Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum

Must Jews Always See Themselves As Victims?

Posted by Admin on March 16, 2009

Antony Lerman

tony-lermanIn the wake of Israel’s attack on Gaza, eager voices are telling us that antisemitism has returned – yet again. Eight years of Hamas rockets and the world unfairly cries foul when Israel retaliates, they say. Biased media are delegitimising the Jewish state. The Left attacks Israel as uniquely evil, making it the persecuted Jew among the nations. Even theatres keep wheeling out those antisemitic stereotypes, Shylock, Fagin and the “chosen people”, just to torment us. If this bleak picture were an accurate portrayal of what Jews are experiencing today, who could deny that suffering is the determining feature of the Jewish condition?

In most Jewish circles, if you pause to question this narrative and suggest that it might be exaggerated, that it unrealistically implies a level of dreadfulness and victimhood unique to Jews, you’ll attract hostility and disbelief in equal measure, and precious little public sympathy. But in the work of Professor Salo Baron, probably the greatest Jewish historian of the 20th century, we find powerful justification for just such a questioning.

Professor Baron spoke out angrily against what he called the “lachrymose conception of Jewish history”, which placed suffering at the centre of Jewish life. “Suffering is part of the destiny” of the Jews,” Professor Baron said in an interview in 1975, “but so is repeated joy as well as ultimate redemption.” Another distinguished historian, Professor Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, said Baron always fought against the view of Jewish history as “all darkness and no light. He laboured mightily to restore balance”.

Baron, who was born in Poland and went to America in 1930 to teach at Columbia University in New York, died aged 94 in 1989, perhaps one of the most significant years in post-war Jewish history. With the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR, the suppression of Jewish religious practice and cultural expression came to an end. More than two million Jews were finally free to choose to be Jewish or not. An astonishing number chose Jewishness and a remarkable revival of Jewish life began. This historic moment aptly illustrates the central truth of Baron’s critique.

Twenty years on, that revival continues, but the world’s response to Israel’s war on Gaza and the dramatic rise in antisemitic incidents in a number of countries since the war began have led many to paint a very dark picture of the current Jewish predicament. So, in thinking about the accuracy of this, especially in view of the poisonous weed of antisemitism that Howard Jacobson, writing in The Independent last month, claims to find growing in practically every patch of criticism of Israel, I wondered what light Professor Baron would have found in the current darkness. Would he have concluded that the lachrymose conception of Jewish history has returned and that a restoration of some balance is required? Have we Jews succumbed psychologically to a sense of eternal Jewish victimhood, a wholly negative Jewish exceptionalism, or is paranoia justified?

Some pioneering research, published as Israel’s bombing of Gaza began, throws some light on this. It reveals just how much the feeling that no matter what we do, we are perpetually at the mercy of others applies to Jewish Israelis. A team led by Professor Daniel Bar Tal of Tel Aviv University, one of the world’s leading political psychologists, questioned Israeli Jews about their memory of the conflict with the Arabs, from its inception to the present, and found that their “consciousness is characterised by a sense of victimisation, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanisation of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering”. The researchers found a close connection between that collective memory and the memory of “past persecutions of Jews” and the Holocaust, the feeling that “the whole world is against us”. If such a study [pdf] were to be conducted among Jews in Britain, I suspect the results would be very similar.

For Jews to see themselves in this way is understandable, but it’s a distortion and deeply damaging. As Professor Bar Tal says, this view relies primarily on prolonged indoctrination that is based on ignorance and even nurtures it. The Jewish public does not want to be confused with the facts. If we are defined by past persecutions, by our victimhood, will we ever think clearly about the problem of Israel-Palestine and the problem of antisemitism?

To justify its attack on Gaza, Israel threw the mantle of victimhood over the residents of southern Israel who have lived under the constant threat of rocket attack from the territory since 2001. Israeli government and military spokespeople seemed to get a remarkably sympathetic hearing in the media when they made this argument. But history did not begin in 2001. As the Israeli journalist Amira Hass notes, the origin of Israel’s siege dates back to 1991, before suicide bombings began. The relentless emphasis on Israeli suffering, to the exclusion of all other contextual facts, and the constant mantra that no other country would tolerate such a threat posed to its citizens over such a long period provided the basis for arguing that the military option was the only alternative. The victim is cornered and there’s only one way out.

But the popular Israeli phrase ein breira, “there is no alternative”, won’t stand one second’s scrutiny. There was a wealth of informed senior military and security opinion, especially following the disaster of the 2006 Lebanon war, which argued that there is no military solution to the problem of Islamist groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah. Even before Lebanon, in 2004, former IDF spokesman Nahman Shai, a senior figure in the Israeli establishment, said: “Despite all the anger, frustration, and disgust we feel, we ought to talk to Hizbollah. We must exploit every possibility to reach a compromise with them and gain precious time. Does it really embody all the evil in the region? What are we waiting for? We can always go back to fighting terrorism.” Early in January this year, Israel’s former Mossad chief and former national security adviser, Efraim Halevy, said: “If Israel’s goal were to remove the threat of rockets from the residents of southern Israel, opening the border crossings would have ensured such quiet for a generation.” Daniel Levy, former adviser in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, shows clearly where the wrong choices were made: withdrawing from Gaza without co-ordinating the “what next” with the Palestinians; hermetically sealing off Hamas and besieging Gaza after the 2006 elections instead of testing Hamas’s capacity to govern responsibly; instead of building on the ceasefire, Israel was the first to break it on 4th November. In short, there were other alternatives.

