A Decent Liberal Israeli’s Perspective on Gaza

I’ve planned on writing about the Gaza War at some point, but I still find it too depressing because there seems to be no way to influence the Israelis to stand off of their impending war crime in Gaza, which will begin to reap its strange fruit next week. But a friend of mine on Facebook stared something that at least gave me perspective on it. It’s from Ori Hanan Weisberg, a man living in Israel (and no admirer of Netanyahu), and be warned that it is both long and deep:

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People both here and around the world have checked in to ask how I am. I appreciate this more than you can imagine. But it puts me in a bind as to how to respond, beyond to affirm my physical safety and that of my children. Those of you who know me personally, or even at length virtually, know that I struggle to restrict my responses to such a question to generalities and formalities. On the other hand, I’ve been working over the past year, in the wake of radical upheavals in my personal life, to restrain my openness. Some see that openness as oversharing that overburdens them. So, responding to this question is challenging.

Yes, it would be correct to say that I’m fine. Because in many senses I am. Especially if we contextualize this with how others are doing. And even in this situation, I try to remember that context, and I try to remember both the morality and usefulness of gratitude. But I don’t always find the strength.

So, for those who want more detail, here it is. I’m angry. This is of course to be expected. Joe Strummer (because you knew I’d quote him somewhere here) once wrote “let fury have the hour / anger can be power / you know that you can use it.” He was talking about a rather simple situation of resistance. When anger is directed in one clear direction, and it’s righteous, then outrage, literally directing one’s rage outward, can be an antidote to despair and fear. And if directed effectively, can be a powerful force for change, or at least survival. But that’s not where I am. Because I’m angry in so many directions I struggle to find a center on which to stand. In some senses, all of my angers are pulling me apart.

Given this predicament, I want to add a caveat before I particularize them. I am conscious of being in extremis. I may change my view on many of the things I lay out here. I may repudiate them. I may be embarrassed by them. I may be very wrong about some of these things, though explaining to me how I am wrong, even if done with good will, likely won’t help either of us. At any rate, the question “how are you?” is in the present. This is how I am now. A snapshot of the moment. Yes, I am answering because I know some of you are personally interested, and yes, I am answering because I need to speak, and I live alone, and because I am Ori. But I also know that some have found value (because they’ve told me so) in my openness in sharing my views and experience.

Nonetheless, I’d like you to keep in mind the most important line in the Book of Job. After Job loses everything and is subjected to intense physical and emotional trauma, he cries out to God, demanding an explanation. Three friends gather to discuss how he might continue to believe in a just and good God and the possibility of a just and good world. And they all mean well. The friend who speaks last, Eliphaz the Temani, holds he most correct position. He’s really smart, even wise. He isn’t simply an orthodox (small ‘o’) apologist for religious dogma demanding fidelity. He probes the problem deeply and calls for a complex subject position and view of God and the world. God then speaks to Job from out of the whirlwind, before pivoting to the friends, not addressing all three, but speaking directly to Eliphaz. וַיְהִי אַחַר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֶל אִיּוֹב וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל אֱלִיפַז הַתֵּימָנִי חָרָה אַפִּי בְךָ וּבִשְׁנֵי רֵעֶיךָ כִּי לֹא דִבַּרְתֶּם אֵלַי נְכוֹנָה כְּעַבְדִּי אִיּוֹב.“And after Hashem spoke these words to Job, Hashem said to Eliphaz the Temani, ‘I am incensed with you and your two friends, because you didn’t speak to me appropriately like my servant Job.’”

God doesn’t commend Eliphaz’s powerful theodicy, one that has provided many later rabbinic theologians – the Rambam (Maimonides) foremost among them (see the discussion of Providence in Part III of the Guide of the Perplexed) – with great intellectual inspiration. He doesn’t say ‘yep, well done Elushkeh, you got it right my brilliant child and your benighted brother Job just needs to listen to you.’ Rather, as the Rambam emphasizes, God rebukes him for being too invested in his own argument and correctness. The great Jewish historian Amos Funkenstein read Job as teaching that we don’t always deserve answers, but we have the right, and even obligation, to demand a hearing. Especially in extremis. Even if we are wrong or lost or broken or. . .angry.

With that in mind, my answer to the question “how are you?”, that I’m angry includes a list of things I’m angry about. In no special order and certainly no hierarchical ranking.

I’m angry at Hamas about the vicious slaughter and widespread trauma they inflicted, gleefully, on so many people.

I’m angry at Israel’s vaunted security and intelligence communities and institutions, whose often appalling moral decisions and violations of rights have been justified with recourse to the necessity for security, for nonetheless failing to keep us safe.

I’m angry at this absurd government led by a man who has time and again placed his own interests and power above duty to country, while posing as a superlative patriot. And has never paid a political price.

I’m angry at his party for clinging to him despite his amorality (or immorality) because doing so has served their own interests. I’m angry that for years he funneled cash from Qatar to Hamas while posing as the only one who can keep Jews safe. And I’m angry that so many people bought into this. And angry that so many still do. I’m angry that more than 2% of the population somehow doesn’t want him to resign immediately.

I’m angry at everyone who voted for any party in this government who hasn’t apologized for empowering such a group of corrupt and irresponsible chauvinists and zealots.

I’m angry at Hamas for undercutting the struggle for Palestinian rights and lending credence to the caricatures of Palestinians as bloodthirsty savages who just want to kill Jews, which is far from the truth. This will not only cost Palestinian lives in the immediate, but it will also set back their pursuit of justice and dignity by decades. They have alienated hard-won support in the international community. And they have made it harder to stand for their recognition, rights, and justice. Here, in Israel, it makes answering the refrain that ‘they don’t really want freedom, they just want us all dead and gone’ exponentially more difficult. And they have reinforced the flawed attitude that any failure of brutality to subjugate others is evidence of the need for more brutality.

