October 13th, 2023

The Yoga Lab Stands With Israel –
Fighting Against “Whatabout-ism”

Outreach > Israel

Written by Jay Koh

Horror, terror, and atrocities are words we never hear in a yoga studio.

Many yoga studio owners and teachers avoid talking about potentially political statements for fear of losing business or worse because they wrap themselves up in a cocoon of self-spiritualism.

But this mentality of “I’m not going to address this highly charged issue” creates a tacit acceptance of injustice. And if someone steps forward and calls people out about their silence, the fallback position is “whatabout-ism” where a yoga leader can always say, “Well, what about so-and-so who also didn’t say anything?”

I’m not going to play that game. I’m not going to play any games.

I was raised in a world where there were objective truths, where we called things as they were rather than how we wished for them to be. In yogic philosophy, we talk about the importance of Satya (truthfulness). Satya is not about sweeping stuff under the rug but about bringing things into the light to be seen clearly.

And as worried as I was about the rise in anti-Semitism while writing my previous post less than a month ago, now with the terrorism committed against Israel last Saturday, October 7, 2023 where more than 1300 Israelis were massacred in a coordinated attack by Gaza fighters who illegally entered Israel, I realize that my worst fears about anti-Semitism were substantially less than the reality. 

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At this point, I’m sure that many people will say things like, “What about the suffering of the Palestinians?” or “What about Gaza being the most densely populated part of the world and their terrible living conditions?”

This is the same tactic that we see so often now in American politics when a politician doesn’t want to answer a difficult question honestly and directly. It is “whatabout-ism”, and it creates a false reality that allows people to fool themselves.

I do not stand with Israel because I am Jewish. I am not Jewish. 

I do not stand with Israel because it’s some kind of advantageous business decision, since the large majority of my students are not Jewish. 

I stand with Israel for the simple reason that innocent men, women, children, and babies were slaughtered, defiled, and abducted to be used as hostages. 

israeli flags, israel, israel flag

There are a couple of things that shock me about the responses I’ve seen. 

First, the growing pro-Palestinian sentiment. It feels like a typical viral moment where everyone starts supporting a cause just because it seems trendy. Many of these pro-Palestinian supporters online will not address the atrocities committed last weekend. Instead, they deflect by saying, “Well, what about Israel being an occupying force?” 

We as a society need the courage to call things as they really are and not deflect.

There is no excuse for the way the attack by Gazan terrorists was carried out. The only reason to kill as indiscriminately as they did was not because it was some unfortunate accident but rather because those who did the killing believed that their defenseless victims did not deserve to live. And this gets to the heart of the problem with seeing people who barely know what Hamas is now jump on the bandwagon to excuse Hamas’s stated goal of eliminating Jews from the region as their primary objective. In case you don’t believe this, look up a translation of the Hamas Charter, and go to Article 7 which claims that there will be a Day of Judgment where all Jews shall be killed. Or how about Article 13 which states that Hamas will never accept a negotiated settlement?

Again, when you look at the horrific videos and pictures from last Saturday, the mind tries to create some sort of justification for the atrocities the eyes have witnessed. And the simplest of reasons is not a reason but rather a deflection: Well, what about all the killings and maimings of Palestinians by Israel? But this ignores the real answer for how Palestinian militants could commit such atrocities: because they have been indoctrinated to believe that the Jews they encountered didn’t deserve to live and even worse that they deserved to die horribly. It is no different than the psychological techniques that Japanese military officers used to turn soldiers with morals into terrorists who raped and killed hundreds of thousands of citizens in Nanking, China starting in 1937.

rape of nanjing, 1937, nanjing
Nanjing Massacre, 1937

Second, a shocking number of young Jewish-American people are not standing up for Israel. I just heard a young Jewish friend of mine complaining about how her Jewish cousin has taken a pro-Palestinian position. He thinks that the Israeli government faked several of the videos and pictures of the atrocities. Another young Jewish student I know has backpedaled and online has said that she can understand how Palestinians can be driven to commit the atrocities. And many other Jewish people have complained to me about the silence online by young Jewish-Americans who are in the perfect position and well-equipped to combat the misinformation being spread by pro-Hamas groups. 

