Hillel to Orwell: Israel Distorts the Golden Rule

It was recently reported that Israel plans to bring 2,000 Ethiopian Jews to the Jewish Homeland. This is both too little and too late and yet another demonstration of Israel’s failure to adhere to basic Jewish morality. I am only fifteen, but even I understand that.

How? In 4th grade I was taught a story that neatly summarized a core principle of Judaism. A convert sought to learn all of the precepts of Judaism “while standing on one foot”, i.e. in a very short period of time. After being chased away by other rabbis, he finally met  Hillel, who was renowned for his patience. Hillel told the convert that the entire Torah can be logically deduced from the principle of “וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ,” love your neighbor as yourself. The centrality of this Jewish principle has been recognized by other religions and by philosophers.

Given the importance of this principle,I cannot understand why the Israeli government does not assist all Jews throughout the world, regardless of race.

Perhaps some light can be shed on this puzzle through the lessons I learned in my 8th grade  English class, when we read the book Animal Farm. One of the themes of the book is that sometimes people who claim to be in favor of equal rights for everyone are insincere and simply use the language of human rights to conceal their real intentions. This process is neatly demonstrated by the ideology of the ruling class of animals in a farm that has been taken away from its human owners. The ruling animals twist the meaning of the word equality and state that “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” The meaning of the word equal in the first half of the phrase is obviously different from the meaning in the second half, as it is impossible to be “more equal” than something else.

This twisting of the meanings of words was a mechanism used to perpetuate racial inequality in the United States. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court upheld the doctrine that separation of the races was permitted as long as the services provided were equal. In practice, of course, the school systems provided to blacks and whites were not equal in quality, nor could they be, since the fact that whites did not want to share schools with blacks sent the children the message that they were not in fact regarded as equals.

The State of Israel is designed as a homeland for all of the Jewish people. This is a principle enshrined in its Declaration of Independence and in the Law of Return. But in practice, the government of Israel has not treated black Jews the same as white Jews. White Jews have had very little difficulty gaining entry to the Jewish State. In contrast, the government, through its Interior Ministry, has not treated black Jews equally, failing to admit black Jews on the same basis as white Jews. The concept of “love your neighbor as yourself” has been interpreted to mean “love your neighbor who looks like yourself”.

This discriminatory behavior is unforgivable coming from anyone. What makes it even worse is that it is the government, a recognized authority, that is acting badly. Since impressionable 4th and 8th graders believe that what the government does is proper, it is setting a bad example for an entire generation of future citizens. The government by its behavior is teaching children that even core principles, like love your neighbor as yourself, can be misinterpreted to the point that they are applied in a way that is directly contrary to their true meaning.

If Israel truly wanted to abide by Hillel’s axiom, which is even more important during the time of Covid-19, it would bring in all 14,000 Jews — who have been waiting for over two decades to make aliyah to the Jewish Homeland — as soon as possible. As both Hillel and Orwell demonstrated, none of us, hen or sheep, black or white, are less important or of less value in this world.

About the Author
Micah Feit Mann is a teenager living in Atlanta. He visited the Jewish communities of Gondar and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia over a ten-day period in July, 2017, again in September, 2019, and a third time in May 2023. He likes to discuss the issues of the day and appreciates diverse viewpoints. He looks forward to engaging with the broader community through this blog.
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