As an Israeli who lives in New York, I know that I can sometimes be unfair. On the one hand, I often get defensive when people criticize Israel. On the other, I can also get upset when people seem to blindly support Israel. Criticizing Israel is allowed, and even important for Israel’s wellbeing, but there are productive and unproductive ways to do it. In that spirit, here are eight ground rules that I believe can help improve the Israel debate.
Many conversations about Israel deteriorate into fights over whether or not the country even has the right to exist. This is not a productive question. Everyone has the right to exist all over the world, and that should never be doubted. The real question is whether Israel has the right to continue pursuing some of its policies.
The Israeli government is a coalition that is expected in some way to represent at least a majority of Israelis. That does not mean that all Israelis agree with the actions of Israel’s government. And just as there is a diversity of opinions in Israel, we should also expect and accept that Jews in the Diaspora will have a diversity of opinions.
Conversations about Israel tend to drag out when you’re simultaneously trying to prove your loyalty to, and criticize, Israel. Save yourself the trouble. Supporting Israel’s government is not the only way to show you’re a good Jew or patriotic Israeli. Criticizing can also be a form of caring.
Cultural Leadership program participants in Crown Heights, Brooklyn
(JTA) — On the evening of Aug. 12, after two consecutive nights of clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson, Mo., Mikal Smith rose to address a community meeting in the neighboring city of Florissant. In front of Governor Jay Nixon, Obama administration officials and community leaders, Smith spoke off the cuff about his own experiences as a young black man — the constant need to be aware of his surroundings, for example, and the indignity of being questioned by the police for no apparent reason. At the end of his speech, Smith, an incoming freshman at Saint Louis University, received a standing ovation.
Smith, 18, is a recent alumnus of Cultural Leadership, a St. Louis-area organization that educates high school students about discrimination and social injustice through an intensive, year-long study of Jewish and African-American history and culture.
The program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, teaches high school students how to work across racial and cultural boundaries to address social inequalities. With Ferguson now a flashpoint in the wake of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, Cultural Leadership’s curriculum is being played out in the national headlines. Meanwhile its alumni are on the front lines in organizing a response.
“Our students are trained to be what we call ‘troublemakers of the very best kind,’” said Holly Ingraham, the executive director of Cultural Leadership. “They have been taking action, standing up and speaking out before, during and after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson.”
Aaron Johnson, a Cultural Leadership alumnus from its class of 2010, is organizing a training on voter registration in St. Louis Aug. 23 and will then lead a registration drive in Ferguson. Mary Blair, a member of the incoming class of 32 students, organized a walk-out and silent protest at Metro High School in St. Louis that made the local news. Other alumni, who now number in the hundreds, have acted as runners for the community dialogue portion of the meeting in Florissant.
“I don’t think I would be the person I am today had I not experienced Cultural Leadership,” said Johnson, who is an organizer for Grassroots Organizing in Columbia, Mo., and who is working toward a Masters in Public Policy at the University of Missouri. “It was fundamental for becoming a social activist in this way.”
Cultural Leadership recruits many of its students through local houses of worship, as well as through schools and youth groups. The organization has close ties with St. Louis-area rabbis, ministers and school administrators, and those leaders often identify talented students and connect them with Cultural Leadership.
The program was founded by Karen Kalish, and was modeled after a similar initiative, Operation Understanding, in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.
(JTA) — With the new school year nearly upon us, Jewish educational leaders are scrambling to prepare their teachers to discuss this summer’s Gaza War. The most pressing challenge is to design age-appropriate conversations: At which grade level might classroom discussions include potentially frightening topics, such as the wounding of non-combatants, kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets? And how should teachers address the tough issues of civilian casualties in Gaza and the flagrant hostility toward Jews and Israel that has erupted in many parts of the world?
These questions are difficult enough, but are especially freighted with anxiety because they hold the potential to revive stereotypes of Israel that North American Jewish schools have been trying to counter. When Israel was forced to wage three major wars during its first quarter century, its image as an embattled enclave overshadowed everything else about its existence.
