Rabbi Pete Tobias
2 June 2010
The Israeli assault on the Gaza flotilla will make waves that extend far beyond the Mediterranean coastline where the bloody events took place. And those waves will reach me, my community and then all of us.
The first wave will touch me as a Jew (and a rabbi to boot) because there is an assumption that I am totally supportive of all the actions of the Israeli government and the forces that purportedly operate on its behalf. If I dare to say otherwise, I am condemned by my own community as a self-hating Jew, a sympathiser with Muslim terrorists whose only wish is to see the destruction of the state of Israel.
The second wave will reach me for precisely the same reason. My synagogue, my community, my religious heritage no less, will also come under attack, as the behaviour and the attitude of the Israeli government are somehow equated with the Judaism we practise, believe and represent.
And the third wave will extend to me, my community, and all of us, no matter what our belief system or religious (or non-religious) affiliation. We live in a world in which there are people who cower in abject poverty behind a blockade that separates them from their sworn enemies. Those enemies hurl hatred at one another, regard one another as less than human, and perpetuate that hatred through persecution and indoctrination in the name of religion.
As long as such hatred exists in the world, all of humankind is denigrated. The Hebrew word shalom, understood to mean peace, actually comes from a root that means “complete”. When there is conflict and hatred, intolerance and violence between human beings anywhere, humanity is incomplete. Thus we are all touched by waves from what happened in the Mediterranean sea, by the events that prompted the flotilla, the actions that were directed against it, and the angry threats of revenge that follow.
And now there will be more waves: recriminations, accusation and counter-accusation, as the brutalised humanity of which we are all part diminishes its stature further still. Lowering commandos onto a purportedly peaceful flotilla is just the latest manifestation of human folly of which there are countless examples in recent decades in the Middle East. And humankind’s inability to live in peace with itself is not limited to that bloodied stage. Oppression and injustice, cruelty and intolerance are rife on our troubled planet.
And now the Jewish community in this country, members of my synagogue and I must take steps to protect ourselves against it. It is well documented that threats to synagogues and other Jewish institutions and individuals increase when Israel’s actions are greeted with hostility. These waves of violence dehumanise us all. Yet my community prays for peace, regularly incorporating the following words in its prayers:
“It is not enough to pray for peace. We have to work for it: to challenge those who foster conflict, and refute their propaganda; to ascertain and make known the truth, both when it confirms and runs counter to conventional views; to denounce injustice, not only when it is committed against us but also when it is committed against others; to defend human rights, not only our own but also theirs; to insist that peace requires sacrifice – of pride, or wealth, or territory … and to build bridges of respect and understanding, trust and friendship, across the chasms that divide humanity.”
Belief in those principles, that human task, and a desire to promote them, influenced my decision to become a rabbi. I believe that such ideals reside at the heart of Judaism, indeed at the heart of any religion worthy of calling itself such. Their absence from the actions and attitudes that currently prevail in the ancient birthplace of my faith devalue religion, as do responses to them. Therefore, as a Jew and a rabbi, I cannot possibly condone any actions – by anyone – that inflict violence and perpetuate conflict and the inhuman treatment of other human beings.
And so I wait, Canute-like, for the waves from the Mediterranean to wash over me. My words, my beliefs are unlikely to be able to hold them at bay. But I hope they will have some influence in saving me, my community, my Liberal Judaism and our world from being drowned by them.Click here to read the original story
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