Israeli politicians and the sin of foolishness

Many politicians have what to apologize for, and there's no time to do so like the days after Yom Kippur.

Martin Oliner,

Martin Oliner
Martin Oliner
Eliran Aharon

Many politicians have what to apologize for, and there's no time like the days after Yom Kippur.

Jews around the world recently pounded their chests at Yom Kippur services as they said, “For the sin we have sinned before you through foolish speech.”

There is no time like the days after Yom Kippur to repent over the sins of statements that should have never been made. It is said that the heavenly doors to repentance only close on Hoshana Raba, the final day of Hol Hamoed Sukkot, the intermediate days of the festival.

This need for repentance is especially true for politicians, whose words resonate around the world. One of the lessons of the fall holidays is the power and impact of words.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz triggered a diplomatic crisis with Poland by quoting former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir saying that Poles imbibe antisemitism with their mother’s milk.

Katz still has not apologized for that statement, which insulted a country with 38 million people in the aftermath of a since-revoked law in Poland that said anyone who accuses the nation of complicity during the Holocaust could be handed a prison sentence of up to three years.

I had an opportunity to meet President of Poland Andrzej Duda recently, and he said he was upset that Katz had not apologized. I told him I have gratitude to Poland, because a righteous couple risked their lives and the lives of their three children by hiding my parents for four years through the Holocaust.

I owe my very existence to these people. Our family is still in touch with them.

While my family did not want to go back to Poland because antisemitism is still part of life there, there are many righteous Poles and their descendants, and it is absolutely wrong to judge all of them together. Clearly, a trip to Yad Vashem and the Gardens of the Righteous demonstrate the sacrifice and extreme benevolence of Christians who harbored Jews throughout Europe. Duda himself said he knows his people are not perfect. No nation has among its people only heroes or altruists.

But Katz should see that it is time to move forward and heal.

He is far from the only Israeli politician who needs to repent. Former education and Diaspora affairs minister Naftali Bennett, who had an awful 5779 in Israeli politics, has a bad habit of also dabbling in the politics of the United States.

Following US President Donald Trump’s questionable decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, Bennett decided to react on Twitter in English.

“At this time, we, Israelis, pray for the Kurd People who are under a brutal Turkish attack,” Bennett wrote, mistakes left unchanged. “The lesson for Israel is simple: Israel will ALWAYS defend itself by itself. The Jewish State will never put its fate in the hands of others, including our great friend, the USA."

While every word Bennett wrote is correct, what point is there in a leading Israeli politician insulting the American administration on social media? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose foreign policy experience dwarfs every other living Israeli politician, was much more careful and waited for the right time to tweet on the issue.

This is not the first time Bennett made the mistake of interfering in American politics in a manner worthy of special chest-beating at Bennett’s synagogue in Ra’anana.

Then there are the statements about matters of religion and state from both secular and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politicians that did nothing to calm tensions and bring either side closer to the other’s point of view. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz’s campaign against “extortionist” haredim was no more acceptable than the most extreme statements against secular people and left-wingers of the Noam Party.

The final chest-beatings should go to Democratic Union MK Yair Golan and other politicians across the Israeli political spectrum who have compared virtually anyone to Nazis.

It is not the 1940s, thank God. We have a Jewish state to protect the Jewish people.

Now all we need is to stop ourselves from making statements that make us into our own worst enemies.

The writer is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and a committee member of the Jewish Agency. Martinoliner@gmail.com.




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