The following is a transcript of Episode 42 of the For Heaven’s Sake Podcast. Note: This is a lightly edited transcript of a conversation, please excuse any errors.
Donniel: My name is Donniel Hartman and I’m the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Today is Monday, February 7th, 2022. And this is for heaven’s sake, a podcast from the Hartman institute’s iEngage project. Our theme for today is responding to Amnesty International. For each edition of for heaven sake, Yossi Klein Halevi, senior research fellow at the Institute here in Jerusalem and myself discuss a current issue central to Israel and the Jewish world.
And then Elana Stein Hain, director of the Hartman faculty in North America, explores with us, how classical Jewish sources can enrich our understanding of the issue.
In our last episode of for heaven’s sake, Yossi, Elana, and I discuss the problems of allowing our Israel conversation to be dominated by the a words by the apartheid antisemitism dichotomy.
And now here we are two weeks later with the report by amnesty international, labeling Israel is an apartheid state. And we recognize that even though it’s an, a word, we have to talk about it. The Amnesty report instantly turned into the main Israeli topic of the day. And the outrage amongst Jews is understandable.
Amnesty has not only critiqued the occupation, but the very essence of Israel, it’s not 1967, which is on the table, but it is really 1948. It is the political assault pretending to be an objective inquiry. And as such, it deserves to be rejected by anyone who cares about the state of Israel, but yet at the same time I question, and this is what we’re going to talk about today. I question whether how we’re responding to the report is really productive or productive at least across all the fronts that we are currently combating. Should we allow our opponents to dictate our Israel conversation and what happens to us when we do. The Jewish people usually finds itself dealing with one crisis or another.
How do we navigate threats with a lot without allowing crisis to overwhelm us? And how has expressing our outrage going to help us reclaim the growing public spaces we are losing? Most importantly, how will it help us cultivate love and concern amongst young Jews for Israel? Yossi. It’s wonderful to be with you again.
And most people who talk about it, haven’t read it. All 220, I think pages of it. I think the purpose of the length is to sort of make sure that you don’t read it, but you’re, but you want to, before, before we do an analysis of, let’s just like, what, what’s the document as you hear it,
Yossi: So if I had to give a title, a um. A conceptual title for what this document really is. I would borrow the title of a book written by Rashi Khalidi, the Columbia university uh, Palestinian professor called the hundred year war against Palestine. And what’s so extraordinary about this report is that there isn’t even a pretense of nuance.
And, and I was frankly disappointed, Donniel, in Amnesty. I thought there would be at least a fig leaf, at least some way of, of concealing the relentless malicious nature of the assault. But nothing. It’s 100 years of assault on Palestine. Now, in order to tell that story, you have to completely leave out the parallel story, which is 100 years of war against the Jewish return home.
This is a conflict that’s really about both of those stories. And you can’t understand this conflict without understanding how each people has experienced this conflict. And yet there isn’t a hint that there’s another side to this, to this story. And 1948, 1967, they just happen. There was no Israeli peace offers ever.
There wasn’t a partition plan, for the, there’s no context. Zero. Let me give you though one small example that I know from my personal experience, which will tell you something about not just the enmity behind the report, but but the lies and, the sloppiness, they have a line here where they talk about the, the Israelis who live in in the post-67 East Jerusalem neighborhoods. 225,178 Jewish Israelis live in these apartheid neighborhoods, as, as they’re characterized in the report now I live in one of these apartheid neighborhoods and in my building, and I’ve said this on, on at least one of our previous podcasts, literally half the families in this building are Arab Israeli. Now there are hundreds of Arab Israeli families living in French hill in Pisgat Ze’ev, post 67 neighborhoods, but you won’t get any sense of nuance.
There’s no discrimination here. And so that’s, that’s just my little corner of reality that I came across, you know, on page 14 of the report. And, and so reading this, you know, and one, one last point Donniel, which is reading this report should have been an acutely uncomfortable experience for an Israeli. It should have been a credible account of the moral toll of occupation, where we have failed, what we need to own.
