Rabbibrian's Blog

A Voice for Justice and Peace in Israel/Palestine

Rabbi Forman’s attack on Jewish Fast for Gaza

Posted by rabbibrian on August 31, 2009

Rabbi Brant Rosen and I have just written the following response to Rabbi David Forman’s  attack on Jewish Fast for Gaza published in the Jerusalem Post on August 28.

Rabbi David Forman’s smear against Taanit Tzedek: Jewish Fast for Gaza (Jerusalem Post , August 28), is the latest in a series of  public attacks by Rabbi Forman on Americans and  American Jewish leaders who criticize specific policies of the Israeli government that violate the human right of Palestinians.  Forman attacks us, the coordinators of Taanit Tzedek, calling the tenor of our comments “anti-Zionist, bordering on anti Semitism” and even “an assault on the legitimacy of the Jewish state.”   He calls Taanit Tzedek an “anti Israel act” and even goes as far as to suggest that that the rabbis and others involved in Taanit Tzedek “stand idly by when their fellow Jews blood is being spilled.”

These accusations against us personally and against the rabbis involved in Taanit Tzedek, is a serious violation of the Jewish ethical prohibition against spreading false accusations (motzi shem ra), an act unworthy of a rabbi at any time, but especially during this month of Elul devoted to forgiveness and repentance.

Taanit Tzedek is not in any way an “anti Israel act” or an attack on “the very legitimacy of Jewish State”, nor are the rabbis involved in this project “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.”  All of us are devoted to teaching the values of Judaism and to protecting the human rights of all people: our people, Israelis, Jews throughout the world, and all human beings, including Palestinians and the residents of Gaza.   It is our commitment to the Jewish belief that all human beings are created in the image of God that that impels us to speak out against the blockade, a policy of the Israeli government that causes untold human suffering.  We are opposed to this policy of the Israeli government, not to Israel. Is there no space for criticism of the policies of the Israeli government without being labeled “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic”?

The primary goal of Taanit Tzedek is to end the Israeli blockade on Gaza.  We are shocked that the blockade has led to inadequate nutrition, the stunted growth of children, the denial of medical care to the sick, inadequate fuel and electricity, damage to public health system and many other kinds of suffering.  As Jews and rabbis who care deeply about the Jewish tradition of human decency (menshlichkeit), we feel a special responsibility to speak out against the Israeli policy that leads to this suffering.   Taanit Tzedek is committed to breaking the shameful silence on this issue in our community and to doing all we can along with our fellow Americans of all faiths to end this immoral policy.

Rabbi Forman asks, “How well have these rabbis examined the blockade?”  There are many sources we have examined including the reports of Israeli human rights organizations like B’Tzelem, Gisha and  Physicians for Human Rights in Israel.  On our website (www.fastforgaza.net) one can find many sources of information.  For example, just two weeks ago eight Israeli human rights organizations joined together to produce a video “Lift the Closure, Give life a chance.” We are delighted to partner with these inspiring Israeli organizations in their efforts to end the blockade. Gisha issued a report a few weeks ago entitled, “Red Lines Crossed: Destruction of Gaza’s Infrastructure.” We are also very pleased that the Association for Civil Rights in Israel has endorsed Taanit Tzedek.

Is Rabbi Forman challenging the reports of these organizations?   If so, let him bring the evidence and engage in a serious debate, rather than public name- calling.  We would be happy to debate the facts and would be delighted to disband Taanit Tzedek if Rabbi Forman could prove that all these accounts of suffering are simply untrue.

Forman argues that our concern for the suffering in Gaza indicates that we are unconcerned about the suffering in Israel, specifically in the South of Israel.   He accuses us of a lack of balance.  This is simply untrue. As rabbis and Jews we are committed to the Jewish belief that all people are created in the image of God and we are committed protecting the human rights of children in Sderot and Gaza City. As rabbis we all support Israel in many ways including direct support for the people in Sderot.

Moreover, the blockade does not in any way, ensure greater security for Israelis.  The denial of food and other basic necessities merely continues cycle of hatred further endangering the lives of Israelis.   We support the right of the Israeli government to stop the transport of armaments into Gaza but the blockade of food and other basic necessities causes suffering and further endangers Israelis and all people in the region.

