We Need to Talk about Israeli Genocide

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It’s probably natural that, after the month of genocide we’ve seen carried out by Israel in Gaza, people would want to shift their focus elsewhere. Over and over again, we’ve seen images of Palestinians wandering shell-shocked through the wreckage of Gaza: Palestinians holding their slaughtered infants, Palestinians murdered playing soccer on a beach, Palestinians simply staring blankly at their viciously, needlessly destroyed homes.

It’s important to note, right now, that there are no comparable images of murdered Israeli children circulating on social media, in the press, or anywhere else in the universe. That’s because those images don’t exist. Those images don’t exist because what’s happened in Gaza over the last month isn’t war between Israel & Hamas. It’s a genocide being executed out by Israel against the Palestinian people.

I’ll take the statistics from CNN because no sane person could argue that CNN is pro-Palestinian or anti-semitic:

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza stands at more than 1,800, with nearly 10,000 wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry said Sunday. More than 300 children have died, the ministry has reported, as the United Nations repeatedly raises concerns about the high number of deaths in Gaza.

On the Israeli side, 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have died since fighting began more than three weeks ago.

Again, this is not a war; it’s a slaughter. It’s brutal and disturbing and I can understand why people might want to think about other things.

Jewish Americans (like myself) might be particularly desperate to find other things to talk about. Growing up Jewish in the U.S. meant, for me and for many of us, aggressive indoctrination into militaristic, xenophobic Zionism. No matter how many soccer-playing kids the Jewish state’s military murders, a part of me still wants to think they’re the good guys.

But the reality is, there are no photos of dead Israeli children on the beach. There are no Israeli universities bombed into oblivion. No schools sheltering Israeli civilians have been obliterated by Hamas’s rockets.

And while I find anti-semitism frightening and abhorrent, I’m confused about the recent spate of cautionary articles about prejudice against Jews in the U.S. media at a time when the Jewish state is carrying out genocide against the Palestinians with direct, aggressive U.S. support– and when the Anti-Defamation League reports that U.S. anti-semitism is at a low point. Fantastic hypotheticals wherein Palestinian forces have the resources to dominate the Israeli military don’t seem particularly helpful at the moment. Make-believe violence isn’t my primary concern at the moment; there’s more than enough actual violence to deal with.

Right now, it seems like we might want to follow the lead of the Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide (and their descendants) who have stated, unequivocally, that during this slaughter, their concern is for those who are actually victims, rather than those who might be:

As Jewish survivors and descendents of survivors of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world. We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia…

We call for an immediate end to the siege against and blockade of Gaza. We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. “Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!

This is all we need to talk about: end the genocide and end the occupation. As these Holocaust survivors say, “never again” means “never again for anyone.”

Newsflash! Old Testament God Wants Zionists out of Israel


Did you know that God, the guy from the Old Testament, doesn’t like Zionists? In fact, it turns out he doesn’t like anybody who forcibly evicts people from their homes, butchers their children, and then dances on their corpses!

Don’t believe me? Well, thankfully Naomi Wolf, a far more diligent Jew than I’ll ever be, recently checked the facts and posted her findings on her Facebook page:

“…if you read Genesis Exodus and Deuteronomy in Hebrew — as I do — you see that God did not ‘give’ Israel to the Jews/Israelites. We as Jews are raised with the creed that ‘God gave us the land of Israel’ in Genesis — and that ethnically ‘we are the chosen people.’ But actually — and I could not believe my eyes when I saw this, I checked my reading with major scholars and they confirmed it — actually God’s “covenant” in Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy with the Jewish people is NOT ABOUT AN ETHNICITY AND NOT ABOUT A CONTRACT. IT IS ABOUT A WAY OF BEHAVING…

[God] never says: ‘I will give you, ethnic Israelites, the land of Israel.’ Rather He says…IF you visit those imprisoned…act mercifully to the widow and the orphan…welcome the stranger in your midst…tend the sick…do justice and love mercy…THEN YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE AND THIS LAND WILL BE YOUR LAND. So ‘my people’ is not ethnic — it is transactional. We are God’s people not by birth but by a way of behaving, that is ethical, kind and just. And we STOP being “God’s people” when we are not ethical, kind and just. And ANYONE who is ethical, kind and just is, according to God in Genesis, ‘God’s people.’ And the ‘contract’ to ‘give’ us Israel is conditional — we can live in God’s land IF we are ‘God’s people’ in this way — just, merciful, compassionate. AND…It never says I will give this land JUST to you. Remember these were homeless nomads who had left slavery in Egypt and were wandering around in the desert; at most these passages say, settle here, but they do not say, settle here exclusively. Indeed again and again it talks about welcoming ‘zarim’ — translated as ‘strangers’ but can also be translated as ‘people/tribes who are not you’ — in your midst.”

