A few days ago I received a seemingly polite, deferential e mail from someone named Mark Halawa telling me I might be interested in a post he’d just written. When I saw the website I knew there was a lot more there than met the eye. He had published at the Aish HaTorah website. Anyone who knows anything about Aish or me knows that we don’t exactly see eye to eye on anything related to Judaism or Israel. So I realized there must be something hinky about Mark’s e mail:
My name is Mark, and I’m very much impressed with your message.
Below is a link for my article that was published on Aish.com last week. Feel at liberty to use it, and let me know how I can be of help.
When I read his post I knew there was. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this when I initially received his e mail and assumed it was a personal message. On further review, this likely was an e-mail spam blast sent to scores or hundreds of sites. The wording is vague enough that it could be sent as a mass mailing. So it’s possible Halawa didn’t even know who he was dealing with when he e mailed me.
It seems that Mark is following in a long line of dutiful “moderate” (or “good”) Muslims who far-right pro-Israel groups use to impeach Islam. The list is long and fascinating: Wafa Sultan, Nonie Darwish, Tawfiq Hamid, Walid Shoebat, Zuhdi Jasser, etc. What all these have in common is that they’re trotted out by Aish HaTorah via their Islam hate movies. Being a relatively new recruit, Halawa hasn’t yet been featured. But he will be. If not in a movie, you can be sure he’ll be visiting a Hillel or synaoguge near you warning about the evils of Islam and the wonders of Judaism Aish-style.
Since we know that a good number of the Muslim turncoats especially Walid Shoebat are frauds it’s useful to dwell on a few of Mark’s claims. Now, I’m not claiming that Mark is one. But the possibility exists based on previous bad faith shown by Aish and similar groups using these people for their own political ends.
Though this story is less lurid, it does remind me somewhat of the account of the so-called former Hezbollah intelligence agent turned Haredi Jew and follower of one of Israel’s most racist anti-Arab rabbis, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu. Now that one was a real whopper!
Mark, who was raised as a secular Muslim in Kuwait, claims that his maternal grandmother is Jewish. On meeting an alleged Orthodox former philosophy professor, the latter tells him that means he is Jewish. I’m trying to check out the halacha on this claim. Of course, Orthodox Judaism is based on matrilineal descent, but I’ve never heard of some claiming to be Jewish based on a grandmother being Jewish. At best, this is a very tenuous claim to being Jewish since his mother clearly wasn’t raised Jewish.
But the proof he posits for his grandmother’s Jewishness seems flimsy:
I recalled how my grandmother had a funny name on her documents, Mizrachi, which I never heard before. She also had a small prayer book with Hebrew letters, and she prayed in the dark crying. (I thought the Wailing Wall was so named because crying was a part of prayer.)
Aside from a vague family legend, my grandmother never mentioned anything about being Jewish — but now the pieces were fitting into place…
I went to my room and called my mother. She rebuffed the story, saying, “Don’t listen to people like that. We are Muslims and that’s that.”
I decided to call my grandmother myself and bring up the subject.
I beat around the bush a bit — after all, she’d been denying it for the past 50 years — and then finally blurted out, “Grandma, are you Jewish?”
She didn’t answer the question directly, but she started crying and spoke about the years of Arab-Israeli conflict. She told me how her brother Zaki had been killed in Jerusalem before the rebirth of the State. To me that was sufficient confirmation of her Jewishness and I decided to leave it at that.
Well that seals it, her brother was killed in 1948, therefore she must be Jewish. There may be more family history here that he’s not telling us, but this isn’t in the least convincing. If this guy isn’t lying, he’s really digging deep to prove something he desperately wants to be true.
This passage too seems suspect to me. Keep in mind that he’s describing a supposedly Jewish Palestinian girl in the pre-1948 period falling in love with a Palestinian Arab in Jordanian army uniform:
My mother’s parents met in Jerusalem when my grandfather, an Arab from the West Bank, was serving in the Jordanian army fighting the Zionists. He was 18 years old and my grandmother was 16. Her father ran a school in Jerusalem — the same school where she would jump off the wall to meet my handsome, uniformed grandfather. They fell in love, got married, and lived for a number of years in Shechem (Nablus).
How likely would it be for any Jewish girl to fall in love with a Jordanian soldier “fighting Zionists?” Again, I can’t say for sure that this is a sack of lies, but it sure smells funny.
Halawa claims that his suspicions about his grandmother’s origins made him predisposed to feel sympathetic to Israel:
Whenever we were on vacation in Amman, Jordan, I used to constantly watch the Israeli channel — when my parents weren’t around. My favorite was the Israeli national anthem, and I would stay up late waiting to hear them play it at the end of the TV transmission.
How touching that Mark knew at that early an age he was an Arab Zionist. But explain to me this, Mark: how would this have gone over in a household in which your father was allegedly a Pan-Arab Nasserist?? Once again, there’s something wrong here.
