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.