Faced with the horrendous crimes of an ultra-orthodox Jew stabbing participants in a gay pride demonstration in Israel, and the firebombing of Palestinian homes and resulting burning to death of an 18 month old Palestinian baby while others in the family are in critical condition and may not survive, many Israelis and American Jews denounced these horrendous acts. Netanyahu and his government ordered a few Israeli settlers arrested in “administrative detention,” the polite word to describe the practice which till now has been used against thousands of Palestinian civilians–arrest without formal charges, often held in detention for months or more without trial, and in the case of Palestinians often tortured. The Israeli settlers arrested did not face what most Palestinians “suspected” of terrorist acts usually suffer: the homes of the family of the suspect are immediately blown up by the occupying Israeli Army in the West Bank. That no such punishment was immediately meted out to the Israeli settler suspects was not surprising, but just another manifestation of the racist treatment Palestinians in the Occupied territory face (though of course we don’t support this tactic against settlers or Palestinians). As many Israeli human rights and peace advocates point out, the firebombing of Palestinian homes is just one of many variants of violence visited upon Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank, the goal being to make life so difficult that Palestinians will eventually be “ethnically cleansed” and Israel can make the West Bank a fully Jewish-majority part of Israel. I should hasten to add that most West Bank settlers do not participate in acts of violence, though they overwhelmingly vote for extremist right-wing political parties whose policies are racist and whose goals are not fundamentally dissimilar to those of their violent West Bank settler neighbors.
For us at Tikkun, all this has left us stunned, saddened, repenting for these horrific crimes on the part of our people, and all the more determined to insist on the need to end the Occupation and create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state, while purging our own peple of the hatred and racism that too many Israelis and their American Jewish allies have been willing to ignore, apologize for, or deny. On the other hand, the attack on homosexuals, equally outrageous and horrendous, does not flow from the policies of the State of Israel, which have been friendly to gays and lesbians in the past decade, but rather from the homophobic perspective of the ultra-orthodox community. Until those attitudes are purged from the orthodox world, gays and lesbians will face oppressive treatment in those communities. As I argued in my book Jewish Renewal, the anti-gay texts in the Torah can be reinterpreted in the same spirit that led the rabbis to redefine all the commands for animal sacrifices to be understood as really commands to pray (avodah zeh hu teffillah). Where there is a communal will there is a Hallakhic way, so just as Jewish religious law has evolved on many other issues, so it can follow the rulings of Conservative Movement in Judaism and make changes in their understanding of Torah on this issue–if the will to stamp out homophobia prevails, as it should.
Below we publish some responses to these events. We will be repenting for these acts at our High Holiday services at Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-Without-Walls in Berkeley (click here for more information) and we urge you if you are Jewish to speak to your local rabbis and ask them to explicitly include these issues in the list of “sins” being articulated during the “Al Cheyt” prayers for the High Holidays. The list of “sins” we’ve developed will be online at www.tikkun.org within the next week, plenty of time to approach local synagogues to ask them to include these in their services. If there is no synagogue in your area willing to do that, you are invited to come to Berkeley, Ca. to pray with me! Of course, non-Jews are also welcome to register for and attend these services (and we will be focusing also on the destructive realities of American racism, the growing insensitivity to the needs of the poor and the homeless, and the environmental crisis–issues that are not just for Jews to repent but for everyone!). Please do read the articles below.
Rabbi Michael Lerner
P.S. Please also read two apologies from me at the very bottom of this communication.
Press releases from B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, published 31 Jul 2015
B’Tselem: A burned infant was only a matter of time in view of policy to not enforce law on violent settlers
The killing of a one and a half year old infant, ‘Ali Sa’ed Dawabshe, and the serious injury of his mother Riham, his father Sa’ed and his toddler brother ‘Ahmed, after a suspected arson attack by Israeli civilians burned their home, was only a matter of time. This, due to the authorities’ policy to avoid enforcing the law on Israelis who harm Palestinians and their property. This policy creates impunity for hate crimes, and encourages assailants to continue, leading to this morning’s horrific result.
According to B’Tselem statistics, in the past three years since August 2012, Israeli civilians set fire to nine Palestinian homes in the West Bank. Additionally, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Palestinian taxi, severely burning the family on board. No one was charged in any of these cases. The ISA suspects two were related to the perpetrators of June’s arson attack on the Church of the Loaves and Fishes, but it is doubtful these cases would have been solved independently of the effort put into the church arson inside Israel.
In recent years, Israeli civilians set fire to dozens of Palestinian homes, mosques, businesses, agricultural land and vehicles in the West Bank. The vast majority of these cases were never solved, and in many of them the Israeli Police did not even bother take elementary investigative actions.