In recent decades, though, Jewish schools have endeavored to present a more rounded picture of Israeli life. Without denying the existential challenges facing the Jewish state, teachers have drawn attention to the rich tapestry of Israeli culture — its diverse inhabitants, culinary treats and eclectic music, for example — and, of course, its technological wizardry. School trips to Israel have highlighted the country’s natural beauty and its enjoyable recreational scene, even while exploring the strong connections between the land and the Jewish religion. Educators are understandably loath to resurrect the earlier imagery that simplistically portrayed Israel as a country permanently on war footing.
Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri / Getty Images
After weeks upon weeks of news reports that detail what seemed to be never-ending violence in Israel and Gaza, compounded by accounts of a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and Canada and even across the United States, it would have been so simple to sit back over this past week-and-a-half and breath a sigh of relief as the headlines began to broadcast violence outside of the Jewish community.
Though I live about six miles from the city of Ferguson, MO, I am not kept awake at night with dread of the violence that might reach my home. I do not live under a curfew or find my days and nights punctuated by the sound of sirens. Like so many others in the world, I saw the images of Ferguson police in riot gear and individuals looting stores and throwing Molotov cocktails through a television screen, not through my front windows. While those in the rest of the country demand dialogue around race relations in America, governmental responses to violence, and allegations of police misconduct, I could choose the luxury of continuing on in my day-to-day life with no adjustments made for the tensions and fears in my own backyard.
Silence is a luxury, but it is not an option.
David Menachem Gordon / Facebook
David Menachem Gordon, the IDF soldier from Ohio who was found dead on Tuesday, left a record explaining his journey from budding American journalist to Israeli army recruit.
The 21-year-old’s personal blog, “Shields of David,” together with his writings available elsewhere online, offers a glimpse of an articulate young man who identified his worst fears and decided to fight them head-on rather than be paralyzed by them.
This was a boy who wrote publicly about “the scattered scars that sexual abuse left on his Soul” for the Huffington Post, and encouraged other survivors to come forward. “Those eight years of secrecy were horrific,” Gordon wrote. “If you are a victim of any type of abuse, wherever you are, I beg you for your own sake: Reach out! Secrets don’t get better with age so don’t keep them boiling inside any longer.”
This was a boy who unabashedly posted John Mayer songs to his personal Facebook page, along with messages like:
This was a boy who wept when, on a student trip to Poland, a group of locals outside his tour bus raised their arms in a Hitler salute.
Mayor Bloomberg, Robin Williams and Leonard Nimoy are all together in this week’s news quiz – something that probably never happened in real life. But I suppose it might have.
The Jewish media has been awash with words of admiration for Leonard Fein, who died August 14. They come from those who mourn the passing of a person who embodies his name, a lion who roars. Their tributes rightly reflect upon his fire for social justice, his eloquence and his willingness to put his passion to work by creating real, living institutions which have done no less than feed the hungry (Mazon), pursue true justice in the Middle East (Breira, New Israel Fund, American Friends of Peace Now) and stoke the minds of American Jews to think beyond boring and worn out platitudes (Moment). The tributes note his provocative pieces on the opinion page of the Forward and the decades of lectures at synagogues and on panels of symposia, conferences, and other kinds of gatherings where he chided American Jews to live up to their tradition’s prophetic faith. He is being remembered for going to the Reform movement in 1971 and reminding it that, “Reform is a Verb.”
These tributes are being written by people who knew and loved the mature Leibel whom they encountered as adults. My tribute begins long before he strode onto the national stage to shake up American Jewry and decades prior to my becoming a professor of American Jewish History at New York University. Rather it starts in 1958, when Leibel Fein charismatically led the hundred or so youngsters, myself included, who spent that summer at Midwest (now Tavor) Camp Habonim in Three Rivers, Michigan.
