Local Jewish leaders speak out on war in Gaza: Jason Moss
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
Jason Moss is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys. He spoke to the Courier by phone on Tuesday, November 7.
How difficult has the last month been for you and your constituents?
“It has been challenging, sad, anger filled, fearful, and heartbreaking, all of those emotions, for the community.
“So many in our community have strong and deep connections to Israel, whether they lived there, are from there, or have family there, friends. All of the attention and thoughts are with the people of Israel. Many of the community have struggled to feel like they can do anything adequate to make things better, knowing that they can’t, but trying to find moments and ways to help in whatever way they can, whether it’s making donations, whether it’s providing more information, and just giving lots of thoughts and prayers, which of course unfortunately is very inadequate under the circumstances.
“The community though has really rallied together in its support for Israel, in its solidarity with Israel, and knowing full well that there is going to be the inevitable perception that Israel has far exceeded its proportionality to the attack by Hamas. And with that, unfortunately, there’s a perception that there has to be proportionality to what transpired, and Israel is inevitably always held to a higher account and a higher moral standard than any other nation. What we’re witnessing — and the community is struggling with — is this idea of people believing that Jews and Israelis don’t care about the innocent lives being lost by Hamas’ actions of how it’s conducting its side of the war by putting civilians in harm’s way and not doing whatever they can to even lead their people … because they were elected.”
Have any elements of Israel’s response to October 7 caused you concern? If so, please elaborate.
“Yes and no. And I mean that because … I think we forget that since we do not live in Israel — and right now I’m speaking for myself as someone who doesn’t live in Israel, but has a direct connection to Israel — there is this lack of truly grasping what it’s like living with a terrorist on your border. And so many people try to not justify Hamas’ actions — although some people definitely are — they’re trying to almost do a moral equivalency of how Israel has acted prior to October 7 that in their mind led to the attack.
“I think there’s a perception that Israel is an apartheid state, is trying to commit genocide. All those things that have perpetuated on to Israel in the past because of how they have treated Palestinians, all under the auspices of trying to protect their citizens.
“So even the concept that Gaza is an ‘open air jail,’ and that’s thrown about a lot … When Israel left Gaza after the world said leave and there will be peace, and Israel said, okay, we’re going to give this land back, but we’re still going to do something to protect our citizens, and the rockets started, Israel set up this boundary, this protective wall to protect their citizens. And as Hamas and the other terrorist organizations that were living and operating there continued firing rockets, Israel continued to prevent certain materials to go into Gaza — that’s why they set up all the gates — for security means. This is where the challenge of what has led to people’s misunderstanding of the situation or not fully grasping some of the decisions that Israel made early on.
“Prior to October 7, the effort being done in the West Bank to continue to grow the settlements has been of concern because of the perception that Israel is trying to do some land grabbing before any type of two state solution is put into place. That’s where I have had some personal issues with it. And also following October 7 I have wrestled with this idea of how does anyone expect Israel to operate in a way that would be different from any other nation? The struggle has been why is Israel held to a higher account? Before Israel has carried out any part of its mission, it has worked hard to notify the Palestinians that are living in the building, to notify them by calling, by basically saying, ‘Hey, we’d like you to leave, because we’re going to attack this building.’ They’ve dropped leaflets saying please leave this area, we’re going to attack this building. They’ve gotten on megaphones and broadcast out, ‘We are going to attack this building.’ And then when they attack the building, everyone goes, ‘How could they do that? They didn’t notify.’ Israel’s done all these things. And no other nation makes those types of moral steps to try to preserve life. Everything that Israel has done, except for the occasional mistake that every nation has always done when conducting a war … they are trying to pinpoint their attacks and not targeting Palestinians and those living in Gaza. Israel from the beginning has clearly articulated that they are trying to attack Hamas, a terrorist organization, and Hamas continues to put their citizens in harm’s way, preventing them from leaving areas, putting up roadblocks, basically utilizing whatever material they have — food, water, gasoline — for their own use instead of helping their citizens. The creation of the tunnels, the placement of headquarters and rocket launchers all those things next to schools, hospitals and so forth, has caused Israel to attack those areas because they are trying to neutralize Hamas’ ability to attack its citizens.
“And that’s where the struggle and the concern has been for the greater community, in this idea of a lack of realizing that all these calls for a ceasefire? There was a ceasefire in place up to October 6. Hamas broke the ceasefire. Hamas is the one that caused this devastation. And that’s not to minimize the innocent lives lost. Because the IDF is rooted in the Jewish mentality of preserving life as much as they possibly can.”
Do you wrestle with the optics of the devastating footage emerging daily from Gaza showing dead Palestinian children?
“Without question. Because unfortunately there’s been a rush to judgment on every single thing Israel has done and there’s been no moral outcry after October 7 of Hamas’ actions.
“The optics of what it is is it looks like this massive power is working on this poor, feeble group of people, meaning Hamas, and there are innocents that are caught in the crossfire without question. It’s something that the community does wrestle with because of that optic. In fact, in my opinion it is what has proliferated all of the pro-Palestinian rallies and the calls for Israel’s destruction, because of that optic, because of that perception that people are seeing that Israel is going to far. Again, we have even elected officials calling what Israel’s doing a genocide, when it doesn’t fit the definition of what the accepted definition of genocide is.
