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Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2002 / 15 Shevat, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Secular rabbis planting mischief

Jews planting olive trees for Arabs fuel Arab intransigence -- THE celebration of the minor Jewish holiday of Tu B'Shevat - the new year for trees that is observed today - is gaining in popularity. Despite its origin as the date when the priestly tithe on fruit trees in biblical Israel was assessed, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat is an important annual reminder of our devoting to protecting the natural world we inhabit. But while Tu B'Shevat is serving as a focus for environmentalism here in the United States, a few Israelis with American backing are using it for quite a different purpose.

Rabbis for Human Rights is a left-wing Israeli group that claims to be checking on what they allege are the excesses of the Israeli military and Jews who live in the territories. The group has, among other things, sought to aid Palestinians, whom they say have been victimized by Israel. Their latest stunt is a Tu B'Shevat project, supported by the Philadelphia-based Shefa Fund, to replant olive trees for Arab farmers that the group claims have been destroyed by Israel.

The group has been able to raise a great deal of money via full page ads in The New York Times and other venues for this cause.

Coming at a time when the Palestinian Authority has been waging a war of attrition against the Jewish state, these efforts grate on the nerves of many Jews, especially since Rabbis for Human Rights relies on cooperation with the terror-minded apparatus of the Palestinian Authority to distribute their largesse.

This latest project is particularly irksome because of its appropriation of Zionist symbols for use against Israel.

Much like the issue of Israel's demolitions of homes used by Arab terrorists for firing platforms against Jewish targets, the protest against the cutting down of trees is something of a diversionary effort. In numerous instances, Palestinian terrorists have used olive groves alongside roads for ambushes that have resulted in many Israeli casualties. During the course of the last year-and-a-half, such shooting attacks on Jews have become so routine that they only make headlines when more than one Israeli is murdered.

While it is sad to contemplate the removal of any tree, the need to prevent the use of such places for murder has sometimes necessitated their destruction. Yet to focus on the felled trees rather than on the Palestinian gunmen or their Jewish victims - as these rabbis who claim to be concerned with human rights do - is at best naive, and at worst, disingenuous.

Though we don't doubt the good intentions of many of those Americans who seek to aid this cause, this campaign is an attempt to shift the public's focus away from Palestinian terrorism, such as the slaughter of six innocent Jews celebrants at a Bat Mitzvah last week by a member of one of P.A. leader Yasser Arafat's own constituent organizations.

Projects such as the olive-tree campaign merely masquerade as outreach intended to enhance Jewish-Arab coexistence. But all they really accomplish is to aid an Arab propaganda machine whose purpose is to delegitimize Israel, Zionism and Jewish ties to the land.

And as much as they claim their projects are strictly humanitarian, Rabbis for Human Rights and similar left-wing groups have a clear political goal: assist the Palestinian Authority in its efforts to remove all Jews from the "settlements" in Judea and Samaria. That's why they are so interested in replanting the olive trees. Israeli military measures aimed at ensuring safe passage of the roads for Jews such as tree removal are antithetical to a point of view that sees the existence of such Jews as "obstacles to peace."

It is these seemingly innocuous projects such as the tree plantings that are a far greater threat to peace than the presence of Jews living in the heart of the Jewish homeland. By helping to stigmatize Jewish self-defense as repression, these mischief-making rabbis are reinforcing the Arab intransigence and rejectionism that is at the core of Arafat's war.

Though the desire to help the seemingly downtrodden is a generous and typically Jewish impulse, its use in this instance is far from laudable. The chief obligation of Jews who care about Israel and the right of its people to live in freedom and security must be to aid their efforts to defend themselves against Arafat's terror, not to assist his regime's public-relations offensive.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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