In 2010, Helen Thomas, a longtime veteran White House reporter who covered every US president’s administration since Eisenhower, was forced to resign after the following exchange with a reporter about Israeli Jews:
Reporter: “Any comments on Israel? We are asking everyone today.”
HT: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”
Reporter: “So where should they go, what should they do?”
HT: “They can go home.”
Reporter: “Where is their home?”
HT: “Poland, Germany…”
Reporter: “You say Jews go back to Poland and Germany…”
HT: “And America, and everywhere else.”
In response to this, Jon Stewart, then-host of the Daily Show, quipped, “Yes, why DID the Jews ever leave Germany and Poland?”
Helen Thomas was making an argument echoed by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, BLM leaders, and other advocates in the past week — Jewish Israelis are, in essence, just another example of European colonizers oppressing a local indigenous population. From this perspective, no amount of land in this region should be permitted to Jewish sovereignty, because Jewish sovereigns are, by their presence in this land, oppressors of the indigenous and rightful landowners. This perspective is embraced by Hamas, who operate the government in Gaza, and who are not interested in sharing this small country in any sort of two-state solution; they have been clear about their goals of eradicating the State of Israel in its entirety.
Of course, the argument assuming that Jewish Israelis are, by and large, of European descent is based on factual inaccuracies. There are many millions of Jewish Israelis whose families’ recent generations trace to non-European countries, and the best genetic evidence suggests that Ashkenazi Jews share more genetic material with Jews of Middle Eastern descent than with their European neighbors. But at its core, this is about the Jewish people’s claim to the Land of Israel, which, fundamentally, is a Biblical and historical one, not one based on the need to house surviving Ashkenazi Jews somewhere after the attempted genocide of the Holocaust. Jews believe that we have a right to the land, while Hamas and their supporters believe that we don’t.
A major feature of this argument against Israel is the unequal application of the “right of return,” which states that Jews from anywhere in the world are entitled to become citizens and residents of Israel, while descendants of the displaced Arab population are not entitled to return to their homes. The reason for this discrepancy, which runs against modern sensibilities of fairness, is that a) part of the function of the State of Israel is as a safe haven for Jews; and b) as Amos Oz put it, ““The right of return [for Palestinians] is a euphemism for the liquidation of Israel.”
The suffering of the Palestinian population in Gaza and elsewhere is real, and the disenfranchisement of Palestinians within Israel and other territories is a painful reality. I know many Jewish Israelis who engage politically, as well as within communities, in support of increasing the opportunities for Palestinians and other minority groups within Israel. I have seen Jewish Israelis shed tears over the poverty and struggle of poor Arab families. Aside from a small group of fringe elements in society, Israelis condemn the actions of the Jewish extremists who terrorize their Arab neighbors, and largely believe that these Jewish domestic terrorists should be brought to justice. There is no question that Israel should do more to provide opportunities for advancement to these poor Arab communities and increase their inclusion in Israeli society. But Hamas’s actions and intent have little to do with this struggle of how to balance a commitment to ensuring the Jewish nature of the State, with ensuring the needs and rights of the minorities are upheld fairly; Hamas’s intent is, and always has been, the destruction of the Jewish state.
Similarly, the legal proceedings involving the homes in Sheikh Jarrah, along with Israeli forces moving into Al-Aqsa a couple of weeks ago may be legitimate targets of critique; indeed, there are many Jewish Israelis who opposed the government actions in each of those cases, or, at the very least, are critical of the government for its failure to properly address the underlying concerns involved in each instance. Nevertheless, any reasonable person should be able to recognize that Hamas firing deadly missiles indiscriminately on Israeli cities is not about justice for families in Sheikh Jarrah or even disputes about riot control in Jerusalem. Hamas used these events, and the predisposition of anti-Israel voices around the world to rally to their cause, as a pretext to shoot missiles into Israeli cities at Israeli civilians. This action by Hamas is not about objection to aggressive policing in Al-Aqsa, or about potential evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, just as the bus bombings 20 years ago were not about protesting any particular government policy; instead, this is about their core belief that Jews do not have a right to sovereignty in Israel. If Hamas had their way, there would be no Jewish state, and this land would be without Jews.
The events of the Holocaust demonstrated the urgency that international support for a national homeland with Jewish sovereignty was the only way to ensure the long-term safety of Jews. As the world has seen in recent years in Syria, China, North Korea, parts of Central and South America, parts of Africa, and, yes, even the way the Palestinians are treated in Gaza by their own government, international protection of innocent lives requires political calculation and political will, and there are no guarantees that governments around the world will commit their own military to protect citizens of foreign countries. It is the fundamental right and duty of our government to defend the citizens against foreign attacks, and to take actions to ensure that the citizens can remain safe.
Anti-Israel messengers ask you to view the actions of the Hamas-led government in Gaza as part of legitimate critique and protest of Israeli policies towards Palestinians. Do not be confused by this marketing ploy. Hamas’s goal is not to increase the equity or equality among Jewish and Arab residents of Israel; instead, their goal is to eradicate Jewish sovereignty and Jewish presence from Israel. They do this through missile fire, through social media messaging, through casting Israelis as colonizing interlopers, or through boycott efforts. In a conflict between these two sides, deciding who to support is simple: I stand with Israel.