Recently there has been an enormous uproar in Israel and abroad over a ruling by 50 Israeli rabbis that it is forbidden according to halacha (Jewish law) for Israeli Jews to sell land or to rent property to Arabs.
First things first – I agree with those who have so vociferously opposed this ruling as racist, and completely unacceptable in a Jewish Democratic state.
As a religiously committed Jew, there are very few things that anger me more than seeing Jewish Law invoked to further political agendas. I'm all for having strong political views – even those with which I disagree or find completely misguided.
I'm also all for having strong religious beliefs – in believing in whatever it is a person believes and in finding the consistency between those beliefs and said person's practice (assuming those beliefs are not constructed to bring harm to anyone).
But I am very careful about mixing the two and I am wary of those who do so.
Yes – demographics are a concern, and the desire to keep a very clear Jewish majority wherever we can in Israel is very important.
Yes, too many Arab Israelis (although certainly not all) support – either in spirit or in money, and actual participation – their Palestinian brethren's struggle against the "evil Zionist entity". While this struggle is ostensibly being waged against the so-called "occupation" (more that that topic in another blog), very few of us really believe that thanks to how many attacks are perpetrated in Israel "proper" (i.e. not outside of the Green Line, i.e. the parts of Israel which are not meant to be in question). As a result, it is not unreasonable in the least for Jews to decide that not only do we want to have a Jewish majority in the Jewish State, but that it is preferable to live in a community where none of our neighbors might possibly be joining our enemies in an effort to destroy Israel.
So, I can understand the sentiments behind wanting a ruling such as the recent one issued and I can understand the desire for Jewish Israelis to sell and rent only to other Jewish Israelis. And if individuals choose to do so for their own personal reasons, that is completely their prerogative.
But certainly not as a matter of national policy and even more certainly not as a Rabbinical decision presented as though it was a matter of Jewish Law handed down throughout the generations since the Torah was first given to us at Mount Sinai.
That's crossing a line.
That is taking the Torah, the Talmud, and the great Mesorah (tradition) handed down by our Rabbis and leaders for millennia, and using it to demonize an entire race of people.
And that's racism.
The line becomes even more crossed (I'm not really sure how that imagery works, but hopefully you get the idea) when so many of the Rabbinical authorities issuing such a decree are chief rabbis of municipalities in Israel – that is to say government employees.
Fortunately there are also many Rabbis and halachic authorities – both current and past – who do not agree with this recent ruling. The relevance is that, as with most issues of halacha, the answer is not so clear cut. There are varying viewpoints, and they all have a root in the ancient and sacred Jewish texts.
So while the Israeli political right has rallied behind these Rabbis and their Torah-based justification for a racist statement, the Israeli (and world) left has rallied to condemn it.
And while I agree with their complaint about the left has regarding this ruling, I also believe that the left has lost the right to protest the ruling on the basis which they protest it.
The idea of a religious law declaring that it is forbidden to sell land to an entire race of people is nothing new, and one does not need to look back further than a year ago for another example.
The Palestinian Land Laws for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip prohibit the selling of any Arab-owned land to Jews, and in early 2009 a Palestinian Islamic Chief Justice issued a fatwa (religious decree) to enforce this law. Violation of the law (that is to say – selling land or property to Jews) is considered by Palestinian Law to be High Treason and it carries the death penalty.
This is not simply bombastic talk, folks – this is real. In April 2009, a man was convicted and sentenced to death by a Palestinian military court.
Where was the outcry from the left – either in Israel or anywhere else in the world? Where were the charges of racism, and calls for inquiries, dismissals and charge of incitement?
Over the last few days you would not believe (actually, you probably would) how many of my Facebook friends have posted articles, op-eds, blogs, analyses, etc. decrying the racist ruling of the 50 rabbis. The number of posts and re-posts and status updates regarding this have been in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Yet, if the objection to the ruling was truly rooted in a complete rejection of racism, then shouldn't we also be yelling and screaming about the racism in the Palestinian world which has religious leaders issuing the exact same rulings?
If the left wants to show respect for the Palestinians and show that they regard them as equals, then they need to hold the Palestinian people and their leadership to the same standards that they hold Israel and Israeli leadership.
If racist religious decrees are wrong (which I believe they are), then they are wrong from either end of the spectrum, and if the left wants to make a stand against racist religious edicts, then they need to make that stand whenever and wherever these edicts are issued.
Choosing to protest the racism only when it comes from those on the opposite end of the political spectrum is both hypocritical and racist in and of itself. It is assuming that the Palestinians "don't know any better" or, even worse, are justified in practicing the same racism that too many on the Israeli right practice.
And that is simply unacceptable. Period.
Perhaps it's time for the Israeli right to stop allowing their religious views affect their political ones and for the left to stop allowing their political views affect their religious ones.
Until then, I sort of feel like the Stealers Wheel song "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here I am, stuck in the middle with you".