Israel: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Blog #9
Obviously, I love Israel, the national embodiment of the Jewish people. No other place on earth provides the cultural atmosphere -- religious, traditional, non-religious -- with thousands of years of history confirmed in archaeological discoveries and vibrant and living Hebrew -- than the State of Israel can and does.
Israel is truly a miracle, even by rational definitions. Who would have foreseen a vibrant democratic (yes, it's messy), cultural, economic, environmental, and technological model, anywhere, but particularly in the Middle East? Compare these achievements under more benign circumstances, let alone a people under constant military and false verbal assault. And all this was achieved in the generations after more than ⅓ of the Jewish people were systematically and cruelly murdered. That miracle is actually spectacular, unparalleled, amazing.
However, like any other society, Israel is not perfect. The film, whose title I borrowed, separated the “bad” and the “ugly.” I cannot do so. When something is bad, it is often ugly.
The worst of Israel was on display last week. Settlers, a mob, rampaged a Palestinian village and murdered people. Like any other bad / ugly act, it can be explained. Jews have been murdered repeatedly by terrorists whose actions are lauded, subsidized, and publicly honored. The world does not care much. If not for the well-trained Israeli security services, bombings and other murders would occur daily, multiple times. This week, Israel’s Shin-Bet Director Ronen Bar said that since January 2022, it has foiled 800 major attacks. Cyprus last week interdicted an attack by Iranian operatives on Israelis and Jews. Imagine how any other nation would respond -- including the US. And it has been going on in Israel, targeting Jews, for many decades.
A few weeks ago, a woman and her two daughters were cruelly gunned down in their car. Recently a woman died after two decades of being in a vegetative state as a result of a terrorist bombing in the Sbarro Pizza shop in Jerusalem. Israeli citizens endure thousands of rockets cast into civilian areas. For years, in the North, Israeli children lived in bomb shelters. The list is so long, and so often repeated, that it has become ho-hum to outsiders and not a few Jews.
But Jews should never murder. Mob rule is antithetical to Jewish teaching, religious and otherwise. For months, placards reading “Death to the Arabs” have been proudly raised by religious men, identifiable by their dress. It is wrong by Torah. I wonder where their religious leaders are. I wonder what informs their souls and how they read the holy words of Torah and the Sages. Torah teaching does not exist to confirm what we already think, but to guide us when we are off track, when passions rule, when justification is easy. It was bad / ugly -- and if not checked -- will be worse / uglier.
Such actions and thinking lead to more deaths -- for Arabs and for Jews. Most of the world often falsely criticizes Israel. There is little sympathy or understanding for Jews. However, criticism for this mob is valid. Their actions undermine our credibility when we are right. It is a horrible, ugly lesson for our children, and theirs.
The coalition ministers in the Israeli government have had different reactions: “The Defense Minister Yoav Gallant signed administrative detention orders on Wednesday to hold four Jewish extremists involved in recent attacks against Palestinians without charges, in line with recommendations from the Shin Bet security service. The four are currently imprisoned, the Defense Ministry confirmed. Administrative detention enables them to be held in custody without charges for renewable six-month periods, practically indefinitely.” But “National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party slammed the administrative detentions as disproportionate.”
Outside of Israel, too many Jews have made it their mission to criticize Israel without the facts, without balance, without discerning what we face. I hesitate to join them, even when they are partially right, because, in my view, they do more harm than good; they aid our real enemies -- people who advocate our destruction and support murderers and jeopardize Jewish lives. And it undermines peace and a better life for the Palestinians by justifying lies and further radicalizing them.
But some things are so beyond the pale, so antithetical to Torah, so dangerous, so bad and so ugly, that they cannot be ignored or understated. I am ashamed of these acts and the thinking that animates it. Defense of the innocent, absolutely; murderous mob rampages -- bad and ugly.
The Israel I love and have studied has done each and every good and excellent thing I outlined. It did it miraculously against all odds. It can stamp out this perversion -- if we have the will to do so.