Britain's chief rabbi says conflict with Palestinians is "corrupting" Israel

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Mon Sep 2 19:50:47 MDT 2002

(From Terpsichore 43)
Israel set on tragic path, says chief rabbi

Guardian interview will shock Jewish community

Jonathan Freedland
Tuesday August 27, 2002
The Guardian

Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, today delivers an
unprecedentedly strong warning to Israel, arguing that the country is
adopting a stance "incompatible" with the deepest ideals of Judaism,
and that the current conflict with the Palestinians is "corrupting"
Israeli culture.
In a move that will send shockwaves through Israel and the world
Jewish community, Professor Sacks departs from his usual policy of
offering only public endorsement of Israel, and broad support for
moves toward peace, by giving an explicit verdict on the effect that
35 years of military occupation and decades of conflict are having on
Israel and the Jewish people.
"I regard the current situation as nothing less than tragic," he
tells the Guardian in an exclusive interview. "It is forcing Israel
into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest
He goes on to speak of being "profoundly shocked" at the recent
reports of smiling Israeli servicemen posing for a photograph with
the corpse of a slain Palestinian. "There is no question that this
kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope,
generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are
corrupting to a culture."
He also admits that in 1967 he was "convinced that Israel had to give
back all the [newly-gained] land for the sake of peace" - and he does
not renounce that view now.
Prof Sacks is at pains to underline his continuing, avowed support
for the Jewish state - citing repeated efforts by Israel to make
peace, and the Palestinians' failure to take the same "cognitive
leap" towards compromise. Nevertheless, and despite the careful
phrasing of his remarks, referring twice to dangers "in the long
run", many in rightwing Jewish and Israeli circles will be angered by
his comments.
"The nature of these comments are quite unlike anything he has ever
said before," one senior Jewish community figure said yesterday. "The
right will be surprised and angry." Liberal and dovish Jews are bound
to welcome his statements.
Since becoming chief rabbi in 1991 of Britain's Orthodox Jews, and
the de facto leader of the country's 280,000-strong Jewish community,
Prof Sacks has successfully avoided any overtly political
pronouncements on Israel.
He has preferred to be a public defender of the country and to offer
broad support for the pursuit of peace as a divinely-sanctioned
endeavour. At the time of the Oslo peace process, he was in regular
correspondence with the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.
But he has steered clear of opining on the moral status of Israel's
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, in sharp contrast with his
predecessor, Immanuel Jakobovits, who sparked outrage more than a
decade ago when he condemned Israel for "lording it over" the
Community insiders predicted that Prof Sacks' latest comments could
prompt a similar wave of fury. Much of Anglo-Jewish opinion has
followed the Israeli shift to the right since the outbreak of the
current intifada two years ago.
The chief rabbi is bound to cause further controversy by calling for
dialogue with the most extremist representatives of radical Islam.
In today's interview, timed for the publication of his new book, The
Dignity of Difference, which is serialised in the Guardian this week,
Prof Sacks says he would even sit down with Sheikh Abu Hamza - the
fundamentalist north London cleric who admits to sharing the views of
Osama bin Laden and who describes himself as a Taliban sympathiser.
Yesterday the sheikh was quoted saying it was "OK" to kill non-
Muslims, and equating Jews with Satan.
Nevertheless, Prof Sacks says a meeting between the two is "a thought
worth pursuing. I absolutely don't rule it out."
The chief rabbi, 54, also reveals that he has already met one of
Iran's highest-ranking clerics, Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi-Amoli. At a
meeting brokered by the Foreign Office and never disclosed until now,
the two met for secret talks during a UN conference of religious
leaders in New York in 2000.
"We established within minutes a common language", says Prof Sacks,
the "particular language believers share."
The chief rabbi's new book is subtitled "How to avoid the clash of
civilisations", and aims to offer the world a roadmap away from
disaster. He calls on orthodox faiths in particular to realise that
difference is not a problem to be managed, but an "essential" part of
creation itself.

Hardliners condemn Sacks over Israel stance

Jamie Wilson, Jonathan Steele and Duncan Campbell
Wednesday August 28, 2002
The Guardian

Britain's chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, was yesterday on the receiving
end of fierce criticism from sections of the Jewish community after
his strong warning to Israel about its conduct in the Middle East
A hardline Israeli rabbi said Dr Sacks had become "irrelevant" in the
world Jewish community because of his comments. But other Jewish
leaders applauded the chief rabbi for speaking out and claimed his
words would find sympathy with many Jews.
Professor Sacks launched his unprecedentedly strong warning to Israel
in an interview with the Guardian yesterday. "I regard the current
situation as nothing less than tragic. It is forcing Israel into
postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest
ideals," he said.
"There is no question that this kind of prolonged conflict, together
with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that
in the long run are corrupting to a culture," added Dr Sacks, who
during his 11-year tenure as head of the Jewish community in the UK
and the Commonwealth has previously steered clear of commenting on
Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The fiercest of his critics yesterday was Rabbi Shalom Gold, dean of
Jerusalem college for adults, who told BBC Radio 4's The World at
One: "We who are living here day in and day out, our perspective is
the one that really counts. I have a great deal of respect for the
chief rabbi and therefore it is extremely sad for me to hear him make
comments of such a nature which for all intents and purposes will now
make him irrelevant in the world Jewish community."
But Rabbi Charles Middleburgh, executive director of the Union of
Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, applauded the chief rabbi for his
courage in speaking out. "It is incredibly important when someone
says something controversial at a difficult time for people to think
not just about what they have said but why they have said it. This is
a man who rarely comes off the fence but this time, to his great
credit, he has."
The chief rabbi also received support from Paul Usiskin, chairman of
British Friends of Peace Now. "I share, with many Jews and Zionists,
the chief rabbi's anguish at Israel's conduct and I welcome his
desire to find dialogue to help resolve the Middle East conflict," he
said in a letter to the Guardian.
Neville Nagler, director general of the Board of Deputies, said: "The
Jewish community shares everyone's concerns for a just and peaceful
outcome in the Middle East; the views expressed by the chief rabbi do
not necessarily reflect the opinions held by every section of the
Eric Graus, president of the British section of Ariel Sharon's Likud
party, accused the chief rabbi of being naive. "I think what he has
said is wrong and that the Israeli government has acted with great
restraint. The great worry is that the terrorist organisations will
see this as a split in the Jewish community and see it as evidence
that their tactics are working."
Israel's state radio, the Voice of Israel, carried reports on the
chief rabbi's interview throughout yesterday. The early reports
focused on his comments about the incompatibility of Israel's stance
in the occupied territories with Judaism's deepest ideals, but later
the story's emphasis was switched so as to highlight his meeting with
an Iranian ayatollah and his comment that they quickly "established a
common language".
"Perhaps it was an effort to discredit him", said Rabbi Arik
Aschermann, the head of Rabbis for Human Rights, a Jerusalem-based
group. "What he says is very much in line with what we think, and
what many others believe who are hesitant to say so out loud".
In the United States, the organisation Jews Against the Occupation
welcomed the chief rabbi's remarks. "Our group has been saying this
for a while and I am glad he is now saying that publicly," said the
organisation's Lorne Lieb.

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