It is a sad day when a rabbi who claims to be a human rights activist, and who was one of the founders of Rabbis for Human Rights, publicly attacks his rabbinic colleagues for advocating for the right of human beings to basic necessities.   It is a sad day when criticism of Israeli government policy can only be viewed as “anti-Israel” or “anti Semitic.”

Rabbi Forman argues Taanit Tzedek means that the number of rabbis involved in Taanit Tzedek proves it is a “colossal failure” yet he devoted his entire article in the Jerusalem Post to an attack on our project.  We are indeed pleased that over 70 rabbis have joined Taanit Tzedek.  We knew when we initiated this project that there would be a limited number of rabbis who would join in this effort.  We started the project with just a minyan of rabbis.  Many more rabbis support our project yet fear that going public could cost them their jobs.  Rabbi Forman’s vicious attack helps to create an environment of fear that silences so many in our community.

We will continue to break the silence and to insist that the suffering caused by the blockade must be addressed in our community not by name-calling but by a serious discussion of the facts and the moral implications for us as Jews. Now is not the time for pointing fingers at others.  This is the time when we are called as Jews to do a Moral reckoning (Cheshbon nefesh).  Taanit Tzedek will continue to call on our community and all people to do a moral reckoning about the blockade and to follow the prophet Isaiah’s call “to lift up our voices like a Shofar” until this immoral blockade is lifted.


23 Responses to “Rabbi Forman’s attack on Jewish Fast for Gaza”

  1. Here we go again. Someone criticizes the Israeli government, someone is called anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. It’s getting old real fast. What a shame that instead of perhaps discussing the questions involved and investigating the morality of the blockade etc,the “right” vomits up the old canard of the basest accusation one Jew can make of another, being an anti-Semite. Don’t they realize how they cheapen the entire concept my deliberately misusing the term this way? The word anti-Semite is cast about so carelessly these days, that it is beginning to have no real meaning anywhere, any longer. Shame on David Forman and his minions for their hyperbolic misuse of what was once a serious charge leveled against people who truly hated us for being Jews.

  2. Louis Frankenthaler said

    Brian, Great response to David’s piece in the J.Post.

    There seems to be an effort, that is similar to some of the activities taking place in the US, such as campus watch etc, where the intent is to create what can be called a chilling effect on critique of Israeli policy often under the guise of a demand for ‘balance’ in discourse in which it is cynically claimed that academia, for instance, is under the rule of some sort of radical anti-Israel, anti-American regime. It is designed to make people think twice about speaking freely. For example look at the way Neve Gordon has been attacked instead of critically examining and discussing his points and the process that brought him to advocating his new position regarding BDS the self appointed guardians/”friends” of Israel set out to attack the speaker in a shallow and intellectually bankrupt manner. Many of us, on the “radical” left have undergone changes in positions, some nuanced, some dramatic but largely born out of disappointment and an understanding that there seems to be no real desire on the part of Israel to bring an end to the Occupation and an environment in which 2 real democratic states can exist.

    I suspect After 42 years of the Occupation, in which communities of Occupation, “academic” institutions of Occupation, a commerce of Occupation, etc., has been built and seems to have gained an unacceptable permanence we need to act differently against it, non-violently as always but differently.

    Of course the writers of these pieces in the Post, such as David or Gerald Steinberg should write, speak and be heard with no buts about it. At the same time we need to consistently and vigorously make it clear that our efforts are for human rights and justice for the marginalized the abjected Other, which Israel has created out of the Palestinian people… Similarly we may also want to ask those who say that our work is “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic” what is that they are for or against? Some may claim that they are against the Occupation yet their actions and writings may actually support it. Some may claim that they want to ‘expose and discuss’ NGOs who “falsely” claim to be human rights organizations. But what is it that they advocate, implicitly or explicitly? To me it is clear… they want to teflon coat the Occupation, immunize Israel to critique and thus directly or not continue the Occupation and the other human rights abuses.