The current flurry of diplomatic activity only confirms this. Tony Blair’s first trip to Gaza, Hillary Clinton’s talks with Israel’s leaders and stronger language on settlements and the $5bn pledged for Gaza at the Egyptian donor conference are all discomfiting signs for Israel’s polity, now in a state of electoral upheaval. They show that the Gaza offensive blasted open the doors to alternative diplomatic options, as well as the possibility of a new Palestinian unity government. Instead of validating the government’s line that this was justice for Israel’s traumatised southern citizens, it only served to demonstrate to the world, and especially to the new Obama administration, Israel’s responsibility for the injustice of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

It’s not a political judgement to feel compassion for Israelis terrorised by Hamas rockets, and it’s just the same for Palestinians living in a virtual prison in Gaza. But the objective predicaments of the two populations are not the same. To convince yourself that a turkey shoot is an act of great heroism, you need the “self-righteousness” and “blind patriotism” Professor Bar Tal found in his study. You see yourself as David against the Islamist Goliath. The world sees a powerful elephant and an aggressive, rogue mouse that draws blood. The elephant hands the mouse the power of veto over the entire Middle East peace process by demanding that the mouse recognise the elephant’s existence before any meaningful negotiations with Palestinians can take place. All this does is send a message of weakness: “We genuinely believe that our existence is threatened by this mouse.”

Professor Baron argued that you cannot understand the history of the Jews outside of the histories of the societies in which Jews lived. Yet this narrative of victimhood is sustainable only on the basis of a negative Jewish exceptionalism which severs the Jewish experience from the historical mainstream.

The hope and optimism which accompanied the collapse of communism and the Jewish revival in Europe in 1989 have certainly been eclipsed by a defensive, fearful, ethnocentric mindset, which makes a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict ever harder to achieve and casts a pall over Jewish life everywhere. So why are we reading our own times through the prism of a lachrymose view of Jewish history?

If you’re urging me to list the faults of the enemies of the Jews, to say it’s all because of them, you might as well stop reading now. Yes, of course our predicament is partly caused by others who wish us no good, but before we heap blame on them, I want to hold up a mirror to ourselves, to know what’s our responsibility. The liberal historian of Zionism, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, said it’s “wrong to deny the Jews the dignity of having made their own history, even its pain”. Consider these five interlocking points.

There is every reason why the Holocaust should be a constant influence on our thinking. But by insisting on owning it, fencing it off and seeing it as uniquely unique, we’re in danger of lifting the Jewish tragedy out of history altogether. And this process has been a conscious act. If seen as completely unfathomable, the Holocaust is easily used to justify extraordinary measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. This is a dangerous road to travel.

Being so defined by the Holocaust, Jewish leaders in Israel and elsewhere regularly use the tragedy to dramatise Israel’s position or the threats facing Jews. So when the US Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman described the attack on the Caracas synagogue as “the scene of a modern-day Kristallnacht” – the 9 November 1938 pogrom in Germany in which 91 Jews were killed, more than 30,000 were arrested and 191 synagogues were set on fire – he diminished Kristallnacht. But more than this: it perpetuates the view that we Jews are for ever the objects and never the subjects of history. This was never more than partially true, but ever since the establishment of the state of Israel, it has ceased to be true at all. Israel changed everything – whether you’re close to Israel or not. Israel acts on the world stage; it calls itself a Jewish state; what it does affects the Jewish position worldwide; it cannot pretend to powerlessness; it’s the subject of history, not the object, and in being so turns Jews everywhere into subjects of history too.

This is starkly illustrated in the fact that the UK Jewish community’s defence body, the Community Security Trust, reports a dramatic increase in antisemitic incidents since the beginning of the Gaza war. This is not a new phenomenon. For some decades, incidents have increased at times of high tension or violence in Israel-Palestine. Jewish leaders and commentators are indignant at the implication that Jews worldwide are responsible for Israel’s actions. Don’t conflate Jews and Israel, they say. But matters are far more complicated. Most Jews support Israel; they feel it’s part of their identity; official Jewish bodies defend Israel when it’s criticised.

None of this justifies one single act of antisemitism against Jews perpetrated because someone claims to be angry about Palestine. But we can’t have it both ways. If you’re close to Israel, you can’t just own your connection with the country when all is quiet; you have to own it when what Israel does provokes outrage. The consequence of this is recognising that by provoking outrage, which is then used to target Jews, Israel bears responsibility for that anti-Jewish hostility. If Israel were truly concerned about Jews worldwide, it would think long and hard about the implications of this reality.

