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Steve Sheffey's Pro-Israel Political Update

Calling balls and strikes for the pro-Israel community since 2006

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October 29, 2023

Key Takeaways:

  • Israel's war is with Hamas, not the Palestinians that Hamas is using as human shields. Israel is not engaging in collective punishment, and while we must have compassion for innocent Palestinians who are suffering in Gaza, we cannot forget the barbaric terrorist attack by Hamas that makes this a war of necessity for Israel, and we can never forget the more than 220 hostages in Gaza denied access to the Red Cross by Hamas.

  • War crimes unquestionably committed by Hamas do not justify war crimes by Israel. Israel is not arguing that they do. Civilian deaths in Gaza are tragic but not necessarily evidence of war crimes. Those who think otherwise are apparently unaware of any war ever fought by anyone. The world should be pressuring Hamas to release the hostages and end hostilities against Israel; that they aren't is proof that if Israel does not stop Hamas, no one will.

  • Israel is not imposing collective punishment on Palestinians in Gaza. Israel is conducting legitimate military operations against a terrorist group that embeds itself in civilian populations.

  • A cease-fire is wrong because ending the war now means victory for Hamas. However, humanitarian assistance to Palestinians will help, not impede, Israel's efforts to defeat Hamas--the question is whether Hamas will let the aid into Gaza or let the civilians out of Gaza.

  • Congress must pass President Biden's request for aid to Israel and Ukraine.

  • The new Speaker of the House is Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), a MAGA extremist who tried to overturn the 2020 election and has a history of antisemitic rhetoric.

Read to the end for corrections, what you may have missed last week, fun stuff, and upcoming events.

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Hi Steve,

How quickly the world forgets. We now see images of death and destruction in Gaza, and we would not be human if we did not feel empathy, compassion, and sympathy for the innocent Palestinians that Hamas is using as human shields. Show me a way that Israel can protect its citizens from Hamas and secure the release of its hostages without using force and I will support it. A cease-fire, as understandable and compelling as it might seem to those of us who abhor violence and warfare, is not the answer; not yet.

Before we go further: As I note in the fine print at the bottom of every newsletter, every sentence should be read as if it began with the words "This is what I think today is most likely to be correct and I'm willing to be proven wrong, but..."

My job is to tell you what I think. Your job is to decide if I'm right. I try to anticipate and address differing viewpoints but I don't describe those viewpoints in detail because then the newsletter would be twice as long. That said, you might want to read Nicholas Kristoff and Benzion Sanders before going further.

On October 7, Hamas brutally murdered more than 1,400 Jews in Israel, including more than 40 babies--more Jews were slaughtered on October 7 than on any day since the Holocaust. Hamas took more than 220 hostages, including babies, children, and the elderly. More than 120,000 Israelis are currently displaced after being forced to flee their homes due to ongoing rocket fire in Israel’s south from Hamas and Israel’s north from Hezbollah. Since October 7, Hamas has launched nearly 8,000 rockets into Israel. Anyone who calls this legitimate resistance or celebrates Hamas is morally blind.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN on October 24 that "we must unequivocally condemn Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack against Israel – babies riddled with bullets; young people hunted down and gunned down with glee; people, young people beheaded; families burned alive in a final embrace; parents executed in front of their children; children executed in front of their parents; and so many taken hostage in Gaza. We have to ask – indeed it must be asked – where is the outrage? Where is the revulsion? Where is the rejection? Where is the explicit condemnation of these horrors? We must affirm the right of any nation to defend itself and to prevent such horror from repeating itself. No member of this council – no nation in this entire body – could or would tolerate the slaughter of its people."

Palestinians have legitimate grievances against Israel and as hard as it might be for some people to accept, Israel has legitimate grievances against the Palestinians. We could go back in time forever reciting who did what to whom in response to what. That's not the path forward.

But this is not about the Palestinians and Israel. This is about Hamas and Israel. Hamas does not represent the Palestinians. Hamas is putting Palestinians in danger by using them as human shields. Roughly 50% of Palestinians in Gaza were born after the last election in 2006, when Hamas was elected over Fatah 44% to 41% and then proceeded to murder Fatah members. The Palestinians in Gaza did not choose Hamas. Do the math.

Are you neutral between Israel and Hamas? That's what calling for a cease-fire before Hamas is brought to justice, before the hostages are released, and while Hamas is able to attack Israel again sounds like. Is there any evidence that Hamas would release all the hostages if a cease-fire were declared? And if so, what does that mean--that after butchering 1,400 Jews and taking 222+ hostages, we call it even if Hamas releases the hostages they should not have taken and Israel has to live with a terrorist group whose cruelty is akin to ISIS on its border? Proponents of a cease-fire cannot answer these questions, and proponents of a cease-fire should consider that almost the entirety of the Israeli left thinks a cease-fire is not an option.

Hamas is committing war crimes. Ken Roth, the former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said that "under international humanitarian law, Hamas committed a horrendous war crime. They blatantly violated everything that the Geneva Conventions and Protocol stand for: deliberately killing civilians, taking civilians hostage and firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian-populated areas. Israel has every right to respond militarily and target Hamas combatants." Shame on anyone who celebrates or justifies Hamas.

War crimes by Hamas do not justify war crimes by Israel; Israel is not arguing that they do. Roth believes that international law requires Israel to allow humanitarian aid to the Palestinian civilian population, but "this doesn’t necessarily require an overall cease-fire."

Israel is not subjecting Palestinians to collective punishment. White House spokesperson Matthew Miller said on October 26 that "we oppose collective punishment in any instance, and that’s not what we believe is happening here. We believe that Israel, as I’ve said, is conducting legitimate military operations against a terrorist group that embeds itself in civilian populations, that uses civilians as human shields, that puts its military headquarters in schools, in hospitals, in residential apartment buildings. Israel has a right and an obligation to do everything it can to respond to the terrorist attacks and take on the terrorist organization that launched them. But as I’ve said, they need to do so in a way that protects civilian life to the maximum extent possible."

Case in point: Hamas' main terrorist Command Center is located under the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. The Palestinians in Gaza are suffering unbearably. But what is the answer? That if terrorists butcher 1,400 Jews and take 220 hostage they are immune from harm if they operate in areas densely populated by civilians? If that's the answer you want and if this is the lesson you want to teach tomorrow's terrorists, then pressure Israel to stop its campaign. The better answer is to pressure the Arab world to pressure Hamas into releasing the hostages and surrendering and to support temporary evacuation of Palestinians from Gaza while Israel fights Hamas. Is that the best answer? I have not seen a better one.

Civilian casualties are terrible. Wars are terrible. But read this thread before erroneously concluding that civilian deaths are ipso facto evidence of war crimes. Benjamin Wittes wrote an excellent article on the intersection between strategy, law, and morality in the context of this conflict that clears up many misunderstandings about Israel's obligations. Read it before accusing Israel of war crimes based on the undeniable horror of innocent Palestinians suffering from Israel's campaign against Hamas. See also this guide to the law of armed conflict, also known as international humanitarian law, that applies to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The goal of an Israeli ground invasion, which would put Israeli soldiers at great risk and reduce Palestinian casualties, would not be to literally eliminate Hamas (that's impossible) but to degrade its capabilities to the extent that it was a manageable threat and so that more responsible actors could govern in Gaza, thus providing hope to a population in the depths of despair.

A cease-fire is wrong because ending the war now means victory for Hamas. Dennis Ross explains why Hamas must be defeated, what it means to

"defeat" Hamas, why a ground invasion is necessary, and what must come next. If you click on only one link in this newsletter, click on this one. Ross explains why humanitarian assistance to Palestinians will help, not impede, Israel's efforts to defeat Hamas.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY) as well as Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and others, have issued well-reasoned calls for humanitarian pauses. This approach recognizes, as Rep. Schakowsky puts it, that Israel is "justified in executing a military operation to bring the perpetrators of Hamas' terrorist attack to justice" while also outlining the conditions and circumstances under which humanitarian relief can be provided to the Palestinians in Gaza.

Yet we must keep in mind what State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said on October 23: "Whether you call it a pause or whether you call it a ceasefire, you have to think about what that would mean in this context when Israel has suffered this terrorist attack and Israel continues to suffer ongoing terrorist attacks. There are rockets, as I said a moment ago, that continue to be launched from Gaza targeting Israel. Any ceasefire would give Hamas the ability to rest, to refit, and to get ready to continue launching terrorist attacks against Israel. You can understand perfectly clearly why that’s an intolerable situation for Israel, as it would be an intolerable situation for any country that has suffered such a brutal terrorist attack and continues to see the terrorist threat right on its border."

Congress must pass aid to Israel and Ukraine. As President Biden pointed out on October 20, "we have not forgotten the mass graves, the bodies found bearing signs of torture, rape used as a weapon by the Russians, and thousands and thousands of Ukrainian children forcibly taken into Russia, stolen from their parents. It’s sick."

Remind you of anyone?

Hillel asked, "If I am not for myself, who will be?" That's why we must advocate for Congress to pass President Biden's aid request for Israel and focus the world's attention on the hostages. But Hillel also asked, "If I am only for myself, what am I"? Many in the Jewish community are disappointed that the allies we have stood with have not stood with us since October 7.

The best response is to show, not tell. We should insist that Congress provide the full amount of aid to Israel and Ukraine requested by President Biden. We cannot abandon Ukraine the way some have abandoned us. If Republicans supported Israel because they supported democracy and the principle of standing with our allies against barbaric attacks, they would support Ukraine.

