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Seeking justice for Israel’s slain and missing without losing our moral compass

This article initially appeared in My Jewish Learning’s Shabbat newsletter Recharge on Oct. 21, 2023. To sign up to receive Recharge each week in your inbox, click here.

In the Genesis story, wicked violence pushes God over the edge to wipe out humanity. In my mind, that became the violence that Hamas inflicted upon Israelis in the towns near the Gaza border this month. Noah’s ark became a metaphor for the safe rooms that allowed a few of those targeted Israelis to escape the massacre. This season, we are reading the Torah thinking about life, death — and reckoning.

After the flood, God makes a promise: “Never again will I doom the earth because of humankind, since the devisings of the human mind are evil from youth.” (Genesis 8:21) The narrative assumes that humans will still act wickedly. But instead of God judging and punishing evil behavior, that responsibility will now fall on humans.

We get some specific instruction on the human responsibility to deal with violence in the very next chapter, where we learn that when someone takes another human life, a “reckoning” is required: “Whosoever sheds human blood, by human [hands] shall that one’s blood be shed; for in the image of God was humankind made.” While some rules in the Torah come with no rationale, this one is justified by a teaching: Humans are made in the image of God.

The context of the verse is important too. At the beginning of chapter 9, God instructs Noah and his sons to “be fertile and increase, and fill the earth.” To sustain themselves, humans are given plants and (most) animals to eat, provided they do not eat the “life-blood” in animal flesh. The Torah permits taking animal life to sustain human life, but killing a person is different because humans are made in the image of God. So when a human is killed, a reckoning must take place. If the taking of a single human life requires a reckoning, how much more so does the murder of 1,200?

There are tough questions now facing Israelis and the Jewish people. What constitutes a reckoning? How do we act morally, rooted in our values, as we carry that out? And can Jewish tradition guide us as we do?

Alongside the value of human beings created in the image of God, Jewish tradition offers other models of how our ancestors understood God’s instruction to reckon with wickedness. There’s the story of Jacob’s sons, Shimon and Levi, who massacred a whole town in response to their sister’s defilement. And there’s the Purim story, in which the Jews kill not only Haman and his sons, but 75,000 others. Yet these stories don’t feel up to the task of this moment because they don’t struggle with the moral challenges of being sovereign, of wielding power over others.

But there is a story from our texts that comes close, about a moment when the Israelites did wield power in the land. In the books of Joshua and 2 Samuel we find the story of the Gibeonites, a Canaanite people who lived alongside the Israelites for generations but were slaughtered by King Saul. Years later, when David was king, the Israelites faced an extended famine, and when David inquired of God, he was told that it was a result of the injustice inflicted upon the Gibeonites. David is then faced with the daunting task of making restitution with the few surviving Gibeonites in order to save his people.

This is a story worthy of our present moment. While the text doesn’t tell us what precipitated Saul’s slaughter of the Gibeonites, the killing was evidently so unjust that it became a moral blot on the Israelites that spanned a generation. An act of injustice now can trigger another crisis later.

The challenge of this moment is to hold on to our values and moral commitments as we fight those who would destroy us — and only those who would destroy us. As my colleague and teacher Yossi Klein Halevi recently wrote, “Fighting evil does not mean a suspension of moral ground rules; the opposite is true. One must be careful not to become tainted by the evil you are fighting, for both practical and spiritual reasons.”

Wielding power is, by definition, morally fraught. The lesson of the Gibeonites is that if we lose our moral compass during this reckoning, we will pay the price — by the hand of the next generation of our enemies, by the international community, or by our own spiritual decay. And yet, a reckoning is still required. It may not be possible to be morally pure in war time, but it is possible to be morally grounded. This is the challenge for Israelis, and for the Jewish people who love them and support them, in this moment.

