Cheshbon Hanefesh

Whilst it is very hard to trust anything you read in the news these days, and with op-ed commentary from Israel full of interpretation (photoshopping and propaganda to support a world view), it is still very evident that Israel, and all her supporters, need to undertake some serious soul searching.

An appropriate disclaimer to this post is required, to note that indeed we in Perth have no idea what it is like to live in fear of constant attack, to have missiles rain above, to have cars stoned, and to live with constant harassment and incitement from a minority population both within and bordering upon our Cities.  Australia would not tolerate what Israel is forced to tolerate.  It is no wonder that passions are stirred and that people are driven towards extremism. 

However, no matter what the circumstance, such extremism cannot be countenanced in the name of Judaism.  Calls for incitement, revenge, blood and even expulsion of a population defy the ethical tenants of our religion.  Yes, there are plenty of textual and historical examples to justify otherwise, but each has a context, and even a subtext, that places circumstance and survival at its forefront.   Judaism aspires towards peace.  It is our very essence and our ultimate mission.

With the reported arrest of Jewish nationalists charged with the murder of a young Arab child, Abu Khdeir, Israel stands shattered.  The moral fabric of Israel has not been challenged as much as it has over this incident than it has since the murder of Yitzchak Rabin (Z”L).  When Israeli society asks itself questions like “How can this happen?” and “could this really occur in the name of Judaism?”, the harsh reality appears to be that yes, it can and does happen.  Extremists turn their verbal incitement into murder and the Jewish people are shamed.

A Jewish response to tragedy is to reflect introspectively.  We ask what we can do to channel the collective and individual energy of grief into good deeds, improved conduct, acts of chesed and kindness.  A tragedy cannot be reversed, we cannot always turn the other cheek (forgiveness must be a process), but we can respond with conduct befitting of our sorrow.  An ideal Jewish society sprouts no calls for revenge, and no calls to spill blood.  Our liturgy is for a state of Shalom.   It is worth noting at this juncture that, as noted by Yael Shahar, “Hashem yikom damam” (may G-d avenge their blood) refers to Hashem and not to his people, and that cosmic justice is left to G-d.

Israel is continuously evolving as a Jewish State.  Jewish values must define and guide its societal development for all citizens.  Expressions from all those people who advocate for such a vision should therefore support an unequivocal, unambiguous, clear, and strident condemnation of this murder, and not waiver from the Jewish values upon which the nation is built.  If Israel is to survive it needs to bond together to show that this is truly so, for its own sake and for the sake of making sure that the cultural asymmetry of its neighbours will never pervade what is increasingly identifiable as a divisional ethos, a clash of civilisations.

We need to focus not on what makes our enemy hate and incite, but what will move us as a people towards building a nation that is morally impenetrable.  The events of recent days show that we have yet a long way to travel.  Sobering as this may be, it is positive to note that the response from our Jewish leadership supports what the Jewish world would expect to hear in the name of our people.  Here are a few examples of statements published:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I pledge that the perpetrators of this horrific crime, which must be resolutely condemned in the most forceful language, will face the full weight of the law. I know that in our society, the society of Israel, there is no place for such murderers. And that’s the difference between us and our neighbors. They consider murderers to be heroes. They name public squares after them. We don’t. We condemn them and we put them on trial and we’ll put them in prison.”

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch: “This was a shocking and unacceptable act which any sane person, certainly in a strong and democratic country such as the State of Israel, must strongly condemn.”

Embassy of Israel Canberra: “This act of terrorism was perpetrated by people who have no place in Israeli society. This abhorrent deed is not reflective of our values, or our Israeli and Jewish spirit, and it does not blend with any part of our moral fibre.”  

Rabbi Benny Lau:  “As a country we must also ensure that all minorities should live with the same level of confidence that no one will harm them or their dignity.  We are not a persecuted minority people that require revenge. We are a sovereign State and we are responsible for the damage caused, it is our role to instil justice (punishment) and to take responsibility for all our residents, both Jews and non-Jews.  The murder of the boy Muhammad requires us all to undertake soul-searching and fasting and repentance.  We must stop the calls for revenge and restrain voices that call for bloodshed.”

