Phyllis Bernstein is active both in her local Jewish Federation in New Jersey and on the board of Partners for Progressive Israel. These are her impressions drawn from notes of a recent event. It’s also a glimpse at Israel’s official post-Gaza war diplomatic talking points:
Watching Amir Sagie, Israel’s new deputy consul general in NYC, recently addressing a board meeting of the community relations committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest New Jersey, with some 70 NJ Jews, I was struck by how young he looked (he’s actually in his mid 40s).
When Israel is at war, global antisemitism rises. He worried about a recent Israeli flag burning at a rally in NYC. He worried about the Jewish couple attacked verbally and physically on the Upper East Side in NYC by Palestinian supporters.
It was interesting to hear the answer to the question about the WSJ article by Bret Stephens who said President Obama was enraged at the Israeli government and quoting Martin Indyk that the Gaza war had a very negative impact. He said America and Israel have had and continue to have a tight relationship, but sometimes it’s better than at other times.
Rather than Israel’s blockade of Gaza, he argued that Gaza is impoverished because Hamas spends its resources on weaponry and war. And it prevented Palestinian residents from evacuating, even when Israel warned in advance of an attack. Therefore, he argued that Hamas is fully responsible for civilian casualties and civilian suffering in Gaza.
He said the major roadblock to ending the ongoing situation remains the refusal of Palestinians to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. In decades of conflict, Israeli leaders have evolved to acknowledge the need for a separate Palestinian state, but the feeling is still not mutual. This is the gist of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and makes the Israeli-Palestinian problem insolvable.
I was listening to his talk and the questions and thinking we are so proud of Israel, and clueless about why the war started, and afraid to ask what Israeli will do now. I was thinking about my questions and knew he could not truthfully answer them. For example, he said it was Hamas that kidnapped and killed the three teens. He said that was why it all started.
I was thinking: I heard the story that Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the men who killed three Jewish teens was a lone cell, Hamas affiliated but not operating under Hamas leadership. This seems to contradict the line from the government. Didn’t Rosenfeld also say if kidnapping had been ordered by Hamas leadership, they’d have known about it in advance. In the three weeks the boys were missing, dozens of rockets were fired between Israel and Hamas fighters. No matter how heinous the crime, Israel should not punish large numbers of innocent Palestinians.
A friend then reminded me that although the murderers were said to belong to a wayward Hebron clan that loosely associates itself with Hamas, and Hamas leadership expressed their admiration from the beginning and a couple of weeks ago, their armed wing claimed that it was their operation all along. Questions remain even after Hamas belatedly claimed ownership.
Repeated inconsistencies in Israeli descriptions of the situation have sparked debate over whether Israel wanted to provoke Hamas into a confrontation. Israeli intelligence is also said to have known that the boys were dead shortly after they disappeared, but to have maintained public optimism about their safe return to beef up support from the Jewish diaspora.
Questions I didn’t ask: Are the residents of Israel any safer now than before? Is it really possible that powerful Israel cannot get rid of Gaza’s rockets? Will Israel, when it’s all over, have sold out the residents of the south once again? Will Israel create more cities like Sderot, where most people who live there are the ones who cannot afford to move away?
And my deeper questions about leadership and society: To what extent did the government’s (apparent) decision to lie about the fact that it knew from the very beginning that the three Jewish teens were almost certainly dead – unleashing three weeks of prayer, desperation, worry and unbridled emotion – foster an environment that contributed to the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir? And what is Israel going to do about part of its society that sees nothing wrong with chanting “Death to Arabs” at football games and that, at heated moments a few weeks ago, spread across downtown Jerusalem looking for Arabs to beat up? Israel ignores these questions, and many others, at its own risk.