Officials of Aish HaTorah, one of Orthodox Judaism’s most successful outreach programs, have launched a controversial media campaign depicting masses of Muslims worldwide — including mainstream American Muslims — as an extremist threat, while Aish itself denies involvement in the effort.
In moves suggesting a new, more partisan direction for Aish activists, spin-offs of the popular educational group have produced or promoted films depicting anti-Western Islamic extremists as heading a mass movement enjoying the avid support of tens of millions of Muslims worldwide who are keen to bring down Western civilization.
Charges of presidential politics have also entered the picture: Last month, an Aish offshoot, the Clarion Fund, distributed millions of DVDs of one of the films, “Obsession,” to swing states in the presidential campaign.
And until it was removed recently, Clarion’s Web site touted the counter-terrorism policies of Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate, as superior to those of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.
DVD copies of “Obsession” were also inserted into a book that went out last March to about 20,000 members of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a partisan political organization. The coalition distributed the book, via a Virginian mailing house, at the request of Christians United for Israel, an Evangelical group opposed to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both CUFI and the RJC deny they were responsible for the insertion.
Critics charge that Clarion, a tax-exempt charity, has inserted itself into a partisan political race in violation of its charitable status. But officials at Clarion Fund reject this. And Aish HaTorah, with a yeshiva and branches in 35 cities around the world, adamantly denies any involvement in the film.
“We have people involved in different things all around the world,” said Aish spokesman Ronn Torossian. “Two employees were involved in the film. We [also] have Aish employees in Brazil involved in green campaigns and rabbis in New York who run the marathon.”
In fact, at least six top Aish HaTorah officials are tied to “Obsession” via Aish spin-offs, including Clarion's president and two vice presidents. Clarion’s address is also the same as that of Aish HaTorah International, a fundraising arm of Aish HaTorah.
Now, the content of “Obsession” and its ties to Aish are leading some rabbis to strongly criticize the production — and Aish HaTorah itself —for, as they view it, using a broad brush-stroke to smear the entire Muslim community. Some fear the central role of Aish HaTorah officials in “Obsession” and two other films by the same producers puts Jews at the center of those promoting a “clash of civilizations.”
“Obsession,” said Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Alexandria, Va., is “the protocols of the learned elders of Saudi Arabia.”
Rabbi Moline, named by Newsweek this year as one of the country’s top 25 pulpit rabbis, added, “The integrity of our own Jewish community requires that people speak up critically” about the film. (Full Story)