Rabbis Speaking Out on the Evil in Gaza & One Man’s Sacrifice

Two rabbis have spoken to me recently about the tragedy going on in Gaza—one in person and the other in his newsletter.  

Senator Bernie Sanders echoes the protest votes being cast against President Biden, saying that unfettered US military aid to Israel must stop.

One said, “It is simply evil what President Biden is doing supporting Netanyahu in his genocide in Gaza.”

The second rabbi wrote a powerful and thoughtful piece about the sacrifice offered by Aaron Bushnell, an airman in the U.S. Air Force who lit himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington DC while shouting “Free Palestine” repeatedly before he fell unconscious.

About the sacrifice of Aaron Bushnell, I am reminded of the Buddhist monks, nuns and lay people who chose a similar way to protest the Vietnam War.  A woman named Nhat Chi Mai preceded her act of self-immolation with a 40-day retreat followed by a party with many of her friends.  She left this poem behind.

“Examining the History of Self-Immolation In Protest and Politics.” The Indian Express offers a brief history of self-immolation as an international tool of protest.

I wish to use my body as a torch
to dispel the darkness
to awaken love among brothers
and bring peace to Vietnam.*

Such a powerful sacrifice she and Aaron and many others have made.

Bushnell posted this note on his Facebook page before his final act:

Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’  The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.’

Hundreds of protestors held vigil in Aaron Bushnell’s memory outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. after his death. WUSA9.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow comments honestly and carefully about the sacrifice of Aaron when he says: 

What I learn from Aaron is not to do the act he did but to act in the spirit of his action: I will increase and strengthen my own work to end this bloodshed of utter destruction in which my own nation has become a major part.** 

Is acting in the spirit of Bushnell’s actions acting generously and courageously for peace?  Are we too committing ourselves to increasing and strengthening our own work to put an end to the bloodshed that our nation is involved in?  

To be continued.


*I am grateful to Kristal Parks for sharing this poem with me.

** Rabbi Arthur Waskow, “Self-Immolator Protests Gaza Bloodshed,” The Shalom Center

See Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society.

Banner Image: “Gathering Before Candlelight Vigil to Honor U. S. Airman Aaron Bushnell’s Self Sacrifice for Peace at the Israeli Embassy at 3514 International Drive, NW, Washington DC on Monday evening, 26 February 2024.” Photo by Elvert Barnes Photography on Flickr.


Queries for Contemplation

How are you “acting in the spirit of Aaron Bushnell’s actions”?


Recommended Reading

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics


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4 thoughts on “Rabbis Speaking Out on the Evil in Gaza & One Man’s Sacrifice”

  1. Avatar

    There is also another tragedy in play here. In today’s woke culture it is best to leave any criticism of the Israeli government’s actions to the Israeli Rabbis. Outsiders with just as valid views and opinions are often broad-stroked as anti-Israel at best and anti-semites as worse case, which need not be the case whatsoever. Respect for any nation’s people and their religious beliefs get brought into arguments needlessly in order to cancel their validity and the person bringing them out, when the actions of a ruling political party of the day are being questioned as valid and humane.

    Just look around and it is not hard to find the many people that have spoken out and been cancelled out / diminished / lost jobs while in support of keeping the innocent people of Gaza safe, fed and medically treated without restrictions. It is a very sad world in which we live in. Having ‘our voices’ taken away is one of the greatest injustices. — BB.

    1. Avatar

      I agree, but we still have a responsibility to keep speaking out as best we can and to do so from our faith and from a concern for all who are suffering in this conflict and in all others. It is not a popular stance, and people have been damaged by speaking truth to power, but we still must exercise our voices. I have a Jewish friend who struggled with the situation and finally decided that to oppose the Israeli government in its brutal actions is not to be anti-semitic. But this kind of wisdom is all too rare.

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    For further understanding watch Al Jazeera – The Take on YouTube – An Extreme Act: Why Aaron Bushnell Self-immolated For Gaza.

    I offer no comments, but rather seek to understand… that which is painfully incomprehensible to me in this moment.

  3. Avatar

    My prayers daily are for LOVE~WISDOM~TRUTH~PEACE~JUSTICE~HEALING~TRANSFORMATION~FREEDOM~
    COMPASSIONATE DIVERSE ONENESS… to increase in the hearts/lives/Souls of All our sisters and brothers around the world, especially for the cessation of war and suffering in Sudan, Gaza, and Ukraine…

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