But the report is so relentlessly one-sided, it’s such a sustained assault that there isn’t any room for self-reflection here and all one can do as it Israeli is pushback and defend yourself.
Donniel: But don’t you, Yossi, you know, I hear you and I felt it right when I was reading the executive summary. Because I read every word of the executive summary. I got tired of reading all the rest of the document, you know.
Yossi: It was, but that’s what the rest of it is like, it’s a very accurate executive summary.
Donniel: oh, I know, I know. And I, I saw where, when they described the war in Gaza, the adjectives, the terms, you know, it was, it was it, from the beginning, you literally felt, it was almost a blood libel, the language itself, as you said, it was so unnuanced it’s just here. You had Palestinian militants. I don’t even think they called them militants. I forget the exact word, fired. It was like here, it was, it was three words. And then there were four sentences on Israel’s onslaught.
It was, it was just like, as you said, they weren’t even trying, they weren’t even trying. And they were also pasting and cutting, whole slews of, uh, oh sentences from Human Rights Watch and other documents. It wasn’t even an original document. It literally is the same clear move.
So I’m with you. And again, I’m gonna use another, a word, you know, it, it smelled antisemitic almost in, in, in, in its, in its use of adjectives. And but you know, so you and I just said what we said, and now a bunch of Jews are going to feel really good. They’re cheering, but you must, we were like, who’s listening, Yossi, to this critique, you know, like the fact is, is that in a, this is a serious mainstream organization.
You could call them antisemitic, but no one’s listening and you must be very, I’ll pretend as if it’s you for a second, you know you must be very frustrated. Now you and I we don’t disagree on an analysis of the report, but sometimes we disagree on what we should do about it.
So here you, we started with your analysis. Has anybody who doesn’t agree with us already checked out? Is it effective? Are you frustrated because here it is, there’s a document that you want to say no one should even be listening to, but the fact is that people are.
Yossi: Look, of course I’m frustrated, but I think there are two questions that you’re raising. The first is what’s effective. And the second, which I’m not sure is related to the first is what is our responsibility to say at a time like this? You know, we’ve just been dealt a major blow by, as you put it, at one of the most credible human rights organizations in the world. And. Not to respond because no one is taking us seriously doesn’t absolve us from the need to respond. You know, when you say we’re talking to ourselves, first of all, I, I need to talk to the Jewish people. I need to, to, to explain to my fellow Jews, before I speak to the world about this, what this means to us and, and what worries me, Donniel, you know, I’m, I’m obviously, you know, fully with you on the need for a values conversation on Israel. I’m with you on the need for nuance. I’ve made a profession out of, out of being professionally nuanced. And, and so I, I I’m with you, but there are, there are certain moments in the life of a people, when you have to just cry out in pain and outrage. I feel violated here.
I, I feel my, my being has been assaulted. It’s so much deeper than my good name. It’s my legitimacy. Everything that I love is being assaulted here.
Donniel: So how do you respond Yossi? Cause I could tell you just from the, outnet, see, I know you’re nuanced. I know you’ve made a profession about being nuanced, and you’ve made a profession about being spontaneous. We’re nuanced, we’re we’re we’re right there. I know you. But do you think the nature of the way you opened it up, it moves anybody?
Like, I want to honestly talk to you about it. Like who, who, who who’s gonna buy it. Who’s going to buy this this type of critique and what do we need to do? You want to fight back, I’m with you. I’m right with you. I accept that there’s moments we have to fight back, but what’s an effective fight back, Yossi.
Yossi: I think we need multiple strategies and one of those strategies to be making the case for our story. And what worries me, you know, I’m thinking about young American Jews and that’s the, in some ways the audience that I am most concerned about reaching on this issue are Jewish kids on campuses, there they’re on the frontline.
They’re, they’re the ones who are going to take the, the heat, they will be dealing with the repercussions in the most immediate way. And I feel this deep responsibility. To be in conversation with them. And so the question really is what works now, ordinarily I’m with you in that we need a values conversation when we speak to young American Jews, we need a conversation,
Donniel: You’re already debating me without me talking.
