Nov 3, 2023

To My Liberal Friends Who Support Israel's War: This Is Not What Defense Looks Like

By Tim Hjersted /
To My Liberal Friends Who Support Israel's War: This Is Not What Defense Looks Like
Updated on 1/16

According to a December poll, 76% of Democrats and 61% of Americans support a permanent ceasefire. That still leaves 24% of Democrats who support Israel's war on Gaza.

The tragic irony of seeing this many liberals defending Israel's war on Gaza is that Netanyahu is basically the Trump or Mike Pence of the Middle East.

Even Jewish Rabbis have called Israel's government "increasingly fascist" since 2022. Major newspapers in Israel have called out Israel's government for being a hard right-wing government, and yet, because of all the pro-war propaganda in the news, centrist liberals are willing to condemn Hamas terrorism (which I also do) and say they are evil (I refrain from calling anyone evil for humanitarian and scientific reasons), but they can't see the ideological extremism present in Netanyahu's government, which includes veiled religious nods in support of genocide and much more.

“I don’t approve of everything Netanyahu is doing but I ultimately believe the war is necessary.” That’s the gist I get from liberals who I’ve spoken with who still oppose a cease-fire. Another liberal who used to support Films For Action told us essentially that:

I don't understand how such cognitive dissonance is possible. We can clearly and rightly say that Hamas committed war crimes by killing so many civilians and taking hostages, but somehow things get foggy when Israel engages in the collective punishment of 2.3 million people, kills or injures 100,000+ Gazans with 25,000 tons of explosives (the equivalent of two nuclear bombs), kills over 100 journalists and bombs 100+ health facilities

The fact that Netanyahu can commit war crimes on this grand of a scale, but many liberals aren't prepared to *also* call this terrorism and condemn Netanyahu's government for war crimes, just speaks to how authoritarianism is allowed to flourish in the 21st century

This is how dehumanization works today. This is how a genocide against the Palestinians can be carried out with the reserved approval of centrist liberals and cheerleading approval by conservatives. As the apologists say, "What else can Israel do? Hamas must be eliminated. Collateral damage is the price of war. But Hamas uses human shields!"

So let's recap:

1200 killed by Hamas: Terrorism.

20,000 killed by Israel: Morally righteous and not terrorism at all.

What Else Can Israel Do?

How about refraining from committing obvious war crimes? How about NOT consciously bombing and killing up to 92% of civilians in a "holy" quest to exterminate Hamas?

More to my point, a question for all the folks who say Hamas MUST be stopped using violence: What price are you willing to accept to eliminate Hamas? 40,000 Palestinians? 100,000? 2.3 million? At what point does it become obvious that you have become the monster you believed you were fighting?

10,000 children in Gaza are already dead. Will that be "worth it" if George Bush, I mean Netanyahu can fly a Mission Accomplished banner on an aircraft carrier? 

This is the logic of madness. Please don't shrug and say, “What alternative is there besides collective punishment and war crimes?”

How about diplomacy?

How about negotiated peace settlements?

How about democracy?

How about defense that is actually defense (limiting military action to protecting your borders) rather than Orwellian offense, which consistently kills and injures far more civilians than combatants? 

How about proposals that address the root of the problem (occupation, apartheid, and denial of human rights) rather than the symptom (Hamas)?

How about not waging a war so egregious that multiple neighboring states decide to join the war against you, possibly leading to World War 3 and the likely destruction of that which you fight to save?

So yes, there is an alternative to war. Here are three:

Wisdom from The Elders: An Open Letter to President Biden on Israel and Palestine

Let Israel Vote; Let Gaza Vote

A Plan for Peace in Gaza: The reforms that could allow the PLO to lead and the Palestinian Authority to govern


Exposing The Big Lie

How is it possible that a sizeable portion of liberal Democrats still accept the idea that war is the only solution to this crisis when the logic of domination, occupation, and war is what led to Oct 7th?

