Defining Hamas' Victory

In Bamidbar 31:2, God commands Moshe Rabbeinu to seek vengeance against the Midianites as punishment for their attempt to cause B’nei Yisrael to sin. Rashi is bothered by the fact that God sought retribution only against Midian and not against Moab who also was involved in this immoral endeavor. Rashi gives two different explainations. One is that God could not destroy Moabat this time for Ruth was destined to emerge from that nation. Rashi’s second answer, though, declares that the distinction was based on differing motivations. Moab feared the potential for harm from this large nation, i.e. Israel, camped at its borders. While this fear was unfounded and the Moabites still acted in a most heinous manner, there was some justification to their emotions – thus they were spared this response of vengeance and punishment. Midian simply hated the Jews and so God ordered Moshe to attack them immediately, in direct response to their villainy.

 

            Rashi’s words contain multiple lessons. First he identifies the powerful response that we must have towards Anti-Semitism. In the same way that God demanded Moshe to seek vengeance against the Midianites, we must also be constantly vigilant against the evil of Anti-Semitism. Yet, Rashi also makes another most important declaration: not every attack upon Jews is a product of Anti-Semitism. Moab, while acting in a similar manner to the Midianites, was not motivated by Anti-Semitism but rather other considerations. As such they were spared the vengeance that God demanded to be applied to those motivated by the evil of Anti-Semitism. It is not enough to evaluate events based upon the facts and a simplistic, one dimensional understanding of the motivational factors behind the actions. One must recognize that the same behaviour may arise from differing considerations and one must include such factors in determining how to respond.

 

            Does this mean that Moab is simply to be excused for its corrupt actions because there was some legitimacy in the concerns that led to this vile behaviour? This answer is a resounding: No. In Devarim 23:4 and 5, the Torah places powerful restrictions on a Moabite who wishes to join the Jewish People. The verse explains that this is because Moab did not properly help when the Jewish nation was camped at its border but instead acted against Israel. They were indeed punished for their immoral acts but, as their motivation was different, God’s response was different. Evil cannot be treated as a general condition. Anti-Semitism cannot become a singular answer to all that ails. Thorough analysis and the detailed application of human intelligence are necessary to determine the true motivation for abhorrent behaviour and the proper response, thereby preventing a wrong-headed plan of action. In order to defeat evil, we must correctly identify its nature and respond accordingly.

 

            This consideration is most important in the aftermath of the recent Hamas victory in the Palestinian election. It is too easy to simply label the outcome as the result of Anti-Semitism.  To do so, though, is to ignore many other factors that must also be considered in determining a proper response to the situation. Just as the Torah recognized the Moabites’ personal concerns, those who voted for Hamas could have also been motivated by a desire to end corruption in the Palestinian Authority. They also could have been motivated by Hamas’ history of social assistance. Does this justify a vote for Hamas? Just as with the Moabites, the answer must be: No. Even in the pursuit of legitimate self-interest, it is immoral to ignore the terrorist agenda and murderous policy of Hamas. Perhaps the average Palestinian is not a violent Anti-Semite and is motivated to support Hamas because this party will truly help the average Palestinian. Yet, to do so means to ignore Hamas’ other agenda to commit murder against innocent Israelis. Even in the pursuit of one’s welfare, to ignore harm to others is also a form of evil which must be identified and fought. But it can only be fought if properly identified and not subject to a blanket, one-dimensional perspective of Anti-Semitism.

 

            When Hitler came to power, many individuals believed that Nazi policy would eventually mellow against the Jews. The argument was that the Nazis only promoted Anti-Semitism as a method of gaining votes. The perspective was based on a belief that many people would be swayed to support the Nazis solely based on an agenda of Anti-Semitism. Sadly, these same individuals soon found out that the Nazis did not promote Anti-Semitism in order to gain votes but because Hitler was truly an Anti-Semite. The sad fact was that people voted for him not because of his Anti-Semitism but in spite of it. Hitler’s agenda was seen as being a positive one for the average German and, so, the average German ignored the negative consequences that would fall upon the other. The evil of the average German was not Anti-Semitism but rather the promotion of self-interest at the grossly unfair expense of the other. This indeed is another evil but, just like the Moabites, it demands a different clarification and response. The same is true today. The evil that brought Hamas to power must be addressed and demands an appropriate response. But first we must clarify the nature of this evil – and simply branding it as Anti-Semitism is too simple and also too dangerous. Simply viewing German voters as being solely motivated by Anti-Semitism, led to an incorrect early response to Hitler which eventually resulted in greater horror. We must ensure that our response to the election of Hamas and the, yes, evil that led to this be defined properly.

 

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

2006 NISHMA