Current AffairsIsraelKorach

Life is not black and white

In the last two days I’ve had two very different op-ed pieces published in two very different publications.

Yesterday I had a piece published in The Hill (an influential publication in Washington, DC) on “Fix the right patent problems.” My day job is taking care of marketing and PR for a US-based patent monetization firm, IPNav. IPNav often (unfairly) gets called a “patent troll.” In recent months Congress has gone on a “troll bashing” spree with new anti-troll legislation being introduced almost every month. My op-ed points out that Congress is busy fixing the wrong problem.

Today I had a very different op-ed piece published in a very different publication: “Graffiti is not terrorism,” published in the Jerusalem Post. Some irate Jewish settler youths have in recent years launched what they call “price tag” attacks on innocent people any time the Israeli government does something they don’t like. Recently, for example, they spray painted hateful anti-Christian graffiti on the walls of the Dormition Abbey church in Jerusalem. It’s very stupid: what does the church have to do with evacuating settler outposts? Why take it out on them? In response, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is seeking to get price tag attacks labeled terrorism, which would allow the police and the security services much more freedom to go after the perpetrators. Of course more freedom for the police and security services means someone’s normal civil rights are being violated. My point in the piece is that not all price tag attacks are the same – actions such as setting a mosque on fire, which could endanger innocent lives, are not the same as graffiti, and therefore common sense should also apply. It’s OK in my book to consider something that it is potentially life threatening as a terrorist attack. But just graffiti? I don’t want to sacrifice my civil rights for that.

At first I thought these are two very completely different issues, but after a little reflection I realized there is common denominator.

The common denominator is that life is not “black and white.” Not all “patent trolls” are evil, and not all “price tag” attacks are terrorism. The real world calls for a more nuanced approach. It calls for being able to see the shades of grey. It calls for being able to also see the complexities in the real world.

It seems like most people (or at least many people) don’t want to go to that effort. It requires too much thinking. It’s easier to make the world bipolar. Saints / sinners, good guys / bad guys, Jews / Arabs. But the real world does not cooperate in allowing us to buttonhole people into such simple categorizations. There are saints who sin (King David, and more recently, those of us who think Bill Clinton was a great president have to admit he also sinned once or twice), there are Jews who are terrorists and Arabs who want peace.

A friend of mine was very critical of the characterization of left/right I made when I posted my J Post blog – that the right would be critical because I say Jews and Arabs should be treated equally and the left would be critical because I didn’t want to call spraying graffiti terrorism. He pointed out there are lots of people on the political right in Israel who are not racists. So I was sort of hoist by my own petard so to speak.

This is also a lesson we can also learn from this week’s Torah portion, Korach. Korach may have been a bad guy – rebelling against Moses – but the commentators point out he actually had some valid points in what he said: Moses and Aaron DID take all the power for themselves; it was not democratic. Where they fault Korach is not that he was “wrong” in an absolute sense – but rather that he was not arguing “l’shem shamayim,” for the sake of heaven, arguing on behalf of the people as whole. He was arguing from his own selfish interest in wanting to be the boss himself. That was the sin that made him worthy of having God open the earth to swallow him and his merry band.

I think some of us look back at the World War II era with an air of nostalgia – ah, for the good old days, when the good guys were really good and the bad guys were really bad. The decision to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however, show that even in those days, things were not completely black and white.

Don’t take the easy way out by trying to make everything black and white. Learn to live with complexity.


Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

One thought on “Life is not black and white

  • This is what the Israel haters here in the Nordic countries can’t see. Neither can the Israeli ultra -right wing.


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