The Oxford English Dictionary defines war as a state of armed conflict between different nations, states or armed groups, alternatively, a sustained campaign against something undesirable. Israel qualifies as a nation at war on both counts but the answer to the question posed as the heading for this piece is not so clear-cut.
It is easy to name Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by Iran, as immediate adversaries, with Syria, Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen and other Jihadi groups lining up to join in the attack on Israel. But as the list grows in length and extends well beyond Israel’s borders to include ideological groupings, international agencies, political factions and governments based as far afield as South Africa, it becomes increasingly difficult to circumscribe the enemy as a cohesive entity, regardless of the threat which any of those groups might pose to Israel’s integrity and well-being.
All becomes clearer, however, once it is acknowledged that Israel is a symbol of Jewish life. Antisemitism pre-dated the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Israel is merely the most recent symbol of Judaism to attract venomous hatred. As a nation, it was born in adversity, it overcame concerted efforts to strangle it at birth and it has survived a sustained campaign to weaken it to the point of extinction. It has not only coped with multiple traumas but it has emerged the stronger for it.
If you find yourself represented as a symbol of evil by those who deny your humanity and have no interest in getting to know you, your only recourse is to defend yourself and present your true self to the world in the hope that reality will prevail over the mad fantasies and malignant distortions flying at you from all directions.
Israel finds itself facing an enemy whose sole mission is to destroy it as a sovereign state, replace it with an Islamic state and displace or annihilate the Jews who live there. This war is predominantly a military war, but there is another war engulfing both Israel and the Jewish people (it is becoming increasingly irrelevant to distinguish between the two). This is a war being fought on a global scale, in which the weapons are words and images. There are many battlefields for this other war: the press, social media, the streets, universities, schools, workplaces, the pulpit and the corridors of political power, to name but a few. These are some of the arenas, remote from the bloody struggle facing Israel, in which Jews can oppose antisemitic calumnies with truth.
In today’s world it no longer makes sense to imagine an outcome in terms of total victory or defeat, or to measure the duration of a war in terms of days, months or years. There may be an end to the current episode but there will always be elements in society who thrive on the promotion of hatred towards the Jewish people. These elements must be forced to the margins of society and held there.
Israel’s enemies are the extremists and fanatics with whom negotiation is impossible because they are driven by an irrational hatred of Jews. The best outcome we can hope for in Israel is that the Palestinian people in whose name they purport to carry on their fight will come to realize that they have been duped, disown them and begin the task of healing their traumatized communities with the help of their erstwhile enemy.