(May 25, 2021 / JNS) I was dismayed to read a recent e-mail blast by my rabbi, giving a full-throated endorsement of Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) President Rabbi Rick Jacobs’s inflammatory response to the heinous series of attacks that Israelis endured for 11 days during “Operation Guardian of the Walls.”
One might consider my use of the word “inflammatory” to describe Jacobs’s “tepid” reaction to the events in Israel this month as a mischaracterization.
On the first Sunday after African-American George Floyd was suffocated to death in Minneapolis a year ago almost to the date, Reform congregations on the Northshore of Chicago (and, I would presume, nationally) reflexively assembled in caravans to protest, horns blaring for more than an hour.
Juxtapose this energized expression of indignation and outrage with the relative silence of America’s major Jewish organizations—including URJ—to the unprecedented shower of 4,500 missiles on Israeli population centers. It would seem that the vision of Israeli children huddled helplessly in bomb shelters might have somehow registered on the Jewish Richter scale of social justice. After all, these are the same children whose parents with whom we in the Diaspora bonded triumphantly in the 1980s and 90s to affect the miraculous transport to and resettlement of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
It would be a mistake to think that Israel’s avowed adversaries did not astutely perceive the omission of equal fervor in relation to the Jewish state’s war against terrorists in Gaza.
Instead of standing firmly on Israel’s side, Jacobs passively laments that “since the start of this current round of violence,” the global surge of “mini-pogroms” has now even infiltrated Los Angeles, Skokie and Manhattan.
What does he mean by the “start of the violence”? Does the violence include Israel’s rightful defense against the barbaric aggression of Iran-backed Hamas—the same Iran and Hamas that forever have openly and defiantly promised to destroy Israel and the Jewish people?
Is he implying that Israel, unlike any other democracy on the face of the earth, must somehow invent a way to make omelets without breaking eggs? Does he mean to imply that the outbreak of “mini-pogroms” is the reaction to Israel’s having overstepped its obligation to vigorous self-defense?
We should take the testimony not of the likes of Al Jazeera and MSNBC, but of abundant and well-chronicled sources that attest to the diligent efforts of IDF generals to take any and all measures humanly possible to avoid harm to Palestinian civilians, even at risk to Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Yet, Jacobs continues, “It is … hard not to feel whiplash with the competing narratives of what caused this latest round of death and destruction.”
Even introducing the notion that there may be the slightest semblance of a “competing narrative” throws a damaging wrench in the spokes. The idea of a “competing narrative,” though finding safe harbor within the ideology of the progressive left, serves only to validate Hamas rocket-fire and somehow provide Iran and Hamas a seat at the table of civil discourse. In the days before Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip, when Hamas terrorists were strapping suicide bombs to the backs of Palestinian children, and slaughtering Israeli citizens in the process, Israel and the Diaspora didn’t ask why. Instead, the former erected a security barrier, thereby invalidating and ending the morally convoluted practice.
The reaction to the latest Gaza war by Rabbi Jacobs and others of his ilk, though bland in content, has actually fanned the flames. Equating Israel’s sovereign obligation to defend its citizens from the rain of terrorist rockets gives credence to the morally unjustifiable.
Conversely, the physics of the moral equation (ribald aggression against unarmed civilians) demands a reaction of greater moral forcefulness in the form of a vigorous and unrelenting Israeli defense, which Jacobs ought to be supporting. His intention of telegraphing compassion with the objective of sating what he mischaracterizes as the anger of our adversaries has naively confused anger with hate.
And hate, as our history shows, cannot be quenched without determined resistance. As ugly and disheartening as this may be, it’s the reality that we must confront.
Andrew D. Lappin is a redeveloper of urban industrial properties. He is a former board member of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Embers Foundation, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA), and serves on the Illinois Policy Board which monitors corporate compliance with the state’s anti-BDS statute.
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