From Israel to the U.S., Compassion is in Dwindling Supply | Opinion

On Monday, the Israeli government destroyed an entire neighborhood under construction in Tsur Baher, in East Jerusalem on the Palestinian side, close to the security wall. The government said the buildings were illegaldespite the fact most of them had been approved by the Palestinian Authority and constituted a security risk, and therefore Israel had the right to destroy them. The Israeli Supreme Court sided with the government, a questionable decision in my opinion, but that is not the main point I am about to make.

Let's leave the legal and political issues regarding this decision aside for a moment.

Monday night, after the buildings were eradicated, the Minister of Security, Gilad Erdan, posted multiple videos proudly showing off how the houses were being blown up. To further darken the picture, a video clip of Israeli soldiers celebrating the successful implosion of the largest building was widely shared. Those demolished buildings were constructed to house people; people who spent their hard-earned money to build new homes for their families.

Even if we have the legal right to destroy these buildings, human decency would suggest it only proper to show at least a bit of compassion, perhaps along with some sorrow over these actions that were deemed necessary. For instance — "We are sorry the situation has come to this. We would prefer to be able to build together, instead of having to destroy," — or literally any statement that shows some sympathy for what the other side has endured.

That was Monday. On Tuesday morning, Israeli immigration police came to the homes of two Filipino families, whose mothers have both been in Israel for a generation. These women are part of a sizable group of Filipino citizens who come to Israel to take care of our elderly. They regularly receive extensions of their visas and often overstay expired visas to continue working. Over time, many of them marry and raise families. As a result, there are hundreds of Filipino children who have grown up in Israel, speaking Hebrew - often, only Hebrew - and attending Israeli schools.

Israel's Ministry of Interior, led by MK Aryeh Deri, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party has announced it plans to forcibly deport at least fifty Filipino families this summer. Nitzan Horowitz, the newly elected head of the left-wing Meretz Party, who was present when the immigration authorities came for Geraldine Esta and her two children on Tuesday morning, tweeted:

"They put the children, in total hysteria, into this sealed car, on the way to a detention cell. You can hear the crying and screaming inside. This is what you should do to criminals, not little children. There is no reason in the world to behave like this. It is much more than a shame and disgrace — it is abuse, and it must stop."

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak appealed to President Reuven "Ruvi" Rivlin to intervene. These are Israeli children in every respect. They should not be deported from the only home they have ever known. Neighborhood friends and classmates of the children are protesting in the streets. However, so far, the rest of the political spectrum has been utterly silent. Is there no compassion for people we do not know?

It's clear that this problem is much more widespread, and certainly not limited to Israel. The current situation on America's Southern border is a perfect example. One can discuss and disagree over various approaches to controlling immigration into the United States. The reality is that a majority of today's American citizens are economic refugees — whose parents, grandparent, great-grandparents, etc., all migrated to the United States to seek a better life.

As The Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty, in New York harbor proudly attests:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

The US once served as a beacon of hope and opportunity for immigrants to work hard and pursue their dreams. Today, the duly elected American Vice President, who professes to be a "principled conservative" and a devout Christian, toured a men'sonly facility on the Southern border, where the stench was overpowering. After the visit, the Vice President stated, without emotion or pause that he "was not surprised by what he saw". Where is Pence's sense of compassion? Even if you think those who seek asylum should not be granted permanent residency in the US, you can still feel compassion for your fellow human beings.

After the Holocaust, it seemed the world had developed a deeper respect for the rights of others. The nations of the earth agreed on what constitutes fundamental human rights and established guidelines by which to determine the status of refugees. Somehow, in Israel, the United States, as well as many other points around the globe, those collective understandings of virtue and decency seem to be fading. Compassion toward the "other," which had been ingrained in the world's conscience following World War II has faded away.

Climate change, globalization, and automation have destabilized many places on earth and gave rise to large scale immigration. In addition, some seemingly intractable conflicts, such as the Israel-Palestinian dispute remains unsettled. If we are to find solutions to any of these global or regional problems, the starting point is to realize that the other is us. We must start treating the other — be they Palestinian, Filipino, Central American migrant or Syrian refugees in Germany, the same way we wish to be treated. Acts of compassion will not solve these difficult challenges, but they are the first step towards creating the climate to find solutions.

Marc Schulman is a media historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​