YOM HAATZMAUT 5771
There’s an old joke that made the rounds on the internet a few years ago. Osama bin Laden goes to see a soothsayer who tells him that he will die on a Jewish holiday. When he asks which one he is told: “Whenever you die it will be a Jewish holiday!” Was it mere coincidence that last Sunday, as Bin Laden was killed by US Navy SEALs in that daring raid on his secret compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, Jews all over the world were ushering in Yom Hashoah Ugvurah, Holocaust and Heroism Day? Osama bin Laden—sometimes compared to Adolf Hitler—is killed on the very day the descendants of Hitler’s victims remember what he did. It makes one wonder.
Almost immediately as the announcement was made of Bin Laden’s demise, crowds gathered outside the White House, in Times Square in NY and elsewhere to celebrate chanting, “USA, USA, USA.” There has been much discussion—even in the Jewish world—as to the appropriateness of celebrating Bin Laden’s death. Although I personally don’t see anything wrong with such celebrations, I somehow didn’t feel like celebrating. I felt sad—not for Bin Laden but for his victims and their families. It reminded me of the feeling I had felt when I heard that Eichmann was hung for his crimes. I was sad for the victims and how needless their deaths were. Coincidentally, on the same day that Bin Laden was killed, Moshe Landau, the presiding judge at the Eichmann trial, died at age 99.
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz—renowned contemporary Talmudic scholar—points out that in the Bible, we have 2 opposite reactions to the fall of an enemy. On the one hand, we have the verse from Proverbs (24:17) that says: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.” On the other hand, we have another verse in Proverbs (11:10): “When the wicked perish, there is joy.” Rabbi Steinsaltz teaches that there’s no contradiction. The 1st verse refers to a situation in which there is animosity or a quarrel between 2 individuals. In such a case, a person may be upset at someone, but he shouldn’t rejoice at their downfall—and certainly should not wish them dead.
The other verse goes beyond a dispute. It’s about people who are wicked. It tells us that when the wicked are destroyed, one should rejoice that wickedness has disappeared from the world. Osama bin Laden was one of the most wicked men, and therefore, it’s OK to rejoice, if that’s how you feel.
Elie Weisel tells the story of the day he was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp. The non-Jewish Poles who were also incarcerated somehow got their hands on a fe bottles of liquor and proceeded to celebrate by getting drunk. The Jews, Weisel writes, gathered together, davened mincha and said kaddish for those who didn’t survive. I like that story and I like what it says about us.
I guess my not rejoicing at Bin Laden’s demise makes my reaction politically correct. But about Bin Laden’s body I fear that I’m not so “pc.” I know our government was worried about reprisals and rioting if his body was not given a proper burial in accordance with Islamic law. However, Bin Laden wasn’t so sensitive about Jewish burial practices when he disposed of Daniel Pearl’s body. Khalid Sheik Muhammad—3rd in command of Al Qaeda under Osama Bin Laden—boasted in front of a military tribunal: “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl, in the city of Korachi, Pakistan.” Pearl’s body was then cut into 10 pieces and left to rot. It was only by the grace of a Muslim philanthropist who hated Bin Laden that Perl’s body parts were collected and sent to his family in California for burial. Call me vindictive if you want, but I think Bin Laden—who caused the mass grave of 3,000 Americans at the Twin Towers—should have been buried with the body of pig—a great disgrace for a Muslim. He deserved no better!
This Monday is Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day and Israel is very much on our minds. I wondered what the Israelis were thinking about the killing of Osama bin Laden. What I found was that while they were happy that the world is rid of its supreme terrorist, they were somewhat upset with the contrasting treatment the Obama administration is getting now as compared with the treatment Israel has gotten in the past in similar circumstances. Again and again I heard the question: What if Israel had killed Osama bin Laden?
In a column in the Jerusalem Post, Deborah Danan suggests:
Imagine for a moment, that your favorite TV show was interrupted for a televised announcement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saying, “I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.” That quote, of course, is Obama’s—verbatim. Yet astonishingly, the phrases “I determined” and “[I] authorized an operation” and “at my direction the United States launched a targeted operation” barely raised an eyebrow from the international community, despite the blatant judicial violations associated with the president’s autonomous decision.
Now imagine the world’s reaction had those very same words left Netanyahu’s mouth. The thing is, you don’t need to. History provides a fair indicator of what the likely response would be. In 2004, Israel executed a targeted killing of Hamas founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, dubbed by the then-defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, as “the Palestinian bin Laden.”
To be sure, that particular killing shook the world’s self-righteous tail feathers. Israel was castigated unequivocally by former UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, who said, “I condemn the targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the others who died with him. Such actions are not only contrary to international law, but they do not do anything to help the search for a peaceful solution.” While on Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that, “The death of Osama bin Laden…is a watershed moment in our common global fight against terrorism.”
Another thorny issue emerging from the killing of Bin Laden is the legality of having such an operation on Pakistani soil without her express permission. There is no real outcry in the world today of foul play by the United States for this operation on foreign soil. But in 1960 when Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina to bring him to Jerusalem to stand trial, there was an international uproar. At Argentina’s persistence, the UN Security Council then passed Resolution 138 which declared that such acts “endanger international peace and security.” And yet there was no condemnation of the Bin Laden operation, no suggestion that it was in violation of UN resolutions. But the fact remains that Eichmann facilitated the slaughter of 6 million. Bin Laden was an amateur on that evil scale.
The killing of a civilian “human shield” by US Navy SEALs on Sunday also seems to have escaped notice. The White House initially reported that a woman was shot and killed when protecting bin Laden from US fire. No problem. But Israel has to constantly avoid human shields or be ready to be condemned by the world as Hamas and Hezbollah use human shields as part of their standard operating procedure while attacking Israel.
When asked what immediate public relations efforts Israel should be making to counter the double standard in the aftermath of the Bin Laden execution, Yuli Edelstein, Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, responded: “We’ve been using the argument of we do what they do and yet they condemn us for years…and it doesn’t work.”
Sadly, demonization, denigration and delegitmization of Israel are not going to disappear anytime soon. And the reason that Israel cannot be judged by the Western world’s standard is quite simply because there is their regular standard and there is a special double standard when it comes to judging Israel.
Israel is now being marginalized in ways that would have been difficult to predict just a few years ago. Last week, the Palestinian government signed a treaty with the terrorist group Hamas brokered by our “friend” Egypt. How can Israel negotiate with Hamas that is sworn to her destruction and lobs missile after missile at her? And yet France and England this week have upped the pressure for Israel to negotiate, and perhaps even to capitulate. France has threatened that if Israel—as if it’s just up to Israel—doesn’t make peace by September, it may give recognition to a Palestinian state.
President Barack Obama can say with impunity that America “will be relentless in defense of our citizens,” but Israeli leaders cannot. Egypt opens the border to Gaza and allowing an uninterrupted flow of weapons into Gaza to be used against Israel; Iran pursues nuclear weapons to destroy Israel; Turkey jettisons Israel and cozies up to Iran; Hezbollah has completely rearmed its store of lethal missiles to shoot into Israel under the nose of the UN—and the pressure to make peace is applied only to Israel!
How has Israel been able to survive until now? It’s a miracle! And it’s a miracle that Israel is now one of the most prosperous nations per capita in the world—despite everything. Israel turns 63 on Monday. May Hashem bless her with peace and continued prosperity. Despite the double standard the world applies to her—as Gd promised Abraham about his descendants—may the Jewish State always be a blessing to the world. She is the fulfillment of the Jewish dream of 2,000 years. Am Yisrael Chai, “The People of Israel Live.” Happy birthday Israel. Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis