Echoes of Kristallnacht and the Morality of Resistance:
Israel, Public Opinion, and the Inner Struggle of American Jews
By David Cohen
On November 9th, the Jewish community around the globe commemorated the “Night of Broken Glass” – Kristallnacht - one of the most haunting moments in modern Jewish History. On this night, the Nazi regime took the historical collection of Jewish conspiracy theories and proved beyond a doubt that they could be shaped into coherent policies and strategies using legislative, social, and political levers of power. In a phrase – any minority groups’ worst nightmare.
While many view the events of the past month as another “flare-up” in the political and military conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, the events of October 7th are the clearest example of why the conflict as a whole should never have been seen exclusively through that lens.
The Holocaust is internalized by the Jewish community as an effort to both wipe out our humanity and to persecute us for who we are. What began as the “problem” of the Jews became vile hatred and eventually extermination. Because we have experienced so many similar moments in our history – one should be able to understand our deep insecurity in the world – even when we have real or perceived power.
Similarly, when the allies fought the Nazis, they were fighting a force that was perceived to be an existential threat to their way of life. For the Jews, there was a concreteness to this threat that the west did not really have. But in both cases, fighting back against this threat – within the context of modern war with its collateral damage – was the widely accepted response. For anyone who simply felt war was never the answer – this was of course not the case.
But if Israel existed at the time, and they were able to declare war on Nazi Germany, there would be, I think, very little defense of what the Nazis were doing to the Jews of Europe and doing to all those who did not fit their vision of their region or society. What they were doing was seen as so heinous – so beyond the pale of modern warfare – that they in a sense gave up their right to any moral ground. They were not defending an attacked homeland. There was no actual threat from Jews - a civilian population of farmers, professionals, scholars, and students.
Before the war, there was no active armed resistance challenging German sovereignty or harming their population. And though we know the stories of the righteous gentiles and we know how many were merely trapped in the Nazi wave – the support given to the rise of Nazi Germany angered the world and the world held them culpable. In war, civilian casualties were always avoided when possible. But often, they were unavoidable. For the cause of ridding the world of an aggressive evil regime – this, sadly, was the accepted way of things. And it still is. The Nazis were one of the actual genocidal states of our era – and the world held them and their civilian population to account for their complicity and their failure to stand up to such inhumanity.
And this brings us to October 7th, 2023.
First, I think the context I provided above about Nazi Germany is the clearest example of why it is completely absurd and heinous to compare Israel to that regime. The only entity in this conflict that does - as a policy and ethos – want to wipe the other from their region simply because of who they are – is Hamas and extremist terrorists. Meanwhile, any settlers or hardline Israelis who call for Palestinians to be removed from the West Bank mainly do so out of fear of violence against their families and community. They fear an October 7th.
And should you choose to claim that Hamas only acts because of their fear of Israeli “actions” this is where the moral clarity and difference lies. Israelis and global Jewry - in force and numbers - disagree with these extreme positions about Palestinians. We do so loudly and proudly and that is lost on the rest of the world. Even after October 7th. And without questions, any Israeli and Jew would have no problem – as a society and government – if Palestinian extremists laid down their arms. And this is not rhetoric. This is proven by the thousands of Arab Israeli citizens who live side by side with Israelis in imperfect but workable tolerance. And this tolerance could shift closer to harmony should Hamas be eliminated from the picture. We do not hear the same condemnations loudly and proudly from the wider Arab and anti-Israel world. In fact, just days after October 7th, the heinous acts were placed into a “context of resistance” by many on the left. Without saying it – blaming Israel for the way those actions were carried out.