From the moment I got off the bus, on my first day of my first summer at that camp, I fell under his sway. I considered each day of that month to be an opportunity to listen, talk to, and learn from him; while he lead singing, sparked a discussion, or instigated some kuntz (stunt), many of which seem in retrospective fairly outrageous and inappropriate, Leibel dominated my consciousness and helped me see a different way of being a Jew, an American, and in fact a human being than I had imagined. (He as rosh, head of the camp, gave the green light to a program waking children in middle of the night, telling them to get dressed and come into the meeting hall, and informing them that Israel had been invaded and occupied by Arab armies. I imagine the program organizers wanted to know how the children would react to the news that Egyptian and Jordanian forces were marching through Tel Aviv.)
The first thing I noticed when my shared taxi dropped me off in Jerusalem earlier this month were the flags. In the Beit Hakerem neighborhood where I was staying — a mostly secular Jewish area in southwest Jerusalem — balconies were strung with large Israeli flags and rows of miniature ones. Car antennas were adorned with pennants and ribbons. Even the neighborhood light rail station was donning blue and white, with flags flapping from the lampposts. This latter show of patriotism on public property was new, my host told me, since Operation Protective Edge began.
Jewish Israelis have supported the war with Gaza in overwhelming numbers. A much-cited Israeli Democracy Institute poll from late July said that more than 90% of them believed that the war is “just.” (Since the poll, truce talks have begun, and there was a major pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv a few days ago.)
The wall-to-wall blue and white stood in sharp contrast to colorful New York City, from which I had just arrived. There, the Gaza war was hotly disputed in the streets and in the press. The American Jewish community had largely rallied around Israel, saying the country has a right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas. But a small and vocal minority of Jews staged high-profile events to protest Israel’s campaign and the large civilian death toll. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were roiling with the debate. The images of death and wreckage from Gaza were inescapable.
Courtesy of Benji Lovitt
The “we laugh to keep from crying” line sometimes feels a bit of a cliché but when you live in Israel, you experience it daily. At least during the last 40-plus days of Operation Protective Edge, which still hasn’t officially ended during the current ceasefire talks.
In the eight years I’ve lived in Israel, we’ve been through these before: Lebanon 2, Cast Lead, and Pillar of Defense; this one, however, was different. The number of casualties is higher than the last two and the discovery of the tunnel network from Gaza put sheer fright into us, sending the entire country into a month-long period of stress, anger, and depression. Not exactly how you want to spend your summer.
Fortunately the Jewish people have a long history of turning lemons into lemonade (thousands of years of persecution can do that). About a week into the operation, I got a message from fellow comedian Ari Teman. He wasn’t satisfied watching the events unfold from the U.S. and decided he wanted to do something to help. Incredibly, within just a couple of weeks, Ari had organized a comedy tour in Israel to raise money for a good cause and to boost the morale of people who really, really needed a laugh. Ari brought with him fellow New York comedian Danny Cohen and, voila, the “Rocket Shelter Comedy” tour was born.
Stand-up comedy is a weird enough profession on its own. Add the element of crowds who are following horribly depressing headlines on a minute-by-minute basis and you have a big challenge on your hands. At least when you’re the first comic of the evening. As the MC of the shows, my job was to break the ice, warm the audience up, and start the evening with big laughs. How do you begin a show when everyone in the crowd is thinking the exact same thing, and it’s not “boy, we sure are in a good mood”?
Congregation Beth Simchat Torah’s Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum / WN
Claiming “Hamas propaganda” has infected the pulpit, a director of the nation’s largest LGBT synagogue resigned in an angry e-mail this week, igniting a firestorm on social media.
But the rabbi of New York’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah is calling the resignation letter “a twisted perversion of the facts.”
In his e-mail, Bryan Bridges claimed that CBST and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum had been more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians than to the risks facing Jews in Israel.
