Israel, the Media and You: A new Commitment in the New Year

A CNN Reporter, BBC Reporter, and an Israeli commando were captured by terrorists in Iraq. The leader of the terrorists told them that he would grant them each one last request before they were beheaded.

The CNN Reporter said, ‘Well, I’m an American, so I’d like one last hamburger with French fries.” The leader nodded to an underling who left and returned with the burger & fries. The reporter ate it and said “Now, I can die.”

The BBC Reporter said, ‘I’m a reporter to the end. I want to take out my tape recorder and describe the scene here and what’s about to happen. Maybe someday someone will hear it and know that I was on the job till the end.” The terror leader directed an aide to hand over the tape recorder and dictated some comments. The reporter then said, ‘Now I can die knowing I stayed true until the end.”

The leader turned and said, “And now, Mr. Israeli tough guy, what is your final wish?”

“Kick me in the ass,” said the soldier.

“What?’ asked the leader, “Will you mock us in your last hour?”

“No, I’m not kidding. I want you to kick me in the ass,” insisted the Israeli. So the leader shoved him into the open and kicked him in the ass.

The soldier went sprawling, but rolled to his knees, pulled a 9 mm pistol from under his flak jacket, and shot the leader dead. In the resulting confusion, he jumped to his knapsack, pulled out his carbine and sprayed the terrorists with gunfire. In a flash, all terrorists were either dead or fleeing for their lives.

As the soldier was untying the reporters, they asked him, “Why didn’t you just shoot them in the beginning? Why did you ask them to kick you in the ass first?”

“What?” replied the Israeli, “and have you report that I was the aggressor?

For me that joke is no joke.  This was my experience this summer in Israel during Operation Protective Edge. No matter what channel I turned to Israel was the enemy rather than legitimately defending itself.

Increasingly, Israel has been painted into a horrible corner. On the one hand it must find a solution to make peace with its neighbors and end the military control over Palestinians. But Israel cannot let the extremists like Hamas committed to its destruction have the kind of weaponry that it has.  Israel is portrayed in the world press as the aggressor. Israel is portrayed as the one who stalls the peace talks, as the murderer of Gazan children.  Israel is portrayed as Nazis.  Nazis mind you—the very group that murdered our people as if we have a final solution to gas Palestinians with Zyklon B.

Israel is not a perfect country. It is as complex as the United States.  There are policies of our government that are good and there are policies I abhor.  So too in Israel. Israel has policies that I disagree with as well but it seems in the media and often in our own discussions that Israel is portrayed as a problem country.

The view of Israel from here and from there creates a very different perspective of Israel.  I want to share with you a few of my observations from the time I spent there this summer. And on this holiest of nights, ask you to stand with Israel, the Jewish state in her hour of need.  I want you on this holy night to become someone who even if you don’t agree with every policy of Israel’s government to pledge to work on behalf of our people’s homeland. And to work to create the kind of Israel that continues as a strong, vibrant nation.  And I am asking each of you tonight to become an advocate for Israel here in our own country.

Let me share with you some of my thoughts from my experience this summer and how you might engage yourself in supporting Israel and Israelis.

As many of you know I spent a chunk of my Sabbatical in Israel as I do each summer.  Again I had the privilege of studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.  It’s hard to describe the experience of studying with more than 150 rabbis of all denominations.  But the mornings are like one big Yeshiva.  For those of you who may have grown up in that world or studied yourself in a Yeshiva at some point in your lives there is a certain cacophony in a yeshiva. It is the sound of voices reading and discussing a Biblical or Talmudic text.  At the Shalom Hartman Institute this summer we studied Jewish ideas and texts on War and Peace. The topic was chosen last January.  Perhaps it was a portent of things to come.

As we gathered at the beginning of our studies, Israel was already on edge for 18 days as the three teenager, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach   had been kidnapped and missing.  Everyone in the country was talking about the hope of their return, much like everyone held out hope for Gilad Shalit’s return a couple of years ago.  But that first night I was there the news interrupted the World Cup playoffs that the three boys’ bodies had been found.  People filed out of the restaurants, cars disappeared off the streets and a hush fell over Yerushalyim as if it was Shabbat.  The whole country was instantly in mourning. And the next day, our first day of studies, the tension in Israel could be felt everywhere at every turn.

