Oakland, Ca. (Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – I grieve for the people of Israel and Palestine, both of whom are being abused and terrorized by their own governments and leadership. Hamas is not a legitimate government, and is not Islam. Zionism is not Judaism. Hamas and the Israeli government have used their own people’s lives as pawns in a gross political game. By razing Gaza as badly as Dresden in WWII, the Israeli government quickly burned through any diplomatic and global sympathy it had gained from the Hamas murders of 1,200 innocent Israelis and kidnapping 240 more. As a result of the war crimes of an explicitly Zionist state, Jews all over the world face unprecedented moral quandaries.
Seeing videos of hundreds of innocent, peaceful Israelis brutally murdered, kidnapped and worse at a music festival was horrifying. Knowing that Hamas committed similar crimes against humanity at 21 other sites that day is beyond infuriating and heartbreaking. It makes anybody want to fight back hard. But political capital can be gained by some measure of restraint, and Bibi knows no such thing. It’s no less maddening and infuriating to see Bibi’s government retaliate with ten times the force, committing mass murders from 20,000 feet of ten times the number of women, children and noncombatant men killed by armed thugs on October 7. Seeing hundreds of thousands of destitute people trudging through the streets of Gaza with no place to go makes me weep. Knowing that their suffering is caused by a gross and sanctimonious perversion of Jewish ideals makes it all the more maddening.
It’s also maddening to realize the gross hubris and arrogance of the Israeli intelligence and Army, which dispensed with sentry border guards in favor of an electronic system, which was so easily destroyed by Hamas while they were sleeping. I was shocked to learn there were no actual eyes, ears and guns at those entry points, after my experiences traveling throughout a heavily militarized Middle East and Israel many years ago. Though I’m an American Jew, I had to establish my bona fides not only before entering Israel at the notorious Rafah gate, but also before entering some places I expected a more cordial welcome. My two days at a conference in 1980 (right after Camp David) in Nazareth elicited noticeable security monitoring to make me feel watched. The security officials seem to have monitored tourists more efficiently forty years ago than the Netanyahu government monitored Gaza’s main gates last October. It appears that it had sent some forces to help squatters on the West Bank, over-confident that Hamas in Gaza was content to play Israel’s policeman on the Strip.
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WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 13: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks at a news conference calling for a ceasefire in Gaza outside the U.S. Capitol building on November 13, 2023 in Washington, DC. House Democrats held the news conference alongside rabbis with the activist group Jewish Voices for Peace. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images).
The UN and much of the global public square have not always been a friendly place for Israel, but not because most of the world hates Jews. After all, we earned a lot of global affection and support for surviving the Holocaust. Critics of this rain of death from the skies don’t hate Jews. They hate what Israel has been doing to innocent Palestinian civilians since 1948, and more recently the juggernaut of bombardments in Gaza. Is there a more profane definition of “overkill” than ensuring that ten or twenty Palestinians die for every Israel Jew who is killed?
Zionism is not Judaism and any assertion to the contrary by Israeli propagandists only tars Jews with the brush of the Likud-led government’s war crimes. Most American Jews of the younger generation are uncomfortable with what Zionism has become. Whatever the original virtues of Zionism as a way for persecuted Jews of the Pale to assert their self-worth, it has now mutated into a quest to humiliate and dominate another people. Zionism became increasingly cruel under the Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin, more so under Ariel Sharon, and more even destructively radical under Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi). Yes, Zionism was always exclusionary to encourage Jewish immigration (aliyah), but extremists have transformed it into a sick, cruel ideology that impelled the arrogant, imperial atrocities committed by Israeli governments led by those three. It’s as though Bibi and Donald Trump both fulfill their parties’ ultimate fantasies for a cruel, dystopian, Fascist agenda. The devolution quickly escalated under Bibi, just as the Republican Party has quickly devolved under Trump.
They hate the predations of the far-far right wing Israeli settlers who embrace Biblical myth as a valid historical record, as if it carries the weight of modern diplomacy and valid treaties. Modern Middle Eastern diplomacy began after WWI at the 1920 Sam Remo Conference in Italy, and the law of occupation is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, not in ancient texts. That’s how most of the world sees it. Recent Israeli governments have empowered the illegal squatters to commit even more atrocities against Palestinian people, property, schools, farms, and water and food supplies.
I consider myself to be a good, UN-Orthodox Jew, and see no need to change. I accept my lifelong unpopularity with Republican Jews where I’ve lived, who tend to dominate the synagogues and social agencies of many American cities. They were the class seduced by Reaganomics, and they see no need to change either. (Familiarity breeds contempt at times.) Still, a great majority of Jewish Americans are fiercely progressive, forcefully calling out the sins of the Israeli military and Republican Party. We oppose the self-annihilating tendencies of Jewish Republicans who abandoned the progressive agenda and moved increasingly to the far-far right under the Bush boys, and Donald Trump, who realizes all the dystopian elements of the Republican fantasy model after the Bush’s and Reagan just weren’t mean enough.
No one cannibalizes their own like Republicans and especially Jewish Republicans. Before and during the founding of Israel, many deeply observant Orthodox Jews fiercely opposed the creation of Israel, and some still do. They view the creation of a political entity in the Biblical homeland as a disruption to the arrival of the Messiah. They too are anti-Zionist, but out of different motivation. We are not a monolith.
Despite what I am about to say, I don’t argue for abandoning the medical and humanitarian needs of people living in Israel in a time of war. The majority of them hate their government, as most Americans hate Trump. These atrocities are not in their name either. I argue for a more thoughtful Israeli government, invested in a solution that will solve Palestinian statelessness and thereby provide security for Jews. That outcome is unlikely to be achieved by the lawless and authoritarian Netanyahu government, which is wedded to destroying the courts to remain in power.
Through more than 40 years of my commitment to academic study of Israel and Palestine, I avoided calling myself an “anti-Zionist.” Given the discrimination, pogroms and ultimately the Holocaust that Jews faced at the hands of European white nationalism of the Fascist era, it was hard not to thrill at the realization of a long-held dream of Jews to return to the “Promised Land.” This began as a formal political movement with the 1st Zionist Congress in Basle in 1896. It became a quadrennial conference, and Jewish immigration to Palestine began in increasingly larger waves. Many Jews like me styled themselves Zionists, who nevertheless objected to the notorious Israeli “military excesses.” (A euphemism for cold-blooded, systemic murder and piracy.) But as a Jew, I’ve never been more opposed to what Zionism has become. The massive overkill and atrocities in Gaza led by Bibi since October 7 and the relentless attacks on Palestinian people and properties in Occupied Palestine of the West Bank by right-wing settlers have driven me firmly to the anti-Zionist camp.