Jews and Hamas
I assume everyone reading knows what happened recently in terms of the attacks by Hamas on Israel. Watching that play out has been more than interesting and more than frightening. There are rumors of beheaded babies, but this may be this catastrophe’s lampshades. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask. In both cases, so much provable happened that it’s stupid to concentrate on the unproven. All it does is hurt credibility for a minimal gain at best.
The reactions I’ve seen have been very interestingly bifurcated. From the President, some other Western leaders, Jews in general, we’ve looked at the impossible immorality of the Hamas actions, not just more dead Jews in a day than at any time since the Holocaust but the way it was done, like the Einsatzgruppen did it during the Holocaust: Like it was a sport, at times like it was comical. Going into an old woman’s home, taking her cellphone, recording her murder on it, then posting her murder onto her own social media. Quite the prank. Walking into homes, kidnapping whomever they found or killing everyone there, no regard for anything. Women? The elderly? Children? Babies? It didn’t matter. The beheading of babies has not been confirmed last I saw. The killing of them and sometimes the burning of their bodies has been confirmed plenty. Or killing a young woman, mutilating her body, then driving it through Gaza to the thunderous cheers of crowds.
President Biden understood what he was confronted with to the extent that his support of Israel was not tempered with any “both sides” crap. It affected him to the point that he is visiting Israel today. I don’t remember an American President ever visiting Israel, though I suspect he may have as a Senator.
Israel has spent unprecedented efforts, particularly when fighting in Gaza, to minimizing civilian casualties, to the point where the militaries of other nations now study their methods. Leaflets dropped from aircraft saying where to avoid. Robocalls doing the same. Tiny bombs to frighten people out of targeted buildings before they’re really bombed. Surgical strikes. All of which are way more expensive than simply blowing up launch sites and weapons caches where they are in the middle of heavily populated civilian neighborhoods. Israel has warned civilians to leave an area of Gaza where they intend to bomb. They have been criticized roundly for this without anyone stopping to realize that the whole point of these warnings is to save as many lives as possible. No, it is not possible to simply not bomb. Given Hamas’ actions and given the hostages they still hold, Israel must disable them for the survival of their people. Everyone would understand this if this had been done to their countries but for some reason they don’t understand it when it’s done to Israel. Yeah. For some reason.
In Great Britain, the pattern is the reverse of what it would have been under Queen Elizabeth. The Government is waffling. The BBC refers to those murderers as “militants” rather than as terrorists. Who waffles less? King Charles and Prince William. They show more courage than their elected leadership and way more than their broadcasters. The German chancellor has been unequivocal in his support of Israel.
In the Muslim world, they have tended to focus more on the actors than on the actions, not how they are killed but who is killed, unless it favors their side. Israel was accused of bombing a hospital in Gaza, which they’ve since denied. Before they investigated, the Israelis were suspicious yesterday because Hamas had a specific casualty count released in minutes. If you’re really familiar with previous Gaza wars, you know that Hamas has located their headquarters in hospitals to avoid being bombed (which in this case appears to be irrelevant because as of this writing it doesn’t look like Israel did it – Israel owns up to things, Hamas never does). This is of course a violation of international law, but those talking about this are more interested in scoring points than in why anything was done, with one exception: Israel’s actions allegedly drove Hamas to this. As a Jew, I can say that the Nazis didn’t drive my people to do anything like this to German civilians, and the Nazis did way worse to us than anything the Palestinians will ever see. The reason of course is that it is against our religion.
Yes, that last statement is a loud slap and it’s meant to be. I’m not sure how well that will be understood by those who read this. I’m not sure how well it would be understood by those who don’t. I do know that the difference in perspective is glaring.
In the US, where the line is drawn interests me. Congress, aside from the Squad, is overwhelmingly on the side of those who understand this. Colleges and universities, not so much. So many statements have been as colorless, odorless, and germ free as they can possibly be made. And how they divide in colleges gets interesting, particularly when we look at Harvard.
