Over the past several weeks, we have heard from a number of elected officials who have chosen to share their views on the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Unfortunately, these views have often left much to be desired and have demonstrated a need for greater education and engagement with elected officials about the Israel and Middle East.
As an example of one such elected official, here is an excerpt from a statement issued by Senator Jamie Eldridge from my home state of Massachusetts:
I observe more Jewish-Americans questioning the actions of the Israeli government, including my constituents. I observe more statements by Muslim-Americans expressing their points of view on Israel and Palestine, including my constituents. I see more national Democratic politicians no longer invoking the standard knee-jerk “both sides now” pithy statements. I see more young people of color, not just Muslim, but Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous, identifying with and advocating for Palestinians. In the spirit of free speech that Americans hold so dear, I am hoping that we all foster much-needed dialogue around this very serious and consequential conflict. This issue needs to be uplifted and allowed to exist in a peaceful environment where people can make mistakes in explaining their views on the conflict.
I particularly appreciate the Senator’s request for the conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be “uplifted and allowed to exist in a peaceful environment where people can make mistakes in explaining their views” as his statement is full of mistakes. Days later the Senator issued an “Updated Statement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” which is greatly improved but still contains significant underlying deficiencies.
I explain my views in an open letter here:
June 10, 2021
Massachusetts State House
Senator Jamie Eldridge
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133
Senator Jamie Eldridge,
Acknowledging your recent “Updated Statement on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” we, the community of Israeli-Americans in the greater Boston area, write to express our continued disappointment.
We appreciate that you acknowledged that Hamas is a designated terrorist organization that is not a partner for peace. Hamas committed acts of terror that have put the lives of innocent civilians on both sides at risk.
In failing to carefully consider the complicated truths behind many of your claims, you dehumanize the Commonwealth’s Israeli-American community and distort our history by willfully ignoring essential details.
For example, your statements still ignore Israel’s repeated offers to Palestinians for peace, with the opportunity to form their own state and achieve self-determination. The Palestinian leadership rejected these offers.
Israelis aspire to peace. We accept the Palestinian aspiration for self-determination. We understand the pain they have suffered. We are distraught when any innocent lives are lost. Israelis acknowledge all of this – even if that acknowledgment is not reciprocated in return.
While you acknowledge that Hamas is not a partner for peace, you failed to mention that they call for the total annihilation of the State of Israel.
Another way your statement distorts the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in your application of the American racial narrative. The conflict in the Middle East is not one where a white group in power oppresses people of color. The conflict is one between two peoples, not two races, fighting for their self-determination. Less than half of Israelis are white. When you equate America’s issues with race with the conflict in the Middle East, you erase the histories of Jews of color.
Since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has fired over 12,000 rockets at Israel. Can you fathom what it would look like if 12,000 rockets rained down in Massachusetts? But we ask you, Senator, what would you expect your government to do when 4,300 rockets are fired at its civilians in 10 days?
To paraphrase Golda Meir, if Israel’s enemies were to put down their arms, there would be no more violence; if Israel were to put down their arms, there would be no more Israel. This is the real power imbalance in the region.
You continue to mention the disparity between the death toll in Gaza and Israel. Hamas purposely fires missiles targeting Israeli civilians and uses their own population as human shields.
Many critics of Israel fail to understand that it’s Iron Dome missile defense system saves lives on both sides. It has allowed Israel to endure heightened attacks, exercise patience while targeting military assets, and prevent the loss of civilian lives.
Could you, Senator, ever comprehend what it’s like to fear, for hours on end, that your mother, sister, or best friend, may fall victim to an explosive rocket or an indiscriminate lynching?
Perhaps most importantly, your statements fail to acknowledge the emotional anguish that your Israeli-American constituents are facing. You contribute to a suffocating and taxing environment, forcing Israeli-Americans to split their concern between the safety of their loved ones at home in Israel with their standing and voice within their own communities.
In the end, the goal should be to promote peace rather than incite hatred. But, your statements are riddled with demonization and double standards against Israel. We would welcome an opportunity to engage with you and share our perspectives.
Chair, State of Massachusetts
Israeli-American Civic Action Network