False Equivalencies

Recent efforts to draw parallels between the struggles and plights of Ukrainians and of Palestinians are ill-informed and misleading. A variety of oversimplified and erroneous comparisons and themes have emerged.

One common trope is to conflate American racial politics with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is depicted as white country and the Palestinians as an oppressed people of color in whom Americans and Europeans are less interested than in the white Ukrainians.

But Israel is a nation of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. While there are certainly elements of racial discrimination in Israel, as in countries worldwide, it is primarily internal to Israeli society. Many Israelis are, in fact, of the same middle eastern stock as Palestinians. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not racial, it is geopolitical. Further, to suggest that the world is not interested in the Palestinian cause is disingenuous. The Western press abounds with articles about the Palestinian cause, often to the exclusion of far worse humanitarian crises around the globe.

Another troubling motif seeks to equate the resistance of the Ukrainians to Russian invasion with Palestinian efforts against Israel, casting Israel in the role of Russia, as an unprovoked invader. This patently ignores decades of Palestinian and Arab warfare against Israel, including Palestinian leadership’s continued calls for the eradication of the State of Israel. It also ignores the efforts of Israelis, Palestinians and many American Jews in favor of political and diplomatic solutions to the conflict. Moreover, to equate Ukrainian proven democracy to the faulty, failed, and often sabotaged attempts among Palestinian leadership, whether in Gaza or the West Bank, to achieve democracy, is a lapse in moral judgment.

Additionally, there is a failure to take seriously the complicity of Arab nations which has contributed to the Palestinian problematic and subjected Israel to decades of terrorism, warfare, and rejectionist policies. Fortunately, we witness today common interest efforts to rectify this history and normalize relations with Israel among some key Arab nations. Moreover, while the modern-day Palestinian people have developed a national identity fully deserving of a state of their own, it is to be noted that Palestinian Arabs living within the land of Israel enjoy full citizenship rights and representation in the government.

Michael Koplow (Israel Policy Forum, 3-3-22) addresses the problems inherent in attempting to draw false parallels between the War of Russia and Ukraine and the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. He counters those arguments on historical, geopolitical, and tactical grounds. Israel’s control of the Palestinian territories did not result from an “invasion designed to recover a former Israeli republic or install a puppet government.” It resulted from the efforts of the new State of Israel to repel a multinational force invasion. It is important to note that Ukraine never posed an existential threat against Russia, as Palestinian terrorists and charters have baldly perpetuated.

We need not approve of every Israeli military or political tactic and there is reason to criticize decisions and actions on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. But to suggest that the massive, relentless, and indiscriminate bombing of Ukraine by Russia somehow parallels the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is intellectually flawed and morally untenable. The Ukrainian fight against Russia is fundamentally and practically different from the Palestinian conflict with Israel.

As Passover approaches and we retell the ancient story of liberation, let us use the spirit and the rituals of the holiday to affirm and celebrate our people’s historic trajectory to freedom and join others in the unfinished journey. This can be done without creating false equivalences, cynically pitting one cause against another, and obliquely blaming American Jews and Israelis for ills that neither can solve alone. With the cooperation and leadership of people of good will around the world, let us hope: Bashanah haba-ah…. Next year in Jerusalem and Kyiv at peace!  

About the Author
Dennis Sasso is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, Indiana.
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