From the Rabbi’s Study Aug Sept 2014

Speaking up for Jews and Israel


Being a Jew is particularly challenging these days. The Rialto School District assigns an essay asking eighth-graders to argue whether the Holocaust was a real event or “a scheme for political and financial gain.” Protesters in Paris march on (IN FRONT OF?) a synagogue chanting anti-Semitic slogans such as “Death to the Jews.” Another synagogue in France is firebombed. Israel is under attack not only from rockets fired out of Gaza but also from highly critical articles in the press, and the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I know Israel is not perfect and I believe that Israel should put an end to its occupation of the West Bank. However, the slanderous assaults on Israel’s integrity are terribly disturbing.
In a recent LA Times column, Jonah Goldberg drives the point home when writing about the recent war with Gaza:

“Here’s the difference between us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained on Fox News Sunday, “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

It’s a classic talking point. It’s also objectively true, and that truth is very frustrating for Israel’s critics.

All one needs to do is delve into the muck of Twitter and read the timelines for such hashtags as #GazaUnderAttack and #GenocideInGaza: “They’re killing the women and children to ensure there won’t be a new generation of Palestine.” “One Holocaust can NEVER justify another.”

And let’s not even talk about the globally trending hashtag #HitlerWasRight…

It’s just a hunch, but if the Israelis wanted to wipe out as many Palestinians as possible, never mind commit genocide, they probably wouldn’t issue warnings to Gazans (by phone and leaflet) to get out of harm’s way. Nor would Israel continue to allow hundreds of trucks of food and medical aid to enter Gaza even as hundreds of rockets leave Gaza.

And if Hamas were chiefly concerned with protecting Palestinian lives, it would not implore Gazans to stay in their homes — serving as human shields and inflating the body count as a propaganda prop to increase international pressure on Israel.

So, on the one hand, we have people who out of ignorance or anti-Semitism claim that the Holocaust never happened; while on the other, we have those who claim that Israel is perpetrating a Holocaust on the Palestinian population. This anti-Zionist stance is, in my view, thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Indeed, this kind of vitriolic criticism of Israel often goes hand-in-hand with anti-Semitism. For all the criticism of Israel for supposed human rights violations, I don’t see an equal condemnation of countries such as Syria, Iraq, China, Myanmar, Russia and Saudi Arabia, hich commit far more serious violations of human rights. And why are we not calling for boycotts and sanctions of these countries?

In such circumstances, it is more important than ever for Jews to speak up. We need to make sure that people are educated about history. We must educate ourselves as well as the rest of the world, not only about the history of the Holocaust, but the history of how the state of Israel came to be and of what Israel has had to withstand throughout its 66 years of existence. Without that context, the lies and specious parallels drawn between Israel’s actions and the Holocaust cannot be effectively refuted. We must make sure that our children are armed with facts when they step into the adult world of college campuses and the workplace. One of the greatest ways to prepare our children is through the Birthright program, which offers a free trip to Israel for young folks between the ages of 18 and 26. We don’t need to be uncritical of Israel, but we must defend Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. We must counter the falsehoods and misperceptions about Israel, the Holocaust, and Judaism.

As we approach the New Year 5775, let us be proud of being Jewish and proud of our heritage. May co-existence between Jews and Arabs be a reality in our lifetime. We pray for those on both sides of the conflict who continue to suffer. May next year in Jerusalem be a year of shalom, of peace.

Rabbi Suzanne Singer