Streams of Anxious Consciousness 39

Nuance has been lost in the west. Ironically, in circles that boast of being more than binary, well educated fools know either-or. One or the other. The proverbial shades of gray have been lost.

In Israel, nuance is baked into the air that is breathed.

A handful of years ago, Tamar Zandberg, the political head of Meretz (the ultra left of Israel) was a guest speaker at the J Street conference in Washington. This would be a friendly crowd for her. They clapped and rah-rah-ed every syllable of her speech until she said, ‘And of course, we can never allow Iran to gain nuclear capabilities. We will have to stop them at any and all costs.’


The left leaning, peace loving, tree hugging crowd did not know what to do when one of their darlings said something that wasn’t so darling to them. Her words went against the grain of peace, the ethos of the left and didn’t rhyme with Kumbaya.

The well educated, well meaning, well purposed American Jews of J Street had no idea what “yes, and” looks like. They could not hold both truths.

To be totally transparent and fair, while not a J Street card carrying member, the same phenomenon happens in the other direction at AIPAC conferences. This is not a rant on J Street, rather one example of how right or left leaning organizations cannot hold two truths or negotiate nuance well.

At breakfast this morning, I sipped coffee with my dear friend who I will call, ‘Ron.’ This 40 something Sabra is a literal tree-hugger. Ron is the kind of guy who on any hike can tell you what flower is blooming, which variety of bird is circling overhead and is a dyed in the wool peacenik. He has led countless marches to end the occupation and is outspoken about peace. I do not agree with much of Ron’s political views, but boy, do I love and respect him.

In between sips of espresso and nibbles of freshly picked cucumbers, Ron said to me, “We (Israel) must engage with Hezbollah. Now. We must rid the country and the world of the threat they pose. A lot more soldiers and Israeli civilians will die, and innocent people in Lebanon too. Still, we have to do it.”

Ron’s approach made perfect sense to me. This left leaning, tree snuggling fellow who says we have to go to war just clicked like a seat belt. Ron said it assuredly but with a grimace that resembled heartburn face. He knows it comes at a cost.  While Ron’s non-binary approach made sense to me, I am not so sure it is something that will make sense to most of my western friends who comfortably live in a binary world.

Maybe Ron knows that teenage kids living in the center of Israel in cities like Modi’in are peeing their pajamas in the middle of the night. Post B’nai. Mitzvah aged adolescents are sleeping in their parents bed. They wake up with night terrors and are sure they hear tunneling under the bed. They live in a high rise, so the concerns are suspect. But the fear is as real as it gets.

Refugees from the north staying in our hotel, put the little ones to bed and go to the courtyard outside to puff a cigarette and drink Turkish coffee. I joined them last night, though I passed on the cigarette. They told me in no uncertain terms, they are not going back to their homes up north unless the threat of Hezbollah is eliminated. Not weakened. Not demoted. Eliminated. Their neighbors share their sentiments. After seeing the first act of Hamas in the play of terror, who can blame them?! Quiet borders are no longer the standard. Quiet borders with no enemies present and no stockpiled weapons is the new baseline. It must be. The strategy of the game changed dramatically overnight. Achieving that standard will be deadly and painful. Still, it is necessary.

The rabbis who stood with Rashida Tlaib yesterday in Washington DC, calling for a ceasefire repulse me. They never spoke to the people of the north or the parents changing wet sheets of an eleven year old. I have no interest cavorting with Tlaib. I can forgive those rabbis for their choice of friends. But, to call for a ceasefire today is living in that binary world, devoid from nuance, absent reality, missing context and political topography. It is stupid.

Calls for a ceasefire is nothing more than virtue-signaling on a world stage. Those who believe in peace and loathe the right wing and the bloodshed of war think the answer is to drop our weapons and run toward our enemy with outstretched arms, to a warm embrace. Cue the Enya music and roll the credits. That is not how this movie ends.

What these nudniks do not realize is that our enemy will hug us tightly and pull the pin on a grenade for us both to die. That is how this movie ends. It is a horror show, not a feel good drama.

In my second Stream, I quoted George W. Bush days after 9/11 who famously said, “You are either with us or against us.” How do we call for a cease fire with an enemy who goes on EVERY media outlet and proudly proclaims that they will continue to kill and rape and pillage until every Jew is gone? And worse, they do not just say it. They have proven it!

Can these ceasefire rabbis not see that? Can they not appreciate that the value of peace is lost if there are no peace loving people left alive?

Hamas is an equal opportunity terrorist organization. They do not differentiate between the left or right when killing Jews. Sadly, they do not even limit their killing to Jews. Christians are high on their targets too.  Hamas and Hezbollah have no qualms about killing Muslims if they stand in the way of their stated agenda. Killers are killers.

Equally annoying to those calling for a ceasefire are the virtue signaling heads of state who have lamented the excessive women and children killed in Gaza. Justin Trudeau of Canada decried that the Israeli killing of women and children in Gaza must stop. Macron of France said almost the same sentiments. Both of them and dozens others, put the onus on Israel for these “unnecessary” deaths.

Why can’t Trudeau and Macron and others say, in a simple, non-binary way, “We are heartsick over the death of innocent people in Gaza and Israel. We blame Hamas for instigating this war, causing this bloodshed and using these innocent women and children as shields and protectors for their evil purposes. Too many women and children and babies have died. For shame on Hamas who are responsible for their death.”

In this proposed sentence, the sentiments are exactly the same and the true culprit is exposed and  clearly demarcated for the world to know.

Ironically, in this war, there is a binary choice. A good side and a bad side. To conflate the two in any way is dangerous. To cast any blame on Israel and its right to defend itself is criminal.

Of course, Israel is not above reproach. The people of Israel spent 10 months protesting about the wrongs of the government and leadership of Israel, and mistakes made and images tarnished. In a post October 7th world, eradicating Hamas is not a tricky decision or one that should call into question our moral barometer. I am just not sure why so many outside of Israel struggle with nuance?

For smart people, it is pretty dumb!

About the Author
David-Seth Kirshner is the senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, a Conservative synagogue in Closter, New Jersey. He is the past President of the NY Board of Rabbis and the NJ Board of Rabbis and is a Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Hartman Institute and serves on the Executive Committee of the JFNA. Rabbi Kirshner was appointed to the New Jersey/Israel Commission by Governors Christie and Murphy. Rabbi Kirshner is a National Council member of AIPAC.
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