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The Hamas attack wasn’t the Holocaust. But it must be understood in terms of Jewish trauma.

(JTA) — When unspeakable tragedy hits the Jewish people, we turn to memory — we ask not just, “what happened?” We also ask: “What does this remind us of?”

Maybe refusing to heal from the tragedies of the past is pathological; maybe we are holding on too tight. Maybe it is epigenetic. Mostly, however, I see it as a coping mechanism developed over time, an interpretive strategy we use both to preserve our past and to create continuity. It makes it possible for a persecuted people to promise themselves they will survive whatever they face in the moment. “Never forget” is not merely a slogan to preserve the past; it is also a means of trying to ensure a future. 

And, sometimes, I think that our insistence on seeing the past reawakened in the present is a right that we have earned in blood. We are entitled to use our suffering however we would like, and if we find it helpful to keep it close, to use it as a means of understanding and thus surviving the present, we can and should do so.

Throughout the last week, Jews have responded to the violent atrocities in Israel by analogizing Hamas’ horrific attacks to stories seared in our memories. I am sure you heard at least one version of the statistic that on Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas carried out the deadliest one-day attack on Jews since the Holocaust. The more liturgically oriented are reading from the biblical books of Lamentations and Job. Some have described the burned bodies strewn across southern Israel with the single word “pogrom,” evoking the sorrows of the Eastern European Jewish experience.

Throughout the week, I felt — and I continue to feel — that it is our right to see this story through the prism of our particularistic collective experience. Gideon Hausner, the prosecutor at Adolf Eichmann’s trial, called this “a historical principle stretching from Pharaoh to Haman.” 

Jewish tradition reserves the name “Amalek” for the worst of our enemies, suggesting that they share a lineage back to the biblical Amalekites whose unforgivable sin was to attack the Israelites from the rear, picking off the most vulnerable, refusing to spare the weakest and most weary. I do not need Hamas to be Amalek; our post-biblical sages tell us not to draw straight lines when it comes to connecting the dots between the historical Amalekites and contemporary villains. But the callous murder of infants, the snatching of Holocaust survivors, the vicious murder of young people dancing — all of this is Amalekite behavior. This theological vocabulary allows us to name and understand the depths of the depravity that are facing, and then to marshal our resolve to face it for what it is. Our Jewish souls demand it.

I know that this sort of rhetoric is loaded and risky. I am writing this now precisely because I am seeing pushback online against it — suggestions that comparing this week’s events to the Holocaust distort the political realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or create permission for Israel to attack Gaza without constraint. My colleague, historian James Loeffler, cautions that constant analogies of present politics to history can become “willful weaponizations” to be used towards political ends. I’ve also written about these risks, which I worry about in particular when memory is marshaled for the sake of partisan politics. The greatest risk may be the temptation to weaponize our trauma by acting violently toward others. After all, after many of the tragedies of the Jewish past, the Jewish people had little of the power and military resources that Israel has today to respond in kind to our oppressors. 

The vocabulary of the Jewish past is rich and evocative, and there is always risk that it will be misused, that it will be mapped inappropriately in light of the agency we now wield. 

But sometimes, we need to take these risks. Sometimes, being a Jew in the world requires sustaining a relationship between our past, our present and our future. We are bidden to live in the present and feel burdened by the past. I want us right now to forgive our imperfect analogies, to lean into the instinct. I refuse to let anyone deprive us of the few interpretive tools we must make sense of what has befallen us. The fact that there was more talk on X about the prospect of Israel committing “genocide” in a military campaign that hadn’t started, than about the actual atrocities committed by Hamas which started this war, is an example of antisemitic gaslighting. The bodies lie before us, and we are bereft; will our memory be taken from us, too? 

And I also feel that it is entirely possible to turn to these stories and to assert our own humanity without also dehumanizing the other. There are safeguards in place to help us. The State of Israel holds itself to the moral standards of modern warfare and its rule of law, and it knows it must — as in the stunted career of Gen. Ofer Winter, passed over for promotion because he cast the fight against Hamas as a “holy war” — constrain the application of theological paradigms to the practice of warcraft. The IDF knows the difference between error and intent in the killing of civilians in wartime, and it abides to the principles of proportionality.  We can trust ourselves to do this, more than we think. 

More importantly, however, our victimhood has also been and can be a catalyst for our own self-reflection and growth. A small number of Jews have and always will turn outwards and turn their rage into fantasies for revenge. These people need to be stopped. Most of us know, however, that the lachrymosity of our history has been material for the refinement of our moral sensibilities. The traumatic memories of our ancestors that we carry in our stories fuels our prayers and shapes our moral imagination.

As we mourn this week — a Jewish people missing their children and forced to send others into battle, a Jewish people whose clothes are rent and whose faces are wet with tears, a nation that cannot sleep — we must allow ourselves the right to comfort ourselves with the bitter salve that our people has seen pieces of this story before.


