By Moshe Phillips
The media coverage of the marriage ceremony of Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky took several weeks to abate. The rabbi who co-conducted the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding was Rabbi James Ponet a Reform rabbi with deep connections to some of the most radical elements of the American Jewish community and that fact went completely unreported in both the American Jewish and general media. Of interest here too is that Hillary Clinton also has a long history with these radicals and brought them to the Clinton White House when Yasir Arafat was hailed as a peacemaker by her husband when the Oslo Accords were signed on September 13, 1993.
Ponet is the longtime campus rabbi for the Hillel at Yale University. Ponet Here is a survey of Rabbi Ponet’s long record as part of a cadre of radical rabbis that have a penchant for criticizing Israeli government policies, advocating for Palestinian statehood, participating in domestic progressive politics and creating a new age, hippie brand of Judaism.
A good place to start Ponet’s story is with a November 17, 2002 article in The New York Times with the unsettling title “On Issue of Israel, Campuses Can’t Tell Left From Right.” The Times described Ponet as a “campus rabbi and sometime critic of Israel.”
Why did The Times label Ponet in such a way?
In February, 2000 Ponet signed the so-called “Rabbinic Call for a Shared Jerusalem” statement with 314 other U.S. Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis critical of Israel. The statement is full of gross generalizations and mis-characterizations such as “it is natural that Muslims would also view Jerusalem as their city.”
By signing the Jerusalem statement Ponet joined with the key leaders of the most radical wing of the American Jewish Community including Michael Lerner and Arthur Green. Many of these signing rabbis were among the leadership of the Brit Tzedek v’Shalom group that J Street absorbed in 2009. These rabbis were among the founders and key activists of New Jewish Agenda and Breira including Rabbi Gerald Serotta, Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Everett Gendler and others. Serotta, Waskow and Gendler are all involved in the Jewish Fast For Gaza group. It should be noted that the leadership of the Rabbis for Human Rights – North America group is made up of the signers of this 2000 letter too.
In 2001 Ponet signed a pubic letter that appeared as a full page ad in the Forward newspaper from the Rabbis for Human Rights – North America. The letter was addressed to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and protested against the arrest of a fellow radical rabbi and the demolition of Arab homes. They candidly shared that their support for Israel was conditional: “We fear that the decision to prosecute (the radical rabbi) is an attempt to silence his voice. To silence it is to push us away from the Israel…”
Ponet, though, was among the most radical of the rabbis to sign the ad and has been a longtime member of the editorial board of Tikkun magazine and has written for it as well.
In a May 31, 1993 article by Priscilla Painton titled “The Politics of What?” Time Magazine explored the influence Tikkun and its publisher Michael Lerrner had on the thinking of Hillary Clinton. The leftist political journal Tikkun since its founding in 1986 has given a platform to the most vicious critics of Israel. Lerner too was a signer of the “Rabbinic Call for a Shared Jerusalem” statement. Tikkun and Lerner cooperate on a high level with J Street as well. J Street is the controversial Jewish pressure group that was created to lobby for a Palestinian state and has long been assumed to have financial support from George Soros and MoveOn.org. J Street’s founder and executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami was a featured speaker at Tikkun’s Network of Spiritual Progressives conference in Washington DC in June 2010.
Lerner should be remembered for his comments to Judaism magazine in the 1960s when he was a leader of the SDS allied SLF / Seattle Liberation Front: “The Jewish community is racist, internally corrupt…” and “The synagogue as currently established will have to be smashed.”
Did Lerner recommend Ponet to the Clintons? Was Hillary Clinton familiar with Ponet from reading Tikkun?
More about Ponet can be revealed from an article he wrote about Chanukah in 2005 and was published by Slate.com in 2009. Here Ponet attacks Jews for misunderstanding the holiday. He writes: “…it turns out that Hanukkah is a festival built upon a mound of suppressed memories and censored texts…” Ponet goes so far he even questions the basics of the holiday asking “Was the bloody Maccabean civil war and revolt necessary to the survival of Jewish identity?”
Ponet conveniently leaves out the fact that the word very word Chanukah is derived from the Hebrew word for dedication and refers to the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees. He mentions the Temple just once in his nearly 1,200 word attack on the holiday.
Ponet writes “I propose that on Hanukkah, we ought to consider whether an ethnic group that wishes to survive must turn itself into a nation-state…” From here we can possibly derive why the Clinton-Mezvinsky’s found Ponet to be such a good fit for their ceremony.
Beyond just being another critic of Israeli government policy, Ponet through word and deed has demonstrated that he does not believe that the Jewish People have a unique relationship with the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. In the the inaugural issue of Tikkun, published in 1986, Anne Roiphe attacked writers for Commentary magazine as “the Court Jews of the Right.” Now two dozen years later it is obvious that Tikkun’s position is that of the house organ of “the Court Jews of the (far) Left.” Tikkun ceased referring to itself as a Jewish magazine sometime in 2006 and now proclaims on its website that it was “(b)orn of the Jewish tradition, but with a political perspective that attracts a far wider readership…” Non-Jewish liberals like the Clinton family and Jewish liberals like the Mezvinsky family prefer the rabbis they associate with to place their progressivism ahead of their Judaism. Ponet fit that bill. Perhaps his take on the State of Israel was just a bonus.
It must be said that it is no accident that these progressive Court Jews hold Israel to a higher standard just as they seek to reconstruct their Judaism to fit their progressivism. The bitter waters they use to water down their Judaism are also used to put out the fire of Zionism. They believe the State of Israel must be reconstructed as a wholly progressive entity if it is to be truly holy. They cannot face the challenge to their false ideals that a strong, independent and unapologetically Jewish State would mean so they struggle against it and use traditional Judaism as a proxy to be battled as well. The morality of the progressives is rooted in their own ideas about right and wrong and not in any faith tradition. It should really come as no surprise when they choose clergyman that abandon faith whenever it conflicts with their misguided, man-made ideas.
Moshe Phillips is a member of the executive committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans for a Safe Israel / AFSI. The chapter’s website is at: www.phillyafsi.com. Moshe’s blog can be found at http://phillyafsi.blogtownhall.com and Moshe tweets at http://twitter.com/MoshePhillips.