Letters to the editor: Nov. 27, 2019

Letters to the editor

An invitation to learn more about St. Louis Friends of Israel

In the Jewish Light’s Nov. 20 article about the “Breaking the Silence” event (hosted by J Street and The New Israel Fund at Congregation B’nai Amoona) mentioned a local, pro-Israel advocacy group called “St. Louis Friends of Israel,” and mistakenly referred to the organization as a “right-leaning” group.

St. Louis Friends of Israel filed as a 501c3 non-profit organization in May 2018. The founders and board members of the organization represent diverse perspectives on both the political and religious spectrums. The organization’s mission statement is as follows: “St. Louis Friends of Israel is a pro-active, non-denominational, non-partisan, 501c3 non-profit organization, whose mission is to educate the St. Louis community about the issues Israel faces and to advocate for Israel.”

Events hosted by St. Louis Friends of Israel in the past year include: sponsorship of Yousef Bashir, a Palestinian who was shot by an Israeli soldier and who spoke at this year’s St. Louis Jewish Book Festival; a talk at Washington University by Hen Mazzig, an Israeli LGBTQ activist; a presentation on anti-Israel media bias by TPS Founder Amotz Eyal; and a documentary film and presentation by Kay Wilson, a Jewish survivor of a terrorist attack, who founded an organization that provides after-school enrichment to Palestinian refugee children in the West Bank.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

St. Louis Friends of Israel does not promote any political views. However, we do support consensus positions in Israeli politics, including support for the two-state solution and opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In the past, we have issued statements that are aligned with the positions of the two largest political parties in Israel, including expressing our support for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and support for the recent U.S. State Department announcement that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not contrary to international law (read the St. Louis Friends of Israel statement on the Jewish Light’s website at http://bit.ly/STL-Friends-statement). It is important to note that many individuals in our organization are opposed to the building of Israeli settlements in the disputed territories.

Those interested in learning more about St. Louis Friends of Israel are encouraged to visit our website at: www.stlouisfriendsofisrael.com or our Facebook page at “St Louis Friends of Israel.”

Traci Goldstein and Galit Lev-Harir, Co-Presidents, St. Louis Friends of Israel

Read the book and draw your own conclusions

In her Nov. 13 letter to the editor, Susan Feigenbaum is critical of Yousef Bashir’s book, “The Words of My Father.” The book is beautifully written and in graphic detail describes Bashir’s life in the Gaza Strip in a warm family that experiences many humiliating experiences at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces. 

After being shot in the back when he was 15 years old, Bashir is rescued by a United Nations representative who takes him to Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel Aviv, where his life is saved and he is left to wonder how the Jewish nurses and doctors could care for him so lovingly.

His story is one of hope and inspiration that leads him to the United States, where he receives a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University and a master’s degree from Brandeis in Coexistence and Conflict. As the inside cover notes among other things, he is “a vigorous advocate of Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

I encourage readers of the Jewish Light to read the book themselves to determine its true contents.

David Roberts, Clayton

Reactions to Breaking the Silence 

This letter is to defend those allegedly “disrespectful” attendees at the “Breaking the Silence” event at B’nai Amoona on Nov. 13, although they need no defense. “Disrespect” is the correct word, but it is backwards. The true disrespect was to bring those speakers to a synagogue and provide a forum for them to demean and recite half-truths about the IDF. They travel around the United States and Europe, funded by pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel NGOs, because following the IDF chain of command with their allegations in Israel has provided them with no success. They claim to love Israel and the IDF. The audience — of which I was a part — interrupted appropriately and often loudly by disputing their purpose and their narratives.

