Rabbi Brian Walt and I, along with the other rabbinical leaders of Ta’anit Tzedek were the object of an angry attack written by Rabbi David Forman in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post. Brian and I have written a response to the the Post and we hope it will be published. Please stay tuned…
Yasher yasher koach.
Stories of atrocities committed by the settlers or the IDF no longer surprise me. Neither do the stories of racism exhibited in various areas of Israeli society such as education, housing, and healthcare. Uri Avneri coming out as being opposed to BDS surprised me – but just mildly. But when someone like Rabbi Forman – a self-proclaimed progressive Jew and defender of human rights – attacks a colleague like this publicly and by using cliche, though no less nasty insults that are commonly used by the right against the left – THAT surprises me!
I am speechless really. All I can say is this: SHAME ON YOU, RABBI FORMAN! It has been a long time since anyone has disappointed me to this degree by revealing such a shocking lack of integrity.
As for you, Brant, and the other 69 Rabbis in Taanit Tzedek – kol ha’kavod for continuing your path of tikkun olam in the face of such ugly adversity.
Look at that! He started out being compassionate to the cruel, and now he’s cruel to the compassionate. I stand corrected.
I am writing in support of Rabbi Rosen in his actions and in remaining steadfast in the face of the unjustified and mean-spirited accusations by Rabbi Forman. I can be a faithful American Jew and be outraged by specific policies and practices of the Israeli government, just as I have at times criticized my own government for actions I believe to be harmful in some way. The latter criticism does not mean I am a traitor to my country nor that I dislike my fellow countrymen. A diversity of views regarding our own government’s actions and the actions of other countries that are important to us–those that we care most about–make for better nations and a better world.
Sounds like Rabbi Forman can’t get his thoughts together. To Israelis, though, Rabbi Forman’s assault on Ta’anit Tzedek sounds very familiar. Yes, the complaints against Israel may be factually true (Forman implies that Israel has mistreated Palestinian civilians; in fact, he is proud to have critized the Israeli government on a number of occasions). However, says Forman, Rabbis Walt and Rosen must have the wrong *motives* for pointing them out. Walt and Rosen claim that their movites are to promote awareness to suffering by Palestinian civilians, but their true motives, according to Forman, are dark (they are driven by hate).
If we take Forman at his word, that Israel has committed immoral acts against the Palestinian population, isn’t it more likely that Walt and Rosen are responding to these facts rather than promoting a hidden agenda? In either case, Jewish human rights activists (as Forman proclaims himself) should be concerned for civilians whose human rights are violated. Even if they are not the only ones who suffer.
Dear Rabbis Rosen and Walt:
Acts of courage such as yours are always vilified by those who either a) know that you are correct in your thinking or b) are so frightened for themselves that they must lash out at righteous behavior.
Those of us who are non-practicing Jews but who treasure the courage and hate the cowardice both of which exist in the history of our people, have to salute you. Without voices such as yours, risking condemnation for speaking truth to power, our people and our world will be lost.
It is important to remember that the louder the Rabbi Formans scream and curse, the greater the truth of your fearless speech, it has ever been thus in history, all history of all people.
We are far from perfect beings, but courage like yours is a candle flame in a very dark world.
May you thrive and receive all the support and prayers for your health and well-being and strength to continue this difficult journey you have set out upon, and may their be hands to support you all along the way, twice as many as those who would curse you and smear you.
With great respect and admiration,
Nancy Rubin Mikelsons
Dear Rabbis Rosen and Walt,
After reading Rabbi Forman’s article in the Jerusalem Post attacking the exemplary work you both have been leading to break the silence in Jewish community over whats happening in Gaza, I felt very happy. Happy because your work is apparently reaching a lot of people including your brethren in Israel. And it must feel good to know that its having such a postive impact on people’s psyche. Forcing them to re-examine the lies they’ve been told by their government and some of their religious leaders who chose to ignore or remain blind to the reality of 1 million Palestinians living under deplorable and inhumane conditions in Gaza. The fast has been critical in movement to restore their basic rights—the right to be free, safe and healthy, the right to work and take care of one’s family and children—such rights are God-given because they are fundamental to the functioning of human society. Rabbi Forman, rather than joining the admirable Rabbis and members of the Jewish community who have been fasting, choses to attack and vilify their righteous deeds on behalf of people who can not speak or defend themselves.
