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Rabbi Sacks endorses religious crimes in video against BDS

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Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, has written some sensible things in the past, particularly about the dangers of religious exclusivism and about the roots of sectarian violence in what he calls the fallacy of “altruistic evil.”

That makes his recent descent into vulgar Israeli propaganda all the more infuriating. It’s hard to believe that Rabbi Sacks — a member of the House of Lords and author of the highly-praised Not in God’s Name (where his case against religion-based bigotry was called “well put, and worth hearing” even by the UK’s left-leaning Independent) — doesn’t have access to the facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, 2006

Yet the “whiteboard animation” he has just produced about “what lies beneath the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign” against Israel’s occupation, purporting to explain why “humanitarians…and all those who value a free society, must stand up against it,” is worse than a pastiche of lies. For anyone who takes it seriously — and many naïve readers probably will — it serves as an apologetic for exactly the sort of religious crimes Sacks has spent years claiming to abhor.

In less than 10 minutes, Sacks’ little video homily manages to endorse apartheid on religious grounds, to shred basic principles of international law in favor of religious violence, and to demonize an entire people — because they don’t happen to be Jews. Pretending to be the voice of sweet reason, Sacks’ animation is actually an insidious form of hate speech.

Take, for instance, his opening gambit, which is the ominous claim that any protest against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, or its systematic discrimination against all non-Jews under its control, is really “a prelude to its [Israel’s] elimination.” Such a claim makes sense only if “Israel” means Greater Israel — that is, a discriminatory regime that continues its illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since Rabbi Sacks implicitly endorses that definition, “Israel” is, by his own terms, an apartheid state — one that, in addition, imposes discriminatory rule precisely on the land recognized under international law as Palestinian territory. Which, in plain English, means that Rabbi Sacks endorses the effective elimination of Palestine. So much for his pretense of worry about Israel’s “elimination.”

And what about his indignation over the historical fact (he calls it “a vicious lie”) that “Israel is a colonial presence in the Middle East”? He rebuts this by saying that “[t]he Jewish connection with the land of Israel goes back roughly twice as long as the history of Christianity, three times as long as the history of Islam,” and that “Jews are the only nation in history ever to have established a nation state in the land.” Historically this is nonsense: whatever kingdom once existed under the rule of Aramaic-speaking Judeans well over 2,000 years ago was certainly not a “Jewish nation” in any modern sense (the concept of “nations,” let alone the existence of “nation states,” lay far in the future). But Rabbi Sacks’ position turns positively outrageous when he relies on religion to establish Israel’s “claim” to the entire land of Palestine. Surely he would deny that any latter-day adherents of ancient Canaanite religions could assert a superior claim to the same territory — in fact, he would regard that, rightly, as a form of fanaticism. How, then, can he defend Israel for using Judaism as a pretext for usurping the rights of the indigenous population? Isn’t that precisely the sort of religious-based violence the rabbi has always claimed to deplore?

Rabbi Sacks’ hypocrisy is on even clearer display when he laments that activists for Palestinian rights aren’t “demonstrating against the barbarism of ISIS” or “campaigning against the abuse of human rights by Hamas in Gaza.” Naturally, he cites no evidence that the organizers of the BDS campaign support ISIS or favor human rights abuses anywhere – there being no such evidence — but what is really breathtaking is his omission of any reference to the far more relevant “barbarism” and “abuse of human rights…in Gaza” committed by Israel. Has this human-rights champion already forgotten Operation Protective Edge, barely two years ago, during which Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza killed over 500 children and destroyed some 18,000 housing units, leaving over 100,000 people homeless? If he has, his memory is criminally short; if he hasn’t, then he is the one to be rebuked for selective application of humanitarian principles.

His conscience is so selective that Rabbi Sacks claims “Israel is…the only state whose very right to exist has been constantly challenged.” Really? One can only wonder where this man has been living. An overwhelming international consensus — repeatedly endorsed by every single Arab country and every single predominantly Muslim country in the world — clearly embraces Israel’s right to exist in peace and security within its internationally recognized borders. Once again, it is Israel — which rejects the consensus — that denies the right of a state, namely Palestine, to exist. And by taking up the cudgels for Israel on this issue, Rabbi Sacks denies that right too.

