In 1981, Menachem Begin presented what he thought were the most important lessons to be learned from the Holocaust. Many people remember the first lesson, “if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him,” and Israel’s leaders seem to have taken this to heart, with respect to Iran at least. But what about Begin’s fourth lesson?
Jewish dignity and honor must be protected in all circumstances. The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death. During the Holocaust it was after the enemy had humiliated the Jews, trampled them underfoot, divided them, deceived them, afflicted them, drove brother against brother, only then could he lead them, almost without resistance, to the gates of Auschwitz. Therefore, at all times and whatever the cost, safeguard the dignity and honor of the Jewish people.
This, unfortunately, seems to have been ignored by the leadership of the Jewish state for the last several decades. Over and over, when the Jewish people, their state, or its institutions like its army or police, are humiliated, deceived, or treated as sub-human, our policy is to take the “pragmatic” course, wipe off the spittle of our enemies, and pretend that nothing serious happened.
Examples abound. Consider the Oslo Accords. Almost from the first day, after Arafat signed a document in English recognizing “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” he began to call for jihad against that state in Arabic. This was the beginning of a pattern, which soon included alternating diplomatic demands and terror attacks. More than 150 Israelis were murdered between 1993 and 2000 (later, the Second Intifada would claim more than 1100 additional lives). And yet, for years after Oslo, Arafat and the PLO were considered our “peace partners.” How is that possible? Was there no one in the State of Israel that understood Arabic? Was there no one able to see the connections between Arafat and the waves of terror he unleashed?
The answers are obvious. The deceptions and other blows to our honor – there is no worse humiliation than murder unavenged – were, for lack of a better word, absorbed. Absorbed and allowed to pass in the pursuit of peace, as if allowing our state and our people to be degraded would be likely to advance the cause of peace! Quite the opposite, as we shortly discovered.
Speaking of murder unavenged, in a fruitless attempt to appear enlightened to the Europeans who hate our Jewish guts in any case, and in opposition to our own biblical tradition, we do not execute terrorist murderers no matter how heinous their crimes (the one exception, Adolf Eichmann, only emphasizes the rule). Rather, we imprison them with their compatriots in some of the world’s most comfortable prisons while we allow the terrorist organization that employs them to pay generous salaries to their families.
Here is yet another example. In May of 2010, our naval commandos boarded a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, that was carrying “activists” to try to break the blockade of Gaza. Rather than automatic weapons, the commandos carried paintball guns, which – regardless of the ultimate outcome, was ludicrous and embarrassing. Luckily for them they also had pistols, although they were instructed not to use them unless their lives were threatened. “We came to speak, they came to fight,” the Foreign Ministry quoted the IDF spokesman.
They were met on the deck of the ship, not by the “peaceniks” they expected, but by terrorists armed with clubs, knives, iron bars, and other “cold” but deadly weapons. They were beaten and stabbed, and one was very seriously wounded and thrown into the sea (he survived). Only after they were taken below decks, and a pistol that was taken from a wounded soldier was turned against them, did they shoot their way out of the trap. In the process, nine of the Turkish terrorists were killed.
What’s wrong here is that Israel – the IDF – greeted an attempt to violate its (legal) blockade with a display of weakness rather than strength. In addition to the practical failure – most likely fewer would have been seriously hurt or killed on either side if the commandos had carried assault rifles rather than paintball guns – we sent the wrong message. The paintball guns say “we don’t want to hurt anybody,” but what we needed to say was “you will not get to Gaza and we will use any means necessary to stop you.”
This same incident later led to an even greater loss of honor, when Barack Obama pressured our Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to apologize to the antisemitic Turkish tyrant Erdoğan three years later. In one of the most humiliating episodes of Netanyahu’s career, he “expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation/non-liability.” In 2016, Israel did indeed pay $20 million to the families of the terrorists that had tried to kill our soldiers. Promises of improved relations between Israel and Turkey did not materialize. But then, behavior that evokes contempt rather than respect rarely pays.
Incidentally, Obama often used humiliation as a tool of policy. He deliberately personalized his disagreements with Israel’s policies, and heaped contempt upon Netanyahu. In one of the stupidest insults in history, a surrogate for the US president called the combat veteran who had defied Obama by speaking to the US Congress over his objections, “a chickenshit.”
Just as the defensive-only response to rocket attacks brings about more rocket attacks, Israel’s acquiescence to the loss of honor and her acceptance of humiliation emboldens her enemies. The same Erdoğan that humiliated Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident just took an Israeli couple hostage last week, on trumped-up espionage charges. Would he have done it to Russians? I doubt it.
In recent years, crime by Bedouins in the south of Israel has exploded. Extortion, illegal weapons and theft of weapons and ammunition from military bases, theft of cars and agricultural equipment, and harassment of women are common. There have even been rapes and murders. Enforcement has been lax, in part because of fear of retaliation by witnesses, police officers, and even judges. A few days ago, two Bedouin clans got into a pitched battle that began with rock-throwing and ended in stabbing and shooting, right outside the entrance to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva. This is possible because the state and its organs are held in contempt by the criminals.
Honor is lost by giving in to unreasonable demands, ignoring injuries, and allowing someone to try to hurt you (even if he doesn’t succeed). It is lost when you make threats that you don’t carry out or rules that you fail to enforce. The very fact that we allow avowed antisemitic enemies, Hamas and the PLO, to exist, rule enclaves inside Eretz Yisrael, and mount terrorist forays against our people, represents a loss of honor.
Honor can be recovered by responding to attempted extortion forcefully if possible, and never by appeasement, and by disproportionate responses to challenges from external enemies or internal criminals. Terrorist murderers should receive a death penalty; in fact, if caught in the act they should not survive apprehension.
Israel isn’t weak. Her military is arguably the most powerful in the region. Her struggle against terror for at least 100 years has given her tools that can be deployed against criminals as well as terrorists. What prevents her from doing what’s necessary to regain her lost honor?
I think your last question goes to the heart of the issue, that being what a profoundly neurotic People we are. You could have brought up numerous other examples, such as Bibi’s embarrassing cave to pressure on the issue of the completely justified metal detector installed and then taken down on the Mount. Ruth Wisse wrote a book years ago called Jews and Power that is instructive in the current context.
I believe you touched upon the crux of the matter when you wrote of our “biblical tradition” as it relates to the putting to death terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands. Our disunity and our distancing ourselves from our foundational roots led to the loss of our first two stabs at sovereignty. Menachem Begin understood better than anyone the dangers that posed to our third Jewish Commonwealth. He fully understood the direct connection between honor, tradition, and survival. Walk away from the first two and you sow the seeds to the third.
Israel’s lost honor, in my opinion, can be traced back to Yossi Beilin and his crowd having dragged Israel into the Oslo Accords.
The Marmara apology surprised and dismayed me. Erdogan is as is well-known a true hater of Israel and the Jewish people, an enemy who destroyed whatever good relations we had with Turkey. His latest trick of ‘hostage diplomacy’ is not seen through by the present government. As he is in a weakened position now with a lot more enemies than friends we should not in any way give him anything.
In accordance with your main point about our self-respect and failure to maintain it, I would also point out the role the Left , the Media, play in this. Many of them the buy poor oppressed Arabs of Israel’ narrative and so fail to even point out that most crime in Israel especially against the person comes from this sector. The present government with its pro-Hamas component exemplifies this attitude.