MY LETTER TO REP. JAYAPAL

July 19th, 2023

Dear Representative Jayapal,

Earlier this week, I came across the remarks you had made at a pro-Palestinian rally, where you referred to Israel as a racist state. I was both shocked and saddened by your negative perspective, which I believe to be an undeserved slur that is simply untrue. Which is why your subsequent retraction, in which you asserted unequivocally that you “do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist” – although it was qualified with certain stipulations – was a source of relief.

It was particularly encouraging to see you acknowledge the indiscretion of your initial statement, especially in the fiercely contentious political atmosphere we find ourselves in today, where retracting one’s words as a politician is no easy task.

My fervent hope is that this reversal on your part wasn’t merely a matter of political expedience, but a reflection of your sincere desire to reassess your understanding of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, and, more broadly, of Israel’s legitimacy as a member of the global family of nations. To this end, I would like to share some insights and facts with you, with the hope that this incident isn’t relegated to a minor mishap in your political journey, but instead becomes a catalyst for a significant voyage of discovery.

The renowned French novelist, Marcel Proust, famed for his profound explorations of memory, time, and the intricacies of human emotions, wrote that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Indeed, it requires courage to discard bias and preconceptions, and see things anew.

As a Rabbi, I have encountered many individuals who tirelessly work towards alleviating the sufferings of others, despite their personal lives being filled with difficulties. If Israel is culpable of anything, it is exactly this. It is a nation filled with well-intentioned individuals striving for a better, safer world, even as it grapples with internal societal divisions and seemingly insurmountable problems.

This scenario might well remind you of another place—the United States. Despite still being riddled with deep-rooted issues after 247 years, we haven’t discredited the United States. Meanwhile, Israel is just 75 years old, and still has a long way to go.

What is so remarkable about Israel is that despite its youth and diminutive size, it is a world class innovator that brings hope and optimism to so many, and on so many fronts. For example, in the face of the escalating nuclear tensions that have recently been triggered by Russia’s deployment of short-range nuclear missiles in proximity to its European neighbors, an Israeli biotech firm, Pluri, has emerged as a beacon of hope.

This innovative company is spearheading the development of a potential game-changing treatment for nuclear radiation poisoning—a hazard that could cause untold havoc and misery in the aftermath of a nuclear accident or attack.

Just last week, in a bid to bolster its own preparedness against potential nuclear threats, the U.S. government approved a funding grant for Pluri, marking a significant milestone in the quest for an affordable and scalable treatment for Hematopoietic Acute Radiation Syndrome (H-ARS), which will become a crucial and affordable medical countermeasure notably absent in today’s market.

And what makes Pluri even more impressive is that its employees include Jews and Arabs from across the spectrum.

Meanwhile, just last month, an experimental treatment developed at Israel’s Hadassah-University Medical Center announced a 90% success rate at bringing patients with multiple myeloma into remission with a new experimental treatment. Until this announcement, multiple myeloma was considered virtually incurable; this year alone, in the U.S., 12,590 people are expected to die of this cancer.

In the same week as the news of this breakthrough emerged, Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Sheba Medical Center announced another discovery that they are confident will contribute to the development of a vaccine against the deadly skin cancer, melanoma. Just to put this in perspective: in 2020, 325,000 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed around the world, and 57,000 people died from the disease.

Rep. Jayapal – I could go on and on. The good news from Israel is literally a constant stream, all of it astounding and heartwarming in equal measure, and a testament to the desire of Israel – and I mean its citizenry as a whole – to make a positive impact on the world.

And yes, there is much that they could do to clear up their own house, and as a lover of Israel and as a believer in the miracle of its existence, it can sometimes be painful to watch the paroxysms that grip the country, and the pain that so many of its inhabitants must endure, on all sides, as the intractable issues continue to defy solution.

But I am an optimist, always an optimist. And I encourage you, too, to be an optimist. Rather than write off an entire country because it is dogged by historical issues that have yet to be resolved, let us embrace a country that has good intentions, and genuinely wishes to be a force for good both within its borders and beyond its borders for the benefit of humanity as a whole.

The prophet Isaiah, whose inspirational prophecies remain the foundation of faith for so many, shared God’s vision of the beacon of light that Israel would yet become, even as he freely pointed out its many failings: “I will also give you for a light unto the nations, that my salvation may be unto the end of the earth… And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Is. 49:6, 60:3).

My dear Rep. Jayapal: that is the Israel I know and love – a light unto the nations that draws nations to its light. It is not a new landscape, but there to see – as long as you have new eyes.

With respect and esteem,

Rabbi Pini Dunner

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