The Hartman Institute that morning was muted. Our sense of communal loss colored by understanding the political implications of the murder of the three teenagers, Eyal, Naftali and Gilad made for a sad beginning to our studies. And framed the background of war and peace.  There were already daily disturbances in Shuaafat-a primarily Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem not far from the American Colony Hotel and in other cities in PA.  Rocks and bottles were being thrown by young men, their faces wrapped in kaffiyahs.  During the 18 days of the missing teenagers, more than 350 Hamas loyalists were arrested in Ramallah and Hebron, and seven people died in the roundups who were resisting arrest or attacking the IDF. Everyone was on edge.

The world press from Sky News, to France 24, of course Al-Jazeerah condemned Israel for these actions.  They said this was an excuse by Israel to recapture those it had just freed from jail.  They reported that this was a stunt by Israel who simply wanted to oppress the Palestinians.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Israel prepared for the funerals of the three boys, the press played the Moked 100 audiotapes, this is the equivalent of 911.  You can hear Gilad whispering that he was kidnapped. You can hear the operator’s disbelief. And then you can hear the shouting in Arabic and distinctly hear the gunfire that surely killed them.

Against this background, a retaliatory kidnapping of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed abu Khadier, was murdered in cold blood. Burned alive in the Jerusalem Forest.  Jewish thugs, Jewish murderers were arrested and have already been prosecuted.  But now both Jews and Arabs were sitting shiva.  The Frenkel, Shaer and Yifrach families and the abu Khadier family in their mourning tent in Shuafat.  Israelis were outraged that this could happen. The Israeli press decried the cold-blooded murder of Muhammed.  How could Israelis, Jews, murder in cold blood?  These were the headlines in the Israeli press.  This picture of themselves to Israelis was deeply disturbing. “What was happening in Israeli society?” Israel’s free press decried the senseless murders of Muhammed and of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali.

And there were so many unanswered questions. Why didn’t Bibi and the Israeli police already surmise that the three teenagers were dead if they had the audiotapes? Why did the IDF go door-to-door rounding up Hamas leaders? Was the kidnapping merely a pretext for harassing these Hamas members on the West Bank?

It was a perfect powder keg following the failure of the nine months of Kerry talks trying to work out a solution between the PA and Israel.  And the final straw for Israel was when Abu Mazen entered into a so-called Unity Government with Hamas. This made it near impossible for Israel to finalize any progress made because there was no discussion in the agreements about Gaza and demilitarization. Once Hamas was party to the PA government-the negotiations would change. And it made it impossible for Netanyahu to contain his right wing flank that is part of the government.  Remember Netanyahu, is a politically weak Prime Minister. He put a government together barely and his party doesn’t hold a majority in his own coalition.

And then the rockets started to fly- not just in the south of Israel near the border with Gaza but aimed toward the major population centers near the middle of the country. Tel Aviv, Modi’in, Jerusalem, all the way north to Nahariya outside of Haifa.  Almost nowhere in Israel felt safe from the long-range missiles of Hamas.  It was Hamas’ bid to shift the attention from their failures. Hamas had been isolated. Was out of money. With the coup in Egypt and the trouncing of the Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas no longer had Egyptian benefactors. Al-Sissi the general who took over in Egypt closed the smuggling tunnels from Egypt to Gaza and closed the Border with Gaza at the Rafah Crossing. Hamas couldn’t pay its soldiers because the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt was one of its protectors and financers and so had to turn to its rivals, Fatah, and Mahmoud Abbas for help. That is why it agreed to enter into the Unity Government.  And Abbas wanted back into Gaza.

But Hamas took advantage of the tensions in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority and murders in Israel to gain sympathy for its cause by launching its offensive. And because Abu Mazen only gave them small portfolios, it launched its war without regard for Abbas, shifting attention away from finding a solution and peace agreement for Palestinians.

By July 8. I had joined an AIPAC, mission of Progressive Rabbis.  The first of its kind. And after an amazing first dinner together with reporter and author Yossi Klein HaLevi overlooking the Old City, upon return to our hotel the sirens in Jerusalem went off. At first I didn’t know what it was.  I was already in my room.  I had the Television on. There was a siren on the TV and outside my room. I thought oh it’s a police siren, then no, it’s a fire truck, and then I really tuned in to what the TV was saying…. It was a red alert.  I jumped into shoes and headed out of my room.

