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Judaism’s Moral Integrity Is Threatened by Blind Support for Israel

Allan C. Brownfeld
Fall 2014

The Israeli assault on Gaza has taken a terrible toll in human lives, mostly Palestinian civilians, many of them women and children. In the end, it is not only Palestinians who have been victimized, but Jewish moral and ethical values as well. The moral integrity of Judaism is threatened by the focus the organized American Jewish community places on Israel and its blind support for whatever policies the government of that country pursues. For many, it seems, Israel has become a virtual object of worship, replacing God. This is a form of idolatry, similar to that described in the Bible with regard to the golden calf. Sadly, in the case of Gaza, the organized community fully embraced this attack, held rallies in its defense and raised money for the Israel Defense Force. The indifference to the loss of innocent civilian life has shocked many Jews who lament the manner in which, for the Jewish establishment, Israel has become “central” to their idea of Jewish identity and meaning. Narrow nationalism, not religion, has become their focus.  
Rabbi Henry Siegman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project and for many years national director of the American Jewish Congress, states: “When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis — and should be a profound crisis in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and its success.”  
Responding to Israel’s claim that its assault was necessary because no country would tolerate rocket fire from Gaza, he notes that, “What undermines this principle is that no country and no people would live the way the Gazans have been made to live. Couldn’t they (Israel) have done something that did not require that cost? And the answer is, yes, they could end the occupation.”  
Little Sympathy for Victims  
Within the organized American Jewish community, and in Israel, there has been little sympathy expressed for the more than 2,000 victims. The strident voices of support for the assault on Gaza are instructive with regard to what the Jewish establishment holds dear.  
At a pro-Israel rally of 10,000 people in New York on July 28, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, an executive of the New York Board of Rabbis, suggested that Palestinians who voted for Hamas — even though they are civilians — should be considered combatants who deserve to be targeted by Israel. He said: “When you are part of an election process that asks for a terrorist organization which proclaims in word and deed that their primary objective is to destroy their neighboring country … you are complicit and you are not a civilian casualty.” The crowd cheered, and Kirshner went on to say that the Israeli army is “the most moral army in the history of civilization.” Philip Weiss, reporting on the event in Mondoweiss, points out that, “The rabbi did not make clear how he would sort out Palestinians who voted for Hamas. In the last election in Palestine, in 2006, Hamas got 440,000 votes — 44% of the electorate. Fatah won 410,000, the FLP 42,000. Elsewhere in the speech the rabbi identified himself wholly with the Israeli government, saying that, ‘We gave them freedom nine years ago,’ referring to the end of the settlement program in Gaza.”  
Liberal Rabbi Endorses Israeli Action  
Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley, California is a well-known liberal, an advocate of gay rights, abortion rights, gun control and granting refuge to illegal aliens. He was named by Newsweek as one of America’s 50 most influential rabbis. When it comes to Israel, however, he has defended the bombing of civilians in Gaza and declares: “I am done trying to apologetically explain Jewish morality. I am done apologizing for my own Jewish existence.” Although ostensibly an American, he said, referring to Israeli soldiers, “I have lost 20 of my sons in the last 3 days.”  
Even J Street, promoted as a “liberal” Zionist voice, has embraced Israel’s actions in Gaza. In 2008, the group publicly opposed Israel’s assault on Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. During subsequent crises, J Street has declined to criticize Israeli actions. In the face of mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, J Street has joined the organized Jewish community in providing uncritical support.  
In Israel itself, there has been almost unanimous support for the war on Gaza and some calls for even harsher steps to be taken. Ayelet Shaked, a member of Knesset from the Israel Home Party, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s governing coalition, issued on Facebook what amounts to a call to commit genocide by deliberately killing Palestinians, including women, children and old people. “The entire Palestinian people is the enemy,” she posted. “In wars, the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.” She went on to say that mothers of Palestinians should follow their dead sons to hell: “They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”  
When Is Genocide Permissible  
The Times of Israel (Aug. 1, 2014) published a blog by Yochanan Gordon with the headline, “When Genocide Is Permissible.” Gordon contended that, “Nothing can be considered disproportionate … Hamas has stated forthrightly that it idealizes death as much as Israel celebrates life. What other way is there to deal with an enemy of this nature than obliterate them completely?” In Gordon’s view, “ … anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian … If political leaders determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals?” (After objections, The Times of Israel withdrew the material, but the point was made).  
According to the London Daily Mail (Aug. 4, 2014), Moshe Feiglin, Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, posted a message on his Facebook page calling for concentration camps in Gaza and “the conquest of the entire Gaza Strip and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters.” He lays out a detailed plan for the destruction of Gaza, which includes shipping its residents across the world, in a letter he addressed to Prime Minister Netanyahu. In this letter, Feiglin details how he wants Netanyahu “to turn Gaza into Jaffa, a flourishing Israeli city with a minimum number of hostile civilians.” In 1948, Jaffa was a Palestinian town but there was an exodus of its Arab population when it fell to the fledgling Israeli army and Jewish militias.  