In fact, he denies more than that. By refusing either to listen to Palestinian voices or to acknowledge Palestinian rights, Rabbi Sacks effectively denies Palestinian humanity. That amounts to just the sort of hate speech — in the name of God — to which Rabbi Sacks has repeatedly declared himself an enemy.

It’s bad enough that his entire presentation never quotes a single Palestinian, or even pro-Palestinian source. It’s bad enough that he stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the systematic Israeli violence — supported by the Israeli public — that continues to set the terms of every confrontation between Palestinians and the IDF. By suppressing the reality of Israel’s occupation — which is, after all, the subject of the BDS campaign — Rabbi Sacks leaves his readers to suppose that there is no occupation, that it has no victims, and that there are no Palestinians.

But there are, Rabbi Sacks. Palestinians exist; and in ignoring their existence you are abetting their victimization.

Like you, the people of Palestine yearn for life, for freedom, and for justice. But unlike you, they don’t have a powerful media platform from which to answer your demonization of them. And that is the measure of your moral failure. When a majority of Jewish respondents in a recent poll endorsed the on-the-spot assassination of any Palestinian who has attacked an Israeli, Palestinians needed you — a respected rabbi — to denounce Jewish support of state brutality as the outrage it was. Yet you were silent. As Israel gunned down children, attacked hospitals and medical personnel, systematically violated human rights, and enforced the dominance of one religious group over all others, Palestinians needed you to follow your own principles and to speak out against the evils you claim to detest.

Instead you turned a blind eye to Israeli brutality, and never acknowledged — let alone supported — the unarmed Palestinian resistance that has been growing for years all over the West Bank. You claimed to oppose religious violence, but in fact you gave it carte blanche whenever it enjoyed the support of the Jewish State. You treated the oppressors of Palestinians as if they were innocent victims. And now you’re denying the victims even the right to the nonviolent protest tactics once used against apartheid South Africa.

Hypocrisy is too mild a word for this. It’s literally a betrayal of everything you’ve claimed to stand for. Rabbi Sacks, I implore you: withdraw that vile piece of Israeli propaganda you’ve aimed at BDS, and try to become, once more, the clergyman you’ve always told us you mean to be.

Michael Lesher
About Michael Lesher

Michael Lesher, an author and lawyer, has published numerous articles dealing with child sexual abuse and other topics, including the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is the author of the recent book Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., Inc.), which focuses on cover-ups of abuse cases among Orthodox Jews. He lives in Passaic, New Jersey. More information about his work can be found on his web site

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26 Responses

  1. Citizen
    March 3, 2017, 11:34 am

    Here’s the Rabbi’s anti-BDS transcript–with commentary that rips it apart:

    • MHughes976
      March 3, 2017, 12:48 pm

      Thanks for link, Citizen! Good commentary by Robert Cohen in his remarkably recognisable style. Lord Sacks uses many of the arguments that seem to me most unimpressive when we read them from certain colleagues here in nearly the same words. The strange idea that ancient states with characteristics that he regards as ‘national’ have eternal rights, the treatment of the biblical record as somehow conferring rights even from the point of view of ethics that do not specifically appeal to religion – and so on, with the added appalling tone of god-fearingness.

  2. Mooser
    March 3, 2017, 11:40 am

    “It’s hard to believe that Rabbi Sacks —”

    Believe it, bro. He’s got himself a bad case of the Syndrome.

  3. AddictionMyth
    March 3, 2017, 1:05 pm

    I have a “new and better way”: one state with equal rights for all including full freedom of speech and religion without exceptions like ‘hate speech’ and ‘incitement’. Israel will be fine I promise. :-)

  4. Sulphurdunn
    March 3, 2017, 1:10 pm

    Who was it that said something about the alchemy of lying.? It went something to the effect that if you tell a really big lie, keep it simple, keep telling it, and don’t deviate from it, then your big lead lie eventually turns into glittering gold truth.

    • Citizen
      March 3, 2017, 7:07 pm

      Hitler recommended it in Meine Kampf & Goebbels also picked it up from Bernays.

  5. Ian Berman
    Ian Berman
    March 3, 2017, 1:35 pm

    At Palestine 365, the Ongoing Oppression, we find it strange that Rabbi Sacks chose an apparent wall to symbolize BDS as against human rights. This comes immediately after Rabbi Sacks states he supports the Palestinians right to have a state of their own and the right of Palestinian Children to have a future of dignity and hope. (0:44 mark)

    The irony.