Jerusalem has 90 seconds from launch to hit. Unlike the southern towns in Israel that have 15 seconds.  I can tell you 45 seconds went by in my just trying to decode and figure out what was going on.  I went into the

 

reinforced stairwell and waited at least another 10 minutes for the all-clear signal.  And then with my heart palpitating I went down stairs to find my fellow rabbis coming out of the miklat-the shelter on the first floor with other hotel guests. Crying children, shaken adults, including me.  One family from Columbia with two little girls asked us to pray with them because they were so upset. I don’t know for whom it was more calming for, them or me?

Throughout the next week of my trip all over Israel and meeting with Ministers from the government, from the Foreign Ministry, Deputy director of the UN Mission, Director of MASHAV, – Israeli AID around the world- My group had several close encounters. Running to bomb shelters, hearing the booms of the Iron Dome missiles system shooting rockets out of the sky.  Comforting Israeli family and friends whose children and husbands and boyfriends and daughters were called up as Operation Protective Edge went into effect.  Everyone serves in the military reserve and so the country in effect shuts down. Commerce is interrupted because people are called up into the military and not at their desks. University classes and finals had to be rescheduled because the students were called to their tank divisions and computer brigades.  For the first time ever –American and European airlines shut down operations for two days succumbing to the successful portrayal of Hamas in the press.

I tell you this because in the media you experienced a lot of rhetoric about Israel. The pictures coming to you from Gaza didn’t tell the whole story.  Oh yes, there was damage and sadly people died in a war.  Innocent civilians along with Hamas soldiers.

But there is more to this story than the world press would have you believe.  Why was there a round up of Hamas loyalists? That seemed to trigger the missiles from Hamas?  Was it the kidnapping? Perhaps it was in part.  But something bigger was going on—and it only came to light later in the summer, in August after it was declassified.  Hamas tried to oust Abbas. Hamas tried a coup d’etat in the West Bank. Israel’s roundup of Hamas loyalists was about protecting Abu Mazen.

But that story isn’t the story that gets told.  The story on CNN and the BBC was only how Israel the aggressors caused this war. And Abbas at the UN reinforced that message to the leaders of the world.

Yes there was damage inflicted in Gaza and it will have to be rebuilt. People were wounded.  Children died. It is a war. It is heartbreaking. One that for now is quiet. And sadly everyone on both sides expects it to happen again. Israel tried to be careful.  But Hamas’ military rules of engagement explain how to use civilians and how to launch missiles and rockets from schools and residential areas.

Israel regularly tried to warn the citizens of Gaza to flee.  Israel would first drop leaflets telling them when exactly it would bomb. Then it called all of their cellphones. Then it would shoot what they call “a knock on the door” a kind of shell that explodes above the building as a warming and then finally take aim at the building.  Of course the press here and around the world didn’t report those steps. The headlines in the International Herald Tribune simply read Israel targets residential buildings or schools.  Nothing about the tunnels built under the buildings. Or the stockpile of missiles on floor 10.  They wrote nothing about the UNRWA –UN Schools serving as missile launching sites. Or the staged photos that only after the war was over was uncovered by an Indian reporter from New Dehli.  None of that matters.  It is always Israel that does the damage and is the one to blame.

War is hell.  It is a terrible thing.  Those of you that served in the military and saw battle action know that how awful war is.

But I can assure you the US in its airstrikes over Iraq and Afghanistan did nothing like this to mitigate civilian deaths.  And as reported by CNN on Thursday just yesterday, “New rules meant to temper the civilian death toll from unmanned U.S. drones won’t apply in the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the White House says.” (http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/01/politics/wh-isis-civilians/index.html)

As we go after ISIS we will not pay attention to civilian deaths?  Where is the outcry now from the Arabs and the Palestinians? This is a double standard applied to Israel but not to others.

My friends, Israel needs your support. Supporting Israel doesn’t mean that you agree with everything Israel does. I too still believe that Palestinians should have their own land and that there has to be a freeze on building in the Palestinian territories.

