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.
(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
Confused about Gaza? You’re not alone.
Le Monde has created an animated map to help people who can’t tell Gaza from the West Bank navigate the facts.
Say what you will about supposed French bias against Israel, the map is fairly informative, easy to follow and essentially lays out the bare bones of a very long and complex conflict — a good tool for someone who hasn’t been following the situation too closely.
Watch for yourself:
(JTA) — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has cultivated Jewish support as he considers a presidential run, tells Chris Moody of Yahoo News that he never made a legislative proposal to cut assistance to Israel.
“I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. “We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position — a legislative position — we have introduced to phase out or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money — more money — to the Iron Dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.”
Cue the pile-on.
First, Moody, just one paragraph later, who notes that Paul did in fact propose cutting aid to Israel:
But that was in fact his position.
In 2011, the newly elected Paul proposed a budget that would have cut $500 billion from the federal budget in part by cutting off foreign aid to all countries, including financial grants to Israel.
I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” Paul said in 2011 during an interview with ABC News. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries, even if they are our friends.”
He even pointed to Israel as an example of a nation that doesn’t need foreign aid because of its own wealth.
“I think they’re an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” Paul said, also in 2011. “Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don’t think so.”
Dave Weigel at Slate recalls his own interview in which Paul proposed cutting Israel aid. So does Mediaite, which has video, and Ian Sams, a Democratic Party flack.
And naturally, so does the joint statement from the National Hewish Democratic Council and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
No defense of Paul from Republican Jewish redoubts.
(JTA) — Now that the latest Gaza conflict appears to be nearly over it’s time to take stock of the winners and losers.
Who won the war?
Perhaps more than the other two Gaza conflicts in the last six years, Israel is the clear winner this time. The Israel Defense Forces dealt a serious blow to Hamas’ tunnel infrastructure, effectively neutralized the Hamas rocket threat thanks to the Iron Dome missile defense system and destroyed hundreds of Hamas targets in Gaza.
Hamas’ aim of doing significant damage to Israel failed. The organization’s numerous attempts to kidnap Israelis – soldiers or civilians – came up empty. The incessant rocket fire did not succeed in causing a mass casualty event or significant damage inside Israel. Hamas enjoyed a brief victory when most foreign airlines suspended flights to Ben Gurion Airport after a missile strike nearby, but flights resumed after a couple of days.
In all, three civilians were killed in Israel during the war: two from mortar fire in the immediate vicinity of the Gaza border and one from a rocket for which Iron Dome wasn’t deployed because its target was a sparsely populated area.
Israel lost 64 soldiers in the fighting, but nobody expected the army to escape casualties once the ground invasion of Gaza began. Death is the inevitable price of an extensive military operation in hostile territory. The question is whether the price Israel paid in the war will be worthwhile in the long run and how long will it be until the next round of fighting.
Did Hamas lose?
Hamas certainly doesn’t come out of this victorious. Its operational capabilities took a heavy hit thanks to Israel’s bombardment, the discovery and destruction of dozens of tunnels running under the Israel-Gaza border, and the depletion of a big chunk of Hamas’ rocket caches.
But it’s hard to say exactly how much damage Hamas has suffered because so much of what the terrorist group does takes place underground – literally and figuratively. The true picture of Hamas’ capabilities may become clear only in the months and years to come.
Moreover, Hamas does not live by the gun alone. Its power depends in large part on popular support. By that measure, Hamas is likely to pick up points from Palestinians for standing up to Israel – in contrast to the Palestinian Authority, which cooperates with Israel on West Bank security.
In the broader region, however, the reaction of other Arab countries to the Israel-Hamas conflict underscores just how little fondness there is for Hamas, an antagonist allied with the Arab autocracies’ own Islamist foes. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all stood by while Israel pummeled Gaza, in many cases withholding even pro forma criticism. In past conflicts they at least paid lip service to the Palestinian cause. This time, the public criticism was directed at Hamas.
With Hamas’ weapons stores depleted, it’s going to be much harder for the terrorist organization to rearm without as much financing from the Arab world and without Egypt acting as a smuggling conduit to Gaza.
For Israelis and Palestinians, as well for their friends and family around the world, these past few weeks have been torture. Each day for Israel brings new rocket attacks, new cross-border terrorist raids, new funerals and shivas for IDF soldiers. Each day for Palestinians in Gaza brings new rounds of artillery shelling, fresh explosions and devastation. We spend all day desperately wanting to avert our eyes from the carnage, and go to bed every night hoping that by morning, the fighting will have stopped.
As devoted friends of Israel and passionate advocates for Israeli-Palestinian peace, we at J Street have been clear since the fighting began that Israel has a definite and obvious right, as all nations do, to defend its citizens against terrorism. Hamas is a repugnant terrorist organization whose sworn aim is the destruction of the state and people of Israel. Failure to recognize this represents willful blindness.
We cannot, however, as American Jewish friends of Israel, turn a blind eye to the plight of Gazan civilians. Some deeply disturbing rhetoric has come from some in the American Jewish community - not just from the fringe, but from well-respected leaders. In an article last week, American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris wrote bitterly of the international community’s concern for “poor, defenseless Gaza.” Responding to the recent tragedies of Palestinian children dying in United Nations schools, he correctly noted several documented instances of Hamas hiding weapons in such schools. Instead of condemning Hamas and expressing sympathy with the plight of the defenseless children, Harris attributed their deaths to “patterns of behavior” of Palestinian parents, who “allow [their] children to go to a school which is used as an arms depot.”
This conflation of all Gazans with Hamas is untrue and unacceptable. The article did not mention that children killed at the UN school in Jabalya were there seeking shelter because Israel had told them, and hundreds of thousands of others, that their homes could face bombing and shelling. It omitted that all exits and entrances to Gaza are controlled by Israel and Egypt, leaving Gazan civilians with nowhere to go and nowhere else to hide. The White House has condemned the shelling of the school as “totally indefensible.”
Harris wrote that for Jews, “our corner of the world is about the affirmation of life. That defines the core of our being, the essence of the societies we aspire to build, and the way we conduct ourselves.” We agree. Affirming and respecting life is exactly what Jewish people should aspire to.
(Reuters) — The existential vise in which the state of Israel lives is tightening as the civilian body count and property destruction in the Gaza Strip mount. The latest war between Israel and Hamas is further testament to the historical fact that Israel’s forefathers had to conquer the land that today’s Israelis dwell in and ferociously defend. What hope is left of finding a lasting settlement with the Arabs?
In his “My Promised Land,” Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit repeatedly and poignantly poses his country’s most pointed questions: How to live as free and moral people on the ruins of a dispossessed people? How to assuage the wounds inflicted on the expelled Arabs? And how to cherish the nation-fortress so dearly bought?
“Israel is the only nation in the West that occupies another people,” writes Shavit. “On the other hand, Israel is the only country in the West that is existentially threatened. Both occupation and intimidation make the Israeli state unique. Intimidation and occupation are the twin pillars of our condition.”
Shavit loves his country yet does not shy from describing the blood that flowed when his people took possession of it. He’s not alone in that uncomfortable place. The historian Benny Morris’ account, “1948,” is similarly unsparing of the brutalities that accompanied the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians into permanent exile as the new state struggled to be born. Though denied a university post for years because of his apostasy from official Zionist positions on the “liberation struggle,” Morris did not change a word in his book but did change his mind about the nature of the Israeli state, seeing not its leaders but the Palestinians and their leaders as unassuageable enemies with whom peace might never be made.
That change was symptomatic. Though distinguished Israelis like David Grossman raise their voices against the attack on Gaza, and though there have been small protest marches in Israel, opposition to the fighting among Israelis remains subdued, with most opinion supportive, or detached. Tamar Herman, a political scientist, former Peace Now activist and author of the fullest study on the movement, says the pro-peace left has “lost contact with the mainstream.” Even Grossman, whose son was killed in the 2006 Lebanon war, writes that the logic of the present impasse compels Israel to defend itself, though he’s strongly critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to reach out to Hamas and to talk in good faith to the leader of the moderate Palestinian camp, Mahmoud Abbas.
