Robert L. Wolkoff

Who are the Jews here?

The recent conflict in Gaza, and the reaction to it, have set off alarm bells in many Jewish quarters. The moral questions that arise whenever military power is applied are tough enough. But the breadth of anti-Israel demonstrations; the intemperate language of apartheid and slaughter; the willingness of Jews, particularly young Jews, to attack Israel; and the political rumblings about conditioning aid to Israel have also been causing sleepless nights in many Jewish circles. In the past, under similar circumstances, there have been swastikas drawn on synagogues and chants of “From the River to the Sea…”. And at this point the “same old song” of radical Israel critics Chomsky and Finkelstein sounds more familiar than Rogers and Hammerstein.

But something feels different now, something beside the greater intensity, the greater breadth and depth of the critique. To understand this, we have to begin with a realistic perspective on the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Clearly, the Palestinian population has suffered tremendously. And it goes without saying (or at least it should go without saying, but now that the blood libel has reared its ugly head, I’ll say it anyway) the loss of any civilian life is a tragedy. And I would even go so far as to say that the death of terrorists, albeit necessary, is still the loss of human lives, and therefore still a tragedy of a sort. But keeping a long story short: the horrifying destructive power of modern weaponry notwithstanding, the Israeli attack on Gaza was the most precise aerial attack in history. Never has more concern been shown for civilian life. Hard to believe, to be sure, after all the claims of “indiscriminate bombing” and “intentional targeting of civilians.” But consider these facts: According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (note: not a rabid Zionist), the Israelis killed 245 people, of which 63 were children, 27 were women, and 22 were civilian men, totaling 112 civilians, while 133 were combatants. The Israelis put the number of combatants killed considerably higher, to as many as 225. But even at the lower number, the proportion of combatants to civilians killed is greater than one to one. Considering that the standard for urban aerial bombardment is one combatant to nine civilians (according to Mark Lowcock, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator), the better than 1:1 Israeli precision is astounding and unparalleled. And if the Israeli numbers are correct (a likely possibility), the proportion is two combatants to one civilian, which is well nigh miraculous.

Look at it another way. The Israelis hit 1500 targets. Assuming that only 1 civilian was killed in an attack (an unlikely assumption), that meant that Israel hit Gaza (“one of the world’s most densely populated areas” as we are continually reminded) 1388 times with no civilian deaths. No other military force past or present has matched that precision (or even tried).

All of which goes to underscore the fundamental weirdness of the hyperbolic verbal attacks on Israel and the Jewish people. These can be divided into several categories. First, from the lawyers, you have Israel being held to a triple standard. What’s a triple standard? That’s what happens when you are held to a double standard, succeed against all expectation in matching that standard, and are then hit with an even higher and virtually impossible standard, thereby ensuring that you are always guilty. So now that Israel has done the nearly inconceivable, in spite of Hamas’ best efforts to bring about Palestinian civilian deaths for publicity purposes, a new (and of course impossible) standard is being suggested (by among others Amnesty International) that maintains that all wide-area urban bombardment should be illegal since “it is [not] possible to use explosives discriminately in urban areas.” (Charli Carpenter).

A second example is the claim, absurd on its face, that Israel has no right to defend itself. Instead, argues Noura Erakat, Palestinian legal expert supreme, Israel as an occupying power is only allowed to use police forces against Hamas (while Hamas is free to fight the occupying force “by all necessary means.”) To understand the absurdity of this, imagine occupied Germany, 1946. A group of die-hard Nazis band together and fire rockets at Paris. Who do the French call? General Patton, or Inspector Clouseau?

Besides these inventive new legal principles (never applied to anyone but Israel, of course), you have the extraordinary convolutions of leftist “intellectual” thinking, readily available in the works of Judith Butler, Philip Weiss, Rebecca Vilkomerson, et al. Consider this advice from Judith Butler. “Although anti-Semitism is sometimes used as an instrument of censorship or a way of discounting legitimate Palestinian resistance to colonial subjugation, it does sometimes exist in the discourse and the policy of the struggle. And we have seen the fatal results of anti-Arab racism in the most recent assault on Gaza. We are also confronted still with state racism in the form of Israeli law, land policy and forms of population control. So perhaps we all have to become smarter about the forms of colonialism and racism in order to have the kind of analysis that assists in the struggle to realize those nearly impossible goals of radical democracy.”

