Radio Free NH: This Year’s Chanukah Column Is Different

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Michael Davidow

By MICHAEL DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire

The reaction to Israel’s invasion of Gaza has been profoundly disturbing to many in the Jewish community, myself included. In certain progressive, Democratic quarters, the lines between disliking Benjamin Netanyahu, disagreeing with the past decade of Israeli foreign policy, feeling hostility towards the idea of Israel itself, and hating Judaism have all been blurred, calling into question how solid those lines ever were.

We have often been assured that “you can criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic,” and we have tried to take those assurances at face value. That effort is getting harder.

I also have no wish to be either humorous or sarcastic about this subject, but some developments almost demand a sarcastic tone. For instance, in a stated attempt to be evenhanded about things, and taking note of how public expressions of anti-Semitism have multiplied lately, The New York Times recently devoted an entire article in its “Sunday Style” magazine to the contributions of Jews to American theater. Several days after doing so, that same paper did not even mention that Norman Lear was Jewish in its obituary of him.

The Times regularly erases Jews from the history of both America and the world. I do not anticipate seeing any further articles in its pages about the contributions of Jews to American film, American literature, American music, American art, American science, American medicine, American law, or American business. I do not anticipate them writing any articles about their own contributions to anti-Semitism, either.

The Times has, however, fully investigated the charge that it hired Hamas operatives in Gaza to help report on the war there. They have absolved themselves. According to the Times’ own reporting, its editors merely hired a local journalist who had publicly praised Hitler, but he promised to stop when they asked him to.

See, sarcasm comes easy when discussing The New York Times. But the slim consolations of humor fail, when you realize that the Times has performed better than our Ivy League colleges lately. As several of their representatives just explained to the United States Congress, our most prestigious institutions of higher learning consider demonstrations in favor of killing of Jews to be freedom of speech, so they are loath to discourage their students from engaging therein.

There have been marches with incendiary rhetoric in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Oakland has gone around the bend. Montreal suffered a shooting a while back. Unknown persons shot at a Jewish school there. I do not want to fall into sarcasm in discussing these matters.


We know what will happen if Hamas remains in power; we know because they have told us. They have promised to keep killing as many Jews as possible, until there are no more Jews left. I see no reason to disbelieve them.

A ceasefire in Gaza would therefore be optimal – so long as that ceasefire is accompanied by a return of all hostages to Israel without conditions, and by Hamas surrendering all civil control. These terrorists need to leave their tunnels, give their stolen fuel and food to their fellow Gazans, and surrender to justice. When that happens, the fighting should stop.

None of that will take place, largely because not one single international actor believes that Hamas can be trusted to act humanely, so the burden falls entirely on Israel to save Gazan lives. Israel must therefore degrade Hamas’s power as much as possible before finally backing off. How far its army can go is a judgment call for sure, about which reasonable people may differ. But those differences don’t hinge on morality. They hinge on military intelligence, on physical practicality, on political strategy.

The argument has been made that Israel’s goals are unrealistic; that Hamas represents a mind-set more than anything, and you can’t beat a mind-set out of people’s minds. That argument is correct. You can no more defeat the thoughts behind Hamas than you could defeat the thoughts behind the Nazi party. After we defeated the Nazis, we had to engage in an extensive program of de-Nazification. Even then, there were plenty of unrepentant Nazis around. There still are. But Germany has not made war on its neighbors again, and that was the whole point of requiring an unconditional surrender, reducing Berlin and many other cities to rubble, and shuttling millions of defeated and displaced Germans across the European continent, uprooting them from their homes and making them settle elsewhere (no, not envisioned for Gaza).

War is hell, as General Sherman said. Nobody disagrees with this. That fact merely informs this debate. It does not end it.

Moreover, these debates occur with every war. We would not have needed to de-Nazify Germany had we allowed Hitler to stay in power, and many called for that arrangement while our soldiers were still advancing towards the Rhine. While few today believe that Roosevelt was wrong to insist otherwise, one can only note that times do change, and one can even assume that Harvard presently hosts scholars who would gladly argue the Nazi side of things. After all, thousands of blameless civilians died during the Battle of the Bulge.