Anton Goodman (former Bnei Akiva Shaliach to Perth):  “The Religious Zionist community in Israel has suffered many knocks to its now-tarnished image, all stemming from allowing extremists to set the agenda of the day, with mainstream silence signaling tacit support. In the much-hyped talk of national unity around the tragic events of the last three weeks, there has been a total misdirection of what the unifying factor should be. With too great an ease, the Jewish People reverts to victimhood, isolation and “chosenness” as unifying factors. In the hands of radicals these factors can easily be twisted into tools of harm.   We should now be focusing on partnering to rid of societies of extremists, and following the awe-inspiring leadership of the Fraenkel family, who, only hours after losing a son in the most brutal of ways, announced “there is no difference between [Arab] blood and [Jewish] blood. A murder is a murder.” It is for these reasons that World Bnei Akiva must dismiss Rabbi Perel, engage in a process of soul-searching and an overhaul of leadership.  If it does, the movement must be applauded as a gatekeeper of Israeli society. If it does not, it must be shunned.”

Ryan Bellerose “ Even on social media, I had someone tell me that there is no moral side in a war.  I do not believe that.  I believe that there can be, and in this case there absolutely is, a moral side.  The moral side is the one who condemns killing of innocent people, that does everything possible to avoid killing civilians.  The side that doesn’t excuse wrongdoing but prosecutes it even when it is its own people. “

Rabbi Alan Haber:  “If indeed Muhammad was murdered by Jewish terrorists, that means there are terrorists among us, and this is a stain on all of us.  We are not like our enemies.  It’s our responsibility to make sure it stays that way. “

Rabbi Landes, Director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem:  “The PTG Price Tag Gang is an imminent sakanat nefashot, a danger to life. They are a fire burning on the Sabbath that will destroy not only property, but the lives of soldiers, police and civilians. Indeed, the PTG seemingly wants to cause tension and havoc, leading possibly to war. In their apocalyptic vision, they are confident that Israel will finally “do what it has always needed to do” and act with outstanding force to destroy not only Hamas but the PA and probably all other Muslims. This is a fiery threat that needs a cold water cannon to extinguish it.  There is no greater Hillul HaShem than a charred corpse of an innocent, murdered by Torah inspiration. The tragedy of the innocent boys murdered by terrorists will haunt us for a long time. But it will not destroy us. Jewish revenge killings will.”

 

The following are just a small selection of comments collected from my facebook feed.  Not a single post on my endless stream of messages has been anything other than complete and unfettered condemnation of the murder:

Andye (from Efrat): “If it turns out that the Arab teenager found dead in Jerusalem this morning was a victim of Israeli terrorists, it is the responsibility of all Israelis – starting with the rabbinic establishment – to make absolutely clear that the criminals responsible have no more morality than the people who murdered Gil-Ad, Naftali and Eyal HY”D in cold blood. They have no place in our society, and all Israelis have a moral responsibility to vomit them out of our country.”

Martin (from Sydney):  “The murder of an innocent Arab boy was an evil, disgusting act of deliberate violence.  It is to be condemned.  The individual perpetrators should be punished for this heinous crime. No excuses.”

Rabbi James Kennard (Melbourne): “The murder of Muhammed Abu Khadeir was a terrible, despicable act. Now that it seems confirmed that it was committed by Jews, it is one that brings shame on us all, and must result in some deep soul-searching in order to understand how the idea that this is an appropriate Jewish act ever took root in the minds of the perpetrators. Those who committed the act must be punished in a way that is appropriate for this heinous crime. Those who let it happen must be brought to account. This cannot be stated clearly, or unequivocally enough.”

Yehuda (from South Africa): I certainly do not know the answers; but so long as so many victim oriented and sanctimonious Jews think that is enough to justify any action and that any dialogue presenting a counterpoint is Jew hating or anti-Semitic the flames will only grow higher in this millennia old fire.  There is no doubt that Israel is at serious risk. Without the protection of walls, fences and the IDF and their guns many more Jews would have lost their lives and I am grateful for all actions taken to prevent this happening to any Jew; child, teenager, adult or soldier.  But if you cannot recognise in the current events a status that needs urgent redress then to be frank you no longer qualify to participate in debate; a process that requires at least some reasonableness.”

Rabbi Alon Meltzer (incoming Rabbi of Canberra): “Just as we cried out for our boys, so too we should cry out for this boy and his family. Even more so we should cry out due to the shame that is brought upon each and everyone of us by the fact that members of out people were involved in his murder. Shame on them and shame on us.”

 

I add my voice from Perth, to express the same sentiment.  Murder is forbidden to humanity from the 10 Commandments.  Anybody who murders, all the moreso in the name of religion, is desecrating the name of G-d.  The murderers cannot speak in the name of Judaism, and they cannot be left unpunished for their crime by the Jewish nation.  This is not about cause and effect.  It is about what we as a Jewish people value more than anything else; the right to life.  That we are even within a circumstance that requires this to be spoken is a blight upon us all.