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RI POLITICS

Jews, Israelis in R.I. voice concerns about Israel’s response to Hamas’s terrorist attack

“We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself,” they write. “But we do not believe that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government... deserves the benefit of the doubt on how best to protect Israel in this critical moment.”

TEL AVIV -- A protestor waves an Israeli flag in front of the crowd. The demonstration for the release of the Hamas hostages kidnapped on Oct. 7 is one of the most significant and most numerous since the war began.DIMA VAZINOVICH/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

As Jewish Rhode Islanders, one of us American and one of us Israeli-American, we have spent weeks grieving the brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas. Like so many members of our Jewish community, we have close family and friends who were directly impacted, and we feel the trauma of these evil attacks deeply and personally.

In our grief, we are profoundly concerned about Israel’s response to Hamas’s attack and the escalating violence that is leading to immense loss of civilian life. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself. But we do not believe that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government – whose incompetence and divisiveness led to the greatest intelligence and security failures in Israeli history – deserves the benefit of the doubt on how best to protect Israel in this critical moment.

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Our strong belief in Pidyon Shvuyim (hostage release) reinforces this concern, as the continued military assault on Gaza puts the 240 hostages in Hamas’s hands in further jeopardy. And we are extremely fearful that Israel has no endgame and that its current military assault on Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, the majority of whom are under the age of 18, will only serve those who wish to sabotage political and diplomatic efforts that would ensure justice, dignity, and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

That is why this week we joined over 80 Jewish Rhode Islanders – a cross-section of our community, including rabbis, legislators, professors, doctors, and many others – in calling on Rhode Island’s federal delegation to seek an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

As Jews, we were appalled by certain antisemitic responses we saw immediately after Oct. 7 justifying Hamas’s massacre of Israelis with the twisted logic that there was no such thing as an Israeli civilian. In recent weeks we have been similarly appalled to see Israel employing methods of collective punishment against Palestinians in Gaza. Cutting off water, electricity, food, communications, and medicine to millions of non-combatant civilians is a war crime under international law. Such acts are incompatible with Jewish moral teachings that we hold dear.

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In a central Jewish ethical text, called Pirkei Avot, we are taught that mitzvahs (good deeds) lead to more mitzvahs. We are taught, directly afterward, that transgressions lead to more transgressions. In the same fashion, we know that for Israelis, Palestinians, and all humanity, violence leads to more violence.

The decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved on the battlefield and cannot be managed without a political resolution. Israel’s policy of aggression in the Gaza strip and its creeping annexation in the West Bank are playing into Hamas’s hands by isolating Israel in the international community, arming extremists with more motivation and more support to use force, and undermining the credibility of those who seek peace. This is what Hamas wants, and giving Hamas what it wants will not make Israel safer.

This past Shabbat, Jews all around the world read a story from the Torah about Abraham’s famous argument with God. In the face of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham argued vociferously and repeatedly that we must hold in our hearts those who are innocent, and that we must do absolutely everything in our power to prevent the needless loss of life. Abraham lost his argument with God, but his impassioned plea for human solidarity has served as a model for our people for millennia.

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It is with this same spirit that we add our voices to the call for a halt to the military assault on Gaza.

Ruth Ben-Artzi is a Professor of Political Science at Providence College and a citizen of Israel. Rabbi Lex Rofeberg is a Senior Jewish Educator at Judaism Unbound and a resident of Providence. Rabbi Alan Flam is a resident of Barrington and a longtime leader in Rhode Island’s Jewish community.