Yossi: I am debating you. Because I know you Donniel, I know what’s coming.
Donniel: You’re preempting my argument to
Yossi: Well, I’m also responding to the way to, to the comments you made when you, when you opened the podcast. And you know, when you said that that we’re under assault, routinely we deal, we go from crisis to crisis and all that is true, but again, when the world’s preeminent human rights organization effectively denies Israel’s right to exist in so many words, in many, many words. I think that that’s a moment that, that requires again, a multiple response.
Donniel: I’m with you. But now I want to ask you though, I want to push you on your response. I’m with you. And we’re, we’re not that far, you know, maybe one of us does one more than the other one in our, in the way we balance what we’re doing, but we both agree that we need this multi-pronged approach. And that sometimes when you’re at war, who was it?
Yehuda Kurtzer says, when you’re at war, you fight back. It’s like, it’s not, there are times and there’s no time for nuance, et cetera. I’m with you. You have to fight back. I want to talk about how you fight back. And I want to mirror something back because I heard you. I just wanna give you my feeling. You know, I I’m a really a strange person. I know that. I’m a 63 year old, liberal Orthodox Zionist. And I think I’m a millennial, like, like I have this, I think I’m, I am whatever. So listen, my little fantasies, what do you care? You’re not, it has nothing to do whatever I, but I can just tell you when someone starts by telling me, you know, it has no nuance. It doesn’t have any context, you’ve already lost me. You know, what about what happened to us? Just that opening fight, it’s gone, Yos. I don’t think that, you know, Donniel Hartman as a millennial, as a millennial wannabe, you know, as, as somebody who’s struggling and trying to figure out my relationship with Israel, when somebody tells me Israel is an apartheid state and my response is, it’s not nuanced. What about the context? I don’t think that’s fighting back effectively, Yossi.
Yossi: Okay. What would you do?
Donniel: See that’s part of my frustration. See, I’m not a good fighter backer. That’s just not what I do. I’m not trained to do, When I need to fight back I listen to you. You’re, it’s, it’s a much bigger part of your conversation. See cause for me, my primary audience is the same audience that you spoke about.
It’s the same audience. I want to make sure that the Jewish people keep their relationship with Israel. And I know that the dangers of the Amnesty report aren’t even in the details themselves, nobody’s reading the 200 and, no one’s reading it, they’re not even reading it., all they’re reading is, a, I hope a 600 word article on it.
More really they’ll probably read, I don’t know, 150 words on something. And so the lack of nuance is not even what, what they’re hearing and what makes it even more insidious is the fact that now you’ve had report after report making it almost self-evident that Israel is apartheid. Yup. That’s, that’s, what’s on the conversation, you know, and even in the report, they start by speaking about how apartheid is a racist, is this a racial conflict? Is this a national conflict, part of the political conflict? They, they don’t, they, they know the categories they’re talking about and they make absolutely, you know, it’s just a blanket leap, but the dangerous is that it’s sort of becoming. Mainstream. Yeah, it goes back to when, when Zionism is a racism category too, when somebody speaks a lie enough times, it sort of becomes a fact.
Yossi: But it’s interesting because the UN in 1975 lacked the authority that a, that Amnesty has you, when was UN, was you in, was blatantly politicized as, as I believe Amnesty is as well, but that’s not the perception.
Donniel: Right. So, and I don’t know if you can win that battle. Again, I, I don’t know if the way to attack Amnesty, I, I certainly don’t believe that it is about saying you’re you’re not nuanced or that you’re, you’re just telling one side of the story because that’s the power of the apartheid word is that there is no yes, but.
You know, you’re an apartheid country, but I can sort of understand cause you’ve had a hard time, you know, and this, and they, once you are apartheid, you you’ve sort of crossed the Rubicon and you’re, you’re just, it just doesn’t matter what the context is. It either is, or isn’t and part of what I’m wondering, and I know I want to try something and I don’t even, can I say something Yossi, that I don’t know if I agree with myself on. Could we do that, like, cause you know, we’re safe here, you and I, and it’s just me and you nobody’s listening. Let’s just try something. You know, I, I really do believe that if we want to be effective sometimes fighting back is not that effective. Sometimes, it’s about talking about, and I don’t want to talk about the Israel we want, but I think it might be.
