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From Rabbi Cooper to the Editor of the New York Times

01/24/2019 11:04:30 AM


Dear Friends,

Below you will find a letter that I wrote to the editor of the New York Times in response to a recent op/ed piece. That article, written by syndicated columnist Michelle Alexander, was entitled “Breaking the Silence on Palestine.” I don’t expect my letter to be published, at least not in this form, but I wanted to share with you the article from the New York Times and my response. You can access the Editorial by Ms. Alexander by clicking on the link below:

As always, your comments are welcomed.


Neil S. Cooper, Rabbi


A Letter to the Editor of the New York Times:
Once Again the New York Times Becomes the Vehicle for Israel Bashing
January 23, 2019 / 17 Shvat 5779

To the Editor:

Suggesting to her readership that she wears the coat of moral authority worn by Rev. Martin Luther King, New York Times syndicated columnist Michelle Alexander has been inspired to “Break the Silence” and reveal to us her opinions regarding Israel’s moral failings as it oppresses and subjugates Palestinians living within the borders of Israel.  Ms. Alexander is now the second NYTimes journalist in the past month (see Michelle Goldberg) to portray Israel in terms both unflattering and untrue.  It is hard to know where to begin a response, but let’s begin with the article’s title, “Breaking the Silence.”  

  1. “Breaking the Silence:” What Silence Does She Perceive?

Apparently, Ms. Alexander is too busy writing to read the paper for which she works where there are no shortage of articles loudly lambasting Israel for defending its border with Gaza against incursions by Palestinians who proudly and unabashedly explain their desire to infiltrate Israel and kill Israelis.  No silence there.  

If one prefers, look at an article—any article—about the UN. In the UN, Israel—a sovereign state recognized by the UN—is routinely maligned, demonized and shunned by the Security Council more than any other country in the world.  Voices against Israel are louder and more passionate than any others.  No silence to break there.    

There is little sympathy for Israel whose citizens live surrounded by those who would kill them.  There is no sympathy for Israelis who are attacked by knife-wielding terrorists whose targets are “any Jew.”  But, when the attacker is killed, Israel is robustly accused of using excessive force.  No silence there either.

In short, whatever silence once existed, that silence was broken as soon as Israel was established.  Ms. Alexander’s courage, which she channels from Rev. King, is hardly novel, persuasive nor particularly courageous.  This is not about breaking the silence.  This is about using the model of Rev. King as an excuse and justification for the hatred of Jews and/or Israel.

  1. Is Israel today’s Vietnam? Ms Alexander’s Analogy

Ms. Alexander’s moral courage, which apparently she needs to malign Israel, comes from her admiration of Rev. King who became a vocal and outspoken critic in 1967 of the Vietnam War.  Here, I am at a loss regarding her use of King’s denunciation of the Vietnam War.  Is the Israel/Palestinian conflict analogous to the Vietnam War?  The US entered that war essentially to stop the spread of Communism from North to South Vietnam.  Where is the analogy with the situation in Israel?  Israel’s position today is not comparable to that of the US in 1967.  The US, which fought on the other side of the world, in a war in which tens of thousands of Americans—disproportionately black—were being killed. Israel today fights on each of its borders and within its own borders.  The attacks against Israel are attempts by radicalized terrorists to move closer to the ultimate goal of killing Jews and destroying the Jewish State.  In the US in 1967, opposition to Vietnam arose from American youth.  In Israel, you’ll not find a minyan-worth of Israelis who believe that Israel is not justified as it protects its citizens from danger and death.  Where is the analogy, Ms. Alexander?

  1. American Jewish Support of Israel:  Search the Center Not the Fringes

To bolster her moral outrage against Israel, she cites some of those who represent the extreme fringes of the Jewish Community. Rabbi Brian Walt, Jewish Voice for Peace and “If Not Now…” are Jewish anchors of the radical left and anti-Israel beliefs. In no way are these groups or individuals representative of anyone in the Jewish Community other than themselves. 

Instead, Ms. Alexander should look at the large center of the American Jewish Community, many of whom (including myself) are upset with different issues and policies of the Government and yet we support Israel as the Jewish Nation-State of the Jewish People.   It is from that constituency, the overwhelming number of Israel supporters in this country that one can characterize American Jewish support of Israel. 

The US/Israel relationship is complex.  Ms. Alexander, however, is able to find clarity on political and moral issues from those who are by their own admission anti-Israel and/or anti-Zionism. They represent opinions very much on the fringe of the Jewish Community.  If pressed, these group find common purpose with the leadership of the Women’s March (which was held last week) and with Louis Farrakkan and his anti-Semitic group, the “Nation of Islam.” Their goal is to ostracize and demonize and dismantle Israel as first steps toward Israel’s destruction.  These views are implied in Ms. Alexander’s column.     

  1. The Desire for Peace

Despite Israel’s flaws, Ms. Alexander has overlooked what is most important: the quest for peace.  Within days of winning the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel offered to return the West Bank and other territory in exchange for peace.  That first offer has been followed on numerous ocassions with offers to return up to 97% of all territories won from Jordan in 1967, including the West Bank. 

The reason that we do not have peace is not because Israel stands in the way.  On the contrary, it is Israel—only Israel—that has made generous offers for peace.  In response to those gestures and concessions, The Palestinian leadership started the first and second intifadas when bombs exploded in pizza restaurants and on crowded busses, killing hundreds including women and children.  Find us a partner with whom Israel can negotiate a peace, restore dignity and security to all who live in the land, within defensible borders and allow that society to grow and be strengthened in peace.

Ms. Alexander, as you celebrated MLK Day, you exploited his legacy and contorted his words to fit your anti-Israel positions. With a pulpit larger than those at which Rev. King spoke, you have polarized your readership, given support to radicals and extremists on both sides and squandered your chance to support the real forces for peace.  The vast majority of the Jewish Community will read your words with dismay and disappointment. If I had to guess how MLK, with his emphasis on making peace and finding common ground, would respond to your words, I believe that he would have been disappointed and saddened as well.


Rabbi Neil S. Cooper
Wynnewood, PA



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