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November 12, 2015 7:33 am

An Israeli Peace Activist’s Rude Awakening

avatar by Benyamin Korn

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Moshe Halbertal. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Moshe Halbertal. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

An Israeli peace activist who has devoted much of his life to demanding that Israel make more concessions to the Palestinians was treated to a rude awakening earlier this month on a Minnesota campus: it turns out that pro-Palestinian advocates don’t just hate Israeli policy — they hate all Israelis, including Israeli peace activists.

Hebrew University professor Moshe Halbertal was invited to deliver the University of Minnesota’s annual Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law. Unfortunately, the Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists on campus don’t have very much respect for the philosophy of law, at least not the laws that protect freedom of speech. Two dozen hecklers tried to drown out Halbertal by shouting “denunciations of Israel” (as the local press described it) and accusing Halbertal of being “a war crimes apologist.”

Ironically, in his remarks (after the hecklers were removed), Professor Halbertal suggested that Israeli soldiers were not doing enough to protect enemy civilians during warfare. Since that was his position, Halbertal must have been puzzled that the Palestinian advocates would attack him so fiercely.

Welcome to the real world, Moshe Halbertal. Criticizing Israeli polices is not enough. When the hecklers called him a “war crimes apologist,” they weren’t referring to one or two particular alleged war crimes. They consider the very existence of the State of Israel to be a war crime. Thus if someone supports Israel’s right to exist — even the shrunken, weakened Israel that Halbertal wants — then they are “war crimes apologists.”

Quite a turn of events for someone who has made a name for himself as an Israeli critic of Israel. Of course, he had a good deal help along the way, especially from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Of the 25 times that Halbertal has been quoted in the Times, nine of them have been in Friedman’s column on the op-ed page.

We all know how that works. Friedman picks a theme for one of his anti-Israel columns, then calls up the same five or six “respected Israeli academicians” to see which of them will provide a quotation that matches his predetermined theme.

Halbertal was discovered by the Times to be a “useful Israeli” even before he had entered the academic world. In February 1983, when he was just “a 24-year-old religious student,” the Times was excitedly reporting how Halbertal was part of a supposed new generation of religious Israelis who disdained the idea of “holding territory” and was forming a group to advocate “relinquishing part of the West Bank.”

Soon enough, Halbertal managed to secure an academic title, so the Times could pretend he was a “respected academician,” instead of having to acknowledge that he was basically a partisan “community organizer.”

A sampling of Halbertal’s pearls of unwisdom in the pages of the Times over the years:

  • The Jewish residents of Judea-Samaria are comparable to the Zealots in Roman times who, “mobilized by a megalomanic sense of their role in history, pushed the Jewish people at the time into a struggle they did not want [until] it destroyed them.” (Sept. 18, 1997)
  • Those who oppose Israeli territorial surrender “are dooming Israel to an apartheid state.” (July 28, 2000).
  • Halbertal “disapproved” of an Israeli strike on a terrorist leader in Gaza, because some of the terrorist’s relatives were nearby and were harmed. (Jan. 13, 2009)
  • Halbertal participated in weekly vigils in a mostly-Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem to demand that Jews not be allowed to move into the area. The Ku Klux Klan would have been proud. (March 10, 2010)
  • Israeli soldiers in Gaza did not do enough “to avoid civilian casualties.” (March 20, 2009}
  • The window for a two-state solution “is rapidly closing,” so Israel “will either be apartheid or Lebanon.” (Dec. 12, 2010)

That last dire warning about Israel being on the verge of “apartheid” was uttered by Halbertal five years ago. Funny, five years have passed and still no apartheid. That’s because the “apartheid” warnings are really just a cheap scare tactic to pressure Israel into making more concessions.

But no amount of concessions will be enough to satisfy the Palestinians, so long as Israel still exists. To them, any size Israel, and all Israelis, are the enemy. As Moshe Halbertal discovered in Minnesota this month.

Mr. Korn, chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists, is former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune.

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  • Andria SWITZER

    Sad excuse for an Israeli to sell out Israel, academic publications or not. Common sense is needed more than intellectualism on the left.

  • Berel Dov Lerner

    I’m not pleased with some aspects of Moshe Halbertal’s politics, but the statement “Soon enough, Halbertal managed to secure an academic title, so the Times could pretend he was a “respected academician,” instead of having to acknowledge that he was basically a partisan “community organizer” is just plain embarrassing. He actually is one of the best regarded figures in the academic study of Judaism. Take a look at the list of books (not mentioning book chapters and articles) he has published. Not exactly your ordinary “community organizer” (compare it to Pres. Obama’s non-existent list of academic book publications):

    Maimonides: Life and Thought (Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2013)

    On Sacrifice (Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2012)

    ha-Rambam: Rabi Mosheh ben Maimon (Jerusalem: Zalman Shazar Center for Study of Jewish History, 2009)

    Concealment and Revelation: Esotericism in Jewish Thought and Its Philosophical Implications (Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2007)

    Judaism and the Challenges of Modern Life (London ; New York, NY : Continuum, 2007) (ed. with Donniel Hartman)

    Between Torah and Wisdom: Rabbi Menachem ha-Meiri and the Maimonidean Halakhists in Provence (Yerushalayim : Hotsa’at sefarim ‘a. sh. Y.L. Magnes, ha-Universitah ha-‘Ivrit, 2000)

    People of the Book: Canon, Meaning and Authority (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1997)

    Values in Interpretation: the Status of the Individual within the Family in Rabbinic Interpretation of the Bible (Yerushalayim : Hotsa’at sefarim ‘a. sh. Y.L. Magnes, ha-Universitah ha-‘Ivrit, 1997)

    Idolatry (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1992) (with Avishai Margalit)

  • steven L

    Moshe must be drinking Quranic COOL-AID or high potency THC.

  • Mickey Oberman

    Just desserts?
    How about some whipped cream, Moshe?

    He is reaping what he sowed.

  • isahiah62

    a rude awakening……………

    happened to me shortly after 9-11 while engaging an Arab & his lefty support group in “discussion” of Israel. I soon realized the silly game they play always has same ending.. scratch a peacenik or pro-pali and underneath is always the very same, old, oldest, hate, JUDENHASS…. loud and clear

    They did not succeed hiding for long under “criticizers of Israel” or “anti-Zionist” nor “human rights worker” nor “peace now” at the end of 100% of these “debates” were people who simply hate Jews, and feel emboldened by their newfound support (Muslims, SJW’s) enough to go public with what used to be said behind closed doors.

    These haters did convince me however to move far to the right and research my replies carefully.

    Now I am a racist neo-con warmonger Zionazi child-killer who controls the USA and proud of it /sarc

    Curious as to why you don’t have more commenters here

  • manuel pagayucan

    Walk an extra mile. Take a stroll along a road in Gaza–explain to the Palestinians that you love them before they stab you to death.

  • F.E. Chalfin

    The last statement sums it all up. No concession short of the destruction of Israel will be accepted by the arabs in the area.

    So there is no reason to even try to appease them. Israel, nor I, are intent on destroying the arabs, but it only takes one side to set the rules of engagement. If we go with the arabs rules, that may be what it takes.