Very Undemocratic, Very non-Jewish - Very Israeli

When I look at my children I see a generation that did not experience the classic pattern of Jewish victimhood. Yet restraining Israel’s use of power is not on their agenda. Why is this so?

Avraham Burg
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An Israeli policeman, right, standing by the body of a Palestinian teenager, inside a blue body bag, who was shot and killed after attempting to stab Israelis in Jerusalem, Oct. 10, 2015. There is police tape surrounding the crime scene.
An Israeli policeman standing by the body of a Palestinian teenager who was shot and killed after attempting to stab Israelis in Jerusalem, Oct. 10, 2015.Credit: AP
Avraham Burg

Israel’s current reality is riveting, mainly in what it lacks. Benjamin Netanyahu, Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid are vacuous clones of the same nothingness. The street senses their hollowness and drags them along to embarrassing and dark corners, driven by fear, incitement and a fired-up state. They, the ministers and their accompanying Knesset members, cannot provide security, vision or hope, which is why they are swept into policies of privatizing security and justice, encouraging citizens to bear arms and open fire, while pandering to the masses who are intent on executions and eliminations, letting no High Court of Justice or human rights groups stand in their way.

Everyone is speaking the language of force: security measures, protection, weapons, drones, closures, punitive measures, demolition, assassination and whatever else comes to mind. This is a consistent collective effort to expand the limits of Israeli power as far as possible. The present-day Israeli understands only the concept of extensive use of force.

The unasked questions are very important: Why has force been sanctified, with more force becoming the holy of holies of “Jewish and democratic”? Why has leadership-inspired public debate disappeared or fallen silent, a debate which questions whether restrained use of force is preferable to unbridled violence? More generally, why is traditional Jewish content not present in Israeli discourse?

The more strident the rhetoric claiming Israel to be a Jewish state, the less visible Jewish ethical values become. In the midst of this cruel reality we’re in there is no questioning of the meaning of life and the limits of power. The ancient Jewish dimension of the sanctity of life – even that of the assailant – which requires great caution before taking a life, has become despised and reviled, disappearing completely.

One doesn’t have to be a great thinker in order to realize what must be done when encountering a person chasing someone with a lethal weapon with the intent of killing him. If the pursued person is under clear and imminent threat of death, you must do whatever you can to save him. That much is clear, intuitive, moral and very universal.

The uniqueness of Jewish ethical philosophy is expressed in the Mishna (Sanhedrin tractate 74), in which Rabbi Yonatan Ben-Shaul says that if in saving a person in danger you consciously decided to kill an assailant where you could have neutralized him otherwise, you become an assailant yourself, rather than a savior, a murderer rather than a righteous person. This is the only “Jewish” that belongs alongside “democratic” in defining Israel.

For many years, people – including myself – employed an image used by therapists, according to which we live in a cycle of pathology whereby “an abused child becomes a violent parent.” The most persecuted nation in the world has been transformed – almost naturally – into a persecutor. I think that the practical and moral validity of this argument has expired, among other reasons due to the pathological usage by the prime minister of our past victimhood in order to justify the sacrifice of two nations on the altar of his incompetence.

When I look at my children and their friends I see a generation that did not experience the classic pattern of Jewish victimhood. Although exposed to this in two manipulative excursions to the death camps, their sense of victimhood is skin-deep. It’s mainly something which is fed by propaganda. Yet they too, just like my own Israeli generation, do not place on their public agenda the issue of restraining Israel’s use of power. Why is this so?

I look for answers in a different sphere. In his book “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell tells of a Hollywood star, born to middle-class parents in a home in which “scarcity was a great motivator and teacher.” A person who made something of himself with his own bare hands needs later in life to contend with issues relating to the education of his children, who were born into and raised in a world of total bounty and affluence.

This difficulty is interpreted by Gladwell by using an explanation given by clinical psychologist James Grubman. The father is defined as a “migrant into affluence.” In his childhood, whenever he wanted something his parents had to disappoint him, saying “we can’t afford it.” Now that he can afford to buy his children anything they desire he finds it hard to place limits on them and their demands. He and his wife cannot bring themselves to replace the “we can’t afford it” with “we don’t want it or agree to it, since it’s counter to our values.” The educational enterprise founders and the end of the family is already on the horizon. “Affluence,” says Gladwell, “contains within it the seeds of its destruction.”

I’d like to argue that we, the Jewish people in general and its Israeli arm in particular, are “migrants into power.” We once subjected power to virtual moral limitations, since we had no power. Under those conditions it wasn’t hard to commit to restraint. Today we hold absolute power and we won’t relinquish it, since we possess it. We, who won’t set limits on anything – the state, corruption, privileges or chutzpa – don’t see fit to also restrain power with its corrupting nature.

Our present-day urges have no limits, and these urges are of a violent, aggressive and murderous nature, very un-Jewish, undemocratic, but very, very Israeli. At least as applies to the Israel of late 2015.

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