Imagine for a moment what would happen if the deputy foreign minister of Israel declared in a public forum that an Arab leader should be “thrown to the dogs.” Is there any doubt that the Israeli official would lose his job? The international firestorm would be among the strongest Israel has ever experienced and the response from the prime minister would be swift.
Shouldn’t we at least demand a similar standard with regard to treatment of our own people? Tuesday, February 2, 2016. The deputy minister of education of the State of Israel, MK Meir Porush, the second-in-command tasked with the responsibility of educating the children of Israel, stood at the Knesset podium and said that Reform Jews, Conservative Jews and the Women of the Wall have been “thrown out of the camp” and have been assigned a place to pray which is appropriate for them – “near the Dung Gate,” because they are people who “should be thrown to the dogs.”
It is inconceivable that a Jewish public figure in a Jewish state can say something like this against fellow Jews and walk away unscathed. What does it say about us as a people if we allow this to take place? When we add that this figure is in a position of influence with regards to the education of our children, a figure who should be setting a tone of values, dignity, morality and unity, it is bewildering that action has not already been taken against him.
One of the greatest internal challenges facing Israel today is divisiveness, polarization and a lack of appropriate dialogue among those of different ideologies and beliefs. Security is high priority and we can never hold back when it comes to protecting our people. But far too often the tensions in Israel lead to harsh statements and declarations from Jews toward those who are not Jewish and spreads to the way Jews from different backgrounds and ideologies speak about one another.
Israeli leaders and citizens must strive to emulate the example of Michal and Shivi Froman, who live in the settlement of Tekoa. Michal, 31-years-old, a yoga instructor, an architecture student and 18-weeks pregnant, was stabbed by a 15 year-old Palestinian terrorist in the industrial zone of Tekoa. And what did she say about her attacker? “He is a young person who has been fed hate.”
Her husband, Shivi, explained that he and his wife have not changed their views despite the attack: “There has to be recognition of the existence of the other... We must develop a trust-building dialogue with the Palestinians of respect and peace and to strengthen them. We must make their lives easier and help them develop economically... One hand must combat terrorism and the other hand must care for them and give them hope.”
Michal continues to suffer from shortness of breath because the knife reached her lung, and she still suffers from pains in her neck and shoulders. Despite this, she says that she wishes she could ask her attacker to tell her his story. She wishes she could ask him, “What did you hope to gain from this? Is there no other option for you to achieve that goal?” No hatred. No harsh personal attacks. “There has to be a recognition of the other.”
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Shivi Froman is not declaring that we should give a murderous terrorist a hug.
But the Bible, which should serve as the basis for the values of a Jewish state, maintains that all human beings are created in God’s image and repeats over and over again that we must not abuse those who are not like us. Rabbi Eliezer points out in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Metzia 59b) that the Bible “warns against the wronging of a stranger in 36 places; others say, in 46 places.”
Treating those who are “strangers” to us – those with different beliefs than we have or who have conflicting ideologies to ours – with respect is mentioned more times than the laws of Shabbat, kashrut, family purity and the study of Torah combined.
This compels one to wonder in the name of what Torah does Deputy Minister Porush think he is speaking when he verbally abuses those who are different from him by calling them the worst of names? Deputy Minister Porush quoted this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Mishpatim, during his tirade, comparing these Jews who are unlike him to impure meat that must be cast to the dogs. Apparently, he did not read the entire portion because, had he done so, he would have seen that amid the laws against financial impropriety, the Bible twice commands us to be kind to the stranger. (Exodus 22:20 and 23:9) Had he studied that law about not abusing the stranger, he would likely have discovered that Rabbi Yochanan said, in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, that “verbal wrongdoing is worse than monetary wrongdoing, because, of the former it is written, ‘And you shall fear your God’ (Leviticus 25:17), but not of the latter.” Rabbi Eliezer agreed that verbal wrongdoing is worse. His logic is that “one affects the person, the other only his money.” And, finally, Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani concurred and explained that “for one, restoration is possible, but not for the other.” (Babylonian Talmud Tractate baba Metzia 58b) The Bible repeats over and over again how Jews must treat those who are different than we are, including those who choose to practice religion differently than we do, with sensitivity and respect, because we were once “strangers in the Land of Egypt” and we know the hurt which comes from both physical and verbal abuse. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote so beautifully: “Why should you not hate the stranger? – asks the Torah.
Because you once stood where he stands now. You know the heart of the stranger because you were once a stranger in the Land of Egypt. If you are human, so is he. If he is less than human, so are you.
You must fight the hatred in your heart as I once fought the greatest ruler and the strongest empire in the ancient world on your behalf. I made you into the world’s archetypal strangers so that you would fight for the rights of strangers – for your own and those of others, wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever the color of their skin or the nature of their culture, because though they are not in your image – says God – they are nonetheless in Mine.”
Michal and Shivi Froman understand this concept on the highest of levels.
While believing that all precautions must be taken for security and that terrorists must be punished, they are not willing to verbally abuse a product of the enemy even though he wielded a knife in an attempt to kill Michal and her unborn baby. Their response beautifully reflects core Jewish values and the Fromans represent the best that Israel has to offer.
Deputy Minister Porush clearly does not understand this concept. His verbal abuse and disrespect wasn’t even reserved for enemy combatants. He verbally abused fellow Jews with whom he disagrees. His behavior is the antithesis of core Jewish values and represents the worst that Israel has to offer.
As such, he must be fired from his position as deputy minister of education.
The author served in the 19th Knesset with the Yesh Atid party. He is currently the director of the Department of Zionist Operations for the World Zionist Organization. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the WZO.
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