It’s Not Always About Them. It’s About Who We Want to Be.

This is about as political as I’m ever going to express myself publicly but I feel like I have to say a few things.  I often try to not take a stand as to not turn someone off from everything I do comedically but my conscience is clear here.  I believe there is nothing right-wing or left-wing about trying to hold ourselves to a high moral standard.  If I strive to be a mensch and be the best human being I can be, I only wish the same for my fellow countrymen and my country itself.  If someone disagrees, well, I guess I can live with it.

This morning, I saw the following Tweet from Rabbi Daniel Gordis:

It turns out that an Arab teenager was found dead this morning in the Jerusalem Forest and police suspect that it might have been a revenge killing.

Within minutes, the talkbacks of the Times of Israel were filled with defensive comments telling us not to rush to judgment, accusing TOI of being a mouthpiece for Haaretz (which I guess is two insults wrapped in one), claims that Arabs did this (amazing how this journalistic dynamo got the lowdown before the police), and more. Never mind that they were reporting what the police suspected, apparently the idea that Jews could be responsible was too much to consider and that, hey, let’s indict the whole news site for even suggesting it.  We don’t yet know what happened; let’s pray it wasn’t an act of revenge.  That said….

Rabbi Gordis is 100% right and it’s already clear that many Jews have already failed the test. I am sick and tired of the total inability of too many people to look in the mirror and realize that this conflict is not only about the Palestinians.

How does someone miss the irony of claiming on Facebook that “we’re better than them”, “we are a people of love, not hate”, and wondering why they hate us all in the same breath as “let’s turn Gaza into a parking lot” and “let’s kill them all”?

We clamor for the Palestinians to take responsibility for their actions, to bring terrorists to justice, to condemn perpetrators of horrible crimes. When Jews are rioting in Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs” and attacking innocent bystanders, they must be condemned. If it turns out that the Arab boy was killed in an act of revenge, it must be condemned. Not only by the government, but by all of us. On Facebook. In Shabbat dinner conversations. In our minds. It doesn’t matter that they killed three of ours, an unspeakable, horrible tragedy. It doesn’t matter that Arafat said no in 2000 at Camp David. It doesn’t matter that Hamas are rejectionist animals.  Those have nothing to do with the killing of a boy.  It doesn’t make us weaker or compromise our values to be human and acknowledge suffering when it exists on the other side.

We claim to be better than they are. Are we?  Those who commit these heinous crimes surely aren’t. If we can’t look in the mirror, take responsibility for our actions, admit that we are also capable of terrible things, admit that our actions contribute to making things worse, then are we sure? This is not the time to answer “yes” and point out all the ways we are better. It’s not always about them. It’s about us too.

Marc Goldberg wrote a blog post yesterday on the Times of Israel saying that we need to be careful in how we respond to the kidnappings and murders as to not make things worse. On Facebook, he was attacked by people saying “it wasn’t the right time to talk politics” and by the way, he has no place writing for the Times of Israel, he’s a “douchebag”, on and on.  First of all, I’ve already made my feelings clear about internet talkbackers.  Express your thoughts respectfully or shut up.

That aside, has anyone noticed that the only time that it’s ok to talk politics after a tragedy is when you agree with the viewpoint? It’s one thing to disagree with his opinion. It’s another to be so threatened by self-critique that you lose all civility and tolerance for opinions that don’t jibe with yours. Of course, many who said it wasn’t the time to express political viewpoints often had no problem expressing their own viewpoints about revenge, vengeance, more building of settlements, and on and on.

A friend in America wrote on FB that she was nervous and frustrated about an escalation with Gaza and someone responded with “Don’t be either. We can take it and we have to kick ass.” Who are we, Rambo? Who ISN’T frustrated?!?! When I am no longer frustrated by the situation here, either we’ve made peace or send me back to America because I don’t want to live here anymore.

It’s clear to me that I’ve been going some kind of a crisis of identity over the last year. It’s not because I think the Palestinians love us, that I like the idea of withdrawing to the ’67 borders, or that I think President Barack Obama is the biggest Zionist since David Ben-Gurion. It’s not only about anyone else. It’s about us also. It’s about people accusing the Arabs of X, Y, and Z while being completely unable to recognize elements of racism, obstructionism, hypocrisy, or other flaws within us. It’s people who demand that the other side hear, learn, and recognize our narrative while having their heads 100% in the clouds about the plight of those on the other side.  I don’t know if this makes me left-wing, moderate, or a member of the Shas party, and I don’t care.  If I read an article with thought-provoking ideas, I will consider it and internalize it whether or not it was written by Gideon Levy or Caroline Glick.  I believe we need to be more open to other perspectives, not less.  And if we want the Palestinians to learn our narrative (I think we do), it wouldn’t kill us to listen to theirs.  We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to agree with it (I certainly don’t agree with a lot or most of it), but I now believe it’s more complicated than I thought when I moved here.