Thus two forces face off, each secure in its rectitude. “There is no war more just than this,” asserts Netanyahu, while Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal tells Charlie Rose that, “I do not want to live with a state of the occupiers.”
It seems impossible to me that I am typing this line: Genocide is never permissible. Full stop.
That one would even need to type such a line destroys me. That an author proposed such an idea? A horror.
But It is also his newspaper. It is also the world he – they? We? – live in where anyone could have possibly believe it was morally acceptable, that it was even remotely possible, to not only conceive of, but to write, to propose, to recommend, genocide. And then to post a story that endorses this destruction of humanity, to let that story run, unadulterated, to allow it to be out there in the world, the smiling face of its author next to it, as though this was not an abomination. For that is what it is: an abomination.
For that is what it is: an abomination.
Times of Israel. For shame. Yes they took it down. But no. It should never have been there.
[UPDATE: After this blog post was written it came to my attention that the Times of Israel offered bloggers unfettered access to parts of their site without oversight. This doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for the content of their website but it does mean it may not have been vetted. This was not clear at first reading of the piece and it appears that, as a result of this hateful story, their policy has shifted. It’s gratifying to know editors at the Times if Israel recognize hate mongering.]
Were we not children of genocide, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not descendents of pogroms, of murder, of hate, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not people who insist upon the humanity of all those around us.
Are we not that people? Are we not believers in the future?
To propose genocide is to permanently dehumanize us. To propose murder, to propose destruction, is to have cemented over our own humanity in the creation of a faceless enemy, is to have failed to see the basic humanity in us all.
Inna Vernikov, left; Penelope Cruz, right / Courtesy of the author; Instagram
You are a remarkable actress and a strikingly beautiful model. I have been following your successful career for years. Your performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was an inspiring work of art. In fact, I am often complimented on just how much I look like you.
That being said, your sudden urge to comment on the centuries-long Middle East conflict has left me dumbfounded. Even more so, however, the contents of your uncalled-for outburst.
In the letter you recently signed, you unequivocally denounced the state of Israel for committing acts of “genocide” on the civilians of Gaza and demanded that Israel cease its fire. “Palestinians’ homes are being destroyed; they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools, and fields while the international community does nothing.”
Illustration by Yoni Weiss
In these pages, Daniel May’s “What Would George Orwell Say About the Gaza War?” used totalitarianism’s great enemy to criticize democratic Israel’s justified struggle against totalitarian Hamas. May’s argument, misreading Israel’s self-defense justification, and echoing Hamas’s propaganda points, peppered with clever quotations from George Orwell, was itself Orwellian.
Deciding how dead thinkers would judge today’s challenges is complicated. But “the right of self-defense” is not about Orwellian “euphemism,” “question-begging,” or “defend[ing] the indefensible.” When your neighbor launches thousands of rockets, builds dozens of attack tunnels under your borders, targets your civilians (while sacrificing its own), over years, “self-defense” is not a ruse but a compelling moral necessity. Israelis are justifiably asking now: “How many of our soldiers have died because we waited so long?”
Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm and 1984 in the 1940s, abhorred totalitarianism, the ends-justifies-the-means political doctrine willing to sacrifice anyone, anything, and any principle to serve a political movement or state. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism,” he proclaimed in 1946.
Orwell cherished freedom and repudiated state apparatuses that crushed individuals. He detested anti-Semitism. In today’s perverse politics, despite his economics, Orwell would recoil from the far left’s totalitarianism, Islamist terrorist fellow traveling, and doublethink which leads purported progressives to justify fascistic, sexist, homophobic, anti-democratic Hamas, in its self-destructive, nihilistic offensive against Israel.
