Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Tuesday, October 24, 2023
In This Moment: Accusations of Genocide
In This Moment
IMPORTANT: We will be doing another Zoom Israel Meet-Up for TBE's extended family, on Wednesday at 7 PM. We'll be using a DIFFERENT Zoom link, so please contact Mindy in our office (email@example.com) or me directly and we will send to you. As with last week's there is no set agenda. It's just a chance to lend support and exchange ideas. Also, please join us Friday evening for our service marking the fifth anniversary of the "Tree of Life" massacre, co-hosted by BE and AJC. Registration is NOT REQUIRED. There will be enhanced security.
Getting Personal, Question #1:
Accusations of Genocide
The events of the past 17 days have hit home for most Jews in a very personal way. I know that my dispatches are being distributed widely among congregants and beyond, so I'd like to use this space as a place where we can assist one another and share advice. We will also be doing this at our Zoom Meet-Up on Wednesday evening at 7 PM. One matter that we will be discussing is this scenario posed to me by a congregant:
A close nephew's live-in partner (who happens to not be Jewish) has been posting about the "Israeli genocide of the Palestinians." I am very fond of both of them and suggested that the girlfriend may not be getting the full story in her social media feed. She did not respond and posted something else even worse the next night. We’d really like to discuss how to approach this and try to educate them about what is really happening.
I have a feeling others are facing similar situations, or equally uncomfortable but very different ones (for instance, I have a close relative who would literally like to blow them all to smithereens). And it's quite likely that many of us are finding ourselves confused and frustrated. What seemed so clear a few days ago has become clouded by the many conflicting voices we are hearing, along with the devastating photos from Gaza.
More than ever, we need safe, non judgmental spaces in which to discuss these things, to bounce ideas around and comfort one another. So in addition to joining us tomorrow night on Zoom, please feel free to share your concerns with me, and then let me know if you would also like to share them in this space. Never has it been more true that it is not good to be alone.
As to the question posed, in these emails I've been trying to link to helpful articles, videos (including yesterday's devastating one) and practical talking points that might be helpful. You can find an archive of all my prior postings on my website. But in the end, talking points can only go so far. If this is someone you know and love, a plea directly from the heart is where you need to begin. Explain why what happened on Oct. 7 is so devastating and personal for you. And why Israel is too.
But that is only a beginning. Once you've established that the conversation is coming from a place of love and mutual respect - and that requires a real willingness to listen to her side too - then a discussion of the term "genocide," would be in order.
So let's discuss. It's a very specific definition, involving both action and intent. And let's begin with Oct.7. It was clearly a genocidal act. Based on the Hamas charter, which adopts the most virulent of antisemitic tropes and speaks clearly about eliminating the Jews as a religious imperative, along with the handbook given to the terrorists as they set out on their murderous journey on October 7, this was a mission, quite simply, to kill Jews. In fact, Hamas committed each of those bulleted acts on that one day alone. The killing of pregnant women and ripping out their unborn children was even documented by the terrorists themselves in that disturbing video that I shared yesterday. If you add in all of Hamas's other atrocities committed over the decades, including some on their own people, there is no doubt that their actions have had genocidal intent and genocidal effect.
I direct your attention to a conversation between one of the Hamas terrorists and his parents, which was revealed to the world today at the U.N. As part of his speech to the UN Security Council, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen played this intercepted call. This appeared in Marc Schulman's Substack posting today.
TERRORIST: Hello dad. Dad I am inside Mefalsim. Open your WhatsApp right now, and see all the killed. Look at how many I killed with my own hands, your son killed Jews.
FATHER: Allahu Akhbar, Allahu Akhbar. May God protect you.
TERRORIST: This is inside Mefalsim, father. I am talking to you from the phone of a Jew, I killed her and her husband, I killed ten with my own hands.
FATHER: Allahu Akhbar.
TERRORIST: Open your phone and see how many I killed, father. Open your phone, I am calling you on WhatsApp.
FATHER: Crying (unintelligible).
TERRORIST: I am in Meflasim, father. I killed ten. Ten! Ten with my own bare hands. Their blood is on my hands, let me talk to Mom.
MOTHER: Oh, my son, may God protect you.
TERRORIST: I killed ten all by myself, mother.
FATHER: May God bring you home safely.
TERRORIST: Father, go back to WhatsApp! I want to call you live from Mefalsim.
MOTHER: I wish I was there with you.
TERRORIST: Mother, your son is a hero. I was the first to enter under the guidance and with the help of Allah. Father, lift your head, lift your head. (Talking to terrorists on the scene: Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill them! Inside, inside, into the city.)
BROTHER: Mahmoud, Mahmoud. Come back [to Gaza], that's enough, return.
TERRORIST: Return? There is no return, it is victory or martyrdom. My mother gave birth to me for Islam, Alaa. Are you serious, how will I return? Look at WhatsApp, look at your phone, look at all the killed.
Why the world - and the Israeli government - has let this group continue to thrive for all these years is beyond belief. It is the highest level of governmental malpractice.
Now let's look at what Israel has done in response to Oct. 7. The genocide argument can't even be remotely attached to Israel's behavior in this war. One can quibble about some of this government's ongoing policies and practices on the West Bank, but, however you define it, it is not genocide. By the UN definition given here, what's happening in Gaza right now does not come close to genocide, and in fact, given the genocidal actions of October 7, Israel's response can easily be defended as morally justified. I say that with a shudder, because the suffering of innocent Palestinian does and should sadden me, but the warning given that they should relocate from the north is one designed to minimize the deaths of bystanders. It is that "knock on the roof" everyone's been asking for, only the roof is all of Gaza City. Hamas has caused this suffering and the sooner Hamas is out of the picture, the better the chance for the people's suffering to end. This is NOT genocide.
