Galilee Diary: Neighbors
Once, a man threw a party and invited his friend Kamtza. The messenger made a mistake and delivered the invitation to the man’s enemy Bar-Kamtza. When Bar-Kamtza showed up the host tried to convince him to leave and Bar Kamtza tried to convince the host to let him stay; in the end he was forcibly evicted. He said: “Since the leaders of the community were present and didn’t intervene, I’ll get my revenge on the whole community by inciting the emperor against them.” And so he did; thus was the destruction of the Temple and the loss of our sovereignty the result of gratuitous hatred.
-Babylonian Talmud, Gitin 56a (abridged)
So who could have prevented our destruction? The messenger? The host? Bar Kamtza? The leaders? The emperor? All of the above?
Several years ago an Arab family, the Zabidats, applied for membership in Rakefet, a middle class community of 170 families a few miles from Shorashim. They were rejected and appealed to the Supreme Court, which found in their favor, arguing that if a community does not have a specific and clear religious or ideological character (i.e., Orthodox, or vegetarian, etc.) it may not refuse someone the right to lease state land for a homesite. General Jewishness is not an acceptable criterion for violating the freedom of residence. This outcome left many residents of Rakefet angry, and the story is not over, as the Zabidats are still only in the planning stages for their new home.
On the day before this past Memorial Day (which is the day before Independence Day), the Zabidats, who are both architects, came to make measurements on their lot in Rakefet. They found a large Israeli flag hanging on their next-door neighbor’s fence facing their property. During the weeks before Independence Day, flying the flag is a big part of the national culture – public buildings fly huge ones, many people hang them around their houses, and kids at intersections sell little flags that attach to your car. The Zabidats took it down, folded it neatly, and took it to the Rakefet office, saying that they preferred that people not hang flags on their property without their permission. “We are good citizens,” they said, “but we are not Zionists, and choose not to fly the flag on Independence Day on our property.”
The response was fast and furious. The residents of Rakefet were quick to point out that this provocative act proves that they were right to try to prevent the family from joining the community. The mayor of Misgav county, which includes Rakefet, issued a statement: “Taking down the flag is an unacceptable act. We can accept no explanation for it. The flag of the state is the flag of all of us. This act constitutes a moral and ethical lapse.” On the other hand, the national newspaper Ha’aretz carried an editorial on the incident, arguing that “Whoever hung that flag in the Zabidats’ yard was guilty of brazen trespassing and of undermining freedom of speech. And the real moral and ethical lapse was forcing a clear symbol of Jewish nationalism on the Zabidats…”
Was the flag hung as a provocation? Was taking it down a provocation? Where is the boundary between moral lapse and political stupidity? Is it not possible to decline to be provoked by provocations? Is anybody around here interested in the common good?
And who will we say could have prevented our destruction – the Zabidats? The Supreme Court? The neighbors? The mayor? The leftist press? Those of us who read the paper and turn the page? All of the above?
Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah