Views on the News

The Blood Libel

March 24, 2009

On his eponymous BBC TV show this morning, I listened open-mouthed as Andrew Marr invited Tory foreign affairs spokesman William Hague to express his views about the pretty appalling looking reports coming out of Israel where members of the Israeli Defense Force who were involved in the Gaza operation have talked about effectively being told to shoot at civilians.

Hague replied:

Well those are absolutely appalling stories. There is no question about that. We don't yet know the truth of them. I think it's very important to say that. This is evidence that now has to be looked at, of course, by Israel's military investigations unit; and it is a good thing that Israel does have provision for that, for investigating these things and for bringing to book any who were responsible for behaving in such a way. But we will expect. I think across the world, we will expect Israel to deal decisively with anybody who committed such crimes. It will be very important for Israel to do that if it is to keep any moral authority in these situations in the future. So we're all appalled by that and we hope that it will be dealt with.

Of course Hague was careful to say the truth of this evidence was not yet known. But there is no evidence. So far, there is simply nothing to prove or disprove from these reports of the soldiers' discussion carried in Ha'aretz last week, here and here — just innuendo, rumor and hearsay, demonstrably (read the second account) wrenched out of context and refracted through the patent prejudice of the soldiers' instructor Danny Zamir, an ultra-leftist who had previously been jailed for refusing to guard settlers at a religious ceremony and who said of the soldiers who spoke at the meeting in question that they reflected an atmosphere inside the army of "contempt for, and forcefulness against, the Palestinians."

So what are these pretty appalling looking reports and absolutely appalling stories?

There are precisely two charges of gratuitous killing of Palestinian civilians under allegedly explicit orders to do so. One is what even Ha'aretz made clear was an accidental killing, when two women misunderstood the evacuation route the Israeli soldiers had given them and walked into a sniper's gunsights as a result. Moreover, the soldier who said this has subsequently admitted he didn't see this incident — he wasn't even in Gaza at the time — and had merely reported rumor and hearsay.

The second charge is based on a supposedly real incident in which, when an elderly woman came close to an IDF unit, an officer ordered that they shoot her because she was approaching the line and might have been a suicide bomber. The soldier relating this story did not say whether or not the woman in this story actually was shot. Indeed, he says, from the description of what happened, it would appear this was merely hearsay once again. And his interpretation was disputed by another soldier who said:

She wasn't supposed to be there, because there were announcements and there were bombings. Logic says she shouldn't be there. The way you describe it, as murder in cold blood, that isn't right.

So two non-atrocity atrocities, then. What else?

Soldiers mouthing off — in conversations of near-impenetrable incoherence — that instructions to kill everyone who remained in buildings designated as terrorist targets after the IDF had warned everyone inside to get out amounted to instructions to murder in cold blood. There cannot be an army in the world which would not issue precisely such instructions in such circumstances, where Hamas had boasted it had booby-trapped the entire area.

Gloating graffiti left in the houses of presumed terrorists.

Tasteless T-shirts emblazoned with motifs crowing about killing, condemned immediately by the IDF.

Rabbis distributing to soldiers psalms and religious opinions about the conflict.

That's it. Not one single verifiable actual incident of intentional killing of civilians. No evidence whatever of any such rogue incidents — let alone any order by the IDF to tear up its actual rules of engagement which forbade the deliberate targeting of civilians. Talk by one soldier about the IAF having killed a lot of people before the soldiers went in contradicted by another who said:

They dropped leaflets over Gaza and would sometimes fire a missile from a helicopter into the corner of some house, just to shake up the house a bit so everyone inside would flee. These things worked. The families came out, and really people [i.e., soldiers] did enter houses that were pretty empty, at least of innocent civilians.

Funny sort of unethical military behavior, that goes to some lengths to empty houses of civilians before storming them. Indeed, the soldiers' discussion contains more such material totally contradicting the impression of gross violations of ethics. Such as this:

"I am a platoon sergeant in an operations company of the Paratroops Brigade. We were in a house and discovered a family inside that wasn't supposed to be there. We assembled them all in the basement, posted two guards at all times and made sure they didn't make any trouble. Gradually, the emotional distance between us broke down - we had cigarettes with them, we drank coffee with them, we talked about the meaning of life and the fighting in Gaza. After very many conversations the owner of the house, a man of 70-plus, was saying it's good we are in Gaza and it's good that the IDF is doing what it is doing.

