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On Jewish Anti-Zionism

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.


At the time of this writing anti-Israel demonstrations are flaring up all over the country. Intimidation of Jewish students on college campuses has been increasing dramatically. Israel is vilified as never before, accused of oppression, colonialism, genocide, just about the worst crimes imaginable. Among those making these charges one can sometimes find Jews. Israel’s enemies point to this as proof that they are not antisemitic - after all, many Jews agree with them that Israel is the seed of evil in the Middle East. Anti-Israel campus demonstrators embolden Hamas and its patron Iran, who celebrate their efforts.

So how does one explain the involvement of Jews in Israel’s condemnation? Doesn’t it prove that Israel is the villain in this conflict? Admittedly it is difficult if not impossible to get inside the head of someone else. But we can take a look at what they say, and evaluate it critically.

Before proceding, I should state that I am not precluding criticism of the Israeli government or its policies. I have my own serious criticisms of the Netanyahu government. However, the portrayal of this conflict in popular discussion has been so simplistic and vilification of Israel so one-sided as to decrease understanding in dangerous ways that only contribute to prolonging the conflict. It is therefore necessary to provide some balance and some historical background for those who may not be familiar.

The Case Against Israel

Eve Ensler, who now calls herself V, is Jewish, an outspoken activist, and author known primarily for the Vagina Monologues. She is also a fierce critic of Israel. She was recently interviewed by Jacqui Lewis. pastor of Middle Collegiate Church, and the conversation touched on Israel and the war in Gaza. Here is V in her own words:

What I often think of the Palestinians, is they are taking the horrible abuse for a crime they didn’t commit. Europe destroyed the Jews. Europe killed six million of us. Europe, you know, put us in camps and gas chambers, and the Palestinians were not the perpetrators, and so ever since the beginning, for 75 years, they’ve been put in that position of being removed from lands, and apartheid, and not being seen as equal citizens, and we can go on.

And look, I’m Jewish, and I really believe that everything that’s been going on in these last months is an indication that we haven’t done the work of looking at trauma, because we could never - I wrote a piece in the Guardian where I talked about why we have to look about what’s happening in Gaza, and for me, when I was brought up, and when I was taught about “Never again,” that “Never again” was extended to all of humanity. It was not limited to Jewish people.

So to see the kind of atrocities, to see the genocide that is being committed against the Palestinians right now, to see the slaughter - what I feel is, is like if we are going to transform consciousness and if we are going to be able to go on as humanity, we have to say there are boundaries to what we as human beings can do, period. Period. We cannot kill innocent civilians. We cannot kill babies. We cannot kill doctors. We cannot destroy health care centers. There are boundaries to that. And the horror, of course, is that there were no boundaries to what was done to the Jews, and so that is being repeated and acted out on a scale that is so devastating to watch.

And when people say I’m antisemitic, because I’m standing for a ceasefire and standing for a free Palestine, I say no you’re [...] wrong. I care for the Jewish people. I love that I’m Jewish. I am fighting for the soul of the Jewish people.... I will not use our history of Holocaust, I will not use our past to justify and legitimize and create more horror. That has to stop me, and it has taken me around the world, for years, to war zones, where I am standing up to say “Never again” and to write about it and to put that information out and get all of us to say, whether it’s Congo or Haiti or Kashmir or Myanmar or Sudan. No! No!

I don’t know that enemies are gone. I don’t know that antisemitism has left the world. What I do know is that when I speak of my own journey with trauma, is that when I am acting out of that trauma I am creating more trauma. So here’s the deal: Do we believe that children who are growing up in Gaza now, who are witnessing the murder, execution of their parents, who are pulling up their brothers and sisters dead from the rubble, who are watching babies die in incubators, are not going to be filled with the rage of revenge as they grow older? So are we not perpetuating? It’s like October 7 didn’t grow out of a vacuum. October 7 had October 6, October 4, October 5, before it, and 75 years before it.

I’ve been to the region multiple times, I’ve seen the checkpoints, I’ve seen apartheid, I’ve seen people not being able to create, and have jobs, and people living in Gaza in open-air prison, and not having freedoms, and not having electricity - what do we think people should do? You know, people have a right to resist. And I will always believe that. So do we want to create, you know, the conditions of a new world, and how do we create the conditions of a new world? It is not through violence, because violence only begets violence.

