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.
A Palestinian carries the remains of an Israeli shell in the Gaza Strip / Getty Images
Editor’s Note: Walid Abuzaid’s diary will run in two parts. This is the first installment.
Thursday, June 27
I was in Cyprus when it all started. When we heard about the kidnapped teens, we were thrilled by the possibility of another prisoner release. Hamas would be held responsible for the kidnapping, but we treat our prisoners well — at least the one prisoner we’ve ever had.
It’s my last night in Cyprus and one of so few in which I smile before I go to bed, for tomorrow I’m on my way home. I know it isn’t the smartest decision I’ve ever made, but I miss Gaza. I miss my life.
“I don’t want to f**king go to Cairo, I want to go to Gaza. How many times do I have to tell you? Do you want me to say it slower?!” I yell at the woman at the gate who takes my passport and makes me watch every passenger get on that plane until the gate closes. “Wait here, please,” she says for the 10th time, before whining about Arabs in Turkish to the lady next to her, who lends me her seat while I wait. An airline employee official who speaks Arabic finally arrives. She hasn’t come for me, but rather for the Yemenite whose Saudi residency has expired. He isn’t allowed to go to Cairo either; nor does he want to.
For three days I’m being prevented from traveling to Cairo from the Istanbul Airport, since Rafah crossing isn’t open until Sunday. I try explaining that I do not want to enter Cairo, and that I agree to be held in that disgusting deportation hall in the Cairo airport until the border opens. Yet, nothing I say changes the officials’ minds. In Arabic, “How do you even know Rafah will be open?” the translator dares to ask me. I refuse to even glance at him and continue to scream in English at the cold officials. It’ll be three days of this.
A Palestinian girl waits for permission to cross into Egypt at the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip.
Monday, June 30
I’m finally home, after my dad spent a lot of money to buy me another plane ticket on a different airline. I only had 30 euros for the way back; that’s what was left from the 250 euros that my uncle sent from Germany.
My bag is still in Cairo, but who cares — I’m home. I’ll go to my other uncle, the lawyer, and have him write a contract that will allow my relative in Egypt, Mohammed, to collect my bag for me. Then I’ll go to the bar association to make it all official, before sending the papers through DHL and waiting a week for them to arrive. After that, Mohammed may have to wait a few hours at the airport until he receives my bag. Following that, all that’s left is to wait for the border to open again. Simple!
This isn’t even what I intended to write about, god damn it.
Tuesday, July 1
I’m getting ready to embrace my mom, after not seeing her for almost a year. “Wasim, we’re f**ked; they’ve just found the bodies of the three Israelis. Don’t tell mom.” My younger brother, of course, decides to use that as an excuse to tell Mom that I’m still not in Gaza in order to surprise her when I get to her home. Wasim is like that. He arrived from Indiana just a couple of days before I did. He was there on a year-long youth exchange and study program — the same one I did in 2012. We call it a taste of freedom.
Wednesday, July 2
My mother cries all through the night, a sense of déjà vu overwhelms me as I recall the night of Nov. 11, 2013.
Back at my dad’s, home, we discuss the repercussions. My father and I don’t usually agree, but this time we both know something bad is going to happen. He asks my stepmother, Nirmeen, for the grocery list. She points out that she has already evaluated the situation and the list will be longer than a week. Lamar, my younger sister, comes along for one last ride before she has to stay in an apartment for an unknown length of time. She understands. She remembers October 2012, she was three years old then.
Thursday, July 10
We are in the living room with an incredible view. We can see Gaza’s entire harbor. I try to cover two-year-old Eimar’s ears when a rocket drops and destroys a mini yacht called “Gaza’s Arc.” She can’t sleep yet; she’s scared. She likes the fire though. She laughs.
“You look upset, you’ve been watching that boat for 30 minutes, what’s wrong?” Wasim wonders. “I don’t know what was in it,” I respond, “I don’t know why they bombed it, but I know someone loved that boat. That boat was someone’s dream, they just killed someone’s dream. That’s far worse than killing them.”
Friday, July 11
My dad and I go out for the first time in five days to get rgag, a kind of bread made in a saj oven, for the delicious Fatteh dish. It’s 5:22 p.m., the electricity’s been out for three hours. It’s the usual eight-hour rounds and the batteries are almost out. The windows of the house are open and the sweet wind is blowing in. I can hear the jets, drones, gunboats and the occasional thud. Eimar is still awake.
Saturday, July 12, 8:23 p.m.
