Hamas’s barbaric attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7, 2023 have prompted a spike in anti-Israel activism all over the United States, including on American college campuses and at governmental settings, including the United States Capitol and local councils (including in Bergen County, where I live).
These activists appear to have a mix of motivations. Some are emboldened by Hamas’s actions. Others are shocked that Hamas’s actions have prompted such international outrage and desperately want to do “damage control” and “prevent any pro-Israel gain”.
We’ve seen these activists adopt several tactics. First, in terms of messaging, they have sought to either: (a) overtly justify Hamas’s attack, (b) downplay the singular nature of the attack and/or (c) subtly justify the attack as “complicated” or “part of a cycle of violence”. Second, in governmental settings, these activists have sought to prevent, delay or dilute official expressions of sympathy and solidarity for Israel and the Jewish community by portraying such expressions as “divisive,” “unnecessary” or even “Islamophobic.”
Below are arguments that these activists have commonly made together with suggested responses. Our community should continue to engage them with eloquence, pride and without fear. Am Yisrael Chai.
- This is a complicated issue. We should avoid getting involved.
Answer: The intentional, targeted and televised slaughter of innocent civilians is not complicated at all. It should be condemned by everyone. Suggesting Hamas’s barbarism is somehow “complicated” (translation: justifiable) only reinforces the need for moral clarity.
- We are a diverse community. Taking a stance on this issue would be divisive.
Answer: It is not divisive to condemn the intentional killing of innocent civilians. What is divisive, and morally repugnant, is suggesting such slaughter is “complicated” or “justified”. What happened on October 7th should horrify all people of good conscience and condemning it should unite us rather than divide us.
- Condemning Hamas’s actions is anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim.
Answer: It is shocking to suggest that condemning crimes against humanity is somehow anti-Palestinian or anti-Muslim. The only individuals suggesting such despicable acts are somehow “Palestinian” and “Muslim” are, ironically, pro-Hamas protestors seeking to defend them.
- We love our neighbors. Condemnation will undermine our communities’ peaceful coexistence.
Answer: We cannot “love” or “coexist” with people who think that it is ok to intentionally murder innocent Jews, and there is nothing wrong with asking our self-professed “friends” where they stand.
- There are two sides to this issue.
Answer: There are—those who support killing innocent civilians and who oppose it. Humanity opposes such actions. Hamas, ISIS and the Nazis support them.
- We cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so what point is there in condemning Hamas.
Answer: We reinforce our shared humanity by calling out evil and that is something we each must do. Dr. King once said that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The killings in Israel are a challenge to our shared humanity—just like the Christchurch killings and the killing of George Floyd—and requires all people of good conscience to speak out.
- There is context to what took place.
Answer: Are you suggesting that the intentional and barbaric slaughter of innocent civilians is justified? It is never justified. Those who attempt to put crimes against humanity “in context” are attempting to dull humanity’s rightful horror at such atrocities and prevent us from fulfilling our moral responsibility to condemn them.
- Gaza is under Israeli occupation.
Answer: Gaza is occupied by Hamas, not Israel. In the summer of 2005, Israel unilaterally dismantled 21 Israeli settlements and withdrew its troops and civilians from the Gaza strip. A few months later, in January 2006, Gazans elected Hamas to govern the strip and Hamas has controlled the strip since then. Israeli ground forces rarely enter the strip, which is why an Israeli ground invasion (you cannot “invade” a place you currently occupy) is such a big deal.
- Israel has blockaded Gaza and turned it into an Open-Air Prison.
Answer: Israel has not and, indeed, could not itself blockade Gaza. Gaza shares a border with Egypt. And the proliferation of rockets and drones launched by Hamas at Israeli cities undercuts the argument that Gaza is somehow “hermetically sealed” and a “prison”. Clearly it is not.
- Israel is committing Genocide against Gazans.
- Many innocent Palestinian civilians, including many children, have been killed.
Answer: Palestinian casualty figures, which are reported by Hamas-controlled agencies, should be taken with a grain of salt (are the numbers verifiable, are they civilians or militants?) given Hamas’s track record of exaggerating and/or falsifying information.
That said, there is little question that Palestinian civilians are being killed in Gaza, and their deaths are tragic. But the responsibility for those deaths lies with Hamas. No Gazans would have died if Hamas kept peace. No Gazans would have died if Hamas stopped using Gazans as human shields and firing rockets from civilian areas. And no Gazans would have died if Hamas’s fighters worn uniforms instead of hiding among civilians like cowards.
- Israel kills civilians, just like Hamas.
Answer: That is false and ignores several fundamental things:
- Intent to kill. Intentionally targeting civilians is not the same as accidentally killing civilians. When Israel kills civilians, it expresses regret. When Hamas terrorists kill civilians, they celebrate.
