Last week, Isaac Herzog, the outgoing Labor leader and newly elected head of the Jewish Agency, opened his new role by saying that intermarriage (particularly in USA) between Jews and non-Jews was a “plague” which required a “solution”. Many have commented on this horror. “It’s not a plague, it’s progress,” Robert Lord opined.
But Forward editor Jane Eisner was accommodating. She suggested that the matter was merely “sensitive”, and that Herzog just needs to learn that it is so, and Eisner was “willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here”.
Benefit of the doubt about what? That he didn’t mean what he said?
Unbelievably, this is the lie that Herzog attempts to insert via Eisner, and she does it willingly:
‘On Wednesday, Herzog told me in a phone call from Israel — his first with an American news outlet — that reactions to the Ynet interview “distorted the meaning and intention of what I said. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew, no matter which stream he belongs to, if he wears a skullcap or not.“ The discourse on interfaith relations is different in Israel, he said. He was using magefa as a slang word: “I didn’t mean it in any negative terms.”
This is veritable nonsense. First of all, the issue of “who is a Jew” (“a Jew is a Jew is a Jew”), is not the issue here, at all. It’s about intermarriage and Herzog calling it a “plague”. And then he’s suggesting that the word he used in Hebrew for “plague”, that is , ‘magefa’, is just slang – he’s thus suggesting that it doesn’t mean what it would mean in English.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, I know the inside and outside of the Hebrew language and its colloquial usage. You understood it fully in English. It means exactly what you think it means. It is of purely negative connotation. For Herzog to suggest that he “didn’t mean it in any negative terms” is just an insult to the intelligence. Did he not think that English speakers would not notice what he is saying when he has just been elected to the parastatal organization which, according to himself, is the “narrow bridge that connects the State of Israel and the Jewish people wherever they are”? Did Herzog think that if he explains it away so disingenuously to Eisner, that there would not be Hebrew speakers who know that he speaks rubbish?
But Eisner doesn’t care to check. She’s giving Herzog the benefit of the doubt. Probably because he’s considered a ‘liberal’.
“I’m a liberal in my political beliefs,” Herzog told Eisner. “It is not my role in life to be judgmental.” Except for judging intermarriage to be a “plague”, that is.
And Eisner brushes away the wave of critique about this as “hysterical”. “Hysterical opinion columns ensued”, she wrote, without citing one. One is left to wonder which ones she means, whether she perhaps means all of them, and whether she also means the op-ed in her own paper two days earlier by Rokhl Kafrissen, saying “Intermarriage is not a threat to Jews.” Nope, no specifications. The implicit suggestion is that now, Jane Eisner, who provides Herzog with “his first [interview] with an American news outlet” (on this case, she means), will clarify for us the real meaning of Herzog’s words.
But by uncritically parroting Herzog, Eisner is only providing for more confusion, and giving Herzog an easy way out, without having to apologize for his egregiously offensive words.
And behind those words is a policy. In his article about Herzog’s comments showing the dependence of Zionism on intolerant religious strains in Judaism, Yossi Gurvitz pointed to an ad by the Jewish Agency from 9 years ago (Hebrew), where young Jews who inter-marry are regarded as ‘lost’, where the agency asks to contact them if one knows of such lost souls.
But if Herzog’s words are being whitewashed, the non-Hebrew speakers will think they just didn’t get it right, it’s just Israeli Hebrew jargon, move on. This is like Israelis saying that the goyim don’t get them, because they don’t understand Hebrew. If Herzog thinks that this form of deceit will calm American Jews and bring them closer, I believe he has another thing coming. I could say it to him in Hebrew, but I think he gets the essence of it in English too.