Trust me, I understand their position, which is self-preservation, wanting to fit in and not stick out, and the desire to seem even-handed and show that they’re trying to understand the other side. There is only one problem: when the atrocities are so obvious and instigated by the Palestinian side, backpedaling and trying to cut a break to what these Palestinian militants did is losing sight of reality: this current war was caused by heavily armed Palestinian militants slaughtering hundreds of innocent and unarmed Israelis. 

This was not an act of war but a slaughter of innocents. There is no possible justification.

To the young Jewish-American generations as well as the Jewish diaspora in general, do not be silent. Your voice counts. Your heritage counts. I know all too well about the intense desire to be seen as an American rather than as our ethnicity. I’ve walked down the path of believing that assimilation into American culture and not stirring up any waves is the way to go. But I later realized that there is another way: we can be both. You can be a proud American and a proud Jew. They are not just mutually inclusive but synergistic. And with all the misinformation I’ve seen on social media, now is the time to rise up and speak truth to power. 

The Western Wall in Jerusalem

Another great danger – especially for Americans – is our desire to support the underdog.

If you just look at this as an Israel vs. Palestine conflict, then it looks like Israel with its far superior military and financial resources is beating up on the Palestinians. But when you look at the far larger picture of Israel being surrounded by enemy states who mostly will not acknowledge their right to exist, then Israel continues to be the underdog and is worthy of support. 

The growing wave of people who didn’t know much about this conflict until a week ago is like that common phrase where it’s not the instigator of violence that gets caught but rather the person retaliating. For those who knew little or nothing about the history of that region of the world, the images shown now of Gaza being destroyed by Israeli attacks looks horrible and unjustifiable.

But we need to look at any event and clearly find the instigator. What is happening now in Gaza with numerous Israeli military strikes is tragic and horrendous. You can’t look at the news reports showing Palestinians killed and injured as well as massive piles of rubble smoldering in ruins and not feel despondent. Palestinians as well as Israelis are suffering. And it will get far worse if the Israelis being held as hostages are not handed over quickly by the Palestinians to Israel. 

People say that Israel has a choice not to conduct military strikes on Gaza, but this ignores the fact that Palestinians have the choice to stop this highly volatile situation from becoming a raging conflagration with massive casualties by doing the right thing and returning the abducted Israelis back to Israel immediately. 

To do so would be a sign to Palestinians that their government cares about its citizens.

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The biggest problem I see on social media is that too many people are ignorant that Hamas technically is politically in charge of Gaza, but their goal is not to lead Palestinians to a better life and prosperity but rather to continue to create terror and chaos.

If you believe that Hamas is really trying to look out for the best interest of Palestinians, then why not announce that they are changing their Hamas Charter to acknowledge the right of Jewish people to exist? 

If you argue that Hamas and the average Palestinian person are different, well, that might be. But as long as Hamas is in charge, their only real goal is to hold onto power through creating terror. Why? Because I have seen nothing that shows that they have any plan to actually govern. And since they control Gaza with terror, how can an average Palestinian with a low standard of living be expected to have the inner strength to rise up against Hamas? 

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Is the situation hopeless?

No. There is always hope. There is hope that eventually a solution is reached that allows Israelis and Palestinians to peacefully co-exist. But unfortunately, as the death toll and destruction continues to rise, it adds multiple decades and generations to when a time of real peace is achievable. 

Until that time, what we can do is be honest. I’m not ignoring the long history of conflict over the land which comprises the current state of Israel. What I know is that during the past few years, there has been relative calm in the area. It wasn’t a perfect peace, but lasting peace needs some sort of platform upon which to be built. 

