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On July 28, Rabbi David Seth Kirshner, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, claimed at an Israel rally near the United Nations that Gazans who voted for Hamas were not civilians, but legitimate military targets, as reported on Mondoweiss.
Rich Siegel protested to the rabbi on email as soon as he read about his speech. On Saturday, August 2, Rich and I mounted a small protest at Temple Emanu-El in Closter, NJ, Rabbi Kirshner’s pulpit. Rich carried a sign, “When Will We Jews Realize That Israel is Insane?” I carried my all-purpose “Zionism Threatens Us All.” In Rich’s account:
The police were called, and we were very politely advised by a policeman that we had the right to be there, as long as we stay off their property, which we did. Here’s where it gets interesting. Many congregants shouted “Fuck You” at us and/or gave us “the finger”. These are people on their way to a worship service. Not all did. Many ignored us, and a few engaged us in conversation. But there was a surprising number of obscenities/obscene gestures, coming from people on their way to worship. I am “Music Minister” at a Unity Church. I tried to imagine what would happen if anyone saw reason to picket my church (although it’s difficult to imagine that anyone would have need to do so.) I really can’t imagine anyone from my church shouting obscenities if that were to happen. I think our congregants would invite the protestors in to the service, and I think they would be invited to meet with the minister. To me this represents the difference between people who are involved in the sincere worship of God, as compared with people who are worshipping idols, in this case the idols of Jewish tribal identity and the Jewish state.
Afterward, there was correspondence between Rich, a congregant, myself and the rabbi. Here is my email to Rabbi Kirshner and the congregant, and the rabbi’s brief response:
Dear Rabbi Kirshner:
My name is Harry Clark. I was the person standing with Rich Siegel on the sidewalk at the synagogue driveway last Saturday, carrying a sign, “Zionism Threatens Us All”.
I read your letter to the congregation about our presence .
The police officer did not express your extreme sense of menace and peril when he spoke with us. He smiled politely, assured us that we were within our rights to stand and protest where we did, and warned us for the record not to enter the grounds, which we obviously had no intention of doing. He might have found the tone of your letter somewhat hysterical.
Here is the paragraph from your speech at the UN rally.
“When you are part of an election process that asks for a terrorist organization which proclaims in word and in deed that their primary objective is to destroy their neighboring country and not to build schools or commerce or jobs, you are complicit and you are not a civilian casualty.”
The Gaza voters rejected the Palestinian Authority and elected Hamas because of the former’s corruption and utter failure to improve their condition, not in order to destroy Israel. Israel’s blockade of Gaza, not Hamas, is why Gaza lacks schools and commerce and jobs. The people of Gaza have no control over Hamas’s actions. To declare them combatants and fair targets for Israel’s arsenal is to advocate the massacre of civilians, a heinous war crime. The UN has condemned the Israeli attacks on UN shelters, and denied that its facilities were used by Hamas, which you claim justifies Israel’s slaughter of civilians with advanced weaponry. Israel, which kills, beats, imprisons and tortures Palestinian minors, is the child abuser.
Hamas supports a two-state solution, in the view of Paul Pillar, a 28-year veteran of the CIA and a fellow at Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Israel’s irredentism, not Hamas’s, is the obstacle to peace. Israel promoted Hamas as a way of weakening the secular Fatah, Yassir Arafat’s faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Palestinian refugees in Gaza are from Ashkelon and other places from which Israel expelled them in 1948. See Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” for Zionist planning and expulsion of the Palestinians.
See the work of other Israeli scholars, such as Motti Golan, Zeev Maoz, Avi Raz and Avi Shlaim, for scholarly accounts of Israel’s belligerence and irredentism. Read courageous Israeli journalists such as Gideon Levy and Amira Hass in Haaretz. All these authors tell a very different story from the one your congregants heard in your presentation on Tuesday I’m sure.
Arthur Hertzberg, your distinguished predecessor at Emanu-El, once called for Israel’s aid to be reduced to make it more amenable to peace. He would likely have disagreed strongly with your jihad against the people of Gaza. He would also have disagreed strongly with the air of existential crisis, for American Jews and for Israel, that American Jewish leaders like you foment daily. In 1987 he wrote: “The tragedy of the last twenty years is that the new Jewish power has not been open to the counsels of moderation.” What would he make of the present atmosphere, and of your contribution?
It is a positive thing about US society that millions of European Jews could emigrate from the most impoverished and oppressed conditions, and rise to the top. Today, the organized Jewish community, with its myriad institutions and affiliations, is overwhelmingly powerful. That power created Israel in 1948, and has developed Israel’s belligerence and irredentism since 1967. Today Congress leaps to do AIPAC’s bidding. Presidents dare not challenge Israel’s behavior even when vital US interests are at stake. It has been a catastrophe for Palestine and the wider Middle East, for Israel itself, and for the US.
It is the moral apocalypse for American Jews. Your eagerness to contrive crisis, dread and aggression from a position of overweening power is frightening. In the opinion of many, your ignorance and fanaticism are the crisis. One is appalled by the present, and is terrified of the future, if you are not stopped.
Rabbi David Seth Kirshner:
I am blocking your future emails.
Your ignorance is a drain on my time.
Harry Clark’s article “The End of Modern Jewish History,” which expands on these issues, will appear in Left Curve, No. 38, forthcoming in April. He may be reached at his web site http://questionofpalestine.net