The fact that the Samaria and Judea (SHAI) Police and other law enforcement bodies have failed to solve these attacks isn’t fate. Rather, it is the result of a policy expressed throughout all levels of the law enforcement system, in particular the political echelons, up to and including the Prime Minister. In light of this, official condemnations of this attack are empty rhetoric as long as politicians continue their policy of avoiding enforcement of the law on Israelis who harm Palestinians, and do not deal with the public climate and the incitement which serve is backdrop to these acts.
In light of this, the clock is ticking in the countdown to the next arson attack, and the one after.
Administrative detention is an unacceptable measure that diverts attention from authorities’ policy to avoid protecting Palestinians from settler violence
Israel’s administrative detention of extreme right-wing activist Mordechai Mayer and planned administrative detention of two other such activists, reportedly authorized by the Attorney General, is unacceptable. Recent calls to amend the law on this matter and use draconian measures such as administrative detention and illegal interrogation methods convey the impression that Israel’s law enforcement system indeed wishes to prevent settlers from harming Palestinians. However, past experience shows that these steps are meant primarily to create a false show of firm action in order to decrease public criticism, in this case concerning the killing of Palestinian baby ‘Ali Dawabsheh by arson in the West Bank village of Duma.
A statement from Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights leader: Rabbi Arik Aschermann
Most of you know that RHR has been assisting in handling the situation in Duma –the site of the horrific arson attackon Fridaywhich killed a toddler and critically injured his family– since our Palestinian field worker, Zakaria Sadah got the first call at2:15 amon Fridaymorning, was one of the first on the scene, and helped coordinate the helicopter evacuation of the family to Israeli hospitals. Just a week and a half ago I made a Tisha B’Av pilgrimage between sites of recent or potential destruction, knowing that Tisha B’Av finishes on a note of optimism. However, yesterday (Sunday) was an even more dismal pilgrimage for myself and additional RHR rabbis:
SORROW PUNCTUATED BY SORROW
Rabbi Arik Ascherman
I had already been shocked to the depths of my soul seeing the pictureson Friday. But, when you arrive at the burnt houses in Duma, the smell hits you. You feel and hear a family’s world turned to coal crunching beneath your feet. Everything seems calm in Duma. The family tells us the story matter of factly without tears or raising their voices in anger. Yet, we know that unfathomable pain and anger are seething just beneath the surface. And I know that I cannot wear my kippa, and we cannot travel around without escort. Is this what we returned to Zion for? In addition to Zakaria, I am accompanied by Rabbis Nava Hefetz and Sivan Malkin-Maas.
From Duma, we continue to Mreyer, whereon SaturdayIsraelis tried to invade. They were forced to flee by the villagers, and an army hummer picked them up. Shortly after, a fire broke out on the village’s agricultural lands. I have always travelled cautiously but freely in Mreyer. Today I was told that it would not be safe to travel unaccompanied. The anger was too great. Neither have the supporters of the settlers calmed down after having extracted a price of blood and destruction. In this region, unquenchable anger is pitted against unquenchable anger – for all know that THEY are the victims. This does not mean that all is symmetrical or balanced. There is a people with all the power in their hands, including the power to determine the fate of another people. But it all reminds me of Yehuda Amichai’s poem, “From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring…”
On the way to Soroka hospital we hear the bitter tidings that Shira Banki, fighting for her life since being stabbed at Jerusalem’s Gay Pride parade, will see no more flowers in this world.
- Shira Banki z”l
In the Soroka intensive care waiting room we meet with the family. I am glad to see my friend Sahde Ibn Bari there, whom I know from the struggles of the Negev Bedouin community, and who will be my lawyer when I go to trial onNovember 10thfor my arrest in El-Araqib. I know the family will be taken care of. There wasn’t much we could say to each other. I offered Mi Sh’Berakhprayers for Saed, Riham and Ahmed. Instead of “amen” after each Mi Sh’Berakh, the family answered “Allah Kareem.” Let’s all pray for them.
With me were Rabbis Yehiel Grenimann, Anita Steiner, Mordechai Goldberg, Yonatan Saidoff and Donna Kirschenbaum.
- Rabbi Mordechai Goldberg, Attorney Ibn Bari & I with the Dawabshe family in the Soroka Hospital, where Saed is in intensive care.
Finally, we joined a Bedouin community vigil outside the hospital. We hadn’t known that it would be taking place, and the police didn’t quite know what to do with the Jews that had suddenly arrived. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with some of the words spoken and chanted, such as that all our government ministers are war criminals.
When I spoke, I noted that all of our leaders had condemned this act, but that they had created a “golem sh’kam al yotzro” (A Frankenstein’s monster that had turned on its creator).I prayed for a world in which no people rules over another, and in which we all honor God’s Image in every human being.Again, I recalled Yehuda Amichai….