It was appropriate because many in the audience were Israelis who had served in the IDF, as well as supportive Americans. Imagine this: On a day when terrorists were still firing up to 500 rockets into Israel, attempting to indiscriminately kill men, women and children who might be the family, friends and neighbors of those in the audience, a group of young former IDF soldiers come to tell  us — without any official evidence — that the IDF acts cruelly and the government of Israel issues inhumane orders to their commanding officers on the pretense of saving Israeli lives. Those “loud, disrespectful, uncivil” responders should be congratulated for using words, not actions. I invite anyone who disputes those responses and responders to visit Sderot with their families, or any other of a hundred towns and kibbutzim in the Eshkol area, and be forced to take shelter with their children in 15 seconds when the Red Alert sounds. Those who blame the audience are totally out of touch. The disrespect is theirs. 

Irl Solomon, St. Louis County

On Nov. 13, I attended the Breaking the Silence presentation at B’nai Amoona. The synagogue was full of tension, as the subject matter — former IDF soldier testimony about their service in the territories — was complex and controversial.

But what was shameful about the event was not the testimony of these former Israeli soldiers, who shared anecdotes about their experiences in occupied territories. It was the behavior of certain members of the audience.

There were interruptions, heckling and shouting during the presentation. When it came to asking questions, people did not ask questions as much as make statements, attempting to diminish the validity of these four young people bearing witness. I found this behavior disheartening, and frankly, disgusting. The opposing point of view wanted everyone to know that their IDF experience was different from the experiences of those on the stage. They argued that their experience was the true experience and the stories told by these other soldiers were propaganda. My question was: What makes one IDF experience any more valid than another?

Some of these people were rude in ways that made me think they did not know what it meant to be in community. Being in community means being able to listen to opposing points of view, hearing others who have had different experiences and whose sense of what is right and moral has been shaped by those experiences.

That night, Rabbi Carnie Rose and those former soldiers acted as good citizens, members in good standing of Jewish community and faithful pluralists. They responded to these provocateurs calmly and dispassionately. Yet, sadly, they were met with anger. People walked out, and claimed that the evening had been full of lies.

In the movie “American President,” the president stands before a room full of reporters and declares: “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” This is the lesson I would like all of those hecklers who were in that room with those young people from Breaking the Silence to hear and internalize: Listen. For goodness sake, be polite, and listen.

Peter Barg, St. Louis County

We went to two of the presentations by Breaking the Silence before I had the opportunity to read the Nov. 6 commentary in the Jewish Light by Galit Lev-Harir (“The problem with Breaking the Silence”). The impression we had after sitting through the presentations differed considerably from the claims made by the author of the commentary.

The presenters from Breaking the Silence talked about their experiences while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. One was a native Sabra, and the others came from Zionist and/or religious backgrounds here in the United States and made aliyah to support the State of Israel.

We don’t remember any mention of “war crimes” or support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. The soldiers entertained a wide variety of questions from the audience with no “note cards,” pre-submissions or pre-selection. The presenters relied on their own experiences and avoided making sweeping judgments about the legality or ethics of the occupation. It was clear from their reserved discretion and openness that what they were doing in sharing their first-hand experiences would be seen as out of bounds by those who would prefer the unpleasantness of the occupation be kept in darkness.

Lev-Harir notes that “[t]here is much controversy as to whether or not mainstream Jewish organizations should allow Breaking the Silence to speak in their facilities,” — questioning whether the group should be denied access to the American Jewish community. That censoring their voices is somehow justified here in America should arouse the curiosity if not the ire of any American who still believes in the Bill of Rights. 

This commentary seemed to be designed to discredit rather than to illuminate. Not even the service of these brave soldiers was acknowledged. But such is the nature of our politics both in Israel and in the United States. One of us (Bob Suberi) is reminded of being drafted back in 1968. He served 13 months in Vietnam and remembers reading about the anti-war protests while in country, veterans speaking out against the war, conscientious objectors and thinking, “Wow, what courage it takes to refuse and to speak out against…”

We have nothing but the deepest respect for those speaking their mind at great risk to their own security. We admire their ability to think for themselves and their courage to speak out. We need more of this, not less. And if you don’t want to hear it…well that’s your choice, not ours.

Bob Suberi, 1st generation Yemeni Jew, Volunteer For Israel 2007, Veterans For Peace; Eric Berla; Angela Miller; and Lea Koesterer