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January 7, 2015 12:37 am

Don’t Let Vitriol Poision Debates on Israeli Policy

avatar by Moshe Phillips

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The Israeli Knesset. Credit: James Emery

Israeli election campaigns are notorious for extreme accusations and nasty name-calling. But must such distasteful behavior spill over into the American Jewish community?

Writing recently in Haaretz, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, a longtime leader of Reform Judaism, denounced Israeli cabinet minister and Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett as “crazy.”

Such epithets contravene the guidelines for civil discourse that the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations adopted back in 1995. They state that “demeaning characterizations and other excesses violate basic Jewish as well as standards of decency while endangering the interests of the community.” Calling a respected Israeli public servant “crazy” simply because one disagrees with some of his positions is certainly demeaning and crosses the line that the Presidents Conference drew in the sand.  Rabbi Yoffie’s organization, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, was one of the signatories on those guidelines.

Rabbi Yoffie’s attack on Minister Bennett was off base in more ways than one. Yoffie claimed that Bennett’s plan to have the Palestinian Authority rule areas where most of the Palestinians live, while having Israel annex the areas where few Palestinians live, would constitute “abandonment of democratic principles” and would “deny basic human rights” to the Palestinians.

But Bennett’s plan would mean little more than formalizing the situation on the ground that the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin established. To test the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to live in peace, Rabin in 1995 withdrew from the areas in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank) where more than 95% of the Palestinians reside. He maintained control of areas where very few Palestinians live.

The only thing that Rabin – and Bennett – would not grant the Palestinian Authority was the right to establish a full-fledged army. That’s not a “denial of basic human rights.” Nobody has a human right to set up an army in Israel’s back yard.

Rabbi Yoffie predicted that Bennett’s plan would mean the “abandonment of democratic principles.” No need for predictions; we can look at actual experience. Prime Minister Rabin’s strategy of Palestinian self-rule did not make Israel any less democratic; neither would Bennett’s similar plan.

For Rabbi Yoffie to write as if Bennett is proposing some new, radical, untested theory is a disservice to the memory of Prime Minister Rabin and all the sacrifices he made to see if the Palestinians really wanted peace. Rabin tested the Palestinians. He ended Israel’s occupation of more than 95% of the Palestinians. The reason his efforts did not bring peace is not because he was undemocratic or unfair to the Palestinians. It was because the Palestinians themselves have made it clear time and again that they are not sincerely ready to live in peace with Israel.

How do we know? Consider Rabbi Yoffie’s own previous statements on the subject. On June 3, 2001, Yoffie told the annual meeting of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, of which he was president, that the chances for peace were being undermined by the “anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi language in the Palestinian media.”

That point is reminiscent of the address by Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban to the 1968 World Zionist Congress. Eban said that the extreme anti-Jewish propaganda in the Arab media showed that “Nazism is deeply embedded in the style and content of the Arab war against Israel…[Arab leaders speak] about the Jewish people in terms which would have done justice to the loathsome Goebbels and Streicher.”

Rabbi Yoffie was not alone in the sentiment he expressed in 2001. The entire leadership of Reform Judaism supported him: following his remarks, the UAHC adopted a resolution which stated, in part, “During the past nine months, we have learned a great deal about the Palestinians’ present unwillingness to make the hard choices necessary for peace…We misjudged Palestinian intentions; and we failed to pay enough attention to the culture of hatred created and nourished by Palestinian leaders.”

Rabbi Yoffie and the UAHC were speaking nearly eight years after the signing of the Oslo accords. Eight years after the Palestinian leadership pledged to make peace with Israel, and teach their children to live in peace with Israel. Yet after eight years, they were instead nurturing a “culture of hatred” and using “anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi language.”

Sadly, little has changed since then. In recent weeks, we have heard Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas claiming that Jews are “contaminating” the Al Aqsa Mosque. We have heard his Fatah movement urging the Arab masses to stage “days of rage” against Israel. We have seen the cartoons in the Palestinian Authority-controlled media encouraging Arabs to use their cars to run over Israelis, and showing Israeli soldiers about to rape Arab women. We have heard Secretary of State John Kerry say that the Jerusalem synagogue massacre was “a pure result of incitement” by the PA.

Precisely because so little has changed, because the PA is still promoting a “culture of hatred,” Rabbi Yoffie’s attack on Minister Bennett is badly misplaced. The central danger to Israel today, as in June 2001, is the unending Palestinian war against the Jewish State.

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  • charlie johnson

    Let them fight. You do not hear of such conflict in North Korea. Everything is kept behind closed doors.The people are ruled over by their common ignorance of events and lack of power to improve their future. The time to worry is when the few at the top seem to all agree.Some old wise man long ago said this. “Free and fair debate is the firmest friend of truth.”

  • Yale

    The article misses something that has become increasingly evident as the Israeli electorate has moved inexorably toward the right: The ability of the Left to win an election/form a government has become increasingly dependent on pandering to Israeli Arabs/self-identified Palestinians. The fewer of them who are included in the Israeli electorate, the lower the chances the Left has to prevail.

