Op-ed: Day 152 of the war

We’re living in the most worrying period for Jews since World War II

And there’s rarely been a time when Israel’s existence, imperiled from without, and hobbled from within, has been so manifestly necessary

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Demonstrators hold a Palestinian flag with the words, "CEASEFIRE NOW; Gays for Palestine; RIVER - SEA". during a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rally outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, March 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Demonstrators hold a Palestinian flag with the words, "CEASEFIRE NOW; Gays for Palestine; RIVER - SEA". during a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel rally outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, March 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

This Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

Around the world, spiking antisemitism.

Vast “pro-Palestinian” demonstrations — in the Arab world but, especially, in the West — at which many urge not only support for Gazans mid-war but would deny the only Jewish state its right to exist. Physical attacks on Jews in ostensibly enlightened countries. Jewish kids in the US choosing universities based on how courageous they feel they might need to be to identify as Jewish, much less Zionist, there. A Jewish actress in London’s West End starring in a reworked Shakespearean play about antisemitism being told it is not safe for her to leave the theater because of dangerous protests outside.

Jews everywhere more wary than they were five months ago — more wary than they were in decades — about publicly identifying as Jews.

And this all began after October 7, when the terrorist army of a virulently antisemitic Islamic government invaded Israel from neighboring territory, slaughtered 1,200 people and kidnapped 253 more, and would have kept on killing throughout the country if it could.

And it has all intensified since then, because the Israeli government — having failed once to keep its people safe from murderous enemy attack — recognized that it needed to ensure the Hamas terrorist government was prevented from pursuing its avowed agenda of slaughtering Jews again and again and again until Israel is destroyed.

I grew up half a century ago in a London with a mild undertone of antisemitism — a London where the price of attending a Jewish school in a fairly working-class neighborhood was an occasional confrontation with thuggish kids from the non-Jewish school down the road, where the organized Jewish community generally didn’t stick its neck out, where Margaret Thatcher’s handful of Jewish cabinet ministers mostly preferred not to highlight their Jewishness.

Now, the undertone is an overtone, and London — where tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of protesters, either hate-filled, ignorant or both, march through the city center every weekend — is emblematic of the global rise in hostility to Jews.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators wave Palestinian flags and hold placards as they protest in Parliament Square in London on February 21, 2024. (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

When I first visited the US, in the mid-1980s, I marveled at the easy self-confidence, pride and sense of belonging among American Jews and their leadership. Now, that confidence is dissipating; the environment is changing.

We had thought, after World War II, that much of humanity had recognized the evil it could demonstrably do, recoiled, and largely determined that it must not happen again. We had thought that, at least in our lifetimes and for a few generations to come, the oldest hatred had been marginalized. We were wrong.

Two generations ago, most of my father’s family fled Nazi Germany for London just in time — a year before the Frankfurt synagogue founded by my great-grandfather was burned down on Kristallnacht. No governments in purportedly reasonable countries are endorsing antisemitism and the targeting of Jews. But there is growing empathy in some government quarters for the obsessive and skewed hostility to Israel, and for policies that would weaken the only Jewish state’s capacity to defend itself against its avowedly genocidal enemies.

I don’t think there’s been a more worrying period for the Jewish people since World War II.

And there’s rarely been a time when Israel’s existence, imperiled from without, and hobbled from within, has been so manifestly necessary.

Politicking as Israel burns

At the risk of major understatement, we have a deeply problematic government.

Because it failed us on October 7, when it simply refused to accept all the evidence that Hamas was bent on Israel’s destruction rather than Gaza’s governance and was about to invade.

Because it had divided and weakened us, in the nine months before the war, by seeking to subjugate our court system to its political majority and thus to shatter core protections and radically constrain our democracy.

Because it includes coalition parties and ministers with racist, expansionist agendas that are anathema to the Israeli mainstream and that had undermined identification with Israel in many quarters worldwide well before October 7 and the Israeli military fightback.

Because, by its very nature, it reduces Israel’s credibility among international leaders and in international public opinion as regards the immensely complex conduct of the war against Hamas — a war being fought in a near-impossible urban environment, against an amoral enemy. The nature of the coalition heightens abiding concerns from all of Israel’s allies regarding noncombatant casualties — concerns especially exacerbated when things go terribly wrong, as with the dozens of deaths in the attempted delivery of aid in a convoy last Thursday.

Because it is proving abidingly unable to practically govern a traumatized country that needs competent leadership, amid the prolonged and draining campaign against a Hamas that is still holding 130 hostages and is leveraging them with every ounce of cynicism to try to survive the war.