We can hold two thoughts at the same time. It is devastating what happened on October 7, it was horrible, horrible, and the hostages should be returned, and that is true, but that does not justify, that does not give anybody the right to do what has been done, you know, over these last horrifying six months.(1)

While her delivery is impassioned and impactful, the actual content contains many falsehoods, misunderstandings of Middle Eastern politics, and misrepresentations of history. It is so full of distortions and untruths that unpacking it will take some time, so I ask the reader’s patience for the “rest of the story.” I will comment on the most salient passages.

What I often think of the Palestinians, is they are taking the horrible abuse for a crime they didn’t commit. Europe destroyed the Jews. Europe killed six million of us. Europe, you know, put us in camps and gas chambers, and the Palestinians were not the perpetrators.

A key Palestinian talking point is that they are being punished not for anything they have done but for what Hitler did. When they look at Palestinians, the crazy Jews only see Nazis. This whole conflict, they suppose, is Jews acting out their Holocaust trauma.

This is a slander against both Israel and Jews, and is patently untrue. It ignores the long history of anti-Jewish Arab violence even predating Israel’s establishment. It ignores the well-established fact that the Jews accepted partition of the territory into two states, but the Palestinians rejected it and started a war to thwart it. It ignores decades of Palestinian violence specifically targeting Israeli civilians. And most recently, it ignores the mass atrocities committed by Palestinians on October 7, unspeakable horrors not seen since the Nazis themselves. Jews don’t need the Holocaust to be traumatized by all of this. Turning the Holocaust against Jews in this way is patently antisemitic. It is an attempt to deny actual antisemitic acts by diverting attention from them to an unrelated historical event.

If one insists on invoking the Holocaust, it should also not be forgotten that the Palestinians actively collaborated with Hitler. Their leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, met with Hitler to collaborate on plans to eliminate the Jews. So Palestinians are not innocent of Holocaust guilt. Even so, the Holocaust is not the reason Israel fights Palestinian terrorism. The reason is Palestinian terrorism.

... and so ever since the beginning, for 75 years, they’ve been put in that position of being removed from lands, and apartheid, and not being seen as equal citizens, and we can go on.

The number of distortions and lies that can be packed into a single sentence is truly amazing. To understand fully what is going on here, we need to unravel a cynical play of words Hamas loves to use to confuse people. It hinges on the meaning of “occupation.”

First, a little history lesson is in order, since clearly one can no longer assume this to be general knowledge. After World War II the area we call “Palestine” was one of the leftover fragments of the defunct Ottoman Empire, administered temporarily by the British. In 1947 the United Nations determined that the land should be partitioned into two states, one Jewish and one Arab - this was the original “two-state solution.” The Jews accepted this decision; the Arabs did not. After the UN partition vote, Palestinian Arabs began attacking Jewish villages. Then when Israel formally declared its independence in May 1948, the armies of six Arab countries invaded. The war was very bloody, costing the Jews about 1% of their total population, but eventually Israel did win. But Jordan annexed the West Bank and Egypt took Gaza - land originally earmarked for a Palestinian state. So Jordan and Egypt were the original occupying powers, a fact hardly remembered today.

In 1967 a coalition of Arab countries instigated an unprovoked war against Israel. Israel won that war in miraculously short time. After six days Israel found itself in possession of territories in Gaza, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. Israel wanted to negotiate a return of those lands for a guarantee of peace, but the Arab states refused. On September 1, 1967 the Arabs issued the Khartoum Resolution with its infamous “Three No’s”: “No peace with Israel, No negotiation with Israel, No recognition of Israel.”

This is how the occupation of the Palestinian territories began: it came about as the result of a defensive war. At first Israel was willing to end it. But when the Likud party gained power in 1977 it enacted a more aggressive policy in the construction of settlements, resulting in the extensive network of settlements that exists today. Tired of dealing with Palestinian unrest, in 1988 Jordan relinquished its claim to the West Bank, and occupation of the West Bank passed from Jordan to Israel. It was as if Jordan was saying to Israel, “OK, you want it, you got it.”

In hindsight, it would have been better had Israel just withdrawn unilaterally from the territories it captured in 1967, even without Arab guarantees. But understandably, Israel did not want to return to the status quo ante without a peace agreement. That would only have recreated the conditions that led up to the war.