Holy moly! That’s the opposite of what I learned in Hebrew school, where Mr. Weinstein taught us that Israel’s military had the right to kill as many Arabs as they wanted if those Arabs were interfering with the Jews’ enjoyment of the land God granted us.

It turns out that God would boot the Zionists right out of his holy land, since their political movement has carried out the merciless, unethical, violent persecution of the Palestinian people. God hates that kind of stuff!

It’s Okay to Shout When Your Children are Being Slaughtered

gazaThe Daily Show ran a segment last week titled “We Need to Talk about Israel.” Apparently an attempt to illustrate the difficulties journalists face when covering the ethnic cleansing Israel’s military is carrying out in Gaza, the segment showed Jon Stewart getting alternately shouted down by Zionists and opponents of ethnic cleansing. The shouting was so aggressive that Stewart never actually got to talk about Israel which was, apparently, the punch line.

The sketch was notable because it was a rare instance where supporters of the Israeli military were portrayed by American media as aggressive and irrational. The obvious takeaway, however, was that journalists can’t get into Israel/Palestine because people on both sides of the slaughter won’t just keep calm and carry on. If only they’d stop shouting, we could actually start to understand what’s happening over there, and why.

The idea that American journalists are the beleaguered victims here is absurd. American journalists– Stewart included– have never had any problem ignoring supporters of the Palestinian cause before, no matter how loud their voices were. For decades, mainstream media in the U.S. have offered uncritical support of the violence waged by Israel against the Palestinians. They’ve had no problem demonizing the Palestinians and regurgitating the Israeli government’s justifications for its crimes against humanity.  But that’s not the main problem here.

The problem here is the idea, which I’ve heard more and more as the slaughter has continued, that both sides are behaving equally irrationally– and that this inability to behave rationally is what keeps the conflict going. The truth is that calls for calm in the face of slaughter always serve the interests of those in power, those doing the slaughtering. As Tom Whyman argued in his recent essay on contemporary fascism:

“The injunction to behave properly, to smile and get on with it, is precisely a way of shutting down any form of social resistance…To be nice, to ‘behave properly,’ is simply to behave like an infantilized middle-​class subject. Thus every marketing campaign or government public service announcement that passive-​aggressively preaches niceness is really a violent enforcement of reactionary values that serves to preserve a crisis-​stricken status quo.”

Right now, the Israeli government is pursuing its stated aim of eradicating the Palestinian population of Gaza to clear the area for Israeli settlement and America’s political leaders on both sides of the aisle are vocally defending the rightness of Israel’s cause. In the face of this insanity, calls for calm seem, well, insane.

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Hebrew School, Where I Learned to Hate

I don’t remember Hebrew school very well. I started attending sometime in elementary school, when I was around seven or eight years old, and stopped attending after my bar mitzvah. That was decades ago.

I remember that in the early years, Hebrew school largely consisted of singing songs and learning the Hebrew alphabet. My class met once a week, on Sunday mornings. We baked matzoh for Passover, built a sukkah for Sukkot, and ate delicious latkes and applesauce for Chanukah.

I grew up in a town that was overwhelmingly Christian, so I went to Hebrew school one town over. As a result, none of my school friends attended Hebrew school with me, but in these early days, that was okay. We were singing songs and eating fun food, so we were all very happy.

Around the age of ten or eleven, I graduated from the Sunday school program and Hebrew school changed dramatically. Now it would meet twice a week, after school. Instead of making meals and singing songs, we would study Jewish history. And I had a new teacher: Mr. Weinstein.

I remember that Mr. Weinstein had a booming voice and a quick temper. When he talked, we listened, and most of Mr. Weinstein’s class consisted of him talking.

Jewish history, in Mr. Weinstein’s telling, was largely a series of near exterminations. I remember him talking about the destruction of the temples and the Spanish Inquisition. I remember a particularly powerful lesson on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, an event that, according to Mr. Weinstein, gave great evidence of the world’s willingness to let Jews die, even if it did not represent an attempt at extermination.

Mainly though, I remember Mr. Weinstein talking about the Nazi Holocaust. He described, in vivid detail, the atrocities that our families and communities had suffered. He showed us videos and brought in guest speakers who had survived these atrocities.

I remember one lesson that consisted of Mr. Weinstein comparing this holocaust to other terrible historical events. He announced, repeatedly, that the Nazi Holocaust was the worst thing that had ever been done to any group of people, ever. He spent a few minutes explaining how this holocaust was far worse than American slavery because the violence of slavery was spread out over hundreds of years, whereas the Nazi Holocaust took place over just a few years. Somehow, according to his logic, this made slavery a more diffuse and less severe atrocity.

