On Genocide, Israel, and Tolerance

How I've grappled with the news cycle for the last several months.

As long as I've been a Jew — 37 years and counting — I've only known the country of Israel to be one of strife and segregation. It has been relayed to me by history and Hebrew school teachers alike that Israel is a place where non-Jews within the country and in surrounding territories (almost entirely Palestinians in this case) have been subjected to unequal and unfair treatment, to put it mildly. Even "popular" news, rife with its own biases, has been unable to hide the innumerable crimes against people, journalists, and humanity perpetrated by the Israeli government — a government that has, over time, slid deeper into fascism.

Over the last several months, I have held a very complex, detailed, and nuanced view of the aggressions in Israel and Palestine that does not follow any party line, nor does it please anyone. It has created quite some dissonance internally and externally, as my beliefs have chafed against staunch supporters on both ends of the spectrum. Yet it is important to me to externalize it as a Jew, as a student of history, and as a champion of human beings as a whole for no reason other than to make sense of it all and maybe, in the process, find somewhat likeminded and sane individuals as discourse and dialogue worsens everywhere.

The Current Conflict
To not call Israel's continued attack on the Palestinian people (to put it very mildly) a genocide is to live in willful ignorance. What started as retaliation against the events of October 7th is now either supreme incompetence at the highest military level (hint: it is not) or the intent to kill, starve, and more or less eradicate millions of people, all while fighting under an unwinnable mission: to destroy Hamas. Anything or anyone that does not call what is happening a genocide is wrong and permissive of this violence.

The State of Israel
I support the "concept" of Israel — that is, a place where Jews can be Jews without fear of being Jews. I feel that all ethnic or ethnoreligious groups should be privy to a place where they feel safe and that they can call their own, so long as it is without encroaching on the territory and/or rights of other, different groups. In the case of Israel and for practicality's sake, this means the sharing of land and living in harmony, the dream of a two-state solution that both Israelis and Palestinians will never agree upon due to staunch absolutism from both camps over tens, hundreds, and thousands of years.

Does this make me a Zionist? I truly do not know. I never supported the Israel that's existed for nearly a century — one with borders slapped together, then gradually expanded at the expense of millions of civilians. The theoretical "Israel" I support will never exist within my lifetime for a near-infinite number of factors, most of which have a dotted line pointed to the rise and proliferation of an Israeli leadership who solely seeks to kill, destroy, and cling on to power.

Support of the Palestinian People
I support the continued lives of all people — including and, at this time, especially the Palestinian people. I have always supported the Palestinian people, with my support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or BDS) dating back over two decades. There should be no world where Israel (or the concept of it) lives in peace and Palestine and Palestinians do not, for that would be a world that is selectively permissive of some existences over others.

Condemnation of Hamas, Houthis, and Other Affiliated Terror Groups
That said, Hamas and other absolutist organizations that enact terror (which, by definition, also includes the current State of Israel) run counter to anything that could remotely lead to peace and prosperity for all people. To support these groups even in the slightest is to be permissive of racism, violence, and desired genocide of entire groups of people. To tolerate some of their actions or see it as a lesser evil is to still be tolerant of some evil. In the case of Hamas and Houthis, their very existence is defined by the eradication of Israel and Jews, as defined in either their charter or the very flags they fly.

Answering violence with violence has never put a period on a conflict over time. This does not mean victims of violence should willingly accept violence as law, lick their wounds, and move on. It does, however, mean two things: Violence will always beget more violence, and tolerating "a little violence" to justify a cause or belief is not only a slippery slope — it is diametrically opposed to any objective of peace. Cycles of violence only end with non-violence. Tolerating violence to end violence is a fool's errand and only spirals into greater violence, the kind that is permissive of selective killings and thus ignorance.

Antisemitism and Anti-Israel
Being anti-Israeli government is not antisemitic. I am against the Israeli Government and the State of Israel as it has largely existed for its entirety truly because it stands diametrically opposed to the freedom of millions of people that both once inhabited its lands and live(d) adjacent to them. Being Anti-Israel because of its Jewish inhabitants and nothing more is, by definition, antisemitism.

Antisemitism Before October 7th
Antisemitism — the non-anti-Israeli government kind – existed long before October 7th and was permitted by large swaths of people regardless of political or idealogical leaning. As David Baddiel wrote in his book Jews Don't Count, and as many scholars on racism have written over the years, antisemitism is largely thought of as a lesser racism — the only kind of racism that is seen as "not a big deal" for a variety of very racist factors. This was never more apparent in how popular figures — Kanye West, Kyrie Irving, the late Roald Dahl, just to name a few — were treated and subsequently brushed past in recent years, despite the surfacing of damaging beliefs, subsequent echoing of said beliefs and diatribes by a mass audience, and the supreme lack of repercussions for such publicly of these beliefs — tragically followed by the quick relegation of these "incidents" to the faulty long-term memory of history.

