Gaza Virtue Signaling Is Not Virtuous


No one could look on the spectacle of dozens of Palestinians dying in Gaza with anything but dismay. Even if most of those who were killed during the Palestinian “March of Return” were Hamas operatives, the loss of life should sadden everyone.

But the outpouring of “shame” and revulsion at the actions of the Israel Defense Forces on the part of some American Jews did not represent a serious inquiry into the dilemma faced by Israel. Nor was it in any respect an effort to improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza or the West Bank. What those demonstrating against Israel or inveighing against it in the op-ed pages of The New York Times were doing was not so much an anguished effort to ask Israelis to search their souls about Gaza as it was an exercise in virtue signaling.

Those engaging in this charade were not, as they asserted, defending Jewish values. Those who have looked on at the “March of Return” and found fault only with Israelis defending their country rather than with the terrorist movement that deliberately sacrificed lives on the altar of a futile century-long war on Zionism are the ones who should be searching their souls, not Israel.

The problem is not disenchantment with the policies of the Netanyahu government. If you think Israel should, despite the clear absence of a peace partner, withdraw from the territories, that is a position consistent with support for Israel’s existence if not with common sense under the current circumstances.

But what isn’t defensible is the willingness of so many left-wing Jews to regard a campaign premised on the idea that Palestinians will “return” and wipe out the last 70 years of history with equanimity or to falsely claim it was a peaceful demonstration for civil rights. The right of return is synonymous with the destruction of the Jewish state, and those who led the violent demonstrations on its behalf were not shy about pointing that out. Groups that endorse this stand — like Jewish Voice for Peace — are actually supporting more war, not peace.

But above all what was lacking in so much of American Jewish discourse about Gaza was a refusal to think clearly about Israel’s choices.

Lifting the blockade of Gaza being carried out by Israel and Egypt — as 13 Senate Democrats led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren demanded in a letter last week to the State Department — would strengthen Hamas’ outlaw government and enable Iran’s efforts to resupply its arsenal.

Most all of those shamed Jews failed to supply an answer to the question of what would constitute a proportionate defense of Israel’s border. Non-lethal means of crowd control are impossible when you don’t control the ground on which mobs armed with Molotov cocktails and other weapons are launching their assault. Would they have preferred an Israeli incursion into Gaza that would cause even more casualties on both sides?

Moreover, as Rabbi Eric Yoffie pointed out in a Haaretz column, what exactly do those like Sanders, who complain that the IDF’s response is “disproportionate,” really want? Would they be happier if the IDF had held its fire and allowed a Hamas mob to cross into Israel and kill Jews? How many dead Jews would satisfy those who think the casualty tolls are disproportionate? Should some Israelis be murdered just to satisfy their concerns?

For some on the left, “resistance” to the Trump administration and its pro-Israel policies is bound up with their disgust about the president or their belief in intersectional ideas that link the Black Lives Matter movement to the Palestinian war on Israel. But there is nothing moral about a stand that absolves Hamas for its use of human shields or that is neutral about an effort to destroy the Jewish state.

Those upset about Palestinians dying would do better to focus their critiques on the theocratic terrorist tyrants of Gaza that purposed those deaths rather than on Israeli soldiers who had no choice but to fire, lest mobs be allowed to kill them and the civilians they defend. Rather than being ashamed of Israelis, the people who should really feel shame are American Jews who think their virtue signaling is more important than the life of the Jewish state and its people. 

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate — and a contributor to National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.