Rabbi Leo Dee: 'I hold no hatred, most Palestinians are good people'

In first full interview with British press, he criticises Foreign Office but praises James Cleverly


Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Rabbi Leo Dee, at the shiva'a in the Dee's home in Efrat. Mother Lucy Dee and two daughters were killed in a terror attack a few days ago. April 16, 2023. Photo by Gershon Elinson/FLASH90 *** Local Caption *** ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ?????? ???? ????? ?? ???? ?????

Leo Dee, the British-Israeli rabbi whose two daughters and wife were killed by a West Bank terrorist, has said he holds “no hatred” for the murderers, saying his wife Lucy would have been “proud” that one of her organs saved the life of a Palestinian.

Rabbi Leo Dee, 52, also pointed out that “most Palestinians are good people”, with violence promoted by a “small minority”. And in an exclusive interview with the JC, he revealed that his family has received messages of condolence from local Palestinians.

In his first full interview with a British newspaper, the grieving rabbi also lashed out at the Foreign Office, saying its first lukewarm statement about the killings was “typical of their previous policy to blame the victims and placate a general public in the UK that has been educated to be anti-Israel”.

It followed the JC’s recent reports disclosing that Foreign Office staff in Jerusalem had taken part in a fun run “in defiance of the Israeli foreign occupation” and had met a cleric who had compared Jews to “apes and pigs”.

Rabbi Dee reserved praise for Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, however, who condemned terrorism unequivocally. “The Cleverly Declaration, as I would like it to be referred to, is a landmark document in the morality of nations,” Rabbi Dee said.

The Oxford-educated rabbi, who served at the United Synagogue in Radlett before making Aliyah in 2014 told the JC that support from the Jewish community in Israel has been overwhelming.

Meanwhile, sitting shiva in the family’s home in the settlement of Efrat, the rabbi told the JC he “only felt a cycle of love.” The Dee family has been visited by several prominent Israeli politicians including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and Opposition Leader Benny Gantz.

“There has been a huge hug from Am Yisrael. Our community here is bringing food in abundance and every time we sit down to eat there are at least five people on stand-by in the room carrying plates to the table and taking them away when we have finished.

"In fact we’ve been told volunteer cooks have stepped forward for the whole sloshim (the first month of mourning following a funeral), for the whole year, if we want. 

 "If we don’t need the food, the community has said it will find people who do.  It’s a wonderful idea, a sort of food waterfall. I’d like to see it replicated in Israel and the diaspora, and named after my daughters and my wife Lucy, who prepared very healthy food for our family.” 

One of those healthy dishes was chicken soup. At his wife’s funeral, the rabbi revealed that after keeping the recipe a secret throughout their 25-year marriage, the rebbetzin had finally disclosed it to her husband this Pesach. The recipe has since gone viral as has Maia’s for chocolate brownies. 

Since the murders, the family’s tradition of discussing a few lines from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers every Shabbat, has also been taken up in Jewish homes across the world, the rabbi told the JC.

His voice strained with grief, Rabbi Dee said he had been very touched by the people “in the Jewish world and way beyond” showing solidarity by sharing pictures of themselves on social media with an Israeli flag.  

“Particularly poignant are those Arab Israelis and Charedim who’ve told me that before these murders, they had never even held an Israeli flag,” he said. 

The rabbi has also received private messages of condolence from Palestinians living in the West Bank. 

“The Israeli flag, so stigmatised and demonised, is being used as a form of love,” he said. Amid the horror, there were, he said “unexpected benefits. It’s amazing how a tragedy, the brutal murder of three perfect souls, clarifies the difference between good and evil.” 

Asked how he was able to discuss the concepts of good and evil, to collect and arrange his thoughts after suffering unfathomable loss, the rabbi said he supposed he was in “preservation mode. I feel like I’m on adrenaline steroids, the way people are when their whole village is attacked.  

“When one member of your family is killed, you are utterly distraught. When more members are slain, your system goes into overload. It is clear to me that at some point I will crash.”

In the immediate aftermath of the atrocity, Rabbi Dee was inundated with messages of support via email.

“There were hundreds of emails,” he told the JC. “I opened one. It began, ‘Dear Rabbi, we have never met but I’m sure you will deduce from my name that I take a great interest in what happens in Israel as well as to our Jewish brothers and sisters at home in Britain.  

“It was signed, ‘Alex Balfour, Balfour Capital Group, London’.”

The rabbi, who led Radlett United from 2011 until 2014 when the family made aliyah, replied: “Alex, thank you for your kind words. Your ancestor played his part in transforming the world. You should be very proud.

“He was not afraid to do what was right even if it would not be popular. He believed in truth. Where are today’s politicians who are truthful?” 

The next day Rabbi Dee got his answer in the form of a letter from Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, offering unequivocal condemnation of the murder of his wife and daughters at Hamra Junction in the West Bank: “There can be no justification for such senseless and abhorrent violence, and I unequivocally condemn this act of terrorism.”  

His letter followed a statement from the Foreign Office which had declared the British government “saddened to hear about the deaths of British-Israeli citizens” and which called on “all parties to de-escalate tensions.” 

Speaking to the JC, Rabbi Dee today heralded Cleverly “a truthful politician". He added that "The Cleverly Declaration, as I would like it to be referred to, is a landmark document in the morality of nations."

“Terror against innocent victims is condemned outright. No qualification, no stab in the back, no blaming murder on the victim, no room to believe that maybe the terrorist might have been right.” 

And he described the previous statement from the Foreign Office as “sadly more typical of their previous policy to blame the victims and placate a general public in the UK that has been educated to be anti-Israel, by the media and the old school Foreign Office. 

“The old school policy of governments and the media denying the absolute evil of terror has led to terrorists feeling their acts are acceptable and the media follows suit.

“I am comforted that James Cleverly has set the new standard for responding to terror and I am certain that this will be adopted by other governments and all media. His clear message is, from now, that terror is always evil.” 

But he objected to the Foreign Secretary’s use of the term “cycle of violence”.  

It should, he said, be altered to “pulses of violence. In truth, and we are now men of truth, acts of terror from one side cause a response from the forces of justice and then this repeats.

“This is a series of pulses generated from one side, and not a cycle. It’s like calling the stabbing pandemic in London, followed by the arrest of the murderers, a cycle of violence. If the police stopped arresting the perpetrators, would that really stop the cycle?”

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