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April 17, 2014 | 17th Nisan 5774

Right to life II

Galilee Diary #237
June 12, 2005
Marc J. Rosenstein

Once there were some evil men, who made Rabbi Meir so miserable that he prayed that they would die. His wife, Beruriah, said: “What are you doing? Note that the verse (in Psalms 104:35), ‘May sinners disappear from the earth and the wicked be no more’ can also be translated as ‘May sins disappear…;’ after all, if their sins disappeared, the wicked would indeed be no more! So you should pray for them to repent of their evil ways – then will ‘the wicked be no more.’” And so he did – and they indeed repented.

-Babylonian Talmud Berachot 10a

In recent weeks there have been a number of particularly upsetting murders in Israel that have thrown the tabloid and even the serious media into hysteria – ranging from a teenage girl randomly killed by a young man with a record of violent behavior, to innocent bystanders killed by accident in a gangland assassination. The public, of course wants someone to blame, and who is more convenient to blame than the police? Aren’t they supposed to be protecting us? And don’t they already have the popular reputation, in Israel, of being not very smart or competent?

Why, the politicians want to know, don’t we take the Giuliani approach that worked so well in New York City – which they interpret as simply flooding the neighborhoods with police? Ah, that’s an easy one – we can’t possibly afford that – after all, we already can’t afford the budgets that the police require for even the minimal services they provide! And why not? Everyone knows: in Israel today, the police are so busy in the effort to thwart Palestinian terror that they don’t have the resources to deal with such commonplace problems as street crime and traffic enforcement (and in August, when we are to disengage from Gaza, they will be overwhelmed completely, dealing with the dual challenges of Palestinian terror and Jewish resistance – non-violent or even violent – to the pull-out; August should be a great month for criminals).

So there you have it: it’s the Arabs’ fault not only that we are dying from exploding buses, but even that we are dying at the hands of thwarted lovers and drunken hooligans and drug-dealing mob bosses. If we didn’t have the Arabs, I think we would have to invent them, to relieve us of responsibility for all the ills of our society. Sovereignty was supposed to represent “the Jewish emergence from powerlessness,” the end of Jewish victimhood. But it turns out that we are not so willing to give up our victimhood; after all, victims are not responsible for their fate, and they always occupy the moral high ground.

Undoubtedly, our 57-year state of emergency has hampered the ability of the police to focus on mundane enforcement matters. However, there are a few other factors that we probably ought to consider; for example: the fact that the gap between rich and poor in Israel is one of the highest in the west; the fact of our failure properly to absorb, socially and economically, the immigrants we so enthusiastically sought from Ethiopia, the Caucasus, and the various lands of the Former Soviet Union; the fact of ongoing discrimination against Israeli Arabs in various areas – even against the Druze who serve in the army…

Of course, the debate over how to reduce crime – by more effective enforcement and more severe punishment - or by eliminating the social and economic factors that move people toward choosing criminal solutions to their problems – is not new, or unique to Israel. Nor is there one clear answer. What is clear to me is that we can’t blame “the situation” for everything. If we, despite “the situation,” can find the emotional and material resources to invest in popular culture, in high-tech achievements, in living the good life, then we have to take responsibility for finding the resources to deal with the social and economic issues that may be at least as dangerous to our future as are our neighbors in the Mideast.

Where is Beruriah when we need her?

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