Saying that yes, there are. These are some of the areas that Israel is challenged and we have to do better on and entering some form of an engagement with not the apartheid claim, but the moral challenges raised by that apartheid claim. Because see if there’s a battle, I know how to battle, you know, you, I were in the army, we know how to go to war. But here, I’m just, I’m wondering whether we’re we’re it’s, you know, maybe use I’ll use this analogy. Tell me if this makes sense. I was in the tank corridor, the tank Corps. We used to have a saying, if you can’t fix it with a five kilo hammer,
Yossi: Use a 10.
Donniel: Use a 10 kilo that that was the army. You know, it was like this 10 kilo hour and that was the language, you know, bang it even harder and harder and harder.
But the reality is, is that it’s, you know, we use tanks less and less. And we have to use much more precision and maybe, maybe something much more maybe a conversation about what apartheid is talking about. Some of the challenges it’s just, it’s, it’s just a different battle. And I think that we come in full fledged with our 10 kilo hammers, trying to discount Amnesty, and then someone saying, oh, you’re attacking them. That’s ad hominem. What about the argument? And you haven’t said anything about the content of the argument. It’s that when we call them, I have a feeling and let me, when we call them anti-Semitic we lost the audience that we want to reach.
So if you want to fight back, I don’t know how. I don’t know, I’m ready to push back because it needs a detailed response that no one’s going to read. So that’s the other problem, but, but maybe the only way to talk about it is to talk about some of the, and embracing some of the moral criticisms, but saying these aren’t, it’s not apartheid.
There is a national conflict. There’s two national groups at war. It’s not a racial conflict. And then talk about that war and talk about what we need to do better. I’m just wondering whether, whether that might be more effective to the same audience Yossi that you say you want to reach
Yossi: First of all, Donniel, first of all, we’ve been attacked by a 10 pound hammer here. And that’s, that’s, that’s the nature of this assault. And, and when you were under that kind of attack, when you’ve been called an apartheid state, which is really the equivalent of being called a Nazi state.
You know, for, for much of the world, there’s no difference if you’re, if you’re an apartheid state, if you’re a Jewish supremacist state, then that’s part of the language as well here. You’re beyond redemption. And so for you to come along and say, well, you know we need to do better. And let’s have that values conversation. Not at this moment. Not right now. That’s the conversation for the morning after when you’re, when somebody is coming at you with this kind of a weapon, you need to push back, you need to defend yourself.
Donniel: I’m with you, Yossi.But what I’m asking of you. And initially I agree with you. I, I accept that, right? I’m not arguing about the need to push back. I’m just asking whether it’s effective. And I would say, there’s a difference. Let me let, can we separate you to see you set the table, but maybe we have to distinguish something that you didn’t say beforehand.
There’s a difference between what I do in Congress. There’s a difference between what I do in the newspapers. There’s a difference in what I do legally, you know what, or what I do with European governments who also have been rejected. There, I just need to fight back. But when I’m talking to Jewish audience, this is what you said, your one, your primary audience are, are so that it’s, maybe it’s not a fight.
That’s the problem is we’re confusing.That group, the minute you start to fight, Yossi, I think you lost.
Yossi: okay. So look, where, I agree with you is that the language of antisemitism is not effective, even though I think a case can be made.
Donniel: I said it myself. I almost want to take it back, but I literally felt when I was reading this document, I was reading it. I literally felt that this was a blood libel.
Yossi: Well, there was, that’s it. Yes.
