January 21, 2010

Kill the Messenger

Two weeks ago I wrote an article about corruption in the Jewish religious world. As I expected, the response from my target audience was to ignore it altogether, or that I must be a charlatan and a hypocrite, an enemy of Orthodoxy. Why didn't I focus on all the good things religious people do, and why not emphasize all the horrible and corrupt and far more serious crimes that others commit. It is the usual response I have come to expect. Do not address the issues, just kill the messenger.

I am not for one minute suggesting I come anywhere near the ankles of the great Biblical prophets. They too excoriated their coreligionists, their priestly leadership, and the corruption of Temple worship. Were they anti-Semites? When the Torah commands us to rebuke our neighbors, is it too anti-Orthodox? Proverbs says one should not try to correct a fool for he will only hate you.

Of course, one has to try one's best to ensure that the honest criticism one directs internally to one's own is not misused by others on the outside, nefariously. And it is all but impossible to control that nowadays. In the end, however, honest and sincere criticism is essential for anyone's morality. It is this that lies behind the Musar exercises and practices I was taught as a teenager in Beer Yaakov Yeshiva by the great proponent of Musar, Rabbi Shlomo Volbe, z"l. I am justified in criticizing Orthodoxy precisely because I love it and am fully aware of its good points, which indeed underpin and animate my life and work.

So despite everything, here I come again asking for more trouble. This time it is about Israel. I have kept my powder dry hitherto precisely because of the crescendo of attacks, the attempts to delegitimize Israel, and the unholy alliance between fundamentalists and left-wing loonies united only in their hatred of Israel and Jews. But eventually one has to express one's views, regardless.

I have always been strongly opposed to occupation. I agreed completely with the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz that occupation would have a deleterious impact on the values and humanity of the occupiers, however benevolent. That it has been accompanied by land grabs, theft, insensitivity, and bullying makes it worse (and it is no excuse to argue that all this happens constantly, every day, within and between Israelis). There are mitigating circumstances. Palestinian and Arab errors of judgment and policy may have been far worse; this does not excuse the evidence that, to many Israelis, Palestinians are untermenschen. Even if there is corruption and abuse in Palestinian society, the sad fact is that it exists in Israel too.

On the other hand, I have always believed in Land for Peace. When I was in yeshiva, all the major Charedi rabbis, both Sefardi and Ashkenazi, (with the exception of Lubavitch) were all of the same opinion. Important as land is, essential as the Hills of Judea and Samaria may be to our heritage and past, human life and safety overrides all other considerations. And as much as I admire and revere the late Rav Abraham Isaac Kook's vision of Israel and the Jewish people, I did not identify with the cliques that surrounded his son the late Rav Zvi Yehuda and became the powerhouse of Settler ideology. We Jews have survived without any land for millennia, let alone without all parts of it.

I am not convinced there is a partner for peace and I think there is an agenda to see all of the Fertile Crescent in Muslim hands. Even if I do believe in the principle of Land for Peace, I do not therefore believe in submission or suicide. But this has nothing to do with the impossible conundrum of occupation, which by its very definition means subjugation.

As a completely unqualified, inexpert commentator, it seems to me that withdrawing behind defensive barriers until such time as hatred diminishes has its attraction. It has certainly worked in stopping suicide bombers. Except that nowadays you can fire rockets over any barrier. In theory, the Palestinians should be responsible for their own security, but we have already seen how those same security forces can become the vehicles of aggression. And the numbers game is against Israel. Negotiation in other words offers more long term hope than inertia.

Individual Israelis have been guilty of war crimes. Some have been dealt with by Israel itself. Certain governmental and army policies have been wrong and self-defeating. It is necessary to keep on hammering away at abuses. That is the moral obligation of any moral human being. But that does not mean we should not fear the baseless hatred of Israel and Jews which infects not only the primitive reaches of our universe but the so-called sophisticated world too.

I am influenced by the famous line in Proverbs that "God rebukes those He Loves like a caring father." Criticism must come from those who are committed to Israel, committed to its survival, committed to Judaism. A parent who exercises no correction is a bad parent. A friend who does not point out failings is a bad friend. One must not ignore criticism from those who live in, work in, and love Israel. I hear the criticism that comes from other quarters too, but usually those critics have much huger warts on their noses and it is a case of "doctor, heal thyself".

There is too little civilized debate and too much abuse and excoriation. An Anglo-Jewish magnate who objected to the opinions of an Israeli academic emailed him:

"I saw your disgusting contribution to the Dispatches programme. I want nothing ever to do with you and will use whatever influence I have at BGU to have you thrown out. The only thing worse than an anti-Semitic gentile is a traitorous anti-Semitic Jew. I hope you perish and I curse you."

Hardly civilized debate, which goes to prove that money is no guarantee of common sense.

I criticize because I love. Love that will not criticize is not true love.

14 Comments:

At 2:42 AM , Anonymous theedgeofwhere said...

Jeremy thank you. You articulate brilliantly my own feelings on this issue.


A parent who exercises no correction is a bad parent. A friend who does not point out failings is a bad friend... I criticize because I love. Love that will not criticize is not true love.


I wonder: why do so many well meaning individuals see otherwise; assuming that their love for Israel makes it their duty to refute every criticism of Israel, however valid it may be?

 
At 3:38 AM , Anonymous Leila said...

