As a rabbi I’ve always tried to stay away from politics. In my sermons and even in private discussions with students I generally refrain from sharing my own personnel opinion on political issues. But I draw the line when issues of morality and ethics are raised and the media’s coverage on the current war between Israel and Hamas has moved this issue from politics to morality. Again and again, Israel is accused of human rights violations, of acting disproportionately in their bombing of Gaza and of being insensitive to the plight of innocent Palestinians caught in the middle. Since the issue has been re-framed as a matter of right and wrong, we the Jewish people, who have introduced so much morality and ethics to the world, must respond to these allegations of immorality, even at the expense of pointing out the obvious. To me and maybe to you as well, much of what I say may be obvious but I believe still important to be said. Each charge below is an accusation that I have heard in one way or another over the last few days expressed in the mainstream media. Still trying to stay out of politics, I will limit my responses to the moral issue levied in each charge: Charge: Israel is just as morally responsible for this “cycle of violence” as is Hamas. Response: When it comes to morality it matters who attacks first as the object of the initial aggression has the moral right to self-defense. To be clear, this war began with the kidnapping of three Jewish boys coming home from school. In an effort to find the boys and bring them to safety Israel arrested many of Hamas’ leaders. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel, which was then followed by Israeli air strikes on terrorist positions to stop the rocket attacks on Israel. The media speaks of a “cycle of violence” but every cycle has a beginning. And this one clearly started with Hamas. Charge: Israel’s immoral occupation of Palestinian territory is ultimately responsible for the current crisis. Response: First, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza strip only after winning those territories in a defensive war thrust upon Israel and therefore the whole question as to who is morally or legally entitled to these lands is not simple. However, for the purposes of this war, the issue of occupation is irrelevant since Israel pulled out of Gaza and handed it over to the Palestinian people. The world has somehow forgotten the painful evacuation of close to 8000 Jews who were living in Gaza. And so the claim that the Israeli occupation is ultimately at fault is baseless as Israel no longer controls or occupies Gaza, Hamas does. Charge: Both Israel and the Palestinians cultivate a culture of hate and vengeance as evidenced by the kidnapping and killing by both Israelis and Palestinians of innocent teenagers. Response: There is no moral equivalency between these two heinous crimes since the crime committed by the Israelis is an anomaly denounced by everyone in Israeli society, both by the public and the leaders. Contrast this to the Palestinian kidnappers and killers who continue to receive the praise of their people and leaders. Further, Israel arrested the Israel suspects who await prosecution in a court of law (as they should) whereas the only ones looking to bring the Palestinian suspects to justice is Israel. Palestinian leaders and schools still educate their society and children in Jew hatred while Jewish leaders and teachers do not educate or incite Arab or Palestinian hatred. Charge: Israel’s bombing of Gaza is indiscriminate targeting schools, hospitals and mosques. Response: Israel targets and bombs Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists and their rocket launching sites. It does not target innocent civilians. It is well documented that Hamas has purposely placed rocket launching facilities under schools, mosques and hospitals using the children, patients or worshipers in those locations as human shields. If Israel wanted to kill civilians it could have killed hundreds of thousands but it has no such desire which is further evidenced by the IDF’s sending of leaflets and making phone calls to clear out as many innocent civilians as possible when targeting a rocket facility or a terrorist. Contrast this to Hamas’s rocket attacks which specifically target Israeli population centers. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked: “We are using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles”.Rabbi Mark Wildes
About the Author: Rabbi Mark Wildes holds a BA in Psychology from Yeshiva University, a JD from the Cardozo School of Law, a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and was ordained from Yeshiva University. He currently teaches an Outreach Training Seminar at Yeshiva University’s Rabbinical School.
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