Michael Kohler

While standing on one foot

Forgive me if this tale sounds familiar. Two men wearing kippot are standing on a street corner. A stranger approaches and asks, “Look, I’m hearing and reading a lot about the war in Gaza, and the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and I’m confused. I was hoping you could help me understand what it is all about. What’s the bottom line. But I don’t have much time. You think you can explain this to me while I stand on one foot?”

The first man, let’s call him Shammai, replies, “Are you kidding me? We need to start in biblical times and the Jews ancestral connection to the land of Israel, then came thousands of years in the diaspora. Fast forward to the end of the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate, the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Israel declaring, and its war for, independence in 1948. The Six-Day War, reunification of Jerusalem, settlements in Judea and Samaria, years of intifada and terrorism, peace with Egypt and Jordan, two wars in Lebanon, the 2006 unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, five rounds of open hostilities and constant rocket-fire into Israel by Hamas, and only then do we come to October 7! I can’t even explain all the topics while you stand on one foot.”

The other man, let’s call him Hillel, replies, “Sure, are you ready? They simply do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. We do. Therein lies the conflict. The rest is just details.”

The Talmudic tale of Rabbis Shammai and Hillel being asked to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot is instructive to those of us feeling exhausted having to defend and explain Israel’s position in the current conflict and responding to the incessant barrage of lies, slander, half-truths and misrepresentations that are always levied at Israel, but never more so than now. But what is truly maddening are those not willing to take a side and see what is really happening today: one side is protesting, advocating, and fighting for the elimination of a sovereign nation while the other is fighting and defending its right to exist in peace and security within its own borders. While many issues in this world are complex and nuanced, others really are just that clear and black and white. And this is one of those times.

You need not be an expert in biblical history or in the events leading to the creation of the State of Israel or its more recent history to understand, and explain to others, the bottom line defining the current conflict. It’s quite simple: those attacking Israel – either physically like Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and others openly calling for jihad and wiping Israel from the map; legally like South Africa questioning the legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish State at the ICJ; or those on the streets and college campuses via BDS or protests calling to “Free Palestine,” “From the River to the Sea” all share one, common thread. They never have, and show no signs of ever, simply recognizing the right of the State of Israel to exist safely within its own borders. This was true in 1948 and it remains true today.

They rejected Israel declaring its independence in 1948 and launched a war seeking its destruction. They clearly stated at the Khartoum Conference in 1967, “no recognition of Israel” and the unambiguous words of Hamas and Iran today make it clear the elimination of Israel is its goal. They do not seek a two-state solution – with Israel and Palestine living peacefully side by side; instead, their vision is one Palestinian state from the river to the sea.  They have made their intentions crystal clear.

On the other hand, let’s just say Israel does not share the same worldview. It very much wishes to exist, to survive and to thrive. Even considering the current, right-wing government, Israel has historically shown time and again its willingness to negotiate and make concessions in the interest of peace. It did so with Egypt, Jordan, with several Arab countries with the Abraham Accords and was well on its way to normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia before October 7. But such talks, negotiations or concessions are not even possible with the likes of Hamas or Iran or those arguing in the international arena or those protesting in the streets when their starting and ending position is this: We don’t want you to exist. Period.

Facts and details are critically important and there is a time and place for an honest accounting of historical events and trying to strip away the subjectivity on both sides; but now is not that time. Now it is crucial that we know and clearly express to all who ask or will listen: they do not want there to be a Jewish State of Israel. End of story.  The current conflict can be summarized by that one fact. The rest is just details. It is that simple, it is that clear, and yes, it can be explained while standing on one foot.

About the Author
Michael Kohler is on the Long Island Regional Board of the American Jewish Committee, is committed to strengthening the relationship between US Jews and Israel, and professionally works as an immigration attorney on Long Island, N.Y. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect those of AJC or any other group or organization.
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