As Israel continues to fight in Gaza, I, a Jew, continue to question the morals and effectiveness of their military campaign. And, just as when I objected to the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, I still hear the same old appeasement song. I hear it again, and again, and again from my Jewish friends: Hitler, Hitler, Hitler. Hezbollah is Hitler. Hamas is Hitler. Iran is Hitler. The Palestinians are Hitler. The Arabs are Hitler. They are all Hitler. They are all for the systematic extermination of the Jewish people. Even when commentators in Europe, the US and other regions disapprove of the methods used by the Israeli government to deal with Hezbollah and Hamas, my Jewish colleagues are quick to dismiss those opinions as those of anti-Semites. In their minds, people who disagree with the foreign policy of Israel are simply waiting for the enemies of the Jewish people to complete the work left undone by the Nazis. For them, the Palestinians are not a people with valid claims about a country, but instead a neo-Nazi group that was created to make sure that Hitler’s final solution gets implemented.
Now let’s compare the situation of the Jews to that of the African Americans for a moment. African Americans deserve to be mentioned in the Jewish debate because they were virulently discriminated against in the US as recently as 1960. The country, that now has an African American President, did not allow African Americans to sit in an empty bus seat because it was reserved for whites. In the previous century, African Americans were sold as cattle and enslaved for life, frequently raped and killed without charges. Thus, the history of African Americans is comparable in horror to that of Jewish history.
Yet, somehow the vast majority of African Americans do not believe that slavery or mass prejudice could ever happen to them again. Unfortunately, many Jews still believe that another dictator intent on wiping the Jewish people off the planet could arise at any moment in the world. Some believe that this could even happen in the United States. Indeed, it is clear that Obama’s Muslim ancestry was an issue for Jews in America, as some saw his Hussein middle name as a clear sign that it may be he who endangers Jewish life as we know it. As unlikely as it sounds, I have Jewish friends who still argue that Jews are safer in Israel than in the US, or worse, that Jews in the US are safer in the US thanks to the existence of Israel; something that if true, is probably true the other way around.
Most Jews still argue that the State of Israel exists to provide a safe heaven to the Jews of the Diaspora, an argument whose validity has long expired. Now, surrounded by hundreds of millions of enemies, I believe that without the Jews of the Diaspora, and especially without the Jews in the United States, the State of Israel would be in worse trouble.
As military technology improves and becomes available for all, it is hard to see how five million Jews can defend themselves against so many rich and well-armed enemies. The chances of Jews being exterminated country by country by neo-Nazis, as happened during WWII, is about as likely as the same thing happening to gays, blacks, native Americans or any other minority that used to be discriminated against. On the other hand, the probability of Islamic terrorists or Islamic states defeating or greatly damaging Israel with the use of advanced weapons over the next 20 years is significant. It is my opinion that invasions such as that of Lebanon or Gaza increase the possibility of this tragic event happening. If there is ever another holocaust, in my view, it will sadly happen in Israel.
The reason why I firmly believe in the right of Israel to exist, but oppose the recent policies of the Israeli government, including the invasion of Lebanon and of Gaza, is that I believe that both invasions are unethical and tactically wrong. They are unethical because in both cases Israel is attacking, killing and greatly damaging the infrastructure of other countries or quasi countries (Lebanon and Gaza) in retaliation for dangers that are minimal. Casualty ratios of 900 to 13 can hardly be called a war, regardless of the fact that human life should be impervious to mathematics.
In Spain, where I live, we suffer a higher number of casualties from Islamic and Basque terrorists. I am not happy to live in Madrid, just 10 minutes away from an airport that was partly blown up in 2006, resulting in two casualties. But I do not want my government to send helicopters to Bilbao to shoot missiles at the Basque terrorists who are guilty of that crime. Such an action would only make it more likely for ETA to recruit members and grow. Where five are killed, 50 others would arise. Moreover, in asymmetrical warfare of the kind that Israel fights, the danger to Israel is not that it is defeated by the regular armies of its neighbors. The real danger is that its neighbors will evolve to have better and better terrorist weapons, and that the next time Israel is hit with 4000 missiles, those missiles will actually hit their targets.
I am concerned that Israel is precipitating the evolution of Hamas into a more sophisticated enemy. And, it is only a matter of time before terrorist technology gets better. Terrorism is defeated by making it harder for terrorists to recruit and evolve, not by attacking terrorists hidden among the general population with regular armies and killing hundreds of children whose siblings will grow up with the single minded purpose of destroying you. Terrorism is defeated, as we do in Spain, by patiently making the case for terrorists weaker, not by military force.
Furthermore, I see another risk, that as Israel escalates violence, the Muslim world unifies against it. Yes, I do know that Fatah hates Hamas and that the Muslim world is divided in all sorts of battles. I do know that in the last 20 years over a million Muslims have died by the hands of other Muslims, less than the 10,000 killed by Jews in all sorts of Muslim-Muslim conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq war or the constant Sunni and Shia conflicts. But there are many Muslim leaders out there who are waiting for a unifying theme to get to rule whole Muslim world. Osama Bin Laden tries, Ahmadinejad tries, and unfortunately, the theme of exterminating Israel grows more popular every year. Indeed Ahmadinejad seems to have done better than Osama Bin Laden, because he picked Israel and not the US as his stated enemy, and now Al Qaeda seems to also be shifting in that direction.
So before invading a country and destroying its infrastructure because they kidnap some soldiers (as in the case of Lebanon), or because they throw potentially lethal rockets after a truce (as in the case of Gaza), I think that Israel should think about how by retaliating with tremendous force, they are making it easier for Islamic terrorist recruiters. Terrorists feed on anger and invasions. Air bombardments and massive killings are certainly valid reasons for the attacked population to be angry.
Jews should learn from African Americans and realize that it is possible to be discriminated in the past, to be hated in the past, to be enslaved in the past, to be abused in the past and somehow, not be hated in the future. That if you lose a few soldiers it’s bad, but creating the conditions to lose your whole country is worse. Jews seem to talk about history as if it is destiny, when instead I believe it is the destiny of the current generation of Jews to change history forever and make peace. Jews should learn to distinguish from the people who hate them because of territorial claims and the rest of the world who temporarily hates them because of the way they react against people who have territorial claims. These claims, while not valid in the case of the Lebanese, are pretty valid in the case of the Syrians and the Palestinians. As Jews we must acknowledge this and move back towards Oslo.
Jews should learn that the reason why most people in secular Europe dislike us is for the aggressive policies of the State of Israel. Jews should not confuse disagreement with Israel’s foreign policy with the virulent racism that characterized societies 70 years ago. This type of racist thinking is historically over. It’s over against African Americans and it’s over against Jews. Indeed it’s so over that in current anti Israel demonstrations in Europe, the right wing parties traditionally known as neo-Nazis are not present. Moreover I am convinced that if tomorrow Israel and Palestine learn to live in peace, most people around the world will forget about both countries. They will be as relevant to the world as Croatia and Serbia are today. An irrelevance that is surprisingly great as a country tries to rebuild its future in a peaceful manner.
The present dislike for Jews around the world is not because of rampant global anti-Semitism, but because most non Jews and non Muslims believe that Israel is reacting too strongly and too unfairly to the aggression it receives. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself. But while at the beginning of its history the world saw Israel as a country trying to survive, now the world sees Israel as a country using excessive force against the right of another country to exist. The best hope for Israel is that Palestine has a strong leader that Israel can deal with in matters of security. Even as enemies, Israel and the US are better off when the enemy is a state and not a terrorist entity. Until such a leader arises, Israel will not be safe.
History has many former terrorists who became respected leaders, including some of the founders of the State of Israel. A strong leader who focuses on peace maybe difficult to deal with, but it will not be as hard as fighting the Hamas Hydra that Israel is currently confronting.
Posted on September 29, 2010