Who Am I to Criticize?


You have no idea what it is like to live here. You don’t understand what we live with every day. We are the ones who have to live with the consequences of this war. Who are you to criticize us?

In a very real way, of course, they’re are absolutely right. Though I visit Israel frequently and have spent a significant amount of time there, I have no idea what it is like to live and work and raise a family and makes one’s home in a country that is in a constant state of war against enemies within and without.

And I certainly cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to live  in Southern Israel during this most current crisis: to try and live a life with some sense of normalcy knowing that at any moment an air-raid siren could go off and afford you and your family mere moments to await the possibility of an incoming missile.

It is true and I must acknowledge it. American Jews do not live with the traumatic reality of this conflict. It is very different to relate to the war in Gaza from the comfort of our homes a world away rather than mere kilometers from the border. At the end of the day, I do admit to my Israeli friends that I cannot and will never understand what it must be like to live there.

But as someone who has identified deeply with Israel for his entire life, someone who has dear friends and family there, I write this with utmost honesty and respect: I reject the suggestion that I have no place speaking out against Israel’s actions simply because I don’t actually live there.

Who am I to criticize? I am a Jew – one of the many millions of diaspora Jews for whom the Jewish state was created. According to the official Zionist narrative, Israel is my Jewish inheritance, my Jewish national home. As a Jew living outside of Israel, I have been given the right to receive instant citizenship if I ever decide to actually move there (something, by the way, that scores of Palestinians whose families have lived in that land for generations cannot do). If Israel purports to relate to me thus, do I not have a voice in the discussion over the actions the Jewish state takes in the name of my people?

Who am I to criticize? I am American. I am a citizen whose country, the world’s largest superpower, supports Israel with significant economic and military aid. My tax dollars thus implicate me in a very real way with Israel’s national decisions – not least of which are its military actions.  I am also the citizen of a nation whose government has essentially given Israel a blank check to take numerous measures that I believe are counter to the cause of peace, including the expropriation of Palestinian lands, destruction of homes, injustice in military courts and widespread building of settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, to name but a few.

As I have written in earlier posts, I believe Israel’s response to Hamas’ missile attacks have been disproportionate and outrageous. I believe their actions only further endanger the security of  Israelis while inflicting collective punishment and a severe humanitarian crisis upon Gazans. Indeed, just as I cannot understand what it must be like to be a citizen of Sderot, I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to be a Gazan citizen at the moment, living under constant air attack, with no running water or electricity and dwindling food, as hospitals fill up with wounded and corpses lie rotting in the streets because relief workers are unable to reach them.

Do I believe that Palestinians bear their share of the blame in this crisis? Absolutely. As the cliche goes, there is certainly enough blame to go around. But as a Jew and an American, I am uniquely implicated in the actions Israel takes.  We Jews and Americans must bear our share of responsibility for this crisis. How far are we willing to go to contribute to a solution?

9 thoughts on “Who Am I to Criticize?

  1. Anya

    Rabbi Rosen,

    I want to thank you for your reflections, which I’ve been following and encouraging others to read.

    I want to share my thoughts after continually hearing Israeli spokespeople talking of the civilian dead and wounded in Gaza. They repeatedly claim they don’t intend to harm civilians, that Hamas puts them in harm’s way intentionally, that civilians should rid themselves of Hamas, and that, unfortunately, “this is war”.

    –If a gunman grabbed one of our own children or loved ones as a “human shield”, we would not, seeing our own beloved innocent in danger, shoot through our loved one, to destroy the gunman. The fact of the innocent civilians has to change the game rules–or it should!

    –If a heart surgeon routinely damaged all the surrounding organs, while working on damaged hearts, he would not keep his job and patients, and he would be held to account for knowing that each time he did surgery, he caused so much “collateral damage” to living tissue.

    –Without options, resources, freedom of movement, what do we expect Gazan children to be able to do—eradicate Hamas? That’s absurd and cruel.

    –For the last eight years, we’ve had leadership that vast numbers of us didn’t vote for or endorse—who have wrecked all sorts of violence upon innocent people. Because we were not able to eradicate them from office, should bombs have dropped on us?

