Tal Becker, Who Defended Israel at The Hague, to Speak at Beth Am Shabbat

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Beth Am will host a special guest at the Shabbat service on Friday, May 31. Tal Becker, the former legal adviser at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs who recently defended Israel at the International Court of Justice, will be speaking about his work as a diplomat, the current state of Israel and the Torah portion being read that Shabbat.

Tal Becker (Courtesy of Beth Am)

Born in Paris and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Becker has served in many leadership positions relating to Israel throughout his career. Currently a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, he has also had a fellowship at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and served as counsel to Israel’s U.N. mission in New York. Aside from his recent appearance at The Hague, Becker might be most well known for his role in drafting and negotiating the creation of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. He was also awarded the 2007 Guggenheim Prize for his book “Terrorism and the State,” which was adapted from his Ph.D. dissertation.

But plans for Becker to speak at Beth Am actually predated the events of Oct. 7. Initially, Beth Am’s Rabbi Daniel Burg wanted to have him speak about the judicial reform protest movement in Israel.

“I’m a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, and I had the opportunity over the years to learn from Dr. Becker in Jerusalem,” Burg said. “He’s a wonderful teacher and international law expert, and an astute observer of Israeli society.”

Previously, Beth Am has hosted speakers including renowned scholar Elie Wiesel, author Rabbi Elliot Dorff and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore.

The speaking engagement was planned during summer 2023. The events of Oct. 7 and the ongoing war in Gaza made Becker an even more recognizable name, as he read opening remarks in Israel’s defense when the country was being tried in The Hague under the Genocide Convention. Becker maintains that while the over 30,000 deaths in Gaza caused by the Israel Defense Force’s offensive in the area are tragic, they are not evidence of genocide.

The talk he will be giving is specifically focused on “Israel on Trial: A Deeper Look at the Case Against Israel.”

“He brings a deep and informed perspective about Israeli society right now, so I’m very excited to have him with us,” Burg said. “His Friday night talk will be based on his experience at The Hague, but he’ll also be in conversation with me on Saturday to talk broadly about Israel and the Jewish people after Oct. 7, peace with Palestinians and whether that’s possible and how the Abraham Accords might inform a two-state solution.”

Burg also added that in addition to his wealth of policy experience, Becker is a scholar of the Torah and well versed in Jewish tradition and thought.

Due to his sensitive work with government- and policy-related matters, Becker rarely gives interviews. While the Klei Kodesh & Tal Becker Talk event will be livestreamed for any congregants who are unable to attend in person or would prefer to watch at home, recording will not be permitted and his comments during the talk are intended to be off the record.

Becker has recently taken a step back from government work, but as someone who has worked with the Israeli government for a long time and who spoke at the country’s ICJ hearing, he brings a closer understanding of how other countries in the U.N. are receiving Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

“If there is a threat to that vision — if there is a humanitarian threat to the Palestinian civilians of Gaza — it stems primarily from the fact that they have lived under the control of a genocidal terrorist organization that has total disregard for their life and well-being. That organization, Hamas, and its sponsors, seek to deny Israel, Palestinians and Arab states across the region the ability to advance a common future of peace, coexistence, security and prosperity,” Becker said in his remarks to the ICJ. “Israel is in a war of defense against Hamas — not against the Palestinian people — to ensure that they do not succeed. In these circumstances, there can hardly be a charge more false or more malevolent than the allegation against Israel of genocide.”

For security reasons, Burg recommends that anyone interested in the talk should register in advance on Beth Am’s website. Klei Kodesh services will be held at 6 p.m., with Shabbat dinner and the talk set for 7 p.m.

“[Becker] is nuanced, sophisticated and worldly,” Burg said. “He has deep empathy and a really rich understanding of our tradition. I think anyone willing to listen to a perspective different from their own and to ask provocative questions can present a tremendous opportunity during a time when people seem to only be listening to themselves.”

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