In My Own Write: Original sin

Is there a religious element in Western antagonism to Israel?

reading boycott 521 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
reading boycott 521
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
If life were to be found on a planet, then it would also have been contaminated by original sin and would require salvation – Italian theologian Piero Coda
Something that persists in perplexing many Israelis is why the playing field of liberal Western opinion is so relentlessly and uniquely tilted against Israel, with recurring calls for boycott and divestment and the questioning of something as fundamental as Israel’s right – the right of a UN member! – to exist.
The phenomenon is generally explained by the West’s still-massive dependence on Arab oil, hence the need to kowtow to those who produce it; the skillful and all-pervasive propaganda which portrays the Palestinians as helpless victims under the boot of a cruel Israeli regime; the scourge of anti-Semitism – always present but now unashamedly on exhibit, albeit in the guise of anti-Zionism; and a Europe eager to throw off responsibility for the Holocaust by casting Israelis in the role of the “new Nazis.”
These explanations are all valid. But I wonder whether there isn’t another element that might shed light on the disproportionate condemnation among large swaths of Western Europe of our tiny, democratic state; a country confronting multiple threats and sustained physical attack on its citizens that would long ago have had Israel’s accusers – were they in Israel’s place – resorting to merciless retaliation against their attackers.
That element is the concept of Original Sin.
DURING this Easter Week, it seems especially pertinent to note the deep belief – specifically in Roman Catholicism – that all people are born into the world bearing the sin of Adam and Eve, who defied God by eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Only via baptism and the acceptance of Jesus can this original sin be expiated (which is why many Christians see the conversion of others as their life’s mission).
This notion of original sin resonates with me not because of the biblical narrative but because it symbolizes so well another perceived fatal flaw – widely and exclusively seen as modern Israel’s – that cannot be repaired but by the most extreme measures.
After discussing the idea with my former colleague Saul Singer, I was gratified to see him include it in an important column:
“Once [Israel’s] occupation [of ‘Palestinian land’] has been deemed the original sin,” he wrote in 2007, “it is assumed that the occupier will not budge until driven out. It follows, therefore, that all people of good will must pressure the guilty party, the occupier, on behalf of the victim, the occupied.”
This kind of thinking may go some way in explaining, for example, why the three remaining members of the Gaza fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone – who undoubtedly view themselves as “people of good will” – continue to ignore crucial facts about the IDF’s actions in Operation Cast Lead that have been belatedly recognized by the South African judge; facts that led to his recent public retraction of key accusations in his report, including the charge that the IDF intentionally targeted civilians.
Former South African Maurice Ostroff, who has been in regular contact with Goldstone since the start of the UN Gaza Mission two years ago, wrote about mission members Hina Jibali, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers on April 24: “Their evidently inflexible belief in the immutability of every sentence of their 500-plus-page [Goldstone] report reflects an attitude reminiscent of those who refused to look at the evidence presented by Galileo.”
This kind of blinkeredness is “religious” in nature; and, indeed, once Israel has been deemed guilty of original sin, the specifics of what its army does during any military action cease to be of overriding importance, even if earnest lip service is paid to that consideration.
What counts (against Israel) is the original sin of “the occupation” or, more likely – since the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1964, well before the West Bank came under Israeli control – the sin of Israel’s existence within any borders at all.
THIS jibes with another historical Christian theological tenet: the Jews’ culpability in the killing of Jesus, as a result of which they were condemned to roam the Earth in perpetuity – hence the expression “The Wandering Jew.”
The Church has officially repudiated such sentiment. And many Christians – fundamentalists and others – see the Jews’ return to Zion as a welcome fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Yet, tragically, the age-old religious belief that the Jews are destined to wander among the nations forever may remain embedded in the subconscious of many in a largely post-religious Europe.
Could this ingrained conviction of the Jews’ “preordained condition” as perpetual wanderers – a notion turned on its head by the flourishing State of Israel and its outstanding achievements – help explain why a near-cosmic level of Evil has been attributed to it?
“In the PC dictionary of international relations, our sea blockade of Gaza remains the evil that must be eradicated and the free movement of terrorists remains a basic human right that must be facilitated,” wrote Sarah Honig in The Jerusalem Post on April 15.
“Anything that may reveal our situation in a light that eclipses the prevalent anti-Israel propaganda is regarded as heresy.” In the same issue, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, citing “the military attacks with missiles and aircraft in Libya, approved by the UN and NATO forces to defend innocent civilians” wondered why, “when Israeli innocent civilians are the target of brutal terrorist actions, the response of the international community is not similarly explicit and straightforward.
“Why is the destiny of Israelis, and the attitude toward them, different from the attitude toward the suffering Libyan population?” Olmert asked, citing the “forgiving attitude” of the international community “toward the activities of the Palestinian terror organizations,” including use of their civilians as human shields.
I WOULD answer that in those quarters where Israel is deemed guilty of the original sin of “stealing the Palestinians’ land” – never mind the documented facts surrounding Israel’s birth and the history of Arab-initiated wars and rejectionism – virtually nothing Israel concedes to the Palestinians will earn it lasting approval, and almost everything the Palestinians do will be excused on the grounds of their “victimization.”
WHAT can the Israeli response be in such an environment?
On the individual level, it is grounded in Jewish self-respect, Jewish education and an active awareness of Jewish history; our ancient connection to our homeland and our right to sovereignty in it. On the national and political level, it must be the determination to assert this connection and this right in every relevant international forum.
Only in this way, perhaps, can deeply ingrained prejudices begin to dissipate.
As for the behavior of the IDF, one could hardly do better than urge those who are well- and less well-disposed to Israel to read “The moralist,” David Horovitz’s far-reaching April 22 interview in this newspaper with Asa Kasher, the Tel Aviv University philosophy professor who co-authored the first IDF Code of Ethics and continues to work on the moral doctrines that shape the parameters of our army’s actions.
In the interview, Kasher addresses the array of criticisms we have grown used to hearing leveled against the morality of the IDF’s actions in Gaza, and places Israel’s wars in a context, Horovitz says, “that I had not fully drawn before.”
I wonder whether any other army maintains an ethical code quite like the IDF’s; this interview, with all the problems and challenges it raised, made me proud to be an Israeli.