Jewish British Mudslinging at Israel

Sep 21

This week I depart from my Torah commentary to describe two upsetting, related incidents in connection with my Rosh Hashanah visit to a Liberal Judaism movement congregation in the UK.  They both involved Israel. 

In the first, I read, in Liberal Judaism's magazine, an article that eloquently and movingly related the ordeal (including physical attacks) suffered by some African refugees in Israel.  These were indeed tragic.  Having been in Israel at the time and having followed news reports, I know that they were perpetrated by a small group of secular extremists. Yet the writer, who identified herself as an African refugee advocate in Israel, virulently attacked not the perpetrators but rather the Israeli government’s leadership and its refugee policy as selfish, inhumane, cruel, and grossly violative of Jewish tradition and values.  

In the second incident, the rabbi of the Liberal Judaism congregation I attended began his Rosh Hashanah sermon by describing the human impulses of blood-lust and death-wish.  He initially referred to the current Muslim riots over the recent publication of the movie ridiculing Mohammed.  But he quickly moved on to his main point: the “insanity” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “war-mongering” toward Iran and his on-going attempts to “goad” President Obama into attacking Iran. 

Whether I agree or not with Israeli government policies on these issues, I was greatly disturbed by the unmitigated, public “Israel-bashing” by Jews to which I was exposed twice in one day!  Given that tiny “random” sample, how prevalent this sentiment and behavior must be here in the UK and, likely, in other “liberal Jewish” European circles! 

Neither the article writer nor the rabbi acknowledged any of the many complexities and challenges facing Israel on these issues.  Neither attempted to discuss Israeli government (i.e., Jewish national) priorities, such as the need to preserve the Jewish character of Israel, to enforce its immigration laws, to protect it from social and economic convulsions, and to address both internal and external security issues.  Neither mentioned the government’s awesome burden and responsibility to preserve the first sovereign Jewish state in almost two millennia, while itself retaining political support amid a fractured electorate.

Neither appeared to have the slightest concern for Israel’s image among British Jews (ironically, an image most tarnished by the “Palestinian issue,” which neither addressed.  I would have been somewhat prepared for “liberal” comments supporting the Palestinian cause, but I was not expecting virulent attacks by Jews upon Israel on other subjects).  Whether wittingly or not, their comments added to the growing Israel-delegitimization campaign.

Judaism not only tolerates but encourages robust debate, a diversity of views, and respect for minority opinions.  These are evident in Torah, Tan’akh, and Talmud.  Yet, no Jew should need reminding that, notwithstanding its strong military, Israel is still a very young country whose survival is precarious, and that it exists for the critical purpose of ensuring a Jewish refuge from hatred and persecution.  

Strident opposition by Jews to Israeli government policy is perfectly acceptable.  Championing the cause of the oppressed in Israel is doing G-d’s work.  But viciously attacking Israel’s democratic (if imperfectly so) leadership and institutions as immoral, “insane,” and blood-thirsty is outrageous and plainly dangerous to Israel and to the entire Jewish people, current and future. 

Neither should any Jew remain silent upon encountering such irresponsible lashon hara (evil speech) about our national homeland, especially when our own people makes it.  I have submitted a “Letter-to-the-Editor” response to the article, and written to the rabbi asking him to publicly retract and apologize for his characterization of Prime Minister Netanyahu.  If he does not, I will register a complaint with the Liberal Judaism movement in the U.K.  

To end on a positive note, Shabbat Shalom from Southhampton, England (not the community of the synagogue I attended).   May you have an easy fast (it certainly won't be easy on a cruise ship!!!) and G’mar chatimah tovah.  

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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb