An open letter to Harriet Sherwood, by Dr. Yakov Nagen


This letter was written by Rabbi Dr. Yakov Nagen, head of the Kollel at Yeshivat Otniel, and is being published at CW with his permission.

Dear Harriet,

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Yakov Nagen

I am sorry I have taken so long to respond to your request to meet. I have given the matter great thought and ultimately have decided against meeting. I have even surprised myself by this decision, as essentially I believe that meetings are opportunities to overcome alienation, enable mutual understanding and most significantly create a human connection between the parties. Accordingly I have participated in interfaith dialogue with Muslim leaders; meetings that often give me hope that one day there will be peace in the Holy land.

Nevertheless, as you are a representative ofThe Guardian, I deem it correct to refuse collaboration on any level.  After what I have written above, I feel a necessity to explain this position.

I imagine you are aware of the claim in the report commissioned by the E.U. monitoring center on Racism and Xenophobia that for “many British Jews, the British media’s reporting on Israel is spiced with a tone of animosity, as to smell of anti-Semitism. This is above all the case with the Guardian and The Independent“. I know also that your paper has denied these charges and defends the legitimacy of its criticizing of Israel.

The role of the press is indeed to criticize, to highlight injustices throughout the world and thereby create a better, more humane world. Often, journalists have been exceptionally courageous in speaking truth to power. An outstanding example in our times is the Russian journalists who have critiqued the Putin regime, incurring great personal risk.

Certainly, the role of the press when relating to complex conflict in the Middle East is to present multiple viewpoints and it is legitimate to criticize and disagree with Israeli, or for that matter, Arab polices.

I therefore will attempt to distinguish between legitimate criticism and pernicious anti-Semitism.

I could dispute the many particular critiques of Israel and argue why each is a distortion, but that would miss the point, mistaking the trees for the forest. The heart of the issue is that even if all the critiques were valid, and they are not, I would still paraphrase Shakespeare that, “something is rotten in the state of England”.

Even if it were correct that the steps taken by Israel to stop the murderous attacks, including incessant missile attacks, on its citizens have been excessive; even if it were correct that despite the offers to solve the conflict (that Israel has accepted and the Palestinians rejected) – including  Camp David, the Clinton Proposals, Taba, or more recently and more generously, Olmert’s offers to Abu Mazen – the onus for the deadlock in the peace process still remains on the Israeli side; even if all this were true, it does not come close to explaining the unique position that Israel has achieved among nations.

It is delegitimized and demonized. With all the evil in the world, how is it the focus of a conference on racism at Durban is Israel? That the focus of the U.N.’s condemnations are invariably Israel? That in Britain, the land of The Guardian, the zeal to boycott by academics, trade unions, artists and media – of all the nations on the earth – invariably focuses on Israel? What causes the level of hostility reported not only by Israelis visiting Britain, but also by native British Jews?

Tibet and Palestine – a Tale of Two Nations

As a former foreign editor of The Guardian, you must know the truth, that by any standard Israel’s alleged “crimes” pale in comparison with those of so many nations in the world in which we live.

To bring one example: In the context of my belief in interfaith dialogue, I have spent time in Dharmasala, India with Tibetan refugees. In Dharmasala there is a museum that details the ongoing horrors of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, including the systematic erasing of religion and culture, and the mass settlements of native Chinese in Tibet to erase demographically any possibility of Tibetan independence.

To the best of my knowledge, Tibet’s agenda is not the annihilation of China nor was the Chinese invasion of Tibet incurred in response to attacks designed to destroy China.

Furthermore, the Tibetans have not been offered, as have the Palestinians, a state with 95% of Tibet plus land exchanges for most of the remaining five percent.

In fact the Dalai Lama’s modest hope is to achieve some level of cultural autonomy for Tibet and for that miniscule reason, China pressures world leaders not to meet him.

The occupation of Tibet is only one of the myriad human rights violations of China. But, of course, China is certainly a much more significant trade partner with Britain and has more extensive cultural and academic exchanges with Britain than does Israel, not to mention their recent hosting of the Olympic games.

