A Cheap Shot, Poorly Executed

BROOKLYN COURIER: Here’s a crazy little tidbit that fell through the cracks during Monday night’s rally decrying the March 2 gay bashing on Luquer Street.

As every local elected official in the city cried out for justice, standing front and center with a vigil candle in hand was John Heyer.

No one seemed confused by the presence of this longtime Carroll Gardens resident and would-be elected official — even though Heyer is an opponent of gay marriage, a stance that earned him plenty of heat during last year’s run for the Council, a race that ultimately went to gay marriage supporter Brad Lander.

Even more surprising than Heyer’s presence at the anti-hate rally (after all, who likes hate?) was that Heyer somehow managed to get quoted in Lander’s follow-up press release about the rally.

Even zanier was that he somehow managed to insert his pro-life stance — another controversy from last year — to settle the score during his remarks about the anti-gay attack.

“A central tenet of my religious beliefs is the sanctity of human life,” he said in the press release. “Since I have been personally singled out due to my heritage and religious beliefs, I would never want anyone stigmatized or victimized because of race religion, gender ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

Lemon? Meet lemonade.

Those who know Gatemouth’s history with John Heyer (for examples, see, here, here, here, here, here, and here) would probably not describe me as his friend. I’ve been a critic both unrelenting and possibly viscous.

But, the Courier article is such a cheap shot, I refuse to even link it.

John Heyer has always been frank that the he opposes same sex marriage because it conflicts with his religious beliefs.

This may make him wrong (I surely think so), but it does not, in and of itself, make him a bigot.

I suppose one could go back to the Spanish Inquisition to find examples of the Roman Catholic Church imposing its theology by means of physical violence, but unless one is going to count CYA Boxing tournaments, I don’t think one can find an example within the lifetime of any person living on this earth.

In truth, one could argue that the same set of religious beliefs that impel Mr. Heyer to oppose same-sex marriage also impel him to oppose bias crimes. To imply as the Courier does, solely on the basis of his position on that one issue, that Mr. Heyer is engaging in deception and/or cognitive dissonance, verges upon religious bigotry.

Further, there is nothing particularly unique here. Assemblyman Dov Hikind, another frequent target of this column (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) voted to include LGTB persons in our State’s bias crime law, and took some heat for it in his community. But, Hikind had consulted several respected Talmudic scholars who’d told him that Jewish law was opposed people getting beaten up (talk about rachmonis in action).

Those who look at the world solely in terms of heroes and villains, and throw around the word "bigot" too cavalierly, should take a gander at this fascinating attempt by Orthodox Jewish scholars Rabbi Michael Broyde and Shlomo Brody, to struggle to come to terms with an appropriate community response to LGTB related issues as they impact upon the Orthodox Jewish world. While not abandoning their religious position in opposition to same-sex marriage, every once in a while Broyde and Brody accidentally hit upon a point which could have been made by Rachel Madow ("the threats to the Orthodox way of life are much greater due to the culture of rampant heterosexual promiscuity than to homosexuality").

The authors support tolerance and sensitivity within the community (“Even as halacha clearly labels the act a sin, Judaism does not seek to label the actors as evildoers whom we must shun.” and “The larger point remains that accepting a gay individual within one's shul does not reflect any less commitment to halacha than accepting public Shabbat violators”) and support general anti-discrimination laws (“Similarly, it is wise to support workplace policies of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, just as we support such non-discrimination based on religion, even though these laws equally protect, for example, pagans. Discrimination based on lifestyle choices may threaten our own liberties, including freedom of religious expression. This pragmatic argument remains true irrespective of one's views on the philosophical claims for equal treatment in the workplace or entitlement to domestic partner benefits.”).

Further, Broyde and Brody caution against obsessing about the issue’s importance, when the community faces more important problems ("We have heard that the revered Rav Aharon Soloveichik…when asked his thoughts on homosexuality, replied, 'It is terrible. It is almost as great a sin as cheating in business.'").

In the end, while opposing same-sex civil marriage themselves, Broyde and Brody also make the case that an Orthodox Jewish politician could do so (“If, however, one views such a campaign as an infringement of civil liberties, or a potentially bad precedent that might endanger our interests in other areas of civil life, then one should not feel compelled to combat gay marriage.”) and argue for separating one’s religious practice from one’s politics (“…but as this debate develops it will remain important not to overly conflate our religious views with our political stands”).

Despite their opposition to same sex marriage, it would be outrageous to call Broyde and Brody bigots. In fact, their stance is quite courageous, given the bigoted pandering to hatred that has often manifested itself among many of the Orthodox community’s most outspoken opponents of LGTB rights.

Similarly, religious Catholics like Heyer who dare to march against homophobic violence are standing up not only to the out and out haters in their community, but also to more conservative forces in the Church who, while not condoning violence, refuse to take part in public events like this march, because they do not in any way want to appear to be condoning homosexuality.

