Call it what you will – a public relations war, a propaganda war, a war on the diplomatic front – there is a battle for the mind now being fought in parallel with the bloody military war being waged by Israel against an enemy whose clearly stated aim is to wipe that country off the face of the earth and kill its Jewish inhabitants.
Truth, always a fragile and elusive entity, is under constant bombardment in this war of words. A tide of antisemitic lies and distortions is threatening to wash away all civilised efforts to bridge the divide between Israel and Palestine and as a result, the prospect of resolving what has been a complex but eminently resolvable conflict is receding to vanishing point. Just as in the build up to the Second World War, the voices of deranged fanatics are drumming up support for violence and murder and drowning out the voices of reason and tolerance.
In this war it is possible to distinguish between a version of the truth as presented by Israel, a democratic state with a tradition of transparency and public accountability, and an alternative version of the truth as presented by an enemy who denies Israel the right to exist and whose history is embedded in tyrannical control of both people and information. The distinction should be an obvious one, but it seems that deeply rooted prejudices carry more weight than clearly discernible facts in the minds of those who inveigh against both Jews and Israel.
The tendency to hold the Jews responsible for a people’s woes is simply one manifestation of the age-old scapegoating dynamic, in which malignity is attributed to a vulnerable group. At one stage it looked as if the birth of modern Israel might reverse this drive against the Jews, but what we are now seeing is the amplification of antisemitism and the collapse of hope.
In tandem with the war of words is a war of images, searing the minds of millions. The suffering on both sides is inevitably being displayed for strategic purposes but nothing can justify the gleeful filming by Hamas of their savage massacres. Nobody who has seen footage shot by the Nazis of naked Jews being lined up in burial pits and shot can forget the depth of depravity to which human beings can sink. Mealy mouthed attempts by politicians and journalists to call for a truce in this struggle between decency and savagery are premature, to say the least, and can only serve the purposes of Israel’s deadly enemy.
Meanwhile, the battle for the mind continues. There may be some consolation in the belief that humanity has advanced since the Holocaust, despite the atavistic actions of Hamas and the antisemitic baying of their many admirers. Perhaps these hate-filled extremists can be pushed to the fringes of society and held there, but in the meantime there can be no reasoning with them. The way forward, tragically, has to lie in the application of unrelenting force. In the words of the Jewish partisans who fought the Nazis, ‘Eyn breyra’. There is no choice.