Why do the forces in Britain crusading against Israel not call for the delegitimization and boycott of China?  Could it be that the Tibetans are less worthy of empathy than the Palestinians? That would be hard to admit, so the one solution that explains this aberration, why the focus and zeal of venomous animosity is aimed on Israel and not China, is that the Chinese, as opposed to the Israelis, are not Jewish.

Thousands of years of murderous European persecution of Jews has metamorphosed into their peculiar relationship to the one Jewish state, which,against all odds and with much hope, the Jewish people have restored in their homeland.

I would like to point out that the Tibetans themselves see Israel and not the Palestinians as the parallel to their situation. Students of mine who have served in the educational corps of the Israel army have told me of summer camps organized for Tibetan children sent to Israel by the Dalai Lama, in order to instill them with hope, so they can see that a nation driven from its land can dream and return home.

To return to the point, with regard to the Jewish people, there is a convergence of three remarkable realities: The same nation that has undergone thousands of years of murderous persecution is the same nation that today remains unique in its being under explicit threats of physical annihilation. It is the same nation that is unique in being condemned and delegitimized.

Is this truly merely a remarkable coincidence? Or are all three, part and parcel of the same phenomena?

The deadly price of modern anti-Semitism

I would like to share with you what for me, on a personal level, are some of the bitter fruits of this animosity to Israel.

Again and again, foreign pressure forces Israel to forego steps necessary to protect its citizens from murderous attacks. Yesterday, we commemorated the Hebrew date on which, seven years ago, Aviad Mansur, the son of a dear friend and neighbor, was murdered together with a friend in a drive-by shooting by terrorist Arabs near our community. Shortly afterwards, three more children from our area were murdered in yet another drive-by shooting by terrorist Arabs.

The writing was on the wall, because giving in to international pressure, Israel had removed several checkpoints in our area despite the army’s view that they were necessary to prevent terror.

I remember the first years of the second intifada when each month was worse than the one before, reaching a hundred victims a month in April 2002. Up until that month, Israel had restrained from entering the Palestinian cities in Area A as a result of the constant international pressure on it. However, after the massacre at the Passover Seder in Netanya, Israel launched the campaign, Homat Magen [Defensive Shield], that ultimately turned the tide, stopping almost all of the terror attacks by eradicating terror at the source. For this Israel, of course, underwent harsh international condemnation.

For many, Homat Magen, came too late. This included my beloved student, the newlywed  Avi Sabag, who shortly after calling his wife to say he would be home in a few minutes was murdered right outside our community –  just two days before the massacre at Netanya. This also includes the four students in my school who were murdered in the middle of the Shabbat meal during a terror attack on my school, after Homat Magen began, but before its aims were achieved.

The list is long, but I will not burden you with the so many more names I could add.

The choice of violence by the Palestinian Arabs was not through lack of options. In the various offers, from Camp David, Clinton’s proposals, Taba etc, the Palestinian Arabs rejected an independent state on  100% of Gaza, 95% of the ‘West Bank’ with land exchanges and a land connection between Gaza and the ‘West Bank’ to make up for the remainder. The capital included East Jerusalem, including Judaism’s most sacred site, the Temple Mount.

The Palestinian Arab decision to turn to violence would therefore seem inexplicable, as certainly they were no match for the Israel army. However, they correctly assessed the situation, deciding that they could reject the offers, turn to violence and massacres and the result would be the increasing isolation of Israel. The predictions were that constant terror would leave Israel isolated and unable to respond – and that result would bring Israel to its knees.

It is just too bad George Orwell isn’t alive to write a satire about this reality, a reality in which when from the adjacent Arab Villages, Palestinian Arabs began shooting constantly at the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, European “peace” activists flocked to be human shields – not in Gilo to protect the Jews, but in the villages that initiated the shooting.

Moving to more recent events, I opposed the forced expulsion of all Jews from Gaza on moral grounds, although I confess I naively assumed that there would be quiet on the border after the withdrawal, but again the Palestinian assessment that violence pays proves itself correct.  Missile attacks against Israel ultimately forced it to respond by a ground attack on Gaza and the result is again not condemnation of the Palestinians, but increased Israeli isolation and delegitimization.

