As those of us who’ve had the dubious pleasure of being in combat know, the fog of war is a very real thing. It’s hard sometimes to tell which direction’s which when there’s shooting, and the blast of artillery is loud enough to drown out most rational thoughts. The same is true not only for people who fight in wars but also for people who observe them: Emotions run high. Resentments creep in. Confusion is rampant and hard to dispel. But it’s precisely in times of war that cooler heads must prevail, which is why I propose the following thought experiment.
Imagine a politician ascending to the governorship of a small southern state. Having campaigned on a platform of extreme patriotic fervor and religious zeal—in his stump speech, he thundered that by the grace of God, America will last as long as there exist Heaven and Earth—the governor wasted no time translating his beliefs into law. Because the governor believed that homosexuals were “a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick,” he outlawed them, instructing his police officers to seek, capture, beat up, and imprison every gay individual in the state. Similarly, women were deemed better off tending to their families than wasting their time with such corrupting pursuits as jobs. A special educational program was devised and approved to teach young girls the fundamentals. These future wives and mothers, read the governor’s statement, “must be fully capable of being aware and of grasping the ways to manage their households. Economy and avoiding waste in household expenditures are prerequisites to our ability to pursue our cause in the difficult circumstances surrounding us.” The men of the state reveled in this new way of life, asserting themselves as lords of their manors; before too long, nearly half of them took to regularly battering their wives.
How many of those who define themselves as liberals would support the governor? Very few, if any. More likely, our hypothetical politician would have galvanized the left into action: The cleverly worded emails from progressive organizations, the fiery segments on The Daily Show, the pledges from celebrities to stop the menace—all would have been upon us before too long. And yet when the same politician appears halfway across the world, sporting a beard and proceeding far beyond the relatively tame scenario described above—sacrificing his own nation’s children and eager to murder innocent civilians across the border—all clarity seems to dissipate. All the homicidal zealot has to do is mumble something about justice and disproportionality and self-determination, and he’s transformed into a respectable, not to say sympathetic, figure.
Which boggles the mind. Never mind that Hamas’ charter specifically states that its goal is the utter destruction of Israel—“Israel,” it reads, “by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims”—and never mind that fundamentalist Islamic organizations like it have sprouted from different terrains and under different historical and political circumstances: For Hamas’ liberal apologists, it’s all still about the Israeli occupation. Israel withdrew nearly a decade ago? Please, that’s too confusing—as long as any conflict involving Israel anywhere is unresolved, any and all violence against Israelis, liberals now seem to believe, is justified.
Enthusiasts of nuance may argue that criticizing Israel isn’t the same as supporting Hamas. That is nominally true. It’s also largely irrelevant. Let’s indulge in one more thought exercise and assume for one moment that Israel accepted all the liberal critiques of its behaviors and acted accordingly. The force it was using was disproportionate? It withdrew most of its soldiers, curbed its artillery, and pulled back the deeply unfair advantage of the Iron Dome missile defense system. Gaza is an open-air prison, the responsibility for which lies solely with Israel and not with Gaza’s other neighbor, Egypt? Israel removed its naval and aerial blockade and opened wide its borders. You don’t have to be a three-star General to realize the outcome of such moves. Which leads us back to a terrible observation: wars are so ghastly in part because they crush so much of the ambiguity and nuance that permeates everyday life in times of peace. They’re so awful because often they force us to make stark choices that are scary and absolute, and annihilate so much of the space that exists in between polar opposites. War requires us to choose.
To my former friends on the left who see themselves as champions of progressive values while criticizing Israel’s attempts at self-defense I have this to say: You have already chosen. You’re all right-wingers now. You would probably want to cancel that monthly contribution to Planned Parenthood; the Gazan maniacs you tolerate don’t really go for that kind of stuff. And go ahead and give the membership department of the National Rifle Association a call, as you are now putting up with an organization whose passion for bearing arms at all costs far exceeds even that of the most fervent American survivalist. So please: Stop whining about the Koch brothers or the Tea Party or the Hobby Lobby ruling. In making excuses for Hamas, you’re endorsing a force of religious intolerance and a purveyor of oppression far, far more demonic than those benign forces at home you characterize as the destroyers of civil liberties and human rights.
If this terrifies you, it’s not too late to repent. All you have to do is look at your friends on what was formerly known as the right. They’re busy defending the right of a democratic nation to protect its civilians against mayhem. Like all democratic nations, the one they support is imperfect. The ongoing conflict led some Israelis to make unacceptably hateful statements; but then nearly 10,000 others joined in on a Facebook group called “Racists Who Oppress Me,” publicly shaming the bigots and calling for a civilized discourse even as the fighting continues. And despite substantial efforts to minimize civilian casualties, Palestinian non-combatants were killed; but then Israel set up a military hospital near the border crossing to make sure anyone who needed it received immediate and excellent treatment.
These, dear liberals, are the values you claim to espouse. Before you say one more thing about this conflict, ask yourself which side is fighting for a society most like the one in which you’re likely to want to live, and then support that side passionately and vigorously. And understand, please, that we’re at war, and that philosophical inquiries, existential ponderings, and musings about identity are all welcomed and valued in free societies, but that to entertain such soulful pursuits said free societies must first survive the attacks of their enemies. Unless you’re willing to embrace everything you claim to despise, we’d love to see you joining us in this war; Lord knows we could use all the help we can get.
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Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.