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Muslim and Jewish Voices Push Back Against Their Own Side: A Roundup
Right now, they are in the minority, but they offer hope for the future
The already tragic war between Hamas and Israel continues to get worse. In the wake of multiple acts of terrorism by Hamas, Israel has declared an all-out war on the militant group with deadly consequences for civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire. Just earlier today, an explosion at a Gaza hospital left hundreds dead—and both sides are laying the blame at each other’s door. There are intense emotions on each side that has led to finger-pointing, name-calling and a thirst for revenge. In all of this, there are voices willing to look at the conflict not just from their own standpoint but also the other’s—acknowledge the other side’s pain even while processing their own. Amidst reflexive tribalism, there are Muslims who are condemning Hamas’s horrific acts against innocent Jewish civilians. And there are many Jews who aren’t unquestioningly lining up behind the tough counter-offensive that the Israeli state is mounting in Gaza. They are expressing deep concern about the loss of Palestinian lives and condemning disproportionate measures in the name of fighting terrorism.
These voices are admittedly minorities in their respective communities. But that is precisely why they need to be amplified.
Below is a small sampling.
Muslim Voices Speaking Out Against Hamas
Among the most prominent Muslim figures to take a stand against Hamas is US Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat from Minnesota. A much-reviled figure on the right partly because she’s a vocal critic of Israel and a sympathizer of Palestinian statehood, she issued this statement soon after the attack that ought to give her detractors some pause in the future:
I condemn the horrific acts we are seeing unfold today in Israel against children, women, the elderly, and the unarmed people who are being slaughtered and taken hostage by Hamas. Such senseless violence will only repeat the back and forth cycle we've seen, which we cannot allow to continue. We need to call for deescalation and ceasefire. I will keep advocating for peace and justice throughout the Middle East.
Echoing her sentiment, the American Muslim & Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council organized an interfaith vigil at the White House for victims of Hamas. Anila Ali, the outfit’s president, wrote on X (formerly Twitter):
We, especially as Muslims, should know the difference between terrorists and followers of Prophet Muhammad pbuh (peace be upon him) who was a blessing to mankind. He would not approve of the butchering, burning of babies, unprovoked, by those who use Allah’s name to kill.
Ali is also one of the most prominent signatories of the “Not In Our Name” campaign by “Muslims of moral conscience” who are “horrified at the massacre of Jews and other civilians.” Ali and her fellow Muslim signatories “categorically reject this unauthorized attempt to hijack our Muslim identity to justify barbarism.”
Policy analyst Hussain Abdul-Hussain went even further and didn’t just condemn Hamas but also told his fellow Arabs that nothing that Israel had done could justify Hamas’s brutality:
Dear fellow Arabs: There is no amount of injustice that has befallen us or Palestinians, past or present, that justifies Hamas randomly and cold bloodedly killing Israel party goers, families in their houses, people going around minding their own business. ‘No soul burdened with sin will bear the burden of another,’ Quran 18:1. Please stop digging yourselves into deeper ethical holes by trying to justify, contextualize, or explain this crime. Instead, denounce it outright. Ethics101.
In a similar vein, commentator and policy analyst Shadi Hamid wrote:
The idea that members of marginalized groups have no moral agency or responsibility is an especially pernicious idea that goes against the founding doctrines of Islam. Some student groups have blamed Hamas’s massacre of Israeli civilians entirely on Israel. This is absurd on its face and presumes that Hamas has no moral agency. When you do terrible things, you can't just blame your oppressor and be done with it.
The problem with Hamas wasn't that they were a religious movement. It's that they openly and enthusiastically engaged in terrorist acts against civilians.
Likewise, activist Zainab Khan argues in the Wall Street Journal that Muslim Americans need to end their equivocation and forcefully condemn Hamas:
A few things led Muslims to fail in this critical moment. The first was an irrational ideological fixation on Zionism, which has no effect on most Muslims. The second was an activist-fueled dehumanization of Israelis.
Americans are horrified by Hamas and see many Muslims respond either by saying nothing or by blaming Jews for the rape, beheading and kidnapping of their people. In a single weekend, extremists have taken our identity hostage, tarnished our reputations and endangered our families. …
Even more remarkably, she issued a heartfelt apology to the Jewish community:
To my Jewish friends, I am sorry. My organization remains committed to protecting you and your heritage—without compromise. To my fellow Muslims, we bear the cost of remaining silent. It will take years to restore our good name. It’s time to get to work to build peace.
Jewish Figures Speaking Out Against Israeli Aggression
Among the most moving statements came from Yaakov Argamani, father of Noa Argamani, the young girl whose video of being hauled away by Hamas militants has gone viral across the world. He went on national TV and pleaded for her release. But he didn’t stop there. Despite being in a state of deep anguish, Yaakov still acknowledged the plight of Palestinians in Gaza: “Gaza has casualties … mothers who cry,” he noted. “Let's use this emotion, we are two nations from one father, let's make peace, a real peace.”
Likewise, writing in Haaretz, a center-left newspaper in Israel, theologian Rabbi Arthur Green called out the extremists in the country perpetuating the ever-more-horrific cycle of violence:
Wholescale [sic] slaughter of civilians there serves no purpose other than that of prolonging and deepening the conflict. Israeli far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir may want precisely that, but we must not give it to them. Hopefully Israel’s hesitation before going into Gaza is giving time for some real thinking about the long-term effect of these actions. If matters seem to get out of hand there, Jewish leaders, both in Israel and the diaspora, should not hesitate to speak out. …
I ask you to join me in calling upon the Israeli government to rescind the blockade of Gaza when it comes to food and water. Our tradition tells us that eyn bodkin li-mezonot; when it comes to feeding the hungry, we do not ask who is a worthy recipient. Let us not be seen as a people seeking to starve our enemy into submission.
In a similar vein, commentator Eitay Mack acknowledged that Israel needs to “topple Hamas’s genocidal regime, but not by killing countless Palestinian civilians.” In fact, he cautioned that an overly aggressive Israeli response could spin out of control. He noted in Haaretz:
Just allowing Israel to topple Hamas and along the way kill countless civilians is not a solution. In fact, it may only realize the desire of Hamas and Iran to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a conflict between two nations into a regional and even global religious war.
Meanwhile, across the pond in the United States, many prominent Jewish commentators are striking cautionary notes:
Zack Beauchamp argued in Vox that a strategy built on ignoring the human cost on the other side in this conflict cannot succeed:
I do not pretend to know exactly what the right choice is for Israel going forward. But I know that if the Israeli Defense Forces do slaughter civilians indiscriminately, the Israeli government will be committing abuses on moral par with those of Hamas.
I also know that justice for Israelis and Palestinians cannot be found through a mode of thinking that says only one kind of life is holy. ….
Only by grounding our vision in universal humanity, the idea that every life is sacred and all people deserve our respect, can we ever figure out a way to break the cycle of violence dragging Israelis and Palestinians into hell.
And, last but not the least, Emily Tamkin, a contributing writer to The UnPopulist, in a poignant piece at Slate asked what precisely does it mean for Jews to stand with Israel?
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel; everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.” There are 2 million people in Gaza. Half of them are children. Does standing with Israel mean standing with the choice to deprive the people living in Gaza, who cannot leave Gaza, of electricity and food? As I write this, Israel’s response operations have killed at least 830 people and injured another 4,250. According to Defense for Children Palestine, that number includes at least 33 children; the Gaza Ministry of Health put the number of children killed by the strikes at 91. Are people being called on to stand with that?
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who was arrested in 2005 on suspicion of organizing violent nationalist activity and is a booster of West Bank settlements and an opponent of Palestinian statehood, said, the evening of the attack, “We have to be cruel now and not consider the captives overmuch.” If it turns out that that informs government policy—if the Israeli government pursues maximum cruelty on Palestinians at the expense of Israeli hostages’ lives and the tenets of international law—is supporting such a policy a prerequisite for standing with Israel? Will Americans, Jewish and not, now say that to stand with Israel is to support and defend being cruel?
It is encouraging to see these dissenting voices in the sea of growing militancy on both sides. A majority in the Muslim community have skipped forward to defending the Palestinian cause without pausing to condemn Hamas’s genocidal agenda and rejecting its tactics. Meanwhile, far too many on the Jewish side unapologetically support Israel’s draconian methods in the West Bank and Gaza, even when they conflict with the principles of morality or international law.
That there are minority voices on both sides pushing back against their own camp’s excesses and pleading for sanity and humanity—risking possible blowback—offers a ray of hope at a terrible time.
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