    –Would any of us raise children as siblings to believe that the way a bigger brother ought to handle being poked by a smaller brother is to grab a bat and smash all the younger brother’s fingers, so he can never poke anyone again? (This reiterates an earlier commentator.)

    Additionally, I urge all to write to the Obama team, as I did, asking him to speak out. Certainly, if he is speaking out on the economy as President-elect, because it is such a pressing matter, he can/should also be speaking out on what is a major world security issue, with far reaching implications. This is the contact info.


  2. Larry Rosen

    Thank you for your thoughts on the Gaza situation. I have signed the petition and hope that our new president can persuade both sides to come a meaningful agreement for a longstanding cease fire so that an acceptable solution to this horrible problem can be worked out.



  3. Larry

    Anya – Interersting analogy. I don’t think anyone would intentionally shoot the child. I don’t think we would tell the kidnapper to go ahead and have a good life with our child.

    And if the kidnapper told us that in 10 seconds he was going to shoot the child, then I think most of us would be happy for a sharpshooter to try to kill the kidnapper.

    Gazans have had options and resources for the last century – repeated offers of peace, repeated offers to share the land and resources, repeated offers of more resources such as the houses Israelis built for Gazans trapped (by their then Egyptian rulers) in camps (now they are trapped by their own Palestinian rulers) and on and on and on. No the children have no options. But their parents do. They could choose compromise and peace. They could choose to live in peace with their neighbors.

    As for proportionality, not sure what would be. Would that mean lobbying 6000 crude missiles into Gaza regardless of what they hit? Would it mean randomly killing and terrorizing the population of Gaza until as many were hurt as Hamas had made suffer in Israel?

    Finally, what is the better way? It is all well and good to vow to “redouble” our efforts. But if you have criticism of what Israel is doing, then you have an obligation to suggest a better way, one that hasn’t been tried and failed, one that has a reasonable chance of working.


  4. Louis Frankenthaler

    Dear Brant,

    I am an Israeli, I live in Jerusalem and I am against the war. Who are you to criticize Israel, for its Occupation, the war etc.? You are the right person to do so. For far too long the only Jewish voice that was afforded any sort of authenticity was the voice that supported the settlements, the Occupation and Israel without question. For who were they to criticize, safely from their living rooms, there sanctuaries and their Federations…Well look where that has gotten us now…
    I read of your blog on JVP. Good for you. I want to share a post that I made on the Reform Movement blog:


  5. David Demchuk


    A timely letter, over multiple signatues, from yesterday’s Times (London):

    Israel has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.

    The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

    The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

    For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

    Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

    We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.


  6. Pablo Gomez

    An answer to Larry,

    I’ll follow up on your analogy of the kidnapper telling us that she/he will shoot our child.

    Of course I’d like a sharp shooter to take him down. But would we be happy sending OUR other children to destroy the kidnappers house and kill his friends and neighbors.

    For the analogy to reflect the situation, I think we would need to describe the guy a little better… because he is not just some random guy passing by. A lot of questions come to mind… Did our security guard kill his son or daughter? Did our good friend bulldoze his home? Did he use to be our neighbor? Does he have running water? Is his life hell? Are there other 2 million people on the brink of becoming as crazy as he is?

  7. Jay Shefsky

    Hi Brant,
    At the forum on Sunday night, you read an excellent article from Ha-aretz. I can’t find it… can you post a link? Thanks.


  8. Barbara Warren Bonhiver

    I am shocked and saddened by the gaping blind spot we Jews have about Israel. When I attend Torah study, the high holidays, and Passover, I am taught, discuss and think about these stories as metaphor, fable, myth, object lessons. All very powerful versions of BEHAVE.

    To me, “Israel” is a state of righteousness and lovingkindness independent of any physical place. Is is like thinking about the Messiah: a human being, no? A messianic era brought about by collective Tikkun Olam, yes. The worship of a piece of land, any piece of land, to this degree is idolatry.

    Is the cost of keeping a piece of land worth even one innocent human life? And every time a piece of land is fused with man-made religion (and this I do mean literally, as in male dominated), this has will continue to happen.

    There was another time in history when “innocents” stood by and did nothing in the face of brutal oppression. Why are we
    now doing the same, with different rationalizations?

    Again, I know the arguments – no land is worth the killing.


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