Friday, February 28, 2020 -
Print Edition

Mark of Cain

My first reaction to the latest controversial Meretz-sponsored bill in the Israeli parliament was, mark of Cain.

The original meaning of the phrase in Genesis is a sign of safety and protection for Cain, a warning to others that killing will him provoke the vengeance of G-d, that if Cain is harmed it will only boomerang sevenfold. Over time, and throughout Christian history, due to prevalent anti-Semitism, the phrase was interpreted negatively and in today’s parlance has come to mean a mark of shame.

Zahava Gal-On of the left-wing Meretz party has proposed a new bill that all would require food manufacturers to mark where their product was made, distinguishing between Israel and Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, as if it were not part of Israel.

I have heard responses from the settlement community, sarcastically thanking Gal-On for helping them out. Now they will know how to limit their purchases strictly to products manufactured in the West Bank.

This reversal in interpretation of the purpose of the bill is not the response shared by those in the leadership, who can’t afford the luxury of coping humorously with very serious situation.

While Israel is faced with the BDS pressure from the outside, now it has reached the point where this destructive pressure is being mounted from the inside as well.

If politically left leaning Israelis prefer not to purchase products manufactured in the West Bank, so be it. The economic wisdom of that for both Israelis and Palestinians is, at best, questionable, but let people decide for themselves in their personal lives. It’s their business.

But to suggest formalizing a divide in the country; to suggest officially marking products — which let’s face it is only one step away from formally marking people — to make such suggestion at a time when the threat of BDS is real, is downright disturbing. It gives BDS credibility.

Replace for a moment marking products manufactured by settlers in the West Bank with marking Arab produce in the territories. It is simply outrageous.

Gal-On claims that what is outrageous here is the “occupation” itself, and that her suggestion of labeling products is a painful consequence of that wrong policy and reality. In other words, labeling is a symptom and not the root of the problem.

As much as she may believe this, her action, taken in the context of hate against Israel expressed by the current BDS movement, does not serve to repair any wrong. It only serves to create a divide in the country that may turn out to be irreparable and only serve to cripple the entire Israel.

It’s very compartmentalized of Gal-On to view Israel in such a fractured way, as if she is literally drawing the line between the good guys and the bad guys within Israel. This simplistic approach is rather foolish because, from a pragmatic point of view, it will only succeed in crippling all of Israel. The narrow economic paralysis of the West Bank she is after is not what will be manifested. Her proposed bill could lead to a total economic collapse.

Because, in case she forgot, whether she likes it or not, the West Bank is part of Israel. It is Israel.

Besides the off-putting approach of her proposed bill from an emotional or ethical point of view, pragmatically it would be a disaster for the entire country.

Unlike the original meaning of the phrase “Mark of Cain” — a sign of protection — if Gal-On’s unsettling suggestion should pass in the Knesset, it would only nurture the current, negative meaning of the phrase, leading not only to the marking of products, but possibly to the marking of people.

I admit, it can sound absurd to evoke the mark of the yellow fabric Star of David and the scripted black Jude scrawled at its center. Yet, as a people who have literally suffered the mark of society in the not so recent past, is it not a leap to remind Gal-On of this collective mark of pain, of the danger of the “Mark of Cain.”

I ask myself, how does one reach the point where marking people is acceptable, becomes legitimate? Where is the starting point of that? Could it possibly lie in the seemingly harmless act of a manufacturer formally marking the label of a bottle of wine?

Copyright © 2015 by the Intermountain Jewish News


Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

Leave a Reply