May 18, 2024
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An Open Letter to President Biden

Author’s Note: Ramban teaches us that when the Jewish people are confronted with a crisis, as Yaakov was with Esav, the principle of ma’aseh avot siman l’banimis is operative. That is, like Yaakov Avinu, our efforts are divided along three parallel tracks: first and foremost, we daven intensively (Ramban’s unique view is that davening in a time of crisis, as well as learning, may rise to the level of a unique mitzvah min haTorah); we prepare for military confrontation, as we have been for seven months in Eretz Yisrael; and we engage in diplomacy. This open letter is a modest attempt at the latter.

Dear President Biden,

The Jewish people are rooted in a culture of gratitude, so this is where I must begin. I appreciated, in the aftermath of the worst pogrom since the Shoah, how you stood with the Jewish people, and with Israel.

I appreciated how you sent a carrier group and then a second one to the eastern Mediterranean to deter Iran in Israel’s most difficult moment since its founding.

I appreciated the ongoing military support you provided to Israel, munitions such as tank shells, bombs and of course, the F-35s and Iron Dome.

I appreciated the critical role you played when Iran fired 300 cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones at Israel, both in advance intelligence as well as in shooting down these airborne elements headed to harm Jews living in Israel.

I appreciated the intelligence cooperation provided from the first day of the war to facilitate locating hostages, and the ongoing relationship you have kept with the families, something that family members of hostages have stressed to me, with gratitude.

And, even this week, I appreciated your strong remarks denouncing on Yom HaShoah, when you recalled how your father taught you about the Holocaust and why you took your grandchildren to Dachau, and stated clearly that Hamas sought to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth, and that people, as you powerfully said, “are already forgetting,” and acknowledged what so many refuse to do, that a “ferocious surge of antisemitism in America” has taken hold.

And yet, the Jewish people are also rooted in a culture of honesty, and the hour requires that we speak plainly about what is transpiring. We do so not as partisans, but out of a deep faith conviction. This morning, we read the words lo ta’amod al dam re’echa, that we simply do not have the right to watch passively as Jewish lives are endangered. And so, we must address you directly.

A decision, at this hour, to withhold precision munitions from Israel as it fights for its survival against Hamas, Hezbollah and the terror masters in Tehran is a historic and shameful mistake.

It betrays a legacy that goes back to the immediate aftermath of the founding of the state, when President Truman recognized the new state in just 11 minutes.

Hamas committed the pogrom of Oct. 7, as you have said and are fully aware, with one basic strategy: Do everything possible to maximize civilian casualties so that the world will force Israel to stop its campaign to do what any country must do, defend itself and its citizens.

It pains me to say that Hamas’ strategy has already worked with much of the world, including western Europe, the United Nations and the ICJ. But, America was different, as it must be.

By withholding munitions, the evil terror group Hamas is being validated by Israel’s greatest friend and the world’s greatest country.

Even worse, it gives a roadmap to all of those who seek Israel’s destruction: Israel will not be allowed to defend itself as long as you are willing to embed yourself in schools, hospitals, homes and playgrounds. Withholding these weapons does not, then, minimize civilian casualties, but guarantees that they will continue indefinitely.

And, this validation is all the worse for the simple reason that Israel has done more over the last seven months to minimize civilian casualties than any nation in the history of warfare. This is not an Israeli assessment, but that of John Spencer, who leads the Urban Warfare Institute at West Point.

I must confess that I do not understand, in particular, the decision to withhold precision weapons. If civilian casualties are indeed the concern, it is precision weaponry that makes it far easier for Israel to kill those who must be, the evil terrorists, while leaving children, who Hamas so cynically endangers, unharmed. Is your decision truly in the interest of these Gazan children?

The children of Gaza, like all children, deserve a bright future. Allowing Hamas to remain in power is a catastrophe for these children. It condemns them to a fate that they do not deserve.

Our rabbis have taught us that all people are created in the Divine image. Do these children deserve to be denied a true education, and instead, subjected to cruel radicalization? Do these children deserve to have their bedrooms turned into tunnel shafts? Do these children deserve to have their hospitals turned into ammunition depots?

History has much to teach us. The people of Germany and Japan flourished over the last 80 years for one reason: the United States had the strength and moral courage to finish the world war these aggressors started and utterly destroyed the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. The fate of the children of Gaza hangs in the balance.

As the Jewish people prepare to mark Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for all of Israel’s soldiers, we must clearly state the following basic truth. Without these weapons, Israel will likely be forced to fight through Rafah house to house. It makes it much more likely that the 760 who gave their lives fighting for Israel this past year will, God forbid, be joined by more.

And, as you well know, Hamas is not merely bent on Israel’s destruction.

On Oct. 7 alone, Hamas killed 32 Americans, and continues to hold eight of our fellow citizens hostage.

The dignity and interests of the United States requires that Hamas be held accountable for their atrocities. Israel must be allowed to finish the job and destroy the terrorists who have only one goal: not dignity for Arabs and Muslims, not statehood for Palestinians, but the destruction of Israel.

There is little doubt that the Squad, the agitators, the anarchists, the antisemites who have turned American universities into grounds of chaos and mayhem will be enraged should you continue to stand with Israel. But, it is important to remember, that nothing in this world but the destruction of Israel will satisfy them.

There is little doubt that your political advisors will tell you that this is bad politics for November. But, it is important to remember, that even if that were true, and I do not believe it is, it would still matter far less than the honor of the United States not to abandon an ally in a time of existential crisis, and to yield to terror and vile hatred.

You closed your remarks on Yom HaShoah from the Capitol by quoting Elie Wiesel, in the context of discussing the heroism of Raoul Wallenberg, that “one person of integrity can make a difference.”

Mr. President, now is the historic hour in which you can be that person.


Rabbi Daniel Fridman is the rabbi of the Jewish Center of Teaneck and vice president for community relations, Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

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