Showing support for Israel

I hope you had a chance to see at least a little bit of yesterday’s D.C. rally in support of Israel and the American Jewish community on the National Mall. 

The news was not that figures such as House Speaker Mike Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, or Iowa GOP senator Joni Ernst gave rousing speeches denouncing antisemitism and pledging to remain steadfast in support of Israel. That’s always good to hear, but we expect that sort of response from them. 

No, the pleasant surprise was listening to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries declare, “Israel has an absolute right to defend itself against Hamas terror,” and actress Debra Messing declare, “We will pray for the success of the IDF in a war Israel did not start, and did not want, but a war Israel will win, because we must.” 

Some days, the news will leave you feeling like Americans are hopelessly divided about every issue under the sun. But there is a big and broad bipartisan consensus in support of Israel in this country. I just hope that President Biden and his administration realize how fringe the anti-Israel perspectives are.

The Headline I Never Thought I’d Write: Way to Go, Jeffries and Messing!

Right now, it’s easy for a Republican or conservative to say, “Stand with Israel.” Sure, you can find exceptions such as Candace Owens idiotically claiming that Israel restricts Muslims to the “Muslim Quarter” in Jerusalem, Tucker Carlson griping that Speaker Mike Johnson prioritizes Israel too highly, and Vivek Ramaswamy arguing that the GOP’s concern for Israel is driven by “financial and corrupting influences.”

But by and large, folks on the right see a fight between Israel and Hamas and choose to root for Israel, with no hesitations, qualifications, or caveats. Notice the article in the New York Times, November 3: “Jewish viewers find a refuge in Fox News.”

And it is not, as the occasional celebrity progressive activist insists, primarily driven by some esoteric evangelical belief about the rapture or Israel’s role in the apocalypse. It’s because Israel is a free country and most of the people who claim to be fighting on behalf of the Palestinians are barbaric terrorists — so this isn’t a difficult judgment to make. (With that said, I do suspect a decent number of American Christians have traveled to Israel at some point in their lives to see and follow the paths where Jesus walked, and that they likely came away from those trips with an even more positive attitude toward the Israelis.)

As we’ve seen, a significant chunk of the activist left views the conflict through the lens of big, powerful Israelis and poor, underdog Palestinians, and no matter how intensely the facts on the ground contradict that simple narrative, they will not allow themselves to reconsider their prior assumptions. I think a bunch of Americans, at some point in the past, pushed all their chips to the center of the poker table and bet that the Palestinians would be seen as the good guys in this conflict. Then they lost that bet, and they’re so shocked by that turn of events that psychologically, they can’t deal with it. And so they’re tearing down posters of the kidnapped hostages, insisting that it’s all Zionist lies, labeling footage of the Hamas massacre “propaganda,” and so on. There is a reflexive psychological denial at work.

That’s why it was so refreshing to see a couple of high-profile progressives just hit it out of the park in their remarks at Tuesday’s rally on the National Mall in support of Israel and the American Jewish community.

Don’t get me wrong, House Speaker Mike Johnson’s remarks were excellent, and I don’t want to downplay them. It’s just that you expect a conservative Republican speaker of the House to be a stalwart supporter of Israel. Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is a longtime friend of Israel, and everyone would expect him to forthrightly stand with the world’s lone Jewish state.

But House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has a caucus to run that has members of “the Squad.” Also, 188 House Democrats voted against censuring Michigan Democratic representative Rashida Tlaib for her comments, which included accusing President Biden of supporting genocide. There are a lot of House Democrats who want to support Israel, but who also want to avoid any clash with their colleagues.

Yesterday, Jeffries declared where he stands, loudly and clearly:

Hamas brutally attacked Israel on October 7th, because Hamas wants to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. So let me be clear: We will never let that happen. Congress will continue to support in a bipartisan way the state of Israel and Israel’s unequivocal right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, always and forever. Always and forever! Always and forever! From the very beginning of this conflict, President Joe Biden has strongly supported the state of Israel and I strongly support President Biden’s supplemental funding request for Israel, for Ukraine, and for humanitarian assistance. We must also decisively address the cancer of antisemitism with the fierce urgency of now. An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us, and we are going to do everything possible to stop the antisemitic attacks against our Jewish brothers and sisters. The United States and Israel have a special relationship. Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad, and let me be clear: Israel has an absolute right to defend itself against Hamas terror.

Now, to you and me, declaring “Israel has an absolute right to defend itself against Hamas terror” is just common sense. But in Democratic circles, that’s a controversial statement, and in the context of Israel and considering the ongoing battles around and underneath the al-Shifa Hospital complex and other hospitals in the Gaza Strip, that’s an intensely contentious statement to a lot of progressives. If you’re calling for a cease-fire, then no, you don’t think Israel has an absolute right to defend itself from terrorists.

