B'tzelem: An Update on Israel
11.01.23 | Stories, Articles, Israel, Btzelem
The three weeks since the massacre of October 7 have been the most painful and trying weeks for the Jewish world since the Holocaust. Many of you have expressed deep pain and fear. During this time, many of you have had discussions with non-Jewish friends in which you do not receive the support and empathy you expected to receive. We are shocked that here, in America, we are actually considering whether it is safe to keep a mezuzah on our doorposts or wear our favorite Star of David. Sadly, these fears are well-founded: the Anti-Defamation League has recorded a 400% increase in year-over-year antisemitic incidents for the period of October 7-23. Antisemitism on campus is particularly virulent and the mealy-mouthed responses to the October 7 massacre by university leadership is part of the problem. For this reason, we have decided to dedicate our next issue of B’tzelem on December 6 to antisemitism, with a focus on college campuses. We'd love to hear from you: if you have a college student (or are a college student) with experiences or concerns to share, we'd love to hear from you. Please email to share your thoughts and perspectives.
Many of you may feel ill-equipped to respond to the onslaught of antisemitism and criticism of Israel. Two strategies are worth noting: first, be comfortable holding many conflicting and, perhaps irreconcilable ideas in your mind; and two, educate yourself by reading widely in a variety of sources that both agree and disagree with you. This is a moment that calls for nuance and subtlety rather than sound bites designed for social media. With that in mind, here are a few myths that are currently circulating in the world and some appropriate and informed responses.
Myth #1: Israel brought this attack upon herself by virtue of her oppression of the Palestinian people.
No. Nothing Israel did caused the October 7 massacre. The massacre was planned by a terror organization, Hamas, whose raison d’etre is explicit: annihilate the Jewish people. The massacre was not a ‘military operation’ as some have called it; true military operations do not deliberately target civilians–they focus on destroying military targets. And, they certainly do not include raping, beheading, burning and mutilating people, nor taking civilians and non-combatants as hostages.
Myth #2: Israel is targeting civilians, hospitals, mosques and schools.
This is a myth that particularly cries out for nuance and subtlety. Hamas has created military targets out of hospitals, mosques, schools, etc. Hamas uses civilian targets as a shield in a cruel strategy to, at least in theory, make it impossible for Israel to respond without world-wide outrage. Israel does not target civilians. Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties Civilian casualties are a tragic consequence of every military operation. Hamas callously causes civilian deaths by placing military targets among civilians. But, yes, sadly, civilians are killed in the military operations of Israel in Gaza.
Myth #3: Israel is causing a humanitarian crisis.
Hamas is the primary cause of the humanitarian crisis and has been for almost 20 years. Hamas siphons off resources to support its military goals. There is plenty of concrete, electricity, and fuel to construct many miles of concrete-reinforced tunnels under Gaza and make hundreds of rockets. These resources could be used to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. The same is true of money: Hamas receives hundreds of millions of dollars. That money does not find its way to the people of Gaza. However, it would be disingenuous to suggest Israel is not at least partially responsible. Israel must establish a viable, humanitarian corridor for both supplies and people.
Myth #4: Anti-Zionism is not the same as antisemitism.
This issue cannot be fully explained here. That said, Zionism is the belief that Jews are a people and as such deserve a homeland. If you oppose Zionism, you negate the entire idea of Jewish peoplehood which is a core component of Judaism. So, for all practical purposes anti-Zionism is antisemitism. There are those who say that being an anti-Zionist is simply opposing the policies of the State of Israel–that isn’t true. If it is true, why do people attack Jews and Jewish institutions when they ‘oppose’ the policies of the Israeli government? Why not simply protest at the Israeli embassy or consulate?
Myth #5: Hamas is a de facto government that offers social services to the people of Gaza.
No. The sole purpose for the existence of Hamas, according to Hamas’ own charter, is the annihilation of the Jewish people. Hamas is, in fact, the contemporary equivalent of the Nazis. Everything Hamas does is to further their goal of eradicating the Jewish people from the earth. The cry, ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,’ means ‘free of Jews.’ It does not mean ‘free’ in terms of civil rights. Listening to crowds chant this at rallies around the world is chilling because it means to annihilate the Jews.
Myth #6: Israel is a colonial power occupying a land to which it has no claim.
Of all the myths, this is the most insidious and dangerous because it utterly negates thousands of years of Jewish history. Jews have been in what is now called Israel for millennia. The historical record conclusively demonstrates that Jews were expelled from Jerusalem several times, the most recent of which was after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. The archeological evidence is also conclusive. Even after the destruction of the Temple, Jews remained in the land we now call Israel to one extent or another. To suggest that Israel is a colonial power in the same way England colonized India is simply wrong. The Jewish people have as much of a claim to that land as any other people.
Israel’s Response to the October 7 Massacre:
Israel is well within her rights to respond to the October 7 massacre. No nation would withstand such a horrific attack without responding. The issue is the appropriate response. Many people, though by no means all, agree that ideally Hamas cannot be left intact after hostilities cease. Is this even possible to achieve? This is a subject of some debate even among people who support an Israeli military response.
However, we in the Jewish world, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, should reasonably expect three things. First, Israel will take every measure necessary to limit civilian casualties as much as possible. We should properly expect that a military action be conducted according to accepted rules of war. We should expect the soldiers of the IDF to adhere to the highest ethical standard. Second, we should reasonably expect that the Israeli government has a definition of 'victory' or what it means for Hamas to be defeated and actual plan to govern Gaza when military operations cease. It would be unacceptable for there to be no plan. Furthermore, it would be best if Israel made that plan clear to its citizens and to the world now. Regardless, there must be a plan for the governance of Gaza after the war. Third, Israel has the responsibility to create a humanitarian corridor and facilitate the safe passage of supplies and people. This could be done in conjunction with Egypt or in some other fashion, but Israel is obliged to do this.
Temple Judea is committed to keeping our community informed about the crisis in Israel. Of course, the members of the clergy are available to discuss this issue at any time.
~Rabbi Joshua M. Aaronson
What You Can Do
Keep Learning: Education is the key to combating disinformation. Here are some key sources worth exploring. Some may be behind a paywall, but others are widely available during this time.
- An article by Rabbi Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute. Jewish Forward
- Simon Sebag Montifiore, The Atlantic, Decolonization Narrative is Dangerous
- Information on increase in antisemitism, ADL-Increase in Antisemitism
- Articles By Yossi Klein Halevi
- Articles by Thomas Friedman
- Tablet Magazine has taken down their paywall for coverage of the crisis in Israel.
- Washington Institute for Near East Studies offers reporting on the crisis from a more scholarly perspective; probably the best in-depth, non-partisan analysis available
- For Heaven's Sake Podcast sponsored by the Shalom Hartman Institute
Contact Your Legislators. Israel advocacy groups have alerted us that Members of Congress are currently receiving many calls urging them to abandon Israel in their war against Hamas. We need to make sure they are also hearing from our Jewish voices in support of Israel.
What to say: Thank Senators and Representatives for their public vocal support of Israel these past two weeks and urge them to do four things:
- Continue to stand with our ally Israel as it defends its citizens and works to defeat Hamas. America’s leaders must provide Israel the time and diplomatic support needed to protect its families and drive Hamas out of Gaza.
- Support the emergency security assistance package to Israel.
- Oppose calls for a “ceasefire” with Hamas. As State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday, “Any ceasefire would give Hamas the ability to rest, to refit, and to get ready to continue launching terrorist attacks against Israel. You can understand clearly why that’s an intolerable situation for Israel.”
- Protect U.S. citizens against rising antisemitism.
Where to reach out:
Senator Alex Padilla: DC - (202) 224-3553 | LA - (310) 231-4494
Senator Laphonza Butler: Tel: (202) 224-3841 | Facebook | Instagram
CLICK HERE for a complete list of US representatives and their phone numbers.
How to reach out: Please take a moment to call your Senators and House members. If you are not able to speak to an assistant, please leave a message. If the voicemail is full, please try again a little later since it is very important that you do leave messages. Emails can also be sent through the respective webpages of the senators but we’re being told that calls are the focus at the moment.
Support Israel. The government of Israel has indicated that the best way to support Israel is through monetary contributions. Links to organizations that are accepting monetary donations for Israel are available here.