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Gaza Flotilla and Israel: Finding Balance Amidst the Mayhem

The Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chasidism) urged his followers toward hishtavut, equanimity or levelheadedness.  He recognized that powerful emotions of others will sway us in directions that lead us away from emet or truth.  As we are assaulted by media messages about the Gaza Flotilla, let us strive for hishtavut (levelheadedness) in our response to the onslaught.

Here’s what is known:  A flotilla of 6 ships moved toward Gaza with the stated purpose either of delivering humanitarian supplies or of breaking Israel’s military blockade of Gaza. After repeatedly rejecting Israel’s request that the ships turn back or land at the Ashdod port for offloading supplies (which would be transferred by Israel to Gaza with the other humanitarian supplies Israel sends in almost daily), and after previous entreaties of the same by the European Union, the ships sailed forth toward Gaza.  We know Israeli troops peaceably boarded 5 ships and turned them back.  We know that on the 6th ship, soldiers were attacked and beaten. We know people died and many soldiers were injured.

  • It is too easy to throw hands up and blame Israel for making this happen. 
  • It is too easy to fall into the trap of accepting the news coverage accounts of a supposedly peaceful non-violent action by the flotilla to help the Gazans.
  • It is too easy to dismiss this as another way Israel embarrasses itself and our people. 

Hishtavut, levelheadedness, demands that we learn more so that we do  not jump to conclusions.  Why?

There is ample evidence:

Five steps to begin to judge for yourself:

  1. Watch this video of how the soldiers were beaten as they boarded the boat.
  2. Examine this history of the flotilla and peaceful attempts to turn it back.
  3. Read this Jewish Journal article addressing concerns on the flotilla but also on the blockade.
  4. Explore the legality of a blockade in times of war.
  5. Consider this Haaretz Israeli newspaper critique, appropriate but balanced.

Finally, remember, both knee-jerk condemnation of Israel and blind rejection of any critique of Israel fail the test of realism. One may critique Israel from a place of love (see the Haaretz article above). Too often, however, Israel has been on the receiving end of condemnation of supposed massacres which later turn out to be overblown propaganda.  So read Israeli newspapers leaning right (Jerusalem Post) and leaning left (Haaretz).  And with patience, come to determine the facts. 

Pay attention as the story unfolds over the coming weeks. Being a friend or lover of Israel is like being a friend or lover of anyone. It is a lifelong complex relationship. If you care enough (and we Jews should), then we will continue to engage in learning and understanding with openness to both supporting and when necessary sharing disappointment. We do both from love as we are guided by a hishtavut, levelheadedness.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I am not an expert on international law and Israel's right to act in boarding the ship. So no comment in condemnation or knee jerk defense. However there really is little or no excuse for falling into the PR trap in such an unprepared way. Why on earth expose young Israeli's to such danger???

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, Rabbi. I do believe the perspective of hishtavut, emet, and waiting to find out more is wise, not just to prevent undue castigation of Israel, but to also prevent full and automatic acceptance of Israel's military response and strategy.

    A couple quick bits of relevant information in two specific areas that might help people understand why Israel is being questioned/not trusted by some:

    1) The Israelis have confiscated all videos and cameras from those on the ship, and anything they release is going to be viewed as supporting their position.

    2) Israel does not allow for all humanitarian aid into Gaza from their crossing. They are selective, and certain foods, medical equipment, and other supplies have not been allowed, so this gives at minimum the impression that Israel is not fulfilling their duties of allowing in sufficient humanitarian aid.

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