The Morality of Israel….Yes, You Can Depend on It


The media over the past ten days has been filled with vitriol, both here in Israel and abroad. Initially over the unwarranted kidnapping and later despicable murder of three students whose only crime was that they were Jewish to the even more obnoxious burning alive of an Arab teenager in the Jerusalem suburbs, presumably in order exact vengeance for the Israeli deaths.

Independent of the issues related to these very tragic events, it is instructive to examine how these were treated by their respective populations.

When the kidnapping first occurred Israel and soon after the Jewish people worldwide, went into a mode of prayer and genuine concern for the welfare of these three boys and the pain which had been unfairly inflicted on their parents.  The outpouring of love and caring transmitted from the Jewish community worldwide was both spontaneous and sincere.

But in Gaza, Hamas operatives passed out candy in celebration of the kidnapping.  In the Israeli Knesset Arab MK Haneen Zoabi publicly stated her sympathy with the kidnappers who, she opined, had no other way to demonstrate their frustration with Israel’s treatment of its Arab population.  And when it was somewhat evident who the kidnappers might be, as they had disappeared from view immediately thereafter, one of their mothers told the press how proud she would be of her son if he was actually found to be the culprit.  Can you believe?

And when the awful truth came out that the kidnappers had actually killed all three young men very soon after the kidnapping itself, anger seized the Israeli populace and, in a dastardly turn of fate, it would now seem that a few misguided members of our society exacted revenge by killing an Arab youth whose only crime was that he was an Arab.

Here again, it is worth examining the reactions on both sides.  In Israel the Prime Minister ordered the security services to do everything in their power to find the culprits and in short order the police had the perpetrators in hand and three of them confessed to the crime and reenacted it for the security services.  At that point the Prime Minister also publicly deplored the murder and ream after ream of articles appeared in the Israel press deploring the depravity of a society that raises young people capable of such crimes.

On the Arab side, the population, initially in Jerusalem’s suburbs but later in other parts of the country as well, went on a rampage.  Riots broke out, police were called in to quell the riots and were pelted with stones, and the rioters did substantial damage to the Jerusalem light rail system, particularly in the area of the city where the system serves their families (current estimates place the repair costs in the tens of billions of shekels).

But through all of this one fact stands out above all others which the media seems to have forgotten.  Specifically, that after the thousands of years that our people have lived here in the region and the 66 years that Israel has been independent, to our credit we have not absorbed within our psyches the normative behavior of others indigenous to this region.  In a region rife with religious tension that plays itself out with massive casualties (e.g. over 200,000 dead in Syria over the last few years as just one example) we have maintained our morality and our historic value system.

For sure we have had our Baruch Goldstein and the terrible example we saw here this past week as well, but these are, indeed, isolated incidents and not part of the value system which is so much a part of us.

Years ago I heard the singer and philosopher Theodore Bikel say that the wonderful thing about Jews is that as many times as we are forced to live “in the mud” we have never been “of the mud.”  Hard as our enemies have tried, they have not broken our spirit to the point where we have adopted their mores.

Once again we are going through tough times and the events of the past few weeks raise many many questions.  But through it all, looking at the overall picture, we remain a moral people, perhaps not the brightest “light unto the nations” that our Creator wanted us to be, but certainly way brighter than one would expect given our history.  And this is something, even during these difficult times, of which we can and should be proud.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.