Like many waking up to news from Israel this morning, I am in a state of shock; Israel is at war. As I write this Hamas militants have fired over 3,000 rockets towards Israeli civilian targets, kidnapped and murdered Israeli citizens in border areas, and infiltrated southern Israeli territories in the largest surprise attack on Israel since the Yom Kippur war. The intelligence failures and geopolitical maneuvering which led to this attack will no doubt be the subject of many papers to come; the imminent uncertainty lies in how Israel will clench victory against a familiar mountain of challenges including limited intelligence, strained military resources, and a global media more akin to a Palestinian propaganda machine. One thing is certain – long-term success hinges on healing divisions within the Jewish community, both in Israel and abroad.
In Israel, the religious and political divisions are clear. A months-long campaign against Netanyahu’s proposed reforms drove wedges between Israelis on the right and left, and manifested in mass protests, riots and physical skirmishes. Against a backdrop of socio-economic challenges and political turmoil, age-old fundamental conflicts resurfaced with new vigor: questions surrounding issues like the limits of religion in Israeli law and the unequal economic and defense burden shouldered by the secular population took on a new existential quality. The proverbial war between an orthodox ethos centered on Jerusalem, and the modernity of Tel Aviv played out in local politics and daily interactions. It should come as no surprise then that the visceral frustration and anger felt by Israelis led some people to question whether Israel could remain a unified country at all, spewing public conjecture on the possibility of “autonomous societies”
A divided Israel plays into the hands of Palestinian militants whose only goal is total destruction. Societal conflict projects weakness, and most likely emboldens Israel’s opportunistic enemies to attack. It is not hard to see how a distracted Israeli government and resource-strained police force can be easily challenged in this environment. Internal divisions further call into question the speed, strength, and sophistication with which Israel can muster a response, creating risks that internal political disagreements may hinder effective retaliation. The political divisions in Israel already resemble shadows of similar problems in the U.S., where party allegiance has become a litmus test for things such as friendship and employment, patriotism is at an all time low, and domestic terror attacks are becoming a new normal. Israel is teetering on the edge of losing the very values which hold society together.
Divisions are also brewing in the Jewish diaspora, similarly cast in a political context. Since the 2020 U.S. election, the creep of pro-Palestine ideas into left-wing political circles has polarized Jews and shifted their political allegiance in ways that are still emerging. Liberal, jews face the choice of engaging in conservative politics – often in conflict with their beliefs on other key issues – or endorsing a Democratic party whose loudest voices call Israel an apartheid regime and spew anti-semitic rhetoric. Most alarming is the rise of two American Jewish voting blocs: those completely apathetic to Israel, and those actively engaged in spouting Palestinian propaganda. The latter category consists of primarily younger individuals committed to social justice activism, and their voices dangerously legitimize harmful Palestinian propaganda.
Within my own east-coast community, accusations of an apartheid state are just as likely if not more likely to come from my Jewish friends as they are from anyone else. Zionism is no longer a uniting thread between American Jewish communities, and Jewish ethnicity or faith is becoming a less reliable indicator of support for Israel. Progressive Jewish groups increasingly promote expressions of Judaism agnostic of “apartheid” Israel and “sexist” religious beliefs. The result is a divided diaspora incapable of facing the challenges of Israel’s future.
For years, Israel has leaned on its diaspora to sway public opinion and maintain political support abroad, particularly in times of war. Internal divisions and lack of Jewish leadership in America are allowing political institutions to be recast with anti-zionist characteristics, posing long-term implications for the state of Israel. American jews have no clear message of support for Israel despite the hard work of groups like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League. With this ambiguity, mainstream media may elevate anti-zionist voices and falsely portray them as conventional Jewish opinions. The gap created by internal divisions will be quickly filled by those looking to create a pro-Palestine narrative.
Israelis will come together as they always do in the face of a new attack, but the long-term longevity of the Jewish people rests on healing divisions at home and abroad. In the U.S., Jews must work towards projecting a cohesive pro-Israel stance that crosses party lines and engaging an apathetic Jewish populous. It’s especially critical for young Jews to raise their voices on social media, a space dominated by Palestinian propaganda.
This attack is a stark reminder that unlike other countries, Israel does not have the “luxury” to be divided, surrounded as it is by enemies at the gate. It needs a unified society to stay ahead of its enemies and remain flexible and resilient against a constantly evolving threat landscape. Democracy thrives on a healthy level of disagreement; but when disagreements devolve into conflicts over the most intrinsic values and foundations of the state, it becomes a dangerous game. Only through the support of a unified Jewish community can Israel build a strong foundation capable of weathering the challenges to come.