The Immorality of Moral Equivalency

— Rabbi Mark S. Golub

On Friday night, March 11, Hamas terrorists crossed into the West Bank to the Jewish community of Itamar where they murdered a Jewish family as they slept in their beds. The victims included a mother and father, Udi Fogel (36) and Ruth Fogel (35), and their three children, Yoav (11), Elad (4), and Hadas (3 months).

The sheer brutality of the Hamas act takes one’s breath away. In highly uncharacteristic fashion, the Israeli government made the decision to display graphic photos of the death scene–photos which are visible though a link at the bottom of this editorial.

More after the jump.
Sadly, there are many Jews who, wittingly or unwittingly, facilitate Palestinian violence by failing to make a moral distinction between wanton murder on the one hand and occupation and military actions on the other.

A chilling example of this loss of perspective among ideologues in the Jewish community is revealed in a press release published by Americans For Peace Now. Although APN characterized the attack as “horrifying,” and praised the Palestinian Authority for condemning the attack, APN then went on to urge leaders of Israel and the Palestinians “to fight violent extremists on both sides.”

To suggest that Jewish extremists engage in acts similar to those of Arab extremists such as Hamas is to distort Jewish and Israeli reality beyond measure.

Have Jewish extremists ever snuck into an Arab home and murdered a family sleeping in their beds?

Any death in war is a cosmic tragedy of divine proportion. The loss of life and the pain inflicted on any family is beyond limits, whether the life lost is that an Israeli or an Arab.

This does not mean, however, that all reasons for taking a life are morally equivalent.

Only hard-line ideologues would argue in the shadow of this outrageous brutality that there is an equivalency of Israeli and Palestinian policy. Yet, this has become more and more commonplace in some circles.

An Israeli group of soldiers visiting North American college campuses [Our Soldiers Speak] reports how from the University of Western Ontario to Wilfrid Laurier, from Hampshire College to the University of Pittsburgh, from Oberlin to Oklahoma, students–even some Jewish students–not only accuse Israel of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, but also justify terror attacks against the Israeli People.

The Nazi propaganda machine of Adolph Hitler proved that when a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes accepted as fact–especially by people who have no access to the truth.

The Jewish world will never relinquish its sacred obligation of self-criticism, and Israelis have well demonstrated from the moment of the birth of the Jewish State that Israeli policies will come under the fiercest of internal moral scrutiny. No serious Jew ever suggests that Israel be given a pass on the way it treats Arab Israelis or Palestinians on the West Bank. There will always be Jews pushing Israel toward its highest goals.

But there is no way to overstate the degree of damage done to the State of Israel and, ironically, to the possibilities for ever finding a peaceful resolution of the conflict that tears at both Israeli and Palestinian families, by arguments of moral equivalency. In fact, such arguments are without moral grounding themselves.

A fitting response of tribute to the slain Fogel family would be for Jews everywhere to decry the outrageous brutality that took their lives and to condemn murder without needing to soften that condemnation by suggesting Israel is somehow also at fault.


Copyright Rabbi Mark S. Golub, President of Shalom TV.

Reactions to the Terrorist Attack in Itamar

Saturday morning in Itamar terrorists killed five members of an Israeli family, including three children, in their sleep. We collected responses from the White House, Ameinu, the Union for Reform Judaism, Agudath Israel of America, and B’nai Brith International.

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the murder of five Israelis in a terrorist attack in the northern West Bank, and we offer our condolences to their loved ones and to the Israeli people.  There is no possible justification for the killing of parents and children in their home. We call on the Palestinian Authority to unequivocally condemn this terrorist attack and for the perpetrators of this heinous crime to be held accountable.

More reactions after the jump.
Kenneth Bob, President of Ameinu:

“This act of terror can not pass silently. Nothing can justify the killing of innocents, particularly children. Israelis and Palestinians must remember their shared humanity and reject brutality and violence.”

