Bravery at the expense of others

Once, the term “brave” was reserved for acts of sacrifice and determination in the face of fear. There is little for IfNotNow provocateurs to lose from their public displays of virtue and outrage.

By MICHAEL STARR
July 31, 2018 22:07
4 minute read.
Bravery at the expense of others

AN IDF soldier runs in a field near Kibbutz Mefalsim, which was set on fire by Palestinians in Gaza on May 14. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Since IfNotNow’s staged “walkouts” on Birthright trips this summer, their spokespeople and supporters have lowered the standards for bravery to an all-time low. They have repeatedly praised their provocateurs as “courageous.” Once, the term “brave” was reserved for acts of sacrifice and determination in the face of fear. Yet there is little for IfNotNow provocateurs to lose from their public displays of virtue and outrage. In fact, there is much to gain from these actions, and these benefits come at the expense of everyone else.
Some of the benefits of participating in a walkout accrue due to the out-sized media attention these incidents have attracted. IfNotNow’s viral videos have propelled the group from obscurity to infamy. While fame may be its own reward, it also serves the individual INN activists in less apparent ways.
The walkout is a “virtue-signal.” In social circles that value hierarchies of victimhood and social justice, virtue-signalers rise in status and moral esteem and suffer less personal scrutiny. This enhanced prestige can also translate into more tangible benefits.
University admissions officers deem applicants as more desirable if they have a history of community engagement. Once they have become veteran activists, the provocateurs can also leverage their fame and social status for jobs. Charities, NGOs and IGOs seek employees with a proven activist bent. For the more entrepreneurial-minded, their fame could help them launch careers in professional podcasting and lecturing.
Considering the potential benefits of fame, status and opportunities, it seems foolish not to participate in a walkout.
Until IfNotNow began fawning over its activists, bravery was about overcoming fear. Fear arises from perceived risk to one’s body or belongings. However, there is no such risk for the provocateurs.
Israel is a relatively safe place to engage in activism. Activists face no threat of harm by the government. Indeed, violence is relatively uncommon thanks to the efforts of security forces. There is also no material loss for a walkout. The initial trip was paid by donors, but the provocateurs refused to even take responsibility for their actions and shoulder the costs of their canceled Birthright flights and deposits. This was too much to sacrifice, and they felt they deserved crowdfunded money to pay for it.
It is always others who end up paying for the selfish actions of these activists. From their theft of Birthright funds to their one-sided policy prescriptions, their self-centeredness is astonishing.
By signing up for Birthright, the INN activists occupied limited spaces and took advantage of unwitting donors. The activists deprived limited Birthright spots from those who were genuinely interested in learning about Israel. They disrupted the trips of those who did manage to get spots. Finally, they stole the cost of a flight to Israel, and then relied on the public to pay for their flights home and deposit fees.
As with their grandstanding, their policy prescriptions would also have dire costs that others would be forced to pay. According to IfNotNow and their activists, “The Occupation” (always capitalized) is the sole source of the conflict. With moral infallibility, they demand its immediate cessation. Of course, criticism of the current situation with the Palestinians is valid. The Palestinians should be free to chart their own destiny, and few Israelis want to indefinitely continue the burden of military administration. Yet anyone who examines the matter in good faith must recognize the threats and realities that led to and perpetuate the situation in the territories. Judging by their rhetoric, IfNotNow doesn’t acknowledge or care that Israelis are facing actual danger. 
As these walkouts were occurring, IfNotNow ignored Hamas’ arson and bombardment of southern Israel. The provocateurs couldn’t go down south because it was too dangerous, yet they blithely advocate the creation of a Palestinian polity in the West Bank, which could likely become a second rocket-launching pad, perched above Israel’s heartland. If Qassams start raining down from the Judean heights onto Tel Aviv, the provocateurs won’t be the ones huddled in bomb shelters. The provocateurs also won’t be the ones risking their lives to scale the heights to combat the snipers and mortar crews waging war against Israeli civilians. If IfNotNow’s past actions are any indication, their only response will be to recite Jewish mourning rites over neutralized terrorists. The only price the activists will have to pay for a war will be the lost opportunity to grab more attention, fame and status with other free trips.
With summer not yet at an end, we should anticipate more INN actions. It’s important to recognize this grandstanding for what it is and what it isn’t. Bravery at the expense of others is not bravery at all. When others pay and you benefit, it is self-entitled selfishness.

The writer is a project manager for Reservists on Duty, advocating on behalf of IDF soldiers and promoting dialogue on the ethics and facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is also a recent graduate of the Argov Fellows Program for Leadership and Diplomacy.



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