Shammai Engelmayer
Shammai Engelmayer

Hamas is winning and we should care

When the New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says, as she did last week in a tweet, that Israel is responsible for “the death, displacement and disenfranchisement of millions,” she is making it crystal clear that she considers Israel to be an illegitimate nation and that the Palestinians are the sole legitimate owners of the land upon which Israel sits.

There can be no other explanation for her referring to Israel’s “displacement and disenfranchisement of millions,” an exaggerated number that represents only two times in Israel’s history: 1948, when nearly three-quarters of a million Arabs fled Israel following the United Nations partition vote, and 1967, when an estimated 250,000 Arabs fled the West Bank and Gaza following the June 1967 Six-Day War (many of whom were part of those who fled in 1948).

Not surprisingly, Ocasio-Cortez shows no concern whatever for the approximately 800,000 Jews who were expelled or were forced to flee from Arab lands, and who had their property expropriated. Why should she? Her interest clearly is the abolishment of the State of Israel, not the human rights of Jews.

Surprisingly, though, too many Jews in the United States agree with her, at least to some degree — including Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and, sadly, 102 rabbinical and cantorial students attending non-Orthodox Jewish seminaries. As these would-be Jewish leaders put it in a letter made public last week, “Israel’s actions constitute an intentional removal of Palestinians.” By “Israel’s actions,” they did not mean just the bombings in Gaza, but Israeli policy in the territories generally.

Ocasio-Cortez, of course, has no interest in the truth of things. She wants Israel gone and will do and say whatever is necessary to accomplish that. Sanders and the 102 would-be Jewish leaders of tomorrow, however, should know better. That they do not know better speaks volumes about the real war Hamas is fighting. It knows it cannot defeat Israel on the battlefield. Rather, Hamas’ goal is to defeat Israel by making it a pariah in the eyes of the world.

When Jews who should know better start parroting the Hamas line, it should be clear that Hamas is winning that war.

Hamas is not alone, however. The Palestinian Authority, too, is fighting a war of perception. The PA sends emissaries throughout the world to encourage people to paint Israel as an aggressor nation, a rogue state. Hamas uses human shields and such places as schools and hospitals to hurl 4,000 missiles into Israel to force it to respond, and all anyone sees is the devastation and the death toll wrought by Israel, but not the reason for the death toll or the devastation.

The world listens to the Palestinian propaganda, and believes what it hears. On the other hand, probably because it does not want to, the world does not listen when, say, the Palestinian Authority names schools, streets, buildings, and sports events after people who strapped bombs on themselves to kill Jews.

It does not listen when Palestinian leaders say “we want peace” in English and French and German, but in Arabic say, in one form or another, “today the West Bank, tomorrow all of Israel.”

It does not listen when Arab children’s television programming, such as a knock-off of Sesame Street, teach children to hate Jews and to kill Jews.

Israel does not have such television programs, but the world ignores that, just as it ignores the fact that Palestinian textbooks demonize Israel and Jews, and praise martyrdom. Israeli textbooks do not teach hatred of Arabs, including Palestinians. Just the opposite; they teach tolerance of the Other, whoever the Other may be, but the world ignores that, too.

And so do the 102 rabbinical and cantorial students, and Bernie Sanders.

The world does not stop to ask why Israel has had so many such wars against Gaza, but you never see any destruction of such magnitude on the West Bank. It is because in 2005 Israel completely turned over Gaza to the Palestinians living there. For the first time since 1967, Palestinians had complete control over a territory all their own. They could have established a working government that would benefit their people. They could have worked together with Israel and others to build a flourishing economy and vastly improve quality of life. They could have demonstrated that they really do want to live in peace with Israel.

Instead, Hamas turned Gaza into a perpetual war zone — not because it could defeat Israel on the ground, but because it could defeat Israel in the media, because it could force Israel to appear to be the monster Ocasio-Cortez called it last week.

Over and again in news reports since the cease-fire began, the cease-fire is being criticized for “not having addressed the underlying issues to resolve this conflict,” or words to that effect. Such statements often are followed by reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “not being a fan of the peace process,” as one broadcast journalist put it last Sunday.

The world hears that, but it does not hear anyone point out why: Because every effort on Israel’s part to reach agreement with the Palestinians over the years failed because the Palestinians rejected those efforts. As the late Abba Eban put it in 1973, “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

And so it has been — from day one. There could have been a Palestinian Arab state beginning on May 15, 1948, but the Arab League chose war instead. There could have been such a state in 1949, but Egypt and Jordan, especially, preferred to take the land for that Palestinian state for themselves. There could have been a Palestinian state after the June 1967 war, but the Arabs meeting in Khartoum in November 1967 issued their famous “Three No’s”: “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

The Oslo Accords of the 1990s was supposed to put both sides on the track to peace, by establishing the Palestinian Authority and setting a timetable for Israeli withdrawal. The first Accord was signed in 1993. Between September 1993 until August 30, 1999, there were 89 terror incidents recorded, including — 

• Two bombings of Jerusalem bus No. 18 on February 25 and March 3, 1996, resulting in 45 killed;

• A suicide bombing outside Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv on March 4, 1996, resulting in 13 killed;

• Two separate suicide bombings in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, resulting in 16 people killed and 178 wounded.

Those 89 attacks radicalized many in Israel, bringing Netanyahu to power the first time, in 1996. Still, Israelis were willing to try for peace and Ehud Barak was elected prime minister in 1999. In July 2000, Barak offered to turn 96 percent of the West Bank and part of East Jerusalem into a Palestinian State. The late Yasir Arafat’s response was to launch the Second Intifada just a little more than a month later. It ended with 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis being killed, among other tragic results.

There is no reason to expect Ocasio-Cortez or her “squad” to care about any of this, because she, at least, now has made clear where she stands regarding the continued survival of the State of Israel.

The media, however, should care, because its mission is to present balanced truths to the world. And the world at large should care, too, because Hamas is up front about its intentions to bring about another Holocaust. Here are some salient quotes from the Hamas Covenant, adopted in 1988:

• “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” (Preamble)

• “Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.” (Article 13)

• “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: ‘O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’” (Article 7)

So the world should care about Hamas’ intentions. Above all, Bernie Sanders and the 102 rabbinical and cantorial students who signed that letter condemning Israel should care because of who and what they are — they are Jews.

In B’chukotai, the second half of Torah portion we read on May 8, God made us a promise. After all the horrors that would befall us throughout history, God pledged to “remember My covenant with Jacob, remember also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham — and I will remember the land.” (See Leviticus 26:42.)

God kept His promise. Now it is our job to protect God’s promise by protecting that land — because we and the land are inextricably linked. If Israel does not survive, this time around we as a people likely will not survive, either.

Perhaps Bernie Sanders does not care whether we survive, but those 102 rabbinical and cantorial students should care.

We all should — and must — care.

About the Author
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades. He hosts adult Jewish education classes twice each week on Zoom, and his weekly “Keep the Faith” podcast may be heard on Apple Podcasts, iHeart Radio, and Stitcher, among other sites. Information on his classes and podcast is available at www.shammai.org.
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