When the John Heyers of the world join the march against hatred, we should be welcoming them, rather than subjecting them to ridicule.

Perhaps the worst thing about the Courier article though is that, by making sport of Heyer for something for which he should be praised, it actually provided Heyer with cover for his far more unseemly prior conduct.

As noted, last year, Mr. Heyer ran for City Council in an area which included much of liberal Brownstone Brooklyn and a portion of Orthodox Jewish Borough Park. During that race, Heyer was attacked in the Brownstone areas for opposing same-sex marriage. Heyer tried arguing that same sex marriage was not an issue before the City Council. But, as I argued this issue was not only indicative of Heyer’s world view on social issues, but also strategically important; if candidates opposing same-sex marriage could win seats in socially liberal districts, then the already daunting effort to pass a same sex marriage law was surely doomed.

I do not condemn Mr. Heyer for changing his mind and deciding the issue was relevant after all. If he’d merely gone into Borough Park and told people, “look, I’m being attacked for holding views which you share, so you should stand with me in solidarity,” I would not have condemned him for it.

Instead of highlighting his social conservatism in a civil manner, Mr. Heyer ran an ad, (in the form of a newspaper article, but bearing the indicia that Heyer paid for it) in the June 20, 2009 edition of the Aroni Satmar Hasidic newspaper, Der Blatt. The “article“ stated that Heyer “strongly opposes various types of abominations (“toeivah” in the original Yiddish) and immoral laws that are major issues in the current elections.” The ad went on to note “it would be a desecration in the name of God to support the other candidates who support laws permitting abominations … even if such candidates happen to be Jewish themselves.” One of Heyer’s Jewish opponents was gay.

In Israel in 2005, the use of inflammatory language similar to that found in Mr. Heyer’s ad was deployed in an effort to stop a Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem and probably helped to inspire the stabbing of three young man at a Gay Rights march by an unbalanced ultra-Orthodox fanatic. Many in the press, both here and in Israel, have blamed the use of similar language by the Ultra-Orthodox Israeli Shas Party for an incident in Tel Aviv, where a masked gunman walked into a community center for gay Israeli youth and opened fire, killing two and wounding ten more.

It was only after one of Heyer’s “liberal” opponents, Mr. Lander, got caught running a similar ad that Heyer’s people issued a statement saying they had nothing to do with the ad’s contents. While Lander’s campaign made some real effort to distance themselves from their ad (enough to convince me that the candidate himself was without personal knowledge, –though he shamefully refused to disassociate himself from Yitzchok Fleisher, the Borough Park political operative who got caught red handed placing the ad), Heyer’s “effort” to do the same, if it can even be called that, was so laughably pro forma, incredible and insincere, that it probably does not merit further discussion. There is no evidence that Heyer asked Der Blatt for his money back, or expressed his outrage to them. To the contrary, after running the ad they created for Heyer, Der Blatt subsequently endorsed Heyer‘s candidacy.

So perhaps Mr. Heyer had an even better reason for marching than the one I cited; perhaps he was doing penance to expiate his prior sin. This would have been far more worthy of note by the Courier than the snark they chose to run instead.

Also a more appropriate target for snark would have been Mr. Heyer’s incredible assertion that “Since I have been personally singled out due to my heritage and religious beliefs, I would never want anyone stigmatized or victimized because of race religion, gender ethnicity or sexual orientation.”

This is such tired hogwash.

Mr. Heyer was not singled out due to his heritage and religious belief–he was singled out for his political views. I myself have supported religious Catholic Irish and Italian politicians who shared my political views, and I’ve opposed Jewish politicians whose social issue views I’ve disliked. I oppose politicians who oppose my views on social issues whether they do so on the basis of deeply held religious and moral views (Mr. Heyer), political expedience (Carl Kruger, who is utterly without deeply held moral views on any topic) or out of sheer perversity (Hiram Monserrate).

I don’t care where you go to church, John. I don’t care which God or Gods you worship or fail to worship.

In fact, given your campaign’s blatant and repeated efforts to convince certain voters that they should support you solely based upon your Catholicism, your purported sanctimony about not wanting to be judged based upon your religion, would be, had it been sworn to, such a blatant example of bearing false witness that it would probably have required penance at the level of a novena and a trip to Lourdes.

Of course, given Heyer’s past transgressions, none of this is surprising. What is surprising is that Mr. Lander would amplify such malarkey by broadcasting it in his press release.

Brad, do you really believe that urging people not to vote for Mr. Heyer because of his views on abortion and LGTB issues amounts to stigmatizing and victimizing him out of religious bigotry? Do you really believe this is the moral equivalent of beating up a man because you perceive he might be a homosexual?

If not, why do you print and distribute those words on your official stationary with your personal endorsement?