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Thursday, September 3, 2009 | return to: views, opinions


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Rabbis’ fast for Gaza paints one-sided portrait of Israel

by Rabbi David Forman

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Sixty-two rabbis from the liberal streams of American Judaism are participating in a monthly “Jewish Fast for Gaza.” According to their manifesto, crafted by one of the project’s coordinators, Rabbi Brant Rosen, the fast “seeks to end the Jewish community’s silence over Israel’s collective punishment in Gaza that has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of overwhelming proportions.”

VForman, Rabbi David
Rabbi David Forman
Why the fast? In Leviticus we read: “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being spilled” (19:16).

The other project coordinator, Rabbi Brian Walt, is pleased by the response in support of the fast for Gaza, pretentiously named ta’anit tzedek. He writes: “It has been incredibly heartening to find so many rabbis willing to participate in this initiative. It takes a lot of courage. I hope that this is one small step in breaking the Jewish community’s silence over what is happening in Gaza.”

With all of Walt’s pride, only a few of the 62 participants would be considered rabbis of national prominence, although Rosen has gained notoriety because of his visit to Iran (like his Neturei Karta compatriots), from where he wrote: “While I prefer not to weigh in on the rhetorical hairsplitting debate on [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s notorious 2005 threat to wipe Israel off the map, I’ll only suggest that our attitudes and foreign policy must be based on real intelligence and understanding, and not fear-based, knee-jerk assumptions.”

That only 62 of approximately 3,000 liberal rabbis in the United States joined Walt and Rosen’s cause does not warrant bragging rights. Quite the opposite: It indicates a colossal failure for what is clearly an anti-Israel act. Indeed, there are sound reasons for such an embarrassingly low participation, one of which is that in the explanation for the fast, there is barely a hint of support for Israel, although there is a token line condemning Hamas’ rockets.

Because of a total lack of balance, the tenor of Rosen’s and Walt’s comments strikes one as anti-Zionist, bordering on anti-Semitism. It is bad enough that these rabbis are being led by someone like Rosen, who refuses to “weigh in” on Iranian threats of genocide against Israel, but, given the views of some Christian and Muslim signatories to the fast, they are aligning themselves with Israel’s hostile detractors.

Have any of these self-appointed spiritual guardians of the Jewish people ever initiated a similar act of identification with innocent Israelis in the south, whose lives and livelihoods were threatened daily by incessant bombings from Gaza? Though, to their credit, some of the rabbis did visit Sderot.

What about during the height of the second intifada when civilians, both Jewish and Arab, were murdered on buses, at malls, in restaurants, in their homes, or when 500,000 Israelis, again both Jewish and Arab, were displaced from the north as missiles rained down on them during the Second Lebanon War? Did these rabbis carry out an act of self-denial to empathize with them and do something equally dramatic to protest the economic hardships the country underwent?

The literature of the fast group states that Israel has employed the blockade since January 2006, right after Hamas won the elections. However, rockets were landing on Israel years before those elections and before any blockade, just as there was terrorism before 1967. And what of the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas, which was a surefire indication that Hamas would heat up the southern border and begin a concentrated effort to smuggle arms?

After Israel evacuated the settlements and pulled the army out of Gaza, what did the world see? Hamas destroyed public buildings and infrastructure for greenhouses left behind that could have served the social, medical, economic and agricultural needs of Gazan society. With hatred overwhelming self-interest, is it any wonder that Israel was concerned about a Hamas-controlled ministate next door — one that also terrorizes its own residents and witnesses hundreds of Palestinians killed by Palestinians?

Israel had no choice but to react.

Has its response resulted in collective punishment? Yes. However, let’s examine the notion of collectivity. There is a direct link between collective punishment and collective responsibility. In Israel there are dozens of human rights groups that protest its actions in the territories, claiming that the many are forced to suffer for the behavior of a few. It would be morally irresponsible not to speak out. By not protesting, we become complicit partners in those actions.

But where were the Palestinians demonstrating against Hamas’ rocket fire on schools, factories and homes — a deliberate act of collective punishment? (They might find themselves incarcerated, kidnapped or murdered.) Do Gazans really expect not to suffer regardless of the behavior of their leaders? Should fair-minded people absolve Hamas for the collective punishment it brought upon itself as a result of the collective punishment its indiscriminate bombings imposed upon Israel?

How well have these rabbis examined the blockade? Is it as total as they claim? Do they think that concern about arms smuggling is completely bogus, or do they consider that the blockade justifies shooting at Israelis, while Israel’s response deserves wholesale condemnation? Have they no regard for the history and present reality — and the complexities — of what goes on in the south? Their one-sidedness speaks for its prejudicial self.

I consider myself a human rights activist. I oppose any policy that deprives humanitarian aid as well as the basic means for Gazans to live a normal life: electricity, water, gas. A country’s moral steadfastness is tested during conflict. I have frequently criticized the blockade in my column. But one would expect that Jewish criticism of Israel would be predicated on a love for the country, an emotion that is not faintly expressed in the rabbis’ fast for Gaza movement.

Perhaps, unlike my diaspora colleagues, having served in Gaza I can appreciate the context of what is happening. I sympathize with my fellow citizens, not only in the south but throughout the country, who have suffered the atrocities perpetrated against them by Palestinians. The fast for Gaza rabbis fail to recognize that Palestinians do not hold a monopoly on pain. There are victims on both sides of the conflict.

Because of this failure to acknowledge that there are two narratives to the Middle East imbroglio, this minuscule group of rabbis has left sensitivity toward Jewish suffering out of the equation, and sadly stand idly by when their fellow Jews’ blood is being spilled. That is what their fast represents.

Their Web site (http://www.fastforgaza.net), along with Walt’s and Rosen’s declarations, imply that they care not at all about an objective critique of an Israel that should be “a light unto the nations,” but rather care only about painting Israel as an “evil empire,” thereby justifying their and others’ blatant assault on the very legitimacy of a Jewish state.

Rabbi David Forman is the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel and a regular columnist for the Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.


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