All lives matter – protesting the protesters

June 17, 2020 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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Dear Rabbi.  Last week you called out the protest demonstrations in Australia, arising from the brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, as “irresponsible”.

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Isn’t it our responsibility to call for an end to injustice and inequality, and wasn’t this an opportune time to gain the ear of those in power? Isn’t this a compelling case of saving lives?  And isn’t freedom to dissent the supreme value of every democracy? Besides permission was granted.   Yours,  B.R.L.

Dear B.R.L.

As a Black Jewish rapper once proclaimed: Just because it ain’t unlawful, it don’t mean it’s kosher! (Note: not all of the demonstrations have been legal. And those who have demonstrated illegally have technically committed a criminal act.)

During this past couple of months, I have found myself repeatedly thanking G-D that I live in Australia, land of tolerance and “a fair go”, and in particular shelo asani Americani, that He did not make me an American!  I shall not even try to comment on the angry protests in the USA where the brutal killing occurred as I am not there and I did not grow up with the societal baggage of historic racial violence, nor with the sacredness of the First Amendment (and in particular “the right to assemble and to petition”) ringing in my ears, except to say that those rioters who wrought wanton destruction, violence and larceny are contemptible criminals who have thoroughly undermined the very cause and hurt economically the very minority, for which they are ostensibly campaigning.  I shall also not dwell here on the links of Black Lives Matter with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments as that is a separate discussion for another time. Instead, I shall confine myself to what has transpired in Australia in the context of Covid-19 and how, regardless of whether or not there is a spike in COVID cases as a result, the unity of purpose the consensus and the discipline we have had here since the pandemic struck has been destroyed, while instead the seeds of division, mistrust and even rebellion in the country have been sown.

As I am a rabbi, I shall begin by trying to outline the Torah viewpoint on your question.

Firstly it should not be necessary to stress that Judaism abhors racism of any kind. I have discussed this in a previous Acute Angles essay Is Judaism Racist? which can be found on my updated website.   Suffice it to say that the Mishna (Sanhedrin 4:5) powerfully declares: Why was Adam created singly? So that no-one would be able to say to another: My (racial) ancestor was greater than yours!

In normal times, peaceful demonstrations against racist acts are very much in order. However, at this time of the pandemic, an overriding principle is a stake, namely pikuakh nefesh, the sacredness of all human life and the obligation to protect it as long as there is a perceived potential danger even if that danger is slight.

Supposing an issue would arise during this time of Covid-19 where the gathering of people in numbers could prevent actual loss of life in a proportion or with a likelihood greater than the risk caused by that gathering?

Such a scenario may have occurred if, for example, a known individual or individuals were being held unjustly in a gaol somewhere without trial, or under barbaric conditions such as starvation or torture and a lobby-group wished to draw attention to this case with a view to effecting immediate release.

For such a cause, mass protests in Australia at this time of (thankfully) Covid-19 decline could have been justified.

However such was not the case.  The “borrowed” cause (dare one say “excuse”) for seeking exemption from the Covid regulations of social distancing and the ban on gatherings was the death in custody of Aboriginal people cognisably out of proportion to their numbers. (The last such death was in 2015.)

While Aboriginal inequity is undoubtedly a cause that needs addressing, there was no immediate local trigger that made it imperative to march, congregate and demonstrate in large numbers at this sensitive time.  The reprehensible and brutal police killing of George Floyd 16,000 kilometres from our shores would have been more aptly marked had those enraged enough to want to march exhibited the very self-discipline and self-restraint at this time that Floyd’s police killer so lamentably failed to show, and had they instead held a Zoom “gathering” or an online petition.

Meanwhile, those many who have compliantly and selflessly refrained from attending the sick-beds, the deathbeds and the gravesides of their loved ones these past few months have been grievously slapped in the face by the actions of these protesters and by the court decisions to allow the flouting of mass gathering and social distancing norms, potentially unleashing a second wave of coronavirus cases.

For believing Jews, prayer is more powerful than demonstrations.  Yet one can only imagine the outcry even in our own community, let alone the wider society, had 20,000 Orthodox Jews held a prayer vigil at this time. Such an outcry would have been perfectly justifiable.  The holding of human-rights mass demonstrations is no more sacred than that and, at the present time, no less of an outrage

Sadly, the secular world has found new contemporary ‘gods’ which it regards as sacrosanct.  This stems from the human need to worship.  If the object of that worship is not G-D it will be idols. In former times they consisted of wood and stone, the work of man’s hands.  Now they are more likely to be philosophies of human creation, ideals held up on a pedestal independent of G-D. Democratic rights. Freedom of expression.  Freedom of assembly. The right to petition. Gender equality.  Social equality.  Self-identity. All these can be noble ideals when G-D is brought in to the picture and humankind is seen as being created in His image. (Gen. 1:27). But they become selfish idols when held up as supreme values for which one is prepared to place not only one’s own life but the lives of others at risk.

Sadly the protesters are doing just that. In so doing they unmask their hypocrisy.  While marching arm in arm in their thousands amid a pandemic booming out the slogan that Black Lives Matter, they reveal that in fact, lives matter little to them. This we must – in all permissible ways – protest unequivocally!


3 Responses to “All lives matter – protesting the protesters”
  1. Alan Slade says:

    In J-Wire June 17, Chaim Ingram wrote
    “During this past couple of months, I have found myself repeatedly thanking G-D that I live in Australia, land of tolerance and “a fair go”, and in particular shelo asani Americani, that He did not make me an American! ”

    Does he recite that before, after or instead of “Blessed are you, LORD our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.”?

  2. Walter Frankel says:

    How about all lives matter and That Jews unconditionally accept fellow Jews and learn to stand together united for a change

    • Lynne Newington says:

      My thoughts too…….I’ve been reading an old book The Anguish of the Jews, giving society and the church propaganda weapons on a silver platter.

      Even at the timeline of Pope John 23rd working on the document Nostra Aetate.

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