Sunday, March 13, 2011

Condemnation II

There is a well-known midrash that Pharoah, at the time of the enslavement of Israel, would bathe in the blood of Israelite children to cure himself of leprosy. The image is foul and disgusting, but it does teach us that people do foul and disgusting things to further their selfish aims. A leper is an outcast from society -- but can outcasts purify themselves by such foul methods?

I am reminded of that midrash when I read that the government of Israel has decided to improve its standing in the world by distributing gruesome photos of the Itamar murders to win some hasbara points. What do these murders, as condemnable as they are, say about the fundamental situation on the ground that we didn’t know already?

At the height of the Second Intifada, I was sent emails containing gruesome pictures of Arab children who were butchered by Israeli bombs, and others containing gruesome pictures of Israeli Jewish children who were blown up by Arab suicide bombers. I made a collection of both pictures, and sent them to both groups of people – with the request to stop using these horrible incidents to win political points.

The funeral of the Fogel family members, which was covered live, on the radio, was replete with speeches demonizing Palestinians (not just the group that carried out the murders) and calling for the appropriate Zionist response, the code-word for settlement, which itself is a form of terrorism. One speech, however, took a different tack – it was delivered by Motti Fogel, the brother of Udi Fogel, who was murdered:

Motti Fogel, brother of Udi Fogel, eulogized his younger brother but warned that his death cannot be used as a tool in a national struggle.

"All of the slogans we hear are trying to efface the simple fact that you're dead, and nothing can efface that. This funeral has to be a private affair," Fogel said, adding: "A man dies to himself, to his children. Udi, you are no a national event. You're horrible death mustn't make your life into a tool."

There is no symmetry between the Palestinians, the occupied, and the Israelis, the occupiers. Now that the "price tag" revenge actions have commenced, those charged with defending the Palestinians -- the Israel Defense Forces -- are incapable of doing their duty. Here, too, is another dishonoring of the memory of the Fogel family. Demonization dishonors; revenge killings and destruction of property dishonor; making political and hasbara hay dishonors; building settlements on Palestinian land dishonors. I wasn’t happy when I got gruesome pictures; I certainly am not happy when Israel dances on the blood, to use the Hebrew expression, in order to win points and to provide cover for building settlements. That is to be condemned especially because it is the work of the government.

And one final word….when I was growing up, I was taught that what was particularly horrific about the Nazi extermination of the Jews was its cold, methodical, bureaucratic approach. The Jews were not even considered worthy to be killed out of hatred or passion; they were just bugs to be exterminated.

Now, I am being told that brutally killing a baby by knife is more barbaric than bombing houses with civilians, where the killing is not deliberate (excuse me, does the IDF drop bombs accidentally?)

Both claims are morally irrelevant. This kind of moral one-upmanship is repulsive. The bottom line: We kill their civilians and they kill ours.

There are, however, two fundamental differences. First, we kill a lot more of theirs than they do of ours. And second, only one people subjugates another. I divide my moral universe into those who condemn the killing of civilians – whomever they may be – and those who don’t, whoever they may be. And those who condemn the subjugation of one people by another.

And please read Yossi Gurevitz’s post here.


Purim said...


Some months ago, one of my good friends appropriated Gershom Scholem's indictment of Arendt -- אין בה אפילו שמץ של אהבת ישראל -- and applied it to the J Street conference participants. As you were one the speakers (and the only one I knew), I rose to your collective defense.

This post, however, shows no שמץ of אהבת ישראל. It is also the kind of rambling nonsense that has come to be expected of less-capable bloggers (e.g., "Both claims are morally irrelevant. This kind of moral one-upmanship is repulsive... There are, however, two fundamental differences. First, we kill a lot more...").

This kind of post (taken together with your prior one) leaves the field of intelligent political commentary and is laid bare as pure advocacy, even if it means distorting the facts (such as implying that the IDF specifically targets babies), even if it means doing exactly what you criticize in the very same post (politicizing a human tragedy), and even lumping murder and 'hasbara' into the same category of dishonor.

Please. You don't have to look hard to find fault in Israel. Just don't keep looking to make Israeli actions always worse than others' actions, because you won't always find it. And don't do it בשעה שמתינו מוטלים לפנינו.

Anonymous said...


where is your proof that israel targeted or targets civilians?

either post it or retract your attempt at moral relativism

how many arabs have died at the hands of israeli "settlers" since the friday night massacre?

if none...please retract your pay check statement too.

i do agree about the released photos...that is not the way to win the pr war

btw...will you be condemning g-d this coming shabbas during parshas amalek...and will you condemn mordechai and the jews for slaughtering persian civilians, during the reading of the megillah?

you know..there are some leftist congregations who have changed both to be more pc

ADDeRabbi said...

I agree that the burgeoning industry of atrocity-porn is not a positive development. Like you, I wish both sides would stop. Realistically, neither side will stop until the other side stops. So good luck with that.

