Photo Credit: michaelchabon.com
Michael Chabon

At the recent graduation ceremony of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College (HUC), Michael Chabon – a well-known anti-Israel activist – not only demonized the Jewish state but had the gall to attack Jewish endogamy (i.e., Jews marrying Jews). And yet, HUC Interim President Rabbi David Ellenson both welcomed him and subsequently reaffirmed HUC’s decision to host him.

Chabon’s hostility towards Israel is well-known. He has collaborated in the past with “Breaking the Silence” (BtS) – an anti-Israel organization that seeks “to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories” – and compiled an anthology together with his wife, Ayelet Waldman, called Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation.

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Chabon also led a tour of Judea together with BtS during which he called Israel’s “occupation” of the area “the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.” Regarding the Cave of the Patriarchs – “where supposedly Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca and Leah are all buried” as per his distorted account – he said: “To see that place being dishonored and made less sacred and less holy by the presence of [Israel’s] incredibly cruel and unjust machinery, some literal machinery and figurative machinery of oppression, it offends me.”

All this notwithstanding, Rabbi Ellenson introduced Chabon at HUC’s graduation ceremony as a “moral voice” while also noting that his book deals with “50 years of Israeli occupation in Palestine.”

Taking to the stage, Chabon wasted no time, condemning Israel’s security barrier – which of course was built to prevent atrocities such as the Dolphinarium, Sbarro and Park Hotel suicide bombings. “Anywhere you look, it is, and has always been,” he said, “a 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.”

He then went on to say that intermarriage is “the source of all human greatness” while “endogamous marriage is a ghetto of two.” He condemned Judaism in particular, saying, “[A]ny religion that relies on compulsory endogamy to survive has, in my view, ceased to make the case for its continued validity in the everyday lives of human beings.”

At least one graduate, Morin Zaray, left in protest. In an op-ed in the LA Jewish Journal, Zaray wrote:

I know that the same wall he said he despised enabled me to live a normal life and to use the bus as a young girl… It was as if horrific terror attacks have never occurred against these Jews – this ‘sorriest’ and most ‘riotous’ group of ‘convicts’ Chabon has ever seen. Maybe he hasn’t seen the virulent Jew-hatred that permeates Palestinian society.

I turned back to look at my brother, who served in a combat unit in the Israel Defense Forces. He looked sick to his stomach. I got up from my seat and approached my family… I asked my mother if not seeing me graduate would disappoint her. She responded that she would feel ashamed to see me walk on that stage after what had been said. We stood up and left the sanctuary. Standing outside, I was nearly brought to tears as I heard the crowd of Jews give Chabon a thunderous applause.

For someone who presents himself as an intellectual – steeped in nuance – Michael Chabon has a remarkable ability to present a one-dimensional reality in which the Jews are evil oppressors and the Palestinians are powerless victims, with no agency, no responsibility and no blame. Such a careless disregard for depth and complexity dishonors an institution of higher learning – particularly a Jewish one – particularly on a graduation day.

Ellenson responded: “[I]t does not occur to us at HUC-JIR to quash or vilify political criticism of Israel out of a preemptive fear of controversy.” He even claimed Zaray’s tearful essay was a testament to the diversity of opinion at HUC.

Just remember: These are the people demanding that Israel bow to their wishes on the peace process, the Western Wall, and matters of Jewish status.

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