“Humanitarians” — Holy or Hollow?

Although I do not identify myself as a “humanitarian,” if being a humanitarian means taking no pleasure in the pain and suffering of others, but rather wishing God’s blessing that they live good and great lives, then I am.  So, why do I cringe when many of those hailed by others as (or self-described) humanitarians speak out and write?

Torah teaches me that all people are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), that we not oppress the stranger (Exodus 22:20), that we aspire that ultimately war will no longer even be studied, let alone fought (Isaiah 2:4).  Broadly speaking, Jews and good people everywhere oppose legal and social discrimination against Blacks, Women, LGBT, and Palestinians, let alone violence.  So, why do I not join the noble humanitarians who advocate protecting the innocent Gazans?  

First, selective humanitarianism is hollow.  By definition, humanitarianism means all humans.  Anything less is less. 

Hollow humanitarians — in the aftermath of an ideological, planned massacre, brutally slaughtering and kidnapping innocents — babies, children, the elderly — and celebrating it! — were largely silent.  Why the pause? What is morally unclear?

Then, they spoke, only after Israel regrouped to round up the Hamas terrorists lurking within Israel and protect its living citizens — and then attacked Hamas.   The hollow humanitarians spoke, calling for a pause.  Only when Palestinians were threatened and killed — yes, also babies, children, the elderly among armed Hamas fighters — did we hear from them.   Except Israel warned them, allowed them safe passage — whereas Hamas trapped them, used them, and hid among them.  What is morally cloudy?  A ceasefire would ensure Hamas’ existence — more deaths to Jews and Arabs.

Jews — holy humanitarians who have overwhelmingly supported the social and legal rights of Blacks, Women, LGBT, and Palestinians for generations — are slurred, intimidated, and threatened on college campuses.  Many Jews actively supported, worked for, voted for, contributed to, civil rights, and lived so in their personal lives.   Some risked their lives and died for others’ dignity.  They joined many others regardless of faith, race, gender, or ethnicity.  

Hollow humanitarians virtually disappear when Jews are threatened — political leaders, Hollywood celebrities, media personalities, business leaders, religious leaders, ethnic leaders, even Jews among them.  Some, incredibly, stand as visible vocal supporters of Hamas, joining chants of “from the river to the sea!” — the elimination of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.   Others self-muffle if not self-muzzle.  Hollow humanitarians.

We have the tools to distinguish between holy and hollow humanitarianism.  They are selective.  When they do speak out, it comes late.  Their words are fewer; their verbs and adjectives are milder.  And in the final analysis they reveal a discernible pattern.  

Ultimately, selective hollow humanitarianism undermines holy humanitarianism, exposing politicization and undercutting support from the people it needs most. 

Many Jews know that at our Pesach seder we perform a custom — as we recite the  10 plagues against Egypt, after each mention, we dip our finger in our wine and touch our napkins or plate.  We explain that we recall that Egyptians died.  These teachings reflect Jews and Israel — and those who display a moral conscience. Holy humanitarianism. 

About the Author
Rabbi Seth D Gordon received his rabbinic s'michah from Rav David Weiss Halivini from the UTJ and has served congregations in Annapolis, Maryland, Bethpage, New York, and St Louis, Missouri. His emphasis is Jewish education. Rabbi Gordon has worked across the board, co-founding a day school in Annapolis, and founded the now defunct African American-Jewish coalition of Anne Arundel County. He also taught in a Jewish Day School on Long Island, NY. He serves on the executive board of the UTJ and is the past Chairman of MORASHAH, its rabbinical organization. He and his wife are blessed with five children and eleven grandchildren; two of their sons, their wives, and five of their grandchildren live in Israel.