Israel is often dubbed “the Jewish State” by its supporters, so it is not out of left field to question whether its actions should be taken as a reflection of Jewish values. That is a question ultimately for Jews to answer.
Personally, as a Muslim whose own faith values are often undermined by the misdeeds of those who claim to act in the name of defending the honor and freedom of Muslims, I know better than to blame Jewishness for Israel’s egregious violations.
Israel’s failure is not a failure of Jewish values. If anything, it’s a failure to apply Jewish values.
Yesterday’s massacre of humanitarian aid activists by Israeli commandos who stormed their flotilla in international waters made global shockwaves. The flotilla hoped to deliver 10,000 tons of food, medicine, and construction materials to the besieged Gazans who experts say face a critical shortage of basic needs following three years of a land, air, and sea blockade imposed by Israel, and abetted by Egypt. The incident was met by a flurry of condemnations and protests by many around the world who felt that Israel’s pre-dawn attack was just another example of Israel thinking it can breach international law with special impunity.
Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu said of the incident:
“This action was uncalled for. Israeli actions constitute a grave breach of international law. In simplest terms, this is tantamount to banditry and piracy. It is murder conducted by a state. It has no excuses, no justification whatsoever. A nation state that follows this path has lost its legitimacy as a respectful member of the international community.”
But here at The Seeker, a blog that concerns itself with religion and its role in the public sphere, we ask the question, does this crisis have anything to do with religion?
Well, not directly. Israel’s decision to storm the flotilla was more likely motivated by political rather than religious considerations. While Israel could probably tolerate the delivery of international aid to the Gazans, it is doubtless queasy about the flotilla’s role as a symbol of defiance against its state-imposed blockade and its national will power. After all, the blockade is itself a political strategy to force the Palestinians into despair and thus revolt against Hamas, the democratically-elected party perceived by Gazans as a legitimate resistance and social services enterprise, but deemed by Israel as a terrorist organization.
So where does religion come in?
Religion, whether Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or any of the other great global faiths of the world, at its core works to address a problem that is man’s most treacherous undoing: his reckless drive for power. It does so by mitigating this force of human nature via a concept arguably more powerful: morality (the notion of self-imposed red-lines).
Israel’s failure is no doubt one of moral proportions:
Israel’s willingness to send its armed commandos to attack unarmed activists in international waters is doubtlessly a clear breach of international law, but more importantly it is a breach of a basic moral code of honor. Former Israeli Knesset member, Uri Avnery, opines: “a warlike attack against aid ships and deadly shooting at peace and humanitarian aid activists, it is a crazy thing that only a government that crossed all red lines can do.”
Israel’s willingness to inflict collective punishment against a civilian population of 1.5 million people in the form of a life-choking blockade poses many legal problems, but more importantly it poses a moral dilemma amid concerns of human dignity and human rights.
State morality is a concept that gets little play, it is a meek concept that quickly buckles under the weight of the somber rhetoric of realpolitik; it’s the classic “let the dreamers make way for the big boys” and “welcome to the real world” treatment.
Judaism, like Islam and Christianity has a long tradition of respecting and honoring human life. The challenge for Jews, like it is for Christians and Muslims, is whether or not those values will stand strong in the face of life’s tests and tribulations, or whether they will merely be celebrated in theory, only to quickly make way for raw human ego and unabashed power trips when the going gets tough.