Israelis rally for the release of hostages held in Gaza, at the Knesset on March 4, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

We have a deeply problematic government and, in Benjamin Netanyahu, we have an ever more contentious prime minister — the man at the top of the hierarchy who nonetheless refuses to acknowledge that he bears prime responsibility for the catastrophe that unfolded under his watch. As Wednesday’s publication of the devastating state commission of inquiry report into the disaster at Mount Meron reminded us, there’s a pattern to his avoidance of responsibility.

For a few, short shell-shocked weeks after October 7, the prime minister curbed his instinct for division, and focused on overseeing the IDF’s response to Hamas and the effort to deter still more potent enemies on other borders. But for months now, he has avoided shaping a strategy for Gaza, and resisted the US vision for a post-Hamas era, because it would risk destroying his coalition and his hold on power. And thus Israel is en route to sole and colossal responsibility for over two million Palestinians, in a territory where Hamas’s war machine extended to most every neighborhood, above and below ground, much of which now lies in ruins.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on May 23, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

It took him weeks, until Tuesday, to muster common sense and declare that the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem would remain open, subject to security assessments, to Muslim worshipers when Ramadan begins next week. He dodged and dithered before finally rejecting pressure from his radically irresponsible police minister Itamar Ben Gvir to impose sweeping restrictions on Israel’s Arab citizens — even as Hamas is bent on stirring up friction at the mount, especially among an Arab Israeli community whose identity with the state appears to have been deepened by October 7 but for whom access to Al-Aqsa is acutely sensitive.

He refuses to advance a genuine effort to ensure that the fastest-growing sector of the Israeli demographic, the ultra-Orthodox community, shares the burden of responsibility by performing military or other national service, even at this hour of vital need, with their fellow Israelis fighting and falling in battle — again, because it would risk the collapse of his coalition.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews block a road during a protest against drafting of Haredim to the IDF, on Route 4 near Bnei Brak, March 3, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

And he has lately taken to asserting, at the press conferences where he calls for unity while spreading discord, that anybody who wishes to see him ousted via elections while the war is ongoing is siding with the enemy. How so? Because, he claims, the greatest dream of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran is to see Israel plunged into bitter political campaigning mid-conflict.

It is legitimate to assert that Israel cannot afford a divisive political campaign at the height of a war that could well expand to multiple new fronts; it is unacceptable to depict anybody who thinks differently as traitorous.

This week, politicking while Israel burns, Netanyahu reportedly went to extreme lengths to complicate a visit to the US and UK by his war cabinet colleague, and most potent political rival, Benny Gantz. A prime minister might be expected to encourage, brief and steer a senior colleague in an emergency coalition on a trip to meet some of the most senior officials in the capital of Israel’s most essential ally. But Netanyahu, openly at odds with President Joe Biden and unable to secure a White House invitation of his own, instead reportedly ordered Israel’s ambassadors in both countries not to accompany Gantz to his meetings, and the embassies in Washington and London not to assist Gantz, including as regards his security on today’s UK leg of his visit.

Some of these reports almost defy belief, and the Prime Minister’s Office has denied parts of them. But the fact is that Mike Herzog, Israel’s envoy to the US, was not in evidence at Gantz’s DC meetings.

US Vice President Kamala Harris (2nd right) hosts Minister Benny Gantz (2nd left) at the White House on March 4, 2024 (Office of VP Kamala Harris)

It may seem petty to even write about this kind of self-destructive small-mindedness amid the current crises, but that’s the point: narrow personal and political self-interest still hold sway — for Netanyahu and much of the government.

Witness, for further example, newly installed Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s pompous and ill-conceived decision to recall Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, for consultations in protest at ostensible UN efforts to downplay the UN’s own, long-delayed report into systematic rape, gang rape and sexual abuse by Hamas on October 7 and against the hostages since. The report risibly does not directly specify Hamas as responsible for the crimes, but it independently validates Israel’s evidence — and this from within a UN so perpetually hostile to Israel. If ever there was a moment to highlight a UN stance on Israel, rather than denounce it, the release of this report was that moment. But, hey, nobody really knows who Katz is or cares much about him, and he has to make an impact if he is going to advance his goal of becoming prime minister one day.

A human meat grinder?

There was a sentence in an op-ed by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times last week, titled “Israel Is Losing Its Greatest Asset: Acceptance,” that I can’t get out of my head. Arguably the most resonant columnist, in the world’s most resonant newspaper, Friedman wrote: “So the whole Israel-Gaza operation is starting to look to more and more people like a human meat grinder whose only goal is to reduce the population so that Israel can control it more easily.”

Read that again, and remember that Friedman has the ear of the US president. In defiance of parts of his own base, amid an intensifying reelection battle, Biden has continued to resist demands for an immediate end to the war, and continued to give Israel the practical military and diplomatic means to wage it until Hamas has been defanged.

Who are the “more and more people” to whom Friedman is referring and whose false and despicable assessment is tantamount to an accusation of genocide?

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