The morning after Easter Sunday in 1903, Yehiel Pesker went to his shop at the Kishinev market to inspect for damage. The previous day, the early rumblings of a pogrom had unsettled the city. On his way back home, he saw about 200 Jews armed with clubs and even a few guns—the second wave of one of history’s most notorious pogroms would come that day and Jews wanted to be prepared. When the pogromists came there was a standoff, until the police intervened against the Jews and the deadly violence continued.

Although these Jews merely presented a desire to defend themselves should they be attacked, and although this was one brief moment on the second day of a three-day blood-riot that would shock the world, “local antisemites and their sympathizers,” according to historian Steven J. Zipperstein, tried to argue that this was an escalation by the Jews and therefore the victims were really to blame for the pogrom. Elsewhere in town, a nearly 60-year-old Jewish man fought off four attackers, who then spread the rumor that a Jew had murdered Christians. For some, then, a literal blood libel in the middle of an extended massacre was transformed into the origin story of the whole riot.

“In arguments made by defense attorneys at the trials of pogrom-related crimes, Sunday’s rioting was dismissed as a ruckus that would quickly have come to an end… had Jews not overreacted,” writes Zipperstein. “In this version it was the all-but-unprovoked aggression of Jews and subsequent rumors of attacks on a church and the killing of a priest that set in motion the unfortunate but, under the circumstances, understandable violence.”

That all may sound ridiculous, because few pogroms are better known than Kishinev and because it had such a profound effect on history: It shaped the perspectives of important Zionist figures and it alarmed the world, even becoming an element of the civil-rights fight in America as an example of why racial and ethnic minorities needed protection from the state enshrined in law.

But leave out the names of people and places, and you’d be describing the response to Hamas’s October 7 massacre. The Jews had it coming; the attacks were essentially an act of self-defense; it would’ve been a minor event had the Jews not escalated by defending themselves.

The Russian police director tried to argue at least for moral equivalence, based on these lies, between the Kishinev Jews and their murderers. You can hear a direct echo of this in Karim Khan, prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, filing applications for arrest warrants for both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas terrorist leader Yahya Sinwar: “if we do not demonstrate our willingness to apply the law equally, if it is seen as being applied selectively, we will be creating the conditions for its collapse.” That echo is arguably even louder in the New York Times, which describes the reactions to Khan’s stunt this way: “Mr. Khan’s decision to simultaneously pursue Israeli and Palestinian leaders was criticized by Israeli government ministers and Hamas alike. Both sides questioned why their allies had been targeted instead of their enemies alone.”

Ah yes, both sides. A month after the Hamas attacks, the author Sam Harris denounced this way of thinking on his podcast in a soliloquy that will stand the test of time. The key part:

Of course, the boundary between Anti-Semitism and generic moral stupidity is a little hard to discern—and I’m not sure that it is always important to find it. I’m not sure it matters why a person can’t distinguish between collateral damage in a necessary war and conscious acts of genocidal sadism that are celebrated as a religious sacrament by a death cult. Our streets have been filled with people, literally tripping over themselves in their eagerness to demonstrate that they cannot distinguish between those who intentionally kill babies, and those who inadvertently kill them, having taken great pains to avoid killing them, while defending themselves against the very people who have just intentionally tortured and killed innocent men, women, and yes… babies…

If you have landed, proudly and sanctimoniously, on the wrong side of this asymmetry—this vast gulf between savagery and civilization—while marching through the quad of an Ivy League institution wearing yoga pants, I’m not sure it matters that your moral confusion is due to the fact that you just happen to hate Jews. Whether you’re an anti-Semite or just an apologist for atrocity is probably immaterial. The crucial point is that you are dangerously confused about the moral norms and political sympathies that make life in this world worth living.

And in Khan’s case, if you can’t or won’t differentiate between Hamas’s war and Israel’s, you possess a moral deficit that disqualifies you from any position of authority or responsibility over others.

More important, however, is the core idea behind this trend. For most of history you could simply punish Jews for defending themselves, for staying alive. A pathetic puffed-up prosecutor could watch in silence as Jews were murdered and then file charges against “both sides” as soon as a Jew picked up a club in self-defense. Because the law, you see, must be applied evenly. The world wasn’t going to do anything about Hamas, even after its demonic acts on October 7. A fair prosecutor must wait until there is a Jew to be put in the dock as well. That’s balance. That’s justice.

Karim Khan may be a feeble clown, but he makes an airtight case for the existence of the State of Israel.

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