Guest columnist Rob Okun: Little League's mercy rule in a time of war

A view of the rubble of buildings hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, on Oct. 10, 2023. After 11 weeks of war in Gaza, the Israeli military campaign against Hamas now sits among the deadliest and most destructive in history.

A view of the rubble of buildings hit by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, on Oct. 10, 2023. After 11 weeks of war in Gaza, the Israeli military campaign against Hamas now sits among the deadliest and most destructive in history. AP PHOTO/FATIMA SHBAIR

By ROB OKUN

Published: 01-15-2024 12:27 PM

Let’s start with some basic assumptions: 1) Israel is not Jewish — just as the U.S. is not Christian. 2) Palestine is not Muslim. 3) Hamas perpetrates heinous acts, puts civilian lives in peril, and regularly violates the “rules” of war. 4) Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) perpetrates heinous acts, puts civilian lives in peril, and regularly violates the “rules” of war.

As a Jew who mourns the death of everyone killed on Oct. 7, and all those killed in the three months since (as well as all the dead over the previous 75 years), I’ve prayed and protested for an end to the fighting.

Little League baseball has what’s called the mercy rule. If one team is ahead by 10 runs, the game ends, and the team in the lead wins. No such rule exists in war where there is no mercy (and there are no winners).

When we speak of war dead, we are talking about individual, precious, irreplaceable human lives, so please forgive me if what follows sounds insensitive. The score to date: Israel 23,500, Hamas 1,200. No Little League rules apply.

In November 2010, I went on retreat at Auschwitz with 80 others of many faiths. Each morning and afternoon for nearly a week we meditated by the infamous railroad tracks before taking turns chanting the names of those the Nazis gassed to death. Not for a second do I question the 80 years of trauma that Jews carry within us; nor do I question how retraumatized Jews living in Israel have felt in the aftermath of the sadistic, murderous assault Hamas carried out. Simultaneous truth: Palestinians are equally retraumatized, waking up every day to Israel’s relentless bombing campaign, a horrific nightmare on par with the Nakba (Catastrophe), that Palestinians endured when they were forced from their homes in 1948.

No government should be exempt from criticism of its policies. Nor should the fog of war be used to deflect that criticism. It pains me to see the Israeli government — and many allied with it in the U.S. — cynically playing the Holocaust card to justify the carnage the Netanyahu government is raining down on Palestinian civilians in the name of rooting out Hamas. The IDF isn’t painstakingly searching for a needle (Hamas terrorists) in a haystack (the civilian population in Gaza); they are burning the haystack to the ground to find the needle.

South Africa’s charge of genocide before the International Court of Justice for how Israel’s government is prosecuting its reign of terror, is heartbreaking to Jews worldwide. It demeans the memories of the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.

The growing number of Jews of all ages rising up to defiantly say, “Not in our name” are not “self-hating,” not “soft on Hamas,” not “antisemitic.” It is because we are Jews committed to advancing Judaism’s imperative, ”Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue,” that we are protesting, petitioning, pressuring, and praying for a cease-fire.

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Over the past three months, the U.S. mainstream news media has frequently presented sensitive portraits of the victims and survivors of Oct. 7. That has humanized their story. Considering the countless, heartbreaking stories there are of Palestinians killed in Gaza, why haven’t there been more portraits of those victims and survivors? Too often they remain numbers without names.

That brings me to President Joe Biden. What’s happened to the “mourner-in-chief” who stirs hearts with his empathetic response to the families of victims of violence? Where have you gone, Joe? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

In the aftermath of Oct. 7, he miscalculated, cozying up too closely and for too long to the despot, Benjamin Netanyahu. He still has time to summon the courage to do a 180 and tell the prime sinister publicly what he’s allegedly telling him privately: “Enough!”

Ethically, strategically, politically, from whatever angle he assesses the situation, there is a moral imperative to listen to hundreds of countries in the UN. If you won’t listen to them, Mr. President, listen to your own conscience.

If this war had followed Little League’s mercy rule, the “game” would have been called months ago, before all the enemy’s ball fields had been bombed to rubble with thousands buried under it. Have mercy.

Rob Okun (rob@voicemalemagazine.org), syndicated byPeace Voice, is editor emeritus of Voice Male, a magazine that for more than three decades has been chronicling the transformation of masculinity and manhood. He writes about politics and culture.