In response to the recent kidnapping of 3 young Israelis, we have turned over our Letter from the Leadership column to Julian Resnick the Director of World Habonim Dror and a good friend of Ameinu.
This is for me a most difficult piece to write.
I write it from Jerusalem, from the lobby of the Inbal Hotel, from the hub, over three days of this late June of 2014, of Zionist enterprise. The Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel is meeting to consider how we continue. How we continue to build the State we care about so deeply; how we continue to connect Jews around the world to Israel; how we continue with the major projects connected to Peoplehood, the sense of belonging to a People, with all that this includes: a sense of being part of a culture, a history, a future, shared memories.
And in the background…… there are the three kidnapped boys.
So much has been said about them during these past ten days. So many actions have been carried out over these past ten days. I have thought long and hard as to how to respond to both the kidnapping and what has happened subsequently. My first response was sent out to the young people i am responsible for. Young people, many of whom are committed to Israel, live here, are thinking of living here, spend a year here, spend the summer here. Some of whom are ambivalent about Israel. All of whom are struggling between their commitments to the progressive world they occupy and their commitments to our People, our culture and our Homeland. The struggle, the honest struggle, between a specific identity and the sense of belonging to humanity. I am not cynical about that that struggle. I feel it too, in a different way to many of them. I feel very connected to my being a Jew, to my culture, to Israel, my home’ but I also feel very committed to universal values, struggles and to people who are not a part of my People. Leon Wieseltier talks about the validity of multiple identities and commitments. I understand what he is talking about.
This was my response:
There are times when we have to say very clearly, this is wrong. This is one of these times. We do not suspend our criticism of overall policy, but we put it aside for the moment and say, only while we focus in on an act of pure evil, our eyes see nothing else. The time for talking about history, how we got here, and the future, where we want to go, will return.
Today we can only say one thing: our thoughts are with Naftali, Gil-Ad, Eyal and their families. We urge their captors to return them safely so that the energy being expended right now can be expended in the work for peace between us and the Palestinian People.
I have now moved beyond what I wrote then, forced by the many responses around this issue which has touched many of us so deeply. i am moved to write this, something different to what I wrote last week, as I believe these young boys have not only been kidnapped by awful, evil people, but in addition their kidnapping has been hijacked, in the most cynical way by interest groups, politicians and those who have identified their kidnapping as an “opportunity” to achieve other goals.
Mush has been said in recent days which sickens me. I will give two examples. Member of Knesset Hanin Zuabi (member of the Balad Party) and Rabbi Dov Lior (Chief Rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba in the southern West Bank; Rosh Yeshiva Kiryat Arba Hesder Yeshiva, head of the “Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria). Probably for the first time in their lives the two of them find themselves in a coalition born of their warped understanding of the kidnapping. They share the view that it is not the kidnappers who are behind this act. They both absolve the kidnappers of responsibility and place the responsibility in other places. For MK Hanin Zuabi the settlers, the Zionists, the IDF, in short the Jews are responsible. For Rabbi Dov Lior it is the Israeli lawmakers who are responsible for passing “anti-religious legislation”.
But, at the end of the day, if it was only lone voices such as these, I could live with them. The problem is deeper and more profound. I want to air two of them. The first is the behaviour of the Israeli authorities who have used the kidnapping as a smokescreen to carry out plans that have obviously been in place just waiting for the opportune moment. There is no place for wreaking vengeance when dealing with an act of terror. This is not how a democratically elected government which prides itself on being a part of the forces of Western Democracy is supposed to act.
Soldiers are not supposed to wreck homes.
Soldiers are not supposed to engage in acts of random terrorising of a civilian population. Soldiers are not supposed to impose collective punishment when the intelligence community is frustrated because it does not have the answers.
Our soldiers are supposed to behave differently, very differently from those who kidnap children, even when we are frustrated and angry. I am for Jews with power, but I am not for losing the ability to understand how power needs to be used.
The government is supposed to continue to function strategically so that when Abu Mazen takes the unprecedented act of speaking out against the kidnapping in Arabic in front of the leadership of the Arab world, it should be understood as a moment of great bravery and he should get the support he deserves, not only from Tzippi Livni, but also from the Prime Minister. Should he initiate a break with the Hamas? Yes, but do not demand of him to do it at every opportunity as you know that makes it more and more difficult for him to do it (as if he is acting at our bidding – Politics 101).
I am also left feeling quite shaken over the methodologies of solidarity building. I must admit to being left cold by the neo-Messianism which seems to be the vogue tactic. As much as i actually love the liturgy of Psalm 121 and many of the musical settings, I find the use of it as part of what seems to be an attempt to suggest that the only way to get back our boys is to pray harder, quite difficult. This is possibly because of a deeply held conviction that the crucial turning point in our national history was the moment we decided to take our destiny in our own hands. The moment when we understood that only through our own action, via State Building, Halutziut (Pioneering), the creation of an army and an intelligence community was it possible to bring ourselves from dependency to Independence. We seem to be on a different track right now. A track which will ultimately – and here the irony is of course that this is the point where I would traditionally be saying “God forbid – lead us back to those days, dark days, in my understanding of our history, when we left our fate in the hands of heaven.
I do not want to be misunderstood. Naftali, Gil-Ad and Eyal, I want you back. Those who kidnapped you are guilty of a war crime Those who applaud them are either filled with hatred or are themselves criminals. We have to do what we can to get you back. Getting you back is the mission, the only mission and your kidnapping should not be manipulated for political purposes. Returning our boys is a moral act. Transferring large sums of money to settlements is a manipulation. Using the opportunity to carry out other strategic goals detracts from this mission. Searching for them and their kidnappers is part of the duty of every soldier of the IDF. Behaving according to the “Spirit of the IDF”, that ethical code that every soldier carries, is also part of the duty of every soldier of the IDF.
We are surrounded by people who are doing the most awful things, far beyond any of the things Israel is doing that I have noted here (think Egypt and the death sentences; think Syria and almost every crime imaginable and more; think Iraq and the Sunni fundamentalists beheading people; think the Palestinians and the way they treat dissent. We have to be different not because of UC Berkeley or the NY Times, but because of what we want to be; because of the mission we set up for ourselves. I am asking a lot of ourselves over here. To behave decently at all times in this neighbourhood in which decency is often treated like weakness.
Are we at risk? Absolutely.
Are we judged differently than our neighbours by dubious Human Rights Activists, Church Leaders parading as the bearers of the torch of morality, self hating Jews who think that their homeland is the moral highground and foreign governments? Absolutely.
Do we want to be different from our neighbours? Absolutely.
I understand prayer and its function and I too am praying in my own way for the return of our three young boys. But I fear there are those who are exploiting our anxiety and fear thereby corrupting our prayers, creating a climate foreign to our great project, the creation of a modern Jewish State. Let us look to our soldiers for help; let us look to the hills for help in the spirit of Psalm 121, and let us remember the words of Micah which encourage us “to do justice, and to love mercy“.
And perhaps we can even persuade our enemies to do the same? Perhaps?
Even at this painful moment.