A day after Ivanka Trump visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s grave to gather spiritual support for her father’s presidential campaign, another ultra-Orthodox sect gave an endorsement to his rival, Hillary Clinton, called her a “longtime friend of the Jews.”
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The large Satmar sect includes has tens of thousands of followers worldwide, the majority of them in the New York areas. Since 2006, the community has been divided into two factions, led by rival brothers and rabbis Aron and Zalman Teitelbaum. Members of both sects are anti-Zionist, believing that it is sacrilege to create a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah.
The statement calling on Satmar followers to support Clinton, which came from Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum’s branch, declared that Satmar leaders “endorse and hereby order all registered voters, in our community, to come out and give the vote for the longtime friend of the Jews, Hillary R. Clinton, former New York State Senator and Secretary of State. (She) is known for her rare rich career of grand achievements, with special sensitivity and understanding to the needs of our Jewish brothers, in particular with very delicate cases of pidyon shevuyim (liberation of Jewish prisoners) and hatzalot nefashot (saving of lives.)”
The announcement is signed by the “brotherhood” of community organizers.
It’s not the first time in the 2016 election season that Clinton has won the Satmar endorsement. In April, both factions gave her their blessing in her primary race against Bernie Sanders. At the time, one Satmar newspaper ran an editorial declaring that, “It is important to demonstrate our ‘Hakarat Hatov’ (the Hebrew term for gratitude) for Mrs. Clinton, whose help for Jewish interests had far-reaching effects back when she was First Lady in the White House.”
The reference to “liberation of Jewish prisoners” in the Satmar endorsement may have something to do with the fact that on his last day in office, January 20. 2001, the same day he infamously pardoned financier Marc Rich, President Bill Clinton also reduced the prison sentences of four ultra-Orthodox men, members of the Skverer sect, whose rabbinical leader is the brother-in-law of Satmar’s Aron Teitelbaum, who had been convicted and imprisoned for federal fraud.
That pardon raised eyebrows due to the fact Hillary Clinton, in her first Senate run a few months before the pardons, received an overwhelming percentage of the vote from the Skverer’s sect’s home base in New Square - more than 100 times than that of her opponent, Republican Rick Lazio. An investigation was initiated by the Manhattan U.S. attorney into whether, as the New York Times reported “the village leaders aggressive courting of the president and Mrs. Clinton before and after the 2000 Senate election raised questions of whether the men’s sentences were reduced in exchange for votes.”
The 2002 Times story quoted the attorney for the Southern District of New York who announced the closing of the investigation saying that he had “determined it wasn’t appropriate to bring charges against anyone in the case.” That attorney was a man who would go on to play a key role in the current election race - FBI director James Comey.
While Satmar may be endorsing Clinton’s candidacy, it is not exactly known for empowerment of women. Women don’t hold leadership roles in their strict community and if Clinton should win the presidency, her photograph wouldn’t be featured in their newspapers, which refrain from running any images of women - particularly in Clinton’s trademark pantsuits (one report tells of a 2006 meeting with between Clinton and a Satmar rabbi which was stymied because the then-senator was wearing pants. The situation was resolved by her agreement to “wear a long raincoat over her pants.)
In August, it was reported that the sect had issued a decree that higher education for women was “dangerous” and “against the Torah,” and that “no girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree.”