On June 1, as Los Angeles’ Jewish leaders absorbed the news from Israel, The Journal asked for their reactions as well as their thoughts on how the Jewish State might be affected by the recent events.
Rabbi Harold Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom
Calling the incident a “contrivance to embarrass the Jewish state,” Schulweis expressed his belief that this is yet another historic example of Israel being used as a scapegoat, of Jews being targeted with excessive levels of hate.
Nevertheless, he says, “All in all, I think it was a strategic error to be sucker punched, and they were. ... I had hoped for greater wisdom, greater statesmanship on the part of Israel.”
He worries the incident will intensify the extreme left of the political spectrum. “I think what we can do is try to prevent and overcome the natural polarization within us, the divisiveness, the ‘I told you so’ on the one hand and the despair on the other. ... I think it requires a great deal of internal education.”
Jay Sanderson, President, Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
“We regret the loss of human life as a result of this morning’s incident and mourn for all of the victims. However, it is critical that our community and the world know the facts regarding the circumstances and not jump to the incorrect conclusion that Israel was the aggressor. IDF personnel were acting in self-defense and we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself and its people.”
Federation included a summary of the events in a press release.
“No country would allow illegal entry of any vessel into their waters without a security check,” Sanderson said. “Meanwhile, it appears that the confrontation by the activists was pre-meditated based upon their weapons and by repeatedly ignoring orders of the Israeli Navy.”
Rabbi John Rosove, national vice president of ARZA and the Southwest regional president of ARZA (Pacific Southwest States), Temple Israel of Hollywood
Israel was within its rights to maintain the blockade and had stated its willingness to let the aid through once it had been cleared by security in Ashdod, Rosove said, adding, “Israel is being held to a triple standard by the international community.”
He has been sending information to his congregants to make sure they are better informed.
“The reaction of the knee-jerk people who want to just slam Israel before they understand the situation is unfortunate, and it is counterproductive all around.”
Incidents like this reinforce the need for a comprehensive resolution, he said.
“This is just one more reason why face-to-face negotiations for a final settlement on a two-state solution is critically important, and Israel should do everything it can to enter face-to-face negotiations with the Palestinians.”
Elissa Barrett, executive director, Progressive Jewish Alliance
“Tensions are high, the situation is complex, and we need to affirm the relationships we have with each other in the Jewish community and between Jews and Muslims. [Wednesday] night, we are graduating our third class of NewGround fellows [PJA’s partnership with the Muslim Public Affairs Council]. Somebody asked me, ‘Are you going forward with the NewGround graduations?’ I said, ‘Yes. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we hold this graduation. That we celebrate a different model for young people to build a community together, that we appreciate the myriad of domestic international political tensions that could derail these relationships, and we celebrate the fact that they’re still united.’ “
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, executive director, JConnectLA
“As someone who trains and works with young people to help them become more active in defending Israel and promoting Israel on campus and in the community, this is a big wake-up call for all of the community to put more resources into strengthening the advocacy abilities of young people. They are going to be faced with more challenges than ever before with having to stand with Israel and defend Israel, whether in the workplace or on campus or in the marketplace of ideas. We might not love everything that happened, but you can no more dispense with Israel than you can dispense with your right arm. The fate of Israel is the fate of the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, UCLA Hillel
“This is not a case about whether Israel was right; it is a case about whether Israel was wise. Hopefully it will lead to a serious policy reassessment.
“It is clear that all those people who are coming together to defend Israel’s actions are, in this case, hurting Israel, because the ramifications are very serious in terms of world opinion and alliances.”
Seidler-Feller believes what is needed is true leadership.
“I want the Jewish people to be smart and to be wise, to have a broad perspective and not to react defensively about everything that happens. We need to think in terms of long-term consequences and look for possibilities for constructive responses. It’s a problem, it’s a crisis, but that’s not the end. How do we emerge from this crisis?”
Roz Rothstein, chief executive officer, StandWithUs
“I think that some Jews are upset that Israel doesn’t do a better job explaining things. ... Israel is always under a microscope and judged like no other country in the world, and so often in the news people are confused about what Hamas is and about these rockets into Sderot — that’s the criticism that I heard, that it would have been great for Israel to explain these things earlier, before the incident. That women [with the flotilla, shown in a video] said either they will be martyred or they will reach Gaza, and they were singing Khaibar. That is very poorly explained, what that Khaibar chant means. It’s no secret that it is about the murder of Jews.”
David Myers, director of Center for Jewish Studies, UCLA
“Mistakes of this kind, as the U.S. military knows well, tragically occur. Ironically, moments such as this, given that vulnerabilities are exposed and gestures of good will needed, offer up a glimmer of hope for forward movement. Now is the time to lift the siege of Gaza in return for [abducted Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit. Netanyahu is up against the wall and has few strategic options. Whether engagement with Hamas can transform it into a more credible actor is uncertain but surely worth trying. It is not in Israel’s or the world’s interest to have Gaza remain isolated and impoverished. Only increased radicalization will result. Therefore, Jews in Israel and here should devote their energies to transforming this tragic episode into a net gain for Israel, the Palestinians and the world.”
Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Westwood
“Israel badly mishandled this, and the resultant loss of life is tragic. But grief should not make us naïve. The convoy was intended to provoke both a response and a world reaction. Some of the resultant outrage is genuine and some the all-too-familiar prepackaged venom.”
Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, Kehillat Yavneh, Hancock Park, and director of synagogue services, West Coast Orthodox Union
“I watched the YouTube video of the Israeli SEALS boarding the Turkish boat and being savagely beaten. I don’t see how anyone can possibly condemn Israel after watching the sheer brutality and violence of the Turkish passengers against the Israelis. World response is typical and only reinforces what so many of us in Israel and the Jewish community already know: They don’t like us, and there are too many people who are only too eager to condemn Israel at the drop of a hat.
“My only disappointment in Israel is that, by now, our politicians should be savvy enough to know that this was all a ploy to make Israel look like a cruel aggressor. Israeli soldiers should have boarded with sound cameras and members of some U.N. peace-keeping body to record clearly and unambiguously who the real aggressor was in all this.”
Rabbi Morley Feinstein, University Synagogue
“My sense is that this is a very confusing incident, and there is much anguish. We regret that this ever happened, we regret the loss of innocent life, and we are saddened to see this polarization and hope there is a way for us to go forward, somehow, in this murky situation.”
As a lover of Israel, he is saddened by the incident. “We want Israel to be at peace, we want Israel to thrive as a Jewish, democratic state. I think American Jews wholeheartedly want to see an end to the conflict and a two-state solution. ... Israel for its own heart and soul and for its return to the best of ethics and morals, needs to be seen as ending the occupation.”
Rabbi Stewart L. Vogel, Temple Aliyah, Woodland Hills
“It is clear to me that what took place off the coast of Gaza was a public relations time-bomb orchestrated by Turkey that was a no-win situation for Israel. ...
“With incidents like this, it is increasingly difficult to gain public sympathy for Israel, but it becomes clearer for me that public sympathy is less relevant than national security. ... While I still have hope for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and have not given up on land for peace compromises, I just don’t want Israel to become embodiment of the words spoken by Abba Eban originally directed at the Arabs that they ‘never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’ I can only hope that Israel and Hamas will embody another of Eban’s quotes: ‘History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.’”
Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, Bnai David Judea Congregation
Kanefsky believes Israel acted in its own defense and according to international law, both in blockading Hamas-controlled Gaza and in boarding the ships.
Still, he says. “I wish, and I assume I am far from alone in this, that Israel placed a much higher priority on international diplomacy, building alliances, and on anticipating disasters before they unfold. For better or for worse, Israel in fact depends upon the world, and on the US in particular, for the place it seeks in the family of nations. Perhaps this incident will be a terrible wake-up call.
“Meanwhile, as supporters of Israel, and as people whose emotional, familial, and historical lifeblood courses through the state of Israel, we are obliged in the moment of crisis, to publicly broadcast the simple message that Israel too is combating terror on its doorstep, and the claim that it should desist from doing so comes not from a place of humanitarianism, but from a place of rabid, Iran-like anti-Zionism.”
Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive director, Board of Rabbis of Southern California
“I am struck by the litany of pro-forma statements in response to this tragic incident. Those who believe the Palestinians can do no wrong seized the opportunity to condemn Israel even before the facts emerge about what actually took place on the ship. Others argue passionately (and often from comfortable seats in the Diaspora) that they alone know what Israel should have done, and had their approach been followed, the outcome would have been different. I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and pray for healing for the injured IDF soldiers and demonstrators. And I ask: In coming days, will we learn anything from this tragedy? Will we have the courage to say: Enough violence, bloodshed and hatred? Will we move beyond angry rhetoric and tired paradigms to negotiate a peaceful, just solution for the Middle East?”
Seth Brysk, regional director of the American Jewish Committee
“It’s tragic that people lost their lives. Obviously we don’t want to see conflict taking place. Our vision is one of two states existing side by side in peace and dignity and with security. What’s most important is to get the proper facts out and the proper perspective on the events that took place. Our position is that the organizers of the flotilla, who have ties to Hamas, were the ones who were responsible for provoking this situation and they’re the ones who need to be held responsible.”
[UPDATE, June 3, 2010]
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, U.S. Congressman from California
“What happened off the coast of Gaza is a tragedy because of the loss of life. While all of the facts are not yet known, it is clear that those aboard the Mavi Marmara never intended to carry out a peaceful humanitarian mission. No country, especially Israel, should permit a blockade to be pierced without a chance to see if weapons were included with other goods. Israel offered to allow humanitarian assistance to go to the people of Gaza, but for its own protection, had a right to search the cargo beforehand. It was only when faced with violence that the soldiers reacted in self-defense.
In the five years since Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas has sought time and again to provoke Israel with unrelenting rocket attacks, the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and the smuggling of weapons and bomb making materials by any means. It is no coincidence that these events have been orchestrated, often with the help of Tehran, at moments of increased international pressure on the Iranian regime to abandon its illegal nuclear activities. While Israel must do its best to resist such provocations, the automatic international rush to condemn Israel for defending citizens and soldiers under attack is a travesty.
All who empathize with the people of Gaza and seek to end the blockade on its shores should urge Hamas to abandon terrorism and embrace a stable and more prosperous future in which two states can live side by side in peace and security.”