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Israeli “Racism” Again

 There is nothing remotely racist about Israel giving priority to its own citizens


Israel is the envy of the world with respect to how fast it has vaccinated its citizens against COVID-19. As I write, on inauguration day, two million Israelis, 21 percent of the population, have already received their first dose, and many their second as well. No other country in the world comes close in terms of the percentage of the population vaccinated thus far.

That success consists of two components. First, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s success in procuring vaccines for Israel, in a world in which production lags far behind demand. And second, the efficiency of the private health plans in which every Israeli is enrolled.

But with Israel, it is never so simple. Every positive story must have a thorn embedded. Thus, Israel’s failure to provide Palestinians with vaccines at the same time provides the best illustration “of how Israeli lives are valued above Palestinian ones,” according to Saleh Hegazi of Amnesty International. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib accused Israel of denying her Palestinian grandmother “access to a vaccine” because “[the Israelis] don’t believe she is an equal human being who deserves to live.”

Tlaib prevaricated, as usual. Israel has in no way impeded Palestinians from receiving vaccines. Indeed, throughout November and December, the official Palestinian media and health ministry repeatedly boasted that the Palestinian Authority had contracted for sufficient doses to cover 70 percent of the population of the West Bank and Gaza, and required no assistance from Israel. Only in the face of Israel’s rapid vaccination did the PA start accusing Israel of “racism” and “health apartheid” for not providing vaccines to the Palestinians.

That, Israel has no duty to do. The 1995 Oslo Accords spell out in detail, in Article 17 (Health) of Annex 3, that the Palestinians have final responsibility for health care in areas under their control. That negotiated allocation of responsibility supersedes any other Israeli obligation.

There is nothing remotely racist about Israel giving priority to its own citizens. That does not constitute a statement about the objective value of Palestinian versus Israeli lives, or of Jewish lives over Arab lives. Israel’s Arab citizens are being vaccinated just like Israel’s Jewish citizens.

Rather Israel’s policy is dictated by the responsibility of a nation to take care of its own citizens before those of other countries. The family is the best example of that mutual responsibility. If I pay for my child’s wedding or medical care before doing so for my neighbor’s child, that is not because I place a higher objective value on my child’s life, but because I have a unique responsibility to my child.

Israel’s Minister of Health Yuri Edelstein put the matter succinctly: “I don’t think there is anyone in this country... who can imagine my taking a vaccine from an Israeli citizen, and with all the goodwill, giving it to our neighbors.”

Israel is one nation in which the mutual responsibility of citizens for one another is still taken seriously. In part, that is based on Jewish tradition. In part, on the comparative strength of Israeli families: The family is where the concept of mutual responsibility was once taught.

The failure of the political left in America to take nation and citizenship seriously is what gave rise to the Trump movement, and made immigration such a crucial issue. To open the borders wide, without regard to the safety and livelihoods (particularly of low-income workers) of current citizens is to ignore the responsibility of a nation to its citizens, and they to one another.

Israel, thankfully, has not followed that course. But that has nothing to do with racism.

Matters of Character — A Historical Vignette

The prospect of an election determined by the House of Representatives sent many of us back to review seldom-studied parts of the Constitution and to consult our history books concerning the disputed elections of 1800 and 1876.

In 1800, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr ran together on the Democratic-Republican ticket, for president and vice president, respectively. But due to a quirk in the Electoral College system in those days, in which each elector had two votes, both Jefferson and Burr ended up with 73 electoral votes, ahead of their Federalist opponents, John Adams and Charles Pinckney, with 65 and 64 respectively. (One of the Democratic-Republican electors failed to withhold his second vote, as planned, so Jefferson and Burr, although running mates, were effectively tied for the presidency.)

The election was thus left to be determined by the House of Representatives, where 35 ballots were held over a six-week period, each ending without a resolution. The majority of the Federalists, who had won the presidency in each of the first three elections, preferred Burr over Jefferson.

Jefferson was anathema in Federalist eyes. They feared that, with his emphasis on states’ rights and minimal government, he would return the country to something akin to the ineffectual Articles of Confederation. Burr, on the other hand, had no fixed principles, and was subject to be bribed. A contemporary said of him, “His only virtue was that he professed none.”

Burr was born in 1756 into an American aristocracy, and blessed with virtually everything for which a man could pray — superior intelligence, good looks, abundant charm. His father and maternal grandfather were both presidents of Princeton College. That grandfather was Jonathan Edwards, the preeminent theologian of 18th-century America.

Burr aspired to live the life of a European nobleman, but lacked the means to do so. Much of his considerable intellectual energy was therefore consumed in money-making schemes. And politics for him was a means to “fun and honor and profit.” He had no compunction about using his positions — US senator, state legislator — to promote his friends or to do favors for them in the legislature. He used public office in every way possible to make money.

The last of his schemes was a dalliance with the Spanish crown in a fantastic plot to sever the Western part of the United States, for which his erstwhile running mate, Jefferson, had him put on trial for treason. Only because Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson’s cousin and political enemy, gave an extremely narrow interpretation of treason, did Burr escape conviction, if not disgrace.

Unlike the great Founders treated by eminent historian Gordon Wood in Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different — Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin — Burr never wrote a word on constitutional government. He was, in a sense, the anti-Founder.

For the Founders, the aim of public life was “fame” — i.e., the attainment of a good name. And the highest ideal for public service and leadership was disinterestedness. Madison’s goal in crafting the Constitution was to encourage the election of cosmopolitan and liberally educated gentlemen, capable of putting their private interests to the side.

IN THE END, it was the efforts of Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the Treasury and the architect of the entire Federalist national economic system, who prevailed on enough Federalist legislators to secure Jefferson’s election. He did so though he had written, “If there were a man in the world I ought to hate, it is Jefferson.” Their personal relations had always been testy in President Washington’s first cabinet, and Hamilton detested Jefferson’s political views and suspected he would ally America with revolutionary France.

On the other hand, his personal relations with Burr had always been good. The pair — who were the two most prominent members of the New York City bar in their day — had even collaborated as defense attorneys in a sensational murder trial.

But Hamilton recognized that Burr had no character, whereas Jefferson at least had the “pretense of one.” That Burr was “never solicitous for fame,” and had no concern for how posterity would view him was, for Hamilton, a damning indictment.

Were such a man to become president, Hamilton felt, it would doom the American republican experiment, and the hope that a disinterested politics, led by a societal elite of gentlemen, could prevail. And he moved heaven and earth, writing an endless stream of letters to fellow Federalists, to prevent that result and to secure Jefferson’s election. “The public good must be paramount to every private consideration,” he wrote in explanation of his motives. And that credo could have applied to each of the Founders treated by Wood.

A little over three years later, Burr would kill Hamilton in a duel, after Hamilton — in the judgment of most historians — had thrown away his first shot. It would take a while longer before the republican dreams of the Founders would suffer a similar death at the hands of other unscrupulous men.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 846. Yonoson Rosenblum may be contacted directly at rosenblum@mishpacha.com

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