Friday, January 09, 2009

Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city?

With Shabbos looming I haven’t time to respond to Lurker’s propaganda tour of current events with quite the ferocity it deserves, so a few short points must suffice.

I have no difficulty being cruel to the cruel, and I wish for Israel to treat the cruel with all the cruelty international and Israeli law permits. What I am not willing to support is cruelty toward the innocent, the non-combatants, the mothers, the children, and the ordinary people who through the accident of their births find themselves in the line of fire. This cuts both ways of course. The rockets attacks on Sderot are unforgivable acts of brutality and I support – within the limits of the law – a brutal, pitiless response, but not one so vicious that the righteous are slain with the wicked.

Another thought experiment: Over the last several years Jews have been party to various financial schemes and frauds, the most spectacular of them being Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion swindle. Suppose the authorities were to hold every Jew in New York responsible for these crimes. Suppose as a consequence of Madoff’s con, Jews were forever banned from working at banks, or brokerage houses, or indeed any financial institution. Suppose non-Jews, eager to discredit us and to take our jobs and our trade, were to use various citations from our holy books, and quotes from various rabbis to “prove” that Jewish culture is built on deceit and dishonesty. Suppose we were cast as the Ferengi of the modern world and represented in the media and the news as unscrupulous, money hungry traders who must not be trusted in any transaction. Suppose friendly non-Jews were shouted down by others, and told that their fact-based attempts to defend the reputation of the Jewish people were simply displays of self-hatred, or of ignorance of our “mentality.” Would this strike any of you as fair, or reasonable, or just?

I submit that Bray’s and Lurker’s attitude toward Palestinians in general, and the 1.5 million residents of Gaza in particular, is substantively the same. Like the imaginary American's in my thought experiment they wish to hold responsible an entire culture for the crimes of a few individuals.

I mourn and lament Jewish deaths and injuries as sincerely as Lurker and Bray, but we part company over what to do next. To Lurker, any response is justified. To Lurker, concern for the perhaps 1.4 million residents of Gaza who’ve done nothing wrong – who might be won as allies against Hamas-- is traitorous, effete, and misplaced compassion. I cannot accept that. I will not hate, punish or fight guiltless people, and a Gazan who has not participated in or directly funded an act of violence against Jews or Israelis is not my enemy. I may disagree with his ideas, and may even find them monstrously wrong, but until he acts upon them he isn’t my enemy.

(Interpolation: Here is where many of you will ask about the Nazis. Well, what about them? No mercy for Nazis, would have been my policy, but I don't think I'd be quite so ferocious toward ordinary German women and children. I wouldn't wish to break bread with them -nor do I want to sit over tea with Arabs who espouse hateful ideas - but there's a difference between bad ideas and bad behavior. We don't kill people for thinking bad thoughts)

Lurker and Bray have also asked us to consider the suffering in Sderot, and I have. I’ve said Tehillim every day. I’ve attended several atzerot tfillah. My review, yesterday, of the MFA’s lists of terror attacks over the last 10 years filled me with horror. But unlike Lurker and Bray I’m incapable of stopping there. After contemplating the misery of living under the constant threat of rocket fire in southern Israel, I wonder what it must be like to live under a similar threat in Gaza. And when I remember that Israel’s military is stronger and their aim is more accurate - when I see that the IDF has, in one week, killed more women in children in Gaza then Hamas has managed to murder in five years - I feel compassion. Honest, legitimate, kosher, Jewish compassion. And I make no apologies for it. This isn’t compassion for the cruel, as Lurker may have misled you into thinking. It is compassion for the unlucky bystanders.
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