A Letter To My Jewish Colleagues

To my Jewish colleagues who have stood up and supported the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement:

I am an openly, proud Zionist.  I love Israel.  While I know she, like every nation, is imperfect, she has the right to exist, in peace, as a Jewish State.  I am infuriated by the countless efforts to delegitimize, slander and destroy Israel.

Let me make myself clear: I believe in free speech.  I believe in healthy, respectful debate.  I believe that Jews must stand up for what is right and just.  And, yes, I believe that Jews have a right to respectfully and fairly critique Israeli policy.

This being said, when I read about Jewish leaders standing with and supporting those who are openly committed to the destruction of the Jewish State, I am horrified.  When I read about and engage with rabbis who see nothing wrong with programs like PennBDS and actually think programs like this are good for Israel, I am stunned.   I am even more stunned when some of my colleagues go out of their way to fast for Gaza, but our own children of S’derot are ignored. Who is going to stand up for these children if we, the Jewish leaders, don’t do so? Furthermore, where was the BDS outrage this weekend when China and Russia blocked a Security Council resolution against Bashar?  Simply put, I fail to understand, am embarrassed by, and am, quite frankly, tired of having to explain to my congregants, the desire among some of my Jewish colleagues to aid those determined to destroy Israel.

Some advise me to bite my tongue and say nothing.  And I have often done so, afraid of offending.  Afraid of further alienating myself from the mainstream”, liberal Jewish community, afraid of being called names like “right-winger” or “hawk”.  These labels I can live with.  Being called, “ignorant” or worse, names like an “Islamaphobe”, “racist” or “murderer” – this I can’t live with.  So yes, at times I have been guilty of being silent because sticks and stones have broken lots of my bones.  I have been guilty of lurking in the background, listening, reading, quietly fuming.  But, as a rabbi of students at Penn and many other college campuses across this country, I realize that I am doing them a disservice by being silent.

I was once a college student.  And I know how confusing it is to have your spiritual homeland attacked and maligned on your campus.  In 1988, I was a freshman at Vassar College.  I grew up with very little Jewish knowledge – especially when it came to Israel.  During the first month of my freshman year, I was invited to attend an anti-Israel rally on campus.  I was told that Israel was doing “bad things” to innocent people.  I was told by organizers that I had to stand up for what was right!  My liberal, suburban upbringing had taught me to do just this.  My Jewish education was nonexistent.  So, I started to follow the organizers and stand up for the oppressed!  That was until a Christian senior student who was watching the organizers talk to me pulled me aside and lambasted me for a good hour.  She opened my eyes to the “other side of the story” and told me that as a Jew, I have an obligation to stand up for Israel and stand up for the truth.  I didn’t go to the anti-Israel event that day.  Instead, that day, I became a Zionist.

As I read about PennBDS, I remembered that day I almost protested against Israel and I feared that maybe I had not done enough for my students at Penn and elsewhere to prepare them for the hate they would face….

So, I asked my colleagues what was going on at Penn to insure that I could connect my students to organizations and people who were countering the BDS propaganda.  While, I received a wonderful e-mail from Penn Hillel, the majority of responses I received were questioning my problems with BDS.  Responses suggesting that I was too “closed-minded” and encouraging me to hear what is being said by BDS leaders.  I received responses that attacked those who attacked BDS.  As I read the responses, my heart broke because I was once a clueless college kid who could have easily been misled.  But today, I am a Zionist who knows a lot.  I know that Israel is being threatened and we have an obligation to stand up for her and teach our kids to do the same.   I know the strength of those out to delegitimize Israel.  And I know that we are not doing enough to stand up for her.

I know that Nobel-Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu, who openly supported PennBDS, supports the double standards that are an integral part of BDS: “Whether Jews like it or not, they are a peculiar people.  They can’t ever hope to be judged by the same standards which are used for other people.”  (Religious News Service, 28 November 1984)  I know that Tutu, like many in the BDS world, has invoked Nazi imagery to fuel the passion of his supporters:  “The gas chambers (of the Holocaust) (made for) a neater death (than apartheid resettlement policies)” (Gideon Shimoni, “South African Jews and Apartheid, “American Jewish Tear Book” (New York: American Jewish Committee, 1988) 51).