"The next day we sent the owner of the house and his son, a man of 40 or 50, for questioning. The day after that, we received an answer: We found out that both are political activists in Hamas. That was a little annoying—that they tell you how fine it is that you're here and good for you and blah-blah-blah, and then you find out that they were lying to your face the whole time.

"What annoyed me was that in the end, after we understood that the members of this family weren't exactly our good friends and they pretty much deserved to be forcibly ejected from there, my platoon commander suggested that when we left the house, we should clean up all the stuff, pick up and collect all the garbage in bags, sweep and wash the floor, fold up the blankets we used, make a pile of the mattresses and put them back on the beds.

"...There was one day when a Katyusha, a Grad, landed in Be'er Sheva and a mother and her baby were moderately to seriously injured. They were neighbors of one of my soldiers. We heard the whole story on the radio, and he didn't take it lightly—that his neighbors were seriously hurt. So the guy was a bit antsy, and you can understand him. To tell a person like that, 'Come on, let's wash the floor of the house of a political activist in Hamas, who has just fired a Katyusha at your neighbors that has amputated one of their legs—this isn't easy to do, especially if you don't agree with it at all. When my platoon commander said, 'Okay, tell everyone to fold up blankets and pile up mattresses,' it wasn't easy for me to take. There was lot of shouting. In the end I was convinced and realized it really was the right thing to do. Today I appreciate and even admire him, the platoon commander, for what happened there. In the end I don't think that any army, the Syrian army, the Afghani army, would wash the floor of its enemy's houses, and it certainly wouldn't fold blankets and put them back in the closets.'

This is what instructor Danny Zamir described as "contempt for, and forcefulness against, the Palestinians."

No mention of any of that in the world's media, is there? Do you think Andrew Marr or William Hague read those bits? Do me the proverbial. All they've picked up and run with is the lazy and malicious boilerplate carefully spun by Ha'aretz: rumor and hearsay about two incidents related by two soldiers (one of whom wasn't even in Gaza) — one an accidental killing, the other maybe not a killing at all — plus some wild mouthing-off by soldiers, some unpleasant graffiti, ditto T-shirts, plus some leaflets by unidentified rabbis making statements that carry no weight with the IDF or reflect Israeli policy whatsoever.

On that basis, however, it's proof positive for the likes of Andrew Marr, William Hague, the New York Times, Guardian, Independent, BBC and Uncle Tom Israelbasher and all, that yes!! Israel is now shown (unless specifically disproved — and how do you disprove something for which no evidence is offered whatever?) to have been committing atrocities after all in Gaza; and so has now forfeit what remains of its moral authority, which was already hanging by a thread as a result of all the previous blood libels, and almost certainly its right to exist at all.

This is not just bigotry. It is medieval witch-hunt territory. And it's global.

Originally published by The Spectator. Visit Melanie Phillips’ website to see more of her writings.

The AIG Debacle

Are We Losing Our Morals?

March 22, 2009

The great Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote that a person who has suffered misfortune feels less miserable when confronted by a person in a more calamitous situation than himself. Similarly when dejected people see others who are more privileged than themselves, their sense of despondency is increased. People who are unsuccessful find it difficult to observe the success of others. One of our challenges is to overcome this negative envious trait and be happy for others even if we personally are experiencing setbacks.

Of late, it seems to me that Americans, on the whole, have failed in rising to this challenge. As the financial crisis was unfolding last summer, workers at American International Group's (AIG) financial products division were offered bonuses for remaining in their jobs for a specific period of time. At the end of last year, AIG became contractually obligated to pay those bonuses. A public outcry ensued when, this past week, it came to light that one hundred and ninety million dollars worth of these bonuses were paid out. This culminated this past Thursday with the Congress passing a law that slaps a ninety percent tax on the bonuses paid out to employees of AIG.

Whether it was fair for these employees to receive bonuses is irrelevant. As children we all learned that life is not fair. Whether they deserved the bonuses is also irrelevant. Even the fact that these bonuses were given to people who helped create this financial mess is not important here.

