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The War in Israel, Part III: Readers Weigh In

The running leitmotif here, if we may use an extremely pretentious ivory-tower kind of word, is that the Israel-Gaza situation is a sticky one. We've gotten some good letters from readers that help to illustrate that, and we're going to run a handful of them today and another handful tomorrow. We think this helps give a broader perspective, ideally free of the spin that might show up on some other sites.

Leading off is a correspondent whose views do not always align with ours, but who can always be counted on to give thoughtful and well-reasoned takes. We give you J.K. in Short Hills, NJ:

I am a Jew. I also stand for Israel. I wanted to read the small sample of e-mails from readers before writing. I was not surprised by the range of responses to, given the presumed typical purveyor of the site.

I am disturbed by Israel's current government. The country's parliamentary system has allowed outsized power from the religious right. I am terrified that Israel in 50 years, thanks to current demographic trends, will become a theocracy like so many of its neighbors. In the interim, I will always defend the Jewish Homeland's right to exist. I. Am. A. Jew.

If I were to debate someone about the situation in the West Bank, I would assume that after I explained the checkpoints, the wall, the countless rejections of land for peace by the Palestinians, etc., that my counterpart and I would walk away rationally with an agreement to disagree, for the history in the area is assuredly complicated and nuanced. For Gaza, however, it is much simpler and quite linear.

Israel captured the land from Egypt in 1967 in the Six Day War. Realizing the challenges of maintaining a handful of settlements, the country exited the enclave in 2005. The Palestinians had complete self-rule for the first time in history. The economic infrastructure of the departing settlers, most notably working greenhouses, was left behind to help transform Gaza into the "Singapore of the Mediterranean." It and they were instead immediately destroyed. In 2006, Hamas, a designated terrorist organization by the U.S. for some time and which already had been launching rockets into Israel proper, won a significant majority of the Palestinian legislature with overwhelming support in Gaza. In 2007, Hamas completely took over the area. Many more rockets ensued. Israel and Egypt enacted the blockade that exists today.

Hamas has only two goals: Killing Jews and maintaining political power over the Palestinian Authority, which governs areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinians. I suspect that the reason Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not called for elections in 18 years is that he knows he would likely lose to a challenger from Hamas. I ask those who are critical of Israel, what do you think would have happened if Egypt and Israel opened the border? Sadly, Hamas must be destroyed for any two-state solution to prevail.

As for the American response, I give Joe Biden an "A." I am politically to the right of center, but his support and empathy has been welcomed by most in the Jewish community. The Republicans trying to lay blame on the President for his "release" of the still-frozen $6 billion of funds to Iran is ludicrous. They would probably get more mileage with me complaining about Barack Obama's Iran deal in 2015, which unfroze at least $50 billion to the Islamic Republic. At the time, I, along with many Jews, was worried that the funds would be funneled to Hamas. Well, here we are. We will never know if Hamas would have attacked in the manner they did if Donald Trump were president. They were quiet during those 4 years. I suspect they were afraid that Trump would have given Israel the green light to do anything and everything to level Gaza. We will, of course, never know, and anyone trying to make an educated guess is wasting time and energy. The terrorism on October 7 happened and is still ongoing, with so many hostages still not home.

I encountered the hatred for Israel among some on the far left about a decade ago and was shocked by it. Many in my community, most of whom are lifelong Democrats, are now distraught. For so long, the rising tide has been ignored with only the obsessives on Fox News making much noise about it. Obama's praying with Jeremiah Wright and smiling in a photo with Louis Farrakhan; Bill Clinton standing on stage at Aretha Franklin's funeral with Farrakhan; Nancy Pelosi sitting down with Jeremy Corbyn. Do I think any of these three giants in the Democratic Party are antisemitic? Of course not. However, if a politician were sharing a moment with a virulent racist opposed to any other marginalized community, it would rightfully never be tolerated.

As a parent of a college sophomore on an Ivy League campus, I am concerned by the rise of antisemitism but am not surprised. Somehow, the Jews did not earn a spot on the Circle of Intersectionality. Palestinians are considered Brown while Israelis are white and colonizers despite a majority of its citizens coming from somewhere other than Europe or America. As my brilliant 87-year-old mother would tell you, "the far left believes that the Jews benefit from white privilege while those on the far right believe we are not white, so we can't win." In 2015, a Yale faculty member and her husband who were associate master and master of one of the school's colleges (dormitories), respectively, felt compelled to resign when the university effectively left the former out to dry (they made a tepid statement in support her but championed the importance of diversity far more) when she merely asked the question of whether "there is room" to wear an "obnoxious" Halloween costume. In the past two weeks, Yale, on the other hand, has reiterated its commitment to the freedom of expression from one of their professors who vigorously and disgustingly defended Hamas and its tactics on a Twitter post.

