British rabbis living in Israel seem largely supportive of U.K. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, whose criticism of the West Bank occupation triggered controversy in Britain this week.
Polled randomly by Anglo File on Thursday, the rabbis offered words of encouragement for their beleaguered colleague, though at least one felt Sacks had been misguided in going to The Guardian with his strictures against Israeli politics.
In an interview with Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian on Tuesday, Sacks described Israel's current situation as "nothing less than tragic, because it is forcing Israel into postures that are incompatible in the long run with our deepest ideals."
When questioned about Israel's conduct, Sacks admitted, "There are things that happen on a daily basis which make me feel very uncomfortable as a Jew," adding that he was "profoundly shocked" by reports of smiling Israeli soldiers posing for a photograph with the corpse of a slain Palestinian.
"There is no question," he continued, "that this kind of prolonged conflict, together with the absence of hope, generates hatreds and insensitivities that in the long run are corrupting to a culture."
In the interview, Sacks recalled a rare argument with his father following the Six-Day War in 1967: "I was convinced that Israel had to give back all the land for the sake of peace. My father, bless him, was convinced that Israel's neighbors would never make peace. Thirty five years later, I think we were both right."
Sacks also revealed that he had secretly met with a variety of radical Muslims, including Ayatollah Abdullah Javadi-Amoli, one of Iran's highest-ranking clerics, and would not rule out meeting Abu Hamza, the sheikh of Finsbury Park in North London, a Taliban sympathizer who admits to sharing the views of Osama bin Laden.
Prior to the interview being published, Sacks had avoided explicit criticism of Israel and its policies in the West Bank and Gaza, adding to the hype surrounding his comments this week.
Rabbi Dr. Michael Rosen, Rabbi of Yakar cultural and educational center in Jerusalem "Rabbi Sacks is to be commended for being courageous. It is not always easy to draw the line between loyalty and criticism. However, even though there is no moral symmetry in the second intifada, we are making mistakes.
"Ultimately, we know that a democracy cannot rule over some two million people who do not want us. The challenge to religion is whether it can be a force to understand and include the other or reject and exclude the other. Self-criticism is one of the elements required to help religion heal society."
Rabbi Michael Boyden, Director of the Beit Din of the Israel Council of Progressive Rabbis It is unfortunate that [he] should have expressed criticism of Israel's war against terror in The Guardian a newspaper that has such a long history of biased reporting in its coverage of the Middle East crisis. Perhaps, on further reflection, he now recognizes that his outspoken comments can only serve to give further ammunition to Israel's detractors.
"That said, [he] has also been prepared to stand at Israel's side and is quoted as having said on BBC radio: "Israel is very much alone in its war against terror... people have not understood that it is fighting for its right to be."
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg Ph.D "The use of paradox is often maddening to those seeking unambiguous positions. Jonathan Sacks belongs to the tradition of thinkers who seek to keep sensitivity alive under the harshest of conditions. Jewish sensitivity, extended to all victims of this tragic conflict, requires careful nurturing even, or especially, when the moral balance sheet seems unequivocal."
Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman "[He] was following the paths of Jewish leaders throughout history who have always spoken out against what they saw as the real misfortune and cause of suffering - Israel's own misdoings, rather than an enemy's animosity. Ezekiel warns in no uncertain terms that one who sees an injustice and does not protest against it is a collaborator with that misdeed and, if he is able to raise his voice and keeps silent, he is doubly culpable. What could [he] do but speak up?"
Rabbi Michael Marmur, Dean of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem "I agree wholeheartedly with [his] opinions as they are expressed in the article. One might argue that he is factually wrong, and that the current realities of the Middle East pose no threat to the moral well-being of the Jewish people.
"Secondly, it could be suggested that as a Diaspora figure, he should refrain from any comment which bears the slightest hint of criticism. Neither of these objections make sense to me. Occupation and terror are indeed brutalizing us; it behooves him to say what he thinks in a responsible way. His criticism is loving and appropriate and if we can't bear to hear it, the problem is ours, not his."
Rabbi Isaac Newman, former rabbi of Barnet Synagogue in London "I would support [his] general contention on the uniqueness of human diversity with the Mishneh Sanhedrin 4:5, 'Therefore was Adam [man] created single to teach you that one who destroys a single life destroys a whole world and one who preserves a single life preserves a whole world.'
"I wonder whether we as a people are not too self-centered to be capable of ruling another people fairly. Should we not rather rid ourselves of military dictatorship and seek the self expression of their uniqueness and their freedom, just as we, as a people, emerged free from the beginning of our history."
Sacks says he was victim of 'sensationalist headlines' In a letter Sacks sent a letter to his Israeli counterpart released Thursday, the rabbi says he was a victim of "sensationalist headlines."
"For the past two years I have consistently supported Israel and made its case in the British media," he wrote to Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, referring to the two-year-old intifada.
Rabbi Lau's spokesman Yitzhak Rath said that Lau had "struggled with himself" about reacting publicly to the interview, but then issued a statement saying that "he did not believe" that Sacks had said what was attributed to him.
Sacks telephoned Lau and said he had been misinterpreted, and Lau suggested he state his view in writing, Rath said.
"I deeply regret that sensationalist headlines have been used to portray me as a critic of Israel. I am not. Israel's case is a moral case... It is my role to make our case - Israel's case - to the widest possible audience," the letter said.