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How Europe's Jews lost their humanity in Gaza

The racism that has swept across Israel is devastating to behold. It is also an abdication of what Jews have prized for centuries: A sense of common humanity.

By Gilad Isaacs

For centuries Jews knocked on the door of Eurasian civilization. As they stood precariously on the doorstep they understood that crossing the threshold – being enveloped by the warmth and light within – would signify acceptance, normalization and safety. Sometimes they begged, sometimes they yelled; often they declared: “I am a Jew,” and continued in the vein of:

Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? [The Merchant Of Venice]

Most Jews did not wish to become something they were not. They were happy to remain Jews, and simply sought for others to accept them as such. Some of these Jews became Zionists, whose dream was more than land. They proclaimed that Jews would be accepted as equals if they had a state of their own; if they, as Theodore Herzl proclaimed, entered the “family of nations.”

Fast forward to today. In Israel, the most devastating casualty of the ongoing occupation has been this cherished notion of common humanity.

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth, who shows signs of being beaten, following a demonstration against the occupation and in support of Palestinian prisoners the West Bank city of Hebron, March 1, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth, who shows signs of being beaten, following a demonstration against the occupation and in support of Palestinian prisoners the West Bank city of Hebron, March 1, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

The racism that has swept across Israel is devastating to behold. Israelis maraud through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv yelling “Death to Arabs”; a renowned Israeli scholar argues that the sisters, mothers and wives of potential Palestinian terrorists should be raped as a method of deterrence; Knesset members call for a war against all Palestinian people and the forced expulsion of Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank; the deputy mayor of Haifa is beaten; a Palestinian teenager is burnt alive; and the list goes on. These are not the misdeeds of rogue anti-social elements: This is a wave of hatred and violence that is committed or supported by large swathes of the Israeli public. Most disquieting is the celebration of Palestinian death and suffering, whether it be cheering from the hilltops of Sderot as bombs fall upon Gaza, or joyous outbursts from Israelis on social media.

Such enmity, and the justification of the hundreds of civilian deaths in the assault upon Gaza, is premised upon a profound “othering” of the Palestinian people, a disregard of the common humanity that Jews prized not so long ago.

Many Israelis would not actively identify with this open loathing, but they are no less a product of their society. In response to the killing of innocent Palestinians, an Israeli woman – whose generosity of spirit I respect – asked me, “Is anyone asking, though, why Saudi money wasn’t used to build shelters for the children of Gaza?” The blockade is the obvious answer, but the question really means: The fault is not ours, it is theirs; they choose to squander their money on attack tunnels instead of protective shelters for their civilians. They are not like us, they do not sufficiently love their children, Golda Meir said in 1972, and Netanyahu repeats ad nauseam.

Why then do Palestinian mothers weep?

Palestinian women cry after Israeli air strike on Gaza Strip. (photo: Activestills.org)

Palestinian women cry after a deadly Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip. (photo: Activestills.org)

Not all Israelis are guilty of this disregard. Yet, the depths of intolerance and hatred are arguably more evident when one witnesses the viciousness of the Israeli right’s reaction to those Jewish Israelis calling for an end to the carnage: Right-wing thugs stone antiwar protestors; the captain of a youth soccer team in Be’er Sheva writes on his Facebook page, “send left-wing voters to the gas chambers and clean this country of leftists”; Israeli journalist Gideon Levy is nearly assaulted in the rocket-battered southern city of Ashkelon; an angry mob, some (unknowingly) wearing neo-Nazi t-shirts, yell slogans such as “Death to Arabs” and “Death to leftists” while rampaging in coffee shops identified with the left, breaking things and beating people up. The list could go on. Whilst these might be the most acute manifestations of intolerance of difference, the mainstream is guilty of the same; they accuse those who speak out against the current atrocities of being “unpatriotic.”

Not only do many Israelis view the Palestinians as less than them, they also harbor – uncomfortably perhaps – similar sentiments about those that would abandon their brothers-in-arms and defend the “other side.”

