The Need To Confront A Shocking Reality

Yesterday, it was announced that an 18-year-old Jewish, Israeli-American was in custody in Israel, accused of placing the majority of bomb threats recently directed at Jewish institutions.

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL issued this formal statement yesterday:

We are relieved there’s been an arrest in the majority of the bomb threats against JCCs, schools, synagogues and several of our offices across the country. We are deeply grateful to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the state and local law enforcement officials who made this investigation the highest priority.

While the details of this crime remain unclear, the impact of this individual’s actions is crystal clear: These were acts of anti-Semitism. These threats targeted Jewish institutions, were calculated to sow fear and anxiety, and put the entire Jewish community on high alert.

Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the U.S. remains a very serious concern. No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers.  JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant.

We appreciate the support of so many community and organizational leaders, both within and outside the Jewish community, who spoke out and condemned these threats. They understood not only how disruptive they were, but also how they traumatized the people affected, especially young children and senior citizens who were evacuated as a result of these threats.

Also yesterday, The Jewish Federation of North America sent out this press release:

Ten days ago, and again this morning, Jewish leaders were briefed by top officials from the FBI. From those briefings, we learned about the unprecedented level of time and resources that were committed to this investigation along with high levels of cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security and a long list of partners, including Israeli law enforcement. It was heartbreaking to learn that a Jewish man is a prime suspect.”

Our ability to adapt quickly and liaise with law enforcement officials was in large part due to the work of the Secure Community Network. As a community and a society we must remain vigilant in our effort to counter anti-Semitism and other hate crimes as they appear. We are fortunate to know we have partners in law enforcement who will do whatever it takes to bring these perpetrators to justice.

While I whole-heartedly agree with everything shared in the above statements, they do not adequately address the gut-wrenching reality that one of our own is allegedly responsible for terrorizing us. As a community, I believe that we have an obligation to ourselves, our Jewish community and the larger communities of which we are a part, to confront this shocking reality.

In a Tweet yesterday, the American Jewish Committee began to do just this: “If proven, this Israeli teen’s culpability in JCC bomb threats is a lesson in not leaping to assumptions.” Many of us assumed that the anti-Semite or anti-Semitic group that was behind the bomb threats would have links to alt-right organizations, white supremacists and/or radical Islamic terrorists. Learning that a Jewish kid allegedly placed these calls from his home in Israel teaches us a very powerful lesson about making assumptions. If the allegations against this teen are true, this nightmare reminds us that we can be our own worst enemies.

We do not yet know the motives of the accused teen. It has been reported that he suffers from a non-malignant brain tumor that prevents him from making rational decisions. Yesterday, while being taken into custody, it was reported that he grabbed an officer’s gun. In addition, authorities assert that the teen threatened Delta Airlines back in 2015, forcing a plane to make an emergency landing. We also know that he was in possession of complex hacking technology that he used to terrorize the Jewish community. He appears to be a disturbed young man with many issues. He has caused terror in the Jewish community. The financial ramifications of his actions to the Jewish community and the local, national and international resources that were used to find him have been tremendous. In Judaism, there is the drastic tradition of excommunicating (herem) someone who seriously threatens the Jewish community. There is also the concept of teshuvah or repentance. While the courts will determine this young man’s fate after weighing the evidence and evaluating his mental health, many of us within the Jewish community – still reeling from weeks of threats – are struggling with our own feelings about what should happen to him.

On top of this, we must recognize that this young man’s actions have the potential to jeopardize the Jewish community’s global fight against anti-Semitism. As a community, we have been outraged by these threats and demanded that our political leaders and law enforcement agencies take action and protect us from those who hate us. And all the while, the perpetrator was hiding among us. We understand that in no way does the fact that this teen is a Jew diminish the anti-Semitic nature of his actions that terrorized us all. However, outside of the Jewish community, this might not be so easily understood. In fact, his actions have the potential to belittle our demands for more protection and security. We run the risk of becoming the community that “cried wolf” even though there are still many individuals and organizations out there that seek to do us harm – even though anti-Semitism is still very, very real.

