“For Zion’s Sake, I Will Not Be Silent” – Feb. 7, 2014 Shabbat Inspiration by Rabbi Yocheved Mintz – A show of hands, please: How many of you feel that the United States should mind its own business in foreign affairs? …. Thank you.
This evening I’m going to speak with you about some concerns I have…and, hopefully, you share as well, about the lack of response to a dangerous movement that is gaining traction. Although not yet raised to Olympic Games status, the sport of Israel Bashing seems to have gained immense popularity throughout Europe and the Middle East and on American college campuses over the past few years. As your Rabbi, it is incumbent upon me to keep you informed, and, hopefully, to alert you to opportunities where you can participate in the Jewish community, whether at home or wherever Jews live throughout the Diaspora, and, especially in Israel. This is a biblical injunction, famously uttered by the prophet Isaiah, who said: “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest.”
According to a Pew Study, and contrary to how you responded a few minutes ago, 52% of all Americans feel that the U.S. should mind its own business and stay out of international affairs. This is the highest percentage of pro-isolationism in the almost 50 years this survey has been taken, and a good 10% higher than the one taken in 1976, immediately after our involvement in Viet Nam. But a rabbi, or, for that matter, anyone in a leadership role within the Jewish Community, knows that we have a special obligation to speak up for justice, and, it has become apparent to me that the voices of those of us who support Israel and a two-state solution have become more and more silenced of late.
So, you might ask, where do I stand? Certainly you know that I am committed to the viability and health of the people and land of Israel, literally the land of my father, going back 8 generations. And I am committed to support Israel and help assure her long-term security as a Jewish homeland and a democracy. I believe that for Israel to have a future as envisaged by its declaration of independence, it needs to live within secure, defined, and recognized borders, and, without a doubt, there must be a resolution to the Israel Palestinian conflict.
You are hopefully aware that Secretary of State John Kerry – backed by President Obama- has made heroic efforts to bring all the parties to the negotiating table. He is a tough negotiator and has been accused by some as being too pro-Israel and by others as being too pro-Palestinian. But the months of negotiations may be beginning to bear the promise of fruit. I want to believe that Secretary Kerry has taken up the challenge of the Psalmist to “seek peace and pursue it,” but he cannot bring peace on his own. “We really are at a critical point,” said Secretary Kerry “as Palestinians and Israeli leaders grapple with difficult and challenging decisions that lie ahead.”
To get you up to date, Kerry has been working with the parties on a framework agreement, which is to say, an agreement on a general framework within which to conduct further talks. It sounds convoluted and circuitous, because it is, but it is extremely important, for without a framework agreement, no further agreements can be made.
We all are aware of the din of doubt and pessimism about the process of the peace talks and finger-pointing at one-another to account for the delays and lack of progress, but in the meantime a serious attempt to undermine these peace efforts and, in fact, to destroy Israel has spread across the world. It goes under the title “B.D.S.,” the initials of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, a movement that advocates the demonization of the State of Israel and threatens to sink its uniquely robust economy.
BDS is a political, economic, cultural, and ideological campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel. BDS proponents make a false analogy between democratic Israel and the former apartheid South Africa, in an attempt to isolate and stigmatize Israel. Advocates for BDS deny Israel the basic human right of self-defense and, in fact, blame Israel alone for conflict in the region. BDS supporters demand self-determination for the Palestinians, but do not acknowledge the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland, Israel.
BDS brands itself as a progressive movement calling for the “right of return” to Israel for what is now millions of Palestinian refugees, which, of course, would overwhelm the Jewish population, violate international law and the collective rights of the Jewish people to self-determination, and, essentially, destroy Israel. It’s interesting to remember a statement made by Mohamed Ali Allouba Pasha, Egyptian minister and Arab League official, in 1964: “[Israel] is not an easy thing to destroy by military means. But there is a force which is not steel and fire, with the aid of which we can win, namely, economic boycott.”
Another weird thing about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is that it is actually undermining the very peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians that it pretends to be promoting. It singles Israel out for boycotts, while totally ignoring the world’s worst human rights violators. According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, “criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction…is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.”
Would boycotts and sanctions actually hurt Israel? Absolutely! 1/3rd of its exports go to Europe. But what the proponents of BDS are overlooking, consciously or not, is that such sanctions would be devastating for the over 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel and Israeli settlements on the West Bank. These Palestinians earn, on the average, twice as much as Palestinians who work in the Palestinian Authority, and, in turn, these Palestinians support thousands of others.
BDS is, of course, not the only existential threat to Israel. The unrest in Egypt, overrunning of Jordan with Syrian refugees, the civil war in Syria, and the precarious situation in Iran. You should know that the talks regarding dismantling Iran’s nuclear capabilities are being prolonged, with waning hope of dismantling its nuclear infrastructure.
So, with all this doom and gloom, what can we do? The thing to remember is that we, each one of us, can make a difference. We must speak up for Israel. We must invest in Israel. We must continue to go to Israel and support groups that enable youngsters to go to Israel. We must educate ourselves to the wonders and accomplishments of Israel, and acknowledge the blemishes and areas that need improvement. We must support institutions and corporations that support Israel. We must let it be known that we support the peace process, and speak out against the movements and policies that would seek to delegitimize Israel, but, as Eleanor Roosevelt said: “It isn’t enough to talk about peace, one must believe it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it, one must work for it.”
..And as the biblical prophet Isaiah reminded me this week: “For the sake of Zion, I must not be silent.”
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz
Congregation P’nai Tikvah
7 February, 2014