The post The Hamas attack wasn’t the Holocaust. But it must be understood in terms of Jewish trauma. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News

We’ve produced a collection of feature articles four times a year since 2022. A special edition of this magazine will appear in mid-September—with reflections on the Jewish year that was. And in December, look out for a reimagined publication with a name of its own. Get future copies delivered to your door as a thank-you […]

The post Flip through the digital edition of the Summer 2024 print magazine from The Canadian Jewish News appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl

Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a meeting with people at a hall on the seashore in Gaza City. Photo: Yousef Masoud / SOPA Images/Sipa via Reuters Connect

A senior US official said that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar is the Palestinian terrorist group’s ultimate decision maker and has little interest in reaching a ceasefire deal with Israel, in testimony before a US Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

“At the end of the day, there’s one guy 10 stories below the ground: a psychopath, messianic in his own belief that he has established himself in history, and [he believes that] there’s a sunk cost of having lost thousands of fighters and carnage in Gaza,” said Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs.

Sinwar, the top Hamas official in Gaza and the mastermind behind the terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has reportedly been hiding in Hamas’ extensive network of underground tunnels during Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the coastal enclave.

Leaf’s comments echo others made by Biden administration officials.

In April, a US official told reporters that Sinwar is single-handedly holding up any progress on a potential hostage deal.

The senior Biden administration official said that while Hamas’ political bureau has shown some willingness to compromise on the terrorist group’s most hardline positions, Sinwar’s maximalist demands continuously win out.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7] than secure a ceasefire, and that’s just the truth of the situation,” the official said.

Leaf, in her testimony on Tuesday, said that Qatar — where many top Hamas political officials are based — has been “squeezing” the group — though to little effect, according to a report from Axios.

“There’s a cadre of political officials of Hamas in Doha, and boy do they squeeze them, I can assure you they squeeze them,” Leaf said.

Israel has described Hamas’ response to the new US ceasefire proposal as total rejection. But efforts to secure an agreement are still continuing, according to mediators in Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

The Axios report added that Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdul Rahman al-Thani met on Tuesday in Doha — Qatar’s capital — with senior Hamas officials in an attempt to reach a breakthrough in the talks about the hostage and ceasefire deal.

Egypt and Qatar — which along with the United States have been mediating between Hamas and Israel — said on June 11 that they had received a response from the Palestinian groups to the US plan, without giving further details.

The post Top US Official Calls Hamas Leader Sinwar a ‘Psychopath,’ ‘Messianic’ as Ceasefire Talks Swirl first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hold a joint news conference in Jerusalem, May 25, 2021. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday confirmed the US was still withholding a shipment of bombs to Israel, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Washington to remove restrictions on arms deliveries to the Jewish state and asserted that the top American diplomat had assured him the Biden administration was working to lift any halts on weapons.

The Biden administration is “continuing to review one shipment that President [Joe] Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department.

However, he added, the administration is committed to making sure “that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself.”

Blinken’s remarks came after Netanyahu posted a video online earlier in the day in which he lamented that the US recently paused a weapons shipment to Israel and threatened to block more but said Blinken told him that Washington was seeking to end any halts on arms deliveries.

“When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation. I said I deeply appreciated the support the US has given Israel from the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

“But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel,” he continued. “Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.”

The Israeli premier then asserted that Blinken told him the issue would be addressed.

“Secretary Blinken assured me that the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks,” Netanyahu said. “I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case. During World War II, Churchill told the US: ‘Give us the tools; we’ll do the job.’ And I say, ‘Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job much faster.’”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, both the White House and the US State Department refuted his apparent claim that Washington was withholding more than a single shipment of bombs.

“Everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

The White House echoed Blinken’s comments, saying that only one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs had been withheld and nothing else.

“We genuinely do not know what he’s talking about,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “We just don’t.”

Jean-Pierre added that the US and Israel have been having discussions about the release of the shipment but that there was no update at this time.

“There are no other pauses, none,” Jean-Pierre said. “No other pauses or holds in place.”

On Monday, unconfirmed reports in both Israeli and German media said that during Netanyahu’s meeting with Blinken in Jerusalem last week, the Israeli premier urged the US to return the frequency of its arms shipments to the level immediately after Oct. 7, when the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launched the war in Gaza with its massacre across southern Israel. According to the reports, Blinken said that Washington would remove all restrictions on weapons transfers to Israel in the coming days.

Netanyahu also reportedly warned Blinken that the slowing of aid and the perception of America’s weakened support for Israel benefits Iran and its terrorist proxies across the Middle East, including Hamas, emboldening them to intensify attacks against Israel and potentially resulting in a broader regional war.

The Biden administration has been under intense pressure from Democrats, especially those on the progressive left, to condition if not outright withhold US military support for Israel. Critics of Israel have argued the Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed too many civilians and led to a humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave. Israel has said Hamas is to blame for starting the war, stealing aid, and intentionally placing its operation centers inside or underneath civilian sites.

Hamas started the war with its surprise invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, when the terrorist group murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped over 250 others as hostages. Israel responded with its ongoing campaign aimed at freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas, which rules Gaza.

In recent months, the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of Israel’s operations both in public and private, pressuring Jerusalem to change its military strategy and seek a ceasefire.

The issue came to a head last month, when Biden announced that it would cease a bomb shipment to Israel and threatened to halt more weapons deliveries if the Israeli army launched an offensive in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza and Hamas’ last major military stronghold.

I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem,” Biden told CNN.

Israeli officials and experts have said operating in Rafah is essential to eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions. Netanyahu said the Jewish state appreciates US support but “will stand alone” if necessary.

The post Blinken Confirms US Pausing Bomb Shipment to Israel After Netanyahu Calls for End to ‘Inconceivable’ Weapons Halt first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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