Israel, Right Or Wrong

13 August 2014
As the war in Gaza rages on, something that perplexes many is the unquestioning support of the vast majority of Jewish people for Israel. It seems no matter what the accusation of Israeli wrongdoing, most Jews vehemently defend the actions of the Israeli government and army, attacking those who dissent - as in this article by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who has faced death threats after articles in the Israeli press questioning the war. Levy points out that the criticism has come as much from the liberal readers of his paper, Haaretz, as other sections of Israeli society. We see the same from other Jews who would be considered politically liberal, but nonetheless take a hardline pro-Israeli stance.

But why do most Jewish people - with their values of democracy and tolerance, let alone their history of suffering - defend the actions of the IDF and disregard Palestinian suffering? I recently came across something that explained it all. A Jewish parenting site I visit was discussing the rising tide of anti-Semitism, and no longer feeling safe in their own communities. A reader living in Israel advised those in the U.S. to make aaliyah, the move to the Jewish homeland. She assured fellow readers "Jews are safer here than anywhere else in the world. We have each other, and we have an army". It is a theme that comes up again and again on Jewish websites I visit; the belief that another Holocaust is imminent, and the only thing that will protect the Jewish people is the IDF.

Obviously, those who frequent websites specific to Jewish interests will be more inclined to strongly identify as Jewish as a key part of their identity and feel solidarity with the Jewish people, so it's a skewed sample here. But the Holocaust is not merely an historical event for many Jews; it is something that they feel personally, that but for time and place it could have happened to them, and further that the whole world secretly wants all Jews dead, even if they don't come right out and say so (such references come up in the most seemingly unrelated articles - a piece praising the 2012 Olympics performance of Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman, for instance. And it comes up in articles about explaining the Holocaust to kids - that it could happen again at any time, and most of the world would be happy with that.

So taking this combination of fear, solidarity, and a need to not question too closely claims that Hamas uses human shields, and you've got a pretty good explaination for why so many Jewish people feel the way they do - that no matter the actions of the Israeli government and army, they are necessary to prevent another Holocaust - indeed, this is the only thing that can prevent it, and opposing this is wishing the destruction of the Jewish people. (And what happens, I wonder, when refugees from anti-Semitism do move to Israel - and all need housing? Where are they going to settle?).

Of course not all Jewish people feel this way. But many do, and it does, I think, help explain their unquestioning support of the war, the cries of anti-Semitism whenever anyone questions the Gaza attacks. We may not agree, but we can try to understand. 


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