Most American Jews think they already know the answer to this question. Whether it is the correct answer is another story. For non-American readers who don’t know Rush Limbaugh, he is the leading U.S. talk radio show host, the avatar of the only predominantly conservative genre of American media.
The title of this column may be considered shorthand in two ways. First, the pro-Israel bona fides are a question generally only for non-Orthodox rabbis, who tend to have a left/liberal orientation in all things political. And the question posed by the title may be applied to American conservative talk radio hosts in general, and not just Rush Limbaugh.
Here are a few criteria to judge who is the greater supporter of Israel:
- Who supports forceful action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons? (The talk show hosts do.) Who opposes it in the interests of “peace”? Your rabbi? (If you don’t believe Iran’s leaders in possession of nuclear weapons represent a fundamental threat to Israel, skip the rest of this article, and move on to the children’s section.)
- Who supported and who opposed intervention in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power? (The talk show hosts supported it.) Apparently the lives of Israeli Jews did not weigh too heavily in the deliberations of the opponents of the intervention. As some of us still recall, he was paying suicide bomber families $25,000 each for the killing of Jews.
- Who favors acting against Islamofascist threats to the western world? (The talk show hosts do.) Who appeases them in the name of “peace” and “goodwill”? (Your rabbi?) Who meets with radical Muslims who support terrorism against Israelis, and/or their apologists in the name of “interfaith dialogue”? (Your rabbi?)
- From whom do you hear more criticism of Israel? (Not often heard from these talk show hosts.)
We may expand the scope of the title’s question further, to consider who is more supportive of traditional Jewish values. Values such as heterosexual marriage, the sanctity of life (remember the Talmudic “whoever saves a single life is as if he saved an entire world”?), and liberty and freedom.
In each of these instances, the views of the talk show hosts are fully consonant with traditional Judaic values. That is not true of many non-Orthodox rabbis, whose values are more synchronized with those of left-wing political tenets and America’s Democrat/Obama party.
One area where some talk show hosts and rabbis may tie is that of tzedakah. While we don’t know the competitors’ personal contributions, many hosts and rabbis both use their “pulpits” to promote contributions to good causes. Limbaugh raises funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (and makes sizable personal contributions), and fellow host Sean Hannity raises funds for the Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides support to families of injured and fallen American servicemen and women. (In stark contrast, public broadcasters such as National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service stations tend to use their airwaves to raise money only for themselves — on top of the taxpayer dollars they involuntarily expropriate from the public.)
I invite readers to participate in an informal poll by providing their answers to the question posed by the title by commenting below. One caveat: For your vote to qualify, your opinion must be based on a substantive first-hand acquaintance with the views of both parties. I.e., you must have a rabbi that you have heard speak, and you must have personally heard at some length Limbaugh or another host; your opinion cannot be based on what others, especially figures in the media, have told you, said, or reported about the talk show host. (Aside from the media’s political agenda that differs from the talk show hosts’, the talk shows are their competition. Thus the media has a double vested interest – ideological and commercial — in denigrating them.)
The point here is to reflect on who are are Judaism’s real friends and who are not; who are real supporters of Israel, and who are not. As time passes and the world changes, tradition and conventional wisdom often do not provide the right answers.