A month ago, I had an interesting lunch with a man named David Greenblatt a former Net2phone executive, who wants to consolidate some Internet media companies. We met at Abigael’s, a kosher spot, on Broadway and I spotted David who had a classically learned face. He is clearly an observant jew, lives in an orthodox community out near long beach, and our conversation inevitably turned to jewish affairs. I mentioned to David that I’m making a film called The Aaron Cohens and I working on creating an academy for Israeli Entrepreneurs called TechAviv. He immediately understood I was engaged with my jewish identity and I chose not to confess that, to a large extent, this was a reengagement.
I told David I had a real interest on working what has come to be known as the Israeli PR problem. In some Jewish circles, media and marketing professionals with ties to Israel have channeled their anxiety about Israel’s reputation in the world to create strategies to help “message” the Israeli perspective better. I told David that TechAviv was an academy designed to celebrate the creativity, determination, and chutzpah of the Israeli entrepreneur. The Aaron Cohens was meant to help shine a light on the richness, diversity, and comic appeal of Global Jewish culture. Both projects, I argued, would help “message” the enormous appeal of Israeli and Jewish culture and, I argued, hopefully make the world a slightly less anti-semitic place.
David, perhaps 55 wearing the black and black of the modern orthodox, rubbed his gray beard (you knew he had one) and said to me (I’m paraphrasing)
Aaron, I used to be like you. I wanted to change people’s views on our conflict. But the more I studied, the more I realized that I had to accept anti-semitism for what it was, totally irrational. You want to believe that people are ignorant. But the culture that became Nazi Germany was one of the most intellectually rigorous civillizations in history. Sometimes we are detested for having too much money, sometimes for not enough. Sometimes we are too religous, sometimes we assimilate too much. In point of fact, there is no rhyme or reason for outbursts of anti-semitism. Anti-Semitism just is and always will be. I thank god every day, I’ve lived through a period in America where I have not been persecuted, but things can change.
I share this story because it’s been on my mind during the Gaza conflict. I have been a supporter of this war from the beginning and I continue to support it. Israel has annihilated Gaza’s infrastructure and gone a long way to destroying Hamas’s ability to kill Israelis. Already 13 Israelis have lost their lives, but nearly a thousand Palestinians have been killed — many civilians and far too many have been children.
Hamas while unprepared for this military conflict, does have great messaging capability. Israel has violently destroyed Hamas’ infrastructure, caches of explosives and rockets, and tunnel system. Throughout the conflict Hamas has launched rocket attacks into Southern Israel and periodically destroyed homes and caused injuries. Cease-fires have been offered but have not been observed, and as a result (or maybe it would have happened anyway) the Israeli army has continued their campaign That’s my summary.
What I don’t understand is how so many people in the media ignore the Hamas rocket attacks when they criticize the Israeli response. As AB Yehoshua (an Israeli novelist and Peace activist) so intelligently pointed out in the NYT if Belgium was launching rockets onto the Champs d.Elysses and the rockets generally didn’t kill anybody but they did destroy shops and homes and create a general state of fear, wouldn’t people think France had a right to defend itself? For me, it’s that simple. I would expect my government to defend Manhattan if we were subjected to rocket attacks. Wouldn’t you?
Much has been made in the media about “proportionate response.” It’s a tragedy that so many civilians are dying because of this conflict. Israelis would argue Hamas uses human shields, organizes command centers in schools and hospitals, and deploys a myriad of tactics designed to make the israeli solider consult his code of conduct before firing. I have no doubt these are correct just as I am thinking long and hard about the tough report issued by Human Rights Watch today.
Here’s what I believe. As awful as Hamas is, Jews and Israeils are a people who treat other people decently. It’s disgraceful that the Arab countries use Palestinians to further their anti-Israel objectives and do nothing for the Palestinian people in return. Egypt sealed its border for a reason. Because the Arab countries have disowned the Palestinians Gaza and the West Bank are an intrinsically Jewish and an Israeli problem. When Palestinians cannot get medical attention or clean water because the campaign has destroyed so much infrastructure and blockades are preventing the arrival of new supplies, then the Israelis must ask themselves what is the right thing to do and be sure of it.
Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israeli attitudes will persist. David’s view may be historically correct, but I cannot sit back and just accept anti-semitism will be a constant forever. Israelis and all Jews must remember that they should think in a humane way about the Palestinians. This is an incredibly difficult thing to do, but it must be done. When you lose that compassion you have lost everything.
It is time to make sure that the right supplies enter Gaza and that the children and civilians of Gaza don’t suffer deaths from lack of medical attention because of Hamas’ intransigence. If this is truly a conflict about the sancity of life, let us not forget that Palestinian lives also matter. It’s the difference between the politics of love and hate.
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