But at what cost to Israel? Hope is fading quickly for a two state solution in Israel.  And this latest battle between Israel and Hamas will erupt again unless the world takes seriously the call to demilitarize Gaza.  Hamas wants there to be no Israel.  And it has already issued a call to arm again. It is building tunnels again. Even though Israel destroyed more than 32 tunnels that were dug under the Israeli border in order to attack and kidnap Jews. Which Hamas did during this latest exchange.  Israel foiled an attempt for a mass invasion.

The view from here in Los Angeles is very different than being on the ground in Israel.  The war between Israel and Hamas is no different that the war being conducted now against ISIS.  Hamas and Isis share much in common including core values one of which is a commitment to the destruction of Israel and Jews.  The country of Qatar has funded both Hamas and Isis as has Turkey both supposedly US Allies.  Turkey has refused to allow the US to use our Airbases there to stage attacks on ISIS. And both Turkey and Qatar have housed Hamas leadership and continued until today.  Who are our allies we must ask?

And let’s not forget Iran in this picture.  Iran and North Korea both have supplied Hamas with major military arms in particular the Fajir missiles, which are warhead capable. As well as other long range missiles. Imagine now if Iran gives Hamas nuclear material? What will happen to Israel? We cannot let Washington take its eye off of Iran. They still supply money to Hezbollah and Hamas. And when they attain nuclear weapons which is only a matter of spinning a few more centrifuges-they have the capability already-the world will have even greater problems as will Israel and the whole region. Because Saudi Arabia will not let Iran be the only power in the region with out nuclear arms—and they will acquire them as well.  This makes the whole area a greater powder keg.  What if ISIS then topples the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and obtains nuclear weapons.  It won’t just continue to behead Americans and Britains or the French or shoot Jews in Brussels. But now Israel’s story is not in the focus of the media.

Israel needs and will continue to need America’s support.  Syria as a country is gone. More than 2/3 of Syrians are refugees in Lebanon, Turkey or Jordan or Iraq and another 4.25 million Syrians are displaced in what is left of Syria. My heart aches for the people of Syria. Isis controls a significant swath of both Iraq and Syria and even a part of Lebanon. Hezbollah has been fighting in Syria. Lebanon is weak.  Jordan is shaky and has Syrian and Iraqi refugees and Isis pounding on its eastern border.  Saudi Arabia is nervous because of Iran and Isis because it shares a huge border with Iraq. Turkey is worried about the Kurds and the truth is there is no more Iraq-Isis controls large sections and the Kurds another section.  The nations that surround Israel are either non-existent or on very shaky ground.  Already Israel said if ISIS makes more incursions into Jordan they will protect Jordan.  Israel is already treating Syrian refugees who come over the border with shrapnel injuries, missing limbs, and infections due to malnutrition and war injuries. More than 1200.

But this is a story you will never hear of at CNN. Israel’s humanitarian aid to Syrians and in Palestine and Gaza.  Even during the war this summer during the height of fighting between Hamas and Israel-Israel was shipping into Gaza for its citizens, water, food, electricity, gasoline, medicine and other basic necessities.  But no BBC reporter talked about that.

And yes, Israel has to stop building settlements. But at the moment, Israel cannot just simply walk away from the West Bank as it did Gaza in 2005 because if it does, Abbas will be toppled.  He is already 79 years old, smokes a pack a day.  Hamas will rule the West Bank and then the rockets and missiles won’t just be coming from Gaza but from Ramallah too. It is 12 miles from downtown Ramallah to Downtown Jerusalem.

The situation is complex.  Even more complex than time will allow me.  But there is something you can do about all of this.  GET INVOVLED.

Israel needs advocates.  Over the last number of decades as the Jewish birthrate has fallen off dramatically, we have become a smaller and smaller percentage of the American population.  We are less than 1 percent today.  And though you may live here in Los Angeles the second largest Jewish population in the United States-I want to assure that most Congressional districts in America have no identified Jews at all. Think for yourself-what Congressional district has a majority of Jews?  One in NYC?  One in Brooklyn? Maybe on the Westside of Los Angeles—the one Henry Waxman held all these years?  The answer is not even one! If we want America and Israel’s relationship to remain strong in the face of all these threats to our Jewish and Western values then we have to be strong for Israel in our political system—no matter which side of the aisle you are on.