Sympathy for Gaza’s Victims Is Unacceptable  
When Hanoch Sheinman, a philosophy professor at the law school of Bar-Ilan University, an Orthodox institution, sent an e-mail to his second year law students expressing sympathy for all victims of Israel’s conflict in Gaza, he was chastised by the law school dean, Shachar Lifshits. According to Lifshits, the sentiments expressed in the e-mail “contravene the values of the university and the law faculty … This constitutes the inappropriate use of the power given to a lecturer to exploit the platform given to him as a law teacher … that … seriously offended the students and their families.”  
The offending e-mail contained instructions about the rescheduling of exams. The e-mail began with a wish that it “finds you in a safe place, and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded and whose homes were destroyed or were forced to leave their homes during or as a direct result of the violent confrontation in the Gaza Strip and its environs.”  
Discussing the “offense” of sympathizing with Gaza’s victims, Professor Steven J. Zipperstein, who teaches Jewish Culture and History at Stanford, provides this assessment: “There is no reason to doubt that Lifshits is telling the truth when he says that Sheinman’s e-mail offended. And that’s the problem. That he then goes on to say that the sentiments expressed in it conflict with the values of his university, an institution inspired by religious convictions, chills one’s bones. And this from an institution, indeed a law school, that ought to be keenly attuned to what an inability to empathize with basic human rights can result in. Yitzchak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, was a law student in November 1995 at the time he murdered the prime minister.”  
Zipperstein notes that, “Never before in an Israeli military conflict has the mere expression of empathy for Arab civilian dead and wounded been seen, beyond the political fringe, as akin to betrayal … Sheinman’s dean has asked him to apologize. But it’s Lifshits who ought to offer an apology …”  
Rabbi Steinsaltz Rejects Equal Rights for Palestinians  
It is not only right-wing spokesmen in Israel who express contempt for Palestinians. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, the widely respected Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who after 45 years of work translated the entire Talmud from archaic Aramaic into modern Hebrew, said that the West Bank cannot be considered “occupied,” and, according to the Post, sees “no moral necessity to give Palestinians full political rights.” With regard to the murder of Palestinian teenager Abu Khdeir, Steinsaltz said, “Killing this boy is a horrible thing,” but in his view the murder “should be condemned not principally because what they did was morally abhorrent … but because their despicable act endangered the lives of Jews by generating a backlash of Arab fury.”  
Killing a Jew, Steinsaltz declared, is considered much more severe than killing a non-Jew according to Halacha, Orthodox Jewish law. Interviewer Matt Wagner told Steinsaltz he found this “immoral.” Steinsaltz replied: “I do not see things in your light … Morality is such an ephemeral phenomenon.” There is growing evidence that the voices embracing the Israeli assault on Gaza from the organized American Jewish community do not represent the thinking of most American Jews. Many other voices are being heard echoing the words of Tikkun’s Rabbi Michael Lerner (see article on Page 1) and Rabbi Henry Siegman.  
Standing with Gaza Because No One Stood with Us  
The widely read author Naomi Wolf, much of whose family was lost in the Holocaust, writes: “I mourn genocide in Gaza because I am the granddaughter of a family half wiped out in a holocaust and I know genocide when I see it. People are asking why I am taking this ‘side.’ There are no sides. I mourn all victims. But every law of war and international law is being broken in the targeting of civilians in Gaza. I stand with the people of Gaza exactly because things might have turned out differently if more people had stood with the Jews in Germany. I stand with the people of Gaza because no one stood with us.” Wolf reports that, “I went to synagogue last Friday night and had to leave because I kept waiting for the massacre in Gaza to be addressed … Nothing. Where is God? God is only ever where we stand with our neighbor in trouble and against injustice. I turn in my card of faith as of now because of our overwhelming silence as Jews … I want no other religion than this, seeing rather than denying my neighbor under fire and embracing rather than dismissing those targeted with annihilation and ethnic cleansing.”  
Author Lawrence Wechsler argues that, “… if the Palestinians are quiescent and not engaged in any overt rebellion, the Israelis … manage to tell themselves that things are fine and there’s no urgent need to address the situation; and if, as a result, the endlessly put-upon Palestinians do finally rise up in any sort of armed resistance (rocks to rockets), the same Israelis exasperate, ‘How are you supposed to negotiate with monsters like this?’ A wonderfully convenient formula since it allows the Israelis to go blithely on systematically stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank and continuing to confine 1.8 million Gazans within what might well be described as a concentration camp.”  
Historical Backdrop of Conflict  
Too few of those commenting on the conflict in Gaza have put these events in an historical context. In an article, “Who Bears More Responsibility for the War in Gaza?” John Judis, writing in The New Republic (July 25, 2014) provides this assessment: “Israel is one of the world’s last colonial powers and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are its unruly subjects. Like many past anti-colonial movements, Hamas and Fatah are deeply flawed and have sometimes poorly represented their peoples, and sometimes unnecessarily provoked the Israelis and used tactics that violate the rules of war. But the Israeli government has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to rule harshly over its subjects, while maintaining a ruinous blockade on Gaza.”  