Therefore, as a Jewish community we must do more than express our heartache that the alleged perpetrator of these threats was a Jew. We must express our horror that one of our own would endanger the wellbeing of the Jewish community and add fuel to the long burning fire of hate that continues to threaten Jews across the planet. We must remind our political leaders and law enforcement agencies that the plague of anti-Semitism is not over just because this individual has been caught.

On another note, you might have read about possible budget cuts in Florida that could affect local Holocaust survivors. I have been in touch with Commissioner Steve Geller about these cuts and he suggests that we call the following people, not because we have been told to do so, but because these cuts are a concern to us as Florida voters. The budget cuts are not final and phone calls are being monitored closely:

  • Senator Anitere Flores (she is the Chair of the committee overseeing cuts): 850-487-5039
  • My friend, Senator Kevin Rader – who does not want these cuts to go through: 850-487-5029
  • Senator Jack Latvela (Chair of the Budget Committee): 850-487-5016

Today’s Community-Wide Gathering Addressing Anti-Semitism

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This morning I joined with other rabbis, Jewish professionals, law enforcement – including members of the FBI, FEMA, BSO and police chiefs from Broward and Miami Dade – including the Chiefs from the Plantation and Davie Police Departments – at a meeting to discuss the outbreak of anti-Semitism in our community. This meeting was organized and led by our Congresswoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  We were briefed by the FBI about the current situation. It is clear that they are working very closely on investigating the many anti-Semitic incidents rocking our community. During our meeting, it was announced that an arrest has been made related to the bomb threats called into Jewish institutions. The FBI made it clear, however, that this is an ongoing investigation that has a possible international nexus. Law enforcement did caution us all to be wary of media reports surrounding these incidents. In addition, they stressed that if we do find ourselves in a building where a bomb threat has been called in, do NOT share information – especially on social media. Doing so puts everyone involved at risk. This morning’s meeting gave me great confidence that this crisis is being handled extremely well and everything is being done to ensure our safety and security. Our law enforcement community is incredible.

In attendance at this morning’s meeting were representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the Miami Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League. With these organizations, we spoke about ways in which we as a community can strategize and work to combat the rise in anti-Semitism. Congresswoman Schultz encourages us to build bridges with other religious and ethnic communities to help teach others about our faith. She and others also stressed the need to put aside religious and political differences within our Jewish family and come together to combat hate. While it was not shared at the meeting, the ADL did propose the following strategy to President Trump – click here.

As we are taught in Pirkei Avot: “Do not separate yourself from the community.”  Now is the time to come together. To be with each other. To support each other. To show the world that we stand together as a strong, united community. And so, I urge you to join us tonight at 7:30PM for Kabbalat Shabbat and all other events at Ramat Shalom. Your presence is one of the best ways to combat hate directed against us.

A BDS Leader’s Fundraising Campaign Leaves Me Stumped

This week, the Jewish community continued to be rocked to its core by anti-Semitic acts, including more bomb threats called into Jewish institutions across the country and the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emeth, a Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri. While the President has been criticized by many for his delayed response to this hatred, the outpouring of support that the cemetery has received has been tremendous. The Vice-President visited the cemetery on Wednesday along with people of all different faiths to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community. Our own Julie Cole, a student at Washington University, has worked with her Hillel to raise funds needed to repair the damage done to the cemetery, which is just ten minutes from her apartment. Many other individuals and organizations are doing the same thing, including Linda Sarsour, the outgoing Executive Director of the Arab American Association of NY, a former Democratic National Convention delegate (she was a supporter of Bernie Sanders) and an organizer of last month’s Women’s March on Washington. Ms. Sarsour, in partnership with Tarek El-Messidi of Celebrate Mercy, has raised more than $100,000 for the cemetery on Launchgood.com.

During this challenging time, it’s extremely meaningful to see so many people from various faiths and backgrounds reach out and support the Jewish community. This being said, I’m struggling with Ms. Sarsour’s support. My struggle is based on a larger struggle I have with “intersectionality,” the trendy, sociological term that describes how different groups that form around various religious, socio-economic, national, racial, ethnic and/or gender identities can, at times, share a common struggle. Unquestionably, both the American Jewish and Muslim communities have been confronted with terrible hate and violence. We do understand, to an extent, each other’s pain and fear and must stand with each other during these trying times. Many members of the Jewish community have supported the Muslim community when they have faced acts of hate, and I’m grateful to all members of the Muslim community who have supported our community – including those who have given to Ms. Sarsour’s Launchgood fund – when the hate has been directed at us.