Disagree with a policy of Israel, and make your voice known.   But at this time we cannot and must not as a Jewish community and lovers of Israel advocate to Congress to withdraw much needed funds that go to Israel’s protection from these everyday threats. Without the funds Israel gets from the US-there would have been no Iron Dome missile system that protected much of Israel. I saw it in action-and was saved by this miracle technology.  Israel still does not have enough Iron Dome batteries to protect the whole country.  It needs the US and its aid.

In truth the number of Jewish Senators and Congresspeople of either party is diminishing.  Israel needs each of us to become advocates for Israel there. If we want a strong Israel and we want to influence Israel to do the right things we need to make sure America and Israel’s bond remain strong. And we can do that by reaching out to not only California Senators and Congress People but those in other states. And by understanding and explaining Israel’s strategic importance to the United States, our long history of friendship, and the common values of true democracy, a free press, representative government, and value of human life that we in this room share together.

Even with all these problems. Israel has much to celebrate.  World class universities, and Arts and Culture. Israel has solved its water crisis through advanced desalinization technologies, which are being exported to California to help us deal with the drought.  Israel has more companies listed on NASDAQ than any other foreign country.  Israel has developed technology that will make paraplegics walk, cancer detection available to all easily, and is building the largest cyber center in the world in Beer Sheva that puts Israel on a par with the worlds biggest nations, China, Russian and the US! Israel is becoming energy independent with the largest Natural Gas field in the world—larger than the Saudi’s oil fields and will be able to supply many nations.

And yes, Israel has issues and problems. Just like here. Income inequality, treatment of foreign workers, the control of the rabbanut-that continues to exclude Conservative and Reform rabbis although with each passing month-more in roads are being made.  And Israelis are getting impatient as well.

So how to get involved? First I want to invite you to join me-at AIPAC’s National Policy Conference March 1-3 in Washington, DC.  Together we will lobby Congress on Israel’s behalf. It is the largest gathering of Israel supporters in N. America.  More than 15,000 people come there to learn more about Israel and its successes and challenges. The top people in government in the US address the plenum and the top people in Israel address it as well.  The latest technology and advancements are featured and then you are trained to advocate with your legislators on behalf of Israel.  It is energizing and amazing and the most bi-partisan experience I have ever had.  Information on the Conference is in your bulletin.  I want you to join me in this experience.
You can come to Israel with me. I am looking for a minimum15 people to head to Israel with me in mid June.  We will be meeting in October for an exploratory meeting.  If you are ready to go send me an email with the subject line I’m in. It’s been a few years since Kol Ami has traveled to Israel together.  But Israel needs our presence. We need to help Israel bounce back economically. And nothing will do that like our going to Israel.  We will sight see, meet experts, and yes, shop and we might even squeeze in a bit of relaxation on the beach!

There are lots of organizations that support Israel, Jewish  National Fund, Israel Bonds, and of course ARZA –the Association of Reform Zionist of America. If you aren’t already a member—it is only $36 dollars a year to support Reform Judaism in Israel. It is the largest support of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. It is also the largest support of the Israel Religious Action Center headed by the feisty and fabulous Anat Hoffman who has through their legal work-leads the way for liberal Judaism gaining equality in Israel, and battles for women’s rights at the Kotel, and help Bedouin women and girls get equal due in the Israeli education system.  Through ARZA membership we help create the kind of Israel we know can lift up the whole nation!

And then later after the first of the year will be the elections for the World Zionist Congress.  You will hear more from me then. But we will need each of you to vote in these elections because a large portion of money is allocated to the organizations and denominations in Israel that get the most votes. This is our chance with our votes at the WZO Congress to help shape a progressive and inclusive Israel in a direct way.

On this holy night of Kol Nidre, we have the opportunity to shape our future by atoning for the sins of the past. This year we ask for forgiveness for not being a stronger advocate for Israel and repenting by committing to do one of these things in the New Year to strengthen our Zionist resolve and strengthen the state of Israel to be everything that we have always dreamed it could be. Reflecting not only the golden sun on the hills but the golden ideals of peace, and friendship for all its citizens and residents. A shining example of Or’L’goyim –as our Torah teaches A light to the nations.  May this be our goal and may each of us help Israel to get there. Ken Yehi Ratzon.

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