In Judis’ view, “There is no moral justification for Hamas firing rockets against Israeli cities, but what initially sparked the current conflict was Israel’s determination to undermine the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. By that agreement, Hamas actually subordinated itself to the Palestinian Authority and to a new government that was to be staffed by technocrats who had no affiliation to either party … That agreement could have served the interest of an Israeli government committed to a two-state solution. But from the beginning, Israel set out to undermine it. That was consistent with Israel’s denial of Palestinian self-rule and it helped to provoke the current conflict.” American Jewish “support for Israel’s stance on the occupation has somewhat diminished,” concludes Judis. “It would be nice to say that in the long run, justice will prevail and Israel will redeem its democratic promise and that the Palestinians will get their state, but looking backwards over the last century of protracted conflict, it doesn’t look at all promising.”  
Jewish Chauvinism  
Asking why the American Jewish establishment, which is largely liberal in its political outlook, has embraced the attack upon Gaza, M.J. Rosenberg, a former Zionist who was once a spokesman for AIPAC, answers that, “It’s simple, most Jews apparently are as chauvinistic as every other ethnic group. If they saw any other army (including the U.S. Army) doing to kids what the Israeli army is doing, they would be appalled at the monstrous cruelty. But it’s apparently okay when Jews are doing it, even buying into obscene propaganda (like something out of Berlin in 1942) that Palestinians are, in Netanyahu’s words, using ‘telegenitically-dead Palestinians for their cause. They want — the more dead the better.’ Imagine believing Palestinians are picking out beautiful babies to die to advance their cause. It’s obscene.”  
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, a long-time Zionist, is dismayed with Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians: “I am a Zionist because the story of my forebears convinced me that Jews needed the homeland voted into existence by U.N. Resolution 181 of 1947. What I cannot accept, however, is the perversion of Zionism that has seen the growth of a Messianic Israeli nationalism claiming all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, that has, for almost a half century now, produced the systematic oppression of another people in the West Bank; that has led to the steady expansion of Israeli settlements on the very West Bank land of any Palestinian state; that isolating moderate Palestinians in the name of divide-and-rule, that pursues policies that will make it impossible to remain a Jewish and democratic state … that blockades Gaza with 1.8 million people locked in its prison and then is surprised by the periodic eruptions of the inmates; and then responds disproportionately to attack in a way that kills hundreds of children.”  
All of this, Cohen declares, “As a Zionist I cannot accept. Jews, above all people, know what oppression is … No argument, no Palestinian outrage or subterfuge, can gloss over what Jewish failure the killing of children in such numbers represents … The Israeli case for bombardment of Gaza could be foolproof. If Benjamin Netanyahu had made a good faith effort to find common cause with Palestinian moderates for peace and been rebuffed, it would be. He has not. Hamas is vile. I would happily see it destroyed. But Hamas is also a product of a situation that Israel has reinforced rather than sought to resolve … This corrosive Israeli exercise in the control of another people, breeding the contempt of the powerful for the oppressed, is a betrayal of the Zionism in which I still believe.”  
Indifference to Slaughter  
Even so strong a supporter of Israel as Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, has expressed concern about the “indifference in the Jewish world” to the slaughter in Gaza as well as the wholehearted Israeli support for it. He said that he found Israel’s failure to sort out militants from civilians “sickening,” and that he needs to distance himself from the Israel lobby and Israeli society. He states: “There are no concepts that can catch up with the murder of children. After all, even Satan has not yet devised the proper vengeance for the death of a child. I have been surprised by the magnitude of the indifference of the Jewish world to the human costs of Israel’s defense against the missiles and the tunnels. Some of the e-mails I have received have been lunatic in their lack of compassion.”  
Rabbi Alissa Wise, co-director of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, reports that, “Every time Israel engages in high-profile repression of civilians, we get inundated. But we have never seen anything like this. Our mailing list grew by 50,000 in three weeks and we can’t keep up with the demand for new chapters. This is the final straw for many Jews, who have decided that their silence implies consent.”  
In Israel, there are also dissenting voices which we hear all too rarely. Consider Uri Avnery, who will soon turn 91, and still writes a weekly column, He has led an extraordinary life. Born in Germany in 1923, his family fled the Nazis and moved to Palestine. As a youth, he joined the Irgun Zionist paramilitary group, which he later quit to become a peace activist in Israel. In 1950, he founded the news magazine HaOlim Hazeh and fifteen years later he was elected to the Knesset on a peace platform. In 1982, he made headlines when he crossed the lines during the siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat, head of the then-banned PLO. In 1993, he started the Gush Shalom peace movement.  
