Beyond Images - Briefing 16  Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict 
Published in London - 29 August 2002

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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 conflict

  • 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.

Beyond Images conclusion

  • 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 "immoral".

  • 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.


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