Jeffrey L. Rubenstein

Nicholas Kristof Is a Danger to Israel and to the Jewish People

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Nicholas Kristof continues his New York Times columns attacking Israel on Feb. 3 with a piece entitled “We Can’t Justify Such Suffering” and featuring in large, bold lettering the words, “There’s No Excuse for the Scope of Death in Gaza” (so the print edition of the NYT; the online title differs slightly.) This column even exceeds his previous one-sided and biased NYT “Opinion” pieces of Jan 26, Jan. 13, Dec. 7 and more. In all these columns Kristof pays lip service to the fact that Hamas attacked Israel, started the war, committed atrocities against civilians, and violates the Geneva convention, while condemning the Israel Defense Forces in multiple ways.

Here Kristof describes in vivid and heart-wrenching detail the suffering of several Palestinian children injured in IDF bomb strikes or operations. An army that does this, his readers are to understand, is unethical and barbaric.

So let’s first explain to Kristof what can “justify such suffering” and why there is such “scope of death in Gaza.” It is because nothing less than the survival of the State of Israel is at stake.

If Israel calls off the war, as Kristof wants, then Hamas will remain intact and make another such attack sooner or later. They have told the world clearly that they stand for the genocide of all Israelis and Jews, they state it explicitly in their charter, and they have demonstrated that they will carry it out when afforded the opportunity. Three weeks after the massacre a Hamas official, Ghazi Hamad, promised “there will be a second, a third, a fourth” October 7 until Israel is exterminated. On November 8 a Hamas leader stated the goal of the massacre was to bring permanent war. Meanwhile, their ability to send rockets over much of Israel—soon over all Israel as rocket technology inevitably improves—means that no Israeli ever will be safe anywhere in Israel. It means that no Israeli can sleep through the night. It means many Israelis cannot go to school or work because there are not adequate bomb shelters to run to when rockets fly. Even now close to 100,000 Israelis have been forced to abandon their homes due to rocket fire. No state can exist under such conditions. To call for Israel to desist the Gazan campaign essentially entails Israel’s destruction. That, Kristof should understand, is why the war—initiated by Hamas—is necessary and justified despite the tragic suffering of Palestinians.

Kristof, in this column, offers no solution to the Gazan war or Hamas’s genocidal aspirations. In other columns the best he has to offer is “international pressure.” But international pressure will do nothing to dismantle Hamas, cease the rocket fire or return the hostages. No amount of pressure forced Hamas to return Gilad Shalit, held captive for over five years, until Israel traded over 1000 prisoners. Do the math with over 100 hostages. Until Kristof can suggest a better solution to the war started by Hamas, he should desist his attacks on Israel.

Remarkably, Kristof’s column makes no mention of the hostages at all. That is pretty much tantamount to condemning America’s bombing of the Taliban without mentioning 9-11. Much of the damage in Gaza is due to Israel’s legitimate goal of freeing its citizens. But Kristof apparently does not care much about Israel’s citizens, so he somehow fails to mention this crucial datum. Nor, apparently, does he understand that no country can sit back and allow its citizens to be brutalized, raped and tortured, as could very well be happening to the hostages. That would also destroy the State of Israel by destroying its soul and moral compass.

Kristof does not offer the same vivid detail and description of the suffering of Israelis in the Hamas atrocities—the fact that Hamas burned families alive, killed infants and children, raped and brutalized women, and kidnapped babies. Kristof does not want any sympathy for Israeli or Jewish suffering that would be aroused by similar depictions that give the names and ages and particulars of their lives as he does for Palestinians. Nor does he mention that Hamas deliberately attacked civilians whereas the Gazan deaths are collateral damage and unintended consequences. Somehow this fundamental distinction between barbarous terrorism opposed to the tragic impact that wars always cause to the civilian population is lost on Kristof.

Kristof’s column is full of other misrepresentations and biases. Kristof claims that “Israel, traumatized by the attack it suffered, elected to retaliate with 2000-pound bombs.” Israel was traumatized by the attack, but the reason Israel dropped 2000-pound bombs, also known as “bunker-buster” bombs, is not due to trauma but because….Hamas fights from underground bunkers. The bombs are used for the legitimate military purpose for which they were designed, to bust the bunkers. Kristof would rather blame Israel than Hamas for the Gazan deaths, so he conveniently omits this fact.

Kristof draws a specious distinction between Hamas and Gazans: “This does not feel like a war on Hamas but rather a war on Gazans.” As any right-thinking person understands, it is a war on Hamas who have embedded themselves among Gazans—in schools, mosques, apartments, refugee camps, and elsewhere. In addition, war will always impact the population because the government controls the army and here Hamas is the government and army. America and its allies were fighting the Nazis and not the German people, the Taliban and not the people of Afghanistan, ISIS and not the people of Iraq, yet thousands of German, Afghani and Iraqi civilians died in these conflicts. Does Kristof think these wars were illegitimate? Moreover, the Gazans democratically elected Hamas, some portion of the Gazan population still supports Hamas, and some Gazans followed Hamas into the Israeli communities and participated in the atrocities—other facts that Kristof fails to mention.

Kristof disingenuously characterizes Israel’s bombing of Gazan as “indiscriminate,” sneakily trying to avoid the appearance that it is his view by attributing it to Biden: “My government is on the side engaged in what President Biden has referred to as ‘indiscriminate bombing.’” Kristof fails to provide the full context of Biden’s remarks, made on December 12, namely a warning that Israel will lose international support by indiscriminate bombing. Kristof makes it seem as if Israel has a longstanding policy of indiscriminate bombing. This is an outrageous calumny considering the efforts Israel takes to warn civilians to leave military zones and to only target strategic military sites—many of which Hamas has placed in civilian areas. This is of course why bombing sometimes targets apartments or residences, as is permitted by international rules of war. If Israel were indiscriminately bombing Gazans, the death toll would be far higher and the destruction far worse.

Kristof is thus fanning the flames of Anti-Zionism and antisemitism by writing such one-sided columns that portray the IDF as cruel perpetrators of a war that causes horrible suffering to Gazan children. As a public intellectual and (so-called) “moralist,” he must understand that the demonizing of Israel contributes to worldwide antisemitism—and we should call Kristof to account. All good people suffer for every Palestinian death and injury, for every child harmed in the conflict. But biased columns will not help end the conflict or help the Gazan people.

If Kristof wants to end the suffering of Gazans, he should write columns that call on Hamas to release the hostages and renounce their genocidal aspirations—those steps could readily lead to a cease fire. Or columns that set forth a solution to the conflict that allows Israelis to live securely without a genocidal enemy on the border. If Kristof wants to be part of the solution, not a contributor to the problem, he should write more constructive Opinion pieces for the NYT rather than constantly rehashing his distorted criticisms of Israel and its army and charging Americans with “complicity” for standing with Israel against a genocidal terrorist organization that is the true cause of all this suffering.

About the Author
Jeffrey L. Rubenstein is a Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Literature in the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies of New York University. His books include, "Talmudic Stories: Narrative Art, Composition and Culture" (1999) and "The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud," (2003)
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