The incongruous truth is that while we are drawing attention to antisemitism more comprehensively than at any time in the past 30 years, I sense that so much of the Jewish world is more comfortable with an identifiable enemy that hates us than with a multicultural society that welcomes Jews on equal terms.

Any antisemitism must be taken seriously, even at the best of times, but our appetite for the apocalyptic assessment of the antisemitic threat seems to know no bounds. When the Labour MP Denis MacShane writes that “Neo-antisemitism is a developed, coherent and organised system of modern politics that has huge influence on the minds of millions” and that it “impacts on world politics today like no other ideology”, can we really take such hyperbole seriously? It’s perfectly possible to acknowledge the pain caused by increased antisemitism but reject wild scenarios and counterproductive ways of dealing with the problem – such as demonising strong criticism of Israel. We should be able to have a dialogue about alternative ways of interpreting what’s happening and what needs to be done. Sadly, the Jewish establishment here and other self-appointed gatekeepers of Jewish dignity see this as traitorous and a denial of antisemitism.

Nothing illustrates better how we are in thrall to the uniqueness of our suffering than the shocking silence from most Jewish leaders that has greeted the rise of Avigdor Lieberman – a politician who, in Ha’aretz’s words, “conducted a racist campaign against Israel’s Arab citizens and is suspected of grave criminal acts” – to king-maker for the next Israeli government. It’s sickening that the leaders of Israel’s three largest parties have courted him and conferred respectability upon him, with not the slightest hint that they might be metaphorically holding their noses.

Before we put down the mirror, the final image we see is that of Lieberman.

We are not condemned to accept the fate which the closed-minded ethnocentricity of so many Jews dictates to us. Ameliorating our predicament, restoring the balance, could come from acknowledging modest but profound truths, even if we get to them through distasteful comparisons.

I know that the siege, bombardment and invasion of Gaza were not like the German obliteration of the Warsaw ghetto – a comparison that critics of Israel are spreading through the internet I believe. And our need for calm and compassionate examination of the reality of the conflict would be greatly enhanced if we could retire such comparisons. But if we pause to think of the suffering of a dying Jewish child in the ghetto and a dying Palestinian child in Gaza, who would dare to suggest that their suffering is any different. Yet, as Professor Baron seems to imply, we fall all too easily into the trap of thinking that there is something unique about Jewish suffering. There isn’t.

Antony Lerman is the former Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

41 Responses to “Must Jews Always See Themselves As Victims?”

  1. Armchair Analyst said

    Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean that the Islamofascists, the Iranian regime, Hezbollah, Hamas, and assorted global hard left and hard right anti-Semites are not out to get you….

  2. emet said

    This Jew feels like a victim of GJEF’s attempt to inflict Mr Lerman on me at every opportunity….is that what he means ?

  3. Community Member said

    It was very worrying that at the Charles Kennedy meeting that so many of the audience think that the media is out to get Israel and that Israel receives unfair coverage.
    Someone who was present, and not part of the Jewish community, commented to me during the meeting that it reminded him of football phone ins. Celtic fans think referees favour Rangers and Rangers fans think referees favour Celtic.
    I think Tony Lerman’s article is very timely and addresses a very important issue.
    The audience at Charles Kennedy were preoccupied with how we as Jews were suffering.
    I therefore congratulate Mr Lerman for raising this issue. It is relevant and it is very relevant in Glasgow as well. If Emet can’t understand what the argument is all about that is a shame but snide asides that GJEF has strong connections with one of UK Jewry’s leading academic thinkers is not worthy of a considered reply. Some people wish to explore issues in a little more depth. Talk sport has its limitations.

  4. Guardian reader said

    I wwould like to suggest a recently published book which is a ” must read “for those that are interested in what is happening with Israel.

    ” Can I Bring My Own Gun ” by Seth Freedman is published in association with Guardian Books.
    It can be found on

    “Seth Freedman is a contracted journalist on the Guardian’s Comment is Free. His reports are followed, praised and condemned in equal measure by tens of thousands of readers. He writes from the front line of Israel and Palestine, and also behind the lines. As a former volunteer in the Israeli army reporting from the West Bank, he is unique. The book relates how his views about the situation there shift, as he posts his articles on his fellow soldiers, settlers, the Peace demonstrators, the Arab community on both sides of the Green Line and those who try to bring Jews and Palestinians together.”

    Seth Freedman grew up in North West London and worked as a stockbroker in the City before moving to Israel. He now lives in Jerusalem. He served for 15 months in a combat unit of the IDF between 2004 and 2006 and has worked as a writer ever since.

    Before some condemn this as just another Guardian journalist he also writes for the Jerusalem Post.

    This ia a fascinating book. For those out there who want to read something interesting and with real insight I suggest you read this.

