As my loyal readers know (and I assume that means all of you), I don’t talk much about politics, domestic or Israeli on this blog. It just seems like in real life, political arguments can lead to new knowledge, a change in viewpoints – all the normal benefits of the free exchange of trusted information. Online, these debates lead nowhere, no matter how well-intentioned the participants.

Recent comments by Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, have forced my hand, if only because I believe that it is the responsibility of every person of moral conscience to repudiate the horrors contemplated by R. Eliyahu.

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu wrote a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert indicating that the correct response to rocket attacks on the border town of Sderot is the collective punishment of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. An excerpt:

Eliyahu ruled that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.


According to Jewish war ethics, wrote Eliyahu, an entire city holds collective responsibility for the immoral behavior of individuals. In Gaza, the entire populace is responsible because they do nothing to stop the firing of Kassam rockets.

Putting aside the dubious claim that nobody in the entire Gaza Strip has taken action to stop rocket attacks or foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I’m somewhat concerned by the careless conflation of all the population centers of the Gaza Strip into one ‘city’ whose entire populace is collectively responsible. Their is an aspect of dehumanization to lumping separate people together into one general, hated group. We saw it after 9/11, where Americans, filled with anger and a desire for vengeance, could barely distinguish a Sikh from a Muslim, much less an Afghan from an Iraqi, or a Sunni from a Shiite. We’ve seen it from many right-wing Israelis, who claim that “they” don’t want peace, or that “the Arabs all hate us” – not even realizing how offensively boorish they sound when they cite the Iranian president’s vicious comments as proof (Iranians are ethnically Persians, not Arabs, and are heirs to an ancient, powerful, and proud culture that has often clashed with Arab culture).

What’s worse was R. Eliyahu’s son’s clarifying comments after his father declined to be interviewed:

Shmuel Eliyahu, who is chief rabbi of Safed, said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life.

“If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand,” said Shmuel Eliyahu. “And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

What would be the consequences of this evil choice? Would Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank be cowed after a few tens of thousands of their fellows were exterminated? What about the regional damage? My guess is that Jordan would be torn by strife and revolt, as the Palestinians who makeup the majority of the population react to the tragedy. I imagine that Hezbollah and Syria would also respond violently, with Iran right behind them. Around the world, Israel would face condemnation, sanctions, and utter isolation. Even America could not back such a slaughter, and not even Aipac could stop the cutbacks in Israeli aid or the barring of sale of hi-tech weaponry to Israel, already endangered by cluster-bombing in Lebanon. I think that this action would result in the greatest Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) in perhaps all of Jewish history.

I’ve gone on the record with my opinion because I feel it is my responsibility to do so, and to reject Rabbi Eliyahu. I would support any effort to remove him from his position within the government, and from within the religious leadership, and I call upon Jewish and Israeli leaders worldwide to condemn him and distance themselves from his remarks. (Surprisingly, my calls to world leaders usually go unanswered… I though bloggers had power!) What about you folks out there? How do you feel about R. Eliyahu’s comments?