The Rabbi Formans of the world can rant and rave all they want and intimidate those Jews among them working for peace and justice but in the end—-as promised in the religious books of all three of the great faiths—Truth will prevail over falsehood.
In friendship and solidarity,
Let me get this straight- you are accusing a Jew of spreading false accusations. But how can you be certain that you are not doing the same yourself? Your position is very weak: it is to expected that citizens of warring parties will suffer- and the first responsibility lies with the government of the suffering people to attend to their needs- which Hamas is obviously not doing. In fact it is credible (obvious???) that Hamas actively promotes the suffering of its people for political advantage (sick- but hard to deny).
So consider the mitzvah of rebuking one’s fellow Jew. I applaud the writer for calling you to task. I can’t locate the specific verse that proves that self righteousness is a sin- but it seems self evident- esp in Elul.
Is your fast is a statement or a posture? Is this the fast G-d wants. You feel good, but does anyone in Gaza (or Sderot) really gain from it?
Seth, with due respect, while I agree that Hamas is complicit in the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and that they are, in fact, a bunch of people for whom I have no love lost (having lived through a couple of suicide bombing waves in my 14 years in Israel, I came to know their more violent handiwork up close and personal), Israel remains the occupying power, and by both international law and sheer common sense, is responsible for the lives of the people it rules.
Israel controls — literally — every.single.thing. (and person) that goes in, or out, of the Gaza Strip. At one point not too long ago, the aid agencies who provide food to the hundreds of thousands of Gazans who don’t have enough food because their economy is in tatters (because of the blockade and decades of occupation) had to suspend food distribution — because they didn’t have enough plastic bags. Because Israel wouldn’t let them in. Israel was literally forbidding the import of pasta into the Strip earlier this year (I think that one’s been lifted, but I’m not sure).
Sure, Hamas is complicit. But Israel is the side with the tanks, the fighter jets, the international support, and the power to say “no, you may not have food.”
And we really should not be surprised that a people besieged rallies around the only leaders they have. This is what people do.
please know you have my full support in your efforts to bring some balance and responsibility to the israel-palestine discussions.
it is so unfortunate that criticism of israeli policies is so quickly converted into false claims of being anti-israel and anti-semitic. shame on those who try to shut down real discussion by such tactics.
as a Jew, i hold the israeli government to a higher standard precisely because israel is a jewish state. the current occupation is not justified. “remember the stranger, for we were once strangers in mitzrayam.” what has happened to the wonderful moral compass that is our tradition?
you have put yourself at significant risk for a moral cause. you are in my prayers.
Dear Rabbi Rosen,
All that has to happen to end the ‘blockade of Gaza’ is for Hamas to release Gilad Schalit. So simple, no?
No. Really not. The blockade began in 2006 when Hamas won a narrow victory in elections recognized by outside observers to have been free and fair. They were elected on an anti-corruption platform, and within 24 hours, polls were showing that about 75% of Palestinians were hoping the new government would negotiate with Israel. Only 1% said they wanted a theocracy imposed.
The blockade came because neither Israel nor the US nor the world community liked the results of the elections. As an American-Israeli, I don’t like Hamas either, but they were elected, and a blockade served (serves) as collective punishment for voting.
Gilad Shalit was taken in a cross-border action several months later, as he served, in uniform, at an army post. The attack came the day after Israel kidnapped two suspected Hamas members from their homes. Israel continues to hold many, many Palestinians taken in operations that are ethically dubious — even on military grounds — and no one has asked once about them. If we don’t like what happens to soldiers when they serve in war zones (which is what Israel/Palestine is, whether we like to admit it or not), then we need to end the war.
I want to see Gilad sent home. I wept the day he was taken, and I have wept since. But his government has failed him. They have had many chances to win his release, and failed each time.
Are you aware of the opinion piece written by Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan of Congregation Emanual in San Francisco? He wrote it earlier this summer in response to the flap about the Rachel Corrie movie screening at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. I was really struck by his citing of the Talmudic statement that the Temple was destroyed because of “sin’at chinam” — usually translated “baseless hatred.” (Maybe not such a good translation — how about senseless, ungrounded, untethered — I think of Yeat’s poem: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”).
You can read his piece at http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/39650/bitter-fallout-from-rachel-screening-showed-us-a-lot-about-ourselves/
I think what he wrote is powerful and an important concept for us to keep before us as we continue to see the powerful forces unleashed by our confrontation with what our Jewish homeland project has brought us to. The destruction of the Temples — both times — created huge crises for the Jewish people. How we handled them had huge implications for what happened to us, what we became, and if we survived as a people at all. We are at one of those turning points now.
