Adam Hummel
Adam HummelCourtesy

Adam Hummel is a lawyer in Toronto, specializing in immigration law and estates litigation. He is an active member of Toronto's Jewish community, and enjoys reading, spending time with his kids, and fish tacos, https://catchjcp.substack.com.

There’s a quote I once heard at a Yom Hashoa event, that went something like:

When the Inquisition came, we could no longer live among them as Jews. Then came the Ghetto, and we could no longer live among them. Then came the Holocaust, and we could no longer live.

I have scoured Google far and wide, and cannot find the exact quote or where it comes from, but I did find a similar sentiment from the historian Simon Dubnow, who wrote:

At first, they came for the Jews as Jews, then for the Jews as residents of the city, then for the Jews as residents of the house, and finally for the Jews hiding in the attic.

Basically, whatever we as Jews do - whoever we are as Jews - is never good enough.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the goalposts are seemingly always moving for the Jews. How what we must do to satisfy others is always different. How nothing we ever do is good enough. The rug is always pulled out from under us. We are constantly Charlie Brown trying to kick the ball that Lucy pulls away at the last minute, leaving us on our asses (that’s a reference for my older readers).

I’m sorry if this is a bit confusing, but our history is confusing. Things would look far different if it all made sense.

Take antisemitism for example: Deborah Lipstadt calls it the world’s oldest and greatest conspiracy theory, and she’s right - it makes no sense. Jews are Capitalists! Jews are Communists! Jews are rich! Jews are poor! Jews are trying to infiltrate us! Jews are too insular! Jews are White! Jews aren’t White!

None of this makes sense. But it persists. “The Jews are different, and maybe we’d be better off without them.”

It’s the same confusion we have seen on the street at recent protests. Signs saying “Jews out of Palestine,” “Jews out of New Jersey,” and “Jews out of England!”

Where, pray tell, would you like us to go? Well, there’s a sign for that too! “From the River to the Sea…” (Though I bet only about 10% of people holding those signs know it is actually the Mediterranean Sea they’re trying to push the Jews into.)

Throughout history, despite our achievements and successes, we have never been able to satisfy anyone. Their expectations of us are always changing, and we are not only forbidden to succeed, but we can never just be left the hell alone.

This has never been more obvious than the current moment, when Israel is defeating Hamas in one of the most just wars of the last century. This is a war that was started by Hamas - a terror organization - in an effort to, among other things, derail Israel’s peace initiatives with other Arab nations. To start the war, they murdered over 1,200 Israeli civilians, burning some alive, brutally raped and massacred countless others, and took over 260 hostage into Gaza’s dungeons.

Despite all of that, Israel is fighting humanely and morally, against a terror group that itself has no obligation to fight according to International Humanitarian Law (IHL), in an effort to minimize civilian casualties, all while seeking to recover 129 remaining hostages (dead and alive). Even with that, the world remains unsatisfied.

There is not, however, anything new under the sun. For some context, let’s look back at history:

Settling the Land of Israel

When the Zionist movement started, we just wanted a small piece of land. Our preference was Palestine, but there were some who would have been satisfied with something else. Anything else. Parts of Madagascar, Guyana, Angola, Australia, even Grand Island near Niagara Falls were on the table (I recommend reading Adam Rovner’s In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands Before Israel for more about what else could have been a Jewish State pre-1948).

Thankfully though, a stubborn group of Zionists kept our collective eyes on the prize and would not budge from wanting the Land of Israel.

In 1882, the brave Lovers of Zion began to purchase land from absentee Arab landlords. The 1st Aliya. Then the 2nd Aliya began, then the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, the last narrowly avoiding their demise in the Holocaust. These aliyot arrived to join with the existing and ancient Jewish community that had never left. They purchased land and drained swamps. They built an infrastructure, banks, canals, Tel Aviv, and were promised at the very least, the establishment there of a national home.

At the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, and the subsequent San Remo Conference in 1920, the future Jewish home looked like it could be this:

But in 1922, British Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill gave 76% of what was then Palestine to the Hashemite family: the Kingdom of Transjordan was created under King Faisal the First. The proposed Jewish State (the remaining 24%) would now be much smaller. Over time, the proposed land would continue to shrink.

In 1937, the Peel Commission determined that the Jewish State in Palestine should actually be far smaller still. In proposing two states for two peoples, the Commission proposed the following map:

The green territory running along the coast and the Galilee would be the Jewish State. The Arab State would be the rest, with an internationalized Jerusalem. The Jews accepted it, despite the small size, content (though not particularly thrilled) with anything. The Arabs rejected it, preferring to have nothing, than to live next to a Jewish State.

