In Support of Israel

By Rabbi Bill Kuhn

Now is the time to support the State of Israel as never before.  As Israel is under existential threat on several fronts, it is the obligation of Jews around the world to speak up and to use every resource and means available to save our spiritual homeland.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in his Shabbat morning sermon at the Biennial convention in Toronto on November 7th, “When the history of Reform Judaism is written a century from now, its authors will ask…did we do enough to assure the security and well-being of the State of Israel?”

“The greatest danger is clear:  the government of Iran, with support from Russia and China, is inching toward the nuclear threshold; this is the same government that threatens to destroy Israel with such regularity that it is no longer news.  How did it happen that the Jewish State is once again unable to take its very existence for granted?  How did it happen that Israel’s survival today is more precarious than it has been since the Yom Kippur War?”

“What Israel needs from us now is unconditional support.  It needs our visits, our dollars, our love and our engagement.  And it needs our political activism.  We must call upon our government to impose the toughest possible economic sanctions on Iran if it fails to abandon its nuclear program. ..Time is running out.  The only way Iran will stop its nuclear program is if it feels real pain.  And God and history will not excuse us if we are silent.”

Of course, when we give our support to Israel, we can still be critical of her.  In good Jewish tradition, there are always multiple opinions about every subject.  There are 37 political parties in Israel!  Why?  Because everyone has a different opinion about the best way to run the country.  Just because we have differing opinions does not mean that we can turn our backs on Israel.

Today in America, there are varying opinions about Israel’s policies.  For years, the AICPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has been the stalwart voice of support in Washington, D.C. on Israel’s behalf.  Recently , a new organization called “J Street” has emerged as another voice in support of Israel.  J Street’s literature says that they were “founded to promote meaningful American leadership to end Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically.  [They] support a new direction for American policy in the Middle East and a broad public and policy debate about the U. S. role in the region.”  They are for a two-state solution and for diplomatic engagement by the U.S. to help achieve peace.

Rabbi Yoffie spoke to a national gathering of J Street in Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, at which he stated his long-held view that Israel’s continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank frustrates peace efforts.  He also said that U.S. Jewish leaders have their “heads in the sand” when it comes to Israeli settlements.  He was applauded by the J Street crowd for these statements.

However, Yoffie was roundly booed by the audience when he criticized Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who chaired the United Nations commission that issued a report stating that Israel and Hamas might be guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  “Richard Goldstone should be ashamed of himself,” Yoffie said.

In fact, most mainstream Jewish organizations and the vast majority of Israelis seriously condemned Goldstone’s report, which was part of the so-called U.N. Human Rights Council.  David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s Executive Director (who spoke at Rodeph Shalom last November) described the Goldstone report as “pusillanimous.”  “Goldstone convicted Israel before its investigation even began, and barely mentioned the suffering of Israelis living with endless Hamas rocket attacks, and paid grossly disproportionate attention to Israel.”

The Goldstone report concluded that Israel’s 2008-2009 military campaign against the terrorist group Hamas was actually aimed against Gaza’s residents as a whole.  The report alleges numerous specific human rights violations by both Israel and Hamas.  “But by attempting to criminalize Israel’s strategy of crippling Hamas, the report in effect declared the entire anti-terrorism campaign to be a war crime.”  [Wall Street Journal, Oct. 19. 2009]

Hamas set up its base of operations in the midst of Gaza’s civilian population.  By trying to defend itself against Hamas, Israel was condemned.  But the Goldstone report has little or no legitimacy, as it is yet another example of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s viscerally anti-Israel bias, “as is evidenced by the stunning fact that 80% of its resolutions adopted over the past three years have focused on Israel alone.  Can this be deemed an objective body?” [David Harris].

When Eric Yoffie condemned this scurrilous report, the J Street conference booed him.

It is important to support Israel, as it is important to criticize when needed.  We know that some of the Israeli soldiers over-reacted in the face of the Hamas violence. If they were guilty of war crimes, they should be tried and punished. But there are those who say Israel should not defend herself against those who would destroy her.  What is the sense of this?

When our children and grandchildren ask us what we did to support and to save Israel during our life time, what will we say?  “Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” but also, let us act.