There’s been a consistent, nauseating pattern in US discourse on the Israeli government’s ongoing brutal war on Gaza.
While pro-Palestinian voices and critics of the war — even those who clearly condemn Hamas and its despicable October 7 attacks — are slandered and censured for their criticism, and are held to account for the most extreme rhetoric by any random person on “their side,” Israeli officials, the powerful Western politicians who back them, and their various prominent defenders can freely say the most vile things with zero pushback.
If you want proof, look no further than yesterday’s March for Israel in Washington, DC.
“No Proportional Response”
In the interests of fairness, let’s treat the large pro-war gathering in the nation’s capital with the same standards that the US establishment applies to pro-peace and pro-Palestinian activists, judging them by the worst rhetoric of even a minority of those attending — those who would justify Hamas’s October atrocities on the basis of “resistance,” for instance. If you’re outraged that anyone would excuse or even demand the slaughter of civilians on the basis of self-defense, then you should be disgusted by some of the signs carried by protesters at yesterday’s march.
“Let Israel finish the job,” read one. “There is no proportional response to Hamas,” read another. “Many Gazan civilians are Hamas or in training,” one placard emphatically stated. At one point, after CNN commentator Van Jones told the crowd he “pray[s] for peace” and for no more rockets or bombs falling on Israelis or Gazans, the crowd began chanting, “No cease-fire.”
They were saying all this, by the way, about a war that has now killed more than eleven thousand people — the vast majority of them civilians, including more than a third children — and where both soldiers and Israeli officials have outright said Palestinian civilians are legitimate targets.
At a time when the Palestinian liberation slogan “From the river to the sea” is being falsely labeled a call for genocide, the phrase popped up frequently at the march — as in, “From the river to the sea, Israel is what you’ll see” or “From the river to the sea, that’s the flag you’re gonna see.” One of the marchers holding the sign explained that “Israel is our indigenous land, and it’s always going to be ours,” and that Jews “were there before Arabs.”
In other words, while pro-peace elected officials have made explicitly clear they use the slogan as a call for freedom and the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs — and been smeared and punished for it anyway — the pro-Israel marchers were freely using the same phrase as a call for the total domination of both Israel and the illegally occupied Palestinian territories by one group, in this case, Israelis. One placard added a particularly racist twist to this phrase, warning that “From the river to the West, they are coming, we are next.”
Another delivered the same message in the form of a joke that would normally be considered antisemitic: “If you keep saying ‘Free Palestine,’ us Jews are gonna take it. We love free stuff.”
But hey, maybe those were just random people in the crowd. Let’s take a look at some of the speakers that were invited to address the crowd.
One was Israeli president Isaac Herzog, a man who once called the marriage of Jews and non-Jews a “plague.” At the start of the war, Herzog declared that “it is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved,” and that there was “an entire nation out there that is responsible” for Hamas’s attacks. “When you have a missile in your goddamn kitchen and you want to shoot it at me, am I allowed to defend myself?” Herzog added in that same press conference, later reiterating that while many Palestinians “don’t agree” with Hamas, “unfortunately in their homes, there are missiles shooting at us, at my children” — a clear statement that he views civilian residential homes as a legitimate military target.
Also there was Natan Sharansky, a career-long opponent of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process whose political party’s founding platform opposed the creation of a Palestinian state, and who successfully worked to scuttle the 2000 Camp David peace talks. Sharansky has charged that there’s a “culture of death and violence that has engulfed Palestinian society,” claimed that “tens of thousands of future terrorists” were being trained by Palestinian schools, opposed making East Jerusalem the future capital of a Palestinian state, and once tried to confiscate Palestinian land in the city on dubious grounds.
But easily the most heinous invitee was the racist Christian Zionist preacher John Hagee. The pastor’s presence was a good reminder that, despite the misleading effort to equate the policies of Israel and the philosophy of Zionism with all Jews, some of the most ardent Zionists are Christian evangelicals in the United States, and some of the staunchest critics of Israeli policy are Jewish.