Much of the  European press, and in particular the paper you represent, instead of being a force for peace, is a force that has continuously fueled this conflict. The losers, in addition to the Jews, are the Palestinian Arabs who have lost opportunities to achieve better lives.

In conclusion, I choose to register my protest of the dark truth underlying the mindset that The Guardian represents by refusing your request to meet.

You mentioned that you search for a variety of viewpoints. You are welcome to publish this letter in The Guardian.

44 comments on “An open letter to Harriet Sherwood, by Dr. Yakov Nagen

    • An open letter to Dr Yakov Nagen: I am sorry to learn that you refused to meet with a journalist from one of Great Britain’s major newspapers, but that you agreed to have a letter published on Mr Levick’s political blog. A strange choice, really.

    • Dear Dr Nagen, why are you not living in Israel, the Jewish state, but in a settlement built on land confiscated from the Palestinian people in the territory of the state of Palestine? Why abandon Israel and move to Palestine?

      Are you aware that Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territory are in violation of international humanitarian law (article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention) and are considered illegal by the entire international community?

  1. Eloquently put although it falsely assumes that you have someone to reason with. Ms. Sherwood won’t publish this nor will she even acknowledge it because antisemitism, hate & prejudice run deep. Once these thoughts and opinions have taken hold no amount of facts, logic or basic human morality make any difference.
    The guardian has already decided that Israel is the embodiment of the devil and nothing anyone says or does will change that in their eyes. That’s the sad truth about bigotry.

  2. the one solution that explains this aberration, why the focus and zeal of venomous animosity is aimed on Israel and not China, is that the Chinese, as opposed to the Israelis, are not Jewish.

    Coming in the middle of an otherwise – largely – reasonable letter, this is a bit of a let down.

    Is anti-Semitism really the only conclusion the author can come to?

      • Some of the animosity displayed towards Israel is no doubt due to anti-Semitism – but by no means all of it.

        Looking again at the article, I admit: perhaps the author meant “the one solution” in the sense of “one of the solutions.”

        • “Some of the animosity displayed towards Israel is no doubt due to anti-Semitism – but by no means all of it.”

          If this “animosity” is obsessively focused on Israel, using classical anti-Jewish tropes, shameless double-standards and demonization, well, then it’s nothing but anti-Semitism. There’s no other reasonable/plausible explanation.

    • pretzelberg, an analogy

      Sometimes diseases or illnesses can only be diagnosed by a process of elimination, by ruling out other diseases/illnesses which have similar symptoms. Once those have been ruled out, then doctors may have a good idea of what the diagnosis is.

      Antisemitism in the Guardian and elsewhere can be diagnosed in similar terms, as this Rabbi has in effect done His article is reasoned and articulate.

      To continue with the analogy. Many below and above the line on the Guardian’s Comment is Free argue that they are anti-Zionist rather than Jew-hating. Using analogous methods to those in medicine, let’s try to rule on the “antizionist not anti-Jewish aspect”:

      If an article or post uses “Israel” and “Jews” or “Jewish” interchangeably, or even where it introduces Jewishness when it should be addressing its negative criticisms to Israel as a state rather than of the religion of its people, then it is antisemitic.

      Where article after article libels Israel alone or obsesses about her when many other countries or states have far worse human rights records and are ignored, then one has to wonder about why Israel alone is singled out for criticism. The parsimonious explanation for the Guardian’s execrable attitude (given the amount of column inches and space it devotes to lying and maligning, as well as offering house room to Islamist terrorists and their supporters) is that it is biased in favour of Islamism which hates Israel’s very existence and, here’s the cherry on the cake, hates Jews because it is commanded to do so. Palestinians do not distinguish between “Israeli” and “Jew” and they teach their children to hate both equally.

