Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
These days the shameless perfidy of the New York Times is palpable on the front page of every new issue, but it can take a big story like armed conflict between Israel and Hamas to ratchet up the paper’s bias and duplicity to Pulitzer Prize levels. You barely need to look beyond the headlines: “Gaza War Deepens a Long-Running Humanitarian Crisis” (May 18); “After the Cease-Fire, Gaza Awakens to a Sea of Rubble” (May 21); “Life under Occupation: The Misery at the Heart of the Conflict” (May 22). Such articles being tailor-made to manipulate readers who still get their news (to use the term loosely) from the mainstream media, and whose opinions on serious issues are easily influenced by shamelessly contrived propaganda, it was no surprise to find one Marisa Kabas opening her own recent piece for Rolling Stone with a reference to a May 13 Times article, headlined “In Gaza, an Ordinary Street, and Extraordinary Horror, as Missiles Thunder In,” about Palestinians killed by IDF rockets. Kabas’s take: as the “granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor,” she had been “raised to see Palestinians as the enemy” and never to question “Israel’s existence, actions, and connection to the United States”; but after reading this Times article, she confesses, “I mourn.”
In fact, Kabas (B.A. in journalism, George Washington University, 2009) more than mourns. She has now decided – and seems to be under the impression that this is a fresh thought – that Jews’ “history of oppression should make us even more empathetic to the displacement and killing of Palestinians.” And she tells us that when she posted this insight on social media, she “was surprised and humbled by the overwhelmingly affirmative response, with fellow American Jews publicly and privately agreeing they’re no longer able to accept the party line on Israel-U.S. relations” or to “square their love for their people and history with their commitment to racial and social justice.” One of the fellow American Jews who have evolved along with her, she is glad to inform us, is a certain Jeremy Slevin (B.A. in political science, Washington University in St. Louis, 2010), who, as it happens, works as “senior communications director for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar” – a job that over time has helped him, as Kabas puts it, “to separate his Jewish American identity from Israel.” Gee, I’ll bet it has. (Slevin, according to his LinkedIn page, has previously worked for Keith Ellison, MSNBC, and John Podesta’s Center for American Progress.) Kabas concludes that “causing trauma to another group will never ease our own. Killing more than 200 Palestinians in two weeks won’t bring back our ancestors who perished in the Holocaust, and it certainly won’t bring us closer to a lasting peace. Until we recognize that no one is safe until we’re all safe, the cycle of oppression will play on.”
All of which sounds very warm and fuzzy – to someone who knows absolutely nothing about the subject. Who on earth thinks for a moment that Israelis fight Palestinians in order to ease their own trauma or bring back their ancestors? For the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor to refer in this way to the actions of IDF soldiers is either a sign of incalculable ignorance or a deliberate and reprehensible calumny. Nowhere in her article, as it happens, does Kabas so much as mention Hamas, which, like the Nazis, is explicitly dedicated to the extermination of the Jewish people, and which, unlike Israel, targets civilians. “No one is safe until we’re all safe”? In fact, no one is safe until Hamas is destroyed.
To be sure, Kabas is correct in asserting that her revised view of Israel – what she plainly regards as her newfound enlightenment and heightened level of righteousness – is shared by increasing numbers of American Jews. On March 21, Pew reported that American Jewish attitudes toward Israel now range more widely than they once did: while 58% of American Jewish adults have some degree of emotional attachment to Israel – the figure is much lower among Democrats (52%) than Republicans (72%) – only 45% consider it “essential” for Jews to care about Israel. And attachment to Israel is markedly lower among young Jews (like Kabas and Slevin) than older Jews. This last item is particularly unsurprising: the virtues modeled by Israel – among them resilience, confidence, courage, discipline, strength in adversity, magnanimity in victory, a well-earned self-respect, and a refusal to be unjustly shamed or intimidated – are alien to today’s puerile, ignoble youth culture, with its piteous mixture of cringing white guilt, grotesque oversensitivity to so-called microaggressions, and proclivity toward inane, cowardly lawlessness.
Is it really necessary to say that by any objective moral calculus, Israel is unutterably superior to the Palestinian territories? Returning to their ancestral homeland after being targeted by the most appalling single event in human history, Jews made a desert bloom, built a free and tolerant democracy, founded world-class educational institutions, created cutting-edge technology, and achieved remarkable prosperity. They also established a first-class military that has succeeded time and again in protecting their country from the viciously bloodthirsty Muslim enemies that surround it. Yet even though Israel’s very existence has repeatedly been endangered by these enemies, nowhere in the Middle East do Muslims enjoy more liberty than they do in Israel, and nowhere in the world do enemy combatants receive more compassionate and expert medical care. Still, the international community, speaking through the UN, has consistently rapped Israel’s knuckles while letting its savage neighbors off the hook.
