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August 30, 1991 - Image 7

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-08-30

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If just about
anyone other
Chafets, an Is-
raeli and re-
spected jour-
, nalist,
written two re-
cent columns in the
Jerusalem Report attacking
"ultra-Orthodox Jews,"
editors of American Jewish
newspapers say they would
not have published them.
As it was, a number of
editors who receive the
columns from the English-
language Israeli weekly
decided not to run the
Chafets pieces because they
felt the articles went too far.
I am among the latter group,
and I'll explain my reasons
My brave colleagues who
ran one or both of the
columns say they attracted
an inordinately high volume
of letters, most of them ex-
pressing anger at Mr.
Chafets, editor of the
Jerualem Report, for his

A similar version or teats arttcle

first appeared in the Media
Watch column of the
Jerusalem Report.

views —but even more in-
dignation at the local Jewish
newspaper for airing them.
The incident is worth ex-
ploring because it speaks not
only to the issue of tension
between religious and
secular Jews but the role of
the Jewish press in describ-
ing those tensions.
"What we encountered
after running (the second ar-
ticle) was not controversy,"
noted one editor, "but a lyn-
ch mob. In more than 10
years here, I've never seen
anything like it — not just
angry letters but abusive
phone calls. They were out to
kill the messenger."
What did Mr. Chafets
write to provoke such
outrage? His first column
suggested, in the author's
words, that "ultra-Orthodox
anti-Zionists (in Israel)
should be forced to serve in
the army, work for a living
and pay income taxes, like
the rest of us."
Some of the angry re-
sponse to that article, in-
cluding letters accusing Mr.
Chafets of anti-Semitism,
prompted him to write a se-
cond article, even stronger.
He wrote that "the real
problem is with the kind of
Judaism espoused and prac-
ticed by the haredim in

Me'ah She'arim, Bnei Brak
and other fever swamps of
ultra-Orthodoxy — a primi-
tive, unevolved, fanatic form
of religion that is not merely
ludicrous but dangerous as
And that was mild, com-
pared to later references.
While explaining that he
has great respect for the re-
ligious Zionism espoused by
Bnei Akiva youth and the
scholarship of Rabbi Adin
Steinsaltz, Mr. Chafets said
that "the black hats" are a
modern-day version of the
"fanatics" who "kept Jews
in the shtetl, passive and
fearful, with a brew of mes-
sianic blather and talmudic
The Jerusalem Report
noted that the columns
"inspired an unusally large
number of readers' letters,"
with two-thirds opposed to
Mr. Chafets' second column
(and 59 percent against his
In the United States, the
Cleveland Jewish News,
which serves a community
with a large Orthodox
population, had the
strongest reaction, judging
from the volume of letters
(19 published). "While Mr.
Chafets' petty hatreds and
biases are his own problem,"

The Chutzpah
Of Alan Dershowitz


Special to The Jewish News


ere in Boston, there's
much talk about Alan
Dershowitz's best-
selling book, Chutzpah. And
most of the talk is in the
form of speculation: What is
it that accounts for the
book's uncommon success?
The timing helps, one
assumes: "Reversal of For-
tune," the Claus Von Bulow
story, starring Ron Silver as
Alan Dershowitz, is still
around. And yes, Jews buy
books, even if sales to Jews
alone cannot (can they?)
catapult a book to first place
on the list, which is where it
rests this week. And then
there are all those folks who
read Mr. Dershowitz's mon-
thly column in Penthouse

Leonard Fein, the founding
editor of Moment magazine, is
a lecturer and writer on Jew-
ish issues.

magazine. (In the barber
shop, of course.) Finally, Mr.
Dershowitz is a celebrity,
even if Donald Trump he's
not, and celebrity books do
well. Still, a puzzlement.
It tells us something that
in these ongoing conversa-
tions, the focus is on the
book's author rather than on
its content, as if there were
general agreement that its
content can't explain its
best-sellerhood. After all,
the book is an epistle to the
Jews. It comes to argue that
we have not been assertive
enough in defending our
rights in America. The
argument may or may not be
persuasive — it is hard to ac-
cept that we have been reti-
cent, these last years, in
defending our rights — but it
is, as it were, an internal
argument, one that would
not seem at first blush to
have mass appeal even to
Jews, let alone to non-Jews.
Unless, of course, Jews
persist in perceiving them-

Private hurt and public damage.

selves as victims, and are
looking for someone to
blame. If so, Mr. Dershowitz
is right on target: The book
is above all angry, filled
with accusations, rich in
villains and enemies.
Here I must enter a brief
personal note. Very few peo-
ple come off well in the book.
I am among those that do.
Mr. Dershowitz refers to me

Photo by Nea l Duc h in

Where To Draw The Line
On Jewish Controversies

Ze'ev Chafets espouses his views during an appearance in Detroit.

wrote the officers of the local
Orthodox Rabbinical Coun-
cil, "a Jewish newspaper
which purports to serve an
entire community should not
be publishing articles which
vilify any segment of the
Jewish people."
One Orthodox man,
Reuven Dessler, took out a
full page ad in the Cleveland
Jewish News as an open
letter to the newspaper,
comparing Mr. Chafets'

views to those of Rev. Louis
Farrakhan, 'the black
Muslim minister accused of
anti-Semitism. But Mr.
Dessler vented most of his
dissatisfaction with the
newspaper for publishing
the article.
"Would you print this from
a non-Jew? Would you print
a similar diatribe attacking
Reform, or Conservative, or

several times, always —
even in disagreement —
graciously. It is tempting,
therefore, to let the matter
rest, accept the compliments
and turn to other matters.
But I am afraid that will not
do, for there is at least one
specific aspect of this puzzl-
ing book that cannot be
allowed to pass unremarked.
The press has carried the
story of the dispute between
Mr. Dershowitz and Henry
Siegman, the executive di-
rector of the American Jew-
ish Congress, regarding
"what really happened" in
the case of Cardinal Glemp
of Poland. With respect to
that issue, Mr. Siegman has
called on Mr. Dershowitz to
come with him before a bet
din, a Jewish religious
court, and Mr. Dershowitz
has agreed. Good: There is a
sharp disagreement on facts,
and facts, if they can be es-
tablished, are silly things to
argue about.
But it is in his treatment of
Mr. Siegman later in the
book that Mr. Dershowitz
steps from anger into ir-
responsibility. He describes
Mr. Siegman as a "frequent

apologist for leftist enemies
of Israel and the Jews." This
allegation is stunningly
false, so very far from any
recognizable truth that it
cannot be permitted to
stand, nor ought Henry
Siegman, a man of con-
siderable distinction, be re-
quired to mount his own
defense. It is appalling to
have to say it, but here it is:
Henry Siegman is not the
enemy of the Jews. One may
disagree with him, and even
sharply, but the suggestion
that he is a "trendy"
apologist whose only inter-
est is in currying the favor of
our "American hosts" is
ludicrous. In fact, Mr.
Siegman's occasional
criticisms of Israeli policies
and Israeli behaviors are
typically exceedingly mea-
sured and well-informed —
and conform in every way to
the guidelines for such
criticism that Mr. Der-
showitz proposes elsewhere
in his book.
Mr. Dershowitz contends
that Mr. Siegman "speaks
for no significant segment of

Continued on Page 20

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