The Morality of Israel

                                                        THE MORALITY OF ISRAEL
                                                                       Mark Wildes

    As a rabbi I’ve always tried to stay away from politics. In my sermons and even in private discussions with students I generally refrain from sharing my own personnel opinion on political issues. But I draw the line when issues of morality and ethics are raised and the media’s coverage on the current war between Israel and Hamas has moved this issue from politics to morality. Again and again, Israel is accused of human rights violations, of acting disproportionately in their bombing of Gaza and of being insensitive to the plight of innocent Palestinians caught in the middle.  Since the issue has been reframed as a matter of right and wrong, we the Jewish people, who have introduced so much morality and ethics to the world, must respond to these allegations of immorality, even at the expense of pointing out the obvious. To me and maybe to you as well, much of what I say may be obvious but I believe still important to be said.

     Each charge below is an accusation that I have heard in one way or another over the last few days expressed in the mainstream media. Still trying to stay out of politics, I will limit my responses to the moral issue levied in each charge:

Charge: Israel is just as morally responsible for this “cycle of violence” as is Hamas.  

Response: When it comes to morality it matters who attacks first as the object of the initial aggression has the moral right to self-defense. To be clear, this war began with the kidnapping of three Jewish boys coming home from school. In an effort to find the boys and bring them to safety Israel arrested many of Hamas’ leaders. Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel, which was then followed by Israeli air strikes on terrorist positions to stop the rocket attacks on Israel. The media speaks of a “cycle of violence” but every cycle has a beginning. And this one clearly started with Hamas.

Charge: Israel’s immoral occupation of Palestinian territory is ultimately responsible for the current crisis. 

Response: First, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza strip only after winning those territories in a defensive war thrust upon Israel and therefore the whole question as to who is morally or legally entitled to these lands is not simple. However, for the purposes of this war, the issue of occupation is irrelevant since Israel pulled out of Gaza and handed it over to the Palestinian people. The world has somehow forgotten the painful evacuation of close to 8000 Jews who were living in Gaza.  And so the claim that the Israeli occupation is ultimately at fault is baseless as Israel no longer controls or occupies Gaza, Hamas does.


Charge: Both Israel and the Palestinians cultivate a culture of hate and vengeance as evidenced by the kidnapping and killing by both Israelis and Palestinians of innocent teenagers.

Response: There is no moral equivalency between these two heinous crimes since the crime committed by the Israelis is an anomaly denounced by everyone in Israeli society, both by the public and the leaders. Contrast this to the Palestinian kidnappers and killers who continue to receive the praise of their people and leaders. Further, Israel arrested the Israel suspects who await prosecution in a court of law (as they should) whereas the only ones looking to bring the Palestinian suspects to justice is Israel. Palestinian leaders and schools still educate their society and children in Jew hatred while Jewish leaders and teachers do not educate or incite Arab or Palestinian hatred.

Charge: Israel’s bombing of Gaza is indiscriminate targeting schools, hospitals and mosques.

Response: Israel targets and bombs Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists and their rocket launching sites.  It does nottarget innocent civilians. It is well documented that Hamas has purposely placed rocket launching facilities under schools, mosques and hospitals using the children, patients or worshipers in those locations as human shields. If Israel wanted to kill civilians it could have killed hundreds of thousands but it has no such desire which is further evidenced by the IDF’s sending of leaflets and making phone calls to clear out as many innocent civilians as possible when targeting a rocket facility or a terrorist. Contrast this to Hamas’s rocket attacks which specifically target Israeli population centers.  As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked: “We are using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles”.



Click here to watch video as IDF Postpones Strikes on Hamas Targets after Identifying Civilians in the Area http://youtu.be/yE7ykidY7FA.

Click here to watch video as IDF Urges Civilians to Leave Areas of Gaza Targeted for Strikes http://youtu.be/yoK9YL6D5RE


Charge: Israel acts in an unjust manner as hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in Israel air strikes compared to virtually no-one on the Israeli side.


Response: First, many of those killed are active terrorists and killing them is simple self-defense. Staying on the moral issue, the fact that one side in a conflict loses more lives than the other does not in any way make that side’s cause any more just or correct. Wrong does not simply become right because more people are dying. Of course, on a purely humanitarian basis, everything should be done to put an end to the loss of life but as long as Hamas keeps raining down rockets on Israel what else should Israel do? What would any country do to protect themselves? Anything short of continuing to bomb Hamas’ rocket facilities and those operating them would be unethical as a government’s first and primary moral responsibility to its people is to protect them from external threats.

    In short, Israel acts in a morally upright manner and Hamas is the villain. We should not shy away from sharing these ideas with our colleagues and associates, many of whom are being fed lies and propaganda through the mainstream media. If they don’t hear these facts and ideas from us they very well may not hear them at all.

    We have good reason to continue to be proud of our beloved Israel. She is handling a very difficult situation with grace, dignity and bravery and above all morally.

OUR BOYS, OUR VALUES

There are no words to describe the utter sense of sadness, loss and outrage we all feel on behalf of the Shaar, Frenkel and Yifrach families. What these families have been put through is indescribable and the dignity and grace with which they have confronted this tragedy is nothing short of inspirational.

Last week I participated in a rabbinic conference call with Racheli Frankel, mother of Naphtali z”l who told us that the sense of Achdut (unity) and Ahavat Yisrael (love of one Jew for the next) were “not just clichés” but something she was truly feeling from Jews all over the world and something she asked us rabbis to continue to promote here in the United States. She wanted something good to come of this terrible situation and I feel we owe her at least that.

Racheli said she felt tremendous love and support from all segments of society, from the Charedim (ultra-orthodox) and their prayer gatherings to the Chilunim (secular). Yair Lapid, Israel’s Finance Minister went to visit the families in an article was quoted as saying to the mothers: “I haven’t prayed in six years.
I haven’t gone into a synagogue since my son’s bar mitzvah. When I heard what had happened to your sons, I turned my house upside down to look for my grandfather’s prayer book. I sat down and prayed.” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that because of what was happening he was going to begin observing Shabbat and publicly said he would not answer his phone until the stars come out on Saturday night. President Shimon Peres said and I quote: “three families like this can lift up a nation to heights previously unknown and I’m not exaggerating. It’s been several days that Israel has been different, unified, joined, praying, fighting”. One of the other mothers (Bat-Galim) said that a chatan, a groom came to her home on the morning of his wedding to encourage them and Racheli referenced a large prayer gathering in Talmon organized by both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Chief Rabbis of Israel. She ended the conference call with her prayer that the current sense of unity should serve as a tikkun, as a spiritual rectification for the divisiveness spoken of in that weeks’ Torah portion, Parshat Korach. And so in our sadness and outrage we shouldn’t lose the sense of love and unity that was somehow brought about and which is so often missing from our community.

We should also recognize one more unique value for which Judaism can truly be
proud: our love for life and basic sense of humanity. Could you ever imagine a Jew celebrating the abduction and murder of a child, even one from our enemy?
It’s unheard of in the Jewish community because ultimately Judaism celebrates life. The Torah is a guidebook to filling our lives with meaning and purpose.
By celebrating the kidnapping and murder of innocent children our enemy has shown their true colors and demonstrated that the God they worship is not a God of life and love but one of hatred and death.

Ultimately this is a tragedy of immense proportion and the Jewish people will never be the same without our three boys. But the way these brave families and Jews from all over the world have reacted to this huge blow only strengthens the treasured Jewish values of unity and love for life. May our continuing to celebrate life through Torah serve to elevate the souls of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad, zichonam livracha. May their memory be a blessing and may their families be comforted amongst all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.