The accusation of genocide against Israel is a clear case of projection, intended to distract from the actual genocidal activities and intent of Hamas. It's like when Donald Trump calls someone else a liar or an "election stealer" when those are precisely the actions he is most closely associated with. If it weren't so serious, it would almost seem high schoolish, as if the Hamas supporters are joining in a sing-a-long chorus of "Anything you accuse I accuse better; I accuse genocide better than you." It's ludicrous to set this up as a contest: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the genocid-iest of them all?" It is such an insult to accuse Jews of genocide, and an insult is precisely what it's intended to be.
Tell your nephew's girlfriend that. If you are going to accuse Jews of genocide, you might as well go all the way and accuse us of deicide,
On second thought, don't tell her that.
Sadly, there cannot be a ceasefire right now. Here's how I've tried to explain it to people who live in my neck of the woods. If 3,000 terrorists from Greenwich crossed into Stamford and killed, raped and took captive 1,500 people living on Westover Rd., including babies, and the whole Westover area had to be evacuated, no one would be demanding that we go back to a status quo antebellum. No one is going to sing Kumbaya over a campfire in Binney Park after this. A new reality would have to be forged, whereby the residents of the Westover area could go back to their homes with no fear of a future attack. That might involve a demilitarized buffer zone being created between the Mianus and Cos Cob. But one thing would have to happen for sure. There would need to be a new government in Greenwich not capable of posing a military threat.
What's happening in Gaza right now is not about revenge and it is certainly not genocidal. It's about restoring deterrence and safety to Israel's southern border, and to assure that October 7 can never happen again. The war won't be over until that occurs. European nations - and maybe some Arab ones too - should be stepping up their efforts to defeat Hamas as quickly and as soundly as possible, which is the only way to limit the suffering for the people of Gaza and Israel as well. A quick and decisive victory could also reshape the map of the Middle East and tip the balance away from Iran and Russia, but not even Shimon Peres would dare to express such an optimistic vision at this stage.
In case you're interested in more dinner table conversation with your nephew's live-in partner, here's the definition of Crimes Against Humanity, and below that, more on genocide from Yad Vashem's website.As you can see, what has been done to the Jews even goes beyond the standard, garden variety definition of genocide, both during the Holocaust and possibly now as well.
So that's my reply to the nephew's girlfriend. What do you think?
Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org - and join the conversation on Wed. evening.
The Fog of Waiting - with Haviv Rettig Gur (podcast) - In this conversation we explore the 'known knowns' of equities that Israeli decision-makers must be balancing. Haviv Rettig Gur explains in conversation with Dan Senor that the delay isn’t due to hesitancy, but to considered strategy. The two then discuss the ongoing efforts to rescue the hostages held by Hamas, and the resilience of Israeli society., Rettig Gur is the political analyst at The Times of Israel.
Marc Schulmans's nightly dispatch - What you may not have heard about, amidst all the coverage from Gaza: In a separate incident this evening, Hamas attempted to dispatch a team of frogmen into Israel. Israeli frogmen detected the intruders upon their water entry. After monitoring their movement, they were ambushed at the opportune moment, resulting in the elimination of at least ten terrorists. Up North, several Hezbollah squads preparing to launch anti-tank missiles into Israel were neutralized before they could act. Hezbollah confirmed the loss of six of its fighters. Later in the evening, two missiles, presumably launched by Shiite Militia, targeted the Golan Heights from Syria. Fortunately, both projectiles landed in open fields.
Marc also detailed this dramatic exchange at the UN:
Today, the UN Security Council addressed the Israel-Hamas war. Israelis were taken aback when UN Secretary-General Manuel de Oliveira Guterres addressed the council, stating,
The Hamas attack did not occur in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have endured 56 years of oppressive occupation. They've witnessed their land being steadily consumed by settlements and marred by violence, experienced their economy being suppressed, seen their people displaced, and their homes demolished. Their aspirations for a political resolution have dwindled.
This statement by Guterres appeared to many in Israel as a justification for the Hamas attack. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken gave a good response to Guterres speech saying:
First, we all recognize the right, and indeed the imperative, of states to defend themselves against terrorism. That’s why we must unequivocally condemn Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack against Israel – babies riddled with bullets; young people hunted down and gunned down with glee; people, young people beheaded; families burned alive in a final embrace; parents executed in front of their children; children executed in front of their parents; and so many taken hostage in Gaza.
We have to ask – indeed it must be asked – where is the outrage? Where is the revulsion? Where is the rejection? Where is the explicit condemnation of these horrors? We must affirm the right of any nation to defend itself and to prevent such horror from repeating itself. No member of this council – no nation in this entire body – could or would tolerate the slaughter of its people.
Tonight, I appeared on British LBC news. Before interviewing me, the news anchor played a segment of the UN Secretary-General’s speech, in which he demanded Israel agree to a humanitarian ceasefire. I pointed out that any moral standing Guterres might have held was undermined by the part of his speech where he appeared to justify Hamas's actions. I further argued that asking Israel to consent to a ceasefire is akin to requesting England during World War II to halt hostilities to provide humanitarian aid to Berliners. To many Israelis, after what Hamas did, it feels as if we are battling an enemy as despicable as the Nazis.