By Larry Gordon
From here it looks like official Israel has gone mad. The release of 26 more convicted Arab terrorists this week has reopened wounds, which had never really closed, for bereaved families who live with the awful pain of their loss of loved ones. That Israel had her arm twisted, and that she takes her commitments seriously and now has to follow through with them, is one thing. That there is no quid pro quo or even a minimal amount of sense to these hurtful promises, leaves families with a strange emptiness that is difficult to recover from.
What is it about the modern state of Israel—and today’s Jews—that requires us to rationalize our existence? It is as if the accepted, even natural position of the Israeli government is to acknowledge that, considering the events of the past, there should not have been a Jewish state . . . and perhaps an argument can be presented that there should not have been a Jewish people. Being that the state and people do exist, however, we understand that we are communally obligated to pay a penalty, perhaps as a condition of our right to be.
Why in the world does Israel have to release convicted murderers of its own people as a concession, or in a corrupted good-faith gesture, so that the losing Arab side should be motivated to negotiate their own dignity and survival? Where did this crazy idea come from and why was it accepted as a way of functioning?
We have to face the facts. Releasing murderers to be free and enjoy freedom—as well as having the chance to murder Jews again—is just a way of indicating that there was some justice in the violent acts they committed to begin with. And that is a horrible attitude to live with. Instead of accepting this as a fact of life, it should have long ago been rejected. But it was not.
What solace is there in knowing that the murderers released this week have served sentences of 20 to 30 years? The families of the victims have not had the opportunity to have the death sentences of their loved ones reversed. It is understood that this wild and irresponsible measure is simply another way for Israel to express the extent to which it is willing to go in order to achieve a genuine peace with her neighbors. But that sentiment could certainly be expressed in many other ways without forgetting, or rendering meaningless, the loss of so many in such a cruel fashion, in the hope of garnering some affection from a hostile international community.
These moves are seen as a manifestation of Israel’s guilt and discomfort for being everything the United Nations and the world says she is—a brutal oppressor and occupier of another people. Israel consistently and vociferously objects to being characterized in this fashion but seems to embolden those who make that characterization by acting in a way that conforms with their claims.
Fortunately, areas like the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem were lawfully annexed to the state of Israel in the early 1980s by Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Begin had a clear vision and an understanding of right and wrong that was informed by historical context, despite what the international community had to say. He, too, eventually lost his way and since then, Israel—while continuing to be militarily strong—too often demonstrates a moral weakness that victimizes its own people.
There is no greater illustration of that sad circumstance than Israel allowing herself to be bamboozled into releasing murderers as some kind of twisted way of exhibiting good faith in negotiations with her Arab neighbors. The late Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir said it most poignantly more than 20 years ago when he said that he saw no reason why Israel was required to trade “land for peace.” He said at the time that he saw nothing off-kilter or imbalanced about an agreement being forged that featured “peace for peace.”
What is it about history’s most persecuted people, the Jews and Israel, that requires us to offer an extra measure beyond what is expected of anyone else anywhere in the world so as to be able to live a normal and natural existence?
On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he was not elected to make easy decisions but rather to confront difficult issues and make hard decisions. It is a hard decision to release the murderers of your own people. But just because a decision is a difficult one to make does not necessarily mean that it is a right decision—it can be difficult, damaging, and wrong.
Also on Monday, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected a petition to stay the release of the murderers, saying that the court did not want to get involved in political decisions. It is both disturbing and awful how Israel’s Supreme Court is so hypocritical, favoring those who seek to do damage to the state while presenting a tough and stubborn policy to their own countrymen.
An American Jewish organizational leader said to me the other day in discussing this situation that he was wondering what it was that G‑d wants from the Jewish people. I thought that was an interesting and even startling comment from someone who deals with these issues daily from an almost exclusively political perspective. But there he was pondering and wondering where G‑d’s will was in this most convoluted of steps taken by Israel. Sure, it is a Jewish value to be kind and just. But these prisoner releases are way off the charts.
The case in point is twofold. The first is the matter of Jonathan Pollard that we addressed here last week. The second is the refusal of the Israeli government to release the half-dozen or so Jewish prisoners being held for many years because they murdered Arabs. Israel’s kindness and sense of justice, it seems, goes only so far and no further.
But that was a good question that is not asked often enough. What does G‑d want? These Middle East negotiations are backward and upside-down. Last week and this week we are reading about and studying the ancient drama that took place around the miracle-filled events of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.
One of the oddities was Moshe’s concern about his inability to effectively communicate G‑d’s message to the Jewish people or to Pharaoh. He apparently suffered from a speech impediment that he felt would hamper his ability to do the job he was charged with. While he performed his mission flawlessly, there are also great lessons from these events for us to learn these few thousand years later.
Today, Israel is led by one of its greatest orators—Bibi Netanyahu. He is both eloquent and intelligent. He has lived the evolutionary Israel experience. He knows the objective of the outside pressure is to weaken the Jewish state for a variety of reasons. But as beautifully as he speaks, somehow he is having great difficulty communicating the important message about Israel’s rights and her position vis-à-vis her avowed enemies.
Therefore, despite his eloquence, he has had to articulate the need for an unworkable two-state solution, and talk about the inexplicable requirement for Israel to make “painful concessions.” And, time and again, he has had to relent and back down when it comes to the injustice being dealt to Jonathan Pollard. And perhaps the pièce de résistance of all the crazy things Israel has had to do in order to be granted temporary acceptance is to release those who murdered of their own men, women, and children.
Why are Jewish values and justice thrown out the window when it comes to our own people, but strictly administered and adhered to when it comes to others? Does that make us better people, more liked, better loved? Apparently not.
So, are we stuck in this conundrum? Well, in a sense, the answer is yes. But on the other hand, we put ourselves here and we are the only ones who can extricate ourselves. v
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.