As always, a hat tip goes out to Richard Silverstein and Tikun Olam..
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A final note: On the bottom of this article we have listed the 37 search results of the name Robert Rechnitz from the Friedlander Group website. We were intrigued by an article about FBI Special Agent Frankel who spoke at an Agudath Israel Breakfast. We make no implications or assumptions in this notation, only insofar as we think it quite anomalous that an FBI special agent would speak at an Agudath Israel anything. What is more intriguing is perhaps the Agudath connection itself, which also includes the likes of Murray Huberfeld, Mark Nordlicht, the Rechnitz clan, the Bodner clan – a veritable who’s who of extremely wealthy individuals and families who we maintain may have acquired wealth under very unsavory circumstances. Continue reading
The only thing better than a nice, juicy sex scandal is a nice, juicy corruption scandal. Bibi Netanyahu has already had his very own sex scandal. But it didn’t manage to wreck his career or his marriage. The brewing corruption scandal threatens to do at leastone, if not the other.
I reported yesterday on an investigation that has caught up Netanyahu, his son, Yair, possibly his wife, Sara, and his former chief of staff Ari Harow. Today, a Channel 2 news report snares a new player in the scandal, Shlomo Rechnitz. There’s a baseball saying: you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. As this criminal probe expands, I’ll try to keep the players clearly identified and offer some background.
Rechnitz comes from a wealthy, extended ultra-Orthodox family based in California. The scion of the family and Shlomo’s uncle, is Robert Rechnitz, a real estate investor who founded the Bomel Companies and an Israeli subsidiary, Bomel Israel. He has been vice chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and founded a Congressional lobbying group on behalf of Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system (or should I say, “racket system?) the Iron Dome Tribute. He even developed a branding slogan: “the Humane Defensive Weapon.” I always thought the words “humane” and “weapon” were oxymorons. But not in the topsy-turvy world that is pro-Israel advocacy.
I learned all this not from Wikipedia or Rechnitz’s corporate biography, but from the corporate PR firm Rechnitz hired to polish his image, the Friedlander Group. Unfortunately, he didn’t hire them to monitor the reputation of his children and close family members. Because now two of them are in very hot water.
His nephew, Shlomo owns the largest nursing home conglomerate in California: Brius Healthcare Services (brius is the Yiddish version of the word for “health”). The State of California has investigated his firm numerous times for violations of health regulations. He was the subject of a class-action suit. His Pasadena nursing care facility was accused of recruiting felons as patients. Several employees faced criminal charges from that escapade. He complained once to the Sacramento Bee that the charges against him made him out to be “the Charles Manson of the nursing home business.” I’m guessing no one from Friedlander was available to accompany him to this interview. That image really sticks in your mind.
Not to mention the time he announced that his employees, for whom he’d purchased 18,000 Powerball tickets, had won the Powerball jackpot. The NY Times even featured him in a major story. Well, it turns out it wasn’t true. It was all a hoax, supposedly perpetrated by the son of one of the “winning” employees.
Rechnitz is also reported to have bought the anti-Haredi blog, Failed Messiah, written for years by Shmaryahu Rosenberg. Rechnitz and many of his associates had been skewered in its posts for years. Though conditions of the sale were not made public, they apparently bar Rosenberg from creating a new blog; or at least one covering the same subject as his old one. That online property promptly disappeared from the internet. Clearly, the Haredi community had withstood the slings and arrows of outrageous (mis)fortune from Rosenberg’s pen for too long. The tycoon stepped in to end the attacks. Lately, a new iteration of the blog, Lost Messiah, was launched by former readers of the old blog who wished to maintain the service it had done to the Orthodox community and the Jewish world.
Rechnitz appears to be playing a lead role in the Scandal of the Day as a major donor to Netanyahu and the Likud. His uncle, Robert, was the western chair of American Friends of the Likud, which would mean he both donated and raised massive sums from Orthodox Jews on behalf of the Israel far-right. As such, the elder Rechnitz would’ve worked closely with Ari Harow, the man in the spotlight of the current scandal. That’s how Shlomo would’ve come to the attention of the Israeli police investigating the money-laundering operation. Among Shlomo’s wide and varied philanthropic endeavors was funding Hebron yeshivas, among the most virulently racist and violent in Israel.
