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Rabbi Calls for a Humane Judaism in Israel; Columnist Criticizes Excesses of West Bank Settlers

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 2003

Pointing to the religious excesses of some Orthodox leaders in Israel, Rabbi Gershon Barnard of Northern Hills Synagogue in Cincinnati, notes that, “A disturbing current phenomenon in Israel is the disruption of the Arab olive harvest by (a few) Jewish settlers. These settlers harass the Arabs, who are trying to pick their olives, steal the olives, burn down the trees, and, in at least one case, have killed someone. A former chief rabbi of Israel has said publicly that what those extremists are doing is alright because everything in the land of Israel really belongs to Jews.”  

Rabbi Bernard, who urges support for the Masorti Movement for Conservative Judaism in Israel, which would provide “a clear alternative to that kind of ‘Judaism’,” reports that, “Another chief rabbi, the mentor of the third largest political party in Israel, has compared Arabs to snakes and vermin, and has stated that a man should not pass between two dogs or two women. Certainly not all Orthodox Jews in Israel hold such extreme opinions, but the rabbis in question are quite prominent and there has been virtually no public dissent from them from Orthodox circles.” (National Jewish Post and Opinion, Jan. 8, 2003)  

Writing in Moment (Feb. 2003), columnist Letty Cottin Pogrebin asks, “How much should the rest of Israel have to sacrifice for the sake of settlers and settlements? Must ordinary Jews give their lives so that messianic Jews can realize their dream? ... Should Israelis inside the Green Line be shortchanged on basic health care and social services in the interest of enriching and defending the 200,000 settlers in the West Bank and the 7,000 in Gaza?”  

Pogrebin responds: “Given that Israel was established as a democratic state with a special commitment to social equality and economic justice, the answer should be No on all counts. Yet, current policies suggest otherwise - that Jewish settlers prosper at others’ expense; that the settlements are the government’s spoiled child ... The Interior Ministry’s 2001 audit showed that the West Bank settlements received government grants up to four times larger than those received by development towns ... The 2003 budget doubles the funding for the settlements while cutting aid to poor people and single mothers.”  

In Pogrebin’s view, “The extremists’ goal - which one of their e-mail bulletins describes as ‘total unequivocal Israeli sovereignty over all territory (west) of the Jordan to the Mediterranean and from Golan to Eilat’ - carries serious economic consequences. To administer the daily life of Palestinian towns and cities would cost Israeli taxpayers one billion shekels a month, says Major General Amos Gilead, military policy chief for the occupied territories ... The price in political terms is even dearer. Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s moderate-leaning finance minister, told the U.S. State Department that current Israeli settlement activity is reducing the future Palestinian state to ‘the Middle East equivalent of a native American reservation.’ As a result, he said, the PA may have to rethink its support of a two-state solution.”  

Pogrebin concludes: “One day, the parties will return to the negotiating table; all military conflicts end with pen on paper. The question is, between that day and this, how much will the spoiled child be indulged at the expense of the rest of the family? How long will Israelis permit the settlements to drain the state’s coffers, strain its security forces, and imperil its hopes of peaceful coexistence?”  

Writing in The Jerusalem Report (Feb. 10, 2003), columnist Anne Roiphe argues that, “In Israel it seems as if the taking of the territories, the determination to avoid the peace talks, and the denigration of Oslo will all form the beginning, not the end, of a tragic story. If Israel deprives the Palestinians of a state on the West Bank, that fact will haunt it ever after. It will poison its democracy at its root. One cannot endlessly punish an entire community for the acts of some. One cannot endlessly keep one group of people under the eye of your soldiers without spoiling the very state you want to save. ... Hopefully, without a civil war, without cataclysmic war with the Arab world, Israel will right itself and regain its rectitude and the shining beauty of its promise.”

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