  6. Ossinev
    March 3, 2017, 2:18 pm

    This is a jaw dropping example of how even hitherto apparently moderate,sensible and compassionate Jews in the West can be sucked into becoming Hasbara machines in the face of the exposure of Zioland crimes and the threat of BDS. They are ultimately too cowardly to admit that their beloved co – religionists are guilty of systematic crimes against humanity and flagrant abuses of International Law. They retreat to the easy opt out option of quite simply denying it , claiming that it is part of the ongoing “blood libel” against Jews and turning the other way. It also raises yet again the straightforward issue of national loyalties. The Rabbi is a British born native and has been given a Lordship based on his supposed contribution to British “values” but his words and in particular his reference to the so called “Jewish Nation” appear to suggest that his first priority and first loyalty is to another “nation”. Of course if challenged on this straightforward point he would I expect simply dismiss the question as yet another example of “blood libel”.

    Quite a sad spectacle in many ways as I had perhaps naively previously looked upon this man as having a basic traditional “British” sense of morality and a conscience when it came to the oppression of the Palestinians . Especially nauseated by the usual crap “whataboutery” and the “Palestinians had many opportunities” arguments in the video and the appalling denial/ignoring of the fact that 20 % of Israeli citizens are not Jews but the remnant of the huge majority of natives to the land who were expelled by his fanatical co – religionists. There is also a false quite repulsive and gloating bending of history to justify a religion based colonialism which is simply a variation on the ISIS theme ie Islam a religion being a “nation”.

  7. Talkback
    March 4, 2017, 4:22 am

    Just another spiritual fraud …

  8. talknic
    March 4, 2017, 6:31 am

    Makes me wonder just what the Zionist Federation has on the poor Rabbi …

  9. JLewisDickerson
    March 4, 2017, 10:09 am

    RE: “Surely he [i.e., Rabbi Sacks] would deny that any latter-day adherents of ancient Canaanite religions could assert a superior claim to the same territory — in fact, he would regard that, rightly, as a form of fanaticism. How, then, can he defend Israel for using Judaism as a pretext for usurping the rights of the indigenous population?” ~ Michael Lesher

    SEE: “Notes on Nationalism”, by George Orwell, 1945

    [EXCERPTS] . . . All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians [not to mention summary, extra-judicial executions – J.L.D.] — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side. . .

    . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. For quite six years the English admirers of Hitler contrived not to learn of the existence of Dachau and Buchenwald. And those who are loudest in denouncing the German concentration camps are often quite unaware, or only very dimly aware, that there are also concentration camps in Russia. Huge events like the Ukraine famine of 1933, involving the deaths of millions of people, have actually escaped the attention of the majority of English russophiles. Many English people have heard almost nothing about the extermination of German and Polish Jews during the present war. Their own antisemitism has caused this vast crime to bounce off their consciousness. In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind. . .

    SOURCE (“Notes on Nationalism”, by George Orwell, 1945) –

    • Keith
      March 4, 2017, 10:48 am

      JLEWISDICKERSON- “SEE: “Notes on Nationalism”, by George Orwell, 1945”

      Indeed, the “Orwellian” notion of Humanitarian Intervention and the Responsibility to Bomb (R2B) are accepted by large numbers of liberal imperialists who willingly support aggression when done by Democrats and phrased appropriately.

      • JLewisDickerson
        March 7, 2017, 6:48 am

        It’s all about using the “correct” language! And, of course, good visuals are like rich vanilla icing on the hegemonic cake.

  10. Steve Macklevore
    Steve Macklevore
    March 4, 2017, 2:37 pm

    Like many other kind and compassionate Jews, Rabbi Sacks just can’t criticise Israel.

    He just can’t – his entire self is committed to Zionism. Just as hard-line communists believed that history was inevitable and couldn’t make mistakes, so Rabbi Sacks fundamentally believes that Israel is so precious, sacred and important that he must support it, no matter how repulsive Israel’s actions are.

    How else can we explain the lies, exaggerations and omissions in his video? How else can we explain how an otherwise good and decent man can be so callous and vindictive?

  11. Shingo
    March 4, 2017, 9:21 pm

    Mind boggling how they keep repeating this crap.

    One has to wonder who the target audience is and who they think they can fool with these lies and obfuscations?

