When Israel is not in the news – Milford Daily News

Danny Burkeman  |  Guest Columnist

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Last month Israel was one of the lead stories across the globe. As rockets were fired between Gaza and Israel in an eleven-day conflict it felt like everyone was talking about the small strip of land in the Middle East. And more than that it seemed like the world was requiring people to take sides in the conflict as though you either support the Israelis or the Palestinians. Of course, it has always been much more complex than that and impossible to reduce the situation over there into black and white boxes.

As a rabbi, I found myself asked for comment with an expectation that I would speak for the  “Israeli side” and oppose the “Palestinian side.” I refused to do that, and instead I shared what I feel is the necessary complexity of a nuanced situation. I believe in the preservation of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State and I am also completely committed to the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside it as a peaceful neighbor. I mourn both the innocent Jewish victims and the innocent Palestinian and Arab victims as the terrible price that is once again being paid for this conflict. And I am willing to condemn the Israeli extremists and Hamas terrorists who, in different ways, are both fanning the flames of hate and encouraging the violence to further their own despicable agendas.

But, as always happens, when the fighting stopped, the world’s media quickly lost interest. Overnight people stopped talking about the situation in the Middle East and moved on to the next news story, seemingly uninterested in what happens after the cease-fire. When Israelis and Palestinians aren’t overtly fighting with one another there is little interest in the story of everyday struggles, challenges, and hope.

I feel compelled to offer a perspective as the fighting has stopped, because while it might not be headline news there have been developments both here in the USA and in Israel which are worthy of attention.

To start in America, unfortunately also means to begin with the bad news. During the conflict and in the weeks following it, there has been a significant spike in antisemitic attacks and incidents in the USA. There was a daylight brawl in New York City’s Times Square, outdoor diners were physically attacked in Los Angeles, and there were incidents of anti-Jewish vandalism at synagogues.

Thankfully, President Biden issued a statement on the rise of antisemitic attacks and said unequivocally: “These attacks are despicable, unconscionable, un-American, and they must stop.” And while there have been a few scattered statements and declarations from politicians and other leaders, there has also been a significant amount of silence. Many in the Jewish community are wondering: Where are the voices condemning the rise in antisemitism? Why are so few people speaking out? What should we make of the largely deafening silence?

It is unfortunately unsurprising that fighting in the Middle East leads to a spike in antisemitism over here. And today, it is clear that the fighting and attacks that take place on social media reach vicious levels and spill off the screen into real life.

But I do fear that in our rush to take sides while the fighting was taking place, we have forgotten about the values that we share and have allowed outside forces to once again divide us. There needs to be a recognition and reminder that no matter what a person may think about Israel and her actions, there is never ever a reason or justification for these attacks on the Jewish community. And it cannot just be the Jewish community condemning these attacks; it is vitally important that people from across the political, religious, and social spectrum come out vocally to condemn the recent rise in antisemitism just as we have done whenever a community is targeted with words and acts of hate.

And now to move to Israel, where there is potentially some good news. In March, Israel held elections, their fourth in two years, with the three previous attempts producing no clear winner and no clear path to forming a government.  However, at the time of writing, a new government has been agreed upon and will take office, subject to approval by the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament). This may not seem like big news, but there are two important details to note.

The first is that this government spans the entire political spectrum from the right to the left. It would be inconceivable to have such disparate voices and parties coming together in our American context.  And yet in Israel that is exactly what is happening, with a recognition of the need for national unity and that sacrifices must be made for the good of all society (we can dream).

Alongside this, for the first time an Arab political party (the United Arab List – Ra’am) has joined the proposed government, with its leader Mansour Abbas a signatory to the coalition agreement. This flies in the face of many of the accusations that are often hurled in Israel’s direction, and is an important statement both about the place of Israel’s Arab minority today and the potential for a brighter tomorrow.

This may not be the front-page grabbing news that comes when war and violence break out, but these stories are no less important and should be shared. They serve as a reminder that behind the headlines life is complicated and rarely black and white. They warn us of the dangers of a biased and one-sided approach to what is happening – fanning the flames of hate while missing the sparks of hope. And they remind us that we need to keep our eyes opened at all times if we want to see a fuller picture of what is really happening at home and abroad.

Rabbi Danny Burkeman is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, Massachusetts.