In my recent campaign for Congress the issue of Gaza came up constantly. Firstly, because of the 2010 Gaza 54 letter in which select members of Congress chided Israel for “collective punishment against the Palestinians,” and second because of the upcoming deportation hearings for Imam Muhammad Qatanani of Paterson, who was arrested by Israel for membership in Hamas. Now, Hamas rocket attacks on Israel have ensured that Gaza continues to dominate world headlines.
Since the campaign I have been in communication with Imam Qatanani and the Islamic Center of Passaic County, repeating the same message as in the campaign. I would personally invest myself fully in the Imam remaining here in the United States so long as there were a public renunciation of Hamas and a repudiation of its covenant to destroy Israel and murder Jews wherever they are found.
In truth, the burden falls upon us clerics to serve as a moral compass for our flocks. People look to us to discern right from wrong. If the targeting of innocent civilians by terrorist organizations is not wrong, then morality has no meaning.
I have long preached how we Jews owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Islam for welcoming us in after repeated Christian expulsions, especially from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1498. Islam, as a great world religion that has often protected Jews is stained by those who murder in its name. Likewise, the moral equivalency between Hamas firing rockets to intentionally murder a pregnant woman, as it did last Thursday with 26-year-old Mirah Sharf, and Israel’s killing Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari, the mastermind of so many acts of terror, is itself repugnant. The Ten Commandments say, “Thou shalt not murder,” rather than “Thou shalt not kill.” Murder is the taking of innocent life in cold blood. Killing is protecting the innocent from murderers as an act of self-defense. There, in a nutshell, is the difference between Hamas and Israel.
Muslims have every right to expect that Jews in general, and Rabbis in particular, similarly condemn any acts of violence intentionally directed at any Arab civilian. We are all equally children of the one God.
Let me, therefore, do so right now.
In February, 1994, on Purim, the most festive Jewish holiday, I awoke to the horrible news that Boruch Goldstein, a Jewish doctor living in Hebron, massacred 29 innocent Muslims in prayer in a mosque. I was serving as Rabbi to the students at Oxford University at the time and immediately called media contacts to say on the record that Goldstein, who was killed in the attack, was not a martyr but a monster, not a saint but an abomination. I never waivered from that line, even when my own home was firebombed a few nights later, with my children asleep inside, in what the British police believed was a retaliatory attack due to the high profile lectures of Israeli government ministers that I hosted at the University.
Some Jews defended Goldstein, saying he snapped because, as a doctor, he witnessed many of his friends die in terror attacks. I responded that neither insanity nor a feeling of victimhood is ever an excuse for premeditated mass murder. Goldstein was quite simply a terrorist whose actions are inimical to all Jewish values.
Hamas’ values are just as much a disgrace to the principles of Islam. Hamas is motivated not by Palestinian freedom but by hatred of Jews. Although Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas’ charter continued to call for genocide against Israel and the Jewish people: “The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, O Muslims… there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
When Hamas came to power in 2006, they channeled the billions they received as the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid into rockets rather than hospitals, bombs rather than universities. And they intentionally launch their rockets from nurseries and schools rendering the innocent Palestinian population into human shields, not surprising for an organization which regularly murders Palestinian homosexuals under the false accusation of collaboration and engages in honor killings of young Palestinian women whose only crime is to have a boyfriend.
I recognize and mourn the loss of innocent Palestinian life amid Israel’s attempts to destroy the Hamas terrorism infrastructure. Even the most advanced military instruments that Israel employs in order to reduce as much as humanly possible any and all civilian collateral casualties are still ultimately imprecise. This becomes especially true as Hamas purposely fires its rockets from hospitals, schools, and family homes. Every Arab life is the equal of every Jewish life, and Israel goes to lengths unmatched in modern warfare to avoid innocent deaths. But what choice does Israel have when Hamas has coiled itself around Gaza like a poisonous viper, bringing suffering to Palestinian and Israeli alike.
While the brotherhood of man may continue to elude us in an increasingly violent world, an agreement between clerics of all religions to condemn murder is something upon which we must insist. I call upon Imam Qatanani to join me in condemning the targeting of civilians wherever they live, and the slaughter of innocents whatever their faith.
Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls ‘the most famous Rabbi in America’, is the international best-selling author of 29 books, and will shortly publish “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.