Does Israel have dirty hands?


The new Wonder Woman movie stars an Israeli actress – Gal Gadot.

The movie has come out this week – in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War.

Fifty summers ago, every Jewish kid on Long Island had the same poster hanging in his or her bedroom.

It was a poster of an ultra-Orthodox man, wearing a Superman costume, with the Hebrew letter shin in place of the S. He is emerging from a phone booth, as Superman once did.

What did that poster mean?

For most of their history, Jews had been Clark Kent – a mild-mannered reporter for a metropolitan newspaper.

But, in early June in 1967, Clark Kent went into the phone booth of history.

When Clark Kent emerged from the phone booth, he had revealed himself to be -- a Jewish Superman.

Who was the true "inventor" of that poster?

It was the Zionist thinker, Max Nordau.

For Nordau,  Eastern European Jewish men might have been studious, but they were also scrawny, pale, and weak.

Nordau decided that there needed to be a new kind of Jew -- a muscular Jew. In fact, that was the origin of the Maccabiah games.

In 1903 and 1905, there were the infamous pogroms in Kishinev. Forty-nine Jews lost their lives and more than five hundred were injured; seven hundred houses were looted and destroyed, and six hundred businesses and shops were looted.

In his poem, “The City of Slaughter,” the modern Hebrew poet, Hayim Nachman Bialik, lamented how:

...Concealed and cowering – the sons of the Maccabees!...

It was the flight of mice they fled,

The scurrying of roaches was their flight…

These Jews were the descendants of the Maccabees – the greatest fighters that Judaism had ever produced.

And they could not fight back?!?

Zionism meant that Jews would no longer be weaklings. In the words of Hans and Franz from SNL: Zionism would "pump you up."

Back to fifty years ago -- during the Six Day War. I am in the middle school cafeteria. A gentile bully approaches me. Usually, he would knock my tray out of my hands.

But, that day would be different. He says to me: “I guess you Jews really know how to fight, after all.”

But, now, look closely at the poster.

Look at the Jew's hands.

The Jew's hands are dirty.

There are three interpretations.

The first possibility: the Jews' hands are dirty from working the land.

Maybe, but I doubt it.

The second possibility: the poster is anti-Semitic.

Jews with dirty hands is a classic anti-Semitic image -- going back to Shylock and Fagin in Oliver Twist.

But, why would "Super Jew" have dirty hands?

Because, some people believed -- and believe -- that Israel had waged an aggressive war.

Whatever else might have ensued after the war -- the occupation, the settlements, etc. -- in June, 1967, it didn't look that way.

Israel's survival was at risk.  Israelis dug mass graves in Tel Aviv, preparing for the grisly possibility of untold numbers of casualties.

There is a third interpretation of the Jew's dirty hands.

History lesson: Why did some Jews not support Zionism?

  • Some classical Reform Jews were anti-Zionist, because they were afraid of accusations of dual loyalty.
  • Some ultra-Orthodox Jews were (and are) anti-Zionist -- because only a divinely-sent Messiah can restore Jewish sovereignty.

But there has been another reason why some Jews have been less than gung ho about Zionism.

If you have political power, and if you have military power, that means that you get your hands dirty. Judaism means living above and beyond the domain of earthly affairs. It means living in the spirit. It means living in the mind.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was the first chief rabbi of the yishuv (pre-State Palestine).

And yet, even he had misgivings about the necessity of Jewish power:

"It is not good for the children of Jacob to engage in political life at a time when statehood requires bloody ruthlessness and demands a talent for evil."

There is an emerging style of Jewish remembrance of the Six Day War -- a 24/6 shiva for, to quote Don Henley, "the end of the innocence."

Israel is not innocent. No nation can be. That is the way of the world.


The fact remains: had Israel lost the 1967 war, it would have been destroyed.

Imagine if the Arabs had won, and there had been Jewish refugee camps in Jordan.

Would there have been op-eds in the Arab press -- calling for compassion and justice for Jewish refugees?

