Kenneth Jacobson

The Farce of Moral Equivalencies About Israel

The desperation to create a moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas since October 7 has taken on two forms. First in reaction to the atrocity itself, and second since Israel’s response to events of October 7.

At demonstrations, in statements by various figures, including the Secretary General of the United Nations, one sees this trend in justifying the murder of Jews by saying the context for the massacre was the 56 years of Israeli occupation. This is also evident in language used in certain academic circles, including in a letter signed by a large number of Columbia faculty which refers to the horrors of October 7 as a “military operation.” In sum, they argue, Israel got its comeuppance for its behavior against the Palestinians.

At the same time, there is a rush to accuse Israel of genocide, as represented by the quickness to accept Hamas lies that Israel was responsible for an attack on a Gaza hospital, and the failure by some to point out that Hamas deliberately embeds its operational quarters in civilian areas.

Where does this urgency come from not to allow Israel to be seen as the aggrieved party even when 1400 people were slaughtered, thousands more injured and over 230 innocents being held hostage?

I believe it stems from an earlier urge to find moral equivalence for which a terrible price is being paid now. That is the tremendous sense of guilt and resentment in so much of the world about the Nazi murder of six million Jews, and the effort by the Jewish people and others to get nations to come to grips with what happened and what their role was in the Holocaust.

A way was found to ease that guilt and resentment: accusing Israel as acting like Nazis toward the Palestinians. In effect, creating a canceling out of moral condemnation. We had our Nazis and now you have your Nazis. Over the years, these accusations would surface in different places but they didn’t always take this extreme and direct form. At other times it was more subtle: we had our persecutors of the Jews now you have your persecutors of the Palestinians.

This effort to create a moral equivalence between Israel and the Nazis who exterminated two thirds of the Jews of Europe, as obscene as it was, set the stage for what has happened now. After all, if the Jews are like Nazis or if the Jews are simply persecutors, then anything goes against the Jews just like anything was justified in actions against the Nazis. So that is how it comes to outright justification of the barbarism by Hamas as seen in banners like “By any means necessary.” That’s how it enabled Guterres, the UN Secretary General, with the blood of Jews hardly dry, to contextualize the slaughter by referring to Israel’s occupation. That is why a group of Columbia professors could use language that intentionally diminishes the barbarity of Hamas by referring to it as a military operation.

These efforts to create a moral equivalence between Jews and the biggest enemies of the Jewish people are disgraceful but must be addressed. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for close to a century and there is plenty of room for different perspectives, including criticism of Israel. Whether Israel has done enough for peacemaking, the role of settlements, issues of security impinging on Palestinian life are legitimate subjects for discussion and criticism.

To ignore the Palestinian role in this conflict, however, is to willfully and dangerously distort its history. Just a reminder: it was the Palestinians who rejected the UN partition plan of 1947 which would have given them a state. It was the Palestinians who participated in the Arab war to destroy the nascent Jewish state. It was the Palestinians, who, under Yasser Arafat, developed a charter calling for Israel’s destruction before Israel was occupying any land. It was Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group, that initiated a charter in 1988 that called for Israel’s destruction and the killing of Jews.

And in the first decade of this century, Israel offered the Palestinians multiple opportunities to develop their own state including at Camp David in 2000 and at Annapolis in 2007. In each instance, Palestinian leadership rejected it and turned to violence.

The point is simple: Israel’s role can be questioned, but the primary reason why October 7 happened is Palestinian extremism and rejectionism. Efforts to see the conflict as a struggle between the oppressor, Israel, and the victim, the Palestinians, is to violently distort the truth and is the cause of so much of the horrific reactions these days.

In sum, moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas is as obscene as trying to create a moral equivalence between Israel and the Nazis. It is time for all good people to denounce these efforts for what they are: continued threats to the very existence of the Jewish people.

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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