A short time ago, I read an opinion piece in the Forward by a Hebrew University professor emerita that really upset me. It keeps floating in and out of my mind. The author begins by telling her readers, “My mother taught me Jews are above vengeance. The Israel-Hamas war is finally making me doubt her.”
Was she really accusing the Israeli army of being vengeful in its strategic military response to the Hamas massacre? At first, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. But, yes, Prof. Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi was admonishing Jews for being vengeful. And she didn’t limit her accusation to the current-day scenario. Rather, she looked back into history and wrote, “I have come to realize how much of Jewish tradition in fact condones the very vengeance my mother cautioned me against.”
I would never claim that vengeance is absent from the Bible. In fact, there is too much advocacy of violence in the Torah for my comfort. But it is horrifying to me that a professor would claim that vengeance is the motive for Israel’s attacks on Gaza today (“The Jewish reflex towards vengeance is being openly, shamelessly galvanized in military strikes against Gaza in response to Hamas’ barbaric slaughter of innocent Israelis in early October,” writes Ezrahi).
Ezrahi acknowledges the barbaric slaughter by Hamas on October 7. So why does she not acknowledge that this war is about the survival of the Jewish homeland? Why doesn’t she see that the IDF is responding to an existential threat by a terrorist group that wants to eliminate the Jewish people from our world?
Are the Israeli soldiers thinking about the brutal massacre of their fellow Israelis as they bombard Gaza? It would be surprising if it weren’t on their minds at one point or another. But as the IDF engages in the fiercely challenging task of routing out Hamas terrorists, who hide in tunnels below hospitals and in civilian homes, their aim is to defeat Hamas and end its role as the governing body in Gaza, not to commit the random slaughter of innocents.
And what about all the news commentators and distinguished academics around the world who accuse the IDF of disproportionality? Do they really believe that Israel is using its superior firepower intentionally to decimate Palestinians living in Gaza — not trying to kill as few civilians as possible while staying alive themselves. Really??
I recently saw a video that Dan Gordis talked about in a recent edition of his podcast, Israel from the Inside. The video, a message from the Israeli tech entrepreneur Ron Harnevo, talks about Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive officer of Web Summit, which sponsors annual technology conferences, and how he is publicizing data which, he claims, shows that more Palestinians have been killed in the past 15 years than Israelis.
But, as Harnevo points out, this conflict is not about data points. It’s not “a contest of deaths.” And it is certainly not about Israel’s trying to rid the world of the Palestinian people. It is about a terrorist organization, Harnevo says, that is attempting to commit “a genocide of Jews, in the land of Never Again,” in the Jewish homeland, which was founded on the principle that never again will Jews be slaughtered for just being Jews.
There is a human instinct to side with the underdog — in this case, to claim a disproportionate use of force by the stronger combatant. But, as Harnevo asks, “What happens when the underdog commits genocide? And what happens when you realize that the underdog would do it again on a mass scale if only it could?”
People all over the world are now learning that Hamas terrorists are hiding among civilians, using them as human shields and carelessly allowing them to die to sway world opinion against the Israelis. I am horrified by this loss of life. But the answer does not lie with accusations of vengeance or disproportionality.
I would love to see Israel’s critics come up with a viable alternative to this Middle East mess – an alternative that ensures that nothing like this war and all the death it has brought ever happens again.
In the meantime, the Hadassah Medical Organization, which I have admired and supported for decades, continues to hire staff members of all races, religions and nationalities and to care for patients of all races, religions and nationalities in its two world-class medical research hospitals in Israel.
As I write this, thanks to the support of generous donors around the world and of the Israeli government, a new rehabilitation facility, the Gandel Rehabilitation Center on the medical center’s Mount Scopus campus, is rising in Jerusalem, with construction accelerated to meet the needs of the countless Israelis of all backgrounds who have been wounded in this war.