Jeffries continued:

There’s a question on the minds of many of us: Where do we go from here? We must stand with Israel in its effort to decisively defeat Hamas and make sure that this brutal terrorist regime can never rise again. We must make sure that every single hostage is returned home safely, and then we must stand together to secure a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.

If you’re a conservative, then there’s a good chance that at some point, actress Debra Messing has driven you up the wall. She’s sort of the platonic ideal of a progressive Hollywood activist. But yesterday, at the rally for Israel, Messing’s words eloquently articulated the sense of betrayal that so many American Jews and friends of Israel are feeling:

I know you are in pain. I know you are afraid. I know I know you feel alone and abandoned by people you thought were your friends. I know you feel misunderstood and maligned. I know, because I do too. But looking out at all of us today, we also know that we are not alone, because we have each other. We are all being tested. A tsunami of hate has crashed down upon us and then a deafening silence. We see clearly now. We see naked, virulent Jew hatred being disguised as a noble call for liberation, and we reject it! What does Israel’s defense in response to a terrorist attack have to do with an elderly Jewish man in California killed for holding an Israeli flag? This is madness. This is terrorism.

But we will win; we always have. We are strong, resilient, and devoted, and we will not lose ourselves. We will worry for our global Jewish family and also hurt for the innocent Palestinians used as human shields by Hamas. We will work to eviscerate Hamas and also pray for a free and flourishing Gaza. We will remember and work for the release of the 240 hostages as well as for the safety of the 2.2 million Gazans also held hostage by Hamas. We will pray for the success of the IDF in a war Israel did not start, and did not want, but a war Israel will win, because we must. Those who hate us deny our humanity and our right to exist. No matter. We know who we are, and we know that even in — especially in –darkness, we stand proud, resolute with absolute moral certitude in our fight, like our ancestors who for 3,000 years looked hate straight in the eyes. We, too, will prevail.

I can hear somebody saying out there, “Big deal, these are just words.” Okay, but in the past month or so, a whole lot of people failed the test of offering appropriate words. When it came time to speak, they found ways to insist that the issue was complicated, that Hamas wasn’t really a terrorist group, or that Israel had somehow brought the massacre upon itself. We saw all those student groups signing letters condemning Israel, without even pausing to offer a critical word about Hamas. We heard the jokes about “the resistance” taking “out several dozen hipsters.” We saw the Israeli military response denounced as “genocide” by people who have no discernible objection to the fact that Hamas’s charter explicitly calls for the “complete destruction of Israel.”

In the context of the past five weeks, it’s really refreshing to see prominent progressives reminding everyone, including their misguided ideological comrades, that Hamas started this war, not Israel, that a “cease-fire” was in place right up until the moment Hamas crashed through those border walls with bulldozers, and that there was a form of a “two-state solution” in place when the sun set on October 6. Don’t blame Israel for finishing a fight that Hamas chose to start.

We’ve all been walking around with this heaviness in our hearts, not just from the massacre, but from watching so many of our countrymen take to the streets to make excuses for the massacre and blame the victims for what happened. It was a moral injury atop the horror. And it is heartening to see people with whom we often disagree on many other issues see the same things we see, and to defy those who insist that two plus two equals five.

What would you like Israel to do about the Hamas operations under the al-Shifa Hospital complex and other hospitals in the Gaza Strip? For a lot of people, mostly on the Left, the answer is, “Nothing.” They have contorted themselves into a moral pretzel to contend that the only ethical course for Israel to take is to let Hamas operatives and leaders escape to fight another day, to accept the risk of another massacre in the future.

That might be an acceptable risk to some of us, living at least 6,700 miles away, but unsurprisingly, the Israelis prioritize the safety of their children over our moral approval. There’s nothing you can say to the Israeli government that will persuade it that living with the risk of another massacre is worth it.

During the occupation of Atlanta, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman wrote to city officials, “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.” In a later address to Michigan Military Academy, he shortened the comment to, “War is hell.” This is why you’re supposed to avoid wars whenever possible. But once somebody’s come across your border and slaughtered your civilians of all ages, there is no avoiding war.

There is no clean, nice, or civilian-casualty-free way of fighting a war — particularly against an enemy that hides behind civilians whenever possible. Bombs that destroy an enemy target will inevitably send shrapnel and concussive force in all directions, inevitably harming innocent civilians who want no part of this war.

The only thing you can do to minimize the death and injuries among the innocent is win the war as quickly as possible to end the fighting.

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