Israel’s Occupation and Its Human Rights Record — A Response

Rabbi Robert Wolkoff’s recent response to Rabbi Aryeh Meir’s March 2nd op-ed about Israel’s occupation, should have sufficed. It was well written and argued the major issues about the Palestinian refugees being a Pan-Arab problem and not one for Israel to resolve. It explained the reasons for our check-posts and for the ‘wall,’ which was built to defend Israeli citizens from Palestinian terrorism. It reminded us of Israel’s efforts to arrive at a peace agreement with the Palestinians and it highlighted our commitment to provide proper services to the Palestinian residents in Judea and Samaria. Yet, as I was reading his wonderful reply, I found it failing to address some equally important concerns.

Having engaged with the extreme left in the past and being familiar with their arguments, I feel the need to address some additional key issues. First and foremost is the writer’s method of criticizing Israel publicly and how his condemnation will be used to fight Israel internationally.

Sar-Shalom Jerbi, Israel’s National Civilian Service Authority director-general, wrote a letter to B’tselem criticizing the NGO’s “activity against the State of Israel and IDF soldiers in Israel and around the world.” Jerbi said B’tselem is helping those who delegitimize Israel by lying and inciting violence against it and the IDF, which he called the most moral army in the world.

Meretz, the political party that is behind B’tselem, are members of the Israeli parliament and despite much opposition to its positions, it works within the system, which is how criticism must remain, especially in a country that is in a state of war. But this is not how B’tselem works.

In a rare move, IDF Spokesman Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz recently turned to Facebook to reply to a provocative video of Israeli soldiers posted on social media by the human rights group B’tselem. “While you keep on making inflammatory videos, supposedly in the name of freedom of speech, we’ll keep on protecting the residents of Israel and guarantee the safety of its citizens.” Almoz wrote, adding that B’tselem often broadcasts staged events and incidents, while clearly aware that they were made by media savvy Palestinians ‘for export’ around the world.

As a former Israeli soldier, I know firsthand that Israel values criticism, and while B’tselem can help strengthen Israel in working together to prevent mistakes, instead they strengthen our enemies by providing pictures and testimonials that are used to further anti-Israel propaganda.

Rabbi Robert Wolkoff was generous in honoring Rabbi Meir and acknowledging his concern for Israel and for having strong Jewish values. Yet, I do know that our Talmud and rabbinic code have clear guidelines about giving material to Israel’s foes. Maimonides explains the rule of a Moser as follows: “It is forbidden to hand over a Jew to the heathen (enemy) … even if he is wicked and a sinner, even if he causes distress and pain to fellow Jews. Whoever hands over a Jew to the heathen has no part in the next world. It is permitted to kill a Moser (informant) wherever he is….” Obviously, we are not talking action against anybody, but I am perplexed about B’tselem needing to spread information, often inaccurate and taken out of context, that harms Israel internationally.

Rabbi Meir, Israel is in a state of war with a lot more to lose than your moral standards. In war, there are casualties on both sides. We did not chose to occupy anybody’s land, but here we are, with no one reasonable enough to want to end this cycle of violence. Sometimes innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire, mistakes happen and compromised conditions drive some people to act against their ideals. Israel tries to correct those mistakes and there is no military that works harder to train its soldiers and which makes more effort than the IDF in trying to lessen those casualties. But the front line against Israel is in the public arena, where its enemies are trying to delegitimize it. Palestinians continue their terror with the clear understanding that they won’t weaken Israel’s security. But their eye is on the public relations prize where they believe that the BDS movement and the anti-Israel madness on campuses will bring Israel to its knees. As such, your activity is problematic on the very moral grounds that you build your arguments.

Passover, teaches us to be sensitive to others, but not at the expense of our own survival. We believe that כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה — Kol Yisrael arevim ze la ze — We need to watch out for one another. Moreover, as a rabbi, your words can create a following. You publicize your views and, as such, they influence people who don’t know the issues well enough. While you don’t urge people to behave unlawfully, one can argue that your organization’s eloquent material and your impressive credentials representing it, are used to misinform and confuse young minds and incite extremists to battle Israel in the public arena, which is Israel’s front line. We see how it translates into anti-Israel resolutions and in protests and marches across the world, where Jews are demonized, prevented from speaking and are often violently attacked.

Sure, Israel is not perfect, but it’s presumptuous of you to assume to know better than its nine Prime Ministers, both from the left and the right, who’ve tried to protect the state of Israel and fought for peace these past fifty years since 1967.

Lastly Rabbi, watch with whom you align yourself. The small number of people who support B’tselem in Israel are mostly the Tel Aviv liberal elite who are passionately opposed to your religious beliefs. While in the diaspora, your partners are clearly Israel’s enemies. It reminds me of other organizations, if not Neturei Karta, who cooperate openly with the enemy, then Satmar, who are openly opposed to Israel’s Zionist enterprise.

It may sound extreme but, as a rabbi, you must be familiar with the Biblical phrase:חוטא ומחטיא את הרבים – one whose transgression causes others to follow. I believe that in acting like a Trojan horse that is tolerated by the very democracy it criticizes, B’tselem betrays Israel itself. And while you continue to indulge in denouncing Israel in public, let’s see if there is anybody on the Arab side that is allowed to criticize its government and remain alive for more than a day.

About the Author
Soli now lives in the US, but he was born in Romania and later lived in Israeli boarding school Hadasim, as part of the Aliyat Hanoar. He served in the Israeli Air Force, and graduated with a degree in architecture from the Technion. After settling in Jaffa, he moved to the US and had several businesses. He has been married for 37+ years, and is the father of 4 and grandfather of 4.
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