Source: The Guardian
By Jason Stanley, who is a professor of philosophy at Yale University, and the author, most recently, of The Politics of Language (with David Beaver)
he world’s attention is focused on Gaza. The range of opinions being debated in the media today varies between the claim that what we are witnessing is the start of a genocide, to the view that Israel is engaging in self-protection, reacting properly to a true existential threat. That empathy is required for the horrors now facing the Palestinian people should be obvious to all decent people, just as much as for the victims of Hamas’s unspeakable savagery. But it is necessary to move beyond these reactions, to evaluate the arguments, and their consequences.
It is not much of an exaggeration to say that my life has been defined by the European genocide of the Jewish people. This history, for me, is never ending. Recently, I was contacted over email by a distant relative of my mother, who sent me a list of my maternal relatives murdered at Sobibor – there were twelve people on this list, including my great-grandmother and multiple great-uncles. This past has defined my recent professional life, where I have looked theoretically at the conditions that enable mass killing.
Hamas’s massacre brought a kind of special horror to me, evocative of the worst of the stories of my ancestors. Jewish people being massacred brings back the worst of my intergenerational trauma. And when I contemplate the nightmare occurring in Gaza, the elimination by slow suffocation or fire of so many entire families, I feel equal horror at the situation facing people there, children who face the same fate as Hamas’s innocent victims. To me, with my background, that is just what it means to be Jewish – to empathize with the innocent victims of mass killing, no matter their identity. Israel’s current actions, I believe, make me less safe as a Jewish person, rather than more. But I also feel Israel’s actions, not only here but also over time, in a different way – as an assault on my Jewish identity.
My training is in the Philosophy of Language. As a result, I have focused on the kind of speech that enables and justifies genocide. To justify mass killing by self-protection, by the claim that its targets pose an existential threat, is the classical justification for genocide. Dating back to Cleon’s speech in Book 3 of Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War, the paradigm example of demagoguery in the ancient world, would-be genocidaires always justify their actions on the grounds that its targets pose an existential threat to their own people.
Of course, some Palestinians have genocidal ambitions against the Jewish inhabitants of Israel, as the actions and words of Hamas and its supporters have made vivid to the world. But this hardly constitutes a justification for Israel’s mass killing of innocents. Typically, the justification for such mass killings goes well beyond the claim that some of its targets merely have genocidal ambitions. The justification for such drastic actions is that its targets pose a legitimate existential threat. Hitler justified the Final Solution on these grounds, that the existence of the Jewish people supposedly posed an existential threat to the German nation. Jewish people posed no threat at all to the German nation. We must always be careful about claims of existential threat.
In this case, Israel does face a profound threat from Hamas. However, the vast difference in power between Israel and Hamas makes it highly unlikely for Hamas to pose an existential threat to Israel. In fact, Hamas could not have murdered so many innocent Israelis, if not for the complete security breakdown by Netanyahu’s government. Obsessed by his own concerns, and those of the extremists who put him into power, Netanyahu forgot about the country he is required to protect. Netanyahu has a long history of treating these terrorists as partners in his quest to marginalize any moderate Palestinian leadership.
Of course, Israel does face an existential threat, if all of its neighboring countries ally together in a war against it. But this threat is increased, rather than diminished, by the atrocities Israel is now perpetrating in Gaza.
The time for analyzing excuses and justifications is over. Israel suffered an unspeakably horrifying terrorist attack, by a criminal group dedicated to its destruction. But in its desire for revenge, Israel is engaging in the mass killing of innocent civilians, largely children, which may spiral even further out of control. Israel claims it is not targeting civilians. But what does such a claim mean when Israel is conducting such a fierce bombing of an urban area as dense as Gaza? For those of us who are Jewish, and particularly for those of us who bear the trauma of our own ancestors’ genocide, it is time to face the consequences of these actions, not only for the Palestinians, whose tragedy is obvious, but for ourselves.
Gaza is populated largely by the descendants of those expelled from their homes during the Nakba by Jewish nationalists. The current moment must be understood with the background of decades of Israeli repression of Palestinians and denial of their basic human rights. Around the world, including in my home of the United States, those who have always harbored dislike and resentment of us are using this moment, with its history, as an excuse to voice those sentiments. In this way, Israel’s actions are providing fertile ground for preexisting antisemitism to grow more virulent. . Anyone who denies that this is happening is not paying attention.
To my fellow Jewish people: the actions of the State of Israel are being committed in the name of our preservation worldwide. It is incumbent on those of us who are Jewish to clearly and openly call for a halt to Israel’s assault on Gaza. If we do not succeed in stopping the bombing, our children and grandchildren are at risk of inheriting a double identity: not just as targets of mass killings of civilians, but also as those who stood by when mass killings were committed in their names.
Categories: The Muslim Times