Bruce Ginsburg

On American Jewish hand-wringing over Gaza

Following are excerpts from a WhatsApp message I received from a family member (let’s call her “Miriam Cohen”) who resides in the United States:

“Please explain to me how obliterating Gaza helps Israel.  If we are horrified by what Hamas did to us, we must be horrified at what we are now doing to hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Gaza.  Israel just made 300,000 people homeless, killed I don’t even know how many thousands of people, the hospitals can’t function without water and electricity.  These are war crimes.  How does this make us better than the Hamas terrorists?  I feel less safe in the US, in my own community, because of these actions.  I have to face my non-Jewish coworkers tomorrow knowing that my people are now committing these atrocities on another population.  One million people need to evacuate in 24 hours.  Where are they supposed to go??  I am sick to my stomach.  I can’t even bear to face my neighbors, my coworkers.  Please explain how this helps Israel, how it helps Jews around the world.”

Here is my response, sent from Israel to which my wife, Rachel, and I immigrated over a year ago:

“For Rachel and me, recognizing the divine image in all human beings is axiomatic.  That recognition has been repeatedly expressed in our decades of activity in Long Island’s interfaith/interethnic human rights community and in the values we taught our children.

“As an extension of that consciousness, we also recognize when the divine image has been desecrated, as it was last week when Hamas launched an indefensible blood orgy throughout the State of Israel.  I needn’t remind you of the stomach-turning details.  Kohelet taught us a profoundly sad and inconvenient truth: just as there is a time for peace, there is a time for war (Ecclesiastes 3:8).  Unfortunately, especially for those who live in our region of the world, this is a time for war.

“Let me spare you the century-old history of numerous Jewish/Israeli attempts to achieve peace and prosperity with the Palestinians.  I trust you are well familiar with it.  As you will recall, Golda Meir once said of the Palestinians, “They’ve never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  That’s not just a sardonic observation without practical consequences.  Every time the Palestinians have chosen to miss an opportunity, it has cost Jewish lives.  We will not forever sacrifice Jewish lives by affording the Palestinians additional opportunities they will choose to miss.

“What is true of the Palestinians as a whole is most certainly true of the Gazan subset.  In 2005, Ariel Sharon gave them an opportunity to demonstrate that, in light of the full Israeli withdrawal, they had the chance to show the world they could build a state that would live in happy partnership with Israel.  He called the initiative “Gaza First” – meaning that if the results of the experiment were favorable, he would apply the same approach to Judea and Samaria.  But instead of choosing to build their own state, the Gazans chose to destroy the Jewish one.  In the years since then, Israel has repeatedly tried to arrive at some accommodation, even with Hamas.  But all such efforts were in vain, culminating in this past week’s atrocities.

“Albert Einstein, who knew something about scientific experimentation, once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Israel has emerged from its well-intentioned insanity.  Its citizens – right, left, and center; religious and secular; Ashkenazic and Sephardic – have, however belatedly, arrived at a consensus.  This time, they do not plan to simply clip Hamas’s wings and await another bloodbath two years hence.  They are intent upon destroying Hamas once and for all.

“Yes, the Jewish State has reluctantly concluded that it must treat its bloodthirsty adversary as the enemy it is – without apology.  Eighty years ago, America and its allies rightly defined Germany, Japan, and Italy as mortal enemies of human civilization.  The Free World’s leaders at the time instinctively understood the ancient rabbinic maxim that those who are kind to the cruel are ultimately cruel to the kind.  Toward the end of that global conflict, faced with a range of unpalatable military choices, they even viewed the civilian populations of Dresden (25,000 dead), Hamburg (37,000 dead), Hiroshima and Nagasaki (up to 226,000 dead combined) as legitimate war targets.  It is easy to second-guess those extreme choices from the safe distance of 80 years.  But the Allies’ readiness to vanquish their adversaries at virtually any cost is what finally emboldened Italians to lynch Mussolini, the Emperor to surrender unconditionally, and the Fuehrer to put a bullet through his own head.  These are all exceedingly grim historic facts.  But on a forward-looking note, the Allies’ unambiguous, non-negotiable victory is what opened the way to five generations of Americans, Germans, Italians, Japanese, and the rest of the Free World enjoying only friendship, cooperation, progress, and prosperity with each other.  As much as it breaks the heart, it took all out war to win a sustainable peace.

“Tragically, there will be rough days ahead in Gaza.  That is not what Israel wants, but the Jewish State will not be cruel to the kind by being kind to the cruel.  Rest assured, Israel will not opt for the magnitude of the measures chosen by Roosevelt and Truman.  However, they will take a cue or two from World War II America on effectively waging a war in pursuit of a sustainable peace.  Given history and the current circumstances, this is not a time to second-guess the actions the Israelis will take.  It is a time for all friends of Israel to cast away delusions – a time for their rock-solid support.

