Reuben Modek

Former Jewish lefty on Gaza

More likely than not, the vast majority of Jews across the political spectrum, from left to right, want the war in Israel to end, the hostages returned, our Jewish state to be safe, and all inhabitants of the land to thrive. But how? Cease-fire-now as per my friends on the left or fight-till-victory as per my friends on the right?

Once a secular Israeli left winger, a passion for peace and justice drove my politics. We chose to act as if Mesianic-Times, a time of peace and justice on earth, was at hand. Avra Kadabra, literally Hebrew for “I will say it to create it” (the ideal world, that is!). I believed along with others that the power of our intention along with our subversive activism would speedily turn our ideals into reality. 

We used to talk about Palestine as if such a state already existed. We would embrace Muslims and their culture as if they would already value us as equals. We resisted war as if humans were already capable of living in peace. We chose to be the vanguard of a higher human frequency in order to hasten its manifestation. That was the progressive lefty I was and such were the progressive communities I associated with. We were Jews of conscience and compassion, of high Jewish and universal ideals and we possessed the courage to become committed change agents. It was bold, fresh, and powerful – for a time. 

I have come to learn over the years that in our zeal for peace and justice we have neglected to take seriously other core Jewish values. Sh’mirat HaNefesh, Hebrew for “the preservation of life,” my own life, my family’s life, and my country’s, would be one of them. Another expression of this value appears in the Talmud as: Haba L’Horgekha Haskem L’Horgo, “preempt the one who sets out to kill you by killing him/her first.” (Sanhedrin 72a. As I was cultivating my idealistic values during my early peace activism years, I had failed to develop the assertiveness and mental acuity required for true conflict resolution. 

Following many years of futile peace activism as experienced both on the micro personal level and the macro national and political level, I began to question our effectiveness and wonder whether my left leaning zeal had blinded me to the full reality of the political conditions we were actually responding to. “When does the pursuit of peace and justice require a resolute, tough, boundary-setting, response, instead of perpetual and stubborn compassion?” I began to ask myself.

In the past years, I have been gaining a better understanding of the motivating drivers of Palestinian anger toward us, Zionist Jews. I have come to realize that those drivers are deeply rooted in Arab Muslim religious culture and not necessarily in the generally assumed narrative of a straight forward land dispute. If it was only a land dispute it could have been solved through compromise a long time ago. In fact, the Palestinian true motivations have been in plain view all this time, we just never bothered to look or if we looked, we never took it seriously. 

One can read the Hamas Covenant or the Palestinian Authority’s Covenant for starters. The religious and cultural roots of Palestinian hatred are clearly articulated in those documents that are readily available online. It is now abundantly clear to me that Muslim Palestinian (as well as pan-Islamic) cultural and religious ideology encourages killing us, Jews, on the grounds of preserving the dignity of Islam and the glory of Allah. Muslim influencers speak it and write it, and after October 7th no doubt remains about the sincerity of their statements. 

My colleague and friend, Rabbi David Zaslow in 1998 participated in the Compassionate Listening Project that initiated a meeting in Gaza between well meaning American peace activists and the infamous cleric Sheikh Yassin. Rabbi Zaslow later reported that Sheikh Yassin, a highly revered Muslim cleric, met with the delegation once, after which he forbade any further contact with the peaceniks. The ideology he espoused in the 1990s, which Hamas continues to espouse today rejects dialogue and compromise and strives for holy war a.k.a. Jihad. This is the enemy Israel is currently making battle with.

My cousins, Abraham and Monika, are residents of Kibbutz Nir Itzhak by the Gaza strip border. When they were sheltering in their reinforced safe room on the dark morning of October 7th, they reported by text messages that they were hearing gunfire and shouts in Arabic outside their window. Reading their texts, I recognized in horror that Sheikh Yassin’s passionately held ideology was once again being put to practice for the glory of Islam and Allah. Little did we know that morning the true and horrific magnitude of this Jew-killing spree. Thank God, Abraham and Monika were among the lucky ones who came out unharmed of the October 7th ordeal. 

I no longer assume that aggressive war is not the solution, as I once used to. There are times when one is required to respond to conflict from a place of resolve and strength, which might require killing as well as risking being killed. The approach to conflict resolution is context-dependent requiring clarity, and wise discernment. There is a time and season for manifesting peace and justice through Avra Kadabra, “I speak to manifest” (emphasis on speech and dialogue) and there are times for Hashkem L’Horgo, “preempt your killer,” according to the biblical Koheleth. (Ecclesiastes 3) This stage of the conflict with the Arab Muslim world (Gaza and the West Bank, Hezbollah of Lebanon, Houthis of Yemen, and Iran) seems to require tough resolve.  

I extend a respectful invitation to my lefty peace-and-justice-at-all-cost friends to consider a broader view of the conflict. It is said that tough times call for tough measures. Could this be one of those times? Perhaps the onus for initiating sincere dialogue toward peace and co-existence is on the Palestinians at the moment, not on us? Perhaps effecting true peace will require no less than an Arab Muslim cultural transformation that distances them from the bloody ideology so well articulated in the Hamas Covenant and so consistently actualized in Hamas’ actions. Germany’s transformation after World War II would be an example. 

Our response to the war in Gaza (Lebanon, and Yemen), and the world’s response for that matter, needs to consider the core motivations of both sides. Israel’s core motivation is achieving peaceful coexistence and cooperation with its Arab Muslim neighbors, as is articulated in Israel’s Declaration Of Independence (readily available online). Hamas’ motivations at this time are incompatible with the latter. 

Yes, across the political spectrum we all want this war to end. The lefty formula of yore, in my opinion, fails to respond to the deep contextual dynamics at play. Peace and reconciliation will come when the Arab Muslims of former Palestine and beyond will collectively choose it. So I pray. 

About the Author
Rabbi Modek is the spiritual leader of Kehilat Kodesh Bet Israel in Netanya Israel. Ordained by both AJR NY and Aleph, Alliance For Jewish Renewal, Philadelphia, Rabbi Modek is the former executive director of Hebrew Learning Circles, NY. A native Israeli, and graduate of Haifa University School of Social Work, Rabbi Modek blogs about Jewish spirituality, ethics, Israeli society, wellness, and Jewish relevance for the 21st Century.