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OpinionIsrael at War

The new Jonestown

Israel must make it clear that peace is not an altar of human sacrifice.

Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple cult, in San Francisco in 1977. Credit: Nancy Wong via Wikimedia Commons.
Jim Jones, leader of the Peoples Temple cult, in San Francisco in 1977. Credit: Nancy Wong via Wikimedia Commons.
Benjamin Kerstein
Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv. Read more of his work on Substack at No Delusions, No Despair. Purchase his books here.

Peace is a very strange thing where Israel is concerned. Currently in the midst of a war against a satanic enemy, Israel is nonetheless being pressured from all sides to consider “the day after” and, at the very least, allow a Palestinian Authority takeover of Gaza to be followed by a Palestinian state. From some quarters, there is even the maddening demand that Hamas be allowed a governing role despite the Oct. 7 massacre.

These demands are made in the name of an amorphous “peace” for which Israel is naturally expected to make concessions.

Few of us, however, are unaware of the past. We know that it was the concessions demanded by the Oslo Accords that brought the P.A. to power and facilitated the Second Intifada and the rise of Hamas. We know that if Yasser Arafat had accepted Ehud Barak’s concessions in 2000, it is very likely that the genocidal assault would have come not just from Gaza but also from the hill country of Judea and Samaria and from the heart of Jerusalem itself. The same holds true for George W. Bush’s “roadmap” and John Kerry’s Obama-era demands.

Ironically, if Israel has anything to be grateful for in these dark days, it is the intransigence of the Palestinians. We can only thank God that they were obtuse enough to turn down the concessions that would have spilled oceans of our blood. Their unremitting racism, which prevented them from contemplating even the pretense of peace with Israel, is what saved us, although we have nevertheless suffered mightily because of it.

Given all this, it is difficult not to conclude that the peace the world is seeking is a very odd one. It is worth asking: Exactly what kind of peace is it?

I can think of only one answer. It is a very dark answer, but it is an answer.

In the late 1970s, an American cult called the Peoples Temple, led by a charismatic psychopath named Jim Jones, settled in Guyana. Following a series of incidents, climaxing in the second-ever assassination of a sitting U.S. congressman, some 900 cult members—almost the entire population of Jonestown—murdered their children and then committed mass suicide.

Before the people of Jonestown made their children drink fruit juice laced with cyanide, injected it into their babies’ mouths with syringes and finally drank it themselves, Jones gathered his people together to tell them the moment had come. A tape recording of Jones’s speech survived the carnage. Throughout, he is clearly heavily drugged, slurring his words and often lapsing into incomprehensibility. At one point, however, someone in the doomed audience asks why the children must be killed. They deserve a chance at life, the person says.

At that point, Jones’s voice becomes very firm and clear. “Yes,” he says, “but you know what else they deserve? They deserve peace.” That, it appears, was sufficient. Convinced by this admonition, all but a handful of those present complied with Jones’s orders.

This, one is compelled to say, was a kind of peace. The dead, after all, are unworried and undisturbed by the world. It is a peace that may even be attractive, at least in the abstract, to the sheltered and privileged West, where ennui has become an art form. And when one does not have to suffer the consequences, it is not so difficult to demand that others accede to such a peace.

There is something even deeper and more unspeakable at work, however. One senses that like Hamas, which has deformed and degraded one of the world’s great religions into a death cult, those who demand such a peace worship a kind of dark and hideous god that must be propitiated, and to which they must periodically feed the Jews and, ultimately, themselves—as the wars of the last century have shown. This, the advocates of Jones’s peace appear to believe, will finally set the world right.

Judaism, however, has always been very clear about what it thinks of such gods and their worshippers. Israel today should cleave to that tradition. Israel must remember that, when some speak of peace, they are speaking of an abomination. We must make it clear that peace is not an altar of human sacrifice. We must say to the West: We have conceded enough to satisfy whatever nightmare god you have conjured up out of the depths. You are welcome to propitiate it yourselves, but we are no longer interested in indulging you.

Nor, Israel should say, are we prepared to grant you any of the moral deference to which you appear to believe yourselves entitled. We have done everything you asked of us. You told us that this would be sufficient. You lied. It is now clear that nothing will satisfy you. The fact that you persist in your demands does not make you a caste of disappointed saints. It makes you hideous creatures, deserving of neither respect nor pity.

Such an assertion is all the more important because it appears that what the creatures demand of Israel is, in fact, what they want for themselves. It is they who are standing in the vast crowd of the doomed, listening with rapt attention to the mumblings and groanings of a madman. And it is they who intend to go willingly into the void. They have done it before, after all.

It is their right to do so, of course, but they have no right to demand that others do the same. Until the West begins to demand another kind of peace, it will be Israel’s duty to stand firm on its ancient principles. If in doing so we must suffer the wrath of the new Jonestown, so be it. They will not be around much longer.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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