The bias of the cowboy-and-Indians movies I grew up on in the 1950s has long been exposed: swallowing up Native American land was the aim, and the myth of the dangerous savages who threatened the very existence of innocent European settlers was created to advance such expansionist goals.
Yet Roger Cohen and so very many American apologists for Israel recreate that myth, with roles now played by Israelis and Palestinians — and Cohen garbs the Israelis and their expansionist policies in the cloak of justified self-protection against an anti-Jewish world.
I am a Jew (and over the age of 65) who is deeply opposed to Zionism. I do not believe for a minute that at its core anti-Zionism is anti-Jewishness.
Israel is an occupying force in Palestinian lands and refuses to treat the Palestinian people as equals either in humanity or in governance. This is not a war between Israel and Hamas; it is a war by Israel to further control and limit the land and human rights of a people whom the state of Israel has subjugated and contained.
Whether or not Hamas represents the majority of Palestinians, it is clear (at least outside Israel and the United States) that Cohen’s depiction of the current conflicts as “Israel’s war with Hamas” is inaccurate. Israel is not fighting to destroy Hamas; it is fighting to destroy Palestine.
Israel has no need to kill thousands of Palestinian civilians in order to dismantle the tunnels and the infrastructure of Hamas. How does killing a baby help find a Hamas fighter? It does this by terrorizing and destroying the will of an entire population. That is part one of the Israeli strategy, and that is why so much of the world condemns Israel.
The second part of the Israeli strategy is equally reprehensible: trying to get the people of Gaza to reject Hamas because of the suffering caused by the current attacks. Such a strategy — creating a humanitarian disaster, so graphically understood by the entire globe, in order to turn the disaster’s victims against their own militants — is morally reprehensible, to say the very least. It is also a loser: support for Hamas only grows, even among Hamas’s opponents, because Israel’s actions continue to show the world more clearly than ever why Palestine needs to resist. In that context, Hamas is embraced for its ability to resist.
The U.S. has a different view of the conflict from that around the world largely because the Zionist organizations are headquartered here, and because arguments like Cohen’s — that there is “always a flimsy distinction” between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism — have been drummed into the American public’s minds. I support the rights of the Palestinian people not because I hate Jews (and not because I am a “self-hating Jew,” as Zionists often scream in my face when I stand at rallies for Palestine), but because I abhor the trampling of the human rights of any people by another state or powerful group.
One of the tragedies that will surely grow from the human disaster that is the ongoing destruction of Gaza (not to mention, as Cohen fairly adds, the relentless illegal settlements by Israel in the West Bank) will be the very explosion of anti-Semitism Cohen and others fear. This is not because anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism; it is because Israel continues to claim that its brutal actions against Palestinians are being carried out in the name of the Jews of the world.
As one of those Jews, I want to say as clearly as I can: Israel does not represent me — it endangers my humanity and poisons my identity as a Jew. I count myself with the Refuseniks in the Israeli army, who resign from the enforced code of support for Israeli war against Palestine. I support the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divest movement, as I did the boycott of apartheid in South Africa.
I wish that the voices of thousands of American Jews, who stand, as I do, with humanity and Palestine, were not ignored amidst the voices of “the American Jewish community.” I believe it is we, not the state of Israel, who truly represent the hope for ending anti-Semitism — hatred not only against Jews but also against other Semites, including the Palestinian people.
Laura Whitehorn is a writer.