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Value Judgment

A haftorah of dark times and core beliefs

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An image from Eden Abergil’s Facebook page, via an Israeli blog. (sachim.tumblr.com)

Earlier this week, news outlets around the world circulated candid snapshots of a young Israeli soldier sitting next to a number of bound and blindfolded Palestinian men and looking at the camera with a coy grin. The soldier, Eden Abergil, had posted the photos to Facebook, in a personal album titled “The Army: The most beautiful time in my life… :)” An Israeli blogger discovered them there; it took less than 48 hours for Abergil to become known around the world as the Israeli Lynndie England.

At first, I was unwilling to pay the story any serious attention. Having served in the Israel Defense Forces, I know that when very young men and women are placed under very extreme circumstances and subjected to very great pressures, some are likely to act in regrettable ways. And the misdeeds of one soldier no more taint the IDF than the shenanigans of one drunken student, say, tarnish the reputation of his or her college.

And then I heard Abergil speak.

Reached for comment by the Israeli website Ynet, Abergil expressed no remorse. The only regret she had, she told the reporter, was having served in an “ungrateful” army that now, after the photos came to light, dishonorably discharged her of reserve duty. (Abergil completed her mandatory service last year.) To her many detractors around the world, she had this to say: “These people, they want world peace, right? They’re against me at the moment because they want world peace and I’m ruining for them this streak of planning for world peace, all this bullshit. … You’re hating a Jewish woman who all she did was take this lousy picture with some Arab.” An Arab, Abergil insisted, she had never mistreated: “We treated them nicely,” she said of her bound prisoners, “we cracked jokes with them, and they’d say words in Hebrew.” Not that she has any problem with mistreating, even murdering, Arabs: Commenting on the now-infamous photograph on her own Facebook page, Abergil wrote: “I hate Arabs, and wish them everything that’s bad, and I would happily kill them, even massacre them.”

Abergil, of course, is very young and should therefore be granted a touch of compassion. But her words reflect a fundamental disrespect for human life and dignity, a disrespect that no one who served as a soldier could ever be excused for harboring. Abergil, it is not surprising, thinks otherwise; toward the end of her interview, she suggested that her critics would change their minds were they to put themselves in her dusty boots. “All those who comment,” she said, “let them serve one day in the territories.”

I have. More than one day. In the West Bank, in Gaza, in Lebanon. I served because I had to, but also because I believed the exact opposite of what Abergil does. I believed that the army’s supreme goal was to provide security and that security’s ultimate end was peace, believed that being a solider meant having power and that having power demanded caution and consideration and responsibility. And I was proud of the IDF for swiftly punishing Abergil but distraught because I realized she wasn’t alone, that there were many like her in Israel who perceive their nation as a blameless victim and are ready, in a cruel twist of fate, to dispel this perceived victimhood with excessive force.  Abergil herself put it best: “We will always be attacked,” she told her interviewer. “Whatever we do, we will always be attacked.” Might as well tie up those Palestinians, then, and snap a happy picture: The world is going to hate us anyway.

With a heart heavy with shame, I sought solace in this week’s haftorah, the sixth of seven haftarot of consolation, read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashanah. Fortunately, shame was on Isaiah’s mind as well: “Fear not,” said the prophet, “for you shall not be ashamed, and be not embarrassed for you shall not be put to shame, for the shame of your youth you shall forget.”

It’s an odd sentiment. A prophet seeking to console his people may promise to forgive them their sins, or alleviate their pain, or end their suffering. But Isaiah, a Jewish seer through and through, speaks of shame. Shame, he realizes, is more powerful than pain, more prominent than sin. Shame is self-induced, and it comes with the searing sensation of having failed to live up to one’s own standards. If we let God down, he will forgive us; that, as Heinrich Heine so poignantly put it, is his job. But if we disappoint ourselves, we won’t forget so quickly. The only solution, Isaiah realizes, is to erase every trace of shame; unfortunately, such an exuberant bit of clemency can only come in the days of the Messiah.

In the meantime, it’s up to us to learn to live with shame and hope we can harness its untamable energies toward deserving ends. I can only pray that somewhere beneath the hurt and the confusion and the bluster, Eden Abergil feels a hint of shame. If she does, she’s headed in the right direction. Isaiah could show her the way.

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Argaman says:

For years Abergal’s hometown was carpet bombed by Hamas rockets. Hatred is understandable and yes, healthy in her situation. Oh, by-the-way, were any Nato soldiers punished for their “war porn” pictures? I also served in Tsahal.

Dani Levi says:

very very sad photographs, and unfortunate behavior by the soldier. I look forward to a lengthy Tablet piece on state sanctioned anti-semitism in the Arab press, and please, do not spare us readers anything, especially the articles in Eypts’ and Syria’s main stream press that would have brought tears to Hitlers eyes……….did anybody mention Galid?

