No holds barred: In Seoul, talking about Israel and peace

The world has watched with horror over the last days as innocent men have been beheaded for no reason other than their citizenship.

RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH addresses the crowd at Seoul stadium (photo credit: Courtesy)
RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH addresses the crowd at Seoul stadium
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I delivered the following speech on Wednesday before some 100,000 people in Seoul’s Olympic Stadium. Halfway through the speech, a pro-Palestinian activist disrupted the speech with shouts of “What about Gaza?” I responded that I would not allow anti-Semitism to disrupt a global conference on peace, and continued with my speech.
As an American whose country I am so honored to represent, let me first pay homage to the memory of 33,000 Americans who died to keep the Korean Peninsula free, and to the 30,000 brave American service men and women who help keep the peace and defend South Korea till this day.
We’re gathered today to promote peace, understanding and universal brotherhood.
It could not be more urgent.
The world has watched with horror over the last days as innocent men have been beheaded for no reason other than their citizenship. The world has witnessed with shock how children in the Middle East have been crucified because of their faith.
The world has trembled in pain at the sight of women being murdered by their kin just because they fell in love with an unapproved man. And the world has quaked in disbelief at a tiny Middle East country showered with rockets just because it’s Jewish.
Nor are these breaches of the peace limited to one region.
To the north of where I stand today a regime that has starved millions to death to feed its army continues to rattle its nuclear saber in the hope of winning concessions from the West. And this land in the south has lived under the shadow of that brutal regime for more than six decades. A peninsula divided between the free and the enslaved; those with lives of spiritual and material promise and those condemned to be the wretched of the earth; a democracy which upholds the dignity of the human person versus a regime that tramples on the divine spark that resides in every breast.
Peace seems so elusive in our time that it is as though nature itself has declared war against us, with plagues like Ebola projected to steal the lives of countless African innocents.
And yet amid this shock and awe, we continue to believe in a future of peace. We still believe in the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah of a time when “the wolf will lie with the lamb, the leopard with a baby goat... and a child will lead them.” We still hold hope in the Bible’s promise that “no nation shall lift up sword against another nation... Men will beat their swords into plowshares. No man shall teach his son the art of war.”
Our hearts yearn for peace. Our lips pray for peace. Our children’s future begs us for peace.
Peace is life’s highest ideal, humanity’s most noble achievement.
But by peace we mean, to quote Martin Luther King Jr., not just the absence of conflict but the presence of justice. Not just the absence of war but the presence of harmony. Not just the cessation of killing but the attendance of love.
By peace we mean not an end to hostilities, like here in Korea – an armistice, a cease-fire – but the eradication of evil so that good need never fight it again.
Peace is a rejection of the horrors of the past in favor of the promise of the future.
Peace is where we not only honor the dead but forge a new covenant with the living.
The Bible begins with the story of two brothers. Cain cannot see Abel as bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. Blinded by jealousy, mangled by envy, he sees him as a foreigner, a stranger, an enemy. Abel elicits within Cain not affection but animus; not attachment but abhorrence; not filial feelings of love but a primordial outburst of rage. So, destroying the calm that prevailed in the world, Cain “rose up against Abel and murdered him.”
The divine outrage is swift and brutal.
”And the LORD said unto Cain, ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’ And he said, ‘I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Millennia later, God’s rebuke still haunts us. To the Jew, to the Muslim, to the Christian, to the Hindu, to the atheist we say: We are all our brother’s keeper. We have a responsibility to protect the weak and safeguard the innocent.
A just Creator accepts no justification for slaughter; a loving God brooks no excuses for murder. “What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”
In Rwanda, the voices of one million slaughtered Tutsi calls out for peace. From the death camps of Europe the voices of six million Jews cries out for peace.
The voices of two million slain Cambodians murmur for peace.
The voices of countless innocent, God-fearing Muslims subject to the brutality of Islamic terrorists throughout the Middle East clamors for peace.
And the voices of 200,000 political prisoners in North Korean concentration camps call to us for deliverance and peace.
“And now,” God continues, “art thou cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.”
War is cursed while peace is blessed. War desecrates God’s hallowed earth while peace sanctifies the majesty of creation.
It is not just nations like South Korea, bullied by a neighbor, that agitate for peace. It is not just countries like Israel that have had 60 years of genocidal war declared against them that cry out for the end of war.
By peace we mean not just peace in the world, but peace in the home. Not just outer peace, but inner peace. Not just the brotherhood of nations but the harmony of the human spirit.
Today, let peace reign. In the Middle East, from the desert sands of Saudi Arabia to the warm Mediterranean shores of Israel, let peace reign.
On the Korean peninsula, from the top of Mount Baekdu in North Korea, to Jeju Island in South Korea, let peace reign.
Across Europe, from the halls of the Kremlin in Russia to the golden monuments of Kiev in Ukraine, let peace reign.
And from the genocidal fields of South Sudan, to the blood-soaked villages of the Central African Republic, let peace reign.
We pray today to bury conflict. We beseech today to entomb contention.
We entreat today to halt bloodshed. We beseech the world for peace between all nations, between all the earth’s inhabitants, peace between all of God’s children.
In the words of the Psalmist: “May God grants his people strength. May He bless his people with everlasting peace.”