Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Midsummer Madness" - Jabotinsky or Judaism

Today is Day 14,242 of the Maintenance of the Immoral (and Illegal) West Bank Settlements and almost the 40th anniversary of the start of the immoral (and illegal) occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Micah.6:8 “He has told you, O man, Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God"

Exodus 22:20 "And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt"

Every once in a while in between the stories of what is happening today or what happened yesterday, there is an article that simply sweeps through decades of history and provides a context for understanding a situation. Such an article “Jabotinsky’s Ghost” appeared in the August 13, 2006 Boston Sunday Globe Idea Section.

According to the article, Vladmir Jabotinksy (1880-1940) had a clear vision. He admonished the Jews to stand up straight, to stop cringing and making excuses, and to tell the goyim ``to go to hell." He looked for “The revival of the Jewish state with a Jewish majority on both sides of the Jordan." He noted that “The native population, civilized or uncivilized, have always stubbornly resisted the colonists," and said, ``and it made no difference whether the colonists behave decently or not." For that reason it was “utterly impossible to obtain the voluntary consent of the Palestine Arabs," Jabotinsky wrote, and the Zionists must be ready to use physical force: “An ‘Iron Wall’ was needed to protect the enclave while they established a majority as quickly as possible.” The article adds “All of this dismayed Weizmann (who) reminded his fellow Zionists that Palestine was ‘a sensitive world nerve’ and he called the Revisionist program ‘midsummer madness,’ wanted by ‘nobody except a few partisans of Jabo. ‘ ”

For another approach to the conflict, let us look at the Torah.

Exodus 22:20-23 says “And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise – for if they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath shall was hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.”

Very strong language!! And the lesson is continued in the footnotes of the 1980 Hertz Edition of the Pentateuch & Haftorahs for these verses:

shalt thou not wrong The Rabbis explain this term to mean that nothing must be done to injure or annoy him, or even by word to wound his feelings. The fact that a man is a stranger should in no way justify treatment other than that enjoyed by brethren in race. ‘This law of shielding the alien from all wrong is of vital significance in the history of religion. With it alone true religion begins. The alien was to be protected, not because he was a member of one’s family, clan, religious community, or people; but because he was a human being. In the alien, therefore, man discovered the idea of humanity (Hermann Cohen)”

for ye were strangers In the next chapter, v. 9, this phrase is preceded by the words, ‘for ye know the heart of the stranger’; i.e., you know from bitter experience what such a position means, and how it feels to be a stranger…Lev. 19:34 expressly demands in regard to the stranger, “Thou shalt love him as thyself.” The Talmud mentions that the precept to love, or not to oppress, the stranger occurs thirty-six times in the Torah. The reason for this constantly-repeated exhortation is that those who have been downtrodden frequently prove to be the worst oppressors when they acquire power over anyone.”

The Israeli governments since 1967 have pursued goals and an approach consistent with Jabotinsky’s philosophy in deed if not in words; i.e., a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan and a lack of concern about how you treat non-Jews?

If those were your goals: you would never permit the establishment of a truly autonomous Palestinian state within “Greater Israel”; you would support the growth of settlements in the West Bank; and you would never negotiate in good faith with “the native population” (non-Jews) using code phrases such as “we do not have a partner for peace”. Being unwilling to openly state this politically unacceptable “vision”, you would likely have to remain continually at a state of war with your only recourse military solutions.

Finally, this “vision” would exclude human decency and concern about whether you are depriving such “natives” in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza or Lebanon of their civil or human rights, subjecting them to humiliation or reducing them to a standard of living below the poverty line.

Do you think that Weizmann was correct? Was the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 an example of “midsummer madness”? Was the recent invasion of Lebanon self-defense or another such example? Were the invasions wanted by almost nobody? What about the failure to end the occupation? What about the failure to close the settlements?

If it is truly “midsummer madness”, what are the possible consequences?

Again, “The reason for this constantly-repeated exhortation is that those who have been downtrodden frequently prove to be the worst oppressors when they acquire power over anyone.” When I read this last paragraph, I immediately thought of how the oppression of the Jews of Europe by the Nazis was followed by the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israelis and was followed by the violence of the Palestinians against the Israelis.

These Jewish writings predict the violence of the Palestinians and condemn the oppression by Israel. Israel can break the cycle of violence by rejecting the vision of Jabotinsky and adopting these core values of the Torah.

Exodus 22:20 "And a stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Deuteronomy 16:20 – “Justice, justice shall you pursue that you may live and inherit the land which God gave you” and the footnote in the 1980 Hertz Edition “(T)here is international justice, which demands respect for the personality of every national group, and proclaims that no people can of right be robbed of its national life or territory, its language or spiritual heritage."


Andrew Schamess said...

Ron, this is a lovely post and a good summary of references to the respectful treatment of strangers in the Jewish tradition. I'd be curious to know the specific Talmudic references if you happen to have them.

I've certainly struggled with this issue, as an observant Jew who also opposes the oppression of the Palestinians.

For all the references to the treatment of strangers, there seems to be even more, in Torah and Nevi'im, about the divine right of the Israelites to the land of Canaan, our obligation to dispossess the contemporary inhabitants - in fact, to slaughter them all, in many cases, so as to prevent intermarriage.

The Orthodox also like to make the point that the laws on the treatment of strangers apply to those in our land - i.e. implying our inherent right to possession, with strangers occupying a secondary, if protected, status.

I find much of this hard to reconcile with my own political views. I'd be very curious to see how the rabbis deal with the apparent contradiction.

Ron Fox said...

Andrew, Is this a coincidence that you mentioned the divine right of the Israelites to the land of Canaan or have you read one of my first posts entitled Passover Haggadah - The Sequel. In it I look at Joshua's attack of Jericho from the perspective of the inhabitants one of whom is convinced that everything will work out because he read somewhere that their God told them “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.

There are so many stories in the Torah where God and the Israelites wreak death destruction upon strangers and each other.

But, as I see it, there are two parallel themes coursing through the Torah. One is the perspective of the particularist, the chauvinist, the person guided by self-interest, the settler - we are good, they are evil, they are out to get us, we better get them first. The other is the universalist who generally believes in the goodness and decency of all people and treats them with love and kindness, fairly and justly.

I am not a scholar of Judaic writings and teachings but I believe that over the nearly 2500 years since the Five Books of Moses were compiled, the writings of Rabbis and others have adopted the universalist/social justice pieces of the Torah as the core values of Judaism.

(I would be willing to try to find the specific Talmudic references for you but I am not sure what you are looking for. I thought I had included citations each time I quoted a Jewish writing).

Also with respect to the "we were given this land in the Torah" argument, it is difficult to argue with those who believe that the words of the Torah should be accepted literally. I can only say that I disagree. As a lawyer, I would want to ask the Jewish Israeli residents of Hebron for evidence by written deeds directly from Moses to Rabbi Levinger. I believe that the Carthaginians have more of a claim to Sicily, the Indians to Manhattan and Haifa to the Palestinians who live there.

Even if there is some validity to the Orthodox argument that the strangers are on their land, I am sure that we would have no difficulty finding many sources in Judaic writings that would reject their desire to treat strangers as secondary citizens, discriminate against them and treat them as lesser persons.

I just quoted one of them in my most recent post. Rabbi Hillel said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor." Another way to look at that would be to say that we should treat everyone equally.

Thank you for adding your comment.


Andrew Schamess said...

That's a great answer, Ron. I'll go back and take a look at the earlier post as well.

Take care, and look forward to reading your posts and keeping in touch offline.