Rabbi Danny's Israel Sermon - The Gaza Protests

A Kaddish that broke my heart.

When Gabby was 11 months old we took her to Israel to meet her great-grandparents and assorted family members. The first morning we came down to breakfast in the hotel to be greeted by the hostess who complimented us on our baby. About 15 minutes in after Gabby had finished sort of eating her yoghurt and cereal she started to fuss. Almost immediately the hostess appeared and offered to take her for a walk and I didn’t think twice about giving my baby to a total stranger to walk her around the dining hall. She introduced her to all of the staff and disappeared from view on more than one occasion and I felt fine the whole time. And so began our daily ritual for the next week as Gabby would spend the bulk of her breakfast time with the hostess who showed her off, entertained her and allowed us to enjoy our meal.

I’ve often thought about why this felt totally fine in Israel and why I would never have let Gabby out of my sight if I were in England or America.

The truth is that Israel feels like home and the people there feel like family. And if a member of my family wants to hold our daughter then why would that ever be a problem.

And with this connection to the people of Israel and the State of Israel I have rejoiced at her successes, I have been disappointed in her failures and I have shed tears for the animosity and hate that she faces.

There are sermons that we as Rabbis want to give and there are sermons that we feel compelled to give. Today whether I want to or not I feel compelled to speak about Israel and the situation there.

During this past week I watched a video of about 30 young British Jews who gathered in Parliament Square on Wednesday last week to recite the Kaddish for 62 Palestinians who died on the Gaza border in the preceding two days. I watched friends, one of whom I had spent a year in Israel with and a Rabbinic colleague participate in this ritual during which the 62 names were read aloud and then the Kaddish was recited. And my heart broke. And in the same video I watched two activists swearing, cursing and threatening the gathered group for their betrayal of Israel and their support of Hamas. And I felt depressed at the way that we in the Jewish community speak to one another. And since watching that video I have not been able to move beyond it. And so, I want to share some reflections with you as I try to process what is going on in the country that I love.

The protests that have been taking place along the Gaza border are disturbing. It is difficult to watch as Palestinians stand behind a fence protesting against Israel and it is difficult to see soldiers standing across from what appears to be civilians. But we must be clear on what is really happening there. These protests are not a popular uprising of people fighting injustice; they are an orchestrated effort by Hamas, a terrorist organization, to undermine Israel in the court of public opinion. Listening to the words of the protest leaders and the Hamas activists, their aim is clear and unequivocal – the destruction of the State of Israel. And unfortunately, if our history has taught us anything it is that when people say they want to kill and destroy us we should believe them and respond accordingly.

I mourn for the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. I mourn for the loss of life. And I mourn for the situation that the Palestinians in Gaza find themselves in with a terrorist regime using them as human shields and sacrificing their lives, hopes and dreams in pursuit of Israel’s destruction.

But these so-called peaceful protests are not about finding a peaceful settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict; they are about erasing Israel from the map and the pursuit of Hamas’ terrorist ideology. Of the 62 people who were killed, Dr. Salah Albardawil declared that at least 50 of them were Hamas activists. Knowing and recognizing what Hamas believes I am heartbroken that members of the British Jewish community would recite the Kaddish, one of our most sacred prayers, over terrorists who seek the death of Jews and the destruction of Israel. For this situation to occur, we as a community have failed in our Israel education, we have failed in our understanding of what it means to be am Yisrael – the people of Israel, and we have failed to understand the nature of the conflict. And while this video was from England, we know that there are similar opinions and perspectives held on this side of the pond.

And while I am appalled at this recitation of the Kaddish, I am also troubled by the other people in the video who are seen threatening and cursing at the gathered group. Whether we agree or disagree we must find a way in which we can talk to one another politely, respectfully and in a way that elevates the debate rather than alienating each other further.

I have been thinking about what I want to say to my friends and to my rabbinic colleague in the video. And at the end of the day it boils down to a single word and question: Why? Why did you choose to gather in Parliament Square, what were you hoping to achieve, what message were you wanting to share? Why did you choose to recite the Kaddish, a prayer which carries an inexplicable power, over terrorists who seek our death and the destruction of our homeland? And why did you think that this action would be positive in furthering a peace process or supporting the plight of the Palestinians?

Ultimately, in my opinion, the problem with both groups in the video is that they reduce things to black and white, they ignore the complexity of the situation and they neglect the multiple truths that can all be held at the same time, despite the seeming contradictions. And so I want to share a few of my apparently contradictory truths in relation to the situation in a place that I call home.

I am committed to the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish State and I am also committed to the Palestinians having their own State alongside her. I am critical of certain Israeli actions and I am deeply troubled when Israel is singled out in the family of nations and held to another standard that is expected of no other country.

I am connected to Jerusalem as the Capital of the State of Israel, and while I did not need any external power to make this fact any more true, I am pleased with the establishment of Embassies in Israel’s capital. And I also believe that the Embassy opening could have happened on a day and in a way that was less problematic for the Palestinians to witness.

I mourn for the Palestinian people, the situation they find themselves in and the way that they have been treated as a political football by so many. I support their aspiration for an independent state. But I believe Hamas when it says that its ultimate aspiration is the destruction of the State of Israel. And I believe that we must therefore find ways of supporting the Palestinian people while at the same time fighting Hamas. And with Hamas’ terrorist leadership in Gaza and with Mahmoud Abbas as the leader in the West Bank I unfortunately do not believe that there is currently a partner for peace. And with the announcement of increased settlement building and activity by the Israeli Government I am unconvinced that they currently really want a peace process that will end with a viable Palestinian State.

And in relation to the protests along the Gaza border I do not believe that they have any aim at advancing a peace process. I believe they are part of Hamas’ agenda for delegitimizing Israel and ultimately working towards her destruction. I do not believe that these protests are entirely peaceful with various means having been used to cause destruction on the Israeli side of the border. And while I always hope that Israel will show restraint and hold herself to a higher standard, I also believe that as a sovereign state Israel has a right and an obligation to defend her borders and her citizens from those who seek her harm and destruction.

And to those who stood in Parliament Square I say that we can and should say Kaddish for the loss of innocent lives, but we cannot and should not say Kaddish over the death of terrorists who seek our destruction. And I apologize that we did not do better with the Israel education and engagement that we provided you. And I commit that while you broke my heart, I heard you and I recognize that moving forward we must do better for ourselves, for our children and for the people who are suffering on both sides of the conflict. Israel is my home, and as such it’s personal, but after almost 2,000 years of waiting I hold onto the Tikva – the hope that things can and will be better. And my commitment is that we will not wait passively for that future time, but we will do whatever we can to bring that day closer and make that day a reality.