Kenneth Jacobson

What is the alternative to Israel’s Gaza operation? 

As the war between Israel and Hamas continues into its seventh month, criticism of Israel has widened, even to include the Biden Administration. Talk of conditioning aid to Israel, or even cutting it off, has become part of the daily outpouring of criticism of Israel and its conduct of the war.

As opposed to those who blamed Israel early on for the massacre on October 7, wherein it was easy to label such commentary as offensive, even antisemitic, things are much more complicated now as civilian casualties rise in Gaza.

Even with all the legitimate caveats—this was a war brought on by the worst assault on Jews since the Holocaust; Hamas not only precipitated the conflict but is largely responsible for the numbers of civilian casualties because it has embedded itself deliberately in civilian centers such as hospitals; and the reported numbers of civilian casualties are significantly based on Hamas reporting — which to say the least has no credibility — the reality of a humanitarian crisis cannot be avoided.

The problem with all of this negativity toward Israel, that at least on the surface has a degree of credibility unlike what came immediately after October 7, is that no one has come up with a sustainable alternative for Israel to follow.

Let us recall not only what Hamas did on October 7, but what it was about in its fundamental ideology, and what it has promised to do to Israeli civilians going forward assuming they survive this war. Hamas, from its founding charter, has said its purpose is to destroy the state of Israel. It has made clear that it is motivated by Jew hatred, indicating that Jews have been responsible for every world catastrophe since the French Revolution.

What it did on October 7 therefore was a fulfillment of its ideology. And its promise to repeat the massacre with more in the future is the challenge that Israel faces every day.

Therefore, any solution to what is happening must take into account this primary need of Israel to secure itself from this inevitable terrorism promised by Hamas, not to mention the ongoing horror of 133 innocents being held hostage for over six months. There is no country on earth that should be expected to live with a threat like this, one that tragically has proven not to be idle rhetoric, but the most devastating day of terror since the 9/11 attacks.

And so it is, with all the criticism of Israel and all the calls for action, we have not seen, at least publicly, an approach that Israel can live with going forward.  

A permanent cease-fire? That would leave Hamas intact ready to attack again.

A cutting off of arms to Israel? That too would give life to the terrorists.

A security Council Resolution condemning Israel and demanding a halt in operations? Same result.

It is legitimate for governments and commentators to call on Israel to figure out ways to limit civilian casualties even beyond what they have done so far, as long as they take into account the caveats discussed above, and not engage in threats toward the Jewish state. Those can only embolden Hamas and increase the chances that it can hold onto power in Gaza.

It is also legitimate for calls on Israel to develop plans for the day after, who will be in control in Gaza and what steps can be taken on Palestinian issues.

It is not as if the Israeli people are completely happy with the way the government has conducted this war. Thousands demonstrate regularly demanding more be done to free the hostages. There was widespread criticism of the tragic killing of the aid workers in Gaza. And many feel Israel needs to do more to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches its intended destination, civilians in Gaza.

One thing, however, unites Israelis, as it would any people in any country that went through a trauma like October 7. There is a palpable fear if they don’t act now to eliminate Hamas as a power in Gaza, Oct. 7 could happen again.

Any condemnation of Israel that does not take this reality into account should not be taken seriously. 

About the Author
Kenneth Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
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