Holocaust imagery depicting man’s inhumanity to man generally evokes emotive responses that make us question the possibility of a repetition of such bestial behavior in the 21st century. It also evokes questions on how humanity can transform ignorance, bigotry and intolerance into murder and mass genocide.
A particular disturbing Holocaust-era photo, among the many that I’ve seen, left an indelible impression on me. It depicts a barefoot orthodox Jewish man donning a pair of tefillin (phylacteries) and a tallit (prayer shawl). The man, who was almost certainly murdered shortly after the picture was taken, is surrounded by a group of amused German soldiers, possibly members of the notorious SS Einsatzgruppen, who appear to be reveling in the man’s misfortune and humiliation.
An occurrence at Ben-Gurion International Airport this past week rekindled my memory of this image. The scene initially unfolded rather benignly with Rabbi Meir Herzl, the director of a Chabad house in the Jerusalem suburb of Pisgat Zeev, approaching businessman Gad Kaufman, and asking Mr. Kaufman if he would like to don tefillin and recite a short prayer.
This is a rather common occurrence. Chabad routinely performs spiritual community outreach. Some of those who are approached waive them off with a polite smile while others just ignore them. On occasion, those approached respond positively and oblige, and this was the case with Rabbi Herzl’s interaction with Mr. Kaufman.
As Mr. Kaufman donned the tefillin, a crazed woman lurched forward and began berating both Rabbi Herzl and Mr. Kaufman. Her bizarre rant, where she is seen alternating between harassing the rabbi and screeching uncontrollably was caught on video and has since gone viral. “Why are you doing this here?” she barks in Hebrew. “You’re bothering me, why don’t you do it over there?” she demands. At one point Mr. Kaufman begins to address her and Rabbi Herzl, who remained calm and composed throughout, tells Mr. Kaufman not to pay her any mind.
The unhinged woman was later identified as Pnina Peri. Unsurprisingly, she is an academic in the humanities/social science field, and a visiting professor at the University of Maryland’s Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies. She is also listed as a faculty member of the Mideast studies department at the American University in Washington D.C., though as of this writing, her name on the American University’s webpage connects to a broken link. Peri’s bio somewhat comically describes her as a “specialist on multicultural theory and cross-culture communication.”
One would think that a person with such impressive credentials, touting multicultural broadmindedness, would demonstrate a level of tolerance toward someone practicing their faith in an unobtrusive manner. Would Ms. Peri have acted in a similar unhinged manner toward someone practicing a religious faith other than Judaism? I suspect that we all sadly know the answer to that rhetorical question.
Shamed and perhaps fearing for her job, Peri defended her outburst claiming that Rabbi Herzl insulted her off-camera and said, “It’s too bad that Hitler didn’t kill you and your entire family.” With this explanation, Peri demonstrates that she is not only an intolerant ignoramus but a bald-faced liar to boot. Peri’s on-camera rant curiously makes no reference to this contrived insult. Moreover, the contrast between Rabbi Herzl’s demeanor and that of his deranged harasser could not be starker. Rabbi Herzl remained calm and composed throughout while Peri’s screeching, ranting and bizarre noise-making could be heard throughout the waiting area.
A rabbinic group called the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV), which purports to represent over 1000 traditional rabbis in public policy, has filed a complaint with Peri’s employers. In a letter addressed to the University of Maryland and the American University, the CJV said that Peri’s outburst demonstrated “unbridled hostility towards religious activity” which calls into doubt her ability to “demonstrate appropriate tolerance and accommodation of religious needs.” According to the Washington Jewish Week, a representative of at least one university stated that they had received the complaint and are investigating the matter.
Campus Watch, a watchdog organization that “reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them,” noted on its twitter feed that in light of Peri’s outrageous conduct at Ben-Gurion Airport, it would add her to the list of professors it monitors for bad behavior and biased teaching.
It is no secret that the humanities and social science fields have for the most part been hijacked by radical elements who use their teaching platforms to indoctrinate and stymie the free exchange of ideas. The video of a humanities professor, an expert on multiculturalism no less, spewing hate and intolerance at a Jew for practicing his faith in his ancestral land, and then lying about it, is sadly reflective of the pervasive mindset of the intellectually dishonest and intolerant radical left.