I am a Jewish resident (“settler”) living in Judea and Samaria. Two years ago, I moved from Boca Raton, Florida to a beautiful town in the land of Israel called Mitzpe Yericho. My small yishuv (town) of 450 families sits nestled among the most stunning desert mountains that overlook the world’s oldest city — Jericho. I’ve lived here for 736 days and each one is a dream come true.
When I scrolled through the news yesterday, I was shocked to learn that an American member of Congress referred to my neighbors, wife and me as, “termites.” Adam Kredo, a senior writer for The Washington Free Beacon (whose work I greatly admire) reported that, at an event sponsored by an organization called The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia compared Jewish people who live in disputed territories to termites that destroy homes.
“There has been a steady [stream], almost like termites can get into a residence and eat before you know that you’ve been eaten up and you fall in on yourself, there has been settlement activity that has marched forward with impunity and at an ever increasing rate to the point where it has become alarming.”
I’ve been called worse for living here. I’ve been called a murderer (not true), occupier (not true), and human rights abuser (also not true). “Termite” is a new one, and it really struck a chord. I was angry, and my visceral reaction was to strike back. I wanted to post horrible things about the congressman on social media and ask my friends and students call his office to protest this awful insult.
Yet, I am a rabbi and I take our Sages’ directive to give the benefit of the doubt seriously. So I decided to call his staff to investigate. I explained to his staff why I felt hurt by the congressman’s comment, and informed them that I would publish a formal letter with two expectations and would appreciate a response to it within 24 hours. My letter states that I believe Congressman Johnson fails to understand the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’d like him to apologize. I also want him to visit these disputed territories and hear from the Jewish residents first-hand to get a better understanding of our perspective.
I just got off the phone with a member of Congressman Johnson’s staff. I’ve been talking and emailing them for the past day. The staffer relayed this message from the congressman:
I welcome and look forward to meeting with the Jewish and Israeli community at home and abroad. I view this as an opportunity to engage in open and constructive dialogue on the complex issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Further, the congressman’s staff relayed his apologies to me and told me they are making plans for the congressman to visit me and hear my side of the story and that the trip will take place during Congress’s August recess. I frequently host groups from all over the world on my porch in Mitzpe Yericho which overlooks Jericho, the Jordan Valley and even Amman. I look forward to helping him understand why I believe that Jews have a right to live in Judea and Samaria, and why my neighbors, family and I are not obstacles to peace with our other neighbors, the Palestinians.
It would’ve felt so good to blast the congressman, call him all sorts of names and express outrage. But that’s not how Jews act. I do not believe that Jews should act impulsively. We try to resist our base impulses by thinking, dialoging, and trying to understand and relate. We listen and we talk.
Will I be able to convince the congressman that “settlers” aren’t termites? I don’t know. I do know that acting hastily, shooting back without expressing myself in a civil manner, would’ve gotten my neighbors and me nowhere. Because I responded the Jewish way, at least now we have an opportunity to educate a man whose decisions impact the families of Judea and Samaria.