What is your red line? Mine was crossed on Monday, February 27, 2023.
I have been filled with sorrow, outrage and concern over the past two months regarding the intentions and actions of the new coalition government in the Israeli Knesset under the leadership of Bibi Netanyahu.
At my synagogue, Orangetown Jewish Center, we rabbis have attempted to educate our community about the recent crisis within Israel according to values of Judaism and democracy. There have been a webinar with Yizhar Hess (CEO of WZO) and my son Josh (a student activist) Josh Drill on Facebook, a sermon, and an extensive letter filled with analysis and resources.
I have thought time and again over these past weeks of writing something in this blog. Each time, I wondered what I could possibly say that would be new or useful.
This past Monday morning, I woke to the news that during the prior night, several hundred Jewish settlers poured down a hill from Jewish West Bank settlements into the small Palestinian town of Huwara and neighboring villages where they rampaged, setting fire to forty buildings and hundreds of cars, causing injury to one hundred people, killing one Palestinian man, and destroying extensive amounts of property.
What is the context of these riots?
During the day before, two young Jewish brothers in their twenties, Hillel and Yagev Yaniv, were tragically murdered in a terrorist attack. Even as security forces pursued the terrorist responsible for this heinous act, hundreds of Jews rioted in Huwara with the support of senior political figures. Answering violence with more violence, taking the law into their own hands, only six of those hundreds of settlers were arrested. They were released the next day.
While both Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog officially condemned the Jewish violence, some elected officials in Israel justified the violence and burning of villages.
As a rabbi, a Zionist, a Jew, and a fellow human, I feel compelled to take action after Jews in Israel effected what I describe as a pogrom. What can I do but use my words which Judaism has taught are more powerful than the sword? Yet what can I possibly do through these words that will be helpful?
Is it possible to convince you who love Israel to keep your faith in the Israeli people and in humanity?
I have a file in my hard drive that is called “Israel in Crisis.” Over the years, I have saved a tragic number of articles and emails regarding terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, missile strikes against Israeli civilians in towns and cities, and all-out war. When this new government was elected in Israel, I did not create a new file. I simply started storing information in this same file called “Israel in Crisis.” This time, the crisis is from within.
In a powerful open letter to Israel’s friends in North America, published on February 2, 2023 in this platform, Times of Israel article, Matti Friedman, Yossi Klein-Halevi, and Daniel Gordis warned us: “ the changes afoot will have dire consequences for the solidarity of Israel’s society, and for its economic miracle, as our leading economists are warning. It will also threaten Israeli-American relations, and it will do grave damage to our relations with you, our sisters and brothers in the Diaspora.”
It’s not just these famous columnists from across the political spectrum who are asking us to step up and let Israeli politicians know where we stand. Israeli family and friends are pleading with us to take action.
We lovers of Zion from outside of Israel have been given mixed messages through the years. Some of us internalized the message that we have no right to speak up regarding internal Israeli matters if we do not serve in the IDF or vote in the elections of the State.
This directive no longer feels tenable to me after unspeakable violence against innocent Palestinians committed by Jewish hands in response to a terrorist act that took the lives of two innocent Jews.
I encourage you to continue studying and asking questions about the situation in Israel. To me, it seems clear that Israeli leaders need to hear where Zionists from outside of Israel stand. While Israel belongs first and foremost to the citizens of Israel, Israel matters to the entire peoplehood of Judaism. Through hateful speech, a push for self-serving overhauls of laws, and today, through a violent police response to protesters in Tel Aviv (including stun grenades) this government has gone far beyond what a Jewish state and a democratic nation should be. I will continue writing and calling my representatives here in America, asking them to make clear to the current government of Israel that the path they are currently on will lead to dire consequences. I invite you to consider doing the same.
May the memory of the murdered Yaniv brothers be for a blessing. May we all join together to work for peace between all of the citizens of Israel, and between Israelis and Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill