Jewish Leftists: Where Jewish Ethics Cease And Suicide Begins

Jewish ethics impels us to help the needy and stand up for the oppressed. It is not supposed to set us up for disaster.

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Jewish ethics and morality is something we can be proud of. We are instructed to pay attention to the needs of others. For example, it is a mitzvah (commandment) to leave the unreaped corners of one’s fields for the poor (Lev. 19:9), to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Lev. 19:18), to love the stranger/non-Jew (Deut. 10:19), and more. In fact, while only a minority of the 613 commandments concern how to treat others, in common parlance, the word ‘mitzvah’ is used to mean ‘doing a good deed’.

Our sages dealt at length with issues concerning our interactions with those around us. We are entreated to conduct ourselves with loving-kindness (Pirkei Avot 1:2), and instructed in the importance of truth and peace (Pirkey Avot 1:18).

Evidence of Jewish loving-kindness abounds. Whenever there is a natural or man made disaster and lives are at stake, property in ruins — there you will find Israeli humanitarian organizations, sometimes the first ones with boots on the ground. so to speak. There are non-Israeli Jewish organizations that send teams to these sites and many more provide the financial resources that make such missions possible. Sure, there are also humanitarian organizations from other parts of the world, some UN, some governmental, some Christian and perhaps some with other associations. But it seems almost like a Jewish ethical imperative that where help is needed, Jews are there.

We were there in the American Civil Rights demonstrations. We were there fighting apartheid in South Africa.

And here is where I think the Leftists started to lose their way. We have been used to joining up with the oppressed. We were oppressed ourselves and there was a sense of being in the same boat with other oppressed peoples. After all, remember that in the 50’s in the United States, admission to beaches and other places was forbidden to blacks, Jews and dogs. We were not part of the elite, part of the empowered, regardless of how many of us were educated, successful or wealthy. We were kikes or dirty Jews.

And, while it was a frightening position to be in, it was familiar — almost a genetic inheritance passed down from generation to generation.

And then a miracle happened. We pulled ourselves out of the ashes of Europe and out of the Middle Eastern and North African countries that no longer wanted us there and we regrouped in our ancient indigenous homeland. Here we rose up like a phoenix in the deserts and swamps of our sacred land and grew strong. We were no longer pitied. We were admired.

We repeatedly defeated our enemies on all fronts and then, in 1967, we conquered the land they had been occupying since 1948 (Gaza and Judea & Samaria), and then some (Sinai and the Golan).

Our leaders in ’67 were apparently unable to come to terms with our overwhelming success and they (left-wingers as they were) did not take out-and-out possession of the land, as we were entitled to do as victors in a defensive war. No, we held the land at arm’s length to use as a bargaining chip, in case the Arabs ever wanted to make friends with us. Moshe Dayan even appeased the Jordanians,  who had just tried to kill us off remember, by promising they would maintain control over the Temple Mount, OUR most holy site! We called Judea & Samaria (J&S) the West Bank, as Jordan had when she occupied it.

Our waffling and inability to say: “You tried to kill us. You lost. Suck it up,” only left doors and windows open for what came later – accusations of occupation, apartheid, land-stealing, etc. etc. etc.

And we Jews, with our ingrained humanitarianism and do-gooder-ism, held ourselves accountable for lack of a just resolution to Palestinian Arab victimhood, so much so, in fact, that even when our co-signers to the Oslo Accords breached the terms of the agreement, we were silent and did not let the world know about it.

We are not whiners, you see. We are fighters on the side of those who suffer inequality — the underdog, the mistreated.

Only now, since 1967, we were no longer in the same boat with them.

Jewish Ethic – The Golden Rule

We have been trying so hard to follow Hillel’s Golden Rule: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” That is what inspired us to promote the development of universities in Palestinian Arab population centers, for example, something that neither the Egyptians nor the Jordanians had done when they controlled Gaza and J&S. That is what brought us to return the Sinai to Egypt and even give up Yamit, a model community, in order to make the deal palatable enough for the Egyptians. This ethical stance is what brought us countless times to “peace talk” after “peace talk”, culminating in the Oslo Accords, which was supposed to set the foundations for a “lasting peace”. And that is exactly what lies behind the supplications of the Jewish leftists begging us to shake hands with the Palestinian Arabs and GIVE THEM A STATE already! (Consequences be damned, it seems.)

This ingrained humanitarianism is what motivates Jewish leftists to yearn to commit ever greater acts of appeasement and self-denigration, accepting the misnomers of occupiers and suppressors of freedom anti-Semites apply to the Jewish state. Using our own good qualities as a weapon against us has become a modus operandi among leftists, here and elsewhere, Jewish and otherwise.

