Ferguson and Gaza: Let's Tell the Truth

Recently, Rabbi Menachem Creditor published an article entitled, "Ferguson Is Not Gaza."

It's easy to agree with that statement. While politically expedient and a good rallying call for action of various sorts, to declare a clean equivalence between the two is in many ways misleading. On the other hand, dismissing any possibility that the two historical events do not share certain elements requires more of an intellectual effort than Creditor exerts.

Creditor's assertion is vouchsafed by one argument and one argument alone, embedded in this key passage:

One dare not compare the suffering of Gazans with African Americans, lest we forget that, through self-determination, the Palestinian residents of Gaza elected Hamas, a murderous group bent on Israel's destruction, as their leaders ...

To compare the plight of the Palestinians, whose leaders in Gaza have robbed them of dignity, with African Americans, whose leaders are channeling deep and righteous historic indignation into constructive demands for dignity and liberation is worse than wrong -- it is an insult. Furthermore, it ignores the moral responsibility of Hamas for subjugating 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza to their murderous mission.

Three things come to mind as one reads this. First, the simple declaration that one should not "dare" compare anything is disingenuous. One can and should "dare" to compare anything one wishes. This is called free speech. Of course, that does not mean one is right. It means one has issued an opinion. A moral and ethical responsibility then follows to enter into a rational conversation about that assertion. Creditor does not. This brings me to point two.

On the one hand he says that "through self-determination, the Palestinian residents of Gaza elected Hamas... as their leaders." But then he calls forth "the moral responsibility of Hamas for subjugating 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza to their murderous mission." So which is it -- did Palestinians freely elect Hamas or were they "subjugated" to do so?

To get out of this contradiction, one could perhaps say what is intended is the argument that the Palestinians did not know what they were voting for when they voted for Hamas, a group who, once elected, embarked upon an unforeseeable rampage. This leads to my third point.

What is conspicuously missing in Creditor's piece is any report on Israel's responsibility for the massive, morally reprehensible and blatantly illegal disproportionate death count in Gaza -- over two thousand Palestinians killed, the vast majority of them civilians and of those more than 500 innocent children. It is precisely this fact that Creditor seems to have "forgotten."

Hamas did not simply decide to start launching rockets, most of which were barely serviceable and had nothing vaguely resembling the effect of the Israeli armed force's attacks on schools, hospitals, private residences and even UN shelters. After the start of the Israeli assault, predicated by the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths, Hamas held back its fire until the scale and nature of the Israeli offensive was made manifest, and some self-defensive action was more than warranted. We should recall that the Israeli attack was ramped up by public outcry over the killings, and that the Israeli government chose to keep the deaths secret even though that fact was known almost immediately, thereby increasing public support for a vastly disproportionate attack on Gaza. Only by omitting these facts can Creditor make his case. I am not in any way neglecting the fact that Hamas's attack was violent and aimed to destroy, but without a full account of the actual context of these horrific events, it is all too easy to paint the picture Creditor does. Easy, but dishonest.

Let me end by getting back to the Ferguson-Gaza analogy. Here too Creditor omits critical facts. His praise for black civil rights is couched in terms of them "channeling deep and righteous historic indignation into constructive demands for dignity and liberation." That is the vision available to Creditor in hindsight. It completely ignores the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr., was branded a terrorist, was thoroughly harassed and investigated by the FBI, and that, far from being seen as "constructive," black civil rights leaders were targeted for assassination because they were seen to be violently disrupting the virulently racist status quo. Their demands far exceeded "dignity" and "liberation." They included actual changes to the political and legal systems, and to a still-existing system of de facto segregation and oppression. In this way, and others, the cases of Ferguson and Gaza are not so far apart.

In an article in Salon, "Ferguson and Gaza: How they are and are not similar," I spend some time unpacking, with documentation from several sources, how the two share certain similarities, while remaining distinct in other ways. I would suggest to anyone interested in this subject that they refer to that piece, along with several by other authors, as they form their judgments.