It is actually fine to care when Jews are killed: Phoebe Maltz Bovy on tepid responses to terror

As a rule, I do not have very interesting dreams. They tend to involve ordinary-enough things (grocery-shopping, etc.) happening in some dream-specific amalgam of places I’ve lived. This is why I was surprised to wake up in the middle of the night on Friday to a nightmare about a Third World War breaking out. I am not a religious person. But then I opened my phone and wondered if somehow, I had known, before I knew.

The news from Israel filled me with visceral horror. I saw abducted babies who remind me of my children, assaulted women who look like me. I thought about what this all meant for Israel as a refuge for Jews from everywhere in the world. The more I read, the more sad, furious, hopeless I feel.

Wow, you might be thinking, what kind of a bigot is this I’m hearing from? Clearly having this reaction means that I only care about Jews, and am incapable of feeling anything about a tragedy unless the victims happen to be people I relate to personally. Given that I have said I’m upset about Jews being slaughtered in Israel, it surely must be that I’m hopelessly parochial as well as a tremendous fan of Netanyahu’s governance.

Or so you’d think from the social media statements—brilliantly parodied here by novelist Leigh Stein—people keep putting out, the ones that say something and nothing at once.

I’m not sure what’s motivating the many people who are incapable of responding to Hamas’s mass slaughtering and assault except with disclaimers and caveats. The people and—argh—institutions posting about how this is what revolution looks like, by way of defending Hamas beheading babies, these I (obviously!) don’t agree with, but they have a coherent (awful) position. You don’t read these and wonder someone’s real stance. If you see these posts and are furious (I can relate!), what you’re furious at is their position, not what they posted on social.

The anodyne statements from universities and whatnot about how these are scary times and how if you’re feeling feelings about it you should go to the counselling centre, they are whatever, a product of a culture of needing to say something but not actually feeling capable of saying anything, or motivated to say anything. I get the temptation to parse them and find them wanting, and have done a bit of this, but it feels kind of pointless.

But the people clearly distraught about what’s happening, who don’t seem capable of expressing the thought without caveats? These I find more… mysterious? Concerning?

Because come on. You don’t need an ‘I’m not a Zionist but’ disclaimer before saying that you’re Jewish and find it upsetting when hundreds of Jewish civilians are slaughtered, children and elderly people among them.

You don’t need, in the course of a single reaction, a single social media post, to plop down the whole of your thoughts about the Middle East, to spell out whether you personally would have thought to put a modern Jewish nation-state in Palestine in the early-mid 20th century, had this been your call.

You don’t need to, in the same breath as condemning Hamas, explain how you understand how frustrated and oppressed Palestinians are, and how you could totally see that if you were Gazan yourself, you would feel driven to not just war but war crimes.

You don’t need to spell out that you think all lives matter (remember All Lives Matter, and how that expression was once roundly mocked?) whenever Jewish lives are under attack. You don’t even need to comment to someone’s generic ‘sad for Jews at this time’ post with an actually about how it is sad for Palestinians as well.

Nothing about saying that you care when Jews are raped and murdered implies that you don’t care when non-Jews are raped and murdered, or that you hope the U.S. reelects Trump, or whatever exactly it is people seem afraid of when they don’t just condemn what’s happening. It’s not the moment to be hyper-managing one’s own social media presence, lest anyone think you’re insular or a conservative or a dork. It would be a fine time, I think, to get over such qualms.

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.