This being said, Ms. Sarsour is a staunch advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) which is designed to delegitimize the State of Israel. Democratic Senator Chuck Shumer states very clearly that BDS is a “modern form of anti-Semitism.” And the Anti-Defamation League, which has stood in opposition to all forms of Islamaphobia, states:

The delegitimization of Israel is at the heart of contemporary anti-Semitism. BDS is one of its most visible and dangerous manifestations.  ADL is committed to exposing the bigotry at the core of the movement and discrediting the leaders of BDS.

Ms. Sarsour, who has built strong relationships with some American Jewish organizations and leaders, claims she’s not an anti-Semite. Her strong support of BDS (watch Ms. Sarsour testify on behalf of BDS in NYC last September here), however, tells a different story. And her hateful comments about Zionists drive this story home:

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Interestingly, while organizers of the Women’s March on Washington worked hard to keep Israel-Palestine issues from being part of last month’s protest, Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the BDS Movement did keep some individuals and organizations from participating.

In addition to being a staunch BDS advocate, Ms. Sarsour believes that the solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis is a one-state solution, a solution that will ensure a Palestinian majority and, thus, the end of the Jewish State (yes, during the press conference with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this month, you heard about a one-state solution that would favor Israelis). Ms. Sarsour states:

I don’t think a two-state solution is viable, is logistically possible…My hope is that it will be one state, one man one vote, that everyone is treated equally. Then you can say that part of the world is a true democracy.

Ms. Sarsour, who has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny lately, believes that by supporting the restoration of the graves at Chesed Shel Emeth, we can send “a united message…from the Jewish and Muslim communities that” makes it clear that “there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America.” I certainly agree that as two powerful religious communities, we do have the ability to send such a message. However, I personally believe that Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the delivery of this message is completely inappropriate and inauthentic to her position and the position of many of us in the Jewish community.

Pinned to the top of Ms. Sarsour’s Twitter account is the following tweet:

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Sadly, Ms. Sarsour has no problem denying the rights of others to exist. We see this in her support of the BDS Movement. We also see her reject those who want to stand up to Islamaphobia but don’t meet all of her requirements. When Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, promised to register as a Muslim if the Trump administration created a religious database, Ms. Sarsour attacked Mr. Greenblatt’s promise by tweeting:

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Ms. Sarsour belittles Mr. Greenblatt’s support because the ADL has come out againstCongressman Keith Ellison becoming the chair of the Democratic National Committee due to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements he made. You can read the ADL’s statement on Congressman Ellison here.

Back in November, American Muslims for Palestine (an organization that, according to the ADL, promotes anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views) held their Annual Convention for Palestine in Chicago. Ms. Sarsour spoke at the convention saying (you can also hear a recording of her speaking these words here):

We have limits to the type of friendships that we’re looking for right now…and I want to be friends with those whom I know have been steadfast, courageous, have been standing up and protecting their own communities, those who have taken the risk to stand up and say – we are with the Palestinian people, we unequivocally support BDS when it comes to Palestinian human rights and have been attacked viciously by the very people who are telling you that they’re about to stand on the front line of the Muslim registry program. No thank you, sisters and brothers.

Ms. Sarsour told NPR earlier this week that her fundraising effort for Chesed Shel Emeth is “another way for us to publicly defy the idea that Muslims and Jews can’t get along.” However, her comments at the American Muslims for Palestine convention, comments which are very similar to her pinned tweet posted above, make it explicitly clear: if you don’t share her views on BDS and the Palestinian cause, you are no friend. And if you are an Israeli, she will work tirelessly to undermine your country’s legitimacy. How does this encourage Muslims and Jews to get along?

As troubled as I am by Ms. Sarsour’s statements, she has every right to say them and believe in them. But, her positions highlight the absurdity of intersectionality here.  She wants the Jewish community to join her and stand up to hate. But, in order for us to do so, to genuinely stand with her, she has one major condition: we must support the delegitimization of the Jewish State – a condition that many of us see as anti-Semitic – a condition that is grounded in hate.

