Jeffrey Cahn

Calling Hamas a ‘terrorist organization’ lets them off the hook

They are the elected government of the Gazan people, and should rescue their own citizens. Jews should stay focused on aiding Israel. 

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In the twisted logic of antisemitism that always finds a way to blame Jews and justify their murder, on the weekend after the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, synagogues around the world doubled their security measures in anticipation of rioting from American pro-Hamas demonstrators. Remarkable. Not a “Day of Rage” against Hamas, but against Jews! Why? “Because of the innocent civilians being massacred by Israel,” as the news headlines read.   

Many civilians are in fact being killed in Gaza, which is horrible. But, in the war of public opinion, we are ironically aiding and abetting our enemies by labeling Hamas a “terrorist organization,” because it absolves them from their responsibilities as the elected government of the Gazan people to protect their citizens from harm. 

The image of “terrorists” is one of a band of fanatics who operate within a society without responsibility FOR that society. Their only allegiance is to their cause, with  their actions often designed to disrupt the governing of their host society and promote their goals precisely because the “powers that be” are not doing so. 

This is certainly NOT the case with Hamas and Gaza. After Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas was elected by the people of Gaza in democratically held elections sanctioned by the US and Israeli governments. Hamas controls the economy, judiciary, security and social service apparatuses for Gazan citizens. They receive and control billions of dollars of international aid funding meant (but not used) for civil society. 

Like Iran and tragically too many other radical Islamic governments, their goal is not to “sow terror,” but to destroy the enemy that they are sworn in their charter to destroy. Hamas wages war not as a group of individual “terrorists”, but as an army formed and supported by the citizens of Gaza who elected them and strategically executing the policies of the government of Gaza.  Hamas is not a terrorist organization any more than the brutal, homicidal governments of Putin or Assad or Khomeini, or for that matter, the Nazi’s. All ascended to power by elections or realpolitik means, and with it the full responsibilities and power of governments. 

Clearly, as in any country, not all Gazans agree with the ideology of Hamas or their policies. The same is true for citizens of Israel, the United States and all countries. But like elsewhere, all Gazans are subject to the consequences of their leadership’s actions, not just those who support the government. 

Does all this mean that the civilians of Gaza don’t need or deserve help? Of course they do. But let their own Hamas government, the Arab countries who profess their allegiance to Gazans’ plight, and anyone in the international community who is so moved, come to their rescue. Hamas should immediately offer a cease fire and actively help evacuate their citizens to safety.  They can and should save their own cities from destruction by moving their fighters out from under the homes, schools and mosques where they have tunneled. That is what governments do, and the world should demand that this happen.  But of course, the government of Gaza will do nothing to save the Gazan people.  They treasure the martyrdom of their citizens and the destruction of their cities as an essential strategy in their stated holy war against Jews and Israel. 

But the rest of their friends can and should help. Egypt should immediately open its borders to temporarily, or even permanently, house refugees. Qatar, Morocco, Turkey and Pakistan — so outspoken in their concern — should immediately send a flotilla of ships to evacuate those in harm’s way, and provide money and care for those staying. That is where the responsibility lies to help the civilians of Gaza: with Hamas, their sponsors and their allies. 

Why not us Americans and Jews also? Do we think that a Gazan baby is any less precious in the eyes of God than a Jewish one?  Of course not.  Do the mothers of Gazan fighters — especially the ones who pleaded with their sons not to join the fight — need help as their homes are destroyed? Absolutely. We are horrified by the violence the Gazan government has brought on their own people. But to focus our philanthropic or humanitarian resources on the Gazans in the middle of a war with… the Gazans… rather than on helping heal the thousands of Jews wounded by… the Gazans… Huh? I guess it does make moral sense in some roundabout way, but aren’t we kind of busy now with our own?

Until this war is over, Israel’s allies, and certainly all Jews, should focus on helping our people. Period. There will not be nearly enough money or time to satisfy the urgent needs created by the horrors already perpetrated in Israel, and more will undoubtedly come. Our support at this point should go to Israel.

As a Jew who lost most of my own family, and half of my people at the hands of the elected government of Germany, I am horrified with the knowledge that so many German mothers, grandparents and babies were killed in the War. But I doubt there were many liberal student groups back then at Harvard and Columbia Universities staging demonstrations calling for an end to the violence against “innocent German civilians” as the Allies advanced on Berlin, nor a call among liberal Jews to raise funds for their rescue. 

It’s also not just an issue of allocation of resources. The propaganda war to turn the focus of this conflict into the story of Gazan suffering at the hands of Israel is strengthened when Jews join in the outrage. It implies that Israel, and by association, Jews everywhere, are responsible for the carnage, not Hamas. And that leads to more violence against Jews, less support for Israel and the continuation of the old anti-semitic trope: “Jews are responsible for the suffering of others, regardless of circumstance. Make them pay.”

After the war — that’s a different story. A Marshall Plan for Gaza that has the chance of creating a peaceful neighbor for Israel is something that we all should wholeheartedly and actively support. May it come to pass. 

The blood of the Gazan civilians is on the hands of the Gazan government and their allies, NOT on the country upon whom they have waged war. Demand that Hamas and their friends care for the wellbeing of their citizens.  Jews and allies of Israel, send your thoughts and prayers to all people in harm’s way, and send your money and support to Israel. 

About the Author
Jeff is the Executive Director of the New York-based multi-site synagogue, Romemu. He has also held senior positions at Young Judaea and UJA Federation of New York. Jeff’s first career was in high tech, founding the internet company, Netpulse, and working for AT&T, Intel and the Israeli Telecom company, Telrad. Jeff has a BS degree from Cornell and a Masters degree from Stanford University.
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