You're right, of course, Jeremy, and there are two or more sides to every story, especially when it comes to Jews and Israel. Land for peace would be fair and it almost was until Yasser Arafat stepped away from it at the last moment but now, how do we deal with an unholy alliance government in Israel, a corrupt Palestinian entity and Hamas, Hezbollah, Iranians, Syrians etc?
To add to this little strudel of nasties, we are contending with the BBC and much other abuse aimed at Jews and Israel in the UK - it is depressing to see that, in the media, there is so rarely anything to be found which is favourable. We have even seen comments that Israelis working their kishkes out in Haiti are doing it only for publicity while everyone else who has gone to help is altruistic. Would it all change overnight if there was a peace deal?

 
At 5:26 AM , Anonymous Yam Erez said...

What? No other comments? Yours is one of the most articulate blogs out there. I talkbacked on your excellent Haaretz op-ed piece. Keep broadcasting your message. We need more rabbis like you.

 
At 8:26 AM , Blogger robbyn said...

Are you aware that under Islamic law the Jews are entitled to the land of Israel? Here is my source.

http://www.scripturalreasoning.org.uk/limmud.html

The Scriptural Reasoning Society is a family of Jewish, Christian and Muslim believers who meet together in groups around the UK to study their sacred texts together, in order to understand and respect religious differences, and challenge extremism and intolerance.

Here is an excerpt from one of the papers you will find there:

"...there are no grounds in religious law to entertain the conceit that God’s promise to the Children of Israel has been broken, and none to support the view that Israel is now the property of the Muslims..."

 
At 5:53 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

robbyn:

You know it's like trying to argue with Haredi rabbis on the basis of a Biblical text. You won't win.
Similarly, to quote from the Koran when there are layers of Hadith and subsequent traditions just won't wash.

Look at how Muslims themselves disagree about the Burqa.
Sure there will be liberal modern Muslims who talk a different language but for the vast majority of Muslims the Fertile Crescent is Muslim territory, regardless, and Israel is regarded as a Crusader invader.

Jeremy

 
At 5:54 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Yam Eretz:
Thank you, sir, but the sad fact is that by and large most people no longer engage in debate and simply retreat behind safe walls and preconceived positions!
J

 
At 5:55 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Leila:

Sadly, you are right, in the face of prejudice and hatred there is nothing to be done.

Why, for example, is there no outcry over Egypt refusing to open its borders to Gaza and building its "wall"? Or why have Palestinians in Lebanon never been given the vote?

The Arab world acts far worse than Israel does towards its own.
But then two wrongs don't make a right and since when should we follow their morality rather than ours??

J

 
At 5:57 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

theedgeofwhere:

Sadly, the more you beat someone up the less likely he will be to open up and be reasonable.

And precisely because so much hatred, irrationality, and prejudice is directed towards Israel, it is natural to want to give up trying to concede anything and retreat behind a defensive position.

It has happened to me. I take the virulent hatred very personally and my natural inclination is to respond by saying "F you too." But because I make a point of reading and hearing contrary views I do get the odd reality check.

J

 
At 6:34 AM , Anonymous bananabrain said...

hi jeremy, long time no speak - i reblogged your haaretz piece on the spittoon, where i blog now, working with a number of ex-fundamentalist muslims and other sensible people. http://www.spittoon.org/archives/4797

you might also enjoy my piece on neturei karta (a subject which is cause for much confusion amongst muslims)

http://www.spittoon.org/archives/2380

and my piece about how to deal with the goons from al-muhajiroun.

http://www.spittoon.org/archives/4566

if you ever wish to guest-blog, that can be arranged without much difficulty.

keep well and it'd be lovely to see you next time you're in london.

b'shalom

bananabrain

 
At 11:22 AM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

bananabrain:

Yes, my dear friend, I did indeed read your spittoon blog and your kind reference to me (and my recalcitrance!).

I am glad your literary as well as your musical skills are finding free expression!

Warmest regards
Jeremy

 
At 4:45 AM , Anonymous Leila said...

Dear Bananabrain,

I just read your "modest proposal" blog. Flying unterhasen on sticks etc. sounds a wonderful idea and a lot less bloodthirsty than Swift's original.

Good luck in your enterprise - I shall be reading Spittoon on a regular basis from now on.

All the best and a gut woch to you and Jeremy,

Leila

 
At 4:12 PM , Anonymous Graham said...

"And the numbers game is against Israel. Negotiation in other words offers more long term hope than inertia"

In other words -assimilation?

Cheer up R.R.!
look on the bright side....
since 1948 paths can be chosen - rather than accepted through necessity...

does the inertia come from one's chosen friends? or from a loss of perception of those, whom - once - a long time ago - might have seriously kicked ass - or bowed to an Imperial power which was rotten from the core?

The little country has to survive - but walls always succumb...so beware those who might build a villa in a slum -

BTW I object to "shagme" as word verification!

 
At 7:45 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Graham wrote:

>The little country has to survive - but walls always succumb...so beware those who might build a villa in a slum -

Absolutely!

 
At 3:06 PM , Anonymous Graham said...

Sometimes - nay most-times - I do wonder why I wrote that,... but it frustrates me to have only parts of a jigsaw.. so I thank you R. R, for at least grasping the "spirit" in which I attempt to write.

The little nation can only enjoy peace when the neighbours change their attitude...., and those neighbours have to see that the new kid on the block is maybe better than the old ones.

Graham
who understands nothing of football and who has thus never needed a midday Thai massage

wordcheck "glatin" well that's almost kosher innit?

 

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