As Long As the Occupation Lasts, There Will Be No Peace  
In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now in the midst of the fighting in Gaza, Avnery said that, “The root of the matter is that Israel is occupying the Palestinian territories, the territory of the West Bank and the territory of the Gaza Strip. As long as the occupation lasts, there will be no peace … In order to achieve peace with the Palestinian people, Israel must end the occupation, withdraw from the occupied territories, and enable the Palestinians to set up their own independent nation and state … That’s what it’s all about. Everything flows from this basic problem.”  
Recalling his youth, Avnery notes that, “I was a member of a terrorist organization when I was 15 years old. I believe I understand the psychology of young people who join organizations which are called terrorist by their enemies, but which think of themselves as freedom fighters. Hamas thinks it’s fighting for the freedom of Palestine. One of the basic problems at this moment is that Israelis and Hamas do not talk to each other … I think Israel and Hamas must talk to each other … Hamas cannot and will not agree to a real cease fire if there is a blockade of the Gaza Strip. It’s a tiny, tiny little territory. You have 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip … It’s suffering from a blockade for at least eight years.”  
Avnery reports that he and his friends, “… have demanded that our government start talks with Hamas. Eight years ago, we ourselves met with Hamas leaders. I found them people with whom I don’t necessarily agree, but people with whom I can talk. I believe that even today we can come to an agreement with the Palestinian people, including Hamas … The government of Israel, which represents the extreme right, with some openly fascist elements in it … does not want to give up the occupied territories. That’s the whole point. If we are ready to give up this territory and allow Palestinians to set up their own nation and state of Palestine, then the problem is solved … The question is: Do we agree to live side by side with an independent state of Palestine? Yes or No? If not, we shall have war again and again, till the end of time.”  
Destroying Democracy from Within  
Another respected Israeli dissenting voice is that of Idith Zertal, historian and author with Akiva Eldar of The Lords of the Land: The War Over Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007. Zertal has taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and recently at the University of Basel in Switzerland.  
In a recent interview in Le Courier, a Swiss French-language daily, Zertal declared that, “A country cannot claim to be a democracy and support such an extended military occupation without destroying itself from within. Today, there are more than 500,000 colonists spread across the whole of the West Bank, counting those living near Jerusalem outside the internationally recognized borders of Israel. Obviously, they (the Israeli government) would have liked to see Israel extend from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, and beyond. But unless I am mistaken, they are quite satisfied with the current situation, which involves, on the one hand, daily expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and lands, which has become almost routine, and, on the other hand, a continuous expansion of the colonies.”  
While the current Israeli government promoted the expansion of settlements, Zertal points out that, “There are thousands of Israelis militating every day against the occupation, who help the Palestinians in the occupied territory, but the question of the occupation is rarely discussed in public.” Still, in her view, the right-wing colonists “are capable of anything to defend their cause. They know no limits. The heads of the intelligence services are quite blunt about it: some of the colonists are ready to arrange the assassination of a new prime minister, just like what happened to Yitzchak Rabin … it is worth noting the poisonous role played by some of the racist rabbis who do not hesitate to declare kosher all methods, even the worst, in the colonists’ struggle … With the arrival of Ariel Sharon in the government at the end of the 1970s, the administration adopted the strategy of preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state and the existence of a democratic Palestinian society. Their objectives seem to have been achieved.”  
Gazans Incarcerated as Criminals  
The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, now director of the European Centre for Palestinian Studies at the University of Exeter in England, says that, “When you listen to mainstream media coverage of the situation in Gaza you get the impression that it all starts with an unreasonable launching of rockets into Israel by Hamas. The deeper historical context is the fact that ever since 2005, the Gaza Strip is being, or people in the Gaza Strip are being incarcerated as criminals, and their only crime is that they elected democratically someone who vowed to struggle against this ghettoizing or this siege. Israel reacted with all its force. One can solve this situation by lifting the siege, by allowing the people of Gaza to be connected with their brothers and sisters in the West Bank, and by allowing them to be connected to the world and not live under circumstances that no one else in the world seems to experience at this moment in time.”  
Pappe laments the decisions Israel has made in recent years: “I think Israel is at a crossroads, but it has already made its decision which way it is going from this junction. It was in a junction where it had to decide finally whether it wants to be a democracy or a racist apartheid state and not a democracy, and it still hopes the U.S. would license this decision and provide it with the immunity to continue with the necessary implication of such a policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians, wherever they are.”  
Another dissenting voice is that of Israeli author David Grossman, who lost a son in one of Israel’s earlier conflicts. The anguish of the Palestinian people under attack stirs Grossman. He states that, “If we put aside for a moment the rationales we use to buttress ourselves against simple human compassion toward the multitude of Palestinians whose lives have been shattered in this war, perhaps we will be able to see them, too, as they trudge around the grindstone right beside us, in tandem, in endless blind circles, in despair … There is no military solution to the real anguish of the Palestinian people, and as long as the suffocation felt in Gaza is not alleviated, we in Israel will not be able to breathe freely either.”  
