JCRC Update | June 26, 2015

Charleston Massacre Is a Jewish Issue
The tragedy that struck last week in Charleston should be sobering for all of us. Unfortunately, this act showed that the era of racially motivated violence has not ended, and that we still have much work to do here in America. This perpetrator was a young man consumed with causeless hatred; his words and actions, those of a twisted mind consumed by racial animosity.

The thoughts and prayers of the entire Jewish community are with the victims, their families and the entire community of Charleston, hoping that a process of healing can begin. It is common knowledge that the Jewish community has always supported the African American community in the quest for equality and justice. We have seen the famous pictures of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching right next to Dr. Martin Luther King. (Rabbi Heschel referred to it as “praying with my legs.”) We also know the story of the three boys killed in Mississippi registering voters – two of those boys were Jewish.

I believe the cause of equality is ingrained in Jewish sensibilities, as we always remind ourselves that we were slaves in Egypt and are required by our faith and traditions to stand up for justice, and this is why the murders at Emanuel AME Church Charleston are, of course, a Jewish issue.

But it’s much more than that, too. Every decent person should be rightfully outraged that this could occur in the present time.

As I follow the news coverage of this story, I hear many angles and motives – I imagine that there is some truth to all of them.

Issues like the confederate flag in South Carolina, gun control, and mental health must be a part of the conversation going forward, but this crime was committed by a person who actually sought to start a race war with his actions.

As Americans, we must demand not only justice, but vengeance. Of course, the perpetrator of this crime will spend the rest of his life in jail no doubt, and the governor has already indicated she will support the death penalty.

But our vengeance must not be limited to the punishment of the killer. Our ultimate vengeance lies in doing exactly the opposite of what he hoped to accomplish with this action. Instead of a race war, we need to increase efforts at unity.

We need to work to eliminate all forms of racial and religious antagonism, a big job indeed. It looks like the community of Charleston, SC, is ready to lead the way.

I commend Charleston for its show of harmony subsequent to the tragedy. The rest of us need to follow.

Israel’s Actions during the Gaza War
This past week saw two reports issued as examinations of Israel’s actions during the war with Gaza last year. One was commissioned by Israel, where a group of former politicians and military leaders absolved Israel of any war crimes and placed the blame squarely with Hamas for any civilian deaths. The other report, commissioned by the United Nations, primarily placed the blame on Israel with some fingerpointing at Hamas as well.

Without going into the many flaws and biases of the U.N. report, we must keep in mind that Israel is fighting an asymmetrical war against an enemy with blatant disregard for human life – either Israeli or Palestinian. Israel is certainly not perfect (in fact, it has launched criminal investigations regarding some of its soldiers’ actions in Gaza), and we hope Israel continues to vigorously investigate those incidents where innocent civilians were killed disproportionally, and prosecute those responsible.

However, Israel took unprecedented steps in warning Palestinian civilians when their neighborhoods were going to be bombed. Their actions were such that the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, acknowledged that the U.S. would be studying Israel’s efforts in reducing civilian casualties while fighting asymmetrical wars of our own.
The events of last summer also stand as a reminder that the international laws of war need to be updated to reflect the modern battlefield where armies are forced to fight non-state actors.

We call on Israel to continue to research methods that reduce civilian casualties in the future while also calling on them continue the pursuit of peace so that there is no battlefield to contend with.

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