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Jewish Journal

Shame

by Dr. Michael Berenbaum

April 21, 2010 | 2:47 pm

As a Jew, a Zionist and a rabbi I feel shamed by the efforts of South African Zionist Federation Chairman Avrom Krengel and his fellow travelers to protest the attendance of Richard Goldstone at his grandson’s Bar-Mitzvah.

Synagogue services are no place for demonstrations. Every Jew should be welcome to pray and embarrassing a man or preventing his attendance at the Bar-Mitzvah of his grandson is certainly not the best way to make friends and influence people. It is also counterproductive to Israel’s cause.

I am perplexed by the Rabbi of the Congregation who has been negotiating on behalf of the family. Entry to a South African synagogue is tightly restricted for security reasons. There is usually one entrance for the few who walk even to an Orthodox synagogue, and one guarded entrance for cars. Under those circumstances any organization should be able to determine who enters its premises. Any rabbi worth his salt should be able to maintain control over his congregants and synagogue services and find a creative and constructive way to inviting engagement with the issues at hand. Disturbing a Bar-Mitzvah is shameful.

If Avrom Krengel and his followers feel so strongly about the Goldstone Report, let them challenge him to a public debate or let the rabbi convene a forum within the synagogue in which a heated exchange of ideas can be had and the issues at hand aired. I would warn Mr. Krengel that I attended one such debate at Brandeis University between Justice Goldstone and Ambassador Dore Gold, Israel’s well respected former Ambassador to the United Nations and frankly any objective observer of the event came away with the feeling that Gold was not equal to Goldstone, who more than held his own in the debate.

If I were the rabbi, I would invite Israeli ethicist Professor Moshe Halbertal, who advised the IDF on its Code of Conduct and who is well versed in International Law and Jewish and secular military ethics for a conversation with Goldstone. Halbertal offered the most principled and the most reasoned ethical dissent from the Goldstone Report and he did so in a manner than invited discussion. He engaged the issues and did not resort to name calling.  I might also invite Professor Michael Waltzer of Princeton’s Institute of Advance Studies, the leading American philosophical authority on just wars and just behavior during war to engage the issues raised by Israel’s incursion into Gaza as a response to repeated attacks on its citizens. Any creative rabbi should be able to turn the tide of conversation and change a “street brawl” into what the Talmud has called a “dispute for the sake of heaven,” in which both sides are sustained. Elevate the discussion; engage the issues, discuss the clash of values and of ethical norms and the unique ethical burden that the tactics of Hamas who shelter themselves among the civilian population and who use Mosques and hospitals as shields, impose on the.

And if I were the family, I would tell the synagogue and the community to go to hell, invite my guests to my home or to a hotel and create a holy congregation in temporary space, which would be consecrated by the occasion.

This efforts of the South African Federation diminishes the cause of Zionism and demeans the values of Judaism.

One must also wonder about Israel’s strategy of non-cooperation with the Goldstone investigation, another example of its recent choices of self-isolation. Was the tactic wise? Goldstone is a judge and as such one who considers the evidence put before him. Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone inquiry and refused to present evidence. So Goldstone had to deal with the material before him, the testimony offered him and the witnesses willing to be questioned. Since the Report, Israel has investigated some of the accusations against made it, sustained some charges and disputed others. It has vigorously denied the most awful of Goldstone’s charges that Israel deliberately targets Palestinian civilians. The United States has blunted many of the efforts to gain an advantage in the delegitimization campaign against Israel; the Zionist Federation’s efforts have only brought the Goldstone Report to the forefront again. Save us from such brilliance.

UPDATE: Late last week a compromise was announced. Goldstone would attend the Bar-Mitzvah, a private meeting would be set up between the Zionist Federation leaders and the Judge and the chief rabbi issued a blistering condemnation of the Goldstone Report. Apparently cooler heads prevailed. Bravo.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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A blog by Dr. Michael Berenbaum.

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