      So we have in the Guardian:

      1) An enmeshment with Islamism, and support for it in the Middle East and elsewhere (and where there is Islamism there is invariably Jew-hatred);
      2) The Guardian’s self-confessed difficulty with the antisemitism below the line there and the length of time it is allowed to remain;
      3) The Guardian’s encouragement to Islamist terror perpetrators and their supporters who attempt to excuse their barbarism on its pages (and I have said above that Jew-hatred is central to Islam and is written into the koran and ahadith);
      4) The obsessive nature of the Guardian’s negative criticism of Israel
      5) The objects of the Guardian’s support do not care to distinguish between Israel and its Jews and often there is no distinction below the line either. The Guardian thus facilitates Islamist Jew-hatred. If it were not inherently antisemitic, then it would not do so, would it?

      So, if it walks like an antisemitic duck, and quacks antisemitic talk, then it must be antisemitic.

    • …it’s the only reason that makes any sense – every attempt to explain the utterly irrational hatred of Israel just holds no water!

  3. Sherwood is incorrigible and as an ex-SWPer, she like so many on the Guardian (cf Bell, Milne, Greal) believes as a matter of faith that Israel was conceived in Sin, the Original Sin. It is impossible to argue with Believers and Dr Nagen is wasting his time. Without Israel perpetually in the dock, the entire faith would crumble.

    In the old days, the anti-semites enjoyed accusing ‘the Jews’ of having murdered their God, nowadays the anti-semites enjoy accusing ‘the Zionists’ and their ‘enablers’ (that is, all Jews who refuse to reject Israel and who fail to denounce it as the Source of All Evil when faced with the various inquisitions, auto-da-fe’s and kangaroo courts) as being the source and exemplar of all the pains of mankind blahblah.

    From “Instead of Excessive Apology” (Zev Jabotinsky, 1911)

    “We constantly and very loudly apologize… Instead of turning our backs to the accusers, as there is nothing to apologize for, and nobody to apologize to, we swear again and again that it is not our fault… Isn’t it long overdue to respond to all these and all future accusations, reproaches, suspicions, slanders and denunciations by simply folding our arms and loudly, clearly, coldly and calmly answer with the only argument that is understandable and accessible to this public: ‘Go to Hell!’?”

    “Who are we, to make excuses to them; who are they to interrogate us? What is the purpose of this mock trial over the entire people where the sentence is known in advance? Our habit of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. … The situation that has been created as a result, tragically confirms a well known saying: “Qui s’excuse s’accuse.” We ourselves have acquainted our neighbors with the thought that for every embezzling Jew it is possible to drag the entire ancient people to answer, a people that was already legislating at the time when the neighbors had not even invented a bast shoe. Every accusation causes among us such a commotion that people unwittingly think, ‘why are they so afraid of everything?’ Apparently their conscience is not clear.’ Exactly because we are ready at every minute to stand at attention, there develops among the people an inescapable view about us, as of some specific thievish tribe. We think that our constant readiness to undergo a search without hesitation and to turn out our pockets, will eventually convince mankind of our nobility; look what gentlemen we are–we do not have anything to hide! This is a terrible mistake. The real gentlemen are the people that will not allow anyone for any reason to search their apartment, their pockets or their soul. Only a person under surveillance is ready for a search at every moment…. This is the only one inevitable conclusion from our maniac reaction to every reproach–to accept responsibility as a people for every action of a Jew, and to make excuses in front of everybody including hell knows who. I consider this system to be false to its very root. We are hated not because we are blamed for everything, but we are blamed for everything because we are not loved… “

    • John, an amazing quote from Ze’ev Jabotinsky. If all men were as noble as he then the world would be a better place to live in. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  4. Great letter . Waste of time . She pressed the delete button without reading a word .
    That’s what they do in Guardianista land when a pro Israel commentary turns up unexpectedly .

    • The letter is mostly repetitive waffle, but the more significant point is that Nagen refused to meet Sherwood. I suspect that she would have politely reduced his arguments to mincemeat. Why would any advocate confident of their position refuse to discuss issues with a journalist opponent?