Israel right-wing protesters attack left-wing activists after they protested in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel right-wing protesters attack left-wing activists after they protested in central Tel Aviv against the Israeli attack on Gaza, July 12, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

That said, we must applaud the large number of Israelis who are prepared to demonstrate against the war, and the many more who sit at home profoundly shaken both by the attack on Gaza and by the hate on the streets. Despite the wartime closing of ranks, dissent is neither impossible nor uncommon.

The Jews are no longer knocking on doors to be let in. We have our own fortress now, bristling with arms. But the cost has been heavy; on the altar of nationalism and ethnic supremacy we have sacrificed the long-cherished ideal of common humanity. Israelis and Zionist Jews, and their most vociferous supporters, can no longer see themselves in the Palestinians. And what we are left with is the second half of Shylock’s speech:

And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

Gilad Isaacs is an economist and activist, he tweets from @giladisaacs.

Not just escalation: A frightening new era of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel
The night it became dangerous to demonstrate in Tel Aviv
‘Our’ murderers – what would Arendt and Buber say?

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    1. Liz Silman

      As Jews we want to say ‘never again’. The problem is that it is now Jew saying it to Jew.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard

      The “racism” slur against Israelis is really reaching a tipping point. Any intelligent person knew it was BS from the start, but now its getting to where people are not going to take it seriously at all.

      Reply to Comment
      • You find this surprising? Israelis can’t be racist? Actually the world – as opposed to the bought and controlled media – understands the degree of poisonous racism infecting Israeli society only too well. Thankfully there are honest brokers such as Max Blumenthal who document Israeli racism in action so that any pretense to the contrary comes off as denial on steroids.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Goldmarx

      Actually, Richard, given the list of incidents in the article, a tipping point has been reached where it is being taken seriously, more than ever.

      Reply to Comment
    4. bar

      “a renowned Israeli scholar argues that the sisters, mothers and wives of potential Palestinian terrorists should be raped as a method of deterrence”

      That’s not what he said. This is a lie and defamation.

      Reply to Comment
      • Khaled Khalid

        Actually that is exactly what he said. Gilad is 100% right.

        You, Sir, are talking through your hat.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn8

          Find me the word ‘should’. You can’t because it wasn’t used so Gilad’s accusation is a blatant lie.

          Reply to Comment
      • rk

        What he said, according to one translation, was “The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped. It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East.”


        Reply to Comment
      • Actually he did.

        Reply to Comment
        • bar

          Actually, he did not.


          What he said, and he even clarified when the interviewer expressed shock at what he was hearing, was that this is the culture of israel’s neighbors.

          Reply to Comment
    5. nielsen

      Never did we heat what this leftist mob had to offer as a solution to the tunnels! Never did we heat their offer to encounter the islamist threat! The Jews in Europe have nothing to do with what Israel decides to do, what a sick statement!

      Reply to Comment
      • Reza Lustig

        It’s a very simple, but drastic strategy: pull out, end the occupation, immediately, and allow the UN in to supervise the development of Palestinian civil society.

        Reply to Comment
        • Larry

          What occupation? Of Gaza? Not one Israeli there! Not one Jew?

          Reply to Comment
          • Simon

            Please, understand the term occupation. In this case it means keeping control of a people, no ins and no outs, for a lengthy period of time, say 8 years. Do you really believe the people of Gaza have been ‘free’ of Israelis in that time ? You must be deluded to think so, but I do understand your predicament if you are jewish, as that is the way you work. Throw your religious chains away, and think about humanity. We are all the same.

            Reply to Comment
    6. Tomer

      Yes, just blame the Jewish Diaspora for Israel’s actions. This is typical islamofacist Justice.

      Actually, this antisemitism is increasing aliyah to Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    7. rk

      Re: “… an Israeli woman … asked me, ‘Is anyone asking, though, why [they did not] build shelters for the children of Gaza?'”