I haven’t dug deeply into the background of Victor Deutsch, Harow’s former business partner. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he too is Orthodox and perhaps a close friend of the Rechnitz family. If this guess turns out to be true, Deutsch would have excellent motive to benefit Harow and the Likud by the sort of fraudulent business transaction they’re accused of arranging, in selling the latter’s company for $3-million in largely unaccounted-for funds.
Another Rechnitz facing the glare of bad PR is Jona, Robert’s son and cousin to Shlomo. Jona began his career in real estate working for Lev Leviev’s Africa Israel. Leviev, who began his own career as a blood diamond merchant to the stars, also maintains vast real estate holdings in the U.S., Britain and Israel. His company has also built Israeli settlements. Jona helped manage the Leviev real estate portfolio in New York until they had a falling out. After that, Rechnitz formed his own company, JSR Capital.
Jona and another wealthy Hasidic Jew have beenswept up in the bribery and corruption scandal which has rocked the De Blasio administration in New York City. They did favors for the corrupt head of the city prison officers union, Norman Seabrook, and offered gifts and benefits to senior police officers in the precinct where they lived. Among the crooked deals was a $60,000 payment to Seabrook (paid in a $1,000 Ferragamo hand bag) in return for the union boss’ steering $20-million to a Rechnitz associate’s investment fund. Seabrook was miffed as he’d been told he could net $150,000 from the arrangement.
Among other favors were all-expenses paid gambling junkets to Las Vegas on a private jet. Another part of the entertainment provided was a prostitute dressed as a flight attendant whose “services” included far more than providing drinks and snacks.
Presumably, Rechnitz did this so he could gain favorable service response and attention from local police personnel in Brooklyn Orthodox neighborhoods. But he had even bigger ambitions, which led him and his associate made six-figure donations to various DeBlasio political fundraising vehicles once he’d won the Democratic mayoral primary.
Jona lobbied the City Council and succeeded in gaining a $655,000 “discretionary” allocation to underwrite a “cultural sensitivity” police training seminar hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which was Rechnitz’ pet project. Presumably, part of the curriculum was learning sensitivity to the special interests of the Haredi community. You certainly won’t find any sensitivity to the Muslim community in this program.
All of this paints a portrait of a wealthy Haredi family parlaying money into political clout on a local, national and international scale. Unlike other American families in which wealth is wielded within discrete nuclear families, in the Haredi world extended families (clans) unite to pursue objectives that benefit both their families personally and their extended Orthodox communities. It’s certainly cleaner and less deadly than the old Italian mob. But as the Netanyahu investigation shows, it’s no less venal and corrupt.
Lost Messiah must credit Richard Silverstein and Tikun Olam for the historical perspective and eloquent insights. Please view the site. Silverstein is beautifully eloquent and the pure definition of a journalist, whether or not you agree with his perspectives. We’ve had eight years to consider his comments and we have apparently done a grossly inadequate job of learning from history.
On December, 8, 2008 Richard Silverstein the author and editor of Tikun Olam posted an article regarding a Long Island Orthodox Jewish Columnist who advocated for the killing of Muslims. On December 18, 2008 he published a follow-up article.
Today, following a massacre in Orlando, we posted a video wherein a Chabad member advocated for the killing of members of the LGBT community, on the generally same anti-Biblical grounds.
Previously, we had posted several posts about radical Jewish fundamentalism, including a post with videos of Rabbis preaching the killing of Muslims using basically the same agruments the Islamic Fundamentalists use for killing Jews. This is a subject particularly relevant whether you accept that the Orlando shooter committed this act of atrocity because he was a Muslim terrorist or because he was mentally unstable and hated the LGBT community. Either way, what happened in Orlando was a hate crime of epic proportions.
As a Jewish community or as members of a blogosphere which criticizes and scrutinizes the ills of the Jewish community, Lost Messiah believes that these articles have relevance in the picture they paint of extremism and its cross-religious scope. While the articles posted below are historical they are nonetheless very much a part of today’s religious extremist parlance.
