Ben Shapiro, the right-wing political commentator with millions of subscribers across multiple platforms, was recently interviewed by the BBC’s Andrew Neil. The broadcast, during which Shapiro accused Neil of being “left wing” and “biased” before abruptly ending the interview, quickly went viral, with many presenting it as proof of Shapiro’s weak reasoning. But while his fans and haters focus on the video’s portrayal of him, another issue is overshadowed: Shapiro’s hateful statements against his fellow Jews.
Ben Shapiro presents himself – in this interview, as at all times – as an Orthodox, religious Jew. His legion of followers all know (and are happy to inform you if you don’t) that he proudly wears a kippah. At around the 11-minute mark of the interview, Neil challenges Shapiro’s position that Jews who voted for former U.S. president Barack Obama are “Jews in name only,” or “JINOs.” Instead of apologizing for a statement that attacked the three-quarters of American Jews who voted for Obama, Shapiro doubled down and said that he was responding “as an Orthodox Jew who actually takes Judaism seriously.”
A minute later, Neil noted that Shapiro wrote that JINOs “should turn their badge in as a Jew.” Shapiro responded by saying: “I believe that if you are somebody who takes Judaism seriously, that comes along with ideological commitment.” (It’s all downhill from there. The interview soon ends.)
I was educated at Orthodox day schools and yeshivot for 12 years. In all that time, I cannot remember ever hearing anything so hateful. Sure, I can recall rabbis saying that Orthodoxy was the “truest” Jewish path, and maybe the most serious, but never that non-Orthodox Jews don’t take their Judaism seriously, and certainly not that other kinds of Jews’ religious outlook or political positions were antithetical to Judaism.
Somehow Shapiro, who is also yeshiva-educated, has reached the very different conclusion that Judaism can only lead to one type of ideological commitment – his. He tries to separate good Jews from bad Jews. The good Jews, who “take their Judaism seriously,” will obviously hold the same political positions as him; the bad Jews – the JINOs – are those who hold different political ideologies.
This type of thinking is is very problematic. At a time of widespread anti-Semitism targeting all Jews, Shapiro wants to tell the majority of his fellow Jews in America that they aren’t Jewish enough. He wants to police their positions and tell them that if only they were more committed to their Judaism, they would abandon their ideologies in favour of his.
Shapiro’s claims are absurd. He insists that only Orthodox Jews know what it means to be Jewish, but also maintains that Jews must support Israel. Surely he knows that Zionism is not predominantly an Orthodox movement, and that Orthodox Jews are a minority in Israel, too.
Why support a Jewish state where most people don’t keep Shabbat or kosher by Orthodox standards?
Ben Shapiro might have millions of followers worldwide, but I don’t think most Jews would stoke the hatred he does against his own people. I think our future is positive and full of discussion and debate, not insult and degradation. There’s enough of that outside the Jewish community already. We don’t need Jews claiming other Jews are “Jews in name only.”
Shapiro’s embarrassing BBC interview should motivate us to acknowledge the many different Jews who proudly wear their badge of Jewishness in all sorts of ways. Whether Orthodox or Reform, whether religious or secular, whether socialist or nationalist, we are all Jews. None of us has the right to claim that theirs is the only path of Judaism, or that only they know the paths and political positions that are in line with Jewish values. Those who act otherwise damage not only themselves, but all Jews.