A rabbi throwing stones

Two weeks ago, R. Peretz Wolf-Prusan published an op-ed in San Francisco’s J Weekly decrying the verbal stone throwing that takes place inside our Jewish communities when the issue of Israel and Palestine is brought up.

He encouraged free dialog,

We must freely express our deeply felt concerns about Israel. We must debate vigorously and energetically engage in the marketplace of ideas.

But urged respect and civility,

I am distressed by how we speak to each other. Even as you read this, someone is picking up a stone.

One of these stones was published in the Jerusalem Post and later on reproduced in — yeah, you guessed it right — the J itself!

What a difference two weeks make for the J.

In a remarkable opinion peace, R. David Forman does not mince any words in his attack of the monthly Jewish fast for Gaza. The fast, initiated by over sixty American rabbis, “is an initiative that seeks to end the Jewish community’s silence over Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza.”

R. Forman’s op-ed throws his stones everywhere. He is not happy with the fast (“a colossal failure,” “an act of self-denial”), and freely attacks the fast organizers (“self-appointed spiritual guardians of the Jewish people,” “their one-sidedness speaks for [the fast's] prejudicial self”).

In case you need a graphic image, R. Forman does not disappoint. He claims that the fasters — for the record, that includes me too — are “standing idly by when their fellow Jews’ blood is being spilled.”

Why, you may ask, is this happening? R. Forman explains,

Because of a total lack of balance, the tenor of Rosen’s and Walt’s comments strikes one as anti-Zionist, bordering on anti-Semitism.

R. Forman’s proof was probably this paragraph in the homepage of the Gaza fast:

On three things the world stands: on justice, on truth, and on peace (Mishnah Avot 1:18). From this we learn that justice, truth and peace are interdependent and irrevocably intertwined. Thus we cannot separate our call for justice in Gaza from the painful truth of this conflict and the ongoing tragedy of war in this tortured region. We condemn Hamas’ deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians. Out of the same ethical commitments we also condemn the use of much greater violence by the Israeli government, causing many more deaths of Palestinian civilians. Since the end of Israel’s recent military campaign, the severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza has grown all the more dire.

Confused?

Let me tell you how R. Forman’s logic works, because I’ve seen similar cases a hundred times.

Whenever you read any criticism of the Israeli occupation, you skip over any mention of Palestinian suffering and start doing your own math: How many lines were dedicated to mentions of Palestinian suffering and how many to Israelis. If you do not find the ‘balance’ you seek, you ignore whatever else may be in the written piece and you also ignore anything else the writer may have done in his or her life. No matter. Your math comes wanting. It is time to shout ‘antisemitism’!

Lucky for us, the two main targets of the attack, Rabbis Brant Rosen and Brian Walt responded with grace and dignity when misleading and malicious accusations were thrown at them. Here are some excerpts:

These accusations against us personally and against the rabbis involved in Taanit Tzedek, is a serious violation of the Jewish ethical prohibition against spreading false accusations (motzi shem ra), an act unworthy of a rabbi at any time, but especially during this month of Elul devoted to forgiveness and repentance.

Taanit Tzedek is not in any way an “anti Israel act” or an attack on “the very legitimacy of Jewish State”, nor are the rabbis involved in this project “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.” All of us are devoted to teaching the values of Judaism and to protecting the human rights of all people: our people, Israelis, Jews throughout the world, and all human beings, including Palestinians and the residents of Gaza. It is our commitment to the Jewish belief that all human beings are created in the image of God that that impels us to speak out against the blockade, a policy of the Israeli government that causes untold human suffering. We are opposed to this policy of the Israeli government, not to Israel. Is there no space for criticism of the policies of the Israeli government without being labeled “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic”?

Responding directly to R. Forman’s comments about the fast being a failure, they add:

Rabbi Forman argues Taanit Tzedek means that it is a “colossal failure” yet he devoted his entire article in the Jerusalem Post to an attack on our project. We are indeed pleased that over 70 rabbis have joined Taanit Tzedek. We knew when we initiated this project that there would be a limited number of rabbis who would join in this effort. We started the project with jut a minyan of rabbis. Many more rabbis support our project yet fear that going public could cost them their jobs. Rabbi Forman’s vicious attack helps to create an environment of fear that silences so many in our community.

If you have any doubts, go back to the J two weeks earlier, where R. Peretz Wolf-Prusan candidly stated that,

I have been with rabbis who are compelled to meet in secret to express their concerns over Israeli human rights violations, afraid to speak in public for fear of their jobs.

Under these circumstances, I have nothing but respect for the courage of R. Rosen and R. Walt.

This is how they end their response:

We will continue to break the silence and to insist that the suffering caused by the blockade must be addressed in our community not by name-calling but by a serious discussion of the facts and the moral implications for us as Jews. Now is not the time for pointing fingers at others. This is the time when we are called as Jews to do a Moral reckoning (Cheshbon nefesh). Taanit Tzedek will continue to call on our community and all people to do a moral reckoning about the blockade and to follow the prophet Isaiah’s call “to lift up our voices like a Shofar” until this immoral blockade is lifted.

Amen.

– Sydney Levy

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