Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks has written an article criticising the action of the General Synod to review its investments in firms whose products are used by Israel in the occupied territories. Some news reports on this:
Telegraph Jonathan Petre Synod has damaged relations with Jews, says Chief Rabbi
Guardian Stephen Bates Sacks accuses synod of bulldozer ill-judgment
The Times Helen Nugent Chief Rabbi flays Church over vote on Israel assets
Independent Ian Herbert Chief Rabbi attacks Church of England for its Israel protest
The full text of the article, which appears in the Jewish Chronicle today, was issued to the press beforehand. It can be found below the fold.
Strong nerves needed
Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks argues that British Jewry must remain calm in the face of recent, highly disturbing events, and continue to engage with the wider community
The strength of a people is tested in troubled times. These are troubled times. Events have succeeded one another at breakneck pace: the Iranian threat to wipe Israel off the map; the election by the Palestinians of Hamas, a group committed to the destruction of Israel; the violence following the publication of the Danish cartoons; and the Abu Hamza trial.
Locally there was the vote of the synod of the Church of England to heed a call to divest from companies associated with Israel; the Populus poll of British Muslims; and Guardian articles accusing Israel of being an apartheid state. These are of altogether lesser consequence, but they have added to our sense of vulnerability. How should we respond?
First let us acknowledge our anger and pain. Israel has taken great risks for peace, yet it seems at every stage to be rewarded with further hostility. The Jewish community in Britain has contributed immensely to national life, yet after 350 years we still feel at risk. Nor are our fears ungrounded. We have long and bitter memories. We recognise danger when we see it.
To feel anger and pain is natural. To act on it, though, is another matter entirely. It is what our enemies anticipated. Often, it is what they intended. Action in the heat of emotion can be rash and ill-judged. It can make things worse. It can lead people to focus on the moment instead of thinking long-term. Especially if a group is small, it must choose its battlegrounds carefully. Wherever possible, it should not fight alone. It must win friends, and make its case from the highest of moral grounds. That is not weakness but wisdom. Be deliberate in judgement, said the sages.
They might have added: especially when the stakes are high.
We carry with us decisive grounds for courage. The Jewish people has survived longer than any other religion or civilization the West has known. It was threatened by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, ancient Greece and Rome, the medieval empires of Christianity and Islam, and in the twentieth century by the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Each once bestrode the narrow world like a colossus, but all were eventually consigned to the pages of history. The Jewish people — seemingly small, weak, powerless — still lives. These encounters were not without their human cost, sometimes immense. But after each, the Jewish people rebuilt itself, never more so than after the Holocaust. If the strength of the people is tested in troubled times, ours is a people of awe-inspiring strength.
We must now work together as a community, developing strategies, pooling our wisdom, cultivating our allies, sharing our strengths. Several meetings to this end have already taken place in recent days, and the work will continue in the coming months. We must respond with dignity and calm, thinking long-term, avoiding predictable reactions, never stooping to the level of our opponents. In tense times, the advantage goes to the group with the strongest nerves. After all that has befallen our people, we have strong nerves.
The most important fact about the present situation is that on the big issues, neither Israel nor the Jewish people stand alone. An Iran with nuclear capability is a threat not only to Israel but to the world. Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair have seen this clearly. So too have Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel. Chirac’s statement on January 19 that France was prepared to launch a nuclear strike against any country sponsoring a terrorist attack against French interests, and Angela Merkel’s comparison of Ahmadinejad to Hitler were immensely significant signals. These politicians know that the diatribes against Israel are a thinly disguised attack on the West and its freedoms.
As for the election of Hamas, this became inevitable because of the corruption of the previous regime. Every Palestinian knew this. The point, though, is that so did leading European politicians, who none the less continued to fund the Arafat administration. The politics of “sup with the devil so long as it’s the devil you know” works in the short term but never in the long. America discovered this after funding the mujahideen radicals —Osama bin Laden’s early associates — in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Europe must not make this mistake again.
The violence following the Danish cartoons exceeded all bounds. Rightly, key representatives of the British Muslim community have dissociated themselves from it. The cartoons should not have been published. But if free speech has limits for the Danish press, it has limits for those who protest against the Danish press. As John Locke, the architect of tolerance, said more than three centuries ago: “It is unreasonable that any should have a free liberty of their religion who do not acknowledge it as a principle of theirs that nobody ought to persecute or molest another because he dissents from him in religion.”
On all these issues we take our stand with those prepared to fight for tolerance, non-violent conflict resolution, moderation, mutual respect, self-restraint and the civilities of a free society. This is not a Jewish struggle but a human one, and we will work with people of goodwill, whatever their faith or lack of it.
The vote of the synod of the Church of England to “heed” a call to divestment from certain companies associated with Israel was ill-judged even on its own terms. The immediate result will be to reduce the Church’s ability to act as a force for peace between Israel and the Palestinians for as long as the decision remains in force. The essence of mediation is the willingness to listen to both sides.
The timing could not have been more inappropriate. Israel has risked civil war to carry out the Gaza withdrawal, the first time in the history of the Middle East that a nation has evacuated territory gained in a defensive war without a single concession, even the most nominal, on the other side. Israel faces two enemies, Iran and Hamas, open in their threat to eliminate it. It needs support, not vilification.
For years I have called on religious groups in Britain to send a message of friendship and coexistence to conflict zones throughout the world, instead of importing those conflicts into Britain itself. The effect of the synod vote will be the opposite. The Church has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence, namely Jewish-Christian relations in Britain.
That is why we cannot let the matter rest. If there was one candle of hope above all others after the Holocaust it was that Jews and Christians at last learned to speak to one another after some 17 centuries of hostility that led to exiles, expulsions, ghettoes, forced conversions, staged disputations, libels, inquisitions, burnings at the stake, massacres and pogroms. We must not let that candle be extinguished.
The Church could have chosen, instead of penalizing Israel, to invest in the Palestinian economy. That would have helped the Palestinians. It would have had the support of most Israelis and most Jews. Indeed it is an Australian-born Jew, James Wolfensohn, former head of the World Bank, who is supervising the reconstruction of the Palestinian economy on behalf of the Group of Four, and who personally raised the funds to buy for the Palestinians the Israeli agricultural facilities in Gaza. The Church’s gesture will hurt Israelis and Jews without helping the Palestinians.
As a community, we must engage more actively in the promotion of good community relations, especially at the local level. We must teach ourselves and others the full history of our people’s four-thousand-year bond with the land of Israel; how we were ousted by empire after empire but always returned; how Israel in the days of the prophets and today tirelessly sought peace, only to be rewarded with war. We must cultivate the friendship of people of generosity of spirit in all faiths. We must work with journalists who know that truth is never partisan. We must seek the support of politicians who speak to the highest, not the lowest, instincts of the public. We have enemies, but we have many friends.
Above all, we must take our stand on the value system Abraham and Judaism conferred on the world. The crisis humanity faces in the 21st century is not just political or economic, military or diplomatic. It is moral and spiritual. Can we be true to our faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith? Can we heed the call of God to mend not destroy?
Aggression is the child of fear, and the only lasting antidote is the faith that says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
We will never cease to love Israel, pray for peace, and work for the benefit of humanity. Our nerves must stay strong, our judgment calm and our language cool. And we will win. For if Jewish history has a message to the world, it is that there is something in the human spirit that cannot be defeated – something that gave and still gives our tiny, afflicted, tempest-tossed people the strength to outlive all its enemies while enlarging the moral imagination of mankind.