Leading rabbi connected to AIPAC calls for limiting aid to the ‘fanatical,’ violent Israel – Mondoweiss

Posted By on September 16, 2021

Here is an interesting sermon from Rosh Hashanah. Jonathan Blake, a leading Reform rabbi in New York, likens Israel to Abraham and says there is a good Israel and an Israel of dangerous fanaticism that lifts a knife against the innocent. Then he calls on American Jews to restrain the bad Israel by redirect-ing money away from it.

Rabbi Blakes Rosh Hashana sermon is important because he humanizes the Palestinians while deeming Israels policies towards its Palestinian people as fundamentally broken, Rabbi Michael Davis, a seminary professor and independent rabbi in Chicago, writes. I remember just 10 years ago when it felt transgressive, bold and dangerous (to my career) for me to affirm Palestinian humanity from the bimah of my Reform temple. Suggesting that Israel has homicidal intentions toward its Palestinian populations is yet another a striking departure from what was acceptable for rabbis until just recently. Blakes Abraham-Isaac parallel sets up Israel as a child killer, giving American Jews the role of restraining Israel/Abraham from his murderous tendencies towards Palestine/Isaac.

Blake is on the board of the pro-Israel group Zioness and sponsors students trips to the AIPAC lobby conference. And in this sermon he says that Zionism is a historical and moral imperative for Jews and links the nonviolent BDS campaign for Palestinian human rights to terrorism.

His temple, Westchester Reform Temple in posh Scarsdale, is establishment as they come. Rick Jacobs was for 20 years a senior rabbi at Westchester Reform before before moving up to headthe Union for Reform Judaism.

But lets hear from Blake.

His sermon on Abraham and Israel can be found at this link, under ErevRH Adult service 5782, starting at minute 38.

Blake says Abraham was two irreconcilable characters: on the one hand a moral hero and paragon of restraint, on the other a militant zealot and extremist. Abrahams family saw his worst side. Rough, intolerant, fanatical even a toxic narcissist, Abraham barks orders at his wife, casts out son and concubine, and when he hears a mysterious voice telling him to kill his other son, willingly complies with its outrageous demand. Of course Isaac survives, thanks to the angels intervention, but he is fated to dwell to the end of his days in the shadow of his father [with a] legacy of family trauma inflicted by a man intoxicated with grandiose visions, Blake says.

Segue to Israel.

How uncannily [the two Abrahams] resemble the Israel of today. A split personality Israel. An Israel that inspires me on one hand and vexes me on the other. An Israel that stirs in me great admiration, love even, as well as grave concern.

Blake says its a fraught time to share such thoughts meaning that people will see him as a traitor in light of the widespread condemnation of Israel for the Gaza attack of last May. But the rabbi is on Israels side.

Recall the international outcry, the vast majority of it castigating Israel. Recall the 24/7 new cycle that kept this story front and center for two weeks while other headlines like the May 16 terrorist bombing of a school in Kabul [killing 90, mostly girls] barely registered.

It has been four months and I remain shaken, despondent, angry. And Im not alone.

Israel is misunderstood and maligned. But even Jews are hearing the criticism.

We find it alarming that so many of our young people are caught in the crossfire of a debate characterized by a surplus of moral outrage and a shortage of reason or understanding.This spring as many of you are aware, our students were pummeled with a steady stream of social media, public demonstrations, quads festooned with posters accusing Israel and Zionism of racism, apartheid, colonialism, ethnic cleansing and even genocidewords that have become part and parcel of the daily conversation about the worlds only Jewish state.

In such an emotionally charged milieu with such hysterical rhetoric, framing the public conversation around Israel, is it any wonder that students feel worried and confused? We should all feel worried and confused. I know I do.

Blake cited the recent survey showing that a quarter of American Jews agree with the statement Israel is an apartheid state. Nearly as many say Israel is committing genocide. And one in five Jews under 40 say that Israel does not have a right to exist. These Jews dont know the real, messy Israel.

I am doubling down on my commitment to educate the Jewish community about the real Israel, the real messy beleaguered, beautiful, bewildering, singular Israel. Im determined to do my part to demand an end to the delegitimization of the worlds only Jewish state.

I am determined also that we embrace complexity and reject one dimensional narratives about Israel, both reflexive demonization and reflexive defensiveness. We must understand that there are today two Israels that like the two Abrahams coexist uncomfortably within the same body. Theres the Israel of moral greatness and theres the Israel of dangerous fanaticism.

Blake then lauds Israel as a startup nation and a humanitarian nation that embodies Jewish destiny and Jewish values. He praises Naftali Bennetts government for unifying right and left and including an Arab party.