Rabbi Eric H. Yoffe, President of the Union for Reform Judaism:

We condemn in the strongest of terms the senseless massacre of an innocent Israeli family in their sleep. The thought of a knife slaughter which included victims, ages eleven, four and three-months is sickening to us. There is no place in this world, or in the struggle for peace in the Middle East, for this sort of violence.

We pray for the three surviving children in the family, all under the age of 12, who are left without their parents and siblings. No child should ever be forced to go through what these children are undoubtedly going through and our hearts go out to them and all members of the community of Itamar.

We welcome the condemnations of the attacks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. We urge them to follow-through on their statements with actions that bring the perpetrators to justice and strongly reinforce the message that violence like this will not be tolerated by the Palestinian leadership. Further, we support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to safeguard the citizens of Israel and punish the murderers.

We call for swift justice for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah, which claimed responsibility for the attack, characterizing it as a “heroic operation.” This sort of blatant disregard for the value of human life is appalling and we hope that together the Israelis and the Palestinians will work to ensure that this violence remains an isolated incident and does not escalate.

Agudath Israel of America:

Every person with a Jewish heart-in fact every person with an unsullied human heart-feels only sorrow, anguish and outrage over what befell the Fogel family in Itamar this past Shabbos night.

There comes a point when words cannot convey the depth of evil.  No phrase in any language can truly describe the depravity of people who are capable of creeping into a peaceful home in the middle of the night and stab to death an 11-year-old, a 4-year-old, a baby girl three months of age and their parents.

And so we are left with only the heartbreak and tears, and the pools of innocent Jewish blood that the perpetrators of these despicable acts left behind in their evil wake.

May the world be left with something too: a better appreciation of why Israelis might be reluctant to trust the intentions of people who hate them so viscerally, and of authorities whose media and school textbooks feed demonization of “Zionists” to their violence-prone culture.

May the blood of these precious innocents be avenged soon and fully by the Av Harachamim.

B’nai B’rith International:

B’nai B’rith International condemns the brutal and horrific murders of Udi and Ruth Fogel and their children Yoav, 11; Elad, 4 and Hadas, 3 months, in their home in the West Bank settlement of Itamar on March 11, on the eve of Shabbat.

“An attack of this nature defies comprehension,” B’nai B’rith International President Dennis W. Glick said. “Acts of brutality like this make a total mockery of the peace process.”

The attack was claimed by terrorist group Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Imad Mughniyeh.

“The murder of this family was the act of inhuman and depraved individuals,” B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin said. “The constant stream of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli hate speech and incitement condoned by the Palestinian authorities, since the Oslo Accords of 1993, breeds the kind of despicable violence that ended the lives of this family.”

B’nai B’rith International stands in solidarity with the friends and family of the Fogels, and with the Israeli people as they struggle to cope with the aftermath of the attack.

US Insists on Jewish, Democratic State of Israel

  • Mitchell: Must be Jewish Israeli State alongside Palestinian State
  • Netanyahu prepared to show flexibility on building freeze
  • Hamas condemns PA for participating in talks

JERUSALEM, Sept 14 – The United States has given its backing to the Israeli call for Palestinian recognition of a Jewish State of Israel.

“Our vision is for a two-state solution that includes a Jewish democratic State of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a viable independent sovereign and contiguous Palestine,” U.S. envoy George Mitchell said on Tuesday.

He was speaking to reporters after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held face-to-face talks in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.

One of Israel’s key demands entering the direct talks is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Given that the issue of the West Bank construction freeze is “politically sensitive” for Netanyahu, Mitchell urged Abbas “to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process.”

Netanyahu believes there is room for compromise on building in the West Bank, according to a source in his office.

Ahead of the talks Netanyahu expressed disappointment that Palestinian officials are speaking with the media, according to the source in the Prime Minister’s Office. “Discretion” needs to be the order of the day.

Mitchell also called for the negotiators to avoid making public comments.

The talks are slated to continue in Jerusalem on Wednesday (Sept. 15) after Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas leave Egypt. After the Jerusalem parley representatives from both sides will meet to discuss the details before the leaders meet for a third round of negotiations.