In 2005, Israel did unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. The hope was that this could become a major step on the way to peace. However, the following year Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, creating a national unity government with the more secular Fatah Party. But in 2007 Hamas ousted Fatah in a violent conflict and assumed total control. Hamas is driven by a fundamentalist religious ideology that is deeply antisemitic and does not tolerate any sovereign Jewish presence at all in the Middle East, not even in the territory originally partitioned for a Jewish state. (The reader is invited to examine the Hamas Charter [easily found online] for proof of this.) Once Hamas took over, it began attacking Israel repeatedly with rocket fire aimed at Israeli population centers, resulting in injuries and some deaths. These provocations lasted for years. Israel did make some attempts to stop them, but the job was never completed and the attacks always resumed.

(An ironic historical note: Israel was heavily criticized for withdrawing from Gaza without first reaching a formal peace agreement. Such an agreement seemed impossible at the time, yet Israel withdrew anyway. Now Israel is criticized for not withdrawing from the West Bank even though the Arab states in 1967 and the Palestinians in 2000 refused to make an agreement with it. It’s hard to win the game when the rules keep changing.)

And now for the cynical word play. Israel no longer occupies Gaza and has not done so for almost twenty years. The only actual Israeli “occupation” is of the West Bank. Reasonable people can disagree about that occupation. There are compelling reasons for ending it, and even more compelling reasons for not ending it right now (see below). But Hamas considers all of Israel to be “occupied,” and calls every Israeli a “settler.” So when Hamas says it is “resisting the occupation,” it means trying to destroy Israel entirely, even while using a term that properly should refer only to the West Bank. This is intended to confuse people who may have reservations about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank into supporting Hamas’s maximalist agenda.

Opinions differ on whether Israel’s occupation of the West Bank can rightly be considered apartheid. But to say, as V does, that apartheid has existed in Israel for 75 years is an outright falsehood. Ever since Israel was founded 75 years ago Arab citizens of Israel have always had equal rights and representation in government. They have far more rights than Jews ever had in Arab countries before they were driven out of them, and that Palestinians have even in most Arab states.

As for “being removed from their lands,” it is another lie to suggest that Jewish “colonialists” simply invaded the area and started kicking “indigenous” Palestinians out of their homes. There were displacements, but those occurred during the war that Palestinians started to prevent the implementation of a two-state solution. That will happen in war. If one starts a war, one must be prepared to accept the consequences. Many Jews in that area were displaced from their homes as well, something one rarely hears in these discussions. People are also generally unaware that the number of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war is roughly equivalent to the number of Jews expelled from their homes in Arab lands. Israel accepted the Jewish ones, integrated them into Israeli society and made them full citizens. The Arab countries did not do likewise for their fellow Arabs the Palestinians. Instead they kept them in squalid refugee camps, nourished on the false promise that they should, and one day will, return to their homes in Israel. They set up UNRWA to keep Palestinians and ther descendants under permanent refugee status. And somehow Israel is held to blame for the poor conditions of Palestinians living in Arab countries, and the fact that their fellow Arabs did not take care of them as Israel cared for the Jewish refugees.

One last note about the occupation, and I need to make this very clear: I am in principle opposed to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. If that could end without endangering Israel’s security, I would advocate ending it tomorrow. But unfortunately it cannot. To end that occupation now, with Hamas intact, would result in Palestinian rejectionists taking control of the new Palestinian state and using it for launching attacks on Israel’s central cities, just as Hamas has done in southern Israel ever since it took power in Gaza. It would be a death sentence for Israel.

On October 7, 2023 Hamas telegraphed what it would do if it ever acquired more territory and more control. It has promised repeats of that attack over and over again. Therefore, until this problem is solved - which would require the neutralization of Hamas and reform of Palestinian society - an autonomous Palestinian state perched adjacent to Israel’s nerve center cannot be a viable option. And by “reform of Palestinian society” I mean no longer teaching Palestinian children almost from the day they are born to hate Jews, as has been done for years in Palestinian media and textbooks used in schools.

So to see the kind of atrocities, to see the genocide that is being committed against the Palestinians right now, to see the slaughter - what I feel is, is like if we are going to transform consciousness and if we are going to be able to go on as humanity, we have to say there are boundaries to what we as human beings can do, period. Period.