But Israel has been intolerant toward Palestinians.

It is a state that has eroded its democratic credibility by passing laws of dubious necessity that chauvinistically privilege Jewish culture and Hebrew language while disregarding the cultural sensitivities of the more than one in five of its population who are not Jewish

A country that continues to encroach on Bedouin and Palestinian lands with ever expanding development projects and settlements, further marginalizing and aggravating already underprivileged populations. A country that has empowered some of its most fanatical religious and ultra nationalistic voices in the name of security to the long-term detriment of security, much less peace.

About this Israel, the Israel that resembles the second Abraham, whose religious fervor nearly led to the sacrifice of his own child, we must unflinchingly speak the truth, because we are Jews and thats what we do. The Torah regards as an act of love and a moral obligation to offer reproof when ones fellow goes astray. We do not prevaricate, we do not dismiss uncomfortable truths.

The occupation is a morass with no end in sight, fostered by wealthy fanatical donors.

In the Israel of today, extremists, cynical political officials and wealthy patrons have coopted a 54 year long military occupation of the West Bank for their own ideological purposes, a grandiose vision of Jewish totalitarianism in the biblical holyland. What began as a necessity for Israels security has now become a moral and political morass with no end in sight.

Blake acknowledged that the U.S. also struggles with racism and inequality; and he jabbed at Palestinian leaders for passing up every opportunity to make peace, preferring terror, preferring BDS, preferring griping to the United Nations, preferring the status of perpetual victims.

But Jews need to restrain Israel. Here the rabbi called for restricting aid to Israel.

We are Jews and we have a shared stake in the Jewish state and it is our work that is not doneSo too may this Rosh Hashanah bring about in us a reckoning with the reality of the two Israels

When we teach about Israel, [Rabbi Bradley Artson] says, we can endeavor to tell the messy truth of a persecuted people searching for safety going to a land full of meaning for the Jewish people.. but also full of human beings who did not ask for new neighbors.

When we vote we can vote for leaders who wont continue paying lip service to peace while funding violence. We can use our position as citizens of Israels biggest benefactor to push to regulate and redirect funds in equitable ways that promote a peaceful and just future.

And when we pool our philanthropy and direct our giving, we can pay attention, Is our tzedaka supporting those who build peace or those who sow hate and violence disguised in the name of justice and Jewish continuity. Is our tzedaka supporting those who plant trees with their neighbors or those who are planting over their neighbors homes? The question is, how can Israel exercise its considerable power morally.

Blake wound up by saying Jews must come to terms with Jewish power and Israels power. He offered the lachrymose view of Jewish history, a recitation that says Jews must achieve sovereignty and break heads.

To be powerless is to be pure, to be pure is to be innocent. But innocence comes at a price, one that has been particularly terrible for Jews. 19 centuries of expulsions, ostracism, massacres, blood libels, torture and systemic discrimination led to Zionism, which was very simply a movement and a demand for sovereign Jewish power in the land of Israel. That the state of Israel was born, raised and remains under fire is not a sign of the failure of Zionism, it is a reminder of its necessity. I believe in the necessity of Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, the declaration that we deserve to live free from terror and violence in our national homeland. But I believe in more than just the necessity of Zionism, I also believe in Zionism as a moral imperative that rectifies millennia of injustice and suffering..

The great moral dilemma of our time is, how to exercise this imperative morally.

Blake lamented Israels treatment of Palestinian demonstrators at Al Aqsa mosque and commented, The moral exercise of power rests on the ability to discern when to raise the knife.

My friend Rabbi Michael Davis comments: Rabbi Blake should be praised for his honesty in reporting so many uncomfortable facts that undermine the old Jewish consensus around Israel. That he could deliver such a sermon and not suffer professional consequences reveals how far the conversation has moved in the Jewish community. This progress is thanks, in no small part, to the consistent work of dissident Jewish organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow.

Yet, there is a still a long way to go. It is deeply disturbing that reflexive repudiation of BDS continues to be a touchstone for almost all Jewish organizations and synagogues, including Westchester Reform Temple. BDS is a non-violent call equality under Israeli law. As a non-violent campaign for justice, BDS is no different from Martin Luther Kings work in the 1950s and 1960s. If the beneficiaries of the BDS campaign were anybody else but the Palestinians, Jewish leaders like Rabbi Jonathan Blake would enthusiastically endorse this strategy, not link it to terrorism, as he did in this sermon.

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Leading rabbi connected to AIPAC calls for limiting aid to the 'fanatical,' violent Israel - Mondoweiss

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