Out of curiosity, how do you distinguish between the release of these pictures and the testimonies published by "Breaking the Silence"? Having read your arguments that dropping a bomb and slitting an infant's throat are morally equivalent, I'm curious to hear your distinctions between the various forms of chronicling and publicizing atrocities.

Anonymous said...

Purim's post (just like two people in the previous thread, one of them being me) illustrates what is wrong with Westerners in general. We have invented this way of killing without guilt. You can drop bombs on urban areas--you can drop white phosphorus on urban areas--and as long as you chant the appropriate magic words "We don't target civilians" or "Civilian deaths were unintentional on our part and the result of the enemy using them as human shields" or something similar, you can in fact punish the civilian population and kill large numbers of civilians and feel like you are better than those savages who kill children deliberately.

I am starting to alter my view that hypocrisy is slightly preferable to someone bragging about their atrocities. It's only better if the hypocrite can be brought around to admitting the truth. Otherwise it just amounts to two different ways of denying that you've done something terrible.

Jerry Haber said...

Purim, I obviously didn't get my message across to you, and that may me because I wrote in a sa'arat regashot.

Since you only get specific in paragraph 3, let me respond to that.

I did not say that the IDF specifically targets babies. I do not believe that the IDF specifically targets babies. I believe that the IDF deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Op and other targets without sufficient regard to collateral damage. In the case of Niyar Riyan (wikipedia)

"A 2,000-pound bomb was dropped on his house by an Israeli F-16 fighter jet, also killing his 4 wives (Hiam 'Abdul Rahman Rayan, 46; Iman Khalil Rayan, 46; Nawal Isma'il Rayan, 40; and Sherine Sa'id Rayan, 25) and 11 of their children (As'ad, 2; Usama Ibn Zaid, 3; 'Aisha, 3; Reem, 4; Miriam, 5; Halima, 5; 'Abdul Rahman, 6; Abdul Qader, 12; Aaya, 12; Zainab, 15; and Ghassan, 16)

Other testimonies can be found in the Goldstone Report HRW, Amnesty International, B'Tselem, and Breaking the Silence's testimonies of indiscriminate shelling, use of white phosphorus, etc.

AS for the other points, I did nothing of the sort. I talked about different sorts of dishonor; I obviously don't think murder is the same as distributing pictures. I also criticized Palestinians and Israelis for the same sorts of manipulations.

What has annoyed me to no end was the moral condescension I find in most Jews' head. Ribono shel olam, we come to Eretz Yisrael, drive people off their land, control their lives, put them in ghettoes, besiege them, deny them any rights to participate in Israeli democracy -- and THEY are the animals?

Please read the condemnations of the murder in the Palestinian press. Murdering Jews is not the way for Palestinians to be liberated from their bondage.

Unknown said...

I agree with Jerry that is is an abhorrent act of violence and agree with him that Israeli military Violence against Palestinian civilians is as if not more abhorrent given the proportionality factors and the context of their violence against civilians. Having said that I wonder about one thing that is not discussed, is that these settlers bear a huge responsibility by placing their children and innocent in "harms way", making homes and playgrounds in dispossessed Palestinian, which are in violently occupied areas. This settlers adult responsibility is rather serious.

Jerry Haber said...


Here's one way of making the distinction.

Suppose that dozens of Jewish families were murdered the same night. And then suppose that the Palestinian authority issued a press report saying that they took responsibility for the action but that, in fact, those families were engaged in terrorist activity against the Palestinians, and that the PA's response, in killing them, was both a military necessity and proportionate.

And then let's suppose that a Palestinian human rights group published testimony that all this was balderdash, and that the PDF had not taken sufficient steps to discriminate civilians, thereby violating their own ethical code.

That would be the proper analogy.

May I respectfully suggest that you have been drinking too much of the NGO Monitor's cool aid? Breaking the Silence publicizes soldiers' testimonies that people are not interested in hearing. They are not part of a hasbara war against Israel; they want people to know the inconvenient truths about aspects of the Occupation. I have no problem with that or with NGO Monitor also exposing things about the NGOs they monitor. The problem is that, to date, NGO monitor hasn't pubished anything about BtS that anybody couldn't easily find our by reading BtS.

pabelmont said...

In much of the USA, there is a so-called "felony murder rule" which makes a criminal (who himself did not do murder) guilty of murder if anyone is killed during the commission (by that criminal) of a crime which is a felony. (Wiki: Second, it makes any participant in such a felony criminally liable for any deaths that occur during or in furtherance of that felony.)

Well, in my view, the entire Israeli presence in the OPTs (after 44 years, and after announced "annexation", it can hardly be denied that it is an attempt to acquire territory by use or threat of military power) is a crime and of a severity to be called a "felony". Thought of in this way, Israel is guilty of murder for all deaths that take place as a consequence of the occupation. This includes the deaths of Israeli settlers at Palestinian hands and vice versa.

