Over the past few weeks, my house, like many Jewish homes all across the globe, has been a battlefield. An unrelenting war has been declared against chametz, all manner of bread, cookie, or otherwise leavened grain, an assault which leaves no couch unturned and no handle unscrubbed, because you never know what speck of dust might truly be a deviously disguised pretzel crumb.
But this war is a fake. It’s a trap we design for ourselves in order to take all of the energy we might muster for the truly difficult search for chametz, and misdirect it towards a much simpler, more concrete, more comfortable target. It’s always much easier to face an external enemy than it is to come to terms with the enemy within. Our pious cleaning of every nook and cranny in the house distracts us from the real soul searching that the search for chametz represents. The scriptural source the Talmud provides for this search is a powerful verse in the book of Tzefania. “And it will be at that time, I will search Jerusalem by candlelight, and punish all those who rest settled on their dregs.” We are meant to inspect ourselves meticulously for complacence, for inaction born of the arrogance which the chametz comes to symbolize. When a person is puffed up by their own ego, they see no need for self-inspection, only for criticizing the failings of others.
When President Rivlin responds to the ongoing atrocities in Syria, which this week again returned to popular consciousness, by invoking the Holocaust and calling on the international community to take action, he has done something laudable. But he has also fallen into the same chametz trap. To call on others to act, and even to encourage some measure of Israeli aid, externalizes the enemy, and provides us with easy, concrete work which maintains our ego intact. Real soul searching demands we ask ourselves the hard questions about Israel’s active involvements in human rights atrocities across the globe, which may be different in scope than the current crisis in Syria, but not in kind. “As a people who survived the greatest of atrocities,” Rivlin said, “We cannot remain mute.”
But in South Sudan, where thousands of civilians have been killed and women are routinely raped, Israel is not mute, or passive. Israel, by its continued sale of weapons to the South Sudanese government, is an active accessory to the murder. Israel continues to hide the role of its weapons sales in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and now fosters a close relationship with, and sell weapons to, President Paul Kagame’s regime, accused of the same atrocities once perpetrated against him. And so it is in Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Burma, Azerbaijan, and the Ivory Coast. Israeli weapons are sold, with the approval of the ministry of defense, to governments implicated in varying levels of violations of human rights. In the Phillippines, President Rodrigo Duterte relies on Israeli weapons to carry out his murderous war on drugs, which Amnesty International calls a “war on the poor”. Next month, Israel will be the first Western country to grant Duterte the honor and legitimacy of an official presidential visit.
These are painful, troubling facts. The search for chametz is a painful, drastic process, culminates in its complete incineration. But President Rivlin is right. As a people that endured the atrocity of the Holocaust, as a people that still suffers from hatred around the globe, we cannot remain mute. If we want to properly celebrate our own freedom, we have no choice but to engage in a brutally honest soul-searching of our own complacence and inaction.
The author has organized an online petition for educators to protest Rodrigo Duterte’s upcoming visit to Yad Vashem that can be signed here