By Larry Gordon
lHere are two stories that have been around the news for years but now seem to be arriving at a crossroads and will have to be dealt with in some fashion instead of just being kicked down the road to be dealt with once again at a later date.
Oddly, both situations are about walls but have nothing to do with that wall President Trump is hoping to build someday on the border between the U.S. and Mexico to stem the tide of illegal immigration and across-the-border crime by illegals on the U.S. side.
By way of introduction, there is a great deal to discuss about both–or actually all three–matters involving this idea of walls and the various roles they play both here and in Israel. First, there is the matter of aging rock-and-roll performer Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame and their extraordinarily successful 1979 album, The Wall.
Waters appeared in Tel-Aviv and did several concerts there back in 2006. Since then he has become one of the most outspoken critics of Israel, calling for the isolation of the Jewish state and advocating for a Palestinian state that would supplant Israel if he could have his way.
Waters has become a radical advocate for the BDS movement and has indulged in some ugly, borderline-anti-Semitic antics on stage on his concert tours in Europe. At one of his shows he had an inflatable pig with a Magen David painted on its side. At other shows he has had illuminated signs on stage that at one show read, “Trump is a pig.” More recently he has campaigned to keep other performers out of Israel, and while he has succeeded with some, like Elvis Costello, he has failed with more popular performers like The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney.
So the story this week is that Roger Waters has four concerts scheduled in New York in September and there is a groundswell of protest to urge the promoters and venues where those shows are to be held to cancel them in reaction to his anti-Semitic antics. Two of the shows are currently planned for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and two performances at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale here in Nassau County.
Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman has taken the lead in the effort to get these shows canceled. He is also campaigning to have the U.S. government deny Waters, a British citizen, a visa and bar his entry to the U.S. by virtue of his having broken the law by advocating for BDS in contravention to some rather newly passed legislation that deals with these matters. Blakeman has sent a letter (see text nearby) to County Executive Ed Mangano urging him to ban Mr. Waters from the Coliseum, and he has written to Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging him to revoke Mr. Waters’s visa, based on his support for BDS, which is shunned by an increasing number of locales around the country, including New York State, and other activities that could be construed as hate crimes.
David Lobl, a liaison to the Jewish community for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, said that he did not believe that the anti-BDS laws currently on the books could forbid Roger Waters from appearing in New York. The state passed three anti-BDS bills in March of this year. Most of the laws deal with the functions of universities and educational professionals on college campuses in New York.
One of the bills (Senate Bill 2492), however, restricts the state from contracting with or investing in persons and businesses that “promote or engage in activities to boycott American allied nations,” a category that of course includes Israel.
These new laws and regulations are subject to interpretation by lawyers for the state and the venue, and one of the open questions is whether New York State has any investment or financial interest in Barclays or the Nassau Coliseum. This would certainly be an excellent test case for the new laws–a demonstration as to whether these laws have any teeth and of the ability of the governor and state officials to take a stand. On the other hand, this can be a telling moment on the matter of whether these laws are just there to point to in some future campaign for office. Do they really mean something? Can they keep an avowed BDS advocate out of New York and possibly even the United States?
The effort to protest the detestable behavior of Roger Waters, who seems to believe that he has great international support for his anti-Israel and anti-Jewish positions, is just getting under way. We will keep you updated as the effort progresses over the next few weeks.
Waters’s wall is not the only one causing Israel problems. The other wall-related matter is about the Western Wall, the Kotel, in Jerusalem–the remnant of the outer walls that once surrounded the Beis HaMikdash that contained the Holy of Holies, which was Gâ€‘d’s actual presence and abode down here in the physical world.
This other non-Trump wall problem has to do with the decision by the Netanyahu government to reverse plans to set up a space near the Western Wall for egalitarian services that invite men and women to worship together.
It seems that the prime minister really had no option. It was a matter of choosing between his government coalition falling apart and raising the ire of Conservative and Reform Jewish groups in the United States. These non-Orthodox denominations have been chomping at this issue for decades, and each time the issue is brought to the agenda it seems to be with a little more vigor and energy than the time prior.
But experience has proven that despite the intensity of the fury and indignation, something happens, some kind of concession is made, and it all goes away until the next time that it is brought to life for one reason or another.
The rightness and the wrongness of the approach to this issue by both sides would take far too much space to do justice to either side. The facts are that the Orthodox dominate religious matters in Israel. And they have the support of the people because, historically and traditionally, they stand firm and are committed to Jewish law as it has stood for thousands of years. A Jewish state cannot be guided on the matter of religion by groups or leaders who change the meaning of what it means to be a Jew on an almost annual basis.
There has to be a baseline standard, and that is what halachah as administered by the Orthodox in Israel provides. Interestingly enough, the overwhelming number of Israelis are not religious. In fact, it’s been said often that the shul that most Israelis do not attend is an Orthodox one. We will be spending more time on this story in the weeks ahead as some of our local New York rabbis are very involved in ameliorating the current crisis.
In the meantime, summer has begun and the hotels in Israel are jammed. I suppose you can say Israel is bursting with tourists and visitors despite the actions of the boycotters or the issues at the Kotel. In Israel, wall-to-wall problems are nothing new.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at email@example.com.