Palestinians Have Decided in Favor of Negotiations  
Grossman declares that, “Mahmoud Abbas has already decided in favor of negotiation and against terrorism. Will the government of Israel, after this bloody war, continue to avoid at least trying this option? … Will it keep dismissing the possibility that an agreement with West Bank Palestinians might gradually lead to an improved relationship with the 1.8 million residents of Gaza … I believe that Israel still contains a critical mass of people … Jews and Arabs, who are capable of uniting … to resolve the conflict with our neighbors … If we do not do this, we will all … continue to turn the grindstone of this conflict, which crushes and erodes our lives, our hopes and our humanity.”  
In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz (Aug. 13, 2014), Israel Prize laureate and renowned scholar Zeev Sternhal expressed fear that Israeli democracy was threatened, and compared the current atmosphere with that of 1940s France. In September 2008, Sternhal opened the door of his home in Jerusalem and was wounded by a bomb. A year later, the police apprehended the perpetrator, Yaakov Teitel, a resident of a West Bank settlement, and one time informer for the Shin Bet Security Service. In his interrogation, it turned out that his crimes included the murder of two Palestinians.  
Born in Poland in 1935, Sternhal’s father died during World War II and his mother and sister were murdered by the Nazis. It troubles Sternhal that as the attack on Gaza continued, “What we’ve seen here in the past few weeks is absolute conformism on the part of most of Israel’s intellectuals. They’ve just followed the herd. The role of the intellectual and the journalist is not to applaud the government. Democracy crumbles when the intellectual, the educated classes toe the line of the thugs or look at them with a smile … We reached a crisis in this war, in which, without anyone asking them to do so, all kinds of university bodies are suddenly demanding that the entire academic community roll back its criticism.”  
Erosion of Enlightenment Values  
Contemporary Israel, Sternhal shows, is turning away from Western values and is in the process of turning away from the Enlightenment: “Israel is an extraordinary laboratory in which one sees the gradual erosion of enlightenment values … You see the negation, which always existed on the fringes, slowly impinging, until one day it dominates the center … Democracy ceased to exist in the territories long ago. The Palestinians there have no human rights, you rule them by force. The settlements are a cancer. If our society is unable to muster sufficient strength, political power and mental fortitude to remove some of the settlements, that will signal that the Israel story is finished, that the story of Zionism as we understand it, as I understand it, is over.”  
At the present time, notes Sternhal, “Israel is … the last colonial country in the West. How long will that continue? If not for the memory of the Holocaust and the fear of being accused of anti-Semitism, Europe would have long since boycotted the settlements, … The group led by Naftali Bennett and Uri Ariel scares me — they and the right-wing branch of Likud are truly dangerous people, because they really don’t understand what democracy is, what human rights are, and they truly and deeply hate the Arabs in a way that doesn’t allow for coexistence here.”  
Yitzhak Beer of the Keshev Centre for The Protection of Democracy in Israel says that it has never been more difficult to voice dissent in a country that prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East. He states that, “The extremist section of Israeli society has kidnaped the state of Israel.”  
Administrative Brutality of Occupation  
In an important new book, Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories, Ahron Bregman, a former Israeli soldier in Lebanon who is now an academic at King’s College London, describes the administrative brutality beneath Israel’s claim to “enlightened occupation.” He describes how, in the aftermath of the 1967 conquest, Israel’s government trucked a quarter of Gaza’s residents to Jordan; how General Moshe Dayan’s “Open Bridges” policy, which gave Palestinians a respite from occupation and the chance to travel to Jordan, opened only in one direction for many; and how the Golan Heights were emptied of their 138,000 people, bar a few thousand Druze. The more people Israel displaced, he states, the more land became available for Jewish settlements.Bregman shows that for five decades Israel has sought to keep and colonize as much territory as its Western allies would permit. He writes: “Israel, helped by the Jewish diaspora, particularly in America, proved that nations which have suffered unspeakable tragedies of their own can act in similarly cruel ways when in power themselves.”  
Indeed, more than two hundred Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of Nazi genocide signed a statement which appeared as an ad in The New York Times (Aug. 23, 2014) which “unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine.”  
Racist Dehumanization of Palestinians  
The Holocaust survivors and descendants state: “We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world. We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in the Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.”  
Referring to an ad in which Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel defended Israel’s attack upon Gaza and blamed Hamas for the more the more than 2,000 casualties, including hundreds of children, the Holocaust survivors declare: “… We are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history … to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of more than 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water. We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for for the full economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel. ‘Never Again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!” Among the Holocaust survivors signing this statement were: Hajo Meyer, Netherlands; Henri Wajnblum, Belgium; Jacques Glaser, France; Lillian Rosengarten, U.S.; Edith Rubenstein, Belgium; Shimon Schwarzschild, Germany; Eva Naylor, New Zealand; Bernard Swierszcz, Poland; Hedy Epstein, U.S., and Joseph Klinkow, Poland.  