It has been nearly 8 years since Silverstein posted the below two articles but the same articles could have just as easily been posted today. They reflect in vivid color current events if not equal than magnified.
We would be remiss were we not to ask the question: are we in a state of increasing fundamentalism and extremism within ultra-Orthodox Judaism or are these isolated incidents. Is this a sign of the diminishing state of Judaism? We find it unsettling.
You take a stab at judging for yourself.
Once again let me say I find astonishing the near total silence of the organized Jewish community and media to Lawrence Kulak’s diatribe against Islam published in the Long Island Orthodox paper, Five Towns Jewish Times. In his guest column, he claimed that if Islamists kill innocent non-Muslims that Muslim innocents should similarly be targeted for murder. Essentially, an invitation to anti-Muslim mass murder:
“The only way to deal with Islamic terrorists is the same way in which they deal with their victims. Muslims believe in the literal interpretation of the Biblical doctrine of an eye for an eye…They killed our innocents, and unless we kill theirs, they will go on killing ours. The Torah, however, preaches a doctrine which…would finally put an end to all Islamic terror: if somebody is coming to kill you, rise up and kill him first.”
The fact that Kulak was diagnosed in 1991 with a bipolar disorder and hospitalized at a mental health facility never appears to have factored into the publisher’s editorial decision about publishing the piece. Not only has the 20,000-circulation paper’s editor not distanced himself from the column (though he HAS strangely removed it from the website), he has gone on the counter-attack against the Muslim organization which first brought the world’s attention to Kulak’s hate speech, CAIR.
The Muslim defense organization has a lot of nerve pointing out the deficiencies of the Jewish paper’s editorial when CAIR won’t denounce every single terrorist act ever committed by a Muslim against anyone. It doesn’t matter than CAIR HAS in fact denounced Muslim terror. They haven’t denounced the particular Muslim terrorists who most exercise Gordon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. So instead of taking responsibility for the hash he’s made of things, Gordon decides to blame the Muslim victim for his attack.
In my own post about this I wrote that Kulak’s piece was a meandering anti-Muslim rant. If possible, Larry Gordon, the paper’s editor, wrote an even more lugubrious, non-responsive reply. The most relevant passage is this one:
The editorial staff of the Five Towns Jewish Times decries the notion of any support of terrorism, and we fully support the United States government’s War on Terrorism. As an Orthodox Jewish weekly, the 5TJT also rejects the demonization of Muslims, both in this country and abroad. If any such implication of supporting the terrorization or murder of innocent Muslims who do not support terrorists or terrorist activities was made by an article in the 5TJT, it was due simply to a poor choice of words—a slip of the author’s pen, if you will. Read in its entirety, the article is clearly conveying the message that members of a community that supports terrorists and allows them to remain in its midst should not expect to escape retaliation.
For the editor, the fact that Kulak clearly advocating killing Muslim “innocents” is a mere “poor choice of words–a slip of the author’s pen.” Somehow Gordon transmutes Kulak’s phrasing into a hardly less offensive locution that Muslim members of communities supporting terror deserve retaliation. Kulak advocated western nations and Israel invading Pakistan to exterminate Muslim militants. Gordon’s articulation would also justify such egregious violation of international law. So what has his warped apologia gained? Not much.
To make matters worse, the paper has published a defense Kulak wrote of his column in which he included this memorable contradiction of the passage I quoted above:
I never advocated the wanton killing of innocent Muslims…
Has he forgotten this passage? “They killed our innocents, and unless we kill theirs, they will go on killing ours.” I thought killing innocents was automatically “wanton” killing. Or has somehow Islamist terror caused the killing of Muslim civilians to become acceptable?
The ADL, the ony Jewish group to respond in any way to this Jewish publishing outrage, published a generic objection that wasn’t even attributed to a staff person:
We were shocked by Lawrence Kulak’s suggestion that Jews should kill innocent Muslim civilians to counter Islamic terrorism.
