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Happy February Temple Beth Israel

The beginning of February is a beautiful time in our Torah’s journey. We often read about the Passover saga, the parting of the Red Sea, and the wonders of receiving the Torah at Sinai. While we read these events in late January or early February, they feel more like Spring holidays- an odd misplaced distortion of time and celebrations. As we have arrived at a point in the Jewish calendar, in-between Tu B’Shevat and Purim, where the peak of winter has reached its darkest, coldest period, the quiet allows us to pause and reflect on what the last 100 days of war between Israel and Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis has brought us.

In my many conversations and journeys with congregants at TBI, I have heard the pain, anguish, sorrow, and fearful uncertainty, following the savage, barbaric attacks on October 7th. Folks within our congregation often ask about the day-to-day war updates and what if any threats exist against our local community. Luckily, the pride and strength of the Plattsburgh community continue to shine not in few but through and through. In particular, I am overwhelmed by the public outcry against the pro-Hamas anonymous student editorial in the SUNY Plattsburgh Cardinal Newspaper. Whether supporting us by coming out to demonstrate solidarity during our communal Chanukkah lighting party or participating in our interfaith council’s Thanksgiving prayer service, there is a true desire for the public to understand the conflict and to support the local Jewish population. Sadly, much of the United States does not seem as united as Plattsburgh. 

In terms of Israel, the war has consumed the entire national psyche. The hope that Israel could contain the conflict indefinitely ended on October 7th. If Israelis are utterly exhausted, I can only imagine how the poor Palestinian Gazans must feel. The end to this war and the return of all the Israeli hostages does not yet seem possible, let alone a final peace resolution to this internal conflict, culminating in two tranquil states for two people. However, if both sides ever grow tired of war, luckily we have many great roadmaps to this pipedream. In fact, Israel has painstakingly worked for such a reality in her past. The Palestinians were offered a state in 1947 under the U.N. Resolution to partition the British Mandate, before the second Intifada in 2000, and most recently in 2008. The last two attempts offered between 93%-97% of the West Bank territory, agreements on water, security, and financial incentives to help build the West Bank Palestinian civil society, with modern western infrastructure. Somehow when push comes to shove, the Palestinian leadership has never been able to sell peace to their own population. Violence and terrorism reign inevitably whenever the prospect of peace appears, leaving one to wonder if the Palestinian authority would ever accept any terms other than the maximalist position of all the land without any Jews.

We, American Jews, shouldn’t be naïve either. Israel has taken advantage of the disfunction within the Palestinian leadership for years, as she has justified many of her questionable tactics and illegal land seizures as a legitimate response to the Palestinian authority’s warm embrace of terrorism. A majority of Israelis vote for right wing governments because voting for a leftist or even moderate government is not received in the Arab world as a compassionate, moderate approach to a peaceful final two-state solution, but rather it’s viewed as a weakness to exploit. Such an Israeli government has historically only emboldened terrorism; for some reason, the Palestinian authority has never been able to duplicate the same moderate desire to negotiate for peace and land. On her pathetic part, Israel seems incapable of making the difficult decisions and committing the painful concessions she needs to extricate herself from this conflict, which would be to dismantle the West Bank settlements. After October 7th many Israelis dont believe doing so would really lead to a long-lasting peace if the other side was never really interested in renouncing violence as a perquisite to peace and land. For many Israelis, it’s not about the West Bank settlements if much of the world thinks Tel Aviv is an illegal settlement, and many in-fact do, even though there is no historical truth to such a ridiculous claim. How does Israel dispel these radical beliefs, when she has already offered to leave up to 97% of the West Bank? It seems like a lose-lose proposition. If the international community is only interested in demilitarizing the Israeli occupation of the West Bank without addressing the need to demilitarize and deradicalize Gaza and the West Bank, then it appears as though Israel will continue to dictate how these terms are met.

This is why Israel needs to take the bold step to eventually extricate herself from the West Bank while inextricably linking the final UN supported peace deal to the other conflicts that continue to plague the world. Why can’t this be an opportunity to end war and to rally for peace everywhere? Russia and Ukraine have been at war since 2022. Remember Cyprus? Yes, the Greeks and Turks have been at war over the island since 1974. This speaks nothing to Turkey’s refusal to acknowledge their role in the genocide of 2 million Greek and Armenians. No doubt the UN must care about all claims of genocide equally? Perhaps these far off distinct conflicts don’t match the same regional intensity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Well, we don’t need to look any further than to Israel’s neighbors: Syria, Iraq, Iran, and once again Turkey; four countries which have all declared the Kurdish people and their desire for an independent state as non-sense terrorism. Where is the outcry for an independent Kurdistan or for end to the Syrian Civil War? North and South Korea seem to be closer to war today than at any point since the Korean War ended. I can continue to wax poetic about China’s treatment of the Uighurs, but first let me know whatever happened to the Free Tibet movement. Really, where did it go? Was it successful? If this appeal sounds like whataboutism, keep in mind, I am not absolving Israel of her responsibility to do everything within her power to seek peace among the Palestinian people. I’m just curious why the international community mostly focuses on this conflict, and the U.N. never seems to apply enough pressure to resolve any of these other long-standing disputes. It must be a blessing that the United Nations exists to help the world not solve the Israeli Palestinian problem; only to fail in resolving so few other disputes. The worldwide condemnation of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, in particular but not isolated to the occupation of the West Bank, cannot truly just be about this conflict when so many other conflicts, wars, disputes, and terrorist campaigns continue to rage without any actual concrete investment to end those disagreements. And, therein lies the frustrating, hypocritical, dirty, double, impossible, no-good standard facing Israel. 