Dear Rabbis Brant and Brian,
Thank you for adding a voice of sanity to this complex issue.
Your clarity of vision insipes us all.
Erev Rav Michael
In response to Seth, it seems to me that Rabbi Forman has not “rebuked” Brant and the other participants in the fast, but written things that are untrue about them in an effort to discredit–rather than refute–their arguments.
The question is not, at this point, whether the Israeli government is causing great suffering in Gaza. The questions at stake are whether that suffering is an acceptable part of the war between Hamas and Israel, whether it is likely to bring about a desirable outcome, whether it plays into the hands of Hamas, and whether it is a moral thing to do, no matter its results.
No one’s hands are clean here.
Palestinian forces–the PLO, the PFLP, Hamas, and others–have repeatedly shown themselves willing to murder innocent men, women, and children in order to draw attention to their cause and put pressure on Israel. They are not the only “liberation movement” to act this way, now or in the past; indeed, some Zionist groups did the same. Their actions are not self-evidently moral or justified, and deserve to be held up for debate.
The Israeli government, too, has repeatedly shown itself willing to cause innocent men, women, and children to suffer in order to defend the state and its borders, and not just in Gaza and the West Bank. (You’ll recall the exodus under fire of Lebanese from Southern Lebanon, a tactic used to put pressure on the Lebanese government and Hezbollah.) It is not the only government to act this way, nor does this make it a unique or pariah state. But its actions are not self-evidently moral or justified, either. They, too, can and should be debated and rebuked.
The challenge here is to treat this debate as an “argument for the sake of heaven,” one in which you don’t slander your opponent or his / her motivations, but actually contest the ideas at stake. This is, in fact, what Brant and his colleagues have done. I am sorry that Rabbi Forman has not risen to the challenge.
Martin Luther King wrote: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The deafing silence within the Jewish community about the tragic and utterly inhumane siege of Gaza has been broken by leaders of conscience who stand up to say — this is not right! This is not what Judiasm teaches us! This is not what our history teaches us!
Thank you to Rabbi Rosen, Rabbi Walt, and others of Ta’anit Tzedek: Jewish Fast for Gaza who have stood for humanity in the face of the most twisted rationales for the collective punishment of an entire people.
The charges against you: 1) are ludicrous and unfounded but more importantly 2) are intended to make you the issue rather than Israel’s policies towards the people of Gaza who are suffering every day.
Please keep up your incredibly important work!
I left a comment on the Jpost article criticizing this completely distorted demand for balance we always hear when someone tries to criticize Israel. I have no idea if it was an effective or well worded comment, but I felt it was important to add the notion that we can be very devoted to the notion of a Jewish homeland and still be highly critical of Israel. In fact, I think we can show our devotion through criticism.
The curious result of the delegation I went on to the West Bank last year was that it caused me to care more about Israel and especially Israelis than I ever had before. I remained devoted to the cause of human and political rights for Palestinians but I was struggling with how to express my new desire for the well being of my people within this context. You helped me tremendously in this regard, Rabbi Rosen, because you frame your work for peace and justice in the context of living the most beautiful and powerful values of our people.
Suffice it to say that I hear the Sderot narrative from my uninitiated friends enough, and it is practically all I hear within the Jewish community. I believe I am justified in claiming that this narrative receives the overwhelming majority of attention in the media. If we do not raise awareness about the other narrative, the man made humanitarian crisis happening in Gaza, and if we cannot engage in the debate about what can be done by all parties to avoid this (because to do so is supposedly anti-Israel), we are standing idly by as our neighbor’s blood is being spilled.
keep doing what you’re doing! The world needs to know Jews live for Justice.
I support you as a Jew.
We join in the chorus of outrage over Rabbi Forman’s hateful and inaccurate portrayal of the work of Rabbi Rosen and and the message of Ta’anit Tzedek. We personally believe that as American Jews we can most support Israel by working for peace and equality and that deeply held belief is in part what draws us to JRC — not because we assume each member shares our views, but because we know the congregation, under Rabbi Rosen’s leadership, is willing to engage in the difficult and complex conversations around Israel and other issues of importance to social justice minded Jews.
We are appalled by and condemn Rabbi Forman’s and other leaders who slander defenders of human rights simply because their opinions and actions differ from their own. As Jews and activists we will never all agree on what is best for Israel safety and security, however, we should at the least view each other as committed to working to find answers. As these High Holy Days approach we will be proud to once again have Rabbi Rosen on the bimah serving as the spiritual leader of our community.
