OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Empathy belongs to the real victims

Our leaders sometimes act as if they are more afraid of being accused of engaging in Islamophobia than of failing to act to prevent terrorism.

An Arab student protest at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Credit: Dudi Eltsufin
An Arab student protest at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Credit: Dudi Eltsufin
Diane Bederman

I got myself involved on two different threads on Facebook about empathy. So many righteous people feeling so bad for a poor Christian Arab Israeli who was hassled in Haifa. Maybe because he fit the profile of a terrorist? And that you can’t tell by looking at him that he is a Christian and not a Muslim?

People have been calling out others—I am one of them—for lacking empathy for an Arab man, the recipient of all good things because he lives in Israel and not Gaza, and not under the Palestinian Authority or in any of the 23 Muslim countries that surround Israel. We were told that he makes a good living. Uh huh. Don’t all people living in Israel want to make a living?

My answer was he should thank God for the fact that he lives in Israel. That did not go over well. I obviously have no empathy for those outside my tribe!

Former U.S President Barack Obama wrote that the clash between Israelis and Palestinians will only end when those on each side “learn to stand in each other’s shoes.”

Paul Bloom, a Canadian American psychologist, and the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, wrote in his book Against Empathy that “empathy … on the whole, it’s a poor moral guide. It grounds foolish judgements and motivates indifference and cruelty. It can lead to irrational and unfair political decisions.”

I tend to stand with Bloom. I don’t think Jews standing in the shoes of Palestinians who call for our death will aid in our understanding of the other.

I am a multifaith endorsed chaplain and received my endorsement in the largest hospital in Canada in the most diverse city in the world. I have empathy for gay Muslims living in Muslim countries because they are thrown off buildings, hands tied behind their backs and eyes blindfolded, or hanged from cranes in the heart of cities. I have empathy for Yazidis and Christians living in the Muslim Middle East. I have empathy for families who are encouraged to take their family member off life support when I have just heard from the doctor that the hospital needs the bed. I have empathy for families who have buried a child.

I have empathy for the people murdered by Muslim terrorists because they hate the West and especially my people—the Jews. I have empathy for the families who witnessed wanton murder in terrorist attacks. I cry for the children murdered in their beds for the “crime’” of being Jewish. I cry for Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gilad Shaar, 16, murdered and dismembered because they are Jews. I have empathy for Israel every time a Jew is attacked with a screwdriver, a knife, a car, a bomb. And I share that empathy for all people all over the world who are murdered for living a good life in the West—a life it seems we are prepared to let go because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of  the terrorists.

How many times have we been told after a terror attack that has been confirmed as an Islamic attack that we must be careful because the Muslim communities all over the world have already sent their message out about fear of blowback! Our leaders sometimes act as if they are more afraid of being accused of engaging in Islamophobia than of failing to act to prevent terrorism!

Fear of an anti-Muslim blowback shouldn’t be our top  concern after innocent people have been blown to bits! I see this response as the success of Islamophobia brought to the world by the Muslim Brotherhood. Planned long ago. Playing on our “feelings.” To make us feel  bad for negative thoughts about Islam.

God gives us so many tears, and we need to use shed them wisely. We have only so much empathy to share, and we need to share that wisely, too. I am not sharing my empathy for the poor Arab Israeli who gets hassled when our collective outrage should be against those who try to murder us, whose terrorism has turned us in the West into “police” states. If my father were alive today, he would never leave home for fear of seeing people with rifles. He lived through a pogrom.

We are witnessing  empathy gone awry. It starts off small, but before you know it, governments start making policy decisions based on feelings. The mayor of London has told us that terror is the new normal. Maybe it wouldn’t be if we had more empathy for the ones murdered.

So forgive me for not embracing people who trip over themselves to pat themselves on the back for their empathy for an Arab hassled in Haifa when rarely do we hear a word from Arabs in Israel  decrying the constant calls for death to the Jews, death to Israel or demanding an end to the vile teachings of the P.A. in their schools.

If enough Israelis develop empathy, rachmaneos, for this hassled Arab in Haifa and it spreads, laws will change to avoid hurting their feelings. Governments prepared to give away more of Israel in the name of peace and empathy will be elected. And then one day, we might hear a big boom, and more children will be murdered because we displaced our empathy and stopped hassling Arabs in Israel the way the rest of us non-Arabs are hassled all over the world to prevent terrorism.

We Jews are small nation with only 15 million people. We must take care of our own because we are loathed by billions. Sadly, many of our own people don’t care for us either. Their empathy lies elsewhere: saying Kaddish for Hamas terrorists or standing with political parties whose members embrace anti-Semites.

Yes, we were taught that we must care for the other, though not at the expense of our own people. And today, we can include in that statement all people who cherish Western culture.  I defer to Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Diane Bederman is the author of “Back to the Ethic, Reclaiming Western Values,” published by Mantua Books. She blogs at: DianeBederman.com.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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