A Call for Integrity

The yeshivah administrator was emphatic as he responded to the question posed by Hamodia.

“No way,” he said. “It just isn’t possible that my name is on a sign endorsing a candidate.”

When he was informed that his name — below that of his yeshivah — was indeed on Yiddish-language signs hanging on lightpoles throughout the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, he was aghast.

“I am shocked,” he declared. “I was never even asked if I want to lend my name to this, and I would have never agreed to do so. It is illegal, and we can lose our tax-exempt status if we make a political endorsement,” he added.

Early Tuesday afternoon, Hamodia was contacted by several community members who were outraged at what they insisted was the fraudulent use of the names of school and yeshivah administrators and local askanim.

We reached out to a number of the names listed on the poster in question. Seven replied by insisting that they were never asked, two said that they gave permission, two others said that they had made an endorsement as private individuals but were disturbed that the name of the kehillah they are associated with was used, and another two refused to confirm or deny that they had made these endorsements.

We have no reason to believe that the candidates named on the ad had any involvement in, or knowledge of, any fraudulent conduct whatsoever.

Unlike federal elections, in which FEC rules require that campaign materials clearly state who is paying for the ad, New York State election law has no such requirement. There was no indication that either campaign had actually sponsored the advertisement, which had an unprofessional appearance and contained embarrassing spelling mistakes.

But this is only the latest in a pattern of deceptive practices being exhibited by supporters of candidates on both sides of the political divide. Only days earlier, posters were distributed by a different candidate, bearing the logos of a number of prominent tzedakah organizations, and claiming that these non-profits had endorsed him.

“I was infuriated,” the founder and director of one of the organizations listed told Hamodia. “For one thing, the organization never makes endorsements — period. Second, on a personal level, I am a close friend and strong supporter of the person he is running against!”

Back in June, we deplored the fraudulent claim by a different campaign that their candidate had received the endorsement of a prominent Rebbe in Boro Park. As we noted then, while the candidate did indeed visit the Rebbe, he didn’t receive any endorsement. The Rebbe, whose counsel is sought in many areas, doesn’t intervene in political issues and takes no position in political campaigns.

Back then, we stated that it is high time to put an end to these shenanigans. Unfortunately, acts of campaign mischief have continued and have hit a new low. Our community should not tolerate such behavior.

For our community to ignore such misconduct would create a very dangerous precedent, paving the way for even more egregious misuse of names of key community figures and institutions.

Fraudulent claims of endorsement are only one symptom of a greater problem.

Interviews with voters immediately prior to and after casting their ballots on Election Day revealed that campaign literature — most of which was unsigned — played a significant role in their decision-making process. Some of these materials, specifically targeting our community, contained unsubstantiated but particularly nasty, ad hominem attacks against a specific frum candidate.

While a community — or a campaign — can never control the actions of every individual, we must do far more to try to restore integrity and moral scruples to the political campaign process in our community.

The halachos of motzi shem ra, lashon hara and rechilus apply equally to politics as they do to every other area of public and private discourse.

Whether through hate-filled blogs or on pamphlets thrown out on sidewalks, those who anonymously besmirch others — destroying hard-earned reputations in the process — are guilty of unforgivable sins.

Each time an individual uses his mouse to access one of these blogs, or bends down to pick up or read one of these pamphlets, he unwittingly aids and abets these crimes. We are inexorably allowing ourselves to be influenced by the unscrupulous segments of society, falling right into their clutches.

Only when these perpetrators will be shunned and their writings ignored will they realize that their nefarious deeds have no place in our community, and will hopefully put an end to their unacceptable behavior.