It was dismaying after Tisha B’Av 5780 to see that Rabbi Avi Shafran and Agudath Israel were still engaging in their misguided behavior from 1980. “Misguided” is being charitable; the alternative is too awful to contemplate.
Flash back to 1977, when the late Rabbi Sholom Klass – publisher of The Jewish Press – presciently decided that Ronald Reagan would win the presidency in 1980. Reagan had run in the 1976 Republican primary against sitting President Gerald Ford and fallen just short. Rabbi Klass became one of the few newspaper editors in the country to run Reagan’s syndicated column in every issue, jumping in early to get behind his candidacy.
In 1977, I was 19 and working for Agudath Israel as the editor of the Zeirei Forum, replacing Dovid Zwiebel in that role. That was the moment when the Left really went all in to fight the Torah on moral issues. In Dade County in Miami, they were rolling in the first ordinances to protect “gay rights.” The Supreme Court of New York forced women’s tennis to allow “Renee Richards” – Richard Schweitzer before his surgery – to compete in tournaments.
Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, z”l, supported me when I tried to publish an article about this in the Forum, but Rabbi Avraham Pam, z”l, blocked it on the basis that it was not a subject for yeshiva students.
In 1980, Rabbi Klass threw The Jewish Press forcefully behind Reagan and Rabbi Avigdor Miller paskened that it was not enough to vote; every ben Torah had to wear a Reagan button. Bill Buckley’s National Review featured an article about Orthodox Jews on Ocean Parkway wearing Reagan buttons. Poet W. H. VonDreele added an amusing piece of doggerel celebrating the phenomenon.
In the meantime, the late Rabbi Moshe Sherer of Agudath Israel had promised President Jimmy Carter the Orthodox vote. We can only speculate what he got in return for choosing the spendthrift candidate over the moral candidate.
In any event, Vice President Walter Mondale picked up the phone to ask Rabbi Sherer about Reagan buttons on Ocean Parkway. Rabbi Sherer promised to look into it. A day or two later, he called back to reassure Mondale that it was only one fringe rabbi who represents almost nobody. Shhh! The rest of the frum world was sleeping soundly and it would not do to wake them up.
Of course, frum Jews were actually wide awake, and Reagan won a resounding majority in Flatbush and Boro Park. Rabbi Klass declared victory on the front page of The Jewish Press and displayed a map showing the neighborhoods which put the president over the top.
Fast forward to 5780. The Democratic Party has bequeathed us a world where almost a million babies are aborted each year, where same-gender marriage exists as it did in the Flood era, and where a child can demand to switch genders and his or her parents must comply.
Every frum Jew lives as a Marrano because if his employers find out he opposes these things, he will be terminated. The Democrats pay a little lip service to Israel, but undermine it at every opportunity. They cannot get a resolution passed to condemn anti-Semitism.
In this environment, Ami Magazine recently featured dueling columns with Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel, pitted against Rafael Medoff, who has devoted his life to praising those who helped Jews during the Holocaust and criticizing those who did not. Medoff wrote that the Democrats are bad, dangerous… and getting worse.
Rabbi Shafran dismissed these overblown concerns. Only a few radical lefties like Omar and Tlaib are dangerous. The rest of the Democrats are reasonable people. His ultimate proof was a recent statement by candidate Joe Biden that American support for Israel is “unshakable.”
What of the fact that Obama tried to hurt Israel at every turn, in matters large and small, and Biden backed him to the hilt, including publicly humiliating Netanyahu over building in Ramat Shlomo, and personally assuring the Jewish community they could trust the administration on the Iran Deal?
Either Rabbi Shafran is negligent and did not bother to read the best-selling memoir Ally by Michael Oren, describing his four years as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., or he read it and he is a party to deception. Oren describes how every time Obama stabbed Israel in the back, he always accompanied it with the phrase, “Our bond with Israel is unshakable and unbreakable!”
Obama thwarted Israel in every forum, in every circumstance, always adding that mealy-mouth phrase. After several years, upon dealing with his umpteenth such crisis, Oren staggered into the Israeli embassy at a late hour one night, desolate and defeated. His right-hand man had waited up for him and greeted him with a grin: “Unshakable and unbreakable, eh?” The two men burst out laughing.
So that word, “unshakable,” in diplo-speak, is actually a signal from Biden to Netanyahu to expect more of the same of what he got from Obama. And when we turn for wisdom to our fearless advocates in the halls of power, what do we get? Criminal naiveté and negligence at best. Cynical manipulation and distortion at worst. Not terribly comforting either way.