Who Is More Zionist? Who Cares More About Defense?

This week’s Torah portion (Shlakh Lekha) tells of the disastrous results after most of the spies bring back a negative report about the Land of Israel, and the Israelite’s ability to conquer it.  The haftara tells the parallel story in the Book of Joshua (with a better ending) about Joshua sending spies. I would like to point out one lesson from each story.

After the negative report sparks a near rebellion against Moses and Aaron, God declares that the children of Israel will wander 40 years in the desert, and all of the current generation will die before the Israelites will enter the land.  We are told, “The people mourned greatly. They rose up early in the morning and went to the top of the mountain saying, We are here, and we will go to the place Adonai told of, for we have sinned.” They think that, because there sin was doubt, they can make amends by showing how fearless they are, and thereby annul God’s punishment.  Moses tries to warn them, but they proceed, suffering a crushing defeat.   I can hear these brave souls talking among themselves as they set out, saying that Moses isn’t truly committed to bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Today, so much of our discourse paints those of us who are human rights activists as defeatist, unconcerned about defense, alienated from our own people, etc.  The true Zionists, and the only ones who care about security, are those who take an uncompromising hard line against the human rights of non-Jews.

This week I responded to a litany of false claims justifying the horrible impending forced transfer of the residents of Khan Al Akhmar, and the destruction of their school:

“They (The school and homes in Khan al Akhmar) are illegal because of illegal laws undemocratically imposed on people who have no say in making those laws. Israel calls this land “State Land,” but it is not. The Jahalin have an arrangement with the actual owners. The place they could go back to is the lands they were intimidated into leaving inside Israel in the1950s (After the War of Independence.). Even if Israel falsely claims this is State land, State land under the 4th Geneva Convention should be 100% for Palestinian use. Even if one does not accept the 4th Geneva Convention as applying, and even if one continues to falsely claim that this is State land, why not have some equitable division of State land. Given the fact that we forced the Jahalin out of their homes in the 1950’s, why not allocate to them this “State land?”

I didn’t even get into the disgraceful decision written by Judge Sohlberg, and accepted by Judges Baron and Willlner, that said that the only consideration that is important are those illegal imposed laws.

Rather than respond to what I wrote, I was told that I am a subversive and treasonous self hating traitor being paid for by foreign interests ignoring the true intent of our enemies.

I made it clear that I believe that abusing people in the way we are planning to abuse the residents of Khan Al Akhmar increases the chance that people in my family and other fellow Israelis will be murdered. I acknowledged that my interlocutors feel the same about my proposed course of action.  I hope I disabused them of the idea that only they are true Zionists concerned with security, but I probably didn’t.

In our haftarah, Joshua sends to spies who evade their pursuers by hiding out in the home of the prostitute, Rahab. She says that she knows that God has given the Israelites the Land, and requests that she and her family be spared.  Some of our sages roundly criticized the fact that we agreed to Rahab’s request, and that her family was not killed along with the other residents of Jericho. However, we are also taught that she converted and became a righteous person.  Some suggest that she married Joshua, and others that the prophet Jeremiah was her descendent.  We are even told in Tractate Rosh HaShana in the Jerusalem Talmud that that her deeds caused God to judge the rest of her people more favorably. (1:3 57a).

Would that we learn that welcoming the stranger brings us blessing, and that those who insist on killing or oppressing every non-Jew may be missing the big picture.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.