There are those who believe that, despite Ms. Sarsour’s condition, her effort to help Chesed Shel Emeth is admirable. Some American Jews can separate the hateful rhetoric of BDS from the well-being of the American Jewish community. I can’t. Working to undermine the existence of the Jewish State is, as Senator Shumer states, anti-Semitism. And anti-Semitism is hate that is dangerous to Jews in Israel, in America and across the globe. I can’t enter into a partnership with someone who threatens the very survival of Israel.

Many of us in the Jewish community stand in opposition to BDS and in support of the ADL. Given this, Ms. Sarsour would not befriend us, making it extremely difficult to stand together against the desecration of Chesed Shel Emeth. And this leaves me struggling to figure out why Ms. Sarsour is raising funds for the cemetery. Is it a good will gesture? A show of compassion? An attempt to build bridges? If she dropped the condition to unequivocally support BDS – perhaps. But, since this condition is still very much on the table as Ms. Sarsour leaves her position at the Arab American Association of NY and lands in the national spotlight, I can’t help but wonder if this is a well-orchestrated public relations campaign. If so, it’s worked exceptionally well. Everyone is talking about Ms. Sarsour’s support of the Chesed Shel Emeth. But, for those of us whose pro-Israel and anti-BDS positions would keep Ms. Sarsour from befriending us, we’re willing to be the “out of key instruments” in that well-orchestrated campaign. While on the surface, Ms. Sarsour’s support of the cemetery seems like a beautiful effort to unite the Jewish and Muslim communities, when we dig deeper it is clear that there are more genuine ways for Jews to support the restoration of Chesed Shel Emeth. I encourage you to learn more about Washington University’s Hillel fundraiser by clicking here. And, as always, I urge you to do your homework before you give your resources and lend your name to a cause.

 

Boundaries, Borders, Fences, Walls And Free Of Speech

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As a graduate of Vassar College, I have been involved in the discussion surrounding the well-publicized situation on campus. I have heard from students and faculty who have been impacted by the pro-BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) and anti-Israel sentiments on campus. At a recent campus lecture, visiting Professor Jasbir Puar delivered a message that was not simply anti-Israel, it was dangerous, hateful and anti-Semitic. Jewish students and faculty who are pro-Israel have shared with alumni and others that the feeling on campus is threatening. Many pro-Israel students keep their beliefs to themselves because they do not want to be labeled and attacked. Late last month, The Vassar Student Association wrestled with whether a vote on BDS policy be anonymous as a way to protect those who vote from harassment.

As I shared with you a few weeks ago, I believe we should embrace healthy disagreement. The idea of free, open, respectful debate surrounding Israel (or any topic) is a beautiful idea. But, as we have seen at Vassar, free, open debate is not often respectful and has the ability to become hateful. In addition, we know that attempts to bring anti-BDS speakers to campus have not been embraced by campus leaders. Just last night, however, Peter Beinart spoke at Vassar. While still a controversial speaker when it comes to Israel, his presence was a very small step towards a more balanced discussion.

When it comes to Israel, divisive, hateful speech has become part of the conversation on many campuses (including, most recently, Oberlin). Many state that our college students deserve the opportunity to hear a myriad of opinions on Israel – even those that are anti-Semitic – and should be given the ability to make up their own minds. Unfortunately, we know that the anti-Israel, pro-BDS voices are often controlling the conversation, making it very difficult for voices that disagree with them to be heard. As a result, pro-Israel students can feel alienated and are too often threatened because of their beliefs.

Judaism teaches us that we are obligated to put a fence around the Torah. We have to protect what is near and dear to us. We live in an extremely polarized society. The art of debate is gone. Anger is running high. People are grasping for ways to defend their turf. Some have dangerous, manipulative agendas that can severely hurt a community. While we might not need a towering wall to protect ourselves, a well-defined boundary that demarcates what is fair, just and moral from what is deceptive, dangerous and hateful is necessary. Our communal boundaries need to be built upon the values of the organizations and groups of which we are a part. Judaism teaches us that once we establish these boundaries, we are obligated to ensure that those we invite into our community respect our values. This does not mean that our guests always need to agree with us – but they must understand that we expect them to respect who we are and what we stand for.

