Rabbi Shmuley Unleashed

now we’ve all heard the criticisms of President Obama receiving the
Nobel Peace Prize just a little too early. But Judaism and Jewish
values offer a unique perspective on the controversy that others have
missed. Let me explain by first prefacing with my own grave
disappointment in the steady decline of a once mighty prize.

grew up in awe of the Nobel peace prize and its noble recipients. This
award was simply amazing, an acknowledgement on the part of our
civilization that peace is life’s highest end, fraternity humanity’s
greatest goal. I read books on the prize and its recipients. I gave my
kids quizzes on the winners and the year in which they received the
prize. I went so far as to establish at Oxford University an annual
lecture that could only be delivered by winners of the prize. Endowed
during the 1990’s by philanthropist Edmund Safra, the lecture was
delivered to capacity audiences by such luminaries as Elie Wiesel,
winner in 1986, Joseph Rotblat, winner in 1995, Shimon Peres &
Yitzhak Rabin, winners in 1994, and most significantly Mikhail
Gorbachev, winner in 1990.

I used to wait expectantly for the annual Friday morning in October
when the Peace Prize was announced as the culmination of a week-long
series of Nobel announcements. And as a young teenager when I dreamed
of what significant achievements my life might one day bring, the Nobel
Peace Prize was at the top of the list, even ahead of the presidency of
the United States (yes, back then I dreamed big).

But what a drag the last few years have been. For me it began when
the prize was awarded in 1994 to Yasser Arafat, the godfather of modern
terrorism, whose lasting legacy is not lasting peace with Israel but
the army of suicide bombers he launched against the Jewish state to
dismember pregnant women and disembowel helpless children. That a
cold-blooded killer could win the world’s highest award for peace made
the prize into a farce. At Oxford I hosted Kaare Kristiansen who
bravely resigned from the Nobel Peace committee after it disgraced
itself with the award to Arafat. But one bad apple, I said to myself,
could not ruin a prize so majestic in its ambition and scope. But then
more strange choices followed. Strange, not because its recipients
lacked virtue but because their achievements seemed to have little
connection to peace. The whole purpose of the prize is to promote
harmony as humanity’s most noble objective. So what did the prize have
to do with Al Gore and climate change, important as the issue is? And
why award the prize to Jimmy Carter whose legacy is not peace between
nations but an almost irrational penchant for championiong strong-arm
dictators at the expense of their oppressed people, including praise he
offered for such international criminals as Kim Il Sung, Marshal Joseph
Tito, Nicolas Ceausescu, and Raul Cédras. Indeed, after the prize was
awarded to Muhammad ElBaradei in 2005 it seemed it had simply become a
political tool by which to bash the Bush administration, bringing the
prize into further discredit.

In light of these developments last Thursday, the night before the
prize’s announcement, I told a friend that I bet President Obama would
receive it. My friend was incredulous. ‘But he hasn’t done anything.’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but he’s not President Bush.’ To be honest, even as I
said it I did not completely believe it. Surely the members of the
Nobel Peace Committee would not cause Alfred Nobel to turn in his grave
by destroying his prize just because they loathed George Bush.

But the next morning the unthinkable happened. A man in office only
eight months who has not resolved a single global conflict and who has
yet to disarm the Iranian nuclear menace or confront North Korea’s
saber rattling won the prize.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not an Obama basher. Our President is a man
or rare eloquence and oratorical gifts. I have supported him strongly
through the good he has done and criticized him for the missteps he has
taken. But come on. Peace is not simply a great speech and universal
harmony is not merely a collection of words.

And here is where Jewish values comes into play. Because perhaps the
greatest teaching Judaism has to offer the world is that action is
always more important than even the most noble intention. Words can
never be a substitute for deed.

Martin Luther King was arguably the finest American orator of the
twentieth century. But he won the 1964 prize for his marches rather
than his speeches. It was his courageous action throughout the south,
defying attack dogs, powerful water hoses, and determined assassins,
that earned him the prize. It was the change he brought in ending
segregation and Jim Crow that made him a global hero of peace. Indeed,
the speech King gave in accepting the prize in Oslo is considered to
have been of his most lackluster addresses, appropriate perhaps in
highlighting that it was what he did rather than what he said that
really mattered.

And this is where the real guilt of the Nobel Committee lies. They
have mistakenly and destructively conveyed the message that what a man
or woman says is as important as what they do. And while we need
eloquent words to motivate us and make us march, until those feet start
astompin’ the speech remains empty rhetoric.

No doubt had our President been given some time he might have earned
the prize outright based on real achievements confronting Iran, shoring
up Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy, and perhaps even disarming North
Korea. He might have earned the prize by bringing an end to some of the
thirty-odd civil wars in Africa where so much of his family still
lives. But this Prize will now be seen for what it has sadly become, a
political statement against Republican governments of the United States.

I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat, preferring to utilize
my G-d-given intelligence to choose my position on the issues. But my
value system comes from Judaism which has always promoted peace as
life’s supreme goal and positive action as the very barometer by which
character is built. Indeed our religion says that G-d’s very name is
Shalom, peace.

The President should of course accept the prize. It is not his fault
that the committee awarded him something he has not yet earned. But it
would be noble and worthy if he utilized his speech in Oslo to tell the
world that when it comes to people dying and cities being pulverized
words are never enough. Condemning the darkness will never supplant
saving the dying and repudiating the aggressors will never replace
protecting the innocent.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who won the London Times Preacher of the
Year Competition days before the Millennium, is the founder of ‘This
World: The Values Network,’ has just published two new books: ‘The
Blessing of Enough’ and ‘The Michael Jackson Tapes.’

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus