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Me and My Government Should Start Telling Israel What To Do

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I am not an Israeli citizen, and I did not serve in the IDF. While from time to time my family and I visit from the states, none of us are in Israel now and none of my kids are in the army. For these reasons I generally don’t think it’s right for me to give opinions about what risks Israel should take for peace or how Israel should manage its security.

But for now I’ve changed my mind. I’ll explain why with an analogy to how we would treat friends going through an angry, bitter divorce.

Many of us have witnessed former spouses become so enraged against each other that even the tiniest, least consequential question becomes a battle of life and death. If she gets the kids on their birthdays, there’s no way she can have them for Thanksgiving too! If he doesn’t pay all the tuition, he has no right to see the kids on weeknights! The threats and counter-threats go on forever.

The couple may have good reason to hate each other, and one or both may have done terrible things. But friends, family, and the legal system need to step in to make sure they don’t ruin their own futures, damage their children, and tear apart the community trying to get back at one another. They can even reach a level of bitterness and anger such that they won’t agree to anything, and even the most generous offer of compromise is met only with scorn. At that point outsiders have to step in and impose common sense.

This is what’s happening now in Israel. Israel’s citizens and leaders are enraged against Hamas. And there is absolutely good reason for them to be- after the atrocities Hamas has committed, how could they not? I feel it too. But in Israel the rage has boiled to a level where any push towards compromise stirs up so much anger there is no way to change course.

This is when outsiders need to step in. In this case, that means first Israel’s allies in the international community. Allies need to tell Israel we care about you and want the best for you, and we realize that right now when it comes to the war against Hamas you are not capable of making good decisions. So we are going to help by looking out for your interests as we negotiate a solution for you, and then insist that you accept what we decide.

Also the system of international law. This is just like what happens in divorce court. If a couple refuses to work things out in mediation, the job of the judge is to listen to both sides and then impose his or her view of what’s fair. Likely both the husband and the wife will scream and yell that the judge doesn’t know what they’re doing and is out to get them, but that’s alright. Of course a judge isn’t perfect and has their own bias, but everyone except the couple themselves understands that turning to an outside judge is still the best way forward.

So too with regard to Israel. By this point the international legal system has to begin imposing a solution. Most notable is the International Court of Justice, which has begun to do that by ordering Israel to limit its military operations in certain ways and to allow more humanitarian aid. International courts and organizations are obviously flawed and have their own bias. But clearly they are much more capable of viewing the situation in a reasoned and objective manner than the warring parties themselves.

I wouldn’t presume to give opinions about the IDF draft law or who to vote for in Israel’s next elections. Those are matters for Israel’s citizens only. But unfortunately, the current war is harming everyone. It’s creating untold misery and destruction, hurting Jewish communities all around the world, and even endangering Israel’s future itself.

It’s quite possible if I lived in Israel I’d act the same way as its leaders, or if a terrorist group attacked where I live like what happened on Oct. 7th I’d be that way too. I don’t presume to judge. But if I ever get out of control angry and self-destructive, I hope my friends wouldn’t leave me alone. Rather, I hope they would look out to stop me from doing anything that has long-lasting consequences I would regret, and would stay with me until they know I’ve calmed down.

Usually it’s chutzpah to tell others we know what’s best for them better than they do. But this has become an exception. This is no longer a time for those of us who care about Israel to defer to the judgment of its duly elected leaders with regard to peace and security. We need to recognize those leaders are failing to make sound decisions with regard to Gaza and to demand other governments and international organizations step in to impose a solution. I know Israel will hate it, but it’s for their own good.

About the Author
Shlomo Levin received Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and Yeshivat Hamivtar, and an M.A. in International Law and Human RIghts from the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica. He is the author of the Human Rights Haggadah, which highlights human rights issues in the Passover story with Jewish and secular sources along and questions for discussion. Learn more at http://www.hrhaggadah.com.
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