Two men, whose public conduct vis-à-vis the Jewish people have branded them in many circles as undesirables, have now had their private lives suffer as a consequence. Is this a healthy sign of public discourse or a poor reflection on the shallowness and intolerance of certain Jews ?
The first is Richard Goldstone, the erstwhile Apartheid-era South African judge whose penance before the liberal elites centered on his issuance of the tendentious, anti-Jewish “Goldstone Report” at the behest of his masters at the United Nations. The report detailed Israel’s alleged war crimes during last year’s Gaza War, Operation Oferet Yetzuka (“Cast Lead;” who chooses these names anyway, and why?), especially including the loss of civilian life – but did not seem to take issue with Hamas rockets falling on Israeli civilian heads or Hamas’ use of civilians as shields for their malevolent and violent deeds. It did not distinguish between aggressor and victim, nor did it seem to accord any substantive right of self-defense to Israel – as if only Jews are not allowed to defend themselves. Of course, to have such a report issued by a “Jewish” judge grants it even more “legitimacy” in the eyes of both those who seek to do Israel harm, and those who don’t know any better.
Goldstone’s grandson is soon celebrating his Bar Mitzva in South Africa, and the Jewish community of South Africa first “disinvited” the grandfather – who no longer lives in South Africa – informing him that his presence there would create a disturbance and that he himself is unwelcome. After a brief flurry, the SA Federation relented, and Goldstone is being permitted to attend.
The second putative pariah in the dock is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who this week is celebrating his son’s Bar Mitzva in Israel. Emanuel, known to his friends as a contentious, tempestuous vulgarian – not to mention his enemies – has reportedly been the catalyst for at least part of President Obama’s ongoing humiliation of Israel’s Prime Minister and his contempt for Jewish nationalism. Emanuel has repeatedly threatened Israel’s leaders, and supporters in the US, with the most dire consequences if Israel does not kowtow to Obama’s dictates and make “peace,” and “now.” Reportedly, Emanuel decided to move his son’s Bar Mitzva away from the Kotel – where it was originally planned – in the face of expected protests from individuals who resent the fact that Emanuel wished to celebrate his son’s milestone at a national holy site that his – and his bosses’ – policies – would lead to the denial of that right to other Jews. His opponents feel, I suppose, that one should never let a good simcha go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before…
Are these protests fair ? Should we conflate and commingle someone’s public and private lives ?
There are logical arguments to be made on both side, but, on balance, I think – in most cases – not. My yardstick is the Ba’al Simcha (celebrant) himself – does the young man wish to have his grandfather or father present, does he desire to celebrate his Bar Mitzva as “normally” as possible ? If, in the latter case, the boy wishes a bar Mitzva at the Kotel, it would be grossly unfair to him to deprive him of that right. We should not visit the sins of the father, such as they might be, on the son (or grandson). Indeed, and it pains me to say it, there is something laudable about a public figure like Emanuel wanting to celebrate his family smachot in Yerushalayim, a point certain to be noted by Jew-haters of the “dual loyalty” stripe. It even makes a statement about the centrality of Israel to Jewish life that we can only wish will be internalized at some point by Emanuel himself and his boss.
By the same token, if the Goldstone grandson desires his grandfather’s presence, it should be permitted (how one denies a person the right to daven in a shul is a separate question), unless it would cause such a distraction that it would detract from the Bar Mitzva itself. That should be the rule of thumb – keep the personal personal, and the public public.
Certainly, one can conjure a scenario in which an individual is so loathed by the public – a Madoff leaps to mind – that his mere presence is considered odious. That, of course, begs the question: why is (even massive) financial impropriety worthy of public ostracism, and causing (potentially massive) political harm to the Jewish nation brushed aside to allow for a joyous event ?
Perhaps because the deeds of the former were definite crimes, and the deeds of the latter – although potentially more devastating – are indefinite, subject to interpretations, intentions, motivations and other forces in the future. Or, perhaps because the deeds of the latter are not “crimes” technically, as distasteful as they were to supporters of Israel, they should not be treated with the opprobrium we reserve for real criminals. And banning people for their loathsome political opinions is a very slippery slope.
Of course, Goldstone should recognize that if his presence impairs the simcha, he would do wise to stay away. It is not about him, nor should he use the occasion to mount a defense of his perfidy. And, perhaps, we can only pray, an Emanuel Bar Mitzva at the Kotel will arouse something in Rahm’s Jewish spirit that will prompt him to serve as an advocate for the Jewish people in his current position, and not as an adversary. His Israeli father, as is well known, was briefly a medic in the Irgun many years ago – not that necessarily means anything to the son. But maybe being in Yerushalayim – seeing, for example, Ramat Shlomo on the ground – and experiencing its vibrancy will cause him to re-think his political course, and guide his master to a more sensitive policy.
That would be an effective confluence of one’s public and personal lives. But, in the interim, let the boys enjoy their smachot with their families.