At Harvard, more than thirty student organizations signed a statement squarely on the side of Hamas, stating that they hold Israel solely responsible for this. A lot of professors, I think 350 of them (I should check), signed a statement condemning this. A group of CEO’s has now requested Harvard to release a list of the students who signed this so they don’t inadvertently hire any of them. Some students who signed have already had offers withdrawn from a law firm. That may seem draconian but not from where I sit. Hamas’ actions are unsupportable under any circumstances.
One of the hallmarks of the Israeli/Palestinian opposition is the extent to which Israeli actions are exaggerated, in ways that to most Jews are highly offensive. I can’t tell you how many online conversations I’ve had with Arabs or people in that camp who say that what Israel has done is the equivalent to the Nazis or worse. Israel does some nasty things, particularly in the West Bank, but I can’t get to a discussion of them because I’m too busy fighting the sick exaggerations.
When it comes to persecution, the Palestinians are spoiled. An odd statement, but from a Jewish perspective an accurate one. Most don’t know what real persecution looks like. The biggest issue here is that recent ancestors of the Palestinians were forced to relocate (though for some, even this is an exaggeration: they relocated themselves and were not allowed to return). Not only is that really minor as persecution goes, it’s true of the vast majority of Israeli Jews. This difference in perspective is most starkly illustrated by the events in the Arab world following Israel’s independence. For the next dozen years or so, most Arab countries drove their Jews out. This created a larger Jewish refugee population than the forming of Israel created an Arab refugee population, and yet chances are you never heard about it. Why not? Because Jews know the drill. Real persecution is not new to us. These Jews, and some were ancient populations, in Iraq’s case having been there for roughly two and a half millennia, were taken in and integrated by Jewish communities elsewhere, most in Israel, some in the US, and some elsewhere. No screams for reparations, no screams for return of property – and the Jews lost way more property than the Palestinians did – none of it. What happened to the Palestinians was exactly the opposite: the Arabs weaponized the Palestinians, keeping them in bad conditions to keep them angry at Israel. Arab hospitality is legendary but when it comes to the Palestinians it has continuously been an utter failure. When the Arab armies advised the Arabs in what was becoming Israel (not yet called Palestinians as a population; that was at least sixteen years away) to leave while the Jews were driven into the Mediterranean and then failed to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean, they didn’t take in the Arabs they instructed to move. If they had, there would be no issue today.
To put things further in perspective:
Two million Palestinians have Israeli citizenship in a country with fewer than ten million people. This population has more rights, freedoms, and educational opportunities than any other Arab population in the Middle East. This is more true if they’re female and insanely more true if they’re gay. What does the other side of the coin look like? The entire Arab world, combined, with a population of 450 million people, has fewer than four thousand Jewish citizens. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have none as they don’t accept Jews, not even Jews with continuous ancestry in British Palestine from now. So the definition of Palestinian is those who have continuous ancestry in what was British Palestine unless they’re Jewish (or unless they’re Arab and recently migrated there). Looking at these numbers, one can begin to understand just how off the accusations of apartheid are. Who is intolerant of whom here?
I stated earlier that when it comes to persecution, the Palestinians are spoiled. Perhaps I should elaborate. They have no experience being forbidden to practice their religion – except perhaps Christian Palestinians. They have no experience with anyone trying to exterminate their population. They have no experience being prohibited from engaging in certain occupations. They have little experience being exiled and, if they hadn’t fought the Jews, none would have experience, in addition to which the West Bank and Gaza are within the borders of what the Palestinians define as Palestine, so they’re not even in exile. Their casualty count is ludicrous when compared to the Nazis they choose to compare to. According to the UN, before Hamas’ recent attack, Israel had killed about 6,500 Palestinians, including military, over the past fifteen years. How long did the Holocaust last? It depends on when we view it as starting. Let’s say six years. If six years, then Jews lost more than 6,500 people on average every three days. Over six years. If we look at it as four years, given that from the Wannsee Conference (where the Final Solution was codified) until VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) is under 3 1/2 years, then Jews lost more than 6,500 people on average every two days. Jews lost one out of every three Jews on Earth, age immaterial, meaning that one out of three murdered were children.
