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Double Indemnity

The Obama Administration sides with the bad guys in a landmark court case against Palestinian terrorism

By Ted Lapkin

Just when you think Barack Obama’s indifference to Jewish sensibilities couldn’t get any more obscene, he goes and instructs his Justice Department to side with Palestinian terrorists against American victims of terror.

At issue is a civil action for damages filed in New York by ten American families whose loved ones were wounded by Palestinian terrorist attacks that took place in Israel during the 2nd Intifada.

The respondents in this case – the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation – lost big time at the court of first instance, with a Manhattan jury handing down an award of $218.5 million. But that sum was then tripled to an eye-watering US$655.5 million by provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act under which the suit was filed.

The PA and PLO plan to appeal, but have asked the court to waive the bond requirement imposed by US civil procedure rules that totals 111% of the judgement’s value. Needless to say, the plaintiffs – the victims’ families – have strenuously objected to the granting of such a waiver.

Enter the Obama Administration.

In a move described by the New York Times as “unusual”, the Justice Department filed a document entitled “Statement of Interest of the United States of America”. In the world according to Barack Hussein Obama, American interests apparently involve shielding those blameworthy of terrorism from the full financial consequences of their actions.

To his considerable credit, NY Democrat Senator Charles Schumer penned a letter urging US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to refrain from injecting the Justice Department into this case:

“I write to request that you refrain from taking any action in the case of Sokolow v. Palestinian Liberation Organization in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York …

Last February a jury found that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) culpable for terrorism and ordered a judgement of $655.5 million. I am troubled to hear United States Department of Justice is considering asking the Court to protect the PLO and PA from having to pay the judgment. Congress passed the Antiterrorism Act to give American families a remedy and to hold perpetrators of terrorism accountable for their actions. The judge in this case has the power to determine details of the judgement, including when and how it should be paid. The size of the judgement in this case reflects the severity of the crimes and the large numbers of families affected.  I believe that the jury’s decision in this case, and the judge’s subsequent determinations, should be respected and the wheels of justice should be allowed to move forward without interference from the administration.”

Coming on the heels of Schumer’s decision to vote against the Iran nuclear deal, his Loretta Lynch letter is a testament to the senator’s moral courage. He has twice shown a willingness to follow his conscience in the face of political arm-twisting from the White House and public vitriol from Obama’s acolytes in the press and academia. And as the Wall Street Journal pointed out on Monday, much of this criticism is replete with accusations of dual-loyalty and other “anti-Semitic tropes.”

Meanwhile back in the Land of Milk and Honey there’s been an exceedingly important development in one of the suppurating political sores that has long been an irritant in Israel-Diaspora relations. A group of prominent rabbis from the modern orthodox National Religious movement have defied the Chief Rabbinate by forming alternative conversion courts under the rubric of ‘Giyur KeHalacha’ – ‘Conversion According to Jewish Law’.

While still conforming to all the requirements of Halacha, these new courts will adopt a more welcoming approach to prospective converts as opposed to the draconian attitude of the Chief Rabbinate. The primary targets of this initiative are the 300,000 or so Israelis-of-Russian origin who identify with Am Yisrael and the State of Israel, but are not halachically Jewish.

One of the initiators of the Giyur KeHalacha initiative is Major General (reserves) Elazar Stern, a paratrooper who concluded his military service with a term as the IDF’s Chief of Personnel.

One of Stern’s more notable initiatives as personnel chief was the implementation of a streamlined conversion process for non-halachically Jewish Israeli soldiers. Winning a seat in the Knesset at the 2013 election, he then introduced private members bill that would devolve authority to preside over conversions from exclusive control of the Chief Rabbinate to municipal rabbis throughout Israel.

But placing political expedience above principle, Prime Minister Netanyahu used parliamentary procedure to prevent passage of this bill he had previously supported. Or in other words, Netanyahu buckled in the face of pressure from those political elements with a vested interest in retaining the centralised authority of the Chief Rabbinate.

In an opinion piece for Ynet, Stern drew upon his IDF experience to make a compelling case for a more flexible attitude towards those who wish to join their fate with that of Klal Yisrael:

“Throughout the generations, conversions were performed by both sages of the House of Shammai and sages of the House of Hillel. Both were accepted by the people of Israel …

There is no ‘chief rabbinate’ in Jewish Law. It’s a political institution aimed at seeing the State of Israel as “reshit tzmihat geulatenu” (the start of our salvation process), but in practice it put the keys for entering the Jewish people in the hands of a group which also includes people who oppose the State’s actual existence. 

In Israel today there about 130,000 boys and girls, young men and women, who feel Jewish before their marriage, serve as Jews and contribute to the State of Israel’s security and prosperity.

Fourteen such babies are born every day, and a rabbinate which estranges itself from them is a rabbinate which estranges itself from us, including the religious ones among us – those who don’t shut themselves off in ghettos, those who you meet in the IDF, in universities and in workplaces, those who see them as part of us, those whose children and grandchildren will want to start a loyal home in Israel with them, those who are trying to help them convert – and are willing to “assimilate” with them, if that’s what the Chief Rabbinate forces them to do …

I attended the deliberations of the newly established private court on Monday evening and was excited. The great sages of Israel – who were not elected in a dirty political deal, but by the power of being great Torah scholars – presented a remedy for the minors they converted, for their parents, and perhaps more than anything – for all those who insist on seeing Israel as a Jewish state and not just as a religious state.

Those children who the court converted and is slated to convert are rejected by the Rabbinate and its emissaries for different reasons, like studying in a certain school, being too young, or due to their parents or siblings’ conduct … 

We’ll find solutions as part of the Halacha which knows, as it has throughout the generations, how to deal with the current reality of the Jewish or Israeli society, which knows that if we don’t do so, Israel won’t last as a Jewish state – and if there is no Jewish state, there will be no state at all.

It’s time for the Chief Rabbinate to become committed to the entire Israeli society. It’s time to say: There are rabbis in Israel, not just in Jerusalem.”

Sounds good to me.