On the other hand, consider the biblical story of Samson.

Yes, he had great power.

But at the end, his power did not matter. He had become blind.

Israel does not have the luxury of abandoning power.

But, also, Israel does not have the luxury of abandoning its vision -- for a better Israel, and for a better world.

May the next fifty years teach us how to balance those two elements of the Jewish spirit.

Israel cannot live without power.

But neither can it survive without vision.



  1. Does the King David Hotel Bombing qualify? Or how about the USS Liberty? 9-11?

  2. Everyone, just ignore Roy; he’s an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, as you could probably tell from “9-11” slipping into that list.

  3. Carl Cameron had something to say about that.

    “Evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.”

  4. Because, of course, the Saudis and other people identifed as being behind it, who have no love for Israel, had *nothing* to do with it. Witness the conspiratorial mindset at full flower, folks. 🙂

  5. Israel is certainly no paragon of virtue as a nation, but it is certainly not anti-Semitic to say so.

  6. Israel will have to muddle through along with the rest of us.

  7. Jeff, Thanks for the very thoughtful piece. We live this every day here. Just to add to the conversation, Yitz Greenberg wrote the following:

    by Rabbi Irving Greenberg

    “Many people are devastated when they see Jewish hands dirtied with the inescapable blood and guilt of operating in the world. The classic Jewish self-image -the innocent, sinned-against sufferer- is being shattered.”

    “When, under the influence of modern values, Zionists set out to create a Jewish state, most Jews were neutral if not opposed”

    “The illusion of ethical perfectionism grows out of the record of millennial powerlessness whose results are projected incorrectly into the new reality”

    “A normal country -let alone one like Israel that is continually threatened – will not survive if it ties its hands with absolute moral strictures and does not adjust to the pressures of power and threats posed by its enemies”

    “Jewish powerlessness is absolutely incompatible with Jewish existence. But Jewish power is incompatible with absolute Jewish purity.”

  8. Being strong does not imply that one must be a bully and having power does not means that one must oppress others. Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has shown that it is no better than any other nation that has oppressed people. And much of the blame for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians can be laid at the feet of Christian Europe’s anti-Semitism that existed even before the Nazis came to power let alone including it.

    The conflict and resulting atrocities that exist between Israel and the Palestinians is a human problem, not a Jewish or Arab one. And perhaps the real sign of confidence in one’s strength is seen in the willingness to work side by side with those who are different than to try to control them.

  9. So now that Gaza is a de facto independent state and the West Bank has settled into diplomatic wrangling, what keeps Palestinians from unilaterally declaring independence?

    Palestinians have been milking the poor beleaguered refugee narrative to the far left for going on three generations. But in that time there was the rise of professional terrorism, a failed takeover of Jordan, support for inter-Arab conflict, use of suicide bombers as a negotiation tool, a civil war between them, a breakaway fiction forming it’s own government, and now they are largely being used as cannon fodder in the Syrian Civil War.

    It’s complicated, but it isn’t. In all this time Palestinian leaders could have acted in the interests of their people, but haven’t.

  10. 1.An act of terrorism of a stateless people shaking off foreign oppressors. Like the Sons of Liberty. The perpetrators never tried to claim it was a morally justified act.

    2. An accident in the heat of battle

    3. You are a nutball pushing a conspiracy theory which was batsh!t crazy when it first hit neo Nazi discussion boards 16 years ago.

  11. And Osama Bin Laden must have been a Mossad agent! 🙂

  12. Spuddle,
    Your writing indicates that you don’t what life in the Occupied Territories is like. Whether you have drone patrols and soldier and Israeli boat shooting at you while you are trying farm or fish, whether power is cut off or a foreign power invades and kills hundreds of civilians, or you’re periodically attacked with missiles from fighter jets is life Gaza. That doesn’t cover the continued confiscation of land, the checkpoints, the cutting off of the supply of water, and the attacks by settlers covers part of what life in the West Bank is like.

    One can declare their independence all one wants. It takes the ability to repel armed troops from another nation to effectively declare one’s independence.

