Some years ago, I was seated at dinner next to a British law professor, whom my husband, also a law professor, had invited to a conference that he’d organized. The conversation soon turned, as conversation often does among professional intellectuals, to Israel, specifically to the then-recent conflict between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters in the West Bank town of Jenin, which my dinner partner (and much of the European press) referred to as the “massacre of Jenin.”
Oops—forgot about it already? Here’s a refresher: in 2002, the IDF went into Jenin during the Second Intifada, after Israel determined that the town served as a launching pad for missile and rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The 10-day operation claimed the lives of around 50 Palestinian gunmen, and 23 Israeli soldiers. My acquaintance, after repeating Palestinian claims of atrocities committed by Israeli forces—claims that had already been roundly debunked—capped off his assessment by saying, “What happened in Jenin was no more and no less than another Holocaust.”
As a liberal American Jew, I’m tired of apologizing for Israel’s actions regarding its own security, and as of last month, I’m done with it. I’m done for the following two reasons: my eldest child, Sam, motivated by a desire to do something more meaningful than argue about religion, policy and politics, is currently serving as a lone soldier in the IDF, and he spent much of July in Gaza, as part of a team dismantling terror tunnels. In New Jersey, where the rest of his family lives, we didn’t know, from one day to the next, if we’d ever see him again. The second reason is that Israel, despite its highly imperfect record (unlike that of, say, America or France or England or Pakistan or Kenya or Argentina…) is the world’s sole guarantee against another frenzy of murderous hatred against my people, a hatred that is once again raising its voice, and fists, not only among the dispossessed Muslim residents of Europe, but, most especially, in the official organs of the chattering, and highly influential, classes—so much so that the off-hand remarks of my long-ago dinner companion seem almost reasonable.
Facts are such nifty things, so solid, so sure. Yet we as a species don’t seem to cotton to them, especially when it comes to Jews.
In Pakistan, one human rights group estimates that 1,000 women are murdered in honor killings by their families every year. In Nigeria, Islamic militants have killed more than 1,500 people in 2014, according to Amnesty International. And the death toll from the slaughter in Syria—just spitting distance from Israel—adds up to a robust 191,000. But the world—or at least the world as personified by the British law professor with his fondness for exaggeration—doesn’t pay a lot of attention to these Muslim but non-Palestinian corpses. Nope: you’ve got to be a dead person in Gaza or Hebron to claim the world’s sympathy. Merely being an Arab, or a Muslim, doesn’t cut the mustard, because when Muslims are murdering other Muslims—like more than 2,400 Iraqis killed by other Iraqis in June of this year. The civilized world, or at least the chattering classes, does little more than shrug.
Instead, from the Telegram we get this “Gaza conflict ‘causing PTSD in children’ after seeing dead bodies and witnessing heavy shelling.” From the Times: “UN demands halt to Gaza incursion as tanks smash hospital.” A simple Google search will net you hundreds of like-minded headlines. By the way, guess how many citizens were killed during the second half of last year in Egypt? According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: 3,143.
But it’s more satisfying to focus on Israel, that miniscule sliver of desert with an equally miniscule population (some 6 million Jews and 1.7 million primarily Muslim Arabs), hemmed in on one side by hostile Arab countries whose Muslim populations add up to a healthy 320 million, give or take, and the other by the Mediterranean Sea. Because Israel isn’t just any other imperfect Democracy, with a host of domestic and international problems of its own. Oh no. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’re talking a whole country filled primarily with Jews. So the whole place is only as big as the State of New Jersey, while the rest of the Middle East is about the size of 90 percent of the contiguous United States? So what?
Why is it so hard for the world to wake up to its blindness and see that once again it’s easier to focus on the moral shortcomings, real or imagined, of Jews, than to grapple with actual slaughter? From the point of view of the Muslim nations, I get it: let Israel take the heat for the crappy conditions and even worse governance under which vast numbers of Muslims live. Easier to blame Jews than to run your own country with a modicum of basic human decency.
I’m not suggesting that Muslim lives are worth less than Jewish ones. Nor that the mainly Arab occupants of Gaza and the West Bank don’t have legitimate grievances, including—especially—the deaths, mainly from aerial bombing, of citizens. Merely that the magnitude of Palestinian loss, when looked at through the lens of numbers alone, pales compared to that suffered by their co-religionists.
Put another way: what if Israel were a self-professed Maronite country? A country of mainly secular Protestants and lapsed Catholics—or a majority-Arab democracy? Would anyone give a rat’s ass if it used armed force against a terrorist group whose raison d’etre is the destruction of their country and the murder of its citizens?
It’s not just in left-leaning Europe that the anti-Jewish rhetoric is getting louder. Here in America, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), calling for self-determination of Palestinians while denying the right to self-determination for Jews, has offshoots on more than eighty campuses. And in New Haven, here’s what The Rev. Bruce M. Shipman, the (recently resigned) Episcopal chaplain at Yale University, wrote in a letter to the editor that was recently published in The New York Times: “As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.” In other words, recent anti-Semitic violence in Europe, notably Paris, is the fault of Jewish moral failings. In other words: Jews deserve it. And what, after all, did the Jewish State of Israel do? It went after the terror tunnels. It said no to the bombing of its civilians. It said that they meant it when they said “never again.”
Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.