I’m inspired by your courage to speak directly to those in our community who most need to hear your message. Thank you.
I lament that your compassionate understanding of the blockade and your criticism of some of the policies of the State of Israel have lead to such terrible attacks. I am devoted to the State of Israel but above all to that State embodying the best of Judaism — rachmones and tzedek. It breaks my heart to see the level of suffering in Gaza and it breaks my heart to see the losses and fears with which Israelis live. It is a complex enough situation that we should hear one another with respect and compassion. If we cannot what hope is there for peace? Keep up your courageous work. Such voices for justice will redeem Israel and Judaism.
Hilary Landau Krivchenia
I’ve been thinking for a couple of days now about your comment, Hilary, and it’s really clarified something for me.
Unlike you, I guess I don’t care about the State of Israel “embodying the best of Judaism — rachmones and tzedek.” To me, that’s s too much to ask of any nation-state. It strikes me as likely to end badly, just as asking a nation-state to embody Islamic or Christian values has so often ended badly. There are many competing values in all three religions, and when you back religious principles or religious identity with state power, those other, less pleasant values often come to the fore.
I want Jews to embody the best of Judaism. I want the State of Israel to secure the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of its citizens. As an American, I think that’s what governments are for. To me, in the end, the State of Israel ultimately derives its “right to exist” from the consent of the people it governs, just as every other nation-state does.
In the end, I don’t need the State to show rachmones, and as for tzedek, or at least not any more than any other nation. I want it to stop governing large numbers of people without their consent, and I want it not to pursue policies (in Gaza and elsewhere) that I think are wrong-headed and play into the hands of its enemies.
The more we ask the State to embody Jewish values, the more we allow it (and others) to assert that Judaism actually values what the State is up to. I’m not comfortable with that.
I just want to think you for the stand you have taken on Gaza. I sometimes feel alienated from my roots as a secular Jew. I associate being Jewish with caring about social justice and valuing peace and equality. I work with the Arab/Jewish Partnership and was one of the creators of the PBS series The New Americas that featured a Palestinian story. I have seen the Occupation and it’s oppression and the understand the humanitarian crises in Gaza.
I sent this letter to the editor of The Jerusalem Post (it was too long to fit in the talkback section!)
As Jewish clergy and as an Israeli, I was appalled at the charges of anti-semitism that Rabbi David Forman has made against American Jewish leaders.
His virulent, ad hominem attacks are a poor substitute for providing proof for his assertions.
World and Israeli human rights groups have amply documented the evils of Israel’s invasion of Gaza (for a list, go to FastforGaza.net). It is a great pity that Rabbi Forman, whose previous record includes leading a human rights organization, has turned away from the Israeli human rights community. Shamefully, he now seeks to intimidate American Jews too.
Rabbi Forman claims to have privileged status in this debate because he served in Gaza. During my own service in the IDF I was fortunate to participate in the Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza in 1994. This does not make me a military expert on Gaza; neither does it make Rabbi Forman so.
His assertions that Israel was the victim and not the attacker are belied by official, Israeli statistics and the eyewitness reports of Israeli soldiers.
I would be happy to debate the facts of the case with Rabbi Forman in a respectful manner. In the meantime, we will continue to call attention to Israel’s ongoing military siege of Gaza and the damage inflicted by Israel in Operation “Cast Lead.” As Jewish leaders we have a responsibility to speak out against the injustice being inflicted on the people of Gaza.
Cantor Michael Davis
Have read a number of your entries as of late.
On the whole, I don’t emphatically disagree with anything you write. I think it is overly simplistic and I would ask what your general objective/goal is in so writing, what truly motivates you. It seems more self-serving than I would have thought of you before.
I suppose I really do think that if you truly were committed to making change, you would do it on the ground, from Israel/Palestine. As someone who has hosted you and your family in my home, I do feel it necessary to respond to your tone–filled in my eyes with a disturbing lack of compassion for me and mine–living in Israel today and a rather surprising amount of arrogance. You say that one can criticize and still love Israel. But that is not what comes through in your words. You might understand the complexities of the political, sociological and religious reality here in the Mid East (despite the fact that you have spent relatively minimal time here, do not speak Hebrew/Arabic fluently), but that is also not conveyed thoroughly in your words. I would have expected that you take more responsibility for supplying to your readers the complex, truly complex details of life and survival here–on both sides. Ironically, your dramatic lack of actually taking seriously what the Palestinians say seems very paternalistic in my mind. You interpret their motives, you translate their rhetoric, you organize them to fit your reality rather than actually seeing their diverse responses and ideologies as they understand and explain them. It is clear that there very much are two distinct peoples here on this common land but I do respect them enough to listen to what they say and take seriously what is said.