    ” Can I Bring My Own Gun? “

  5. Nachman Aaronovitch said

    Unlike Community Member, I was disappointed with Antony Lehrman’s article. It is one long generalisation that answers very little and offers even less. Howard Jacobson’s powerful charges are answered by dismissal without any analysis of his arguments. Lehrman’s position may be right but there is little in his offering worthy of automatic support. He invokes professor Salo Baron and suggests that he was the greatest ever twentieth century Jewish historian. I would suggest that he may have been the greatest historian of Jewish history (not the same thing) but that was then. The quotes are from over thirty years ago since when the world and events have moved on and this is now. My impression is that Tony Lehrman Is saying that there is little anti-semitism and anyway if there is, it’s all Israel’s fault. He says nothing to justify such a stance.
    I would suggest to GJEF that if they are serious in their attempt to facilitate community debate on relevant issues, they will also print articles such as the recent one by Jacobson, maybe even one by Melanie Phillips. I know some would find the latter unacceptable but without such input, this is a one sided and sterile discussion.

  6. Community Member said

    Well we disagree again Nachman. Your point about GJEF printing articles from cranks like Melanie Phillips is I’m sure deliberately provocative.
    There are many platforms available to Phillips, such as the Jewish Chronicle. What would be the point of GJEF reinforcing this argument? We have enough unthinking, my country right or wrong organisations already. Surely, it is better that alternative viewpoints, like Mr Lerman’s are available? To reinforce the status quo would make the raison d’etre of GJEF pointless.
    Ask around Nachman and you will find that most of our community genuinely believe that Israeli actions in Gaza were justified. Criticism of Israel is seen as either antisemitism or BBC hostility.
    I would now ask you to read today’s Haaretz editorial about the disgraceful conduct of Israel’s soldiers during the recent war. This was the editorial in an Israeli newspaper, not the “malicious” Guardian or the
    ” vehemently anti-Israel” BBC.

    After you have read it Nachman I urge you to read Tony Lerman’s article again and I sincerely hope you see it in a different light. Most Jewish people in the UK think we are the victims. Do you think so as well?

  7. Armchair Analyst said

    Here’s an interesting Arab perspective on Gaza from the Wall Street Journal Europe:

  8. Nachman Aaronovitch said

    One person’s crank is another’s inellectual. We are not talking about reinforcing MP’s arguments, we are talking about encouraging the community to discuss and analyse the whole spectrum of Jewish and Zionist controversy. Are you suggesting that GJEF scour the JC and reject any columnist that has access to their columns. It appears Jonathon Freedland has slipped through the net!
    Of course, some actions by Israel troops may be reprehensible and we must wait and see just how this particular news item unfolds. Pity the headlines did not also state that the bombing of UN building during war was nonsense. You have to read the small print to find that out. I prefer to watch and wait before jumping in and condemning.

  9. Local Likud Watcher said

    There is nothing quite as unseemly as an ugly spat between good friends and supporters of right wing ideology. Forget previous encounters between Ariel Sharon and Bibi Netanyahu which spawned Kadima – here in Glasgow we have just read the Aharon Soudry denounciation of Ephraim Borowski ( today’s back page of the Jewish Telegraph)

    Before all reasonable persons of good morality and common sense hit their keyboards to declare – ” what could possibly be wrong with criticising Ephraim Borowski – after all it was the same Mr Borowski who took pilgrims to Hebron, gave comfort to West Bank extremists, gave an audience to suporters of Kahane and by doing all this tarnished the good name of our community” – Aharon Soudry has gone for Borowski because he is not right wing enough.

    Mr Soudry, formerly a leading light of that ghastly organisation, Scottish Friends of Israel, is furious because the Director of Scojec dared to suggest that there has to be some kind of international solution to Jerusalem and even worse – that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians ” is a dispute over territory. ”

    Mr Soudry, previously, on this blog took umbrage because someone declared that he is a supporter of Likud. Even some elements of Likud seem moderate in comparison to his arguments.

    Of course, in presenting his diatribe against Borowski, Soudry spouts that every problem is the fault of the other side. Borowski has become a ” victim of Hamas propaganda, or the Guardian-PLO mantra of occupation.”

    I have observed many of the statements made by A Soudry over the years and he is certainly a sympathiser and of right wing politics in Israel, possiby as left wing as Likud, but maybe not so moderate.

    And before he jumps up and down and makes a huge noise about being unfairly labelled he should think very carefully about what he has just written in the Telegraph and has told so many people over the years. Only Mr Soudry could chastise Borowski for being a moderate.

    As they say, its a funny old world. This blog gets slaughtered at times for being personal and vindictive.
    ( I actually think much of the criticism handed out seems fair and reasonable). I wonder if those that don’t like the blog will stop buying the Jewish Telegraph for allowing A Soudry to have a go at E Borowski?

  10. Telegraph Reader said

    If the conflict is not a dispute over territory I would be pleased to find out from Mr Soudry exactly what the conflict is actually about.