    Israelis who think about this will recognize that a government controlled by the Left could make concessiosn to the Palestinians that would be both irreversible and potentially fatal to the country.

    Put these two factors together and you get an explanation of why the Left continues to bemoan the “death of democracy” in Israel: the case for their winning an election is evaporating.

  • Robert Davis

    The danger for Israel is not to give up for a short period of time a total and unhindered liberty some call democracy but to lose their lifes and have their throats cut by arabs!!!Better give up a part of total democracy than lose their country and their lifes and the ONLY way to do this is EXPELL arabs to jordan and sinai. With netanyahou this conflict will NEVER end not as long as his will remain the PM. Benett want to try something NEW why not? however letting arabs stay in Western Palestine is NOT something NEW and therefore it will NOT end the conflict.Since abbas offered the keys of his “mukhabarra” why not take the chance and first see whether he is sincere or just playing poker with the PM which is probably the case? if he is sincere,USE THIS POSITION TO TRANSFER ARABS TO JORDAN IN A PACIFIC WAY THRU ECONOMIC ADVANTAGES AND A LITTLE PUSH in absence of which nothing works one this planet.A coward like the PM will never dare look for anything good and unilateral for Israel

  • I tell the Arab-Palestinians. Go ahead try and take my/our Jewish land if you want to try!

    There are laws that will stop you and than there is me/us the IDF that will stop you! We are done being pushed around by anyone. We will fight back and defend ourselves, we will not let the Holocaust repeat itself – NEVER AGAIN.

    As it is now, Israel has the Jewish land by right!

    That is just the fact!

    I am also telling the rest of the world to mind its own business and stay out of Israel’s internal affairs.
    They have their own problems to contend with.

    They were complicit during WWII when over 6 million Jews, men, women and children were exterminated. This will not happen again!

    There is a real status quo that requires energy to make the change!

    Are you going to put in the energy to try to change it???

    Maybe it is better to cut your losses and accept whatever generous package we the Israelis offer you the Arab-Palestinians, because quite frankly under the current conditions we do not owe the Arab-Palestinians anything and we can just unilaterally set our own legal borders insisting that viable land for real Arab-Palestinians self determination already exists in Jordan which is 80% of Jewish allocated land under the San Remo Treaty of 1920!
    The Arab-Palestinian can also relocate to the Jewish land previously owned by the million Jewish people who were expelled and their land confiscated by the Arab countries, the confiscated assets and land which is at least five times the size of Israel and is valued in the trillions of dollars.

    Israel has resettled the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. It is time that the Arab countries resettle the Arab-Palestinians refugees, in Jordan which was suppose to be part of the Jewish state, or the 120,000 sq. km. of land that the Arab countries confiscated from the Jews.

    The options we are proposing to the Arab-Palestinians is more than fair, considering you are constantly terrorizing and killing our people every chance you get. That is what you tech your Arab children and masses to do.

    It all depends on whether we can see the Arab-Palestinians
    as peaceful neighbors and there is nothing that they have ever done to date that can lead us to believe that they will be good peaceful neighbors!

    YJ Draiman

  • Pinchas Baram

    Most reform and reconstructionst rabbits (that was a deliberate error) are not into Torah and Tziniut but are definitely “into” feminism, yoga, the LGYBT agenda, interfaith marriage ceremonies, and super-liberal Dem. goals including the “rights” of the Pals, the division of Jerusalem, and making Judea and Samaria judenrein– so of course Yoffie thinks Bennett and everything to the right of Labor is “crazy.” Poor fool, he’ll probably plotz when Bennett wins big on March 17!

  • Rabbi Yoffie is led by an extreme left wing of the American academics and other so called “elite”, like Naum Chomsky and the like. Their pure anti-Semitism is above any critics. Netaniahu is the best politician since Moshe Dayan and the Bennett’s plan is should be a first step to deportation of all Palestinians from the West bank to Jordan. Palestinians has got already their state, it is Jordan, and they all must with time be transferred there. The second Palestinian state is similar to creation a second Russian state in Ukraine because many people there speak Russian (instead Ukrainian). No other Palestinian state! Rabi Yoffie should go to Israel and look from there at the “Palestinian State”, but not to live in the safe USA, and then speak about “human rights”

  • steven L

    EY should move to Israel instead of insulting people who are on the front-line defending his faith. Shame on him. This is despicable. He is dishonest and an hypocrite.

  • Emmett

    What don’t they understand? The PLO was created by Israel’s surrounding enemies for one and only one purpose. The elimination of Israel, which is ok with the rest of the world’s governments. So, why do Israel’s corrupt leftists, opportunists disguised as politicians & Jewish imposters go through the motions of trying to appease our enemies? They pad their bank accounts at the expense of Jewish lives & only fool those Israelis lacking in common sense & Torah values.