Jews Unwilling to Subordinate Ethical Standards  
In distributing this statement of the Holocaust survivors and descendants, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, notes that, “While I do not agree that the appropriate response to Israel’s actions in Gaza is a blanket boycott of Israel (though I do support boycotting firms providing support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and non-Palestinian firms that operate in the West Bank and help Israeli settlements there). I believe that it is important to publicize the growing sentiment of revulsion at the consequences of the Occupation, the blockade of Gaza and the destruction of Gaza and its people among Jewish people who are unwilling to subordinate their ethical sensibilities to blind support for the policies of the current government of Israel.”  
The number of Jews of conscience who have spoken out in behalf of traditional Jewish moral and ethical values, which they believe to be violated by Israeli actions, is growing. David Harrison-Gershon, author of What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife, writes that, “As a Jew living in America, the last week has changed me forever … I was mostly instilled with progressive values as a child. Rather, I was instilled with progressive American values — particularly those which aligned with liberal Jewish ones. A love for social justice, human rights, equality. A disdain for racism, fundamentalism, colonialism. Despite this, my early love for progressivism was accompanied by a love for the State of Israel. I was naturally inclined to root for the underdog. And at synagogue we were taught that Jews were the ultimate underdogs, miraculously surviving the Holocaust and a history of oppression to create a contemporary ‘light unto the nations’ which fought with dogged determination against evil … And I was taught that I was vulnerable, that there were people who wanted me dead, and that Israel was a safe haven, a beacon, a garden to which I could always escape.”  
Palestinians, he recalls, “were portrayed as just one in a series of people who have risen up throughout history to destroy us, being painted as a caricature of evil. As a boy, I nodded and understood. Israel was not just good, it was necessary.” At the liberal synagogue he attended, Harrison-Gershon remembers a youth group event which was described as a pancake supper: “We were surprisingly herded into a multi-purpose room and sharply ordered to sit against the walls by masked men carrying plastic assault rifles. Stale bread was thrown on the linoleum floor toward me and my friends … This is what the enemy is like, some teachers told us when it was over. I nodded. We were the good ones.”  
Struggle between Zionism and Progressivism  
Now, for Harrison-Gershon things are not so simple: “I’ve moved away from such naïveté while holding on to both my Zionism and progressive leanings … despite the growing struggle for coexistence between the two … I’m a Jewish studies teacher at a day school, yeshiva-educated with a master’s degree from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I’ve authored a memoir about my experience with terror and reconciliation … As an adult I’ve learned about the cleansing of Arab villages which took place from 1947-1949 to make way for the Jewish state. I’ve learned about the ongoing settlement enterprise, the appropriation and bifurcation of Palestinian lands. I’ve learned about the horrors of Israel’s decades-old occupation of the West Bank and about the suppression of basic human rights and the atrocities committed. I’ve studied Israel’s use of indefinite detentions, home demolitions, restrictions on goods and movement and the violence visited on those being occupied.”  
Knowing all this, Harrison-Gershon still held fast to his progressive Zionism, hoping Israel might still become the beacon of liberalism he was presented as a child. Recent events have caused him to wonder if he can any longer sustain the compromises of the past:  
I’ve watched … racism flourish and religious fundamentalism grow, watched Israel’s government build settlements at a record pace and make clear that it has little interest in peace … In order to continue supporting Israel as a Jewish state, with everything it continues to do, I must compromise my progressivism. However, the mind-numbingly horrific events of the past week have forced me, for the first time, to wonder whether such compromises can be sustained … I have begun for the first time to consider what a single bi-national state might look like, to consider that it finally end this madness. And here’s the irony — Israel’s extreme-right leaders, embracing various one-state solutions, have forced me to do so … .Israel just elected as its President a one-state proponent. How can I not consider what that might look like?  
Gaza War Is Self-Defeating  
British journalist Jonathan Freedland, who identifies himself as a “liberal Zionist,” believes that while Israel’s fears are real, its war in Gaza is self-defeating. Writing in The Guardian (July 25, 2014) he provides this assessment: “Israelis want security, yet their government’s actions will give it no security. On the contrary, they are utterly self-defeating … More Israelis have died in the operation to tackle the Hamas threat than have died from the Hamas threat, at least over the past 5 years … .To address the risk that hypothetical Israeli soldiers might be kidnaped, 33 actual Israeli soldiers have died … Before the current round of violence, the West Bank had been relatively quiet for years … An operation designed to make Israel more secure has made it much less.”  
Discussing the toll of civilian deaths in Gaza, particularly children, Freedland argues that, “For every one of those Gazan children — their lives broken by pain and bloodshed three times in the past 6 years — will surely grow up with a heart hardened against Israel, some of them bent on revenge. In trying to crush today’s enemy, Israel has reared the enemy of tomorrow.”  
