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The Gaza lesson for liberals

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POSTED August 29, 2014 1:41 a.m.

There’s a painful lesson to be learned for liberals, especially liberal Jews, from the hopefully concluded war in Gaza.

Most of my liberal friends desperately want to believe that the fact that Israel is subject to more criticism than almost any country in the world (including some very scary ones), that respected universities consider calls for boycotts, that student government slates (at UCLA) run and win on pledges not to accept travel from the Anti-Defamation League, that all of this and more has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it is a Jewish state, much less with anti-Semitism. No, it’s not about holding Jews to a different standard; it’s Israel. 

Newsflash: Not so in this war.

Israel is not the “occupier” of Gaza. Israel did not build tunnels into Gaza. 

Show me another country that would be castigated, as Israel has been, even in the American media, for protecting its citizens against terrorists who had secretly figured out how to infiltrate their towns and villages, who were sending rockets aimed at major population centers without even a pretense of targeting the military.

You know what the world would say if another country were the one taking on terrorists who have vowed to destroy us, as well. We would say thanks. We would say well done. We would be very glad that they were willing to send their soldiers into harm’s way, that they were adept enough to target militants. Would the international media be castigating the country that first warned of impending attacks and then hit houses where the dead were pulled out carrying rifles to the cheers of the crowd? They would not.

How is it that Israel became the villain in a war it did not start, that was necessitated by self-defense, that cost needless lives because Hamas does not value the lives of its own people either?

One of my friends sent me an email from an Israeli doctor whose team had saved the life of a Palestinian woman who had been burned by her own family (likely for straying beyond the proper limits for women). She returned to Gaza and was encouraged to return to Israel for outpatient follow-up. She was stopped at the border, suicide bombs strapped to her body, on her way to her follow-up appointment in Israel. She planned to kill herself and those who had saved her life. Her family told her they would forgive her if she did.

This is why Israelis were overwhelmingly in support of this war. It is because it was a war of self-defense, part of the struggle for survival that we would like to believe is limited to the countries in the Middle East, but is built on hatred and hypocrisy that cannot so easily be cabined.

It is good that there is a ceasefire, good that families on both sides can sleep a little better and breathe a little easier, good that fewer lives may be lost in the short run. But we liberals cannot kid ourselves. 

My mother saw anti-Semitism behind every corner and always urged me not to offend. I was determined to push back against those limits — when I was growing up, limits on who could live where and go to school where and even go fishing off of which dock — just like I was determined to push back on the limits imposed on women. No one’s victim. Not me. We Jewish Americans have done very, very well and have much to be grateful for. 

But blindness is more dangerous than paranoia. 

It wasn’t — it isn’t — just about Israel.

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