If Abbas, Netanyahu and Trump Would Learn From Judah

President Trump blaming the Pittsburgh massacre for damaging the Republican mid-term campaign?  I don’t know whether I would have believed that the President was saying this if it hadn’t been one of the top headlines on the airport TV screens when I arrived in the U.S. for a speaking tour less than a week after the murders.  President Abbas condemned the recent flare-up of violence yesterday just after the first of Thursday’s terrible attacks left two Israeli soldiers dead, and a civilian and another soldier  fighting for their lives.  However, he didn’t mention the attacks specifically, and placed the blame on Israeli actions.  In both cases the unwillingness to take responsibility was glaring.

Israel is very good at this as well.  Relentless Israeli dispossession of Palestinians has no negative impact on the possibility of a peace process.  Only Palestinian intransigence and incitement. ..

Those calling for stealing more Palestinian land as a reaction to the terrible killings are quite simply endangering our lives.  Whether they are cynically advancing their agenda, or really believe it, one would think that after a hundred years, and with even our army telling us that this is not the way to stop terror,, people would finally realize that the “Arabs only understand power” strategy practiced by Labor and Likud alike has been a total failure costing Israeli lives.

Judah is different.  Two weeks ago he was about to burn his daughter in law to death, but then accepts responsibility when he realizes that he is the father of her child, and that she tricked him into sleeping with her because he hadn’t allowed his son to fulfill the responsibility of levirate marriage.  This week he takes responsibility for having masterminded the sale of Joseph and making his father inconsolable.   Yes, there is a midrash that says Judah only takes responsibility after failing to cow Joseph through bluster, false bravado and blaming Joseph. Perhaps there is a truth here that those who always look to blame others only take responsibility after all their specious excuses have been destroyed, and they feel they have no other choice.  However, the plain meaning of the text is that, just as he did two weeks ago, Judah simply has it within him to take responsibility without looking for excuses.  Having promised that he would bring Benjamin safely home, Judah says “let your servant remain as a slave to my  lord instead of the boy….Let me not be witness to the woe that would overtake my father.” (Genesis 44:33-34).

So , yes there is some truth that Israeli actions lead to Palestinian violence. Perhaps it is also true that the Pittsburgh massacre negatively impacted on the Republican campaign.   Even though the army consistently gives the PA credit for thwarting terror, there is much that the Palestinian Authority could do differently to  stop Palestinian violence and move forward a peace process. But, I believe we should first and foremost be self critical and honest about how we need to change.  Even when we have legitimate criticism of others, it will be heard differently after accepting our own responsibility.  Imagine the different dynamic that would be launched if President Trump said, “The hate I stoked against Mexicans and immigrants contributed to the Pittsburgh massacres and other hate crimes.  I have also been wrong to oppose better gun control, and am going to introduce legislation to change that.”  What might happen were President Abbas to say, “Our struggle for freedom does not change the fact that Palestinian violence is wrong. We will continue to support the families of Palestinians who we believe have been unjustly imprisoned or killed, but not those who have committed terrorist acts.”  Might Palestinian skepticism regarding Israel’s sincerity about peace change if Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Even when there was a supposed settlement freeze, we were actually building.  From now on, we are going to recognize that international law applies in the Occupied Territories including the prohibition against settling Israelis there.  We will cease to take steps forcing Palestinians off their lands.”

What might happen if we would all learn from Judah in our private, public and national lives?

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Arik Ascherman is the founder and director of the Israeli human rights organization "Torat Tzedek-Torah of Justice." Previously, he led "Rabbis For Human Rights" for 21 years. Rabbi Ascherman is a sought after lecturer, has received numerous prizes for his human rights work and has been featured in several documentary films, including the 2010 "Israel vs Israel." He and "Torat Tzedek" received the Rabbi David J. Forman Memorial Fund's Human Rights Prize fore 5779. Rabbi Ascherman is recognized as a role model for faith based human rights activism.