But some Republicans support Israel because their Evangelical Christian base supports Israel as a necessary step toward the end of days, and Ukraine does not fit the bill. Hillel's final question was "If not now, when?" The answer to that question depends on whether the GOP-controlled House can function under its new Speaker and summon the moral courage to join Democrats in backing Israel and Ukraine against those who threaten their existence.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) is the new Speaker of the House. Republicans unanimously chose a dangerous MAGA extremist who was one of the main players in the efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. As others have noted, he's Jim Jordan with a jacket and without the wrestling scandals. Johnson has ties to Israel's far-right and in what seems a prerequisite for Republican leadership these days, has engaged in antisemitic rhetoric. In addition, he called abortion "a holocaust" and linked the judicial philosophy that legalized the right to an abortion to Hitler. Jack Crosbie has more on Johnson, the man you never heard of until last week.

Corrections. I'm entitled to my own opinions but not to my own facts, so I appreciate it when readers bring errors to my attention. No one brought any mistakes to my attention last week, so it looks like last week's newsletter was perfect.

In Case You Missed It:

  • Maurice Isserman: Why I just quit DSA. "An organization that can’t take a stand condemning a right-wing terrorist group that set out to murder as many Jewish civilians, including children and infants, as it can lay its hands on, has forfeited the right to call itself democratic socialist."

  • A man fatally shot at least 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, on Wednesday night. The suspect liked posts by conservative politicians and pundits, including Donald Trump Jr. Since 2006, 568 mass shootings in the U.S. have taken 2,962 lives. President Biden again urged Republicans to pass a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, to enact universal background checks, to require safe storage of guns, and to end immunity from liability for gun manufacturers. The GOP refuses. They should be voted out of office. Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), one of only five House Democrats who voted against legislation last year that would have banned assault weapons, said on Thursday that he made a mistake and now supports an assault weapons ban. After the July 4, 2022 Highland Park, Illinois, mass shooting, some Democratic state legislators who were nowhere to be found on the gun issue suddenly found their voice. Will this have to happen in everyone's backyard before we take gun violence seriously?

Tweets of the Week. Reed Adamson and Eylon Levy

Twitter Threads of the Week. Essential advice for covering casualties in Gaza and Rabbi Jill Jacobs.

Facebook Post of the Week. Rabbi Rachel Kobrin.

Video Clips of the Week. It's not long. Watch the National Security Council's John Kirby respond to a question about President Biden's comments about Hamas. This is moral clarity. At the same press conference (not in the video), Kirby reminded the press that "the Gazan Ministry of Health is just a front for Hamas. It’s run by Hamas, a terrorist organization. I’ve said it myself up here: We can’t take anything coming out of Hamas, including the so-called Ministry of Health, at face value."

And somewhat less diplomatically, New Yorkers are pissed.

Musical Video Clip of the Week. Bob Dylan supported by Keith Richards and Ron Wood introduced to the stage by Jack Nicholson.

Best Daily Newsletter: Chicago Public Square. If Since you agree, nominate Chicago Public Square for Best Email Newsletter and Best Independent Website in the Reader’s Best of Chicago awards.

This is the newsletter even Republicans have to read and the original home of the viral and beloved 2022 and 2023 Top Ten Signs You're At a Republican Seder. If someone forwarded this to you, why not subscribe and get it in your inbox every Sunday? Just click here--it's free.

My most popular Times of Israel posts are How Not To Define Antisemitism and Pro-Israel Or Pro-Bibi? I periodically update my Medium posts on why Democrats are better than Republicans on Israel and antisemitism. You can read my most recent effort to define "pro-Israel" here (it's a work in progress, as am I).

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The Fine Print: This newsletter usually drops on Sunday mornings. Unless stated otherwise, the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of any candidates or organizations I support or am associated with. I value intellectual honesty over intellectual consistency, and every sentence should be read as if it began with the words "This is what I think today is most likely to be correct and I'm willing to be proven wrong, but..." Read views opposed to mine and make up your own mind. A link to an article doesn't mean I agree with everything its author has ever said or even that I agree with everything in the article; it means that the article supports or elaborates on the point I was making. I read and encourage replies to my newsletters but I don't always have time to acknowledge them or engage in one-on-one discussion. I'm happy to read anything, but please don't expect me to watch videos of any length--send me a transcript if it's that important. Don't expect a reply if your message is uncivil or if it's clear from your message that you only read the bullet points or failed to click on the relevant links. If you share an excerpt from this newsletter please share the link to the newsletter (near the top of the newsletter). My newsletter, my rules.

Copyright 2023 Steve Sheffey. All rights reserved.

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