There is a profound sense of sadness which I have not been able to shake since last Saturday. Conflict between Israel and her neighbors is not new. Yet, what transpired this past week seems fundamentally different. Not only because it was the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Yes, the distress of watching the slaughter of hundreds broadcasted on social media is a trauma which will linger for some time.
But I suspect that if you ask your Jewish colleagues and friends, they will admit to something far more philosophically troubling. It is a question that I have wrestled with since I was a teenager and one that reflects an internal struggle of many other young, progressive Jews. Why, when atrocities are committed against her, is Israel held to a different standard?
Consider for a moment your reaction to the attacks that occurred last Saturday. Perhaps you were initially shocked, maybe even outraged. What were your next thoughts? Did you consider the context of the decades long regional land disputes? Did you mull over the brutality of the harsh military embargo enacted around Gaza in 2007? And if so, did that knowledge provide satisfactory rationale for what had transpired? Was it sufficient explanation for the deliberate and targeted murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping of Israeli children and elderly? I suspect that we all would recognize the moral absurdity of affirming such a conclusion.
Yet, almost immediately after this massacre, hundreds of thousands of students, activists, and progressives took to the streets across the Western world in solidarity with what they deemed an expression of resistance. Would we consider it a declaration of self-determination if any other group committed those acts on another people? Imagine if Israel called for Jews across the world to celebrate ‘a day of rage’ immediately after slaughtering civilians. What would the world’s reaction be? The answer is obvious.
Our knee-jerk desire to justify this behavior reveals a dangerous hypocrisy. Even now, as Israel prepares her response, preposterous arguments of moral equivalency continue to be bandied about. Never mind Hamas’s explicit intention to murder every Israeli civilian and Jew worldwide. Never mind the complete transparency of their Jihadist ideology. Israelis could forcibly remove their citizens from every single part of the country, like they did from Gaza in 2005, and that still would not change Hamas’s goal. Why is this ignored?
The fact that Hamas willingly fires rockets from behind the mosques, schools, and hospitals of its own people as a deterrent to an Israeli response is quite telling. To deny that Israel has committed atrocities in the past is revisionist history at best and evil at worst. And to deny the humanity of Palestinian women and children that are currently fearing for their lives is reprehensible. Yet, the concept of ‘proportionality’ that is discussed in the media ad-nauseum is inherently flawed. The loss of innocent life from the targeting of terrorist cells is different from the calculated and deliberate murder of people with the goal of inflicting mass casualties. Intention matters.
If Israelis desired to commit an ethnic cleansing of their neighbors, as their critics say, they have the capability to do so easily. But they don’t. Could we even conceive of a scenario where Hamas would afford Israel the same? The moral contrast between these two groups could not be more striking. Their worldviews cannot be more different. Yet when it comes to Israel and the Jews, otherwise wholly progressive and liberal individuals perform incredible feats of mental gymnastics to avoid this harsh reality. Why won’t we take Hamas’s actions at face value? The reflexive desire to seek context for blatant acts of terror seems to happen to only one group of people.
The sad irony is that the Israelis who were brutalized last week were not extremists nor occupiers of contested territory. Many of the villages that were destroyed predated the creation of the State of Israel. Their inhabitants were secular liberals, many were activists, and some helped arrange for Palestinian children to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. They ‘checked all the boxes’. They shared an identical ideology with the jeering crowds of progressive counterparts in America that celebrated their deaths. Liberal values that would not have lasted a day in Gaza and are championed in Israel did not matter.
The intention of Israel’s enemies is tragically displayed in the life of Yaffa Adar, the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor that is now held hostage in Gaza. Her life will likely end in the same manner as it began, at the hands of a fundamentally genocidal and antisemitic ideology. From time immemorial, violence against Jews has been justified by countless tropes and canards: our collective responsibility for the crucifixion, the Bubonic plague, blood libels, our promotion of Capitalism and subsequent propagation of Communism, and our control of the media. Excuses for Jew hatred have changed over time but make no mistake they will never disappear. It is time to be honest about the true motivation behind those who seek Israel’s destruction. Reflecting on the tragedies of this past week, we must ask ourselves – has antisemitism found its new face?