Ari R. Hoffman
Law, Literature, and Jewish ideas

Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Split Screen of Jewish History

Monday, May 14 will go down as a watershed day in the history of Israel, and of the Jewish people. For the former, it represents a triumph on two distinct fronts. First, for a country that is subject to boycott, discrimination, and incessant and egregious unequal treatment at the United Nations and in other international fora, the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem constitutes a small measure of vindication. Three millennia of Jewish connection to Jerusalem, at the very least, should yield the right to have a capital recognized by others, a right accorded to every other country in the world. Those who would deny the Jewish state’s right to name some part of Jerusalem as its capital clearly state their belief that there should be no such state. One can imagine that those Jews who mourned Jerusalem rather than celebrated its recognition would have fretted over the effect on the Spanish labor market after the Inquisition in 1492. Wouldn’t it be easier, they seem to ask, if we just weren’t here at all?

For the Jewish people, May 14, 2018 will mark a watershed in the undoing of a notion of common peoplehood between Israel and a large section of American Jewry. In a telling irony, it was not over the disposition of the West Bank that this split occurred, nor over the fraught questions of religious pluralism or Jewish conversion. Let the record show that what wide swaths of American Jews could not abide was the sight of Jews defending themselves, along borders within the Green Line, against a hostile attack from a territory out of which every last Jewish man, woman, child, and soldier had been evacuated. Those who advocate territorial withdrawal often promise that this will convey a further sheen of legitimacy to Israel’s efforts to defend itself. These borders, they claim, will be recognized, and attempts to breach them will be seen as acts of war. It is the occupation, we are reminded, that generates hostility towards Israel. The response to the violence out of Gaza puts the lie to those claims.

The protests at the border were violent. They were planned, funded, and fueled by Hamas, with Iranian backing. The aim was to penetrate Israel and do significant violence. They involved an attempt to breach a border by 50,000 members of an armed and hostile population. Every Israeli soldier who fired a gun stood on territory inside the Green Line. A Jewish foot has not set foot in Gaza in 13 years. And still, the Jewish State stands accused, as if there is a corruption in self-defense. Those who do not stand with Israel’s right to defend a legitimate border will have no right to demand that the country contract its borders in a future peace agreement.

There is no joy in Israel about what is happening in Gaza, and no exultation among the soldiers tasked with defending a tiny country, and the minuscule Jewish minority in the Middle East, from an armed incursion. But the days when Jews were be terrified by armed mobs wielding knives and promising death have come to an end. And that is something worth celebrating.

About the Author
Ari holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Harvard University, and is a J.D. candidate at Stanford Law School. His first book, This Year in Jerusalem: The Israel Novel and Why it Matters, is forthcoming from S.U.N.Y. Press.