Whenever a terror attack occurs, as a broadcaster, I try to report facts and avoid hyperbole. Had I been on air last Saturday morning, I would have done just that. But when I finally got on air, on Monday evening, we knew the facts. We knew what had happened. It was beyond doubt that Hamas had murdered 1400 Israeli men, women and children. I decided that “on the one hand this, and on the other hand that" approach” was not one I was prepared to take.
Evil had been perpetrated by child killing terrorists against a people, some of whom had living memory of the holocaust. But it wasn’t just an attack on innocent Israeli civilians, it was a deliberate attack on the Israeli state. It is part of Hamas’s constitution that they want to see not just Israel obliterated, but every Jew killed. And yet some people, mainly on the left, in this country give them a free pass because they object to the way Israel has treated Gaza. It is undeniably true that Israel has made some terrible mistakes in the past in its treatment of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, but nothing, nothing can excuse the perpetration of a terrorist act which in numbers killed in proportion to the population, was three times worse than 9/11. I’m sick of hearing people half heartedly condemning last Saturday’s attacks then adding the word ‘but’. There is no ‘but’. You either know the difference between right and wrong or you don’t. That’s why I have used the phrase ‘I stand with Israel’, and to show my support I have added an Israeli flag to my Twitter profile, just as I did with Ukraine’s.
That doesn’t mean, as some have suggested, that I support the deliberate killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. Of course I do not. One Twitter idiot even accused me of supporting genocide. Wow. But I do support Israel’s right to defend itself and its people, and I do support any attempts to root out Hamas terrorists in Gaza and kill them. All of them.
Netanyahu, a politician I do not have a lot of time for, and have criticized many times in the past, has said Israel is at war. That was a totally understandable response to what has happened. Warfare, though, has rules. William Hague, in an excellent article in The Times on Wednesday, warned that Israel should be careful to avoid losing the very public support which had initially been expressed. He said that in the past Israel had done just that, by going in too hard with its allies finding it difficult to defend some of its actions. Punishment and retribution attacks, while understandable, should be avoided at all costs. Targeted attacks on targets to destroy Hamas infrastructure or personnel are totally justifiable and defendable. But let us not be naïve innocents here. In acts of war there are always civilian casualties. Steps should be taken to minimize those casualties, but those who say that one civilian casualty is a reason for not taking any action are demonstrating they are pacificists, rather than defenders of peace. History teaches us that if you don’t stand up to dictators or terror groups, it just emboldens them. Had people with these views won the battle of public opinion in the 1930s and 1940s I’d be writing this newsletter in German.
British Jews are now fearful too. Antisemitic attacks have multiplied by a factor of ten over the last week. I read out an email from a listener called Emmanuel at the end of this week’s For the Many podcast. It moved me to tears.
“I can't express to you enough the pain of having read the comments made by some, incapable of denouncing such crimes, of naming a terrorist a terrorist, or trying to establish equivalences between the actions of a terrorist group and a state, rather to state an obvious fact: what happened in the morning of October 7 was a crime against humanity and the biggest attempt at ethnic cleansing of the Jews since the holocaust.
“Others have chosen silence. Those who defend all causes, social justice warriors in a permanent fight for equality, those with whom I fight against all inequalities and discrimination, ecology, feminism, have disappeared for 4 days. This leaves many thinking that when it comes to Jews, universal principles don't apply. The deafening silence of our non-Jewish friends is causing an unspeakable pain to many, especially me, a Jew who has always worked to defend the Palestinian cause and the fight against the occupation. To see videos scrolling online with people from all over the world chanting "gas the Jews" without any of my friends wondering how their Jewish friends are doing is devastating and deeply revealing. To have the biggest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust without any of my friends wondering how their Jewish friends are doing is devastating and deeply revealing. This reaction shows the extent to which Jews, not for the first time in history, are alone in the face of hatred and terror. This indifference chills me.”
What chills me is that in 1945, when we discovered the full horrifying truth about the Nazi death camps, we vowed to never let it happen again. And yet this weekend we allowed a pro Palestinian march to proceed through central London with people (some, not all) chanting “Death to Jews”. And the police stood by doing nothing. Is it any wonder that British Jews are worried?
The people who chant these things are more concerned about debating the method of Hamas murdering babies than the fact that they were murdered in the first place. “Of course Hamas didn’t behead babies”, they complain to anyone who repeats the report that they did. The fact that it is undeniable that the babies were indeed murdered though, doesn’t seem to horrify them at all. I find this incomprehensible.
They don’t condemn the taking of hostages. In fact they don’t like this mentioned at all. There is a simple reason for this. They know that the hostages are in Gaza, and that very fact gives Israel all the justification it needs to launch a ground invasion, just as any other country would do in order to find and rescue its citizens.
There is little point at this moment of speculating about how peace can be restored. We don’t know how this is going to play out. Will Hezbollah become involved? Syria? Is this all part of a wider Iranian plot to destabilise the region in order to prevent Israel and Saudi Arabia becoming closer, as seemed to be the case only ten days ago?
You simply cannot expect Israel to sit round a table with people who want their destruction. The Palestinian Authority is so weak and devoid of leadership that it has almost descended into irrelevance. There was a time that it spoke for the West Bank and Gaza. That hasn’t been the case for a long time. The only hope is that at some point, a Mandela type figure emerges, who can unify the Palestinians and is someone who the Israelis can do business with. There is little sign of that happening at the moment, but one can but hope.
Israel's strategy now should at least bear in mind the effect of its actions on any potential deal with Saudi Arabia. If a deal with the Saudis can still be achieved, that would indeed be a bitter blow to Hamas, and in turn Iran.