Film for Thought: Israel’s Moral Might
What is true strength? Is a person’s strength measured by his moral fiber or by the impression he gives off? Does strength emanate from within oneself – from one’s moral character – and spread to the outside, or does it begin externally – with a painted-on façade – and percolate inward? If one believes actions can create emotions, can a superficial veneer of personal strength eventually make a person actually believe in it?
The Debt, a movie which I recently crossed off my must-see list, says, emphatically, no: strength must originate from within oneself. The movie, a 2010 remake of a 2007 Israeli film, tells the story of 3 Mossad agents sent, in the 1960s, to capture a former Nazi in order to make him stand trial for his war crimes. Although they fail in their mission and the German eludes their grasp, they claim to have killed him and are venerated as national heroes. They found themselves confronted with an ethical dilemma: admit that they were unsuccessful and face certain nationwide disapproval and humiliation, or twist the truth in order to create the impression that they are resilient, that their country is resilient. They choose the latter and subsequently struggle to make peace with their lie and move on with their lives.
It was a time when Israel was trying to whitewash its former image, the image of the weak Jew. It was a generation spent breaking down one image and replacing it with a nearly-opposite one. Indeed, the entire movement of hunting down Nazi war criminals was primarily to execute justice, but may have also been partly to construct a new mentality: no when messes with the Jews and gets away with it. European Jews may have gone to the gas chambers like sheep to the slaughter– but no more.
The 3 Mossad agents attempt to put on that expression of stoicism and toughness in the face of their dangerous mission. They act tough on the outside, but eventually cracks begin to appear. Their German prey recognizes this inferiority complex of theirs and doesn’t resist in pushing their buttons. Sure enough, his psychological prodding and their emotional instability are what ultimately doom their mission. But no one needs to know about their failure except for themselves, and Israel can continue becoming the world superpower that it is today.
Yet when the Nazi officer comes out of hiding decades later, jeopardizing their version of the events from years ago, they are faced with the same choice from their past. Do they finish their mission now without anyone knowing differently, or do they embrace the truth, expose their lie, and bear the consequences? And this time, embracing the truth comes with much more collateral damage than it did decades ago. The moral code of conduct encourages one to tell the truth, requiring enormous courage and integrity. This is the strength of character, the strength that originates from within one’s heart, pumped to and nourishing all the organs of one’s body. Doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the external pressures.
This signals a new chapter in the narrative of the nation of Israel, of the Jewish people. We don’t need to create the façade of robustness and muscle anymore. That’s already been done, and the Eastern European shtetl Jew is a distant memory. It is now time to embrace the other brand of strength, that of moral character. It is now time to return to our biblical roots, to our Judeo-Christian values.
Fast-forward to 2014. Israel continues to flex its muscle, but – simultaneously – it goes out of its way to exercise morality by attempting to minimize civilian casualties, even in the most labyrinthine of circumstances. For example, on multiple occasions, the Israeli army has rained down warning pamphlets to the citizens of Gaza, urging them to leave the area before the full brunt of the army’s onslaught would begin. Israel must continue to practice moral self-control and judicious use of its military might, even in the face of the relentless provocation by its enemies. To do otherwise would be equivalent to Israel forsaking its Jewish tradition, which would signify an early victory to its adversaries and naysayers.