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June 2, 2016 7:28 am

The Cincinnati Zoo Gorilla and Why Israel Must Not Ape America

avatar by Ruthie Blum

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A gorilla in repose, unlike the silverback that could have killed a three-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo. Photo: Wikipedia.

A gorilla in repose, unlike the silverback that could have killed a four-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo. Photo: Wikipedia.

Beaten down by decades of moral-equivalency abuse, Israelis treated the case of the gorilla killed by its attendants at the Cincinnati Zoo this week as they do any debate surrounding the legitimacy of firing a weapon.

With an IDF soldier on trial for shooting a subdued Palestinian terrorist to death – and a brouhaha that attracted international attention while causing domestic angst – the issue of whether an ape suffered a wrongful death pales in comparison.

This is not to say that the Hebrew-speaking media did not consider the case of Harambe the gorilla worthy of coverage. On the contrary, the item captivated Israeli news outlets as much as any other.

But there was something missing in the discussion in the studios of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem: the vitriol against the zoo-keepers in Ohio, who were faced with a painful choice that had to be made under the unfortunate circumstances. When a four-year-old boy fell into the enclosure of a 420-pound ape – and was swung and dragged every which way, into and around water – the life of one was suddenly thrust into the balance against that of the other.

What made the event particularly tragic for all concerned was that the gorilla did not appear to be attacking the toddler with purposeful aggression; in fact, he seemed confused about what to do, and had he been female, the whole episode might have turned out differently. But his immense strength, grip and movements were enough to kill the child, however inadvertently. Anyone watching the video of the horrible scene can see this clearly. Indeed, the little boy would not have survived even minutes more in the clutches of the 17-year-old silverback.

Furthermore, according to the zoo, shooting the gorilla with a sedative dart, which would have first made him agitated and then take time to have the desired effect, was not an option. So the only recourse was to rescue the boy at the expense of the ape.

Animal-rights activists and many other Americans responded to this life-saving gesture as though it were an act of first-degree slaughter. Indeed, “murder” was the word bandied about on social media – aimed both at the zoo and at the child’s mother, who was accused of being at fault for not preventing her son from climbing the fence of the enclosure and falling in. The harsh criticism culminated in a petition, titled “Justice for Harambe,” which has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures.

This is but one piece of evidence to suggest that “enlightened” Americans have lost their moral marbles. And the fact that the phenomenon has reached such an extreme provides insight into the peculiar popularity of Donald Trump, who speaks from the gut without any nuance or sophistication about issues that once would not even have been the subject of debate among anyone other than philosophers.

It used to be said of Israel that it lagged behind the United States by about 10 years where style, culinary preferences and sociological concepts were concerned. So, for example, both bell-bottoms and educational experiments hit the shores of the Holy Land well after they went out of fashion in New York and Los Angeles. Today, due to satellite TV and the Internet, the gap has narrowed to about 10 days, if not 10 minutes.

This is why Israelis are now up to speed when it comes to what they wear and eat. They are also well-versed in educational fads and political correctness. Amusingly, the key effect of this imitation has been a plethora of start-ups geared towards cornering untapped markets.

But no Israeli in his right mind – other than those who, like their counterparts abroad, hold members of the animal kingdom in higher esteem than members of the human race – would view the choice between saving the life of a child and protecting that of a primate as a dilemma.

It is for this reason that Israel’s Channel 2 morning talk show invited a veterinarian from one of the country’s zoos to explain why the large mammals, though magnificent and fascinating, are dangerous. He even showed a video of himself behind a glass barrier being “attacked” by a primate he regularly treats. Like a kid afraid of the doctor who administers vaccine shots, the ape expressed his displeasure at the sight of the vet. And, like a pediatrician who then gives a child a lollipop for having undergone the unpleasant experience, the Israeli vet is seen trying to ingratiate himself with the massive monkey, with only a minor degree of success.

What came across was this man’s deep admiration, even love, for the animal. This attitude was clearly that of the Cincinnati zoo-keepers towards Harembe. But it was their moral duty to wrest the baby from his grasp, and the only way they were able to do that was by eliminating him as a threat. Kudos – and condolences – to them.

Woe to Israel, which is forced to grapple regularly with ethical questions surrounding the killing of Palestinian terrorists and the innocent people caught in the cross-fire, if it viewed the Harembe incident otherwise. Indeed, aping America in this respect would be suicide for the Jewish state.

Ruthie Blum is the managing editor of The Algemeiner.

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  • Wut?

    This article is a complete mess jumping all over the place.

  • Yaakov

    Exhibiting non-human animals for the purpose of gawking at them should have gone by the wayside at the same time that circuses stopped exhibiting people at freak shows. That is the real moral problem here, although unseen by those with concretized, uncompassionate brains.

    Are apes dangerous? Indeed they are. I am reminded of an exhibit many years ago in the Great Ape House at the Bronx Zoo. There was a sign at the cage that read: “The Most Dangerous Animal in the World.” When one looked in, one could see one’s reflection in the mirror placed there. Yes, humans are primates and members of the great ape family, not to mention members of the animal kingdom, as anyone who has studied basic zoology knows.

    Is the popularity of zoos associated with a love for animals? It reminds me of the story about the rabbi whose student told him he loves fish. The rabbi replied, “Oh, do you really love the fish? You say you love it and then you kill it and cook it and eat it. You don’t really love the fish. You love yourself.” In essence, that’s the way it is with many people who say they love this animal or that one. They love what it does for them.

    The main issue here is not whether Harambe should or should not have been killed. That was a decision that cannot be second-guessed. The issue is the way society sees and treats non-human animals. The language used is telling, for example, use of the term “put down” instead of “kill” and frequent reference to the gorilla as “the animal” in the news media. On many “Jewish” websites, the use of animal pejoratives by right-wing hatemongers is common and not much different from the “sons of pigs and apes” epithets of terrorists. It’s all a reflection of respect for life.

    Jews don’t have higher esteem for non-human animals than for humans. But they do manifest a reverence for all life. No less an authority than Joseph Ber (Yosef Dov) Soloveitchik, the Rav, declared (The Emergence of Ethical Man, Ktav, 2005) that, when man began exploiting animals for food, he “created a new demand, a sinful existence upon something which by right does not belong to him, namely, on life equal to his, on flesh that is not different from his own.” He also stated that the Torah implies that, at the time the Israelites were journeying through the desert on their way to Israel, anyone who killed an animal other than for a sacrifice was guilty of murder and that “under a certain aspect, the life of the animal has been placed on an equal plane with that of man.”

  • Sherlock Holmes

    As an American living in London, I would estimate the anger in the UK was greater than in the USA. No one values the life of a gorilla over that of a human child, BUT questions were genuinely asked about who designed the enclosure that the child fell through; where were the child’s parents; couldn’t the gorilla’s keeper have rescued the child . . . .A gorilla is a shy vegetarian, not an agressive carnivore and people assumed there must have been a solution short of killing an ‘innocent’ animal after keeping him in a cage or an ‘enclosure’ for 17 years. In terms of Israel we Jews see the thousands of traumatised Israeli children living near Gaza rushing into bomb shelters over the days, months and years. The world media — BBC, Guardian, Independent, NYT, Haaretz — only show Arab children put in harm’s way by Hamas and injured or killed by the IDF.