Shammai Engelmayer
Shammai Engelmayer

Now’s the time for all Israel, all the time

There are many issues on the communal agenda, and our attention is drawn to all of them by a barrage of letters, emails, and robocalls. There seemingly is no end to the list of needs we are called on daily to help meet.

Yet one issue stands out above all the rest right now, and it is one we must address daily, in all kinds of ways, even at the expense of other concerns. Common sense demands nothing less.

That issue is a twofold one: the safety and security of the State of Israel and its people—our people, living in the homeland of the Jewish people—and the tepid, if not wholly skewed, response emanating from the world’s leaders to the current spate of violence.

At this writing, since the beginning of October, at least nine Israelis have been murdered. After the first four were killed, a “profoundly alarmed” Ban-Ki Moon, the United Nations secretary-general, issued a statement in which he never directly mentioned those deaths, whereas it did specifically refer to the deaths of four Palestinians.

“The secretary-general condemns the killings,” the statement said, “and looks to the Government of Israel to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation into the incidents, including whether the use of force was proportional.”

It also said Israel’s policy of demolishing the homes of the attackers only serves to “inflame tensions still further.”

Similar sentiments echo the world over. The message is clear and disturbing: Jewish blood is cheap. The Jewish right of self-defense is nonexistent.

Moon did comment again after eight Israelis were dead, but his statement was not about their deaths. Rather, he condemned the torching of Joseph’s Tomb. Judging from his statement, his concern had less to do with a Jewish pilgrimage site being attacked, than a fear that pilgrimage places of other religions might also be targeted down the line.

The act was “reprehensible,” the statement said, “owing to the religious significance of Joseph’s Tomb,” but apparently for no other reason. “The secretary-general calls on all sides to respect the sanctity of all holy sites….”

This “blame the victim” attitude, pervasive as it is throughout the world, is why Israel must be our only concern at this moment. We must be proactive in how we respond, including donating money to Magen David Adom and similar organizations whose task it is to deal with the injured.

Money is not enough, however. We must write letters to members of Congress, to the administration, and to the media, demanding stronger support for Israel and less of a “balanced” or “nuanced” approach, because “balanced” and “nuanced” in this case distorts reality and helps perpetuate the violence by rewarding the perpetrators with a credibility they do not deserve. We also must demand an end to U.S. taxpayer dollars going to the PA until it takes a firm and effective stance against violence.

This is a fact: If Palestinians did not commit violence, Israel would not respond with violence. If the Palestinians truly were willing to talk peace, Israel would be the first one at the table.

Most important, we need to be given the information we need to respond properly and effectively. For this, we must hold meetings in our synagogues and other venues — not to hear speakers invoke the Shoah, or promote a political agenda, but to give us the facts we need for us to be effective in our own responses.

One example suffices: the issue of demolishing homes. On the surface, we can understand the revulsion these demolitions cause among the enlightened of the world. It should enrage us, as well, because it goes against everything we are supposed to believe. Collective punishment is the province of God alone; for us mortals, Deuteronomy 24:16 is the gold standard: only those who commit crimes are to be punished, and no one else.

Only these demolitions are not about collective punishment. They are in response to something hardly ever mentioned by the Ban-Ki Moons of this world: The Palestinian Authority and its allied institutions routinely honor terrorists who attack Jews.

On the evening of October 3, Safiq Muhannad Al-Halabi stabbed two Israelis to death, and wounded another. He was killed early the next morning. On October 10, the Palestinian Bar Association “decided in its meeting today to award an honorary law degree to the martyred hero Muhannad Al-Halabi and to hold its next [bar] swearing-in ceremony in [his] honor,” according to a statement released by the group, which is funded in part by the PA, and also by the United Nations, and the European Union.

This is nothing new. As the Palestinian Media Watch website notes, “the PA actively elevates violence as a valid and heroic means to achieve political goals….Palestinian leaders and society honor even the most loathsome of murderers, portraying them as heroes and role models.” As one example, PMW cites the case of “Dalal Mughrabi, who led a bus hijacking in which 37 were killed, [and now] has schools, summer camps, and many other events and places bearing her name to immortalize and glorify her and her terror attack.”

A law signed by the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, a decade ago, requires the PA to pay a monthly stipend to the families of what the law calls these “martyrs” and the world should call murderers. Palestinians in Israeli jails are paid monthly “salaries” by the PA, because of another law.

It is hard to accept Abbas or the PA as partners for peace when they so clearly act otherwise, while the world remains silent.

Demolitions are Israel’s only possible countermeasure. Without them, committing acts of terrorism carries only reward, not punishment.

These are the kinds of things we need to know, and need to constantly remind others about.

“Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow.” (See Leviticus 19:16.) Nothing else on the communal agenda comes close right now.

About the Author
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades. He hosts adult Jewish education classes twice each week on Zoom, and his weekly “Keep the Faith” podcast may be heard on Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and Stitcher, among other sites. Information on his classes and podcast is available at