Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sins of Silence

The article below was sent to me by a friend (thanks Tzvika.) The author is a former Israeli judge, and what I would call a moderate right winger - traveling the world now and warning about the dangers of "Islamo-fascism" and the "new anti-Semitism."

Nevertheless - or maybe especially - the article below reveals a sad truth about much of Israeli and world wide Jewish society.

I said in my previous posting that "The Israeli electorate has been bombarded with right wing, hawkish, and racist propaganda for so long now, that even an open fascist ... does not faze them any more." This article make a similar point. That the propaganda is so omnipresent the brainwashing so deep that anything can be said, and when anything can be said, soon anything can be done.

I Am Ashamed

By Hadassa Ben-Itto
I always tried to integrate public activity into my personal life. I felt a special obligation to do so, as someone who had the good fortune to grow up here and to take part in the magnificent Zionist enterprise of establishing the Jewish state. I eschewed the political and media tracks: I do not denigrate their importance and centrality, but I decided they were not appropriate for me. Instead, I chose to join the justice system, as I believe it makes a vital contribution to shaping the face of a democratic country, and to be active on behalf of the Jewish people, whose future is intertwined with the future of the State of Israel.

Recently, I was invited to give the keynote speech at a major event in Bern to mark the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The crowd included members of the clergy, ambassadors and other state representatives. There, I said that we observe memorial days not only to commune with the memories of our dead, but also to remind the world, publicly and resoundingly, that we will never abandon memory - even if it seems that the world seeks to forget, and to avoid learning all the necessary lessons. We remember not only the perpetrators and the collaborators, but also all those who saw but kept silent, and who, by their silence, cooperated with and contributed to the atrocity, and will never be able to wash their hands clean. Today as well, I said, the world is required to learn the lessons, and not to remain silent in the face of what is being done to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Since then, I have watched on television as young Jews in Hebron assaulted their neighbors, including defenseless families - vandalizing property, destroying, burning and defacing sites holy to others. And my words in Bern are ringing in my ears. I told myself: I, too, am keeping silent. And I was ashamed.

Therefore, I am breaking my silence. Because I believe that the individual is also obligated to make his voice heard - his personal voice, not a political voice - in order to warn against atrocity. I will not be drawn into the unnecessary debate over whether there was or was not a "pogrom" in Hebron, because what happened in Europe in the past cannot be likened to anything; it has no parallel in human history. The lawbreakers' use of similar terms against our security forces is also an unforgiveable crime.

It is not only the world that must learn the lessons; so must we. Every one of us. Including myself. And I must do so honestly, publicly. To tell the public what I have held back for so long.

I am ashamed of my silence. I saw the uprooting of olive trees, the overturning of market stalls, the attacks on property, and sometimes on innocent people, and I kept silent. I heard the words of incitement, I identified the messages and I was ashamed, but I kept silent.

The 20th century proved that words can become a strategic weapon that threatens the entire world, I said in Bern. It is a weapon that our enemies still use against us today. It has been proven that incitement always precedes action - that in a place where one can say anything, one can also do anything. The actions were preceded by brainwashing: statements that planted messages masquerading as ideology, in the name of which everything is permissible, in the hearts of young people trying to find their way. That is how they silenced the voice of conscience. And these young people unhesitatingly perpetrated ruthless deeds.

We boast of equality, oppose discrimination, and thereby confer the freedoms promised by a democratic regime even on those who cynically abuse them in order to undermine democracy. In the name of tolerance, freedom of expression is abused to disseminate hatred, to incite, to engender dangerous, undemocratic processes.

In Bern, I also spoke about the danger of political correctness, which forbids us to speak truth lest someone be hurt or offended, or lest we err by generalizing. When media outlets abroad report on terror attacks committed by Muslim terrorists, they always add that such behavior does not represent all Muslims, that the majority is moderate. Even if terrorists utilize religion in their messages and send suicide bombers to commit attacks in its name, it is not because of Islam, for Islam preaches peace. And thus the media fail to tell the world what they teach in the madrassas, what they preach in the mosques, what they broadcast on television.

That is how our enemies manage to distort the political discourse and give the world a false picture of the meaning of the conflict. That is how they poison public opinion against us. No amount of public diplomacy on our part has proven capable of preventing these distortions.

How did it happen that we, too, have adopted the rules of political correctness? It is not the entire public from which the lawbreakers spring, the media always stress; the majority is moderate. Once, we called them "wild weeds"; now, they are a "small minority" that the majority is unable to control - as if it were really trying.

And we do not dare to ask out loud: Who educated them? Who incited them? Who says that he "disagrees" but nevertheless "understands"? Who embraces them? Who keeps silent? Who defends them when they are unwilling to cooperate with the authorities? Who praises them when they violate government orders and erect caravans on hilltops? Who defends the girls who refuse to give their names and instead choose prison? Who turns them into heroes when soldiers are compelled to drag them along the ground as they scream? Who rolls his eyes and warns of civil war if we dare to interfere with the lawbreakers? We are a Jewish and democratic state, we proclaim. But since when is majority opinion in a democratic state a mere nonbinding recommendation? Have we ceased to live in a state governed by law? Is sedition not a criminal offense?

Is it a religious commandment to violate judicial rulings? Is it a religious commandment to commit crimes that even the Torah explicitly forbids? Who annulled the halakhic principle that "the law of the state is the law"? Does it only hold for non-Jewish states? And what will become of the Jewish State, which we dreamed of establishing as a just, modern state governed by law, as a beacon that lights the way for the entire Jewish people and invites all the Diaspora to join it? What will become of it?

The author is a retired judge and honorary president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.sociation of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.


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