“Recent events have demonstrated that CBST is far more committed to a progressive political agenda than to the Jewish people,” Bridges wrote. “This raises a question for members: Why belong to this synagogue instead of a different religious group such as the Unitarian church or an activist organization such as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid?”
Bridges claimed his ire grew after he “heard that Rabbi [Sharon] Kleinbaum had read the names of Gazan casualties on the same day that Hamas violated the sixth humanitarian ceasefire by kidnapping a soldier,” and that Kleinbaum had “invited a group advocating BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel to host an event at the synagogue.”
Mahmoud Mansour and Morel Malka on their wedding day, August 17, 2014 / Haaretz
(Haaretz) — To disrupt a wedding celebration and spoil the joy of two young people joining their lives together, one needs a very good reason. Racism clearly does not qualify.
There’s an easy way for even the most tribal and anti-assimilationist Jew to grasp the utter unacceptability of the behavior of the controversial Israeli organization Lehava. The group put out a public call for demonstrators to disrupt the scheduled wedding party of a young Jaffa couple — Mahmoud Mansour, a Muslim man, and Morel Malka, a Jewish woman who converted to Islam for her marriage — telling them to bring signs and loudspeakers to register their disapproval.
All one needs to do is imagine how Jews around the world would react if something similar took place in Europe — let’s say, in Germany. What if a neo-Nazi group took to Facebook to assemble crowds to wave signs and scream slogans to disturb a party celebrating the union of a Jewish man and a bride who had converted to Judaism and send a message that their union is an “abomination?”
No matter what one’s personal opinion is on conversion or intermarriage, such ugliness is both vile and dangerous.
Luckily, there has been a silver lining to the unattractive cloud of the Lehava campaign to crash the party. The lining takes the form of the support of the wedding hall, which has resisted threats of boycotts if it allowed the celebration to take place undisturbed, as well the thousands of Israelis who have stood up publicly to defend Mahmoud and Morel’s right to pursue happiness. The couple itself has shown admirable steadfastness and unwillingness to bend to the threats and cancel their party.
But the brightest spark of light in the darkness showed up on the eve of the wedding in the form of a Facebook post by Israel’s president. Though clearly no fan of the union, President Reuven Rivlin deserves credit for speaking strongly against the racist attacks on the couple’s right to marry and celebrate, wishing them “health, comfort and happiness.”
(JTA) — After four weeks of a punishing Israel air and ground campaign that left nearly 2,000 dead and much of Gaza in ruins, Hamas has lived to see another day.
For Israel, that might not be the worst thing. That’s because for all of Hamas’ violent extremism, it also governs a territory, maintains a social service wing and controls smaller, more extremist factions. Through mediators, Hamas and Israel have reached agreements in 2011 and 2012, and are negotiating another one right now in Cairo.
But many of Hamas’ jihadi fellow travelers in Gaza don’t have the same interests. For most, their sole goal is to fight — not just against Israel, but to spread Islamist rule across the whole world. That’s why, in the thick of the conflict on July 28, outgoing U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency head Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said ousting Hamas could bring on “something like ISIS,” the radical Islamist group now conquering swaths of Iraq and Syria.
“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse,” Flynn said, according to Reuters. “The region would end up with something much worse.”
Who are these groups? Here’s a quick rundown of the other major organizations in Gaza that seek Israel’s destruction.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad – Sometimes known in Israel simply as Jihad, this is the second-biggest militant group in Gaza after Hamas. Founded in 1979 as a break-away from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad resembles Hamas in many ways. It’s a Palestinian national movement, it receives funding from Iran and has a small social service wing that includes schools, hospitals and family mediation services, according to the New York Times. It is also party to the negotiations taking place in Cairo.
A 2011 Reuters article estimated the Islamic Jihad’s militia, the Al-Quds Brigade, at 8,000 fighters, compared to tens of thousands of Hamas fighters. Islamic Jihad executed a number of terror attacks during the second intifada a decade ago, including the 2001 abduction and murder of two 14-year-old boys in Gush Etzion. It has frequently fired rockets at Israel from Gaza, including during the three rounds of conflict between Israel and Hamas in recent years.
