Question: When does self-defense become “aggression?”
Answer: When Israel defends itself, no matter how justified.
I hate this Q and this A. I don’t want to sound like a bitter, angry, traumatized, the-world-is-against-us Jew. I was born into what I call the post-Auschwitz covenant, the post-Holocaust messaging from the world, having seen Adolf Hitler’s evil, that “Never Again” would be a global sacred vow, not a plaintive Jewish cry. And yet, again and again, no matter what the provocation, no matter how restrained Israel has been, when Israel defends itself, there is a worldwide chorus ready to characterize Israel’s justified actions as “aggression” and pull out those always-at-the-ready false equivalent signs, comparing Israel to South Africa’s evil apartheid regime, to 20th century European colonialism, and to America’s horrific racist past—and note, we need to put lots of words between “Israel” or “Zionism” and these accusations because the association after so much repetition sticks.
In writing my new book “Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism,” I discovered that this was an explicit Palestinian strategy, to universalize the conflict. Yasir Arafat, Edward Said and others understood that if the Arab-Israeli conflict remained seen as a local conflict, the Palestinians would be forgotten. Their success came from linking their conflict into the broader anti-American, anti-Western rhetoric of the time, fueled, let’s acknowledge, just enough by that ancient and still toxic fuel which the post-1948 Arab world restored to potency, anti-Semitism.
So I ask those who call themselves “progressives” while defending fascistic Hamas and their Palestinian comrades rushing now to protest Israel’s alleged “aggression.” How many rockets must civilians living in uncontested territory endure before actions are justified and not “aggression?” How much weaponry must be smuggled into Gaza or Southern Lebanon, hidden among civilian infrastructures, before Israel is justified in responding? How many cries to kill the Jews, to wipe out the Zionist regime, to destroy Israel must be shouted before Israel takes the threat seriously?
Here are the facts that are relevant to Israelis.
One, in 2005 Israel withdrew from Gaza (and parts of the West Bank), paying a terrible internal price by uprooting civilians, in an attempt to make some progress toward stability, and then peace. I can editorialize and say, as I believed then too, that Israel should have done it in the context of a fuller agreement with the PA, that there are better ways to have done it—but the withdrawal from Gaza was comprehensive, including pulling back from some patrolling lines that many at the time thought was ill-advised.
Two, Palestinians—and particularly Hamas in Gaza—dashed these hopes for peace from the start. Some trashed hot houses that idealistic Jewish philanthropists paid $14 million for and contributed to the Gazans, hoping to see a new commitment to building their own Palestinian state, not destroying the Jewish state. Others made numerous attempts at border incursions. And still others sent not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of rockets.
Three, most recently, emboldened by the fall of a stable Egyptian regime—however problematic—and the rise of an Islamist one, Hamas has allowed new rounds of rocket fire, blast after blast of Kassams piercing the sound barrier, terrifying innocents, doing both physical and psychological damage.
I ask the protestors who are starting to mobilize against Israel: If you lived, as my cousin does, within the Green Line and rockets rained down on you, what would you want your government to do? And I also ask, if after all this, people protested Israeli “aggression,” no matter how limited or targeted, such as the assassination of a mass murderer, what conclusion would you draw?
I know the conclusion I and so many others, from left to right, draw. This is not a protest against what the critics called “Israeli aggression.” This is a rejection—and a continuing one—against Israel’s very right to exist. Unless and until Palestinians and their allies accept Israel’s right to exist, which includes the right to defend itself against attack, those of us who endorse a two-state solution will be perpetually disappointed. The continuing assault against Israel is the true aggression, the true threat to peace, the true problem that must be solved before any progress in the region is made.