The Right to Comment

     The Jewish Week, a publication that I have not read since canceling my free subscription over a decade ago, published an article last week by one Irwin Mansdorf castigating an unnamed but “well known New Jersey rabbi” (i.e., me) for accusing Israel’s Foreign Ministry of  “not being able to explain the Jewish right to Israel.” This, of course, referred to an article in Makor Rishon that I already referenced here (
The Jewish Week piece was sent to me. Mansdorf writes:

“They have a hard time explaining the right to Tel Aviv” he is quoted as saying. “They have no answers. They can’t explain why we are here.”

Of course, the esteemed rabbi is in Teaneck and not in Tel Aviv, but he
needs to look closer to home before sounding off against people who actually
live in, and fight and sacrifice every day for Israel.

One wonders why an intelligent, educated Orthodox rabbi needs the foreign
ministry to explain to him why Israel has a right to exist, but if he does not
know why, he is not that different from many of the young men and women living in his community.

    Well, of course, I didn’t question “why Israel has a right to exist,” but rather why the Jewish people have a claim to a state in the land of Israel. And, of course, I can explain it but was rather perturbed to encounter some (by no means all) people in the Foreign Ministry who could not explain it. And if they can’t or won’t explain it to a group of rabbis, how do they hope to influence anyone ? He went on to say that Israel’s claim has to be rooted in law, rights, and the resolutions of the San Remo Conference in 1920 (how’s that been working out ?) and those should be taught and publicized throughout the world. And, to be precise, I never claimed that the totality of Israel’s statecraft should be grounded in the Bible, but rather that the Bible has to be the starting point, the foundation on which all other claims rest.

     I sent a letter to the Jewish Week (after being informed of the article) which, typically, they did not see fit to print. Here it is:   

To the Editor:

Irwin Mansdorf castigates an unnamed New Jersey rabbi for his criticism
of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the failure of some officials to base the
Jewish people’s right to the land of Israel on the Bible, all the subject of a
recent article in Makor Rishon.
Alas, he spoke too hastily. Several days after the initial article, Makor Rishon published an interview with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in which he joined that criticism of his own ministry, admitted the previous failure of Israel’s diplomats to emphasize our Biblical rights, and stated that the rabbi “touched on the right point.” He added that he and Foreign Minister Lieberman have attempted to rectify this, and he himself asserts our Biblical rights in every forum he addresses. 

Had Mr. Mansdorf read more carefully, he would have noted that the
original article never stated that Israel’s diplomacy should focus exclusively
on our Biblical rights, but rather it must start from that premise. It is the
religious idea that animates true support for Israel among Christian
evangelicals, Israel’s most fervent advocates in American life (and therefore
plays well in both Teaneck and Peoria), and it is the religious claim that is
at the heart of the conflict. His contention that the modern world will be
persuaded by the declarations of the San Remo Conference is, to be kind,
wishful thinking, and basing Israel’s claim in the amorphous “historic rights”
of the Jewish people (similar in kind, I suppose, to that of the Navajo, the
Incas and the Aztecs to their ancestral lands) has not and will not persuade
anyone. Perhaps that is why Israel’s rights are being delegitimized across the
globe, and perhaps it takes someone living out in the world to call attention
to a feeble argument, expose its weaknesses, and suggest one more persuasive. 

Unfortunately, living and working in an echo chamber does not usually
afford one the capability of re-evaluating and, if necessary, discarding failed
approaches to statecraft. Deputy Minister Ayalon deserves praise and support
for overcoming this malady and making important changes to Israel’s diplomatic posture.

One question that arises is: why would the Jewish Week print an op-ed by an obscure writer about an issue raised in an even more obscure Israeli publication in Hebrew, something that the average Jewish Week reader either could not or would not read ? The answer that presents, based on experience, is that someone in the Foreign Ministry unofficially commissioned this article in order to undermine the initiative of the unnamed rabbi and those supportive of it.

   But what most interests me here is the persistence of some Israelis (usually the ones without real answers) in inserting into any discussion of policy or strategy the fact that I, and some other “critics,” do not yet live in land of Israel. Snarkiness aside, the point being made is that we do not have the right, and should not have the gall, to comment on Israeli affairs or to offer suggestions that will not impact our lives but will endanger others. (Some American olim adopt this stance within minutes of receiving their identity cards, and even before they have left Ben-Gurion Airport.)

That obvious attempt to avoid a substantive discussion (akin to a patient telling an oncologist “if you don’t yourself have cancer, then don’t tell me what to do!”) fails to convince for several reasons that I outline here, hoping that that particular tactic is forever retired from public discourse.

Why do Jews throughout the world have the right to comment on Israeli affairs ?

We are educated that all Jews are one, and that we are all bound to each other by fate and destiny. Therefore, the survival and security of Jews in Israel matters to me, as does the survival and security of Jews wherever they live in the world.

I have children and grandchildren, sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews, and cousins who live in Israel. Several have served in the IDF, and one fell in battle. I certainly have a right and interest in seeing to their well-being in any way I can.

We are educated that all Jews have a share in the land of Israel. I have an obligation to preserve my share, regardless of whether I am physically present at any moment in time.

Israelis, when it suits them, have consistently requested that American Jews become involved and outspoken about all Israeli affairs. Among them are Ariel Sharon, Yitzchak Shamir, and Benjamin Netanyahu, who have personally spoken to me, and requested my involvement – each at different stages of their careers, and when it advanced their interests. Some have changed their tune when it did not suit them. Thus their objections are clearly situational and not categorical. One who never changed his tune was the late, sainted Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, who insisted to me that the battle for the hearts, minds, and support of Americans is critical to Israel, and for now, that was my battlefield that I could not abandon.

Israel solicits tourism from America and across the world, and a number of American tourists have been murdered by Arab terrorists in Israel. Obviously, then, Americans who visit Israel should be allowed a voice in matters that affect them, such as security.

The battle against Arab-Muslim terror has gone global. It is no longer a domestic Israeli problem, and when Israel shows weakness – in Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere – it emboldens all terrorists and makes all Jews and Westerners more vulnerable.

Finally, and forgive my snarkiness: as an American, three billion dollars of my tax dollars are provided to Israel annually. If you don’t want my advice, then take your hands out of my pocket. The same goes for the numerous Israeli politicians of all stripes who come to solicit American-Jewish dollars for their causes.

These seven reasons should put to rest once and for all that lame contention of lazy thinkers that only seeks to stifle debate. Indeed, sometimes external critics can be more logical and cogent, as their analysis is not colored by the wearisome circumstances of “living under the gun” that often produces wishful, delusional thinking that engenders impetuous and reckless actions, also known as the Oslo process, the Gaza expulsion, etc. But Israelis should also know that what is uttered by foreign Jewish critics of  our affiliation is said with love, respect, and a desire for Israel’s security and prosperity. It is motivated by love of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel.

Obviously, foreign critics lack the means to fully influence policy in Israel, but it is hard to argue that the average Israeli has any means of influencing policy in Israel, especially given the propensity of politicians to dramatically alter their convictions after they are elected.

Equally obviously, my critics are rights. I should live in Israel. But in dispensing advice or in trying to influence matters for the good, such a point is simply not relevant to this discourse. It is a tired argument that adds nothing to the dialogue and obfuscates rather than elucidates.

It should be given a speedy burial.

2 responses to “The Right to Comment

  1. Rabbi Pruansky,
    I enjoy listening to many of your shiurim (notably the history series and the centurions) on YU Torah. I read the article about your comments in Makor Rishon (which I really don’t consider an obscure publication at all). Things are a lot better than they were, say 20 years ago, but there is still a way to go. You certainly have a right, even a duty to say what you said about the FM initiative that you attended. The dialog between committed Zionist Jews from the diaspora and the Israeli people and their institutions is very important and beneficial to us all. This is as it should be. Your destiny is tied with ours whether your tax dollars go to aid us or not. It is by dint of that shared destiny that your ideas and criticism are valid valued and important. And yes, you should be here. And all your tax shekels should be going to our government.

  2. This essay was masterful (“know how to reply/return serve” 🙂 and as a fan of the Rav, I feel, one of the Rav’s best. I would wish it be sent to every Jew in the world, with its preceding essay, and to every member of Israel’s foreign ministry and every Congregational Leader who attended the conference in Israel together with the Rav.

    Chazak v’Amatz!