I think the Tablet should hold the Arab press the the same scrutiny and judgment they reserver for Israelis.

Daniel says:

What a sick woman and what a sick country.

Patricia Friedberg says:

Hatred begets hatred –

Eden Abergil’s obvious hatred of Arabs should have been recognised before she was put in the position of guarding them.

She shames me as a Jew.

What a shameful and shocking photo, it makes that soldier’s hate equal to it’s enemy’s blind hate, as the old expression: “An eye for an eye”!
The tragic long and on-going historical bloody conflict has created emotional-mental sickness which spreads, I feel sad about any lack of empathy anywhere in the world toward any human being, revenge does’nt solve anything, would’nt it be better to write about it honestly but not advertise it visually? not as keeping a secret, but by not helping to give it news power…I wonder.

Daniel, Patricia, and Nilly – what pious sentiments!You people should be nominated for sainthood! Why dont you spell out *exactly* the offense these photos offer – instead of the generalized disapproval in your messages.
Prisoners – enemies of Israel – bound and blindfolded – where’s the sin? We’re not supposed to bind prisoners? We’re not supposed to secure them? And smiling Abergil – she’s not supposed to be happy that those who seek her death are put out of the game?
You people are hypocrites.

Ken Besig Israel says:

Like so many others, I fail to see exactly what the story is here, or how these photographs in some way denigrate the prisoners.
Indeed, on every TV in the world every single evening prisoners are shown being escorted to court, from court, to jail, and occasionally while being arrested, and no one screams how these people are being denigrated.
It seems that the stanards of denigration of prisoners are only applied when Israel becomes involved, everybody else gets a pass.

Sick woman, indeed…but an aberration. She is no more representative of the average Israeli, or the average soldier, than a 29-year-old trailer park mother who parties with her teenage daughter is indicative of your average American. But most moms don’t make it to the talk shows, just as most soldiers don’t make it to Ynet.

As to the complex and disturbing issues raised by this case: These were being discussed by Israelis long before there was a Facebook, and will continue to be discussed by Israeli society for a long time to come. It is a culture which would, if given the chance, actually debate itself to death (surprise!).

But who can talk seriously about the tragedies, necessities, and triumphs of defending a homeland with that grinning moron of a girl at the top of the page?

The writer’s accounting of his own conscious experience in the IDF is far closer to the norm. Of course, we as a global society (and especially we, the media) insist on frequently giving our freaks and idiots a prominent stage. That is what’s REALLY sick.

Larry Lester says:

I believe that Lord Acton had it right: Power Corrupts. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. The tragedy is not only that this young lady is so absolutely typical of our youth but that your readers justify or at least excuse her actions. It doesn’t matter what the Arab press writes or what Americans do in Iraq, or the Russians in Chechnya, or the Turks in Kurdistan –or anything else for that matter. It is an absolute moral issue that we in Israel must contend with. In short, the occupation is very rapidly destroying the Jewish State.

Yael A. says:

This is a sick soldier who dosent use any of her intellegence of uploading picture in facebook. A little operation is a big party to some of the Israelis who serve in the army. Wheres the dignity and compassion? her smile can show us what shes capable of. that same picture represent the whole Israel as seeking peace who will believe us?
Liel, I hope that the last paragraph of your story will stir her soul so her heart can understand that she is wrong in every direction.

As sad and regrettable as Abergil’s hateful comments and shameful pictures are those comments posted here that suggest that she should be excused from being hateful because of what Arabs have done her town; no one should ever publicly identify the faults of Jews or Israelis without mentioning the horrible things Arabs have done; so long as injustices are committed against against Israel, Israelis can do no wrong.

No, we must not excuse our inhumanity because of the inhumanity of others. We lose our right to say “we’re right and they’re wrong” when we refuse to hold ourselves to higher moral and ethical standards. God and history expect more from the Jewish people and I for one am proud of that expectation.

Jeannie says:

It is unfortunate, and yes, somewhat unsettling to see the lack of remorse, but we also need to account for the fear that Abergil feels. Yes, I did say fear because fear and love are the only two real emotions, and it is obvious that love was not in the picture. So, we have a fear that has been the fabric of her world for many years. She is young and hopefully will understand how her attitude in the photos sparked so much controversy. Otherwise, we have an even more tragic situation, a young girl full of fear and hatred, which does nothing but attract more hatred and fear…and the cycle continues, which may be what many Jews and Arabs really want anyway.

Mr Mel says:

On “The Tablet” today a story about a Saudi Judge, probably in his 60s or 70s that inquired of an Arabian Hospital if there was a procedure to damage the spine of an offender who had caused the paralyzation of another person. There were no pictures in the NY Times of the accused or the victims. However, this 20 something is chastised and disgraced for having someone photograph her with those prisoners. Compared to Arab Muslims she could have been a nun.