Everything is not a comparison. If a Jew vandalizes a mosque, burns a field of olive trees, throws someone in jail without due process and basic human rights, it doesn’t matter that the Arabs said no in ’48, attacked us in ’67, or blew up buses during the Second Intifada. It’s not always about moral equivalence. Sometimes it’s about taking responsibility for ourselves and not always pointing to what they’re doing.

If Jews can’t find it in their hearts to criticize ourselves for rioting, price tag attacks, murder, etc., what kind of Jews are we really?




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  1. Mark G July 2, 2014 at 4:50 am #

    I’ve always loved Benji the comedian. Now I also respect Benji the mensh.

  2. Benji July 2, 2014 at 5:36 am #

    Only now? : ) Thanks a lot, Mark.

  3. Gail Hoenig Cutler July 2, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    Hi Benji,
    I saw the link to this post on FB (thanks to Elana). Although I didn’t really know you in YJ, I just wanted to take the moment to say hello and that I really appreciate what you had to say in your post. I perfectly captures how I often feel and why I try never to talk to people about politics in Israel. Anyway, the link pulled me to your blog and I took a couple of minutes to poke around. Congratulations on your aliyah and accomplishments.
    Regards,
    Gail

  4. Laura Rosbrow July 2, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    Well said.

  5. deborah katz July 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Thank you for your fair, honest perspective. Being pro-Israel comes with responsibility. Somehow hearing this from a comedian gives it more gravity. Love you, Benji. Always and forever.

  6. Sheldon Dan July 2, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    I generally agree with this, but on the other hand I am beginning to think that even the most moderate person can become radicalized by everything that has happened, culminating in the murders of three Israel teenagers.

    When I lived in Memphis in 1979, I participated in the JCC singles group, and after the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty we had a party where a number of Arabs celebrated with us. We had high hopes in those days that changes were coming–that the Arabs were no longer calling for “driving Israel into the sea,” that Arafat meant what he said about abrogating the Palestinian charter regarding the destruction of Israel, and that it was understood that some land would have to be returned for the sake of peace.

    Then there were the high hopes generated by the Oslo accords in 1993. How many of us were sure that peace was just around the corner? Sadly, the hopes were dashed again and again. It wasn’t due to a lack of trying to be “open to more perspectives, not less” (your words). And I think the facts show that we HAVE “listened to [the Palestinians' narrative].” We showed our good faith by withdrawing from Gaza in 2005, and this was rewarded with rockets. We have negotiated with the Palestinians and even freed prisoners and froze construction as “confidence-building measures.” The Israelis have been willing to return land and even do things they maybe should not do, such as redivide Jerusalem. The Palestinians could not even recognize Israel as the Jewish state. This leads me to believe that the Palestinians are unwilling to listen to OUR narrative (for example, there is a reason that the Jewish state is where it is).

    Perhaps all these “negotiations” were a sham after all? If so, is it no wonder how moderates are driven up the wall by a world that demands that Israel “show restraint” and is willing to force it to do so, but makes no similar demands of the Palestinians?

    Please do not misinterpret anything I have said. Not even the murders of three Israeli teenagers justifies the murder of an Arab teenager, who as far as we know is innocent of any accusations. Nor does it justify the calls for “death to Arabs” from some. The problem that I have is when WE are asked to be introspective, but THEY aren’t. Remember the condemnations from the Jewish community for the murders conducted by Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir? Of course there are those Jews who don’t behave as they should, but the evidence points to the fact that Israelis and Jews take responsibility when it is deserved. I would be more assured if there were those on the Palestinian side who were pushed to do the same. Unfortunately, I have little evidence of that.

    Rabbi Gordis is exactly right: The test of “whether we are better than this” will be tested by how we behave when someone takes this kind of reprehensible action. And if it turns out that an Israeli committed this crime, I hope he is prosecuted, convicted, and executed, just as I hope the ones who murdered the three boys receive the same fate.

    I recognize that this is very different from the comments you have received so far. So be it. I have used my full name (as opposed to the handle I usually use) because I feel the need to state these opinions even if the majority of your readers disagree. I hope that I adhered to the rules of Internet conduct (as you mentioned here), and I respect the viewpoint of the other commenters, and I hope they respect mine.

    I apologize about the length of this post, but I felt it had to be answered. Kol hakavod for provoking a great deal of thought.

  7. Benji July 3, 2014 at 11:33 pm #

    Thanks to all for their feedback. It means a lot.

    Sheldon, I think they are totally oblivious to our narrative. But again, that’s a different conversation. I think most Jews have no clue of what the life of the average Palestinian is like. I don’t claim to know very much. How many Palestinians do most Jews know? From what I hear from people whose love for and loyalty to this country can’t be questioned, we did a poor job of sticking to our commitments during Oslo as well. When all the former heads of Shabak in “The Gatekeepers” criticize our government’s actions, who can question their loyalty or judgment?

  8. Rich September 7, 2014 at 11:02 pm #

    I’m coming to this oh so very after the fact.

    The young man’s killer was arrested and charged.

    As a State, I think Israel lived up to Gordis’ demand.

    As individuals, well . . .

    There are people who believe that any admission of wrongdoing becomes a license for abuse, so they are afraid to admit it.

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