Can We Have a CONSTRUCTIVE Discussion About Gaza?

By Kindler (please follow my Substack for more of my writing)

In all honesty, I’ve tried to avoid reading, thinking and particularly writing about the tragic situation continuing to unfold in Israel and Gaza right now. It has been too painful, with so much death and suffering, too little hope, too much fury and too few realistic, sustainable solutions available to consider.

But I recognize that such avoidance on my part is an entitlement that I’m privileged to have. And I feel the need to speak out now because I am so dismayed with the ugly, unproductive level of conversation happening on the left side of the spectrum right now.  That dialogue is making progress harder to achieve, not easier.

Of course, I get why so many people are reacting to the situation, not with rational discussion, but with uncontrolled anger, frustration and despair, and acting out accordingly. But we need to ask: do we just want to use our communications and our platforms to blindly discharge our passions or shall we use them to make an actual difference, to try to improve an awful situation?

In the interest of raising the conversation on the left and center (understanding that the vast majority of the right is, in every way, a lost cause), I am going to propose a few ground rules to aim to steer that conversation from the utterly destructive to the hopefully useful. It may be that no one will listen to what I’m proposing here, other than to scream at me for not giving sufficient vent to their feelings. But I’d rather try than just sit back and watch this train wreck proceed to its dismal conclusion.

And so, my proposed ground rules for talking CONSTRUCTIVELY about the war in Gaza follow.  Quite frankly, even following just one or two of them can help.

  1. Don’t just seek to inflame passions – try to spread more light than heat.
    • Avoid overly charged language.
  2. Do not downplay the suffering (recent or historic) of either Palestinians or Jews.
    • Don’t do the dismissive instant pivot.
  3. Don’t blame any demographic group for the decisions of Hamas or the Israeli government.
  4. Acknowledge political realities, including the extent of Biden’s control and influence.
  5. Do all you can to build bridges, spread compassion and calm, and promote realistic solutions.

I hash all of these ideas out a bit more below.

  1. Don’t just seek to inflame passions – try to spread more light than heat.
    • Avoid overly charged language.

While I’ve found Threads (my new top social media hub since I quit Twitter) to be a mild place until recently, the tenor of much of the conversation on Gaza has been anything but temperate. I’m pretty sure most of social media is awash in the same sort of horrific images and inflammatory language.

It is only human to be appalled by the enormous, senseless loss of life in Gaza and by the Israeli government’s disregard for the lives of civilians there and for the laws of war designed to protect them. Netanyahu’s government is sending the clear message that it is conducting this brutal invasion as retribution for the barbaric acts that Hamas terrorists took against Israeli civilians when it invaded on October 7th.

The graphic imagery combined with heated descriptions of both invasions and their aftermaths is being used to inflame feelings on both sides.  On the one hand, every example of antisemitism, from the carnage wreaked by Hamas to the heartless statements of so many people seeking to blame Jews everywhere for the actions of Netanyahu’s government, is being broadcast to raise the alarm that this scourge is spreading out of control worldwide.

Personally, as a Jewish-American who has studied the history of antisemitism, I think it is important to keep an eye on all the potential warning signs of a new global wave of antisemitism, but I also think it’s important to keep our heads and not overreact to what in some cases seem to be some folks just being ignorant.

For example, there was a significant coverage of the story of a Williamsburg, Virginia nonprofit group that pulled the plug on plans to display a Hanukkah menorah because “We are not comfortable or interested in taking religious or cultural sides.” While I think the head of this group is guilty of a category error – confusing commemoration of a Jewish holiday with an Israeli government military campaign – I wouldn’t classify this sort of (hopefully curable) ignorance as a particularly dangerous threat at this time.

I have less patience for the armies of trolls continually smearing Joe Biden as “Genocide Joe”. This disparagement is not accurate, fair or in any way helpful.