The post Seeking justice for Israel’s slain and missing without losing our moral compass appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

We’ve produced a collection of feature articles four times a year since 2022. A special edition of this magazine will appear in mid-September—with reflections on the Jewish year that was. And in December, look out for a reimagined publication with a name of its own. Get future copies delivered to your door as a thank-you […]

The post Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl

Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a meeting with people at a hall on the seashore in Gaza City. Photo: Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/Sipa via Reuters Connect

A senior US official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is the Palestinian terrorist group’s ultimate decision maker and has little interest in reaching a ceasefire deal with Israel, in testimony before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, there’s one guy 10 stories below the ground: a psychopath, messianic in his own belief that he has established himself in history, and [he believes that] there’s a sunk cost of having lost thousands of fighters and carnage in Gaza,” said Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

Sinwar, the top Hamas official in Gaza and the mastermind behind the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has reportedly been hiding in Hamas’ extensive network of underground tunnels during Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the coastal enclave.

Leaf’s comments echo others made by Biden administration officials.

In April, a US official told reporters that Sinwar is single-handedly holding up any progress on a potential hostage deal.

The senior Biden administration official said that while Hamas’ political bureau has shown some willingness to compromise on the terrorist group’s most hardline positions, Sinwar’s maximalist demands continuously win out.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7] than secure a ceasefire, and that’s just the truth of the situation,” the official said.

Leaf, in her testimony on Tuesday, said that Qatar — where many top Hamas political officials are based — has been “squeezing” the group — though to little effect, according to a report from Axios.

“There’s a cadre of political officials of Hamas in Doha, and boy do they squeeze them, I can assure you they squeeze them,” Leaf said.

Israel has described Hamas’ response to the new US ceasefire proposal as total rejection. But efforts to secure an agreement are still continuing, according to mediators in Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

The Axios report added that Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani met on Tuesday in Doha — Qatar’s capital — with senior Hamas officials in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the talks about the hostage and ceasefire deal.

Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.

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Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed the US was still withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Washington to remove restrictions on arms deliveries to the Jewish state and asserted that the top American diplomat had assured him the Biden administration was working to lift any halts on weapons.

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

However, he added, the administration is committed to making sure “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Netanyahu posted a video online earlier in the day in which he lamented that the US recently paused a weapons shipment to Israel and threatened to block more but said Blinken told him that Washington was seeking to end any halts on arms deliveries.

“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciated the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

“But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he continued. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

The Israeli premier then asserted that Blinken told him the issue would be addressed.

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” Netanyahu said. “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case. During World War II, Churchill told the US: ‘Give us the tools; we’ll do the job.’ And I say, ‘Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job much faster.’”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, both the White House and the US State Department refuted his apparent claim that Washington was withholding more than a single shipment of bombs.

“Everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

The White House echoed Blinken’s comments, saying that only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs had been withheld and nothing else.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We just don’t.”

Jean-Pierre added that the US and Israel have been having discussions about the release of the shipment but that there was no update at this time.

“There are no other pauses, none,” Jean-Pierre said. “No other pauses or holds in place.”

On Monday, unconfirmed reports in both Israeli and German media said that during Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken in Jerusalem last week, the Israeli premier urged the US to return the frequency of its arms shipments to the level immediately after Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched the war in Gaza with its massacre across southern Israel. According to the reports, Blinken said that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

Netanyahu also reportedly warned Blinken that the slowing of aid and the perception of America’s weakened support for Israel benefits Iran and its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including Hamas, emboldening them to intensify attacks against Israel and potentially resulting in a broader regional war.

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure from Democrats, especially those on the progressive left, to condition if not outright withhold US military support for Israel. Critics of Israel have argued the Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed too many civilians and led to a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. Israel has said Hamas is to blame for starting the war, stealing aid, and intentionally placing its operation centers inside or underneath civilian sites.

Hamas started the war with its surprise invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others as hostages. Israel responded with its ongoing campaign aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas, which rules Gaza.

In recent months, the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s operations both in public and private, pressuring Jerusalem to change its military strategy and seek a ceasefire.

The issue came to a head last month, when Biden announced that it would cease a bomb shipment to Israel and threatened to halt more weapons deliveries if the Israeli army launched an offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza and Hamas’ last major military stronghold.

I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN.

Israeli officials and experts have said operating in Rafah is essential to eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions. Netanyahu said the Jewish state appreciates US support but “will stand alone” if necessary.

The post Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt first appeared on

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