Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

There, I Finished the Sentence: An Israeli Responds to Nicholas Kristof

Here is an exchange, prompted by comments I posted about Nicholas Kristof’s latest Op Ed in the New York Times of June 4, 2021, about Israel’s actions in the latest war with Hamas, with my take, and disgust, about all this. I omit the name of my interlocutor and substitute, “A.B.”
Well just to add grist to the mill, and to give energy to your rebuttal [of Nicholas Kristof’s recent Op Eds about Israel in the New York Times], I thought he was very on the mark, e.g. with this:
“The question of how the United States would respond if Canada started shelling Seattle seems misplaced. After all, Israel deliberately nurtured Hamas in the first place (to create a rival to existing Palestinian groups), and the United Nations and most experts consider Israel to be occupying Gaza (because Israel controls it, even though it withdrew in 2005).
“As Bashi, who is now research director at Democracy for the Arab World Now, puts it: “A better question would be: ‘What would the U.S. do if it conquered and occupied British Columbia, and then Canadian armed groups, resisting the occupation, shelled Seattle?’” “
The point to me, over and over though is, not to simply look for blame, for the villain – but how to create change?? –as our new Israeli government is imagining doing within Israel.
If we simply continue to blame “them”, those damn Palestinians or damn Hamas – then no change. How can WE take responsibility for *non-violently* leading the way to significant change with our neighbors, even as some of our neighbors embrace violent tactics for change? Otherwise, the never ending war will just go on and on….
· Reply ·
Shulamit Magnus
OK, A.B. So, let’s take that well placed observation, if we simply continue to blame “them,” etc.
How does that sit with Kristof’s oh, so old, tired, reminder, however true it is, that Israel, idiotically, empowered Hamas– many decades ago? Because when I read that oh, so tired, reminder, what I read was, “if we simply continue to blame ‘them,’ meaning in this case, Israel. Right? Finish that thought, please. We empowered Hamas. So what, right now? Does this analysis– stop playing the blame game– only point in one direction? It would seem so.
So, Israel, way back when, empowered Hamas. Netanyahu has empowered them far more recently but Mr. Kristof, and you, prefer to speak of the distant past. Do finish that sentence please, Mr. Kristof, or you, A.B.: Israel empowered Hamas– so now when Hamas rockets Israel, shooting 4,000 in 11 days, directed, with one exception, entirely at civilian targets; or sends flying incendiary devices and bombs, tied to colorful baloons, the better to attract children– too bad, your fault. There, I finished the sentence.
I am weary beyond expression of rehashing the past. What is relevant, in my opinion, and which Kristof just somehow, failed to mention in this, defensive, response to his first outrageous Op Ed,  in or that one, is that Hamas’s founding and continuing, announced purpose is not negotiation with Israel for a resolution but Israel’s elimination. I don’t say that, they do. If one reads, which I would think Kristoff might care to do, though of that, I am not at all sure, it’s easy enough to find. So, talk about fatigue, but, to remind: Hamas is a radical, Islamist, fundamentalist organization whose purpose is the elimination of Israel and wiping the nakba off history. You know, like the Crusades. Because that is their analogy to us. They hold the population of Gaza hostage in a reign of terror and deprivation; I don’t say that, Sami Obeid, and plenty of others in and from Gaza, who no longer care if they stay alive or not, say it. Just heard him in an interview. Interviewer asked him, Sami, are you not afraid to say these things, in Gaza? Sami Obeid is so disgusted he just says what he thinks.
So, Hamas directs tens of millions of dollars that they extort from the EU and the UN and Qatar, via us, mafia style, for offensive weapons toward their ultimate goal, under the guise of “rebuilding Gaza” every time their actions leads to Israel targetting their offensive weapons and weapons systems. We just had one of their mafia threats today, resume the cash from Qatar now, or else. They have some real big stuff to send at us, they said. I, for one, believe them.
In all the hundreds of tons of bombs that Israel dropped in this last round, if the intention was to kill civilians, we would not be speaking of hundreds, includng Hamas operatives, and not thousands, and not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of victims. If we are talking hundreds, including Hamas operatives, it is because Israel used AI guided weapons, in order to minimize harm to civilians, too many of whom, nevertheless, were harmed. I happen to know a family whose son was killed in the Gaza war of 2014 because the IDF command refused to authorize shooting  at an apartment building from which rockets and anti-tank missiles were being fired at IDF soldiers, including their son (and mine). Because there were civilians in that building. Some of us, in Israel, bear those decisions on our flesh and in our souls.
I don’t know what the answer is re: an organization with Hamas’ goals. I have a pretty good idea what it isn’t. The state’s, any state’s, first responsibility is to protect its own citizens. In Israel’s case, the evidence is overwhelming that, with regard to the sickening rounds in Gaza, that imperative is accompanied by extreme care to minimize harm to civilians. The UNWRA head even said so, before Hamas threatened his life and he retracted.
Is Israel’s record perfect, e.g., when the ever so peaceful, non-violent, “march of return” was being waged– you know, the one with molotov cocktails and plans to kidnap Israeli civilians, to be abducted from kibbutzim on the Gaza line through those ever so convenient tunnels Hamas dug under the border fence, right into those kibbutzim– tunnels dug with “development” money? No. But the rest of this, Kristof’s defensive, sorry excuse for a second Op Ed, defending his first, is just — that.
As for apologizing for our existence, that is way tired, too. If you start from the premise that our existence is a war crime, as the quote Kristof cites would more than imply, to which violent resistance is to be expected and is justified by people like him, the great crusader (pardon me), for international morality, we have no common basis for discussion.
So, to conclude, A.B., regarding this quote from Kristof’s Op Ed of today that you cite:
“As [Sari] Bashi, who is now research director at Democracy for the Arab World Now, puts it: “A better question would be: ‘What would the U.S. do if it conquered and occupied British Columbia, and then Canadian armed groups, resisting the occupation, shelled Seattle?’” “
This is where conversation ends, with me, at least. This analogy, which Kristof obviously accepts, that we just woke up one day and decided, hey! Let’s invade and conquer and occupy this place (hmm, to cite Kristof again, fond as he is of hmm’ing: I am an historian and I’ve read, in my opinion at least, a lot of books and I’ve never come across anything vaguely resembling that purported goal–) the clear upshot of that analogy is, there, you did that, you deserve it. With this an intelligent person can argue? With this, I give up reading Kristof.
The only problem is the too many who will take his reputation and apply this pathetic, utterly useless, and dangerous analysis to our situation.
About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
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