Dear Members of the JCC of LBI and Friends:
As I am writing this there has been an announcement that Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire. This is very good news. However, the events of these last 11 days in Israel, Gaza, here, and around the world, have left me with great sadness and with great trepidation. I have to add anger to the list of emotions. Anger at the physical and verbal violence Israelis and Non-Israeli Jews are being subjected to, and anger at the continuing double standard that Israel is being held to. There is anger at the reaction of some in Congress, and anger at the inaction of others in Congress, but great gratitude that Congress as a whole has been supportive of Israel in its time of need. There is anger at celebrities who should most certainly keep playing sports, singing songs, acting, or making jokes.
I fully support Israel as it fights yet another physical and public relations war. I urge you to do the same. At moments such as these, our brothers and sisters need our support. They need our support emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and financially.
They need to hear from us. If you have family, friends, or acquaintances in Israel, reach out to them. Let them know you care. When the pandemic is over, they will need us to go to Israel and to hug them in person.
For me, the most insufferable thing to have witnessed is that Hamas (a terrorist organization), and Israel (a sovereign nation) are viewed by the press, and much of the world, as moral equivalents. There is no moral equivalency Hamas indiscriminately launches rockets into Israel seeking to do maximum damage. This is because Hamas’ sworn goal is to destroy the Jewish State and to kill Jews. At the same time, Israel is forced to protect itself under rules of engagement that force its army to degrade Hamas’ military capabilities while at the same time avoiding as many civilian casualties as possible. Israel must do this despite the fact that Hamas intentionally places its facilities in areas densely populated by civilians.
For Israel, it is an untenable situation. If it doesn’t attack, Hamas will continue its rocket barrages and kill more Israelis. Yet, if it does attack, the world will tell Israel that it is doing so out of proportion to the danger. (No other country is subject to such standards.)
In this regard, the number of posts that I have seen on social media that talk about the need for “proportionality” of the Israeli response (aka defense) is equally appalling. If someone is seeking to destroy a nation (and its citizens), that nation is permitted to do what is necessary to end the threat. For those who seek “proportionality”, I would imagine that their position would be different if those rockets forced them to run for bomb shelters.
To be clear, the death of any non-combatant, Israeli or Palestinian, is heartbreaking. Life, and the preservation of life, is a core Jewish value. This is why the IDF goes to such great lengths to prevent killing Palestinian civilians. But when a sovereign nation is attacked it is left no real choice.
Most of us do not remember a world without Israel. We have always known that we have a homeland to be proud of. We have always known that we can travel there and that, if we chose, we could live in a Jewish state. This is a blessing and a fact that we should never take lightly.
Israel’s ability to vigorously defend itself is important not just to Israel, but to Jewish people all over the world. One thing that has become clear over these last few days is that there are many people in the United States who do not support Israel. I fear that this number grows each day. Despite the fact that this current crisis appears to be winding down, I urge you to email and call your elected officials and make them know about your concern and the need for steadfast United States support of the Jewish homeland. Over the last few days, I reached out to my representatives no less than 4 times. Each call or email or letter counts.
No democracy is perfect. No country is perfect. The United States is not perfect. Israel is not perfect. However, the amount of vitriol levied against Israel over the last 11 days from all facets of life, entertainers, sports figures, politicians, academics, and “Allegedly” neutral news commentators, has been horrific. There is no way to characterize many of the comments other than as antisemitic. How people can label Israel as an “oppressor”, “colonialist”, or an “apartheid state” is inconceivable. It shows a complete ignorance of the terms and of history. And yet, they do. And they do it with conviction. The rhetoric is simplistic in form, shameful in manner, and disgraceful.
There is no doubt that Israel is singled out because it is a Jewish state.
As a human and as a Jew, I am mindful of the fact that many Palestinians have suffered and are suffering. Caring for the stranger is a core Jewish value.
Could Israel do more to reduce the Palestinian suffering? Maybe. Could the Palestinians do more to reduce Palestinian suffering? Yes. While, perhaps, Israel could do more, the world needs to remember that the history of the middle east is incredibly complicated and non-linear.
I don’t think that the people on college campuses, or who “like” the tweets of AOC, or enjoy the monologues of Trevor Noah or John Oliver, have any idea of the actual history of the Jewish people or of the State of Israel. Nor do they know the history of offers for peace made by Israel (since before the Declaration of the State of Israel in 1948) that were continually rejected by the leaders of the Arabs and of the Palestinians.
I think that most of these folks probably believe that Palestine (and Palestinians) always existed. They don’t know that the name “Palestine” was created by the Romans to disenfranchise the Judeans when they tried to kick the Judeans out of Judea in, or around, the second century. Nor do they know that, during the British Mandate, Jews were called Palestinians. Nor do they know that Arabs living in the area did not begin to refer to themselves as “Palestinians” until the middle of the 1960s.
One of the most sobering things about this most recent crisis is that it has impacted Jewish communities at home. Over the last week there has been a spike in antisemitic acts in the United States. Israel’s war has created a new excuse for the haters to step out of the shadows.
We may very well be on the precipice one of the more dangerous times in our history as Jews, and in the history of the land of Israel. Yes, a ceasefire has been agreed to. But the battle against Israel will continue. We will need to continue to vigilantly support and defend our homeland and our brothers and sisters. We will also need to deal with the growing antisemitism (from the right and the left) here at home.
The first step to working on all of this is to be educated. If you need a primer on the history of Israel, Israel’s attempts to make peace, or the history of antisemitism, reach out to me. I can provide you with a list of books and/or articles.
The good news is that it is that there is a ceasefire and that it is almost Shabbat.
Get some rest, we will need it.
With concern, love and in solidarity –
Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Michael S. Jay