I know that Omar Barghouti, a prominent leader in the BDS movement praised Tutu last week in the Daily Pennsylvanian, calling him “among the most eloquent voices accusing Israel of practicing apartheid against the Palestinian people.”

I know that Barghouti is opposed to a two state solution, calling, instead for the “launch (of a) new visionary and practical processes that will lead to the establishment of a unitary democratic state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.” (http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/12/12/relative-humanity-thie-essential-obstacle-to-a-just-peace-in-palestine/).  I know that what he and other BDS leaders really mean when they talk about freeing the Palestinian people is really the destruction of the Jewish State.

I know that while Barghouti is not busy dedicating himself to boycotting, divesting, sanctioning and delegitimizing Israel, he is a graduate student at Israel’s premier Tel-Aviv University.  When questioned about this double standard by Israeli paper Maariv, he has said: “My studies at Tel-Aviv University are a personal matter and I have no interest in commenting.” He has also said that  “Oppressed people don’t have a choice of where they go to school,” (Q&A session at Loyola Law School).

I know that Barghouti had plenty of choices. He was born in Qatar.  He grew up in Egypt.  He attended Columbia University.  He moved to Ramallah as an adult. He could have could have pursued his graduate degree at Birzeit University or Al-Quds University or any university outside of Israel.  But, he didn’t.  He chose Israel.  And he condemns the nation that is educating him, the nation he tells the world not to choose.

Many have asked Tel-Aviv University to expel him.  But, the university has said that:

“A university campus should be a place that encourages and tolerates free speech, no matter how offensive the expressed opinions may be to the majority of students and faculty at that institution, or indeed to the public at large. Our university has adopted a similar policy also in previous occasions..  The University cannot and will not expel this student based on his political views or actions. He will be assessed only on the basis of his academic achievements and excellence.”

This man who accuses Israel of suppressing Palestinians in the same way that the Nazis suppressed the Jews is supported by the nation he despises.  This speaks volumes to me.

I know that Ali Abunimah, the keynote speaker at PennBDS has written the following on his Twitter:

-It’s racist to think Jews need a special state and can’t live with other people.

-That is something Zionism shares with anti-Semitism, a disdain for actual Jewish culture and life as it existed.

-Supporting Zionism is not atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit.

-Zionism is a distortion of Judaism.

As a Zionist, these tweets disgust me.

I know that Abunimah defended the fact that Hamas did not allow the ICRC to visit Gilad Shalit. (http://aliabunimah.posterous.com/is-israel-right-to-complain-that-hamas-has-de)

I know that Abunimah twists and distorts the facts by calling Israel’s right to defend herself genocide.

(http://electronicintifada.net/content/why-israel-wont-survive/7999)

I know that Abunimah is determined to bash Israel while calling for her demise, writing that : “change will come. Without indulging Israeli racism or preserving undue privilege, the legitimate concerns of ordinary Israeli Jews can be addressed directly in any negotiated transition to ensure that the shift to democracy is orderly, and essential redistributive policies are carried out fairly. Inevitably, decolonization will cause some pain as Israeli Jews lose power and privilege, but there are few reasons to believe it cannot be a well-managed process, or that the vast majority of Israeli Jews, like white South Africans, would not be prepared to make the adjustment for the sake of a normality and legitimacy they cannot have any other way.”

http://electronicintifada.net/content/israeli-jews-and-one-state-solution/8528

I know these things.  And this is why I don’t stand with BDS, don’t want to aid BDS, don’t want to give them a platform, don’t want to encourage anyone to believe that what they have to say will be good for Israel.  I want to support Israel.  And I want my college students to know how to do the same thing.  And I feel that we as Jewish leaders have an obligation to look out for our own and help them navigate through the delegitimization nightmare

Sadly, I know I will be attacked and labeled by some for sharing these things.  Accused of terrible things.  But I know that I can’t remain silent.  I can’t let my Jewish community, my college kids and their parents think that I endorse, support, condone any delegitimization of Israel.

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