    • Bent said

      I suggest you all move to Israel and live in the areas that are being shelled. Have you ever been to Israel? Maybe you could move to Gaza or the West Bank and provide spiritual leadership to the people who would rather be dead than alive. That way you could feed, cloth and provide food for all your brothers who would just love to have your support and chesed. Maybe you could join forces with Hamas, the organization that wants Ticunilom all over Israel. They send their love via bombs and Shaheeds. Better yet send your families so they can see what idiots you all are. You can not have peace with people who want you dead and will not accept Israel’s offer to help.

      • Louis Frankenthaler said

        I live in Jerusalem, for close to 15 years now. My family, Thankfully have not been victims of terror attacks but each of us have been very close to being in attacks… That being said, your premise is faulty. One can live anywhere and critique the human rights policy of Israel, the US, Iran, Russia, etc., as I do…

  3. Y. Ben-David said

    You state:
    We are opposed to this policy of the Israeli government, not to Israel.

    However, later you call the partial blockade policy “immoral”. It must be remembered that the policy is being carried out by the elected Israeli government. Although this government is led by the “Right-wing” Likud party, the policy was first implemented by the previous “Center-Left” government headed by Kadima and Labor. Thus, it is supported by vitually the entire political spectrum in the country in addition to a large majority of the population. Thus, if you are going to call the policy “immoral”, then you have to say that the majority of the population is “immoral”.
    It is certainly legitimate for Jews (and non-Jews for that matter) both inside and outside Israel to criticize government policy, however it is one thing to say “the policy is not wise”, but a far different thing to say the government and country are acting “immorally”, which is the case with “Ta’anit Tzedek”.

    What alternative is “Ta’anit Tzedek” proposing that will guarantee that rocket fire and terror attacks from the Gaza Strip cease? Recognizing HAMAS? “Talking” with them? HAMAS was freely elected to power by the Palestinian population on a platform of no recognition or peace with Israel under any circumstances and
    unilateral abrogation of the Olso Agreements. It seems that “Ta’anit Tzedek” is not addressing these question and is simply demanding Israel capitulate on a matter literally of life or death to its citizens. It is this dismissal of concerns by people in Israel regarding important security and political matters that has raised the ire of David Forman and others, and “Ta’anit Tzedek” had better do a thorough review of its policies in order to be able to make constructive input to the fateful debate on these important matters.

    • In response to Y. Ben-David,

      I’m one of the rabbi participants in Ta’anit Tzedek, but let me state clearly I don’t speak for Ta’anit Tzedek, just myself.

      I can’t follow your logic about distinguishing between moral criticism and other kinds of criticism when it comes affirming that one can criticize Israel’s policies without questioning “the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.” Lots of states have immoral policies and criticizing those policies on moral grounds doesn’t question that state’s legitimacy.

      Y. Ben-David writes,

      What alternative is “Ta’anit Tzedek” proposing that will guarantee that rocket fire and terror attacks from the Gaza Strip cease?

      Y. Ben-David, I question the assumption behind the question that a blockade helps to protect Israel. what evidence do you have that the blockade guarantees that no rocket fire or terror attacks will come from Gaza?

      One could argue the opposite is true; the blockade makes Israel’s citizens less safe. The blockade makes Gazans more desperate, more angry, and more likely to support Hamas’ hostile policies toward Israel.

      In addition, the blockade makes tunneling into Egypt a viable economic operation, thereby facilitating the import by Hamas of weapons. Building and maintaining the tunnels is very expensive. Right now that endeavor is underwritten by the tunnel economy which largely smuggles in the harmless goods that Israel is blockading. Take away the need to smuggle harmless goods through tunnels, and Hamas loses the economic engine that keeps the tunnels working. If the blockade ended, Hamas would then need to maintain and build tunnels for the sole purpose of importing weapons. I’m not suggesting that ending the blockade will end the smuggling of arms into Gaza, but it will make it harder and more expensive.

    • Ian Rosen said

      So you’re saying that the partial blockade is helping to stop the rocket fire and terror attacks from the Gaza Strip? If anything, I would think that the blockade is going to increase the hatred for the Israelis and increase the terrorist attacks.

      • Are you, Mr. Rosen, honest in your belief that this bottomless hatred could be ever increased?

