There is a well-known story about the Israeli diplomat who was giving a news conference. A reporter shouts to him, “Mr. Ambassador-in a word, how are things”. “In a word?” he responds, “Good!” Another reporter says to him, “Can you give us a bit more? — How about two words?” “In two words”, he says, “Well in two words — not good!”
As we all know by now, this has been a “not good” couple of weeks for the world. First there was the downing of a Russian plane in the Sinai, killing all 224 people aboard. Confirmed as a terrorist act, ISIS later claimed “credit” for the bombing. Then a week ago today Islamic terrorists attacked multiple sites in Paris, claiming as of today 130 lives. ISIS also claimed responsibility for this series of attacks in the City of Lights. Israel has been dealing with its own spate of terrorist attacks in recent months. In the past six weeks, 19 people have been killed and 172 wounded — 20 of them seriously.
On the face of it this terror campaign appears to be spontaneous, but behind this violence there is incitement by the Palestinian leadership. Following the attempted assassination of a radical rabbi who advocated Jewish governance of the Mount, Israel briefly closed access to the site. Mahmood Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, called this action a “declaration of war”. The spreading of false rumors by Palestinian government officials and the Palestinian media charging that Israel plans to change the status quo at the Temple Mount have inflamed people. Knife wielding murderers are praised as “heroes” by Palestinian authorities and Israelis are blamed for the violence.
Ironically, just this week France introduced a draft text to the United Nations proposing the stationing of international observers on the Temple Mount “to identify possible violations of the status quo”. Apparently, despite Israeli assurances to the contrary, the French Government believes the Palestinian claims that the Israeli government has in fact changed the status quo, or intends to do so. Here we have a case of rewarding the inciters and blaming the victims.
In July of 2014, with the war with Gaza raging, Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights sent out a tweet. In doing so, he too confused the victims with the perpetrators. He tweeted, “Germans rally against anti-Semitism that flared in Europe in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza war.’” In an article in the Atlantic Magazine Jeffery Goldberg took issue with that statement. “Anti-Semitism in Europe did not flare ‘in response to Israel’s conduct in Gaza’ or anywhere else…Jews were victims of hate crimes in Europe before the latest round of fighting in the Middle East. The massacre of Jewish children at a school in Toulouse, France and the fatal attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels are two examples…Anti-Semitic violence and invective are not responses to events in the Middle East…This is for the simple reason that Jews do not cause anti-Semitism. It is a universal and immutable rule that targets of prejudice are not the cause of prejudice…Black people do not cause racism, nor gay people homophobia…it is a manifestation of irrational hatred. Its proponents justify their anti-Semitism by pointing to the behavior of their targets, but ,” concludes Golberg, “This does not mean that major figures in the world of human rights advocacy should accept these pathetic excuses as legitimate.”
David Harris of the American Jewish Committee writes that the terror against France and against Israel has at least one thing in common. The terrorists, who attacked Paris last week, and last January, detest Western values – and Paris — with its museums, restaurants, and rich cultural and intellectual life — is a symbol of that. It is the same reason Al Qaida chose the World Trade Center to attack twice – once in 1994 and once in 2001. The Twin Towers at the World Trade Center were symbols of the power and wealth of the United States. ISIS detests Western democracy, with its openness, its tolerance, its freedom and its secularism. With Israel it is much the same. At its root, Radical Islam does not hate Israel because of how Israelis treat the Palestinians – they hate Israel because Israel exists. They are not interested in sharing the land –they are interested in ruling the land. Just as Paris is a symbol of Western civilization, so is Israel. It is intolerable for Radical Islam to see an outpost of Western civilization in the Middle East.
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg points to this week’s Torah portion as an example of how victims often get blamed. He notes that although Jacob behaves honestly with his Uncle Lavan, Lavan repeatedly cheats and deceives him. Jacob has worked seven years for Lavan in order to marry Rachel, yet Lavan substitutes the older daughter Leah for her on the wedding night. When Jacob complains, Lavan tells him that the custom of the land is to marry the older off before the younger. Like Lavan could not have told him this up front? As Rabbi Wohlberg writes, “And yet, no less than three times, Lavan accuses Yaakov of theft: “You have stolen my heart, you have stolen from me and you have stolen my goods.” Lavan tells Yaakov, “You have taken my daughters captive, you have denied my children and grandchildren and you have deprived me of the opportunity to send you off with gladness and mirth.” Of course, Yaakov had never done any of this. It was Lavan who had done all this to Yaakov. It was Lavan who had switched Rochail for Leah … it was Lavan who deprived Yaakov of his fair wages … it was Lavan who lied, cheated and swindled Yaakov. But it was Lavan who managed to blame it all on the victim.”
These are scary and confusing times, indeed. We must be clear in our thinking and resolute in our actions. We must remember that the thousands and thousands of Syrian refugees are not the perpetrators of violence; they are the victims of violence. French involvement in the war against ISIS does not make them the perpetrators of violence. They are part of a force fighting against those who want to take hard won freedoms away. We must continue to affirm and insist upon and support Israel’s right to exist as a state. Israel is not perpetrating a wrong on the Palestinians by being there. Israel is exercising a right to return as a free people to the ancestral lands of the Jewish people. In turn, it is Israel and her people that are being victimized by a terror campaign. Israel must be allowed defend herself vigorously against those who seek to destroy her. No less than the future of the Jewish people depends on that.