Not All Societies Are Morally Equivalent

JNS
Lawrence Grossman
July 13, 2014

All too often, unspeakable crimes are committed that harshly violate moral norms. How a society reacts to such atrocities tells a lot about its ultimate values. Every community has its bigots, racists, and criminals, but in most, the murder of innocents is rejected as beyond the pale.

A Frenchman who had fought for the Islamist jihadists in Syria shot to death four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium, on May 24. The assassin was quickly apprehended, and the authorities pledged to do their utmost to prevent any recurrence. Extremist Islam poses a serious threat in many parts of Europe, but its anti-Semitic and anti-Western ideology of terror is overwhelmingly rejected by the continent’s vibrant democracies.

A 16-year-old Roma boy was beaten into a coma and left for dead in Paris on June 13. There is deep antipathy toward Roma in some sectors of European society, but this senseless act aroused almost universal revulsion. President Hollande called it “revolting and unjustifiable,”inconsistent with “all the principles upon which the French Republic is founded.”

In Chicago, 11 people were killed and 50 wounded in shootings over the weekend of the Fourth of July; in New York City the toll was three dead and 27 wounded. Urban America clearly has a major problem with gun-related violence. But such behavior is condemned across the board as contrary to our ideals and aspirations, and police departments are doing all they can to get guns off the street.

On July 2, a gang of young Israelis kidnapped and apparently burned to death Mohammad Abu Khudair, 16, in Jerusalem, in retaliation for the kidnapping and killing, by Hamas operatives, of three Israeli Jewish teenagers, whose bodies were discovered two days before.

Anti-Arab sentiment, built up over years of intergroup tension, is a real problem within certain sectors of Israeli Jewish society, and the kidnapping of the teenagers triggered an unfortunate spike in anti-Arab rhetoric on the streets and in the social media.

Yet news of the gruesome murder of an innocent Arab boy evoked unanimous condemnation across the Jewish ideological spectrum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “despicable murder”and ordered police to find the perpetrators “as quickly as possible”—a mission that was completed in a few days. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau said, “This is not the way of the Torah,”and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, his Sefardi counterpart, denounced “the outrageous murder that was perpetrated against the innocent young man.”

Rachel Frenkel, mother of one of the three murdered Jewish boys, commented that “the shedding of innocent blood is against morality, it is against the Torah and Judaism, it is against the basis of our life in this country,”and a hardline settler rabbi went so far as to call for invoking the death penalty for the murderers.

But other societies, the Palestinian prominent among them, accept and even laud such acts. Hamas, the Palestinian faction whose anti-Semitic charter calls for dismantling Israel, praised the kidnapping of the three Jewish teenagers and promised to carry out more such operations. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who recently entered into a “unity government”with Hamas, condemned the kidnappings, but his close associate Amin Maqboul explained that Abbas was merely being diplomatic, and that “the overwhelming majority of Palestinians support the abductions.”

In stark contrast to Rachel Frenkel’s denunciation of Abu Khudair’s murder, the mother of Amer abu Aysha—one of the Hamas members suspected of the triple kidnapping/killing and who is still at-large—told a television interviewer regarding her son: “If he truly did it, I’ll be proud of him till my final day,”adding that she raised her children “to bring the victory of Islam.”

Clearly, not all societies share a morally equivalent approach to the taking of innocent life. For some—among them the U.S., Europe and Israel—it is anathema. If only that could be said of the Palestinians.

Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s Director of Publications.