The Palestinian societal embrace of terrorism, which has killed countless Israelis, needs to be addressed as no more or less legitimate than the deaths of innocent Palestinians. Where is the accountability from the Palestinian leadership? It seems to always be placed on the feet of Israel. If we’re playing international moral referees, then let’s call penalties on both sides and not just when it’s convenient. I’m talking about cherry-picking what conflicts receive condemnation, or worse, what drives those who ONLY seem to care so profoundly about this conflict to an odd, self-righteous fury; and all the more so if you’re not Jewish, Israeli or Palestinian. Within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, outsiders seem to take the hostilities uniquely personally, and I don’t think it has anything to do with their connection to the Holy Land. What else could it be? What is one’s personal connection to this sole conflict or rather their soul’s conflict? Why can’t the worst versions of ourselves admit to what’s really going on here? If guilt rather than justice is the new currency in which the world uses to pay for progress, then isn’t there enough guilt to go around? There’s just something special about the Jews’ Wars, and it has less to do with human rights or justice for all, and a lot more to do with good old fashion Jew hatred.

Often, individuals and nations are so blindly anti-Israeli that it alters their perception of reality; they hold the Jewish state to a different, higher, or more critical standard than they would judge any other country. Legitimate criticism of the Israeli government set-aside, if we hold Israel to a higher standard than any other country, then that is text book antisemitism. The sooner the world comes to terms with their latent, subconscious antisemitism, the better off we will all be. Many of Israel’s haters and the useful ignorant tools of the haters don’t understand or care about Israel’s impossible moral and security dilemmas which exist not 6,000 miles away from her borders but rather 6 miles away. If intersectionalism address the suffering of all marginalized people, where do the Jewish people fall on the victimhood spectrum? Surly 2,000 years of exile, Roman induced slavery, Catholic Church sponsored Crusades, Inquisitions, & Pogroms, followed by a European genocide, an Arab-forced exile of 900,000 Sephardic & Mizrachi Jews, several Arab army invasions, and waves of Palestinian terrorism campaigns must account for something in terms of sympathy? Do the same ethical platforms in which BLM, Me Too, and Times Up exist not apply to the Israelis raped on October 7th? In the wake of the attacks, some folks could not even allow themselves to sympathize for Israelis, let alone console Jews who have never stepped foot in Israel. These liberal, progressive human right’s organizations short-circuit when their narrative around Palestinian suffering meets the Jewish peoples’ historical experience with blood-thirsty antisemitism.

Therefore, the burden is clearly on Israel to once again carry the mantle and lead the world as a beacon to all the nations. No doubt, Israel should commit to a fair peace deal with the Palestinians; one in which a decent leader of the Jewish state would want if the shoe was on the other foot. It would also be expected for Hamas to return our hostages, demilitarize, deradicalize, and renounce any claim to any other territories, as well as the Palestinian right of return within any other Israeli territories. The Torah teaches that the quest for peace is ultimately what should unite all of humanity, but only a strong nation can make the painful concessions necessary to forge that peace. Let Israel honestly tell the world, if you want peace here, you must commit to peace everywhere. If we’re going to culturally appropriate Passover liberation for all people, to which the Jews have gladly given permission for centuries, we can’t turn the Jews into Fuhrers and Pharaohs by falsifying, villainizing, and demonizing the very same people for whom the Nazis tried to wipe off the map with true genocide. Can we please apply the same honest and fair standards in which we judge and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to each side in all of the world’s conflicts in order that the same sweet tasting lessons of Passover freedom can be applied to and benefited by all people? If the answer is no, then what makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so special, other than it involves the Jews, and more importantly, should Israel continue to participate in a disingenuous peace process? The Jewish people must summon their own inner Nachshon, by taking the courageous and dangerous leap towards peace and by showing the world how to end war. Let us pray that the next 100 days, shortly after this year’s Passover, all sides, everywhere will be much further along in the peace process.

Chodesh Tov,

Rabbi David Joslin


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