Got that? Didn’t think so. There are enough intellectual pirouettes in that paragraph to make a ballet dancer puke.

And all that intellectual “analysis” aside, what is far more dominant in public discourse is, simply, lies. So the issue isn’t “settler-colonialist” subtlety, but rather simple veracity. Beside the “indiscriminate bombing” and “intentional targeting of civilians” (both lies, but also contradictory lies), there is incessant talk from reporters about “bloodbaths” and “endless killing” and “Nazi behavior” and “huge human slaughterhouse” and “massacring children” (these last two from that great paragon of moral leadership, North Korea).

Over and above everything I have mentioned, though, and far more ominous, is the raw gutter anti-Semitism we have witnessed all over the world. “Shitty Jews” in Germany. “Fuck the Jews. Rape their daughters!” in London. And, the worst, “Who are the Jews here?” in Los Angeles, where Jews who responded were brutally beaten. Historically aware Jews know what those words mean. It’s a “selektia,” the dreaded Nazi-era determination of which Jews will live, and which will die. And just to be clear, there were no delicate hair-splitting distinctions made between Zionists and Jews. “Who are the Jews here?” is crystal clear language.

It is beyond obvious that no self-respecting Israel critic would ever react to the events in Gaza by saying, “Bad things will happen to people who fire 4300 rockets at the civilian population of a country that has F-35’s.” Such thinking is decidedly nekulturny in critical circles.

Instead, we have four different reactions to the exemplary reality of Israel’s conduct in Gaza.

The lawyers respond by imposing new and impossible standards.

The intellectuals respond by applying more high-sounding gobbledygook that passes for thought for those who don’t know any better.

The reporters respond by coming up with more elaborate lies.

And the gutter anti-Semites threaten, as usual, to kill and rape.

The thrust of the combined anti-Israel forces is to delegitimize the State of Israel altogether, which is not unreasonable—in fact, is inevitable—if you buy into the tortured “settler-colonialist, hyper-nationalist, militaristic, fascistic, apartheid Nazi-state” rhetoric. They are calling for one state “from the river to the sea,”  and they don’t mean Greater Israel. They mean Jews losing national sovereignty. Israeli Jews would have to rely on Israel’s current enemies to establish a political system that not only “ends the occupation” (i.e., destroys the State of Israel) and “liberates” the Palestinians; but also respects the human rights of now vulnerable Jews who find themselves in the new polity.

And who, I ask, will be responsible to see that it turns out that way? Or, put differently, who is going to take it upon themselves to ensure that once again powerless Jews are not murdered and their daughters not raped? The lawyers? The intellectuals? The reporters?  “Fantasy, Opacity, and Mendacity, LLC?” Unlikely. In fact, outlandish. Without Israel, the gutter anti-Semites will most assuredly have their way.

Now it could be argued that the gutter anti-Semites will lose all their power once the State of Israel is destroyed. That is to contend that the State of Israel is the cause of anti-Semitism in the first place, and once the State disappears, the anti-Semitism will too.

But somehow I don’t think so. Something—the language, the passion, the viciousness, not to mention a sense of history—tells me that the gutter anti-Semites of today are just as driven by irrational hatred as the gutter anti-Semites of times past—which is one of the reasons we needed Israel in the first place. When Jews in New York are referred to as “baby killers”, when “Hitler was right” trends on Twitter, when cries of “Free Palestine! Kill all Jews” is heard in Borough Park, it’s hard to put much stock into high-sounding condemnations of “all forms of anti-Semitism” by the likes of Jewish Voices for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Rashida Tlaib. Am I morally concerned about the actions of Israel? Of course, as are the Israelis themselves. The exercise of power is fraught with challenges for people of conscience, especially for people under stress, and especially for people who have been out of power for millennia. But moral concern is not a suicide pact.

This is what it all comes down to: Jews relying on the restraint (voluntary or involuntary) of the avowed and enthusiastic future murderers and rapists, in order simply to live; or Jews relying on the restraint of the government, army, and ultimately the people of Israel, in order to live, and to morally live with themselves. That is the only choice.

So…who are the Jews here?

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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