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So this crisis is an existential one for me. My liberalism dictates that I should talk about how complex things are, that I should refuse the allegories of good and evil that, admittedly, have been reinforced by a sometimes fraternity like loop of pro-Israel tweets and Facebook updates. But resisting allegory also means discriminating between kinds of cruelty, and the values that inform them.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be unpalatable, his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman an outrageous embarrassment. But they do not advocate, or actually murder supposed traitors, and then drag them through the streets, as some Hamas loyalists did in Gaza. The image of that corpse in the streets of Gaza City, and their backers in Tehran with their nuclear ambitions, should give us alll pause, even after the cease-fire.
We as liberals should have the courage and maturity to distinguish kinds of cruelty and realize that the battle fought against Hamas, and by extension the one against Iran, is a liberal cause. We liberals may find right-wing politicians — both Israeli and American — unpalatable, even offensive. But we may also recognize, before too late, that the fight against Hamas and Iran should not be ceded to the right. We liberals – aside from our antipathy to cruelty – also value a democratic public sphere, freedom of expression and demonstration, a separation between Church and State.
So the battle against Hamas, put on hold for now, and the future one against Iran is our battle as well, maybe even first and foremost. And when we win it, we will not celebrate with gunfire or triumphalism, but gratefully relish our freedoms, among them, perhaps, reading sonnets undisturbed.
William Kolbrener, professor of English literature at Bar-Ilan University, is the author of, most recently,“Open Minded Torah, of Irony, Fundamentalism and Love” (Continuum, 2011).”