    I am not writing this to ignore the atrocities committed by the Palestinians. However, the one who is occupying and using force to do so must also be put under the spotlight. And it seems that Palestinian leaders aren’t the only ones who have not acted in the best interests of their people. The same goes for Israeli leaders. And some of them are even caught in corruption.

  13. Gaza is not an occupied territory. It is a state in all but name. Hamas can lift the state of siege at their will. All it requires is peaceful overtures to both it’s neighbors. Egypt and Israel. But right now, they are just taking marching orders from Iran rather than display any responsibility for those they govern.

    The West Bank could declare itself an independent state and try to bring real international pressure to bear to preserve its integrity. Arab states seem to want to support Palestinians only if they are stateless refugees. Not if they are people in control of their own nation. Once they declare independence, it is nearly impossible for Israel not to face political pressure both externally and internally to relent. They are not a dictatorship.

    Not to be overly gruesome, but if Israel were willing to wipe out the Palestinians, they would have done so years ago. Conquest and genocide are off the table.

  14. Spuddle,
    Yes, it is occupied. It is monitored by drones and attacked remotely on a daily basis.

    And no, Hamas cannot lift the state of siege. The state of siege has other reasons for existing. And again, the West Bank cannot effectively declare its independence unless it has the force necessary to remove settlers and Israeli troops. It would be like saying that the US was independent because of its Declaration of Independence even if it had lost the Revolutionary War. BTW, Palestine has already been declared to be an independent nation and yet no change has occurred in its occupation status.

    Why do some people have so much trouble with recognizing that both the Palestinians and the Israelis are responsible for the carnage that continues to take place?

  15. Gaza attacks Israel on a regular basis as well. It is not occupied by people. As long as Hamas feels the need to continue a state of war with Israel, the siege remains. Hamas wants to continue the siege because it absolves them of a duty to govern responsibly. All problems can be blamed on Israel.

    As for the West Bank, settlers can be removed by negotiation as Israel did in Sinai after the Camp David Accords. As long as “the armed struggle” and “right of return” are still things, Palestinians give legitimate excuses to the world not to be taken seriously. It means they do not seek peaceful resolution with Israel. Palestinians never declared themselves an independent nation.

    As for carnage on both sides, one has to bear in mind that only Israel has been acting on its own accord, not as proxies for other outside interests here.

  16. Accusations of dual loyalty is not the whole story with regard to classical American Reform ambivalence toward Zionism. The Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, a truly defining moment in Reform and American Jewish history, stated plainly that they did not expect a return to Palestine. This was informed by Reform’s self-view as _the_ American form of Judaism, a view that was Ashkenazi-centric but no more so than American Judaism is today. This is reflected in the historic terminology of the movement: the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis. They were far from the only non-Zionist American Jewish group, and like most, the Holocaust, founding of the State of Israel, and the Six-Day War changed their views considerably. Still, there exist today legacy Reform groups like the American Council for Judaism, which was founded as antagonistic toward Zionism but today even it is mostly ambivalent.
    On a happier note, I think you’ve covered in other articles the Jewishness of Superman: a character, created by two Jews, seemingly meek but transformed to be able to stand up to the bullies of the world.

  17. Spuddle,
    Actually, Hamas attacks Israel on an irregular basis and sometimes it is Israel that has broken ceasefires.

    You also forget that in 2006 and 2008, Hamas offered full recognition to Israel based on the return to the ’67 borders.

    Also, yes, Israel can remove settlers, but they do that rarely and they keep confiscating land.

    Finally, do you really think Hamas and the PA are mere proxies? And if Israel is acting on its own, then what responsibility does it have to bear for breaking ceasefires, confiscating land, destroying the lives of the Palestinians with checkpoints in the West Bank and imprisoning Gaza, and the killing of civilians in their major operations. For whatever reason, you want to maintain one party’s innocence when neither party is innocent. But one party does have the most power and continues to brutally occupy the other.

