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Humility and Rabbi Jacobs

I have been writing a blog for the ToI for a number of years, and I’ve always refrained from commenting on the Israeli government’s policies.  I feel that, as a citizen of and resident in the U.S. (and not Israel), it would be inappropriate for me to purport to advise Israelis as to how they should govern themselves, including how Israel should relate to Palestinians.  The citizens of Israel know better than I do what the likely consequences of their government’s actions will be, and they are the ones who will have to bear any negative consequences of those actions.  So, humility compels silence.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who has a featured post entitled “On demolishing peace: A call to American Jewish institutions,” has an entirely different approach.  As a resident of Boston, she’s quite ready to criticize sharply policies of Israel’s government.  She’s also eager to convince major American Jewish organizations to adopt her views and to pressure Israel’s government to change its policies.

In sum, Rabbi Jacobs knows better than Israel’s government what’s good for Israel, and humility is not her thing—she’s not one to put her lamp under a bushel basket.

The Rabbi’s dissatisfaction with Israeli policy was fomented during a recent trip to Israel, where she witnessed, through her tears, the demolition of a Palestinian home in the village of al-Walaja, part of which is in East Jerusalem.  She tells us that there is a freeze order barring demolitions in the village for at least seven months, but the home that was demolished was “one of the homes not covered by the freeze[.]”  She never explains why that particular home was not covered, so we can’t even begin to judge whether Israel might have had a good reason for the demolition.

But Rabbi Jacob has an unapologetic loathing for all home demolitions.  For example, she laments the recent judgement of Israel’s Supreme Court approving the demolition of several Palestinian villages in the West Bank because they are located in a training area for IDF field artillery.  Another well-known reason for home demolitions, which is never even mentioned in the Rabbi’s post, is to serve as punishment for those who commit acts of terrorism in Israel or against Israelis.

She writes: “These demolitions destroy the lives of real people. They entrench and expand occupation. They serve no security purpose, but only engender hatred.”

Demolitions destroy buildings, not lives.  Moreover, the Israeli government believes, for example, that maintaining a firing range to train artillery troops does serve a valid security purpose.  Is the Rabbi in a better position to make that judgment then the Israeli government?  Does she have a suggestion regarding a better site for a firing range?  Her post provides no answers.

And what about house demolitions that are punishments for terrorism?  The Rabbi never mentions those demolitions, but they are undoubtedly the ones that generate the most publicity and emotions.  Do those demolitions also “serve no security purpose”? Is the Rabbi certain that that is the case? How can she, or anyone else for that matter, be certain that is true.

Rabbi Jacobs apparently has had lots of contacts with Palestinians; I think it would be fair to say that she prides herself on that point.  But, in the course of those contacts, has she ever asked any Palestinian how Israel is supposed to achieve “peace” with a population that includes two million people who are ruled by the Hamas terrorist group?

The Hamas charter asserts that all of Palestine—including, of course, the current territory of Israel—is an eternal Islamic waqf that must be ruled over by Muslims.  “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.”  Rabbi Jacob’s post fails to explain how a peaceful two-state solution is to be achieved while Hamas rules over millions of Palestinians, and influences and inspires many more.

This is the Rabbi’s advice to American Jewish institutions:

If American Jewish organizations truly support two states as a means of achieving peace, they need to back those words with money and action. That means affirming our long-term commitment to Israel as a home for the Jewish people and affirming that Palestinians have the same right to self-determination …. It means refusing to allow our philanthropic donations or our tourist dollars to support extremism and the expansion of settlements. It means advocating for the Two-State Act in the US Congress and for an end to the coddling of settlers in the Knesset. It means advocating to the Biden administration to put pressure on Israel to stop the demolitions and evictions….

To my mind, this advice is stunningly misguided.

The Palestinian population is ruled over by two different entities: the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, and those two entities are at daggers-points.  The P.A. recites that it is willing to live in peace with Israel, but Hamas explicit rejects such a peace.  So, the so-called “two-state solution” would in reality have to be a “three-state solution.”  The flaccid, corrupt P.A. was ejected from Gaza and has no ability whatsoever to regain control there, so how is it possible that a “peace agreement” with the P.A. would bring true peace, if Hamas continues to rule over Gaza?

And, despite these undisputed facts, Rabbi Jacob thinks that American Jewish organizations ought to urge the U.S. government to “put pressure on Israel.”  Those organizations shouldn’t urge the Biden administration to put pressure on the P.A. and Palestinians in general to throw Hamas and other terrorists out of power.  No, the U.S. should be urged to put pressure on Israel!  To call this line of thinking irrational is to be very polite.

I think that Rabbi Jacob, like all of us, would do well to exercise a reasonable degree of humility.  After all, it just might be true that Israelis know what’s best for Israelis.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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