David Z. Vaisberg
Senior Rabbi of Temple B'nai Abraham

A letter to a friend

A friend tells me that he cares about me, that he cares about the Jewish people, and that he cares about human beings. And then my friend asks, “Are you willing to condemn Israel for destroying the media building in Gaza?”

Tell me, friend, why do you ask? What exactly should I be condemning? Should I be condemning the entire military campaign against Hamas in Gaza? Should I be condemning Israel’s right to defend itself enough to stop the threat today and in the future? Should I be cursing Israel’s not being the “bigger person?” Since they have more military strength and more bomb shelters, should they allow rockets to be rockets and fall to the ground and penetrate buildings and terrorize Israelis without trying to put a stop to them? Should they not respond because the opponent sworn on their absolute destruction uses its own civilians as human shields? Should I be condemning Israel’s very existence? Friend, when others ask that question, that’s most certainly what they are asking.

You tell me you care for me, for the Jewish people, for all of humanity, but it seems that there are many for whom you actually don’t care, and much that you willfully ignore. The destruction of civilian and media infrastructure in Gaza is a terrible thing. The death of so many civilians, men, women, and children, is terrible. My answer to your question, however, is no, and I take deep personal offense.

Please don’t misunderstand me. There are many things I condemn — here is a non-exhaustive list:

  • Jewish right-wing extremists.
  • Settlers who continue to build, pushing peace farther away, and the governments that support them.
  • Incitement of Muslims during their holy days (and other days as well).
  • Palestinian/Arab and Jewish extremist mobs, especially when they lynch their counterparts and burn down institutions that have a history of promoting coexistence.
  • Arab nations that refuse to lift a finger to help the Palestinian people when it requires an ounce of sacrifice on their parts.
  • The current ultra-right-wing Israeli government for doing what seems to be oh so little to pursue a lasting peace.
  • The Palestinian Authority, which time and time again has thrown away peace deals because those deals did not provide it with 100 percent of what it wanted.
  • Hamas for indiscriminately sending thousands of rockets toward Israeli civilian centers. These rockets kill and injure real Israelis, adults and children, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim.
  • Activists who fail to notice the enormous human rights violations committed by Hamas. And, let’s be frank, in Gaza Hamas wouldn’t allow freedom of the press to anyone who criticized it a little too much, freedom of representation to Jews, or fundamental rights and dignities to anyone in the LGBT community (but that’s ok, many Palestinians in that community have moved to Tel Aviv). These activities also fail to raise the same prolonged outcry and calls for boycotts, sanctions, etc., against Syria, Turkey, China, or heaven forbid, the United States, an imperfect nation known, among other things, for disproportionate use of force and racial disparity. For some reason, to these activists, Israel is special.

Please know, friend, that I care for Palestinians. I believe they have a right to self-determination, and security, and freedom. They have a right to live in peace and dignity.

Please know, friend, that I speak out against Hamas and not all Palestinians. I hope I’ve made that clear throughout my career. Those criticizing Israel right now, on the other hand, have made clear that when they speak out, they are talking about Israel, Israelis, and all Jews who support the Jewish nation, my homeland, Israel. They most definitely do not care one bit about the lives of my friends and family, who have children no older than my own, who are hiding in shelters, and worse, hiding because Hamas is indiscriminately shooting thousands of rockets into civilian centers, at them. Hiding, because Hamas wants them all dead.

Friend, when you say, “at least do you condemn…,” you’re telling me that you don’t care about the Israeli side of things. You think Israelis are Jewish colonialists who easily could find a home anywhere else in this world. I have a question for you: Can you think of a single Western nation where anti-Semitism hasn’t reared its ugly head? Where strict limits haven’t been placed on refugees allowed in? Canada and the United States certainly don’t make the cut. Where do you think Israeli refugees would always be safe and free to go?

Friend, if you cared about me, if you cared about the Jewish people, if you truly cared about humanity, you would have known that this situation is far more complex than you are acknowledging and that you’re asking the wrong questions.

I welcome you to join me in conversation about Israel’s many legitimate problems. However, when you tell me that Israel doesn’t have the right to wholly fight an enemy that’s targeting its children and hiding behind its own, it is we who have the problem.

Printed in the May 28 2021 edition of the New Jersey Jewish News and the Jewish Standard.

About the Author
Rabbi David Z. Vaisberg is Senior Rabbi of Temple B'nai Abraham in Livingston, New Jersey.
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