The following is a moving piece by Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah:
Our hearts are breaking. Once again, we see that sinat hinam (baseless hatred) did not end with the destruction of the Second Temple. In the last two days, two terror attacks – one in Jerusalem, one in the West Bank village of Duma – have made it painfully clear that we still have much work to do to counter murderous hatred within the Jewish community, our community.
Yesterday, the same man who attacked Jerusalem Pride marchers in 2005 again attempted to kill people marching for LGBT equality, resulting in serious injuries to six young people. T’ruah’s Senior Organizer Marisa James, who lived for many years in Jerusalem, wrote her reflections about the attack here.
Early this morning, extremist Jewish settlers committed a “price tag” (“tag mechir”) attack in the northern West Bank. They burned the homes of two Palestinian families, resulting in the murder of an 18-month-old baby, Ali Saad Daobasa. The attack seriously wounded his parents and four-year-old brother, and destroyed their home.
The words “revenge” and “long live the Messiah” were spray-painted in Hebrew on the side of their home.
In T’ruah’s statement this morning, we wrote:
We have already heard condemnations of this attack from Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli Defense Forces, Knesset members from across the political spectrum, and even Dani Dayan, head of the settler Yesha Council. These condemnations cast the perpetrators as independent actors, who do not represent Israel or the Jewish people. But such condemnations mean little without action to change the systems that make attacks such as these far too routine.
The attackers may be “bad weeds” but they grow from a poisonous context that is funded and tolerated by the State–through its military, its parliament, and even its official rabbinate.
Just as we do not dismiss Palestinian terrorists as “bad apples,” we cannot ignore the systems that have produced these perpetrators. These include first and foremost the occupation, which trivializes Palestinian lives and destroys Israel’s soul; the privileging of the demands of settlers over both Palestinians and other Israelis; an educational system that teaches only one side of the story; rabbis and communal leaders who preach hate; settlements and yeshivot that cultivate people who feel empowered and entitled to carry out horrific crimes; and different legal systems for Palestinians and Israelis, within which perpetrators of price tag attacks are rarely arrested and even more rarely convicted.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort after the pain of Tisha b’Av. As we read Isaiah’s promise that “The Presence of the Lord shall appear; And all flesh, as one, shall behold,” we struggle with the diminishment of the divine presence in Israel, and with the continued reality that “all flesh” is not treated equally, but that Israelis and Palestinians live according to two different systems of law.
Read T’ruah’s full statement here on our website.
Here are four ways you can respond to these horrors this Shabbat:
- Recite this prayer for Israel, written by T’ruah rabbinic chaver and past board member Rabbi Aryeh Cohen.
- Recite this El malei rachamim/prayer for the deceased in memory of Ali Saad Daobasa.
- Remember in yourmi sheberachthe people injured in yesterday’s terror attack at the Pride parade (their names have not yet been released), as well as the injured members of Ali’s family: Saad, Reham, and Ahmed Daobasa.
- Make a commitment to stop the hate. Using the hashtag#theworkofjustice, make a commitment on Twitter or Facebook (or tell another person in real life) to tell stories about the impact of the occupation and of religious fanatacism, to advocate for just policies in Israel, and to shut down hateful language when you hear it in your community. Tweet, Facebook or tell someone what you personally will do.
With prayers for a Shabbat of comfort,
Rabbi Jill Jacobs
Executive Director, T’ruah
p.s. I also wanted to share some beautiful Torah from T’ruah chaver Rabbi Rob Scheinberg, who writes, “The Talmud interprets a verse from this week’s Torah portion of Va’ethanan – a well-known verse that is recited every time the Torah is lifted: ‘Ve-zot ha-torah asher sam moshe lifnei b’nei yisrael.’ “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught: what is the meaning of the verse, ‘This is the Torah that Moses placed [before the people of Israel]’? [The Hebrew word ‘sam,’ meaning ‘placed,’ can also mean ‘drug.’] For one who has merit, the Torah becomes a drug that sustains life. For one who does not have merit, the Torah becomes a drug that brings death.'” (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yoma 72b) The rabbis knew that a powerful drug can bring healing when used as directed, but that same drug can wreak terrible havoc on someone’s life and even kill when used irresponsibly. The Torah is such a powerful drug. The same Torah that most of us try to use as a positive force in the world is wielded by others as an instrument of violence, repression, and even murder. ”
Here’s a poem that Rabbi Mike Rothbaum wrote in response to the killing of the Palestinian child burned to death by Israeli West Bank settlers:
In memory of Ali Saad Dawabsha, z”l
Like something left behind
Toy worn and loved
Tears and sweat
In the memory of the fabric
Supposed to be here
In your icy panic
Who could you call
To find it
Shabbat candles are
Reaching to heaven
In petition supplication the
Wax turning to warmth
A portal to heaven
A mother’s prayer that
But a house is not for burning
Not two not one
Not one single house
Nor a mother nor
On sweaty cobblestones
In Kiev and Minsk and Lviv
Hoofbeat heartstop torches
Came for Jewish houses
Arms raised reaching to heaven then too
But rising from Hell
And now the torches
Of the wicked
Are raised by
Cursed is the match
Ali Saad Dawabsha
The elevated one
A demented Aliya
Embered arms rising to heaven
On vultures’ wings
On the burnt cinders of
To be a free people
But not a people free
Of love of humanity
Of memory of
Hushed panting in stifled closets
When the torches came.
