To The President And Prime Minister: Thank You Both

Now that the dust is settling, both literally and figuratively, from Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, it is an appropriate time to reflect back on that very difficult if brief campaign, and particularly on how it ended– at least for now.

I begin by pausing for a moment to acknowledge– with gratitude– the unequivocally supportive statements that were issued by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the White House press secretary, and many others in the Obama administration. I hope that those who have spent the past few months using Israel as a wedge issue between Jews and Democrats and vilifying the President as, to put it benignly, “no friend of Israel,” took note of the clear and unconditional support that all members of the Obama administration offered for Israel throughout the campaign. There was no evidence of Mr. Obama acting in any way other than we would want a steadfast ally to act. The President did and said exactly what Israel needed and wanted him to. In light of his having had to endure the most egregious and gratuitous lashon harah as regards his Middle East policy, I would suggest that not only did the President pass this test, but he passed it graciously and courageously, and with flying colors. Thank you for that support, Mr. President.

It was certainly gratifying as well to have such solid support within the halls of Congress. Given how many new members of Congress there are these days, and how much turnover of seats and of elected representatives who have been among Israel’s staunchest supporters, Congress also responded magnificently. We would all be remiss were we to fail to acknowledge the incredibly effective work of AIPAC in this regard.

As regards Israel and her leaders, I think there were few–either inside or outside of Israel– who suggested that Israel was not within her rights to wage the comprehensive air campaign that it did against Hamas in Gaza. Clearly, it is not only the right, but the obligation of every sovereign state to protect its citizens. A government that fails to do so is derelict in the performance of one of its most basic responsibilities. And so, election year or not, both within and outside of Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu enjoyed broad support for Israel’s policies, as well he deserved. He did what he needed to do, and he did it decisively.

It is not true, however, that the decision to end the Gaza Operation before actually waging a land campaign there enjoyed equally broad support. Here in America, there were voices within the camp of those same right-of-center critics of Administration policies that suggested that the Obama administration had exerted enormous pressure on Israel’s leaders not to wage what would surely be a bloody and costly land war. And in Israel, the voices were louder, and more strident.

One of my cherished Friday rituals is to read the weekend edition of Yediot Achronot, a major daily Israeli newspaper that is readily available in the part of Queens in which I live. Even a casual perusal of the paper clearly showed that Israel– as is invariably the case in the aftermath of its military campaigns– has been engaged in a tortuous process of introspection. Did we do the right thing? Was this the time to use force? To strike back? Did we use our force effectively and wisely? And, most painfully, having called up close to 100,000 reservists and readied them to enter Gaza, they ask themselves, and their government, whether failing to go into Gaza– i.e., accepting a cease-fire before the land offensive– was the right decision.

One picture in Yediotwas particularly jarring. Tens of thousands of reservists were camped out (literally) near the Gaza border, with little to do except wait for their orders to go in. When the word came through that Israel had agreed to the ceasefire, a number of them arranged themselves on the ground in the shapes of Hebrew letters, and spelled out the words “Bibi Loozer.” The words obviously need no translation.

I will be among the first to admit that the question is not if this scenario will repeat itself with Hamas, but rather when. Clearly, there is no indication that Hamas has any intention whatsoever of changing its commitment to armed resistance against Israel. Hamas’ hostility against“the Zionist entity” is fueled by Israel’s very existence. It is not a land issue, but rather an existential one. This is surely true.

But having said that, I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu very much did the right thing by accepting the ceasefire when he did, before the ground offensive, and President Obama was wise to counsel him to do so.

The operation in Gaza began and ended with strong international support for Israel to defend itself. There is no doubt that, had the ground offensive begun, that support would have quickly eroded. Israel inflicted serious, even grave damage on Hamas’ war machine and leadership infrastructure, all without causing excessive civilian casualties. By stopping when it did, Israel retained the high ground, and also established a solid rationale for any future, more extensive operation.

I understand completely those who wanted to deal Hamas a more lethal blow. God knows Hamas deserves it. But with President Obama newly re-elected and in the picture for the next four years, and with the Palestinian Authority playing out its strategy in the United Nations, and, of course, Iran, this is the time for Israel to strengthen its alliance with America- not add stress to it.

War is a terrible thing- even a just war, like the one in Gaza would have been. Ask the mothers of Israel’s soldiers how they feel about the ceasefire, not to mention the residents of southern Israel who are sleeping in their own beds instead of shelters. I think Bibi came out a winner here- not a loser.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.