The charge of genocide. What is genocide? Dictionary.com defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.” This Israel has never intended and has never done and never even attempted. It never tried to exterminate the Palestinians, and has even taken measures to save civilian lives. Yet genocide is exactly what Hamas practiced on the Jewish settlements close to the Gaza Strip. They went after everyone, deliberately, soldiers and noncombatants, women and men, children and grandparents. And Hamas has promised to extend the scope of this genocide if allowed to increase its power. This forced Israel to make a hideous choice: if it did nothing, it would be exposing its population to further and possibly greater vicious attacks, as Hamas with aid from Iran became more powerful. Israel had to respond. Hamas’s entire program is genocidal, yet the epithet is hurled only at Israel. That ought to get one thinking.

So to those who insist Israel should not have taken any action against Hamas, I would ask: Then how would you have Israel respond? How would any other country respond? How would you respond? Is it reasonable to ask Israel just to cool it and wait for the next October 7? Because history tells us that the next attack will come, as long as Hamas is left with the capacity to execute it.

So what about the Palestinian civilian casualties? There is no getting around the tragedy of it. My heart broke when I heard of a Palestinian boy trying to find his sister in the rubble because he wanted to play with her. It is horrible; there is no denying it. Nevertheless, one-sided condemnation of Israel is not the proper or morally justified response.

Hamas put Israel in a no-win situation. Basically it said, If you don’t stop us, then what we did on October 7 was only the beginning. We will keep killing more of you until we make your country unlivable. Israel had no choice but to respond. No other country on earth would have sustained not only that horrific attack but numerous other ones, including rocket fire and incursions, over the past several years, without taking action. Why should Israel be judged by a standard applied to no one else? And yet, it often is.

Another thing rarely reported is Israel’s attempts to reduce Palestinian civilian casualties and Hamas’s efforts to thwart those attempts. Israel went to lengths one does not see in other wars, giving up the advantage of surprise by notifying Palestinians in advance which areas it was going to hit. It tried to establish safe passage corridors, while Hamas blocked its own citizens, sometimes at gunpoint, from using them.

Yes, Hamas is that cynical. It has no regard for human life, Jewish or Arab. Hamas constructed hundreds of miles of tunnels that it could use to shelter civilians, but that would not be consistent with its war strategy. And so Hamas increases casualties on its own side by using Gazan civilians as human shields, then submits hugely inflated numbers of Palestinians killed, which the media report without criticism. Numbers from the “Gaza Health Ministry” are notoriously unreliable and never mention that half of those exaggerated figures are Hamas fighters. And that is how Hamas hopes to win this war. It is in Israel’s interest to minimize Palestinian casualties, and Israel knows it. But it is in Hamas’s interest to maximize them. Hamas knows its most effective weapon is portraying Israel as a genocidal butcher that deserves world comdemnaiton, and this strategy has so far proved very successful.

So yes, there should be “boundaries” to what human beings can do. Hamas knows no boundaries, so why not mention that? Burning families alive, violent gang rape tearing women’s bodies apart, public humiliation of children and sexually mutilated women displayed before jeering crowds, shooting children in front of their parents, and parents in front of their children. The Israeli army does not do these things, but it is standard operating procedure for Hamas. Deliberate attacks on civilians have always been standard for Palestinian terrorists throughout Israel’s history. So absolutely, let’s talk about boundaries.

And when people say I’m antisemitic, because I’m standing for a ceasefire and standing for a free Palestine, I say no you’re [...] wrong. I care for the Jewish people. I love that I’m Jewish. I am fighting for the soul of the Jewish people.... I will not use our history of Holocaust, I will not use our past to justify and legitimize and create more horror.

When accusations about Israel show unrepentant ignorance of its history and misrepresent the facts, when Israel is judged by a standard applied to no other, when violence against Israeli civilians is justified as “resistance,” then the boundary line of antisemitism has been crossed. It does not matter whether or not those who say these things are Jewish. “Black Voices for Trump” supported one of the most racist presidents in American history; that did not make him less racist. Even the Association of German National Jews supported Adolph Hitler. It is very convenient for pro-Palestinian antisemites to parade their Jewish supporters to make themselves look good. It is also meaningless.

Israel also does not use the history of the Holocaust to justify its actions. Palestinian terrorism is justification enough. The accusation that Israel is simply acting out its Holocaust trauma is an antisemitic slander.

So here’s the deal: Do we believe that children who are growing up in Gaza now, who are witnessing the murder, execution of their parents, who are pulling up their brothers and sisters dead from the rubble, who are watching babies die in incubators, are not going to be filled with the rage of revenge as they grow older? So are we not perpetuating? It’s like October 7 didn’t grow out of a vacuum. October 7 had October 6, October 4, October 5, before it, and 75 years before it.

