The Torah portion for this week (June 6-12, 2021) tells the story of the unwarranted and costly attack on Moses and the leadership of the Exodus led by the unscrupulous rebel leader Korach after whom the parasha (Numbers 16) is named. It represented the most serious and bloody attempt to overthrow Moses and led to serious loss of life and a realignment of the senior leaders of the Hebrew tribes. Fortunately, generations later the descendants of Korach were reassimilated into Israelite society and even appear as authors of some of the Psalms.
From May 8 to May 21, 2021, just a month ago, a complex period of political aggression, civil war, aerial bombardment of Israel and extensive counter attacks by the Israeli military exploded among Israeli citizens and between Israel and Hamas, the fundamentalist Islamic terrorist organization which illegally controls the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of lives were lost, even more were wounded and property damage in Gaza, especially Hamas terrorist sites, was extensive. As for now, a shaky truce remains in place.
This round in the ongoing Israel-Hamas-Gaza struggle resulted in unprecedented anti-Israel outbursts here in the United States and around the world. Without “getting into” the merits of either the Israeli or the Palestinian sides of the broader conflict, it is critically important to remember that Hamas is a terrorist organization and does not represent the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, much of the uproar in the US and the rest of world came from supporters of Hamas whose goal is not a two-state solution with both an Israel and a State of Palestine coexisting but the total destruction of the Jewish State. It is one thing to express humanitarian concern about the Palestinians. It is an entirely different matter to call for the elimination of the State of Israel.
Personally, I had two transformative experiences during what Hamas called “Operation Stone of Baked Clay” or what Israel called “Operation Pillar of Defense.” For the first time, I saw cars with “Free Palestine” bumper stickers on the Atlantic City Expressway. Secondly, I witnessed a large caravan of pick-up trucks racing through Logan Square in Philadelphia with men wearing khafias, waving Palestinian flags and chanting pro-Palestinian slogans. I have no problem with free speech and peaceful demonstrations. However, I think these two minor events represent a kind of tipping point in the United States. The American Muslim community is growing. The America Arab community is growing. Support for Palestinians is growing and support for Israel is declining, most notably among young Christian Evangelicals and young American Jews. What is most worrisome is that the line between pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas is being blurred.
Hamas has called for a worldwide campaign against all Jews. “Jewish looking” people have been attacked not only in Paris but also in New York. Already targeted by a dangerous, weaponized, anti-Semitic radical right wing, American Jews now face the prospect of a second flank made up of pro-Palestinian Arabs, Muslims and American leftists who are not just demonstrating for Palestinian rights but are calling both for the destruction of Israel and attacks on Jews around the planet.
Complicating the situation is the messy business of internal Israeli politics and the slow movement toward a “change government” made up of incompatible Jewish political parties as well as an Israeli Muslim block! Meanwhile, the United States is holding firm on its long-term commitment to a two-state solution and a number of Arab monarchies continue to favor positive economic relations with Israel over Hamas’ radical Islamisist agenda. One congregant half jokingly asked me if I could give a class on “Israel for Dummies.” I answered that I am not sure even Israelis can fully follow the current situation and what its long-term implications are.
So let me end with a few simple points. The United States, Israel and most of the world officially support a two-state solution. Hamas is a terrorist organization. The Palestine Authority (PA) is largely moribund. Innocent people on both sides are suffering and, above all, Israel has the right to exist in safety and freedom. We know there are radicals, murderers, troublemakers and alike in the mix. We also have our obligation to stand with Israel, support its pro-democratic forces and stand by the young soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who are protecting their families and the Jewish people. This is not an easy situation. But sometimes you have to be brave, loyal and focused on the bottom line issues. I stand with Israel, not every Israeli policy, but I stand with Israel, today and tomorrow!
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.