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SPRING 2003  
Vol. 31, No. 3


Illustration by Jon Weiman

Holding Israel to the Highest Moral Standard

By David J. Forman

Palestinian violence has been so devastating that all of Israel's retaliatory actions seem justified. For certain, suicide bombings cannot go unanswered. Israel has both the right and the responsibility to defend itself. But, we must not forget that every political and military decision has a concomitant moral dimension. While we can rightfully claim that Israel's conduct in its war against terrorism morally dwarfs the retaliatory actions other nations would no doubt take under similar circumstances, as Jews we must hold ourselves to the highest standard, and not do comparative shopping at an ethical mall.

Jewish national identity was forged on the anvil of our people's collective suffering in ancient Egypt. During our wanderings in the desert, we learned that eventual Jewish sovereignty would be predicated on rejection of the cult of power symbolized by the hard-hearted house of Pharaoh. Our charge was to become a "holy nation." Yet today, having achieved nationhood after almost 2,000 years of statelessness, we Jews find ourselves ruling with an iron fist over another people. The demolition of Palestinian homes, land confiscations, extended curfews, and school closings are but a few of the collective forms of punishment meted out by a government that has lost its moral compass. We dare not adopt the ways of our enemies--ancient and modern.

When Israeli human rights activists call for support among Jews abroad, we are told that criticism of Israel undermines the state. But the greater threat is the downgrading of the moral principles that define us as a religion and as a people. Jews who remain silent when Israel enacts the biblical dictum of an "eye for an eye" and a "tooth for a tooth" are complicit partners in affixing to Israel a terrible moral stain.

Jews everywhere have the right and the responsibility to speak out against Israeli excesses and stop providing sycophantic sanction for acts that are the antithesis of the Jewish moral tradition. As it says in the Talmud (Shabbat 54b): "Whosoever has the capacity to prevent his household from committing a crime, and does not, he is accountable for the sins of the entire household...." Having been at the forefront of struggles for social justice, we Reform Jews, especially, must not suspend our passion for prophetic Judaism--even when Israel is under siege, for the ultimate test of a nation's moral integrity is how it acts when under attack.

Just as we join forces with liberal Jews in Israel to gain full religious rights for non-Orthodox streams in Judaism, so too, with equal commitment, must we support the work of Israeli peace and human rights groups.

If Jews throughout the world do not stand up and say: "Enough," then each of us will bear responsibility for the sins of the household of Israel--and the consequences. The perception of Judaism and the image of the Jew throughout the world are largely determined by what Israel does in our name. To remain silent is to jeopardize the legitimacy of the Jewish state in the eyes of the world--and put Israel's very existence at risk.

Rabbi David Forman (HUC-JIR class of 1972), a former deputy commander in the Israeli army, is director of the UAHC's Jerusalem office; the author of Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel and Fifty Ways to be Jewish; and the founding and current chair of Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization that defends Palestinian and Israeli human rights, provides humanitarian aid to victims on both sides of the conflict, and more.

First Place Award Winner for Excellence in Jewish Journalism
and a Benefit of Membership in a UAHC Congregation

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