Analysis from Israel

A Yale University chaplain recently resigned “on his own initiative” over a letter to the New York Times blaming Israel and the Jews for anti-Semitism. Clearly, nothing Israel does or doesn’t do justifies attacks on Jewish citizens of other countries, but even if did, Rev. Bruce Shipman’s reasoning would have been fallacious. According to Shipman, “the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad” to pressure Israel “for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” Yet based on the evidence, the Israeli policy change most likely to reduce anti-Semitic outbreaks isn’t ending its “continuing occupation of the West Bank,” but reoccupying evacuated Gaza.

After all, every major upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks in recent years has coincided with a war that began when terrorists attacked Israel from territory it had vacated: spring 2002, when Israel reinvaded parts of the West Bank it had left under the Oslo Accords to stop a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings; summer 2006, when Hezbollah sparked a war by launching a deadly cross-border attack from south Lebanon, which Israel had vacated six years earlier; and two ground operations in Gaza, one in winter 2008/09 and one this past July and August, both launched in response to the incessant rocket fire from that territory ever since Israel withdrew every last soldier and settler in 2005. During the intervening years, incidents of anti-Semitism were hundreds or even thousands of percent lower, despite Israel’s “continuing occupation of the West Bank.”

The latest Gaza war epitomizes this counterintuitive truth. In July, anti-Semitic attacks were up 130 percent in America, 436 percent in Europe, 600 percent in South Africa, and a whopping 1,200 percent in South America compared to July 2013. To cite one typical example, Scotland recorded more anti-Semitic attacks during the first week of August alone than in all of 2013.

In other words, what really spurs anti-Semites to come out of the woodwork isn’t “the occupation,” but Israeli-caused casualties. And while one might have though withdrawals would decrease such casualties by eliminating day-to-day friction between Palestinians (or Lebanese) and Israeli troops, in reality, the opposite has occurred: Every such withdrawal has resulted in terrorist organizations taking over the vacated territory and using it to launch attacks on Israel, which in turn has produced a sharp rise in casualties, for two reasons.

First, in territory it controls, Israel can prevent terror by routine policing. But once it has quit an area, counterterrorism operations require reinvading–and military operations are obviously far more lethal than police work. Second, in territory it controls, Israel can prevent terrorists from embedding military infrastructure like tunnels and rocket launchers amid a civilian population. But once it evacuates a territory, terrorists are free to do exactly that, and they do. Consequently, any counterterrorism operation becomes far more deadly to the terrorists’ own people.

The result, as I explained here last month, is that Palestinian casualties have soared since Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza. In the current war, for instance, the UN claims 2,131 Palestinians were killed. That’s more than the 1,727 fatalities Gaza suffered during the second intifada of 2000-2005. In other words, Gaza just lost more people in 50 days than it did during the bloodiest five years of the period when Israel controlled the territory.

Mark Gardner of CST, which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain, pithily explained the problem last month: During wartime, “The British public is constantly exposed to pictures of wounded or dead Palestinian children, and the effect is apparent.” And because such wars have been occurring every two to four years, “the issue is ignited almost continually. The Jewish community gets hit again and again, without reprieve, and the situation is not given a chance to return to relative normalcy.”

So if anyone really thinks Israeli policy should be blamed for global anti-Semitism, the data shows there’s only one policy change that might actually be effective: reoccupying Gaza. Somehow, I doubt that’s what the Bruce Shipmans of the world really want.

Originally published in Commentary 

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In today’s world, Orthodox and Conservative Jews should be natural allies

Jewish tradition holds that the Second Temple was destroyed by baseless hatred. Since we’re currently in the annual three-week mourning period for the destruction of both Temples, which culminates in the holiday of Tisha B’Av, it’s a good time to consider a particularly counterproductive bit of baseless hatred: that between the Orthodox and Conservative movements.

Orthodox Jews tend to view Conservative and Reform Jewry as indistinguishable, lumping them both together as “non-Orthodox.” But in reality, there’s a yawning gap between them. The Conservative movement officially maintains that Jews must follow halachah (traditional Jewish law), including by observing Shabbat, kashrut, the Jewish holidays and so forth. The Reform movement rejects the very idea of binding halachah. Thus on the fundamental issue that has preserved the Jewish people for millennia—the binding nature of halachah—the Conservatives are formally on the Orthodox side of the divide.

Admittedly, most Conservative Jews don’t practice what their movement preaches, so one could legitimately ask what value this formal commitment to halachah has if most of its members ignore it. Moreover, this failure to produce and sustain observant communities has led many Jews raised in committed Conservative homes to switch to Orthodoxy (I’m one of them), and if the most observant continue leaving, I wonder how long even a formal commitment to halachah will survive.

But right now, the Conservative movement still contains a traditionalist faction that’s committed to observing halachah as the movement defines it. And because of this commitment, traditionalist Conservatives have far more in common with Orthodoxy than Reform.

Granted, Conservative interpretations of halachah diverge from Orthodox ones in nontrivial ways. But that strikes me as a less serious problem, because radically divergent interpretations of halachah have been common throughout Jewish history.

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