Jan 20, 2009

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg answers Bill Moyers

Dear Bill Moyers,

I have been a long time fan of Bill Moyers and an admirer of your work in many areas – including the Genesis series in which my wife participated.
For this very reason, I was deeply dismayed to read an excerpt of the transcript of your comments on the Gaza war on the Friday night Journal program.  I believe that you made a serious moral misjudgment on the invasion and then compounded your error with two applications that are beyond the pale – even more so for someone of your stature and judgment.

1.      You acknowledge Israel's right to defend its people but then allege that Israel's decision to invade Gaza constitutes "waging war on an entire population."  You allege that "by killing indiscriminately the elderly, kids, entire families, by destroying schools and hospitals" Israel "spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution."

You ignore that Israel has bombed only Hamas military posts, command headquarters and points of origin of Hamas fire – and does so with pinpoint accuracy.  You ignore that the UN school shelling was a return of enemy fire from that school or a shell that went astray in an exchange of fire with Hamas shooters stationed nearby.   Israel has not fired on hospitals or schools deliberately – though Hamas locates headquarters, war supplies and rocket launchers in such places.  You ignore the New York Times report (1/11/09) that Hamas tells civilian Palestinians to go up on the roofs of homes where their fighters are located because it knows Israel will not fire when its soldiers or planes see civilians.  By leaving out these facts, you shore up the false equation which underlies your whole text:  Israel striking back with military force as a last resort at a group pledged to its destruction -- and which has backed up that pledge by years of terror attacks, suicide bombers, and rocket showers -- is equivalent to Israel consciously targeting civilians and casually initiating these attacks, which is then morally equated to Hamas' deliberate terrorism, targeting civilians primarily. 
Hamas' strategy for destroying Israel incorporates the expectation that inevitable misjudgments and accidents in the course of fighting will evoke the kind of one sided outbursts such as yours which undermine Israel's world standing.  I, too, feel great pain and sympathy at the enormous suffering and losses of innocent Palestinians, but it is Hamas that has deliberately put them in harm's way, not Israel as your words imply.
2.      Equally distressing is your use of the phrase '[Israel] spilled the blood that turns the wheel of retribution".  Had you used the word revenge, you would have made your point that Israel's attacks inflame Hamas and others, a cause of grave concern to Israelis and to all who seek and love peace.  But the word 'retribution' really means this:  justified punishment for bad behavior.  That tone of justification – terror [justifiably] evokes terror – is all over your next paragraph which subtly suggests that assaults on Jews in Europe are the to-be-expected outgrowth of Israel's attacks and not the excuse used by anti-Semites to continue attacks they have been carrying on for years.
3.      Most disturbing of all:  You describe Gaza "as the latest battle in the oldest family quarrel on record" – as if modern day Israel was motivated not by self-defense but by the Biblical account of Isaac conflicting with Ishmael; as if Israelis are following the ancient Israelite' "leaders [who] urged violence against its inhabitants;" as if Israelis are following Deuteronomy's instruction to wipe out idolatry.  Does Israel smash the religious places of the Palestinians?  There is not a political figure in Israel – not even a marginalized extremist – who invokes Deuteronomy as a motivation or justification for behavior toward Palestinians.
You ignore that more than two millennia have passed since Judaism, in its rabbinic development, declared that these Deuteronomic laws applied only to idol worshippers in those previous millennia; that Islam has been treated with great respect by Judaism and specifically honored as a monotheistic religion, never equated with idolatry; that in the Talmud it is ruled that the seven nations referred to in Deuteronomy's injunction to "wipe out their name from that place" no longer exist, and that these instructions may not be applied to any other nation.  In short, perhaps out of ignorance, you besmirch Judaism as a blood thirsty religion -- using selected texts that have long been nullified.  With your words, you strengthen the hands of contemporary haters who seek to portray Judaism and Jews as blood thirsty murderers – this, in order to legitimate their unspeakable desire to actually wipe Israel and Jews off the face of the earth.
4.      This brings me to your climactic disturbing comment.  You follow the Deuteronomy quote with the following statement.  "So God-soaked violence became genetically coded."  What that means in plain language is:  that Jews are genetically coded to be violent and totally wipe out their opponents.  Do you believe that?; that [all] Jews are genetically coded to violence, to assault civilian populations?  I cannot believe that you believe that.  Then you are all the more guilty, out of anger, of willfully degrading a whole people and lending your eloquent voice and stature for the cruel mission of those who seek the destruction of my people.
You may try to claim that your next sentence states: "A radical stream of Islam now seeks to obliterate Israel from the face of the earth" to argue that you were not speaking just about Jews.  But in the context of the previous and ensuing paragraphs which are all about Israel's violence, you tear off that fig leaf.  It comes out all Israel, all the time.  You have made a shocking departure from the minimum standards of responsibility in your words – and all in the name of speaking up for victims.
I plead with you to rescue your moral standing and your record of working to improve the world .  Reflect on your loss of balance.  Restore your credibility.  As part of your reparation, you certainly should apologize for labeling Jews as genetically encoded for violence.
Yours truly,
Rabbi Irving Greenberg