        All the way around, if you believe that the hatred is increased by some actions, you should acknowledge that there is also a way to decrease it by some other actions. Please name them.

        Israel cleansed Jews from Gaza. The jubilant populace responded by destroying what was left from the greenhouses, elected HAMAS and increased shelling the neighboring Jewish communities. Where is the expected hatred decrease? Instead, this most profound hatred was coupled with the feeling of victory over the sworn enemy, the Jew.

        If anything, I would think that rational people base their judgment upon facts and not wishful thinking.

      • rabbibrian said

        Mr. Rosen? I assume you mean Rabbi Brant Rosen. I am not he, but I share his belief that a more humane policy to Gazans may be helpful in decreasing violence. You write, ” Israel cleansed Jews from Gaza.” Yes, Israel, pulled out illegal settlers from Gaza and then surrounded the entire territory and created an open air prison where no one and no goods can enter or leave without Israel’s permission. You wonder why this didn’t decrease the level of hatred?

  4. joan Levitt said

    Your work for all human beings is inspiring. I am ashamed of those who use the Holocaust and other acts of oppression to justify genocide against Palestinians.

    • hersh75 said

      I have no quarrel with Rabbi Walt and the Fast, but Joan Levitt is way over the line in accusing Israel of “genocide against Palestinians.” This is exactly playing into the hands of those who would destroy Israel, the Hamas leaders, Iran’s Ahmadinijad,et al. Criticism of Israel, and especially of the current right wing government, is not only legitimate but an absolute necessity for Jews today. But claiming genocide is false, unfair, and non-productive..

      Hersh L.Adlerstein,Adjunct Professor
      Florida International University
      Miami,Florida (hersh75@msn.com)

  5. The issue is simple. There is no blockade of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

    When was the last time that you sat for a day at the Sufa junction to witness the flow of humanitarian supplies into Gaza?

    When was the last time that you reviewed objective reports of the Israel Palestine Chamber of Commerce that confirms that Israel exports 2 billion shekels per annum of products to Gaza?

    To bear false witness against the state and people of Israel seems inappropriate for Rabbis to be doing.

    Then again, I expect you to censor these comments.

  6. The issue that you will have to cope with as part of your Heshbon Nefesh for Rosh HaShanah concerns the credibility of the sources that feed you with tendentious reports from Israel: ACRI, Bitzelem, Physicians for Human Rights, Adalah, etc.

    • rabbibrian said

      I must say I find this post particularly disturbing. David and I know one another from the time in 1970 when he was a radical activist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. That you went through a conversion and became a right winger, I could deal with. I can’t deal with you lying when you know better. It is just absurd to suggest that there is no such thing as a blockade. Israeli government officials have talked about it, eyewitnesses write reports on it daily, you can find details of exactly how many trucks of food are allowed through etc. etc. And on top of it to suggest that respected human rights organizations such as B’Tzelem, PHR etc. are not credible but you are. You have sold your soul and your moral conscience. It is simply beyond me how someone as smart and as passionate could have just become so callous to reports of human suffering.

  7. Alan Perlman said

    You are very selective in the Torah teachings you cite. Pirke Avot also teaches not to use Torah as a spade with which to dig, but you do exactly that — your pushoff point is your political agenda for which you seek Torah quotes out of context to suggest that you are espousing a Torah view, when you are not. First of all, Torah allows, and in certain cases, mandates, place a city under siege. Second, fasting is for troubles that befall the Jewish community (or the entire world), not those seeking to destroy the ingathered exiles of Israel. But, the real point is that you did not call for a fast for Jews in Northern Israel under bombardment by Hizbullah, nor for Jews in Southern Israel under constant bombardment by Hamas, nor even for all people who are suffering under this exceedingly long conflict. You are fasting for the victims of Gaza, not for Jewish victims. If this was WW2, it would be as if you fasted for the German victims of bloackades, but not the victims if Shoah. You give lip service to concern for the Jews of Israel, but it is talk. If you want to fast, fast for Israel and its redemption.


    Peruse http://www.SderotMedia.org.il

    We live and work in Sderot.