I have encountered antisemitism throughout my life, albeit more so these days. Recently, my congregation, the largest and oldest Reform synagogue in New Jersey, received a bomb threat in the opening five minutes of our Erev (evening) Rosh Hashana service. We exited the sanctuary in an orderly fashion and said our prayers for the New Year in the parking lot. I am encouraged, though. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) gave the best speech I have ever heard in person at our Temple at last week's Shabbat service. I have known Cory for over 30 years; he, my wife, and I were college classmates and my wife and he subsequently attended law school together. Like many in the Jewish community, I was disappointed for his vote for Obama's Iran deal but always believed the President used his leverage over Cory and his ambition to make his own run for the White House for his support. I urge you all to listen to his words. I promise you it will be the best thirty minutes of your week.

Next up, B.C. in Phoenix, AZ:

I guess it's up to me to offend absolutely everyone who has an opinion about the war in the Middle East, thereby diverting their attention to focusing their ire on me rather than attacking and arguing with each other. That's okay, I've been putting on big boy pants for decades and am well up to the task.

My understanding is that as far back as the late Roman Empire there has been a phrase drawn from Matthew 1:23 that Christian armies have used to inspire their troops. From World War I through World War II it was inscribed on the belt buckles of German soldiers: Gott mit uns ("God with us").

Any time you and your group subscribe to the belief that some great, unseen, unknowable, all-powerful entity or entities are on "your side" in a dispute with your fellowman, you give license to some dirtbag members of your group to perpetrate unspeakable acts of violence against others. History testifies to the fact, and these vile individuals exist in every religious group, including, but not limited to, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindis, Shintoists and Buddhists. People should not be fooled by the idea that since their particular cult has a philosophy of nonviolence, no one in their entire group will commit a hateful act as a result of believing in their righteousness.

Granted, despicable individuals oftentimes use the religious concept of "God is with us" as an excuse to do harm (see: Hitler, Adolf), but thinking human beings should not allow some unsupportable mystical concept of theirs to pave the way for the evildoers.

I have little hope that the human race will at some time universally cast off these beliefs, at the same time I have little patience with people when a great surge of whataboutism occurs after an incident of religious infamy gives rise to further acts of retaliatory violence.

And now, A.J. in San Francisco:

I don't know how many people here have really considered the atheist POV on these religious wars.

Most wars are not truly religious at their inner core, but some are.

As an atheist watching this, I feel like I am locked in an insane asylum with an overwhelming number of religious cult-member crazies who are slaughtering each other over an imaginary sky daddy. It almost feels like a school shooting. There's a barking insane murderer with a gun shooting innocent people over the delusions in their head.

Yes, I have heard the extremely heated arguments, and highly convoluted histories, and well-justified motivations for each side. I don't care. Not an excuse for inhumanity. It is bad enough that you are flushing your own time and potential down the toilet by wasting your life worshiping a primitive superstition whose only purpose was to explain what iron-age peoples did not yet understand. You also have to waste someone else's life because they're so different from you.

"Oh wow," you say, "this guy sounds full of anger and contempt." Correct. Seems a proper response to deluded killers, to me. I might like you better if you didn't murder innocent people?

This is what is so toxic and evil about religion. It turns people against one another when, in fact, all you need to band together is empathy and a conscience. Every person is born with them, but religion burns them out of you.

And just in case anyone thinks their religion is exempt: No such luck, I mean all religions. Yeah, that one, too. It's keeping you from seeing others as your fellowman. A very bitter irony, if you ask me.

I have an utterly hopeless fantasy that an agnostic government which favors no religion but lets them each have their freedom to worship, but not to oppress their next-door neighbors, will organically grow over the Middle East. Christians could live next to Jews and next to Muslims and maybe exchange recipes instead of gunfire.

This would never work because it would require deluded brainwashed cult members to lay down their emotional crutch and actually do what their religious texts tell them to do.

Love one another.

And finally R.T. in Andalusia, TX:

Our broader readership is searching for a just and righteous perspective. For many years, I shrugged at the Palestine-Israel situation with a "there they go again" perspective because neither side has attained or maintained the moral high ground. Anyone who has taken a side has picked a point in history to use as their zero point for analyzing and understanding the situation, ignoring the older past. Is your zero point last month, last year, last decade, last 50 years, or last century? The same applies to relations between the U.S. and the Middle East in general.

I've never been a fan of vengeance because it usually costs more than the original losses. After 9/11, there were more American casualties from the wars of vengeance than from the original attack. I observe that the only times peace has been achieved without conquest has been when the parties agree to let the past remain in the past. For U.S. foreign policy, this means letting go of the guilt of being a bystander when Nazi Germany annihilated Jews, and it means not treating countries with autocratic or corrupt governments, or past Soviet affiliations, as automatic enemies and threats. People are complicated, and it is good to be clear-eyed about it.

Thanks to all four correspondents. And please note these letters were chosen such that #4 flowed from #3 which flowed from #2 which flowed from #1. Please do not interpret any of them as a "response" to any of the others, because that was not the intent. In fact, we largely regarded them as four different ways of saying the same thing: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Z)

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