Overall, I am a fan of Trevor Noah and the Daily Show. Although we do not agree on everything, I find that his humor and wit provide great insight on many issues in America, from gun violence to COVID-19 to racial tensions. Yet when I saw Trevor Noah’s latest clip about the recent escalation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, I immediately felt a sense of dread that I would find myself facing yet another blatantly unbalanced interpretation of the events.
To his credit, Trevor Noah made great efforts to qualify his statements, acknowledging the complexity and multilayered nature of the recent round of violence, and indeed – of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict historically. I had quibbles here and there with his sequencing of events, but I understood his perspective. I think it is important both in general and in this specific instance for me – as an Israeli and a Zionist – to think carefully about how my people, my nation, my government – reacted in the recent chain of events leading up to the escalation, and what could have been done better, irrespective of the actions of the “other side”.
This critique stems not from a hatred of Israel but from a love of it, a desire to see it improved, safer, and with a sound moral compass. Specifically, regarding the tensions in Jerusalem, I find it very disheartening that extremist elements feel so compelled to push their agenda, consequences be damned. I can even agree in theory with their claims, legal and ideological. The court proceedings in Sheikh Jarrah are complex and beyond my legal expertise, and I do identify with Jewish ties to the land of Israel.
However, we must also be cognizant of the reality that whether we like it or not, we do not live alone in this tiny sliver of land, and that our actions have consequences that impact the safety and security of others when tensions boil over and which reverberate powerfully in the international community. This is not to excuse violence on the other side – the premeditated steps taken to provoke rioting in the Al-Aqsa Mosque (in what would seem to me to be a complete desecration of an otherwise holy site) and the attacking of Jews is inexcusable. But, to (sort of) paraphrase Trevor Noah, it is to say that both sides in an ideal world should engage in some sort of introspection regarding actions that, as we have seen, can be so disruptive and devastating.
Unfortunately, in the second part of his segment, Noah made a point that I found so misleading that I could not stay silent. What Noah said was (paraphrasing) that, given the complexities of the escalation, the one thing he will look at is the number of casualties – 26 dead (including nine children) in Gaza. He points out the disparity of power between Israel and Gaza and says Israel should choose its response accordingly, likening it to a bigger child getting hit by a smaller child.
First, Noah neglects to mention that each of the 850 rockets (as of now, Wednesday at 11:07) that was fired at Israeli towns constitutes an unequivocal war crime, as they were fired from civilian areas in Gaza at civilian (not military) targets. Furthermore, Noah (like so many other media outlets for reasons I cannot fathom) does not distinguish between civilian casualties and military ones. This is an important point since many of the casualties in Gaza are identified as terrorists (as recognized by the international community and as acknowledged by the terror groups themselves). The fact that many media outlets always qualify these claims as “Israeli” (therefore casting doubt on their authenticity, for reasons that boggle the mind) does not change this reality.
Finally, Noah overlooks the fact that the disparity in casualties is a result of defensive technology. Hamas fires what are called in colloquial Hebrew “statistical weapons” meaning they fire as many as they can with the hope that some will go through the Iron Dome’s defense and cause damage. The fact that the statistical outcome does not reflect the intention to kill as many innocent Israeli civilians as possible is completely irrelevant. Currently, the majority of Israel’s population (myself included) is living in fear of being under fire – school is canceled, movement is limited, everyone wondering if that small statistical success will translate into a gruesome death for themselves or their loved ones.
This reality is one that Israel cannot accept and must be allowed to respond in an appropriate and proportionate manner. I emphasize proportionate, because this relates to another point Mr. Noah neglects to mention, namely the lengths Israel goes to, at the expense of operational effectiveness (which translates into more risk for civilians including myself) to avoid collateral damage and unnecessary civilian casualties. This includes even warning Palestinians of an impending strike (in a video I’m sure Mr. Noah did not see). This unparalleled care for avoiding collateral damage (imagine any other military warning a target before a drone strike – I can’t either) stems from both a strong sense of morality but also from geopolitical constraints derived from people like Mr. Noah using their platforms to put misguided pressure on Israel to limit its response. Thankfully I don’t have to make such impossibly difficult tactical calls balancing civilian protection versus collateral damage in the heat of battle, but at the very least people like Mr. Noah in the media should acknowledge both the complexity of these situations and temper their response accordingly, since their words have a broader impact.
It is precisely because I like his show so much in other contexts I find it so disappointing (but frankly not surprising) to hear him peddle such a misleading and contextually lacking position. Trevor Noah and the Daily show have a far-reaching platform that influences U.S. policymakers and citizens alike. This information then guides those people into pressuring Israel in a way that directly impacts my safety and that of my family. So when Noah makes such misleading claims it hurts me deeply and personally, because at the moment we are facing a two-pronged assault – one from the rockets designed to kill me, my wife and my newborn daughter, and the other from misguided influencers like himself in the international community whose claims have the effect of delegitimizing Israel’s right to defend itself. And although there is always to look in the mirror, once the first of 850 war crimes are committed the conversation must turn to any sovereign nation’s first and most important duty – protecting it’s citizens. This is a point I’m sure Mr. Noah would agree with if he were to find himself under indiscriminate rocket fire. And I’m confident he would agree that proportionality is in the response, not in the outcome.