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US rabbis touring occupation are afraid to be identified lest their congregations find out

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Haaretz has published a report about a tour by American rabbis of occupied Hebron led by two liberal Zionist groups, Breaking the Silence and T’ruah.

The rabbis are shocked by what they see in the occupied city– in which Palestinians have been moved out from their neighborhoods to make room for religious settlers. “I am terribly sad.. I am also infuriated,” says 93-year-old Stanley Kessler.

But only five out of “about a dozen” rabbis allowed reporter Judy Maltz to use their names.

[M]ost of them are unwilling to have their names or photos published. Their congregations back home, they explain, might not understand their decision to participate in a tour that offers a different narrative about the conflict – one that puts a human face on the other side and doesn’t paint Israel in the usual rosy colors.

“Most of these people have never had an opportunity to see what the Palestinians experience,” says Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, in a phone call from her New York office.

Maltz’s revelation is very much in line with what I reported in March from the J Street conference after an agonized rabbis’ panel. Their synagogue boards are attached to AIPAC, “we are losing the next generation,” one rabbi lamented; but the rabbis avoid talking about Israel lest they divide the congregation.

Israel-critics are muzzling themselves. Rabbis are in a difficult position. They want the conversation to happen, but big donors threaten to leave the congregations if there is criticism of Israel.

The rabbis Maltz accompanied to Hebron are in Jerusalem for a “leadership” program of the center-right Shalom Hartman Institute. They are the heart and soul of “the Jewish establishment,” older American Jews with strong allegiance toward Israel stemming from its creation and early wars. Many of these older Jews have never been to Israel, or only a long time ago, and have a dream-castle picture of the place.

Maltz says these rabbis might finally speak out against Israel over government measures to limit non-orthodox Jews’ access to the western wall– rather than about apartheid in Hebron. Though the rabbis didn’t want to talk about it to her!

These government actions have sparked an unprecedented backlash from American Jewish leaders. Might they now find the courage take a stand against other Israeli policies deemed harmful to the future of Israeli democracy – the occupation, for example? This was not a question any of these particular rabbis was ready to address on this trip, at least not on record.

That’s even after visiting a shrine to a Jewish mass murderer:

Before heading into Hebron, the bus makes a short detour to the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba. By way of introduction, Frima (“Merphie”) BubisBubis points out two sites that speak volumes about the mindset of the local settler population: a park named after Meir Kahane, the racist American-born rabbi whose political party was outlawed in Israel, and the burial place of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish-American physician who lived in town and who, on the Jewish holiday of Purim in 1994, shot dead 29 Palestinians praying in the nearby Tomb of the Patriarchs.

The rabbis can hardly conceal their shock at the words inscribed on his tombstone: “His hands are clean and his heart is pure.”

The rabbis also met a Palestinian who described the apartheid conditions:

Muhanned Qafesha, a local journalist and an activist in Youth Against Settlements – a Palestinian organization that advocates nonviolent resistance against the occupation, comes to brief the rabbis in their air-conditioned bus.

“You people don’t live here in Hebron, like I do,” he laments. “You come from America and from Israel, but because of the occupation, ironically, you have more rights in this city than I do.”

Whatever happened to the religious command to bear witness to an injustice? These rabbis may have forgotten that one, but not the young Jews of #IfNotNow. They’re not worried about donor pressure.

The rabbis Maltz names in the article are Kessler, Rabbi Daniel Burg of Baltimore, Michael Adam Latz of Minneapolis, Stephanie Kramer of Santa Rosa, California, and SaraLeya Schley, of Berkeley.

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12 Responses

  1. JosephA
    July 6, 2017, 11:00 pm

    These brave Rabbis that used their real names should be thanked and congratulated.

  2. RoHa
    July 7, 2017, 5:32 am

    “Rabbis are in a difficult position. They want the conversation to happen, but big donors threaten to leave the congregations if there is criticism of Israel.”

    They have to give money to God or he’ll send an angel to kneecap them?

    • Citizen
      July 7, 2017, 8:55 am

      Well, yes, metaphorically speaking, that’s the literal result. After all, being a rabbi is a regular career job, yes?

      • Mooser
        July 7, 2017, 11:36 am

        “After all, being a rabbi is a regular career job, yes?”

        I would think that when it all gets boiled down, being a Rabbi for a congregation is at-will employment. Never heard of one getting tenure.

      • Citizen
        July 7, 2017, 4:10 pm

        @ Mooser
        Precisely supports RoHa’s point, does it not? I still don’t get your point. Does anybody?

      • Mooser
        July 7, 2017, 5:40 pm

        ” I still don’t get your point. Does anybody?”

        Beats me. I have no idea what kind of, if any, employment contracts Rabbi’s have. I’m not even sure religious institutions have to follow state or federal employment law.
        They may indeed worry about keeping their job from week-to-week.

      • gamal
        July 7, 2017, 6:00 pm

        “I have no idea what kind of, if any, employment contracts Rabbi’s have.”

        I believe it’s like a marriage Rabbis are very dependent on the good will of their congregants, like Sunni Imams ( but we have traditional methods for keeping mosque committees off our backs)

        21st century institutionalised religion is something of a debacle, mostly we shout at the dying, bury the dead and marry and harass infants, we spend our days kissing the feet of supermarket owners and night club bosses, its the real world not disney.

        Saudi money can start to look good.

  3. Elizabeth Block
    Elizabeth Block
    July 7, 2017, 10:01 am

    I’m not surprised. Rabbis, like anyone else, want to keep their jobs. And it isn’t only the big donors, it’s the majority of congregations – or at least the most vocal majority.
    I once went to an event at a synagogue that was meant to give Zionists arguments for defending Israel. From the questions, it was clear that the people in the pews were far more rabidly Zionist than the panelists, who were, after all, professional Jews, and actually knew something about Israel.
    I have a friend who is newly ordained as a rabbi, and isn’t even looking for a congregation; she plans to work as a chaplain.

    • Mooser
      July 7, 2017, 12:07 pm

      A cousin of mine was a Rabbi, in fact, he presided at my Bar-Mitvah. When he got canned for it, he first went into hotel-kotel management, then attended Cordon Jeu and became a Chef Rabbi.
      So there’s no lack of opportunities.

      • Citizen
        July 7, 2017, 4:11 pm

        Remember that pop song “Smooth Operator”?

      • Mooser
        July 7, 2017, 5:53 pm

        “Remember that pop song “Smooth Operator”?”

        It didn’t go all that smoothly for him. There were some rough patches.
        He had bad dreams for years, dreams in which he was pursued by angels on horseback.

      • RoHa
        July 7, 2017, 7:18 pm

        That was a song about a Welshman, wasn’t it? I seem to remember it said something about the Western Mail.

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