Regardless of one’s views on terrorism, to even entertain the notion of responding in kind is morally reprehensible and appalling. It is unfair to hold innocent Muslims responsible for the radical views of an extreme minority.
In the Jewish tradition, words have consequences. In this case, Kulak’s words crossed the line.
“Crossed the line.” That’s as bothered as the organized Jewish community seems to be by Kulak’s Islamophobic hate.
I’m pleased to note as distinguished a theologian as University of Chicago professor Martin Marty has denounced the Five Towns diatribe in Sightings his weekly newsletter:
Kulak is unsentimental in his “kill them all” approach…The problem of making a principle of this…is that the…counter-belligerents who read this…editorial–and read them they do–find occasion to raise the price, engage in more indiscriminate violence, and that, in turn…impels us to raise it still higher and engage in ever more violence…We all know that in all wars, including those we call “just” or “good,” there are “collateral damages” and deaths of innocents. However, making a principle out of doing so, and especially doing so on religious grounds, only invites more violence. Then there are no eyes to trade for eyes, teeth to exact for teeth, while hatred and violence triumph.
If Martin Marty finds this important enough to write about why can’t Jewish organizations? Why can’t Abe Foxman actually sign his name to the ADL denunciation of this malarkey? Why can’t we Jews tell the world in no uncertain terms that the Kulaks and any Jewish paper that publishes him do not represent us in any way shape and form?
I note that Reb Kulak discovered my denunciation of his work and published his own diatribe here:
I would love to personally drive you and Marty into Gaza and then return several hours later to watch the vultures pick at the remains. (and later watch the vultures drop dead from ingesting poison)
That’s slightly less murderous than advocating mass killing of Muslim innocents, but not much. Thanks to RM for the links and some background research for this post.
I’ve been writing Tikun Olam, one of the earliest progressive Jewish blogs, since February, 2003. It focuses on exposing the excesses of the Israeli national security state.
I wrote a chapter for the Independent Jewish Voices essay collection, A Time to Speak Out (Verso) and will contribute a chapter to the upcoming, Israel and Palestine: Alternate Perspectives on Statehood (Rowman & Littlefield). I currently contribute regularly to Middle East Eye and Mint Press News. In the past, I’ve contributed to Truthout, Haaretz, Christian Science Monitor, Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, Comment Is Free and Al Jazeera English. My work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine. The NY Times featured my reporting about the Shamai Leibowitz FBI tapes on its front page.
Two particularly disturbing cases are roiling the Israeli judicial system this week. In the first, a court ruled that an Orthodox Jewish former school principal wanted on 74 counts of child sex abuse in Australia (the account of one victim is here), should be set completely free. The Australian legal system has requested her extradition from Israel, to which she had fled in the dead of night, for almost a year.
Malka Leifer, Australian Orthodox Jewish principal accused of 74 counts of sex abuse
Malka Leifer, who was the principal of the Orthodox girl’s school in Victoria, was wanted for questioning regarding the charges. But she absconded with the likely connivance of other school staff and community members. She flew to Israel where she knew she would receive immediate asylum regardless of her criminal charges. Ever since, she’s been feigning mental illness every time a Israeli court date approaches.
She’s received psychiatric evaluations during a hospital stay in which staff reported she was completely normal except when a formal review was conducted that would impact her court case. Then she donned a different disguise entirely.
In a surprise move, the Israeli court, freed her under one condition: that she undergo a six-month psychiatric evaluation process involving a single meeting every month for six months. After that, the court plans to review her status.
The State prosecutor plans to appeal this decision. The Australian government expressed mild shock at today’s decision. Though they will have to get much tougher if they expect any movement from the Israeli political-judicial system.
An Israeli lawyer noted to me that Israeli courts are loath to approve the extradition of Jews within their jurisdiction to their home countries when facing criminal charges. My guess is that it has something to do with a taboo against Jews handing other Jews over to Christian authorities. Jews traditionally have always preferred to mete out justice internally, not knowing how severe the sentence Jews might receive in a non-Jewish system. There is also a prohibition against informing on fellow Jews to the non-Jewish authorities. Of course, in the modern era all this should be considered hocus-pocus in the face of international law and judicial precedent. But apparently not in Israel, where ancient traditions remain alive.
