APN Board Member Martin Bresler: Give Pause...


Although the High Holidays have concluded, we have an obligation to continue reflecting on our thoughts, words and actions - not just as individuals, but as a Jewish community. I hope that during this time of continued contemplation, we can take an honest accounting of the current state of the land of Israel - not only its many accomplishments and gifts, but its frightening move towards intolerance and violence. Former APN chair, Martin Bresler, has eloquently made the case for this self-examination in his essay below; APN makes the case every day for the imperative to act against this danger. We ask that during this holiday season you support our critical work. It's not about right and left, it's about right and wrong.

Debra DeLee, President and CEO, APN

Marty Bresler

Yom Kippur, the day when Jews seek to make things right and return to the proper path, has just passed. Although we have confessed our sins and beaten our chests, we should pause before patting ourselves on the back about our moral superiority.

When we Jews are the victims of Palestinian terrorism, we comfort ourselves by saying we are not like “them.” We tell ourselves we are the moral ones, the rational ones striving for peace. We are not the ones consumed by hatred.

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However, we are now ceding the right to claim the moral high ground. Events this summer should have opened our eyes to this truth.

Ground Zero for these eye-opening events is the West Bank, where in July Jews firebombed a home in the Palestinian village of Duma, killed an 18-month old baby and his parents, and scrawled the Hebrew word for “revenge” nearby. It was as shocking as the 2014 immolation of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli Jews as “revenge” for the murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas terrorists.

Yes, after the Duma murders, Prime Minister Netanyahu phoned Palestinian President Abbas to express "shock and horror." And yes, the Israeli cabinet authorized the use of extended administrative detention measures – which allow suspects to be held indefinitely without charges – against Israeli Jewish suspects and not just against Palestinian suspects who are routinely imprisoned this way. While these responses were appropriate, they fall far short of what Israel does when seeking Palestinian terrorists. This apparent lack of zeal on the part of the Israeli government for finding and punishing Jewish terrorists encourages rather than confronts extremist Jews, who have been enabled by every Israeli government since the territories were occupied in 1967.

"We are witnessing a mutation of Judaism, a new Judaism – fanatic, violent and now murderous as well," Uri Avnery, a member of the Irgun as a teenager and later a Knesset member, wrote in Haaretz in August. "It is liable to bury the state, just as it buried the Second Temple."

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June saw another demonstration of this new Judaism, when a Church on the Sea of Galilee was torched. Jews were suspected (and indicted) in the attack. Unable to accept that Jews were responsible, the Zionist Organization of America blamed the Palestinians. Later, the head of the extremist Lehava organization declared his support for torching churches.

To conform to this new norm, every statement Abbas makes is held up as proof that the Palestinians are not partners for peace, while hatemongering, like Netanyahu’s election-eve call about “droves” of Arabs coming to the polls, is waved off as merely domestic politics.

Lawlessness is now the norm in the West Bank. Since 2008, there have been 15 fire bombings of Palestinian homes by suspected Jewish terrorists. No one has been arrested. Settler violence against Palestinians and their property goes unpunished. Illegal settlement construction is applauded and aided while the demolition of Palestinian housing is rationalized on the grounds of security.

For those who are outraged that the Palestinian Authority is “Paying Salaries to Terrorists with U.S. Money,” as a headline from the rightwing Gatestone Institute put it, there’s this recent headline by JTA: “Taxpayer dollars in the United States and Israel are subsidizing Jewish terrorism against Arabs, a complaint filed with the New York state Attorney General’s Office alleges.” The Israeli organization Honenu, “which provides financial support to Jews convicted of or on trial for violence against Palestinians,” benefits from its tax-exempt status.

Did we ignore facts on the Day of Atonement, or did we do a reality check?

Yes, we appropriately pat ourselves on the back over “Startup Nation” and Israel’s scientific achievements; we should feel proud that Israel is treating Syrians in Israeli hospitals. But we must also have humanitarian concern for the catastrophes unfolding in the West Bank. We can agree with Netanyahu when he crows that the Palestinians “name public squares after the murderers of children, and this difference [from how Israelis behave] can’t be covered up,” but we must recognize that Israel has its own streets named after Jews who were convicted of terrorism by the British in pre-state days, and that mass murderer Baruch Goldstein’s grave, a pilgrimage site for some, is across from the Meir Kahane Memorial Park.

If we care about Israel, we need to stop patting ourselves on the back for being better than “them.” Believing Israel can do no wrong blinds us to the wrongs perpetrated by the state, and in the name of Jews. This belief, and the actions that stem from it, desperately need repair. Now that Yom Kippur has ended and we ended up on the right side of the gate, it is time to be on the right side of history.

Martin I. Bresler is a current member and former Chair of the Board of Directors of Americans for Peace Now.