A message from Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson, originally published in The Times of Israel on October 13, 2023
“A secure and a safe home is surely intended by God for all His children. To have that home attacked is a sacrilege. To defend that home is righteous.”
Those were the profoundly important words New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan shared with the Jewish community earlier this week. Why are they profoundly important? Because for those of us not in Israel, whose lives and work are in America or elsewhere in the Jewish diaspora, they precisely articulate the message we must affirm and amplify.
If history is any guide, it will not be long before the initial groundswell of support for Israel following Hamas’s horrific assault begins to wane. As Israel recovers its footing and takes the steps it must to rescue hostages and root out Hamas and other terrorist groups, despite the IDF’s best efforts, tragically, innocent Palestinians will die – in all likelihood more each day than Israelis. The headlines will focus on that imbalance (as if balance made death less tragic), and world opinion will shift. “Enough bombing,” the moralists will declaim. “Israel, you have had your retaliation. Any more deaths are on your hands.”
We mourn the loss of every innocent life. Each is precious. We pray for safety for blameless Palestinians who still yearn to have their own national aspirations fulfilled with a home of their own.
But let us be clear: these deaths, though they may result from Israeli bombings and ground attacks, will be on Hamas’s hands. To defend one’s home is righteous. And Israel has no moral choice but to protect its people and its land by destroying Hamas’s terrorist enterprise.
In fact, we are already witnessing the distortion of news coverage and the equivocation of support. The war was barely a day old when The New York Times began reporting on the combined death toll in Israel and Gaza, as if the deliberate and brutal murders of Israeli citizens (some captured on camera in graphic detail) were comparable to Israel’s targeted response against Hamas. The death of every innocent is tragic and all must be reported. But fair reporting also differentiates between causes. Nor is the Times correct to call Israel’s response “retaliation.” Israel’s measures are not cathartic acts of vengeance; they are necessary acts of self-defense.
The equivocation, too, has begun. Earlier this week I spoke with a director of one of New York’s admirable non-profit agencies who emailed a note of concern to all those impacted by the violence in the Middle East. When I suggested that the violence of a terrorist attack was qualitatively different from that of a military effort to disarm terrorists, he informed me that his supporters were of many minds on the subject.
And then there was the notoriously anti-Israel United Nations Human Rights Council holding a moment of silence for the “loss of innocent lives in the occupied Palestinian territory and elsewhere.” Israel was not even named. Thankfully the UNHRC does not appear to represent the sentiments of most Western democracies which were firm in their support for Israel this week. But as the war drags on and Israel continues to level Hamas infrastructure and hunt down its agents, that backing will waver, as it always has.
It is hopeful now to see Israel’s political parties endeavoring to unify their government despite the very real differences that divide them. Those divisions weakened Israel, as its lack of preparedness for Hamas’s assault made tragically clear. Now American Jews and all who support Israel must also unite around a common message: What Hamas did to thousands of Israelis and by extension to the country – the murders, the rapes, the kidnappings – was barbaric. There is no moral equivalence to be drawn when Israel responds in self-defense. To have a home attacked is a sacrilege. To defend that home is righteous.