Donniel: the way, the insidious nature of the words, the adjectives, the way sentences were constructed. But I could talk to you about it. And you know, and you’ll always agree with somebody who’s going to keep saying, you know, this is like, this is my con my, my, you know, you and I will always meet there, but, but I know that the minute I talk that way, there’s a group of people aren’t going to listen. It’s the same old, old, its the same old defense
Yossi: I accept that, but what I think we need to start teaching ourselves and urging. American Jews. And Jews generally, Israelis to to begin adopting is a two-pronged language. We need to be speaking two languages simultaneously about Israel. The first language is an unequivocal pushback against those who would turn us into the world’s worst country.
Now, now, now bear with me for a moment here Donniel. This report was issued on the Eve of the Olympics in Beijing. Now, if you are the world’s preeminent human rights organization, wouldn’t you use this strategic moment to issue a report on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, which really is documented genocide. Why would you waste this moment against a small country in the Middle East?
There’s something that’s so outrageous here in the, in the move to criminalize Israel, that we need to learn how to speak in that language unequivocally, with unequivocal outrage. But that’s only half of the language. There’s another language we need to speak. And the other language is, is the language that you’re talking about, but your language alone without the outrage is inadequate.
Donniel: I accept that.
Yossi: It comes out weak and, and in a way that you don’t want it to be, you don’t want it to sound apologetic, but it comes out that way. And what we need is, is again, if you think about Donniel, a combination of my language and your language, and think of how that would sound.
Donniel: I’m with you. I’m with you. Let me try something. Let me, let me try another type of language. And I want to hear what you feel about it. See cause also I know the minute you say to somebody, you should have critiqued China that doesn’t do anything about the content of their critique against us.
So again, it, it constantly feels like deflecting Yossi, and I don’t, I don’t know I’m with you about fighting back, but I don’t think we can fight back by deflecting. Do you know what would constitute a fighting back, Yossi? Politically fighting back, I’m right with you to get, to get governments around the world to reject it, fight back so that yes I’m there, but you know, it would be a fight back.
It would be to say, you know, you’ve accused me of of, of of being an apartheid state. We in Israel, have done it. A, B, C, D E F and G. Now I don’t know if we’ve done the A,B, C, D, E, F, and G. When people want to talk to us about being an apartheid state, we talk about our LGBTQ parades. You know, we, we deflect and we say, oh, you know, and we’re an, or we say, oh look, Amnesty, look at them. They, they even announced in Jerusalem. So which, which, by the way, you know, as my colleague has said, you know, it’s so interesting. They were in Jerusalem and they said, it’s Beirut time. Just again, to talk about how fakak this whole thing was, but which apartheid state would allow somebody, the freedom of press to do, that’s all the flection.
Yos. There is a content we should be having. And I don’t think we have enough. We have to have an arsenal which reflects our moral commitment to Israeli Palestinian Arabs in Israel, and Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Sumeria and Gaza. We have to have an arsenal saying that, look, this is what we’re doing.
And the problem is we don’t, we don’t even want to make mor. We’re not working enough on it. We don’t want to make moral arguments about it. All we want to do is we want to talk about the context we want to talk about. We offered and they said, no. We are losing the fight because we are not equipping ourselves with policies and actions, which would be self-evident. I’ll just give you an small example.
If we were funding a phenomenal free legal aid society for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to be able to bring their grievances against the army. And we’re saying yes, because we don’t believe that critiques against the army are, are an act of disloyalty too. We want to know about them. That’s what I remember Bogie Ya’alon used to say about, ah, Shovrim Shtikah, Breaking the Silence.
He used to say to them, if you have something to tell, tell it to me. I’m not a frightened of criticism. Tell me the criticism and I’m with you. But if we had clear behaviors that we could point to, see at the end of the day, Yos, I want us to fight back, but I think we’ve put we’ve, we’re tying our hands behind our backs by lack of moral concern and policies that we should be enacting that have nothing to do with Israel, security needs at all, that would be an effective fight back.
Yossi: Donniel. I’m with you. But one approach does not negate the other.
Donniel: I agree.
Yossi: We need again, so I come back to multiple approaches. Now to attack Amnesty’s hypocrisy is something we must do, but that’s not enough. That’s where I agree with you. We need, we need to be critique, critiquing our own policy failures. We need to be looking at ourselves.