That nightmare was not
Be our dream.
Something must have been
The soul of a people
Abandoned on an
Swept up at
End of day
Under the bed
Of a wailing child
Waiting to be
Rabbi Michael Rothbaum is a Jewish educator, speaker, author, and social justice advocate. He and his husband, Yiddish singer Anthony Russell, live in Oakland.
Two apologies from Rabbi Lerner
The minor apology is that the mailing of the Summer issue ofTikkunwas delayed by something going wrong at the printers. That issue should have been mailed in mid-July and instead is coming sometime in mid-August. So sorry. As you probably know, the print issue of the magazine is only available to subscribers and members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and is not the same as the articles you find on line at tikkun.org or the Tikkun Daily blog. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do so now at that website.
The second apology is for the drawing that accompanies my editorial “War With Iran: The Disastrous Aim of Israel and the Republicans” in which I critique the Netanyahu forces in Israel and in the American Jewish community who are opposing the nuclear deal with Iran. The drawing depicts the US and Iran negotiating while under the platform on which the negotiators sit a figure representing Congress is sawing away and likely to soon succeed in defeating the attempt to find a peaceful way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. All fine. But then in the hands of that figure representing Congress is a sack of money with a Jewish star on it. I can’t remember seeing that when I was shown a much smaller version of this drawing and approved it, but when I saw it next to my editorial I was shocked and deeply upset.
The implication of that drawing is that somehow it is Jewish money that is bribing the Congress to oppose the deal, and a little figure on the side looking like a duck says “The best Congress that money can buy” which in the context of the money bag with a Jewish star seems to be saying that Jewish money is behind the whole problem. To me, this is reviving an ancient and distorted anti-Semitic trope that I detest: that Jews have all the money and that they use it for nefarious purposes.
In this very same issue of Tikkun, placed in one of the most highly visible places (the inside front cover) I wrote a statement saying “Anti-Semitism is Always Wrong” and showing why criticism of Israeli policies and policies of right-wing American Jews are appropriate, but it is inappropriate to blame the entire Jewish people for these ethical errors, and doing so is racist and unacceptable. So imagine my upset when I saw this drawing–it evokes for me the Nazi propaganda against Jews in the past.
To set the facts straight: yes, AIPAC has effectively energized a series of other organizations and large donors to donate money to defeat candidates that have been labeled “anti-Israel.” For all I know, that might have been a factor in the political calculations that led New York’s Jewish U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer to announce his opposition to the nuclear deal, though I believe Schumer to be a gut-level militarist hawk even if he had not had political calculations to make. But the overwhelming political and financial support for candidates who give blind support to right-wing Israeli policies comes from the Christian Zionists and other right-wing Christians, not from Jews (there are an estimated 30 million Christian Zionists, and they play an important role in shaping the dynamics of the Republican Party and the Christian Right). It is these forces that help elect a right-wing-dominated Congress, not Jewish voters who mostly vote for candidates who support liberal measures to help the poor, oppose racism, and fight for human rights and civil liberties (and voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the 2014 elections).There are several Jewish organizations and groups of rabbis supporting the nuclear deal with Iran, even though it is also true that many Jews and Jewish organizations are working against it–but the drawing in question seems to suggest that it is not just some Jews but Jews as a whole who are supporting the militarist position of Netanyahu and the militarist wings of both major US political parties, and that is simply a distortion.
As you know, we at Tikkun raised money to buy a full page ad in the NY Times in which we proudly spoke on behalf of many American Jews and are non-Jewish allies in saying “No, Mr. Netanyahu, you do not speak for American Jews–and no, we don’t support the path you suggest which would lead to a war with Iran.” So I’m deeply sorry that I didn’t catch this part of the drawing earlier and insist that the star of David on the money bag be eliminated. I do not suggest that the artist who drew the picture intended any anti-Semitic reference there–but as a Jew I am particularly sensitive to the way those kinds of hateful messages have been communicated in art as well as in speech, and would have eliminated that element from the drawing had I noticed it. Sorry!