Breaking the Boycott- Reaction to the UN Human Rights Commission

I normally try to stay away from positions of a political nature as whatever position I take will inadvertently be perceived as partisan by some people. However sometimes I have to weigh that against the negative ramifications of remaining silent.

After reading this headline in the Jerusalem Post, I realized that remaining silent was no longer an option: “The United Nations Human Rights Commission published its long anticipated controversial blacklist of businesses that operate in Jewish areas over the pre-1967 lines, in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. The United States and Israel worked for over three years to suppress the publication of the database, dubbed “the blacklist,” which they feared would be used to to help those who oppose Israel’s presence over the pre-1967 lines and to boycott businesses with ties to those areas. Israel is the only country against which such a list has been compiled of businesses suspected by breaking international law.”

Although the Commission publicly stated that these companies did not violate any international law and their outing was not blacklisting, in my humble opinion, it is akin to saying some of my best friends are Black or Jewish. A racist or bigot can twist their words to justify any sinister motive. However, it is clear that their intent was malicious in nature and part of the broader BDS movement with the goal of paralyzing Israel financially. Moreover, the Arab and Palestinian worker trying to make an honest living will be severely impacted far worse than the Israeli economy. The objective is more to bring Israel to its knees than to accomplish any meaningful benefit to the Palestinians living in the West Bank. And ultimately it will serve to break the bonds of trust between many in the international community and the State of Israel, and it will cause a further rift in achieving peace.

Similar anti-Israel legislation was passed in Europe a few months ago when products produced in the West Bank were re-labeled ‘Product of the West Bank.’ The aim was to damage the economy in the hope that ‘good’ citizens of Europe would not want to purchase those products. Thankfully, Jewish and Christian groups who support Israel went out of their way to purchase these items, ultimately reducing any financial impact on Israel.

Jason Greenblatt wrote that it behooves all who love and support Israel to support companies outed by the UN. I concur with his position. Whether the company is Israeli or international, those who invest in Israel bring a blessing unto Israel not with words but with deeds. Thus, it is imperative we follow the narrative of God and bless those companies that bless and support Israel and show them that we will support them.

Although most of the companies are based in Israel, here are some of the international names. Tourism websites like Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, and TripAdvisor, the French infrastructure company Alstom, US telecom giant Motorola, and food producer General Mills, were among the international companies listed. As much as I advocate supporting Motorola, I’m still not willing to give up my I-Phone and replace it with a flip phone.

Tidbit of Torah

The first commandment of the Ten Commandments states that it’s imperative that we believe in God because: I am the Lord your God who took you out of Egypt. The rabbinical commentaries struggle with why the Torah doesn’t use the example of God’s omnipotence by stating that He created the world – a far greater accomplishment than taking the Israelites out of Egypt.

I came up with a novel way of answering this question. The third commandment states: “lo tisa shem hashem,”do not take the name of God in vain. However, the English translation doesn’t equate with the Hebrew wording. The word ‘tisa’ doesn’t mean “take,” it means “carry” or “raise.” Thus, the third commandment may not prohibit taking God’s name in vain. It may prohibit raising the name of God to a level where mankind perceives Him as so lofty that we are unable to relate directly with Him. One of the fundamentals of Judaism is that we need no intermediary as we are considered “the children of Israel,” and a child has a direct connection with his father. Thus, after we are told in the first two commandments that we must believe in only one God and not to have multiple Gods, we are now directed to understand what our relationship with that should be.

Now that we understand that premise it makes sense why, in the first commandment, it states that He is our God who took us out of Egypt and not He is the God who created the world. The objective is to be able to relate to God. If we were to immediately hear that he was omnipotent to the degree that he created the world that would have placed too large of a gap between Him and His children. Thus, we use an example that great leaders have accomplished and one that human beings can understand and relate to. Of course, taking His people out of Egypt is a tremendous accomplishment, but not nearly as great as creating the world. And that’s exactly why it was used in the first commandment.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jack Engel

About the Author
Rabbi Jack and his wife, Miriam have reinvigorated Anshei Emuna, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue located in Delray Beach, Florida, in the ten plus years they have been at the Shul, through their experiences gleaned from serving in pulpits in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They are advocates of a modern Orthodoxy, being open minded, yet adhering to the integrity of halacha. They believe that being an “ohr lagoyim” refers first and foremost to the entirety of our collective Jewish family.
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