    Let me ask if you would object to this proposal: That we put the US, the Palestinians, and Israel under the jurisdiction of the ICC. That means, technically speaking, that all three would be placed under the rule of law rather than the rule of force.

  18. Hamas took control of Gaza in a fratricidal conflict and keeps it’s population terrorized. They tried to get sponsorship by ISIS once after a brief spat with Iran. As far as I know, they still oppose the existence of Israel. I have no problem considering them the party most at fault there. Israel and Egypt (people never mention Gaza’s other neighbor) have no compelling reason to lift their blockades as long as Hamas is in control.

    The West Bank has a chance at peace under the right political conditions. The Arab League has lost interest in Fatah as a proxy force. Preferring Al Qaeda and ISIS. But the initiative must go to the Palestinians here. But the kleptocratic PA seems uninterested in anything beyond status quo.

  19. Spuddle,
    I am not a fan of Hamas, but neither am I a fan of the kind of Zionism promoted by the Israeli government. And the latter is the difference between us.

    But let’s get this straight, Hamas was elected in fair elections. Also, a born again Palestinian from Hamas told me that when there were settlements, he had more to fear from the settlers than from Hamas. Also, Hamas has offered to recognize Israel. On the other hand, Israel, which supported the creation of Hamas, never listened to Hamas’s offer. And Hamas would at least uphold a legitimate ceasefire

    As for the West Bank, let Israel return to the ’67 borders and then let there be whatever negotiations for land swapping and then remove the checkpoints, and you have a chance for peace provided that you don’t imprison Gaza. But Israel won’t agree to that.

    The stats are against you here. the IDF has killed far more civilians than Hamas or even all of the Palestinian terrorists have. And yet, you only hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions while exonerating the Israeli government.

  20. You make a very skewed argument dependent on ignoring past developments. You are pushing a narrative which is one sided and myopic. Hamas has never made a good faith offer to recognize Israel. Gaza has two borders. If they played nice with Egypt as well, there would be no siege. There would be a border where Israel has no say in controlling.

    As for the West Bank, “1967 borders ” is a catchphrase for foreign press and naive outsiders for “do not take me seriously, this is for show”. Both sides have demographically spilled out so much beyond those borders that they are arbitrary and unworkable for either side. The Arab league used to throw them into unilateral unnegotiated peace deals as an intentional poison pill and publicity stunt.

    Oslo was the best shot at peace. But it was undermined by a nascent Palestinian civil war and Bill Clinton trying to push a resolution beyond reasonable limits. A generation after has killed optimism that peace is possible. The latest BDS nonsense isn’t helping much either. It will evolve naturally once the flow of outside arms and blood money stops. Like in Northern Ireland and Basque territories.

  21. Spuddle,
    By saying both sides are at fault I am pushing a skewed, myopic and narrow argument? By laying some of the blame for Israel’s actions at the feet of Christian Europe’s anti-Semtism while faulting Israel for is oppression of the Palestinians, my view is skewed? And while faulting the Palestinians for their terrorism, my view is skewed and myopic?

    It is what I said before, you want one side to be blamed and the other side to be exonerated. While you discount the one side and defend the other, you are the one showing a skewed and myopic view. While the ’67 borders are not important to you, they are important to the people who lived there. What you have to remember about Oslo and the other agreements is that the Occupation would not have ended. The Checkpoints were to remain and the Palestinian communities were divided by those checkpoints–a surrender in sovereignty no nation looking for independence would ever accept.

    Whether the BDS campaign is effective or not time will tell. But its context is very telling. People because of ethnicity are being made to live like animals. And you will never see that until you really listen to more than one side. The situation there somewhat resembles our racial problems here where the side with power wants the other side to capitulate without showing the anger the first side deserves. Meanwhile, the anger of those running Israeli policies is displaced anger and fear from the past. Meanwhile here, whites are afraid of the anger they deserve from Blacks. So they try to keep Blacks “in their place.” Christians should note that Christians are victims in both Palestine and America since there are Palestinian Christians there and Black Christians here.

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