What I LearnedYossi Sheffi
I was asked by a group of students to provide a response to the FNL “Editorial Subcommittee” article titled “What Have We Learned . . . .” The article paints a slanted equivalence between the Hamas atrocities and Israel’s response. To start with, one notices that while the article mentions Hamas’s atrocities in general, it goes into great detail to describe the suffering in Gaza. The text is full of biased descriptions and outright errors. To wit:
- In the first paragraph the Hamas actions are depicted as “killings” while Israel is responsible for “slaughter.” I urge the members of the “Editorial Subcommittee” to watch the GoPro footage celebrating gleefully the sadistic rape, torture, and cold blooded murder at point blank of children, elderly, concert goers, and others, atrocities not seen since the holocaust. A perfunctory sentence decrying “killing” is fake equivalence.
- “Israel has also launched indiscriminate and widespread attacks.” This is patently biased and wrong; for years, and especially during the last few weeks, Hamas has launched an indiscriminate barrage of missiles and kamikaze drones on civilian targets in Israel: communities, hospitals, schools, and synagogues. Tens of thousands of missiles were launched. So, any discussion of “indiscriminate” sounds hollow when applied to Israel’s actions.
- The lip service to the Hamas atrocities does not go into details, unlike the (wrong) description of the Israeli operations. There is no mention of beheading babies (mentioned by President Biden, not Israeli sources), raping women, mutilating bodies, taking elderly and babies hostage, murdering hostages, and sexually assaulting Israeli bodies while carrying them in the street of North Gaza with huge crowds cheering and hollering. Many of these were documented by Hamas’s bodycams. The latter by satellites and drones.
- The main fallacy in this article is that of “moral equivalence” based in part on what it argues to be a disproportionate response. I ask what would be a proportionate response? Should Israel have gone into Gaza, kill a few thousand Palestinians, rape a few women, behead a few babies in front of their mothers, take elderly, women, and toddlers hostage, murder some of them in captivity, and then send gleeful messages to their own families on WhatsApp announcing “Hurray – I killed 10 Palestinians today . . .” No country and no people had to deal with these murderous barbarians and their complicit societies.
- Israel attacks Hamas’s targets. Unfortunately, Hamas chose to position itself among the civilian citizenry in hospitals and Mosques. Knowing this, the Israeli military operations, which in the past have been characterized by lightning speed, have been slow and methodical to minimize civilian casualties to the extent possible. For urban warfare, and given Hamas’s tactics, the civilian casualties, which we all regret, have been relatively When the Israeli military entered the Al-Shifa hospital, they brought a large amount of medical supplies with them and distributed them to the Palestinian medical workers. They also documented the Hamas operations in the hospital. So, while the Israeli military did go into Al-Shifa, the hospital was not bombed. Israeli soldiers entered the hospital to find Hamas’s terrorists without shelling or air support, taking huge risks (and casualties) and NOT bombing the hospital to the ground.
- The talk about genocide, which the article mentions, is also misdirected. The cries “Palestine from the river to the sea” are, in fact, calls for genocide. The Israeli military is fighting and taking casualties in Gaza (while missiles are still being launched indiscriminately at civilian Israeli targets). This is war (which, like every other Arab-Israeli war, Israel did not initiate). This is neither “vengeful” nor “indiscriminate” killing. When an Israeli politician mentioned recently that the nuclear option was not off the table, he was stripped of his job and punished. No politician in Israel is calling for the killing or even expulsion of Palestinians. Of course, the opposite is an everyday occurrence in the Arab world and Iran. Furthermore, Hamas’s platform calls for the destruction of Israel, not peace or two-state co-existence.
- Finally, to the Lobby 7 demonstration. While the Jewish students were singing “Oseh Shalom B’mromav . . .” (translation: “He who makes peace above will also bring peace onto earth”), there were no cries for peace among the demonstrators. The main Palestinian supporters still refuse to enter into a dialogue with the Jewish students on campus.
There is no desire for war or innocent killing among the Israeli population or the Jewish and Israeli members of our community. I grew up in Israel, and many of my friends were and still are Arabs. I am back from a recent visit to Jordan, where I have many former students, colleagues, and friends. And even though I was a soldier in 1967 when Israel fought Jordan, we all got over it and looked to the future. (Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.) While in Amman, I even had a very open and respectful conversation with a former member of the Jordanian Armed Forces, who was also involved in the 1967 six-day war on the other side. Both of us lost friends. I can assure everybody: nobody hates war more than soldiers.
Let me add that most of MIT’s strength and moral voice is tied to its contributions to improving humankind through science and technology. I understand the desire to create a better world through research and teaching on the Arab/Israeli conflict. (By the way, why did this not take place following the Russian atrocities in Ukraine or the Syrian uncivil war?) While individual faculty members can research whatever they want and teach what they desire (subject to some approval processes), the FNL article seems to call for central resources when discussing “MIT” rather than individual faculty activities. Doing this has several pitfalls: (i) Geopolitical issues are not the main strength of MIT. Contributions to mitigating global warming or the impact of generative AI are much more in our wheelhouse. Furthermore, the impact of the latter is likely much more significant. (ii) The “data” for such studies depends on the source. Recall that “the first casualty of war is the truth.” Like Republicans and Democrats in the US, each side gets its data from its own echo chamber. (iii) The issues are emotional and are likely to increase the divisiveness on campus. The biased and one-sided Subcommittee article is by itself proof that such endeavor should not be undertaken by MIT. If we want our students to listen to slanted and biased analysis and opinions, we can direct them to certain media outlets.
As an aside, note that it is not clear what the “Editorial Subcommittee” is. By sending the piece around as the “Editorial Subcommittee” article, it gets a veneer of a voice of the faculty. It is not and should not be labeled as such.
Finally, another fatal flaw in the Editorial Subcommittee article, beyond its slanted descriptions, is that it ignores the immediate and pressing challenge in front of us: lowering the temperature on campus and allowing our community to go back to “Job 1”: learning and enveloping new knowledge. While this may require strong moral actions – for example, pointing out the non-equivalency between the behavior of the various groups on campus – which the administration has yet to take, I am glad to see that several colleagues, on both sides, are taking positive steps in this direction.
 To understand what “indiscriminate” attacks actually look like, consider, for example, the German blitz of London, the firebombing of Dresden and Tokyo, not to mention the nuclear bombs. More recent examples are the Russian attacks on Ukraine’s civilian targets, the Syrian regime’s slaughtering of its own citizens, and, as mentioned above, the barrage of missiles raining on the Israeli civilian population. These are a far cry from the Israeli operation in Gaza, which is meticulously conducted according to the rules of war (jus in bello). (See, for example, https://lawliberty.org/no-good-deed-goes-unpunished/?mod=djemMER_h).
 This was admitted by Hamas, has been known for years, and was affirmed by US officials last week (see for example, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2023/11/14/press-gaggle-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-and-nsc-coordinator-for-strategic-communications-john-kirby-en-route-san-francisco-ca/, and https://www.commentary.org/jonathan-schanzer/the-real-gaza-hospital-crisis/?mod=djemMER_h).
 The only hospital that was “bombed” was the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, where Hamas reported 500 dead. The world media (Al Jazira, CNN, NPR, NYT, BBC, The Guardian, as well as aid agencies and governments around the world) were quick to repeat the reports breathtakingly and condemn Israel. They were much slower to report that this was an Islamic Jihad/Hamas missile and a weapons cache that blew up the hospital, causing about two dozen casualties (according to American intelligence). So, the Western press and aid agencies took the words of a terrorist organization and reported them as facts without any check or verification.