  11. Heads or Tails said

    Ok, I’m with Borowski on his analysis rather than Soudry. But who would you support generally between these two – heads or tails?

  12. Amused said

    I’m hoping the coin lands on its edge 🙂

  13. Curious said

    A Soudry has always ben a right winger in terms of Israeli politics – everyone knows that. There must be more to his letter against Borowski than I’m picking up. Any hints anyone?
    As for the Director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, everyone knows that he will sing a different song depending on who is listening. That’s why he became interested in peace for one day when Leslie Riddoch came to town. He probably doesn’t believe one word of it which makes Soudry’s rant even more perplexing.

  14. Local Taxi Driver said

    What gets me is that the A Soudry’s of this world are not honest about their Israeli politics. They try and make out they are apolitical and just interested in Israel without political afiliations. Why don’t they just call a spade a spade and tell us that they think Israel is always right and the other side have no rights. By the way I had that Ephraim Borowski in the back of my cab once.

  15. Another Cabbie said

    Talking of Borowski – did anyone see the article in the Friday comic about a meeting between the Scottish Government and the CST and Scojec?
    According to the CST/Scojec the meeting was arranged at the request of the Government. Aye that’ll be right? Alex Salmond got up a week ago and wondered what he would do that day, and with a flash of inspiration he got one of his aides to call Borowski and that CST guy with the American accent, Mark Gardner. You couldn’t make this up if you tried. That guy Borowski thinks we’re daft. But I have news for him. We’re not as daft as him. Incidentally, I had Aron Soudry in the back of my cab last week. Is he paranoid about Israel or what?

  16. Rabbi L said

    Shalom Chaverim,

    I have just returned from a trip to Israel to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of my nephew. To enjoy a Simcha with family and friends in Jerusalem is so invgorating that I can thoroughly recommend it to all of you.

    There is one subject that I would like to briefly discuss with you that I promise to return to at the end of the week before Shabbat. I am aware that several newspapers in the UK have carried reports about the behaviour of the IDF during the recent war in Gaza. Some of the reports as written in the newspapers have been dreadful and I know from contacting people here have caused many in our community to be alarmed.

    Our Israeli soldiers don’t behave like this has been the typical reaction. It can’t be true -this is just not how the IDF conducts its affairs. Remember IDF stands for Israeli Defence Forces is what we wanted to believe.

    Well Israeli papers reported this story as well –

    Haaretz on 19.3. 09

    “During Operation Cast Lead, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive.

    The soldiers are graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon. Some of their statements made on Feb. 13 will appear Thursday and Friday in Haaretz. Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion fought in the Gaza operation.

    The speakers included combat pilots and infantry soldiers. Their testimony runs counter to the Israel Defense Forces’ claims that Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation.”

    I would like to return to this subject before Shabbat but would ask you to please consider the following which appeared in the Israeli press – ( not the UK press)

    “IDF combat soldiers and officers from the Gaza operation are now beginning to confirm what our enemies have been saying for months. They tell us that, contrary to our own beliefs and expectations, combat norms in Gaza exhibited a blatant disregard for Palestinian civilians. Their comments were not a left-wing leak, but emerged from a frank discussion at pre-army training institute. As Amos Harel writes: “The soldiers are not lying, for the simple reason they have no reason to.” Though others have different opinions about the soldiers’ reports, the investigations have begun.

    It is a truism we repeat to ourselves, that war is horrific. We are also clear that a war against terrorists who hide among civilians, and who delight in random attacks on Israeli civilian population centers, is never going to be clean. Yet we still must ask ourselves: When Jews around the world literally endangered themselves marching in solidarity rallies in January this year, was this what they had in mind? Were Jewish communities and individuals, and of course the vast majority of the Israeli public, were we all in favor of a lax attitude to civilian casualties? Or did not we all take comfort in the IDF’s high moral standards?

    Searching for cold comfort, we can nevertheless pride ourselves on the vibrant, dynamic, and brutally honest democracy of Israel. It is unlikely that issues such as these are exposed or ever debated in the countries of Israel’s enemies. But perhaps some comfort is so cold it is no comfort at all.

    Irrespective of what we might now tell the world, what do we tell ourselves of our soldiers’ accounts of fighting in Gaza?

    Have a good week
    Rabbi L

  17. Glasgow Cabbie said

    Don’t know if I’ve ever had Rabbi L in my cab because I don’t know who he is.