What is significant here is that there was a contract which obligated AIG to pay retention bonuses to these people. It was the Torah that introduced the concept of private property rights and contractual obligations to the ancient world. Western law has in many ways been inspired by that ancient code. The knowledge that property rights and contractual agreements can be enforced is the backbone of any successful economy and civilized society.

Honest and decent people abide by their contracts unless there is a mutual agreement to do otherwise. Backing out of a contractual agreement because its obligations became unpopular is deplorable. AIG chief executive Edward Liddy did the right thing in paying these bonuses. It was absolutely wrong and unethical for congress to use their legislative powers to essentially void contracts that were made in good faith. The fact that this was done simply because the contracts became unpopular in the eyes of an envious and indignant public makes it all the more abhorrent. This is a dangerous precedent. Why should anyone trust a contract if, post fact, Congress can use its legislative powers to steal money that was contractually obligated to be delivered?

Ultimately I believe that the public outcry against these bonuses is derived from envy and resentment against those making more money in a time when many are losing their jobs and homes. But instead of pandering to this character flaw, politicians should be standing up for what is right and honest. We need to remind them that following public opinion is not leadership. Real leaders lead they don't follow.

Taking G‑d to Court

March 12, 2009 3:23 PM

I recently heard on the radio about a strange court case: a suit filed against G‑d in District Court. In this suit, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers sought a permanent injunction to prevent the "death, destruction and terrorization" caused by G‑d. Interestingly, the case was thrown out ("dismissed with prejudice") due to the fact that "there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant," as Judge Marlon Polk wrote in his ruling. So he didn't throw the case out on its merits; he dismissed it on a technicality.

This raised a larger question for me. Can we realistically take G‑d to court?

Why not?

G‑d is the omnipotent One, the omniscient One. He is keenly aware of our unbelievable suffering. He sees the pain and devastation suffered by families who've lost loved ones prematurely; He sees people whose portfolios and retirement accounts have been wiped out; He see people who just a few months ago knew where they were going and what they were doing and are now jobless, and in some extreme cases homeless, and suffering unbearable uncertainty.

Quite frankly, as quacky as the Senator's case seems, he may have been onto something. Shouldn't G‑d be held accountable for all the suffering that He is aware of, and certainly is in the position to ameliorate? If the system is fair, it would seem that G‑d should be required to answer for His "missteps"—at least as they impact our lives!

But how do we work around the issue that the court raised: "A plaintiff must have access to the defendant for a case to proceed."

In his book The Trial of G‑d, Elie Weisel describes an episode that he witnessed as a teenager in the concentration camps. Three sages constituted a Beit Din (a Jewish judicial court), put G‑d on trial and found Him guilty. After issuing their guilty verdict they announced that it was time to go and pray the afternoon prayers.

I've always loved this story. To me it depicts a fundamental feature of our resilient tug-of-war relationship with G‑d. On the one hand we are taught that it is okay to question G‑d's ways, and we are encouraged to pray to Him that He do things differently—notwithstanding the fact that as G‑d, He certainly knows the best way to do things. We are to challenge the status quo and not be satisfied when we perceive injustice—for ourselves and certainly for others. On the other hand, when we are done questioning and challenging we "go and pray the afternoon prayers." Our frustration with how G‑d runs our world does not pose a conflict to our acceptance that He is the true and beneficent G‑d who is still deserving of our loyal faith.

(Not that we can compare to the generation that endured the Holocaust. Our frustrations and pains are monetary-related and personal tragedy rather than the mass murder of millions. Nevertheless, when it is our money or our job, our tzaros, that we are enduring, it is not so simple to swallow.)

So, I posit, we too may take G‑d to court; to cry, complain, emote, and express our feelings of rage, despair, fear and desperation. But when we are done, we need to follow it up with "and now let's pray the afternoon prayers." We need to follow our rant with something positive and productive; we need to reaffirm our faith in Him.

We can question Him, but if we want to have results, if we don't want the case thrown out on a technicality, an inability to find Him in order to "serve Him" the necessary documentation, we must then make Him able to be found. We must make Him truly omnipresent.

And if He is "able to be found" in our lives, He will abide by the court's findings. G‑d, no longer able to hide behind a technicality, will "own up" as it were and show us His greatness and reveal the hidden good in the challenges (or opportunities, as a wise colleague once told me) that He presents us.

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...
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