In 1947, after the Holocaust and WW2, the United Nations suggested their own Partition Plan that looked like this:

The green land would be the Jewish State (a bit more land than in ‘37) and the pink would be Arab (still with an internationalized Jerusalem). The United Nations voted on this Partition Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947. The plan passed 33-13 with 10 abstentions. The Jews danced on the streets of New York, Paris, and Tel Aviv. The Arabs prepared to invade, attack, and annihilate the nascent Jewish State.

Several months later, by May 14, 1948, the Israelis said: “We’ve played your games. We’ve done your diplomacy. But, no matter how much you move the boundaries, or how little we agree to, or how small you try to make our state, it’s never enough. So, here, today, we begin to take things into our own hands, and will see where you end up on the other side. We declare here today the establishment of the State of Israel. Your move.”

The War of Independence erupted. Israel defended her borders. She ended up with a state larger than that contemplated in November 1947:

For many years, the world changed the goalposts, and we played ball. But at a certain point, we learned that our neighbours would never be happy, the world would never be satisfied, and we had to take matters into our own hands. And what is it that we wanted? A country of our own in our ancestral homeland where Jews could be safe. A democracy, treating its minorities and neighbours with respect. Alas, no dice.

Peace process

The same happened with the peace process over the last 76 years.

From 1949 to 1967, Israel was perfectly satisfied for Egypt to occupy Gaza and for Jordan to occupy the ‘West Bank’. Those occupations, apparently, were nbd to anyone (this means “no big deal” for those of you who got my Charlie Brown reference, above).

[In 1964, Arafat founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization, PLO, and the Arabs living in the ‘West Bank’ began calling themselves Palestinians, ed.)

In 1967 however, the Arab world had formulated a poor plan for the annihilation of Israel. They prepared to attack, but were thwarted by Israel. In six short days, rather than cede further territory to their neighbours, Israel’s territory grew substantially, as they conquered the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Gaza, and the entire Sinai Peninsula:

This naturally upset the Arabs tremendously, and so, finally put in their place by the regional powerhouse, they did what any rational actor who lost a war would do: negotiated peace, accepted back their land, and lived happily ever after!

Just kidding.

At the Khartoum Conference in Sept 1967, the Arab League licked their wounds and vowed that they would never recognize Israel, never negotiate with Israel, and never make peace with Israel.

The borders of Israel only changed next when the most powerful Arab League nation - Egypt - reneged on the 3 Khartoum No’s, and negotiated with, recognized, and made peace with Israel in 1979. In exchange, Egypt received back the Sinai Peninsula (they certainly didn’t want Gaza). Israel thus maintained their hold on the Golan Heights, Gaza, and the ‘West Bank’, to be used as potential bargaining chips in the future. The Golan has since been annexed by Israel.

Since then, various peace initiatives were launched with the Palestinian Arabs - all to no avail.

In 1993, the Oslo Peace Accords were heralded as a landmark agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In exchange for recognizing the right of Israel to exist, Israel agreed to negotiate for the establishment of a future Palestinian State in Gaza and the ‘West Bank’. This was a big offer, but seemingly not enough. The phased approach to peace effectively ended with a successive string of suicide bombing attacks on the streets of Israel and Rabin’s assassination.

Yitzchak Rabin, Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, Sept 13, 1993 at the White House

At 2000, at Camp David, the Israelis went even further than Oslo in offering statehood and peace to the Palestinian Arabs. Their offer included an Israeli redeployment from 95% of the ‘West Bank’; 100% of Gaza; the creation of a Palestinian state in those areas; the uprooting of isolated Jewish settlements in areas to be transferred to the Palestinian Arabs; Palestinian Arab control over parts of Jerusalem; and even religious sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

Yasser Arafat declined, returned to Ramallah, and launched the deadly Second Intifada. This too, was not enough.

In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip. Dissatisfied with complete sovereignty over this territory, the Palestinian Arabs turned it into a terror-state, using it as a launching-ground for attacks against Israel for the next 19 years. What could have become Dubai instead became Mogadishu.

Israelis evicting Israelis from Gaza 2005

In 2008, even after Hamas took over Gaza, and after thousands of Israelis were terrorized throughout the Second Intifada, PM Olmert made a generous offer to the Palestinian Arabs: 94% of the West Bank, 100% of Gaza (which they already had); withdrawal of isolated settlements from the West Bank; safe passage between the ‘West Bank’ and Gaza; Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem to Israel and Arab neighbourhoods to Palestine; East Jerusalem as a Palestinian Capital; Joint administration of Jerusalem holy sites; and the return to Israel of 1,000 Palestinian refugees each year for five-years. President Abbas rejected this offer too, as it was - you guessed it - also not enough.

Ehud Olmert, Condoleeza Rice, and Mahmoud Abbas 2008

Whether it was the Arab League proposal in 2002, or the Road Map to Peace in 2003, the Annapolis Conference in 2007, or even the Trump Peace Plan in 2020, nothing is ever good enough for the Palestinian Arabs because there is one thing remaining that they cannot abide: the continued existence of Israel. And that existence without an absolute right of return for Palestinian Arab “refugees”.