  18. Nachman Aaronovitch. said

    The only sensible bit of your latest diatribe, Rabbi L, is that, “war is horrific”. Better still was a previous blogger’s use of the evocative phrase, “pornography of war.” This being the case, let us accept that we have terrified young soldiers, little more than children sent by their elders into a living hell. Under these circumstances they will behave just as young soldiers have done in Iraq, Afghanistan or under any other similar circumstance. It is so easy to expect our people to be a ‘light unto Nations’ when you sup at a table groaning with produce at your nephew’s barmitzvah and so glib to express your latest take on things. However, idealism died in Israel post 1967. She is now a strong, mature nation and except for her bleating for special conditions due to the holocaust 60 years ago, acts no differently than other mature nations.
    As for the vibrant, dynamic and brutally honest democracy in Israel, you must have been in a different Israel from that which I left 48 hours ago. The Knesset is packed with MK’s, not one of which is answerable to a constituent, where dishonsty is the name of the game, where small unrepresentative parties punch well above their weight as budding PM’s and ministers sell any principles they pretended to have in pursuit of power. For the religious, Rabbi L, a good religious or education portfolio is a cash cow to bribe the indolent that they may ‘learn’ while others work.
    Let me say, I love the country and most of the people for what it is, for what they are, not to make them into some image of perfection that exists only in your mind.

  19. Rabbi L said

    Shalom Chaverim,

    When the late Chief Rabbi, Immanuel Jackobovitz, proclaimed that his understanding of Judaism led him to believe that lives were worth more than territory many Jews in the UK were aghast that he was not prepared to endorse those in Israel who wanted to hold on to territories where Palestinians lived.

    I have no delusions that I am another Jackobovitz but I can empathise with the predicament he must have faced in speaking out about something which he clearly believed was wrong and against the Jewish ideals which he believed and practised.

    As some of you will have noticed I posted earlier this week about an issue which currently causes me great upset. I do not believe that Israel is required to be a light unto other nations but I do believe that we have an obligation to be a light unto ourselves.

    From the deepest part of my soul I, as a Jew, and in my case a religious Jew, believes that I have to live my life according to basic principles of human decency. What has come out in news reports about Israel’s conduct in Gaza is in my opinion contrary to Jewish morality. I was brought up to love Israel and I still do. I don’t believe that Israel should behave in a certain way just to gain favour in the court of world opinion. But we as a people have to have values that mean something, otherwise we will flounder.
    I am not a pacifist and I accept that Israel has bitter intractable enemies. I also believe that war sometimes is the only option. I do not happen to think that what has been reported in Israel about the conduct of Israeli troops in Gaza is acceptable. I don’t care if other nations would have behaved just as badly. I do care that we are involved in acts which according to our principles of justice and morality are unacceptable.

    I don’t accept that a war situation justifies all behaviour. It doesn’t.
    I know what I believe in and what is important to me and my values as a Jew, and hopefully as a decent human being, cannot be pushed under the carpet because it is Israel that is doing something terribly wrong.

    I know that I am the exception amongst my Rabbinical colleagues in the UK. I deeply regret that so many of my fellow Rabbonim choose to either endorse every Israeli action or to remain silent, when I believe that we have an obligation to never forget who we are and what we stand for. How many leaders in the UK community, secular or religious will tell the Israelis that the likely appointment of Lieberman to the Israeli Foreign Office is a very bad decision.

    You may have gathered that I am upset about what is happening to Israel. I am deeply concerned.

    I wish you all a pleasant and peaceful Shabbat.

    Shabbat Shalom

  20. Nachman Aaronovitch. said

    I endorse all that you say Rabbi L except your implication that there can be some morality within a war situation. War is a nasty business and once naive young kids are kitted out with all the killing gear, the Marquess of Queensberry rules go on the back burner. These young killing machines are intentionally brutalised for the task at hand and to search for the values you would expect in a peacetime situation is a fruitless task. This is not a matter of comparing ourselves with others, rather it is a matter of coming to terms with reality. I am not arguing for or against the war in Gaza other than to say those in Hamas and Israel who may have had the power to prevent the escalation that led inevitably to so much pointless death and destruction are much more contemptable than a few tasteless t-shirts.

  21. Community Member said

    Even in war Nachman there are rules and there are actions which are not permissible. That is why those that break these rules can be tried for war crimes.Of course those that issue the orders to their soldiers to do things they should not be doing are culpable, but each and every individual is still responsible for their own conduct. Even though it may appear incongruous there is a morality involved in fighting war. Innocent civilians should not be targeted, types of ammunition used etc etc.
    I applaud Rabbi L for speaking out – a very lonely voice within the Orthodox Rabbinate.
    Instead we will no doubt hear the usual retort that they only say these things because ” they hate the Jews “.
    Moral myopia would be one apt description.

  22. Not Peace Now said

    So Rabbi L joins Aronovitch, Beitz and Community Member as full members of discredited Peace Now. Seems the Israeli people don’t quite agree with your peace loving values.
    Labour and their left wing allies got routed in the recent election.
    When will you guys admit it your cause is history?

  23. Peacenik said

    You’re absolutely right. The cause of Peace Now is probably consigned to the dustbin of history. Instead we have you over here and all that is immoral and dishonest taking over in Israel. Congratulations.

