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David-Seth Kirshner
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Books worth burning

Eradicating Hamas is not enough. We must stop allowing Palestinian children to be raised to hate Jews and to think Israel is their enemy
Illustrative: An image of a girl smiling as 'heretics' are burned in a Palestinian textbook. (IMPACT-SE, via The Times of Israel)
Illustrative: An image of a girl smiling as 'heretics' are burned in a Palestinian textbook. (IMPACT-SE, via The Times of Israel)

The Washington Post ran a “hmmm article” yesterday. I coined the phrase “hmmm article” as something you read that you do not invest a whole lot of stock in or energy toward. They make you pause and go, “Hmmm. I did not think of that angle of things.”

An example of a hmmm article would be the increase in pet adoption during COVID or dress shoes partnering with sneaker companies to make a more comfortable fit for the executive on their feet. It has some interest and can cause a little reflection. Usually, it does not move a needle much, nor is it fodder for clergy to deliver their sermon over the weekend.

The hmmm article the Washington Post ran was about the devastation caused to the National Libraries in Gaza during the recent Israel-Hamas war. The article included pictures of books smoldering and strewn about in a hot mess of war and the chaos it creates. The article reported the outrageous Palestinian claim Israel targeted the libraries to dumb down the Palestinian population in Gaza and promote illiteracy.

A few thoughts struck me.

I doubt Israel chooses to target libraries. Bombs are expensive and not dropped haphazardly. Most targets in Gaza have been proven to be either shields for terrorists or shelters to store rockets and weapons. Libraries, much like mosques, hospitals, nursing homes and playgrounds, fit neatly into places that should be protected, making them perfect cover for nefarious behavior. Hamas has demonstrated that they are not beyond using such places — in violation of international law — to protect known terrorists and their harmful accouterments. In fact, Hamas has denounced Israel for breaking UN rules and international law in bombing libraries, yet, the same Gazans are noticeably silent when these protected spaces are exposed for their role in hosting sinister behaviors, like launching rockets or storing grenades and guns.

Perhaps more important is the idea that some of the books inside the Gaza library may be worth burning.

In the West, we have been immersed as of late in conversations about banning books. From Maus to Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, what could and should be in libraries has been fodder for renewed conversation.

I say “renewed” because book burnings are a topic that tickle the Jewish nerve. Jews are at the forefront of those conversations.

Goebbels hosted a giant book burning in the center of Berlin in May of 1933, setting aflame Jewish literature to eradicate our long history in Europe and our many contributions to society. Works by Freud and others like him, went up in smoke in pyres around which crowds of young Nazis danced. Ironically, in front of the same university, Humboldt, where Goebbels created this bonfire is where Heinrich Heine proclaimed 98 years earlier, “In a place where one burns books, they will soon burn people.” A frightening foreshadowing of what would happen in Nazi Germany.

But I wonder, are any books worthy of burning? What about setting Mein Kampf on fire? Pamphlets of the Hamas Charter? The Anarchist Cookbook, with its instructions on manufacturing explosives? Books written by David Irving, the notorious Holocaust denier?

I ask more than rhetorically. The books that are amassed in Gaza and taught in Palestinian schools teach that the word “Zionist” is synonymous with evil. These books in Gaza manufacture claims in chapter and verse that Jews are land-grabbers, murderers, cheaters, evil colonialists and scoundrels. For decades, schoolbooks in Gaza have been printed and lessons taught by willing instructors for students of all ages that Jews and Israel are sworn enemies of Palestinians and Muslims, worldwide.

These textbooks, along with plenty of other required reading in Gaza, are filled with hate, vitriol, conspiracy theories, disproven facts and propaganda. As recently as 2022, UNRWA schools still used textbooks that were filled with antisemitism, even after watchdogs pledged to remove them from circulation. One poem that was taught widely in Gazan schools glorifies martyrdom and encourages being a shahid (dying in acts of terrorism) against Israel.

The level of dehumanization exhibited by Hamas on October 7th is the direct result of textbooks that led to evil indoctrination over generations. Those books celebrated the vilification, hatred and demonization of the Jew and Israel. It begins in print and continues in the madrassas, mosques, and local markets.

A few weeks back, I penned an idea that advocated for Israel to gain total control of the future education system in Gaza. Whether the country is governed by Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi, the PA, or Emirati peacekeepers, Israel should own the curriculum for the children of Gaza. It should embrace a rich and deep Palestinian history. It should color the pages with Palestinian connectivity to the land along with Jewish connectivity to the land. It should laud the virtues of Islam and celebrate the Palestinian people and the noble, worthy leaders in their history. The curriculum should jettison Jew-hatred and Zionist demonization and replace them with opportunity, hope, possibility, coexistence and love. There must be a new educational paradigm that will trickle down from textbooks to town squares.

How can we ever break a cycle of violence when each child is taught from the time they can first sound out words to hate the Jew, to attack Israel? That their neighbor is their enemy? Along with eradicating Hamas, we must forever remove the literature that perpetuates loathing and detestation of Jews and Israel.

Perhaps, society should be relieved the library in Gaza was destroyed. Chances are it eliminated terrorists, destroyed weapons used to kill Jews, and likely burned books that fueled cycles of violence that lasted generations. The bombs might have finally arrested the vicious cycle and forced it to turn a page in our painful history.

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC.
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