Rebels without a cause

I’ve read several items of commentary in the past few weeks that suggest that the “obsessive” focus of Israel advocates on the captivity of Gilad Shalit is a distraction or tangent that deflects us from directing energy and focus on some of the more troubling aspects of Israeli Palestininan relationships. 

Here is an interesting perspective at Ynet.

The Jewish world proceeds with the overlying consensus that Gilad, as a prisoner of Israel, is the current figurehead that represents the abhorrent and inhuman side of Hamas, as a terrorist organisation and enemy of peace.  There is however also a number underlying debates – should Israel fight for the release of Gilad at any cost?  Or are there limits?  Do we negotiate with terrorists, or do we not give in to their demands or grant them the satisfaction of success?  Is Gilad a national cause, or an unlucky soldier who Israel would dearly like to save, but realistically cannot do so?  Do we accept the double standard (i.e. – no access to Shalit by the Red Cross), or do we meet it head on with commensurate measures of retribution? 

To my mind the answer is clear.  Whilst Shalit may be a “cause”, it is a cause of great importance.  I’ve seen Jewish communities in the Diaspora motivated by various issues (free Soviet Jewry, Ethiopean Aliyah, bring down Saddam Hussain, no nuclear Iran etc etc).  Having a form of cause to rally around, especially when it concerns the victimisation of Jews, seems to motivate the masses.  The individual plight of Gilad seems to fulfill this void as the cause of the moment.  In order to be vitalised and rebel, we need something to rebel against.  This issue allows us to personify our rebellion against Hamas as the destroyers of the opportunity for peace.

Although this may be the case, it is also very much an abhorrent abuse of the entire matter to be an activist for the Shalit cause simply because the cause is “out there”.  The reality is that Pidyon Shvuyaim is a mitzvah, with or without the cause celebre that surrounds it.  Although there are probably many thousands of Jews that have joined the chorus and supported the activism for Gilad Shalit who have never even heard of this Mitzvah, or perhaps not associated their activity with the performance of this mitzvah.  Freeing a Jew in captivity is an obligation, individual to individual of a Jew.   On a national scale it is a Jewish value, and this is why the cause is so important.

I support whatever efforts I can for Gilad Shalit, not because they serve to deflect my attention, or channel my anger at the abuse of my people, or reduce my activism to a simplistic plight to which I can well relate, but because it is my duty to stand up against injustice.  That the cause is a “popular” one to support at the moment, does not alter my sense of responsibility.  It would seem that it is an easy cause to support because the bandwagon is already there and all I need to do is jump onto it.  In a way this is self-defeating.  Signing petitions and clicking on facebook groups and participating in social networking as a form of activism may make me feel good, and socially righteous, but does it actually contribute tangibly to effecting change?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is a question nonetheless that we should ask ourselves more often.

The problems facing Israel are far greater than the captivity of Gilad Shalit.  However his situation is a microcosm of all that the conflict represents.  I would far rather that the Jewish people develop an obsessive passion about this injustice than they alternative of not knowing and not caring.  I am happy to be consciously aware of this Jewish brother in captivity and advocate for measures to secure his freedom.  To those who say that this matter is a deflection or an over-reaction, I refer you to the Jewish values and mitzvah associated with what the activitsm actually represents.