War Prompts Arguments and Questions
From Where I SitOpinion

War Prompts Arguments and Questions

Eight months in, Jewish Americans are having trouble talking to each other about Israel and the war in Gaza.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

On one of the Jewish listservs and social media pages that I follow, readers were cautioned that anything less than active support of the Palestinians in Gaza might render them “moral failures.”

That did not sit well with everyone. One of those who objected did so in mocking language, while at the same time rejecting what they considered an “ad hominem” attack on their character.

The back-and-forth grew heated, focusing more on the tone of the discourse than the accuracy and context of information offered in the original post.

After a while, the boiling pot was reduced to a simmer, as cooler heads pleaded that everyone try to be kinder to each other when discussing Israel and its war against Hamas in Gaza.

A reminder of what sparked the current war: On Oct. 7, now referred to by Israelis as the “Black Sabbath,” Hamas-led terrorists murdered 1,200 people and took 240 more hostage from kibbutzim, towns, and a desert music festival in a section of southern Israel known as the “Gaza envelope.” Additionally, more than 3,000 rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza that day.

Estimates of the death toll from Israel’s retaliation range from more than 23,000 by the end of May, per an analysis by the Associated Press, to the nearly 37,000 claimed by the Gaza Ministry of Health, an arm of the Hamas government that has ruled the Gaza strip since 2007.

The tactics employed by the Israel Defense Forces, including its use of weapons provided by the United States, have been found wanting in the global court of public opinion, but defended by the Israeli military.

A not so simple question: What (else) should Israel have done in response to the unprecedented bloodletting on Oct. 7?

Surely Hamas anticipated that Israel would respond in overwhelming fashion, and yet was willing, in the name of the Palestinian people, to accept a staggering casualty count, the displacement of 1.7 million Gazans, the destruction of perhaps two-thirds of the housing stock, and an escalating humanitarian crisis.

Regardless of your feelings about the status quo on Oct. 6 — and there is much worth discussing — absent the terror attacks on Oct. 7 thousands of Palestinians would be alive and the Gaza strip would not lie in rubble.

Israel administered the punishment, but how does Hamas justify this to the people of Gaza?

I am writing this column on June 7 — day 246 — hours after the Israel Defense Forces announced the rescue of four hostages in a combat operation involving simultaneous raids on two apartment blocks in central Gaza, where the hostages report having been held captive in civilian homes.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported 274 deaths in the raids that freed four hostages kidnapped at gunpoint eight months earlier. Israeli joy at their return was tempered by awareness that 120 hostages remain, two-thirds of whom the Israeli government believe are dead.

Israelis have openly debated whether bringing home the hostages should be their government’s top priority or whether eradicating Hamas should take precedence — even at the risk of the hostages’ lives.

I don’t expect this to happen, but if Hamas freed all of the hostages still alive and returned the bodies of those dead, I suspect that Israel would face intense international pressure to halt the war — even if vestiges of the Hamas leadership and its fighting force remained.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, faces calls to resign as a consequence of intelligence and military failures that allowed Oct. 7 to happen. There is precedent: Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned in April 1974, after the National Commission of Inquiry issued its report on intelligence and military failures leading up to the October 1973 Yom Kippur war. The Netanyahu government thus far has rebuffed calls to empower a similar inquiry.

Speaking recently in Atlanta, Shira Ben-Sasson Furstenberg, associate director in Israel of the New Israel Fund, said that Oct. 7 “exposed gaps and challenges that already existed in Israeli society.”

The same could be said of America’s Jewish community, which has splintered further over Israel and the war. We have contentious conversations, such as the exchange described above, because each of us comes to this emotion-laden subject with viewpoints formed by our individual backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs.

After this war, I expect there to be discussion about repairing rifts in the Jewish community, but the fissures that have opened since Oct. 7 may already have become permanent parts of the landscape.

read more: