By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
There seems to be a subtext in the extensive coverage in the Israeli media of the attacks in Brussels this week: liberalism is very laudable but it endangers the security of innocent citizens. Commentators have had much to say about how easy it is for would-be terrorists to hide because of the freedom of movement between the member countries of the European Union and the reluctance of authorities there to subject citizens and residents to much surveillance.
Many Israeli experts have implied, and some have been more explicit about the difficult choice between freedom of the individual and security of the collective in their country. They seem to be telling us why Israel may appear at times less democratic but safer than other countries and that the price is clearly worth paying.
A similar mindset seems to be behind Israelis’ disappointment with President Obama. He may mean well in preferring, in Churchill’s oft quoted words, jaw-jaw to war-war, as reflected in the Iran deal, but the price may turn out to be too high and endanger the entire free world.
Similarly, the Israeli defense establishment may be too harsh in dealing with dissenters like the organization “Breaking the Silence<,’ but when they seem to reveal what’s considered to be state secrets, their activities have to be curtailed, even at the expense of freedom of speech.
Perhaps even the leader of the opposition in the Knesset Isaac Herzog, who did his military service as an officer in the intelligence corps, accepts this. It may account for his unwillingness – some say, inability – to attack the government’s at times seemingly repressive policies and actions.
That’s probably also why the public at large largely tolerates restrictions on artistic creativity as advocated by the country’s minister of culture, and burdens imposed on the Palestinians when security it at risk, for example in anticipation of Purim when levity and gathering of crowds in public places may encourage terrorists.
The Israeli public, perhaps even some or many of its Arab citizens, seem to have accepted it, albeit not without some heartache and fear that comes with the loss of freedom. But the rest of the world, particularly the Europeans, tend to condemn Israel at the slightest provocation.
Will the new reality of terrorism in Paris, Istanbul, Brussels and elsewhere change that? Will European countries (and Turkey) be prepared to learn from Israel and accept some of its measures in the call for a global alliance against terrorism? Will they show greater understanding for Israel and refrain from their criticism?
I heard some Israeli pundits ask these questions but I didn’t hear many reassuring answers. Though it’s assumed that the authorities in Belgium and elsewhere will have to acknowledge their inadequate policing that led to the disaster and though they and others may turn to Israel to gain know-how, nobody seems to believe that their attitude to Israel will change much, because – so it’s assumed here – their criticism of Israel is only a disguised form of anti-Semitism.
Some of us don’t like to believe it, as we don’t like seeing Israel tampering with democracy for the stated reasons of security, but the facts maybe more powerful than our sensibilities.