“Given his recent statements, President Biden seems to fully understand this.  He is prepared, at the moment, to let Israel do the right thing and eradicate Hamas.  But his resolve might weaken as disconcerting images from Gaza shift public opinion.  This is precisely what Hamas was counting on from Day One.  In order to scuttle normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel – and the promise of an ever-widening circle of peace throughout the Middle East – Hamas embarked on a deliberate, cold-blooded strategy of necessitating an Israeli response that would be condemned by a world too far removed from World War II to remember its lessons.  Don’t be suckered by that strategy.

“This war will not be pretty or easy.  No war is.  Please remember that part of the Allies’ victory for all humanity was the overwhelming support they received from those who remained stateside.  The American home-front not only prayed for the safe return of its soldiers, but for their victorious return – wresting unconditional surrender from the world’s enemies to open the path of peace for all mankind.  In an earlier text message, Miriam, you wrote with pride of a community gathering that had been organized by progressive Jews on behalf of the Israeli hostages in Gaza.  In my view, such a gathering is good.  But it is not good enough.  Over the millennia, there have been an excess of crocodile tears shed for suffering Jews.  Right now, we need rallies explicitly declaring the necessity of wiping out Hamas and cheering the Israeli soldiers who are risking their own lives in pursuit of that objective, so that responsible Arab actors in the region will have the confidence to step forward and sign peace agreements with the Jewish State.

“I am under no illusion as to how quickly that will happen.  In fact, let me offer a reality check on the actual number of “peace loving” peoples in this region.  First, note that on Saturday, October 7, before Israel undertook any military response to Hamas’ depravity – at a time when the whole world knew about the music festival killing fields and the kidnappings of children and the frail elderly (because Hamas proudly distributed video footage of such) – not a single Arab country condemned the barbarity, nor did a single influential Islamic authority declare the atrocities war crimes according to Islamic law.  And they haven’t since.  They should have been mortified by the behavior of their brethren and co-religionists.  They were not.  Nor were their counterparts throughout the world – including those who signed anti-Israel letters and demonstrated on American Ivy League campuses against the Jewish State.  All too many rationalized or even celebrated the barbarity, recasting it as a form of heroism.

“Then there are the Palestinians themselves.  What happened this past weekend was not an aberration.  It was of one piece with their terrorist history: slaughtering school children in Maalot, taking the Israeli athletic team hostage in the Munich Olympic “Peace” Village, tossing wheel-chair bound Leon Klinghoffer overboard the Achille Lauro, etc., etc. and turning the perpetrators into national heroes – all before Hamas was founded in 1987.   It should come as no surprise that in poll after poll, Hamas has done very well among the entire Palestinian population – not only among those living in Gaza (64%), but among those in Judea and Samaria (58%).   Needless to say, the rest of their respective populations are hardly pro-peace.  Rather, they spread their loyalties among Islamic Jihad, Fatah, and other Jew-hating political parties.  Moreover, as indicated by the polls, the younger the Palestinians, the more radical their views.  Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians are complicit in both regimes’ perverse crimes.  Though some Palestinians might be better than the state-trained and dispatched butchers who overran southern Israel just over a week ago, most have wanted the leadership they’ve got, celebrated and funded the terrorists they’ve raised, and embraced the ideology that drives them.  Accordingly, they are suffering the consequences of their own choices for themselves and their children.  They are not innocent.

“As to where this complicit population should go, let’s remember that when – for no defensible reason – the Arab states of the region expelled their millennia-old Jewish populations in the late 1940’s and ‘50’s, the cash-strapped, fledgling Jewish state welcomed their 800,000 refugee Jewish brethren.  The much better situated Arab world – with its vast territories, natural resources, and indescribable wealth – could do the same for its own.  Do you know why they don’t and why Hamas deliberately chose this strategy?  Because they knew that only Miriam Cohen and Bruce Ginsburg would stay up at night worrying about it.  That is our nature as Jews.  And I take pride in it.  But that strength is also our weakness.  The worst threat now – not only to Israel’s existence and the potential for world peace – might well be the hand-wringing and adoption of moral equivalence as an “ethic” among progressive American Jews.  Such self-flattering Jewish responses might well weaken the crucial moral resolve of our non-Jewish friends.

“Miriam, we need your support and, for the sake of American Jewry, you need to provide it.  If Israel doesn’t emerge from this war as the undisputed victor – prompting the Arab world to abandon its eschatological fantasies and start working toward a sustainable peace – American Jews are going to have a lot more to worry about than how they explain the Jewish State’s conduct to their colleagues and neighbors.  If for whatever reason, you feel awkward explaining Israel’s position to your associates, show them this response to your inquiry.  If they don’t weigh what I’ve written seriously and with open minds – believe me, they are not your friends.

“I conclude where I began: May all those created in God’s image unite in defeating wanton cruelty, so that together we can live in fellowship and peace!”

Bruce Ginsburg

About the Author
Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere, NY. A product of Boston University, New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, he holds a doctorate in Hebrew literature. Known for his decades-old activism on behalf of Israel, Soviet Jewry, and intra/interfaith cooperation, he has served both as president of the Long Island Board of Rabbis and as president of the Union for Traditional Judaism. His essays have appeared in Newsday, the Christian Science Monitor, the Jerusalem Report, and other publications. He and his wife, Rachel, moved to Israel in the summer of 2022.