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Victim shaming in vacuum of condemnation



In the battle for public opinion, us Jews do so much better when we are dead or dying, slaughtered, mutilated, beheaded, kidnapped, and humiliated. So, with such grievous losses on 7 October, Israelis and Jews had a brief moment of international sympathy.

Condemnation of the brutality and inhumane treatment of Israelis at the hands of Hamas poured in from all over the world. There was virtually nobody in public life on earth who didn’t express sympathy with the Jews, condemnation of Hamas, and solidarity with young people slaughtered at a peace festival, and convey their abhorrence of civilians being butchered in their beds, and babies burned alive.

Actually, that’s nonsense. There were plenty who didn’t say a word of condemnation. Top of that list would be the appalling scene of the president of the African National Congress (ANC) and the top body of the party donning Arab regalia and holding Palestinian flags in a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians.

The unspoken message was, You people – Israelis, Jews, Zionists – have brought this attack on yourselves because of the way you have behaved. Talk about victim shaming and gaslighting! If the president of the ANC and South Africa had been even-handed and had condemned both sides for attacking civilians, I could have easily lived with that. More than lived with that – I would affirm and embrace that formulation. But it was not to be. One side had to be castigated and blamed. And that was us.

Lots of other groups and sectors in this country haven’t said a word of condemnation about Israel’s grievous loss of civilian life. I won’t write a list of those who are silent, but think about it yourself – where are our civic and religious leaders at a time like this?

They are absent, and will probably remain absent until there are sufficient civilian casualties in Gaza to allow them to make statements condemning Israel, with a nod to even-handedness thrown in for good measure.

Zapiro, the brilliant cartoonist, was at a loss in the first week after the massacre, showing a blank canvas with a cartoonist’s supposed dilemma of who to condemn. I could live with the supposed even-handedness of not taking a stand. But by 20 October, Zapiro had found a villain – the prime minister of Israel appears in the cartoon, flying a warplane emblazed with a Star of David, dropping a Star of David decorated bomb on Gaza civilians with a maniacal smirk on his face. Oh, and if you’re wondering where and when the cartoon appeared with an ironic depiction of Hamas atrocities against Jews – it didn’t!

One of the most jarring things for me was reading the article on 22 October by the deputy editor of the Sunday Times, Makhudu Sefara, who wrote an article castigating Israel. The content was pretty standard stuff: overwhelmingly anti-Israel, victim blaming and shaming. But there was this nugget of even-handedness:

“The killing of Israeli civilians was brutal, unnecessary, and is deserving of all the condemnation it has received. The perpetrators should be found and made to face consequences for their actions.”

It’s a sentiment we can all agree with. But how exactly does he suggest that “the perpetrators should be found and made to face consequences”? Who will find them? Who will make them “face consequences”? The words are so gratuitously vacuous, that one can merely shake one’s head in disbelief.

As to the endless bleating of those virtue signallers who keep reminding Israel and all of us that they are against Israel incurring civilian casualties in Gaza, do they imagine that we need their pious reminders? Do they think that there’s anyone significant in Israel’s defence establishment who doesn’t want exactly the same thing: a way to stop the missiles and secure the release of more than 200 hostages, while at the same time doing everything possible not to injure non-combatants? We all want precisely that.

Israel isn’t vaguely the country that some depict it to be: bloodthirsty and keen to cause Palestinian civilian deaths. That’s for two reasons. One is that it’s a dastardly and immoral thing to do – to kill or hurt non-combatants. But second, it’s not in Israel’s strategic self-interest. It inevitably brings bad public opinion.

The depiction of Israel as bloodthirsty is actually a racist trope. People are people, and most sane people in the world abhor violence and oppression. The idea that one nation or ethnic group loves violence and delights in civilian casualties is as unthinking as it’s racist. Israelis and Palestinians are not inherently evil, violent, or warlike. Violent people on both sides are the reprehensible ones. We should condemn warlike people, not entire nations and ethnic groups.

So here we are, Israelis were slaughtered on 7 October, and then Israelis are repeatedly condemned for causing their own slaughter and then further condemned for attempting to defend themselves. For many Jews in South Africa, it’s totally perplexing.

  • Gilad Stern is a management consultant and a mountaineer. He lives in Cape Town.

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