I hear this one a lot: by attacking Hamas, Israel is only creating more terrorists. Unfortunately that proverbial rocket (an apt metaphor) launched a long time ago. Is it conceivable that by not attacking Hamas, Israel would have created fewer terrorists? Palestinians have been training potential future terrorists for years. Children from the most tender age are schooled in the hatred and dehumanization not just of Israelis but of Jews. Numerous reports on textbooks used in Palestinian schools, which for a long time have portrayed Jews as evil and even less than human and have glorified martyrdom and death, have born this out. The Hamas Charter openly calls for genocide. Is Israel supposed to wait until this disease metastasizes to even greater proportions? Until Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah, working in coordination, become able to carry it out? That is, after all, their professed intention. It is a present reality, not a traumatic phantom embedded in the Jewish psyche.

There is also a deep irony to this charge that Israel is creating more terrorists, which again highlights its antisemitism: because the same logic is never applied to the other side. Don’t Hamas and the other Palestinian terrorist groups know that if they keep attacking Israeli noncombatants they will only harden Israeli attitudes against them? And yet they persist. The communities Hamas devastated on October 7 were the most liberal in Israeli society, the most committed to activism for peace and improving Palestinian living conditions. People complain about the right-wing Israeli government, but over many years Palestinian terrorism has destroyed the Israeli left. Palestinians’ violent responses to overtures for peace have given the lie to the left’s insistence on trusting them. But very few think of this when accusing Israel of creating more terrorists.

“It’s like October 7 didn’t grow out of a vacuum.” This is a very dangerous statement, since it appears to make an excuse for the worst attack against the Jewish people since Hitler. But I agree, October 7 didn’t grow out of a vacuum. It grew out of a history of Palestinian rejectionism and an antisemitism deeply embedded within certain strands of Islam. What it did not grow out of was Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. We have already encountered Hamas’s disingenuous use of words: When Hamas says it is “resisting” the “occupation,” it doesn’t mean just the West Bank, it means all of Israel, “from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea.” Hamas would be out to destroy Israel no matter what it did or didn’t occupy, as long as Israel exists in any form. There is no justification for the heinous actions of October 7, and it is hypocritical to so passionately decry the loss of Palestinian lives while making the torture and murder of innocent Jews sound reasonable.

There is more:

I’ve been to the region multiple times, I’ve seen the checkpoints, I’ve seen apartheid, I’ve seen people not being able to create, and have jobs, and people living in Gaza in open-air prison, and not having freedoms, and not having electricity - what do we think people should do? You know, people have a right to resist. And I will always believe that.

There is no apartheid in Gaza. Israel has not occupied Gaza since 2005. The charge against Israel, that Gaza is an “open air prison,” is completely misplaced. If Gaza is a prison at all, then Hamas is the jailer. Hamas diverted billions of dollars in resources intended to aid the Palestinian people, to build instead a war machine consisting of 500 miles of subterranean passageways and weapons including rockets fired continually at Israeli civilian centers. With Hamas using its imports for military purposes, how else could Israel respond except to impose a blockade, which actually turned out to be rather porous? Why would Israel continue to allow Hamas to use those imports of building materials and other goods to build an infrastructure and arsenal for attacking Israel? Egypt imposed a blockade on its side as well - they too did not want terrorists threatening their government - but no one ever hears about this.

Had Hamas actually been interested in peace, had it been more interested in bettering the lives of its own people than in killing Jews, Gaza could have become a thriving community living in peace with its neighbor and setting a pattern for what the West Bank might one day become. Instead, Hamas created a de facto terrorist state whose whole reason for being is to wage jihad against Israel and Jews. And that makes Israelis understandably terrified about what could, and probably would, happen in a fully independent West Bank Palestinian state.

Searching for an Explanation

V’s case against Israel collapses under the weight of knowledge of the history and current politics of the conflict. It is one-sided to the point of distortion and misrepresentation of historical facts. Yet pro-Palestinians never tire of pointing at Jews who support them. What can possibly explain Jewish support for projects not only anti-Israel but also often antisemitic?

Throughout Jewish history there have been Jews who collaborated with anti-Jewish forces surrounding them. So this is not new. But it may be different. Psychological theories, including identification with the aggressor, have been proposed to explain Jewish participation in movements opposed to Jewish interests, and some of these explanations are plausible. However, their usefulness is limited by the inability of outsiders to get inside other people’s heads to discern their motivations. I don't presume to understand what motivates V. But I would like to propose a more charitable explanation of what might underlie some of this Jewish anti-Israel activity.

