Killing of innocents can never be justified
Our community was shocked and grief-stricken to learn over the weekend that one of its own young members, Eliyahu David Kay, had been fatally wounded in a Hamas-inspired terrorist attack while on his way to pray at the Kotel in Jerusalem. It’s always saddening when fellow Jews around the world fall victim to such hate crimes, but it strikes that much closer to home when the victim is one of our own. At the time of writing, we are working with other communal bodies to organise a memorial gathering for a much loved young man whose life was so cruelly and unjustly cut short. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
The widely differing responses to Eliyahu’s murder tell us much about how and why such tragedies occur in the first place. Though most people who commented online and in other forums expressed shock and heartfelt sympathy, we were appalled also to see comments from certain organisations and individuals justifying the atrocity. On the local front, an organisation formerly known as Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions South Africa and now calling itself Africa4Palestine has been especially shameless in pushing this line. This is hardly unexpected given how over many years, this organisation has persistently sought to poison public attitudes not only towards Israel but towards the Jewish community for supporting and identifying with it. Of late, even non-Jewish supporters of Israel have become the targets of such hate-mongering.
The danger of extremist ideologies like those espoused by Africa4Palestine is that almost invariably, those who oppose them are portrayed as not merely wrong, but fundamentally evil. This in turn leads to them being regarded as so morally beyond the pale as to be undeserving of the basic rights that other people automatically enjoy, sometimes including even the right to life itself. Such dehumanisation is one of the essential first steps in a process that left unchecked, can easily lead to lethal acts of violence and in extreme cases, to genocide.
No amount of hyperbolic rhetoric about Israel’s purported misdeeds can justify the cold-blooded killing of unarmed civilians simply on the basis of their being Jews. This is the underlying justification that antisemitic fanatics claim for their actions, and we must be untiring in our efforts to confront and expose this evil. All genocides in history were justified at the time by what appeared to be righteous indignation on the part of the perpetrators. When examined more closely, however, their causes came down to simple, unadorned hatred. Nor can we ever feel pleasure over the death of innocents, even when suffered by our avowed enemies. When we lose our sense of empathy at the loss of any life – and how much more so when such tragedies are perversely celebrated – we lose our very humanity. In taking a stand against the constant vilification that Israel and our community are subjected to in certain quarters, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies is always careful not to itself descend to such depths. I urge those wishing to respond to such attacks, whether online or in other contexts, to similarly be careful as to how they express themselves.
- Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM, every Friday from 12:00 to 13:00.