This is the opportunity Palestinians have been presented with repeatedly from Israel:
If they stay in the communities they have within what they define as Palestine, where they have homes, schools, businesses, mosques, communities, without attacking Jews they can have those communities in peace and can rule themselves. Keep in mind that Palestinians have never had a state. This is better than they’ve ever been offered by anyone. They’d be surrounded by three countries not interested in their territory if they’re peaceful. They would realize the prophet Mikah’s promise:
Then each shall sit under their vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid.
This is a better deal than Jews have ever had. This is a better deal than Israel has right now. This is a deal that Jews would have excitedly jumped at for most of our history, emphatically including in 1947 – in fact, it’s the deal from the UN that those Jews thought they were jumping at, having traveled to Palestine to avoid persecution and having bought land to live on there. Contrary to what anyone may have told you, up until 1947 the only way Jews owned land was to buy it. No land was stolen, no land was conquered. As a way to build a country, this is unprecedented. It is as peaceful as it gets. It is in stark contrast to how the nations of the Western Hemisphere, Australia, New Zealand, and many other nations were built, and yet people in these lands have the nerve to question Israel’s right to exist while their nations were founded by non-indigenous populations (unlike Jews in Israel), they treated (other) indigenous populations way worse, and they stole and conquered the land they got. Some practiced real genocide. Most tried to get indigenous populations to give up their religions. Israel didn’t force indigenous children into special schools to indoctrinate them and prohibit the use of their language or religion like my own country did. No smallpox-infected blankets. None of that.
This is in many ways a better deal than Jews have in the US. When I go to services that are well-attended, and this has been true in upstate NY and in North Carolina, there’s a police presence at Temple because a gathering of that many Jews is too tempting a target. In the United States. Right now. There are a lot of campuses where wearing a skullcap can get you harassed. College students treat Jewish students in ways they wouldn’t dream of treating students from oppressive countries like China, and the students in question aren’t even Israeli at all; they’re American Jewish. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this is about antizionism. Antizionism is about Jews and this is about Jews.
We’ve had discussions here about how some conservative Whites in America don’t understand why voting for Trump would be offensive to their Black neighbors. After all, it’s not that these people don’t like their Black neighbors. The issue is that their Black neighbors aren’t important enough to them to bother protecting. Though there is a profound difference in degree, the principle is that of Germans voting for Hitler while not having anything against Jews because the things that attracted them to Hitler had nothing to do with Jews. The problem, of course, is that what that says is that what Hitler wanted to to do Jews was intrinsically acceptable.
For Jews, that’s where we are. This is either completely unacceptable or it’s not. There is no: We do not condone what Hamas has done, but Israel… That’s lip service. That’s boilerplate. That’s an advertising disclaimer on the way to blaming Jews for something Jews could not be responsible for. Jews could be responsible for resistance but not for what Hamas did. That is impossible. That’s not something one can be driven to.
I’m going to finish this with somewhere I probably shouldn’t go and it might, as far as you’re concerned, negate everything I’ve said, but take it seriously because this is not impossible. As unthinkable as this was, I’m now going to talk about something else unthinkable.
The intrinsic premise behind any nation being a nuclear power is that that nation would sooner practice genocide than suffer it, particularly practice genocide on a people that would make them suffer it. That’s what nukes are for. This is why Putin is really dangerous: He comes from a nation and a people that knows what existential threats look like and feel like. But no one understands that like Jews.