Within the larger Jewish community, specifically within Hillels, synagogues and other Jewish institutions, I believe that we owe it to our respective communities to make certain that everyone who wants to be a part of the group feels welcome, included, safe and receives the spiritual nourishment they need. I do believe in free speech, but I also believe in the sanctity of the Jewish community. Outside of our Hillels, synagogues and other Jewish institutions, there are ample opportunities for anti-Semitic voices to be heard loud and clear. Why do they need to be welcomed into our sacred spaces?

In the larger community, specifically our college campuses, free speech and open debate should be encouraged and welcomed. Academic freedom is an essential part of the learning process. This being said, academic integrity must be upheld. Colleges must establish clear boundaries by promoting scholarship that is grounded in research and truth while denouncing hate that is based on a radicalized agenda. In this day and age, creating and maintaining such boundaries is no easy task. It requires academic institutions to think long and hard about what they stand for, articulate their core values and ensure that these values are upheld on campus. It also requires that college administrators ensure that scholarly debate is balanced and students are taught how to engage in respectful discussion with each other. Furthermore, it requires swift and appropriate responses to hateful speech and actions. Perhaps, if more of our nation’s colleges established boundaries that support free, academic speech and balanced, healthy debate, the division that we see playing out on the national political stage would begin to heal and the “other” would become our friend.

What Would Dr. King Say…

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This weekend, as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, the outrage surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Officer Rafael Ramos and Officer Wenjian Liu continues to elicit powerful emotions across our country.  Reports indicate that the late civil rights leader’s birthday will be marked by numerous protests where crowds will chant “Black Lives Matter”, “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” and “We Can’t Breathe!”  What would the great civil rights leader say if he attended these protests on his 86th birthday?  What passionate words of wisdom would he have to share that could help us all come together to heal and grow as a nation?  If only he could speak to us now.

If he were here with us, I know Dr. King would focus our attention on how we can and must stand up to injustice not by inflicting violence on others, but, as Dr. King said, by securing “moral ends through moral means”.   He would tell us that we must stand up for ourselves but in a non-violent way.   “Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon,” said Dr. King. “Indeed, it is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it.”

If Dr. King were here with us, I can’t help but think that he would speak about the horrific events in France, paying specific attention to the four Jews who were killed.  I imagine Dr. King looking into the crowd before him, into the television cameras focused on him and speaking directly to the Jewish community, saying words similar to those he spoke in 1958 as he stood before the American Jewish Congress:

My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born out of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid us of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.

If Dr. King were speaking to us on Monday, he would, with great passion,  tell all who listened that “Jewish Lives Matter Too”.  He would look into our eyes and explain that those who stood on the other side of the terrorist’s gun in Paris, they too exclaimed: “Hands Up Don’t Shoot!”  And Dr. King, using his tremendous oratorical skills, would preach the painful truth that as the four Jews were killed in the kosher market in Paris, they too might very well have uttered “I Can’t Breathe!”

If Dr. King were with us on his birthday, I know he would shock many listening to him as he would proudly stand up for Israel and against anyone who had the audacity to attack the Jewish State.  In the run-up to the Six Day War in 1967, while many in the civil rights movement strongly supported the Arab world, Dr. King told President Johnson, in a letter published in The New York Times, that the United States must support Israel.  He practiced what he preached, telling those who disparaged the Jewish State exactly what he thought of them.  In 1968, responding to a student who attacked Zionism, Dr. King exclaimed: “Don’t talk like that! When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

Oh how I wish Dr. King was with us now.  Not only because I believe that his wisdom is so needed by those leading the protests in memory of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and those who are outraged by the murder of Officers Ramos and Liu, but also because the American Jewish community desperately needs one of his rousing sermons to yank our heads out from the sand and come face to face with the harsh reality that we need to act.

Dr. King so eloquently preached:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.  This is our hope, and this is the faith.

