Rabbis Without Borders
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“Keep yourself far from a lie; and do not kill the innocent and righteous; for I will not justify the wicked.” -Exodus 23:7
It’s not always as easy as one might think to tell when one is telling the truth. Most of us think of ourselves as honest people, and yet, when our interests are at stake, it often somehow happens that the details may be a bit off-kilter.
This week, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, he spoke about — as he often does — the Holocaust. In doing so, he attributed the origin of the Final Solution to the grand mufti of Jerusalem, saying (according to a transcript on Netanyahu’s website) that “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews,…And Haj Amin al-Husseini [the grand Mufti] went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here.’ “‘So what should I do with them?’ (Hitler) asked. (Husseini) said, ‘Burn them.'”
The Internet (and pretty much every publication on earth) exploded. No one disputes that the grand mufti was a raving anti-Semite, but this story is historically impossible, and the mufti was not responsible for Hitler’s Final Solution.
But all this happened so long ago? Why are we so worried about what someone did or didn’t say 60 years ago? If the mufti hated Jews, does it matter whether he really said this or not? Is it really even untrue, or just … not exact?
What we need to ask ourselves is why such a tale would find such resonance now, and the answer is one Netanyahu himself gave: he wanted, “to show that the forefathers of the Palestinian nation, without a country and without the so-called occupation, without land and without settlements, even then aspired to systematic incitement to exterminate the Jews.”
In a country exploding with violence, in which some Palestinians are attacking innocent Israelis, and in which some Israelis are feeling such fear that some people have engaged in mob violence, this is extremely irresponsible. It is not enough to tell some of the truth — untruths such as this motivate people to act, and to act badly. In telling this untruth, the prime minister is not simply discussing an innocent historical fact that he wasn’t quite right about: He is trying to claim that he has no responsibility to work for peace, because the occupation, the land, and the settlements, in his narrative, have nothing to do with the violence.
There is no excuse for individuals to kill other individuals. None. But the truth is that, even though the grand mufti of Jerusalem hated Jews, the occupation and the settlements have very much to do with the violence. And we are still responsible to make right what is wrong.
The Torah speaks of keeping far from a lie. Why does it add “and do not kill the innocent and righteous; for I will not justify the wicked?”
Because it isn’t enough to tell almost the truth, particularly about the matters on which we are mostly likely to want wiggle room. Lies lead to bloodshed, and in this case, the lies that have been told over and over: that there is no solution, that we are entirely without blame in the situation, that “they” are bad — all of them — and “we” are justified in however we react, we have not managed to get ourselves far enough from untruth, and these untruths have caused people — both innocent and not — to be murdered. And we are, if not guilty, then at least in part responsible.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.