The Nation That May Not Be Named

In Foxboro, Massachusetts last month, the New England Patriots football team held a moment of silence for Ezra Schwartz, who lived in the nearby town of Sharon and was murdered in Gush Etzion. The public address announcer said:

“…we also remember the many who died in senseless terrorist attacks abroad. Last Thursday this reality struck close to home when 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz…was gunned down nearly 5,500 miles from home while studying abroad.”

Two things about this announcement are worth noting:

  1. A tsunami is senseless. Terror is purposeful.
  2. The place that was “5,500 miles away” and “abroad” had a name. That name is “Israel.” In some contexts, such as places suffering from terror, Israel is the nation that may not be named.

Whether or not they approve, everyone notices this by now. President Obama referred at one point to American victims of terror in Paris and Mali, omitting Ezra’s murder in Israel. (He later called the Schwartz family to offer condolences.) After the Paris massacre, French media listed all terror attacks worldwide since 9-11. None in Israel.


Lack of sympathy? Then how to explain the Patriots’ announcement, when the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, is a major supporter of Israel. He has built a stadium in Jerusalem, brought his team to pray at the kotel, paid a shiva call to the Schwartz family.

Had Ezra Schwartz been killed in Paris, would the announcer have regretted his death “3,400 miles away”? Not likely.

Then why not name Israel?

And why call the murder senseless? Perhaps one could call all murder senseless, meaning that no reason can ever justify it. Yet killers have motives. Those who killed Ezra certainly did.

Even 9/11 was not “senseless.” As the Times of Israel reported last week, pundit Peter Beinart said, “9/11 was a response to American foreign policy.”

So there is a reason for everything, if you are curious and sympathetic enough to look for it.

So far few have looked for a reason for the massacre in Paris, with the exception of the Swedish officials who suggested the reason involved the behavior of Israel toward the Palestinians. In that context, therefore, Israel may be named. In fact, it must be. If there is a problem connected in any way to the Muslim world, Israel must always be named.

In college I took philosophy for one day before dropping the course. Yet I remember one aphorism the teacher shared on that one day.

“What Peter says about Paul,” he said, “says more about Peter than it does about Paul.”

That observers name Israel as a victim of terror—never—but suggest it as a cause—always—says more about the observers than it does about Israel.

Some observers, many observers, are overtly hostile. Israel, they know, is oppressive, racist, colonialist, and all the rest of it. If Israelis are murdered, they brought it on themselves. Perhaps they deserve it. Unlike the French, for instance, who are blameless.

Other observers on this side of the Atlantic are not hostile to Israel. Many are sympathetic, in a general sort of way. Surely the Kraft family is.

Yet even generally sympathetic observers, like fans in Foxboro, don’t want to take sides in other people’s battles. There is some kind of war over there, they know. People are going after each other. Who really knows why? It would be better if they just worked things out. In the meantime, who can make sense of it?

Before you dismiss this attitude, do you know what they are fighting about in Syria? Do you care? Have you got a side over there you’re especially fond of?

If there is a bitter conflict halfway around the world, most observers who don’t have a personal stake in the outcome would rather not take sides. They would prefer instead to call the whole affair senseless, and wish for it to go away.

That, I suggest, is why the public address announcer of the New England Patriots did not, could not, say that Ezra Schwartz had been “gunned down in Israel.” Saying the name of Israel would have been jarring. Nothing personal, but you don’t take sides in puzzling foreign wars at football games.

One reads that some Israelis view massacres like the one in Paris with a certain schadenfreude: Now at last the world will see what we are going through. Now when we are stabbed and attacked with missiles, the world will understand.

I will not hold my breath. To understand, you have to sympathize. To sympathize with something, you have to at least be able to utter its name when it is under attack.

Israel is under attack. Israel. Can you say it? I can. Many of you can. Not too many others, though.

The hostile will not say the name. The indifferent cannot.

About the Author
Avi Rockoff lives in Newton, Massachusetts
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