On July 21, 2014, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a politically progressive Jewish religious leader from Berkeley, California, wrote on Huffington Post, "I'm done apologizing for Israel." In the blog he defended Israel's "defensive responses to Hamas" and defends his right to be a Zionist and a supporter of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. He also condemned what he described as anti-Semitism he saw at pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Boston, Los Angeles, Antwerp, Belgium, and Paris. At last count his blog received over 57,000 "Likes," 9,400 "Shares," over a thousand "Tweets," 772 "emails," and 388 comments; clearly he his a broad following. As a secular American Jew who also identifies as a progressive and neither a Zionist nor an anti-Semite, this is my response to Rabbi Creditor.
On Thursday July 24, 2014 sixteen people were killed in explosions at the United Nations school at Beit Hanoun in Gaza. Israel claims it is not responsible for the bombing and accuses Hamas. Hamas denies the accusations and blames Israel for the attack and deaths. People in the United Nations school where Palestinians had sought safe haven from the Israeli air assault on Gaza reported from three to five blasts and accused Israel of the shelling. The United Nations could not confirm the source of the blasts but one thing is clear. On Monday, the Israeli military warned that the school should be evacuated and the area was a possible target for Israeli bombing. Unfortunately, the people had nowhere to go. Whether Israel set off the explosions or not, there is no excuse for military action in the area of the school.
While Americans including Creditor tend to defend or apologize for Israeli actions, the rest of the world condemns them. The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to authorize a commission of inquiry into alleged war crimes in Gaza. The United States was the only country to vote "no." A CNN/ORC International poll found that a majority of Americans, almost 60%, believe that Israel's military actions in Gaza are justified. According to a recent Pew Research poll, over 50% percent of Americans sympathize with Israel, while fewer than 15% sympathize with the Palestinians. However, a 2013 Pew survey found attitudes nearly reversed in Europe. In Great Britain, almost half of the people polled had an unfavorable view of Israel and in Germany and France it was over sixty percent. An Israel spokesperson dismissed this as European anti-Semitism, but that charge can no longer be used to shield Israeli policy from public scrutiny.
On July 24, 2104, I heard a radio report by former United States Major Mike Lyons, a CBS News Military Analyst. Lyons, analyzing events in Gaza from a military perspective without siding with either of the combatants, made three important points. He described Israeli military policy as Machiavellian, willing to take short-term criticism and casualties for long-term gain. He believed it would take Israeli forces about another week to achieve their goal, crippling the ability of Hamas and Palestinian forces in Gaza for a decade. The third point was even more telling. He argued that this was a well-planned operation. Israel was prepared for the attack on Gaza, it was not a sudden response to Palestinian actions. Israel knew where Palestinian tunnels were located and munitions were hidden and went into Gaza to destroy them.
Roger Cohen, writing in The New York Times, accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of pursuing a "status-quo strategy that keeps Palestinians divided and Israel dominant." "The price of this strategy,' according to Cohen, who is also not anti-Semitic, "is periodic violence. This is the third Gaza mini-war in six years." Cohen also made the point that Netanyahu rose to power partly by denouncing peace efforts in the past and in the last month has kept referring to Palestine territory on the west bank of the Jordan River as Judea and Samaria, terms used by settlers to justify Israeli annexation of Palestinian land. If Cohen and Lyons are correct, and I think they are, Israel bears the lion's share of the blame for this latest round of fighting. They prepared for it and they provoked it.
Maybe instead of apologizing Rabbi Menachem Creditor needs to be evaluating and criticizing Isreali action, which he confesses that sometimes he does. That other people do very bad things does not justify the behavior of Israel. That the survival of Israel is a legitimate end does not justify illegitimate means. You become what you do.
I teach beginning teachers that the only one in the room they can control is themselves and they are responsible for what they do in the classroom. The same goes for countries. The only country Israel can control is itself and it is responsible for its actions that have been horrific.
Israel does not desire peace or a Palestinian state. For Israel negotiations are a stalling tactic to maintain an unjust status quo. None of the things Creditor cites are excuses for bombing cities and killing civilians. What does he want Hamas fighters to do; stand in the street so they can be shot down? Jewish fighters in the Warsaw ghetto stayed in the buildings and fought block by block just as Hamas is doing. We should never forget.