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September 9 2014 09:30 | Auditorium BNP Paribas Fortis

Contribution


Avichai Apel


Rabbi of Dortmund, Germany
Honorable chairman, Minister of Justice, mayor…
 
Several months ago a very sad incident was publicized throughout the world. A young girl in England discovered a note in the pocket of a dress she had bought on which it was written "We are inmates of Jiang Nan Prison in the Hubei district of China. Our job in the prison is to manufacture garments for export. We work 15 hours a day and the food we eat is not even fit to be given to a dog or a pig". 
 
The entire world was outraged. In the west items of clothing manufactured in third world countries are really cheap. However, cheap is not always synonymous with good. Cheap means people being held like slaves without their families, in insanitary conditions, without proper food and deprived of sleep. This is how cheap articles of clothing, bought and worn in the west, are manufactured. 
 
We were all quick to show solidarity with the workers in these factories. In the media and on websites everyone said that their plight was appalling. However, have any of us done anything to change the situation?!  
 
Solidarity is a key word nowadays and we really do show our solidarity. We know much more about what's going on in the world, we write our opinions on the subject and join pro/anti groups. The question however is, can we do more than this? 
 
The way in which Moses, the great leader of the exodus from Egypt began his own career was far from straightforward. While growing up in Pharaoh's palace he had food, clothing and an imposing residence. But none of this satisfied Moses. The bible (in Exodus chapter 2, verse 11) relates how "it came to pass in those days that when Moses had grown up he went out unto his brethren and witnessed their suffering and saw an Egyptian man beating a Hebrew man, one of his brethren". Moses wished to be included amongst his people. He felt their pain and in order to rescue them he was prepared to endanger his own future and smote the man who was administering the beating.
 
The exodus from Egypt profoundly affected the entire world. This historic event established new norms of conduct between nations. 
 
There are two levels of freedom which we must achieve for the sake of humanity. The first is personal freedom and the second is national freedom. Although in fact it appears that one is dependant on the other, this is not always the case. We see nations who define themselves as having been liberated nationally, but whose dictatorial regimes completely prevent individual freedom. On the other hand there are nations whose national liberation may be questionable but amongst whom dwell people who enjoy a high degree of personal freedom such as intellectuals and various types of oligarchs.
 
The status of marriage within Judaism gives us an insight into human freedom. The husband undertakes that for the duration of the marriage he shall ensure that his wife has a number of things. The first of these is sustenance, the second is suitable clothing, the third is health and the fourth is accommodation; and there are those who add that he must also see to it that she receives a proper education. Human freedom is predicated on minimal living conditions, without which our freedom is limited. 
 
It is not enough merely to pay lip service to the values of kindness, compassion and mercy. In the words of the prophet Isaiah (chapter 58, verse 7): "Should you not share your bread with the hungry and bring the poor and destitute into your house? When you see a naked person, clothe him and do not hide from your brethren". 
 
The problem is that we are our own prisoners. We're capable of conducting huge campaigns to improve the quality of our lives, but we find it difficult to relinquish the quality of our lives in order to enhance that of others.
 
The large clothing manufacturers known that if the garment is expensive, the public will not buy it. For this reason, the textile and many other industries have moved their factories to those countries in which people are paid low wages, resulting in an immediate reduction in manufacturing costs and an automatic enhancement of their ability to sell for low prices. 
 
So are we ready to make a change? Do we agree to buy less clothing and pay a little more money in order that the simple worker and his family can enjoy better living conditions? 
 
National freedom is no less complex. The news has recently been dominated by reports concerning various countries which are in the throes of political or territorial upheaval - Ukraine and Russia, Syria, Northern Iraq and of course in the Middle East the State of Israel and the Palestinians. 
 
I am not here to offer a political solution. I have no doubt that the heart of each person sitting here desires peace and feels the pain of all those families who have lost their loved ones or their homes in each of the wars. 
 
We, the Jews, have been traumatized by our experiences in Europe and throughout the world. 
 
Most Jews attach great importance to the State of Israel. The land which was promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the land to which Moses led the Jewish people after the exodus from Egypt, the State to which many Jews  came and established after being saved from the Nazi extermination camps in Europe. Naturally, our primary concern is the existence of the State, however, as regards its political conduct there is a rule which says that where you have two Jews you will find three arguments so that while a Jew may support the existence of Israel he may also criticize its political behavior. 
 
In the numerous pro-Palestinian demonstrations which have taken place as well as in various online publications we have been shocked to discover how, in contrast to other locations in the world, the situation in Israel is not treated as a local political or territorial dispute and that many of these demonstrations carry the flag of Jew-hatred!? 
 
A British MP is opposed to Jews living in his area, in Brussels we have seen how Jews were murdered during a visit to the Jewish Museum, in Paris and in the rest of France Jews refrain from openly moving around and have been moving to Israel or other countries in order to live in safety. In Germany too security at Jewish institutions has been increased following an attempt to set fire to a synagogue. I also took part in a football match at which demonstrators chanted "Jews out". 
 
Is this appropriate?! Would it not have been more fitting to demonstrate for the freedom and welfare of the Palestinians in social areas, in the areas of education and health, instead of channeling the struggle in such an inhuman direction, of strengthening anti-Semitism, which in the not too distant past already showed us the danger which it entails. 
 
Only when we ensure the personal freedom of the individual and of each and every nation will we be able to reach the high level of universal freedom for all mankind. 

 

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