I listen to a Jewish academic remind Israel to remember Torah’s multiple warnings to be kind to strangers because the Israelites had been strangers in Egypt. It seems that religion at a BDS event is not unknown.
The panel had spent the afternoon damning Zionists for having schlepped strangers (displaced Jews from Europe) to Palestine. In that case you’d think, why not dress down the Palestinian Arabs? Remind them to be kind to strangers in their midst. Jew or Arab: how difficult can it be to give one side or the other stranger status, and the inalienable right to be treated kindly that goes with it.
Cherry picking the bible to make political capital is good sport. Anti-Zionists, God-fearers and ridiculers alike, love to rub Judaism into the face of Zionist oppressors. Treat the Palestinian Arabs as you’d want to be treated: another cutting of poison ivy. There’s no supply problem in a Torah filled with humane ideals.
But the opposite and unlovely lesson is never cherry picked, that right is might and vice versa. When Israel is not being kind it must be militaristic. It is not just allowed, it is commanded to wage Holy War – in fact to wage different types of war. When push came to shove the stiff-necked people would have to kill before they could inherit the Promised Land. The seven nations living on it had to be annihilated. “You shall utterly destroy them’. (Deuteronomy 20:17). Anyone who chances upon one of the seven and fails to do that violates a negative command. “Do not allow a soul to live.’ (Ibid:16). There is one enemy distinct from and worse than every other. “Eradicate the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens: you shall not forget” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
The present tense of the commands is significant. The obligation to wipe out nations that pose a threat to Israel is not bound by time or by circumstance. Judaism is far from pacific. For what Israel had to go through, being warlike is hardly to be wondered at. How else could the people claim or defend their inheritance.
The great Maimonides was no zealot. Yet he is clear that the law mandates the tribes to go to war, for two purposes. One is to deal with implacable foes, the other, more discreetly, to expand the boundaries of Israel or to gain wealth.
This flat portrait of cupidity is not pretty. But the law never allows the picture to be flat for long. It fences military action around and around until the holy warriors take an arsenal of ethical and moral codes into battle. Here is not the time or place for them, but to give an example: before any killing starts Israel has to try for peace. If the other side agrees to the terms, commits to keeping the seven laws of Noah, and submits to being ruled, the army of Israel must pack up and go home.
Jews ancient and modern, however, will be Jews. Give them a set of ground rules and they’ll top them up. Set a moral bar to clear and they will ratchet it up a few notches – high enough to make the world like them a little more. War offers the chance to parade the mercy and magnanimity of Israel; to go above and beyond the letter of the law. How could the nations not respect a merciful Israel.
There lies the rub – a vinegary one. “Be not over righteous, nor too clever.” (Ecclesiastes 7:16). And, according to Rabbi Shimon b. Lakish: “Whoever shows mercy to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to those deserving of mercy.”
Israeli wars, ancient and modern, make perfect case studies for the early warnings. Trouble upon trouble comes upon Israel when it bends like a reed to be extra nice, especially to enemies that are predisposed to take mercy as weakness and to bite the hand that feeds. The Rabbis of the Talmud frown upon allowing a weaker opponent to get the upper hand. If Jews die as a result the Rabbis consider it a form of suicide. Cain killing the stronger Abel after the latter felt sorry for his brother set the precedent. Thereafter the law set boundaries for showing mercy. A foe with an intent to kill loses the right to life.
Jewish compassion, however, seems limitless. Merciful treatment of the enemy goes to unreasonable length. It was such behavior that made Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, complain sardonically after Israel’s lightning victory in the Six-Day War: “I think it would be the first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.”
To rub salt in the wound, the world’s looked-for pat on the back never came. On the contrary: displays of mercy fed expectations and demands on Israel to act with ‘restraint.’ What other nations at war are told to hold back, time after time.
The Jews are an obliging people. Up and up goes the self-imposed bar. “Heaven help us if our moral standard is reduced to not committing crimes against humanity. From my country I demand a lot more,” said Jessica Montell, head of an Israeli human rights entity. All progressive Jews expect more than above-board conduct from Israel – a whole lot more.
Montell’s remark came in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, the urban war waged against Israel by terror-crazies with every trick in the book. Israel came out on top and morally intact. Still the halo brigade is insatiable. It wants more. It sets the bar so high that it can’t be cleared. The IDF must be cleaner than clean. Hence the trap. The higher the bar, the better to make Israel trip. Israel-haters wait and watch. How high can Israel jump? A shiver of the bar transports the court of public opinion into frenzies of scorn and condemnation. And instead of a light unto the nations, Israel becomes a polecat.
Even those professedly for Israel have patience only up to a point. They’ll allow it to fight a rearguard action, but no more. Outright victory is intolerable. The result? Like Amalek’s descendant Haman, enemies came close to exterminating the Jews. Hitler himself came from the same line. Modern leaders of Israel have failed to learn the lesson. By treating implacable foes with compassion, Israel has given bloodthirsty Jew-killers a new lease of life. And the international community, instead of loving Israel for its compassion, seems to hate it with added ferocity.
What would the Almighty make of modern Israel at war? Is He an understanding God? It all depends. Are the Jihadists who fire rockets into Israel descended from the Seven Nations in the bible? Would they be among those whom Israel is commanded to annihilate? Or are they descendants of Amalek, the enemy of all enemies for all time?
No one knows. Some do know that the mini wars that Israel had to fight in its backyard (Defensive Shield, Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge) can be traced to the original sin of treating the heritage, the Promised Land, like a hot potato. Land won in miraculous victories became land to surrender, land with which to curry favor.
It made a victorious and magnanimous Israel hated more than a weak Israel. Mayhem and terror and international pariah status were the wages of sin. It took Israelis a long time to learn that land for peace does not appease; it emboldens demands for more. The lesson slowly sunk in that Israelites are a people who dwell alone. “Palestine from the river to the sea” echoes in UN corridors and chambers meant to keep nation from warring on nation.
How angry might it make the God of Israel?
Once upon a time a king bestowed gifts and favors on a preferred son. The son took the king’s benevolence for granted and thought of the gifts and favors, when he thought of them, as his rightful due. To court popularity he was liberal with giving away the gifts, even to those who hated him. Some had gone so far as plotting to kill the son, yet were glad to accept his generosity. By the power of the king the son’s life had been saved many times over, but he was unmindful of this. Was the king angry? Angry is not the word.
Steve Apfel is an economist and a cost accountant, but most of all a prolific author of non-fiction and fiction, published in many journals and sites. His books include: ‘The Paymaster’ (Fiction); Hadrian’s Echo (Non-fiction); ‘A bias thicker than faith’ (non-fiction, for publication during 2020), and ‘Balaam’s curse’ a WIP biblical novel