By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Dov Hikind is definitely a mover and shaker on the New York City politic scene and beyond. He is a Conservative Democrat. Yet his support of McCain managed to get more votes in his district than many Republican districts. Dov has been at the forefront of black-Jewish relations in this city and has developed deep friendships. Mr. Hikind has been a key player in ensuring that the Yeshivos are treated fairly in the current round of cuts that are going on in Albany. He has also proposed legislation to take off some of the barriers and handcuffs placed on those people that are ensuring our safety against terrorism. The Five Towns Jewish Times had Rabbi Yair Hoffman speak with Dov Hikind on a number of issues.
YH: Profiling – It just doesn’t make sense that the TSA are stopping old men and old ladies and searching them, while our agencies are not permitted to use likely risk analysis factors such as age, country of origin and other known statistical factors and subject them to greater scrutiny. You are the one voice of reason in government trying to make a change here. How can we make it more palatable so that reason and not insanity prevail here?
DH: One of the things that we are doing is to present this proposed change to Democrats in a palatable way. We are working with a Professor at George Washington University, one with a liberal reputation who is known for championing human rights, to do this. What we are trying to do is to make it clear that this legislation is only directed at the war on terrorism – not on anything else. Not for crimes or drugs or anything else, just terror. Let me also just say that the Obama Administration very recently came out and put 14 entries, countries, on a watch list. This is an extremely positive thing that they are doing, and generally, I do not have too many good things to say about the administration
Suddenly, we are saying that we are giving these people extra attention. One could argue that this is unfair. Why are we putting an entire country on a list with extra scrutiny? So the president is doing this, what I am talking about. I am working hard to fine tune this bill and make it acceptable to everyone out there because this is what this country needs right now I am working hard with numerous Latino and black groups and politicians and trying to point to how much it would mean for them and this country to support this. I have also pointed out that when it comes to creating special important government interest, such as correcting past biases, you can use race to create a more balanced environment. Doesn’t it make sense to use ethnicity as a factor in our efforts to protect the lives of Americans too?
YH: Can we not think of a better term for it, though? The words “ethnic” or “racial” and “profiling” all carry negative connotations. Isn’t there a better word we can use?
DH: I prefer to call it “Terrorist Profiling.” The term “profiling” did get a bad reputation.. 90 percent of the problems, however, could have been prevented if we did use statistics as just one factor in protecting ourselves. People understand. It is like what you said – to take a 70 or 80 year old person and subject them to a body search. It just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t exclude anyone though. You got to go with the odds if you are suspicious of an 80 year old by all means go ahead but otherwise, don’t do it just to be even-handed. My legislation is very narrow – we can get a lot of support among the Democrats if we approach it correctly. I am doing a lot of work one on one to get this passed. More work than I have ever done before..
YH: The Talmud uses a phrase called, “Kabdaihu veChashdaihu” Honor him, but suspect him. It is a nice term with no negative connotations. Can’t we use something like Risk Analysis Stats or something along these lines?
DH: If there was another term like the Talmud’s that would be fantastic. We have to go with odds. Ben Gurion Airport is the safest airport in the world. I asked them what is your sectret? They answered, “We use ethnic profiling.” Let’s not forget that the risk from these ethnic countries have been calculated as nine times as high as other countries. That is a very serious number. I realize the very word may sound negative, but is perfectly legal in terms of the rulings of the Supreme Court. But again, if another term can be developed – I would welcome it.
YH: What are your thoughts on former president Jimmy Carter doing a sort of Teshuvah. Is it real or is there something else going on there?
DH: We all know what a disaster he has been for Israel and for the Jewish community. But when someone says, “I want to change, I want to do teshuvah..” If he is willing to do that, I am thrilled. However, many people do have different views as to what exactly Teshuvah is. He is the best friend that Palestinian terrorists ever had. That said, it could be that what he will end up saying will not be a real Teshuvah.
YH: So far is it a real teshuva in your opinion, or is something else going on?
DH: Quite honestly, it is hard to tell, politicians do change, and we cannot just assume that he is not.
YH: In your opinion, should the Jewish community reach out to him?
DH: We will have to wait and see what he does.. He is not going to become a member of the Likud that I could tell you right now. But it could be that he might regret his past positions.
YH: He has said that he tries to get to synagogues but they do not let him enter and speak. Should they let him in now?
DH: Their reluctance is understandable.. I also wouldn’t want to be the first one on line and find out I understand their position..
YH: Should the Jewish media give him an opportunity to speak to us?
DH: Why not?
YH: Do you have a relationship with him at all?,
DH: No, no.. Going back about 30 years though at a World Jewish Congress meeting he was getting a Sefer Torah from the WJC I was in the room and disrupted the event. That was the only real time I was ever in the room with him.
YH: Getting to other topics now, what do you predict might happen with the state budget and economy now?
DH: We know that things are very tough on a state level and on a city level. Both are facing multi billion dollars in deficits.. Any cuts being proposed – some people will be very unhappy. It will be a very tough year.
This year there is more than a 6 billion dollar deficit. We will see what will be cut and who will be hurt, One of things that is extremely important to me, though, is that whatever cuts happen – it has to be fair.. if it goes to non-public schools only – that is not equitable.
YH: How long will Paterson last? Who is most likely to take over?
DH: Hard to tell. He has moved up in the polls recently, but he still has a long way to go.. Politics are hard to predict you can never see a month ahead of time..
YH: Who is most likely to get Simcha Felder’s seat?
DH: (Laughs) We are trying very hard to try to get our community to support one candidate. Whether that will be Noach Dear, or Pinny Ringel, or Joe Lazar, that remains to be seen. Pinny is a Belzer Chassid, a good guy, a nice guy. Hopefully in the coming days, that will happen where one strong candidate will emerge.
YH: You have been at the forefront at working with other people and groups for the betterment of New Yorkers, what about the Jewish media – what role should they play here in the betterment of New York and New Yorkers?
DH: That is an interesting question that you are asking me. They have done an excellent job in the whole issue of abuse. It was never discussed elsewhere. It was the Jewish media and the blogs in keeping the issue alive to be addressed. They have played an enormously important role. Not all of the Jewish media have done so- some have almost avoided it.
That said, the Jewish media can play an even more important role in bringing other important issues up that need to be addressed. Sometimes, however, they do things unfairly and irresponsibly. It seems that some of papers will emphasize any wrongdoing that they can come up with in the religious community and highlight it- a lot of people think it is very unfair. We are not talking about when the media are just doing their job. Sometimes they do things in a very vicious way and we hear this quite often. That is true also for some of the blogs and websites too. They do not do things responsibly. Because it is anonymous it is a new form of lashon horah, it is a new world where everything is different. So yes, there is a lot more they can do, and there is a lot that needs to be cleaned up.
YH: Well thank you, it is always a pleasure to talk to you.
DH: The same here. Let’s continue to be in touch!