Shael Siegel

Or LaGoyim

The delicate balance between victimhood and power is off kilter once again if one takes into account this latest, disappointing exhibition of intolerance and blatant racism exhibited against frightened, disadvantaged migrants. How is it possible that a nation founded on the principles of social justice understanding its manifest destiny to be underscored by that noble concept is capable of the same hatred exhibited against Jews during its lengthy sojourn in the Diaspora? Shocking however, in this entire episode is the noticeable silence of the rabbinic community whose propensity for the irrelevant is well known, yet when they can redeem themselves by demonstrating moral leadership they get an “F”.  Noticeably absent from the narrative is the clarion voice of Rav Ovadia Yosef never having a positive word to say about a gentile could have redeemed himself.

Ironically, this episode gives new meaning to the words Vayakam Melech Chadash. Our earliest flirtation with the idea of social justice emanates from the story of Exodus when the Bible tells us that a new king comes to power that “knew not Joseph and all the wonderful things he did on behalf of Egypt”. What the new king saw was a foreign people living in the land growing larger and stronger, fearing that their numbers would grow exponentially threatening the stability of Egypt. A similar comment was made by the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his cabinet meeting recently saying “ If we don’t stop the problem, 60,000 infiltrators are liable to become 600,000 and cause the negation of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, demonstrating once again the very delicate balance between power and victimhood. Ironically, the Bible references the number 600,000 as the of the number of  male Jews leaving Egypt on the 14th of Nisan.

Connected to the exodus story is the commandment to treat the temporary sojourner “amongst you” with equanimity because the Jews too had been guests and we supposedly remember what it is like to be treated unfairly, discriminated against, loathed and violated emotionally and physically. So if this is a mitzvah asei  (Deuteronomy 10:19), why is it that we don’t hear peeps from the chief rabbis or from other “gedolim” that are exemplars’ of virtue and ethical behavior?  On the contrary, Eli Yishai of Shas, the party of Ovadia Yosef once claimed that foreign workers and migrants carry a “profusion of disease” sounding unfortunately like a sentence from an essay byWilhelm Mahr. When this coming year our rabbis meticulously and scrupulously follow the arcane mitzvot how will they feel knowing that they contributed to the stigmatization of the stranger in the land? Perhaps they won’t make any connection between the Passover story and reality.

The failure to create the nexus between our national history to the suffering of others is what has caused the otherwise delicate balance between power and victimhood out of whack. For those who have place victimhood as the be all and end all of our narrative believe that no people can be victimized on the scale of Jews. Anyone who seeks to draw parallels between our suffering culminating in the holocaust and other genocide is dismissed. Victimhood has become a national occupation for too many. Stripping our rabbis of that dubious distinction would rob them of their “choseness”.

All this is not to say that we should open the floodgates to all the poor and downtrodden. But once Israel allows refugees in there is a moral obligation to protect them for as long as they are our guests.  There are those who draw this moral manifesto from flimsy references to a distorted understanding of tikun olam. There are others who seek the moral imperative from biblical text but that too looses credence especially when our own religious/spiritual leaders are mum. The true moral manifesto ought to come from our own historical narrative as a people.  If we can’t treat others with respect how will we be able to read and reconcile our own history as a people detested, vilified, ostracized and murdered as a minority in host countries. Were these host countries justified in their racism as we seek to justify our own behavior?

This is not to say that Israel ought to open its borders to the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to be free, to paraphrase Emma Lazarus. Our first responsibility is to assure that our own citizens are safe and secure. Our secondary responsibility is to provide emergency assistance when possible. As long as these people are our guests it is incumbent on us as a people to treat them, as we would have liked to be treated when we were guests in other lands. Absent this fundamental moral value we will have lost a unique quality, which sets us apart as an  “Or LaGoyim”.








About the Author
Shael was educated in the United States and Israel, served in the IDF and is an observer and commentator on the Jewish ethical, social and religious landscape in the United States and Israel. The posting of essays, musings and short stories are some of the ways he has chosen to articulate his search for Jewish values. You can visit his website at or his Facebook page Tishma.