It was a pleasure speaking to you on the phone last week. I thank you for your time and your friendly manner, and especially for agreeing to join me for a Friday night Shabbat dinner. I believe the residents of New Jersey’s Ninth District will benefit from us keeping our race positive and issues-focused.
Thank you also for your offer to introduce me to Imam Mohammad Qatanani, the subject of much controversy in our district. Indeed, in your race against Congressman Rothman, much was made of your friendship with the Imam and your efforts to assist him in remaining in this country. This despite INS attempts to deport him over an earlier arrest by the Israeli authorities for membership in Hamas, which the imam concealed. Should the imam publicly repudiate those ties and condemn Hamas for its murderous intent against innocent Israelis, a meeting between us would be welcome.
Bill, I will not repeat the earlier error made by some members of our community in labeling you an “enemy” of Israel. My religion commands me to speak truth and show gratitude, and you have voted in favor of foreign aid to Israel on numerous occasions. To perpetuate the myth, started in the Democratic primary, that you are a foe of Israel would contravene my value system, which obligates me to thank you for votes in favor of the Jewish state. By assisting in the continuity of American aid to Israel, you have made the Middle East safer, not just for Jews, but for the hundreds of millions of Arabs whose freedom under their own tyrannical regimes is largely predicated on Israel setting an example of a viable democracy in a region which Arab dictators claim can never be democratized.
My objection to your stance on Israel lies, rather, in other actions with which you have been associated that are extremely troubling to the pro-Israel community. Most notably, you signed the infamous Gaza 54 letter, condemning Israel for “collective punishment” against Palestinians in the Gaza blockade. While this may not have been your intention, your participation in this cruel attack on Israel is highly injurious to the Jewish State’s ability to defend itself.
As you know, Bill, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005. I can tell you personally how painful that withdrawal was, since I visited the flourishing Jewish communities of Gush Katif in Gaza many times. Brave Jewish residents – nearly all of whom had family members or close friends killed by terrorists in Gaza – made the desert bloom, growing fruits and vegetables of the highest quality out of the desert sands, literally. They offered the hope that Gaza might be turned into a land of agricultural excellence, exporting produce to the entire world and benefiting Jew and Arab alike.
I contrast this civilized landscape with the unspeakable poverty and misery that I witnessed in Palestinian-controlled Gaza City. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, Reverend Al Sharpton came to Israel for a trip of reconciliation with the Jewish community, jointly hosted by me and Shimon Peres, Israel’s then foreign minister, to whom President Obama has just given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While in Israel, Rev. Sharpton insisted on visiting Yasser Arafat, and though I refused to meet the man who had the blood of my people on his hands and who had stolen billions of dollars from impoverished Palestinians, I did accompany Sharpton to Gaza and witnessed the squalor that reigned in the Palestinian Authority-controlled cities, despite billions of dollars in foreign aid. The New York Times reported in 2004 that “the Palestinians are already the world’s largest per capita recipients of international aid.” But I did not witness this trickeling down to average citizens.
Regardless, Israel uprooted the Jewish communities of Gaza – including my wife’s cousins who years later are still confined to a trailer – and evacuated from Gaza completely. Their reward? Thousands of rockets from Hamas on Israeli nurseries, homes for the elderly, and buses.
Hamas, as you well know, Bill, is sworn to Israel’s destruction and to attacking Jews wherever they may be found. Its covenant is deeply racist and containas vicious genocidal aspirations, such as the following: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.”
It is also an inhuman regime that brutalizes its Palestinian citizens, and is regularly censured by human rights groups worldwide. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned Hamas for “serious violations of international law,” and cited Judge Richard Goldstone to the effect that its attacks on Israeli civilains constitued “war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.”[E1] HRW has also described the blatant use of torture by Hamas to extract confessions from 22 individuals who were then prosecuted under Hamas’s corrupt judicial system. Just recently, in April of this year, Hamas executed three men for various supposed crimes. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned these killings, pleading that such actions by Hamas must stop and requesting that all further executions be commuted. It described the killings as a “grave and unjustified violation of the right to life and a form of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment.” It added that “the persistence of unfair trials made the executions particularly egregious.” Amnesty International charged that the men “were executed after sentences issued and ratified by military and criminal courts in Gaza which fail to meet international fair trial standards.”
I need not add how gays and women fare under Hamas rule, including widespread allegations that Hamas aids and abets honor killings of females. It also indoctrinates children in vicious anti-Semitism while regularly threatening with death those who are not Muslim.
Now, given these facts, I am mystified as why you broke with close to 90 percent of Congress, voting to condemn Israel for imposing a blockade on Gaza. Surely you do not want to see Israeli children with their extremities blown off. Surely you do not want to see Hamas possessing the military capability to execute suspected Palestinian “collaborators” without trial. But without Israel stopping war materials from entering Gaza, more innocent Israelis and Palestinians will be murdered in the most gruesome way. That’s the purpose of a blockade – to stop terrorists from getting guns and bombs.
And why would you have compounded this error, Bill, by blaming Israel for collective punishment against the Palestinians? Is Israel responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians, or Hamas, which has chosen to use all of Gaza as a launching pad for a war of annihilation against Jews?
Would you really blame the victim, Bill?
Surely the Germans and Japanese suffered mightily for the American naval blockades imposed during the Second World War. But was it the Americans who were responsible, or the Hitler and Tojo governments? The Afghan people are suffering terribly due to the decade-old war on their soil. But is it the American military that has visited this suffering upon them? Or should the blame be placed at the feet of the monsters of the Taliban?
The new ninth district, whose Congressman you seek to become, is different from your old tenth district. There you had a large Arab population, which continues in Paterson. No doubt you feel obligated to represent their interests, which I can completely understand. Arabs are my brothers, equal children under the one G-d. As a rabbi, I salute your constituents’ commitment to their Islamic faith. But how does supporting Hamas and condemning Israel help Arabs? On the contrary, Hamas is poison to the Palestinian cause. Palestinians need a government that will utilize the vast foreign aid flowing in to Gaza to build hospitals, roads, and universities to benefit the citizenry, not to buy rockets to kill Israelis. It is not helpful to any Arab to live under a terrorist entity that suppresses its rights. But in addition to your Arab constituents, your new district also contains very large neighborhoods of committed Jews who are deeply puzzled by your being one of the Gaza 54. You owe it to them to either explain your signature or repudiate it.
Israel is not the reason Arabs are suffering the Middle East. Rather, it is the Mubaraks, Kaddafis, Assads, and woman-hating House of Saud that are the scourge of the Arab world, as the Arab Spring has finally made clear.
I respectfully request of you, Bill, to either explain your signature on the Gaza 54 Letter, or, if it was a mistake to sign it, as I suspect you now believe, to please repudiate it. Likewise, I believe you when you tell me that Imam Qatanani is a man of peace. But that claim must be backed up by the public action of his repudiation of any ties to Hamas and his denunciation of Hamas as a terrorist group whose murderous actions are inimical to a peace-loving Islam.
I thank you for your time, Bill, and ask that you please accept my words in the spirit of the mutual respect and trust we are building. I look forward to discussing these issues with you, preferably in open forums where the public can participate; even better, in the Imam’s mosque, should he be kind enough to invite me, where I would be honored to join my Muslim brothers in their house of prayer.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach