Mar 8, 2024

Your responses to 'The Zionist case for a ceasefire.'

Sharing your criticism, and responding to it.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

Every now and again, we publish something that draws such a big response we decide to revisit it shortly afterwards. Last week's newsletter titled "The Zionist case for a ceasefire" is one of those pieces.

This article set a new record for comments on our website and immediately overwhelmed my inbox. It’s now a week later, and I've personally gone through and read every single response. I've replied to a few, but not nearly as many as I'd like to. If you wrote in and didn't hear back from me, please just know that I read it, I appreciate you writing in (even if you were critical), and I'm very grateful that so many of you took the time to offer your thoughts in such a constructive way.

Whenever we publish a reader feedback edition like this, I want to be clear about my goal: I am not sharing this feedback in order to argue with it or prove it wrong.

I'm sharing it because the mission of Tangle is to expose our audience to a wide range of perspectives, and then let them make up their own minds about any given issue. Many — in fact, the majority — of the responses to my piece were affirming or positive, which was both surprising and rewarding. 

That being said, the piece generated a lot of criticisms that I want to share today, and a few I felt compelled to respond to in an effort to defend or clarify my positions, or cede some points, or even evolve my stance. 

In some cases, the responses below have been attributed to a reader by their first name. In other cases, we share the feedback anonymously, because the person either asked to remain anonymous or did not reply in time to give us permission to print their name.

I'm also trying something new today from a format perspective: I've put all my responses to the feedback in purple-shaded boxes, so it's clear what is coming from me (the purple) and what is coming from readers (the regular text).

As always, I hope you enjoy this edition and continue to support our mission of exposing you all to thought-provoking and diverse opinions.

Clark from Texas wrote in and said, "Isaac, I thoroughly enjoy your thought provoking discussions. In this one, you made a statement that I find a little hard to get my head around.  You said 'The Gazan people did not choose this. They are being subjected to it by the choices of the Israeli government.' It is true that the Israeli government has inflicted horrible damage to the Gazan people. However, it is the 'leaders' of the Gazan people who, in the final analysis, instigated this conflict. Your statement sounds like you believe the Israeli government is ultimately "at fault." I respectfully disagree.

My response: You know that feeling when you have an argument with someone and then a few hours later you think, "Shoot, I wish I’d thought to say that!" That happens pretty much every time I write something. I always want a sentence or two back, at minimum.

In this piece, if there is a single sentence I would change it would be this one. And my change would be simple: "The Gazan people did not choose this. They are being subjected to it by the choices of the Israeli government and Hamas." That's it.

I agree with you that Hamas is responsible both for mismanaging Gaza and neglecting their own people, but also for doing something they knew would result in what we are witnessing now. Hamas has also rejected some ceasefire proposals from Israel that were reasonable, and that could have ended the current spate of violence. One core element of my position, though, is that those were good reasons to blame Hamas in the days after the initial attack. I think the blame for the civilian death toll shifts more to Israel with every month that passes. 

I also think it is important to distinguish between Hamas and the Gazan citizens. So many people wrote in to argue that, well, “Gazans voted for Hamas” or “Gazans celebrated” or “Gazans have not removed Hamas from power.” I think it is important to note that the idea that citizens are responsible for all the decisions their government makes is exactly the same logic people like Osama bin Laden used to attack the U.S. on 9/11. 

Is everyone who voted for George W. Bush culpable for the Iraq War? Of course not. Similarly, the residents of Gaza today are not responsible for everything Hamas does. Most of them were either not alive or not old enough to vote the last time there was an election in Gaza. And while Hamas did win that election, it was also a deeply divisive one and their victory was narrow (meaning that, even then, about half of Gazans did not want them leading). 

This is not to absolve Gazans entirely for what is happening now, just to make the point that punishing all Gazan citizens for Hamas’s actions — even if some celebrated them or some voted for them — is a rule that would result in some pretty bad positions if you tried to apply it more broadly. 

Michael from Los Angeles said, "I would assume that you, as a Jew, are familiar with the concept of anti-Jewish blood libel and the role that it has historically played in providing pretexts for anti-Jewish hate and violence. 

There is a current blood libel that functions in just the same way, namely the lie that Israel is perpetrating a genocide against Palestinians. As with the blood-libels of old, this current one is used as a pretext for hatred and violence against Jews. Feeding the narrative that Jews are genocidal monsters makes Jews less safe. It makes me and my family less safe. And so, if there is a 'ferocity' in my response to your feeding that narrative, please accept that as my explanation as to why.

I am guessing that, if you are reading this, you are objecting to my saying that you are feeding that blood-libel narrative. You have explicitly rejected the use of the word 'genocide' to describe Israel's actions. I give you credit for that. Yet you also make many statements and inferences that support the narrative nonetheless. I'll mention just a few from this most current article.

You reference the 30,000 Palestinians allegedly killed. The clear implication of the way you discuss this, is that Israel is to blame for each and every murder. First of all, this is factually false. Hamas has killed many of its own people who have attempted to flee (and escape their role as human shields). I have not seen an estimate of the number. But I would not be surprised if it was in the thousands. 

Hamas has also fired tens of thousands of rockets toward Israel. About 25% of those have fallen within Gaza. That's thousands of rockets hitting civilian population areas. Even if each rocket only killed one civilian, that's thousands more civilians killed by Hamas.

Secondly, you compare the number of Palestinians killed to the number killed in Ukraine. While you don't explicitly state that the reason for the inordinately high number of civilian deaths is due to Israel targeting civilians or, at least, being needlessly reckless, that is certainly the implication, particularly since you offer no other explanation. Well, here are two other explanations (that you choose to ignore): 1. Ukraine does not use its civilians as human shields, intentionally putting them in the path of bombs and missiles. 2. Six million Ukrainian civilians have escaped the war zone and been taken in by neighboring countries as refugees, compared to close to zero taken in by Egypt. 

Quite the contrary, Egypt is going to great lengths to prevent all but a handful of Palestinians from entering. Gaza is the only recent war zone I am aware of (Sudan is another recent counter example) in which civilians have not been permitted to cross borders to escape. This is not Israel's fault.

You also state the estimate that Israel has killed two civilians for every militant. But you provide absolutely zero context for this number. Do you know what the typical ratio of civilian to military deaths in urban warfare is? It is 9:1.  

Just enter the following into a Google search: ‘ratio of civilian to military casualties in urban warfare.’ You get a page full of responses that gives this 9:1 number. Either you neglected to perform this simple search, which is unforgivably lazy, or you neglected to include what you knew to be the case, which is unforgivably dishonest.

And how do you think Israel is achieving this historically low civilian death ratio? It is doing so at the cost of the lives and safety of its own soldiers. Do you know how many Israelis have died going into urban areas to root out Hamas fighters on the ground where an air strike or missile strike would have accomplished the same without the loss of a single Israeli life? Do you know how many Israelis have died in order to save Palestinians? 

I don't know the answer either, but wouldn't it be a good question to ask? I could go on, but this email has already gotten long enough that you likely won't read all of it. I haven't even gotten to how strongly I disagree with your premise that a cease fire will make Israel more, not less, secure. But at least that is a disagreement about predicting the future. Your omissions and distortions about the past and present are what have truly enraged me."