And that’s what I mean about speaking two languages simultaneously. The first language needs to be unequivocal pushback without squeamishness without moral breastfeeding, looking at what Amnesty has done and critiquing. The second language needs to be a more internal Jewish language.
Let’s look at ourselves, let’s look at how we got into this to this point. What is our responsibility. For bringing for bringing this on ourselves, but those are, those are two distinct languages.
Donniel: I’m with you. I wasn’t even saying, I accept the need for two. I was saying that I want us to, we need to, it’s not that I want to even get, I want us to change policies so that we could be
Yossi: I got it. I know.
Donniel: so that we could have a much better defense. I want a better defense. I could deal with, I could be, I could be concerned with my defense and still do better morally. I, you know, we talk, we’re not going to talk about this. Now there’s so many issues, you know, part of the whole move that they’re doing is unifying West Bank with Israeli Arabs, which is also very insidious. We could use words, but here, start there, create better policies there, speak about what you’re doing.
It’s I, you know, I want Yossi, I agree that we have to fight and I don’t only want the moral self. I, I, I want us not even to have to have the moral self critique, if we could say yes, I know we’re not, but look at the steps that we’ve done. That’s where we’re missing. And I find a lot of, even the fight back ineffective. What I would suggest to you what you do need to do so you can’t read no, one’s going to read a 220 page report of Yossi Klein Halevi, on Amnesty, you know? No, no one’s going to, but we need to come up 10, 300 words places where it’s not lack of nuance and not telling my story, but where we call out the absolute lie.
I want us to do a better Yossi, because what happens is, is that when we’re talking to the converted, now I’m not a millennial us alte kakers, you know, us older, the older people, you know, the minute you start talking, my heart kvells, I’m with you. But if you want to get a group of people who aren’t necessarily with you, we have to be much more sophisticated in pulling apart this, and we can’t do it in 4,000 words stuff.
In 22 pages it has to be short, brief, a lie, call out a lie for a lie, find the 10 best lies Yossi or the worst lies. And in that way, not just assuming. And that’s when it goes back to what you said when we just call them anti-Semitic
Yossi: no, I’m totally totally with you on that. That’s that’s not useful. That’s not useful.
Donniel: So let’s get better.
Yossi: But from, from calling them antisemites to a values conversation there’s a wide spectrum in between that we need to explore.
Donniel: I’m with you on that too. I’m with you on that too. Let take a short break and when we return, Elana will join us.
Hi, Elana. How are you?
Elana: Hi, I’m a little shellshocked, actually, not a lie. This is reminding me of this conversation a few years ago. I was teaching a group of lay leaders and. Somebody said, you know, I have an educational problem. I taught my kids that the world is fair and that the world will be fair just as fair to Jews as it will be to anyone else.
And you know, there’s a perfect storm here because what we’re recognizing in America right now for talking about an American Jewish story is that American Jews are realizing that life is not fair for other people. Right. We talked about our conversations regarding intersectionality a few, you know, months ago, I guess at this point, but I think there’s an educational.
I think there’s an educational challenge. And the fact that you lose people by talking about anti-Semitism there’s an educational challenge there. I don’t, I don’t actually take that for granted. I take that as an educational problem. I would like to have a conversation with I’m 40, let’s say I’d like to have a conversation with Jews between the age of 20 and 40. And ask if they think that the world is capable and people are capable about lying of lying about Jews and distorting the truth about Jews, or if Jews always get as fair a shake as someone else. Because what you’re talking about here is not it’s not the result of some natural organic situation. It’s a result of Jews, just not believing that someone like Amnesty International could distort the truth. And I, I want to identify that and it’s, for that reason, what I want to talk about here is I want to talk about the difference between giving someone rebuke in Jewish thought and defamation in Jewish thought, because we’re very into giving rebuke in Jewish thought.
