Donniel Hartman
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Oh, the humanity

The blood was still fresh in Har Nof when politics set in

Even for an Israeli, I am an unrepentant optimist. But truth be told, recent events are making it increasingly difficult to sustain this optimism. It’s not that we lack political insight or opportunity. We are losing our humanity.

I awoke this week to the news that members of my people were murdered while praying in a synagogue. Worldwide denunciations of this barbaric terrorist act were quick, vociferous, and unequivocal. Yet, as the litany of government and editorial condemnations were reported in the media, I experienced a deep sense of alienation and discomfort. Jews were slaughtered with cleavers, and somehow the event was immediately positioned in political terms of gain and loss. Today, the world was on our side.

As the details of the horror were revealed, my first thoughts were not of the perpetrators or to the future implications this act will have for Jerusalem, Israel, and Israeli-Palestinian relations. In fact, my first response was not a thought but a pain in my heart. I imagined what the individuals who were praying were experiencing when their religious and safe space was invaded, and the helplessness they must have felt in trying to avoid the blows of the cleavers and the thrusts of the knives. I thought of how encumbered they must have felt by the tallitot wrapped around their bodies and the tefillin wound on their heads and arms when trying to escape. I felt their fear and their horror, and my heart ached.

True, silence is the fertile ground on which evil thrives. But how have we reached a place where condemnation of such evil is newsworthy and not self-evident, and is demanded in the context of political support? How has the Israeli-Palestinian conflict denigrated to such a place, where everything gets filtered through a political zero-sum game lens?

Was the murder good for Israel? To prevent, heaven forbid, such an outcome, Palestinian and Arab social media were filled with postings that translated the terrorism into an act of great heroism, an achievement to be celebrated. Palestinian leadership condemned the act but made sure that one not forget the context and condemned as well, the evil being perpetrated against Palestinians in Jerusalem and elsewhere. A Palestinian bus driver who committed suicide had his death converted into a murder at the hands of Israelis, and thus hopefully paint the day as more balanced in the victimhood stakes.

Was the murder good for Israel? The Government Press Office disseminated the gruesome pictures far and wide, so that all would see the truth of what we are facing. Israeli politicians were quick to ascribe blame to the Palestinian Authority, so as to maximize the validity of our political claim that the current status quo is their fault. Others were quick to call for action and revenge to buttress their support among the Israeli electorate and to fortify their position as those who truly care for Jewish life and Israel’s security. Oh, the humanity.

Could we not have waited 24 hours before our political reality took over? Could we not have allowed the tragedy to speak its own language? Could we not have allowed the opportunity for our humanity to emerge?

The political endgame is clear: a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace, with dignity and security. Our borders, the pre-1967 lines with modifications (land swaps), to take into account realities on the ground, and a compromise which will enable both Israelis and Palestinians to have Jerusalem as the capital of their state.

Those who yearn for peace in the Middle East need to understand that the reality on the ground has profoundly shifted. Far more than settlement expansion, the ascending power of Hamas, and the limitations of the current political leadership, the challenge we are increasingly facing is a loss of humanity, or more accurately, our inability to see the other as such.

All human beings are created in the image of God and endowed with inalienable rights. The task of politics is to both maximize those rights for one’s citizens and to enable them for one’s neighbors. We have lost sight of this simple truth. Terror is winning.

True, we must combat terror not merely with verbal denunciations, but with policies and actions which express the right to self-defense and our responsibility to fight evil. But we must also combat it by recognizing not only the casualties in human life that it extracts, but also the loss of human sensibilities that it spreads.

Peace is not simply a political platform. It is a value and aspiration grounded in our humanity. To move forward, we need to educate, reengage, and reconnect to that humanity so that peace can become a reality.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and the author of 'Putting God Second: How to Save Religion' from Itself. Together with Yossi Klein Halevi and Elana Stein Hain, he co-hosts the 'For Heaven’s Sake' podcast. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis, and religious and lay leaders in Israel and North America. He is a prominent essayist, blogger and lecturer on issues of Israeli politics, policy, Judaism, and the Jewish community. He has a PhD in Jewish philosophy from Hebrew University, an MA in political philosophy from New York University, an MA in religion from Temple University, and rabbinic ordination from the Shalom Hartman Institute.