I’ve just finished eating and I’m heading to my room for a long-awaited smoke or two. My mind is rushing with thoughts of the Brazil vs. Netherlands match. I saw a photo of Neymar with the rest of the team earlier today. I hope Brazil saves some face and wins the game — that would cheer up my Brazilian friend Pedro a bit. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and have friends there too, so I also want the Netherlands to win. Oh well. I’ll go on Facebook before I start looking for a good online stream of the match, one that can tolerate my agonizingly slow Internet speed.
“Breaking: Al-Qassam Brigades threatens to hit Tel Aviv with J-80 rockets at 9 p.m.”
“You still want to go donate blood?” Wasim asks sarcastically. I don’t indulge him this time. A couple of minutes later my mom calls. She succeeds in convincing me not to go out tonight. I haven’t moved from my place yet. I’ve smoked four cigarettes so far. It’s 8:58 p.m.
My dad asks me to take the car keys to the guard tower so he can park it in the underground garage. A chance to buy more cigarettes, I tell myself. I’m dreading the fact that I have to walk rather than “borrow” the car to drive to the market, since, like last night, Abu-Malek has closed up his shop. I don’t blame him. Tonight will be a particularly loud one, and I’m rehearsing the lies I have to tell Eimar.
A man demonstrates at a Hong Kong rally calling for an end to Israel’s war in Gaza / Getty Images
Since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza, other countries are seeing an increase in anti-Semitic hate speech and attacks. In France, synagogues are being firebombed. In Belgium, coffee shops are barring Jews from entry. In Chicago, leaflets threatening the Jewish community are being discovered on parked cars. In India, Jewish sites are being threatened with terrorist attacks. And all around the world, protests that start out as “pro-Gaza” or “pro-Palestine” or “anti-Israel” or “anti-Zionist” are quickly devolving into pure, old-fashioned anti-Semitism.
For many American Jewish liberals, this trend is deeply dispiriting — and confusing. They’ve spent years arguing that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two different things, that the former isn’t necessarily rooted in the latter. But now, they complain, that argument is becoming harder and harder to sustain. The lines are getting blurry. If these protesters don’t actually hate Jews, they ask, then why do they keep conflating Jews and the Israeli government? Why are they resorting to this anti-Jewish — and not simply anti-Israel — rhetoric?
Or, in the words of recent Forward contributor Tova Ross:
When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?
My response to that question is: Of course the two have something to do with one another — of course they’re uncomfortably intertwined — and are you really so shocked by that?
Is it really so hard to understand why — after Jews have spent decades telling every Jewish child that they are owed a free trip to Israel, citizenship in Israel, life and land in Israel purely by virtue of being Jewish — the world is slow to distinguish between Jews and Israel?
An ultra-Orthodox Jew watches the bombardment of Gaza from southern Israel / Getty Images
(JTA) — Most Israelis blame the war in Gaza squarely on Hamas, though there are plenty who fault the Israeli government for not pursuing peace more aggressively.
In the haredi Orthodox community, however, where practically everything is ascribed to the omnipresent hand of God in one form or another, the true cause of Israel’s troubles is seen as something else: sin, with the troubles Israel’s punishment.
Which sin? Take your pick.
Palestinians carry a boy following an Israeli military strike on the Gaza beach / Getty Images
In the current outburst of violence, perhaps the only pliable and docile actor is Israel’s center-left. Politically speaking, opposition leader Isaac Herzog might as well be cowering in a shelter. He toes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s line, supporting both the airstrikes and the ground invasion. True, he popped up to demand an exit strategy from the government, but he did so just as Hamas was rejecting a cease-fire — rendering his quibbles about an exit strategy weak and irrelevant. Centrist Minister of Finance Yair Lapid is even more accommodating, loosening the purse-strings for an indefinite war.
The trouble is that acquiescing to periodic escalations in Gaza makes mincemeat of the mainstream left’s supposed stance on the conflict. It’s a strategic disaster.
L.A. native Max Steinberg, killed in combat during fighting with Gaza / Courtesy of Steinberg Family
I’ve gone on the record about my ambivalence about Birthright, having argued that it actually discouraged a connection to Israel for Jews like me due to the clear bias of its agenda. Should I have been offered a more complex portrait of the country, I might have better understood what is really at stake and why I should care. Instead, like so many other Jews of my generation, I decided to let it be someone else’s problem.
Birthright is hardly perfect. It is absolutely one-sided and all too easy to see through for the more critically-minded, or maybe just less drunk, people on the bus. But let’s get one thing straight: it is not a cult.
In her Slate story on Los Angeles native Max Steinberg, who moved to Israel, joined the IDF and then sadly passed away in combat this past week at the age of 24, Allison Benedikt implies as much, suggesting that Birthright should take part of the blame for Steinberg’s death.
