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The Banality of Silence

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Not condemning the sexual violence of October 7 is condoning it. Full stop.

I’m having a rather unproductive, one-sided Facebook conversation with a college friend who’s a fellow Hannah Arendt fan…thus the headline.

She’s got a special connection to the Middle East, and we’ve never ever seen eye to eye on very fundamental questions about Israel. But that’s always been OK. I actually think she’s a lovely person. Kind. A great mom. A strong advocate for women’s issues and someone who’s made a career helping the disenfranchised and underprivileged – something I deeply respect.

And that’s why I was literally blown away when I could not get her to specifically condemn the mass sexual violence perpetrated against Israeli women by the Hamas on October 7. All I wanted was to hear “I condemn the mass rape of Israeli women by Hamas. Full stop.” She would not say it. Just to reiterate, a woman’s advocate who won’t condemn rape. Won’t. Condemn. Rape.

It’s mind blowing. And although she seems to think I’m emotionally overwrought owing to the events of the past month, I’m actually intellectually overwrought by her and so many like her.

So, in order to reorient the universe and perhaps find some intellectual sanguinity, I thought I’d delve into the possible logical lines of thinking that could lead this ostensibly enlightened person to refuse to condemn specific cases of mass sexual violence, while still maintaining that she stands firmly against sexual violence in general. Here goes:

  1. She’s a rabid antisemite and closet Nazi who listens to satanic death metal and eats raw bunny rabbits for breakfast. OK, I think we can eliminate this one pretty easily. I think she likes bunnies.
  2. She does not believe the forensic evidence. Fair enough. Yet in this case, an intellectually brave individual would delve into the evidence presented thus far and debate it, right? So, I guess not.
  3. She doesn’t believe that Israel should exist. Likely, but kind of moot on the practical level, right? There are 8 million of us here, already. But either way, I may not believe that Jehovah’s Witnesses should exist, but I’d be first in line to specifically condemn the mass rape of women affiliated with such an upstanding organization.
  4. She thinks that Israel’s abysmal treatment of the Palestinians over the last several decades brought this upon them. Because by that logic, a woman who’s a bad mother, a drug addict, or listens to Air Supply deserves whatever sexual violence she suffers. Not likely.
  5. Owing to her Middle Eastern connection, she’s afraid to speak out publicly against the rape of Jewish women. I hope not, but if so then all I can say is choose your friends carefully.
  6. Israel’s actions in Gaza over the last 50 days overwhelm anything that preceded them. I’m pretty sure this is the most likely scenario, yet it is so deeply flawed that my cat could find the cracks in the reasoning.

“I think you want to focus the conversation on one part of the horribleness and not all the horribleness,” she wrote in a public forum. Well, yes, my friend, I do. One thing at a time.

Every horrible thing in the world is comprised of smaller horrible things, and sexual violence is no different. When Russians soliders raped Ukrainian women, or Myanmar soldiers raped Rohingyan women, these were part of a greater horribleness – longstanding and ugly conflicts. Yet this did not prevent international woman’s advocacy groups from specifically condemning the rape – alongside the horrible context that facilitated it. Yet these same groups, alongside you, remain silent in the face of the mass rape of Israelis.

Of course, everything has context. But when you try to contextualize evil – when you say “yes, but” – you actually condone it. Not condemning evil is condoning it. Full stop. At the same time, condemning one part of ‘the horribleness’ does not mean you condone it all. It just means that you are intellectually honest and brave enough to speak up about the absolute wrongness of this small part of the horribleness. Full stop.

Your refusal to condemn blatant evil is not just evidence of intellectual hypocrisy. It makes you a party to that evil. Hannah wrote in Eichmann in Jerusalem that “…such remoteness from reality and such thoughtlessness can wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together…” I’d suggest you ask yourself what message the banality of your silence is sending, and if it truly reflects what you believe.

About the Author
Steven Greenberg is an award-winning novelist (see https://amzn.to/3oJLA8g) , a professional writer (see http://sdg.co.il), and a full-time cook, cleaner, chauffeur and single dad for three young adults (see his dishpan hands). Born in Texas, Steven grew up in Indiana and emigrated to Israel just months before the first Gulf War in 1990. He's a former combat medic in the Israel Defense Forces, who never learned to properly salute despite his rank of Sergeant. And he's a career marketer, who's run a home-grown marketing boutique since 2002.
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