No Holds Barred: Chabad must vocally stand with Israel

Some European consumers, Europe’s top judges ruled, might be too ethically refined to buy products made by Jews.

Chabad annual meeting of emissaries  in New York  (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Chabad annual meeting of emissaries in New York
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Last Sunday I attended the annual gathering of Chabad’s far-flung, global corps of emissaries, the Kinus Hashluchim.
Over the last three decades, I’ve witnessed its growth from a few dozen shluchim in the late ‘80s – when I served as the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s emissary to Oxford – to the approximately 6,000 who attended this year. Together, these emissaries, activists and philanthropists are realizing the Rebbe’s dream to reach and inspire every Jew on Earth — easily the most ambitious Jewish educational project in history. To see everyone dancing in their thousands is moving beyond words.
In the past I’ve called the kinus “the greatest show on Earth,” an evening to celebrate the miracles of Chabad and the passionate inspiration of the Rebbe’s message. But there is one theme that could make it better. It’s one which was noticeably absent most years: the State of Israel.
To be sure, this year’s kinus featured a moving and unprecedented address by the American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who received rapturous applause when he spoke of President Donald Trump’s moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a decision where David’s influence was key. But with the exception of the ambassador’s stirring words about the eternal Jewish homeland, there was no follow-up from any of the speakers about what Chabad must do to fight for, and protect the Jewish state, assailed as it is from all sides.
No mention was made of the need for Chabad’s global campus network to fight BDS, the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. No mention was made of Chabad’s amazing European emissaries inspiring local communities to speak up in favor of Israel in a continent where the Jewish state is under ferocious attack. In fact, the shaliach (emissary) chosen to follow Ambassador Friedman’s speech was a rabbi from London who did not even mention that in three weeks Britain would be going to elections where Jeremy Corbyn – an avowed Israel hater and antisemite – is one of two candidates to be prime minister.
The shaliach, in a drab and platitudinous address, could not even muster the courage to condemn Corbyn’s antisemitism. It fell to British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, writing courageously two days later in The Times, to decry the Labor Party’s anti-Israel platform and Jew-hatred, a message that received plaudits from the entire Jewish world.
Now, I understand that Chabad does not sing “Hatikvah” or wave Israeli flags. That’s not what I’m referring to. These central symbols of Zionist connection are vital. Yet they don’t necessarily figure in the rubric of what actually makes one “pro-Israel,” a fact made clear by J Street’s willingness to do both while constantly defaming the Jewish state.
On the contrary, regardless of its theological disputes with classical Zionism, Chabad is pro-Israel where it counts most. Chabad embraces Jewish sovereignty over Israel – especially its most disputed areas – and supports the brave soldiers of the IDF. An increasing number of Chabad youths now serve in the IDF, my own son and daughter included. Within the Jewish community and among the higher echelons of American politics, it is these positions that determine one’s stance on Israel – and not just Zionist tokenism like eating a falafel on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day.
Indeed, the Rebbe spoke in the highest terms of Israel’s heroic soldiers, and was an inflexible supporter of Jewish sovereignty over every single inch of Israel – especially Judea and Samaria, which much of the world would see torn out of the Jewish state. Moreover, when discussing the integrity of the Jewish claim to all of Israel, the Rebbe didn’t just speak, he thundered. His body language would surge and his voice would rise. Often, he’d directly challenge Israeli leaders he felt were compromising Jewish security in so called “peace talks.”
THE REBBE openly called for Israel to “implement facts on the ground” in disputed territories in the form of settlements. (On a few occasions, the Rebbe called on “a million settlers” to go inhabit these lands). He heatedly opposed any land concessions, which he accurately predicted would only create an insatiable appetite for Jewish land, a rise in terrorism, and a plunge in Israel’s global standing.
Israel, the Rebbe predicted, would be called “occupiers.” Considering the results of Oslo and the Gaza withdrawal, it’s clear the Rebbe’s predictions here were perfectly prescient. Israel’s rightward political shift over the past decade depicts just how much the Rebbe’s message has caught on. And yet, at the Rebbe’s keynote event of the year, Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel barely makes the cut.
I take no issue with Chabad’s position on Israel. On the contrary, the Rebbe’s ardent and unquestioning support for Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria is exactly the stance global Jewry needs. Chabad has simply not been loud enough in expressing the Rebbe’s views.
On the topic of Israel and settlements, after all, the Rebbe was never silent. At what point then did Chabad go mum?
Chabad’s silence on the question of Jewish sovereignty is especially confusing considering the timing: If there was ever a time to address Jewish ownership over the land of Israel, in general, and over Judea and Samaria in particular, the time is now.
Just two weeks ago, the European Court of Justice, the highest judicial body in the European Union, passed an undeniably antisemitic law requiring the labeling of all Jewish-made products emanating from Judea, Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The decision reaffirmed that the EU “does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967... and does not consider them to be part of Israel’s territory,” adding, “the fact that a foodstuff comes from a settlement established in breach of the rules of international humanitarian law may be the subject of ethical assessments capable of influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions.”
Some European consumers, Europe’s top judges ruled, might be too ethically refined to buy products made by Jews.
The ruling echoed another passed in Canada in August, which ruled that wines made in Judea and Samaria in the West Bank could not be labeled “products of Israel.” In the words of the judge, claiming Israeli origin for products made over the Green Line would be “false, misleading, and deceptive.” She insisted, moreover, that labels were not only there to safeguard the safety of the consumer, but also to ensure they are able to “buy conscientiously.”
For the first time since the ‘30s, Jews face a discriminatory international labeling scheme predicated on the fact that the Jews have no right to the Land of Israel. How could Chabad have so little to say?
Even as these attacks on Jewish sovereignty occur, there is also much progress being made. In Europe, the Netherlands and Hungary announced they would not go along with the shameful decision of the European Court of Justice, and for that their governments deserve credit.
In the United States, too, there is a growing bipartisan consensus that Jews have a right to live anywhere in biblical Israel. Courageous Democrats like Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz condemned the European court’s Decision.
Most importantly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced last week that Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria would no longer be seen as contravening international law. This landmark moment followed the Trump administration’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights this past March, which followed the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem the previous May. These moves and others like them have given the Jewish people the greatest support they’ve ever had to enact their God-given sovereignty over the Land of Israel.
This year, clearly, has been a big year for Israel; the upcoming one may be even bigger. As we cross between the two and encounter unprecedented opportunities for Jewish sovereignty over Israel, Chabad must find its voice and make the Rebbe’s dreams for Israel a reality.
The writer is the author of the forthcoming book Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell, and the founder of the World Values Network, which promotes genocide memory in mainstream media.