Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Israel, Charedim, and the Left

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach
My daughter sent me an excerpt from Oro Shel Olam, a new book by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau. The short version is as follows. 
A student in Kol Torah had asked his Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, if he could take some time away from the Yeshiva to pray at the grave-sites of the righteous in Northern Israel. Rav Auerbach told him his time would be better spent studying Torah in the Yeshiva.
The student was surprised and asked if Rav Auerbach ever did that? Wasn’t it appropriate to visit grave-sites of the righteous and pray? Didn’t he ever do that? Rav Auebach answered that when he had the urge to pray at the grave-site of the righteous, he went to Mount Herzl and prayed at the grave-site of the fallen soldiers who died Al Kiddush HaShem – sanctifying God’s name! 
This is yet another example of the greatness of this man. If only his son, Rav Shmuel had half the character his father did, the Charedi world would be a far different place.

But I come not to bury Rav Shumel. I come to praise his father in the context of yesterday and today. Yesterday was Israel’s Memorial Day where fallen soldiers are remembered. And today is Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s Independence Day. This is the day many Jews all over the world celebrate the return – 69 years ago - of the holy land to its rightful owners – the Jewish people. The first time that’s happened in 2000 years.

I cannot emphasize enough the significance of that. That is why many Jews say Hallel on this day as my own Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik did. Lest anyone think that the Charedi world gives no significance to it, it should be noted that the founding Rosh Yeshiva of Ponevezh, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman  did not say Tachanun on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Nor did his entire Yeshiva. 

Unfortunately, there was one exception. Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach - destined to become the next Rosh Yeshiva defied Rav Kahaneman. He sat down and said Tachanun. I assume that is now standard practice in Ponevezh.  As it is in the rest of the Charedi world. I only mention Rav Kahaneman’s practice to show that the significance of Yom Ha’atzmaut was not lost on a man that the entire world recognized as a Charedi Gadol.

To say that I am proud of Israel’s accomplishments –  not the least of which is the Makom Torah that it has become since Israel’s founding Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, first declared independence - would be an understatement. I only wish that this feeling was a little more universal. Unfortunately, some segments of Judaism like Satmar, Neturei Karta and the Eida HaCharedis (to mention but a few) might even consider it a day of mourning!

But it isn’t only the religious right wing that feels this way. Lately it is the ‘religious’ left. And by religious, I don’t mean observant. I mean they are ‘religiously’ left wing. No where is this sentiment better expressed than in a column I read today by Chemi Shalev in today’s Ha’aretz. Instead of feeling good about Israel’s accomplishments he regurgitates everything that he and Israel’s enemies see wrong with it. This is how he opens his column: 
It's easier to celebrate Independence Day when you blot out millions of disenfranchised people living right next door. 
He then goes into a diatribe about all the injustices Palestinians living in the West Bank have been suffering at the hands of the Israeli occupation. Which he says is being forgotten or ignored these days.

This is not to say that Palestinians on the West Bank don’t suffer. They do. I would even admit that much of what Shalev says is true about the attitude of some Israelis on the political right. Only the most insensitive boor would deny it… blinding themselves to the reality of... 
economic hardships, nightly military raids, the absolute dependence on the Civil Administration, the need for a permit for everything under the sun, the roadblocks, the humiliation, the frustration, the feeling of impotence or any of the other thousand and one indignities that go along with living under occupation. 
All true and very unfair to them. What he fails to mention is that there is a reason they suffer. And despite the implications of Shalev’s column, it isn’t because Israel is insensitive to human suffering. The exact opposite is true. Whenever there is a disaster in the world, Israel is one of the counties to respond. Israel has even treated in their own hospitals Syrian refugees  hurt by the ongoing civil war there. The reason Palestinians suffer is because of Israel's legitimate security needs. Needs that have resulted from terrorism coming from the West Bank. Jews have been slaughtered and mass murder in suicide bombings, shootings and stabbings. 

It is so easy to blame ‘the occupation’ for that. But without adding that Israel does it reluctantly and only because they have no better option to protect their citizens - it becomes a lie. Shalev all but ignores that. Thus Israel becomes a racist State. While there are a few people on the extreme political right that may be racist, that is by far not the position of the  Israeli government or the vast majority of its people.  But don’t try and convince Shalev of that. He has made up his mind. The government of Israel is a bunch of malevolent occupiers denying an indigenous people their rights. 

There is not a doubt in my mind that the Palestinians could have long ago had their own state - had their true intentions not been so obviously exposed. Which is the eventual destruction of Israel. In stages if necessary. When Ariel Sharon gave up Gaza to the Palestinians, they could have gained tremendous good will had they tried to build up that area instead of making it a base to terrorize the Jewish people. 

Had they done that, it would have shown that their intentions were indeed to live in peace with a state of their own side by side with Israel. Instead they attacked and are still attacking Jews and have gone to elaborate lengths to do that.  

It isn’t Israel that is blind to Palestinian suffering. It is Shalev and his colleagues on the left that are purposely blind to the ultimate goals of Palestinian leaders. Hamas is more open about it. But the Palestinian Authority was derived of the PLO – the Palestinian Liberation Organization. They were created in 1964 by a terrorist named Yassir Arafat long before Israel even dreamed of retaking the West Bank. Which land exactly was the PLO going to liberate then? Surely not the West Bank that was then under the control of Jordan. Their goal has not changed. Only their rhetoric.

Now I’m sure that most Palestinians on the West Bank are just plain tired of the whole thing. I would be willing to bet that despite their belief in the justness of the Palestinian cause - they would rather just let it all go, make peace and just get on with their lives. 

Unfortunately their leaders insist on maintaining the status quo and blaming ‘the occupation’ and ‘settlements’ for all their problems. All while continuing to indoctrinate their youth about how evil ‘the Jews’ are.

Frankly I’m sick of people like Shalev feeding that narrative. Especially on this day, the birthday of a country that has contributed so much good to the world. And a country that has been very good to him. What about compassion for suffering Palestinians? Sure. Nothing wrong with that. I just wish he'd save a little of that compassion for his own people instead of trying to make them feel guilty on this day.