A letter to Mr. Ghassan Elashi
by Rabbi Avi Shafran
Am Echad Resources
December 12, 2001
Dear Mr. Ghassan Elashi,
I can't say I'm sorry that the organization you head, the Holy LandFoundation for Relief and Development, is currently "out of business," as you put it to The New York Times. After all, the reason for your change in fortune is that your computers, records and half the $10 million dollars you raised this year have been seized by the United States government after an FBI investigation concluded that The Holy Land Foundation was raising money to support a Middle Eastern terrorist group.
That group, Hamas, seeks to destroy Israel, as you know, and over the past 14 months alone has claimed responsibility for killing more than 100 Israelis. It recently appealed to Arab ministers and diplomats meeting in Qatar to support its continuing suicide attacks against Israelis. I hope you understand that I cannot but be gratified when would-be murderers of my relatives are hampered.
Your own organization, originally known as the "Occupied Land Fund," has long been accused of being a front for Hamas, though in recent years you have carefully avoided terms like "jihad" and "intifada" and stressed humanitarian activities. When the Dallas Morning News published several articles exploring your connections to Hamas, you even sued the paper for defamation.
Now, though, the government has weighed in, with, among other evidence, what it says is a tape of a meeting where you and five Hamas leaders discussed how the Middle East peace process might best be violently subverted. Credit card records, moreover, purportedly show that your group paid for fundraising trips around our country for prominent Hamas activists.
If the accusations turn out to be true, you can assume that I, and most Americans, will find it exceedingly difficult to summon sympathy for you. We don't take well to people whose hands are stained with the blood of innocents, especially these days.
But entirely aside from anything you and your organization may have done, I am personally outraged by something you said, to The Times' reporter. He had questioned you about comments made by one of the Hamas representatives whose trips you had allegedly bankrolled. In 1994, Sheik Muhammad Siyam told the Muslim Arab Youth Association in Los Angeles that "It's simple. Finish off the Israelis! Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!"
To your credit, you disowned the particular sentiments expressed. Somewhat less to your credit, you excused yourself as not being responsible for them. And to your shame, you then tried to defend Mr. Siyam by adding, "I thought we had freedom of speech here."
But what was most ugly of all was what you said next.
"But anyway," you went on, "it's the same thing when American Jewish organizations raise money. They always say, we need to get rid of the Arabs, they're roaches, that kind of thing."
Mr. Elashi, I work for a large Jewish organization. As an Orthodox group, it is likely more "hawkish" than some others on issues pertaining to Israel's security. The sons and daughters and mothers and fathers of many of our members study or live in Israel, and all of our constituents wholeheartedly believe that the Holy Land was entrusted to the Jewish people by God Himself.
And yet, having heard hundreds of speeches and presentations at Agudath Israel meetings, conventions and seminars, I must tell you that I have never heard anything remotely like what you asserted is commonplace in the Jewish community.
The Jewish religious tradition teaches that every human being, whatever his or her color, ethnicity or beliefs, is created in the image of God, and I believe that wholeheartedly, as does every Jew I know.
I bear no animosity toward any person of good will, whether he is my Christian neighbor in New York or a Moslem Arab who wishes to live in peace on the land I believe is the home of the Jewish people. Yes, I am angry at those who have maimed and killed in the name of Islam or the "Palestinian cause." Yes, I pray daily that those who want to harm me or my fellow Jews will be frustrated in their plans. And yes, because of the heartless and brutal actions of people like those you are accused of abetting, I am finding it increasingly hard to assume good will on the part of some.
But I still try mightily to do so. And I believe not that "we need to get rid of the Arabs" but rather that Arabs and Jews in the Middle East and everywhere else should live in peace with one another.
And know well, Mr. Elashi, that if I ever heard a Jewish speaker say "Finish off the Arabs! Kill them all! Exterminate them!" I would respond with unbridled outrage - not with apologetics or defenses of his right to free speech.
By asserting otherwise, by implying that the murderous hatred of Hamas is but a reflection - God forbid! - of some similar blood-lust on the part of Jews, you have revealed yourself as deluded. And made me all the more grateful that you are out of business.
May the God in Whose image we are all created grant that Hamas - along with all its competitors in Jew-hatred - soon meet with similar fortune.
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