I’m angry at the harm that this will perpetuate for Israel and Israelis, now and in future generations, on so many levels. Dehumanizing themselves and us, dehumanizing us all, plunging us ever deeper into a morass of hatred and violence. There is no security and dignity for Israeli Jews if there is no security and dignity for Palestinian Arabs.

I’m angry at those on the right who are already waving this as vindication of their cruelty and hate-mongering.

I’m angry at those on the left who are celebrating this as valid resistance and a step in the direction of justice.

I’m angry at their glib equivocations that show zero compassion for individual lives. One cannot seek justice for peoples if one isn’t seeking justice for people. Justice only comes when we provide safety and dignity for all.

I’m angry at the arrogance of so many privileged people with little knowledge and enormous self-righteousness, who deny their own implication in a global system that has enabled this situation and glory in accusing others, and who celebrate or rationalize this slaughter as just desserts. Especially those who have never stepped foot here, haven’t read a 100th of what I’ve read, who don’t interact and work with Palestinians every day, yet who like to “educate” me about the Palestinian suffering I’ve witnessed, stay abreast of, and seek to alleviate. There is no justice without humility. My supposed allies on the left in regard to so many causes, including justice for Palestinians, this isn’t about YOU.

I’m angry at those who obscure context and discredit it by calling it justification. Understanding something more deeply and broadly doesn’t mean one thinks it is just. To any and every brutal situation, some will inevitably respond with brutality. Others will not. That brutality is therefore inevitable, but not justified. It doesn’t exonerate someone who decapitates a parent in front of their child. It doesn’t exonerate someone who throws grenades at people who are dancing. It doesn’t exonerate someone who rapes or beats or shoots or bombs others. Systemic and historical analysis does not neutralize moral agency and responsibility. When we fail to attend to either, we are part of the problem. I’m angry that someone next to whom I sat Shabbat after Shabbat for years in synagogue went to a music festival, had his arm blown off with a grenade, applied his own tourniquet, and now is a hostage in Gaza with no medical attention to his grave injury. And his parents and sisters, like so many others, are living a nightmare.

I’m angry that my youngest child has spent hours with her best friend, keeping her company, while she’s overcome with fear for her beloved older brother (they are so close that one of his profile pictures is of the two of them) who was sent to the front.

I’m angry at myself that this is the world and childhood I’ve given my three children.

I’m angry that I did not build a career that would have given me a meaningful role of some sort in this crisis.

I’m angry at the reasons I didn’t do so, many of which have to do with an illness I was both born with and that was exacerbated by my experience and failures to overcome it.

I’m angry at my supposed allies here in Israel who have refused to recognize that democracy and dignity for only some is a delusion. In fact, it is democracy and dignity for no one.

I’m angry that my country is filled with creative energy and courage when it comes to technology and the arts, but absolutely devoid of any creativity and courage when it comes to politics.

I’m angry that I once found Israel’s precariousness romantic and thought it provided a more authentic experience of life and greater purity of commitment and affiliation.

I’m angry at the dishonestly partial and propagandistic education that informed those sentiments.

I’m angry at those who have turned my people’s traditions into distorting mirrors of superiority and cudgels of cruelty.

I’m angry that thousands of Palestinian children will be killed and traumatized in the next days and weeks.

I’m angry that my own children’s immediate welfare and that of my people, and the immediate welfare of another people and its children, are now seemingly mutually exclusive. I’m angry that I don’t currently possess a plausible vision for a better future. I’m angry that I live by myself and that the nights are very very long.

I’m angry that this week will forever shape my children’s lives, and my own.

And I’m angry that, unlike Job, I don’t have the kind of faith that gives me an address to demand a hearing and express my anger.

So if you’ve read this, you will have to do. And I’m angry that some who read this will feel pain.

As I said, this is from the perspective of an Israeli Jew who has worked an advocated on behalf of Palestinians. The only thing that struck me badly was the one specifically intended for people like me to hear: his saying to us “My supposed allies on the left in regard to so many causes, including justice for Palestinians, this isn’t about YOU.” Well, yeah, what’s happening there isn’t about us, but what we think and do about it here is. And this comes at a time when people who recognize that Israel and the United States did have a role in this — partly in supporting Netanyahu (even as he spent our latest Presidential election boosting Trump) — are being fired from jobs and scholarships by people and institutions who are celebrated for this crackdown! That is about us.

I do not include a Palestinian (or broader Arab or Muslim) perspective on this here because I don’t feel qualified to determine what a proper pro-Palestinian at this moment is. I hope to remedy that before long.

I was going to make this an Open Thread, but that seems like asking for trouble. I’ll have one of those out in the next couple of days, probably about the Speaker’s race. Meanwhile, if and “fuck the Muslims” comments appear him, they will last only as long as the moment I see them. People will be dying there over the next few days for lack of gas, power, food, water, and electricity — and over a million people there are already fucked, and most of them are innocent of the atrocious Hamas attack that was designed to provoke Israel into this precise sort of atrocity so that it would upend its relations with the Arab world. The leaders are failing the people. Except that while Palestinians did vote for Hamas (for lack of any non-corrupt option), that doesn’t mean that they wanted this — those celebrating publicly were extremists, and those who weren’t celebrating stayed safely inside. But too many Israelis voted for Likud and the racist and “ultrareligious” parties in its soon to be despotic coalition — and they did want to see Hamas wiped out “by any means necessary.”

If you keep your comments to the factual assertions made in the paragraph just above, they have a good chance of surviving here.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)