A few days ago, as we were all struggling to regain our equilibrium following the horrific carnage in Paris, an item appeared on Facebook that caught my eye and made me think. It was a simple graphic that read as follows: Paris, 13/11; New York, 11/9; Israel, 24/7.
Up to that point, I hadn’t drawn any kind of comparison between Israel’s chronic problem with terrorism and the ISIS attacks on Paris. After all, not everything is about Israel, and Paris’ pain was more than worthy of standing on its own. It needed no comparisons to be valid. But nonetheless, that Facebook posting caught me off guard. What is the line that might be drawn from Paris to Jerusalem?
Ever since ISIS-inspired terrorists plunged Paris into a hellish bloodbath last week, the western world has struggled to find an appropriate response. Clearly, all of us have recoiled in horror from images that needed no commentary to be understood. Revulsion, fear, and, ultimately resolve, have characterized the near universal stages of our reactions. As citizens of the free world, we are at one with the people of Paris in our unshakable conviction that the ISIS threat must be met, and, ultimately, defeated. The free world cannot long endure if such horrors are allowed to become the “new normal.”
The more important question that must be addressed, however, is not what we as individuals are thinking, but rather what the nations of the Western world are thinking right now. What conclusions are they coming to a week after the horror?
With France having described the ISIS attacks last week as an “act of war,” French fighter jets aggressively pounding ISIS targets in Iraq, and Russia and the United States lending support, it appears that, ever so slowly, the nations of the West are coming to the unavoidable conclusion that ISIS must be defeated, and not merely contained. It is tempting to ask why it has taken them quite so long to come to this enlightened realization, but that is unlikely to yield any kind of satisfying answer. We can only hope that lame talk about “containing ISIS” will yield to more definitive and enduring action.
As I contemplated the West’s emerging campaign against ISIS, I slowly began to realize why that Facebook posting had made me think.
It is certainly true that ISIS has been a thorn in the side of the civilized world since its inception, and has displayed an almost incomprehensible cruelty with its kidnappings and beheadings. All of this has been ramped up in the last few weeks, with the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai, and the coordinated attacks in Paris. ISIS is clearly an irredeemably evil organization that will only continue, if not checked, to torment the West, in increasingly bloody ways. It richly deserves to be bombed into oblivion, and beyond,
But is Hamas less cruel? Or Hezbollah? Or, for that matter, their godparent, the PLO?
No one can deny the pain that Paris has felt this past week, or that it felt with the Charlie Hebdo slaughter almost a year ago, and the massacre in the kosher Market on the eve of Shabbat. Neither can anyone deny the pain of those families whose loved ones were beheaded on ISIS videos, or that of all the other victims of ISIS’ cruelty. Their pain is real, and deep. But it’s hard not to notice how the Western powers found the wherewithal to he sufficiently horrified by ISIS terrorism to consider eradicating it when it impacted Paris, but not when all of the aforementioned Middle Eastern organizations have been terrorizing Israel and her innocent citizens for decades.
No Western power has suggested that Israel use whatever means necessary to eradicate Hamas, which has kidnapped its soldiers and held them for years, and launched countless rocket attacks against defenseless, non-combatant citizens. And when there have been hostilities, those same powers couldn’t move fast enough to suggest, or actually accuse Israel of war crimes.
No Western power has suggested that Israel would be justified in launching an all-out war against Hezbollah, which is perched on its northern border with literally thousands of long-range missiles aimed at Israel’s major population centers. And no Western power, including the United States, has suggested that Israel would be justified even in cutting off relations with the Palestinian Authority, which still fills its media with hateful incitement against Israel on an almost daily basis.
Terrorism against Israel would seem to be in a different category, somehow more justifiable, as if her citizens “have it coming” because of “the occupation” or just being there altogether. Remove the settlements, share your land, including your capital city … concessions are what they call for in Israel’s unending struggle with terrorism. Only Israel. Not Paris. And yet Israel’s government and citizens have demonstrated forcefully, all week, in identification with France and her citizens.
Paris, 13/11; New York City, 11/9. Israel, 24/7. Even as we grieve with Paris and her citizens, it’s important to remember that Israelis have been stabbed on streets, shot in cars, and assaulted on mass transit in Jerusalem and around Israel for weeks now, and none of the West’s major powers have done more than utter tepid condemnations. Yes, grieve for France. But the perspective of a wider lens is called for: one that includes us.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.