Popular Resistance Committees – The Popular Resistance Committees, or PRC, is a break-away from the Palestinian Fatah Party, which governs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The PRC was founded in 2000 and opposes Fatah’s peace process with Israel. Unlike many groups operating in Gaza, the PRC is not Islamist. In 2012, Yediot Aharonot estimated that it was the third-strongest militia in Gaza and that it receives much of its funding from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran.
The PRC also executed terror attacks during the second intifada. In 2006, it collaborated with Hamas on the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.
Jihadi groups — There are a number of jihadi groups reported to be active in Gaza and allied with, or supportive of, the ISIS and Al-Qaeda agenda of reestablishing an international Islamic caliphate. Among them, the Army of Islam, which participated in the Shalit kidnapping and kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007.
Another group, Tawhid wal’Jihad, has shot a number of rockets at Israel and is most famous for the 2011 kidnapping and murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist with International Solidarity Movement. Another, Jund Ansar Allah, attempted to attack Israel on horseback in 2009 and declared Gaza an Islamic emirate later that year, leading to a gunfight with Hamas forces.
William Schabas, chosen to chair the inquiry committee, a move compared by Israel to “inviting ISIS to organize religious tolerance week,” has strong Jewish roots.
His paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Galicia in Central Europe who moved to New York at the turn of the 20th century. “I was not raised with any religion,” Schabas told the Forward, but he’d go on occasion with his father to synagogue. “I’m not a religious person but I’m very comfortable and proud of my Jewish ancestry, I’ts part of me,” he said. “I feel very good and positive about it.” Schabas also fondly recalls family meals at Jewish delicatessens.
Schabas is a member of the advisory board of the Rene Cassin organization, a London-based Jewish human rights group. His father, Ezra Schabas is a leading figure in the Canadian classical music scene. A clarinetist, conductor, music teacher and theorist, Ezra Schabas is a member of the Canadian Royal Conservatory and has won many musical awards. He was educated in New York, served in the U.S. army in World War II and later moved to Toronto.
Schabas doesn’t know the exact origin of his family’s name, but he is sure it comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat (shabbas in Yiddish.) It is an unusual name for Ashkenazi Jews, a fact that led one rabbi to suggest that the family may have Sephardic origins as well.
Eli valley envisions a conversation on Zionism and the course of Jewish history during a military mission over Gaza.
Eli Valley is finishing his first novel. His website is www.evcomics.com, and he tweets @elivalley
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(JTA) — My friend Alain Azria gave me a puzzled look when I told him, with some indignation and disbelief in my voice, that I had just heard talk of killing Jews at an unauthorized anti-Israel demonstration in Paris.
I had heard one young black man with a Parisian accent telling a dozen friends loudly but without shouting: “Okay, guys. Let’s go hunt some Jews” on July 17.
His friend answered: “Let’s break their heads,” to which the first speaker replied: “Catch them fast, kill them slow.” The group blended into a mass of thousands of people who were marching toward the Gare du Nord train station while shouting slogans accusing Israel of genocide.
My shock stemmed from the fact that while anti-Semitic violence accounts for a fair share of my reporting here in Europe, I have personally been insulated from it — perhaps because I live in Holland, where such occurrences are rarer, or maybe because I had lived most of my life in Israel, where one receives only a theoretical understanding of the phenomenon.
But for Alain, a freelance news photographer who specializes in documenting France’s anti-Semitism problem, this was just another day at the office. Which is to say he didn’t really have time for my astonished discovery of the banal. “OK, OK, welcome to Paris. Now let’s move it along,” he said as he took us on a shortcut designed to reach the station before the procession.
