Yair Lapid's Shoot-to-kill Policy Makes for a Sorry Ethics Code

If fear has addled the former finance minister to the point where he can’t maintain human decency, he should remove himself from the public arena.

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
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Yair Lapid in Rosh Ha’ayin, February 22, 2015.
Yair Lapid in Rosh Ha’ayin, February 22, 2015.Credit: Nir Keidar
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

“We’re not the judiciary,” Magen David Adom director Eli Been said, explaining in simple words why MDA medics would treat the most seriously wounded people first, even if they were the attackers, and the more lightly wounded victims afterward. “We’re an organization dedicated to saving lives, and we treat everyone equally, regardless of race, religion or gender. All our people have been taught this.”

The more you think about it, the more a miracle it seems that there are still people like Been who remember that the moral test is the ability to do the right thing even when reality pulls in the opposite direction. Been is upholding MDA policy that medics determine the order of treatment based on need, without judging who is worthier. If the medics operated differently, they would cease to be who they are.

Of course, it’s just a matter of time before MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Yair Lapid try to change things. What did Hippocrates know anyway? There was no Islamic terrorism when the rules of medical ethics were being formulated. Smotrich, of Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party, has already warned Been: “Change the guideline or we’ll take action in the Knesset to change it.”

It surely won’t be long before Lapid joins in the battle against MDA’s soft policy, just as soon as he’s done dealing with those civilians trying to dodge Israel’s new deterrence system, those people who think twice before shooting to kill. As Lapid said, “Don’t hesitate. Even at the start of an attack, shooting to kill is correct. If someone is brandishing a knife, shoot him. It’s part of Israel’s deterrence.”

No one needs Lapid’s imprimatur to defend himself. Every reasonable person, and certainly the court system, recognizes a person’s right to self-defense. No one is casting doubt on that. And that’s just what Israelis have been doing, exercising their right to self-defense. Why then did Lapid make it seem it was up to him to rouse Israelis from their defeatism and free them from the moral chains ostensibly preventing them from protecting their lives?

The reason is that Lapid is calling for action that exceeds self-defense. The right to self-defense doesn't justify the order Lapid gave. What’s true of MDA is true of the general public: Neither is a judiciary, neither is authorized to punish people. They are entitled to defend themselves. That’s it.

Lapid isn’t the judiciary either. His opinion – that circumstances justify recruiting the entire civilian population for spontaneous reprisals exempt a priori from legal accountability – isn’t enough to authorize such actions. Moreover, not only is Lapid not formally authorized to call on citizens to execute anyone brandishing a knife, the root of the problem lies in Lapid’s belief that he’s a moral authority vested with the power to absolve whoever follows his order from guilt (not just legal accountability).

Of course, this won’t be the first time Israel adapts universal ethics codes to its needs. Philosopher Asa Kasher, at the invitation of the military, crafted an ethics code that operatively and legally gives soldiers much greater maneuver room, even at the cost of harming civilians. Those who get so angry at Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of former combat soldiers whose guilt haunts them in their sleep, should take it up with Kasher. What did they think – that by merely reshuffling some concepts their values could be changed? What value does an unethical ethics code have?

The world existed before Kasher and Lapid – it had wars and tough situations, and there were always those who behaved like decent human beings and those who broke under pressure. If fear has addled Lapid to the point where he can’t maintain human decency, he should remove himself from the public arena. He may not be a doctor, but Hippocrates’ wisdom is just as valid in this case too – “help, or at least do no harm.”

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