in the settlements – and neighborhoods of Jerusalem – has been painful for some of my congregants who are Holocaust survivors. One of them told me that it reminded him that if someone got pregnant in the concentration camp, they were shot. Of course that is not what the administration is advocating, but they need to be aware those are the feelings their policies are arousing in the administration.

Frankly, I think people are more negative about Hilary Clinton’s remarks regarding natural growth in the settlements – she seemed insensitive and harsh.

Reports in the U.S. and Israeli media are that Rahm Emanuel is an architect of the Obama Administration's pressure on Israel. Do you believe this to be true, and has this been a particular source of frustration for you and others in your community?

I am aware of those articles, but it seems to me that Hillary Clinton has been far more acerbic and even nasty towards Israel than anyone else in the administration.

What was your reaction to the President's speech in Cairo?

I didn’t expect anything different. It was disappointing that he did not talk about Israel as the historic homeland of the Jews. But he didn’t recognize Mubarak either – that can be seen as a “dis” of his Egyptian host. Basically, I agree with the Iranians on this: The speech was just words. Now we have to work on convincing George Mitchell and Rahm Emanuel that there are far better – more moral and more pragmatic – alternatives to the Two State solution. We have a lot of work to do, but we need a strategy and an alternative that can appeal to a wide range of people. We need to create a solution that is the darling of the media, and then we will get the attention of the pragmatists in the administration.

Have you had a relationship with President Obama?

Not personal, but I did support him in the elections in the end because I didn’t feel McCain had any clue what to do regarding the economy – McCain didn’t even have any high power economists helping him. Moreover, I am not convinced that McCain would have acted much differently regarding Israel. The candidates all talk a good line, but in the end no one moves the embassy to Jerusalem, and no one supports the right of Jews to live in the land of their forefathers – in the land which according to the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate they were supposed to have.

In your view, do Jews have a right to settle in Judea and Samaria? If so, is settlement something that you support?

Yes. I strongly oppose any kind of a state that says that Jews cannot live in our homeland. I believe Jews have a right by international law to live all over Israel, as I said before, because of the Balfour Declaration, upheld by the British Mandate, the League of Nations, and never rescinded by the United Nations. However, I also believe there is plenty of room for Arabs – Palestinians, Druze, Bedouins –however they identify themselves – in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Don’t forget about Gaza! Jews lived in Gaza City until we were kicked out because of the riots in 1929. I think we need to push for a state where Arabs and Jews can live anywhere – as long as they acquire the land legally – and we should never accept the idea of Jews not being allowed to live in our land – yet again. But Palestinians should welcome the idea of Jews being allowed to live anywhere and Arabs being allowed the same. I’m a little disappointed that those on the Right say: Jordan is Palestine. No! Jordan should really be part of the Jewish state – as envisioned in the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate, before the British unilaterally, and perhaps illegally, cut it off from the future homeland of the Jewish people. But, OK, I’m willing to concede Jordan because of political realities – they’re as good an ally as we can get in the Arab world – but no more! We need a Jewish state from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean.

42 years after the Six Day War, many - perhaps most - Orthodox Jews are passionate about a united Jerusalem and the right to settle in Judea and Samaria; the idea of returning to the '67 borders is frightening. Is there any conceivable way for the bases of this position to be given a fair hearing in Washington, or is this position destined to remain a quirk limited to a tiny segment?

I have begun to explore what seems like a crazy solution, but a solution which embraces both the Left’s craving for Palestinian rights, and our need as Jews to live in our state, and for that state to be the Jewish state, and for the IDF to be in every corner of that state. I call it the One Democratic Jewish and Palestinian state. Before I get pilloried on the demographic issue for suggesting we give the vote to all Arabs who accept this One State, just remember that the three ways of ensuring lower Arab birth rates are: 1) Educating Arab women to become part of the middle class; 2) Welcoming thousands or millions of people from all over the third world who identify as Jews – or Israelites – and bring them to Israel to acculturate them into the majority Jewish culture of Israel 3) Converting the 300,000 FSU Israelis who want to become halachically Jewish. Those three steps will do more to rectify any demographic threat that comes from giving the vote to Arabs, who are willing to swear loyalty the Constitution of the One Jewish and Palestinian state.