Participants of the Muslim Jewish Conference visit the main synagogue in Vienna, Austria. / All photos copyright Daniel Shaked
As a grassroots youth organization, the Muslim Jewish Conference has worked for five years to provide a framework for real interaction and dialogue between young Muslims and Jews from all over the world. The six-day meeting currently underway in Vienna, Austria. It provides many of us participants with unique experiences to meet one another on a personal level. Amongst us are participants who have never met Muslims or Jews before but who are eager to lean and to engage. I am grateful to be part of this project.
There are over 100 people from 38 countries, and it strikes me that so many struggled to get visas. Some were even denied participation. Among them applicants from Sudan and Yemen. I believe their voices need to be heard because each and every one is an enrichment. Now it’s on us, who are lucky to be here and reflect on the need for dialogue.
On the first day of the conference we had to face and discuss stereotypes. Muslims and Jews shared the clichés that others have of them. Many Muslims believe that too often they are profiled as terrorists, backwards and oppressive. Many Jews think they are misunderstood when perceived solemnly loyal to Israel and are considered to be controlling the world. It struck me how similar our problems seem, and I am left pondering over the role of the media in all of this and the steps one can take to counter this stereotyping.
Lox and socks. No, it’s not a newly discovered Dr. Seuss book – it’s this week’s quiz, including a visit to Starbucks , nursery school and Yankee Stadium. Jump in!
(JTA) — After the missiles have stopped, after the troops have come home, even after most of the wounded are out of the hospital, Israelis will still be feeling the burden of Operation Protective Edge – this time in their pockets.
With the recent expiration of a temporary cease-fire, the operation may not be over. (Another temporary cease-fire was put in place starting at midnight Monday.) But through last week, including both direct military expenses and indirect hits to the Israeli economy, the total cost of the four-week conflict is estimated at $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion.
The government has maintained radio silence on the war’s military costs and estimates vary, but Israeli media report that they range from $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion. Lost economic activity amounted to an estimated $1.3 billion, with the tourism sector in particular taking a massive hit.
“Along with soldiers, we won’t spare a shekel in reimbursements to residents of the south and reservists,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at a news conference Thursday. “From our perspective they’re all soldiers, and all deserve special treatment from us.”
Ever the populist, Lapid promised not to raise taxes. But he admitted the money will have to come from somewhere and predicted the 2015 budget deficit would rise.
Here’s a partial look at how all those shekels were spent.
Israel’s pricey weaponry
Iron Dome: The U.S.-funded star of the war, the Iron Dome missile defense system limited Israeli civilian casualties to three while shooting down 90 percent of the rockets headed toward Israeli cities, according to the Israeli military. Of the 3,460 rockets fired at Israel during the war, Iron Dome intercepted 584 of them – at $50,000 a piece. That comes to a total of $29 million, or about $1 million per day. Last week, the Congress approved another $225 million in funding for Iron Dome.
Smart bombs: Israeli war technology isn’t limited to the home front. Israeli planes have bombed Gaza approximately 4,900 times during the war – roughly 150 times a day. Yiftah Shapir, head of the Military Balance Project at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said most of the bombs Israeli planes dropped were likely equipped with computers and cameras to increase accuracy.
Shapir doesn’t know how many bombs Israel used and the IDF won’t say, but he said most Israeli ordnance was likely one of two missiles: the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, a GPS-guided missile made by Boeing, and the Tammuz missile, an Israeli-made munition that locates its target with a camera and has a 15-mile range.
According to Shapir, not including the bombs, each of the Air Force’s 4,900 sorties cost $15,000, for a total of over $73 million. Add on a $32,000 JDAM or a $140,000 Tammuz and the price skyrockets. Critics of Israel have accused the IDF of using imprecise – and far less expensive – artillery in strikes that have killed more than 1,000 civilians in Gaza.
Calling up the reserves
One of the unifying factors of this war was that almost every Israeli knew a few people in uniform. Israel has called up 82,000 reservists during the conflict – nearly half at the war’s start and 42,000 more as it went on.
