THE BAFFLING CONDEMNATION OF ISRAEL
BY RABBI MARK HILLEL KUNIS
I must admit that I’ve been walking around these past few weeks with a cloud over my head as the war in Gaza rages. Unlike the Gaza war in 2009, Israel is reluctant to stop until the terrorist threats are neutralized to the point that they won’t return in two or three years.
What’s hardest for me is seeing the building outrage against Israel. It’s somewhat understandable when it comes from Israel’s enemies or from countries that haven’t been friendly to Israel. But this week we’ve seen in the UN the likes of England, France and Germany condemning Israel. And with the popularity of social media like Facebook and Twitter, condemnation of Israel has become a really popular sport. It has gone viral and it hurts.
It hurts every time I read about a celebrity condemning Israel. It was enough that so many celebrities have refused to perform in Israel over the last few years and have gotten involved in the BDS (Boycott Divest and Sanctions) movement against Israel, but now I read horrible, misinformed things by celebrities every day. Here’s a sample from this past week:
- Performing in England over last weekend, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder launched into a profanitylaced tirade in which he accused Israelis as being people, “who are looking for a reason to kill… They’re looking for a reason to go across borders and take over land that doesn’t belong to them…They should get the f*** out, and mind their own f***ing business.” Israel pulled out of Gaza nine years ago. There wasn’t a single Jew left. It only returned trying to stop missiles fired into Israel.
- Selena Gomez, 22-year-old actress, singer and girlfriend of Justin Bieber, posted an Instagram post that read: “It’s about humanity. Pray for Gaza.”
- Rihanna tweets: “#FreePalestine support.” • NBA player Dwight Howard tweets: “#FreePalestine.”
- Comedian Rob Schneider, whose father is Jewish, tweets: “The ugly inhuman siege of Gaza.”
- And of course, there is Rosie O’Donnell, who defended Helen Thomas’ ugly anti-Semitic remarks, retweeting: “It’s nothing short of a massacre, a deliberate massacre. War crimes committed daily.”
- Mia Farrow, now a UNICEF ambassador, has tweeted many messages of support of Gaza.
- Mark Ruffalo, actor in the movie The Avengers, and Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and foodie, made comments in support of Gaza.
- John Cusack tweeted this resolute message: “I have been to Israel and Palestine & bombing civilians is not self-defense.”
- Penelope Cruz, husband Javier Bardem and Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar are a few of the Spanish stars to accuse Israel of creating a “genocide.” Genocide? Are they saying Israel is deliberately trying to kill every Palestinian? Really?
What’s going on? Has there ever been a war where it was clearer who is on the side of the good and who is on the side of evil? It was Hamas that began the war by launching 2,000 missiles against Israel.
I read about an interview that Israel’s Channel 10 U.S. correspondent Gil Tamari had with Joan Rivers, asking why so many celebrities like Selena Gomez, Rihanna and Dwight Howard identify with the Palestinians. Rivers, who I think is even funnier in her old age, didn’t whitewash her response. I couldn’t have said it better and so I’m sharing it with you. She noted that Gomez had just left rehab and is not a college graduate and that Rihanna is “beautiful but not the smartest bulb in the lamp.” Rivers then said, “Celebrities see pictures of children and go crazy.” And she adds: “They’re not listening. If America would be attacked by Mexico and one rocket came over, there would not be a Mexico…Everyone forgets Hamas, who are terrorists, who are not legal, who started this, who continue to break the truce, everyone forgets what we are dealing with here.”
Rivers had a unique suggestion to up the ante on Israel’s Hasbara [PR] efforts: “I think Israel should start showing dead puppies [killed by Hamas]. And you’ll see these girls turn right around and go, ‘aww, boo hoo.’”
She also had another suggestion: “These girls should shut up and put on pretty clothes, and get themselves off of drugs and leave me alone.”
Rivers further said: “No matter what Israel does – and we are so right and so honorable, the world does not want to listen and you want to shake people and say have you lost your minds? You’re dealing with terrorists. You’re dealing with people that have no respect, that are liars, that are using their children as shields. If someone says ‘Get off the beach,’ you don’t send four young children and a photographer to be killed to send a picture out.”
