Who is dehumanizing whom?

by Uri Pilichowski

The Palestinians have not only dehumanized the Jews, they have dehumanized themselves.

(JNS) There have been countless accusations against Israel since the Oct. 7 massacre and the ensuing war. Some can be understood in the context of the desire to protect civilians at any cost despite the norms of war and the inevitable tragedy of collateral damage. Other accusations are simply defamatory, intended to vilify and delegitimize Israel. Many of them cross into outright antisemitism.

The most painful accusations, however, come from our friends. For example, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently said, “Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on Oct. 7. The hostages have been dehumanized every day since. But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others.” The underlying message was that Israel’s operations in Gaza dehumanize the Palestinians.

A week later, President Joe Biden said Israel’s military response to Oct. 7 is “over the top.” Biden’s Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated afterward, “President Biden has been clear that the United States wants to see the Hamas terror organization defeated. That is a shared goal that we have with Israel. At the same time, the president has also been very clear that they must do so by ensuring that their operations are targeted and conducted in a way that they are protecting innocent civilians.”

Such accusations are especially hurtful because of Israel’s tremendous efforts to spare the lives of Palestinian women and children. Israel has opted to risk its soldiers’ lives in ground operations rather than engage in aerial bombings that would kill more people but save those soldiers’ lives. There are countless examples of Israeli military policies that show Israel’s humanity in war.

Blinken’s claim was much worse than Biden’s, however. The most well-known case of dehumanization was the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. The Nazis called the Jews untermenschen—subhuman. Blinken certainly didn’t intend to compare the IDF to the Nazis, but his comment stings just the same.

The accusation that Israel would use Hamas’s actions and Hamas’s degradation of Israelis, especially the hostages, to act in kind towards Gazans charges Israel with more than a lack of concern for innocent lives. It implies an intentional campaign to devalue those lives. It all but states outright that Israel is as evil as Hamas.

Zionism has never seen Arabs and Palestinians as anything other than human beings created in the image of God. Israel has accepted Arabs as full-fledged citizens with equal rights. Under Israeli rule, Palestinian life expectancy has risen, their quality of life has improved and their population has grown. It is a fact that Israel treats Palestinians under their control better than any Arab country treats the Palestinians under their control.

Only in the theater of the absurd could an accusation of dehumanization be levied against Israel. Indeed, Israel is committed to following international laws prohibiting dehumanization. To quote one of Jean-Pierre’s favorite lines, accusations of Israeli dehumanization of Palestinians “don’t live in reality.”

Blinken was right to accuse the Palestinians who carried out the Oct. 7 massacre of dehumanizing Israelis. But they were not alone. For example, Palestinian Authority Senior Advisor and Supreme Sharia Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash echoed many Palestinian leaders when he called Jews “humanoids, pigs and apes.” Praising suicide bombers, Imam Yousif al-Zahar of Hamas told his followers that Jews are “the brothers of apes and pigs.”

The history of Palestinian dehumanization of Jews is as torrid as it is long and it isn’t limited to rhetoric. The Palestinians who murdered, raped, beheaded and burned Israelis on Oct. 7 did so because, like the Nazis, they didn’t see the Jews as human beings but as “apes and pigs” who deserve to be tortured and slaughtered.

Dehumanization is wrong because of what it does to its victims. Making a person feel less than human, robbing them of their status of being created in the image of God and holding that they don’t deserve to be treated as humans is a horrific thing to do to someone else.

Worse still, perhaps, is what it does to the dehumanizer. Dehumanization robs the perpetrator of their own humanity. A nation that dehumanizes another people dehumanizes itself in the process. A century of antisemitic dehumanization of Jews brought the Palestinians so low that they acted with absolute inhumanity. The Jewish people can never dehumanize Palestinians because we know that, in doing so, we would dehumanize ourselves.

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