What Are Your Red Lines?
Our Zoom call this week will be at a special time: Thursday at 11 AM EDT.
Our guests will be Josh Paul and Adam Ramer. Josh resigned last week from his position as a Director in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, which oversees US arms sales, to protest the Biden administration’s weapons transfers to Israel, which he called “shortsighted, destructive, unjust and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse.” Adam resigned as Political Director for United States Representative Ro Khanna after Khanna failed to call for a ceasefire in Israel-Palestine. In Washington, resignations on principle are rare. I’ll ask Josh and Adam why each took this dramatic step. And amidst reports that dissent is brewing among staffers inside both the Biden administration and in Congress, I’ll ask them to explain the disconnect between public policy and private discontent.
As usual, paid subscribers will get the link this Wednesday and the video the following week. They’ll also gain access to our library of past Zoom interviews with guests like Thomas Friedman, Ilhan Omar, Omar Barghouti, Benny Morris, Noam Chomsky, and Bret Stephens.
Sources Cited in this Video
Israel has reportedly found instructions on Hamas fighters for building a chemical weapon.
Issa Amro reports that the Israeli military evicted him from his home.
The Knesset suspends Ofir Cassif.
Things to Read
“The Daily interviews the mother of an abducted Israeli son."
Benjamin Netanyahu’s history of empowering Hamas.
A former Israeli hostage negotiator on whether the captured can be saved.
How Israel’s state is failing and its civil society is filling the gap.
See you on Thursday at 11 AM,
Hi. Our call this week is gonna be on Thursday at 11am ET, Thursday at 11, not our usual time. And that’s to accommodate the schedules of two I think pretty interesting guests. The first is Josh Paul, who resigned last week as director of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the State Department over his opposition to arms sales to Israel and the Biden administration’s policy. And the second is Adam Ramer, who was the Political Director for Representative Ro Khanna, who also resigned last week because of his opposition to representative Khanna’s refusal to call for a ceasefire. So, these are two people who have done something which is really unusual in Washington, which is they have resigned their positions over issues of conscience, over issues of principle. And we’ll talk about why they did it, and what we can learn about the way government functions in Washington from their behavior. That’ll be Thursday at 11am for paid subscribers who also get access to all of our previous calls with people like Bret Stephens and Thomas Friedman and Ilhan Omar and many others.
I’ve been thinking about this question of red lines a bit because I think that many people right now are kind of torn between different impulses. I certainly feel this way. The one is the impulse first solidarity. And I feel that impulse really acutely and also am really painfully aware of the way in which some people who I really admire and deeply, deeply respect feel that I— through my criticisms of Israel—have not shown the solidarity that they feel they need in this moment of unbelievable anguish and trauma at a scale that I think we’re still trying to process. I was talking to a friend of mine in shul the other day, and we were saying, you know, we remember what happened during Gilad Shalit when it was one Israeli who was in, you know, captured in Gaza and, you know, how focused everyone was. And to think about 200 captive is like, it like overwhelms the senses, you know, to go from thinking about if it was one person, everybody would have that person’s name on their lips. But when it’s 200, it like overloads the senses. And there’s so much agony and grief and such a deep, deep desire for solidarity from Israeli Jews towards Jews and others around the world, and I think also for Palestinians, this profound desire for solidarity as Gaza is being just absolutely devastated, and Palestinians who have gone through so much suffering are now going through even levels of suffering that I think, you know, go beyond anything else.
But I think that the challenge that we need to remind ourselves of is that solidarity must also come with a certain sense of moral red lines. And this is what I find really powerful about what Josh Paul did and what Adam Ramer did, which is to ask ourselves the question: what are our moral red lines? So, for instance, one of the things that’s been really disturbing to me and others about some pro-Palestinian activists was it turned out that in their desire to be in solidarity with Palestinians in resisting Israel, it turned out that the taking of civilian life was not a red line. And that worries me because if that’s not a red line, it seems to me it opens the door to other things.
So, there was a report in Axios—I don’t know if it’s true or not—but that one Hamas fighter was found with instructions to building cyanide-based weapons. In other words, chemical weapons. And so, it seems to me one of the things that’s so frightening about not having a red line at saying that it’s wrong to take civilian life is if it’s okay to go door-to-door, as Hamas did, and take civilian lives in southern Israel, then why is it wrong to launch chemical weapons or some other weapon of mass destruction that would kill, could kill large numbers of civilians indiscriminately? It’s that refusal to set a moral red line in some parts of the pro-Palestinian left—not all by any means, but some—that really frightens me. And I think it’s partly an expression of this desire to show solidarity with Palestinians, but a kind of solidarity that is not ethically moored in a set of basic principles about the sanctity of all human life.
And on the other side, in the Jewish community, in my community, I worry about this a great deal. One of the things that’s worried me a lot over the years is that American Jewish organizations have essentially said, basically, we support whatever the Israeli government does without any actual set of kind of moral framework for what might be crossing a red line. So, for instance, a lot of organizations like AIPAC and others would say, we support the two-state solution. But then, when it turned out that the Israelis elected a government that didn’t support the two-state solution, then it turned out that wasn’t really a moral red line. Like, you say you support the two-state solution, but when Israel elects someone like Benjamin Netanyahu, who doesn’t, you basically then quietly abandon your support for the two-state solution because it wasn’t actually a moral red line.
