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Join us for Shabbat in the Lot (masked please) or on Zoom this evening at 6pm. During services tonight we will hear from, and celebrate, our 10th grade Confirmands. Those of you worshipping via Zoom can download the service handout here.

Dear Friends,

I want to be a bit more personal in my Shabbat Message this week. Instead of looking at a verse of Torah or a teaching from the Talmud, I want to offer a window into some of my inner conflict, interspersed with the words from a powerful Op Ed by Kenneth Jacobson, ADL’s Deputy National Director. (You can read the piece in its entirety here.)

I love Israel. Since my first trip to Israel at the age of 13, it has held a special place in my heart and in my soul. When I am there, I feel a deeper connection to our communal past. When I am there, I feel a sense of awe at the remarkable country that has been built since 1948. And when I am there, I am among family.

But as I shared a few weeks ago, my early connection to Israel underwent a period of challenge when, as an adult, I began to see the complexity of Israeli society and the many ways it has not yet lived up to its promise or its potential. It is only in more recent years that my love for Israel AND my concern and disappointment in the nation’s shortcomings have become more integrated. I have become more comfortable loving and being committed to Israel while seeing its faults and doing my small part to help address them.

When this current fighting broke out, my internal conflict went into overdrive. On the one hand, hundreds, and then thousands, of missiles were being fired at Israeli cities. The goal of those missiles was to kill as many Israelis- Jewish, Christian and Muslim Israelis- as possible while terrorizing the entire nation and bringing the Israeli economy to a halt. On the other hand, I could not help but wonder if the Israeli government’s current policies helped add fuel to this fire.

But at the height of my internal conflict, I began to worry about the ways in which this current situation was being reported by professional journalists and on social media.

“Undoubtedly, the beginning of this current conflict was full of complexity. Finding the cause that set the tinder box that we see ablaze is no easy task. Was it the threat of possible eviction of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood before Israel’s Supreme Court, or the incitement that came out from Al Quds day, or the growth of Jewish extremist groups? In this always combustible situation, it is clear that the crisis facing Israel is more complex than ever and could have enduring consequences.” (Kenneth Jacobson)

Few of the reporters made mention of the fact that there had been NO evictions from Sheikh Jarrah. The issue was still being litigated in the courts. And, even if there HAD been evictions, do those evictions justify sending thousands of rockets into civilian population centers?

“What is not complex is the assault on Israeli civilians by a terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction. In the case of Gaza, Hamas has been engaging in this kind of terrorist activity for 15 years. What is different now is the level of weaponry and skill they have been able to obtain with support from Iran. Israel has had no choice but to defend itself against this unceasing onslaught of thousands upon thousands of rockets.” (Kenneth Jacobson)

Similarly, few western media outlets mentioned the number of Hamas missiles that fell short of their intended targets, landed in Gaza and, more than once, killed innocent Palestinians. Similarly, western media was quick to denounce Israel leveling the building that housed Al Jazeera and the Associated Press but made little mention of Israel’s claim, since backed up with evidence, that the building also housed some of Hamas’ communications systems.

“We cannot ignore all the victims of this avoidable conflict. The death toll and images of suffering from Gaza are indeed horrifying. The loss of innocent Palestinian human life is a tragedy and must be mourned.” (Kenneth Jacobson)

None of this makes the suffering and death of Palestinian civilians in Gaza any better. And none of it makes the status quo any more palatable. Renewed movement toward peace, for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, is the only long-term, let alone moral, solution to this ongoing crisis. But the reports emerging during this current conflict placed the onus almost entirely on the Israelis. And that is simply absurd.

And yet this conflict has successfully played right into the hands of Hamas. They have used it to isolate Israel and make the Jewish State even more of an international pariah. And many young Jews, raised on the importance of Tikkun Olam and care for the vulnerable and downtrodden, are joining their voiceswith those of Israel’s other detractors. I respect and share their sincere concern for the plight of the Palestinians but am also convinced that a safe, secure Israel is one of the fundamental components needed if there is ever to be peace. Sadly, much of the information upon which some base their positions is as skewed to one side as the “Israel can do no wrong” mythology I was taught as a child. Neither is true. And neither does a thing to advance the cause of peace.

And finally, I am disheartened by the lack of responses by the international community. The thousands of missiles launched at Israel by Hamas were often a footnote in the reporting of events. And the Hamas terror tunnels, built with dollars and construction materials desperately needed to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure, barely merited a mention.

“The big question in all these developments is where is the international community? Many are quick to condemn Israel for alleged human rights violations, yet over these many years, there has been hardly a peep or any international action to contain the threats coming from terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction and building up weapons through the Iranians.  This international silence is not only immoral – everyone supposedly understands the threat to us all from terrorists – it inevitably leaves everything up to Israel to deal with these challenges. Inevitably, it leads to the loss of life on both sides because no one took seriously the destructive activities occurring on both Israel’s northern and southern borders.” (Kenneth Jacobson)

Jacobson goes on,

“The failure of the world to recognize that Israel is being targeted as no other state leaves confusion about the situation in the minds of millions of people and invariably guarantees that the next conflict is coming at higher levels of technological warfare.”

I am grateful that a ceasefire went into effect last night and seems to be holding. (It is not, however, lost on me that, within minutes of the Israeli cabinet accepting the cease fire, Hamas fired yet another barrage of missiles at Israeli civilians.) But I am worried about what comes next. Israel is an imperfect nation. But all nations are. That is not to excuse her missteps, and there have been many, but to make the point that when Israel is singled out as the world’s worst abuser of human rights, and many of the nations doing so in the UN have abominable human rights records themselves, there is something else going on.

And when demonstrations in support of Palestinian rights begin with attacks on Israel but quickly replace the word “Israel” with “Jews,” there is something else going on.

And when there are over 17,000 Twitter posts in a single week (May 7-14, 2021) that include the hashtag #HitlerWasRight, there is something else going on.

And when Jews in LA are beaten up as “payback” for Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, there is something else going on.

So while I am heartbroken by the suffering of so many, in Israel and in Gaza, I am also worried. Because the hatred of Israel isn’t just about Israeli policy. And it is not just about Palestinian rights. It is about the Jewish right to self-determination in Israel, and our safety and security in the rest of the world. And both have been under fire these past weeks.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel M Cohen