“Many of his views are hateful,” San Antonio rabbi Barry Block once said of Hagee, who has said astoundingly ugly things about just about every group you can imagine. That includes Jews.
For years, Hagee held that Jews can’t get to heaven unless they convert, saying at one point that only a “remnant of Jewish people . . . have favor with God,” and has claimed the Rothschilds partially control the Federal Reserve and are orchestrating a plot to devalue the US dollar. Over the years, Hagee has stated that the Antichrist would be “partially Jewish,” charged that antisemitism was the result of a divine curse placed on Jews for idol worship, listed Hitler as one of many “half-breed Jews” through history who have “persecuted and murdered” the Jewish people as part of this curse, and that Hitler was sent by God to mass murder Jews as a way to push them to Israel.
The reason Hagee was so thrilled at the prospect of Hitler’s genocide driving Jews to Israel is because, as he’s written in numerous books, he thinks the gathering of Jews in the Holy Land is part of a Biblical end-times prophecy that will see the battle of Armageddon erupt in the country, with a “sea of human blood drained from the veins of those who have followed Satan.” “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad,” he once wrote about what he hoped would be an imminent nuclear confrontation with Iran.
Hagee was personally absolved of these antisemitic comments by the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) former national director, Abe Foxman, who shortly after Hagee’s Hitler comments caused a firestorm — and after an initial conspicuous silence from the organization about them — expressed his gratitude that Hagee had “devoted your life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the state of Israel.” Foxman had earlier defended the pastor, arguing “there is a role for him” due to his support for Israel.
The ADL, which considers “From the river to the sea” a “hateful phrase” and whose current head has likened critics of Israel to white supremacists, has so far not weighed in on Hagee’s appearance yesterday, and has not responded to questions about whether it would condemn or demand others condemn either the pastor or marchers’ use of that phrase.
Other groups Hagee has offended over the years include Catholics — whose church is a “false cult system,” according to the pastor — and LGBTQ people: he said in 2006 that “God caused Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because it had a gay pride parade the week before.” At another point, his church newsletter advertised for students seeking odd jobs by announcing a “slave” sale, and for buyers to “make plans to come and go home with a slave.” After apologizing, he complained about political correctness and said that maybe his dog should be referred to as a “canine American.”
Fortunately for Hagee, as deranged as his views are, the foreign policy positions of Washington hawks and many Israeli politicians have become deranged enough to overlap with his own. Hagee has at various times called for a joint US-Israeli “military pre-emptive strike to take out the nuclear capability of Iran for the salvation of Western civilization,” signed onto a letter calling it “morally reprehensible” for Washington to be “evenhanded” between Israel and “the terrorist-infested Palestinian infrastructure,” opposed Israel surrendering the Palestinian land it illegally occupies since “God opposes giving away the land” and “it is God’s heritage to you,” and called Israel’s 2006 war against Hezbollah one of “good versus evil” where military restraint would have violated God’s will. Hagee also argued against a cease-fire in that war, telling then deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams it was “appeasement” and charging it would just give terrorists time to “rest, rearm and retaliate.” (Abrams now works in the Biden administration.)
All of this rhetoric closely echoes recent statements by various US and Israeli politicians about the current war, as well as Israel’s alleged entitlement to controlling all of Historic Palestine.
No Coherent Standard
Those who attended the protest and support the Israeli government’s war would counter all this by saying that the ugly placards at the event don’t represent the views of most marchers, and that they don’t need to agree with everything that every single speaker says to march for a cause they believe in. Fair enough.
But this is the exact opposite line as the one that’s been taken and harshly enforced against antiwar demonstrators and elected officials, who are made to answer for every piece of offensive rhetoric used by a small minority of speakers or protesters at their events, who are smeared for using pro-democracy slogans, or who are inundated with calls to distance themselves from events to which they have even a tangential connection. There is no coherent standard about who and what is acceptable or not when it comes to discourse about this war, except for one: that those who oppose Israel’s war deserve the harshest possible judgement no matter what they do, and that those who back it deserve a free pass for saying and doing much worse.