Also, before I mention my idea that might appeal to the Left in America (and the world), remember, that the biggest moral, ethical, religious and strategic threat to Israel is a Two State solution where Israel gives up more land to a terrorist Palestinian state, or even to a Palestinian state that demands that it be Judenrein, ethnically cleansed of Jews. So if we can get the One State solution on the table, even if you disagree with it, at least it would open up a more ethical discussion, rather than just succumbing to the Two State Orthodoxy or Dogma, that it’s the only solution possible – which is what the administration is currently saying.

But if your readers are interested in this experimental idea, here it is:

One Democratic Jewish and Palestinian State:

Where Jews can settle everyone in the Homeland, and Arabs are also allowed to return to their homes and live as equals

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Five Pillars of the One Democratic Jewish and Palestinian Democratic State from the Jordan to the Mediterranean:

1) New constitution - needing a super-majority to change - establishing a full democracy, with full separation of church and state, with both a Jewish Bill of Rights and a Palestinian Bill of Rights guaranteeing that the state can be both a Jewish state and a Palestinian state

2) Law of Return for Jews; Law of Return for Palestinians

3) All citizens – Jews, Muslims, Christians and others – can live anywhere in the land. Just as in America restrictive covenants are illegal, so, too in the One State: Jews and Palestinians can acquire property anywhere in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Gaza, West Bank, etc. Property rights will be respected, and returning refugees will be accommodated through new housing in or close to their original housing. All Jewish settlements that are legal by current Israeli law will remain, with compensation where necessary.

4) The IDF and internal police and security services will be integrated at a pace consistent with the security needs of the new state and will be stationed to keep the law in every corner of the One State.

5) A) Demographic issues will be negotiated with three possible solutions: increasing Israel’s Jewish population radically by admitting millions of Jewish identifiers from Africa, Asia and South America before the One State is implemented; returning Palestinians based on an equal admission of Jewish identifiers – perhaps limited to a certain time period; allowing for a natural growth of Jewish or Muslim – or other – populations, with the understanding that the constitution will guarantee that the One State remains compatible for a Jewish state as well as a Palestinian state.

B) Note: The most effective way for Israel to increase its Jewish population in the short and long term is by educating Arab women and men, which as been shown my many studies to be effective in significantly lowering birth rates, and by enabling the conversions of hundreds of thousands of FSU Israelis who are not currently halachically Jewish.

You refer to "people who vow to destroy" Israel. In light of this, isn't the mere consideration of a binational state a victory for Israel's enemies?

Firstly, I don’t really like the term “binational”; it implies the state is split down the middle. It will be one state, with one united Jerusalem as the capital. Secondly, only those who take an oath of loyalty to the constitution of this new state will be allowed to vote and have any say. Any party which is not loyal to the constitution that enshrines the rights of Jews and separation of shul/mosque and state, will not be allowed to participate in the elective process. No enemies of this state will have any power. In fact, they will be far more marginalized than they are now because the army loyal to the constitution and the new state will be EVERYWHERE – on every corner in every Arab village and town – and in Tel Aviv.

Suppose a bi-national state along the precise five pillars you set forth would be formed. Since the borders of this state would be open to Jews and Arabs, what would stop Hamas, assisted by Iran, from smuggling in all kinds of weapons? Wouldn't mass bloodshed be inevitable?

Ditto above – the army – the IDF – would be everywhere. Let me also remind everyone that there will be about two million machine guns in the hand of Jews even in the One State – no one is going to take our country away!

In an interview in January, you were asked what you thought Emanuel's influence would be on the Obama Administration. You responded then: "Rahm adds pragmatism. Certainly when it comes to the Middle East, people in the synagogue and in the Jewish community feel that it’s pragmatic for the United States to back Israel and not to pressure Israel and not to compromise Israel’s security."

Do you still believe he will bring pragmatism with respect to the U.S. relationship with Israel?

I do think he is a pragmatist, and as soon as we put something on the table, like the One State solution or something else that makes sense, and we push that solution, I think this administration, with Emanuel’s influence, will embrace the alternative to the ethnic cleansing of the Two State solution.

