A progressive Jew’s double outrage


A progressive Jew’s double outrage

As a Jew, JONATHAN ROSENTHAL, Africa editor of The Economist, struggled to articulate his emotions on the events in Israel. Above all he is angry ...

  • 13 October 2023
  • Free Speech
  • 4 min to read
  • article 6 of 20
  • Jonathan Rosenthal

I HAVE been struggling to articulate the complex emotions I've been feeling since Saturday morning as a Jew, a liberal/progressive, a believer that Palestinians and Jews have a right to a homeland, to safety and dignity.  

Firstly I still feel sick and worried. I have family and friends in Israel. Some were in communities near those that were attacked. Others have children, nephews, grandchildren who have been called up to the IDF. I have friends and colleagues exposed to danger to report.

Many (but not all) of my friends and family in Israel are firmly in the “peace camp" of Israeli politics, have argued or campaigned for an end to the occupation and protested against Bibi Netanyahu's right wing government and built bridges between Jews and Palestinians.

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They are angry at the bungled response, which left people alone for hours. But they are also furious at Netanyahu, whose judicial reforms divided the country, even when he was warned that this would harm security, and whose rabidly racist coalition has inflamed tensions.

I'm angry too. On Saturday I was stunned that Israel's defences had so badly failed to protect its citizens. I was shocked by the barbarity of Hamas (though should not have been, given its past barbarism, including against Fatah members in 2007).

But I was also hurt by the response of many outside Israel, including some people I had once respected, who even as hostages were still being taken and Jews were being slaughtered, were blaming the victims and justifying the horrors. 

Some do so in the cloak of intellectualism (saying “this was inevitable" or waffling on about Fanon and decolonisation), some in the guise of evenhandedness, arguing there is no moral distinction between Israel and Hamas (even before the first IDF plane had responded). 

To these people, many of whom are decent and well-meaning: If your first words in response to this unspeakable horror were not an unequivocal condemnation of it, then you have no right to criticise Israel's response. By your logic Israel's retaliation is just as inevitable.

Some have responded with undisguised joy. This, they say, is “resistance", as if every youngster gunned down at a rave, every rape, every kidnapping of a mother, a child, a grandmother, will take Palestine closer to being free. 

To you I now have nothing but hate and contempt. Hate not just for your moral bankruptcy, inhumanity and antisemitism, but also because you are as much barriers to peace and a free Palestine as the ultra-nationalist and right-wing Jews are. You are mirrors of each other.

By celebrating (or even excusing) the crimes of Hamas, you are telling Israelis and Jews everywhere who still live with the trauma of the Holocaust that the world does not value their lives, that they will never be safe living alongside a free Palestine. 

And then there are my mixed feelings about the Israeli response. I understand why Israel cannot allow Hamas to remain intact, to plan and prepare new and more horrific ways of killing Jews (and other innocents, including Thais, Israeli Arabs and anyone else in their way). 

Yet I am also horrified at the blood of innocent Palestinians that will be spilled in Gaza and the suffering and fear imposed on civilians there. I am worried sick about the sons and daughters of my friends and family in the IDF who will be in danger going into Gaza.

I do not accept any suggestion that there is any moral equivalence between what Israel must do now and what Hamas chose to do on 7/10. One abides, as best as it can, with international law and tries to minimise harm. The other revels in genocide, proudly broadcasting it live.

But I also think that Israel should do still more to protect innocent Palestinian lives. It cannot be acceptable to cut off food and water from 2m people, and to bomb a confined strip yet not to offer passage for non-combatants to safety, whether in Egypt or the West Bank.

Some say that holding Israel to a higher standard is itself antisemitic. But surely that higher standard one Israel itself aspired to when its declaration of independence established a state “based on precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets". 

The reason I am trying to raise my kids as Jews is to pass on a 2,000-year-old tradition that teaches us “tikkun olam" or “healing the world". Jews are not better, or smarter, or more moral or less moral than others. But we have our ways. This is one worth keeping. 

The coming days will be hard for Israelis and Palestinians. It will be painful even for those of us in safety who care deeply about the place and its people. I only hope that once the dust settles, both sides will decide the killing must stop and get serious about peace.


♦ VWB ♦

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