I was in the US a few weeks ago, arriving in Boston just a few days after the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon and just hours after one of the terrorists had been captured. Following the chain of events on television before leaving Israel, I was reminded of the many similar terrorist attacks that we had suffered in Israel during the worst of the Intifada. I expected to find television coverage and personal involvement similar to what I was used to in Israel when I arrived in the US, but that is where all similarity ended.
As is the case when comparing so much of American and Israeli cultures to one another, the first thing that struck me was the lack of personal involvement. While everyone I met was horrified by the attack, I didn’t sense the kind of personal sadness and even mourning that we are used to in Israel whenever a similar attack occurs. But then again, Israel is a tiny country and there really is a sense of camaraderie, even family feeling here that is missing in most other countries. And it is one of the reasons I love living in Israel. Despite the many disputes and debates that receive front page attention in both local and international media, there is a closeness within Israeli society that I have never seen anywhere else.
But what continued to amaze me as I followed the story on American television was the nature of the discussion surrounding the event. There was a great deal of focus on the legal issues – should the terrorist suspect be accorded the same civil rights as ordinary criminals, what criminal charges would be brought against him and what sort of sentencing could he expect. There was some discussion of the failure of American intelligence agencies to prevent the attack. But there was absolutely no serious discussion about the motivation behind the attack. What would cause successful immigrants to the US to plan and execute such a heinous attack?
There was amazing hesitancy to discuss the issue that was staring everyone in the face but no one wanted to admit it. When the captured terrorist could finally talk, he stated his one and only goal in carrying out the attack – the defense of Islam. And the various politicians and television commentators that commented did not know what to do with this statement. I wonder if it is so foreign to the American psyche to admit that members of a given religious group could have, as part of their ideology, the desire to destroy America. But, as an Israeli, this is the sort of assumption that we have been working with for more than 100 years.
America is under attack and has been since the 11th of September 2001. And Israel is under attack and has been since its inception as a modern State in 1948. And Europe is under attack – witness terrorist attacks in Madrid, London and most recently in Bulgaria. This last attack was carried out by Hizbollah, but Europe still hesitates to label Hizbollah as a terrorist organization. What all these attacks have in common is the ideology of their perpetrators – Islamic Jihadists who seek to destroy western society, western values and anything connected with Jews and Israel.
An interesting article in the Israeli press by Dr. Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the UN, highlighted the dangerous changes that have taken place in American foreign policy which have made it impossible for the US to effectively meet the challenges of this sort of enemy. http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=4277 But the problem is far deeper than American policy. It is a fundamental unwillingness on the part of the American people as well as western societies as a whole, to confront a society, a civilization that is fundamentally hostile to democracy, and intolerant of religious difference. Theirs is a holy war at a time when westerners have convinced themselves that holy wars no longer exist.
Another article in the same newspaper spoke to a totally different issue. http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=4279 It reflected on the growing interest in Israeli society to explore our Jewish roots. It is written by a secular man who called upon his fellow secular Jew to embrace our traditional sources, such as the Bible and its commentaries. It called for immersion in the source of our own culture. There was a time, when an article of this sort would have been unheard of in a largely secular Israeli press. Today, many secular Jews are seeking a renewed connection to their tradition and their roots.
I can’t help but believe that the two articles are connected. Our culture is rooted in the Bible and in the centuries of Biblical discussion that has formed the basis for Jewish philosophy and literature from ancient times to today. Ours is not a culture of hate but one that calls upon man to love his fellow man. Every religion has its more fundamentalist adherents and its more liberal ones. And within our own society we struggle with debates as various groups put forward their own interpretation of texts and religious commandments. But we are a people of the Book and words define the debate, not violence. And while we may differ in the ways we believe, we respect the rights of others to believe differently.
The issues facing Israel are serious indeed. Threats from an increasingly unstable Syria, which is becoming more of a forward base for Iranian terrorism every day, probably tops the list, followed by the threat of a nuclear Iran. But the entire free world is facing similar threats, albeit on a smaller scale for now. But most of that world is unwilling or incapable of recognizing that threat.
An examination of our ancient sources can provide wisdom and a source of hope. There is good and evil in the Biblical world and Israel is encouraged to identify good and evil, to seek the good and hate evil. (Amos 5:14-15) This is the challenge facing all of us today. We cannot accept the moral equivalence and hesitancy before evil. We must identify evil and fight against it. And throughout the battle, we must turn to G-d to assist us in our fight. Ultimately, as we embrace Biblical sources as part of our lives, as we incorporate Biblical values in our decisions, it will be easier to identify good and evil and more natural to turn to G-d in our prayers.