Rivers offered a stellar PR suggestion for Israel: “I think every Palestinian should get a nose job because once somebody has had a nose job they won’t fight ‘cause they’re scared their new nose would get broken. I think we should send over every great Jewish plastic surgeon doctor, fix their noses, and there will be peace in the Middle East.”
I’d like to share with you an exchange of emails I had this week with someone who says he’s a neighbor:
I am writing to you because your congregation is the closest to my home here near Decatur, Ga, and therefore yours is the closest group of Jewish people I can express my views to.
The actions of the Israeli government over the last few weeks is vile. They do not seem to care how many children they kill, how many civilians they kill, in a besieged strip of land inhabited by people who do not have the capability to defend themselves, or to leave unsafe zones, or even the country. They have no USfinanced “iron dome”…
I have children. You may do, too. These developments, these deaths, are heartbreaking. When 2 little bodies can fit side-by-side on one stretcher, I wonder what the hell we collectively have, as people of this world, become.
In case it is not apparent to your congregation, the world as far as I can see it, is disgusted at the Israeli government’s ongoing actions…I hope that at least the smartest people in your temple are also disgusted at their homeland’s government’s actions…
I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Jewish person whom I didn’t like. But as for the apartheid government of Israel…I don’t believe I’ve ever been aware of an existing one whose actions have saddened and depressed me less…
Regardless of the hell on earth being perpetuated today in Israel’s outhouse, I wish you and yours only peace. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am certain you and I both wish for a better tomorrow.
Kind regards, Jerry…
I have to admit that I was pretty shaken when I first read this. Do you think there are others like Jerry in the world, in America and right here in Atlanta in Toco Hills? Of course there are and their numbers are growing. That’s why I took the time to respond to Jerry. What would you say? Here’s my response:
Thank you for reaching out to me. Let me first say that all in our congregation, as all Jewish congregations, are profoundly disturbed by the death of innocents on both sides. You make yourself out to be a sensitive and compassionate person, yet your letter is so one-sided.
You said, “They (Israel) do not seem to care how many children they kill, how many civilians they kill.” This is simply untrue and you know it. Never before in the history of the world has a country in war time done more. Israel calls the cell phones of residents and drops leaflets warning of an impending action even though this reduces its effectiveness and puts Israeli soldiers at greater risks.
You fail to mention that it is Hamas that has launched over 3,000 rockets into Israel, hoping to kill Jewish children. It is Hamas that has taken materials Israel has provided to build schools and hospitals—like steel and cement— and used them to build over 30 tunnels, from which, according to captured Hamas soldiers, they were planning a massive terrorist attack on Rosh Hashanah this year in order to kill and take captive many thousands of Israelis. It is Hamas that has refused or violated every cease-fire proposed. If the first cease-fire were accepted, the death toll would have been minimal. All Hamas had to do to stop Israeli attacks was to stop firing rockets at her. It is Hamas that uses schools, homes, hospitals to launch its missiles and uses woman and children as human shields.
I can only conclude that you are either grossly misinformed, or an anti-Semite, despite your claiming that, “I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Jewish person whom I didn’t like.” And the fact that you call Israel an “apartheid government” when it is the most diverse, democratic country in the Middle East with full rights for women, gays and Israeli Arabs, this only confirms for me the latter.
If you truly are the compassionate person you make yourself out to be, consider seriously what I have written.
We will continue to pray for peace and healing for all,
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis
My friends, Jews throughout the world are now in the throes of the nine days of mourning which will reach its height Monday night as we observe the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av. This special fast mourns all the terrible tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people—all of them have occurred on Tisha B’Av or had its roots in something that happened on Tisha B’Av.
This year the chanting of the Megillah of Eycha will have a special meaning as it begins: Eycha yashvad badad ha-ir rabati am, “How is it that she sits all alone, the city (Jerusalem) that was so great with people?” More and more today, we Jews, along with Israel, are feeling isolated and alone. Let us pray that Tisha B’Av this year will mark not a time of destruction, but a time of securing Israel from future destruction — ushering in an era of peace. As it says in the last verse of Eycha, let us pray: Chadeysh yameynu k’kedem, “Renew our days as of old.” Bring back the good days when we were closer to You G-d. It’s a hopeful ending in which, in these days of missiles and tunnels, we can all find meaning. Amen.
Editor’s note: Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis is the rabbi at Congregation Shaarei Shamayim in Atlanta.