Jews aren’t allowed to worry about their pets suffering. That would be shallow. In particular, Jews aren’t allowed to worry about their pets being hurt by Hamas, because that would be truly shallow. God knows, Israelis deserve to be targeted, so if Hamas causes their beloved cats or dogs to suffer, that’s just fine.
Though I find this premise appalling, it seems to be the conventional wisdom. Apparently, it’s the way that caring people think.
Writing in The Jerusalm Post, Israeli Sharon Udasin quoted Nofar Gal, who lives near the border with Gaza: “The situation in the South has been very difficult not only for us humans but also for our pets.” Gal’s dog, Pitzy, “has particularly been affected by the alarms and explosions, perpetually crying and sleeping only in the family’s bed, as well as needing medicine to calm her nerves.”
Udasin writes about animals regularly; that’s part of her purview as a journalist. She betrays sympathyeven for animals on the other side of the border: “If Gazans have pets they are concerned about, then they are welcome to contact me…”
Predictably, her writing about an Israeli’s pet dog triggered outrage in sensitive non-Israelis. The professionally sensitive — liberal reporters — were especially incensed. Typical was Rory MacKinnon, a New Zealander who writes for London’s Morning Star:
@sharonudasin stalks the wards of Shifa hospital in #Gaza. “Doctor, with all these people injured or dead, who will feed their cats?”
So, the obvious, the decent response is to sneer at Israelis for caring about their pets. Good liberal folk — the ones who have mature priorities — recognize that innocent dogs and cats just don’t matter, given the severity of the situation. And what’s particularly obvious is that the feelings of Israelis who care about these creatures are of no consequence whatsoever. I mean, let’s be adults.
Now, I too am a liberal reporter, but of the unprofessional and insensitive variety. I can’t help noting, for instance, that these same decent souls almost certainly felt bad for Americans whose pets suffered as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Of course, that was different: storms are Acts of God.
Here we’re talking about deadly shells launched by Hamas. Which are not Acts of God — not by a long shot. When you think about it, however, Acts of Evil People are in fact somewhat uglier. Shouldn’t you have even more sympathy for Israelis in this circumstance?
Unless — and this is the real subtext here — you feel that Israeli citizens should be okay with explosives raining down upon them. After all, they brought this on themselves, right?
Okay, let’s reframe the analogy. Surely Americans living near Wall Street shouldn’t have been concerned when their pets were endangered by terrorists on 9/11. That would have been shallow, right? People were dying. A family pet you’ve cared for — have lived with for years — might be traumatized or lost? You’re upset by this? Grow up.
Ah, but that was clearly different: America doesn’t deserve its terrorists, whereas Israel does.
Am I suggesting that America deserved to be bombed by bin Laden? Um, no. Quite the opposite: I’m suggesting that Israel doesn’t deserve to be shelled, year round, by thugs across the border. And no, that’s not how I’m describing the Palestinian people: that’s how I’m describing the tyrants they were foolish enough to elect in Gaza, and now find themselves incapable of unelecting.
These are the gangsters who are shelling Israel. And yes, as with America’s enemies, they’re a lot weaker and poorer than the people they’re terrorizing. They bear profound historical grudges, just as America’s enemies do. Some of those grievances are legitimate.
And they are criminals.
Now, we can argue about the appropriate military response to these criminals: whether certain diplomatic solutions should take precedence; whether aerial retaliation is appropriate; whether sending in ground troops might be excessive or tactically foolish. But sorry, friends, this is not really a matter of dispute: Israelis are allowed to care if their beloved pets are distressed or killed by Hamas.
Dashiell Bennett has a good piece in The Atlantic, pointing out that Americans have in fact always worried about and mourned their animals in times of crisis. He discusses Hurricane Sandy, but also much earlier catastrophes, some of them man-made: “One of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady’s most famous images is of a dead horse.”
Bennett should not have had to write this piece. I spent a lot of time talking to people about the desperate situation of animals during Hurricane Sandy, and not one — literally, not a single person — suggested that the topic might be somehow inappropriate. I expect nobody even thought to raise that complaint.
And yet, when it’s Israel being shelled by murderers, you require a detailed argument, placing everything in historical perspective, to explain how these Israelis are just like us when it comes to behaving in human ways.
Consider this: humans, unless they are sociopaths, care about the plight of innocent creatures. Israelis care about the plight of innocent creatures since, oddly enough, they’re not a nation of sociopaths. Hence, Israelis — and I know a lot of people have a hard time with this — share certain attributes with actual humans.
This story is not really about the suffering of animals in the conflict. It is about the degree to which bigotry against Israel is simply a natural reflex in otherwise civilized people. This bigotry is so deeply ingrained in our society that even non-bigots, when confronted with it, require complex arguments to explain why they ought to be outraged.
War writing has always stressed the quotidian. The horrors of grievous injury and death are described, to be sure, but what often affects us most are details of ordinary lives quietly disrupted by the violence of history: the subtle but telling ways in which daily routines are augmented by misery.
So I have no problem with Sharon Udasin continuing to write, as she does on her regular beat, about ordinary people and their domestic creatures.
Eh, perhaps I’m just shallow. Of course I care about civilians traumatized and dying — I care about Israelis and Palestinians, equally — but clearly I’ve been spending too much of my time writing about animal welfare. I’ve lost perspective. In fact, I’ll confess to being doubly superficial. My trivial soul is bipartisan: like Udasin, I care about helpless animals on both sides of the border.
Nevertheless, I prefer my form of shallowness to Rory MacKinnon’s passionate, politically-engaged variety. Caring about animals reveals our humanity. And I still care about our humanity.