Real security, in Freedland’s view, requires more than walls and tanks: “It requires alliances and support … Yet every day Israel is seen to be battering Gaza, its reservoir of world sympathy drops a little lower. And that is to reckon without the impact of this violence on Israel’s own moral fibre. After 47 years of occupation and even more years of conflict, the constant demonization of the enemy is having a corrosive effect: witness the ‘Sderot cinema,’ The Israelis gathering in lawn chairs on a border hilltop to munch popcorn and watch missiles rain down on Gaza. No nation can regard itself as secure when its ethical moorings come loose. The only real security is political, not military, it comes through negotiation, not artillery fire. In the years of quiet this should have been the Israeli goal. Instead, every opening was obstructed, every opportunity spurned.”  
With People of Gaza Because of Jewish History  
On August 9, demonstrations took place in many cities around the world in support of the people of Gaza. In London, 19-year-old student and Jewish activist Barnaby Raine organized a “Jewish Bloc Against Zionism.” At the London rally, Raine addressed the crowd: “I am proud to stand here today as a Jewish boy from North London in solidarity with the people in Gaza. I’m not here today in spite of Jewish history. I’m here because of Jewish history … I’m here today because my great grandparents knew what it meant to be excluded and to be the victims of racism. They knew what it was like to be booted out of their homes and turned into refugees.”  
In an interview with BBC, Raine asked, “Is that a conflict? When people flee for their lives to U.N. shelters and then Israel attacks the U.N. shelters, is that a conflict? (No). No, No, BBC. This is not a conflict, this is a massacre. I am 19 years old. What future awaits the 19 year olds of Gaza? … In the early 20th century, people all over the world, from all backgrounds who stood for the oppressed might have declared, I too am a Jew. When apartheid besmirched the earth, people might have said, I too am a black South African. Well, today, people from all backgrounds, from all walks of life, all over the world, come together and say in our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.”  
Professor Marc Ellis, a leading authority on contemporary Judaism and the founding director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Baylor University, wrote an open letter addressed to Jewish journalists reporting on events in Gaza: “Has Jewish history come to this? What are Jews of conscience like you to do with what you are seeing? Jews have never descended to this level of depravity before. The end of Jewish history as we have known and inherited it — I think that’s what you’re witnessing. Whatever ethical valves were present in our tradition — what both of us consciously or subconsciously draw upon — are gone. Like, or with, the Palestinians, Jewish ethics have literally been blown away.”  
Weight of Jewish History  
Professor Ellis concludes his letter this way: “If only there was something hopeful I could share with you. Nothing in my lifetime — perhaps in yours since you are much younger but I also doubt this — will set this aright. Barring a strike from the heavens — a miracle of sorts — Palestinians will remain under Israel’s thumb. You are witnessing a horror that is present-day but resonates with the Jewish past. It’s defining our Jewish future. Yes, you’re witnessing our future in Gaza — which has already arrived …. The Jewish boots on the ground (in protest) are a sign of hope — the only hope we have — at the end. So I have to choose my words wisely. I also have to tell them the truth as I see it. It wouldn’t be right to condescend to those who bear the weight of Jewish history, as it comes to an end.”  
In his important 2009 book, Judaism Does Not Equal Israel, Dr. Ellis explains that the prophetic vision of Judaism is contrary to the “corrupting — and potentially fatal — identification with modern Israel … For Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt … both saw only danger in the attempt to normalize the Jewish situation through statehood. Statehood would destroy everything. The consequences of the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel, especially the cleansing of large numbers of Palestinians foretold disaster for both. The early warnings of Buber and Arendt show how aware they were of the consequences of a politics of dispossession and power enshrined in the modern state. These consequences included the failure of the Jewish ethical tradition, the quashing of internal dissent, and the positing of an exclusive right to narrate a univocal understanding of history … In sum, the consequences of statehood would be a disaster for Jews and Arabs.”  
Before the creation of Israel, writes Ellis, “Jews were … primarily a people with a mission before and beyond the state. The special language of the Judaic was found in sacred texts rather than in territory. Jews guarded these texts, the Torah and the Talmud, and it was here that Jews would find their special destiny and contribute to the world. Nation states come and go. Moreover, they use violence to survive.” Buber, Arendt and others, “… warned that, once assumed, state power would propel Jews into an assimilation to violence and uniformity of thought. This has been achieved in a way approaching totality … Jews of Conscience must re embrace the prophetic without Judeocentric superiority and rabbinic limitations. This reembracing is impossible within the Jewish establishment today …”  
Returning His “Righteous Among the Nations” Medal  
In August, Henk Zanoli, 91, went to the Israeli Embassy in The Hague, The Netherlands, and returned a medal he received honoring him as one of the Righteous Among the Nations — non-Jews honored for saving Jews during the Holocaust.  
In 1943, Henk Zanoli took a dangerous train trip, slipping past Nazi guards and checkpoints to smuggle a Jewish boy from Amsterdam to the Dutch village of Eemmes. There, the Zanoli family, already under suspicion for resisting the Nazi occupation, hid the boy in their home for two years. The boy would be the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. The New York Times reported that, “Seventy-one years later, on July 20, an Israeli airstrike flattened a house in the Gaza Strip, killing six of Mr. Zanoli’s relatives by marriage. His grandniece, a Dutch diplomat, is married to a Palestinian economist, Ismail Ziadah, who lost three brothers, a sister-in-law, a nephew and his father’s first wife in the attack.”  