Ever since the biblical prophets Jews have had a long history of both self-criticism and advocating for social justice. Jewish civilization was unique in that it recorded not only its victories but also its sins and failures, within the permanent record of its sacred scriptures. The calls for social justice in prophetic Judaism revolutionized the world and continue to inspire modern movements for human rights. At the same time, Jewish self-criticism is so well known that it has often been used to judge Jews from the outside. The charge that “Even your own prophets condemn you” has often been thrown at Jews and is found in both Christian and Muslim scripture. So Jewish self-criticism is nothing new. Prophetic Judaism showed the world the moral necessity of self-criticism, and Jews have been paying for it ever since.

I am willing to concede that V and others like her may be motivated by the prophetic call for social justice and the tradition of Jewish self-criticism. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. To an extent, it is even praiseworthy. However, it is pathological when it becomes one-sided, full of vitriol, and ignores the offenses of the other side, as if only Jews were blameworthy.

I have witnessed many Israeli/Palestinian dialogues. Almost without exception, only the Jewish side criticizes itself and reaches out to the other side. The Palestinian side virtually never displays self-criticism, clings to its identity as mistreated victims, and takes Jewish self-criticism as admissions of Jewish guilt and as justification for Palestinian extremism. Both sides can reach “common ground” as long as both agree that Israel is the bad guy.(2) The two sides come from two very different traditions, one actively encouraging self-examination and the other not recognizing that as a value. There is no equivalent of prophetic self-criticism in Islamic scripture. Palestinian self-righteousness and assumed moral superiority is no proof of the righteousness of the Palestinian cause, especially the part that calls for Israel’s destruction.

Palestinian propaganda, supported by Jews who don’t understand the history and politics of the conflict, portrays Israel as the super-bully of the Middle East, the strong gorilla dominating the smaller forest creatures. Israel’s military is supposedly all-powerful, able to wipe out the Arab world in a single bound, so what is Israel worried about? I have heard such characterizations not only from Palestinians but also from the progressive left. The resemblance to the antisemitic stereotype of the powerful Jew is undeniable.

It is also not true to reality. Israel is not the “top dog” in this war. The title “Israeli/Palestinian conflict” is a misnomer. This is really a war between Israel and Iran. Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis are all Iran’s proxies, surrounding Israel on all sides. Hezbollah poses a far more dangerous threat than Hamas, and has already forced the evacuation of thousands of Israelis from towns close to its northern border. On October 7, Hamas showed that the intention of this war is genocidal. And that would mean real genocide, targeting every single member of the population, fighter and non-fighter, intentionally and with the utmost brutality, which is not what Israel is doing in Gaza, however terrible that war’s consequences for both sides. The Gaza war is terrible, and there are civilian casualties as in every war, but it is not genocide.

The Iranian regime is sworn to Israel’s destruction, however long it takes. Hamas is a tool Iran can use while staying safely behind the lines - for now. The public relations war, which Iran/Hamas is currently winning by a wide margin, is part of their overall war strategy. Hamas hopes that its mass attacks on Israeli civilians will become the spearhead of a larger regional war ideally realizing its dream of mass murder on a very large scale. If Israel is weakened, if it is prevented from finishing the job with Hamas, the problem will not go away. Hamas will regroup and mount another attack sometime in the foreseeable future, perhaps even worse than October 7 as it strengthens its military capability with Iran’s help, and we will find ourselves back where we are right now, only worse. Putting all the pressure on Israel and none on Hamas and especially Iran is a good way to ensure the conflict will escalate dangerously.

What will happen if Israel’s critics get what they want, a permanent ceasefire and a victory for Hamas? That will be the end of Israel’s deterrence capability, the only thing preventing an even bloodier war with Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. If Hamas can say that with the aid of international pressure it stood up to Israel and defeated it, Hezbollah, which is far more powerful, will feel no alternative but to continue the operation. And guess who will suffer the most if that happens? The Lebanese civilians whose villages Hezbollah uses as cover for its missiles. If those who now condemn Israel are indifferent to the loss of Jewish lives, let them at least consider the Arab lives they are helping to put in danger.

