Human RightsIsrael

Olmert calls it like it is

Olmert I’m writing to say a hearty "yesher koach" to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Now I’m not generally much of an Olmert fan.  Given that he’s about as popular in Israel as George Bush is in America, of course, you’d be hard pressed to find an Olmert fan these days.  Between the incessant corruption scandals that led to his resignation — for things like billing the same travel expenses twice to different organizations and taking ‘campaign donations’ in the form of envelopes stuffed with cash — and the bungled handling of the Second Lebanon War, most Israelis feel it’s definitely time for him to move on.  And he won’t even move on right away, and give his successor in Kadima, Tzipi Livni, the ability to campaign from the strength of an incumbent.

Earlier this week settlers in Hebron went on a rampage after the police forced them to leave the so-called "House of Peace," now more like "House of Strife."  A group of violent settler youth went on a rampage and attacked innocent Palestinians, who had nothing to do with the Israeli Supreme Court order to vacate the premises, with rocks, guns, setting houses on fire and attacking Jewish police forces as well.

Olmert was quoted in Haaretz as saying:

"We are the children of a people whose historic ethos is built on the memory of pogroms," Olmert said during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "The sight of Jews firing at innocent Palestinians has no other name than pogrom.""I am ashamed that Jews could do such a thing,"

In another article, Olmert was quoted as saying he chose those words very carefully.

This has, of course, stimulated a big outpouring of debate about his use of the term "pogrom."  The best online dictionary definition of pogrom I found says:

Derived from the Russian word meaning "wreak havoc," a pogrom is an organized attack, often a massacre, against a minority group, particularly Jews. For centuries the Jews in Russian lands were periodically victim to such persecutions, often with the active encouragement of local officials.

What the settlers did was certainly an organized attack against a minority group, which seems to meet the minimum requirements for labeling it as a pogrom or attempted pogrom.  While Israeli officials certainly did not encourage the pogrom, there are also suggestions they did not do as much as they could have to stop the pogrom.

I believe it’s vitally important that we speak out, and loudly, when fellow Jews do such reprehensible acts.  I can’t believe people who act in that way can be studying the same Torah I study that teaches us respect for others.  A terrorist is a terrorist, and if attacking civilians is wrong when a Palestinian does it, it is equally wrong when a Jew does it.  Worse, in my opinion, because it is a chillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

The Times of India brings an excellent report about Muslims protesting terrorism in Mumbai.  Click here to read it. The theme of their rally is "Killers of Innocents are enemies of Islam."

I wish someone would organize a demonstration against what happened in Hebron.  I know, why aren’t I "someone."  I have a day job that makes it difficult.  But here’s a contribution: it’s a little long winded, but my candidate for theme would be "Attacking innocent people is a greater sin than eating pork."  I know, needs some work.  Give me an hour and two beers and I’ll come up with something much catchier.

One of Jerusalem’s liberal Orthodox synagogues, Yedidya, has organized a gathering to discuss the events in Hebron, but I think we need protests in the street that will get media attention, not just presentations from rabbis and scholars on why what the violent settlers are doing is against the Torah.  We know it’s against the Torah.  We need to make sure the rest of Israel and rest of the world knows it too.

We need to take care not to be guilty of the sin of standing by while others abuse people.  The Torah commands us, "do not stand idly by your neighbor’s blood."

Rav Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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