Do you believe that generally, the Obama Administration has demonstrated a pragmatic view regarding Israel's dispute with the Arabs?


You have announced plans to move and form a new community in Carmit, in the Negev. What are your plans in Carmit, and where do your plans stand?

Carmit is a new diverse and pluralistic Jewish town springing up about 20 minutes north east of Beer Sheva. It will eventually have 2500 homes, but the first 200 homes are expected to be completed by September 2011. Carmit will have a mix of Anglos and Israelis, religious and secular and traditional Jews, and will emphasize sensitivity toward the natural and human environment of the Negev. I am working with an American foundation, CIPF (Chicago Israel Philanthropic Fund) which is partnering with the JNF and the main organization in Israel that is building Carmit, the OR Movement. Below is an article that I wrote about my plans to make aliya to Carmit with my family:

A Rabbi’s Vision for Carmit: Bringing the Best of American Judaism and Pioneering Spirit to the Negev by Being Part of a Diverse, Pluralistic and Forward Looking New Community

Let me introduce myself: I am a Modern Orthodox rabbi of a 400 family synagogue in Chicago, made up mostly of young singles, couples and families. Associated with our synagogue is a new pluralistic day school going through grade 8 – eventually – with rabbis from all movements represented on the board. In addition we have worked to build Kehilla – an organization which connects the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogues in our area with the JCC, in order to come together for learning, social action events, and religious celebrations. On the one hand I am involved in internal Orthodox issues, on the other hand, my pulpit enables and encourages me to move beyond the Orthodox community to the other Jewish communities, and beyond the Jewish community to dialogue with Muslims and Christians. Beyond the religious communities, I have spoken at rallies on Israel, Darfur, immigration, affordable housing and even humanitarian treatment of animals. For me, Judaism has always been about connecting with our tradition by making it meaningful in a person’s life, and when the tradition becomes meaningful, it goes on to affect not only the individual or his or her community, but the world around them as well.

But nothing is more central to the Jewish tradition than the dream of returning to our land and building a type of utopia in the Land of Israel. As a rabbi who preaches, prays and observes that dream every day, at some point I have to say: It is my responsibility, and that of my family, to make this dream a reality. If it is to having any meaning, the yearning for Israel must become a reality, not just a vision. From the very beginning of my pulpit, 14 years ago, I imagined I would use the lessons of being a rabbi of a community in America to one day return to my homeland, to Israel, to put everything I learnt into reality – whatever could work in Israel. So for several years I have been searching for the right time and place to move from dreaming to actualizing: the OR Movement, in their vision of Carmit, has provided me with that time and place. My goal now is that within two to three years, I will be able to be a community rabbi in Carmit, making the Jewish dream as solid as the 700 sparkling homes which are planned for the first phase of Carmit.

My plan is to be a rabbi of an Modern Orthodox synagogue which has as its mission to reach out to all residents of Carmit, to be their spiritual and communal home. The synagogues may have many different services going on at the same time: the main, Modern Orthodox service; a side more liberal Orthodox service which includes women and men in the prayers; another side, more “chareidi” Orthodox service that gives people a more “yeshiva” feel. At the same time there will be numerous children’s and learning services – maybe even one for non-believers! However, the services will only be an anchor for a larger effort to create community: to make sure that everyone, single, couple or family has a place to go for Friday dinner or Shabbat lunch, or a seder or a festival meal; to make sure that everyone, whatever their level of observance, feels a sense of ownership in the community and an ability to make a difference. Their need to be social activities, but also opportunities for social action and social justice. Through the synagogue itself, there should be efforts made to work on environmental issues and social issues involving the Bedouin population around Carmit, and all those in the Negev or Israel who need our help. Yes, there may be many other organizations dedicated to different causes, and to even bringing people together socially, but the belief of many rabbis in Israel today, is that the synagogue, by being the institution that represents connection to Jewish tradition, has a unique role in galvanizing people’s efforts in all these areas.