Israel is fighting for its life in this war. Hamas is also fighting for Israel’s life – to end it. Hamas is not fighting for the people of Gaza. It never has. It is fighting partly for itself, partly for Iran, and partly for the sheer joy its adherents apparently get from killing and raping Jews.


Part of me wants to call out each and every false assertion that I have heard in the so-called progressive news lately and counter it with facts and history: assertions about Israel being an apartheid state; assertions about Palestinian Arabs being uniquely defined by their refugee status; assertions about American Jews being uniquely defined by privilege; even old canards made fresh again by those who have forgotten the evil that gave rise to them– that Zionism is racism, so wiping Israel off the map is sound and moral politics; that Jews don’t value the blood of non-Jewish children, which is why they bomb hospitals; the list goes on and on.

But I see no value in doing so; not in this venue and not today. Not many productive conversations begin with, “Here is why you’re wrong.” Countless debates have played out in the press already, but the chorus remains unchanged. The rupture between America’s Jews and today’s progressive movement is real, and it will have to play out over time.


 Sadly, we are more accustomed to seeing anti-Semitism on the other side of our political spectrum. The Klan and its neo-Nazi brethren have made their home in our far-right wing for decades. It’s an odd match, based on grievance rather than philosophy, and grievance is more often a left-wing phenomenon. In America, though, as one of its inheritances from the Roosevelt era, our left wing has long tended towards ethnic diversity, leaving our native haters out in the cold, to take shelter wherever they can. The Republicans didn’t invite them, in other words. They have merely tolerated their presence, usually as a disfavored minority.

Lately, the Republican party has done worse. Donald Trump has embraced our radical fringe, and it has grown bolder as a result. That has been one of Trump’s worst choices, one big factor in his demeaning of our democracy. By and large, however, whether wisely or not, his followers in the establishment have done him the courtesy of refusing to take him seriously in this regard. He is a jokester who talks nonsense off the top of his head; he has that Jewish son-in-law; he makes about as good a Nazi as Eric von Zipper did, cavorting on the beach with Frankie and Annette.

It’s not that right wing anti-Semitism isn’t dangerous. It’s just that we have long known about it, it has been actively discouraged by others in the right wing, and we were trying to contain it. Left-wing anti-Semitism, in contrast, feels different…


Left-wing anti-Semitism is multifaceted. While it has obvious sources in the screeds of racists like Louis Farrakhan (when members of Chicago’s Black Lives Matter chapter shredded their moral high ground by tweeting their celebrations of Hamas, they were echoing that discredited old voice from right down the block), and while it features an ethnic component of its own (though the Arab citizens of Israel, as well as many Arab governments of the Middle East, have been far more measured in their response to Gaza than any single member of Congress’s famous Squad; but that’s another story too), it has blossomed in strange ways of late.

It’s Greta Thunberg, tying Gaza to the environment; it’s New York City’s queers supporting a reactionary fundamentalism that would gladly slaughter all queers; it’s spoiled college kids ripping up pictures of Israeli hostages; it’s their parents, living their own fantasies of fighting corporate power.

The vitriol being unleashed against Israel in this self-righteous company is so pure that it takes on the rush of religion, proof against rational argument, making people high on hate.  But this new religion does not involve faith in God, neither in the father nor in the son; that would be too quaint. Rather, it relies on a progressive sort of faith, based on intellectualism; on rhetorical style; on polemics.

Fattened from decades of declining academic standards, rotten with abstract morality and self-satisfaction, never tested by real-world conditions and denying how complicated life can be, this faith is porous, hypocritical, and self-defeating; its only goal for the future is cultural suicide. It is also saturated with an urge to be physically violent that fully merges with its natural twin, the thuggery long espoused by our far-right wing. And through that embrace of violence, this fetishizing of intifada and this affection for threats that rhyme, this progressive faith leads ineluctably to the dehumanization of its enemy. Today’s protesters have the truth on their side; this is not politics anymore; to oppose them is unconscionable, so if you do, you are a monster.

The Jews make up the only nation in the world that is ordered to be complicit in its own destruction, and deemed even more worthy of death, for failing to agree. 

Davidow writes Radio Free New Hampshire for He is also the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project,  The Book of Order, and The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Davidow’s Chanukah Land can be found here.

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