Any level-headed citizen should be able to recognize that killing and injuring tens of thousands of innocent civilians will only result in a portion of the traumatized survivors joining the ranks of Hamas either now or in several years, ready to take revenge for the family members they've lost themselves. We should know this will be the inevitable outcome after Netanyahu, aka "Mr. Security,” staked his whole identity on the lie that his strategy of occupation and military might would keep Israel safe. That lie came crumbling down in the most horrific way possible on Oct 7th, 2023.

As a former IDF soldier turned peace activist said in a NYT op-ed:

“I think it could be worth it,” I wrote, “as long as we decisively eliminate the threat.”

That’s the lie they told us, and the lie that’s being repeated today: that we can decisively eliminate the threat of Hamas through a military operation. In the years since, Hamas has only grown stronger, despite our sacrifices and despite the death and destruction we had wrought on Gaza.

These periodic episodes of killing and destruction, which Israeli commentators and politicians cynically call “mowing the lawn,” have been a price Israel was willing to pay to avoid being pushed toward a two-state solution. We chose to “manage” the conflict through a combination of brute force and economic incentives, instead of working to solve it by ending our perpetual occupation of Palestinian territory.


I don't know about you, but I'm sick of watching genocide unfold in real time while so-called "moral" and "civilized" people pathologically defend and excuse war crimes now 20 times greater than the war crimes that Hamas committed.

I'm sick of seeing arguments like "You can't compare Hamas to Israel. Hamas is evil. They must be stopped.".

I'm like, "Yeah, you can't compare them! Hamas killed 1200 people**. Israel has killed over 20,000!"

They are in an entirely different league.

But before anyone gets it twisted, let me be very clear:

I believe every life is equally precious. Every life is sacred.

Among the roughly 1200 Israelis killed on 10/7 were 695 civilians, including 36 children. That is an atrocity and there is no excuse for that, even occupation. It follows then (stick with me, moral people) that over 20,000 Palestinians killed is nearly 20x the atrocity by number alone. Then remember half of those 20,000 were children, all with lives and stories and hopes and dreams.

That is an atrocity of a heart-destroying scale. Imagine if everyone killed on 9/11 was a child. That's what Israel has done to demonstrate to the world that killing civilians is wrong. They responded to their "9/11" with six 9/11s of their own, and it's only been one hundred days, with no end in sight.

Bottom line: I condemn war crimes no matter who commits them - and yes, I condemn them even more forcefully when it's my own government and its allies, supposedly "the good guys," that are committing war crimes.

Barbarism Literacy 101

Death by a gun or rocket is no more barbaric than death by a smart laser-guided missile. Dying of starvation, being crushed by a building or being blown up by a tank is no more humane than being shot by a machine gun.

The delusion that allows anyone to see what Hamas did as uniquely barbaric but not see the barbarism and pathology of so-called "moral" nations using disgustingly expensive high-tech weapons made in the USA to commit even greater atrocities with the stench of moral virtue to excuse it all away: it's either subconscious or overt racism, blind nationalism, corporate media manipulation, or pure, uneducated ignorance.

I think if we're to remain morally consistent, we have to come to one conclusion, at least: killing civilians is terrorism, and both Hamas and Israel have engaged in it, but one of these two has engaged in terrorism on a scale 20 times greater than the other, and that one is a military and financial ally of our government, making us morally obligated to speak out against the crimes committed in our name.

Rabbi Michael Lerner says it best:

The way to become real friends of the Jewish people is to side with those Jews who are trying to get Israel back on track toward its highest values, knowing full well that there is no future for a Jewish state surrounded by a billion Muslims except through friendship and cooperation.

The temporary alliance of brutal dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and various Arab emirates that give Israel support against Hamas will ultimately collapse, but the memory of humiliation at the hands of the State of Israel will not, and Israel’s current policies will endanger Jews both in the Middle East and around the world for many decades after the people of Israel have regained their senses.

Real friends don’t let their friends pursue a self-destructive path, so it’s time for you too to speak up and to support those of us in the Jewish world who are champions of peace and justice, and who will not be silent in the face of the destruction of Judaism.
- Rabbi Michael Lerner (2014)


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