It must be a great priveledge to pontificate from your home in Illinois, about all that we hold as truly significant to our daily lives and the lives of our children, whilst your own safety, the safety of your wife and children, the safety of your livlihood, etc., is secure.
I would think a little bit more humility couldn’t hurt.
Your resopnse to David Foreman was that he “angrily” attacked you and your partner in hs recent article. It was ironic in my mind. I thought he was very even keeled, responding from the heart, responding from his home. Given the specific source, (Rabbis for Human Rights) I would minimally expect from you a little of that “hesbon nefesh” you call for to check your own motivations, your tone and maybe you could also “learn” something about our humanity and your own.
We will see a lot more of this. During war, many good and thoughtful people feel that pacifists, anti-war activists, and human rights activists are effectively on the side of the enemy.
I just wanted to comment on 2 of the previous comments. First, I love what Eric Selinger wrote about the relationship of religion and state. The problem is, Israel proclaims itself to be both a democracy and a “Jewish State.” The existential question of what does it mean to be a Jewish State has never been answered or defined. Does it only mean that the majority of its citizens are Jewish? Or does it mean that it is a state guided by Jewish values and principles? If it means a state guided by Jewish values/principles, then which ones and who determines that?
In the end, I agree with Eric’s analysis. I have no doubt that despite the separation of church & state here in the U.S., that I live in a Christian country. Major Christian holidays are national holidays, and the majority of people here are Christian. Nevertheless, my rights, as the member of a religious minority, are protected to practice (or not practice) my faith as I see fit. There is a famous quote that the strength of a democracy is measured by how well the rights of its most vulnerable citizens are protected. If that’s true, and I believe it is, Israel has a long way to go to create a strong democracy. I join Rabbi Rosen in continuing to advocate for Palestinian human rights, first and foremost because it is the right, the just, and the “Jewish” thing to do. I also do it for Israel, because I believe it is the only way to achieve peace, security, and prosperity for ALL of its people.
In response to Cindy, I am an American Israeli, who lived in Israel for 14 years. My daughter and her family are still there. I am familiar with the complaint that it’s easy for Americans living in the USA to be high and mighty about Israel, sitting in the luxury of their homes. Sad to say, I was also guilty of this. Throughout my years in Israel I was pretty ignorant of the Palestinian plight. When my son was called to serve in the war in Lebanon in 1982, I could have cared less about the Arabs, in or out of Israel. The 3 weeks that passed when I didn’t hear a word from him remain a nightmare to this day. Fortunately, he survived. And, also fortunately, over the years I’ve come to have a deeper, more compassionate view of the two sides of the Palestinian/Israeli struggle. In my years in Israel, I felt that raising my children there was actually safer than my home town. Terrorist dangers felt more containable than the random rapes and murders so rampant in the city. The point I am making is that we choose where we want to live, and we all do it for various reasons. That doesn’t make us martyrs. And it doesn’t mean we forfeit our rights to our opinions. And it certainly doesn’t mean we don’t love our country if we vigorously disagree with its government. In America we went through 8 years of being called unpatriotic if we didn’t agree with the war in Iraq. That this is happening among our Jewish brethren in regard to Israel is agonizing.
I was rather stunned by your response to the rabbis’ blog, and your expressed approval of Rabbi Forman’s vitriolic attack on them. Perhaps you were responding to more than this one blog, but that you chose to express your outrage over this one really confused me. I remain an Israeli, I do speak fluent Hebrew, and I have educated myself about what goes on between the two sides. What is so enraging about rabbis fasting in compassion for Arab suffering? Do we really need a fast for Israelis to demonstrate our loyalty? Are we in Israel lacking in food, provisions, work, freedom?
The accusatory tone of your comment resonated with anger at Brant for not living in Israel. There is so much anger and hate in this world. How do we change that if we can’t even have civil discourse with our friends?
Dear Rabbi Rosen,
I just wanted you to know how moved I and other Palestinians have been by your speaking out to end the siege of Gaza.
Thank you for what you are doing.
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