T he great Gaon of Vilna once said that the greatest of all temptation for the Jew is the allure of k’chal hagoyim, to be like the non-Jews around us, and gain their approval and their acceptance. (The Gaon lived in the 18th century; how much more penetrating are his words today!) His comment came to mind during the long ordeal-by-headline of Elor Azariah, the Israeli soldier who had shot and killed a neutralized Arab terrorist who had attempted to murder Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint.
What was striking about the entire affair was the behavior of the Israeli left-wing secular leadership — the media, academia and liberal legal fraternity — immediately following the arrest of the soldier. They were a chorus howling incessantly for his scalp, declaring in effect: See how we are a democratic society. We are not racist. We do not kill at random. We are not a society of murderers. As if shooting a would-be killer is undemocratic, or as if killing a terrorist who tries to kill you is racist.
So shrill and persistent were their cries that one could not resist the impression that their zeal to condemn stemmed less from a devotion to justice than from that age-old Jewish insecurity the Gaon was alluding to: the instinct to curry favor with the non-Jewish world, to show how civilized and honorable we are. The mind went back to those Warsaw Ghetto Jews who shot and killed Nazi storm troopers who were coming to dispatch them to death camps. Would our oh-so civilized Israeli democracy-lovers, overexposed to left wing-ideology and underexposed to Jewish values, have put those Jews on trial for murder?
Fortunately, the Jewish masses have a bit more pride than the leftist elites. For the large majority of Israelis, the arrest of a soldier who acted in the heat of a life-and-death confrontation was itself a miscarriage of justice. And they wondered if that arrest would have a chilling effect on Israeli soldiers who now might hesitate before defending themselves against future terrorists. The more literate of the population were aware of the famous halachic dictum, cited by Rashi in his comment on Shemos 22:1, based on Talmud Sanhedrin 72a, that “if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.”
Fascinating footnote: within the Israeli public, the further left one probed, the more one found sentiment against the soldier, while the further right one probed — especially the Orthodox, the more Torah knowledgeable and the more religious — the more one found disapproval of the arrest. This is of course not surprising: the more authentically Jewish one is, the less is one concerned with the approval of others.
And then the verdict of the court came down: guilty. And the sentence: prison for Elor Azariah. As for world reaction, any hope that they would give Israel a pat on the back for this verdict was quickly dispelled by the slap in the face from the so-called Human Rights Council of the United Nations. The chairman of this group, which numbers in its ranks such freedom-loving luminaries as Saudi Arabia and China, was not satisfied with the prison sentence. She complained, in a statement reeking of hatred, chutzpah and hypocrisy, that the sentence was not harsh enough. And not to be outdone in chutzpah, the parents of the terrorist, who could not have been unaware of their son’s activities and who dubbed him a “martyr,” announced plans to appeal the “lenient” sentence. In this Purim season, we find ourselves living in the upside down world of the Megillah (See Esther 9:22). In our time, killers are heroes and martyrs, while victims are pilloried and sentenced to jail.
Memo to the UN Human Rights Council: You have taught us how pathetic and grotesque the efforts to impress the outside world are, and you have taught us not to be supine beggars combing for crumbs of approval at the feet of those who will never love us. Thank you. You have stiffened our Jewish pride and backbone.