NPR last week aired an interview with PLO member Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. Dr. Barghouti accused Israel of planning to expel Palestinians from Gaza under the guise of humanitarian evacuation, of genocide, and of ethnic cleansing, amidst other blatant falsehoods. The NPR host did not challenge these allegations, nor did she interview anyone who challenged them. Rabbi Klapper immediately emailed NPR to protest this gross violation of journalistic standards.
Let’s imagine that Dr. Barghouti’s next interviewer takes this critique to heart and challenges him. What if he replies as follows: “In a major American Jewish newspaper last week, the editor of the World Religious Zionist Organization’s magazine called for expelling all Palestinians from Gaza. That rabbi called Palestinians “Amalekites,” which is a call for genocide. Then he declared that God’s command to expel the Canaanites in the time of Joshua required expelling ALL contemporary Palestinians from Gaza, Judea, and Samaria “one way or the other” — in other words, ethnic cleansing. Of course, the original command actually applied to all of Palestine “from the river to the sea,” and I imagine that’s what he really meant.”
The heroic soldiers of the IDF — our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends — risk their lives every day to uproot Hamas so that Jews can live safely in this world. We all understand the grave risk that U.S. or world pressure will prevent them from succeeding via a premature ceasefire or by allowing Hamas to resupply. We all understand that the more Gazans refuse to leave the battle area, the more IDF soldiers will die in the battle to avoid killing them. We all understand that the more Gazan civilians die, the more likely it is that Israel will be forced to stop short of wiping out Hamas. It is utterly unconscionable for us to undermine Israel’s strategic goals and give Hamas free propaganda gifts such as Rabbi Elie Mischel’s latest column.
Rabbi Mischel’s column (“Uncomfortable Truths: Speaking Honestly as Life Turns Upside Down.” Oct, 29, 2023) also contains radical distortions of Torah and halacha. Not every evil culture is the same. We cannot promiscuously apply halakhic categories such as Amalek and the Seven Nations to satisfy our emotions, especially when applying them for real would turn us into mirror images of those cultures, genuinely aspiring to genocide and ethnic cleansing. There is no excuse for sloppy droshohs that pose such profound risks to our soldiers’ lives, Israel’s strategic goals, and the neshomohs of our youth.
When this war ends, b’ezras Hashem, with the eradication of Hamas, life will hopefully turn right side up again, and we will need Torah teachings and communities that unify the Jewish people and speak to all constituencies in the State of Israel. The distorted teachings in Rabbi Mischel’s column will rightfully lead to the marginalization of Religious Zionism in every Jewish and Israeli conversation.
We have worked on campus, in schools, and in activist settings. Rabbi Klapper directed Harvard Hillel’s successful Israel Education Project during the Second Intifada while serving as Orthodox chaplain. Our students wanted nothing more than to believe that Israel’s cause is righteous and its means are righteous. They wanted to be proud of Jews and of being Jewish. They want the same things now.
We believe in the ethics of the IDF. We believe in the ethics of our families, friends, students and congregants serving in the IDF to protect us, may Hashem bless them and protect them and bring them home in peace. We all owe them a Torah and a Torah community that they can be proud of. Let Rabbi Mischel’s column, rife with these and other errors, be forgotten and never revived, or failing that, let the entire Torah community make its rejection absolutely clear.
Rabbi Aryeh Klapper –
Dean. Center for Modern Torah Leadership
Rabbi Barry Kornblau
NOTE: Rabbi Elie Mischel’s response to the letter above can be found here