The Cost of Kindness to the Cruel in Gaza

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The most important of my mother’s Yiddish sayings was: “A rakhman oyf gazlonim iz a gazlen oyf rakhmonim.” It roughly translates to “kindness to the cruel is cruelty to the kind.”

Gazlen ranges from an armed robber to a murderer, while rakhman is someone compassionate and merciful. This form of inversion reveals how bad outcomes can flow from good intentions. Living as I do among Jews and academics, I know we need reminding that the liberal who shows compassion to evildoers ends up doing evil to the merciful and good.

Hamas’s leader, Yahya Sinwar, spent 22 years in Israeli prisons for planning the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers and the murder of four Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. He avowed to having strangled at least one of them bare-handed. While in prison he was diagnosed with and treated for a brain tumor. He was released in the 2011 exchange of 1,027 Palestinian criminals for one Israeli hostage.

After Oct. 7, the former prison dentist whose diagnosis saved Mr. Sinwar’s life, and whose nephew Hamas had murdered, told German media that, having gotten to know Mr. Sinwar as a patient, he had opposed his release. “I know how cruel he is.” Israelis knew that many of the convicted terrorists they free in hostage exchanges leave with an understanding of their captors’ vulnerabilities and re-engage in terrorism. Many of the Israelis slaughtered on Oct. 7 had welcomed Gazans into their communities and homes.

Reluctance to impose the death penalty, belief in saving life at any cost, and a political culture of accommodation have made Jews the most liberal and most easily targeted people in the Middle East. The more Israel has tried to encourage Palestinian self-governance, including by withdrawing from Gaza in 2005, the more Palestinian leaders have fomented violence, culminating in Hamas’s cruelties.

When a peace-loving civilization indulges its would-be destroyers, it creates a moral imbalance that must end in its own destruction. Israel is learning at too high a cost that the hardest part of protecting liberal democracy is stopping the wicked before they massacre the pure and the good.

Feeling no comparable urgency, the U.S. moves in the opposite direction. Apart from Sept. 11, recent assaults on America haven’t come from abroad but from an expanding coalition of homegrown grievance groups that define their opportunity as inequity, civil rights as racism, and democracy as oppression. Sponsored partially by foreign interests, these groups claiming victimhood at the hands of an unjust America have coalesced behind protesters claiming victimhood at the hands of Israel.

Since the 1970s, attacks on America packaged in anti-Zionism have come through the universities. For two centuries, from fascism in Germany to Islamism in Iran, the war against liberal democracy has been waged through wars against the Jews. Israel most resembles the U.S. in its foundational values and entrepreneurial grit, making it America’s useful proxy target, like the movie stand-in for the leading man until it’s time for his scene to be shot. Behind every “death to Israel” comes the threat to America.

These aren’t the 1930s, when fascists came to America to rave against Jews before anyone could foresee what atrocities lay ahead. Today’s students and academic inciters call for the destruction of Israel after the advertised horrors because they approve the cause and admire those ready to kill for it. No one at an elite university may claim ignorance of the atrocities that made it necessary for Israelis to eliminate Hamas.

In claiming the right to free speech, protesters are responsible for the aggression they endorse, which includes murder, rape and beheading in the service of obliterating the only gateway to democracy in the region. Faculty members and administrators who fail to prosecute those who have broken the law by harassing Jewish students are accomplices to this evil, like Martin Heidegger in his time.

Terrorists rigged the civilian population of Gaza as a massive booby trap that Israelis would have to explode in trying to rescue their hostages and neutralize the perpetrators. Mr. Sinwar boasted that Palestinians are “necessary sacrifices” to keep the West blaming Israel for his barbarity, and many oblige him. Protesters outside the White House last week cheered the mass slaughter of Jews, chanting, among other things: “Hezbollah, Hezbollah, kill another Zionist now.”

My mother’s dictum traces its lineage to the Talmud, in which Rabbi Elazar comments on Saul’s decision in the Book of Samuel to spare the king of Amalek, the Jewish archetype of pure evil. We’ll now see if Washington can learn from that wisdom, not always acted on, to confront those who seek dominion not only from the Jordan to the Mediterranean but from America’s sea to shining sea.

Ruth R. Wisse is a senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund and author of the memoir “Free as a Jew.”

The Cost of Kindness to the Cruel in Gaza

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