Yochanan Gordon has already apologized for and retracted his essay that the Times of Israel published entitled “When Genocide is Permissible.” The Times of Israel condemns the post and explains that Gordon posted it without anyone there reviewing it. It is certain that Yochanan Gordon, the Times, and the people cheerleading the IDF slaughter of innocents in Gaza would like very much for the phrase ‘When Genocide is Permissible’ to vanish from the consciousness of everyone, but it seems to this observer that they are more concerned with how badly the argument was framed rather than with the substance of anything Gordon was arguing. Consider that the Times apparently has no problem with this post by Irwin Blank that makes essentially the same argument but coyly couches it in Biblical terms rather than just using the plain language of Yochanan Gordon. When one reads Gordon’s words they are clearly those of a passionate adolescent brimming with patriotic fervor and the unexamined beliefs of his parent; his mistake was bluntly articulating not only what is said around his kitchen table but what is happening in Gaza.
Israel is bombing a ghetto and blaming the corpses of children for their own deaths. The people of Gaza have nowhere to hide or flee. When Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for nearly making peace with the Palestinians, it was a right wing Israeli who pulled the trigger, not a Palestinian, and with Rabin dead so were the Oslo Accords. When Palestinians have tried non-violent protests their children have been shot dead by IDF forces. Israel is using white phosphorus and other total war tactics against people who are trapped in an urban prison. There are young Jewish men feeling bold enough to talk about how genocide could be permissible in this special exceptional case, just this one time, they promise. It is time for everyone to look very closely at this situation with fresh eyes.
This is not to excuse or ignore any of the crimes committed by Hamas; however, Israel is the staunch and special ally of the United States that receives much of its military superiority through that relationship. That military superiority is what puts the onus upon Israel. The IDF is not responding to the will of a handful of Hamas fighters who ineffectively lob rockets at them; the IDF is enacting the will of the political leadership of Israel. When one reads the reasons given for why the right thing to do in this case is for Israel to erase the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants from the face of the Earth, there is agreement among the apologists that Hamas and the Palestinian people living in the Gaza Strip represent an existential threat towards Israel, so therefore Israel is justified in eliminating this threat.
There are no objective observers to violence. There is no privileged position from which final judgement may be ascertained; there are no umpires, officials or innocent bystanders. There are smart missiles, machine guns, and armored helicopters and here are children and men with homemade rockets. There are thousands of soldiers in body armor and here are teenagers with rocks. Here are people defending their homes and here are people defending their homes. Desperate people do desperate things. If the people of Israel take everything away from the people of Gaza, then every person in Gaza will become a de facto member of Hamas. That is not an acceptable endgame.
My grandfather once told me that the smoke of the terrible burnt offering that was the Holocaust reached God and that His answer was the rebirth of Israel. He was a very spiritual man of sincere faith; we argued and talked and taught each other everything we could of theology for over thirty years and his opinions on such things weigh heavily by my measure. He was raised in an orphanage around a hundred years ago; I was born into a world where the Moon was not an object of mystery but a place people have been. We had different frames of reference but I came to understand his and he enjoyed looking through my windows as well; my point is that there is a part of me that can’t help but feel the same way about Israel. This is the part of me that is most outraged by this betrayal against the spirit that brought Israel into being. The only response to the question ‘When is genocide permissible?’ is ‘Never again.’