    I love how on one hand, he claims BDS will delay a peaceful settlement, but brings up the trope that the Palestinians turned down offers of a state in 1947, 1948, 1967 etc when there was no BDS.

    And his insistence that BDS will fail is clearly an act of desperation to convince himself and others.

    • Maghlawatan
      March 5, 2017, 4:56 am

      It’s the usual Zio garbage. “Human rights must be universal” yet Palestinians are denied them. There is the thug element. “BDS will make Palestinians suffer.”
      The map of Israel at 1.50 shows the West Bank as part of Israel. Judaism is in such a hole. What’s Israel gonna look like with a chimney on it ?

  12. Maghlawatan
    March 4, 2017, 11:01 pm

    Johnny Sacks is Orthodox and was the UK’s chief Rabbi for ages . For people of his generation Israel was the fount of all that is good in Judaism. But it hasn’t really worked out that way.
    Sacks’ role was to represent Jews in the Diaspora while providing full throated support for the sociopaths in the Middle East. Diaspora Jews respect the rule of law while Sabra Jews do not give a f#ck. It is a tricky balancing act. If Israel had been a normal country perhaps it would have worked. But Israel is not a normal country. I think the only conclusion from Sacks’ leadership is that it was a failure.
    “How will the Jews of the world react once it becomes clear to them beyond any shadow of a doubt that Israel is on a collision course with their very existential interests? The various expressions of fanaticism in Israel, such as the exclusion of women in the military and, in a short while, in institutions of higher learning; the denial of equal rights to its non-Jewish citizens and the division of the population according to ethnic origin can all ultimately be considered as subversive actions undermining the status of Diaspora Jews in their various countries of residence.”

    Sacks has always had knee jerk support for Zionism. Here is a good demolishment by Paul Oestreicher.

    I presume the anti BDS crowd thought getting a prominent Orthodox walla to talk to Galut would work. But it’s too late.

  13. Maghlawatan
    March 5, 2017, 4:43 am

    Also on his website

    “From here to the end of the book of Exodus the Torah describes, in painstaking detail and great length, the construction of the Mishkan, the first collective house of worship of the Jewish people Precise instructions are given for each item”

    Decency is not about structures. It’s about actions.

  14. Sulphurdunn
    March 5, 2017, 9:15 am

    “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
    If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
    It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
    I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.
    Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
    The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppose.
    It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.
    I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.
    People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get.
    No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.” Frederick Douglas

  15. Ossinev
    March 7, 2017, 10:14 am

    Thanks for the link to the Guardian article by Paul Ostreicher. I read the article in full and yes in many ways it does represent a ” Gideon Levy” type of “demolishment of Zionism”. However there are a number of references and views where the the author appears still to be tip toeing around the full Zionist reality. He refers to what was the Nakba as having been “a measure of ethnic cleansing”. He refers to the classic Hasbara trope of Iran wanting to wipe out Israel.He slips perhaps unknowingly into classic Hasbara defence whataboutery when saying “Tell me of a nation with an innocent history”.

    Perhaps the most revealing comment is:
    “I say all this despairing of the Israel I love. Its people are my people. The Palestinians are my neighbours. I wish they had stronger and better leaders. I wish their despairing young people had not been driven to violence. Just as I understand Jewish fears, I understand their despair.”
    So a British Citizen of German parentage who is an ordained and serving Chaplain in the Church of England is saying in effect that “his people” are not his British Anglican community but Jewish Israelis ? Plus the “wish for stronger and better leaders and the wish for despairing young Palestinians not to have been driven to violence strikes me as being blatantly condescending. Yes the Palestinian leaders have been weak and poor but the implication is that they are in some way also to blame for Israel`s barbarous occupation. Shades of Meir`s “we will never forgive you for forcing us to kill our children”. Similarly he refers to Palestinian kids being “violent” ie the implication is that they should not have resorted to using force of any kind against the brutal occupiers as that is “violence”.

    Perhaps I am setting the bar too high but I do feel that the pastor though worthy is not quite aware of the element of condescension in some of his remarks and is still reluctant to fully grasp the nettle when it comes to criticism of his beloved Israel.

  16. henspert
    March 7, 2017, 5:45 pm

    Attack the attack! invalid because they do not support animal rights. Rabbits need more carrots. Is there a relevant sound argument?

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