Throughout the violence of the last three weeks in Israel and Gaza, one phrase has become ubiquitous among politicians and pundits. President Obama affirms his “strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself.” Secretary John Kerry states “Israel has every right in the world to defend itself.” Britain’s prime minister and foreign minister have both backed “Israel’s right to defend itself from attack.” The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that “reaffirms its support for Israel’s right to defend itself.” In op-eds and organizational statements and speeches, the phrase has become the preferred shorthand for signaling support for Israel’s campaign.
Writing in 1946, George Orwell argued that political speech is largely made up of handy phrases that we reach for almost by reflex. These phrases, he argued, “consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness.” They don’t explicitly mislead. Instead, they halt the thinking. “Every such phrase,” he wrote, “anesthetizes one’s brain.”
Orwell thought such phrases were necessary to “defend the indefensible,” and it makes sense that we turn to them so readily in times of war. Cliche implies the inevitable (“cycle of violence”); euphemism obscures the awful (“collateral damage”); question-begging absolves judgment (“it is necessary because there was no other choice”). Such phrases distance us from a world pre-made, unalterable. Amidst the horrors of war, they are a soothing balm.
The force of the phrase “Israel has a right to defend itself” stems from its conflation of a statement of general fact with support for a specific act: this bombing campaign, this ground incursion, this war. Its implication is that those who support Israel’s right to defend itself by necessity support this war, and those who do not support it deny Israel’s right to defend itself. It tethers support for a specific decision to support for an incontrovertible truth, and opposition to a specific decision with lunacy, irrationality, and, yes, anti-Semitism (for who would argue that the Jewish people, alone, do not have this right?).
Activists, including former J Street staffers, protested the Gaza war on July 28 under the name #ifnotnow. Jewish Voice for Peace is also looking to attract J Street supporters./Martyna Starosta Photo
As J Street and other liberal Zionist groups continue to support Israel’s war in Gaza, Jewish Voice for Peace is seizing an opportunity for gain new supporters at their expense.
After the Forward published a story this morning charting how J Street has taken a far more moderate approach to the current Gaza war than it did to Operation Cast Lead in 2008, JVP put a link to it on their Facebook page, with the tagline: “Our door is always open”
Jewish Voice For Peace takes positions outside of the American Jewish mainstream. The group backs aspects of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and was influential in supporting the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s recent decision to divest from three companies alleged to profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, a move strongly opposed by mainstream Jewish groups. In the current conflict, the group has been staging protests against Israel’s attacks in Gaza.
No mainstream Jewish groups have voiced similar condemnation of Israel in the current Gaza war.
“We have seen an enormous number of people flocking toward us right now,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, the group’s executive director. “I think more and more people are coming to us who want to express their opposition.”
According to figures provided by JVP, the group’s Facebook page has gained 50,000 “likes” since July 21.
J Street did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Khaled Meshal, head of the political wing of Hamas / Getty Images
“Apart from fringe elements such as the Jewish Voice for Peace, which abandoned the last shred of its dignity when its rabbinic co-chair presented Hamas as a force for reason, American Jews of all persuasions back Israel’s position.”
So says Rabbi Eric Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He declares a rival Jewish organization as having “abandoned the last shred of its dignity” because Rabbi Brant Rosen, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council, argued that Israel should have considered negotiating with Hamas, and that Israel should have recognized the joint Hamas-Fatah unity government while given the opportunity.
Dignity is a strong word to use when attempting to criticize the strategic analyses of other Jews, and so I need to ask: Is it really that unreasonable to suggest that Israel negotiate with Hamas?
A woman cries as Israeli soldiers evict Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005 / Getty Images
Even as war continues to rage, August will mark the ninth anniversary of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Dubbed a “disengagement” by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the retreat was greeted enthusiastically by the institutional Jewish community. A full-page ad in the New York Times, spearheaded by the Israel Policy Forum and signed by 27 organizations, praised the plan as “courageous.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations greeted Sharon as “a great and patriotic leader,” and even AIPAC came around, if with a caveat:
“If the Palestinians transform Gaza into a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place — not necessarily Sweden — then the world won’t have to pressure Israel to do this in the West Bank,” said Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director.
