David-Seth Kirshner
Author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness

Streams of Anxious Consciousness XI

On the day they appointed Rabbi Elazar, they removed the guard from the study hall and allowed anyone who wished to enter. When Rabban Gamliel was in charge, he used to say: Anyone whose inside does not match his outside may not enter this study hall! – Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 27b-28a

A clear Jewish precept, illustrated above, is that our actions, feelings, and words must agree with one another. We cannot say one thing and think something different. It is against the grain of our values and beliefs.

In the Middle East, this is a teaching that seemingly only applies to Jews.

A pair of high-ranking Arab diplomats told a leading news source today, on the condition of anonymity, that they and their countries were appalled with the images and gruesome savagery that came out from Israel last week. They could not say it publicly because their nations had not condemned the killings or denounced Hamas. They also went so far to say that these sentiments were shared by most of their “rationale” Arab brethren.

In case your mind is exploding reading this – let me try and boil it down.
They are disgusted by Hamas. They cannot say it publicly but privately hope Hamas’ demise comes to conclusion, soon. Again, they just cannot support Israel on the record.

SMH – That is text talk for Shaking My Head in total incredulity.

On June 7, 1981, Israel bombed the nuclear reactor at Osirak, deep inside Iraq. It was a daring mission that eliminated a serious threat to the Middle East. It humiliated Saddam Hussein and shamed the nation of Iraq. Most of all, it deterred other nations from following suit.

As you might expect, the United Nations swiftly condemned Israel.

United Nations Security Council resolution 487, adopted unanimously on the 19th of June 1981, having noted representations from Iraq and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Council condemned the attack by Israel.

In September 1981, the IAEA Conference condemned the Israeli attack and voted to suspend all technical assistance to Israel. A draft resolution was introduced to expel Israel from the IAEA.

Countless Israeli delegates to the United Nations have shared on various occasions that multitudes of officials of all ranks, privately told Yehuda Zvi Blum, Israel Ambassador to the UN at the time, ‘Thank you for handling Iraq and their nuclear ambitions.’

The world sensed then, and were proven later, of the maniacal intentions of Saddam Hussein. Could you imagine what the invasion of Kuwait would have looked like, nine short years later, were Israel NOT to have taken that reactor out?

The Arab world also knew that Saddam was dangerous. They just didn’t want to deal with him and most certainly could not go on the record thanking Israel for taking out their communal trash. At least not in public. But privately, they all did, as did other civilized countries.

Inside feelings and outward statements sure did not match!

A little more than a decade or so ago, Shimon Peres was invited to meet the King of Saudi Arabia in a convening of many nations. The King was nervous about shaking a Jewish person’s hand in public. The King worried it would cause himself shame.

Salman got word to Peres through messenger that when he meets Peres, he would not like to shake his hand. Though, if Peres extends his hand, he (King Salman) will shake it, even if it would cause the King embarrassment.

Peres, the brilliant gentle and statesman met the King and politely bowed in deference and respect, not creating a yucky public relations episode for King Salman.

Salman was taken with Peres’ grace. He invited him to a private meeting the next day. The King purportedly said to Peres that if Israel would remove the Iranian threat, King Salman would lobby to bring Israel into the Arab League.

What always captured me about this story – regardless of how exaggerated it might be – is that King Salman could not publicly shake a Jew’s hand without explanation or reprisal. But privately, they could break bread and share ambitions.

Our western political world is quite opposite. We say kind things and make bold promises aloud and in private we are nasty, mean, promise-breaking and speak our mind.

How do we circle the square of two opposite ways of operating? How can we navigate in a society with leadership that does not have consonant words and deeds?

The same whispering Arab diplomats claimed that Israel’s crushing response in Gaza to the Hamas attacks has led to the evaporation of goodwill that Jerusalem had briefly obtained from some of its Arab allies.

My not-so-rhetorical question is, how long should empathy last? What is the statue of limitations on good will and timing for revenge? Do killing babies last a week? Beheadings 10 days? Human immolation 17 days? Seriously? Is there an equation? An algorithm?

On a British news channel last night, a journalist was interviewing a fellow Gazan journalist about the situation in the Strip. The British journalist asked the Gazan woman, “What is a proper and proportionate response to the slaughter of 1400 people and abduction of 200 people?” Good for her for asking the question!

The Gazan woman hemmed, hawed, explained about years of persecution and extreme living conditions. The British journalist held her feet to the fire and kept asking her, but she refused to answer. It was a simple and brilliant journalistic tactic. If only more journalists had her temerity.

What is the answer to that question? What is the timing window for retaliations? Can we quantify our payback? Is there an egg timer ticking on how long we can retaliate? Or when the world’s sympathy runs out?

The concept that Israel is open to garner pity but forbidden from creating deterrence is ludicrous. We have no interest in being the world’s nebechs. We have seen that movie before, and we know how it ends. As Micha Goodman said, we want the Middle East to fear Israel and the West to love Israel. It is a zero-sum equation.

I do not want to be pitied. I also do not want to be feared. But if I had to choose just one……well…. you know which one we have to choose.

I want to make sure that what I say and what I do and how I feel are all harmonious so I can be true to myself and to those in my world. It will better allow me to put my head on a soft pillow at night. Alas, if I could only sleep through this nightmare!

Be safe.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC and an adjunct faculty member at the Academy for Jewish Religion, (AJR). He is the author of Streams of Shattered Consciousness, featured in The NY Times Book Review (Feb '24) and has over 11,000 copies in circulation in its first three months since publication. He has spoken on his book and topics connected to Judaism and Zionism across the world.
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