We like it. We have a term for it. It’s called Tochacha, Leviticus chapter 19, verse 17. Don’t hate your brother in your heart. You should rebuke your neighbor and not bear a sin because of them. Right. We, we want rebuke, but I want to talk about what distinguishes rebuke from defamation rebuke. First of all, what you’re saying is true when you rebuke, you’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
But the second thing is when you’re trying to rebuke someone you’re trying to prevent harm, not cause it. You’ll notice in the verse that I, that I said that I just stated it ends with don’t bear sin because of the person that you were. All right. So one interpretation of don’t bear sin because of the person you rebuking the Talmud in Shabbat, 54B to 55A, Rav and Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Chaviva taught anyone who can protest what the members of their household are doing and doesn’t do so gets punished, right? You beared their sin, what they do, because you didn’t stop them. Right. But another explanation of don’t bear sin is in the Talmud in Eruchin 16B. What if you rebuke someone, so their face changes, you humiliate them in public. You can’t. Even to give rebuke, thus it is written, do not bear sin because of him.
So first of all, rebuke has to be true. And second of all, you have to be trying to prevent harm, not trying to cause harm. The third. In rebuke you have to care about the person you’re talking to and by the way, not talking about, but talking to. Proverbs chapter 3, Verses 11 and 12. Do not be disgusted, do not reject God’s discipline.
And don’t hate God’s rebuke because God only rebukes the one that God loves. And then, you know what, because this rebuke is true. And because this rebuke is trying to prevent harm and not cause it, and because the one who’s rebuking cares about you, then if the offender doesn’t listen, to the one giving rebuke, they’re the idiot.
Also in Proverbs, 9, 8. Don’t rebuke a scorner because they’ll hate you, rebuke a wise person and they’ll love you. If we were wise, we would take the rebuke. I think there are plenty of American Jews who read this amnesty international report and because A, they don’t believe that people could lie and distort things about Jews, and B because they are concerned that the American Jewish community has not been talking about occupation for the last 20, 25 years and not doing much about it that they say, oh, well this is rebuke. So we have to, this is rebuke. Let’s talk about defamation defamation as a term too in Judaism. Motzi Shem Ra, literally to promulgate a bad name about someone.
The definition of Motzi Shem Ra is you are lying. It is a distortion. And, you know, we say sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Guess what? Untrue.Tarnishing my reputation will definitely hurt me. And the Mishna in Eruchin, Chapter 3, Mishna 5, One who utters malicious speech with their mouth is a more severe transgressor than one who performs an action sticks and stones. In fact, if you look at the sentence imposed post our ancestors in the wilderness, it was sealed only due to the malicious speech that the spies disseminated. It is worse than physical attacks. It is worse than physical attacks. And I will also add that in our Talmudic tradition, if someone defames you, unlike in other situations where you have to, if they ask you for forgiveness, you have to forgive them.
Not true here. I’ll give you one last source. Jerusalem Talmud, Bava Kama, chapter eight, section seven. It is stated Rabbi Judah says in the name of Rabbi Gamliel. Whenever you show mercy, the omnipresent, God, will have mercy on you. If you don’t show mercy, the omnipresent will not have mercy on you. Rav said, let me explain what this means.
If a person misbehaved and then asked for pardon and the other one doesn’t respond, then, you know what, it’s the problem of the person who isn’t willing to forgive. Rebbie Yossi says, this is only in the case where the person asking for forgiveness, hadn’t defamed you. Now I understand what you’re saying.
We have to have a values conversation. The American Jewish community has to be more involved in occupation. I have a real problem that American Jews are growing up thinking that libel against Jews is not possible from people who care about justice. And I think that as a fundamental untruth, even if we can manage, this is the lie here and this is the lie there.
Tomorrow it’ll be something else. I don’t know what it looks like to have a conversation with young Jews about the possibility of people defaming Jews. Because they have an agenda that includes harm against Jews and the Jewish state. Even if they also have an agenda to help Palestinians, I am all for helping Palestinians, but I think this is a major educational problem.
And I just want to put down that gauntlet right here, agreeing with you. And I’m 40. I’m not an alta kaker, not yet. Right. But it’s a major educational problem. And maybe it’s a diaspora problem more than it’s an Israel problem.
