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The Price Of Neglecting Jewish Values


As Israel braces for the next round of pummeling courtesy of the Goldstone report, its security and standing in the international community are impaired not only by terrorists and hostile regimes, but also by two different sets of highly motivated Jews prepared to endanger Israel in the name of “Jewish values.”

Our forefather Jacob recognized them both in his prayer before meeting his brother Esau. “Protect me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau.” Jacob could not be sure if Esau might arrive with murderous designs or might be moved to respond as a loving sibling. According to the Talmud, Jacob feared the hand extended in brotherliness more than the hand of the enemy.

Israel today is forced into both encounters, simultaneously, with highly motivated Jews. Once again, the hand proffered by a brother may prove more deadly.

One type of brother has been around since antiquity. As far back as the Roman era, a small number of Jews turned their backs on their own people, some who traded in the Jewish faith for another, others who made common political cause with the enemy.

Throughout history there have been Jews who reacted to anti-Semitism by absorbing its message instead of railing against it.

At Durban I, anti-Zionist poodles were cloaked in Neturei Karta chassidic garb. In 2009, there are plenty of post-Zionist intellectuals leading the charge against Israel at conferences and conclaves, spearheading efforts to have the international community boycott their native land, including the universities in which they teach. Some have gone so far as to write books denying the very existence of a Jewish people. Israel’s foes revel in the affection of such renegade Jews, and never fail to front them to deflect charges of anti-Semitism.

Recently, however, we observe a new phenomenon: Jews who endanger Israel’s existence while professing to love it. They pride themselves on being the “new Jews,” prepared to act differently. Some lobby Congress against bills that show “too much” support for Israel, too much pressure on Iran, or against too much criticism of Richard Goldstone.

There are those who even join with racist regimes to criticize Israel’s defensive actions in Gaza. Some Jewish activists look for ways to boycott Israel, or debate whether the “Jewish” in the Jewish State makes it inherently racist.

What motivates such cutting-edge activism? Jewish values, say the new Jews. Their chief mission as Jews, they believe, is to pursue justice, peace, and tikkun olam – healing the world. Everything else is not even commentary.

“Who is wise? He who foresees the consequences of a deed” (Talmud, Tamid 32a).

Richard Goldstone can take pride in his work for justice in South Africa and Bosnia. But “Pursue, pursue justice” without a strong dose of wisdom produces tunnel vision, with Truth the casualty rather than the outcome.

Goldstone signed off on a report that took Hamas operatives at face value, and ignored the known predispositions of the members of his panel to find Israel guilty before the inquiry began. Yet he professed to be surprised when his sponsor, the serially anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council, used his report to condemn only Israel, without a word of reproach to Hamas. Goldstone would eventually concede – after the damage was done – that what he uncovered would not stand up in a court of law, and was not meant to convict without a trial. The rest of the world, however, has little time for such subtleties.

A direct result of his arrogance and lack of wisdom is that Israeli soldiers and political officials may soon be subject to arrest in many European countries for complicity in war crimes. Shouldn’t foresight and seichel count as Jewish values?

The Mishnah in Avot: “Wise men – be careful with your words!” “Silence is the protective fence of wisdom.” Jews should know to be careful around whom they speak. Key Palestinians are no longer interested in their own state. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereckat told a press conference what some Palestinian NGOs have been saying for a while: that with no progress to their liking, it is time to declare that “the two-state solution is no longer an option.”

They have moved to a new strategy. By wars of attrition, terrorism, and diplomatic, economic and cultural restrictions against Israel, they hope to wear away the resolve of its citizens and walk away with the country by slowly asphyxiating it demographically within a single state. Jews who make common cause with such a Palestinian narrative do not demonstrate their open-mindedness – they lend their names to a program of destruction aimed at Israel. Sometimes adhering to the Jewish value of silence would better serve the cause of real peace.

“Do not judge your fellow until you get to his place.” (Avot once more.) The new breed of Jew passes judgment on Israel’s struggle with terrorism from the security of his living room. Yet, within Israel, there was virtually no debate about the morality of its response in Gaza. In Israel, where parents send their sons off to war and pay exorbitant taxes to support a needed military, Operation Cast Lead had the support of the entire Israeli political landscape.

Unlike the misgivings of Americans for Peace Now, its Israeli counterpart, Shalom Achshav, supported the incursion. Perhaps for once, Diaspora Jews should allow their brothers and sisters in Israel who are paying the price to determine policy. Before placing Jews in jeopardy, it is important to recall that personal responsibility to the klal is also a core Jewish value.

Some of the new Jews flee from any kind of Jewish particularism. They ignore the fact that the very universal truths they so enthusiastically embrace were contributed to the world by Jews proudly tending first to their own. In our times, Jewish contributions in medicine, science, and technology have never been hurt because they originated from a Jewish state in the Middle East.

Some want to see the New Jews ousted from the community. This too would violate a core Jewish value – that of understanding and utilizing the power of persuasion. It is up to all of us to teach them that Jewish values cannot be treated like a Chinese menu, picking one here and dropping one there. Those who vie for the mantle of Jewish leadership must absorb and reflect the central truth of Jewish history – that the Jewish people survive and flourish only when all Jewish values – the particular and the universal – are internalized and applied.

Finally, we must never be willfully naïve – not when Israel’s very right to exist is under assault. Make no mistake: from Caracas to Paris to Mumbai, hostile acts against Jews around the world are tied directly to the public image of the Jewish State. Lo taamod al dam reiecha – do not stand by idly while your brother’s blood is being spilled – is one Jewish value Richard Goldstone ignored. The likelihood is that we will all pay the price. Jews may die because of his myopia – a Jewish disease once thought cured by the horrific lessons of the Shoah.

About the Author: Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.


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