It seems that when a Jew declares support for Israel, they must always begin with disclaimers and clarifications. I am a faithful Jew, a rabbi, a Zionist, a progressive, a supporter of Palestinian self-determination.
While it bothers me on one level to preempt the range of prejudices I have encountered from within my Jewish community and from the wider universe of discourse, on another level it feels affirming to make clear what the values are that inform my opinions. So there you have it: I am neither disconnected from the particular demands of my faith in God nor a participant in the dismissal of the injustices that the Palestinian people have suffered.
Now, as they say, to the part.
The most terrifying moment for me in September 2001 was the statement released by Osama bin Laden after the terrorist attacks on September 11. “We will win,” he said, “because people in the West love life; we love death.”
He made it clear that there was no price too high to pay for the achievement of the larger goal, which was the defeat and subjugation of the enemy.
What we are witnessing in Israel and Gaza right now is that plan in action. The decision of Hamas to invade Israel on a holy day close to the 50th anniversary of another such attack is disgusting, but not merely disgusting.
I question the values of anyone who considers that a defensible idea. But I don’t know which day is a good day to begin a war.
However, how you decide to conduct your war is not a matter of taste. There are always tragic collateral consequences when soldiers use lethal force.
But to target civilians for execution, to set out to capture unarmed young adults at a music festival, to invade homes seeking hostages among the very young and the very old—these are condemnable actions that cannot be explained away even by those who attempt to draw some equivalency between the actions of Israel and the actions of Hamas.
To defend those actions is to be complicit in them. And to equivocate in condemning them is to offer moral cover for repeating them.
The people who crossed from Gaza into Israel with murderous intent were not soldiers. They were not militants.
At best, they were terrorists, that is, intent on causing extreme fright in innocent people. More accurately, they were murderers, criminals guilty of violating the most universal of the Ten Commandments and the law of every country on the planet.
A person who lays claim to faith cannot maintain the integrity of that belief without entirely rejecting the acceptability of those criminal acts and of the murderers who perpetrated them. My own sacred Scripture begins with God choosing life and ends with the commandment to the faithful to choose life.
Osama bin Laden was correct that one of the values of the West, a legacy from the Jews, is a love of life. The “we” in which he included himself was not the community of Muslims, who also overwhelmingly love life, but the subset of criminals, of murderers, who represent the opposite of that mandate of choice.
If you side with these murders and kidnappings, you choose death.
Unless and until we reject the wrong choice, there is no hope for peace or even stalemate. People committed to death will not relinquish that commitment because they are embraced by people who are committed to life or to justice or to coexistence or—let me be clear—to eradicating the Jews of the Jewish State.
We each have choices to make as this conflict unfolds. The first of which is life or death.
There are many choices that follow but they all flow from that first one. The choice of death means more and more death.
The choice of life opens every other possibility. Therefore, choose life.