On this week’s episode of Lever Time, David Sirota is joined by Matt Duss and Daniel Bessner, former foreign policy advisors to Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.), to discuss the deadly conflict unfolding in Israel-Palestine.
Below, we are publishing Sirota’s introduction to that podcast in full, because it speaks to remembering what’s important in this time of anger and bloodshed:
Let me start with an admission: I don’t personally enjoy talking about the Israel-Palestine issue, and I certainly cannot stand the culture of hot takes that surrounds the entire conflict. I don’t like it because it’s painful for me and my family, as Jews. There. I said it. Yes, me and my family are Jewish.
For those of you who have followed my work over the last 25 years, you’ll notice I almost never write or talk publicly about my religion or Israel. That’s because my Judaism is my personal internal creed, and not some part of a public brand or persona. But in light of all the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine over the last few days, I’m going to break that tradition.
If you sense that I have a lot of angst over all of this, you’re right. In a world where we are not allowed to admit our vulnerabilities, I’m being vulnerable with you by admitting that yes, this issue is deeply difficult and painful for me. So I’m asking you to actually hear what I’m saying. You don’t have to agree with all of it, but I’m asking you to really listen and accept this as someone genuinely struggling with how to process all of this.
My family has experienced its share of antisemitism, including our ancestors who fled the horrors of Eastern Europe in the early 20th century. My family has experienced it in the here and now too — as a radio host and journalist, I get periodic antisemitic hate mail and threats. When I was on radio here in Denver, every day of those five years on the air I walked by a photo of the previous host Alan Berg, who was literally gunned down by Nazis in our city.
Sign up for The Lever
A reader-supported news organization holding power accountable.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.
In light of that, the images of Hamas terrorism deliberately targeted at innocent Jewish civilians evoked for me all of the horrible history of my ancestors being terrorized across generations — targeted because of their identity, culture, heritage, and religion. So the very first thing I want to say here is that Hamas’s terrorism is completely unacceptable. There should be no “but” or justifying qualification on that statement. It’s unacceptable, period, full stop.
Through much of my childhood and early adulthood, Israel was supposed to be a stronghold against that violence and for a better future. It was seen as a beacon of democracy — and specifically left-labor social democracy — in a region of autocrats and dictators. (I think people forget that Israel had labor governments for a very long time.) It also stood as the only haven on Earth from the antisemitism that has raged across this planet for a thousand years.
Unfortunately, since that time, Israel has radically changed in ways that have broken my heart and the hearts of so many Jews there and across the world.
The Israel of today is governed by a far-right regime that has decided upon militarism and occupation rather than peace and some kind of two-state solution. And that far-right vision has all too often been normalized by the American media and political establishment.
The long history of persecution against the Jewish people, plus the hostile nature of the surrounding Middle East, has been the longtime rationale for Israel being a heavily armed and fortified country that zealously defends its internal security and external borders with a powerful military. But this Israeli regime has used that military power in inhumane and indefensible ways that dishonor the Jewish-based principles it purports to stand for.
We’re now watching the U.S.-armed Israeli army go way beyond defending Israeli citizens and territory, and to now mass bombing 2 million people in Gaza, half of whom are children. This country formed in direct response to the violence of the Holocaust is now committing war crimes. That’s totally unacceptable, and nobody should be silent as that happens.
Help Us Do More Stories Like This
We're building a reader-supported investigative news outlet that holds accountable the people and corporations manipulating the levers of power. Can you spare a few dollars to help?
The murder of Palestinian civilians is just as unacceptable as the murder of Jewish civilians — and yet somehow, that basic statement of universal values is now considered outrageous or taboo in a political discourse that has been deliberately manipulated and polarized into yet another “you’re with us or against” us binary.
I reject that binary because it is fundamentally manipulative. Partisans on both sides want us all polarized rather than unified in defense of ALL human lives, and the right of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security.
At this dark moment, I have a few requests of you. I want you to listen to all of them — don’t stop listening just because you feel uncomfortable. And let me be clear: The following points are not in order of importance.
First request: Acknowledge that antisemitism is real in parts of both the right and left, and try to combat it where you can. Right-wing antisemitism is obvious — it’s white supremacy and Nazism. Antisemitism on the left is different — it can be cloaked in the language of social justice.
But try to understand that when left-affiliated groups seem to celebrate this week’s Hamas attacks or imply that all Jews support the actions of the state of Israel, that is painful and destructive. I think the modern iteration of this form of antisemitism comes from the old antisemitic idea that Jews are a powerful world-controlling cabal and thus the hatred of — and murder of — Jews is supposedly more morally justifiable in a social justice frame, especially in the context of the Israeli government’s immoral occupation.
But here’s the thing: There’s nothing righteous or “social justice”-ish about hating Jews and supporting those who murder them. That’s antisemitism.
Second request: Please acknowledge that the Israeli government is run by right-wing extremists whose occupation is inhumane. The Netanyahu government’s actions in Gaza right now might not be called “terrorism” by the media and other world leaders, but they are obviously inhumane and likely war crimes. Those who mindlessly cheer on Netanyahu are sowing the kind of xenophobia and Islamophobia that should have no place in this world. And sorry, if you’re Jewish and listening to this and ready to accuse me of somehow being disloyal or a self-hating Jew by saying these obvious truths, that Jedi mind trick doesn’t work on me. Take that nonsense somewhere else.
Third request: If you are cheering on Hamas’ murder of Jews, or cheering on the Israeli government’s murder of Palestinians, then please go to LeverNews.com right now and unsubscribe from The Lever. I don’t want you as a subscriber. I want a readership and listenership that values humanity and human life.
Fourth request: Before you tweet, post on Facebook, or do anything impulsively in this debate, take a moment and ask yourself whether you are insensitively using the massacre of innocent people on both sides just to channel your priors and play politics. Because if that’s what you are doing, that’s not helpful — it’s part of why we are in this crisis.
We have dehumanized this conflict — and so many other conflicts — into just another tribal political battle where we pretend the issues are so simple. But I’m sorry — they are not.
That gets to my final request: Stop pretending this is easy, simple, or binary. One side says this is only about terrorism and security. The other side says this is only about occupation and oppression. But the Israel-Palestine conflict involves all of those things and more — occupation, oppression, militarism, identity, culture, religion, political ideology, security, antisemitism, Islamophobia, and more.
In a society that always wants things reduced to simplicity, this IS incredibly complex. If we’re ever going to forge a real solution here, it is going to require us all to grow up, appreciate that complexity, and then behave not just like adults, but like actual human beings.
I know that’s asking for a lot — neither Hamas nor many Israeli government leaders are acting with any humanity at all. But we all have to start thinking like human beings, and take time to really try to understand what’s actually going on, and feel the pain, horror and anguish on both sides of this disaster.
That’s not the “both sides” trope we’ve all gotten used to in American politics. It’s not an attempt at false equivalency. There are very real villains in this conflict, and there is no justification for the atrocities we’ve seen.
What we need to internalize is that there are victims on ALL sides of this crisis. The people being killed and injured are all human beings. They are referred to in the media as Israelis and Palestinians, but they are all people, like you and me.
In this dark hour, we need to recommit ourselves to tuning out all the propaganda trying to further dehumanize this conflict. We need to really try to unpack the roots of what’s going on. So let’s do that.
A transcript of this entire episode is available here.
To get access to Lever Premium Podcasts, click here.
If you like this episode, feel free to pitch into the tip jar — it helps us do this kind of reporting:
We hope you enjoy our weekly podcast — it’s the next step in our plan to build a powerful independent voice to take on corporate media.