Ask the Rabbi: The Arab-Israeli conflict

April 19, 2015 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple answers questions on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. The Torah, with the story of Isaac and Ishmael, shows the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Do you think it will ever really end?

A. Isaac is the ancestor of the Jews and Ishmael of the Arabs. Islamic tradition exalts Abraham as an exemplar of faith and trust, though it regards Ishmael as the one who propagated the teaching of Abraham and as the son who was almost sacrificed.

The two ways, the Jewish and the Islamic, have had their periods of bitter tension, but also their times of cultural cross-fertilisation.

Jewish tradition regards Jews and Arabs as “dodanim”, cousins, who will eventually become reconciled, just as, according to the Midrash, Isaac and Ishmael became reconciled at the graveside of their father.

An Israeli poet, Shin Shalom, puts these words into Isaac’s mouth, “Ishmael, my brother, how long shall we fight each other? Time is running out, put hatred to sleep; shoulder to shoulder let us water our sheep.”

Jewish sheep and Arab sheep both need to be tended. Jewish children and Arab children both need to laugh, play and grow. Jews and Arabs are both there in the Middle East to stay. They do not have to kiss each other, but they have more to gain from living at peace than from letting hatred smolder.


There was a time when Europe was civilised and America high-minded. Then both went morally down-market to the extent that people with good memories asked, “Whatever happened to the Europe and America I remember?”

I have an answer but I fear to articulate it. Instead I make the bold if biased claim that Israel is now the moral leader of mankind. I know the United Nations and many other places have no time for Israel and whatever it does is by definition wrong, but I still think I am right.

What warrants my claim that Israel is, as the prophets knew it would be, “a light unto the nations”?

The fact that Israel is the headquarters of heroism. I’m not thinking of the start-up talents which make science and technology the characteristic exports of Israeli brain-power, but the fact that – in Rav Soloveitchik’s terms – Israel is the place where a whole nation shows “g’vurah”, moral courage and ethical strength, as opposed to the brawn-power of mere “ko’ach”.

Israel has its “ko’ach” heroes: thank God they keep us strong and safe. But its “g’vurah” heroism is discussed by Rav Steinsaltz in one of his essays. In his view heroism is the art of keeping going come what may. The hero’s trees are uprooted yet he replants them. He looks to tomorrow even when today is under threat. He does not retreat into a shell when things turn dark but he keeps doing the things he must.

Israel is the heroism of hope.

Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. 


9 Responses to “Ask the Rabbi: The Arab-Israeli conflict”
  1. Leah Bernstein says:

    First of all, Mohammed stole many stories from Judaism and Christianity in an attempt to make his “religion” genuine. It has nothing to do with any Abrahamic religion in any way, shape or form. Secondly, in an attempt to give Mohammed followers, he forcibly converted many different non-Arab people or made them into slaves and bred from them. These people are not related to us through Ishmael.

    Despite the attempts of Jews and Christians to look to the teachings from our holy books, Islam shows nothing but contempt of us and the “religion” is designed for genocide ie all non-Muslims. I don’t look for peace, I look for an armed truce where we have to stay ahead of the Muslims. Jews have had to be warriors to survive, now we call them the IDF, nothing has changed.

    This rabbi quotes from the Torah but Muslims quote from the Quran which contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with non-believers for the sake of Islamic rule. Please go to

    And, as to their relationship with Jews, Mohammed and his followers went to Medina where they were saved and settled with 3 Jewish tribes. 2 he chased off, the Banu Qaynuqa and the Banu Nadir and took their lands and goods, the third Banu Qurayza, he massacred/beheaded the men and pubescent boys and one woman, the rest of the women and children were enslaved, raped and sold

    The Quran also has many texts stating their hatred of both Jews and Christians

    A good Muslim follows these teachings so there never can be peace between Jews and the Muslims because it is not allowed. It doesn’t matter what Jews say about it, it is Islam that says no.

    Perhaps Rabbi Apple should read and understand the absolute hatred that Islam has against us all ie non-Muslims, even if individuals may not. After all, one only has to look at the Hamas Charter to know, the Covenant is a comprehensive manifesto comprised of 36 separate articles, all of which promote the basic HAMAS goal of destroying the State of Israel through Jihad (Islamic Holy War). The murders in France which were supported by 75% of Muslims polled and the ethnic cleansing of some 1 million refugees back in the 1950s. And this is now In fact, there are many statements in the Torah requiring Jews to protect themselves with a heavy heart.

    • Gil Solomon says:

      In previous comments to NZ based wishful thinking and naïve Jews who keep participating in inter faith gatherings I said:

      ‘Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey made a clear and precise comment which liberal Jews will simply not take seriously. Commenting on the term “moderate Islam” he said: “These descriptions are very ugly, it is an offence and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.” If that doesn’t set off alarm bells and jolt people into reality then I don’t know what will. Those who think they can, in a conference room sharing tea and a falafel, change this reality are deluded.’

      When the hell are Jews, whether they are in Australia, NZ or wherever ever going to wake up?
      Our collective stupidity is sickening.

  2. Raymond Phillips says:

    The teachings of the Bible are one thing. But the reality today is Isaac and Ishmael will never reconcile. As Islam is / has been far too radicalised. World history is littered with disagreements between nations and between religions and we are supposed to be the educated animal on earth. I wonder…

    • ben Eleijah says:

      Precisely! Religious texts are one thing, facts on the ground something else. Expanding settlements and roads have made a Palestinian state impossible. The only way now is on state.

  3. Gil Solomon says:

    First there was Judaism, followed by Christianity and then followed by Islam.

    The good Rabbi casually glosses over the fact that by Islam propagating the notion that Ishmael is the one who was almost sacrificed and not Isaac, represents the first of many centuries of attempts to re-write history, attempts that continue to this present day with the false “Palestinian” narrative.

    Based on the “warm and fuzzy” feelings he attempts to bring to readers, devoid of the reality on the ground, I for one will not be asking him any questions related to politics let alone the Arab-Israeli conflict.

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I for one want to see “Ko’ach” and nothing but “Ko’ach” for once coming out of Israel.

  4. Paul Winter says:

    The comment about Ishmael is as true today as it was in Biblical times.

    Genesis 16:12

    And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

  5. Joseph Shellim says:

    If one can respectfully disagree with the honored Rabbi Apple, the Pre-Islam Arab peoples are not connected with Ishmael. This can be derived from re-assessing both the archives of the Hebrew Bible and the historical archives.

    Ishmael is a Hebrew name, the first century High Priest was called by this name, and both Hagar and her son were Egyptian; they settled in Egypt, and raised 12 Princes in a great nation called as Egypt, as mentioned in Genesis. Ancient Egypt was not Arab; the later never existed at this time [‘Book of Nehemiah].

    The Ishmael premise is as big a hoax as Muslim Palestinians. Thank you.

  6. Leon Poddebsky says:

    An inspirational essay.
    It should be taught in every Jewish school.

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