  24. Not Peace Now said

    So who is Peacenik? Aronovitch, Community Member or Beitz? I remember what these three advocates of surrender have written on this blog and they are no ambassadors for peace. Aronovitch you are a disgrace.
    How can you comment that the democratically elected government of Israel is “immoral and dishonest ”
    before they are even in office.
    I expect that from the enemies of the State of Israel not local politicians from Glasgow Peace Now such as Beitz, Community Member and you Aronovitch.

  25. Phil Space said

    At the recent AGM of Calderwood Jewish Education there was a great deal of discussion regarding the need to increase parents’ contributions so that the school continues to be viable; and the difficulties many of the parents are facing due to the economic downturn. The increase was kept to an absolute minimum.

    At the recent Giffnock Synagogue AGM a motion to increase members’ contributions and employees’ pay was passed by a slim majority and only after a 2nd vote because many present at the meeting felt that during these difficult economic times it was perhaps not right to ask members to contribute more.

    Contrast that with the following absurd email sent out by the local Lubavitch Rabbi!!

    Isn’t about time that the lay leaders of our community and the trustees of the major Jewish trusts got hold of this guy and asked him to account for the £330,000 pa that he claims he requires to run his organisation.
    Why does Lubavitch require twice the entire income of Giffnock Shul and 3 times that of Calderwood?

    Now read on:-

    —– Original Message —–
    Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 9:02 PM
    Subject: Blessing the Sun

    Lubavitch Remind ALL Men, Women & Children
    To Be Ready for the ‘Blessing of the Sun’
    This very important Blessing, Mitzvah – Ceremony
    Which occurs once in 28 Years ONLY
    Will take place at All Shuls Wednesday
    Morning 8th April Erev Pesach
    Between 6.30 & 9.30 a.m.
    Be there, be part of it
    For Further information see
    or ClickHere
    or call 0141 638 6116 or your own Rabbi
    Please find attached a recent thought for the day given
    on Radio BBC Birmingham by Rabbi Chaim Jacobs
    on occasion of his son Yossi as Chief Minister to
    Singers Hill Synagogue in Birmingham.

    Click Here to view the recent Gaelic TV programme about
    the Glasgow Jewish community in which the work of
    Lubavitch ‘Rabbi Mendel Jacobs’, minister also of
    Shul in the Park and the L’Chaim’s Kosher Restaurant
    are featured too.
    Despite the Credit Crunch
    ‘Assimilation Never Stops’
    Lubavitch 40 Years in Scotland
    Assimilation, Interdating &
    Intermarriage are trying to
    destroy our Community
    We May Not Stop our
    Work for a Day!!
    £6,500 REQUIRED WEEKLY!!

    Further to our recent mailing I look forward to receiving your donation
    when convenient. I know things are tough and that you will do the best
    you can as you always do and thank you in advance.

    Best wishes for a Kosher and Happy Pesach
    Chaim J
    Friends of Lubavitch Scotland
    8 Orchard Drive
    Giffnock. Glasgow G46 7NR
    Scotland. United Kingdom

  26. Lubavitch Supporter said

    Oh come on Phil Space. What’s your problem? Is £6500 per week that much to run an organisation renowned for its first class service – it just covers a first class ticket to Australia I believe.
    What’s it got to do with community trusts? Do they give Lubavitch money? What has it got to do with lay leaders of our community? Do we have any lay leaders in this community? If we do, who are they because I don’t know who they are?
    Let Chaim get on with what he does best – providing a first class education for this community, a first class restaurant for this community, a first class service in Judaism and so on.
    When your hot air pops Mr Space then maybe you can tell us who else provides a Cheder for the Glasgow community, who else runs a Kosher restaurant for us and who else cares as much about devotion to Judaism than the Jacobs family.
    Otherwise get lost and peddle your pathetic little grievances against someone else.

  27. luba-rich said

    I think the reform provide a cheder-thirty or so attendees ; oh and Bishop Nancy also singlehandedly persuaded the Tesco at Silverburn to stock Kosher Food .
    I’ll go now.

  28. Very Angry said

    Who do you think you are last blogger referring to Rabbi Nancy as a Bishop? What’s your point exactly?

  29. Armchair Analyst said

    Could it be that #27 wants to Bash the Bishop?

  30. Also Angry said

    What do you mean Armchair Analyst by
    ” Bashing the Bishop” ?. Is a Reform Rabbi not entitled to equality with other Rabbis. Why has she been described as Bishop Nancy? She doesn’t even get referred to as Bishop Morris? You don’t hear anyone in Giffnock refer to Rabbi Rubin as Rabbi Moshe do you?
    Maybe I’m not quite up to speed with this but if we are discussing the Lubavitch expenses of £6500 per week required then why divert. I mean this could end up anywhere. Does anyone know how much a business class ticket costs between London and the States for instance?

  31. luba-rich said

    Bishop Nancy , Moshiach Jacobs ,Ayahtollah Rubin…what’s in a name ?
    All these people in need of anger management therapy .