And suddenly last Saturday the massacres of Israelis in Israel by Palestinians was horrific and broke the peace. Israeli forces did not go into Gaza and randomly kill several hundreds of Palestinians and take many others as hostages. Israel didn’t fire thousands of missiles into Gaza first. 

Call the reality as it is. Palestinian militants started this war. Why is this so important? Because it is upon this reality that a lasting solution can be made. But try and create an alternate fact or an alternate reality, and any future solution will be as ephemeral as a late snowfall in the spring. 

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Caesarea, Israel

Standing with Israel is supporting a country that has become more inclusive. Is it a perfect country? No, but every country has its problems. However, what’s clear is that it is not a country that would rampantly slaughter the elderly and innocent young men, women, and children just because they are a different ethnicity. It is a country that not only values family, safety, and education but more importantly has shown that it will do everything to protect and cultivate those values. 

And for those Palestinians in Gaza who dream of a better life and do not believe in the tenets of Hamas, I stand with you also.

In the U.S., we have seen multiple waves of immigrants, and the reason why so many immigrants can achieve incredibly high levels of success at a much higher rate than anywhere else is because many immigrants take full advantage of the educational opportunities in the U.S.

Improving education will go a long way towards greater prosperity for Palestinians, but not as long as Hamas is in charge. Why? Because organizations that are built for the sole purpose of terrorizing others do not want to cultivate prosperity. They exist and thrive because of the conflict generated from the terror they create. Greater education and economic prosperity require a government that is looking to govern wisely. And as long as Hamas is in charge, all there will be is terror and strife and new generations of Palestinians seeking revenge. 

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So, we have a choice. Do we side with Israel, a country that has shown what amazing advances can be made by a group of people with shared values that strive for a better future? Or do we side with the Hamas-following Gaza Palestinians who want all Jewish people eliminated from the area, and who have no plan on how to build prosperity and peace?

I stand – and always will – with the side that has shown the qualities necessary for a lasting peace. And by supporting Israel, we give the Palestinians in that region a chance for a better future because Israel has envisioned a future where Palestinians have significantly better lives and where there is co-existence. But Hamas has determined that the only acceptable future is one where they kill all Jews. 

Turn off your social media, and stop listening to influencers who have endured very little real hardship. Step away long enough to clear your sight so that you can see the reality of this situation. It is possible to support both Israel and the Palestinian people, but only as long as one understands that Hamas has no place in this world. 

An organization based off of terror is one that no sane and decent person should support. 

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In the near future, we’ll see people spending a ton of time and effort trying to create doubt about Israel. All sorts of misinformation against Israel will be spread, and not only by people who don’t want to ever see peace in that part of the world but also unwittingly by well-intentioned and well-meaning people. These are people who believe in peace and helping others, but they just look at current snapshots of this conflict and see Israel with its vaunted military and significant wealth attacking a group of people living on a small spit of land. 

Already I’ve seen people who I know are good individuals latching onto various narratives that place everyone in Gaza and all Palestinians as poor peaceful underdogs who are being unfairly attacked by Israel now.

To you good people, it’s important to understand that there is a difference between activism and enable-ism (i.e. enabling people who are doing the wrong things to continue doing them).

Activism is encouraging other people to do the morally correct thing and/or to take actions that help people behave in a way that reasonable humans can agree is right. But enable-ism is oftentimes doing very similar actions except throwing your support behind the wrong person or the wrong organization. It is giving your drunk father more alcohol to try and appease him. It is giving your money and efforts to a person or organization who knows how to manipulate you even though their ideals and morals are oftentimes diametrically opposite of yours. 

You may think that you can easily spot this, but highly manipulative people who lead these types of immoral groups have a way of making you think that you’re adding activation energy to a wonderful cause when you’re actually doing just the opposite and feeding a beast that will turn on you the moment you show any doubt about their words. 

If you are someone who didn’t really know anything about this situation until recently and have become inflamed to attack Israel, take a deep breath and put your anger aside for a moment to do two things: 

a) ask yourself who started this current battle, and 

b) look into the history of this region with as neutral an opinion as possible. 

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Take a moment to do two things

Understand that you are being manipulated. How can you know? Because Hamas has never made it a priority to encourage education and free thought. 

Hamas – like all terrorist organizations – seeks to indoctrinate and sow terror not just among its enemies but also within its own ranks as a means of eliminating dissent. 

Hamas will encourage you to “trust your gut,” and as comforting as that seems, this is a common method of brainwashing people. If you only trust the people who tell you to “trust your gut”, then there is only one possible result: you will only trust them. And you will close your eyes to truths and facts that show that those you trusted are lying to you. 

The other unfortunate result of constantly following the “trust your gut” mantra and how it is used by false leaders that you trust is that it makes you more likely to double-down on enabling these false leaders and not be open to changing your mind. Then you surround yourself only with other like-minded individuals thinking that you are supporting a just cause. And when you do wake up and start having doubts, then you feel it’s too late. It’s incredibly tough for one’s ego to admit that after committing so much of themselves to a cause that they were actually on the wrong side. They end up feeling that since they’ve gone so far, there’s no way they can back out now. But there’s good news. 

It isn’t too late.

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It is never too late to change course and do the right thing. There is never a bad time to do the right thing. It’s not a mistake to initially support the wrong side because you were misled. But it is a massive mistake to close your eyes and ears to truth and continue to support the wrong side, even when you have significant doubts.

There are numerous instances of people who were heavily indoctrinated in horrible causes for long periods of time and eventually changed course. They changed course because they decided to educate themselves and not rely on just one source to feed them all their information. 

To describe these people requires only a single word: courageous. 

It takes no courage to blindly follow. But it takes enormous courage to educate yourself. And it takes courage to substantially change course when you realize you’re making a mistake. 

Hamas wants Palestinians to courageously sacrifice their lives but denies them the dignity to live with courage and make their own informed decisions.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians will magically disappear from the region. Therefore, the only solution has to be a way to co-exist. And if you highly value peace and inclusion, then you should understand that as long as Hamas exists and has power in Gaza there will never be peace. Hamas exists to wipe out Jews from that part of the world. And because this is their sole reason for existence, even if they did somehow accomplish this, they have absolutely no plan for how to govern. They haven’t really governed at all since they came to power in 2007, and they’ve never presented any sort of plan of how they would lead Palestinians to a significantly better future. Other than terror, the Hamas-led Gaza has created nothing.

Tel Aviv, tel aviv city, israel
Tel Aviv, Israel

In contrast, look at all that Israel has accomplished since it gained statehood in 1948.

Here are just a few examples:

With all that Israel has accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, how can people not see the enormous value that this country has brought to the world?

And the shocking difference in accomplishments between Israel and Gaza is not because Palestinians are intellectually inferior. It’s because a government such as Hamas does not value creativity and education because a highly educated population in Gaza would quickly vote out Hamas from their government. A highly educated population in Gaza would want a government that governs rather than one that rules solely by terror.

You might be wondering, what does any of this have to do with yoga?

And the simple answer is that if you have a superficial understanding of yoga, then you most likely think that it is just about doing poses (asanas) and sweating and gaining flexibility. But yoga is far far more than that. The poses weren’t developed until many centuries after yogic philosophy began to be practiced. 

Yoga is about living an honest life where we don’t hide from the world but confront problems and work with the world around us to constantly improve it just as we constantly adjust our poses to improve them based on the current conditions of our bodies. Yoga is about creating peace and inclusion and finding ways to reduce fear and rage. 

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Israelis and Jews around the world want what so many yoga practitioners have found: inner peace that extends to create greater external peace. 

Despite existing for decades in a highly hostile environment that only very recently has shown signs of changing attitudes, such as the most powerful Muslim country Saudia Arabia being on the verge of recognizing Israel, Israel has made the safety and well-being of their citizens a top priority. And the hope is that as more major countries of the Middle East formally recognize Israel and create substantive connections, that this will also lead to greater opportunities for Palestinians as well. 