If the leftists would just do their homework, however, they would understand that Israel is not an occupier and the government oppressing the Palestinian Arabs is the Palestinian Authority and not Israel. But the emotional barriers preventing that are too great; it would mean accepting that we won, that we are strong, and that, in spite of that, we are still the ones being discriminated against.

Moreover, we are not used to standing up for ourselves, but only for others.

And in this, we show that we certainly have the second part of Hillel’s aphorism down pat; but we have totally neglected the first part:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when? [Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14]

Hillel implores us to find a balance between standing up for ourselves and standing up for others. One does not negate the other.

Moreover, Jewish ethics does not include a pact for suicide-by-good-intentions.

First published on Israel Diaries.

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9 comments

  1. great article

  2. Despite being an interesting read, this perpetuates a common fallacy about ’67 and the occupation. It neglects the tension between democracy and autonomy which would have arisen if the West Bank and Gaza had been annexed and grossly oversimplifies the dialogue within Jewish leadership in the aftermath of the 6 Day War. The concept that “Jewish Leftism” (if you want to call it that) precludes one from being proud and standing for a strong Jewish people is unfounded and a strange conclusion to make. Otherwise I did enjoy the Jewish texts about humanitarianism.

    • I appreciate your comment that challenges me to re-examine what I wrote. I did not get into the tension between democracy and autonomy, nor the complex discussions I am sure our leaders had after the victory in 1967 because I am writing about leftists of today and not of yesteryear (back then I numbered among the leftists, by the way). The point of the matter is that the decision was made to leave Har HaBayit in the hands of the Jordanians and not to annex any of Judea & Samaria or Gaza. And I do believe that that decision has led to the current situation whereby we are regarded as occupiers. Had we annexed the land (or part of it) there would have been other problems and I would have been writing about those in such a case.

      In my experience with contemporary Jewish Leftists in Israel and North America, something that may be different in different parts of the world, I find “appeasement” to be the most apt description of their approach. I am not sure how proud they are to be Jewish or how proud the Israeli leftists are of being Israeli. I don’t believe I raised that issue, in fact, but the sense that by being too willing to accept a false “Palestinian narrative” over historical facts, they are not standing up for Jewish indigenous rights to the land. Whether or not we give up MORE land is not the issue. If we do, then we need to do that, in my opinion, from a position of strength and not out of guilt over a so-called occupation because of our preoccupation with being humanitarians. The fact that UNESCO and other world bodies like to refer to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria as “Occupied Palestine” does not make it true. I believe that appeasement borders on potential suicide and for that reason I do believe that Jewish leftists, Israeli and otherwise, are neglecting the part of our ethic that instructs us to stand up for ourselves and not bend over backwards to please others.

      I hope this addresses the issues you raised in your comment. Thanks again for reading and engaging with me in this way.

  3. An outstanding and inspiring article.

    Thank you.

  4. Wonderful article. Hits the nail right on the head.

  5. Thank you SO MUCH for this UTTERLY BRILLIANT article! It combines a perfect articulation of the historical legitimacy of the modern state with the consequences of the previous appeasement politics to the Islamic Pan-Arabist ideology, which has also Arabicized and spiritually acculturated the whole Levant and the North Africa as well.
    By the way, I loved your reply to the reader under the pseudonym ‘smash’ !!!

  6. errata: the whole Levant and North Africa (or all northern Africa) as well.

  7. As much as I accept, and respect the Jewish approach to Ethics, I have previously said on this site…’to the victor the spoils’….more so after it had been the Barbarian Islamist’s intention to totally extinguish the existence of the State of Israel, and every last Jew within….of whatever political persuasion they may be.

    While I realise I have the convenience of hindsight, 1967 should have been that time in history when Israel asserted it’s unchallengeable possession, and unquestionable sovereignty, to that small splinter of a Jewish homeland….lest they be regarded as the Occupiers, that the Barbarians have determinedly engineered as being ever since.

    While also respecting the Jewish preoccupation with a creed of ‘Purity in/of Arms’, I for one have never thought less of Winston Churchill, or Great Britain’s decision, to incinerate Dresden, or Harry Truman’s directive in respect of the Enola Gay’s pay load.

    The Aggressor/s deservedly reaps whatever the wind hurls his/their way.

    Then, and only then, may the Aggressor finally get the message to lay down the broad sword of death and barbarity! Unfortunately…..with Islamist barbarians being the uncivilised savages they are, I cannot see this happening anytime soon!

    Currently they are having some time out….slaughtering each other in varying parts of the ME. They will be back…in force, at Israel’s doorstep.

    I often times reflect on how many young Israeli lives have been lost since 1967. ‘Ethics’ and ‘Purity in/of Arms’….I personally fear, will add to the demise of many more young Israeli’s, before the Islamist beast is finally slain at Israel’s front door.