It’s hard to determine the exact cost of reserves because each soldier receives a reimbursement for lost salary pegged to his monthly paycheck. But according to the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot, each reservist costs the army $174 a day – including food, shelter, a uniform and weapons. If the figure is accurate, the IDF spent nearly $200 million on reservists, not including the salary reimbursement.
“Thought can corrupt language,” George Orwell wrote in the 1943 essay I referred to in my column, “but language can also corrupt thought.”
Gil Troy’s response to my piece offers a concise portrait of this process. But his critique is more than a helpful example of the rhetorical phenomenon I wrote to challenge. In form and content it embodies how those who claim to support Israel undermine the country they intend to defend.
Troy begins by repeating the argument I questioned, writing that the rockets and tunnels built by Hamas are evidence that in this war “self defense is not a ruse but a compelling moral necessity.” My central claim was that this argument places the violence of the war in a realm beyond agency. Aggression and duty are its causes, not policy choices or strategic decisions.
Troy adds a telling question that reflects my point (or, rather, Orwell’s) that talking this way masks uncomfortable realities. He notes that some Israelis are now asking, “how many of our soldiers have died because we waited so long?” While there is not an exact answer, since the closing of the blockade in 2005 and prior to this war, Hamas’ terrorism has likely killed around 30 Israeli soldiers. Through this operation, 64 Israeli soldiers have died and 651 injured.
The point is not that Hamas is toothless (their rockets have killed 28 civilians since 2001, and they used a tunnel to capture Gilad Shalit in 2006). Indeed, that threat should be addressed seriously and strategically and forcefully. The question is how to do that, and whether this war was the only, or the best, way to do so. Given the number of young Israelis killed in this operation, that ought to be a question those who care about Israelis are asking. Troy instead repeats the rhetoric that renders the question irrelevant.
If Hollywood and television are a microcosm of the real world, the current Middle East conflict didn’t just leave an estimated 1,814 Palestinians and 67 Israelis dead, but also left countless friendships and relationships destroyed in its aftermath.
The collateral social damage stemming from baseless insults, fuming rhetoric, serves no purpose other than to hinder productive discussion, stroke egos, and unnecessarily divide, destroy relationships.
In a public letter, Oscar winning Spanish actors Javier Barden, Penelope Cruz and dozens of others, accused Israeli of genocide. Describing Israel defending itself as “genocide” is certainly inaccurate and trivializing of actual genocide, but the backlash was just as childish. Top Hollywood executives questioned whether they would work again with these actors, some calling them “ignorant” or “anti-Semitic,”according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Famous British actor and comedian Russell Brand labeled Fox’s Sean Hannity a “terrorist,” after Hannity rudely berated a Palestinian guest for stonewalling his question on whether Hamas is a terrorist organization. Hannity then called Brand a “D list actor,” “kind of dumb and ignorant,” known for “his failed marriage to Katty Perry.” Members of the Hannity panel added insults, one saying, “he [Brand] looks like he cooks meth and sleeps in his car.” Brand fired back calling Hannity a “bigoted man.”
Using personal insults to express a point is not unique to TV or Hollywood. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are blowing up with rhetoric and vitriol, dividing people, spreading hatred and fear, sometimes between family and friends.
Viewing differing ideologies as a threat creates barriers. It prevents people from working together and only fuels antipathy and fear, paralyzing productive discussion. A recent Pew Research study sadly confirms this in the political context. Twenty-three percent of consistent liberals said they’d be “unhappy” if a relative married a Republican. Thirty percent of consistent conservatives said the same about Democrats. Both sides view each other as a “threat to the nation’s well-being.”
Nothing is accomplished through personalizing disagreements on the Middle East or otherwise. Issues should be hotly debated. Ideas challenged. Productive discussion and debate should always be encouraged, so long as ideological differences don’t shatter our human relationships.
Eliyahu Federman writes extensively on religion, culture, business and law. Follow him on Twitter @EliFederman