It can hardly be denied that none of these deaths would have occurred had Israel not occupied in the first place, or having occupied had not ended the occupation when the war was over.

I know it is not so simple, but the presence of the settlers is a blatant illegality and one which is responsible for much of the killing.

ADDeRabbi said...

You didn't make a distinction. You described, by analogy, what you believe BtS does. But I'm reading that analogy, and I'm seeing a lot in common with the Fogel murders as well. So I ask again how you would distinguish the cases.

Jerry Haber said...

All right, ADDerabbi, if I understand you, you see the similarity as follows: both the Israeli government and Breaking the Silence want to advance an agenda by publicizing crimes. In that way, they are manipulating or exploiting for an agenda. The Israel government's agenda is to get a more sympathetic hearing in the world; the NGO's agenda is to end the occupation.

Maybe I should stop here and ask if that is the comparison you are driving at?

Nachum said...

"It can hardly be denied that none of these deaths would have occurred had Israel not occupied in the first place,"

Of course it can. Many, many Jews were killed by Arabs from the start of the Zionist enterprise until the "occupation" began in 1967. Now, you can argue "causes" or whatever nonsense you wish, and you're free to be as much of an anti-sem...whoops, anti-Zionist as you want, but you can't argue facts and history.

Jerry Haber said...

Nachum, pabelmont (who can speak for himself), said "these" deaths.Please read carefully.

Also, I am surprised that you only went back to the beginning of Zionism.Jews were killed by Arabs before the advent of Zionism, or at least before the Balfour declaration made Zionism a live option. The Jews were a minority in Arab lands, and with the growth of nationalism, minorities -- and not just Jewish -- were targeted. Add to that the role of religious zealotry (in some cases) and the role Jews played in economies (in some cases), etc.

There could be various answers to the vulnerability of the Jews as a targeted minority. One would be the creation of Jewish state that protects the Jews, and that would be good. But, as things have turned out, the only Jews that Israel has protected are its own Jews, who are being attacked because there is a state of Israel. The purpose of a state is not to protect people who are being attacked because there is a state. (Of course, there are other purposes of a state.)

The other model is working towards a liberal state in which its nationalism is not based on ethnicity. On the whole, the Jews in the US have prospered more than the Jews in Israel. One can argue that qua Jews they have not prospered as much. But the quality of life is such that despite the large ideological pull of Zionism, and the easiness of aliyah, many Israelis prefer to live in the US.

Isn't it about time that Israel become a liberal democracy?

Jerry Haber said...

ADDeRabbi must be working on his Purim Torah, so I will just answer his question.

The purpose of Breaking the Silence is to bring to the attention of people, first and foremost Israelis, but also others who have an interest and stake in the conflict, the negative impact of the long-term Occupation through the eyes of Israeli soldiers.That impact is primarily on the Palestinians under Occupation, and secondarily on the soldiers and on Israeli society.

When Israeli society doesn't know, or doesn't care to know, what it is like to be a Palestinian on the West Bank, they conclude that the sole motivation for Arab resistance is anti-Semitism or hatred of the Jews. Because Israelis from an early age have been indoctrinated to believe that a) Jews are almost inherently moral and b) Palestinians have nothing to fear from Jews, and c) Palestinians are taught to hate Jews just for being Jews, said Israelis are blind to the legititmate grievances that Palestinians have. (There is blindness on the Palestinian side as well.)

Breaking the Silence's reports not only raise a mirror to Israeli society, they also communicate to the Palestinians and the world that not all Jews are like the aformentioned people.They are part of a network, nay, a movement, of groups that want to see justice for both peoples.

That is why Breaking the Silence is not fundamentally anti-IDF. All its members are IDF veterans, and some combat officers. They do not oppose the army; they oppose the mentality of those who send the army to control the lives of millions of people against their will.

The difference between them and the government is like the difference between a muckraking journalist who exposes corruption, and a tabloid publisher who puts pictures of dead babies on the cover of his newspaper in order to sell more copies and to whip his people into a frenzy of hate. Without publication, nobody would believe the muckraking journalist about the facts; but without publication of the dead baby pictures, everybody would believe the report.

Nachum said...

"(Of course, there are other purposes of a state.)"

Well, as a libertarian (small "l," please), I'd be disinclined to agree with that, but that's neither here nor there. :-) Happy Purim.

Anonymous said...

"But, as things have turned out, the only Jews that Israel has protected are its own Jews, who are being attacked because there is a state of Israel..."

and those jews who resided in british mandate palestine who were attacked...what was the reason then

why were anti zionist jews massacred in hebron?

come on jerry....use a jewish kop for one time in your life

is returning to dhimmitude so important to you that you have to lie about the reason that jews are attacked and killed by the arabs?