As the teams were gathering in Sharm, senior figures in the Iranian-backed Hamas organization again called on the Palestinian Authority not to participate in the process.

“(Hamas) condemns the PA’s insistence on liquidating the Palestinian cause and engaging in talks with Israelis in light of the ongoing Israeli aggression on the Palestinian people,” the pro-Hamas website Palestine-Info quoted Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan as saying.

Israel Removes Barrier That Protected Gilo

— Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

Despite Settlement Freeze, Palestinians Have Yet to Agree to Direct Talks

Following a dramatic decrease in attacks, Israel is removing an 8-year-old security barrier between the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo and the Arab town of Beit Jalla, where Palestinian terrorists had been using homes to shoot at Israeli civilians. The barrier between the two areas isn’t part of Israel’s security fence. Meanwhile, nine months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority (PA) still hasn’t agreed to direct peace talks with Israel.  

Security Barrier Protecting Gilo Neighborhood

Starting in 2000, Fatah militants took over the homes of Christian Arabs living in Beit Jalla to shoot at Gilo residents. Terrorists fired on Gilo more than 400 times from 2000 – 2002. As a result, Israel erected the protective barrier in 2002, helping to decrease the attacks. Israel later launched a defensive campaign – Operation Defensive Shield – to stop terror attacks during the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising), which stopped the attacks altogether. Gilo residents have expressed mixed emotions to the barrier coming down, with some fearing a resumption in attacks; others have said they’re optimistic that there won’t be more attacks and look forward to not being forced to live behind a wall.
On Sunday (Aug. 15), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began to take down the 2,000-foot (600-meter), barrier and plan to remove the remainder during the next two weeks.

IDF Lt. Col. Hezi Ravivo said, “Right now the security situation is better and we do not see any reason not to take it down. We will keep the parts that comprise the wall and if the need arises, we can build it anew.”

Israel’s Ongoing Settlement Freeze

Netanyahu instituted the settlement freeze in an effort to restart peace talks with the PA and bolster confidence between the two sides. His decision, which became law Nov. 25, 2009, applies to all residential building in West Bank settlements, although completion of 3,000 units already under construction was permitted. The freeze doesn’t apply to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside of the pre-1967 borders, as the Israeli government considers them distinct from those in the West Bank.

Whether the freeze continues beyond the Sept. 26, 2010 expiration date remains uncertain. Netanyahu’s government faces international pressure to extend the moratorium, even though direct talks have not come to fruition.

On July 29, 2010 Arab League foreign ministers approved Abbas entering into direct talks with Israel; if those talks begin, settlements will be among the disputed topics.

Israel’s commitment to the moratorium:

  • In February 2010, along with efforts to enforce the freeze, Israeli security forces sent 300 summonses to settlers in the West Bank who broke Israeli law by continuing construction.
  • During the freeze, Israeli security forces issued and made public a list of 28 settlements that violated the freeze. After the government received the list, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai confirmed that a court order to halt construction had been given out.
  • Settlers protested the settlement freeze, blocking security forces from entering West Bank settlements. As a result, Israeli police forces arrested the head of the Beit Aryeh council, Avi Naim. Beit Aryeh is a community with 3,900 residents. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated Israel’s commitment to the freeze saying, “…the IDF and especially the [civil] administration are getting ready to ensure that the decision [to implement the settlement freeze] is carried out.”
  • In further efforts to persuade Palestinians to restart peace talks, Israel has taken steps to stop the Jerusalem district planning committee from carrying out construction projects in Jerusalem, even though the area is excluded from the freeze.
  • On Aug. 15, 2010, Netanyahu approved building 23 temporary classrooms in select West Bank settlements – an emergency measure to enable students to attend class. Educational institutions, however, are exempt from the moratorium.

Neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Legal Settlements

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will include boundary and land discussions. Many settlements that some in the international community consider illegal are in fact legal neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Some neighborhoods, such as Neve Yaakov and Gilo, were purchased by Jews prior to World War II.

Click here for a map of Jerusalem area neighborhoods and settlements.