Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro‘s star has been rising in the US in recent years. He’s only 34 years old, but he began his career 17 years ago, writing a syndicated column, and now he has his own news site, The Daily Wire, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” a podcast with millions of listeners.
In between, he managed to become editor-at-large of the far-right – these days, some would say alt-right – website Breitbart, and resigned in 2016. Shapiro accused Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon, an eventual adviser to US President Donald Trump, of turning the site into “Trump’s personal Pravda.”Later that year, the Anti-Defamation League identified Shapiro as the No. 1 target of online antisemitism among Jewish journalists in the US, and he received the most hate by far.
Shapiro continues to be targeted from all ends: from the Left, because he’s staunchly conservative, and from the Right, because he is not a Trump cheerleader, and doesn’t hesitate to criticize the president.
His no-nonsense attitude and caustic humor have attracted admirers and detractors; “facts don’t care about your feelings” is his most famous slogan, and he sells coffee mugs that are labeled “leftist tears.” He’s found allies in the self-described Intellectual Dark Web, a group of thinkers – their day jobs include academia, journalism and comedy – who don’t fit perfectly into mainstream media’s liberal or conservative labels, and have found wild success producing their own content online.
Although Shapiro is an Orthodox Jew and a vocal supporter of Israel, his content is aimed at a broader American audience, and therefore he doesn’t often focus on those areas.
In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post last month from his LA podcast studio, the father of two – married to a Moroccan-Israeli doctor about whom he often sweetly scheps naches (expresses great pride) – discussed American Jewish identity, support for Israel and more, in his typically no-holds-barred manner.
“I LOVE Israel, it’s an amazing country!” Shapiro said. “Obviously, being religious has a tremendous impact on how I view Israel.”
But Shapiro’s support goes beyond that. “Israel is an unbelievable example of how Western civilization and liberal values can thrive in the most violent neighborhood on planet earth. It’s an amazing thing.”
Shapiro often bounced between his religious view and a secular, logic-based view. One instance where this came up strongly was in the debate over abortion in the US.
A tweet by Shapiro in July started a huge firestorm of debate among US Jews, which expanded into general media, as well: “Virtually every major Jewish halachist [interpreter of Jewish law] of the modern era has barred abortion except when the life of the mother is threatened. Don’t try quoting the Talmud at me. You just don’t know enough.”
Shapiro explained the tweet, saying that he thought people who disagreed with his idea are “misguided” when it comes to Jewish law, and that “the original claim that set it off is that Judaism is a pro-choice religion, where you get to decide on your own whether to kill a baby or not.
“People on the Left are claiming Judaism is pro-choice, because you have to ask a rabbi for a heter [permission]? You’re a theocrat now. Congratulations.”
Though Shapiro said he makes his Jewish values a priority, he also finds it important to have a secular rationale for political ideas in a secular society.
“I’ll never argue based on the Torah, but I don’t want to see people misrepresenting Torah based on leftist politics. I’m not quoting Shulhan Aruch at people,” he said. “We have to have a conversation on a secular level in a free society, so we agree on parameters of a debate. I am consistent in that I almost never invoke Judaism.
“You don’t hear me cite biblical sources on same-sex marriage; that’s an appeal to authority, not an argument,” he added.
At the same time, Shapiro regularly relays his interpretation of the weekly Torah portion during his podcast, which he said comes from an approach that the Torah “lies at the root of Western civilizational values,” not from an aim to analyze the Jewish view on a specific issue. These divrei Torah are “trying to discuss broader themes that appear not only in daily life, but how we define our values as a civilization.”
Shapiro argued that Jews on the Left do not put their Jewish values first. Right-wing Jews “see Jewish values as the paramount values,” while on the Left there are either people who say “I’m supposed to get extra credit for views on Israel and Judaism, even though I don’t practice anything,” or those who “take Judaism seriously enough that they practice some of it, but still see Left political priorities as the chief moral priorities.”
According to Shapiro, “they value social liberalism more than they value Judaism.... American Jews care more about same-sex marriage and abortion than Israel, as a rule. It’s not true about Orthodox Jews, who tend to love Israel and have a stake in its future, and it’s not true about older Jews who understand the necessity for a Jewish state on secular Zionist grounds.
“Even secular people in Israel have a nationalist identity and care about security and know Israel must be Jewish and democratic to survive,” he added.
The high rate of intermarriage in the American Jewish community is explained by the US being tolerant, Shapiro said, which is also why some “don’t understand the need for Israel.”
Liberal views on Israel held by US Jews are a result of Israel’s success, and “by the leftist view [that] a successful country [is] by necessity an exploiter.”
“Zionism is an outgrowth of late-stage Western civilization,” he said. “Every state has to argue what makes it unique, that it’s worthy of survival and worthy of fighting for.”
This idea, Shapiro said, is part of what inspires anti-Israel activists.
“Anti-Israel folks on campus are generally anti-American. People who don’t like the hierarchies of Western civilization see Israel as an exploiter,” he said, recounting that when he was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles, the student body “voted for BDS and voted to divest from the United States. I don’t know how that would work.
“The people who protest me for being conservative, protest Israel for existing,” said Shapiro, whose speeches are a frequent target of campus demonstrations, which have turned violent in some cases.
SHAPIRO’S VIEWS on the Palestinians have undergone changes. While he was always a staunch Israel supporter, he wrote a column when he was 19 that called to transfer Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza, which many of his opponents cite.
Now, Shapiro says he regrets writing it.
“When you’re younger, you tend to be more utopian and simplistic in your views of conflict,” he explained.
The column was “a poorly thought out idea, aside from the moral implications of having to forcibly move millions of people.... It’s a bad idea and an immoral idea.”
Much like many on the Israeli Right, Shapiro advocates for managing the conflict with the Palestinians, because he does not see a solution.
The conflict, he said, “is destined to continue ad infinitum [if there is not] some kind of change on the part of the Palestinians. It means security, not peace, from here to the end of time.”
At the end of the interview, Shapiro asked to relay a message of thanks to Israel.
“As a US Jew, I can’t be more grateful to the people of Israel for protecting and defending not only eternal values but the survival of Western civilization more broadly. It’s not often enough that US Jews say thank you to Israelis, but they ought to.... Americans benefit from having Israelis on the front lines protecting civilization and Jewish lives,” he said.
“I have enormous hakarat hatov [gratitude] for Israelis,” Shapiro added.
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