|Beyond Images - Briefing 16
|Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict
POLICIES ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH JEWISH IDEALS
|Published in London - 29 August 2002
The Interview with Britain's Chief Rabbi
On August 28 2002, in an interview with
a British newspaper, Chief Rabbi Professor Jonathan Sacks
stated that aspects of Israel's policies were "incompatible
with Jewish ideals". He commented that the ongoing conflict
was "corrupting" Israeli culture and described the
situation as "tragic".
Many commentators have suggested that this
statement constitutes a direct criticism of Israel, and that
he is saying that Israel's security policies are "immoral".
In fact, the Chief Rabbi's comments must
be seen in context
Israel's right to defend itself is not immoral
The right of self-defence is consistent
with Jewish ideals, and indeed is a Jewish religious obligation.
The Chief Rabbi would without question agree with that, and
has said so many times.
Israel regards itself as being in a war
of self-defence which has been forced upon it by Palestinian
fanatics and rejectionist groups. The security measures which
Israel has taken cannot be criticised as "immoral"
outside the context in which they are formulated.
There have been excesses in Israeli conduct but these
have been isolated events, not calculated policy
Rabbi Sacks referred in his interview to
the case of an Israeli soldier posing over the body of a dead
Palestinian. This episode caused revulsion in Israel across
the political spectrum - but was an isolated event and not
the result of Israeli policy.
Other events have caused similar outrage.
An Israeli group was caught plotting a bomb attack on an Arab
school. This too caused shock waves in Israel and outright
condemnation across the political divide.
Such episodes are "incompatible with
Jewish ideals" - but they are highly exceptional.
Israel maintains high ideals even in the midst of bitter
While much attention will be given (especially
following the Chief Rabbi's interview) to the way in which
Israel's conflict is "corrupting" Jewish ideals,
attention ought to be paid to how Israel maintains high ideals
even in the midst of conflict. Here are some examples:-
Israel treats Palestinian terrorist attackers
and "failed" suicide bombers in its hospitals
Israel's Or Commission is investigating
the death of 13 Israeli Arabs in riots in October 2000, and
is holding senior politicians and police figures to account
Palestinian Arabs have the right to appeal
to Israel's Supreme Court to reverse Israeli Government security
measures such as house demolitions or internal exiles - these
legal rights have been preserved and exercised throughout
the period of extreme Palestinian violence
Israeli Arab Members of the Knesset (Israel's
Parliament) express fierce criticism of Israel while enjoying
Parliamentary immunity and full democratic rights
Thousands of Arab students enjoy the benefits
of Israel's higher education system even while expressing
support for the Palestinian terror attacks against Israel
Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that
Israelis are willing to make real sacrifices for the sake
of a viable peace with the Palestinian people, and have no
wish to rule over Palestinian society
Israel sacrificed 23 soldiers in its ground
operations in Jenin in order to avoid causing Palestinian
civilian casualties in an air offensive
Israel called off the attack on Hamas leader
Saleh Shehadeh eight times due to its concern over harming
his wife and daughter, despite his involvement in the planning
of mass terror attacks (see Beyond Images Briefing 9 -
Attacking Hamas' Military Mastermind)
Israel continues to look for ways to ease
the day-to-day restrictions on the lives of Palestinian civilians,
despite the record of attacks by Palestinian terrorist cells
when restrictions have been lifted in the past (See Beyond
Images Briefing 13 - Moshav Worker Lynched)
None of these are the results of a "corrupt"
society. Quite the contrary - they are demonstrations of a
deep attachment to principles of human dignity and rights
in the midst of a conflict with terror groups which have no
respect for either of them.
Israel's conflict with the Palestinians
is bitter and tragic. The Israeli people face daily challenges
in how to defend themselves against a wave of attacks the
like of which no other country has ever had to face.
Critics will certainly use the Chief Rabbi's
comments to support their argument that Israeli policy is
In doing so, these critics will in all
likelihood ignore the context and background of Israel's policies.
And they will also ignore altogether Israel's
efforts to maintain its high ideals where most other countries,
faced with the situation which Israel faces, would certainly
have abandoned them.