A Response to Howard Jacobson - Liberal Resistance

A Response to Howard Jacobson

by Rabbi Charles Familant

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Familant wrote this note some time ago, but he feels that it is uniquely applicable today. We very much agree.

Mr. Jacobson, I shall start with your rather provocative statement:

“Rhetoric is precisely what has warped report and analysis these past months…’Massacre’ and ‘Slaughter’ are rhetorical terms. They determine the issue before it can begin to be discussed.”

Really, Mr. Jacobson? “Before it has been discussed?” Where have you been, lo, these many decades, when discussion between the parties and in the press has unfolded ad nauseum?

In fact, “massacre” and “slaughter” are not mere rhetorical terms, but are, to the contrary, quite descriptive. The most recent count of death and destruction in Gaza, as of July 12, 2014, is as follows: The death toll of Palestinians from Israeli bombardment has risen to 135. Three patients and a nurse were killed overnight in the explosion on the rehabilitation center in Jebaliya. Fatalities from the offensive in Gaza now include 88 civilians, 30 of which are children, according to the United Nations. More than 940 people have been injured in air strikes in five days of shelling. Alongside the dead from the rehabilitation center in Jabaliya, there were also reports of casualties at a separate charitable association for the disabled in Beit Lahiya, resulting from the latest raid. At least two people killed and four critically wounded in the Beit Lahiya explosion, according to the AFP news agency. Meanwhile people were killed in the eastern Tufah area of Gaza City, and three in western Gaza City, it was reported. A mosque in Al-Nuseirat, in central Gaza, was also destroyed in the overnight raids. I could go on, but if “massacre” and “slaughter” are merely rhetorical terms here, what should we choose in their stead? Moreover, if that level of death and destruction had been showered upon Israeli towns and their people, would you then have shied away from such “rhetoric”?

You also state: “The inefficiency of those rockets, landing God knows where and upon God knows whom, is often cited to minimise the offence. As though murderous intention can be mitigated by the obsolescence of the weaponry.”

Oh, I see. So the unequalness of the match-up should not be taken into account, but only “the murderous intention”? This would mean, I suppose, that a battered housewife lunging forward with bloodied fists and every intention of throttling her offending husband is committing an act no less egregious than that of her husband, who presumably in self-defense, fires a lone bullet into the middle of her forehead. Need I point out the absurdity of this comparison? Despite your assertions to the contrary, you sound suspiciously like an apologist for Israel.

I recall that you once wrote that you are not by any means conventionally Jewish but feel that you have a Jewish mind and Jewish intelligence, nay more, that you feel linked to previous Jewish minds of the past. Well, Mr. Jacobson, if so, I, too have those very same attributes and yet have come to startlingly different conclusions from your own regarding the present and previous conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian People. Perhaps “beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks” is too archaic a sentiment to be brought to bear on our highly technological and continuously warring world, but my “Jewish mind” tells me otherwise. The principle of lex talionis had been renounced by the rabbis of the post-Biblical period as an outworn vestige of familial and tribal feuds. And yet, despite the sophistication of modern weaponry, we – rather, many of us have held fast to that ancient mentality. There can be no justification for it, whether one is of a Jewish mind or of any other.

Lest I be accused of being a self-hating Jew or Jewish anti-semite, let me assure you and others that I cannot – and will not – defend the actions of Hamas, past and present. Aside from the devastation and fear among the Israeli population caused by such acts, they are, to my mind, the height of stupidity. They play into the hands of the war mongers and right-wing enthusiasts within Israel and beyond their shores. Had Hamas not resorted to militant tactics, the rightness of the Palestinian position would be more clearly pronounced. Even so, though blurred by the extremists in their midst, the Palestinian People have an unquestionable right to a nation of their own. The building of settlements in what is unmistakably Palestinian land must, eventually, become a part of their own nation. The erection of these enclaves can only be understood as an Israeli act of aggression. It is a blatant attempt to annex sizable portions of that territory and, as a fait accompli, become a permanent part of Israel.

The present acts of belligerency from either side are an unfortunate distraction to the fundamental issues that must be resolved equitably and peaceably. War simply delays the inevitable. Once removed as an option in foreign policy, the words of Isaiah can then be lived and not merely echoed: “Nation shall no longer lift up sword against nation, nor will they know how to wage war anymore.”