Thursday, September 19, 2019

Op-Ed: The Rabbis of Silence

This op-ed was published in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger's September 20 issue. It may also be found on the Jewish Ledger's website at

The Rabbis of Silence

By Alan Stein

During the 26 years since the start of the Oslo process, Israel has gone to lengths previously unimaginable to reach a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Warrior turned peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin was emphatic about never accepting a Palestinian Arab state, but every prime minister since has crossed that and other red lines.

Oslo required the PLO to renounce and fight against terrorism and settle all disagreements by negotiations. Israel turned over to the PLO the governance of 40% of Judea and Samaria (renamed the "West Bank" by Jordan) and almost all of Gaza. 95% of the Arabs in the disputed territories established their own government and, for most practical purposes, ended the so-called "occupation."

Regrettably, the PLO didn't change its stripes. Israel has faced several waves of Palestinian terrorism, including the epidemic of bus bombings in 1995-6, the terror offensive Arafat launched after torpedoing the Camp David talks in 2000, the knife intifada Mahmoud Abbas encouraged by asserting Jews have no right to "desecrate" the Temple Mount with their "filthy feet," and, since 2017, the weekly Hamas-organized riots in Gaza featuring attempts to breach the border fence along with explosive-laden balloons, kites and condoms.

A rational world would be standing strongly with Israel because it is both the moral and smart thing to do. When Palestinian Arab terrorists gain from attacking Israel, other terrorists are encouraged. This has led to atrocities in London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, New York and elsewhere, even in capitals, such as Istanbul, Moscow and Tehran, of countries that themselves sponsor terror groups.

A healthy Jewish community would proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel, its support stronger than ever.

Perversely, precisely the opposite is the case.

Every time the Palestinians have said no to peace, support for them has grown and Israel criticized.

Every time the Palestinians have started another terror offensive, support for them has grown and Israel maligned.

Every time terrorists from Gaza launch another volley of rockets at Sderot, Ashkelon, Beersheva or Tel Aviv and Israel defends its people, our people, our Jewish brethren, Israel gets blamed and demonized.

Our Jewish community, rather than standing resolutely with Israel, now contains groups like J Street, which claims to be pro-Israel but seeks to undercut AIPAC and reserves almost all its criticism for Israel, giving not just succor but ammunition to those trying to destroy the Jewish state. It also contains openly anti-Israel groups such as IfNotNow and the diabolically named "Jewish Voice for Peace."

Psychiatrist and historian Kenneth Levin coined the term "Oslo Syndrome" to describe this phenomenon, which is related to "Stockholm Syndrome," where brutalized kidnap victims identify with their kidnapers.

As terrorism continues, Israel is increasingly demonized and the Oslo Syndrome is spreading. Some relatively new organizations, such as Stand With Us, have tried to step up to the plate. Christians United for Israel stands more strongly with the Jewish state than much of the Jewish community. In Connecticut, PRIMER (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting) does its best to counter anti-Israel bias in the media, but it's a small, targeted, completely volunteer organization without the resources of national and international organizations.

Unfortunately, many of those older organizations have been reluctant to strongly support Israel. In 2006, the president and executive director of my own Jewish Federation adamantly opposed and defeated community efforts to hold a rally supporting Israel at the time Hezbollah was raining rockets on Israel's north.

For years, PRIMER has been trying to get our religious leaders to speak up publicly. We've tried to find rabbis willing to write articles, including op-eds, for newspapers on various Jewish holidays, educating the public and helping people understand the intimate connection between Judaism, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. The number of willing rabbis we've recently found could be counted on one hand, with fingers left over.

Thus, I was surprised to see a letter published in the New Haven Register and Connecticut Post over the signatures of no fewer than 18 Connecticut rabbis. The rabbis slammed President Trump for his criticism of the Congresswomen comprising "The Squad," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

Trump deserved rebuke, particularly for saying they should "go back where they came from." Yet I wonder why it was so important for those rabbis, so reticent about defending Israel from obsessive and unfair criticism, to en masse jump on Trump.

I wonder why those rabbis have been silent as Omar has insinuated Jews have dual loyalty and were buying off support of Congress with "Benjamins."

I wonder why those rabbis have been silent as Tlaib compared the antisemitic boycott of Israel to Americans boycotting Nazi Germany, rather than pointing out the appropriate analogy was to the Nazi boycott of Jews.

It takes no courage to criticize Trump, even though often deserved. He's a popular target. One more voice, or 18 more voices, makes little or no difference.

These days, it does take courage to defend Israel against the plethora of defamation directed at it. When it comes to defending Israel, every voice is needed and makes a difference.

I hope our rabbis are now finding their voices. With the High Holidays on the horizon, I hope to read rabbinical wisdom and support for Israel in every Connecticut newspaper. Respectfully, I submit that support for the Jewish people and the Jewish state is a rabbinic responsibility.

Alan Stein, Ph.D., is president emeritus of PRIMER-Connecticut, founder of PRIMER-Mass. and PRIMER-Israel, and former president of the Jewish Federation of Waterbury (now Jewish Federation of Western CT). He currently lives in Natick, Mass. and Netanya, Israel.

Alan Stein will discuss "Opportunities, Challenges and Revelations: A Journey from Waterbury, CT to a Life in Israel" on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m., at the Jewish Federation of Western CT, 444 Main Street North in Southbury. For information: (203) 267-3177