This is the nature of the Middle East, which most Westerners do not understand. It is a rough neighborhood, where every choice is a Sophie’s choice. Americans want simple answers, but the insistence on simple answers to complex questions inevitably makes the problem worse. Widespread support for religion-crazed mass murderers, especially if that support comes from Jews, only inflames an already unstable situation and gives encouragement to the forces of instability. One-sided condemnation of Israel in complete ignorance of the role Islamic antisemitism plays in driving this war is a recipe for disaster on a global scale.

Therefore Jews who uncritically condemn Israel, ignoring Hamas’s actions and ultimate aims, as well as the intentions of the wider Iranian axis, are collaborating with the Iranian war effort. When they do it most visibly, as on our college campuses, they embolden Iran and its proxy Hamas and reinforce their bloodthirstiness and intransigence. This can only prolong the war and bring even more suffering not just on Israelis but on the Palestinian people. But Hamas loves it, and has thanked those demonstrators, especially the Jewish ones, who support their cause.

This presentation should not conclude without at least a mention of a favorite organization of those who like to point to Jewish anti-Zionism as somehow proving something. This group can be so vitriolic one may wonder whether its motivation is simply a concern for social justice. It is Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and here are just a couple of examples. On October 8, one day after the Hamas mass attack on Jewish communities, at a rally cosponsored by JVP and other organizations, a speaker proclaimed: “The resistance is liberating land that has been occupied for 75 years. The intifada lives and Palestine lives!” and signs proclaimed: “Decolonize is not a metaphor” and “resistance is not terrorism.” Two weeks later, at a rally cosponsored by JVP Rhode Island, several attendees chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, the Yahudi [Jews] have got to go.”(3)

The antisemitism in these statements is undeniable. We have encountered the slogan “75 years” before. It refers to the founding of Israel, 75 years ago, which, as noted, took place two decades before Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. When anti-Zionists, including Jewish ones, talk about “75 years of occupation,” they are saying Israel has no right to exist and should be dismantled. Those who chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” are saying exactly the same thing. It expresses a standard applied only to the Jewish state and to no other. If Israel were dissolved, its Jewish population would be at the mercy of a hostile Arab majority certain to treat it badly, as October 7 amply demonstrated. JVP justifies the worst and most dehumanizing attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust, and so is clearly antisemitic.

So Jews really can, and have, made statements and performed actions serving the cause of antisemitism. Singling out Jewish members of a movement as “proof” of lack of anti-Jewish bias would be called tokenism if it were any group other than Jews. Any movement that condemns Israel without equal denunciation of Hamas terrorism, that speaks of “75” years of “occupation” and “river to the sea,” thus singling out Middle Eastern Jews for elimination, is antisemitic on the face of it. And today’s anti-Zionists do not speak of 57 years of occupation (since the Six Day War). It is always 75, since the founding of Israel and the unsuccessful war waged by the Palestinians and Arab states that anti-Zionists wish to revive and fight to the finish.

There is no doubt that the actions of Jews can be antisemitic in effect even if not in intent. Especially when those actions are motivated by an ignorance of history and the uncritical acceptance of disingenuous narratives. Many need to be educated on the history of what they are protesting. They have a right to protest - peacefully - but they have no right to their claimed moral superiority. If they don’t like how Israel is managing the war, fine, but show an appreciation of its full context and of the intentions of Israel’s enemies. And save at least half of that vitriol for Hamas. It was, after all, Hamas who chose and initiated this war.

This conflict is highly complex, and cannot be reduced to the left’s chosen binary of “oppressor/oppressed,” a procrustean mold into which every conflict seems to be squeezed. Anyone who thinks that way in regard to the Middle East has a lot of homework to do. No one likes to face a conflict that is difficult to understand and that has no easy solution. But far worse is oversimplifying that conflict beyond the bounds of reality, to convince oneself of one’s own moral righteousness and to attain the false security of easy answers. Because that is the way to increase even more the tragic loss of life on both sides.

Notes

(1) Rev. Jacqui Lewis, Interview with Eve Ensler (V), Marble Collegiate Church, April 28, 2024.

(2) Sabeeha Rehman and Walter Ruby, We Refuse to Be Enemies: How Muslims and Jews Can Make Peace, One Friendship at a Time (New York: Arcade, 2021). The authors were able to find common ground because both agreed on critisims of Israel while neither had a critical word for the Palestinians.

(3) Ian Haworth, “
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP): What You Need to Know,” Anti-Defamation League, October 25, 2024.

May 2024