In 2011, my then 10-year-old son Jonah and I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.
The two-story room with the wall of photos brought tears to my eyes. Hundreds of family pictures and portraits from a small Lithuanian town that was home to 4,000 Jews for nine centuries. These people looked like my relatives. A young man in his thirties looked just like my uncle at that age, a 15-year-old kid looked like Jonah in five years, a Hassidic man almost exactly resembled my cousin who is a rabbi in Rego Park, Queens, and so on. The Nazis killed every single Jew in that town, in two days. Nine centuries of history and tradition were wiped from the face of the Earth in just two days!
Jewish history is littered with senseless and gut-wrenching pogroms (massacres) like this. For centuries Jews were killed for no other reason than they were Jews, had their own different religion, and their own different customs and traditions. In a sense, the Nazis simply continued the long history of pogroms, though on vastly larger, industrial scale.
After World War II, a miracle happened – the Jews got their own state. Unfortunately, it was in a hostile neighborhood. Israel, a tiny nation of musicians and scientists who have given so much to this world, was surrounded by twenty Arab countries, which normally could not stand each other but which could finally agree on something – they wanted Israel gone, for no other reason than that they hated Jews.
Jews, now Israelis, had to put down their violins and pens and learn how to defend their country from its neighbors, who attacked it on the day it was born and have kept trying to erase it from the map since. “Jews”, as Golda Meir said, “had a secret weapon: They had nowhere to go.” Against the odds, each time Israel was attacked (and it was never the attacker), it prevailed.
When I left the Holocaust Museum, I felt incredible sadness but also relief. Relief that that my kids and future generations would never have to experience anything like this again. Yes, the words never again have a special meaning to Jews. Never again are we going to be weak and to be slaughtered because we are different.
But then came October 7th. Hamas, with sadistic creativity that made the Nazis look like amateurs, in just a few hours slaughtered 1,500 Jewish civilians. The Nazis tried hard to hide their atrocities. Not Hamas; jihadists celebrated theirs, live-streaming their sadism for the world to see. If only they loved life as much as they loved death, and had used their creativity to bring light instead of darkness, Gaza would have been another gem in the Middle East.
In chess, there is a concept called a “forced move,” where a king, when in check (attacked by an opponent’s piece), is left with no alternative moves and is forced to make a single, predictable move.
The brutality of this massacre by Hamas forced Israel to move. Hamas knew Israel would have no choice but to invade Gaza (which Israel had previously vacated in 2005) to rid it of Hamas. The problem with forced moves is that they are the worst and only moves. Israeli parents did not want to send their sons and daughters to die in Gaza, but the words never again are forever fresh in their minds, and memories of the Holocaust are still a deep, aching pain in their hearts.
Pause and think: The United States lost 2,996 people in the 9/11 terrorist attack. We scorched the earth to destroy Al Qaeda. Israel’s population is only 9.3 million people. The 1,500 casualties Israel suffered would be equivalent to 45,000 people in the US. Can you imagine the response if the US lost 45,000 people in a terrorist attack?
Can you imagine what the US response would be if Mexico had kept launching rockets into Texas, Arizona, and California for over a decade? The Mexicans would already be speaking only English and hamburgers would be their staple food. But this is the reality Israel faces year after year after year. It’s why most Israeli houses have bomb shelters. They have been heavily used over the past month, as Hamas and Hezbollah have barraged Israel with more than 8,000 rockets since October 7. The unceasing rocket attacks alone belie Hamas’ calls for a cease fire.
Hamas knew that Israel, as any other nation that must protect its citizens, would respond to assure nothing like this could ever happen again. “Let’s have peace” (a ceasefire) or a “proportionate” response would not be on their minds.
Then there is the issue of the Palestinians.
Hamas, the elected government of Gaza, cares even less about the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip than it cares about the lives of the terrorists in its army. One of the Hamas commanders was asked why they didn’t let the Palestinian populace hide in their tunnels. He answered that it was the responsibility of the UN to take care of the Palestinians. Hamas has taken two million Palestinians and 244 Jews as hostages.
This is why they are launching missiles at Israel from hospitals and schools and hiding in tunnels. They are restricting fuel to their own hospitals, which are running on generators. They are stealing humanitarian funds from their own people and have shot those who tried to flee from the war zone to the south of Gaza.
Today Israel is fighting two wars, against Islamic jihadists and public opinion. One war it will win while paying a high price in casualties; the other one it is losing.
Israel, the only real democracy in the Middle East, values all life and goes out of its way to avoid harming innocent civilians. However, it is at war with an enemy that welcomes death and uses Palestinian citizens as human shields. This is Hamas’ intention: It is willing to lose the battle over Gaza to turn Western allies and potential Israeli friends (such as Saudi Arabia) against Israel.
