Justice Undone

Jewish Light Editorial

Is it OK to ignore the law and take matters into your own hands by committing or threatening acts of violence to right a perceived wrong?

Absent certain very narrow exceptions in Western legal history, most notably self-defense, or defense of others (and even those carry stringent standards), the answer is unequivocally no.

Yet both in our nation and in Israel, the question of self-justified lawless behavior is rearing its ugly head. And the two situations poignantly illustrate how the United States and Israel, flawed democracies that they are, strive to hold their citizens to higher standards and expectations than barbarian groups like ISIS or Hamas.

Here in America, the country has been watching a standoff evolve in remote Oregon, where protestors have engaged in an armed occupation of a U.S. government building ostensibly to protest a sentencing decision against others for arson on federal land. The Bundy family, well known for their anti-government leanings, claim to be asserting their citizen rights, maintaining the government’s actions are unconstitutional.

The actions of the Bundy family members are unlawful in many ways, both in their occupying actions and their use of weaponry to fortify their position. The feds are acting judiciously to avoid another Waco or similar situation, but while the Bundys claim they will stay for years if need be, there will soon be a reaction from law enforcement of some kind or another.

The problem isn’t that the Bundys have outrageous views and opinions about the status of federal land and the actions of the agencies that manage them. They have every right to their opinions. But when those positions translate into armed occupation of land that belongs to the government, and therefore indirectly to all of us, then the actions themselves comprise civil — and almost certainly criminal — disobedience.

And here’s something folks often overlook about civil disobedience — it’s not an excuse that allows you to break the law without consequences. We’re talking about an action taken to say you’re willing to accept consequences – fines, arrest, jail and whatever the law imposes – because of the strength of your convictions.

Do militia members who carry out an armed takeover of a federal facility sound “civil” to you, or the conduct of those willing to peaceably accept surrender and prison as a result of their protest? It certainly doesn’t to us.

The best we can say is that at least as of this writing, the Bundys have not physically harmed individuals in their quest for cowboy justice. We wish we could say the same about the situation in Israel, but alas, it is not so.

The most recent story about Jewish extremists in the Israeli press raises even more hideous circumstances — when civilians determine they can kill other civilians and then gloat about the affair.

This week, Israeli prosecutors filed charges against two Jews who are alleged to have committed an arson attack in the West Bank that killed three members of a Palestinian family, including a toddler, Ali Dawabsheh. Accused were Amiram Ben-Uliel, 21, and an unnamed minor.

What elevated the shameful incident to the world’s attention was the wedding video showing friends of the defendants brandishing weapons and celebrating the death of the toddler. And authorities are concerned that the actions in this instance reflect a broader movement of those Jewish extremists willing to ignore the law altogether and in fact desirous of bringing down the Israeli State altogether.

We have written extensively about the lawlessness of those Palestinians who have with stones, knives and other weapons, taken to street violence against innocent Israelis. Those loathsome acts are reflective not of any sort of meaningful civil disobedience, but instead of a hate-based incitement to destroy Israel and any semblance of a Jewish State.

So it would be utterly hypocritical of us not to point out that the Jewish extremists being charged are guilty of the same thing, namely, a willingness to abandon principles of structured law enforcement and jurisprudence in favor of anarchic street justice. It is not the stuff of which our highest aspirations are made.

Both the Bundys and the Israeli killers have bought into the notion that a disagreement with the way things are run gives carte blanche to dole out justice in the way one personally justifies. This breakdown of social and democratic structure is what we expect of wholly uncivilized societies. If we condone such lawlessness in any way, we reduce ourselves to something below the least acceptable common denominator.