By Rachel Wizenfeld
Where did you get your uncompromising passion and unapologetic stance?
I grew up in Far Rockaway, NY, in a subsection called Bayswater. It was the JDL (Jewish Defense League) capital of the world, and where Rabbi Meir Kahane used to spend his summers. Every summer I would hear his talks, and I was very influenced by his personality and message of uncompromising loyalty to Israel and the Jewish nation. His message was one of going on the offensive in responding to the attack of our entitlements to Israel; of being done with Arab interests, and done with soft, cowardly Jews who are afraid of their affiliation with Judaism and apologize for everything. It was a very strong and proud position to take.
Rabbi Kahane was a graduate of the Mir – his entire philosophy was grounded in Orthodoxy. The greatest supporters of Israel are the Orthodox Jews. We are more well-grounded in our support because of our religious hashkafah of the importance of Eretz Yisrael. Those Jewish leaders whose only connection is Zionism or a feeling of nostalgia, who don’t have the background of Chazal (Torah sages), of Torah or Gemara to weave and cement our connection to Eretz Yisrael, then they sorely lack the fundamentals of that connection and profess to speak about the Jewish value, while only speaking about their lackluster, politically-correct connection.
My parents were “religious zionists” which is a dying breed in America. My father was a musmach of Chaim Berlin and was the executive vice president of the Jewish National Fund for over 25 years. My mother is a Vizhnitz descendant who is currently married to Rabbi Berel Wein. My parents infused me with a love for Klal Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel and shown by example how important Israel is to us. Orthodoxy and love for Eretz Yisroel was a part of life. Zionism was not a dirty word.
Tell us about your law practice and your Israel advocacy.
I’m a civil trial attorney with my own law firm in Hancock Park. I’m in court almost every day of the week with an active business litigation practice. I pride myself in my aggressive and zealous advocacy of my clients, sometimes against overwhelming odds.
In the past, my advocacy was on par with most pro-Israel Orthodox Jews. If I saw a pro-Israel article, I would email it around to a few of my friends. But then the Gaza flotilla happened in 2010, and I was extremely frustrated at how inept the Jewish Israeli response was to the Gaza flotilla, and how well-oiled the anti-Israel press and Arab machinery was. I was really frustrated at the lack of really strong advocacy for Israel, and it seemed that all these American Jewish organizations that were professing to maintain zealous advocacy for Israel were just spouting apologies. They were merely defending against allegations saying, “No, we’re not an apartheid state” and “No, we would never hurt anyone etc. etc.” They were just answering and apologizing; we were always on the defensive. But I know as a trial attorney that you can’t win a case by always being on the defensive and you don’t win a football game if you’re on the defensive.
I come from a different school of thought: that the best defense is an offense, so I created a blog: “American Trial Attorneys in Defense of Israel.” This is where I go on the offensive. I share any article that portrays Israel in a positive light. I believe firmly – and I learned this lesson from my father who passed away more than 10 years ago – that of the 12 spies who spoke about Israel, only the 2 spies who spoke positively are remembered by history. The other ones, we can’t quite remember their names. Always speak positively about Israel, and never ever be among those who are vocally against Israel. History is not forgiving to those who are negative about Israel.
What kind of impact are you seeing from your blog?
The sheer numbers of followers are one indicator. I have thousands of followers to my blog. I primarily attract lawyers and judges from across the country who understand what a lawyer does and that’s why this information attracts them. If there ever was a profession to support Israel, it would be trial attorneys. We rely on hard-core evidence, not propaganda, and on the credibility of evidence. Justice is not supposed to be swayed by money, and we trial attorneys present arguments with well-thought out passion.
If the story of Israel were told in a court of law, we would win every fight. The evidence would come in of the atrocities of the Arab world, and every court would rule in favor of Israel because Israel is the most moral government in the world.
The impact among my colleagues has been extraordinary. There are judges in state court, in federal court, even judges who were considered for the U.S. Supreme Court, who have told me that their perception of Israel used to be tarnished and based on the LA Times, and now with exposure to solid, well-written articles about Israel, they have done a “180.” Now some of them are going on missions to Israel. There might be a case where Israel might be discussed and the judge might have a positive disposition due to reading my blog.
There was one very influential judge who in his involvement with a Jewish organization was able to veto various efforts to delegitamize Israel. Then he pulled away from that more left-wing Jewish organization and joined a pro-Israel organization, and is now leading a mission of Jewish and Christian judges to Israel.
A quick story demonstrates the impact. I was at the LA Superior Court downtown, and a lawyer who I don’t know well but know to be a fine guy, a liberal Democrat, approached me and said, “I can’t understand it. Why doesn’t Israel make peace with the Arabs?” (As if the onus of blame was on Israel for there not being peace in the Middle East).
I asked him, “Have you had a CT scan?” He was uncomfortable but finally admitted that yes, he had. I said to him, “Don’t tell me it was benign or malignant, but did they find something?” He said “yes,” so I asked him, “Now did you make peace with your tumor? Or did you go to battle with it?” I saw the light go on for him. Israel has to deal with Hamas and Hezbolah, who are sworn to destroy Israel, nevertheless they should make peace with them? (And still Israel tries to make peace – but there’s no one home in the Arab world to make peace with.)
Are people willing to change their views so easily?
You have to know who you’re talking to. I never debate Arabs or people on the left because they shout over you and try to intimidate you. Instead, I speak to intelligent, upright Jewish and Christian people in the community who might not know better, or who might not have the words at their fingertips. And when you have such compelling arguments, they listen. I’m speaking to thousands of lawyers – some of whom might be a congressman next year, they might be a senator and might be influencing American policy on Israel. I see who are becoming members [of my blog] and it’s an extraordinary thing.
The time has come to speak out loudly and strongly and passionately about what is right, and defend the State of Israel from her detractors. It doesn’t matter if the attackers of Israel are Arabs or Neturei Karta.
How much time do you spend on your advocacy?
I spend a half hour a day scanning and posting articles. Then I speak about once a month. I speak to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform groups, Christian churches, Zionist groups, high school and college students.
I do power point presentations as if I’m at trial and the audience is the jury. I show incontrovertible evidence to support how honorable the IDF is, how humane we are, and how murderous and decrepit the Arab world is.
99% of the response I’ve gotten has been incredibly supportive – it’s touching a vein that people see needs to be exploited and furthered. I’ve received hate mail, mostly anonymous. Anyone who sends me an anonymous letter is not worth the paper it’s written on.
Attorney Cohen with a Kassam rocket which was fired on Sderot. Photo Credit: Jonah Light
What has the impact been on your law practice?
The publicity is enormous. When someone is struggling with their lawyer and then they come to my dramatic presentation, well inevitably what ends up happening after speeches is I become bombarded by client inquiries. I didn’t do this to generate business; I did this because I wanted to help and the unintended result was a wave of business.
While I will not represent people who are hostile to Israel, I’ve been besieged by requests of Lebanese Christians who have been massacred by Arabs in Beirut. These Christian Arabs are extraordinary clients, and I made them a lot of money.
Can those of us who aren’t trial attorneys join the effort?
When the Maccabeats came out with their Chanukah video, everyone was circulating it to each other. When there is a pro-Israel article, everyone should be circulating it. We all do it for a cute YouTube video, so put together a list of your favorite people from shul, your family and friends who would appreciate this, and create your own following! Go circulate your pro-Israel philosophies to 50 people and let Israel benefit from the Internet and the forward button.