      Without excusing the Israeli government’s actions, it is a legitimate question that Gazans might be asking of Hamas. Why launch rockets it knows will be blown away in midair, and give the Israeli government an excuse to carpet bomb the area without providing some form of shelter for its population? During the French and American wars against Vietnam the Vietnamese also built networks of tunnels that not only made sense from a military perspective but were also used as air raid shelters for their population during the U.S. carpet bombing of that country.

      Reply to Comment
    8. JohnW

      Yes, one of the by-product of wars, particularly 100 year old existential wars, is hatred. But not just in Israel. Look at the hatred in Arabs not just against Israelis but against Jews in general.

      Hatred is abhorrent period. It is true, historically, we have been the objects of hatred and now some of us are guilty of it too. Indiscriminate hatred is inexcusable no matter against whom and by whom. But we are by no means the champions of it. In fact, I would say we are rank amateurs at it compared to some.

      But never fear, our intrepid friends on the extreme left, will elevate us into champion status on that front too. Anything bad that we do, to them at least, it becomes uniquely Jewish or at least worse than the reaction of most other peoples in similar circumstances.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Average American

      It seems the question is what’s the difference between Jewish and Zionist? A distinction may need to be made. Because the “Zionist” is responsible for expansionist ethnic supremacy mentality, we know that, but maybe not the “Jewish”? Then the next question is who is running Israel, the Zionist or the Jewish?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Alan

      There are two central concepts that Israelis have about the war in Gaza:
      (a) That the IDF is the most moral army in the world is proved by its unequalled care in trying to limit civilian casualties as much as possible.
      (b) Hamas is fundamentally despicable and deadly to its own people since it hides its weapons inside civilian buildings such homes, schools, hospitals and mosques.
      Let’s analyze these two concepts by taking a quick look at one of the most potent symbols of Israel as a home for the Jews. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising is the scene of the heroic struggle of the Jews to fight back against the Nazi war machine bent upon destroying European Jewry to the last living soul. Even if it the uprising was doomed from the start, its heroic meaning is fundamental in the way Israel sees itself in the world. In other words, “Never Again!”
      Now, if we look at the Warsaw uprising we plainly see that the partisans had to hide their weapons and their people inside homes, schools, etc. because there was no other way to act. There was no reason to separate partisan from civilian: They were one and the same. Even though the active armed partisans were always a small number compared to the civilian non-fighters, they were very much (although not unanimously) supported by them.
      By the second day after IDF moved into Gaza, it was clear that Hamas was well prepared for urban warfare and was beginning to cause the IDF surprisingly heavy casualties. I remember an Israeli officer saying on the evening news that the army was taken aback by this, but that it was quickly learning how to deal with the new situation.
      I immediately and instinctively knew what he meant. In order to grasp what the change was, let’s go back to the Warsaw Ghetto, because something very similar happened to the Germans. At first, they were completely surprised by the partisan’s guerilla tactics of popping up and fighting from the rubble of half destroyed buildings, underground sewers etc.
      It also took the Germans a day or so to understand how to combat these tactics. Since the Germans had overwhelming military superiority, their counterattack was based on, not killing the individual partisan fighter, but by massively destroying every building and every neighborhood till everything was leveled to the ground. Any civilian left in that area was doomed, and even the partisans had nowhere to hide and nowhere to fight from. They could only surrender or escape down the sewers.
      For the Germans, the partisans were “terrorists” since they endangered German war goals as well as civilian “stability” in the occupied countries. Civilians killed was the price to be paid by the enemy for daring to contest German control.
      So there you have it. How sad it is that the IDF has become a mirror image of our worst enemies, while Hamas echoes our greatest national heroes.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Susan

      This seems an odd time to be attacking Europe’s Jews. They are under attack all over Europe. What are Jews supposed to do? Are they supposed to join demonstrations where shouts of “Death to Jews” are heard from the podium? French synagogues were attacked and during one attack, Jews had to defend themselves. French Jews are immigrating to safer, because its safer even with Hamas rockets flying overhead.

