Imagine for a moment that in the Hollywood Hills a local planning commission ruled that Jews, Latinos or blacks could not build or own homes. No question that Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel would be leading the protest, and his friends, the 400 liberal rabbis that signed a recent letter critical of Jewish construction in Jerusalem and its outskirts would be standing by his side. In claiming that Jewish homes in Ramot, Gilo and E1 would impede the emergence of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, they seem to think that the rights of Jews in their homeland are different than those of minorities in California. As Rosove writes “We see the building of E1 as a dagger aimed at the heart of a two-state solution.”
According to these rabbis, only homes for Jews are verboten. Arabs are permitted to build. If Jewish construction endangers negotiations, doesn’t this apply to Arabs? And if Rosove is right and the Arabs finally make peace why can’t Jews in the West Bank choose to live under Arab rule as a minority? They did so for a thousand years in much of Eretz Yisroel, as well as many other countries. Why can’t they continue to do so now? Israeli Arabs live in Israel; can’t Jews live in a Palestinian state?
I believe these rabbis are protesting due to their deep concern for Israel. Rosove says “we believe we have a Jewish and moral obligation to speak out.” There is a bigger question, how should this be done? They could have sent a letter directly to the Prime Minster or met with Israeli officials. Instead they went public. Imagine for a moment a terrorist leader in Gaza, or a PLO official in Ramallah reading the report in the New York Times. “Look at those Jews in California they are on our side.” At the very least it will harden their position. There is grave risk they will think to themselves, “Let’s continue the battle, Israel’s support is weakening in the Jewish community.” I am sure that none of these liberal rabbis who signed this letter desire this. Still they need to consider that these scenarios are possible.
Jewish leaders need to weigh carefully the impact of their words. The Midrash teaches us that words are more dangerous than a sword. The “sword can be returned to its sheath,” while speech is compared to an arrow. “Once you shoot, it can’t be taken back.” Midrash also says that “what is uttered in Rome kills in Syria.” These rabbis need to carefully consider before they choose the route of public protest if there is even a remote possibility that what they say in the Hollywood Hills could embolden the enemies of Israel. If there is the slightest chance of this, it would be wiser to express their views in private rather than in public.
These rabbis have selective memory when it comes to Rabbi Abraham Herschel in comparing his noble act of marching in the Selma for Civil Rights to their strident support of a Palestinian state and public criticism of Israel. It’s quite a stretch to compare the streets of Alabama to neighborhoods like Gilo and Ramot. Rosove says that Heschel taught “the opposite of good is not evil but indifference.” Heschel argued for respect towards Arabs, and hoped for peace. But he never supported a Palestinian state. Using his teachings to validate their actions is a gross injustice to his memory.
Their claim that there is a moral obligation to advocate for another Palestinian state is a misrepresentation of Judaism. There is no basis for this belief in the Talmud, the Codes, the Torah, Midrash or even the mystical teachings of Judaism embedded in the Zohar. The first words of Rashi, the great commentator of the Torah in his Magnus opus on the Bible teach the opposite. He states that the Torah starts with the Biblical narrative of the creation of the world to teach us that the Land of Israel is a divine gift to the Jewish people and that other nations have no right to claim it.
Judaism does teach us that we must treat all with dignity. Arab and Jews should be given respect. It is a vast leap to say that this means that we should support an Arab state on the Jewish homeland. There is no basis in Judaism for such a premise.
These rabbis are transposing western liberal political philosophy onto Judaism. Their ideas are not rooted in Torah, but in modern political thinking. Another Palestinian state in the West Bank could pose a mortal danger to Israel. The removal of Israeli forces from Southern Lebanon and Gaza has created two terrorist regimes. Israeli citizens have suffered three short wars due to these concessions. Unless there is a total change in the culture and aspirations of the Palestinians there is a grave risk that a state in the West Bank could be a staging area for attacks into Israel’s heartland. Instead of missiles in Ashkelon, they will fall on Tel Aviv. Jewish Law is clear, when it comes to pikuach nefesh – endangering life – we cannot take chances.