The Israel crisis continues and I can’t seem to distract myself from thinking and writing about it. Let me write this Wednesday about Israel more from a gut than an intellectual level, about how my insides are feeling at this very difficult time. I apologize for the length of this piece.
First, it is unbelievably frustrating to know that it didn’t have to be this way. In 2005, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew all settlers and soldiers from Gaza, giving this narrow strip of land its first chance in history, following previous occupations by the Egyptians, British, Ottomans, and others, to exercise sovereignty. That could have become the springboard for a new start, perhaps the beginning of a Singapore on the Mediterranean. Things didn’t start well and within two years Hamas, categorized as a terrorist group by the U.S. and European Union, seized power. Rather than Gaza’s construction, the goal became Israel’s destruction. The Hamas Charter chillingly spells it all out. Building missiles became a national obsession. Where schools were built, too often education for “martyrdom” was the norm – and a special facility was set aside for an arms depot, just as in many hospitals and mosques. Hamas simply does not play by the rules governing democratic societies. In that spirit, it does not try to protect civilians, but uses them for protection, as human shields for rocket launchers and other weapons systems. All this can be difficult for some outside the region to grasp. It runs so contrary to how we live our daily lives, much less how, when necessary, we wage war as democratic nations. People cannot, or don’t want to, understand it. As David Harris of the AJC puts it, “This is a time for moral clarity in the international community. If the fundamental distinction between Israel and Hamas – between the fireman and the arsonist, between the democratic society and the despotic regime – cannot be recognized, then woe unto us.”
And that is where my insides are at this time, in a rather woeful state – because of the loss of Israeli soldiers, so young and often leaving behind wives and children; because of the loss of Palestinian lives when the bunkers can only be used for weapons; because of what can come out of the tunnels; and because there is no easy victory to be had and the intolerable status quo seems to be the likely outcome of all this fighting. I remind myself that Israel has figured a way out of other intolerable situations, like the suicide bombings, and that it will figure all this out too, but so much of its ingenuity should not have to be devoted to such matters.
The part of the gut that is the most complicatedly wrenching – because it is reacting to something so unfair – revolves around the predictable response to this conflict on the streets of Europe and in the American press. It is scary to hear mobs in Europe and demonstrators in Turkey yelling “death to the Jews.” It doesn’t feel good to see the Post front page (vs. occasionally the inside pages and editorials) make Israel look like a vicious heartless bloodthirsty bully. How do we come to peace with the threats and the press attacks? Not only do they imperil Israel’s existence, but part of us may worry that “they” will think of all Jews in the same vile ways.
There are at least two ways of dealing with this, I think. One is exemplified in yesterday’s Huffington Post piece, called “I’m Done Apologizing for Israel,” by colleague Menachem Creditor. He is a shul rabbi in Berkeley and takes a hard left view on almost everything. But he is done apologizing to a cynical world that expects Israel to behave in a way that would lead to its destruction and that nobody else would countenance. I print his full piece at the bottom, it is worth reading.
The other way is to fight back in the ways we can. Fight back against the press, which is literally being held hostage in the Strip at this time and whose access to Gaza (and being able to go home someday) comes at the price of agreeing to Hamas’s demands that it count victims the way they wish (eg all are civilians) and show the kind of pictures they want. Some of us have cancelled our subscriptions, others are writing constantly to the editor so that he doesn’t think silence is acquiescence. Fight back against the economic costs of this war (the psychological costs will be there far longer I fear) by giving tzedakah; yesterday’s Crisis Memo #4 suggested two ways and I hope you will be generous. Thank our Congress people who are amazingly supportive of Israel and need to be recognized for that. Just yesterday, Barbara Mikulski’s office announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee that she chairs passed the FY2015 Defense spending bill which includes $621 million for the U.S. Israel Cooperative Missile Development Programs including $351million for the Iron Dome. Initiate discussions of the war’s true nature with friends and colleagues who may only know what they see on those newspaper front pages. Support your relatives and friends in Israel. And don’t lose the dream that kept us going through 2000 years of exile so that we could become a free people in our own land. It is our historical and our legal right to be there. People have tried to destroy us and that dream, but it doesn’t and it won’t happen. As long as we stick together.
Hoping for better news soon, and praying for the soldiers, I wish you a good Wednesday. Bill Rudolph
P.S. Some nice news on the home front. Our son Marc is getting married in August, as you may know. He and Karen will be called to the Torah for their aufruf this Shabbat in the main service. Marc will chant the Haftarah. We will shep naches and invite you to join us in doing that.
Addendum from Rabbi Menachem Creditor in Huffington Post, July 22, 2014.
I’m done apologizing for Israel.
It’s tiring to apologize over and over. Instead, I’ve decided to come clean: I am a progressive American rabbi who leans left pretty hard. I’ve been engaged, as a US faith leader, in work to reform gun laws, extend LGBT rights around the world, grant refuge to illegal immigrants, protect women’s reproductive choice, and more. Paint me blue.
So, when it comes to Israel, many of those with whom I engage in social reform expect me to react to Israel’s military actions in Gaza with scorn and criticism. To be fair, there are times when I do. My Zionism demands I speak out on behalf of the Israel that remains, in my world-view, the most ambitious project-in-process of the Jewish People. Whereas Israel’s 66 short years have witnessed strength and resilience that have redefined Jewish identity in profound ways, the global Jewish family remains interwoven with Israel. If you question this, scan the last week’s news for anti-Israel rallies in Antwerp, Los Angeles, Paris, Boston, and elsewhere that featured widespread anti-Semitic chants and violence against Jews.
So I’m a progressive US faith leader. I’m a Zionist in Berkeley, CA. I’m a Jew in the world, worried for my family. So here is my response to those criticizing Israel this week.
To those who suggest that Prime Minister Netanyahu is over-reacting to the missiles, I offer this response which I have now shared regularly at campus and communal conversations:
Israel is treating wounded Palestinians during this conflict, risking Israeli lives in surgical strikes to destroy weapons-smuggling tunnels created with building materials Israel allowed into Gaza for infrastructure projects to benefit Palestinian society. Just for a moment, consider the deaths that would result from Israel wishing harm on Palestinian civilians. In just the last 48 hours, Israel has allowed over 10 tons of goods into Gaza. During the past weeks, Israel has agreed to two humanitarian cease-fires. In the first hours of those ceasefires, Hamas rained down over 70 missiles onto Israel civilians.
I ask: What do Israel’s enraged critics truly desire? How is it possible to hear indignant claims of human rights violations in the context of Syrians slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands, state-sanctioned terrorism around the globe, and young immigrants treated like chattel by the US and other? Israel is doing its best, sacrificing its own children to preserve the lives of Palestinians.
I also ask, regarding the world’s seemingly acceptance of Hamas’ tactics as the only remaining option left for a desperate leadership:
Were Hamas to truly lead its people forward to a life of stability and peace, wouldn’t it use building materials for schools instead of smuggling tunnels? Wouldn’t Hamas stop stockpiling weapons in mosques and transporting them in UN ambulances? Wouldn’t Hamas stop firing missiles from civilian population centers if it valued Palestinian lives as much as Israel does? If Israel weren’t so concerned for Palestinian lives, wouldn’t it respond to Hamas’ horrific decisions in kind?
I ask the enraged critics of Israel’s defensive responses to Hamas: Would you have us not respond to this monstrosity? Do you think it’s not worth losing the PR battle to retain our humanity and save as many lives as possible? What country would stand by when thousands of terrorist missiles assault its citizens? I, a Jew, have lost 20 of my sons in the last three days, because I will not lose my humanity and stage a careless ground war in Gaza that would cause mass casualties. Though I fight monsters, I will not become one.
My response has changed these last few weeks, in which three Jewish teens were murdered by Arab terrorists and Palestinians celebrated by distributing sweets to children and an Arab teen was murdered by Jewish terrorists and the Jewish world condemned the hatred. I am done trying to apologetically explain Jewish morality. I am done apologizing for my own Jewish existence.
Some will call this needless hyperbole. But, having watched in this last week anti-Semitic “die-ins” in Boston, violent assaults against Jews in Los Angeles and Antwerp, and an almost pogrom at a synagogue in Paris, I’m done mincing my own words.
We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else.
No more apologies.