The Carmit that I dream of would be diverse: Americans, Israelis and immigrants from all over the world; people of all different religious streams and affiliations, or those with no affiliation; people of all different economic levels – from those who are wealth off to those just starting their careers, or perhaps still students or artists searching for what they want to do in life. The synagogue in Carmit I would like to be the rabbi of would welcome everyone and not judge anyone – just empower them to grow and to connect to the Jewish tradition. Carmit will be welcomed by those who seek a Greener Negev because it will attract similar minded olim from America – who are Green advocates here; it will be welcomed by advocates for the poor and for Bedouins because it will attract the most sensitive and caring Americans who are coming to Israel to make a difference and create a more caring Israel. Carmit will be the engine for pluralism and respect for diversity in Israel.

I would like to be a rabbi in this incredible new town, to create the Jewish community that takes the dreams of all who move to Carmit, including my own, and realizes them on every level. I have joined with Rosie and Daniel Mattio to create the Chicago Israel Philanthropic Fund whose mission is to partner with the OR Movement to bring Americans to Carmit. We have committed to help OR build this diverse and pluralistic new Jewel of the Negev. With God’s help, I know Carmit is not just a dream, but a reality unfolding before our very eyes.

What is the current status of the community in Carmit?

Infrastructure is going into the ground as we speak, and it will prepare the ground for 200 homes which should be up by September 2011. Lots should go on the market in October of this year.

You've been an advocate for pluralism about the Jewish denominations. Can pluralism and Orthodoxy be reconciled? Rabbi Eric Yoffie has said "There are limits to what Reform Judaism can encompass… If you take halacha upon yourself as an obligation rather than as a choice, you’ve reached the point at which you’re no longer a Reform Jew.” Isn't there a fundamental and irreconcilable schism between Rabbi Yoffie's statement and the notion of the Torah being binding? Isn't Rabbi Yoffie's statement an implicit admission that the Reform movement itself rejects pluralism?

Orthodoxy, and Judaism in general, must reject moral relativism, which rejects the idea of truth. Orthodoxy believes there is a truth, which God gave us at Mt. Sinai – the Torah, in its written and oral form. So I would reject a pluralism which is based on the idea of denying truth. However, we, as Jews who believe in an infinite Torah MiSinai cannot possibly believe that we really understand the infinite word of God, or even the Talmud. All we can do, as mortals, is try to have as good an understanding as possible, and we lead our lives based on that imperfect understanding. And we have to be prepared, as the generations continue to study Gemorrah, and Rishonim and Acharonim, and IY”H, and we move closer to the never attainable Truth, that some of our understandings of Torah and even halacha may change. Thus, when we are confronted with different understandings from the different movements, we need to respect their sincerity, and just say, “Our understanding of the Truth, based on our Mesorah and our teachers and our s’farim, differs from yours. We reject your approach. However, we humbly accept that we, too, do not possess the ultimate Truth – only Hashem does.” This humility, I believe, is the underpinning of pluralism: accepting other Jews’ right to disagree with us, in sincerity and love. If I thought I was God, chas veshalom, I could say: I know the Truth and you are wrong. Since I am mortal, I say: “This is what I believe is what Hashem meant for me to do and believe, but I respect your right to disagree.” And I think it’s great that the Reform movement is willing to define itself as the movement which believes halacha is choice, not obligation. I would hope that Rabbi Yoffie would accept and respect my right to disagree with him, and to believe that Halacha is obligation. To be pluralistic, he doesn’t have to think I am Reform, but he should respect my Orthodox views as part of the quest for understanding what Judaism asks from us. And I think he does. Pluralism, then, is about respecting those we disagree with, and allowing them the space to grow in Torah and Yiddishkeit. That should be accepted by anyone who believes in Torah miSinai, and accepts that we are just Basar Vadam.

Do you believe it is appropriate to speak from the pulpit about political issues?

If you mean strategic policies – how Israel should defend itself or a solution to the issues in the Middle East – I avoid it. I think the only time I touched on such an issue was in criticizing rabbis who asked Israeli soldiers to disobey orders. I do speak out against the Rabbanut’s policies on conversions in Israel, or against religious courts in Israel who reject certain conversions, or who are cruel to women – agunot or otherwise. On American politics, I don’t speak up. But I think my congregants on the Right think I’m a leftie, and my congregants on the Left think I’m a right winger!