When It Comes to Israel, I Stand for People, Not Policies

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For years residents of southern Israel have lived in the fear of rockets falling on their homes and schools. It is a terrifying reality and one that no ethically minded person should accept or attempt to justify. Any show of support for people living in such circumstances is laudable, particularly if it draws attention to the broader military and political circumstances in which such terror flourishes.
It was not, however, low-tech but lethal rockets falling on Sderot that prompted thousands of people to participate in “Stand with Israel” events last week. It was, paradoxically, a full-fledged military assault on the Gaza Strip that provoked such action.
Though I disagree, I understand that for some Israel’s attack appeared to be a necessary action in the context of a long-running war. What I cannot accept, however, is the insinuation that “Pillar of Cloud” in any way illustrated Israel’s vulnerability or its need for further external support. “Standing”with Israel during last week’s assault did not denote support for people, Israeli or otherwise. It was support for a status quo in which cyclical mass violence has become accepted and even valorized.
Take, for example, the online I Stand With Israel Day movement. Yes, it’s only a Facebook event, but it is nonetheless over 18,000 people deep and still growing; and it’s indicative of some of the most troubling elements of the “pro-Israel” world. Employing a logic distorted by the lens of war, the event asked members to “stand with Israel” and thereby “stand for peace” as the IDF brought death upon both combatants and the civilians caught in the crossfire. The rhetoric of “I Stand With Israel Day” demands that we ignore the horrible reality of war in order to engage in a parable in which Israel is the White Knight to Gaza’s black-hearted villain. Acts of extreme violence may be necessary in the worst of circumstances. By definition, however, they are not acts of peace. To position them as such is dishonest and assumes that Jewish victimhood can explain even the most aggressive actions.
Even more disturbing, however, is that the rhetoric of Standing with Israel only seems to emerge in instances in which it is Israeli policies, and not people, that are under distress. “I Stand With Israel Day” did not ask for blankets or blood donations or letters of caring support to the citizens of Ashkelon, Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. It instead asked for advocacy- imploring Facebook members to counter any critic who opposes Israeli military action. The movement attempts to twist reality, taking the real life strength of Israel’s army and conflating it with a perceived weakness in terms of international political support. The powerful Israeli Defence Forces were thus positioned as underdogs. Concern for the disempowered people of Gaza somehow became, by implication, an act of oppression.
This perversion of reality prevents us from asking the most fundamental question of all: how did this war, with all of its death and destruction, ultimately provide security for the people of Israel? How will it be any more effective than Operation Cast Lead which, quite obviously, did not provide long-term protection for Israelis or Palestinians? The truth is that “Pillar of Cloud” was not the act of an overpowered nation desperately trying to protect its citizens. Justified or not, it was a well-planned attack by a world-class military. World-class militaries do not need people to stand with them. People, whether Israeli, Palestinian or anything else, need people to stand with them. If standing with Israel means demanding that the Israeli government do everything it can to secure the long-term peace and security of its people, then I will be first in line. If it means playing at public relations for one of the world’s most powerful defense forces, I’ll keep sitting out.
Matt Sienkiewicz is a Modern Orthodox Jewish American who researches and teaches global media at Boston College. His documentary Live From Bethlehem is available from the Media Education Foundation and he can be followed on Twitter.