Analysis from Israel

Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

But of course, it can’t–because one of the most technologically sophisticated armies in the world has somehow proven incapable of equipping its soldiers with the kind of simple cameras found on every cell phone. And so, day after day, week after week, it’s confronted with Palestinian allegations to which the only response it can offer is its soldiers’ unsupported testimony.

A year ago, I thought the penny had finally dropped: The IDF announced with great fanfare that it had finally decided to train soldiers to film operations in the field. But it now turns out this vaunted project comprises all of 24 cameramen–24 people to provide round-the-clock coverage of the entire West Bank plus the Gaza border. It’s a joke. And not a very funny one.

There’s no reason why every single soldier couldn’t be equipped with a small, wearable camera that would operate automatically. This would have the additional benefit of cutting down on real abuses, from which no army is completely immune. Indeed, several Western countries have experimented with policemen wearing such cameras, and they have generally led to reductions in both real brutality and false claims of brutality.

But what seems like a no-brainer to me evidently isn’t so obvious to Israel’s chronically public-diplomacy-challenged government and army. Otherwise, they would have done something about it by now.

Consequently, this is an issue on which American Jewish help is badly needed. Jewish groups and individuals frequently meet with Israeli officials, both in the U.S. and in Israel, but it probably never occurs to them to raise a minor issue like IDF cameras at those meetings. If they thought of it at all, it would doubtless seem too obvious to need saying.

Unfortunately, it isn’t. And therefore, U.S. Jews would be doing Israel a big service if they started raising this issue at every single meeting with Israeli government officials or army officers. If Israeli leaders keep hearing about it from American Jews, maybe they’ll finally realize how important it is.

Or maybe they still won’t. But it’s worth a try–because waiting for them to figure it out on their own certainly isn’t working.

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Physicians, Heal Thyselves

It’s no secret that many liberal Jews today view tikkun olam, the Hebrew phrase for “repairing the world,” as the essence of Judaism. In To Heal the World?, Jonathan Neumann begs to differ, emphatically. He views liberal Judaism’s love affair with tikkun olam as the story of “How the Jewish Left Corrupts Judaism and Endangers Israel.” In fact, he believes tikkun olam endangers Judaism itself. Anyone who considers such notions wildly over the top should make sure to read Neumann’s book—because one needn’t agree with everything he says to realize that his major concerns are disturbingly well-founded.

Neumann begins by explaining what he considers the modern liberal Jewish understanding of tikkun olam. It is taken, he says, not just as a general obligation to make the world a better place, but as a specific obligation to promote specific “universal” values and even specific policies—usually, the values and policies of progressive Democrats.

He then raises three major objections to this view. The first is that the only way to interpret Judaism as a universalist religion with values indistinguishable from those of secular progressives is by ignoring the vast majority of key Jewish texts, including the Bible and the Talmud, and millennia of Jewish tradition. After all, most of these texts deal with the history, laws, and culture of one specific nation—the Jews. The Bible’s history isn’t world history, nor are its laws (with a few exceptions) meant to govern any nation but the Jews. Judaism undeniably has universalist elements. But to ignore its particularist aspects is to ignore much of what makes it Judaism, which therefore corrupts our understanding of Judaism.

The second problem is that if Judaism has no purpose other than promoting the same values and policies touted by non-Jewish progressives, there’s no reason for Judaism to exist at all. Consequently, the tikkun olam version of Judaism really does threaten Judaism’s continued existence, and it’s no accident that the liberal Jewish movements that have embraced it are rapidly dwindling due to intermarriage and assimilation. After all, why should young American Jews remain Jewish when they can do everything they think Judaism requires of them even without being Jewish?

This also explains why, in Neumann’s view, tikkun olam Judaism endangers Israel. If there’s no reason for Judaism to exist, there’s certainly no reason for a Jewish state. Indeed, Israel is anathema to the tikkun olam worldview because it’s the embodiment of Jewish particularism—the view that Jews are a distinct nation and have their own history, culture, and laws rather than being merely promulgators of universal values. Thus it’s easy to understand why tikkun olam Jews increasingly abhor the Jewish state.

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