Robert L. Wolkoff

The Triple Standard Strikes Again

In the Jewish community, there is probably no complaint more justified, and more misplaced, than the claim that Jews are judged by a double standard. Justified, because virtually every government, human rights organization, and member of the media punditburo judges us that way. Consider “the occupation” more commonly known as “THE occupation.” There are currently dozens of occupations. One can be forgiven for not knowing that Moldova is currently occupying Transnistria. But Turkey in North Cyprus? China in Tibet? Russia in Ukraine? Why is Israel’s occupation THE occupation? The question answers itself.

The same applies to the right of return. There have been about 150 ethnic displacements in the past century or so. Exactly none have been resolved by enforcing a supposed right of return. But when it comes to Israel/Palestine, an entire world explodes with righteous indignation that Israel has not decided to commit national suicide by allowing Palestinians to exercise the right of return (or should I say, THE right of return).

Similar examples are far too numerous to mention. At this point we have simply come to expect that Israel will be judged by a different, and higher, standard than other nations. However, I think that our resentment of this is misplaced. Do we really want to be judged by the same standards as Russia, Syria, or the Democratic Republic of Congo? Or, G-d help us, Hamas?! It is obviously aggravating when some smarmy diplomat from Scandinavia lectures Israel because he “expects better” from Israel. We can argue that if his kids’ lives are not on the line, it’s not his call to make.

But we should most certainly expect better from ourselves. The Torah, plus four thousand years of human experience, virtually mandate that we be judged by a higher standard.

That’s not the problem.

The problem is that we are judged by a triple standard. What’s a triple standard? That’s when we are judged by a double, higher standard; live up to or even far surpass that double standard; and are still criticized as if we didn’t even live up to even the lowest standard.

Case in point: Israeli Army spokesman Conricus recently noted that the proportion of civilians to terrorists killed by Israel is roughly 2 to 1—a proportion he described as “tremendously positive.” This was obviously tone-deaf (one should never describe anything related to the death of civilians as “positive”). And Conricus himself later remarked, “I should have said that while every loss of life is sad, a ratio of 1:2 [terrorist to civilian] is unprecedented in the modern history of urban warfare,” which happens to be perfectly true. Still, the explosion of pearl-clutching by the talking heads was a sight to behold. Endless indignant sputtering about “how could this be tolerated?” and “how long can this go on?” And all this fed nicely into the demands of the political class that Israel “exercise more restraint” and “show more respect for international humanitarian law.”

Let’s put this in perspective. Clearly the Israelis have been exercising more restraint and respecting international humanitarian law a lot more than the Russians in Ukraine, or the Syrians in Aleppo, where there was and is utter disregard for civilian life. According to the Red Cross, the common standard in urban warfare is 9 civilians killed to 1 combatant. But Israel is being judged by a higher standard, thank G-d. Anything else would be an insult. So let’s consider the American and European standard. In Iraq, the proportion was roughly 4 civilians to 1 combatant. Same for NATO in Serbia. In Mosul, against ISIS, the proportion is estimated anywhere from 2/1 to 4.5/1. So in fact, Israel is doing as well as, if not far better than, the US or NATO.

Here’s another way of looking at it. On 9/11, 2977 Americans died. In the wars that followed in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, 432,093 civilians were killed. That’s 144 innocent civilians killed for each American victim. Applying the same standard to 10/7, the Israelis could be expected to kill 180,000 Palestinian civilians. But of course, they won’t come anywhere close to this (the number as of this writing is about 12,000).

So Israel is indeed holding to a higher standard—but being criticized as if were not even adhering to the lowest standard. Hence all the accusations about Israel’s “indiscriminate” bombing, when this is probably the least indiscriminate bombing in the history of warfare. Case in point: Andrew Basevic’s comment in The Nation that “Russia’s assault on Ukraine appears almost measured and humane by comparison.” Here’s a reality check. As a result of Russia’s unprovoked aggression, Russia’s casualties are approaching 300,000 (120,000 deaths and 170,000 to 180,000 injured troops) and close to 70,000 Ukrainians killed and 100,000 to 120,000 wounded. And that’s only soldiers. There are over 10,000 Ukrainian civilians dead, 20,000 wounded, and ten million displaced. And all this on a battlefield the size of Texas—as opposed to Gaza, half the size of Austin. But sure, tell me that that seems “measured and humane by comparison” if it makes you feel any better.

The triple standard causes two problems. The first is external. The world will refuse to judge Israel’s actions accurately, much less fairly, and as a result will try to force Israel to take actions that are against Israel’s best interests (and very much in the interest of Hamas). That’s a diplomatic and geopolitical struggle. And what else is new.

The other, and more important problem, is internal. All too many Jews have allowed their judgment to be clouded by the distorted declarations of a chorus of self-proclaimed pundits, prophets, and preachers. In spite of the facts, and in many cases in spite of knowing the moral character of their friends and relatives in Israel, they are prepared to accept the most outlandish accusations leveled against Israel. They say that truth is the first casualty of war, but in this case, both sanity and Jewish solidarity appear to have skipped the line. It is fair to insist that we be judged by a higher standard. And it is fair to insist that we, ourselves, do the judging—who, after all, has earned the right to judge us? The UN? Please. But with that right comes a tremendous responsibility to judge according to fact and rationality, with an accurate and reasoned perspective concerning reality. The inability to do so, and the painful willingness of so many of us to accept and even champion the distorted standards of a mortal enemy, is the great and even historic moral failure of today’s Jewish community. And that’s a failure by any standard.

About the Author
Rabbi Wolkoff serves Congregation Bnai Tikvah in North Brunswick. He has published hundred of articles and lectured internationally on Jewish topics, and has been active both in interfaith work and in the struggle against anti-Semitism, both in the United States and in Sweden, where he served for a decade. He is a JNF Rabbi for Israel.
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