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April 17, 2014 | 17th Nisan 5774

Remarks by Rabbi Yoffie at Evening of Solidarity with Israel

  August 1, 2006
An Evening of Solidarity with Israel
Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey 

Remarks by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President
Union for Reform Judaism

 

We are grateful for the analysis that we will hear tonight. It is important for us to understand as best we can the terrible conflict that rages on Israel’s northern border.

 

Still, as much as we appreciate analysis and commentary, it seems to me that the distinguishing feature of this conflict is the utter clarity of the issues and of the moral choices that it presents.

 

This is a war in which the rights and wrongs are beyond all doubt.

 

Southern Lebanon is taken over by Hezbollah after Israel’s withdrawal. Supported by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah amasses an arsenal of 13,000 missiles and rockets. Over a period of 6 years, it launches dozens of unprovoked attacks into Israeli territory— striking at military installations or launching rockets at civilian targets. All the while, Hezbollah’s leaders proclaim their genocidal intentions: Israel is to be wiped off the map.

 

And then, after it attacks again, kidnapping and killing Israeli soldiers, Israel finally strikes back. After 6 long years, it has had enough. But without hesitation, Hezbollah unleashes a barrage of 2500 rockets against Israel’s northern cities, each and every rocket aimed at civilians, each and every rocket intended to kill, or to maim, or to terrorize.

 

And terrorize they have. A half million Israelis have been driven from their homes; nearly a million pass most of their days in bomb shelters. Life in the northern half of the country has come to a standstill. And not only that. Hezbollah intentionally operates from civilian areas, knowing that this will increase civilian deaths, no matter how precise Israel’s weaponry. And these deaths in turn will be used to ratchet up the violence and the hate.

 

Could the rights and wrongs of this conflict be any clearer? If Israel’s cause is not just in this war, then no cause can ever be just.

 

But, of course, there are those in Europe, and here too, far from Hezbollah’s rockets and terror, smug in the physical safety of their own homes, who accuse Israel of overreacting and of failing to exercise “proportionality.”

 

To my fellow Americans who speak in this way, here is my question: if you were living in Houston, and if a terrorist body that the Mexican government refused to disarm were firing deadly rockets into your neighborhood night after night, endangering your life and terrorizing your children, would you be talking of restraint and proportionality? Or would you be demanding an immediate response from your government to assure that not a single additional missile threatened your family’s well-being?

 

This is not an abstract question. We know what President Roosevelt did when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. We know what President Kennedy did when the Russians put missiles in Cuba. And we know what President Bush did in Afghanistan, when it gave refuge to those who attacked us on September 11. Americans then did not talk of proportionality; they talked about providing security for their country and stopping those who wished to do us harm.

 

But let us not think for a moment, God forbid, that we can be indifferent to the death of innocents. The death of any child, Israeli or Arab, Muslim or Jew, is an unspeakable tragedy that rends the heart.

 

When Abraham argued with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, his plea was: “Ha-af tispeh tsaddik im rasha? Will you indeed sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” (Gen 18:23). And Abraham knew the answer, of course. Because you cannot turn your back on the innocent and still be God.

 

And so, what do we say about the children who died in Jana? We say that it was terrible beyond words.

 

But then we look at what happened afterward, and we see once again where justice resides in this terrible war.

 

Because immediately after the tragedy, Israel’s government said: this was an awful mistake and we are deeply sorry. And the next day, Israel’s papers and airwaves were filled with anguished debates about the moral implications of Israel’s actions. In Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest daily, the lead editorial proclaimed: “In a national sense, we are all guilty, because small nations are nations of collective responsibility. This killing is on the head of all of us.” And it went on to say that what Israel must do is take responsibility and ask forgiveness.

 

Do not misunderstand me. No one was arguing that the war was wrong. Overwhelmingly, Israelis believe that this is a just war, that it must be fought, and that Hezbollah is a threat to their very existence. They know that morality begins with security, and that the first responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens. But Israelis also want to know that everything that can be done to avoid civilian casualties is being done. And they were sending that message to their leaders, loud and clear.

 

And now let’s ask ourselves: Can we imagine this conversation taking place in the ranks of Hezbollah? As Jewish children continue to die, can we imagine Hezbollah taking responsibility and apologizing? Can we imagine them pledging to do everything in their power to put an end to civilian deaths? No, we cannot. Because Hezbollah is fascist in its politics and fanatic in its religious zeal; and it dreams not of peace but of death—death to Israel, death to Jews, and death to America. Once again, even amidst the tragedy of innocent lives lost, we see with utter clarity who shares our values and who is worthy of our support.

 

What is our task? It is four-fold.

 

First, to support our government, which has been a voice of reason and good sense, and to thank our president, who has been a true friend of the Jewish state.

 

Second, to work for peace—real peace. And peace can come. If the attacks stop, and if Hezbollah is disarmed, peace can come tomorrow. So let us strengthen the hand of all who will join with us in making such a peace a reality.

 

Third, to make clear that we are not declaring war against another religion. Yes, we will oppose extremism with all our might. But remember: our adversaries are the angry and hating minority in the Moslem world who embrace radical Islam. Surely most Moslems want to live in peace, and with them we must engage in honest dialogue.

 

And finally, to embrace Israel in her hour of need. Because Israel is a cause for thanksgiving and rejoicing; a bastion of democracy in a very bad neighborhood; a friend of America and an enemy of terror; and an inspiration to Jews and to Christians everywhere. Israel is not a perfect country. It is a contentious country that is as complicated and as difficult as the Jewish people themselves. But it is also a country where most of the time, and certainly now, the best impulses of her leaders and her people determine her direction and give us hope.

 

And so where do we stand at this moment? We stand proudly with Israel.

 

And as always, we ask for God’s guidance. And we pray that evil will be overthrown and reason will prevail. And that peace and redemption will come to Israel’s border, and that harmony will hallow Jerusalem’s gates—bi’meheira u’viyameinu, speedily, and in our day.

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