As fighting flares in the Middle East, many in the American media establishment and commentariat have adopted the familiar crouch position known as “equivalency.” The New York Times, for example, faithfully includes both sides’ latest casualty figures, and carefully juxtaposes photos of bombing damage in Gaza with rocket damage in Israel — as if efforts to kill civilians are equivalent to retaliatory efforts to prevent the killing of those civilians.
In that same newspaper, Hamas terrorists are never called “terrorists” because that would undermine the equivalency narrative. Instead, the terrorists are called “militants” –to distinguish them, one supposes, from the imaginary Hamas “moderates.”
The problem with equivalency is not that it adds extraneous information to the mix. Arab lives do matter. Destruction in Gaza is newsworthy. It is proper to report on those subjects.
Rather, the problem with equivalency is that it doesn’t report enough information. It provides no perspective. It doesn’t tell the reader anything about the actors, other than their respective suffering. It would be acceptable for media outlets to present both sides’ casualty figures, and both sides’ property damage — IF those outlets also presented both sides’ values, motives, and aims.
But they do not.
Fortunately, that information is readily available. One need not guess or argue about it because it is there, in the parties’ own words.
What are the two sides’ positions on the peace process?
“Our door is open to renewing negotiations and I urge the Palestinians to step through this door with no preconditions,” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in November 2020. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz echoed the sentiment: “I, once again, call upon the Palestinian leadership to get back to the negotiating table, which is both a primary Israeli security interest and the most promising route to a more stable and prosperous future for our region.”
This Israeli attitude is not new. One finds the same commitment to peaceful co-existence between Arabs and Jews in the very foundation of the Jewish state. The May 14, 1948 Declaration of the State of Israel proclaims:
WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
Now, in our search for equivalency, what is the Hamas position on the peace process? The Hamas Covenant of August 18, 1988, the organization’s founding document, asserts a different, and not exactly “equivalent” approach to the one articulated in the Declaration of the State of Israel.
The Covenant declares: “The day that enemies usurp part of Moslem land, Jihad becomes the individual duty of every Moslem. In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised,” states Article 7 of the Covenant.” Article 32 elaborates: “Arab and Islamic Peoples should augment by further steps on their part; Islamic groupings all over the Arab world should also do the same, since all of these are the best-equipped for the future role in the fight with the warmongering Jews.”
The references to “Jews” rather than to “Israelis” or “Zionists” is not accidental. The Hamas Covenant is openly, viciously anti-Semitic. And just as Israel’s founding Declaration has set the tone for decades of subsequent Israeli governments, the Hamas Covenant has set the tone for that organization’s future pronouncements. “Removing the Jews from the land they occupied in 1948 is an immutable principle because it appears in the Book of Allah,” declared Mahmout Zahar, Hamas co-founder, in March 2017.
The Hamas commitment to ridding the land of Jews is so fervid, it even supersedes the organization’s unenlightened attitude toward women’s rights:
“If the enemy sets foot on a single square inch of Islamic land, Jihad becomes an individual duty, incumbent on every Muslim, male or female,” stated Sheik Ahmad Bahr, a top Hamas official and the Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. “A woman may set out [on Jihad] without her husband’s permission…. Why? In order to annihilate those Jews. Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, destroy the Americans and their supporters. Oh Allah, count them one by one, and kill them all, without leaving a single one.”
What are the two sides’ positions on respect for other religions? Not surprisingly, the search for equivalency turns out to be a fool’s errand.
Israel’s founding Declaration states:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL … will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was true to this commitment when he set out this position for worship at the Temple Mount: “Those who visit or worship on the Temple Mount must be allowed to do so in peace, free from violence, from threats, from intimidation and from provocations. We will continue to ensure access to the Temple Mount for peaceful worshipers and visitors, while maintaining public order and security. Recognizing the importance of the Temple Mount to peoples of all three monotheistic faiths – Jews, Muslims and Christians: Israel re-affirms its commitment to upholding unchanged the status quo of the Temple Mount, in word and in practice.”
Hamas views relations between religions differently. The Introduction to its founding Covenant states:
“Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realised.”
How long should this war against the Jews continue? The Hamas Covenant provides this grisly answer:
“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
What are the two sides’ positions on condemning the current violence between Jews and Arabs in Israel? The supposed “hard-line” Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu recently told a Jewish audience: “I don’t care if your blood is boiling. So it’s boiling. It’s irrelevant. You can’t take the law into your own hands. You can’t come to an Arab civilian and try to lynch him, just as we can’t see Arab citizens do so to Jewish citizens. This will not stand.”
Not surprisingly, on the topic of inter-religious violence, Hamas begs to differ.
“People of Jerusalem. We want you to cut off the heads of the Jews with knives,” advised Fathi Hamad, the Hamas Interior Minster a few days ago. “With your hand, cut their artery from here. A knife costs five shekels. Buy a knife, sharpen it, put it there, and just cut off [their heads]. It costs just five shekels.”
Urging Muslims to kill Jews is not some novel position, borne out of the current state of high emotions. Nor is it limited to the Jews residing in Israel. It applies to all Jews everywhere, and it has been official Hamas policy for years. In July 2019, Interior Minister Hamad declared: “Seven million Palestinians outside, enough warming up, you have Jews with you in every place. You should attack every Jew possible in all the world and kill them.”
Late night comic Trevor Noah (a man with a disturbing history of anti-Semitic tweets) encapsulated the equivalency phenomenon by his attempt to compare the Hamas attacks on Israeli population centers, and the Israeli response, to a fight between brothers. “If you are in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?” he asked, referring to the time when his younger brothers would try to pick a fight with him as a teenager.
Let’s get this straight. So calls by Hamas to find every Jew “hiding behind stones and trees and kill him,” to “annihilate the Jews and their supporters,” to “attack every Jew possible in the world and kill them,” to “cut off the heads of Jews with knives,” are all just the harmless taunts of a pesky, powerless younger brother.
Perhaps some people in the entertainment industry will find Noah’s riff funny. If there are such people, they would be the same keen observers who find equivalency between those who wish to kill and those who wish not to die.