Thursday, March 26, 2009
Jewish blood libels
March 26, 2009
Defaming an individual is a criminal offense. To defame a nation by falsely presenting its soldiers as wanton murderers would be considered treasonable in most countries. For Israelis to defame their own youngsters when their nation is at war and battling false international accusations of war crimes - is simply unconscionable. They are promoting outright blood libels against their own people. A handful of unnamed soldiers in a discussion at a mechina (pre-military college) made unsubstantiated allegations concerning two isolated acts of indiscriminate killing and vandalism perpetrated against Palestinian civilians. Upon further examination it transpired that one of the two raconteurs was relying on rumors and had not even served in Gaza. Nobody verified the allegations or attempted to consider the acts in the context of threats such as suicide bombers. The IDF was denied the names of the individuals making the claim and was not even granted advance notice to investigate and respond to the allegations. Which begs the question as to why the informants failed to report the alleged malpractices in the first instance.
The accusers did not merely allege that their comrades were indulging in barbaric Cossack-like rampages. They implied that such behavior was the byproduct of the ravings of fanatical rabbis who had goaded them to initiate killing sprees. They said the message was that goyim - gentiles - had invaded our sacred land and had to be expelled for interfering with our conquest of Eretz Yisrael. The anonymous informants depicted an atmosphere of religious hysteria in which IDF rabbis "anointed us with oil and stuck holy books into our hands." They sent us "booklets filled with Psalms....we could have filled the room with the Psalms they sent." They claimed that the war was effectively portrayed as a religious passion.
THESE REPORTS cast aspersions on all religious Zionist soldiers and officers who are represented in IDF combat units in far greater numbers than their proportion of the population. They display patriotism, love of country and are frequently held up as role models of dedication and self-sacrifice.
For three consecutive days these unsubstantiated accusations against religious soldiers and chaplains were headlined and given front page prominence by Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper whose editorial policy and columnists like Gidon Levy and Amira Hass have continuously been demonizing their own country. Few would deny that over the past years Haaretz, notably its English Internet edition - has more effectively damaged Israel's image in the West than all the Arab anti-Israeli propaganda combined. Depicting our soldiers as religious fanatics brainwashed by rabbis has chilling parallels to the anti-Semitic incitement of the Middle Ages promoted by converts who turned on their own people. Such libels emanating from Israel during the anti-Semitic tsunami now enveloping the world fall on receptive ears. The entire global media - including even those who occasionally try to be more evenhanded - carried blazing front page headlines highlighting these unsubstantiated accusations as evidence of war crimes committed during the Gaza conflict.
EVEN IF THESE STORIES contained an element of truth (and there are no grounds to assume that), to depict them as the norm is like using Jack the Ripper to besmirch the British as a nation of cutthroat barbarians.
For Israel this is a no-win situation. All wars incur civilian casualties. Yet every element of objective evidence confirms that, in contrast to every other army, the IDF went far beyond the norm in its efforts to minimize civilian casualties, despite confronting an enemy which deliberately targets Israeli civilians. This was also a conflict in which our adversaries ruthlessly employed their own civilians as human shields, encouraged their militias to masquerade as innocent civilians and transformed hospitals, schools and mosques into bunkers and fortified arsenals. Setting that aside, which other country would not only drop leaflets but actually telephone hundreds of thousands of civilians in war zones providing them with advance notice to evacuate?.
As the final casualty tally emerged we learned that, contrary to the figures presented by Hamas, in fact 800 terrorists and 300 civilians were killed. That relatively so few civilians were killed in such grim urban warfare is truly a tribute to the IDF. To now accuse it of war crimes is to turn the world upside down.
In a campaign involving tens of thousands of soldiers, one inevitably encounters aberrations. But any Israeli soldier found guilty of violating the army's strict ethical standards will, as in the past, be brought to justice.
THERE IS ANOTHER crucial element to all this. The coordinator of these discussions was anything but an innocent bystander. The pre-military academy in which these "exposures" were aired is headed by one Danny Zamir, who upon providing the IDF with the so-called testimony refused to identify the informants by name. Nor did he wait for the authorities to ascertain the veracity of the charges, but rushed to release his "scoop" to his friends in Haaretz.
Mr. Zamir has a record. As a parachute company commander in 1990, he was tried and sentenced for 28 days in prison for refusing to stand guard over people whom he called "right-wingers" at a ceremony bringing Torah scrolls to Joseph's tomb in Nablus, then under IDF supervision.
In 2004 Zamir published a crie de coeur relating to his refusal to obey military orders, in the process of which he attacked the IDF and denied that Israel was a democratic state. This appeared in a book titled Refusenik: Israel's Soldiers of Conscience, which carried an endorsement by the icon of anti-Israeli academics, Noam Chomsky.
This begs the question: How could the IDF endorse a major pre-military academy headed by a post-Zionist radical, convicted to a jail sentence for having refused to obey military orders? It would certainly be inconceivable for a radical religious Zionist who had rejected orders to be appointed head of a religious pre-military academy.
Setting aside the damage done to the reputation of the nation at a time when every anti-Semite is salivating to find opportunities to demonize the Jewish state, the fact that Danny Zamir is permitted to continue retaining his present role surely borders on the insane. Likewise, for a purportedly serious daily newspaper like Haaretz to report such unsubstantiated accusations in order to promote a political agenda is mind boggling.
Who needs enemies when we have Jews in Israel exploiting freedom of expression to disseminate unsubstantiated and false allegations of immorality as a means to defame the nation and provide fodder for anti-Semites, Israel bashers and all who seek to harm if not destroy us? Even worse, promoting such falsehoods may create a climate among our soldiers in which they incur major casualties by hesitating to implement defensive measures to protect themselves against enemies renowned for hiding behind children and sending forth their women as suicide bombers.