Avidan Freedman

When America Taught Israel a Passover Lesson

Two American decisions on the eve of Passover, the passing of a $17 billion aid package, and the sanctioning of the Netzach Yehuda battalion, could not be more aptly timed to drive home a critical Passover lesson that this government has been consistently ignoring since its inception, with increasingly disastrous results for Israel.  While Netanyahu referred to the latter decision as “the height of absurdity, and a moral low”, it would be more appropriate to direct those descriptions at the Israeli policies that brought us to this point.

Why was the Netzach Yehuda battalion sanctioned, marking a significant step beyond even the sanctioning of individual citizens? Not because America is demanding that we abide by their laws, but because Israel has been derelict in enforcing its own laws. Over the years, there have been multiple cases of soldiers in Netzach Yehuda acting with brutality and cruelty. Those that have come to public light are surely only a small percentage of those that have occurred. The most recent, the death of 78 year old Palestinian-American Omer As’ad after he was blindfolded, handcuffed, and then abandoned by the soldiers, was described by the Israeli Chief of General Staff as an exceedingly severe ethical incident. Nevertheless, while they did face disciplinary measures, the soldiers involved were not brought up on any criminal charges.

Similarly, Israeli citizens who have been sanctioned by the United States were all engaged in carefully documented criminal activities, attacking random Arab and Bedouin civilians, burning their fields and destroying their property. Had Israel responded appropriately to these acts of vigilante violence, the United States would not have had to take action. But Israel has consistently turned a blind eye, with acts of violent vengeance for the brutal murder of Binyamin Achimeir continuing to this moment.

Why aren’t we enforcing our own laws? It’s hardly surprising when government ministers (who range from suspected to convicted criminals) proudly encourage these violations.  This was a policy that started in the earliest days of this government, with Minister Betzalel Smotrich supporting the “wiping out of Huwara” before groups of Israelis took the law into their own hands to do just that (an act that Smotrich never condemned). The trampling of the law later continued with the purposeful ignoring and active encouragement of building outposts that are illegal according to Israeli law. As a minister in the Defense Ministry responsible for Judea and Samaria, Smotrich did his best to ensure the law would not be enforced, and as Minister of Finance, he now acts to ensure their funding.  After the announcement of the impending sanctions, Itamar Ben Gvir announced that, if the Defense Minister will not stand  behind Netzach Yehuda, he will “take them under his wing”, incorporating them into the forces under his jurisdiction, forces that he has been working hard to politicize and bring under his absolute control.

Indeed, this has been the modus operandi of this government from the outset. At every turn, when it was not unable to change the law to its liking, it simply violated the law. This was the case with the law requiring the recruitment of the Haredi population, which this government still ignores. The main purpose of the “judicial reform” was to erase all checks and balances on the government’s power, so that it would have a free hand to change laws in any ways it sees fit.

The great irony is that Israel’s most religious government ever, whose members frequently condemn the corrosive effect of Western values, tried to justify this change in the name of democracy, while the core political message that Judaism brought to the world, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks compellingly argued, suggests the very opposite.

In the ancient world, might meant right, and that meant that whatever rules a ruler created automatically and by definition enjoyed divine approval. The political idea at the core of the Exodus, and at the core of the Bible, was that there exists a law above any ruler, which obligates him as much as it obligates his subjects. In his Haggada, Sacks quotes Lord Acton who suggested that “The Hebrew nation laid down the parallel lines on which all freedom has been won… the principle that all political authorities must be tested and reformed according to a code which was not made by man” (page 65). The Torah, far before any other political philosophy, taught that all political authorities- from kings to democratically elected governments- must submit to the Divine law, which determines that all humans are created equally in God’s image, and therefore possess inalienable rights. When the United States insists that the Israeli government cannot simply ignore its own laws, and particularly those related to human rights, it is a Biblical lesson that they are enforcing.

The holiday that bears this message, of course, is Passover, and in that sense these sanctions come at a very apt time. But not only is this time of the year closely tied to this lesson; so is the messenger. For if there is any nation in the world that adopted this Biblical idea to its very core, it is the United States of America. In America’s first inaugural address, George Washington said that “the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.” More than 150 years later, Kennedy echoed the very same ideas in his address, insisting that “the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God” (Quoted in the Sacks Haggada, p. 63).

On the very same day that the news of the impending sanctions hit, America provided us with 17 billion good reasons to believe that their policies towards us are not motivated, as some Israeli politicians and pundits would cynically suggest, by anything similar to antisemitism. Rather, both are motivated by the very same deep sense of moral kinship, which carries both boons for the Jewish state, along with expectations that we live up to the highest ideals that we have gifted to the world.

Sanctions against an IDF battalion, as Benny Gantz has said, is a dangerous precedent. But our anger and our protests should not be directed at the messenger. What is truly dangerous is the corruption that comes of a government that believes that it is all powerful, that it need not follow the law. This was the corruption that was overthrown and rejected when God took a slave people out of bondage. There is no more appropriate time of the year to internalize this message and to ensure that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.