Mr. Zanoli, whose father died in a Nazi camp, wrote a letter to the Israeli ambassador in which he described the terrible price his family had paid for opposing Nazi tyranny. “My sister lost her husband, who was executed in the dunes of The Hague for his involvement in the resistance,” he wrote. “My brother lost his Jewish fiancée who was deported, never to return. Against this background, it is particularly shocking and tragic that today, four generations on, our family is faced with the murder of our kin in Gaza. Murder carried out by the State of Israel.”  
“Jews Were Our Friends”  
In an interview with The Times (Aug. 16, 2014), Mr. Zanoli said, “I gave back my medal because I didn’t agree with what the state of Israel is doing to my family and to the Palestinians on the whole. This decision is a statement only against the state of Israel, not the Israeli people. Jews were our friends. I never publicly criticized Israel until I heard that my family was the victim.”  
In his letter, Mr. Zanoli said that his family had “strongly supported the Jewish people” in their quest for a “national home,” but he had gradually come to believe that “the Zionist project” had “a racist element in it in aspiring to build a state exclusively for Jews.” He referred to the displacement of Palestinians during the war over Israel’s founding as “ethnic cleansing” and said Israel still occupies the West Bank and retains control over Gaza’s seafront, airspace and most of its borders.  
He wrote: “The only way out of the quagmire the Jewish people of Israel have gotten themselves into is by granting all living under the control of the State of Israel the same political rights and social and economic rights and opportunities. Although this will result in a state no longer exclusively Jewish it will be a state with a level of righteousness on the basis of which I could accept the title of ‘Righteous Among the Nations’ you awarded to my mother and me.” In that event, he concluded, “be sure to contact me or my descendants.”  
The Gifts of the Jews  
At the present time, in the organized Jewish community, the Jewish moral and ethical tradition is threatened as nationalism has replaced faith. We often forget how important that Jewish tradition is, not only to Jews, but to the larger world. In his book The Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill writes: “Because of their unique belief — monotheism — the Jews were able to give us the Great Whole, a unified universe that makes sense and that, because of its evident superiority as worldview, completely overwhelms the warring and contradictory phenomenon of polytheism. They gave us the Conscience of the West, and the belief that this God who is One is not the God of outward show but the still, small voice of conscience, the God of compassion, the God who ‘will be there,’ the God who cares about each of his creatures, especially the human beings he created ‘in his own image,’ and that he insists we do the same. Even the gradual universalization of Jewish ideas hinted at in the story of Ruth … was foreseen by Joel, the late prophet who probably rose after the return from Babylon: ‘And it will come to pass that I shall pour out my spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old people shall dream dreams and your young people see visions. Even on slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my spirit.’”  
Judaism’s gift was not narrow nationalism, but a universal vision, meant for and available to men and women of every race and nation. Cahill shows that, “Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside — our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact — adventure, surprise, unique, individual, person, vocation, time, history, future, progress, spirit, faith, hope and justice — are gifts of the Jews … If one is ever to find the spirit of God in human affairs, one must find it here … Humanity’s most extravagant dreams are articulated by the Jewish prophets. In Isaiah’s vision, true faith is no longer confined to one nation but ‘all the nations’ stream to the House of Yahweh ‘that he may teach us his ways ‘ and that we may learn to ‘beat our swords into plough shares.’ All who share this outrageous dream of universal brotherhood, peace and justice, who dream the dreams and see the visions of the great prophets, must bring themselves to contemplate the possibility that without God there is no justice.”  
Preserving Judaism’s Moral Integrity  
Much of the early part of the Bible reflected an ancient worldview of tribal gods which were not the unique Jewish contribution to religion, but a holdover from the past. Thus, in the Book of Joshua, God commanded the Israelites to put all Canaanites, the original inhabitants of Palestine, to death. In the Psalms, the poet regularly urges God to effect the brutal destruction of the poet’s enemies. This is hardly the god of the Prophets. In its early days, Reform Judaism stripped Judaism of those characteristics which served the idea of a separate “Jewish peoplehood.” What remained was the Judaism of the prophets, a religion of universal and moral ethical laws from a God who was the God of all, not simply of the Jews.  
Now, the organized Jewish community seems to be embracing tribalism, thereby threatening Judaism’s moral integrity. Judaism is about applying moral standards equally to all, not defending whatever other Jews do. The humane Jewish tradition can be seen in the many dissenting voices of Jews of conscience, some of whom have been cited here. Will those voices be enough to counter an organized community which is committed to a far different enterprise? Let us hope that their number will grow and that, in the end, Judaism will be rescued from those who have so threatened its very essence. •  
Allan C. Brownfeld is a nationally syndicated columnist and serves as Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and Editor of Issues. The author of five books, he has served on the staff of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President.

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