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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Yossi Sarid, Israel and the Death of Civility

There are many people within the settlement enterprise, on the right of Israeli politics and within the religious community who have celebrated the death of Yossi Sarid.

This is in spite of an inconvenient truth, expressed by people of an allegedly religious disposition that the Second Temple was overthrown because of "sinat chinum" (hatred between people).   And yet, this is what they are guilty of.  Did not God say of the Egyptians when they were drowning in the Red Sea, that the angels should not sing because they, the Egyptians were also, his (her) children?  They respond with Psalms 139:21: "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? And do not I strive with those that rise up against Thee?” (JPS Tanach 1917) It is used by the settler movement and those people opposed to the Left to justify their own particular hatred, particularly of people like Yossi Sarid.

The problem is that we can all pick and choose texts from holy script.  One of the most negatively impacting issues that Jews have faced throughout the last 1,800 years of history is that our religious competitors interpreted their own religious texts to justify every atrocity they committed in the name of their faith.  They have used it to justify slavery and in the Muslim world still do, to this day. Do we really want to be like them?

The reason the Jewish people have survived for 4,000 years is that we do change, nothing is sacrosanct. We have always wrestled with angels, we have always argued with God. The Golden Mean is a principle concept in Judaism. By choosing the nastier bits of ancient texts we embellish that which is hateful and disfigure that which is beautiful.  

I know that Sarid could be a total ass - the left wing equivalent of the extreme right is the same unbridled hatred of the person with whom they disagree.  Sarid’s eloquence was far too often vile in its expression of passionate disregard for his enemy’s feelings and the target was inevitably those communities of Jews who did not believe as he did it.

That was unforgivable arrogance - the kind of single-minded disregard for feelings that seems to be the salient affliction of modern western society’s most passionate believers.  And here is the issue that afflicts Israel, Europe and the English speaking world.  People whose beliefs are most passionate, often, have very limited if any knowledge outside of the narrow discourse to which they offer their undiluted support, body and soul. Once they sign up to a particular stream of consciousness, all else is discarded.  It helps to explain why it is nearly impossible to engage in debate or even discussion with pro-Palestinian supporters, radical leftists and religious bigots.  Facts that are not consonant with their belief system are brushed aside, often with a violent urgency that intimidates their interlocutor, and they think they are being moral.  It is meant to be thus. Intimidation and violence are key tools in the suppression of debate.  When a particular belief system is so exclusive that it cannot possibly win an argument on its own merits, debate must be occluded at all costs.   And an essential element of this way of thinking is violent speech.

Yossi Sarid is dead, may he rest in peace. I could not agree with his politics because his beliefs excluded a display of compassion for any Israeli’s with whom he disagreed. He understood the anger and frustration Arabs felt but like far too many of his colleagues on the Left, he ignored the base prejudice and antisemitism that was rooted in Arab society.  His secular mindset viewed the Arabs as victims of history and Jews (with whom he was incapable of identifying) as oppressors.  History is rarely that simple and in the Near-East absolutely, it is not.  The most charitable view of that same history is that both Arab and non-Arab are victims of history.  But there are so many historical narratives that to choose only one is to be blind to the past and to dismiss a holistic approach to history is to celebrate ignorance over knowledge.  And that is unforgivably crass.  

The history of the Land of Israel is the history of the Near-East itself. It encompasses an Arab, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Ottoman as well as secular narrative that has impacted every corner of the Globe.   To define oneself by only focusing on a narrow point in history or a single narrative is to reject the enlightenment.

Just as our enemies attempt to exclude us from any legitimate rendering of history, the Left has almost completely lost the attention of Israeli Jewish society.  It has failed to capture our allegiance because it ignores our own legitimate story and refuses to challenge either the bigotry of our enemies or the lies of our ‘friends’.  There is a desperate need for social activism and compassionate engagement in Israeli society but the left cannot re-engage the attention, the trust or the sympathies of the Israeli public in any significant numbers while it is seen to be understanding towards those ideologies and those people whose most heartfelt desire is not to live in peace with us but to destroy our society and to kill us all.

In a world of total moral collapse, Primo Levi said there was a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values (Michael Curtis on “If this is a man”).

The problem is that we speak in terms of carefully chosen absolutes that exclude anyone who fails to think exactly as we do.   Our world is descending into another Dark Ages because of our selective intolerance.  Celebrating the death of an Israeli patriot is part of that disease that infects our Western society.