Russia lost a lot of people, but Russia attacked Poland and Russia had help, like Lend-Lease. Jews had a bit of local help during the Holocaust, but no nation took any military action with the purpose of assisting Jews. There were a few small nations that protected their own tiny Jewish populations, such as Denmark, Albania, Bulgaria, Finland, and believe it or not the Serbs. None bombed tracks to the camps. When Rabbis traveled from New York to visit President Roosevelt to ask him to do that, he refused to meet with them at a time when the President was way more accessible than today. That helplessness of the rabbis to help their own is what led to the formation of AIPAC. Jews aren’t politically helpless any more. Yes, there were righteous gentiles, but as national actors the world was mainly characterized by the St. Louis, the ship full of Jews traveling all around the Atlantic looking for someone that would take them in but none did, so they went back to Europe where most of its passengers were killed in the Holocaust. Or like my great-aunt: she had a father and brothers in New York, she got as far as Ellis Island but didn’t pass the physical exam because of something wrong with her eyes, so in spite of having family that would take care of her they sent her back to Poland where she was of course killed in the Holocaust.
Now, only Israel would take us in, and the only reason Israel can take us in is because Israel has a Jewish majority, which is also the only way Israel can keep its own Jews safe. That’s why there is an Israel. Israel was not primarily founded by religious Zionists looking for the Promised Land; it was founded by secular Zionists who understood that being a majority somewhere was our only insurance after having unsuccessfully (from a safety and persecution standpoint) having tried the other way for eighteen centuries. Now Israel is constantly criticized for not taking in enough Palestinians to lose its Jewish majority within a couple of generations. Sorry. Really not. Those who did not help us survive when we needed it have no say in our own solution to our survival. The world lives in glass houses and none are qualified to throw stones.
Remember who the Israelis are. Most of the Jewish population doesn’t come from where Jews were safe. They are the children of Holocaust survivors, of Jews driven out of their Arab homes where their loyalty was questioned in some cases after having been there for well over two thousand years, and of Jews who left the Soviet Union because the Soviets would not let them practice Judaism. They know all too well what unsafe looks like.
Not just the Israelis. I can remember my European-born grandmother sitting with me on a couch in her apartment leafing through a family album, turning a page and saying to me “This page was killed by Hitler.” The vast majority of American Jews have ancestry from where the Nazis overran. There is nothing abstract about this to us.
And even less abstract to Israel. One thing most people forget about Israel is how tiny it is. It is about the size of New Jersey with fewer people. What this means is that everything is personal, everything is local. When 1500 people are killed in a day, every Israeli either knows dead or knows people who know dead. This is true in every war. It is true of many terrorist attacks. Here in the US my wife’s former boss knew a rabbi who was murdered in a synagogue in Israel several years ago; as a Jew my connection with terrorism in Israel is closer than with terrorism here, and I don’t know that many Israelis. When you look at the reaction of Israelis to events like what just took place, remember this.
Jews like social justice. Actually, on average we’re more serious about it than most people are – possibly than all people are – but we’ve learned the hard way that survival comes first, social justice second. And that brings me back to the nuclear point: What Never Again means is that we’d sooner practice genocide to survive than suffer it, assuming that who we’d practice genocide on is the people who would make us suffer it. Make no mistake about the stakes here. To drive the point home, I’ll say that if it’s us or them I will support nuclear genocide with a clear conscience, though God knows I hope it never gets to that point. (This nuclear point is my view and may not be broadly held, though what I know indicates it would be.) Regret, absolutely, but not guilt. If you want to know what it takes to get me to this point, just look at my screen name and icon. Since I started blogging, my icon has been a Star of David superimposed on a peace sign. I hate this possibility with a passion, but trying to kill off my people is a capital crime and has to be stopped at all costs. All costs.
Biden is right to go to Israel. It is extremely important that the Israelis not feel alone. Trust me when I say we do not want them desperate. They’re blamed for genocide now, when they don’t practice it. What we Jews know now is how many people will treat what Hamas just did as somehow ordinary, something to be expected and glossed over as insignificant. And now that includes Harvard students, college students who are by no stretch of the imagination alone. You have no idea how the ground has just shifted under the feet of American Jews. I assume it’s shifted for Jews elsewhere too, but American Jews have felt like a safe population for a long time, though always cautious. More cautious now.
You have arrived at a litmus test. Be aware of it. If you have Jewish friends but disagree with me, my strong advice is to avoid this discussion because if you don’t you will lose them.
And you will deserve to.