But it is, in fact, complicated: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on the empty promise of moral certitude

I can say with certainty that civilians should never be killed in a war. I can say this times a million regarding anything bad happening to a baby. I could spend my entire days reading about horrible fates of babies, Israeli and Palestinian alike, to the point where I would become incapable of functioning, which would be a problem seeing as I have not just a job, but young kids of my own. It’s bleak out there, she types, realizing this is the biggest possible understatement.

But nothing about… this, the war, the conflict, is remotely simple. There are competing claims of land. Peoples done wrong by history. It isn’t fair that the Palestinians were forced to make way for a country set up because other countries didn’t want their Jews. That Jews have a historical and religious connection to that land, and were there even (well) before 1948 doesn’t negate the unfairness. It also isn’t fair to Jews that countries didn’t want us, leaving us with not a whole lot of options.

If you want to place yourself on the side of the nice, caring, non-racist sorts, I wish you the best of luck, but it sure seems as if every post about North American pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian protesting gets replies saying that the protestors should be deported. There absolutely are people who’ve picked Palestine as their cause, of all the plights in the world (though you’d think there was just the one), because it gives them a chance to channel their hatred of Jews into a socially acceptable channel.

There are also people on Israel’s side because they believe (having no access to Wikipedia, or these quaint things called books, although in fairness, the Toronto public library system’s networks have been down for a while) Israel’s the white-people side and they hate brown people. Or they’re ‘Zionists’ because they think Zionism means Jews will leave wherever they live and head for Israel, and they hate Arabs and Muslims as well. There are, in other words, haters on both sides, some on both simultaneously.

There are the young people, our future, so morally pure, whose education comes from TikTok, and whose attention spans are such that October 7th was a million years ago and it’s actually weird that Israel would still be responding to such ancient history. Not all young people, but I swear they were all on my bus this afternoon, talking about how relieved they were that the people they’ve been hanging out with lately are on the correct side. I muttered something about how I’m on the wrong side, not even muttered, really, but they were so involved in their own conversation that I don’t think they heard.

I envy those with moral clarity. I wish I could see dead baby photos from today and think, OK, that clarifies things, that’s it, and forget about the butchered babies from all of a month ago, and not find things both unthinkably horrible and… complicated. I wish I could say yes, ceasefire, and not find myself wondering exactly what’s meant to follow that. I would love to have the clueless optimism of those who imagine that a post-Israel Palestine would actually be the best possible expression of Jewish values.

I wish I didn’t see someone in a shiny new keffiyeh and think, that person wants my babies dead, because I know it doesn’t mean that, except, you know, when it does.

For more original Jewish culture commentary from Phoebe Maltz Bovy subscribe to the free Bonjour Chai newsletter on Substack.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on the website formerly known as Twitter. She also holds forth on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.