Meanwhile, that same international community has accorded more sympathy – and given more financial aid – to the residents of the tiny Gaza Strip than to any nation on earth. But instead of making use of that largesse to build their own peaceful, prosperous society, the people of Gaza have devoted their energies largely to exploding in rage and teaching their children to hate. Not only do they cheer terrorism; they handed over control of their home turf to a terrorist group that pardons the perpetrators of “honor killings” and gives lifetime stipends to the families of jihadist “martyrs.” While Israelis have never allowed their uniquely horrific past to keep them from building a great future – but, on the contrary, have been motivated by the Holocaust to seek to live in freedom, peace, and security – the Palestinians insist on clinging to their historical grievances, at least some of which are utterly fictitious.
During this latest go-round with the Palestinians, many stateside critics of Israel, Jews and otherwise, have focused on the power imbalance between the two parties, arguing that because Israel’s military might is far superior – rendering it capable of utterly destroying Hamas – it should ignore that group’s provocations, and (presumably) be willing to sacrifice any number of its own citizens in the name of forbearance. Yet these critics fail to acknowledge that Israel, despite its capabilities, never has sought to destroy Hamas; nor do they award the Jewish state any points for this unparalleled self-restraint. They are likewise silent on the fact that Hamas, if it held such an advantage, would surely have made good on its determination, articulated in its own charter, to exterminate the Israelis.
No serious commentator would claim that Israel is remotely perfect or that every Gazan is a malefactor. But when you look at the two combatants through the prism of good vs. evil, there is no contest. If American progressives, especially those under a certain age, tend not to see things this way, it is because they have been trained, many of them since the early years of elementary school, to view the world exclusively in terms of (white) oppressors and (non-white) victims, and as a result reflexively look upon the extraordinary triumph of Israel as grounds not for admiration but for contempt. Given their woke politics, in other words, Israel – a success story born of unthinkable suffering and persecution – can be seen only as an oppressor; by contrast, Palestinians have insisted on simmering in a perpetually boiling stew of venom, fury, and self-pity that has led them to reject every opportunity to improve their lot – which makes them, through the eyes of postmodern ideology, the perfect victims. (It is by this selfsame logic, needless to say, that Asian Americans who have worked hard to earn top grades are discriminated against in college admissions, while low-performing slackers in officially approved identity groups get a leg up.)
So it is that more and more American Jews reject Israel outright, professing their own moral superiority to the Jewish state – when the actual difference between them and the Israelis they disdain is the difference between cowardice and courage, between puerile moral posturing and mature moral responsibility. A prominent recent example of this phenomenon was provided by comedian-turned-humorless pundit Sarah Silverman, who on May 19 responded to the alarming wave of physical assaults on American Jews by tweeting: “Jews in the diaspora need allies. WE ARE NOT ISRAEL. And we sure as fuck aren’t the Israeli government.”
Silverman’s apparent premise is that physical assaults on Jews in North America and Europe would evaporate if only Israel didn’t respond militarily to terrorist attacks on its citizens. Yes, Israelis would be slaughtered, but American Jews such as herself – she thinks – would be safe. Does she really not understand that anti-Semitism predates the founding of Israel by millennia? Is she unaware that anti-Semitism is a central precept of the Palestinians’ holy book, which repeatedly commands believers to kill Jews – a directive that would not change even if Israel assumed the most abject imaginable posture toward its adversaries? Does she not know that in Europe, Muslim Jew-bashing has reached such epic proportions that many of her coreligionists across the Atlantic have fled the continent? Does she not realize that the people the IDF is fighting – people who, again, have written Jew-hatred and Jew-killing into their charter – are her enemies, too, and that they would like to decapitate her every bit as much as they would like to slice the throat of Netanyahu?
Silverman’s notorious tweet came eight days after a Facebook post by an old and dear friend of mine who now lives in Tel Aviv and who described in harrowing detail her own experience, earlier that day, of fleeing for her life during a Hamas rocket barrage. My friend mentioned that she lives in “an area…which was previously unused sand,” unused and “uninhabited and…barren.” In short, Hamas wasn’t targeting her and her neighbors because they had stolen Palestinian land; it was doing so because they were Jews – period. Does Silverman not grasp this basic point? Consider this: pontificating on the Middle Eastern situation on a recent podcast, Silverman admitted that “we too” – i.e., Americans – “live on stolen lands.” Does Silverman think that that tribe from which white settlers “stole” the ground under her home in Los Angeles should be allowed to lob rockets at it? Of course she doesn’t. How does she explain the difference? She can’t. None of them can – not Marisa Kabas, not Jeremy Slavin, and not any of the other preening, callow ignoramuses whose number is legion and who, wandering in their fog of entitled ignorance on the topic of Israel, are guided by one paramount article of faith: that they are virtuous, and that their cousins in the Holy Land, quite simply, are not.