First of all, repeating a word or phrase endlessly does not make it true, and I remain highly skeptical that the actions Israel is undertaking can fairly be described as attempted genocide. When I challenged this presumption on Threads, I was referred to this article by a professor who has studied genocides, claiming that the War in Gaza fits the bill.

His arguments did not convince me.  For example, he notes that a pro-Netanyahu TV station “called for Israel to ‘turn Gaza to Dresden.’” Yet the Allied firebombing of Dresden, Germany at the end of WWII – although it killed at least 25,000 civilians – has never been classified as an intended act of genocide. Nor, for that matter, have the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed as many as 250,000 people. Such examples actually prove the point that history provides many – way too many – examples of countries inflicting horrific levels of civilian casualties as part of war, without such actions being intended to wipe out entire nations or ethnic groups in the process.

All of this said, I do believe that Netanyahu’s government is committing war crimes in Gaza, e.g., in the shutoffs of water, fuel and electricity and in forcing large populations to move great distances with little warning. But facts and language matter, and as those who endlessly fling the word “genocide” in this context well know, it is a word resonant with meaning for Jews, considering the ugly realities of history.

As for the matter of pinning the entirety of the Israeli government’s culpability on Joe Biden, I cover that misnomer below. But the bottom line is, if you’re going to keep repeating a frankly disgusting propagandistic term like “Genocide Joe”, you’re not advancing any debate or solutions, you’re just poisoning the well of constructive discussion. If your goal is to persuade others of your opinion in order to effect policy change, you are doing the exact opposite of what it takes to do so, because no one wants to listen to someone screaming ugly slogans in their face.

  1. Do not downplay the suffering (recent or historic) of either Palestinians or Jews.
    • Don’t do the dismissive instant pivot.

Much of the talking-past-each-other dialogue I’ve seen is full of a move I’m naming “the dismissive instant pivot.” This is where one responds to a comment about the brutality or prejudice suffered by Palestinians or Jews with an immediate hand wave and shift of the focus to the other side.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal generated some controversy with such a pivot on CNN, as she responded to a question about sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli women with a perfunctory acknowledgement followed by a quick “but” to criticize Israeli war crimes against Palestinian civilians.

While I don’t think she was wrong on the facts or policy here, it does not advance a healthy dialogue to appear to be dismissing such serious matters as the use of rape as a military tactic without showing ample sympathy and humanity for the victims as well as condemnation of the perpetrators.  (A number of conservatives, including Never-Trumpers whom I follow on social media, responded with over-the-top responses implying that Rep. Jayapal is somehow okay with violence against Jews, about which…see rule number one above.)

You can see all varieties of the instant pivot across social media, from dismissing the reality of antisemitism to pooh-poohing the tragic circumstances of the loss of land and life that the Palestinian people have suffered over the years since Israel was formed. But communications that convey the message “I don’t care about your side or your people, just focus on mine” do not bring us together to solve the problem at hand, they just split us apart – and thereby play into right wing “divide and conquer” strategies designed to bring us closer to the vision of Trump’s return to power as, in his own words, a dictator.

  1. Don’t blame any demographic group for the decisions of Hamas or the Israeli government.

This one should be a no-brainer: the war crimes of Netanyahu’s government are most certainly not the fault of the world’s Jews just as the despicable terrorist acts of Hamas are not the fault of the world’s Arabs or Muslims.  As a Jewish American, I do not get any say in who leads Israel; if I did, I would’ve campaigned and voted to replace the warmonger Netanyahu with a leader who cares about peace.

While I said above that I don’t think antisemitism has reached the epidemic level that some are feverishly claiming it to be at, it is clearly happening in some places and it is one more factor poisoning the conversation on the left. At the same time, we have seen horrific acts of violence against Palestinians here in the US – the result of already troubled minds reacting to the over-the-top rhetoric and imagery saturating us from all sides.