Over the years, we’ve heard many reasons why Israel has been an obstacle to peace with the Palestinian Arabs: the settlements, the Abraham Accords omitting the Palestinian Arabs, Prime Minister Netanyahu, a right-wing coalition, building in East Jerusalem, the existence of Iron Dome, a blockade of Gaza, the existence of a security barrier in the West Bank, checkpoints, and the refusal to allow 7 million alleged-Palestinian refugees back into Israel as citizens and thus forever change the face of the Jewish State.

Little is ever said about why the Palestinians are an obstacle to peace. They are hardly ever afforded any agency in their fight against Israel.

What we do is never good enough. What we offer is never good enough. What we promise is never good enough. What we want is never good enough.

And so, Israel takes matters into its own hands. It must. Knowing that it will never provide satisfaction, Israel has become a state that neither wants to, or has to, justify itself anymore. As I recently heard Haviv Rettig Gur say, Israel represent a type of Jew that does not need to justify himself. Justification is the antithesis of Zionism. We do not require others to emancipate us or our beliefs: we now do that ourselves.

As Golda Meir said, “we refuse, absolutely, to be the only people in the world which consents to having its fate decided by others.”

Negotiating an end to the Israel-Hamas War

And so, this is how to understand Israel’s position when it comes to the ongoing war against Hamas.

On April 9, 2024 - six months into the war - we learned that the Americans will now be urging Israel to declare a unilateral ceasefire for 6-8 weeks. That President Biden is suddenly unhappy with how Bibi is waging this war, without offering any specifics, or alternatives. This is obscene.

As with the rest of our history, what the world will tolerate from us may be broad initially, but narrows quickly. Immediately after 10/7, Israel was given some latitude to go into Gaza and root out the Hamas savages who had murdered the most Jews in one day since the Holocaust. But international satisfaction with our actions, and what we would be allowed to do, quickly changed.

The goalposts moved rapidly. Even fighting the most moral war in history, with the greatest efforts ever taken by major military power to avoid civilian casualties, was insufficient. We needed to prove that it was an Islamic Jihad rocket that hit a hospital, not us. We needed to prove that Hamas terrorists taken prisoner were treated humanely. We needed to prove that our children were burned alive in ovens, or raped by Palestinian terrorists. We needed to prove to the world, with video footage taken by the perpetrators themselves, that such crimes actually happened, since our word was just not good enough. The word of our captives was not good enough. The word of orphaned children, of widowed or raped women, was not good enough.

When it came to ceasefire negotiations, or prisoner exchanges, our motivations were not good enough. It was not good enough that we were willing to exchange three Palestinian Arab prisoners for every one Israeli hostage, as Eylon Levy was infamously amd outrageously asked whether that meant that we value Palestinian lives less than Israeli lives. His subsequent facial expression says it all.

God bless Eylon Levy

Douglas Murray has said that Israel is the only country on earth that is not allowed to win a war; we can only fight to a draw. And it’s true. Unlike what the Americans did to the Japanese at the end of WW2, or the British to the Nazis, or the Americans to ISIS recently, Israel is not allowed to defeat Hamas to the point of unconditional surrender. Despite our battlefield successes, despite us losing 260 IDF soldiers in a meticulous ground operation (when we could have waged this war from the air incurring no soldier casualties but many more civilian casualties), despite our apologizing when we make mistakes (like the tragic deaths of the 7 World Central Kitchen aid-workers), and despite us fighting on the front line of a global war against fundamentalist Islamic terror, what we do is not good enough.

Let’s think about that the next time the world makes a demand of our country, or our people. Let’s think what they really want, when they ask us to extend the right of return to all Palestinian refugees or end the “occupation.” Let’s say we do what they ask. What then comes next? What would make the world happy?

Also, how do we heed the call to end Israeli-apartheid when it does not exist? Or Israeli settler-colonialism when it a nonsensical talking point? How do you satisfy someone asking for something that does not exist, therefore cannot be given?

The purpose of this history lesson is to illustrate how the Jews will never make the world happy. We can give them cell phones, pill cams, Waze, relativity, psychoanalysis, and 10 moral laws which form the backbone of liberal Western Civilization, but nothing we do will ever be enough. There will always be something else we could have done, something we could have done better, or something we should never have done at all. The double-standard is outrageous.

Thus, like Israel, we ought to stop rationalizing, justifying, and asking to be loved. We must put our heads down, do the hard work, protect ourselves, prepare ourselves for a difficult future, and believe in what we are doing.

The truth is, we ourselves have never been satisfied, but that is what keeps us innovating, growing, learning, and improving. Whether the world recognizes what motivates us or not, we will never stop that. We aren’t going anywhere.