Photo: Israeli American Council/Wikimedia Commons

2020-2021 Duke University CAMERA Fellow Ben Stone

Marisa Kabas frames her May 21 “Cultural Commentary” for Rolling Stone by telling readers how torn she is about Israel as an American Jew. ( “Young American Jews Have Reached a Tipping Point with Israel”)

In her mind, being raised Jewish, with “Tikkun Olam — the Jewish principle of improving the world through action,” makes it impossible to voice her support for Israel, the sole Jewish state. She writes that she had “never questioned Israel’s existence,” implying that, suddenly, she feels otherwise.

Unfortunately, Kabas, along with many students, media personalities, and celebrities, has internalized the false narrative that Israel represents a unique evil in the world.

Kabas reveals her bias when she refers to the holiest site in Judaism, the Temple Mount, exclusively by its Arabic name, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and calls it only “a Muslim holy site in East Jerusalem.”

And she betrays her lack of knowledge about the events in question when she says simply that “Israeli police invaded” the mosque. In fact, an Israeli news outlet reported that “The Israel Police said rioters had been hurling rocks and other objects from the holy site and launching fireworks at officers, leading them to enter the compound, a relatively uncommon move by Israeli security forces.”

Kabas delegitimizes Israel by claiming that it is an “apartheid” state that commits acts of “ethnic cleansing,” yet she is unable to support her statements with any facts or history of the region.

A country that affords equal rights to all citizens is, by definition, not an “apartheid state” — and Israeli Arabs not only have full rights, but serve in every facet of society, including the Knesset and Supreme Court. Kabas’ absurd comparison not only delegitimizes Israel, but also minimizes the suffering of people who lived through actual apartheid in South Africa.

She writes that, as a people, we have suffered through so much trauma, most recently the Holocaust, that we should have become “more empathetic to the displacement and killing of Palestinians.”

However, Israel doesn’t randomly kill or displace Palestinians. Not once in her whole article does she mention that Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip, indiscriminately fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians, which triggered the latest tragic war in the territory.

The Israel Defense Forces were forced to target the launch sites of the rockets, which Hamas places in civilian areas, effectively using their own people as human shields. It should be noted that, according to the Israelis, a substantial portion of the rockets fired by Hamas misfired and exploded in Gaza, harming their own people.

No one is happy to see the loss of innocent Palestinian life — we are all humans, and life is sacred. But this is the unfortunate consequence when Hamas uses civilians as human shields, and makes it its primary goal to attack and kill Jewish civilians.

Regarding Kabas’ charge of “displacement,” it is true that during Israel’s War of Independence from 1947-1949 (during which Israel was attacked by five surrounding Arab countries), many Palestinians were displaced, some at the hands of the Israeli military, and some after their leaders urged them to leave.

During the subsequent 73 years, Israel has defended its borders during multiple wars and against many terrorist attacks. Claiming that Israel indiscriminately “displaces” Palestinians is simply propagandistic and doesn’t reflect the historical nuances, particularly the endless threats and attacks that Israel faced (and continues to face).

In an attempt to affirm her arguments, Kabas quotes (among others) a denunciation of Israel by Jeremy Slevin, who is the communications director for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Omar has a long history of antisemitic comments.

Tokenizing Jews who oppose Israel is clearly an attempt to paint a one-sided narrative, and isn’t good journalism. In fact, there are many young Jews like me who support Israel and can still question its policies. Our views are often overlooked in the rush to create a narrative that Israel is losing support.

Criticizing the Israeli government, when legitimate, is completely justifiable, but the twisted way that Kabas tries to paint Israel as the aggressor is morally wrong. She does not represent the majority of American Jews, nor should her views represent the fight for equality and justice.

Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East: its citizens have equal rights regardless of religion, gender, race, or sexual orientation. Israel is a beacon of light when it comes to startups and medical innovation. This is what the world should think of when they hear the mention of Israel, not the corrupted views spread by misinformation, antisemitism, and skewed narratives.

Kabas even tries to blame Israel’s actions on trauma from the Holocaust, lecturing that “violence and oppression … won’t bring back our ancestors who perished in the Holocaust.” In fact, more than half of Israeli Jews are Sephardic and Mizrachi — that is, they and their families lived in the Middle East and North Africa prior to being ethnically cleansed from those countries and finding refuge in Israel.

What Kabas is doing here is called “Holocaust Inversion.” This term, according to Lesley Klaff, a senior lecturer in law at Sheffield Hallam University and an affiliate professor of law at Haifa University, refers to the “inversion of reality (the Israelis are cast as the ‘new’ Nazis and the Palestinians as the ‘new’ Jews.”

Kabas writes about the Gazans: “I can’t help but see my family in their faces.” This comparison is textbook “Holocaust Inversion” as well. Klaff describes how this “inversion” leads to an inversion of morality, in which somehow the Holocaust can be “presented as a moral lesson for, or even a moral indictment of ‘the Jews.’

Holocaust inversion is “becoming part of the iconography of new antisemitism” according to Anthony Julius, a landmark author on British antisemitism. This form of antisemitism, in which Kabas is trading, is prolific on many social media platforms, with images and “memes” morphing IDF soldiers into SS troops, or Israeli politicians into Hitler, or the Star of David into a swastika.

These images don’t only manifest on social media; many synagogues from Brooklyn to Paris and other European cities have been defaced with similar messages and images.

As attacks on Jews around the world increase, standing up for the truth about the Jewish state is imperative.

Unfortunately, media outlets do not have clean hands; after submitting this opinion piece to Rolling Stone (where Kabas’ article was originally published), the editors ignored me, even after multiple follow-up messages. Could they not fathom publishing an article debunking the aforementioned inaccuracies?

Originally published in The Algemeiner.

Contributed by 2020-2021 Duke University CAMERA Fellow Ben Stone.

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