I recently met Justice Richard Goldstone and stared deep into his eyes, hoping he could see in mine a mix of love and anger and that I could discern in his, the motivation for his recent actions.
The famous jurist was on the campus of Yale University where I am the rabbinical advisor to Eliezer, the Jewish society, and where he was invited by the McMillan Center to deliver the prestigious George Herbert Walker, Jr. lecture.
I had been wondering how he, a Jew, a world famous jurist and self proclaimed Zionist, could author a report that is so biased against Israel that the Washington Post called it "a mockery of impartiality" and the esteemed Economist; "a thimbleful of poison."
I brought an admittedly provocative sign to his talk which compared the Goldstone Report to two other historic slanders against the Jewish people; The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the accusations made against an innocent Jewish officer in France's "Dreyfus Affair." Most of the students in attendance, even those who are campus leaders of Jewish organizations, refused to hold this banner with me. It was only a non Yalie friend Evan Schmidt, an American born Jew who volunteered for service in the IDF agreed. One student explained to me that he thought my sign, whose unfurling has since been captured in a YouTube video which has received thousands of views worldwide in its first days online, was too confrontational.
Ironically, our people have an honorable tradition of public and vocal opposition, having marched against Nazism, against segregation, against Apartheid, and against the treatment of Soviet Jews, and yet the same Jews proud of their involvement in those causes are often timid when defending the State of Israel.
Both Goldstone and the Yale students who came with me to protest his speech ironically suffer from the same malady of fearful appeasement . Goldstone believes the world would love us more if only we are "fair," to the point of not standing up for ourselves; that we should adhere to a mythical global standard that meanwhile holds us as a people to unrealistic expectations, foremost the expectation that we will not fight back when attacked. The students meanwhile seemed to believe that publicly denouncing Goldstone would make people less willing to listen to rational defenses against assaults on our national character.
History teaches us, however, that our best leaders are brave and even confrontational, and certainly self-preserving. In fact, we are a people named for Israel, "one who wrestles with G-d," and from Abraham and Moses who challenged their creator to Nachshon who walked up to his neck into the Red Sea even before its parting, we honor the courageous. We correctly draw inspiration from David who slew Goliath, Queen Esther who confronted King Achashveirosh and, in modern times, Partisan Hannah Senesh and Yoni Netanyahu; the leader and tragic casualty of the rescue at Entebbe.
Sometimes when the world, and even one of our own, turns on us we must in fact chose the boldest, loudest and most visible action. In fact, Goldstone's stammer and the look on his face when I unfurled the banner at his talk reassures me that this is true, as does the reaction of the same students who did not want to hold my sign and yet thanked me afterwards for being brave and demonstrating courage.
My exchange with the jurist after the event also tells me that indeed action sometimes speaks louder than words. I asked Mr. Goldstone what he will do when his report is proven biased, and amazingly the Judge said he said he would "rejoice." Perhaps beyond a display of ahavas yisrael, loving his people, Goldstone does realize that while pro-Israel Jews might disagree with him vehemently, it is the Hamas charter which plans the annihilation of not just the children of Sderot, but Goldstone himself.
Perhaps also the students and Mr. Goldstone were both for a moment woken up to the reality that we Jews live in a world where we often have to defend ourselves and cannot rely on the worlds' sense of fair play. Alas, it is strength, not weakness that ensures peace, at least for us.
Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
Shmully Hecht is the Rabbinical Advisor to Eliezer , the Jewish Society at Yale