      Average American, Zionism is simply the idea that Jews should have a place where they can control their own destiny. Zionism is not expansionist or have an ethnic supremacy mentality. That is smearing all Zionists. I have to admit that there are a some Zionists who do, but they are not the majority.

      Reply to Comment
      • bar

        “This seems an odd time to be attacking Europe’s Jews.”

        Not on 972mag, a propaganda mill that presents, defends and promulgates anti-Israel positions daily.

        Reply to Comment
    12. Mic

      Meanings? This is a continuing story about pointing your finger against anyone else… when will it stop? the moment that one generation will not fall for hate and punishing the other… what will happen if if there is a war goin on but nobody will participate…. I’m sorry to say but that moment wil come only on the day that religion is casted out and people start believing in them selfs…. x for the world and the hurt M

      Reply to Comment
    13. Stop killing innocent Palestinians, they don’t have sophisticated weapon & they couldn’t defend theirselves. Why are the Israelis so afraid of them? Why took their land? The Israelis will never get a peace of mind even when they take all the Palestinian land. Israelis, don’t build your house on Arabs land.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Leo Prendergast

      I do not wish to attack anybody, I do not wish to upset anybody, I am a Christian fortunate to have many Jewish friends and work colleagues, and each and every one of them are beautiful people and great examples of how all humans should interact. I appreciate their position and their need to defend their rights, but I think that in all honesty each and everyone of them must be hurting in their souls, as I am, trying to fathom how matters have descended into this scenario where the lives of children are made of no value, how any government leader can support these actions is beyond my understanding, how any European and USA leaders cannot be brave enough to shout stop I don’t understand. Accordingly we as citizens of a civilised world must start shouting stop. It was the silence and fear of the majority of Germans that let the Holocaust happen, we cannot allow our fear and silence to allow it be repeated by anybody. Israel cannot use a terrible wrong done to it’s people by silence and fear to be a reason for our silence and fear at this critical time . The siege of Gaza should be lifted and it’s people let out of prison, and the UN should enforce, by force , a complete cessation of military actions by Hamas. It’s time the UN and the USA and Europe sorted out this mess ( which they created)leaving it to Israel is unfair to all Jews of the world , and all women and children in Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kiwi

        I am not Jewish either. But I too have many Jewish friends who are dear to me. That’s why understand their position too.

        Yes, this has to stop. But I don’t understand why all the onus is placed on Israel and none on Hamas?

        At the least, I would expect the same pressure applied on Hamas as is applied against Israel. The same invective, the same chorus of condemnation.

        Once again, Jews are made to feel alone, vilified and hated. Yet Hamas deserves at least the same treatment and in my opinion even a harsher treatment because they bear a greater share of the responsibility for what is happening to Gaza and in Israel. Otherwise, all the holier than thou souls who cast the first stone are actually encouraging Hamas to behave badly. They inadvertently (and in some cases deliberately) become tools of Hamas in their war against the Jews/Israel.

        Reply to Comment
    15. Avdim

      This article is great because it has everything.

      List a few minor cases, exaggerate and misinterpret when needed, ignore Arab violence and riots (called “protests”) in Israel, now say all cases are part of a “wave” and come to an extremely radical conclusion (“lost their humanity”). Now all is left it to extrapolate from disparate cases into all of Israel and from all of Israel to Europe’s Jews.

      And in case it wasn’t obvious enough, this article has a holocaust tag. You know, just in case.

      We later see Alan coming to the “right” conclusion by concluding we’re just like the Nazis and Hamas is actually like the Jews murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto. Why? I don’t really know, I felt like I was mentally and morally raped and violated by reading his comment and stopped half way through. Alan – you are morally crippled and should be ashamed of yourself.

      Reply to Comment
    16. JG

      “few minor cases”? Like burning alive a Palestinian teen? Betaing up leftwing demonstrators? All that cause of some minor rockets coming from Gaza….

      Reply to Comment
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