- Intent to die. Whereas Israel seeks to protect its civilians from harm, Hamas does the opposite. Hamas uses their own civilians as human shields—by operating in heavily civilian areas and seeking to blend into the civilian population—in a cynical attempt to bring international pressure on Israel. Hamas’s use of human shields (which includes blending into the civilian population) is itself telling. Using human shields is predicated on the assumption that one’s opponent wants to avoid harming civilians. If Israel wanted to harm civilians, it would be pointless for Hamas to use human shields. Clearly, Hamas understands that Israel does not want to harm civilians.
- Cause and Effect. None of the deaths in Gaza would have occurred if Hamas never launched their barbaric and entirely unprovoked terror attack on Israel, and incidents like this should demonstrate that the greatest threat to Gazans is Hamas’s recklessness and barbarity.
13. Israel is acting recklessly.
Answer: Hardly. Israel has extraordinarily powerful munitions and is operating in the most densely-populated area on earth. If Israel wanted to kill thousands of innocent civilians, they could easily. It takes extraordinary effort to minimize civilian casualties in such an area, and Israel is clearly undertaking such efforts. It is telling, that after more than two weeks of intense fighting in such a densely populated area, after Israel has dropped thousands of bombs, the death count in so relatively low.
More fundamentally, civilian casualties are entirely within Hamas’s control and Hamas has the singular ability to mitigate them immediately and entirely. If Hamas wore uniforms and stopped operating from civilian areas—as Israeli soldiers do (they have uniforms and bases)—there would be virtually no civilian casualties in Gaza.
- Israel needs to operate with restraint.
Answer: What does “restraint” mean? Did Hamas show “restraint” on October 7th? Would Hamas show “restraint” if given the opportunity to strike at Israeli civilians again?
Every sovereign state has a fundamental obligation to protect its citizens from the type of barbarity Israel witnessed on October 7th, and restraint cannot come at the cost of it fulfilling that obligation. Otherwise, “restraint” simply means sacrificing one’s own citizens to protect another state’s citizens. No sovereign state has the right to do that—doing that would be a failure of government at its most basic level.
Israel needs to do what is necessary to protect its citizens from Hamas with as much precision and as little collateral damage as possible. That is “restraint”—and it is exactly what Israel is doing.
- Israel’s response is disproportionate.
Answer: Israel’s response—seeking Hamas’s eradication—is proportional to the threat. Hamas’s threat to Israeli and Palestinian civilians can only be neutralized with Hamas’s eradication.
- Israel could do more to avoid civilian casualties.
Answer: Perfection is good’s greatest enemy and, in the absence of specific ideas, “Israel could do better” is a cheap, lazy and meaningless argument. What exactly could Israel “do better”?
- Not react. Not an option. Israel did nothing and Hamas attacked it.
- Avoid civilian casualties. Israel is doing that (see arguments above).
17. So many more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed.
Answer: Losers of armed conflicts tend to suffer greater casualties than their winners. That imbalance does not undercut the winner’s moral justification. Almost 420,000 Americans were killed In World War II and German and Japanese deaths were as high as 8.8 million and 3.1 million respectively. Would one argue the United States was an “aggressor” or that the Nazis’ high casualties made the Nazis less guilty or “oppressed.” Of course not.
More fundamentally, the responsibility for civilian deaths lies with Hamas, whose cruelty has brought death not only to Israel but to its own people.
- Shouldn’t Israel show mercy?
Answer: Decisively acting against Hamas is the most merciful thing Israel could do. Maimonides wrote that “Compassion towards the wicked is cruelty to all beings.” And it is. Like the Islamic State, Hamas is a danger not only to Israeli civilians, but to Palestinian civilians and to the entire free world. Eradicating Hamas is not only Israel’s right, but its moral imperative.
- Isn’t the solution to all of this is a Palestinian state?
Answer: Not necessarily. Statehood is a privilege rather than an entitlement. It comes with certain responsibilities. Not every group that demands a state deserves one. We would not grant statehood to the Islamic State because such a radical group cannot live up to the responsibilities of statehood and would simply weaponize the benefits of statehood to cause harm. Would a Palestinian state be any different? Gaza is a cautionary tale that should make the world question whether Palestinian statehood is right at this time (if at all).
- Sovereign states should be self-sustaining. Gaza is entirely dependent on foreign aid, and attempts to make it self-sustaining have failed. When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Israel left intact hot houses and other agricultural tools in the hope that Palestinians would use them to build an economy. They destroyed them.
- Sovereign states should be able to responsibly self-govern. Gaza’s citizens were given the opportunity to self-govern when Israel withdrew in 2005. They elected Hamas.
- Sovereign states should not use weaponize their autonomy to threaten other states. Gazans used their autonomy to procure arms that could better threaten Israeli civilians.
- Granting statehood should be a net positive. Has granting Gazans autonomy made things better? Are Gazans better or worse off today than they were when Israel withdrew?