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I’ve been reading Harvard University literature professor Ruth Wisse’s new book, No Joke: Making Jewish Humor. In her chapter on Israeli humor, Professor Wisse discusses the comedy trio HaGashash HaChiver (The Pale Trackers) and writes about a 1981 post-election skit of theirs:

“The three then launch into a musical number that interprets avodah, the national ethic of labor, as ovdim aleynu, ‘They’re Working Us Over,’ in which each stanza spoofs the promises made by politicians when running for office…The song’s refrain [was], ‘They’re working us over…and we never learn…”


That refrain remains valid in both claims.

In response to a recent blog about the 104 terrorist releases, a Bayit Yehudi voter from Efrat comments, “It helps show the world the corner they’ve painted us into with this prisoner release. It shows the world their shame.”

This is not the language of vigorous, sovereign citizenship—what Israel’s national anthem calls an am chofshi b’artzenu (free people in our land). This is the language of evasion, feebleness, and dependency, confirming those who describe Israel as an American protectorate.

Addressing similar claims by Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, an excellent blogger from Jerusalem remarks:

“The last time I checked, [U.S. Secretary of State] Kerry does not work for Israel and does not represent us. Shaked’s party leader, Naftali Bennett, her Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Shaked herself do represent us. If Israel is making admittedly stupid moves like releasing terrorist murderers—especially when we get nothing in return—maybe we need to be looking at our own leadership and not at the Americans.”

Compare these essentially “America made us do it” claims with the recent observance of Tisha B’Av and associated lamentations about European Jews during the First Crusade in the 11th century. Those ancestors had neither an army nor a state as they faced demonic hordes seeking to destroy Judaism.

Yet despite such physically superior aggressors, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l noted about the many Jews who chose death rather than apostasy, regarding the lamentation Hacharishu Mimeni Va’adabera (“Be quiet, allow me to speak…”): “The enemies had a simple demand: all the Jew had to do was kiss the cross. The Jews could have saved their lives, but they would not agree to become apostates.”

Now consider the State of Israel in 2013, which has one of the strongest militaries in world history and a Yom Ha’atzmaut. How perverse is the claim that this superpower releases murderers of its citizens due to being “painted into a corner”?

The painted into a corner mentality always means rationalizing and mitigating injustice, the terrorist releases being the latest catastrophic example. Before that, it was blame Obama and the EU when the government froze construction in Yehuda and Shomron.

Or blame John Kerry and Catherine Ashton when Hamas attacks cities like Sderot with what amounts to impunity.

Or blame their predecessors when Israeli soldiers expelled 8,600 Jews from Gush Katif.

Do anything except reflect upon one’s own society and the regime it has produced. As Rabbi Yehuda Balsam commented this month in a related context, “If you’re not so happy with your leadership, perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a look in the mirror.” (See 5:00 here.)

The awful truth is that Israel corners itself and shames itself. The awful truth is that Israel invites foreign contempt because it shows contempt for itself.

“When you have no self-respect, you cannot expect anybody else will respect you,” Rabbi David Bar-Hayim of Machon Shilo has noted. Specific to the religious Zionist sector—of which Bayit Yehudi is the latest political incarnation—Rabbi Bar-Hayim observes:

“One of their characteristics is a tremendous naiveté regarding the authorities, the powers that be. They’re always trying to read into their actions more positive motivations than truly exist. They’re always willing to overlook evils done by these people.” (See 34:50 here.)

To paraphrase the The Pale Trackers in 1981: Some people get worked over, and they never learn.


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Menachem Ben-Mordechai has written for numerous publications on subjects ranging from Israel and Latin America to the sport of powerlifting and life insurance. He has also coached elite powerlifters as well as beginners. Menachem's other writing can be found under the name Myles Kantor.


  1. When I heard of Israel releasing prisoners in return for peace talks, I felt pity for Israel, they are being deceived by Obama, as he has no love for Israel and is totally committed to the Palestinians, shame on Obama more so than Israel.

  2. I think the release of the murderers did say to the world that Israel is a U.S. client state. I think it signals that the threat made by the Obama administration was very serious.  I hate the above article!  I think Netanyahu is acting with aplomb; in any case, he needs solid domestic support.  The circumstances are unprecedented.

  3. I agree that Israel's leadership is weak and lacking and that nobody is going to stand up for Israel except Israel. The reality is, nobody can force Israel to do anything. When Kerry visits Israel and asks for Palestinian terrorists to be released from prison, return to the 67' boarders, emphasizes the settlements as the obstacle to peace, and I am sure it would have been a matter of time before we heard the request of giving up land. At the same time placing no demands on the Palestinians with only the promise of the Palestinians coming to the negotiating table in which they would have made a hasty retreat as they always do. The response from Netanyahu should not have been an unconditional yes. Instead, Netanyahu should have responded with an authoritative NO! Israel has many enemies the United Nations, the European Union, the international community, and unfortunately the Obama administration. But, what needs to be understood is that when Israel goes the route of the appeasers i.e. Livni and Peres, and apparently Netanyahu, they are not gaining respect, they are playing right into the enemies hands. The only reason why Israel has survived until now is through strength, militarily, politically, and morally. Whenever Israel ceases to remain strong in all of these areas is when Israel will cease to exist. I have heard the term "hardliner" applied to former great Israeli Prime Ministers such as Golda Meir and Shamir. No, they weren't hardliners, they were strong, Zionist leaders who understood what it took for there to be a modern day Israel and what it will take for Israel to survive. A word to the Israeli people. You should be very proud of the magnificent country you have created. You turned a disease ridden pile of dirt into modern miracle, excelling in science, technology, medicine, and invented things that benefit the entire world. You have an open, democratic government. Based off of honor, justice, morality, and equality. You have world class universities. You have surpassed many other nations of the world, while being around with only a fraction of time and you did all of this while having to fight for your life, not just from the Arabs but in world opinion. When election time rolls around, remember this, and don't throw all you have accomplished away with weak politicians and weak minded people. Get back to your Zionist roots and be proud of who you are.

  4. Netanyahu and his leckayers with Peres, Livni, are rascals and submited to Obama and Kerry interests before their failings to the arab contries and also to the american citizen, what I don't understand?, why the Israelis doesn't make a uprising and dispose this goverment like the arab spring uprising and toppel this autocratic not democratic goverment?

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