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.