In a JTA article this week, Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan talk about the significance of their Jewish upbringing, of having 3 Jewish Justices on the US Supreme Court, and of Judge Kagan's debt to Rabbi Shlomo Riskin (who has since founded a particularly notorious West Bank settlement).
They fail to discuss the significance of having no Christian Protestant justices on the Supreme Court (the largest religious group in the US), no Muslim Supreme Court Justices (Muslim-Americans are about equal in number to Jewish-Americans), no Buddhist Supreme Court Justices, etc.
JTA reports, "Kagan also talked about her bat mitzvah, crediting Rabbi Shlomo Riskin – then of the Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (and now rabbi in Efrat, West Bank) with enabling the ceremony..." He was, she says, "very gracious, and I think it was good for the synagogue.”
Neither JTA nor Kagan mention that Efrat is an illegal Israeli colony on Palestinian land that is known, according to blogger Richard Silverstein, for being "an especially cruel settlement to surrounding Palestinian villages."
Jewish Studies professor Charles Manekin writes that Rabbi Riskin "emigrated to Israel and founded the town of Efrat, a sprawling settlement built entirely on Palestinian private and public land that never ceases to expand into, and pollute, the surrounding region. Through this his life-project, Riskin has caused more tragedy and pain to more Palestinians than any other rabbi of modern times...."
Apparently none of this bothers Supreme Court Justice Kagan.
Kagan and Bryer were speaking at the 2014 General Assembly conference of the Jewish Federations of North America, a group that regularly advocates for Israel. Among the other conference speakers will be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
I had originally thought that Justice Breyer was less connected to Israel than Kagan, who has said that the judge who inspired her most was an Israeli judge. Therefore, I was surprised to learn that Breyer serves on the board of advisors for an Israeli institution.
It is rare for sitting Supreme Court justices to serve on boards. Most resign board memberships upon being named to the Supreme Court or shortly thereafter, probably to preserve an appearance, at least, of nonpartisanship. However, Breyer is activity serving on the International Advisory Board of the Israel Democracy Institute.
While some might suggest that such foreign membership does not matter since the Supreme Court hears only American cases, in reality, there are currently at least two cases on the Supreme Court docket that involve Israel directly. (There may be others that affect it indirectly).
Perhaps Judge Breyer feels, as is so often the case with Israel partisans, that rules of ethics don't apply in regard to Israel.