      • I suspect Sencar that Harriett Sherwood’s intellectual abilities don’t allow her to make mincemeat of a pound of already minced meat. She is somehow intellectually similar to you. And for your info she is not a journalist but a political activist. (see here)

      • Why would any advocate confident of their position refuse to discuss issues with a journalist opponent?

        A bizarre concept called “principle”?

        • What principle would that be pretzelberg – that you don’t talk to people that don’t agree with you? Strange principle.

          • In this case it’s not simply about “people that don’t agree with you”.

            I don’t agree with everything Rabbi Nagen says above – but I can see why he takes grave offence re. the Guardian, and has assumed the position he takes.

            As I said: it’s a question of principle.

          • Well she’s the Guardian’s person to the marrow, sencar. CiF deletes posts which disagree with its world view.

  5. What a brilliant letter and so eloquently written. What a shame it won’t get the widest publicity that it surely deserves. Everyone should post it on their social media sites.

  6. Nothing you could ever say to Sherwood would ever change her point of view. She is a professional Israel hater. That is how she makes her living. If she had a heart she wouldn’t have a job.

  7. A fantastic letter that gets to the heart of the matter, but of course, as others point out, it’s wasted on Ms Sherwood. Yes, the average Guardianista is devoutly anti-Zionist because that is what they are programmed to think. Antisemitism is implicit if not clearly provable. Questioning the legitimacy of the Palestinian narrative is unheard of in politically correct circles.

    Unfortunately Israel must convince not only partisan Guardianistas but others who are not so left-wing inclined that the Zionist cause is noble and wholly legitimate.
    It would help to look up the history books since 1917, pointing out the League of Nations, and the UN decisions to create a Jewish National Home, which brought about the declaration of independence in 1948 – and finally the 1967 Security Council Resolution 242 which talks of secure borders and peace agreements.

    A lot of frustration and wasted energy could be saved if you understood that attempting to reason with fanatics and Israel-haters is pure masochism.

    • Yes, the average Guardianista is devoutly anti-Zionist because that is what they are programmed to think. Antisemitism is implicit if not clearly provable.

      What utter and complete delusional nonsense.

      • I do enjoy a good argument with witty and intelligent people. You are neither of these and your comments are about as useless as those of Berchmans – who at least did know not to stick around on CW and become a nuisance.
        You’re so vain, I bet you keep coming back for more insults.

        • You are indeed a stranger to this website. How on earth would you know what my comments in general can be described?

          Calling Guardianistas in general anti-Semitic is just silly – that’s all I’m saying.

          You’re so vain, I bet you keep coming back for more insults.
          Lost your way from YouTube, have you?

    • “A lot of frustration and wasted energy could be saved if you understood that attempting to reason with fanatics and Israel-haters is pure masochism.”

      Stranger,
      You don’t argue with fanatics to convince the fanatics, but to reach out to the convincible non-fanatics who are listening.

  8. A powerful and eloquent letter. I’m glad Dr. Nagen decided not to meet Sherwood. In fact she should be boycotted by all Israelis until she embraces truth and honesty in her reporting.

    She could start by telling her readers about Palestinian incitement, terrorism and brutality once in a while. God knows there is plenty of material.

    But as that would lead to her immediate sacking from the Guardian, it ain’t gonna happen.

  9. The British are historically anti-semites. They always have been. They promised us a homeland – then gave most of it to a Sheik and it became the Kingdom of Jordan. When refugees from Europe were trying to get to Palestine to enter the land that the British had promised us, they would not let the Jews enter and sick, hungry and desperate people were sent back to Europe. Most of them perished. The British, adied and abetted by the Turks saw to it that the Struma – and old ship, without a working engine was set afloat with 701 people on board. They had no food, no mediine, no hygiene facilities. 700 Jews drowned when the boat sank. There was one survivor.

    The Balfour Declaration, the San Remo conference and all the other promises made to us – all forgotten – and when people are shooting at us day and night from Gaza they expect us not to retaliate and to be quiet and wait to die. Jews can depend only on ourselves – and the G-d of Israel. In the future the British and the Europeans will wake up and wonder why they got rid of most of Europe’s Jews and replaced them with the Islamists. It will be a rude awakening.