The scene Mark describes of visiting a synagogue for the first time is absolutely priceless. I tell you the guy should be writing for television. He takes one look at the Black man, Indian and Egyptian all praying together and pfffft! he knows this is where he’s meant to be his whole life. And don’t you know the tears fell like rain (even I almost shed one about as crocodile as the ones he was shedding).
There is another tell-tale sign that all might not be well in Mark’s story. Keep in mind this is the first time he’s ever visited a synagogue and he presumably knows no Hebrew:
“I can’t believe I’m here, singing and praying in Hebrew. I could never have imagined it.”
Nor can I. No one who has never been to a Jewish religious service and knows no Hebrew could “sing and pray in Hebrew” the first time he’s done it. For someone to master the prayers and the language requires years of deep immersion. The language is difficult to master and quite archaic in places. It simply beggars belief that he could feel so at home in the language and music of the Shabbat service from the get go.
In the following passage, you finally get a glimpse of what Mark’s selling and it’s little more than the religious far-right anti-Muslim snake oil:
In the Arab world there are tons of misconceptions and misinformation regarding Israel. So I am working to develop a program to educate Arabs about Jews and Judaism, to dissolve the stereotypes propagated by the Muslim media and schools. I hope that my unique background can help bridge some of that divide.
Indeed. Before Mark dissolves stereotypes and starts “truth-telling” to Muslims about Judaism he might want to come clean about himself and dispense with the fantasy he’s spun in this story. Mark’s “program” reminds me of why I called him the “Manchurian Muslim” above. For groups like Aish HaTorah, discoveries (or frauds) like Mark are pure gold. They are secret weapons which Jews turn around and launch against the Muslims to undermine their cause. They also serve to warm the cockles of the hearts of Jews who need to believe in the inherent superiority of Judaism to Islam.
Surprisingly, Mark addresses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only obliquely and refers to it in terms that are not at all characteristic of the pro-Israel far right. Again, either Mark hasn’t quite drunk the Aish Kool Aid, or he’s dissembling since this is far too Kumbaya for a real Aish follower:
It often seems like the Arab-Israeli conflict is intractable. Yet I believe in today’s world, there is a real opportunity for a breakthrough. Arabs today have a more universal education, which makes them more open and curious. Also they are meeting Israelis and Jews in their travels around the world, which breaks down misconceptions. And as we saw during the recent protests in Iran, many young people in the Muslim world are yearning for reform. On top of all this, they have high-speed Internet access which opens up all kinds of new avenues of communication, and the possibility of forming new friendships unrestricted by borders or political agendas. Perhaps this can be the basis of a grassroots movement to mend relations and hopefully one day achieve peace.
And perhaps Alan Dershowitz is Anne Coulter in drag.
Mark does have one classic Orthodox right-wing obsession–Arab men on the prowl for Jewish women. According to Mark, it’s an epidemic:
The other issue that needs urgent attention is intermarriage in Israel. Unfortunately, a story like my grandmother’s is not so rare. Many young Jewish women are wooed by Arab men and brought back to live in their villages.
“Many” of course is an extreme exaggeration, which seems to characterize Mark’s entire story. But it is true that for the Israeli far-right miscegenation is a deeply disturbing phenomenon much like it was in the Jim Crow South. It’s also instructive that Meir Kahane used to rail about precisely the same issue, while concealing that he had an adulterous affair with an Italian-American woman who killed herself when he abandoned her.
Finally, this e-mail reply from Mark to the first e-mail I sent him, in which I warned him that Aish was a nasty organization, brought forth this reply containing some uncharacteristically naughty language for a supposed Orthodox Jew:
That’s a horrible message, Richard. You have lots of hate blinding your eyes, and you run a site called Tikkun Olam!!!
You’ve exposed the real person you are; calling my people Nasty!
Its unfortunate, people like you use our religion for their own advancement, and financial gain.
Not a single Jew I’ve met in the past 7 years, ever spoke or incited against another religions.. Islam or other.
But here you are (a christian or messianic shit most probably) the first bigot! That knows nothing else but fowl [sic] thoughts and evil, for the lack of better education. You’re the nastiest person I’ve heard from, you’re [sic] own family probably hates you. What a scam!!!
Half of me wanted to report him to his Aish rebbe for fowl language! But I was especially tickled by his accusation that I was “christian messianic shit” and that I was exploiting my religion for “financial gain.”
Curious also that Mark claims that he’s never met anyone at Aish who “incited against another religion.” Keep in mind this is the same Aish (through its subsidiary Clarion Fund) which produced the two most hateful films about Islam in the past few decades: Obsession and Third Jihad. Aish and their fellow partners in religious holy war, Ateret Kohanim want to rebuild the Third Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands. No incitement there either. I don’t know whether Mark is a brainwashed ex-Muslim or an out-and-out fraud. But whatever it is, he’s yet another sorry example of the Jewish religious right attempting to perpetrate fraud on any gullible parties who’ll listen to the message.