Benedikt says that joining the IDF “seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission” and suspects that Steinberg fell into this trap. (As Haviv Rettig Gur points out at the Times of Israel, this hypothesis doesn’t hold water when we look at the actual numbers.) She recounts how Steinberg had initially resisted going on the trip, but ended up feeling deeply moved once he got to the country and experienced his life-changing epiphany that he wanted to make aliyah at the gravesite of an American soldier who died fighting for the country. Does this make him brainwashed? Benedikt seems to think so.
Palestinians celebrate after Hamas’ armed wing said it had captured an Israeli soldier / Getty Images
Immediately after a Hamas military spokesperson announced the capture of an Israeli soldier this Sunday, the streets of Gaza, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem erupted in fireworks and celebration. Israel confirmed this week that the body of, Oron Shaul, a soldier presumably killed when an armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile, went missing.
If Hamas has the body they are likely to demand the release of prisoners in exchange for the body. In 2008, Israel released five Lebanese prisoners, including notorious murderer Samir Kuntar, for the corpses of two Israeli soldiers.
But rewarding terrorists by releasing prisoners in exchange for the body will only embolden Hamas and incentivize more kidnapping attempts and lead to more terrorism.
Thane Rosenbaum / Getty Images
So. Can we talk about Thane Rosenbaum?
You probably already know that Thane Rosenbaum — who likes to talk about being a human rights professor — wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal arguing that the Gazan noncombatants are fair game in this war, because “they” voted for Hamas and “invite [Hamas members] to dinner with blood on their hands.”
Setting aside the fact that Hamas (being awful) hasn’t held elections since 2006 — and also setting aside the fact that Gaza’s overwhelmingly young population includes hundreds of thousands of people who couldn’t have voted for Hamas had they wanted to — there are of course numerous problems with this analysis, starting with the Geneva Conventions.
It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune.
I guess on the whole Israel thing, I used to be kind of pareve. Not so much on the country’s scenic landscape or its culture, which I loved and deeply appreciated: its vibrancy and sheer chutzpah; its gorgeous men who looked nothing like the pimply boys in my hometown of Flatbush, whether they were in uniform or not; its falafel. But on the whole ardent Zionist devotion to the Jewish homeland that characterized the majority of my Israeli relatives, both sabras and American olim, I hesitated to commit similarly.
I admit that this was largely due to my rebellious nature, which had me instinctively buck any familial trend. I relished my role as the token liberal in an almost-uniformly Republican family. I liked looking beyond my immediate circle and empathizing with people who weren’t necessarily Jewish, white, or upper-middle class. And when I made friends at age 16 with a left-leaning socialist who saw clearly the persecution of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel, I only grew more daring in my critiques of the Jewish state. The discussions with my father grew more heated.
“Tova, one of these days you’re going to grow up and realize that Israel is all the Jews have,” he said to me, banging the table for emphasis. I sneered at his naiveté. This was America, for God’s sake. It was 2004. Being a Jew was more than acceptable: It was cool. And I continued to routinely call Israel’s policies into question, because I was a good little liberal.
But, alarmingly, my father seems to have been right. Everywhere I look, there’s news of anti-Israel demonstrations that regularly devolve into openly anti-Jewish sentiment, weakening the position — which I once held — that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are separate entities. The line between the two is growing blurrier, and fast. When angry protesters shout “Death to the Jews!” at “anti-Israel” rallies in Antwerp, Berlin and London, and Jews are trapped in a Paris synagogue and firebombed by an angry mob, how can you honestly posit that anti-Zionism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism?
A Palestinian gestures as flames rise from the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza / Getty Images
I’m done apologizing for Israel.
It’s tiring to apologize over and over. Instead, I’ve decided to come clean: I am a progressive American rabbi who leans left pretty hard. I’ve been engaged, as a US faith leader, in work to reform gun laws, extend LGBT rights around the world, grant refuge to illegal immigrants, protect women’s reproductive choice, and more. Paint me blue.
So, when it comes to Israel, many of those with whom I engage in social reform expect me to react to Israel’s military actions in Gaza with scorn and criticism. To be fair, there are times when I do. My Zionism demands I speak out on behalf of the Israel that remains, in my world-view, the most ambitious project-in-process of the Jewish People. Whereas Israel’s 66 short years have witnessed strength and resilience that have redefined Jewish identity in profound ways, the global Jewish family remains interwoven with Israel. If you question this, scan the last week’s news for anti-Israel rallies in Antwerp, Los Angeles, Paris, Boston, and elsewhere that featured widespread anti-Semitic chants and violence against Jews.
So I’m a progressive US faith leader. I’m a Zionist in Berkeley, CA. I’m a Jew in the world, worried for my family. So here is my response to those criticizing Israel this week.