Let us also flip this paradigm. What is the argument against the Jewish state from Hamas – and many of the global protesters? It is that we are there. The false narrative of stolen land has spread beyond containment. It is now their truth. And we all know it is a lie. Yes, many Palestinians were displaced during the war. But that is not the refrain in policy or antisemitic rhetoric worldwide. The lie is that there was a Palestinian nation stolen by white Europeans. The truth is that the land that has been home for centuries to dark-skinned Jews was asked for as a nation for Jews, primarily by their lighter skin cousins exiled for centuries to other places. But make no mistake, both groups – dark and light – have always longed for their return to their ancestral homeland and joined together to ask to SHARE this land with the other populations who were there – acknowledging the complexity of their ask. There was no theft. And those other populations, aside from groups like the Druze and the Baha’i – were having none of it. And declared the war that has been going on ever since.
Many of my Palestinian friends and colleagues who work in “Shared Society” programs channel the morality of that first ask to share the land. But their voices are marginalized, not covered in the press, and not lifted up by so-called Palestinian rights groups. The Jewish people as a whole have always recognized the need for Arab or Palestinian self-government – be that a formal nation or region. And even now. Even after October 7th, that is what many believe is the only possible future.
But what we also see is that the only counter argument seems to be - October 7th. Complete eradication. It is what even the most progressive Jews had always feared could happen if the conflict was not resolved. It is what every arm of the government for decades has been aware of in its general planning, and it is the reason behind every security decision. What we wonder is why the world didn’t see that before October 7th and why they still don’t.
- When protesters claim that checkpoints are an unnecessary slight to Palestinians and a violation of their civil rights, the Israeli response has always been that they are preventing … October 7th.
- When critics of Israel condemn them for still trying to contain Gaza in some way – even as they hope Gaza can move on from their insistence on eradicating Israel and simply – live. We reply that we are doing that to prevent … October 7th.
- When Jews and Israelis ask– “Don’t you know?” Or “Don’t you get it?” When we speak of how Hamas is constantly building tunnels right after the IDF demolishes them. When we say Iran is funneling money and arms into Gaza despite all the actions Israel takes to prevent it. When rockets still come repeatedly into Southern Israel to destroy homes, kill Jews and Bedouins alike – and no one really cares. We asked, what are you waiting for? An October 7th?
So now, after October 7th, how can ANYONE doubt why those restrictions are NEEDED?
So now, after October 7th, how can anyone claim that “Palestine Will be Free, From the River to the Sea” is not just a call for the “aspiration rights” as a prominent Israel critic recently claimed - but is an actual call to rid the region of these people because you don’t think they belong there? Not because of what they have done – but simply because of who they are and where they are. It really is as simple as that. These Echoes of Kristallnacht permeate our psyche and are evoked by the calls for justifying an immoral resistance that TARGETS babies and mothers as opposed to efforts to avoid such carnage.
So what is to be done? Well let’s also be clear that no one expects Hamas and Hezbollah to magically disappear. In fact, their strategy is perfect. They want to wait as long as it takes to rid the region of Israel. They are not fighting for two states. They are not even fighting to defend or retaliate against any Israeli aggression. Were that true they would know that as long as they are not planning another October 7th, the IDF has no reason to arrest, detain, or seek intelligence on such activities. But all they want is for this to go on as long as it can. They attack, Israel attacks, and they get more global support and more support to stay in power. And they have infected the Israel society with that same disease. The liberal peace movement in Israel has not been decimated by a new political philosophy. It is only in reaction to the rise of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. And the fear of – an October 7th.
The only answer is clear. Support of shared society movements. Constraint of access to weapons coming into Gaza. And a shift in global opinion which understands the problem is NOT funding of Israel or support of Israel, but the confluence of the Palestinian rights movement with the Palestinian replacement movement at the core of the Hamas ethos. Palestinian rights are vital and need to be expanded. Palestinian lives do matter, and we need to make sure there is no need to mount a counterattack against Gaza ever again. But the loss of Jewish life has not seemed to matter, and our right to have a homeland we agreed from the beginning should be shared does not seem to be respected in more quarters than ever.
Do I think these answers will be seen by enough people as “the” answer? No. But we will not back away from putting forward the case for Israel and the better case for a shared Palestinian and Israeli future. One better than the plan Hamas shared with the world on October 7th.