And we are now in a moment where this impulse for solidarity with Israeli Jews among American Jews and other diaspora Jews is very, very great, understandably. And because many of our most powerful influential Jewish institutions have no set of moral red lines about what that solidarity means that things can happen, and are now happening, at quite great speed that are truly terrifying to me, and produce no meaningful opposition or criticism inside the American Jewish community because the organized American Jewish community has never established a series of moral red lines. And things are moving very quickly now. We’re moving into a future that looks very, very frightening and very, very dark.
And I just want to give three examples of things that have happened, it seems to me, that cross certain kinds of red lines that the organized American Jewish community has not responded to, is not treating them as red lines. And one of them has gotten a lot of attention, which is Israel telling over one million Palestinians to leave the northern part of the Gaza Strip with no guarantee that they will be allowed to return, right? And Palestinians, given their history, have very good reason to wonder whether once they’re forced from their homes, whether they will be allowed to return, right? So, for years and years, Palestinians have been talking about another mass expulsion, another Nakba. And here we have Israel telling more than a million people to leave their homes, and the response from organized American Jewish organizations is, well, we’re showing solidarity with Israel and if this is what the Israeli government thinks it needs to do at this moment, we support it, which is essentially to abandon one’s moral faculties. And so, the very people who were saying it’s ridiculous to talk about another mass expulsion event, you are a hysterical, you know, if not antisemitic leftist for even raising the possibility, when it actually happens then you shrug because it turns out you were saying it would never happen, but you were never really actually against it, right? That it’s not a red line that you’re actually willing to stand on.
Two other less prominent examples. One is that my friend, Issa Amro, the great Palestinian human rights activist who met with Tony Blinken, who has won many international awards, on Saturday announced that he’d been forced from his home by the Israeli military. So, that’s his own small-scale form of expulsion. And this is in a context of expulsion of Palestinians in a lot of places in the West Bank. I saw no comment from major American Jewish organizations, right? Again, it turned out you can force an internationally-recognized human rights defender from their home, that’s not a red line either.
A third example, and again, so much stuff is happening that’s barely even making it into the press because of the magnitude of these days’ events, is that Ofir Cassif—who is a member of the Knesset, he’s an Israeli Jewish member of the Hadash party, which is a largely Palestinian, historically kind of communist party—was suspended from the Knesset for 45 days for comparing Bezalel Smotrich’s decisive plan—this is Smotrich’s plan written in 2017 that said that unless Palestinians accept that they will never get a state and accept that they will never have equality or citizenship in Israel, that if they don’t accept those, then they will need to leave the country—that Ofir Cassif compared that to the final solution, to Nazism. And for that, he was suspended. A member of the Knesset, elected, was for just free speech, was suspended for 45 days, right? This is a very serious example of the collapse or the decline of democratic norms in Israel even for Israeli Jews. Again, no response that I’ve seen by the organized American Jewish community.
And so, what frightens me so much as we move into days and weeks and months and even years to come that could be so hideous is that in the organized American Jewish community, the institutions that speak in the community’s name have never actually looked themselves in the mirror and said—in the way that Josh Paul and Adam Ramer have done—what is a step too far for me? What would I be willing to speak out about? What would I be even willing to resign from this organization from? What would I be willing to pay some cost in terms of my relation with my community for? Like, what are the things where I will say this and no further? The most important American Jewish organizations have never done that. They’ve essentially, basically been willing to say, we express solidarity with Israel, by which they mean the Israeli government. And then basically where the Israeli government goes, they follow, abandoning I think their own moral faculties. That’s always worried me, and now it terrifies me, given the nature of this Israeli government, and given the things that we are starting to see happen on the ground.
So, I think that the question I would really urge people to think about if they are rabbis, or they have relationships to communal rabbis or other Jewish institutional leaders, or they are themselves those people, is to think for yourself right now: what are your moral red lines? What are the things that you will not be willing to accept? And define them now, because otherwise there is a slippery slope in which you are just going to accept things that are truly, truly horrifying. And if you feel that that’s hard for you to do because it shows you’re not in solidarity with Israelis, just remember that there are a lot of different Israelis, and they don’t all agree, right? They don’t all agree with this Israeli government. They don’t all agree that it’s an ethical thing to tell 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza to leave their homes, or to expel Issa Amro from his home, or to suspend Ofir Cassif from the Knesset for 45 days. Many of them don’t. I’m gonna post a link to statements by two Israelis, both of whom in recent days have plead very eloquently for Israel not to destroy the Gaza Strip. So, if you’re feeling like it’s hard for you to establish moral red lines because you’re not an Israeli, then remember there are different Israelis who have different moral perspectives, and you can express solidarity with those that share yours. And if folks don’t, I fear that we will be complicit in some very, very, very dark things in the days to come. Again, on Thursday at 11am, we’re going to be talking to Joshua Paul and Adam Ramer at 11 am. I hope many of you will join us.