  10. Forget the British promises, lammie kur. It was the UN and its predecessor that voted to set up a Jewish entity in Mandate Palestine. Perfidious Albion was just their
    agent. It’s curious how Pakistan or Jordan – two states formed at about the same time as Israel – are rarely called into question.

    • So what’s the common denominator? Neither Pakistan or Jordan are Jewish states. I would wager not a single Jew lives in either state. Both have worse human rights records than Israel by a very long measure, yet it is only Israel that is on everyone’s tongue. Jordan in fact is such an apartheid state that 80% of the population, Arabs that call themselves Palestinians are disenfranchised – note votes rights and no outrage! And as for Pakistan, well violence there is the name of the day, its where Bin Laden llived freely until Obama needed head for political reasons, what more can one say!

  11. ‘You mentioned that you search for a variety of viewpoints. You are welcome to publish this letter in The Guardian’.

    But of course her editors’ won’t, will they?

  12. Rabbi Nagen, whom I’ve known since he was a child, is a wonderful, sensitive and spiritual individual. His eloquent response to Harriet Sherwood deserves accolades and wide distribution.

  13. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gEPWkNG2VRFG6qZehgX36jtblQhQ?docId=CNG.19fb556c87f5d85787da75c09aa18a6f.561
    British ministers ‘banned from meeting Dalai Lama’
    Alice Ritchie (AFP) – Dec 3, 2012
    LONDON — The British government blocked two ministers from meeting the Dalai Lama during a visit here this summer, prompting them to accuse London of bowing to pressure from Beijing, it emerged Monday.

    Tim Loughton and Norman Baker, who both have long-standing ties to Tibet, were stopped from attending a private lunch in June with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader in the London apartment of House of Commons speaker John Bercow.

    In a letter in July to Prime Minister David Cameron, revealed by Channel 4’s “Dispatches” programme, the pair expressed their “concern and annoyance with regard to the inflexible instruction given last week to ministers, prohibiting any contact whatsoever with the Dalai Lama during his visit to the UK”.

    They said a note from the Foreign Office warning of the sensitivities surrounding Tibet and China did not justify a “blanket prohibition on a minister meeting a religious leader in private in a non-ministerial capacity, and we think this crossed a line”.

    “The note is tantamount to saying that British foreign policy on Tibet is whatever China wants it to be,” they wrote.

    “It completely ignores the fact that His Holiness is a spiritual leader only, and no longer holds a political position, and is frankly just plain wrong.”

    They said they were put under “tremendous pressure” not to attend the lunch from Cameron’s aides and a Foreign Office minister who called at the last minute.

    During an earlier visit to Britain in May to receive a prize, the Dalai Lama held private talks with Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg.
    Although Britain views Tibet as part of China, the meeting sparked an official protest from Beijing, which views the 77-year-old Buddhist as a dangerous separatist.

    Cameron’s official spokesman on Monday denied that ministers were banned from meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader.

    “Ministers are not banned from meeting the Dalai Lama,” he told reporters.
    “When it comes to the government’s contacts with foreign dignitaries and representatives of foreign governments and so on, our approach is to coordinate across government. And I believe that this is what happened in this case.”
    An official government statement added that it was important to “strike a balance between taking a clear position on Tibet and sustaining broad-based engagement with the Chinese government”.

    While Britain regularly expressed its concerns about human rights in Tibet with Beijing, “it is only through engaging China that we can help bring about positive change to human rights in China”.

    “The Chinese government always lobbies hard against any meetings between foreign governments and the Dalai Lama,” the statement said.

    “We made clear in advance to the Chinese government that British ministers will decide who they meet and when they meet them — irrespective of Chinese lobbying. It was never intended that any minister would meet the Dalai Lama on his second visit.”

    Loughton, a member of Cameron’s Conservative party, lost his job as children’s minister in September. Baker is a junior transport minister and a member of the Liberal Democrats, the junior coalition partners.

    Both of them had previously met the Dalai Lama in the Indian town of Dharamsala.

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