I am disappointed in the Tablet’s recent choice of articles. I know that Tablet is not a conservative publication but bashing Israel (and America) with this article and the recent “Is Islamaphobia the new anti Semitism?” is getting ridiculous. It seems like a reach to join the PC party line. You are close to losing a reader.

Petra says:

Wow. The international news room must be hurting for “news.” This is complete lunacy: both the photo AND the media coverage. I have been reading about this for 3 DAYS.

Do you care? Really?

Most of us regret things we did at this age (think back–it shouldn’t take long…). So why is the media getting their collective knickers in a twist over an immature prank? Would a guy get the same coverage?

For Eden: Whoops. How embarrassing for you. Oh, and your eyebrows are way overdone. Just sayin’….

Overeager blogger who found this photo: get a day job. Seriously.

sharon says:

Tablet is getting almost as bad as the NY Times in its relentless bashing of Israel. The media double standard reeks because the Palestinians have their victim shtick down to a science. THe mainstream media swallows every Palestinian “oh poor me” sob story hook line and sinker. In The USA our political establishment calls for “understanding” when it comes to the construction of a mosque near the old World Trade Center site but demands Israel make impossible concessions in the name of “peace”.

sharon says:

If the bound/handcuffed prisoners were free they would happily slit Eden Abergil’s throat and post the photos on Facebook. Abergil’s only crime was posting those photos on her Facebook page for all the world to see. Sadly she’s now the convenient poster girl for every Jew hating crackpot and the new symbol of Zionist oppression and brutality.

Chalk up another Israeli Public Relations disaster.

Good observations Petra.

I haven’t heard anybody reference Abu Ghrab in comparison. That’s probably because it was just a picture of prisoners and a guard. A picture like this could be taken all over the world.

Like Sharon said, Abergil shouldn’t have posted the shots on Facebook. A stupid young adult mistakee.

Abergil is not in a political position of power in Israel. Her 15 minutes are at 14:37 and counting.

Shamash says:

Liel Leibovitz: Although you bring up Isaiah and shame in a context of solace for a shared event, and within the context of deserved shame, let me say this:
You have no idea how perfectly your haftorah quotation from Isaiah applies: “Fear not for you shall not be ashamed, and be not embarrassed for you shall not be put to shame.”
How uncannily well this applies to my week, a week of potential shame, a week of undeserved shame, as if the seer could see from his time into our century, and into my life, and into my week. A week of facing and erasing every hint of shame.

Dear Havri,

Is there something dumb about being an Israeli when we all come from the most intelligent people on this earth?

What was wrong with that Chayelet? Didn’t she ever see the pictures of Abu Grave and the female American soldier? Her’s doesn’t copmpare to Abu Grave but it should be a warning sign that something is terribly wrong with the orders she was given by her commanding authority be it sergeant or officer.

It puts the IDF in an embarrassing position and we don’t need stupid stunts like hers and she should be severely reprimanded for her stupidity and the same for the person taking the picture.

Bill Levy
zev57@aol.com

Roberta St. Denis says:

I am disappointed in the bashing of ones own military personal who are risking their young lives to protect and serve their country.. I see no big laughing grin on young woman’s face. only a small smile.. She should smile as she sits in front of Bound captives who have hatred and malice in their hearts. They have been captured in a war situation and the enemies of Israel want only to destroy and wipe your country off the map and out of history.. Your enemies are disenfranchised cousins who are angry because Gods plan did not give them inheritance over the Jewish people. Your enemy is a spiritual anger from the enemies of God.. How can any human make peace with those who only pretend to get advantage over u while they are still wanting to destroy and remove u in their hearts??

If this item is worthy of international news, then you should also know that my little guy, Moshe, pooped in the toilet all by himself! Isn’t that great? This marks the completion of his potty training!

You should also know that my name is not “Anat” and that I do not have any children, much less a son named “Moshe.” This was just a nod to Eden’s juvenile humor in an attempt to garner some international media coverage. I also wanted to use the word “poop.”

My apologies,
“Leila”

Angie Moore says:

This saddens me deeply. The only thing that distinguishes us from the perpetrators of terrorism is our respect for all human life and the dignity of others.
This girl is damaged, certainly, and there is no place for her in any role where she will have power over others.
Two wrongs have never made a right and never will.

Is there any wrong on the part of this young woman in uniform? I live in america where the people don’t even know they have enemies,don’t have ethics ,and don’t combat evil. She doesn’t sadden me.

KD!

You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be actually something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

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Value Judgment

A haftorah of dark times and core beliefs

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