A Rotary Club in Brooklyn heard a 10-minute overview of the Hamas war last week. It concluded with a suggestion that the organization’s “Four-Way Test” offers a path to peace in the future.
Rotary is an international volunteer association of 1.2 million business and professional leaders, in 32,000 clubs in more than 200 countries, committed to humanitarian service and to furthering goodwill and peace. Israel is home to 60 Rotary Clubs.
Celia Weintrob, a Riverdale resident who is a board member of the Brooklyn Bridge Rotary Club, recounted the inspiring launch of the Rotary Club of Jerusalem on March 11, 1929. Over the years, she said, “Rotary Clubs in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority have done wonderful service — feeding the hungry, building playgrounds, educating youth. Some of these clubs have also worked, in the spirit of the founding of the Jerusalem club in 1929, to build bridges among different peoples.”
But “just five months after the Jerusalem club was established 94 years ago, Arab clerics and politicians incited riots across British Palestine, based on a fictitious story that Jews were going to desecrate the al-Aqsa Mosque. They called for the merciless slaughter of Jews — and got it,” Weintrob said. Jews were attacked and their property razed in Hebron, Jerusalem and elsewhere in British Palestine.
Bringing the storyline up to date, she referred to the dangerously false and malicious accusation that Israel has been guilty of a campaign of genocide.
“We are all aware of the Holocaust — an actual genocide that killed 6 million Jews while attempting to eliminate all Jews from European soil — and there were many slaughters in British Palestine and neighboring Arab lands as well,” she said. “Humans have acted cruelly many times, but actual genocide is mercifully rare.
“We saw it in Rwanda, in 1994, where as many as 800,000 Tutsi were slain in just 100 days. In Rwanda, as in the Holocaust, the world watched and did nothing.
“But what IS genocide? And in the context of Israel, Palestine and Gaza, who, if anyone, is doing it?
“An Oxford Languages definition says it’s ‘the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group’. That’s what the Hutus did to the Tutsis. And that’s what Hamas and its terrorist allies would do to Jews.
“When they say, ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ they are explicitly calling for the elimination of the sovereign state of Israel and the annihilation of its more than seven million Jews — an objective expressed explicitly in the Hamas founding charter. That is genocide.”
Whatever “inadvertent and sometimes deliberate” bad things Israel has done over the years, “genocide was never on its agenda,” Weintrob said.
To illustrate this, she explained that “when the modern Jewish State of Israel was established in 1949, it was home to 150,000 people whom we would today call Palestinians. Today, in Israel proper, there are 1.6 million Palestinians — plus an additional 3 million in the West Bank, and 2 million in Gaza. That’s a population boom, not a genocide.”
This brought her talk to Oct. 7, when “Hamas, the Iran-backed terror group that’s controlled Gaza since 2007, launched an unprovoked and vicious surprise attack on Israel.”
An estimated 3,000 terrorists infiltrated Israel and murdered 1,200 people, “in villages near the border, at a music festival, and on the roads,” she said. “Thousands more were seriously wounded. More than 250 people, from all over the world, were seized as hostages and transported into Gaza — where they remain today.
“Despite this, there are those who, like Holocaust deniers, choose to deny that atrocities were committed by Hamas.
“And there are many others who make excuses for genocidal war crimes.
“There can be no excuses — no ‘buts’ — for what happened in Hebron in 1929, in the Holocaust in the 1940s, in Rwanda in 1994.
“Whatever dispute the Hamas terrorists might have had with their Israeli neighbors, whatever issue the Hutus had with the Tutsis in Rwanda, they cannot be used to excuse murderous pogroms.”
“Without a doubt, there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza today, affecting untold numbers of civilians,” Weintrob continued. “Even as the Israeli Defense Forces go to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilian casualties, there will be many civilian casualties.
“How can the casualty count be reduced?
“Hamas could let Gazan civilians leave the northern areas that Israel necessarily is most heavily targeting … areas where Hamas has hidden its military infrastructure and other resources among playgrounds, apartment buildings and hospitals. And Hamas could let the hostages go.”
“Because high body counts tend to shift world sympathy, Hamas is rooting for the death of its own people,” she explained. “Responsibility for the fate of Gaza civilians rests mainly with Hamas.”
Looking to the future, Weintrob found a ray of light in the “4-Way Test” that Rotarians apply to “the things we think, say, or do:”
•Is it the TRUTH?
•Is it FAIR to all concerned?
•Will it build GOODWILL and better FRIENDSHIPS?
•Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
“Many of us believe that Palestinians on the West Bank have gotten a raw deal over the years. This is the fault of both the Israeli governments and the Palestinians’ own leadership, in my view,” Weintrob concluded.
“But the West Bank is not Gaza — and in any event, nothing should cloud our view of the TRUTH of what actually happened on Oct. 7. We must tell the truth about what is going on and not equivocate.
“With clubs in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Rotary could lead the way in building “GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS” among everyone in the area, encouraging these very different peoples to reaffirm their common humanity, working together to seek a solution that “will … be BENEFICIAL to all concerned.”
The Brooklyn Bridge Rotary Club meets biweekly at the Marriott Brooklyn Bridge Hotel.