Opinion

Judaism Hasn’t Learned Anything

Filipina women and their children demonstrating in Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

To paraphrase Benjamin Netanyahu’s deathless slogan “They’ve forgotten what it means to be Jewish,” one might say, following the deportation of a family from the Philippines, that perhaps we should forget what it means to be Jewish. If this is Judaism, and if the Jewish state is acting according to Jewish values, then it follows that the Jews haven’t learned anything – not from refugeehood and persecution, and not from everything that humanity takes pride in when it compares itself to the other species with which it shares the planet.

I’ll never give up on comparing the holocaust of animals to “our” sacred Holocaust. I’ll never get tired of trying to prove the degree to which the metaphor “like sheep to the slaughter” isn’t a metaphor, but rather an expression of equivalency. Suffering and murder are the same for animals as they are for humans. But to my great regret, I have learned that getting others past the barrier of identifying with the suffering of creatures different from themselves (though only at first glance, when it comes to suffering and death) is a task crueler than death.

For most people, it’s incomparably easier to identify with members of their own species. But here, in the state of the Jews, which was ostensibly founded on lofty human values rooted in the Torah and the prophets, that isn’t self-evident. It turns out that in the Jewish state, identification with others is solely only the basis of race. The only persecuted people who count are persecuted Jews (where exactly?). The only refugees who count are Jewish refugees (again, where exactly?).

Judaism has repeatedly been shown to be a consummately racist religion, in which compassion is reserved solely for those of Jewish seed. And to deflect the predictable Pavlovian onslaught by many of this paper’s readers, which can be summed up as “what about the Palestinians,” I have no choice but to reiterate my perspective, which until further notice is that the Palestinians are an enemy. One can mourn their bitter fate and fight to ease the conditions of the occupation under which they live, but an end to their suffering doesn’t rest only in our hands and isn’t solely our responsibility.

Yet the same is not true for labor migrants or for refugees who have reached our shores. Look at how we have turned from a country of refugees and persecuted people into a country that’s considered a safe haven. This fact in itself should fill us with pride and move us to act accordingly, of our own free will. This ought to be the source of Israeli pride.

But what does the chosen people do? As usual, it acts shamefully. Contrary to the arguments that are put forth – usually with justice – about the need to defend ourselves against our Palestinian neighbors, in the case of the Filipino family that was deported, talk about defending ourselves against an Asian and African invasion, against a flood of foreigners, is nonsense. This has been the refuge of every racist and scoundrel since the dawn of time. The “Jewish invasion,” as we know, was used to justify the Nazis’ deportation policy.

It’s true that the Filipino sabra who was expelled this week from the land where he was born isn’t likely to face a death sentence as a result. But life and death are not the only yardsticks.

Anyone who has no mercy on this Filipino boy will end up having no mercy on a Jewish boy, to say nothing of lambs and calves. Compassion and solidarity erode quickly when one discriminates between the objects of one’s compassion. In cases like that, the cancer isn’t an invader from outside, but an enemy from within.