I was horrified to hear that there were South African Jews objecting to Judge Richard Goldstone attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Blocking a fellow Jew, let alone a grandfather, from a family’s religious celebration because of his opinions on Israel is disgraceful. I recall once that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that any Synagogue that bars a fellow Jew from entry ought to be shut down. We’re not Hamas, Hezbollah, or Fatah. We don’t summarily execute compatriots accused of collaborating with the enemy, as these terrorist organizations do to innocent Palestinians. We don’t character assassinate them either or banish them from our communities. Rather, where fellow Jews, like Goldstone, are harsh critics of Israel, we show them respect and deference and then destroy not them but their arguments in the cold light of fact and reason.
The Goldstone Report is a modern-day blood libel against the Jewish state and has been torn to shreds by expert international jurists, including Prof. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard and Prof. Richard Landes, Director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University. Among the many compelling arguments against Goldstone is the fact that his report failed to focus on Hamas initiating the war by firing thousands or terror rockets against Israeli cities, intentionally using women and children as human shields in order to draw Israeli attacks and then accuse them of killing civilians, and how Goldstone granted near-complete credulity to all Hamas claims while cynically deriding those of Israel. As Dershowitz expressed it, the Goldstone Report is ‘to any fair reader, a shoddy piece of work, unworthy of serious consideration by people of good will committed to the truth.’
But that does not make Goldstone an enemy of his people. Rather, I believe, Goldstone, like so many others, reactively chooses the side of the Palestinians not because he is a self-hating Jew but because he boorishly assumes that the weaker party in any conflict is necessarily the aggrieved party. During Israel’s invasion of Gaza to stop Hamas’ murderous rockets it was easy to look at Israel’s tanks and helicopters and view the Palestinians terrorists as helpless victims. By the same logic, however, the awesome military invasion of a million soldiers on the beaches of Normandy made the Nazis into peace-loving innocents, and American shock-and awe over Baghdad made Saddam into a blameless target.
Goldstone is a foolish ignoramus rather than a traitor to his people. We have to stop believing that anyone who is anti-Israel is necessarily anti-Semitic. That misguided notion is what led Israel to have such abysmal PR in the first place, assuming as it did that since these critics have an innate hatred of Israel there was no reason to rebut their arguments. The toxic result is that Israel has tragically failed to promote the justice of its cause in a well-organized PR offensive and the Arabs, in the greatest PR coup in history, have somehow convinced the world that six million vulnerable Jews are oppressing five hundred million oil-rich Arabs.
Upon my last visit to South Africa on a book tour I was warmly embraced by the South African media who told me that ‘a Rabbi as open-minded and universal’ as me ought to be bold enough to criticize Israel’s ‘apartheid’ policies toward the Palestinians. Many black South Africans view Israel like the Boer and British Europenan colonizers who oppressed the indigenous population prior to Mandella’s presidency in 1994. I could have easily dismissed them as anti-Semites. But I knew in my heart they were decent, G-d-fearing people who had never heard a robust defense of Israel and I seized the opportunity on TV and radio to make Israel’s case.
The Jews are very similar to black South Africans, I told them. Long ago we too lived peacefully in our land, in Israel. The Holy Land, as the New Testament makes clear, had Jews and no Arabs. Then the Romans, a brutal, European occupier destroyed our Temple and took us as slaves to Europe where we lived under brutal oppression for millennia while praying thrice daily for a return to our ancient homeland. In the Arab countries where many migrated, Sephardic Jews lived under Arab governments where they were further treated like black South Africans, second-class citizens, denied basic human rights and required to pay jizyah, the Koran-obligated poll tax. My father who grew up in Iran, remembers the humiliation of having Islamic shopkeepers refuse to take money directly from his impure Jewish hands. Likewise, Ashkenazi Jews, like their black South African counterparts who were stuffed into townships, were placed into ghettos in Europe and forced to live apart. Finally, the flowering of modern nationalist movements enabled the Jews to begin leaving these lands en masse and returning to their indigenous, ancestral homeland.
But even amid the Jewish dispersion after Rome’s conquest, a minority Jewish population retained an uninterrupted presence is Israel for more than three thousand years. We did not colonize the land but were always a part of it. And when the waves of European Jews began returning to the land in modern times, the land was virtually desolate. The Zionist pioneers did the laborious work of draining the swamps and making the desert bloom.
Far from being a white, colonial settlement, the establishment of Israel is analogous to American blacks who had been forcibly removed from Africa and returned to create the nation of Liberia. The obscene comparison of Israel to apartheid South Africa also ignores the fact that Israel is the first country in history to airlift tens of thousands of black men, women, and children from Ethiopia to become free and full citizens within its borders.
Finally, I told my listeners, black South Africans who inspired the world with their capacity for peaceful coexistence could not be more different to the Palestinians who have tragically embraced hatred and terrorism. Nelson Mandela rose to become the foremost statesman in the world with his message of forgiveness and reconciliation. Yasser Arafat fathered international terrorism and stole millions of dollars from his poverty-stricken people.
In stupidly shunning people like Judge Goldstone we in the Jewish community are alienating those who need the light of Jewish values most.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network. On May 14th he will publish his major work on Jewish values, Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. www.shmuley.com.