Donniel: So Elana. Did I say I was an alta kaker because I want to take it back.
Elana: You did, I’m quoting you on you.
Donniel: Oh my God.
Elana: I know it works. Right? Check the tape. Check the recording.
Donniel: I think Yossi is also an alta kaker. I don’t want to take that on myself, but here, but let me go to Elana. Okay. You put it down. I thought that was unbelievable. I really, I, I look I’m there. So what do you do about it? Don’t just put it down, what do we do about it?
Elana: Three languages.
Donniel: What do we do?
Elana: I want three languages. I want the language of fight and the language of fight can be, let me show you what the lie is here. Let me show you what the lie is there. Here’s my article. Here’s my, this is what I’m doing in Congress. I want the language of moral engagement with conversations about the occupation. I don’t want Jews to just, I don’t want the mainstream Jewish community just say, well, occupation’s not our problem. I don’t think that’s right, but I also want to start a conversation with young Jews. About what it looks like for even people who are in power, who have a lot of strength and a lot of power, to be vulnerable to attacks from others who will lie about them.
It needs to be a conversation. Not a, let me tell you what’s what, a, here’s a question for. You know, let’s say it’s groups of students on campus. Here’s a question for you. Do you think it’s possible that someone would lie about Jews or about the Jewish state and start a conversation? It’s not about this report.
It’s about the future of Jews in diaspora to actually keep both eyes open. So I want three languages and the third language is starting conversations. It’s not beating people over the head with something.
Donniel: Beautiful. Elana. Thank you very, very much. Last thoughts, Yossi?
Yossi: Yeah, I actually think that was terrific. Elana. I, I think that among the three of us we’ve come up with four languages.
Elana: We just keep going up to more.
Yossi: Four, four avenues of defense and offense. The first is is yours Elana, a language about how defamation of the Jewish people works. The second language is something that you mentioned Donniel.
A language of defending ourselves specifically against accusations, proving where those accusations aren’t accurate. The third is my favorite among the four languages, a language of moral outrage against those who would defame us and criminalize us. And the fourth is a language of moral introspection looking at our own flaws, looking at the policies we need to adopt.
And so I think what we’ve really come to here is a nuanced and multifaceted approach. Now, all we need to do is convince the Jewish community to adopt and we’re in business.
Donniel: You see, I actually think there’s a fifth.
Elana: Is it, is it the language of Eliyahu? It’s Elijah’s language?
Donniel: No, no, no, no. All jokes aside. I think. That if we’re calling everything a language, it’s not just moral introspection. I think it’s about policy improvement is that when you wake up and you got a report like this, and now you want to defend yourself, well, I’m sorry you can’t, if you don’t have policies that give expression to your moral introspection, you know, on this issue, not on another issue, on this issue.
So I think there’s actually five. And I’m just wondering if that’s not too many, but, but for us, for us, all of us, alta kakers were, were, we could do we’re so nuanced and that Elana. Okay.
Elana: I am not, for the record, I am not an alta kaker yet for the record.
Donniel: Okay for the record. We allow everybody to define themselves, however they want to define.
Elana: That sounds apologetic.
Donniel: That’s, I am so pluralistic. It kills me.
For Heaven’s Sake is a product of the Shalom Hartman Institute. It was produced by David Zvi Kalman and edited by Pat Burke at Silver Sound. Transcripts of our show are now available on our website typically a week after an episode airs. To find them and to learn more about the Shalom Hartman Institute visit us online shalomhartman.org.
We want to know what you think about the show, you can rate and review us on iTunes to help more people discover the show. You can also write to us at [email protected]. Subscribe to our show in the apple podcast, I think I have to find a tune to sing this, subscribe to our show at the apple podcast app, Spotify, SoundCloud, Audible, and everywhere else. Is there anywhere else that a podcast is available? Anywhere else that podcasts are available. See you in two weeks and thank you all, for listening and Yossi and Elana, no matter what age and however you define yourself. It really was a pleasure. I really learned a lot today.
Elana: Onward and upward.