As luck (or possibly behind-the-scene conversations) would have it, the whole disengagement plan was conceived to help Israel avoid international pressure — if not quite in the way Kohr seemed to be suggesting. As Dov Weisglass, Sharon’s adviser and confidante, acknowledged in a pre-withdrawal interview, Gaza was to be sacrificed in order that Israel could better hold on to the West Bank.
The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that’s necessary so that there will not be a [diplomatic] process with the Palestinians.
… The disengagement plan makes it possible for Israel to park conveniently in an interim situation that distances us as far as possible from political pressure. It legitimizes our contention that there is no negotiating with the Palestinians.
…We educated the world to understand that there is no one to talk to. And we received a no- one-to-talk-to certificate. That certificate says: (1) There is no one to talk to. (2) As long as there is no one to talk to, the geographic status quo remains intact. (3) The certificate will be revoked only when this-and-this happens — when Palestine becomes Finland. (4) See you then, and shalom.
In keeping with the contention that “there is no one to talk to,” Sharon didn’t even coordinate the withdrawal, much less negotiate it, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel simply pulled up stakes, and gave the party with which it had been in a diplomatic process since 1993 nothing to show for its efforts.
Unsurprisingly, Hamas announced that its rockets had made Israel turn tail, and — in the absence of a credible competing claim — declared victory. Less than six months later, Palestinian legislative elections were held, and Hamas narrowly won. As is now abundantly clear, Hamas did not transform Gaza into “a reasonably well-functioning, reasonably peaceful place,” or, indeed, “Finland.”
The only power plant supplying electricity to Gaza was hit by Israeli shelling / Getty Images
Editor’s Note: Walid Abuzaid’s diary is running in two parts. You can read the first part here. This is the second installment.
Thursday, July 17
It’s 10 p.m. when the power finally returns. The electricity has been down since 11 p.m. last night. The power company said the electricity lines were down during the bombardments and that there’ll only be six hours of electricity every day.
I turn on the water heater so I can finally shower in the morning, since Eimar is asleep at last and I don’t want to make any noise. As I brush my teeth, I’m reminded of the salty water I have to shower in. When I asked the tower guard, Abu-Zeyad, about it when I returned home at the beginning of July, he said the water pipes for the whole neighborhood were damaged a while ago and no one has repaired them. I remember Mohammed, my friend from Beit Lahia, complaining about it since moving here after the war began. The water they use back in their home is really sweet water coming from the wells.
We gather around in the living room, the TV is on the news channel; we don’t follow any Ramadan series this year. Although Lamar forces us every once in a while to switch to MBC so she can watch the prank series with the sharks. We still check the news channels during every commercial. Nirmeen, my step-mom, tells us about her friend from university that has a Swedish passport. She and her family left in the morning and they’re now safe in Jordan. Lamar hears this and angrily asks my father, “When are you going to get us passports so we can travel whenever we want?” I’m speechless, so is my father. I wonder how many desperate fathers and mothers don’t have an answer to that question.
Demonstrators show support for Israel outside the United Nations in New York / Martyna Starosta
American Jews stand with Israel. At times of war and crisis, that’s the way it has always been, and this time is no different. Despite gruesome pictures of civilian casualties in Gaza, media coverage that is frequently critical of the Jewish State, and shrill and accusatory statements about Israel from U.N. officials and foreign diplomats, American Jewish support has been unwavering.
It is not only the Jews who support Israel, of course. According to the most recent CNN poll, a majority of Americans believe that Israel’s actions in Gaza are justified. But while there is some measurable slippage in Israel’s favorable ratings among the American people, American Jewish support remains firm. I have seen no poll data on American Jews to prove my thesis, but it is what I conclude from innumerable conversations and a review of both the Jewish press and Jewish organizational statements.
I offer a few observations on American Jewish attitudes on the current conflict with Gaza.