    Our office is a social media operation. We help people in Sderot and the Western Negev who are being attacked by the people of Gaza. Yes, by the people of Gaza. Hamas is their democratically elected choice. They have managed to traumatize an entire population here that knows very well that the next heavy round of missiles is just around the corner, and that there are those who fabricate a humanitarian crisis in Gaza so that we will not be able to fire back.

    Take a look at our community theatre therapy project. We need help to provide such programs of aid to our population.

    Too many people find that the plight of Sderot is just too difficult to cope with. After all, that is what “withdrawal” means.

    Imagine, if you would, if the IDF withdraws its patrols from Beit Jalla, on the hill overlooking Gilo – the next day, the people of Beit Jala would again shell Gilo.

    Then again, you would have to buy a map and see where Beit Jalla is. While you are at it, look on the map to see where Sderot is.

  9. Andy Marcus said

    I think the fast is shameful. As is calling the Government of Israel “immoral” for protecting its citizens. Fine you don’t agree with the policy – but it isn’t immoral. In fact, look at the rocket fire aimed deliberately at Israeli citizens before and after the war. Big difference. I believe the blockade on a hostile entity sworn to kill you is a valid choice. The people of Gaza will have peace when they accept peace. Not before.

    • rabbibrian said

      Thanks for your comment. What Taanit Tzedek – Jewish Fast for Gaza considers immoral is the siege on Gaza and all other deliberate attacks on civilian targets in Gaza. This includes attacks on power installations, flour producing factories, thousands of homes as documented in the reports of respected Israeli and international human rights organizations and in the Goldstone Report. The rocket attacks on Israel by armed Palestinian groups and Hamas are also immoral. The overwhelming power imbalance between the two sides and the shocking disproportionality in terms of human life makes Israel’s actions particularly disturbing.
      Jewish Fast for Gaza does not call the Government of Israel immoral for protecting its citizens. We believe that Israel like any other nation state has the responsibility to protect its citizens. We also believe that every nation state has the obligation to uphold the basic values of Judaism and international humanitarian law in defending itself. Israel has not done so in it’s actions in Gaza.

  10. David said

    Here is a little parable.

    A jewish man steals an apple.
    The farmer sees him steal the apple and runs after him with a shot gun.
    He finds him in his home and ransacks the house and murders his family.
    The man and the farmer come before a judge.

    Fast for Farmer claims that in the name of Jewish values the jewish man should go to prison.


    • rabbibrian said

      Dear David,
      Please explain your parable.
      Rabbi Brian

      • David Sackstein said

        Hi Rabbi Brian,
        Sorry, I didnt see your response until now.
        The explanation is as follows.
        The Jewish man is Israel.
        The farmer is Hamas.
        The stolen apple is the seige of Gaza.
        The shot gun is rockets being fired into civilian homes in Israel and bombs blowing up in restaurants in Israel’s cities.
        The farmer’s family are innocent women and children living in Sderot or walking through a mall in Tel-Aviv.
        The judge is public opinion.
        Fast for Farmer is Fast for Gaza.
        The lesson to learn is that the specific reaction to a violation of a value should depend on context.

        I hope this clarifies the parable,


  11. how many od you fast taanis esther?the truth

  12. David said

    As it has now become clear that there has been no lack of resources in Gaza for the last few years, rather millions of dollars and endless human resources has been invested in fortifying and arming a fanatical terrorist group so that it can attack civilians, would you not now agree that fasting for Gaza was an error in judgement (to put it mildly)?

    Moreover, as the Egyptian press are now publishing how Mashal and Haniya have been enjoying lives of leisure and corruption while the people of Gaza are are finding it hard to make ends meet, would you not now agree that the cause of their hardships is not Israeli rule but Hamas rule?

    And when you see how Hamas hides behind women and children, shooting rockets out of schools and homes does it not make you stop and think – that maybe accusing Israel of being inhumane was a bit of a joke?

    Do you not think that this year, some self-critical retrospect is due on your part and that rather than fasting for Gaza you should be fasting for millions of Israeli civilians who are living under the constant threat of rockets and terror tunnels?

    Or maybe you should just fast for yourself, and ask the Almighty for forgiveness for having slandered His people and for having assisted their worst enemies in spreading lies about the true nature of the Hamas regime.

    צום קל

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