Hamas is fine with putting Palestinian lives in the line of fire from the Israeli Defense Forces. The lives of Palestinians, in their minds, are no price to pay to destroy Israel. If Hamas would put down their weapons, there would be peace. If Israel puts down their weapons, there would be no Israel.
Hamas is playing up to a weak, self-doubting Western world, turning us into useful idiots. The West has been conditioned to think of itself as oppressors, especially if someone has a darker skin color. The West’s collective guilt from centuries of colonial past is there for Hamas to exploit. We lose objectivity and the ability to reason. If we were to look at a chess board, we’d automatically assume that the white pieces were at fault.
It is shocking to see Al Qaeda and ISIS flags at these demonstrations in Europe, on the same streets where these terrorists killed and injured thousands of Europeans over the last twenty years in shootings and suicide bombings. Europeans have already forgotten the attacks in Madrid in 2004 (191 killed), two attacks in London in 2005 (52 killed), the attack in Brussels in 2016 (32 killed), and many others (the list is long). And what about the thousands killed by Al Qaeda on 9/11?
There is no difference (none!) between the flags of Al Qaeda and ISIS and the Nazi swastika, except that the Nazi banner was raised by light-skinned Germans and Islamic jihadists flags are paraded by darker-skinned terrorizers.
Our “colonial” guilty conscience is willing to overlook the atrocities committed by Al Qaeda and ISIS followers and the values they represent. Yes, values matter. We forget, or are unwilling to assert, that our Western values are better than theirs because they represent enlightenment – liberty, democracy, equality, freedom of speech, due process. I am not apologetic about it – yes, they are better. Not all values are created equal.
The jihadists are winning the hearts and minds of university students.
University campuses are becoming cradles of antisemitism. Jewish students are being bullied and threatened. Even before the bodies of 1500 slaughtered Jews had time to cool, instead of condemning terror, students jumped into anti-Israeli demonstrations. Several dozen Ivy League school clubs signed a letter blaming Israel for the massacre.
Again, just pause and think about it. I keep coming back to 9/11, but imagine if US students went out onto the streets with Al Qaeda flags and Ivy League organizations signed letters in support of Saudi Arabia (or Iran). Just realize how absurd this is.
In their demonstrations, students are chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. I have a suspicion that most of them don’t understand what this slogan really means. Israel is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and thus there would be no Israel and no Jews. They are basically chanting “Death to Israel.”
What is even more incredible is that the university administrations, instead of assuring their campuses are places where students’ views are challenged (this is how we grow) and ideas are debated, has turned them into “safe places” where opposing ideas or use of a wrong pronoun are treated as acts of violence. Yes, these are the same universities that are afraid that culturally appropriated Halloween costumes will offend their students. These universities have a surprisingly high tolerance for antisemitism and hate speech that incites violence towards Jewish students. These universities are normalizing antisemitism.
I experienced antisemitism in the Soviet Union when I was a cadet in college. It was always normalized from the top. A joke from my commanding officer, in front of other cadets, about my Jewish roots was like a starting pistol for other cadets in the college to make fun of my heritage, and it led to perpetual bullying. Yes, this is what antisemitism feels like – perpetual bullying by one’s society. It gets worse. After a while, you get a feeling that you belong to a lower caste than everyone else and have an inexplicable feeling of guilt for… I’m still not sure for what.
A university administration struggling with its colonialist past should just try to imagine that its Jewish students have dark skin and treat antisemitism with the same vigor as they would treat any other form of racism. They shouldn’t have a special “endangered group” list like Harvard University, where the diversity and equality office protects only people of color, women, and LGBTQ+. Instead, they should protect and defend all students – regardless of religion, skin color, or sexual orientation – from racism and discrimination. All students matter!
A poem by German pastor Martin Niemoller, on the wall at the end of the exhibit at the Holocaust Museum, has always stuck with me:
First they came for the communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a communist
Then they came for the socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
I am shocked that I even have to say this: Don’t be fooled; the version of Islam propagated by the jihadists of Hamas and ISIS is not a peaceful religion. It promotes a dystopia of hatred and intolerance that wants you to either join it or be beheaded or burned in the ovens.
First, they’ll come after the only light of freedom in the darkness of the Middle East, but they won’t stop there. They think their values are superior to ours. They will want the rest of the Western “infidels” to bend the knee, too. Jews are their first stop but not their final solution.
If you are standing still when they come for the Jews, remember the words of the pastor:
“And there was no one left to speak out for me.”