The terrible events of the past fourteen weeks have electrified Jews everywhere into focusing on their relationship with the State of Israel. That country has always been seen as a source of pride, a testimony to the resourcefulness and creative genius of the Jewish people and an island of democracy in a sea of tyranny.
Now, for the first time, Jews outside of Israel are contemplating the blemishes on the face of Israel – the uninspired leadership, the disarray of the once vaunted military, the creeping authoritarianism and the lack of a coherent internal and foreign policy at a time of existential crisis. Worse still, they are realising that antisemitism, far from having been cast into oblivion by the establishment of the State of Israel, has been given fresh impetus by the recent savage attacks on Jews living on Israeli soil. Paradoxically, the inevitable move by Israel to protect its territory and recover the hostages taken by Hamas has resulted in a new amalgam of antisemitism compounded of the ancient hatred of Jews and a proliferating hatred of the State of Israel.
All of this has reopened an old wound. There are Jews who embrace the argument that the Jewish State was founded at the expense of another people, the Palestinians, a people dispossessed of a land which was rightfully theirs and driven into exile, and there are Jews who contend that Israel’s repeated offers to the Arabs to live in harmony with the Jews were spurned by an Arab leadership who proclaimed early on their intention to push the Jews into the sea.
Israel statehood was ratified by the United Nations in 1948 but this was never accepted by the country’s Arab neighbours and a tide of hatred continued to batter at the defensive walls with which Israel had been forced to surround itself from that day to this. Israelis gradually lapsed into a twilight state of resignation in the belief that a resolution of the conflict would remain forever elusive and placed their trust in a military which, despite setbacks, had come to see itself as invulnerable. However, the issue of Palestinian claims on the land remained as a thorn in the flesh of successive Israeli governments. Leaders of increasingly extremist outlooks leapfrogged over one another, touting the ideology that ruthlessness and military superiority were the only language understood by the Palestinians.
Until the Hamas attack of October 7th, the prevailing belief was that terrorism was a fact of life which would have to be indefinitely contained. After the breakdown of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, no further thought was given to dialogue in the name of peace. Intransigence was the watchword and predictably this has simply deepened Palestinian intransigence.
Until recently, this vicious cycle has been peripheral to the lives of Jews living outside Israel, who for the most part have viewed it as if through a glass darkly. Suddenly, the tsunami of antisemitic hatred which has engulfed many communities all over the world, has brought home the shocking realisation that the Jews and Israel are as one and that the fate of Israel is intimately bound up with the fate of Jews everywhere.
Those Jews who wave the Palestinian flag, albeit on humanitarian grounds, are being sucked into an overpowering groundswell of antisemitism, now dressed in the fashionable garb of anti-Zionism. The Middle ground, the ground of dialogue and compromise, is fast disappearing into the maelstrom.
I continue to believe that Israel will endure as a predominantly Jewish state within a democratic framework – the two concepts are not incompatible – and that a new spirit of understanding and acceptance will emerge from this catastrophe. I also believe that extremism and fanaticism, mindsets which at best can be seen as disturbed and at worst as evil, will ultimately be driven to the margins of the societies which bred them. However, with every fresh trauma inflicted, the time needed for healing will have to be extended. I only hope that we will soon be able to see a reversal of the current drift into further conflict.