While mourning Uvalde’s classroom carnage, Americans – let alone Israelis – cannot fathom the 78-minute police delay before neutralizing the gunman. Escalating the latest moral panic over America’s decline, CNN highlighted four devastating words from a Texas police officer, worrying “they” – the police – “could’ve been shot.”
In fairness, the lieutenant actually said: “If they proceeded any further not knowing where the suspect was at, they could’ve been shot, they could’ve been killed, and that gunman would have had an opportunity to kill other people inside that school.”
Sharp contrast with the IDF
Laptop warriors who never faced danger should not judge glibly. Still, such paralysis – in Texas! – highlights our young IDF soldiers’ larger-than-life, lifesaving heroism. Especially lately, many of our children keep bursting through doors, facing the unknown, working 24/7, risking their lives for us – knowing “they could’ve been shot,” too. Every day, these noble warriors join a star-studded list of Zionist heroes who overrode their individual survival instinct so we as a nation could thrive.
Beyond being awestruck once again by my own children, their peers, and their elders who did it, too, that Uvalde dawdling reminded me of the Mercaz Harav massacre in March 2008. An off-duty IDF officer, Capt. David Shapira, heard the shots while at home and charged into the yeshiva, defying police orders to wait for SWAT. He and a veteran Mercaz Harav student, Yitzhak Dadon, killed the terrorist 16 minutes after the murder spree began. Eight teens died, 10 were wounded, but many were saved.
Shockingly, crowds cheered the massacre – unlike after Uvalde. Hamas “blessed this Jerusalem operation,” as did 84% of the Palestinians surveyed. Who else could celebrate school shootings – and remain popular worldwide?
In 1943, John F. Kennedy tugged a downed sailor with his teeth while swimming to safety after the PT-109 disaster. Asked how he came to be a hero, Kennedy replied: “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.”
Like comets, heroes emerge instantly, but are nurtured forever. A particular ideology shaped Dadon and Shapira. Values inherited from their ancestors and instilled in their upbringing primed them to do what they needed to do.
Subsequent events proved that their actions were not flukes. A year after the massacre, Dadon celebrated his son’s birth at the same yeshiva. Tzemach Hirschfeld, the mohel Dadon chose to circumcise his newborn, lost his son Yonadav Haim in the attack. Living the Zionist Jewjitsu, seeking redemption, not revenge, Dadon said, “We sanctify life with the blood of the victims.”
Meanwhile, Shapira, who kept insisting, Kennedy-style, “I’m no hero,” showed how his courage and integrity meshed, eight years later in 2016. Now Lt.-Col. Shapira, he testified that he doubted his soldier Elor Azaria was in danger when Azaria killed a terrorist in Hebron who was already shot and lying on the ground.
Such truth-telling defied the loudest, shrillest voices in Shapira’s religious-Zionist community. Online bullies denounced this “traitor... piece of crap,” this “coward commander,” while wishing “Shapira should die in battle.” “Take the kippah off your head,” they sneered; “even God won’t forgive you.”
Shapira did not budge.
Liberal Zionism has its own recipe for turning kibbutzniks and city kids into heroes. Meanwhile, Shapira, Dadon and so many other heroes from the religious Right navigate their lives based on a different – if overlapping – formula from a constructively conservative world.
Conservatism gone awry
WHEN RIGHT-WING hooligans – and too many of their leaders – bully, stir bigotry, and sacrifice long-term values for short-term political gains, I fear for tomorrow. How can we raise new heroes to behave nobly, when their loudest leaders behave so poorly? How will tomorrow’s conservatives conserve the values and institutions we need, when today’s pyromaniac conservatives are so destructive?
A world with nihilistic nationalists, with conservatives who don’t conserve, risks stunting today’s hero-making process for tomorrow, failing to produce the resilient, altruistic citizens every healthy society needs from its Right.
Miri Regev embodied this unpatriotic behavior from the supposed patriots, when justifying the Likud’s (il)logic in opposing tuition subsidies for our young heroes “who could’ve been shot.” Showing that no principle will slow the Likud’s assault on this coalition, Regev boasted about being “a fighting opposition... to bring down this government. So there is no queasiness [when voting against] the disabled, and there is no queasiness with cases of rape, and no queasiness with battered women, and no queasiness with soldiers, because we all understand that this is the rationale.”
Such harshness makes me queasy. The bottom-line-obsessed, sharpened-elbows thinking with blinders that Regev articulated, combined with Benjamin Netanyahu’s ongoing assault on our justice system, hones all the wrong instincts. Who would want to live in such a cynical, selfish country – and who would bother sacrificing for it?
Idealism in the face of cynicism
FORTUNATELY, OUR idealistic kids still define Israel more than these cynical adults do.
And, amid the noise, some constructive conservative voices are resonating, from Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem to Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
Last week, Raffensperger won his Republican primary for reelection, despite resisting Donald Trump’s assault on the 2020 election results. Raffensperger proclaimed: “Standing for you, standing for the rule of law and election integrity, standing for the truth and not buckling under the pressure, is what people want.”
Ethics of the Fathers wisely defines heroism as controlling your impulses. How can we expect anyone to control the natural impulse to flee, to avoid getting “shot,” if our leaders cannot control their urges to demonize fellow citizens and diminish the great institutions and ideals that are worth dying for because they make life worth living?
The writer is a distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three on Zionism. His book Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, coauthored with Natan Sharansky, was published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.