A Diaspora view of Israel

Recent events in Israel, Gaza have filled me with mixture of sadness, resignation. It seems that average Israeli has lost will to fight on
Rabbi Levi Brackman

Before I begin this article the following disclaimer is in order. Coming from a Diaspora Jew, my comments here may offend many Israelis, who will claim that those who do not experience the difficulties of having children in the Israeli army and those who are not subjected to daily threats of terrorist attacks have no right to tell Israelis what to do.

While I can see their point, I beg to differ. Often an outsider is able to be much more objective about the situation precisely because they view the situation baggage free. So here is an “outsider’s” view from a uniquely Jewish perspective.

The recent events in Israel and Gaza have filled me with a mixture of sadness and resignation: sadness because of the violence and misery that recent events have caused and resignation because this was so predictable. Before the disengagement I was so baffled by its lack of rationale that I contacted a number of Israeli friends currently living in Israel.

I was astonished to find almost all those I spoke to supported the disengagement plan. From secular Israelis to religious Zionists they all gave the same reason: we cannot rule over the Arabs in Gaza nor can we continue fighting them. The only choice we have is to disengage.

Throughout negotiations, opponents of the ill-fated Oslo accords felt that the Israeli government was not being realistic about the intentions of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. Since the election of Kadima – who clearly planned further disengagement – it has become apparent that the government’s policy of disengagement was but a reflection of the views held by the electorate.

Those in power recognized that by taking the battle to the enemy they would lose elections. Simply put, the results of the last election indicate that most Israelis are not interested in doing what it takes to win the war against terrorists who desire their destruction. They chose retreat instead.

'War' is not a Jewish value

This should come as no surprise. We Jews were never known for being warriors. Waging war and ruling over others does not come naturally to us. We are a peace-loving nation with high ideals and values.

Tolerance and respect for diversity and difference is part of the Jewish psyche. Indeed this is what the Hebrew Bible teaches when it tells us thirty six times to ‘love the stranger’. Of course we are sick of war. Of course we want to take a short cut to stability and calm. However all this is only half the story.

My Catholic friends ask me how I can preach a message of tolerance and respect for difference and diversity while simultaneously advocating military solutions for certain international conflicts. The answer is very simple. My views are guided by a Bible that celebrates diversity but is also realistic about the existence of evil.

Intolerance and holding totalitarian positions that leave no room for the other to express their identity is evil. According to Judaism’s holy texts tolerance is about respecting diversity - but it is also about passionately opposing intolerance and bigotry. Pacifism has no place in Judaism.

Indeed Judaism pioneered the concept of a preemptive strike. As the Talmud states, based on a biblical principle, “One who comes to kill you, rise up early and kill him first” (Sanhedrin 72a). The rational for this is obvious; according to Judaism the worst crime a person can commit is murder (Maimonides, Laws of Murder and Protection of Life 4:9 and Guide 3:41). Taking another person’s life is the ultimate act of arrogance and intolerance and for the sake of society a person bent on committing such an act must be eliminated.

Intolerant enemy

Israel is a tolerant country which values diversity and is tolerant of others. In many parts of Israel Jews, Muslims and Christians live side by side in peace and harmony. However Israel is at war with an intolerant enemy which has an authoritarian outlook and sees no room for diversity.

Indeed when Prime Minister Olmert recently suggested that the Jewish residents of the West Bank would have the choice to stay in their homes after the so called ‘realignment plan’ Hamas was quick to answer. Sheikh Nayef Rajoub, the minister of religious affairs in the Palestinian Authority, told Y-net, "We don't want them…the only solution is therefore that they leave us and our land alone."

The Hamas ideology does not leave room for Jews to live in any part of Israel. It is an evil ideology and it must be opposed. Disengaging from it has only encouraged it even further. Let us be clear, this is not a conflict between Jews and Muslims or Jews and Arabs. This is a war for survival. Israel is fighting an ideology which leaves no room for its own existence.

The events of the last two weeks have taught us that the more the Israelis disengage, the more the war for survival follows them. Yes, it pains us when innocent people are hurt and no, we do not want to be at war. We as Jews yearn to live in peace with our neighbors. However, as a nation that holds tolerance, peace and the value of human life as our highest ideals we must fight intolerance and bigotry everywhere but especially when it threatens our very existence.

Often this can be done in a peaceful manner but at other times it warrants a military solution. Whatever the case, one thing is now certain: for Israel to disengage from this existential struggle is not only unJewish, it is tantamount to committing national suicide.

Rabbi Levi Brackman is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills and the author of numerous articles on a whole range of topics and issues, many of which can be found on his website