May 21, 2024
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Get Your History Straight

Every Shabbat, I enjoy reading the letters to the editor in The Jewish Link. I truly applaud the Link’s efforts at including opinions that run the gamut of perspectives on a plethora of issues. Sometimes I agree with the writers and sometimes I disagree, but I always enjoy learning from what others have to say. Even when I have disagreed with a writer in the past, I never felt compelled to write a response. That is, until last week’s issue.

I would like to briefly discuss Mr. Rich Siegel’s letter to the editor, entitled “Purim Satire ‘News’ Was in Bad Taste” (March 4, 2021). For those who didn’t read his letter, he was responding to a joke that appeared in The Jewish Link’s Purim edition, which stated that 100,000 Palestinians were shot by Israeli soldiers. In this context, the word “shot” was jokingly used in reference to the COVID-19 vaccine.

I would first like to mention that I completely agree with the title of his piece and his first two paragraphs, which stated that joking about Palestinians being shot (albeit in reference to the COVID-19 vaccine) was in very poor taste, and I was also personally offended by it. Had Mr. Siegel stopped there, I would have been in complete agreement with him. But in the next few paragraphs, he left the realm of civil discourse and entered into the realm of hate-filled lies.

Firstly, he referred to our community as a “racist Zionist bubble.” I personally took great offense to this. After all, we are a community that believes that all people are created in the image of God, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity. And this isn’t simply something that we preach, but it is how we lead our lives.

Our community stood with Martin Luther King, Jr., when he rallied for equal rights in the 1960s, and we have since condemned every violent act of racism and bigotry that has been perpetrated against the African American community and other minorities. If Mr. Siegel was referring to Zionism itself as a form of racism, I would draw his attention to the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Arabs, Christians and Jews practice their religions freely, and oftentimes patronize the same grocery stores, work in the same businesses, play in the same parks and walk the same streets.

Mr. Siegel then goes on to write that “many, many thousands of Palestinians and other Arabs have been shot and killed, or shot and maimed, in the bloody history of your racist, apartheid country. … What would your response be if anyone were to make jokes about Auschwitz?”

I would agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated, and I continuously seek to deepen my understanding of the issues. I have personally engaged in dialogue with representatives on all sides of this discussion—from those on the far right in Israel to members of the Palestinian leadership, including Saeb Erekat.

But I’ll tell you what’s not complicated. History.

It is an utter distortion of history to claim that many thousands of Arabs have been mercilessly shot and maimed at the hands of Israelis. And those times when Jewish extremists have killed innocent Arabs, the perpetrators were instantly condemned by the Israeli government and rightfully brought to justice. This is unlike the Palestinian leadership that outwardly supports terrorism by paying the families of terrorists and naming streets and parks after terrorists.

And to compare this to Auschwitz? Over 1 million people were murdered in Auschwitz. It isn’t intellectually honest to compare the Nazis, who sought to murder as many people as possible, to Israeli soldiers, the young men and women who simply seek to defend themselves and their families from harm.

But all of the issues aside, it seems clear to me that Mr. Siegel has no intention of having a good-faith dialogue about any of these matters. After all, he finished his letter by declaring, “Free Palestine!” This is a phrase that often refers to the general slogan “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” It is hard to debate someone who doesn’t believe in Israel’s very right to exist.

I would just conclude with a quote from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (paraphrasing Golda Meir): “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.” May everyone in the region (and the world) be able to safely put down their weapons soon.

Rabbi Avi Rosalimsky
Teaneck
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