“And part of it comes back to the idea that there is … all the reports coming out again, on another side is, and Hamas is stating this publicly in Arab-speaking media: there are stockpiles of gasoline that they are using to keep their tunnels ventilated. They have water. They have food. But they are choosing how they use it, and they are not giving it the humanitarian uses necessary to their citizens. And it’s belief they’re choosing not to do that because the more that they can show Israel is causing more suffering, the PR battle is being won by them.
“And I’m not saying this as a way to belittle or dehumanize Palestinians in any shape or form with that. But that is that believed thought process about why Hamas has done what they do.
“The fact that they kidnapped over 240 people and Israel basically is saying ‘Give us our citizens back and we can have a conversation about ceasefire.’ And besides the four hostages that were released, one that was evacuated and saved by the IDF, they have not taken a single step in that.”
Does opinion vary among your constituents as to how Israel is conducting this war? If so, what are those concerns, and what do you tell those who have misgivings?
“My staff are very much unified around this idea, but there are members of the Jewish community that are calling for ceasefire. They are calling for the idea to end this hostility because of the concern for more and more innocent people being killed. And this is where the internal conflict is taking place within the community because of this idea.
“And unfortunately things are being portrayed as kind of an ‘either/or’ instead of an ‘and’ situation. As in, we are either for Israel or for the Palestinians. I’m talking about not just in the Jewish community, I’m talking in a global sense. Instead of a ‘We are upset and frustrated and angry at Hamas for putting us in this situation, and, we are really concerned about the innocent lives being lost.’ That message is not being conveyed as much as it should because it becomes an either/or.
“But internally in the Jewish community there are some that are really struggling with this and calling for the ceasefire, and calling on the Israeli government to stop, because of human life, because of the perception of what Israel is doing basically almost being the moral equivalent of what Hamas did is being questioned. And then of course you see the fear that’s being caused by this on college campuses and the fear and intimidation towards Jewish students and Jewish faculty as a result of these things. And that’s where a lot of the Jewish community’s concerns are right now.”
Moss gave the example of the death on Sunday of a Jewish counter-protestor at a pro-Palestinian rally in Westlake Village.
“These situations which are being perceived as such a simple thing are so complex and on so many levels that on one day we have somebody that’s like, ‘No, we should keep doing this,’ on another day, ‘No, we should stop this.’ This moral wrestling match that’s taking place within people’s minds and the community, it’s really hard to wrestle with this because we also don’t live in Israel.”
Do you think Israel should have a pause or cease fire to try and minimize civilian casualties and allow time to move in humanitarian aid?
“If Israel even entertains the idea of a ceasefire or a humanitarian pause, there has to be something from Hamas showing that [they’re] willing to do that. Again, the leverage that Hamas has unfortunately besides PR is the hostages. And until they are willing to truly offer the hostages back, the idea behind a ceasefire gives the IDF real concern because of the possibility of rearmament and future attacks by Hamas.
“The goal for this battle is really trying to eradicate Hamas, free the Palestinians from Hamas, and ultimately be able to have a neighbor that buys into the idea that Israel has a right to exist. And it’s hard when Hamas has it in their charter to say, no.”
Some critics of Israel’s response are calling it genocide or ethnic cleansing. What is your opinion?
“Genocide is, in my understanding of the definition, is an intentionality to eradicate a people for the beliefs of who they are. If Israel was trying to commit genocide, there would be no warnings of attacks taking place at specific buildings; there would be no urgings to ask the Gazans to leave the north because they’re targeting the north. Those types of things are examples to this is not a war against the Palestinians; this is a war against Hamas, who attacked and took hostages from Israel. And the idea of ethnic cleansing is very unfortunate because that is not what is happening at all. If that was the case Israeli citizens who are Arab would not have the same rights as Israelis.”
Moss singled out the phrase “From the river to the sea,” which he said is being heard increasingly on college campuses and at pro-Palestinian rallies, as deeply troubling for Jews.
“It’s a reference to their own wanting to ethnically cleanse Israelis out of the area. Any statement of ‘From the river to the sea’ is an attempt to basically wipe away Israel from the map, because what they’re trying to state is Israel has no right to the land and basically things would be better without that. And that’s their goal.
“But the concept that Israel is trying to ethnically cleanse and to commit genocide is unfortunately being perceived as the numbers continue to rise of innocent civilians.”
I’ve heard more than one Israeli scholar and/or official say Netanyahu’s hard line response is creating a new generation of antisemites. What do you think about this assertion?
“I think there’s some weight to that. On October 7 the first call I made when I got news of it was to the LA Sheriff’s Department because I believed and was later proved that the Jewish community locally was going to become targets of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment because we are perceived as the proxies for Israel. And as we’ve seen since October 7 there’s been a 400% increase in antisemitic incidents.
“I believe the scholars are right in that idea that the more that Israel is perceived to be going too far very well could create more people that will become anti-Israel and antisemitic supporters. Because again, because of the idea that ‘Look what a Jewish state does when it has power.’
“We heard that with ISIS in Iraq and the US government was talking about its own people saying ‘Look, the longer we do this, we are creating more terrorists, because there are going to be people that want to take out their vengeance on the people that caused it.’ And I think it’s inevitable. And it doesn’t surprise me in any shape or form. It worries me because of the current climate of hate that is existing. And I think … there’s always going to be this perception that anything Israel does is going to create more hostility toward Jews worldwide, not just here in America.”