Scott Kahn
Director of


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It’s the word invoked repeatedly to describe Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Like in the following sentence, said by the man behind the counter to an identifiably Jewish man as he picked up his rental car in the United States:

“I’m not happy with what Israel is doing now and I’m not happy with what happened on October 7th either, but for Israel to be killing all these people just for revenge is not right.”

That’s what some people think. That this is somehow about revenge.

It matters that people call it revenge, and it matters deeply. Words have power, they are laden with explosives that may detonate at a future date against our will. Not for naught does our tradition teach that God created the universe with words; Onkelos stands in the mainstream of Jewish thought when he defines the breath of God in man as a ruach memalelah, a speaking spirit. Gershom Scholem’s assertion to Fraz Rosenzweig in 1926 about the secularization of Hebrew – “In reality, it is impossible to empty the words which are filled to bursting with meaning, save at the expense of the language itself” – applies broadly to any language. Words contain reservoirs of meaning, and their haphazard use may come back to bite us.

For that reason, we dare not ignore the casual use of an incorrect, libelous term like “revenge” without refutation. For the war of survival Israel is currently fighting has nothing whatsoever to do with revenge.

Revenge means wantonly killing civilians and terrorists alike in order to slake the country’s anger. Revenge means killing when killing is unnecessary. Revenge means trying to hurt Palestinian society beyond any military need.

None of this applies to Israel’s war against Hamas.

Of course, refuting an absurd charge is not much different from answering the prototypical question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Engaging with the question may give it credence. Nevertheless, I have heard it said too many times to allow it to pass without comment. Accordingly, here are four reasons, explained briefly, that describing the IDF’s actions as revenge is farcical even as it is dangerous.

First, calling Israel’s campaign an act of revenge ignores all the evidence – evidence which, in actuality, indicates that Israel has been historically successful in its attempts to avoid civilian casualties. As Yaakov Katz, senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, tweeted last month, “Every loss of civilian life is tragic, but with this [previously explained civilian to combatant] ratio, not only should Israel not be accused of genocide (that’s obvious), world leaders should be applauding the IDF’s precision-strike capabilities… What is happening in Gaza is unique – it is a new form of warfare (urban setting, extensive use of human shields and massive tunnel infrastructure) and still the ratio is low. What the IDF is doing will be studied by other militaries for decades to come. No other military in the world has ever achieved this.”

As others have pointed out, Israel has complete air superiority, and possesses the ability to carpet bomb Gaza – and yet it has done nothing of the sort. Civilians are tragically killed in any war, and in urban warfare the number of civilian casualties rises exponentially. When Hamas cynically uses its women and children as human shields, intentionally hiding behind them in order to protect themselves while mendaciously claiming that Israel is targeting civilians, and then reprehensibly bemoaning (and secretly celebrating) these civilian deaths in order to vilify Israel, the inevitability of civilian casualties rises to unprecedented levels. Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the fact that combatant to civilian to combatant ratio is historically low demonstrates the precision of Israel’s weaponry, and its obvious desire to minimize the number of Palestinian civilians injured or killed in the conflict. Putting its own soldiers at heightened risk in order to protect civilians represents the opposite of a vengeful attitude.

Second, the IDF Code of Ethics explicitly states, “The IDF and our soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every individual is of inherent value, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender or status… The soldier will not use their weapon or power to harm uninvolved civilians and prisoners and will do everything in their power to prevent harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.” Those who hate Jews and assume that Israel always has nefarious motives will obviously say that the Code of Ethics is routinely ignored. Those who actually live in Israel know that the opposite is true: these rules are sacrosanct and enforced.  When individual soldiers violate the law and break the rules they are obligated to follow, they are held to account. Those who are familiar with the Israel Defense Forces know that the IDF is the most moral army on earth. (This was addressed in an episode of the Orthodox Conundrum released in January.) Unseating Hamas and bringing the hostages home, while protecting civilian lives as much as possible, is the singular goal of the IDF’s war in Gaza – not revenge.

As Alan Dersowitz writes in his new book, War Against the Jews; How to End Hamas Barbarism:

“In an incident related to me  by the former head of the Israeli air force, Israeli intelligence learned that a family’s house in Gaza was being used to manufacture rockets. The Israeli military gave the residents thirty minutes to leave. Instead, the owner called Hamas, which sent mothers carrying babies into the house.

“Hamas knew that Israel would never knowingly fire at a home with civilians in it. They also knew that if Israeli authorities did not learn there were civilians in the house and fired on it, Hamas would win a public relations victory by displaying the dead. Israel held its fire. The Hamas rockets that were protected by the human shields were then used against Israeli civilians.

“These despicable tactics – targeting Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians – can only work against moral democracies that care deeply about minimizing civilian casualties.”

This, rather than revenge, represents the authentic attitude of Israel towards the population fighting Israel today.

Third, even if Israel were not a moral country, killing innocents is wildly counterproductive and makes its military goals harder to achieve. Every dead civilian represents both a human tragedy (which is the moral and legal responsibility of Hamas), and a PR disaster for Israel. As I wrote after Israel was falsely accused of bombing a hospital last October, “We also know that Israel simply does not target hospitals even when said building is used for terrorist activity; Israel has made it clear that bombing hospitals is off the table both because it would be immoral, and also – even if it were militarily necessary – because the optics would be terrible.” Israel has limited time before international pressure from both friends and enemies makes it nearly impossible to continue fighting, and that time is limited further when television screens are filled with pictures of dead civilians, regardless of who’s to blame. Israel cannot seek revenge, as it hurts its ability to accomplish its real objective: restoring security and reestablishing deterrence.

Everyone in Israel acknowledges that should Hamas surrender, laying down its arms and releasing the hostages, the war in Gaza would immediately end. Seeking revenge against those who killed 1200 and kidnapped 250 is not even part of that equation. Freeing the hostages while stopping Hamas – which has vowed to repeat October 7th again and again and again – is not part of the goal; it is the entire story, full stop.

Fourth, Israeli soldiers are sons, husbands, fathers, and brothers; they are putting their lives at risk in order to protect the rest of the country. To suppose that 240 would give their lives – and countless others their time and freedom – for the sake of revenge is to completely misunderstand the psychology of the Israeli population. The large majority of Israel’s populace have immediate family in harm’s way; they accept this as an inevitable consequence of maintaining Israel’s security. (Several weeks after October 7th, I compared the parents whose children go to war to Abraham bringing Isaac to Mount Moriah at God’s command.) If you are familiar with Israelis, the idea that they would allow their children to be put in harm’s way for the sake of revenge, rather than for authentic military purposes, is as ridiculous as it is offensive.

Why, then, has this canard been adopted by so many?

Because when it comes to Israel and the Jews, the most hateful motives are assumed to be the real motives.

Jews are considered bloodthirsty, even as the consumption of blood is prohibited by Jewish law. Jews supposedly believe in paying an eye for an eye, even as this verse is universally understood by Talmudic law to refer to monetary compensation. It doesn’t matter; the Jews are presumed guilty even when it violates their own codes of conduct. The Jews are presumed guilty even when there’s no evidence. The Jews are presumed guilty even when the evidence points in the exact opposite direction.

The charge of revenge is not just wrong, and it is not just a lie.

It is antisemitic to the core.

Of course, there are many people who are not antisemitic, but who nonetheless parrot the talking points they recently heard on their network of choice. They see terribly disturbing pictures of dead and injured children, and insist that the violence must end, that Israel must stop seeking revenge.

They must be made aware that nothing of the sort is taking place, and that by assuming that revenge is part of the goal, they are contributing to the increasing incidence of Jew hatred.

Israel is not perfect. Israel has made mistakes.

But revenge?

Only an ignoramus will believe it. And only an antisemite will maintain it after an honest accounting with the facts.

About the Author
Rabbi Scott Kahn is the CEO of Jewish Coffee House ( and the host of the Orthodox Conundrum Podcast and co-host of Intimate Judaism. You can see more of his writing at