The Disproportionality of Disproportionate Response


naphtali-hoffBy Rabbi Naphtali Hoff

In 1992 I was studying abroad in Eretz Yisrael. That winter, the Middle East experienced one of the most sizable snowfalls on record. Yerushalayim, which was home to my yeshiva, was shut down for three days, with almost no vehicular traffic on the streets. (One exception was the army tank that climbed the main hill leading up to our neighborhood in order to bring a woman in labor to the hospital.) Naturally, for a country that rarely sees the powdery white stuff outside of Mount Hermon in the north, Israelis were quite excited. They were out in abundance, taking pictures, fashioning igloos (to the best of their ability) and just taking in the scene.

One evening that week, I was outside on the street with some friends. We, too, were enjoying the snow when suddenly some unexpected powder started flying our way. Israeli teenagers, similar to us in age, began throwing snow at us. However, these “antagonists” lacked basic snow skills as compacting (this was likely their first snow ball fight and their “snowballs” would disintegrate in midair) and throwing (as soccer players, they never developed that art). As you can imagine, my friends and I had a field day.

As someone who played quarterback throughout his teenage years, my arm strength was good and my aim was precise. My friends were not too shabby either. Snowballs were hitting them in all areas, and with decent velocity. Soon, our “combatants” were waving their white flags. “Not so hard!” “This is just a game!” They were right, though that didn’t stop us from our bombardment, at least not until our supply had diminished.  It was a classic case of a disproportionate response, but all in the name of fun.

We hear much today about disproportionate response, as in Israel being chastised in the court of public opinion and in such political establishments as the United Nations for using it. Whether the measure for such accusations is the number of dead civilians or extent of damage, it is clear that Israel has been pronounced guilty of using disproportionate measures to defend its people and dethrone a band of unabashed terrorists.

I simultaneously find this to be perplexing, disturbing and outright amusing.

Consider: in 2013, the U.N. General Assembly in 2013 adopted a total of 21 resolutions singling out Israel for criticism. 4 resolutions were directed towards the rest of the world combined: one on Syria, a regime that has murdered well over one hundred thousand of its own people, and one each on Iran, North Korea and Myanmar. There were zero UNGA resolutions on gross and systematic abuses committed by China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, nor on many other major perpetrators of grave violations of human rights.

In response to the recent escalation known as Operation protective Edge, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to create an “independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human-rights law.” To be clear, these “violations” are the ones attributed to Israel, not its Jihadist, terrorist adversary Hamas. No such commissions have been established to “inquire” about Baku Haram, ISIS, or other terrorist groups that are killing, maiming, and terrorizing civilians at historic clips.

And what might these Israeli “violations” be? Consider these foregone conclusions. “The Council condemns in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations…since 13 June 2014.”

Is such biased, one-sided international policing not a far better example of “disproportionate response”?

Or what about the conduct of Hamas? Does not use of human shields to protect weapons constitute a “disproportionate” strategy in the annals of warfare? How about hiding missiles in communal institutions like schools and hospitals and using ambulances to smuggle rockets across checkpoints? Is there not something “disproportionate” about allocating billions of dollars of international aid and thousands of tons of concrete – resources that were alleged to be part of building Gaza into a better, more peaceful state – towards the construction of elaborate “terror tunnels” aimed at giving terrorists easy entrance into Israel for nefarious means?

Are these not also evidence of “disproportionate response”?

How about the war being waged in streets throughout the free world, where angry, violent Muslims and supporters are barking for the freedom of “Palestine” while simultaneously attacking all Jews, including those with no formal ties to Israel? Is the clear and open association of Zionism with Judaism “disproportionate”? And, in general, is it not two-faced to smear the West and call for its destruction while also pandering to it for support?

Speaking of pandering, is the sickening, pro-Arab response of President Obama and Secretary Kerry not the most “disproportionate response” ever offered by America to its only Middle East ally and the only democracy in the region?

Let’s not forget about our “objective” friends in the international media. Why is Israel guilty until proven innocent on newscasts and talk shows the world over? Is it not “disproportionate” for news anchors, pundits, reporters and celebrities to ignore core facts about the struggle and lay blame at Israel’s feet, despite all of the obvious problems  with their claims (election and empowerment of Hamas, kidnapping of Israeli teenagers, continued bombardment of Israeli cities and towns with rockets, terror tunnels, etc.)?

When I reflect upon my snowy battle on that wintry Jerusalem evening, I think of how “disproportionate” the concept of “disproportionate response” can be in the eyes of the respective beholder. The fact that the other teens had initiated the “fight” made no difference in terms of how it played out. As I watch with continued concern about the situation in Israel and pray for a peaceful outcome that reestablishes some element of normalcy and security for the region, I can only hope that the world and its leaders will begin to see the folly of its cliché and recognize that the terrorists who began and perpetuated the struggle (through repeated refusal to cease fire) cannot be protected as the innocent victims of a beleaguered nation that simply wants to live in peace.

Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and President of Impactful Coaching & Consulting ( He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at

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  1. Terror is disproportionate. If you want right allocations of firepower, consider that bigger hopes are cleared hate and improved hope. If we never succeed when over 60 of our soldiers paid the ultimate price to eradicate Hamas, to whom did we give our nullified victory? Israel must push this to its conclusion. Nullify the terror instead of our own prayer. Mild victory but huge concession. Hamas must be eradicated for all future events. This can not continue.

  2. the world that says Israel’s operation is a disproportionate response found another way to legitimize anti-semitism.

    The response may be disproportionate, however, not in the way the world thinks. the enemy has sent over 10,000 rockets into Israel over the years against innocent citizens. each rocket is a threat to innocent lives. thus the response is disproportionate in terms that each person who sends a rocket is a rodef – a persuer, according to Torah. a rodef is chayav mitah, liable for death. for more info see sheva mitzvot bnai noach.

    I would go so far to say every terrorist or those that support it financially may also be chayav mitah for they are willing to kill. but I am not sure. so ask someone knowledgeable in those laws.

  3. Do the math

    Total casualties of Citizens due to Israeli fire = casualties reported – (terrorists killed + people aiding terrorists + people who sent themselves in the line of fire + those killed because they were used as shields + those executed by terrorists + those reported casualties that were outright lies)

    You will find it is not a disproportionate response.

  4. Let’s state things simply for those who are confused by the media’s number manipulation:

    What if a known gang member in your neighborhood goes at your child with the intent to eliminate him, and your child defends himself skillfully and incapacitates the bully and his gang which has been threatening the safety of your entire neighborhood. What if in doing so, your child inadvertently hurts the bully and some of his cronies who are standing by to cheer the bully on? Is your child culpable? What if the ruthless bully deliberately holds a baby in his arms so that it should get hurt and the blame should be placed on your child? Think about it. All this talk about proportion is skewed. Numbers don’t tell the whole story.

  5. This is an excellent article. Too bad Rabbi Hoff is preaching to the choir. He should send this article to the NY Times