Over the past week we have sadly been handed horrific proof that shows us what the experts have been saying for some time now: European anti-semitism is surging.  We have been taught to believe “Never Again”.  This is our hope, our dream.  But, with European Jewish leaders telling us that these are the worst times for Jews since the Nazis, “Again” seems like a frightening possibility.  The attack against the French Jewish community was not a shock to anyone who has been following the hatred and violence directed against the Jews of France and other European nations.  How sad is that?  We the people who say “Never Again!” were not shocked.  We saw it coming.  So why haven’t we done anything?   In 2012, when four Jews, including three children were killed at a French school, where was the global Jewish outrage?  In 2013, when a French rabbi and his son were stabbed near their synagogue, where was our “Jewish Lives Matter” campaign?  Last summer as synagogues were firebombed and Jews were attacked in France in response to Israel’s war against Hamas, where were the Jews who put it all on the line and got arrested in New York City while holding up “I Can’t Breathe” signs?

Where are we?  Where is our passion for our people?  What has happened to our dream of “Never Again”?

If Dr. King were here with us, he would not allow the overwhelming silence of the Jewish community to go unnoticed.  I imagine him asking us:

What happened to the hope of  Anne Frank who wrote “If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example.”

Did you lose the courage embraced by Elie Wiesel who said: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Silence encourages the tormentor.”

Are you afraid to act like Simon Wiesenthal who taught: “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”  

What has happened to the Jewish People?

Dr. King, the Jewish people desperately need you to inspire us, to remind us that “Never Again” is possible; to remind us that we must be an example because we were doomed yet we survived; to remind us that we must take sides and support our own; to remind us that doing nothing does nothing good.

We need you, Dr. King, to remind us as you so powerfully put it:

[We]were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for [us] in Europe…We must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.  We cannot turn back….we are not satisfied and we will never be satisfied until “justice rolls down like the waters and righteousness like a might stream.”  

We need you Dr. King to remind us that we are not satisfied until “Never Again” means “NEVER AGAIN”.  We need you to remind us that:

We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords…into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

Yes, Dr. King, we need you to remind us that we must act together in bold, yet peaceful ways, to teach the world that indeed, Jewish Lives Matter.  While some in the larger community need you to remind them of the power of non-violence, we in the Jewish community need you to remind us that we must act.  As we enter Shabbat and prepare to remember you and your legacy, may your memory remind us of the incredible power we have to stand up to hatred and may we all have the courage to embrace this power and use it to make our dream a reality.

A Follow-Up Letter On BDS (see previous post)

So, I watched the videos and read the links that others shared regarding the BDS Movement.  Thank you for sharing.  I also watched videos from the PennBDS conference.  I must say that I am disappointed that no one out there in cyber world who counts him/herself as a BDS supporter responded to the questions/concerns/links that I shared yesterday.   I know everyone is busy and if I were not leading a series of workshops dealing with the delegitimization of Israel on college campuses, I probably would not be spending so much time on this.  This being said, I shared my concerns with this group and would like to get some feedback from those who support BDS please.

 

My homework over the past two days has not only validated my concerns but also elevated them.  The video featuring J.J, Goldberg, Hannah Mermelstein, Kathleen Peratis and Yonatan Shapira (http://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/jewish-perspectives-boycott-divestment-sanctions-bds-campaign) disturbed me greatly not just because of the anti-Zionist sentiments that were expressed in the video but also because of the hatred of Israel that was expressed in the video and the tremendous distortion of the facts by speakers.  I shared the video with my regular Tuesday study group this morning.  This group consists of many long-term Reconstructionists – and to say that they left upset would be an understatement.  I also watched Ali Abunimah’s keynote speech at PennBDS (http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/video-my-penn-bds-speech-and-how-zionist-filmmaker-pretended-be-canadas-cbc).  His demonization of Israel was over the top.

 

Overall, the videos make it clear to me that the ultimate goal of BDS, a goal explained by Abunimah, Mermelstein and Shapira, is to dismantle the Jewish State of Israel and replace it with a new, “democratic”, pluralistic society – a society that is not a Jewish homeland.  This would be the death of Zionism and a horrific loss for the Jewish people.

 

While I am no J-Street supporter, I found myself cheering on Peratis as she said she is committed to a two state solution that includes a Jewish State. 

 

As I see it, one of the huge problems with the BDS movement and many other anti-Israel causes is an issue Daniel Gordis talks a lot about: the faulty assumption that when it comes to democracy, Israel is a Hebrew-speaking, mini-America.   On the contrary, Israel is not like the democracy that we live in here and, if it remains a Jewish State, it never will be. This is a challenging reality for many liberal American Jews – one that must be discussed.

