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Beit Midrash Family and Society A Nation and its Halachot

Collective Punishment: Are The Jews Guilty?

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Art Linkletter, the late Canadian/American humorist and television personality, had a famous show called, "Kids Say the Darndest Things!" He interviewed children on a wide variety of subjects, never knowing what might come out of the youngsters' mouths. Well, I have learned that sometimes, grown-ups - rabbis and politicians chief among them - also tend to say the darndest things.

Take, for example, the group of Israeli rabbis - "prominent" rabbis, they dubbed themselves - who gathered last week to apologize "on behalf of the Jewish People" for "acts of terror" committed against Palestinians, in particular the fire in Duma which, tragically, has claimed the lives of a father and his young son. Said one of these rabbis - I will omit his name, as I think he's garnered enough publicity for himself already, "OUR hands spilled this blood, it's impossible to say that we're innocent; we are all responsible!"

Is that true? Are we really ALL responsible?! Does the average Jewish person set fire to the homes of neighbors they don't like? Do they stab innocent people in a parade? Has anyone reading this article ever participated in a "terror" attack, or sought to grievously harm another human being - Jew or non-Jew? Do any of you out there even condone such an atrocity? If not, then you have been slurred; you have been slandered. Bear in mind that, as of this writing, the perpetrators of this crime have not even been identified; yet there has been a perverse rush to judgment, an arrogant decision to issue a wholesale condemnation of Jews and "settlers," before a shred of evidence has been gathered. And even if it DOES turn out that the ones behind the attack were Jews, do they in any way represent us as a community?

Now, there is, indeed, a problem in Israel with select individuals who engage in extreme actions. Every society has its fanatics, its zealots, its nut-cases. And we must do our utmost to weed them out, to punish them, to make an example of them for others to see and learn from. We must condemn vigilantism; we must combat violence on our streets and in our schools. But individuals do not represent a nation; a society must be judged as a whole. As we are taught in Ethics of the Fathers 3:19 - rabbis, please do take note of your elders' teaching - "All is according to the majority of acts." Painting the Jewish People with a wide brush of guilt is either ignorant, or downright malicious, a form of Collective Punishment. It would be like branding actors and doctors as evil people because an actor assassinated Abraham Lincoln and a doctor sheltered him. Or labeling all secular teenagers as deviants and killers, because two of them brutally murdered British oleh Derek Roth in 1994 - just for fun.

If anything, the Jews of Israel demonstrate unbelievable restraint and tolerance - perhaps even to a fault. Day after day, Palestinians perpetrate horrible acts of violence against our innocent population, from drive-by shootings to ramming into people at bus stops to setting fire to our forests to stoning random vehicles on our roads. Do we riot and go on a rampage after these brutalities? Do we threaten to take blind revenge for them? No, we are a civilized nation, and we contain our anger, we subdue our pain, and we place our trust in our police and armed forces to do their job and protect us from harm.

Collective Punishment is a term that our enemies love to bandy about, as if they understood its meaning. They accuse us of practicing CP against the Arab population on a regular basis, and they gleefully list this among our many "war crimes." But Collective Punishment - whereby innocents suffer for the sins of others - is not always a crime; often it is a necessary, even justified reaction to the policies planned and practiced by rogue nations.

Just this past week, ceremonies were held marking the 70th anniversary of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first and only time atomic weapons were used in warfare. As many as a quarter of a million Japanese were killed in that attack, or died later as a result of the released radiation. Were all of them really "guilty" and deserving of death? What about the women, the children who died? And when more than 1000 British and American warplanes fire-bombed the German city of Dresden in February of 1945, killing 25,000 people, was this not "Collective Punishment?!" Were all those casualties card-carrying Nazis who warranted the death penalty?

The answer, of course, is "Yes" to all the above. For while individually the average men on the street may not have been culpable, they were judged as part of nations that unquestionably deserved their fate. Germany and Japan - with the assent and active participation of the overwhelming majority of their citizens - had embarked on a bloody crusade to rule the world, murdering tens of millions of innocents in the process. And so those regimes - and everyone associated with them - were "fair game" in the battle to end the war and restore world peace.

By all accounts, the Palestinians are a genocidal entity, espousing a demonic death cult and an insatiable desire to wipe out the Jewish People, even at the cost of their own lives. Poll after poll indicates that a majority of them want to see more suicide bombings, more "martyr massacres" carried out against Israelis both in and out of the territories. That is why there are no "Peace Now" branches in Ramallah or Nablus; why nothing positive about Israel may ever appear in their press; why their baby-killers have streets and stadiums named after them. That is why none of the billions of dollars they have extorted from gullible Western nations over the years have been used to build hospitals or universities. What doesn't go straight into their pockets is immediately diverted into more rockets, more suicide belts, more weapons to carry on their endless war against us.

And that is why "Collective Punishment" is a misnomer where Palestinians are concerned.

No doubt that some of the misguided in the media and clueless in the clergy will continue to point an accusatory finger at the Jews, engaging in the all-too popular "Blame the Victim" syndrome. I, for one, am proud of my fellow Jews and their stoic adherence to a high moral code of behavior, under the most difficult of circumstances. In my opinion, they deserve a Collective Reward, not punishment, and someday they will surely receive it.

Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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