  32. Oscar Watcher said

    I’m intrigued by AA’s post 30 and the reference to business class tickets from London to the States.
    What are you suggesting AA?
    I hope that you are not inferring misuse of a charity’s funds.
    All this Lubavitch bashing is not right. We know from past experience that Rabbi C Jacobs reads the blog. Why does he not post to explain why he needs £6,500 a week. Perhaps if more people understood they would want to give.

  33. Youngster said

    “Is a Reform Rabbi not entitled to equality with other Rabbis”

    Secondly, while the point is dripping with sarcasm, there is still an element of truth. Who else provides a kosher restaurant for the community? Since the Macabbi milky one closed, has any-one else other than the Jacobs attempted to get one running? (I don’t know, i’m actually asking.)

    Not only does it give the option to members of the community who keep Kosher to be able to eat out, it also improves the option of Glasgow as a tourist destination for religious jews who want to travel. Every time I have been there, I have seen people who are visiting Glasgow and are glad of a kosher environment in which to eat.

    I understand that there are elements of the community who disagree with elements of Lubavitch and especially the tactics of Lubavitch, but maybe their boycott would be better represented rather than looking like a pathetic grudge if in the past they had pulled their fingers out and organised an alternative?

    It doesn’t really need to be said that our community is a dying one. Perhaps time would be better spent trying to improve it for the people still a part of it, than fostering petty arguments, and polarising and demonising sections?

  34. Liberal Minded said

    Youngster you are a fool. Attitudes like yours cause communities to die because you cannot acknowledge and respect that there are differences in interpretation about how one can be Jewish.
    Reform are entitled to be respected and their rabbis are entitled to equality.
    Now lets get back to talking about how Lubavitch need £6500 a week to stay afloat. Yes £6500 grand a week.
    Anyone who gives money to Lubavitch in Glasgow must be a mug. I don’t blame them for asking – I think those that give need to think why they do so. If you like throwing your money at some guy that tells you that you are a good Jew then go for it but don’t complain if you don’t see how its being spent.

  35. Youngster said

    “Youngster you are a fool. Attitudes like yours cause communities to die because you cannot acknowledge and respect that there are differences in interpretation about how one can be Jewish.”

    Nope, communities die because people embrace extended and altered forms of our religion. Have you ever seen a reform “conversion” acceptance ceremony? It is one of the funniest things I have ever watched. Another more accepted reason that is attributed to the death of Jewish communities is inter-marriage. Lubavitch have a point there. How common is it to find three generations of marrying-in within the reform community?

  36. Lubikris said

    Youngster may be right. As members of the Jewish faith we are still suffering badly from a schism in our religion which began two thousand years ago. A charismatic teacher and Rabbi died at the hands of the Romans. His followers claimed he was the Messiah and that he rose from the dead. The results are history.
    I am sure Youngster would agree that if any branch of orthodox Judaism would believe in the cult or worship of the individual, if they were awaiting the rise from the dead of that individual then, as Jews, we are living in very dangerous times.

  37. Emet said

    Youngster how common is it to find three generations , latest generation included ,with all offspring marrying in ,in the orthodox community ?
    Choose any family you know and see if all married in -I doubt you will find many.

  38. Schneerson said

    I’m still trying to work out what on earth, or in heaven, can Lubavitch in Glasgow do that needs £6500 each week. For that kind of money you could pay for the Moshiach to come to town on a regular basis and still have loose change left over.
    For £6500 each week I would be prepared to be the Moshiach. Send me an application form Mendel. You’ll have my reply by the morning. All I will need to know is what I should wear when I go out to work. Casual, smart casual or formal.
    How much do these Lubavitch guys in Glasgow earn?
    If I donated a fiver, and I can assure you I don’t, and I certainly won’t, the first thing I would want to know is what happens to my money.
    Come on Chaim, I’m sure its all very transparent and obvious – what do you do with the money?

  39. Lubiquitous Chip said

    Come on Schneerson where have you been since 1994. It’s obvious what Chaim does with the money. Where does your wife do her clothes shopping? Anyone who gives money to Lubavitch in Glasgow must be crazy. Has anyone ever seen their accounts? How much is spent on its charitable purposes which are according to its entry in OSCR
    Relief of Poverty
    Advancement of Education
    Advancement of Religion
    Relief of those in need through Age, Ill Health, Disability
    Who actually are its beneficiaries which are listed as
    Children or Young
    Older People
    Disabled or Health
    No Specific Group
    Other Charities
    And the biggest laugh is that in their OSCR entry Lubavitch also claim that they give grants to organisations.

  40. Biblical Scholar (Modern Times) said

    Could someone in the know please let us know whether the local Lubavitch Rabbi still has his own cow to provide him with Passover Milk.
    Could be a modern version of the
    ” Golden Calf ” story.
    All those wishing to find out more contact the previous blogger.

  41. Admin said

    Comments are now closed. Please see the latest news item on the main page regarding our next meeting, in which Rabbi David Goldberg will discuss his thesis that “The God of the Prayer Book is Dead”.

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