Leifer also plays two other powerful cards. She is a woman and an Orthodox Jew. Israeli courts, in another throwback, often tend to defer to traditional Jewish belief and practice. There is a natural inclination to believe that an Orthodox Jew could not behave in such a fashion. Hence a refusal to take the charges against her seriously.
Manny Wax, himself a victim of sexual abuse at a Chabad Jewish Day School in Australia, calls the decision an outrage. He also supports the claim that Leifer’s posture was an act and that she’d getting away with the equivalent of murder.
This case comes during a period of prolonged tension in Australian-Israel relations which began with the Mossad’s exploiting Australian passports in the assassination plot against Mahmoud al-Mabouh. That led to the expulsion of the Mossad station chief in Australia. Then, the Mossad secretly arrested Australian Jewish agent, Ben Zygier. They imprisoned him in secret isolation, which in turn drove him to suicide. Israel only barely smoothed things over with a $1-million payment to Zygier’s Australian parents and Israeli wife.
It’s hard to believe that the Israeli justice system wants to return to the strained relations that characterized these past two episodes. And how can relations not be strained when Israel is harboring an accused sex offender who preyed on so many Jewish children? Is there any possible justification for this? Given that Australia is ruled by a right-wing government it’s possible it will not fight hard to get Leifer back. If so, that would be a shame. More than that, it would be almost criminal.
In the second case, Israeli family rights activist, blogger and journalist, Lory Shem Tov was arrested by Israeli police (Hebrew; an English story here) for the crime of practicing journalism. A father who kidnapped his son after finding videotapes of his wife beating the boy (Hebrew), contacted Shem Tov, hoping to interest her and Israeli media in his case. Though their names have not been widely reported, I believe it’s important to have full and open discourse on this subject. The father’s name is Roi Cohen, the mother’s name is Batya (Mizrahi) Cohen and the child’s name is Yehudah Cohen.
My hope is that a real child with a real name will engender enough sympathy within Israel for the public and child welfare advocates to rally on his behalf.
The police threatened the TV news show that planned to run a story (which cancelled the segment) and arrested Lory. It searched her home and confiscated her computer. The mother’s lawyer succeeded in getting a judge to slap a gag order on the case and no Israeli media outlet can report this outrage and name the victim. The mother claimed she did so in order to “protect her son.” Which is ironic considering that the video shows her beating him. She had earlier claimed it was the father who had beat the boy. This is yet another example of a state whose judicial system embraces opacity, rather than transparency. A state which permits miscarriages of justice on a regular basis.
In court testimony (Hebrew), Lory’s lawyer elicited from police that she was not suspected of committing any crime. She had not conspired to kidnap the child nor had she helped hide the father and son. The police believed that if she was free she might “sabotage the investigation.” Note again that this is not a crime. In fact, it is a form of preventive detention. Arresting someone because you believe they may commit a crime. Except in national security or military justice cases, there is no such concept in Israeli law. Therefore, the police are violating Israeli law. But they may do so because they are the police and the court defers to them, even when they invent it. In any western democracy observing the rule of law, this is a flagrant abuse of state power. Yet in Israel a judge extends her remand in deference to State power.
The Israeli online news portal, Walla!, notes that since former Shabak deputy chief became national police chief, the police have escalated their war against journalists. Earlier, an Army Radio journalist was arrested for requesting comment for a story from a Jerusalem municipal employee, who filed a complaint for harassment. Now here I thought municipal employees were meant to serve the public, not the other way around.😏
UPDATE: In the past few minutes, Lory was released from prison. But the police have retained her computer and other personal items.
Not to mention that Lory is a journalist. Her goal is not to commit a crime or further a criminal conspiracy, but to inform the Israeli public of a great social wrong. In well-functioning societies, the role of activist and whistleblower is valued. Such societies understand that they need reformers challenging the system if it is to transform itself for the good. A society which criminalizes such behavior is one that is dysfunctional and moribund. That is, alas Israel.