The enablers of Israeli terrorism

by Michael Lesher,
The Electronic Intifada,
15 October 2015

Palestinian youths confront Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on 6 October. Muhannad Saleem

attacks,” intoned a pro-Nazi Protestant minister as he bewailed the
killing of Germans during the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, “were
unprovoked attempts to murder innocent civilians, or police or soldiers
who were trying to maintain peace and order.”

Decrying international criticism of the German army that had laid
siege to the ghetto, the minister was particularly incensed at local
Jews who had described attacks against German settlers (who lived on
land, and often in houses, expropriated from former Jewish residents) as
acts of self-defense.

That claim inverted reality, the minister insisted: “The enemy is a
religious ideology … which seeks to dominate the world through murderous
evil. The world must recognize this and call it by its name.”

The minister concluded his sermon by exulting that Germans had just
staged an Easter celebration in the center of the occupied city, on the
site of a strike by Jewish partisans a few days earlier. And he offered
prayers for “the healing of those [Germans] who have been wounded
recently … and for a swift, just, and comprehensive peace for the German

Now comes my confession: there was no such sermon in April 1943.
There was no such Protestant minister (or if there was, I have no record
of his comments about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising). In that sense, what
you have just read was pure invention.

But not really. For those exact sentiments were expressed –
and very recently – by a prominent clergyman, who wrote them in
denunciation of a small, violent uprising against a long-standing
military occupation whose oppressive tactics had culminated in an
escalating terror campaign against a defenseless local population.

The clergyman did pray solely for the peace and safety of the
invaders, not the invaded. He did blame the victims for resisting the
military might of the occupying forces. He did insist that the victims’
religion rendered them a threat to civilization. And he even made the
weird, racist claim that the objects of so much systematic brutality
were somehow engaged in a conspiracy “to dominate the world.”

Plea for peace?

In fact, all of these quotations were taken verbatim from the clergyman’s published remarks,
with only one difference: where my fictitious pro-Nazi minister prayed
for “the German people,” the actual preacher — an American — privileged
“the Jewish people” over its “enemies.” (The religious ceremony proudly
celebrated in occupied territory, where soldiers and mobs loyal to the
occupying force had reportedly wounded more than 100 victims over the previous days, was the Jewish holiday of Simhath Torah in East Jerusalem, not Easter in wartime Poland.)

For here’s the whole truth: the clergyman was Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, a prominent figure in the Orthodox Union,
one of the largest organizations of Orthodox rabbis in the world.
Weinreb’s remarks, published on 8 October, were directed against recent
Palestinian resistance to a wave of official Israeli terror that has killed 32 Palestinians since the beginning of October and demolished 450 Palestinian buildings so far this year.

None of that, however, has ever troubled Weinreb, so far as one can judge from his public comments.

He has not offered a single word of consolation to the friends and relatives of several Palestinians — including a 13-year-old child — killed by Israelis in the days immediately preceding his published wish for “healing” and “peace.”

Moral slumber

I do not apologize for any discomfort caused by the temporary masking
of the clergyman’s real identity. The similarity of Weinreb’s apologia
for Israeli terror to anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda — the horrific
effects of which are indelibly carved into the memory of every living
Jew — ought to be drawing volleys of outrage from the religious Jewish

In fact, the parallels between the two have scarcely been noticed.

What will it take, I wonder, to awaken my religious “leadership” —
and the Orthodox Jewry it represents — from its parochial moral slumber
to the knowledge that in blaming the victims of the occupation, and
sanitizing their oppression, clergymen like Weinreb are using religion
as a cloak for crime?

His words would be bad enough if they were eccentric. Unfortunately, they’re anything but.

The other day I received this message from an Orthodox Jewish email list to which I subscribe: “We suggest the recital of one kepitel [chapter] of tehillim [psalms] a day for the sake of Acheinu Kol Bais Yisrael [our brothers, the whole house of Israel] — to be saved from terror … Let us plead!”

Let us plead by all means, but for whom? If the list’s rabbinic
sponsors really hoped to succor all victims of “terror,” why did they
name only the “house of Israel” in their appeal — knowing, as they must,
that Israelis endure a small fraction of the violence faced regularly
by Palestinians under occupation?

I suspect – sadly – that the authors of comments like these are not
even aware of their one-sidedness, that their indifference to the
suffering of non-Jews is less a matter of policy than a sort of cultural
reflex. That only deepens the problem: such omissions suggest the
radical insufficiency of Orthodox theology to match contemporary needs.

It’s bad enough to overlook one’s moral obligations to the bulk of
humanity; it’s downright criminal to ignore the suffering inflicted by
one’s own co-religionists.

Nothing is more basic than the priority of moral responsibility for
actions we control, or over which we have influence — and a prominent
figure like Weinreb could have considerable impact on religious Jews, in
Israel and in the United States, who could in turn throw their
political weight against the occupation. That such rabbis choose,
instead, to give religious cover to a national persecution is

Yet the intolerable continues. The day after Weinreb’s sermonizing appeared online, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported
that “since the beginning of the current clashes, 150 Palestinians have
been wounded by live weapons fire, with 360 others being injured by
rubber-coated bullets fired by Israeli forces.”

As if that weren’t enough, Haaretz told us that “the
Palestinian health ministry has recorded 18 attacks on Palestinian
ambulances, with injuries sustained by 20 medical personnel and
volunteers en route to treating the injured.”

If Weinreb even noticed this most recent spate of Israeli brutality, I haven’t heard about it.

Summary execution

But I did hear about the reaction of Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, a member
of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Council and the son of Israel’s former chief
Sephardic rabbi. Less than 48 hours after Weinreb’s blame-the-victims
homily, Eliyahu had publicly decreed that any Palestinian who uses force
against an Israeli soldier in occupied territory — a right under international law — must be killed on the spot.

Indeed, according to Eliyahu, Israelis who do not assassinate such
Palestinians “need to be prosecuted.” This member of Israel’s rabbinic
elite thus supports not only an illegal occupation but the premeditated
murder of those who resist it.

In my worst nightmares, I could not have conjured an Orthodox Judaism
that so radically dehumanized Palestinians and so casually embraced
pure terrorism as a religious norm. But that’s precisely what is
happening. Our rabbis — some eagerly, some with silence, others (like
Weinreb) out of muddled, parochial self-righteousness — are contributing
to a national pathology that eerily recreates the madness of pre-war
Nazi Germany.

But this time we are the Germans; the violence has already begun; the rationale for genocide is well under way; and, most tragic of all, the rabbis entrusted with the preservation of Judaism,
one of the oldest traditions to celebrate the sanctity of human life,
are acting as the enablers of terror. If we don’t stop them, we will be
complicit in the destruction of our own religion along with the human
rights of Palestinians.

Michael Lesher, an
author and lawyer, has published numerous articles dealing with child
sexual abuse and other topics. He is the author of the recent book
Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co.) and lives in Passaic, New Jersey.