Antisemitism After October 7th
I expect antisemitism — overt or otherwise — from right and far-right leaning individuals, as the environments in which those ideas proliferate are tolerant if not outright encouraging of all varieties of antisemitism. It is the antisemitism of the left, however, that always takes me aback and saddens me. Permissiveness and acceptance or lack of action against antisemitism in left-leaning spaces — protests, encampments, and adjacent environments — is to be fully complicit in antisemitism. A little antisemitism to make way for larger actions is still antisemitism, and is akin to the flawed idea that a little violence to put an end to violence. Antisemitism will always bloom and blossom in the end, to which we not only have a tense attempt at resolving a conflict (in recent cases, divestment of Israel from institutions), but the fostering of an environment in which antisemitism can grown and be tolerated amongst and by more people.

Why am I addressing this? I've not been subjected to much overt antisemitism in my life until recent years, when antisemitism unfortunately became more en vogue. Even prior to last October, it was only two select individuals that are no longer in my life who had skewed (at best) perceptions of Jews and long-held biases that they made vocal.

In recent months, and particularly in the last three weeks, I've dealt with nearly ten specific instances of overt antisemitism outside of my home, including three instances where I felt my life was legitimately in danger. One of these instances involved being thrown out of a cab in an overt instance of antisemitism. Two of them were unprovoked confrontations where I was singled out for being a Jew, an assumption made by the aggressors.

To permit antisemitism and continue its status as a lesser racism is to permit these acts to continue. Lord knows I got the easy end of it and not, say, as a target in a mass shooting or act of extreme violence. But this does exist, has picked up recently (both anecdotally and statistically), and I feel that those championing causes of ending genocide or peace are either living in woeful ignorance or, worse, purposely ignoring the conversation around these events. It is my belief that one cannot be in favor of peace halfway across the world while simultaneously ignoring (again, purposefully or otherwise) hostility in their own backyard. We cannot achieve peace while such hostilities grow at home, lest we as a people either feel comfortable with dealing with said hostilities later (a slippery slope if there ever was one) or find them to be a "non-issue."

Campus Protests
It is unkind to history — particularly the Civil Rights movement and the Stop the War effort during Vietnam — to compare the current encampments and protests on campus to the aforementioned movements. Both efforts were achieved with peace and nonviolence, whereas the current discourse permits some violence, with leaders and champions from within these movements specifically calling for violent action against Zionists, Jews, and/or a combination of the two. Aside from divestment — a goal of which I have always supported and will continue to support — there are also scattered goals and directives from those protesting on campuses around the country, some of which run counter to each other. This does the movements that came before them, long before the mess that was Occupy Wall Street, a great disservice. A movement does not need to compare itself to another successful movement to succeed; it simply needs unity, focus, and peace.

White/European Settler Colonialism
The current (and oft extreme) discourse is to label Israel a white and/or European settler colonial state. While Israel is an unequal and, by international definition, an apartheid state, bringing in white and European colonial imagery not only ignores the history of the Jewish people as outcasts, but the history of the land.

History shows that the Jewish people as an ethnoreligious group did, at one point, thousands of years ago, live in what is now Israel. To say that the descendents of these people are European colonizers is ignorant of the history behind why these people were forced from their land and all other lands after it. It also puts an expiry date on who is "native" to a land. Are today's Palestinians native to the land because they had it X thousands years ago, or are Israelis native to the land because they had it a thousand years prior? As Americans especially, we should not even be anywhere near the conversation of "who was here first" — a main sticking point in the Israel/Palestinian conflict that ultimately leads nowhere — lest we want to relitigate our own past of merely existing on this continent (something I believe is supremely overdue on a massive scale, yet still somehow a footnote in our conversations).

To call Israelis "whites" or "white Europeans" is itself racist, wrong, and ignorant, if not harmful to the overall discourse about actual white-led and white European-led racism.

Where Do We Go From Here?
I do not know, nor is it my position to know. I do know that the current way things are discussed is fundamentally flawed. The "football mentality" of us vs. them will only further the conflict, as will the permissioning of some violence or some racism. The idea that you are with this entire list of beliefs and demands "or else" is equally destructive, and not the way I've ever operated ideologically on anything with a sound mind.

I do know that the only way to end violence is through non-violence and the dismantling of violent and racist beliefs. Such beliefs are at the very core of this conflict, and it is my belief that the first party to champion such ideas will be the overall "victor" here — one with the indisputable upper hand, who can bring reason and order to chaos without bloodshed or retaliation. Without someone laying down the gun, we can only expect the selective violence and permissioned intolerance to increase, built on the backs of the misguided beliefs that they are of either tertiary importance or, worse, necessary for the greater good.

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