For all these reasons the Yoga Lab stands with Israel.

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So, what else can you do?

1)     Contact your Jewish and Palestinian friends and ask them if they are okay. Ask them if they have relatives and/or friends in Israel or Palestine and if they’re okay. Don’t assume that they’ll let you know if something bad has happened to someone they know.

 2)     Show your support for Israel by placing signs in your windows and/or on your lawns.

 3)     Donate to a charity that fights against anti-Semitism such as the Anti-Defamation League or a local synagogue.

 4)     Educate yourself about what Hamas stands for. Don’t take my word for it, look up the Hamas Charters and read through them carefully. If you are a person who fights against racism but supports Hamas, you will quickly realize that what your morals stand for and Hamas are incongruent. And that is why Hamas does not want you to educate yourself.

 5)     Try not to engage in “whatabout-ism”. Since there is no moral defense for killing innocent elderly people, raping women, slaughtering babies, and kidnapping people to use as bargaining chips and human shields, then you should stand in support of Israel. Does it mean that we should close our eyes to the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza now? No. But the moment you try to justify the immoral acts of the Palestinian militants who killed and kidnapped all those unarmed and innocent Israelis by now looking a couple of weeks or more afterwards and saying, “Well, what about how Israel is attacking Gaza now…”, you know that you have a weak argument. Sequence matters in life, but too often in today’s society people get inflamed by looking at the most recent domino to fall instead of looking at what caused that domino to fall. And the best way to prevent yourself from falling into the “whatabout-ism” trap is to answer questions – and sometimes incredibly painful questions – directly and without evasion.

6)     Do not unfollow people on social media or avoid them if they support Hamas and/or Palestinians. Instead engage with them in a civil manner (i.e. no trolling). One of my students just asked me about a family friend who she’s known her entire life and whether she should unfollow him on Instagram because he is now saying that the entire massacre of Israelis was a hoax perpetrated by the Israeli government. She told me that this guy is a nice and decent person but that he’s spent his whole life looking for something to believe in. Unfortunately, he has fallen into conspiracy-theory mode and now is looking for evidence – even false facts – to support his theory. He wants to surround himself only with people who support Hamas and Palestinians. This is the enormous danger of social media: it creates solidified groups of thought. It creates large groups of people who are motivated by emotions rather than by the conclusions reached through their own independent thought. And if everyone starts unfollowing people who they have a single disagreement with, it creates increasingly entrenched thoughts and severe partisanship. It creates rigid thoughts instead of flexible and flowing ones that adapt as more information becomes available. Instead of cooperation, people become fixated on domination. This is how fascism and authoritarian rule thrives. So, continue to follow whoever you’re following on social media, and if they have one or two opinions that are opposite of yours, ask yourself if society is better because you stay engaged with them and learn where your viewpoints differ? Or is it better for you to cut ties and then have no idea what they’re thinking? The former provides the opportunity to stay informed and gain better understanding to effect positive change while the latter creates ignorance. And that ignorance is exactly what terrorists around the world treasure because it makes their followers more docile and obsequious. We have to stand up and take action against this.

7)     Finally, let us all pray that the Israeli hostages are rapidly returned to Israel and that there is a cease-fire as soon as possible. No one – except for Hamas – wins by lengthening this conflict. Watch what Hamas does because if you support it and believes that it really does care about the 2 million Palestinians it governs, it will do what is in the best interest of its people. And that is to repatriate the Israeli hostages and quickly move for a cease-fire. Anything short of this is causing immense and unnecessary hardship for the Palestinians living in Gaza. If Hamas does not hand over the Israeli hostages immediately – because already its people are suffering mightily – then they cannot say that they are the true government of the Gaza Palestinians, and the world should do everything to remove them from power as quickly as possible and let Gaza Palestinians have a real chance for peace. 

 
Yoga Lab stands with Israel.

עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי

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