Thinking back, the strangest thing about all of this was that while it made me feel sad, it also made me feel really special. As a Jew, I was a part of this group that had suffered more than anybody else.

Since I grew up in a largely Christian community, I got poked fun of now and then for being Jewish. I usually laughed this stuff off, but of course it made me feel uncomfortable and isolated. Hebrew school had exacerbated these feelings. While my friends were playing soccer and riding bikes, I was in a classroom with kids I didn’t really know learning this weird language that nobody spoke anymore. I remember wishing that I had been born Christian.

But Mr. Weinstein taught me that I was superior to my Christian neighbors, who had, by the way, either stood by while my ancestors were slaughtered or taken part in the slaughter. Why would I want to be one of those heathens when I was one of the chosen few who been purified through centuries of suffering?

Mr. Weinstein taught us that after the Nazi Holocaust, the European powers gave Israel to the Jews as a sort of prize for the suffering we’d endured. He didn’t really talk about the mechanics of this real estate transaction: in his telling, the land had been there waiting for our people to occupy it. I remember he did explain that thousands of years ago, the Jews had lived on that land, so it was kind of ours anyway. For me, at eleven or twelve years old, all of this made perfect sense.

I remember that in Mr. Weinstein’s narrative, Palestinians only came into existence after the creation of Israel. That was when they started attacking us—as if we hadn’t suffered enough already!

I remember that Mr. Weinstein’s narrative shifted when the Israeli/Palestinian conflict began. While Jews were still victims of unparalleled persecution, the creation of Israel had given us a new virility: it had given us an army.

Mr. Weinstein would wax rhapsodic about the power and precision of the Israeli military. This was, he explained, partly due to the unequalled devotion of our soldiers. In Israel, Mr. Weinstein said, everyone is a soldier and the soldiers are trained harder, smarter, and better than any other soldiers in the world. I remember one lesson where he claimed that Israeli fighter pilots were so vastly superior to the rest of the world’s that they had managed to drop pigs on holy Muslim sites, thereby accomplishing two aims: 1. Defiling the holy sites of Muslim infidels. 2. Striking fear into the hearts of our enemies. (I looked for evidence of this tactic online, but couldn’t find it. If any reader could verify or disprove, that would be much appreciated.)

In Mr. Weinstein’s narrative, the Israeli military was a small, plucky band of fighters surrounded by a vast army of Arab wolves. (He did not, to my memory, note any distinction between Israel’s hostile neighbors. Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian, and Lebanese people were all part of one enemy army.) Somehow, like the Maccabees, the Israelis managed not only to survive in this hostile desert, but would claim victory again and again.

All of this, of course, made me feel great. After learning that my people’s suffering made me special, I now learned that it made me strong. If, for thousands of years, we Jews were forced to play the victim, the creation of Israel allowed us to play the avenging angel.

For a young boy struggling through early adolescence, this narrative was intoxicating. Any sense of exclusion I felt in Christian society, I was right to feel it. My people had been excluded for thousands of years. Any anger I felt was righteous anger.

I went from middle school to high school, and then went off to college where, for the first time, I heard a new narrative. In this new narrative, Israel was not the plucky underdog, but the aggressor. The land had not been waiting for its rightful, Jewish owners, but had been stolen from the Palestinian people. The Israeli military had not achieved superiority through the mystical devotion of its soldiers, but through the largesse of the U.S. government.

I closed my ears. I shouted down my classmates and accused them of anti-semitism. I repeatedly invoked the violence of the Nazi Holocaust as some sort of suffering trump card that would silence my enemies.

And that is most certainly how I viewed anyone who dared criticize Israel: the enemy. Even though, unlike Mr. Weinstein, my professors and classmates cited copious amounts of evidence to support their narrative, I didn’t like how they made me feel. In fact, all their evidence just made me hate them even more. The identity to which I’d grown so attached had no basis in historical reality. They had taken it from me.

I’ve been thinking about Hebrew school a lot lately. I don’t know if Mr. Weinstein is still teaching. I’m sure, though, that at Hebrew schools all over New York, the U.S., and the world, young Jews are being trained, as I was, to view the world as a hostile place where outsiders are not to be trusted.

I’m sure that at this very moment, a teacher is explaining to a wide-eyed, lonely kid that murdering Palestinian children is a righteous act and that bombing hospitals is a fine example of the Israeli military’s tactical brilliance. I don’t know what it means to be a Jew when these atrocities are carried out by the Jewish state and I don’t think that it matters. We need to pressure the U.S. government to cut off all aid to Israel, we need to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and we need to end the occupation now.