Oh, and meanwhile, the right wingers that directly benefit from divisions on the left remain the main offenders for spreading prejudice on both fronts – from Elon Musk’s chilling endorsement of antisemitic “replacement theory” to Republican disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians (e.g., Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) saying: “I don’t think we would so lightly throw around the term ‘innocent Nazi civilians’ during World War II”) and vows to resurrect Trump’s Muslim immigrant ban. If we keep just using each other’s pain against us, the result will be to empower those who would repress us all with gusto.

  1. Acknowledge political realities, including the extent of Biden’s control and influence.

No, Joe Biden is not responsible for every awful thing the Israeli government does. We do have significant influence as close allies and major funders, but by no means is it guaranteed that if Biden pushes slippery Trump ally Netanyahu to do something, that Bibi will do it.

While I am a big supporter of Biden overall, I do think he was too quick to embrace the repugnant, discredited and untrustworthy Netanyahu, and has continued to align US policy too closely with his government. I get the need to support Israel as a longtime US ally and more of a democracy than the many other distasteful choices in the Middle East.  But support must take the form that best meets our foreign policy goals and values, and that means no blank checks and standing up fiercely to prevent more callous and destructive Israeli military tactics.

While Biden has consistently called for respect for human rights, protection of civilians, etc., Israel has clearly not been listening. While the now abandoned truce and hostage/prisoner exchange marked a high point of this administration’s positive influence on Israel, the recent US veto of the cease fire resolution in the UN Security Council marked a depressing low point. And bypassing Congress to send tank ammunition to Israel at this time just continues sending the wrong message, literally adding fuel to the fire. (I personally would have no objection to sending purely defensive aid, e.g., to improve the anti-missile Iron Dome system.)

I believe that a ceasefire ASAP, with the opportunity for hostage releases, humanitarian relief and negotiations this would create, is the only answer at this point. The best article I’ve read on the conflict, for sheer, bracing realism, is this piece from Foreign Affairs.

As the author demonstrates with facts and logic, Israel is losing this war, particularly in its dramatic loss of global support but also in the facts on the ground. It simply cannot eliminate Hamas as it aspires to do – even coming anywhere close to doing so would so further alienate the population as to fill the ranks of Hamas and future terrorist groups for years to come.

So I think that the favored lefty approach of just trashing President Biden and pledging not to vote for him needs to be replaced with a concerted effort to bring Democrats and independents together in consensus for a cease fire agreement. That will mean less screaming and virtue signaling and more actual, constructive communication, but the result will be to actually save lives rather than to just express anger and frustration over their loss.

  1. Do all you can to build bridges, spread compassion and calm, and promote realistic solutions.

Solving complex policy issues requires being sober, strategic and willing to communicate and work with others, even those we don’t like or agree with on many things.  It is tragic how many innocent people have been killed or otherwise forced to suffer as a result of the Gaza War. As we cannot bring back the deceased, the best we can do is prevent further destruction as soon as possible – while also making sure that those who have perpetrated terror or unnecessary destruction be held accountable and permanently removed from power.

The problems in this part of this world are like weeds with incredibly deep, strong roots that have all become hopelessly intertwined. From the aftermath of the Holocaust and goal of a Jewish homeland to the Palestinian Nakba to a history of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians to harsh military retaliation to the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, this conflict has festered for over 75 years, with peace efforts too often losing out to hardline, rejectionist political movements on both sides.

Oversimplifying this entangled and seemingly hopeless mess does nothing to resolve the fundamental challenges embedded within it.  It should be obvious by now that all efforts to resolve this situation with violence are doomed to abject failure – benefiting only those forces that thrive on conflict and chaos.

I am far from starry-eyed about the prospects for peace in the region or about what Americans like me, far removed from the fighting, can do about it. But I do know that if those of us who want peace and care about these outcomes cannot even have a decent conversation on the topic – rather than shouting past each other – our influence will be nil.

Therefore, I hope well-meaning Democrats, progressives and independents reading these words take them to heart. All social problems require honest, open, constructive dialogue to be resolved. Let us at least make our best efforts to work towards that.


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