 

The very nature of Israel is to be a Jewish homeland that, in turn, gives Jews a favored status.  This is, as Gordis explains, an “ethnic democracy” which is a democratic system described by Professor Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa (http://hevra.haifa.ac.il/~soc/lecturers/smooha/files/1572.pdf). 

 

An ethnic democracy is one that “combines the extension of civil and political rights to permanent residents who wish to be citizens with the bestowal of a favored status on the majority group.”  In an ethnic democracy, “the state belongs to the majority and serves it more than the minority.” Israel is not the only ethnic democracy out there.  Latvia and Estonia, Malaysia and Slovakia are also ethnic democracies.  Many consider an ethnic democracy a “diminished” form of democracy and thus many don’t like it.  But, Gordis points out that Professor Smooha, who is a Jew, a critic of ethnic democracy and a passionate defender of the rights of Israel’s Arabs, admits that “the democratic framework is real and not a façade.”  It is part of the reality that is this on-going Jewish project that many of us love with all our hearts and souls – this project we call Israel.

 

I have been thinking a lot about this idea of “ethnic democracy”.  As a congregational rabbi of a liberal synagogue that praises itself on being a democratic, welcoming institution – we, as a congregation, are an “ethnic democracy”.  Our constitution forbids a non-Jew from holding certain board positions including the positions of President and Ritual Chair.  While non-Jews can be members, they are not granted full rights and 99% of the time are expected to be partnered with a Jew.  Non-Jews can’t take part in all aspects of our services.  We will not grant membership to Jews-for-Jesus – this has been discussed – and anyone else who has no “real connection” to Judaism.  We will not enroll students in our religious school unless they are being raised solely as Jews.  In order to become a Jew (not just at Ramat Shalom), we expect people to pledge loyalty to Judaism and renounce all other religions before a beit din.  Once one becomes a Jew, they are given full rights.  Is it fair to compare a synagogue to Israel? Probably not – but there is no question that my congregation is an “ethnic democracy”. (I also think about my days as a Vassar tour guide – telling people that while the school went co-ed in 1969, officials will never allow men to outnumber women because this would change the character of the school.)

 

I know that Israel has many issues to address when it comes to her non-Jewish citizens.  This being said, I accept the fact that Israel is not and will never be a mini-America.  Israel is an ethnic democracy and must remain one in order to remain a Jewish State.  And I always want there to be a Jewish State.

 

I believe, unlike Mermelstein, Shapira and Abunimah, that we Jews need our own nation, our own safe place, our own haven.  Sorry, I don’t believe that the Holocaust is in the rearview mirror.  I believe “Never Again!” and I don’t believe this makes me paranoid.  I believe it makes me a realist.  I also believe that we are entitled to the nation that was created by the UN in 1947.  And I believe that Israel had and still has the right to defend herself.  And I believe that Israel has the right to resolve unsettled territorial disputes that were the result of numerous attacks upon her sovereignty in a manner that insures her safety and her security.  I believe that Israel has the right to be a Jewish State and uphold the law of return for Jews while preventing the return of Palestinian refugees.

 

Because of this, I find the BDS Movement, which singles out, demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish State and endorses (through BDS) the punishment of the citizens of the Jewish State as a means to achieve its ultimate goal, being the dismantling of the Jewish State, to be not only (obviously) anti-Zionist, but, yes, anti-Semitic.  Please note I said I find the MOVEMENT to be anti-Semitic.  I can’t pretend to know the motivations of individuals who support BDS.  But I can say this: the BDS Movement is committed to end Jewish self-determination in the Jewish homeland officially given to the Jewish people by the United Nations 65 years ago.  (see Professor Dina Porat’s (Tel Aviv University) article “Defining Anti-Semitism in which she argues that denying Jews the right to self-determination by saying Israel is a racist endeavor is anti-Semitic, http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2003-4/porat.htm) Attacking Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, comparing it to a Nazi State, applying double standards not expected of other nations (as opposed to working to change Israeli governmental policies) is widely accepted as anti-Semitism.  And when a Jew stands with, supports, gives a platform to the BDS Movement s/he legitimizes this anti-Semitism.  And this brings me back to my original post in which I said: “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.”