What does 'Death to Israel' mean to you?
They may think Israel is one huge, Arab-loathing, mass-murdering, land-robbing plague of an illegitimate entity. It is certainly easier on the political conscience to see us this way.
My daughter went to school this morning worried about her civics exam. She came home worried about explosive warheads. As of this week, she's in range: Her school is now within reach of rockets that travel farther and with far more deadly payloads than the weapons we knew just a short time ago. With blasts strong enough to shatter windows seven stories in the air.
My daughter is an unarmed noncombatant. That should matter. It should matter, in particular, to progressives who believe, and justly so, that the inalienable rights of human beings, children in particular, take clear precedence over the strategic designs of nation-states and the appetites of nationalism.
It should matter, as well, when progressives turn a blind eye to war crimes committed against Israel - or, for that matter, to war crimes committed by Syria against Syrians. The assumption is that Israel's crimes are of such Third Reich magnitude, that anti-civilian violence committed by its enemies is either negligible or justified.
I'll grant that it may be easier to see things this way from a distance. Say, the greater Akron, Ohio, area, where last week Kent State history professor Julio Pino stormed out of a lecture given by Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi - the first Bedouin Arab to serve in Israel's foreign service - shouting "Death to Israel."
Prof. Pino did not explain what he meant by death to Israel. Nor did Utah attorney Robert Breeze, when Salt Lake City granted him a municipal permit to stage a 14-hour "Death to Israel" rally in Salt Lake City in 2006. Closer to home, though, where the Islamic Jihad's calls of "Death to Israel" come wrapped in Iranian steel and 40 pounds of explosives, the message is sharp as shrapnel: a call for genocide.
"Death to Israel" means death to Israelis. It means death to the members of my family. Like many in Israel, a family that has long worked hard and consistently and intensively for the rights of Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, to live in safety and sovereignty in a country of their own. What we want for ourselves is no less just. It is, in fact, the very same: freedom to live in safety and sovereignty.
I'll grant also that for some progressives, it may all come down to a question of numbers. I wonder how - or if - Pino relates to the death last weekend of Moshe Ami, the father and grandfather killed by an Islamic Jihad rocket, put to death on the streets of Ashkelon for the crime of Driving While Israeli. He may see disproportionality and injustice in the fact that only one Israeli died in the rocket attacks, while army air strikes in Gaza killed at least 10 members of the Islamic Jihad and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, several of them while in the act of firing rockets at southern and now central Israel.
It should matter that Israel took pains to spare Palestinian civilians in these raids. It should matter, just as the wrongheaded, ultimately self-destructive excess and civilian casualties of past operations have mattered to those who justly condemned them.
It should matter that the Islamic Jihad, Iran's direct foothold in Palestine, knows precisely what Death to Israel means. As does Iran.
What is this country that Julio Pino and Robert Breeze believe deserves to die? They may think they know Israel. They may think this is one huge, Arab-loathing, mass-murdering, land-robbing plague of an illegitimate entity. It is certainly easier on the political conscience to see us this way.
But if progressives cannot see Israelis as people, if they cannot summon up the same compassion and concern for unarmed combatants on both sides of a battle front, it's time they checked their ideology for holes.
The country that Pino and Breeze want to see eradicated is far more complex and worthwhile than they want to consider. It is a country in which a clear majority of the population, battered by wars and terrorism and heartbreak and frustration, still wants to see negotiations leading to a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and an end to occupation.
My daughter's civics teacher, who teaches her class about the natural rights of all peoples to liberty and security, gives extra credit to students for going to demonstrations and protests. You can be sure that each one of those pupils, left, right or center, knows exactly what "Death to Israel" means. Not one of them, left, right or center, will stand for it. Not one of them should.
Bradley Burston is senior editor of Haaretz.com.