What Made What Hitler Did Wrong?

The kidnapping of three Israeli teens has rattled Jews in Israel and around the world, and has touched off a campaign to do whatever can and must be done to ensure they are returned to their families. In all corners of the Jewish world, people are gathering to express outrage and to pray for the safe return of Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrach and Gilad Shaar. Perhaps it is that victims of this horrendous abduction are just boys, students in a Yeshiva, and perhaps it is that Jews, and especially Israelis, cannot tolerate feeling vulnerable and at the mercy of those who seek our destruction, but it’s hard to find a supporter of Israel who doesn’t feel touched by this kidnapping.

Perhaps most upsetting in all of this is the fact that some Palestinians are openly celebrating the abduction. Stories and photos of people passing out candy and sweets, smiling broadly, are all over the internet. Many Palestinians, and other Arabs, have taken to holding out three fingers, with Arabic words written on each finger, as an expression of jubilation that three Israeli boys have been violently abducted and are being held, traumatized and quite possibly have been injured or worse. The most upsetting of these photos are the ones of children, some holding guns, others grinning, holding up three fingers in joyful approval of a violent crime. Overlook for the moment that leaders in the Palestinian community frantically spread the word to shopkeepers to erase any video footage from the cameras mounted on their shops and businesses to thwart Israel’s investigation. There is something unsettling, to say the least, about children endorsing violence with the apparent approval, if not encouragement, of their parents. One is compelled to ask how any society descends to such a level.

Israelis would never do such a thing. Violence and war are sometimes necessary, but they are always seen as evil and unwanted. In Israeli society, children are distanced and sheltered from the pain and trauma of war and conflict to the greatest extent possible. Israel is not a perfect place and its high moral standards, built on a foundation of democracy and freedom, are sometimes compromised. But when that happens, Israelis do not express jubilation. Those who commit crimes are prosecuted, not made into celebrities. When Israel must strike its enemies, there are no joyous demonstrations in the streets and people do not fire guns in the air in raucous celebration.

What accounts for the difference between two societies where one celebrates violence and one regrets it? Some would say that desperate people do desperate things, and that Palestinians are desperate. I don’t believe that. Jews have been desperate in the past, and we have never celebrated violence and hatred. And there are plenty of angry, violent terrorists in the world who commit unspeakable acts of violence not because they are desperate but because they believe what they’re doing is good and true and right.

Is there such a thing as a universal good? Are there certain things that are, uncompromisingly, evil and wrong? As a Jew, I certainly believe that there is such a thing as universal good, a moral code taught by God and communicated through the words of the Torah. I can’t accept the world as a place where one person’s terrorist is another’s “freedom fighter,” where the definition of evil is a matter of opinion. To put it in even starker terms, something made what Hitler did wrong. His actions, and those of other brutal oppressors and tyrannical leaders throughout history, are universally wrong.

I pray that the three Yeshiva boys kidnapped on a quiet evening by terrorists will be returned to their families and will be able to resume their lives. And I pray that the words of the ancient prophet Habakuk will be realized, that someday “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

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