Amid Hamas’s rocket barrage from totalitarian Gaza, the land Israel left nine years ago, American Jewry’s tiny but loud far left launched its own fusillade. “End the bombing, end the occupation,” Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) cried. “Peace not vengeance,” J Street insisted. J Street at least “condemn[ed] Hamas” and “recognize[d] Israel’s right to respond to the rocket fire.” Still, while respecting their right to criticize – simply questioning their judgment -- I wish to rebut the JVP Peter Pettigrews and the J Street Pettifoggers. Peter Pettigrew is the rodent-wizard who betrayed Harry Potter and his parents to Lord Voldemort. Pettifoggers are intellectual tricksters who, by exaggerating the trivial, distorting the big picture, obscuring the truth, act like Rowling’s Cornelius Fudge, a weak character who unintentionally helps the evil Voldemort.
American Jews once instinctively respected Israelis because of the complexity of living under the Arab threat; now, a shrill minority instinctively blames Israel, without, for example, praising it for yet another bombing campaign far more disciplined and less lethal than any major bombing campaign America has launched. Fanatic Blame Israel Firsters, like the JVPers, naively declare “The occupation … is the root cause” of the conflict. The Gaza clash proves that the “root cause” remains Arab extremists’ rejection of Israel’s existence and the idea of Jewish nationhood. Just read the Hamas charter.
These enablers of totalitarian evil – who pretend to respect Palestinians but actually insult them by condescendingly absolving them of responsibility for their bad decisions and perverse political culture -- echo the Palestinian propaganda line calling Gaza “the world’s largest prison.” Gaza has beautiful beachfronts. It could have been the Palestinian Riviera had the Palestinians chosen to celebrate Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza by building a modern, democratic, prosperous state in the land they now controlled. Instead, they proved once again that as long as Israel controls “one inch” of “their” land -- meaning as long as Israel exists – they will fight “the occupation,” allowing their Islamist, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, anti-Zionist struggle to trump constructive nation-building.
The Pettifoggers are the J-Street relativists who exploit the tragic murder of an Arab teenager to accuse Israeli society of “incitement, racism, and calls for vengeance.” Self-righteously pretending that only they see “the conflict’s complexity,” and both sides’ suffering, they somehow overlooked Israelis’ mass condemnation of Mohammad Abu Khdeir’s murder as a rare, deviant crime. “Complexity” requires more than fill-in-the-blanks, you-both-suck, broken barometers blindly equating democratic Israel with a totalitarian Palestinian political culture that worships terrorism. Where is the pride, for example, that Israel forfeits the advantage of surprise to warn civilians and minimize innocent deaths?
Some guilt-ridden Pettifoggers mourn that Gaza “has no Iron Dome and only few shelters,” implying that this shortage is Israel’s fault too. It is the Gazans of Hamasistan who chose to build tunnels and Kassams to target their neighbors rather than building schools and shelters to benefit their people.
The media echo chamber artificially amplifies the Pettigrews’ and Pettifoggers’ voices. Their arguments particularly unsettle young idealists who frequently are unaware of Palestinian rejectionism, underestimate totalitarianism’s dangers, and crave acceptance from their radical peers.
These simplistic ideas are gaining traction among American Jews whose delightfully cushy lives make it hard to fathom the depth of anti-Israel hatred. This obliviousness to Palestinian ideology, which criminalizes even the most benign meetings with “the Zionists,” reinforces the logical Westerner’s mistake of assuming Israel must be terribly guilty of something to be hated so intensely. Without grasping anti-Zionism’s irrationality, critics see Israel’s tough political decisions and military moves as spiteful not necessary.
Not used to being targeted, many American tourists visiting Israel have found the rocket fire particularly terrifying. Having endured far worse in battlefields and previous wars, trusting the Iron Dome’s magic protections, many Israelis cannot understand the tourists’ fear, just as some tourists have perceived Israeli insouciance as smug.
Israelis’ refusal to be terrorized thwarts Hamasniks’ war aim to demoralize us. Friends who danced their five kids into their safe room, the vegetable vendors who yelled like soccer announcers, “Israel shoots …. and scores” as smoke from the happy crash of anti-missile- missiles with missile-missiles whitened Tel Aviv’s sky, demonstrated an admirable, indomitable spirit evoking London during the Blitz, Americans at Valley Forge, Jerusalemites during the 1947 siege.
Radicals exploit many liberals’ softness and goodness. It’s easier to join the pile-on against Israel than resist it. It’s hipper to denounce Israel’s military might rather than make the nuanced argument explaining Israel’s rationale while commending its cautious deployment of tremendous firepower – which could be so much more lethal. This awkward but true argument comes from comparing American sorties in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. And it’s simpler to dismiss Israelis and Palestinians as locked in some mystical “cycle of violence,” rather than sift through conflicting ideologies, histories, and behaviors.
One need not support every Israeli policy, endorse every Israeli move, parrot every Israeli line, love every – or any – Israeli politician, to support Israel while it is targeted. Supporting enthusiastically while criticizing constructively entails “complexity” too. This month, most Israelis, left-to-right, have denounced the murders of all FOUR teenagers; accepted the national moral challenge to ensure that the disgusting anti-Arab revenge murder remains an aberration; condemned Hamas’ rocket barrage; and supported the IDF’s surgical but admittedly bloody, destructive, and painful strikes.
This consensus of conscience, amid differing theories of how to achieve peace, reflects a democracy trying to preserve its existence and its conscience. That is the complicated, multi-dimensional Israel we should study, protect, and champion, rather than the one caricatured then condemned by Pettigrews and Pettifoggers. And that is the country that deserves to live in peace, free from rocket fire, especially from neighbors whose electricity and basic needs it supplies – and has not yet cut off amid the bombardment.
Gil Troy is a Professor of History at McGill University. He will be a visiting professor at the IDC in Herzliya next fall. His latest book Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism was published by Oxford University Press. Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video!